Apr 062017

It’s been only a few weeks since I’ve written about the death of house styles, and here comes along a sample of the Scapa Glansa, a prime example of the trend. I had a quick nip of the Glansa when I visited Scapa in October, but was unable to take notes, so I’m happy the opportunity presented itself now.

The Glansa is Scapa’s foray into peated whisky, and is Chivas Bros. way of putting the sourced peated whisky casks they buy from other producers to good use.

Photo Credit: scotlandoffthebeatentrack.blogspot.com

The idea of making peated whisky without actually making peated whisky isn’t new. Balvenie tried it with the 17 year old Islay Cask and Peated Cask (Peated Cask reviewed here), and Old Pulteney offered both a 1989 and a 1990 (1990 reviewed here) in a peated cask. This, however, is different, as it’s taking the peated cask concept to the masses in a bottle that costs under £42 making it widely available.

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

Scapa Glansa, Batch GL01 (40% ABV)

Appearance: Amber, thin legs run quickly down glass, with quite a bit of residue remaining.

Nose: Very fruity with a light hint of smoke. Canned peaches, fresh apricot, fresh pineapple, honey and vanilla, with a whiff of honeysuckle and smoke mixed on a sea breeze. A few minutes in the glass bring out a maltiness and honey.

Palate: Light mouthfeel, where citrus and peat meet with a dry cigar tobacco smoke and a hint of white pepper and allspice.

Linger: Dry yet fruity, with a light dusting of spice and a definite peatiness that remains in the mouth. Some smoky spice around the gullet


One would have hoped that the era of chill filtered and colored single malts presented at 40% ABV, would go the way of the telegraph and fax by now, at least for new expressions hitting the market. But putting that aside and evaluating what’s in the glass, it’s very well made and is really drinkable. This would be a great way to introduce new whisky drinkers to peated whisky, while being complex enough to serve as an everyday dram for the more advanced tippler.

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I think that in Glansa, Scapa would have a whisky that could contend for the hearts of anoraks were it presented at 46% (which would then not need to be chill filtered). The primary ex bourbon casks do their jobs, the whisky does not feel young, and the peated casks give some real character to the fruity Scapa spirit. Better still, might I suggest a commercial cask strength version of this?

Official sample provided by Chivas Bros.

Feb 172015

It’s no secret that I’m curious about vatted malts (and no secret that I’m somewhat of a holdout on calling them “blended malts”, in compliance with the SWA’s decree). While this category was completely abandoned by the big corporations, the independent bottlers have definitely come into this category, and are in the midst of an “arms race” creating signature vatted malts to represent the different regions of Scotland and different styles of whisky.

Photo Credit: seescotlanddifferently.co.uk

Photo Credit: seescotlanddifferently.co.uk

As usual, the Douglas Laing Co. leads the pack, covering the last big whisky region (All but Campbeltown and the Lowlands) in their latest release, Rock Oyster. This brings the vatted malt collection to four with Big Peat representing Islay, Scallywag from Speyside, the Timorous Beastie from the Highlands and now Rock Oyster from the Islands (including Islay). This is a maritime blend with plenty of salt and peat and lots of character, that’s made by blending whiskys from Jura, Islay, Arran and Orkney.


Photo Credit: thegreenwellystop.co.uk

Photo Credit: thegreenwellystop.co.uk

Rock Oyster (46.8% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Pale gold, slow and thin legs leave behind some residue.

Nose: Smoky vanilla and coconut, peat and some new make youngness. Light spices come through together with some light citrus. The sea is on the nose bigtime with salt and a beach bonfire.

Palate: Peat with a sweet note, light pepper on the tongue, fresh fruit, youngish whisky with a touch of new make, and salt.

Linger: Salty on the tongue, spicy in the back of the throat, with an overall sweetness coming through on the medium length linger.


This vatted malt is a real busy-bee, with a lot going on there. The salt is very prominent and so is the peat. But there’s more going on there, which makes this expression very interesting and enjoyable, despite a clear youngness.

This is sort of what I would expect from from a young, unsherried and seriously peated Old Pulteney…


Official sample received from the Douglas Laing Co. 

Jan 282015

Highland Park is the most northern Scotch whisky distillery in the world. By a bit that is! The island of Orkney holds two distilleries, Highland Park and the much less known Scapa distillery. Highland park lies about 600 meters (2000 feet) north of Scapa.

Highland Park adopted the Norse mythology that pervades Orcadian history and culture, as the islands were taken by the Norse and annexed to Norway in 875, and remained under Norse rule until 1472, just before the rise of Tudor England and the discovery of America. Obviously, this left a deep connection with Norse lore, which is evident both in the Orcadian flag and in Highland Park’s lineup of whiskys.

Flag of Orkney


Indeed, Highland Park has two basic lineups available. The numbered lineup has the rather scarce 10 year old, and the 12-15-18 followed by the more limited 21-25-30-40-50, as well as occasional vintage bottlings. The second lineup is the Norse series named after characters from Norse mythology beginning with the Valhalla Collection (age stated and named for the gods Thor, Loki, the curiously unsherried Freya and the forthcoming Odin) and ending with the NAS travel retail warrior series (featuring Svein, Einar, Harald, Sigurd, Ragnvald and Thorfinn).

The Highland Park 12 is aged, like all Highland Park whisky, in sherry butts, 60% of them second fills. About 20% of the malt is malted in the distillery, and is peated, but it’s mixed with unpeated malt making up 80% of the bulk, and is thus just lightly peated coming off the stills.

