Springbank - The Extremely Unique Distillery
Springbank Tasting Report
All whisky distilleries are Unique, but there is something particularly special about Springbank that makes it extremely unique, ok I know that’s really bad English, but you know what I mean. On Friday 29th April 2016, we were extremely lucky to have Grant MacPhearson – Springbank’s Sales & Marketing Executive, who came to share some excellent expressions, some of which aren’t available to the general public and some which are extremely rare. Springbank distillery is situated in Campbeltown.
Near the southern tip of the Kintyre Peninsula is the small town of Campeltown. This town of around 5000 people is a whisky region in its own right as at its height, in the mid-19th Century, it had around 33 working distilleries. It had all the things necessary; barley and peat were nearby for malting, Coal was mined locally for powering the stills, and the deep water harbor and close proximity to the North Channel between Ireland and Kintyre ensured the “route to market”. Campbeltown started its decline following the First World War with Prohibition in the USA, their main export customer, also a lot of the whisky making families moved to Glasgow and Edinburgh, and the use of roads to carry goods rather than Puffer Boats. At one point there was only one working distillery in Campbeltown – Springbank. Today there are three distilleries, Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia, Springbank and Glengyle are both owned by J & A Mitchell & Co ltd, Which in turn is owned by 84 year old Mr Hedley C Wright.
Founded in 1828, actually the Mitchell family just got a license for their existing illicit still in 1828. Today’s owner, Hedley Wright, is the Great, Great, Great Grandson of the founder Archibald Mitchell, this makes Springbank Scotland’s oldest independent family owned distillery. There is an ethos here which tries to keep jobs local, they do everything on site. they malt 100% of their Barley, they make, mature, bottle the whiskies and run their Sales and Marketing all from Campbeltown, employing 70 people, and 20% of their barley is grown locally. Although the distillery can produce 750,000 litres a year they only produce around 120,000 litres, they choose to do this as that is the malting capacity, and they like to keep everything in house. For their Springbank whisky they have slightly peated barley, and they use a two and a half times distillation method.
The Whiskies: all are Unchillfiltered and natural colour
Once upon a time there was a young Campbeltown man called Frank McHardy. He learnt his trade at Springbank, then left for foreign parts to earn his fortune, well actually he went to Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim. In 1997 he returned home to become Springbank Distillery Manager, and with him he brought the art of Triple Distillation and Hazelburn was born. This is a non-peaty, unchilfiltered triple distilled light fresh whisky.
Hazelburn 10 y/o – 46% – This expression is matured in American Oak ex-bourbon casks, it is light fruity and subtle, a great starter for the evening. This was my favorite of the two its more typical of the gentle nature of triple distilled whisky.
Hazelburn 12 y/o – 46% – This expression is matured in European Oak ex-sherry casks, it is still a light bodied malt, but it has richer dried fruity flavours, more complex than its younger sister with more body and finish.
In the year 2000, Mr Wright brought Glengyle distillery which was adjacent to Springbank. As it was pretty much just some building in need of repair, it took 4 years to get it back into production, the cost in all was £1.7 million. The name Glengyle for whisky is owned by a different company and when they were approached to sell the rights to name they quoted an astronomical price, in fact it was more than they spent on the distillery, so Mr Wright said no and uses the name Kilkerran for the name of the whisky. Kilkerran was the name of the area before it was called Campbeltown.
Kilkerran 12 y/o – 50% – The whisky we got to taste was a sample of the new 12 year old out in August. This is the first regular bottling of Kilkerran and when released it will be 46% abv. The whisky is matured 70% in American Oak ex-bourbon casks, and 30% in ex-sherry casks.
Springbank 12 y/o – Burgundy Wood – 53.5% – This was another sample of a limited release of 10,260 bottles out mid-May 2016. Matured all in fresh Burgundy Wine Casks, the colour is ruby red, a bold nose, of berries, and a palate to match – rich berry fruitiness, a great dry finish. Definately my favourite of the night.
Springbank 16 y/o – Fresh Sherry Cask – 54.2% – This whisky was only available in the UK, a single cask of 540 bottles. It was just what you expect from a sherry cask – dried rich fruit, like a really good fruit cake, with that slight smoky flavour, very complex and loads of body.
Longrow 18 y/o – 46% -2016 release – Longrow is Springbank’s Peaty expression. Back in 1973 the main type of whisky Sold by the J & A Mitchell was blended. They had to buy in peaty whisky for their blends so decided to make it themselves. That was the start of Longrow whisky, made at Springbank Distillery but using a traditional double distillation and using heavily peated barley. The barley is peated to 45 Phenols PPM, that’s Laphroaig, Lagavulin levels but it’s not as medicinal or heavy as the Islay whiskies, Longrow tends to have a gentler smokiness. This expression was the 2016 release available from the day of the tasting and we were the first outside of the company to taste it. The whisky had been matured in 40% ex-sherry casks and 60% in ex-rum casks. There was a sweet spiciness as well as the peaty flavour, being 18 years old it was silky smooth, but not overly woody.
Grant left us with these words of wisdom – “You’ve not visited a Distillery until you’ve visited Springbank.”