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For many years Longmorn was the distillery that many malt fans seemed to herald as a hidden gem, understandably many also treated it as some kind of dark secret, one to be guarded closely and spoken of in hushed whispers lest it become too popular. Times are changed...
For many years Longmorn was the distillery that many malt fans seemed to herald as a hidden gem, understandably many also treated it as some kind of dark secret, one to be guarded closely and spoken of in hushed whispers lest it become too popular. Times are changed somewhat these days, many people now recognize Longmorn for what it is, the purveyor of some of the most stunningly lush and fruity whisky ever produced. Longmorn is rightly lauded as one of the great distilleries in Scotland, a distillery that has spewed forth a vast quantity of wonderful, vibrant and intensely flavoursome whisky in the course of its lifetime.
Longmorn for has been bottled by Gordon & MacPhail in a semi-official capacity for many years, long before there were regular official expressions available you could usually find a G&M bottling. So realistically ‘tasteable' Longmorns begin somewhere in the 1950s. These are old-style Longmorns, often displaying quite a bit of peat with some immensely old style characteristics that make them more like highland than Speyside malts. Old style Longmorn is full of wax, all kinds of fruits, minerals, often drying with coal, oils, farmy and industrial characters and little phenolic touches. It is a long-dead style of whisky that is not particularly sexy but can be utterly mesmerizing and compellingly delicious.
The character of Longmorn evolved from the early sixties onwards as it lost these slightly peaty edges. In its place came an even greater concentration of fruit character. There are many phenomenal aged examples of Longmorn from this era, they often display a staggering array of fresh fruit character with a mouth-filling oily richness. The bottlings are almost all independent versions with standout expressions coming from 1968 and 1969 by G&M in their ‘cask' series bottled in the late 80s. Many stellar versions were also bottled by Cadenhead, Kingsbury, Samaroli, the SMWS and The Whisky Agency.
In 1970 Longmorn's floor maltings ceased operation and malt was obtained from commercial maltings from then onwards. However, this did not seem to affect the style too much, bottlings from the early seventies often display the same fruity luster as sixties-era bottlings. In fact one of the greatest bottlings of Longmorn dates from around this era, the official centenary 25yo with the gold label. This bottling is perhaps the definitive expression of Longmorn in all its fruit-laden glory, little wonder it now commands upwards of £700 per bottle.
1974-1994: Growth and Expansion
In 1974 Longmorn doubled the number of its stills from four to eight, converting them all to condensers from worm tubs in the process. Although all the stills would remain directly coal-fired until 1994, there is noticeable taming of the fruit character in Longmorns distilled after 1974. While there are many great Longmorns from after this time, the character is less on intense fruit and more balanced with malt, spice and notes of chocolate and dried fruits.
During the 1980s Longmorn started to release their, now rightly famous, official 15yo bottling. Early editions bottled in the eighties and early nineties are expressive, fruity and show fantastic hints of minerals and wax. Later editions did not quite carry the same glowing profile but were still excellent for a standard distillery bottling and well above average. Unfortunately, the powers that be decided to convert all the stills at Longmorn from coal firing to steam in 1994. Despite what you may hear from any official lines this created a distinct change in the distillate.
1994-Current: Modern Day Longmorn
The 15yo OB was discontinued around the end of 2006 and was replaced the following year with a new, much more expensive and snazzy 16yo. Early batches of the 16yo were not nearly as impressive as the old 15, they lacked much of the distillery's classic characteristics and often came across simply as generic speysiders. However recent batches have shown a great improvement and much of the distillery character has been refocused. More and more of the maturing stock since 1994 is now used in the bottlings and the distinctive direct-fired oiliness has distinctly lessened in recent years but the overall quality of the whisky remains extremely high by comparison to many other distilleries.
Longmorn remains a whisky of great finesse with a quality head and shoulders above many of its contemporaries. While the greatest examples will always be from the old sixties and seventies stock, there is still great whisky being made at Longmorn and it is hard to imagine a time when it will not be an absolute gem of a distillery.