Dream Job: Martin Markvardsen on Highland Park

Highland Park Brand Ambassador Martin Markvardsen talks about how he nailed the job and its latest special edition, Ice.

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A decade ago, then whisky manager at The Quaich at The Craigellachie Speyside hotel Martin Markvardsen hosted what he thought was a regular pairing dinner, he, as usual, serenaded his love for his favourite Highland Park 25 year. What he didn’t know, however, was among his guests were the whisky’s brand managers who would call him two days later to offer him a job as brand ambassador.

In the call, Markvardsen – who has a tattoo of the whisky’s (former) logo on his chest– wanted confirmation on one single detail: whether he’d be able to work with the Highland Park 18 year.

“He said ‘sure’, and I said, ‘I’m in’. That’s it, I didn’t care about the salary or benefits or where I’d work.”

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The Danish Markvardsen is one of the few non-Scottish brand ambassadors under Edrington’s single malt wing; but for a label that flows with Nordic blood, a Dane who’d describe drinking The Highland Park 25 Years on the Cliffs of Yesnaby – where wind travels up to 110 miles/hour for 80 days in a year – to be a “simply fantastic experience” is perhaps the perfect candidate.

“The Cliffs of Yesnaby is closest to the edge of the world – there’s nothing but water from there to Canada; it’s where the wind really hits. When we take visitors up there, we see them losing their hats, trying to fight against the wind; but when you take a sip of the 25-year, you really don’t care about any of that,” he said sprightly. “It really just warms you up, and you can relax and enjoy the nature.”

Though an aficionado for all-things-whisky, Markvardsen’s obsession for the Orkney Island drink is its heritage that not only allows for a narrative different from the bulk of Scottish single malts, but also for a uniquely smoky flavour thanks to the distinctive specie of peat found in the highlands. What’s left, then, is a story that appeals to the right audience.

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In the past two years, Highland Park has manifested four gods of Asgard, namely Thor, Loki, Freya and Odin, in its acclaimed Valhalla collection. To live up to legends, its successor must allude to something even more grandiose, and that is, creation itself. Its latest limited-edition 17-year-old Ice Edition pays tribute to the first ice giant in Norse creation history, Ymir, who was born at the beginning of time, when the edge of the ice realm melted from the heat of the neighbouring realm. As Ymir slept, he gave birth to a race of powerful ice giants, or the gods of creation.

Aside from an ice berg – shaped bottle to mimic the legend, the whisky was also matured in a bourbon cast sandwiched between new, non-charred American oak staves that give it exotic flavours of green apple and pineapples foreign to Highland Park, which is usually matured in sherry oak casks. The only time bourbon oak was used was for its Valhalla collection’s Freya.

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Boasting a smoky finish, the tipple is intertwined with vanilla flavours and overtones of molten orris root – an ideal pair to desserts like crème brûlée, home-made vanilla ice cream, custards and meranges, though Markvardsen said he’s seen bartenders in Europe top it with savoury ingredients like cheddar cheese and egg whites for a absolutely "mind-blowing experience”.

“It was very hard to find something to follow the Valhalla collection, so we wanted to tell an important part of Orkeny, of the mythologies that we have,” said Markvardsen. “Every one of these whiskies are a long-term experiment; we can buy 20 casks from Spain from the same batch, fill it with the same Sherry, air dry it the same way, and you’ll still never really know what you’ll get in the end and can only hope for the best.”

Early 2017 will see a special edition that pays tribute to destruction, the Fire Edition, and, later, a long-anticipated addition to its core range, the Valkyrie.

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