Some Springbanks

Original Blogger tags: A, Springbank 10 (100 Proof), Springbank 18, B

I read in Jim Murray’s 2010 Whisky Bible that the Springbank distillery is “mothballed.” What does this mean? Per their web site, they are shutting down their distillery operation and have laid off staff, but not their warehouses. If all goes well I would look for the distillery to start production again in a year or two. But meanwhile, although the distillery still has a lot of whisky in the pipeline, Michigan apparently is no longer importing Springbank product. If I want more, I might have to mail-order it.

So, Stadium Market in Ann Arbor had (past tense) a couple of bottles of the 100-proof version of Springbank 10, and I’ve snapped those up; several other stores around the Saginaw and Ann Arbor area had the standard 10 and the 15, so I’ve snapped up those as well.

First, the 15. I opened one of the bottles last night to make a toast to our new home with my wife, Grace. The 15 has some sherry-cask aging and is a gorgeous tawny color. It’s bottled at 46% ABV, which seems just about perfect for this whisky.

The nose is just wonderful. The sherry influence is huge, and I can’t detect any off notes — and thankfully it has not been sherried to death, since there are still malty and oaky notes that have not been drowned out. It’s a fruity, spicy whisky — a cream sherry influence, nutmeg, cinnamon, light vanilla, spearmint, espresso, dried orange peel, and a whole range of “dark” sugary notes: burnt sugar fudge or frosting, molasses, dark, chewy toffee, and a rum hard sauce.

It’s a sweet whisky, but dries out nicely, and the sweet flavors aren’t bland caramels, but these more “burnt” or cooked sugars, like homemade candy burned on the stove.

The palate is a slight disappointment compared to the nose — there is just a shade too much bitter oak, I think, although it has a very nice buttery texture.

And the finish — wow! It lasts a long time, and to me it tasted like a big slightly burnt bran muffin made with sour cream and topped with a huge pat of melting salted butter.

My advice to you is this: if you can find this Springbank 15 — don’t hesitate! It will be especially tasty at Christmas time where it would go very nicely after a big meal with a slice of homemade fruitcake, or rum-soaked spice cake of some kind. But for now, it is Christmas in July!

Note that the bottle and box graphics have changed over the years and the current artwork is not quite the same. (Not as nice, in my opinion; I really love that classic calligraphic Springbank logo and the parchment-look labels and boxes). My other bottle of the 15 has a lighter-colored box and label. There is no bottle code or date that I was able to find, so I have no idea which of the two is older.

Now, the 100-proof version of the 10. (I have not tasted the standard 10 yet.)

First off, this whisky is hot, hot, hot. It’s funny how an Ardbeg can be smooth as silk at upwards of 120 proof while this one can easily bring on a coughing fit. I usually don’t prefer scotch watered, but this one really benefits from a little water. The pungent alcohol at full strength are a detriment to both the nose and the palate.

There’s a traditional patisserie here in Saginaw that makes fruit tarts, with a vanilla egg custard in a pasty shell, topped with fruit like fresh rasberries and strawberries. That’s pretty much the nose of the 10. It’s quite nice, although it doesn’t have the depth and complexity of the 15.

On the palate the fruity notes dominate. There is a lot going on here. Sour cherry jam? Canned pears? Fruit cocktail? I’ve tasted this one on 3 different days and come away with a slight different impression each time. The fruit notes are fascinating, but unfortunately the palate is just a shade too bitter.

So, the grades: the 15 gets an unqualified A. It barely misses an A+. If the palate was just a shade less bitter, I’d have nothing at all but praise for this whisky.

The 12 (100 proof version) gets a B. It is too hot, and probably should be tasted at 46% or 43%. It is pleasant and interesting but just lacks greatness. I will have to compare it to the standard 10, although my guess is that the standard 10 will taste very much like my watered 100 proof 10.

I look forward to tasting future Springbank bottlings — on the strength of these two bottles, it is definitely a classic distillery with a very distinctive character, and the 15 is one of the few un-peated whiskies I’ve tasted that I felt really rates up there with the Ardbegs and Laphroaigs for blissful depth and flavor intrigue.

Saginaw, Michigan
July 2, 2010

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