Whisky Advocate

Is Springbank back to its pre-1980s greatness?

January 18th, 2009

The 1990s were a great time to be a Springbank enthusiast. The distillery was closed for most of the 1980s, and the whiskies that were on the market were distilled in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of those whiskies were amazing, and there were a lot of different bottlings to chose from. And then, of course, there were also the the legendary Longow (peated Springbank) offerings from 1973 and 1974, which I am still savoring in my home bar.

When the post 1980s Springbank whiskies started being bottled at the beginning of this decade, I don’t think they were of the same caliber as previous decades. Some were good; others not so. They have, however, been steadily improving since then. So, my question to you is this:

Do you think the post-1980s distilled Springbank whiskies have now reached the same level of quality as the Springers distilled in the 1960s and 1970?

22 Responses to “Is Springbank back to its pre-1980s greatness?”

  1. patrick says:

    Difficult question.
    The Longrow 18 YO and CV were remarkably well done, to a level comparable to the older products, although the flavour profile is slightly different. Concerning the Springbanks, I think we will have to wait a few years ago, or at least until the 18 YO is released in a few months.
    The products from the 1980s were good, but not “legendary”. The whiskies distilled in the middle-end of the 1990 have shown a significant improvement.

  2. John Hansell says:

    Patrick, yes I think that the Longrow 18 is the best thing to come out of Springbank in the “New Era”. CV is nice too. I look forward to the new Springer 18 too.

  3. I still find it difficult to work out the bottling years of my various Springbank 10yo bottlings. There are those with a yellow packaging, which include a flyer talking about Glengoyne and giving you the chance to buy one in advance (via Credit Card). 2002 maybe?
    Then I have a bottling that looks the same, but the flyer doensn’t feature Credit Card details anymore (however the text suggestes it dates later, probably early 2004?).
    I also have a bottling with black packaging (and label, but still at 46%), the flyer is in color, text about the distillery in gerneral. Recent bottlings seem to have a revised, more colorful packaging. I don’t own a bottle yet.

    So far, the only 10yo 46% I have opened is a (supposed) old one (first on my list). I like it a lot, it is such a genuine whisky.

  4. Louis says:

    Hi John,

    While the current 10yo is pretty decent and I really like the 100 proof version, they still fall short compared to the very dark 12yo/46% dark bottling released in 1998. That one was almost as good as the 21 year old, and after a few drams, the differences all but vanished :). The current 15 year old is not up there, IMHO.



  5. B.J. Reed says:

    I am very interested in people’s thoughts on this. I have not been a fan of recent Springbanks but maybe I should re-look based on John’s thoughts – The old Springbanks in the squat bottles were very, very good – I own an Longrow 1974 that is terrific – Still, not convinced the recent vintages are worth the costs – I have to go after that 18 YO Longrow and see how it stacks up…

  6. John Hansell says:

    BJ, I was expecting more comments by now. Surely there are others out there drinking single malts since the early 1990s. I admit to being a Springbank enthusiast from Day 1 and have more whiskies in my stash from Springbank than any other distillery. So maybe I care more about this than some of you, but it certainly is an interesting topic to explore.

    My gut feeling is this: the distillery has come a long way towards being the caliber that it was in the 1960s and 1970s, but I don’t think that they’re there yet. Don’t get me wrong–most of what Springbank is putting out right now is good, but the bar was set very high. Some of the Springbanks I drank that were distilled in the 1960s and 1970s were stunning. It’s going to be difficult to repeat that.

    But, if the recent Longrow 18 is any indication of Springbank’s future potential, then I am very confident that they can once again regain the status they once commanded.

  7. John Hansell says:

    Markus, yes it is obvious that you are a true Springbank enthusiast. I, too, hope that 2009 will be “The year of Springbank.” Time will tell.

  8. Serge says:

    Even if I used to sip the few malts that we were getting (‘fiddich, Cardhu) and visited my first distillery around 1978, it’s with 10+ Springbanks that I had my first true ‘tasting session’ and that was around 1990 in Mark Reynier’s cellar in London. Mark used to distribute Springbank in London if I remember well, or maybe even on a wider scale. I remember the pear-shaped bottled very vividly! That explains why I’ve got Springbank ‘in my heart’…

    So, to answer you question John, I’d say that Springbank may well be on their way back to their past glory (when they were using the wording ‘grand cru classé’) indeed except maybe for the magical sherry casks they were using for some darker bottlings at the time (12yo 100° proof anyone?).

