|Scapa Bay from beside distillery, Highland Park on hill to left|
He also comments on the Lingro Broch that once stood beside the distillery. Brochs were Iron Age dwellings built from solid stone for shelter and safety, with double walls often with stairs rising inside them. They are peculiar to the north and west coasts of Scotland where they would offer protection from the wild Atlantic storms that often hit these coasts. Only the foundations remained at Lingro when Barnard visited and they too have now gone, ploughed out by decades of modern farming. The picture here is of the Broch of Gurness on the north coast of Orkney Mainland, one of the most complete broch ruins in Scotland.
|Broch of Gurness, Iron Age dwelling on Orkney|
|Scapa water wheel for power|
Barnard summed up the facility he saw as “certainly one of most complete little Distilleries in the Kingdom” and the same could be said today. The operations are all contained in a series of adjoining rooms and only the old kiln and spirit stores that are now gone were in separate buildings. It all looks simple and straightforward and with an uncluttered and elegant charm to the still house; ideal for such a small team to run.
|Scapa Distillery from front|
The distillery had a significant refurbishment in 1959 so the internal arrangements don’t quite match what Barnard saw. There is now an old Porteus dresser above a mill from the same company, both dating from the 1950s. The grist is then raised to the mash tun in the next building which now also contains the boilers that once sat in an engine room beneath the mill. The mash tun that Barnard saw was very shallow at only 4 feet deep and 12 feet across and with stirring gear that could either be steam or water driven. There was also a sprinkler mechanism to extract the last sugars from the draff. The current tun is a little larger and was installed during a further extensive refurbishment in 2003/04.
The original stills were quite small, wash at 5,000 litres and spirit at just 3,180 litres. This being a new establishment the stills were steam heated and fitted with collapse valves and the spirit was condensed in a long rectangular outside worm tub fed by the burn. Barnard didn’t mention it but the outflow from this once drove a smaller water wheel to power a rummager (per RCAHMS, 1981) although that may have been installed later.
|Scapa stills, Lomond style wash still with 'patches' where rectifying plates were removed|
The Lomond Still at Scapa has an S shaped lyne arm and a purifier and the two condensers here are now housed in an extension to the still room, having once been outside where the original worm tub had been beside the burn. The still sizes are now 13,500 and 12,563 litres (Udo, 2005).
The annual output of “pure Highland Malt” was only 182,000 litres when it opened and Barnard only notes one Duty Free Warehouse, described as “rubble-built” in a 1992 archaeology note (RCAHMS). A map dated 1902 shows a few more warehouses around the site and more have been built later in the 20th century. The full production capacity is now over 1,500,000 p.a. and I am told they are currently filling 75 casks per week.
|Original 'rubble-built' warehouses at Scapa|
Scapa’s OB is now a 16yo and there are a few independent bottles available too. The OB was a 14yo from 2004 to 2008 but I personally preferred the standard 12yo they produced before then. Scapa whisky will generally offer gentle fruit sweetness with some honey and malty notes, only ex-bourbon casks being used. The 12yo had a bit more of the sea to it as well but the extension to a 16yo was required by that closure from 1994, the extra time in the cask smoothing out the whisky a little I think. Most of the production still goes into blending, Ballantines being one recipient.
|Scapa from shore, still house on left. Lingro Broch once stood on the left foreground.|