Highland Park’s A Tribe In The Wild programme saw nine bartenders head to Orkney for the ultimate introduction to the whisky’s rural home. Imbibe went along for the ride
Heading west along one of the endless Roman roads that lead out from Kirkwall and passing under overhanging trees at Norseman village, we are reminded of the prevalent history of Orkney. Just before the road delivers us into the brooding Atlantic, we arrive with trepidation at the hamlet of Birsay. It is here that nine bartenders from across the UK (and Imbibe), sipping on Highland Park’s finest drams, are immersed in the whisky’s rather special home.
‘With A Tribe In The Wild we wanted to give something back to the bartending community while offering a truly unique experience,’ says Highland Park brand manager Scott McCaffer. ‘We know bartenders are inundated with cocktail competitions, so we needed to do something different.’
The winning bartenders, guided by the Bear Grylls Survival Academy, were thrust onto Orkney’s north coast and taught how to make spears from bamboo, catch fish, start fires and traverse down the steepest cliff edge. This is a certain skill set reminiscent of the Vikings that inspire the Highland Park brand. ‘Collaboration between the Bear Grylls team and Highland Park gives us true insight into the Viking history of the brand,’ says the bartender at The Gleneagles Hotel Radim Zvanovec.
The goal was to connect the bartenders with the sense of place that Highland Park holds dear. Everything about the distillery aims to be quintessentially Orkney. One of Scotland’s few remaining malting floors is in operation, contributing 20% of the total mash bill dried with Orkney peat. The entirety of whisky produced is aged on the island itself, with a predominant sherry cask proclivity. The casks are a mixture of European and American woods, seasoned in Jerez.
In order to get here, the competing bartenders had to first submit a perfect serve video to Instagram. Rather than the well-trodden route of cocktail competition heats, those chosen to progress were instead rewarded with a place on the Whisky Ambassador programme. ‘We helped 76 bartenders gain their BIIAB Whisky Ambassador qualification,’ McCaffer says proudly.
‘This wasn’t a competition with winners and losers, this was a programme to raise industry standards and knowledge.’ The trip concluded with a VIP tour of the distillery and a bespoke tasting seminar that included rare expressions such as Highland Park 30yo.
For Adam Dewar, formerly of Edinburgh’s The Devil’s Advocate, it made all the difference: ‘To have a brand be so willing to do so much for for us was incredibly humbling.’
Keep an eye out in early 2020 for news of next year’s competition.