Today’s tasting is brought to you courtesy of The Langham in London. Okay, they didn’t really bring you [or me] anything. I was just walking around, stopped by, sat at a bar, and ordered two drams. They happened to have both at exactly the same price, and so I figured that it was a great chance to try these, side by side. I haven’t seen The Light and The Dark expressions from Highland Park in many shops before, but I believe they were released sometime in 2017 as part of the series, obviously complementing each other. I suppose it wouldn’t even make sense to buy one without the other and place them lonesome on a shelf. But let us peel apart the layers and see what these 17-year-old single malts deliver. But first, we need music! Now playing: Abul Mogard – In a Few Places Along the River.
First and foremost I must recognize that these two bottles are very nice. And I mean that from the design perspective of the beautiful glass that holds this spirit. It is embossed with an image of a serpent dragon, which is inspired by the Norse sagas, “embracing both the high sun of the summer solstice and the low sun of the winter solstice, while the runic writing reflects the ancient carvings of our Viking ancestors.” It is definitely stunning, and it’s a pleasure to hold and admire the vessel. But the buyers be wary – too much marketing and too much contrivance can distract from the liquid that is hiding inside. And it’s not accidental, and the ad men all know it. So while I appreciate a bit of craft to accompany my whisky, it’s the craft of the whisky that I’d rather enjoy. Both of these single malts are bottled at an interesting 52.9% ABV. I say “interesting” because all of the 28,000 (times two) bottles have the same ABV – which means that it’s not accidental. And although the whisky here is cask strength – it is not from a single barrel. Nevertheless, since both are sold at a whopping £190, you get a lot more whisky here (even more than the 18-year-old). There is no information on either of the bottles. Are they chill-filtered? Coloured? It’s anyone’s guess. But since it is unwritten, it’s a good chance they are since the contract between the buyer and the seller is expressed on the label.
By now, we have already concluded that they’re most likely identical spirits that are aged in two different casks types. And the nose and the taste do confirm this. So The Light spent its life in refill American oak casks, while The Dark in sherry seasoned oak casks. Both types of barrels were previously used, so the character they impart on the whisky is muted, slightly damped with age. Both of these need some water and some time to unfurl. I will spare you the notes of the flavours within – suffice it to say that they’re neither of the “classic” Highland Parks, with that caramelized toffee, spices and fruit. Nor are they deeply complex and remind me more of the Diageo’s Special Releases bottlings, specifically the Glendullan, Oban, and Talisker – slightly stripped-down versions and naked within. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as it presents the spirit “un-moulded” to fit the regular consumer’s palate. And although The Light was created to celebrate the warm summer days in Orkney, while The Dark to acknowledge the autumn and winter [“a time to escape from wild weather outside and gather with friends and family, sharing long nights of conversation and laughter around the fire“], both go well any time.
And finally, is there a difference and a standout? For sure. While The Dark has those notes that it extracted from the sherry, The Light is a little bit sweeter and softer and dense. In the finish, it’s The Light that is just a little bit smokier. That’s surprising [to me] since I thought that I’d want all that warmth in the winter and more weightlessness during the warm summer months. I will state for the record that I like the 18-year-old more or the cask-strength release. But if I had to pick between The Light and The Dark, I would go with the former and proclaim that The Light wins this round.