malt whisky - Aberfeldy Glendronach Glen Scotia

100 - 31/12/2001 - MISSION STATUS  -  What have I learned during phase 1 of my mission?
101 - 01/01/2002 - Aberfeldy 1978/1996 - Allt-A-Bhainne 1989/1999 - Arran NAS - Ardbeg 10yo - ...
102 - 19/01/2002 - Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979 - Laphroaig 'Laudable' 15yo 1985 - Dallas Dhu 10yo - ...
103 - 16/02/2002 - Glendronach 12yo - Glendronach 15yo - Longmorn 12yo - Longmorn 15yo - ...
104 - 23/02/2002 - Tomintoul 14yo - Oban 14yo - Glen Scotia 14yo
105 - 02/03/2002 - Glenmorangie Madeira Wood Finish - Dalmore 12yo - Glenturret 12yo - ...
106 - 31/03/2002 - Ardmore 11yo 1990 - Aultmore 1989/1999 - Arran NAS - Auchentoshan 3 Wood - ...
107 - 01/04/2002 - Lagavulin 16yo (3x) - Lagavulin 14yo 1988 - Dun Bheagan 8yo - Fuaran Ile 1991 - ...
108 - 06/04/2002 - Bunnahabhain 12yo (2x) - Bruichladdich 10yo / 15yo / 20yo - Bowmore 15yo - ...
109 - 30/04/2002 - Balmenach 10yo - Banff 18yo 1980 - Bladnoch 1987 - Edradour 10yo - Loch Dhu - ...
 

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Log Entry # 100  -  December 31, 2001
Topic:  Amsterdam Ardbeggeddon & Mission Status

Exactly five years after I started this Liquid Log, we've arrived at entry #100. This seems like the perfect occasion to look back and reflect on what I've learned since I started my quest for the perfect single malt...

CLICK HERE to jump to the 'Special Report' I've written for the occasion. It features my tasting notes on the 'Amsterdam Ardbeggeddon' - a mega-tasting session with 14 different Isaly malts. What's more, it contains an overview of all the distilleries of Scotland, their status (active or inactive), the number of different bottlings I've seriously sampled and a preliminary 'Still Score' to express my love (or lack thereof) for every distillery in Scotland. (Scroll down to read about my first tastings in 2002.)
 

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Log Entry # 101 - January 1, 2002
Topic:  Scotland By Dram - Part 1

Last night - or rather this morning - my brother Franc and I enjoyed the remains of two bottles of Ardbeg (10 & 17 OB's) during our traditional new year's hike through the woods. A thick blanket of snow and a full moon; perfect conditions to kick off my 'Scotland by Dram' project. We emptied the bottles well past midnight, so my year 2002 started with Ardbeg. After a good night's sleep I felt ready to continue my virtual journey tonight.

For those of you that have just tuned in: After several fun 'projects' last year, I've come up with a new challenge for 2002. On the 'Scotland By Dram' tour I will try to make a virtual visit to every one of the 89 active distilleries in Scotland. The virtual visit will be made in my mind, while enjoying a dram produced at that particular distillery. To complicate things further, I've also committed myself to a parallel project as well; the 'Second Chance Challenge'. Last year I've opened bottles from the last few undiscovered distilleries in Scotland. In 2002 I'll try to sample drams from all the distilleries I've only tasted one version of so far. This is the case with 50 of them; more than half of the active distilleries in Scotland deserve a second chance.

I prefer to go about things as systematically as possible, so I selected four malts from the top of the distillery list for tonight's tasting. It's also the first time I'll use my brand new 'Shelf Management System' - two old bottles from either top, middle or bottom shelf have to make way for two new arrivals.
The planning for tonight:
Empty (Bottom Shelf): Arran NAS (43%, OB) & Aultmore 11yo 1985/1997 (43%, Signatory)
Open: Allt-A-Bhainne 1989/1999 (50%, John Milroy) & Aberfeldy 1978/1996 (59.3%, Scott's Selection)

The bottle of Arran NAS (43%, OB, sherry casks) was an oldie. I picked it up in June 2000 when I started my Reserve Stock. With a rating of 61 points it's one of those malts that failed to impress me. Perhaps that's not too surprising considering this whisky inside the bottle is very young - the distillery was founded in the mid-1990's. They say youth has its virtues - let's find out if that's true.
Nose: Grainy. Oily. Memories of Mull. Something rotten. Its youth is very obvious - a little too obvious for my .
Taste: A little sharp on the tongue. Some sweetish notes. Smoky. Hints of lemon and malt? Light, dry finish.
Conclusion: No reason whatsoever to raise the rating of 61 points.
Analysis: This early bottling is a nice alternative to blends, but it's not quite ready to play with the big boys yet - despite maturation in Sherry casks. I won't shed any tears about this bottle leaving my shelves.

The Aultmore 11yo 1985/1997 (43%, Signatory Vintage, distilled 9/10/1985, bottled 9/1997, oak butt #2904, bottle #468 of 484) has enjoyed the hospitality of my shelves for over a year now. It was my first bottle from this low-profile distillery. The nose was fruity and slightly oily in the start. Quite restrained. It's still a little grainy, but not as much as before. Some citrus. Taste: Very clean; no sweetness whatsoever at first. Malty. A little peppery - something I didn't detect earlier. Dry finish. Conclusion: The rating of 71 points stands, but only because the '1 Year Trial Period' is over. The taste had a surprising peppery bite I hadn't noticed before. If it had been still in the race, it might have gone up to 72 points. Not sweet enough to score higher, though... Analysis: No more Aultmore.

The Allt-A-Bhainne 1989/1999 (50%, John Milroy Millennium Selection, matured in oak casks) is a single cask bottling - at least that's what the label claims. It doesn't specify a cask number or a bottle number, though. I've never understood what's the use of single cask bottlings when they don't give any information about the cask. All it tells us right now is that other bottles with the exact same label might be completely different. Nose: Oily and smoky. Sweetish. Eucalyptus. Tea? Rich; opens up further after a minute. Fresher over time. A big splash of water doesn't have a lot of effect. Taste: Malty. Slightly oily as well. Sweetish at 50%. Seems much 'thinner' when diluted, but still sweet. Conclusion: 78 points. Pleasant enough, but not overly impressive at first sight. Analysis: A few extra years of ageing might have lifted it over the 80 points limit, but as things stand right now it sticks at 'recommendable'. It's notably better than than the James McArthur 12yo I tasted a few years ago but I still feel my 45 Euro's could have been spent more wisely. Ordinarily, it would have reached my middle shelf with this score, but there's just too much good stuff in my collection right now. As a result, the Allt-A-Bhainne is condemned to my bottom shelf - at least for now.

Finally, I opened the Aberfeldy 1978/1996 (59.3%, Scott's Selection, matured in oak casks). A younger Ultimate bottling I tasted last year didn't manage to overly impress me - 70 points is nothing to get too excited about. This version comes in a very nice 'leather' box, is very light in colour and produced a very good 'plop' when I opened it. Nose: Wow! Powerful. Lots of fruit, lots of perspective. Fruit cake? Slightly dusty. Complex with more sour/vegetable notes after time. Strangely enough, some water seemed to dim the nose a little. Taste: Sweet when sampled by the drop. Overwhelming with bigger sips. Fresher with water, but the sweetness remains dominant in the finish. Chewy. Intriguing development in the mouth, lasting very long. Conclusion: 83 points. Analysis: Bloody decent stuff! I look further to investigating this one further in the future. Back when my shelf was overpopulated with the cheapest malts I could find 83 points would have earned it a position on my top shelf. In these days of plenty it moves to my middle shelf, pushing the Oban 14 to my bottom shelf. OK, that takes care of the planned part of the evening. I poured my first dram of Aberlour in 2002 (the exceptional Aberlour A'bunadh) and started to figure out where tonight's exploits have left me as far as 'Scotland By Dram' and the '2nd Chance Challenge' are concerned.

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Shorthand Still Reviews (A)

Let's see which distilleries I can cross off my list;

Aberfeldy (Midlands) - I've sampled a younger bottling last year (Ultimate 9yo 1991; see log entry #88) and tonight's tasting takes care of the 'second opinion'. And let me tell you that opinion has improved considerably. The 1978 CS version is much better than the Ultimate. So much better in fact, that I was tempted to raise the still score from a measly 2 stars to 4 'Highly Recommendable' stars. After careful consideration I concluded that a malt of this age and strength (and price, I might add) should perform well. Four stars should be reserved for serious overachievers. That being said, another good Aberfeldy bottling could earn it 4 stars.
Still Score: ***

Aberlour (Speyside) - The dram of Aberlour A'bunadh I'm enjoying while I write this takes care of my obligations as far as the 'Scotland by Dram' project is concerned. And since I've sampled several consecutive bottlings of the 10yo in the past as well I can forget about Aberlour when it comes to second chances. Bottlings of the 10 varied between 77 and 80 points and the A'bunadh (no batch number) scores 89 points - reason enough to generously award 4 stars to Aberlour. With 5 other versions in my reserve stock I'll have plenty of time to find out if all bottlings live up to the same standards. Lucky me!
Still Score: ****

Allt-A-Bhainne (Speyside) - After a few unremarkable tastings with a James McArthur Allt-A-Bhainne 12yo back in 1997 (70 points; see log entry #2) I've tried my 'second opinion' version tonight. My opinion has improved a little, but not enough to lift it to 4-star status. Good, but nothing to go too crazy about.
Still Score: ***

Ardbeg (Islay) - Located on the Hebridean Isle of Islay and established in 1815. Apart from the two versions I sampled this morning I've 'officially' sampled two other bottlings so far. These Ardbegs scored remarkably well, and so did the many other versions I've tasted 'unofficially'. Islay is my favourite island in the whole wide world and Ardbeg is one of my three favourite Islay distilleries - the other ones being Lagavulin and Laphroaig.)
Still Score: *****

OK - four 'A' distilleries down, five more to go; Ardmore (Speyside), Arran (Isle of Arran), Auchentoshan (Lowlands), Auchroisk / Singleton (Speyside) and Aultmore (Speyside). The bottle of Arran I emptied tonight was the first one I ever tried, so I'll need to sample another version later for the Second Chance Challenge. The same goes for the Aultmore. Ardmore, Auchentoshan and Auchroisk need a second chance as well.

