> Entry 225 - March 1, 2005: Under Construction
Well, I'm afraid I have some bad news.
MM is going to be 'under construction for a few weeks.
That means there won't be any fresh log entries for a while.
A lot of the work will be 'under the bonnet', but I plan to freshen
up design of the pages too while I'm at it; Malt Maniacs in particular.
I plan to add quite a few fresh pages to the site as well, including a
'goodies' page with some fun stuff like E-cards and banners.
But I have some very good news as well...
The plea for work I published in february worked very well, which
means that I definitely WILL make it to the Islay festival this year.
If all goes according to plan, I will meet several malt maniacs for
the very first time on the island - Charles MacLean, Peter Silver
and Martine Nouet to name just a few. Of course I can't wait!
However, the work on my desk also means that I won't be able
to spend as much time working on this website as I'd like.
So, you may have to re-read my January and February entries again.
Or may I suggest you surf on to Serge's WhiskyFun website for the next few weeks?
His daily musings about the finer things in life should help you cope with your malt mania until we're 'live' again. Once my
own Liquid Blog is up and running again I'll try to incorporate some more 'deviant' topics in my entries as well. I like Serge's approach a lot and since I'm forced to start nibbling reluctantly on my Reserve Stock soon I won't have that many tasting notes to fill this log as I had last year. But then again last year was excessive - over 400 new malts in one year...
> Entry 226 - March 3, 2005: White City
OK, OK... I know I said I wasn't going to make any
updates to this log in a few weeks, but I just had
to share the snapshot to the right. It's the view
from my balcony this morning around 8:30 AM.
And 'a view' isn't something I often get on my
balcony, let me assure you. My own experiences
usually resemble those expressed in the sleeve
notes of Pete Townshend's album 'White City';
'I get up in the morning and look out onto the estate.
What a view! Two dustbins and a Ford Cortina.'
Well, yesterday we had the heaviest snowfall in
some twenty years here in Holland and now the
white blanket covers most of Amsterdam, making
even the seedy part of town I call home look sort
of pretty - if you squint... I'd love to get out to the
woods in weather like this but the pack of snow
has isolated our part of the woods so I just can't
get there at the moment.
Can you believe that? In the 21st century...
Anyway, I just wanted to share this little weather report with you.
To celebrate what could very well be the last snow I see this winter (no ski trip this year) I decided to have myself a stiff dram of the Ardbeg 25yo 1975/2000
(50%, Douglas Laing OMC, D 10/1975, B 10/2000, 702 Bottles) that I opened over a year ago. I should have emptied this bottle sooner, because it would have been a shame if oxidation had taken
too much of a toll. Well, as it turned out the contents of the bottle hadn't changed radically - although it seemed to have
lost some of the finer subtleties during the last year. Well, finishing this bottle quickly before it changes any further is no punishment...
> Entry 227 - March 21, 2005: It's Alive!
It's Alive... Alive I tell you!
After being 'frozen' for three weeks the Malt Madness site is up and running again.
The major overhaul is far from finished and I still need to do a lot of polishing, but most
of the technical work 'under the bonnet' is now done. I've also added a few new items to
the site, including an overview of all E-pistles submitted by foreign correspondents in the
credentials section and the brand new Global Malt Lex-icon in the new 'Loony Bin' section.
More new stuff and revisions are still to come, but I should be able to add fresh E-pistles
and log entries as I go along. So, it's springtime and MM is alive and kicking again!
The site hasn't become prettier neccessarily - but it's much more sturdy now.
Actually, I hadn't planned on re-launching the site on the first day of spring.
The original plan was to bring everything back on-line on Saint Patrick's day, but I missed
that deadline. However, that was no reason to postpone the little celebratory session I
had planned for last weekend. So, I met up with Alexander van der Veer, Michel van
Meersbergen and Maaike de Jong at Cadenhead's in Amsterdam around five o'clock.
Not surprisingly, Wally the Collector was there as well. Those who've met him know that Wally is a fountain of
interesting stories and opinions, so my notes on the whiskies I tried are relatively sketchy. And that's too bad, because we started with a very interesting one; the Clencadam 15yo
(40%, OB). The distillery was reopened quite recently and this seems to be the first ever official bottling of Glencadam - and so far I've only tried three other expressions in total. I
found the nose malty and fruity and a little MOTR - something reminded me of the Tomintoul 16yo. You have to work at it
. Pine resin. Some more organics with time, then it sweetens out. Spicy. Candy. It's malty and a little bitter on the palate.
Not as good as the nose - 77 points for the Hit List.
I tried a sample of the Convalmore 26yo 1977/2003 (46%, Cadenhead, Sherry Casks) in December 2003 and it made
quite an impression on me then with a score of 85 points. This time the sample came from a bottle that was nearly
empty and apparently it has suffered quite a bit from oxidation. Lots of paint thinner and varnish in the nose. Grainy.
Buttery. A little dusty. Faint organics, but altogether quite 'natural'. The taste was flat & grainy with a pinch of peat at
the end. Salty. This dram struggled to reach the lower 80's, but since it might be oxidised I won't change my score.
The next dram blew me away; an old Caol Ila 24yo 1975 (54.3%, Wilson & Morgan).
The nose had organics, a little oil and plenty of peat. Very 'farmy'. Cow stable. Leather. The style is very much that of a
'Kildalton' malt whisky - just like the latest 'House Malt' from Wilson & Morgan. Quite unique. There was a subdued
peatiness on the palate, growing stronger. No sweetness at all, but in this case it works for me. The last few drops from the glass made me increase my score from 88 points to a 'thin' 89 points
- almost 'legendary' 90's material.
I guess we should have tried the Mortlach 15yo (40%, G&M, 75cl, Bottled +/- 1989) before the Caol Ila (a cask strength
Islay malt!) but it still made a very strong impression. The nose was very rich and polished. Sweet sherry. Raisins.
Nougat. Smoke? Tea? It felt a little gritty in my mouth, but I loved the liquorice and the faint hint of peat. Another
convincing piece of evidence for Wally's strong belief that whiskies (both malts and blends) used to be better in the old days. I finally wrote down a score of 84 points
but given the circumstances (lively conversation and 'the death seat') that may have been a tad conervative. I hope I can have another go at it some time to give it another chance to reach the upper 80's.
And that's all for now, I'm afraid. After Andries had to close up shop Alexander, Michel, Maaike and myself continued the
tasting session at my appartment, but I'll save that report until next time.
So... erm... until next time...
> Entry 228 - March 23, 2005: Fishy Politics
It's a wide-spread rumour that Germans don't have a sense of humour, but
German maniac Klaus Everding just sent me a link to a fairly hilarous website with 'Bushisms'; http://www.cafepress.com/thewhitehouse/32470
They sell T-shirts, buttons, stickers and even underwear (!) with timeless nuggets of wisdom like 'You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test' and 'Fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again'.
Only $12.99 for a 'value' T-shirt - or $19.99 for one that's made in the USA.
The quote above about humans and fish is one of my personal favourits.
Oddly enough, it seems that none of the major media have yet noticed that
Mr. Bush's statement seems to indicate a radical change in the political climate.
As the poster at the right proves, there was little talk of 'peaceful coexistence'
between humans and fish during WWII. I mean, promoting eating your enemies
can hardly be considered peaceful behaviour, can it? Fortunately for the fish,
it seems that the sea isn't considered part of the 'axis of evil' anymore by the
Bush administration. However, some other 'members' of the axis aren't as lucky
as the fish and I can only imagine what the propaganda people will come up
with next - 'Eat more North Koreans, they can't feed themselves'?
Anyway, I'm wandering off towards the cliffs of insanity once more...
I promised I would report on the second part of last weekend's tasting session
with Alexander, Michel van Meersbergen and Maaike de Jong - and Twan van
Enckevort who joined us a little later. After leaving the Cadenhead's store we
all shoveled in a big bag of Belgian fries to lay a solid foundation in our stomach.
Next, it was off to my apartment in 'De Bijlmer' to proceed with the sampling.
I had a bad nose day - as usual - so I ended up rating only four malts during
the evening; two bottles that Michel brought and two 'sister' bottles of
Linkwood by Signatory Vintage that I opened for the occasion.
I want to let the Linkwoods breathe for a bit before I make notes.
So, for this report I'll focus on the two bottles that Michel brought instead.
He poured me the
Port Ellen 24yo 1979/2003 Third Release (57.3%, OB, 9000 Bottles) blind - and for a long time I
didn't quite know what to make of it. I did find some peat in the nose and my first guess was Caol Ila. It starts off quite
expressive, but then it pretty much drops dead and becomes very uni-dimensional. Quite harsh as well. However, after I
put away the glass for a while the malt slowly came alive again. It seems to grow deeper and sweeter - I got some
marzipan. It's bold, sweet and peaty on the palate. Liquorice? Smoke? Powerful and dry in centre and finish; very good,
although I did find a metallic element in there that became quite prominent and disturbing over time.
After some ten minutes I arrived at a score of 84 points, but as I gave it more time it gradually managed
to crawl its way up to 86 points - not bad at all.
Still, looking at the 94 points that Davin gave it on the monitor, my score is relatively low.
