Regulars will be aware that I’ve been giving Chivas Brothers – or more precisely – Pernod Ricard a right kick in, over a series of articles. The recent Whisky Exchange exclusive Glenlivet cask for instance preceded by the Aberlour 18-year-old Distillery Reserve and their general failure to harness the undoubted grandeur potential of the Tormore.
However fair is fair, you have to acknowledge that finally someone within the corporate beast is starting to realise there’s more to single malts than just the Glenlivet; thank goodness. Part of the rebound comes via the Distillery Reserve Collection, where single casks of note are plucked out from the corporate den and released to the public. These are generally exclusive to the distillery shops and with several sites not open to the public, a visit to Aberlour, Strathisla and Glenlivet leads to such unexpected opportunities.
A visit to a distillery often ends in the final transaction being the purchasing of a bottle. Unless you’ve been thoroughly unimpressed by the whole experience itself.
Consumers in this day and age want exclusivity, but also choice and value.
It’s a difficult tightrope to walk with the increasing cost and administration of the bottle your own options meaning an alternative is often sought. For Diageo it takes the form of their Distillery Exclusive bottlings that are limited to around 6000 in number and only available from that specific distillery. To date I’ve managed to purchase a handful and the overall experience varies from average to good, with the Dalwhinnie being the best so far – yes, I did say a Dalwhinnie.
Chivas have taken a different route with their Distillery Reserve Collection. This as outlined is limited generally to a single cask or in some cases a vatting of casks. I’ve seen bottles at the standard 70cl and some at the more modest 50cl. Each is all about the label and taking time to read the details, which are thankfully all on offer. We’re often sighted as wanting more disclosure from distilleries when it comes to their whiskies. This range is cask strength, non-chill filtered and individually numbered with all the dates you would expect. There is no wasteful packaging as it’s all about the bottle with a wax seal adding that touch of class.
The range is often well priced and can offer valuable insight into relatively obscure distilleries that rarely exist in single malt form never mind single cask form officially. The recent highpoint was the 23-year-old heavily peated Caperdonich and the more interaction I have with the range in general, the more I’m tempted to pick up further expressions for investigation.
Scapa distillery is situated on Orkney and is overlooked in favour of the behemoth that is Highland Park. Thankfully, it doesn’t engage in Viking nonsense or endless limited expressions. Instead Scapa has been mainly used for blending by its owners and was mothballed for a period in the mid-90’s. Realising its potential, Chivas invested heavily in the distillery in 2004 before opening a visitor centre in 2015. Unfortunately my trip to Orkney and the outskirts of Scapa was before this welcoming of guests, so I’ll have to make the trip north once again.
Officially Scapa was mainly known for its solid 14 year old expression that found favour with many fellow enthusiasts. In 2008, a 16 year old was released to general applause before this was sadly discontinued in 2015 with a No Age Statement replacement in Skiren reaching the market. This change has been lamented by some and Scapa remains a bit of a mystery making this bottling of greater interest.
This Scapa was distilled on the 10th June 2003 before being bottled on 29th July 2015 at a strength of 58.5% and an outturn of 2148 bottles. So that’s not a huge cask but a vatting and the smaller size of 50cl being utilised to increase the availability. In total 7 casks were used, seemingly ex-bourbon and looking at the label it’s an almost complete numerical series commencing with cask number 9, with only number 13 missing the cut. Already I feel slightly intrigued what happened to cask number 13? Was this not filled due to the deep-rooted fear of this generally unlucky number, or does it deserve a platform of its own? The mysteries that make whisky so enjoyable are endless clearly.
Scapa 2003 Distillery Reserve – Review
Colour: apple juice
On the nose: interesting arrival, fruity with apples and a touch of cinnamon. There’s a decent level of vanilla, some mustard seed and a musty sense. Red liquorice, wood shavings, raw buttery pastry and almonds take us through a memorable list.
In the mouth: a touch fiery initially, this would warm you up on a cold Orkney evening. Marzipan moving into sourness and then a green-like finish with Kiwi fruit and rock salt. It’s rugged, with apples and vanilla intermingling with a slice of lemon. A touch of wax is noticeable alongside a leisurely waft of smoke.
A fun and inviting nose, the palate feels more youthful and volatile. A good whisky, but one that probably needs a while longer to really achieve its full potential. I know, Scapa can do much better but appreciate the experience. My thanks as always to the team at the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar where I purchased this sample.