Springbank (Pronounced: just like that...)
Glen Scotia, Glengyle (but that's more like a 'dependance')
2 Wash stills, 2 Spirit stills
2,000,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Springbank Distillers Ltd. (since 1989)
85 Longrow, Campbeltown, Argyll, PA28 6EX
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
2000 - The 10yo official bottling
that hadn't been available for a number of years is re-launched, with a price tag that reflects the solid reputationthat Springbank built over the 1990's. This was roughly around the same time that Springbank dropped of my own shopping list; the price difference between the new 10yo and the old 21yo was minimal. The 'quality' difference between the two was massive though - roughly 10 points on my scale.
In the same year the first official bottling or Longrow with an age statement is released; the Longrow 10yo.
2005 - The first official bottling of Hazelburn is released with an age statement of eight years.
2008 - Early in the Summer some shocking news starts to leak out about the imminent mothballing of the Springbank distillery - at least for part of the year. Part of the staff is laid off because Springbank would produce significantly less whisky than usual in 2009. From what I understand, the Glengyle distillery will be closed as well. Apparently, the owners felt that they had sufficient whisky stocks for now. That's a little odd, because for many years they claimed that they could keep raising their prices because they didn't have enough stocks to satisfy demand anyway.
2009 - Springbank resumes part-time production again; 3 months of malting followed by 3 months of distillation.
Around the same time I've noticed a very welcome change in the prices of their regular official bottlings; they are now much more in line with other Scotch single malts. Granted, that's mostly because other Scotch malt whisky producers have increased their prices considerably, but still... ;-)
2010 - At the end of the 1990's and during most of the noughties the prices for Springbank official bottlings were much higher than those for other, comparable single malt whiskies. After the brief mothballing of the distillery, their prices seemed much more in line with other Scotch single malts. (Or rather: most other brands had caught up ;-)
So, while the symptoms of low budget alcohol abuse often include
primitive behavior like shouting and brawling, those of us that prefer to
abuse our alcohol in style find ourselves inspired to start writing books,
composing music or plan a voyage to Scotland where the whisky was
made. Travellers that have the time and means to stay for a few days
can visit all the main whisky producing regions and one of its distilleries.
Whisky is liquid courage. Many people - mostly men - have performed
acts of inspired bravery (and foolishness) whilst under the influence of
'the water of life'. And while the cheaper blends and bourbons usually
affect the more primitive parts of the brain (truncus cerebri), it seems
single malts often appeal to the higher brain functions in the cerebrum.
However, from a traveller's perspective, visiting the Campbeltown
area is not quite ideal.
One has to make an long (but admittedly attractive) journey to the Southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula on the Western coast of Scotland to reach the Springbank & Glen Scotia distilleries. Campbeltown itself is a quiet town with a harbor and a few hotels and pubs. Springbank is one of the few Scotch whisky distilleries that are not surrounded by the lush Scottish countryside; just like Oban to the North, the Springbank distillery is located in the middle of a busy town.
When some of the malt maniacs visited Springbank in 2005 the distillery seemed to go through a fairly difficult time, but the distillery tour was quite interesting. For me, the best thing of our little trip to the tip of Campbeltown was the night I spent in the same hotel that Alfred Barnard stayed in when he visited the area over a century ago.
Barnard's Campbeltown was a very different town from today's, though.
During the glory days of the town and the tip of the Kintyre peninsula, more
that thirty distilleries were active in the area. Campbeltown was also known
as 'The Whisky Capital of the World'. However, most of the distilleries were
focused on quantity rather than quality because they were not able to keep
up with the demand for their malt whiskies (especially from the US) anyway.
So there was no incentive to try and improve the Campbeltown whiskies...
This attitude came back to haunt the Campbeltown distillers when Western economies were hit by
an international recession after World War I and the prohibition in the USA brought (legal) exports
to the America's to a virtual standstill. One of the first victims was the Glengyle distillery, built circa
1873 by William Mitchell after a fight with his brother John at Springbank. The distillery closed down
again in 1825 - and many other Campbeltown distilleries followed. The economical downturn proved
to have disastrous consequences for the 'volume' whisky distilleries in Campbeltown. The owner of
the Glen Scotia distillery became so depressed that he drowned himself in the artificial lake that was
constructed as the distillery's water supply. Some people say his ghost still haunts the buildings...
Unlike its previous owner, the Glen Scotia distillery has managed to survive
to this day. For many years it was the only remaining Campbeltown distillery, apart from their neighbours at Springbank of course. In fact, for a few years
the relations between Springbank and Glen Scotia were extra neighbourly
because a crew from Springbank came over to the Glen Scotia distillery every
now and then to produce a little whisky (to keep the equipment in shape).
