Sunday, September 30, 2012

Review: Springbank 15 yrs Single Malt Scotch

I am standing at the bottom of my driveway on this Saturday afternoon.  It's raining.  Well, to be specific, it's a light drizzle, steadily pelting my face at a 45 degree angle, kinda stings a little (guess I won't be invited by Hollywood to reprise Bruce Willis' role in the Die Hard series any time soon).  The sky is gray.  Seriously gray.  Maybe not fifty shades, but seriously overcast.  A little chill in the air.  The streets are a mass of puddles, and you know what?  Life is good (Clearly, I do not suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder).

Now, I want you to know that my sunny disposition has nothing to do with the Glencairn glass in my hand, as I stand at the bottom of my driveway, attracting nervous stares from neighbours peering discretely from behind their curtains and motioning for their spouse to come have a look at the lunatic across the street.

I am relishing this weather.  I am looking at the fallen leaves and thinking to myself that whisky tastings need to get outdoors.  I have lead a few whisky tastings and they are invariably indoors, in a bar, a boardroom, somebody's living room and that is okay, but it would be a mistake to limit such tastings to such settings.  Let's take it outside!  I think whisky tastings should be held on rainy afternoons just like this one.

Imagine a group of us doing a 10k hike through a forest, work up a bit of a sweat, take in the cloudy sky, direction of the wind, color of the leaves, the trees, the rain and air.  We get to our destination, reach for a flask of say Talisker 10 and then discuss how its attributes of brine, sea air, smoke compliments the weather, the mood and crystallizes this moment in our memories forever.  Wouldn't that be nice?

I have moved up to my front step (probably much to the relief of my neighbours and passing motorists).  Still raining.    On this fine, solitary, outdoor whisky tasting of mine, Springbank 15 years is the perfect accompaniment to this weather.

Nose (undiluted)
Smoky, pungent beach wood fire, interesting peat notes mixed with fresh turned over loam, more black earth, cold orange pekoe tea.

Palate (undiluted)
Ashy, sooty but with nice complexity.  A weave of lentils, lime and gingerbread.  The body of this malt is light but has presence.  Oily character and medium peat.

Finish (undiluted)
Did somebody collect thicket forming thorny bushes from Winnie-the-Pooh's 100 acre wood and build a huge bonfire and bottle it?  'cause that is what I am tasting.  Hmmm.  Long finish of that briar patch smoke, charred oak.  All well done!

General Impressions
I'm in the backyard now.  No neighbours directly behind my house (thank God!), just a stand of trees and farm land.  Contemplating this whisky (and trying to ignore the fact that my lawn is in dire need of a mowing) is a pleasure in this September rain, with a lazy wind that blows through ya rather than around.

My cousin, HD, in the NYC vicinity, introduced me to this scotch whisky.  He's an Islay fan, so I was initially surprised he was enamoured with this Campbelton malt.

When I think of Campbelton, a recognized scotch whisky producing region of Scotland, I think of Glen Scotia, a distillery that has had its up and downs.  The bottles I have had from that distillery have varied from good to poor, but all tended to be light, with some grassy notes and caramel.  Not overly smoky or peated.  There are only three distilleries in operation in Campbelton today.  Springbank is another and it is held in much higher regard by the critics and the whisky consuming public.

What really surprised me about Springbank 15 was how oily, peated and smoky this malt was.  If you visit the website for this distillery it provides a tasting note that is not at all congruent with my tasting experience.  The distillery describes this whisky as tasting  "creamy, raisins, dark chocolate, figs, marzipan, brazil nuts and vanilla.  Finish: Oak and sherry notes sustain, mingling with hints of leather."  I am not getting any of that.  Fortunately, I am not alone in this observation.  An anonymous reviewer at Whisky Connosr had the same disconnect with the distillery's tasting note.  So, I guess I am not totally crazy, notwithstanding the opinions of my gossipy neighbours.

I guess the disconnect for me is the statement by the distillery on it's site that this whisky was 100% sherry cask.  Huh?  Sherry is hardly a feature of this malt in my opinion.  If it is, it is well hidden underneath a fog of peat smoke and a pyre of beach driftwood.  Just not getting the sherry influence here.  Not a flaw.  Just an observation.  Bottom line:  this is not what I would call a sherried malt regardless of the distillery's claim to be matured in 100% ex-sherry casks.  The casks could not have been first-fill or at least not in very high proportion.

