Highland Park entrance uploaded by Ben, 01. Apr 2015
Highland Park sash & spirit stills uploaded by Ben, 01. Apr 2015

Highland Park

Highland Park has the distinction of being the most northerly distillery in Scotland, being located on the north island of Orkney. This beautiful but isolated distillery has an impressive range of official bottlings.

Details about the Distillery

The Whisky

Highland Park has the distinction of being the most northerly distillery in Scotland, being located on the north island of Orkney. This beautiful but isolated distillery has an impressive range of official bottlings. The core range of the distillery's official bottlings is comprised of a 12 year old, 18 year old, 21 year old, 25 year old, 30 year old, 40 year old, 50 year old, and a 'Dark Origins' bottling, which uses twice as many first fill sherry casks than the classic Highland Park 12 year old, resulting in a naturally darker and richer taste. 

The distillery also has a series of special bottlings, which includes the “Valhalla” range, which is a series of distiller's editions named after the Norse mythological gods, as well as an Orcadian Series of vintage bottlings. The Orcadian Vintage series is currently comprised of a 1964, 1968, 1970, 1971, and 1976 bottlings. Highland Park is also used as a major component in the Famous Grouse whisky blend. 

The Production

The water used in Highland Park is drawn from Cattie Maggie's Spring, which is located on Orkney, close to the distillery. The spring has provided water to generations of distillers from the island, not all of who were operating above the letter of the law. The pure, clear nature of the water is a major contributor to the taste of Highland Park. The production capacity of the distillery stands at an impressive 2.5 million liters of single malt a year. The majority of the single malt distilled at the site is sold as single malt, although a significant proportion is sent to the Famous Grouse's distillery (aka Glenturret) to be used for blending. 

The entrance in the Highland Park distillery.
The entrance of the Highland Park Distillery

The Pot Stills

Production at Highland Park is driven by four pot stills; two wash, two spirit. The wash stills each have a capacity of 20'000 liters, while the spirit stills stand a little smaller, at 18'000 liters. Both the wash and the spirit stills have a pear shape, with round, spherical lids and gradually narrowing conical necks.

The wash and spirit stills in the Highland Park distillery.
The Pot Stills of the Highland Park Distillery

The Maltings

Highland Park is one of a very few distilleries to still make partly use of it's own floor maltings. Considering the significant production capacity of the distillery, this feature is especially impressive. The maltings used in the production of Highland Park are peated, with the peat used in the process being carefully selected from the Hobbister Moor. This sweet, heathery peat, which burns much hotter and cleaner than peat from Islay, is a very important component in the flavoring of Highland Park. 

The malting floor inside the distillery.
The malting floor of the Highland Park Distillery

The Warehouse

Highland Park boasts an enormous complex of warehouses, with the total currently standing at 26. Many of these are dunnage warehouses that still have the traditional earthen floors. Orkney's climate is perfect for maturing whisky, being neither too warm nor too cold. A major contributor to the flavor of Highland Park is the time that the single malt spends in the distillery's casks. Every single cask used at Highland Park is seasoned with dry Olorosso sherry. These Spanish casks give the spirit a fruity, spicy and colorful flavor. Another distinguishing feature of Highland Park is the fact that the distillery utilizes a rather obscure technique called 'cask harmonization'. This process involves combining distillates of varying maturities in a cask to help ensure consistency and balance of flavor. Harmonization greatly helps to balance the flavor of single malt, and many experts have commented upon the enriching quality that the process has had upon Highland Park. 

A look inside the warehouse.
View inside warehouse of the Highland Park Distillery

The History

In addition to being the most northerly, Highland Park is also one of the oldest working distilleries in Scotland. The distillery claims that it was established in 1798, but it is pretty sensible to approach any 'founding' dates in the 18th century with a fair degree of skepticism. It is more than possible that a large amount of illicit distilling was occurring on the Highland Park site around that time, as we have enormous amounts of historic sources that indicate that Orkney was a genuine hotbed of illicit distillation. There are numerous legends about the extent to which illicit distilling was occurring on Orkney, many of which involve accounts of the mayor of Kirkwall, the capital of Orkney, being a major smuggler.  

The first license to distill whisky was granted to Highland Park in 1826, with Robert Borwick overseeing the production. The Borwick family maintained control of the site until 1895, when James Grant, the owner of Glenlivet Distillery, purchased it. Grant increased the capacity of the distillery, adding another two stills. Operation continued to flourish under Grant's management, and by 1937, Highland Park had caught the attention of Highland Distillers, who bought the site. In 1979, Highland Distillers decided to take a different tact in regards to selling their single malt. Rather that using the majority of the spirit produced at the site for blending, the management decided instead to make a serious investment in marketing Highland Park as single malt. This savvy move increased sales of Highland Park enormously. Always one to be in keeping with the times, Highland Park opened a visitor's centre in 1986. In 1999, the Erdington Group and William Grant & Sons acquired Highland Distillers. The distillery and visitor's centre underwent an enormous renovation, with over GBP 2 million being spent. Under it's new ownership, Highland Park has continued to develop and expand. In 2003, a Highland Park 30 year old was introduced, debuting in America, and then moving through to the UK. The distillery has since introduced other new bottlings, such as the recent Valhalla range, and the Ambassador's Cask. 

The Highland Park cask template.
A cask template of the Highland Park Distillery

Visitor's Centre

The coffee shop of the Highland Park Distillery. Highland Park has an award-winning visitor's centre, which is routinely heralded as one of the best in the UK. The facilities offered by the distillery include the opportunity to tour the distillery, view a multimedia show, do your own bottling, and sample the extensive range included in the official gift shop.