S

Springbank 15 year old (2018)

Welcome to the 2nd and concluding part of our blind tastings.

In summary, I bottled samples of this release and passed these onto a trio of the team to review blind. There were no details provided or deadline given, which partially explains why this double bill has taken the best part of 5 months to compile.

The opener was the Glenfiddich Fire & Cane release that went down particularly badly in the blind format. I wanted to strip away the branding and marketing that this distillery shrouds itself in and let the whisky do the talking. Sadly, it mumbled and fell massively short across each of our blind tasters. The blind format also removes any potential criticism of bias, which we always seek to avoid here. Even now, the tasters don’t know the scores until the articles are published online.

For this sequel, the approach was totally different. The Springbank marketing as it exists is simply by word of mouth, shop tastings and reputation. A polar opposite from Glenfiddich, which cannot match the sheer quality, or the prospect of Springbank. Ask yourself which would you rather taste and which whisky would you have higher expectations of? I’d suggest the majority of onlookers would answer Springbank.

It was this initial impression and looming prospect that I wanted to remove via the blind format. Everyone immediately thinks because its Springbank it must be good? Nothing could be further from the truth and the outcome is extremely interesting.

This 15-year-old Springbank is the 2018 release and personally is more peated that I can previously recall. Personally, I like it, but for obvious reasons I was excluded from this format. Bottled at 46% strength this release has currently sold out via Master of Malt and the Whisky Exchange is asking £66.95 currently, or Amazon £68.50.

Springbank 15 year old (2018) – Justine’s review

Colour: Mikado yellow

On the nose: There’s an instant burst of fresh, green apple. There’s a hint of Carambars and a slight damp earth note which develops more after a wee while in the glass. After a few minutes, the apple becomes more toffee apple. There’s Golden Syrup and banoffee pie and a whole mix of sweet shop sweeties: flying saucers, foamy shrimps and pear drops. Left a few minutes longer and those damp earthy smells become more like old bank notes in a leather wallet. With a few drops of water, red fruit aromas appear with a distinct strawberry jam note in the background.

In the mouth: This has a slight oily texture and is fairly thick. It tastes earthy and is dry in a black tea kind of way. After a while, a charred meat flavour starts to appear and then this becomes quite sooty. This sootiness really lingers on the roof of the mouth and continues right into the finish. With a few drops of water, the sooty, ashy quality diminishes although you can still taste it if you lick your teeth! More fruit elements appear, reminiscent of grilled pineapple and gammon with hints of Applewood.

Conclusions

This has a sooty, ashy quality which feels like it’s more from the distillate than from the cask. But what do I know? The nose is wonderfully complex; on its own that would be an 8. Overall this is a lovely dram. One for a cold night by an open fire. If only I had an open fire.

Score: 7/10

Springbank 15 year old (2018) – Phil’s review

Colour: dirty gold.

On the nose: quite fruity & sweet – fruit salad sweets, dried apricots, pear boiled sweets and tinned pineapple. Vanilla and caramel. Salted nuts with a soft smokiness lingering in the background with oak shavings.

In the mouth: thin legs in the glass transfer to a thin and watery mouthfeel. A sweetish arrival of brown sugar and dates. Slightly nutty followed by a wave of full throttle pepper, spice and overbearing smoke. The finish was rather short, ashy, drying and tart.

Conclusions

I haven’t a clue what this is but I feel like its from a supermarket own brand. The nose was actually pretty appealing but when it hit the palate….well, for me things went south pretty quick. A lack of body, a total lack of flavour development and a palate that fell way short of the nose. It was also for me exceedingly hot, the chilli pepper attack and smoke dominated the palate. Not a dram I’d return to in a hurry.

Score: 3/10

Jason: I’ve obviously had this Springbank as well and not had the benefit of the blind format. I was quite struck by the quality that you were receiving for the asking price. This is a whisky that I’d gladly keep in stock around my house as an everyday dram.

However, I find Phil’s notes interesting. Perhaps this Springer is too punchy for him? I’ll pour him another when I make it over to Ireland and see what he thinks.

There are commission links within this article if you do wish to make a purchase. Photograph kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange.

CategoriesSingle Malt
      1. Avatar
        RC says:

        Wow. Glad it was done blind, but Phil’s tastebuds are objectively bad. This is easily an 8/10 for me every day of the week. As far as value/quality, this is really hard to beat in the £50-60 category.

