Bottle Polishing: Spring 2021, Part 4/4 – J&A Mitchell

We finish this spring’s bottle polishing series [WLP] with a J&A Mitchell trio – part of a bounty acquired from Harvey’s in Sussex at the end of 2020.

[Springbank] Hazelburn 10yo [2020] Ob. 46% WB84.35[706] [WF]90 Dramble87 WLP85

Considering how many varied Hazelburn’s I’ve enjoyed and admired over the years, it’s hard to believe this is the first bottle of standard Hazelburn 10 I’ve ever bought for myself.

  • N: Everything a whisky should be, there’s every aroma you may well pick up in & all around the distillery site in Campbeltown. A style that melds so well with bourbon cask maturation, we’ve mild chocolatey grassy barley juice with my key favourite – the quince jelly profile note [also found in Auchentoshan], that helps define and identify triple-distilled Hazelburn no end. As the bottle goes down, I tap into the distinctive toasted mash-sweet heavy ‘mineralic’ [thanks Matt] lemon-sour phenolic oily caramel character. Yum!
  • T: There’s absolutely no gimmickry with Hazelburn. It’s a big yet [organically] composed barley spirit on [more] quince jelly and sour~sweet lemon [& juice of]. With a consolidated sooty/farmy < dry-wood peaty smokiness, it shifts up and down through many toasted waxy barley-faithful gear changes.
  • F: The broad yet relaxed spirit doesn’t stop flowing. We see more phenolic sour interplays over savoury barley mashy malty sooty chocolatey,.. stuff. One could write a book, and yet, it’s all in a day’s work for the Springbank distillery.
  • C: [Still] a cracker, and crazy-affordable, it makes me wonder how other whiskies [at this price and provenance] get a look in? Strangely, it’s the one the converted seem not to chase.

Scores 88 points

Springbank 12yo [2020] Ob. CS Batch 21 [12000 bts] 56.1% WB88.16[214]

  • N: Rich barley-allium-sweet husky [olive] oil > herbal~dry-fruity and [utterly desirable] vanilla mixed with [cask] rubbery ashy garage oils,… [Quorn] mushroomy eggy [Gregg’s] pasties, and did someone put a drop of Brimstone in here? Dropping the SB-sacrosanct BS for one fleeting moment, it is still just whisky,.. and yet, much like the Hazelburn 10, I could write a paragraph for each and every dram.
  • T: Initially: an effortless delivery considering the abv,.. it’s the dirty oily phenols that speak first before heaps of, oh dear, hot old rubber. These are just first impressions however, and fortunately, things evolve over time. Unlike the sustaining form of the narrowly focused/concentrated Hazelburn, this one arrives with a bold fanfare and slips out a side door a moment later. Soon enough, a flinty liquorice ‘boing’ into nutty dusty oaky toasted vanillas suggests an evolution is to take place.

Months later: Now more acclimatised to the rubber, much more of the cask influences, though still prominent, are far more sympathetic and colourful as the month’s pass. With a similar quince jelly Hazelburn note followed by toffee brittle, what remains is the crisp, defined, broad stand-out delivery with a complex oaky salty sweetness – those fruity cask complexities now consolidated/settled. Every sip of this ‘like no other’ single malt provides further insights after perspectives, yet I’m still on the fence regarding the [25%] sherry, [25%] burgundy, and [5%] port – the rest ex-bourbon – cask management/influences. Add heaps of water, and we return to the ole’ faithful profile – archetypal ‘homemade’ husky smoky washy coppery Springbank.

  • F: At the head of the bottle, we’ve a rubbery vegetal-tannic salty briny/winey finish. Months later, it’s more of the sympathetic yet bold, medium/short toasted oaky > vanilla > salty coppery phenolic [Smarties] barley sugars that win through, though the [cask] rubberiness [along with mint, liquorice wood] is there to the last. Whilst those cask influences rally, they’ve become rather more peripheral and, thankfully, don’t ultimately detract from Springbank’s heart.
  • C: Initially disappointing, it took 5 months before this one began cooking, and boy was it worth the wait. Going from ‘initially disappointing’ to ‘standout/brilliant’, with ‘busy cask involvement’ and ‘it’s just whisky’ in-between, to full circle, one can’t help admiring this wizardry on the one hand, whilst pragmatically accepting Springbank’s traditional ‘everyday way’ approach on the other. It’s easy to imagine this will improve beautifully in glass – an O&R jewel in the making.

Scores 89 points

[Glengyle] Kilkerran 16yo [2020] Ob. 46% WB87.39[334]

4% marsala, the rest ex-bourbon maturation. There’s another version with just 2% madeira: WB87.13[18]

  • N: It’s not a shopping lister, necessarily. With a deep-set phenolic sweet oily barley coat, we’ve plenty of dense pureed [cooked apple > pear] fruitiness, salty dry/wet-ish seaweed [dryish] shellfish,.. cavallo [Italian horsemeat] > pepperoni. The [16] years, in this case, equal layers.
  • T: This works amazingly well with a drop of [100%] wheatgerm oil btw [take my word for it]. The phenols integral to the whole, this is lip-smacking/chewy savoury=sweet tacky tannic honeyed [pineapple biscuit] toasty barley juice that’s ever so creamy when you trickle it in slowly. Though not quite as colourful/eventful as the Hazelburn 10, the relatively dense [relaxed yet firm] spirit-driven Mitchell-family richness and the oozing mouthful leaves you wanting for nothing. After a barley-cellulose middle, there’s a slight dryness on the turn, but this doesn’t loiter.
  • F: With that inimitable homemade Mitchell DNA, this finishes with a desirable waxy-vegetal [baking fruit] sweetness that comes out from the polished dirtiness,,,, almost buttery at the end, oozy toasted > ashy/smoky/consolidated oaky hay – the stuff of childhood dreams – the spirit remaining at the core. A few more years down the line, and we may well see those irresistible dunnage-y syrupy characters developing in Kilkerran [if the phenols and dryness will allow].
  • C: Watching Kilkerran’s evolution in real time is a very special privilege. As the years of maturation pass 12 years – the 12yo being a modern masterpiece [WLP1:90 WLP2:89 WLP3:90] – there will inevitably be things lost and things gained. Compared to the Kilkerran 12, this is a chunkier teenager with a leisurely swagger, one that’s ditched its analytical side. At 16 years, I’m still very much a fan.

Scores 88 points

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