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Sunday, 21 January 2018

Glen Scotia 15 Year Old Whisky Review!

My first official bottling of Glen Scotia! I've heard mixed things about their earlier official releases, but they seem to have undergone a bit of a re-brand recently, and this one is good!

Glen Scotia is not a particularly well-known distillery, possibly because of the deservedly massive popularity of another independently owned distillery on the other side of town: Springbank! For quite a long time there were only these two distilleries in the Campbeltown region, which was once home to almost thirty in the late 19th- and early 20th centuries. But things are looking up this century with the re-opening of Glengyle distillery (producing Kilkerran whisky) in 2004, the first new distillery to open in Campbeltown in almost 70 years, and now with Glen Scotia undergoing major renovations and re-branding. Well technically Glengyle Distillery was re-opened, since it last closed in 1925! Despite being a bit of an ugly duckling, Glen Scotia is actually only a few years younger than Springbank, after originally opening in 1832, and has actually spent less time closed or mothballed in those nearly-190 years than its far more famous neighbour has! They're also similarly sized in terms of production, with annual capacities of around 750,000 litres, although neither actually produces that much, and a much higher portion of Glen Scotia's whisky production goes to blenders.

Glen Scotia mostly produces a lightly-peated spirit peated to around 15 ppm on the malt, although they do produce a heavily peated spirit for 6 weeks of the year, and it's all double distilled in the single pair of squat, bulbous copper pot stills. While they're sourcing their barley from external commercial maltings companies, it's all Scottish barley, and all of their whiskies are bottled at 46% and above, and are non-chill filtered. Unfortunately they seem to use artificial colouring in most of their expressions, which is a shame, but never mind. Many of the distillery buildings are still the originals that date back to the 1830s, and the whole site has recently been renovated and tidied up after the distillery was purchased by the Loch Lomond Group in 2014, which included the expansion of their dunnage warehouse to allow for more on-site maturation, and a refurbishment and expansion of the visitor's centre. 

The branding and whiskies have also had a bit of a refresh, with more refined and understated packaging and a new range of bottlings, three of which are available in Australia: the non-age statement PX sherry-finished "Double Cask" at 46% ABV, the non-age statement charred virgin oak-finished "Victoriana" at 51.5%, and the 46% ABV American oak (so presumably ex-bourbon casks) matured 15-year old that we're looking at today. All three of these bottlings seem quite reasonably priced in Australia, and I paid a very good $99 AUD for this particular bottle on special from a certain large chain liquor retailer who I'm guessing to now be the main Australian importer for both Glen Scotia & Loch Lomond. That may seem expensive to overseas readers, but for a teenaged single malt in Australia, bottled at 46% and non-chill filtered, even the $125 AUD regular price that most retailers have it listed at is really quite reasonable. For a frame of reference, the entry level 10 year old Springbank retails for $100-120 AUD down here.

I must admit that after it caught my eye in some advertising from said retailer I did a little research, and what sold me on this whisky was the legend that is Ralfy Mitchell ( ralfystuff ). He absolutely loved this whisky and gave it 92 points, a very high score for him, which convinced me to take the plunge. And I'm glad I did!

Glen Scotia 15-year old, 46%. Campbeltown, Scotland.
Lightly peated, matured in American oak (presumably ex-bourbon) casks. Non-chill filtered, artificially coloured. 

Colour: Orange-y amber. Definitely some e150a interference.

Nose: Quite subtle and a little muted initially, it opens up with time but is still quite a gentle dram on the nose. Lots of sweet vanilla icing, spiced stewed fruit: red apples and stone fruit with a few berries chucked in for good measure. Some salty brine and musty old oak, and crumbly caramel fudge. 

Texture: Medium-heavy weight, plenty of flavour, and no heat. 

Taste: More sweet vanilla, but creamy now. A little buttery salted caramel fudge, gentle spices, and a lovely Campbeltown farmyard musty-ness. The fruit is more dried now, and it's mainly the stone fruit that shows.

Finish: Medium length. A big wave of salty sea air and a pinch of peppercorns, more musty & dank farmyard notes. Old warehouses, damp earth, a little dirty oil, and dusty old oak. Lovely. The sweet vanilla and that crumbly caramel fudge return at the end. 

Score: 3.5 out of 5. 

Notes: Almost scored a 4 out of 5, but it's a little muted on the nose and doesn't pack the same level of flavour that it does on the palate. That's still a good score though, especially if you factor in the asking price! Not quite 92 points in my book but still a lovely easy-drinking dram. I'd have to put this Glen Scotia above most of the Springbank 10 bottlings that I've tried, and I'd also put it on par with the best that I've tasted, the first release with the solid orange packaging (which I tasted in Scotland - it still hasn't made it to Australia!). In fact I'd also put the Glen Scotia 15 ahead of Springbank 15, and it's significantly cheaper than that cousin from the other side of town. Quite the performance from the underdog! 

For the money, this one is a real winner. I wish they'd skipped the added colouring of course, but there aren't many single malts around at this age, particularly that are bottled at 46% without chill filtration, for a similar price. And this would certainly be one of the best. I highly recommend that you give this one a go. I'll admit that I had mixed feelings or even felt a little wary when looking at Glen Scotia in the past, but this 15 year old has certainly changed my mind. I think we can expect big things from this re-launched distillery in the future!