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Sunday, 21 May 2017

Springbank 2001 Vintage Whisky Review!

It's been quite a while since I reviewed a Springbank. Far too long, in fact! But thanks to a sample from a generous donor, the time has come...

Since it's been so long between mentions, let's do a quick recap on the merits of this much-loved Campbeltown distillery. Springbank have a well-deserved cult following in the whisky world, largely thanks to the fact that they do everything properly, in the traditional way, and it all happens on location at the distillery. They're actually the only distillery in Scotland where every step in production, from the floor-malting of the barley, through to the distillation and maturation, and finally bottling is carried out on-site, and they're also the only distillery in Scotland that floor-malts 100% of its barley requirements.

Aside from all of that, there are a lot of interesting little quirks about the distillery, such as their wash still being direct-fired (heated with a direct external flame rather than internal steam coils), and one of their two spirit stills using a worm tub condenser for cooling, and their namesake Springbank whisky being distilled '2.5' times where (basically) a portion of the low wines ends up being distilled a third time. The distillery also produces three distinctly different whiskies, catering for all tastes: the triple-distilled un-peated Hazelburn, the 2.5-times distilled lightly-peated Springbank, and the twice-distilled heavily-peated Longrow. It also helps that the distillery is still privately and family owned, and in fact the current owner is the great, great grandson of the original founder, Archibald Mitchell, who founded the distillery in 1828. No changes of ownership over nearly 190 years, no buy-outs by big conglomerates, just one single family ownership since the distillery was founded. That's a pretty amazing thing when you think about it!

This particular Springbank I'm looking at today is quite an interesting one. It's quite young at only 8 years of age, was distilled in 2001 (hence the 2001 Vintage) and it was bottled 8 years ago in 2009. There isn't a lot of information available on its contents, although there are rumours that it was matured in smaller casks than usual, possibly quarter casks or octaves, and most likely of the ex-bourbon variety. But those are only educated guesses from the interweb, I can't find any official confirmation. This one was bottled at a cask strength of 55.3%, and of course, like all Springbank whiskies, is non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. This bottling seems to have taken quite some time to sell in Australia, and is actually still available from a couple of lesser known online stores for around $140 AUD, which is pretty good for a limited release vintage Springbank at cask strength. But then it's only a small step up to the 12 year old cask strength series, which are always excellent, so this one may be a bit of an underdog...
Springbank 2001 Vintage, 8 years old, 55.3%. Campbeltown, Scotland.
Distilled 2001, bottled 2009. Possibly matured in smaller (quarter / octave) casks. Cask strength, non-chill filtered, naturally coloured. 

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Seems quite closed and uptight initially, takes a lot of breathing time to settle down. Lemon icing, some vanilla custard, A little salty zing. Dusty malt, some sweet buttery pastry (shortcrust), strong red apples, and fresh powdered ginger. 

Texture: Light-medium weight, quite hot though. Not sure about the small cask ageing rumours so far. 

Taste: Hot ginger, dusty red apples and more of that buttered pastry. Quite a lot of tongue-tingling raw spirit-y heat, seems to overshadow the more subtle notes.

Finish: Medium length, still quite hot & spirit-y, lots of ginger and a little aniseed. A little damp hay, more red apples but they're dried now. Welcome hints of the classic Springbank oily-ness and soft, earthy peat towards the end. 

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: Not a bad drop overall, but it's miles away from my favourite Springbank. Probably closer to my least favourite Springbank, actually. The nose is enjoyable, although perhaps a little straight-forward, but the palate is a real let-down for me. Seems a little hot & harsh at times, and while it is still young I'm finding it much more 'raw' in character than other young Springbanks I've tasted. And the fact that the heat doesn't dissipate with time and oxidisation seems to confirm that. That classic Springbank 'funk' that we all love only shows up in the later stages of the finish, and they're a very welcome addition by then. Maybe this fact points to the rumoured smaller cask maturation, but I definitely wouldn't have expected that heat & raw-ness if that was the case. 

Seeing as this one was bottled 8 years ago, it's possible that it suffered a little in the bottle, although this sample bottle had a generous air gap, and it's been sitting on the shelf for over a month, so you'd think it would have had plenty of time to relax and open up. I'm not sure really, I expected better and remember enjoying it more immediately after the was opened, although it certainly still seemed uptight at the time. In any case, at this price level I'd be skipping it and going straight for the 12 year old cask strength Springbank. There is always some batch variation in those, but I haven't had a bad one yet (So I doubt there is such a thing), and they always offer excellent value for money. 


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Port Charlotte CC01 2007 Whisky Review!

Yes it's another travel-exclusive, but this is a little different to the last couple of 'duty-free exclusive' bottlings that I've reviewed - it's absolutely delicious!

