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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.