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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

September 10, 2022





Angus's Corner
From our correspondent and
skilled taster Angus MacRaild in Scotland
Seven Scapa
plus a bonus
Scapa is probably one of the distilleries / brands that I find most bewildering and frustrating. Despite being located in one of the most remarkable and romantic locations in Scotland, and also being an elegant, often high quality and charismatic make, it seems to have suffered from a long and oddly persistent history of neglect.


At time of writing the two current official expressions are a pair of pretty uninspiring NAS offerings. If ever there was a distillery that was crying out for a re-think and a relaunch, it is Scapa. Especially given how highly it has been regarded as a single malt over the years by many whisky drinkers; I remember the now discontinued 16yo hardly sat on the shelves when I worked in Peckhams and Oddbins in Glasgow. For now though, it seems as though it is destined to remain a blending machine for Pernod - which no doubt the blenders are very happy about, understandably. It's not often we get to tase many Scapas side by side, so this should be a pretty instructive and interesting wee session. But first, an aperitif… 



Waitrose Millennium Single Malt Whisky 21 yo (40%, Waitrose, bottled 1999)

Waitrose Millennium Single Malt Whisky 21 yo (40%, Waitrose, bottled 1999)
Waitrose is of course a famously 'middle class' supermarket in the UK which often has its own special, or 'one off' products such as this one. This is a random bottle I picked up at auction recently due to the fact the rear label states that it was 'distilled on Orkney'. So, theoretically this is one of those 'Orkney malts' that really could be Scapa or Highland Park. Although, mentions of 'peat smoke' and 'iodine' would suggest the latter… Colour: straw. Nose: heather honey, beach pebbles, and indeed, a wee thready trace of peat smoke. That smoke becomes a little louder and more dominant with time, the whole also becomes more drying and coastal. It's very charming and very 'Island' despite suffering from the measly ABV. Mouth: dry, slightly cardboardy peat smoke, wet wool, salted honey, camphory touches. Plenty to enjoy, I just get the impression the low ABV and some time in bottle may have robbed it of some muscle and freshness. Finish: medium, smoked teas, dried flowers, camphors and slated honeys again. Comments: my guess would be HP. But that's kind of mute really. A random and obscure old curiosity that would work very well for some lazy tumbler sipping. Shame about the 40%, a few degrees more power would really have elevated this one I think. 
SGP: 454 - 82 points. 



Scapa 8 yo (70 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, late 1970s)

Scapa 8 yo (70 proof, Gordon & MacPhail, late 1970s)
The 100 proof batches can be really excellent, these old 40% versions tend to be a bit more wobbly in my experience though. Colour: gold. Nose: I find this familiar 'heather honey' quality that I associate with Scapa, but also a rather industrial side with impressions of mechanical oils and toolbox rags, then also aged herbal liqueurs such as some very old Benedictine. A few leathery touches and ideas of medicinal roots. Very good actually and pretty charismatic. Mouth: falls a little flat or arrival here, there's plenty to enjoy with these medical rooty notes again and herbal teas, but there's also this feeling of OBE, a little cardboard and a general feeling of fatigue. I also find a slightly burnt orange note which feels like caramel to me. A familiar story with quite a lot of old 40% young G&M bottlings from this era. Finish: short, tea-ish, slightly sweet, medicinal and overall a bit flat. Comments: a shame as the nose was actually very promising. I suspect this one didn't travel too well in bottle. 
SGP: 533 - 74 points. 



Scapa 12 yo (40%, OB, 1990s)

Scapa 12 yo (40%, OB, 1990s)
Colour: gold. Nose: golden syrup on soda bread. This familiar feeling of honeyed sweetness, soft bready notes adding some richness and then cereals, beers, wet grains and dried flowers. Soft and easy but not lacking in character - just a little let down by 40% and probably a good slug of caramel. Mouth: fine, but a little weak. Some nice notes of herbal teas, flower honey, white bread, muesli and sunflower oil. But again this feeling of low power and a rather mashy, cooked grain vibe. Finish: short, some biscuity sweetness, digestives dunked in darjeeling tea with sugar and then a little herbal bitterness in the aftertaste. Comments: It's funny, these bottlings, along with the 16yo that came after, were very popular offerings in wine merchants like Oddbins (I remember selling many at the time when I worked there around 2006). But tasting them now I'm left with the feeling that they contained a lovely base whisky that was let down by lack of interest and brutalistic bottling practices. 

SGP: 431 - 77 points.





Scapa 10 yo 2006/2017 (59.2%, OB 'Distillery Reserve Collection', cask #2173, 1st fill sherry butt, 888 bottles)
I think this is a rather cool series, but I'm not a fan of 50cl bottles which I feel are a bit fiddly. Colour: amber. Nose: a big, rather punchy sherry bomb. Lots of jams, treacle, sticky toffee pudding, dry earthiness and chocolate. Also some mirabelle eau de vie and wild strawberry notes coming through. With water: a tad brutal as it becomes even drier and on things like earth, coffee grounds, snapped twigs, clay and coal dust. A wee freeze dried raspberry adding a glimmer of light relief. Mouth: a slightly unexpected profile that goes more towards herbs, roots and things like black pepper, natural tar, camphor and prune eau de vie. Also rather mulchy and drying which is in keeping with this particular style of rather punchy sherry. With water: a little easier now, dark grained breads, milk chocolate, roasted nuts, wood spices and cloves. Finish: quite long, bitterly herbal, sooty, lightly tarry and medicinal. Comments: a 'take no prisoners' style of sherry that's a little too brutal for me at times, but I'm sure fans of this particular style will lap this up. Technically impressive no doubt. 
SGP: 472 - 85 points. 



