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Glen Scotia Geek Fest

We were excited to be part of the Glen Scotia Virtual Tasting hosted by The WhiskyStore. The distillery is part of the triplets in Campbeltown, but its smaller size often gets overshadowed by its neighbours. The team at WhiskyGeeks has been following Glen Scotia for some time now, as we find its liquids really palatable and beautifully matured.

It was, therefore, with great anticipation, when we joined the Zoom tasting on Tuesday, 14 July at 8 pm. Follow our journey as we partake in one of the greatest virtual geek fests with Glen Scotia!

First, an Introduction of the Speakers

We had two speakers that evening. The first speaker was Mr Bill White, the master distiller for the Loch Lomond Group. Yes, Glen Scotia belongs to the Loch Lomond Group. Bill comes with years of experiences, with 22 years working in William Grant and Sons. He eventually became their Group Operations Director before he decided to join Loch Lomond Group as their master distiller around 2015.

The second speaker is Ms Ashley Smith, the master blender at Loch Lomond Group. Ashley has eight years old experience working in the whisky industry, but she has only joined the company for about ten months. Her work revolves around whisky blending (of course!) and she has her hands full with the single casks programme as well as ensuring that the core ranges from both Glen Scotia and Loch Lomond are consistent.

Short History of Campbeltown

The year was 1597, and an act of Parliament established Lochhead. Settlers flocked to the sea-side town, and by 1607, various traders and settlers were setting up businesses in the town. The Kintyre peninsula (where Lochhead was) had plenty of local ingredients for distilling, and soon, industrious settlers built illicit stills to make whisky. It wasn’t until the mid-19 century that the town became Campbeltown, named after the local lairds, the Campbells!

Campbeltown quickly became the whisky capital, with 21 known illicit stills in the town and 10 in the surrounding countryside by 1795. There were probably more than 50 illegal distilleries in total by the 19 century. The Victorian Era was booming with economic activities, and there was a growing market for whisky both at home and in the USA. Cargo ships meant to carry whiskies to the USA would call at Glasgow and sail down the Clyde, called in at Campbeltown as their last port call before taking the journey to the USA. Therefore, the town proliferated to become the “whisky capital of the world”.

History of Glen Scotia

As the town prospered, the Dean of Guild James Stewart and Provost John Galbraith came together to build Scotia Distillery in 1832. In three short years, the distillery grew and thrived alongside the remaining 29 distilleries in Campbeltown. Disaster strike in 1923 when the Drumlemble Colliery closed, ending the era of cheap, local fuel in the town. Coupled with the Great Depression and the Prohibition in the USA, the distilleries in Campbeltown suffered tremendous losses. In a short nine years, only three distilleries remained in Campbeltown. Scotia was one of them.

Owners of Scotia Distillery

The survival of Scotia distillery depended on its owners. James and John managed the distillery until 1895. It became one of the founding members of West Highland Malt Distilleries in 1919, with five other Campbeltown distilleries in an attempt to share costs and prevent closure. The project failed, and Scotia was left standing alone. In 1924, Duncan MacCallum purchased Scotia but closed to close in 1928. When he reopened the distillery in 1930, he met with an unfortunate scam in which he lost his savings and committed suicide. The Bloch Bros brought over Scotia and added the word “Glen” to its name. Glen Scotia was born.

The Happening after the 1930s

The Bloch Bros saved Glen Scotia. They retained ownership of the distillery until 1954. That year, Canadian giant, Hiram Walker bought the distillery estate but quickly sold it to A.Gillies & Co – a blender in 12 months. The distillery changed hands again and became part of Amalgamated Distilled Products Ltd (ADP) which owned Barton Brands (including Loch Lomond). Glen Scotia started reconstruction works towards the end of the 1970s, but unfortunately, it closed between 1984 and 1989. During the closure, Gibson International bought over ADP’s distilling assets. Glen Scotia reopened in 1990 under new leadership. In 1994, Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd bought over Glen Scotia and promptly mothballed in. It returned to full production only in 1999 under the Loch Lomond Distillers Group.

The Production Process

Glen Scotia produces both peated and unpeated whisky. The team dedicated six weeks per year to producing peated whisky. What I find interesting is that the distillery does two different styles of peated whisky. One is a mildly-peated whisky at 25ppm while the other is a heavily-peated whisky at 50ppm.