    But if you compare the newest 10yo 46% and the 1997s with old unsherried 12yos (tall bottle, black label, big S, very pale vattings) I would even say that they’re past the oldies, and if you’re comparing them with the regular 12yo from the 1990s (not the darkest vattings), they’re more or less on par in my opinion.

    So, I think their ‘recent’ distillates are excellent, full-bodied and pleasantly old-school, let’s only hope that not too much of them will be finished (yes I’m as stubborn as a mule).

  9. Rich says:

    i’m a huge fan of Springbank, but i’m not sure i have the depth of experience and the history to answer this particular question, since i’ve only been malting for about five years now. my list of bottles is as follows:

    * 1967 Springbank 37 year C/S (Duncan Taylor)
    * Springbank 21 year 2004 release (Distillery)
    * Springbank 15 year (Distillery)
    * Springbank 1997 Vintage 10 year C/S (recharred cask #97-613)

    i’ve also had a nice cask strength bottling from the SMSWS, and i’m eyeing a Longrow 18 because i’d like to try a peated version, and everyone seems to regard that bottle highly.

    so, i think i have, or at least am building, my Springbank credentials, but i’m not yet in a place to offer an historical comparison or analysis.

  10. John Hansell says:

    Good points Serge. And Rick, I think your comment sheds light on why more people haven’t commented yet: 20 years of drinking Springbank is a long time. Not everyone has been doing it for that long. (Good lord, I’m beginning to feel old!)

  11. Tony Menechella says:

    Okay, since Rich started us newbies, I’ll pipe in. Having only been drinking whisky for about 5 years myself, I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting any of the topic related Springbank’s. I do howeever like some of their recent releases;

    9YR Marsala
    16YR Rum Wood
    Longrow 18YR
    Longrow 7YR Gala

    Could somebody recommend some of the older ones to track down, that won’t break my wallet??

    Cheers, Tony

  12. John Hansell says:

    Tony, a lot of the great ones were mentioned by me and previous posters. I must warn you–you probably will have to break your wallet.

  13. Hi John,

    I have always been a fan of Springbank, if not always for its whisky, then for its spirit of independence. There are some incredible older (pre 80’s) Springbanks out there, one of the most memorable of which for me was their “Local Barley”. I also fondly remember a 21Yr from a few years back which was delightfully creamy with rich orchard fruit notes.

    I did not have the opportunity to sample any young Springbank’s from the 70’s and therefore could not compare them to those distilled in the 80’s. I did however until recently not care much for the younger unpeated expressions of Springbank. I found that the quality of the 10Yr varied from batch to batch, and that more often than not it was merely average. I convinced myself that like a good Bordeaux, Springbank needed more time to mature than other malts.

    I feel differently now. I’ve enjoyed both batch 1 and 2 of the recent 1997 vintages, and I had the opportunity to sample 6 different Sherry casks of 1996 Springbank at the distillery in September for the purpose of bottling a cask for the store. It was a gruelling decision, 5 of the 6 were great, and two–the Manzanilla and Oloroso–were both incredible. I chose with the help of 6 customers, the Manzanilla.

    In my opinion, Frank McHardy’s fingerprints are all over the rejuvenation of Springbank.


  14. Serge says:

    Well, in my opinion the “old but not too old” version of Springbank that’s really worth hunting down is the 12yo 100°proof that I already mentioned before. It was bottled circa 1995. I’m sure that with a bit of luck, you may still find an odd bottle in the US for a decent price (provided some PLOWEDsters never passed by ;-)). The good news – for you Americans – is that the US versions were better than the EU versions, especially the darker vattings. Some said that it was because the 100 proof US make for only 50% vol (instead of 57% vol for the EU), whilst the proof was achieved using very old under-strength whiskies instead of plain water – but that may be a legend. The best of the best, in my opinion, was an earlier version for Samaroli in Italy but you’ll have to pay at least USD 1,200 a bottle these days, if you can find it. Not bad for a ‘mundane’ 12yo!

    Anyway, all other very great old Springbanks are, as John said, very expensive (when I mean old I mean bottled 15, 20 or 30 years ago, not distilled). Alas, the ones that are still relatively easy to find and cheap are not the best ones. But of course, if you’re willing to pay top dollar everything is available.