          1. Avatar
            James says:

            Loved it. More blind tastings please. Very liberating for readers to realise the diversity of tastes and opinions and that if you don’t like a celebrated brand IT DOESNT MEAN YOU’RE WRONG – you just don’t like it! Go further – blind the reader reveal the whisky after the reviews.

        1. Phil
          Phil says:

          RC,

          Whether my taste buds are ‘objectively bad’ or good, they are my taste buds and mine alone and I wrote what I tasted. Unfortunately I just didn’t like it…simple as that.

          Personally I have never been blown away by the 15 anytime I’ve tried it, some have been decent but to my taste this bottling was mediocre.

          I’m glad you like and keep supporting a great distillery but buying more of it.

        2. Avatar
          Welsh Toro says:

          Cheers RC. “Objective taste buds” That is an interesting culinary descriptor. I enjoy eating snails, brains and a number of food items that would make the average person yack. It ain’t objective, it’s highly subjective. I totally agree with you about the price though. Cheekiness detected. WT

    1. Avatar
      whiskydrams says:

      I think it you’re a whisky ‘nerd’ then you find these reviews really interesting. The reviews are fairly similar. Both preferred the nose over the taste and identified some sweets/fruits. Both mention the smoke, and it seemed that smoke levels was the main reason for the difference in scores. If you give two people a sooty/smoky whisky, it’s understandable that one person finds it balanced, and the other person finds it overbearing. Especially if the smoke is paired with sweet/fruity flavours and there is a battle between those contrasting flavours. The only thing I find slightly strange is their contrasting views on the texture- one review says oily, the other says thin.

      There might be other factors at work here. The reviews took a while to come back, so maybe one of the samples sat there oxidising. People often report how Springbank changes significantly down the bottle. Maybe the smoke becomes stale after a while. Also, Springbank isn’t the most ‘forthcoming’ of whiskies. There are far easier whiskies to review. Also, if you’ve ever blind tasted whisky, you realise how hard it is.

      I’ll be buying a bottle on the back of these reviews for two reasons: (i) out of interest because I want to see how I fair with the smoke vs. fruit balance; (ii) although the reviewers scored differently, I can still build up a picture in my mind of how this whisky smells and tastes.

  1. Avatar
    Dan W says:

    Love the Springbank 15 and not because it’s a Springbank just because it’s a cracking whisky.

    I’ve just made a mental note not to bother with Phil’s reviews. If he hasn’t fouled or mixed up the samples then I don’t know what he was tasting?

    1. Avatar
      Ryan says:

      That’s a bit harsh on Phil, all because he didn’t like a whisky you’re fond of. God forbid we all have different opinions and tastes! I’ve found Phil’s reviews to be a great read, and would welcome his opinion on many bottling’s out there…regardless if I agree with him or not.

      1. Avatar
        Ed says:

        +1 agree of course it’s entirely subjective, you can take this opinion and do your own research and see if the palate is right for you.

      2. Jason
        Jason says:

        Hi Ryan,

        Thanks for that. I’m a fan of Phil’s and what he does here and on his own site. Sometimes a whisky just doesn’t agree with you for whatever reason.

        Interesting to see both sides of the subjective nature of tasting notes.

      3. Phil
        Phil says:

        Ryan,

        Thank’s for the support.

        Interestingly when Jason revealed to me what I had scored I knew that there would be a backlash because it was a Springbank so I’m not really surprised that my ‘abilities’ are being questioned by others.

        If we all liked the same things then the world would be very boring and so would Malt.

        1. Avatar
          Welsh Toro says:

          That expected backlash is a kind of problem these days. Springbank are no longer a cottage industry favourite. There are a lot of fanboys out there that buy everything they produce without any prior tasting and absolutely no criticism. I know a pair of very popular YouTube reviewers from Kansas that were underwhelmed by the 12 year to everybody’s shock and consternation. There’s no requirement to like Springbank or all of their products.

    2. Phil
      Phil says:

      Dan W,

      There are many are many reviews on Malt that I personally don’t agree with the score….I may score higher or lower that the contributor.

      For example when we reviewed the Westland Diver Adam scored it much higher than I did. That however wouldn’t stop me from considering any of Adam’s reviews at all, he has an opinion which is equally as valid as anyone else’s. In fact I love pretty much all of Adam’s reviews.

