> Entry 240 - June 30, 2005: Feis Ile (Post Script)
Hurray! My personal Feis Ile 2005 report is finally finished.
After the Vacation Special and the Islay 2005 Picture Book you would think
that we've written enough about our adventures on the island, but there's
more to tell. So, expect more reports about Feis Ile in Malt Maniacs #15.
It will be quite some time before all those reports are finished.
So, for your convenience, here are direct links into my personal report;
25/05/2005 - Davin & I arrive in Glasgow and meet the PLOWED people.
26/05/2005 - Davin & I visit Glengoyne; Serge & Olivier arrive in Glasgow.
27/05/2005 - The fearsome foursome visits Oban and Springbank.
28/05/2005 - First day on Islay with a fantastic visit of Lagavulin.
29/05/2005 - Open day at Bruichladdich and dinner at Martine's house.
30/05/2005 - Sampling on the beaches, dinner at Port Charlotte Hotel.
31/05/2005 - Tour of Laphroaig, hike to watersource, Tasting at Ardbeg.
01/06/2005 - Tour of Kilchoman, Balvenie session, Ruins at Kilchoman.
02/06/2005 - The 10,000th score on the monitor, visiting PLOWED HQ, etc.
03/06/2005 - Official opening of Kilchoman and open day at Bunnahabhan.
04/06/2004 - We say goodbye in Glasgow, Davin & I do some more dramming.
Ah, what a wonderful little 'vacation' that was...
Islay really is a malt maniac's paradise - definitely worth a 'pildrammage'.
This little island is home to so many wonderful malts and wonderful people (especially the distillery folk that made us all feel very welcome) that this is just a place that everybody that's passionate about malts should visit at least once in
their lives. And if you go, make sure to try and visit during Feis Ile. It's just so much fun - hundreds of maltheads from all
over the world gather on a small island once every year to share their passion for single malt whisky. It's just... great!
So, now that things have returned to normal - or at least as normal as they get in a malt maniac's life - I can start to
focus on a new project. Or actually, it will be an old project I really need to pick up. I think it has been almost two years
since I started work on the distillery profiles and so far I've only managed to finish profiles with the 'A' distilleries.
In the next few months I'll try to add some more profiles.
> Entry 241 - July 1, 2005: MM15
Phew! My Feis Ile 2005 report is finally finished,
so I could shave off the blasted beard that has
tortured me so during the last two heat waves.
Davin, Charlie, Dave and Peter have all inspired
their follicles to work miracles (I suspect Serge
was born with a moustache, so no credit there),
but when I arrived in Scotland this year by chin
and upper lip were still as naked as a streaker.
I was plagued by a mild case of remorse during
the whole trip, and after my first shave back on
Dutch soil I decided my chin wouldn't see a razor
again until my Feis Ile 2005 report was done.
Well it is - so it was time for a close shave.
However, before removing all of my facial hair I
decided to give the 'goatee' that has suddenly
grown so popular amongst the maniacs a try.
When I sent the photographic evidence of my
act of atonement to the maniacs, Serge quickly
responded with the 'zappy' montage to the right.
The poster shows, from left to right, Uncle Sam (not officially part of the malt maniacs), Serge (trend setter par excellence), Dave (sporting a non-conformistic model somewhere inbetween Little Richard's and Joseph Stalin's facial
adornments), yours truly (with the ever popular 'biker freak' model), Davin (apparently inspired by Colonel Sanders of
KFC), Charlie (with a clever twist of the traditional 'Lord Kitchener' model) and finally Peter who decided to go for the
'hobo' look. As you can see, my goatee makes me look like the illegitimate offspring of two of the village people, so it
didn't last more than a day. I now know that I'll be able to grow it back in a month if it ever becomes part of the official Malt Maniacs uniform ;-)
Until that day, I'll be happy to show my face 'naked' in all its humongous splendour.
Not only do moustaches itch like crazy when it's hot, eating soup in a civilised manner becomes quite challenging. But did
you know that there are people out there who are just as obsessed with beards and mustaches (their own and/or those of others) as the maniacs are with malts? I kid you not - they even have a 'World Beard & Mustache
Championship'! Just check out the URLs below for a peek into the depraved world of facial hair fetishists...
Weird enough for you? Anyway, as usual I've allowed my train of thought to get side-tracked.
As the brainiacs among you may have deduced from the title of this entry, Malt Maniacs #15 is on-line.
Just a few E-pistles for now, but more reports - mostly about Feis Ile 2005 and related topics - will be added in the near
future. For one thing, the 'official' maniacal report about our trip to Bologna & Zurich is now finally done.
Simply join the mailinglist if you want to know about the next big update.
Oh yeah, and one more thing...
I don't know if Luc used any physical violence when he visited the Laphroaig distillery last month, but a few days ago a
DHL courier rang his doorbell to deliver two wooden boxes. Inside them were two bottles of Laphroaig 30yo - the
genuine article this time. It has taken Allied some time, but they finally came through - and then some - after Luc had
bought a fake bottle on eBay last year. (Read Luc's E-pistle about the Laphroaig Fraud in MM#11 for all the details.) In
hindsight, exchanging one fake bottle of Laphroaig 30yo for two real ones doesn't seem like such a bad deal, does it? ;-)
Hats off to Allied - slow but very generous service...
> Entry 242 - July 12, 2005: 'Swedish' Session
Last week, Swedish foreign correspondent Robert Karlsson visited Amsterdam.
Just the sort of excuse I needed to invite Robert, fellow foreign correspondent
Michel van Meersbergen and certified malt maniac Alexander van der Veer for
a dramming session. I met up with Robert in the afternoon at whiskycafe De Still,
which had been his hang-out for most of his stay in Amsterdam. Just like I have
done in the past, he used the impressive collection on the shelves of De Still to
sample bottlings from some of the more 'obscure' distilleries in Scotland.
At De Still we started off with a very interesting dram.
The Auchroisk 11yo 1993/2004 (46%, MMcD Maverick, Bourbon/Port, W0406)
immediately caught my eye - I heard about this new range from Murray McDavid
but haven't had the chance to sample any expressions myself. When I examined
the label I immediately noticed a nice feature; it doesn't only specify what type
of cask was used to 'finish' the malt, but the type of the 'original' cask as well.
Granted, this will most probably be a bourbon cask in at least 95% of all finished
bottlings, but I still like to know about it. This Auchroisk wears its finished heart
on its sleeve; the nose is extremely rich and fruity. Sweet and farmy with some
lovely organics. Highly enjoyable. It was quite rich on the palate as well; hints
of coffee and 'speculaas'. Unfortunately, it grows quite gritty towards the finish.
Score: 80 points
- although this one might offend members of the wine brigade.
After we managed to pull ourselves away from our empty glasses Robert and I proceeded to the Cadenhead's store to meet up with Alexander and Michel. There wasn't a lot of time to shoot the breeze there, because Andries would be
hosting a tasting session of his own in the evening. When I saw the list of malts he would be serving I almost
contemplated cancelling the session at my place; I would have been able to fill quite a few holes in my 'to do' list.
Distilleries on Andries' schedule included Glencadam, Macduff, Dumbarton and Deanston - to name just a few.
An intriguing session!
Unfortunately, we had made other arrangements for the evening.
Still, Andries slipped me a glass of the Miltonduff 11yo 1990/2001 (60.4%, Cadenhead's, Bottled July 2001) to try. The
nose starts of rather mild but very promising. Citrus. Sweaty. Farmy. Spicy. Wonderful development - and it becomes
very complex over time. On the palate it starts out full bodied but it turns notably grittier towards the finish. Too bad, that keeps the score at 84 points
- just short of 'highly recommendable'. However, I should add that Alexander was convinced that my score would have climbed to the upper 80's if I had given it more time to develop.
