Sunday, October 11, 2009
Scotch Whisky Review: Scapa 14
Scapa is from the Mainland (the biggest island) of the Orkney archipelago -- so it's an island malt, but not an Islay. This is not my first experience with Scapa -- I tasted a Scapa bottling years ago, and liked it enough to buy a bottle a few years back. I haven't pulled it out very often, though, and this is the first time I've tried to coherently rate and evaluate this whisky.
In color, this malt is a nice light gold; it's moderately syrupy, clinging slightly to the glass. On the nose, I first notice a fairly powerful alcohol burn, and a very noticeable sweet cake and vanilla icing flavor, with a touch of honey and oak. There is something faintly unpleasant underneath -- I wrote down "burnt plastic," and I saw another reviewer note "rubber tires." Fortunately it isn't very powerful.
On the tongue, this whisky is syrupy-sweet while very drying, with a hot burn and a short finish. I note something herbal, like sage, a flavor like Keemun (English breakfast) tea, a note of hazelnut, notes of dates, orange peel, and unsweetened chocolate. Scapa is often associated with the phrase "heather honey," and I get the honey, but am not sure I'd know what heather tastes like if it bit me. That's probably the herbal, floral note that I'm calling sage. Whatever you call it, it's somewhat subtle, like the other flavors. Some other reviews I found noted a definite pineapple flavor, and I can agree with that, but it reminds me of pineapple juice rather than the fruit itself.
I tasted it after adding a little water, and was disappointed -- the flavors weaken, and the burnt, bitter notes become more apparent. There's a salty-sweet meaty pickled plum note, which I'll just call "umami," that becomes more apparent -- another reviewer noted this as the dried seaweed used to wrap sushi, which I'd say is pretty accurate. In any case, it doesn't really get better with water added -- this whisky is better neat.
This dram is pleasant enough, but its flavors are rather mild, and while some of the flavors are interesting and it is well-balanced, it isn't layered with flavors like the Islay malts. I don't enjoy the sweet notes now, at 42, as much as I did when I was in my twenties. Note that this would be a great first single malt to taste, if you aren't sure if you'll like the peat and smoke characteristic of most of the Islay malts.
Because of the mildness of the flavors, and the predominance of sweetish flavors to the exclusion of most others, my overall rating is only a 7 out of 10. (Grace says 6.5). Scapa now sells a 16 year old bottling which I'm curious to taste. I'm also looking forward to comparing this with an Aberlour.