And so we’ve hit another checkpoint on the road to the 100th review on this blog, with this being the 75th standalone whisky review since it all began back in late January 2015. As such, I decided that it was probably fitting to have a rather memorable whisky to remember this review by.
Springbank has no shortage of admirers, primarily due to the amount of quality whiskies that they produce on a consistent basis. If anything, it has become the standard-bearer for the Campbeltown region and has helped to reinvigorate an area of Scotland which was once the whisky capital of the world but has been decimated over the years due to closures and consolidations.
Having previously reviewed some expressions from Springbank and briefly delved into the history of the distillery, I felt that the time was right to provide a more comprehensive look at the distillery’s operations and history. The previous reviews can be found at the following link: Springbank
Springbank distillery was founded in 1828 by the Reid family and remained in their control until 1837, when financial difficulties forced them to sell the distillery to their in-laws, John and William Mitchell.
The Mitchell family ran the distillery for many years, eventually founding the company J&A Mitchell Co Ltd in 1897. During that time, the Campbeltown region grew in terms of the number of distilleries it possessed as well as the demand for the whiskies which they produced. It was also considered to be the whisky capital of the world at one point as the region possessed up to 34 active distilleries of various sizes.
However, the distilleries in the region became victims of their own success as the quality of the spirit being produced led to a surge in demand from blenders and drinkers alike. As such, the distilleries were forced to produce more spirit than ever before, which led to the cutting of corners.
As such, the quality of the spirit being produced greatly declined, which caused a precipitous fall in demand and also led to the closure of the vast majority of the distilleries within the region. As a result, there are now only 3 distilleries left: Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia.
Interesting fact: While Campbeltown’s rise and decline was partly of its own making, the rise of the Speyside distilleries and their accessibility via the newly constructed railway links made them a more attractive proposition to blenders, thus causing the whiskies from Campbeltown to be relegated to the periphery.
The distillery was operational until 1926, when the depression forced it to close for a period of 7 years. This was the final nail in the coffin for the Campbeltown as most of the distilleries which closed during this period were never reopened.
The distillery was reopened in 1933 and production commenced soon after. In 1960, the parent company took the decision to abandon the use of the floor maltings and switch to purchasing their malting requirements centrally from a commercial maltster. J&A Mitchell also purchased the well-known independent bottler Cadenhead in 1969 and the company remains within the portfolio to this day.
In 1979, the distillery was once again closed and remained as such until 1987, when production was restarted on a limited basis. During the closure period, a 10 Years Old expression of Longrow (a heavily peated version of Springbank named after another long-dead Campbeltown distillery) was introduced. The distillery resumed full production in 1989 and the maltings were reinstated in 1992.
The first distillation of Hazelburn (the third label within the Springbank portfolio) took place in 1997 and the core range was expanded gradually over the years to include a variety of expressions, most of which are still available at this present moment.
Interesting fact: Hedley Wright, the present owner of Springbank and a descendent of William Mitchell, purchased the Glengyle distillery in 2000 and resumed production in 2004 after 79 years of silence. The distillery is operated for 6 months every year by the staff at Springbank and produces approximately 150,000 litres of spirit annually. The first 12 Years Old expression since the distillery’s reopening was released for sale recently.
In terms of equipment, the distillery sports an open cast iron mash tun, 6 washbacks made of Scandinavian larch, 1 wash still and 2 spirit stills. The wash still is unique in Scotland as it is fired by both an open oil-fire and internal steam condensers, while one of the spirit stills utilises a worm tub to condense the spirit vapours while the other uses an ordinary condenser.
Springbank is also one of the only distilleries in Scotland which malts its entire barley requirement on-site and the distillery has an annual production capacity of approximately 750,000 litres of spirit, although its annual production is closer to 200,000 litres at the present moment.
The distillery’s core ranges are split into three main brands: Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn. Springbank is distilled an unusual two and a half times and has a phenol content of 12-15ppm. Longrow is distilled twice and has a phenol content of 50-55ppm. Hazelburn is triple distilled and is unpeated.
The whiskies which make up the respective core ranges are as follows:
- 10 Years Old
- 12 Years Old Cask Strength
- 15 Years Old
- 18 Years Old
- 21 Years Old
- Longrow Red
- 18 Years Old
- 10 Years Old
- 12 Years Old
The whiskies from the distillery widely available these days and have built up a cult following due to their forthright and nuanced maritime and coastal flavour profiles which are unique to the Campbeltown region of Scotland.
This week’s review focuses on a rather special expression of Springbank which was distilled in 1968 and matured for 35 years in a sherry cask before being bottled at a natural cask strength abv of 54.2% by independent bottler Chieftain’s.
I would like to thank Mr Ronald Ding, who runs the wonderful and immensely informative Whiskyrific for the chance to sample this beauty and it was definitely a treat to say the least.
So, let’s jump right in!
Springbank 1968 35 Years Old (Bottled by Chieftain’s, Cask #1413, 54.2% abv)
Nose: Rather mild and sweet on initial entry, with old sherry and a fair bit of salinity, although not as much as one would expect from a Springbank. After a minute or so in the glass, it opens up quite spectacularly.
The initial sweetness is augmented by a dirty and slightly ashy note which is reminiscent of a mixture of engine oil and kerosene and there are also hints of muddled mint, rapeseed oil, eucalyptus oil and some peat.
After 20 minutes in the glass though, the dirty and gritty engine oil and kerosene mix which was pervading every aspect of the nose has surprisingly disappeared, leaving behind a clean and coastal nose which is augmented by more of the muddled mint, eucalyptus oil and old sherry. The peat lingers in the background and just below the surface, waiting to strike. (23/25)
Palate: Sweet, spicy, dirty and vegetal, with more of the old sherry and eucalyptus oil intermingling with the engine oil, kerosene and a slight hint of peat. The dirtiness fades away on the palate as well after about 20 minutes and is replaced by the muddled mint, sea salt and a pronounced vegetal note which is reminiscent of the vegetation found on the forest floor.
The typical Springbank DNA shines through over time and becomes more pronounced with each passing minute. The transition from dirty to clean notes is rather staggering and hints at just how complex and multi-faceted this dram is. (24/25)
Finish: Long and lingering on the finish, with the vegetal and clean notes becoming more prominent along with a persistent dryness and the earthy forest floor notes. The peat has faded and is replaced by the eucalyptus oil, which lingers in the periphery. (22/24)
Balance: Immensely well-balanced for such a complex dram and definitely one with multiple facets. The initial aspects display the dirty and almost unrefined Campbeltown grit before revealing its other half which is blessed by clarity and morphs into a sophisticated and nuanced beauty. Definitely a dram to savour and one which will surely not be forgotten anytime soon! (24/25)
Even though I have only sampled a handful of whiskies from Springbank, this one sets the benchmark very high and I believe that it is going to take something truly special to dislodge this as the best expression that I have ever tried from the distillery.
When you consider the complexity of this dram and the rather staggering transition it makes when given air and time, it is clearly evident that this is not an ordinary whisky, but one to remember fondly whenever the opportunity to sample a Springbank presents itself.
Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.
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