Noble Blood: Longrow “Red” Edition Australian Shiraz Cask 11 Year Old Peated Single Malt Scotch Whisky

lgrob-1.11yov1Over the past six months or so (since I last wrote a review in Maltfreak – sorry!), Campbeltown has become my default Scotch region. From the figgy spiced vanilla malt promise of the newly young Glengyle (bottled as Kilkerran because Loch Lomond Distillery – in the Highlands! – owns, for no good reason, the Glengyle name), to the heathery hay floral wonders of Glen Scotia and – how, exactly, does one summarize this one? – the singular constellation of earthy, heavenly whiskies that pours like manna from the worm pipes of Springbank Distillery in county Argyll.

Between the many expressions of the Springbank Distillery, be they Hazelburn, Longrow or Springbank itself, my relationship with this one Scotch whisky maker has become like a successful marriage – which I’ve heard described as partners discovering in each other – and offering to each other – the infinite variety of the one. In every bottle from this distillery, the full round richness of the base malt is ever present no matter the age, the peat level or the finish. Perhaps it is fitting that I write this review on my 39th wedding anniversary!

THE BOTTLE

For this review, I could have chosen any bottle from a dozen and a half or so expressions of the Sprinbank distilling art that I’ve so far collected. I started tonight with a sip of the Longrow CV and a sip of the Longrow 14 year old cask strength, but ultimately settled on this year’s annual “Red” edition bottling of Longrow, this one 11 years old, matured for six years in refill bourbon hogsheads and for five years in Australian Shiraz casks. It has an ABV of 53.7%.

Overall, this is a bit lighter than many whiskies from this distillery, but it is pungent and powerful all the same. Its mouth feel is also a bit thinner, but just a tad.

UP THE NOSE

Old hand-worn steel tools closed up in an old wooden toolbox. The bell of a very old, much used, tarnished and long neglected cornet. A sharp, sweet mustiness that is almost a human muskiness. An old, dried catcher’s mitt. The soil where root vegetables were over-fertilized and left to dry in the sun.

But above all – in more conventional whisky terms – malt. Barley malt. Like flax seeds sprinkled over a bowl of dry Grape-Nuts. This whisky, on the nose, is malty, woody and more specifically oaky with a light wisp of earthy Campbeltown smoke and a see-saw that goes up and down the balsamic scale from hay to vanilla to hay and to hay and to hay and hay again. And then it goes back, like a momentary shift in the breeze, to vanilla.

Some dried banana chips and dried pineapple are in there. And a smidgen of mint – or is that menthol? Putting your nose over the glass feels like putting your head halfway into a dry, empty Australian Shiraz cask this malt spent 5 of its 11 years in – plus the malt. Most definitely plus the malt. The malt is the dominant presence here – full, rich, round; a sophisticated balance of smoke, oak and barley malt – as is nearly always the case with this distillery.

And underneath it all, as under blankets of stratified aromas, the milk-sour scent of an aged farm cheese.

ON THE PALATE

This burns a bit, but it takes water well.

Leather on the tongue. Vanilla and nutty malt. Barley and milk chocolate. And gentle waves of that very distinctive, earthy Springbank smoky peat that colors and distinguishes all of this distillery’s bottlings – with the exception of the Hazelburns.

I really do love this stuff. Not quite as much as the Longrow 7 year old Gaja Barolo, but I’d say it stands as an equal – at least – to the Longrow 14 year old cask strength, despite this one’s many differences from that bottle. This may even be superior. It is not quite as richly pungent as the 14 year old Longrow Burgundy Cask (bottled at 56.1% ABV), but it is equally distinctive and just as alluring. And maybe a touch more refined as well. It is, without question, superior to this year’s bottling of the Longrow CV – which, for the money, is nonetheless a damn wonderful whisky.

FINISH

So, so long and so, so satisfying. The woodiness comes back at this point, creating a wondrous balance between sweet hay, vibrant malt, oak spice and oaky – or are they Shirazy? Or both? – tannins. And the gentle fire gets all the way down to mid chest, surrounding the heart. This is excellent stuff!

