Every year, independent bottler Cadenhead’s gets to select one cask of Springbank whisky to bottle under their own name – and they have to pay their parent company, which owns Springbank distillery, for it. This year, the winner out of apparently 37 casks was a 24-year old Springbank, distilled back in 1994 and matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Must’ve been one heck of a barrel with an outturn of 312 bottles. Maybe it was married and re-racked at some point?
This whisky was featured as one of the drams in the “Director’s Cut” tasting at the Campbeltown Malts Festival this year as a preview and I brought the drample back home with me for a proper assessment.
So, what do you expect from this whisky? Nothing but the best, right? Let’s verify that…
Age: 24 years
Limitation: 312 bottles
Cask: refill barrel
no colouring added / not chill filtered
Older Springbank can get wonderfully fruity if matured in good wood – preferably refill Sherry, but refill bourbon works as well – and that’s the case here. There’s an immediate, gentle fruit note that first hits the nose. We’ve got apricots, ripe bananas, honey melon, lychees and a mix of canned fruits in sugar syrup. Behind the fruity notes there’s a salty, alcoholic freshness, hints of well-behaved oak and a whiff of something that reminds me of an old, traditional, dunnage warehouse – complete with fungus on the wall you can lose your hand in. Not that I’ve ever tried that, of course… Oh, peat you say? Well… there might be a trace in there somewhere if you’re looking for it. This is not a “loud” nose, it’s gentle and elegant and takes time to appreciate.
A tad more lively on the arrival than the nose would’ve suggested but in no way spirity. Ah yes, there’s a hint of smoke now! In the development, the fruits are back – the tropical fruit basket with lychees, bananas, apricots and some non-tropical fruits such as pears – juicy, sweet ones! Quite chewy and oily at this stage. Once the fruits have settled in, a salty note and the mental image of a dunnage warehouse reappear.
Quite big upon swallowing with quite a lot of alcohol, salty notes, some olive oil, light peat smoke – and then the sweet tropical fruits are back to linger for a long time, letting just a hint of oak shine through.
I am glad I bottled this sample and took it home with me. This is a delicate, multi-faceted dram that demands full attention and a lot of time – factors you usually don’t have at a tasting with 100 fellow malt mates…
Now, about the whisky. It’s a light-ish, very fruity, elegant Springbank. Refill bourbon casks give you gentle, light maturation, preserving some of the new-make style. It might not be as intensely fruity as the refill sherry casks but it’s up there and it works – at least for me, I like that style of whisky. If you’re looking for a peat monster or a sherry bomb – well, sorry. Is it the best Springbank I’ve ever tried? Nope. You can get really good Springbanks for much less money – just look at the bog-standard 10-year-old expression to start with. So, what is it? It is what it is: Very good, well-matured whisky from an era where not many casks are left at the distillery. Plain and simple. Did I really have to write that much when just that statement would do?
That being said, let’s discuss the proverbial elephant in the room – price. Ouch, it hurts. We’re entering eye-watering territory here. In Austria, a bottle sells for 590€. Yep, that’s a lot of money – even more so since Springbank is usually modestly priced compared to other brands and in light of how much (little) they produce. Why is it so expensive? Market value. Everybody charging (and paying) a lot for older Springbank factor into the equation. Cadenhead’s has to buy the cask from Springbank – and they don’t have much old stock left. There’s only a handful of casks left from the 1991-1993 era and 1994 isn’t looking much better – and these are priced at market value. Springbank doesn’t sell casks – other than to Cadenhead’s and other bottlers don’t have huge stocks either and therefore charge even more for – some considerably so. So, there you go. An atypically high price both for Cadenhead’s and Springbank (which I’m not defending in any way) and we can moan about it as much as we like but that’s the deal – take it or leave it. Well, if you can find one, it’s probably sold out pretty much anywhere. The shop in Vienna still has a few, last bottles – at the time of publishing…
What are your experiences with older Springbank – or maybe even this expression? Your thoughts on prices for a whisky that’s “really rare” (as opposed to the usual “marketing rare”)? Let me know in the comments section below!
Overall Score: 90/100