Whisky Dualism Part 1: Highland Park 17 Year “The Dark”

by on February 4, 2019

Island Single Malt Scotch

Average Price

$280-300 US Retail; £200-220 UK Retail


The aroma is a stunning bold and complex combination of old sherry cask and coastal notes.


The flavors on the finish start to go a bit haywire, and the balance of the dram disintegrates.

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Bottom Line

Worth trying a pour. If mature, tannic sherry bombs are your thing then this is for you. If not, approach with caution.


Ever the marketing geniuses, the folks at Edrington have been infecting boosting old Highland Park for what seems like forever now, when in reality it’s only been a couple years.  Gone are the old days of classical and fairly bland labels featuring the distillery name, an age statement, and a few minor facts about the whisky.  Out with the old and in with the new, and for the secluded Orkney distillery, Edrington has decided that “the new” is a seemingly endless barrage of non-age stated whiskies featuring everything from Norse gods to dolphins.  Don’t worry, says the PR guy, your favorite old age stated 12 and 18 year Highland Park’s are not going away (the 15 year is less fortunate though), but they must be updated with new bottles full of weird lines, and given monikers about dragons or vikings or something.

Of course the limited release game is on point under the re-branding as well.  Edrington seems fond of releasing limited edition Highland Parks in duos, including Thor and Loki and Fire and Ice.  2018 was no exception, bringing to fruition Highland Park Dark and Light.  The website is full of some of the most ludicrous poetic marketing flannel you’ll ever read, but we’ll leave it up to you to click the link and just cover the details (you know, the things that actually matter) here.

Dark was released in the first half of 2018 as a limited-ish release of 28,000 bottles from a vatting of only first fill sherry casks.  It contains a 17 year age statement, and is decked out in an opaque black bottle and very cool black case replete with a weird swirly symbol on the side and more weird hieroglyph things at the base.

Notes on Highland Park 17 Year “The Dark”

  • Distilled and matured at the Highland Park Distillery on the northern island of Orkney
  • Cask type:  first fill sherry
  • Age:  at least 17 years
  • ABV:  52.9%
  • Chill filtered?  No.  Color added?  No.

Nose:  Heavy and dark with sweet sherry, dark fruit reduction, sticky sweets, blood orange, red plum, a touch of balsamic-like acidity, pickled ginger, and hint of seaspray.  Bold and complex.  This has an old-time sherry cask aroma that rivals the best 90’s vintage Glendronach single casks, with a nice touch of coastal saltiness.

Palate:  Sweet and sour arrival filled with huge purple fruits (raisin, fig).  The drying balsamic is more pronounced here.  Borderline umami.  Fig syrup, rich tobacco, and tannic purple fruit skins emerge on the development.  Nice balance between sweet and dry, but lacking the complexity of the aroma.  The end result is a still tasty, but really little more than an old sherry tasting flavor profile.

Finish:  Grilled purple fruits, sea spray, and barrel char.  Things unravel a bit on the finish, which is too tannic and lacks any sort of balance.

Buying Recommendation:  Worth trying a pour.  If mature, tannic sherry bombs are your thing then the Dark is for you.  I’d mistake this for Glendronach 21 year if tasted blind.  The cask dominates and the end result is a rich, mature, overpriced sherry bomb.

One must ask themselves, “when I purchase from a given distillery, what am I hoping to attain?”  What I mean is this:  most single malt distilleries’ whiskies have an inherent character that identifies the malt as having come from that distillery.  This is due to dozens of factors, from geography to shape of the pot still.  A handful of distilleries have more distinguishing character than others.  Among this group are distilleries like Springbank, Laphroaig, Clynelish, and Highland Park.  Therefore, when I buy a Laphroaig it’s because I want a whisky that tastes like Laphroaig.

My point is, Highland Park “The Dark” is not a cheap whisky.  For the price of admission, I expect an excellent whisky and because it’s from Highland Park, I also expect a distinguished whisky.  I don’t want my Highland Park to taste like any other whisky that I can get, especially one that I can get for less money.  And that’s the issue here.  Highland Park “The Dark” is indeed a great whisky and I highly enjoyed drinking it.  But Glendronach 21 Year is also a great whisky, and I can find it for below $200.  My independent bottling of Craigellachie 12 year fresh sherry cask is also a great whisky and it was less than $60.  And to be honest all three of these bottles pretty much taste the exact same:  Like cask-dominated old sherried malt.  It’s a great flavor profile, and I’ll enjoy it quite often, but I’m going to spend nowhere close to $300 to do so.

The Rating Scale

At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:

1-49: Varying degrees of bad
50-59: Average
60-69: Better than average
70-79: Solid/Good
80-89: Excellent
90+: Truly Exceptional

All thoughts and opinions expressed are original to the author of the review or article. We are in no way paid to express any specific opinion about any specific company or product.

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