Ever feel crowded out? Elbowed, pushed aside, ignored, neglected, forgotten, forsaken, or any other number of depressing descriptors?
That’s how I imagine certain distilleries feel. This is particularly so in regions where a famous name or two garner an outsized share of the attention and acclaim. For instance, I’ve always thought the Islay distilleries not named “Ardbeg” or “Laphroaig” suffer in comparison with the effusive enthusiasm inspired by that pair of elephants.
Though Islay is small in terms of the number of operating distilleries (nine), the Campbeltown area is yet more sparsely populated: there’s only three distilleries. One of them, Springbank, is a true heavyweight. Its releases disappear like gold dust and its fans are rabid, as any Malt reviewer brave enough to bestow a poor score will find out the hard way.
What of the other two, though? There’s Glengyle, whose many Kilkerran iterations have been frequently featured here on Malt. A perusal of social media indicates the brand has a solid fan base, even if they don’t yet match the intensity of of Springbank’s barbarous hordes. And then… there’s Glen Scotia.
We’ve had a comparatively modest amount of Glen Scotia coverage on this site, mostly in the form of reviews of independently bottled selections. In fact, the only officially bottled release was when Mark reviewed the Double Cask, also providing us a short history of the distillery. Jason previously discussed the near-death experience of the distillery in a review of a SMWS bottling. Both noted the improved quality of the distillery’s output in recent years and also commented on exuberance of the range’s prior packaging, which featured an accusatory-looking Heilan Coo posed in front of some trippy swirls of aurora borealis.
By comparison, the new-look Glen Scotia could be called understated… even to a fault, if the goal of packaging generally (and specifically in this case) is to attract attention to what would otherwise be overlooked. The molded glass emblem on the bottle is a nice touch, but the labels are fairly generic-looking and dominated mostly by chunks of text. While they’re certainly more elegant than the far-out previous iteration, they don’t “pop” visually in the way that those of neighboring malt Kilkerran do.
Speaking of labels: the label for the 18-year-old bottling – the subject of today’s review – specifies that this is “gently matured in American oak and finished in Oloroso.” I like that use of “gentle;” none of this rocking on ships nonsense for Glen Scotia. The distillery’s own page for the expression further clarifies that the finishing period is 12 months. The label further adds the words “Aromatic & Spicy,” which, great… but there’s little else in the way of color commentary.
In consideration of the above: how did I come into possession of this whisky? I noticed that it was on end-of-bin clearance at my local alcohol mega-mart, marked down to $100 from the usual $120. I’m a sucker for a bargain, and I’ve previously expostulated about the talismanic significance of the “magic eighteen” number in whisky. I had also made a mental note, forgotten until that moment, to revisit Glen Scotia. Sensing a fateful alignment, I succumbed to the temptation and purchased a bottle.
This comes to us at a bottling strength of 46% ABV. It is sold by the distillery for £85; as I mentioned, I bought this for $100.
Glen Scotia 18 Years Old – Review
Color: Medium-pale honey
On the nose: Initially, the nutty aroma of almonds mingles with floral perfume scents in a very high-toned first impression. More time in the glass reveals some woody notes, tablet, and a gently yeasty note of bread dough. The sherry casks are used to good effect, imparting some nuances of currants and raisins; there’s a very subtle rubbery aspect here as well, but not in a way that ultimately detracts from the overall presentation. There’s certainly none of the sulfur or rotten funk aromas indicative of lesser sherry butts. I detect a faint saline note here, in a nod to Campbeltown’s maritime location.
In the mouth: At the front of the mouth, this presents a cheery and sweetly floral flavor, with some confectioners’ sugar thrown in. The takes on a buttery texture as it progresses toward the middle of the mouth, with that richness balanced against a saline note expressed in both a seawater flavor and a drying texture. Blooming with a radiant warmth as it reaches the top of the tongue, this evolves some woody spiciness and rich leather flavors as it progresses toward the finish, where the sherry casks once again sing out. There’s a pleasant reprise of the nutty aspects of the nose before this fades, leaving reminiscent elements of the flavor progression lingering around the mouth.
