This is a perfect whisky to use as a model in illustrating the current state of single malt Scotch and talk about the ongoing allegations of declining quality and inconsistent brand releases.
Before we get started, let me offer up a word of clarification to temper the immediate assumptions that could be drawn from that first paragraph. This is still pretty darn good whisky in its own right. It’s not spectacular – especially at the $700ca mark – but it is a solid offering that is somewhat consistent with the distillery’s style. Ok so far? Alright…moving on…
This is 2014’s edition of Springbank’s quarter century milestone malt. The last version of this whisky I tried (and the only one I know of, to be honest) was the 2006 release. I loved that malt. It wasn’t without its flaws, but it was singular and suited my palate perfectly. Again, a pricey affair, but the rewards were tangible, if maybe not entirely in line with the outlay of benjamins required to score one. What we have 8 years on is a mere shadow of this once princely dram. Actually that’s not entirely accurate, as it sort of implies that the basic outline is the same as the old edition. This is an entirely different whisky which, in my opinion, shouldn’t be this different from its forebears. The reasons though, are likely very easily explainable.
The story, I would imagine, goes something like this: In days gone by (let’s say up until about a decade or so ago) distilleries were producing distillate at a steady clip, filling and maturing barrels and feathering out releases with a regularity that cantered along nicely about in line with the rate of consumption. Perhaps they were even able to put aside a little extra to gather dust in the furthest corners of the old warehouses. When it came time to marry barrels together for the next batch of whichever edition was going to market, the ‘nose that knows’ at the distillery (read: master blender, or whatever title they’d claim) would have a decently stocked warehouse from which to pull casks. Think of it much like a painter having a broad swath of colours on his palette. Casks would be selected that aligned with the age they were aiming for and if the end product was not quite as glittery as hoped for, these vattings would be sweetened up with a few of the older, more spectacular barrels in bond. Ergo, your ’18 year old’ whisky was quite likely built upon a fair bit of true 18 year old spirit, but with a decent amount of older and better whiskies mixed in there too.
I am, of course, simplifying things, but you get the idea as to how this relates back to an age where demand hadn’t yet outstripped supply. Nowadays, in this burgeoning whisky market, distillers struggle just to reach status quo. Hence the rise of the dreaded NAS malts. I can almost guarantee that your current ’18 year old’ is just that. I think you’d be lucky if it was 18 and a day. You can call this a leap of logic, but it’s an easy inference, considering all of the evidence that has piled up as we’ve watched the times a changin’ for the last half decade or so.
Coming full circle to this Springbank 25 now, it, much like its younger siblings the 21 and 18, has become sadly almost entirely devoid of all the deeper subtle waxy notes, soft fruits and almost tropical nuances that made very mature Springbank a true revelation for many of us. Its unique profile has been replaced with a more generic – albeit not bad – caramel-y simplicity. All I can say at this point is…I guess it was inevitable. Doesn’t make it any easier to swallow though (pun intended).
Nose: Creamy caramel notes arrive first, then ebb, then return later. Definitely not as fruity as I’d hoped for. Smoke and peat are faded and subtle. Some orange (and maybe other citrus hints?) and leather. Orange candy. Decent spice pantry notes, predominantly of the allspice kind of aroma. Nice, but not overly special.
Palate: Very nice arrival to get things going. Hints of smoke and peat, as we’d expect, and an earthy or farmy backdrop. Over time some sweet, artificial fruit notes emerge. Leather. Dried fruits. Some coffee. And more of those candy notes again.
Thoughts: I think I said it all above.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt