How about another review of a rather rare, very old, and quite special whisky? Well, no need to twist my arm! Today I’ve got a review of a Chieftain’s Springbank 39 year-old whisky. Distilled in October 1968 and bottled January 2008, this whisky was matured in a Hogshead, Cask No. 1542, with a total out-turn of 132 bottles. It was bottled at 43%,without the addition of e150a caramel coloring and is unchillfiltered. My sample was provided by one of our local “whisky researchers”, Derek, who generously shares some really exceptional whiskies. Thanks, Derek!
About the Springbank Distillery
Just a few words about the Springbank Distillery. Springbank is one of the few remaining family owned distilleries and is one of just three remaining distilleries in the Campbeltown region; the other remaining distilleries in this region are Glengyle and Glen Scotia. Surprisingly, Springbank, which sits near the western end of the Mull of Kintyre, is actually closer to Ireland than it is to Glasgow. Finally, Springbank produces three distinct styles of whisky, the Hazelburn line, which is unpeated, the Longrow line, which is “heavily” peated, and the Springbank line, which is lightly peated (if you want a more detailed history of Springbank, and the Campbeltown region, see my Hazelburn review here).
A few interesting facts about Springbank:
- Nearly all of Springbank’s whisky is sold as a single malt, although they do produce a proprietary blend. Very little of their whiskies are sold to the larger blending companies.
- Springbank whiskies are produced with a somewhat unique process in that they are distilled 2.5 times, a process in which some of the low wines are collected before the second distillation and mixed back into the feints for a third distillation.
- Springbank, which runs anywhere from 7-8 to 12-15 ppm, is the “lightly peated” line of whiskies in the distillery’s portfolio.
- Springbank is one of only two distilleries in Scotland that continue to perform every step in the whisky making process, from malting the barley to bottling the spirit, on same premises: the other is Kilchoman Distillery who also grow their own barley.
Ian Macleod Distillers and Chieftain’s
Chieftain’s is a range of single malt Scotch Whiskies bottled by Ian Macleod Distillers who, since 1936, have been producing and bottling spirits. Founded by Leonard J Russell Sr, Ian Macleod Distillers remains an independent bottler of quality whiskies and other spirits while also entering the distillery ownership arena in the past fifteen years. As the world’s 10th largest Scotch Whisky Company, Ian Macleod produces and sells over 15 million bottles of spirits every year. Additionally, Ian Macleod operates the Broxburn Bottlers bottling plant.
Ian Macleod has a wide range of brands including the single malt distilleries Glengoyne, which it purchased in 2003, and Tamdhu, which it acquired in 2011. Ian Macleod also produces a number of blended whiskies such as Smokehead, Isle of Skye and King Robert II, a series of independent bottlings of single malts and blended malts released under labels such as ‘As We Get It’, Chieftain’s, Dun Bheagan, Macleod’s, and The Six Isles; and a number of lines of blended whiskies, most of which are generally not available here in the US with the possible exception of Clan Macleod which I believe can be found at Total Wines. Ian Macleod also offers private label services, produces Rums, Gins and Vodkas, and further operates as distributors for the blended scotch whiskies Sheep Dip and Pig’s Nose.
Review: Chieftain’s Springbank 39 year-old
As I mentioned above, this bottle of Springbank 39 year-old was distilled October 1968 and bottled January 2008. This is a single cask release that was matured in a hogshead cask, cask No. 1542, and it produced only 132 total bottles. This whisky was bottled at 43% abv, in its natural color, and without chill filtration. The bottle stamp is L07 03 08 3 07:48BB. We actually tasted this side-by-side with another independent release of a Springbank, but we’ll save that one for another day!
Color: Very light, pale yellow-amber
Nose: Starts with a warm vanilla custard with a drop or two of fresh lemon juice. A growing aroma of orchard fruits – pears, peaches, red apples; a hint of saltwater. After a few minutes, the “Springbank” starts to show up; by that I mean this really intriguing oily note that reminds me of an old garage – slightly metallic, welding smoke, oil and gas, old wood, tools, and so on. This might not sound like something you want to smell in your whisky, but it is, for me, the essence of Springbank and a note that I really enjoy! Adding a couple drops of water, I get more tropical fruits – mangos, pineapple, and just a delicate hint of coconut.
Taste: A rather gentle, somewhat subdued arrival, but it is 39 years old, after all, and bottled at 43% abv, so I guess that is to be expected. Like the nose, this starts on the vanilla – creamy, warm, soft, before the fruits begin to assert themselves. In the mid-palate, that Springbank essence again arrives – mineral, machine oil and old tools. There is a delicate smoke, more like burning leaves than the earthier Islay peat. Peaches, lemon juice, granite rocks (I know, strange, but hey, it is what came to me!), a drop of saltwater. Water isn’t really necessary here. After adding a couple of drops, the palate showed how delicate it was; with the water it became muted, but slowly returned.
Finish: The finish is softly fruity, with touches of the vanilla, saltwater, and a delicate smoke. This is a beautiful, long finish that has just a hint of the Springbank “machine oil” note.
Overall: I have to say that this one was quite surprising to me – in a very good way. This Springbank 39 year-old was a much fruitier, more delicate and subtle variation on a theme. The sweeter, fruitier side played the main role with this whisky, while the core (and expected) notes that I usually find – and love – in Springbank, namely the minerally, oily elements, were very much background music. That being said, this managed to strike a wonderful balance, effortlessly mingling the aromas and flavors, and leading to a thoroughly enjoyable, lengthy, and memorable finish.
Bottler: Chieftain’s (Ian Macleod Distillers)
Type: Single Malt
Age: 39 years
Availability: Secondary market
Sample Source: kindly shared by Derek D.
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2014, Ingvar Ronde, MagDig Media, Ltd.