When we received an invite to the launch of a new core Highland Park expression, we were naturally quite excited. The invite said that we were to be taken into the darkness for a whisky “dark by nature and character”. Having recently released our own Darkness! range we had a pretty good idea what this meant. (Hint: yummy Sherry!)
What amused us about the invite, however, was that there was a hooded chap printed in the background that looked suspiciously like the protagonist from the ’90s computer game ‘Thief: The Dark Project’ (emphasis added). Apparently it’s actually supposed to be Magnus Eunson, the butcher/church official by day, legendary whisky smuggler/illicit distiller by night of Highland Park foundation myth (dating back to 1798). Indeed, whilst other whiskies may have adopted the dark, we’re told that the Orkney single malt was very much born in it. BaneCat would be suitably impressed.
Magnus Eunson (/Garrett off of 'Thief')
Sam and Alex inform me that a new Thief game was recently released ("Nerrrds!"), but if you’re not familiar with the ’90s classic, it’s the one where you sneak about a castle avoiding/incapacitating/killing all manner of knights and other nasties as you make your way about the place. Still unsure whether we’d just imagined this link, we read the rest of the invite. The event was to take place in Harrods, Knightsbridge. Very good. So off to Harrods I went...
This must be the place, the knights here are carrying croquet mallets!
Highland Park Global Brand Advocate Daryl Haldane talked us through the whisky in ‘the dark room’, where we received a glass of the new expression from a familiar hooded figure (I tried to take a pic, but, you know, it was dark). He explained how the story of Magnus Eunson (a man whose double life he likens to that of Batman) is incredibly important to the Orkney distillery, but that it’s one that they feel they’re yet to do justice. They very much hope this new core bottling will do just that:
Highland Park Dark Origins – 46.8%
This new no age statement expression is bottled at 46.8% without chill filtration (and like everything produced at Highland Park these days contains no caramel). Despite the lack of an age statement we can confidently call this a teenage whisky (they’re also not in the business of sneaking any of their younger stuff into a bottling like this), which just leaves one other thing to explain; the fact that it’s matured in “double first fill sherry casks”, using “twice as many first fill sherry casks than in the classic Highland Park 12 year old”.
This, we understand, means the following: It’s 80% first-fill Sherry (20% refill), with about 60% first-fill European oak casks and 20% first-fill American oak casks used.
Colour: I usually don’t bother with colour in these notes, but this isn’t as dark as the video above makes out, nor is it “rich mahogany” as they describe it. As it comes in an opaque bottle, that’s perhaps a little cheeky (/silly?). The colour is natural though, and it’s the flavour that really matters anyway so let’s get to that...
Nose: Dusty baking spices and cocoa at first, cinnamon, vanilla, dates. Coffee cream Revels (possibly a couple of the orange ones too), a touch of blackcurrant/liquorice, plus a couple of things Daryl mentioned that I think are spot on: butterscotch and an interplay between milk and dark chocolate.
Palate: Sweet, fragrant peat emerges with nutty melted milk chocolate and a little orange alongside some pastries.
Finish: Long and sweet, a little dry chocolate, just a hint of that heather smoke, then salivating.
Overall: Forget the colour, this is dark whisky alright with rounded first-fill Sherry notes from both the European and American oak casks. It should sit happily between the Highland Park 12 and 18 year olds (it'll be about £60-£65) for many years to come.
Hey, look who made it onto the box!
In true Magnus Eunson style, they also 'smuggled' a sample to us at MoM towers earlier in the day inside a Lipton's tea tin! (We saw others received theirs inside Bovril tins, Jacob's Cream Crackers tins etc. A nice touch.) The real Magnus was known for hiding his whisky from the exciseman, or gauger, by placing it under the pulpit in the church or inside 33 litre casks within coffins! It's said that the plucky chap once got wind that the church was to be searched and so moved his whisky into the middle of a room in his house, threw a coffin lid and white sheet over the top and had 'mourners' surround it, thus keeping it all safe even when his home was searched too! We hear he also made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs...
One must know the dark to appreciate the light...
(Hey, he has one of those expensive Blade Runner whisky glasses I can't quite justify buying, the swine!)
Speaking of appreciating the light after the dark (going completely off topic klaxon!), our conversations last night somehow got onto the topic of breakfast television and the dire state that it's in. This led to some serious discussion (which I promised I’d include in the blog) and a new movement for the good of humanity. Quite simply, we demand the return of The Big Breakfast. Micky Flanagan is being lined up as part of a brand new duo of presenters as we speak. You know it makes sense.