With Güneş Aydoğan's pen…

“…The most barbaric people of the world lived on the Scandinavian Peninsula: Vikings. Vikings, a seafaring nation, crossed the raging northern seas with their long boats, landed on the European coasts in the south, plundered them mercilessly, and after they had burned and destroyed everywhere, they took the living and lifeless loot to their homeland.

My first acquaintance with the Vikings was the one I watched on TV as a child. “Tarkan: Viking Blood” That's how it happened with the movie. Combined with those scary octopus scenes that most of you will remember, I thought that this race was an imaginary group made up for the movie with my mind at that time, so I put this issue on the shelf for a long time. One of my favorite whiskey brands. Highland Park until you meet him.

Those who know know; Highland Park's bottles, logo, labels, names of special series are not very similar to other Scottish whiskeys. My acquaintance with this brand started when I saw the "Travel retail" Warrior series at the airport. This series caught my attention with its interesting names such as Einar and Sigurd and the war axes on the bottles. Einar, which I bought from the very stylish wooden boxes, is one of my favorite whiskeys that still stands in my bottles today.

Highland Park Einar

So what do swords, axes, dragon-shaped warheads do on a Scotch whiskey? Because Highland Park is a brand that defines itself as half Scottish, half Viking. Don't say what's the matter now.

Technically, the Highland Park distillery, which is subject to the Highland whiskey region, is actually considered by many sources as a separate region due to its special character. Islands in the region, Orkney It is located in the Islands. Just across from this group of 70 small islands, beyond the northern seas is the Scandinavian Peninsula. Guess who lived in those lands between the 8th and 11th centuries? Vikings, who are considered the ancestors of today's Norwegian, Swedish and Danish peoples!

This warrior race, which was developed in maritime and trade, of course, did not leave the Orkney Islands, which are right in front of them, empty. The island remained under Scandinavian rule from the 8th century to the 15th century AD. The islands were founded in 1468 by King Christian III of Scotland, daughter of King Christian I of Norway and Denmark. It changed hands as part of her dowry during her marriage to James. (The girl who does not have such a dowry, I don't know…)

Officially established in 1798, Highland Park has kept the Vikings as its ancestors, even though it has been 2 centuries since the island changed hands. Founder of the distillery Magnus EunsonIt is said to be of Viking descent. Although the brand has always been connected to its Viking origins, we see that this image has not been kept in the foreground until recently. If you look at old bottles sold at auctions, it is not possible to find clear traces of Vikings in many of them. Of course, since then, many brands have started to look for ways to differentiate themselves due to the development of social media and the increasing interest in whiskey. There could be no better way for Highland Park to return to its Viking roots at this point.

Credit: eatvacation.com

With Jason Craig, who was brought to the position of brand manager in 2015, the brand entered a period of renewal and return to its roots. Thinking that the spirit of the brand was lacking before 2015, Craig started a period of “rebranding” that would spend approximately 500,000 Pounds and determined his Viking roots as his starting point.

After this decision, the dominance of the Viking emphasis on the brand was determined according to the American market. Craig thinks it is not necessary to exaggerate the situation when describing the Vikings for Europe, their biggest market. However, while the brand was being restructured, it was decided that Highland Park, which has been in the American market for 10 years, needed to become more "Marvel-Comic Viking" in order to find a place for itself in this big market. This means that we will see stories and mythologies everywhere.

By the way, it would not be right to say that there was no ownership of Vikings in the brand before 2015. Inspired by the names of 4 gods such as Thor and Odin, it was released in 2012. Valhalla The special series is one of the best examples of this.

Highland Park Thor (Valhalla Series)

I mentioned at the beginning of the article. warriors The series is also a special series named after 6 famous Viking warriors, which was launched as "travel retail" before 2015.

Highland Park Sigurd (Warrior Series)

It was bottled as “travel retail” in 2010. “Leif Erikssen” A whiskey named after the Nordic explorer who is believed to have discovered America 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

Highland Park Leif Erikssen

Craig's vision in 2015 is to build the entire brand on these roots, rather than just keeping the Viking origins alive in special series. We see the biggest steps of this in 2017. First of all, the website says “Viking!” updated to write. Then, in April, the 12, 15 and 18 year old bottles, which are the main expressions, are a thing of the past and are replaced by a new series that is all Viking.

Highland Park 12 (Before 2017)

The names of the new expressions of 10, 12 and 18 years respectively “Viking Scars, Viking Honor & Viking Pride”. Not content with that, the brand builds its "travel retail" series on animals that have an important place in Viking history/mythology.

For example; Nas (Year not specified) is a bottle “Spirit of the Bear” It takes its name from the Berserker warriors. The Berserkers are a group reminiscent of the "crazy" in the Ottoman army. It is said that these warriors, who wrap themselves in bear skins and perform rituals that they believe will take the strength and courage of the bears, go into a trance by taking some hallucinatory substances, and turn into a kind of superheroes that even their own armies do not want to approach on the battlefields. Likewise, since wolf skin is used instead of bear skin, the 14-year-old bottle is also used. "Loyalty of the Wolf" it was said.

Highland Park Spirit of the Bear

“Voyage of the Raven” takes its name from the importance of the raven for the Vikings. Vikings believed that the raven brought good luck in war and on the open sea. In addition, ravens were released from ships in the open sea, and if they did not return, it was concluded that land was close. There is a practical aspect as well.

Highland Park Voyage of the Raven

During the "Vikingization" period, the 3-bottle "Viking Legends" series was finally launched in 2019. Let's see what else we will see.

Viking Legends Series / Valkyrie

In terms of tradition, Highland Park has not only built its brand on Viking roots. The distillery is one of the few distilleries in Scotland that extracts its own peat and prepares its own barley malt and continues to use the traditional "ground germination" method beforehand. This “devotion to the roots” in production is also an important part of the brand image.

In all these aspects, I think Highland Park is a successful brand in distinguishing itself. Moreover, this separation is reflected not only in brand awareness but also in the whiskey experience. The calm feelings such as Highland greens and the smell of Speyside distilleries that I usually remember while drinking whiskey leave their place to more historical and mythological feelings while drinking Highland Park. And I open the Vikings series and pour myself a glass of “Spirits of the Bear”, as if I am a modern Berserker…

Gunes Aydogan

@laggard_moments

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