Springbank Gaja Barolo

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Distillery/Brand: Springbank | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 54.7% | Color: Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85

Review
Springbank is pretty much a genius distillery in my opinion. The way it produces three different whiskies from one set of stills is quite remarkable. And the fact that each whisky is pretty darn good is further testament to it’s stellar reputation.

It’s fought it’s fair share of wars with sulphur but then who hasn’t? Springbanks are primarily sherried and gently peated with an air of coastal sea salt around them. Their 10 & 12 year old cask strength versions are a joy to behold. As is the rather pricey 21 year old.

This particular expression is not as old that. Bottled at nine years it spent it’s first four years in a bourbon cask and the last five in a fresh Gaja Barolo barrel.

The Gaja Barolo is a type of red wine produced in Northern Italy using the Nebbiolo and Barbera grapes. I’ve, frankly, never had a Gaja Barolo so I’m not really sure what to expect.

The sample I have was distilled in February 2004 and bottled in October 2013. It is one of 11,000 bottles and served at 54.7% ABV.

Nose: Quite grainy. Dusty. Green. Herbaceous. Hint of talcum powder. Very mild peat. Faint cardboard. Ginger gratings. Dry wood. Honey. Sea salt. Could have been stronger overall. Lacks the depth and complexity, in my opinion.

Palate: Lots of pepper. Oak. Berries. Sea salt. Mild peat. Cinnamon. Dark chocolate. Tannins. Tobacco leaves. Brown sugar. A bit rough around the edges and a touch bitter. It’s not a disaster, mind you. But it so easily could have been.

Finish: Woody. Coffee beans. Some spice. Berries. Bitter ash.

Not entirely sure whether the experiment is working. It’s interesting enough, I suppose. Not sure why this particular wine was chosen to mature the spirit. I wish I could get my hands on an actual bottle of Gaja Barolo just to understand.

Not my favorite Springbank, that’s for sure.

Rating: 85

Longrow 14 Year Old Burgundy Wood

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Distillery/Brand: Longrow | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 56.1% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 93

Review
I have a confession to make. Actually a confession made on the back of a revelation.

About a couple of years ago I picked up this Longrow to satisfy my ever increasing curiosity for Campbeltown. To be fair I didn’t know much about it and relied on the salesman to pick something out for me.

A couple of months after purchasing it I had a poker night at my place and one of the guys wanted to have a taste. I duly obliged. He liked it. I wasn’t too impressed.

As it turns out he has much better taste in whisky than I do. Not only did I not think much of it I had the gall to write a review about it and label it average. This was, of course, over two years ago. In my defense I live in Dubai so two years is actually closer to eight in whisky years. You know, because of the temperature. So I think I can be forgiven for being naive.

This 14 year old gem has been matured for 11 years in bourbon barrels (1997-2008) and then for a further three in French Burgundy Casks (2008-2011). It’s peated like all Longrows are and it’s served up at a juicy 56.1%

Nose: Warm dark honey. Natural caramel. Toast. Cranberries. Malt butter. Cherries. Red licorice. Star anise. Cinnamon. Tannins. Mint leaf. Cured meats. And that lovely peat.

Palate: Strong cinnamon. Clove. Dark cocoa. Coffee beans. Actually superbly roasted coffee beans. And spices. Roasted too. Burnt sweet caramel. The delivery is full bodied and the flavors brilliantly balanced.

Finish: What a finish! Long, oily and chewy. Minty with lots of coffee. Cherries. Cinnamon. Warm Coca-Cola.

Thanks to my friend The Whisky Snob who raved about it so much he made me give this another go. Incidentally this score is 6 huge points above the last.

I was either stupid or the oxidization helped. I’m going with stupid.

Rating: 93

Kilkerran WIP 6 Sherry Wood

Kilkerran WIP 6 Sherry
Distillery/Brand: Kilkerran | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 46% | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 91

Review
Glengyle Distillery, where Kilkerran is distilled, opened it’s doors in 2004 and is the newest distillery in Campbeltown. It is also fast becoming my favorite from the region, too, given the quality of the spirit that leaves through it’s doors.

What is nice was every year after the third (when it legally qualified to be called whisky) Glengyle release a sherry and a bourbon matured expression entitled Work In Progress. So the WIP 1 was a four year old spirit released in 2009.

Now I know this is done purely for commercial reasons but when the spirit works so well and has been so expertly crafted it then becomes a pleasure to be actually part of that journey.

The WIP 6 marks ten years of the distillery’s operations which means this years’ release has some decade old spirit in it.

Matured in European sherry and bottled at 46%.

Nose: That briny coastal sea salt which can be found in the bourbon wood expression is present here as well. Herbs. Earthy mild peat. Cigar leaf. Pecan nuts glazed in sugar. Light soy sauce. Red wild berries. It’s a comforting red sherry that I like.

