There are many ways to mark a significant milestone: have a party, make a change, or take up something new. Orkney distillery, Highland Park, has chosen to celebrate its 225th anniversary by releasing its oldest single malt whisky to date.
The ultra-rare expression, which has been slumbering in the far north of Scotland for nearly a quarter of the distillery’s history, is an exquisite homage to the whisky maker and blender’s art. Starting way back in 1968 – before the birth of current Master Whisky Maker, Gordon Motion – four refill butts and six refill hogsheads were laid down in the heart of the windswept archipelago and left to mature until 2008. Their work is not yet done; the contents were transferred into first-fill European Sherry butts, where they continued to age.
Now, the precious liquid is ready for consumption – bearing the deep, rich natural colour imbued by the last fourteen years of its maturation and showing a surprisingly light and vibrant air for a spirit this old.
ABOUT HIGHLAND PARK
Originally founded – or in the words of brand ambassador Martin Markvardsen – “caught” in 1798, Highland Park allegedly stumbled into legal whisky production when church beadle Magnus Eunson was fingered for smuggling. The stories abound about his Jekyll and Hyde existence – butcher and church leader by day, illicit distiller and smuggler by night – but one thing’s for sure, whether the whisky was hidden under the pulpit or in coffins, it was in high demand from day one.
In the modern age, however, the brand is more transparent. Releasing only natural colour products, the team go to great lengths to ensure the consistency and quality of the product is unimpeachable, with the idiosyncrasies of Orkney imparting an independent edge to many of their releases.
Foremost amongst these must be the use of the uniquely heather-rich Orcadian peat. In a land short of trees, the decaying matter laid down to form the fuel for the locally malted barley carries the flavour of heather honey to distinguish it from the heavier peat of the mainland, which is typically rich in centuries-old lignin or the iodine-heavy marine-inflected sod of the Hebrides.
Finally, the distillery has been resolutely Sherry-cask only since 2004, ensuring that every release combines that light heather smoke with a solid dose of dried fruits and the perfume of a sweetly aged wine.
THE 54-YEAR-OLD RELEASE
In the case of the Highland Park 54-year-old, these characteristics are present and correct, but the second maturation in first-fill Sherry butts has conspired to give it a surprisingly youthful character. The entire package, wrapped up in the Stoelzle Flaconnage designed bespoke bottle and encased in the Scottish oak bottle carved by John Galvin, speaks implicitly of Orkney, with textures and shapes inspired by the ancient red sandstone of Yesnaby Cliffs and the flowing trails of molten lava that formed the Orcadian Isles.
Highland Park 54-Year-Old, 46.9%
Nose: the floral notes of exquisitely aged whisky – jasmine, lavender, light varnish, and toasted marshmallow sweetness.
Palate: a nutty charcuterie board – burnt thyme and marjoram, aniseed, peppy cured ham, and pistachio.
Finish: the faintest touch of smoke – burnt fir, light peat smoke, fresh rose and lavender eau de toilette.
Highland Park 54-year-old is available in the UK from Berry Bros. & Rudd and The Whisky Shop with an RRP of £39,000.
To discover more, visit: highlandparkwhisky.com
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All imagery courtesy of Highland Park.