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Explore the Scottish Orkney Islands With Highland Park 18 Year Old

How the distillery’s geography informs the flavors in this bottle of single-malt Scotch whisky.

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Some of the most ancient settlers of the Orkney Islands — the rocky, wind-whipped archipelago located somewhere between the Northern coast of Scotland and the Arctic Circle — came to its shores by crossing the North Sea. Famously one of the world’s most treacherous bodies of water, the North Sea’s waves can reach 50 feet high — rough sailing for any explorer. You can imagine the bravery needed to navigate longships by following the tides through those icy currents.

It’s on these islands where Highland Park has been distilling fine whiskies since 1798. And it’s Orkney’s unique terrain that gives Highland Park’s single-malt Scotch whiskies their distinct characteristics. Take the 18 Year Old Viking Pride, for example — the award-winning whisky aged in first-fill, sherry-seasoned European and American oak casks, with its notes of overripe cherries, dark chocolate, marzipan, and heather honey. Only Highland Park has access to the world-class peat found at Hobbister Moor, a peat field more than 9,000 years old. When burned by master distillers, this peat lends a unique, aromatic fragrance to the whisky’s malted barley. It also means that a part of the Orkney land goes into every bottle of Highland Park.

And this is what leads to its awards. Highland Park 18 Year Old Viking Pride won top honors at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge in 2018 and 2019, impressing judges with its rich blend of ripe fruit, bittersweet chocolate, and heady toffee and marzipan, balanced with peat smoke. (And of course, the floral traces of heather.)

The flavors meld together for a time-tested pop to the senses — connecting the whisky back to the land from whence it came. Such a glorious and nuanced balance isn’t an accident. It requires hard work, patience, and some help from the wild. Sipping this 18-year whisky is like being there in Orkney: it’s a passport stamp in every dram, made by those whose ancestors once crossed these treacherous seas.

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