Could it be that my nose just wasn't in working order? Perhaps, but the results for the next dram seemed to indicate that I was still able to appreciate good stuff like the Brora 32yo 1970/2002 Platinum III
(58.4%, DL Old & Rare, 297 Botttles). This beauty had a wonderful, big, round nose with lots of organics and a surprising hint of citrus fruits. Sweet
dough. And peat of course! Amazing richness. The taste was sweet and peaty - just the way I like it. An impressive, full taste. Lovely - perfection in the glass. A well-deserved 93 points
that might have been even higher if this one would have shown a few tiny flaws. Right now it may be just a little bit too perfect for its own good. Pretty brilliant stuff - which
reminds me that there are still some twenty Brora samples from Serge on my shelves - I've been waiting for a 'perfect
nose day' to get started on those but so far that day hasn't come. I may have to settle for less than perfect conditions soon.
Anyway, we tried many more malts from my shelves during the evening, including the Ardbeg 25yo 1975/2000 (50%,
Douglas Laing OMC, D 10/1975, B 10/2000, 702 Bottles) that started to show some signs of wear and tear like Michel
predicted. Interesting, because I still think the 10yo OB (not much 'weaker' at 46%) actually improves in the bottle once
it's opened. Are older malts more vulnerable to oxidation? An interesting topic for research. Just like the topic of
glassware, for that matter. We discussed glassware during this session (Alexander and myself prefered the huge cognac
bowls but a wine glass worked better for Michel) and as luck would have it a few days later Klaus proposed that the maniacs should organise a reprise of his big glassware test in Malt Maniacs.
Great idea! Watch this space for more news on that project.
Meanwhile, these were all my notes on this tasting session.
I found another candidate for the top of my Hit List in the Brora Platinum, so it was a fruitful day.
> Entry 229 - March 31, 2005: Press
Just an ultra-quick entry this
time. I'm off to the woods for
a few days and I don't have
time to add a fresh entry now.
However, here's a quick peek
at Whisky Magazine #46
about our crusade against
fake bottles. What's more;
this little article in Whisky
Magazine has already made
a few more people contact
us with leads on potentially
fake whisky bottles.
So - the fake hunt continues!
Let me know if you have information about a (potentially) fake bottle.
Meanwhile, check out E-pistle #13/15 for an interesting debate on the 'dumbing down' of malts.
Malt Maniacs #14 will probably be published before my next update of this log.
> Entry 230 - April 7, 2005: More Politics
Pfffft... I'm still busy with a major reconstruction of this site, so this blog will be updated
rather infrequently for the next two months. While the construction work continues I can't add any new pages to my log, so I'll just keep adding the fresh stuff to this page.
But before I get to the latest MM news I'd like to share another 'Bushism' with you. When I visited the site mentioned in entry 228 I found this little gem at the left. It seems
Mr. Bush was AWOL when they taught the kids at school about a little skirmish called WWII. Come to think of it... Judging from his policies it seems Mr. Bush skipped history lessons altogether...
The tone of voice of the propaganda poster at the right is a bit different, no?
Yeah... Reality is often stranger than fiction... This interesting 'juxtaposition' also
reminded me of a little political discussion I had with my former colleague Andy
over lunch a few days ago. It isn't that long ago that the whole world could
roughly be divided into two groups of countries; capitalist and communist.
I think it would be fair to say that, theoretically, communism appeals to man's
'higher' instincts (sharing resources, contributing to the group) while capitalism
is based on the principle of 'making profit', which - again, theoretically - either
makes goods and services more expensive than they have to be or involves
exploitation of the workforce. So, that's the theory. But the reality seems very
different - in general, people who live in capitalist countries seem to be better
off (at least in a material sense) than those who live in a communist country.
That's a nice little paradox, isn't it? Well, here's another one along these lines.
The late Pope John Paul II was fiercely opposed to communism - but wouldn't
the principles of communism make it a natural ally of the church instead of an
enemy? After all, Jesus said: 'It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of
a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!' (Math. 19:24).
Fortunately, I don't have the problem of being rich...
And that concludes the sermon for the day...
On to maltier matters. Returning from Andy's swanky residence at the 'Keizersgracht' in Amsterdam I walked down the 'Huidenstraat' and passed the Cadenhead's store at #19. I couldn't resist dropping by to say hello to Andries. I hadn't planned on doing any dramming, but Andries poured me a
Springbank 13yo 1989/2003 'Portwood' (54.2%, OB) behind my back. Well, since he had already poured it... The nose wasn't as fruity as I had expected - and if I had to
compare it to one of the Glenmorangie finishes it almost seems more like the Madeira Wood Finish than the Port Wood
Finish. Wonderful complexity but not too extreme. It had plenty of organics though, and based on the nose I was ready
to go for a score in the mid to upper eighties. It didn't go down to well on the palate for me though - a 'problem' I have with many finishes. I finally settled on a score of 83 points
but I should add that this score isn't very 'solid' - I didn't bring my own 'fishbowls'.
I couldn't stay long but Andries managed to slip me another glass before I had to leave.
He opened a fresh Macallan 17yo 1987/2005 (56.1%, Cadenhead's, Bottled February 2005, 69 Euro).
Nose: Tea! Very distinctive - a sherried profile but the fruity notes (raisins) are replaced by organics.
Taste: Chewy. Full bodied. Once again not quite the 'classic' fruity profile you'd expect from Macallan.
Score: 86 points - not as rich as some 'old school' Mac 18's but a great alternative to the 'Fine Oaks'.
Actually, a H2H with the 18yo 'Fine Oak' OB and the 18yo sherried expression might be very interesting.
Inspired by the drams Andries had poured me I treated myself to two drams I received from France.
The Glen Garioch 34yo 1966/2000
(46%, Moon 'In the Pink') was a special treat - I haven't tried that many malts from the year I was born. The nose didn't show as much peat as I'd expected, but that could be proof for Serge's thesis that
peat levels drop over time. Hey wait, now it gets some peat and smoke - with a honey sweetness lingering in the
background. Oh, boy - it's pretty peaty on the palate as well. Dry and serious - what little sweetness there is at first
quickly dissipates. Maybe a hint of chloride? Pinch of salt as well. Meanwhile, the nose doesn't seem to develop much
over time. Shall I risk adding a few drops of water? Yes I shall. Five drops didn't have a noticeable effect so I added five
more. No, still no effect; only the alcohol seems a little more pronounced. Smoked eel? Still a strong straight shooter on
the palate - a tad meaty. Something perfumy in the finish? Or is that herbal? I think I'll go with a score of 87 points for
this one. That's the same score as my 87 for the Laphroaig 10yo from the early 1990's. That bottling earned its score
mostly on character, not complexity. In its own way, this Glen Garioch is similar - not very complex but it 'stands in your
glass'. I suggest you hold the water here; it seems to bring out some ungainly perfumy elements on the palate.
As luck would have it, there was another Glen Garioch in Serge's package.
The Glen Garioch 16yo 1985 (51.9%, OB for The Whisky Exchange, Cask #1585).
Nose: Wow! Wonderful, sweet bakery aromas at first with some mint in the back of the nose.
Oy... Now I get a big whiff of perfume. Burnt caramel? This could almost be a Bowmore - a good one.
Peanuts? And it really opens up with a splash of water. A wonderful, rich sweetness. Spices as well.
Then organics. Rice crackers? It definitely improves even further with some water and some time.
Taste: Something perfumy here is well, turning into fruits a few seconds later. Asbach Uralt. Coffee.
Tia Maria. The development is so interesting that I can look past the perfume for a change.
Score: 89 points
- only the perfume keeps this otherwise splendid dram out of the 90's.
And that wraps things up for tonight... Check out Malt Maniacs #14 for more malty stuff.
> Entry 231 - April 14, 2005: 'Refill' Springbank (?)
I've just added another bottle to the 'Fake Alert' page; the Springbank at the right.
This twelfth case was brought to our attention by Frederik Wallstrom and we managed
to 'solve' it within a few hours. The story started in March 2004 when one 'macmad2000'
offered an empty bottle on eBay; a Springbank from 1966, 53%, Cask #502, Bottle #109.
This bottle was sold to Italian eBay member 'minybottles' for 31,50 GBP. Those were the
first two elements of the case that made my neckhairs stand on end; the involvement of
an Italian eBay member (together with Taiwan, Italy is a country ripe with fakes) and the
fact that there seems to be a lively trade in empty bottles on eBay. A faker's paradise!
Fredrik Wallstrom had been monitoring the actions of eBay member 'minybottles' after
buying a suspected fake bottling from this seller some time ago. When he saw that a full
bottle was offered on eBay just a few weeks after the empty one was sold he decided to
contact us. A good thing too, because we soon found out something smelled funny here.
We were unable to determine if the seller of the full bottle ('rarebowmore') was the same
person as the buyer of the empty bottle ('minybottles') operating under another identity,
but as it turned out that was hardly relevant. Both ads specified that the bottle involved
was bottle number 109 (bottled at 53%). The only significant difference between the ads
was the fact that the seller of the empty bottle also specified the cask number; 502.
