On the 10th of October I traveled to Amsterdam for a tasting with the legendary, now retired from his job as manager but not quite ready to give it up Frank McHardy from Springbank Distillers. This masterclass, organised by Best of Whiskies took place in a lovely old wharf building with a suggestively named boat set up just behind the table of whiskies. This table was filled with a selection of nine hard to find Springbank, Hazelburn, Longrow and Kilkerran whiskies, crowned with a 1966 Springbank local barley (cask #489).
I decanted a little of the Local Barley into a sample bottle and will give you my full notes below, so if you’re after those: scroll down. But, what I love about these kinds of events is the things which are mentioned offhand as well as the (more than a little) nerdy questions which were asked by the (a little more than a little) nerdy crowd. This started with the outright statement that Springbank will never be found in duty-free. The distillery very carefully plans its production and therefore doesn’t tend to have any leftover stock it needs to shift quickly. The implication being that this is what travel retail is used for by other companies. Lovely start
Another little gem was that the watersource used for Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia Distilleries (Crosshill Loch) was at one point the watersource for the town itself. It also found a use as a regular swimming spot for little girls and boys though. The hygiene concerns from this caused it to be abandoned and only used for the distilleries, for which it really is much too large. So think about the little boys and girls letting it all go when you drink your next glass of Springbank, will you?
Money drives everything (sadly?)
We, the enthusiasts often think whisky is made just so we can partake in it. A little offhand comment by Mr. McHardy suggests otherwise (if we didn’t already know). When talking about the more recent Local Barley bottlings he explained it was not the flavour which drives the cooperation with a local farmer (who is on Paul McCartney’s estate by the way. Yes, that one.), nor really the aspect of stimulating local produce. Rather, it is the added value of having a small batch product with a good back story which makes a bottling like that interesting to the distiller. We need to be told it’s all about the money every once in a while, don’t we? Interestingly Mr. McHardy doesn’t believe different barleys and growth locations add different characteristics to the final product. This is a point which I have to vehemently disagree with, at least at the new spirit stage.
Now, making decisions based on cost and value doesn’t necessarily mean the enthousiast will suffer, though! In answer to a question from one of the participants we see a frugality driven decision which has turned out exceptionally well. The peating level for Glengyle distillery (10ppm, the same as is used for Springbank) was decided not on the basis of rigorous taste testing, but because if the distillery didn’t quite work out the barley could still be used for mashing at its big brother, letting none go to waste. Turns out this peating level works very well with the process at Glengyle and produces a universally lauded spirit.
Longrow Red, mate!
One last little tidbit on good fortune in whisky before the serious tasting note business then. Some years ago J & A. Mitchell & Co, the owners of Springbank distillers and Cadenhead became aware of an Australian wine company using the trademarked Longrow brandname to market some of their wines. This didn’t go over well with the Scots and a trademark dispute ensued. Long story shot, the vineyard was granted permission to use the name in return for a lot of ex-wine casks and some cases of wine. These casks were filled with Longrow spirit and in time became the Longrow Red bottlings. These bottlings of Scotch Whisky would not have existed if an Australian company had not decided to name their brand after the long lines of vines in their vineyard…
The nose is spectacular, there really is no other word. Heavy notes of american oak with vanilla straight from the pod, actual fresh coconut and sweet mandarin oranges. Alongside is a pleasant but not overpowering smattering of woodspice: a little nutmeg, a sprinkling of cinnamon. Also quite a bit of mint. All of this is integrated well into a smell which screams ‘old bourbon-barrel’. Part of that are different glue-like aroma’s hovering around in the background (and, unfortunately, becoming more pronounced over time): Pritt-stick, super glue and that bottle of hobby-glue you glued yourself to that other kid’s papier-maché unicorn with in kindergarten (or was that just me?).
On the taste the first impression is of sweet&sour woody notes, then quite a lot of tannin-bitterness which fades into what I can only describe as Springbank-peat. Even the slight coal-flavour and oiliness of modern Springbanks is there. As interesting as this flavour is, though, it is fairly one-dimensional and the real feast is on the nose.
The finish is expectedly long and leaves you with a pure american oak fruity woodiness and some bay-leaf.
Overall this is not the best whisky I’ve drank, but it is a lovely one nonetheless. Its one of those whiskies you need to let sit in the glass and have a sniff of every few minutes. You’ll have a good evening, guaranteed.