It's been some time since I last reviewed a Port Charlotte, so let's re-cover the story behind the 'brand'. Port Charlotte is the heavily peated, but not super-heavily peated, range from one of my favourite Islay distilleries, Bruichladdich. The name pays homage to the Loch Indaal Distillery that permanently closed in 1929, which was located in the village of Port Charlotte, down the road from Bruichladdich. The first Port Charlotte bottling, the 5-year old cask strength PC5, was released in 2006, and the yearly cask strength releases have so far continued each year, up until the most recent PC12, although unfortunately both it and PC11 were 'travel-exclusive', meaning that they could only be officially purchased from duty-free stores. There have also been a few lower strength non-age statement (NAS) bottlings, including an Islay Barley expression, and two 10-year old releases, the first matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, with the recent second edition also adding some wine casks into the mix.

Port Charlotte is peated to 40 ppm, which puts it slightly above modern Lagavulin and Caol Ila, and slightly below Laphroaig and Ardbeg, and far below Bruichladdich's own super-heavily peated Octomore range. The numbers don't tell the whole story of course, and Bruichladdich's tall stills and intentionally slow & steady production methods mean that you generally don't get the massive peat explosion that those digits might imply, even when they're well into the hundreds. Having said that, the Port Charlotte bottlings still pack a nice peaty & smoky punch, particularly when they're bottled relatively young and at cask strength, such as the brilliant and now quite rare PC7 bottling reviewed here.

This particular Port Charlotte bottling I'm looking at today is a slightly different take on the make. For a start it carries a vintage rather than a simple age statement, but you'll also find an age statement of eight years in the fine print on the bottle and packaging. It was also fully-matured, not merely finished (or ACE'd - additional cask enhanced, in Bruichladdich speak), in French oak ex-cognac casks, which is quite a rare thing in the whisky world. This is where the rather obscure name becomes a little clearer: Port Charlotte Cognac Cask 01 (first release), 2007 vintage. Cognac is essentially a type of Brandy (aged grape spirit) that must be produced in the Cognac region of western France (much like sherry must be produced in Jerez, Spain), and must be aged for at least two years in French oak to legally carry the name cognac. Port Charlotte CC01 was bottled at a cask strength of 57.8%, and like all whiskies from our beloved Bruichladdich it's non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. So we have a vintage and an age statement, plus the full cask details and a totally natural presentation, at cask strength, and it's quite reasonably priced as well. Outstanding!

Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich) CC01 2007, 57.8%. Islay, Scotland.
8 years old, distilled 2007. Fully-matured (not finished) in French oak ex-cognac casks. Cask strength, non-chill filtered, naturally coloured. Travel retail / duty-free exclusive. 

Colour: Gold.

Nose: Fresh, bright and zesty. A little soft earthy, herbal peat, dusty oranges, salted potato chips (crisps). Some oily filler putty and candied citrus peel. Brine and some musty stone fruit, and a little peppery oak. 

Texture: Gorgeous. Medium weight, intense yet soft. No heat at all, despite the youth and high strength.

Taste: Much peatier than the nose suggested, but still quite well balanced. An earthy, dry peat with plenty of salt and thick, dry wood smoke alongside. Builds in intensity to a peaty crescendo, but still quite vibrant and herbal, with the candied citrus and some stone fruit (mostly apricot) jam, and a little ginger. More time in the glass brings out a thick creamy orange-y caramel, and some trademark Bruichladdich lactic 'funk'. Delicious. 

Finish: Long and quite complex. Traces of that Laddie DNA with the sour lactic notes (definitely in a good way) intermingled with the coastal salt, stone fruit jam and subtle wood smoke. Then some fresh spicy, gingery, slightly bitter oak (again in a good way), then citrus zest with that earthy, dry, salty peat. 

Score: 4 out of 5. 

Notes: An absolutely beautiful dram! Very nearly gave it a 4.5 score actually. Very complex and engaging, particularly considering the youth, and there's still plenty of peat to be found, and plenty of 'funk' as well. Bruichladdich has never shied away from bottling relatively young whiskies, and being honest about it, and with bottlings like this I can certainly see why! The finish in particular is excellent, it alternates between Bruichladdich's lactic trademark funk, and oak & fruit, all with that lovely & soft earthy peat underneath. Markedly different to the usual bourbon and/or sherry cask Port Charlotte as well, in a really interesting way. What a winner! Bruichladdich are quickly gaining ground on my current favourite distillery, with such a massive variety of whisky coming from under the one roof, and with consistent quality and complexity. I just can't wait to finally visit them in September. Love your work ladies & gents!

This really is a (or possibly the) shining star in the current duty free / travel exclusive line-up if you ask me. It's also exceptional value for money; for a cask strength, heavily peated single malt that was fully-matured not finished or ACE'd) in first-fill exotic French oak casks, $136 AUD is an absolute steal. I had to do a double-take when I saw that price. Yes it's relatively young, and it's a 700ml bottle rather than the duty-free 1-litre bottles, but it really just does not matter. Another distillery may have deleted the age statement from the packaging and doubled the price, and it probably still would have sold, but not Bruichladdich. They've 'kept it real', and I and many others love them for it. My only complaint, and I'm nitpicking here, would be the name - '2007 CC01' is a little confusing for your average punter, so perhaps spelling it out as 'Cognac Cask 01' would've worked a little better. But for those who take a closer look and read the fine print, you'll be very well rewarded. So next time you're travelling or if you have a whisky mule coming soon, do yourself a favour and grab one of these!