A Wild Harmony: The History of Highland Park
Standing high above Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands is a distillery steeped in a rich heritage, Highland Park. The malt masters at Highland Park have been producing signature Scotch from the same site for more than two centuries. From an illicit still in 1798 to now being one of Scotland’s biggest globally recognised Scotch distilleries, the Highland Park journey is deep rooted in tradition and topography.
Here at Whisky Kingdom, we’re proud to stock a large variety of outstanding bottles from the legendary Highland Park distillery. Let’s explore the history of this renowned label…
Latitude and legacy
Ten miles from the Scottish mainland lies a collection of remote islands, called the Orkney Islands. Where the North Sea rises to meet the Atlantic Ocean, these islands are at the mercy of powerful tides and harsh sea winds. Despite the wild environment of this rugged landscape, its temperate climate, maritime influences, and heather-rich peat moorland make it the ultimate home of whisky making.
One of the northernmost distilleries in the world, Highland Park sits on a latitude of 58.9847°N – that’s roughly the same anchorage as Alaska and just shy of the Arctic Circle. This Northern spot has been home to Highland Park since founder, Magnus Eunson, set up his original illicit still in 1798. At a time when whisky making was unregulated and unlicensed, Magnus began smoking barley over 4,000-year-old peat, hand-cut from nearby Hobbister Moor.
What makes Highland Park Scotch so unique? No other distillery in the world uses peat that is so dense and heather rich, which makes it burn slowly and with great intensity. It’s what gives Highland Park its complex yet balanced and smoky yet sweet character. Despite Orkney lying outside of the five major whisky-making regions of Scotland, the area has a surprisingly perfect climate for a long and even-paced whisky maturation. Thanks to the Gulf Stream providing consistent seasons each year – an average of 2°C in winter to 16°C in summer – Highland Park is making the most of the largely untapped potential of the Orkney Islands.
Benefiting from the natural environment surrounding the High Park site, the distillery harvests dense Yarphie and ancient coal-like moss – the core of its peat dating back 4,000 years. Not wavering from its traditional whisky-making processes, Highland Park uses the same five processes as it did in the beginning. Named ‘keystones’, these staple processes are what makes Highland Park a truly authentic label.
- Hand-turned floor maltings
One of only a handful of distilleries to still turn malt by hand, the malt masters at Highland Park are dedicated to keeping this tradition alive. Turning the malt by hand, every eight hours, seven days a week, the malt masters at Highland Park withstand a substantial amount of heat which is produced when barley is malting. This painstaking process maintains a constant airflow and ensures the right amount of moisture to fully absorb the intense aromatic smoke.
- Aromatic peat from Hobbister Moor
The aromatic smoke infused during the malting process is called the ‘Reek’ and is produced by the Hobbister Moor peat smouldering in the distillery’s ancient kilns. The peat from Hobbister Moor, just seven miles from the distillery, is unique to Highland Park and is vital to the flavour and character of its signature whisky.
In April each year, the heather-rich peat is hand-cut from this remote landscape and dried naturally over the summer months. This essential ingredient is then burned in ancient kilns to allow the heathery aromatic smoke to infuse with the malting barley.
- Sherry seasoned oak casks
With casks contributing up to 60% of the final flavour, and 100% of the whisky’s natural colour, only the finest quality sherry seasoned oak casks are carefully chosen for maturation. Working in partnership with sustainably managed forests to annually select high quality European and American oak trees, Highland Park cuts the wood into staves at precisely 45° to make it hard for any spirit to escape – the same process Orkney’s Viking ancestors used to make their longships watertight.
These staves are then shipped to Jerez in Southern Spain, where they’re made into casks, filled with Spanish sherry, and left to mature for around two years. Emptied and returned to Orkney, the casks are ready to be filled with the distillery’s new make spirit. It’s a lengthy and costly process, but one that makes Highland Park stand out from the rest.
- Cool maturation
The stormy waters and powerful winds that batter the Orkney Islands over the winter months provide the perfect conditions for a long, cool maturation. Whilst the waves smash over the cliffs and the winds reach up to 100mph, the temperature remains relatively mild throughout the year. It rarely drops below 2°C or exceeds 16°C, thanks to the warming climate of the Gulf Stream.
- Cask harmonisation
Something seen as an unnecessary extravagance by many distilleries, Highland Park goes the extra mile by undertaking cask harmonisation. For each batch of Highland Park Scotch, master whisky maker Gordon Motion selects and marries up to 150 casks, leaving the newly combined whisky to rest for at least a month before bottling.
During this critical resting period, flavours from the different casks combine and harmonise, achieving an intense balance that’s delivered through the whisky’s fully rounded flavour and long finish.
A signature collection
Combining a long legacy with meticulous attention to quality, Highland Park has become one of the largest Scotch producers, shining a spotlight on the uniqueness of Orkney whisky.
With a significant collection, from rare vintages and collectible releases to special editions and more accessible expressions, there’s something for any type of whisky lover. Whilst each bottle offers its own distinctive character, each carries the same DNA of Highland Park’s uniquely complex balance of flavours. Expect a dram with a wild harmony of heather honey, rich fruitcake, and aromatic peat smoke.
At Whisky Kingdom, we’re big fans of Highland Park and we think you will be too. We stock a wide selection of this exceptional Scotch, including a range of vintages, the renowned Vikings range, and the rare and collectible 40-year release. Discover this legendary distillery for yourself and explore the full range.