This quarter we are featuring a very exclusive Highland Park single cask that was secured in the middle of 2019. Only four barrels made it to the west coast, and PlumpJack was given first priority of selection. The barrel was chosen as collaboration between PlumpJack and a local Bay Area whiskey group called the San Francisco Whiskey Bourbon & Scotch Society. Since then a LOT has happened... like tariffs on Scotch imports (not applied to this barrel thankfully) and COVID-19 to name a few. Thankfully none of that brought demise to the impending arrival, even if it was a little late. There are no others like this around, so stock up and re-order while you still can. We hope you enjoy while staying safe and healthy out there!
Joshua Thinnes, Whisk(e)y Evangelist
Definitely not British, not exactly Scottish, the island of Orkney was a Norse settlement for more than 700 years until it was assumed by Scotland through a debt settlement of sorts, involving Norway and Denmark. Civilization has occupied this land since 8000 BC. Orkney, along with all the other Hebridean islands including Islay, remained loyal to Norway until the 13th century. In 1262 Angus Mor, the Lord of Islay, fighting alongside the Vikings, lost control to Scotland in the Battle of Largs. Scotland needed the land for strategic naval positioning, fighting off the Danish as they settled on lease terms with Norway. Later in the mid-1400s, after years of unpaid rent to Norway’s King Christian I, Scotland’s debt was forgiven in exchange for the marriage of Scotland’s King James III to Christian’s daughter. The next 300 years solidified a Scottish/Norwegian alliance that resisted countless attempts at Danish overrule,, to no avail. The people of Orkney never really considered themselves Scottish, and the islands have truly a distinct feel and unique identity.
Highland Park distillery was officially established in 1798 by Magnus Eunson. The famous 18th century rogue smuggler set up shop on the former site of an illicit still that had been in operation for decades before. Ironically, it was located in the basement of a church where he was once a preacher. It was known as ‘High Park’ for its location on a hill above the town of Kirkwall. In one telling story, it is said that Magnus got word of an imminent inspection by the local exiseman John Robertson, looking for evidence of whisky smuggling. He quickly assembled some of the parishioners and moved all the barrels of whisky from the cellar into the church, where they put coffin lids over the barrels, and draped them with white funerary shrouds. When the taxmen arrived, the mass launched into a roar of loud and soulful mourning. One of the parishioners mumbled to the visitors “smallpox”, and just like that, Robertson retreated without completing his search. Eunson was finally arrested in 1813, and as irony would have it, the distillery was sold to the same tax exciseman John Robertson, who promptly turned it legit and began legal distillation. Highland Park distillery has been in continuous operation ever since.
Highland Park is the only distillery in the world to use peat from Orkney, and is known for their use of sherry-seasoned oak casks. Today Highland Park, along with sister distillery Macallan, is owned by the Edrington Group. Both are renowned amongst collectors and drinkers alike as producers of one of the best, most well rounded drams.
The whisky shows a beautiful burnished auburn color indicative of the sherry-seasoned hogsheads used for aging. The aromas are deep and complex, depicting harmony between sweet and savory flavors. Sweet balsamic, berry and sherry notes intertwine with savory umami aromas. Picture a red wine braised pot roast in the oven, interwoven with the smells of sauteed mushrooms and strawberry rhubarb pie all co-mingling in the same kitchen. The peat smoke is gentle and delicate, as if you detect remnants of a beach bonfire extinguished in the distance. The palate drinks stealthy smooth while bringing into focus the savory components. This has a classic Highland Park profile, a potpourri of berries, dried citrus peels, incense smoke, saddle leather and cinnamon red hots, suitable for the novice and connoisseur alike.