Status Scotland by Dram / Second Chance Challenge: Only [83/48] distilleries left to 'visit'.

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mAddendum 101A - 'Bottomline Ban'

My malt madness may have calmed down a bit, but I still need some kind of system to prevent me from bankrupting myself on liquor in 2002. As I've learnt the hard way, a complete 'Big Ban' doesn't work very well for me. During the ban that lasted for 7 months (see log entry #98 for details) the purchase-pressure kept building and building, resulting in a highly combustable situation. Unavoidably, things finally exploded into major malt madness mayhem. When the smoke cleared up a few days later, I found myself 32 bottles richer and a few thousand Euro's poorer. That's why I've come up with a cunning new mechanism; the 'Bottomline Ban'. Sounds cool, eh? But what does it mean? Bottom line: the number of unopened bottles in my reserve stock on 31/12/2002 should not exceed 100. With a grand total of 125 unopened bottles right now and a small shipment coming in from Hamburg in a few weeks that seems doable, provided I show the utmost restraint in picking up new bottles.
 

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Log Entry # 102 - January 19, 2002
Topic:  The Return of the Germaniacs

German correspondent Klaus and his malt buddy Michael visited my humble abode twice before and returned for another session tonight. They muled over a shipment of 13 new single malts from Weinquelle in Hamburg, which made them extra welcome. I'll get back to the new additions to my reserve stock later on; first I'd like to tell you about the events that took place at the 'Amsterdam Ardbeggeddon Reprise'. Halfway through our first dram, Arthur from the whisky site joined us. Like Michael, he was reluctant to translate his impressions into ratings at first. Fortunately, Klaus and I (with weight and experience on our side) managed to persuade them. Here's a 'by the numbers' review of tonight's events.

1 - Macallan 18yo 1982 (43%, OB)
Why? - We hadn't eaten yet and we needed to synchronize our noses. It may seem strange, but I've discovered that the Macallan 18 makes a very nice aperitif.
Nose: Woody and fruity - especially raisins. Klaus thought it was oily and smooth with raisins and other 'dark fruits'. I suspect when Klaus says 'dark fruits' he means roughly the same as what I mean by 'late summer fruits'. They are the sweeter, heavier types of fruit (peaches, apricots, nectarines, ripe cherries, etc.) - as opposed to the fresher 'early fruits' (apple, grapes, blueberries, etc.) that have more obvious sour notes. Klaus mentioned 'alcohol-marinated figs' as one of his impressions, and I immediately found a faint resemblance to Southern Comfort liqueur, which is made by soaking fruit in alcohol for six months. Michael found sandalwood in the nose, along with sherry and  fruit. He mentioned 'johannesbeeren' - I don't know the English word for them.
Taste: Sherry. Raisins again. This time the peppermint freshness seemed more in the front than before. Michael noticed apricots and thought it was a bit salt and bitter in the finish.

Pointy conclusions:
Klaus: 92. My first Mac 18. Good aperitif; same score as Mac 12 for now.
Michael: 90. The colour is not as 'red' as 10yo Cask Strength.
Arthur: 90. Soft in nose and taste. First dram is always hard.
Johannes: 89.  I'd happily give it 90 points instead, but it's not quite as good as the 1976 I sampled about three years ago (score 90 points).

2 - Pittyvaich 18yo 1976/1995 (43%, Signatory Vintage)
Why? - Klaus and Michael were feeling a bit hungry after a 5-hour drive, so we had ordered some Chinese food to be delivered. To busy ourselves why we waited we decided to have another malt - a 'softer' one this time to spare our palates. I fiendishly manipulated Michael into picking the bottle from my bottom shelf, so I couldn't be held accountable for the mixed results I expected for this malt.
Nose: Very soft indeed. Restrained is a better word. Almost odourless.
After a few minutes it improves, but just a little.
Klaus detected chemical fruits, like in Haribo gummybears.
Taste: Flat and dry. A little malty. Arthur found it a short experience.
No sweetness. Not much character; could have passed for a Lowlander.

Conclusions:
Klaus: 76. Fresh. Chemical fruitiness. Over much too soon.
Michael: 60. Like a blend, mixed with a few tablespoons of sugar.
Arthur: 55. Anaesthetizing in the mouth, like Turkish whisky.
Johannes: 69. A few months ago it still scored 73 points, but oxidation seems to have wiped out some of the more subtle citrus and smoke nuances completely.

Before we had finished our glasses the food arrived.
We took a break from malts and enjoyed a nice meal and even nicer conversation.
After half an hour our bellies were full and our glasses empty - time to resume the tasting.

3 - Dallas Dhu 10yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail)
Why? - This is a rare bottle that I've saved especially because I thought they hadn't tried it before. As it turned out, they had. Never mind... Nose: Apples and citrus, with oriental spices. Klaus mentioned pears and other fresh fruits, while Michael described it as sweet, fresh and fruity. Arthur thought the nose was rather sharp and found pepper and orange. Taste: Malty and sherried with fruity (apple?) overtones. Intruiging sweetness; after Michael mentioned honey I noticed it as well - dark, refined flower honey. Klaus found fruit (pears) and a hint of caramel. Arthur noticed pepper.

Conclusions:
Klaus: 80. Pungent at first, much softer later.
Michael: 78. Sweet, malty nose with honey and clove.
Arthur: 75. After some breathing, you really have to work to smell it.
Johannes: 79 . A 'classic' malt - very decent but nothing spectacular.

4 - Highland Park 12yo 1988/2001 (43%, Ultimate)
Why? - None of my guests had tried it before and Klaus thought a different perspective on this distillery would be interesting. I agreed. Nose: Seemed oilier than the OB. Malty. Bitter chocolate. Some sherry. Vanilla. Opened up after 5 minutes with sweeter and organic notes. Taste: Seems to improve after a while in the glass. Chocolate and some sherry. Gritty with some salt in the finish.

Conclusions:
Klaus: 81. Woody. Vanilla & sherry.
Michael: 83. A lot of sherry.
Arthur: 78. Sherry & black chocolate.
Johannes: 81. Not as sweet and malty as the 12yo OB. It seemed considerably less sherried than the 12yo OB to me, but my guests all found lots of sherry. Well, I wasn't having a very good nose day anyway so they were probably right.

And this is where things got REALLY interesting. We decided to do a H2H2H (a Head-to-Head-to-Head-tasting) with three different versions of Caol Ila. All contenders were distilled in 1989, but after that they got treated very differently. On the table before us were:

5 - Caol Ila 1989/1999 (43%, Mackillops Choice)
6 - Caol Ila 11yo 1989/2001 (46%, Signatory Vintage, Sherry Butt)
7 - Caol Ila 12yo 1989/2001 (46%, Signatory Vintage, Bourbon Barrels)

The Mackillops Choice bottling (bottle no. 71 from cask no. 1804) was muled over by Klaus and Michael last year. Klaus was crazy about it and convinced me to purchase a bottle as well. It has been hiding in my reserve stock for a long time but I finally opened it a few weeks ago to find out if I wanted to order a spare bottle. It scored 85 points on its opening night, enough to make it to my latest shopping list.
The Signatory Vintage bottlings were both part of a new range of unchillfiltered malts bottled at 46%. The packaging is very nice; the bottles with simple (yet informative) labels come in attractive silver tubes. Malt 6 (bottle 643 of 868) was distilled on 18/12/1989, matured in re-fill Sherry Butt no. 5377 and bottled on 30/06/2001. Malt 7 (bottle 364 of 654) was distilled on 22/02/1989, matured in Bourbon Barrels no. 774 and 775 and bottled on 30/05/2001.

You may have noticed that the bottlers have managed to extract 868 bottles from a single sherry cask, while they needed two bourbon barrels to fill just 654 bottles. This isn't too surprising when you know that the average sherry cask is much larger than the average bourbon barrel. As a result, the sherry-matured Caol Ila is a single cask bottling, while the other one isn't.

OK, let's get back to the tasting notes.
Why? - Klaus and Arthur are huge Caol Ila fans.
Nose: All malts showed some chloride after some breathing. [5] seemed very dusty but had much more nose than the Signatory Vintages at first. Peat and sawdust. Slightly medicinal. Klaus felt that the freshness he liked so much in his bottle was missing. [6] seemed much softer and sweeter than the other two. [7] opened up after a minute; it's sweeter than [5] and more balanced as well - Arthur agreed. Citrus? It also has the cleanest nose of the three; 'the most delicate and refined', in Arthur's words.
Taste: [5] was dusty in the taste as well, at least in the start. After a few seconds, the Islay character works itself to the foreground. Peat and something fishy, followed by a long, salty finish. [7] had pepper on the palate and showed more peat than [6]. The finish was a lot drier than that of the sherry-matured version as well.

Pointy conclusions:
Klaus:        5 = 90; 6 = 80; 7 = 90
Michael:     5 = 83; 6 = 75; 7 = 90
Arthur:       5 = 88; 6 = 80; 7 = 94
Johannes:   5 = 85; 6 = 82; 7 = 84

This tasting was a tough one. For one thing, the bottles were freshly opened. Some bottles change considerably after they are opened, especially in the first few weeks. This means my conclusions are preliminary to some extent. And there's another complicating factor. I used to prefer the heavily sherried Islays (Lagavulin 16, for example) over the 'bourbon' style, but lately I've come to appreciate the latter more - the more 'transparant' bourbon character is really growing on me. Especially in this comparison, the sherry finished version fell a bit short. At first there are not many differences in the nose, but after 10 minutes the bourbon version wins. The taste is better as well. They used a re-fill sherry cask; maybe it was a 'tired' second- or third-fill cask - I imagine a first-fill bottling would have performed much better.

