Monday, January 21, 2013

Longrow, CV vs. Living Cask

Longrow CV, single malt scotch, Campbeltown, 46%, $60
     (200ml pictured, average price for 750ml shown)
Longrow Living Cask, single malt scotch, Campbeltown, 49.2%, $70.40
     (350ml pictured, price for 700ml shown)

As I mentioned last week, Longrow single malt was first produced at the Springbank Distillery in 1973. But it was certainly not the first time a whisky of that name had emerged from Campbeltown. The original Longrow distillery, a former next-door neighbor to Springbank, was in operation from 1824-1896 (Springbank had its start in 1828). In fact, two of the former Longrow warehouses still stand to this day, and are being put to good use by Springbank, one as Warehouse #15, and the other as their bottling hall. The Springbank employee parking lot is located on the site of the original Longrow still-house. When the name was put back into use in 1973, I believe it was as a tip of the hat to the town’s rich distilling history.

As I continue my Longrow tasting, I’m moving on to the CV and the Living Cask. CV stands for Curriculum Vitae, and in common usage the term is essentially the European equivalent of a resume. It loosely translates from Latin as the course of my life. When I first heard about this whisky, I mistakenly thought CV stood for Cask Variety. In actuality, that is essentially what we have here; a marriage of 6yr, 10yr and 14yr, coming from bourbon, rum, port and sherry casks.

The Living Cask bottlings are fairly special, as they can only be purchased at the Caddenhead’s store in Campbeltown. The four casks (Springbank, Longrow, Hazelburn and Kilkerran) are kept in the shop, and bottles are filled from a spigot in the side of the each cask. More single malt is periodically added to each cask as needed.

The Living Cask bottle that I have is particularly special to me. Apparently my overly inquisitive nature earned me the honor of being named “star pupil” of the Springbank Whisky School session which I attended. For this I was awarded a 35cl bottle from the Living Cask of my choice. It was only a matter of moments before I settled on the Longrow.

Filling that bottle was one of the last things that I did at whisky school, so I didn’t really have a chance to gather any info about the Living Cask program. I recently sent an email off to the Caddenhead’s shop manager asking him to shed some light on the subject. Grant got right back to me with the following response:

The 4 casks in the tasting room are what we call living casks. The Longrow has an average age of around 12 years old (sometimes it may be topped up with 10Y/O or maybe 14Y/O) as it works on a solera system where we keep topping the cask up before it reaches the tap. (the tap being half way up the cask). Every month or after we top up the cask we will check the strength. The whisky is selected by the Distillery Manager and could be from various cask types Bourbon, Sherry etc, but the Longrow is mostly from Bourbon.

My curious disposition being what it is, I had a few follow-up questions:

The bottle that I have is at 49.2 abv, which seems low for a 12yr at cask strength. Is that because the abv continues to drop as the whisky spends time in the living cask, or do you sometimes add whisky that is surplus from a bottling run and has been diluted down to 46%?
Also, can you tell me about the living casks themselves (size, type of wood), and do they contribute much to the flavor of the whisky, or are they casks that have been used several times previously and just act mostly as containers now?

Unfortunately, I never got a response to that email, so the subject still retains some of its mystery.

nose – The peat has a slight floral aspect to it, overall there is more depth / layering of aromas, presenting a subtle complexity
palate – The body is as viscous as the first two. There’s a quick blast of a floral element up front which quickly gives way to smoke and heat – another sustained attack marches into the finish, with a level of intensity that lies closer to the 10 than the 14. Warming spice notes build through finish, adding depth.
finish – again, very long. Beach fire and brine, but with a hint of licorice mixed in.

Living Cask
nose – I thought the higher abv might provide more intense aromas, but in that respect it is similar to the CV. The olfactory notes are a little different though, with aromas that are less floral and perhaps leaning more toward heather.
palate – The thick-of-body theme continues through to the last sample. While the greater alcohol level failed to bolster the nose, it certainly seems to enhance the palate. The Living Cask shares a similar potency to the 10 year, but while the 10 has tannic oak and sweetness contrasting the peat smoke, the intensity of the Living Cask is more peat-centric, and it seems to be the driest of the bunch.
finish – Rather than fading gently though the finish as the others do, it seems to hold its phenolic intensity until quite late in the game.

Overall conclusion:
The 14yr is the most gentle (and refined) of the bunch, and while the other three share a higher level of intensity, each does so in its own unique way - the 10 yr with a fruit/nutty/oak richness, the CV with its floral/spicy character, and the Living Cask with dry peat smoke as the main player, buttressed by its slightly higher abv. I’m not one to assign scores on a 100 point scale, but if I were to do so here I think that the latter three offerings would be within a point or two of each other, and the 14yr a solid five points ahead of the bunch.

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