Springbank is quite simply Scotland’s greatest distillery. That’s a big statement and may prompt some debate from quarters, but I feel fairly confident in making it. Note I’m not suggesting its the greatest of all time (see Brora) as that’s a much more competitive field.
In these days of profit chasing, wood turbo-charging and No Age Statements, Springbank remains content to do things its way and on its on terms. Distilleries such as these, and I’ll include Glenfarclas here, given their ownership and approach stand out from the crowd. Yet for all my appreciation of Springbank, I rarely have the time to sit down with a whisky, as I’m forever buying other things from the Cadenhead shop in Edinburgh. That’s just the way it goes, so its by chance in a way – totally unplanned – that I have five samples from the distillery to spend an evening with.
I’m very fortunate to be given whiskies from other enthusiasts and I try to return these wonderful gestures. It was only a recent trip into the sample mountain that I noted a wee stockpile of Springbanks forming. Time to take action I thought, especially after the thoroughly entertaining evening I spent in the Cadenheads shop for their Burns tasting. Live music, chat from Campbeltown locals and some fine whiskies rounded off by that sherry butt Springbank, provided the inspiration. More time for me and Springbank.
At the end of that tasting a very generous enthusiast, opened his bottle of the recent 2017 Springbank 25-year-old and promptly shared this out to everyone. I agreed wholeheartedly with his motto that whisky is to be shared and enjoyed. A very fine gesture to end an evening everyone enjoyed thoroughly. The bottle is pictured above and we’ll come to that whisky right at the end, as he was kind enough to furnish me with a sample to write about. With just 900 bottles released, this leaves 899 heading towards the auctions.
A couple of the samples come from my good friends at WhiskyLifeStyle who appreciate a fine Springbank. The samples are from 1999 and 2001 and should give us a feel for a regular release from the distillery and an independent bottling. A curve ball will no doubt be thrown by the sample from TomsWhiskyReviews that comes from the infamous CAGE in the Campbeltown shop. Customers have entered, never to be seen again and Tom rescued something rather unusual on paper. Plus the 2016 Open Day bottling that I acquired via Moxie’s Festivus carryout option.
It all should make for an enjoyable romp, so with some Carole King on the record player, followed by Talking Heads, let us begin.
Springbank Archives 1999
Single cask distilled 1st October 1999, bottled 3rd October 2016
17-years-old, 50.3% vol from a sherry hogshead #269, 287 bottles
Colour: golden toffee
Nose: initially I’m reminded of a raisin fudge kinda affair. Beneath the sweetness there’s a rush of toffee and that Springbank earthy aspect. Here its restrained, assisted by a smoky breeze and liquorice.
Taste: chocolate and cinnamon balls. Sugary and fruity with apples, red grapes with some earthy notes once again.
Overall: more your traditional Springbank and very welcome. Not hugely bold or in-yer-face but subtle and elegant for it.
Springbank 2001 Batch 1
bottled 2009, edition of 6000 bottles at 55.3% vol
Nose: my immediate thought is one of toffee apples. A little paraffin carried by the smoke, then the fruit rebounds with pears and oranges. There’s a waxiness and a little of that characteristic Springbank diesel element with lemon cutting through it all.
Taste: dark chocolate tinged with orange, resin and more apples. It’s an autumnal whisky and its well just now. Earthy tones then some honey and a little more of that lemon again.
Overall: not a huge Springbank but subtle and quite enjoyable. Lacking some of the more forceful qualities I pick up from this distillery traditionally.
Springbank 2003 Cage bottling
bottled 2016 at 58.2% vol from a Demerera rum cask
Colour: clear glucose
Nose: very spritely in its arrival, almost grain-like. Icing sugar, sherbet, crushed white grapes. There’s a cream soda infusion, minty almost floral in places. Candy floss and sugary work coating a sweetie of a dram.
Taste: very light, fresh, sweet and elegant. It feels more relaxed with plenty of sugary notes, a twist of lemon, barley drops, citrus notes with grapefruit especially towards the finish.
Overall: this one I believe was staple on the warehouse tour for a while, so you may have seen it at various ages. Here it’s 13-years-old and pretty unique amongst Springbanks. The cask has removed the earthy, diesel nature of the hardened Campbeltown exterior, instead taking it on a Caribbean holiday.
Springbank 2006 Open Day 2016
bottled 2016 at 58.7% vol from a refill Marsala hogshead
Colour: a light sandy beach
Nose: very sweet arrival with apples and candy floss. White grapes, raisins, icing sugar, peaches and some greenness on the nose. Also reminds me of cough syrup due to its forceful nature.
Taste: tinned pineapples with a little lime but its mostly lemons of some description. There is a slight earthy quality that is the Springbank trying to break out from the smothering nature of the cask. It’s a desert wine with a vanilla finish.
Overall: historically I don’t enjoy Marsala casks which are often used to hide faults in previous casks. Here it is a full maturation and it shows. This is a very sweet almost alien Springbank. It’s not for me and feels unbalanced.
Springbank 25-year old
bottled 2017, edition of 900 bottles at 46% vol
Colour: stewed rhubarb
Nose: tablet with a sprinkling cinnamon and raisins. There’s sweetness with toffee and milk chocolate. A floral note. A soggy vanilla, resin and grapefruit.
Taste: very refined with a hint of smoke, blackberries, liquorice and dark chocolate. Oranges and fermented fruit. Reminds me in places of a French brandy I had over Christmas – it certainly has a festive feel.
Overall: this 2017 release would set you back £350. At that price its not for me although I acknowledge its attractions. Springbanks for me should be more rugged and forceful.
There is clearly a really high standard throughout these whiskies, regardless of the cask types utilised or ages bottled. My favourites would be either the rum cask or batch 1, yet there is something here for everyone and isn’t that what whisky is all about?