Around 22:00 PM Arthur had to leave for another venue. He was travelling by bicycle and had to ride for more than 10 kilometres to reach the centre of Amsterdam. It was rather cold, so Klaus, Michael and I were glad we could stay indoors. We decided to express our solidarity with a dram of...

8 - Laphroaig 15yo 1985/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
Why? - We felt ready for the 'heavy hitters'. This bottling (distilled February 1985, bottled October 2000 in a range of 318 bottles) should be heavy enough...
Nose: Klaus asked if I had marinated my old socks in the bottle. No, I didn't. To me, it seemed fine actually. Very fine! Quite fruity at first, opening up into a wide range of fragrances. Wonderful complexity. Something farmy. Chocolate and peat. Sauerkraut? Klaus was quite disappointed, though; he claimed this bottle was very different from the one he sampled (and thoroughly enjoyed) before.
Taste: A big burn. Plenty of peat develops in a wonderful chocolate centre. Salty. Slightly dry in the finish. Michael found too much sweetness after the Caol Ila's, but I can't say I agree. I have to admit it's less 'extreme' than the 10yo OB versions.

Conclusions:
Klaus: 83. A rating 'from the belly'. Big difference with previous bottle.
Michael: 88. Too much sweetness; the 10yo OB is better.
Johannes: 89. Very different from the OB's, but a fabulous malt.
After a short break, we proceeded with the...

9 - Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 (63.8%, UDRM)
Why? - I had especially saved the nearly empty bottle because Klaus had a bad nose day during his last visit, when we opened the bottle. That was in January 2001. Because it's such a smashing malt, the bottle was nearly empty by August. This means the bottle has been standing around (nearly empty) for almost 6 months. I feared the worst, because most malts tend to loose some of their 'spirit' under these conditions.
Nose: At first, we all felt the malt had 'deproved' a little. It was powerful and a little flowery. After a minute, Michael declared his 'undiluted' score of 90 points. But then the whisky started to improve, and it kept on doing so, especially after some dilution. Complex and harmonious, with fruit (apricots and citrus), wood (oak) and a hint of smoke. An adventure in your glass!
Taste: Some sherry. Toffee sweetness. Smoke and peat. Drier after 10 minutes, with notably less sherry. This malt is simply amazing - perfectly drinkable at any strength. I usually don't like my whiskies diluted below 40%, but this baby could stand it. Michael found a lot of similarities with Macallan at first; later there was more malty sweetness with caramel, coffee and chocolate.

Conclusions:
Klaus: 90. Nice & interesting. Like a beautiful lady that has all the classical beauty elements but no sex appeal. (Klaus was getting all poetical on us...)
Michael: 94. Raised from an initial score of 90 points.
Johannes: 95. Yeah, that's right! My all-time number one, Lagavulin 16, has finally been pushed from the pole position of my Best-to-Worst list. The St. Magdalene needed a little more time than before to reach its zenith, but when it got there it delivered in spades. The prolonged breathing period hasn't damaged the malt one bit. If anything, it has evolved into an even more stellar malt. The initial score of 93 points doesn't do it justice and it deserves an extra point for endurance.

OK - on to the next top shelf malt... (You may notice the notes will become increasingly sketchy...)

10 - Springbank 21yo (46%, OB)
Why? - Klaus and Michael hadn't tried it before.
Nose: Fruit and wood. Sherry sweetness. Klaus and Michael made the observation that it was very similar to the Macallan 18. That's something I hadn't noticed before, but looking at the tasting notes it seems they can't be far off - Sherry, fruit and wood are the defining elements of Macallan as well.
Taste: Great stuff. The primary impression is wood. Klaus found mint.

Conclusions:
Klaus: 92. Honey? A similar rating to the Macallan 18yo
Michael: 90. Maybe even 91. A woody 'afternose' like Macallan.
Johannes: 88. One point more than my previous score.

11 - Port Ellen 18yo 1981 (43%, McGibbons Provenance)
Why? - This winter distillation is another malt my guests never tried before.
Nose: Clean. Chalky, salty aroma. Some sherry as well.
Some wood and some smoke. Hm? Where's the peat?
Taste: Ah, there it is! Peaty and sweet, with a fresh explosion.
Klaus and Michael seemed more enthusiastic about the taste than me.

Conclusions:
Klaus: 91. This rating might be influenced by the rarity of PE.
Michael: 89. No further comments.
Johannes: 84. A very good malt, but not spectacular.

12 - Aberlour A'bunadh (59.6%, OB, no batch number)
Why? - Because it's a bloody great dram, basically.Nose: Sherry and fruit. Turkish delight. Lots of power. Klaus found sherry, raisins and sandalwood. Michael thought it was very fruity with peaches and dried apricots. Taste: Heavy fruit. Very sherried, but not unpleasantly so. Michael described the taste as 'fruity sweetness', Klaus as 'sherry sweetness' - I agree with both.

Conclusions:
Klaus: 85. Too evasive for a higher rating.
Michael: 86. Hrmmm. Not bad at all.
Johannes: 89. An extra point, compared to my last tasting. It's a heavily sherried cask strength malt, almost as good as the Macallan 10 100 Proof.

Finally, we arrived at the last documented tasting of the evening, an intriguing H2H sampling of two 'official' Glendronachs;
13 - Glendronach 12yo 'Traditional' (43%, OB)
14 - Glendronach 15yo '100% Sherry' (40%, OB)
Why? - We felt like it. Nose: Both have lots of sherry, but's a very different kind of sherry. I like the difference, but Michael disliked the 12 in particular. He described it as 'really wrong'. I detected smoke and some tobacco in both, but not much more at this point. Taste: This is where I stopped making notes...

Conclusions:
Klaus: 12yo = 65; 15yo = 84.
Michael: 12yo = 76; 15yo = 85.
Johannes: 12yo = 80; 15yo = 86.

Hurray! - 14 malts down... We matched the number of drams from Davin's latest visit. Making notes after 14 drams would be a little bit pointless, but the tasting didn't stop there. Quite the contrary - while Klaus and Michael explained to me how to play 'Diablo II - Lord of Destruction' on-line (great fun!) we sampled a lot of other malts as well. At this point, our choices started to diverge but I tasted:
- Dailuaine 16yo (43%, Flora & Fauna)
- Glenrothes 8yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail)
- Glenmorangie Madeira (43%, OB)
- Royal Brackla 20yo 1978 (59.8%, UDRM)
- Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB)
- Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength (57.3%, OB)

At the start of the evening Klaus and I had to use all our persuasive powers to get Michael to declare scores for the malts, but at the end there was no stopping him. Long after Klaus and I had given up all our ambitions for serious sampling and restricted our comments to 'nice' and 'very nice', Michael kept on rating. After every dram, his face got a puzzled expression that lasted for a while. Then it would open up in a broad 'Eureka' smile while he delivered a rating - not unlike a midwife delivering a baby.

My malt-o-meter stood at 20 by the time we got to sleep. This was an evening well spent; I'll worry about the status of 'Scotland by Dram' and the 'Second Chance Challenge' later. See my added note for the details of the loot Klaus muled over.

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mAddendum 102A - First Shoppings for 2002

I've made some calculations and I figured my wallet could stand another shopping spree. Klaus was kind enough to bring over some 'pleasantly prized picks' from Weinquelle in Germany. The Euro has finally arrived, so it was the first time we didn't have to worry about exchanging Deutschmarks for Guilders and vice-versa. My shopping list looked like this:

Aberlour A'bunadh Batch No. 6 (59,6%, OB, 70cl)  € 58.30
Auchroisk 1989/2001 (43%, Macleod Chieftain's Port Finish, 70cl)  € 32.95
Bunnahabhain 1989/2001 (43%, Macleod Chieftain's Sherry Finish, 70cl)  € 38.10
Caol Ila 1990/2001 (43%, Macleod Chieftain's Rum Finish, 70cl)  € 36.30
Caol Ila 1989/1999 (43%, Mackillop's Choice, 70cl)  € 38.35
Fuaran Ile (Lagavulin) 1991/2000 (46%, Macleod, 70cl)  € 35.50
Glenfarclas 1983/2001 Family Reserve Edition No. 4 (46%, OB, 70cl)  € 44.75
Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength (57,3%, OB, 100cl)  € 50.65
Macallan 15yo 1984 (40%, OB, 70cl)  € 54.00=
Macallan 10yo Cask Strength (58,8%, OB, 100cl)  € 48.50  (2x)
Tomintoul 14yo (43%, OB, 33cl)  € 15.50
Ye Monks NAS. (43%, Blend, 75cl)  € 12.50

Ooh, boy. I'm a happy camper! Thirteen bottles richer and a little over 500 Euro's poorer.
This will be my last big purchase for quite a while; I don't want to jeopardize my 'Bottom Line Ban'.

 

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Log Entry # 103 - February 16, 2002
Topic:  Speyside Siblings

Last week my brother Franc and I visited France for some serious skiing and some far less serious writing for our e-zine 'Weird Planet Magazine'. (I cunningly planned my 'retraite' in Val d'Isere to avoid the festivities around the Dutch royal wedding and my own birthday...) After an exhausting day of skiing, we kicked back with a good glass to discuss assorted topics. Those 'good glasses' were mostly filled with pastis or absinthe, but we managed to finish two bottles of whisky as well.

The first one was the 'Ye Monks' (40%, blend, distilled by Donald Fisher from Edinburgh) Klaus brought it over from Germany and Franc and I emptied the bottle in France. It's a bit of a curiosity; a 75 cl bottle with some strange kind of plastic anti-alcoholics device installed in the neck of the bottle. It took several minutes to fill a glass! The label claims it's 'a curious old whisky'. Well, it wasn't so 'curious' after all - a pretty standard blend with hints of smoke and citrus in the malty nose at first. Opens up after a while, becoming quite expressive for a blend. The taste is soft and quite sweet. Faint fruit. Slightly grainy on the palate, but not bad at all. Good, solid centre. Salty finish. Sal-ammoniac? 'El Monje' receives 51 points; it has a high 'Instant Re-fill Factor'.

