I last reviewed the 2019 edition of this malt, which was an entirely different beast: heavily peated, 15 years of age, and rum finished. The 2021 bottling which appeared at my local Costco last week is unpeated and sports a red wine cask finish, but at least it’s a bit cheaper due to a lower age statement.
Glen Scotia makes a small amount of heavily-peated malt whisky and some lightly peated at around 15 ppm, but most of their output is unpeated malt. 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 bottled in 2021 to celebrate the annual Campbeltown Malts Festival, but they clearly made enough of it to warrant Costco-scale distribution. The whisky was aged for 10 years in first-fill bourbon before enjoying a 5 month dip in first-fill Bordeaux red wine casks from the Medoc region of France. I really like seeing the finish length on a bottle label – too often distilleries leave you guessing about whether some exotic finish was really like 2 days. Worth noting is that the website indicates that some of the component casks were actually aged longer than 10 years in oak, but only the minimum-age cask is listed on the label (by law).
After aging, the whisky was bottled at 56.1% cask strength without added coloring or chill filtration.
Nose: Warm red fruits – pie filling – oaky sweetness, brown sugar, and a distinct nose tickle. Picks up more fruit as it rests in the glass.
Palate: Slightly syrupy body. A slow-to-arrive but then intense tongue burn leads into tannic grape skins, bitter barrel char, dried banana, and sweet tea.
Finish: Of medium length. The red wine really comes through on the finish, notes of rhubarb and strawberry jam. Fades slowly, with a twist of bitter char and a very slight lingering sweetness that almost balances it.
With Water: Several drops of water increase the nose tickle but also release an interesting cocoa note, which plays through the palate. The finish is livelier, with a little more acidity. I highly suggest a little water with this one, as it truly opens up.
Overall: I’m always wary of red wine finishes, as they tend to come across too tannic or too acetic or else have zero impact from the wine cask. This is nicely in the middle with good oaky and malty sweetness, wine notes that present mostly as cooked fruits, manageable bitterness, and pleasant textural tannins. Nice, but I could wish for a little better balance with the bitter notes on the finish. Still, these days a successful cask strength special edition for $70 is noteworthy. The price is fine, but steer clear of online retailers gouging upwards of $150 for this! It’s not that good.
It’s also nice to see a Glen Scotia Malts Festival release that is unpeated. While I enjoy their peated malts, it’s good to see some variety in the special releases.
I’d call myself a Glen Scotia fanboy, but this one didn’t really land with me. I like the nose, but I find it too adstringent on the palate. GS puts out a yearly Seasonal Release that is also unpeated and finished, usually in some kind of sherry. The last two were very nice (the one before these was one of the worst whiskies I ever tried though). They are a little more expensive than the Festival ’21 though, but they are also 12yo.
Also, small correction: The vast majority of GS distillate is unpeated. They have a yearly run that lasts only a couple of days or weeks where they make peated spirit that’s either lightly, medium, or heavily peated, and every year they only produce two of the three styles. The majority of their core releases (Double Cask, 15yo, Victoriana) only contain a small fraction of peated whisky, around 5%, the 10yo and 18yo are completely unpeated.
It’s kind of funny it’s their peated Festival releases that put GS back in the good graces of many whisky drinkers. I suspect the ’21 was their attempt to use the good reputation of the series to plug their unpeated whisky. They’ve gone back to peated the following two years though. The ’22 is an heavily peated 8yo finished in PX casks and the just released ’23 is a lightly peated 11yo finished in white Port casks.
Thanks for the comment, and the correction – I’ll update the post. The peated Festival releases definitely put GS on my map again, after a few disappointing drams in the 20-teens. Cheers!
I have the GScotia 2020 Campbeltown Festival version. It is a heavily peated 14yr with a tawny port finish.