malt whisky - Macallan Rosebank Blair Athol

80 - 01/05/2001 - MY MALTOHOLISM  -  the wallet-shattering events that lead to my Big Ban
81 - 12/05/2001 - Mosstowie 1977/1999 - Ardbeg 1978/1997 - Clynelish 11yo 1989/2001
82 - 19/05/2001 - Rosebank 11yo 1989/2001 - Aberfeldy 9yo 1991/2000 - Clynelish 8yo 1990/1998
83 - 26/05/2001 - Glenfiddich 12yo - Glenfiddich 15yo Solera - Glenlivet 12yo - Dalmore 12yo
84 - 03/06/2001 - Five versions of Glenfarclas; NAS Heritage - NAS 105 - 8yo - 12yo - 21yo
85 - 19/06/2001 - Four F&F's; Blair Athol 12yo - Benrinnes 15yo - Dufftown 15yo - Dailuaine 16yo - ...
86 - 30/06/2001 - Ben Nevis 10yo - Glengoyne 10yo - Tomintoul 10yo
87 - 28/07/2001 - North Port-Brechin 1981/1998 - Glencadam 1987/1997 - Glenesk 1984/1997 - ...
88 - 01/08/2001 - Braes of Glenlivet 15yo - Bruichladdich 15yo - Linkwood 15yo - Linkwood 11yo
89 - 21/09/2001 - Big Summer Report; Aberlour A'bunadh - Macallan 18yo 1982 - Balblair 16yo - ...

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Log Entry # 80  -  May 1, 2001
Topic:  Maltoholism & The Big Ban

As New York maniac Louis Perlman observantly remarked in one of his latest e-mails my 'maltoholism' is getting worse. Although I do keep accounts of my alcoholic acquisitions in this liquid log, I usually include them in the 'small print', the mAddendums. Not this time, however. This time, things got so bad that within the course of about two weeks more than 40 bottles were added to my reserve stock - enough for more than a year of steady dramming at my current drinking speed. I guess you could call this a 'drinking problem'.

Warning: Move along to the next real tasting session if you want to avoid feelings of amazement and envy.

Things started to go wrong on April 3, when I placed an on-line order at Whiskyworld (Van Wees) for six new single malts. Those sly bastards managed to hide the tax and shipping costs (more than 50 Euro's; adding up to a grand total of almost 250 Euro's) until the last page of the purchase process.
I got pissed off and closed my connection. And then my maltoholism kicked in...
I re-established the connection and placed the order anyway.
On April 7, the following new bottles arrived:

Four bottles of this shipment were 'Ultimate' bottlings by Dutch importer Van Wees. As far as I know, these Ultimate bottlings are not available outside Holland. They usually offer decent value at a (retail) price around 30 Euro's. As far as the Macallan and Brora are concerned... Well, let's just say my 50 Euro's price ceiling is becoming more and more transparent. When you read on, you'll find that this is an understatement.

In the afternoon, I took the subway downtown to shop for a new book.
I already have a book (several, in fact ;-), but with my recent pay rise in mind I thought: 'What the heck, let's buy another one'. I bought 'Whisky - Uisge Betha' by Helen Arthur.
I'll get back to the the book in the future.

After I bought the book, I found myself in the general vicinity of the 'Gall & Gall Exclusief' near Dam Square. I couldn't help myself and wandered inside. I remembered that they had two malts on stock that I've had my eye on for quite a while now; Ardbeg 1975 and the latest bottling of Macallan 18. Sadly, the Ardbeg 1975 was gone. They had the 1978 on stock, but I've been receiving mixed reports about this bottling. I stood in doubt in front of the shelf for about 10 minutes before I decided the 105 Euro's price tag was just too much. My old price ceiling of 50 Euro's may be getting transparent, but spending more than 100 Euro's on a malt with a reputation just seems crazy.
My mother has taught me that it's impolite to leave a shop without buying something, so I picked up the Macallan 18yo 1982 for 87 Euro's. I probably could have saved 20 Euro's by picking it up at Ton Overmars or Menno Boorsma, but I simply didn't have the time.

I figured this should appease my maltoholism for a while.
Well - not quite. On my way to whisky cafe 'De Still' (to do some research on a few mysterious old tasting notes I found), I decided to take a shortcut through a dark alley. I passed a tiny liquor store I had never noticed before. Of course, I just had to enter. To my surprise, I found the guy that managed the 'Provenance' tasting at De Still a few weeks ago behind the counter. He was the owner. His stock was limited in numbers, but very interesting. Just too interesting to pass by. During a chat that lasted for almost an hour, I selected the following 5 bottles;

These five bottles cost me a grand total of 250 Euro's. With the other 250 Euro's for this morning's shipment and the 87 Euro's for the Macallan 18, I have spent almost 600 Euro's on whisky one one day.
And it didn't end there...

You would think my thirst for new malts would be quenched by now. Well - not quite. When I got home from my research session at 'De Still', I immediately went on-line to place another order at Whiskyworld. Their prices are quite unfriendly, but they listed a few bottles I was particularly curious about - including Ardbeg 1975 and a Rare Malts version of Port Ellen. I selected these six new single malts:

Kerr-ching!
That's another 405 Euro's including taxes and shipping.
So now I've spent close to 1000 Euro's for 18 new bottles on a single day. If that isn't malt madness I don't know what is. Maybe just a little too mad for my own good. I mean, it's not like I have any room left on my shelves or anything. Or an automatically refilling wallet, for that matter.

But wait - there's more...
On April 11, I received a lethal combination of e-mail and snail mail.

First of all, I got a very disappointing e-mail from Whiskyworld / Van Wees.
The Ardbeg 1975 and Rare Malts Port Ellen 1978 were no longer available. That really ticked me off. I wouldn't say I selected the other 4 bottles of my order just to fill the rest of the box of six, but those two really were the two bottles I went on-line for. I had been already been visualising these 'crown jewels' in my collection, so I was unreasonably disappointed. And then I received my snail mail for the day. One of the letters was a written confirmation of this year's pay rise. I did some heavy negotiating, and the results were even better than I had hoped for. Of course, I almost immediately decided to liquidise a sizeable portion of my discretionary income for 2001. So - on the morning of April 13, I went back to Menno Boorsma.
In the light of my newly found wealth, I bought myself 10 fresh bottles;

375 Euro's in total.
Compared to last week's outburst, I managed to restrain myself - but not for long.
I dropped off my first shipment at home, and immediately went back into town for more. Around 15:00, I visited an 'uptown' liquorist on 'Rokin' for the first time. I think the name of the shop is 'Waterman'. I didn't drop by before, because from the outside it really looked like the kind of snobbish, wine-oriented liquor store that I hate. Inside, my instincts were proven right when a sad old git (presumably the owner, sporting the trademark sad old git-beard) jumped me and tried to overwhelm me with his 'know-it-all' attitude. This immediately put me off.

Whenever I'm confronted with pushy malt mongers, I automatically go into 'silent mode'. I smile, I nod, I try to look as if I've never heard of single malt whisky before. You should try this some time - the amount of bullshit you'll get to hear is stunning. So - I told the git I was looking for 'a good whisky'.

The git nodded knowingly and took me to a shelf with about three dozen whiskies and proudly made a broad gesture, as if he had just presented the world to me. As it turned out, such a dramatic presentation was completely uncalled for. Only 1/3 of the bottles were single malts, and they were fairly common ones at that. Nevertheless, I managed to keep a straight face and asked him which bottles he could recommend. That really got him going. He started a lengthy monologue, which was composed of about 60% common knowledge and 40% complete bollocks. His lack of whisky knowledge was overwhelming. The general plot of his story was 'More Expensive Is Better'. Eventually, he ended up trying to sell me a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label for 177 Euro's.

At this point, I could contain myself no longer.
With a smile that must have appeared quite vicious to the other customers, I informed the git that I had in fact tasted the JW Blue before, and that I thought it was infinitely inferior to great malts like Lagavulin 16, Ardbeg 17 and St. Magdalene 19. I furthermore told him quite frankly that I had expected some kind of added value for the considerably higher prices he charged in his shop. Something like good advice, perhaps?

This stunned the git - but only for a moment.
He politely ignored my remarks and pointed me towards a glass cabinet. I have to admit the contents of this cabinet were much more interesting. A Macallan 25yo and a very old Glen Grant, among other things. The prices he charged were astronomical, though, so my fancy wasn't tickled. I communicated my lack of enthusiasm for the git's offerings. I explained to him that I had tasted the product of almost every active distillery in Scotland, and that I still hadn't found a bottle to beat the 40 Euro's Lagavulin 16 and Talisker 10. In a last attempt to impress me, he pulled out a bottle of Dumbarton (Priced over 200 Euro's). Admittedly, I haven't tasted the Dumbarton yet. But given the fact that it's nothing more than an Inverleven bottled under a different name, I passed.

When I turned around to leave the shop empty-handed, my eye fell on a bunch of bottles the git had neglected to show me. They were all cask strength Signatory Vintage bottlings. Since there are very few shops in Amsterdam that offer these bottlings, I eventually bought the Braes of Glenlivet 17yo 1979/1997 (58.1%, Signatory). Even considering its strength, I fear it may prove to be a little overpriced at 86 Euro's.
It was a a bit of a mercy-purchase, I guess...

Finally, I dragged my sorry arse to Ton Overmars to raid his shelves for the umpteenth time this year.
This time around, I picked up some special items, including the;

So - that's another 535 Euro's down the drain... Was that the end of it?
Almost. When I arrived home, I placed a final on-line order at whiskyworld. This time, I made sure to check their availability by telephone beforehand. After all, another disappointment could set off another shopping spree. You wouldn't tell from the prices, but I was looking for the bottles that offered the best (relative) value. As it turned out, they were all Old Malt Cask bottlings.

Another 467 Euro's. Together with the other purchases of today I arrived at a grand total of over 1500 Euro's. That's what I call a Good Friday! Well - not so good for my wallet actually. With last week's 1000 Euro's purchase I've now spent almost my entire vacation bonus on whisky.

This is getting crazy!
I think this shopping frenzy can be attributed to what I'd like to call the 'Ardbeg 1975-Effect'. When the Ardbeg 1975 I've had my eye on for so long suddenly became unavailable, I sort of panicked. Suddenly, the criteria for my malt purchases changed. A year ago, I could not have imagined myself spending more than 100 Euro's on a bottle, other than for special occasions. The 'Bang-For-Your-Buck-List' was the guideline that governed most of my purchases. This year, the 100 Euro's barrier was broken only a few months after the 50 Euro's barrier.

After these purchases, there are well over 100 unopened bottles in my reserve stock, which means that I've opened less than 1/3 of the bottles in my current collection. I'm curious about each and every undeflowered bottle, so I will have to exercise a lot of restraint over the coming months. To prevent the situation from escalating, I decided I desperately needed some kind of liquid non-proliferation treaty with myself. Starting today, I am not allowed to buy any more bottles of single malt Scotch whisky. My BIG BAN will last until Christmas. I hope I will have managed to bring my collection back to acceptable proportions by then.

My name is Johannes and I'm a maltoholic.
 

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Log Entry # 81  -  May 12, 2001
Topic:  Another Still Session

With my new Big Ban and all, I have to get out of the house if I want to taste any malts that are not on my shelves right now. One of the symptoms of malt madness seems to be a unsatiable curiosity. That's why I dropped by whiskycafe 'De Still' this afternoon to sample a couple of 'new' and interesting single malts.

I started with the Mosstowie 1979/1999 (40%, G&M Connoisseur's Choice)
Nose: Wow! Very big. Rum and cognac. Sweet and something fruity.
Overwhelmingly wonderful, but a little uni-dimensional.
Taste: Powerful. Burnt toffee. Woody & sherried.
Great, but (like the nose) a bit one-dimensional.
Preliminary rating: 81 points. A very nice surprise. This malt has been distilled at the Miltonduff distillery, but isn't mentioned in the latest edition of Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion. As far as I'm concerned, that's an oversight. This is good stuff.

The second malt of the evening was the Clynelish 11yo 1989/2001 (56.7%, Signatory Vintage, matured in South-African sherry butt #3233; distilled on 17/5/1989 and bottled on 15/02/2001.
Nose: Very strange. Sherry - but not as we know it.
The character is composed of a mixture of sherry and bourbon characteristics.
It really opens up with a few drops of water, becoming very rich. Sweeter with time.
Taste: A big burn. Bittersweet. Chewy. Oaky. Fruity? This is a special malt.
Preliminary rating: 80 points. Very intruiging.  Maybe it's the South-African sherry butt?

I finished my mini-session with the Ardbeg 1978/1997 'Limited Edition' (43%, OB).
I emptied the last bottle De Still had on stock. After I decided NOT to buy a big bottle at Gall & Gall Exclusief last month, I wanted to try it more than ever.
Nose: Starts soft for such an old Ardbeg. Relatively round and sweet.
Complexity in the background. And of course, there's peat.
Taste: Peaty, but encapsulated within a sweet layer.
A hint of smoke and sherry. Lots of wood in the finish.
Preliminary rating: 86 points. Very good, but not quite as spectacular as I had expected. Since there's no telling how long this bottle has been on the shelves, it may have changed considerably after it was opened.

OK - That's it for now. Needless to say, none of these malts go into my black book or any of the other official list. They DO count for the 52-Challenge, however. Current status: 30 new malts tasted this year. For the mathematically challenged: With only about 1/3 of the year passed, I've tasted more than half of the number of malts I have to sample this year. I'm still comfortably ahead of schedule.