We picked up the Glen Turner 8yo Special Reserve in France. I've misplaced my notes, but if memory serves it's a vatted malt bottled especially for the French market. It performed rather well and Franc and I assigned scores in the lower 60's. (I'll add my tasting notes if and when I find them.)

OK - On to the actual topic of this log entry.
Tonight, Franc came over to finish some writing and some bottles. During last month's 'Germaniacs' session we opened 2 Caol Ila's without properly making room on the shelves. One of the little chores I've planned for tonight is restoring law and order in my collection. To make room for the new arrivals, two bottles have to go.

After careful deliberation, we chose the two official bottlings of Glendronach in my collection. Last month's H2H-tasting of Glendronach 12yo 'Traditional' (43%, OB, 70cl) and Glendronach 15yo '100% Sherry' (40%, OB, 100cl) produced some interesting results, so I wanted to repeat the experiment. The cork of the 15 started to fall apart, so it's a good thing the bottle will be emptied tonight.
Nose: Both have lots of sherry in the nose; but they are very different kinds of sherry.  The 12 smells more like the actual sherry's I've tasted (mostly cheap ones like Sandeman), while the style of the 15 is quite similar to other malts that are usually described as 'heavily sherried' - Macallan and Aberlour OB's for example. The 12 showed some soy sauce and seemed very dry, while the 15 had more wood and burnt caramel. It was slightly sweeter as well, but only because the 12 had no sweetness at all - at least not at first. Franc described the 12 as 'nicely balanced', although he found the nose too dusty. The same with the 15; even more so. The nose of the 15 has more stamina and seems more 'alcoholic', although it actually has a lower alcohol percentage.
Taste: Both are very good. The 12 had some distinctly sherryish elements on the palate as well. Dry with a menthol freshness. It seems much sweeter than the 15, because the woody, tannin-rich character of the 15 pushes the sweeter elements aside. Franc felt that the Glendronach 15 showed a lot of similarities with the Macallan 12, although it lacks most of the sweetness. After adding some water I noticed a distinct tobacco flavour in the 15 while the 12 showed more citrus and toffee sweetness.

Conclusions:
F: 'Dronach 12yo = 79, 'Dronach 15yo = 82
J: 'Dronach 12yo = 80, 'Dronach 15yo = 86

As far as I'm concerned there's no reason to change my ratings. Both are very enjoyable malts that offer good value, but the 15 has considerably more depth and stamina, even with big chunks of cork in it. Still, it amazes me that the nose of the malt that has been partly aged in bourbon casks smells more like actual sherry to me than the version that has matured for 3 more years, exclusively in sherry casks. Maybe I simply haven't sampled enough sherries to make an informed judgement. I vaguely remember some sherry tastings with rare and exclusive sherries that seemed to go more into the direction of the Glendronach 15, but I'm just not sure.

After a generous re-fill of our glasses, both bottles were empty. Two more victims of my malt madness, I guess. On the bright side, this gave me the opportunity to move the new Caol Ila's to my top shelf. This means the F&F Benrinnes 15 is ((temporarily?)?) 'demoted' to my middle shelf - another indication that the average quality of the bottles on my shelves is steadily improving. Maybe I'm finally learning how to liquidise my assets efficiently and effectively...

The night was still young, so we went for another H2H: The bottle of Longmorn Glenlivet 12yo (40%, G&M, 70cl) on my middle shelf had only two drams left in it, so replacing it with the fresh Longmorn 15yo (45%, OB, 100cl) from my reserve stock would give us a chance to compare two other Speyside siblings in their teens.
Nose: At first sight, the 12 seemed oilier while the 15 was more spirity. No wonder, considering it's bottled at 45% while the G&M comes in at just 40%. Probably considerably less actually, because the cheap tin cap of this bottle had been damaged and a lot of illegal breathing has been going on. The 12 became quite soapy after 5 minutes - not very pleasant. The 15 showed more late fruits and citrus after a while.
Taste: The 12 started quite flat with a peppery undertone on the palate. A light maltiness after a while. Almost watery. Not the 15, though... A big burn with lots of development. A deep, satisfying sweetness. Boy, we have a winner! The 15 is a very good, well-balanced single malt. I can't really say the same about the 12 - I might even have to decrease the score.

Conclusions:
F: Longmorn 12yo = 77, Longmorn 15yo = 83
J: Longmorn 12yo = 78, Longmorn 15yo = 82

The rating for the last few drams of Longmorn Glenlivet 12yo was considerably lower than the 82/83 it scored when I first 'opened' the bottle on December 1 2001. I blame excessive evaporation for its quick deterioration. I won't change the final rating of 80 points, though - it's a nice rating in the middle of the score-bandwidth. The Longmorn 15 replaced the Longmorn 12 on my middle shelf, after which we embarked on a game of chess that quickly became so exciting that I forgot to take notes for the rest of the evening.
So - that's it for the report on this particular session.
 

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Log Entry # 104 - February 23, 2002
Topic:  Tomintoul 14 Bypass

One of the bottles the Germaniacs brought over from Hamburg last month was a small bottle of Tomintoul 14yo (43%, OB, 33.33cl). The design of the label is very similar to the 10yo I tried last year. It looked so vulnerable and helpless between all the big bottles that I decided to take affirmative action - I opened and emptied the bottle in a special 3-week 'bypass operation', avoiding the hassles that come with passing a bottle through my shelf system.

Tonight, I decided to finish the last 3 to 4 drams in the bottle.
Nose: Clean sherryish start; more sherried than younger versions.
After a while, it opens up to smoke and faint citrus notes.
More powerful after time. Pleasant, but unremarkable.
Taste: Slightly sparkly start, followed by a slightly sweetish centre.
Strange. Malty. Dry, almost peppery burn. A lot of bitterness in the finish.
Claims the back of your throat for quite a while. Unbalanced.
Conclusion: 69 points.
Analysis: A decent nose, but the taste seems a bit off.
I have to admit I liked the younger bottlings (10yo and 12yo) much better.

Hmmm - now what?
I figured a log entry with notes on just one malt - especially one scoring 69 points - might appear a bit flimsy to the unsuspecting reader of this log, so I decided to rummage around my shelves to find some other victims for my alcohol abuse. I finally went for another malt that's 14 years old, the Oban 14yo (43%, OB).
Nose: Spicy with a gentle but thoughtful sweetness. Is that sherry? Prunus leaves?.
Slightly stingy. Develops and opens up over time. Whiff of nutmeg? Salt peanuts?
Taste: . Some sherry. Smooth and reasonably sweet at first, but drops off after 10 seconds.
Rough, and it becomes harsher. The soft salty finish I remember from before seems bitter now.
Rubber? Nah - this is definitely not as good as my first bottle I sampled almost a decade ago.
Score: 77 points. I'm not too happy about it this time around.
Analysis: The nose is quite entertaining (especially if you give it ten or fifteen minutes), but the taste didn't tickle my fancy. Still - slightly - above average, mind you.

Hmm - and I figured I might as well finish with the 5cl miniature of Glen Scotia 14yo (40%, OB) Geertjan Uytenboogert sent me. He though this particular bottling was much better than previous batches and wanted to hear my opinion about it. Well, of course, I'm glad to help out - especially if it means free drinking...
Nose: Hmmm. Sweetish with faint whiffs of paint. Furniture wax? There seems to be a sticky 'surface' over some familiar elements I've found in other bottlings; flowers, salt and a hint of peat. Spicy. The 'clingfilm' dampens those familiar aroma's. Could it be that they've used more sherry casks for this vatting? It opens up over time - it grows more transparent, allowing lighter, fruity notes to come forward.
The taste was very, very nutty at first. Not too interesting in the center but it had a sweet and fruity finish, something you don't find in a lot of malts. It slowly drifts away, becoming drier and more 'oriental'.
Wonderful - it reminded me of Laphroaig 15yo and Bowmore 17yo at times.
Conclusion: Well, Geertjan might be right here. I guess I would give this batch 86 points.
Analysis: Top totty.

Fourteen years can be a difficult age.
Two of these adolescents (Tomintoul and Oban) seemed slightly unstable and not sure about the way they want to go in life. Some malts with exceptionally strong genes might reach maturity at such a pubescent age (I'm talking about Islay malts here), but Highlanders like Oban and Tomintoul clearly need some more time to develop. The Glen Scotia was quite another story. I always liked this malt (84 points), but I agree with Gertjan this particular batch seems exceptionally excellent. The development over time is wonderful.

I have to admit I'm not to sure about tonight's findings when it comes to the Oban and Glen Scotia. I emptied quite a few glasses of the Tomintoul before I got around to them an was focussing on a new article for Malt Maniacs during the tasting. I won't consider them 'officially sampled' and get back to them in the future.

So, where does that put me in the 'Scotland by Dram' project? Let's see...
Status Scotland by Dram / Second Chance Challenge:
Only [71/48] distilleries left. (See the mAddendum for details.)

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mAddendum 104A - Status Review 'Scotland by Dram'

Ah - All my great plans to go about this systematically (read: alphabetically) were thwarted last month when Klaus and Michael lured me into a lengthy detour across a dozen different distilleries. Since I last checked, I could cross 12 more active distilleries off my 'Scotland by Dram' list;

- Caol Ila
- Dailuaine
- Glendronach
- Glenmorangie
- Glenrothes
- Highland Park
- Laphroaig
- Longmorn
- Macallan
- Springbank
- Talisker
- Tomintoul

All these distilleries are relatively familiar; I've tasted at least two different bottlings from each one. That means they are not on the list of my 'Second Chances Challenge'. I'll try to get back to my 'organized' A-Z system in the future, so I'll publish my shorthand distillery reviews when I get there - alphabetically speaking.
 

