22 November 2016

19/11/2016 Springbank tasting at The English School, Zürich

Back we are for what promises to be a wonderful experience. The Swissky Mafia have organised a "little" Springbank tasting. Last time we were here, they were particularly excited to have secured what would the last dram in today's official line-up.

Here is a hint of things to come.
Before the madness starts, a few apéritifs.

Campbeltown Loch 25yo (40%, Springbank Distillers, b. early 2000s): interesting to try this today, since there is no Springbank in it, contrary to popular belief. Nose: some fruit, hints of leather, rubber. Soon, the fruit becomes more insistent (cut apples and carambola), then apricot compote, spread on old furniture -- caramelised compote, to be accurate. Mouth: thicker than the nose hinted at, with gentle rubber, molasses and unripe apples. The starfruit (carambola) is more subdued, but still present. Finish: long and delicate, it has cut apples and caramelised carambola (also known as: caram-caram and often mistaken for caram masala). This becomes fruity alright, in a similar vein to Duthie's Bowmore for Corti Brothers (of course, not on the same level). Love it. 9/10

Ambassador 12yo (43%, Taylor & Ferguson, T275): the label bears a "AN. 32" indication that seems to suggest a 1932 bottling. The bottle itself is engraved with prohibition-era text, which would confirm the date. That text was present on US bottles until the 1960s, though, so not sure, especially seeing as the ABV is in % (as opposed to ° Proof) and the volume is in cl (as opposed to fl. oz.). It gets the conversation going, which is the most important. What is certain is that this was not bottled last week. Ambassador was mainly marketed in Central and South America, although this one is Italian. The main component is Scapa (we know that from a meeting with an old Scapa worker, years ago) and it probably has some Highland Park too. Nose: full-bodied, yet fruity, it has candied apples and hints of chocolate. Mouth: velvety, with a dash of ground, black pepper and notes of apricot compote. Finish: soft, yet rather assertive. Brine, heather, a fireplace, ink and crushed cardamom. Wow. 8/10 (Thanks CD for the dram)

I will drink ye dry!

Springbank Founder's Reserve (46%, Rochdale & Co. for Japan): nose: crazily-strong spices, or rather turpentine. Plantain gently takes over (the Swiss reckon banana, showing their grasp of exotic fruit leaves to be desired), hot porridge, muesli. Mouth: soft and velvety at first, the spices soon spread their wings. Banane flambée with paprika, sprinkled on top. Finish: hot fruit juice (warm plums?), dark grape juice with paprika again, unripe pineapple. Good drop. The spices are a bit too loud for me and mess up the balance, somewhat. Still nice. 7/10 (Thanks R for the dram)

Chocolates enter the scene. It seems the locals took my comment about the inferior quality of their products to heart, as the selection today is even more varied and abundant. All good, guys. The Swiss are the Belgians' best students, when it comes to chocolate. ;-)


Time for the real menu. PG gives a little speech about the bottles ahead of us, though CD keeps teasing me that I should really be doing it. Smart-arse I was, when I complained last time that there was no introduction whatsoever. Serves me well. I think the addition is beneficial, though, and gives context to the otherwise informal session. The fact everyone present knows about whisky does not make this completely redundant.

Springbank 21yo (46%, OB signed by Hedley G Wright, b. ca 1990): nose: fruity as fook, it has cut apples, fresh carambola (a rare fruit, so it is impressive to find it twice today), cut quinces and unripe pears, even white peaches. Mouth: a superb balance, sweet and fruity again. All the unripe fruit from the nose is now ripe and sweet. Love it. Finish: long and gentle, fruity, with a clean, coastal kick. Yum. 9/10

The following three, I have at the same time, to better distinguish the small differences.

