September Scotch: Orkney Islands’ Scapa Single Malt Whisky

With roots back to 1885, a brand revived in 2004 to produce luscious liquid

Spirits sometimes adopt the attributes of the land surrounding their distilleries. This holds particularly true with whisky, which (as many know) is left to age in barrel houses in temperamental climates. Of the many single malt-producing regions in Scotland, none are quite so harsh as the Orkney Islands. Unlike the islands of Islay and Jura, nestled between Scotland and Ireland, the remote Orkney archipelago juts from the North Sea. And on the main Orcadian island, Scapa’s single malt whisky distillery produces several honeyed liquids with touches of sea spray on the nose and earthiness throughout. It all honors the harbor, Scapa Flow, on which the distillery sits. And, as we probe in our latest September Scotch review, it does much more.

Scapa’s production methods inform the liquid, too. Unlike the other islands, no peat is used in the malting stage here. For the water later used in mashing, the brand draws from local, rainfall-fed Orquil Springs. Finally, distillation occurs in the last remaining barrel-shaped Lomond wash-still in the whisky industry. While many brands are quick to throw around the term “hand-crafted,” the Scapa Distillery is one of the only manually operated production facilities still around. It’s staffed 24 hours each day—and six people oversee the whole process.

Maturation occurs almost exclusively in first-fill American Oak Casks. This means that the most widely distributed of Scapa’s spirits, Skiren, yields buttery shortbread flavors atop the apple and pear notes already found in the liquid prior to aging. Skiren, as mentioned, does nose of sea spray and the full sensory experience calls to mind its Orcadian origins, and yet the finish on this 80-proof tipple is nothing short of brown sugar.

Skiren became a portfolio addition in 2015, as the brand shifted away from age-statement liquors. In 2016, they then introduced Glansa, which the brand refers to as their “honeyed smoky one.” The soft smoke they reference comes from a unique finishing period in ex-peated-whisky casks. At its heart, Glansa carries the same fruit-forward values as Skiren. It’s really in the finish that the smoke becomes most evident. For anyone interested in stepping from oaky Scotch to smoky single malts will find a delicious opportunity with Glansa.

Scapa’s range also includes Limited Edition Cask Strength single malts, Single Cask Editions, and age statements produced in the past—including the award-winning 14-Year, which took home gold and double gold from San Francisco in 2005 and 2008 respectively. For those with curious palates looking to try well-made, reasonably-priced single malt Scotch, Scapa produces several viable options.

Further, Scapa Distillery now opens its doors to visitors, and does so June through March. Three different tour options allow unprecedented access to the production process—and each ends with a tasting.

Images courtesy of Scapa