Auction News: The evolution of Highland Park

Auction News: The evolution of Highland Park

In his latest column, Joe Wilson, head curator and spirits specialist at Whisky Auctioneer, highlights how this beloved Orkney distillery’s packaging has evolved from its origins in the 1950s, through its 1970s, Highland Distillers-era, and on to today's Norse-inspired theme.

Auction News | 05 May 2023 | By Joe Wilson

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Branding in the world of whisky is everything. On account of their strong identity, some of the best-loved single malts of today have hardly changed in appearance since their earliest introductions. For example, the white label and green glass of Laphroaig have been in use since the 1940s, the iconic triangular bottles of Glenfiddich have remained a constant since the 1950s, and the Celtic-style ‘A’ that adorns every bottle of Ardbeg was first trademarked in 1911. Consistency in this respect has not been key to all distillers, however, and there is often more than meets the eye when investigating their past bottlings.

One such distillery is Highland Park. The beloved Orkney institution is instantly recognisable today for the Viking theme it has heavily leaned into over the past few years, but this has not always been the chosen direction. As one of the oldest single malt brands, the distillery has a significant back catalogue of official bottlings and an interesting selection of them is available to explore in our April sale at Whisky Auctioneer. These not only look entirely different from the Highland Park of today but also at times from each other.

Mostly bottled in the 1970s, our selection reveals a distillery in a transitional phase of its history. Its single malt had already been bottled for two decades by owners, Highland Distillers, but a sharp upturn in its popularity resulted in an almost-scattergun approach to marketing the distillery’s brand, seeing it sold in four distinct aesthetic styles in the space of just 10 years. Our sale this month spotlights two of the rarer examples.

Introduced in the 1950s, this Highland Park label features the image of the 12th-century Earl of Orkney, Saint Magnus Erlendsson.

The first is the original label style introduced around the 1950s. A yellow and red design, it features the image of the 12th-century Earl of Orkney, Saint Magnus Erlendsson. Also officially licensed to Gordon & MacPhail, there is great variety in these bottles, including a five-year-old for the Italian market, various 70- and 100-proof non-age statements from both bourbon and sherry casks, and an exceptional 1951 vintage. Examples of each can be explored in our auction this month.

The second style was used for a handful of special bottlings in the later 1970s and they are presented in squat green bottles with black and gold circular labels. The majority were vintage releases for the distillery’s Italian distributor, G.F. Ferraretto, with an incredibly rare 12-year-old released in Germany and a 27-year-old bottled for Fortnum & Mason in London. Interestingly, Highland Distillers used the same packaging design for Tamdhu at the time and – getting their money’s worth – later repurposed the bottle for what became the trademark Bunnahabhain shape in 1979.

A second general Highland Distillers design was also officially used by their distilleries and by Gordon & MacPhail, shared by Highland Park with Tamdhu and Glenrothes. The Magnus label was then replaced by a new aesthetic in the later 1970s, but completely redesigned again in 1980. While clean white labels with gold bordering is quintessential Macallan to most, and orange and red is trademark Glenmorangie, what constitutes classic Highland Park can mean different things to different fans. What is indisputable, however, is that the layers of history hidden behind each style, not to mention the whisky itself, make these true gems in every form.

Whisky Auctioneer's April auction ends Monday 8 May from 7pm BST.

About Whisky Auctioneer

Whisky Auctioneer is one of the global market leaders and trusted authorities on the buying and selling of whisky and spirits at auction. Founded in 2013 and located in Perth, Whisky Auctioneer utilises its expertise and knowledge combined with its auction platform, to increase interest and passion in the whisky and spirits community.

Whisky Auctioneer endeavours to make the market more accessible for buyers and sellers of any background and geography. Its monthly global auctions feature some of the most comprehensive selections of old, rare and collectible whiskies and spirits available online.

Whisky Auctioneer became the first online auction house to sell a million-pound bottle and outperformed the nearest traditional auction house by 200 per cent in value from spirits sales in 2020, showcasing the move that whisky collectors, investors and drinkers have already made online and firmly establishing their leading position within the modern secondary whisky market.

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