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Highland Park is a well-known and beloved Scotch whisky brand and distillery. Located in Kirkwall, Orkney, on land that once housed the bothy of smuggler and illicit distiller Magnus Eunson, the distillery has been producing whisky for more than two centuries.
Orkney is an interesting place to make whisky. The islands stand ten miles north of Scotland at the meeting point between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. The weather in this remote land is frequently wild, with 100mph winds common. As a result, there are few trees hardy enough to withstand the onslaught. That lack of wood affects the composition of the peat that’s used to smoke Highland Park’s barley. It’s one of the key factors in the whisky’s unique character.
Over the years, Highland Park has sought to dial its marketing into the traits that make Orkney unique. For the most part that has involved celebrating the historical influence of the Norse. Orkney was under Viking rule from around 800AD to 1468AD and buildings and place names still show the tell-tale signs of that era.
Highland Park has taken a bit of criticism for their devotion to the Viking theme. For me, it has always been part of the brand’s identity, although the re-branding that dubbed each of the core bottlings Viking Scars, Viking Honour, Viking Heart and Viking Pride perhaps took it a but too far. Still, at the end of the day, it’s what’s in the bottle that really matters.
This wee sample was passed to me by a good friend. The whisky was bottled in honour of the Orkney Rowing Club which was established in 2014 and has around 40 members. The club regularly raises funds to support local charities and Highland Park donates a portion of each bottle sale to them.
The whisky is matured in first-fill bourbon casks and bottled at an impressive 58%. It’s priced around £65.
Smell: Bourbon-led. Vanilla. Toffee. Cinnamon. Brown sugar. Wee touch of citrus. Milk chocolate. Some subtle red berry top notes. Pepper. Heather honey. Walnut. Conkers! Wee herbal note in there, as well. Rum spices. Subtle smoke.
Taste: Thick toffee. Salted caramel. Fiery heat from mixed peppers. Dark chocolate. Good texture! Caramel sweets – Werther’s Originals. Orange zest. Musty oak. Smoky finish.
Thoughts: Starts out as a wonderfully rich dram with a real luxurious feel to it. The peppery heat is intense though which encourages a wee splash of water. Once diluted a little, the rich bourbon morphs into something fresher with lemongrass and pear drops on the nose. On the palate, the water seems to have kicked up more smoke whilst also subduing the heat. It’s a big change but no less enjoyable. The water also brought a nice haze, suggesting a lack of any nasty filtering – that’s probably why it has such a lovely weight on the palate. This is a wonderful whisky.
Price: A well-balanced all-rounder with a fantastic mouthfeel and great intensity of flavour. I was a little surprised that it only cost £65. A great buy.
For more on Highland Park visit https://www.highlandparkwhisky.com/