However, time was something we were short of - the bottles on my top shelf were waiting.
After a quick stop near the Rembrandtsplein for our traditional pre-dramming meal of Belgian fries (in my case the
'oorlog' variety with mayonnaise and sateh sauce - not too suitable to foreign palates it seems) we took the subway to
my place in the outskirts of Amsterdam. I had set my sights on some relaxed dramming, but Michel quickly turned things
in a more challenging direction by pouring us a blind sample from his bag. The nose was creamy and spicy, malty and
veggy. Sliced French beans. My first thoughts went to the lower East coast of Scotland - Tobermory or Isle of Jura -
because of a distinct oily note, but that vanished over time, leaving a fairly 'compact' profile. Could this be a Lowlander?
On the palate I found gooseberries. Sweet and woody with more 'body' than your typical Lowlander. Once again a hint of oil. This convinced me to put my money on Isle of Jura. Alas, it was the Littlemill 20yo 1984/2004
(56.3%, Jack Wiebers Scottish Castles, C#2444, 150 Bottles). Score: 82 points - the combination of oil and Lowland traits should have tipped me off.
Next it was Robert's turn to pour a blind. I found peat and lemon in the nose. Lots of organics as well, which made me
make the bold claim that this was one of the three 'Kildalton' distilleries; Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg. The peat
slowly retreats, leaving dried sausage and some lingering minty freshness. On the sweet & smooth palate I found lots of lime and bitter lemon. Absolutely great stuff. As it turned out, we had been enjoying the
Ardbeg 1977/2001 (46%, OB).
Enjoying it quite a bit, actually: my score was 90 points - just like the 'Lord of the Isles'.
Very nice - especially because I quickly zoned in on the location of production.
The Ardbeg was a hard act to follow, but Michel's next blind did the trick.
The nose started off with candy and turkish delight. Later on white pepper, organics and tobacco join the party. On the
palate I got old tea, smoke and salt. A wonderful mouth feel, even though it's quite dry. With the help of some very obscure tips from Michel I went for Brora. Correct; the Brora 31yo 1972/2003
(49.3%, DL Platinum, 221 Bottles) to be precise. What a beauty - even though it doesn't seem particulary peaty. Score: 94 points from me.
After barely an hour of power-dramming Alexander started to lose steam.
So, after plundering my sample stock he returned home just before Robert, Michel and I finally got to the good stuff on
my top shelf. Michel had thrown down the gauntlet with his Brora, so I was forced to bring out 'the big guns' right away.
My first challenger for the Brora as 'dram of the evening' was the Talisker 20yo 1981/2002 'Sherry' (62%, OB) that won the 'Non Plus Ultra Award' at the 2003 MM Awards. Robert was suitably impressed. I decided to knock him out with the
best bottle on my top shelf; the Ardbeg 25yo 1975/2000 (50%, OMC, 702 Bottles). For once, I agree with Jim Murray's
score - what a superb dram. Robert loved it as well and even Michel had to reluctantly agree this was a nice malt.
No reason to change my scores; 93 for the Talisker and 96 for the Ardbeg.
We realised there was no way to go but down from here, but nevertheless we boldly proceeded with our next blind. The
nose had a lovely 'Sweet & sour' character. Atjar. Lemony. Ginger. Toffee! On the palate it seemed quite fruity with sugar cane and a ditinct rum character. Fabulous! My brief notes on the Lochside 35yo 1966/2002
(51.3%, Premier Malt, cask #7541) don't reflect how much I enjoyed this malt - but I think my score of 92 points does. The best Lochside I ever had.
The nose of the next blind started off creamy and spicy. Citrussy. Sorrel. Rhubarb. Even more citrus with some water.
Many different fragrances in the 'sour' end of the spectrum. This must surely be a Lowlander, no? On the palate it was
remarkably sweet though. More chocolate towards the finish. A 'bourbony' mouth feel with some pine. Grapefruit? Drying out towards a peppery finish. I guessed Bladnoch, but it turned out to be a
Miltonduff 17yo 1978/1996 (57.9%, Cadenhead's, USA, 75cl). Excellent - before tonight I sampled only two different expressions - now I can add two more
to my Track Record. The score for this one you ask? That would be 86 points - two more points than for the 11yo we tried earlier.
My last notes are for the Glenlossie 1978/1998 (56.1%, Cadenhead's, USA, Distilled march 1978, Bottled March 1998).
The nose was dusty and creamy with pears and some citrussy notes. It was very chewy on the palate - I like that - but other than that it wasn't especially complex. My score of 78 points
puts it slightly above average. That doesn't mean I didn't enjoy this dram - I've only tried four other expressions so far and this one was the second best I ever tried, right
after the Glenlossie 1993/2003 (43%, The Spirit Safe) from Jean Donnay.
Now it was time to take Robert to the subway station.
After Michel and I returned we turned our attention to some fresh bottles from my reserve stock, but I didn't make any
notes on those. There will be plenty of time to investigate these bottles further next time; right now I was quite content
to discuss anoracal issues like caramel and 'French Whore Perfume' with Michel until the wee hours of the night.
My 'dram diary' proves that I had done enough 'work' today; eight brand new entries.
So, that was a fun evening - not to mention a very productive one.
You may recall that I set myself a new goal at the beginning of this year - sampling at least six expressions of each
Scottish malt whisky distillery that is either active or has been since the early 1980's. Today's sampling helped my cross
quite a few malts from my 'to do' list. I've only tried four expressions of Auchroisk before, now I have just one more to go
. I've made a big jump from two to four Miltonduffs - just two more to go. I've tried three expressions of Littlemill so far;
plus one means just two more left for Littlemill as well. Finally, there's Glenlossie - I've tried four versions so far; after
tonight there's just one more version I 'have' to try. And on top of the progress w.r.t. obscure distilleries, I have three
fresh entries for the top of my Hit List with scores of 90 points or more. Yes, a productive evening indeed...
With eight new entries for my Track Record, the total tally is now 1171 Scotch single malts.
I know I had promised myself to take it a little easier during phase III of my mission, but I'm already finding myself
drawing up a new 'to do' list with a deadline of December 31, 2006 - exactly 10 years after this site was born.
More about that in my next log entries...
> Entry 243 - July 14, 2005: Brain Candy
I'm a hopeless perfectionist - which is rather frustrating if you
have to work on a site as massive as Malt Madness / Maniacs ;-)
There are always dozens of loose ends to tie up and 'orphaned'
pages that are in desperate need of a revision. One part of the
site that hadn't been updated in a while was the Mega Malt Map.
I'm happy to report that the malt map has been updated and the
pages for Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands, Islay and Campbeltown
are now finished. Well, preliminary and fairly superficial versions
of the 'definitive' pages I plan to publish some day anyway....
With this update the major reconstruction effort that started in
March 2005 is about 50% finished. Good - I started to experience
a few 'mouse arm' warning signals anyway that prompted me to
take it a little easier for a few days. That was the perfect excuse
to turn into a couch potrato for a while and watch a few movies.
I had to do some 'research' anyway. As you may recall, I boasted
about reports about movies, music and the finer things in life
when I started this new 'blog' in January but so far I have been
focusing mostly on single malts and related topics. It's high time
I started to put my money where my mouth is and write
something about some of the other 'finer things in life'.
So, let's talk about movies, shall we?
