...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Single Malt Report: Glen Scotia 16 year old and the surrounding weirdness

Yes, someone thought this design choice was a good idea.
Many someones, probably.  They all should probably end any further
involvement in decisions like this.  And they have!

In late 2012, the Loch Lomond Distillery Co. Ltd. announced a brand new range of Glen Scotia single malts.  These "Disco Cow" (thanks, Jordan!) design bottlings included 10, 12, 16, 18, and 21 year olds, were all 46% ABV, non-chillfiltered, and un-colored.  Thus some good technical decisions were made for the stuff inside the wacky bottles.

In March of this year, the Loch Lomond Distillery Co. Ltd. was taken over by the private equity firm, Exponent.  Exponent, which also owns Quorn (yes, that Quorn), is calling this Scotch whisky extremity, Loch Lomond Group.  Two of the leading officers in said Group are former Diageo executives.

I'll park my Diageo complaints at the door here.  Anything going forward would be an improvement over what preceded.  The former ownership of the Loch Lomond Distillery Co. Ltd. made a number of strange (a polite word) decisions with their assets.  Firstly, they demolished Littlemill Distillery, which would have likely been their best distillery had it been run well or at the very least could have produced a lot of light malt for blenders.  Then they made little to no effort to run the Glen Scotia distillery for the first seventeen years -- five years mothballed, one year run by Springbank, eleven years producing a trickle of spirit.  The one distillery they didn't handcuff was Loch Lomond, but they did very little to improve that distillery's low reputation.  When they did attempt to refresh their Glen Scotia and Inchmurrin (Loch Lomond) product lines, they presented them to the public in bottles designed for the blind.
Actual range. I'd love to see the designs that were rejected.
Anyway, as mentioned yesterday, Glen Scotia Distillery was mothballed from 1994 to May 1999.  From then until 2007, they were distilling about 13% of their actual capacity.  According to Malt Madness, the distillery then increased its output to all of 17% of its capacity through 2011.  So there's no whisky for a five year period, then not much for the next twelve.  (The Group's site says that production is up to 200,000 liters now, which is still less than 27% of capacity.)

How exactly are they going to fulfill a range of 10, 12, 16, 18, and 21 year old malts?  And what exactly is in those bottles right now?

--10 year old: Probably 10 year old whisky
--12 year old: Probably 12 year old whisky
--16 year old: There was no whisky being distilled 16 years before 2012 and there won't be 16 year old whisky until 2015.  So there was probably 18 year old whisky in the 16 at the start.  Right now, it's 20 year old stuff.
--18 year old: Similar to the 16, there's 20-ish year old whisky in its bottles, and there won't be 18 year old stuff until 2017.
--21 year old: There is likely some 21 year old whisky, but from 2015 to 2019 there won't be, again due to the distillery's closure.
--Glendronach has been handling their earlier closure well within their regular range, but they have a large supply of stock to do so.  Glen Scotia does not, thanks to the very low production levels from 1999 to 2011.

So, similar Ruben of whiskynotes's observation, I don't know how or what Glen Scotia is doing with such a broad product line.  If you know more information about what's going on over there or are finding errors in my math, please let me know!

I just hope the whisky is good.

Thank you to Daniel for donating his Master of Malt
sample for this scientific study!

Distillery: Glen Scotia (a very outdated site)
Ownership: Loch Lomond Group (via Exponent)
Region: Campbeltown
Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 16 years, though it's likely 19+ at this point in time
Maturation: ex-Bourbon casks
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltered? No
Colored? No

The color is light gold.  The nose is pretty reserved, as if it was from a lower ABV whisky. The stuff that shows up isn't half bad, though.  Vanilla, caramel, salt water, whole wheat toast, and pine sap.  A lot of sap, actually, as the whisky oxidizes. There may be some toffee and cotton candy in there, but it's very subtle.  The palate has some sharpness to it.  Burnt malt, burnt paper, and a load of peat smoke are up front.  Then lightly vanilla-ed malt and sea salt.  It finishes with a piney peat that reminds me of Jura's peated stuff for some reason.  That's followed by a peppery zing that carries on for a good length.

This feels kinda closed.  Let's try it...

The sap's still there in the nose, as is the vanilla and caramel.  Some nutty toffee slips in.  But something in there starts getting yeasty.  Meanwhile the peat goes farmy.  The palate doesn't open up much.  Lots of pepper, bitter herbs, and cinnamon.  It's lightly sweet and smoky.  In the finish, a methanol glow joins with the peat, which has gotten farmy as in the nose. A little sweetness carries over.

Well, there's nothing really wrong with the whisky.  But there's also nothing to cheer about.  The palate never really opens up, but doesn't tank either.  The farmy and sappy notes in the nose are interesting, but the same can be found in other single malts which do it better (e.g. Longrow and Tobermory).  There are times when it feels like the alcohol content is lower than advertised and the whisky is younger (rather than older) than what's labelled.  That's odd, but not bad.  I'd still take the old 12 over this new 16.

I would love to see Glen Scotia thrive.  But I have a feeling that its official bottlings are going to remain overlooked next to Springbank's brands, especially with Longrow and Kilkerran kicking all sorts of whisky ass right now.  I hope that the new Group has some good plans for this little Campbeltown distillery.  For now, I'll still say the independent bottlings are the way to go.  Let's see if tomorrow's IB proves me right or wrong.

Availability - Europe only
Pricing - $70 - $90 before shipping, so it will cost $100+ to get a bottle to The States
Rating - 80