If you think you’ve “done whisky” and you’ve not been to Campbeltown then you’re deluding yourself, in my humble opinion. As far as I’m concerned, the annual Campbeltown Malts Festival is simply a must for anyone with an interest in whisky. Quite apart from the town’s three distilleries, there’s also the opportunity to explore the warehouses of Scotland’s oldest independent bottler, WM Cadenhead – all of which makes the event a celebration of whisky like no other.
The inclusive, generous and genuine nature of the folks down at ‘The Wee Toon’ is second to none, any day of the week, but when the festival comes around (every May) they really pull the stops out! All kinds of tastings, bottlings, dinners and tours in a full and expansive schedule happen over three days of frivolity among some of the most passionate people in whisky.
This year I managed to get booked onto the Springbank Distillers Single Cask Tasting, which was presented by David Allen, Springbank’s Director of Sales & Marketing, and was a chance to try some rare full-strength whiskies, most of which aren’t even available in the UK. Here’s what I thought…
Famously, three different single malts are produced at Springbank. The first two drams in our lineup are Hazelburn, which first hit the scene in 1997 and is an example of a triple-distilled single malt. If I’m being honest, it’s usually my least favorite of Springbank’s offerings, but let’s see how these ones fare…
Hazelburn 15yo, 56.6%, Refill Port Hogshead (USA bottling, not available in UK)
Colour: Glowing Iron
Nose: Fresh summer berries, with tea and marmalade in the background and a touch of musty old library books.
Palate: Light mouth feel, but plenty of flavour. Dry fruits to begin with, raisins and dates, then some sweet yellow bell peppers with an inflection of drying varnish.
Finish: Long and dry. Hot spices and fruitcake diminish into white pepper.
Hazelburn 15yo, 53.9%, Cognac Butt (UK bottling, sold out)
Colour: Deep Amber
Nose: Petrolly at first, then wax and sweet blueberries take over, with the slightest inflection of cigar tobacco and dry herbs.
Palate: Tinned pineapple chunks and orange Chewits. Those hot spices again, Chinese allspice with sweated onions and red chilies. Sweet, thick Madeira cake hugs everything nicely.
Finish: Medium length, with that tobacco from the nose returning. Cracked black pepper evolves into spearmint and dissipates.
Next up is the malt that bears the name of the distillery. I’m a big fan of Springbank, but I totally understand why there are pockets of people who have trouble with it. There’s no doubt that the tasting experience ranges to the point where even the most ardent lovers of the make have been known to categorise the distilleries bottlings from “Clean” to “Dirty”. Let’s have a look…
Springbank 20yo, 51.2%, Rum Barrel (Japan bottling, not available in UK)
Colour: Light Sunflower Oil
Nose: Smartie shells, vanilla malt shake, oats, fudge and pear drops. Niiiiiiiiiiiiice….
Palate: Thick, sugary doughnuts with clinging grapefruit filling. Raspberry and cream confection (drumstick lolly etc…). Lemon bonbons, toffee and nail polish. Proper dramming!
Finish: Long, sweet spices hold for an age until a huge spoonful of stewed apple and plum crumble washes it clear… the buttery crumble lingers for an age!
Springbank 24yo, 46.2%, Sherry Hogshead (UK bottling, Sold Out)
Nose: Engine oil and burnt herbs, notably thyme and tarragon. Lots of oak!
Palate: Fruit salad and dry cinnamon, cardamom, coriander and anise (maybe some far off toasted fennel seed.) Thick feel, burned treacle and cinder toffee…
Finish: Stewed plums and black pepper.
The final two offerings come in the form of Springbank’s peated incarnation, Longrow. Inevitably, as with any peated whisky that doesn’t hail from Islay, comparisons with the likes of Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Laphroaig, Kilchoman et al are never far from thought. As far as I’m concerned, Longrow comfortably and consistently goes toe to toe with its cousins from the west, and in my experience, is more than capable of landing a killer blow when needed…
Longrow 16yo Chardonnay Finish, 54.6% (Sweden bottling, not available in UK)
Maturation: 7 yrs in a Bourbon barrel, then 9 yrs in a Chardonnay barrel
Nose: Orange pith, Szechuan pepper and fruit gums…
Palate: Tart, with spun sugar sweetness. Diluted orange juice slowly thickens to chunky, chewy marmalade, peaking with a pleasant smoulder of smoke…
Finish: Dry and long. Those orange notes persist almost eternally, and that coal smoke lingers nicely…
Longrow 10yo Sauternes Cask, 56% (Belgium bottling, not available in UK)
Nose: Shielded and feisty. Plaster, cement and marzipan.
Palate: Blackcurrant jam, icing sugar and white pepper, thin red berry juice.
Finish: Long and dry, summer fruits with prickly smoke.
Verdict: Great tasting! That Springbank 20yr from a Rum cask is something very special indeed. Frequent fliers on here will no doubt be wondering about my opinion on the use of wine casks here. Well, I’m still not convinced… however the Longrow re-racked in Chardonnay did produce a raise of my eyebrow. It must also be said that Dave Allen did an awesome job of presenting to a somewhat ‘over-refreshed’ audience!
Remember folks, you don’t have to trust me! The best way to call me out is to see the place and taste the whisky yourself!
Thanks for popping in again, peeps! See you soon (assuming I survive Islay!)