If there’s been one release that has frustrated me so far during 2019, then it is the Springbank 12-year-old cask strength. Not for the quality of the contents, unsurprisingly, but due to the actual pain to purchase a bottle: the obstacles that have to be overcome to complete that transaction. The constant need to remind yourself that whisky is to be enjoyed, and that you’re not alone in actually purchasing to open a bottle.
Phil beat me to the punch with his summary of the online problem within his articulate Old Perth 22-year-old review. We’re reaching a situation now where retailers are now upping the price to offset any potential gains from speculative customers here on in referred to as “scum.” In the nicest way possible, of course, complete with a heavenly scent to hide the overpowering stench of greed.
Retailers are approaching this problem or opportunity in various ways. Some are actively getting on the act themselves through other means. The canny lot at Master of Malt will purchase collections or bottles from secondary sources to then sell at phenomenal prices. Others have their own auction division where some bottles may appear at a later date when the value is appetising. And literally just the other day an earlier version of the 12, sold at auction for £400 – we are clearly living in crazy times!
My heart goes out to the traditional bricks-and-mortar retailer, the one that you’ll find just off the high street, trying to offer a range of whiskies combined with knowledge and expertise that the online exponents cannot match. These retailers are under severe pressure nowadays. The high street is literally crumbling in the UK with only betting and charity shops prospering alongside whatever Mike Ashley has purchased this week. This decline is terrible to watch, especially from those who remember the joys of bygone days, when a visit to the high street was full of mystery and new discoveries.
The added issue for your traditional bricks-and-mortar retailer is one of rates. Locally, a shop will pay a higher rate than, say, an online retailer who is working from an industrial estate unit. Yet ask yourself, which one brings more to the community locally, and also to the whisky community? The offering of information and expertise is more than just a click of a button. Perhaps for many onlookers, this is customer service nowadays? Admittedly, I’ve been impressed with the service of many online retails, as shown in my recent Daftmill Winter Release review. Yet when I visit such online retailers, I know exactly what I want, and leave relatively intact.
When I step into an actual whisky store, it becomes more of an event and an interactive experience. I’m always eager to scan the shelves for a lost soul or hidden gem. I want to have those discussions with shop staff about what’s caught their imagination recently, and maybe what’s on the horizon. Such stores are a beacon and a hive of activity for the local whisky population, offering tastings or hosting visits from brand ambassadors for the day. Eager to let you try before you buy whenever possible, including the chance to indulge, explore and use your tactile sensory network prior to making a purchase.
Whilst we do offer commission links here to the big online retailers in an attempt to give you choice, I’d always point you in the direction of your local whisky shop whenever possible. These guys and girls are important. No, actually, very important. They are as much a backbone to the industry as any big selling blend or grain distillery. Our commission harvesting here at MALT doesn’t amount to much. This isn’t something we pummel like others with links that aren’t highlighted as being commissionable. I’d love to put a link right here to a Springbank 12-year-old release, but in today’s rampant scum environment, it just isn’t feasible.
Perhaps I’m just feeling a bit melancholy about the whole situation? The problem is becoming intractable and pernicious. I fondly remember a time when you could pick up a Springbank 12 without too much effort. It’s a classic whisky, as you are no doubt aware: a combination of value and quality before the core range splits into the 46% strength 15-year-old which is excellent (sorry, Phil) or the more expensive 18-year-old, bottled at 46% strength. Again, excellent, but the price, drifting towards £100, is prohibitive for some. Nowadays, the scum have cottoned onto Springbank generally, and the 12 and its future classic status. I wonder, if we’re not opening a £55 whisky for fear of future value, then what’s the point of actually drinking whisky? Is the 12-year-old the new Macallan 18? I really hope not!
All I know now is that for my annual journey through a Springbank 12, I’m left to chase and elbow my way to the front for myself and family. At all times, this act is executed in the full knowledge that many of these bottles won’t be opened, and that the actual enjoyment of whisky is transitioning from the aromas and tastes of the liquid, towards the smell of pure greed.
I’ve said my piece, so let’s take in a bottle of cask strength 12-year-old. Actually, let’s go a bit bonkers and do two from this classic range. First up is the 2018 56.2% release, which I purchased at the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar — a vital resource for trying such things if you fail at retail. Then we’ll take in the recently released 2019 edition, bottled at 54.8% strength.
The 2018 version was released at the beginning of that year and is a combination of 70% sherry and 30% bourbon, whereas for 2019 is a harmonious marriage of 50% bourbon and 50% sherry. As always, these are both bottled without artificial colouring and without chill filtration.
Springbank 12 year old cask strength 2018 – review
On the nose: Big on malt, honey with a touch of ginger and a dirty orange. Earthy with a worn car tyre vibe. Memories of driving past the operating coal mine where my grandfather worked. The air thick with soot, coal dust and that Springbank farmyard funk. Leathery, with a touch of raspberry and wet wool. With water, things become nutty with a salty dimension and apricots alongside a cooling petrol lawnmower – almost time to cut the grass.
In the mouth: This is heavy. Oily, earthy with more coal and rugged smoke. The classic farmyard dynamic. Liquorice, struck flint, soot and beef jerky. With water more salt is revealed, walnuts, pink peppercorns, golden syrup and a diesel aspect.
Springbank 12 year old cask strength 2019 – review
On the nose: Much lighter and less of that Springbank funk. A touch more spirit, honey and salt brings a coastal dynamic. Toffee, orange and a worn leather strap. Apples, spent tea leaves and a twist of lemon. White grapes and a gentle waft of smoke. Adding water reveals tar, a withered varnish and pine cones.
In the mouth: This has more zing and freshness to it. Vibrant and more liberal. Apples again shrouded in smoke with linseed oil and bacon fat. A low-fat oiliness with lemon and vanilla marshmallows. A touch of earth with black pepper in the background. An unusual Springbank, not as pronounced or as dynamic. Water unleashes caramels, malt and grapefruit.
The 2018 is more for the classic Springbank purists. They’ll appreciate this incarnation more than the 2019 edition and I can see why. However, the recent release showcases a different dimension and isn’t as thick or heavy on the sherry. What’s revealed is arguably a different complexity without everything being shrouded in classic Campbeltown soot and farmyard funk.
This comparison also just underlines how year on year I’m happy to open the 12 and enjoy it at that point and time. I’ve never taken the opportunity to actually keep some aside and make that comparison with a later edition. Each year potentially brings a twist, a new revelation or disappointment. That’s the beauty of whisky and of course Springbank.
Photographs (yet again) kindly provided by the epic @fromwhereidram – go follow if you’re on Instagram.