With anything made by Springbank selling out instantly, Tom thought it right to go through the three classics that they put out. Most of them are reasonably available, with especially the Springbank 10 being in some shops for € 50 and simultaneously going for twice that in auctions.
Anyway, from the regular 2.5 times distilled Springbank, the 3 times distilled Hazelburn to the heavily peated Longrow, let’s dive in!
The old discussion of what are the ground rules for being a “whisky region” has not resurfaced for a while now, at least not in the whisky bubble I live in. The last time my mind was challenged on the subject is when Michael Lord did a provocative tasting during a Maltstock edition many years ago. He argued the case for Dufftown being an individual whisky region. Indeed, with having so many stills, why does Campbeltown get this distinction and equally productive whisky centers like Elgin, Rothes and Craigellachie do not?
The answer, obviously, is to be found in a very distinctive history. Campbeltown used to be the undisputed Whisky Capital of the World where whisky would flow more easily than there is water in the Campbeltown Loch. Those days are long gone, but it is mostly because of Springbank that the legend lives on. With three outspoken “brands” and also a sister distillery under the name of Glengyle, together with the peculiar Glen Scotia distillery, Campbeltown has a firm backbone again. Doing things the old-fashioned way, I think it is safe to say Springbank belongs to two of the best whisky distilleries in the world (the other one being Lagavulin).
At certain times one has to dig into a core range again and this is what I will be doing in this post. I just happened to stumble upon a more than fair prices Springbank 10, then found an equally attractive Longrow Peated and then it was just a matter of common sense to also source the Hazelburn 10. All with the idea to simply enjoy them… and compare them against each other for this blog.
Hazelburn 10 Years Old, 46 % – bottled July 2018
This single malt is triple distilled from completely unpeated malt, so I expect a light spirit. The Hazelburn origin lies in the year 1997 when it was first produced.
Incredibly fresh and drenched in orange fruit aromas like (blood) oranges and tangerines. It is a very clean impression you get, like an early morning on a bright Summer day. The smells mellow after a while in the glass, turning into garden smells and a slightly more varied fruitiness.
It is indeed very light and extremely silky on the tongue, as one would expect from a triple distilled whisky. It does have an interesting bitter accent of high quality dark chocolate, but it rather complements the fruity and sour flavors. An unshaken balance that integrates all aspects of whisky making; ingredients, distilling and maturing.
The fruity exit is surprising since I only expect this from malts well into their 20s. Did someone secretly throw oranges and tangerine in the stills? There are omnipresent in this remarkable whisky.
If you haven’t already you should stock up on this immediately. I have rarely seen a whisky that can pass as an everyday dram and at the same time could keep you busy all night with delightful simplicity. I hadn’t tasted Hazelburn for a long while because of bad experiences (I avoid sherry expressions…) but this “standard” 10 Years Old is all you could wish for from Campbeltown.
Springbank 10 Years Old, 46 % – bottled September 2020
The brand name that carries name of the distillery as a flagship. Now, don’t ask me to explain, but this malt is made via an interesting 2.5 distillation regime not unlike Mortlach, Linkwood and Benrinnes (used to) have. It should give the whisky an inspired twist.
Amazing how similar this is compared to the lighter Hazelburn. But the oranges and tangerines
are infused with a certain salinity. Just close your eyes and imagine walking the Esplanade around
Campbeltown Loch. There is something else too, a more heavy tone, reminding me of diesel or some
other kind of fuel. A little smoke that is entirely absent in the Hazelburn.
Very strong and compact to taste, not as mouth covering as the Hazelburn but more punchy. Judging by the colors of the liquid the Springbank roughly matured in the same cask types as Hazelburn. But this whisky has more layers which results in less bitterness and more spices of all kinds. Of course there is the traditional minerals that seems to be the basic DNA of a Springbank distilled whisky.
A bit uninspired with a very humble fruit in the distance, the smokey character makes it a little hot but this results in a nice warming afterglow.
The Springbank has a lot more to say and offers the complexity one expects from a high class single malt whisky. In sniffing and sipping the Springbank was on its way to an even higher score, but the finish lacks some elegance of which the Hazelburn has tons. This evens out the score.
Longrow Peated (NAS), 46 % – bottled February 2020
Longrow was the name of an old distillery of which the name was first resurrected in 1973 when Springbank started distilling a peated malt via a more traditional 2 times distillation.
Where the Hazelburn and Springbank are closely related, with Longrow you could be fooled into believing it did not come from the same distillery. Dark woodland aromas emerge from the glass, pine needles on wet ground, and slightly medicinal tones too, surprisingly. Has this newer expression of Longrow taken a few pages out of the Islay book of creating peated single malt? It does not have the dominant mineral qualities I loved in the age stated Longrow 10 Years Old (at 46 % abv and the 100 proof edition too). The orange fruit is there, but it is firmly buried under the abundance of peat smoke.
Oh yeah, all the usual suspects that you can find in excellent peated whisky. The mouthfeel is reminiscent of the Springbank but a lot more wood influence and bitterness that is just enough in balance to allow some humble fruity tones to shine through. I was prepared to not like this Longrow because of the absence of an age statement (because why not tell us what we got in the glass?). The quality of the product does however not make you miss the age statement, and I don’t feel I am being robbed when you pay the acceptable price for this bottle.
Just like the Springbank I am missing something here that makes a lasting impression. It is all fine and good but the older regular expressions of Longrow used to scare me, and then made me kneel for its supremacy. This is a friendlier sibling it seems. With a lot of different expressions on the market, like the Longrow Red, maybe the intention was to make the regular Peated a little less extreme? In all honesty, I weep for the old orange boxed Longrow 10 Years Old.
Longrow leaves the fireworks for other expressions, it seems. A pity, but still a cracking good whisky with a very interesting signature.
Conclusion: A Campbeltown whisky out of the Springbank stable is rarely a disappointment and the
standard range I just tasted might well be among the most impressive flagship whiskies out there.
About Tom van Engelen
I’m a writer in a variety of fields and have a soft spot for whisky, mainly malt, mainly from Scotland. In other times I enjoyed a stint as editor-in-chief of one of the first whisky magazines in the world. When not sipping a good glass I like to write some more, read, watch 007 movies or listen Bowie music. I’m engaged to Dasha, I have a sweet daughter and I live somewhere between the big rivers in the middle of The Netherlands.
Pingback: Springbank 21 Years (It's All About Springbank) – Words of Whisky