Milling

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

Glen Scotia sourced and used only Scottish malted barley from the east of Scotland. The grain undergoes milling in the Bobby Mill owned by Glen Scotia (See Ardbeg Distillery for more Bobby Mill description).

Mashing

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

The mash tun is a relic at the distillery. Made of cast iron, it dated back to the Victorian era and held the history of the distillery within its pits. The mash tun uses a rack and pinion system (shown in the second picture above). The team uses four streams of water for wort extraction. The first two streams, with a temperature between 64 and 76 degrees Celsius, enable the collection of wort. The third and fourth streams, added at 85 degrees Celsius, allowing the collection of sparge. The process takes about eights hours to complete, and the distillery does ten mashes per week. The distillery’s water source is Crosshill Loch, providing them with fresh, clean, soft water.

The team cools the wort to around 17-18 degrees Celsius before pumping it into the washback for fermentation. The reason is to prevent the temperature from killing the active yeast.

Fermentation

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

The fermentation at Glen Scotia is long, with each cycle lasting more 92 hours on average. The long hours creates what is known as a “second fermentation” where fruity esters are developed to give the wash a fruity flavour. The distillery uses commercial distiller yeast as it is best suited for them to create the fruity wash.

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

Look at the graph above. You will notice that after 48 hours, there is no longer alcohol production, but the ester concentration keeps going up. This is the reason why long fermentation produces fruity wash, which, in turn, will create a fruity spirit. The alcohol percentage of the wash is around 8-9% abv.

We understand that Glen Scotia has both internal and external washbacks. For the outer washbacks, they have cooling jackets on them to maintain the temperature at an ideal level.

Distillation

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

Glen Scotia owns a pair of stills and has a production capacity of 500,000 litres to 600,000 litres. They produced 535,000 litres of spirits in 2019. The distillery also installed a new spirit still in June 2020, making them look unique.

The wash still takes in the wash at 8-9% abv. After the first distillation, the low wines stands at around 25% abv. The spirit still then takes in the low wines and increase the alcohol percentage to about 74% abv. The foreshots or head is between 74% – 71% abv, while the heart runs from 71% to around 63% abv. The feints are below 63% abv.

The average alcohol percentage of the new spirit is 69% abv, and the distillation team will add water to lower the abv to 63.5% abv before transferring it to the casks for maturation.

Maturation

Source: Glen Scotia Presentation Slides

Glen Scotia has three kinds of warehouses – dunnage at the Visitor Centre (around 150 casks), palletised and racked warehouses (for the rest of their casks). The different environment provided by the warehouse help Glen Scotia to achieve the differences in their whiskies, which work well for the brand. Currently, the distillery has about 12,000 casks onsite. Typically, the distillery fills 99.9% of their new spirits into first-fill ex-bourbon casks. We also understand from Bill that the oldest cask currently still maturing on site is over 45 years old! We were excited as Glen Scotia recently release a 45 years old bottling, which means there is a chance that they will release something older in future!

Whiskies we Tasted

Source: The WhiskyStore

The WhiskyStore selected four whiskies for the session. My personal favourites are the 15 Years Old and the 25 Years Old, both of which showcased different styles. Every expression has its fans, but the 25 Years Old was the ultimate winner.

Double Cask

The Glen Scotia Double Cask is a non-age statement expression that is matured in ex-bourbon casks and finished 6 to 12 months in Pedro Ximenez casks. Bottled at 46% abv, it is gentle and easy to drink. The sweetness of the PX casks complements the bourbon maturation beautifully.

15 Years Old

One of my personal favourites is the 15 years old expression. Matured fully in ex-bourbon American oak casks, the whisky is fruity with cedarwood and hints of pine trees. The sweet, fruity palate coupled with some dryness in the finish keeps me going for more.

18 Years Old

The 18 years old expression is a favourite for many participants. Matured 17 years in refill ex-bourbon casks and finished one year in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks, the whisky is flavourful with a complexity of both bourbon and sherry influences.

25 Years Old

Finally, the 25 years old expression is the crowd favourite! Matured fully in ex-bourbon American casks and then married in first-fill bourbon casks for the extra flavours, the 25 years old Glen Scotia is full-on fruity with tropical fruits such as pineapples, guava and hints of mangoes. It also developed vanilla, coconut and pine wood. The finish is not as dry as the 15 Years Old expression, but it continues to beckon me with its long finish.

