With the 2018 Campbeltown Festival just a couple of months away. I thought it best to make a start on the haul from the 2017 incarnation that has been residing in my burgeoning sample stash until now.
My thanks to Ben over at his blog for acquiring these and his dedication to all things Springbank. Now comes the time – with the excitement building around the festival – to enjoy a couple of special releases and forbidden delights from the legendary Cadenhead Cage. This isn’t a feature with a run through of the events, but merely a descent into the depth of the liquid treasures that such a festival can offer.
I’m on record as stating that arguably Springbank is the greatest distillery on earth. Yes, some of its recent releases including those built upon sherry casks have not reached the zenith of bygone decades. Upon reflection, I feel this is more indicative of the quality of casks rather than something internal at the distillery. Generally, Springbank with its the additional styles of Hazelburn or Longrow (plus Kilkerran nearby), all deliver on a regular basis.
Whisky festivals are a strange beast. Here I’m talking about those that encourage you to visit the home of a distillery or whisky region. They all seem to land at once with Speyside arriving prior to Campbeltown and then Islay. The Dornoch Whisky Festival keeps a safe distance by holding its ground in October. As a rule I tend to avoid festivals or visiting these areas when they are being held. I have no desire to complete with bottle chasers or engage in whisky activities. Yes, we’ve been on Speyside several times but as the festival isn’t condensed to a small island or town, it feels more natural and organic. The only issue with the Speyside festival is accommodation, which funnily enough is another fundamental issue with Campbeltown and Islay.
Festivals are growing in popularity. It’s a combination of factors with the increasing prominence of whisky, the desire to learn more and interact alongside those who view such events as a source of financial gain. Campbeltown is a whisky region that was removed from the map recently despite its illustrious heritage. Thankfully, it’s on the comeback trail with Springbank, Glen Scotia and the revival of Glengyle re-establishing its rightful place amongst the other regions. I’m still surprised that despite the current boom for building new distilleries, nothing has taken root in Campbeltown. Perhaps its the heritage of the place and the ghosts of the past. More likely its remote geographical location has dissuaded perspective distillery owners. A regrettable situation, as the Campbeltown style of whisky, is one to dissect and thoroughly appreciate. However, more doesn’t necessarily mean better, especially in today’s environment of efficiencies and modern methods. Features that Springbank doesn’t actively pursue compared to others.
It’s this dedication and focus on the whisky rather than extracting every last been of profit and yield that endears the distillery to so many. Hence why during the month of May, enthusiasts from across the globe descend on Campbeltown to celebrate its passion for whisky. If you’re attending the 2018 incarnation, then we’ll see you around.
Springbank 17 year old refill sherry – review
Bottled at 49.3% this comes from the Cage.
Colour: a faint dried hay.
On the nose: very fruity initially with elements of lime. There’s a gentle waft of smoke followed by orange zest and a minty characteristic. Returning, that lime aspect now has a mineral flint nature and a lemon sponge cake.
In the mouth: more of that orange zest refreshing quality followed by milk chocolate moving into toffee. More of the citrus lime and lemon aspects that give the dense earthy peat an unexpected lightness and fragrant feature.
Springbank 15 year old rum cask – review
Matured in a Guadeloupe Rum cask, bottled at 50% ABV with only 218 bottles available for £75.
On the nose: a bold earthy peat intermingled with brown sugar, orange and oddly plastic cutlery? Lemons, golden syrup and brown bread. All-spice and liquorice follow.
In the mouth: incredibly well rounded and delightful. The peat takes a backwards step merging into the overall flavour of treacle, black breakfast tea, cinder toffee and worn leather. The finish takes us back to the rum cask and a brown sugar vibe.
Springbank 21 year old Port cask – review
Matured in a First Fill Port Hogshead, bottled at 46% ABV with only 252 bottles available for £250.
Colour: battered bronze.
On the nose: rubbed brass with glazed cherries. Freshly plucked blackberries, rhubarb, walnuts, dark chocolate and cinnamon bark lovingly merged.
In the mouth: tinned syrup, chocolate, raisins and those blackberries again. It’s very rounded thanks to the lower strength but thoroughly engaging with a trace of peppery and liquorice on the finish.
Longrow 13 year old – review
A cage bottling, ex-bourbon cask and bottled at 56.8%
On the nose: huge on the fruit with pears, apples, peaches and melon. In fact I have to put the glass down for a moment with a blast of peat coming through. Now we’re left with the residue of tinned syrup with a metallic edge, pineapple cubes, coconut ice and some marzipan.
In the mouth: less forceful on the palate but then the flavours come through. The earthiness is present once more but its the layers of aforementioned fruit that transfix along with the assistance of a very good cask. Almonds, white pepper, lemon peel then its just a sense of enjoyment rather than trying to pick it apart – that moment when you just enjoy a single cask.
Longrow 16 year old – review
Another cage bottling, this fully matured in a sherry cask before being bottled at 46.1%
Colour: campfire embers.
On the nose: lots of soulful brown sugar yeah I dunno what that means either but it has a joyous note moving into beeswax and ginger root. Roasted chestnuts, cherries, vanilla pod, cinnamon bark and water certainly helps free up the aromas.
In the mouth: lots of tobacco, treacle and plump cherries. A little gammon, nutmeg, orange, vanilla and a twist of lemon. Then a gentle dark chocolate finish with raisins.
Well, these are a couple of enjoyable whiskies as we whipped through the Campbeltown festival. An impressive standard overall, confirming the legendary status of the Cage remains intact. Generally, the Longrow’s I felt had more to say with the ex-bourbon cask hitting home. Hopefully we’ll have a follow-up tasting shortly after this year’s festival if our queuing proves successful.