KWM Whisky Advent Day 23 – Gordon Macphail Highland Park 8 Year
Highland Park was until recently Scotland’s northernmost distillery. Officially established in 1798 it was also one of the first to be licensed. But the distillery’s actual origins are shrouded in the mists of time, and the fog which frequently blankets the Orkney archipelago. The distillery was either founded by the legendary and larger than life priest Magnus Eunson, or a farmer named David Robertson. There is also some indication the distillery may have originally been called Rosebank, and later Kirkwall. But for today lets work on the assumption the distillery was established as Highland Park by Magnus Eunson.
Before he took his distillery legit, he was said to have been a prolific illicit distiller and smuggler. In one tale he caught forewarning of a raid by the exciseman, or gauger… Legends suggest he hid his barrels in a church and covered them with a white cloth. When the guagers arrived they found the men kneeling in prayer. Eunson is said to have whispered “small pox”, and that was all the taxmen needed to hear!
Highland Park is one of the most beautiful distilleries in Scotland, tucked into the hills on the outskirts of the Orkney capital of Kirkwall. The buildings are built from an assortment of dark stones, which if memory serves, would have originally served as ballast in the many ships that visited the island. The island was the final stop most British ships traveling to Hudson Bay would have made. They would have taken on provisions including fresh water and whisky. One of the earliest purchasers of whisky from the island would have been British traders sailing for Hudson’s Bay. By the 1850s Highland Park had a reputation for good quality single malt, and was also supplying the biggest blended whisky brands: Ballantines, Dewars and Chivas with stock.
Highland Park is one of less than a dozen distilleries to retain its tradition floor maltings. This malting accounts for about 20% of Highland Park’s production, and is heavily peated with Orkney peat. Orkney peat is famous for having a lighter more delicate impact than other Scottish peats, owing to the archipelago’s geography and climate. The Orkneys are so far north, and exposed to such power winds, that few trees can take root. As a result the islands peat does not contain any wood or crucially pine needles, which give a more acidic, medicinal profile. The 20% of heavily peated malt is blended with unpeated malt from the mainland before mashing.
Gordon Macphail Highland Park 8 Year – 43% – Refill Sherry Hogshead & Ex-Bourbon Barrels – Andrew’s Tasting Note: “Nose: honeyed and waxy; very herbal and floral with heather honey, the whiff of a distant sea breeze and kippers in a pan; diced pineapple and dried apricots. Palate: creamy, waxy and subtly smoky; floral, heather honey, very maritime and savoury with more kippers; more dried apricots and pineapple cubes; still floral and herbal. Finish: a touch nutty with cigar ash, fading fruits, honey and cream. Comment: this is young but a maturity beyond its years; very pleasant, layered and approachable; a gateway whisky for those afraid of peat. ” - $75 for 700ml