10 - 01/01/1998 - THE WORST WHISKIES IN THE WORLD - Memories of a horrid past...
11 - 05/02/1998 - Balvenie 15yo 1980/1996 - Glenturret 12yo - Scapa 8yo 1989/1997 - Bowmore Surf - ...
12 - 25/03/1998 - Ardbeg 17yo - Ardbeg 1974/1995 (Connoisseur's Choice)
13 - 12/05/1998 - Singleton 1981 - Original Mackinlay 21yo - Johnnie Walker Red Label
14 - 15/06/1998 - Cardhu 12yo - Knockando 1982
15 - 28/08/1998 - Balvenie 21yo Port - Longmorn 8yo 1989 - Longmorn 15yo - Longmorn 1963/1996 - ...
16 - 11/11/1998 - Glenugie 16yo 1980/1997 - Hillside 25yo 1971/1997 - Millburn 1971/1993
17 - 23/11/1998 - Three Speysiders; Aberlour 10yo - Balvenie 10yo - Dufftown 10yo
18 - 05/12/1998 - Macallan 18yo 1976/1995 - Glengoyne 12yo - Tormore 12yo - Black Bottle 10yo
19 - 30/12/1998 - Blair Athol 12yo - Glenfarclas 105 - Linkwood 12yo 1984/1996 - Glendullan 8yo
It's January 1, 1998 - exactly one year after I started my mission.
Although I've only managed to produce ten log entries since then, I've been making decent progress when it comes to the extermination of the 'inferior liquids' on my shelves. After the world-wide tasting on December 15 (see log entry #9) I checked the number of blends and vatted malts on my shelves and there were virtually non left. Hurray! I'm slowly redeeming myself for the awful waste-products I used to drink.
Back in my student-days, I had neither the sense nor the dough to get drunk in style.
Although I had experienced the occasional glass of Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, my alcohol consumption consisted mainly of blended whiskies and Malibu. For New Year's Eve and other special occasions I splashed out on the incidental Cognac or Armagnac, but at the end of the month, when my scholarship-payments were due, I had to make some hard decisions. When I visited my liquorist my choice was governed more by the weight of my wallet than by deliberations of taste.
During those years of hardship I have discovered that, contrary to popular belief, it is technically impossible to legally purchase a bottle of good whisky for less than 20 guilders / 10 Dollars. And heaven knows I've tried. Frankly, it's amazing I'm able to taste anything these days, considering the toxic waste I threw down my throat in those days. There were some positive sides to it, though. First of all, I've had a chance to explore the murky depths at the bottom of the blended whisky market; not a thing one would ordinarily choose to do. On top of that, I've become a dab hand at mixing cocktails after years and years of combining inferior drinks in the hope the result would be better than the sum of its parts. It often wasn't...
I guess there must be some hidden sadomasochistic tendencies in my character, because even nowadays I derive a sick pleasure from buying a "bottom shelf" whisky every once in a while. As the pictures in the introduction prove, many years of drinking whisky can have a profound effect on a person. Whether the long term effects are positive or negative is still in debate, but I have to admit that the short term effects of a few whiskies - even bad ones - can be quite pleasing.
But enough with the chit-chat. Just make sure to stay clear of...
'Per Ardua Ad Nauseam'
The 10 Worst Whiskies in the World
(according to Johannes)
Warning: These whiskies should be avoided at all costs.
Sick women, children and elderly people should not be
exposed to these liquids. These liquids may exhale
hazardous fumes. They should be consumed
for research-purposes only. Liquids may
be flammable. Make sure medical
assistance is standing by
when you subject parts
of your body to
1 Distilled Old Maltky
I don't think this is available outside Holland - Which is a good thing, really.
Technically speaking, it isn't even whisky at 35%. Very cheap, though...
About the only way to get completely pissed for less than Eur/$ 5.-, I would imagine.
Still not worth it, though.
2 Big Blend
Quite frankly, I'm not sure why they call it "Big". Powerful is the word - at least as far as the odeur of vomit and rotting grain is concerned. The name I would personally have chosen would be "Filthy Blend", but I guess that wouldn't look very good on the label.
3 The Claymore
The whisky, like it's namesake, isn't very subtle - to put it mildly.
