The rum casks are immediately apparent on the nose after the first pour. Syrupy, with candied fruit jellies (banana, peach, everything sweet and sticky). Surprisingly, neither smoke nor wood are very present initially. After a while, the peated barley comes out, but it's very soft and understated. If I would have to guess, I'd say this is less smoky than both Bowmore and Talisker (which are already on the lower end of the peat spectrum). Actually, come to think of it, Talisker 18 might be close: this is similarly Bourbon-centric and refill-y, with a focus on letting the spirit, rather than the wood, do the talking. It's a nice nose, for sure, with some mulled wine notes and warming spices joining in now that the liquid has settled down and opened up. Aeration also brings out the unmistakeable Springbank/Campbeltown character (cooling coal smoke, ashes and "industrial" or workshop smells, i.e., oily tools) yet there's an overall soft creamy aspect to the aroma that makes it very accessible. However, it's far from spectacular, and a bit "boozy" for my taste - I guess the rum influence might be to blame.
Both the sweetness and the spices reappear on the palate. Very good texture, extremely luscious, oily and silky. I had expected this to be somewhat stormy and smoky, but it's a really charming, rounded, almost elegant sipper. There's honey, cinnamon and vanilla by the boatload - and absolutely no need for water. Ripe mango in Greek yoghurt, liquor-filled white chocolate truffles: it's all rather sweet and dessert-like and much "friendlier" than expected. To be clear, the diesel fumes and charcoal aromas we've come to expect from this brand are present as well, but their function here is to provide a rugged backbone rather than to command the stage. The saltiness commonly associated with coastal malts increases with each sip and lasts on the lips for a long while.
The finish is warming, soft and, if that's an acceptable term here, incredibly *gradual*. The taste really subsides ever so evenly and slowly, like the textbook image of a sinus curve heading downward. Again: not spectacular - and there's curiously little wood action at the death as well - but really solid and beautifully paced.
Ach, a tough one to score! I didn't care that much for the nose, but both taste and aftertaste really speak to the continually high quality of this much-loved Springbank spin-off. It's not an event malt, it doesn't have a "wow" factor that would make me go and spend >100 € on a bottle, but it definitely is a delicious, somewhat winter-y, heartwarming, well-composed and substantial offering.