...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Springbank 13 year old Green and the mystery of Loch Fyne Whiskies

I had a weird experience during my last full day in Scotland and I wasn't going to share it with you, but here I am typing about it at 7am.  (If you want to skip the tale and get right to the review, click here.)

During our drive from Campbeltown to Edinburgh, we made a lunch stop in Inveraray, something I highly recommend even if it's just to gape at the awesome expanse of the Loch Lomond National Park.  There's a lovely castle nearby, but they charge to park as well as to enter and we were short on time, so we stayed in town to gape, eat, and briefly shop.  Also in town is Loch Fyne Whiskies, a shop of which I'd been reading rave reviews from anoraks around the globe for the past five years.  Thus the stop was strategic on my part.

I walked into Loch Fyne Whiskies (Fyne Malts down the street is a cute shop of curios, BTW) prepping myself with the trip's mantra "Don't buy more than one. We can't fit it in the car or the luggage or the budget."  But I knew instantly that overbuying wouldn't be an issue.  One third of the shop was the tasting table, behind which were dusty famous bottles they were not selling (according to the gentleman working there).  An entire other third of the tiny shop was devoted to Loch Fyne's Own Liqueur and Blend.  That left one short wall of stock.

I respect retailers who curate their selection rather than selling everything.  K&L Wine Merchants (in the US) does a very good job of this with their single malt selection.  But what was sitting on Loch Fyne's shelves was not the result of careful curation.  It was two dozen random official bottlings and another two to three dozen bottles of Hunter Laing labels.  That was it.  (One may think their website has whisky, but they list their out of stock items with the in stock items, along with dozens of empty links.)  With a selection smaller than many Scottish off-licenses and every random bar I ducked into during the trip, Loch Fyne had nothing of interest except for the Springbank 13 year old Green I'm reviewing today.  They also, according to the cashier, do not participate in the VAT Refund scheme, which is odd because everyone from Royal Mile Whiskies to the local mom & pop shops do.  I (over)paid for the Springbank bottle and left.

I don't recommend going to the shop, nor do I recommend their website which has the most outrageous shipping prices I've seen (and I've seen many) and due to the aforementioned stock/link problems.  58GBP to ship one bottle plus a potential VAT problem?  What?  If anyone reading this post knows what befell Loch Fyne Whiskies, then please share in the comments below.  It appears now to be merely a shiller for Hunter Laing whiskies (which are available via all major Scottish whisky retailers, and many off-licenses, anyway) and their own label.  Was it always thus?  Or did something happen to them?

(Update! Mystery solved. See the comments section below.)


I did get a one ounce sample of Springbank 13 year old Green (organic barley!) with my purchase because they apparently had a lot of tasting samples of it left behind the counter.  That didn't make up for the $10-$17 (or whatever those hungry refund processing companies allow) VAT I had to eat, but it allowed for this immediate review!

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: minimum 13 years
Maturation: 100% ex-sherry casks
Barley: type unknown, but it's 100% organic
Bottling Date: 2015
Limited bottling: 9,000
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No

Its color is a light gold, which set my expectation for nth-fill sherry casks.  But the nose immediately shows off the excellent intersection of peat and sherry that's becoming harder to find.  Big lovely stone fruit from the spirit, moderate mossy peat, and dried cherries and dried apricots come together as a unified note.  And with some air it picks up a bit of raisin bread too.  The palate starts with nutty toffeed sherry, citrus peels, mild peat, and red peppercorns.  Then walnuts and almonds, and a subtle Islay-like medicinal note wrapped in salty toffee.  In the finish a nice chili pepper heat merges with a berry-like sweetness, then settles into toasted barley and dry peat smoke.

The nose leads with charred tri-tip, peach skin, prunes, and an Ardbeg-like soot.  Nice soft sherry and malt in the palate.  Tangerines, peppery peat, and hard toffee.  The finish is similar to the palate, with the citrus sounding out the loudest.

This was the first whisky I tried during my trip and the last bottle I bought.  That first tasting was at an excellent bar, The Devil's Advocate (I intend to do a post about them someday).  Ever the Springbank Greens were released in The States I'd been unhappy about how they were priced, so I wanted to hate the whisky.  But my first reaction was, this stuff works.  And now that I've given in a second try in a controlled environment my reaction is...this stuff really works.  I like it better than the 10yo and 15yo (both 46% too), and some of the 12yo CS batches.  I can't tell you the quality is due the result of organic barley or just some good cask management.

Please keep in mind I am crazy about almost everything coming out under the Springbank brand right now -- to the point I almost need to put a disclaimer next to their scores like I used to do for Irish single pot still whiskies -- so I'll try to moderate.  If you like Springbank + sherry and are looking for something different than the 15 year old or something subtler than the Cask Strength, then the 13 year old Green is for you.  I recommend this whisky mostly for my European readers since the average price of it is 62% higher in the US than in the UK, thanks to Pacific Edge Wine & Spirits.  The pricing here is still a problem, but this is a very good whisky.

Availability - A few dozen specialty retailers in Europe and US
Pricing - Europe $65-$105, US $105-$125
Rating - 89