It's a good thing many distilleries and bottlers specify cask and bottle numbers these days.
This enabled Luc Timmermans and a few other Springbank experts to investigate the matter further.
As it turns out, the first three sherry cask editions of the Springbank Local Barley were bottled in 1992 with cask
numbers 441/442/443. In 1996 the first LB Bourbon was released, cask #470. This cask #470 (52,3%), together with
471 (51,6%) and 472 (51,8%) were only released in the US at 750ml. The following cask #473 was released as the first
European bottling at 52,5%. Then the numbers followed each other untill cask #511, which was the last one. (Casks 483, 506, 509 & 510 were only released for Taiwan at 750ml and 481 was again a US release at 750ml.)
In Luc's list of 21 Springbank Local Barley bottlings no other cask than #502 was released at 53%.
So, based on the information so far it seems pretty obvious that this 'full' bottle must have come from cask #502. And
since bottle #109 from that cask was already emptied (supposedly by the seller of the empty bottle) it seems almost
certain that we're looking at a case of fraud here. Oh boy, this gives a new meaning to the phrase 'refill'... So far we
haven't been able to find any '100% solid' proof that the bottle offered on eBay was from cask #502, but the fact that
seller 'rarebowmore' cancelled the listing within a few hours after we sent some questions about the pedigree of the bottle. According to eBay, 'the seller ended this listing early because of an error in the minimum bid or Reserve amount'.
For those of you that want to engage in some private sleuthing:
The empty bottle: http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=6162608009
The full bottle: http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=7149077245
So, I'd say 'CASE CLOSED' (unless we receive new information prompting us to reopen the case).
Results of this bout: Malt Maniacs 1 - Refillers United 0.
> Entry 232 - April 17, 2005: Glen Grand
Serge's attack on The Lost Pandora Box reminded me I had some 'unfinished business' as well.
There were three Glen Grant samples on my shelves that desperately needed to be nosed and tasted.
I think that, as a distillery, Glen Grant is underestimated by many malt lovers. Granted, the standard
version without an age statement shown at the right never really impressed me (and neither did its
10yo brother), but they are still very decent malts at, hurray, very decent prices. As a Dutchman
I can easily forgive a malt for performing a little below average if the price is below average as well.
With a price of less than 20 Euro's it offers an excellent alternative for many 'premium' blends.
In fact, I'd personally choose this Glen Grant NAS over a Johnny Walker Black Label any day.
So, is that the whole story from Glen Grant - a decent malt for a decent price?
Far from it! The young OB's offer a lot of bang for your buck, but there are some spectacular
older expressions on the market as well. I was particulary impressed with a submission from Berry
Bros for the MM Awards 2004 - the Glen Grant 1969/2004 (46%, Berry Bros.) that scored 92 points.
The Glen Grant 29yo 1972 (53.6%, Hart Brothers, Distilled October 1972, CVI) wasn't half bad either.
Some other expressions warmed my heart as well, but I didn't make notes on all versions I tried.
In fact, at the moment there are just three older expressions on my Track Record.
That number will be doubled tonight...
I started with the 'weakest' of the trio, the Glen Grant 31yo 1970/2001 (45%, Samaroli, Sherry cask #1025).
Oddly enough the colour was the darkest of the three, even though it has the lowest alcohol percentage.
Nose: Lots of deep sherry. Serious with a hint of fruity playfulness. Tea. Sushi? Seaweed?
Quite complex. Faintest hint of perfume. Maybe this is a little too extreme for some, but I like it.
Taste: Woody and dry at first, developing into a solid bittersweet centre. More and more fruit.
It grows drier and woodier again towards the finish, but not before reaching the upper 80's.
Score: 88 points - I was surprised to see Serge and Olivier only put it in the lower 80's.
I have to admit I liked it (despite the faintest hint of perfume) because it has plenty of 'cohones'.
That's odd, because this bottling most likely came from G&M stocks - which often have their own soft 'style'.
I think the Glen Grant 1974/1999 (54,3%, Scott's Selection) came from Alexander.
Nose: Sweet and dusty. Simple. Dried apples, then 'veggier' elements emerge - string beans?
Hint of oil. Golden delicious - and old and dry one, not a fresh one. Would be a great summer malt.
Taste: Sweet and a little oily in the start at full proof. Grows harsh and hot quickly. Bitter finish.
Still harsh (and quite simple) after I added some water. It has some sweeter, gentler episodes though.
Score: 76 points - a tad above average, but definitely sub-standard for a 25yo Glen Grant.
The Glen Grant 27yo 1976/2003 (58.7%, Signatory, Sherry cask, Distilled 19/3) didn't go down well at all with Serge
and Olivier; they both gave it just 69 points. Well, then it must be really disappointing - they are not harsh raters.
Nose: Big with a grainy sweetness. In a blind test would have guessed this was bourbon matured.
Hint of paint thinner. No complexity at cask strength. Hardly any development over time either.
Taste: Surprisingly soft start at c/s, growing bigger and sweeter quickly. Dries out in the middle.
Simple. Harsh, dry finish. It somehow reminds me of the 'Greenore' single grain from Ireland.
After a big squirt of water I got something that reminded me of peanuts on the palate. Soap?
Score: 66 points
- it's hard to believe this came from a decent sherry cask. It starts off fairly weak and it's all downhill
from there. Not a 'bad' whisky, but the fact that I would personally choose the Greenore 8yo single grain over this says
something, doesn't it? This could be further proof that quality control at Signatory isn't quite as strict as with some other bottlers.
So, with only one out of these three bottlings reaching 'recommendable' status it's hardly the confirmation of Glen Grant
as a true 'hidden gem' I was looking for. Right now I'd re-classify it as a 'distillery with potential'. I'll have to try at least a dozen other expressions before I can say anything that's statistically meaningful.
And that's all for now - I'm still busy with a big overhaul of the site 'under the bonnet'.
I'm making good progress, though - I hope to have everything finshed before I leave for Islay in 6 weeks...
> Entry 233 - April 27, 2005: Scottish Shuffle
Last week, on April 21, the news hit the street: French conglommerate
Pernod Ricard (owners of Aberlour and Chivas Regal, among other things),
has offered to buy its UK rival Allied Domecq for 7.4bn GBP. This could be
the beginning of another 'Scottisch Shuffle' like the one that caused the
mothballing of Braeval, Benriach, Caperdonich and Glen Keith in 2002.
Allied's most famous brand (at least in the circles of malt maniacs) is
Laphroaig, but they also own another favourite brand of mine: Malibu!
Looking closer at the whisky side of the takeover, this deal could have
widespread consequences. If the information in the Distillery Data section
is correct, Allied owns 8 active malt whisky distilleries (Ardmore, Glenburgie,
Glendronach, Glentauchers, Miltonduff, Scapa, Tormore and lovely Laphroaig)
and 2 inactive ones (Imperial and Inverleven). Laphroaig will probably be safe,
but Scapa could suffer in a potential future rationalisation. After all, the island
distilleries are more expensive to operate than their mainland counterparts.
So, Highland Park could become the only Orkney distillery in the future.
That would be a shame. Until recently I had tried only young Scapas and most of them were dependable but
unremarkable malts scoring in the 70's. But after I sampled the Scapa 23yo 1979/2003 (55.6%, Chieftain's, Sherry Butt
#663, 564 bottles, 88 points) and the Scapa 25yo 1975/2001 (50%, DL Old Malt Cask, 438 Bottles, 90 points) I
discovered that Scapas can be quite spectacular - provided they are not bottled before they reach their prime. So, let's
hope that the upcoming re-shuffling won't become a shake-out that ends with the closure of even more malt whisky distilleries in Scotland.
The recent events inspired me to have a little 'Orkney' tasting session.
Unfortunately, I don't have any Scapas on my sleves, but as luck would have it the six remaining samples from Serge's
latest shipment were Highland Parks - four light ones and two dark ones. Excellent - enough 'ammunition' for an Orkney session. Throwing caution to the wind I immediately started with the Highland Park 11yo 1988/2000
(43%, Signatory Vintage, Sherry Cask #11745) which was ultralight in colour. Not a good sign, but let's not judge a sheep by its colour...
Nose: Grainy with something herbal reminding me of '4711' eau de cologne. (A.k.a. Onjeklonje' ;-)
Cleans up after a while, but it remains seriously personality-deficient. A sherry cask they say?
A second try started with a 'grain warehouse' impression again. Milk powder? No, not exactly...
Taste: Sweetish in the start, becoming wobbly in the centre. Slightly herbal in the finish too.
A little bitter as well. It has quite a bite in the long, dry finish. Bottom end of the 'average' scale.
Score: 70 points - it doesn't have any major flaws - but hardly any personality either.
The colour of the Highland Park 10yo 1992/2003 (45%, Blackadder, Refill Sherry Butt #20569) was very light as well. I
have to admit I find it difficult to enjoy Blackadder bottlings ever since the maniacs worked out that their 'raw cask'
series wasn't quite as 'raw' and 'natural' as the marketing dribble would want us to believe. When we found pieces of
'cask' (or rather charcoal) in all bottles - even the miniatures - we figured out that they had to be added afterwards.
