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High craftsmanship meets coastal elegance in Highland Park’s 54-year-old special edition single malt release

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin • 6 min read
High craftsmanship meets coastal elegance in Highland Park’s 54-year-old special edition single malt release
With only a limited run of 225 bottles worldwide, there are only 6 bottles of Highland Park 54 Year Old in Singapore
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Nestled amidst the wild and windswept landscapes of Scotland's northernmost reaches lies the enchanting Orkney Islands, a place where history and nature converge in a mesmerising tapestry of rugged beauty.

Beyond its stunning scenery, the Orkney Islands boast a rich legacy in whisky-making and Viking history dating back to the 8th century. The region’s unique terroir, characterised by bracing sea breezes, heathery moorlands, and pristine waters, imparts a distinct character to the amber elixirs that often include a combination of sweet, smoky, maritime, and fruity notes. While not as heavily peated as some other Scotch regions, Orkney whiskies typically feature a delicate smokiness. This is because the islands' peat (treeless but heather-rich peat) is different from that found on the mainland, offering a nuanced, earthy, and slightly briny smokiness.

The region is home to some of Scotland's most renowned distilleries, such as Highland Park, which has been crafting award-winning elixirs at its distillery in Kirkwall since 1798. One of the oldest working distilleries in Scotland, Highland Park whiskies are celebrated for their remarkable equilibrium and complexity. They seamlessly marry sweet, floral notes with subtle traces of spice, delicate hints of smoke, and the briny coastal influences unique to the islands. A heathery honey sweetness often interplays with luscious fruits and a comforting warmth of spices, defining the inimitable style cherished by whisky enthusiasts worldwide.

A sense of place

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Highland Park's whisky-making journey starts with locally sourced barley malted using traditional peat kilns, imparting a subtle smoky essence to the grains. The art of distillation occurs in direct-fired copper pot stills, which encourage a slow and deliberate process that releases more carbohydrates and thus yielding a spirit of exceptional richness and flavour.

The next crucial step is maturation, which takes place in a careful blend of ex-Sherry casks and American oak casks. This meticulous cask selection ensures that the whisky embodies a symphony of sweet, spicy, and smoky elements.

Age, experience and respect for tradition may define Highland Park whiskies, but it’s truly Orkney that differentiates it. Something magical happens here and the result is a wild harmony of contrasting flavours found in its single malt expressions.

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Options had the privilege of sampling the label’s core expressions over a whisky lunch at Michelin-starred Burnt Ends, hosted by senior brand ambassador Martin Markvarsden, who has been with the brand for 17 years.

 

In his opinion, the best-performing one is the 18 Year Old Viking Pride, a single malt deemed the “Best Spirit in the World” by Spirit Journal. Infused with a sophisticated medley of overripe cherries, bitter dark chocolate, sweet marzipan, floral heather honey, and aromatic peat smoke, it was most recently honoured with both a Gold and an Ultimate Recommendation (with a score of 96) in the 2021 International Spirits Challenge.

Markvarsden shares how to best enjoy a Highland Park whisky: “You can hold the glass up high to look at it, but that does nothing. Your nose is the most important tool as that will be your first impression of the whisky. When you taste it, keep it in your mouth for a few seconds to allow all the flavours to be released.”

Good on their own as sipping spirits, Highland Park whiskies also pair incredibly well with both seafood and grilled meats, as we discover during the tasting, and all manner of sweet desserts, especially chocolate!

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Celebrating a milestone

To commemorate its 225th anniversary, the distillery has unveiled the absolute pinnacle of the Highland Park range: the Highland Park 54 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky, the oldest whisky ever produced by the distillery. With only a limited run of 225 bottles worldwide (and only 6 available in Singapore), this is an exclusive and highly coveted offering priced at $71,500.

The journey of this extraordinary whisky began in 1968 when it was first laid down for maturation. Over the years, it underwent a unique transformation, spending time in refill butts and hogsheads before being transferred to first-fill European sherry butts in 2008. The final 14 years of maturation in ex-sherry casks have infused the whisky with a deep, rich, and naturally vibrant colour, along with an unparalleled intensity of flavour. At the age of 54, it was deemed ready for bottling by master whisky maker Gordon Motion.

He shares: “This exceptionally rare 54 Year Old single malt Scotch Whisky has been nurtured through careful maturation and harmonisation. Representing a quarter of Highland Park’s life, we felt it was a fitting way to mark our 225th anniversary; born and crafted in the heart of Orkney.”

A magnificently aged libation with a deep autumnal russet hue, the Highland Park 54 Year Old is intensely rich, sweet and complex with aromas of exotic lychee and aromatic camphor, vintage oak and delicate peat on the nose. On the palate, it’s exquisitely layered with beautiful contrasts of warm spices, like crushed cumin and coriander seeds, ebbing away to reveal notes of summer rose and jasmine. Sweet and spicy at the end, woody notes give way to a lingering whisper of sweet fenugreek and heathery peat smoke. This is a whisky to sip and leave in your mouth to develop to allow its myriad flavours to unfurl and evolve.

The whisky is presented in a bespoke embossed bottle masterfully designed by Michael Rudak of glass manufacturer Stoelzle Flaconnage. Every aspect of the bottle's design pays homage to Orkney, from the conical base reminiscent of the mash tuns at the distillery, to the textural patterns inspired by the ancient red sandstone of the Yesnaby Cliffs, as well as the molten lava that formed these rugged islands.

To further emphasise a sense of place, the bottle is housed in a stunning wooden box sculpted to represent the layered cliffs of Yesnaby. Designed by acclaimed craftsman and designer, John Galvin, each box is crafted from the finest Scottish oak wood and hand-blasted to showcase variations in colour. No two are alike, making each box a unique masterpiece of its own.

Purchasing a bottle of the Highland Park 54 Year Old is not just acquiring a whisky; it's an invitation to a once-in-a-lifetime experience in Orkney, allowing you to immerse yourself in the history and beauty of this extraordinary place. This limited edition release is a true celebration of craftsmanship, tradition, and the enduring spirit of Highland Park. To find out more, visit www.highlandparkwhisky.com. Please enjoy Highland Park responsibly.

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