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mAddendum 81A  -  Vintage Bastard Bypass

You wouldn't tell from the vast quantities of whisky I've been buying lately, but I'm having serious problems storing all the bottles in my collection. There are now at least 25 bottles more 'in da house' than I have room for. My 'Big Ban' (see log entry #80) ensures that the flow of incoming bottles stops for a while, but the bottles that have managed to sneak into my collection beforehand don't empty themselves, you know...
Reason enough for another 'Bypass Operation'.

Four of the bottles that were cluttering up my apartment were 'Vintage' bastard bottlings. On January 13 (see log entry #72) and April 30 (see log entry #79), I've tasted a couple of other malts in this series. Now my stocking problems force me to empty the remaining 4 bottles. I've opened them about three weeks ago and have been drinking them frantically ever since.

Today is Vintage Judgement Day.
The results:

Vintage Mull 6yo (Ledaig):
Nose: Very oily, like cod-oil. A little sweet. Something spicy after a while.
Not very expressive. A very faint hint of peat in the background.
Taste: Soft and smooth - almost watery. A little liquorice and a lot of oil.
Malty. Sweetish. Some smoke. Dryish finish.
No balance whatsoever. Not very pleasant.
Rating: 54 points. This isn't promising. I fear the worst for the two Ledaigs in my reserve stock. Like the Tobermory, it shows an uncomfortable resemblance to Isle of Jura.

Vintage Highland 7yo (Longmorn):
Nose: A relatively fresh start, followed by a deep sweetness.
Some fruity overtones. A little oily. Menthol?
Taste: Malty. Bacon? Some smoke. Oily and very smooth in the finish.
Warm. This malt really sticks to your tongue and palate!
Rating: 63 points. Easily drinkable, but not very interesting, especially compared to some older Longmorns I've tasted. Other encounters with younger Longmorns indicate that this malt really needs at least 12 years to mature properly.

Vintage Orkney 7yo (Highland Park):
Nose: Melons? Citrus? Some salt. Really opens up after a few minutes.
Rich. Light nuttiness. Peat much more obvious after some breathing.
Taste: Melons again. Soft and smooth with a little smoke.
A little sweet, a little oily. More smoke in the finish.
Rating: 72 points. Nice, but it lacks the character and power of the older, official HP bottlings. It doesn't come close to the wonderful OB 12 (85 points). Good value, though - it beats the JW Black Label with a stick.

Vintage Campbeltown 8yo (Glen Scotia):
Originally, I had planned to save this bottle for a while, because it was the only Glen Scotia bottling in my collection that was produced by the distillery after it was reopened in the early 1990's. Recently, two bottles of Signatory Vintage Glen Scotia 1991 were added to my reserve stock, so I could empty this one without a guilty conscience.
Nose: Salty, like a fresh sea breeze with some smoke.
After a while, it becomes much sweeter. Toffeeish. Caramac.
Taste: Amazing! This tastes almost exactly like a bourbon!
Clean & cool on the palate. Toffee? Cookies?
Rating: 75 points. Intriguing, but very different from the bottle I tasted in January. I guess this is unavoidable with a range of malts that is produced in such enormous quantities as these Vintage bastard malts. This bottle isn't as good as the one I tasted before, which scored 77 points. Nevertheless, it's still one of the better choices in the current series.

Conclusion: Maybe with the exception of the Vintage Mull 6, these Vintage bastard malts offer good to great value at prices below 18 Euro's. Let's face it - at these prices, you can't go wrong. As far as I'm concerned, the best buys in the series are the Vintage Islay 5yo (Lagavulin), Vintage Skye 8yo (Talisker) and Vintage Campbeltown 8yo (Glen Scotia).
Just keep in mind that there can be considerable differences between different batches.

OK - That's another 4 bottles off my shelves.
 

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Log Entry # 82  -  May 19, 2001
Topic:  Ultimate Youngsters Bypass

As I have explained at length in some of the previous log entries, my shelves are somewhat overcrowded right now. To speed up the traffic, I've organised a couple of 'bypass operations' over the last few months. These are tasting sessions where I sample a number of new bottles outside the usual top/middle/bottom shelf routine. Tonight's tasting deals with the last drams from three 'Ultimate' bottlings I opened about three weeks ago. I usually give the bottles in my collection more time to breathe, but I desperately have to clear away some bottles in my collection.

The Ultimate range is bottled exclusively for the Dutch market by Van Wees, the major whisky importer in Holland. With ages (usually) ranging from 6 - 12 years and prices between 25 and 40 Euro's, these malts usually offer decent value. None of the Ultimates I've tasted so far were truly spectacular, but every now and then Van Wees manages to bring malts to these shores that are otherwise hard to find - like the Rosebank and Aberfeldy I picked up recently. The amount of information on the label is a definite plus as well - few bottlers supply as much useful information.

I started off lightly with the Rosebank 11yo 1989/2001 (43%, Ultimate, distilled 12/4/1989, bottled 30/01/2001, matured in oak cask #789, bottle #153).
Nose: Not a lot at first. Becomes very harsh and feinty after a minute.
But then it softens up, becoming sweeter, flowery and fresh.
A bit like camomile after rainfall. More spicy later on. Good development.
Taste: Starts soft and sweet, becoming very dry quickly. Flowery. Bitter Finish.
Not nearly as interesting as the nose; it's just not complex enough.
Rating: 74 points. It seems slightly better than the 8yo 1983 version I finished a few months ago. Can it be that I'm starting to like Lowlanders?

Next up: the Aberfeldy 9yo 1991/2000 (43%, Ultimate, distilled 11/4/1991, bottled 8/5/2000, matured in oak cask #2713, bottle #111). I've never tasted an Aberfeldy before. This should be interesting.
Nose: Very soft start. Becomes bigger and more spicy after a minute.
Incense? Coffee? A little oily. Some citrus. Remains relatively restrained.
Taste: Soft, smooth and warm at first. Rather sweet.
Pink bubble gum in the extremely dry finish?
Rating: 70 points. I understand why the Aberfeldy isn't widely available as a single malt.
It is pleasurable enough, but lacks character and complexity.
So - in retrospect, this experience wasn't as interesting as I had expected.

After the Aberfeldy, I turned to the Ultimate Clynelish 8yo 1990/1998 (43%, Ultimate, distilled 1/5/1990, bottled 24/11/1998, matured in bourbon cask #3208, bottle #144). I had three reasons for picking up this bottle; a recent tasting of a young Clynelish went well (see log entry #81), the price of 32 Euro's was reasonably reasonable and it would enable me to officially 'de-virginize' the Clynelish distillery without opening the 24yo. 1972 UDRM version in my reserve stock. I'm now starting to understand what Craig Daniels means when he talks about 'pride of ownership'. The UDRM is a rare and irreplaceable bottle that I want to keep closed for a while longer.

Anyway - how did the Ultimate Clynelish perform? Quite well, actually.
Nose: Big; quite strong for such a young malt. Very spicy. Some salt.
Mighty pleasant. Apples. More oily later on. Bread after a while.
Taste: Smooth. Sweet and spicy. Some salt & pepper. Liquorice.
Fruit sweets. Some smoke? It ends in a dry, 'bourbony' finish.
In many ways, it's not unlike the Glenmorangie Cellar 13.
Rating: 78 points. This malt offers a decent challenge, but it is just a little too young to reach the 80 points benchmark. This promises something for the UDRM 1972 in my reserve stock - it's three times older than this bottling.

Conclusion: I haven't tasted the Ultimate Highland Park 12 from my reserve stock yet, but my experiences with these three Ultimates are pretty much as I expected: Decent malts at decent prices, but no big surprises.

This is Johannes signing off...
 

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Log Entry # 83  -  May 26, 2001
Topic:  Mundane Malts

Originally, I had planned on opening the bottles of Bowmore 15 and Bruichladdich 15 from my reserve stock tonight. I figured that would prove to be an interesting H2H-session. But with spring well under way and summer around the corner it is getting warmer. Too warm, in fact, to fully enjoy the heat and power of an Islay malt. Some people may disagree, but for me the weather is an important external influence on my tasting experiences. That's why I (very reluctantly) decided to leave these bottles in peace until the end of autumn, when temperatures and weather conditions will reach Islay levels again. The same goes for the other recent Islay acquisitions.

Instead, I turned my attention towards some of the more 'mundane' single malts on my shelves.
And malt whiskies don't come any more mundane than Glenfiddich. So I started the session by opening the bottle of Glenfiddich 12yo 'Special Reserve' (40%, OB) from my reserve stock. It is a new bottling, replacing the 'Special Old Reserve' bottling without an age statement.
Nose: Soft start. Dry and a little oily. Grainy? Cider.
Remains very restrained. More like a blend than like a single malt.
After fifteen minutes, strong paint vapours appeared.
Taste: Something peppery. Dry. Short, bitter finish.
Utterly unimpressive. No character or individuality.
Preliminary rating: 58 points. At first sight, this bottle seems even worse than the previous, 'no age statement' bottling, which scored 60 points. Davin reported the opposite, so maybe it only needs a little breathing. The bottle moves to my middle shelf for further investigation.

I continued with the Glenfiddich 15yo Solera Reserve (40%, OB) from my middle shelf. At least, this bottle has a proper cork. I opened it 6 months ago, but tasted only a few drams since then. I just don't seem to be in the mood for this type of generic malt very often.
Nose: Restrained at first. Opens up after a while, becoming sweeter.
After fifteen minutes a strong sweet/sour impression - like Babi Pangang.
Taste: Smooth and sweet, then peppery and spicy. Salt. Liquorice.
Warming. Becomes sticky towards the end. Some wood in the finish.
Final rating: 71 points. Clearly better than the 12 yrs, but still below average.
It's a pretty generic malt with little redeeming qualities.
It moves to my bottom shelf.

To verify my findings, I poured myself a dram of the 12 and a dram of the 15 for a H2H session. The colour of the 2 malts was nearly identical; gold/straw. For the enhancement of my tasting pleasure, I put 'God Shuffled His Feet' by the Crash Test Dummies in the CD-player. The lyrics of the song 'When I Go Out With Artists' seemed uncannily appropriate. Nosed side by side, The 12 appeared much fresher with more sour notes. The 15 seemed deeper and sweeter. Both showed grainy overtones in the top of the nose, especially the 12. The 15 became bigger and more complex after a while, but not all that much.
The taste of the 12 was a little watery, sweetish with a hint of fruit. Here the 15 beats the 12 decisively; big, warm and sweet. The 15 really shines next to the uninspiring Glenfiddich 12. Much better than the 12, but not good enough for my top shelf.

That settles it. One bottle from my bottom shelf has to make room for the Glenfiddich 15. Given the theme of this session, the Glenlivet 12yo (40%, OB) is the obvious choice. It is nearly empty anyway.
Nose: Soft and sweet. Flowery and malty. Relatively complex.
Well-rounded and balanced. More citrus and fruit when some water is added.
Taste: Watery start. A gentle sweetness. Vanilla. A little dusty.
Pleasant development. Long, soft finish.
The rating of 76 points stands. It is a very decent malt, but there's just not enough character and individuality for my taste. It beats both Glenfiddichs, though.

OK, I've now tasted 3 different malts and somehow I'm not satisfied yet.
Let's taste something else - like the bottle of Glen Moray 12 'Classic' on my top shelf. I put it there in a sentimental mood , but let's face it; Glen Moray 12 doesn't really belong on my top shelf anymore. Time to replace it with a more worthy candidate. Like the Dalmore 12, for instance. I emptied the bottle of Glen Moray 12 (see entry #82 for tasting notes) and opened the fresh bottle of Dalmore 12 from my reserve stock.

The Dalmore 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl) is one of my old 'value' favourites.
It is a rich Northern Highland malt that seems to do well in all seasons. And with a price of less than 30 Euro's for a litre bottling it offers excellent value. This must be my 5th or 6th bottle. As far as I know, it's the only official version available in Holland. There was no plop when I opened the bottle, but judging from the nose and palate there had been no illicit breathing going on.
Nose: Needs a minute. Then lots of fruit and sherry emerge.
Malt and smoke? Salmiac? Big and round. Wonderful complexity.
Taste: Nice! Sherry at first. Big and sweet. Spicy. Toffee.
Great development - it just becomes richer and richer. Orange peel?
Woody later on. Some peat and salt in the finish. This malt has it all.
The rating of 80 points stands for now, but it will most likely rise to 81 points in the future - depending on how this bottle develops. It seems to be a little better than previous bottlings.
Great stuff - it moves to my top shelf.

Conclusion: Considering the Dalmore is a litre bottling, it's the cheapest malt I tasted tonight. It's also the winner of the evening. This reaffirms two lessons I've learnt over the years; (1) there is no linear relation between price and quality and (2) there is no linear relation between age and quality.

That's it for tonight's tasting, but here are a couple of mAddendums;

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mAddendum 83A - Status 52-Challenge

I've now tasted 34 new single malts this year. It looks like I will be able to finish the 52-Challenge 'with my fingers in my nose'. (For those of you who don't know this Dutch catch phrase: It looks like I will have no trouble whatsoever tasting 52 new single malts in the course of this year.) If everything goes according to plan, 2001 will prove to be an important year in the quest for the perfect single malt.

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mAddendum 83B - Status Collection

As far as my stocking problem is concerned: There are now exactly 101 unopened bottles in my reserve stock. I will have to keep up my accelerated drinking speed for a while longer. I'll need to finish at least 25 more bottles before my storage problem is solved. Oh - my poor liver...

