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Springbank: better late than never

Springbank Whisky Exchange

A spring clean is always a worthwhile venture. When dusting down the drafts backstage here at Malt, I found an abandoned review. A lost Springbank review in fact. Well, I say review, but as you’ll see Mark only had started the intro and provided his notes in October 2017. For whatever reason, the article was never completed.

Now, a Springbank is always worth reviewing and coming across a few samples of my own at home I thought it was an opportunity to resurrect this lost piece and bundle together a haphazard vertical. Reading the promised intro, it gives us a snapshot of 2017 and what things were like. The flipper mentality was just taking hold and Springbank was just slipping into the clutches of the speculators.

‘The photos for this post actually came from the auction house Just Whisky, which Jason was at when he saw bottles being sent directly from the show. This was alongside that new Glenfiddich Winter Storm – people were literally buying it and having it literally sent directly to auction. That’s our world now, people.’

And as we step into 2020, that world continues.

There is always an important distinction to be made I feel when it comes to the secondary market. You have those, like above, who immediately buy and sell without ever having seen the bottle. This is clearly wrong. I wish retailers would do more to prevent this and blacklist auctioneer addresses. It might be a token gesture, but it would make the purchaser more hesitant if they did not live nearby an auctioneer or pick-up location. After all, these are bottles that will sell. Even minus a few flippers. We are all chasing the same commodity with different agendas and purposes. As Francis at Daftmill is trying to, let’s put the whisky bank in the hands of the drinkers.

Then you have others who are perhaps collectors or putting things aside for their retirement fund. What this constitutes is open to debate. It could be to sell on, when possibly whisky is only affordable to the very rich and jet set? Maybe it has a more practical use? The opportunity to sit back in decades to come and enjoy a dram, fine memories and share with friends in the twilight years of your existence. Even a nest egg, when the bottle could be potentially worth something, or at least will be a good drinker if values have fallen.

I doubt any of us have an issue with the retirees and whatever their purpose is. The venom is more aligned to those who wish to sell immediately for personal gain. We don’t know the cost of living in 10, 20- or 30-years time. Whether we’ll have an existence given the prospect of several years of Rees-Mogg and upper-class rule. There are many unknowns including what is your bottle worth? And when I’m in my retirement in 20 years or so, looking up whatever MALT has become and reading some old reviews, will be enhanced with a dram from that era. The only guarantees are that Jura will still be terrible, Macallan will be overpriced and the Vikings from Orkney will still be around.

I often question what’s the point of review a particular whisky. This weekend I’ve started work on a 1968 Coleburn and a 75 bottle only Islay release. Neither will be widely available or within reach to many. Should we just review the mainstream? The widely available and accessible? Or should we continue to mix and provide a rich stream of information and experiences? The same applies to Springbank. Any release from this distillery officially or otherwise, sells out pretty promptly in the UK. The name alone guarantees interest. Should we resist, or continue to explore whiskies such as these? Today, we’ll do some Springbank.

For the whiskies themselves, we’ll start with the original Art of Whisky, which Mark was sent to review by the Whisky Exchange. Long sold out at retail, 191 bottles were released at 51.7% strength. The 2019 Campbeltown Festival release was a kind sample from the London Whisky Club and is from fresh sherry casks. Distilled in March 2011 and bottled on 23rd May 2019, an outturn of 1100 bottles at 56.8% strength were unleashed. Last but by no means least, is the Cadenhead’s 175th Anniversary release from their shop series. This specific 13-year-old represents the Aberdeen outlet and comes from a single butt, producing 540 bottles at 57% strength. My thanks to Dave for sending on this sample to try.

Springbank 24 Year Old: Art of Whisky – Mark’s review

Colour: amber.

On the nose: that’s a beautiful Springbank nose. Slightly dirty, linseed oil note, candlewax, balanced by intense vanilla. Grapefruit and citrus. Lime marmalade. Green tea, slightly herbal. Once the fruit fades there’s plenty of woody notes: old school desks, pencils. Lemon zest. Tangerines.

In the mouth: not as viscous as I had hoped: there’s a curious lightness to this, unusual for a Springbank, though with a touch of oiliness. Vanilla led, and there are echoes – just echoes – of any of the distillery’s dirty character. Tangerines, lemons. And then towards the end come gentle cloves and black pepper. Toffee fudge notes.

Conclusions

Light, zippy. Not a great Springbank, but a good one – and certainly something a little different. Reasonably inactive maturation, but it’s still good spirit at the end of the day.

