Springbank 18, 2016 Release


An old post of mine on distillery character and whether it exists suddenly became very popular earlier this week—I guess someone linked to it somewhere on Facebook? In that post I registered skepticism about the idea of distillery character as normally bandied about by whisky geeks. I have to admit though that Springbank is the distillery that most rebukes my argument (the exception that proves the rule?) with a profile that is remarkably consistent across official and (rare) independent releases and across their Springbank and Longrow lines (it’s been a long time since I had a Hazelburn). Indeed, the Springbank DNA is evident in Kilkerran as well. That profile is present in spades in this Springbank 18 as well (spoiler alert: I rather like it). I’m very glad to review this 2016 release, not just because I love that Springbank profile but because I was under the impression I’d reviewed more than one Springbank 18 in the past when in fact I have hitherto reviewed a total of zero. It’s high time this gap was filled.

Springbank 18, 2016 Release (46% from a bottle split)

Nose: Oh yes, that old Springbank voodoo of brine, damp earth, burlap, coriander seed; plus a sweet note somewhere between apple and vanilla. As it sits the brine begins to shade towards rock salt and the sweet fruit moves from apple to orange. A few drops of water pulls out a lot more brine and turns the orange to preserved lemon; and that hint of mango leather from the finish comes with it.

Palate: Comes in with all of the early notes on the nose plus a nice peaty, peppery bite. A perfect drinking strength and texture. More of the same on the second sip and that’s a good thing. Stays in this vein. With water it gets sweeter (sweet oranges) and the coriander seed is joined by some candied ginger. More acidic now than earthy but all the other stuff is still here.

Finish: Medium. The pepper and the sweet notes go out together. The peat pops out again towards the end. With more time there are faint notes of mango leather at the very end. As on the palate with water.

Comments: Just lovely. Comes roaring out of the gate with all the Springbank character you could want and gets even better with a few drops of water. It’s too bad this stuff is so expensive now! As much as I like it I can’t justify a bottle.

Rating: 89 points.

7 thoughts on “Springbank 18, 2016 Release

  1. “I registered skepticism about the idea of distillery character as normally bandied about by whisky geeks”

    I wonder if this is because of the increasing standardization of strains of barley and yeast used. I’d guess there was more variation in both many decades ago but hard to establish that with any confidence.

    There do seem to be some distilleries with character – e.g. Ledaig – but not many and some appear to be specific to a period in time (e.g. early ’70s Brora or Glen Grant, both of which I’ve found to be quite distinctive).

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  2. If you have access to bottlings from different years I’d be very curious about your impressions on how they compare. I have the sense that Springbank is one of the few distilleries relatively unencumbered by the ridiculous notion of consistency, and put out each release more-or-less as a stand-alone, rather than attempt to reproduce previous releases. I heartily encourage that as a production philosophy (if, indeed, I am right about this being their philosophy – what do you think?), but of course it makes for some surprises. A friend had a bottle of the SB 18 from 2016 or 2017 which was delightful, with those mango leather notes you describe and I would say sherbet-y touches – that touch of tangy fruit works fantastically against the earthiness I find – but a bottle from 2019 I was given as a gift was much cleaner and more crystalline, all on ashy peat and with virtually no fruit.

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    • I’d say that’s generally right. It’s also the case that the Springbank 18 from earlier in the last decade was far more sherry-driven. Hmmm…I think I might have a large reference sample saved from a 2010 release—I should go see if I can find it.

      That said, there is a very Springbank complex of brine, earth and savoury spices that seems to be a throughline.

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  3. I was taking notes on a Bowmore tonight and it occurred to me that Bowmore is pretty obviously one of the most unique distillates in Scotland, one whose floral/fruity/mineral character comes through pretty consistently and distinctly in almost all OB and indie releases, especially but not only in bourbon casks.

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    • True! Something similar could be said of Talisker and HP perhaps? An ad-hoc hypothesis: Those mid-peated whiskies may have the greatest range of expression, compared to e.g. unpeated Speysiders (more plainly grainy and fruity, and perhaps increasingly similar with the near-uniform adoption high-yield ingredients and methods?) or peat monsters, which can be hard to discriminate, especially at young ages, because they’re so heavily flavoured. Of course SB/Bowmore/HP/Talisker are also all marketed to a greater or lesser extent as distinctive “individualist” whiskies – it might be that the room for that kind of thing is limited (or imagined to be limited by the industry).

      Either way, I remain convinced that distillery character exists – here’s what I mean: I’m confident that if you gave me a few months and unlimited access to new make from the 130ish (I think?) active distilleries in Scotland I could learn to discriminate between them with a pretty high level of accuracy, with the potential exception of a small number of Speysiders. (An experiment I would love to do by the way – distillery owners please write in below!) If you’re willing to agree with that assumption then there’s no arguing that the character is there in the distillate, whatever the distillery’s standard maturation practices might do to obscure it (e.g. blending it with cooking sherry…). I would go further and wager that if I had access to a library of all of those spirits aged for 10 years in refill bourbon casks I would still be able to discriminate between them all to a similarly high level of accuracy. (All of which isn’t to say, of course, that distillery character can’t change over time, and that lots of whiskies might have become a lot more uniform thanks to the prioritisation of high yield.) I think the question isn’t so much whether distillery character exists (I’m sure it does), but whether it matters – to drinkers, but more urgently to the industry, and whether they are willing to work to preserve it.

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  4. Can also confirm that I do indeed have a large reference sample saved from my 2010 release bottle of the Springbank 18 (I’ll spare you the knowledge for now of how much I paid for that bottle back then). Also found a large reference sample of the old CS 12 cream sherry cask. I’ll try to get to both next month.

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