The picture above shows a newspaper article about the 'Manager's Leasure Suit'.
Those of you who've already seen The Yes Men
(2003, Dan Ollman & Sarah Price) are probably lying under their desks right now trying to keep their sides from splitting... The newspaper article perfectly illustrates the point of a hilarious
documentary that Rene Tammes (a fellow movie maniac) sent me some time ago under the assumption that I would like
it. He was right. This documentary chronicles a few stunts from the same group of people that provoked George W. Bush (Pchhftff!) into uttering his infamous words: 'There ought to be limits to freedom'.
An early project of 'The Yes Men' involved them changing the voice boxes of Barbie and GI Joe dolls, resulting in the macho boy's dolls saying things like 'I'd love to shop with you' while Barbie, that ultimate role model for pre-teen girls,
could be heard screaming 'Troops, attack!' and 'Dead men tell no lies!'. Putting the doctored dolls back on the shelves of
toy stores across the USA, they lit the fuse for one of the finest examples of guerilla marketing I've seen so far.
The 'stars' of the story of The Yes Men (Mike Bonanno and Andy Bichlbaum) started their subversive careers with a so
-called 'chameleon hijack' in 1999. The official website for George W. Bush's campaign (Pchhftff!) was www.georgewbush
.com, but Mike and Andy set up a fake website on www.gwbush.com with some, shall we say, slightly modified content.
As we all know, their attempts to disrupt the Bush campaign failed rather miserably, so with four years (or rather, as we
now know, eight years) of neo-conservative politics to look forward to our heroes Mike & Andy turned their attention to
the corporate world. When they obtained the www.gatt.org domain they were in business. The GATT (Global Agreement
on Tariffs & Trade) was the predecessor of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) and Mike and Andy made sure their
website mimicked the real WTO website as closely as possible. Predictably enough, some lazy journalists and conference
organisers ended up on the 'chameleon' website eventually, inviting a 'GATT official' to present some of the WTO's official points of view.
This led to one 'Dr. Andreas Bichlbauer' making an appearance in Salzburg, giving a smooth 'Barriers To Cooperation' presentation about the many disadvantages of local customs. Deadpan statements like 'In Italy, sleep is done as much
during the day as at night, almost' and 'The grossly inefficient system of US presidential elections can be streamlined by
selling votes over the internet, allowing people to offer their vote to the highest bidder.' were swallowed by the apathic audience without as much as a raising of the eyebrows.
Another highlight is the presentation of the 'Manager's Leasure Suit' (shown above) by 'Hank Hardy Unruh' during a keynote speech at a conference about 'Textiles of the Future' in Finland. The suit is designed to 'Solve two of the very
biggest problems in management today; maintaining rapport with distant workforce and maintaining helpful amounts of leasure'. The shiny golden suit is hidden under an apparently normal 'breakaway business suit' with velcro strips; as
soon as the business suit is torn away the 'Leasure Suit' underneath is exposed and a big phallus starts to inflate. At
the end of the phallus (or rather, the Employee Visualisation Appendage) is a viewsreen to 'manage sweatshops
remotely'. The computer animation of the suit in the concept phase alone is hilarious, let alone the actual revealing of the suit at the conference...
The reactionary PowerPoint presentation preceeding it is hilarious as well.
Hank Hardy Unruh tries to answer the question 'How did workers ever get to be a problem?'
His analysis takes us back to the US Civil War ('the least profitable war in our country') which 'deprived slavery of its natural development into remote labour.' Hank shares his unique view on slavery (or, as he like to call it, 'involuntarily imported
labour...') with a baffled audience: 'Hundreds of thousands of workers, previously unemployed in their country of origin were
given useful jobs in textiles. Into this rosy picture of freedom and boon stepped, you guessed it, the North.'
Still, Mr. Unruh (Germans will get the joke) admits that 'remote labour' is even better than slavery.
'What do you think it would cost today to profitably maintain a slave?', he asks his audience. The cost of living in our
modern Western societies is simply prohibitive. Fortunately, there's 'remote labour'. 'In countries of origin youth can be
gainfully employed without restriction.' And remote labour is good for morale as well: 'Workers don't have to be relocated to habitats where they would be subject to such unpleasantries as homesickness and racism.'
OK, I'll finish with a quote from 'Granwyth Hulatberi' during a discussion on CNBC MarketWrap:
'The protesters are focused too much on reality and facts and figures'.
So, I guess that by now you should have figured out if you'll like 'The Yes Men' or not.
If you do, check out their website on www.theyesmen.org.
Even if you share my taste in malts, it's entirely possible that you don't share my taste in movies or some of the other
'fine things in life'. Nevertheless, I've decided to try and expand the view of this log a little bit in the future.
Every now and then I'll write an entry in one of these three categories;
Brain Candy: Interesting movies, television, websites, books, magazines, history, politics, etc.
: Music (Classical, Folk, Pop, Jazz, Blues, Bluegrass, Dixieland, Soul, Celtic, Dutch, etc.)
: Various visual treats; advertising, movies, photography - and probably some pin-ups.
(Hey, I'll simply have to play dirty if I want to beat (m)ad-man Serge at his own game ;-)
If you're not interested in my thoughts on these topics (I wouldn't blame you ;-), you can just skip those entries.
> Entry 244 - July 15, 2005: A Look Ahead - Part I
Last week's Swedish session inspired me to take a long hard look at my 'To Do List'.
I've made some vey decent progress, but I'll have to sample some 100 more single malts.
As luck would have it, a bunch of samples just arrived from Luc in Belgium and Thomas
in Gemany. I immediately opened the boxes to examine the contents. Any obscure stuff?
Yes indeedy; I found Balblair (5 expressions sampled), Dallas Dhu (4 expressions sampled),
Dalmore (3 expressions), Dalwhinnie (3 expressions) and Glenury Royal (3 expressions too).
Excellent - let's not waste any time and investigate these 'rarities' tonight.
Well, the Dalwhinnie 15yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003) isn't that rare, obviously.
However, I've never been a big fan of either the standard 15yo or Distiller's Editions,
so I never bothered to actively hunt down bottles of Dalwhinnie. But now I'll have to.
Nose: Light and grainy with a touch of honey. Faint spices? Remains 'middle of the road'.
Maybe a hint of dust? Some tea. Mild and accessible - and it opens up slightly over time.
More and more tea over time. Mealy apples? And it keeps on opening up - a nice surprise.
Taste: Malty and quite sweet. Not very well defined. Menthol? Some coffee notes, perhaps?
The sweetness vanishes and it grows a tad bitter towards the finish - it loses points here.
Score: 72 points
- could it be I'm slowly growing fonder of 'natural' malts? Maybe - slowly.
The Dalmore 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1977, 75cl) isn't from an 'obscure' distillery either.
Still, there haven't been many different expressions available lately - mostly the 12yo and 21yo OB's.
Of course, it's not the distillery that makes this sample special - it's the fact that it's from the 1970's!
Nose: Wow! Loads of organics. An 'old school' malt. Extremely rich with a noble sweetness. Leather.
More spices. Tea. Now I get some funky fruity notes. Like gooseberries, but just a tad more 'herbal'.
From the empty glass the organics are even more obvious. Sellery - could that be an 'antique' marker?
Taste: Heavy sherry and some smoke at first. Magnificent sweet and smooth centre. Like a liqueur.
Coffee. The woody notes become more obvious over time and I also found a 'Buysman' bitterness.
After five more minutes I got more pine resin and maybe just the faintest hint of liquorice root.
Score: 92 points - what a knockout malt! Thanks for sharing this blast from the past, Luc!