The label goes on and on about the huge Scottish swords; not a word is wasted on the liquid contained inside the bottle. Just a few drops of this stuff can ruin a perfectly good glass of Coke.
4 King Robert II Scotch
According to the label it was "a whisky of top quality which is renowned throughout the world".
I've discovered that at least one of these claims is definitely false - and I have doubts about the other.
5 Wardlo Whisky
A 'private' blend carried by a small shop near our place in the woods. Distilled head-ache. Absolutely and by far the most sickeningly sweet blend I've ever tasted. A friend described it as "Piss of the Devil" and I can sympathize with his assessment.
6 Gold Label Old Whisky
This is "a whisky for special occasions", according to the label. Like when your having guests and you want to get rid of them as soon as possible, perhaps?
7 Mansion House
This is a whisky I'll never forget - And not only for the mind-boggling stupidity of it's name. This blend is the only whisky that was (partly) responsible for the one and only time in my life when I have been literally sick after subjecting myself to a large variety of drinks. On my birthday nonetheless.
(Don't paint yourself a mental picture here, It ain't a pretty sight...)
8 MacArthur's Best Blend
After the first few glasses I diluted the rest with half a bottle of Amaretto Liqueur to make it somewhat drinkable. It wasn't much help, though.
9 Red Tartan Whisky
This is pure acid! The stuff seemed to slowly dissolve my tongue. I rarely suffer from a hangover, but only three glasses of this stuff managed to spoil an entire morning in my life.
10 Old Smuggler's
Actually, the bottle should be warning enough - The guy that designed the bottle must've had a few glasses before he went to work. I wonder why anybody would want to smuggle this one anywhere.
When any of these whiskies is offered to you in a bar (or by your liquorist), you should sue the proprietor of the establishment for crimes against humanity. Fortunately; whiskies like Red Tartan and King Robert II are mostly 'oddities'; a bit hard to find at your local liquorist - and why would you even want to try? You won't hear me complaining about the fact that most of these lethal liquids are not widely available. But that doesn't mean it's safe to go into a bar (or liquorist) and order any whisky you like. Sadly, there are also a lot of more famous blenders and distillers out there that seem to conspire against whisky-lovers world wide by filling the shelves of our liquorists with inferior material.
It's amazing how much D-graded whisky is sold to so many innocent customers.
When I say 'D-graded', I'm talking about the stuff that scores between 15 and 30 points in my personal rating system; not exactly the absolute worst whiskies in the world, but highly avoidable nonetheless.
Be smart and make sure to avoid these horrible concoctions.
Go for grade A, B or even C instead.
My 'D-graded Whisky' Warnings
Ballantine's - Widely available, and that's about the only positive quality of this whisky. I had to drink it during my skiing-trip to France last winter because it was the only thing on offer apart from a lot of strange looking green liqueurs and wine in plastic cans.
- Single Grain from W. Grant & Sons - the people that bring us Grant's and Glenfiddich. I should have known better. It's more like cheap wodka than whisky.
Perfect for cocktails, though, because you won't even know it's there.
- Never trust anything in a triangular bottle...
The malty taste overpowers everything else. No balance whatsoever.
I'm ashamed to admit it was one of my favorites in the "early days", before I discovered Teacher's and single malts.
Glen Talloch - Another major disappointment. Fortunately, this is available only in Holland. Sharp and dull at the same time. Hard to believe there's any malt whisky in this blend. The 8 yrs. "Pure Malt" vatted malt version used to be quite good in previous bottlings, but these days it's major crap also.
- Nasty stuff, especially considering the blend is said to contain Bunnahabhain and Highland Park. Even people I personally know seem to like it, though....
I wonder why. Perhaps the company should concentrate on crockery instead of distillation.
Johnnie Walker Red Label
- How can they sell so much of the stuff?
It boggles my mind every time I doubt myself and decide to give it another good tasting on the reasoning that millions of people can't be wrong. Or can they?
MacAllister 8 Years Old
- The label boasts about "Pure Malt".
It's a vatted malt that combines the worst of several single malts; an incredible bad blending job. Not a nice experience altogether. This gives malt whisky a bad name.
VAT 69 - Apparently it's the favorite whisky of Freddy Heineken himself.
You should think he would be able to afford something better.
