Scapa Distillery is known as ‘the other distillery’ on Orkney. Their neighbor Highland Park Distillery is definitely more of a household name in the whisky world. The reason for this is partly that Scapa is a much smaller distillery, and they released their first single malt (14 YO) in 2004. Scapa has always been closed to the public, up until just a few weeks ago, 130 years after the distillery was established they opened a visitors center!
The distillery is fairly easy to find and reach. It is located just a short drive outside of Kirkwall, on Orkney Mainland. You can actually see the pagodas at Highland Park Distillery from Scapa.
Macfarlane and Townsend established the distillery in 1885. New owners Scapa Distillery Company took over in 1919. From 1934 to 1936 production ceases, before Block Brothers Ltd takes over and production resumes. Hiram Walker then purchases the distillery in 1954, and money is spent on refurbishment. One of only two Lomond stills still in use in Scotland was installed in 1956. This Lomond still is currently used as the wash still at the distillery, with the plates removed.
In 1994 the distillery closes again. From 1997 production resumes for a few months each year, using staff from Highland Park Distillery. In 2004 the Scapa 14 YO is launched. Massive refurbishments are made, and Chivas Brothers take over as new owners in 2005. In 2008 the Scapa 16 YO is launched, and is now the only standard single malt sold by the distillery.
In 2014 the production was around 300 000 lpa (liters pure alcohol). In 2015 they will be producing at full capacity, which means 1.1 million lpa.
When we arrived at the distillery we met Amanda Jackson, Supervisor at Scapa Distillery. She gave us a very nice and educational tour. She has previously worked at Highland Park, and was very knowledgeable about all aspects of the production at the distillery. We also got to try the Scapa 16 YO and the currently available cask strength expression Scapa 14 YO in the Chivas Brothers Cask Strength Edition series.
The barley used in production is Odyssey, and they claim a yield of about 400 liters per ton. The mashing is as ‘gentle’ as they can make it, as they want a wort this is clear.
Scapa Distillery used to have the longest fermentation time in Scotland at 160 hours. This was mainly due to the low production. The schedule made it practical to do one batch per full week. With the increased production they have now switched to a fermentation time of 56 hours. This does yield a slightly different end result, and they are currently testing different yeast strains to compensate – wanting to maintain their previous profile.
It was a bit weird peeking into the warehouses at the distillery, everything was so uniform! Turns out that Scapa Distillery exclusively uses 1st fill American oak bourbon barrels. There are no funny looking quarter casks, sherry butts or port pipes hiding in the corners – at least not that we saw.
In total they have around 15 000 casks stored on site in their six warehouses; three dunnage and three racked warehouses.
The visitor center itself was small but charming. Not all the branded merchandise was in place when we were there. We would have loved to purchase both pins and branded glasses, like we do on every single distillery we visit, but those were not yet available. I guess we have to go back some time then!