For many years now, Glen Scotia has been the rarely remembered member of the Campbeltown survivors - the very few distilleries that made it through the disintegration of a once-mighty whisky distilling region on the Kintyre Peninsula.
Originally known as simply Scotia, the distillery was founded in 1832. It has had a complicated history, passing through over a dozen different owners over the last 180 years. Currently it is owned by Glen Catrine/Loch Lomond Distillers, who purchased it in 1994 and performed a major remodel of the site, resuming production in 1999. However, it remained comparatively quiet, occasionally being mothballed for short periods of time and sporadically putting out only a small number of official bottlings, which were reduced to one (the 12 year old) until very recently. Production during the current millenium has been very low, with only three staff members producing an annual output of between 100,000-150,000 liters (this is ~%20 of their maximum capacity and puts them in the same league as very small distilleries such as Edradour and Kilchoman).
However, it was announced late last year that Glen Scotia would be updating its packaging and simultaneously releasing a new range of whiskies. To beef up the profile of the brand, all of the new expressions will be bottled at 46% without chill-filtration. This is a nice development, even if the packaging seems a bit over the top. In anticipation of these new whiskies, I head over to the Highland Stillhouse to try the old versions, starting with the 12 year old.
Nose: mild vegetal peat, fresh apple cider, barbecue, malt, very light sherry influence, lightly floral. After adding a few drops of water, it became very creamy (almost like whipping cream) and sweet, with a hefty dollop of vanilla, the peat gently integrated with the apple flavors - which became more floral, and the peat became stronger with time
Taste: begins with lightly sweet malt, which slowly trades places with slightly bitter peat, black pepper emerges mid-palate, and a creamy sherry note throughout. After dilution, it became just a bit flatter, but with stronger and sweeter malt plus whipped cream up front.
Finish: mild peat, malt, slightly tannic, a touch of sherry
I was pleasantly surprised by just how much I liked this whisky. Reviews had been thoroughly mixed, with few talking it up, so my expectations going in were fairly low. However, it was a solid lightly peated whisky. At 43% ABV and likely chill-filtered, it didn't quite have the heft I was looking for, but it seemed like a solid foundation. With craft presentation (46%, NCF) and maybe a few more sherry casks in the mix, I think they could have a real winner. So I have a fair amount of hope for the new versions.
I also hope that Glen Scotia follows Springbank's lead in putting out more single cask bottlings. At full cask strength, I can see this whisky doing really, really well in fino or manzanilla sherry casks. The saltiness would compliment the peat and help emphasize the trademark Campbeltown maritime character.
I also tried the new-defunct 14 and 17 year old Glen Scotia bottlings, which were really something special. Reviews to follow.