malt whisky - Linkwood Scapa Ben Wyvis

70 - 01/01/2001 - THE 52-CHALLENGE  -  My pet project for 2001
71 - 06/01/2001 - Linkwood 1984 - Old Fettercairn 10yo - Knockdhu 12yo - Cockburn 6yo - ...
72 - 13/01/2001 - Ben Wyvis 10yo - Ardnave 10yo - Campbeltown 8yo - Skye 8yo - Ileach NAS - ...
73 - 25/01/2001 - Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979 - Glenmorangie Madeira - Dailuaine 16yo - ...
74 - 03/02/2001 - Rosebank 8yo - Littlemill 8yo - Ben Nevis 9yo 1990/1999 - Tomintoul 12yo - ...
75 - 17/02/2001 - Connemara NAS - Tyrconnell NAS - Locke's NAS - Jameson NAS
76 - 27/02/2001 - Scapa 12yo - Scapa 1985/1995 - Benrinnes 15yo - Craigellachie 1983/1994 - ...
77 - 14/03/2001 - Bowmore 32yo 1968/2000 - Braes of Glenlivet 1977/2000 - Millburn 1974/2000 - ...
78 - 31/03/2001 - Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979 - Talisker 10yo - Ardbeg 10yo - Ardbeg 17yo
79 - 30/04/2001 - Lagavulin 14yo 1984/1999 - Lagavulin 16yo (2x) - Vintage Islay 5yo (2x) - ...

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Log Entry # 70  -  January 1, 2001
Topic:  The 52-Challenge

Finally! The new millennium is officially here and we can put all the discussions about whether or not it actually started this year or last year behind us. A few days ago, Davin de Kergommeaux from Canada informed the other Malt Maniacs about his new year's resolution; he will try to taste one new single malt whisky every week of 2001.
For the mathematically challenged: that's 52 different single malt whiskies within a year!
For the blondes: That's more than you can count on your fingers AND toes!

Davin's audacity inspired me...
If 'old man' Davin could get his hands on 52 new single malts in shelf-challenged Canada, surely I could do the same? Compared to lots of other countries, Holland is a 'land of plenty' for a malt maniac - a wide selection at fairly reasonable prices. Of course, what's 'reasonable' depends for a large part on your discretionary income. The Internet crisis hasn't caught up with me yet, so I should be able to spend some cash on new discoveries this year. That's good news, especially because this means I may be able to finish phase 1 of my mission by the end of 2001. I decided to try and keep up with Davin as best as I can. My erratic tasting behaviour will probably make it difficult to keep track, so I decided to 'count' only those malts that I've 'properly' rated. Since it usually takes a fresh bottle a few months to receive a final rating there will be a slight 'delay'.

Anyway - this means I better start to drink more seriously...
 

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Log Entry # 71  -  January 6, 2001
Topic:  First Part of the Challenge

I'm making pretty good progress in my search for the perfect single malt. Between January 1997 and December 1999, I've written only 30 log entries. Over the year 2000 alone, I've managed to produce 40 log entries. I have now tasted the product of more than 80 different distilleries. And with all the new malts in my reserve stock (and a few more on order), I'm pretty sure I will be able to sample malts from the remainder of the active distilleries in Scotland.

Storing the bottles of single malt whisky in my reserve stock is really becoming a problem, so I decided to clear out the remaining bottles on my 'right shelf' where I used to keep my blends and vatted malts. The truth of the matter is that I now have almost 50 unopened bottles of (supposedly) excellent single malt whisky in my reserve stock, and almost 50 open bottles in my collection. At an average drinking speed of 10 - 15 drams a week, it looks like I won't have to buy any more 'volume drinking liquids' for quite a while.
Let's finish off some bottles of 'inferior' material.
Yeah... Let's do that...

Astrid (a girlfriend of mine who's slowly starting to appreciate whisky) came by to assist me in finishing a great number of nearly empty bottles. She can drink vast quantities of liquor - a quality I admire in a woman... She arrived a little early, so we decided to have a few 'appetisers' before dinner.

The bottle of Linkwood 12yo 1984/1996 (43.0%, Signatory Vintage, distilled on 9.10.84, matured in sherry butt #4031, bottled on 14.11.96, bottle #461 of 636) has managed to hide itself pretty well on my bottom shelf. I bought it almost three years ago, in February 1998. Time to finish the last three drams in the bottle - especially because I recently picked up a more recent replacement - the Signatory Linkwood 12yo 1988. I could have had myself an interesting little H2H-session, but I decided to keep the new bottle closed until the proverbial 'rainy day'.
Nose: Great! Very sherried and woody at first, but still well balanced.
Some smoke and pipe tobacco. Strange sourness - like high quality vinegar.
Taste: Smooth & supple. Some liquorice. Some chloride. Some menthol?
Very hard to define. A hint of peat in the sherried, woody finish.
To my frustration, the Linkwood showed a lot of intriguing smells and tastes I wasn't able to identify. This makes it harder to explain why I think it fully deserves 81 points (********).

In retrospect, this bottle should have been on my top shelf.
This Speyside distillery definitely needs further research; too bad there aren't any 'official' bottlings available around these parts. I'm very glad I have a replacement Linkwood in my reserve stock. If it proves to be as good as this one, I think I can officially declare the Linkwood an 'amazing discovery'.

OK - the bottle of Linkwood is empty and I feel ready for the psychological pressure that comes with a final rating. My little eye spied the Old Fettercairn 10yo (40%. OB, 100cl).
Nose: Soft start, quite restrained at first. A little oily. After a while, it opens up into a multitude of interesting fragrances. Almonds. Hint of peat. Salted nuts? Soy sauce? Leather? Echoes of some of the unidentifiable elements found in older Islays. Sweeter after 10 minutes.
Taste: Soft and nutty. Lightly salted start evolves into a big sweet burn. Some apple sourness as well. Seemed even softer after a few minutes of breathing. Sweetish, perfumy finish. Disappoints slightly after the intriguing nose. The aroma of this malt has clearly improved after I opened the bottle. It lacks some balance and cohesion, though. This is reflected in the final rating of 77 points (*******). Nevertheless, this is a malt that scores high on the 'Bang-for-your-Buck' List. Only 27 Euro's for a litre bottle. That's great value, as far as I'm concerned.

The Old Fettercairn moves to my bottom shelf, making room for a fresh bottle of Knockdhu 12yo (40%, OB, 100cl). It's actually a new version of the An Cnoc 12yo I've tried a few years ago, marketed under another name.
I opened the bottle and recorded these initial impressions:
Nose: Soft start. A little grainy and sour. Hint of smoke and spiritus. Not very interesting.
Taste: Sweet & smooth; decent burn. Sweet finish. Not bad at all.
Becomes even sweeter after fifteen minutes in the glass.
First impression: ********. I'll let it breathe for a while.
At first sight, the nose isn't as friendly and accessible as that of the An Cnoc 12.

That's three single malts down. Time to eat before we delve into the 'inferior' material.
After a relatively good meal we pulled out my brand new 66cl crystal cognac snifters and began our inspection, starting with the Chivas Regal NAS 'Century of Malts' - a vatted malt.
Nose: Soft and sweetish with some smoke. Very nice at first. A little nutty.
Very unpleasant, overpowering soap perfume after 15 minutes. Toffee. Oilier after that.
It picks up again after 30 minutes, becoming bigger and rounder.
Taste: Very soft start, developing into a decent peppery burn. Hint of smoke.
Despite my disdain for these kind of over-hyped (and generally overpriced) luxury whiskies I have to admit that this is definitely a decent (but slightly unstable and inconsistent) dram. Most single malts are more interesting, but this is quite drinkable - as long as you finish your glass (and the bottle) fast enough. One year after opening the bottle, this whisky quickly deteriorates after 15 minutes in the glass, so the final rating is decreased from 72 points to 70 points (******). Astrid liked it a lot (80 points), but that may have been because this is a bit of a 'women's whisky'; rather accessible and inoffensive.

Then we turned our attention to the Johnnie Walker 15 yo Green Label, another vatted malt that's priced a little over the premium 'Black Label' blend here in Holland.
Nose: Seems very sharp after the 'Century'. A little 'grainy' despite the fact that it's a vatted malt.
Rather restrained, but prickly at the back of the nose. Notable improvement in complexity after 15 minutes of breathing, becoming more balanced. Peanuts? Melon?
Taste: Malty. Faint marzipan. Menthol? Good peppery burn.
Dust? A bit unbalanced. Very dry finish. Improvement over time. Stamina!
This vatted malt doesn't really act its age. One the other hand, its aroma showed some nice development and improved where the nose of the 'Century' quickly gave up. The taste of the Century still wins it, but the rating of JW Green goes from 63 to 68 points (*****). This is a vatted malt you can store for quite a while after the bottle has been opened. Astrid was enthusiastic as well and awarded it 80 points.

So what have we learned so far?
Both vatted malts are in roughly the same price-range (30 - 35 Euro's) and the considerable difference in quality I detected when I opened these bottles almost a year ago seems to have vanished for the most part. When I compared them shortly after opening the bottles, the Century seemed almost winey in character. More like cognac, with more development too. The palate was very interesting as well - notable better than that of the JW Green, which seemed to be little more than a slightly improved version of the JW Black. But that was then. Now, the Century has lost some points (no 'legs') while the JW has improved (stamina!). The difference in character remains, though. The 'Green Label' has managed to improve my opinion about Johnnie Walker somewhat. I hate the Red Label (because it's crap) and the Blue Label (because its price is crap). But on the other hand the Black Label is quite decent and now the Green Label proves to be very drinkable as well. But neither one would score high on the 'Bang-for-your-Buck List', mind you.

Time for a little break with a 'Croissant Gravad Lachs a la Johannes'.
Some visitors of the site have suggested that I should publish some of my 'Serious Snacking' recipes. Well, this is a midnight snack with enough calories to keep you going until daybreak. Just take a croissant, slice it and fill it with:

Enjoy! Astrid complained that it was a little too fat, but hey - so am I...

Our next bottle was the Te Bheag, 'unchillfiltered Connoisseur's Blend'.
Well - the proud 'unchillfiltered' announcement kind of lost it's purpose because of the crappy cork, which left big chunks in the glass and bottle. But this could be nothing more than the influence of time; I guess this bottle has been on my shelves for at least two years.
Nose: Sharp burn. Seemed a little grainy after the vatted malts. Smoke.
Hint of peat. Some sweetness and maltiness too. Fragmented bouquet.
Taste: Soft start followed by a peppery burn.
Sweetish. Smoked eel? Very dry finish. Decent balance.
Certainly not bad for a blend, but ultimately not interesting enough to satisfy my spoilt senses. If the nose and taste had been more balanced it might have beaten the Teacher's blend, but now the final rating of 49 points (-*****) stands. Astrid didn't like the sharp nose and gave it 30 points, even though it reminded her a little of the Black Bottle 10yo she likes a lot.

I'm only human, and therefor I err. My suspicions about the origins of my 'bastard' bottling of the aptly named Cockburn 6yo may have caused me to underrate this whisky. Let's find out if prejudice was involved...
Nose: Very sharp, grainy start. Pretty much devoid of character after that.
A little oily, perhaps, with some sweetness. Quite unpleasant overall.
Taste: Burning sensation. Sweetish bite turns into a toffee / malty burn.
Unbalanced & chemical. No character. Short, dry finish. Gone pretty quick, which is a good thing.
This is by no means a good whisky; the final rating of 35 points (-****) stands. An embarrassing rating for a whisky that's supposed to be a single malt. Highly avoidable; a lot of blends are better. Assuming this actually IS a single malt, the only one that beats it in the 'Single Malts That Suck Sweepstake' is Loch Dhu 10. Astrid found it much too sharp and awarded it 20 points.

Ah! By now, we had lost our 20/20 vision, but we managed to spot the bottle of Jack Daniels in the back of my cabinet. It must've been there for at least three years, but now it's time it gets replaced by a proper whisky.
Nose: Strong. Smoky. Sweet. A bit sterile. Very feinty - like paint thinner.
Taste: Flat and clean. Smoky and sweet. Quite a burn. Long finish.
The rating of 45 points (-***) stands. I enjoy the occasional glass of Jack Daniels with some ice on a hot summer night - but not more than one, mind you. I guess my nose and palate have been spoilt by the character and complexity of single malts. This being said, the Jack Daniels is the best 'bourbon' whiskey I've tried so far. But then again I haven't tasted that many. Astrid nicknamed it 'Jamaica Mama Moonshine' (it reminded her of the cheap, home-made rum she drank during her stay on Jamaica) and gave it 30 points.

