For the Facebook group, It’s All About Springbank (IAAS), their love and appreciation of the Campbeltown distillery knows almost no bounds. A colourful collective who collect, open, share and enjoy whiskies from Scotland’s most iconic distillery, the group is a fun place to hang out and explore the nuances from this distinctive producer.
Springbank is one of those rare distilleries that attracts a real passionate and enthusiastic following; any trip during the Campbeltown festival underlines the staunch support. The bottom line is always the whisky that retains a sense of authenticity and the range of distillates that seem to stand up to most casks. Beyond the mere liquid, Springbank offers a sense of value and history. It can still turn a reasonable profit, yet also manages to support the wider community, and it provides employment to many in a remote area of Scotland.
The community is a big part of the Springbank appeal, and visiting Campbeltown underlines this camaraderie. Then there’s the terior, and I differ from Mark on this perspective, so maybe I should say goût de ter? Or perhaps who cares? The standard expressions from Springbank go above and beyond many rivals in such respects, but the local barley series has shown the pathway from the local fields to the distillery malting floor, then into a unique distilling process before being matured in Campbeltown. Then the final act of bottling on site before being sent out across the world. As much as I have enjoyed what Waterford I’ve had, it still is a modern facility and thereby loses the traditional emphasis that Springbank offers.
My belief is that terior, goût de ter or whatever you want to label it should be more than a taste of the soil. Having the whole process as much as possible within the locality of the distillery gives it more authenticity, more credence and more flavour.
Time will tell, I suppose, and for now, we’re reviewing this rather unique single cask bottling from IAAS. Rather than just jump into a standard review, I felt it would be more fun and interesting to talk about this release with Ronnie (aka the King of Fife) and his love of Springbank. This, on paper, is very much a one-off Springbank, and a potentially marmite dram that some will cherish and love… while others will reel in disappointment and displeasure.
Malt: Give us some background to the IAAS group and how you first become involved?
IAAS: ‘It’s all about Springbank’ is a Facebook group, which was formed in 2016 by Torben Skott Godisken. It’s a group for Springbank, Kilkerran and Cadenheads enthusiasts, and we currently have around 3000 members. Very early on, Torben, knowing that I loved Springbank, asked me to be an Admin on the group and the rest is history.
Malt: What is it about Springbank that resonates with you and many members of the group?
IAAS: There are few other whisky armies like the Springbank supporter’s army, you could even say it’s a cult! When you visit Campbeltown, that’s when the distillery really starts to resonate with you and during the time of the festival even more so. The olden day method of making whisky which is still being used, the entire process which is carried out on site, the hands-on approach, the wonderful staff and the entire ethos of the family owned distillery is where the magic is for me. But one way or another it’s the quality and range of the product that shines through.
Malt: If someone was new to IAAS and looking to discover whiskies from Springbank what would you recommend?
IAAS: Don’t be shy, we don’t bite, well maybe some of us! One thing I’m very proud of, is the number of posts and engagements we have in a week. If you have a question, search the previous posts and you’re sure to find an answer. There are also a group of members who are always happy to help, and no question goes unanswered. We are a big fat knowledge bank for all things Springbank and even from time to time the staff pitch in to resolve that big question, like ‘What is the temperature of the liquid as it enters the lyne arm?’.
Malt: Do you have any other favourite distilleries other than Springbank such as Glen Scotia?
IAAS: I laughed out loud at that question, as I think you’re referring to the fact I have the odd jibe at the ‘dark side’ of Campbeltown! I actually really like what Iain McAlister is doing and have some GS on the shelf, they have a bright future. Just like my love of music, I go through phases with whisky also. I’m a big Cadenheads fan who bottle up “the unsexy distilleries” at a more than reasonable price. I could probably just live on their bottles alone. So, I like to think apart from Springbank I’m into a broad range of different distilleries. At the moment I’m enjoying Ben Nevis, Smogen and Chichibu (although my wallet’s not!).
Malt: When did you decide to try and bottle your own Springbank?
IAAS: I think the idea came around 2 years ago, but it was really only a pipe dream.
Malt: How hard are casks difficult to source nowadays for Springbank and how did you come about this unusual find for your debut?