I think Dalmore just may have earned itself an extra star on the 'still score' scale here.
Next: the Dallas Dhu 27yo 1975/2003 (50%, SMWS 45.12), also received from Belgium.
Nose: Hey, that's different! Very light and flowery - almost like a grain whisky. Sweet glue. Lemon drops.
Bubblegum. A highly concentrated profile. Very quick development; this is a blink and you'll miss it malt!
Hints of stale beer in the background. It becomes very alcoholic with a few drops of water. Some spices?
Taste: Phew... Not really my cup of tea, I'm affraid... Harsh and woody at 50%. It loses points here.
Score: 83 points - because of the interesting nose I can recommend it, but that's all I can say about it.
From the looks of it, the Glenury Royal 26yo 1975/2002
(52.6%, Signatory, C#5240, bottle 91/192) that Thomas sent was matured in either a fresh bourbon cask or second refill sherry cask - the colour is remarkably light after 26 years.
Nose: Classic. Malty. Hint of lime? Light and accessible, but not without substance. An 'easy' whisky.
Hint of something grassy? This Glenury Royal is a good example of a 'natural' malt in its prime.
Taste: Malty as well, and here I found citrussy overtones as well, just like in the nose.
Gooseberries. It has a a fairly unique texture; smooth but with a suggestion of little lumps.
And what a nice surprise: no bitterness whatsoever on the palate. Oops, wait a minute...
Yeah, there is just a hint of bitterness in the finish - and I'm afraid it grows stronger over time.
After I added a splash of water it seemed to develop an unpleasant piney note. Too bad.
Score: 80 points - I'd recommend it, but in this case it's better to finish your glass quickly.
The Balblair 21yo 1975/1997 (56,5%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #7275, 655 Bottles) came from Thomas.
Nose: Another light and 'bourbony' malt - but it has much more 'volume' than the Glenury Royal.
Soon spices and organics emerge; nice. Strike that - very nice! Whiff of peat after adding water.
Taste: Quite drinkable at cask strength, although it grows very hot and dry towards the finish.
Fruity in the centre with a faint hint of smoke or peat in the background. Loses point in the finish.
It seems even more fruity after adding some water. And once again I seemed to detect a little peat.
82 points - very interesting but in the end it's a little too hot, dry and bitter in the finish.
The surprising pinch of peat keeps it the eighties, though - and interesting experience.
Aaaah.... I can sleep the sleep of the righteous tonight.
I've made a serious dent in my 'To Do List' of obscure distilleries.
With the five fresh entries I can chalk up after tonight, my malt mileage is now 1176
I'll have myself another 'obscure' session next week - relentlessly dramming to fulfill my mission.
> Entry 245 - July 21, 2005: A Look Ahead - Part II
Last week's 'look ahead' entry didn't really look ahead much, I'm afraid.
I had planned to finish that session with a fresh 'To Do List', but as usual
I got a bit carried away by the sampling. By the time I swallowed my last
drop of my last dram, the clock struck 1:00 AM and it was time to retreat
for the evening. Perhaps that's just as well, because that allowed me to
finish some much needed work on the Distillery Profiles section today.
Almost two years ago I enthusiastically published profiles on the first eight
active distilleries on the list (that would be Aberfeldy / Aberlour / Ardbeg /
Ardmore / Arran / Auchentoshan / Auchroisk (Singleton) and Aultmore - as
well as some short notes on some three dozen silent distilleries in Scotland.
After that, this blog kept me from getting started on the remaining profiles.
I'm happy to report that distillery profiles for Balblair, Balmenach, Balvenie,
Ben Nevis, Benriach, Benrinnes and Benromach have now been added too.
So, am I almost finished? Erm... Let's see...
This leaves only +/- 75 profiles to finish...
Hmm... If I don't get to work on that site section it won't be done until 2013. I'd better pick up the pace...
Meanwhile, I've almost managed to compile a fresh list of the 'obscure' distilleries I haven't been able to cross off my list yet. Considering I recently decided to make an effort to reach my 'six expressions per distillery' goal by the end of 2006
there's a lot more 'work' waiting for me in the next 17 months. Hopefully I can give my liver a rest in 2007 ;-)
I'll get back to the list a little later on; first I'd like to share some of my lastest notes with you.
Yesterday I dropped by Andries Visser at the Cadenhead's store in Amsterdam for a little chat.
But first, Andries poured me a Deanston 25yo 1977/2003 (50.3%, Cadenhead, Bottled July 2003, 198 Bottles). I tried it before in July 2004 and gave it 81 points then. This time I found some more stuff to enjoy; it seemed richer and spicier
in the nose with gooseberry, milk and organics. Soft and fruity on the palate. Quite mild but it has 'body'. Maybe just a hint of bitterness in the finish. A good malt, no question about it. Score: 82 points
- one point up from my initial 81 points.
We proceeded with a Glencadam 15yo 1989/2005 (58.3%, Cadenhead's, Bottled February 2005).
This was indeed a bottling I haven't tried before; in fact I've only tried four Glencadam expressions so far.
The nose was sweet and mellow with a whiff of paint thinner. Not a lot of personality, I'm afraid.
On the palate I found loads of chocolate. This tastes a bit like liqueur filled bonbons. Lovely!
Score: 80 points - not terribly refined or complex, but very nice on the palate indeed.
On the way back home I bumped into Kees Verduyn, an ex-collegue of mine.
In the late 1990's he had discovered single malts through Malt Madness and we had joined eachother for a few
dramming sessions at De Still in the past. We both had dinner appointments later on, but he invited me for a quick dram or two at his place (just around the corner) as 'payment for my whisky consultancy services' as he called it.
Ha! Well, that works for me...
Kees claimed that he has always been more of a 'drinker' than 'collector', but when we arrived in his dramming room I
was surprised by a collection of at least a hundred open bottles in his drinks cabinet. As it turns out, he had managed to
obtain a modest whisky collection through an inheritance. It wasn't a really 'antique' collection (most bottles were from
the 1990's) and there were quite a few blends included as well, but given the fact that he only paid 2100 Euro's for the
lot of 87 bottles it seems like a very sweet deal indeed. What a great opportunity to try and fill out some more blanks on
my list! I don't have the best of memories, but fortunately Kees had a print-out of the matrix available.
The first bottle that caught my eye was the Dalmore NAS Cigar Malt (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000).
I've seen it on several occasions but never got around to seriously sampling it. The nose was much more like the
'normal' 12yo than I expected; sweet and malty. Yeah, maybe a little smokier than usual, but nothing like the 'bonfire' I
expected. A little tobacco, perhaps. One difference becomes more and more obvious over time, though: it seems more
sherried than the normal 12yo. Hey, maybe that was the point? I guess you wouldn't try to make a very 'smoky' whisky
to complement a 'smoky' cigar. In fact, you would be looking for something very sweet and smooth. Anyway, there was some more smoke on the palate, but once again much more subtle than I had expected. Score: 80 points
Looking over the Monitor Kees noticed that there were just 4 Auchroisks on the list.
Well, I tried a 'Maverick' expression earlier this month, but that still leaves one more to go.
So, we went for the
Singleton of Auchroisk 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000). I imagine this was released around the same time as the 10yo expression I tried, bottled around 2000. Older bottlings usually had a vintage instead of an age
statement. The nose was pretty much as I expected; Malty and a little fruity - not overly sherried. It seems to grow
fruitier and fruitier over time. The profile on the palate was very similar; sweet, malty and fruity. This is a solid malt - nothing especially remarkable to find, but a perfect sipping whisky. Score: 78 points
- better than average.