Finally, we turned our attention to the Suntory Kakubin, a Japanese blend.
This particular bottle found it's way here via England.
Nose: A bit flowery, a bit nutty, a bit honeyish. A bit of everything really...
After a while the nose becomes sweeter - with more grain / feints after that.
Taste: Very soft, almost watery start. Slightly 'grainy'. Malty episodes.
Nutra-sweetness later. Dry finish. A bit gritty on the tongue.
Not the greatest whisky in the world, but interesting and pleasant enough. It has a character of it's own, with an accent on flowery notes. Easily drinkable. The rating of 61 points is increased to 63 points (*******), at least for this bottle. This whisky shows considerable differences between bottlings. Astrid liked it a lot and gave it 70 points. I guess the Suntory is a bit of a 'girly' whisky, but kind of I like it. At just a little over 15 Euro's here in Holland it will probably return to my shelves in the future. Every whisky freak should try this at least once. It broadens the liquid horizon and provides a different perspective on whisky. Considering it's just a blend, I think the Japanese have done a pretty good job 'copying' Scotch whisky.

Around 3:00 AM my shelves were cleansed of six 'inferior' liquids - and we had a lot of fun during the cleansing process. There's nothing wrong with some moderate alcohol abuse. We had a lot of other fun as well, but I won't go into that right now...

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mAddendum 71A - First Alcoholic Acquisitions for 2001

Inspired by Davin's '52-Challenge', I performed my first alcoholic acquisition of 2001 on January 11.
At a liquorist nearby, I picked up a bottle of Cragganmore 1985 Distiller's Edition, double matured in port casks.
The 57 Euro's price tag was a little over my usual budget, but curiosity got the better of me.

Then I went downtown, to Menno Boorsma. To my knowledge, he is the only liquorist in Amsterdam that still offers the Macallan 10yo 100 Proof at a reasonable price. Klaus from Hamburg has asked me to pick up a bottle for him. As far as I'm concerned, the 50 Euro's price tag is still just about 'reasonable', but I found it even more reasonable at the 39 Euro's I paid for my first bottle, some four years ago.

And the Mac isn't the only single malt that became more expensive. Especially since the last few months, I've seen the prices of some of my old favourites (Lagavulin 16, Macallan 12, Laphroaig 10, Longmorn 15, etc.) increased by as much as 5 Euro's. The Lagavulin 16 (0.7 litre), for example, used to cost just 31 Euro's. Right now, I'd have to shell out 36 Euro's (fl. 79,95) for a bottle. This is still a very reasonable price for such a good malt, but I certainly hope this isn't the start of a trend. Just to be on the safe side, I picked up two litre bottles of old favourites who are still bargains; Laphroaig 10 and Longmorn 15.
I also picked up seven new bottles at reasonable prices.
My list of other acquisitions:

If 'bang-for-my-buck' had been my only criterion, I would have simply picked up a whole bunch of litre bottles of Laphroaig 10. But since my voyage through maltland has just started, I still feel the overpowering urge to try as many new single malts as possible. The Aberlour, Glendronach, Glenrothes, Knockando, Longmorn Glenlivet and Linkwood are unfamiliar versions of familiar malts. Well - the Linkwood is kind of familiar; I have just emptied a four years older version of the same age (Signatory Vintage 12yo 1984 - 81 points). If this version is just as good that's quite a bargain. I bought the Irish Locke's so I could compare it to the (nearly empty) bottles of Tyrconnell and Connemara currently on my shelves.
All bottles go straight into my reserve stock for now.

 

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Log Entry # 72  -  January 13, 2001
Topic:  Bastard Malts

This afternoon, I picked up a sample of ILeach NAS at the post office.
Jim Dawe, another single malt aficionado, sent it to me from Sweden with the request to sample it.
Gladly Jim, thanx!  Because this whisky isn't available here in Holland, I'll probably won't have another chance to taste it. According to Jim's information, the label says "The Man from Islay" - Peaty - Islay Single Malt - 40%.

There is no 'Ileach' distillery on Islay, which means that this is something I'd like to call a 'Bastard Malt' (pardon my French). Bastard malts are malts of unknown origin, often marketed under a generic fantasy name instead of the name of the distillery where it was distilled. Other examples are Cockburn 6yo (see log entry 71) and tonight's Ardnave 10yo. For tonight's tasting, I decided to focus on the bastard malts in my collection.

Starting with Jim's sample of the Ileach NAS (40%, bastard malt).
Nose: Whew! It's peaty all right. Powerful nose; definitely Islay.
Iodine. Spicy. A little sweetness as well. Coffee beans? Good balance.
Taste: Peaty burn, then sweeter, then dry. Salty. Nice development.
Very decent finish, but not as long as older 'official' Islays.

The second dram with a few drops of water revealed some salt and smoke in the nose. Some chloride perhaps. Very light citrus under the layer of peat? The taste didn't change that much - still an interesting development switching between sweet and peaty episodes before ending in a burning dry finish. The taste remained pretty much unaffected by the few drops, but was completely ruined by an extra splash of water. It left a bland, watery start and a barely noticeable, dryish finish. So, this whisky is best enjoyed straight.

Great stuff! Especially the nose is wonderful. If I had to guess, I'd say this is a very young (6 - 8yo) Ardbeg, Lagavulin or Laphroaig - probably the latter because of the iodine in the nose. One of the best 'bastard malts' I ever tasted. I don't know what it costs compared to the 'official' Islays in Sweden, but I'd choose this over a Bowmore Legend or Bruichladdich 10 any day. I don't usually rate single malts after only one tasting session, but since I'll probably never taste this one again I went ahead and gave it 78 points.

And the Ileach was just the beginning...
Holland's largest chain of liquor supermarkets, Gall & Gall, has recently introduced the 'Malts of Distinction'. It's a series of four whiskies - single malts according to the label - from the four most important whisky regions; Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands and Islay. All are bottled at 10 years, priced at 23 Euro's and produced by Invergordon Distillers. The series:

Ardnave 10yo ('Malts of Distinction' Series - Islay)
Ben Wyvis 10yo ('Malts of Distinction' Series - Highlands)
Cairnluish 10yo ('Malts of Distinction' Series - Speyside)
Glen Foyle 10yo ('Malts of Distinction' Series - Lowlands)

Now I just recently heard about the Ben Wyvis distillery (as far as I know one of the few single malt distilleries in Scotland that isn't mentioned by Michael Jackson), but the other three names are not familiar. An extensive search on the web didn't produce any useful results either.

Gall & Gall have a reputation for releasing crappy private bottlings from dubious origins (usually overpriced and with fanciful names like Glen Stuart), so I had my doubts whether these were actually single malt whiskies or not. These doubts grew even more doubtful when an extensive search on the world wide web didn't produce any useful background information either. Inquisitive E-mails to Gall & Gall and Invergordon remained unanswered as well - maybe a sign they have something to hide? Nevertheless, I was willing to take a chance on the Ben Wyvis and Ardnave - on the off chance that the latter would turn out to be a relabeled Ardbeg 10.

Sadly, when I visited the nearest Gall & Gall store on December 12, they were all out of Ardnave. I did find one bottle of the Ben Wyvis 10, though, hidden away behind dozens of bottles of Cairnluish and Glen Foyle. Seems like some bottlings in this series are more popular than others. I purchased the Ben Wyvis, together with a bottle of the new 'Special Reserve' from Glenfiddich, labelled as a 12 years old single malt. It is rumoured to be significantly better than the old 'Special Reserve' without an age statement. I managed to restrain myself and didn't pick up the new official bottling of Glenfarclas 8, although it was on sale. I already have three versions of Glenfarclas on my shelves (105, 12 and 21), so I could do without a fourth bottle taking up precious shelf space.

Did I say I managed to constrain myself at Gall & Gall on December 12?
Well - not for long. Images of the Ardnave 10 and Glenfarclas 8 kept popping up in my mind, so I visited another branch of Gall & Gall on December 13 to pick up these bottles. At fl. 49,95 (less than 25 Euro's) a bottle I couldn't go far wrong - or so I thought until I opened the bottles. I've de-corked both in the previous millennium (almost three weeks ago) and have been tasting them frantically ever since.
Time for a final rating, methinks.

I bought the Ardnave 10yo (40%, bastard malt) on the off chance that the latter would turn out to be a relabelled Ardbeg 10 for almost half the price. One can always hope, can one not?  Let's confront reality.
Nose: Is this an Islay? The aroma is strong all right, but not the way I like it.
Very soft for an Islay, but rather sharp and oily at the same time. Rubber?
Maybe some faint island characteristics, but no balance or complexity whatsoever.
It becomes softer and sweeter (and slightly more interesting) after 10 minutes.
Taste: Watery start. Menthol? Some marzipan and smoke, perhaps.
Burn in the back of your throat ends in a sweetish finish.
Strange structure. No peat. No smoke. No character. No Islay spirit.

Even after several glasses, I had my doubts, so I decided to put it to the ultimate test: A head-to-head with the 'genuine article', Ardbeg 10yo (46%, OB, score 85 points; *******).
The Ardbeg is much lighter in colour than the Ardnave. Even from a considerable distance, the intense aroma of the Ardbeg clearly identified it as an Islay whisky. The nose of the Ardnave wasn't nearly as powerful - and completely different. On closer examination, the Ardnave appeared very oily and grainy compared to the Ardbeg. Next to this powerhouse malt, the Ardnave pretty much shrivelled up and died. The Ardbeg aroma expressed a distinctive salty and peaty character, the Ardnave... well, let's just say that it didn't.
The taste of the Ardbeg 10 was great! Uncompromisingly Islay. Strong, salty and peaty with a peppery explosion. Some smoke. Hint of peaches. The Ardnave, on the other hand, appeared really unpleasant on the tongue. No 'cohesion'. Very oily with a unpleasant chemical sweetness. Lacks a decent finish.

No way is the Ardnave 10 a ten years old Ardbeg!
I really wouldn't know at which Islay distillery this could be produced - right now my best guesses would be Bruichladdich or Bowmore, although even the 'soft' Bruichladdich 10 has a lot more power than this - as do the younger Bowmores I've tried. Not a big success, this one...

The Ardnave 10 has it's moments, but they are brief and far apart.
Let's make it official: Ardnave 10yo scores 47 points (-*****). At more than 20 Euro's a bottle, that sucks big time.  I can get a bottle of Glen Ord 12 or Glen Moray 12 here in Holland for roughly the same price as the Ardnave. No contest, really.

I thought about using the remainder of the bottle for my 'special blend', but I figured Klaus might want to try some next when he's in Amsterdam. I put the bottle aside and pulled out the other 'Malt of Distinction' from Invergordon, the Ben Wyvis 10yo (40%, most likely a bastard malt). Because I couldn't find out where it's actually distilled, I won't add the Ardnave to any of my 'official' lists. The Ben Wyvis, however, gets the benefit of the doubt because it actually IS an existing (albeit unknown) distillery owned by Invergordon. This just might be a genuine single malt, although it isn't mentioned in Michael Jackson's latest 'Malt Whisky Companion'. I figure that's because the product hasn't been offered as a single malt before.

Nose: Rather sharp. Extremely oily, not much else. A memory of smoke, maybe. Eucalyptus? One dimensional.
Very disappointing, although it opens up a little after fifteen minutes, picking up some peaty elements.
Taste: This is not unlike drinking fermented cod oil - with a little peppermint, perhaps. Chemical smoothness; a bit like tequila. Grainy. Long, unpleasant burn. Strange, sweet finish. This malt whisky (?) reminds me of the substandard products from Tullibardine and Isle of Jura - not a good thing... It actually seems worse than those single malts at the bottom of my list. This calls for a rating that clearly expresses it's 'worseness'. Final rating: 43 points (-*****).
Even blends like Black Bottle 10yo or Teacher's are better.

Those carpetbaggers at Gall & Gall have managed to disappoint me once more. Doesn't the guy that selects their whiskies have a nose??? When I presented my brother Franc with a few samples for a second opinion he suggested that a better name for the series would be 'Malts of Extinction'. It's a good thing I tasted these malts in my 'Bypass Operation', because neither deserves a place on even my bottomest of shelves.
Rest assured I won't try any more 'Malts of Distinction'.
The ones I've tried were distinctively crap.

But not all 'bastard malts' (single malts of unknown origin) are as bad as the Cockburn 6yo or the Malts of Distinction. Some of them are actually quite good and offer great value for money. Especially the aptly named 'Vintage' series by Signatory Vintage. It's a range of very affordable single malts, only identified by their region of origin (Highlands, Islands, Lowlands, Islay, Orkney, Campbeltown). The 'McLelland's' series of Bowmore/Suntory (not available in Holland) is another example of a 'regional range'. According to John DiMarco, the Islay is a 5y Bowmore, the Lowland is a 5y Auchentoshan, and McLelland Highland is a 5y Glen Garioch. I haven't tasted any of them, I'm afraid.

Until some five years ago, my small income and large alcohol intake often made me pick a cheap 'bastard' bottle instead of the 'official' bottlings that usually cost twice as much. Before I could afford to buy more reputable malts, I enjoyed vast quantities of Signatory's Islay single malt, reputed to be a Lagavulin 5yo these days. Back in the days when they didn't put an aga on the bottle, it's rumoured to have been a 6 years old Lagavulin (score around 80 points) for less than 15 Euro's - amazing value.

About two weeks ago, I decided to drop by Menno Boorsma from work, to buy myself two bottles of the current 'Vintage' series - just for old times sake. I chose the Vintage Island Skye 8yo 40% (Talisker) and Vintage Campbeltown 8yo 40% (Glen Scotia). Price: fl. 39,95 - only 18 Euro's!
Over the last week, I've tasted them intensively and extensively; now it's rating time.

