Tag Archives: Highland Park

The Viking Tour (Part 2)

Scapa Flow
Scapa Flow – Beauty and tradgedy

The institute of Brewing & Distilling expedition continued onwards to Scapa Distillery. Orcadian beauty is abundant on the shores of Scapa Flow. The bay reflects the moods of the weather. We were blessed with shimmering water in glorious sunshine. But even the brightest of days is overshadowed by the tragic events that unfolded within view of the distillery. The green buoy in the bay marks the site where the Royal Oak was sunk during the second world war with the loss of 834 lives. 70 unwanted ships were intentionally sunk to form ‘Churchill’s barriers’ in an attempt to prevent further losses for the navy stronghold. The sense of history in Orkrney provides a powerful context for the production of whisky.

The sign that greets boaters in Scapa Flow

Scapa Distillery recently opened to visitors for the first time so we were excited to get a first peek. Of most interest for me was the Lomond still, the only one used for single malt Scotch whisky. Installed in 1959 it had three internal plates which could be varied to produce 3 different types of spirit. The plates have now been removed resulting in a more standard setup for wash distillations. The spirit still is dwarfed by the beastly Lomond still. A strange couple that work in unison to produce a wonderful spirit. Scapa was also famous for its remarkably long fermentation of 160 hours (compared to 48 hours for most). This helped impart the estery profile to Scapa 16 year old. Unfortunately, recent capacity constraints have led to a reduction in the fermentation time to 80 hours and the discontinuation of the 16 year old. We sampled the new NAS expression ‘Skiren’ at the end of the tour and boarded the bus bound for Scapa’s famous neighbour.

Higland Park Gate
The impressive entrance gate to Highland Park Distillery
HP Chair
The Viking chair at Highland Park
HP Malting
Malting floors at Highland Park

Highland Park is must on any distillery baggers’ hit list. Dominating the skyline on the outskirts of Kirkwall, Highland Park offers the visitor a comprehensive view of whisky production. Locally cut peat, malting floors, mashing, fermentation, distillation, maturation, cooperage… it’s all here. As you pass through the famous gates with their intricate ironmongery you are greeted by a team proud of their whisky and Orcadian heritage. Our guide took delight in retelling the dangers of peat cutting – an unexploded bomb and axe head have been discovered. Further testament to the palimpsest of history unique to these islands. Viking strength is required to maintain the malting floors as the barley is turned every 4 to 8 hours. The result of all their hard work is 44,000 barrels on site, or 9 million litres of spirit. No wonder the entrance gates are so imposing with all those thirsty locals out.

Dunnet Still
The ‘Tin Man’ still at Dunnet Bay
Dunnet Group
All together at Dunnet Bay (Martin – far left)

Returning to mainland we stopped by a distillery of great contrast, but no less impressive. Dunnet Bay has only been open 18 months but such is its success in the craft gin boom that its latest seasonal gin was sold out even before it left the building. The 500L John Doe still looked like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz and is producing magical spirit. Rock Rose gin is winning many awards due to the dedication of Martin and Claire – a couple who followed their dreams and ditched their former careers. In the last year 35,000 bottles were sold, an incredible achievement for a small start-up craft distillery. Long may it continue.

The still cathedral at Glenmorangie

The final destination on our epic Viking voyage was Glenmorangie in Tain. The sense of grandeur in the still room was breathtaking. Twelve of the tallest stills (5.1m) in Scotch whisky give the impression that you were in a cathedral of distillation. Necks creek in the same way as they would in St. Giles. Also impressive was the construction of the new Anaerobic Digestion plant at a cost of over £20m. The facility will treat effluent reducing the distillery’s impact on the environment and will produce methane from stillage which can be used to offset energy bills. We finished off with a great tasting that showcased some of Glenmorangie’s more innovative offerings such as Signet, which contains chocolate malt.

Glenmorangie group
The Viking Tour – Mission Accomplished!

We successfully completed our Viking mission – 5 distilleries and 2 breweries in 3 days. It’s hard work, but someone has to do it!


Solace in Society


Glenturret, Highland Park, Macallan and Glen Moray all lined up in a row

The Collins dictionary defines solace as ‘comfort in misery or disappointment’. An example is then given of the word in context: it drove him to seek increasing solace in alcohol. So given the threat of ‘Monday Blues’, I took direct action and headed straight to the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith to seek solace in fine whisky and great company. On arrival, I was pleased to see my brother Richard at the bar with his new membership pack in hand. Lydia, Crystal (SMWS Members Room Manager, Mike, Kat (www.whiskydiscovery.com) and Phoebe (SMWS Global Brand Ambassador) completed the table as we sat down to enjoy an evening of entertainment with Lucy Whitehall (Glenturret Brand Ambassador).

Lucy started the proceedings by introducing the ‘Glenturret Haka’. We stood up and participated in a range of movements inspired by the traditional whisky making techniques of the distillery. Think mashing, pitching yeast, cutting the spirit and bunging the cask – use your imagination! With the exercise out the way we then turned our focus to the whisky. Whiskies from Glenturret, Highland Park and Macallan were introduced by Lucy, while Ryan introduced accompanying SMWS drams for comparison. This meant that there were eight drams in total for us to try which isn’t bad for a Monday! In my order of preference:

  1. Glen Moray – SMWS – Cask No. 35.131 – Cherries, Chocolate and Chai – 55.1% – £69.50
  2. Macallan – Black – 48% – $450
  3. Highland Park – SMWS – Cask No. 4.211 – Sun, Sand, Surf and Serenity – 52.2% – $190
  4. Highland Park – Dark Origins – 46.8% – £64
  5. Glenturret – NAS – Peat – 43% – £47
  6. Macallan – SMWS – Cask No. 24.37 – Fruit & Nuts – 59.3% – £?
  7. Glenturret – NAS – Sherry – 43% – £47
  8. Glenturret – NAS – Triple Wood – 43% – £47

All whiskies were drinkable and there were no dodgy disappointing drams. The one that stood out for me  was the SMWS Glen Moray, an exceptional whisky with lovely caramel notes and a long sweet finish. It was a challenge to decide between the Macallan Black (travel exclusive) and the SMWS Highland Park for second but the Macallan just pipped it with its superior balance. Highland Park rarely disappoints and today was no exception. The new 43% abv Glenturret expressions (Sherry, Triple Wood and Peat) were easy drinking but did not match the body and flavour intensity of the the higher abv, unchillfiltered whiskies in the tasting. The peated expression had the most character of the three and would be my top choice of the new Non Age Statement range. The society Macallan was an old bottling distilled in 1987. It was a wee bit flat on the nose but had a decent palate.

All in, a great Monday evening with plenty of laughs and memorable tastes. Solace in the Scotch Malt Whisky Society comes highly recommended!