This Single Malt Scotch Whisky from the Isle of Orkney is not for the faint-hearted. In this review, you will discover Highland Park’s Dark Origin as I cover the following topics:

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Highland Park Dark Origins Overview

  • Distillery: Highland ParkDistillery
  • Expression: Dark Origins
  • Variety: Single Malt Scotch Whisky
  • Region: Isle of Orkney
  • Age: NAS
  • Casking: First-fill Sherry casks (European & American oak), refill Sherry casks
  • Cask Strength: 46,8% ABV
  • Pricing:
  • Parent: The Edrington Group

The Dark Origins from one of Scotland’s northernmost distilleries is quite a characterful single malt. Its name and story refer to the historical origins and to the roots of this very particular distillery’s founder, Magnus Eunson.


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Highland Park Dark Origin’s Robe

  • Hue: Golden brown
  • Clarity: Crisp
  • Viscosity: Rather thick

Since this single malt has been matured in mostly first-fill sherry casks as well as refill sherry casks, I would assume it has plenty of natural color from the aging process. As a matter of consequence, there wouldn’t be a necessity to add E150 sugar caramel to darken the spirit, even though the label does not indicate it hasn’t been colored.


The color itself is a very shimmering golden brown. The liquid is perfectly clear, showcasing thick, oily viscosity. This, together with the slow-running legs on the side of the glass, suggest we’re in for a rather heavy and characterful spirit’s ride.

Highland Park Dark Origin’s Nose

  • Notes: Woody, dried fruit, seaweed
  • Nosefeel: Warming, Prickly

It’s a creamy, elegant, vanilla-driven first sensation that I am detecting right out of the gates. Woody, dried fruit notes emerge, which would usually be attributed to Andalusian Sherry.

The sensations are further enhanced by gourmet marzipan aromas, gently waving from roasted nuts, flaky almonds, and particularly toasted walnuts, to a more complex smoke and earthy tone. This, per see, is not a very heavily peated whisky. One can get quite a bit of funky green nuances that certain peated single malts have to offer, but generally speaking, it’s more a salty, briny, and almost maritime character.

This is not just another want-to-be peat-bomb Islay malt, filled to the brim with tar, smoke, and ash. You can feel that this is a unique whisky terroir, proudly offering its unique style and origin.

I have to confess the complexity of the nasal expression is not overly abundant or exciting. The Dark Origins delivers a rather clear and concise portfolio of aromas, mostly driven by a vanilla and caramel sweetness up front, ever so gently underlined by minerality, salt, smoke, and brininess.

Highland Park Dark Origin’s Palate & Mouthfeel


  • Primary Taste: Sweet, Umami
  • Mouthfeel: Warming, Oily
  • Opening:  Chili, caramel, sea salt
  • Heart: Seaweed, pepper, dried prune
  • Finish: Medium [green walnut, tonka bean, soy sauce]

The palate though offers way more character, I’m greeted by an almost fiery beginning. There is freshly grated ginger to start with, a little bit of chilly heat building up at the tip of my tongue. Then the sweetness starts to come to the forefront: caramel, burned sugar, even Crema Catalana with a lavish mix of vanilla and creme brulée.

In the back, a green walnut-like and rather maritime freshness develop, transcending into a rather clean medium-length finish. The alcohol, even though it has a warming edge at the beginning, is balanced and quite nicely woven into the overall experience.

Just the right amount of tannins is present to keep the palate engaged and excited. All in all, the bitterness is never overpowering, which has to be clearly mentioned, since the maturation leans heavily on bold oak casks. All these layers are nicely balanced and graciously intertwined with each other: the alcohol, tannins, and juiciness greatly match the body, mellowness, and structure of this single malt.

After a few minutes, more cinnamon and splashes of soy sauce are prominent, adding just another element of complexity and depth.


How To Drink Highland Park Dark Origins

In terms of versatility and drinkability, most people would suggest drinking this single malt straight out of a Glencairn glass or a standard nosing glass, which is even more elegant and refined.

Personally, I wouldn’t see an issue at all when pouring this whisky over a block of ice, even topping it off with a splash of ginger ale, ginger beer, or whatever your favorite mixer might be.

I do not necessarily see this as your standard cocktail Scotch, simply because of the price tag. However, if you decide to mix your preferred cocktail with Dark Origins, you won’t be disappointed.

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Highland Park Dark Origins Cocktail Suggestions

As mentioned above, Dark Origins is primarily a sipping single malt. However, we can also suggest the following cocktails with it:

  1. Rusty Nail
  2. Rob Roy
  3. Old Fashioned
  4. Penicillin


Best Pairings With Highland Park Dark Origins

I’m a big fan of smokey single malts with ripe Parmigiano. The saltiness and fattiness from the cheese will beautifully counterbalance some of the whisky’s sweetness, whilst they also bring out more character and complexity in terms of aroma and flavor.

You could also sip this alongside your favorite cigar. I would suggest a stick with quite a bit of guts, probably coming from Nicaragua. In this particular case, I enjoyed a Rocky Patel Fifty-Five with the Dark Origins, which turned out to be a gorgeous combination. However, since this is a 46.8% ABV Scotch, I added quite a bit of water to tame down the alcoholic strength, which would otherwise interfere with my smoking experience.

If you want to experiment with a funkier combination, get yourself some fresh oysters and pour a few droplets of the whisky right on top before slurping away. That is a mesmerizing experience, an eye-opener that will leave you wondering, how to ever enjoy oysters again, without the whisky.


Overall Experience & Value For Money

The packaging and overall experience of the Highland Park Dark Origins are quite distinct. I really like the look and feel of this black-coated bottle with the poppy cork on top – a lovely presentation.

Generally speaking, the boxes and bottle designs of Highland Park are very prominent, flashy, and very inspired,

The Dark Origins will set you back somewhere around 80 to 90 bucks, depending on your area of residence. Given the fact that this is a non-age-statement whisky, one could argue about the costs. However, the enjoyment and holistic experience guarantee there’s decent value for money to be found.


Closing Thoughts

Usually, I’m not a huge purist, as you very well know, but the Dark Origins is a single malt I’d most likely sip and enjoy neat, all by itself. It’s good value for money dram, offering a great presentation and a very well-marketed performance: slick design and a few odd Viking stories included.

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"A rather bold and characterful dram - not for the faint hearted but very tasty indeed."
Bespoke Unit Rating: ★★★★

Further Reading

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