My (possibly anomalous) experience with the Benromach Origins 2, Port Cask didn’t go so well. Let’s see if this Springbank can reverse my port cask trajectory.
As I’ve noted before, Springbank actually do a lot of wine and other exotic cask maturations (they even put out a calvados cask recently) but don’t really catch the same guff for this as distilleries such as Glenmorangie or Bruichladdich do (or did in the past). Some of this is doubtless due to the fact that Springbank doesn’t make a huge to-do out of everything they do and they don’t come up with silly Gaelic names for their whiskies or snazzy branding for each new release (in place usually of an age statement); instead they put them out in the same relaxed manner they put out all their whiskies—as a result, probably, even when people are disappointed they don’t feel like they’ve been sold a dubious bill of goods. But it’s also probably because, unlike most distilleries playing around with wine casks etc., Springbank don’t really do finishes per se: most of their wine cask malts are either full-term matured or matured for a secondary term of at least three years or so. As a result the “distillery character” is almost always front and center.
This port cask is in the former category, I believe, and it was a fresh port cask (I don’t know if this means that refill port casks are common in the industry; my guess it is a reference to Springbank’s own use of refill wine casks). It was bottled for a German retailer. It was purchased in Germany by Florin (Elector of Saxony) and split between a few of us (along with a few other bottles). It is the very first Springbank from port, and at least 13 years of age probably the oldest port cask whisky that I’ve ever had and I’m very intrigued.
Springbank 1999-2013 (56.3%; fresh port cask 246 for whiskykanzler.de; from a bottle split with friends)
Nose: Raisiny and nutty and dusty at first sniff; the fruit expands rapidly—an interesting blend of red plum, apricot and orange peel. After a minute here’s the signature Springbank leather and brine (or leathery brine, if you will); something meaty as well under the sweeter notes (ham?) and some graphite/pencil lead. This is very nice. Water, like Little Jack Horner, pulls out more plum but it’s still no port bomb.
Palate: Soft, velvety mouthfeel but quite a bit of bite at full strength. Starts out with some gunpowder and a bit of the fruit from the nose but then takes a sharply, spicy turn (but that might be the heat/bite): clove, a hint of nutmeg. On the second sip there’s the pencil lead and I can’t decide if it’s gunpowder or a bit of smoke I’m getting. No real red fruit here to speak of—not very porty indeed. Gets sweeter as it sits but it’s a long way from cough syrup. And whether it was gunpowder or smoke it goes away after a while. Water gets ride of the bite and softens the texture even more and in general blends everything together in a not very interesting way.
Finish: Long. Drying with the oak and spice the main players. Gets sweeter as it goes and the red fruit emerges most clearly at the end. The greater softness with water is most welcome here.
Comments: Despite it being from a fresh port cask this is the least port-influenced whisky from a port cask I’ve ever had. It’s not that there’s no sign of the port but that the influence is unobtrusive, especially on the palate. I think I probably added a bit too much water: it softened the bite but didn’t bring out anything new. Well, I have another six ounces of this; I’ll report back if less water on another occasion results in anything else.
Rating: 87 points.