Together with the Malt Maniacs 'sister' site, Malt Madness has
been the subject of many articles and blog posts over the years.
Unfortunately, some of these articles contained incorrect and/or
incomplete information. That's why I've decided to add a page with
some 'facts & figures on Malt Madness' to the site. When you scroll
down one screen, you will find some basic information about the subject
of the MM sites, some backgrounds on the writers and visitors, explanations
about features like the MMMonitor (scores & details for over 15,000 whiskies),
the Malt Maniacs Awards (our annual whisky competition), opinions, etcetera.
Do you happen to be an esteemed member of the press or the media?
Well, in that case hearty congratulations are in order. Not only have
you found an employer that is actually willing to pay you for the sort
of 'work' that millions of bloggers world wide are willing to do for
free; this page will make your 'job' even easier. Just kidding... ;-)
You'll be able to find plenty of information on the other pages of the Malt Madness website as well.
The introduction tells you a little more about yours truly (and my inspirations to publish this website),
while the sitemap provides links to every page on Malt Madness. You can find some more information
on the frequently asked questions page and in the twitter feed - but of course you can contact me
directly as well. Alternatively, you could just browse around for a bit. The Beginner's Guide offers 10
chapters with general whisky information, the Distillery Data section provides details on all whisky
distilleries in Scotland, the mAlmanac is a 'malt whisky almanac', my Liquid Log has tasting notes
on some 3,500 different single malt whiskies and the Deviant Drams section looks at other drinks.
Looking at the content from another perspective, here are some of the most popular pages;
'The Good Life' in general - and single malt Scotch whisky in particular.
The first pages of the Malt Madness website were published in 1995 on the world wide web.
The Malt Madness site was founded by Johannes van den Heuvel from Amsterdam, Holland.
Around 1995 there was very little information about malt whisky on the slowly evolving internet.
Both the Malt Madness and Malt Maniacs have hundreds of webpages - some of them massive.
Malt Madness attractes thousands of visitors each day - and the same goes for Malt Maniacs.
As early as 1997 other whisky lovers started contributing to the site by writing articles on malts.
The international 'Malt Maniacs' community now has 34 members - most of them 'amateurs'.
Members are located in 17 different countries - including the UK, the USA, France and Singapore.
Malt Maniacs became an independent site in 2006. Serge Valentin incorporated his WhiskyFun site.
Opinions are like assholes - we've all got at least one. Everything on MM just reflects our own.
The number of different single malt whiskies a malt maniac has sampled; I've passed 3500 now.
The annual Malt Maniacs Awards are probably the only real consumer-driven whisky competition.
An overview of scores for thousands of malt whiskies that were sampled by at least four maniacs.
A complete overview of well over 15,000 different whiskies sampled by one of the malt maniacs.
Both Malt Madness and Malt Maniacs are completely and utterly independent & non-commercial.
Actually, our policies about that changed recently; check out the page on advertising for details.
And those were the main 'cold hard facts' about Malt Madness and Malt Maniacs...
Over the years, I've given a bunch of interviews about the sites as well.
Unfortunately, during a lot of those interviews the very same questions kept popping up.
So, a few years ago I decided to stop giving fresh interviews and publish one of the 'best'
old interviews here instead. The fairly lengthy interview below was published in the '2007'
edition of the Malt Whisky Yearbook. It may not be very fresh, but I was - and frank too.
So, this whisky interview might provide some further insights into my passion for whisky.
Please feel free to quote anything you like from the interview or the assorted quotes from
tweets, e-mails and other conversations. Please contact me if you have other questions.
Johannes, how did your interest in whisky start?
Well, my initial interest probably had something to do with the fact that whisky contains alcohol – a substance that can make you feel good (when taken in moderation, that is!). During the 1980's I actually preferred cognac over whisky, but that was because the only whiskies I knew at the time were relatively cheap blends like Grant's and VAT 69. When I had my first encounter with Lagavulin 16yo in 1991 I discovered that there was an entirely different class of whiskies that I didn't know about.
For the first few years I just assumed I had found a 'better' type of whisky and mostly stuck to a few favourits like Talisker 10yo and Lagavulin 16yo. The real 'madness' started around 1995 when I started to try more and more different single malts. This gave me an appreciation for the amazing variety in character and style within the world of single malts. Single malts are not just highly enjoyable drinks in their own right (well, most of the time); there's an entire world to explore beneath the surface. Even after a decade of heavy dramming and studying, I feel I've only scratched the surface.
Why did you decide to develop the interest in whisky into a website?
I discovered the internet in 1995. I immediately fell in love with the medium and it soon dawned on me that building websites could be a nice way to make a living. However, at the time I didn't have a clue about how to develop a site. So, I just set up a few 'pilot' websites to get acquainted with the technology and acquire the necessary skills. Over time most of these sites were discontinued, but by the time my focus shifted from the technical side of the web to the 'conceptual' side Malt Madness had developed a momentum of its own and with the help of the Malt Maniacs I kept developing it further.