This whisky is best used as either a pain- or party-killer. The less said the better.
William Lawson's - This whisky tastes just as bad as it's TV-commercial looks stupid. No character whatsoever - and yet it manages to numb your tongue for hours.
I only use it to "spice up" a glass of Bailey's on a cold winter night.
Don't let these sad reports get you down, however.
There are some very nice blends available, even for people with limited assets. Teacher's and Clan Campbell are nice and very affordable blends. If you've got a little extra to spare, Teacher's "60" and 12 yrs. old are quite good, as well as Chivas Regal and Johnnie Walker Black Label. And please remember that these warnings just reflect my own personal opinion. You might disagree, and you're quite welcome to do so. After all, what fun would discussions about whisky be if we all agreed Lagavulin 16yo is the best whisky in this galaxy?
Just a picture of your average Scottish distillery a few years back.
I'm not sure what the dog's function at the distillery was, but
it makes you wonder about the ingredients they used, eh?
And that concludes my ranting about exceptionally bad blends, for now.
But perhaps you feel you've had quite enough talk about liquid encounters of the disappointing kind. Fortunately, most of this site is dedicated to single malts - and I'll take a bad single malt over a good blend any time. Well... with some notable exceptions like the Druimguish 3 malt (darned awful single malt) or Chivas '100' Century of Malts (darned good). Just follow the liqiuid log to learn about my future discoveries.
After a relatively 'dry' period I decided to splash out and bought myself three new malts for my 32nd birthday. During my visit to my liquorist I made sure to avoid the Loch Dhu 10yo several people had warned me about. I went for an Ardbeg 17yo, a Linkwood 12yo 1984 and a Scapa 8yo 1989 - even though the latter had been described at the PLOWED Page as "the opposite of Lagavulin".
I started my tasting session the very same evening with the Linkwood 12yo 1984 (43%, Signatory Vintage, 70cl). It didn't give away too much at a nose-level, but that may have been a result of the sinusitis I was suffering from. The taste managed to warm me just fine, but the impressions were too vague to warrant even a preliminary rating. Seemed very, very OK, though...
The Scapa 8yo 1989 (43%, Ultimate, 70cl) looked alarmingly light of colour in the harsh light at my liquorist's, but
because it's from Orkney (home of the wonderful Highland Park) I just HAD to pick it up when I saw it tucked away at a backward shelf. Perhaps because of my preconceptions it turned out a bit of a bummer. Nothing of the
robustness I love in Island whiskies like Talisker and Highland Park.
Perhaps it's just a little under age.
Next up was the Balvenie 15yo Single Barrel (50.4%, OB, 70cl).
This is a 'single single' malt; cask #15986, bottle #152, on cask 17/11/80, bottled 28/11/96. It was appropriately accompanied by some sweet music; an oboe concerto by Albinoni. Very soft, considering its strength. It needed some water to fully reveal it's bouquet, but the taste was best experienced neat. Honeyish and woody; oilier than the Doublewood. The taste seemed almost fruity at first, developing into a wonderful honeyish sweetness. Very, very long. A peppery "Allegro" followed by the gentlest 'Adagio'. Although not quite as wonderful as the Doublewood (it scores one point less), it's right in my Top 10.
The Bowmore 'Surf' (40%, OB, 70cl) I picked up in France proved as elusive as it's 12yo brother.
It's amazing how hard it is for me to give the different Bowmore's a definitive rating. They appear different with every glass you drink - It took me over three bottles before I finally managed to pin down the Bowmore 12yo at 82 points. This one seemed like an mid-seventies malt, but requires further investigation.
I finished with a Glenturret 12yo (40%, OB, 70cl). Crisp, slightly oily.
A bit like the Tormore 12 at first sight, which isn't a good thing, really. Not very impressive - nose-wise. The taste seems almost watery at first, but it lights up your mouth long after it's swallowed. Despite the long afterglow not my type of malt; a preliminary rating around 70 points.
At this point in the evening I decided the Ardbeg 17yo deserved a fresh palate. It is a brand-new official bottling and I'm very curious about it. So, I went for a re-fill of the Bowmore Surf instead.
I dreamt sweet dreams that night...
