...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Single Malt Report: Springbank 12 year old 2000 Calvados Finish

If you think I've posted a lot of high ratings these past two weeks, you would be correct.  I used to hand out four stars more generously at the start of the whisky reports, then lessened as I gained more malty experience.  Discounting my re-tries of old favorites, I'm averaging less than one 88+ report a month.  Now I'm about to give my third one in two weeks.  It's not because I'm in a super duper happy mood (which I'm not), it is because I'm a really big Springbank geek.  And of these five recently reviewed Springbanks, this one is my favorite.

Distillery: Springbank
Brand: Springbank
Age: 12 years (Apr 1997 - Oct 2012)
Maturation: refill bourbon barrels for the first 6 years
Finish: fresh Calvados casks (probably toasted French Oak) for the next 6 years
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 52.7%
Limited Bottling: 9,420 bottles

From a sample purchased at Master of Malt -- served neatly in a Glencairn glass:

The color is medium gold.  The nose......from my notes: "Wow. Ripe piney peat stank." Industrial machine oil and grease.  But at the same time there's what I imagine a 120-proof Calvados to smell like, a deep strong tart apple spirit.  Behind that is some barrel char from the American oak.  Then pencil lead, rubber bands, vanilla, new sneakers, and sour apple candy.  Gets more syrupy and ashy with time.  The palate is simpler, but hits every note solidly.  Fresh apples first, then a peat wallop (something between Ardbeg and Kilchoman).  Toasty oak, vanilla creme, fresh pears, and whole grain fruit muffins.  A sharp youthful alcohol bite remains after 12 years.  A bitter-tea-meets-vanilla-bean note grows stronger with time in the glass.  Apple shisha and green grapes hit first in the huge finish.  The peat starts off light then keeps expanding and expanding.  The bitter tea notes edges its way in after a while.  More apples.  Juice from canned pears.

First off, if you don't like calvados this ain't your whisky.  I'm one of those folks who always liked calvados, but didn't know how to pronounce it correctly until last year.  It's CAL-vados, not cal-VA-dos.  I can now be a snob about that too!

Secondly, SKU from Recent Eats was right, this whisky hauls out considerable peat.  Of all the Longrows (Springbank's heavily peated brand) I've tried, only the CV (rest in peace) competes with this phenolic punch.

The price on it is plum nonsense for 12 year old whisky, but ignoring age for a moment (if we can), the quality is considerable.  The combo of high phenolics, French apple brandy, two different oaks with two different char/toast levels, and industrial grease doesn't work on paper, but it works in the glass.  It's never too sweet, too tart, nor too bitter and the seemingly disparate elements play well together.  It almost allows me to forgive Springbank for taking the shovel to Longrow CV.  Almost.

I'll be honest, I hate posting this review.  The more positive reviews this whisky gets, the already very few remaining bottles are going to vanish before I can nab one.  So a personal note to those in Southern California, DO NOT buy any more bottles of this......until I give you the green light.  'kay?  Thanks.  :-)

I'm kidding (but not really though), you so-and-sos.  Drink up.  Seriously, if you buy it, drink it.  Don't be hoarding for the apocalypse or the secondary market.  Because often the latter seems to be leading to the former.

Availability - Here and There, though more so There (aka UK)
Pricing - $105-$125 (Fuuuuuuuuuuuuu-----------)
Rating - 92


  1. I'll have to check my Springbank shelf, I might have gotten one Calvados finish too but if I did, it definitely wasn't over $100. This might be my next bottle to open now, I told you I'm overdue a CS Springbank!

    I always wondered about Calvados finishes. They sound so cool, so different, so French. But...

    Did you see a picture of a Calvados cask? There are two things about them: first, traditionally they are huge, we are talking 2,000 liters, maybe more. Second, they reuse them forever, probably half of the existing ones were still there when Napoleon reigned. They don't want wood character in Calvados, they want the apple flavor - plus, they don't like to throw things away. So, what is the whisky going to get out of them? Most likely though, they are dismantled and reshaped into hogsheads for whisky use, which would make some sense.

    Between these and the ex-plum brandy casks used to great effect in the Hibiki 12, it seems that there's a lot of potential in cross-pollination with fruit brandy... Expect a "Glenmorangie Honfleur" coming up soon...

    1. More likely they're custom casks seasoned with calvados then shipped over to the distiller.

    2. Hey Jordan, welcome back! How was Scotland? Do you feel a different person now?

      What do you mean by custom casks? You mean Springbank sends their ex-bourbon casks over to, say, Domaine Dupont, and asks them to store calvados in them for a couple years and then send them back? That could be, although I've never heard of something like that... This does sound, however, something that would be easily manageable for one of the giants, like Diageo or LVMH, who surely own some large Calvados houses as well.

    3. Now, I'm curious about this too. I did imagine them using a big old former Calvados cask since the oak is restrained and maybe even more toasty than charred. Had it been LVMH, we'd be hearing all about the oak and how much sunshine hit the trees in the winter. But Springbank tends not to go into the details much and their website seems to be 5-10 years behind. "Fresh Calvados Casks" is open for interpretation.

    4. Springbank has a website? That's good enough for them. As far as 21st century is concerned - their work is done!
      Whatever they put up there is a bonus anyway.

      I wonder how the marketing department at Springbank looks like, and what kind of advertising budget they have. When is the last time you saw an add for Springbank? That's like seeing an add for Pappy van Winkle.

    5. They're even trying to do a website just for Kilkerran in order to establish it as its own brand. Very modern!

      I'm sure the marketing department includes the guy who prints out the bottle labels, and that's it.

    6. The impression that I go is that most sherry casks these days are done custom - the distillery contracts with a bodega to make a new butt, toss some low-grade sherry destined for vinegar in there, sit on it for a few years, then ship the 'seasoned' cask to the distillery. Sherry producers mostly aren't looking for oak extraction, so they'd rather use an umpteenth-fill cask for their good sherry going into the solera systems rather than getting news ones all the time. And since sherry is bottled in Spain, there isn't the usual cycling of sherry casks into Scotland. So they have to be made especially for the distillers, hence the extra cost (about 10x compared to an ex-bourbon barrel) for sherry butts.

      I expect it would be the same for 'ex-calvados casks'. The calvados distillers don't want new oak covering up their delicate apple flavors, so they're loath to give up well-used casks. Instead, some cheap stuff was probably thrown into new barrels, aged for a few years, dumped, then the casks were shipped to Springbank.

  2. Time to find some Loch Dhu. A taste of that should end your string of high scores. Though it somehow got 98 points from Serge on April 1, 2006. Either that was Serge's evil twin writing the review or there's just something about that day...

    You know, Beltramo's had exactly two... I mean one bottle left of the Calvados Finish left last I checked. I'll leave the last one for others.

    1. I may have a source for the Loch Dhu next month. I'm actually looking forward to the experience. Loch Dhu bottles are difficult to come by (maybe a good thing?) but I've now seen four different stores with old Cu Dubh bottles.

      I hope you like your Springbank Calvados Finish as much as I did. It's awesome!