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mAddendum 83C - Status Mission

And how about the status of the mission I started over 4 years ago?
There are now exactly 150 different single malts in my little black book. These malts were produced at 101 different distilleries - 1 in New Zealand, 3 in Ireland and 97 in Scotland. Twelve bottles in my reserve stock are produced by Scottish distilleries that I haven't 'officially' encountered before. They are:

Balmenach (mothballed in 1993)
Banff (closed in 1983)
Brackla (active)
Braes of Glenlivet (active)
Brora (closed in 1980's)
Caperdonich (active)
Glen Albyn (closed in 1983)
Glenglassaugh (mothballed in 1986)
Glenlossie (active)
Glentauchers (active)
North Port (closed in 1983)
Teaninich (active)

As you can see, only half of these distilleries are currently active.
This means that I'm reaching the end of phase 1 of my mission - having tasted at least one bottle from every active distillery in Scotland. I'll try to focus my tasting efforts on these undiscovered distilleries over the next few months.
Watch this liquid log for the reports...

 

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Log Entry # 84  -  June 3, 2001
Topic:  Glenfarclas Vertical H2H-Hopalong

It's 23:45 and I've just returned from the cinema. I went to see a classic that I hadn't seen on the big screen before; 'Brazil' by Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame). The movie is a true masterpiece and utterly thought-provoking. In fact, my thoughts were so provoked that I wouldn't be able to go to sleep for another couple of hours. What do you do in a situation like that?
Well - I don't know about you, but I usually go for the bottle.

And let me assure you that, in my case, this isn't as easy as it sounds.
So many bottles - so little time...

When I was rummaging through my collection, I discovered that there are now 5 different bottles of Glenfarclas on my shelves - the NAS 'Heritage', 8yo and 21yo in my reserve stock, the 12yo on my middle shelf and the NAS '105' on my top shelf. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to taste part of the extensive Glenfarclas range in a 'vertical' tasting session. I decided to open the bottles in my reserve stock and worry about the repercussions for my shelf situation later.

The Glenfarclas distillery was founded in 1836 and lies at the foot of Ben Rinnes mountain in the heart of Speyside. The name means 'Valley of Green Grass'. The distillery has been a family business since 1865 and its six stills are the largest currently used in the Speyside region.
When I discovered single malts around 10 years ago, Glenfarclas was about the only malt in Holland that was widely available in a lot of different versions; 10, 12, 15, 17, 21, 25 and 30yo. old, as well as the 105 cask strength. Unfortunately, most of the older versions (15yo. and onwards) were way out of my league with prices over 100 guilders. But then again, for years I have been quite content emptying several bottles of the 10 and 105; good malts that offer great value.

Now I have the opportunity to broaden my horizons by tasting 5 different versions.
I started by opening the Glenfarclas NAS 'Heritage' (40%, OB) and the Glenfarclas 8yo (40%, OB). Both bottlings cost a little under 25 Euro's here in Holland. This leads me to believe that the Heritage (no age statement; produced for the French market) is about the same age as the 8 (which has been produced exclusively for the Dutch liquor supermarket Gall & Gall). The 8 has the same bulky bottle as the 21, but the Heritage comes in a 'standard' bottle similar to the 10 and 12 bottlings. Both malts are bottled at 40%.
Nose: At first, there don't seem to be a lot of differences between the two. Malty and sherried. The 8 appeared a little more spirity with more 'farmy' notes. After a few minutes, the Heritage seemed to be a little more complex and balanced with a little smoke, some oil and a hint of garlic. The 8 managed to pull itself together after that and really opened up, becoming very big and round. Rum? But so did the Heritage. There are some differences, but (nasally speaking) it's almost a tie.
Taste: The Heritage started soft and sweetish, with something that reminded me of cherry liqueur bonbons. Some lingering liquorice on the tongue. The 8yo. old was similar, but it showed no liquorice and took a little longer to develop. After a while the Heritage showed fruit and marzipan - the 8 didn't. Both are a tad woody in the finish.
Conclusion: The 'nasal' differences between these two malts are minimal, which strengthens my believe that the Heritage must be around the same age as the 8. If that's the case, these malts perform quite well considering their junior status. The noses are similar, but when it comes to taste, the Heritage beats the 8 decisively.

The next match: Glenfarclas 8yo (40%, OB) vs Glenfarclas 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl).
Strangely enough, the litre bottling of the GF12 had a cheap tin screw top - whereas the GF8 and Heritage had proper corks. Another difference is the proof - the GF8 is bottled at 40%, the GF12 at 43%. The bottle of the 8 is dark and stocky, the 12 big and transparent - with the indication 'mit farbstoff' on the bottle.
Nose: The 12 is much sweeter than the 8. More sherried and malty.It's big and round with hints of coffee and mocha. In comparison, the 8 seems flat and a little bland. It appeared somewhat oily next to the extrovert 12. The 12 is the undisputed winner.
Taste: Both are malty and sherried, but the 12 wins here as well.
The 8 is nice, but the 12 is more balanced with more volume and a longer finish. It's powerful and smooth at the same time. Marshmallows? More wood as well.
Conclusion: The four extra years have clearly paid off. The 8 is just a 'decent' malt, the 12 is a good malt that reaches the 80 points benchmark. The few extra Euro's for the 12 are absolutely worth it.

The H2H of Glenfarclas 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl) vs Glenfarclas 21 (43%, OB) was the highlight of the evening. The 12 has been breathing much longer than the freshly opened 21, so maybe this match isn't completely fair. It should provide some insights, though... When I poured the glasses, the 21 was a tad lighter in colour than the 12 - not surprising because the 12 is artificially coloured.
Nose: At first, the 21 seemed very restrained; a little spirity, slightly oily with hints of butterscotch. The 12 appeared smoother and sweeter. The main impression in both cases is sherry. After a minute, the 12 opened up, showing light (citrus?) fruity notes. Candy cane? Coffee? The 21 improved as well, with more smoke and oak. Lemon and a whiff of incense. Liquorice. The 21 offers a broader perspective and takes longer to develop.
Taste: The 12 was as before (sweet and sherried). The initial impression of the 21 was similar, but not as smooth as the 12 and with a distinctively longer finish. As time passed by it showed whole new dimensions. Perfumy. Liquorice and smoke.
Conclusion: Hmmm.... I would have expected 9 years of extra maturation to have made a bigger impact. The 21 is more complex and it has a longer finish, but the difference between the 8 and the 12 is bigger than that between the 12 and 21.

Comparing the fresh Glenfarclas 21yo (43%, OB) and the Glenfarclas NAS '105' (60%, OB, 100cl, opened over a year ago) may be a little like comparing apples and oranges, because the 105 is an overproof malt that's bottled at a whopping 60%. The 105 is believed to be between 8 and 10 years old. It's opponent comes in at a 'measly' 43% and is at least twice as old. This is a contest of age vs strength.
Nose: The 105 doesn't advertise it's strength at first, but it gradually grows stronger. First impressions in both cases are malty, sweet and sherried. After a while, the 21 started to develop; more oily and nutty notes. Melons later on. The 105 stayed more or less the same. Diluting the 105 to about 50% brought forward more spirity and fruity notes.
Taste: Tasted neat, the 105 is very sweet with some smoky dryness. A bit simple, but very pleasant. The 21 obviously seemed lighter at first, but the oaky burn of the finish is just as impressive as the raw power of the 105. The 21 is smooth and strong at the same time. At +/- 50%, the 105 seemed to become rougher on the tongue and palate. Quite dry in the finish. Strangely enough, it seems more powerful at 50% than at 60%; it reminded me of 80% Stroh Rum.
Conclusion: The 105 has a disarming youthful exuberance, but the 21 has developed into a mature and characterful malt. Both are very enjoyable and pass the 80 points benchmark with flying colours.

I completed the cycle with a H2H of Glenfarclas NAS 'Heritage' (40%, OB) and Glenfarclas NAS '105' (60%, OB, 100cl). Both bottles lack an age-statement, but are supposedly less than 10 years old. There's just the difference in proof (60% vs 40%) and the fact that the bottle of 105 has been breathing on my top shelf for over a year now. Unfortunately, my nostrils and taste buds had taken quite a beating during the previous 8 drams (and so had my cognitive abilities). I wasn't able to produce a lot of useful notes on this last sampling.

Overall conclusion: Glenfarclas manages to maintain a level of 'conformity' throughout the range. All the malts I've tasted tonight belong to the 'sherried & malty' style. The range gives a nice example of the effect of ageing on a single malt, although I've encountered malts that react a lot stronger to the years than the Glenfarclas. The ratings were as follows;

Glenfarclas Heritage: 77 points
Glenfarclas 8: 74 points
Glenfarclas 105: 81 points (from 80 points)
Glenfarclas 12: 80 points (from 79 points)
Glenfarclas 21: 83 points (preliminary rating - may rise in the future)

The GF21 wins on points, but when it comes to value the 105 is champion.
Now I have to restore the balance to my shelves. I decided to add the remainder of the bottles of GF Heritage, GF8 and GF12 to a few of my 'special blends' - a home vatting experiment. The GF21 deserves further investigation, so it takes the place of the GF12 on my middle shelf. Glenfarclas 105 remains on my top shelf for now, but will probably be replaced by the 21 as soon as I've found a final rating.

The clock strikes 04:00 AM and all is very well.
I can go to sleep and dream sweet (& sherried) dreams.
 

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Log Entry # 85  -  June 19, 2001
Topic:  Fascinating Flora & Fauna's

I will be leaving for France in a couple of days for a new dose of parapente-pleasure.
Considering the fact that there is a statistical chance that I will fall from the sky or get involved in a freak parapente accident, I decided to have a tasting session with a few rare malts while I had the chance. Looking over my collection, I realised four of the bottles were part of the 'Flora & Fauna' range. I figured this would be an interesting theme for tonight's session.

The FLORA & FAUNA series is produced by United Distillers.
(Other series by UD are the 'Classic Malts' and the 'Rare Malts Selection'.)
The labels of the bottles in the range show local flora and fauna. The F&F series (bottled at 43%) was originally intended for local sale only, but quickly found its way to other shores. A good thing too, because the bottles I've tasted so far all scored above average.

First of all, I turned to the 2 Flora & Fauna bottles on my bottom shelf; Blair Athol 12 and Dufftown 15. Both bottles have been on my shelves since 1998 (!). If the alternatives on my top shelf hadn't been so excellent, these bottles probably would have ended up there as well. But there's room for only 16 bottles on my top shelf, so I'm forced to be strict. I have been sipping the occasional dram since I rated them, but liked them enough to sample minute quantities at a time.
Now it's time to finish the bottles.

I started with the Blair Athol 12yo (43%, Flora & Fauna).
The relatively unknown Blair Athol distillery is located in the Midlands (Southern Highlands), near Edradour and Aberfeldy. It was established in 1798. This bottle is distinguished from the other three by the name 'Arthur Bell & Sons' on the label. There's an otter on the label of this bottling. At least, I guess it's an otter - It looks like some kind of vermin. It might have been a ferret or a rat just as well...
Nose: Rich. Sherry, and lots of it. Deep and sweet. Smoke?
Fruitier with some orange after 10 minutes. Ginger?
Sherry remains the dominant impression.
Taste: Smooth. Very sherried. Some smoke. Ginger again?
Bitter chocolate sweetness. More smoke later on. Menthol?
The finish is just a little too short for my tastes.
Conclusion: the rating of 79 points stands. Considering this bottle was opened almost three years ago, it performs remarkably well. I wasn't too enthusiastic about most of the other Midland malts I've tasted, but this is a very pleasant dram. It lacks the complexity or power needed to pass the 80 points benchmark, though. It reminded me a little of Aberlour 10 - another very sherried malt.

Next up: the Dufftown 15yo (43%, Flora & Fauna), embellished with a picture of a kingfisher on the label. Dufftown is a modest Speyside distillery. Earlier tastings indicated that my nose and palate are not significantly more pleased with this version than with the standard 10yo. OB, which has become quite rare here in Holland.
Nose: Nice! Starts soft, but grows more complex and powerful with time.
Sweet with hints of citrus. Malty. Some smoke, but not as much as earlier drams.
Taste: Sweet & malty burn. Toffee. Coffee. Mocha? A hint of menthol?
Sherry and wood in the finish; a bit dry, a little gritty.
Conclusion: the rating of 77 points stands. Better than average, but ultimately not interesting enough to capture my imagination. Considering the price is almost twice what I have to pay for the 10yo. OB, it doesn't score high on the 'Bang-for-my-Bucks'-List.

OK - I've emptied two old favourites. Now comes the hard part. I will have to decide on the final ratings for the two Flora & Fauna bottles on my middle shelf; Benrinnes 15 and Dailuaine 16.

The Benrinnes 15yo (43%, Flora & Fauna), another Speysider.
It had what seemed to be some kind of turkey on the label. Fortunately, the malt was no 'turkey'. Quite the opposite, actually. I opened the bottle some 3 months ago and I've been loving it ever since. This is a hidden gem - unfortunately, Benrinnes is nearly impossible to find in Holland.
Nose: Sweet. Sherry and smoke. Becomes very rich after a few minutes.
Powerful. Grows to a wonderful complexity. Old fruits. Amazing! Stock cubes?
Taste: Bittersweet. Sherry dryness with smooth episodes. Oaky and smoky. Orange.
Long, dry finish with sherry moving back and forth. Quite similar to the Macallan style.
Adding water doesn't do much for the nose and breaks up the palate.
Conclusion: I think the Benrinnes 15 fully deserves a final rating of 83 points. Exquisite! Michael Jackson awards this malt only 79 points. This is one of those rare occasions where I dish out a higher rating than the big MJ himself. I'll try to keep this bottle on my shelves until I find a bottle of Macallan 15. That should prove to be an interesting H2H-session.