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Log Entry # 105 - March 2, 2002
Topic:  Sampling Session 'Serge Style'

I've got some big events planned for the near future; events that will have a notable impact on my collection.
First of all, there's the upcoming Lagavulin Extravaganza. One of the side-effects will be the removal of the two Lagavulins (16 OB and 14 MurMac) from my top shelf. And then there's the March JOLT where I will open five new bottles from one single distillery; Aberlour. All these fresh bottles will need a spot on my shelves, so it's time to make some room. I'll spare you the mathematical details, but the bottom line is that I have to remove two bottles from my shelves to prepare for this month's events.

I went for two bottles that were almost empty anyway - the Glenmorangie Madeira Wood Finish and the Dalmore 12. And there's a good reason they're almost empty; both are highly accessible single malts that can be enjoyed during all seasons and under all circumstances. At the same time, they offer enough intriguing details to keep the demanding malt maniac satisfied. Especially the Dalmore 12 has a high 'Instant Refill' factor - I opened the bottle only four months ago.

Time to say goodbye - after I've made some closing notes.
I've tried to make tonight's notes a little more festive by adding some 'analogies' to them. French correspondent Serge Valentin introduced this concept in his first E-Report where he likened the malts he tasted to a person, a wine and a car. I think that it's a wonderful concept - you can communicate something more about the way a malt 'feels' to you. But I know diddly squat about wine and I don't have a big thing for cars. So I decided to express myself a little differently tonight, using a person, a cigar and a piece of music. (Mind you: I'm no advocate of smoking cigars during a tasting - only after!)

The Glenmorangie Madeira Wood Finish (43%, OB, 100cl, bottled +/- 1998) was one of the better incarnations I've tried. The variations between different batches of the Glenmorangie special finish range can be considerable. This litre bottling scored an average of 83 points at previous tastings - an enjoyable malt with a special wood finish that offers an interesting new perspective on the way single malts 'should' taste.
Nose: Fruity. Oriental spices & smoke. Coffee beans? Nuttier after a while.
It seems to have lost some power over the last few months.
Taste: 'Winey' and alcoholic. Apple? Tannin dryness. Memories of port.
Malty. Wood. Not as sweet and fruity as before. A long, sustained burn.
Smoky, woody finish. Resin? Very different from most 'mainstream' malts.
Conclusion: 83 points. Good stuff, although it seems slightly over the hill, especially in the nose. This isn't surprising because the bottle has been more than 3/4 empty for almost a year now. I figure a bottle of whisky should be allowed to take it easy when it gets older (especially after a year), so there's no reason to adjust the score.

Person:  Vincent Van Gogh
Cigar:  Partagas Mille Fleurs
Music:  'Lacrimosa' from Wolfgang A. Mozart's 'Requiem'

The Dalmore 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl, bottled +/- 2001), on the other hand, still delivered in spades the last time I tried it. The Dalmore isn't quite as characteristic as the Glenmorangie Madeira, but it's one of the best all-round malts I know in the 'highly affordable' price bracket. A litre goes for +/- 30 Euro's here in Holland.
Nose: A much more 'traditional' aroma than the Glenmorangie.
Smooth and sweet; fruity. Hint of smoke. Very accessible.
Taste: Very fruity. Malty. Sweet. Slightly gritty towards the finish. I can see nothing wrong with this malt, but there's little to get very excited about either.
The rating for this version stands at 80 points. A bottling I've sampled years ago (bottled +/- 1993) scored the same, which indicates that the master blender seems to know what he is doing.
A very decent malt for a very decent price.

Person:  Winston Churchill
Cigar:  Pimentel Muritiba
Music:  'Sonate Arpeggione' by Franz Shubert

Hmmm - the clock said 22:30 when I had taken care of my 'shelf management' duties. I wasn't tired yet, so I shifted my attention to two miniatures that ended up in my collection 6 months ago when I broke my 'Big Ban'.

I started with the Glenturret 12yo (40%, OB, 5cl, bottled +/- 2000). Tastings of a big bottle about two years ago didn't really excite me that much. The text on the little cardboard box claims Glenturret is the oldest distillery in Scotland. Hmmm...
Nose: Light and slightly fruity. Peppermint? Vegetables.
Oily and a bit perfume-like. More citrus notes after a while.
Taste: Sharp and rather shallow. Devoid of character. A little grainy. Short, dry finish.
Conclusion: My score for the big bottle, 69 points, seems a bit generous in hindsight, but this miniature sampling isn't bad enough to make me lower my score. But you would think that if Glenturret actually is the oldest distillery in Scotland, they would have learned how to produce a proper single malt by now. The box promises 'a whisky of unique quality, generously strong, smooth and mellow with a glorious bouquet.
Well, that's a lot of bollocks! I'd hardly call this 'glorious' or 'strong'.

Person:  Sissy Spacek
Cigar:  Hofnar Bolknak
Music:  Spring Allergro from Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons'

The last malt of the evening was the miniature Highland Park 12yo (40%, OB, 5cl, Bottled +/- 2000). This miniature came in its own tiny round tube. A few months ago, the packaging of HP12 of the big bottles changed to a square box and I suspect they've changed the packaging of the miniatures as well. This means this is an 'old' bottling - although all the other (litre) bottles came in at 43% instead of 40%.
Nose: Oh yeah - that's it, baby. Sweetness, smoke and fruit. Salt.
A vague hint of peat. Very spicy as well - more than I remembered.
Taste: Sweet and slightly smoky, especially later on. Malty. Hint of brine. It seems not quite as powerful as the 'big' HP12, and maybe slightly less smooth. Maybe that's a consequence of the lower proof?
Conclusion: 85 points seems about right.

Person:  Claudia Cardinale
Cigar:  Cohiba Siglo II
Music:  'Berliner Messe' by Arvo Pärt

That's it - I'm full... I can cross Glenturret and Dalmore of my 'Scotland by Dram' list, and this 'new' bottling of the Dalmore 12yo takes care of the 'second chance'. (See my mAddendums for other adventures in maltland.)

Status Scotland by Dram / Second Chance Challenge: Only [69/47] distilleries left.

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mAddendum 105A - Islay Shopping Spree

Shortly after my previous log entry, Ton Overmars managed to lure me to his shop once more with a very special offer; 1 litre of Laphroaig 10 C/S for just 39.95 Euro's! That's more than 10 Euro's off the regular price for a malt that scores 91 points on my personal hitlist. Reason enough to drop by, I thought. Five seconds after I walked into the store I knew I wouldn't be able to leave with just one or two Laphroaig OB's - a couple of irresistible new Islays had just arrived on Ton's shelves. Everything went hazy for a while and when I regained my senses I stood outside with:

Ardbeg 10yo 1991/2001 (46%, Murray McDavid, 70 cl) - 49 Euro's
Ardbeg 1990/2001 (58.4%, Spirit of Scotland, 70 cl) - 54 Euro's
Finlaggan Old Reserve (40%, Bastard Lagavulin, 70cl) - 25 Euro's
Lagavulin 1984 DE (43%, OB, lgv.4/468, 70 cl) - 56 Euro's
Laphroaig 10yo C/S (57.3%, OB, 100 cl) - 40 Euro's (!!!) (2 x)
Laphroaig 13yo 1988/2001 (46%, Murray McDavid, 70 cl) - 46 Euro's
Vintage Islay 5yo (40%, Bastard Lagavulin, 70 cl) - 17 Euro's
Vintage Islay 5yo C/S (58.4%, Bastard Lagavulin, 70 cl) - 25 Euro's

Subconsciously, I'd restricted myself to Islay malts this time.
On my way home, I spotted an intriguing 'new' Islay malt at my neighbourhood Gall & Gall as well; the Ileach Special Reserve (40%, 70 cl, 25 Euro's). Frequent visitors of MM may know that I'm not a big fan of G&G with their inflated prices, but I was willing to leave some money there for the Ileach since no other store seems to carry it. My final purchase of the day (two spare 'Port Ellen' Lagavulin 16's) was made at the strange little neighbourhood supermarket I mentioned before. With all the disturbing rumours that have been going on about Lagavulin 16 it seems like a sound investment at just 32 Euro's a bottle.

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mAddendum 105B - Port Ellen Official Bottling

There's a new bottling in town that everybody's talking about and I just had to have one - even though the price is WAAAY over my budget at +/- 200 Euro's. I'm talking about a rare official bottling of Port Ellen. The Port Ellen 22yo 1979/2001 (56.2%, no. 3942), to be precise. In this case, only 6000 bottles were produced. Even when I discovered that Ton Overmars had secured a few bottles for 'just' 180 Euro's a pop, I couldn't justify buying it - not to my wallet and not to the other bottles in my collection. I've decided on respecting certain price ceilings this year; a soft 50 Euro's limit for the relatively 'average' malts (pardon my French) and a hard 100 Euro's limit for those genuine 'Special Occasion' malts. Buying this Port Ellen would mean breaking yet another one of my own rules.

But that's when I got creative.
I phoned Ton Overmars and let the slumbering salesman inside me loose on him. I told him about the exciting new Malt Maniacs project I was working on and suggested that he might be interested in sponsoring the very first issue. Not with money, of course - that would make things too serious. The best way of sponsoring a site about single malt Scotch whisky is supplying the responsible malt maniacs with more of the stuff. That way, the maniacs can enjoy a few free drams as some small tangible reward for their hard labour in the trenches of the whisky world, while the visitors can enjoy these free drams vicariously through the tasting reports that will be published on the site.

But what whisky to choose? Oh, I don't know... How about that official Port Ellen?
Ton agreed and I'm now the proud owner of my own bottle. Selfish as I am, I've kept the spoils of this first sponsorship deal for myself - but bottles we may be able to acquire from future sponsors will be divided fair and square between the maniacs.

