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]
The Orkney Islands draw travelers touring Scotland from around the world for a variety of reasons. Home to a considerable number of habitats in a small area, the 70+ island chain is home to a unique number of plants, birds and other wildlife. We spent a day on Shapinsay that was much like a step back in time.
Regular flights bring visitors to the city of Kirkwall in Orkney. A five-minute drive takes them to the Kirkwall or Ayre hotels, both good bases to enjoy Orkney ales or whiskys before visiting Shapinsay. It did not take long to learn that spirits are consumed here as part of many activities including a breakfast of porridge and scotch.
A short 25-minute ferry ride brings visitors to the shore of Shapinsay where tours can be arranged or visitors can do what we did – just walk the island.
Once ashore, visitors are greeted by abundant plant life in Balfour Village, built in the late 18th century. Originally the home for carpenters and masons employed on the estate of Balfour castle, the island of Shapinsay now has a few shops, a restaurant and a whole bunch of marvelous gardens.
As we see in this photo gallery, beautiful flowers, shrubs and grasses magically flourish in what one might otherwise think was a climate that would not support them.
[Photos- Chris Owen]
Travelers touring Scotland are often drawn to Kirkwall, home to a variety of attractions including the famous great stone circles of Stenness and Brodgar, a UNESCO world heritage site. Also popular is Balfour Castle on the island of Shapinsay, which is available for rent.
A quick 25-minute ferry ride from Kirkwall, the principal city and capital of the 70 or so Orkney Islands, Balfour castle stands today much like it did centuries ago, dominating a great deal of the island.
Originally built as home to the Balfour family, once a big name in the trade of tea and spices, upkeep is an ongoing process and that costs money – a lot of money. Simply maintaining the structure is expensive. Adding features found in modern buildings like electrical wiring, heating and cooling has a price tag running in the ￡millions.Now a part-time home to the Zawadski family, the castle offers tours, as renovations are underway to maintain and restore the structures and grounds to their original magnificence.
To fund those efforts, hunting parties come from around the world, landing their private jets at the Kirkwall airport, often reserving space years in advance. The idea is to keep the castle open to the public well into the future with self-financed activities and functions.
Available to rent when the family is not in residence for about $3500 per night, Balfour castle is also available for luncheons, dinners or a traditional Orkney farmhouse tea.
See Elodie Bady, House Manager for more information.
[Photo- Chris Owen]