This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse this site you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Find out more here.
    Login    Register    Customer service    +44 (0)141 427 2977

    Highland Park Single Malt Whisky

    Located in Orkney, Highland Park is one of the most remote whisky distilleries in the world. It also claims to be one of the oldest distilleries still functioning today, but this is often disputed. The distillery claims to have been in existence since 1798, but it was not officially licensed until 1826. Either way, Highland Park are still committed to the traditional processes of distilling which they have used for almost 200 years and have continued to create excellent whisky to this day.

    Like many distilleries, Highland Park went through a number of ownership changes in the early days. It wasn’t until 1876 when it was taken over by Stuart and Mackay that the brand began to find real success through international sales. It was then purchased by James Grant (of Glenlivet fame) in 1895 and he soon upgraded the facilities to include 4 stills. From this point onward the distillery flourished; it was later purchased by Highland Distillers in 1937 and they were subsequently absorbed by current owners Edrington Group & W.Grant & Sons in 1999.

    Orkney is a unique environment for producing whisky and the terroir contributes notably to the distinctive style of Highland Park. Special heathered peat is drawn from the moors by the distillery and fresh water from the surrounding springs. The salty sea air and the temperate winds of the island make for a whisky which matures quite unlike any other.

    Highland Park has gained notoriety among whisky connoisseurs, having been declared as one of the best whiskies in the world on several occasions; the 21 year old expressions was awarded the title at the World Whiskies Awards 2009 and the 25 year old expression won the Ultimate Spirit award in 2013.

    Gavin Smith writes:

    The figure of Magnus Eunson looms large in the heritage of Highland Park distillery. Eunson was a legendary Orcadian illicit whisky-maker, whose bothy occupied the site of the present distillery, located on the outskirts of the Orkney capital of Kirkwall. 

    The best-known story regarding Eunson, a butcher and church beadle, is retold by Alfred Barnard in his 1887 book Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom. Apparently, Eunson stored illicit whisky beneath a church pulpit, on one occasion moving it 

    to his house when he feared a raid by excise officers. 

    When the excisemen ultimately arrived at the house they found Eunson and his family solemnly gathered around what looked like a bier, but was actually the offending kegs of whisky, covered with a cloth. Eunson told the officers that there had been a death, and when one of the company was heard to mutter the word ‘smallpox,’ the excisemen rapidly took their leave! 

    Magnus Eunson was also the inspiration for the latest addition to the Highland Park core range of single malts, but more of that later. 

    The distillery – Scotland’s northernmost - was constructed by David Robertson during the last decade of the 18th century, though the precise date of establishment has proved difficult to establish. Most authorities give it as 1798. 

    From 1826, various members of the Borthwick family ran Highland Park, and in 1895 James Grant, owner of the famed Glenlivet, purchased the distillery. Three years later he doubled capacity by adding a second pair of stills. In 1937 Highland Distilleries acquired Highland Park, and in 1979 the first ‘official’ bottling of the brand took place, with the company investing heavily to promote it. Highland Distilleries was subsequently renamed Highland Distillers, and in 1999 became part of the Edrington Group. 

    Edrington has continued the policy of major investment in the brand, and has extended the principal range significantly, also adding vintages, limited editions and travel retail-exclusive bottlings. In 2005 US drinks writer Paul Pacult declared Highland Park 18-year-old to be ‘The best spirit in the world,’ which did the whisky no harm at all in terms of prestige and additional sales. The same year, a new bottle design, based on an up-scaled sample bottle from around the 1860s, was introduced, along with refreshed packaging to match, and a positive decade of business has followed. 

    According to Global Marketing Manager Gerry Tosh, “Highland Park is performing very well at the moment. We can sell everything we’ve got, and as with many other distillers, shortage of stock is a bugbear. We’ve been doing well across the board. The US is strong, as is the UK and Nordic countries, we are seeing green shoots in Asia, and travel retail is a great market for us.” 

