Highland Whisky: A Dynamic Balance of Unexpected Contrasts

This award-winning spirit features the unique influences of Scotland’s Orkney Islands.

Ten miles from the northernmost reaches of the Scottish mainland lie the 70 or so islands that make up Orkney, only 20 of which are inhabited. These islands may be remote, and the weather might be wild, but the climate is temperate and creativity abounds, so it’s the perfect place for making whisky. 

It is here, on the mainland in Kirkwall that Highland Park has been crafting its award-winning whisky since 1798, on the same site where founder, Magnus Eunson, set up his original illicit still at High Park. 

For Highland Park, it’s the salty sea winds that shape Orkney’s coastlines, the intensely floral character of the heather-rich peat and the finest sherry-seasoned oak casks, otherwise known as the five keystones of production, that create the uniquely complex balance of sweet and smoky flavours inherent to Highland Park’s single malt Scotch whisky. 

Years of Tradition in Whisky Making

For over 220 years, Highland Park has smoked its barley over 4,000-year-old peat, hand cut from Hobbister Moor, just seven miles from the distillery. This woodless, fragrant, heather-rich peat, which is completely unique to Highland Park and vitally important to the unique flavour and character of the whisky, burns slowly and with an astonishing intensity to create a complex floral aroma in the kilns resulting in an intensely balanced, smoky sweetness. 

Highland Park is one of only a handful of distilleries to still turn their malt by hand. When barley is malting, it generates a substantial amount of heat, so it is painstakingly turned by hand every eight hours, seven days a week, to maintain a constant airflow and exactly the right amount of moisture to absorb the intense aromatic smoke or “reek” produced by the peat smoldering in the ancient kilns. 

Only the finest quality sherry-seasoned oak casks are used in the maturation and finishing of Highland Park whisky. Casks contribute up to 60 per cent of Highland Park’s final flavour and 100 per cent of its natural colour so once the staves are shipped to Jerez in southern Spain where they’re made into casks, they’re filled with Spanish sherry and left to mature for around two years before being emptied and shipped to Orkney where they’re filled with Highland Park’s new make spirit — expensive, but worth every penny.

No whisky would be complete without time. Cool and even-paced maturation in Highland Park’s sheltered island warehouses is possible because of the complete contrast of stormy waters, seas winds, dark and long winters yet curiously mild climate, tempered by the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. 

For every batch of Highland Park released, Gordon Motion, Highland Park’s master whisky maker, selects and marries up to 150 casks, leaving the whisky to rest for at least one month before bottling. During this critical resting period, known as cask harmonization, flavours from the different casks combine and harmonize, achieving an intense balance that’s delivered through the whisky’s fully rounded flavour and long, satisfying finish. 

Collectively, these natural and often contradictory influences of the environment in the Orkney Islands, complemented by age, experience and respect for tradition, result in a wild harmony of perfect contrasts that is so distinctly Highland Park. Learn more at highlandparkwhisky.com

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