...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Single Malt Report: Glen Scotia 12 year old (old label)

Glen Scotia often sits in the shadow of its Campbeltown neighbor Springbank.  Springbank and its brands get the glory and plaudits (often for good reason), meanwhile Glen Scotia Distillery stands just three blocks north with the same maximum production capacity and doesn't even get much coverage in published whisky books.

This quieter reputation has resulted in less demand for Glen Scotia than for its neighbor.  Since less demand often results in lower prices for similarly aged products, that's a good thing for those who like to seek out independent Glen Scotia bottlings.  I like Glen Scotia, or at least I've enjoyed the four indies I'd tried in 2012/2013.

I've chosen to approach Glen Scotia from three angles this week.  And by "chosen to approach", I mean these were the three samples I have.  Luckily one is from an earlier edition of their range, the second is from their new range, and the third is an independent bottling.  Three Scotias from three sources and three different sized samples.

Today, I'll start with the previous edition of the Glen Scotia 12 year old.  I would like to thank Florin (a prince) for a substantial sample of it.  Since I have misplaced my photo of the sample bottle, here is a quality photo of my daughter and I.

There's a little bit of history and trivia connected to this edition of Glen Scotia's 12 year old single malt.  After Loch Lomond Distillery Co. Ltd bought Glen Scotia distillery in 1994, they mothballed it, ending production but not demolishing the place.  Production restarted five years later in 1999 (by Springbank staff, for the first year).  In 2005 the company put this 12 year old onto the market, replacing the old 14 year bottling.  That 12 year old continued to be bottled and sold until 2012, when it was replaced in a new refurbished range.

But.  If you do the math, you'll see the "but".  Between some point in 1994 and May 5th, 1999, no spirit was distilled at Glen Scotia.  Thus the "12 year old" bottled between 2007 and early 2011 contained older whisky -- around 13 to 17 years old.  I wouldn't be too surprised if the updated 2012 version of the 12 year old contained the spirit first distilled after the mothballing.  But most of the bottles of the old 12 had older stuff in it.  If you can find the bottling code on your older Glen Scotia 12, you might be able to see if you're getting the older whisky.

Does it really matter if the whisky was older?  Psychologically, probably.  It's fun to know that, for a change, you're getting more than what's advertised.  But more than that?  It only matters if it tastes good.

Distillery: Glen Scotia (a very outdated site)
Ownership: Loch Lomond Distillery Co. Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown
Type: Single Malt
Age: minimum 12 years
Maturation: unknown, perhaps a mix of refill casks?
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is a bright gold.  There may have been a little caramel colorant involved because the nose shows the whisky to be very naked.  Very crisp and fresh, it holds lots of mellow malt, a soft florality (floralness?), and some lemon zest.  There's apple cider and sugar, and maybe some minor hints of oak pulp.  Underscoring all of this is an ocean breeze and old fashioned bandages.  Lots of malt in the palate too.  It's slightly buttery with hints of herbal bitterness and tobacco.  A light sweetness, maybe confectioner's sugar.  It's pretty simple, but at the end there's a curly-Q of smoke that adds dimension.  The finish is surprisingly strong.  Spirit, smoke, salt, and sugar.  It sounds simple but it's seriously solid.

(Normally I'd apologize for the alliteration, but I'm not going to apologize for the alliteration.)

The nose becomes more citric and dusty.  There's some bruised apples, barley, cardamom, and cinnamon.  The palate becomes sweeter.  It's still holds some bitterness and smoke.  Now a faint rooty note floats up.  The finish is much quieter.  Some paper, smoke, and tartness.

This whisky is old school.  And by "old school", I don't mean the '70s.  I mean, 5 or 6 years ago.  I know this sounds overly simplistic, but it tastes like the sort of whisky that got me into whisky.  The oak is in the background and the barley is in the foreground.  I'm finding fewer and fewer whiskies like this every year.

Yeah, it's too thin and filtered to hold water, but when enjoyed neatly it works.  Spirit, smoke, salt, and sugar.  It's a pity this one never really caught on because it could have stood up well against many of the popular starter malts (Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glenmorangie, Glen Grant, etc.).

Its price started out around $40 in Europe, but today (in the US) it goes for $60-$70.  At $40, I'd happily recommend it.  At $60+, it's a bit much in my opinion, no matter how nostalgic it makes me feel.  But I may take a look for the bottling code before I pass this up altogether.

(Also, here's a positive review of it from Chemistry of the Cocktail.)

Availability - Still available at a dozen or so US retailers
Pricing - $60 - $70
Rating - 84


  1. Glen Scotia definitely has the potential for greatness, if the right care and investment were made in their products. Sadly, it sounds like the new disco cow bottles have gone for blandness rather than character. Given that they're one of the last few distilleries in Campbeltown, it seems like they would do better to stand out by taking the Springbank route rather than trying to just be another member of the pack.

    1. I agree. The Loch Lomond Company seems to run things strangely. They promptly dumped Littlemill, were barely operating Glen Scotia for the first 13 years, and while they seem to be putting all of their energy into Loch Lomond, that distillery still hasn't ditched its low quality reputation. And who the f*** approved the "disco cow" design for all of the Scotia products?

    2. I think Loch Lomond got bought out recently. Hopefully the new owners will reorient their priorities.

    3. You're right. It was an interesting purchase. I'll include something about it in the next post.

  2. "Disco cow"--love that.

    I have a sample of this too, from the same source. To think that we could have done another simul-review! Oh, the humanity!

    1. Gah! Well, there might be one we can simul-review this month. I'll drop you a line on your site.

  3. Here were my brief comments on this whisky:

    I had found this borderline nasty when I opened it, and then never touched again. Months later suddenly it tastes very interesting, shockingly close to Springbank in character, just dirtier. Who knew, the Campbeltown region makes sense after all!

    1. That was my impression as well, Florin. There were surprising similarities, though Glen Scotia emphasizes different elements. They're both 'old school' spirits, which I like a lot.

    2. Which part of the bottle did I receive? The nasty top or the happy bottom?

    3. I would never give you nasty whisky Michael, not without a warning!

      Interestingly, now that I think about it, I had a similar experience with one of the best bottles of whisky I ever drank - a Murray McDavid Springbank 2000 9yo finished in Chateau d'Yquem.

      Nasty top, happy bottom - where is your mind, boy?

    4. I do look forward to a "Hey this terrible. You should try it!" A review which includes the word 'feculent' is long overdue.