Campbeltown as a whisky-producing region has never really gotten much attention from me for some reason. I reckon it might have to do with the lack of knowledge on my part in the early days as well as a fixation with everything Islay-related. In hindsight, I now realise just how myopic I was in terms of not being privy to what was going on in that area of the Kintyre Peninsula.
The Springbank distillery has been producing some amazing whiskies ever since its inception in 1828 and the region of Campbeltown was once known as the “Whisky capital of the world” with no fewer than 17 legal (and countless more illicit) distilleries being in operation during that time period.
The distillery has for the most part been held by the Mitchell family (through their J&A Mitchell company) was actually founded by in-laws of the Mitchell family, the Reid family. Having encountered financial difficulties in 1837, the Reid family sold a controlling interest to William and John Mitchell in 1837.
J&A Mitchell Co Ltd was founded 60 years later and has served as the vehicle for the ownership of the distillery ever since. An interesting bit of trivia here: The owner of Springbank distillery, Hedley Wright, purchased the Glengyle distillery (which was established by William Mitchell in 1872) in Campbeltown in 2000 and therefore has historical connections with both distilleries.
Both distilleries tend to work in tandem with one another and distillery staff have traditionally worked at either distillery during the course of the year. Springbank employs 66 full time personnel, making them the largest private employers in Campbeltown.
As it stands, Springbank is one of only 6 operating distilleries which run their own floor maltings and is the only distillery in Scotland which malts its entire barley requirement in house rather than having to purchase a certain quantity from a commercial maltings merchant.
In terms of the whisky, there are three distinct house styles: Springbank (which is distilled two and a half times and peated to between 12-15ppm phenol), Longrow (which is double distilled and peated to 50-55ppm phenol) and Hazelburn (which is triple distilled and is unpeated). The focus of today’s review would be on two of the three house styles, namely the Springbank 10 Years Old and Hazelburn 12 Years Old expressions.
The Springbank 10 Years Old expression is a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks and is bottled at a respectable 46% abv by the distillery. It is non-chill filtered and with no additional colouring (which is always a plus in my book) and picked up the top prize in the World Whiskies Awards 2014.
The Hazelburn 12 Years Old expression is sherry-matured (I’m not entirely sure if it has any ex-bourbon whiskies in there, but the sherry is definitely the dominant component if there is) and also bottled without any chill filtration or added colouring and at 46% abv.
I tried the Springbank 10 Years at The Auld Alliance in Singapore back in June when one of my mates was in town and wanted to indulge in some good whisky, while the Hazelburn 12 Years was tried at Whisky & Alement in Melbourne 2 weeks ago when I funnily enough met up with the same mate.
The Springbank cost approximately SG$18 whereas the Hazelburn cost AU$13.50, which I reckon are rather reasonable rates to pay for two good quality drams.
So, let’s get stuck in shall we?
Springbank 10 Years Old (46% abv)
Nose: Fresh and citrusy on the nose, with some brine and just a touch of smoke emerging after. Orange and orange peel are the most apparent scents initially before some green apples and just a hint of black pepper appear. The peat then makes an appearance, but is rather understated and tends to linger in the background. Sea salt and some oaky tannins towards the end.
Palate: The fruits from the nose transfer onto the palate, with more of the orange and orange peel dominating initially before the green apple and some apricot jam emerge. As time goes by, the fruity, citrusy nature of this dram becomes more concentrated. Surprisingly, the peat is more dominant on the palate than the nose and is rather noticeable as it brings a smoky spiciness to the proceedings.
Black pepper and nutmeg emerge, representative of the spicy side. The smoky spiciness works quite well with the citrus elements which are the bedrock of this dram. There’s just a touch of oaky tannins in the background, which gives it a slightly nutty quality which works well in this case. The mouthfeel is very oily and the dram coats the palate nicely.
Finish: Long, lingering and somewhat peaty. Just a touch of coastal brine and some of the black pepper and nutmeg from the palate. The finish is warming and citrusy, with the whisps of smoke intermingling beautifully. I can see why this dram gets rave reviews!
Hazelburn 12 Years Old (46% abv)
Nose: Nicely sherried and very expressive on the nose, with some of the citrus and spice notes which are representative of most sherried whiskies. There’s a certain nuttiness to this, which works well with the sherried nature. The alcohol strength of this dram is not as assertive and allows the other nuances to shine through.
With time, some cocoa and roasted coffee beans emerge and intermingle with the sherried sweetness quite well. Testament to the quality of the sherry casks used in the maturation of this expression.
Palate: The sherried sweetness is the foundation on which the flavour profile of this dram is built on. There’s a spicy element that brings out cloves, nutmeg and star anise as well as hints of dark cocoa. Some of the roasted coffee beans from the nose also emerge after a while, adding to the richness of the mouthfeel. Definitely not just a whisky made from a sum of its parts.
Finish: Long and lingering finish, with the sherried sweetness, spicy elements, coffee richness some chocolatey smoothness combining beautifully. Very more-ish and complex dram with a oily and yet slightly drying mouthfeel.
I would find it very difficult to pick between these two whiskies and feel that it would be unfair to rate one higher than the other as they’re both stellar drams. It’s testament to the quality of the whiskies that Springbank produces that two fundamentally different expressions can also be so alike.
I would highly recommend both expressions to drinkers alike and really enjoyed indulging in the both of them. I look forward to giving the Longrow house style a try sometime in the hopefully near future so that I can have a good idea on how it stacks up to these two beauties.
I for one am rather glad that both these expressions are readily available and am definitely looking forward to the day that I get to visit Campbeltown and the Springbank distillery in person.