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Before Highland Park came along, I thought whisky was a harsh spirit that could only be tolerated if drowned by a mixer. This opinion changed, however, at the funeral of a man I never knew. As is customary in the Highlands, I was offered a dram upon my arrival at a wake and, not wanting to appear rude, I accepted it. To my surprise, I found that I really enjoyed it and when my glass was empty, I went straight to the bar to order another. The experience set me out on a journey that would eventually lead to the creation of this blog and though I never met the man, who had been a friend to my wife’s family, I am eternally grateful to him for my introduction to single malt whisky.
The Highland Park distillery sits just above Kirkwall in the Orkney isles, in a place called ‘high park’. The distillery was built on land where once a bothy belonging to Magnus Eunson stood. Eunson it seems was something of a character, working in the church by day and smuggling by night and he is often credited as Highland Park’s founder, due to his dalliances with distilling as early as 1798. The distillery as we know it today however was constructed in 1825 by Robert Borwick, long after Eunson had been caught and punished for his wayward lifestyle.
The Highland Park single malt is a giant of the whisky world, with their 12-year-old in particular offering an excellent gateway to single malts.
This particular Highland Park has been bottled by Gordon & MacPhail however, as part of their cask strength collection. Distilled in 2006 it was matured for 9 years in a first fill bourbon barrel and bottled at 57.9%.
Smell: Floral, with Honey and Creamy Vanilla. There’s also Lemon and gentle, underlying Peat Smoke.
Taste: A generous helping of Black Pepper with Honey, Vanilla, subtle Orange Zest and Peat Smoke.
Thoughts: £55 is perfectly acceptable for a cask strength dram from such a big-name distillery, but for want of a better word, it’s just a little too bland to represent really great value for money. For a first-fill bourbon barrel, I found the cask impact slightly lacking but perhaps I just prefer Highland Park with a wee bit of sherry influence. I don’t regret buying the bottle. It’s all a learning experience with single malt and I’m sure I’ll make my way through it in time. I think I just expected a little bit more from this one.
Around 97% of all Scotch is matured in bourbon barrels because the UK simply couldn’t sustain the levels of oak required by the whisky industry and had to find alternative sources. It had been discovered quite early on that maturing Scotch in second-hand barrels which had previously held another liquid harvested the best results and when the sherry industry went into decline, Scotch producers were left short of quality wood.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the end of prohibition in the US saw a boom in the nations bourbon industry, and since bourbon had to be matured in fresh, virgin casks by law, scotch producers were able to secure a new dependable supply of casks with which to age their spirit.
This symbiotic relationship between Scotch and bourbon has thrived to the present day and with sherry’s decline continuing it is now more important than ever.