OK - time for one more dram before we both had to leave for other engagements.
The Glenlossie 1974/1997 (40%, G&M Connoisseur's Choice) seemed like a perfect choice.
Hmmm. Maybe not... I wasn't having a very good nose day, so I couldn't pick up very much...
This has the 'old school' MOTR 'Connoisseur's Choice' character, maybe just a little lighter in style.
Nothing too remarkable on the palate either (malty with a slightly bitter finish), but no flaws either.
Score: 75 points - middle of the road; I'm so glad G&M have changed their philosophy lately!
By now we had to hurry, but I reserved the right to return later for more 'consultancy fees'.
After a nice dinner with a girlfriend at Japanese restaurant 'Tempura' I returned home and started writing this report.
After cleansing my palate I poured myself one more relatively 'obscure' dram that found its way to Amsterdam thanks to German maniac Thomas - the Tomatin 19yo 1977/1997 (57,2%, Glenhaven, B. 09/1977, D. 06/1997).
Nose: Lovely!!! Big, sweet and spicy. It settles down in a minute - or should I say falls apart?
No, that's not it - but the profile changes quite radically, becoming fruitier. Gooseberry and peach.
Very interesting organics drift in and out of focus. Almost 'veggy', but with much more substance.
Taste: Gooseberries - very concentrated and sweet, almost like Gooseberry jam. Malty. Hint of smoke?
Burnt hazelnuts? Increasing bitterness towards the finish, but easily drinkable at cask strength.
After I added water I suddenly thought I detected something soapy and perfumy - and it grows...
Fortunately, it the soap and perfume vanish again after a while, leaving a solid malty dram.
Score: 87 points - despite the fleeting faint hints of soap and perfume on the palate.
Here they really don't disturb me so much; they are an integral 'part of the picture'.
The nose is especially great - it might have made the 90's if it wasn't for the palate.
OK, tired (& slightly drunk) now. I'll publish my new 'to do' list next week.
With some luck I can finish a few more distillery profiles by then.
> Entry 246 - July 23, 2005: 10,000!
Wohowie! Tom Craig, the 'technical' guy of our
friendly hosts Scotchwhisky.com installed some
new statistics software on the server recently,
making it possible for me to find out how many
people actually visit Malt Madness these days.
Well, as it turns out: quite a lot, actually!
During the last few months we've had well over
10,000 different visitors visited the website each
month. That's a special number, because it wasn't
that long ago that we put our 10,000th score on
the monitor. Serendipity... And the numbers keep
on growing; when I write this, more than 12,000
different people had visited MM this month, and we
still have a week to go.
The madness is spreading!
We had a new record on July 20 when 876 people
visited Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs in a single day.
The average number of visitors is now 500+ every
day - and it's interesting to see how we get notably
less visitors in the weekends (+/- 400 a day versus
+/- 550 during week days). That means that some
of you are probably reading this in their boss' time.
Shame on you... Get back to work! ;-)
The new statistics also allow me to see which pages
are visited, how often, how long and in which order.
The average visitor stays on the site for well over 10
minutes and reads around five different pages during
each visit. I already saw logs of people spending well
over two hours in the Beginner's Guide or browsing
through this Liquid Log. Excellent, that means I'm not
putting my liver and brain in jeopardy for nothing ;-)
I'm quite sure some of the 'good press' we've received recently helped.
Needless to say, I pranced around proud as a peacock for a few days after reading the site review in Issue 48 of Whisky Magazine: '... From the visuals through to the content, everything about Malt Madness reeks of character and originality.'
After the Malt Maniacs were described as 'a leading whisky enthusiast's society' in an earlier issue of Whisky Magazine and our site as 'a huge site, beautifully designed, very functional and loads of useful information' on Slainthe.org this is
another 'feather in our arse', like we say here in Holland. (Don't worry, that's supposed to be a good thing...)
Hahaha! It seems our evil master plan of driving the whole world malt mad is working...
> Entry 247 - July 25, 2005: Shelf Cleaning
I'm afraid I haven't been faithfully updating my Stock List lately.
The main reason is that I've been focusing on Swapped samples lately and it looks like
I will for a while longer - especially when the sampling for the 2005 MM Awards will start.
I'm hesitant to open any new bottles right now, because they'll just oxidise away for at
least a few months before I'll have a chance to get back to them. So, since January I've
been emptying bottles on my shelves without immediately replacing them like I used to.
This means there are now less than the usual 36 open bottles on my whisky shelves.
As a certified malt maniac I'm prone to exhibit compulsive behaviour.
I can't explain why the fact that my shelves are 'out of balance' bothers me - but it does.
So, I'll transfer some bottles from my 'Reserve Stock' to my drinking collection soon, even
though I may not open all bottles right away. First things first, though; I'll have to finish
some more big bottles and smaller samples that are almost empty before they'll oxidise.
One of partly filled sample bottles that were approaching their expiration date contained
the Macallan 15yo 1984
(43%, OB). This bottling was released around the year 2000
to deal with a shortage of casks for the 18yo version. I think there were just two releases
of the 15yo 'old style', but now this standard age is incorporated in the new Fine Oak range.
The new 'Fine Oak' 15yo bottling is VERY different from this classic sherry monster, though.
Nose: Very sweet and fruity. A hint of varnish. Very expressive at just 43%. Tea? Tobacco.
Wonderful. Classic Macallan, although it might be a bit 'feintier' & extreme than older bottlings.
Taste: A tad weak in the start, but then a fruity adventure. Once again it's sweet and powerful.
Score: 89 points - although I can understand how it's a tad too extreme in it's 'sherriedness' (?) for some.
In fact, we tried the 15yo Mac 1984 two months ago at a session with Alexander and Michel van Meersbergen (who has a wine background) seemed to think so and looking at the matrix one of my theories seems to be confirmed; most
maniacs scored it in the mid eighties, but Klaus (who has tastes more like mine when it comes to robust, extreme
profiles) gave it 93 points. I personally liked it better than some vintages of the old 18yo, even though it's quite rough.
There was just a little bit left, so I decided to try it in an official, massive Macallan tumbler next. A few maniacs have been
talking about doing another Glassware Test - so this is a perfect occasion to do some preliminary research.
Nose: Much, much more restrained. Ammarilles. Maybe more tea - and definitely a hint of orange.
Or rather bittersweet orange skins - it reminded me a bit of a Southern Comfort with lots of ice.
Taste: Well, as expected there was no influence on the taste - still bloody great. Burnt toffee?
What a shame about the nose, though - from the tumbler I wouldn't give it more than 80 points.
No big surprises here; if you have any interest at all in the bouquet of a whisky, don't use a tumbler.
I'm not sure how the sample of Macallan 18yo 1980 (43%, OB, Bottled 1998) ended up on my shelves.
No matter; I'm delighted to have the chance to finally taste this particular expression - it's new to me.
Nose: Hey, at first it seems not nearly as heavily sherried as batches that were released earlier.
Subtle fruits - yeah, now I get the sultana's I remember from earlier batches. Soft organics.
It opens up after a few minutes, sweetening out. Distinguished but not overly expressive.
Taste: Wow! There's plenty of sherry on the palate. There's some smoke as well, it seems.
It has a dry fruitiness that seems a little more 'austere' than how I remember earlier vintages.
It feels just slightly winey, especially in the finish. Gooseberry skins? Very classy and refined.
Score: 86 points - it doesn't seem quite as expressive as some other vintages of the 18yo I tried.
Still, a wonderful opportunity to have a look back in time to when Macallan was synonymous to sherry.