Palate: Creamy fruit cake. Cinnamon dust. Chocolate bananas. Herb infused brownies. Oaky with a hint of peat. Prunes. Lovely ginger spices at the end. This is such a classic sherry matured palate.

Finish: Long with oily oak. Caramel marchiato. Cinnamon.

Lovely spirit with controlled sherry influence.

Rating: 91

Kilkerran WIP 6 Bourbon Wood

Kilkerran WIP 6 Bourbon
Distillery/Brand: Kilkerran | ABV: 46% | Region: Campbeltown | Color: Sunlight
Nose: 22 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 89

Review
One of my first whiskies ever was a Springbank 10 Cask Strength and truth be told I didn’t know what hit me. In a good way. This is way before I knew my cask from a cork. Some days I still don’t but, hey.

And, thus, began my fascination with this small giant of a region, Campbeltown. Springbank led to Longrow which led to Hazelburn which led to Glen Scotia and which finally led to these work of art expressions from Glengyle Distillery, the Kilkerran Work In Progress series.

Not all whiskies from this region are great but like a father who has a favorite child I tend to forgive a lot. Luckily with the Kilkerrans there’s really nothing you need to forgive.

The first one I picked up was a WIP 4 and I remember introducing it to my whisky club who had no idea what it was. The look on their faces when they tried it for the first time was priceless. Such a young and vibrant whisky it completely blew them away.

The WIP 5 was an equally big hit with them the following year. And so when I picked up this years’ installment I couldn’t wait to put it on the tasting block!

Kilkerran opened it’s doors in 2004 so you can be sure there’s some 10 year old spirit in the WIP 6. Matured exclusively in bourbon wood and served up at 46%.

Nose: There’s a coastal briny-ness which stays with you through out but it’s balanced out by a delicate freshness that comes from young(ish) spirits. Nutty. Oily walnuts. Sweet apricots covered in sticky sugar. Green apples and vanilla with the mildest of peat.

Palate: Juicy pears and green apples. Honey drizzle almonds. Black and white peppers with a hint of lemon citrus. Lovely mouth feel. This medium bodied spirit is on point.

Finish: Medium with oily custard.

This is an excellent spirit without the frills. I love it when the integrity of the spirit stands out above all the distractions we have come to expect from this industry.

Rating: 89

Springbank 21 Year Old

Springbank 21

Distillery/Brand: Springbank | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 46% | Color: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 94

Review
Let me just come out and say this. Springbank is tied with Ardbeg and Amrut as my favorite distillery in the whole world. Not only are they a genius distillery (creating three expressions from the same equipment!) they also claim to be the only distillery that performs the complete production process in its own facilities — including floor malting, maturation, and bottling.

Add to that their consistently brilliant flavors and you’d guess why I hold them in such high esteem.

I’ve sampled their 10, 10CS, 12, 12CS, 15 and 18 and each one, while similar in profile, has it’s own subtle nuances that sets it apart.

Now here I was ready to test the flagship 21 (complete in blingy gold packaging). This age is a bit of a legend and there are many versions of this 21 year old spirit.

They were bottled in dumpy bottles during the 1980’s. After that, regular bottles appeared with a cardboard box and slightly different printing, first with a jagged label and then with a straight cut label. In 2005, the last batch was released (2400 bottles).

Since the distillery was closed between 1979 and 1989 it was only very recently that the 21 hit the market (2011) again. Now I never got the chance to sample the pre-2005 expressions but if this is any indication then they must have been gorgeous.

The liquid has been matured in both fresh and re-fill sherry casks.

Nose: Brilliantly balanced sherry with hints of black peppercorns. There’s a touch of smoky meat stew with underlying salty peat. But it’s the fruits that bring up the rear so admirably. Red apples and bears mulched with a honeycomb sweetness that make you savor the nose longer than most whiskies.

Palate: Crisp dark honey with pepper dust. There is that mild salty peat again but now with a lovely woody chocolate cinnamon paste. But it’s the perfectly balanced consistency of liquid that forces you to hold on to it for so long.

Finish: Unbelievably long with the same dark peppers and woody cinnamon.

This one reminds me of the 18 a lot but there must be something in that extra three years that make this one that much more complex. Don’t be put off by the snazzy gold packaging. It’s the spirit inside that is pure gold.

Rating: 94

Springbank 10 Years

Springbank 10

Distillery/Brand: Springbank | Region: Campbeltown | ABV: 46% | Color: Light Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88

Review
Campbeltown, and more importantly Springbank, expressions are always on top of my love list. They have an allure which I can’t explain and I love the fact that simply by being creative they can create different spirits from essentially the same equipment.

The Springbank has the distinction of being distilled two and a half times (not two and not three) unlike all other spirits being produced in Scotland.