Now, almost 10 years after the start, the site is a plethora of malt whisky information with a Beginnerīs Guide, Distillery Data, Tasting notes and the Liquid Log (recently turned into a
Is all the work you put into it just altruistic or do you make a lot of money?
Hah! MAKE a lot of money? Until we managed to find a hosting sponsor maintaining the site actually COST quite some money...
So I guess you could call that altruistic ;-) Fortunately, after we found a hosting sponsor the costs for keeping the site running have been fairly minimal. I had to buy all the necessary software and hardware for other 'professional' projects anyway and many maniacs spend quite some of their free time writing for MM. That being said, I have been thinking of ways to generate some modest revenues through the site to make it completely self-sustaining and allow us to invest in some hard- and software that would allow us to lift MM to an entirely new level. As for the massiveness of Malt Madness; in the real world I have problems with throwing stuff away. I don't just save a lot of my empty whisky bottles, I still have newspapers from the early 1990's that I haven't read yet and boxes of floppy disks with Windows95 software. Yes, I know that's a bit peculiar… And it's the same in the virtual world; very little of the material that was written for MM was ever thrown away. So, the site just kept growing and growing and growing...
The contents of the site is initiated to say the least.
Is it just for the hard core malt enthusiast or do you get response from beginners as well?
Actually, that's a very good point.
I still receive many questions and comments from relative novices but the focus of the content has indeed shifted towards
the hard core SM fanatics over the last few years. That's one of the main reasons I'm currently working on a reconstruction
of the site(s). One section (Malt Madness) will be focused more on 'beginners' while the Malt Maniacs section will be aimed
at the real 'anoraks'.
How do you go about obtaining all the latest information about distilleries and bottlings?
Do you have a "direct line" to the distillery owners and do they keep sending you samples to try?
One of the great things about single malt whisky is that it's a very 'personal' product.
Over the years I've gotten to know quite a few people working inside the whisky industry as well as hundreds of other
fanatics like me. Most press releases, news stories and rumours end up in my inbox sooner or later. In fact, this free flow
of information is one of the reasons I fell in love with the internet in the first place. Thanks to the web, we don't have to
depend on 'the media' to spoon-feed us advertorials prepared by ad agencies and marketing departments. I personally
think that, ironically enough, the malt whisky boom of recent years can (at least partly) be attributed to the rise of the
internet. I think the possibility to freely share opinions and experiences with like-minded spirits around the world is
ultimately more interesting than bagpipes, tartans and haggis.
As for 'direct lines' to distillery personnel and bottlers: those can actually be problematic, especially when information is
shared confidentially. Knowing how they made taste Loch Dhu as disturbing as it does, but not being able to share the
story is pure torture! And it's always hard to give a severe score to an underperforming malt if you know the person that
made or bottled it.
Still, I do my best to score each whisky as objectively as possible – which could be the reason why I mostly receive 'the cream of the crop' from the industry these days. As pleasant as that is for my palate, it could also give me a very skewed perspective on reality. Fortunately, I also buy bottles myself and I receive samples from fellow malt maniacs and members of our audience as well. This allows me to stay in touch with the day-to-day reality on the shelves of liquorists around the world.
After some time Malt Madness was supplemented by the Malt Maniacs. Tell me a little more about that.
A few years after I launched Malt Madness it started to dawn on me that the site had a critical flaw; it merely reflected my own, purely personal opinion. I despise the discontinued Loch Dhu 10yo mentioned earlier, but some people actually adore it. (In fact, I still receive at least three messages a month from people desperate to find a bottle.) So, I felt that the website needed to offer room for different perspectives and opinions so that the readers could decide for themselves who's judgement they trust the most.
I started to publish some of my e-mail conversations with on-line whisky friends in 1997 and things sort of evolved from there.
The first few 'certified malt maniacs' were Davin de Kergommeaux from Canada, Louis Perlman from the USA and Craig Daniels from Australia. In 2002 we published the first proper issue of our E-zine. The team now has 24 members from more than a dozen different countries all over the world. Our backgrounds are very different, but we are united in our passion for single malt whisky.
Wow, now you've made me blush…
If we have any influence, it's probably because we've gradually attracted quite a loyal audience over the years.
We still get quite a few visits from relative novices that drop by infrequently or find the site through Google, but we
also have a 'core audience' of some 15,000 readers that visit the site at least twice a month.
I imagine that these readers are mostly the real fanatics like ourselves.
We don't just want to buy a bottle for christmas or a birthday, but spend hundreds of euro's, dollars or pounds on single
malts (and related paraphernalia) each month. I guess that makes us and our readers an 'interesting' target audience
for the industry. Of course, the fact that esteemed whisky writers Charles MacLean, Dave Broom and Martine Nouet are
members of the team doesn't hurt either.
Last but not least, since we don't depend on advertising or sales to keep the site running, we can write what we bloody
well want. Everybody is free to express their undiluted opinion on whatever topic they'd like. Most of the malt maniacs
seem able to exercise that freedom responsibly, and I strive to offer as many different perspectives on an issue as
possible. I guess that the result could offer the industry a good indication of the opinions amongst the entire
Recently you have started a crusade against fake bottlings.
