I must disclose something before writing this review. Highland Park is a distillery that holds special significance to me, as their 12 year old was the first whisky I ever bought for myself. My girlfriend took me on a trip to Aberdeen for my 30th birthday which included a tour and tasting at the Scotch Whisky Experience, something I cannot recommend enough for anyone with even a mild interest in whisky. It rescued me from the depths of JD and Coke and set me on the path of enlightenment that is scotch whisky, and I am forever grateful.
Returning from the holiday a changed man, I immediately ran the nearest supermarket and bought a bottle of Highland Park 12 year old, before it was called “Viking Honour”. I have fond memories of it being a delicious dram, it’s signature wisp of smoke on the finish being something that is sadly lacking in recent bottles.
I regularly check out the whisky shelves of the major UK supermarkets, usually as part of a time killing exercise while I wait for the aforementioned girlfriend to finish her bizarre shopping ritual which I neither understand nor wish to partake in. Often during these moments of solace have I noticed the Highland Park Dragon Legend appear next to the 12 year old. I’ve picked it up a few times, curious as to what it might be. After spending 15 minutes reading the novel squeezed onto the box and sneakily removing the bottle, trying not to look like a shoplifter, I’ve come away none the wiser.
On further research, it’s supposed to be a “richer, smokier version of Highland Park”. This is literally all the information I can find about the whisky from the distillery themselves, including watching Highland Park’s promotional video on their website. I suppose I’d better taste some and find out what it’s all about then.
The colour has a tell-tale greenish hue that defines a natural coloured whisky, which is very encouraging. Highland Park are keen to point out in their promotional material that none of their whisky is coloured, which is good news. They do mature a good portion of their whisky in sherry casks which imparts significant colour on a spirit, so they really have no need to artificially colour anything and I’m glad they stand by that. The use of black glass to hide any inconsistencies between vattings is to me a forgivable sin. Personally I’d rather see the colour of the whisky I’m considering buying, but I understand why they’re doing it.
The nose on this is really rather pleasant and interesting. It’s definitely a peatier version, and actually steers away from Highland Park’s traditional smoky peat and includes some quality vegetal notes. The usual sherry influence is still present and not overwhelmed, in fact it is rather well balanced.
Taste is where the youthfulness of the overall vatting becomes apparent. I would guess that there were some well matured casks used for this to provide the quality nose and the decent peat that is present on the palate, however the development into the finish loses some of the depth and quality of the nose and arrival. What starts off as promising peters out into an overly bitter finish. What should be a deep cigar finish turns into a bit of an ash tray from the night before.
I added half a teaspoon of water in light of the fact that this is bottled at 43.1% (*UK) and I didn’t think it improved very much. Nothing much more appeared on the nose and the finish certainly suffered. This tells me that Highland Park knew it needed a bit of a kick to deliver what decent flavours are present here.
To conclude, it’s not bad. It’s RRP is £42 and at that price for any NAS whisky I’d be asking questions. Dragon Legend doesn’t really provide a good enough answer in my opinion, especially when the 12 year old is very enjoyable at £26.
*Header image “borrowed” from the Highland Park website. I only had a 50ml sample bottle of this whisky which doesn’t make for very good photos.