I didn't get a chance to taste the promising new Ardbeg 17yo last time around, so I decided it was time for another head-to-head tasting of Ardbeg. I figured a confrontation of the official 17yo and the 1974 Connoisseurs Choice bottling would be interesting. (See log entry #5 for another H2H-session with three Ardbegs.)
The Ardbeg 17yo (40%, OB, 70cl) comes in a very nice retro-classic port-like bottle.
At $50 here in Holland, it's the cheapest Ardbeg I ever tasted, but not the best - That would be the Cadenhead's 1972. It has to be noted that the Ardbeg 1974/1995 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, 70cl) has been on my shelves for just over a year now, and the bottle is 3/4-empty - or 1/4-full, but let's not get into that discussion right now... This may have had an effect on the whisky inside the bottle.
The Nose: Ardbeg 17 gave away more 'sourness' than the 1974, which appeared distinctly more peaty at first. After some breathing, the 17 developed a broad, almost speyside-like sweetness, the 1974 retained more of it's Islay character. And where the aroma's of the 1974 seemed to disappear into some hints of chloride after a while, the 17 kept exhaling an Macallan / Highland Park sweetness.
The Buds: The 17 has a very soft start for such an old Islay, but a wonderful gentle burn soon starts warming your mouth - it slowly dissolves into some bitterness. The taste of the '74 had the same characteristic delay in taste development, and arrived at the same bitterness in the end - Before that, the taste took some detours and managed to express some more nuances than the 17, however. The 17 seemed somewhat less balanced than the 1974's and 1972's I've tasted
The Watering Down: The 1974 livened up just a little bit with some water, but just a few drops caused a new explosion of aroma's in the 17 - some oiliness and impressions of vegetables? I seemed to smell a completely different malt. Wonderful surprise. Taste wise the 1974 responded a little bit better to the extra water than the 17, but the differences weren't that big. I would be very interested in a Cask Strength version of this malt.
The Preliminary Conclusion: The two siblings seem very alike at some points, but also show a lot of unexpected differences. Surprisingly enough, the 17 beats the 1974 in the nose department by more than a nose length. Can this be? Just to make sure I have got a re-tasting planned in a few weeks, with a second opinion by my brother. The 17 will have to wait for it's final rating until then. It will supposedly end up in the 89-91 range, which means it's absolute Top 10 material. I like the 17 a lot, If I have to characterise it at this point it would be 40% Bowmore, 30% Laphroaig and 30% Bunnahabhain.
Except for Bruichladdich, perhaps, I love all the Islays. (I still haven't seriously tasted a Port Ellen yet).
And with every Islay I drink, I like the 'wildness' - the peat and the salt. But no malt succeeds in blending all the complex elements together into one sublime drink quite so well as Lagavulin 16 does. At least - not one I've discovered yet.
My mission isn't over yet...
When I last visited a liquorist nearby to add some new malts to collection, a fresh clerk told me that I, being a malt and armagnac lover, might enjoy Grappa. So I thought: 'Let's go crazy' - and bought myself a bottle.
Well... That was a bummer!
To be honest, I'd never heard of the stuff, but from the way the guy described the production-process, it sounded like something like the afterbirth of cognac. Nevertheless, I foolishly went where I had never gone before - and paid the price. Paid the price - Geddit? My nostrils and tastebuds first encountered Grappa that very same evening and it wasn't a pleasant experience, to put it mildly. When will I learn to discard the idiotic suggestions of my liquorist? After all, this was the same place where they advised me to try the BlackBarrel.
My senses had to be calmed down - and what better way to do that than with a Singleton 1981 - Not a real top malt, but I've grown quite fond of it over the last few months. This one is instantly recognisable because of it's trademark liquorice-aroma. At 80 points it has become one of my "touchstone' malts.
I've had quite a few comments from people that disagreed with my judgements on Johnnie Walker Red Label and Famous Grouse. I try to stay open-minded at all times, so I purchased these two bottles last week to give both blends a fair second chance. After the Singleton, I decided I could put my taste buds in jeopardy once more, and I poured myself a Johnnie Walker Red Label. Big Mistake. The bouquet (and I use the term lightly) was extremely sharp and petrol-like. The taste was plain filthy and it lacked character. It clocked at 20 points in my personal rating system, which means I have tasted very few whiskies that I thought were worse.
