The most northerly distillery in Scotland also boasts one of the best reputations for quality and attention to detail within the whisky industry. With its history dating as far back as 1798 the Highland Park Distillery has had over 200 years to refine its product, enabling it to claim the coveted ‘Best Spirit in the World’ award. Twice.
The distillery was officially founded in 1818 by Robert Borthwick and his son-in-law John Robertson. However the history of its origins can be traced back to the days when production from illicit stills and the smuggling of the produced spirits was rife – not only in Orkney but across Scotland. We would invite the reader to visit the distillery’s own website in order to read some of the tales surrounding the infamous Magnus Eunson and his ingenious strategies for avoiding prosecution at the time, including the storage of casks beneath the floor of his local church!
The official founding of the distillery happened at an opportune moment. King George IV visited Edinburgh in 1823 and after developing a taste for whisky gave the spirit the royal seal of approval. The expansion of the industry soon followed, driven not only by the King’s fondness for a dram but by a cut in taxes, making the whisky industry a much more attractive commercial interest.
The distillery passed from father to son and was later sold by James Borthwick, Robert Borthwick’s Grandson, a minister who felt that owning a distillery was inappropriate given his profession. In 1876 it passed to a company called Stuart & Mackay. There follows a historically fascinating history, including tales of the King of Denmark and even the Emperor of Russia becoming partial to the taste of Highland Park single malt.
In 1937 the distillery became part of ‘The Highland Distillers’. It continued production until 1939 when all work ceased during the Second World War. For the 60,000 troops based in Orkney though the distillery’s mash tun was put to good use as an enormous bath. That same year the distillery was visited by Sir Winston Churchill. As the distillery’s website depicts “When offered a cup of tea upon his arrival, he is recalled as stating his preference for a glass of Highland Park in a typically direct manner”.
Production began again in 1945. As demand grew so did the distillery and its reputation. Now owned by The Edrington Group the distillery helps maintain its reputation by continuing with traditional methods to craft its product. The malt is dried on the malting floor and hand turned, a laborious and expensive process that only a handful of distilleries still undertake. Peat is sourced solely from local Hobbister Moor (owned by the distillery) and it is estimated at 9,000 years old. This ancient peat is used to create the unique smoky quality of Highland Park single malt.
Steeped in rich history and built on one of the most bleakly beautiful islands of Scotland Highland Park has become one of the country’s most famous exports.