Scapa 12 yo 2003/2015 (58.5%, OB 'Distillery Reserve Collection, casks #9-12 & 14-16, 2148 bottles)
Colour: pale gold. Nose: a lovely and highly refreshing profile, lots of wet beach pebbles, linens, chalk, white flowers and that familiar heather honey vibe. Impressively sharp, fresh, pure and natural. I also find some lovely firm cereal notes and wee touches of fennel and lime. With water: still a wonderful freshness about it, white flowers, white fruits, citrus zests, light fruit teas and crisp notes of green apple and gooseberry. Mouth: a little sweeter up front, more on citrus curds, white flowers and pollens, sweeter cereal notes, olive oil, overripe yellow plums and lime cordial. With water: lemon infused olive oil, dried mango and pineapple chunks, soda bread and starched linens. Finish: medium in length and again rather natural, fresh and focused on cereals, pebbles, dried herbs and breads. Comments: a lovely Scapa, some slightly sweeter incursions from the wood here and there on the palate, but overall this is all about freshness and natural flavours. 
SGP: 551 - 86 points. 



Scapa 12 yo 2006/2018 (61.1%, OB 'Distillery Reserve Collection', cask #674, 1st fill butt, 828 bottles)
Colour: rosy amber. Nose: a rather modern and jammy sherry profile that's more about wood than sherry. It's clean wood, but it is rathe assertive with these lactone and spice notes. Underneath that though there are plenty nice notes of sultanas, strawberry jam, fig paste and treacle cake. In fact these rather easy, juicy qualities become more prominent with time. With water: jam and ham! Indeed, these slightly gamey, leathery, meat stock vibes come through clearly here. Along with these red fruit reduction notes. Mouth: spiced dark fruits, cherry bakewell cake, plums stewed in Armagnac and notes of clove and wintergreen. Big, spicy, modern whisky, but very clean and juicy. With water: chocolate sauce, a hint of chilli powder and boozy fruit cake. Finish: good length and with a lot of chocolate, coffee and herbal wines. Comments: these are fun but rather tiring whiskies, I also feel like the Scapa character has been somewhat eradicated by these big beastly casks, which is a bit of a shame. Now, as I mentioned above, they remain technically very good in my view. 
SGP: 561 - 86 points.



Scapa 15 yo 2001/2017 (53.5%, OB 'Distillery Reserve Collection', cask #663, 1st fill barrel, 312 bottles)
Colour: pale gold. Nose: we're back in the same territory of that bourbon cask 12yo: abundant freshness, linens, citrus, pebbles and chalk. Here it's also a tad greener and more herbaceous with things like pollens and vase water more prominent up front. This is really my type of Scapa, I'd take this any day over and above those big sherry brutes. With water: a wonderful heathery vibe with more pollens, linens, fruit teas and dried herbs. 'Fragrant' would be the word. Mouth: syrupy and sweet here, with the cask obviously having a voice, but this concentration has also produced some lovely green and exotic fruit cordial notes. Lemon curd, citrus jams, soft waxy and peppery notes and a wee coastal flower vibe in the background. With water: juicy yellow fruits now, also a little guava and mango, some stout beer and notes of clove and wintergreen. Finish: long, peppery, herbal and honeyed. Comments: Scapa is such curious make, it can have very clear and lovely personality and charisma, yet seems to be extremely delicate and difficult to pin down well in bottle. Anyway, this one really works, a lovely selection and a hugely charming wee whisky. 
SGP: 551 - 88 points.



Scapa 23 yo 1992/2015 (58.4%, OB 'Distillery Reserve Collection', cask #1069, butt, 780 bottles)
Colour: pale amber. Nose: straight away you feel this is an older profile of sherry cask, this is more on leathers, waxes, mineral oils and soft notes of preserved dark fruits. Some liquorice, aged mead, ice cider and impressions of very old Fins Bois cognac. A lovely nose thus far. With water: water brings out more fruits such as sultanas, wild strawberry, plums and some herbal liqueur notes too. Mouth: prunes, dates, fudge, game meat stock, Maggi, salted liquorice and herbal bitters. Powerful but at the same time nicely detailed with quite specific flavours in balance. Gets increasingly gamey and leathery with more tobacco and chocolate aspects. With water: rancio, walnut, herbal bitters and game meats. Finish: long, with wood spices, more leathery notes, herbal bitters, aniseed, citrus and treacle. Comments: It's a totally different style to the later sherry casks we just tried, but I feel it's around the same ballpark in terms of quality. I just find the Scapa DNA very hard to pin down in these. Now, in and of itself it's a very fine drop with a little more soul than some of the others. 
SGP: 462 - 86 points



Thanks to Iain D for making this session possible.




More tasting notesCheck the index of all Scapa we've tasted so far







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