“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.
Springbank fanboys gonna be happy again!
Henry gave the Octomore Comus a 9/10. Members of my club have scored that bottle in the low to mid 70’s (Average and below average) on multiple blind tastings, which I guess would be 5/10 for Malt… so don’t hold it against us if we don’t go searching for this overpriced sherrybomb bank! Slange.
Hi SanFranciscoWhiskyClub. It’s great to see that you have really caught the “different people have different tastes” spirit behind this article. We’ll always welcome a good debate. I hope you do give it a try at some point but if you hold true to the logic you have espoused here – you’ll be leaving some great bottles for the rest of us. Thank you very much!
Yes people do have different tastes. They also have different scoring methodologies. Your score is yours and ours is ours. Your scored is based upon purchasing a $600 whisky that you are extremely excited about and is heavily cask influenced. Our scores are amalgamated from 8-10 people tasting blind on bottles purchased as a group. We also approach scores with our own methodology of what we believe determines quality. So Sorry to the other posters if all that seems ‘superior’ and we aren’t ‘giving you a chance’ . We love to discuss tasting and scoring, subjective vs objective. We don’t have to agree to have a conversation or try to learn something. We are truly interested in what you think makes this a 9/10 and the other 6 or so whiskies you have scored 9/10. How would you score a 1966 Springbank and would that affect this score furthermore as in would you revise it if that were better but also a 9/10? Slange.
Happy to continue the debate SFWC, thanks for the reply. Completely agree – how you score things and how I score things may differ. I do not think we align on our views far beyond that, but I like that we can challenge one another. Your point of having “8-10 people tasting blind” and methodology of what “determines quality” is, of course, always encouraged from my perspective. Unfortunately, you have assumed – “Henry has said good things about a cask / distillery in the introduction and therefore he is going to automatically going to give it a good grade”. Please, I implore you, never use that logic in court, an essay or in public arena – it will not end well. I think the other comments are getting at your choice to take the route of aggression and what others seem to take as an air of “superiority” towards this post. In my experience, this never plays well. I have had £50 whisky that is very good and astronomically priced whisky that I would only use to unclog a drain. There can be some very good old Springbank and Port Ellen, as well as some awful outputs from those distilleries (to use an example of the bottles that I have given a 9/10 to). I look forward to hearing from you and any critique when I dare to give a higher score to a bottling. Cheers!
We have not assumed anything. Nor have we been aggressive and resent that accusation. We are here to discuss whisky and in this instance your scores of 9/10. It seems that by not agreeing we are viewed as being aggressive and superior etc. This is disappointing and if you continue to label us like this we will just withdraw from Malt interaction altogether.
As regards your scores you have given two Balvenie Tuns, An Octomore, 1982 Port Ellen and a Lagavulin 16 WH all 9/10. None of those whiskies scored 9/10 /90/100 for us.
[Responding to the below – Unfortunately, the comments won’t let me go any further…] Let’s start over, SFWC. I am not labelling you, but it is perhaps worth giving the other comments a read. From my perspective, I welcome your view that none of the whiskies I scored 9/10 deserve that grade, it’s a fun one to debate! I’ve written entire posts of why I did indeed give them such a grade. If you look at the list you have provided, it’s actually a diverse array of flavours. So, I would not say I have any bias towards a particular style or distillery. To distill it down to basics, the tasting notes were those of a dram that was balanced and complex, while exuding the flavours that fit my nose and palate. But do let me know if you’re looking for more…
Great review of a whisky well outside my budget but great to know about. Considering the review and the comments it seems that enjoying whisky and delivering eloquent tasting notes are two separate spheres which only slightly overlap in the Venn Diagram.
So your taste buds don’t reflect those of Henry’s. Different preferences even, perhaps? Me, I’m not a fan of bourbon, but i have very knowledgeable friends that are. And somehow, I though that axiomatic part of all our whisky experience was very the essence of the intro to this review.