Springbank 31yo 1966/1997 (53%, OB Local Barley, Bourbon Oak Cask, C#486, b#68): nose: sawdust and lovely fruits again. Unripe white peach, sprinkled with dried galangal, ginger powder and ground cardamom. It further morphs to reveal paint. The fruit becomes riper and riper, wonderful. Mouth: impressive balance, with quite some sawdust (lots of it), yet also fruit (char-grilled apples) and varnish. Finish: varnish, turpentine and warm apricot compote, pickled with sawdust and ground cloves, grated ginger and galangal. It even has lemon marmalade. This is fruity, yet that fruit is almost smothered by the wood spices. This was initially my favourite of the three. It subsequently falls to second place. 9/10

Springbank 32yo 1966/1998 (54.4%, OB Local Barley, Bourbon Oak Cask, C#494, b#32): nose: a lot wider than C#486, it has peach jam, rose-petal jam -- phwoar! Salty and grand, it soon turns to sea air and pastry. Hot ginger peaks through, interspersed with gentle citrus (satsuma and kumquat). Mouth: salty as sea water, slightly drying (galangal?), then silky as almond milk. It fast becomes very drying -- dehydrates the palate with dark tea, leaving a rough mouthfeel. Pity. Finish: long, whilst delicate, with coconut yogurt, ginger purée. It remains drying, though not too much so. The mouthfeel makes this my least favourite of the three casks; a shame, because the nose was the most promising. 8/10

Springbank 33yo 1966/1999 (53%, OB Local Barley, Bourbon Oak Cask, C#502, b#39): nose: the weirdest combination of yellow stone fruit (apricot, peach, plum) and leather (horse saddle), horse stable and wood. It later smells of syrup, tangerine juice, gouache, crayons. Mouth: syrupy indeed, liqueur-like in texture -- almond liqueur, to be precise. A generous amount of spices is also present (cloves, ground coriander, allspice). The creamy, syrupy texture makes this the most balanced mouthfeel of the three Bourbon casks. Finish: peaches in syrup (dare I say, "pêches au thon?"), pineapple juice, an old toolbox, cigar leaves, then acacia honey, peach juice, soft plums and mandarins. Woo! Best of the trilogy, according to tOMoH. 10/10

Springbank 24yo 1966/1990 (58.1%, OB Local Barley, Sherry Oak Cask, C#443, b#180): only three of those fabled Local Barley bottlings were ex-Sherry casks. They were also the first to be released. As a consequence, this and the other two (C#441 and C#442) are much harder to obtain than their Bourbon-casked siblings. Nose: leather, horse sweat, liquorice. This is well made, yet I fear it will be too overly sherried for me... Soy sauce, barbecued, marinated ribs, even bitter coffee and beef stock. Mouth: red meat, marinated in dark soy sauce, then dried fruits (sultanas, prunes, figs), then nuts (Brazil nuts, almonds with skin), game casserole (boar, hare, venison, pigeon). Finish: hot, with game in a thick wine sauce, concentrated beef stock (Maggi or OXO), soy sauce, leather. It also has a gently sweet note of fruity pastry. A great dram, no doubt, even though the sherry is too loud for me. 9/10

We just had four of the Local Barley Springbank. Four bottles that have becomes legendary and that anyone with a serious interest in whisky would happily try. The Swissky Mafia did not want to end there, however. They found one more bottle to complete the line-up. The one they were so excited about, two months ago.
The gears shift dramatically, and I will let you, dear reader, decide whether they go up or down. We will end with a Springbank, of course. A mere 12yo.


There is
a back label
Springbank 12yo b.1982 (57.1%, OB imported by Samaroli, Sherry Wood, 2400b, b#45): this is regarded by more than one aficionado as the best Springbank ever bottled -- no less. Nose: unbelievable. It is firstly metallic, akin to entering a mechanic's workshop (metal tools, engine oil, grease, chains, soldering iron and hot metal filings). This has Jaguar XK120 engine written all over it. It becomes nutty, raisin-y, noble. Later on, scorched earth embraces the whole thing, dry as a hot towel, dry as English humour. Mouth: huge, bold, powerful, it has tons of old tools, butter, puff pastry, a hint of varnish and horsepower. Old screws, bolts, rusty spanners, warmed up by the nearby stove (coal-powered, of course). Finish: nail varnish, flat cola, oil, old tools and dirty-as-fook, battered overalls. This is amazing, I admit. The sherry is loud, but not overly so. Even fruit comes up (Corinth raisins). Very well made. 10/10

