Highland Park is a unique, and very special distillery, and this release is just one small example as to why. Here's a quick tasting note for this whisky, then we'll pass along its full story. This shows intriguing notes of Sultanas, nutmeg, cardamom and California raisins, all laced with Highland Park's signature; a light, heathery smoke.
This is an incredibly rare 26-year Highland Park which combines the stalwart Orkney whisky with the art of photography. Married from elixirs aged in a combination of first fill American oak sherry casks, first fill bourbon casks and refill casks, it brings the best of all these barrels together.
The distillery enlisted the help of renowned Danish photographer Søren Solkær, best known for capturing shots of rock stars like Björk, The Arctic Monkeys and U2. He was asked to capture the distillery team at work as well as the stunning Orkney landscape in 2016, and the bottling comes with a 230 page leather-bound book showcasing 26 years of Søren’s photographic work, to accompany the incredible 26 year old whisky. All in dramatic black, the packaging is even inspired by traditional, vintage box cameras. Both whisky and photographer have been on a 26 year journey, and arrived in the same place. That's pretty amazing!
There are Five Keystones that distinguish Highland Park from other distilleries: Hand-turned Malt, Aromatic Peat, Cool Maturation, Sherry Oak Casks and harmonization. Highland Park is one of only a handful of distilleries that still retains a traditional malting floor, turning each batch of malt by hand, in what is a physically demanding process. To malt our barley, we steep it in the mineral rich water from the Crantit spring, before transferring it to the malting floor to slowly germinate. When it is ready, the barley is then placed in our kilns where the aromatic peating process begins. One of the fundamental flavors in Highland Park single malt whisky is the delicate, sweet, aromatic peat smoke, which has given Highland Park its unique character since 1798. The Orkney Islands have an abundance of this sweet, heathery peat, which is around 4000 years old and is carefully selected from Hobbister Moor. The peat we cut is a mixture of textures and aromas ranging from a more floral heather-rich top layer, to a darker, denser material, the mixture giving the resulting smoke a slow burning and complex aroma. For Distillery Manager, Graham Manson, the peat is the key to understanding and appreciating Highland Park; he describes its role as being "absolutely fundamental." With as much as 70% of the overall flavor of a single malt whisky coming from the type of cask it is matured in, it is imperative to treat these handmade casks with a reverence and respect. Orkney is unusually blessed with a wonderfully temperate climate, with neither extreme cold nor hot temperatures; perfect for a long, cool maturation in our traditional warehouses. Other distilleries often mature their casks far from the distillery. We feel that by staying as close to home, we give the whisky a distinctly Orcadian personality, with a smooth character and lingering, delicate smokiness. The majority of the Scotch whisky industry uses ex-bourbon barrels for maturation. At Highland Park, bourbon barrels are not routinely filled. Traditional oak casks are used; butts, puncheons or hogsheads - no barrels - all seasoned with dry Oloroso sherry, which contribute to the distinctive richness in the resulting whisky. Spanish oak casks seasoned with sherry give color, spice and dried fruit character, whereas American oak sherry seasoned casks give lighter, sweeter vanilla and butterscotch flavours. Sherry oak casks are far more expensive but the view at Highland Park is that they are worth it for the rich character and natural colour they provide to the maturing spirit. To ensure every bottle of Highland Park reaches you in perfect condition, the whisky is harmonized. Other distillers often see this practice as an unnecessary expense, but for us, it is an essential part of our rich heritage. Without it, Highland Park just wouldn't be the same. Each individual batch of Highland Park is drawn together from a variety of cask types, contributing an array of distinct, unique flavors and additional harmonization for up to six months perfectly marries them together. The impact this marriage has on the whisky is nothing short of stunning and ensures consistency, as well as adding complexity and exceptional balance on the palate.