Congratulations to It’s All About Springbank (IAAS) for completing a treble of releases with the arrival of this 27 year old bottling, which is their oldest to date having previously launched a 21 year old and a 25 year old, respectively.
Just think about it for a moment if you may. Of all the distilleries to try and bottle and only bottle from. Arguably one of the hardest and increasingly scarce is Springbank. So, for a group of enthusiasts to seek out only to select casks of quality and then bottle from this Campbeltown producer is an achievement. In terms of a business plan, it’s totally flawed and ridiculous. You’re dealing with a finite commodity that is becoming the domain of more premium bottlers such as Douglas Laing and Gordon & MacPhail.
It’s a task that only the most loyal of fans would attempt to do, which reminds me that Ardbaggie and myself should start a range of Tormore releases. At least people would be interested in Springbank in any shape or form. We’ve seen prices rise with Springbank in recent times as the secondary market has latched onto its quality and perceived value. This, in turn, has driven up retail prices from all quarters. Springbank isn’t cheap nowadays and when you’re hitting 27 years as we are here. You can expect to pay a pretty penny for the privilege. An example from 2019 would be the 24 year old from Douglas Laing that retailed for circa £800, which speaks for itself. The logic being, this should cost more.
The problem is we’re not going to get out of this secondary market mess anytime soon. This, in turn, means that many whisky drinkers are somewhat limited in their options if they’re able to purchase a bottle. Even this IAAS release was by ballot only and many members will have missed out: there just isn’t enough to go around to meet demand.
So, we have to enjoy these IAAS releases for as long as possible. Sadly, given the lockdown nature on Springbank casks – which we’ll come to in a second – what private stock is on the market, is dwindling. It’ll be also growing in price and lowering any potential number of outturns. And Springbank isn’t immune to cask problems with some sherried examples being the most famous. All in all, IAAS as a bottler, only has a limited time frame.
And I believe they are realistic to acknowledge this outcome. Eventually, the grand plan is that all casks of Springbank will be within the possession of the distillery. That will put an end to the sadness that some employees display whenever they talk about the oldest cask at the distillery and gaps in their inventory.
In this world, I’m not one to normally welcome the threat of a monopoly or a dictatorship as we’ve seen with Putin surprisingly winning his latest vote to remain in charge forever. These things are never good for competition, freedom and choice. However, this is Springbank we’re talking about and they have been shown to do the right thing by their customers, employees and community, which partially explains some of the love and committed followers they have. A monopoly can be a good thing if the powerbroker is fair and just: something we don’t see much of in society today.
I’m sure I’ve told the story before about one of the recent Springbank single casks retailing for £400. The team were worried about this price point and sought the opinion of retailers. That I would suggest is not normal behaviour. Prices are set and money taken. If you don’t like it then you just have to accept it for what it is and move on. Whisky will sell eventually, and Springbank would probably sell if it was slapped into a Jura shaped bottle and shown as much care and attention as that distillery off the coast of Islay. The name carries weight and expectation, but it isn’t abused or taken for granted.
Another story demonstrates just how hard it is to get a case from the clutches of Springbank nowadays, even if its Longrow, Kilkerran or Hazelburn as well. A well-known independent bottler recently told us tales of their team trying to acquire a cask from the clutches of the distillery, during an online tasting. It just wasn’t happening, no matter how many casks were being offered as a trade. Even resorting to some form of friendly golfing competition wasn’t going to complete the deal either. The golden rule seems to be that everything stays within their possession. That way, Springbank can control their destiny and not look around a warehouse with a tinge of sadness.
But you’re here for a review. I was kindly given a sample by IAAS for my own thoughts on this release, which I provided. This 27 year old was released by ballot and immediately sold out. Distilled in 1993, the cask was filled on 23rd April and bottled on 14th May 2020 from cask #26 at a strength of 51.3%. 198 bottles were produced. The price was £320 (including UK delivery) to those who were fortunate to win a bottle. As always, it is bottled non chill-filtered and natural colour.
IAAS Springbank 27 year old – review
Colour: apple juice.
On the nose: sweet and fruity from the off, with a nice layering of smoke amongst the balancing act of apples, pears and white grapes. A musty nature, sweet cinnamon and some dried fruit. The delicate cinnamon comes out more with time alongside that gentle peat. A dusty chalkboard, faint eucalyptus and dried fruits. Soot in places, tangerines and some hessian/hemp characteristics. Let’s not overlook that candle wax feature, nor the hessian that returns as a bouquet garni with parsley, thyme, bay leaf, marjoram and rosemary all combining. This doesn’t need water.
In the mouth: one of these whiskies you have to listen to. There’s restrained confidence initially with a fruit bowl assortment, before a pause, and a powerful return with peat that carries through into the long finish. Grapefruit, black shoe polish, green mangoes, orange, more eucalyptus and a chalky aspect. Mixing through is smoke, lemon and a resinous joy about this whisky that just takes you places. I just want to put down the pencil and enjoy the moment. Again, water isn’t hugely beneficial.
To date, this is my favourite of the IAAS releases. It lacks the wacky nature of the 21, but it has the edge over last year’s release, just. We talk about feeling in whisky a lot nowadays and this for want of a better word feels more dignified and complete. There’s a great deal of exploration within this bottle. The layers you can peel away, the sense of time and elegance. A doorway into the past. A release that reminds of what Springbank can achieve and has done so previously.
A high score. A dram for whisky enthusiasts who do crazy things: whether it is self-publishing detailed research on distilleries, bottling casks from their favourites, or travelling the world to seek out new experiences. This one is clearly for you.
Photographs kindly provided by IAAS.