Springbank 21 (2005) Review

Springbank 21 (2005)barry's place pics 021

46% abv

Score:  93.5/100


Among our wee conspicuous circles here in Calgary this particular Springbank is held in very high esteem.

Long before the current (and seemingly never-ending) whisky boom, Campbeltown’s iconic Springbank distillery was producing brilliant single malt whisky that was seeing the inside of a bottle at all ages from 10 years through 50 years.  The malts that constituted some of their more middle-aged drams were unquestionably composed of whiskies from multiple vintages and eras.  However, instead of pacing themselves – putting out rarified old malts year upon year – Springbank pulled the ‘virgin special’, blew their load too early, and had to spend some time recovering and building up stores for a while.  In other words…they ran the warehouses dry of older whiskies to bottle.

This particular 2005 version of Springbank 21 was the last of its kind until 2012, when the 21 year old made its (semi)triumphant return.  Having tried both the 2012 and 2013 editions, I can unequivocally say that they’re not even close to recapturing the magic.  Those are good whiskies in their own right, but this one…this ’05…is utterly mindboggling in its stunning array of sweet meets mild peat.  Fingers crossed they can one day recreate this gem.

In late 2o12 I found a bottle of this release in the Cadenhead shop in Campbeltown, just steps from the distillery, but by that point – seven years after bottling – the retail price was hovering around the £400 mark.  Admittedly, that’s a little beyond what I’m willing to pay for a whisky of this age.  I must concede, however, I did debate it, and I’m still not sure I made the right decision in leaving it behind.  I don’t own a bottle of the 21, but I must find a way to get one.  In fact…I have offered a good friend of mine a certain part of my anatomy in exchange for one of his bottles.  Steep price, yes…but the whisky in the jar-o…priceless.

Nose:  First things first…there’s the most beautiful thread of smoke woven through this whisky, like the central spoke around which all else is adorned.  Pineapple.  Some other tropical notes bring a neat tang; mango and orange are loudest.  Scones with cinnamon.  Some tartness from an assumed sherry influence; almost Wine Gum-like.  Raisin, grape and chocolate.  Paint and paraffin.  Maybe a touch of leather.  I keep coming back to that smoked tropical character though.  Magic.

Palate:  That smoky mature note is right up front, instantly cementing this as a classic in my books.  The tropical fruit notes meet some tart dried fruit, all in perfect balance.  Toasted oak.  An exciting rollercoaster of development.  There is a great Brazilian steakhouse locally that serves grilled caramelized pineapple.  This makes me think of that.  Again on the tangy orange fruits.

Thoughts:  Unquestionably bearing the hallmarks of a single malt built on a wide spectrum of mature casks.  Without knowing anything as fact, I would bet heavily there are some whiskies much older than 21 in here.  This is one of my all-time favorite drams.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

21 thoughts on “Springbank 21 (2005) Review

  1. Rob77

    I get to stare at one of these bottles every time I visit a nearby whisky shop. The owner has it displayed with an $879 price tag. Ouch!

    1. ATW Post author

      I detest that sort of gouging. Name and shame is the best tactic. Call them out for it. They’ve jacked the prices long after the fact. That was not the original retail.

      When I swap bottles with mates it is always for the value I paid for the bottle. Never what some inflated secondary market suggests. This is one of my biggest pet peeves.

        1. David

          True, but price gouging can lead to a bad reputation. If I can get a bottle for a similar price I will choose the retailer that treats me with respect.

      1. Ol' Jas

        What exactly is shameful? Why should the “original retail” matter?

        Do you have any Port Ellens in your stash that you bought years ago? Care to sell them to me for the original retail price you paid back then? Oh, why not?

        Do you feel shame when you sell your stocks and bonds for more than you paid? How about baseball cards that have become valuable?

        My rhetorical questions presume that the retailer is pricing a bottle at the current market price. (If they’re asking MORE than that, then the solution of leaving it on the shelf is easy—just like any overpriced product.) The situation where a retailer has raised prices to MATCH the current market is the interesting one. People get upset about that—for reasons that don’t make sense to me.

        1. ATW Post author

          Are you the Edrington Jas? Thinking so. There’s an awful lot of industry apologism of late.


          Original retail matters when a shop buys a product, leaves it on the shelf, can’t sell it, then later jacks the price exponentially. No reason. Not a new product. Not a new SKU. Pure gouging.

          Recent example? A 2009 Laphroaig 25 CS. Was $450 up until a few months ago on a local shelf. Then the price was jacked to $580. Again…this is the 2009. Covered in dust. Not just brought in. Suddenly that ~30% margin becomes ~65% or so. Fuck that.

          If the retailer orders in Laphroaig 25 2016 or something…fine…the price will be higher. Maybe revisit the scenario above and see how you’ve skewed a pretty straight forward argument.

          And no…I don’t sell my whisky. Thanks for the snarky shot. I choose not to sell it because a) I disagree with profiteering and b) most brands aren’t making stuff of the same calibre.

          1. David

            In the last 3 years I’ve gotten a lot more active in swaps and trades. My philosophy has always been make sure I give more than I get. Or at least equal.

            The only time I buy something I don’t want for drinking is when I know someone else will want it. Then it’s strictly “at cost”.