I started with the Vintage Campbeltown 8yo (40%, bastard malt)
Nose: Very rich and subtle. Strong and salty. Slightly oily. Some peat after a while.
Hint of cinnamon? More nutty after a while. Menthol? Clearly recognisable as a Campbeltown malt.
Taste: Chewy and creamy start exploded into something reminiscent of rum beans.
Long, sweet burn develops into some mint or menthol freshness.
Oh yeah - I can confirm that this is a Campbeltown single malt, probably Glen Scotia. Well, the only other option would be Springbank, and I think the chances of finding a Springbank at these prices are very remote. The steep prices of Springbanks usually leave a bad taste in my mouth, but my experiences with the Glen Scotia 14 and this bottling have improved my opinion about the Campbeltown area.

To confirm my findings I poured myself another dram, and a dram of the 'official' Glen Scotia 14yo (40%, OB) from my top shelf next to it. The 14yo (rating 84 points) is a bottle of the old stock, before the distillery was temporarily closed in the 1980's. The Vintage, however, is produced in the 1990's, after Glen Scotia resumed production. This should be interesting....

Sampling them next to each other, it looks like the new distillery style resembles the Springbank closer than it used to. Compared to the Vintage 8, the Distillery 14 almost seemed like a Speyside malt. It had a lot of the same elements as the Vintage 8, but they were deeper and more balanced. The 14 had a lot more wood in nose and taste, but I guess that's to be expected of a malt almost twice as old. The Vintage 8 manages to hold it's own, though, with a youthful charm and spontaneity. I'm no big fan of 'oily' malts like Tobermory or Isle of Jura, but here the oiliness is balanced by a lot of other scents and tastes. It's a lot more transparent than those malts from the islands Mull and Jura as well, with a long and intriguing finish. If this is the new direction of Glen Scotia, I like it!

Final rating of the Vintage Campbeltown: 77 points. I like this better than the Springbank CV, which costs more than twice as much. And It doesn't look too bad compared to the official Gen Scotia 14 either - I had to pay fl. 86,95 (almost 40 Euro's) for that bottle almost a year ago. This is an AMAZING DISCOVERY! I don't usually buy bastard malts for my reserve stock, but I may make an exception for this one. When official or independent bottlings of the new Glen Scotia stock become available here in Holland, they'll undoubtedly cost a lot more than 18 Euro's.

I moved on with the Vintage Island Skye 8yo (40%, bastard malt)
It's colour is a lot lighter than the official Talisker 10yo (bottled at 45.8%). But since Talisker is the only distillery on Skye, this has to be the genuine article. I could have opened the bottle of Talisker 1986 Double Matured from my 'reserve stock' for a H2H, but I decided to wait for a special occasion before opening that special bottle.
Nose: First whiffs seem very sweet. Sweet citrus after a while. Peanuts?
Then the Skye characteristics appeared; smoky and salty. Spiritus.
Taste: Soft start, then a peaty explosion. The peat develops into pepper.
Sweet (watermelon?) finish, becoming drier. Very long for such a young malt.
Final rating: 76 points. I can't believe that the large difference (17 points) between the official Talisker 10 and this bottling is the result of just two extra years of maturation and a slightly higher alcohol percentage. The light, yellow/straw colour indicated ageing in bourbon wood. The balance and more woody tones I remember from the official Talisker 10 could very well be the result of maturation in sherry casks.

The bottles look like shit, but I couldn't care less at 18 Euro's a bottle.
Both offer great value; and at these prices I think the other versions in this series (even the Lowland, said to be an Auchentoshan) will offer good value no matter what. I will probably pick up their Islay (Lagavulin 5yo) and Highland (Glenrothes 7yo) versions some time over the next few months - and maybe one or two spare bottles of the Vintage Campbeltown. These 'Vintage' single malts could actually be a great introduction for beginners in maltland. Those who are (understandably) hesitant to shell out 35 Euro's or more for a bottle can experience the different regional malt styles at prices comparable to middle class blends. In my opinion, these malts beat premium blends and vatted malts like Johnnie Walker Black and Chivas Century with a stick. And they are considerably cheaper to boot.

So - where does that put me in the '52-Challenge'?
Because of my doubts about the origins of the MoD Ardnave 10yo, I can't really count it as a single malt.
The MoD Ben Wyvis 10yo does count, but that means I only tasted one new single malt in two weeks. And what a disappointing experience that was... On a positive note: It was so bad that every single malt I'll taste for the rest of the year will probably be better.

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Addendum 72A - Panic Purchase

Last year, I built a website for Ton Overmars, a liquorist in Amsterdam. When I phoned him on January 24th to help him out with some 'tech stuff', he was foolish enough to tell me that he was so busy he hadn't had time yet to change the prices of his malts. Even over the electric telephone, this sounded like music to my ears. Why? Not only have the prices of a lot of malts gone up 5 Euro's or more over the last few months, the sales tax in Holland has increased from 17.5% to 19% as well. The combination of these factors has resulted in an average 10% price raise for the average bottle of single malt over the last 6 months. As you may have noticed from the attention I gave this topic in a couple of previous logs, I'm a bit preoccupied with value. After all, I'm Dutch enough to worry about all the other fun things I could do with the money I spend on a bottle - like buying a different bottle instead; preferably a cheaper one.

You can imagine how these price increases have freaked me out.
And now I heard I had a chance to pick up a couple of bottles at '2000' prices. I figured I might as well buy my own birthday presents early this year and pick up a couple of bottles I had planned to buy later anyway.
I selected the following bottles:

Good prices, huh? Well, except for the Balblair and Springbank. But I've heard so much about these bottlings lately I just had to buy them to verify the rumours. Laphroaig 10 and Talisker 10 are old favourites that will take their rightful place on my top shelf as soon as there's an empty spot. The other bottlings are all completely new to me. And it didn't end there... After the very pleasant experience with two of the 'Vintage' bastard malts (see the beginning of this log entry), I was excited to spot 4 different bottles with the old fl. 35,95 (a little over 16 Euro's) price tag. I bought the Vintage Orkney 7yo (Highland Park), Vintage Highland 7yo (Longmorn), Vintage Islay 5yo (Lagavulin) and a spare bottle of the excellent Vintage Campbeltown 8yo (Glen Scotia).

Now I remember why this used to be my favourite liquorist! Although the prices at Menno Boorsma (my second favourite liquorist in Amsterdam) are very nice compared to those at major outlets like Gall & Gall, Ton Overmars offers a lot of malts considerably cheaper. On the other hand, Menno Boorsma (Ferdinand Bolstraat) offers a slightly wider selection.

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Addendum 72B - Boring Purchase Notes

I guess these listings of my purchases may seem a bit boring.
Why do I keep these meticulous notes? Well - some of these bottles in my reserve stock may be opened more than a year from now, and I want to keep a record of the prices I paid to be able to monitor the price development of malts - especially after the introduction of the single European currency next year.

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Addendum 72C - Status 52-Challenge

I wrote about the '2001-52 Challenge' in log entry #70.
Although the source that revealed the origins of the two 'bastard malts' I tried today is reliable, I can't include them in my 'official' lists. The distillery isn't mentioned on the bottle, so I have to be strict. Nevertheless, considering the track record of the bottler (Signatory Vintage) and my own experiences I can safely consider these to be genuine single malts.
I've now tasted five new single malts this year; I'm ahead of the game.

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Addendum 72D - Colour Coding

Because I didn't know the price of the Ileach, I couldn't give it the sort of experimental colour coding described in log entry #69.
But I found that the new system doesn't offer the kind of sophistication I'm looking for anyway, so I decided to return to my previous system of preliminary ratings for now.

 

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Log Entry # 73  -  January 25, 2001
Topic:  Klaus Tasting #2

Some five months ago, Klaus, Michael and Marlou from Hamburg came over to Amsterdam for an international tasting session (see log entry #49 for details). It seems they enjoyed themselves the first time, because now they returned for a second tasting. Apart from muling over my order from Weinquelle (see mAddendum), my guests surprised me with two free bonus bottles, the Macallan 7yo and a handy little hip bottle of Laphroaig 10. Great! The Macallan 7 years is an official bottling for the Italian market that I've been curious about for years, especially after my disappointing experiences with the Macallan Speymalt 1990 by Gordon & MacPhail. And an easy to carry flask of the 'Liquid Heat' Laphroaig 10 is always handy during the cold days of winter.

Because these 'cold days of winter' have given me cold, I had a very bad nose day. As a result, most of my tasting notes are a bit sketchy. It seemed Klaus was feeling a little under the weather as well, but that didn't stop us from starting our session around 20:00 with an old-fashioned head-to-head tasting.

We tasted the official Glen Scotia 14yo (40%, OB) against the Vintage Campbeltown 8yo (40%, bastard malt, probably Glen Scotia). I performed the same H2H two weeks ago (see log entry #72) and was very enthusiastic about the Vintage 8. The astonishing price of less than 18 Euro's may have caused me to overrate it a bit at 77 points. Let's find out.

The 14yo showed liquorice and smoke in the nose, with a lot of fruit cake later. The taste started quite soft but developed into a long explosion. It didn't react too well to a dash of water, becoming 'sparkly'. Compared to the 14, the nose of the Vintage 8 was a lot more subtle. Very oily with lots of cinnamon. Some salt. It became more briny with a generous dash of water, but quickly went dead after that. The taste didn't seem quite as powerful as I remembered from my earlier experiences. Smooth and creamy, with an interesting development. Menthol? A dry finish, becoming sweeter. Even on this bad nose day, the difference between the two is very obvious. The official 14yo is the clear winner of the two, but the Vintage Campbeltown offered another interesting perspective.

Judging from their reactions, neither Klaus nor Michael were very enthusiastic about the Vintage Campbeltown. Was my original rating of 77 points too generous? I don't think so. I like the subtle complexity of the nose. It has a character of it's own. I suspect that this malt will do very well in the summertime. The rating of 77 points stands - as does the rating of 84 points for the official 14.

We proceeded with the Glenmorangie NAS 'Cellar 13' (43%, OB, 100cl) from my middle shelf. This new bottling became available in Holland a while ago. It is around ten years old, but you have to read the fine print on the bottle to find that out. The Cellar 13 is distinguished from the 'ordinary' Glenmorangie 10yo by the fact that it's exclusively matured in first fill American mountain oak casks in Glenmorangie's warehouse closest to the sea. On the shores of the Dornoch Firth, to be precise.
Nose: Sweeter than the ordinary Glenmorangie 10. Clover honey. Vanilla.
Apples like in apfelstrudel. A bit of the pepper that's so obvious in the 10.
Taste: Nice and smooth. Sweeter than the ordinary 10 as well.
Salt and melons in the long finish, followed by some woody bitterness.

I had planned to give it a final rating tonight, but given my bad nose day I decided to wait. I gave it a preliminary rating of **** for now. Somehow, I had expected the product of the warehouse closest to the sea to be more powerful, with more salt and peat. Instead, you've got a malt that's sweeter than the original. However it turns out, I'm pretty sure it won't return to my shelves. This just isn't special enough to justify the large price difference with the Glenmorangie 10.

Whenever I have special guests, I open at least one bottle from my reserve stock for the occasion. As long as we were tasting Glenmorangies, I might as well open the bottle of Glenmorangie NAS Madeira Wood Finish (40%, OB, 100cl). Like with the Cellar 13, you have to look very hard to find an age statement on the bottle. As it transpires, this malt has matured in American white oak casks for at least twelve years and an undisclosed amount of time in madeira drums after that. Glenmorangie was one of the first distilleries to experiment with this kind of 'special' finishes. It began in 1994 with the introduction of the Port Wood Finish. I liked previous bottlings of the port wood finish and madeira wood finish a lot (85 and 84 points respectively), but I've heard that the quality of these malts varies a lot from bottling to bottling.

Let's find out how this bottling performs.
Nose: Iodine and spiritus/ethanol at first. Sweet liquorice. Not at all what I expected after my previous bottles. But then it became very rich, developing into a heavy fruitiness. Old, sweet fruits became more pronounced with time. Some more sherry characteristics and citrus after that. Very rich and complex, with lots of development.
Taste: Seems very sherried at first, but with madeira wine characteristics. Very smooth, almost like butter. A bit too 'winey' for my taste, though.
Preliminary rating: ****. Compared to previous bottlings, the taste seems to have lost a few points. The nose is at least as good, though. Will investigate further.

And then I invited my guests to select a bottle from my reserve stock themselves. After some rummaging, Michael pulled out the bottle of Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 (63.8%, UDRM). Personally, I wouldn't have picked a cask strength malt this early in the session, but Michael's selection proved to be an excellent choice, even though it was a Lowland.
Nose: Ooohah! The richest and most powerful Lowlander I ever smelled. What a nose!
Apricots. Oak. Complexity and harmony. A lot of development as well.
A rainbow of fragrances. Strangely enough, no apparent alcohol at this strength.

