Highland Park are well known (and often derided) for their fondness of Viking and Norse culture. They’re certainly not the only brand to draw on local legend for their marketing, but it’s hard to think of anyone that’s gone for it with quite the same vigour. This isn’t really a complaint you understand, I’ve always enjoyed history and folklore and Scotland seems to have more than its fair share of interesting tales to be told, so I don’t see too much of a problem with connecting whisky to some of those stories. What I think irritates people, is an absence of useful, practical information about the spirit they’re buying. Especially when age statements disappeared and were replaced by a host of Gaelic words and the names of various Viking Gods. Despite the name of this website however, I never really set out to focus purely on reviewing drams. Instead, I wanted to use whisky as a jumping off point to tell stories, and so I often enjoy delving into the folklore that inspired a bottle’s name.
Highland Park’s Valfather, it will come as no surprise to learn, takes its inspiration from Norse mythology. It is the third and final entry in the Viking Legend series and is named after Odin, the Allfather, chief of the Gods. Odin made his home in the magnificent hall of Valhalla in Asgard, where he would feast on the souls of heroes who died in battle. Prior to every human conflict, Odin was said to choose the victor, before sending the Valkyries to carry the fallen back to Valhalla.
To create the packaging for the Valfather single malt, Highland Park employed the services of Danish designer Jim Lyngvild, who based his work on ancient picture stones from Stora Hammars in Gotland, Sweden. These 7th century standing stones show Odin depicted as a great eagle beside the Valknut, a symbol theorised by some to represent the great God’s ability to inspire courage in men and foster fear in his enemies.
You may well wonder what any of that has to do with a Scotch whisky distillery and that would be understandable, but don’t strain too much. Orkney was home to a Viking settlement at least as early as 780AD and their influence can still be seen in the landscape and culture of the islands today. This treasure trove of myth and legend has long been mined for the marketing purposes of Highland Park.
Valfather is described as the peatiest release from Highland Park though I was unable to find the specifics of why that was so. Matured in refill casks, it was bottled at 47% abv, without colouring and retails at around £55.
Smell: Recognisably Highland Park with heather honey, vanilla, malt and cereal notes. There’s also smoky bacon and pepper. Caramel and some citrus. Water brings out more of the peat smoke and a blast of sea breeze.
Taste: Honey. Orange. Pepper. Cinnamon. Biscuit. Caramel. More pepper. Water brings forth more smoke and spice before a dry, woody finish.
Thoughts: As always with no age statement whiskies, there’s no way of knowing exactly what your money is buying. Instead we must go on our findings in terms of smell and taste. Fortunately, the quality in this bottle was worth paying the £55 for.
Highland Park is the distillery responsible for launching my own whisky voyage and it will always have a place in my affections but after drifting away from it somewhat, a couple of recent drams caught my attention. I had a dram of Full Volume in the Malt Room in Inverness and I picked up a bottle of Dragon Legend at my local supermarket. I enjoyed both so decided to try out the Valfather and I’ve been well satisfied with my choice. For my palate, the smoke is fairly subdued when compared with the whisky of Islay for example, but there’s a remarkable amount of complexity in the spirit. It’s also bottled at natural colour and at a good strength of 47%. Despite there being little information available regarding chill-filtering, or the lack thereof, the Scotch mist that formed in my glass after water was added suggested that the practice had been avoided. It’s nice to see good, higher strength drams coming from this distillery. Maybe my relationship with Highland Park has some mileage left in it after all. That would be nautical miles of course. To be navigated in a dragon-headed longship. Now where’s my axe..?
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For more on Highland Park visit here.