Single Cask Springbank from Cadenhead’s
With winter and the holidays fast approaching, we’ve decided to make November Peat Month, concentrating our reviews on whiskies flavored with all kinds of peat smoke. For those unfamiliar with peated whisky, we hope to give a full tour of the range and depth of flavor that can be wrought by using a peat fire in the kilning process. Peat is simply plant matter that has been compressed and decomposed over a long period of time. Scotland is loaded with peat bogs, and historically peat was used as an energy source. Single malt distilleries have been using peat fires to kiln their barley for centuries, imbuing their whisky with all kinds of smoky flavors and aromas.
We wanted to start off Peat Month with a lightly peated whisky. Distilleries use peat from all over Scotland, and also vary the amount and time that peat is used in the malting process. Depending on the brand, bottles can be labelled as lightly or heavily peated, or even use a measurement of the phenol content (parts per million, or PPM). PPM levels can be hard to standardize (distillers can quote the level before or after distillation), so we will use whatever information we have on hand to characterize the amount of peat in each malt.
Springbank is located in Campbeltown, a distinct single malt region in the southwest of Scotland. Once home to dozens of distilleries, Campbeltown production declined and now only a few distilleries remain. Nonetheless, the region seems to be making a comeback, and Springbank produces single malts under three different brands—Springbank, Longrow, and Hazelburn. Springbank malts are lightly peated using peat shipped from Islay. We’ve read many different estimates, but our best guess is that the peat level is around 15 PPM or less. For reference, Laphroaig single malt typically runs in the vicinity of 40PPM.
Cadenhead’s Cask Ends Springbank
On the Eyes: The dram is the pure golden color of a pilsner, with a few red tones. The liquid runs thick in the glass with a syrup like texture.
On the Nose: At first we detected stewed apples, followed by a subtle wave of fresh oak and a floral bouquet. The nose make us think that this bottle came from a Spanish wine cask (Oloroso sherry perhaps). We also picked a subtle waft of dry peat smoke.
To the Taste: This is a chameleon dram. The flavor was at first in line with the nose, sweet and fruit forward with the taste of strawberries, fresh figs, and hint of oak tannins. Then, out of the blue, the flavor transformed and the peat smoke arrived, bringing with an ocean wave mixed with chargrilled oysters.
And the Finish: As the maritime blast subsided, the finish returned to sweeter echoes of stone fruit and pears.
Springbank is an excellent distillery for those who are starting to learn more about single malt. The Campbeltown region has a lot of history, and the lightly peated whisky is a way to step into the world of peat without getting a smoky punch in the face. Our Cadenhead’s bottle is really intriguing in that we tasted almost two different whiskies in the glass. The sweet and mellow aromas and finish make this a delicious and approachable dram. The peat and dry mid-palate experience gives us a contrasting taste of Islay, as that is where Springbank sources peat from. We might compare this expression to Springbank 12 Year Old, which is always bottled at cask strength, but we have to be honest in that we have only tried the Springbank 10. Let us know if you’ve had the 12 and think it compares to our single cask bottle.