SPRINGBANK WHISKY SCHOOL
Springbank Distillery operates 24/7 for five days a week to produce spirit using either Springbank, Hazelburn or Longrow recipes. The distillery operates three stills, a wash still that is both direct-fired and steam coil heated, a first spirit still that is steam coil heated with a worm tub condenser and a second spirit still with a conventional column condenser.
Longrow spirit is distilled with a traditional double distillation method, using the wash still and first spirit still and worm tub condenser only. Hazelburn spirit is distilled using all three stills in a traditional triple distillation method, such as those common in Irish whiskey production. Springbank spirit is distilled in a unique ‘2.5 times’ distillation method, which is similar to triple distillation however, 20% of the low wines from the wash still are combined with the distillate produced from the first spirit still, for the ‘.5’ part of the process. This combination of low wines and distillate are distilled again inside the second spirit still. No other distillery produces a malt spirit using this method and it is another point of difference for the 190 year old distillery.
During the Springbank Whisky School, you move between the different processes in the distillery depending on where in the production cycle everything is, just like many of the distillery staff who perform multiple tasks as required to cover peaks and troughs in tempo. It was unseasonably hot and sunny while we were there, so the barely on the malting floor had to be turned far more often than usual to prevent the shoots from clumping together. Luckily, they were only malting half the amount of barely than usual, due to many staff going on holidays following the Campbeltown Malts Festival.
Today was a great day, we got to climb around the rack warehouses to take samples of various casks from all kinds of distilleries. J&A Mitchell, the parent company of Springbank, own independent bottler Wm Cadenheads, which means there are many casks from distilleries other than Springbank in their warehouses as well as some privately-owned casks.
Cask sampling and testing involves finding a cask, opening it, drawing a sample from the cask and testing its specific gravity to determine alcohol content. Whisky is a solution, primarily of water and alcohol. Casks are filled with a spirit solution of 63.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). As the whisky ages in the cask, the alcohol is lost to the environment more readily than the water. This means that over time, both the volume of spirit and the spirits ABV reduces; this lost whisky is known as the ‘Angels Share’. In Scotland, whisky loses on average about 2% volume per year to the Angel’s Share and if it sits in a cask long enough, it will eventually drop below 40% ABV and can no longer be legally called whisky. For this reason, it is important to keep track of the ABV of aging whisky, to make sure that this does not happen.
Fortunately for us, this meant the whisky school got to help take these sample and because this is done by syphoning the whisky out of the cask through a plastic tube (like a big straw), you inevitably end up tasting a bit of the cask strength goodness. Interestingly, I got to taste…I mean, test, a 25 year old Tullibardine, the same distillery that I visited with my dad last weekend. We had to take samples from four separate casks of the same Tullibardine whisky and I have to say it tasted amazing – a far cry from the watery entry-level whiskies that were offered to us on the distillery tour. I also got to sample a 17 year old Glen Spey which was very nice, but the Tullibardine was the best.
We finished our day with a visit to the bottling hall, where all the J&A Mitchell group products are bottled. There are two bottling lines, one mostly manually operated and a new line which is mostly automated. The automated line was not running where we were there but we got to help with the bottling of a run of Kilkerran 12 year old single malt. Personally, I help fill the bottles, insert the cork stopper and place the foil collar over the top. Next the bottles are inspected for clarity with a white light, the collar is fixed in place and the front and back labels are applied. Lastly, the bottles make their way to the end of the line where they are packaged. I quite enjoyed this process, but I did not produce anywhere near the 420+ cases that the manual line can bottle in a day.
We finished the evening by opening a few bottles of whisky at the Dellwood Hotel and sitting around laughing a chatting late into the night. I was very lucky to have such a great bunch of people in my whisky school class this week.
WHISKY SCHOOL STUDENT PROFILE
Andrew, 30, Lawyer, Australia
How did you get into whisky?
I have always enjoyed drinking red wine but it was over a dinner that my father introduced me to the Glenfiddich 18 year old and I was amazed by the flavours of the whisky. The rest is history now.
How did you hear about the Springbank Whisky School?
I learnt about Springbank Whisky School from my brother who made an enquiry 2 years ago.
What is your favourite whisky?
Longrow Red Malbec 13 years. I love the fruity notes and the finish of the red wine tannins.