I finished the F&F tasting with the Dailuaine 16yo (43%, Flora & Fauna).
This bottle (with a badger on the label) was opened during Klaus' visit in January, so it's had plenty of time to break in. It was my first bottle from this Speyside distillery.
Nose: Sherry. A hint of smoke. Grassy after a while.
Not unlike the Benrinnes, but toned down a notch. Flattens out after a few minutes.
Taste: Sherry sweetness. Woody. A bit malty. Fruitier over time. Smoke. A big burn.
Great development! Oak and sherry in the finish, but caramel sweetness as well.
Conclusion: 80 points. This is one of the few malts that tastes better than it smells. The nose is OK but the palate is very good. A lot of complexity and development. With a bigger nose, it would probably have matched the 83 points of Benrinnes.

What have we learnt so far?
After seriously tasting 4 different Flora and Fauna bottlings, I've discovered that they all score above average. The style and character of these malts seemed quite similar; sweet and sherried - and sometimes smoke and/or oak. Especially the sherry tends to be very pronounced. This uniformity may prove less interesting than a wide varieties of styles, but I happen to like this particular 'Macallanish' Speyside style. One of the reasons for these similarities may be caramel colouring. I'm not sure, but the colour of the malt in these four bottles is remarkably similar.
Anyway - after my Big Ban is over, I will make sure to sample more malts in this series.

But now I have a problem. Without thinking, I've made room for two bottles on my bottom shelf by finishing the bottles of Blair Athol and Dufftown. But the Benrinnes 15 is hardly bottom shelf material with 83 points. I didn't want to hurt the feelings of such a nice malt, so I put it on my top shelf and moved the Glen Garioch 15 to my bottom shelf instead. The Dailuaine 16 wasn't as fortunate and moved to my bottom shelf - for now.  It will probably be promoted as soon as I finish one of the bottles on my top shelf.

All these floral and faunal shenanigans have left two empty places on my middle shelf. That means I get to open two fresh bottles from my reserve stock. I was tempted to open the 'Scottish Wildlife' Balmenach 10 from my reserve stock. This SW range is endorsed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The 'nature' theme is similar to that of the F&F range, but the design of the bottles and labels is dull and utterly underwhelming. With the bottle already in my hand, I realised this was a bottle from a distillery that has been mothballed in 1993. I'm currently focussing my attention on undiscovered distilleries that are still active, so I decided to go for another Speyside malt I haven't officially encountered before; the Braes of Glenlivet a.k.a. Braeval.

The Braes of Glenlivet 15yo (43%; Kirsch Import, bottle #328 of 690) was 'muled in' by Klaus in January. A weird thing about this bottle is that the number of the bottle is specified, but not the number of the cask. That makes the whole exercise of numbering individual bottles a little bit pointless, doesn't it? The name of the (Speyside) distillery has been changed to 'Braeval' a while ago to avoid confusion with 'The Glenlivet'. Bottlings from the Braeval distillery are hard to find at your average Dutch liquorist, so I was very curious about this particular puppy.
Nose: Relatively restrained with some sherry at first. A hint of smoke.
Then it opens up with a honeyish sweetness and a hint of pepper.
Taste: Sweetish start. Soft and smooth (almost watery) with a peppery undercurrent. A little bit malty. Long, burning finish with a lot of toffee and some smoke.
Preliminary rating: 75 points. Nice, but not spectacular. Certainly not as spectacular as the Montgomerie's Single Cask Braes of Glenlivet 1977 (Madeira wood) I tasted on March 14 in De Still (see log entry #81).

One empty spot on my middle shelf remains.
I imagined the Royal Brackla 20yo 1978/1998 (59.8%, UD Rare Malts) would fit there quite nicely. This is another Speyside malt that doesn't show up often in Holland. I looked it up in Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion - it scores a measly 72 points. Let's find out if I agree with 'The White Wacko Jacko' on this one.
Nose: The high proof seems hardly detectable, but then it becomes more fragrant. A gentle sweetness. Soft citrus. A little oily at first. Becomes more flowery after a while. Some smoke? Much more spirity after adding some water.
Taste: Very sweet at cask strength. Melon. Seems quite soft at first, but evolves into a numbing burn. The burn is tempered after a few drops of water, showing a honey / toffee / caramel sweetness. Nutty / peanuts? Sadly, the water causes the palate to lose some cohesion. The finish remains hot, though - even after adding another generous dash of water.
Preliminary rating: 77 points. Enjoyable, but not much more at first sight.

Tonight's session has been enlightening. I liked all four F&F's I tasted a lot, and I've officially sampled the product of two previously undiscovered distilleries - which was a pleasant experience as well. Only four undiscovered distilleries left!

Meanwhile, the counter of the 52-Challenge stands at 39 new malts.

It's 3:15 AM - Time to call it a night.

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mAddendum 85A - Cigars and whisky

Another one of the 'finer things in life' is a good cigar.
And that's another thing that won't be accessible to us in Mieussy, France. But that simply won't do! The evenings of reminiscing about the day's flights wouldn't be complete without a dram and a cigar. That's why I dropped by Hajenius to pick up some emergency rations. They have a wonderful collection, and every cigar lover that visits Amsterdam can't afford to miss it. The shop (wonderful ambience) is located at the Rokin 92-96, just a 3 minute walk (a 10 minute crawl when you're drunk) from Dam Square in the heart of Amsterdam.

My selection of smokable substances:
- 5 Cohiba Siglo II (Habanos)
- 10 Partagas Mille Fleurs (Habanos)
- 5 Pimentel Guaruja (Bahia Brasil)
- 10 Pimentel Muritiba (Bahia Brasil)

30 cigars (15 Cubans and 15 Brazilians - all 'longfiller' corona's) may seem a bit much for a week, but I lost a bet about my expected weight loss. I will have to hand over half of my stash to Rene. Bugger!

PS: Please note that combining single malts and cigars is fine from a 'recreational' point of view, but smoking should be avoided when you're seriously nosing and tasting single malts. My feeble excuse is that I have a lot of bad nose days anyway because of my chronic sinusitis. If I can't sample a dram properly, I might as well enjoy a cigar with it. But even then I make sure to enjoy the cigar AFTER I've tasted one or two drams 'clean'. The heat and smoke of a cigar heavily influence one's tongue and palate.
 

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Log Entry # 86 - June 30, 2001
Topic:  The Three Tenners

I safely returned from France a few days ago.
I've had a wonderful time filled with expensive meals, cheap booze and priceless conversation - all against the 'decor' of 'Le Haute Savoye', near the Mont Blanc. And let's not forget the mind-boggling parapente flights. The sensation is just indescribable - it's nothing like flying an airplane.
(Check out log entry #51 for the story of my first parapente experiences in September 2000.)

This year, I was accompanied by three friends (Eric, Rene and Rob) and my brother Franc. They are all intelligent guys (almost as intelligent as yours truly) and each night we tried to test our wits and verbal skills in lengthy discussions about the facts of life. We discussed meaningful and trivial issues; from global warming (conclusion: we were in favour of it) to the situation in the Middle East (conclusion: we were against it), from 'Star Wars' (all except Rene thought it wasn't a masterpiece) to silicone breast implants (we thought they should be mandatory by law - for women that is...).

A lot of the heated midnight debates on the chilly terrace of our chalet were disturbed by a fat French bastard who lived in a hovel nearby. Night after night, he played the same bad opera record - a compilation of old recordings by 'The Three Tenors' from what I could tell. From a distance, it sounded like the kind of cheap knockoff AAD CD you can pick up for 4.99 Euro's at your local supermarket. And what's more, the peasant played it over and over again at maximum volume through some kind of cheap transistor audio device. Sadly, it was painfully obvious that the device was never designed to be operated at maximum volume. I actually love opera (well - some opera's...), but not the distorted parody of opera I was exposed to on those summer nights in Mieussy, France.
That being said, I've met an unusually large number of friendly Frenchman this year. Could it be that the 'eurofication' has a beneficial effect on the French? ;-)

Anyway...
My stocking problem hasn't solved itself during my absence, so I decided to open a few fresh bottles from my reserve stock tonight. Inspired by the fat French peasant, I selected three 'tenners' - Ben Nevis 10, Glengoyne 10 and Tomintoul 10. All are ODB's (Official Distillery Bottlings) that have been aged for 10 years, which is considered a little under age in maltland. I'm not in the mood for all the hassles that come with guiding these bottles through my shelf system, so I decided to finish them in a 'bypass operation' - meaning they won't go through the whole top/middle/bottom-shelf routine. For the enhancement of my drinking pleasure, I put Pucinni's 'Turandot' in the CD-player. Now there's an opera I do enjoy - regardless of the performers. ('Nessun Dorma' is my favourite piece.)

For starters, I poured myself a stiff dram of the Glengoyne 10yo (40%, OB).
Officially, the Glengoyne distillery is located in the (Southwest) Highlands, but the Lowland distilleries Auchentoshan and Littlemill are only a few miles down the road. The subtitle 'The Unpeated Malt' on the label suggests a light and clean character as well. As far as I know, Glengoyne is the only distillery that exclusively uses unpeated malt for their malts. Let's find out more about the result...
Nose: Slightly oily. Cider. Quite nice, actually, but restrained.
Taste: Apple freshness. Grassy. Very soft - almost watery. Very little sweetness at first. More later, but it remains slightly bitter in the finish.
Preliminary conclusion: 72 points. Decent value at 25 Euro's. A nice summer malt, but 'characterly' not all that different from the Glengoyne 12 (which scored 73 points). Maybe the 'apple' character I found in both malts could be attributed to the use of unpeated malt in the production process? This tenner seems not as good as the one I tasted on August 1999 (see log entry 27). That bottle scored 75 points, but this one is not as expressive. This may be a good example of differences between subsequent bottlings of the same malt. But then again, it may not be - the 10 hasn't had the opportunity to breathe for a longer period of time.

I proceeded with the Ben Nevis 10yo (46%, OB). I figured this would be a more expressive malt, so I put Catalani's 'La Wally' in my CD-player. Unlike the Glengoyne, this is a genuine Western Highland malt. The distillery lies at the foot of the highest mountain of Scotland (aptly named 'Ben Nevis'), near Fort William. Like the Ardbeg 10 and most Springbanks, this malt is bottled at 46%. The label on the front has a nice, classic design. The label on the back carries the longest and most detailed copy writing I've seen so far on a bottle.
Nose: Soft at first. A little fruity. Gooseberries? Some pepper and spices.
It has a brief nutty episode, not unlike 'Frangelico' - an Italian liqueur.
Taste: Toffeeish. Dark chocolate and orange peel in the finish.
Preliminary conclusion: 75 points. I guess the malt monger wasn't lying when he said that this bottle was a lot better than the 8yo. Signatory Vintage version - it's just that it's still not very good. No - let me rephrase that. This is a good single malt whisky that beats almost every blend or vatted malt I've tasted so far. It's just that a plain old 'good' whisky isn't good enough for me these days. 44 Euro's seems too much money for a malt that scores in the mid-70's.

And then there's the Tomintoul 10yo (40%, OB). I was feeling frisky, so I put 'Tommy' by The Who in the player; the original version of the rock opera - without Elton John!
This Speyside malt is quite 'low profile' - at least here in Holland. My experiences with the (discontinued) Tomintoul 12 were rather positive, so I was curious about this slightly younger version.
Nose: Subtle. Sweet and malty. A little oily with a hint of citrus.
Becomes bigger and fruitier quickly. Slightly spirity. Soy sauce?
Taste: Sweet. Malty. Barley?
A little bitter in the finish. Seems less complex than than the 12.
Rating: 74 points - Good value at less than 23 Euro's! I think I may have found an alternative for the old Glen Moray 12 'Value-In-The-Summer' favourite. The Tomintoul 10 is a very different malt, but rates about the same on the pleasure scale.

OK - That's tonight's tasting over with. I will re-taste these malts after a few weeks to see if they've changed after some breathing.

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mAddendum 86A - Big Ban Circumvention

I told you about my 'Big Ban' in log entry 84; I am not allowed to buy any more single malts until Christmas. Some people have predicted that I will lose my resolve long before the festive season, but I've managed to restrain myself so far.

Nevertheless, there have been a few additions to my shelves.
It's often not necessary to break the rules to get what you want - most of the time, bending them a little is sufficient. I've been helping out an ex-colleague of mine with setting up his on-line business, and he insisted on giving me some kind of compensation for my time. I suggested that he could show me his appreciation in liquid form. We agreed on a 'tariff' of 1 bottle per hour, and on June 20 we went to do some shopping. Freek did the buying and the paying, so technically speaking, I've not broken my 'Big Ban'.

The catch of the day:

Aberlour 15yo Sherry Wood Finish (40%, OB, 41 Euro's)
Benrinnes 1978/1995 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 52 Euro's)
Glenfarclas NAS '105' (60%, OB, 100cl, 34 Euro's)
Lagavulin 16yo (43%, OB, 33 Euro's, 4 x)
Linkwood 15yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 35cl, 25 Euro's)
Port Ellen 18yo 1981 (43%, McGibbon's Provenance, 78 Euro's)
Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB, new bottling, 36 Euro's)
Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB, old bottling, 35 Euro's, 3 x)

First, we stopped at one of the Gall&Gall outlets nearby to pick up three bottles of Talisker 10. Those of you who've read my previous log entries know that I'm not a big Gall&Gall fan, but I've recently heard rumours that United Distillers are replacing the current Talisker 10yo. with a new version. G&G was the only liquorist in the neighbourhood that still offered the old bottling, and I wanted to stock up while I still could. I've never had the chance to taste the legendary Talisker 8 or 12 before they went out of production, so I didn't want to lose this opportunity to add a (soon to be) 'historical' bottling to my reserve stock. Let's not forget it has been my number two malt for almost 10 years! I can only hope they've only changed the label, not the malt.

