Highland Park’s Valkyrie is testament to the brand’s Northern Heritage.
In early October, Martin Markvardsen, Senior Brand Ambassador of Highland Park whisky visited Singapore as part of a multi-nation tour to release the brand’s latest creation • the Valkyrie.
Valkyrie is the first of Highland Park’s new Viking Legend series. Richer than the 10 and 12 year old, the emphasis is on rich spice and aromatic smoke, with plenty of heather-rich Orkney peat, according to tasting note profiles.
Markvardsen, who has been named Keeper of the Quaich (an honour where the Society of Keepers of the Quaich recognises outstanding achievement in those who work, write or evangelise about Scotch Whisky by honouring them) was at the event to describe the various key highlights of the latest entry to the market – in addition to telling the brand’s remarkable story. The event was held at a converted warehouse space in Singapore’s marine area which was the perfect space to take in the virtues of the amber liquid. Raw. Industrial. Rugged. The space was the fitting location to sample the many delights of the latest release from Orkney. Accompanied by roast meat and marshmallows that one could roast on makeshift campfires, whisky enthusiasts and others gathered to eperience the first of what promises to be a delicious trio of rich, complex flavours.
“We are more Nordic than Scottish” Markvardsen begins. With Viking soul running through his veins (he is Danish) and Highland Park inked across his chest, his passion is immediately arresting - and decidedly second to none. Orkney, in Scotland’s North was part of the Danish and Norwegian kingdom until the late 15th century and over 600 years later there are still trappings of its Nordic roots through the street names and the unique dialect spoken in the area. Indeed, as Markvardsen points out, residents often refer to themselves as Orcadians first, then Nordic, Scottish, British and European. Cultural variance notwithstanding the climate in the region - with it’s wind swept, tree-less open spaces where summer temperatures rarely rise over 12C and winter never really sees much snow or frost • renders it ideal for whisy distilling • and drinking! Sweetness with notes of sherry, and honey peat are part of the brand’s DNA and that is what sets this single malt apart from the crowd.
With a different production method compared to other distilleries in the country, the whisky also matures differently because of its northern location . Another factor is in the peat that is used that render it sweeter. Ageing is done in casks where the oak comes from Northern Spain where the oak is seasoned with Sherry and also from the U.S. where oak from Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio are used (which tend to be seasoned with sherry or bourbon).
With Highland Park for 27 years, Markvardsen says it’s the people of Orkney that got him interested - and keeps his passion. “I was blown away by how they produced it and how they talked about it as ‘their’ whisky [as oppsed to the distillery”. That sense of pride drove his passion for the brand and has kept him going for all these years. “It’s about making something you’re really proud of”, he says, “although distilleries have changed a lot, such as using the same barely, yeast and so on, ther are still things that you can change but the whole process is not just production but also the story behind it, the people who work and that is the passion that keeps me going.”
Highland Park’s target audience tends to be mature whisky drinkers who appreciate single malts. While most of the brand’s consumers are over 30, there are younger whisky drinkers now taking an interest, Markvardsen says. Part of this also involves a change in the way people have approached whisky. While palates haven’t changed as such, there is a move away from the blended whisky’s to the single malts. And the way it has been enjoyed has evolved, too. Markvardsen notes that he was recently told about whisky cocktails that used the Highland Park 12 year (named “the greatest all-rounder in the world of malt whisky” by esteemed whisky critic Michael Jackson) and advised that the best ingredients be used to mix the cocktails containing the variety, for best results • which have worked so far.
Another interesting note to point out is food pairing. While diners are used to wine pairing dinners, there is a trend to pair whisky with food. Markvardsen notes that with Orkney’s island location, seafood dishes often go well with the taste of Highland Park whisky as has Asian food. But what makes whisky pairings so easy is its simplicity “The characteristics in whisky are so diverse that you’ll always find some food that works with it, just find the right balance so the whiky doesn’t overpower it”, Markvardsen intones.
Travelling extensively arond the world telling the Highland Park story while being fun and engaging, can also be tiring but Markvardsen’s ‘return to Orkney’ ritual pulls him right back into the heart of his passion.
“When I get back I go to the floor maltings where the barley is germinating, then the kiln with the burning peat and up where the alcohol is vapouring and then I get the the warehouse man Keith and go the warehouse and the aromas for all the casks really hits you and the sensation of he whisky makes you feel really special.”