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Monday, November 2, 2020

Quintuple Springbank Local Barley Taste Off

As I told the Columbus Scotch Night crew last Monday, there ain't much Scottish about Scotch whisky. Most distillery owners are not Scottish, and the SWA makes sure those owners pay as little tax back to the local area as possible. Fewer and fewer locals are hired by those owners as automation takes over. The casks are from America or continental Europe. And a considerable portion (or majority?) of the barley used by the distillers is not sourced from Scotland.

With their Local Barley series, Springbank brings Scotland back. The owner is Scottish, the low-tech distillery's employees are from Campbeltown and the barley is sourced from Kintyre Peninsula farms. And, for what it's worth, local microflora may find its way into the whisky thanks to the distillery's open mash tun.

The CSN event referenced above was indeed a Springbank Local Barley night with four LBs side-by-side-by-side-by-side. I took samples home so I could live though the evening (also I was masked-up for two hours).

As a huge added bonus, Secret Agent Man (brandy, whisky and espionage extraordinaire) provided me with a sample of Local Barley new make.

I am happy to report my liver made it through the home-based Taste Off intact. And here is the sensory experience in full:

Local Barley New Make, distilled 6 Jan 2010
63.4%abv (barley and farm unknown)

Nose - It really is barley eau de vie, leaning close to kirschwasser and apricot brandy. A little bit of yeast, a little bit of rubber cement (❤). Sugary peat, toasted seaweed and toasted sesame seeds.

Palate - Loaded with citrus, herbs, cinnamon, cocoa(!) and slight mossiness in the background. Very very very easy to drink.

Finish - Cinnamon and tangy lemons up front; stones, herbs and peppercorns in the background.

Comments - Oh my goodness. As I've said about Yamazaki, Springbank should bottle new make like this. It's lovelier than most of the whiskies I've consumed this year, and easier to sip than anything else I've had at this ABV level.

Rating - 88

Local Barley 6 year old 2009, refill bourbon hogshead, rotation 268
57%abv (barley and farm unknown)

Purchased at Campbeltown's Cadenhead Shop, via THE CAGE, by the 748th most popular whisky blogger in his area code. Said blogger had been waiting to share this bottle for four years.

Nose - There's a burly mix of farm, industry, seaweed and Hampden muck on top, briny shellfish in the middle, brown sugar at the bottom.

Palate - It's sweet and citrussy, like lime popsicles, but with a wallop of herbal liqueur. Notes of charred beef and tart berries emerge after 30 minutes.

Finish - Herbs de Provence + lime juice + wet wool.

Comments - The cask hadn't yet realized there was spirit inside it when it was emptied. The nose leads one to believe the palate will be very raw, but it's not. The new make's fruit and herbs live on, while the alcohol remains calm. It's a bit more difficult than the rest of these single malts, but still very good.

Rating - 85

Local Barley 9 year old 2009, 80% bourbon cask / 20% sherry cask
Optic barley, High Cattadale Farm, 57.7%abv

Nose - Citrons and eucalyptus dominate at the start, with damp mossy peat and band-aids lingering behind. Burlap, lemons and darker smoke emerge with time.

Palate - It shows the rawest peated spirit of the bunch, with fresh ginger, tart oranges, fabric and roots in the mid-ground. It gets brinier and savorier with time.

Finish - It balances salty, smoke, savory, pepper and citrus very well.

Comments - At times this 9 year old small batch reads younger than the 6 year old single cask, but it finishes very well. While those sherry casks (and bourbon casks) were no match for the Local Barley brawn, I would have loved to try this stuff at twice its age.

Rating - 84

Local Barley 10 year old 2007, 70% bourbon cask / 30% sherry cask
Belgravia barley, West Backs Farm, 57.3%abv

Yep, I reviewed this whisky eight months ago, calling it "an adorable little baby whisky", but with limited enthusiasm. Trying it again...

Nose - It's like a creamy mango and rose pudding. And toffee pudding. There are also notes of spearmint, roasted corn, sugary smoke, mustard seed and musty basement.

Palate - The maltiest of the whiskies, this also unfurls layers of lychee, nectarines and flowers. Molasses and wood smoke balance out the fruitiness.

Finish - Peppercorns, limes, lychee and flowers. Sweet and tangy.

Comment - Okay, now I dig it. Though it's the prettiest of all the Local Barliez I've tried, it never goes overboard thanks to its darker Springbank heart. I remember this being one of the two favorites during the event, and I understand why.

Rating - 88

Local Barley 16 year old 1999, 80% bourbon cask / 20% sherry cask
Prisma barley, Low Machrimore Farm, 54.3%abv

Yes I've reviewed this before, and yes I loved it.

Nose - It's sooty and greasy and medicinal (almost South Islay-esque). Notes of hookah smoke, toasted barley, citrus, musty dunnage and machine shop keep funneling forth.

Palate - Intensely salty and earthy......Oh and the minerals......herbs, lemons, limes......dunnage and something very dusty. A whisky from another time.

Finish - All the good things. Stones, soil, herbs, salt, dust and limes.

Comment - HOT TAKE. This is the best official bourbon cask batched single malt distilled at Springbank since the place reopened 31 years ago. Yes, there are sherry casks in the mix but they've clearly run and hid, letting the (likely refill) bourbon casks and beautiful spirit have all the glory. Heavy but graceful, this will be the modern Local Barley by which all future Local Barleys will be judged.

Rating - 91

Thank you to the leadership of CSN for making this happen. This Taste Off was an utter joy and I feel spoiled rotten. The blog will need to take a break for a few days while I recover.

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