There’s a lot to love about Springbank. It’s unique. It’s got an interesting story. In a world of corporate conglomeration, Springbank distillery remains in the hands of the family that founded it.
Back in the mid-19th century, Campbeltown was once the center of Scotch whisky production. Well positioned on the Southern end of the Kintyre peninsula for the days before railroads and cars displaced sea transportation, the town built a thriving economy on fishing, shipbuilding and Scotch whisky. Campbeltown boasted 28 distilleries during the 1830s, according to the Whisky Exchange, and today remains known as one of the five principle whisky regions of Scotland (the others being Islay, the Highlands, the Lowlands, and Speyside).
Somewhere along the line, however, things fell apart. Campbeltown’s Scotch industry collapsed for a number of reasons, that I don’t have 100 percent clear. Whisky critic Michael Jackson attributed it partly to their business being undermined in the early 20th century by U.S. prohibition, and partly because the smokey-salty style Campbeltown produced lost favor among blenders, who took increasing interest in the lighter whiskies of Speyside. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune also speculates that high taxation and inconsistent quality played a role. Whatever the case, today just three distilleries remain – Springbank, Glen Scotia and Glengyle.
Springbank claims on its website to be the oldest independent, family-owned distillery in Scotland, placing its founding at 1828. They make much of the fact that the entire process from floor malting to bottling occurs on site, which, at least for this drinker, is actually quite appealing. Rather than double distilling (like most Scotch single malts) or triple distilling (like most Irish whiskies), Springbank uses an unusual 2.5 distillation process, in which part of the first run (low wines) and part of the second (feints) are mixed together for a third distillation.
Image courtesy of Springbank distillery
Bottled at 46 percent ABV, at natural color and without chill filtration, it’s a malt that embodies the ideal of craft presentation. In Springbank’s case, however, the presentation appears to owe more to tradition than marketing. Their website says they’ve been doing things this way forever, and Jackson affirms this take in his book Whisky: The Definitive World Guide.
“Once thought of as wildly idiosyncratic and old-fashioned by most of the industry,” Jackson writes, “now many small malt brands are following its lead, while even the largest distillers have started bottling their top-end malts at higher strength, non-chill-filtered and with no caramel addition.”
A pleasantly musty, briney nose, with lemon peel and light smoke (the whisky is gently peated). In the taste, it’s got a note that some have described as “sour,” and others as “vinegar” – a little unusual, but also, to my mind at least, pretty awesome. It might be described as salt and lemons with vinegar and smoke, held together by a light oaky sweetness. At times I’ve noticed a little ginger as well.
Price: Springbank 10 is a standard bottling and widely available. In New York, this retails for $58 at Astor Wines, making it something less than a bargain. But given the quality and uniqueness, it’s completely worth it. If you can make it out to BQE Wine and Spirits in Williambsburg, you can snag it for $50.
Some other takes:
- Whisky Advocate’s John Hansell rated it an 84 back in the Fall of 2007.
- Ian Buxton, in his 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die, called Springbank 10 “a ‘must have’ whisky if ever there was one,” a reference both to the quality of the product and the distillery’s idiosyncrasies.
- Blogger Jason Delby called it a “show stopper that commands your attention from the nose through the finish.”
- Hear vlogger Ralfy expound his thoughts on Springbank 10 in the video below.
Image of Springbank distillery by Noodlefish at Flickr.