Our orkney home
Beautifully remote, gloriously windswept
where the north sea rises to meet the Atlantic ocean. where rugged coasts are lashed smooth by salt-laden sea winds. where heather peat carpets mile after mile of wild moorland. This is where we make our whisky. This is orkney.
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A cluster of islands scattered in the cold north sea
Ten miles from the northernmost reaches of the Scottish mainland lie the 70 or so islands that make up Orkney, only 20 of which are inhabited. These islands may be remote and the weather might be wild, but the climate is temperate and the people are creative, so it’s the perfect place for making whisky.
Here in kirkwall, on our mainland, highland park has been distilled since 1798, on the same site where our founder, magnus eunson, set up his original illicit still at high park. Our distillery lies almost in the arctic circle, at a latitude of 58.9847°n – that’s roughly the same as anchorage, alaska. In fact, we’re closer to Oslo than we are to London, but divided by miles upon stormy miles of water.
Wild is the wind
Our beautiful yet isolated cluster of islands is pounded relentlessly by winds that frequently reach speeds of over 100mph in the winter. No tree can survive such an onslaught. It means that our moorland peat is woodless but rich in fragrant heather, which give rise to the unique aromatic smokiness of our whisky. Here in orkney, unrelenting winds make for unbelievable whiskies.
One shovel at a time
For over 220 years, we’ve smoked our barley over 4,000-year-old peat, hand-cut from hobbister moor, just 7 miles from our distillery. No other distillery in the world uses peat like ours. our dense, heather-rich peat burns slowly, and with an astonishing intensity, to create a complex floral aroma in our kilns – the origins of the intensely balanced, smoky sweetness found only in highland park.
A wild outpost of the viking kingdom
Early in the 9th century, when Viking longboats were leaving the shores of Denmark and Norway in search of new lands to conquer, they came upon orkney. And so our islands were swept up into a vast viking kingdom and ruled by a succession of viking earls from around 800 ad until 1468.
Once a viking, always a viking?
The vikings arrived as invaders but soon settled as farmers, traders and craftsmen, leaving their mark on our islands’ culture and character. Not only is the norse influence evident in buildings like orphir round kirk and st magnus cathedral, but a survey revealed that one in three orcadians today have viking dna. Our core range of whiskies – 10 year old viking scars, 12 year old viking honor, 15 year old viking heart and 18 year old viking pride – pay tribute to our heritage.
Our five keystones of production
When stonemasons build arches, they need one stone to hold the arch together. This is known as the keystone, and that’s why we refer to our five keystones of production. without them, our whisky wouldn’t be our whisky.
We've maintained the same five keystones of production since 1798. Each requires fierce determination, hard work and skill. just the way we like it.
Hand-turned floor maltings
We’re one of only a handful of distilleries to still turn our malt by hand. It's hard work, yes, but the end justifies the means (and vice versa, when you think about it).
When barley is malting, it generates a substantial amount of heat (starch turning into sugar to fuel growth), so we painstakingly turn it by hand, every eight hours, seven days a week, to maintain a constant airflow and exactly the right amount of moisture (5%) to fully absorb the intense aromatic smoke – the ‘reek’ – produced by the hobbister moor peat smoldering in our ancient kilns.
Aromatic peat from hobbister moor
The peat from hobbister moor is completely unique to Highland park and vitally important to the unique flavour and character of our whisky – a critical strand of our dna.
The moor lies just seven miles from our distillery and its peat is over 9,000 years old in places and up to 4m deep. treeless, as few can survive the constant onslaught of ferocious winds, it is rich in fragrant heather from the top layer of fogg to the densely compacted yarphie and finally the ancient, coal-like moss. annually in April, we carefully hand-cut peat from this rugged, ancient landscape and dry it naturally over the summer months before burning it in our ancient kilns, where its heathery aromatic smoke infuses the malting barley.
SHERRY SEASONED OAK CASKS
Casks contribute up to 60% of our whisky’s final flavor and 100% of its natural color so we insist on the finest quality sherry seasoned oak casks for maturation, not just for finishing.
We work in partnership with carefully managed forests to annually select our European and American oak trees, and we cut the wood into staves at precisely 45° to make it hard for any spirit to escape. This is exactly how our viking ancestors made their longships watertight.
We then ship the staves to Jerez in southern Spain where they’re made into casks, filled with Spanish sherry and left to mature for around two years, before being emptied and shipped back to Orkney to be filled with our new make spirit, fresh from our stills. expensive yes, but worth every penny.
To mature whisky to perfection, you need time, stoic patience and a cruelly long winter. Welcome to orkney.
our islands are scattered in stormy waters off the extreme north coast of scotland, where the north sea meets the atlantic ocean. our coastlines are constantly pounded by waves and our islands by sea winds, reaching up to 100mph in winter. and those winters are dark and long here. very long. Yet, by complete contrast, we enjoy a curiously mild climate, tempered by the warming effect of the gulf stream. While the weather may drive itself into a frenzy, the temperature seldom drops below 2°c or above 16° c. Perfect for our whisky’s long, cool and evenly paced maturation in our sheltered island warehouses.
Creating a balanced whisky requires time and skill. However, creating the complex balance we’re known for, also requires cask harmonization.
While most distilleries see this process as an extravagance, for us it’s a necessity. For every batch of Highland park released, Gordon motion, our master whisky maker, selects and marries up to 150 casks, leaving the newly combined whisky to rest for at least a month before bottling. During that critical resting period, flavors from the different casks combine and harmonize, achieving an intense balance that’s delivered through our whisky’s fully rounded flavor and long, satisfying finish. The process is much like leaving a hearty soup to simmer over a slow flame, giving the flavors time to come together and infuse.