In early May I reviewed a Longrow 13, 2003 from a single first-fill sherry cask. I found that one to be marred by a little too much sulphur but not irredeemably so. Here now is a sherried 14 yo Longrow from the same year but this one is from refill casks and a whole bunch of them: the total release of this whisky comprised 9000 bottles (not an unusual number for Springbank). So probably about 18 or 19 butts. That should theoretically allow for an averaging that guards against any major flaws. Let’s see if that turns out to be so.
Longrow 14, 2003 (57.8%; refill oloroso sherry cask; from a bottle split)
Nose: Uh oh, a mix of rubber and sour, yeasty notes. Some more pleasant sherry aromas lurk beneath (toffee, orange peel) but are completely dominated. Gets quite salty quite quickly. As it sits the sulphurous notes subside a bit. A few drops of water knock them back further and pulls out more salt along with cocoa and roasted nuts (hazelnuts, almonds).
Palate: Not as sharp as the nose led me to fear. Instead salt and the usual Longrow earthy peat lead with some milky cocoa below; but then the sherry separates as I swallow and the sour, mouth-furring notes expand. Not much positive change with time; let’s see what water does. Well, it fixes the sherry separation issue and makes it less sharp but I can’t say it brings out anything very positive; after a while maybe a bit of pipe tobacco.
Finish: Long. The sulphur is back here, I’m afraid. As on the nose and palate with water.
Comments: This is a tragic whisky. All the good Longrow/Springbank stuff is palpable but is covered up by a lightly sulphured mess (not the savoury sulphur I like either). I’m not sure how they managed to put together a vatting of 9000 bottles that turned out like this: were all the casks sulphured or were there a few monstrous butts that were enough to mar the rest? On the other hand, this has an average rating of 87 across almost 300 reviews on Whiskybase so it seems likely that this was made to meet a demand. At first I wasn’t sure I was going to finish the pour but with water it became palatable enough.
Rating: 78 points. (Pulled up by water.)
Sulphur – like many aromas in whisky – is subject to detection thresholds which vary from person to person. That being said, if more than about 8-10% of your vatting comprises whisky from sulphury casks, it will be noticeable in the bottle. That margin for error will decrease if you start with a sulphury spirit. Some sulphur as a blending component can be useful (I would contend) but it should never step over the line and become overt as it has here. I’m thinking 2 to 6 butts were of the tainted kind in this case.
I hated this absolute sulfur bomb of a whisky. Probably one of the worst whiskies I’ve ever had, in fact. Shameful this was bottled at all, but looking at whiskybase, you’re right, not many people noticed or cared.