History & Legend
The name Highland Park confuses many at first glance. Not situated in the Highlands at all, the distillery is named for its position overlooking Orkney’s capital, Kirkwall, on high land. The distillery traces its roots to the illicit distilling carried out by local preacher and smuggler Magnus Eunson in 1798, perhaps explaining the need to be above the town and port from where authorities would travel. The current distillery site, in more or less the same location, therefore celebrates its 225th birthday this year. Highland Park’s relationship with blenders saw it acquired by Highland Distillers in 1937, who were subsequently bought by Edrington in 1999 and continue to run the distillery today. The modern Highland Park single malt brand was first officially bottled in the 1970s, with the release of an 8 year old age statement, but distillery bottlings first appeared around the 1950s.
Highland Park has always leaned heavily into the Norse history of Orkney for its inspiration and marketing. Originally settled by Norsemen in the 8th century, the islands were ruled from the King of Norway’s seat in Bergen, with Orcadian Earls, Vikings and later Saints, as well as folk history brought from Norway, all contributing to the unique heritage and identity of the islands. In 1482, the King of Denmark pawned the islands to Scotland, as he couldn’t afford to pay a dowry for his daughter to marry the King of Scotland. Although Danes joke that the country could pay up and the islands could go back, this transfer saw Scotland gain ever-more influence on the islands and, for centuries, Highland Park gained status as the Northernmost distillery in the British Isles (recently, the construction of new distilleries in the Northern Isles have taken this title). Releases such as the Viking Pride series, with artwork by Danish Jim Lyngvild, link both to this mythology and the age-old commercial and cultural networks between the Northern Isles and Scandinavia.
Tradition at the distillery is found in far more than marketing, with production techniques and processes phased out at other distilleries remaining. One of the most noteworthy examples is the continued use of a traditional, hand-turned malting floor. This makes the distillery one of only eight remaining in Scotland to retain this technique in house. Across from the malting floor, the distinctive Doig Ventilator is at the heart of the distillery courtyard and, unlike at many distilleries, it is also still in use. In recent decades, a growing interest in local barley has also reached Highland Park. Researched and cultivated thanks to a project at UHI Orkney, the distillery have experimented and produced whisky with varieties grown locally on the islands for the first time since the 1940s in the 2010s.
While it is hard to believe today, Highland Park was mostly used for blending for much of its 200+ years. This is soon to come to a complete end, as Highland Park aim to use their spirit exclusively for single malt within the next few years. Known for lightly peated whisky, Highland Park is shaped by Orkney’s island landscape, particularly as the island is mostly treeless. This contributes significantly to the peat, which in Orkney consists of a heather flower and root based composition which offers floral notes together with the light smoke. For aging, sherry casks remain the preferred option, bringing fruity, rich tastes to the whisky.
Over the years, Highland Park has firmly established itself as a favourite among whisky collectors and enthusiasts across the globe. From rare mid-20th century independent bottlings to modern high-age statement releases, collectible Highland Park comes in many forms. Discover below some of the distillery's most memorable releases and sought-after expressions that would make a great addition to your collection.
Rare and Limited Edition Highland Park
The Valhalla Collection
First launched in 2012, the Valhalla Collection from Highland Park is inspired by Norse mythology and comprises of four bottlings each named after a Norse God: Thor, Loki, Freya & Odin. The famous series of bottles is presented in Viking longship inspired wooden frames, with each limited to less than 25,000 bottles each:
- Thor: 16 Year Old limited to 23,000 bottles.
- Loki: 15 Year Old limited to 21,000 bottles.
- Freya: 15 Year Pld limited to 19,000 bottles.
- Odin: 16 Year Old limited to 17,000 bottles.