      Simply put this Springbank didn’t speak to me. It’s interesting that when I gave the Glenfiddich Fire & Cane a 2 yesterday no one batted an eyelid or called into question whether I ‘fouled or mixed up the samples’.

      So alas I can only suggest that the reason such a fuss has been caused here is that I had the audacity to give a low score to the darling of the whisky world….a Springbank.

  2. Avatar
    WhiskyWolverine says:

    Jason,

    I think we now know why it took so long for the reviews. With a blind tasting there is a fear that you will blow it and give a bottom shelf blend an 8, or Springbank 15 a 3. You’ll reveal yourself as an amateur and diminish the value of your other reviews, just as Phil might have done here. Maybe the fear was subconscious, but led to dragging ones feet or not even sending in the review at all. I think this more likely than just being irresponsible or lazy.

    Well if you ever have the readers participate in a blind challenge, I’m in! I’m definitely not irresponsible, and already know I’m an amateur!

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi WT, thanks for commenting.

      It is totally truthful that the contributors to these blind tastings took longer than anticipated to deliver their notes. That’s the only reason from my perspective.

      I would have liked to have published this back in March or April. Regardless of the notes. Much like the Diver review, it shows we all have a different opinion. Cheers, Jason.

    2. Phil
      Phil says:

      WhiskyWolverine,

      I suppose minor details in life like my Mother passing away very unexpectedly in April led to me not doing the tasting notes until last week. That event really highlights there is more to life than whisky.

      As regards to being an amateur….I fully admit it, I don’t have any WSET training or special traits that make me somehow professional. I love whisky and like to occasionally write about it. If you feel this review has diminished my other pieces that’s up to you.

      I didn’t notice a huge amount of feedback to my low scores for the likes of the Dingle Pot Still Second release, the Glenfiddich Fire & Cane or indeed the Green Spot 26 year old….but give a Springbank a low score and then I’m irresponsible?

      I didn’t like it…simple as that and I stand over my review.

    3. Avatar
      JT says:

      Interesting that you seem to think liking a bottom shelf blend and/or slating a premium brand is “blowing it”. I read this review and thought “thank f*** somebody said it”. I finally got to try the Springbank 15 having heard a lot of the hype and was totally underwhelmed. Found it harsh and uninteresting, and I’m someone who appreciates a variety of styles of whisky/whiskey.

  3. Avatar
    Gary Smith says:

    This is so interesting. As I mentioned on your instagram feed, none of us are sure just what effect the brand name and the age statement has on us. We all start telling ourselves a story as soon as we see the label and that influences our experience.

    To geek out for a second, as I find this fascinating, it’s all to do with the medial orbitofrontal cortex. This is the part of our brain that processes pleasure, taste, aromas and, importantly, stories and ideas. It appears this is also an area that mixes with raw sensory data when we drink or eat something and modulates the experience we get from that flavour.

    So, the stories we tell ourselves about that brand (Springbank has a very strong brand and a very well defined story) before we taste the liquid has an impact on our experience. Take away the prompts and Phil just didn’t like the dram, simple as that. If he had tried it before and loved it then he’s perhaps been taken in by his expectations and the stories he has told himself about how much he is about to enjoy it.

    Anyway, fascinating stuff. Good on you for mixing up the content. Carry on.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Gary

      Thanks for commenting again. It is good to try new things as you suggest and offer a deviation. It is very easy to churn out tasting notes and random facts like others stick with regardless. I’m very aware of the influence of a name and why, when I review, I spend a great deal of time initially with a whisky, and then when possible, return to it over a couple of days. Thereby hopefully forming a solid review that can be of benefit to many.

      One of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years with this whisky writing lark is that every opinion counts, even if you don’t agree with it. Can thousands of Bruichladdich fans be wrong? Who enjoys Jura? Do Macallan own the rights to the teletubbies franchise? Why do bourbon reviewers just recycle the same 10 tasting notes and no one notices? These and many more, form part of the appeal of whisky.

      I’m glad as well Phil just gave us an honest opinion, which is what we’re all about here. In saying that, next time I’m in Ireland I’ll take him some Springbank!

      Cheers, Jason.

  4. Avatar
    Jordan says:

    I’ve always thought that blind-tasting has an equally undesirable and much more difficult to control side-effect to the one it’s trying to counter. While the purpose is obviously to stop the score reflecting existing prejudices/experiences, the result – more pronounced, if anything, with experienced palates – is the manufacturing of a competitive environment inside ones own head. Even if it only exists in the subconscious, you’re trying to guess at provenance, distillery, quality (see the first sentence of Phil’s conclusion). You’re trying not to make a fool of yourself by rating as a 2 a whiskey you’ve rated before as an 8, or vice versa.