I've had the pleasure of sampling some fabulous older Springbanks, but by the time I had
grown really mad about single malts, most of the "better" expressions were already priced
well outside my financial comfort zone. So, Springbank never grew into a real favourite
of mine, although the 21yo that was available at the end of the 1990's (pictured above)
was fantastic. Better yet, it was relatively modestly priced at less than 100 guilders.
Even at that time, most Springbanks were released as expensive 'ultra premium' bottles.
As a result, a lot of them were exported to the USA - the country where massclusivity was
invented and where many customers are sensitive to status. Or rather: the perception of
status - which in turn is often linked to the price that has to be paid for certain products.
America is not unique in that respect though - these misconceptions exist elsewhere too.
For many years the owners of Springbank claimed they could set such steep prices for their whisky because they didn't
have enough stocks to satisfy demand anyway. In such a (financially comfortable) climate it is hardly surprising that
they (sort of) reconstructed the old Glengyle distillery a few years ago so they could increase production capacity.
Unfortunately, a few years later the economical winds changed; Springbank & Glengyle were (temporarily) closed.
The good news is that the prices of their most recent releases have been more in line with other single malts.
1) Springbank distillery was built in 1828 by two brothers, Archibald and Hugh Mitchell.
Rumour has it that their father had already been running an illegal distillery at the same location for years. The Springbank distillery is still owned by the Mitchell family - and so is the (sort of) reconstructed Glengyle distillery.
2) Apart from the 'Springbank' brand the distillery produces two other brands, Hazelburn and Longrow.
The Glengyle distillery is another story - it is 'positioned' further away from the Springbank distillery.
3) Frank McHardy has been working at the distillery for many years; Helen Arthur's guide from the 1990's already
lists him as distillery manager and he was still involved with Springbank when it (temporarily) closed down in 2008.
Most of the single malt Scotch whisky that is bottled carries the name of the distillery where it was produced.
However, there are a number of malt whisky brands that have different names than their distillery of origin. For example, the Edradour distillery also produces the "Ballechin" peated whisky. Springbank produces 3 brands;
Springbank NAS 'CV' (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Chalky and dry with some chloride. Dull. Some very faint floral notes emerge after a few minutes.
Taste: Clean. Dry starts. Some roasted barley? Uneven, fairly & medium sweet rough finish. Some light tannins.
Score: 65 points - oh, how the mighty have fallen... The Longrow CV is great, but this one surely isn't.
Springbank 12yo (54.6%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Sweet coffee and mocha cake, followed by some spices. Some subtle organics emerge after a minute.
The nose did open up a little bit after some breathing, but as far as I'm concerned it was too little, too late.
Taste: Sweet and smooth start. Chloride. Disintegrates within a minute, leaving nothing but an aftertaste.
Score: 76 points - based on this performance, I'd say Springbank has some problems with their stocks.
Did they need the higher proof to provide some 'character' that wasn't provided by the flavours?
Springbank 15yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Light and chalky start - fairly restrained. Anthracite? It definitely needs a while to open up completely.
Taste: Sweetish with a toch of liquorice. Excellent mouth feel, although it grows flatter & drier in the finish.
Score: 81 points - the complexity in the nose eventually lifts it into the 80's. It needs time though...
Springbank 18yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Quite some tropical fruits and a whiff of dust. Very nicely polished. Marzipan and spices. Balanced.
This one really benefits from some breathing. The complexity of this whisky gradually increases over time.
Taste: Smooth and fruity with some '' speculaas spices in the background. A slightly gritty finish. Pine?
Score: 85 points - and maybe I'd even go for 86 points after at least half an hour of breathing.
Springbank 1993/2007 (58.7%, The Single Malts of Scotland, Bottled June 2007)
Nose: Expressive. Surprisingly sweet and well rounded with some phenolic traits in the background.
With some time and water I got toffee, spices, a pinch of salt and cardboard. No trace of fruits, though...
Taste: Well rounded, smooth and quite sweet. Very drinkable at cask strength, but it has an afterburn.
Score: 84 points - surprisingly full-bodied and complex for a relatively young malt whisky.
Springbank 35yo 1971/2007 (59%, The Whisky Fair, Sherry cask, 239 Bts.)
Nose: Light and a little floral. Then fruity complexities and organics emerge. Whiff of citrus?
Great development over time. Needs water though - and lots of the aforementioned time.
Taste: Smooth start, growing big and fruity. Passion fruit? Tannins start very early on. Sweetness and wood.
Score: 90 points - quite lovely; I nominated it for a gold medal in the Malt Maniacs Awards 2007.
