No attempt at touring Scotland would be complete without exploring the origin of Scotch whisky. Steeped in tradition and history, a variety of distilleries have been in operation for hundreds of years, exporting bonded and blended Scotches around the world. During a recent visit, we visited Highland Park Distillery and went behind the scenes for a rare look at what goes into making a product that can take up to 50 years to bring to market.
Highland Park Single Malt Scotch whisky is known as one of the world’s finest single malts. Distilled in Scotland’s Orkney Islands, generations of distillery workers spend lifetimes using a method largely unchanged since 1798. We walked through the distillation process and while the step-by-step procedure is similar to other distilleries, Highland Park brands have some distinct advantages over others.
“In Scotland we have June and we have winter,” Russell Miller, distillery manager explained, referring to cooler temperatures experienced year round at the distilleries location that provide “even paced, cool maturation.”
It’s a process that also includes using hand-turned malt, a key ingredient in their recipe for a good Scotch. Sherry oak casks are another critical part of the process and Highland Park has some that have been used and reused for nearly 100 years, giving their products a unique flavor.Probably one of the most important ingredients in the product though is pride. There is a work ethic element in Scotland that is simply undeniable. Here we have a product that is aged for up to 50 years before being sold. During that time, the world will become a much different place than when that scotch went in to a barrel to be aged.
To me, that very long production process has always begged the question, “How do they know how much to make for customers who may very well have not been born yet?” If they were making cheeseburgers, the answer is simple. Someone orders one and they make it.
The answer, our tour guide explained, is all about quality. “We’re pretty good at guessing,” Miller joked, “but it seems there will always be demand for our high quality product.”
[Photos- Chris Owen/Highland Park Distillery]