Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Longrow, 10 Year vs. 14 Year

Longrow 10 yr (1995), single malt scotch, Campbeltown, 46%, $75
Longrow 14 yr, single malt scotch, Campbeltown, 46%, $120

Although Springbank is slowly becoming more well-known, I would still consider it somewhat of a niche / cult whisky. In that context, Longrow, the heavily peated single malt from the Springbank distillery, could surely be described as a niche within a niche. Of the roughly eight brands of single malt with aggressive peating levels that are currently in regular production, Longrow is among the three that you could easily argue to be the least well know.

But the lack of recognition certainly has no correlation to the level of quality, and you can well imagine my sense of fortuity and anticipation with four different Longrow bottlings laid out before me, awaiting my compare and contrast session. Even though I’m going to be tasting them all together, I’ve decided to split this up into two posts, covering the 10 year and 14 year here and going over the CV and Living Cask next week.

Before I get on the main event, a little Longrow background is in order. It was originally distilled in 1973 and 1974 as and experiment to see if an Islay style single malt could be produced on the mainland. I suspect this was done by J & A Mitchell and Co. in an attempt to become more self-sufficient and not have to buy heavily peated malt from other distillers for their Campbeltown Loch blend.

Needless to say, the experiment was a success and Longrow was made sporadically from 1987 until it went into regular production in 1992. In addition to being heavily peated, it is doubled distilled, in contrast to the two and a half times distillation seen by the moderately peated Springbank single malt. The current range includes 10 yr, 10 yr 100 proof, 14 year, 18 year and CV. Limited release Longrow bottlings that see some time in wine casks (Tokaji and Gaja Barolo to name a few) come out from time to time as well.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago in the Glenrothes post, Longrow 10 year carried a vintage date from 1992-1996. The bottle I'm sampling for this post is a 1995 that a good friend was generous enough to let me borrow. Prior to travelling to Scotland, the only Longrow I had tasted was a bottle of 1994 10 yr, a gift from my sister which didn’t last long on my overcrowded whisky shelf. While in Campbeltown, I became intimate with many a variant of Longrow, but it was the 14 yr that stood out to me, and I swore I’d hunt down a bottle when I got home.

Back in the States, I found a few Longrow 14’s without too much trouble but felt that they were overpriced at $140. I was fortunate to come across a bottle on sale for $100 a month ago, and didn’t have to think twice about that purchase.

nose – The peat smoke is certainly there, but in a very smooth way, nicely integrated into the pervasive berry fruit background.
palate – Thick, oily body, backed up by a sudden burst of peat with a back-note of sweetness. The intensity builds quickly with a modest alcohol burn adding to the experience. Nutty oak notes and vanilla join the chorus, however the berry fruit that came through strongly on the nose is far less dominant on the palate. A little more angular than I remember my 1994 10 year being.
finish – The smoldering peat fire continues its sustained attack as the other flavors fade away, being accompanied by just enough balancing heat. The peat flavors linger on for an incredible amount of time, bringing to mind embers that glow slowly long after a fire has given up its flames.

nose – Still plenty of peat on the nose, but it comes across as being more eloquent and high toned compared to the 10 yr.
palate – Similar density on the body, and the flavors are not altogether different, but their intensity builds more gradually. Reminiscent of the sea and fish nets at one point.
finish – Another long, simmering finish
It’s very much like the 10 yr in some ways, but so much more refined, toned down (especially the sweetness/fruit) and mature. It has plenty of intensity in its own right, but with a very polished manner.
Interestingly, this is much closer to my memory of that first bottle of 10 yr I had several years ago. It has a certain smooth softness to it that is unexpected from a whisky with this level of peating.

As for color, they are all roughly the same shade of light amber, with the 10yr being slightly darker than the 14yr, and the Living Cask being barely a hint darker than the CV. As best as I could tell, the 14 and the CV were almost identical in color.

My overall impression of the 10yr and the 14yr? Each one is wonderful in its own respect – youthful and spirited vs. more mature and refined. I do wish I had some way of knowing what year the 14 was distilled in.

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