Continuing with another cask bottled specially for an American retail store, here is a Springbank bottled for K&L, the well-known Californian retailer. I have some quibbles with some of the promotional habits of this store–of which more in a later post–but they do select interesting bottles from time to time. And this is certainly an interesting one, as it’s not always easy to find Springbanks from ex-bourbon casks. The distillery is known for its ex-sherry matured whiskies, and the wood expression series previously released in the US were first a bunch of 12 year olds from different kinds of sherry casks, and a few years later another bunch of 14 year olds from a range of sherry casks. They’ve also released a series of whiskies matured or double matured in other wine casks–claret, madeira, marsala–and even rum and more recently, a calvados cask. They’re a family owned concern and tend to do things their own way–every aspect of the production process is carried out on their premises, where they also produce the Longrow and Hazelburn ranges.
Springbank tends to be somewhat expensive in the US on account of their not discounting their malts for importers in order to account for the US’s retrograde three-tier chain–importer-distributor-retailer–which results in a greater markup than in the UK or the EU, and consequently makes their whiskies more expensive than those from larger companies. As with Highland Park, Springbank have largely escaped the ire of whisky geeks for their mad scientist ways with cask experiments; the same cannot be said of the Bill Lumsden regime and its experiments at Glenmorangie and especially Ardbeg. I suspect this differential reception comes down to the fact that Springbank are shy folk who don’t bother with silly promotions or names for their experimental bottlings and don’t make (or try to make) each release feel like an EVENT.
Anyway, on to the whisky!
Springbank 13, 1998, Fresh Bourbon Barrel (56.9%; for K&L; from my own bottle)
Nose: Sweet polished wood—intense with some salt crystals around the edges. Salty notes intensify with time. Notes of rye and wood spice emerge; charred maple, light hint of molasses. The bourbon influence is clear (a bourbon with a high rye mashbill perhaps?). After a while (15-20 minutes) the brine takes over on the nose. With water the salt gives way to the sweeter notes; less expressive on the whole.
Palate: Very similar to the nose—very interesting and pleasurable interplay of sweet wood and brine. Similar development on the palate with time—brine intensifies, notes of ripe, sweet olives. Feels more viscous as well. With water the sweet/briny olive notes intensify; tastes richer, warmer: sweet maple wood and olives. Lovely stuff.
Finish: long and briny, with some soot. After a while the finish shortens.
Comments: A very good selection by K&L. Hard to decide whether it is better with or without water. Certainly very drinkable without, and I think the nose is better neat. I guess it comes down to whether you are in the mood for a salty or sweet(er) malt. This bottling is, alas, long sold out at K&L, and my own bottle is now deceased–these notes were taken this past January, a few months after the bottle was opened. I have saved a large reference sample (as is my usual practice with whiskies I like) and so will likely post more comparative notes on this bottle down the road. If you do not have a bottle of this stashed, there’s plenty of reliable, more easily-available Springbank out there. I’d recommend the 12 yo cs, the 10 yo 100 proof if you can still find it (it is being phased out) and the 15 yo. The 18 yo is also excellent but rather extravagantly priced in the US. From the cask expressions series the 12 yo fino and oloroso cask bottles are very good (I have some of the 14 yo sherry wood series bottles as well, but they are as yet unopened), as is the 11 yo madeira cask if you can still find it.
Rating: 88 points.