A family business
The Springbank distillery is located in the town of Campbeltown, which is found on a narrow peninsula on the west Highland coast of Scotland. It is Scotland's oldest distillery that has been continuously owned by the same family, the Mitchell's. Springbank was set up in 1828 by the Reid family (who were related to the Mitchell's by marriage) and it later passed fully to the Mitchell family, who remain in ownership today. Springbank has a small capacity with a maximum production capacity of 750,000 litres per year and is one of the few distilleries to do all parts of the whisky production on their own site including malting the barley, distillation and bottling.
Details of release
This whisky is the latest version of a Springbank 18 years old to hit the market. Roughly once a year, J & A Mitchell release a batch and some of the previous versions have achieved legendary status. Each is different and this 2010 version is made up of 80% ex-sherry cask matured whisky and 20% bourbon cask. It is limited to 9000 bottles, has an alcoholic strength of 46% ABV and should cost £60-65 from specialist whisky or liquor retailers.
Our tasting notes
This Springbank 18 years old is a deep golden colour and has a nose that seems to take its time to reveal its characteristics. Initially, it feels closed with basic vanilla, cereal grains and dried fruit (think of sultanas) showing but with time others start to appear - toasted almonds, hints of treacle or burnt sugar, sweet marzipan, a whiff of smokiness and dark chocolate. On the palate, this feels fairly heavy and oily. There is a distinct grain husk character to begin with that is a little bitter but sweetness starts to slowly develop with some sugary caramel, vanilla and dried fruits (those sultanas again plus raisins) coming through. Add to this some nuts (imagine almonds and hazelnuts), wood spice (especially cinnamon), some saltiness (think of brine), a hint of menthol or liquorice and some earthy dusty smoke and you end up with a very complex palate. The finish is reasonably long with more dusty smokiness coming through. It begins sweetly before some darker elements - burnt sugar and spices - finish things off.
What's the verdict?
This is one hell of a complex whisky. It is easy to see why the quality of Springbank's whiskies has built up a loyal cult following but this feels difficult to drink. There are barriers put in your way at each stage and the characteristics struggle to come through - is it almost too complex? Your patience is rewarded with a fine dram but this is definitely not one for the beginner. The news is that the 9000 bottles are selling fast, so grab one now if you are interested ... before it's too late.