Thankfully, life is full of examples of things that refuse to pass into the history books. The whisky region of Campbeltown is such an example with the guiding light of Springbank keeping the flame burning when almost everything else was decaying. Even its former neighbour in Longrow that used to stand where you park the car when visiting Springbank is now sadly gone. However, it’s memory along with Hazelburn remains in existence thanks to this iconic Campbeltown distillery.
For most of the 1980’s all was quiet at this historical site. The downturn in global whisky demand had rampaged across the industry. Distilleries were mothballed or in some cases, an opportunity arose to sell off many ageing examples that required a sizeable investment. Given that many were originally set up on the fringes or outskirts of towns, the decades of growth across Scotland resulted in many of these distilleries being swallowed up by towns that were once a safe distance away. Few examples now exist where the distillery has become engulfed by its former neighbour. Highland Park springs to mind as it was a good distance away from Kirkwall, whilst Oban is arguably the most famous example.
Other ageing distilleries had become more valuable simply because of the land they occupied. Accessible and sizeable land within many of these population centres – Inverness especially – had become coveted. This perfect storm of falling demand, ageing and inefficient sites offered the forerunner of Diageo and others the opportunity to quickly sell off some of the black sheep of the family. All that history is gone. Now we’re hearing how wonderful it is that Port Ellen and Brora are on their way back – the news is welcome – but let’s not forget the kneejerk reaction that killed off many distilleries. Other sites that had a limited value as commercial land instead were quickly snapped up by home builders who either levelled the distillery or thankfully in the case of Linlithgow and Glenlochy made use of the existing buildings.
Meanwhile back at Springbank, the distillery waited patiently. If it had been owned by a corporation then the odds on the distillery having been sold and demolished would be extremely low. Thankfully the Mitchell family in their role as owners and custodians are not prone to the whims that are commonplace elsewhere. Sporadic production resumed at the distillery during 1987, before full production commenced in 1989 – a full decade after it had ceased – and thankfully the reputation of Springbank has grown ever since. The floor maltings weren’t revived until 1992, meaning the malt utilised in this release was not as traditional as we see from Springbank today which still relies on this traditional method for 100% of its needs. Thankfully, a welcome oddity in today’s world of efficient and computerised Scotch.
We’re reminiscing here at Malt as the bottle to hand was released sometime in 2002 meaning that it was distilled during those early days of when Springbank was fired up once again. Funnily enough, I’ve just reviewed a Signatory 1987 Longrow that is the heavily peated style of malt produced at the distillery. Given the lack of immediate cash flow and limited inventory, I envisaged that the Longrow casks were sold off to the independent bottler. Whilst the Springbank casks that formed the basis of this 15 year old were kept on site in Campbeltown until after the turn of the millennium.
My thanks to Noortje for the sample and also the photographs.
Springbank 15 year old – review
This Springbank was bottled in 2002 at 46% strength meaning it was distilled circa 1987.
Colour: a tainted bronze.
On the nose: a soothing peat influence alongside cracked black pepper and cinder toffee. A honeyed perspective followed by porridge oats and some flashes of worn leather. For a while I sat with this and tried to pin down some unusual features. Yes, a slight waxiness but also a struck flint characteristic wrapped up in a layer of smoke. Right at the end, a last gasp of floral heather thrown as a real curveball.
In the mouth: a thin texture but thankfully not lacking in flavour. Here the sherry influence comes through strongly with more of that Springbank earthiness. The finish is surprising vapid. You reach a plateau with the intoxicating body only for it to almost immediately vanish. Hitting rewind, we have a tinned syrup, dried cranberries, apricots and a spent campfire. A really drying perspective with a fleeting rubber band element before the magical disappearing act of the finish.
An invigorating nose sets a high standard. The palate almost matches it but the finish is the chink in the armour. However, as Springbanks go this is very good and showed when they fired up the distillery in the late 1980’s and started producing once again, the magic was clearly still there.