Colour in whisky can be misleading and easily doctored. Many are attracted to a specific release on the basis of its tone and the promise of robust flavours within. When faced with various drams I’d actually prefer the colour to be hidden from sight taking that extra step towards a true mystery tasting.
We’ve all succumbed to the elusive charms of colour and made that purchase. There’s a crowd that pursues the sherry monsters or the dayglo wine casks with a religious zeal. It’s their thing. Plaudits to these monster hunters for chasing over saturated wood dominated whiskies often constricted by tannins and a coarse dryness. Then enduring endless tastings of what seem to be young whiskies from the Glenrothes distillery. Colour is a dangerous thing and for a while during these reviews when compiling the tasting notes I’d come up with increasingly elaborate ways to describe the various shades of brown in the glass. For a while, I even debated ditching colour altogether. Ultimately it means very little unless its an official bottling that’s had so much E150 added to its recipe that you can taste the bitterness or Bowmore as its known.
Yes, adding colour brings a consistency but there’s this embedded belief from a segment of consumers that a rich colourful whisky will destroy a bottle without any visible traces of brown. That’s why many releases from the supermarket sector such as Aldi and alike come in cartons and green bottles. Whereas the official editions will showcase their colour like a massive bluechip on their shoulder. When you’ve returned home and broken the seal and poured yourself a dram does the colour truly matter? Exactly. It’s another myth we’ve been force fed over the decades alongside the all-time classic of age matters – remember that one? Colour isn’t too far behind and its influence is slowly diminishing thanks to many brands now going with the au naturale appearance.
Moving on we’re faced by the Highland Park The Dark hence all this chatter about colours – if you hadn’t figured that out already. It’s a whisky that is built upon the essence of colour for marketing. A general rule for the distillery is that the sherry influence grows as you rise through the ages. Personally having tried the Highland Park expressions up to the grand old age statement of 40, I can safely say the 25 year old is the sweet spot. Yet some of the best whiskies I’ve experienced that have been fully matured in sherry butts are from Highland Park. Independent releases of course but nevertheless any sherried expression from this Orkney Viking docking station does appear on my whisky radar.
The Dark is a companion piece to the more recent Highland Park The Light which wasn’t too bad in the glass. Sadly you couldn’t escape the taste of that £190 price tag. Especially when details about its composition are fairly scant. It’s a simple rule if you’re moving into the £100+ bracket that bling won’t cover up the gaps in information. We do know that the Dark is a feisty teenager at 17 years of age and is a limited release with an outturn of 28,00 bottles. It’ll set you back £190 should you wish to compare and contrast. My thanks to Highland Park for sending a sample of this whisky over to review.
Highland Park The Dark – review
Colour: cinder toffee
On the nose: initially, it’s musty which isn’t something I say very often in any tasting note but it’s evident here. This needs more time. Tick tock. Rubbed brass, cracked walnuts and a burst of red cherry sweetness. Caramelised apples with a hint of red onion follow alongside resin and red liquorice. It’s a solid opening but one that doesn’t knock down any doors – perhaps the addition of water will help? A little more smoky, orange-based and honeyed now.
In the mouth: astringent and oddly so. It’s not the powerhouse Viking onslaught I was expecting more a warm-up act. I’m not a fan of huge sherry monsters so this comes as a relief somewhat but also the power and drive are missing. Returning, strawberries, marzipan and elements of cocoa. Water reveals a gentle peat legacy, worn leather, honeycomb and biscuit notes. Pleasant enough but at the same time lacks a gripping texture or layered detailing that only the great sherry casks can provide.
It’s a bit flat for want of a better expression. I’ve been fortunate to have layered and joyous Highland Park’s matured exclusively in sherry. The spirit of Highland Park isn’t in question but I wonder whether the end result here has its flaws in the DNA of the sherry casks of the modern era. Such vessels are now temporary hosts or worst still briefly flushed with poor sherry destined to become vinegar or worst still. The end result is a whisky with flashes of sherry influence but lacking true character and poise.
Whilst it doesn’t reach the heights it does showcase that Highland Park goes well with a sherry cask. The fact you have to pay £190 still is hard to justify unless you’re truly committed to the Viking cause.
There’s a commission link within this review for the Whisky Exchange. Given the score you can see this doesn’t influence our verdict.