Where to Buy

The WhiskyStore is the official distributor of Glen Scotia in Singapore, and you can easily find all the above expression at their online store. If you are not ready to commit a bottle, you can still try the tasting sets available.

What to Expect Next Week

The Loch Lomond Powerhouse – Bill and Ashley – will be back next week with a Loch Lomond presentation! They promised that it would be another geekfest, one that is better than we had with Glen Scotia. If you enjoyed our post, don’t forget to head over to the Whisky Store to purchase your Loch Lomond Tasting Set and join us next week!

 

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Does Terroir Influences Scottish Peat?

Peatheads around the world would tell you that peated malts are one of the best things that happened to them. Geek Choc, for one, claims that peated whisky smells heavenly. I am somewhat more reserved on peat, but some of those peated whiskies are fantastic! What is peat? Encyclopedia Britannica defined peat as a spongy material that formed by the partial decomposition of organic matters in wetlands. Depending on the location or terroir, peat can take on different chemical compounds and produce differentiating quality.

Where is Scotland’s Peat?

As you can see from the above map, Scotland has various locations of peat bogs. Three of them are in Islay, one in Campbeltown, one in Orkney and the remaining two in the Northern Highlands. As we have tasted different characteristics of peaty whiskies, we wonder if the peat from the various locations contributes to the subtle difference in peaty whiskies.

History of Peat

Let’s start with the historical usage of peat in Scotland. Peat was a conventional fuel used in kilning to dry malts in the past. The islands, Campbeltown and the Northern Highlands, used peat regularly as coal was not readily available. Back in the 1940s, it was typical for the Islay and Campbeltown malts to use 100% peat fire, while the Highlands utilised 50-75% peat. The Lowlands used 25-50% peat. By the 20th century, the advances in technology made coal, gas and oil more affordable, and the reliance on peat reduced significantly. Nonetheless, Islay, Campbeltown and Northern Highlands still produce peated whisky today.

How is Peat Formed?

Peat formed in waterlogged lands through the partial decomposition of organic matter. It appears that there are differences between peat composition based on the different climate, vegetation, bog type and also the cutting depth during the harvest. We can divide peatlands into bogs, fens, marshes and swamps.

Bogs form through heavy rainfalls and contain more sphagnum moss than the other types of peatlands. Bogs also have lesser woody vegetation as compared to the rest. Fens (better known as basin bogs) have more sedges and grass. Marshes, in general, are treeless waterlogged areas and peat formed very slowly. Swamps, on the other hand, are very minerotrophic and the peat has high wood and nutrients contents.

The Contents of Peat

To delve deeper into the contents of peat from the different peatlands, we need to venture deep into a chemical discussion. To ensure that we do not delve too deep into the scientific names (and lost myself along the way), we will stick to layman terms. In general, peat is 90% water and 10% dry matter. The 10% is sub-divided into 92% organic matter and 8% inorganic. Peat formed from bogs are usually more aromatic due to the higher percentage of phenols and aromatic materials found in them. Peat from fens is less aromatic.

Cutting Depth

The cutting depth during a peat harvest is as vital as the type of peatland. The surface layers are usually not aromatic enough to create the smokey effects in the whisky that we love, but cutting too deep into the layers can capture too much harmful nitrogen and sulphur compounds in the peat. Therefore, every distillery that makes peated whisky has their own calculated cutting depth to ensure that the peat they use will produce the effects that they want.

Peat Terroir

Does terroir influence peat? Our research appears to point to the peatland location and cutting depth of the peat as the “influencer”. While the type of peatland and vegetation influence the peat subtly, they are not crucial for the flavours in the whisky. For example, the peat used in Laphroaig and Bowmore are similar to each other as both are fens found on Islay. Yet, the peat found in Laphroaig and Bowmore whiskies are very different. It points to the different cutting depths that both distilleries use, and of course, the interaction between the malts and the casks used. The only difference in the peatlands found in Islay is interestingly from Port Ellen. The contents of the peat using in Port Ellen maltings are woodier in natural and has different microbiology from the rest of Islay.