I didn't have the stomach to try the Famous Grouse that evening, so I decided to go for a bottle I had neglected for a couple of months. The Original Mackinlay 21yo was a real "I cannot believe it's a blend"-blend. A nice and round aroma - amazingly complex for a blend. It clocked in at 76 points, much better than Johnnie Walker Black and even better than some single malts like Glenfiddich or Isle of Jura. A real winner.
Time to call it a night...
I invited Anja (the girl next door who happens to like whisky) for a head to head tasting of Cardhu 12yo (40%, OB, 50cl) against Knockando 1982/1996 (43%, OB, 70cl). The fun part being that those distilleries are situated only a few miles apart from each other. Let's not bother with the age difference here.
Nose: The Cardhu 12 appeared a bit sharp in the nose, though less so than with earlier bottlings I sampled. After a few minutes I experienced a strong banana-sensation. The distinct aroma of those little yellow chemical banana candy things slowly developed inside the glass. After I pointed this out to Anja, she agreed - which means I wasn't going insane after all. The bouquet of the Knockando 1982 (bottled 1996) was much "deeper" and seemed to change from minute to minute. Complex, the hint of pepper was a nice surprise.
Taste: On this front the Cardhu proved to be something of a disappointment. Overpowering bitterness is about all there is to tell. If it had tasted as good as it smelled it would have received at least 3 more points - This time around Cardhu has to settle for 72 points - Which stands for "sufficient niceness". The Knockando filled my mouth with a balanced warmth and a wonderful sweetness, that turns somewhat melassis-like after a while. A slow explosion in your mouth.
In conclusion: No match, really. The Knockando 1982 beats the Cardhu all along the line, and it seemed even better than the 1979-version I tasted over a year ago. A malt with balls. We went for a re-fill of the Knockando, but couldn't decide on a final rating yet. It should be somewhere near 80 points.
I'd like to end with a quote:
'Time is never wasted when you're wasted all the time.'
This is the official report of a tasting session with international dimensions. Craig Daniels and his wife came over all the way from Australia to participate in one of my sessions. Craig proved to be a real expert and taught my brother Franc and me a thing or two about single malts. Well - a lot more than one or two things, actually.
The aeroplane of our guests arrived a little late, so my brother and I kick-started the evening in advance with a Balvenie 21yo Port Wood Finish (40%, OB, 70cl). A lot of nose. Not as sweet as I had expected; certainly not as sweet as the Glenmorangie Port. A hint of the blue pearly stuff you find in "liquorice all sorts". A tad too much bitterness in the taste. A magnificent malt, nonetheless. First impressions indicated a score somewhere in the 87-90 region.
After Craig's arrival we continued with a "vertical tasting" of three different versions of Longmorn.
The Longmorn 8yo 1989/1997 (43%, Ultimate, 70cl) received an unanimous verdict of 69 points - which was really disappointing, even considering it's relative youthfulness. Craig showed off his malt knowledge by determining the wood - bourbon - simply by looking at the colour of the malt. My brother shared our lack of enthusiasm.
The Longmorn 15yo (45%, OB, 100cl) showed a whiff of butter beans. I never picked up that one before, so that may have been a nasal glitch. But it may also have been the result of bottle-to-bottle differences, because Craig claimed this one was better than he remembered. The fifteen had clearly been matured in sherry wood - and my original rating of 81 stands.
The Longmorn/Glenlivet 1963 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 70cl) that Craig brought over from Australia isn't available in Holland - which is a shame. Very rich and complex in nose - one of the nicest and most exuberant aroma's I've ever experienced, in fact. Raisins? Absolutely incredible. After the overwhelming nose-experience the taste fell somewhat short. This is a whisky that can't be pinned down in a single session, so I'm not even going to give a preliminary rating here. I'm looking forward to the next chance I get to taste it.
Many more malts were drunk that evening, and so were we - eventually.
The conversation was so lively that I forgot to make notes most of the time. I don't recall the rest of our consumptions, but I do know I had a lot more fun than these clinical notes express. I'll make sure to keep better notes the next time I have a visitor of Craig's stature.
I could really kick myself!
Well - not really...
But then again, I CAN kick myself - just not properly.
