speyburn 15 years 18 years 16 years hopkins review

Speyburn 15 Years / 16 Years / 18 Years / Hopkins / Distillery Exclusive (2024)

Did you know Speyburn opened a Visitor Centre just last year? I visited a few weeks ago and came away very impressed. Also, I brought home a few samples, including the the current Distillery Exclusive, as well as some whiskies from the core range (Speyburn 15 Years and 18 Years) and the distillery’s Travel Exclusive series.

With the many dozen Speyside distilleries, Speyburn is often overlooked. And that’s certainly understandable. Firstly, where many nearby distilleries have a visible presence, Speyburn is hidden away in a valley just outside Rothes. And without any possibility of visiting the distillery up until recently, not many whisky drinkers were able to form any sort of connection with Speyburn.

But now that the distillery is open to the public, turns out Speyburn is quite the looker. When the distillery expanded in 2014, staff took it upon themselves to sort of refurbish the place. It’s an older yet impeccably well-kept distillery, sometimes evoking images of Strathisla with its rafter roofs and collar beams.

And not just that. The distillery has things to offer you just don’t encounter elsewhere. Most importantly, the defunct drum maltings. These were decommissioned in 1968 and have remained untouched since. Entering Speyburn’s drum maltings is like stepping back into time. They’re part of the tour and make a visit worthwhile just by itself.

Secondly, Speyburn’s whisky doesn’t have a great reputation. They’re one of the WhiskySponge’s favourite targets. I’m so indoctrinated I often only think of Angus’ satirical articles whenever Speyburn is mentioned. I imagine this is the case for others as well. And that doesn’t help in case you’re presented with a choice between Speyburn and some of Speyside other lesser-known distilleries. (Let alone the regions big names.)

But no matter your feelings towards Speyburn, a distillery visit should be atop your list. It’s suitable for geeks and newcomers alike. There aren’t many distilleries that volunteer to have you taste their wash. You generally have to ask, and even then you often get a puzzled look. Not at Speyburn. They have neat little tasting cups at the ready.

Okay, enough of a preamble. Let’s put Speyburn’s reputation to the test.

speyburn 15 years review

Speyburn 15 Years (46%, OB, 2024)

Matured in ex-American and ex-Spanish oak casks

Nose: Thick caramel with sweet oranges and fragrant floral notes. Also whiff of honeyed porridge, roasted peanuts and copper. There’s a hint of damp soil too.
Taste: Peanut skins, barley husks and bitter chocolate, alongside tobacco and polished leather. Also touches of butterscotch and cured lemons. And charred oak again, as well as tea leaves and cardamom.
Finish: Medium length. Slightly leafy, somewhat herbacious. Lingering spices too. Ending on sweeter vanilla notes.

The European oak has left a clear imprint, especially compared to the 16-year-old below. There’s just a bit more going on, although the bitter/spicy notes take centre stage at times. Overall, the Speyburn 15 Years is flavourful, but could up the balance and complexity.

speyburn 16 years travel exclusive review

Speyburn 16 Years (43%, OB, Travel Exclusive)

Matured in American oak ex-bourbon casks

Nose: An immediate hit of banana custard, creamy vanilla and tart green apple. Also whiffs of charred oak, some toffee and cinnamon.
Taste: Decent creaminess with a touch of hoppy IPA, a fair amount of oak spices and some pine nuts. Also a whisper of fennel, alongside some caramel and pear.
Finish: Short to medium. Hints of quinces, apricots and oak. And creamy vanilla, of course.

Very, uhm, average. The Speyburn 16 Years is an easy drinker without much excitement. Then again, this Travel Exclusive doesn’t take much of the table either and is reasonably priced.

speyburn 18 years review

Speyburn 18 Years (46%, OB, 2024)

Matured in ex-American and ex-Spanish oak casks

Nose: A mixture of reddish fruits, oak spices and vanilla influences. Cloves, maybe some cardamom. Also raspberries, cherries and apricots. Then whispers of grist, meringue and sourdough. Very good.
Taste: Mouth-coating, but dry. A fair amount of tannins, but also tobacco leaves, strawberry and cocoa powder. Touches of honey, certainly some oak spices, and a pinch of white pepper.
Finish: Medium length with a slight nuttiness, aniseed and cinnamon. Drying.

A good step up from the 15-year-old, the Speyburn 18 Years benefited from either a longer period in Spanish oak, or a higher proportion of Spanish oak casks. It is not a sherry bomb by any stretch of the imagination, but rather a composed sherry-influenced single malt.

speyburn hopkins travel exclusive review

Speyburn Hopkins Reserve (46%, OB, Travel Exclusive)

Nose: Hints of seashells, tinned pineapple, chalk and oysters. Slivers of warm apple sauce too. Also honey and somewhat malty, as well as a touch of pilsner. And there’s just a tiny sliver of smoke too.
Taste: Quite full-bodied. Spicy too. Vegetal smoke with sourdough, lemon zest and ripe apples. Also notes of quinces, a decent breadiness and some draff. Interesting stuff.
Finish: Medium. Barley-forward with slivers of smoke and citric touches.

Fun stuff. Clearly young – by far the youngest of this lineup. But the youthfulness suits this kind of spirit-forward, gentle, yet smoky profile. The Speyburn Hopkins Reserve adds some pleasant variety here.

speyburn single cask

Speyburn 2012 11 Years (55%, OB ‘Distillery Exclusive’, C#483)

Just a representative picture, as I didn’t have a decent one of the original bottle. Also, this Distillery Exclusive matured in an ex-bourbon cask. Only 264 bottles were made available.

Nose: Quite the step up in intensity. Somewhat meaty almost. Pot ale, but also toffee, and certainly apple cider. Also roasted nuts and buttery brioche, alongside a good amount of butterscotch and fudge.
Taste: Creamy mouthfeel. The quinces make an immediate encore. (I mean they also made an appearance in the other bourbon-matured Speyburn in the lineup.) Also peanut skins, some chalk and coconut shavings. Water mellows the spices/nuttiness a bit, but enhances a certain bitterness.
Finish: Medium to long. Charred oak, black pepper and butterscotch. Finally a touch of apple.

A powerful, vibrant single malt. What Speyburn's Distillery Exclusive lacks in subtlety it makes up for in intensity. I could've done with some more fruitiness or delicate notes, but it does almost everything else well.

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