Interestingly, the peat from Orkney Island is relatively similar to the peat found in the fens of Islay even though it is a bog and not a fen peatland. The peat from the Northern Highlands in Tomintoul is also different from those in Islay, even though it is a fen. The difference in contents across the peatlands in Scotland suggests that peat forms differently due to the climate, microbiology and also the variety of sphagnum moss.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the research points to peat terroir. The contents of the peatland differ across Scotland with local variation found. The cutting depth during the peat harvest also plays a significant role in the flavours of the whiskies as is evident from the different peaty flavours found in whiskies harvesting similar peat.

 

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Whisky Review #58 – Springbank 17 Years Sherry Wood

We visited Quaich Bar recently to catch up with the wonderful people there and had some special drinks that are available at the bar. Springbank 17 Years Sherry Wood was one of them. Now, this is different from the Springbank 17 Years Sherry Wood CASK STRENGTH version, which we did not get the chance to try it yet. This baby here is bottled at 49.2%, much lower than the Cask Strength of 52. 3%.

Let’s dive into the review!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Deep Amber
ABV: 49.2%

Nose: Strong sherry (read: caramel) with relatively high sulphuric notes. There is a hint of white pepper hiding in the background. After airing for 15 minutes, sweet aromas of honeyed meat (like honeyed bbq meat) waft into the nose elegantly. The sulphuric notes recede into the background. (17/20)

Palate: Oily mouthfeel with sweet caramel coating the palate at the first sip. Malt is noticeable on the palate as well with a hint of sulphur at the back of the tongue. After 15 minutes, the sweet caramel becomes more prominent, coming firmly to the forefront and muscling the malt and sulphur out of the way. Peppery spice springs out as well, bringing an additional layer of complexity to the palate. (17/20)

Finish: It is a relatively long finish with sweet caramel lingering in the mouth. (16/20)

Body: It is a lovely full-bodied whisky with a robust profile. Moderately complex for a 17 years old especially after airing the whisky. Makes me want to try the cask strength version to see how it differs. (32/40)

Total Score: 82/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “Well, it is a great dram, but perhaps I was looking for more complexity in the whisky. Nonetheless, it is a bottle that I would gladly buy if my pocket allows it as I think it is an interesting whisky to share amongst good friends.” 

 

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Whisky Review #57 – Springbank Vintage 1997 Single Cask #789

Most whisky lovers like to try single cask bottling because of the rarity it invoked and the uniqueness of the liquid. We are not any different. We tried this bottle of Springbank Vintage 1997 single cask (#789) some time ago and wanted to share our review because we love it.

This bottle is different from the Springbank Vintage 1997 batch 1 and 2. Bottled at 59.2% abv, the alcohol level in this whisky is higher than both batch 1 (at 55.2% abv) and batch 2 (at 54.9% abv).

Let’s dive into the review!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Soft Amber
ABV: 59.2%

Nose: Slight peat with the first nose but sweet caramel surfaces quickly to complement the gentle peat. Citrusy lemon appears after 5 minutes and lingers in the background. (17/20)

Palate: Oily mouthfeel with sweet caramel coating the palate pleasantly. Spice lingers warmly in the background to give an extra kick. The peat in the nose does not exist in the palate. (16/20)

Finish: Long finish with pleasant sweet caramel and warm spice. The spice disappears quickly, leaving only a pleasant sweet ending and a surprising waft of smoke n the breath.(18/20)

Body: It is not the most well-balanced single cask but still lovely nonetheless. The complexity is also not well-established, but the caramel notes was a beautiful cover for the spice and slight peat. (30/40)

Total Score: 81/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I was very excited to try this single cask honestly but felt a little let down after drinking it. I love it nonetheless because the palate is different from the usual Springbank portfolio. I will try it again (we have a reserved sample even though the bottle is gone!) and update the notes if it changes.”

 

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What you should know about the Springbank Distillery

Picture Credits: www.springbankwhisky.com

The Springbank Distillery is a family-owned single malt whisky distillery located on the Kintyre Peninsula on Scotland’s west coast. It established on the site of Archibald Mitchell’s illicit still in 1828. It is one of the last surviving distilleries in Campbeltown, a place that once housed more 30 distilleries.

Short History of Campbeltown and Springbank Distillery

Picture Credits: www.springbankwhisky.com

In 1591, Campbeltown was first associated with whisky in official records. By 1601, it became a popular whisky smuggling centre as well as the place to produce illegal whisky. The Mitchell family (founders of Springbank) moved to Campbeltown as settlers from the Lowlands with skills as maltsters in 1660s.