As a(n unfair) comparison with the above, we have:

Springbank 12yo 1989/2002 (53.7%, OB imported by Lateltin Lanz Ingold for Whisky Ship 2002): nose: cardboard, meat and bread dough, speculoos paste spread. It turns very buttery, with roasted nuts and prunes in juice. Mouth: peppery prune juice. It has a very dominant stone-fruit-juice character. Finish: it now becomes more raisin-y, prune-y, again, with peach stones. As expected, this cannot hold a candle to the Samaroli (it was a daft comparison), yet it is far from ridiculous. 8/10 (Thanks TK)

Much to my surprise (and excitement), TK brought the following expressly for me.

Glenrothes 35yo 1967/2002 (40.5%, DT Peerless, C#8390, 219b): nose: magnificent marzipan, chocolate mousse, custard, vanilla and chocolate pudding. CD detects papaya too (give me my glass back, you scrounger!) Mouth: weaker, with watery chocolate mousse. Not sure if it is the low ABV, or if the level in the bottle has allowed too much evaporation (this is a sample, so cannot assert). Finish: soft pastry, gentle chocolate, marzipan again, frangipane, buttery cake. Phwoar! Best Glenrothes to ever pass these lips. 9/10 (Thanks TK)

Longrow 13yo 1989/2002 (53.2%, OB Wood Expression, Sherry Butts, 2350b): topical that we should have the peaty brother of Springbank today. A discussion goes in parallel, as to whether there is a "really good" Hazelburn. Nose: rather neutral -- little smoke, if any, little sherry, if any, little anything. Buttery fruits come out, eventually, then acrid varnish. At last, crispy bacon shows up too. Mouth: buttery fruit. Bitter, buttery fruit. Finish: merbromin, varnish, red wine. Hardly any peat in there, even if one looks hard. I am sure this suffers from its place in the sequence. 7/10 (Thanks A)

Glenlivet 30yo b.2007 (55.2%, SD Anniversary Selection, Sherry Butt, 375b): nose: meow! Salt, leather, bone-dry tobacco, leather belts. Mouth: more leather, black shoe polish, liquorice. Finish: noble leather and tropical fruit. The finish is really nice. 8/10 (Thanks TK)

CD observes that life does not suck, right now. He is not wrong. :-)

Caol Ila 17yo 1974/1991 (61.1%, SV, C#5--9, 2400b): nose: extremely salty, then medicinal. It is peaty in a 1970s-Ardbeg sort of way. It has ink from the 1800s, old parchments, written by copyist monks, nose spray (JS), cockles and whelk (CD). Mouth: similarly medicinal, with old ink, black pepper, yet also a sweet touch, now -- panettone? Caramel coulis on cake? Apple turnover (CD)? Buttery mocha-cream cake? Finish: never-ending, with roughly the same notes -- a mix of seashore flavours, sweet pastry and a medicinal touch. Wow. 8/10 (Thanks CD)

While the others move on to more whiskies and/or cigars, TK pours me a final dram, for which I take no notes. An old bottling of James Macarthur Dailuaine, which happens to be... peaty! Most unusual.

The party winds down around 1:30.


What a night. Favourite of the night vary amongst the group, but not wildly. C#502 and the Samaroli 12yo seem to gather most of the votes. I found them the most Springbank-y and therefore like them best.

"My notebok is bigger than your notebook!"

The generosity on display from all the participants before and after the "official" tasting is noteworthy. These guys we have seen once shared drams with us as if they were friends of many years. Despite all my joking about the quality of the local chocolate (or lack thereof), I am touched by the warm welcome.
Roll on the next one!

We have winners!

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