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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Single Malt Report: Springbank 10 years old 100 proof (part 3 of 4)

The Springbank Taste Off continues!

From left to right we've got Hazelburn 8yr, Springbank 10yr 100 Proof, and Longrow CV.

On Monday, I gave a little intro into the Campbeltown region and the Springbank Distillery.
On Tuesday, I reported on Hazelburn 8yr.
Today, I'll report on Springbank 10yr 100 proof

The historical recap:  Though just a tiny town, Campbeltown was a serious whisky producer in the 1800s.  A major downturn in the 1900s decimated over 90% of their distilleries.  The strongest remaining producer of in the region is the Springbank distillery which makes a number of completely unique whisky brands, all separated by different distillation methods.

Springbank's Springbank brand is their largest and most popular.  One of their bottlings can be found at any decent liquor store in California, unlike the more limited Hazelburn brand.  Springbank's malt is distilled two-and-a-half times, is lightly peated, and remains unchillfiltered and undyed, keeping the resulting whisky in the style of the old Campbeltown bottlings.  Their regular 10 year is bottled at 46% ABV.  But this is not their regular 10 year.

PROOF*:  As you'll see by the subject heading, the particular whisky that I'm tasting is labelled "100 Proof".  Alcohol Proof in the UK is different than in the US.

In the US, when alcohol content was first tested in a lab, it was done so per 200 parts of the liquid.  If 80 parts of the liquid was alcohol, the liquid was thus 40% alcohol.  So US "proof" equals twice the Alcohol by volume.  Thus 100 proof = 50% ABV.

In the UK, it's much sexier.  Back when British sailors were allowed to bring aboard rations of rum, they would test to see if it had been diluted.  To do this, they would submerge gunpowder in a portion of the rum.  Then they'd light it on fire.  If the rum had been watered down, then the gunpowder wouldn't ignite.  If it remained flammable, then it was good to go.  Because they didn't have sophisticated scales, they set the undiluted standard (proof of quality, if you will) at 100 proof.  Later studies discovered that the amount of alcohol necessary for this flammable balance was 4:7 or 57.14%.  Thus 100 proof = approximately 57%.

Because Springbank is from the UK and because they wanted to label the whisky in the classic (pre-1980) fashion, they appended the name with "100 proof".  And it is thus 57% alcohol by volume.  It's a strong drink.

(Update: It turns out that the US bottling is in fact 50% ABV, thus 100 US proof.  The UK bottling is 57% ABV, which is 100 UK proof.  Not sure why they chose to change it for the American market.  To prevent confusion, perhaps?  The "105" in Glenfarclas 105 refers to its UK proof, which equals 60% ABV, yet the distillers bottled it at that same strength for the US and the UK.  BUT, no worries, the US bottling of the Springbank 10yr 100 proof is also delicious and will get its own report in the near future.)

* - Though copious interent research went into this "Proof" information, it was still just internet research.  I welcome all corrections.

Brand: Springbank
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: Mostly bourbon
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 57% (100 UK Proof)

Like the other two drams, I obtained my taste of Springbank 10yr 100 proof from Master of Malt's Drinks by the Dram samples.  The little bottle held 3cL (30mL) worth, perfect for a taste off.

Here's how I structured the Taste Off:
Hazelburn (neat), Springbank (neat), Longrow (neat), then...
Hazelburn (w/water), Springbank (w/water), Longrow (w/water)

So now, in the second slot, Springbank 10 years old 100 Proof.  First, neat:

The color was a light gold, but a bit darker than the Hazelburn.  The nose on cask strength whiskies can be tricky, full of alcohol burn.  But not this one.  Much less of a burn than I had anticipated.  Instead it was very oceanic, salt and seaweed.  Then plastics, dyes on old baseball cards, a little toffee at the end.  My notes say, "a seaside carnival".  The palate immediately felt like a mild Islay.  A little bit of Bowmore-style peat.  A nibble of Johnnie Walker Black.  Then more wet peat.  Apricots.  Sweet on the tongue but not sugary.  The finish was red hot and very lengthy!  Full of band-aids and ocean mist.

Then I added two tablespoons of water, bringing the ABV down to 35%.

The nose was now "almost Lagavulin".  Nice peat, with cinnamon, pastries, band-aids, and a little citrus.  The palate was reminiscent of my great Bowmore 16yr from Signatory.  Also reminded me of a lightly-fruited Lowland wrapped up in peat.  The finish was "cinnamon on a peat pillow".

Adding the water turned it into completely different experience.  That's what I love about these high strength whiskies.  They allow you to choose your own adventure.  This one turned an industrial oceanic ass-kicker into a compulsively drinkable anytime malt.  I liked them both considerably.

A note about the bottling:  The good news is that this whisky is stellar.  The bad news is that it's no longer in production.  At some point this year Springbank replaced it with the 12yr Cask Strength.  That new heavy hitter is getting good notices, though some reviewers miss the big baby from this report.  The large online UK whisky sellers no longer carry the 10yr 100 proof.  But if you do some good detective work, you just might find a US seller with a bottle left.  I did.

Pricing - Excellent at $70
Rating - 92

Tomorrow: Longrow CV!


  1. My wife just gave me a bottle for Valentine's day. I can't wait to try it, but after reading that it is no longer made, I almost (emphasis on "almost") don't want to open it!

  2. Now THAT is a great gift.

    If you're in the US, the bottling is actually 50% ABV. I discovered that after I'd bought my bottle. So there will be a follow-up post on that next month. The UK bottling is still 57%.

    BUT the good news is that this US bottling is delicious especially with a little bit of water. And really good with smoked cheeses and smoked fish.

    Two schools of though remain: Open the bottle for a special occasion OR "Make the bottle the special occasion" as my wife says.

  3. "Schools of thought". Schools of though are something different entirely.

  4. I've been working my way through a Springbank 14 year old Amontillado cask (one of four single sherry casks released a couple years ago). The smokiness surprisingly played well with the sherry notes (which wasn't as strong as say Macallan 12). And at 55%, this whisky can handle quite a bit of water. Springbank is already bottling at 46% but I feel cask strength is where the distillery shines.

    Also I just realized I've yet to try the basic Springbank 10. I might need to get a bottle as a Springbank benchmark.

    1. Hi Eric! I'm looking forward to adding a CS Springbank to my stash. I've eyed those single sherry casks a few times. Now that I'm coming back around to sherry, I'll keep an eye open to see if there are any still out there. When smoke and sherry mingle well, it can be a treat! I've been told by a couple folks that the distillery has been mixing a few more sherry casks into their regular range than they'd used to.

      This 10 year 100 proof is actually the UK version, I'm going to finally get around to reviewing the US version (50% ABV) this year. The one I have was bottled a while back, before '06, and it's almost all bourbon casks (I think). And it is tasty.