Archibald Mitchell became a partner at Rieclachan Distillery in 1825 and was later joined by his brother Hugh Michell. When the laws were eased with the registration of whisky distillery, the Mitchell brothers founded Springbank in 1828. Built on the site of Riechlachan Distillery, Springbank became the 14th licensed distillery in Campbeltown.

The family continued to expand their whisky outreach. In 1834, Archibald’s sister, Mary Mitchell, founded Drumore Distillery. By 1837, Archibald’s sons, John and William Mitchell, took over the distillery. The two brothers worked to expand the family’s whisky business, with William founding Glengyle Distillery in 1872.

The family still owned many of the distilleries today. Currently, the 5th generation of the family is in charge at Springbank. He is the great, great grandson of Archibald.

The whiskies of Springbank

Picture Credits: www.springbankwhisky.com

The distillery produces three types of peated and unpeated malt whiskies. Most of them are single malts that are sorted into one of the three distinct brands of Springbank. A small percentage are sold to large blenders or made into Springbank’s own blended scotch labels.

The three distinct brands of Springbank single malts are

  1. Springbank Single Malt
    This is possibly the most popular variation that bears the namesake of the distillery. The standard bottling is a 10 years old that is medium-peated and distilled 2.5 times. It is bottled at 46% abv. There are also cask strength Springbank bottles of 12, 15, 18 and 21 years old. This brand also releases wine cask editions on a regular basis.
  2. Longrow Single Malt
    Longrow is a name that was taken from the mothballed distillery founded by John Ross in 1824. Springbank revived the brand and bottled the first Longrow in 1973. The standard bottles are no-age statement editions, heavily-peated and doubled distilled. Nevertheless, there are some rare age-statement bottles such as the 16 years old. Longrow also has a Red edition that uses a different type of wine casks each year. Longrow won Best Campbeltown Single Malt at the 2013 World Whiskies Award.
  3. Hazelburn Single Malt
    This is the newest edition to the Springbank Distillery. It is also named after another mothballed distillery in Campbeltown. The liquid is first distilled in 1997 and bottled as a 10 years old. A 12 years old expression was released in 2009. Hazelburn is a non-peated, tripled distilled whisky.

Springbank’s whisky making process

Springbank is the only Scottish distillery that completes 100% of their production process on site. They malt 100% of their barley using the traditional floor malting methods. They also used many old pieces of machinery that were preserved and maintained over the years.

The whisky making process for Springbank is as follows:

  1. Malting – Traditional floor malting methods are used in this stage. Barley is steeped in cold, clean water and allowed to swell up to 3 days. After that, it is laid out in a 6-inch deep even layer on the malting floors where the Springbank team turns it at regular intervals.
  2. Kilning – Once the malt is ready, they are moved to a kiln where they will be dried over a peat fire, hot air or a combination of both, depending on the brand being produced. Kilning takes between 30 to 48 hours.
  3. Milling – When kilning is completed, the barley is crushed into a fine powder called grist.
  4. Mashing – Grist is then placed into a mashing tun where hot water is added. This process extracts all the sugar into a liquid. The team rakes the liquid 3 times during mashing.
  5. Fermentation – The liquid drained from the mash is known as wort. It is transferred to wooden wash backs and yeast is added to convert the sugars into alcohol over a period of 80 to 110 hours of fermentation.
  6. Distillation – The liquid from the wash back passes through the 3 copper stills of Springbank – the wash still, the low wines still and the spirit still. After that, the liquid is transferred to the spirit safe when the stillman monitors the progress. The different brands go through different distillation processes to differentiate their distinctive styles.
  7. Cask Filling – The new spirit is then transferred to empty casks specially selected for Springbank.
  8. Maturation – The new casks are then sent to the dark, moist warehouse and left for a minimum of 3 years in maturation. Most whiskies are matured for a longer period under the watchful eyes of the Distillery Manager.
  9. Bottling and Labeling – All Springbank whiskies are non-chill filtered with no artificial colours added. During bottling, the team inspects the whisky at key stages to ensure the consistency of high quality and correct labelling.

Choice of Campbeltown

Springbank is indeed a great choice if you are looking at sampling Campbeltown whiskies. WhiskyGeeks have tried 2 rare whiskies from them. One of them is a Longrow 16 Years Old while the other is a Springbank 8 Years Old. Both are exceptional!

 

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