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Longrow Red 2020 & 2019 comparison

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.

Score: 7/10

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.

Score: 7/10

Conclusions

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!

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Avatar
    PBMichiganWolverine says:

    Really good article and perspective. I think the lesson Diageo has taught me is that the more marketing, the less “special”. Take their Game of Thrones series…when it first came out, in the US, each bottle was affordable at $60-100. But in the UK, it was showing up in auctions well over £500. Now, these are just sitting on shelves. It turned out the hype and marketing didn’t equate to quality. Doubling down on the GoT machine, they put out 2 more —a JW Fire and JW Ice…sitting on shelves by the dozens.

    1. TheWhiskySleuth
      TheWhiskySleuth says:

      Hi PB. Don’t forget the Mortlach also! Which was being heavily discounted less than a month after being first released. Most of these GoT releases were recently discounted by 50%, which is probably a more accurate representation of their quality. I agree completely with your sentiment, the more marketing that is required to tell us how special something is, the more likely we are to feel tricked and disappointed by the end result. The truly special whiskies are the quiet ones that let the whisky do the talking.

  2. Avatar
    Emory says:

    When it comes down to it, most people buy whisky to drink, however the collector in us wants to buy “limited editions” due to a sense of importance or place in a collection. We tell ourselves “I’m only gonna open this bottle on (specified date) because it’s so rare.” “This bottle is going for crazy money on secondary, I must buy it!”

    It is important to ask ourselves, regardless of experience, if we intend on opening the bottle at all. Personally, I open every bottle I purchase. If I like the bottle enough, I may go back and buy another to save if available. I truly believe if more people took this approach there would be more bottles on shelves for people to drink and formulate their own opinions, and as a result, less crap on the shelf being sold/bought at absurd prices. Every year there will be something better, something new, something to spark interest. Open your bottles and don’t let the term “limited” limit you on when you can open and enjoy something. At the end of the day it’s whisky, and it’s a lot more fun to talk about when you’ve tried it. #openyourbottles

    1. TheWhiskySleuth
      TheWhiskySleuth says:

      Hi Emory, sadly many ‘limited’ bottles are clearly priced for collectors and not for drinkers at all, like almost every single Macallan release. The silver lining here is that it may leave more of the drinking whisky to us drinkers! Springbank seems to bridge both sides. They are competitively priced for all the drinkers, but this also means greedy flippers are drawn to the potential profits on the secondary market. There is no perfect solution to the problem I don’t think. I am with you though, better to open and enjoy those whiskies we do manage to get hold of.

      1. Avatar
        Emory says:

        I agree with your statement on limited edition pricing, after all, from a marketing standpoint, the name itself is the original form of clickbait. Look at an outlet like youtube where reviews of allocated bottles bearing this phrase have far surpassed the number of views in relation to everything else.

        Speaking as a person with a cabinet full of the aforementioned, I admittedly am a product of this environment, and have been let down on many occasions as a result. As consumers when we want that excitement of something new and unique that’s where we gravitate.

        I would like to point out that I don’t necessarily have a problem with distilleries using this to gain attention, as it is proven to be a great tool, but I think it could be handled differently once it goes to marketplace. It’s important for us to focus on what really matters, the contents in the bottle and not the slogans, number of bottles, or phrases that come with them. There are plenty of bottles out there that are equally as good if not better.

        I also agree with your statement in that there really isn’t a solution. We have to form our own solutions based on our individual principles. Unfortunately there are too many people out there that treat whisky as decoration or an investment opportunity rather than enjoying the science inside.

        1. TheWhiskySleuth
          TheWhiskySleuth says:

          It definitely feels as though the market is polarising more and more between whiskies released for collecting and those released for drinking. I don’t think I mind too much, there’s just so much choice out there I’m happy to forget about certain distilleries or bottlers entirely if they do fit what I want to drink or what I can afford. One thought I have had for combatting limited releases, or festival bottles, for example, is to offer buyers a substantial discount if they remove the foil wrapper upon purchase. That way of you want to flip it you have to pay the premium. If you plan on drinking it, you get big discount for doing so.

  3. Avatar
    Josh says:

    As someone who I think many people would consider a bit of a “snob” when it comes to whisk(e)y I often appreciate the cynicism and, yes, snobbery that can be found on this website (don’t really mean any of that in a bad way). However, I must say that i don’t understand and get slightly tired of the multiple rants I have read where people complain about what gets labeled a Limited Edition. Yes, I get that it is marketing and is supposed to create a sense of urgency in the mind of the consumer to purchase the product. But, at the same time, if it is a one off product, and I don’t care if its made up of a 1000 bottles or 100,000 bottles, then I don’t see why it cant be considered a Limited Edition? When its gone, its gone, therefore, it is Limited. Why is that an issue in peoples minds? Just because some products are easier to get a hold of due to the fact that there is more of it does not mean it is still not a Limited Edition.

