Just a typical Saturday night: I was sitting in front of my computer with a whisky in my hand, hanging out with Jim McEwan over Zoom.
Well, sort of. It was actually the virtual premier of The Water of Life – A Whisky Film, a touching documentary film about the craftspeople behind whiskies. The premier event included a tasting and Q&A session with the legendary Jim McEwan. So, it was not only me, but hundreds of malt lovers who hung out with him that night. During this session, someone from the audience asked Jim where he would choose to start a new distillery on his own. “Campbeltown,” he answered.
Campbeltown was once known as the whisky capital of the world, home to over 30 distilleries. It is now Scotland’s smallest whisky-producing region, consisting of only three distilleries. I have an unexplainable affinity for Campbeltown. Perhaps it’s because I have a soft spot for unsung heroes; like Sean O’Connell in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I believe beautiful things don’t ask for attention. When a whisky distillery engages in too much marketing, I develop some form of resistance to it. Case in point: I’m as interested in trying Johnnie Walker as Jeremy Clarkson is in becoming a vegetarian.
Using this unsung hero logic, it probably doesn’t take a Sherlock Holmes to deduce what distillery I’m talking about today. Need more clues? Well, it’s one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, producing about 100,000 liters of whisky annually. Yes, it’s the underrated distillery from this underrated whisky region: Glen Scotia.
The history of Glen Scotia is a roller coaster ride. It was mothballed. It closed down several times. There was even a suicide involved, and allegedly a haunting ghost! Worry not, I won’t bore you with all the details. In a true Millennial fashion, I created a timeline of Glen Scotia so that you get the gist in a snap:
My first encounter with Glen Scotia was the Victoriana expression. It’s one of those whiskies that made me run out, with my best athletic speed, and buy a second bottle right after the first dram. Ever since then, I’ve also tried their 11 Year Old Sherry Double Cask Finish and 15 Year Old, neither of which disappoints. So, when I was browsing casually on WhiskyBase one Saturday night and saw this affordable bottle, I broke a self-imposed no-buy and put in an order. There goes €64.50 and self-control.
This is Glen Scotia 10 Year Old, a limited bottling for Campbeltown Malts Festival 2021. A glance at the packaging immediately leaves a good first impression. It’s not because it’s in festive red and I’m Chinese. Rather, it provides all the basic information every serious malt consumer would want. Age: 10 years old. Alcohol percentage: cask strength at 56.1% ABV. Natural color: Yes. Chill filtration: No. Cask type: First-fill bourbon barrels with Bordeaux red wine finish (five months). If this were a whisky suggestion on Tinder, I’ll definitely swipe right.
What the packaging also tells you is that this is Glen Scotia’s first unpeated release of the Campbeltown Malts Festival Series. I’ve seen several comments whining about this decision: “So sad that it’s not peated.” I’ve not tried the peated release in this series, so I don’t know what I might have missed. But don’t we already have enough options for good peated whiskies? Mildly peated, medium peat, peat monster, you name it! Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against peated whiskies. In fact, it was the classic Lagavulin 16 that got me interested in whisky. And my go-to drink on a rainy day is peated whisky; a recent favorite of mine is Caperdonich 18 Year Old Peated, a moderately peated whisky perfect for rainy spring nights.
What irks me a bit about such comments is the fixation on a certain style of whisky, so much so that people forget how important it is to sometimes take the road less traveled in order to progress. To some extent, I can understand this fixation as an organizational psychologist. Truth be told, people are generally averse to experimentation and innovation even if they believe it is necessary. But, imagine how bland our whisky life would be if distilleries didn’t experiment. Very likely blander than 40% ABV.
Without experimentation by Bruichladdich, we probably wouldn’t know how far we can go with peat while maintaining the elegance of malt. Without experimentation by Balvenie, we probably wouldn’t have all the delectable whiskies with sherry or Marsala or rum finishes. So, shouldn’t we be at least a little bit excited that Glen Scotia is experimenting with a new finish for its products? In fact, the Bordeaux red wine finish is the reason why I bought this bottle so decisively. It’s more intriguing. Or, maybe, (with Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski’s attitude), that’s just, like, my opinion, man.
Glen Scotia 10 Year Old Campbeltown Malts Festival Edition 2021 – Review
Color: Bronzed copper.
On the nose: It smells like an early-summer breeze, bright and gently sweet. Wafting into my nose first are raspberries, blackberries, red apple peels, and red grapes. There’s a light touch of vanilla sugar in the background. Water reveals hints of salinity and orange zest.
In the mouth: A slightly waxy mouthfeel. I taste preserved plums, dried persimmon, and more red apple peels, supported by warm spicy notes of cloves and candied ginger. Water brings out the wood influence – oak tannins and slightly bitter. The finish is of medium length and is dry. There’s a lingering zingy sensation, with flavors of wood chips, peppermint, and grape skins.
If you like Arran 10 Year Old but want a bit more oomph, this is the answer. This whisky is light-bodied yet strong. After all, it’s 56.1% ABV. But it’s an approachable cask-strength whisky. You can sip it without water and still enjoy the fruity notes.
Personally, I don’t think this expression is very Glen Scotia-like. The other Glen Scotia whiskies I’ve tried are more full-bodied. They also have a more unique flavor profile. The smell and taste of this expression won’t make you go like “That’s interesting! I’ve never had anything like this before.” Let’s be clear. It’s a delightful whisky. It’s just different from the other Glen Scotia expressions I’ve tasted. I think it’s different for a good reason, because Glen Scotia is trying something new. It has shown me another side of Glen Scotia – that it’s capable of making something youthful and vibrant.
With 10 years of maturation and cask-strength bottling, Glen Scotia has nailed the red wine finish. It’s light-bodied but not bland. Most importantly, the influence of red wine casks is well integrated with the spirit, which is a concern people often have about red wine finishes. It’s undoubtedly one of the better red-wine-finished whiskies on the market. Well, that’s just, like, my opinion, man 🙂