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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Fail...er...Adventures in Blending: Salvaging a Springbank

As documented in my previous post, I recently encountered a problematic single cask bottling of Springbank, a bottling whose main characteristic was ethyl heat.  Applying water did help open the nose slightly, but the palate just became watery.  At the end of the tasting that led to my review, 2.5 fl. oz. of the whisky remained.  After taking 6 months just to consume the first five ounces, I didn't have much interest in drinking the rest as is.  So I decided to do three separate vattings to see if I could salvage my whisky.

Historically, my home vattings cannot be described as successes.  The only one I've enjoyed drinking was the ultra-high-rye bourbon I built last summer.  But failure never stopped me.  Actually that is not true.  Failure always stops me.  But not with whisky!  So I made my three vattings and set them aside to compare with the original whisky then......forgot about them for four weeks.  At least that left the ingredients more time to commingle and merge.  Here are the results:

Whisky #1
Springbank 13yo 1999 Rum Cask for Whiskykanzler
The original whisky, tasted again without looking at my previous notes.

Approximate ABV: 57.1%
Quantity bottled: 30mL
Resting time: 28 days

Nose - Oatmeal, pine, brown sugar, and a slight industrial edge that I don't remember being there before.  It's still one of the hottest noses I've ever experienced.  Smaller notes of band aids, honey, canned peaches, and polyester.
Palate - Heat.  Peat reading as smoke.  Caramel.  Coconut.  A hint of Mount Gay-like rum.  Slightly farty.
Finish - A sweetness that gets very aggressive, even with all of the ethyl burn.  Some citrus, rum, and smoke.

Verdict: Nose was better than I remembered it to be, but the palate is still a bum.  Suddenly way too sweet in the finish.
Grade Range: C/C+

Whisky #2 
3 parts - Springbank 13yo 1999 Rum Cask
1 part - Macallan Cask Strength (60.1%abv version)
Goal: Perk up the whisky with a little bit of full strength ex-sherry malt.  This version of Mac's CS is the only recent one I've enjoyed, and was also the only high strength sherried whisky I had open.

Approximate ABV: 57.9%
Quantity made: 15mL
Resting time: 28 days

Nose - Something between strawberry bubblegum and plaster.  Vanilla simple syrup.  Plastic toys.  Graham crackers, a hint of lime, and blue raspberry sno-cone syrup.  Less ethyl, despite the higher abv.
Palate - Peppery, peatier.  Still very hot, but more drinkable.  Toasted grains, golden raisins, and caramel.
Finish - Salt and tart with a peep of sherry.  Blackberry syrup?  Mildly sweet, but very acidic.  Gets weird on the tongue and I can't wash it off.

Verdict: Somewhat successful.  A better (and very zany) nose is the highlight.  The odd finish holds it down.
Grade Range: B-

Whisky #3 
3 parts - Springbank 13yo 1999 Rum Cask
1 part - Lagavulin 16 year old official bottling
Goal: Perk up the whisky with a little bit of quality peated malt, yet not turn it into a peat beast.

Approximate ABV: 53.6%
Quantity made: 15mL
Resting time: 28 days

Nose - An early puff of rotten meat exits quickly.  Lime and a light dusting of peat take over.  Also lemon zest, hot concrete, and a hint of mango appear.
Palate - Much peatier and saltier, pulling all the way out to Lagavulin territory.  But then it takes a quick turn into saccharine and ash.
Finish - Almost all Nutrasweet.  A whisper of peat shows up, only to be drowned in rotten milk.

Verdict: Nope.
Grade Range: D+/C-

Whisky #4
6 parts - Springbank 13yo 1999 Rum Cask
1 part - Lagavulin 16 year old official bottling
1 part - Macallan Cask Strength
Goal: Perk up the whisky by adding small touches of both rich sherried whisky and well-aged peated whisky.

Approximate ABV: 55.7%
Quantity made: 15mL
Resting time: 28 days

Nose - Band aids, prunes, orange blossoms, Turkish honey, dried leaves, and a little bit of tropical fruit too.  Somehow the sherry reads the loudest on this one.
Palate - Peppery and fruity sweet.  Lots of citrus and stone fruits.  Rose blossoms, watermelon Jolly Ranchers, and peat cinders.  Peeps of sherry and vanilla.  The least hot of all the palates.
Finish - Peat and oranges.  Tiny bits of tart and sweet.  Least weird of the finishes, though it still leaves a strange aftertaste.

Verdict: Success.  I would happily drink this again.  The issue with the finish keeps this one from flying.
Grade Range: B

With two successes and one failure this is the best luck I've ever had with vatting single malts.  One element that ran through all three vattings was a strange residue/texture in the finish.  Perhaps it was due to the Springbank spirit or the rum cask itself.

As always, I recommend taking it easy with incorporating a peated whisky into a vatting, especially if you're adding one of the big Islays.  I'd recommend being cautious with adding sherried whisky as well, though a blend should be able to take on sherry better than peat.  Ultimately, I do think many subpar single malts can be salvaged to a point with blending.  Just keep in mind, the quality of your final product often lies in the quality of your ingredients.