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Our Five Keystones of Production

Our Five Keystones of Production

Two Pagodas at Highland Park Whisky Distillery
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 our five keystones of production. Without them, our whisky wouldn’t be our whisky.

We’ve maintained the same five keystones of production since 1798. Each requires fierce determination, hard work and skill. Just the way we like it.


Traditional Floor Malting at Highland Park Distillery
We’re one of only a handful of distilleries to still turn our malt by hand. It’s hard work yes, but the end justifies the means (and vice versa, when you think about it).

When barley is malting, it generates a substantial amount of heat (starch turning into sugar to fuel growth), so we painstakingly turn it by hand, every eight hours, seven 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.


Hobbister Moor Heather in Orkney
The peat from Hobbister Moor is completely unique to Highland Park and vitally important to the unique flavour and character of our whisky – a critical strand of our DNA.

The moor lies just seven miles from our distillery and its peat is over 9,000 years old in places and up to 4m deep. Treeless, as few can survive the constant onslaught of ferocious winds, it is rich in fragrant heather from the top layer of Fogg to the densely compacted Yarphie and finally the ancient, coal-like Moss. Annually in April, we carefully hand-cut peat from this rugged, ancient landscape and dry it naturally over the summer months before burning it in our ancient kilns, where its heathery aromatic smoke infuses the malting barley.

We are deeply bound to this wild and windy landscape and do what we can to protect and preserve it. We partner with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) to improve the wetlands and we use our peat more efficiently now than in the past, cutting 30% less each year and only taking what we need.


Highland Park Distillery Casks
Casks contribute up to 60% of our whisky’s final flavour and 100% of its natural colour so we insist on the finest quality sherry seasoned oak casks for maturation, not just for finishing.

We work in partnership with carefully managed forests to annually select our European and American oak trees, and we cut the wood into 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 worth every penny.


Photo of Orkney coast sea by Euan Myles
To mature whisky to perfection, you need time, stoic patience and a cruelly 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. Our coastlines are constantly pounded by waves and our islands by sea winds, reaching up to 100mph in winter. And those winters are dark and long here. Very long. Yet, by complete contrast, we enjoy a curiously mild climate, tempered by the warming effect of the Gulf Stream. While the weather may drive itself into a frenzy, the temperature seldom drops below 2°C or above 16°C. Perfect for our whisky’s long, cool and evenly paced maturation in our sheltered island warehouses.


Highland Park Distillery Stored Casks
Creating a balanced whisky requires time and skill. However, creating the complex balance we’re known for, also requires cask 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 marries up to 150 casks, leaving the newly combined whisky to rest for at least a month before bottling. 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 leaving a hearty soup to simmer over a slow flame, giving the flavours time to 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

Explore the depth, character and complex balance of our award-winning whiskies and experience a wild harmony of flavours in every one.