Scapa Skiren

Scapa Skiren ReviewDistillery: Scapa
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Mention Orkney, and to many whisky drinkers Highland Park will come to mind. But that’s doing a disservice to Highland Park’s southern neighbour Scapa. Because the lack of attention for Scapa has nothing to do with the quality of their whiskies, it’s a matter of availability more than anything. With an annual capacity of just 1 million litres and the distillery having been mothballed until as recently as 2005, Scapa will need some time to replenish its stocks. The fact that all of Scapa’s spirit is now bottled as malt whisky will help, but even so, the shift to NAS whiskies has been inescapable. In 2015, Skiren was the first entry to Scapa’s brand new range, followed quickly by Scapa Glansa. Old Norse for glittering, bright skies, Skiren is unpeated and matured exclusively in first fill American oak casks. The result is a soft Island whisky that gives many Speyside distilleries a run for their money. Gorgeously packaged, Scapa Skiren is as good a gift as it is a temptation to keep it all to yourself. Time to enjoy this oft-overlooked Orcadian!

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Arran Machrie Moor (Batch 6)

Arran Machrie MoorDistillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

I’ve previously described Arran’s drams as Island whiskies without an obvious Island character. Indeed, Arran distillery is known for its fruity, unpeated whiskies, but with one notable exception. I’m referring of course to Arran Machrie Moor, named after the mysterious stone circles found on the island. Peated to 20 ppm, we can expect a similar level of smoke from Machrie Moor as for other Island distilleries such as Talisker or Highland Park. Billed as a limited edition, so far a new batch of Machrie Moor has been released each year, and fortunately it’s not hard to get a hold of a bottle.

When trying Machrie Moor for the first time, I was curious to see how Arran lends itself to peaty flavours, given that its whisky usually has such a friendly character. Although I like it when distilleries come up with a peated version of their spirit, I have to say it’s not always positive news. In this case though, Arran has come up with a winner. I’d even argue the distillery should spend less time on all sorts of crazy cask finishes and focus more on peated spirit instead. Either way, Machrie Moor is a welcome addition to the range, and I hope many more batches are in the making.

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Isle of Jura Elixir 12 year old

Jura 12 Elixir Review 01Distillery: Isle of Jura
Region: Islands
Age: 12 years old
abv: 46%

Evocatively named Elixir, Isle of Jura’s 12 year old expression sounds as beguiling as Water of Life itself. In this, Elixir fits right in with other Jura bottlings such as Prophecy and Superstition. Mystical marketing notwithstanding, Elixir’s only magical property is that it never fails to put a satisfied grin on the face of anyone who drinks it. Matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and Amaroso sherry casks, this Jura has been bottled at the sensible strength of 46%.

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Talisker 57° North

Talisker 57 North Review 01Distillery: Talisker
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 57%

Having launched in 2008, Talisker 57° North is the longest serving member of the many NAS bottlings that now make up Talisker’s range. Of course this says something about the popularity of the 57° North, since unsuccessful whiskies don’t get to stick around for long. This expression is named for the geographical coordinates of the Talisker distillery, which finds itself at a latitude of 57 degrees North. To stay true to the theme, 57° North has been bottled at a strength of… you’ve guessed it: 57% abv. This marks a departure from the standard Talisker bottling strength of 45.8%, providing the 57° North with plenty of oomph on top of an already feisty distillery profile. This one’s going to be fun!

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Arran Sauternes Cask Finish

Arran Sauternes Cask 01Distillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

Arran distillery seems to be on a quest to finish their whisky in every cask type imaginable, and have produced some quality drams along the way. There’s something about Arran whisky that makes it suit cask finishes particularly well, which is why I’m excited to try the Arran Sauternes Cask. As the name implies, this dram has received an additional maturation in oak that previously held Sauternes, a sweet, white dessert wine from the Bordeaux region. While I’ve not been overly impressed with the likes of Tullibardine 225 or Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or, I have a feeling that a Sauternes finish may complement Arran’s fresh, fruity character rather well. Let’s find out!

