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.
The limited release game is often the purview of the bottle hoarders and the flippers – the ‘must obtain at almost any cost’ brigade – and distillery’s know this – some of them will even go as far as to imply a sense of restricted supply to a release, knowing that the die-hards will still near claw each other’s eyes out to obtain one (or two, or five, or four cases – personal consumption honest guv’). Unsightly scenes and a lack of care/organisation by the distillery’s themselves for the launch of these limited edition bottlings seems on the rise – it’s a facet of the whisky world I try my best to avoid, but invariably end up being sucked into. There’s unfortunately no escaping from it.
One release from 2017 which passed me by (not though want of trying) was Springbank Local Barley 11 year old. Springbank fans are some of the most ardent, and the quality of their distillate is amongst the very best there’s to be had – the combination results in all of the distillery’s Local Barley releases flying off the shelves in double quick time – and quickly drawing a hefty premium on the secondary market. I sat down with a sample recently to see if the stampede was worthwhile…
Nose: Immediate minerality – flint, limestone and granite. This steeliness sits with tart and sour lemons, grapefruit juice, a gently smoked seafood – the end result seeming extremely coastal. In the background, a slight farmyard aroma – wet hay sties and rubber tractor tyres. The addition of water adds a sense of sweetness – honey laced tea as well as emphasising the citrus notes with fizzing lemon sherbet. It also adds to the sense of ‘Campbeltown’ with notes of damp cloth, old wool and pungent earthiness.
Taste: The arrival is mouth coating, but at the same time fairly soft and chewy. It delivers an array of unripe stone fruits, lemon zest and gooseberry followed by another solid whack of minerality – stone, charcoal, salt and chalk. This sharp and carved rockiness extends into both the mid and back palate, where it is joined by wet autumn leaves and moss. Reduction beings about a really interesting juxtaposition between sweet and sour – sugared lemons vs. soured grapefruit – it’s quite unusual and at the same time a touch vegetal.
Finish: Long, quite chalky and ashy with a pungency that seems quite engine-room/oil rag in nature.
Springbank Local Barley 11 year old is full of sharp and chiselled minerality. In essence, it’s very ‘Springbank’ with plenty of coastal/pungent nuance (particularly on the palate) balanced against well-judged tart fruitiness. It’s worth nothing that these Local Barley releases seem to be getting younger and younger – whereas the price is not following the same trajectory – however, the quality is certainly there, and lovers of exceptionally well-made, idiosyncratic coastal whiskies will be well in their element here.
Am I sad I missed out on a bottle? Sure – this style is right up my particular whisky alley. Will I be trying to obtain a future Local Barley release – undoubtedly....along with everyone else who either enjoys, or loathes a limited release scrabble.