Many distilleries like to give the impression that they’re staffed exclusively by men from the 1800’s who spend their days shovelling malted barley and stoking peat fires, before having away with a crafty nip of the end product at lunchtime, straight from the cask. In the days of health and safety and technology, the reality is usually very different and the romantic vision of a hand-crafted product is consigned to the history books, and occasionally the marketing blurb on the back of your bottle.
Springbank, however, represent the exact ethos of whisky-making that got me interested in the first place. Owners Mitchell’s Glengyle Ltd. have a luddite-esque obsession with traditional methods and do as much as they can by hand. I visited the distillery last summer (2018) and the entire operation is geared up towards creating the finest whisky that it is possible to make. At every turn the decision to lean towards profit or quality has gone in favour of quality.
Springbank 10 year old was something of a life-changing dram for me. I tried it fairly early on in my whisky journey based on Ralfy’s recommendation, and it showed me what was possible and what a real, unsanitised whisky was like. I loved it from the first dram and still consider it to be the £40 bottle against which all others shall be judged. Nothing I have yet tried has proved to be better for the cost. In fact, I sometimes find myself enjoying a dram, only to have a slight nagging feeling that for the same money I could have had a Springbank 10!
I’ve had several bottles, and the traditional small-batch methods employed by the distillery manifest themselves in the “batchy” nature of different bottlings. The core characteristics are the same, however there are noticeable differences between vattings. It always consists of 70% ex-bourbon casks and 30% sherry butts and is lightly peated, so there is a bit of everything in there.
Ten minutes in the glass with 1/2 a teaspoon of water gives the nose chance to really open up, and boy what a nose it is. Immediately noticable farmyard and hay notes, light, sweet peat with lemon sherbet and pineapple. There’s lots of red fruits present, with a background of nutty sherry notes.
The palate continues on from the nose with more peat, pineapple, and
earthy Springbank funk.
This batch (purchased in December 2018) has a particularly strong note of pear drops. There’s a light nutty note from the sherry but bourbon character dominates, and there’s ample wood sap and cask char. It’s very mouth-filling and is fantastic at 46%, non-chill filtered.
The finish is lengthy, rich and more-ish with the focus shifting to fresh lemon and sweet peat.
The maturity of this dram is excellent, which can only come from the quality of the casks used. Give me ten years in a great first-fill bourbon barrel over 20 in a worn-out fourth fill sherry butt any day. Springbank also allow up to 110 hours of fermentation time, during which the PH level of the wash becomes low enough to allow a secondary bacterial maturation to take place which adds complexity and the array of big, bold flavours found in their bottlings. The fact that they only ask £40 for this astounds me, and the rest of the Springbank range generally offers the same great value, though limited releases do sell out extremely quickly for good reason.
A truly great dram, which I recommend everyone try as early as possible.