    Highland Park distillery is currently making around 2.1 million litres of spirit per year, and is equipped with a semi-lauter mash tun, a dozen traditional Oregon pine washbacks, and two pairs of stills, but this apparently standard equipment produces a malt whisky truly unique in style and substance. 

    The Edrington Group prides itself on the highly distinctive character of Highland Park, and points to a number of factors that contribute to its unique character. The distillery continues to operate traditional malting floors, which provide some 20 per cent of its requirements. This malt is relatively highly peated – to 30- 40ppm - while the remainder is virtually unpeated and is imported from the mainland. The two are blended together prior to mashing. 

    The peat burnt in the Highland Park kilns is notably aromatic, being derived from heather, dried grass and plants, rather than from trees, as the windswept Orkney Islands have always been relatively treeless. The distillery owns some 2,000 acres of peat land on Hobbister Moor, annually cutting around 200 tonnes to fuel the distillery furnace. 

    When it comes to maturation, former sherry casks are favoured, and as a distillery spokesperson explains, “At Highland Park, Bourbon barrels are not routinely filled. Traditional oak casks are used; butts, puncheons or hogsheads – no barrels – all seasoned with dry Oloroso sherry, which contribute to the distinctive richness in the resulting whisky. 

    “Spanish oak casks seasoned with sherry give colour, spice and dried fruit character, whereas American oak sherry seasoned casks give lighter, sweeter vanilla and butterscotch flavours. Sherry oak casks are far more expensive but the view at Highland Park is that they are worth it for the rich character and natural colour they provide to the maturing spirit.” 

    That ‘maturing spirit’ is housed in 23 on-site warehouses, 19 of which are of the old-fashioned ‘dunnage’ variety, allowing for a relatively even and cool maturation, with Orkney enjoying a notably temperate climate, with few extremes of cold or heat. 

    Every batch of Highland Park single malt is the product of a vatting of a combination of cask types, and after vatting the whisky is returned to casks for a ‘marrying’ period of some six months, though this period may be longer for some of the older expressions. 

    Regarding the issue of age, Highland Park offers a comprehensive range of whiskies, from the best-selling 12-year-old right up to a venerable 50-year-old expression, with 15, 18, 25, 30 and 40-year-olds along the way. However, 2014 saw the introduction of the first ‘core’ Highland Park bottling not to carry an age statement, namely Dark Origins. 

    According to Gerry Tosh, “Dark Origins isn’t a no-age-statement malt due to lack of stock, but in order to get the flavour profile we wanted. We were trying to produce a whisky that might be similar to that distilled by Magnus Eunson, and we reckon it would have been quite dark and sweet. We needed flexibility with age to achieve that. We use twice as many first-fill sherry casks for it than we do for our 12-year-old. For the core range we don’t usually stray from age statements, but for Dark Origins we did, and it’s been doing extremely well. People get what it’s about. Sales have blown all our expectations out of the water.” 

    The latest release from Highland Park is the eagerly-awaited fourth bottling in the Valhalla Collection: cask strength expressions which commemorate Norse Gods - reflecting the character and qualities of the Gods in the whisky itself. Orkney is rich in Norse heritage and influences, being closer to the Arctic Circle than to London, while the islands actually belonged to Norway until 1472. The first Valhalla expression, Thor, was released in 2012, followed annually by Loki and Freya, while Odin appeared this February. 

    According to Daryl Haldane Global Brand Advocate for Highland Park. “Like the King of Asgard himself, Odin is an intense, powerful and complex whisky. Strength and power are expertly balanced with the distillery’s signature Orcadian style. Odin is the strongest of all the expressions within The Valhalla Collection at 55.8%abv. The whisky possesses a fierce spice, with pulsating explosions of smoke that uncovers dense oaky notes with rich charred walnuts with subtle sweetness throughout.” 

    When he visited Highland Park distillery during the 1880s, Alfred Barnard described the whisky distilled there as “…unlike any other made in the kingdom.” While the team behind the brand continue to turn out single malts like Dark Origins and Odin that statement will continue to resonate with drinkers the world over. 

    Shop by: