Springbank

Signatory Vintage Tormore 1995

Reviewed by: Nick

Tormore sig 2

So, you’ve tried a single malt from every Scottish distillery you can get your grubby little mitts on and are now feeling slightly deflated and wondering what to do next? Good news, the answer is at hand: you can find some independent releases and go around again!

Independent bottlings are a wonderful x-factor in the whisky world – they amuse whisky nerds and confuse whisky noobs in equal measure – from a dusty old ‘Douglas Laing’ bottle right through to some ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’ with a comical and yet fitting label. Additionally, they also provide an opportunity to access some of the whisky made at lesser known distilleries; in this instance: Tormore.

Tormore is a vast monolithic-looking distillery a kilometre south of the river Spey, and is known mostly for providing spirit for Chivas-related blends. It was one of the very few distilleries built in the mid-20th century and is tricky to find iterations of outside of duty free. Unless, of course, it’s been independently bottled!

My particular independent bottler is Signatory Vintage, which I know next-to-nothing about – and freely confuse its logo with a bottle of Springbank. It would certainly fail to stand out on a shelf in a bar, which is why I think I have unearthed a bit of a hidden gem.

Stats! Something every whisky nerd can’t live without (no wonder we haven’t handled the transition to NAS releases particularly well)! This bottle of Tormore sat in ex-bourbon hogsheads between 1995 and 2016, making it 20 years old and is a marriage of cask 3907 and 3908. My particular bottle is number 394 and sits at a gentle 43%. And it’s rather tasty.

Tormore sig deets 2

The nose is oozing with sweet caramel alongside barley sugar and stewed figs. It subtly hints at oak, along citrus and melon notes. The palate is as surprising as it is delicious, full of tropical fruit characteristics. Banana stands out the most, as well as creamy vanilla and chopped nuts – it’s basically a banana split in whisky form! The finish is medium in length and gently earthy – not smoky but at least slightly cured – while vanilla custard flavours delicately linger.

This is a lovely little drop; one that perfectly accompanied the Tasmanian summer and BBQs that ensued and if it were not for an independent bottler setting aside a cask here or there, it’s not one many of us would be able to enjoy. So, if you’ve been holding back and sticking to the distillery’s own releases – well, maybe it’s time to give something independent a try.

★★★★

Sprinkbank Gaja Barolo Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

springbank-gaja-barolo

This unique little gem from Campbeltown’s Sprinkbank Distillery is a fascinating drop in that every time I sample it, it tastes different! No, I don’t think it is rapidly changing in the bottle, oxidising or degrading. I think it just messes with your head.

Let me just provide a bit of context. The Gaja Barolo Cask is part of the limited edition ‘Wood Expressions’ series which, as well as making me snigger immaturely, sounds rather interesting. The bottle in question takes the Springbank spirit and ages it for four years in refill ex-bourbon casks before being transferred into ‘fresh Gaja Barolo casks’ where it remains for a further five years in Campbeltown’s seaside atmosphere.

For the uninitiated (like me before I did my research), Gaja is an Italian wine producer and Barolo is a light red grape. Both aspects make this a very specific maturation for the whisky and one unlikely to be replicated any time soon.

Completing a list of tasting notes for this bottle is a tricky task due to the aforementioned chameleon nature of the dram. If I have just had a light Speyside number then I notice a whole heap of peat on the nose. If I’ve just had a highland dram then I discover raspberries and cream. The palate is sometimes spicy – it is bottled at 54.7% – but other times goes down smoothly and evenly. Occasionally I notice the oily maritime notes although often I find flavours of lemons and oranges. The finish usually lingers, with a wisp of smoke or hint of chocolate.

The bottom line is, no matter the flavours I get out of it, I’ve always enjoyed this dram. Sure, I haven’t been able to put my finger on its true nature, but that just adds to the fun. It is a mystery of a dram. I’ve still got a third of a bottle left – feel free to stop by and help me solve it.

***

(Although sometimes ****)

Springbank 15 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

springbank-15-year-old

The best drams are those that come with a sense of place. The Islay peat monsters smell like the fresh peaty air of the island on which they were made and taste like the fires the locals use to keep warm in the winter (and the summer). The drops from Speyside are as luscious and floral as the green fields which line the roads in the sunny north east (at least it was sunny the day I was there. Maybe I used up Scotland’s sunshine quota that day…)

Equally, whisky made at Springbank distillery tastes like the town in which it is made. Campbeltown was once a thriving maritime city full of trade, shipbuilding, and of course, fishing. Now, hold your horses there Whisky Waffle. Surely I’m not implying that this dram… is the whisky equivalent of fishing? Crazily enough, that’s exactly what I’m suggesting! And it works. As in really, really works.