How common is the problem with fakes and how do you intend to fight that battle?
Well, the 'average' consumer in the 'average' market seems to be relatively safe.
The problem is especially prevalent in certain countries (India and Taiwan) and especially on the 'collectors' market.
We used to fight the battle by publishing complete 'case studies' on-line, specifying how we determined if a certain bottle was genuine or not. However, we soon realised that we were providing the fakers with a perfect 'Guide To What Not To Do When Faking Whisky'. So, these days 'fighting the battle' consists mostly of warning people not to buy their whiskies at auctions or on eBay without solid guarantees.
You started the Malt Maniacs Awards in 2003, rating a load of current bottlings in different categories.
Now a couple of years later this yearly event is eagerly awaited by a large proportion of the whisky community.
How do you go about choosing the bottlings you put to the test and how is the testing itself carried out?
Up until recently there has been very little choosing involved, actually.
We simply invited everybody in 'the industry' we knew to submit the bottles they wanted.
During the first year we received a selection of contestants that offered a fairly accurate representation of what's available to the average consumer, but in recent years things have become more competitive. Not only are more and more participants joining each year, they submit more and more 'high end' bottles as well. That is one of the reasons the MM Awards 2006 may have a preliminary round during which the 100 'best' contenders are selected by a jury for review by the complete tasting panel. We're still debating that though - some jurors prefer the traditional approach where every juror will have to sample some 200 entries within a month or so...
The tasting procedure itself is very straightforward.
The contents of each (70cl) bottle submitted by a sponsor is divided across 12 50cl or 60cl sample bottles.
Each member of the tasting panel receives the 'blind' samples by snail mail and has four to six weeks to come up with tasting notes and scores for all malts. This gives most maniacs the time to sample each submission two or even three times. As soon as all twelve individual scores are in the average score is calculated. The average score determines whether or not a whisky earns a medal. Entries scoring 80-84 points receive a bronze medal, 85-89 means silver and anything scoring 90 points or more receives a gold medal.
The winners of various awards are chosen from the medal winners.
Amongst the Malt Maniacs, do you tend to have a joint philosophy regarding certain aspects of malt whisky.
I'm thinking of colouring, chill-filtering, wood finishes, cask strength bottlings, independent versus official bottlings etc. If thereīs not a consensus amongst you, what is your personal view on these matters?
If we have one joint philosophy regarding malt whisky (and life in general) it's probably about respect for the opinion of others.
I don't think there's any one topic that all 24 malt maniacs agree on. Some see wood finishes as a pure evil that diminishes the traditional values associated with single malt Scotch whisky while others look at finishing as a perfectly acceptable way to offer customers a wider variety of style and character. It's usually the same with other topics, but our respect for the opinions of others ensures that the discourse always remains civilised.
What are your plans for the future of Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs? How will the sites develop?
We have big plans for the future, but when I write this we haven't figured out all the technical details yet.
So, I guess you'll just have to browse by the website and see for yourself ;-)
Do you have any plans to expand into internet radio shows, podcasts, with interviews etc?
Not at the moment – but that might be just because I never gave it much thought.
One of the things I like about the 'website' medium is the interactivity that allows readers to pick and choose the information they want. I've always considered podcasts to be a more 'linear' medium and wasn't too interested, but now that I think about it it could actually be a cool thing. I should probably get one of the other maniacs to do the talking, though; I imagine my heavy Dutch accent would make podcasts by me fairly unintelligable ;-)
With the word malt in both of your whisky internet projects, one gets the feeling that you consider a malt whisky
being superior to a blend or a bourbon. Is that true or do you embrace all kinds of whisky?
This is another matter where opinions within the maniacs are divided.
That being said, I think the majority of the team indeed has a preference for (most) single malts over (most) blends, bourbons and grain whiskies should they be forced to choose. Fortunately, we don't have to choose most of the time – so, most maniacs do indeed embrace all kinds of whisky. In fact, a few maniacs like Lex Kraaijeveld and myself get a perverse pleasure from tasting the most obscure whiskies imaginable.
What, in your opinion, is the single most positive thing happening in the malt whisky business today and the single most negative one?
Positive: the fact that 'the malt whisky industry' is starting to listen to its customers.
Negative: the decline in the use of sherry casks versus the increase in bourbon casks (but that's purely personal; I'm a sherry freak).
Finally, the tradition invites me to ask for your favourite dram but since you've already stated that on your site... I'd rather ask for one distillery that never or rarely let's you down?
I'd have to say Lagavulin at the moment - although it used to be Laphroaig for a while.
I'm an Islay freak and I've always been able to rely on Lagavulin and Laphroaig to provide me with an affordable peaty fix. Admittedly, there are many magnificent Ardbegs as well, but they're not so affordable anymore these days.
= = = = =
And that's it for now.
I'll try to get some high resolution images together for 'paper' publications - but I haven't gotten around to that yet...