Springbank 14, 2002, Bourbon Wood


It has been seven months since my last Springbank review. Well, less than two if you want to split hairs and count my last Longrow review. Either way, it’s been too long. My previous review of a Springbank proper was of a single 15 yo rum cask bottled for The Nectar in Belgium. This one is slightly younger at 14 years of age, involves far more casks—none of them ex-rum—and was available worldwide; indeed, at the time of my typing it’s still available in Minnesota. A whole bunch of fresh and refill bourbon barrels were vatted for a release of 9000 bottles. Springbank clearly loves that number: if I recall correctly, the excellent Madeira release in the US from some years prior also involved 9000 bottles or so. Barrels, being smaller than hogsheads, involve far greater wood contact—and given that some proportion of the barrels were fresh (though how long the previous occupants had spent in them is unknown), there’s a good chance of quite a bit of American oak character coming through in this malt. Let’s see if that’s actually the case. 

Springbank 14, 2002, Bourbon Wood (55.8%; from my own bottle)

Nose: The usual Springbank complex of sackcloth, salty sea air, mustard seed and mild, peppery peat. There’s some sweetness as well—vanilla, cream. The sweet note expands as it sits. A few drops of water push the vanilla back and pull out more of the mustard seed and brine and some wet slate.

Palate: Leads with the salty and spicy stuff and the peat pops up as I swallow. Not much sweetness here. Very drinkable at full strength. Gets saltier as it sits. More integrated with water but nothing new as such; maybe a bit of preserved lemon.

Finish: Long. Gets more and more peppery as it goes and then earthy at the end. A slight rubbery note too but it’s not unpleasant, oddly enough. More of the mustard here too with water. With time there’s a touch of aniseed at the very end.

Comments: I’m guessing that not everyone loves the vanilla notes on the nose. I’m not always a big fan of vanilla in my whisky but it works here with the other stuff. On the palate and finish it’s straight up peppery, briny, mustardy Springbank. I don’t know that I’d get a second bottle at the price but I’m glad I have a lot more left in this one.

Rating: 87 points.

9 thoughts on “Springbank 14, 2002, Bourbon Wood

  1. I think my ideal Springbank would be a teenager from refill ex-bourbon that’s just all kinds of salty and not too oaky. This sounds like it’s in that direction but on the oakier & sweeter side. Even so, I guess it’d be a solid buy at around $100.

    Hey MAO, you said this: “given that some proportion of the barrels were fresh (though how long the previous occupants had spent in them is unknown), there’s a good chance of quite a bit of American oak character coming through in this malt”

    Do you subscribe to the theory that ex-bourbon barrels that held bourbon for a LONG time have LESS to offer scotch in their second life? That is, the amount of ADDITIVE flavor enhancement available from ex-bourbon DECREASES the longer the barrels held the previous cask contents, which is the opposite from ex-sherry casks. That always made sense to me . I’ve only ever seen folks discuss this once or twice, though. (And was it here on this fine blog? If so, apologies.)

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    • For what it’s worth, I’ve always felt that exact belief. The longer previous content is in the barrel, the less additive (sweet, caramel, etc) flavors the barrel will give. But I do feel that the longer the previous content was aged, the more added tannins you get to the scotch (cocoa, bitter, pencil shavings, etc) with time. Regarding sherry casks…I feel the exact same way (I feel ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks behave similarly). Naturally you get some previous content affect as well…but the barrel gives its wood sugars to whatever alcohol resides within…and once the sugars are gone, they’re gone. To be clear, I don’t know…just my feeling.

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  2. Yeah, that’s what I was getting at. The reason refill casks were customarily used in Scotch single malt whisky maturation is because the oak influence would not be too overbearing. As most bourbon maturation does not go on for very many years, your average fresh bourbon barrel would probably have a lot more active oak influence than a second or third fill ex-bourbon hogshead (which would have held grain or other malt whisky a few more times after the initial bourbon maturation).

    Interestingly, since most sherry casks are also made from American oak and as the sherry casks used in whisky maturation now are apparently mostly “seasoned” with sherry—as opposed to actually holding sherry for any appreciable period of time—prior to use in Scotland, you might expect them to also show a lot of American oak character. And this would seem to be borne out by my experience with the Tomatin Cuatro releases. It’s when a distillery actually uses sherry butts made with European oak that I think we see a very distinct flavour profile enter whisky. All bets are off, of course, when distilleries do bolt-on “finishes” in oloroso/PX casks.

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  3. I enjoyed this whisky when I tried it in a bar, but I have similar feelings to Ol’ Jas when they say that an ideal Springbank wouldn’t have so pronounced an oak character. For me, this 14YO was betwixt and between: not quite naked enough to allow the Springbank spirit to roar through, not quite vanilla and caramel-rich enough to really make it a candy factory. Not that I feel Springbank should be releasing candy factories, of course.

    Perhaps you can interpret what I’m saying as this malt is in balance, but I wouldn’t buy a bottle. It does serve to underline how tremendous the standard 10yo is, though, and if exploring niche releases gives you a greater appreciation for the old, cheaper staples then it was certainly worthwhile.

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    • Well, James, right back at ya: I have similar feelings to you about the standard 10. Except for some of the really interesting oddball casks they’ve released, the standard 10 is my favorite Springbank. I like everything I’ve ever had from them, but nothing else has the fresh zip that I love so much.

      I’m including all the Longrows and Hazelburns in this too. Springbank 10 is tops. I just wish they still made that 100 Proof version!

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      • ‘Zip’ is a good word for it: Springbank 10 invigorates. Other releases are maybe more academically interesting, and some are more complex, but the 10 is purity of purpose and coherent every time. Such a shame the 100 Proof passed me by…

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  4. Looked forward to this review. I thought the oak was a bit much, too, but if you have a bourbon drink that first and then this and the Springbankiness comes back.

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