The 46% abv gives great intensity to the flavors of wood ash.  I very much enjoyed this whisky without the addition of water.  Well made for 46% abv.  Not overpowering, but certainly asserts its personality very well.

Still in the backyard.  The flowers have lost their bloom.  Leaves are turning color and it is still raining.  I don't mind because my Springbank warms me and I think I will hike through those trees at the back of the lot (that will give those neighbours something to talk about!).


Jason Debly

P.S.  What about Springbank 10 years?  I strongly recommend it but I should point out it is more sherried with an interesting layering of flavors.  There is something artisian about what this distillery is doing.  It is a very unique style.  To my surprise I think I am more enthusiastic over the 10 than the 15.  Go out and get a bottle and enjoy the lower price too!

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.  Please note that the photograph of the bottle of Springbank 15 was taken by Flickr member ggmackem, who holds all copyright and no reproduction is permitted without her permission.  My own photographs of Springbank were lost when my daughter dropped my blackberry in the swimming pool.  Fortunately, I stumbled upon ggmackem's great photograph.  All other photographs are taken by me, but I may permit reproduction if you ask nicely!


  1. Hi Jason, I always enjoy your honest reviews and this one on the Springbank 15yo is no exception. You are a breath of fresh air among the the typical bloggers that spout off about the latest and greatest bottles they receive gratis from the producers or their marketing arms.

    From my fairly limited experience of Springbank bottlings (10yo, 18yo, Longrow cv, Hazelburn 8yo) I have noticed that there is more variability than with other single malts. This may be due to the "craft" nature of the distillery - their production is smaller than most other readily available single malts. That may be a possible explanation for the disconnect you found between your experience and the tasting notes offered by the distillery. I have read that they don't always use the exact same type of casks (or ratio between ex-sherry/bourbon) when vatting a particular batch.

    cheers, portwood

    1. Hi Portwood,

      Maybe the variability you have encountered is what I am experiencing with Springbank 15. To be honest, in a blind tasting, I would have placed this firmly in the camp of Islay or the Orkney islands. Nevertheless, Springbank 15 is a very good malt.

      Thanks for taking the time to convey your thoughts on this impressive distillery.

  2. Congratulations I see that you are almost at a million views on your blog.
    I agree a rainy fall day is the best day for scotch tasting.

  3. This sounds right up my alley and I really want to try it! Unfortunately, I couldn't find it here in the Oklahoma City area. I found one place that has the 10 year, but it was $90 USD! Ouch!

    1. You have touched on the one downside to this malt. The price is very high. The bottle I had was over $100.

  4. Hello Jason. Thank you for the honest review. Bottle of Springbank 15yo goes for $85-89 in my area... My whiskey buddy and I recently re-tasted few Springbank distillery bottles. The order was: Springbank 12 yo cask strength, Springbank ~10 yo "Rundlets & Kilderkins" (only 9,000 bottles made, different from the standard 10 yo), Springbank 15 yo, and Longrow 14 (green label bottle - there are several different 14 yo bottlings...). Anyway, out of these, Springbank 15 yo was the most delicate whiskey: nice, oily, well balanced, and smooth. Slightly less peat than in Tallisker 10 yo and incomparably less spicy... Back to Springbanks. Springbank ~10 yo "Rundlets & Kilderkins" has a lot of character but if you would like to taste nicely peated whiskey from Springbank distillery - try Longrow 14 yo (Longrow CV could work, but not as good as 14 yo expression). But overall - you are quite right - Springbank 15 yo is an excellent whiskey to have on a rainy day in September... (Sorry for English - not a native English speaker...)

  5. Your English is great! Thanks for your thoughts on this malt and Longrow. I and the readers appreciate it. Chime in anytime!

  6. Jason,

    Frankly I have had the privilege of hesitantly lingering about your site for a few months now, always checking up on new posts but never doing much else. I want to thank you for your contribution and the scope of difference it has made. I don't remember how I ended up on your page but it was the only one which kept me reading, as yours is the only one I still "follow" and 'til date check up on.

    With much appreciation, you have made a considerable difference; in which, I have been able to enjoy my glass- it being excitedly..scotch~

    Who would have thunk me? of all people.
    Anyhow I unlike most others, these days am a self pronounced :/ ...Luddite so I appreciate all the more distancing of easy commercialized media and how did you ever resist the temptation of aged priceless samples??
    To my own limited understanding you are the only one who will not willingly condone such bribery in whatever form.