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Arran Port Cask Finish

Arran Port Cask Finish 01Distillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

It seems natural to compare the Arran Port Cask with the Madeira Cask, given the similarities between these two types of fortified wine. I tend to contrast it with the different effects that an Oloroso or Pedro Ximénez sherry finish can have on a whisky, but since I’m by no means a wine expert, I will quickly move to safer (whisky) ground. Because despite their similar maturation, it’s striking how different the Arran Port Cask and Madeira Cask actually are. Sure, they share the same Arran characteristics, but underneath this there’s a completely distinct flavour profile for each.

The Arran Port Cask was aged in American oak for about 8 years, before being transferred to ex-port casks. This extra maturation has enhanced Arran’s fruity flavours even further, but has also mellowed some of the freshness usually found in Arran whiskies, substituting it for an enigmatic finesse.  Many other cask finishes have come and gone from Arran’s core range, but the Port Cask remains. While this may have something to do with the availability of casks, it’s certainly also an indication that Arran Port Cask has been a big hit. I for one am thankful that this whisky is still on the shelves, as it’s a dram I love to come back to!

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Arran 10 year old

Arran 10 Year OldDistillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: 10 years old
abv: 46%

Although the Isle of Arran distillery has heartily experimented with all sorts of weird and wonderful cask finishes, the company does also maintain a range of whiskies with an age statement. Of these, Arran 10 year old is the most youthful expression. It showcases the fresh, fruity distillery character in its purest form, unburdened by the extra flavours that additional cask finishes provide. As an unpeated malt, this Arran doesn’t have an obvious Island character, but does provide a refined charm that belies its relatively tender age . The 10 year old is a nice introduction to the Arran range, and well worth a try if you like smooth whiskies and want to set your sights beyond Highland or Speyside distilleries.

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Talisker Dark Storm

Talisker Dark StormDistillery: Talisker
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 45.8%

These days it seems almost customary to release a new bottling for the travel retail market first, see if it catches on, and if so, make it more widely available. If this is what’s needed for distilleries to be able to experiment a bit more, that’s all for the best, because it gives us drams such as Talisker Dark Storm.

Part of the range of Talisker NAS whiskies, Dark Storm is the more raucous sibling to Talisker Storm. After all, if you have a Storm that’s relatively successful, why not make it a bit Darker and more mysterious? The darkness in this case is provided by the heavily charred oak that Dark Storm has been matured in. These casks add some extra spice and smokiness to the already pungent distillery character. Think of this as a Talisker on steroids, an extra fierce offering from the Isle of Skye. If you like other Taliskers, Dark Storm will not disappoint.

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Ledaig 10 year old

Ledaig 10 year old 01Distillery: ­­Tobermory
Region: Islands
Age: 10 years old
abv: 46.3%

Ledaig is produced by Tobermory, the only distillery on the Isle of Mull. Tobermory distillery has had quite a turbulent past, and managed to survive despite multiple closures throughout the years. Since its latest reboot in 1993, the distillery has produced two styles of whisky: the fruity, unpeated Tobermory, and the smoky, maritime Ledaig. Ledaig means ‘safe haven’ in Gaelic, and indeed this peaceful bay is where Tobermory distillery is situated. It is somewhat ironic that the name Ledaig was given to the peated range, since these whiskies are anything but tranquil. Tobermory markets Ledaig with the tagline “wonderfully peated”, and this is no word of a lie. With its crisp smoke and medicinal character, Ledaig gives many Islay distilleries a run for their money. Despite this, Ledaig has received relatively little attention, and it seems that demand has remained relatively modest. Perhaps this is all for the best, since Ledaig sells at a very attractive price point. So at the risk of undermining what I just said, be sure to pick up a bottle when you have the chance, this whisky is well worth a try!

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Arran Madeira Cask Finish

Arran Madeira Cask Finish 01Distillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 50%

Despite its young age, the Isle of Arran distillery uses very traditional production techniques. Even so, they have not shied away from experimenting with different types of casks. And this is all to the good: drams such as the Port Cask Finish and the Amarone Cask Finish are delightful whiskies, and the Madeira Cask Finish forms no exception. As the name indicates, this Arran has received an additional maturation in casks that previously held Madeira wine. And while this whisky bears the influences of not one, but two different islands, it ironically does not have an obvious Island character. Like most Arrans, the Madeira Cask is an unpeated, fresh and floral whisky, but now overlaid with extra fruity, nutty flavours from the Madeira cask. The result is a delicious dram, which thanks to its bottling strength of 50% does not lack for vigour.

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