Campbeltown stalwart Springbank was one of only two distilleries (along with Glen Scotia) to survive the depression and post-war period. Nowadays, the distillery has reached the heights of cult status – the speed that its releases fly off the shelves matched by the general high quality and consistency of its expressions. The CV series was commenced in 2008 with the release of Longrow CV (which we’ll be taking a look at tomorrow). Since then, it’s been joined by additional expressions of both Springbank and Hazelburn – reflecting the three different styles that the distillery produces.
Campbeltown was once labelled 'The whisky capital of the world’. At one point there were 28 distilleries, though in 2017 little remains of all but three of these – Glengyle, Glen Scotia and Springbank. Of these three, Springbank is the only facility which has been in constant operation since the 1820’s and is also one of Scotland’s few distilleries which is still family owned. Three 'types of whisky are distilled at Springbank: Hazelburn which is unpeated and triple distilled, Longrow which is is heavily peated and double distilled. and Springbank itself which is lightly peated and described as being distilled two and a half times.
I usually find the scrabble for limited edition bottlings rather loathful. The process requires planning, dedication and fast fingers, or just sheer luck (which I rarely have with ballots it seems). But, there is another side to the limited edition coin – when, after hours of banging your head against a wall, and Ardbeg’s website having fallen over for the ninth time, you finally manage to check out for a Committee Release bottling – a sense of achievement, elation and good fortune washes over. It’s rather the strange consumer phenomenon – getting excited about earning the privilege of paying a company for the goods it has produced – but we’ve all felt this limited release joy at one time or another.
Wine casks can be a tricky thing. Tricky to get right in terms of the balance between spirit, wood and particularly tannins, but also tricky for some whisky enthusiasts to fully appreciate – they can be rather divisive things. The use of wine casks has grown exponentially over the past 20 years – and this trend doesn’t seem to be abating anytime soon. But, for every great marriage of whisky and wine, there’s another which doesn’t quite hit the same high spots. Campbeltown’s Springbank regularly utilise wine casks from a fairly broad range of grape varietals. And more than most, they tend to make it work.
The two most automated aspects of Springbank are the bottling hall (which even then employs a busy team) and the inevitability of fans who flock to buy any and all of the distillery’s products. Whilst enthusiasts, and I certainly count myself among these ranks, view Springbank with a current air of ‘can do no wrong’, behind the scenes, the distillery itself is far from the well-oiled and efficient machine that you’ll find at more modern sites. Quality and, importantly consistency are clearly held (and righty so) in particularly high regard by J&A Mitchell & Company – to the point where they’re making life hard for themselves to ensure it.
Springbank are going through a real purple patch. Interesting finishes, excellent cask selection, fair pricing and a very high quality underlying distillate. It’s little wonder that the distillery has built up a clamouring worldwide fan base. Alas, with success comes a downside – releases shift in no time at all, and you really do have to be quick on the draw to nab new limited expressions. Ah, the price of fame.
J & A Mitchell & Company not only keep the flag flying for Campbeltown whiskies with both the Springbank and Glengyle distilleries under their wings, but they also own William Cadenhead’s, Scotlands oldest independent bottler. It was not all that long ago that Springbank was largely disregarded or panned as an obscure whisky – my how times have changed – critical acclaim, legendary status for some expressions, and releases that fly off the shelves. This is Springbank in 2017.
What do you get when you cross Springbank with Bruichladdich? The terroir of whisky (broadly: it’s relationship to a specific natural place) has become quite the talking point over the past decade. Whilst arguably more applicable to wine-making, some distilleries have experimented with local barley strains in an attempt to translate a real sense of place into their products. Both Springbank in Campbeltown and Bruichladdich on Islay have run different barley strains through their stills to produce diverse malt spirits which they believe express their terroir. So, if terroir is in the barley can it also derive from the location of maturation?
Whisky is littered with ‘what ifs’: the hyped bottling that didn’t deliver the goods; the tasting which couldn’t live up to the build-up; the tour which promised much but ended up delivering far less. Whisky is experiential – and as such, expectations and anticipation become fundamental drivers of our desires to continue to explore the category. However as with any pursuit, left unfettered expectations invariably turn into a source of negativity. Whilst humans are driven to experience things, they also (seemingly increasingly) become easily bored. As whisky lovers experience more, they naturally expect more – a dram better than the last one, the best tasting of the year and the greater distillery tour…EVA. But in putting our past experiences on such a pedestal it’s all too easy to wander through life dwelling only on the times when our expectations were not fulfilled.
22 year old single cask Springbank is something that most whisky enthusiasts are going to get excited about. This example is straight down the line ex-bourbon at 55% ABV. The cost is less exciting alas - £344.99 a pop. Ouch.
Whisky doesn’t need any more blogs/vblogs featuring “my first ever Laphroaig” or copy and pasted wiki distillery histories or WSET level 2 “experts”. But it does need, perhaps more than ever, some sharp angles when it comes to whisky writing. In order to write a good critique, there is also a requirement to critically read and critically assess. These are skills which do not develop overnight…knowledge doesn’t grow on trees (unless you’re into cider reviews). Close inspection and a deep understanding of whatever it is you’re attempting to critique are fundamental requirements and are joined by the aptitude to apply an appropriate set of criteria in order to keenly evaluate the subject to hand fairly and consistently. And then most importantly, and sadly all too often forgotten - to be able to communicate all of this in an engaging and energising fashion.
As a reviewer you need to be quick off the mark to pen your thoughts on a new bottle of Springbank before the thing has all but vanished from the shelves. And when that situation extends to what was once (but arguably aren’t now) the distillery’s core range products, you invariably find yourself either writing about the just past or penning words about the fairly depressing future where things are notionally still available – only now at twice the price they were last week. Rather like filling up the car or obtaining the weekly shop - just far less actually consumed as intended.
Merry Christmas everyone! Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing today, The Dramble team wish you a very happy holiday and thank you for visiting us in 2018. We’ll be taking a well-earned break for the remainder of 2018, but before we put down our glasses and pens, we have one final review to bring you in the form of door number 24 from the 2018 Boutique-y Advent calendar. Turns out, it’s rather the treat to kick off this year’s festivities - Springbank 21 year old Batch 8.