I was alerted to the presence of this particular unicorn by my whisky tasting group, and bought it sight unseen. I figured (correctly, it turns out) that it would make a nice Christmas dram.
Glen Scotia makes a small amount of heavily-peated malt, but most of its products are very lightly peated at around 15 ppm. I’ve reviewed the NAS Double Cask and the 15 year-old with middling results. Glen Scotia forms the Campbeltown triad – the last remaining vestiges of a robust whiskymaking region – along with Springbank and now Glengyle (Kilkerran).
This limited edition malt was distilled in 2003 in one of Glen Scotia’s heavily-peated batches and bottled in 2019 to celebrate the annual Campbeltown Malts Festival. The 15 year-old malt was finished for 8 months in Guyana demerara rum casks (it was matured in refill ex-bourbon American oak) and bottled without added color or chill-filtration at a cask strength of 51.3% ABV, which is fairly low – I wonder if the Campbeltown climate encourages a greater-than-average angels’ share. Original retail listed this above $100 a bottle, but it can be found for $70, which is what I paid at K&L in Redwood City, CA. Note: The 2021 release is now on shelves, and is unpeated.
Nose: Clean, crisp peat, like freshly-dug loam and green-wood campfire smoke. The peat is in roughly equal proportion to a distinct rum aroma – molasses, burnt caramel, and toasted walnuts. There’s also banana-nut bread (luckily, the banana element is faint and not overly ripe like a lot of banana notes in whisky), light tobacco, and meaty dried coconut. The peat is not strong – indeed after nosing for a few minutes it fades into the background, which gives an overall impression of “smoked rum” rather than “rum-flavored peat”. After a rest in the glass, Glen Scotia’s signature lemon peel note becomes more detectable.
Palate: Soft, silky body. Moderate tongue burn which subsides quickly. Palate has a dose of licorice, coconut-flecked rum, earthy peat, and a woody overtone. A sense of baked goods pervades – like chewy brown sugar bars or rum-raisin pudding. Very tasty.
Finish: Long. Meaty, with tons of cashew, nougat, date, and more. Fades slowly with a slight edge of woody bitterness and a suggestion of charcoal.
With Water: A few drops of water kick up a slight vegetal note – like rhum agricole – but otherwise doesn’t seem to change the aroma. The palate is thinner and the burn reduced. I would say only add water if you’d like to lower the proof.
Overall: I’ve had both excellent rum-finished single malts as well as atrocious ones. The bad ones invariably taste like the worst parts of rum: overripe bananas and bitter astringency. The excellent ones translate the tropical fruit notes and complex sugar byproducts. In this case, the Glen Scotia’s mild Campbeltown peat plays very nicely with the complex sugar notes (molasses, burnt caramel, etc.) melding earthy smoke with rich baked goods. It does seem to be missing those tropical fruit notes (aside from coconut). Still this is one of the most successful rum-finshed malts that I’ve tried, and simultaneously one of the better finished peated malts. Usually I find peat clashes with the cask finish. Not here.
I’m giving this a Must Try rating, although it will shortly be sold out. This is because of the rarity of a successful rum-finished peated malt. If you like peat and are curious about how the rum will interact with it, you’ll very likely enjoy this.
There are still some bottles of this release available. I would not pay more than about $80, but I feel $70 is in the sweet spot for value here. I mean, it’s a well-made cask-strength rum-finished limited single malt at 15 years of age. $70 is actually cheap in today’s market. I know what I’ll be toasting with at Christmas dinner this year – I bet it will go really well with ham… and even better with leftover ham sandwiches. Mmm. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!