Glen Scotia Victoriana

Glen Scotia Victoriana 01Distillery: Glen Scotia
Region: Campbeltown
Age: No age statement
abv: 51.5%

Although historically standing in the shadow of its more famous neighbour Springbank, Glen Scotia survived the carnage of the Campbeltown bust for a reason. The distillery produces a quality spirit, known for its fresh, salty, oily characteristics. Although traditionally softer than other Campbeltown whiskies (and therefore more attractive to blenders), Glen Scotia’s whisky is no less distinctive and has gathered a loyal following. Production was rather irregular until the distillery was bought by the Loch Lomond Group in 2014, who invested heavily in both hardware and marketing. The result was a new range of whiskies between 10 and 21 years old, instantly recognisable by the Highland cow on the front of the bottle. Since then, the range has changed yet again, with just three bottlings now making up the core range.

One of these is Glen Scotia Victoriana, meant to be a modern interpretation of what a classic Campbeltown malt from the Victorian era might have tasted like. To achieve this result, Victoriana has been aged in heavily charred oak and bottled at cask strength. The result is a deliciously rich whisky that packs quite some punch. Whether it’s is anything like the drams Glen Scotia used to make in years gone by is impossible to say, but if it were up to me, the distillery should continue producing whisky very much like Victoriana!

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Bowmore 12 year old Enigma

Bowmore 12 year old Enigma 01Distillery: Bowmore
Region: Islay
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

Although Bowmore Enigma has been discontinued (and replaced by the likes of Black Rock, Gold Reef and White Sands), it can still be found in some specialty stores. Once a proud member of the Travel Exclusive range, Bowmore Enigma comes in a 1 litre bottle, and boasts a higher percentage of whisky that’s been aged in European oak compared to the regular 12 year old. These ex-sherry casks give this whisky a sweet, almost juicy character.

I have to admit that I’m still searching for a Bowmore expression that’s really satisfying. Maybe it’s simply not my style, but I find many of their whiskies to be a bit too shy. In fact, you don’t often hear someone proclaim that Bowmore is their favourite distillery. Peatheads will tend to go for something else, whereas in my view Bowmore simply does not compare favourably with other medium peated whiskies such as Talisker or Highland Park. But perhaps Enigma will stand out, so back to the matter at hand.

This particular Bowmore isn’t actually all that enigmatic, especially compared to many of the NAS bottlings that are currently on the market. We actually know Enigma’s age, as well as the casks it’s been matured in, which is more than can be said of  Bowmore’s current Travel Exclusive range. Then again, Enigma sure does have a mysterious ring to it, so let’s try to decipher what this whisky is all about.

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Douglas Laing’s The Epicurean

Douglas Laing Epicurean 01Distillery: Blend
Region: Lowland
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.2%

In 2009, Douglas Laing (an independent bottler from Glasgow) launched the Remarkable Regional Malts range, with the first release of the Big Peat. The concept is to take malt whisky from several distilleries and fuse these into a blended malt that is typical of a certain whisky producing region. Examples include Scallywag for Speyside and Timorous Beastie for the Highlands, but perhaps the best known example is the Big Peat from Islay. The Epicurean is the latest addition to the range, representing the Lowlands, and was launched in 2016.

The Remarkable Regional Malts are not blends in the traditional sense, as no grain whisky is used in their production. Instead, they are what would have previously been called a vatted malt, until the Scotch Whisky Association changed the rules in 2011. Although the Lowlands produce more whisky than any other region in Scotland, only a handful of malt distilleries remain. The vast majority of output comes from large, industrial grain distilleries, which form the heart of the blending industry that’s based in the Lowlands. Perhaps then it is only fitting to try to capture the true spirit of the Lowlands in a blend. Many of Douglas Laing’s whiskies have been nothing short of exceptional, so I’m very curious to see what The Epicurean has in store.

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Scapa Glansa

Scapa Glansa Review 01Distillery: Scapa
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Things have been pretty quiet around Orkney’s lesser known distillery for the past decade. Scapa’s 12 year old standard expression was changed to a 14 year old version (much to the dismay of Scapa’s loyal fan base) and more recently upgraded to a 16 year old bottling (much to the dismay of Scapa’s loyal fan base), but not much else was happening on the marketing front. Until recently, when owner Pernod Ricard decided to shake things up by introducing a new range. The 16 year old was discontinued (presumably to the dismay of Scapa’s remaining fans?), to be replaced by Scapa Skiren, a smooth, honeyed dram aged in first-fill bourbon casks. But Skiren now has some company, with the launch of its peaty brother, Scapa Glansa. While the barley used for Glansa’s spirit remains unpeated, it has been finisheded in casks that used to hold peaty whisky, giving Glansa a subtle smokiness.

While some people really dislike the notion of “second hand peat”, I have no particular beef with it. These days whiskies are aged in all sorts of different casks, from the weird to the wonderful. If distillers get to use casks that previously held rum, Sauternes or cloudberry wine, why not one that previously held whisky? In fact, this is common practise, as refill barrels are used everywhere, only this one just happens to have held peaty whisky before. It’s transparent, and the consumer knows what to expect. If you’d rather drink a properly peaty whisky, there are enough great Islay drams on offer 🙂

As an added bonus, Scapa Glansa comes in some very stylish packaging, making it a nice gift for friends or family. It’s certainly an interesting offering from a distillery that’s traditionally been a bit cautious, and I’m looking forward to seeing if there will be any additions to the core range in the near future.

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Scotch Whisky Regions

Scottish Whisky Regions Tasting

Tonight I was invited to host a tasting for a group of 25 whisky enthusiasts at the local tennis club. As is almost customary for an introductory whisky tasting, we decided to journey through each of the Scottish whisky regions to sample what its distilleries have to offer. Although the Scotch Whisky Association formally only recognises five whisky regions, I decided six whiskies is better than five, so we added the Islands as a separate region.

What I find amazing about whisky is that it’s made using only three ingredients, which are transformed into a wealth of different flavours, the variety of which is truly mindboggling. Tonight’s line-up traverses this spectrum from grassy, delicate Lowland all the way to peaty Islay. While each of the whiskies was chosen because they embody their region’s style, they have also received different types of maturation, further adding to the diversity on offer. You can find a short description of the whiskies below, including a link to the full review. Slàinte!

Scotch Whisky Regions Tasting

A fantastic line-up, ordered from left to right

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