There’s a good reason why expressions produced by Springbank are so well-regarded and sought after. To my mind, the distillery is one of Scotland’s most consistent – rarely have I tasted anything less than ‘solid’ from the cult Campbeltown producer. The quality is high, and the messaging is extraordinary simple (that’s personally exactly what I’m after) – there’s no ridiculously contrived back-story, no finding of ‘special’ casks seemingly lost in the back of a warehouse <yawn> – just good honest whisky with a strong and definable character. Gone are the days when Springbank was an enthusiasts Mecca – the word has been well and truly out for years, and it seems that nowadays I struggle to obtain anything even smelling like a limited release for the sea of new entrants.
I hate scrabbling for bottles. It’s something I rarely do, and it’s just not good for the blood pressure. The process requires planning, dedication and fast fingers – all of which interfere with leading a normal productive life. That said, for many, it’s all about the chase – happy to spend to a whole morning (or longer) lingering over the F5 button. FOMO personified. Hype train in motion.
Except in the case of Red bottlings I can sort of see what the fuss is all about. Of the handful I’ve sampled to date, to my mind there’s a direct commonality with much of Springbank’s wider output – in that they’re all at the very least quite good (some arguably better than others). I tip my hat at folks hunting these bottles down at their original RRP (for drinking!) – there’s a lot more integrity here than with most limited editions which come outlandishly packaged with faux stories and….well….outlandish packaging. Here, the chase is derived from the status.
And so that brings us to what has become one of the many annual pursuit bottlings of each year – the Longrow ‘Red’ series. Introduced in 2012, Red bottlings unsurprisingly all feature a red wine finish - to date, there’s been Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Port, Pinot Noir, Malbec and Cabernet Franc. All vary in age from 11 to 13 years (at present), all are bottled at cask strength, and all are limited editions that consist of a number of bottles not sufficient to satisfy demand at the suggested RRP. Back in 2012 you probably would have had a good shot at picking up the 11 year old Cabernet Sauvignon finish, fast-forward to 2019 and you're absolutely into mad scrabble territory.
2019’s Red bottling comes in the form of the 11 year old Pinot Noir Cask Matured. Broken down – 8 years in ex-bourbon followed by a 3 year finishing period in refill Pinot Noir barriques from New Zealand. A mere 9,000 bottles were produced, and at an RRP of £55 they pretty much sold out on impact. You’ll still find bottles for sale across Europe….with the expected retailer mark-up of course - roughly €90 – a chunk certainly, but I’ve seen a lot worse.
Nose: Tart red apples and reduced red berries (cherries and cranberries) collide with maple bacon, peanut brittle and thin cool smoke – akin to a wisping pan filled with rendering fats or a burger van from 50 yards away – greasy, fatty, somewhat waxy. A backbone of crunchy cereals keeps things honest, whilst Black Jack liquorice chews and burnt caramel add confectionary sweetness. The addition of water brings out a large raspberry vein – as well as hints of vague tropical fruits. It’s less expressive, but also less dirty so makes for an interesting and worthwhile transposition.
Taste: The arrival unleashes plenty of textural elements – fruit and machine oils, wax jackets and hessian cloth. Red fruits are again up first – raspberries taking the driving seat with sticky, jammy preserves alongside fresh cranberries, spent pipe tobacco and coal ash smoke. The mid-palate offers some coastal affections – mineral cliffs and gentle salinity backing up fatty and oleaginous engine lubricants and a building tingle of cask pepperiness. Reduction again serves this whisky well, adding sweetness (and reducing smokiness) for a more dusty soot and brighter top note fruit-forward affair. Not better. Just different.
Finish: Medium in length with tart grapes and berries, ashy smoke and drying mentholated wood.
What do you get when you combine near pitch perfect wine cask finishing with a particularly high quality characterful spirit? You get this. Longrow Red 11 year old Pinot Noir Cask Matured is really very good indeed. Whilst so many wine finished whiskies fall down on integration (the precursor liquid delivering berry sweetness and cask influence but out of time and character from the original liquid), here the Pinot Noir component feels cohesive, supportive and integral to the overall experience. Wine finishing is a fine line in my book – this Longrow walks right down the middle of that line expertly. I’m not suggesting paying over the odds for a bottle, but….