Whisky Advocate

Another whisky, and another story.

January 3rd, 2012

Some of you might remember my post here back in 2011. Well, I took my own advice and opened another bottle of whisky last week. It wasn’t for Christmas or New Years Eve, but rather somewhere in the middle of the week. I’m really glad I did, because it tastes great! And, as it is with many of my whiskies, there’s a story to this one too.

It was back in the early 1990s. I don’t remember which year, because I was traveling to Scotland quite a bit. I was in Edinburgh and paid my usual visit to the Cadenhead’s shop on the Royal Mile to see what Springbank whiskies they had for sale.

When I asked about Springbank 15 year old, Neil Clapperton, the gentleman who ran the shop, said that they were out of stock. But, by this time, he knew me because I had been in the shop several times before. That’s when he told me that he did have one bottle of Springbank 15 year old, but the proof is wrong on it. Instead of the usual 46% for Springbank, he said that this one was 50%. He then took out a marker and blacked out the 46% on the label and hand-wrote 50% next to it. (If you look closely at the over-exposed label, you might be able to see it on the lower right.) He said that if I was okay with it and wanted to buy it, he would sell it to me for the usual price.

100 proof Springbank 15 year old? Was I okay with it? Does a bear shit in the woods??

I happily purchased the bottle, along with some other cool Springbanks and Cadenhead’s whiskies, and held onto it for quite some time. It was worth the wait. It’s outstanding–a stunningly complex Springbank in a ex-bourbon casks. Nothing fancy. If you ever get a chance to taste Springbank that was distilled prior to their 1980s silent period, do it! If you think the current bottlings of Springbank are splendid (and many of the are), you just might be blown away with one of these earlier bottlings.

The only thing that frustrates me right now: Neil told me why this one was bottled at 50% ABV when I bought it from him and, after all these years, I forgot what he said!

Oh well. The whisky is great. That’s what matters most. And I’m drinking and sharing it with like-minded friends.

I’m not sure if you are a “New Year’s resolution” kind of person or not. But if you are, make a resolution to open up a bottle or two (or more) of your special whiskies that you’ve been saving for a special occasion. The whisky itself is reason enough to celebrate.

21 Responses to “Another whisky, and another story.”

  1. Red_Arremer says:

    Feel the same on this, John. I don’t crack a good bottle on a special occasion. I crack a good bottle when I want a special occasion!

    And I want one now– Considering I just pulled an all-nighter to put to bed my past semester’s school work– For that and other reasons, I think I’ll pop a bottle of Eleuthera.

    • John Hansell says:

      Sounds like a great plan, Red. A nice way to begin the new year!

    • Henry says:

      Hope this question isn’t too much of a thread-hijacking. Red, have you had a chance to side-by-side the Eleuthera with the Flaming Heart? If so, I’d love to read your take on them in that light. I have both open right now. While I’ve long been an Eleuthera fan, the Flaming Heart’s richness and complexity turns the former vatting into a bit of a thinner, flatter affair–this despite my initially being put off by the notable new wood influence on the Flaming Heart.

      • Aaron says:

        Funny, I have both Eleuthera and Flaming Heart in my modest collection. Doing one of the side-by-sides you suggest would certainly made any day “special!!”

      • Red_Arremer says:

        It’s good to remember that Eleuthera was in no sense sold as a “blockbuster” whisky. It was sold for Peat Monster prices or less. The new Flaming Heart is selling for near twice that– The idea being that it’s *that* good. Considering this it’s not surprising that Flaming Heart “Brings it” in a way that Eleuthera doesn’t– Even so, IMHO it really doesn’t bring the goods like Eleuthera.

        If you want whisky that’s distinctive, versatile, enjoyable, has fantastic texture and is balanced enough to drink anytime, but has a ton of substance and character if you want to get deep with it and, which is just plain delicious, then you want Eleuthera. If you want a good, vibrant, uncompromising, somewhat challenging whisky with some unusual oak involvement (as you mentioned) then you want FH. They’re both great whiskies, though.

