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Springbank 12 year old cask strength

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

Colour: Honeycomb.

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.

Score: 7/10

Springbank 12 year old cask strength 2019 – review

Colour: Honey.

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.

Score: 5/10

Conclusions

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.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    WhiskyWolverine says:

    I have a bottle I bought last year. Started off as a cracker but now is heavy on the sulfur/dirty mop water. Definitely wouldn’t buy again.

    1. Avatar
      Kunaal Khanna says:

      Damn, i got a bottle of the 54.8% 2019 release. Sorry to hear it wont scratch the sherried dram itch like last year. But variety is the spice of life, right?

  2. Alex
    Alex says:

    Great article (as always) Jason. Interesting on the differences from one year to the next despite the same label. I think I like the idea of changes between batches – it keeps things interesting. People don’t like change though.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Alex

      Thanks again. We are scared of change. I think that explains why some are scared of MALT, and Phil in particular.

      I may do this comparison again with the next release if I’m successful.

      Cheers, Jason.

  3. Avatar
    John Motzi says:

    Hi Jason – mine has the following code printed on the bottle below the rear label: “20, 07.18 18/332” and the front label indicates 56.2%; I assume this is the 2018?

    And yes I cannot find it anymore around here (Philadelphia area).

    JM

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi John

      I don’t have this bottle at home but I’ll try and check at the bar later this month. I believe the UK is 56.3% and the export 56.2% which causes the confusion as they are the same batch.

      Cheers, Jason

  4. Avatar
    Matt Bishop says:

    Collectors will collect period. Investors collect to make money. Collectors and investors are different beings and I’m not sure if a Venn diagram was drawn to also include ‘scum’, where the cross-over would occur? Collectors are obsessed and cannot be persuaded that their wall of whisky might not be complete without all versions of the 12yo. Investors won’t buy this bottle – it’s not rare, unique, limited, or different in any way. They probably won’t even buy the 21yo gold bottle. They’ll buy a 1965 bottling from an auction site for the same price and put it in a vault for 15 years.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Matt

      I would suggest more than ever before the line between a collector and an investor is blurred.

      Many will disagree with your take on investors avoiding this series. I personally know a handful intent on the 12yo range and not just 1 example of each. Time as ways, will reveal all.

      Cheers, Jason.

  5. Avatar
    Tom says:

    Hmm. I purchased a bottle this year in the U.S. — 56.5%. I can’t tell whether it is the 2018 or the 2019. Either way, I love it! Not rushing through it by any means, however!

    1. Avatar
      bifter says:

      Interestingly I’ve just finished the 2019 release and am onto my second bottle of the 2018 (a lucky £50 find in Strachan’s), so I’ve also been able to compare and contrast. I’d agree with your relative ranking though you are a tough marker!

      I don’t know that this particular expression is investment material as new releases are always on the horizon (usually 2 per annum?). Prices at auction don’t support that assertion for me but it is markedly more difficult to obtain these days as it tends to sell out on day of release. And some unscrupulous online retailers seem to add a tenner or two to the RRP. Do the producers bear some responsibility for the creation of a market of artificial scarcity? I see this happening in many places these days. I was recently amused to discover my nephew is making a killing in the after market for limited edition trainers!

  6. Avatar
    Alex says:

    I understand the ‘support your local whisky shop’ spiel but how many places actually have a whisky shop? How many places have one within reasonable reach?

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Alex

      That’s very subjective and down to the individual. What’s local? What’s reasonable to you? I once drove for 5 hours to Liverpool to get a set of tyres. Spent 10 minutes in the city and then drove 5 hours home again. That was reasonable. I’d do that for the right Tormore.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        Alex says:

        Jason, thanks for the response. I get that but how do you know the right Tormore is there before setting off? I’d wager you didn’t drive to Liverpool just hoping to find some tyres. It’s a long drive on the off chance.
        I guess my question was probably rhetorical in that it is just my disappointment at not having anywhere local worth perusing and so having to rely on online retailers pretty much exclusively. I’m sure I’m not in the minority on that. It probably just proves your point about the high street.

        1. Avatar
          Alex says:

          Probably not worth adding but I’m with you on the 2018 being better than the 2019. When I recently revisited I felt it was closer than it was at release but I’m currently too reluctant to finish off the 18 to confirm.

