The Glen Scotia distillery has been operating in the shadow of its more
famous neighbour Springbank for almost two centuries. Well, I'm not really sure
if Springbank was actually much more famous than Glen Scotia in the distant
past, but it was certainly true in the 1990s and 2000s.
Despite the ‘whisky boom’ that had been well under way for a few years,
Springbank was mothballed in 2009. It would eventually be reopened, but
when it did the distillery had arguably lost its enviable position among the
top 5 Scotch malt whisky distilleries.
Anyway, let's get back to the history of Glen Scotia. That history started in
1832 when the Galbraith family founded the distillery. Glen Scotia remained
in the family until 1919 when it was sold to West Highland Malt Distillers.
Between 1920 and 1933 the United States suffered from a prohibition - which
meant that the manufacture, transportation, import, export and sale of alcoholic
beverages was illegal. Before the start of the prohibition, Campbeltown (the
name of the town, but also of the surrounding region) was also known as 'The
Whisky Capital of the World'. During its heyday, more than thirty malt whisky
distilleries were active in the Campbeltown region.
Unfortunately, the WHMD company went bankrupt in 1924, after which
Duncan MacCallum (a director of the company) took over Glen Scotia.
However, the distillery was closed in 1928 and a disillusioned Duncan
committed suicide by drowning himself in Campbeltown Loch - the lake
that was especially created to serve as the water source of the distillery.
Duncan wasn't the only whisky distiller in
Campbeltown to feel the effects of politics
on the other end of the Atlantic Ocean.
These days, only two (some might say three) of these distilleries are still active.
One of the reasons for this sharp decline was the fact
that most distilleries in the Campbeltown region had a
sharp focus on quantity instead of quality. Thanks to strong
international demand (especially from the USA) the distilleries could easily sell their
entire output, so there was little need to improve their whisky. This attitude proved to be
a problem when the demand declined rapidly after prohibition was introduced in America
and a big recession hit markets worldwide.
One of the first victims of the collapse of the whisky market was the (old) Glengyle distillery.
This distillery was built around 1873 by William Mitchell after a fight with his brother John at
the Springbank distillery. Glengyle was closed in 1925 and almost all other Campbeltown
distilleries followed within a few years. However, after a slumber that lasted three quarters
of a century, the Mitchell family (still owners of Springbank) revived Glengyle again in 2004.
Meanwhile, at Glen Scotia, malt whisky production was resumed in 1933...
In 1954 the distillery was obtained by Hiram Walker, but it was sold on to A. Gillies & Co.
within a year. Next, A. Gillies & Co. became part of Amalgated Distillers Products in 1970.
Production started again in 1989 when ADP was taken over by Gibson International, before it stopped again in
1994 when it was taken over by Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd. In 2000 staff from Loch Lomond distillery
took over production at Glen Scotia - so most of the bottlings available today were produced by them.
Reconstruction occurred between 1979 and 1982, but Glen Scotia was closed again in 1984.
Campbeltown was one of the traditional whisky regions - but
with only two distilleries remaining, it’s debatable whether or
not this distinction is still relevant today.
Both distilleries are located in / near the town of Campbeltown
at the southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula. That means that
visitors have to take quite a trip to reach their destination.
So, is it worth the time and effort?
When the malt maniacs visited Campbeltown in the early noughties we spent the night in the same hotel that
A. Barnard had stayed in when he wrote his famous book about the Scottish whisky distillery more than a century
earlier. At the time only Springbank offered distillery tours - and ours was slightly underwhelming. However, these
days Glen Scotia is available for distillery visits as well, so that might provide an interesting alternative.
1) During the 1990's Glen Scotia's 'standard'
bottling was a 14 years old expression - a fairly
unusual age. A 12 years old official bottling of
the Glen Scotia whisky was released in 2005.
2) Just like its neighbour Springbank, Glen
Scotia is one of a few distilleries that is
located in-between town buildings.
5) In 2007 Glen Scotia only produced circa 100,000 liters of alcohol - so they were operating far from their
maximum capacity. This means that in the early noughties Glen Scotia produced roughly the same amount of
whisky as small distilleries like Bladnoch, Edradour and Kilchoman - the smallest distilleries in Scotland at the time.