        • Henry says:

          Thanks for your take, Red. You’ve long been a champion of the Eleuthera (along with other lower-priced bottlings that I too much appreciate), so I expected nothing less than your impassioned defense. I don’t find the Flaming Heart to be twice as good at twice the price. And they are quite different, even as they start off playing the same game of vatting Clynelish, Caol Ila and a Highland to be named later.

  2. MrTH says:

    Does a bear what? 😮

    I’ve opened my two Aberlour hand-fills and an SMWS Rosebank (25.51) over the past week or so…that’s enough for now. I’ve been eying a few bottles I’ve owned for seven or eight years, thinking it’s time to clean them up a bit. A little while ago I opened an eight-year-old bottle of Glenfiddich 18 that I was really looking forward to, only to find a crumbly cork and a corky-tasting whisky–it must have been on its side for some time before I bought it. (Have I mentioned lately how much I hate corks?)

    John, we were discussing elsewhere the difference in style between older and newer Springbanks, and wondering what might have changed, perhaps during that silent period. Can you provide any insight?

    • John Hansell says:

      I really don’t know the answer to this.

      • Danny Maguire says:

        I think the only thing that will have changed will be the people making the whisky. But I agree with you John, the newer Springbanks are nothing like as deeply flavoured, or as rich, as the older ones. The colour’s different as well.

  3. Jason Beatty says:

    Great topic: celebration and whiskey! Before the Superbowl madness here in Indy, I hope to break open a nice bottle down at Bourbons Bistro
    Excellent point Red: make an ordinary day off work seem like a vacation!.

  4. Peter Benkoczki says:

    I’ve just opened a simple Spirngbank 15, and i’m happy with it too! 🙂

    ” Does a bear shit in the woods??” – what does it mean? 😀

  5. Par Caldenby says:

    The 50 % abv strength could have been intended for the US market, as a “cask strength” or “100 proof”, whereas the UK bottlings would’ve been 57,1 % abv for that. The label does look older than the early 90’s too, though it is certainly not unheard of that Springbank do get their packaging mixed up and perhaps this is a case of just that – mislabelling?

  6. Luke says:

    Great story John!

    More of these please and, before I forget, a Happy New Year to ye!

  7. OudErnest says:

    Great story John. I know you have an impressive collection and it’s great to hear how you’ve come across some of these bottles. Happy New Year.

  8. Mike Dereszynski says:

    You are right John, I have a SB 100 proof but its a 12 year old. On the subject of opening a bottle on an ocassion, what makes it “special” can’t always be up to us. I’m thinking of Drammin the folks on Islay after their latest lil storm (90+ mph winds). Perhaps a Bowmore Tempest,Ardbeg Rollercoaster or one of the Black Arts of Bruichladdich. Hope all on my favorite isle are safe and secure.

  9. lawschooldrunk says:

    15yo springer…mmmmmmmm.

  10. Jason Beatty says:

    Speaking of celebration: I am going back down to Bardstown on the 21st and can pick up a bottle of the 20 Year Elijah Craig for anyone. Though it is from a different barrel, it is right up there with the one John reviewed. I can also pick up a 20 Year Willett next door for y’all to save for occasions…

  11. Marcus says:

    Yesterday I followed your advice, John, and made a normal day a special day. I have opened a 1977 Laphroaig (bottled in 1995). I think it was one of the first original vintage bottlings from Laphroaig together with the 1976.
    I got this bottle from my parents as a gift from their holiday in Switzerland in 1996. They bought the bottle at a liquor store in Samnaun, which is a customs enclave in the eastern part of Switzerland. My father liked the box of the 1977 more than the tube of the standard 10 YO. Therefore he bought the 1977. He had to pay just a little bit more than the price of the 10 YO!
    But not only the packaging is different: The 1977 is fruity, smoky, peaty and wonderfully balanced. And very mouth filling for a 43%. The 1977 has everything you might expect from a seventies Laphroaig.

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