Thursday, December 31, 2015

Longrow Red (Cabernet Sauvignon, 11 yo)

The Judge's Bench is a great local pub in Ellicott City, Maryland. It has around a dozen rotating taps of craft beer, and over 250 different whiskeys (including the largest selection of single malts in Maryland, they say). It's the kind of place where, when someone walks in, the bartender says, "Hey, we've got a new porter on tap," and pours them a sample before they've even reached the bar. (There's also that couple, sitting in the two stools closest to the door, that are doing their own thing. Last time it was Coors Light; this time it was pinot noir. What can you say to such people but, "Cheers!")

The only problem is that Ellicott City isn't particularly local to me. It's about a half hour's drive, in a direction I never go after work and rarely go on weekends. What with one thing and another, I only get to the Judge's Bench once every year or two, though I'm always happy when I do free up a couple of hours and drop in.

They have a few dozen bourbons, but the single malt selection is why I go. (Say what you like about the state of the industry, 2015 is a time when a few dozen bourbons on the menu can be met with a shrug.) On my visit yesterday, I decided I was in the mood for some Campbeltown, and settled for a Longrow Red.

By coincidence, if you believe in that sort of thing, this morning I came across a post at The Lyne Arm that gives the history of this expression:
Some years ago J & A. Mitchell & Co, the owners of Springbank distillers and Cadenhead became aware of an Australian wine company using the trademarked Longrow brandname to market some of their wines. This didn’t go over well with the Scots and a trademark dispute ensued. Long story shot, the vineyard was granted permission to use the name in return for a lot of ex-wine casks and some cases of wine. These casks were filled with Longrow spirit and in time became the Longrow Red bottlings.
The Springbank website says, "Our Longrow Red, always bottled at cask strength, is released annually in small quantities and every year a different type of red wine cask is used to mature the whisky." My drink spent 7 years in ex-bourbon casks, followed by 4 years in Cabernet Sauvignon casks, then was bottled in 2012 at 52% ABV. The nose is salty, lots of figs or raisins (sort of like a Cabernet jam), and a little smoke. The taste is big and rich, with a bit of that figgy sweetness. The finish is more of the same, and is respectably long.

It is an unusual whiskey. I'm glad I tried it, though I wouldn't want to drink a lot more of it. I'll probably only revisit it if I happen to be with someone who's interested in tasting it for themselves (or, of course, if I completely forget I've already tried it and again think, "Hm, this sounds interesting.").

Still, the point of these excursions to Ellicott City is to try something I haven't tried and probably never would otherwise (except if by chance I point at the same thing on a menu at some other whiskey bar). People who don't order from multi-page menus of malt whiskeys would never imagine a malt whiskey would taste like Longrow Red. And yes, okay, a lot of the people who do order from those menus might say malt whiskey shouldn't taste like Longrow Red. But finding these things out for myself is the fun of it.

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