This one is a 10 year old bottled at 46% and has seen some sherry casks along the way.

Nose: Initially quite malty with strong salt, brine and coastal sea air. The sherry starts to peek through quickly after that. Dark chocolate oranges infused with cardamom and a hint of delicate peat with some brown bread thrown in for good measure.

Palate: Very true to the nose. The chocolate citrus is there but now with over ripe dates and raisins. There is sweet but the savory side is stronger. Cardamom and cinnamon round off the spicy notes.

Finish: Medium. With salivating oily cinnamon.

This is a very accomplished whisky and serves as a basis for the older geniuses that follow.

Rating: 88

Springbank 12 Year Cask Strength

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Distillery/Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
ABV: 55.3%
Color: Young Sauternes

Nose: 22
Taste: 24
Finish: 24
Balance: 23

Review
Those of you who know me know that I have an irrational attachment to anything that comes out of Campbeltown. Not because I’m an expert on Campbeltown expressions; far from it. It simply has some sort of mystical allure that I can’t define.

So be it.

The spirit is a blend of 60% first fill sherry hogsheads and 40% re-fill sherry butts and served up at a lip smacking 55.3% and is from a December 2011 bottling.

Nose: My initial impression was of strong rubber flip flops which made me suspect the influence of sulphur. However, a bit of air and patience takes care of that quite well. The nose is quite thick with treacle marmalade and black peppercorns. The sherry is quite dry with a touch of cinnamon smoke.

Palate: Gorgeous delivery! An intense dark spice and cocoa powder rub on a basket of oranges. The chocolate treacle is back and gives it a lovely bitter sweet edge.

Finish: Spectacular! Long and intense with oily chocolate, wood and black peppers.

This is pretty much one of my favorite malts to come out of Campbeltown. What a class act this distillery is.

Rating: 93

Kilkerran WIP 5 – Bourbon Wood

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Distillery/Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
ABV: 46%
Colour: Sunlight

Nose: 22
Taste: 22
Finish: 22
Balance: 22

Review
Kilkerran is the rising star of Campbeltown and the Work In Progress series is a testament to that. This installment is matured in Bourbon Wood and is roughly 8 or so years old.

Nose: Fresh. Very fresh. Hay bales sit atop a grassy knoll of warm lemon apple stew and crumbling ginger biscuits fresh out of the oven. Like a picnic basket open in the wind.

Palate: Honey smooth with lemon chocolate sprinkled with the mildest of white peppers.

TFinish: Long and coats your mouth with a lemony limestone consistency interlaced with hints of spice.

A very tasty dram to say the least.

Rating: 88

Kilkerran WIP 5 – Sherry Wood

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Distillery/Brand: Kilkerran
Region: Campbeltown
ABV: 46%
Colour: Sunlight

Nose: 23
Taste: 22
Finish: 23
Balance: 22

Review
I’m a big fan of the Kilkerran Work In Progress series. These are remarkably robust expressions belying their fairly young(ish) age. This one has been matured in Sherry Wood and given that it’s the 5th installment in the series should make it any where between 8 and 9 years old. I say should. I don’t really know for sure.

Nose: It has a crispy fresh nose. There’s fruity musk with lots of chocolate orange, boiled almonds and a perky pink melon. There is also that mildly tart sour dough quality to the proceedings as well. Quite a clean and arresting bouquet.

Palate: Quite silky and traverses your mouth coating it in lemony sugarcane and chocolate covered dates. The grated ginger on top adds that much needed layer of complexity.

Finish: Decent finish with torn green herbs sprinkled with lemon and a dash of something bitter.

Thank you Campbeltown. Now this is what I’m talking about!

Rating: 90

Springbank 18 Years

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Distillery/Brand: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
ABV: 46%
Colour: Gold

Nose: 23
Taste: 22
Finish: 22
Balance: 23

Review
The Springbank is part of my ongoing fascination with Campbeltown whiskies. For no particular reason I am just fascinated by this region. It’s like having a love affair with someone difficult. You are crushed when they fail you but their triumphs fill you with delight.

While this 18 year old does not exactly set the night on fire it is a beautiful whisky with a unique earthy quality.

Nose: Lightly peated with a touch of smoke the nose is dominated by wild red berries sprinkled with salt. The sherry influence is warm and earthy giving it a peculiar dusty quality. And finally there is that musky aftershave. I wouldn’t mind splashing this one on after a morning shave.

Palate: Quite a strong oily mouthfeel – confident without overpowering. The earthy sherry is back and it brings with it the berries. Then some figs and raisins with a sprinkle of all-spice.

Finish: The finish is oily too with that familiar earthiness and musky overtones. Wait. Scratch that. I get Coca Cola. I swear.

Another subtly unique gem from C’town.

Rating: 90