Let's see... Any more Macallans to finish?
Yes, there's the Macallan 1990/1999 (50%, John Milroy Golden Strength).
Nose: Sweetish. Toffee. There are some sherry influences, but nothing like the OB's of the period.
Restrained. Something vaguely metallic, perhaps? Malt and chloride - not the best of combinations.
Taste: Sweet as well, with perhaps a hint of smoke? Metallic. Vague hint of liquorice root maybe?
It feels very 'solid'. It earns just a few extra points here. Not quite complex enough for the 80's.
79 points - I have to admit I'm not overly sad to see this bottle leave my shelves...
This also means that for the first time in years there are no Macallans on my shelves.
No time for tears - I spotted two interesting samples I brought back from Kees Verduyn's place.
The Cardhu 12yo
(40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000, 100cl) was released not long before Cardhu briefly turned into a vatted
malt. Two earlier expressions I tried (a 70cl bottled from +/- 1994 and a 50cl bottle from +/- 1997) both scored in the
lower 70's. That's not too bad - and I have to admit I just love the design of the bottle. The nose of this batch was light
as always - but perhaps just a little bit maltier? Not a lot of development, and this time I couldn't find the 'chemical
banana' I often found in earlier batches. On the palate it started soft, became grainier and maltier in the centre and bitter in the finish.
Score: 71 points
- roughly in the same league as earlier batches, as far as I could tell.
The Tormore 10yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1995) wasn't a 'high profile' malt either.
Nose: Grainy start, growing maltier but remaining middle of the road. Maybe a faint hint of oil?
Grassy perhaps? Nothing really stands out here - pretty much like a blend (but a good one).
Taste: Smooth start - one could almost say watery. Picks up in the centre, growing sweeter.
Malty, but I seem to detect a sourish undercurrent. Other than that, not very expressive.
Score: 68 points - I'd really have to put this in another league than plain 'below average' malts.
That was nice - although more educational than pleasurable - back to my own shelves.
The bottle of Glen Mhor 12yo (40%, G&M 'OB', Bottled 1990's) was nearly empty as well..
Nose: A little malty. Marzipan? Far too subtle at first for me to pick up anyhing else this time.
Hey, wait - now I get a hint of peat? No, it's gone again. Weird... Chloride? Very faint fruits.
Taste: Sweetish, and again malty. A little nutty, perhaps? Smooth, but a tad bitter in the finish.
Maybe a faint hint of pine? Menthol freshness towards the finish. Not quite as dull as some other G&M's.
At only 40%, I didn't dare to add any water to bring out the nose - even though it feels quite powerful.
Score: 76 points
seems just a tad on the generous side in hindsight, but I'll stick with my original score.
I opened the bottle almost two years ago and it might have suffered from oxidation - due to the screwcap?
The Balvenie 15yo 1985/2002 Single Barrel (50.4%, OB, Cask #286) was nearly empty as well.
It's odd to see a '15yo' age statement on a bottle that's actually 17 years old, but that's the way Balvenie markets this single cask bottling.
Nose: Mellow and malty - and not quite as 'sharp' as I remembered. Some herbs & spices.
Hint of orange zest? Sucade? Growing complexity over time. Quite a fine dram, actually.
Taste: Big and sweet - and something vaguely fruity as well. Fermented fruits. Prunes?
It shows more bitterness over time. Recommendable, but not quite 'highly'.
Score: 83 points
seems about right. I'll stand by my initial score.
So, that's eight 'properly sampled' drams tonight - my nose is starting to buckle under the strain.
I spent the rest of the evening working on the distillery profiles while I did some more 'recreational' dramming. I wasn't
really paying attention, but I couldn't help but notice an interesting liquorice element on the palate of the Glenrothes
1989/2000 (43%, OB) - what an excellent malt for everyday dramming. That goes for the Connemara 12yo (40%, OB) as
well; I found some distinct chemical banana notes on my tongue. One of the very best Irish whiskeys I ever tried; a fine
dram. It has a lovely sweetness on the palate that makes it... erm... palatable even for non-Islay lovers.
And that concludes today's session - but my shelves are far from 'clean yet'.
So, expect a few other 'shelf cleaning' sessions soon...
PS: When I checked our brand new statistics I noticed that the new distillery profiles I published a few days ago have
already been read by dozens of visitors. Great. I'm happy to report that the profile on Bladnoch is now finished as well.
I'll try to publish some more distillery profiles shortly, but I guess it's about time for another installment of our comprehensive Feis Ile 2005 report in Malt Maniacs #15 as well. Ah, the madness never stops...
> Entry 248 - June 27, 2005: Ear Candy
Do you happen to have a broadband connection?
And do you have an MP3 player like WinAmp on your PC?
Yes? Excellent - that means you can enjoy the amazing
wealth of weird and wonderful musical material offered
on one of the coolest websites I've come across lately.
The 365 Days Project presents one MP3 for each day
of the year - and they have some hilarious material...
I got the link from France - brilliant stuff, Serge!
Even though I've spent a lot of time on the site over
the last few months I've only managed to work my way
through half of the odd music you'll find on the website.
So far, some particular favourits include the entries for
January 3 (Chris Anderson's rendition of 'Crazy, Crazy,
very probably performed on an 'electronic miracle organ'
like the one at the right), January 5 ('I'm A Mormon'),
January 15 ('Picking Up Girls Made Easy'), January 21
('Do It Like A Dog'), January 31 ('Disco Accordion', the
name says it all), February 10 ('Roundabout' from Yes
like you've never heard it before), February 19 (If you
listen to just one song, make it this one - a pop singer
from Cambodia that decided to put some yodeling in his
song), March 1 (an infamous recording of Orson Welles
going off his rocker while recording a commercial for
frozen peas and March 20 (a deranged pedicure from
Sweden with a song - ahem - called 'Oxdragarsång').
Here's a comment from the people of the 365 Days Project:
'Sweden's finest, and a pioneer of do-it-yourself record-making. Anna-Lisa ran a pedicure-salon in Stockholm, and in her spare time she hired musicians and studios to make records (on which she was often joined by her poodle on the covers) released on her own ALI-label. Anna-Lisa refused to be tied up to the conventional rules of snobby things like rhythm, tempo and
staying in tune, and on her records you can hear how the musicians grow more and more desperate trying to follow Anna-Lisa's crusades into new and unexplored musical fields.'
Anyway, while I was enjoying some of these hidden musical gems I enjoyed a few malts as well.
There was still a little bit left of the samples that Michel brought with him for 'the Swedish session'.
I would have loved to save them until the next maniacal meeting, but the 60cl bottles were less than 1/3 full and they
would surely be oxidized by the time I would have a chance to offer them to a fellow maniac. So, I decided to 'rescue'
these samples from 'a fate worse than death' (i.e. oxidation) by finishing them off tonight. It's a tough world...
I started with the Glenlossie 1978/1998 (56.1%, Cadenhead's, USA, Distilled March 1978, Bottled March 1998) that
didn't do too well last time. Creamy in the nose, but with a sharp undercurrent. Peaches, pears and dust. It feels good on the palate, but there's not actually a lot of 'taste'. A little malty perhaps. I think
78 points is the right score.
The Littlemill 20yo 1984/2004 (56.3%, Jack Wiebers Scottish Castles, C#2444, 150 Bottles) was next.
This time the nose seemed light and slightly veggy at first, becoming sweeter and creamier. String beans. A faint hint of
ant acid? Oily. It never quite delivers on the promise of organics. On the palate it seemed mainly woody at first, but it after a few minutes a beautiful sweet centre has emerged. Not too complex, but still worth
82 points I think.
