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