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I’ve been working my way around the whisky regions with my first few reviews and now that I’ve covered Islay (Lagavulin), Speyside (Glenfiddich), the Islands (Arran), the Lowlands (Auchentoshan) and the Highlands (Oban), it seems that the time has come to pay a visit to Campbeltown…
Campbeltown has a rich history of whisky production with more than 30 distilleries in operation at one time. Today, however, the picture is very different. Just three remain: Glen Scotia, Glengyle and Springbank. The latter plant is responsible for the production of three very different malts. Springbank is a lightly peated single malt that is distilled two and a half times (more on this later), Longrow is heavily peated and distilled twice and Hazelburn is triple distilled and completely unpeated. One could write a book discussing the merits of each brand but for the purposes of this review, I’ll be covering the original and arguably the best.
Springbank was founded in 1828 by Archibald Mitchell. 187 years and 5 generations later, the distillery is run by chairman Hedley G. Wright, great, great-grandson of Archibald. In a world where anything and everything around a distillery is romanticised for marketing purposes, one can’t help but be satisfied by a distillery remaining under family ownership throughout its entire lifespan.
Springbank is also rather unique in that every part of the whisky-making process is done onsite. Everything from malting the barley, kilning, distillation, maturation and even bottling is done on the premises making the distillery one of the most self-contained in all of Scotland. When most distilleries order their malted Barley from bulk suppliers and some send their spirit off in tankers to mature halfway across the country, it’s reassuring to see that Springbank insist on the old fashioned way.
I mentioned earlier that Springbank was distilled two and a half times. This may seem an unusual statement so allow me to explain, or at least, attempt to explain…
The bulk of Scotch whisky is distilled twice while Irish whiskey tends to be triple distilled. In a twice distilled spirit, beer wash is distilled in a wash still, producing a liquid known as low wines which are, in turn, distilled in a spirit still. At the end of the second run, the spirit is split into three parts, with distillers saving only the middle cut, or heart of the run, for maturation. With most distilleries, the rest of the spirit is then recycled with the wash of the next run and distilled again but Springbank adds the leftover spirit to the low wines as they enter the spirit still, meaning that some of their spirit has been matured twice and some, three times. Therefore, it is said that Springbank is matured two and a half times. Now, if trying to wrap your head around that doesn’t give you a thirst, I don’t know what will…
Springbank bottle at 46% alcohol by volume and this 15 year old expression retails for around £50 a bottle.
Smell: Caramel and Toffee, Apple and Pear and a hint of fresh, Salty Sea Air.
Taste: Nutty with Toffee, Caramel, Almond, Brown Sugar, Chocolate and a waft of Peat Smoke at the finish.
Thoughts: Springbank is quite simply, one of the best distilleries in Scotland, if not the world. The spirit they produce is remarkably complex and nuanced though, as such, it is perhaps not one for the beginner. There’s a certain dirtiness about it that I find intriguing. This whisky wasn’t produced in a gleaming stainless steel factory, it was produced in a grimy, dusty old distillery. The barley was smoked in a filthy soot-encrusted kiln and the casks slept in a warehouse with six inches of mould on the floor. You can taste every bit of that in the dram. In the best possible way of course. The 15-year-old is priced around £50 – £55 but to be honest, that’s a bargain. Magnificent stuff. About as good as single malt Scotch whisky gets.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.