May's Featured Spirit:
Old Rip Van Winkle 15 year Old Bourbon

I can't tell you how many times I've seen a bottle of Old Rip Van Winkle tucked behind a bar. It's striking in a demure sort of way. It's rather short and looks like an overgrown ink bottle. The label, which wraps nearly half-way around the bottle, appears brown with age. Flashiness, thy name is not Old Rip Van Winkle's bottle.

I wonder how many folks see this and think- "Gads, I wonder how long that stuff has been sitting back there. Probably as long as that crusty looking bottle of Creme de Menthe." However, like an old, worn but very valuable book in a cardboard box at a flea market, folks may pass it by, but this is a rare prize that should be greedily snatched up.

Old Rip Van Winkle 15 year is a great bourbon. Great as in "immense" and "unusual in ability or characteristics." Open the bottle and you're hit with a powerful aroma, thick with flavors. Those new to whiskey are advised to cut this bourbon with an ounce of water. Otherwise, at 107 proof it is likely to bowl you over.
It has been a while since I have tasted a bourbon that was so rich in flavors. This deep copper colored whiskey pricks the tongue the way cinnamon does, has notes of vanilla, rock candy sweetness, and hints of nut. While it sounds weird, I can say that this bourbon is chewy. Thirty seconds after swallowing a small amount of it I kept feeling the urge to masticate. I think this is because of the lingering and wonderfully firm caramel finish. This wheat-based bourbon is superb. Get some soon. (Rating ****3/4)

Springbank 1991 and 1967 Single Malt Scotches

There are some days when I curse the ground I walk upon. Then there are those when I am convinced that Providence is on my side. Today falls in to the latter category.

A week or two back, a package arrived via airmail. With UPS and Fed-Ex coming to my door regularly with big boxes of alcohol to review, I was struck by this unassuming small package with postal markings from the UK.

However, being busy as all hell I didn't get a chance to open the box. Today I did.
After hacking through the layers of packaging tape I found that this one package had four small styrofoam cases within it. Taking scissors to yet more packaging tape, my eyes nearly popped from my head when I found the first casing of styrofoam held a small glass medicinal-type flask bottle with 6 to 8 ounces of scotch in it. "Springbank Distillery, Distilled in 1967" read a label rubber banded to the bottle. I nearly fell over. My day was made.

Here I review two of the four single malt scotches I received from Gordon Wright, whose family has owned Springbank Distillery since 1828.

Springbank 1991
Distilled in November 1991 and bottled in February 2000, this single malt is 46% alcohol, making it a girthy 92 proof. It was aged in casks that formerly held sherry, which may account for why it doesn't seem like there's so much alcohol in it. Sherry, sweet thing that it is, has a way of rubbing some of the rough edges off booze.

Anyway, Springbank 1991 is clear with very light golden tint. It is, perhaps, the lightest colored scotch I've ever guzzled. Stick your snozz over a glass and you'll feel little pricks of spiciness, and part of it is an alcohol ester. Knock it back and you'll taste something that is nutty, grassy, briny, and has notes of peat. After you swallow you get hit with a finish that lingers, swathing your mouth in an oily feeling slightly smoky and salty grassy taste. Impressive, especially for so young a scotch. (Rating***3/4)

Springbank 1967
This one was distilled in February 1967 and bottled in October 1998. At this point you might want to throw up your hand and yell, "Wait! How one earth do you know when it was distilled and when it was bottled?" In fact, I know only because Murray-McDavid, the folks who distribute this scotch and other grand ones like Bunnahbhain are kind enough to put the dates on the bottles. Most other scotch companies put nothing on the label or maybe just the year of distillation.

Moving right along- Springbank 1967 also is 46% alcohol and it was aged in new bourbon barrels. Not surprisingly, this scotch has a that classic bourbon note- vanilla. But that's not all. Springbank 1967 is a complex creature, altogether different from the 1991 version. Springbank 1967 is much more robust and earthy tasting, with vanillans and a salty, oaky, taste. It finishes with light peat, some sweetness like that of raisins. (Rating ****1/2)

Murray-McDavid has also seen it fit to note on these labels that Campbeltown, where Springbank is distilled, aged and bottled,

"is infamous for the extraordinarily high number of pubs and churches per capita. It must be that its citizens, having consumed Scotland's best dram, feel the need to give thanks to the Almighty."

After today's tasting, I'm giving thanks to both the Almighty and Gordon Wright. Springbank is a delight.


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