    I also get the point that sometimes “Limited Editions” are put out so as to get an idea of the market demands for said product. If the producer decides to make it a regular part of their line then they should definitely remove “Limited Edition” from the label. That does not mean that the first run wasn’t limited. It could be a useful way to delineate between the original version and the version that is even more mass produced.

    We in whisky fandom bemoan when it is hard to get our hands on certain (not all) limited editions and products but then also complain when a distillery creates a limited edition that is still easily obtainable because they decided to make it a bigger batch and say that it is mislabeled. In some ways, I’m beginning to think that whisk(e)y nerds are becoming far too much like Star Wars nerds in the sense that no matter what distilleries do, there will always be something we find to complain about.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, obviously, but it seems to me that this is an area that just does not deserve to be harped on this much.

    All that said, thank you for the review! I do appreciate the time you put into it!

    1. TheWhiskySleuth
      TheWhiskySleuth says:

      Hi Josh, I very much appreciate you taking the time to read and comment! Snarky comments aside, there was little intention to be cynical here. The goal is to point out some horrendous marketing pitfalls to those who have not yet reached full Star Wars nerdom. You use the word limited in a very literal sense of the word. Sure, our life on this earth is also limited, Cadbury’s fruit and nut is also limited because eventually they’ll change the recipe. Everything everywhere will eventually run it’s course. I do not think this is what whisky marketing departments have in mind though. If we talk about limited in the sense of special and unique, I really do not think a release beyond a few hundred bottles is limited at all. Think of the poor souls who do not know better and are trying to buy a loved one a gift, and stumble upon a game of thrones whisky thinking it is limited and special. Think, even, of the wretches who are destined to be given said gift! I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. The horror! These are mass produced to recipes that have been churned out multiple times, until recently when they are now having to be heavily discounted to shift them off shelves. In a whisky utopia we could remove such labels and let the whisky do the talking. Customers will then dictate just how special and limited they become.

      As for why we enjoy waffling on about these things, well, why not. We enjoy nothing better than discussing and critiquing any and every aspect of things that press our buttons. You are right of course, let me have every whisky I want how and when I want it and I’ll still find something to moan about, like the weather, as is my right as a Brit! Also, lockdown is dragging on, and I’ve already binge watched all the Star Wars and Lord of the rings Netflix has to offer.

      Enjoy your whisky Wednesday Josh, Cheers.

      1. Avatar
        Josh says:

        Thank you for taking the time to reply!

        I will grant that I have a little less patience for the obvious mass appeal marketing such as the Game of Thrones bottlings. I will say that over here in America in the state of VA, they bottles certainly came across as limited because they were sold out very soon and cannot be found very easily unless you’re looking on secondary markets. However, I did purchase the Lagavulin 9 yr for $60 and while i would not argue it was great, i did think it was a solid offering and did not regret buying it. It has an age statement and was a reasonable ABV. I was impressed that they did that when they could have made it NAS and 40% and still sold it for the same amount (not to me though).

        I guess I still would respectfully disagree with you though. If we come back to what I would call the “serious” whisky world and not the obvious marketing gimmicks like the GOT Editions, but something like the Octomore bottlings which seem to range between 50-70,000 bottles. I would think that, in any sense of the term, is limited.

        I guess It seems to me you are equivocating the sense in which I used limited to mean finite. Obviously everything is finite but there is a difference between finite and limited in the sense we are talking. I’m saying that with things like the Octomore editions, it is possible to see an end in sight. Unless you are willing to pay crazy secondary prices, you are not going to find one of the 6.1 etc series or before. It is only possible for a very select group of people (and a very select group of wallets) to purchase a bottle of Octomore. There is no end in sight for Glenfiddich or Glenlivet 12. It seems that if a product is one off and will likely never be produced again, I have no issue with that being labeled a Limited Edition, even if there are a lot of bottles.

        As an American, one term I do find to be annoying is that of Small Batch. That is an empty marketing term here that has no legal definition, even though some distilleries do have their own definitions like Four Roses, I believe, that sort of makes sense so it bothers me less. I know “Limited Edition” has no legal definition either but as long as it is not in continual production, or, as in the case of the Octomore line, batched, I do not see why it is not limited.

