This was the second fino cask whisky that I tried while at St. Andrews Bar over the Thanksgiving weekend, along with the Bruichladdich 1992 Fino Cask.
Like the Bruichladdich, this Springbank was part of a series of sherry cask matured whiskies. Unlike the Bruichladdich, the Springbank was matured entirely in an ex-fino sherry cask for 14 years. Another key fact is that it was bottled at full cask strengh, in this case 55.3%, compared to the Bruichladdich's 46%. But interestingly, there were still quite a lot of similarities between the two.
Nose: very rich, fino sherry is noticeable but not aggressive, a hint of raisins, maritime peat and salt, massive nougat and caramel, alcohol is also present but surprisingly subdued. After adding a few drops of water, the caramel and nougat dominate, the whisky becomes creamier, and the alcohol actually seems to have more heat.
Taste: sweet caramel up front, then big pepper, becoming creamier further back with notes of oxidized sherry. After dilution, it becomes smoother and richer up front, fruity sherry mid-palate and more wood and pepper at the back, making the whisky rather drying.
Finish: creamy salt, light raisins, a touch of bitter oak, sherry. After dilution the alcohol burn seems turned up, with more bitterness and a general savory effect on the sherry.
For having a relatively simple flavor profile, I found this whisky incredibly compelling. In my notes I wrote "Bruichladdich turned up to 11" and that roughly sums it up. For being aged entirely in a fino sherry cask, the sherry's influence was much more mild. The same notes were there, but they took a back seat to what I would think of as typical bourbon barrel character. In terms of my own enjoyment, I'm pretty sure that bottling at higher proof was the clincher. For whatever reason, Springbank's whiskies seem to shine at cask strength. However, even a little water was enough to take this one down several notches - my sense was that while the whisky became smoother and richer, the loss of complexity and the increased aggressiveness of the alcohol (which, admittedly might have toned down if I had had the time to let it breath longer) made it a lousy trade-off.
Having had a dram, I'm especially sad that I missed out on getting a bottle of this whisky (for an absurdly low price) earlier this year. It's an extremely enjoyable whisky that makes me want to explore the rest of their single cask whiskies.