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mAddendum 105C - Loch Dhu 10yo

Those of you who've read the harrowing reports about my previous encounters with the infamous Loch Dhu 10yo may find this hard to believe, but since a week I am the proud owner of another bottle. The Loch Dhu is very probably the worst single malt Scotch whisky ever produced (my personal score: 11 points), but even the mediocrest of malts becomes a sought-after prize as soon as they stop making it. And that's the case with Loch Dhu.

The Mannochmore distillery that produced it finally came to its senses and decided to cease production. The unique 'ashtray' style of Loch Dhu had a few fervent fans, but the general consensus seemed to be that it's not very good - to put it mildly. It's also the whisky that people get most excited about on my 'Public Warnings' page.
It has a certain robustness that demands attention - possibly medical...

So - How did this bottle arrive on my shelves?
Well, the Malt Maniacs team has recently been expanded once more. Serge Valentin from France has joined the team and he told me about a bottle of Loch Dhu he had received for free from a liquorist in Paris. The liquorist probably didn't want to charge any money for it in fear of lawsuits from enraged customers who didn't know what they were ordering. After I admitted my secret passion for Loch Dhu to Serge, he generously offered to send me the bottle - he wasn't planning on ever drinking it anyway.

I gladly accepted... The Loch Dhu 10 redefines the word 'awful'. It is so monumentally bad that it works like a catalyst in my collection - its sheer presence makes all other bottles look (relatively) good. And like I mentioned before it's excellent for making boring guests want to leave your party as soon as possible. No home should be without it... As for the distillery: the UD Rare Malts Mannochmore 22yo 1974 on my middle shelf is actually pretty good, so there's hope for this young distillery yet. It was established in 1971, so perhaps we should look at Loch Dhu as one of those mistakes everybody is entitled to make in youth.
 

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Log Entry # 106 - March 31, 2002
Topic:  Scotland By Dram - Part 2

Over the last three months, I've been neglecting my duties as far as my 'Scotland by Dram' project is concerned. With only 9 months left, I've still got 64 distilleries to 'visit'. I'd better hurry up! To start things off again, I dropped by 'De Still' with the plan to sample drams of Ardmore, Arran and Aultmore. All these distilleries needed a second chance and I had no bottles in my current collection.

I started with the Ardmore 11yo 1990/2001 (46%, Signatory Vintage).
It's a bottling in their relatively new 'unchillfiltered' collection; distilled 31/05/1990, bottled 31/05/2001, Bourbon casks #6360/6361, bottle #57 of 642.
Nose: Restrained. A little spicy, with hints of ripe pears. Balanced. Soft honey and toffee notes.
Taste: Malty. A hint of peat after a while? Smooth. Sweetish in the start, but not in the finish.
Conclusion: 71 points. Analysis: Pleasant, but little character. The bottle on the shelves was nearly empty and had little pieces of cork in it, so the malt may have taken some damage. Whatever the cause, this one didn't perform nearly as well as the 1981/1995 G&M bottling.

Then I asked for an Arran malt.
As it turned out, they had only the 'standard' Arran NAS (43%, OB, Sherry casks) on their shelves. Hmmm, that's a bit of a problem - I already tasted 'the same' version a while ago. Or did I? That bottle was purchased two years ago, which means it had to be produced in 1999 at the latest. Production at Arran did start in 1995 and the first 'standard' bottlings appeared in 1998. This means that my first bottle couldn't have been more than 4 years old. This new bottle at De Still may look the same, but it could very well have been produced two years later. Looking more closely, the code on the back of the label (L9:298:S10 99/15031 14:08) was different from the code on my bottle (L9:243:S10 99:13185 11:00), so I'll treat it as another bottling.
Anyway - How did it perform?
Nose: Oily and spirity. Sweeter and maltier over time. Very (and I mean very) faint hints of peat and smoke.
Taste: Malty and a little bitter. Short finish.
Conclusion: 63 points. It seems slightly smoother than the previous bottling I tried. Analysis: Not a lot of character, but easily drinkable compared to a blend. Should do better in the summer.

My last dram at De Still was the Aultmore 1989/1999 (50%, John Milroy Golden Strength).
Nose: Softly sweet - a little restrained. Fresh, herbal, grassy.
A dash of pepper after a while. More honey after some time & water.
Taste: Piny. Woody, with a malty undercurrent. Some eucalyptus?
Sweet burn in the centre, which softens with some time and water.
Diluted further to +/- 30%, the sweetness switches on and off.
Conclusion: 72 points. Analysis: A decent malt, but I'm glad I didn't buy a big bottle.

Well, That's three suckers on a row!
Bad karma... Maybe a change of scenery will improve things.
After I returned to the comforts of home, I turned my attention to the two remaining 'A' distilleries in Scotland that need a second chance; Auchentoshan and Auchroisk. I pulled the Auchentoshan 'Three Wood' and Singleton of Auchroisk 10yo from my reserve stock.

The Auchentoshan Three Wood (43%, OB) is matured in three different casks; American Bourbon, Spanish Oloroso Sherry and Pedro Ximenez. The bottle has been in my reserve stock for almost two years now; ever since my collection of bottles began to significantly exceed my drinking capacity. I sampled the Auchentoshan 10yo over five years ago and wasn't particularly impressed (68 points). Since then, I've found a few Lowlanders that have significantly improved my opinion about this region; Bladnoch and St. Magdalene.

Now we will find out if my new-found love for Lowlanders includes Auchentoshan.
The colour is much darker than the 10yo - a good sign?
Nose: Sweet, with a hint of smoke. Caramel? Not at all unpleasant, but not very complex either. The sherry takes some time to move to the foreground, but when it does it greatly increases the complexity and fruitiness of the nose. Good development! Much more nose than the 10yo, even though it's triple-distilled as well.
Taste: Sweet and smoky as well, but with a sourish dissonant.
Smooth, but dry and smoky towards the end. Good long finish.
Conclusion: 82 points. Wow! This is pretty good stuff! Analysis: If the objective of triple distillation and triple maturation is to improve the complexity of a malt, it seems they've succeeded brilliantly - at least as far as the nose is concerned. It improves a lot in the glass - I started out with a rating in the mid-70's! This feels a bit like a nice Bowmore Darkest 'Light'. The price of 45 Euro's is a bit steep, though...

Well, that was a very pleasant surprise!
Let's see if the (Singleton of) Auchroisk 10yo (43%, OB, 100cl) will be able to surprise me just as much. Probably not, since the Singleton 1981 I tasted a few years ago was actually pretty decent (score: 80 points). This means my expectations are pretty high.
Nose: Mega-fruity at first. Levels out after a minute, becoming more spirity.
Malty with a hint of sherry. None of the liquorice/aniseed I found in the 1981.
Notable improvement after 5/10 minutes; more subtle sweetness.
Taste: Very alcoholic. Quite sharp. Hint of fruit. Little depth; flat.
Conclusion: 70 points. Analysis: The nose is decent, but the taste is a big disappointment at first.
Let's wait and let it breathe for a while before I try it again.

OK - Three months after I started my 'Scotland by Dram' tour, I finally have visited all the distilleries starting with 'A'. Only 25 more letters to go. Before I get to Shorthand Still Reviews and Still Scores, I had to remove two other bottles from my shelves to make room.
I went for two other 'A' bottles; Aberlour 10yo and Allt A'Bhainne 1989. Both distilleries already had their second chance, so these bottles could be banned from my shelves safely.

The Aberlour 10yo (40.0%, OB, 100 cl, bottled +/- 2001) was opened only last week for the our second Malt Maniacs JOLT (see added note). The event had a significant effect on the contents of my shelves; after the smoke had cleared there were 5 different bottles of Aberlour on my shelves. More than enough, I would think. Time to remove my least favourite from my shelves.
Nose: Malty. Some sherry, but not as sherried as previous bottlings. Fruity. Orange zest? More spicy after a minute. Hint of mint or menthol? Opens up quite nicely, with more citrus (orange) and some toffeeish notes.
Taste: Slightly thin at the start. Malty with a hint of apple pie.
Sweet and smooth. Good mouth feel, with a very decent burn.
Conclusion: 80 points; pretty much the same as last week. Analysis: A good standard malt that offers decent value.

The Allt-A-Bhainne 1989/1999 (50%, John Milroy Millennium Selection, 70cl, oak casks) was opened in January, especially for the 'Scotland by Dram' project. With a score of 78 points, it performed reasonably well, but I'm systematically trying to get rid of 'A' bottles.
Nose: Soft, slightly fruity and a hint of smoke. Some citrus? Rhum-like. Tea with sugar. Oily overtones, but not as oily as on earlier tastings. Grows more complex after 10 minutes. The peat grows stronger with time, but so do the 'alcoholic' notes. The fruitiness becomes more 'chemical'.
Taste: Quite sharp at 50%. Rum? A little fruity. Malty. Powerful, but not very pronounced.
Long, dry finish. A little sweeter with time, with more citrus after adding some water. Faintly oily.
Conclusion: 77 points. I had it pegged for +/- 78 points at first, but that seems a bit generous in hindsight. Analysis: Best enjoyed with water, but just a drop. Given some time, the nose livens up.

Ordinarily, I would have emptied the Aberlour and Allt-A-Bhainne straight away, but now I'll save them for the 'Midsummernight's Dram' Extravaganza in June. (More about that later..)
There's still one thing I'll have to get out of my system; a decent Aberlour A'bunadh H2H. By the end of last week's Aberlour JOLT (see mAddendum 106A) I was so drunk that I somehow switched the glasses during the tasting, so I didn't know which glass was which. Another H2H session of the two is needed.

