You’re not allowed favourites these days, it seems. Unless you’re Olivia Colman – and in case there was any doubt, I’m not. (Though at the rate we’re getting through contributors on Malt at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were reading her material here shortly. She strikes me as a peat-head.) No, perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps it’s less that you’re not allowed favourites, and more that deeply-versed, factually-accurate, manual-educated people refuse to be seen to have them.
Pose the “favourite” question to a certain species of greater-spotted whisky enthusiast and they’ll burp the same, ubiquitous, gratingly oleaginous stock answer. A knowingly nose-tapping riff on “ah, there are far too many distilleries to answer that”, tributaried by that timorous, all-pervading caveat “it depends”.
There are any number of finnicky variables upon which the preferences of the blowsy whisky blusterer ostensibly “depend”. The time of day, their mood, the music, what they’ve eaten, cycle of the moon, colour of their jumper, tightness of their trousers, thickness of their beard, ease of their last bowel movement. A sea of partiality-blocking troubles, always rattled off with the sort of condescending, “you’ll learn” beneficence that can crack teeth at a thousand paces. (These tend to be the same laugh-a-minute souls who imply that they conduct their tastings in vacuum-sterilised, anti-contamination chambers, uniformed with eye-and-ear sensory-deprivation apparatus. The type who solemnly informs distilleries on twitter that they’ll “pass on their tasting notes,” as if conveying some great, sought-after favour.)
Ridiculous. Everyone has favourites, we just tend to lie about them. Or withhold truths, and that’s just semantics for politicians and criminals. Everyone has a favourite restaurant, a least irritating child, a preferred cloud pattern (I’m a cumulonimbus man). And – protest all you like – everyone has a distillery that, in the darkest ventricle of their grizzled heart, they know they love most too.
The absurd but often-touted dictum is that favouritism precludes effective criticism. And I suspect many would-be critics hide their preferences to avoid accusations of bias being levelled. But tilting at an aura of cast-iron objectivity is as pointless as it is futile. People don’t want their criticism written by Johnny Robot. They want it from normal humans, with normal preferences, who just so happen to enjoy unstitching things to see what they’re made of and pronouncing personal judgement accordingly.
In fact I’d go further. I can learn more from a critic who wears her consistent predilections on her sleeve than I can from one who tries to hide them under the table. I don’t write off Jancis Robinson’s comments on Albariño just because she’s praised the grape. I don’t mistrust Angus MacRaild’s views on old-style whisky just because he openly admires it. Or take my editors. I know, when reading JJ, that he is more likely, all other things being equal, to swing towards an ex-bourbon cask than an ex-sherry. Mark underlines his preferences so clearly that I reckon I’d have a good stab at naming his top five distilleries*. And, as a regular reader, I can use that knowledge to gauge where my own feelings on a given whisky would likely square by comparison.
Down with fence-sitting and that-depends-ishness gussied up as objectivity says I. In which spirit I might as well admit that if every distillery but one was to be burned to the ground, and I had casting vote, I’d shed tears for the likes of Ardmore and Zuidam and Westland and Cotswolds and I’d save Springbank from the kerosene. Yes – I know. It’s the boring, obvious choice. But boring, obvious choices don’t tend to earn their adjectives for nothing.
Which brings me to today’s whisky, the latest edition of Longrow Red.
I have a little form here, as I also covered last year’s Cabernet Franc-finished edition, by which I mean that I groused about terroir for a couple of thousand words and then didn’t rate the whisky very highly. Indeed the Longrow Reds in general tend to be up and down affairs, although that doesn’t stop them selling out faster than an Aberdonian punk brewer with an equity offer.
The idea with the Longrow Red, for those newer-to-whisky of our readership, is that the peatier, double-distilled Longrow spirit from Springbank is matured for about three-quarters of its life in ex-bourbon casks and then another three years or so in casks which formerly housed some sort of red wine, fortified or otherwise. The specifics of the red tend to vary year on year, though this instalment sees a return of ex-Pinot Noir casks from New Zealand’s Central Otago. Since the last sighting of Pinot-finished Longrow was 2015, and since this 2019 edition spent three years in refill Pinot oak, I think we can safely call this one a “Red Revival”. Or the Jeremy Corbyn bottling, if you prefer. (For the benefit of our American readers, Jeremy Corbyn is a noted allotmentist who sporadically dabbles in politics.)
It’s bottled at 53.1% abv – the whisky, not Jeremy Corbyn – and, having sold out already, will cost you half a right arm plus change on the secondary market.
Longrow Red Pinot Noir Cask Matured Aged 11 Years
Colour: Chestnut red. Chocolate red. Mud red.
On the nose: Treads whisky’s most difficult balancing act, showing loads of wine and peat influence whilst keeping the distillate’s singular character centre stage. The result is a beautiful, heady brew of red fruit, stone fruit, Springbankian engine oil and sea spray. Raspberries and red apple skins are to the fore, plumped by the lusciousness of peach. The peat itself is really just providing the savoury bass rumble – more waxed jackets than smoke. There’s a little flapjack and wood polish too. Really harmoniously layered stuff with a gorgeous, old-school waxiness.
In the mouth: After such a civilised nose, the booze almost takes you by surprise, though the silky, chewy texture and richness of flavour provides ample ballast. There’s more overt peatsmoke here and thicker, sweeter honeys, though the red fruits still show through in strawberry chewit and cherry jam. This is, on the whole, one of the “redder” of the Longrow reds, though its brilliance is in showing that aspect without letting it mask the distillery’s crucial individuality. Again, the balance and layers are terrific: rich and complex without being discordant; clear and defined without being shouty. It’s just very, very nice to drink.
A smashing return to form for the Red. More the Six Nations Wales edition than the Labour leader. And a veritable bargain if you managed to grab one in the thirty seconds or so that it was available to buy online.
Somewhere around December, Taylor, who has become Malt’s Chief Executive for Clickbait, tweeted that he’d like to see more Springbank whiskies reviewed on Malt. To which I replied that they’d be boring as sin, because the world and her husband have already slathered Springbank with every conceivable encomium, and there’s nothing of interest left to gush.
Today’s act of brazen hypocrisy is just my way of drawing a solipsistic line under regular contribution to this site. It’s au revoir, rather than goodbye; I’ll probably still drop in every couple of months or so, if Mark and Jason will have me, but only as a guest. There are harder, more hidden injustices elsewhere in the world of booze that need snarling at, and I simply don’t have time to snarl at them all. In any case, goodness knows Malt’s formidable new phalanx of witty, knowledgeable and talented writers doesn’t need buttressing by me.
So cheerio, ye handsome-and-wise Malt readers. It’s been a pleasure. This has been, is, and will remain my favourite whisky site in the world. It’s nice to end my regular rantings with a whisky from my favourite distillery.
And even nicer that the whisky isn’t shit.
*Smögen, Chichibu, Glendronach, Langatun, Bruichladdich. Not in that order. Am I right sir? (Waterford goes without saying…)
[Ed: close enough…]