Taking Flight with the Springbank Stallions

Steady contributor Tom went to Campbeltown in January, and of course, he did a nice write-up for us/you/me! Let’s see what this tasting is about, in which they tasted the first sixteen (!) Society bottlings!

Bram van Glabbeek of WhiskyNerds fame is in most whisky circles renowned for his knowledge of and passion for Springbank. As part of the Springbank Stallions he puts his name under memorable get-togethers with connoisseurs and whisky lovers from all over Europe. Coordinated by organizer and passionate host Johan Andersson, the Stallions gathered in January 2023 to taste the first 16 bottlings of the Springbank Society. As a participant of this tasting, these are my impressions. These notes are based on two successive 2-hour tastings, eight expressions in both flights, and taken from 1,5 cl samples. The scores are far from secured in controlled environment (quite the opposite actually…).

The tasting was guided by Bram and Ranald Watson, Director of Sales and Marketing at J&A Mitchell.

  1. Springbank 8 yo – 56 % (fresh sherry hogshead)
    Starts with a distinct rum note. Also a nice note of vinegar. A nice woody influence. Exceptionally smooth and balanced. According to some experienced tasters, this developed very well in the bottle.
    Score: 89 points. (25 pounds when it was released…)
  2. Springbank 22 yo – 46 % (bourbon)
    After the fat sherry of the opening whisky this one feels extremely thin, delicate, like seeing a ballet dancer perform after a kickboxing match. Both are excellent. Bit more shy on the nose, but fresh and raisiny.
    Score: 90 points
  3. Longrow 8 yo – 59,9 % (refill sherry butt)
    A bottle that most remember as being quite sulphury. I don’t detect it now, which is good news. Clean peat with a layer of sweetness. The taste is much more impressive. Dark chocolate, good smoke, mint but all rather integrated so nothing gets dominant. Bit harsh, but water helps.
    Score: 87 points.
  4. Hazelburn 8 yo – 58,7 % (refill sherry butt)
    When you once picked it up, the rum note keeps popping up in the three sherry casks that we had thus far. We agree there is indeed quite a strong consistency, no matter which spirit went in there. With water this dram releases a nice fruity character, but the overall impression is that it is a bit dry and as a result harsh.
    Score: 85 points.
  5. Springbank 14 yo – 55,3 % (bourbon hogshead)
    I would expect to turn towards a more classic Springbank with chalk and wet pebbles. This leans toward spicy bitter notes, chocolate, and quite a nice dash of vanilla in there. Interesting, a strong oily note in the finish. The stuff dreams are made of.
    Score: 91 points
  6. Springbank 9 yo – 60,2 % (fresh rum butt)
    Very drinkable at this high abv. Nosing is a bit more difficult but the classic fruity notes are there. I love the mellow banana flavors of this one, and if you’re patient enough the Springbank character does come through. This is fun to play with.
    Score: 87 points.
  7. Springbank 17 yo – 51,5 % (port hogshead)
    Full maturation in a port hogshead. Now that is frightening… but somehow it works. It has a broad spectrum of red fruits and no bad off notes. Or maybe, on the finish there is a sulphury note but I am not bothered by it. It adds a nice edge on an otherwise fruity dram. Complex and not for the faint of heart.
    Score: 90 points.
  8. Springbank 11 yo – 48,7 % (sherry butt + hogshead)
    A special Society bottling for the 180th anniversary of Springbank. Cask 18 and cask 28 were vatted. You figure out where you have to be in 2028. This is a rather nutty expression. A tad bitter but very fulfilling. Not a true highlight, almost a daily dram.
    Score: 86 points.
  9. Longrow 12 yo – 57,6 % (Fino sherry butt)
    Dark color for a Fino. Good classic grapes on the nose. The peat and sherry make for an almost toxic mix resulting in meaty notes. Clean and smooth finish. The vintage comes from a time the distillers started maturing more stuff in different sherry casks, not only oloroso. This Fino is very muscled. Good stuff.
    Score: 91 points.
  10. Hazelburn 8 – 55,7 % (fresh bourbon barrel)
    Rather light after the sherry violence. It does have a nice clean feel to it, underlining that bourbon maturation is as good as it gets for Campbeltown malts. Nice soft fruits, vanilla, good kick on the finish.
    Score: 85 points.
  11. Springbank 14 yo – 57,1 % (sherry pipe)
    Nobody knows what a sherry pipe is but the result is a rather red-fruity character. Vintage 1995 and nobody wrote down any details about the cask. That’s probably why it got bottled for the Society. The nerds like this. With water a bit more unbalanced. It’s good, not great.
    Score: 85 points.
  12. Springbank 11 yo – 57,9 % (recharred sherry butt, local barley)
    The first Local Barley Springbank since the 1960s to be bottled. This has an incredible freshness to it, despite the re-charred character of the cask. Also crispy bacon, leaving no doubt about the cask impact on the spirit. Again a meaty example with a rather burned, caramel finish. I am a bit split on this one. Lots of off notes too, and good sides as well, so it depends on mood.
    Score: 88 points.
  13. Longrow 10 yo – 53,9 % (fresh sherry butt)
    Nice dark chocolate character, the Latin American kind. Dark pepper, good peat, all in perfect balance. It goes into a fight with you, and you don’t mind losing. Perfect in its straightforwardness. Love it.
    Score: 90 points.
  14. Springbank 14 yo – 55,7 % (port butt and refill bourbon butt)
    Don’t ask me about these weird cask names and sizes. Springbank does not mind mingling it up a bit. Anyway, it’s rather rubbery in character and I have trouble enjoying it. For masochists only.
    Score: 82 points.
  15. Springbank 15 yo – 56,5 % (refill bourbon & fresh madeira)
    Five years finish in madeira. Still very recognizable Springbank but the finish puts a nice layer on it. Doesn’t feel very integrated but still manages to make impact.
    Score: 88 points.
  16. Springbank 12 yo – 53,5 % (fresh port)
    The port cask (a hogshead apparently) doesn’t really feel. It leaves a bitter chocolate footprint. As is true for all Society bottlings, they are very fragrant. Nice sweetness to this one. Chocolate on the finish. The integration is fabulous. Good end to this tasting.
    Score: 89 points.

So there, that was round 1, to be continued in 2024 for another 16 expressions. We concluded this mammoth tasting with a sample of the newest Society bottling, which will be a 5 years old Springbank at 100 proof. Very reminiscent of the new make we tasted earlier straight from the still. Fruity and fresh, not hiding its youth but proudly displaying it. A bold decision that will certainly stir opinion upon release!

About Tom van Engelen

Tom is a whisky enthusiast since the beginning of this millennium, not only savoring the taste of the drink but also the soul of it. Malt whisky from Scotland therefor remains his favorite focus. As former editor of the oldest Dutch whisky magazine he found a passion in writing about whisky too, with a mild preference for the nostalgic. He lives between the big rivers of the Netherlands with his wife Dasha, daughter Sasha and cat Amour.


About Sjoerd de Haan-Kramer

I'm very interested in booze, with a focus on whisky. I like to listen to loads of music and play lots of Magic: the Gathering, and board games too. I'm married to Anneke, have two daughters Ot and Cato, a son Moos and a cat called Kikker (which means Frog, in Dutch). I live in Krommenie, The Netherlands.
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1 Response to Taking Flight with the Springbank Stallions

  1. Pingback: Glasgow Distillery: Delicious Urban Whisky | Malt Fascination

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