Springbank, Springbank, Springbank. Running a Google search for “Springbank” churns out the top question “Why is Springbank so hard to get?”, which really is the only fault we can find with the cult distillery.
Springbank is special because it is the last of an extinct species of whiskies from Campbeltown, which used to be a booming whisky-producing town. Springbank was one of two distilleries that survived the Campbeltown decline in the 1920s when more than 30 distilleries in the region shut their doors due to global economic instability and competition from Highland distilleries. It is rather sad that one of these mothballed Campbeltown distilleries has its building converted into a Tesco supermarket. It’s also amusing to be honest.
The Tesco Superstore at 1 Lochend St, Campbeltown occupies premises that formerly belonged to a whisky distillery (Image Source: Google Maps)
Another key element is Springbank’s traditional ethos and dedication to craft. In whiskyland of the 21st century where distilleries are seen to prioritise efficiency, fermentation yield and bottom-line over quality and flavourful distillate, Springbank continues to retain all the traditional whisky-making practices that make might make accountants sigh.
A maltsman raking (or turning) the malting barley. This is done 3 times a day for four days. And you won't walk two more blocks over for that cup of coffee. (Image Source: Distiller)
Critics often bemoan that Scotch distilleries no longer make whisky as good as the whisky made in the 1960s. Springbank is the only exception. We do not know the exact science, but Springbank is incredibly consistent in creating highly characterful and complex-tasting whisky that is comparable to whisky made in the good old days.
This should also mean that an older bottle of Springbank distilled decades ago should have a comparable character as a Springbank distilled today!
Tonight, I find myself at one of Singapore’s most established whisky bars and nursing a Springbank distilled 28 years ago.
This is an independently-bottled whisky distilled at Springbank for Celtic Whisky DE, a rather quaint German whisky shop in Nuremberg that was run by a kindly German gentleman.
Interior of Celtic Whisky (Image Source: Celtic Whisky DE)
The spirit was distilled in December 1992, aged for 12 years in Springbank, then bottled in August 2005 at a nice punchy 57.2% ABV.
Not much else is revealed about this bottle on the label or online. But from the looks of the colour and taste, and the fact that no colouring was added, I am about certain that this was matured in 100% bourbon casks without any sherry influence.
In the glass, the spirit is pale gold, white wine colour. Much much lighter-coloured than the Springbank 12 Year Old which has significant sherry cask influence.
On the nose, rather bright, fruity and surprisingly friendly for a Scotch. Initial aromas open with predominant notes of rich creamy honey-and-vanilla flavoured yoghurt.
Lashings of honey in rich vanilla yoghurt.
The aroma gets sweeter as it opens up, with creamy yoghurt notes joined by substantial bright notes of juicy and ripe orchard fruits. Loads of fragrant honeycrisp apples, pineapples and cantaloupe. Almost like having a yogurt parfait.
Creamy yoghurt notes are joined by heaps of ripe red apples to give a sense of an apple-and-caramel Greek yoghurt parfait.
On a second nosing, there is a distinctive maritime note often detected in other Springbanks. Yet this is much more subtle than the Springbank 12- more of a sea breeze with ocean spray, rather than a taste of brine.
I should add that this is surprisingly fresh and friendly on the nose, with not so much as a prick. I couldn’t have guessed that this was a 57.2% ABV bottle until I read the label.
Moving on to the palate, this is bright, well-integrated and has a nice medium-full texture. The flavours on the palate start out pretty similar to the nose. Bright creaminess with lashings of honey in vanilla-flavoured cream. At the same time, these creamy notes are elevated by a moderate degree of heat, smoke and spice that gently pricks at the sides of the tongue. Reminiscent of the last time I ate some lightly charred marshmallow campfire s’mores before waiting for them to cool down.
As the viscous spirit coats the tongue, I get some dry maltiness and a good deal of light buttery notes revealing themselves like melted butter slathered on hot pancakes.
I took the liberty to add a teaspoon of water. This unlocks a bouquet of floral and citrus notes: loads of bright honeysuckle and mildly woody notes of heather develop to a lightly sweet citric character of yellow pomelo.
That said, adding water does neutralise quite a bit of fruitiness and spiciness seen earlier. I do also miss the thicker texture of the whisky from before.
The finish is medium length- not quite as long as the Springbank 12. But as the brighter flavours of fruit and florals subside, the finish comes across nicely meaty with a light but fragrant note of ashy peat, a dash of brininess and a very subtle note of olive oil. Just think of the thickest cut of an oily parma ham and you’re just about there.
I love the vibrant sweetness, complexity and crispness of this Springbank 1992. Personally, I’ve always had a preference for bourbon cask whisky for the creamy vanilla notes and ability to better demonstrate the distillery’s character. So with its exclusive bourbon cask maturation (I’m just going to assume this) this is actually one of the Springbanks that I’ve enjoyed the most.
Older whiskies tend to cost a lot more, but do they taste much better? Not necessarily. The decision to mature this for a little longer than a decade in a bourbon cask is a rather ideal in my opinion. Mature this for too much longer and we would have ended up with a much woodier tasting whisky that does not reveal much of Springbank’s distillery character.
None of that fancy stuff! With Springbank, I’d much prefer if you let the distillate do the talking.
One last thought: This is indeed not exactly the same as the robust modern Springbanks I’ve tasted. In fact, this particular expression comes a lot closer to the Hazelburn expressions- the lightest-tasting brand from the distillery.
What’s interesting to note is that while this whisky was distilled in 1992, the Hazelburn label was developed 5 years later in 1997. My inner whisky historian reckons that this Springbank 1992 was actually part of an experimental batch that underwent a slightly different process to create a lighter tasting distillate- something like a proto-Hazelburn. I have next to no evidence that this is indeed the case so do not quote me on that!