I suppose it’s becoming increasingly tough to find high quality, old-fashioned whiskies these days. As much as I love a fancy finish, or some kooky name cooked up by a brand team – or even one of those much-hyped, limited edition peated things from Islay (yes, you know what) – there’s often something to be said about doing things simply and traditionally. And I suppose Longrow – which is to say Springbank distillery – keeps tradition and simplicity at the heart of their operation. I dare say not much changes in Campbeltown.
Aeneas MacDonald, the finest whisky writer of all time, once referred to the old Campbeltown whiskies as ‘the double basses of the whisky orchestra’. Who knows what they really tasted like? If any of these old, pre-WW2 Campbeltown whiskies exist, they must sit, much 85% of bottles of Karuizawa, in the hands of a wealthy collector never to be drunk.
Of course this was before the Campbeltown distilleries were accused of producing a less than perfect spirit, which may or may not have led to the dwindling of the great whisky town. For here, in what was once the whisky capital of the world, there were over two-dozen distilleries. Now just a trio remain. One of them is Springbank.
I have a lot of affection for Springbank distillery. It was, many moons ago, the first proper distillery tour I went on. They let us clamber up the equipment and practically bury our heads in the peat (I’m not sure if it’s quite the same now). There were no computers – everything here was hand-crafted. Everything was done the old-fashioned way and, possibly because of that and the fact that they produced great whisky, the distillery had a cult following.
Springbank distillery produces three types of whisky: Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn. My favourite had been the peated variety – Longrow. So feeling rather nostalgic, I decided to purchase myself a bottle of the Longrow 18 Year Old. It’s priced at under £90, which for a whisky of that age ain’t bad at all.
Longrow 18 Tasting Notes
Colour: pretty dark – tawny, to russet. On the nose: just beautiful. Oily, malty, peaty. Candle wax. A few sherry notes in there. A touch of old wood: cork and pencils. Briny. Then, once that settles, raisins and apricots. Figs. Ground almonds.
In the mouth: gorgeous balance between the mellow peat and juicy sweet flavours, with a nice oily, waxy texture bringing it all together. The peat is sweet and gentle. When you whizz it about there are sparks of life in the old dog: zippy citrus and salt, a wonderful freshness. Leans towards hints of grapefruit and some interesting touches of cardboard and old school desks.
There’s something very classic and classy about the Longrow 18 Year Old. It stands up to scrutiny and can also be perfect for easy-drinking evenings. Not so much a double bass here, but a cello as if handled by Jacqueline du Pré. Passion and skill has gone into this; and I have to say, I love it.
The best whisky of the year so far for me? It’s certainly in the top three…