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Whiskey Ambassador Corner: Highland Park’s Martin Daraz

Whiskey brand ambassadors, as we’ve learned, are a diverse group of individuals united by one common cause: the passion for their particular brown spirit. It is a job most of us think of as glamorous, but for those behind the bottles, it involves many hours of logged travel and long nights, requiring a cheerful personality to be able to stand strong. Highland Park’s Martin Daraz exemplifies that cheerfulness, as I got the chance to experience first-hand a few months back when he stopped off in Portland, Oregon, to showcase his company’s Scotch.

I caught up with Daraz later over email to ask him about his experiences as Highland Park Brand Ambassador:

Martin Daraz
Highland Park’s Martin Daraz (image courtesy of Martin Daraz)

How did you come to be an ambassador for Highland Park?

I was lucky enough to meet someone who worked on Highland Park’s PR while I was living in New York working in another field and they asked me to come in for a meeting, the rest as they say is history!

What distinguishes Highland Park Scotch from other Scottish whiskies?

The unique balance of sweet and smoky that comes from maturing the lightly peated spirit in Sherry Oak seasoned casks. The peat from Orkney has a different profile than the other whisky making regions. It is also used sparingly, we average 2-4PPM in the bottle. It is also worth noting that other than our sister distillery, The Macallan, we are the only distillery that ages our spirit exclusively in Sherry Oak seasoned casks. It’s not a finish or a one-off; it’s our entire core range. It is a very expensive way to age whisky, but it is essential to the flavor of Highland Park.

Can you talk a little about the location of Highland Park itself. What is it like to have a distillery in Orkney?

The Orkney Islands are remarkable, over 70 islands, with the distillery situated in Kirkwall. The Highland Park name comes from the High Park area, where centuries ago Magnus Eunson began illicitly distilling at night. As I mentioned previously, the peat on Orkney is quite different to what you would find on other islands, which gives us our unique flavor profile. It is also worth mentioning that the climate in Orkney means we lose less in evaporation than the mainland, which means more whisky! Scapa Distillery is about half a mile away, great whisky, different than Highland Park but still well worth your time. The Orkneys actually belonged to Norway until about the 13th Century and as such the people consider themselves Orcadian first and Scottish second. The islands are a haven for historians, with so many incredible Neolithic sites and places of interest.

In your travels as an ambassador, what are things you’ve learned about Highland Park drinkers?

Well, obviously they are much more intelligent, funny, and better looking! Joking aside, I’ve always been so delighted to meet such passionate people who really care about the distillery and the people that work there. It’s also nice to have so many other distillers and people in the industry say how much they enjoy our whisky.

What are ways you enjoy a glass of your distillery’s whisky?

So many! Almost a separate piece! A large, neat measure will always work for me. I do love pairing my Highland Park with a nice beer, right now I love combining a Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin with Highland Park Dark Origins. The higher proof whisky is luscious with the robust and earthy beer. Absolutely delicious. I also have to mention the Highland Park Hot Toddy that Dave Shenaut made me at Raven and Rose. It was a riff on a Penicillin cocktail but warmed up. Of course it’s important to remember the best way to enjoy your whisky is however you want to. I’m not going to get upset if you mix it with chocolate milk, just make sure you share it on Instagram!

5 Sherried Whisky Alternatives

Here are my recommendations for those of you who want something sweet and luscious, but a little different in your glass this year. 

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti

Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and provided tasting input on many whiskeys at competitions. He also maintains a large private collection of whiskey from which he continually educates his palate on this brown spirit type.

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