The second day in this Scotland excursion wasn’t like the first day at all. We weren’t late and it had a very Scottish weather, gray and rainy just like what I wanted, although all the natives were longing for another day like yesterday full of sunshine. But we were going to Orkney and visit the northernmost distilleries in Scotland so IMHO it was the fitting weather 🙂
After the sea cross, a bus to Kirkwall, visiting the Orkney museum (A must!), our ride arrived:
Yes, if you booked a high-end tour, they will happily pick you up from different places around Kirkwall and bring you to the distillery just in time for the tour.
And so we toured. As I said, it was a high-end tour (The Connoisseur tour) and so it’s a lengthy and detailed tour and I hoped it will be good. Spoiler: It was good. It was very professional with an excellent guide, we didn’t skip or rush any stop and finished with a great tasting but there was one issue that at least for me, marred the visit – the BYO availability.
We started with the malting floors. Yes, Highland Park are one of handful distilleries still malting some of their barley (although most is bought malted elsewhere). In fact, they have 2 floors and one was cleared the day before (which we could meet in the next station) and the other was full with barley of the concerto variant “working out”.
The malted barley is then taken to the kilns to dry out and stop the malting process. Highland Park distillery use two kilns in the distillery: first a peat kiln for 24 hours and then a coals kiln for another 20 hours. the peat kiln provides the smoky and earthy notes of their whisky. Although it is about 30 ppm (according to the guide, although I read it’s 20 ppm elsewhere) it doesn’t feel as peated as Islay whiskies of the same peat level. The peat contains lots of heather (giving extra sweetness) and some moss in it.
In fact, there’s another peat kiln in Highland Park (named the Old Kiln) and it was working a 18 hours batch (instead of the customary 24 hours), but our guide didn’t know why.
Then the mill, mashtun and washbacks. Fermentation time is 70 hours. That’s a bit more than in Balblair and Wolfburn I visited the day before and is probably due to the colder climate (yeasts needs a bit more time here). And then to the Stills room:
then we went out of the stills room and get an explanation on casks, bourbon vs sherry and the importance of sherry casks to Highland Park. We then were invited to sniff out two casks (in the picture below) and tell which one did we prefer. Both are sherry hogsheads but one is Spanish oak and the other one American oak. Wanna guess which one won our votes?Then a view into the warehouse. I have to admit it was a bit of a let down. You can’t go and touch the casks and fully breath the lovely atmosphere of a dunnage warehouse but instead you watch the casks through a glass wall. pity.
And after we finished the tour, we were ushered into the tasting room. But before I review the whiskies, I’d like to rant on the BYO/distillery exclusive bottling issue. I read that HP have a distillery exclusive bottling called Cappella at the distillery and I set my eyes on purchasing a bottle. However’ at the distillery I was notified it’s not available and was recommended to buy the Leif Erikson, which I declined. Back to the tour – as we entered the tasting room, I noticed a cask standing at the corner, along with bottles and the customary book where people write down their details upon purchase of BYO bottle. I asked the guide and voila! There is indeed a BYO but there’s a catch: you have to book the Magnus Eunson Tour (a whopping £75) just to be eligible to purchase that bottle.
Dear Highland Park – this is not how it should be! If you have a BYO option, make sure its premium availability (and availability at all) is detailed on the website as this information will affect people bookings. Also, I think it’s wrong to have it as an exclusive for the ultra premium tour. You’re the northernmost distillery and it’s not easy getting there. If people do bother and make the journey all the way to Orkney, let them have that option, no matter which tour they booked. What’s good for Bowmore, Glengoyne, Glendronach and so many other distilleries, should be good for you too.
OK, enough ranting, let’s get back to the tasting, and I can tell you it was a great tasting. We tasted the HP range from 12 to 25 and it was fabulous.
Highland Park 12 yo (40%, £25.89/€34.99)
Nose: It starts with sweet notes becoming lightly peaty and smoky. There’s heather honey, vanilla, toffee, butterscotch and a bit of dried fruits but it’s not strong, lending a bit of extra and different sweetness.
Palate: Smoky with lots of oak spices, sweet,and not much peat as on the nose, vanilla and honey, touch of peaches and dried fruits.
Finish: Short medium finish with lingering light smoke, sweet honeyed fruits and spice. Surprisingly lots of smoke.
Highland Park 18 yo (43%, £81.50/€99.99)
Nose: Sweeter than the 12yo, less smoke on nose at first. It get stronger with time but still it’s not as smoky as the 12yo. Gentler, deeper, fruity leaning toward red fruits and berries. With time in glass feels more sherried with added nutmeg and cinnamon spices.
Palate: Smoke and spicy (with lots of pepper at first), then comes mellowed sweetness, dried fruits, sultanas. Nutmeg mostly and cinnamon.
Finish: Medium length, smoky, lingering sweet red berries and with smoke throughout.
Highland Park 21 yo (47.5%, £118.93/€189.95)
Nose: Sweet dried fruits, livelier sherry notes, touch of plums, berries, soaked raisins, gentle peat and barely touch of smoke, sourer sherry (AKA old sherry) showing it’s an aged whisky. Berries, fresh ripe dark plums.
Palate: Less spice than on nose, darker sweet, sour sherry, plums, berries, sweet, again a touch of spice, gentle smoke and peat.
Finish: Medium length with lingering sherry sweetness, peat and a touch of oak wood.
Highland Park 25 yo (45.7%, £275/€299.99)
Nose: Very mellow, with darker sweet sherry, touch of peat and a hint of sour berries but not as strong as on the 21 yo, sweet berries, whiff of flowery perfume sherry.
Palate: Gentle, sour sweet berries, smoke, peat, rounded and balanced, plums, touch of licorice.
Finish: Medium length, lingering sherry sweetness, touch of sour, smoke, honeyed
Overall it was a great tour (notwithstanding the BYO issue). A highly recommended tour, just get your BYO expectations reined in.
Name: Highland Park Distillery
Owners: Edrington Group
Location: Kirkwall, Orkney
Water source: Cattie Maggie’s Pool
Stills: 2 Wash still, 2 Spirit still
Capacity (yearly): 2,500,000 litres
Tour in a nutshell
Tours availability: See on their site
Cost of tour: £7.5-£75
Length of tour: 1 hour – 2 hours
Distillery Exclusive bottles: Ahem…touchy question.
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