Ahh… the unmistakable waxiness of old Clynelish… the crab infested rock pools of Bunnahabhain and the meadow-like florals of Glenlivet. Every distillery has its signature right? After all, why else would we develop a penchant for Penderyn, a desire for Dalmore or an addiction to Ardmore (which believe me is a very real thing with some people)?
But of course, when it comes to whisky, it's not quite as simple as that. First there’s the distillate, that, yes, should offer a distillery style… but then there’s the cask, the age spent in cask, the type of cask, the location of the warehouse, whether it’s a blend of casks or a single cask and finally, the sheer nigh on random idiosyncrasy of the cask itself, that the more we taste, the more we realise is a strange, magical and often wonderful factor.
The Lineup and order:
- Longmorn G&M 2003 Vintage Distillery Label 43%
- Longmorn Old Particular 2003 14yo 48.4%
- Inchgower G&M Connoisseurs Choice 07/16 46%
- Inchgower Cadenhead 2009 9yo 56.5%
- Longmorn 16yo - Mystery
- Inchgower Old Particular 1999 18yo 48.4%
- Longmorn Signatory Cask Strength 2002 15yo 57.2%
So, two distilleries, from the same region, within spitting distance of each other but with supposedly very different styles of distillate. Inchgower; intense, spicy, saline and tomato sauce-like (according to those who know). Longmorn; fruity, light and ethereal, a style that Masataka Taketsuru, who spent a short time working there, imported into Japanese whisky when he modelled the stills of Nikka on those at Longmorn. In addition, the Inchgowers all aged in sherry casks and the Longmorns predominantly ex-bourbon - these whiskies would surely be chalk and cheese? Seven out of seven for all those guessing?
There were certainly highs and lows from both distilleries. The Longmorns spanned the sublime to the ordinary with the G&M Distillery Label showing gentle sherry notes of tinned citrus, caramel and licorice and the the Signatory Cask Strength offering a glimpse of Longmorn at its best. Expressive, expansive, clean and unencumbered, this really was the epitome of classy distillate bolstered and enhanced by its time in oak. Then there was the 14yo Old Particular. As good an example as you’d ever get of erroneously leaving a whisky in cask in the hope of a miracle. Crystal clear, this was more like Longmorn’s new make, and although quite tasty, it needed rounding off with some evidence of cask. Enter our only Official bottling of the evening - the Longmorn 16yo our mystery on the night. This certainly offered a roundness and balance befitting its sherry and bourbon casks componentry, and seemed to confuse those palates that were beginning to align one set of flavours with the Longmorn style. Much of what Longmorn and Inchgower distil ends up in blends at the bequest of their owners (Chivas Brothers and Diageo respectively) so this whisky was very much an outlier, a glimpse perhaps of a true “house style” as opposed to a single cask anomaly.
And so to the Inchgowers. These boasted a fullness of flavour that the Longmorns couldn’t. The G&M 9yo, from a first fill sherry cask, exploded out of the glass with a funky nose of mouldy fruit, potted geraniums and linseed oil. The palate lacked balance, but there was character there for those searching for something out of the ordinary. The Cadenhead 9yo was the undisputed favourite over the two nights, rousing oohs and ahhs at both nosing and tasting. This was like trying on Santa’s leather riding gloves on Xmas day; aromas of mince pies, brandy butter and snifters of sherry ingested in haste and liberally spilt; hay and animal-like qualities from tending to his tired and sweaty reindeer early in the morning, and finally, hints of fresh tobacco from a well earned pipe in the armchair after a job well done. Gorgeous stuff.
So plenty of variation from both distilleries that certainly kept us guessing and which was epitomised when the mystery was revealed, and a quick show of hands offered a room split 50 50 as to whether it was a Longmorn or an Inchgower. Yet, there were two distinct styles for those who could see them, with some high-scoring guesswork and even a rare 7 out of 7.
Finally, an average of the scores over the two nights interestingly showed a dead heat between the two distilleries. But then I guess this it to be expected, after all, the biggest variable is undoubtedly the subjectivity of people’s palate, and long may it last. If we all loved just one style of whisky, it would be a pretty boring world… wouldn't it?
The scores and links to purchase...
- Longmorn G&M 2003 Vintage Distillery Label 43% - 3rd 7.75
- Longmorn Old Particular 2003 14yo 48.4% - 7th - 6.3
- Inchgower G&M Connoisseurs Choice 07/16 46% - 6th- 6.4
- Inchgower Cadenhead 2009 9yo 56.5% - 1st - 8.81
- Longmorn 16yo - Mystery - 4th - 7.68
- Inchgower Old Particular 1999 18yo 48.4% - 5th - 7.23
- Longmorn Signatory 2002 15yo 57.2% -2nd - 7.87