Anyway, after picking up the Taliskers we went to the 'Vomar' liquorist nearby. It's a supermarket chain and they have only five or six single malts on offer - but at wonderful prices! I chose 4 bottles of Lagavulin 16 because I felt that, looking over my latest purchases, curiosity has gotten the better of me. Why should I spend 127 Euro's on a bottle of Ardbeg 30yo when I can get almost 4 bottles of my number 1 malt for the same amount of money? Making new discoveries is exciting, but if any bottle deserves a place in my reserve stock it's the Lagavulin 16. And what's more: I've heard rumours that the availability of Lagavulin 16 in Holland might decrease in the future, while the price might increase considerably. I've always kind of taken the Lagavulin 16 for granted - it's time I put my 'money' where my mouth is.

Three bottles of Lagavulin join the bottle already in my reserve stock, the other one goes in my backpack for France.
We will set up camp in a remote village without access to most of the accomplishments of modern civilisation - like clean toilets and liquorists. I don't mind 'roughing it' for a week, but there's no reason to deprive ourselves of a decent drink at the end of the day. (Don't worry - only at the end of the day; we won't drink and fly...)

After securing the booze for France, we drove downtown to Menno Boorsma to pick up the other 6 bottles for my reserve stock - a nice mixture of 'rare' and 'value' malts. I'm especially happy with the Port Ellen Provenance and Benrinnes - both malts are hard to find in Holland. And with the new Talisker, of course. As soon as the weather permits it, I can have a big Talisker H2H-session with the new 10, the old 10, the 1986 DE and the Old Malt Cask 'Tactical' 18yo.
Oooh - the fun I'm gonna have...

On a more pessimistic note: these latest additions to my collection have completely neutralised the effect of my Big Ban so far. My collection has again rises to humongous proportions - 104 unopened bottles. Even if I manage to empty 1 bottle a week on average until Christmas, there will be 80 unopened bottles left by the time my Big Ban is over. Ah well - this is what they call 'a luxury problem'.
 

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Log Entry # 87  -  July 28, 2001
Topic:  Eastern Highlanders

Today, temperatures reached tropical levels here in Amsterdam.
It was way too hot to stay inside the house, so I was glad when rugby-mates Stefan and Roeland called to invite me for a trip through the canals. Roeland owns a small boat and every now and then we get together for some serious boozing on (and sometimes even IN) the water. Sailing through the canals of Amsterdam is a wonderful experience; you get to see the city from a fundamentally different perspective. Especially at night, it's one of the best times you can have with your clothes on. With a cool breeze gently stroking the waves and the lights of houses and bridges reflected in the water, you can forget about all the petty problems of the day and just... 

r e l a x . . .

However, relaxation wasn't on the agenda for tonight.
Within 20 minutes after we 'hoisted the anchor', the picnic basket Stefan's girlfriend had so lovingly prepared for us was empty. Within another 30 minutes, so was the bottle of Suntory Kakubin I brought. This emergency forced us to change our course and moor at the waterside terrace of cafe 'De Jaren' for sustenance. We managed to place an order with the big-breasted but dim-witted waitress within 5 minutes, which must be some kind of record for a Saturday night. We had to wait for our drinks, so we found ourselves with time to continue the jolly banter that seems to be a side-effect of the consumption of reasonable amounts of alcohol.

We engaged in a lengthy discussion about whether or not queen Beatrice should have her own eunuch - and if so, should the position be hereditary like the job of the queen herself? By the time we had degraded to discussing the technical problems of producing a second generation eunuch, we still hadn't received our refreshments. Roeland jokingly remarked that we might as well sail to Scotland and get the whiskies ourselves. That made us think...

By the time our drinks finally arrived, we were discussing the possibility of sailing the 'Titanic II' (Roeland's 17 feet, 20 HP mini-barge) north by Northwest to Scotland. Like the Vikings of yore, we would beach or ship and venture inland to do some serious looting. The fact that Roeland owns a boat doesn't mean he actually knows anything about sailing. He was convinced that, with a few extra jerrycans of petrol, we could make it to the eastern coast of Scotland alive. Stefan and I argued that the Titanic II was hardly seaworthy and certainly wouldn't survive a voyage of more than 300 kilometres across the North Sea. If we ever did reach the coast of Scotland, it would be thanks to fair wind and the floating capacity of our lifejackets.

Any wild plans captain Roeland might have had were nipped in the bud when we tried to leave the cafe around 23:00. The engine of the Titanic II wouldn't start, no matter how hard we kicked it. Unlike the Vikings of yore, we obviously lacked the basic technical skills to repair our ship. There was not much more we could do about it there and then, so we went back ashore and ordered a few Irish coffee's and a taxi to pick us up.

You may wonder what all this has to do with single malts.
Well, the bike ride from Stefan's place back to my 'pad' in the suburbs sobered me right up, and I wasn't tired yet. So I figured: why not have a nice little tasting session? That would be the perfect end of a perfect day. Inspired by our earlier discussions, I checked my shelves to see if I could find any malts from the destination of our imaginary voyage - the east coast of Scotland. Forgetting the Lowlands for a moment (too difficult to navigate the Firth of Forth and not enough 'spoils' since the Saint Magdalene distillery closed down), our landing point would have been somewhere south of Aberdeen - on the coast of the Eastern Highlands. To my surprise, I discovered that I could scramble together enough malts from this region to have myself a proper tasting session.

So, without further ado, let's see what's on stock.
Top shelf: Sorry, no Eastern Highland malts there.
Middle shelf: CC Glencadam 1987 & CC Glenesk 1984 (unrated)
Bottom shelf: Glen Garioch 15 & Royal Lochnagar 12 (almost empty)
Reserve stock: North Port-Brechin 1981 & Glen Garioch NAS. (unopened)

I started off with the Glencadam 1987/1997 (40%, G&M Connoisseur's Choice).
It's around 10 years old - a youngster.
Nose: Quite powerful, but little depth at first. Hint of fruits. Whiff of paint thinner.
Chloride? Eucalyptus? Dash of pepper? Soap? A little dusty.
Only after 10 minutes, I found the raisins and sweet/citrus elements I detected earlier.
Taste: Sweet and smooth. Shifts between menthol freshness and malty warmth.
More 'peppery' after a while. A little gritty and bitter in the finish.
Conclusion: 71 points. Not exceptional, but quite interesting.
The taste is more to my liking than than the nose, at least at first.
This malt seems very different from when I opened it last November - score lower to mid 70's. Now most of the sweetness has vanished from the nose, together with some of the fruity elements that were there. The taste had lost something as well, even though it already seemed a bit 'tired' back then. Still an interesting malt.

The Glenesk 1984/1997 (40%, G&M Connoisseur's Choice) was bottled in 1997 as well.
A previous encounter with the UDRM Hillside 25yo 1971 (different name, same distillery) wasn't very memorable, but I was willing to give it one more go.
Nose: A little spirity. Paint thinner. String beans? Rotting hay?
Vinegar? Some lighter fragrances over a muddy layer of sediment.
Taste: Warm and malty. Sweet in the middle, gritty in the tail.
Hint of pine and resin. Better than the nose, but altogether unremarkable.
Conclusion: 58 points. It clearly hasn't improved since I opened the bottle November last year. The Glenesk gets a rating below Glenfiddich NAS. and Johnnie Walker Black Label. 58 points may be a good score for a whisky, for a single malt it's below par. Please note that these ratings are my 'personal enjoyment' ratings.
This malt represents a particular style I'm not fond of.
Objectively speaking, it is an interesting malt.

Both of these Connoisseur's Choice bottlings have changed since I opened them less than a year ago. I wonder if this is a) a coincidence, b) an error of my senses, c) a common characteristic of Eastern Highlands malts or d) the effect of the cheap tin screw caps Gordon & MacPhail uses.
With ratings below 70, both bottles are clearly bottom shelf material. Let's make some room by emptying two of the current occupants. I could have gone for the Old Fettercairn 10, but that bottle was still 3/4 full - and just too nice to empty absent mindedly. Especially because this bottling is hard to find these days.

I went for the Royal Lochnagar 12yo (40%, OB) instead. As always, the small print on the label was a source of pleasure and amazement. This particular wordsmith came up with gems like 'By appointment to their late majesties Queen Victoria, King Edward VII & King George V' and 'Twelve years in oaken casks complete the task that human skill began'.
Nose: Hard to describe. At first, I couldn't detect any of the finer points I found on earlier tastings.
Then the familiar sherry and fruit appeared.
Peach? A little smoke. Sweeter after 15 minutes. Gooseberries?
Taste: Uncomplicated, but nice. Soft liquorice. A hint of iodine?
Decent burn. Malty and a bit smoky. Faint fruit. Spicy. Dry finish.
Conclusion: I see no reason to change the rating of 74 points.
A nice single malt that doesn't raise any eyebrows.
I'll use the rest of the bottle for one of my special blends.

OK - One more bottle from my bottom shelf has to go.
How about the Glen Garioch 15yo (43%, OB, 100cl)? Its rating of 78 points makes it a bottle that must feel a little out of place on my bottom shelf anyway. And how about opening the bottle of Glen Garioch NAS (40%, OB, 100cl) on my reserve stock so I could have a H2H-tasting?
Nose: Remarkably similar at first. After a minute, the NAS. seemed oilier, the 15 more spicy with soapy notes. Citrus after a while. Sweet like Easter bread. The NAS. became nuttier with time - the 15 didn't. In fact, it was only a shadow of the malt I knew. A clear case of heavy oxidation.
Taste: The NAS was mostly malty, clinging to your mouth. The 15 started soft and soapy, but made up for it with a long, sweet finish that fills your mouth.
Conclusion: The Glen Garioch NAS performed quite well. A preliminary rating of *** (Mid 70's).
For now, it moves to my middle shelf for further study.

The 'final' rating for Glen Garioch 15 drops from 78 points to 76 points.
I opened the bottle 16 months ago, and it performed just fine during the first six months - hence the original rating of 78 points. After that, it quickly lost most of its redeeming qualities. The last time I tasted it was circa 3 months ago and I would have rated it 74/75 points then. This last dram had been in the bottle since then, and clearly suffered from the effects of oxidation. This time, it would have scored around 68/69 points. I figured anything that happens after a year doesn't count for my rating. After all, a bottle wouldn't last a year on my shelves under 'normal' circumstances.
So, the recommedability of Glen Garioch 15 really depends on your drinking pattern. If you tend to empty your bottles within 6 months or so, go for it. If you have a larger drinking collection with almost 'residential' bottles, you can leave the GG 15 alone.

04:15 - 5 malts down, 1 to go.
All I have to do now is open one more bottle from my reserve stock before I can go to sleep. That bottle is the North Port-Brechin 1981/1998 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice). The distillery closed down in 1983, so I hesitated for a moment before I opened the bottle. Finding bottles of North Port will be increasingly difficult, so perhaps I should save this one for a while longer? But then I figured: I've heard rumours going around the grapevine that there was a reason North Port closed - that reason being that the whisky they produced wasn't actually very good. If these rumours are true, there's no reason to keep this bottle in my reserve stock. If they are not, the bottle will be easier to replace with a fresh one now than in a few years time.
So, I opened the North Port and wrote down these first impressions:
Nose: Restrained. Light citrus and vanilla?
Taste: Smooth. Warm. A little flat. Raw beans? Dry in the finish.
Preliminary conclusion: Too early to tell this late in the evening. If I had to guess it would be somewhere in the middle to upper 60's. At first sight, it seems removing this bottle from my reserve stock was a sound decision. Shelf space is precious, especially in my reserve stock.

Now - if Islay had been on the east coast of Scotland instead of the west coast, I might have considered risking life and limb to get there by boat. After tonight's tasting, I've decided that the available 'loot' in the Eastern Highlands isn't exactly the best merchandise Scotland has to offer. If I had to name a common characteristic of Eastern Highlanders, it would be an unpleasant hint of paint thinner in the nose. Like most malts, I enjoy them - just not enough to endure the perils of the open sea in the Titanic II.

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mAddendum 87A - Age statements OB's (Note for Beginners)

When I was still a wide-eyed novice stumbling blindly through maltland, I thought that a bottle that said '12 years' actually contained a single malt that had matured for 12 years. Ah - those great days of ignorance and bliss...
Later, I learnt that the age statement on an 'ordinary' bottle of Scotch whisky indicates the age of the YOUNGEST component of the malt - a requirement by law. Often, different amounts of whisky from older casks are added to achieve a consistent taste profile over the years. Sometimes very old casks that have been virtually sucked dry by the angels (i.e. that have dropped below the required 40% alc. vol.) are mixed with younger casks. So a SINGLE MALT whisky comes from one specific distillery, but can be a blend of different vintages - the 'minimum age' is specified. SINGLE CASK whiskies like the Balvenie 15 and many independent bottlings come from one specific cask.

