Unquestionably remote, our fiercely independent islands once sat at the crossroads between powerful Nordic and Scottish cultures and were ruled by the Viking Kings of Norway and Denmark.
A cluster of islands scattered in the cold north sea
10 miles from the northernmost reaches of the Scottish mainland lie the scattering of 70 or so islands which make up Orkney. They were settled by vikings over 1,000 years ago. To this day, only 20 are inhabited. Here the conditions are ruthless. Elemental. Tough for making a living, but perfect for making whisky.
Here in Kirkwall, on our Mainland, Highland Park has been distilled since 1798, on the same site where our founder, Magnus Eunson, set up his original illicit still at High Park. Our distillery lies almost in the Arctic Circle, on a latitude of 58.9847°N – that’s roughly the same as Anchorage, Alaska. In fact, we’re closer to Oslo than we are to London, but divided by mile upon stormy mile of water.
WIND, THE WHISKY MAKER
Our beautiful yet isolated cluster of islands is pounded relentlessly by winds that frequently reach speeds of over 100mph in the winter. No tree can survive such an onslaught. It means that our moorland peat is woodless but rich in fragrant heather, which produces the unique aromatic smokiness of our whisky. Here in Orkney, unrelenting winds make for unbelievable whiskies.
VIKING HARMONY IS DUG OUT AND SMOKED, ONE SHOVEL AT A TIME.
For over 220 years, we’ve smoked our barley over 4,000-year-old peat, hand-cut from Hobbister Moor, just 7 miles from our distillery. No other distillery in the world uses peat like ours. Our dense, heather-rich peat burns slowly, and with an astonishing intensity, to create a complex floral aroma in our kilns – the origins of the intensely balanced, smoky sweetness found only in Highland Park.
A WILD OUTPOST OF THE VIKING KINGDOM
Early in the 9th century, when Viking longboats were leaving the shores of Denmark and Norway in search of new lands to conquer, they came upon Orkney. And so our islands were swept up into a vast Viking kingdom and ruled by a succession of Viking Earls from around 800AD until 1468.
ONCE A VIKING, ALWAYS A VIKING?
The Vikings arrived as invaders but soon settled as farmers, traders and craftsmen, leaving their mark on our islands’ culture and character. Not only is the Norse influence evident in buildings like Orphir Round Kirk and St Magnus Cathedral, but a survey revealed that one in three Orcadians today have Viking DNA. Our core range of whiskies – 10 Year Old Viking Scars, 12 Year Old Viking Honour, 15 year Old Viking Heart and 18 Year Old Viking Pride – pay tribute to our heritage.
DID YOU KNOW?
Orkney lies outside the five major whisky making regions of Scotland and has only two distilleries – Speyside has 50, the Highlands have 33 and even Islay, covering roughly the same number of square miles as Orkney, has eight.
DID YOU KNOW?
Our climate is surprisingly temperate with its lack of extremes (2°C in winter to 16°C in summer) perfect for a long, even-paced whisky maturation in our island warehouses.
From the heathery Fogg layer down through the dense, compacted Yarphie to the ancient coal-like Moss, the core of our peat dates back 4,000 years. We cut it out, one shovel at a time… and occasionally with a mechanical digger. Regardless, it’s still not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.
Our Viking Roots
The Vikings didn’t leave Orkney. They became part of it and part of us. Their story is our story.