Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

Springbank 21 and a musing on flipping the bottle

The Springbank Stallions are a group of Campbeltown enthusiasts that gather a few times a year to celebrate whisky and friendship. Obviously they meet during the Campbeltown Malts Festival in May. But there is also something of an indulgence going on every January. Myself, I was invited to join in the fun for the first time in 2023. When I returned for more in 2024, blending your own personal makeup for a bottle of Springbank (or Cadenhead’s) had become all the rage. 

You can do this too when you book the “Barley to Bottle Tour”. It is highly recommended!

I must say, I did not have so much fun for a long time (whisky-wise), as when I tried to piece together my very own Springbank vatting.

The team takes you into a very sterile looking laboratory where 6 samples await you to choose from. During my visit these were filled with FF bourbon barrel, Sauternes HHD, Refill Port HHD, Refill Rum barrel, Refill Sherry HHD and First Fill Sherry HHD. And away you go. I created 3 different versions, in the end settling for big chunks of bourbon and (refill) sherry, further tweaking it with the rum and first fill sherry. The result was marvellous, and obviously worth a humble 97 points.

And then you get to take a 70 cl bottle of your own creation home. With a real (dark purple) label, your name on it, ABV measured, and a professionally applied cap. There are multiple good things about this, one of them being the fact that these bottles surely must be a lot less interesting to flip. As we all know, this is a major problem for all things Springbank. A whisky-drinkers whisky, but sadly always very favoured by those looking to make a quick cent on a Local Barley or (higher) aged expressions. I contemplated giving you impressions of my personal blend, but I decided to let the mixed parts integrate for at least two years in the bottle. So you have to settle for this one:

Springbank 21 years old (2023 edition), at 46 % abv

Makeup: After participating in the Blending Session you appreciate even more the information given on the makeup of a bottle. You can imagine the blender at Springbank finding just the right set-up for this year’s bottling. Anyway, in 2023 it was 45% bourbon casks, 20% sherry casks, 20% rum casks and 15% port casks. Thanks for this transparency, Springbank!

General impressions: Amazingly straightforward, I must say, a direct descendant of the beloved 10 years old, but with all the characteristics ramped up. I love the very typical minerality that is so much associated with Springbank; it is really played first fiddle to this 21 years old. It is still a funky whisky, but compared to Springbank spirit from the 90s, I do experience a more clean appearance. Having said that, there is a lot of fruit coming from the glass. Grapefruit, lemons, pomegranate, light pineapple. I am reminded of a visit to the excellent Market Hall in Rotterdam where I smelled and tasted manggis (or “mangosteen” in Dutch). This is just it.

Surprisingly, the attack on the tongue is far from fruity, initially. It is really deeply rooted in the mineral character of Springbank, making this instantly recognisable as the Campbeltown giant. The slight bitterness must come, I conclude, from the dark horses in this makeup, being the port and rum casks. Because of my earlier described blending session experience, I know how invasive especially port casks can be. Just like a drop of peated whisky can change the heart and soul of a vatting, so does port. But I am not complaining, it brings a sharp edge to the fruity character.

Seems to me that diluting this whisky with water is not necessary, because Springbank brought it down to 46 % themselves. Still, I wanted to see if a little drop does bring out more fruit on the palate. In any case, the nose become even more vibrantly chalky, but yes also the taste is a lot more juicy now. Soft tropical fruits emerge and nothing of the sourness. Strong on oranges, tangerines and a peppery spiciness. On the finish you finally greet the rum influence. A bit drying but all in all yet another new face for this multifaceted Springbank.

Conclusion: I seem to remember the classic Springbank 21 years old as a very serious malt whisky, for rainy Saturday afternoons with a cigar between thumb and index finger, and a dusty book on your lap. The 2023 expression is a lot more frivolous and bright, but equally entertaining. A dram for when you put that book away, walk outside, and enjoy the warm breeze of a promising Spring in your face.

Score: 91 points

Disclaimer: taken from a self-bought sample from the Springbank Tasting Pack – November 2023, at the Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown.

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