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Scapa (pronounced: SKAA-pa) has undergone something of a rebirth in recent years. With new official expressions given fresh marketing weight and wider promotion they have found deep favour with many people who want soft, fresh, flavoursome malt whisky without too many hulking big smoky/peaty notes. It has long been available as a single malt but for many years operated in the shadow of famous neighbour Highland Park. It seems that some of HP's fame and good fortune is beginning to rub off on its more delicate chum.
Stills: 1 Wash 1 Spirit
Water Source: Lingro Burn
Capacity: 1 Million Litres
Owners: Pernod Ricard
1960-1980: Waxy, Honied and Smoky.
Scapa is a curious distillery in terms of the usual modernizing changes that most distilleries underwent from the late fifties to the early seventies. Scapa was already using steam and anti collapse valves when Alfred Barnard visited the distillery in 1886 (one year after it was founded). So changes in the distillate are down to more tertiary influences such as yeast strains, barley varieties and the fluctuations of staff, process and production cycles.
There certainly have been changes, the earliest known bottlings that hail from the early sixties onwards are much more old style malts, full of oily, waxy, resinous honey notes with fresh wild flowers and even hints of peat and coal, flavours which have been utterly eradicated from recent Scapa. The best examples come from G&M, the SMWS and Moon Import. This could have something to do with the malted barley, Scapa's own floor maltings were closed in 1962. Another interesting production footnote is the use of a Lomond still as a wash still, this was installed in 1959 and would act as a wash still until the early eighties when it had its innards stripped out and was thus rendered a kind of bastard Lomond/Pot wash still. What effect this had on the character of the distillate is anyone's guess.
1980-Present: Flowers, Honey, Salt and Fresh Air
It is the stock of the past two decades that has recently seduced so many modern drinkers. Its character is one of gentle fruits, lots of floral and honey notes, some gentle coastal freshness, citrus and little hints of oiliness and cereal. The best examples of this style are by far the official bottlings at 12, 14 and 16 years. Although some of the recent bottlings by G&M also display this light, Island house style very well. Other notable bottlings are a fascinating 1982 Amontillado finish by Cheiftain's and a very fresh and zingy 1993/2005 by Taste Still.
Scapa's success of late means that the majority of the distilleries casks will be set aside for official bottlings so we won't see too much variation from the standard official range. Scapa was operated only a short time each year for a few years in the late nineties so stock will be tight for a growing brand like theirs. However its burgeoning popularity means that the independents will take fresh appraisal of their stock and may accidentally release some great casks while trying to cash in on the boom. We can but wait and see.