Disco Cow or Funky Pigeon?

The Glen Scotia distillery has had something of a turbulent past. I feel it’s fair to say that it has changed hands more times than the ball in a rugby match. Add into the mix a global financial crash, the frankly bizarre ban of alcohol sales in what is now a world superpower, an unfortunate suicide and one of the strangest branding moves in recent memory, and what you have is one of the most interesting whisky distilleries in Scotch whisky history.

Campbeltown was once the centre of the Scotch whisky industry, the crown jewel of distilling in Scotland with 30 distilleries operating on the small peninsula in the early 20th century. However, given the severe impacts of the Pattison Crash, the Great Depression and prohibition in the USA, Scotch whisky found itself in a spot of bother. Nowhere near enough whisky was being exported due to reduced demand meaning that not only were there backlogs of unused stock but finances were severely impacted. So much so that out of those 30 distilleries back in the 1920’s, only 10% of this number remain in the region today in the form of the highly regarded Springbank distillery, the recently revived Glengyle (Kilkerran), and Glen Scotia.

Image courtesy of GlenScotia.com

The latter has for decades been used as blend filler which means it also carries a surprising level of flexibility for it’s size. We’re not talking Loch Lomond levels of flexibility, but they produce spirit both on long and short fermentations as well as peated, unpeated and lightly peated styles. The mention of Loch Lomond is also fitting given the earlier iteration of the Loch Lomond group have been the owners of the Glen Scotia distillery since the mid 1990’s and have seemingly invested heavily in the future of the distillery.

If we think back to 2014 (which at the minute feels like a distant memory), Glen Scotia was trying to make inroads into the single malt market with a core range that carried one of the most bizarre and colourful branding choices in Scotch whisky. I am of course talking about the Dulux-esque ‘disco cows’. A core range that in hindsight would probably have been better suited in the Tate gallery than next to a Gordon and Macphail Mortlach in the whisky cabinet. I tried a few of these expressions ‘back in the day’ and I’ll be honest; they weren’t great.

This initial interaction with Glen Scotia put me off a bit. At the time many other distilleries and bottles were crying out for my affections, however it was a chance encounter with a bottle of 21yr old Glen Scotia bottled by Cadenhead’s a few years later that made me give it a second chance. Look forward again a few years and another rebrand and core range was brought in. Now we have bottles such as Double Cask, the 15yr old, 18yr old and more and they have, quite rightly, won both myself and a lot of other whisky nerds over and picked up awards and critical acclaim in the process. Things have changed at Glen Scotia. A recent focus on quality casks and being more centered in the public eye have given the distillery and brand some real impetus.

I own and have owned several of the Glen Scotia range. I’m a big fan of both the Double cask and 15yr old, the latter of which I feel is one of the best value for money 15yr olds on the market. Also, the annual releases from Glen Scotia for the Campbeltown malts festival have built an almost cult following, with the latest expression in the form of a 14r old tawny port finished dram getting justifiably rave reviews.

This brings me on to one of the more recent releases from Glen Scotia. Bottled in late 2020 this is an 11yr old single malt called ‘Sherry Double Cask Finish’. not to be confused with the standard NAS double cask. This sherried dram was produced utilising both Pedro Ximinez and Oloroso sherry casks. The spirit, hailing from 2008, was then bottled at a healthy 54.1% and is non-chill filtered and benefits from the honesty of natural colour.

For full disclosure, I was kindly provided this sample by Glen Scotia for review. Thanks to Glen Scotia and Loch Lomond Group and as I always say on the YouTube channel: Just because a sample has been provided to me does not mean this will receive a favourable review as a result.

Glen Scotia 11yr Old Sherry Double Cask Finish 54.1% Non-Chill Filtered and Natural Colour. RRP £56.

Image courtesy of the Whisky Exchange

I always find it nice to see both the NCF and natural colour tags on a bottle of whisky. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing it because ultimately this means this has been produced and targeted at us, the whisky geeks, the small and die hard corner of the spirits world.

The colour itself is a relatively light hue considering it’s sherry origins. What I’d probably describe as chardonnay.

On the nose it’s pure, unadulterated haylage! This reminds me of some Bruichladdich bottlings and takes me back to helping out on the farm near to where we live. Very nostalgic and incredibly vegetal. Turning almost to cabbage if we’re being honest with one another, which I am. This then opens up to show sugared cereals, vanilla, candied lemon and a Cornish harbour at low tide on a windy day. There’s salty sea spray/air sure, but there’s some of the drying seaweed funk in there too.

Good mouthfeel.

Wow. I wasn’t alive during the 70’s so I’m no expert but this is funky. Immensely oaky up front and there it remains throughout with a constant vein of bitter and heavy wood. I’d say there’s still some haylage in there but I personally don’t make a habit of eating it if I can avoid it. I’d probably say instead that there remains an intense and quite frankly unwelcome level of vegetation. On top of this there are small pockets of vanilla and burned pancakes covered in salted butter. Heavily roasted nuts and bitter, drying dark roast coffee.

There is little to no smoke but it becomes hot and spicy heading into a long finish that is incredibly dry to the point where I may need to apply Vaseline to my gumline.

I’m sensitive to sulphur. I’m not being dramatic but I’ve thrown several full bottles away due to intense and instantaneous rotten egg flavours and smells that I can’t look past. This dram is, in my opinion at least, a victim of sulphur but a differing type to the one mentioned in the previous sentence.

This dram is so far removed from the rest of the other modern Glen Scotia’s that I’ve tried that if this had been presented to me blind I genuinely couldn’t have pinpointed not only the distillery from which it hailed but also the country.

I’d caveat this with the fact that nobody goes out of their way to make bad whisky. The people involved in it’s production are heavily invested not just from a financial level but an emotional one too, meaning that it’s never easy to give negative feedback on a dram that somebody worked so hard to make a reality. A lot goes into making a single malt get onto the shelves. This in my opinion is just an unfortunate occurrence. Will this put me off Glen Scotia for life? Of course not, we all have our bad days.

Score: Oh dear…

Scoring Scale:

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
Good – I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
Solid – No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
Fine –  There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
Meh – Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear – Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop – Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.

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