The nose was so great that didn't want to risk damaging it by water. But then again, 63,8% is a little too much to drink straight. The few drops I poured on my tongue were just too strong. I poured half of my glass into a second glass and diluted it to about 50% to compare it with the undiluted version. It got more citrus in the nose, with whiffs of chloride and spiritus. This is strange, because these 'alcoholic' notes weren't there at cask strength. But the nose is still very complex at this strength. The taste was sweet and sherried, with a long malty burn developing into a surprisingly peaty finish. Is this a Lowlander???
Further dilution to about 30% (I slipped) brought the spiritus to the front of the nose again. Taste was still very good, with much more obvious sweetness now, developing into peaty dryness.

Oh boy; even on this bad nose day it's safe to classify the St. Magdalene as an amazing discovery! Michael Jackson only rates it at 78 points, but I think we all felt this bottle deserved a score well into the 90's. We agreed we might have already found the winner of the evening. Preliminary rating: *****. Of course, I will have to have more sessions before I can give it a final rating. Sadly, the distillery is now closed and has been largely converted into apartment buildings. Marlou remarked that the inhabitants of those apartments should have a guilty conscience for depriving the world of such a wonderful malt.

After Michael had proven his amazing instincts by picking the excellent St. Magdalene from the 60 bottles in my reserve stock, I invited him to select another bottle. He chose the Dailuaine 16yo Flora & Fauna.
Nose: Sweetish and sherried; a bit like Macallan. Butter. Woody/fruity.
well balanced, after a while other fragrances emerge.
Taste: Malty. Very sherried, again a bit like the Macallan.
Not as sherried and dry in the finish, though. Sweet aftertaste.
This is a classic, sherried Speyside malt.
Preliminary rating: **** (Lower 80's) - Further investigation imminent.
It seems Michael has managed to uncover another hidden gem in my collection.

We proceeded with the Blair Athol 12yo (43%, Flora & Fauna) from my bottom shelf; one of the few Midlands malts in my collection. After five generous drams, my nose began to play tricks on me. Again, I found memories of Macallan in the nose. Rounded and well balanced. Complex and woody. Sherry. Mustard? The taste started quite dry, but grew smoother and sweeter with time. Woody. Toffee. Very nice.
For me, the final rating of 79 points stands. This is a nice dram, falling just short of the greatness that comes with a rating of 80 points or more.

Around midnight, I proposed a head-to-head session of the Macallan 10 100 Proof and the UDRM Caol Ila 21yo 1975. Both bottles are nearly empty and I had planned to finish them tonight. But my guests reacted very modest and suggested I save the rest of the Caol Ila for a H2H session with the mackillop's Choice they brought. Good thinking. We opted for a wee dram of the Macallan 10yo 100 Proof (57%, OB) instead, leaving just enough in the bottle for one future session. It was great, as always. The St. Magdalene was a hard act to follow, but the Mac 10 C/S held up pretty well. The nose is just SO round and complex. The essence of Macallan; different dilutions produce different malts.
My rating of 89 points stands.

And that's where I stopped making notes. If memory serves, I poured myself one or two drams of the Dufftown 15yo (43%, Flora & Fauna), while my guests opened the bottle of Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB) from my reserve stock and took a closer look at Tomintoul 12yo (43%, OB), Glenesk 1984/1997 (40%, Connoiseurs Choice) and Tobermory NAS (40%, OB). I remember some vague discussions about my 'nobility' and the hidden inequality in Dutch 'egalitarian' society. It's a shame that the senses are dulled and the head becomes cloudy after 10 malts or so. I would have gladly sampled another dozen of malts but around 2:00 AM I had to give up and retreat for the night.

The next morning I experienced my first hangover in years.
I guess it just proves that I had a lot of fun.
I can only hope my guests have had as much fun.
See Klaus' E-Report on Malt Maniacs for his perspective on the same session.

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mAddendum 73A - Weinquelle Order 2001

It was very nice to see my german friends again, and the fact that they brought over a bunch of intriguing bottles from Weinquelle (www.weinquelle.com) made it even nicer. My order included:

What makes this order so intriguing? Five of these bottles (Aberfeldy, Balmenach, Braes of Glenlivet, Glenglassaugh and North Port) are from unknown distilleries; I never tried any bottlings from them before. With the exception of Kininvie, I have now tasted and/or acquired bottles from every active distillery in Scotland.

Addendum 73B - Lagavulin 16yo

When I did my grocery shopping this afternoon, I passed by a 'Vomar' liquorist I normally never visit - even though their prices are quite friendly. It's one of those small supermarket outlets with a very limited single malt selection. At any given time they have maybe ten different malts in stock; about a fifth of the number of blends they carry. When I threw a thirsty glance through the window - as you do - I noticed the Lagavulin 16 for fl. 71,95 - less than 33 Euro's.

I made an emergency stop.
Thirty-three Euro's is a bargain, especially after the recent increases in price I wrote about earlier. And then I thought: If they still have 'old' prices, it may very well be that these are bottles from an 'old' stock. This is actually quite likely, because the shop is located in my own seedy neighbourhood and the clientele consists mainly of homeless drunks. Not the type of audience that consumes vast quantities of Lagavulin 16. This means these bottles may have been on the shelves for quite a while.

This excited me even more than the 'bargain' factor. Lagavulin 16 has not only grown more expensive over the last year; the quality of more recent bottlings seems to have dropped a little as well. It took more than a dozen tasting sessions over the last six months before I was ready to admit that one of my darkest fears became reality; Lagavulin 16 is changing! Not dramatically, mind you - maybe two points worth. Some of the magical balance has disappeared and the character seems to move in the general direction of the 'double matured' version; less extreme with more sherry. At the moment, the Lagavulin 16 is still my favourite single malt, but the distance between my no. 1 and runners-up like Talisker 10 and Ardbeg 17 has shrunk considerably. If this development continues, the king may even be dethroned.

Best not to think of it...
I bought myself 2 bottles for my reserve stock - even if this proves to be a new bottling it's excellent value. I would have gladly picked up four or five bottles, but the bottles I saw were the last one they had in stock.
I bought them and returned home a slightly happier person.

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Addendum 73C - Adjustment Scale

Every cloud has a silver lining, though. The slight slipping (+/- 2 points) of the Lagavulin 16 allows me to make some more room at the top of my ratings scale, enabling me to better express the finer nuances of my liquid love. A previous minor adjustment in November 2000 (with a liver-destroying series of H2H tastings in a bar) concentrated on the order of the malts on my personal enjoyment scale. Now I can look at the scale itself. Instead of adjusting the rating of Lagavulin 16 downwards, I decided to 'stretch' the upper end of my rating scale a little. Why? Looking at my ratings in the Malt Madness Matrix, I realised that most members of the team award a selection of their favourite malts 90 points or more. From the 124 single malts I've seriously rated so far, only three score 90 points or more. That's a bit stingy - especially in the light of the recent Lagavulin changes. The Macallan 18 and Lagavulin 1979 Distiller's Edition currently score just below the 90 points benchmark, but they fully deserve the 'fabulous malt' classification that comes with a rating of 90 points or more.

Another 'problem' with my current ratings is that they don't fully express my love for the hard hitting Islay 'tenners'. Given the choice between a Macallan 12 and a Laphroaig 10, I'm pretty sure my dram would be a Laphroaig. And given the choice between a Highland Park 12 and an Ardbeg 10 I'd go for the Ardbeg. So both receive two extra points.
The top of my 'Best-to-Worst' list now looks like this:

Lagavulin 16 - 95 points
Talisker 10 - 92 points
Lagavulin 1979 DE - 91 points
Macallan 18 (1976) - 90 points
Ardbeg 17 - 90 points
Caol Ila 21 (1975) - 89 points
Macallan 10 100 Proof - 89 points
Laphroaig 15 - 88 points
Ardbeg 10 - 88 points
Ardbeg 1974 - 87 points
Balvenie 21 Port - 87 points
Laphroaig 10 - 86 points
Macallan 12 - 86 points
Highland Park 12 - 85 points
Balvenie 12 DW - 85 points
Glenmorangie NAS Port - 85 points
Glen Scotia 14 - 84 points

The rest of my scale remains unaffected.
 

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Log Entry # 74  -  February 3, 2001
Topic:  Bringing Order to Chaos

The international tasting session with Klaus (see log entry #73) caused some chaos on my shelves.
We opened four 'debutantes' from my reserve stock, but didn't get to empty any bottles. So now I have a problem: 52 open bottles with room for only 48. I really want to limit the number of open bottles to 48. My experiences have taught me that a larger number of open bottles means that some of those bottles remain on my shelves long enough for oxidation to affect them - typically after a year or so. Tonight's session should restore the balance on my shelves and maybe provide some new insights in the 4 new bottles we opened during the previous session.

If my first 'bad nose day' impressions are anything to go by, at least three of these bottles (Glenmorangie Madeira, St. Magdalene 19 UDRM and Talisker 10) deserve a spot on the top shelf. And the Dailuaine didn't seem too bad either. Let's find out how things look through a good nose!

I started the session around 18:00 with the Tomintoul 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl, HKDNP) from my top shelf. Maybe I like it more than I should, because the score of 76 points doesn't really justify a place on my top shelf. It's just that the weird bottle (like a jugendstil thermos bottle) gives me a lot of pleasure. It would have been nice to taste it against the new bottle of Tomintoul 10 in my reserve stock, but there are simply too much other interesting bottles I'd like to open first. So I emptied the bottle all by its lonesome self.
Nose: Light; slightly sherried start. Sweet lemons. Orange peel? A little peat later on. Roses?
Then sweeter with more smoke. A lot of development. Whiffs of chloride and spiritus.
Versatile, showing a lot of different faces after each other.
Taste: A bit thin. Quite smooth and sweet. Nutty. Gooseberries. Dash of pepper? Becomes more malty after 15 minutes. Not as good as the nose, especially because it disappoints slightly in the short, dry finish.
The rating of 76 points stands. No spectacular malt but very pleasant. With a taste to match the intriguing nose it might have reached 80 points.

The empty bottle of Tomintoul leaves a vacancy on my top shelf.
The Talisker and St. Magdalene are a bit too strong to sample this early in the evening, so I turned to my new bottle of Glenmorangie NAS Madeira Wood Finish (43%, OB, 100cl).
Nose: Sweet, with sherry and liquorice notes. It grows bolder and more complex after some breathing, displaying more fruity and spicy notes. Citrus, then the sweeter tones of old fruits. A feast of fragrances. Lots of development.
Taste: Smooth like butter on the surface, but with a very strong sherried and woody undercurrent. Some light sweetness at first. Dry, 'burnt' finish. You can taste the (madeira) wine. Too much so for my taste.
Conclusion: Several sources have informed me that the differences between different bottlings of the Glenmorangie 'special wood finishes' are considerable; something I can now confirm. Compared to my previous bottle, the nose has grown in character and complexity (+2 points) but the taste is clearly not as round & balanced as in previous bottlings (-3 points). As a result, the final rating drops from 84 to 83 points. Although this latest bottling isn't quite as good as other ones I've tasted, it still deserves a place on my top shelf.

Before I went on with the next part of the session, I tried some of the highland oatcakes Klaus brought me. After the 'loud' Highland malt I needed to neutralise my palate before I proceeded with the head-to-head tasting I had planned for two 'quiet' Lowland malts; the Rosebank 8yo 1983/1992 (43%, OB) from my top shelf and the Littlemill 8yo (40%, OB) from my bottom shelf. They are both eight year old Lowland malts and the (closed) distilleries were situated relatively close to each other - along the remains of Hadrian's wall.

The colour of the Littlemill was a lot darker than that of the Rosebank; I suspect heavy caramel colouring has been used here. At first, the nose of the Littlemill seems extremely oily next to the Rosebank, which was quite soft and much 'fresher' with distinct lemon notes. Both noses blossomed after some breathing. The Littlemill became sweeter and slightly smoky, with faint hints of peaches and melons under a blanket of oil. The Rosebank really opened up and became very lemony after a while, sweeter and heavier. The taste of the Littlemill was surprisingly sweet and malty for a Lowlander. But that's about all there is, ending quickly in a grainy finish. The taste of the Rosebank was exactly what I've come to expect from a young Lowlander; clean, dry and a little bit sweet.
Conclusion: I was rather enthusiastic about the Littlemill 8 when I first tasted it, but more recent experiences and this H2H prove that it is really nothing spectacular. If I'm in the mood for a Lowland malt, I'd much rather pick the Rosebank. I may not be overly fond of the typical character of a lot of Lowland malts, but at least they have a typical character. The Littlemill is just bland in comparison, and too oily for my taste.
The final rating of the Rosebank 8yo 1983 remains 73 points.
The Littlemill 8yo clocks in at 65 points. It has its moments, but they are few and far apart.
The bottle of Rosebank is empty; the Littlemill shamefully moves in the direction of my bottom shelf.

This means I now have to empty a bottle from my bottom shelf to make room.
I chose the Ben Nevis 8yo 1990/1999 (43%, Signatory Vintage, aged in sherry butt).
Nose: Quite interesting at first. Some strange sour notes. A bit like furniture polish.
A little more smoke later on, opening up with some water.
Taste: Oily start develops into a bitter burn. A hint of bitter chocolate.
Lacks balance and sweetness. A hint of smoke in the dry finish.
Conclusion: With a final rating of 67 points, I'm not sad to see this bottle vanish from my shelves.
Ben Nevis might prove more appealing at an higher age, but this young version just doesn't cut the mustard.