In order to bring Glen Scotia on full steam again, it would seem that some financial injections were required. )
Things hadn't changed much by 2011 when Glen Scotia still used less than 20% of its maximum capacity.
Only 130,00 litres of alcohol were produced, even though the ‘whisky boom’ was already in full swing.
3) For those of you that are planning a visit
to (some of) the whisky regions of Scotland,
Campbeltown may seem like an attractive
destination because of its location relatively
close to the airports Glasgow and Edinburgh.
However, in reality it's quite a long journey.
The drive to the tip of the Kintyre peninsula can take a few hours, so it might be wise to spend the night in town.
The highlight of my own trip to Campbeltown was spending a night in the hotel where Alfred Barnard had slept
over a century ago while traveling around Scotland to write his book.
4) After Glen Catrine took over the Glen Scotia distillery in 1994 it was mothballed for five years.
2000 - Some years after the ownership of Glen Scotia
was transferred to Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse Ltd. (who also owned the Loch Lomond distillery, as well as
the defunct Littlemill distillery) their staff takes over
production. The stills were actually fired up again for
the first time by people from Springbank in 1999.
2006 - a more heavily peated version of Glen Scotia
is released as a 6 years old malt whisky, vintage 1999.
That means that these stocks were laid down by the
Springbank crew when they restarted the stills.
2007 - Another peaty expression of the Glen Scotia malt whisky was released in 2007 at an age of seven years.
2011 - The six washbacks at Glen Scotia are replaced by six new ones made out of stainless steel.
2005 - The old 14yo OB that had been available in the
1990's is replaced by a 12 years old official bottling.
2018 - The Glen Scotia 18yo wins an award at the Spirits Business Scotch Whisky Masters.
Glen Scotia 33yo 1977/2010 (57%, A.D. Rattray, Sherry Hogshead, C#985, 195 Bts.)
Nose: Rich, sweet and overwhelming. Cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and other "speculaas" cookie spices.
Immidiately after I added water, some subtle organics emerged. A whiff of rubber.
Tertiary fruits, wood and some smoke as well. A very classic profile at cask strength. Really quite spectacular.
Taste: Woody, fruity and smoky - just as classic as the nose. Medium dry finish with a decent amount of tannins.
Score: 93 points - this whisky is really right up my alley; a very classic sherry monster.
Glen Scotia 17yo 1992/2009 (59.4%, A. D. Rattray Cask Collection, Sherry Butt #1, 670 Bts.)
Nose: Loads of sherry influence. Smoky and quite rich. Tertiary fruits emerge after a few seconds.
Over time the smoke starts to dominate everything else. I like the profile, but it's slightly unrefined.
Subtle organics after ten minutes. Hint of something musty. Very little distillery character left it seems...
Taste: Heavy fruity and smoky profile; loads of character. The tannins grow stronger towards the finish.
Buysman burnt caramel. Loads of smoke in the centra as well as the powerful finish. Excellent whisky...
Score: 84 points - but one could argue that the cask overpowers the distillery character.
Glen Scotia 16yo 1992/2008 (46%, Murray McDavid for Ermuri Berlin, C#92225, Rum casks Aced)
Nose: Ah! Polished and classy. Polished wood and some exotic spices. Perhaps a hint of pineapple?
A beautiful profile, although this whisky is perhaps a tad uni-dimensional.
Taste: Tasted like a whisky that was bottled decades ago. Austere, but full and satisfying.
A harsh, sourish finish keeps it out of the upper 80's. A great profile on the surface, but it lacks substance.
Score: 83 points - here's an 'aced' bottling I'm fairly fond of for a change. Actually very decent.
Glen Scotia 32yo 1975/2008 (46%, Chieftain's Choice, C#2191, 78 Bts.)
Nose: Hey, a peaty one! Fairly subtle, though. Chloride, sweaty notes and other organics - quite pleasant.
Then some light fruits emerge. Growing complexity. More and more farmy notes emerge over time.
