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Our Five Keystones of Production

Our Five Keystones of Production

When stonemasons build arches, they need one stone to hold the arch together. This is known as the keystone, and that’s why we refer to 5 keystones of production. Without them, our whisky wouldn’t be our whisky. In our pursuit for Viking Harmony, we’ve stuck to the same 5 keystones of production since 1798. Each requires fierce dedication, hard work and skill. Just the way we like it.


We’re one of only a handful of distilleries to still turn our malt by hand. It’s hard work, but as our Viking ancestors taught us: nothing worthwhile comes easy.

When barley is malting, it generates a substantial amount of heat (starch turning into sugar to fuel growth), so we have to painstakingly turn it by hand, every 8 hours, 7 days a week, to maintain a constant airflow and exactly the right amount of moisture (5%) to fully absorb the intense aromatic smoke – ‘the reek’ – produced by the Hobbister Moor peat smouldering in our ancient kilns.


Our Hobbister peat moor is the DNA of Orkney

Only 7 miles from the distillery, Hobbister peat moor is over 9,000 years old and nearly four metres deep in places, although we only need to cut down to about 4,000 years. It is composed of layer upon layer of densely compacted vegetation, under constant onslaught by ferocious winds. This means that it is treeless but rich in fragrant heather. Annually in April, we hand-cut into this rugged, ancient landscape, one shovel at a time. The peat is then dried naturally over summer and burned in our ancient kilns, where its heathery aromatic smoke infuses the malting barley. As we are so closely tied to this wild and windy landscape, we know that we must do what we can to not only make the most of it but preserve it. As such, we partner with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to improve the wetlands and now use the peat in a more efficient way, meaning less is now being cut.


A cask is to us what a longboat is to our Viking ancestors

We work in partnership with carefully managed forests to annually select our European and American oak trees, and cut into the staves at precisely 45° to make it hard for any spirit to escape. This is exactly how our Viking ancestors made their longships watertight. We then ship the staves to Jerez in southern Spain where they’re made into casks, filled with Spanish Sherry and left to mature for around two years, before being emptied and shipped back to Orkney to be filled with our new make spirit, fresh from our stills. Expensive? Yes, but with casks contributing up to 60% of our whisky’s final flavour, and all of its natural colour, it’s worth the investment.


To effectively mature whisky, you need time, stoic patience, and a bastardly long winter. Welcome to Orkney.

Our islands are scattered in stormy waters off the extreme north coast of Scotland, where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. And while our distillery lies almost in the Arctic Circle our climate is surprisingly temperate. This does, however, mean our winters are wild and somewhat eternal. Perfect for long, cool and evenly paced maturation in our island warehouses.


Creating a balanced whisky requires time and skill. However, creating the distinctive balance we’re known for, also requires harmonisation.

While most distilleries see this process as an extravagance, for us, it’s a necessity: for every batch of Highland Park released, Gordon Motion, our Master Whisky Maker, selects and combines up to 150 casks, leaving the newly married whisky to rest for at least a month before being bottled. During that critical resting period, flavours from the different casks combine and harmonise, achieving an intense balance that’s delivered through our whisky’s fully rounded flavour and long, satisfying finish. The process is much like how, the longer you leave a hearty stew over a slow fire, the more the flavours come together and infuse.

Our Orkney Home

Our island home has its own distinct culture, climate and geology. It makes us what we are – proud to stand apart.

Our Distillery

Visit our distillery to meet the modern-day Viking descendants who make our whisky.

Our Whisky