After another helping of Klaus' cakes, I proceed with the 'main event' of the evening. That was a H2H of the Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 (63.8%, UDRM) against the Macallan 10yo 100 Proof (57%, OB). The first thing I noticed was that the colour of the Mac was considerably darker than the Magdalene, although the latter is almost twice as old and comes in at 63.8% against the Mac's relatively modest 57%. The strength of the St. Magdalene is pretty amazing for a malt this old. A second thing I noticed that the last glass of the Macallan 10 had a lot of residue in it, perhaps pieces of the cork (?).

The nose of the Mac 10 was sweeter and much more heavily sherried than the St. Magdalene.
Much more woody notes too. It has been one of my all time favourites, but next to the amazing complexity of the Magdalene it looks almost one dimensional. The Lowlander just has so much to offer. Although the 'style' of the Macallan is closer to my heart, the Magdalene really offers an entire landscape of fragrances. On the other hand, the Macallan has more unity and balance. Tasted at cask strength, the Mac 10 was surprisingly drinkable as always. Very sweet with the familiar woody and sherry accents. The Magdalene was a little harder to swallow, but still showed some sweet liquorice in the smooth burn.

Diluted to about 50%, the nose of the Mac 10 opened up, displaying more layers of sweet sherry and wood. The St. Magdalene showed more citrus and liquorice in the nose, with more chloride and alcohol/spiritus as well. The taste was very smooth and sweet at this strength; a little peat and salt as well. The Mac 10 became a little more fruity with some smoke and a very long, sherry dry finish. After a final dilution to around 40% the Magdalene became very sweet and a little nutty in the nose, but the taste has become a little watery. The Mac 10 became smoother, with a woody, sherried finish. Long, big and dry.

Tasted on a good nose day, a little of the magic I felt when I opened the Saint Magdalene seems gone. It's still a bloody excellent dram, mind you! It's just that on closer inspection it shows a few tiny weak spots - especially when further diluted. And that's exactly why I usually wait a while before I give a final rating. On this occasion, I wouldn't have rated it more than 2 points over the Macallan. These malts are very different (the wide complexity of the Magdalene against the compact balance and character of the Macallan), which makes it hard to compare them. So, the result of the 'Big Cask Strength Speyside vs Lowland Bash' is a virtual tie. The final rating of 89 points for the Macallan 10 100 Proof stands, and the Saint Magdalene gets a provisional score of 91 points.

I feel confident enough to put the Saint Magdalene on my top shelf. I think this is the first malt in history that moves to my top shelf without being properly rated. The only reason I kept the Rosebank 1983 on my top shelf was that I wanted to be able to pour my guests a decent Lowland malt. Now I can pour them an excellent one! Considering the 73 Euro's price tag, I will make sure to pour tiny drams though. To make sure I will be able to keep on pouring for a while, I phoned Ton Overmars (my liquorist) a few days ago  and ordered the last bottle he had in store for my own reserve stock. It arrived this morning. Ah - the great tastings that lie ahead.

I had planned to taste the Dailluaine 16 (Flora & Fauna) and Talisker 10 tonight as well, but after the violence of the previous H2H I just didn't feel up to it. The Dailuaine moves to my middle shelf, the new bottle of Talisker 10 takes its rightful place on my top shelf. Strictly speaking, this isn't a new bottling that needs to be 'on probation' on my middle shelf anyway. But I will make sure to taste it seriously in the near future to check if the quality is similar to that of previous bottlings I've tried. With the final rating for the Littlemill, the meter of the '52-Challenge' now stands at 6 and balance has returned to my collection.

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mAddendum 74A -  Don't you just hate residue in your glass?

Extra note: I wrote about the residue in the Macallan 10yo 100 Proof. Here's a little tip that may come in handy.
Bottles with a crappy cork or malts that are not chill filtered may contain some residue. If you finish a bottle with a lot of residue, pour the last dram into the largest and roundest cognac snifter you have. Now, start to very slowly tilt & turn the glass. If you are careful enough, you'll see that more and more residue sticks to the glass as you tilt & turn. After you've turned the glass half way around and tilted it to almost 90 degrees, you can pour your clear dram into your glass of choice.
(This 'Tilt & Turn Tip' was brought to you by Malt Madness.)

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mAddendum 74B - Little Still Tasting

Night out in Amsterdam.
After dinner with some friends at 'De Jaren' we decided to drop by whisky cafe 'De Still' for a few drams.
That would be a perfect opportunity to taste a few new malts in the 52-Challenge (See Log Entry #70).
I was having a bad nose day, so I chose a few low profile malts.

I started with the Linkwood 15yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail). I spotted the bottle at my liquorist a few weeks back, but the 45 Euro's price tag made me pick up a 12yo Signatory Vintage instead.
Nose: Sweet, smooth and round. After a few minutes: Bigger & more complex.
Taste: Very leafy. Pleasant, but not as good as the nose at first sight.
Preliminary rating: 80 points; I'm pretty sure I'll buy myself a big bottle in the future.

Then I ordered the Glen Moray 16yo (43%, OB, finished in oak casks).
Nose: Sweet. Very fragrant but I wasn't in a condition to put names to the aroma's.
Like a September meadow against the 'August heather' character of the 12.
Taste: Oak! Extremely woody. Toffee. Spicy. Very dry.
Preliminary rating: 76 points; different from the 12 but not notably better.

Of course, these ratings are as preliminary as can be. They won't go into my official lists, but Davin and I agreed that we should give all new malts we try within the course of the 52-Challenge some kind of rating. When I left 'De Still' around 22:30; the counter stood at 9. When I arrived home around 23:00, I had already made plans to investigate a few more drams by means of a 'Northern Highland Head-to-Head'.

The (unrated) bottle of Glenmorangie NAS Cellar 13 (43%, OB, 100cl) on my middle shelf is 3/4 empty. I suppose one could say that it's 1/4 full, but the sight of a bottle that's almost empty always depresses me. And depression drives me to drinking. So I decided to put this bottle out of it's misery and empty it. I picked the fresh bottle of Balblair 16yo (40%, OB) from my reserve stock to replace it. That would give me an opportunity to taste these two Northern Highland malts in a head-to-head session. The distilleries are located less than five miles from each other, on the shores of the Dornoch Firth - Northwest of the Speyside area. One would think that the malts from these distilleries should be very similar in character. And then one would probably be wrong. My experiences have taught me that, with the notable exception of the Islay malts, it's often very hard to find specific characteristics that can identify every malt from a specific region.

I decided to taste the two malts separately first, followed by a head-to-head session.
I started with the Glenmorangie Cellar 13;
Nose: Fragrant. Smooth honey/vanilla sweetness. A wide spectre.
Some citrus notes. Pepper and apples. Some woody rum characteristics?
Taste: Smooth and sweet. Fresh, with a lot more salt than I remembered.
Vanilla? Menthol coolness with a generous dash of pepper in the dry finish.
(See log entry #10 for more impressions of this malt)

Then I opened the bottle of Balblair 16;
Nose: Very rich. Raisins. Sweet dough. Some smoke.
More spicy later on. Pinch of salt. Soap perfume after 15 minutes.
Taste: Peppery start. Becomes very salty. Reminded me a little of Talisker. Some sweet episodes. Not much development; ends in a long, very dry finish. Disappointing, compared to the nose.

The colour of the Balblair is a little darker than the 'Morangie; could be the age, could be the barrel, could be caramel colouring. Tasted head-to-head, the nose of the Balblair was a bit sharper than that of the Cellar 13, which was smoother and sweeter with a little more development over time. There were some hard to describe common characteristics as well. Smooth and sweet are also the most obvious taste characteristics of the Cellar 13. The taste of the Balblair didn't seem to fit the nose too well; a Speysidish nose over an Islandish taste - Campbeltown or Skye. With some more peat and power, this could almost have passed as a very light Islay malt. Both noses are intriguing, but the Glenmorangie is the clear winner on the taste buds.

Conclusion: At first sight, it seems that the nose of this bottle of Balblair 16 is considerably better than my previous bottle. The taste didn't do very much for me; it has some good intentions but never reaches the character and complexity of the big malts. The Glenmorangie is very nice, but not spectacular. Different from the standard 10yo bottling, but not notably better. Not really worth the considerably higher price. The Glenmorangie Cellar 13 receives a final rating of 81 points.
The preliminary rating of the Balblair 16: *** (Mid 70's)

With the final rating of the 'Morangie, I've now tasted a grand total of 10 new single malts since January 1.
So, I'm still ahead of schedule...  Eat my dust, Davin! ;-) 

 

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Log Entry # 75  -  February 17, 2001
Topic:  Irish Hopalong H2H

And now for something completely different.
A look at the Irish, to be precise. Until recently, the number of available single malts from Ireland was quite limited, but with the recent boom in Scotch single malts it seems that more and more Irish malts appear on the market. Tonight, I've planned to finish all four bottles of Irish whiskey on my shelves: Connemara, Tyrconnell, Locke's (all pot still single malts) and Jameson (a blend). Sadly, none of the malts has an age statement. The Locke's was a relatively recent acquisition, but the other bottles have been on my shelves for over a year now.

I started with a stiff dram of the Locke's Single Malt NAS (40%, OB).
This bottle has been going fast over the last few weeks; I quite like it.
Nose: Slightly oily, becoming very fruity! Raspberries. Red Oranges. Peaches.
A lot of other fragrances in the background as well. Hint of peat.
Taste: Smooth. Very sweet and fruity. Melons. Some citrus tones as well.
Develops into a slightly peaty burn with lots of salt. Very versatile.

At first sight, the character of the Locke's seems a lot more like the Tyrconnell than the Connemara.
But it has been a while since I tasted either one, so I proceeded with a H2H of Tyrconnell NAS (40%, OB) and Connemara NAS (40%, OB).
Tyrc. Nose: Soft, fresh and spicy. Citrus. Cookie dough. Paint feints? 'Farmy'.
Conn. Nose: Peaty! Smoke. Slow start, but sweeter and more complex after time.
Tyrc. Taste: Soft & sweet. Clean. Gooseberries. Very nice.
Conn. Taste: Peaty and smoke, almost like a relatively light Islay. Slightly sour.
These malts prove that Irish single malts can be just as individualistic as their Scottish counterparts. The difference in character is amazing. The light and spicy Tyrconnell should do very well in the summertime, the heavy, peaty Connemara is a good winter malt. Both are very nice whiskies that give some Scotch single malts a run for their money.

OK - Let's investigate further and pit the Tyrconnell against the Locke's.
Tyrc. Nose: Soft start. Slightly oily? More paint feints after a minute. Spicy.
Locke's Nose: Hints of salt and peat at first. Grows more complex and fruitier over time.
Tyrc. Taste: Soft and a little oily. Gentle sweetness. Gooseberries. Smooth.
Locke's Taste: Gritty start, becoming sweeter. Hint of peat in the finish.
Tasted against the Tyrconnell the Locke's didn't seem nearly as fruity as before; the Tyrconnell showed a lot of development and stamina. I think it may be the 'fragrantest' Irish whiskey I know.

The last H2H of the evening was the Locke's against the Connemara.
Locke's Nose: Peat and a little smoke at first. A lot of old fruits later on.
Conn. Nose: Peat and smoke; stronger than the Locke's. Islayish.
Locke's Taste: Seems a little flat next to the Connemara. Peat and salt in the finish.
Conn. Taste: Sweetish start, followed by a peaty explosion. Salty finish.

Conclusion: Who would have thought that Irish single malts could come so far is such a short time? These single malts are amongst the most outspoken Irish whiskies I've ever tasted. The difference with Irish blends like Jameson or Paddy is absolutely amazing. The malts I tasted tonight beat a lot of single malts from Scotland with a stick. The Connemara offers very good value at 23 Euro's a bottle; Tyrconnell and Locke's are slightly more expensive but still well worth a try. It looks like my previous ratings for Tyrconnell and Connemara (72 and 73 points respectively) may have expressed some kind of unconscious prejudice against Irish single malts. The new status quo:
Connemara = 76 points  (Even though the last dram had a little cork in it...)
Locke's = 73 points  (A little peat and a little fruit - in-between Conn. and Tyrc.)
Tyrconnell = 75 points  (sweet, fresh and fragrant; a great summertime malt)

As long as I was tasting Irish whiskeys, I might as well finish the evening with the last two drams of the Jameson NAS, an Irish blend. Nose: Nice and round. A little dusty. Coffee.
One dimensional. Grainy episodes, becoming more frequent as time goes by.
Taste: Sweet black coffee. Mocha. Caramel and string beans?
This whiskey is perfect for Irish coffee.
The Jameson used to be one of my favourite whiskeys during my student days, when I was short on both cash and a sophisticated taste. Nowadays, it just doesn't have what it takes to tickle my fancy. Not complex enough. The rating of 51 points stands.
 

