No-age-statement bottlings can be a little contentious at times. Yes, a lot of them are fairly sub-standard and because of this it can be construed as slightly underhanded to put out a bottling without giving an idea of what’s actually in the bottle. After all, the whisky industry spent enough time telling everyone how important age was when the whisky loch was overflowing.
That said, the words “Springbank” and “sub-standard” don’t really belong in the same breath and the only way to truly tell how good a whisky is is to open the bottle and give it a try. For those few who may not already know, Longrow is a double-distilled and heavily peated whisky from Springbank distillery.
As a big fan of the distillery and of peated whisky, a heavily peated Springbank is a tempting proposition. I attended a tasting at Cadenhead’s last year, which is owned by the same people as Springbank distillery which makes Longrow (keeping up?). I asked how old the casks used in Longrow NAS vattings are and was told with no hesitation that they are between 7 and 14 years old. That’s as good as an age statement for me, and the fact that the producers are willing to be so open is encouraging.
NAS longrow didn’t disappoint, and I’m looking forward to picking up the new Pinot Noir cask matured 11 year Longrow Red as I happen to be in Edinburgh on release day. Worth getting to Cadenhead’s for opening time I reckon! Lucky me.
The nose is initially a little closed, and has a chlorinated note to it. A few drops of water and 15 minutes the glass though makes a world of difference. The peat aroma is like putting your head into the peat kiln at a distillery (when not in use, of course) which is a very unique experience. There’s also some blown-out matches, a slight play-doh note and marzipan-like almonds. I also get some fruit, notably pineapple and banana chews. Of course, the rustic Springbank quality is present.
On the palate you get a raw, natural peat as opposed to the engineered, controlled peat that you get from some bottlings. That’s not to say it takes over though, it’s very palatable with bitter dark chocolate, fresh oak and pineapple. Islay peat has been used to dry the barley for Longrow, which manifests itself as a salty coastal note in the mouth. There’s also vanilla, and further time in the glass brings a biscuity malt flavour. I don’t believe any sherry casks are used in this vatting, and it’s a very ex-bourbon flavour profile.
Overall, it’s sweet and sour throughout. The finish is medium-long with a gently fading peat, lemon sherbet and pineapple in juice form.
Maybe age statements aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Actually no, they definitely are, but this is an exception. I suppose they’ve gone down the NAS route in case they come across a couple of exceptional 5 year old casks that they want to throw into the vatting without having to change the label every time, which considering the obvious quality of casks used at Springbank isn’t unlikely.
Peat works young and spirit made at Springbank matures extremely well in good casks, so there is no reason at all that a relatively young heavily peated malt can’t be great and Longrow NAS is proof.