The Orcadian Vintage Series
The series began in 2009 with the release of the 1964 45 Year Old Orcadian Vintage, limited to just 290 bottles this remains the oldest vintage release in the series. Comprising of five bottlings in total each release is presented in a spectacular hard wood case, with marquetry inspired by intricate wood carvings found at the Urnes Stave Church in Norway, and each featuring a hand-crafted silver Highland Park amulet logo inlay. Vinatges range from 1964-1976:
- 1964: Two refill hogshead casks, limited to 290 bottles.
- 1968: Eight refill casks (7 hogsheads & 1 butt), limited to 1,550 bottles.
- 1970: Combination of refill butts & hogsheads, limited to 1,800 bottles.
- 1971: Seventeen refill casks, limited to 657 bottles.
- 1976: Combination of 13 refill butts & hogsheads, limited to 893 bottles.
Modern High Age-Statement Releases
With age comes rarity, and there's no denying that high age-statement whisky holds a certain mystique among collectors as few will ever get to sample the rare spirit. This has proven true with the incredible age-statement bottlings that Highland Park have produced in recent years.
In 2010 Highland Park released their oldest whisky to date, the Highland Park 50 Year old. Produced in collaboration with artist Maeve Gillies, the bottling was adorned in hand-crafted sterling silver with just 275 bottles produced. Since, there has been two further Highland Park 50 Year Old releases, and more recently the distilleries oldest bottling to date is due for release, the Highland Park 54 Year Old. Limited to just 225 bottles globally, a nod to the distillery's 225th anniversary in 2023.
Old and Iconic Highland Park
The Dragon Independent Bottlings
The Dragon bottlings are legendary among Highland Park fans. Bottled by Robertson’s of Kirkwall, Orkney, the series comprises of vintage single cask, cask strength, single malts distilled at Highland Park primarily in the 1960s and 1970s. The Dragon, from which the series takes its name, derives from a 12th century carving in the Maes Howe chambered tomb in Orkney. The prehistoric building dates to circa 3000 BC, with the dragon carving said to be the work of Norse Crusaders.
Earlier vintages from the series prove to be the most sought-after, with the 1961 & 1967 vintages achieving impressive hammer prices at auction.
Ferraretto Import ‘Dumpy’ Bottlings
During the 1970s Highland Park produced a number of vintage bottlings for Milan based Italian importer, Ferraretto. The bottlings provide a look into old vintages of Highland Park, the majority being distilled in the 1950s, and were presented in a now-iconic ‘dumpy’ style green bottle with a round black & gold label.
Highland Park makes up the bulk of collectible Ferraretto Import bottlings seen at Whisky Auctioneer, with earlier vintages a particular rarity.
Highland Park Magnus Labels
Renowned for their stand-out aesthetics and quality of whisky contained, the old Magnus label releases from Highland Park remain a must-have for collectors. The classic yellow label depicts Orkney’s famous Saint Magnus and was used by the distillery (as well as on occasion by Gordon & MacPhail) until the 1970s when it was retired. The aesthetic was however revived in 2009 for the Inga Saga trilogy, a collection of three limited edition bottlings that was completed in 2011. Bottles adorned with the original labels however remain the most sought-after.
Highland Park for Corti Brothers
The Corti Brothers of Sacramento is a Californian specialty grocers established in 1947 by Frank & Gino Corti. Frank’s son, Darrell, delved into the world of independent bottling in the 1970s and became the first American to brand and market Scotch using his own label. Darrell sought out his first Scotch whisky in 1978, continuing to release independent bottlings throughout the 1980s. Today, Corti Brothers expressions are regarded as some of the most highly prized for whisky collectors in terms of quality and variety.
Highland Park was one of the Corti Brothers maiden bottlings in the summer of 1978, with an array of rare 1960s vintage releases to follow. Darrell Corti himself says that the “clear” Highland Park 10 Year Old is likely his favourite from the Corti Brothers whisky collection. Read our interview with Darrell Corti here.
These are just a few examples of rare Highland Park that Whisky Auctioneer has had the pleasure of bringing to auction over the past decade. From iconic Intertrade bottlings to Cask Strength Gordon & MacPhail releases there are many more to discover.