“That used to be a Burger King.”
I live in the town where my wife grew up, and she’ll occasionally point out buildings that used to house other businesses. The new Wendy’s is across the street from what used to be the Wendy’s. Now derelict, that building’s signature solarium perhaps renders it unable to be repurposed. This abandoned Wendy’s sits just South of the Home Depot which (she informs me) used to be a Meijer.
These short stories about which building used to be what are extremely dull to someone who does not feel her same nostalgic connection to the place. I gently make fun of her for telling them, or I manufacture my own satirical versions, like how the Hungry Howie’s Pizza used to be the summer palace of China’s Qin Emperor. On occasional trips to my hometown, I make a mental effort check myself whenever I am in danger of noting the prior occupant of a storefront.
What’s the whisky equivalent of these stories? For both maudlin wistfulness and ability to bore an audience, you’d be hard pressed to beat “I remember when you could buy [now extinct or rare whisky] for [implausibly small sum of money].” Someone (like myself) who got “into” whisky as recently as the mid-2000s already has ample examples at hand, given the drastic changes to the whisky landscape in the intervening decade-plus. Those a few years older than me spent long stretches of time passing by bottles with prices that, in hindsight, make the Louisiana Purchase look like a flaming rip-off.
On their face, these stories would seem useless to anyone not in possession of a time machine, though it would take a special type of myope to use such a device hunt down late 60’s Stitzel-Weller instead of, say, preventing the World Wars. Yet, for as self-indulgent (quite) and tedious (very) as these tales can be, I don’t think they’re entirely worthless.
I say this is because we are still living through a time in which desirable bottles are available, though they’re disappearing at a pace that strongly suggests considering the acquisition of reserves. Some folks collect whisky for fun; others collect it for profit. To the extent that the bottles I have accumulated in my basement could be considered a “collection” (I do not refer to them thus), the motivation for its assembly is of a third variety. I buy bottles now that I anticipate wanting to drink in the future, in case I’m not able to get my hands on them (at all, or at least economically) at a later date.
This is largely focused on favored bourbon expressions, as these are the whiskies that occupy the majority of my time and attention. However, I also set aside the occasional Japanese whisky or Scotch whisky bottle. Kat’s recent praise for the old-style, age stated Glenlivet Nadurrá caused me to remember how much I enjoyed that expression years ago, and to recall that I recently spied an ignored bottle on the shelf of a local shop. That bottle now is now tucked away in the back of closet, awaiting a time in which it has become a treasured rarity and an object of desire.
It occurred to me, during my meditations ahead of writing this piece, that I’ve probably been hunting the wrong quarry. After all, there are plenty of bourbon enthusiasts throughout America, with my area being no exception. As a consequence, competition for bottles is fierce. For each lucky find, I’ve probably been picked off a dozen times, perhaps by a margin of a few minutes.
I don’t waste time lamenting the bottles that got away. What I am able to find consistently grows to occupy 125% of the space allotted to it, necessitating an upsizing and commencing the cycle anew. However, considering the example of the Nadurrá above got me thinking that there’s likely less intense competition for Scotch whisky in my area.
This will no doubt come as a shock to my Caledonian correspondents; from merely reading their work on this site, I am aware that demand hovers at all-time highs, supply remains elusive, and the methods for procuring bottles become more conniving by the day. Without performing any rigorous scientific inquiry into the subject, my gut tells me that there’s a smaller and/or less committed group of Scotch seekers Stateside. Combined with the fact that liquor can’t always be sold and shipped across state lines, and you’ve got the conditions for potentially great finds.
So, if I were to go out and start accumulating Scotch whisky in earnest (I’m not saying I will, but I’m not saying I won’t), which distilleries and expressions might I focus on? My personal favorites (Caol Ila, Glenfarclas, Talisker) either already have adequate representation among the bottles on my shelf, or else seem unlikely to be disappearing any time soon.
So, keeping in mind my initial strategy (acquire bottles that have or will soon become unavailable, from distilleries I like), where else might I cast my sights? Springbank is one that (here comes the pun) springs immediately to mind. I’m positively inclined toward the distillery, having enjoyed most of what I’ve tasted from them, as well as sister labels Longrow and Hazelburn. Bottles are still to be found around, though perhaps they’re not as plentiful as they used to be, perhaps foreshadowing more severe scarcity to come.
For the time being, I am the grateful recipient of samples of Springbank from those lucky enough to snag bottles, wise enough to open them, and generous enough to share them. Today’s whisky is courtesy of Ryan, who once again has my sincerest and most humble thanks.
This is 17 years old; sometimes, it feels like an age statement alone is sufficient to put a whisky on an “endangered species” list. Distilled 2002 and bottled in October 2020, this was matured in a combination of bourbon and rum casks, followed by a three-year finish in Madeira casks. 9,200 bottles were produced.
Price is a sticky one; I believe original retail price for this bottle was £99, but Whiskybase informs me that the current lowest price is €450, with the average closer to €600. To adjust for reality and to throw another currency in the mix and, let’s double the release price to £200 and convert to dollars for a rough $270, which I’ll be using as my scoring benchmark.
Springbank Madeira Wood Aged 17 Years – Review
Color: Medium orange with a faintly brown hue.
On the nose: A delightful marriage of meaty and spicy aromas, accented by a rich and sweet fruitiness. There’s a burly, subtly smoke-accented whiff of roasted meat which melds seamlessly with scents of candied stone fruit. In a subtle and difficult to describe way, the maritime aspects of Campbeltown’s location begin to creep in around the periphery, as though carried along on a salty spritz of sea breeze. There’s also a piquant zestiness to this, reminiscent of fizzy ginger beer. With some time in the glass, the whisky takes on lighter floral notes and a pleasantly sweet-and-spicy aroma of cinnamon sugar. Overall, this feels very complete on the nose; let’s see if the palate can deliver similarly?
In the mouth: An initially drying note of salt and stone makes way for a blooming expansion of flavor as this reaches the midpalate. Again, a total marriage of elements is presented as a unified whole, making the individual notes difficult to disentangle. Some patience is rewarded as a gently candied sugar flavor and a concentrated floral taste of rosewater gradually changes into a smoke-infused and savory note of broth. A momentarily tart fruitiness yields to more overt cask influence toward the back of the mouth, in the form of a spicy and astringent woodiness. This is redeemed when it shifts subtly to a mocha-like flavor with balanced notes of coffee and chocolate. That candied fruit note returns for long reprise as the mouth is otherwise coated with a gently smoky heat through the finish, which also reincorprorates some of the drying minerality.
This is a great example of a cask finish imparting some additional character, while not completely overwhelming or obscuring the underlying spirit. Springbank fans will appreciate that the distillery’s hallmark notes are in abundant supply, though I was equally intrigued by some of the richly sweet and fruity nuances from the Madeira finish. There wasn’t as much evidence of this on the palate, and I felt a bit let down initially. However, the resurgence of those notes on the finish rounded out and balanced the overall presentation. In total: a serious – and seriously delicious – dram.
As for the score: taking the aforementioned adjusted price into account, I’d certainly be tempted to pick up another bottle. It’s worthy of preserving for a few years or more, at which point I shudder to imagine what the price will be. Whether or not there’s one to be had… well… I’ll have to go hunting around my local shops. Maybe I’ll start the one that used to be an Arby’s?