I have to admit that the Miltonduff 17yo 1978/1996 (57.9%, Cadenhead's, USA, 75cl) made quite an impression the
first time I tried it. The nose seemed very grainy, but in a good way. Some obvious citrus notes. Interesting but subtle
organics. Very obvious bourbon character on the palate. Liquorice? In the end it's just a little too 'rough' for me.
Final score: 84 points - two points down from the initial score of 86 points.
The last dram of this 'review' was the Lochside 35yo 1966/2002 (51.3%, Premier Malt, Cask #7541).
Oh yeah! The nose has all the rich oaky tones and complex organics I remember. Maybe even a pinch of peat? Sellery.
Sweet & Sour. Peppermint. Wow, this is just SO unique! That goes for the palate as well; peaty and minty - an odd
combination. Meaty. A big, sweet centre with just enough peat. Liquorice. Absolutely magnificent! If the nose hadn't dropped off after ten minutes I would have increased my score of 92 points
to 93 or 94 points. Great stuff - best Lochside I ever tried.
I had planned to try some more malts tonight, but after this magnificent Lochside there was no way to go but down. So,
I decided to finish this session on this high note - and keep the lovely aftertaste (smoke and liquorice) in my mouth for
as long as possible. I don't think I've tried anything from this range (Premier Malt) before, but if this particular Lochside is
anything to go buy I should definitely try to get my hand on some more of these 'Premier' bottles.
Michel van Meersbergen later told me that Premier Malts is a label from Jack Wiebers from Germany.
I've been told he doesn't usually buy and bottle casks all by himself; he works together with other bottlers. The Littlemill,
for example, was bottled together with Cooper's Choice. He seems to work with Hart Brothers and the Scottish Malt
Circle as well. Some of the 'brands' from Jack Wiebers are the 'Scottish Castles' series, 'Cross Hill', 'Auld Distillers',
'Premier Malts' (including the Prenzlow Collection with fancy labels and exactly 120 bottles each), 'Old Train', 'Classic of
Islay' (rumoured to be a young Lagavulin) and Jack's Pirate Whisky 8yo (supposedly Laphroaig & Caol Ila). Thanks for the info, Michel.
That's it for now - back to work on the distillery profiles...
PS: Oh yeah, I also made a small but very significant addition to Malt Madness.
There's now a Google search box on the main page, allowing you to locate any specific piece of information on this site.
PPS: This just in... Fellow maniac Dave Broom just told us that there's finally some fairly 'solid' news about the 'Scottish Shuffle' I mentioned in Log Entry #233 in April. Just to refresh your memories: Pernod Ricard from France (who already
own Aberlour, Glenallachie and Chivas Regal, among other things) announced a 10+ Billion Euro's takeover bid on its UK
rivals Allied Domecq. Due to anti-trust regulations, some 'brands & plants' have to change ownership. It now seems that
Scapa and Tormore (along with Ballantine's) will go to Pernod Ricard while Laphroaig (and Teacher's) will go to Fortune
Brands / Jim Beam. Another side effect is that Bushmills (Ireland) will go to Diageo. I'll wait for official confirmation before I change the information on the Distillery Data page, but it seems the dust in the corporate arena is starting to settle...
> Entry 249 - July 29, 2005: Balvenie 1973
Well, I already received some inquiries about those casks of
Balvenie we sampled on Islay. Time to tell the whole story.
A little while ago I was contacted by Linda Nelson from the
USA who suddenly found herself in the possession of 8 casks
of Balvenie from 1973. This is a rare thing, because William
Grant & Sons (owners of Balvenie, as well as Glenfiddich and
Kininvie) certainly don't promote 'external' ownership of casks
like, for example, Bruichladdich and Springbank. They usually
don't sell casks to independent bottlers either - in fact, they
'pollute' each cask of Balvenie they sell with a little Glenfiddich
or Kininvie to prevent that cask from ever being bottled as a
single malt. That almost sounds like 'scorched earth' tactics,
don't you think? Anyway, that's why independent bottlings
of Balvenie are very rare - there are none on the MM matrix.
As you may know, owning a cask of whisky usually doesn't mean you have it at your home.
While it might be very cool to put a full cask of Scotch malt whisky in the center of your dramming room to use as a table - or even a bunch of them lined up as a bar - it would be hardly practical. First of all, having to draw every dram directly
out of the cask would be hardly convenient (and increasingly messy as the evening progresses, I imagine). Even more
important, the cask would keep aging at your home, which may or may not have the perfect conditions to let a cask of
whisky mature. Assuming that you buy a hogshead of 12yo malt whisky that contains 200 litres when it's delivered to
your house (I wonder if DHL would take the assignment) and assuming that you have yourself four stiff (5cl) drams
every evening it would take you almost three years to empty the cask. And as the level of whisky in the cask drops, the
character of the whisky might change considerably - which may or may not be a good thing. And if you're one of those
people who allow children to live in their home, you'd need to watch out as well. My little brother drank Paraffin from an
old oil barrel once. Actually, not once - he did it twice! I guess he liked it; no wonder he prefers Islay malts now he's in his older - but not much wiser - years.
So, the casks Linda owns are still at a Glenfiddich warehouse in Scotland somewhere.
She contacted the maniacs because information on the Balvenie website led her to believe that only butts and barrels
were used at Balvenie - no hogsheads. Fearing she might have been 'scammed', Linda tried to contact somebody at the
distillery through the Glenfiddich website but to no avail - and the webmaster was less than helpful to say the least.
Fortunately, Charlie MacLean knows pretty much everybody in the whisky world, so we found an 'inside track'. Only when David Stewart (Balvenie's 'Malt Master') got involved, things started to clear up.
Yes, the hogsheads (numbers 1979 - 1986) were real!
To cut a long story short, Charlie picked up eight
cask samples in Speyside some time ago & muled
them to Islay with him last month for us to sample. Kilchoman's Andrew Willis kindly made some room
in the brand new visitor centre of the distillery so
we could sample them in a suitable 'ambiance'.
I don't know if this 'ambiance' helped, but our
noses and palates seemed to be quite 'in synch'.
The maniacal scores for each of these samples
were never more than two or three points apart.
The clear favourite was cask #1986 that earned
an impressive average score of almost 90 points.
It was closely followed by casks #1983 & 1979.
Casks 1980, 1981, and 1985 were classified as
'highly recommendable' as well, while numbers
1982 and 1984 ended up as 'recommendable'.
So, not a mediocre cask among them!
You can find all maniacal scores in the table at the top of this log entry.
Here's a quick overview of my own notes; notes from other maniacs may be published in Malt Maniacs #15 later. We didn't delve into the cask samples right away; we started with some younger expressions to whet our appetites. Well,
they were bottled at a young age, but these miniatures were quite old as well. The Balvenie 8yo (70 proof, OB, Gold /
Black Label) was bottled in the 1970's. The nose was quite natural with apple pie and cardboard. Quite closed; sweeter
and a little hint of liquorice with some water. Tea towel? It had a bitter twang on the palate. Quite flast, but it feels
rough and dry on the tongue. Aspirin bitterness in the finish and maybe a hint of liquorice. Score: 71 points - below average.
The Balvenie 10yo 'Founder's Reserve' (40%, OB, 'Cognac Bottle',) was bottled in the 1980's.
I found the nose much sweeter, bigger and bolder than the 8yo expression. Spicy and a tad buttery. Very faint sellery
and maybe even a pinch of peat. The taste was more or less an extension of the nose, but just like the 8yo is was a tad bitter in the finish, pulling it from the 80's. Score: 77 points - good but not great.
