Springbank Distillery. The tiny constrained traditional distillery on the edge of the Scotch map. It had been a whisky secret for decades.
In the 2010s it began to increase in popularity until such times as it became in 2019, more investible than Macallan. The flippers went wild. It’s still hard to get hold of, but more often than not, a patient search will turn up some of the 10 Year Old, maybe the sherry-forward 15 too. Ballots have restored some balance and auction prices have settled. The NAS Hazelburn and Longrow are still reasonably easy to track down, but Springbank whisky is certainly the now the worst kept secret in Scotch.
What changed? Well, reassuringly absolutely nothing about Springbank, but the growth in whisky enthusiasts certainly was exponential. A lot has been said about the flippers in the past, and I will not revisit them here. I have also covered the flavours of Springbank in some detail. So, what prompts this article? What more to be said?
Well, firstly the 2023 Online Scotch Whisky Awards have been announced and – despite the many quality products and distilleries shortlisted – Springbank Distillery was a resounding winner. Springbank took home the Best Blended Malt category with their Campbeltown Loch blend, made up exclusively of Springbank, Killerran, and a little Glen Scotia whiskies. Springbank also won the Best Distillery category, and Best Scotch Whisky for their Springbank 10 Year Old. Slam dunk. Mic Drop.
Congratulations to the whole team in Campbeltown who have resolutely remained exactly the same, in relative isolation on the Kintyre peninsula, roubustly and independently remaining separate from the Scotch Whisky Association. Springbank continues to maintain paper records and old-fashioned methods when the rest of the world was going in the other direction. Springbank featured less in the last two awards, as both Roy and Ralfy – who founded the awards – require nominations for bottles with good availability only. The low availability of Springbank basically rules it out of contention. The increasing availability of Springbank 10 shows that more Springbank is making it into the hands of those who drink it.
If Springbank hasn’t changed, then what did change between the early 2000s and today? In my opinion, it is you: the Scotch whisky drinkers of the world, who have developed palates that demand more flavour and more power for your money. The desire for gentle, smooth, soft, mellow, whisky presented at 40% with colouring and chill filtration has fallen away. Or, at least, found a new public who are tempted by glamorous cocktails and superfluous packaging, like those who are tempted by a Glenmorangie blended to go well with a cake.
In recent years, the rise of the fresh-fill-punchy-flavoured-wet-cask-finished-refill-cask has become a signature approach of many independent bottlers. Some nail it, others widely miss the mark. But the IBs have not been the only ones to boost the cask influence. Bunnahabhain, Tobermory, and Deanston are birds of a feather, especially with limited releases boosted to extreme levels. Can anyone find me a good bourbon cask Bunnahabhain about 16 years old? Probably not, sherry predominates.
This can be seen, too, in the other OSWA categories. The Thompson Bros sherry forward blended scotch TB/BSW won out over the spirit forward SRV5. Ardnamurchan distillery has always had a flavour forward approach, and took Best New Distillery. Signatory is an outlier for bottling consistently well aged, not cask-spiked whiskies, but certainly flavour forward.
This change in palate is great news for everyone; a more discerning whisky drinking public choosing whisky presented at 46% without chill-filtration allowing the fats and proteins that bring the flavour to remain, at natural colour without the slight taint of caramel hopefully will drive change. Not everyone is on board, but by and large most distilleries are presenting a section of their products to meet this growing market. This is very much in keeping with the doctrine of Roy and Ralfy, and one I fully support too.
There is a nagging feeling that by choosing bottles by huge consumer committee we will only see the same nominations year in and year out, but hopefully the breadth of new products available will deliver some variety over future years of the awards. And, it certainly makes a lot more sense than what comes from the pay-for-play awards. Such is the integrity of the OSWA awards that if the public vote for Springbank 10 every year, then it will win. No politics, no agenda. That is why it is easy to support the awards.
Springbank 10 Year Old – Review
Bottled 19/07/2023. 46% ABV. £50.
Colour: Yellow gold.
On the nose: Sweet fruit breaking into mineral notes, baked apricot Danish eaten with oily fingers mid-engine service, tarragon, pencil shavings, citrus rind, a prickle of spirit, with time sweet vanilla and ripe oxidised orchard fruit.
In the mouth: Soft sweetness with a dirty note from the peat, peppery spirit, spicy peat, malty notes and a flash of soap, vanilla fudge, white fruit, drying peaty spices on the finish which is big in flavour but fairly short with a tiny single salt crystal.
This is really good whisky from a distillery that can produce outstanding whisky. All of the flavours are authentic, and feel natural, even those industrial notes are rough tough blue collar and genuine. It outperforms its similarly aged peers from other distilleries, and it is certainly a fair candidate for best whisky from the Online Scotch Whisky Awards. This quality in reflected in the price, and the RRP is a fair reflection of that. Secondary prices make no sense at all.