Gordon Motion joined Highland Park in 1998 and is responsible for the creation and curation of every whisky that we bottle. Our 54 Year Old is the oldest and rarest whisky he has made.
A skilled maker with an outstanding eye for detail and nose for flavour, Gordon became Highland Park’s Master Whisky Maker in 2008, crafting our whisky from new make spirit through maturation, marriage, harmonisation and final bottling. For Gordon, the scientific side of the whisky-making equation is all about ensuring the future quality of the spirit and the casks, while putting the whisky together ‘on the bench’ is, and always will be, the art. And it’s an art at which Gordon is a true master, both managing the consistent quality of our core range and applying his remarkable skills to the task of selecting and nurturing the casks that will ultimately deliver our older and rarer releases, like this exceptional 54 Year Old.
“People talk about ‘terroir’ in wine and the closest thing you get to that in Scotch whisky is the peat. So, the terroir of Highland Park is Hobbister Moor – it’s our DNA. The wild winds that batter our islands mean few trees grow here but we’ve had thousands of years of quiet harmony going on underground as low-growing plants slowly convert to peat. Our peat comes from Orkney and only from Orkney, and that gives our whisky a completely different character to any other whisky in the world.
Every whisky we make should be enjoyed at some point, so looking after old casks is all about care and preservation – knowing how far you want the character to develop, how to prevent the whisky from becoming woody, how to stop the alcohol level from dropping. When you lose whisky to the Angels’ Share, the flavours that have developed over the years become more and more concentrated. Water and alcohol evaporate but the flavours remain. So, these casks are very special and we’ve nursed them incredibly carefully to get them to this age, and to deliver perfect balance in the bottle.
“I want to bottle a whisky when it gives me the flavour I’m looking for, not when it gives me a specific year. When we get to highly aged whiskies like this, there’s no point in rushing. It’s ready when it’s ready.”
In 2008, I selected ten refill casks laid down 40 years earlier, in 1968. Because they were refill casks, the whisky hadn’t become too woody, as it would have done in first-fill casks over that length of time. Instead, there was a beautiful light-coloured spirit with all the ethereal, fragrant character you only find in really old whiskies.
To develop the whisky’s character and colour further, I decided to tip the 1968 casks into first-fill sherry seasoned casks. That’s where experience comes in. You need to know what the casks are going to deliver in ten years’ time or more, and I knew these casks well – some of them since the day they were first filled – so I knew what character they would produce. Fourteen years later, it’s this exquisite whisky, intensely sweet, rich and complex with naturally deep, autumnal russet hues, now aged for 54 long years.”