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.
An overeager trigger finger from a member of the Glen Scotia team suggested that enthusiasts should head over to The Dramble to read my thoughts on this release.
Cue round two of questions - What did I think of it? Is it ‘better’ than the previous Campbeltown festival release? Is it good value? – Oh and where’s your review? <looks sheepish>
I really shouldn’t grumble – I’m always both honoured and flattered that folks come here to read my opinions and oft-times rambling ramblings. But, irrespective of Brian from Malt Musings fawning over this release (he’s quite the Glen Scotia fan boy – almost an unpaid brand ambassador really) and suggesting that he would be judging me based on this review(!), I began to feel a palpable sense of peer pressure.
Like many of you, I try to take an educated view on my whisky purchases – and where the opportunity doesn’t present itself to try before you buy, I turn to fellow writers for their thoughts and guidance. And of course, there’s some variance here. The few who worship everything – leaving little more than the impression that drinking is simply a tremendous thing to be doing. And at the opposite end, those who hate everything – and thus build perceptions that every single purchase should somehow be regretted as being flawed – rarely offering their view of what the truth of perfection would actually look like. Neither is helpful. Fortunately, much of the writing community exists in the reasonableness of the middle ground – which, once you get to know their preferences and irks can be a useful marker for your personal purchases.
Indeed, it was the swathe of positive comments from those whose views I trust and/or whose palates and preferences are in tune with my own which led me to purchase the Glen Scotia 14 year old Tawny Port Finish. But now there’s a need to try as best as I can to dissociate myself from that positivity. To analyse without the filter of affirmative viewpoints – and in all fairness, that isn’t as easy as typing it.
We’re all to some degree prejudiced – influenced by brands, styles, price points and other people’s opinions. To suggest otherwise – and to propose the idea that methods exist which completely alleviate our biases is to be disingenuous. Even a truly blind (unknown, and unseen) sample will result in a predisposition towards the inherent aroma and flavour traits of a whisky. We all have our preferences.
That acknowledged, all we can ever do is be even-handed. To try as much as we can to avoid peer pressure when looking at whisky from an analytical standpoint, but to freely embrace it when it comes from a friend or those whose tastes we trust. There’s a world of difference between bias and open-mindedness. And without open-mindedness, our worlds and whisky explorations risk being increasingly narrowed.
The Glen Scotia 14 year old Tawny Port Finish was bottled for the 2020 Campbeltown Malts Festival – which would have commenced on the 19th May, but is now taking the form of the Glen Scotia Virtual Malt Festival. Online tours, a walking video, core and special range tastings and a virtual pub earlier this week – it seems that whilst their venerated neighbours have gone near silent save for a solitary ‘exciting plans later this year’ (much like every distillery…every year), that Glen Scotia have seized on the current climate of living life through the lens of the Internet.
And good for them – whilst physical events have understandably given way to safeguarding public health – there’s still a palpable clamour from whisky fans – and an opportunity to engage digitally, broadening the reach of the Festival and the distillery itself far beyond the confines of Campbeltown itself.
The bottling itself shares some similar origins to 2018’s Ruby Port Finish Festival release. Following a well-received foray into rum for 2019, we’re back with the port, only this time around, swapping the ruby for a tawny (which is aged for longer), upping the age of the constituent malts (rather than sticking to a pure vintage release) and utilising some heavier peated spirit. The general idea being that a palate of older, peatier and more varied cask types will be well-suited to the deeper and richer influence of the tawny port – which through its own maturation will have brought a profile formed through slow gradual oxidisation and esterification.
Three different cask types make up the heart of this release:
2004 heavily peated refill American oak hogsheads
2005 heavily peated, medium recharred American oak barrels
2006 medium peated 1st fill barrels
These individual casks were vatted together and filled into tawny port hogsheads for an additiona seven month maturation. The result is a limited edition (in its broadest sense) Festival release of 15,000 bottles at an ABV of 52.8%. As of writing you’ll still be able to pick one up – The Whisky Exchange will sort you out for £74.95.
Whilst not ‘pink’ in the truest sense, this most certainly does have a perceptible hue – somewhere between rusted metal and Martian soils.
Nose: A triptych of berry fruit, smoke and coastalness. Strawberry bootlaces, raspberry gums and reduced cherry pudding is supported by industrially-edged smoke – machine oil, grease and coal ash – whilst gentle maritime notes of flints and sea spray run in the background. After a short period of resting, the fruit complement becomes plumper and more pronounced – freshly picked berries alongside others which have been stewed down and preserved in cooking sugars. The sweetness is tempered by interesting vegetalness – vines and leaf mulch. Dilution adds sharpness and tartness to the fruit, reducing its syrupiness. It reveals more cask influence with charred staves and notes of cinder toffee.
Taste: An exceedingly silky arrival that slinks across the tongue. Salted caramel perks up a combination of strawberries, cherries and redcurrants before ash, burnt wood, industrial greases and lubricants and a good shake of salt remind us again of the trio at play here. The mid-palate delivers well-judged spicing – sprightly cinnamon and ginger alongside a headier cardamom note – before a return to sweetness with chocolate and chestnut honey. Reduction expresses additional smokiness with hints of iodine and hearth ash alongside petrichor and a lick of chilli pepper.
Finish: Medium to long with salinity, mentholated oak and a persisting, red fruit-tinged wood smoke.
Fear not, those of you who have been waiting with baited breath for this oddly influenced review. In the most simplistic terms, the Glen Scotia 14 year old Tawny Port Finish is a delicious journey across sweet berries, industrial peat smoke and coastal cues.
As to a deeper examination – the selection of original casks and heavily peated spirit does achieve the goals of wedding and interlacing into the rich and fruit-driven character of the tawny port. However, the ABV is perfectly judged here, delivering sweetness, smoke and maritime affections in a very harmonious manner. Dabbling with dilution and you’ll find that the change in structure offers a slightly different emphasis than straight out of the bottle. You might, like me, prefer this one au naturel.
But peer pressure is an irrelevancy here, as this is simply exceptionally easy to recommend. There - I've pressured you now.