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mAddendum 87B - Single Malts In Public Places (Note of Caution)

When you order a single malt whisky in a bar or a restaurant, make damn sure the bottles are in your line of sight and watch the waiter pour your drink. (And make sure he uses the right glassware while you're at it!)  I've been the victim of ignorance and malevolence on many occasions. Like in restaurant 'De Hofnar' in Houten where they served me a Glenturret 12 when I ordered a Macallan 12. Even worse, the waiter insisted he had served me a Macallan and kept on doing so until I politely asked him to show me the bottle. As it transpired, they didn't have any Macallan on stock.
I could tell you many more horror stories - but I won't.
In my experience, the only public place where serious maltoholics can enjoy their drams under the proper circumstances is a good whisky bar. Like 'De Still' or L&B's in Amsterdam, for example. They offer a wide range of single malts, as well as decent glassware and accessories. Not to mention the jolly banter of fellow victims of malt mania...

 

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Log Entry # 88  -  August 1, 2001
Topic:  Sweet Fifteens

On July 30, malt novices Maaike and Alexander dropped by for a tasting session.
They brought over their latest acquisition (a 'new' Bruichladdich 10yo) to compare it with the 'old' Bruichladdich 15yo in my reserve stock. When we tasted them, neither one left a big impression. It's feasible that the fact that we had been nipping extensively from two cask strength 'United Distillers Rare Malts' on my shelves - Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 (63.8%) and Royal Brackla 20yo 1978/1998 (59.8%) - had something to do with that.

Tonight, it's time to find out more...
There has been a lot of 'buzz' around the reopening of Bruichladdich, an Islay distillery that closed down in 1994. Production started again on may 29, 2001. Of course, it will be years before the new whisky will be bottled. Nevertheless, the whisky that was produced before 1994 has been revitalised as well - at least on the surface. Recently, the official bottlings of Bruichladdich have been redesigned. The old range of ODB's came in unremarkable, slim bottles which can still be found on the shelves of liquorists everywhere in Holland. At the same time, the new range has become available in shorter, bulkier bottles with labels that have a truly sickening, blueish-greenish colour. Their new slogan is 'The Sophisticated Islay Malt'. I resent the implication that other Islay malts are NOT sophisticated. In fact, from the Islay malts I tasted so far the Bruichladdich 10 OB was amongst the LEAST sophisticated. It has some of the maritime characteristics I find in other Islay malts, but lacks the character and depth of Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin.
But then again, those were the 'old' bottles.

Let's see if the (old) Bruichladdich 15yo (40%, OB) is able to improve my opinion about the distillery. Craig Daniels gives this malt a score of 85 points, while Louis Perlman rates it at 81. That bodes well, doesn't it?
Nose: Restrained. Sweetish notes. Soap? A little oily. No depth. Not unlike a young Caol Ila.
Where's the Islay power I'm looking for? Nowhere in sight.
Taste: Malty start, then some salt and smoke - just a little bit.
It has a salty bite to it, but it's nothing like the big Islay malts.
Preliminary conclusion: Mid 70's? Quite a disappointment at first - Let's hope it improves with some breathing. If it doesn't, I'm pretty sure I won't be buying any more Bruichladdichs until the third millennium product becomes available. Maybe the new owners will do a better job...

For now, the 'Laddie 15 replaces the Braes of Glenlivet 15yo (43%, Kirsch Import, bottle #328 of 690) on my middle shelf. Almost 700 bottles from a single cask - that must have been a big barrel. I wonder how this has affected the whisky. When I opened it on June 19 (see log entry #85) it didn't leave a big impression.
Nose: Faintly sherried, becoming stronger. Cookies? Nice.
Rounder and sweeter with time, but it keeps a relatively low profile.
Taste: Harsh start. A little dusty, but then it brightens up. Liquorice root?
Sherry. Decent burn; quite dry. Sandy. Remains a little bitter in the finish.
Conclusion: 79 points. Nice but dim... This malt improves in the glass but it simply has to many little faults in the taste to reach 'highly recommendable' status. It's enticing enough to make me curious about other bottlings, though...

Let's see, what else?
Well, summertime is a great time for Linkwoods.
I've only 'officially' tasted one version of Linkwood before (the Signatory Vintage 12yo 1984/1996), but my experiences with that bottle (and a few older versions I tasted in bars) were very special. So special, in fact, that there are now 5 different bottles of this Speyside malt in my reserve stock. I hadn't tasted any of these bottlings before, so you could say I bought them entirely 'on good faith'. I decided to open (and empty) two bottles to find out whether or not my faith in Linkwood was justified.

The Linkwood 15yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 35cl) wasn't completely new to me - I've tasted it quite a few times in bars. I knew that I liked it, I just wasn't sure how much exactly. It is something of a 'premium' malt; 47 Euro's for a 70 cl bottle.
Nose: Starts soft and flowery. Melons. Young cherries. Some sherry.
Hint of smoke and maybe even some peat. Earthy and organic impressions.
Grows more complex with time. A broad spectrum.
Taste: Starts deceptively soft. Quickly opens up into a warm, smooth burn.
Very woody. Sweet and malty. A little peat. Peppermint? A soapy episode?
Complex with a lot of development. Liquorice in the long, astringent finish.

That was my third fifteen years old malt tonight. Why not check out a younger version?
The Linkwood 11yo 1989/2000 (43%, Ultimate, distilled on 30/05/1989, aged in sherry butt #3201, bottled on 07/06/2000, bottle #424)  gasped when I popped its cork. That's usually a good sign...
Nose: A lot. Expressive. Flowery and fruity. Sweet. Toffee. Hint of oil.
Sherried. Nuttier with time. Well-balanced. Wonderful development.
The empty glass showed some strange oriental tones.
Taste: Smooth, sweetish start. Mellow. Not impressive at first but the sweetness grows more complex over time. Woody centre. Hint of smoke. Some interesting sour notes as well. A little gritty in the relatively short finish.

By the way: I still know exactly what I was doing on the day this whisky was distilled. I was barfing my brains out after trying deep-fried snails for the first time at a rock concert in Belgium. It was about a year before my amazing discovery and back then my instinctive need to experiment expressed itself in different ways.
Anyway...

Sampled head-to-head, both Linkwoods are remarkably friendly on the nose. The 11 started more sherried, while the 15 seemed a little oilier with a gentle sweetness. The 15 quickly opened up, gaining 'volume'. Melons and other fruity notes grow stronger after five minutes. It showed more sherry as well, but better balanced with other elements than in the 11. The 11 showed some development within the sherry character, but didn't change very much compared to the 15. Strangely enough, the character of the 15 seems 'younger' than the heavy, almost serious sherry notes of the 11. Five drops of water amplified their noses, but didn't change them. With more water, the characters seemed to drift into each others direction.
Taste: Like before. Both didn't respond very well to water.
The 11 reminded me a bit of a young cognac.

Conclusion: the Ultimate Linkwood 11yo scores 78 points. It's very nice, but not as complex as the Signatory Vintage 12yo 1984, which scored 81 points. It almost seems like Dutch company Van Wees (the bottlers of the Dutch 'The Ultimate' series) act like real Dutchmen when it comes to buying their casks. Ultimate bottlings are usually very affordable, but rarely beat the official distillery bottlings or the more 'reputable' independent bottlings. The 15yo G&M clocks in at 82 points. It receives bonus points for complexity. I like the taste of the 15 better than the nose; with the 11 it's exactly the opposite.

Both bottles were nearly empty within a few weeks. Very easy to drink...

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mAddendum 88A - July 29, Ireland Revisited

Top o'the evening to ya!
On February 17, I had myself a nice little session with a couple of Irish single malts. I sampled Connemara, Locke's and Tyrconnell - see log entry #75 for details. My experiences were altogether quite pleasant, so just before the start of my Big Ban I picked up some more Irish whiskeys. It seems there's some kind of 'Ireland-revival' going on. During most of the 1990's, the only Irish single malt available in Holland was Bushmills. Connemara and Tyrconnell appeared about two years ago and recently Locke's and Clontarf became available. The number of Irish blends on the shelves of Holland is growing as well.

Most Irish malts are triple distilled, as opposed to the double distillation that is used for the majority of malts from Scotland. A few Lowland and Campbeltown distilleries use triple or '2-and-a-half' distillation, but those are exceptions. In my experience, triple distillation tends to produce a whisky or whiskey that's not as outspoken and individualistic as a double distilled dram. Maybe that's why I still haven't encountered an Irish malt that's able to take on the big boys from Scotland. For me, a large part of the enjoyment of single malts comes from the differences in style and character - if I was looking for nothing more than an enjoyable drink I'd personally prefer a good cognac. Nevertheless, I'm willing to keep an open mind.

On July 29, I decided to find out if these latest Irish additions to my shelves manage to challenge the Scottish reign. I started the session with the 'Clontarf Single Malt Irish Whiskey'. If I'm not mistaken, it was produced at the Cooley distillery. Like most Irish malts, the bottle lacks an age statement. There's a lot of other bollocks on the label, though... 'Gently aged in bourbon barrels'. 'Mellowed through Atlantic Irish oak charcoal'.
Does that mean that this is some kind of Irish Jack Daniels? I hope not!
Nose: Lots and lots of vanilla. Overwhelming. Banana? A little grainy. Hint of smoke?
It feels a little 'chemical', not unlike the yellow banana scum sweets.
Taste: Vanilla. Clean. Thin. A little bit grainy. Stale beer. Smoke.
A bit sharper than I'm used to. superficial, sweetish finish.
Rating: 56 points. Not an unpleasant whiskey, but utterly unbalanced. The vanilla overpowers almost everything else. It lacks the subtlety needed to pass the 60 points benchmark. The Clontarf is not recommended. The price of 30 Euro's is just too much, considering the fine Irish alternatives that are available.

I proceeded with the Clontarf 'Trinity'. When I bought it, I thought it was a normal 700 ml bottle. As it turned out, it's actually an ingenious contraption of three 200 ml bottled stashed on top of each other. Apart from the Clontarf Single Malt I've just tasted (white label), it has the 'ordinary' Clontarf Irish whiskey (black label) and the Clontarf Reserve (gold label). All versions are 'mellowed through Atlantic Irish oak charcoal'.

The 'standard' Clontarf Irish Whiskey is a blend.
Nose: Seems sweeter than the single malt at first - but sharper as well. Something faintly fruity. Toffee. Caramel? A little malty? Unremarkable, but not unpleasant.
Taste: Yuk! There's the Jack Daniels effect! Chemical sweetness.
Awful. Bitter. Clinical smoke - not a good thing. Sharp finish.
Rating: 34 points. All Irish blends I've tasted so far were better.
The nose is not bad, but the awful taste makes it highly avoidable.
I'll make sure to avoid it highly the next time I see it.

The last Clontarf I tried was the Clontarf Reserve, a 'deluxe' version of the standard blend. Let's hope that 'deluxe' means that this experience will be more comfortable than my encounter with the standard blend.
Nose: Softer than the standard version. Whiff of citrus. Hint of vanilla.
Nice, but not nearly as much 'volume' as the single malt.
Taste: Round and warm. A faint afterburn. The 'Jack Daniels effect' still shines through in the (dry) finish, but it's balanced with hints of menthol and fresh fruits.
Rating: 49 points. The taste is much better than that of the standard version. I suspect the portion of single malt(s) in this blend is considerably higher than in de standard Clontarf. A decent whiskey.

I finished with the Millars Special Reserve - a cheap Irish blend. The price of 14 Euro's made sure I wasn't expecting too much.
Nose: Fruity and a little peaty at first. Some grain as well. Not comparable to a single malt, but more character than I would have expected.
Taste: Very soft start, becoming very sweet. Nice! Toffee. Coffee. Hint of liquorice? Cool in the beginning, developing into quite a numbing burn. Interesting.
With a rating of 47 points, this is pretty good value! No high flyer, but perfect for those occasions where you want to get pissed as soon and as cheap as possible. And again, I found coffee in an Irish blend. The power of suggestion?

Conclusion: I had hoped for something more, to tell you the truth.
Although I salute the fact that more Irish malts are becoming available, I hope the quality doesn't suffer from the growth in quantity. I'm afraid tonight's tasting didn't live up to my expectations; the Clontarf single malt is no match for the majority of Scottish malts. In fact, it's no match for Connemara, Locke's or Tyrconnell either. Both the Clontarf blends fall outside my acceptable price/quality range, but the Millars is priced nicely enough to pick up again in the future for party purposes.

That's it for tonight. Gotta catch some ZZZ and dream about 'me pot o'gold' at the end of the rainbow where the leprechauns roam free - or something like that.

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mAddendum 88B - Blackadder

I've heard a lot of good things about the bottling efforts of Blackadder International; especially about their 'Raw Cask' series. A few of these bottlings had been very high on my want list, partially because I'm a huge fan of Captain Edmund Blackadder, 'The Hero of M'boto Gorge'. Rumour has it that the name of the company actually refers to a 14th century bishop from Glasgow named John Blackadder, but I've never allowed facts like these to influence my slightly distorted perspective on reality.
Anyway - until recently, Blackadder bottlings were not available in Holland. Notice the subtle use of the past tense in the last sentence. Recently, one of the largest whiskyshops in Holland (Whiskykoning in 's Hertogenbosch) has started to import small batches. Unfortunately, it will be another five months before my Big Ban is over - will I be able to resist temptation until christmas? As a lot of people predicted, I find it harder and harder to keep my resolve in this matter.

 

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Log Entry # 89  -  September 21, 2001
Topic:  Big Summer Bypass

It has been a long, liquid summer.
The good news is that I'm making decent progress when it comes to resolving my stocking problem. The bad news is that I have been so busy over the last two months that I've had hardly any time to write proper log entries about my tasting sessions and the traffic between my shelves.