After Craig's visit (see log entry #15) I was starting to experience feelings of shame.
Shame about the quantity of bottles in my collection and shame about the quality of the bottles in my collection. There are currently around 40 whiskies and whiskeys in my collection - about 1/4 (Scotch & Irish) blends and bourbons, about 3/4 of them 'ordinary' official distillery bottlings of single malt Scotch whisky. Don't get me wrong; I still think 'ordinary' malts like Lagavulin 16, Talisker 10 and Macallan 12 are absolutely excellent, especially when you look at the quality/price ratio. It's just that every now and then I'd like to be able to serve my malt loving guests something really special. Something they may never be able to taste again.
So - what has all that have to do with kicking myself?
Well, about 10 weeks ago, I started a new job; Internet Consultant at IQ3. My first project came in way under budget and two weeks before the deadline, which inspired my boss to give me a bonus. I couldn't think of a better way to spend it than on a couple of special bottles I couldn't normally afford. So, two weeks ago I went downtown to do some serious shopping.
I went to a liquorist (near Dam Square) I normally never visit because his prices are ludicrous. And there it was, proudly dominating the top shelf: A shiny bottle of Macallan 25yo. Tears of desire filled my eyes when I reached for it. And then my blurry eyes detected the price tag; 425 guilders (+/- 200 U$ Dollars).
But... That's just crazy!
The amount of money I'm willing to pay for a bottle may be slowly increasing, but for that kind of money I could buy myself:
- 10 bottles of Glen Ord 12, or
- 8 bottles of Dalmore 12, or
- 6 bottles of Lagavulin 16, or
- 4 bottles of Ardbeg 17, or
- 3 bottles of Balvenie 21 Port, or...
Well, you get the point...
In fact, I chose none of the above.
I went home with three 'low profile' but very rare single malts instead; Glenugie 1980, Millburn 1971 and Hillside 1971 (produced at the Glenesk distillery). All three distilleries closed down in the early 80's, so I may never be able to taste their product again. I opened the bottles as soon as I got home, both for 'breaking in' and some preliminary impressions. Tonight, I put them to the test.
The first malt of the evening: Glenugie 16yo 1980/1997 (43%, Signatory Vintage, 70cl, distilled 23/05/1980, matured in sherry casks # 3660-61, bottled 06/02/1997, bottle no. 534 of 604). The nose was very restrained; I could hardly smell anything at all. 'Farmy' is the first thing that comes to mind. A little woody as well - more pine than oak. The taste isn't much better. Smoky and medicinal with a complete lack of sweetness. Quite unpleasant. My rating: 63 points. Disappointing considering it's age and price (125 guilders, + 60 U$ Dollars.)
I continued with the Millburn 1971/1993 (40%, G&M Connoisseur's Choice, 70cl). The nose was quite a relief after the Glenugie. A big aroma that changed from oily/menthol/eucalyptus to sherry/sweets/fruits over time. It lacks some cohesion, though. The taste is smooth and sweet. A little sherry, a little malt, a little smoke. Maybe a pinch of peat. Like the nose, the palate was a little unbalanced. I decided on a final rating of 74 points . Nice, but certainly not worth the asking price of 170 guilders (+/- 75 U$ Dollars).
Finally, the high point of the evening: Hillside 25yo 1971/1997 (62,0%, UD Rare Malts Selection, 70cl, bottled September 1997, bottle #1512). At least, I expected it to be the high point of the evening. The liquorist told me that he especially imported this bottle. It is from a new range of rare single malts, marketed by United Distillers - the people who bring us Lagavulin 16 and Talisker 10, just to name a few.
After I tasted the first few glasses, my faith in United Distillers was shattered.
What were they thinking when they bottled this? And how could the liquorist look me in the eye and ask 195 guilders (+/- 85 U$ Dollars) for it? The nose was very strange. Pine? Resin? Triplex? It started very clean and transparent. It improved somewhat later on, with the smell of cookies and a hint of fruit. It has a very light taste, almost drinkable at 62%. At the same time, the palate feels a bit rough and bitter. The primary impression I get at cask strength is menthol. Diluted, the pine and resin I got in the nose become more obvious. Strange - but not in a very good way. My rating: 66 points. This is just not my type of malt.
So, in hindsight, I could kick myself.
