I think I have worked out a definition of a craft distillery, that hugely abused and ever-more controversial term. Some say craft is for tiny distilleries only. Others suggest that the corporate giants can be craft operators too. But I think I know at least what is not a craft distillery. The moment a distillery or its owners decide to make efficiency savings – be that in staff efficiencies, choosing higher barley yields over quality, hurrying up the speed of fermentation or distillation to get through things quicker, or by using any old wood if it’s cheaper – then it can no longer be considered a truly craft operation.
Does that sound fair?
I think this definition sort of fits any size or scale, and it’s not to say that those who don’t fit the criteria are in any way putting out bad whisky, or that the whisky cannot be sold as, say, a luxury product – just merely that we’re looking for some more precision in the term. When the distillery makes a decision to choose to compromise quality or people, it’s no longer ‘craft’. Maybe there needs to be a three-strikes modification to this rule, but I think it captures the spirit of what we mean by craft in the modern age. Discerning drinkers want quality, not cost-reductions.
By this law, I think Springbank represents one of the last craft bastions of the old whisky world. (I keep the new whisky world outside of this, as there are dozens of newer distilleries with a very impressive attitude.) In fact, there are perhaps a handful of distilleries whose mere name warms the heart of nearly every whisky geek. I’m not necessarily bothered about things like the floor maltings (though I think they’re lovely things to see and to have still functioning from a historical context) in terms of overall impact on flavours, but the distillery consistently manages to stay on top of quality without sticking up prices too high and without any compromise to its core audience. There’s something great about the fact that everything is done on the site and utilises people – real, human, breathing people – instead of machines or automation, at a cost saving. I assume most of you are geeks like me, and so need no introduction to the distillery.
Anyway, I spotted on their Facebook page in January or thereabouts that “change was coming”. This probably sent panic waves through the community, who never want Springbank to change anything. But it turns out all they changed was the labels (apparently there was some minor legal inconvenience with the previous style of labels). And with that, a new batch of core range whiskies came out. I’m terrible for digging into obscurities most of the time on this site, so I thought it time to review a core bottling that’s widely available, and revisit something that was always a go-to dram, just with a much greener label. Price? Around £60 depending on where you look.
Springbank 15 Years Old Review (2017 bottling)
Colour: lovely deep gold, and quite bright too.
On the nose: classically dirty Springbank nose: this industrial, oil-slurping engine of an aroma. These fade to linseed oil. It underscores dried apricots and raisins, with a baked apples in golden syrup.
In the mouth: lovely and viscous, with that same smokey, dirtiness; oily and with touches of game meat. Lapsang souchong tea and a dark chocolate bitterness, marzipan, with some prevailing savoury notes that dominate the sweeter flashes of golden syrup, vanilla, lime marmalade, raisins.
A good Springbank, but not brilliant; however a good Springbank is better than 80% of whiskies out there. And I find myself having already worked my way through a decent chunk of the bottle, which probably says more than anything else. Needless to say, it’s still a cabinet essential, and still a perfect everyday dram.