Tonight, the last 'official' summer night, seems like the perfect occasion to finish my little bottle of Linkwood 15yo while I try to figure out the truth about what actually happened during the last few tasting sessions. All I have to go on are the sketchy notes I made during the sessions. I have to get my records straight now 'Big Malt Season' (meaning autumn and winter here in Holland) has officially started.
But..., where to begin? How about the lovely Aberlour A'bunadh I tasted last month?

- - - - -  Entry 89A - Aberlour De Luxe

I've recently enjoyed a few drams of the 'normal' Aberlour 10 at a friend's place. It's one of those easily available malts that many people encounter early on in their 'malt carreer'. And then you love it or you hate it. It's one of the most heavily sherried malts I've sampled so far. That means I loved it. I expressed my love with a rating of 81 points for the first bottle I tasted back in 1993. My second bottle was tasted around 1996, after I had encountered some other heavy sherry malts. It rated 80 points. Two drams I tasted about a year ago rated 77 points. The cause? Maybe my senses were off balance that night, or maybe the composition of Aberlour 10 is really changing. Most likely, I've become spoilt by all the older, more refined sherry malts I've tasted over the years. Compared to a lot of sherried alternatives, the Aberlour 10 just seems a little too young and unrefined for me.

But now there's the Aberlour A'bunadh (59.6%, OB).
Craig Daniels has been raving about this whisky, so I (reluctantly) forked over 51 Euro's when I spotted a bottle at Menno Boorsma over six months ago. It's expensive, but the fact that it's a cask strength malt (59.6%) makes the steep price easier to swallow. (I'm not sure if this is true for the malt itself, though...) The bottle has been calling out to me ever since it arrived on my shelves; 'Ravage me, Johannes, ravage me!'.

Well, it's ravaging time...
This malt comes in a really attractive package. The malt has a deep, brown hue - very dark. After I wrapped away the classy (but inpractical) red wax from the top, an even classier wooden cork appeared. If I was giving away points for presentation, the a'bunadh would receive quite a few bonus points. But that's not the case - looks can be deceiving and the whisky will have to prove itself in the glass.
So, with feelings of intense anticipation, I 'plopped' the bottle.
Nose: Oh boy! Powerful right from the start. There's sherry, but perfectly balanced with a fruity sweetness and lots of other stuff. Distinctive flowery whiffs as well. A feast for the nose. Smoke. Raisins? Memories of Macallan 10 100 Proof. With some water the aroma intensified, but the character didn't really change.
Taste: Undiluted, it's remarkably drinkable. Very sweet start with hints of pink bubblegum. That would be the fruit, I guess. After adding some water, impressions of stone fruit like peaches or apricots emerged. Long, with a lot of development. Preliminary rating: 88 points . Craig wasn't lying when he said this was a knockout malt. At first sight, this could be a Top 10 whisky.

The a'bunadh moved to my middle shelf for further examination. That means one of the current occupants had to vacate the premises. I chose the Balblair 16yo (40%, OB). The label carries the slogan 'A Spirit of the Air'. OK - I'm with them so far. But then I spotted the second slogan; 'Distilled Where the Air is said to be The Purest in Scotland'. Eh? 'Is said to be'? Does that mean the copywriter didn't check this claim himself?
Further examination of the label showed that this malt is artificially coloured.
Nose: Strange. Furniture wax. Hint of soap. Spicy. Very distinctive.
A little pepper. Clove. Nutmeg? Soft hint of fruits in the background.
All sorts of interesting things going on in there.
Taste: Hardly any sweetness at first. Malty. Grows astringent quickly.
Something fishy - I can't describe it differently. Smoke. Pinch of salt.
Very dry finish. Tannin without the grapes. Ultra-dry wood.
Conclusion: Even after the impressive a'bunadh, this bottle seemed slightly more complex than the one I had before - at least in the nose. Therefor, the final rating for Balblair 16 was raised from 75 points to 76 points after I emptied the bottle.

That's all the notes I have on this tasting.
Let's proceed with the next set of nearly indecipherable hieroglyphs.

- - - - -  Entry 89B - Corny American

Somewhere in late July, I organised a little tasting session for Rene and Wilco - two relative novices in the world of single malts. They surprised me with a very strange earthenware bottle I've never encountered before; McCormick Platte Valley 100% Straight Corn Whiskey (40%, OB, 75cl). Gloating in the bask of my puzzled glare, they admitted they had specifically asked the liquorist for a very rare bottle that even a malt maniac like myself would not have tried before. Well - they succeeded.
After maybe 7 drams or so, Wilco succumbed to the alcohol vapours. In my enthusiasm, I had forgotten that I was dealing with novices here. Unlike mine, their physique wasn't adapted to the consumption and processing of a volley of stiff drams, fired in rapid succession. Around midnight, Rene and Wilco left, which gave me the opportunity for some serious drinking.

We hadn't opened the McCormick yet, so that seemed like the logical thing to do. First of all, the wax sealed bottle was a bitch to open. It took me about five minutes to clear away all the wax and get to the contents of the bottle. That gave me the opportunity to examine the bottle and the label more closely. The McCormick turned out to be only 3 years old, distilled in the state of Illinois, USA. That doesn't bode well. In the 10 years since I've been drinking 'seriously', I haven't encountered a single American whiskey that scored more than 45 points. In my book, that translates as little more than drinkable. When I finally managed to pour myself a dram, my first impressions were:
Nose: Ouch! A foul stench. Paint thinner and grease. Dust. Something oily. Garage aroma's. Very strange organic notes as well. A little fruitier with time.
Taste: Clean. Flat like bourbon whiskey. Starts soft, but quickly develops into a short, hot burst. Unpleasant finish - if you can call it a finish...

After a few weeks of breathing, the whiskey had changed considerably.
Nose: Clean start. Bourbon-ish but nuttier. Peanuts? More power later.
Almost rhum-like after a while - not a good rum, mind you...
Taste: Dusty, but clean at the same time. I guess that sounds a little strange, but that's how it feels. It still has a lot of nastiness in the tail.

Conclusion: Not really my cup of tea, but I have to admit this whiskey grew on me. Just a little bit; I certainly wouldn't serve this to my guests - at least not the ones I didn't want to get rid of. It's not 'conventionally tasty', but it undeniably has a character of its own. I'm a sucker for character and individuality. Based on 'likability' alone, it would probably score around 25 points, but sheer personality pushes it up to 45 points.
Despite the low rating, I can recommend this whiskey to the more adventurous imbibers - it's completely different from anything I've tasted before. Not unlike Grappa.

- - - - -  Entry 89C - Glenfiddich, Dufftown

Dufftown is not just a distillery, it's also the name of one of the many whisky producing areas within the Speyside region. Dufftown is a relatively 'low profile' distillery, but the area produces a number of famous malts as well, including Glenfiddich and Balvenie. I decided to have a little tasting session with three different Dufftown malts; Dufftown 12, Glenfiddich 12 and Glenfiddich 15.

I started with the Dufftown 12yo 1987 (43%, Chieftain's Choice) from my reserve stock. I have a soft spot for the Dufftown distillery. Although the 10yo OB and 15yo Flaura & Fauna I sampled earlier were not sophisticated enough to score more than 'above average' on my personal hitlist, I like the accessible, straightforward house style a lot.
Nose: Started off with some malt and sherry. Hint of spices.
A lot of volume at first, but the nose disintegrates quickly.
Taste: Nice. Malty. Smooth start, then it gets a bit 'chewy'.
Decent Burn. Not very complex, though. A little bitter in the finish.
First impression: 72/73 points. It may need some breathing.
The bottle moves to my middle shelf.

I proceeded with the Glenfiddich 12yo 'Special Reserve' (40%, OB).
This bottling replaces the GF 'Special Old Reserve' without an age statement. It hasn't been on my middle shelf very long, but my experiences so far indicate that it isn't the kind of malt that I would want to keep around on my shelves for too long anyway.
Nose: Cider. Some chemical sweetness. Quite restrained.
A bit dusty. It reminded me a little of some grain whiskies I've tried.
Taste: Thin and watery at first, becoming maltier after a few seconds.
Apple/cider as well. Some sweetness. Hint of smoke in the short, dry finish.
Conclusion: A final rating of 62 points. It seems a little better than the NAS, but not much. According to the label on the back of the bottle, there should be peat in the nose and taste. If there was, I certainly couldn't detect it. Or the 'rich fruity flavours' the label promises, for that matter. Bottom shelf material.

Which brings us to the Glenfiddich 15yo 'Solera Reserve' (40%, OB). This time, they were wise enough to limit the promises on the label to 'Smooth, mellow with great depth of flavour'. Let's find out if that's true.
Nose: Restrained and a little spirity at first. Then sweeter with raisins.
Accessible, but it only shows a narrow spectrum. A malt with a soft voice.
Taste: Smooth start with some sour notes. Sour cream? Sweetish. Malty. Ginger? The taste profile is limited and not very interesting, but the 'movement' of this malt through the mouth is intruiging.
Conclusion: The taste is quite pleasant, but it has no nose to speak of. This malt just lacks personality and depth. My final rating of 71 points stands. A class above the GF12, but still below average in my book.

I had planned to empty the 15 Solera and put the 12 in it's place. But then I remembered the bottle of Glenfiddich 15 Cask Strength in my reserve stock. Previous tastings indicated that this could be a winner. I've planned a H2H-tasting with 12/15Sol/15CS in the future, so I decided to keep the 'Fiddich Solera on my bottom shelf for a while longer and emptied the Craigellachie 1983/1994 (43%, Vintage Choice) instead. I figured that would be a good candidate because the distillery is located less than 5 miles from Glenfiddich and Dufftown. The nose and taste were pretty much as before (see log entry #76 for details), but sampling it after the GF12 made it clear to me that this bottling deserves more than the current rating of 62 points.
The rating is increased to 65 points.

- - - - -  Entry 89D - The Three Tenners / Reprise

After they've had some time to catch their breath, I've re-tasted the 'three tenners' I wrote about in log entry #86. None of them seemed to have changed dramatically since my previous encounters. The Ben Nevis 10yo (46%, OB) was quite fragrant and a little more spicy than I remembered. Dried apples in the nose? Other fruits as well. The taste was nutty with hints of toffee. Seems maltier than before. It's easily drinkable, but in the end the dark chocolate and orange peel in the finish grow into a strong, dry bitterness. Final rating: 78 points. The bottle clearly improved after a few months of breathing. This bottling is even more complex than the final rating suggests - especially the nose. It's just that the ratings reflect my personal enjoyment of a single malt, and that enjoyment was diminished by the fact that the Ben Nevis 10 scores relatively low on individuality and personality - at least to my nose and palate.

The Glengoyne 10yo (40%, OB) appeared as before - light and clean in the nose, soft and a little bit grainy on the palate. It occurred to me that the text 'The Unpeated Malt' on the label is misleading. There are several malts that are unpeated (the Tobermory for instance), so the text should be 'An Unpeated Malt'. Or better yet, 'The Apple Malt'; apple/cider are discerning elements in the nose and taste. Besides apples, the soft nose showed some grainy notes. The taste was very soft and smooth as well. It almost seemed to leave a coating on my tongue. Sweeter after some time, with a medium dry and slightly bitter finish.
Final rating: 72 points.

The Tomintoul 10yo (40%, OB) was pleasant as ever. Fresh and fragrant in the nose - slightly spirity. Some pepper and spices. A little oily with a hint of citrus. Soy sauce? Not a lot of 'volume', though. The taste was sweet and malty, with a dry finish that makes it a good choice for a warm summer night. Did I taste barley? Maybe a tad too bitter in the finish for my likes.
Final rating: 73 points. Easily drinkable, but slightly below average.

I know I'm not giving these bottles the respect they deserve, having chased them past my shelves so vigorously. It's just that the available space in my reserve stock is limited, and I want to get rid of the 'excess' bottles a.s.a.p. My apartment looks like an alcoholic's hideaway as it is, and the dozens of bottles on the floor don't improve on that first impression.

- - - - -  Entry 89E - Ardbeg 10 Still Going Strong

And then there are the fragmentary notes on a tasting with Ardbeg 10yo (46%, OB) in August. Ooh boy - this bottle has been on my top shelf for more than 18 months now, and it's still going strong. If anything, it seems to have improved since its arrival. And now I've discovered that it's a surprisingly suitable summer malt as well. The nose has gotten a new dimension; fruits amongst the peaty Islay notes.
The final rating is increased from 86 to 87 points.

- - - - -  Entry 89F - Glen Ord Demise

Up until about five years ago, the Glen Ord 12yo was one of my favourite 'Bang-For-Your-Buck'' malts. It was readily available for less than 25 Euro's. I've been concentrating on new discoveries lately, so it has been a few years since I last tasted the 'Glord 12'. That was one of the reasons I picked up a bottle a few weeks ago for a small housewarming party at a girlfriend's new apartment. I brought it as a gift, so I didn't violate my Big Ban 2001 - one of the 'loopholes' is that gifts don't count.

We finished the bottle that same night, and although I didn't make any tasting notes, it was obvious that this wasn't the malt I knew and loved. In the past, I always placed the Glord in the same class as the Dalmore 12 (= 80 points). This bottle felt more like 76 or 77 points. Still good, just a little less good than before. To confirm my findings, I dropped by De Still a few weeks later and had myself two quick drams. These drams didn't live up to my memories either, so the rating is decreased from 80 to 77 points. This means the Glen Ord 12 has been demoted from 'Highly Recommendable' to just plain old 'Recommendable'.

