A Scottish tradition since 1798, Highland Park Distillery has an enviable reputation to uphold. For more than two centuries, the unforgiving, windswept landscape has served as a basis to the distinctly smoky, floral and heather flavours that layer Highland Park Distillery’s award-winning single malts. From the hand-cut peat cut at Hobbister Moor, located just a few kilometres from the distillery, to the water drawn from Cattie Maggie’s spring in Orkney and the distillery’s more-than-100-year-old kilns, tradition is at the forefront, and newly released bottles like the Highland Park 50 Year Old showcase just that.
For a glimpse into the brains behind the operation, we chatted with Master Distiller Gordon Motion about how he concocts some of Highland Park's beloved blends.
What’s your style of distillation?
In a sense, I’m looking after the existing releases of Highland Park and making sure we can continue them as consistently as possible in future. However, several years ago, we produced small volumes of a heavier peated style of Highland Park. This is now of age and I’ve used it in a few releases now. So, some of my releases will be remembered for a more peaty version. It’s still a very light peat compared to the typical Islay style.
How would you describe your creative process?
I’m always trying to create something different from what’s been released before. For the Global Travel Retail range – Spirit of the Bear, Loyalty of the Wolf and Wings of the Eagle – I was asked to create a smoky, sweet and spicy whisky. Other times I’m asked what stock is available and what I can create based on those flavours. Sometimes I’ll see parcels of casks that may have an unusual or distinctive character, and, while they may not be suitable for a current project, I’ll set them aside should I use them in the future.
How do you create new blends while still respecting Highland Park’s storied heritage?
In a way, that comes naturally as the traditions are inherent at the distillery – from our use of Orkney peat (unique in the industry) to dry our floor-malted barley delivers the light floral peat notes typical of Highland Park New Make Spirit. Our continued use of high-quality sherry casks to deliver the natural colour are all part of our whisky’s DNA.
Whilst we may use some small volumes of newer cask styles or produce a slightly heavier peated style from time to time – to vary what I can produce – our core style remains.
What is your favourite Highland Park dram?
I like the 12 Year Old Viking Honour. It’s a dram I’ll always have in my cabinet and a perfect balance of sweet and slightly spicy. I like the gentle smoke of the core Highland Park range.