Filling my own bottle directly from the cask is always one of the highlights of any distillery tour I attend. In this day and age, everything is about personalisation – or at least the vague pretence of it – what better personalised (self) gift can there be for a whisky enthusiast than a bottling which you’ve extracted, corked, sealed and labelled (hopefully accurately after that 6-dram tasting) yourself? I find myself surprised when I visit a distillery to find that hand filling is not an option – it seems like a near license to print money – often its absence is cited because of ‘health and safety issues’ (?!?) – though more likely I suspect this is actually due to insurance – cask strength spirit being far from an inert thing.
Glen Scotia have their work cut out for them. Not only are they one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries, but their location places them under the shadow of industry darlings Springbank. It must be hard competing with a distillery with that level of reputation and a veritable army of super-fans. But, nevertheless, I have a lot of admiration for Glen Scotia who rather than settling for the title of ‘Campbeltowns’ other distillery’ have come out fighting with a revitalised range and renewed brand proposition.
Glen Scotia have been going great guns not only in revitalising their range of whiskies, but also in actively engaging with the wider whisky community – both online and at shows. Gone are the days of attempting to carve out market share through the use of bright, alcopop style bottles - The distillery is now trying to play to the strength of combining high quality liquid with an understandable and appealing brand proposition. A much more successful tactic – especially as malt enthusiasts become ever more knowledgable and the range of choices available ever broader.
I’m predisposed to appreciate today’s whisky. I routinely enjoy much of the output of Glen Scotia. I actively seek out coastal, mineral and industrially-focussed whiskies – particularly those that have been beaten over the head with the peat stick. And I’m absolutely not someone who doesn’t appreciate what on paper looks like a reasonable price for a bottle of booze. That my friends is prejudice. Positive prejudice, but prejudice nonetheless. I raise an eyebrow to any commentators who maintain that they review without predisposition (not possible) as much as I disagree with those who state that the presence of any partiality nullifies any aptitude to produce a review worth reading.
A brand-new bottle of an old favourite is purchased. But the excited opening and return to the embrace of familiarity is…wait a minute…is…not as expected. The whisky’s composition is somehow different – and certainly not as remembered. “It must be a newer batch. A less good batch.” “The distillery has gone and lowered its standards. Again.” “No. That’s not it – the bottle just hasn’t been opened long enough, give it a week or two.” “Never judge a whisky by the first dram out - a little air in the neck is what’s required here”. When it comes to comparisons, I’ve heard all of these things, and countless more. But whilst occasionally the diagnosis for divergence has been correct – drinkers are always far too quick to assume that any changes they detect are a result of what’s actually in their bottles.
Mistakes were made. I never imagined that opening a new bottle would also simultaneously unlock Pandora’s box. But, in posting up a photo of my freshly popped Glen Scotia 14 year old Tawny Port Finish, the floodgates were immediately sprung wide. A deluge of messages followed – What did I think of it? Is it ‘better’ than the previous Campbeltown festival release? Is it good value? Question, questions. And a newly poured glass, which hadn’t actually passed my lips as yet offering few instantaneous answers. Whilst I take my drinking easy as she goes – I take my reviewing a whole lot more seriously. And then things escalated.
It sometimes amazes me what a well thought out brand restructuring and refresh can achieve. Memories can be incredibly short and forgiving when things are done right - quite recently I was talking to a group of enthusiasts who had never heard of Glen Scotia’s previous brand incarnation – the infamous neon highland bulls. Now consigned to the dustbin, the distillery’s range has probably garnered more fans over the last couple of years than over the entire past decade – such is the strength of combining high quality liquid with an understandable and appealing brand proposition. Luminous bovines always felt more Chernobyl than Campbeltown.
I often wonder how whisky enthusiasts coped before the Internet was around to help guide them through the their malt journeys. I imagine word of mouth was even more important back then for learning about new expressions and expanding ones whisky horizons. But, the Internet has not changed palates and personal opinions – it just offers an ever increasing number of distinctive interpretations all at a mouse click. But, the point still remains – tasting notes on whisky website and blogs, however individual, are there to assist you with your malt exploration.
The Old Malt Cask range was introduced by Douglas Laing in 1998, but it is now part of the Hunter Laing portfolio. Founded by Frederick Laing in 1948, the independent bottler was inherited by his two sons Steward and Fred, who after over 40 years of working together amicably agreed to split the business into two separate companies in 2013 - whilst Douglas Laing continued trading, Hunter Laing was formed. In essence to provide two different futures for the two different sides of the current Laing family. Sharing many of the brands between them, Old Malt Cask moved to the newly created company, joining Old & Rare, The Sovereign and Hepburns Choice to name but a few.
Youthful Glen Scotia that was laid down in December 2010 and spent 7 years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Young Glen Scotia that’s been matured in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. Simple pleasures.
Phil made the bottle selection this month (first in divvies them all up) and instantly assigned me this Glen Scotia purely because of the name. Good man. Sounds like my sort of thing.
Ending our outturn review with a very 'Britishly' named Glen Scotia. Not sure what to expect – root vegetables, idiocy or just plain madness.
The sole Campbeltown dram in the Campbeltown Virtual Tasting Pack comes courtesy of Glen Scotia – this example, a 10 year old drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Over to Campbeltown for this 11 year old drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. Oily & coastal profile.
I’ve already seen some chatter online about this bottling – mainly around its rather fabulous name. Liquid-wise, this has spent 11 years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel. Lightly Peated profile.
Continuing the current regular (and welcome) appearances from Glen Scotia comes this 12 year old, drawn from a 1st fill ex-bourbon barrel.
Hold onto your potatoes – this Glen Scotia has been subjected to a port hogshead finish after 12 years in ex-bourbon. The distillery’s 2008 ruby port finished OB was quite the lovely thing – let’s see how this older SMWS version stacks up. View on SMWS
Always good to see Glen Scotia on an SMWS outturn. This one is a 15 year old drawn from a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Oily & Coastal profile.