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Log Entry # 76  -  February 27, 2001
Topic:  First Proper Session In A Long Time

Over the last few weeks, a lot of my tastings have been concentrated around 'other' whiskies (Irish, bastard malts, etc.). It's high time for a proper tasting session to speed up the traffic between my shelves.
For starters, I decided to empty my bottle of Ardmore 1981/1995 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail).
Nose: Big, deep and complex. Sherry is the main characteristic, but there's so much more.
It reminded me of some oriental soup I tried at a Thai restaurant once.
Taste: Sweet, malty and fruity. A little nutty with a dry finish.
A bit simple, which is disappointing after the good nose.
The final rating of 78 points stands; with a taste to match the wonderful nose it would have reached 80 points or more - and maybe even top shelf status.

With the Ardmore empty, I could proceed with the Craigellachie 1983/1994 (43%, Vintage Choice) from my middle shelf - a Speyside malt as well. Earlier tastings indicated that this is by no means a top shelf candidate, so the bottle can take the place of the Ardmore on my bottom shelf.
Nose: Peculiar aroma. Very light at first. Sweetish, with a little smoke and oil.
Fruitier after a few minutes; the oil becomes more pronounced.
Taste: Sweet start with a hint of peat and smoke. Lacks complexity.
Unpleasant bitterness evolves into a dry finish. A sharp bite, but quickly gone.
Final rating: 62 points. The nose isn't too bad but the taste is just too harsh. Based on this experience, this will probably be the only bottle of Craigellachie I'll ever try.

Oh, joy! Now I get to open a fresh bottle from my reserve stock.
I selected the Scapa 12yo (40%, OB, 100cl) so I could do a H2H-session with the Scapa 1985/1997 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail) on my top shelf before that bottle is completely empty. The 12yo OB is one of the few malts in the malt madness matrix I haven't tasted yet.

At first, the noses are quite similar - both seemed a little fruity (like fruit sweets) with a pinch of salt. I guess the similarity isn't too surprising given the fact that the difference in age is only two years. Judging from the nearly identical colour, I guess they must've been aged in the same type of casks. After a few minutes, the 12 becomes sweeter and slightly more transparent than the 1985. Cucumber in the nose of the '85, citrus and a pinch of peat in the 12. A lot of similarities in the taste as well. Both start rather soft and sweetish, with malt, honey and vanilla. The '85 is a little smoother, while the 12 shows some toffee notes. Both become much saltier after a while, showing a hint of peat and some pepper. The only big difference is in the finish; the 1985 is shorter, sweeter and dry - the 12 longer, saltier and very bitter at the end. Conclusion: The final rating of 78 points for the Scapa 1985 stands, the fresh 12 OB gets 77 provisional points. It's not bad at all, but at first sight it seems no match for 'the other Orkney malt', Highland Park 12.

Let's see - what else?
I've been hitting the Knockdhu 12 (OB, 40%) on my middle shelf a lot over the last week. Mostly because I've had a few bad nose days and didn't want to waste any of the good stuff. Since this is really nothing more than the familiar An Cnoc 12yo under another name, I figured I could safely speed up the tasting process. After less than 2 months on my middle shelf the bottle is nearly empty, so it's high time for a final rating. I poured myself the latest dram and started judging.
Nose: Pleasant. Soft and sweetish, smooth and fruity.
Hint of smoke and spiritus later. Nuttier after 30 minutes of breathing.
Taste: Creamy. Soft and sweet. A little malty with a memory of vanilla ice cream.
Marzipan? Dull and relatively short finish; gritty and slightly bitter.
The Knockdhu clocks in at 72 points. No high concept malt but very drinkable. The litre bottling costs about the same as a 0.7 litre bottling of Johnnie Walker Black Label here in Holland - I know which one I would choose...

So, now I get to open another bottle from my reserve stock. I picked the Benrinnes 15yo (43%, Flora & Fauna) because the distillery is located in the Speyside area as well, less than 20 miles from the An Cnoc/Knockdhu distillery. The colour is the darkest amber I've ever seen.
Nose: Wow! Big, sherried start followed by sweeter / more woody notes.
Burnt caramel. The character is not unlike that of Macallan.
Taste: Smoky start, then sweeter notes emerge. Liquorice.
Very woody and smoky finish with a sweetish undercurrent.
Preliminary rating: *** (Upper 70's). The aroma is wonderful, but the finish is way too smoky for my tastes. Not unlike Bowmore Darkest or Loch Dhu. But let's not jump to conclusions. I'll give the bottle a few months to break in before I try it again. By that time, the Macallan 15 may have also reached our shores; that should prove to be an interesting H2H-session.

OK - That takes care of my single malt shelves.
But it's still early and I'm not tired yet.
I allowed myself to stay up for a while longer to sample (and empty) the last two bottles on my 'non-malt' shelf. Since the start of my mission, the number of bottles on this shelf has been steadily decreasing. After tonight, I will be able to use it for the more reputable bottles in my reserve stock.

The first bottle is the Lochranza blend I picked up a while ago. It is a blend produced by the Arran distillery that produces the - you guessed it - Arran NAS single malt. I figured a H2H-session of the two could provide some insights. For one thing, I should be able to determine if the 32 Euro's I had to pay for the single malt are worth it compared to the astonishing 14 Euro's of the Lochranza blend.

The first thing that drew my attention was the fact that the blend is a lot darker in colour that the 'whitish' single malt. Caramel colouring - like it says on the back of the bottle. Paradoxically enough, the nose of the blend seems a lot maltier than that of the single malt at first. It started off more powerful and nuttier as well. There is no obvious family resemblance here; the Arran seems rather light and oily while the primary impression of the Lochranza was malty and unusually sweet. At first sight, the blend seems better than the single malt! After a minute or three the Arran catches up, showing some citrus notes and becoming more fragrant and complex altogether. Meanwhile, the blend flattens out a bit, showing some of the oil I found in the malt. Nosed after 15 minutes, the Lochranza had opened up again, showing a lot of cognac and coffee beans. The primary impression of the Arran malt was still: oil - and lots of it. Maybe a little nutty in the background.

The taste of the blend is nice, but a little watery. Very sweet in the beginning, but less so after a few minutes. The finish starts grainy, but becomes very bitter. It reminded me of grapefruits. The Arran malt, on the other hand, was sweet and peppery. It showed a little more complexity and development than the blend, but also arrived at the grapefruit bitterness in the finish.

I hate to admit it, but the Lochranza is a surprisingly good blend!
I awarded it 50 points, just as much as the Teacher's. It's very different, but 'grosso modo' I like it just as much as my touchstone blend. The nose is amazing for a blend. If it hadn't been for the unpleasant bitterness in the finish, it might have scored in the upper 50's or even lower 60's. Meanwhile, the rating of the Arran malt is decreased from 63 to 61 points. Time hasn't been kind to it and in the 9 months since I've opened it, it has lost some of its redeeming qualities. The character has moved in the direction of Isle of Jura and Tobermory. As far as I'm concerned, that's not a good thing. My conclusion: The Lochranza is a very good value blend, definitely worth a try. The Arran malt, on the other hand, doesn't score very well - both on quality and value. A bottle of Macallan 10 is better and cheaper.

OK - Just one more bottle to go.
The last bottle on the shelf is the 'Old Crow' Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
According to the label, it has been aged for 4 years in new, charred, white oak barrels. The nose is quite rich for a bourbon. There seems to be a deeper meaning behind the grainy overtones I find in most bourbons.
In the words of the great philosopher Cartman: 'Sweeeet...'.
But then again - it's still a bourbon. No complexity to speak of.
The taste is sweet as well. It has the smoky cleanliness of Jack Daniels.
Dry and a bit bitter in the short finish. No big surprises here.
My rating: 45 points. As bourbons go, this one isn't too bad. But let's face it - even the best bourbons are no match for even the averagest of single malts. It just doesn't have enough personality.
At 18 Euro's a litre, it offers decent value, though.

So now I've tasted a few malts, a blend and a bourbon.
I guess this is the kind of haphazard tasting session that would make serious whisky reviewers like Michael Jackson cringe. Well, I say 'Let them cringe!' I'm having fun and I don't care who knows it... ;-)

Anyway - I finished the evening with the last glasses of 'Old Crow' and a few old Chet Baker albums.
I did a lot of pondering - about the meaning of life and stuff... That finishes things off for tonight.
Bye bye and goodnight...

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mAddendum 76A - Ben Wyvis 10yo.

I've recently received some information about the Ben Wyvis 10yo that I wrote about in Log Entry #72.
It's part of the 'Malts of Distinction' series by Invergordon, sold in Holland by Gall & Gall. Because the real Ben Wyvis distillery was closed decades ago, I was pretty sure this was some kind of facsimile. As it turns out, it is actually a rebranded Tullibardine 10. This explains why I didn't like the 'Ben Wyvis' - the Tullibardine is actually one of my least favorite malts. Personally, I just don't like that particular 'oily' style of malts. The Ben Wyvis 10 is hereby disqualified and will be removed from my lists in shame.
And I hereby declare SHAME on Invergordon for this sort of necro-klepto-shenanigans.

 

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Log Entry # 77  -  March 14, 2001
Topic:  Provenance Tasting at 'De Still'

Arthur, the guy behind 'the whiskysite' tipped me about a tasting session in 'De Still' tonight.
The focus of the tasting was the McGibbon's Provenance series. I decided to drop by, partly because it would be a great opportunity to add a few new single malts to my 52-List without having to purchase and empty any big bottles - and the damage to my wallet and liver that comes with it. Although I'm not in the habit of rating malts after tasting only one glass, I'll make an exception in this case and dish out some very preliminary ratings. Needless to say, the results won't be part of my 'official' lists.

Malt 1: Braes of Glenlivet 1977 (43%, Montgomerie's Single Cask, distilled 19/10/1977, bottled October 2000, Madeira wood cask no. 100763, bottle no. 117). I arrived early, so I decided to have a dram to whet my appetite. I discovered I had tasted almost all the bottles on their shelves, but I still managed to find a few unfamiliar ones - including this very intriguing madeira wood finished malt.
Nose: Very rich! Fruity. Sweet with candied lemon peel and turkish delight.
Taste: Toffee & coffee. A little gritty on the palate.
Oaky and winey dry in the finish.
Rating: 80 points - this may be a bit on the conservative side.
The Madeira Braes seems like a malt that needs several tastings before you really get to know it.

Malt 2: Millburn 1974/2000 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice)
Still some time to kill; I proceeded with a malt from a distillery I've encountered only once before (see entry #16). This 'westernmost' Speyside distillery closed in 1985, so I may never have the chance to taste this malt again.
Nose: Slightly oily at first, then menthol and eucalyptus. Cannabis? Perfumy. Over time, it developed into sweets and fruit cake. Very decent.
Taste: Very smooth, sweet and malty at first.
After a while, the sweetness vanishes completely to be replaced by perfumy notes and eucalyptus in the finish.
Rating: 74 points - pleasant enough, but not as 'deep' as I expected from such a senior malt. More than 25 years in a cask should have a bigger impact.

Malt 3: Bowmore 32yo 1968/2000 (46%, Signatory Vintage 'Rare Reserved')
By now, Arthur had arrived. While we did some chatting he poured us something very special from his personal collection. This Bowmore is almost as old as I am; distilled on 27/02/1968, bottled on 25/08/2000, cask #1422, bottle #185 of 236. The small number of bottles indicates that this was either a small cask or the angels took more than their usual share while this whisky grew old.
Nose: Starts soft, but quickly becomes very aromatic. Fruity; water melons and cider. A little soap perfume after a while. Strangely enough, it had none of the Islay characteristics I've come to expect from Bowmore. Arthur informed me that this bottling dates from the times before the distillery changed its style to the present one.
Taste: Soft start, followed by a powerful explosion. A little peat and lots of wood. Closer in character to the present day Bowmore malts than the nose. Very nice.
Rating: 87 points - Great stuff. I didn't expect any malts I would get to taste later this evening to do any better than this. As it turned out, they didn't.

Malt 4: Rosebank 11yo (43%, McGibbon's Provenance Spring Distillation)
Finally, the official tasting started. The ceremony was guided by a very knowledgeable guy who sensibly argued that we should proceed from light to heavy. That's why we started with this triple distilled Lowlander while our guide gave us some background information about the McGibbon's Provenance series and its history. Like all the malts in the series we tasted tonight, it was unchillfiltered and very light in colour.
Nose: Very soft at first; Sour apples, spiritus and sandstone. Flowery; a hint of peat later on.
Taste: Strangely 'veggy'. Citrus and vanilla later on. Quite dry.
Rating: 72 points - not all that different from the 1983 I tried a while ago.

Malt 5: Macallan 11yo (43%, McGibbon's Provenance Summer Distillation)
The second Provenance bottling was distilled in the summer of 1988 and bottled in the spring of 2000. This means it's almost as old as the 12yo OB.
Nose: Light, sweetish and oily. Not recognisable as a Macallan.
Taste: Bitter, with oily and malty fragments. Not unlike Isle of Jura.
Rating: 69 points - very disappointing. Our guide argued that it should be judged on its own merits, but when I drink a Macallan I want the Macallan style - not some generic Speysidish malt with no obvious redeeming qualities.