    For the record, I’m not trying to denigrate either of the reviews or reviewers’ experiences here, I just think that blind tastings are no more ‘objective’ than a non-blind review, they’re just differently subjective. A whole different, largely subconscious set of forces are in motion, ones much less easy to control-for (for an experienced reviewer) than those of conscious bias.

    I share Thad Vogler’s view of blind tasting, that ‘blind tasting enslaves you to a myth of objectivity and expertise, the science of flavor’ at the expense of context, stories, romance and all the things that affect the actual experience of having a dram. I still find them fascinating, but only when viewed as a fun curiosity rather than the Last Word (which I don’t think they are being presented as here, but which they often are).

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Jordan

      An interesting view on the whole issue of blind tastings and I can certainly see the validity in your approach.

      We had received feedback around trying blind tastings. I think we’ve given it a fair crack these past 2 days, picking 2 ‘names’ and publishing honest opinions based on the contents. Whether to continue these on an irregular basis (maybe bi-annual?) is something for Mark and I to discuss. I can see the pros and cons, especially from an organisational aspect. Someone further up the comments made the suggestion that a blind tasting from the readership might be worthwhile as well?

      There’s a lot to consider and digest overall here. I’m also aware that the Fire & Cane blind tasting yesterday didn’t prompt too much of a response, but a poor score for a Springbank and we have a very busy comments thread.

      We’re back to ‘normal’ business tomorrow.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Jordan says:

        Good stuff Jason, I’ve enjoyed the blind tastings this week and certainly enjoy doing them myself and with friends occasionally (last year at a blind tasting with a former Malt regular I discovered the joys of Kyrö – I have no idea if I’d have rated it as highly had I known what it was), so there’s certainly no call from me to stop them!

        That said, the thing I love about the vast majority of the reviews on here – compared to other publications that strive for objectivity and try to reduce a complex pleasure to a score, or a terse collection of tasting notes – is the context, the stories, the personal history with a brand or a style. I’m more than happy to read honest reviews riddled with distillery prejudice and bias, it’s (more than) half the fun. Keep up the good work!

  5. Avatar
    PBMichiganWolverine says:

    I loved this review. I think it proves a few points:
    1. To Gary’s point above, blind tastings hide any prejudices and misconceptions
    2. Everyone’s taste buds are different…there is really no reason to believe that just because a whiskey reviewer doesn’t like a certain whiskey, you will then dislike it. It’s all individual taste buds. You might like your dish spicy and hot with habanero peppers, while the reviewer might not be able to like anything spicier than a bell pepper. It’s so individualistic.

    Anyway—another fine honest review. Thanks guys

    1. Phil
      Phil says:

      PBMW,

      Cheers for commenting and supporting Malt.

      When I found out what I reviewed I knew my take on it and score would be divisive…but the review is what it is and I just didn’t like the whisky.

      I suppose the world just isn’t ready yet for someone who doesn’t like a Springbank.

      1. Avatar
        PBMichiganWolverine says:

        And frankly—-that honest opinion is what makes us come and read these articles. Again—-thanks and nicely done.

  6. Avatar
    Alex says:

    Thank you for being honest, that’s why we come back on this site.
    I’d add that or you never critisize you lose credibility when you praise.
    Last point, I enjoy Serge and Ralfy reviews too and I regularly notice massive differences in their jugments on whisky. Differences in tastes are great.

  7. Avatar
    Robbie says:

    I appreciate Phil’s score and his honesty in sticking by his review but would like to pick up on a couple of points I was surprised by. I realise sensory perceptions are subjective but am most surprised at Phil’s likening of this Springbank to a supermarket brand bottling. Did the abv, natural presentation and maturity really not show through? Had you checked for scotch mist with the addition of water?

    Respectfully,
    Robbie

  8. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    That was a very enjoyable blind tasting. The Mouth – “has an oily texture and is fairly thick.” Alternatively – “..thin and watery mouth feel.” LOL

    That is exactly why a blind test is good. I’m pretty sure Phil would have said as much even if he knew what it was. It’s not obligatory to idolise every Springbank product. Some are better than others and we all have our own personal likes and dislikes. It’s been a couple of years since I had a Springbank 15 which, seeing as it’s affordable, tells me I wasn’t too keen either. I think I always preferred the 10 and 12. I can’t afford the old Springbanks and I find I prefer a healthy dose of ex-bourbon in the more affordable expressions. The 15 has, however, flashed upon the radar recently and I’m tempted.