        2. Jason
          Jason says:

          I know. I have good relationships with the shops I frequent. Some several hours drive away. You can call before visiting, some have Facebook groups and hold items for members. All sorts of options for those that respect their regulars.

          Yes, the high street is sadly in decay.

  7. Avatar
    bifter says:

    Interestingly I’ve just finished the 2019 release and am onto my second bottle of the 2018 (a lucky £50 find in Strachan’s), so I’ve also been able to compare and contrast. I’d agree with your relative ranking though you are a tough marker!

    I don’t know that this particular expression is investment material as new releases are always on the horizon (usually 2 per annum?). Prices at auction don’t support that assertion for me but it is markedly more difficult to obtain these days as it tends to sell out on day of release. And some unscrupulous online retailers seem to add a tenner or two to the RRP. Do the producers bear some responsibility for the creation of a market of artificial scarcity? I see this happening in many places these days. I was recently amused to discover my nephew is making a killing in the after market for limited edition trainers!

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Bifter

      Fun to hear about the family enterprise. Springbank can only produce so much and it’s maturing stock is precious. Perhaps in future years, we will see a wider outturn. Certainly, with a new age statement Longrow on the horizon, hopefully, more fruitful times are around the corner.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. Avatar
        bifter says:

        Perhaps Springbank is the wrong distillery to finger but certain others do produce batch X or edition Y (with a lithograph or in a guitar case, say) to appeal to collectors. They know what they’re doing. And is it a faux pas to suggest that the malt whisky market is a geeky scene, full of people with ASDs? It all seems a bit incestuous to me. And are they really scum? Investors, marketing directors, well you could make a case…

        1. Jason
          Jason says:

          Hi Bifter

          The scum thing sums up the frustration that many I know feel. They want a bottle to enjoy and fail despite their best efforts. Only then to see several lots (sometimes in excessive of 50) the following month on certain auction sites. Then the shaddy world of FB selling groups. I can appreciate their frustration, which is why I open and share as much as I can.

          Yes, I’m very tired of the series dynamic that we’re seeing more of. The whisky is a mere trinket in some cases.

  8. John
    John says:

    I am envious yet count myself lucky that Manila does not have any good brick and mortar stores. Instead of having to search stores for bottles I want I usually have to buy them abroad or online.

    Springbank 12 seems to be getting more sulfur notes as the years go on. My 1st taste of it was during 2014. I couldn’t tell at that time from which batch that was but it tasted like heaven. The Springbank funk these days can’t seem to stand up to the cask influence of modern casks.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi John

      You’re not alone in such thoughts. There has been a criticism of the sherry casks utilised. I wonder on a more widespread scale is this problem just specific to Springbank? Surely not. Are they unable to vatt or blend away the issue as well as others? Whenever I’m faced with such a cask from Campeltown, it’s not the immediate purchase it was once. A period of debate ensues.

      Cheers, Jason.

      1. John
        John says:

        I was discussing current cask quality with some whisky geeks online some time ago. The consensus was modern day ex-bourbon casks are better (I did not agree). It’s the opposite for modern ex-sherry casks.

        So definitely Springbank is not alone with the sulfur issue. Glenfiddich 15 somehow does not have sulfur notes despite having sherry influenced whisky though.

        1. Jason
          Jason says:

          Hi John

          I do think the industry has been telling as a few lies about the quality of sherry casks for a while now. Bourbon casks did get better for a while but then there was a blip.

          I understand the pre boom recession resulted in the loss of skilled Coopers and that industry was affected. Things have rebounded since. But now I hear from distillers and distillery owners, the quality of casks has dipped again. They are receiving casks over lesser quality and increasingly thinner staves.

          Cheers, Jason.

          1. John
            John says:

            I have to wonder how much shorter oak staves are being seasoned or whatever short cuts are being employed just to meet the demand for Bourbon producers. Add the fact that Bourbon new make are also being put in casks at a higher abv. Doesn’t that make the wood more tired earlier?

