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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Single Malt Report: Springbank 15 year old

Springbank Taste Off 2013 continues!

On Monday there was Springbank 10 year old 100 proof (US edition, beige label)
Today there is Springbank 15 year old
Later on there will be Springbank 18 year old (2nd Edition)

Though each sample came from a different source and started at a different quantity, they were treated equally.  28 fluid ounces tasted, first neat, then lowered to approximately 39% ABV with water.

Now onto the chap in the middle.

Between its $100 US price tag and its 100% ex-sherry maturation, I've never been in a hurry to try Springbank 15 year old.  But I'm attempting to get better about sherried whiskies since they're not all the same.  In fact, I don't mind refill sherry.  What I do mind are the whiskies wherein the sherry blankets over all of a malt's characteristics.  Maybe "blanket" is the wrong metaphor.  How about "plastic bag suffocation"?  Yeah, I'm still working out these issues.

On the other hand (the optimistic one), I've never met a Springbank I've hated.  And sometimes a little wine/bourbon plays well with the malt spirit.  So, at some point last year when I found a mini of the 15 year old for a decent price, I snapped it up.

Like many Springbank products, this one was without a bottle code or the printing had faded.  According to whiskybase, this label was used between 2006 and 2008 on the full-sized bottles.  This time period marks (similar Monday's whisky) the first bottlings of the new era of Springbank's 15 year, approximately 15 years after the distillery's reopening.  This is assuming they didn't keep bottling the minis with the old label after they'd started using the new labels on the 700/750mL bottles.

My mini had some sediment at the bottom, something I have seen with a number of Springbank products, and something that gives me a cheap geek thrill.  Also, though the cap was secured tightly, the bottle had lost about 5-10% of its whisky to the Bastard's Share.  The good news is that the malt's character stayed very much intact.

Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Age: minimum 15 years
Maturation: 100% ex-sherry casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Bottling Date: likely 2006-2007
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No

Color - Gold
Nose - A little bit of sherry, but a lot of oak; thus most of the industrial and peated notes are cloaked.  But not suffocated.  There is a hint of glue and some green piney peat.  But the main notes are as follows: Orange Drink powder, candy canes, cherry bubblegum, and orange liqueur (more Cointreau than Triple Sec).
Palate - The elements are more varied here.  Tobacco, eucalyptus, tapioca pudding, and piney peat come first.  Then dry sherry, medium dark chocolate (I could say 55% cocoa, but then I'd be an arsehole, or more so than usual), and golden raisins.
Finish - The peat (again in a piney form) makes an appearance here in an extensive conclusion.  The nose's sugary orange notes appear as does some pencil lead and dark raisins.  It has more drying tannins than the 10yr 100proof.  It also grows sweeter with time.

WITH WATER (approx 39% ABV)
Nose - The sherry hushes up and things sniff maltier.  Smells like a piney citric version of the 10yr 100proof.
Palate - Wow, very sweet.  Candy creamy desserty sweet.  A little bit of smoke shows up but gets shouted down by the sugar.
Finish - Sweetness holds and the sherry returns. Some dried apricots and Orange Drink.

It's good, as in "I would happily drink it at a bar, but wouldn't buy a bottle for $100" good.  Perhaps it suffers by comparison with other Springbanks, which are either grittier or more graceful.  The sherry is mostly restrained and the palate is tasty when served neatly.  But unless you like sugary sweet whisky, I do not recommend adding water.

In Roskrow's 1001 Whiskies, George Lewis writes that this isn't a Springbank for beginners.  I disagree.  With the spirit's tougher characteristics removed, and the smoothness, generous sweetness, and pleasant citrus notes increased, the 15 year old feels like a better place to start than anything younger in the distillery's official range.

(BUT please note: There are known to be batch differences over the years with Springbank's range. At the same time, online reviews of the recent 15yr are very similar score-wise to those of this version.)

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - In US: $95-$115;  In Europe: $80-$100 (minus VAT, with shipping)
Rating - 83


  1. Yes, there's significant batch variation among Springbank 15s. I've purchased a number of bottles over the years (here in MN it used to be available <$70 and is still available <$80 at a store that unfortunately does not ship) and while there have been clear family resemblances some have been more on the juicy/fruity end of the sherry continuum and some on the leathery/gunpowdery end. I've liked them all. My most recent bottle was from 2010 (reviewed here: http://www.myannoyingopinions.com/2013/06/06/springbank-15/).

  2. This batch could really have used the rock salt / gunpowder / pepper seasonings that you found in yours. And $70 would be a great price (you do seem to get some good prices in MN) for this. Heck, I'd pay $80 if it had some of those characteristics you referenced, which I like too.

  3. Indeed, tremendous batch variation on this one. When you find a good batch, stock up. The best batch I have (shine a flashlight into the bottle, and look on the backside of the front label for the code) is 12/154, from 2012 & Pacific Edge imports. Beautiful peat, juicy sweetness, and a great elegance. It's a bit darker than the other SB 15's I've had, but it's by far my favorite. In short, got to keep track of bottling codes!

    1. Thanks for the scoop, Rob! I track my good bottles' bottling codes too, just in case I can pick up another one from the same run. That's especially important for the Springbank/Longrow/Hazelburn/Kilkerran whiskies since their batches are small and not homogenized. I'll definitely give the 15yo another chance since I'm a big Springbank fan.