Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Since I started this blog, I’ve been working my way around the whisky regions of Scotland. So far, I’ve covered Islay (Lagavulin), Speyside (Glenfiddich), the Islands (Arran), the Lowlands (Auchentoshan) and the Highlands (Oban), so that leaves only one more – Campbeltown.
Campbeltown has a rich history of whisky making. The town has been home to close to 30 distilleries over the years but today, the picture looks very different. Only three remain: Glen Scotia, Glengyle and Springbank. The latter is responsible for the production of three very different single malts. Springbank is lightly peated and double distilled, or two and a half times distilled (more on this later), Longrow is heavily peated and double distilled and Hazelburn is triple distilled and 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, it continues under the watchful eye of chairman Hedley G. Wright, great, great-grandson of Archibald. In a world where anything and everything around distilleries can be romanticised for marketing purposes, it’s nice to find one that can genuinely trace its roots all the way back to the start.
Springbank is also rather unique in that every part of the whisky-making process is carried out onsite. Everything from malting the barley to kilning to distillation to maturation and even bottling is done on the premises making it arguably the most self-contained distillery in Scotland. When do many distilleries order their malted Barley from bulk suppliers and send their spirit off in tankers to mature on the other side of the country, it’s reassuring to see Springbank insisting on doing things 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, to attempt to explain… The bulk of Scotch whisky is distilled twice. In a double distilled spirit, the beer wash is distilled in a wash still, producing a liquid known as low wines which is, in turn, distilled in a spirit still. At the end of the second run, the resultant spirit is split into three sections. The middle section, or heart of the run, is retained and filled into casks to mature into whisky. Most distilleries recycle the head and tail of the run with the next batch of wash going into the wash still but at Springbank, the leftover spirit is added to the low wines as it enters the spirit still. So some of the spirit is distilled twice, but some has gone through three times. Hence, 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 their whiskies at 46% abv and this 15 year old expression retails for around £50.
Smell: Caramel and toffee with apples and pears and fresh, salty sea air. Wee hint of oily smoke.
Taste: Quite nutty with toffee and caramel. Almonds. Brown sugar. Wee bit of chocolate. Sea salt and black pepper. Little bit of brine and peat smoke.
Thoughts: Springbank is, quite simply, one of the best distilleries in Scotland, maybe the world. The spirit it produces is remarkably complex and nuanced and rarely disappoints. That said, it can seem a little awkward to the beginner. There’s a rawness, a certain dirtiness that I, and many others, find intriguing and it’s a world away from clean, fresh Glenlivets. This dram 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 and you can taste every bit of that character building in the dram. The 15-year-old is priced around £50 – £55 and it’s an absolute bargain at that level. Magnificent stuff. About as good as Single Malt Scotch 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.