Orkney is an awe-inspiring landscape to visit and immerse yourself in. The Vikings may have moved on some time ago leaving these 70 or so islands intact that play host to some of the most stunning ecosystems on the planet. The bottle chasers and flippers may head to Islay in their droves on a rotational basis but the true adventurers go north because unlike the KLF once stated it ain’t grim up north; it is magical.
The mainland island plays host to the distilling legacy we see today. Orkney’s greatest distillery remains Stromness that sadly shut its doors in 1928. This tiny outpost is still occasionally seen at auction and amongst vast collections and is well worth experiencing whilst you can. If such a feat is not possible then visit the village of Stromness itself. The site may have long since been demolished but you can breathe the history and sense of distilling amongst the claustrophobic streets and old buildings. A beautiful spot to spend an afternoon and do very little.
Highland Park, of course, attracts all the plaudits and attention with its sizeable marketing budget and a fist full of Edrington clout. We’ll leave it there, shall we? MALT has written far too many times about Highland Park recently and is slightly battered and bruised from our recent experiences. The travel retail Spirit of the Bear was enough to spark a riot and the new Viking Pride 18 year old left us dazed and confused. Orkney deserves better and for that, we turn our attention to the relatively obscure and evasive Scapa.
This distillery was established in 1885 on the outskirts of Scapa and overlooked the infamous body of water that gives it its name. Encased by several islands, Scapa is a safe refuge from ferocious natural battering provided by the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. The seabed is home to several war graves and the German High Seas Fleet that was scuttled in 1919 to prevent the ships falling into British hands. Scapa distillery has its own history intertwined with the boats and servicemen who must have looked upon this distilling outpost with great temptation.
In 2013 I visited Orkney to experience Highland Park and Stromness with a visit to Scapa also a must. At the time there was no visitor centre and tours weren’t entertained so a brief look outside was the only possible option. A year later a visitors centre was established as whisky tourism started to reach Orkney mainly propelled by the countless liners that dock on a regular basis. Needless to say, I have unfinished business on Orkney with the islands offering a vast range the attractions, sights and the glorious food means a return is long overdue.
As with most distilleries, the advent of new owners means a new direction. Scapa unleashed the No Age Statement Skiren and its first peated expression in the form of the Glansa. Neither have been reviewed here as of yet, which is an oversight we’ll look to correct as soon as we can. We did, however, provide our thoughts on the fun Scapa 2003 Distillery Reserve last year so hold on Scapa fans we’ll get there we promise. For now, we’re starting with an entry in the Gordon & MacPhail Distillery Label series which also received a refurbishment in 2018 and in some cases a price increase.
This classy looking Distillery Label release will set you back £57.95 via the Whisky Exchange which seems reasonable value with the previous old release – also from 2005 – online for £104.95. Odd, but that’s whisky today. Bottled in 2018 at a strength of 43% and heralding from 1st fill ex-bourbon barrels this is a rare opportunity to try a somewhat restrained and stealthy distillery from Orkney. Scapa tends to sell well at retail because of the interest around this rarely single malt. Especially in it’s more wordly teenage form given the official range being dominated by more youthful examples and we were fortunate to purchase a bottle from the Carnegie Whisky Cellars in Dornoch.
Gordon & MacPhail Scapa 2005 Distillery Label – review
Colour: a light golden sand
On the nose: sweet apples and a light honey result in a very engaging and inoffensive nose. Wine gums, vanilla marshmallows and quite sappy, juicy almost. Tablet provides a sugary dynamic and there’s a floral heather aspect. I like it. Quite distinctive in its own way although there’s a sense of what could have been at a higher strength. Tinned peaches, buttery and lemon peel.
In the mouth: a gentle soul and likeable. Delicate waxy fruits, peach melba, a withered vanilla and there’s also a mossy character as well that gives this Scapa an unusual slant. Again, inoffensive but somewhat watered down. Almonds, barley drops, vanilla cream and a touch of cask char on the finish which evaporates promptly.
A mixed bag in summary, as this Scapa is a very enjoyable whisky although you’re left wondering what it might have achieved as a single cask bottling or at a higher strength. Retailing for around £60 we have to say this is somewhat overpriced. You’re paying for the new bling factor rebranding here. Arguably this should be about £15 less and please ditch the fancy box and bottle detailing; the whisky remains key. However, I did enjoy this and for some it will be an introduction to a rarely seen single malt that should be doing better on all fronts.
Lead image from The Whisky Exchange and there are a couple of commission links within this piece. Such things never influence our opinion or score.