Images: Marc Levens and Fred Blans
Many travel blogs describe this area as full of ‘snaking single track roads with hairpin bends and miles and miles of nothing’. But in the heart of this seemingly unappealing region lies the former ‘Whisky capital of the World’, Campbeltown. Make no mistake. There is ample room for doubt when it comes to the quality of the slew of 2019 whiskies from the Kintyre Peninsula.
Ten men hang around nervously in the cosy whisky store of Rob Stevens, owner of Whiskyslijterij de Koning (‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands) and also tonight’s host. At eight o’clock sharp ten boys hurry off to the King’s Tasting Room as if a school bell went off. A table full of empty tulip glasses are set to welcome eight drams of whisky. Tonight’s tasting is special one since none of the whiskies is from outside the Springbank range.
Late last year I spent some words on three Springbank whiskies. I really felt over the moon and ever since I have kept an extra eye on everything that is bottled on the Kintyre Peninsula and exported to the main land from the UK. Two bottles have been put in a straight jacket just to ‘sharpen the senses’. After some sniffing, judging, nodding and serous deliberations the ohs and ahs accompany the striptease of the ….yes ! …..Hazelburn 21 yo. Distilled in July 1997 and bottled at the regular 46% abv in May 2019 it was recently released for the Open Day on May 23rd 2019. It is the oldest Hazelburn ever bottled with a mere 222 bottles released worldwide. Springbank’s labels are never clear about what route the whisky has taken. But we are sure there’s sherry involved. I have a hunch that tonight I have to make myself another top shelf to store all these beauties on. Anyway, that’s one gem down and seven more to go.
Springbank 21y CS 46 % abv (2019). Shoulder to shoulder the Spingbank family members open themselves up. This 21 yo certainly is another WOW!-whisky (as of course was the first one). There is a rum and port finish involved, both 45 % of the share. It’s like the old Springbank from the eighties must have been like with an oily mouthfeel, a bit waxy and fruity.
‘Make way, make way’! The third heavy weight Springbank in line is poured in our glass: Springbank 25 yo, 46 % abv. The Oloroso sherry and rum finish make this 25 year old from 2019 balanced and layered. Intense fruity notes linger in my mouth.
The Longrow 18 yo, 46 % abv (2019) is well known for its peatiness. After 18 years the phenol levels have declined and the amount of peaty flavors are softened by time. Even when the Oloroso cask maturation has done its job very well. A good whisky, but the odd one out in this line-up I would say.
This Hazelburn 14 yo 49.3 % abv (2019) is my favorite for tonight because price wise it stands out. Where the other whiskies reach a three or fourfold (money wise) of this Oloroso cask matured, this 14 year old manages to keep his head up between the other rich family members with an affordable $ 84 (€ 76). Distilled in October 2004 and bottled in February 2019 this peatless dram really pushes the tones of crème brûlée and toffee.
Another ‘budget whisky’ is the Springbank CS 12 yo, 54.8 % abv (2019). For $ 77 (€ 70) you drink a perfect dram with old fashioned tones of ginger, slightly fruity hints and an oily mouth feel.
Our one but last dram in our Springbank line-up is this 7th Longrow Red 11 yo, 53.1 % abv (2019). The barley dried for 48 hours (peated) and the spirit is double distilled. Finally finished on pinot noir casks from New Zealand.
Then the final secret bottle is poured and introduced with muffled drum. I sniff and taste and immediately elevate slightly from my chair. This is a heavenly spirit. It turns out to be a 36 year old Springbank Local Barley. Distilled in January 1965 and bottled in September 2001. The same year Whiskyslijterij De Koning was founded by Stan de Koning. I am gazing at a dram from bottle 147, cask 9. I taste a certain earthiness, down to earth tones, oily feels, another WOW!-whisky pur sang. A sacred silence enters the King’s Tasting Room. The price of this bottle is astronomical for the likes of us. This cask strength dram of 52.4 % abv leaves us looking at the tulip glass. Some of my table mates fill some sample bottles, some stay sniffing and some leave the King’s Tasting Room in utter amazement. This really was a tribute night to the Mitchell family tree.