Max McFarlane is Highland Park’s longest serving Whisky Maker. He joined us in 1974 and from his tasting room today – a cross between a library and an apothecary – he noses and tastes the contents of every single cask of whisky that goes into every single bottle we produce.
It was Max who, in 2008, discovered the two hogsheads casks destined to become our most recent release of Highland Park 50 Year Old. Often whisky that has spent so much time in the cask begins to display signs of woodiness, but that simply wasn’t the case here. Orkney’s temperate climate ensures that our casks are never exposed to damaging extremes in temperature and the whisky that Max first sampled from these two hogsheads was extraordinary.
Over the next year, Max nosed and tasted the contents of the two precious casks and, towards the end of 2009, felt that the whisky had reached its peak, revealing perfectly balanced notes of sweet dried fruit, ripe dark cherries, freshly grated nutmeg and Muscovado sugar – all wrapped up in a heady cloud of aromatic peat smoke.
The challenge was now to bring two casks of such great rarity from our warehouse in Orkney to our warehouse in Glasgow. For the first time in 45 years, the casks were briefly parted. Rather like members of the Royal Family, each made its journey from Orkney alone – one in September and one in October – before being reunited in Glasgow and ‘married’ in January 2010.
At Highland Park, we marry all the casks for a single batch release in one vat to allow the flavours to settle and harmonise, in this case for a further eight years. Max also introduced a small amount of the earlier 1960 vintage that made up our previous 50 Year Old, released in 2010, to create a thread of continuity from batch to batch, a legacy within a legacy.
American magazine, Whisky Advocate, describes Highland Park 50 Year Old as a true classic. Whisky writer, Gavin Smith, said: “The nose of this veteran is hugely enticing; rich, with old leather, soft spices, sultanas, figs, polished oak, and dunnage warehouses. Tangy orange develops in time. The orange carries over onto the palate – amazingly vibrant and youthful fruitiness – followed by soft toffee, woodsmoke, and a sprinkling of dusty oak. The finish is extraordinarily long, with liquorice and fruit-laden old oak. A true classic!”