RATING

No, I will not put a number on this, nor on any whisky, despite all the cajoling, pestering and pressure from my very best whisky friends to do so. Take a look at the 2014 edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible and tell me numbers mean anything in this context! My personal Whisky of the Year would be, I think, the Cadenhead single cask bottling of a 16 year old Ledaig. Murray’s rating? 77.5 – which, on the Jim Murray dartboard, where nearly everything falls between 85 and 96, may as well be zero. Numbers belong to science. Drinking whisky is a passion. A single dram can shift in character over the time it takes to savor and drink it! I will not measure my passions with a ruler.

12 thoughts on “Noble Blood: Longrow “Red” Edition Australian Shiraz Cask 11 Year Old Peated Single Malt Scotch Whisky

  1. Great review. I cant wait to try this.
    I still won’t stop pestering you about a rating. Do numbers on 100 point scale have much less meaning? Yes, I think it is difficult and foolish to assign a specific number out of 100 to a whisky, but I still strongly believe there should be at least a rating between 1-5 stars or even A B C D E F. I think that is fair and your blog followers and friends demand it!

  2. If you can’t tell how highly I prize a whisky from the language in the review, then I have failed as a reviewer. And there are too many great Scotch whiskies out there to spend time reviewing anything I don’t like a great deal, so the fact that I take the time to review a whisky at all is yet another ranking of sorts. Regarding your ABC scale, I can tell you right now that I doubt very much that I will ever review a whiskey that would rate below an A or a B. Why bother when there are so many A’s and B’s around? So, if you see a review by me, you know by that fact alone that I consider the bottle that is the subject of that review to be very good or better. How very good? How much better? Just read the damn review and you’ll know! Do dheagh shlàinte!

    • Imagine a teacher gives you back a paper your worked so hard on and assigned you no grade. She just told you Good job or great job or excellent. How would we gauge how good? Is good job a B or is good job a high C or is it a B+???? How would you know??? It would just be a guess at best! Rating whisky doesn’t have to be a science or complicated or even perfect. Haha you can’t say I didn’t try. Thanks again for taking the time and energy to review this.

      • My kids went to Montessori schools through primary. No grades, but it was the best head start we could ever have given them. I trust words and the ability of language to explain, assess and describe. I don’t trust numbers unless I’m at the bank or preparing to cut a board. Apply focused thought to a numbered or lettered ranking system for whisky and it immediately falls apart. What if two Highland whiskies are equally “superb” but one cost 5 times more than the other. Do they get the same grade? Or do we have to add another spreadsheet to determine relative value? And even that, what I just wrote, would never happen if you just trusted prose to describe and assess: No two whiskies, if well described, would, in the end, be equivalent. Your first response to this review was, “Great review. I can’t wait to try this” – Would numbers have changed that response? Having said all I said about this whisky, would you have been more eager to try it if I added a number at the end? That’s ridiculous! You either trust me to describe, probe and appraise a whisky or you don’t. If you can’t trust my prose, why on earth would you trust a number I gave?

      • The rating is like the conclusion or ending of a story, its the final word. With no rating the story or review feels incomplete. It’s an unfinished story. Not that your words don’t have meaning, of course they do.

  3. This horse is dead. Please stop beating it! If I had the time, I could write a book about why ranking whiskies on a scale is a bad thing. But I don’t have the time, for the book nor to continue this. We can take this up again, if you wish, next time we’re together.

  4. My brother suggested I might like this blog.
    He was totally right. This post actually made my day. You can not imagine simply
    how much time I had spent for this information!
    Thanks!

    • Thanks for your kind words. Are you in Germany? I’m envious of the selection of independents you have there. The Maltman, for example – we get four or five expressions here in the states while you seem to get a dozen or more! Still, that might be a good thing – I’m already spending way too much money on single malts!

  5. Thank you so much for your kind words. Life is full and busy and it’s hard sometimes to keep this up, but knowing that someone who appreciates it is paying attention renews my enthusiasm and makes it much easier to keep at it. Thanks!

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