I had the pleasure of tasting both Batch 15 of the 12-year old and the newer batch of the 10-year old during my pilgrimage to Scotland in September 2017, and they were both excellent. In fact I'd probably rate them quite similarly based on that first impression, despite the older dram being over 10% higher in strength. But we're a little slow in this part of the world, so we'll just have to make do with Batch 14 of the 12-year old for this review. Not really the end of the world of course! As good as all of Springbank's whiskies generally are, the 12-year old Cask Strength has long been my pick of the bunch. It consistently offers excellent value for money, and while there is some batch variation, both in quality, strength and cask types, all that I've tasted to date have made for very enjoyable drinking. By the way you won't find any batch numbers on the bottles or packaging, so the best reference is the ABV, which being unadulterated cask strength has - so far - been unique to each batch. There are generally two batches released each year, and most don't last very long.
Batch 14 that we're looking at today is a mix of 30% ex-bourbon and 70% ex-sherry casks which was released in January 2017, and was the first to sport the distillery's new updated packaging. Some older batches were all-sherry casks, but Batch 9 seems to have been the last of those. I've reviewed an even older release back in 2015, which was Batch 5, here in case you'd like a comparison with that one. I don't know this for a fact, but I'd have to assume that the introduction of ex-bourbon casks into the mix was mostly due to the increasing cost and scarcity of sherry casks in the whisky industry.
This release was bottled at a cask strength of 54.2%, and being a Springbank single malt of course it's non-chill filtered and naturally coloured, and is lightly peated and 2.5-times distilled. Springbank's Hazelburn brand is un-peated and triple distilled, and the Longrow brand is heavily peated and double distilled. It's worth a quick reminder too that Springbank Distillery floor-malt all of their barley in-house, they still use a direct-fired wash still, and they mature and bottle all of their whisky on-site in Campbeltown. The distillery suffered through a little negative feedback on their new label designs and the new outer boxes, but I don't mind them at all, I just wish they would have finally covered up that gaping bloody whole in the outer boxes!
Unfortunately I missed out on Campbeltown during my pilgrimage to Scotland in 2017, since despite my love of the region's malts I just couldn't spare the extra time. But I'm going to make up for that in late 2018 with a tour at both Springbank and Glengyle (Kilkerran) distilleries, and hopefully a quick visit to Glen Scotia, all of which I'm very much looking forward to. Let's see if this dram will be enough to keep me going a little longer...
Springbank 12-year old Cask Strength, 54.2%. Campbeltown, Scotland.
Batch 14, bottled January 2017. Lightly peated, 2.5 times distilled, 70% ex-sherry casks, 30% ex-bourbon casks. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.
Nose: Malty, fruity & quite fresh, but still has the Springbank musty-ness to it. Spearmint, sweet vanilla, golden syrup, stewed stone fruit, red apples. Damp earth and nutty wood spices, some musty old wood (pine?), light farmyard notes but they're subtle.
Texture: Medium weight, malty, musty & syrupy. No heat.
Taste: More farmyard-y up-front, with damp hay, light earthy peat, musty old barns / sheds and a little brine. Vanilla butter icing, damp barley and a little clean machine oil. Cinnamon sugar and white pepper.
Finish: Short-medium length. More brine and light earthy peat again, creamy sweet vanilla icing and more damp old wood, and a little leather. More of the stewed stone fruit and musty malt to finish up.
Score: 3.5 out of 5.
Notes: A delicious dram of course, it's not the best batch I've tasted, and certainly not as good as the Batch 15 that I tried in Scotland, but it's still a tasty cask strength Springbank, so it could be much worse! The finish in particular is where this one seems to fall a little short, it just doesn't quite have the staying power and volume of flavour that others did. The addition of those ex-bourbon casks is quite evident too, that's not a negative really, just a point of difference. That creamy vanilla does add sweetness and the whisky seems a little more malty overall, so perhaps this is a more approachable take on Springbank 12 that might suit the Campbeltown-novice a little better?
That said, I still love that oily, musty character in these Springbanks. I don't find it in Hazelburns or Longrows either, at least not to the same extent, which is why Springbanks are my pick of the three, although it's a little less up-front in this particular bottling but it's still there! It's what I assume to be a very "old school" malt, and I can't wait to see where it comes from!