Tag Archives: Orkney

The Viking Tour (Part 2)

Scapa Flow
Scapa Flow – Beauty and tradgedy

The institute of Brewing & Distilling expedition continued onwards to Scapa Distillery. Orcadian beauty is abundant on the shores of Scapa Flow. The bay reflects the moods of the weather. We were blessed with shimmering water in glorious sunshine. But even the brightest of days is overshadowed by the tragic events that unfolded within view of the distillery. The green buoy in the bay marks the site where the Royal Oak was sunk during the second world war with the loss of 834 lives. 70 unwanted ships were intentionally sunk to form ‘Churchill’s barriers’ in an attempt to prevent further losses for the navy stronghold. The sense of history in Orkrney provides a powerful context for the production of whisky.

The sign that greets boaters in Scapa Flow

Scapa Distillery recently opened to visitors for the first time so we were excited to get a first peek. Of most interest for me was the Lomond still, the only one used for single malt Scotch whisky. Installed in 1959 it had three internal plates which could be varied to produce 3 different types of spirit. The plates have now been removed resulting in a more standard setup for wash distillations. The spirit still is dwarfed by the beastly Lomond still. A strange couple that work in unison to produce a wonderful spirit. Scapa was also famous for its remarkably long fermentation of 160 hours (compared to 48 hours for most). This helped impart the estery profile to Scapa 16 year old. Unfortunately, recent capacity constraints have led to a reduction in the fermentation time to 80 hours and the discontinuation of the 16 year old. We sampled the new NAS expression ‘Skiren’ at the end of the tour and boarded the bus bound for Scapa’s famous neighbour.

Higland Park Gate
The impressive entrance gate to Highland Park Distillery
HP Chair
The Viking chair at Highland Park
HP Malting
Malting floors at Highland Park

Highland Park is must on any distillery baggers’ hit list. Dominating the skyline on the outskirts of Kirkwall, Highland Park offers the visitor a comprehensive view of whisky production. Locally cut peat, malting floors, mashing, fermentation, distillation, maturation, cooperage… it’s all here. As you pass through the famous gates with their intricate ironmongery you are greeted by a team proud of their whisky and Orcadian heritage. Our guide took delight in retelling the dangers of peat cutting – an unexploded bomb and axe head have been discovered. Further testament to the palimpsest of history unique to these islands. Viking strength is required to maintain the malting floors as the barley is turned every 4 to 8 hours. The result of all their hard work is 44,000 barrels on site, or 9 million litres of spirit. No wonder the entrance gates are so imposing with all those thirsty locals out.

Dunnet Still
The ‘Tin Man’ still at Dunnet Bay
Dunnet Group
All together at Dunnet Bay (Martin – far left)

Returning to mainland we stopped by a distillery of great contrast, but no less impressive. Dunnet Bay has only been open 18 months but such is its success in the craft gin boom that its latest seasonal gin was sold out even before it left the building. The 500L John Doe still looked like the tin man from the Wizard of Oz and is producing magical spirit. Rock Rose gin is winning many awards due to the dedication of Martin and Claire – a couple who followed their dreams and ditched their former careers. In the last year 35,000 bottles were sold, an incredible achievement for a small start-up craft distillery. Long may it continue.

The still cathedral at Glenmorangie

The final destination on our epic Viking voyage was Glenmorangie in Tain. The sense of grandeur in the still room was breathtaking. Twelve of the tallest stills (5.1m) in Scotch whisky give the impression that you were in a cathedral of distillation. Necks creek in the same way as they would in St. Giles. Also impressive was the construction of the new Anaerobic Digestion plant at a cost of over £20m. The facility will treat effluent reducing the distillery’s impact on the environment and will produce methane from stillage which can be used to offset energy bills. We finished off with a great tasting that showcased some of Glenmorangie’s more innovative offerings such as Signet, which contains chocolate malt.

Glenmorangie group
The Viking Tour – Mission Accomplished!

We successfully completed our Viking mission – 5 distilleries and 2 breweries in 3 days. It’s hard work, but someone has to do it!


Scenic Scotch No. 3 – Scapa in New Lanark

The third Scenic Scotch in the series comes from New Lanark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.

A Scapa in misty New Lanark
A Scapa in misty New Lanark

New Lanark is a model industrial village dating from 1785. It is located a short distance downstream from the great Falls of Clyde, the largest waterfall in the UK by volume. In partnership with Glasgow businessman David Dale, the visionary innovator Richard Arkwright sought to harness the power of the fast flowing water to create a global powerhouse of textile production. In 1799, ownership changed hands to Welshman Robert Owen, an astute idealist who turned New Lanark into a centre of social reform. Workers were housed in superior living conditions to those typical of that time and benefited from more humane working practices. New Lanark’s credentials as a utopian society were further reinforced by an emphasis on the education of children. Communal buildings such as the Nursery Buildings, The Institute for the Formation of Character, The Co-operative Store and the School for Children were all monuments to a paternalistic leader who sought a better society as well as profit. By 1821, New Lanark had become one of the largest planned communities in Europe with a population of 2,300 and was as an example to the world of a more dignified and co-operative way of life.

In 1832, William Cobbett wrote of New Lanark during his Tour of Scotland,

“..you come to a spot, as you descend the hill, where you have a full view of the great Falls of Clyde, with the accompanying rocks and woods which form the banks of the river. At the same time you see the green hills, and cattle and sheep feeding on them, at the summits of the banks on each side, and over the tops of the trees. The fine buildings of the factories are just under you: and this, all taken together, is by far the most beautiful sight that my eyes ever beheld.”

Such inspirational surroundings deserve an inspirational whisky. The Scapa from Orkney is be-fitting of such grandeur. The distillery is the second most northerly in Scotland (a mere half mile further south than Highland Park) and is perched above another strategic and powerful body of water, Scapa Flow. Scapa is a genteel whisky compared to many of its island cousins being less peated and more floral and sweet with hints of heather honey and salt. Scapa complements New Lanark with its delicate sophistication. A model malt for a model mill town.

Please send all Scenic Scotch submissions to: scenicscotch@gmail.com

Photo credits: Maxi Zimmermann, Berlin, Germany.