Springbank 1996/2006 (59.2%, Whiskykanzler, C# 108)
Nose: Wow, this must have been a charry sherry cask... Lots of fruity notes with smoky overtones.
Some very nice development in the nose after I added water. Sweet pastry. Nutty and oily notes.
Taste: Loads of fruits on the palate as well. Sweet and almost drinkable at cask strength. A tad harsh.
It grew notably sweeter and smoother with some time and water - and there may have been some peat.
Score: 87 points - and it would have gone to 88 or 89 if it would have been just a little smoother.
All in all, this one performs great for a whisky of just 10 years old.
Springbank 36yo 1970/2006 (53,1%, Signatory, Sherry C#1629, 461 Bts.)
Nose: Leather, very old bookstore. Pipe tobacco. A lovely profile in the nose - right up my alley...
Taste: A smooth start on the palate before an attack of wood and old fruits. Touch of smoke?
Powerful tannins in the finish. Just a tad too woody for the 90's for me.
Score: 88 points - but I can see why people would go into the 90's with this Springbank...
Springbank 15yo 1989/2005 (60.5%, SMWS 27.57)
Nose: Light and lemony. Chalky. Quite sweet. The faintest hint of smoke in the background?
The nose seemed a tad friendlier during a second try. Sweet with something fairnly coastal. Quite harsh.
Taste: Phew... Very herbal. Eucalyptus? Dry and quite gritty towards the finish. Was this finished?
Score: 75 points - it has power but little depth or individuality. Rough and a tad weak on the palate.
Springbank 12yo 1991/2004 Bourbonwood (58.5%, OB, D. 12/'91 Btl. 02/'04, 5986 Bts.)
Nose: Big and fruity; if it hadn't been for the colour I could have mistaken it for a sherry cask. Some diesel?
Quite interesting - although that might have been caused by the dissolved poison in the Nalgene bottles ;-)
Taste: Hot attack, but that's to be expected at this ABV. As soon as you swallow a long tannic burn begins.
Nice and chewy, but it loses quite a few points in the bitter finish. And the shadow lasts for a long time.
Score: 81 points - although my initial impression in the nose was a few points more favourable...
Springbank 1991/2004 (54.2%, Murray McDavid, Bourbon Cask #430, 300 Bts., Taiwan Exclusive)
Nose: Mellow and quite sweet at first, growing hotter and spicier after breathing. Cake icing? Oranges?
Over time it gets a lot of 'definition' in the sweet part of the spectrum; honey & hazelnut milk chocolate.
Taste: Matches the nose perfectly at first. Over time the sweetness dissipates; gritty and grainy.
Score: 82 points - but this whisky earns its points mostly on personal enjoyment, not complexity.
Springbank 15yo (46%, OB, bottled 2002)
Nose: Candy sour-sweetness. Slightly perfumy. Not as powerful (or sherried) as the old 12yo at first.
Opens up after 5 minutes. Something in the fruity corner I can't describe in the foreground. Organic. Nuts.
It grows fruitier and fruitier over time. A little dusty. Faint coastal notes. Drops off again after 10 minutes.
Taste: Very similar to the 12yo - more so than the nose. Cookies. Wood. Dry. Cool burn. Minty fresh.
Deep sherry. In fact, this is a little too sherried and not quite sweet enough for my tastes.
Score: 80 points - not quite as balanced as the 12yo from circa 1996, it seems.
Springbank 10yo (46%, OB, 00/164, bottled 2000)
Nose: The start is spirity and a little oily. Some citrus - more light fruits later on.
A barely detectable hint of bonfire smoke, growing stronger. Really opens up with some breathing.
A splash of water kills it, though. I have to admit that this keeps it out of the 80's as far as I'm concerned.
Taste: Smooth, creamy start. Sweet and malty. Good burn. A little gritty in the finish. A good standard malt.
Nothing more though. Diluted to about 40% it seems much more winey in the finish, leaving a sour aftertaste.
Score: 79 points - it scored 80 points at an earlier tasting but I just can't justify that position.
Springbank 21yo (46%, OB, 00/199, bottled +/- 2000 - or late 1990's)
Nose: Ah, that's interesting. Like a blend of the 12 and 15, only better. Powerful.
Sherry and wood again, with an intriguing interplay of spicy and organic notes in the background.
Complex and very well balanced. Fruity episodes. Lemon drops. Oak. Lots of development.
After fifteen minutes it grows some balls and shows some coastal teeth.
Taste: Fruit sweets. Raisin bread. Wood. Salt liquorice? Very nice, but not quite as spectacular as the nose.
