Since Taylor’s excellent article on shelf-turds, I have been thinking a lot about what makes a whisky release ‘limited’ or ‘special’. Well, not very much these days, as we have a market so saturated that these labels appear almost on a daily basis.
In fact, being told that a whisky is special or limited is usually a good indication for the exact opposite. The yearly Diageo circus is a case in point; you will be pleased to know that last year they were ‘rare’ as well. We certainly cannot call these releases limited; a few hundred bottles from a single cask is limited, while these are all vatted whiskies with sizeable outturns. The lowest number last year was just shy of 4000 bottles, and the exact number for most of the releases is a well-guarded secret. A cynic, or realist, would say that this gives them the option to produce more if there is enough demand.
Regardless of availability, perhaps the whiskies themselves are special. Sadly, there is usually not much to get excited about in that department, but at least we can have a good laugh at the price for last year’s Mortlach, which is bound to cement its place in history as the shelf-turd of all shelf-turds. We must take consolation in the yearly Lagavulin 12, which is neither special, rare nor limited. It is essentially a core range release craftily upsold with ‘special’ slapped on the label. It is not all doom and gloom though, even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. An occasional bottling like the 2018 Talisker 8 will slip through quality control, and my fingers sadly; I probably hit snooze on hearing the word Singleton. Oh well, here is hoping to next year, right?
So how do we discern the truly special and limited? I think it ultimately comes down to price. If the price is right bottles will not only leave the shelves, but also be opened. As bottles are opened and contents shared, word will naturally spread. This was another interesting point raised by Taylor, that a whisky, if special, has the power to become truly limited by virtue of demand alone, by virtue of its price. This was blindingly obvious when I stopped to think about it, but while being bombarded from all directions by marketing departments and their buzzwords, I think we sometimes forget that, as paying customers, it is ultimately we who hold the power to dictate whether a whisky is truly special and limited. I think back to last year’s Kilkerran 8 oloroso, sold in its wonderful no-nonsense packaging with absolutely no marketing labels. It was an outturn of 15000, not limited by any means, however at £50 a bottle word of its quality and value spread like wildfire; it became both special and limited almost overnight, an instant classic. A benchmark has now been set, and I wager that people will be scrambling over each other to get their hands on a second batch. Once a precedent is built on with consecutive releases of high quality and value, public confidence grows, and a pedigree emerges of limited and special whiskies without even having to label them as such.
This brings me to today’s topic, the latest release of Longrow Red. The Mitchell stable produces whiskies of quality and value across their entire range, and this series, I am told, is no exception. While I would rather that they were not labelled as ‘limited edition’, given the outturns are 9000 bottles, the fact is that their prices and pedigree make them highly sought after by drinkers and collectors alike, and each subsequent release has become more and more limited as a result of rising demand. Even though this is my first foray into this particular series of whiskies, I have a lot of confidence diving into a purchase because of that pedigree. All that remains to be seen is whether I will have to add one more Friday morning to my calendar each year to go knocking on the doors of Cadenhead’s. Thanks to a sample swap with a fellow club member I have been able to line up and compare last year’s release alongside.
Longrow Red 11 Pinot Noir – review
The 2019 edition spent 8yrs in bourbon before a further 3yrs in refill pinot noir barriques from New Zealand. It was bottled at 53.1% and retailed around £55.
Colour: Antique brass.
On the nose: Warm musky grapes, redcurrant jelly and salted butter. Candied orange peel and roasted almonds. A hint of vanilla and cinnamon in the background. Musty warehouse and faint mineral peat pervade the whole thing. With time and water, the peat becomes more pronounced, as well as bringing out some digestive biscuits.
In the mouth: Sweet, tangy and spicy all at once with redcurrants, apples and pears. Vanilla, chilli, cinnamon and clove. There is quite a bit of oak too. A strong ashy peat develops mixing with the spices. Fizzy lemon sherbet leads into a very dry finish of bitter orange marmalade and dark chocolate. Water does not bring anything new.
Longrow Red 13 Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon – review
The latest 2020 release spent 10yrs in a mixture of bourbon and refill sherry casks before a further 3yrs in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from Chile. It was bottled at 51.6% and this bottle cost me £63.50 from Cadenhead’s.
Colour: Rose wine.
On the nose: Quite jammy at first with blackcurrant and strawberry jams. Black pepper, cinnamon and sandalwood. There is a touch of vanilla and caramel too. With time a hint of mineral peat develops along with baked marzipan and sticky figs in syrup. With water it becomes less sweet, but there is added sharpness. The peat is more pronounced and earthy now, and some orange zest and chocolate digestive biscuits emerge.
In the mouth: Sweet forest fruit compote with cracked black pepper, cinnamon and clove. Some dried fruits follow, raisins and prune juice. An earthy peat builds in the background and takes over the mouth, but not in an unpleasant way. The finish is very long and dry with heaps of orange zest, toasted almonds and dark coco powder. Water brings some tangy cherry juice but not much else.
These are both really quite different. I honestly cannot pick a favourite between the two. They are both very accomplished, but also both lacking in certain areas.
I really enjoyed the mustiness on the nose of the pinot noir, and there was a lot more Longrow character on the palate, with that ashy peat that I find so recognisable. The Chilean, on the other hand, is almost reminiscent of a port finish with its jammy and sticky nose, while the peat is toned down and takes on a more earthy quality. Perhaps it is the addition of the sherry casks in this mix, which you can definitely pick up on the palate. The whole thing is richer and sweeter, while the 2019 is crisper and tangier.
In both cases, the mouthfeels are a little less oily and rich than the noses would have you believe, and the finishes are very dry, almost to the point of detracting from the drinking experience. Thankfully, they both have a redeeming chocolate orange combination going on, which I am a huge fan of. I think I would probably categorise the 2019 as being the more complex of the two, while the 2020 is more comforting.
As demand has shown us, these whiskies are certainly limited, however whether they are special enough to be worthy of the cult following they garner, I am not so sure. I am certain that at their current retail prices they offer great value as everyday drinkers, however absolutely not at inflated secondary market prices. Whether I will be stood once again outside Cadenhead’s on a Friday morning early next year, only time will tell.
Photographs kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange. There are no commission links as it sold out rather quickly!