SaloonBox Behind The Scenes: Highland Park Whisky
The October SaloonBox features the 12 year old Highland Park Whisky. This exquisite scotch has a long history that you are sure to enjoy and we were lucky enough to have a Q&A with Martin Markvardsen, Highland Park Senior Global Brand Ambassador. Here's what he had to say:
Can you tell us about your background and how you came to be the Global Brand Ambassador?
I began my whisky journey at a young age. I have always been the type of person who when I have an interest or passion for something I need to know all there is about it. So I read every book about whisky and began working at different distilleries. My knowledge and passion grew and one day my phone rang and it was Edrington, the owner of Highland Park asking me to come work for them. For me it was like a 15 year old boy getting a phone call from the best soccer team in the world asking him to play for them. Highland Park was and still is my favorite whisky.
We’re excited to be including Highland Park 12 Year Old in our kits this month. Some refer to it as the gold- standard of malts for others to aspire to. What is it that sets it apart?
Highland Park 12 Year Old stands apart in many ways, but a few things especially. Our whisky is fully matured in European Sherry oak casks which give it a nice fruity note. The aromatic peat we use to dry our malted barley, gives the whisky a honey flavor and a nice hint of smoke. It’s interesting to note that no other distillery uses peat from Orkney. What makes our peat different is that no trees live on Orkney and therefore there is no wood in our peat. Instead it is entirely heather and plant based. The cold maturation due to the Orkney climate also allows our casks to mature slowly and give us a nice balance between the distillery character and the oak casks.
Biggest misconception when it comes to Scotch whisky?
I think I would say first of all, how to drink it. People are very much into rules when it comes to how to drink Scotch whisky. Let me make one thing clear….one rule only, ENJOY it. How you enjoy it is up to you. Then, there’s the thing about age. The older the whisky, the better. NO, not always. It’s all up to the cask it has been matured in.
12 years is a long time. How does it feel to put so much work into a product that won’t be available for so long?
Well, our 12 Year Old is made to be enjoyed. We put a lot of effort into making it as good as possible. We have been making the 12 Year Old for decades now, and we are proud when people come back and tell us it is the best they ever tried.
We’ve been learning about the heritage of the Vikings and Highland Park’s connection with that part of history (https://www.highlandparkwhisky.com/our-story/). Can you sum up what Viking Honor means and how it relates to Highland Park’s 12 Year Old expression?
Viking honor means a lot to the people from Orkney and for Highland Park. 1 out of 3 people can trace their blood line back to the Vikings and are very proud of that. It is these men and women who make Highland Park what it is every day. Viking honor is also about craftsmanship: Using your skills, knowledge daily to make the best you can. The Vikings used their skills to build the best ships and weapons, the magnificent buildings like the Cathedral on Orkney, they passed on these skills to future generations and that’s what we use today, the skills to produce the best spirit in the world.
Can you offer any tips to our readers when it comes to tasting scotch whisky? What are the markers of a great Scotch whisky?
Use your senses, nose the whisky gently as that’ll give you your first impression of the whisky. Try it with a splash of water, to see what happens. Don’t read tasting notes, make your own. Tasting notes are often a one man opinion. We all grew up in different places, smelled different things, and we associated these with other things we grew up with. Our palate is very different as well, so only you can tell if a whisky is good or bad. This is when you taste the whisky, when you enjoy it it’s up to you how you do that.
Any tips on what to look out for when purchasing whisky?
Whisky is all about personal preference, but ask in the shop, meaning ask someone who knows about flavor. Don’t go for the most expensive to start with. Go for the entry level, it’s here you’ll find the character of the distillery. Find out for yourself, if you are into sweet, smoky or fruity expressions, and then search for those. Most importantly, go to whisky shows and drink fairs to explore. Here you’ll find a lot of different flavor profiles, take notes and go for what you think is best, not for what the person behind the stand tells you is best.
Which of Highland Park’s whiskies is your favorite? Which one would you choose to drink on your own?
I always had a weak spot for our 15 Year Old and 21 Year Old. As both are now no longer being made, I’m now more into 12 Year Old, Valkyrie and the 25 Year Old. I rarely drink on my own, as I prefer drinking Highland Park with good friends, but if I should, I would pick the 25 Year Old. That said, I think the 12 Year Old is a perfect all round whisky. I often use it as an aperitif before dinner or as a whisky to enjoy with the starter at dinner. You will find it perfect with seafood of any kind.
Can you tell us what has been one of your proudest moments at Highland Park?
There have been so many. The first was when I got the job. The saying “Find a job you love, and you never have to work again”, makes a lot of sense for me. I was also very proud when I became a Keeper of the Quaich, a recognition by the Scotch industry for contributing to the knowledge of Scotch whisky around the world. When we in 2014 launched Dark Origins and had to cross the North Sea in a sail boat. We suddenly were in the middle of the worst weather in 12 years in the North Sea….proud that we made it to Orkney and everyone was safe. I’m proud to be member of a team, that brings out such good whisky. This includes everyone from our Distillery team on Orkney to the small group of people, led by Brand Director Jason Craig in Glasgow who keep the wheels turning with good ideas, and bringing them alive. That’s what I’m most proud of, the passion and dedication our entire team shows.
Anything new for the brand in the coming year? Any big projects?
We always have something up our sleeves. In the near future we will be launching The Dark and The Light, two amazing single malts that tell the story of two important days in Viking culture and for Orkney, the Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice. We will also soon be launching our new 50 Year. Additionally, we have a few single casks for the US market. So lots of exiting new things! We at Highland Park are in really good shape. We have plenty of stories to tell and lots of great whisky to follow.
Photo credit: Soren Solkaer