Malt 6: Imperial 11yo (43%, McGibbon's Provenance Winter Distillation)
Half way through the official part of the tasting, we were presented with a surprise blind bottle wrapped in tinfoil.
Our guide challenged us to determine its origins. I didn't have a clue; my first guess was a young Talisker, my second a young Glen Scotia.
Nose: Salty and sparkly. A hint of smoke but no obvious peat.
Taste: Gritty. I was so busy trying to find out what it was I forgot to take notes.
Rating: 78 points - quite nice; I will probably pick it up next time I see it in a shop.

Malt 7: Clynelish 11yo (43%, McGibbon's Provenance Summer Distillation)
This was actually the first glass of Clynelish I've ever tasted.
I have an older Rare Malts version of this malt in my reserve stock but haven't opened it yet.
Nose: Big, almost overwhelming. Salty. Coconut. Spiritus. Spicy.
Taste: Surprisingly soft after the strong nose. Peat and salt later on.
Rating: 81 points - a winner; I'll try to find another young bottling of Clynelish a.s.a.p.

Malt 8: Provenance Ardbeg 9yo (43%, McGibbon's Provenance Autumn Distillation)
For me, this was the 'odd one out' in the five Provenance bottlings we tasted tonight. It was the only bottle I have in my own collection. It's also the only Provenance bottle of the night that's not 11 years old.
Nose: Clean start. More salt, peat and iodine after a minute.
Taste: Peaty, but slightly sweetish as well. Big salty burn.
Rating: 81 points - great stuff. Tonight's tasting gives me an excuse to keep my own bottle closed for a while longer. I now know it qualifies to be opened on a special occasion.

Conclusion: Tonight was a major leap forward in the 52-Challenge. I've covered more than 15% of the number of malts I have to taste this year on a single night. And I've actually learnt a few more things about single malts as well - which is nice...

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mAddendum 77A  -  Present & Purchase

Last week, I organised a little tasting session for some of my new colleagues. As far as I could see, fun and a good time were had by all. This week, they surprised me with a gift to express their gratitude for opening up a whole new world of alcoholic pleasure for them. They had bought me a bottle of Glen Scotia 14yo. A perfect present! This is the latest official bottling of this distillery before it was temporarily closed down in the 1980's, so I imagine it will become quite rare pretty soon. (See log entry #72 for my notes of a tasting session with the bottle of Glen Scotia 14 that's currently on my top shelf.)
This bottle goes straight to my reserve stock and will probably stay there for quite a while.

I also picked up a bottle of Bowmore 15yo 'Mariner' this week. It was on offer at Gall & Gall for only 36 Euro's.
Not the cheapest malt around, but quite a steal compared to the normal price tag. It goes into my reserve stock for now.

And that was just the beginning. During tonight's tasting, Arthur informed me that Ton Overmars had just received a new shipment of Rare Malts, including a few bottles of St. Magdalene and Caol Ila. And what's more: for the first time in quite a while, the prices of some rare bottlings had dropped instead of gone up.
Reason enough to drop by and pick up the following bottles:

These bottles are all reserve stock material.
I know the first two Rare Malts are excellent because I tasted and rated them recently - they will be saved for very special occasions. I have my doubts about the Mannochmore, because it's the distillery that produces Loch Dhu. But then again, I haven't tasted any 'Mannochmore' labelled malt yet. I can't be trusted with large sums of money burning in my pocket - curiosity just got the better of me. The Port Ellen was the last bottle in stock - they are becoming quite rare so this is another bottle I'll save for a rainy day. The other bottles were selected on their 'value'-value. That was the same reason I picked up two more Vintage 'bastard malts' as well; the Vintage Mull 6yo (Ledaig, 17 Euro's) and Vintage Islay 5yo Cask Strength (Lagavulin, 58,4%, 25 Euro's). See log entry #72 for more details about this series.

Finally, I went to Menno Boorsma and bought myself three bottles of Irish whiskey.
Or rather, I thought I bought three bottles - as it turned out I bought five. I thought I had bought:

Actually, that last 'bottle' turned out to be a strange contraption of three fat little 200 ml bottles, stacked on top of each other to make it look exactly like an ordinary 700 ml bottle. Very clever - I've never seen anything like it before. The little bottles contain three different versions of Clontarf; the Clontarf Irish Whiskey, the Clontarf Reserve Irish Whiskey and the Clontarf Single Malt Irish Whisky. All three are bottled at 40% and have been 'mellowed through Atlantic Irish oak charcoal'.
Reports to follow.

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mAddendum 77B  -  Glen Moray Bypass Operation

A couple of the more 'mundane' bottles in my reserve stock were the two different versions of Glen Moray 12 that I bought a few months ago. The first one is the 'old' distillery (1 litre, 43%) bottling, matured in oak casks without any kind of special wood finish. This has been one of my favourite 'sloshing malts' for many years; it costs less than 25 euro's. It has recently been replaced by another version, matured in oak casks and then 'mellowed' in Chenin Blanc wine casks (0.7 litre, 40%). The design of the new bottling (both the bottle and the label) is quite similar to the old one. A younger version of Glen Moray (without an age statement, mellowed in Chardonnay casks) has been introduced at the same time -  I haven't tried that one yet.

I opened both bottles of Glen Moray 12 a few weeks back, but decided to keep them out of my usual routine with the top, middle and bottom shelf. I've had a string of bad nose days and in my weakened state I didn't want to move any bottles in my current stock. I'm all better now and ready to do some serious nosing and tasting.
I started the session with the Glen Moray 12  'Elgin Classic' (matured in oak barrels).
Nose: Heather with a dash of sherry. Some smoke; a little peat later on.
Sweet. Grassy? Some very faint citrus notes after 10 minutes. Really opens up.
Taste: A warm glow; very malty. Rather smooth and creamy.
Very pleasant, but a little too dry in the finish.

Then I proceeded with the new Glen Moray 12  'Mellowed in Wine Barrels' (matured in oak casks, then mellowed in Chenin Blanc wine barrels). Nose: Faintly oily with a few woody notes. Soft sweetness. Peppery.
Some salt after a while. More 'winey' after a few minutes.
Taste: Round and smooth at first. Some sweetness. Then bitter and sour.
Very dry finish, a little gritty. This stuff makes you thirsty and go for a quick refill.

Compared to each other in a H2H-session, the nose of the old bottling appeared smokier, while the new bottling smelled oilier with something that reminded me of sweet cakes. The nose of the old bottling is a little 'bigger' as well. The differences are minor. The taste of the old 12 is more to my liking; smooth and malty versus the extreme dryness of the new bottling. It has a longer finish as well. Strangely enough, the finish of the Chenin Blanc version is oakier than that of the old version, only matured in oak casks.

Conclusion: The final rating of 75 points for the old Glen Moray 'Classic' stands. The new 'Chenin Blanc' bottling receives a final rating of 72 points; it's very drinkable but not as fragrant and complex as the old bottling. At least, not to me.
I finished the evening with the last glasses from the bottles of Chenin Blanc and Scapa 1985 from my top shelf. The bottle of Glen Moray 12 'Classic' was still half full and got an honorary position on my top shelf; taking the place of the Scapa 1985. Its rating doesn't really warrant such a position, but I felt the last bottle in a long line deserved a fitting farewell. It scored high on my 'Bang-for-your-Buck-List'. It's not likely I will taste as many bottles of the new Chenin Blanc version; I could get over the 3 points difference on my scale, but it's more expensive than the old version as well. In the future, I'd rather go for a Glen Ord 12 (better) or Glen Grant 10 (cheaper).

 

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Log Entry # 78  -  March 31, 2001
Topic:  Unfinished Business

I wrote about the aftermath of the tongue twisting second international tasting with Klaus Everding in log entry #74. Two new bottles that were opened during Klaus's visit (Talisker 10yo and Saint Magdalene 19yo) were in dire need of further investigation. Both had moved directly to my top shelf, even though I didn't properly taste the new bottle of Talisker and the St. Magdalene lacked the final rating that is usually required for a position on my top shelf. I was having a very good nose night, so I decided to iron out the last inconsistencies in my shelf situation.
I'm a real tight-ass in these things...

I must have emptied at least 10 bottles of the Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB) over the last ten years. It has been my number two malt for as long as I can remember. Well, not literally, alcohol hasn't damaged my brain THAT much... Yet. Anyway - I have been getting reports that the quality of the Talisker 10 has been slipping. To find out if there is any truth to these rumours, I decided to taste the Talisker 'solo' first, followed by 3 H2H's.
After all, this matter should not be taken lightly...
Nose: More restrained than I remembered at first, but growing stronger after a minute.
A lot of subtle fragrances around a strong, smoky centre. Stock cubes? Reaches a real azimuth after 10 minutes. Citrus. Not as much 'legs' as previous bottlings, though.
Taste: Wow! Sweet start, followed by smoke, salt and pepper. The familiar explosion on the tongue, helped by the slightly higher than normal proof. Dry, peppery finish.

For the first H2H of the evening, I poured an Ardbeg 10yo (46%, OB) next to the Talisker.
In my mind, the Talisker has always been some kind of 'honorary Islay malt'.
Both malts are 10 years old, both are slightly overproof - great material for a H2H.
The Ardbeg looks strawish yellow next to the orange/brown hue of the Talisker.
The nose of the Ardbeg 10 isn't as powerful as the Talisker at first, which seemed very sherried next to the clean, salty Islay malt. After a minute, the Ardbeg blossomed (more peat and a hint of citrus) but the Talisker stayed more or less the same - a little sweeter perhaps. Both tastes are explosive. The Talisker is peppery with some salt, the Ardbeg salty with some pepper (and a dash of peat). Burn baby, burn! After a while, the Talisker becomes smokier - and the Ardbeg a little sweeter.

Next up: Talisker 10yo vs Ardbeg 17yo (40%, OB). They are the current number 2 and 3 in my Top 10, scoring 93 and 92 points respectively. Let's find out if the new bottling of Talisker 10 is still worthy of its second place. The colour of the older Ardbeg is lighter than the Talisker, but the nose isn't - at least not at first. The first impression of the Ardbeg is strong with lots of salt, while the Talisker starts light and very sherried in comparison. After a minute, the Talisker really blossomed with sweetness, peat and stock cubes. The Ardbeg gained citrus and menthol notes. After 15 minutes, the nose of the Talisker was still growing bigger and more complex, developing into lots of interesting nuances that are impossible to describe. Over time, the Ardbeg 17 gained some light fruity notes.
The taste of the Talisker starts rather soft and sweet, but quickly explodes into smoke and pepper.
The Ardbeg starts relatively gentle as well, followed by a salt and peaty explosion. Great development.
Both malts have a long, dry finish.

The final H2H was against the Vintage Skye 8yo; a 'bastard' bottling of Talisker. The colour difference is amazing. Could be caramel, could be bourbon vs sherry ageing. Both nose seemed restrained at first, the 8 appearing fruitier. Then the 8 showed some chloride and a hint of peat and smoke - with hard brown spiced biscuit. The 10 became much bigger, sweeter and saltier. The primary taste impressions of the 8 were dry and salty; raw power within a 'watery' and slightly oily shell. Not as powerful as the 10, though, which seemed sweet, peppery and slightly peaty. The finish of the 10 was longer and more complex as well. No contest really - the 8 is very good, especially considering its age, but comes nowhere near the wonderful balance and complexity of the 10. The latest bottling of Talisker 10 has proven itself worthy of a rating in the nineties.

After the 'clashes of the titans', my nose and palate were fully prepared for the power and finesse of the cask strength St. Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 (63.8%, UDRM), which desperately needs a final rating. I knew it deserved a place on my top shelf, but I wasn't sure just how great it was. Time to find out.
Nose: Within a few seconds a big palette of fragrances unfolds. Fruity and almost oriental in character at first.
I don't know what it means but that's how it feels. Memories of ketjap and soy sauce. Apricot. Cherry.
Then liquorice and sweet root notes emerge. Even more fruits later on, with a hint of smoke.
With a little water it became nuttier with menthol. Sour sweets. The wonderful development just continues.
Taste: Drank straight, it's sweet and round with a big malty burn. Liquorice.
With some water, it showed more fruit and wood tones with menthol in the finish.
After a little more water, it became very toffee-like. Smooth and sweet. A real mouth warmer.
Final rating: 93 points - leaning towards 94. This is a really exceptional malt. One of the richest bouquets I've ever encountered - a real roller coaster ride of aroma's. If the palate had been just as good as the exquisite bouquet it might have even challenged the Lagavulin 16 for the pole position.

After a night of heavy nosing and tasting, the conclusion is one of historic proportions. After there proved to be some truth to the rumours about the 'slipping' of Lagavulin 16, I had nightmares about the quality of the Talisker 10 (another 'classic malt' by United Distillers) dropping as well. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case. I noticed (or imagined) a slight drop in power and complexity. This bottling still had the 'old' label; I will have to buy myself a bottle with the new label soon to verify its quality.
With its new rating of 89 points, the Talisker 10 drops from its comfortable second place between Lagavulin 16 (95 points) and Ardbeg 17 (92 points) to 6th place - for now.