  9. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    Oh my God, so many comments. I hope I catch your eye. I work in retail so I no about the High Street. I also worked in that High Street as a young man in Cardiff in the late 1980’s. Then, as know, there were virtually no specialised whisky outlets in a city like Cardiff let alone anywhere else in Wales. The best you could hope for was a spirits section in a wine shop like Oddbins or a rare independent. Today I live in England’s second city and situation is slightly better but still pretty junk for a city this size. A few shops for the size of the city and all way more expensive than I can buy online (they all offer that service). As a retailer I want to buy from bricks and mortar but I’ve been in shops where the advice and salesmanship is, I’m sad to say, not great. In Scotland you have proper whisky shops but that’s not the case throughout the rest of the country. I know more about whisky than anyone I speak to in a shop with a couple of exceptions in my experience. Shops will only survive if expertise is available.

    Springbank 12. Totally agree with what you say. I think I enjoy the 2019, 50/50, much more know than I did previously. I like Springbank Bourbon but I think we’ve become so used to the 12 having a majority of sherry in the mix that we need to slightly reassess. It’s grown on me and I think it is as good as other 12’s, in a different way of course. Cracking review. Cheers. WT

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi WT
      Yes, it’s been a popular article which is great because you do want to spark debate even if you’re playing devil’s advocate for a day. I do miss the off-licenses that my hazy memory seemed to think were everywhere. These were purged when the supermarkets took over everything. And we lost something.

      I’m still fortunate as I have shops within reach, but good independents with that sense of knowledge and range are a dying breed. We do have Luvians in Cupar, I take visitors to this whenever I can and they are amazed at what’s on offer. A fantastic shop and they’ve just launched a website that underlines they do things their way.

      Cheers as always, Jason.

  10. Avatar
    Rolf Isaksen says:

    Great article on Springbank! I do agree that it is positive thing to have variations in batches as long as the quality is there. Makes it more interesting and exciting to try them. It could lead to an unhealthy habit of bottle chasing tho. I am sorry you Scots have a difficulty in getting bottles at times. I am lucky to live in Scandinavia were it can take days, even weeks until a batch is sold out 🙂

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Rolf

      Thanks, those sound like the good old days to me! I just find it nice to relax with a bottle and enjoy the voyage. See where it takes us. Springbank, more often than not, has a greater itinerary.

      Cheers, Jason.

  11. Avatar
    Eustis says:

    Hi Jason,

    Your passion for Springbank does tempt me to revisit it despite my previous apathy towards the bottles I’ve purchased. If their prices were a bit lower I might have already jumped back in, but they come at a cost that makes it doubly sad when you end up with a bottle with which you are disappointed.

    I find it interesting that you describe a “funk” in Springbank. So far I have found their offerings bland, and ethanol forward. For my part, I find the older aged Jura offerings to provide a good “funk” – an almost mushroom earthiness (more shiitake than cremini) with a pine or eucalyptus brightness underpinning them. I will say, I’ve not found this to be true for the newest incarnations from the distillery, which are aweful.

    I guess I am surprised by the stark differences in your experience with these two distilleries from mine given that I otherwise find your tastes in single malts to fit quite well with my my own. Although, I suppose I should not be too shocked when working within a world of flavor and taste, which is only opinion. Still, I think perhaps I’ll take another look at Springbank in the near future.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Eustis,

      Glad to see the comment. My own outlook is to keep trying and exploring. Eventually, you’ll find one that meets your preferences. Took me years to find a decent Jura and a memorable Bruichladdich. Persistence does pay off in the end – just goes to show you.

      Aye, the new Jura’s are just tragic. And that’s me being very polite.

      Cheers, Jason.

  12. Avatar
    bifter says:

    The new release appears to be available as of today (57.1% abv). RMW have it for a fairly reasonable £55 and it hasn’t disappeared in a puff of smoke, so far! The balance seems to have shifted further toward Bourbon casks (65%) again. Tempted as I am I’ve still got half a bottle of last year’s autumn release so I’d like to keep my tinder dry for something else. But what else gives the same bang for buck?

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Bifter

      It’ll go but right now, everyone is chasing the rum Springbank. It had sold out on Saturday and I walked into the shop at 1035. For value it’s hard to argue.

      I’m looking forward to comparing later this month.

      Cheers, Jason

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