Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by SIA. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
In the early 2000s, Carin Luna-Ostaseski says most of her friends were in a phase where they were drinking things like Vodka Red Bull, or sweetly flavored bottles of Bacardi Breezer and Smirnoff Ice. A graphic designer at the time, Luna-Ostaseski was alone among her friends in being a Scotch fiend.
She says 14-year-old Oban single malt was her favorite at the time, but she didn’t live in the old country. So she visited Scotland for distillery tours, became a certified Whisky Ambassador, read every book about Scotch she could get her hands on, and earned a bartending license.
During that time, she was going through a difficult break-up and had set aside money for couples counseling. When that didn’t work out, she used the money to instead buy Scotch – ending up, eventually, with almost 300 bottles at her house.
“Maybe it was becoming a problem,” she jokes as we chatted recently about her whisky. Scotch tastings for her friends quickly evolved into public tastings and special events at bars. And then she really took things up a notch.
Her love of Scotch led her to work a second job to set aside startup money, max out her credit cards, and raise $45,000 in a Kickstarter campaign to set up shop as her own independent blender. In 2014, SIA Blended Scotch was born – pronounced “SEE-a,” which translates to “six” in Gaelic, for the half-dozen whiskies that were blended to make the initial batch.
Craig Wallace from Old Parr and Jim Beveridge and Emma Walker from Johnnie Walker are part of the brand’s blending team from Diageo Master Blenders, which helped Luna-Ostaseski develop the flavor for SIA and has helped her keep it consistent from year to year since. They use both malted and unmalted whisky, from Islay, Speyside, Highlands, and Lowlands. (“But very little from Islay,” Luna-Ostaseski points out. One of the things she wants to do with SIA is convince people that not all Scotches are smokey.)
SIA was available only in California and Nevada until 2021, when it added 15 more states to its distribution list. Luna-Ostaseski says she hopes to be available in all 50 states in the next few years, and then maybe internationally. “It would be fun to see it sold back in the motherland” of Scotland, she concedes.
In the end, Luna-Ostaseski says she just wants to share her love of Scotch with people who might never have believed they would become Scotch drinkers.
“Scotch to me is a sipping drink, not a party drink or a shot,” she says. “You take it slow and it’s a whole experience.”
But, she says, “we want to challenge the convention that Scotch has to taste a certain way or that you have to drink it in a certain way or that you have to look a certain way to have created a brand. We exist, also, to challenge conventions.”
Tasting Notes: SIA Blended Scotch
Vital stats: Mash bill undisclosed, but it’s a blend of Speyside, Highland, Lowland, and Islay whiskies; Luna-Ostaseski says about 40% of the whisky is malt whisky; 86 proof/43% alcohol by volume; $40-$50 for a 750 ml bottle.
Appearance: Light amber, with an orange-peel tint; runny legs on the side of the glass. Well-designed hour-glass bottle, which looks distinctive alongside most other bottles.
Nose: Perfume, honey, and flowery potpourri. SIA prides itself on being an approachable Scotch, even for people who haven’t tried or don’t like Scotch. The nose checks that box. It’s sweet and easy-going, if not particularly layered or complicated.
Palate: Nectarines, nail-polish remover, and lavender, followed with a lingering hint of lemon zest on the tongue. The relatively low alcohol content is apparent as soon as you take a taste. This is mild stuff, sweet and simple, with a very short finish. For all that, it’s remarkably drinkable.