- - - - -  Entry 89G - Black Bottle

Scotch single malts are a 'controlled substance' until Christmas, when my Big ban ends. But theoretically I could buy as many blended whiskies as I wanted to. Not that I would want to spend a lot of dosh on blends - I've become quite spoilt by single malts over the years. Nevertheless, there are a couple of blends that still manage to please me. One of them is the Black Bottle 10yo (40%). As far as I know, this is the peatiest blend available in Holland today - together with Islay Mist, maybe.
That's no wonder, because all 7 Islay malts are said to be present in the BB10.
When I spied a bottle for less than 20 Euro's at the nearest Gall & Gall I just had to pick it up. I've been tasting mostly Speyside and Highland malts this summer, and I desperately needed a peat fix. Based on my previous experiences (72 points for my latest bottle), the BB should do the trick. A lot of bang for your buck, even at G&G prices! Provided this bottling is as good as the previous one, that is - BB tends to show considerable differences between batches.

When I opened the bottle, I noticed something strange. The neck of the bottle said 'Established 1879'. That puzzled me. BB is a blend, so exactly what was established in 1879? The brand name? Furthermore, the text on the back label claims that 'Islay malts reach their prime at 10 years'. Hmmm... I guess the guy who wrote that hasn't tried Laphroaig 15, Lagavulin 16 or Ardbeg 17. I like the BB10 a lot, but it has the smell of a 'designer whisky' around it - something I'm not particularly fond of. If all the bollocks on the label is true, why does the whisky need caramel colouring? Anyway - by now, I've learned not to judge a book by it's cover.

Nose: Lots of peat. Intriguing sweetness. Fruity and sour notes as well. Very complex for a blend, but not comparable to the better single malts - especially Islay malts.
Taste: Malty. Peat as well, but less pronounced. It seems a little thin at first. Then the peat and smoke set in. Something fishy - and I mean that in a positive way. I even noticed some faint iodine. Rather short finish.
Conclusion: This bottle is not quite as peaty as the previous one. It almost seems like the grain whisky is more dominant here. The rating of 72 is decreased to 71 points. That being said, I'd take the Black Bottle 10 over the Johnnie Walker Black any day, even though the latter may be smoother on the nose and tongue.

- - - - -  Entry 89H - Auchentoshan Ten Test

After a fairly disappointing encounter with the Auchentoshan 10yo (40%, OB) in the early 1990's (I think it was the first Lowlander I ever tried) I decided to give that bottling (or at least a more recent batch) another go. Amazingly enough, the design of the label hasn't changed one bit on almost a decade. The bottling year is not stated on the label, but if I had to guess my first bottle (score 68 points) was bottled in 1993 while the new bottle I tried must have been bottled around 2000. The nose was still fairly sharp and grainy. Nothing there to get too excited about. The palate was smooth, flat and without much substance. To me, this almost tastes like a grain whisky. I like this one far less than 68 points - 58 points is more like it.
If you want to know what a good Lowlander tastes like, avoid this one...

- - - - -  Entry 89I - Mull Mayhem

The last big event this summer I'd like to mention was the 'Mull Mayhem' session. Or rather - it wasn't such a big event after all, because things didn't go exactly the way I had planned. Let me explain...

As you may have noticed, I have been concentrating most of my latest bypass efforts on the (relative) lower end of my reserve stock. I generally prefer to save the best for last, so instead of opening 'special' bottles like Ardbeg 30 or Macallan 1979 Gran Reserva, I've been mostly tasting the likes of Glengoyne 10 and Tomintoul 10. These are good whiskies by any standard, but they are not exactly top shelf material.

A while ago, I bought two bottles of Ledaig because I thought it was one of the undiscovered distilleries on my list. The little 'Burn Stewart' booklet that came with one of the Ledaigs made me realise that these malts were actually produced at the Tobermory distillery. Based on my previous experiences with the Tobermory NAS. (55 points) and Deanston 12yo. (another Burn Stewart brand, 57 points), I didn't have any high hopes for these bottles. As a result, they were classified as 'suspect' and moved to the front of the line. As part of the cleansing of my shelves, I had planned to open both bottles tonight and empty them within a few weeks. That way, I would be able to compare them with the Tobermory NAS. on my bottom shelf before that bottle was empty as well.

I started the session with the Tobermory NAS (40%, OB) from my bottom shelf.
Nose: Strange. Apples. Dusty. A little oily with a hint of sherry.
Sweeter notes later on. More 'volume' than a few months ago.
Taste: Flat and rough. Unbalanced. Memories of vomit.
No pleasure. Astringent and sour. A little gritty in the finish.
Conclusion: Hmmm... Has the nose improved? It certainly seems so. The aroma is bigger and wider than I remember. Or maybe I've come to appreciate the 'weird' malts a little more over the last couple of months. Vive la difference! Nevertheless, the taste is still utterly disappointing. The nose grew on me, but I can't justify raising the current rating of 55 points for a malt with such obvious flaws in the taste. If it hadn't been for the interesting nose, the rating might have dropped even further.

OK, so far the session progressed more or less as planned.
But then I turned to the Ledaig NAS 'Peated Single Malt' Sherry Finish (42%, OB). When I discovered it was a 'Limited Edition For The Year 2000', I hesitated for a moment. A limited edition, huh? Perhaps I should save this bottle? But then I figured that next year's production will probably be just as 'limited', so I opened the bottle anyway. The first thing that caught my attention was the unusual proof - 42%. I've never encountered that strength before; standard bottles are usually bottled at 40% or 43%. This malt is priced quite friendly at 28 Euro's.

So, how did it perform?
Nose: Indeed, some peat. Sherried. Some sweet tones as well. There are some of the elements I despise in the Tobermory, but here they are balanced with a lot of other intriguing stuff. Sweeter with time. Wow!
Taste: A little smoke at first. Some peat as well. Veggy notes. Malty.
Fruity in the middle. A little gritty. Quite a long finish - dry with lots of smoke.
Conclusion: A very pleasant surprise! A preliminary rating of 73 points.
Especially the nose is a lot better than I expected. It's easy to become a little bit spoilt after having enjoyed malts like Lagavulin 16 and Talisker 10 in large quantities. The more you drink of them, the more they tend to become the 'standard' against which everything else is measured. And that's not quite fair. Malts that score 'only' 73 points are fine whiskies in their own right and make most blends taste like dishwater in comparison.

So - this surprise made me rethink the course for the rest of the session. Instead of emptying the Tobermory NAS. and this Ledaig NAS. to make room for the Ledaig 20, I moved the Ledaig NAS. to my middle shelf and decided to keep the 20 reserved for a while longer. Based on my first experiences with this younger version, the Ledaig 20 suddenly doesn't look as 'suspect' as it did before.

But this means another bottle on my middle shelf will have to make way for the Ledaig.
After careful consideration, I chose the Glen Garioch NAS (40%, OB, 100cl) I opened not so long ago.
If this version is anything like the 15 years old, it will change quickly - and not for the better.
I might as well empty the bottle while it's still 'fresh'.
Nose: A little 'common'. Oily. Malty, with the alcohol clearly on the foreground.
Opens up a little after a few minutes, but never becomes fruity like the 15.
Taste: Malty. The alcohol is very obvious in the taste as well. Slightly gritty.
Not sweet enough for my tastes, and bitter in the finish to boot.
Conclusion: A final rating of 72 points. Slightly substandard merchandise.
Nevertheless, I emptied the bottle in good spirits.

Phew, that's it - at least as far as my summer-adventures are concerned.
My records are in order again; let the Big Malt Season begin!

- - -

mAddendum 89A - The Day The Earth Stood Still

Often, a historical day passes you by without you knowing about it - at least not at the time. Only much later, you may come to realise that the events that took place that day have changed the course of history - and consequently the course of the future. Every once in a while, however, you immediately realise that you're witnessing a historical moment. The fall of the Berlin wall was one of those moments. The invasion of Kuwayt by the troops of Saddam Hussein was another one.

Today, September 11 2001, is a day of historical proportions.
This afternoon, around 15:00 GMT, I received a telephone call from a friend who works for Dutch television. He told me to immediately switch on my television set and point it towards CNN. He had been in New York only a few weeks ago, and the tower of the World Trade Center he had been standing on had been hit by an airplane. Only seconds after I tuned in, I saw gobsmacking footage of another huge airplane hitting the second tower of the WTC. What I saw in the following hour made Holywood blockbusters like 'Godzilla' and 'Independance Day' suddenly look less fictional. And things got even worse after that...

I watched the shocking images in amazement and disbelief.
Within the course of one hour, thousands of lives were destroyed.
It's almost unfathomable and impossible to express in words.

As a child, I used to cry my eyes out whenever I saw an antelope or rabbit being killed in a nature documentary, but I've developed quite a thick skin since then. After years of enduring news footage from terrible events in 'exotic' places like Palestine, Rwanda and Kosovo, I'm not easily moved. But what I saw this afternoon managed to shock me to my core. First of all, I experienced grief, and empathy with the victims and their families. The images of people jumping to their deaths brought tears to my eyes. Then I experienced anger, followed by worry for the future when I understood the full implications of what happened today in New York. The future of our world may never be the same...

Anyway - what has all this got to do with Malt Madness?
Ironically, I discussed a related topic with American correspondent Patrick Whaley only a few days ago. Patrick had suffered a personal loss, and we corresponded about the fact that opening a special bottle of whisky shouldn't be reserved for happy occasions alone. Uncorking an extraordinary single malt can also add some comfort and a sense of 'history' to more solemn situations. After the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions had calmed down a bit, I decided to open a special bottle for a night of heavy thinking and soul-searching.

The first special bottle that struck my eye was the Macallan 18yo 1982.
The bottle seemed especially appropriate because Louis, our other American correspondent, informed me a while ago that this malt is particularly popular among the 'Wall Street Crowd'. That was close enough for me, so I opened the bottle.
Nose: Wonderful. Soft start, but instantly recognisable as an official Macallan. Within a few seconds, it breaks open.
Cherries and gooseberries. Fruit cake after 15 minutes.
Taste: Wow! A tantalizing tapestry of taste. Less sweetness in the start than my previous bottle.
Then more sweetness, with fruits, sherry and wood - lots of wood! Like the extract of a crossbreed of liquorice root & winter oak.

After 3 or 4 drams, I reached a saturation point. I switched to the Macallan 10yo (40%) on my middle shelf, while I kept following the news on TV and the web. I needed to clear out a bottle from my middle shelf to make room for the Mac 18, and I have a spare bottle of Macallan 10 in my reserve stock anyway.
Nose: Much softer than the 18. It doesn't scream 'Macallan!' so loud.
The sherry, fruits and wood are there, just not as pronounced.
Taste: Licorice from start to finish. Chocolate and burnt caramel. Salt? Nutmeg?
Very nice, but not as big and complex as the 18 - or the 12 for that matter.

Around 24:00 GMT, I was still very much wound up. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep until I was really exhausted, so I decided to have myself a mini Hopalong H2H with three different distillery bottlings of Macallan; Macallan 10yo. (40%), Macallan 12yo. (43%) and Macallan 18yo. 1982 (43%).

The [Macallan 10yo vs Macallan 12yo] comparison showed that the 12 had slightly more volume and balance in the nose. More 'legs' too. The 10 showed some citrus and other sour notes. The 12 is a little deeper and sweeter. Character-wise, they are nearly identical at first. After 10 minutes, the differences become more obvious. The sherry character of the 12 became even stronger, while the 10 stayed more or less the same. On the tongue, the 12 is notably sweeter, especially in the middle. More licorice. Bigger, more complex and better balanced than the 10, with a longer finish as well. The 10 tastes 'thinner' and doesn't act as friendly in the mouth. The finish is woody, but lacks depth. The differences with the 12 (and especially the 10/100 proof) are considerable.

The [Macallan 12yo vs Macallan 18yo 1982] struggle was an uneven one.
The nose of the 18 seemed comparatively spirity at first. After a few minutes, it opens up with an utterly overwhelming bouquet. Sherry and wood, cherries and other sweet summer fruits. Some smoke and nutty notes as well. The 12 was great as ever, but it just got a little overshadowed by the power and complexity of the 18.
Taste: Again, the family relation is obvious. The texture of the 18 is more syrupy, although the alcohol is more obvious than in the 12.

03:15 AM GMT - That's it for tonight.
I wanted to keep following the news on television, but it became very hard to keep my eyes open.

Tonight's conclusion:
- Macallan 10yo (40%) = 82 points
- Macallan 12yo (43%) = 86 points
- Macallan 18yo 1982 (43%) = 90 points or more.
The difference between the 10 and 12 is much larger than I anticipated. As far as the Macallan 18 is concerned: Wow! Triple wow! It's too early for a final rating, but this one  certainly qualifies as a whisky for special occasions. I'm very glad I've got a spare bottle in my reserve stock. I just hope I get to open it under happier circumstances.

A lot of other liquid events have taken place over the past few weeks, but I'll get back to those in my next log entry. As far as today's events are concerned: I have to admit I'm not optimistic about the future. I wouldn't be surprised if the new American president George Bush Junior will use this tragedy as an excuse to lead the USA on the path of war the military/industrial complex has already laid out. I'd like to paraphrase Georg Wilhelm Hegel (1770-1831); 'If history teaches us anything, it is that we have never learnt anything from history'. We should never forget that terrorists managed to ignite the first World War. One act of senseless hate and violence spawned 4 years of death and destruction.

Let's hope that things will be a little different in the third millennium...
 

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