Based in the smallest Whiskey region of Scotland, Glen Scotia boasts a long history, and now, the incredible title of “Best In Show” at the 2021 World Spirits Competition for their 25 year aged Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
Creating the best whisky in the world is no small feat. Master Distiller Iain McAlister has been working on his craft for the last 15 years, but Glen Scotia’s history of excellent whisky dates back much further. In fact, McAlister credits the long history of the brand, and Campbeltown itself, as contributing to what makes an incredible whisky. We caught up with McAlister to learn more about what the win meant to him and his team, and to learn more about the long history of the distillery.
You’ve just won Best in Show at the 2021 World Spirits competition, first off, congratulations, second – how does it feel?
Simply fantastic! It is a humbling experience that gives something back to the incredibly dedicated Glen Scotia team, and what’s more it helps to put Campbeltown whiskies firmly back on the map. I feel incredibly proud of the distillery’s achievement – it stands among the last of the many in Campbeltown, and it is wonderful to be part of its renaissance.
Can you share your thoughts on what made Glen Scotia stand out to the judges?
I’d like to think it was the unique qualities of a classic Campbeltown malt: the distinct flavor profile, the coastal influence, and all that local whisky making history that has been poured down through the years. I was always taught by my mentor and former director that “good whisky just cannot be made, it must be created.” Wise words as it turned out; I spent five years learning all things Glen Scotia and then the next ten years working to perfect them. It takes a while to create a classic Campbeltown dram! Our region’s whiskies are wonderfully intriguing and appeal to those who appreciate something a little off the beaten track – I like to think that has all helped to make an impression with the kindly judges.
We read in an interview with you – that Campbeltown has a relationship with the whisky industry as a whole – could you share a little about what that means?
Yes, it certainly does! There is nowhere quite like Campbeltown and its association with whisky. It’s the fifth official whisky producing region in Scotland and was once the Victorian whisky capital of the world. In its heyday it boasted over 27 legal distilleries through the 19th century – quite an achievement for a small town on the West coast of Scotland. It’s Harbor and location further made it an internationally well-connected town, both for exporting and access to the finest casks from abroad. That certainly lead to a formidable reputation that was the envy of the world! Only three distilleries survived the tests of time, of which Glen Scotia is one, so this award is a wonderful further contribution to the history of Campbeltown as the Whiskiest Place in the World.
Do you think the terroir of Campbeltown and its interaction with the history of whisky as a whole played a role in the development of Glen Scotia and its latest win?
Certainly, with any Glen Scotia whisky, it is all about provenance, and that provenance is all about the region of Campbeltown and the relationship Glen Scotia has with it. Both are inextricably linked and have developed over the years to reach the principle of this recent win. It is a wonderful feeling for me personally, seeing Campbeltown doing so well again in the whisky world.
Tell us the story of the 25-year expression.
The 25-year-old is an example of that fantastic relationship bourbon casks have with Glen Scotia, some of the best whiskies and indeed flavor profiles are indeed based on this bourbon influence. The 25-Year-old has been taken from refill bourbon barrels and given a 12-month finish in first fill bourbon barrels. The refill encapsulates a tropical distillery flavor profile, whilst the first fill drives that rounded sweet toffee, fudge notes in moderation. As ever, that signature Glen Scotia sea spray and subtle maritime notes are there. A truly wonderful dram!
What’s up next for you?
Just to carry on doing what we do well: working as a wonderful team and finding new opportunities to bring a taste of Campbeltown to the world. We have our annual Campbeltown Malts Festival, which is something we look forward to every year. Otherwise, I’ll just be enjoying the incredibly privileged position that is working as the master distiller of Glen Scotia distillery. Slainte Mhath to all!