Highland Park distillery was officially founded in 1798, but legend has it that distilling had been taking place in Kirkwall’s High Park long before then. Founder Magnus Eunson – a church officer by day – ran his illicit still from a bothy on the site of the present distillery. In Barnard’s ‘The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom and Ireland’, the author relates one of the many tales of Eunson’s legend. Upon hearing that excisemen were to search his Church for illicit whisky, Eunson had all the casks moved to his house, placed in the middle of an empty room, and a coffin lid sat atop with a clean white cloth covering the lot. Eunson gathered all his people around the whisky and sat at the head with the Bible in his hand. When the officers arrived after an unsuccessful search of the kirk, those gathered began to wail. Eunson indicated to the officers that it was a death and one of the attendants whispered “smallpox.” The officers ran off immediately leaving the smuggler in peace.
Legend to legendary
While the legend of Magnus Eunson endures, there is debate among historians as to whether the distillery was founded by Eunson or a farmer named David Robertson. Even the original name isn’t known for certain – it may have been known as Rosebank and then Kirkwall. What is definite is that the distillery began to find success under the ownership of William Stuart in the late 19th century, along with his partner James Grant. Stuart also owned the Miltonduff distillery in Moray, while Grant had been the manager of The Glenlivet. Grant took full control of Highland Park in 1895 and expanded the distillery greatly. The spirit was first bottled as a single malt in the 1970s as an 8-year-old. In the 1980s the range was revamped with the introduction of the current 12 and 18-year-old expressions. The spirit is known for its aromatic peat notes, obtained through the use of peat cut at Hobbistor Moor on the island, just seven miles from the distillery.
The Orkney malt with Viking soul
Amidst the myth of Magnus, there is no doubt of the distillery’s Viking heritage. Indeed, the Orkney islands where under Viking rule for more than 600 years before King Christian I of Norway and Denmark handed the islands to Scotland as part of his daughter Margaret’s wedding dowry to King James III of Scotland – to this day, one in three islanders have Viking DNA. It’s no surprise then that Highland Park takes inspiration from Viking legend for its core range of single malts and special editions. The core range was refreshed in 2017, with a new look bottle and packaging featuring designs taken from the ornate carvings of an ancient ‘Stavkirke’ (wooden church). The liquid remains unchanged, with the line-up of 10, 12 and 18-year old expressions continuing to garner acclaim at international spirits competitions. Limited editions have been inspired by Viking mythology such as Fire, Ice, Valkyrie, and Valhalla, as well as the distillery’s location as one of the most northern distilleries in Scotland.
Highland Park at The Whisky Shop
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