Orkney is an archipelago in the northern most part of Scotland. It was in Orkney that Magnus Eunson, a rather interesting man as you will later find out, established the first Highlands Park distillery in 1798. Ok, let us park the history bus for now.
On Tuesday evening I had the pleasure of joining a few patrons for a private dinner and whisky tasting pairing, courtesy of the Highlands Park brand of whiskies at Bottega Cafe, a restaurant synonymous with fine Italian dining. I must state from the outset that I have been a fan of Bottega for a couple of years now. I suspect its distinct charm has a lot to do with its relatively small size, Bottega literally has a handful of tables, even when full the place is never packed. Every dinner there feels intimate and memorable.
I started off the evening with a deep fried risotto ball starter, made of baked eggplant, ricotta cheese, rolled in aurora sauce and served with artichokes and herbs. I am by no means a vegetarian but this was quite a delicious dish!
To be honest I was more excited about the dinner than I was about the whisky tasting. I had never had much interest in the brand prior to Tuesday evening, I remember trying one of their whiskies at a whisky festival a couple of years ago and the experience had been indifferent at best. Let us just say my ambivalence turned out to be misplaced and wholly uninformed. I found their whiskies to be generally well balanced and wholesome.
Dada, the impeccably dressed Highlands Park brand ambassador started us off with the 10 year old, which I found to be an interesting combination of fruit and peat. The 10 year old has a rich citrus flavour to it together with the sort of sharpness you would expect from a peaty whisky.
The 12 year old is a smooth older sister and she goes down well. It is by most accounts a better tasting whisky than the 10 year old, more refined and wholesome. This would be a great recommendation for peat ‘beginners’ it eases you in. The flavours are not as sharp and it is much easier to drink.
Introducing the 18 year old Dada referred to her as a ‘sexy whisperer, really sweet in the front of the tongue, with a brush of citrus in the back. The 18 year old has a lovely colour and it is the ultimate balance of sweetness and peat, a beautiful union of the unlikeliest of bedfellows! This here ladies and gentlemen is a formidable 18 year old whisky which would stand tall amongst any of its peers.
My sweet reverie was pleasantly interrupted by the arrival of my beautifully made rump espedata! Fresh, tender, and generously sized – all things typical Bottega. Nothing beats a well-made steak. Yet another
memorable culinary experience from Sav and his team of warm and engaging team of waitrons. No surprises there really.
Good whiskies tend to have great stories behind their origins. Highland Park recently released a bottled called Dark Origins. The name Dark Origins speaks to the rather antithetical life of Highlands Park’s founding father Mr Eunson, who legend has it, was a spirits man in more ways than one: man of cloth during the day, and a whisky maker by night. I am happy to raise my glass to legends like him any day!