“The nose is like the engine of a 1972 Pontiac GTO”. I heard those words from across the bar to as part of the commentary on a Longrow recently. My mind went into overdrive – why not a ’70, ’71 or ’73 GTO? Was I limited by my memories of, and capacity for, taste and smell as I tried to document my adventures in whisky?
Then my mind went back one step further, to one of my first ever whisky tastings. I had gone with a friend and immediately someone had put a Ledaig in front of us. We had never tried Ledaig, nor could we even pronounce it. “I get soft honey notes”, “coal from the mines of Wales”, “a firepit on the island of Ios”, they all exclaimed. Turning to the two of us, we received the dreaded “and what do you get?” Before I could say anything, my friend shouted “Bacon! Definitely bacon”. To me, that was not far off. I had also picked up smoky, meaty notes. But was I really going to say that?
The group’s response to “bacon” was raucous laughter (not necessarily mean-spirited but almost pitying). My friend turned bright red. I tried to step in with what I thought was a subtler “well perhaps an assortment of meats on the barbecue?”. In what I assume was an attempt at well-meaning advice, I was told “Don’t worry. Some people just don’t have the capacity for the flavours. Perhaps start with wine”. But, the words that came after stuck with me even more, and are the reason we’re here today. The person leading the tasting turned to me with a grin and said, “Ignore that. Sure, it takes a bit of time, but it’s just trying and exploring”.
Besides the obvious point – try to support people who are trying to get into whisky – tastings are about expanding your own whisky knowledge, linking that to your other experiences and sharing it with others. Your experience will rarely line up with the experiences of other people. For example, alongside exploring the variety of dining opportunities across London, I also enjoy the sea and open spaces (yes, I’m a golden retriever). But I will not know what a ’72 GTO engine smells like, except that now I can almost imagine it.
That brings us to this 24-year-old Springbank. Released in Spring 2019 and bottled at 46.2%, this sold out very quickly… everywhere. Then again, it’s Springbank matured in a fresh sherry hogshead for 24 years. Yes, you heard that right. Springbank. Fresh Sherry. 24-year-old. Single cask. And priced to match at just under a cool £400. I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon one.
We all know the core descriptors we should expect when we hear those words. However, what each of us taste will slightly differ. Now, this might be a bit expensive for some as a practice dram for tasting notes or even as a casual experiment in expanding your personal taste. But, if you managed to grab yourself one, it doesn’t matter if you smell engine oil or espresso, the most important thing is to open this and see where the adventure leads.
Springbank 1994 24-Year-Old – review
On the nose: Caramel with sweet chocolate – a milk chocolate candy bar. Add in some fruit (with a hint of sourness) and nuts. Hints of apple and strawberry that are not quite ripe, along with engine oil notes.
In the mouth: A strong punch from that motor oil. Apple tart with a lovely combination of fruit and spice (cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg). The initial strength is balanced by smooth walnut and almond flavours. Brief touches of dark cocoa and red berries. The depth and complexity of the spirit and the powerful sherry notes are enhanced by the long finish, with hints of oak and soot that round this out.
I hope the description speaks for itself. Whiskies like this do not come along very often, and when they do, we all feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to be a part of it.
Each aroma and flavour shines through, but at the same time, manages to find balance with the other components. The individual elements evoke particular and personal memories: strawberries from fields in Canada; cocoa from chocolate shops in Belgium and Switzerland; engine oil from dune buggies in Brazil; and apple tarts from a certain bakery in London.
To me, that is what makes the difference in my own tasting experience. Trying new things means I have that reference point for that next whisky. Yours could be completely different. Have I tried spices in India or the incredible variety of sherries that Jerez has to offer? Not even close. But they are high up on the list. So, the next stop could be the next flavour on the next Springbank, if I am so lucky in every respect.
Now excuse me as I search out tickets to the London Motor Show…
Lead image kindly provided by Royal Mile Whiskies.