IAAS: I think good casks are hard to source full stop, but Springbank even more so. A relative of mine interviewed the particular broker for a potential TV show and the connection was made through this. The first few casks he had were astronomically priced, but when this cask came up with the offer of a sample the deal was done. To be honest I was very lucky, but I’m not one for messing about and that goes a long way with brokers
Malt: Can you give us a brief outline of the colourful history of this cask, which will save me from typing it up?
IAAS: The cask was privately owned and held in Springbank for 16 years, in a bourbon barrel. The owner wanted to recask it and transported it to Islay where is was introduced into a red wine cask and left for a further 9 years. I’m not allowed to say the type of red wine for legal reasons, but it could be a cat or a dog and it’s what happens to metal when you leave it outside minus the T.
Malt: How important do you think it is to try before you buy a cask?
IAAS: I think it’s important but currently the majority of casks are not offered on a try before you buy basis. In the same way as we react like a cat with a rocket up its arse to that Cadenheads release email, is the same way some casks are sold, there is simply no time for samples. It was obviously very important as a group cask that I was able to sample the whisky so I was sure it would meet members approval. Obviously being a wine cask, it’s not for everyone, just as Sponge Bob Tweed Pants said on Whisky Fun, it divides opinion. But I liked the fact it was very unusual for a Springbank whisky but still held many distillery characteristics.
Malt: The pricing for a Springbank of this age seems respectful and welcome. How important was it to keep things reasonable and what do you think of prices being asked for Springbanks by other independents?
IAAS: This is a group for Springbank lovers, but my hope is that it’s also a group of Springbank drinkers. I wanted to find a cask that was reasonable in comparison to the prices we normally pay. Until 2 years ago, I used to think the independents were full of fat cat profiteers, however after learning about the cask markets, I am well aware that is possibly not the case. The whisky world is far richer with the Independents as it would be rather boring without them! Springbank casks are rare, expensive and also being purchased by rich eastern investors so prices can be eye watering. Springbank themselves do not have a large amount of older stock, so its inevitable prices are going to rise, I don’t like it, but I do understand the reasons behind it.
Malt: Did you knock back any other casks during your search? Do you have future plans for further releases?
IAAS: I knocked back loads of casks, some of which I’ve seen bottled by those independents we just discussed. In general, it was prices and the lack of samples that turned my head elsewhere. If another cask comes along in the future that keeps my head straight, then we may consider doing it again.
Malt: What do you feel about the current whisky environment where any limited release from Springbank is promptly snapped up and many appear at auction? Do you view this as a problem and how would you address it?
I enjoyed watching the latest local barley being purchased at auction for the value or under in the knowledge that someone had lost out. I’m not sure if Springbank priced it to deter flippers, but if they did, that employee gets 5 gold stars! Flipping is not really a problem, it’s part of whisky life these days, but I would rather that element of profit, when there is one, goes to the producer. This may not go down well with most people but put the prices up and make it unflippable like the local barley. Why should someone who does nothing more than rattle his keyboard faster than others make more profit than the people who produce it, that’s what I find difficult!
IAAS Springbank 25 year old – review
On the nose: A fleeting raspberry, cherries and a muggy sensibility. Mahogany, rolled tobacco and sawdust. Interesting to say the least. Wet tweed, stepping into my gran’s old coal bunker and her homemade trifle. Wet concrete slabs or petrichor as Rose puts it and a popped cork from a bottle of red wine. Water opens up things a little allow more fruit with toffee apples, honeycomb and roasted hazelnuts.
In the mouth: Despite the cask finish it has that Springbank DNA poking through and a fun burnished texture. A touch of salt, rubber bands, clay and a pleasant dryness towards the finish. The sense of a dirty farmyard. Blackberries, a sooty chimney and specs of dark chocolate. Water certainly helps the initial constrained feel but also reveals a metallic aspect to the finish, which does last for seemingly ages.
This Springbank is a compelling and divisive whisky. We spent a while debating the contents after the seal was broken. The more time we spent with a dram, the better it became and opened up with a splash of water.
In saying this, it is still a very polarising Springbank. By far not for everyone, but I suppose the question remains is when are you ever going to get to try something like this again? Most likely never. I can sense repulsion and delight in equal measure across the whisky fandom. I’m enjoying the ride with all its pitfalls, personally, it warrants a positive score.
My thanks to Andy for the sample and opening his bottle.