OK, enough 'preliminaries' - time for the main event.
We started on a high note with the Balvenie 1973 Cask #1979 (48%, WIP); sweet and full in the nose with marzipan,
faint organics and some surprising meaty notes. It was sweet and round on the palate at first and got a distinct peppery note after I added some water. Score: 87 points
- an excellent malt that shows what time can do.
The Balvenie 1973 Cask #1980 (46.1%, WIP) was next. The nose was a little bit more 'closed' than the last one, but it
opens up. Ferns (I don't think I ever picked up that scent in a malt before) and a hint of lemon. Meaty and a little salty -
like salami. Sellery. Grows just a tad fruity over time. One the palate it seemed woodier than the last one. A sweet centre. Salt and tannins. Some liquorice. A bitter twang in the finish. Score: 85 points
- anotyher very fine dram.
We proceeded with the Balvenie 1973 Cask #1981 (46.4%, WIP) that started off creamy in the nose. Once again we
all found meaty notes as well - more like a slightly burnt steak than salami this time. Ant acid. Herbal. Grassy. Dry hay.
Sweetens out. Very interesting! On the palate it started out a little flat. Dry. Liquorice root. Sweetish.
Score: 86 points - but based on the nose alone it would have gone even higher.
The Balvenie 1973 Cask #1982 (47.7%, WIP) was notably lighter in the nose.
Veggy at first, but it opens up, sweetening out. It grows creamier over time. Not too complex.
Taste: A watery start, growing sweeter in the middle after a minute, then tannins in the finish.
Score: 83 points - nice, but despite a pleasant touch of liquorice on the palate it sticks at 83.
Maybe vatting it with cask #1980 would combine the strengths of both malts?
The nose of the Balvenie 1973 Cask #1983 (44.8%, WIP) showed a distinct hint of camphor.
Quite light with lemon cake at first, but then powering up with farmy and meaty notes. Medicinal?
On the palate it had a watery start, just like the previous one. This one quickly improves, though.
After a little while the centre was taken over by a beautifully balanced combo of nutmeg and tannins.
87 points - one of the winners so far for me; lots of character and personality.
The Balvenie 1973 Cask #1984 (47.1%, WIP) opened with vanilla in the nose. It was slick and smooth, lighter than the
samples we tried so far. A prickle in the top of the nose. After a minute organics emerge with some distant meaty notes.
It sweetens out over time. On the palate it was sweet as well, with overtomes of liquorice root. Very nice.
Score: 85 points - good enough to reach the 'hightly recommendable' part of my Hit List.
The bouquet of the Balvenie 1973 Cask #1985 (46.6%, WIP) was sweet and polished.
Unfortunately, the nose drops off after a minute. All I found was spices, peanuts and liquorice.
It performs quite well on the palate, though - a peppery prickle, some salt and again lovely tannins.
Score: 85 points
- the same score as the previous one; a little 'better' on the palate but 'worse' in the nose.
The Balvenie 1973 Cask #1986 (49.2%, WIP) was the last of the cask samples.
Nose: Spicier than the others, Organics and some peat. Cigar box. Then it sweetens out.
Caramac. Molten milk chocolate. Very sweet - but that's something I usually love in a malt.
A malt to get lost in; the conversation just sort of drifts to the background as you get sucked in.
Taste: Toffee and liquorice. Not terribly complex, but the mouth feel is just amazing! Lovely.
Score: 89 points - the winner of the morning for me and it seems every maniac agreed.
Since these cask samples are not bottled yet, I can't put them on my Track Record.
Nevertheless, the experience was very enlightening; the significant differences between these eight sister casks
underline the major importance of the individual cask in the maturation of whisky. After all, all the other factors (distillery,
age, wood type, etc.) were identical; the perfect conditions for some serious research. And we continued our research
even after tasting the eight cask samples - not to mention the two young 'appetizers' - by investigating two more
'control drams' that had found their way back to Scotland from Taiwan thanks to fellow malt maniac Ho-cheng Yao.
The nose of the Balvenie 30yo 1970/2001 Vintage Cask (44.6%, OB, Cask #12524, 320 Bottles) was very big and
fruity. Oily as well. Nutty and faintly smoky, like burnt hazelnuts. Lovely - but quite different from the cask samples. On
the palate it was mellow but a tad dull and dusty as well. Kiwi. Theine - not as pleasantly tannic as the cask samples. I had it at 83 points for a long time but eventually it managed to creep up to 85 points
- a smidgen below the average 1973 cask sample.
Giving credit where credit's due, I have to admit that the Balvenie 32yo 1968/2000 Vintage Cask (50.8%, OB, Cask
#7294, 180 Bottles) beats all of the '73 cask samples we just tried - although cask #1986 came pretty close. The nose
of this 1968 vintage was very sweet with chocolate, toffee, caramac and cinnamon. Dry hay. Mustard. Developing
organics. Very, very interesting. On the palate I found lots of fruit - gooseberry but many other fruity elements as well. This is just so complex - lovely, lovely, lovely! Score: 91 points
- and I say that despite the bitter twang in the finish.
A knockout malt and the winner of the morning for all maniacs.
So, by noon we had already sampled a dozen drams - time for a hearty lunch.
I'll write some more about our lunch and our other adventures in Malt Maniacs #15 - now it's time to review the results
of this Balvenie session. The two young bottles from the 1970's and 1980's successfully debunked the myth that in the
distant past ALL single malts used to be stellar. Some of them certainly were - but these weren't. The eight cask
samples were all very good, every single one of them ranging between 83 and 90 points on the maniacal scale; more or
less between the relatively disappointing 30yo OB and the stellar 32yo OB. I think our scores for the cask samples are
pretty consistent with the average scores these malts would have received, had they been submitted to the Malt Maniacs Awards this year. Some maniacs would have scored them a little higher, some a little lower but in the end the
results would probably be the same; one gold medal (for cask #1986), six silver medals and one bronze medal.
Interestingly enough, when we handed the samples to Peter and Martine afterwards at PLOWED HQ they couldn't resist
doing some vatting experiments with the cask samples. I didn't get to try any of the vattings, but according to the dabbling duo in some cases the whole was bigger than the sum of its parts.
So, what is going to happen to these eight casks?
Well, William Grant & Sons have already offered to buy back the casks from Linda, so they will probably end up as OB's.
Unless.... an independent bottler, whisky club or private investor manages to convince Linda to sell one or more casks.
I'm one of those bottom feeders that still buys his whisky by the bottle, but if you're one of those people that hauls in
his whisky by the barrel (professionally or just for fun), buying a matured cask of whisky could actually make more sense
than buying a fresh cask at a distillery like Springbank or Bruichladdich. You never know how a fresh cask is going to turn
out, so an investment is quite of a gamble. If lady luck looks the other way for a while, you could find yourself the owner
of 250+ bottles of single malt whisky that would have been marked for the blenders otherwise. You can consider that
either an added thrill to owning your own cask, or reason for some concern. For those of us who are prone to worrying,
buying a cask that has already proven to be excellent could save you a few decades of sleepless nights ;-)
And that's it from me - it's high time I returned to the reports on Feis Ile 2005.
Stay tuned for another big update in a few days...
PS: Oh yeah, with two more days to go in July we've now had over 15,500 unique visitors this month!
So that's not 15,500 VISITS, but 15,500 different PEOPLE
bothering to visit this humble site in July.
What's more; most of them visit the site much more than once every month - some ever day!