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!

Colour: Dark amber

Nose: Extremely oaky, with lots of toasted vanilla. Aromas of caramel and praline give way to dark forest fruits, before being replaced by coffee grounds and cooking pears. There’s plenty of tannins too, with scents of resin and aniseed battling for prominence. Neither wins out to the aroma of charred American oak though, which is apparent throughout. On the whole, the nose is extremely rich and leaves few secrets about what’s coming next.

Palate: Heavy and oily, with some pungency due to the high alcohol content. Notes of chocolate and crème brûlée mingle with a toasted smokiness to produce a dram of dark, deep complexity. What follows is an explosion of spices, with pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon coming to the fore. Through it all, the woody undertones remain distinctly noticeable, as they balance perfectly with the other flavours on offer.

Finish: Long, slow, delicious; like drinking smouldering oak. A heap of brown sugar slowly caramelises into an aftertaste of liquorice and the lingering remnants of a wood fire. A really rewarding dram!

Verdict: Glen Scotia Victoriana produces flavour so thick you can almost chew it at times. Yet for all its intensity, this dram is not one-dimensional, and that’s quite an achievement. The heavily charred oak gives off strong flavours of vanilla and toasted wood, but these do not drown out the distinctive Glen Scotia distillery character. Quite the contrary, the two styles complement each other to produce a fine dram. There are some slight smoky notes to be found, but it’s definitely wood smoke, not at all similar to the peaty whiskies found just a short boat ride away from Campbeltown. Glen Scotia Victoriana provides a great sensory experience and is a hugely enjoyable dram that’s well worth a try.

Glen Scotia Victoriana 02

Springbank 10 year old

Springbank 10Distillery: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 10 years old
abv: 46%

The lone survivor of what was once termed the ‘Whisky Capital of the World’, Springbank is the quintessential Campbeltown malt. While in its heyday Campbeltown was a mighty force in whisky making, boasting no less than 28 distilleries, its fall was equally dramatic. Springbank was the only distillery to survive the onslaught and is the only Campbeltown whisky to remain in constant production since the 1820s. This was not entirely down to luck. Where Campbeltown’s commercial success led some distilleries to become complacent and produce inferior spirit  (there are even rumours of whisky being aged in herring barrels, although whether these are based on truth no one can say), Springbank never compromised on quality. As such it managed to stay popular with Glasgow’s blending houses, at a time when Speyside malts were much more in vogue.

Springbank distillery is still family-owned; something quite special in today’s corporate setting. In addition to Springbank, it also produces Hazelburn and Longrow. The distillery is the only in Scotland to malt all of its own barley, allowing it to carefully control the peat levels in the malt. While Hazelburn is unpeated and triple distilled, Longrow is heavily peated and double distilled. Springbank falls somewhere in between: lightly peated and distilled two and a half times.

With Glen Scotia and Glengyle distillery also back in production, Campbeltown is seeing a slow resurgence in popularity. Although the golden days may never quite return, thankfully Springbank is here to stay.

Colour: Pale straw

Nose: Pungent and prickly. The initial burst of vanilla and heathery lavender gives way to fruity aromas of ripe pear. These are replaced by scents of fresh paint and burnt wood.

Palate: Tangy, somewhat fizzy even. Tastes of a bonfire, much more peaty than the nose would suggest.  Underneath the thick layer of smoke linger flavours of breakfast cereal and shortbread spiced with nutmeg.

Finish: Short and sharp. Briny notes of seaweed and peat bogs develop into a lingering aftertaste of oaky wood smoke.

Verdict: Although this whisky is rather one-dimensional, it delivers on this single dimension quite well.  Don’t expect complexity, smoothness or a deep sensory experience. Instead you get a very solid dram that’s bound to please.

Springbank 10