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Friday, April 1, 2016

Single Malt Report: Springbank 17 year old 1997 Sherry Wood (2015 release)

Springbank has released a number of teenage "Sherry Wood" cask strength casks/batches over the past few years.  The one I'm reviewing today is the most recent 17 year old, the one with the perky red packaging you may have seen from time to time.

(Source: official site)
In addition to the Sherry Wood releases, there have also been a number of recent 16 to 19 year old Bourbon Wood, Port Wood, and Rum Wood batches/casks.  And the main complaint that some of us have with those is how deliriously high they've been priced in the United States.  As in, $300+ for a 19 year old (see here and here for two stores with the median price).

As I've demonstrated repeatedly, single malt whisky prices have gone up rapidly in the US.  But in Springbank Distillers Ltd's case it's an example of the distillery NOT being responsible for the increases, rather it's the importer/distributor with the heavy hand.  For example, (as per Wine-Searcher Pro's Average Wine Prices/History model) Americans are currently paying 47% more for Springbank 18, 53% more for each of the two Green releases, and 77% more for Longrow 18 than the Scots and Brits are.  Do tell, Pacific Edge Wine and Sprits, what in the greasy f**k?

With all that being said, this 17 year old Sherry Wood is only 16% more expensive here than in Continental Europe.  And its average US price is nearly the same as the older but lower-ABV and more widely available regular 18 year old.  In fact, it's $20 cheaper than the regular 18 at a local store.  So, perhaps this one slipped through Pacific Edge's hooks?

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Region: Campbeltown
Type: Single Malt
Age: 17 years (April 1997 - January 2015)
Maturation: "fresh and refill sherry butts and hogsheads"
Limited Bottling: 9,120 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.3%
(From a purchased sample)

Its color is a medium gold.

A reassuring grungy industrial Springbank-y note burns brightly in the nose.  It meets a mild dry sherry and a gentle mossy peat, as well as loads of cherry shisha and toffee pudding.  It's at alternate time plummy and minty.  There are smaller salty oceanside and anise notes.  After 20 minutes in the glass, it picks up a sharp lemon zest note, as well as vanilla bean and a little bit of barbecue.

The palate begins malty, with a side of fresh cherries and blueberries, then moves to limes and a zesty herbal-liqueur-like bitterness.  Delicate sherry notes.  Softly sweet plums, prunes, and black licorice.  A slight spicy zing.

A drier sherry in the finish.  Malt, distant smoke, a bitter rumble.  Also a nice spiciness that feels like a long-aged rye finished in sherry casks.

WITH WATER (~46%abv)
The anise note grows in the nose, as does the peat.  The sherry gets a little more sugary.  Dried berries and cherries.  Earthy molasses and orange zest.  The "Springbank-y" note remains, as does the toffee pudding.

The palate is sweeter and spicier.  Small floral notes meet up with the zesty bitters.  A hint of smoke.  Dark berries and dried apricots.

Those dried apricots continue into the finish.  Sweeter fruitier sherry (or European oak) notes show up alongside peat residue.

This smells and tastes like a combination of the official 12yo Cask Strength and 18 year old, but richer.  I've read a number of reviews online that comment/complain about the lack of sherry notes in this one.  Dunno what they're talking about, the sherry and European oak (and probably some US oak) are all present and accounted for in the whisky.  Perhaps everyone's used to Glendronach and Glenfarclas sherry bombs.  Here those notes are more moderate, which is great because the Springbank spirit can still be heard.

For a change, I agree with Whisky Advocate's take on a whisky......except for this sentence: "This bottling also wins plaudits for affordability."  Wat?  I don't care what the market is like, $170 does not qualify under "affordability" for one bottle of mass produced liquid.  My god, the delusions.

Anyway, this is great whisky.

Availability - Probably a few dozen specialty retailers in the US
Pricing - $160 to $190 in the US
Rating - 89


  1. It's telling that the 14 Year/1997 sherry single casks that were released back in 2011 were roughly half the price of this 17 Year. Remember when we thought Preiss was as bas as it could get? What a difference a few years makes.

    1. And I remember thinking in 2011, "Wow, $90 is A LOT of money to pay for one whisky."

  2. I don't disagree that Springbank is expensive ... everywhere, not just in the USA!

    One thing most people forget though, is SB is not "mass produced liquid". According to the Malt Whisky Yearbook, SB capacity is only 750,000L putting it near the bottom of Scotch distilleries (only 14 having lower capacity - 86 higher). The 2015 edition of the book (pg 170) states: "...in 2014 a total of 130,000 L will be produced..." putting it below Kilchoman which is producing at capacity of over 150,000 L.

    Of the ~130,000 L, ~10% is Longrow, 10% is Hazelburn, and 80% Springbank production. So, one could argue Springbank is actually a micro-distillery (and I believe it produced even less 10 or so years back)!

    Not to excuse SB pricing* but to put things into perspective: Kilchoman, with similar production charges about the same (retail) price for 4-5 year old whisky as SB does for 15 year old whisky.

    *I love SB and don't mind paying a premium for it compared to similarly aged bottles, but enough is enough. I recently passed on buying the new 16yo local barley at Cdn$220.


    1. Like you, I'd absolutely pay a premium for Springbank. And yes they're sort of like the oldest microdistillery in the English-speaking nations! Kilchoman is also something for which I'd consider spending a small premium for, but their single cask pricing may have finally gone too far since those sales have slowed down at many stores across the US. $140 for a 4 year old whisky? What are they, Kavalan?

      But my qualm is with Springbank's American importer/distributors. There is no excuse for that sort of price bloating (45-85%) other than greed. No other distillery's distributors do this. Well, except the company (CIL US) that distributes Glencadam 21 at a 110% premium in the US. ($90 vs $200) Whisky is really expensive in Canada, though since you don't have the distributor issue (I think?), it's due to higher taxes and tariffs than we have here.

      The amount that whisky geeks are spending on single malt is unparalleled in the liquor world. Everyone outside it looks at us like lunatics. As well they should. Most of my whisky friends are spending like drunken millionaires, and though I won't comment on their drinking habits, I know they don't have millions in discretionary income. As long as people keep buying obsessively and hoarding and flipping, the prices will remain up.

    2. Oops, just saw that it's portwood! I'm probably preaching to the choir here. Maybe you can explain LCBO's pricing better than I.

    3. Taxes certainly make up a huge chunk of what we pay in Canada. Believe it or not, despite LCBO claiming to be the largest single buyer of alcohol in the world, they buy from agents (aka distributors), sad isn't it? I believe Diageo Canada acts as the agent for their own brands but I don't think LCBO buys directly from any producer/distillery.

      Funny you should mention Glencadam. For some reason it is one of the more out of whack priced distilleries in Ontario. The 21yo was listed for $357 here while I bought it in Alberta for ~$160.


  3. I have found by accident that blending 80% of this 17yo Sherrywood with 20% of a recent bottling of 10yo Springbank creates a rich and opulent variation on the 12yo cask-strength.

  4. A store near me has this discounted to $142 Canadian plus tax, which is currently $108 American. Is this worth it at that price?

    1. My goodness that would be a steal in The State right now. It's averaging $170US here. That's one way to judge "value", I suppose. I bought two bottles of it for events and it was the first bottle to be emptied at both gigs. So that's another way to ascertain "value". Also, I hate encouraging people to buy $100+ whiskies blindly, but 17yo CS Springbanks will likely be over $200 in a year or so. With all that in mind, if I were standing in that store I would probably squeal like a pig and buy it.