I wish I would have spent my money on the Macallan 25yo. All bottles I tried tonight were quite expensive, but none of them managed to impress me. One of them was just below average, and two of them even wandered into Glenfiddich Special Reserve territory. Despite the fact that I'm on a mission, I'll stick to the commercial bottlings for a while longer. There are plenty of discoveries left that are much more affordable.
After the last tasting session (see log entry #16) proved that price has little or no relation to quality, I decided to
have another look at some of the new 'mundane' malts in my collection. I selected three single malts; Aberlour 10, Balvenie 10 and Dufftown 10. These bottles have five things in common;
- All three are 'official' distillery bottlings
- All three are produced in the Speyside region
- All three have aged for 10 years
- All three cost around 60 guilders (+/- 25 U$ Dollars)
- All three have been purchased recently to replace bottles that have been in my collection since the summer of 1996. These old bottles are nearly empty, so this is the perfect opportunity to check the effects of ageing in the bottle through a series of Head-to-Head sessions.
OK - Enough with the chit-chat.
I started the session with the Aberlour 10yo (40%, OB, 70cl). The character of the new bottling was similar to the old one. The nose started big and sherried, followed by a spicy sweetness. The sherry character of the new bottle was more pronounced. The taste of both bottles started smooth, becoming dry very quickly. The new bottling was even more sherried than the old one - especially when diluted. Way too much for me, in fact. The rating of 80 points for the old bottling stands; the new bottling gets a preliminary rating of 77 points. So - it seems that more than 2 years in an open bottle hasn't damaged the Aberlour 10.
To be honest, I had planned to pick up the Balvenie 12yo. Doublewood instead of the 10yo. 'Founder's Reserve', but it was temporarily out of stock. No big deal - the Balvenie 10yo (40%, OB, 70cl) is a very nice malt as well. The new bottling was as expected; honey sweet in the nose with mint and raisins. Maybe just a tad less balanced than the old bottling. Both tastes are extremely smooth; the old bottling seems just a little more balanced. Results: Old bottling = 82 points, new bottling = 81 points.
Finally, I poured myself two stiff drams of the Dufftown 10yo (43%, OB, 100cl). In this case, it seems the time in the bottle hasn't improved the old Dufftown. The character has stayed the same, though. A sweet, oily aroma with hints of syrup and pepper. A soft, round taste with a long afterglow. The only 'complaint' I had about the old Dufftown 10 (lack of taste development and complexity) is still valid for the new bottling. The rating of 76 points for the Dufftown stands.
So - what have we learnt tonight?
First of all, that different malts seem to react differently to air after the bottle has been opened. Some improve after a certain amount of time, others get worse. I will have to study this phenomenon more closely in the future.
Second of all, we've established (once again) that you don't have to spend a lot of cash to obtain a decent malt. All the malts I've tasted tonight scored higher than the 'exclusive' ones I've tasted on November 11. At the same time, their prices are only 1/2 or even 1/3 of those of the 'exclusive' ones. This frustrating situation inspired me to start work on a new Special Report; the 'Bang-For-Your-Buck-List'. Using a sophisticated formula, I'll rank all the commercial single malt's I've tasted so far according to their price/value ratio.
Those of you unfamiliar with Dutch folklore may be unaware that December 5th is the date of the traditional "Sinterklaas" festival. It's celebrated the night before the birthday of Saint Nicholas, patron-saint of sailors.
Every year the white-bearded character in a red bishops-robe and a big pointy hat (Sinterklaas himself) arrives from Spain on a steam boat with an entirely "black" crew. They are called the "Pieten" and are the assistants of Sinterklaas, much like the elves that assist the internationally more famous Santa Claus. After being greeted by the burgermeister of the town he is visiting he gets on his white horse and orders his black "Pieten" to put all the children that have been bad into jute bags and take them to Spain. And this is probably the explanation for Holland's low population growth. The "Pieten" aren't all bad, because sometimes they throw candy on the streets and the kids can pick it up.
Sinterklaas has got a huge red book, I which he can look up whether a particular child has been good or bad that particular year. As a child, this gave me a slight case of paranoia, the same feeling I got from reading "1984" by George Orwell. Last year in Amsterdam a prankster climbed on top of a government building dressed as Sinterklaas to pour some complaint-letters into the chimney and fell off the icy roof. The idiot broke both his legs. I'm sorry, but I laughed my head off....
