Highland Park 10-year-old “Viking Scars”


Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…

Highland Park proudly stands as the most northerly whisky distillery in Scotland. Its location in Orkney, a land steeped in history and mythology has led to the brand being imbued with facets of the archipelago’s Viking past. Many, myself included, have criticised this prevalence of Norse imagery across the distillery’s branding, not because it shouldn’t be there (as an important part of the land and culture of Orkney, it probably should) but because it seems to have been applied using a shovel. It’s the total lack of subtlety and finesse that I personally find off-putting.

Take the 10-year-old for example. It’s been given the title of “Viking Scars” without any obvious explanation. For me, the Norse lettering and heavily embossed bottle would have been more than enough. Why go that step further by giving it a name that sounds like it belongs in an old-fashioned adventure story written for adolescent boys?

It’s a problem that persists across the core range. The 10 is “Viking Scars”, the 12 is “Viking Honour” and the names “Viking Heart” and “Viking Pride” adorn the 15 and 18 respectively. If there is a particular meaning or thought process that went into these names, the information doesn’t appear readily available now. You would think Edrington’s marketing department could come up with a bit more than simply pairing Viking with other random words that sound cool.

Still, that’s enough complaining. You can’t drink the label, after all. In any case, searching for the term Viking Scars did uncover an interesting tale of an important archaeological discovery in Orkney and one that seems worthy of sharing here. Back in 1985, John Dearness, a local farmer of Sanday, one of the outer islands in Orkney, was walking along the beach at Scar. There had been a terrible storm the night before and a sandbank had partially collapsed under the onslaught.

Sticking out of the sand, Dearness could see what appeared to be human bones. Assuming he had found the burial site of some long-drowned sailor, John left the poor soul to their rest but not before collecting a small, lead object that lay nearby. As often happens with such things, however, the object was soon placed in a drawer at home and forgotten about.

Six years later, in 1991, the object was shown to Julie Gibson, a visiting archaeologist, who saw great significance in its discovery. The item was taken to Kirkwall, where it was identified as a lead weight used to counterbalance gold and silver on the scales of Norse traders. Gibson promptly returned to Sanday with Dr Raymond Lamb in tow. Visiting the site, the two made an incredible discovery. Dearness, it seems, had inadvertently stumbled upon an incredible Viking boat burial. The wood of the 6.5-metre vessel had rotted away but its size and shape could be determined by marks left behind by 300 rusted iron rivets.

The boat was buried in a stone pit and had a stone chamber inside. Within the partially collapsed chamber were the remains of three people, a man, a woman and a child. Interestingly, the woman was later estimated to be in her 70s, whilst the man was in his 30s and the relationship between the three individuals remains a mystery. Why were they buried together? Was this the result of some disease or tragic accident? Were they family and if so, how did they all die at the same time?

In those days long life was extremely uncommon, so a woman in her 70s may well have been an important and revered member of the local community. This assertion is backed up by the discovery of a whalebone plaque, that was buried at her side. Known as the Scar plaque, the item is thought to have some religious significance and may even have been used in worshipping Freyja, the Norse goddess of fertility. Some have suggested that the man and child were sacrificed in order to accompany the woman in her onward journey but the treasure trove of goods arranged around the man seemed to single him out as a relatively important figure, also.

Sadly, we’ll likely never know the full story of how those three individuals came to spend eternity together but the site remains one of Orkney’s most important archaeological finds of the 20th century. Many of the discoveries, including the woman’s Whalebone Plaque, are on display in the Orkney Museum, Kirkwall.

Highland Park 10-year-old “Viking Scars”

Highland Park Viking Scars

The whisky is said to be aged “predominantly in European and American oak sherry-seasoned casks. It’s bottled at 40% abv.

Smell: Given the blurb (which I repeated above) you’d be forgiven for expecting an abundance of sherry here but that’s not really how the whisky presents itself. The character of the fortified wine is there but I’m guessing that it was refill casks that were used as there’s a subtlety to it. Soft, dried fruits mingle with honey, vanilla, lemon, oak and floral, heathery smoke – so typical of Highland Park. Has a nice freshness to it.

Taste: Quite a gentle arrival with toffee, honey and some citrus developing into some of those raisiny sherry notes. There’s some light pepper and sea salt seasoning, a touch of malty biscuits, oak and very light smoke on the finish.

Thoughts: The nose is vibrant and interesting although I felt it took a little while to come alive on the palate. It feels, at first, a little lifeless. Introductions are so important and this one comes close to fluffing it but thankfully things pick up in the development with some depth and richness provided by those sherry casks and the peppery spice bringing some much-needed intensity. Beyond that, it actually has the feel of quite a delicate whisky with a freshness and fruitiness under the oak. Peat smoke, too, is very subtle, certainly on the palate with only a wisp or two lingering on the finish. Enjoyable enough given its budget-friendly pricing but far from the best of this charismatic distillery.

Price: Officially priced around £35 but often discounted in UK supermarkets. I believe I picked it up for around £26 and at that price, I’ve no complaints. Perhaps you’d expect a bit more from a £35 to £40 bottle but at the discount price it’s a pleasant wee casual sipper.

Highland Park Viking Scars

For more on Highland Park visit https://www.highlandparkwhisky.com/

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