Nose: Phew! Sour and oily. Really foul. Then it changed completely and I got something medicinal.
It certainly doesn't suffer from the lack of character the previous one showed. It's very weird.
Hmmm. After some fifteen minutes there were some interesting organics. Sweaty. Salt? Wet dog?
Taste: There's some oil here as well - at least in the start. Then it becomes sweeter in the centre.
And here I got an interesting smoky or medicinal episode as well after a few seconds. Very odd.
I was almost ready to score it in the mid 70's when an aspirin bitterness took over the finish.
Score: 64 points - I can't honestly recommend it - I'd have to put this in the 'questionable' category.
The aspirin in the finish really spoilt the party for me with this one, despite its quirky character.
The only thing keeping it from dropping even lower is the surprising (and fleeting) Islay streak.
The Highland Park 10yo 1993/2003 (46%, Hart Brothers, Distilled July 2003) was another light one.
Nose: Polished - a little dusty and grainy. After a few seconds some citrussy notes emerge.
Then nothing much happens for a while - until it suddenly makes an 'organical' comeback.
Taste: Something fruity as well. Melon? It grows hotter and drier towards the finish.
Feels stronger than the actual 46%. Unfortunately, it turns very bitter towards the finish as well.
Score: 76 points
- provided you give it enough time. The nose eventually becomes very pleasant.
However, at first it was only marginally more likeable than the 11yo from Signatory.
Hmmm.... maybe it's time to take a little break...
And while I was allowing my nose and palate to settle down I had a minor epiphany.
More and more malts - especially independent bottlings - seem to have a 'neutral' character that one could either call 'bland' or 'natural', depending on one's disposition. I've discussed this with Serge on several occasions and as time goes by I become ever more convinced that the growing number of bourbon casks used in the industry is starting to reveal its
effects on the shelves of our liquorists around the world. For a long time I didn't know what bothered me about this, but
then it suddenly hit me: single malts are becoming more like blends. Is that a problem? Well, apparently not for
everybody. It seems that members of 'the wine brigade' know how to appreciate a relatively 'natural' malt. People like
me who get their kicks from the more expressive malts may not be too crazy about the direction the 'average single malt' is taking.
The Highland Park 13yo 1987/2000 (43%, The Ultimate, sherry, dist 31/3/87) seemed to confirm my suspicions; it was
the first 'dark' whisky (indicating a strong sherry influence) and it was also the first sample to really excite me. Incidently,
it was quite funny receiving this sample from France - The Ultimate is a brand from Dutch importer 'Van Wees'.
Nose: Hey, this is more like it... Great sherry. Sweet. Turkish delight? Quite a lot of development.
Furniture polish. Oak? Some leather? Tobacco? Quite lovely. Something 'gamey' in the background.
Taste: Hmmm... Flat, smoky - with maybe a hint of perfume? Dry and quite gritty. Too woody for me.
There's some bitterness here as well. It feels more like the 'theine' in strong tea than tannine in wine.
Hey, and now I get a pleasant hint of liquorice. This really grew on me with the second glass.
83 points - still recommendable but with a palate to match the nose it would have been 86/87.
That being said, this seems like the first recommendable HP of the evening. Not a great IB showing so far.
The Highland Park 12yo 1988/2000 (58%, SMWS #4.79) was the other 'dark' whisky in this flight.
Nose: Aaaah! Wonderfully sherried! Sweet and fruity - but not superficial. Obviously the best one yet.
Moves into the direction of organics quickly, but keeps flashing its fruity side as well. Macallanish. Woody.
Also some of the 'furniture polish' notes I found in the last one - but here it's part of a bigger picture.
I almost forgot to add some water - when I did it didn't seem to have much impact on the profile.
Taste: Sweet and sherried, just the way I like it. There's a rough 'brandy' undercurrent though. Chewy.
It feels just a tad woody and winey with plenty of tannins. Dry finish. Smoke? Oh, how I love this...
A splash of water didn't hurt it - in fact, it seemed more resilient than most malts I watered down.
And then in the aftertaste, I got something familiar I couldn't identify at first. It was: Southern Comfort.
Or how about this weird observation: after swallowing the malt I got a 'Maggi' echo from my stomach.
Score: 88 points - despite the fact that the sherry isn't 'perfect' - it may be too simple for some.
Had it been a little more refined on the palate it might have even reached 90 points. Great stuff.
The Highland Park 1990 (59.1%, James MacArthur) was another very 'light' one in colour (i.e. probably from a bourbon
or re-re-refill sherry cask), so it could potentially have a hard time after the last two sherry monsters.
Nose: Creamy and fruity. Sweet. Grainy. Light and fresh. Not very 'big' at C/S, though.
After a lot of breathing It gets some faint coastal and 'organical' traits, but not much.
Taste: Nice and accessable, but not a lot of character it seems. All I could taste was... whisky.
Hot and dry from start to finish. Maybe a tad woody - but plywood rather than noble oak.
Score: 75 points - hard to say anything either way. No obvious flaws but no personality either.
I guess this is a 'natural' type of whisky that some members of the wine brigade enjoy more than I do.
75 points isn't bad, mind you - it just means that as single malts go, I find it 'average' (which is still nice).
I should probably mention that I received the samples some six months ago and most were partly empty.
The two 'dark' samples were the ones that were completely filled, so oxidation could have been a factor here as well.
But then again it may very well have been the difference between maturation in an ex-bourbon cask (or enthusiastically refilled sherry casks) and a good, fresh sherry cask. The research continues...
Purely point-wise, tonight's results weren't entirely convincing.
Many of the young IB's I've tried tonight got stuck in the 70's, just like many other relatively young IB's released after
2000. Bottlings like the Highland Park 11yo 1990/2001 (60.1%, SigV) and Highland Park 10yo 1993 (46%, Helen Arthur)
earned scores in the 70's as well. Nothing to be ashamed of, mind you - just not quite what we've come to expect from
Highland Park. But then again, the overall performance of the IB's doesn't look that bad if we take into consideration
that there has been some 'slippage' in the 12yo OB as well during the last years. Fortunately, the 18yo OB is still in very
good shape - with a score of 87 points for the latest batch I tried it's arguably worth the higher price tag these days.
And that's all I have to report so far.
Tune in next time for a report on the year's traditional 'Walpurgis' session.
This time I will take a look at - among other things - some rums.
> Entry 234 - April 30, 2005: Tropical Walpurgis
Last week I received a few samples from Fabio Rossi.
However, this time the package didn't contain whiskies.
Apart from his 'Wilson & Morgan' range of single malts,
Fabio also produces a range of rums under the name
'Rum Nation'. He's been trying to convince me that rums
can be just as big and complex as single malts, but so far
without much success. When I told him about the tradition
of my annual Walpurgis session he decided to ship me some
of his own 'Rum Nation' bottlings in a final attempt to turn
me into a believer.
I received these six 'Rum Nation' rums;
- Martinique Hors d'age Rhum Agricole (43%, Rum Nation)
- Nicaragua 15yo (43%, Rum Nation)
- Panama 18yo (40%, Rum Nation)
- (Guyana) Demerara 12yo (43%, Rum Nation)
- (Guyana) Demerara 15yo (43%, Rum Nation)
- Jamaica Supreme Lord II 26yo (45%, Rum Nation)
Excellent - this should allow me to form an opinion once and for all.
I started with another type of 'aperitif', though. During the 1980's Courvoisier was one of my favourite affordable
cognacs, although I usually went for the VSOP version instead of the 'entry level' Courvoisier VS (40%) that ended up
on my shelves last autumn. The bottle was 5/6 within a few weeks, so there may have been some oxidation going on.
Nose: Sweet and fruity with loads of furniture polish - but light at the same time. Fruit sweets.
Whiff of dust. A lovely profile, just the way I like it - but not a lot of complexity or development.
Marzipan? Toffee? Fudge? Mint? Over time I even got some very subtle organics? Yeah, definitely.
A little 'sweaty'. Sellery. Maggi. Quite surprising, I never noticed these subtleties before.
Taste: Smooth start - but quite flat. Fruity. Very faint liquorice. Grows winey towards the finish.
Very woody on the palate - something that doesn't manifest itself in the nose. Raspberries!
Sour and bitter notes. Not much else, it seems - that could theoretically be the result of oxidation.
79 points - but that's an average between an upper 80's nose and an upper 60's palate.
It seems this one didn't have too much problems with oxidation. And that makes me wonder about something Michel van
Meersbergen brought up some time ago. He postulated that sherry maturation might work as a 'preservative for single
malts, making them better able to withstand oxidation. I haven't done any research into this, but this experience with an
almost empty bottle of cognac could indicate that grape products in general withstand oxidation better than barley products?
Anyway, that seems like a topic for an entirely different discussion.
Now it's time to focus on the main event for Walpurgis 2005; six different 'Rum Nation' bottlings.
For those of you who are not to familiar with rum, here are just a few facts to get you in the mood.
Rum (also known under the French word 'rhum' or the Spanish 'ron') is produced by distilling fermented sugar cane juice
or molasses and water. Molasses is the sticky residue that remains after sugar can juice is boiled and the crystallised
sugar is extracted. It stills contains more than 50% sugar, but many other compounds and minerals as well. That's why
rums that are distilled directly from sugar cane juice are said to be lighter and smoother than those distilled from molasses.
