About this blog:

This blog will feature tasting notes, reviews, distillery visits and whisky news with focus mainly on Scottish single malts. This will sometimes be accompanied by politically incorrect (whisky) opinions. You have now been warned! :-)
The views expressed here are entirely my own, unless otherwise stated.

Sunday, 14 September 2014


To mark the launch of the latest addition to the Highland Park range, the 'Dark Origins'-bottling, the sailing yacht 'Celeste', a Farr 65' class boat, set out on August 18th this year from Gothenburg, Sweden heading towards the Orkney Islands, retracing the steps of the Scandinavians settlers on Orkney in the most traditional of ways, by navigating across the high seas towards new shores, just as these fearless seafarers did many years ago...

Heading west... picture courtesy of Edrington & Highland Park

The journey brought peat and barley from Scandinavian to Orkney to mark the beginning of a distilling on Orkney and the links to the illicit distiller 'Magnus Eunson' to whom the 'Dark Origins'-bottling is a tribute.

So, what's the story with this Magnus-guy, you ask? Well, Magnus was a butcher and church clerk by day and an illicit distillery by night. It all went very well for a while but eventually Magnus was caught by the excise man.

Magnus' distilling took place close to his farm called 'High Park' and its easy to see that becoming 'Highland Park' over the years and also why the silhouette depicted on the 'Dark Origins' tube is supposed to be Magnus. The silhouette quickly made people make references like Robin Hood, David Beckham and Obi-Wan Kenobi... but no, it's just supposed to be Magnus Eunson - an illicit distiller on Orkney in the late 18th century... and let's thank either the Norse gods (which Highland Park is know to make a reference or two to...) or just the whisky gods for that - else we wouldn't be drinking the stuff today ;-)

But back to these brave men and women who ventured out on what for some would be an adventure of a lifetime... because they had to endure hardship on their way to the Orkneys... The 'Celeste', a modern yacht with all its amenities vs. an old open viking longship sets things in perspective when you, like the 14 people on the 'Dark Expedition', encounters 25' waves and high winds on the North Sea... Imagine a crossing in an open low railing longship instead with no shelter or just tarp for cover - oh, those Norsemen... what a hardened people we were/are :-)

Stormy seas... picture courtesy of Edrington & Highland Park

Today, we Scandinavians are still bound very much to the sea as it surrounds most of us on one side or another and the crew partaking in the Dark Expedition are not dressed in chain armor and helmets or carrying swords and axes like they were 1000 years ago... these are the faces of some of the 'Dark Expedition'-members 2014...

'Dark Expedition'-members 2014 - pictures courtesy of Edrington & Highland Park

Following the Warrior series previously released by Highland Park, this new addition is a welcome one...
It uses twice as many 1st fill sherry casks as the standard Highland Park 12yo expression and the abv% is now 46,8%... a natural strength of the casks used in this vatting, according to Brand Ambassdor Martin Markvardsen. Also the peat level in this one is higher than usual in your standard Highland Park, certainly giving the 'Dark Origins' a more rustic and rough edge than what we're used to seeing from Highland Park Distillery - I'm even betting some drinkers not into peat will find this one off putting... :-O

... and we have to adress it... it's a NAS bottling... but it's doing all right, this one.
According to Brand Ambassdor Martin Markvardsen the 'Dark Origins' contains no whisky under the age of 10 and even some as old as 30 (very small portion, I'm guessing) - and (me guessing again) it's probably under strength 30yo that has gone into this one... not that it matters, just look at a certain bottling series from a Speyside distillery starting with B... it has a number of under strength casks in their vattings and it's cracking whisky!

Crossing the North Sea... picture courtesy of Edrington & Highland Park

Reaching the Orkney Islands after 4 days of hard seas, felt very much as a victory for the Expeditioners and after talking to some of the participant journeying back with the 'Celeste' from the Orkneys via Norway to Skagen, Denmark, the expression in their eyes and faces changed to that of people just having endured a great journey... maybe the modern Norsemen have softened after millennium? After all, today's journeymen were your kid's schoolteachers and restaurateur from the place you go for your meals and not people already hardened by everyday life a 1000 years ago...

