I’m not a member of the Single Malt Whisky Society. I can never quite convince myself that the membership price and cost of annual renewal is worth it—especially in the U.S where the society does not have tasting rooms where members can sample the whiskies before purchasing them. And while they put out a very broad range of whiskies it’s not as though the prices are reasonable either. Even rather young whiskies cost >$100 at the SMWS—though the prices do get more reasonable as the whiskies get older. You might say that this is true in general for independent bottlers but the floor at the SMWS is higher. And given how few reviews ever seem to emerge of these whiskies it’s not clear if the quality justifies the high prices. And, of course, you’ll find people in the UK lamenting a decline of quality control at the SMWS there, and others who’ll say that the US does not get the pick of the casks (which is not unlikely given our less mature market (compared to the UK and Europe).
That said, the (very) few SMWSA bottles I’ve had a chance to try—courtesy members—have been quite good. I tried this Springbank (from a refill sherry cask) at a Twin Cities gathering last year celebrating sherried whiskies, and our host, who is a member, was kind enough to order some bottles for a few of us who really enjoyed it. I got two and opened this one at one of my local group’s recent tastings and it was quite well received. I’ve been drinking it down steadily, and here before it’s gone is my review.
Springbank 13, 2000 (53.9%; SMWSA 27.105 “Too Cool for School”; refill sherry hogshead; from my own bottle)
Nose: A quick butyric whiff but it blows off pretty quickly. Below that are nutty, raisiny notes and some sweet pipe tobacco. Some graphite/pencil lead too and then it starts to get quite briny. A little bit of milk chocolate and something spicy (ginger? ginger-flavoured chocolate?) after a bit. The pipe tobacco gets more intense with time and there’s some wood smoke too and yes, it’s ginger, alright: gingerbread to be precise. Water pulls out more smoke at first and then it gets creamier with some toffee emerging as well.
Palate: A sweet and spicy arrival (oak spice) with the wood far more in evidence. A slightly sulphury sharpness but it’s held in check by the sweeter notes. Graphite here too and then it gets more bitter as it moves to the finish. With more time there’s some citrus (orange peel) and some coarsely ground black pepper. With a lot of time and air it mellows out quite a bit with milk chocolate emerging here too. Okay, time for a bit of water. Mellower and much more integrated with water: the sharp note is gone and there’s more milk chocolate, more smoke and more sweetness; the pipe tobacco from the nose becomes more pronounced now too mixed in with a leathery/earthy note.
Finish: Medium. The late developing bitter notes from the palate crest quickly and then the peat (earthy rather than smoky) emerges. As on the palate with water.
Comments: Very Springbank, very nice. This is one to take a long time with. The pipe tobacco notes are quite lovely. The sherry is not overbearing (not surprising as it’s a refill cask) but the smaller cask size brings more spice from the oak and it’s got a nice bite at first which mellows out slowly with time and water. Springbank fans would probably rate this higher than others, and I’m a Springbank fan.
Rating: 87 points.