...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Single Malt Report: Springbank 18 year old (2nd edition)

Springbank Taste Off 2013 concludes!

On Monday there was Springbank 10 year old 100 proof (US edition, beige label)
On Wednesday there was Springbank 15 year old
Today there is Springbank 18 year old (2nd Edition)

Though each sample came from a different source and started at a different quantity, they were treated equally.  28 fluid ounces tasted, first neat, then lowered to approximately 39% ABV with water.

As you may note from the photos, this Springbank 18 year old 3cL sample was purchased from Master of Malt's Drinks by the Dram.

When I (and Master of Malt) call this the "second edition", I/we are referring to the fact that this was the second batch of 18 year old released by Springbank after the distillery's reopening (production in 1989, maltings in 1992).  This batch was released in 2010 and may have contained some of their own new floor malt.

You'll find much less commentary here about this Springer, compared to the previous two.  I have always wanted to try Springbank 18 and this sample has been waiting impatiently for me to open it for much too long.

Owner: Springbank Distillers Ltd.
Age: minimum 18 years
Maturation: 80% ex-sherry casks, 20% ex-bourbon casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Bottling Date: 2010
Limited Bottling: 9,000
Chillfiltration? No
Colorant? No

Color - Gold, almost identical to the 15yr
Nose - Deeper, creamier, orangey sherry+oak notes than the 15.  Again, more oak than sherry.  Cherry cough drops, tropical fruit (papaya?), and Juicy Fruit gum at first.  A lightly floral note joins in, then toasted barley, rum, apple and white grape juices.
Palate - While this is the most graceful of these three Springbanks, the industrial sealant and veggie peat character remains intact in the background. A bright eucalyptus note, also found in the other Springbanks, arrives but much more up front in the 18. Very little wine, but definitely some butter and vanilla from the American oak.
Finish - Oddly, the shortest finish of the Taste Off.  Citrus peels and molasses.  More toasted oak than toasted grain.  A little bitter and acidic, with a phenolic chirp.

WITH WATER (approx 39% ABV)
Nose - Manure! Also cinnamon, milk chocolate, and orange marmalade if the Manure! doesn't distract one too much. It sniffs younger and farmy (clearly).
Palate - Much younger, tarter, and rougher -- all OK in my book.
Finish - Orange, pine, and a surprising amount of spirit. Its last breath is a farmy one.

I was very hesitant about adding water to this.  I mean, how many times am I going to have Springbank 18?  Shouldn't I just enjoy it as is?  Instead, I applied water for the sake of science and I'm glad I did.  There was a dirty bird hiding underneath the proper veneer.

Like in the 15, you may note how much cheaper Springbanks are overseas.  I'm assuming this is an unfortunate distribution issue.  US buyers have to do some more footwork, but we can find this whisky at a lower cost outside our borders.

Availability - Most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - In US: $150-$180;  In Europe: $110-$135 (minus VAT, shipping included)
Rating - 89

Final thoughts

Here's my attempt to quantify the results:

A close race between the 18yr and the 10yr 100proof, but I give 18 the nod because of its flexibility with water.  It's like two whiskies for the price of one, though it's not a small price.

10yr 100proof, though that has to do with my palate preference for its youth.  The 15 and 18 run pretty close together as runners up.

10yr 100proof.  Unfair due to a higher ABV?  Nope.  Alcohol content doesn't necessarily determine finish.  Aged malt and oak tannins can be an even larger influences. The 18's finish (when neat) is its main flaw.

At bottling strength - 10yr 100proof - When neat it shows much of the excellent raw character in its youthful, low-oak-influence state.
At 39% ABV - 18yr - A flexible oldie.  When neat, it's a graceful bright malt that still holds onto its industrial underpinings.  With a little water it seems much younger and plays a little rougher.

10yr 100proof

Again, please remember that due to Springbank's small operations, there has been known to be batch inconsistency.  In fact, that has almost become part of its brand, part of its charm.

Next week, more Springbank?


  1. I'm not sure if you had the 12yo Cask Strength, that's my reference Springbank, based on limited experience. I wonder how these three rate in your mind compared to the CS.

    1. Last year, I had a try of the first batch that had made it to The States. I remember liking it a bit. Though it was supposedly all sherry casks (60% first hoggies, 40% refill butts), the sherry remains in the background (as you know, that's always a positive for me). I know a couple bars in LA that have the 52.2%ABV version on the shelf and give good pours, so I'll be giving the CS another go at some point this year. Bottle prices are much better overseas on that one too.

    2. The 52.2% that's batch 4. I haven't tried it but I probably have a couple bottles. I had and loved batch 3, 2012, 55.3%. The sherry not an issue - unlike the Springbank 10yo I had last year, with orange (not yellow)-on-black label, which was cloying. (It got fixed with some Laphroaig.) I don't know anyone who didn't like Springbank 12yo CS - and that includes people who don't drink CS whisky, or who only like Lowlands. I bought a few when under $60 in the States, but not enough. Definitely recommended! I think the sherry composition differs from batch to batch. I'm overdue to open a Springbank CS, I'm just waiting for the weather to cool down, it's not a canicular drink. I'll let you know!

    3. Ah, I remember that weird sherry issue with 10 year old. It was the first real disappointing Springbank I'd had. Great scoop on the $60 bottles. It's $85+ around here, though I did find a place that has Batch 4 for $75. May these dog days be over soon, we've got some good stuff awaiting cooler weather.