The big surprise is the UDRM Saint Magdalene who passes the finish with flying colours and takes the #2 position in my Best-to-Worst-List with 93 points - just after Lagavulin 16. The versatility of the Lowlander is astonishing. Since this is no real 'commercial' bottling it won't end up in my Top 10, but it's still an AMAZING DISCOVERY. I can heartily recommend anybody who reads this to put in the effort to find one of these rare bottles. Partly because the distillery has been demolished, I've made an exception on my usual 50 Euro's limit and bought 2 spare bottles (at 68 Euro's a piece) for my reserve stock. Very special bottles for very special occasions.

Last time I checked, the counter of the 52-Challenge stood at 10.
After the Provenance Tasting (8 new single malts, see log entry #77) and serious tastings of the Locke's, Craigellachie 1983, Knockdhu 12, Glen Moray 12 Chenin Blanc and Saint Magdalene 19 C/S I've now tasted 22 new single malts this year. I'm comfortably ahead of schedule. That's just as well, because summer tends to be a slow time for me, malt-wise.
 

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Log Entry # 79  -  April 30, 2001
Topic:  It's Lagavulin Night!

Spring is really kicking in!
Power to the flowers, man...

The days are growing longer and the plants and trees are growing greener.
It has been a while since the last frosty night, so it seems the Islay season is coming to an end. It's quite chilly tonight, but the weather forecasters predict warmer weather. Since this may be the last opportunity to taste them under good Islay conditions (meaning: shitty weather), I decided to have a tasting session involving all five bottles of Lagavulin currently in my collection. They are and old and a new bottle of the Lagavulin 16 OB, the Murray McDavid Lagavulin 1984 and two 'Vintage Islay' bastard malts.

I started with a Head-to-Head-session of what's left in the two 'bastard' bottles.
They are the Vintage Islay 5yo (40%, bastard) and Vintage Islay 5yo Cask Strength (58.4%, bastard). I have to admit that the relatively low alcohol percentage of the cask strength version surprised me. Given the fact that I've recently tasted a few cask strength malts that still had well over 60% at an age of more than 20 years, I had expected such a young malt to be a lot stronger. Perhaps this has been an 'open cask'.

Nose: At first, the 40% version smelled more like an Islay malt than the C/S; peaty and smoky versus spirity, woody and nutty notes. Almonds and peanuts in the C/S? The 40% seems more like the OB 16 in character, just toned down and less complex. Both noses suggested some sweetness in the background as well, becoming stronger over time. I waited 15 minutes for the nose of the C/S to change. That didn't happen, so I diluted it to around 50% and enjoyed the view of the water interacting with the whisky. It became distinctively more complex with smoke, oranges and old fruits. Some peat appeared as well. Diluted to about 40% it really opened up. Painty feints; more peat after a few minutes. Hardly recognisable as an Islay malt anymore, but quite complex.
Taste: The 40% has peat (and lots of it) after a surprisingly soft start. A big, warm burn with a long dry and smoky finish. Something fishy. It's a much simpler malt than the 16yo. OB, though. Undiluted, taken in small sips, the C/S seemed to taste a bit like coffee, with a bitter aftertaste. Quite woody. At 50%, it became sweeter with more smoke and a peaty finish. Liquorice. At 40% it primarily showed menthol, followed by sweetness and smoke fighting it out in the finish.

Phew... Rating them is no easy task. The 40% bottling seems to be more faithful to the 'typical' Lagavulin character I've come to expect, but the cask strength version is more versatile.
Vintage Islay 5yo = 78 points; not nearly as complex as previous, older bottlings.
Vintage Islay 5yo Cask Strength = 81 points. Interesting. Both bastard malts are very drinkable but just a tad too simple and unrefined to compete with the big boys. Very good value, though, especially the 40% at roughly 17 Euro's. The cask strength also offers decent 'bang for your bucks' at 27 Euro's.
(See log entry #72 for tasting notes on a few other Vintage bastard malts.)

OK - With the preliminaries out of the way I can concentrate on the 'proper' single malts.
And they don't come any more proper than the Lagavulin 16yo (43%, OB).
I had opened the 'fresh' bottle from my reserve stock about two weeks ago to let it 'break in'.
Now it's time to taste it against the old bottle from my top shelf - bottled around 1998, I guess.
When I poured the glasses, the colour of the new 16 seemed to be just a fraction of a shade darker.
Nose: Two symphonies in peat, smoke and sherry. Both were a lot 'deeper', more sherried and much more complex than the Vintage malts, but the nose of the fresh bottle seemed more subdued than that of the old one at first. Is there a slight difference in character? Well... yes - but just a little bit. Not enough to be easily put into words. The old bottling is a little more complex, showing more different elements in the background. After a few minutes, the fresh Lagavulin 16 opened up. It even became more fragrant than the old bottling at one point - but not for long. There seems to be a stronger accent on the smoke here.
Taste: The primary taste impressions of the old bottling were smoke and burnt caramel at first, followed by sweeter notes. Pepper - and peat, of course. Like pepper steak on the tongue. A very long finish. The new bottling appeared just as good and quite similar. A powerful, peaty burn with a very long finish.
After +/- 5 minutes, I added 5 drops of water to each glass. The nose of the old bottling became distinctly more smoky, while the overall 'volume' of the new bottle increased a little. The taste didn't seem affected too much, although I DO feel the start of the latest bottling is 'weaker' than I've come to expect.

And then I thought: Some of these nosing and tasting notes are quite similar to those I made for my first glasses of Bowmore Darkest (Score: 65). It's a thin line between love and hate... It has been a few months since I've tasted it, so I may do a H2H of Lagavulin 16 vs Bowmore Darkest soon.
But not tonight; I don't want to risk spoiling my good mood.

Anyhow - Is there truth in the reports that United Distillers are 'dumbing down' the Lagavulin 16? Well - maybe. Although the differences I found may just be attributed to the different breathing periods, it seems the nose of the new bottling needs more time to open up. The taste starts weaker too.
Does this mean I have to adjust my ratings again?
No, not this time. The rating of 95 points stands - for now. I have to admit I'm starting to lean towards 94 points, though. Over the last two years, I've seen some slipping of Lagavulin, but this time around the old and the new bottle seem relatively alike. There are differences, but they don't outweigh the wonderful similarities. If I had to express the differences in points, it would be no more than one or two points. For now, things stay as they are, but I will have a H2H-tasting with my top 5 malts soon to find out if the natural order of things has changed.

Which brings us to another topic.
For a long time, I preferred OB's (official distillery bottlings) over independent bottlings by the likes of Signatory Vintage and Gordon & MacPhail. This preference was caused by the assumption that the experiences with the OB's would be 'reproducable'. Over the years, I've learned that they are not. The differences between these two Lagavulins aren't dramatic, but they are there. And Lagavulin 16 isn't the only bottling that seems to have changed since I started my liquid log; other examples are Aberlour 10, Balvenie 10, Bowmore 12 and Longmorn 15.

This makes me think.
If the Lagavulin 16 I taste today offers no guarantees for future experiences, the advantage of 'reproducability' disappears. I may have to approach future purchases from a different perspective.

But I'm getting side-tracked here.
I was tasting Lagavulins, remember?
After the 16yo H2H, I pulled out the Lagavulin 14yo 1984/1999 (46%, Murray McDavid) from my middle shelf. It was distilled in December 1984, matured in bourbon casks and bottled in February 1999. I opened it more than 6 months ago, so it has had plenty of time to break in. I decided to taste it 'solo' first, followed by a head-to-head session against the last dram of the old 16.
Nose: Light and mellow start. Dry. A gentle sweetness hovering over a smoky, peaty base. A hint of citrus? Becomes much more feinty after some breathing. Some more salt and seaweed as well.
Taste: Solid. A relatively sweet start, but the sweetness disappears.
It is followed by heaps of salt, peat and smoke. A big, long afterburn. Adding a little water brought some more smoke to the nose and a dry bitterness to the palate.

The H2H-tasting of the 'Murmac' 1984 against the 16 OB turned out to be a confrontation of bourbon versus sherry - and a real eye opener as well. The nose of the 16 started off much stronger and heavier, the 1984 appeared lighter and more transparent. Strangely enough, the 16 smells like sherry but the 1984 doesn't smell like bourbon. At first, the nose of the 1984 managed to keep up with the 16, but after 10 minutes it slowly fell back. The taste of the 16 had a lot of sherry and some liquorice, the 1984 seemed extremely dry.

Conclusion: The MurMac 1984 is definitively top shelf material.
It clocks in at 89 points. A wonderful malt. If I had to describe it in terms of Islay malts I've tasted before, it would be something like the nose of a Caol Ila combined with the taste of a Laphroaig. The nose is almost as good as that of the 16 OB, especially at first. After some breathing, the 16 proves to be a little more more complex, though. On the palate, the 16 OB wins it as well on complexity and development. The 1984 tastes great, but there's not much more going on than lots of dry salt and smoke.

So, which bottle from my top shelf has make way for the Lagavulin 1984? A gruelling decision - I love every one of the sixteen bottles on my top shelf dearly, so choosing between them as no easy task.
Eventually, I decided on the Caol Ila 21yo 1975/1997 (61.3%, UD Rare Malts). The bottle is nearly empty and I've received a warning that this bottle doesn't age to well. Let's check if the rumours are true.
Nose: Wowee! As strong and complex as ever. Like a bonfire on the beach in the autumn.
Seaweed. After a dash of water, it grew even bigger with more salt. Peanuts?
A hint of menthol? Very complex. Diluted to around 40%, it became much sweeter.
Taste: Sipped neat, it seemed peppery with sweet lemon drops. A bit too powerful on the tongue. Smoke and juniper in the finish. Fresh and a little sweeter diluted to about 50%, but still a powerful burn in the back of your throat. Seaweed. With some more water, it became sweeter with more oak and smoke in the finish.

The rating of 89 points stands. This is is great stuff! A multidimensional malt. The one thing that strikes me about this Islay whisky is the absence of peat. Sadly it is just too bloody expensive to drink in vast quantities. At 73 Euro's a bottle, it's the equivalent of two litre bottles of Laphroaig 10 and a couple of miniatures. I'm Dutch enough to be satisfied by some very happy memories and two spare bottles in my reserve stock for now. I'll invest the rest of my money in malts that offer more 'bang for my buck'.
But once more, I'm getting ahead of myself. With all the unopened bottles on my reserve stock, I shouldn't be thinking about buying any more malts for a while.

Finally, I get to open a bottle from my reserve stock to fill the empty spot that the Lagavulin 1984 has left on my middle shelf. Oh, joy - another hard decision. The Aberlour a'bunadh Craig Daniels is raving about? The Highland Park 18 I've been hearing such good things about? The Talisker 1986 DE that has been getting some flak recently? None of the above.

I opened the Mannochmore 22yo 1974/1997 (60.1%, UD Rare Malts, bottle #0879) instead.
Since the Mannochmore distillery produces the awful Loch Dhu 10, my purchase of this bottle at 65 Euro's was quite a gamble. The fact that I picked it up instead of a spare Mac 18 proves that increasing curiosity is one of the symptoms of malt madness.

It foamed when I poured my first dram - is that a good sign?
Nose: Quite pleasant, but with a tendency to burn your nose out. Sweet with a little smoke. Becomes very powerful after some breathing. More feinty when diluted to around 50%, settling down after a few minutes. More smoke. Softens out at 40%.
Taste: Drinkable at cask strength. Round and sweet at first, more smoke later on. The character didn't change that much at about 50%. Smoke and sweetness, with a long peppery finish. That finish ends in a smoky, tar & liquorice kind of burn. Still powerful at 40%, with a hint of sardines (fish and oil) added to the palate. Sweeter in the finish now.
Preliminary rating: 78 points. This is no top malt, but it's quite interesting, easily drinkable and infinitely better than the awful Loch Dhu 10. It has the heavy, sweet & smoky character I find in Loch Dhu 10 and Bowmore Darkest - but here it is tempered by what must be sufficient ageing in proper wood.

Phew! Did you get all that?
I think this has been one of my most detailed log entries yet.
I can only hope reading about my drinking is as much fun for you as the drinking itself is for me...

End session log.

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mAddendum 79A  -  UD Rare Malts vs Michael Jackson

The tasting of the Mannochmore brings me to an observation about the United Distillers Rare Malts series and Michael Jackson's ratings. So far, I've 'seriously' tasted four different bottlings in the series. My ratings, compared to MJ's;

MJ JH  Malt
69 66  Hillside 25yo 1971
76 78  Mannochmore 22yo 1974
82 89  Caol Ila 21yo 1975
78 93  St. Magdalene 19yo 1979

My ratings for Hillside and Mannochmore are in the general vicinity of MJ's ratings, but the story with Caol Ila and St. Magdalene is very different. My scores are generally a little below MJ's, but in this case my ratings are much higher - 7 and 15 (!) points, respectively. There must be some kind of rational explanation for this.
I just haven't figured it out yet.
 

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