There is one distinct difference between whisky and rum. In the rum wash sucrose is directly converted into alcohol while
for whisky the starch from the grains must be cooked and enzymes must be added to convert the glucose into sucrose
which can then be fermented. The rest of the production process is remarkably similar to that of whisky; the 'wash' of
cane juice / molasses and water is fermented using yeast for a period of one day up to several weeks. The 'light' rums
seem to be similar to grain whiskies in the sense that they are distilled in column stills and don't have a lot of character.
The 'heavier' rums are made using pot stills, making them comparable to single malts. Both light and heavy rums are
matured in oak casks. Interestingly enough, many of these casks held bourbon or whisky before. That's something to remember the next time you try a single malt that was finished in a rum cask...
So, let's zoom in on the 'Rum Nation' rums on the table.
There are six bottlings in the range; two 'Demerara's' from British Guyana (named after a local river) and one expression
from Martinique, Nicaragua, Panama and Jamaica. Like many of Fabio's bottlings, this range has its own peculiar logic.
Three of these bottlings (the first three I'll try) are matured in the country of origin, the others in England. The design of
the bottles has an interesting 'stamps' theme, using old postage stamps from the countries of origin on the label. Interesting for philatelists... And that takes care of the introductions - here are my tasting notes;
Rum #1: the Martinique Hors d'age Rhum Agricole (43%, W%M Rum Nation).
The French island of Martinique has the largest number of distilleries in the Eastern Carribean.
Rhum Agricole is made from sugar cane juice; rum produced from molasses is called 'Rhum Industriele'.
Nose: Sweet. Dark and brooding. A bit of a 'sherried' profile - but different. Tea? Liquorice! Quite lovely!
Spicy. A very 'rich' profile that still feels just a little bit 'shallow'. A whiff of 'Blue Curacao' liqueur.
Taste: Ooh... I needed a little time to adjust to the taste. Didn't seem to have any sweetness at first.
Then deep fruity overtones start to emerge. A little woody. Spicy. Liquorice here as well. Feels light.
It shows a touch of perfume on the palate that I'm not crazy about. A bitter, burnt caramel smokiness.
Score: 73 points - although I really liked the nose. In fact, based on the nose I'd put it in the lower 80's.
I may have actually tried rum #2, the Nicaragua 15yo (43%, W&M Rum Nation), before.
One of the six bottles Fabio submitted for a tasting at De Still last year was a Nicaragua 14yo or 15yo.
Nose: Hey, here I get some 'grainier' aroma's on top of the sherry. Paint thinner? Then spices and organics.
It sweetens out after a little while with mocca and molten milk chocolate pralines.
Taste: Quite sweet in the start as well; fruitier towards the centre. 'Feels' better than the Hors d'age.
Score: Lower 80's? Hmmm? That's very odd. The bottling I tried last year scored only in the mid 60's.
Here are the tasting notes I made some six months ago:
Nose: Big, sweet and woody. Like a sherry matured malt, but not quite as complex.
Well, over time I get some organics and smoke as well. Quite amazing! Eighties?
Taste: A little dry and thin, but it holds up pretty well. Sweet with lots of smoke.
It's not quite as extreme as the Loch Dhu or Bowmore Darkest, but it comes close.
Very woody as well. That part is very nice, but the finish is a tad short and uneven.
Score: 70 points - I was aiming for 75, but then the aftertaste pulls it down. Still, the nose is very big and complex. I even
found some raisins in there, which gave me the idea to put it against a rum finished Macallan at next week's session, Oddly enough, the rum smells more like an old Macallan than the whisky.
Well, that seems like an entirely different drink, doesn't it?
To find out what was going on here I sent Fabio a message;
I'm currently sampling the Nicaragua 15yo and I like it a LOT - more than last time!
Is this a different batch from the one you sent last year or did I just need some time to adjust my palate?
And Fabio responded: 'It's much better than last year !!!
Last year was a 14yo from a different batch. This is a 15yo, it's stunning. Please try Zacapa 23yo, which is supposed to be the best rum in the world, and tell me if it's better than this Nicaragua 15yo.'
Well, Fabio is obviously convinced about the quality of his product ;-)
As luck would have it I still had a sample of last year's expression so I could do a H2H.
At first the profiles of the nose seem quite similar, although the new expression takes a little more time to open up.
However, it doesn't take the new bottling to surpass the old one. That hardly seemed to change and never got beyond
the initial sweetness and woody notes. Meanwhile, the new bottling kept developing and showed lots of fruits and
organics. Much more development and complexity. More 'buttery' notes as well - like molten butter on pancakes. The
longer I waited the more pronounced the difference became - there's a very clear family resemblance but the new
bottling has much more layers. On the palate the old bottling still had the sticky, sweet smokiness of Loch Dhu - very
prominent in the finish. To tell you the truth, the palate of the new batch goes into the same direction as well... Hmmm... I finally decided to increase the score for the old version to 74 points
(it's certainly not lacking in character and I love the raisins on the palate, even though it's hardly subtle) while the new version performs a little better on all fronts, cementing my score at 83 points
- meaning I'd classify this as a recommendable dram. I won't go as far as the upper 80's though - in the end it may not be quite refined enough when you're used to high end single malts (and some may
find it too sweet), but this is a perfectly viable alternative to your average malt whisky.
Rum #3 was the Panama 18yo (40%, Wilson & Morgan Rum Nation).
The central American country of Panama may not have such a 'high profile' as a some of the Caribbean islands when it
comes to the production of rum, but Panama is still home to more than half a dozen rum distilleries.
Nose: Aaah.... coffee and tobacco. Tea as well. Like an ancient malt aged in first-fill Oloroso casks.
Some faint medicinal notes as well. Wow!!! Over time I got some dusty overtones. Something 'veggy'.
String beans. More and more organics emerge. Vegetable stock. Metallic? Amazing complexity.
Taste: Smoky with a pinch of salt. Liquorice - lots of it. A tad winey in the finish - and growing more so.
Score: 85 points
- and if it wasn't for the overly winey finish it might have gone even higher. Superb.
I never realised rums could be this complex - sure, the palate isn't perfect but you have to nose this!
Before I proceed with the next three I feel I should mention something.
These first three expressions in the range were aged and bottled in their countries of origin, but the other three rums
I'm about to sample were aged in 'cold damp English cellars'. That's interesting. I've heard that Cadenhead's lets some
of its rums mature in the UK as well. That's a bit odd, when you think about it; in the UK each year a part of the alcohol
in a maturing cask evaporates - this is called 'the angels share'. But apparently the angels in the Caribbean are of a
more generous variety than those in the UK, because cask that mature in (sub)tropical conditions do actually increase in
strength. So, from a purely economical point of view it seems to make little sense to ship casks of rum from their countries of origin to the UK; the yield of each cask will diminish instead of increase.
Puzzling - so I asked Fabio about it...
He replied: 'Right! In south west england, there is a special climate, damp and cold.
The French age some Cognacs there such as Hine and Delamain - it's called early landed cognac.
So I just copy the Frech and stored all my rums there ;-). Basically UK matured rums come from ex English colonies, such as
Jamaica + British Guyana. The main reason is that the ships were going to the colonies bringing all kind of goods, and had
nothing to load when returning home, so they brough rum, for the crew, and for selling in UK. Surplus stock was kept for long
maturation. In first editions of Rum Nation in 1999 very old rums were supplied from Cadenhead, a few years later they decided to make their own range.'
Hey, hey... interesting! I was under the misconception that all cognacs were matured in France.
Anyway, time to proceed with two 'Demerara' rums from Guyana - British Guyana, not French.
The youngest expression of the duo is the Demerara 12yo (43%, W&M Rum Nation).
Nose: Glue and paint thinner. Rhubarb? Not as heavily fruity as the previous three.
This seems a little more refined. Polished as well - some furniture polish in fact. Beeswax?
Taste: Sweet and full bodied. Gains more sour notes and ends in a metallic and winey finish.
Score: 72 points
- the finish pulls it into the lower 70's. It feels a little unbalanced somehow.
Hmmm... This one doesn't seem to explain the almost mythical reputation of Demerara rums.
Rum #5: the Demerara 15yo (43%, W&M Rum Nation) - three years older than the last one.
Nose: Seems a lot like the NAS for a few seconds, then organics and fruits jump to the foreground.
After a few minutes it had sweetened out - becoming the sweetest one yet. Pinch of salt? Or is it iodine?
(A friend claims the only reason I can smell kitchen salt is because they add some iodine to it in Holland.)
Maggi. This one needs a lot of time to reveal its different layers - give it at least half an hour!
Taste: Very nice! Very fruity in the centre, turning into marzipan. Loads of sweet liquorice.
A bit like the liquorice all sorts with the little blue sugar pearls. Sweet and 'Buysman' smoky.
Score: 84 points
- although it needed quite some time to climb upwards from the upper 70's.
My second favourite so far, right after the Panama 18yo - even though the taste is a tad unbalanced.
