Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Two expressions of Springbank Cask Strength: One Coopered in Sherry, One in Bourbon Cask. Which is Better?

It's often an interesting topic when it comes to the distiller's decision to barrel age or finish a whisky in various flavored woods, or not.  A big topic in Scotch is aging in sherry casks.  There are many who love the hint of sherry flavor, or the big wallop of the sherry bomb.  Others, more purist, don't want their Scotch to faithfully taste of sherry and prefer more neutral wood aging, such as ex-bourbon American oak casks - famous for their large pore size and excellent flavor characteristics.  You come across aspects of this topic in many venues.  Last year I came across it in a review in Whisky Advocate magazine's Blog which profiled 4 interesting 14 year old sherry finished expressions of Springbank's excellent cask strength offering:

8/1/11 Post John Hansell:
"Here’s a round of single cask Springers matured completely (not finished) in various wine casks for the U.S. market. All four are solid efforts—it’s really a matter of personal preference. (Try to taste them before you buy.) A general comment: most of the single cask releases are matured in some sort of wine or rum cask. While this is nice, I would love to see several single cask, cask strength, and fully-matured ex-bourbon barrel bottlings offered for a change. — John Hansell"

(emphasis is my own)  The comments below carry this theme onward: 
two-bit cowboy says:
“While this is nice, I would love to see several single cask, cask strength, and fully-matured ex-bourbon barrel bottlings offered for a change.” — John Hansell  I’m with you on that one!

I didn't think too much about it, but this year I came across a bourbon cask version of Springbank Cask Strength (this one aged 13 years) on http://whiskysamples.flyingcart.com/index.php?p=detail&pid=863&cat_id=
This got me to thinking: "I wonder if John Hansell and Two-Bit Cowboy are right?  Is a bourbon cask expression going to be better than a sherry cask version of essentially the same Springbank?" 
I looked around and, sure enough, Park Avenue Liquors still had one of the four sherry cask finished versions: the Manzanilla.  It looked dark and lush and despite the Blog post's seeming consensus that the paler bourbon aged example might be better I was pretty certain in my bones that the sherry finished one was going to be more succulent and lush.  It was a year older, right?  It was darker and prettier, right?

FYI-I'm not going to discuss the magnificent Springbank distillery in this review, or its storied Campbelltown location.  I have discussed these things elsewhere on this blog and others have done it much better - for example:

FYI - Here's what the Whisky Advocate blog had to say about this particular one of the four:

Springbank, 14 year old, Manzanilla Cask (#259), 54.8%, $100

"Complex citrus (orange, tangerine, lime, and a hint of lemon), honeyed malt kissed by maple syrup, caramelized pineapple, cinnamon, and a dusting of nutmeg. Nutty toffee on the finish."
Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 86"
- John Hansell

Here are my tasting notes on this expression:

Color: rich coppery amber

Nose: rich nutty sherry with a slightly tangy acidic note, Like toffee hazelnut dessert wine lemon-lime with dusky oak perfume. Underneath is a faint salty maritime low-tide note which sits uneasily with the sherry sweet.

Entry is dry and elegantly lean. There's a big expansion of dry raisin, spicy heat and a juicy citrus sherry mid-palate bloom. Toffee and nutty brown-wine notes follow. At the turn to the finish is a sour note - lemon or a twist of lemon in balsamic. Maritime airs float around with salt and sea. The finish is medium-short with tannin bite but comparatively little oak flavor.

It's richly flavored, yet lean and elegant and distinctive but has some off notes in the nose and the finish. It's vinous in exactly the way Manzanilla would be - but the fit with the eclectic Springbank flavor profile is a bit strained.  The sea salt and sour finish clash a bit with the nutty vinous sweetness.  More time in the glass and more air make the entry honeyed and lush enough to help carry the finish.


Here are my tasting notes on the bourbon cask aged expression:

Springbank 13 year old Single Cask - Cask 189 - 186 bottles 56.9% - for the Belgian market 

from Belgium's WhiskySamples:

Color: Gold
Nose: bee's wax and honey. Salted porridge, butter, floral meadow, faint sherry. Further nosing baked sweets with red bean paste deep in behind the honey and sherry vine and salt. It's a rich and lovely nose - redolent of comfort foods and floral beauty.

Entry is honeyed and rich with beehive flavors of honey, bee's wax, and oatmeal. Midpalate bites with authority as you'd expect with a cask strength offering. There is august malt sugars and a faint hint of violets. There is also salt air and maritime influence. The turn to the finish brings out a slight dank bitterness like the after taste of drinking beer. The finish is long and lingering with a distinctive mix of honey mead, salty air, sour oak and the lingering flavors of sea air. How can the nose, entry and midpalate be so beautiful and the finish so, well, odd? More air helps allay the bitter sour notes. After half an hour or so of nursing I'm getting some lingering sweetness in the finish that help carry the day. The issue is the interplay of salty maritime influences with the lowland fruity honeyed flavors.


Conclusion:  Both are delicious in their own way - with lovely entries and mid-palates; both are flawed in similar ways: sour notes towards the finish.  While this similarity shows the clear kinship of the crafting of the new make, the striking differences in nose and flavor signature show the marked effects of barrel aging.  While both clearly have their charms, I ended up going with John and Two-Bit.  The bourbon aged example was sweeter, richer, more true to the Springbank flavor profile DNA and ultimately the more inviting dram in the end.  And bottom line on both: good but not among the really greats from this great distillery.


  1. Definitely a tricky question. I'm working my way through Springbank's CV whiskies right now, so I'm interested in hearing how their older whiskies hold up.

    1. I review several of the versions from the late 90s - where were superb. I need to review the current lineup. Apparently the flavor profile has changed. I love Springbank's raisin sweet and yet also salty maritime flavor profile, rich with honest grain and some distant peat. But sometimes Springbank seems almost like a chameleon: resembling an Island malt in one expression, a Highland in the next, and a Lowland (it is almost triple distilled - distilled 3 times but the final time including a mix of low wines and high - so it's called "two and a half" times distilled). It's that simultaneous presence of attributes of so many styles that makes Springbank so very special. Sweet, yet maritime.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks so much. I only wish I could have come to a clear conclusion and that I could have tried all 4! I'll keep my eyes peeled. Next Springbank maybe the OB Cask Strength 12, which has a mix of sherry and bourbon cask aging. Goldilocks?

    2. If you look around, you might be able to find the American 10 year, 100-proof OB that came out before. That should be pretty comparable to the 10 year, 100-English proof, bourbon cask only Springer that came out in England.

    3. From some reviews the Springbank 12 can get sulfur notes so if you're sensitive be wary.