Highland Park commands the headlines and the momentum. Those Vikings grasp the oars tightly as their Longships leave the homestead of Orkney and head to relentlessly towards distant destinations.
Whisky nowadays has become an intolerable melting pot about who can shout the loudest or has the most seductive branding. The contents of a bottle are a mere sideshow to onlookers who have lost the meaning of what a whisky should represent and deliver. A perfect example is Scapa which is Orkney’s second distillery and largely content to do its own thing without fanfare, a Hollywood script, and pyrotechnics or most laughably of all, sending a Longship across North America. Like some warped Coca-Cola lorry with Santa at the front except in Viking regalia. Tossing samples of the Magnus to unsuspecting innocent bystanders. Yes, a devastating whisky drive-by massacre.
Dogged by many decades by underinvestment and bouts of inactivity, Scapa struggled to survive despite displaying a penchant for a drinkable whisky. Devoid of the peat or tribal fanfare of Highland Park, both distilleries are linked in more ways than just their location or use of Viking imagery. The team at Highland Park kept things ticking over during the 1990’s when Scapa was closed and speaking with one of the team; developed a strong fondness for the distillery and its whisky.
Much is made of Scapa having a Lomond still which was a fashionable variant of the tradition still that gained a foothold in the industry during the 1960’s and 1970’s. We’ve dealt with this oddity in our previous piece reviewing a Spirit of Scotland 1975 Mosstowie and nowadays its mention is a mere marketing gimmick. The actual distinctive adaptability of the still itself was dispensed with decades ago. The internal plates removed meaning its only legacy to its Lomond origins is the exterior shape.
A new owner in the form of Chivas Brothers and subsequent investment has brought about a revival of Scapa. A new confidence and a visitor centre at the distillery have followed closely by the debut of the Scapa Skiren in September 2015. Our apologies for not reviewing this whisky sooner; even on a daily publishing format, we cannot cover everything we would like to at times. An increasing prominence of this whisky at retail forced our hand. This has been partially propelled by the recent enjoyable Gordon & MacPhail Distillery Label 2005 Scapa and a 2003 Distillery Reserve Collection Scapa. And an admission that we’ve reviewed far too many Highland Park’s this year and need to restore some sense of order and balance to Orkney.
As with most releases nowadays we need to explain the terminology. Skiren is an Old Norse word – yes, those guys again – for glittering bright skies of all things. This shimmering vision of tranquillity goes against most of the Norse propaganda we’ve been dished out lately; more Swan Lake to say Wagner’s Die Walkure.
Yes, a promising start culture vultures on paper at least particularly as Skiren tends to sell for circa £40, or £39.95 via the Whisky Exchange or Amazon for the same price to be more exact, which puts it into a very competitive realm at retail. We saved a few more quid purchasing this at travel retail enhanced by a slight discount resulting in an overall cost of £31.50. This is batch SK12 and our Phil isn’t a fan of the earlier batches so watch out for these – perhaps a comparison is needed?
A No Age Statement release it also features the less than welcome alcohol strength of 40% and the prospect of artificial colouring. Residing in 1st fill bourbon casks it should pack some punch, especially when from what we hear its components are of the youthful teenage variety rather than single digit ages. Time will tell.
Scapa Skiren – review
Colour: golden toffee
On the nose: tinned peaches with bubblegum. That distinct Scapa fruit bouquet is evidence touched up with fudge, mace, cinnamom and apples with lemon peel. A touch of smoke and a gentle honey linger in the memory.
In the mouth: a sweet arrival with mangoes, orange peel and a slight woody bitterness. Plenty of stewed apples, fudge and vanilla marshmallows. It fades all too quickly sadly; a glimpse into what Scapa can do.
Very drinkable despite being hampered by its 40% bottling strength. The aforementioned Scapas we’ve reviewed benefited from just that bit more oomph on the palate. Still, as a gateway into the delights of this distillery, it has merit with the usual reservations around price. Stick an age statement on it to confirm if £40 is justified.
With different batches and a limited supply of Scapa stock, it is likely that there is a degree of variation. This is something we’ll look to revisit as and when. Overall, a pleasing two-fingered retaliation to the Viking armada assembled in Scapa Flow.
Lead image from the Whisky Exchange and there are some commission links within the article which don’t affect our opinion or score.