On the table:
[1] - Aberlour A'bunadh / No Batch # (59.6, OB, 70cl, L320 150 116 15:40)
[2] - Aberlour A'bunadh / Batch #6 (59.9, OB, 70cl, L320 448 354 12:01)
Nose: The [1] shows much more sherry than the [2] at first; [1] is primarily sherried, [2] is primarily malty and nutty (with a dash of cinnamon). [1] is slightly more accessible, partly because the alcoholic, spirity notes of [2] have a tendency to overwhelm the subtler fragrances. The [1] offers a slightly wider perspective as well, especially after some breathing. It shows smoke and fruits, peaches and apricots among other things. [2] grows more sherried over time, but never reaches the extremes of [1], which has slightly more 'staying power' as well. Diluted with 5 drops of water each, the smoke in [1] comes to the foreground, while [2] seems to grow fruitier. Both are a true festival for the nose; [1] is slightly more transparent.
Taste: Undiluted, [1] kicks ass. Sweet and woody with a long, dry burn.
[2] is very fruity, a little woody in the centre and not nearly as sweet as [1].
Both are very sherried. With a few drops of water, [1] shows some menthol over a gritty wooden base while [2] had clear 'Buysman' burnt caramel notes and lots of smoke in the finish.

Conclusion:
[1] - Aberlour A'bunadh / No Batch # = 90 points.
[2] - Aberlour A'bunadh / Batch #6 = 88 points.

Both are smashing malts, only different.
I had the Batch #6 at 89 points first, but it shows a few minor imperfections that nibble away 1 point. The batchless version just performs slightly better on a number of aspects; balance, complexity and staying power mostly. It resembles perfection close enough to warrant a rating of 90 points.
That takes care of all the 'A' distilleries; here are the results:

- - -

Shorthand Still Reviews (A)
(See log entry 110 for reviews of the other 'A' distilleries)

Ardmore (Speyside) - The Ardmore Distillery (established by William Teacher in 1898) lies in Aberdeenshire, in the far Southeast of the Speyside region. In fact, it's so far off the beaten Speyside track that it could be considered a Eastern highland malt. Ardmore malts are an important part of the 'Teacher's' blend I like so much. Official bottlings of Ardmore are rare, but I've managed to taste two independents; the 1981/1995 (40.0%, G&M) and the 1991/2001 (46.0%, SigV).
Still Score: ***

Arran (Arran) - This is one of the youngest distilleries in Scotland; production started in 1995. It's the only distillery on the isle of Arran, to the east of Islay and Campbeltown. The only widely available bottling is a version without an age statement, first released in 1998. I've sampled two incarnations of this bottling; one distilled +/- 1999, one distilled +/- 2001. The bottled spirit should be 5 or 6 years old by now; too young to mess with the big boys.
Still Score: *

Auchentoshan (Lowlands) - The 10yo OB was the first Lowlander I ever tasted and I wasn't particularly impressed. I've waited many years to try another bottling and after sampling the 'Three Wood' I wish I had sooner. Further investigation may be required.
Still Score: ***

Auchroisk / Singleton (Speyside) - Until recently, Singleton (of Auchroisk) bottlings were quite rare in Holland. More and more different versions are becoming available now. The distillery lies just Northeast of the Speyside heartland, not far from Strathisla and Aultmore. It was founded in 1974; the first single malt bottling was released in 1986.
Still Score: ***

Aultmore (Speyside) - The Aultmore (Gaelic for 'big burn') distillery was built in 1896 by Alexander Edward, owner of Benrinnes. It is located a little north of the town Keith, near Strathmill and Strathisla. It's used mainly for the 'Dewar's' blends, but every now and then a single malt bottling appears. With scores of 71 and 72 points for the two versions I've tried, I can't justify awarding this distillery more than 2 points.
Still Score: **

Where does that put us in this year's challenge?
Status Scotland by Dram / Second Chance Challenge: Only [66/42] distilleries left.

- - -

mAddendum 106A  -  Aberlour JOLT

On March 23, 22:00 GMT, the second International Malt Maniacs JOLT (Joint On-Line Tasting) started. It ended many hours (and many drams) later. This time around, we focussed our attention on Aberlour, a Speyside distillery that proved to be something of a hidden gem. The malt maniacs managed to sample more than a dozen different bottlings of Aberlour in a single 'virtual' session. I sampled six different bottles; five of them freshly opened:

I actually had a pretty bad nose day during the JOLT itself, so I'll have to organise a little 'Aberlour Reprise' to investigate further. If I have the time, that is. I'd really like to do a big 'Hopalong H2H' with these malt a.s.a.p., but Aberlour is one of the distilleries I've already crossed off my 'Scotland by Dram' list. I should really be focussing on the 66 distilleries I still have to 'visit' this year.
 

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Log Entry # 107 - April 1, 2002
Topic:  Lessons in Lagavulin

After the wintery Laphroaig JOLT (Check it out!!!), the temperatures have been rising steadily here in Holland. Spring in in the air, everything is turning green and it looks like the Islay season is winding down. Normally, I welcome the warmer weather with open arms, but this year I would have liked winter to hang around for a while longer. Why? Well, I had planned on finishing the winter season with a massive Lagavulin H2H extravaganza. The distillery produces one of the ultimate cold weather malts and I wanted to conduct my experiments under perfect Islay conditions. I usually sample a number of different malts on a single night, but for this exercise I envisioned a much more intensive approach. I had already prepared a tight schedule to open and empty 10 official, independent and bastard bottles of Lagavulin within the course of a month. I imagined concentrating all my tasting efforts on a single distillery for several weeks might produce a few interesting new insights, especially because I would get to sample the bottlings in different combinations and under different weather conditions.

Sadly, my megalomaniac plans were shattered when I slammed into the wall of reality.
About a month ago I was ambushed by a nasty internal infection in my jaw, which made my face swell up to 'Elephant Man' proportions. I was put on a diet of heavy antibiotics and painkillers - a diet that prevented me from consuming even a single drop of alcohol (my personal favourite painkiller). Last week, my doctor finally gave the 'All Systems Go' signal, so I could safely resume my dramming.
But now there's no more wintertime left...

Trying to execute my original plans (emptying 10 bottles) within a week would very probably lead to new health problems, so I decided on a new approach. For tonight's tasting, I will collect all the different Lagavulin bottlings in my reserve stock (except the 1980 and 1984 'Distiller's Edition'), open them and sample them in small quantities alongside the two versions on my top shelf. After I'm done, I'll temporarily remove all these bottles from my shelves and put them away safely. In November or December I'll dig them up again to find out how they perform after they've had a long breather. An excellent idea, if I may say so...

Before I get to the actual tasting report, I'd like to address a couple of other issues concerning Lagavulin. Because the 'standard' 16yo bottling has been my number 1 malt for over 10 years (it was pushed from the pole position of my Top 10 only a few months ago), I've been closely monitoring 'the buzz' about this Islay distillery. And there has been a lot of buzz lately. For those of you who are a little behind on current affairs I've gathered some facts, opinions and rumours about Lagavulin;
 

'NEW' LAGAVULIN 16yo IN HOLLAND

A few months ago, a new batch of Lagavulins has reached our shores that has a slightly different packaging from previous ones. It's impossible to find out exactly when this whisky was bottled, but I'm guessing somewhere in 2001. The 'Classic Malts' seal has moved to the bottom of the box. The Royal seal with the text 'By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen...' at the top of the label has been replaced by a little picture of a boat and the text 'Lagavulin Distillery, Port Ellen, Isle of Islay. The label at the bottom of the bottle used to state 'White Horse Distillers Glasgow', now it says 'Port Ellen, Isle of Islay'. The changes are subtle, but I checked the old, empty bottles in my 'History' cabinet and they all had pretty much the same design - even the litre bottles and my very first (75cl) bottle. This means this is the first significant change in packaging in at least 10 years. I'll call the old version 'White Horse' and the new version 'Port Ellen'.

Does the fact that the Royal seal has vanished mean that the distillery or their owners (White Horse) have lost their Royal Warrant when it was reviewed? And if so, does that mean the sensible tastes of Queen Elizabeth have picked up on the changing character profile of Lagavulin 16? If the preference for peat is hereditary, her majesty could very well be a secret Islay lover - it seems Prince Charles is rather fond of Laphroaig and even granted the distillery a Royal Warrant a few years ago. Ah well - perhaps we'll never know...
 

PRICES & AVAILABILITY IN EUROPE

If the British Royal household is anything like the Dutch, they won't be actually paying for their single malts. The Dutch Royal family has been leeching off the population for centuries and still does so today, even though they are amongst the wealthiest families in the world. The taxpayer has to cough up their multi-million Euro salaries, while Royal Warrant holders are expected to deliver to one of their many palaces for free - sending a bill for delivered services or good is considered just 'not done'. Sounds like a sweet deal, eh?
A genuine 'Dutch' Royal family...

We commoners have to pay for our drams, though...
I've been boring you before with lamentations about the steadily rising prices of Lagavulin 16. About 10 years ago, a 70 cl. bottle went for less than 30 Euro's, while 35 Euro's would buy you a whole litre. In Holland, the 'street price' for the regular 70 cl. bottling broke through the 40 Euro's limit last year. From what I've heard prices are on the rise throughout Europe. French correspondent Serge Valentin has conducted a price survey in February which showed that there are still a few on-line whisky stores in Europe that offer Lagavulin for +/- 35 Euro's (Weinquelle, The Whisky Store and Maison du Whisky), but the average price now lies around 45 Euro's. Islay lovers in Denmark and the USA are severely punished by prices around 60 Euro's!

That shows I should really stop my whining.
The character of Lagavulin 16 may be slightly slipping (more about that later), but it still offers lots of 'bang for your buck'. In most countries, it's considerably cheaper than comparable malts like Ardbeg 17 or Laphroaig 15. I guess everything below 50 Euro's could be considered a fair price for these excellent single malts.

Besides, I should count myself lucky that I'm able to pick up a bottle whenever I want. I've been hearing disturbing gossip about the possibility that Lagavulin 16 might be phased out of the European market, perhaps to be replaced by a new, younger version. Although I'd welcome the opportunity to try an official bottling at a different age, I don't see why the producers would need to stop producing this critically acclaimed malt if they want to bring a younger version to the market. Bowmore has certainly proven that a range of malts of different ages can me marketed successfully, and so have Ardbeg and Laphroaig in more recent years. Why would Lagavulin be any different? I think an 'official' Lagavulin 10 or 12 could very well coexist alongside the 16.