  15. David S says:

    After reading Andrew’s comment that the 10 yo varied from batch to batch (I agree), I would like to add that this was always an issue with Springbank, especially the 12 yo. I have seen and sampled many 12 and 15 yo Springbanks that were very inconsistent with the release before and after. Fortunately I have enjoyed most of them. I also saw this with the C.V. released in the 90’s. I have had some very average bottles of this and some that reminded me of Longrow -Jon, you opened a bottle once at one of the dba tastings, I’ll have to find my notes, but I believe there was a metallic flavor at first and then it really opened up into a good Springbank. Even the 21 varied quite a bit, although there were few I did not love.Do they have the great casks to produce some of the wonderful 25 and 30 year olds? I sure hope so.

  16. Derek De Souza says:

    Springbank has been a staple of mine since the mid nineties when I joined
    a single malt tasting “society” . We tasted the post 80’s 12 yr, 15 yr and 21 yr olds. These were the “standard” Springbanks. In the late 90’s we noticed the malts especially the 12 yr were very dark compared to the straw colored whisky we were used to tasting. Also they were less “oily and coconutty” We concluded that since they had a great demand they had to meet in some measure and probably used some older malts just to “preserve the brand”. Then, came the “classic great whisky of all time” – the 100 proof 12 yr old.
    Our founder was responsible for “spoiling”us as he owned 2 casks that were from the private stash of the then distillery manager that he knew very well during the seventies. He had a 21 yr old cask at 46%ABV that was bottled as a commemorative bottling signifying the founding of our club in September 1995. He bottled the second cask as a 35 yr cask strength of 48%ABV in the yr 2000- another outstanding whisky.
    Comparing his 21 yr old to the commercially available distillery bottlings, there was NO comparison. Both malts were at the same strength, from the same distillery and had the same age- the difference was “the cask”.
    So to address your question I will say that the current older age bottlings are NOT upto the standard of the pre-seventies. However, I must also say that the regular 10yr old bottlings of late have definitely IMPROVED and are closer to the “standard” quality, than ever before.

  17. P Ellen says:

    Question for Andrew , where are you located and when are you getting this 1996 Manzanilla Sherry cask of Springbank ?

  18. Neil Fusillo says:

    It wasn’t until recently that I even bothered to try the more recent Springbanks. The older ones were quite good, but I’d heard such negative things about the newer ones, I hadn’t bothered to give them a go. I bought a 10 and a 15. The 10 was actually quite better than I’d been led to believe. But when I tried the 15, I began to understand what the negativity was about. While it had a nose of fresh sea air, the palate was almost non-existent. A quick hint of a sort of herbal saltiness and then nothing. The finish, however, was the best part about it, as it wound up with a dash of pepper, a hint of sea spray, and some lovely herbal tones that seemed to last considerably longer than I’d expected with the disappointing palate.

    I’d say there’s promise in the newer Springbanks, but they have some distance to cover. I shall, however, eagerly watch for the steady improvement.

  19. Sean says:

    My first exposure to Springbank was at the first Malt Advocate Whiskey Fest in San Francisco a couple years back. I was excited to try Springbank, because of all the hype I’d heard from customers at our little shop. I enjoyed the whiskeys fine enough, though was slightly underwhelmed. That is until I tried the Longrow 10! It has been a love affair ever since and is responsible for what I’d call a “swing” in my palate toward the smokier side of whisey. Thanks John for your passion for whiskey! If 2009 is the year of Springbank, my whiskey glass will be ready.

  20. S'tan De Mon says:

    With respect to Serge’s comments about the PLOWEDsters scooping up all (or at least a very significant proportion) of the Springbank 12/100 bottles in the U.S., as well as a substantial portion of Euro bottlings: Being a PLOWEDster, I resemble that comment… 🙂

  21. John Hansell says:

    Yep, I got my bottle of Springer 12/100 as soon as I tasted the review sample I was sent. Amazing stuff. I also covet my ’73-74 Longrows, and I have a bunch of them. As well as my various Springbanks from days gone by, including both “green” Springbanks, various vintages, and ages. Most have stories attached with them, and that’s also what makes them special.

    BTW, great comments everyone. Springbank obviously has a special place in many of our hearts, whether we are seasoned Springbank veterans or new to the distillery.

  22. Walt says:

    A friend once asked my wife and I if we would try a single malt scotch of course you know my respond we were both very plesantly suprised ok now here in lies the problem the single malt was 16year old tan colored label sprinbank thy best single malt I’ve ever tasted ever! Can’t find it anywhere by mistake I purchused 2 bottles of black & green label it was horrible is there any chance of finding that wonderful scotch we once tasted

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