WHISKY REVIEWS, NEWS, HISTORY & FOLKLORE
The Rise and Fall and Rise of Scotia
Campbeltown is a whisky region on the up. There are three distilleries currently in production with more in various stages of planning. Yet even if every project currently in development gets the go ahead, the Wee Toon will still be some way from its distilling peak of the early 20th century.
Campbeltown has been home to more than 30 distilleries over the years but the collapse of the industry left only two standing by the 1930s, Springbank and Glen Scotia and that low number was halved when Scotia closed in the 1980s.
Over-production and a drop in sales created a crisis that became known as the whisky loch. Scotia closed in 1983, just one of many Scottish distilleries terminally affected by the situation. Thankfully, however, it wasn’t to be lost forever.
An article from the Daily Record on Thursday 23 November, 1989, covered the distillery’s re-opening:
Whisky Workers Jim Grogan and George Penman have more reason than most to toast Scotland’s great whisky revival. They lost their jobs with the closure of the Glen Scotia Distillery in Campbeltown – a victim of the early ’80s recession. Now they’ve got their old jobs back as 24-hour production resumes to cope with a full order-book.
“I was delighted when I got work again,” said Jim, 43, the stillman. “To have a job in Campbeltown is something, because there are not a lot of them about.”
Mashman George, 46, added: “When I lost my job here, I went back to my old trade as a roof-slater. But things got very tight.”
The Scotia, founded in 1832 by Stewart Galbraith and Company, was forced to close on July 30, 1983, due to the whisky crisis. It meant the town – which once boasted 32 distilleries – had just one remaining whisky house. Until last month. Three tankers of Glen Scotia malt have already been despatched by the distillery owners, a partnership between Gibson International of Paisley and a French cognac company.
The boom has sent Gibson’s turn-over rocketing from an estimated £3 million to £20 million.
That boom continues to this day, with new distillery announcements seeming to pop up on an almost weekly basis. Sometimes, one wonders if the industry is doomed to repeat the same mistakes by expanding too far and too fast but Scotia itself seems to be doing very well, for the time being. Indeed, the distillery’s reputation has perhaps never been higher. For years it was viewed by many as an inferior distillery that lived permanently in the shadow of cult favourite, Springbank. While that attitude hasn’t completely diminished in whisky circles, Glen Scotia has found something of a following of its own with several popular single malt expressions released in recent years.
The whisky featured in this review, was something of a mystery to me, however. I picked it up for a very reasonable price at auction but couldn’t find a great deal of information about it, other than what was contained on the label. It’s described as “Exclusive Cask, Specially Selected” Cask No: 21/756-1. It was distilled in 2016 and bottled in 2022 at 5 years old and was finished in a first fill tawny port hogshead. It’s bottled at 58.1%.
Smell: Port cask whiskies often trigger an aroma memory for me. It reminds me of spray-can furniture polish. The kind my Mum used to use when giving the living room a spruce up ahead of a visit from some family member or other. I think it’s the combination of the aerosol, the polished wooden table and whatever non-specific berry scent it was loaded with. There’s a definite oak note to it, a nuttiness too. Also warm spices like cayene, cinnamon and anise. Walnut. Toffee.
Taste: Raspberry and blackcurrant. Black pepper. Caramel. Towards the back there’s a blast of aniseed and liquorice and the finish turns dry and a wee bit woody but the berry notes linger. Water turns up the raspeberry and mutes the pepper somewhat.
Thoughts: There’s a definite wee hint of youth that shows through that peppery spice but the cask holds it in check and it never comes across as being too young. It’s also not the most complicated flavour profile – indeed, it’s pretty much fruit, oak and spice – but I think that’s OK. It’s a young whisky, at an affordable price, and isn’t trying to pursue any lofty ambitions. It just sets out to be a fun drinker and in that it absolutely succeeds.
Price: Around £50 – though I paid less at auction. As far as I’m concerned, I got a bargain here but even at full price, it’s good enough to reward a purchase. Young, boisterous and fun.
For more on Glen Scotia visit here:
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