Each year, our collective group of whisky enthusiasts – dubbed the Tormore4 – meet up and socialise. These gatherings take place normally during a whisky festival and offer a couple of days to seek out new distilleries and adventures. For this year it was the Campbeltown edition after our Speyside residency. A change was required and the confined nature of this festival compared to the sprawling epic that is the Spirit of Speyside was a welcome relief.
Initially it was all about the festivals, but as the years have passed these rendezvous have become more of a social catch-up and opening some lovely whiskies. The general unwritten rule is that each participant should bring along at least one bottle. On average it tends to be 2 or 3, as the group loves to open some relics and collectively enjoy the experience thereafter. In the right setting and company, a whisky becomes a conduit and is elevated. Hence why its best to review these offerings once I’ve returned home. On a side note, Mark broke the unwritten rule this year by arriving empty-handed. He was immediately dispatched to the Campbeltown Cage, to throw himself onto the goodwill of the Cage custodians and to return with bottles worthy of our table.
Order restored, a few fun days unfolded in Scotland’s whisky capital enhanced by some wonderful weather and festival releases. Yes, we committed the cardinal sin by opening several including the Springbank, Hazelburn and Longrow and enjoying the moment. Whisky has become a commodity; a trophy to sit idle, be polished and worshipped, but never experienced.
Our various tours and interactions with the Springbank team underlined the fact that this distillery does things its own way and should be rightly lauded. During a lavish Masterclass, the congregation were treated to a dram from the oldest cask that Springbank currently own. Surprisingly this refill Oloroso sherry butt (cask #590) only dates from 1990 and was filled on 25th October. The team confirmed that they do have older casks on site that were sadly sold to individuals and whilst firmly within sight – remain out of reach. This must be incredibly frustrating, but its only a matter of time before we see an official Springbank 30 year old. If you happen to own such a cask then you’re very fortunate. The revelation gave new emphasis and appreciation to this bottle of Springbank that Andy had brought along for the weekend.
This Chieftan’s release comes from a sherry butt that was filled during July 1974 before being bottled 28 years later in March 2003. This resulted in 444 bottles from cask #1161 at 56% strength. Natural colour and unchill-filtered as all Springbank’s should be. This would have been distilled shortly after the 1st batch of incredible Longrow’s were laid down in 1973 – possibly the finest year on record for whisky. Things weren’t too bad thereafter although 1977 remains a bumpy ride. By the arrival of 1980, the whisky boom had well and truly burst – something we’re still waiting to happen again – and Springbank shut its doors that year. There were moments of sporadic production, but it wasn’t until 1989 that the distillery truly came back to life. The downside being that within its inventory there is a sizeable gap due to the limited production and casks being sold to independent bottlers.
It’s these casks and sales that whilst helping maintain the distillery and sustain its reputation, also created a void in Campbeltown. Today, there are very few independent bottlings of Springbank as the distillery prefers to keep its stock in-house. What few independent releases that do appear, often command a premium and are 20+ years of age. Some independents are going so far as to charge more than the official Springbank 21 year old. It’s a crazy world we are currently living in whisky enthusiasts, however there are moments to savour and fingers crossed this 1974 Springbank is such an occasion.
Chieftain’s Springbank 1974 – review
Colour: apple core
On the nose: a myriad of aromas initially as it’s salty, earthy and fruity. Those red fruits including apples and grapes bring an added layer of sweetness and depth. Moments of red liquorice and cranberry give way to a little lime and barley sweets. The salt marries well with the earthiness, toffee, honey and almond praline brittle. A great cask that hasn’t swamped the spirit.
In the mouth: far more refined and stylish than I was anticipating. Dried orange, dark chocolate, raisins and a lingering sense of salt on the finish. Elements of biscuits (the British kind), wine gum, sweet tobacco and moss. Green bananas, walnuts and plenty of fruity funk.
There’s plenty going on here and its an experience. Is it balanced and joyous? No, it’s a little skewed and unpredictable and this part of its charm. A typical Springbank as its different and breaks from the everyday norm of whiskies. Playful and engaging, a whisky to dissect with friends in Campbeltown.