Whilst Balvenie’s David Stewart is recognised as the inventor of finishing – re-racking liquid from one cask to another was an employed process long before he decided to utilise the transfer as a method for adding layers of additional aromas and flavours from a second cask of different origins. Re-racking was, and still is far from an uncommon site. We think of casks, laid down for decades, as impervious, near indestructible, but wear and tear and degradation takes places – particularly after repeated fills, or frequent warehouse movements. As such, there’s an intermittent need to re-rack liquid to simply prevent it from steadily dripping away. One wonders – particularly back in the day, when standards were more lax, how much liquid escaped - not via the greedy angels, but via a loss of structural integrity resulting in damp floors and near empty barrels. I dare say more than a bit.
Re-racking has been, and still is utilised by the industry when the influence of the cask is deemed not correct for its contents. Sometimes the wood is overactive – too much influence over too short a space of time. More often though, it’s likely the opposite - tired and inactive oak doing little to nothing in terms of maturation and required a re-rack to ensure that the resultant liquid doesn’t end up being 10 year old new make spirit. Age is not the same as maturation.
Nowadays you’ll see a lot of re-racks of one form or another – and cask finishing can sometimes be a result of both of the examples above – a leaky or inactive cask providing the impetus to transfer, as which point a different precursor cask is selected. You’ll increasingly see this with younger whiskies and the use of ex-peated casks. It’s rather plat-du-jour in 2019 to be trying to mask youth with the abundance of ex-Laphroaig quarter casks which are flooding the market - they’re incredibly cheap, abundant and tired enough that you’re unlikely to pummel your spirit with a fist full of iodine and TCP. We’re going to be seeing a lot more peaty QC finishes over the next 12-24 months.
Today’s review is of a rather interesting re-racking from independent bottler A.D. Rattray. Their Longmorn 2013 was released a couple of weeks ago and is a mere 5 year old. It spent the first 3 years of its life in an ex-bourbon hogshead, but then was re-racked in to an ex-Glen Moray barrel for a further two years. I spoke to the A.D. Rattray team about the early transfer at the London Whisky Show last month – it immediately intrigued me. Contrary to off-the-cuff impressions, this re-rack was apparently not driven by the circumstances of the ex-bourbon hogshead.
Rather, A.D. Rattray came into possession of some Glen Moray casks and wanted to utilised them (and we’d all rather they did so whilst they were still moist). The Longmorn was selected due to the bottler possessing a number of 2013 casks – they selected one single barrel to conduct a particularly early re-rack on. The remainder of their 2013 Longmorn stock they’re laying down for a longer maturation period in no real surprise. In terms of the young re-rack, as British film critic Barry Norman was prone to saying – “and why not?” I’ve nothing against experimentation if the resultant liquid is positively enhanced or at least someone somewhere has learnt something from the endeavour.
The Longmorn 2013 5 year old was bottled in September 2019 at a pokey 63.8% ABV. 267 bottles were produced – you can pick on up for £47.95 via The Whisky Exchange.
The back label text indicates that “A. D. Rattray rarely give the green light to malts below 6 years of age….”. however, a quick glance at Whiskybase reveals a near dozen 5 year old or younger bottlings that have been produced by the bottler over the last 3 years. Given the long history of A.D. Rattray (and Whiskybase’s dated records go back to 2002 for them), this seems to imply a change in bottling policy which has not yet made it through to the labels themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll always admire the honesty of putting a young age statement on a label over hedging for NAS in an attempt to allay and misperceive.
Nose: Full of ex-bourbon cask cues – ripe green apples, split vanilla pods, iced buns, crème patissiere and toasty cereals. Meringue is stabilised with vinegar whilst background earthiness adds damp soils and moist dunnage floors around a core of aromatic oak and marzipan. Water cuts through some of the tarts notes, adding darker sugar sweetness, white pepper spicing and chalky salinity.
Taste: Impactful, but not dense and weighty. Ex-bourbon leads off – custard tarts, desiccated coconut and crème brulee, alongside apple turnovers, grapefruit and citrus zest and a dusting of icing sugar. The back-palate reminds of both the high ABV and the relative youth, with metallic (copper) pangs and some alcohol scalding. Reduction softens things up with caster sugar and apple juice. It also heightens the underlying distillate esters with plenty of pear drops and apple Jolly Ranchers alongside vanilla custard.
Finish: Medium in length and combining minerality with grassiness – steel sheets and hewn granite alongside cut lawn, dried hay and fading, sappy vanilla oak.
Despite the intriguing re-racking, this Longmorn 2013 year old presents as what one would characteristically expect from ex-bourbon maturation. Albeit rather amped up. There’s a ton of well-defined aroma and flavour here, and the maturity is quite impressive for its mere 5 years of age. It’s only in the back palate where the youth presents with a metallic twinge and some ferocity – and I admire the honesty of not trying to hide that. There’s plenty of ABV scope here to play around with dilution, and in doing so, the orchard esters of the underlying distillate come to the fore. A toddler with some interesting depths.
Review sample provided by A.D. Rattray