Once again the nose earns most of the points - most are a tad too sweet & smoky on the palate for me.
I finished with the Jamaica Supreme Lord II 26yo (45%, W&M Rum Nation). Oddly enough, the oldest rum in the range
is also the lightest in colour - the hue is described as 'vintage Sauternes' in the little booklet that comes with it.
Nose: This one seems to have a very gentle and light bouquet compared to the others.
Candy sweetness. Some fruits. Some oily elements. Onion! Chives. Wow, this is quite unique!
Some more spices and organics emerge within a minute. Maggi. More and more organics.
Wow!!! The nose isn't 'heavy' but it's arguably the most unique and complex so far.
Oddly enough, it somehow reminded me of an old Ledaig - without the peat...
Taste: It tastes quite rum-like at first. Offers quite a punch at 45%. Still smooth, though.
Very smooth in fact - with just enough fruits to keep it fresh. Not too sweet or smoky.
Score: 88 points
- arguably the most complex nose of all, but in a very different style.
In the end it beats all the others because it doesn't lose any points on the palate.
This is a must-try bottle for everybody that still doubts the potential of rum - like I did until a few hours ago...
This somehow reminded me of some comments about rums I received from Ralf Mitchell:
'Normal rum is the rum-blend equivalent of vatted whisky i.e. Appleton Estate, Angostura 1919, etc.
Sipping rums, rather than mixing rums like Morgan's Spiced (Yeuch !!). True old, single cask rums tend to be of the heavier,
weightier character like Guyanian, Barbados and Demerara, which with age can pack a whisky complexity and Úlan. Bristol
Spirits and Cadenhead are really the only source I use at present as I wander my way in this field of alcohol, however, my
whisky experience tells me that lighter character rums like Trinidad, Jamaican and Cuban may enhance well with age, like a Rosebank or St Magdalene.'
Well, my experiences with the Jamaica 26yo certainly seem to prove that last point!
It wasn't easy rating these rums because I have a very limited frame of reference when it comes to rums.
I tried each one twice and still had a hard time rating them because all but one (the Supreme Lord II from Jamaica, man)
had a very distinctive combination of sweetness and smoke I usually associate with heavily caramilised malts and some
recent Bowmores. I didn't find any 'perfume' though. I think every nose deserved a score in the 80's, but in some cases
the finish was just a little too much for me. I guess the best way to enjoy those would be in the summertime. First just
nose and nip for half an hour, and then add loads of ice before you empty your glass - and order another one.
My scores may not be 'rock solid' but I'm quite sure about the relative ranking.
Here are the six rums, ranked from 'best' to 'worst';
88 - Jamaica Supreme Lord II 26yo (45%, Rum Nation)
85 - Panama 18yo (40%, Rum Nation)
84 - Demerara 15yo (43%, Rum Nation, Guyana)
83 - Nicaragua 15yo (43%, Rum Nation)
73 - Martinique Hors d'age Rhum Agricole (43%, Rum Nation)
72 - Demerara 12yo (43%, Rum Nation, Guyana)
Hmmm.... When it comes to rum, older is better, it would seem...
Of course, a test with only six expressions is hardly statistically significant.
It's lots of fun though - so much fun in fact that my head was spinning and I decided not to finish with a glass of absinth
like I planned. Instead, I'll finish this log entry with some fairly exciting news I forgot to mention. As you may have
noticed, the site has just had another 'grow spurt' since the last one. Last time the navigation structure of Malt Maniacs
was streamlined a bit and this time I've restructured the personal part of MM. I still have to do a lot of tweaking and polishing, but please feel free to browse around for a bit and contact me with any comments you might have.
> Entry 235 - May 4, 2005: Brorathon - Part 1
Finally... After more than a year of avoiding them I've now assembled enough
courage to attack a pack of Brora samples that Serge sent me from France in
2003 or 2004. I have been waiting for 'the perfect nose day' for all this time
but that day never came. I'm finally ready to settle for a 'decent' nose day.
(Check out WhiskyFun for lots of information about this 'silent distillery.)
I've divided the bottlings into five flights of similar age and started with the
three youngest expressions tonight - although the 'youngest' of the whole
batch is actually by far the oldest bottling in the package...
The Clynelish 12yo (56.9%, OB, Ainslie & Heilbronn for Edward & Edward Italy)
was bottled in the 1960's at the 'old' Clynelish distillery before they rechristened
it 'Brora' and built the 'new' Clynelish distillery across the road. Needless to say,
I was pretty excited about tasting this malt, bottled around the time I was born.
Nose: Light and coastal with some 'farmy' notes. It doesn't seem especially peaty
to me at first. Or very expressive for that matter. A little metallic perhaps?
It doesn't jump at you but it's quite unique. Even after finding it on the palate
Here I didn't find the 'aged' character I find in the nose of some antique malts.
Taste: Ah yeah, there's some peat. And I can actually taste the 'antiquity' here.
Big and round. Smoky. This lasts very long - I like it much better than the nose.
Very nice! There's a naughty background fruitiness that I find just irresistable.
Smoke and organics. Something reminded me of the 'Belgian' Glen Garioch we
tried at Whisky Live.
Score: 88 points
- for once a malt makes it into the upper 80's based on the palate instead of the nose.
I wouldn't go any higher though, even after I saw that Serge and Olivier both gave it a whopping 94 points.
The palate is among the very best I ever experienced (definitely 90's) but the nose just can't keep up.
That being said, it beats every young 'new' Clynelish I ever tried - this has much more 'oomph'.
In my enthusiasm I hadn't noticed the high proof of the old Clynelish before I poured my glass.
So, I had to take a little break before I proceeded with the Brora 18yo 1983/2001 (52.9%, Signatory Vintage Silent
Stills, Cask #40) depicted above. I really like one of the the 'gimmicks' of this Signatory Vintage range: with every bottle
comes a miniature you can either share with friends or try yourself before opening or after finishing the big bottle.
Nose: A little sweeter and rounder than the 'Clynelish'. Hints of grains and fruits. Eau de Cologne.
This is more expressive than the last one. But once again I found no strong evidence of peat at first.
Over time more of the same farmy organics I found in the last one appeared. Light & heavy...
More and more subtleties emerge in the background while it opens up further and further.
Taste: Very fruity in the start - almost like a liqueur. It feels very light on the palate, though.
Well, for a while. After a minute it becomes harsher and extremely smoky. Quite dry as well.
A faint hint of liquorice. It's odd, this is quite powerful but it feels a tad thin on the palate.
Score: 86 points - the Clynelish had more 'substance' on the palate but this shows more raw power.
This Brora earns most of its points in the nose, but peat freaks will love the palate as well.
The Brora 14yo 1982/1997 (60.6%, Cadenhead's Authentic Collection) is a successor of the Cadenhead's Brora 13yo
(1982/1995, bottled at 60.4%) I tried in May 2004 - as young as it was it still earned an impressive 87 points.
Nose: Aaah. The richest profile so far - with what seems to be the strongest sherry influence.
It's no sherry monster, but it has the nice oaky / tobacco notes with the oriental spices. Nice!
Just like the other two it shows rich farmy overtones as well. My favourite nose so far, I'd say.
With some water I got some weird 'dentist' notes. Something inbetween herbal and spicy too.
Taste: A bit too harsh and strong at cask strength - it knocks out the palette like many Cadenheads.
With a little water it appeared fuller and sweeter in the start with more smoke in centre and finish.
Score: 87 points - the rough palate pulls it down a few points - even though I love a powerful punch.
With a little more refinement on the palate it would have been the winner of the evening for me.
It has the peaty and smoky power I love, but little sweetness to balance it.
That's three out of three drams earning a 'highly recommendable' score.
Not too bad at all, especially considering these were the youngest three expressions in the package.
And that's it for now. Next time: Four 19yo's.
> Entry 236 - May 12, 2005: Brorathon - Part 2
Hello, it's me again - with a short & sweet report of the Brorathon Part 2.
This flight included four 19yo expressions; two from 1981 and two from 1982.
That's not quite as young as the bottlings I tried last time, but since the Brora
distillery was closed in the early 1980's all future bottlings of Brora will be
significantly older than the ones I'll try tonight. Finding young Broras in their
teens will become harder and harder as time goes by. And if the current trend
continues, prices will become more prohibitive in the future as well.
I had just poured myself a glass of Brora 19yo 1982/2001 (46%, Chieftains,
Sherry Casks 1189-92) when I discovered that I had tried it before. Serge served
it in Alsace in september 2002 after our first trip to Italy. At the time I gave it a
score of 82 points and I think Serge sent me this sample to convince me his score
of 86 points was more appropriate. Well, I DID have a very bad nose day then...
Nose: Sweet, fruity and very sherried. Later more smoke and organics emerge.
The development seems to stop completely after a few minutes, though...
Taste: Dry and smoky and a little bit flat at first. Much bigger centre.
Fruity and winey; quite lively. And then there's some peat in the background.
After a few minutes the smoky finish becomes quite overpowering - too much so.
Score: 82 points - my original score stands, but first I was inclined to go higher.