        However, I am not trying to be a troll and will not continue to comment ad nauseum because I confuse my opinion with fact. I am just a lover of whisky who has an opinion.

        I really hope to try these Longrow Reds some day but I’ll have to wait until i visit the UK again and hope its right around the time they are released. Not only are they very hard to find here but always insanely expensive when you can.

  4. TheWhiskySleuth
    TheWhiskySleuth says:

    I welcome the opinion and discussion, Josh! You see, my complaining has elicited your complaining about my complaining and now we’re just a couple of whisky nerds agreeing to disagree about whisky nomenclature. The internet is a wonderful place!

    I was bitterly disappointed by that Laga 9, but then someone pointed out to me the regional variations in pricing. Here it was £20 more than the laga 16, which is a far superior whisky for me, and hugely coloured my experience. Recently it has been under £35, a far more accurate valuation of the contents.

    There is a wider issue at play here that I think is the root of our disagreement, and that is where batch variation ends and limited editions begin. For me, octomores are just core range releases with batch variation. Let me go back to Springbank for my full analogy. Where do we draw the line? Even the Springbank 10 is prone to batch variation. It is not advertised as such, and no one would argue each serial number constitutes a new limited edition, but it is far from the homogenous glenlivet 12 type whisky you mention. Then we have the cask strength 12, of which there are usually two batches each year, designated only with a different abv on the label. Are these limited editions, or still just core range releases with batch variation? The 18 is a step up with a different cask make up each year. Again, nothing to denote whether it is designed to be limited or not. Still just batch variation. Then we have something like the Longrow Reds, case in point, where we do suddenly have a designation on the label. Are they really any more limited than the springbank 18s though? Where does batch variation end and limited edition begin? Thankfully, I am no collector, so all that matters to me is that the juice inside is up to scratch and worth the asking price. The batch variations are something I really enjoy as a result.

    The small batch issue in the states I am vaguely aware of and Taylor recently did a great piece on that here on malt. Personally I enjoy the Cadenhead small batch model, which means the whisky came from a maximum of three casks, and we are told which casks on the labels. This also makes them limited!

    Feel free to drop me a message when you make it over to the UK and we can see if we can continue our game of thrones bashing over a dram in person.

    1. Avatar
      Josh says:

      I see what you are saying and I’m pretty sure I understand where you’re coming from.

      I would have absolutely been disappointed with the lagavulin 9 in your situation but here we have the exact opposite scenario to you. Here in the states lagavulin 16 is rarely seen for under $85-$90 if you’re extremely lucky and in my state, which is a control state meaning the state government controls the alcohol sales and pricing, its $120. The idea of the control state may sound crazy but its actually nice because you usually dont see price gouging. They charge you the MSRP that is recommended in the states for almost all products. So for me, the Lag 9 was just what I could afford so I was able to get my hands on Lagavulin for a decent price.

      It would be great to meet up someday! If I’m over in the UK again I’ll reach out and see if I’ll be anywhere near you.

  5. Avatar
    Darren says:

    As someone who has been fortunate to try some very limited edition whiskies over the last 20 years I do not have an issue with the GoT bottlings. They were gimmicky and linked to a mainstream tv series (which I have not watched – is it a bit like the Price is Right?) and to my mind were trying to reach out to a new audience. They were not aimed at us whisky geeks and most flippers other than the very early ones got their fingers burnt. The Clynelish was ok for the £30 I paid for it and my daughter tells me it makes a great mixer given the higher abv.

    I have to applaud Springbank for the way in which they concentrate on the whisky rather than the marketing and bring us high quality whisky at a fair price. I have never had a problem getting hold of any of the limited bottlings from Springbank but maybe I spend too long sitting by my computer refreshing the new arrivals link on the various retailer sites!

    1. TheWhiskySleuth
      TheWhiskySleuth says:

      Hi Darren, apologies for not getting back to you sooner. Whilst I agree that the GoT whiskies are not necessarily aimed at whisky geeks, they were aggressively marketed without full transparency. From what I understand the Lochnagar was just the regular 12yr in different packaging and priced up. People should be made aware of these dodgy practices, all the more so if they aren’t whisky geeks who might know better. Then suddenly they are being sold for a more a accurate representation of their true value, an insult to everyone who may have been hoodwinked in the beginning.

      Springbank are exemplary I absolutely agree with you there, though I do not think I possess your same technological skills to ever secure a new release online. Thankfully I am not far from a Cadenheads.

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