Anyway - I'm getting side-tracked here.
Part of the tradition is the exchange of gifts. Every present has got a poem attached to it, the traditional "Sinterklaasgedicht", which mocks one's mistakes in the previous year. I received a bottle of Black Bottle 10yo from some ex-colleagues, and decided it was high time for another tasting session. The Black Bottle is a 'blend' containing single malts from all seven Islay distilleries. The aroma appeared sweet, a little oily and smoky. Not as much sweetness in its taste. Some Laphroaig iodine, but less salty. Something like a marriage of Laphroaig and Bunnahabhain, with grainy elements and a hint of sherry. The grain was more obvious in the body and palate.
The wonderful development and long aftertaste make this a worthwhile investment; it's only 40 guilders here in Holland. Rating: 72 points - Very good value!
Highlight of the evening: Final judgement on Macallan 18yo 1976/1995 (43%, OB, 70cl) which was long overdue. Overwhelming sweetness. Oaky with hints of currants. Just enough sherry. The aroma grows even sweeter after a while. Wonderful! Strangely enough, its character is more like the 10yo. 100 Proof than the 12yo. 43%. A perfect palate, round and well balanced. Powerful smoothness and real "body". The very long aftertaste starts with a somewhat bitter arpeggio and slowly grows into the sweetest adagio. The score of 89 points makes it official: I prefer the Macallan 18 over the 12 - if only by a mere 3 points.
The less said about the last glass of Tormore 12yo (43%, OB, 70cl) in the bottle the better. Contrary to popular belief, I'm NOT an alcoholic, which means some bottles are on my shelves for quite a long time before they're empty. Some malts improve with time, but the Tormore certainly isn't one of them. In the course of 8 months, it had lost 5 or 6 points on the original 71 points.
I finished with the Glengoyne 12yo (43%, OB, 70cl). What a fruity nose! First I smelled dried apples, then some
ripe bananas, and then green apples. Some chloride. Very rich aroma. The taste lacked balance, but was nice nonetheless. Somewhat "dusty" at first, dry finish.
Preliminary rating: 73 points.
I decided to kick off the last year of this decade prematurely with a quiet tasting session, all by my lonesome self. And why not? I had no choice, really, since there was no more room in the black cupboard that I use for the storage of all my untasted malts. As good a reason as any for an evening of liquid pleasure, wouldn't you agree? I chose 4 different Highland malts.
After careful consideration I decided to start off with the Blair Athol 12yo (43%, Flora & Fauna, 70cl). This bottling was released as part of the "Flora & Fauna" series, just like the Dufftown 15yo I bought a few weeks before. A very flavoury nose, gets sweeter after some breathing. The wonderful taste carries quite a bite for a 43%. Adding water is a bad idea - this completely ruins the palate. Too soon for a final rating.
The next one, Glenfarclas 105 (60%, OB, 100cl) reacted a lot better to water, which is no big surprise at 60%! This one is simply too overpowering to drink neat. For a moment I seemed to smell red cabbage, and some peppermint after dilution. The nose heavy and sweet, the palate big and overwhelming. Too much to handle in a single session, but it'll probably rate in the lower 80's. Amazing value for money at only fl. 70,- (U$ 35,-) for a litre.
I bought the Linkwood 12yo 1984/1996 (43%, Signatory Vintage, 70cl, distilled 9/10/'84, matured in sherry butt #4031, bottled 14/11/'96, bottle #461) almost a year ago for my birthday. It had a lot of nose. Flowery, with a fair portion of smoke and oak. Just a hint of distant sherry. The taste is surprisingly appealing and supple. Menthol? After a while the sherry becomes too pronounced, though. Even after almost one year, I can't decide on a final rating yet. This one will probably rate around 80 points, which is quite good.
Next up: Glendullan 8yo (40%, OB, 70cl). Spunky. Slightly oily, with almost sharp undertones.
A light honeyish sweetness. This malt is very elusive and kept surprising me.
A lot of taste development; very long. Quite good and lots of character for a 8 years old.
Final rating: 74 points.
That's all, folks - happy new year.
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