When your number’s up, your number’s up.
I have (as yet) not reviewed any Springbank for this site, and can you blame me? John’s had a go. Henry treated us to a single cask 24 year old. Phil unleashed hordes of virtual Uruk-hai when he dared give a poor score to the 15 year old in a blind tasting administered by Jason, though Justine liked it well enough. Dora said her piece about the 12 year old. Jason took on a club bottling from “IAAS” – “It’s All About Springbank” – in case you needed another reminder of the focused devotion this distillery inspires.
More astounding than that cavalcade of names and links is the fact that all these reviews occurred within the last twelve months. I didn’t even include the several other bottlings reviewed here and there by Jason. In total, you’ve got six separate opinions on various permutations of Springbank’s output… and that’s not even counting the team’s work on Hazelburn and Longrow.
Thus, my instinctive stance would be to stay far away from Springbank. Those regular readers of my pieces here on MALT will know that I’m more inclined to hack through virgin forest in pursuit of El Dorado rather than to wander serenely down a worn garden path.
However, I submit (warily and reluctantly) to fate, especially when it provides a narrative thrust for a review. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason that we make up afterwards. Thus, when the wheel of fortune turned my direction and unloaded samples of two batches of the Springbank 12 Year Old Cask Strength in my lap, I felt the tug of destiny.
I previously noted Adam’s wry observation that Springbank is the most boring whisky to review because of the high regard in which the distillery is held. Though my encounters with the produce of these stills have to date been entirely unscientific (e.g. at bars or at the homes of friends, when patient and attentive tasting was not the order of the night) my own impression is a generally positive one.
Again, though, those familiar with my tendencies will be aware of my willingness to throw stones. The bigger and nicer the house, the more esteemed the family that lives inside, the more temptation there is to put a brick through the picture window. This is meant in no specific spirit of disrespect, but rather as an intellectual precaution against falling into a comfortably lazy, polite consensus.
On the other hand, I’m also conscious (in this case) of the cost of delivering a view that diverges negatively from the status quo. A few fans of Springbank, as noted above, wouldn’t be content to shrug off a poor mark and mutter a Latin platitude about the futility of litigating proclivities. Were I to deliver less than a glowing paean to this icon of Campbeltown: my taste buds might be slandered, my objectivity impugned, my motivations questioned by those who are unable or unwilling to accept that one person can like a thing more, another less, and that this is permissible within the laws of man and nature.
All this may seem like ominous foreshadowing, but I’m writing this preamble before even sniffing at the whisky. I could enjoy these both very much and be able to deliver a pair of scores sufficiently high to pacify the partisans and allow me to spend my time on pursuits other than dignifying anonymous slings and arrows in the comments section. Alea iacta est; let’s see how the tumbling dice come up?
As noted above these are two batches of the Springbank Cask Strength 12 Year Old, an expression which will be familiar to Malt readers. A trip in the wayback machine gives us Jason’s review of batch 7 in the foggy mists of 2013 (Mark also reviewed this batch in 2014). 2016 brought us Jason’s thoughts on batch 12, after which this expression entered a three year long latency on MALT. Revisiting the range once again last year, Jason enjoyed batches 17 and 18, in which he bemoaned the decreasing availability of this old standby.
These were both samples gifted to me generously by a friend (thanks, Kevin). Retail price for the current batch is $120 at my local, thus I’ll be using that as a calibrating benchmark in considering my scores.
This first is Batch 15, released August 2017, at a strength of 56.5%. It was matured 70% in sherry casks, with 30% coming from ex-bourbon barrels.
Springbank 12 Year Old Cask Strength Batch 15 – Review
Color: Brownish maize.
On the nose: Creamy and fruity. Tangerines, peaches, underripe kiwi. Orange creamsicle. Toward the middle of the nose, there’s a warmly woody core with accents of salted butter and lemon juice. Cinnamon stick and a sprig of mint. A very subtle sulfur note on the periphery; I presume this is from the sherry casks, but it’s nothing to get worked up about. A few drops of water brings out more woodland aromas of fallen leaves and damp twigs crunching underfoot. Overall, very enticing and rewarding of prolonged sniffing.
In the mouth: Soapy texture at the entrance. There’s a piquant, woody astringency as this firms up in the middle of the mouth. Texturally, this hits a high point at the crest of the tongue, where there’s a blast of exotic spice before this evolves another soapy note. Down the gullet, this sinks into a broadly rich woodiness with a slight peppery edge. With water, this is infused throughout with a chalky minerality that is especially evident as it coats the middle of the palate.
As a complete package this is sound, though I loved some more of the fulsome fruit flavors on the nose that didn’t really emerge in the mouth. It’s got a hefty price tag on it compared with other 12 year old single malt original bottlings, but you’re getting so much more flavor and texture on account of it being bottled without chill filtration, at cask strength. I’m happy to give this what is, after all, a very solid mark.
The second iteration is the most recent batch, number 19. This was released in September 2019 at 57.1% ABV. In a near inversion of the prior dram’s proportions, this is comprised of 65% ex-bourbon barrels, with the remaining 35% from sherry casks.
Springbank 12 Year Old Cask Strength Batch 19 – Review
Color: Similar brownish maize.
On the nose: Much more malt-forward approach. There’s a thick yeasty beeriness to this at first, like stepping inside a working brewery or a distillery during fermentation. Apple strudel, honeydew melon, a subtle accent of white pepper, and another dairy note of freshly whipped cream. With some time in the glass, a rich note of toffee emerges, as well as a handful of golden raisins. Adding a few drops of water reveals little more than the airy sweetness of pavlova. Not quite as multifaceted and shapeshifting as the nose on batch 15, but I do prefer the roasty and grainy scents.
In the mouth: Starts sedately with a subtle minerality and, again, a slightly soapy texture. Exceedingly tart citrus taste as this makes its way toward the middle of the mouth. This has some nutty flavors inside a prickly carapace of sharply spicy wood. At the peak of its intensity, there is the bitterly citric flavor of orange peel. This settles out into a broad roasty taste of a nuttier brown ale, which lingers all around the back of the mouth for a minute or two. The addition of water smooths the sharper feelings at the front of the mouth, allowing this a more stately procession over and across the tongue.
This is delicious. All the intrinsic quality evident in the batch 15, but with an absolutely delightful flavor profile centered around some very malt-driven elements. Dialing down the sherry casks in favor of bourbon barrels worked well in this instance. Overall, this has a complexity and depth of flavor that is not only fascinating but also very, very yummy.
An enthralling study in contrasts. So much distinct personality in both these batches. They’ve each got their high points as well as some nits, but overall the inherent integrity for which Springbank is renowned. Of the two, though, it’s batch 19 that has me licking my glass and begging for more. I’d be a repeat customer for either of these, or indeed for future batches, but for now I’m happy to have been given the opportunity to try a pair of these side by side. Hopefully, Springbank fans, we can leave it there?
Lead image taken by Whisky Rover.