Who says that you can’t do a quick little pairing while away at a resort hotel? Especially when they have an interesting selection of Scotch, which I wouldn’t have otherwise picked for my shelves? I’ve learned my lessons from the restaurant tastings – so I don’t let the bartenders just bring me over the drams, I sit, and I watch now, and yes, I ask to see the bottle as well [there was yet another instance, where the menu said Octamore 9.1, but the bottle was an 11.1 – an entirely different edition and price]. Thankfully, this place was legit, and the staff, which became quite friendly with me after a few days, didn’t even measure their pourings. Free-flowing drinks they were, as my Mezcal-based margarita turned into a caipirinha, while my whisky doubles were more like quadruples and more. But I digress… Let’s see what this excellent pairing will bring, but first, we need music! Now playing: Electrypnose – Crooked House.
I suppose it’s worth beginning with the fact that both distilleries are from Orkney, the only two on this archipelago of the Northern Isles of Scotland. This is another good reason to compare the two side by side. In the mid-90s, Scapa was mothballed, exchanged ownership, and in the hands of Pernod Ricard, recommenced its production in October of 2005. Skiren, which is Old Norse for “glittering, bright skies”, was launched in 2015, so you can do your own math and arrive at your own conclusions, but, nevertheless, it is a No Age Statement (NAS) single malt. At only 40% ABV, this island Scotch is extremely drinkable, if you know what I mean. Here are the apples on the nose, that took me a bit of time to recognize at first. Slight hints of chocolate and caramel permeate through the aroma, which is light and pleasant. There is no smoke on the palate, although the distillery credits using heather to dry their malt. Aged in first-fill American oak casks, this whisky is a bit hindered by the added colouring, so it’s a bit hard to judge the straight liquid in here (who knows what other older malts are in the vat – there are definitely rolling complexities on the tongue and on the finish). It’s super mellow but not diluted, yet I wouldn’t mind trying this at cask strength to dive into the flavours. An absolutely lovely dram for £42.
The Highland Park, in comparison, is darker and almost creamier on the nose, echoing those silky notes in the taste with a bit of a welcome bitterness in an otherwise sweeter Scotch. Subtitled “Viking Honour”, this expression from the distillery’s core range has that staple “Highland Park” flavour that may be instantly recognizable to those who’ve had this island single malt before. It’s a toffeyed, honeyed, sherried dram, with a microscopic whiff of smoke (no peat, but heather is back again here). It is a bit more intense in its flavour than Scapa, even though it is at exactly the same ABV of 40% (I am actually surprised by the latter – I could have sworn I drank this before at 43% [I just checked, and it’s indeed at 43% in the US] and it tasted slight stronger in this round). Matured in sherry-seasoned casks from American and European oak varieties, this is vatting that’s near close to perfection for a £35 bottle, which is only surpassed by its older siblings. No colouring in this delicious dram, but there is the chill filtration. I previously compared this single malt to a 12-year-old distillery bottling from Caol Ila (see this writeup), and the latter just couldn’t stand up to the complexity of Highland Park. But in this round, the same complexity (or maybe it’s the familiarity) may go against this whisky.
It’s hard to choose, folks, I’ll be frank. If I was given both of these to drink from side-by-side, which one would I reach out for? For the price point, Highland Park will be my choice, but for the mellow drinkability (perhaps because I’m on a beach?) I seem to want to drink the Scapa, yes, even over ice. I nearly drank half of the bottle of this sweet nectar before I decided to write up this review, and it was indeed a lovely introduction. If only it was uncoloured and was a bit explicit on its age, then I would feel more trusting of the maker. But does it really matter if it still tastes very good? Argh, that is the dilemma, friends, especially in whisky. With that, I’ll call a draw for this one at this time. Perhaps I’ll taste a rare Scapa in the future (I spy a few unique ones at an auction).