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Whisky Reviews

Secret Orkney Distillery, Highland Park 2007, 15 Years Old, bottled by Malt, Grain & Cane, 65.8% ABV


Another bottling from Singaporean indie bottler, Malt, Grain & Cane’s Year 2 series – this time, a “Secret Orkney Distillery”, distilled in 2007.

To point out the obvious – why is it a secret?

Now, the casually astute might figure that this is either a marketing ploy to add some mystique, and the less-than-casually astute might point to it being a matter of trademark.

You’re right – it’s the trademark. But, well, the mystique is a nice plus. 


Macallan 'Secret Speyside' 1996 Afro Tanaka 22 Year Old | Whisky Auctioneer

A very sought after Secret Speyside, the "Afro Tanaka". Now, which of the 50 Speysiders is this? It's a Macallan. (Image Source: Whisky Auctioneer)


Distilleries do this from time to time because if they know their brand name confers the bottler some likely premium or added desirability, they’d be fools not to charge more for naming rights! After all, which “Secret Speyside” are you referring to when the region of Speyside has at least 50 distilleries. Wouldn’t it incite some much-desired drooling to simply call it a “Macallan”? Now, why wouldn’t The Macallan charge you alittle extra for that?

Some whisky folks have gotten creative, Laphroaig’s can also go by the moniker “Kilbride”, or through the practice of teaspooning, in which a teaspoon of another distillery’s whisky is added to a cask of whisky from a different distillery thereby making it no longer purely from any single distillery, whiskies can take on alter egos, Balvenie’s become “Burnside”s and Glenmorangie’s become “Westport”s.

But to make things more interesting, let’s put some perspective to this. Out of all of Scotland’s whisky-producing regions, Orkney, a set of isles at the northern most region, is so small in terms of whisky distilleries, that it is often left out of consideration as one of the country’s key whisky-producing regions. How small? The archipelago of isles has just two distilleries – Highland Park and Scapa.


How the Orkney Islands transitioned to heat pumps – CIBSE Journal

The very scenic town of Orkney. (Image Source: CIBSE Journal)


Now, here’s the interesting bit – Scapa doesn’t do independent bottlings, at least not since they recommenced production in 2005. Which by default means that anytime you see a label donning the words “Secret Orkney”, “Unnamed Orkney”, or something to that effect, you’ve pretty much got on your hands whisky from Highland Park. It’s a well-known fact, for that matter. And yet this curiosity is quite prolific, you don’t need to be looking that hard to find an independently bottled “Secret Orkney”.

So, here’s the kicker. If we all know “Orkney” pretty much refers to Highland Park Distillery, why even bother trying to charge for naming rights? We all know what it is anyway *wink* *wink*.


Highland Park Distillery - xtrawine.com

Pretty much the only "Secret Orkney". (Image Source: Xtrawine)


Well, there’s more to just making a quick buck for using a trademarked name. Have we forgotten that the stuff inside matters too? By disallowing bottlers from using the name “Highland Park”, it’s also a way for the distillery to say “well, what happens to the whisky after we’ve sold it ain’t our business!”. After the cask has been sold, what the bottler chooses to do with it no longer pertains to the distillery. And that’s all well and good, except it’s over time come to be known that those “Secret Orkney”s tend to taste better than the “Highland Parks”.


(Image Source: Malt, Grain & Cane)


So what we have here, is yet another example of the “Secret Orkney”, not the “Highland Park”, we can’t be giving credit to the wrong folks if this goes well. It's a 15 Year Old, distilled in 2007, and bottled at 65.8% ABV, and more uniquely, it was matured in Bourbon casks and then 1st Fill Sherry Quarter Casks from one of the better Sherry houses, Fernando de Castilla (FDC) Oloroso Sherry. It also carries a gorgeous Japanese CityPop label by artist Ardhira Putra, titled Sunset Boulevard, which is just lovely. 



Secret Orkney Distillery, Highland Park 2007, 15 Years Old, bottled by Malt, Grain & Cane, 65.8% ABV - Review


Color: Mahogany Reddish Amber


On the nose: Tart and spritely, zesty notes of red wine, cherries and pomegranate. Vibrant stuff. The wood and straw begins to come through, again contributing some brighter top notes here.       


Bright tarty, lively notes of red wine, cherries, fresh straw, which over time evolves into a richer milk chocolate, burnt ends, Mitarashi dango, and a light vegetal edge of cut moss.


It gets richer with milk chocolates, burnt ends and something of roasted Japanese dango – specifically Mitarashi-styled ones with syrup made of shoyu (soy sauce), sugar and starch. Roasted barley as well. There’s a light vegetal scent of cut moss.


Here is where the FDC Sherry shines through - nutty notes of fresh almonds, cream, peach skins, ume and then darker notes of affogato, charred wood and wok-fried chestnuts roasting.


On the palate: Nutty flavors of fresh almond, peanut skins – peppery stuff. This grows into more on sweet Sherry, cream, peach skins, ume plums and umeshu. Quite lovely with good waves of heat enveloping the palate. This again takes a deeper, richer note of affogato, charred wood, and then a reprisal of something more lightly nutty – think roadside wok-fried chestnuts or chestnut puree or marron.


The finish: Medium length – more on charred wood, chestnuts and oak.


My Take

Vibrant, lively stuff! It keeps you on your toes and is quite the party in the mouth. Not usually associated with whisky, but this one’s a fun drink. I could see this easily paired with red meats or pasta and would go brilliantly with its more springy brighter notes and yet nowhere does it lose its more refined base of deeper, richer notes of chocolates, Sherry and wood, which powers it along.


My Rating


Vibrant and lively - this one's a real party! It keeps things fun and exciting while being quite inviting. The quality Sherry casks used shines through and complements the fairly aged Secret Orkney. 


I’ve had my fair share of Highland Park’s, yes, not “Secret Orkney”s, and haven’t quite been sold, but this one’s a lot more my style. It has a good amount of age, but not too much to get stuffy and boring. This one’s young at heart and does its fair share at championing the cause of indie bottlers versus that “unnamed” distillery on Orkney. +1 to the indie bottlers.

You can pick this up at Malt, Grain and Cane, or head to any one of Singapore's whisky bars to try it.