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The origins of Highland Park
Highland Park is the most northerly whisky distillery in Scotland. It is located in Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. Its roots can be traced back to 1798 when Magnus Eunson ran an illicit still in the high park above Orkney’s largest settlement.
By all accounts, Eunson was a bit of a character. A church official by day and smuggler by night, he was heavily involved in the production and transportation of illegal spirits, leading to countless clashes with the excisemen of the day, many of which have gone down in local legend.
In his 1887 book ‘Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom’, Alfred Barnard tells how Eunson, upon hearing that his church was to be inspected by the Gaugers, transported barrels to his home where he arranged them in a row, placing the lid of a coffin on top and throwing a white sheet over the lot. When the excisemen found the church empty they made their way to Eunson’s home only to find the entire household on their knees, deep in prayer around what appeared to be a coffin. As they entered the property Eunson, looking their way, made the sign of the cross and whispered “smallpox”. Needless to say, it was a while before the excisemen found their way to Orkney again.
It is impossible to tell how much of Magnus Eunson’s life as we know it is fact or fiction, but with stories so entertaining it scarcely matters. We do know that a group of investors including a man named John Robertson who was involved in Eunson’s eventual arrest and an exciseman named Robert Pringle bought the High Park estate in 1813 and founded what is now the Highland Park distillery.
Today the whisky made at Highland Park is among the most coveted in the world, as desirable for collectors as it is for connoisseurs. Their 12-year-old is one of the finest entry-level options on the market and was described by whisky writer Michael Jackson as “the greatest all-rounder in the world of malt whisky”. Indeed, it was a dram of 12-year-old Highland Park that set me on my own whisky journey.
Smell: Heather, Honey and Malt with Caramel and Fragrant, Floral Peat Smoke. A touch of Apples and Pears.
Taste: Honey and Caramel, underlined with Peat Smoke and plenty of Pepper. Touch of Apple, Lime, a little Creamy and a little Spicy.
Thoughts: I rarely see Highland Park’s 12-year-old selling for more than £30, yet the quality seems to remain pretty consistent in my experience. Obviously, I can personally testify to its suitability as an introduction to the world of single malt Scotch whisky but there’s enough character in the whisky to make it an enjoyable experience for more experienced drinkers too. Michael Jackson’s comments are pretty spot on, as well. This 12-year-old malt has a bit of everything and it keeps it all in balance. There’s a wee bit of sherry, a wee bit of smoke but neither is allowed to overpower. They simply add layers of flavour to the spirit. A higher strength would improve the experience, of course, but it’s one of the better low strength malts available.
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