Only after the development in the nose stopped and the smoke took over the
finish my overall enjoyment stabilised around 82 points. Brora is famed for its
peat, but this is primarily smoky, woody and dry - and that's just not the same...
Next: the Brora 19yo 1982/2001 (50%, Silver Seal, Sherry, Bottled 9/2001, 240 Bts).
As I found out, I've tried this one before as well; in February 2003 to be precise. It gave it 88 points.
Nose: Sweet and mellow with a growing fruity presence. Coconut? Obvious sherry impact. Spicy.
Some organics in the background. Turkish delight. After a few minutes distinct citrussy notes appear.
Peanuts? Excellent development over time - and unlike the Chieftain's, it doesn't stop developing.
It grows more serious over time, with even a pinch of peat popping up. Wow - this is very complex!
Taste: Big and fruity. Chewy in the centre; becoming even more fruity. Unripe pineapple? Yoghurt?
Just like the nose, it grows more 'serious' over time - peat, smoke and maybe even a pinch of salt.
Score: 90 points it is. I had it in the very upper 80's for a long time, but given time this is 90's material.
I think you'll need to spend at least an hour with this dram if you want to do it justice.
Proof that the Brora's of the 80's were less peated than those of the 60's and 70's?
Next: the Brora 19yo 1981 (58.8%, The Prestonfield, Distilled 6/81, Butt #1083, 545 Bottles).
Nose: Sweet, nutty and spicy. Not a trace of peat at first, but then it slowly drifts to the surface.
Dried apples. More and more peat emerges. Hint of rubber? Next the organics came to the foreground.
Sweaty with hints of leather and horse stable. Excellent - even if less complex than the Silver Seal.
Taste: Big, sweet, hot and fruity. Feels VERY good on the palate, although the finish is a tad dry.
It becomes extremely smoky in the finish - but this is the kind of smoke I like; 'sans parfum'...
Liquorice. In the end it loses one or two points because the smoke masks any trace of peat.
Score: 87 points
- a mighty pleasant dram but not quite as complex as the Silver Seal.
Last: the Brora 19yo 1981/2000 (60.5%, The Bottlers, Cask #1077, D 6/81, B 7/2000)
Nose: Sweet and creamy - quite similar to the last one at first. Opens up quickly. Light fruits.
Then more organics. Once again the similarity with the Prestonfield struck me. Sorrel?
Taste: Aaaah! Wonderful palate. Sweet, peaty and very satisfying in start and centre. Chewy.
Unfortunately, it becomes just a tad too sour and metallic in the finish for me. But that's just me...
Score: 88 points - but I should point out that every other maniac that tried it gave a higher score.
Maybe I should have added a little more water...
That's it for now - I have to get back to 'polishing' this site.
Next time: four Brora's in their early twenties.
> Entry 237 - May 17, 2005: Brorathon - Part 3
After last week's quick and dirty (but very satisfying) session with four 19yo Bora's
I've finished all 'teenage' samples and I'm ready to proceed with the mature material.
So far every single Brora earned a 'recommendable' or even 'highly recommendable'
classification and the Brora 19yo 1982/2001 (50%, Silver Seal) even reached the
pantheon of my Hit List with 90 points. Older isn't neccesarily better, but the
extra refinement and complexity of a few more years in oak might help some
more of the upcoming Brora's reach the upper end of my Hit List.
Looking at the colour of these four samples (all were very light in colour)
I imagine none of them is very heavily sherried. That is actually a good thing.
I've mentioned on many occasions that I'm a sherry freak (Oloroso, to be precise)
but too much sherry influence tends to mask the 'distillery' character of a malt.
For distillery research purposes, bourbon casks are probably better...
The Brora 20yo 1982/2003 (46%, Chieftains, Sherry Butt #1195) is a sister bottling of the 19yo version I tried last
time. That bottling was very dark in colour and had an obvious sherry character. This one seems much lighter. Despite
the sherry character (I'm a sucker for sherry) that one 'only' received 82 points - just a little below par for a Brora.
Nose: Very light and grainy at first, then veggy and farmy notes start to emerge.
Not nearly as expressive as the 19yo, although it does open up significantly over time.
There's the faintest hint of peat in the background, but to me it's hardly detectable.
Taste: Sweetish on the palate. Quite fruity. A tad woody and bitter in the dry centre.
Pinch of salt? The peat only shows itself in the finish at first. And even then there's not a lot of it.
Score: 77 points
- not up to Brora standards, if you ask me. Obviously Chieftain's was only able to obtain a few 2nd or
3d rate casks of Brora; it seems most of the good ones went to Douglas Laing, Cadenhead's and a few other select
independent bottlers - and looking at the quality of the OB's Diageo themselves also got 'the pick of the litter'.
A sub-standard Brora still outscores an average malt from many other distilleries, mind you...
Granted, the Chieftain's bottlings are priced relatively friendly - but if you go hunting for malts that offer the best value
you probably shouldn't put Brora on your shopping list anyway. Today's prices usually reflect Brora's stellar reputation,
so if you are looking for Bang-For-Your-Buck you should probably look elsewhere. And if character and personality are
your only concerns and price is not a (major) factor, there are far better bottlings of Brora out there.
That makes the Chieftain's Broras the ugly ducklings of this Brorathon so far.
I proceeded with the Brora 21yo 1982/2003 (50%, Lombard's Jewel of the Highlands).
Nose: Ah... Sweet and creamy. Not much sherry, but much more expressive than the Chieftains.
Fruits and spices are next. This is the sort of lively 'bourbon' profile I like - not dull at all.
Pear? It had a brief 'medicinal' episode before it turned into a more 'organic' direction.
Sweaty. Hey, now I get 'onion rings' potato chips... This is an odd little sucker...
Water didn't change the profile much at first, but after half a minute it just dropped dead.
Ant acid? Wait a minute - after a few more minutes it comes back to life. Well, Sort off..
Taste: Nice, if a little nondescript. At first the peat only shows itself in the aftertaste.
I found it a little bit dusty on the palate. Dried apples? Wow, a blast of peat and menthol!
Well... is that menthol? Maybe it's something medicinal rather than menthol or eucalyptus.
Whatever it is, if you don't add watewr this one seems to grow more powerful with time.
Dry finish - not complex but very long. Maybe a little sweeter in the centre with some water.
Score: 84 points - to me it doesn't seem quite balanced enough for a score in the upper 80's.
The bouquet of the Lombard's takes some pretty unexpected twists and turns, though...
And this Brora is pretty unique on the palate as well, now that I mention it...
You know what; let's reward development and go for 85 points instead.
The amazing development makes it a 'jewel of the Highlands' indeed...
Let's see if the Brora 22yo 1980/2002 (51%, Clan des Grands Malts, Hogshead #823) can match the Lombard's.
Looking at the matrix scores (three maniacs put it in the upper 80's; Klaus even gave it 92 points) it should do well.
Nose: Light yet peaty. Organics quickly emerge - and bring a lot of complexity with them.
After a few minutes I got an odd citrussy note. It has a dusty episode as well. Hint of sulphur?
Leather. I can't put my finger on it, but this bouquet just touches me in all the right places...
A whiff of ant acid - just like in the Lombard's - but fruit and organics remain dominant.
Water doesn't do much for the nose at first - but I've learnt to give it some time.
Hmmm... No, in this case water didn't reveal any hidden layers of complexity.
Taste: Smooth, sweet and peaty in the start. Beautifully balanced. Powerful, but not too hot.
Over time the sweetness takes a backseat and things move in a smokier direction. Solid.
Score: 89 points - but it might have made the 90's if water had opened it up some more.
The Brora 20yo 1975/1996 (60.75%, UDRM, 20cl) is the odd one out in this flight; it's the only bottle that was distilled in the 1970's. I've tried this one before and scored it lower than the other maniacs who all put it in the 90's.
Nose: Takes a while to open up. First some organics emerge, then some 'bakery' aroma's. Raw rhubarb?
This really is too powerful at cask strength, so I quickly added some water - quite a lot, actually.
With some water it seemed sweeter and I got whiffs of rubber and 'wet dog'. Still a little restrained.
Even more water brought out some faint dusty notes. It teases but hardly ever reveals anything.
Taste: Feels excellent at C/S, but at that strength it's hard to pick up many details. Peat, of course.
After I added some water it seemed a little sweeter in start and centre. Still peaty, smoky finish.
Pinch of salt in the finish as well? Not very 'defined', but it feels really excellent on the palate.
Smooth, even after I added water twice. This is one of those rare malts that can stand lots of water.
89 points - one point up from my initial 88 points but not quite 90's material in my book.
Maybe it suffers from the 'death seat' in this flight, but the nose isn't expressive enough for me.
There's some complexity in the bouquet, but you really have to work at it to bring it to the surface.
Quite similar to the 'Clan des Grands Malts' bottling - that one made most points on the palate as well.
Maybe this just isn't quite sweet enough for my tastes?
Anyway - that concludes part III of the 2005 Brorathon.
No new entries for the very top of my Hit List this time, but two bottlings (the 20yo 1975 Rare Malts and the 22yo 1980
from the Clan des Grands Malts) came very, very close. So, they are 'highliest recommendable' of this flight and definitely
worth a pretty penny. The Lombard's wasn't quite in the same league, but it still made a very strong impression. The
Chieftain's wasn't a bad malt (in fact it scored above average) but it was clearly no match for the other Broras in this flight.