    I appreciate it in the utmost...
    Keep up the great job~~

    And thank you once again!


    1. Hello Juneberried!

      I always enjoy hearing from readers who enjoy the blog.

      I have to admit that when the marketing firms from distilleries & drinks companies contact me offering free samples, it can be tempting but I resist because there is an unwritten quid pro quo of a favorable review, and I am not going there. There are just too many bow wow whiskies that can't be ignored.

      Fortunately I can afford to buy the whisky and now that I started a whisky club with some friends, I can review whiskies the club accumulates.


  7. Jason, I've been visiting your site and reading your reviews for a while now, but this is the first time I've left a comment. First of all, let me say that I am so glad I found your site! I love your reviews! They are not only informative, they are also quite creative and fun to read. As a relative scotch newbie (I've enjoyed it for years, but have more recently begun to explore more SMs). I have really enjoyed all the choices I have made based on your suggestions. As a less expensive option to the above Springbank 15yo, I would like to know if you have an opinion on Springbank 10 yo. Thanks for being here for us! Keep it up!

  8. Hi VtBob!

    Glad you enjoy what you read.

    As for Springbank 10, I have not had it so I cannot give you a recommendation.

    The only problem with the 15 is the price. It is very expensive.

    Hope you will comment more!

    1. Vtbob, I just tried Springbank 10 at a bar and all I can say is wow! Much more sherried, but not in the typical Macallan or Glenfarclas manner.

      Springbank 10 is unique and really quite complex.

      Bottom line: Highly recommended!

    2. Hey Jason, that'a great to hear! I had just opened my bottle and had my first taste of SB10 the evening before I wrote the comment above, and my first reaction was "wow" as well, and then being the newbie that I am I had a moment of... "ok, Bob but so far you like EVERYTHING you've tried..... So I was very curious to get hear your opinion. The guy who runs my favorite local shop here in Vermont recommended it over the SB 15 yo, so that (plus the price difference) helped me make the decision for my first Campbeltown malt. Nothing to do now but go have another dram....perhaps this evening...... cheers! - Bob

    3. Ahh Vermont! I was in Stowe a while back. Pretty place with great prices on wine and spirits.

      I also picked up a bottle of Springbank 10 and like more than the 15.

      I think you like everything you try because you are hitting the winners. Unfortunately there are some bow wows out there too.


  9. I read somewhere that there is a good whisky bar in Stowe. It may be time for a road trip! Between VT and NH I have access to a fair variety of scotches, but there are some I really want to try that I can't get in either state (Black Bottle for eg.). I'm going to Maine next weekend. I'll have to look there.

    I believe I am indeed making good choices on what scotches to try, but that is a direct result of reading your blog! So thanks! And here's hoping for a bow-wow free cabinet!

    Now that you have a bottle of Springbank 10 yo, may we expect a full review at some point? I'd like to know more on what to look for in this one. Even as a newbie I can sense the complexity. It's a challenging dram for sure, and a good one for stretching the nose and palette. Last night as I took repeated sniffs and tastes I sensed everything from smoke to salty fish to lemon cake to green olives, and lots of things my newbie nose couldn't identify...wild. Plus the sherry overtones. I'm not sure if I really like this one a lot, or if I'm simply fascinated by it. Perhaps that's the point!

    - Bob

    1. I believe I found my bottle of Black Bottle at Hannafords (grocery chain) in Bangor.

      A full review of Springbank 10 is in the works my friend.

      Stowe has some amazing independent wine vendors too. I recall one a stone's throw from Stoweflake resort.


  10. One oddity for Springbank that might be worth investigating if you open your bottle and are disappointed....

    I bought a bottle of 15 and found it to be a bfit prickly and....carbonated tasting at first. Ater being disappointed, I came back to it and found it to better and in time it became the bottle I reached for most. I also noticed letting the pour rest a bit improved the taste.

    I have had 3 other Springbanks now and the experience was the same. It seems to need to breath. At least for me. I even opened the last bottle for a few days and it made a significant difference.

    I dont know what this does for longevity - since I tend to drink these faster than my other bottles.

  11. Hey Jason

    I had to laugh and cry at the expensive comment, not sure what this costs in your area now but Bishops Cellar in NS has it for $108. Unfortunately I live in Ontario where this one goes for $176.00 compliments of the dreaded LCBO.