Conclusions: As solid as they come, this is very respectable whisky for the price. There are some lovely aromas and flavors here that interact harmoniously with one another. Importantly, this has a sense of place that is highlighted by some of the more stern aspects, but which find balance with the well-integrated influences from both cask types.
For those unable to locate Springbank and Kilkerran whiskeys (or unwilling to undergo the exertions necessary to secure them), this Glen Scotia should occupy the place reserved for Campbeltown malts in a home bar. It’s got plenty of character and fully justifies its price, especially in comparison to competing options across Scotland. Hopefully this review serves as a gentle prodding – for those that need it – not to ignore Glen Scotia any longer.
Image courtesy of Glen Scotia
Thanks for the review Taylor. I think Glen Scotia is a highly under-rated Scotch Whisky, especially the 15yr old. That can be found in the states at times for between 50-60USD. Check that one out if you ever get the chance, hopefully nobody starts hoarding this one too….
Thanks for the recommendation, Ryan. I’ll keep my eyes out for that one! Cheers!
Yes, agree. At first I wasn’t convinced by the 15 but it’s one that benefits from being open a few weeks. It’s fairly unique for a whisky of that age and price, it’s pretty much all Bourbon led with a fleeting finish in Oloroso casks. Those casks are clearly very active and the vanilla, orange and cinnamon notes are to the fore without being strident. Quality stuff.
I was always the lead manager on Single Malts during my time working at the distributor level. That has admittedly been several years ago and there were not as many Single Malts available back then. I am going to have to give this a try. Islay Whiskies are, in general, way too peaty for me, but I have had some Bunnahabhain expressions that I have liked. I am going to have to follow your reviews a lot closer. Since I started working for Four Roses I have not been drinking Single Malts as often as I would like. Let me know if you get into Louisville and I will buy the drinks!
Daniel, I’ll take you up on the offer, so long as I can buy the second round! I think you’ll find the smoky notes in this manageable, in comparison to some of the more heavily-peated Islay malts. Cheers!
Great review. I was bought this for Christmas just gone and I have enjoyed it. I’ve seen other reviews that are not as favourable which I have never really understood, for its price point vs age vs quality it’s a solid 7/10. I like that it’s a bit of an underdog.
Thanks Boardsy. I can’t comment on the views of others, but I’m going based on my own experience with 18-year-old officially-bottled expressions from distilleries all over Scotland. Some of those deliver way less drinking pleasure for a much greater price premium relative to this Glen Scotia, hence the positive score. Cheers!
Hello Taylor, the review is much appreciated.I used to buy Glen Scotia back in the 1980s when it was Sainsbury’s Campbeltown offering. I am fond of the Double Cask bottling even though I am usually wary of NAS malts. Sorry to have to mention your typo, “relative to this Caol Ila”
Thanks for your attention to detail, Heeksy. “Caol Ila” changed to “Glen Scotia,” (I was editing another piece and had Caol Ila on the brain) though I suspect everyone knew what I was talking about. Cheers!
Just working my way through Glen Scotia 10 Year Old Campbeltown Festival and I have to say it’s outstanding. I normally don’t go for whisky finished in red wine casks but this one is well worth it if you can find some in the States.
Thanks for the recommendation, Mark. I’ll keep my eyes peeled! Cheers!
Just been given a bottle for my birthday so the timing of this review is great. Big fan of the other Campbeltown malts, but as mentioned they aren’t the easiest to obtain now. Getting some Double Cask to compare as well/use as a less guilty daily drinker.
Nick, what a nice birthday present! Please enjoy it, with friends if possible… after all, I’ve never regretted drinking a bottle of whisky when it was shared with good company. Many happy returns and cheers!
Yes, Glen Scotia is less feted than its near neighbours but that’s good for those of us in the know, as long as it lasts. I’ve particularly enjoyed the (cask strength) Campbeltown Festival releases from the last couple of years. Last year’s was a 14yo tawny port finish, which was apparently the peatiest Glen Scotia yet. Then, this year, they released an unpeated Bordeaux red wine finished 10 year old. They’re very different but both pretty spectacular and without ridiculous price tags.
Great suggestions, bifter. After this very satisfying example, I’ll continue to keep my eye out for Glen Scotia bottlings, especially at reasonable prices!