Score 6/10

Springbank 8 year old 2019 Campbeltown festival – Jason’s review

Color: Light gold.

On the nose: Caramel, then the sherry strength and sweetness comes through. A gentle peat, toasted bark, cask char, slight farmyard, strawberries, liquorice and cherry menthol. Chocolate, honey, nutty and lots of dried fruits.

In the mouth: a pleasant if heavy sherry focus. Chewy, leather, oily and nutty. A mineral aspect. Salty, peppery, chocolate, cured meats, berries varnish, brown sugar and tobacco.

Score: 6/10

Cadenhead’s Springbank 2003 Aberdeen shop – Jason’s review

Color: Sunrise.

On the nose: Gentle, creamy with accessible aromas of fudge, honey and then the earthy peat and farmyard funk. Walnuts, oranges, an earthy clay, tobacco, brown sugars and a gentle smoke.

In the mouth: Very sherry comes through but it is restrained, more fudge and brown sugars with tobacco, cranberries and a hint of dryness alongside a touch of rubber – but a pleasing level of.

Score: 7/10

Conclusions

There’s a common misconception that all Springbank is great, which isn’t the case and that the sherry casks can be full of sulphur: not the case here either. But you can see the roots in some of these beliefs. The festival bottling is very sherried and aggressive, I felt the balance has shifted just a tad from what could have been a more memorable experience.

The Cadenhead’s bottling in comparison has more balance and is less forceful on the palate. It lets you sit back and appreciate what you’re experiencing rather than fighting off the sherry. The pick of my duo, although I cannot say anything for Mark’s whisky except that it was probably too expensive compared to my drams.

Whatever Springbank you prefer, grab the bottle, open it and see where it takes you.

Springbank 8yo image from Tyndrum Whisky, Cadenhead’s from the Whiskybarrel.

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    Yeah, it’s that issue of Springbank once again isn’t it? Why isn’t Springbank mega-amazing? Answer, because it just always isn’t so. It can be good without being AMAZING and it can (whisper in silence) occasionally disappoint. Indy Springbank is kind of weird as they do their own thing but how independent is this bottle though? Bottom line is that Springbank is a great distillery but they don’t always hit the target. This sounds good but are we clutching at straws?

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi WT

      The ups and downs are good fun. Reminds us that distilleries are as human as us, despite all the automation – or not in Springbank’s case. I’d always prefer a rollercoaster than consistency.

      Cheers, Jason.

  2. Avatar
    Duncan says:

    I am a huge springbank fan and that includes the rest under the umbrella of the distillery too. It pains me to say it that not every release is good but happy to try them, yes you’ll get disappointed along the way but I’ll still try find the best out of the bottle. The flippers have certainly latched into any older releases of springbank as well as the seriously aged releases, never thought it would happen one day but it did. I will never sell or flip any springbank, I think they there to be drunk as with most whisky’s. With regards to the 3 releases in the review, I have been fortunate to have had all 3, they all very different, the 24yo art of whisky is not quintessential springbank but I def enjoyed it. Certainly had better festival releases but they can be as hit and miss as the cage bottlings but still love them haha. Agreed Cadenhead release was more of what springbank is with that farm yard funk and delish!!

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Duncan

      Aye, I think that’s the best way to approach Springbank. You know it can be a rollercoaster and it’s for the best in the end. It certainly has become a bigger target in recent years. Glad you’ve managed to try these as well. I’d be quite happy sitting down with a table full of Springbank and just exploring – would be fantastic including the funk!

      Cheers, Jason.

  3. Alex
    Alex says:

    hi Jason,

    I love this, you’ve stitched Mark’s and your work together really well. It’s a shame the flipping industry has reached the heights it has.

    I was going to say maybe Jura could turn it around (hopeful optimist) – 20 years is a long time in many respects, but not in whisky making. No point dwelling I say.

    I think that’s why Malt is great – it mixes the unicorns with the more common bottlings (shall we call them horses, in as much they’re unicorn-like without horns, and common?) and unless I get some friends in high places, I doubt I’ll be trying such limited releases very often. But I can still hope. It all turns into the same thing anyway.

    Cheers!
    Alex

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Alex

      Thanks, this was a fun mix of that dormant review and some samples I had been given recently. All came together for a different slice of Springbank.

      Variety is the key thing isn’t it? We’ve got a couple of 25-year-olds this week, but different regions of the price spectrum. Then, an aged Arbeg and back to the everyday stuff. I like a bargain more than most, as it means you can buy the odd special item now and again!

      Cheers, Jason.

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