The single cask format is a thing of beauty, shrouded in mystery. The rules of consistency and distillery form go out of the window.
Some pundits suggest we should stop idolising single casks but totally miss the point from their tweed emporiums. It can be a limitation, a curse and so elusive in today’s booming environment. Yet on the flipside an undiscovered treasure that holds an alluring promise that remains out of reach until you break the seal. A single cask is a step into the unknown, a sense of fun, the variety and roll of the dice – qualities that the standardised world of whisky sorely lacks.
Except you have to be fortunate or competitive enough to actually own, or win such a cask or bottle from within the wooden vessel. Particularly true nowadays of anything coming out of Campbeltown. I’m never guaranteed such releases and sometimes have to make do without. Regulars to my Instagram channel will know have seen several of my tales. These even involve being extremely fortunate to get my hands on a bottle of the Cadenhead’s Ardbeg 24 year old and then passing it onto a friend for cost price.
Sheer madness I know but simply because that’s the sort of mate I am and after all, it is just Ardbeg. Joke. If someone has a passion for a specific distillery or style, then I’ll always try to accommodate. After all, they’ll appreciate far more than I ever will. Such sacrifices are rare nowadays, especially when the bottles hit the auction market with such efficiency, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or shouldn’t be encouraged.
A shame yes, but as long as the system is fair, that’s the nature of whisky nowadays. We just have to live with it and somehow manage. The situation is a struggle and infuriating at times. This explains why my usual constant stream of Cadenhead, Longrow, Springbank or even Hazelburn reviews have somewhat dried up of late. Actually being lucky enough to get your hands on the said release is proving tricky to put it mildly. At least this forces you to look away from the glaring bright lights of the big names and towards the downtrodden and ignored distilleries that are in stock. Examples recently include the Cadenheads Macduff 29 year old or the Dornoch Ben Nevis 21 year old. Less visible distilleries but still producing whisky in the single cask format that can be a match – or god forbid – superior to the attention seeking bling release.
Thankfully in all of this, there are places still out there to sample and experience whisky. Bars are a vital resource and perhaps are taken for granted. Friends and sample shares, whisky clubs etc. all come into this realm. However, there’s nothing more rewarding than finding solace in a well-stocked whisky list amidst comfortable surroundings. A pleasant setting that is devoid of the hipster shake appeal, ornate beers and emphasis on cocktails that have invaded so many watering holes today. A well-judged, reasonably priced whisky list is a wonderful thing and whilst not a dying commodity, we should celebrate these establishments more than ever before.
It was thanks to the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar that I have the chance to experience this single cask Longrow intended for the Japanese market. Matured in a first fill Amontillado sherry cask, distilled in 1996 before being bottled in 2011 at 56%, 564 bottles were produced. I’ve touched upon this type of sherry cask previously as part of a Deanston 10 year old review from way back in 2015! Check it out for the classification background.
Longrow 1996 14yo Whisky Live Tokyo – review
On the nose: very robust and coarse with red tartness. Cherries, blackcurrants, red liquorice, tobacco and cardamon. Almost verging on forceful but pulls its punches at the death leaving a mahogany aroma. There’s a herbal undercurrent as well, some thyme and basil amidst the cinder toffee and chocolate with raspberries towards the end. Quite a journey.
In the mouth: that texture oh it just grabs you immediately and refuses to let go. An array of flavours echoing the nose with tobacco, leather, walnuts, chocolate and liquorice. Strawberries pop up as does the peat, but there’s a harmony with the cask. Noticeably salty, coastal even on the plate which lingers into the finish.
A stonker of a combination. An epic 1st fill sherry match up with the peat of Campbeltown. A serious whisky not for everyone or those that flinch from sherry characteristics. I do prefer bourbon casks on the whole yet this release is irresistible. Want.