I like reading reviews, and take note whether the reviewer and I seem to “agree” on past reviews. If we do, great guidance! When we don’t, I silently move on. Never would I however stoop to be seen to explicitly nor implicitly mock someone’s experience of a dram.
Thanks, RikS! I agree – if anything, we are all continuing to learn here and that is part of the experience. I’m always looking for inspiration to review something so readers can actually compare their tasting experience to our own here on Malt. So if there is a particular bottling that you want to see us review, please do reach out / reply! Cheers
Wait, what? No bacon in Ledaig. Well bad luck to the Pontiac GTO dude then. Bacon notes in whisky are lovely! And on a more serious note. Taste and smell in a whisky is an absolute subjective matter. Glad you pointed that out.
Thanks for the feedback, Henry (great name by the way). It’s always going to be difficult when some people are quite strong in their views… But I agree, it does come down to personal taste – so very much a subjective matter.
For those of us who are just getting into whisky, this really resonates. We’ve all been there with people who just cannot seem to give us a break – their view is “superior” to ours, of course (no offence intended SanFranciscoWhiskyClub)! Yes, it is a cool £400 that I will probably never spend on whisky, Springbank or otherwise. However, it’s nice to get an idea not just about the review but a bit more about people’s experiences in the whisky community. Thanks, Henry, for another great article!
Thanks, Michael! It’s a boatload to spend on a whisky – I think my wallet will thank me if I head towards autumn / winter tasting a number of whiskies under the £100 mark. And there is definitely still quality to be found in that price range. Cheers!
Okay, I’m confused now…and someone please correct me if I misread these comments…is the SFWC saying that because their “club” uses blind tastings and scores the same whisky differently that Henry is not entitled to his score and opinion on the same without being called out for it? As he stated, people have different tastes and may enjoy a certain flavor profile over another. Doesn’t make the score or opinion any less relevant because it wasn’t arrived at through a group blind tasting event. Good whisky is in the taste buds of the person trying it, you don’t have to agree with them but that’s the point…it’s subjective.
Of course he is entitled to his score and we are entitled to question it!
The SFWC seems to have missed the message encouraging supporting others in the whisky community in their tasting experiences. It seems the only thing everyone can agree on is that, as Henry says, your experience will rarely line up with the experiences of other people. That applies not just in life but in tasting (and scoring). But if blanket statements like “your ability to discern quality is subjective” and “tasting blind is the most true way to score a whisky” can be made, then it might be time to take that objective approach to reflect on why more than one commenter feels this smacks of superiority.
Let me start out by giving some context. We have members with 20 years of whisky experience and those who started tasting whisky last year. You are taking our instagram messaging out of context. It was intended for the members. We encourage all we meet to explore their whisky journey and to open and share. We are afteral, all whisky lovers.
Our point remains however regarding scoring. ie. that when an online review appears with a score from an understandably enthused reviewer, that it may not b reflective of the quality of the liquid. We have experienced this many times as I pointed out with the Octomore and other scores and none of these whiskies were cheap. Personally I find it irksome that reviews like this will encourage others to seek out an expensive bottle that they may have a far less exciting e we experience with because as you say ‘its subjective’.
I think Malt want to encourage drinkers from all backgrounds and that is fine but when it comes to scoring $600 bottles I much prefer the blind approach and with multiple reviewers like the Springbank 15 review as this gives far more context.
Our approach to scoring may not be for everyone but its the approach we feel awards the most fair scoring as we take emotion and bias out of the equation. All members in the group have different palates, diets and ethnicity. Experience of course is also a factor. Less experienced members will have less ability to discern quality but isn’t that the fun part, the journey of the palate, the exploration ad working on improving yours senses while enjoying whisky with friends! We’ve all had whiskies we put some effort into getting a hold of and thought they were brilliant and years later revised our scores as our palates had evolved and the excitement had worn off. When all is said and done we are not publishing scores like Malt are and influencing buying decisions so the focus should really be on Malt’s scoring not ours and our desire to question that is ours alone.
