Highland Park Distillery
The most northerly of Scotland’s distilleries, this ancient enterprise is located at Kirkwall, the main town of the Orkney Islands. Its colourful and somewhat mysterious history is too complicated to record in this short introduction but suffice to say that it has prospered in the care of Highland Distilleries and their successors since the former acquired it in 1937. Originally, it was very much a blending whisky but ventured into the realms of single malts in the 1970s and gradually developed a following. Something like a third of production is now bottled in its natural state. The rest goes for blending – a lot of it into The Famous Grouse.
And so earlier expressions have become greatly demanded by Highland Park followers and prices reflect that trend. Perhaps this is because there is much that is unique about Highland Park. For a start they still do their own malting using ancient peat cut from Hobbister Moor, a few miles from the distillery. It is a dense heathery peat, which burns slowly and with such intensity as to create a complex floral aroma in the kilns to greatly influence the malting barley, which is still turned by hand. The result is what the owners describe as an “intensely balanced smoky sweetness found only in Highland Park”.
Of course, there is much more to it than that – something of an obsession with Oloroso sherry casks, the complexities of cask harmonization, the geophysical uniqueness of the distillery’s location, the benign climate in terms of temperature range offset by the dominance of wind and the absence of trees, and the pumped water supply. All of this combines with an overlay of Viking myth to produce, for some, the best whisky in the world!
Certainly, Barnard was taken by the place when he visited in 1885, as I was 100 years later.