The 'Celeste' reaching the Orkneys - pictures courtesy of Edrington & Highland Park

Having reached their destination, the next much smaller journey was to the distillery and the birthplace of the 'Dark Origins'-bottling - enjoy the pictures from there...

Highland Park Distillery - pictures courtesy of Edrington & Highland Park
Lots of beautiful pictures here, I know... and believe me, I'm not trying to distract your from the whisky, which, I know, is what you really came here for....

Shortly after the arrival on Orkney the boat took on a partial new crew and headed back towards Scandinavia and after a stop-over in Norway they headed to Skagen, the northern most town in Denmark for what will be the Danish launch of the 'Dark Origins'-bottling.

Those of you that follow my blog on Facebook and Twitter will have noticed that on August 26th I was in Skagen for the launch of the 'Dark Origins' and added a few pictures from there... but I'll post a couple of them here again before re-posting my tasting notes for the 'Dark Origins'

Brand Ambassador Martin Markvardsen hosting the tasting on board the 'Celeste' in Skagen, August 26th 2014
© The Malt Desk
On board the 'Celeste' we had a couple of other Highland Park for comparison, which was the 12 and the 18, and both coming across better than I remembered, that evening...

As I've mentioned above, this is a re-posting of my tasting notes, as I'd already tasted the 'Dark Origins' before attending this event...

It's alive! and certainly a Highland Park, as the honey and floral/fruity intensity is very up front here as is a rougher smoky side. It's not Islay smoke - it's more delicate and rushes in after the fruity notes has hit your nose, staying very evident all the time after that. When you nose this, it's either fruity smoke or smoky fruit (Does that really make sense? No? oh, well... )

There's strong tea, hint of nutmeg, ginger powder, baked banana and orange peel and heavy, slightly burnt, toffee notes and sometimes a hint of farmyard. The increased use of 1st fill sherry casks are indeed noticeable here. Then there's the smoke which, by design according to Highland Park, is much stronger than in the standard offerings from then. It works very well with the sherry influence. At times I get like standing in a garden surrounded by flower beds with the BBQ on as the floral notes pops back up again... I'd like to say heather as its usually one of Highland Park's prominent features, but I'm not sure that's it here.

Very good nose!

The Dark Origins Bottling - picture courtesy of Edrington & Highland Park

Sweet, yet drying sherry at first arrival, then the smoke rushes in along with dried fruit all sorts, smoked pineapple
from that BBQ on the nose above. Also whisky soaked apple wood chips, cinnamon, orange chocolate notes, old cigar boxes and warming spices I'd normally associate with dark rums. The whole thing finishes off drying with a slightly dirty edge to the sherry, but is very soon replaced by notes of bran flakes and an earthiness until finally the smoke takes over completely, leaving a beach bonfire in your mouth for a good length of time. If you feel this is a little rough, it takes a teaspoon of water just fine. It's all very nice, indeed, though I do get a feeling that the palate sometimes is a bit restrained...

The guys at Highland Park has done something right here and as I mentioned above it starts with upping the abv to 46,8%... it makes a big difference in the arrival and general delivery of flavour in this whisky! Also, there's no doubt that the increase in use of 1st fill sherry casks as well upping the smokiness has done wonders.

But what about it being a NAS bottling, I hear you ask? Does it contain a lot of young whisky? Does it show? and, most importantly, is it worth the price tag they've slapped on it? Well, I'm sure it does contain some young whisky, but honestly if it does, it works fine here as its covered in sherry and smoke and doesn't come across as young. The only slight young'ish feeling I get is at the very edges of the mouth and a hint on the very finish where the smoke gives up and you get a cereal note instead - that's it for me, at least - do make up your own mind about this!

And the price, you ask? I payed £60/€76/$100 for a bottle of this. They do have to pay for the marketing flannel and the fancy black bottle for this and, even though I like the design, I can do without it... but it wouldn't be a 'Dark' Origin if it came in a clear bottle, would it? :-O though if it did, we could admire the lovely colour of the whisky :-) Anyway, I'd be more a satisfied punter with a £47 price tag on this.

Bottom line... it's good whisky! and it will no doubt, become a hit with the regular punter!


Read my original post here

Finally, thanks to Edrington DK & Holm & Bertung for the invitation to the event

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