An Evening with Springbank
On Friday 26th April 2013 we welcomed Melanie Stanger from Springbank Distillery to tell us all about one of the most interesting Distilleries in Scotland.
The whisky industry prides itself on its individualism, however Springbank distillery takes this to a whole new level. It is indisputably the most traditional of Scotland’s distilleries as they do the whole process on site – Malt 100% of their own barley, they make, mature and bottle their own whisky, and run their sales and marketing all from the distillery in Campbeltown. Springbank’s owner Mr Hedley Wright is the Great Great Great Grandson of the founder of the Distillery Archibald Campbell. Mr Wright believes that Springbank should do things their own way without compromising quality or Tradition
In the 19th Century Campbeltown was the centre of the Scotch whisky industry, and a whisky region in it’s own right. At its height there were over 30 working legal distilleries. It’s success was due to a number of factors, not least the fact that in 1820 the Duke of Argyle – head of clan Campbell – built a reservoir on the outskirts of the town, as you need about 100 litres of water to make 1 litre of whisky this is very important. Today Campbeltown is still a whisky region in its own right, although there are now only three working distilleries.
Springbank make three distinctive spirits Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn the first of these we tried was the Hazelburn 12 y/o. As with all Springbanks the Hazelburn is 46%, unchilfiltered and natural colour. In the 1960’s when the trend was towards clear lighter whisky, distillers started to cool down the whisky before bottling and filter out some of the natural oils which could make the whisky appear cloudy if bottled at 40%. At Springbank they decided that this chilfiltering did nothing to improve the whisky and could harm it particularly as the Campbeltown style is oily, waxy and briny. Sorry I digress back to Hazelburn, the barley is not peated, the spirit is triple distilled, going through the stills three times which makes a lighter spirit. Matured in ex-sherry casks the nose is of sherry, chocolate and apricots, the palate is also nutty with figs, with a long fruity finish much longer than is normally associated with triple distilled whisky. Hazelburn is named after a now closed Campbeltown distillery which ran from 1825 until 1925.
The reason why Springbank makes a Triple distilled whisky is because of the great distiller Frank McHardy. Frank became Distillery Manager at Springbank after his employers insisted he retired at 50, no age for such a legend. Frank’s previous distillery was Bushmills not that far across the sea in County Antrim. Bushmills triple distils in the traditional Irish way so Frank asked if he could make some triple distilled spirit – and a great idea it was.
Back in 2000 Hedley Wright was walking past the large site next door to Springbank which used to house Glengyle Disitillery and noticed a For Sale sign outside. He went back to his office and phoned the agents. Hedley purchased the site for £30,000 and four short years later Glengyle Distillery started producing again after nearly 80 years. Because the name Glengyle is already used for another whisky, the whisky from Glengyle is called Kilkerran. There have been 4 releases called Work In Progress and this will be the 5th – in fact it will not be available until later in 2013. The one we tried, called light, is a limited run of 9000 bottles, is 9 years old and had been matured in ex-Bourbon Casks. The whisky is lightly peated and double distilled. The sister to this bottling is called Dark and is ex-Sherry cask Matured.
Next we moved onto Springbank Proper withSpringbank 10 & 15 y/o. Springbank use a very slow distillation, with a method of returning the feints to the beginning of the first distillation and having a small middle cut meaning that the spirit is two and a half times distilled. The barley is dried over peat fires for 6 hours & dried 30 hours with hot air. The 10 years old bottling is made up of 60% whisky matured in ex Bourbon casks and 40% whisky matured in ex Sherry casks. It is a salty, oily, waxy malt with plenty of flavour and bit smoky but not too much. The 15 year old is all ex Sherry cask matured and so has that rich dark chocolate, raisins, oaky and spicy flavours as well.
Well as the Springbank distillery does a triple distilled, and a two and a half times distilled spirit, it would seem mean not to do a good traditional Highland double distilled whisky so they also do, Longrow. They have made Longrow since 1973 and it is dried over peat fires for 48 hours that gives a level of phenols of 50 parts per million or Ardbeggy, Laphroiggy levels of peatiness. There was once a distillery in Campbeltown called Longrow and it was on the site of Springbank’s bottling hall. This is a typical big flavoursome peaty smoky whisky rivalling anything Islay can produce.
For a spectacular finale Melanie had brought an advance sample of the new Longrow Red. This whisky is the peaty Longrow matured for 7 years in ex Bourbon casks and 5 years in ex Australian Shiraz wine casks from the Longrow Vineyard, Adelaide. The rich red wine imparts some great red berry flavours just like summer pudding. This expression will be a limited edition of 9000 and will be available in August 2013.
What I particularly like about Springbank is their attention to detail, their determination to make the best possible whisky and do it in their own way. An excellent evening and we were all grateful to Melanie for sharing her knowledge and whisky.