    Final note to Jason. Springbank is not where it was a few years ago. They have become trendy in the way Ardbeg did a few years back. I see it all over YouTube. Longrow Finish; Local Barley; Hazelburn Oloroso; Springbank Wine Finish…etc, etc. Blink and it’s gone in the U.K and far easier to buy in the States. They are almost on my naughty list. Furthermore, like the Ardbeg crew, there’s an acceptance of everything and little criticism. I know that doesn’t include you but that attitude is expanding.

    Thanks to all of you for a fine Malt Review. WT

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi WT,

      Great comments as always and appreciated. I know I touched upon the Springbank issue in my Hazelburn oloroso piece last month. And why I stepped away from their festival bottling. They aren’t infallible, or what they once were, but I think that’s part of the appeal; the potential for disaster.

      Thanks, Jason.

  9. Avatar
    Travis says:

    That was a fun read (both the article and the comments). Keep up the good work guys!

    Regarding the review – I wonder if the order of whiskies (Glenfiddich -> SB, or SB -> GF) influenced the outcome? Presumably, if the GF experience was sufficiently bad, it may have impacted the SB review. Just a thought.

    1. Avatar
      bifter says:

      Coming to this late as I’ve been away. Very interesting.

      I’ll be honest, I was brimming with anticipation when I got the Springbank 15 but I was a bit disappointed. I found it had a musty, petrichor note that was a little off-putting. I’d take the 10 or the 12 over the 15 anytime. However it is worth caveating this by saying Springbank batches can vary hugely. And I wouldn’t have scored the 15 a 3! Each to their own.

  10. Avatar
    Dan W says:

    Hi all

    I find it kind of interesting reading reaction on here that’s its suggested that my comment was a snipe at someone daring to question the greatness of Springbank. ‘Nothing is sacred’. Yet I’ve dared to question a MALT contributers review and you seem to think that is beyond the pail. So clearly some of you think some things are sacred.

    None of you ever read a Jim Murray review and thought ‘what is he on about?’ I also take Murray’s reviews with a truckload of salt. Serge from whiskyfun? I generally find his tastes line up fairly well with mine. So I trust a good review from him. I’ve also found Jason on here’s experiences aren’t a million miles from my own.

    Maybe the way I put it was a little harsh ‘I won’t bother with Phil’s reviews’ probably should have said I’d be wary of Phil’s reviews. Reason being that his review of Springbank 15 is unrecognisable to me. We clearly experience whisky completely differently. I’d have said the same if he’d have given a really bad review of a Glendronach 15 or Lagavulin 12. Whiskies I know from experience to be consistently decent. Especially as in this case the other reviewer had a sample from the same bottle so I know it’s not a bad bottle.

    All about opinions!

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Dan

      Thanks for dropping back in again and giving more detail. Yes, maybe something was lost in translation back there.

      Opinions matter and certainly amongst some of your examples, those reviewers are not accessible or open to comments. One of the great features of MALT is the comments and giving life to an article long after its publication.

      So please do continue to be involved. We have a Springbank review next week, so it’ll be interesting to see how that’s received.

      I’m also sorry that some of your experiences mirror my own in whisky.

      Cheers, Jason.

    2. Phil
      Phil says:

      Dan W,

      Interestingly I got into reviewing whiskies as my experience with certain bottles were unrecognisable to reviews given by others. As you say it’s all about opinions.

      As regards the Glendronach 15, I’m not totally bowled over by the newest release compared to the older bottlings but it’s still a fine whisky for the price and the Lagavulin 12 is a fine drop although again has had variable quality through each release….just the nature of whisky!

      Thanks for commenting again.

      1. Avatar

        Price will induce subconscious bias. A bad idea if the idea is to be objective. Provenance, price etc shouldn’t be a consideration when tasting blind. Only the quality of the liquid.

        How one ascertains that level of quality however is another conversation and commenters on here questioning Phil’s palate are judging someone they probably know little about which doesn’t reflect well on them.

        It takes an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle.

Leave a Reply to Phil Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *