On location: Scapa

Whilst the wintery weather quashes any incentive I have to do anything else, I shall continue the write-up of my Orkney trip last July, 2017. Following on from Highland Park sees my visit to Scapa.

Previous relevant posts include:

 

Like virtually all established [Scottish] distilleries, Scapa has had its fair share of historical ups & downs through bankruptcy, fire, crop failure, war etc,…

HISTORY

  • 1885 Townsend & Macfarlane establish Orkney’s third distillery, the other two being Highland Park and Stromness.
  • 1914-18 The distillery was primarily utilised to store potatoes during the war.
  • 1919 Bought by the Scapa Distillery Company just before it went up in flames.
  • 1954 Bought by Hiram Walker after two mothballed decades.
  • 1959 A Lomond-style still is installed at a newly built distillery. It currently operates but purely as a wash still after the plates were removed in 1979.
  • 1966 On-site maltings ceased.
  • 1994-1996 Mothballed again.
  • 1996-2004 Very limited production of around 100,000 litres a year.
  • 2004 Scapa operates at full production after a significant reinvestment/modernisation of around £2.1 million. They release a core range 14yo single malt.
  • 2005 Scapa is sold to Chivas<Pernod Ricard.
  • 2008 A 16yo replaces the 14yo.
  • 2015 A visitors centre is opened.

 

 

Pernod Ricard’s indoor zero-photo policy [snore], is a shame given Scapa’s quirky apparatus. Fortunately there is suitable-enough online footage for those who haven’t yet made the trip to the distillery.

 

EQUIPMENT

The mill house is situated in the old distillery buildings [see pics above], and its traditional machinery continues to run relatively smoothly. There was a recent attempt to replace the old Porteus mill with a new one in order to increase production. Unfortunately this new mill didn’t fit into the restricted old building – doh! That new mill ended up going to Highland Park.

Within the same building, Scapa continues to maintain a working malt dresser – a site to behold. I believe you can still find working examples at Glenglassaugh, Jura, Glen Scotia, Springbank and Glentauchers. The one that was once at Rosebank [pictured below, courtesy of thewhiskyphiles.com], closely resembles the one at Scapa.

dresser rosebank.jpg
Ex-Rosebank’s dresser [thewhiskyphiles.com]
Scapa also have a wooden drum de-stoner. Again, shame about the no-photo-policy as it’s a lovely old thing with a quirky yet effective movement.

Scapa as a whole is manually operated, requiring five people to run the distillery seven days a week.

 

Mash temperatures are [relatively] less usual than most other distilleries: 65 82 92c. The draff goes to animal feed rather than bio-fuel, which if you look around Orkney isn’t surprising,

They have eight washbacks: four corten steel and four aluminium – thankfully with no need to replace the corten ones anytime soon. [On location: Tomatin coming,.. one day].

According to scotchwhisky.com, Scapa at one time had the longest fermentation in the industry: 120 hours [5 days], beating Oban’s 110. Interestingly, 120 hours is the fermentation time currently administered at Benromach. According to my tour guide, the fermentation at Scapa used to be up to 160 hours [nearly a week long], but is now around the more standard 80 hours. Dave Broom reports that whilst Scapa’s fermentation time has fallen significantly, importantly the spirit has maintained its fruitiness.

Here’s a new one for me, its no ‘biggy’ but I never noted it before. The dried brewers yeast they use for fermentation is pre-activated [rehydrated], before being added to the wort – there you have it. Maybe I should do the same when I bake bread?

 

STILLS

Scapa Stills my pic.jpg

Given the long fermentation and only one pair of [oil-fired] stills, there’s a frequent wait on the ferment which results in stop/start production –  an inefficiency brought by Scapa’s inherent limitations.

Scapa currently produces 1200 litres of spirit per batch and 16 batches per week. That’s 19200 litres a week or 998,400 litres a year.

The ex-Lomond still with its flat-topped lid & long line arm requires a regulator/purifier? [citation please], to push the newly formed low wines on through and avoid any unwanted reflux.

 

CASKS & TINGS

  • Scapa use only first-fill bourbon casks for their single malt – mostly from Jack Daniel’s.
  • Whisky from second-fill casks goes into blend – 17yo Ballantines to be exact.
  • The majority of Scapa’s total output goes to single malt.
  • The angels share like at Highland Park is only 1%.
Scapa warehouses.jpg
Scapa’s warehouses

On site, Scapa have seven warehouses racked eight high, that currently hold 15000 casks. Unlike many distilleries I’ve visited in the recent past [Glengoyne, Deanston, Macallan, Auchentoshan], Scapa’s warehouses are not full to capacity.

 

CURRENT OUTPUT

Bottle range.jpg

Between 1996-2004, Scapa produced around 100,000 litres a year. Pernod Ricard received very little old stock when they took control of the distillery in 2015. This lack of supply due to Scapa’s past production limitations explains why the core 16yo has now been replaced with two NAS expressions. The 16yo was readily available [around 2015-16], and pushed for a limited time and at a very reasonable price in many major supermarkets. It duly sold out. As you can see from the picture above, whilst the age statements of Scapa’s core range have fluctuated between 10-25 years since the 1990’s, today’s range is exclusively NAS. In the warehouse I was shown, the oldest vintage casks were from 1993, and there were only two of them. Could we see a 25yo single cask release [or two], in the next year or so? That would then leave a big gapping hole in-between the mainstream NAS range and occasional high-end/luxury offerings with nothing in the middle [for us enthusiasts].

REFLECTIONS

I loved the distillery and the tour [thanks to my guide], but to the owners; it would be desirable to try something unique/exclusive to the distillery when visiting. What’s the point of going all the way to Scapa to try something I can buy in the supermarket? For now, NAS malt it is. I had tried Skiren two years earlier and been suitably impressed [Blog84]. Let’s see how it’s changed two years on.

 

Scapa Skiren NAS [2017] Ob. 40% WB79.63[151] [WF]81

Scapa Skiren NAS.png

  • N: Mildly sweet, gingery malty>honeyed spirit.
  • T: Arrives fairly innocuously without any drama, developing on a chocolate/maltiness.
  • F: Short/medium finish on sweetish ginger. Doesn’t mind a drop of water.
  • C: Really not too bad, not spirity nor immature. I needed more time with it but found this on par with the new HP 10yo [blog], I had just previously tried. More surprisingly, i find this a touch more favourable than the 16yo Orcadian.

Scores 80 points

 

For the last leg of my Orkney trip [2017], see HERE

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END

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