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Worth a Trip to Menlo Park

At 7x7, we focus on the relatively small area denoted by the numbers in our title. Sometimes I argue with the powers that be that we should extend coverage a bit. Not that there isn’t sufficient activity within city limits to supply our editorial needs, it’s just that there’s so much really cool stuff going on in the whole Bay Area that I feel bad in not writing about it.

So, for all you holiday shoppers, I’m going to make a recommendation that’s worth a trip down the peninsula. If you have a whisky lover on your gift list, the best thing you could do for him or her is to head down to the Beltramo’s in Menlo Park and pick up a bottle of their exclusive single-cask bottling of Highland Park 15-year-old scotch.

Highland Park is one of my top 5 distillers in Scotland, nay, the world. Located in the remote Orkney Islands—well north of mainland Scotland (closer to Denmark than to Edinburgh)—it’s a unique whiskey, dedicated solely to the highest quality. To this end, Highland Park is one of the few houses that still malt their own barley (a very labor-intensive process), using exclusively peat smoke from their own Orkney peat, which is said to have a sweeter cast than the more briny, iodine smoke from Islay. And this is why I love Highland Park. It’s a smoky whisky, to be sure, but the smoke is gorgeously entwined with sweet aromas and flavors of honey, figs, toffee and a tinge of orange zest.

The bottling that Beltramo’s got its hands on is a rare single-cask that was discovered not too long ago and identified for having exceptional maturity and identity. These things come along only rarely, and at $78, the bottle is a bargain. Not to mention that in the whole world, it is only available here.

I’ve included some photos from my visit to Orkney and the distillery last year. This is a magical place, so it’s not surprising that the whiskey is likewise magical. Actually, it is a bit of a surprise. Because Orkney—so far north, so isolated in the middle of a cold sea—is so beautifully austere, I would almost expect the whisky to be this way. But rather, it’s one of the most lively, warm and “sweetest” scotches out there, expressing of a bright and luminous heart.


Orkney Beach


Barley fields


Peat furnace


Malting barley