            On the odd occasion when I have something I don’t want but someone else does, It’s either the original price I bought it at or in a trade for something else that’s worth more than list price as well. In 2014 when the last remnants of Macallan CS were selling on the whisky exchange for 125 GBP I used Liquorconnect.com to find it in Calgary at a small shop for $73 tax in. I picked up 8 bottles. 6 went to the (now) friend who had introduced me to it in a trade for a rare 40 creek release he wanted and I didn’t. He paid me $73 per bottle, not a penny more. He also bought me and my brother in law each a bottle of Baker’s as a thank you, but not asked.

            This approach has won me good friends and good whisky, including people who share their rare stuff with me.

            So Ol’ Jas, if I had a spare Port Ellen (I don’t) and you didn’t , and especially if I thought you’d enjoy it more than me, I’d let you have it at cost.


          2. Ol' Jas

            Nope. But I liked discovering the other Jas’s existence on the What Does John Know? blog a few years ago. Kinda fun. I’m just a whisky lover living in Madison, Wisconsin. I don’t know about “apologism”—I sometimes see complaining that doesn’t seem to make any sense, so I challenge it. Just like we challenge stuff from the industry that doesn’t make sense.

          3. Ol' Jas

            If that 2009 Laphroaig 25 CS commands $580 in the current market, then why WOULDN’T a retailer sell it for that much?

            Or use our handy Port Ellen example again. If a store’s been sitting on a bottle for a few years, should we expect it to be priced like it’s 2007 still? Or 2017?

            It seems like people expect retailers’ philosophy to be “how can we equitably and ethically supply whisky to people?” instead of “how can we profit by selling our goods, which happen to be whisky”?

          4. Ol' Jas

            OK, Curt, you don’t ever sell bottles, so my rhetorical* question about selling off long-stashed bottles doesn’t literally apply to you. Regardless, does my point ring true for you or anyone else? Would you expect anyone selling from their stash to stick to whatever they originally paid years ago? Or ask for the current market price?

            What if they were selling art from their collection? Or a classic car? If whisky’s different, why?

            And even you think it’s gross for a random dude to sell bottles for their current market price, why should this code of ethics apply to retailers—who, I probably need to remind nobody—exist for the purpose of selling goods for a profit?

            *That question was honestly not meant as snark. I’m surprised and sorry that it offended(?) you.

          5. Ol' Jas

            David, you’d sell me—and let’s say especially a 100% random “me” whom you have no personal relationship with—your hypothetical dusty old Port Ellen for the price you paid years ago? Well OK, but I think you’re a rare breed. And regardless, I don’t see how the “give more than you get” philosophy could ever be expected of a retailer.

            The trading idea you bring up is interesting too, and worth a probe. How the heck do you work out those details so that nobody feels like an icky profiteer? If you bought a Port Ellen years ago for $200 that’s no unobtainable but maybe has some comps selling around $1500 today, and I have a some Laphroaig 10 CS that’s rare where you live but easy to nab for $60 where I live, then how do you figure out how many Laphroaigs your Port Ellen is worth?

          6. Ol' Jas

            By the way, Curt, is it normal to call out a commenter by his actual full name? A little time has passed since you did that to me, and it’s starting to feel pretty weird and definitely not SOP.

          7. Ol' Jas

            Curt, thanks for answering my question in the other post about how much you’ve paid for Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist (“Between $300 and $400 each. In some cases a wad of cash and a bottle in trade for one ANB.”).

            So that was more than original retail, right? How does that work? Do you consider the party you bought it from a “profiteer”?

            I hope I’m not coming across like a jerk here. I’m just trying to understand this code of ethics that many whisky lovers have about (never!) selling their whisky.

            Another Socratic question—and for anyone, not just Curt: What if someone offered you ONE MILLION DOLLARS for a Port Ellen out of your stash? Does the higher amount of “profiteering” make you more likely or less likely to sell?

        2. David


          To understand me you gotta stop thinking like a capitalist.

          I once gave away 2 box tickets to a NY eve Leafs game because I thought my cousins would enjoy it more than me.

          I gave up a bottle of Long-gone FC John’s private Cask #1 because I figured the guy I was trading it to would get more out of it than I would (and he gave me a sample from an open bottle and I was right), and I added a mini of an Amrut because I felt the bottle in exchange was worth more to me. This set off a number of trades and grew into a friendship where we now actually talk about things other than whisky, and we are each pro-active in procuring things the other likes. He just traded something valuable to him for a Laphroig CS that he intends for me. I could go on.

          Life’s about more than money. I had the good sense to stock up on Bladnochs when Armstrong closed down. But how good would it taste if I don’t share it?

          So believe me or not, I don’t look to whisky to make a profit, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a rare valuable bottle or a cheap one (like Old Grand Dad 114) that is just impossible to find in Canada.

          1. Ol' Jas

            And David, I really was interested in how you’d figure out how many Laphroaig 10 Cask Strengths your old Port Ellen is worth. That wasn’t just a rhetorical question.

  2. David

    I rarely swap bottles, but the one swap I did we looked at the values at time of purchase. Of course, the bottles were not of the same value. Mine was cheaper but the other guy really wanted it. I didn’t feel it was a fair trade so I threw in a miniature and a Bladnoch sample, which is rare in Canada.


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