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.
When reading others' prose – whilst I want to see balanced arguments, at the same time, and particularly when it comes to whisky – I absolutely want to understand a writers' predisposition. Taking today’s bottle as an example – being predisposed against peat isn’t something that anyone can hold against you. It’s your body and your palate. However, it would be bloody useful to know that before sitting down to read about Glen Scotia’s latest festival release. Indeed, there are some reviewers who have predispositions that are actively against my own penchants for certain styles of expressions. And that’s absolutely fine. Knowing this helps to navigate the sea of reviews. It allows us to understand when we should stake more or less stock in any individual opinion from any particular source.
The best reviewers have the ability to either reduce their prejudices towards and against things within the context of the review process – or at the very least to state them from the outset. Take a look at Serge and his musings on wine casks. This guy dislikes wine perverts even more than I do (and honestly, I’m feeling on the turn on this one of late), but more often than not, he clearly highlights this prejudgment within his text. That's as good as it gets folks - you've got all the information you need to form your own judgement based on his judgement.
It is down to the writer to be as transparent and consistent in their approach as possible – recognising, mitigating where possible and communicating their predispositions to the reader. But at the same time it is the job of the reader to navigate reviews to find opinions and tastes that share some form of alignment with their own. In that manner, as a reader, you'll be able to know when to take the words of a writer at face value and when wider information or additional confirmation may be required to be sourced from elsewhere. The writer should have done their research...and so should you as their reader.
It’s always very flattering when I see someone stating that they’ve purchased a bottle because of a recommendation on The Dramble. And for those who have spent the time getting to know me and my predispositions within these pages over the years, you’re likely onto something of a safe bet. But in the same vein, if you’re a first time visitor to this site (or any other site), making a buying decision based on a single review is in my opinion potentially foolhardy. You are unlikely to understand the tendencies of that reviewer from just one post – let alone appreciate how these may or may not mesh with your own palate preferences.
Whisky needs to move on from positions of “I possess no predilections” or “whisky cannot be examined because partiality is inescapable”. Neither of these standpoints are true. And neither are particularly helpful either. Indeed, there are times when I find myself actively seeking out a knowingly predisposed opinion. A huge lifelong fan of distillery X not liking new release Y from said distillery means something. And often that opinion is worth more than listening to either the deluded suggestions of unbias without exception or the tedium of the review partiality police. Eitherway, it's your reading and viewing time - I'll just suggest that the onus for judging any predispositions is rather on you.
There are two main trains of thought when it comes to festival exclusives – produce a small number of bottles that may or may not require some degree of persistence to acquire (potentially involving sitting in a carpark overnight) – or produce a much larger number of bottles but then concentrate the promotion of these towards the product still being some form of limited edition doodah and let foaming mouthed whisky enthusiasts do the rest. Both strategies seem to work time and time again. I therefore rather admire Glen Scotia for going their own way on this.
The distillery's festival releases are produced in larger volumes, but they are also (presently) not marketed, nor priced to achieve any type of misconception (false perception) of either scarcity or rarity. In that sense they feel far more like a celebration of the distillery, its legacy and its team – than the converse - which at times can feel like little more than a celebration of laissez faire economics and obsessive purchasing behaviour.
The distillery’s 2022 Cambeltown Malts Festival edition is composed of 1st fill ex-bourbon barrels that have been matured for 7.5 years before being finished in Pedro Ximenez hogsheads for an additional 12 months. The release of 24,000 bottles clock in at 56.5% ABV and are available (widely!) for an RRP of £55. You’ll find them over at Master of Malt, directly from the Glen Scotia web shop or via a range of other online retailers – most of whom have stuck to the RRP – and a few who haven’t.
Nose: Immediate salted toffee supported by lamp oil, axle grease and an enveloping thin smoke that’s sweetly industrial, an notably well integrated throughout. Burnt tart cases and rocky minerality join welcome lifts of fruit – a combination of orchard, tropical and berry melded into a tasty, but somewhat nebulous fruit salad. Reduction reveals pumice, lemon rind and asides of chocolate and kumquat.
Taste: A smoked, berry-scattered sticky toffee pudding?? The arrival delivers greases and oils (structurally this is very sound) alongside a medley of sweetness, salinity and smoke (a trinity of whisky S’s). Far more berry focussed now – blackcurrant, blackberries and lingonberries alongside a salty tang and steely deposits. Peat is more prevalent on the palate – dry, peppery wood smoke with asides of coal dust and exhaust fumes. Toffee and chocolate sponge reinforce the underlying ex-bourbon influence and additional layer of PX sweetness. Neat. Water here is less beneficial – the bottled ABV has been well-selected. Just a few degrees lower and things become hyper mineral and rather astringent and sharp. Stick to 56.5.
Finish: Quite long with mentholated dry smoke and lingering saltiness.
2022’s Glen Scotia Campbeltown Malts Festival is perhaps best described as a crowd-pleased. I’m in no doubt that some of the casks within the much larger parcel used to create this would likely have been tremendous on their own (indeed, I’m hoping a few have been reserved for such things in the future). But in the context of 24,000 bottles to shift, who can blame the creations team for laser focussing on balance and the elimination of the rough edges which may work on a single cask basis, but really don’t in larger amalgams tailored for broader audiences.
Nevertheless, despite a constant sense of ‘safeness’ – there’s an equal feeling of poise throughout. And that has resulted in an expression which possesses high drinkability. At £55 delivered to my door (within 48 hours I’ll add) there’s only so much nit-picking that’s merited. Indeed, as an overall package of quality vs. price this is pretty easy to recommend.