I woke, looked up through the round window on the roof, and smiled. It was dry!
Amy and I, along with the two kids, had decided to holiday a little closer to home this summer. We left Cawdor early on our journey toward Aberdeen, where we would board our Ferry for the overnight sailing north to Shetland. There, we would begin a tour of the northern isles. After visiting friends in Lerwick we took two further ferries, heading north to the most northerly inhabited part of the British Isles: Unst.
Being an adventurous family, we set up camp on a remote beach and sat with our friends enjoying a few drams whilst the kids slept. For those unfamiliar with this part of the world: darkness does not really descend; it was like midday at 2 am! After our trip to the “top of the world” (as the kids called it) we returned south again to the main ferry port to bid farewell to our friends and await onward transportation to Orkney.
Now, Orkney was new to me and the kids, but Amy had lived there for a couple of years as a teenager. She wanted to show us some of her old stomping grounds, and this was great, but really Amy knew that there was two places I was really interested in (and one in particular). So it came to be that on our second day on Orkney we went on a whisky adventure (as well as a beach and some fish and chips… well, I had a local Orkney delicacy known as a “Pattie,” as I’m not keen on fish.
First stop was Scapa Distillery. Some maintenance work was being undertaken but this didn’t stop me popping into the shop and having a great chat with the staff there… and a wee dram. Photographs were taken for my archive, and then it was round to Kirkwall and Highland Park. I’ve long enjoyed the whisky of Highland Park, and admit to owning more bottles than I really should. I may blame Amy, as she has bought a fair few of them as gifts (she knows me too well).
But, this was my first visit to the distillery, and I think I was a little excited, but perhaps that’s a story for another time. Safe to say I enjoyed the experience and – although Orkney is not the easiest/cheapest place to visit – I would say that if Highland Park is your thing then its worth the effort. Later, we headed to the shopping area of Kirkwall, which of course meant a visit to the Highland Park retail outlet in situ there. The staff in store were fantastic, friendly, and helpful, and I left with a bottle of 18 year old.
Of late Highland Park has taken a little bit of a knocking for what some perceive to be a over concentration on the marketing as opposed to the whisky. In some quarters itis felt that the current Viking theme is somewhat over the top and is a little gimmicky, perhaps? I can see the argument, but for me: I like it, as much as I am Scottish, and that Orkney is Scottish. I am aware that the Norse culture is a big part of these northern isles, and I can trace my own family’s heritage back to both Shetland and Orkney, and the kids also bought me a DNA kit several years ago and my DNA has a percentage from Denmark, so: hell yeah, I’m a Viking!!
Highland Park have been producing whisky since 1798. The liquid today is pretty much exclusively peated, but its said that the peat used in the production is a “softer” peat than that used in Islay whisky, for example. One reason given is that there are next to no trees on Orkney, thus the peat is formed from decomposed mosses rather than trees. Either way, it presents a whisky that – whilst peated – comes across to many as being more gentle on the palate, perhaps “peat lite?”
The distillery produces a number of core range drams, with the first rung on the ladder in most countries being the 10-year-old. In the US they do release the “Magnus” as a non-age statement bottle, but I can’t comment on it as I’ve yet to find a way to get a bottle over to me here in Scotland.
From the 10 we work up through 12, 14, 18, 21, into the high ages and the even higher prices. Alongside the age statement bottles you will find some non-age-stated (NAS) expressions, such as Valfather, Valkyrie, and Valknut, or anniversary releases/special bottlings such as for the Scottish ballet or the Royal Navy Submarine Service, all released in a similarly shaped bottle with differing coloured glass and labels.
Highland Park 18 Year Old Viking Pride – Review
Colour: Light bronze gold.
On the nose: It is rich, a hint that resonates of mature oak, there is a floral aroma mixed with a simple fruit salad, topped with glace cherries, and I certainly sense honey, perfectly topped with a note of aromatic smoke.
In the mouth: A creamy mouthfeel, almost decadent, it’s a very full flavour with no space to hide; the honey on the nose is there, alongside toffee, or perhaps caramel. Oh, and a hint of coffee. And yes, the smile comes across your face as you sip because that smoke cannot hide its origins, you know its peat. Finishes soft, full, and long… oh, it’s lingering.
Well, the trip north to the islands was stunning, and worth it. When I talk of its worth it is in relation to quality family time and in relation to fulfilling a long-held desire to visit Highland Park. In relation to worth in respect of actual costs: it would have been cheaper to fly abroad and spend two weeks on a beach drinking rum! Yes, visiting Scotland’s northern isles is not cheap, but who puts a monetary value on enjoying decent whisky on the island it was made? Whilst Highland Park takes its knocks, sales still soar, the stuff still moves of the shelf, and personally – whilst I still can – I will continue to drink/replace/drink Highland Park 18 (along with others). It is, in my humble opinion, a darn enjoyable dram!
Lead image courtesy of Highland Park.