Highland Park

Review: Highland Park The Dark Single Malt Whisky

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The first of two themed special edition releases from Highland Park, The Dark is a 17-year-old single malt whisky that matured exclusively in European oak sherry-seasoned butts.  The 28,000 bottle release is bottled at a hearty 52.9% ABV and can be found for around $250.

The Dark takes inspiration from the winter solstice on Orkney.  Highland Park’s follow-up release, The Light, focuses on the contrasting spring season.  The jet black bespoke bottle is a departure from Highland Park’s recent bottle rebranding.  The tall bottle features an embossed dragon on the front and comes in a black oak box.  Highland Park’s Viking and Nordic heritage is certainly on display here.

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Highland Park is generally known for its use of American and European oak sherry casks.  Recent releases saw the distillery play with different casks for their maturation, including bourbon and port.  As I mentioned earlier, The Dark uses only European Sherry-seasoned oak casks, which deliver more spice notes compared to American sherry oak casks.

I recently hosted Highland Park Global Brand Ambassador Martin Markvardsen on my Youtube channel for a Highland Park whisky tasting, which included Magnus, Valkyrie, Full Volume, Highland Park 18-year-old, and The Dark.  It was interesting to compare and contrast The Dark and the 17-year-old Full Volume, which was matured exclusively in first fill ex-bourbon casks.  Both feature the same distillate and are the same age, leaving the cask types as the only variable (painting in broad strokes here).  Full Volume’s bourbon cask maturation really showcases those bourbon notes of vanilla and tropical fruit, where The Dark leans in the dried fruit and smoky direction.  You can see that video below:

I don’t generally mention color in my reviews unless the whisky is all natural and free of caramel coloring.  That’s the case with Highland Park.  They don’t add any coloring to their whiskies.  The Dark is a beautiful copper color.  Those sherry casks contribute that slight red tinge.  A slow swirl around reveals legs that stick around for days.

The nose is bold but rounded, with hints of fruit cake, spice, heather and an Oloroso sherry nuttiness.  A slight tinge of smoked oak sits in the background.  On the palate, honey and dried fruit kick things off.  Cinnamon and cardamon develop soon afterwards, followed by vanilla pod and cognac-soaked fruitcake.  That wonderful Orkney island heathery peat comes in on the back palate, along with charred old oak and  a touch of smoke.  The fruity and slightly smoky finish lasts for days.  Put the water away.  The Dark is best enjoyed neat.

Highland Park is one of my favorite distilleries.  I’ve found myself thoroughly enjoying every one of their releases.  Not one has disappointed me, and I obviously enjoy some Highland Park whiskies more than others.  This one sits near the top of that list, along with their 18-year-old, 25-year-old and Odin releases.  The Dark is a perfect winter whisky, nicely balancing those dark, heavy dried fruit notes with spice and smoke.  I can’t wait to compare this to the upcoming The Light bottling.  By the way, the finish is still around two hours after tasting.  Time for another glass… 9/10

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Thanks to Highland Park for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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Highland Park Magnus Whisky Review

A new US and Canada exclusive from Highland Park, Magnus pays homage to the distillery’s founder, Magnus Eunson. According to Gordon Motion, the distillery’s Master Whisky Maker, Magnus uses a “high proportion of Sherry seasoned American oak casks along with refill casks.” It’s bottled at 40% and carries a $40 price tag.

As this sample was en route to me, I tried Magnus at one of my local spots. I thought the whisky was bland and lacked character. Of course, this taste came after trying some rum and cognac. In other words, my palate was off. The preceding spirits colored my tastebuds, thus altering my first impression of Magnus. A few days later, the sample arrived and I was excited to approach the whisky with a fresh palate.

I don’t comment on color a lot, but I have to happily note that Highland Park does not add caramel coloring to their whiskies. This whisky’s pale golden color is all natural. The nose is light and easy going with hints of lemon, grilled pineapple, light smoke, and heather. Taste-wise, Magnus features light toffee, vanilla cake, some spiced fruit and a touch of peat. Those notes carry onto the medium-length finish, along with the slightest hint of wood smoke.

I’m so glad my initial impressions were wrong. Magnus isn’t a nice whisky for the price – it’s just a nice whisky, period. Magnus plays to the lighter side of the Highland Park distillery character, probably because of the use of American casks instead of the spicier European casks. Press materials suggest Magnus could be used in an Old Fashioned. At its inexpensive price, I wouldn’t mind using Magnus in a cocktail. Whatever your preferred imbibing method, Magnus is a versatile addition to any bar. Recommended. 7.5/10

Thanks to Highland Park for the sample. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Highland Park Full Volume Whisky Review

Just in time for the holidays, Highland Park has released their newest creation – Full Volume. The distillery compares the creation of Full Volume to that of producing music. How’s that? It’s about keeping balance while delivering full, big flavors. Same with music. You want the final mix to sound balanced and, even when played at full volume, without distortion.

The distillery is known for exclusively using ex-sherry casks for maturing whisky. This is where Full Volume makes a left turn. It is created using only ex-bourbon casks. Two hundred barrels and 250 hogsheads, to be exact. The casks were filled in 1999 and the whisky bottled in 2017. Eagle eyed readers will notice the lack of an actual age statement. If this whisky were 18 years old, I think Highland Park would proudly tout that. Just putting that out there for those who care. Age statements don’t mean as much to me as the quality of whisky in the bottle.

The nose on this pale golden whisky is incredible. Bourbon barrel influences of soft vanilla and coconut complement Highland Park’s signature floral and heathery peat character. A bit of light toffee and sweet oak relax in the background. Bottled at 47.2% abv, Full Volume has oily legs for days. Creamy vanilla, lemon tart, and cinnamon toast form most of the flavor profile. Touches of light smoke and leather appear in the background. The finish is medium in length and rather clean in nature, leaving behind lingering hints of lemon custard, light baking spice, and a wisp of smoke.

Full Volume is a delightful deviation from the distillery’s profile of sherry cask maturation. Kudos to Highland Park for bottling this release higher than 40% abv. The blender was after balance and that’s what he achieved here, especially for the $110 retail price. Wonderful stuff! 8.5/10

Thanks to Highland Park for the sample. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.