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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Single Malt Report: Longrow CV (part 4 of 4)

The Springbank Taste Off concludes!

From left to right we've got Hazelburn 8yrSpringbank 10yr 100 Proof, and Longrow CV.

On Monday, I gave a little intro into the Campbeltown region and the Springbank Distillery.
On Tuesday, I reported on Hazelburn 8yr.
On Wednesday, I reported on Springbank 10yr 100 proof.
Today, I'll report on Longrow CV, the final dram in the Springbank Taste Off.

The obligatory historical recap:  Though just a tiny town, Campbeltown was a serious whisky producer in the 1800s.  A major downturn in the 1900s decimated over 90% of their distilleries.  The strongest remaining producer of in the region is the Springbank distillery which makes a number of completely unique whisky brands, all separated by different distillation methods.

Longrow is the second most prevalent of Springbank's brands in the US.  It also has been around the second longest and has the second most bottlings.  (The original Springbank brand is first in all of those categories.)  But Longrow is a considerably different whisky than its brothers.  While it is also not chillfiltered and not dyed, it is distilled but twice like a classic malt and is heavily peated in a similar fashion to Islay whiskies.  And it also has some curious finishes.

Longrow CV doesn't have age, proof, or cask appendages.  So what is it?

CV, for the Americans out there (I had to figure this out back when I was applying for film jobs in Ireland), stands for curriculum vitae.  It's very similar to a résumé.  It's a concise listing of qualifications, achievements, and skills.  Everyone in the UK who's job searching has one.

Springbank put a neat spin on this idea by creating CVs for each of Hazelburn, Springbank, and Longrow.  They took a number of different casks from different years in their warehouse and combined them into single whiskies.  Because these combinations are all from the same distillery and brand, they are still considered single malts and not blends.  They're sort of an overview of what the brand has to offer.

The Longrow CV is a particularly odd little space cadet.  Take a peek at the info below:

Ages: between 6 and 14 years (likely 7, 10, & 14 years in this specific bottling)
Finished in: sherry, port, bourbon, and rum casks
Region: Campbeltown
Alcohol by Volume: 46%

The age ranges are broad, everything from a very young malt to a well-aged mid-range.  And look at all of those finishes:  Sherry, port, bourbon, and rum.  I actually didn't know this information going into my purchase of this dram.  I found this out just before the Taste Off.  On the surface it seemed like a bizarre goulash of things that don't really seem to belong together.  These were unknown waters, of the whisky sort.

As this was the final dram in each of the tastings (neat and with water), I had an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast this with the other very different (Hazelburn and Springbank) single malts.  Though I was now uncertain of how this one would turn out, I was looking forward to a bigger peater....

Longrow CV, neat.

Though it wasn't dark, the color was the darkest of the three.  In fact, my tasting wound up going from lightest to darkest, unintentionally.  The nose had the most upfront alcohol kick of the three.  But behind it was a calmer version of the hefty Springbank.  Full of rum sugar and peat smoke, very pleasant.  For the palate I will defer to my tasting notes: "Different than an Islay, like a caramel candy with a peat smoke center.  Some mild salt.  Never tasted anything like this.  Tremendous."  The finish was mild but deliciously honey sweet.

Let's get back to that "never tasted anything like this" comment.  I found myself bereft of adjectives.  There was some crazy alchemy involved in this mixing of malts.  To give you an idea, here's a list of descriptors provided by several professional tasters:
Tobacco smoke, smoked fish, lively brine, honey, grain, tangy flavors of spiced rum, vanilla cake frosting, cocoa butter, milk chocolate, sweet oak, grain, cheese, dried fruit, brown sugar, marshmallows toasted on a campfire, soft billows of smoke from the kiln, peppery, big citrusy notes, vanilla fudge, orangeade, and dried ginger.
I had struggled to describe it because it has everything.  And it doesn't feel like a blob.  It works.

Then I added a tablespoon of water to lower it to 35% ABV.  The nose became plastic and peat up front.  Some of the sherry snuck out.  The Springbank band-aids.  Wet peat soaked by the ocean.  Now the palate was big and bold, becoming both sweeter and peatier.   The finish was "even better than before", peat with fruit sugars.

I sat there, looking at my empty glasses, genuinely thrilled having enjoyed the entire thing.  And tipsy.

Bravo to Springbank for having sculpted these three unique whisky brands.  They are linked by an oceanic character, but then diverge into separate dimensions.  I look forward to expanding my knowledge of all things Springbank.

I'll leave you with some good news.  No disclaimers about this bottling.  You'll need to find a good liquor store (US or UK), but once you do, they should have this.  I recommend it.

Pricing - Bargain! at $50-$55
Rating - 92