Highland Park 12 (40% ABV, NC)

Appearance: Bronze (natural color), thin slow legs.

Nose: Honey, heather, sherry, light peat smoke (non maritime, not medicinal and Islay like, rather sweeter and softer), dried fruit – specifically dried apricot roll and dried pineapple, leather and fresh bread.

Palate: Peat smoke, sherry sweetness and honey in a mouth drying delivery. The peat plays with the sweetness before the dryness comes across the palate in a delightful way.

Linger: Smoke and spice in the back of the throat, sweetness on the tongue and a residual dryness.


This is one of the better entry level whiskys on the market and will serve as a classic introduction to peated whisky. Sweet enough to come after a Speysider with peat soft enough to introduce an untrained palate to peat, this is a great gateway scotch.

But not only. Even at 40% and chill filtered, this expression is a good drink at any stage of your whisky journey.


Sep 192014

It seems that I’m writing quite a bit about NAS expressions lately, which is not surprising since almost all the new distillery expressions out there are NAS. I’ve said it before, and will just reiterate, I’m not opposed to NAS on principle (unless it’s on single cask bottlings). NAS whisky can be good, and several of the expressions I reviewed were just that. I feel cheated by NAS when it’s used to sell me lower quality whisky for a higher price, which is, of course, what suppliers strive to do during boom times. I’ll state my conclusions already at the start – this isn’t a low quality whisky. This is an expression worthy of carrying the Highland Park label (as oppose to Edrington’s Macallan Gold, which is not), and while being priced at a relatively high price point, it has enough intrinsic merit to warrant a discussion on its value for money – which means that the price point set is not totally out of whack.

Photo Credit: deviant.cyberdeath.org

Photo Credit: deviant.cyberdeath.org

Dark Origins is meant as a tribute to Magnus Eunson, a church representative by day and a smuggler by night. This whisky definitely connects and resonates with the darker attributes of a whisky, being quite smoky and heavily sherry influenced. According to the distillery, it contains 60% European Oak first fill sherry butts, 20% American Oak first fill sherry casks and 20% refill sherry casks. This is double the first fill casks than the 12 year old. While the sherry presence is much stronger in the Dark Origins, the real news of this expression is the peat, as this qualifies, in my book, as a fully peated expression, and with the sherry there, its profile is in the same class as the Ardbeg Uigeadail in its sherry and peat profile, albeit at a noticeably lower ABV and more sherry.

Highland Park Dark Origins (46.8% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Bronze, thick legs running quickly down the glass.

Nose: Clearly Highland Park even with the extra sherry. Dominant peat like a wet fire on an overcast day. Cereal notes are stronger than in the 12,  sweet soaked sultana raisins, lots of nutmeg and the cinnamon baked into a cinnamon bun. Notes of a sea breeze, but not really salty.

Palate: A lot of peat, this really is a peated whisky (and not “lightly peated”), sweet sherry, very strong nutmeg and baked cinnamon (what you would call baking spices), espresso and chocolate and a whiff of blueberry pie filling.

Linger: Long with sweet peat with strong bittersweet chocolate notes that linger for a long time


Care was taken to craft this expression in a way that will not present as a really young whisky. There is clearly enough aged stock in here to balance out the youngish parts of the recipe. It’s a well balanced, peaty and sherried Highland Park, and is a good dram. My only qualm is the price, which is nearly double that of the Highland Park 12, partially justified by the higher cost of the sherry casks, but still feels somewhat over priced. So while I’d probably not buy a bottle, I’d be happily up for another dram of it.

Thank you, Yoav for sharing this sample  🙂

Jul 242014

This Highland Park spent 22 years in an ex-bourbon cask, and came out a real beauty. It was part of the June 2014 outrun and was one of 246 bottles dubbed by the society tasters as “big boys smoking in the sauna”.  The beauty of the SMWS, and all single cask independent bottlers, is that you get non distillery characteristic casks to taste, so one can see aspects of the spirit not seen in the official bottlings. A perfect example of this is the SMWS cask 1.156 Glenfarclas ex bourbon cask I reviewed here.

Photo Credit: Colin Smith ©

Photo Credit: Colin Smith ©

This expression is very different than the normal Highland park sweet and peat dance, giving us a spice and peat dance instead. This expression definitely has the Highland Park spirit, but goes in a completely different direction than the 18, both in peat levels and in the very strong spices it exhibits. At 53.9% it can take water, but doesn’t need any, and can be enjoyed neat, as well as with a some water. If you are adding water, I’d recommend doing so with a pipette, taking a break in between adding clusters of drops to see how it unfolds. As I said, the spice/peat interplay is a joy.

22 Years Old Highland Park SMWS Cask 4.190, Distilled May 22, 1991 (53.9% ABV, NCF, NC)

Color: Pale straw, with very thin and slow legs.

Nose: After the first wave of peat, clean lemon and honey with spring flowers. The HP character is there, but lacking the sherry sweetness. Lemon pound cake appears after a few minutes. With the addition of a few drops of water, the flowers come to life in a large bouquet sprinkled with touches of vanilla.

Palate: Very clean sweet lemon with honey and lots of pepper. Subtle  notes of papaya and the peat is right there, lurking but not taking over, dancing with the lemon drops, without asserting itself over them. The addition of four drops of water made the pepper that much more pronounced.

Linger: Citrus sweetness, predominantly lemon, long linger that stays on the tongue, giving a fresh lemony taste that goes on and on with pepper in the back of the throat…With a few drops of water, a spicy serpent is released, and the finish with the water imparts a bigtime peppery linger.