> Entry 238 - May 19, 2005: Brorathon - Part 4
Well, the last flight in the Brorathon came a little bit sooner than I expected.
I had planned on having five sessions, but I didn't check the list of all available Brora's.
As it turned out, I already tried a few of the bottlings in the early 20's that Serge sent me.
I decided to keep those closed until a malt maniac that hasn't tried them visits Amsterdam.
Instead, I'll have a look at the three 30yo samples that I scheduled for the 'Big Brora Finale'.
I've tried these expressions on an earlier occasion as well, but in all cases my scores deviated
from those of the other maniacs so I was eager to give them another go. What's more, these
samples were not completely full and I didn't want to give oxidation any more time to work
its black magic on these three 'historical' drams;
- Brora 30yo 1972/2002 (46.6%, Douglas Laing OMC for Germany, 204 Bottles)
- Brora 30yo 1972/2003 (47.4%, The Whisky Shop, Sherry hogshead, 220 Bottles)
- Brora 30yo 1972/2003 'Broraggeddon' (50.8.%, Douglas Laing for Plowed, 201 Bottles)
I had a go at all three malts on December 29, 2003 - please see entry 150-Y for tasting notes.
For this report I'll focus primarily on verifying if my initial scores did justice to these drams.
I started with the Brora 30yo 1972/2002 (46.6%, DL OMC for Germany, 204 Botttles).
Nose: A straight shooter. Serious. Spicy. Brine. Smoked fish. More and more organics. Leather.
Rubber. Is that a hint of something metallic? This malt somehow creates a 'brooding' atmosphere.
It doesn't jump at you. You have to work at it, but if you make the effort this offers many rewards.
Taste: A sweet, peaty punch - great 'organic' peat. This feels just perfect. Great body at 46.6%.
Score: 91 points - two more points than my initial score of 89! A genuine peat monster.
I can imagine how this went down very well with the Germans.
I've tried the Brora 30yo 1972/2003 (47.4%, The Whisky Shop, Sherry hogshead, 220 Btl.) before too.
Nose: Loads of sherry. Fruit and smoke. Furniture polish. Wood. Excellent. Organics. Salmiak. Molasses.
Leather, just like in the '72/'02 for Germany. Maggi. Something spicy as well. More smoke with time.
Taste: Big and fruity with a big kick in the centre. Feels a bit winey without too much tannins.
There's smoke as well - more smoke than peat, actually. It's especially dominant in the finish.
A 'Buysman' (burnt caramel) bitterness, but here it somehow works for me. That's a bit odd.
Score: 90 points (my initial score as well) seems about right. It's not for everyone, though.
You have to be willing to overlook / accept some 'rough edges' on this sherry monster.
It's a thin line between love and hate - some traits of this TWS bottle almost remind me of Loch Dhu.
However, unlike the 'scorched earth' Loch Dhu this Brora has much more to offer than ashes and smoke.
Especially if you manage to restrain yourself and give this malt at least half an hour to develop.
The Brora 30yo 1972/2003 'Broraggeddon' (50.8.%, DL for Plowed, 201 Bottles) should prove to be an appropriate
choice for the very last dram of this Brorathon - looking at the scores on the matrix this is the pick of the litter. Judging
from the colour that could very well be the case; a dark, deep mahogany. The colour alone made my mouth water.
Nose: Aaah. yes, another sherry monster. But it's a little sweeter and friendlier than the TWS bottling.
Marzipan and toffee. Fondant or fudge? Then some smoke emerges. Again I found no apparent peat.
Then it's time for organics. Five minutes later some medicinal notes joined the party. Some rubber too.
Taste: Smooth and full bodied in the start - first fruit and sherry, then lots of smoke in the centre.
Remains smoky until the very end of the long finish. Quite hot. A little 'winey' like the TWS bottling.
At one point I thought I found something in the camphor / eucalyptus spectrum - or did I imagine it?
Score: 92 points - once again I'm quite satisfied with my initial score - one of the best Brora's ever.
So, this 'Brorageddon' bottling for PLOWED was indeed a fitting finale to the 2005 Brorathon.
Well, to tell you the truth I wasn't too surprised; Douglas Laing has bottled some marvelous Broras.
In fact, I think all my favourite Broras came from their stocks - let's check the Hit List for my Top 10;
94 - Brora 29yo 1972/2001 Platinum Selection II (59.6%, Douglas Laing, 240 Bottles)
93 - Brora 32yo 1970/2002 Platinum Selection III (58.4%, DL Old & Rare, 297 Botttles)
92 - Brora 30yo 1972/2003 'Broraggeddon' (50.8.%, Douglas Laing OMC, 201 Bottles)
91 - Brora 30yo 1972/2002 (46.6%, DL OMC for Germany, 204 Botttles)
91 - Brora 30yo '2003' (55.7%, OB, Bottled 2003, 3000 Bottles)
90 - Brora 30yo 1972/2003 (47.4%, DL OMC for The Whisky Shop, Sherry hogshead, 220 Btl.)
90 - Brora 19yo 1982/2001 (50%, Silver Seal, Sherry Cask, 240 Bottles, Bottled 9/2001)
89 - Brora 20yo 1975/1996 (60.75%, UDRM, 20cl)
89 - Brora 22yo 1972/1995 (61.1%, UDRM)
89 - Brora 22yo 1980/2002 (51%, Clan des Grands Malts, Hogshead #823)
Yep, just as I expected - the top four Broras on my Top 10 all came from Douglas Laing.
Not bad at all for an independent bottler that entered the single malt market many years after pioneers like
Cadenhead's and Gordon & MacPhail. Diageo is a close second with three of their bottlings (an OB and two UD Rare
Malts) making it into my Brora Top 10. But even outside this Top 10 Brora's performance is very impressive. Out of the 26
bottlings I've tried, 7 were 'legendary' (90 points or more), 14 were 'highly recommendable' (85-89 points), 2 were just
'recommendable' (80-84 points) and 3 were 'above average' (75-79). So far, not a single bottle scored below average.
Something else that's amazing is Serge's new site about the history of Brora.
It isn't officially published yet, but I had a sneak peak and it looks magnificent - nice and 'organic', just the way I like it.
What's more, it allows you to study the history of this legendary distillery in incredible detail; Serge has collected an
amazing wealth of pictures and information. But I'm afraid you'll have to wait a little longer before you can enjoy it too - I'll publish a link as soon as everything is on-line.
And that concludes the 2005 Brorathon.
I should start the preparations for my trip to Islay next week, but I'd like to publish three fresh E-pistles I've received
from Louis, Luca and Lawrence before I leave. With some luck, Serge and I should be able to put up a 'Vacation Special' to keep you updated on the maniacal adventures when we're on the island.
> Entry 239 - May 23, 2005: Fantasy Island
The clock is ticking...
In just a few days I'll be on the island of my dreams.
Of course, the island in question isn't a tropical retreat
like the sunny 'postcard paradise' depicted at the right.
In fact, chances are that it will be chilly, rainy and windy.
And I imagine the women on the island won't be nearly as
scantily clad as the lovely lady leasuring at the right either.
If we see any skirts it will probably be the tartan variety
with a pair of hairy Scottish legs sticking out of them...
Yeah, you guessed it: I'm off to Islay in two days!
I'll meet up with Davin, Serge and Olivier in Glasgow before
embarking on a little 'training trip' to Oban and Springbank.
That should prepare us for a one week Islay sampling spree.
On Islay, we will meet up with a bunch of the other maniacs
on several occasions for some serious, old school dramming.
Oh, I can hardly wait; on Islay I'll meet Luc again (which is nice) but I will also be able to shake the hand of four other malt maniacs I've never met in real life before; Peter, Charlie,
Martine and Thomas - not to mention a bunch of readers of the site. Excellent... The next entry in my Liquid Log will bring
you all the hot news from Islay - and that should be quite a lot. We hope to get some confidential information about a
number of fake issues, attend the distillation of the first spirit at Kilchoman, taste some very special Balvenies, visit every single distillery on the island, have dinner at Martine's place, etcetera...
Needless to say, log entry #240 will be a big whopper...
Hey, hold on... It just dawns on me that liquid log entry #140 dealt with my very first visit to Scotland.
And now, exactly 100 entries and two years later, entry #240 will deal with my very first visit to Islay.
Serendipity... I'll take that as a sign that lady luck will be smiling on us during Feis Ile.
And if she doesn't I'm sure Bacchus will...
Anyway, I plan to return to Amsterdam around June 5, so you'll have to wait a while for all the reports.
However, Serge and I have published a Vacation Special to keep you updated about some of our adventures. It also
contains our schedule for the week, so if you are one of the lucky buggers that will attend Feis Ile as well you'll have the unique opportunity to observe the behaviour of a couple of malt maniacs 'in the wild'.
So, check out the Vacation Special during the next few weeks if you want to keep track of our progress.
You'll be able to find reports of our adventures in Log Entry #240 and the next issue of Malt Maniacs.