Slicing and dicing Scotland and Scottish whiskey by region has always been problematic. Caol Ila is an Islay whisky, but much of it is actually aged on the Scottish mainland. Highland Park has a nice peaty character, but it’s about as far away in Scotland that you can get from Islay. When Scotch producers talk about the impact of the ocean on their spirits, it’s easy to forget that Scotland is ALL part of an island where the ocean is never very far away. Grouping single malt whisky by region may be a fine and overly simplistic way of starting to tackle the vast world of Scotch whisky, but a more accurate and productive means of grouping is style. How barley malt is dried (over peat fires or with hot air), how a whisky is mashed and distilled and what it was aged in will tell you much more about a whiskys character than where it was made.
An area of Scotland that is often overlooked in the regional equation is a grouping of islands in the northern most part of Scotland called the Orkney Islands. Orkey is best known for being the home of Highland Park Whisky and is also the home to a number of key Viking related archeological digs. The whisky on Orkney often gets looped under the general “Islands” category, but the two single malts produced on the island: Highland Park and Scappa couldn’t be more different. Scapa is a relatively small distillery run by just a handful of people, but it happens to be owned by a fairly well known company – Pernod Ricard. Often tricky to find, Scapa can be found in the US in 14 and 16 year old expressions.
Scapa 16 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (40% ABV, 80 proof $60) – dark gold in color, Scapa 16 has a wonderfully inviting nose with bright green apple, honey, salt, apricot, cereal grains and light smoke. The entry is extraordinarily full in flavor with malt, cereal grains, honey and light citrus all there from the start. The flavors intensify in the midpalate where they are joined by dried apricot ,salt and light peat smoke. The finish is nice long and very slightly dry with a brilliant mix of salt, light smoke and honey with just a touch of citrus.
Scapa 16 does a remarkable job of presenting a nice range of balanced flavors and then maintaing that balance and complexity as it journeys through the palate. The combination of flavors in the midpalate and on the finish are superb and absolutely category breaking. Scapa isn’t smokey or peaty enough to be safely classed as an Island or marine style whisky and its honey and cereal grain notes aren’t strong enough to be considered a Highland. Ultimately, Scapa is its own thing, a fusion of styles and flavors that come together with distinct character. Scapa 16 is a delicious hidden gem from one of the world’s giant spirit companies.