Taste: Relatively gentle start before the very soft peat emerges. Slowly powering up to a dry centre.
I found some light fruits in the long finish which grows very dry in the end. Weird but I like it...
Score: 89 points - Approaches gold territory in my book because it's so unique. But please note that this is just in my book; most other jurors of the MM Awards 2008 put it in the lower 80's or even the 70's.
Glen Scotia 30yo 1975/2006 (47.5%, The Whisky Fair, Rum barrel)
Nose: Wow! Something chemical - rubber but not quite. 'Slime' playstuff? Evolving molasses sweetness.
Hint of rhubarb. Over time it grows farmier and more complex. A feast for the nose.
Drops away after some fifteen minutes though.
Taste: Bugger... This has the same problem as the Tomintoul; the palate doesn't back up the nose.
Hint of peat? If feels quite hot and feisty - but has little of the complexity that the nose suggests.
Score: 83 points - bonce again the palate doesn't quite deliver on the nasal promise.
Glen Scotia 14yo 1991/XXXX (61,6%, Adelphi, C#1071, 255 Bts.)
Nose: Light and slightly soapy at first in the nose. Oy... Quite a shock at the MM Awards 2006.
Eventually it grew and grew on me and its uniqueness lifted it to 85 points over time.
Taste: Weird and chemical on the palate. Petrol? Turpentine? Rubber? Something faintly coastal?
I'm afraid I got stuck at 75 points for a long time, although I couldn't deny it's an interesting whisky.
A second tasting confirmed it - this is no 'easy' whisky but worth a (thin) silver medal in my book.
Score: 86 points - It's weird but I actually like it - given time. ... Quite a bite if you take a big sip...
Glen Scotia 1992/2003 (62.1%, Gordon & MacPhail Cask Strength, Cask #89.92, refill sherry hogshead)
Nose: Rich and spicy with the sherry becoming more obvious quickly. Polished. Smoke.
Very nice, but not terribly complex. Some more organics after a minute. Clay? Stock?
Taste: Big and sweet, fruity and sherried. What a fabulous palate! Nice woody notes.
It grows a tad dry, dusty and noticably flatter towards the finish, but feels very good.
Very hot. It became a tad fruitier after I added water. A nice dram that proves my point.
Score: 84 points - on closer inspection it's not quite as spectacular as I first thought.
Glen Scotia 9yo 1991/2000 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Bourbon cask #211)
Nose: Soft and a little grainy. Hints of oil and paint thinner. Pine? Air freshener or shampoo?
Ginger? Quite strange - smells more like a grain whisky than a malt whisky, if you ask me.
Taste: Thin and deconstructed. Something faintly medicinal. Eucalyptus? Utterly forgettable.
Score: 66 points - far cry from its slightly older sibling. An interesting nose, but not very 'likable'.
Hardly a perfect specimen of a Glen Scotia - the 14yo is a much safer (and smoother) bet.
Glen Scotia 14yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 1999, 70cl)
Nose: Hmmm - has it lost its magic in the two weeks since I opened the bottle? Weak start.
Vegetables? Furniture wax. Then some fruitier notes emerge, followed by peat and a pinch of salt.
Ah, it just needed a minute. The volume picks up soon - and so does the complexity.
Taste: Smooth and accessible. Sweet. Some fruity notes. Smoked ham?
Strong, malty center with some sherry characteristics. String beans?
Quite subtle and elegant. Very good mouth-feel. Long finish.
Score: 83 points - it definitely needed some time.
Glen Scotia 12yo Full Proof (54%, OB, 75cl, Bottled in the late 1980's, limited edition for Italy.
Nose: Light fruits. Faint organics struggling with a nutty undercurrent. Sweet & spicy.
Very promising, but it drops off after a minute. Water helps just a little. Lemon? Chloride?
Taste: Smooth start, quickly growing drier. Flat and a tad woody. Gritty finish. Tired.
No significant improvement with some water. A pleasant burn, but little personality.
Score: 75 points - a decent but average single malt. Too many grainy odeurs distracting me...
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Glen Scotia malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Glen Scotia I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Glen Scotia.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.