Whisky Review: Springbank 19-Year-Old Refill Bourbon Cask - The Whiskey Wash

Whisky Review: Springbank 19-Year-Old Refill Bourbon Cask

image via Whisky Kirk/The Whiskey Wash

image via Whisky Kirk/The Whiskey Wash

The Springbank 19-Year-Old under review was distilled in May of 1996 and bottled in July of 2015. It was aged in a single refill bourbon cask. This means that the cask had previously been used at least once to age single malt Scotch whisky, after it had already been used in the United States to age bourbon.

American white oak is the wood of choice to age bourbon, and this helps to give Scotch whisky that is subsequently aged in the same reused wood a more mellow, soft, and caramel-oriented flavor than what results from European oak casks, which are more bitter. Since the cask used to age this Springbank 19-Year-Old  was refill, then the influence should be somewhat more muted, thus allowing the distillery character to occupy the stage, front and center.

The Fib Heard Round the World

Recently, a few well-known Highland distilleries (which shall remain nameless) were accused of labeling small batches, which came from multiple casks, as “single cask” releases.

Due to the fact that there are no specific regulations regarding the term “single barrel” or “single cask,” these distilleries were not held responsible for fibbing about what they were selling. This problem is compounded by the fact that single barrel and single cask whiskies are becoming extremely expensive these days.

The fact that these two big Highland distilleries were “outed” as fibbing about their whiskies has caused me to wonder if the practice of calling a release a single barrel or a single cask, when it is not, might be more widespread across the industry than most consumers realize. I can speak for myself in declaring that I would be extremely pissed off if this were the case.

Why? It boils down to simple arithmetic: “single casks” generally cost quite a bit more than “small batches.” That’s why I feel extra confident about Springbank’s labeling practices. The distillery has a long and illustrious tradition of marketing and selling whisky by the cask, both to retailers, and also to private party buyers.

A lot is riding on Springbank’s reputation for making a quality product because the distillery spends practically nothing on marketing and advertising. And so, I would be very surprised, indeed, if any single cask releases from J&A Mitchell & Co. were mislabeled small batches in disguise.

Tasting Notes: Springbank 19-Year-Old Refill Bourbon Casks

Vital Stats: 58.6%, Distilled May 1996, 300 Bottles

Appearance: Yellow Gold. After turning the glass forty-five degrees all around, the rim of whisky reveals tears and legs that are very small, and which descend slowly. Nicer legs than Taylor Swift’s, and that’s saying something!

Nose: Wow, I’m detecting wet sea sand. That’s a first for me in regard to a Springer. Now, this said, I’ve encountered sandy noses on quite a few single cask releases from Isle of Jura. There are also notes of honey-poached quince pie, baked rhubarb, and baked pears. Fantastic! The bourbon influence is more noticeable than usual for a refill cask; however, I would add that the wood presence here is extremely muted. In fact, there is very little, if any, oak on the nose. No “cinnamon” to speak of, as I’ve tasted in other older-to-middle aged single cask Springers, from time to time.

A fairly pronounced distillery character, which is present in this slightly younger 19-Year-Old, evokes an overall impression of cooked pears, though not in a can with syrup. I really like this muted yet fruity scent a great deal, which sometimes attends bourbon casks from America, for some reason. Lastly, industrial overtones bring to mind the smell of the old root cellar in which I played as a boy. I’m talking here about wet burlap sacks filled with old potatoes, candle wax dripping down the walls from pioneer-era sconces, and sod walls with tree roots poking through the sides, not to mention a sod floor. Yes, that’s obviously the dunnage warehouse talking, where this single cask of whisky was aged.

Palate: Right off the bat, I’m getting the a nice version of the standard vanilla and caramel that often come with American ex-bourbon oak casks. The bourbon signature is actually quite faint, but it’s here, all the same.

As an experiment for this review, I poured two glasses of the same whisky under consideration. One has been sitting on my desk for about 45 minutes, and the other has been sitting for about ten.

Let’s compare the two: Surprisingly, the older glass has a sweeter nose and a more sour palate. I think it’s been sitting a bit too long uncovered, perhaps. That sandy note from the nose is coming through in this one. There’s also wet limestone, brown sugar, sweet potato, and even a little Hawaiian poi, which is a good thing. I’m the only person in my family who actually likes poi, and I eat it every time I visit a luau on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Switching back to my younger glass, the distillery character is more pronounced. Let me add a few drops of water. At a lower ABV, a little citrus comes through. Lime, to be exact. I’m detecting a milky porridge note from a fairly prominent malted barley composition. As usual, a few drops of water bring out more of a silky mouth feel, which I find appealing.

Final Thoughts and Score:

stars-5While the sum total of this dram is not as stunningly complex as Springbank’s 20-Year-Old Fresh Rum Cask, it has a nice, almost ubiquitous, self-assurance to it, that really hits the spot. Just when you think it couldn’t possibly go on longer…there’s something left hibernating on your tongue.

As for the finish of this whisky, I would venture to call it “quintessentially Springbank.” Funnily enough, it’s quintessentially modern Springbank, as opposed to “old school,” like the Rum Cask.

If you haven’t yet tried a single cask Springbank in general–or this Springbank 19-Year-Old Refill Bourbon Cask in particular–there’s no time like the present. Prices are climbing higher and higher, even as I type these words. Don’t be too quick to blame the distillery, however, for soaring prices. I’ve found that middle men (distributors between the distilleries and retailers) are usually the culprits when it comes to soaring prices on boutique whiskies like this amazing 19-Year-Old Refill Bourbon Cask, which was bottled at a whopping 58.6 percent alcohol by volume.

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