Springbank – the only distillery in Scotland using exclusively its own malted barley – won the “Distillery of the Year” award at the Milan Whisky Festival due to its “craft” character. Meanwhile, the 16 yo “Local barley” won the gold medal at the same event. “Local barley” used to be a historical serie of malts distilled in 1965 and 1966 and bottled in the ‘90s (some of them are up for auction at 4000 euro): you can see here those wonderful labels… The experiment of using only local barley was repeated in September 1999, when Springbank distilled Prisma barley grown by Low Machriemore Farm, near Campbeltown, South Kintyre. The spirit was matured in a mix of ex-bourbon (80%) and ex-sherry (20%), and it was bottled last year. The bottles have been raided and now it’s difficult to find any at less than 200 euro. We thank Milano Whisky Festival and Beija Flor – the Italian importer – for opening one.
N: the first thought is that the time spent in the barrel has not affected the spirit so much. Is this a blemish? Not a chance, because when oak allows the Springbank spirit to speak, it’s always a good thing. As it would be clear from the labelling, there’s plenty of cereal: malting floor scent, ears of barley under the sun and even some biscuits. Is it outrageous to mention a farmy side? No way. This countryside style is balanced by brine and green olives, that remind us the air we used to breath when we were in Campbeltown. Later, a powerful layer of peaty smoke, with all the minerality you might imagine (earth, wet wool). With time, it shows also a fruity dimension, never too pushy, with apricot, peach and orange.
P: take the rich and expressive nose and amplify it for two, three, four times… The sweetness on the palate is suddenly evident, more compact: peach suggestions, ripe yellow fruit and a hint of tropical. The orange literally explodes, with its almost-rotten zest which leads us to the “Springbank side of the moon”: starch, brine, rocks and a note at the edge of sulphur (that overripe orange…), with candle smoke and sea water. The peat increases towards the end…
F: …finishing in a real, proper smoke, blended with all the former suggestions. The sweetness here is a pure memory.
Excellent, intriguing, challenging (it was the most beloved at the MWF tasting, that’s proving simpler things are not always the most popular choice). A whisky-tribute to the cereal and to the unique style of a distillery that waves its stubborness as a flag: 91/100, mixing intensity and austerity, seduction and rebelliousness. Very well indeed.
Recommended soundtrack: Motorhead – Enter Sandman, Metallica cover.