Score: 90 points - in this case a year of breaking in has definitely helped the bottle, rising from +/- 87 points.
A smashing malt. Really excellent stuff; great for just sippin' away but it bears close examination as well.
Springbank 12yo 100 Proof (50%, OB, Bottled +/- 1995, 'Double Dark', USA)
Nose: Loads of heavy fruits and other sherried notes. Raisins and old wood. Furnuture polish. Ant acid.
The bouquet keeps developing as well. Not a very broad spectrum, but incredibly complex. For sherry freaks.
After circa fifteen minutes some organics joined the party and I was ready to go for a score around 95 points.
Taste: Heavy wood, but still smooth. Lovely transformed fruits. Tannins too. Many cognac qualities.
But as great as it was, it pulled down the overall score by a few points because of the fairly harsh wood.
Score: 93 points - now I finally understand why this bottling is legendary in the USA...
Springbank NAS 'House & Tree Label' (46%, OB, Bottled mid 1990's)
Nose: Some antiquity. Organics. Smoke. Meaty. I'm not a real Springbak fan but this is lovely.
Taste: Sherried. mallow. Sweet. Fruity, then salty. What a great mouth feel! As good as the 21yo.
Score: 90 points - now here's a Springbank I would like to have in my reserve stock...
Longrow NAS 'CV' (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Fresh and light with a strong peaty undercurrent. Some sweaty notes & other organics. Very nice start!
Taste: Medium peaty start, growing sweeter in the centre. A pretty good mouth feel. Dry, fairly harsh finish.
Score: 83 points - this one starts of very strong (in the 84/85 area) but loses some steam rather quickly.
Longrow 14yo (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Expressive. A condensed fruitiness over a smoky base. Some very faint organics. Drops off after a while.
Taste: Smoky start, followed by a warm, sweet centre. Quite pleasant, but there's not much 'staying power'.
Score: 80 points - there is SOME complexity, but this is not a very consistent whisky that falls apart.
Longrow 7yo 2000/2008 (55.8%, OB, Gaja Barolo finish, 12120 Bts.)
Nose: Complex. Some subtle peat. Faint meaty notes? Much more power than other Longrows, I'd say.
Taste: Solid with a fair dose of peat. Excellent mouth feel and probably the peatiest Longrow I've tried so far.
Score: 84 points - It has been a while since Springbank really impressed me, but with this one they did.
Keep in mind that this whisky is just 7 years old - a good five years younger than many competitors...
Longrow 8yo 1987/1995 (43%, Signatory Vintage, C# 136-138)
Nose: Hint of citrus, then peat. Organics. Sweaty. Coastal. Radish (after Serge mentioned it).
Taste: Dry and a little bitter at first, then the peat emerges, followed by a peppery twang.
Score: 83 points - which is a very impressive score for a whisky that is just eight years old.
Longrow 16yo 1974 (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 1990)
Nose: Sweet, round and polished. Fruit cake. My kind of profile, just the way I like it...
Taste: A big contrast with the nose. Peaty. Medicinal. Liquorice. Aniseed. Sweet. Camphor.
Score: 90 points - although the company (other maniacs) and the location (Islay) may have had an effect.
Longrow NAS 1973 (46%, OB, Small Caps Label, Bottled +/- 1990)
Nose: Big, sweet and sherried. Raisins. Hint of smoke. Spices. Red cabbage. Faintly medicinal. XLNT!
Taste: Sweet with a pinch of salt. Chewy. Peaty. Very satisfying, but not quite as stellar as the '74.
Score: 90 points - this was a difficult one to rate; I preferred the '73 nose but the '74 palate.
Hazelburn NAS 'CV' Triple Distilled (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Some sour and 'beery' notes, a bit like new make spirit. Peanuts. Sorrel & rhubarb in the background.
Taste: Surprisingly peaty start. Sweetness is next, followed by smoke and some organics. Smoky finish.
Score: 78 points - it's quite unique how none of the peat I found on the palate shines through in the nose.
Based on the palate alone it could have reached the 80's, but the nose offers too little complexity.
Hazelburn 8yo 'First Edition' (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2005)
Nose: Ooh... Big, sweet and fruity - much more expressive than I expected. Apricots & toasted bread.
Almonds, mocha, dried apples. Very nice - although things remain fairly superficial. Little development.
Taste: A sweet and fruity profile that matches the nose. It feels quite rough on the palate, even at 46%.
The finish is remarkably long - but it lacks depth and definition. The long aftertaste is hot and dry. Tannins.
Score: 82 points - spunk and character, but this whisky doesn't quite hold up so well on closer inspection.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Springbank Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Springbank page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the dozens of Springbank expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or