It might be time for me to put my hand up and admit that Springbank is my favourite distillery. I lump Hazelburn, Longrow and Glengyle (Kilkerran) into that but mainly it's Springbank. When asked what my favourite whisky is, my stock answer is that the reason I love whisky so much is the infinite variety - how can you pick a favourite from them? But there's something "all whisky" about Springbank, the perfect seasoning of peat, the thick, oily, complete spirit profile, the honesty of production ("we don't change anything, we just do it how we've always done it"). Not to mention the other stuff - family owned, limited production, a focus on the community. It's a proper craft distillery. Oh and they own Cadenhead’s.
So making the trip to Campbeltown Festival was a proper pilgrimage. It’s spread over three days; the Wednesday is Glen Scotia open day, Thursday Springbank and Friday Glengyle. I went with my adventuring buddy Cuan (who took all these photos because his phone is capable of taking photos) and we had a very busy three days, starting very early on the Wednesday, excited and a little bit nervous, and glossy eyed with joy and quite drunk by Friday afternoon.
We booked into every tasted we could fit in. On Thursday there was an alternative (an apparently rather good bar) at Springbank, which I’d make time for next time, but I think if you went without a relatively full set of booked tastings you’d have a lot less fun.
Day one - Glen Scotia Open Day
So on day one we arrived at 8am via a tiny little prop jet plane, the short hop from Glasgow to Campbeltown. This is an event in itself and quite exciting to see the pilot operating the controls a few seats in front of you. Somehow it almost felt safer travelling at such a reduced speed.
The first day may be Glen Scotia open day, but the focus was still Springbank for us. The day started with the Springbank Society tasting (at the distillery) and ended with the Kilkerran launch dinner.
Note that most tasting notes in this set are just micro-notes - short impressions. I was enjoying myself too much to write proper notes!
Springbank society tasting 2016
This annual Springbank society tasting blind tastes a number of casks to pick one to be bottled as the next society tasting. That leaky hazelburn was last year's pick, but the cask was nearly empty when they came to bottle it and they had to pick the runner up. This year I really loved 2nd place, but kept thinking back to what came first, so I'm actually quite pleased that the winner was what it was.
Anyway, these were all tasted blind and we were told at the end what they were. So my guesses are inline with the results given after each whisky.
1. 8/10 A⊕
Nose - Citrus, agave, quite mescally with peat, and a lovely toffee richness behind it. Ozone and oiled wood, a beautiful summer dram. Even better with water, more smoke, more tobacco, more engine oil.
Body - Soft, clean, very refreshing. Good ripe apple and smoke catching at the back of the throat.
Finish - Fruit polos. Very tart, white wine. More fruit and a touch of funk with water.
Austere and very well made. Young but excellent, particularly with water. Dangerously drinkable. Big fan.
The intense sweetness makes me think it's a Hazelburn, but that peat means it should be Springbank, refill bourbon.
[Springbank refill bourbon, 18 years old, 50.42%]
2. 7/10 A+
Nose - Deeper but sharper, coal smoke and peaches. A bit more closed than the last one. Less complex and rich. With time that coal is more pronounced. A little seaside funk with water.
Body - Sweet, young, fruity… quite intense… sour young cereal but balanced with a touch of wax and wine. A sour, almost rotten note with water.
Finish - Long and vanilla cream. Black pepper.
Good, intense sweetness, fruity and funky, slightly rotten.
[Longrow 11 years old, first fill port cask #177, 60.08%]
3. 9/10 A⊕+
Nose - Deeper and older, charred raisins, engine oil and hot rubber. Quite christmassy… might just be that we're sitting in the distillery near the peat fire! Cigarette smoke with water. Refill sherry Springbank 18?
Body - Red wine, then nutty Oloroso sherry, clean and clear. Loads of fruit, fresh port and a touch of sulphur (dirty peat). It's fabulous.
Finish - Long, fruity and dirty. Tannic. Dirtier with water.
A perfect, classically sherried Springbank, tones of Guns on the Grouse Moor, long and dirty finish. Awesome.
[Longrow, 14 years old, first fill Oloroso sherry cask #515, 54.15%]
4. 8/10 A⊕
Nose – The oldest yet. Ripe but restrained, caramelised bananas and toast with honey. Last night's charred oak logs. More mescal smoke with water.
Body - Intense, sweet and incredibly toffeed. Grilled pineapples. Pineapple cubes with water.