Unlike the 10 Year Old Springbank expression, the 15 has spent its extra maturation time in ex-oloroso sherry barrels and the added complexity is clear from start to finish.

On the nose, oily, briny characteristics are immediately noticeable. There is the faintest hint of smoke, perhaps blown in from nearby Islay. The palate is gently spicy, courtesy of its 46% nature. There are flavours of caramel and pineapple contrasting intriguingly with meaty and, dare I say it, fishy aspects. The finish is pleasingly long, really encapsulating the seafaring town with notes of salt and sea-spray.

On this blog, I do boast about a range of things, but even I can’t say I have ever been to 18th century Campbeltown (or even the current 21st century edition for that matter). However, by simply pouring myself a dram of Springbank 15 and closing my eyes (don’t try it the other way around – you’ll waste good whisky!), in my mind I am immediately transported there. I can smell and taste it for sure!

★★★★

Longrow Cabernet Sauvignon Cask

Reviewed by: Nick

Longrow Cab Sav

As the abundance of sherry barrels diminishes, whisky makers are forced to look elsewhere for maturation options. The obvious solution, of course, is using the barrels of another grape flavoured product – no, not hubba bubba bubblegum – wine. Wine cask maturation is being used by distillers worldwide: some as a novelty but others as a serious addition to their main range.

The wonderful whisky makers of Longrow are no strangers to experimentation. One of their more intriguing bottles is the Cabernet Sauvignon Cask – aged for seven years in refill bourbon hogs heads and a further four years in Cab Sav barrels sourced from my very favourite wine region: South Australia’s McLaren Vale.

Warning: this is not a beginners whisky. Nor is it an easy drinking whisky. Nor, I believe, could I describe it as a ‘nice’ whisky. But it sure is a fascinating one. On the nose I detected, well, heaps. Initially a gentle smoke, reminding you that yes, Longrow do peat their barley. Once the smoke clears notes of grapes, banana and burnt orange rind flow through. Over all, it is complex and delicious.

The palate is a bit of a shock. Initially it is sweet with fizzy sherbet complimenting the peat. The red grapes make a return, along with other fruit such as melons and apricots. And then the spirit transforms. The finish is long, though not necessarily because of the slightly higher percentage of alcohol. It’s a little… soapy? This is a tasting note I (and seemingly I alone) seem to find in many wine-matured whiskies. There are other, nicer elements: smoked ham, salt, fish, bonfire ash, general seaside senses. This whisky is from Campbelltown, after all!

In no way do I regret buying this whisky. There’s a lot to like and a lot to discuss. But I didn’t love it. And that’s ok.

★★

Springbank 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Springbank 10 Year Old

Welcome to Campbeltown. I shall begin by clarifying to my fellow Tasmanians that I am referring to the town in Scotland, not the eternal toilet stop halfway between Hobart and Burnie.

Campbeltown is located at the tip of the suspiciously shaped Kintyre peninsula in the south of Scotland and was once known as the ‘whisky capital of the world’, being home to as many as twenty-eight distilleries. Sadly (at least for the sailors who make port there) this is comprehensively no longer the case. Several distilleries, however, are still going as strong as ever.

Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn are all based in Campbeltown. In fact, they are all based at the same distillery. And despite being located at the same premises, all three make many varied and fascinating drams. Longrow whiskies are heavily peated, and often aged in unusual and quirky barrels. Hazelburn whiskies are triple distilled, and as smooth and creamy as their similarly produced Irish counterparts. Springbank, the biggest and most well known of the three, makes whisky with a maritime influence, harking back to drams made in the nineteenth century when the town was in its pomp.

Their entry level is the 10 Year Old and it is a perfect dram to demonstrate what they are about. The nose is oily and buttery with a sweet seaside edge. This is whisky doing salted caramel. There is also the faintest hint of smoke, of course nothing like the Islay peat monsters which linger only a small stretch of water away.

It is bottled at, in my opinion, the optimum level for whisky: 46%, and the slightly higher alcohol percentage gives this whisky a pleasantly light spice across the tongue. The flavour is slightly fishy, and I mean this literally, instead of labelling it ‘suspicious’ (although some people would take this claim to be very suspicious indeed).

The Springbank 10 Year Old has been matured in both ex-bourbon and sherry barrels, and the sherry in particular is notable on the finish where raspberry jam flavours mingle with the slightly smoky notes creating something memorable and completely unique to Campbelltown.

While the flavours in this dram are all fairly gentle and subtle they combine nicely to create a pleasant and easy drinking whisky. It therefore serves as a perfect introduction to the lost whisky region of Campbeltown and to the wonderful drops made there by Springbank and its two sister distilleries. Of course, if the 10 Year Old is a little light and inconsequential for your liking, you could always jump straight to the 15 Year Old – now there is a dram that means proper business…

★★★