The year was 1968. Beatles mania. The height of la nouvelle vague — helmed by the likes of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard — which forever changed the patent possibilities of filmmaking. Mankind began peering skyward, ascending towards space, the moon; the final frontier. A time so very different than that of today; a time, too, marked by the origins of Highland Park’s latest 50 Year Old release.
This 50 Year Old 2020 rendition stands as the third-ever 50 Year Old release from the Orkney-based distillery’s expansive 223-year history; its scarcity made even more apparent as only 274 bottles — each looked after and signed by Gordon Motion, Master Whisky Maker at Highland Park — were crafted. A true collector’s item.
“This 50 Year Old whisky is one of our oldest and rarest releases and I’m very proud to have been a part of its journey,” said Gordon Motion, Master Whisky Maker at Highland Park. “The whisky is spectacular, when I sampled the whisky from the re-racked casks, the whisky it contained — aged for a little over 50 years — had absorbed the rich sherried flavours of dried fruit and sweet toffee from its final first-fill cask maturation, but still retained all the delicate fragrance and flavours driven by the original refill casks.”
Highland Park’s 50 Year Old releases are crafted with the traditional solera system; the process from which sherries are matured via the introduction of whiskies from previous casks with that of a newer batch. The timeline production for this 2020 release goes as follows: Casks first laid down in 1968 were married and re-racked in first-fill sherry seasoned oak casks in 2008. Then, 2020 saw one — just one! — European oak butt married with some of the 50 Year Old 2018 release. Legacies within legacies, thus created.
“I introduced a small quantity of this cask to some of our 2018 batch of 50 Year Old, which I’d held back specifically for this purpose, to create a further layer of depth and complexity,” explained Motion. “As the 2018 50 Year Old also contains some of our 2010 batch of 50 Year Old — our first in the series — this approach allows me to maintain the core DNA of our oldest Highland Park whisky through each extremely limited batch release.”
On the palate, Highland Park’s newest 50 Year Old release favours ripe black cherries, sweet Muscovado sugar, peaches and rich dark chocolate, then developing into a flavour profile defined by exotic spices, candied orange peel, toasted oak and ripe apricots. Whispers of dark expresso coffee, new leather and soft peat smoke linger at the finish.
Half a century of rich, storied history is stored in this remarkable release; one that calls for a presentation equally as exceptional. Housed in a wooden box hand-crafted from walnut by Scottish Master Craftsman John Galvin, the whisky fills a heavy-weight glass bottle; its surface embossed in curlicued strokes inspired by the Norse heritage Highland Park is renowned for. Seated by the numbered-and-signed bottle is a hand-crafted crystal decanter — ornate in intricately-decorated metal — and a leather-bound book, re-telling the story of this exceptional 50 Year Old whisky.