Finish - A long development through grapefruit and biscuity tannins. Intense but young. Aniseed. Tropical burps. A touch of sulphur at the end.
Maybe it's a sweet wine cask? That would explain the intense sweetness, interesting development and sulphur at the end. Guess Springbank 21, Sauternes finish.
[Springbank 15 years old, first fill Jamaican rum cask #763, 52.05%]
We scored each and these were totalled to give the following results. Funnily enough they were rated in tasting order.
4th: 1 - [Springbank refill bourbon, 18 years old, 50.42%]
3rd: 2 - [Longrow 11 years old, first fill port cask #177, 60.08%]
2nd: 3 - [Longrow, 14 years old, first fill Oloroso sherry cask #515, 54.15%]
1st: 4 - [Springbank 15 years old, first fill Jamaican rum cask #763, 52.05%]
The winner will be 16 years old when bottled later this year, and it'll be about 200 bottles. Look forward to it!
Glen Scotia warehouse tasting
After that we went over to Glen Scotia for a warehouse tasting. The dunnage warehouses were mostly empty, and very tall.
Glen Scotia 2009, bourbon cask, 20ppm, 62.4% A-
B - Sharp, good cereal peat, then toasted. Really good for a 9 year old.
Glen Scotia 2001, bourbon cask A⊕
B - Very sweet, waxy fruit, tannins and oils.
F - Wax and a little roast apricot
Glen Scotia 1999, sherry hogshead, C⊕+
N - Ridiculous. Intensely jewelled, brighter sweetshop. I would have called this for 40, pure carpentry.
B - A car crash. Vanish and banana chews, rotten fruit and salted caramel. Fenugreek.
F - Long and horrible. Foam bananas, black pepper, artificial. Better with water.
N - Young and sulphured, toast and apricot jam, quite closed. Fresher with water.
B - Lightly peated, post oak and pepper. Plum tart.
F - Fizzing tannins, salted caramels but quite ordinary.
The Kilkerran dinner was on the evening of the first day and started with a tasting of three different casks. We voted for the winner which was bottled while we ate and handed to us on the way out.
The food was excellent, the wine was really great too, and there were bottles of Kilkerran 12 year old on the table (we nailed two on our table but that was because some warehouse staff nicked most of one… to be honest I was quite grateful for that the next morning!). It was a bit of an extravagance to go to it, but one I will hopefully repeat next year. Highly recommended.
Kilkerran Madeira cask 2004, 55.5% A+
Kilkerran Fino cask 2004, 54.9% A⊕
N - Cleaner, less brutal. Apples and perfume, clean toffee, red wine. B - Tobacco and tropical fruit, lots of spice, lots of toffee, creme caramel. Intensley sweet. F- Cinammon fireballs, lots of fun, toothpase after a while. Classier than the Madeira.
Kilkerran rum cask 2004, 54.9% A
We picked the Madeira cask - pretty good, really thick and oily (very opaque too).
Kilkerran 12 years old, vatting sample, 50% A⊕
So this is a sample from the vatting of the new not-work-in-progress, come-of-age Kilkerran 12 year old. This will apparently be sold at a similar price point to the current WIPs, and at 50% is remarkable. Sadly I think it will debut at 46% but I'm sure that’ll be fine. I took a 3cl sample from the Kilkerran tasting on day 3 to bring home, so I have full notes for this one, written on a clean palate (this is a repeat from yesterday’s post but I wanted to end on a high!).
Nose - Winey cereal with sour waxes and boiled sweets. Pipe tobacco and blackcurrant. Slightly dirty and quite complex. Really rich though, and perfectly peated. I believe they just re-run the Springbank formula at Glengyle so it's not surprise that this has classic Springbank balance. Sweeter and zestier with water.
Body - Fruity Springbank oils, lemon drops and white wine tannins. Fruity and very confident with pipe tobacco (smoked this time) and very heavily peated too. Spicier with water, with lemon and black pepper
Finish - Long, limoncello. Young cereal. Very well balanced and well integrated. Seriously delicious too.
Reflecting on Kilkerran last night at home, while sipping on the WIP bourbon, it struck me that what this whisky has in spades is confidence. Lucky to have been born as the next in line to the throne and now coming of age, it’s starting to show the benefits of its upbringing. Kilkerran is going places.
They might need to up production from one month a year though.