SFWC, shame Serge doesn’t have comments. You could really lose yourself there.
But in all seriousness — there’s probably a place for this issue, but a comment section doesn’t seem like a good one for it. And yes, you do come off as arrogant here (and that’s at best). The obvious question would be that, if you believe your tasting system is objectively better, and you wish to guide people to the best or highest value or what-have-you whiskies based on that superior system, maybe you should list your own reviews and recommendations.
Finally, your concern about this site leading people wrong with a gushing review of a £400 whisky seems overwrought at best and contrived at worst (is this what they call concern trolling?). You know as well as anyone that this whisky was a UK exclusive and sold out pretty much instantly — this review isn’t going to spur anyone to buy it unless on the secondary market and, if that’s the case, then you can insert any number of sayings here about fools, money, and beware.
I won’t believe any of Serge’s comments towards any single bottling of Springbank, coz Serge is always a flipper when it comes to a Springbank. Serge once said that his rating strategy does not involve any price factors so he rates only whisky in the bottle —- while a Springbank 12 yo Cask Strength is always a 92 for him, which means it is better than Ardbeg 23, Lagavulin 25, Bowmore 30 Sea Dragon… Imagine that.
Meanwhile he can also give a 79 to Springbank 25 yo just because he doesn’t like Port Cask. The most ridiculous point is his tasting notes never refelect any relevation on the score followed. Let’s admit it, Serge is an experienced whisky expert, but he’s also the most famous biggot in this business, and for most bottlings you can even predict his score by just reading product info. Is it a Sherry cask Springbank/Lagavulin/Talisker? Check on 90+. I have no problem believing this’ll get a 91+ at Whiskyfun, but it’s not because this is good, you know what I mean.
I doubt Serge is a flipper? However he has preferences, and so it makes sense that if he really isn’t a fan of port matured whisky that he will constantly score it low. The issue is so many people only listen to him, whereas he is just one person (as he repeatedly says). Many would disagree with his views on Ledaig – although that seems to be changing judging by prices slowly increasing. I’d say regular Malt writers are the same, having preferences and being clear about them. Jason generally prefers good bourbon casks that aren’t overpowered by the wood, and isn’t often the biggest fan of finished whiskies. And he’s clear about that. Is he also a bigot, or does he have a personal preference like us all? If you know someone’s preferences compared to your own then you can judge if their comments are likely to apply to you. Disagreeing is also fine, but can be tricky to do on written media in a way that doesn’t come across as putting someone down/ snobbish. (Said having met no one here in “real life”).
Having preferences is one thing, being able to justify them is another. Clearly Jason’s at least able to maintain the consistency of his reasoning. For Serge, he’s able to rate a Pikesville 70 in one year (in real or in prejudice to make Jim Murray uncomfortable?), but rate the same thing 80 points a year later or two, and claim this gap ‘batch difference’. For most American whiskey, Serge’s not even able to justify why his scores are being 70- or even 60-, instead he claims them to be ‘too oaky’, but when it comes to an well known over-oaked Kavalan Sherry Solist, it’s always a 85+ on WF. The same circumstance will come on any non-Sherried, non-Peated, non-old-bottling, non-single malt whisk(e)y. When a man cannot justify his preference or his hate well, at least I’m not persuaded by this kind of BS, I have no other choice but consider him flipper.
Forgive me for being a lil offensive, I respect your view, but I have no problem betting you pay attention to only Sherried/Peated/Old-bottling Malt whiskies on WF. Cos if you have just a little observation on the way he rated Single Pot Still/Bourbon/Rye, you’ll know how ridiculous his reasoning is.
And calling it ‘preference’ or ‘biggot-ness'(as how Serge speaks English) does not change the fact that Serge’s review on this Springbank won’t be anything objective, because this is a Springbank, that is the point I’m questioning Another. Cause we all know what a Springbank means to Serge.
Amen…and this is why we taste blind.