Springbank, solera 1950-1978
(Thompson Bros., Dornoch, drawn 15/8/96, 47 bottles, 54.7%)
A real rarity! In the mid-1960s an anonymous gent filled a small cask with 1950 Springbank, and then periodically topped it up with later vintages over the next decades. In 1996 the cask was decanted into demijohns and then finally bottled by the indefatigable Thompson Bros. up at Dornoch Castle. Obviously the result is something entirely singular and impossible to replicate, and also in very limited supply. I’m eternally grateful to Ian for the sample.
Nose: Like entering a vast warehouse full of ancient sherry casks, retired pipes and … Bird’s custard powder. Blackcurrant, sloes, and a bitter herbal note that teeters on the brink of being medicinal – like some obscure variety of Victorian throat pastille or salve. Ambre Solaire, too, in more prosaic fashion. There’s more fruit on a deep inhale: cherry (black) and orange, rosy apple sweets, all musky and tinged with smoke.
Taste: Starts on that (pleasantly) bitter note, then sweetens, with the bitterness weaving in and out during the long (long!) development. The main body, though, is a crazy phenolic mix of sweet black fruits and tar. It’s also reminding me of the tin of New Mexican piñon hot chocolate I have somewhere in the back of the kitchen cupboard: there’s definitely something a bit pine/cedar-ish happening, and it’s even evoking some of the other aromatic desert plants from that neck of the woods (desert sage, creosote bush), but – wow – we’re a long way from Campbeltown now! This is a huge old whisky that contains multitudes; it lends itself to flights of fancy.
Finish: Insanely long. Ginger and peppery smokiness up front, masses of preserved fruits and leathery Ancho chillies mid-palate, tobacco and dark cocoa powder behind. Full spectrum dominance.
Well, here I am. Empty glassed, but very much in the company of a wistful sensation or two. Mostly I’m just delighted to have had the chance to try a little fragment of a personal whisky story – of history really – that had somehow made it through into the 21st century.
Also of delight is the fact that this isn’t just an historical curio but is also one of the best drams I’ve ever had. It’s huge and complex, but totally coherent and delicious. It’s ancient and deeply oaked, but lively and loquacious. It’s magical.
Dornoch is your best bet if you’d like to try it yourself.