It's hard to distinguish fact from fiction when you ask people in the whisky industry about issues of quality and availability. Most of the time, you get the standard story about increased demand, limited capacity and rigid quality control. At the end of the day, most of us will just have to wait and see what will be available on the shelves of our liquorists next year - and at what prices.
 

BATCH CHARACTER DIFFERENCES

Strictly speaking, there's no such thing as 'the' Lagavulin 16.
Because the production of single malt Scotch whisky isn't a continuous process, the circumstances that shape the end product can vary from year to year and from cask to cask. Variations in variables during production and maturation (season, weather, temperatures, type of cask, size of cask, etc.) influence the end product, which means the contents of a 'commercial' bottle I buy today may be very different from one I bought last year. Of course, there are bound to be differences at a 'chemical' level, but often the differences between batches can be picked up by human senses as well.

And that's assuming the 'production specs' that can be influenced remain constant. Rumour has it that they have been playing around with the phenol levels in the malt used for Lagavulin (more about that later), while the individual casks that are selected by the master blender are a major factor as well. Lagavulin 16 isn't a 'single cask' malt, so every batch is a vatting of multiple different casks. This allows the master blender to change the character of a commercial malt over time. Of course, the blender has a limited choice; the truth of the matter is that he'll just have to make do with the casks that are available at any given time.

So, even before they changed the packaging of Lagavulin 16 to the current design there were differences between batches. The general consensus seems to be that Lagavulin 16 has been 'dumbed down' intentionally over the years. When I discovered the 16 around 1990, it used to be an extreme, almost aggressive malt. Peat was the defining element, but it was beautifully balanced by lots of other elements as well. The whisky in these bottles would have been distilled before 1975. For a long time, I didn't detect a lot of notable differences between bottles, but around 1999 or 2000 I started to notice a few distinctive changes. The character started to shift in the direction of the 1979 Pedro Ximenez 'Distiller's Edition' that was introduced around the same time here in Holland; more sherried and lighter on the peat - more sweet, less salt.

The character of the 'old' 16 OB was more extreme in its peatiness - more like the Laphroaig 10 OB (43%). Or at least, the Laphroaig 10 as it was a few years ago. I haven't sampled nearly as many bottles of 'Phroaig 10 as I have of Lagavulin 16, but I've sensed some softening in this malt as well. So far, the changes seem to be not as significant as what's been happening to Lagavulin, but it's cause for concern anyway. What's happening to all the massive peat monsters?
 

INTERNATIONAL CHARACTER DIFFERENCES

To complicate things even further, 'commercial' malts are sometimes vatted in different 'profiles' to suit the tastes and whims of different markets. In Italy, for instance, they seem to appreciate young malts more than in other parts of the world. To accommodate national preferences, Macallan bottles a 7 years old version just for the Italians.

I'm not sure this is the case with Lagavulin, but the tasting evidence suggests it. A Japanese bottling I once tasted was unusually salty, while a USA (?, 75cl) bottling seemed much sweeter. So, it's entirely possible we're talking about 'different' single malts when we discuss 'the' Lagavulin 16yo.
 

'INDEPENDENT' LAGAVULINS

Of course, you don't have to worry about batch differences with most (reputable) independent bottlings. Often, details like distillation date, bottling date and cask type are mentioned on the label. Sometimes you can get more useful information from the labels of 'bastard bottlings' than from official distillery releases. In fact, you don't see many 'reputable' independent Lagavulins like the Murray McDavid 14yo 1984/1999. Most of the malts on tonight's menu are 'bastards', rumoured to be young Lagavulins. Dun Bheagan, Finlaggan, Fuaran Ila, Ileach... Who comes up with these names?

It seems young Lagavulin bastards are flooding the market. You won't hear me complain about it, but it makes you wonder how some 'industry officials' can maintain the myth that rising prices for Lagavulin 16yo are caused by 'limited stocks' - something beyond their control. If Lagavulin 16yo will actually prove to be scarce around 2010, won't selling off large amounts of casks at knockoff prices around 2000 have something to do with that?
I may have to do some serious thinking on this.
 

PEAT & PHENOL LEVELS

One of the factors that shape the final product is the phenol level of the malted barley used during the first phases of the production process. Decisions about phenol levels have to be made before the whisky is even distilled, so when we notice changes in today's Lagavulin 16 the causes for these changes lie in the past. Well, some of them at least - there are many different factors at play here, throughout the entire production process.
To name just a few:

- Size and shape of the stills
- Type and size of the cask(s)
- Length of (and conditions during) the maturation
- Vatting options and decisions

Of course, nobody knows the exact 'magic formula'.
When we look at the distillation as the 'birth' of a cask of single malt whisky, we can make an analogy with the old 'Nature or Nurture' discussion. Which part of the character of a single malt is determined before distillation and which part after?

Anyway - once more I'm getting side-tracked.
Traditionally, most distilleries in Scotland did their own floor maltings. I'm a bit fuzzy about the details, but it seems that somewhere in the early 1980's all distilleries on Islay decided to use (at least some) Port Ellen maltings for their whisky. Maybe this coincided with the end of actual whisky distillation at Port Ellen in 1983, but I'm not sure. The 'original' phenol level for Lagavulin mentioned here and there is 35 PPM, but it's unclear whether this indicates the phenol level of the malted barley or the freshly distilled spirit. There are rumours about experiments with 50 PPM phenol levels as well. Where and when these experiments took place I don't know.  Thinking about this I came up with a wild theory: maybe the text 'Port Ellen' on the new bottles of Lagavulin 16 indicates that they used Port Ellen maltings for it?

It's very hard to find out the exact details about these matters - I may get back to this topic in the future if I can find more reliable data. For now, I'd like to point out that the perceived 'peatieness' of a single malt whisky depends on much more than just the 'chemical' phenol level. So even if we would be able to collect more reliable data on this topic we wouldn't be able to accurately predict the outcome (= the malt in our glasses more than sixteen years later).
 

SALMIAC

If I had to pick one word to describe the current Lagavulin 16, it would be 'smoky'. Fortunately, I have thousands of words at by disposal - but even then it's often very hard to accurately express what my senses are experiencing. A few weeks ago, I've received an interesting message from Finnish malt lover Janne Suominen about this topic.

'I read a while ago that us Finns are among the few salt liquorice loving nations on this planet alongside with the Dutch, and I wonder if this is reflected on the "national taste" in single malts. At least my friends seem to veer towards the Islay-taste, which might be considered to feature some characteristics familiar to salt liquorice lovers. Since most creators of taste diagrams are from nations where salt liquorice is just a myth, it does not find its way into the whisky vocabulary. So I kinda wondered if the Dutch whisky lovers ever use the term "salt licorice" instead of, for example, "medicinal"... I have converted many whisky hating Finns to malt lovers with Laphroiag, and they usually exclaim that the stuff tastes like tar liquorice, and end up loving it. Tar liquorice is, as you might have guessed, salt liquorice with tar added to the mix...hot and warming, just like a good Islay. If someone likes Talisker or Laphroiag, that person is usually a friend of tar liquorice as well. Is tar liquorice available in Holland?'

No, it isn't, but Janne generously sent me some. It's called 'Terva Leijona' and comes in two flavours, 'Salmiakki' and 'Lakrits'. The candy was packaged very nicely - classical and stylish. The Salmiakki  was very nice - not unlike Dutch 'drop' (liquorice candy) but with some fruity elements as well. Salt and sweet. Yes, I can detect the tar in the background! The Lakritsi seemed definitely more 'eucalyptical' in the foreground. Maybe some menthol? Not as sweet - or rather a different kind of sweetness.

I've found salt liquorice or salmiak (sal-ammoniac) in some malts, while others showed sweet liquorice/licorice root or a more fruity impression which reminds me of 'Engelse Drop' - I think the English word is 'Licorice All Sorts'. Now I have a new 'reference aroma'. I've always associated tar with road/roof coverings, but now I can start looking for tar.

Phew! I'm getting quite thirsty, how about you?
Let's get on with my report on the actual tasting session.
There were 10 bottles in front of me; some of them bona fide Lagavulins, some of them 'bastard' bottlings. I had reason to believe these bastards are Lagavulins as well, but there is no way to tell for sure. Maybe tonight's tasting will reveal more about their true origins. I used to conduct my 'vertcal' tasting sessions in a structured and 'logical' manner; starting with the youngest malts, working my way to the old ones later on. Later, I learned that this isn't the best approach. Young whiskies can sometimes knock out your nostrils and taste buds, while more mature malts tend to be more refined and balanced. Therefore, it makes sense to start with the older malts.

The battle orders for tonight:

 1 - Lagavulin 16yo New (43%, 'Port Ellen', bottled +/- 2001, 70cl)
 2 - Lagavulin 16yo Old (43%, 'White Horse', bottled +/- 1999, 70cl)
 3 - Lagavulin 16yo Old (43%, 'White Horse', bottled +/- 1994, 100cl)
 4 - Lagavulin 14yo 1984/1999 (46%, Murray McDavid, 70cl)
 5 - Fuaran Ile 1991/2000 (46%, Macleod bastard bottling, 70cl)
 6 - Dhun Bheagan 8yo (43%, Maxwell bastard bottling, 75cl)
 7 - Finlaggan NAS 'Old Reserve' (40%, Vintage bastard bottling, 70cl)
 
8 - The Ileach NAS (40%, Highlands & Islands SWCL bastard bottling, 70cl)
 9 - Vintage Islay 5yo (40%, Vintage bastard bottling, 70cl)
10 - Vintage Islay 5yo C/S (58.4%, Vintage bastard bottling, 70cl)

These were the malts - here are the results:

1 - New Lagavulin 16yo (43 %, 'Port Ellen', bottled +/- 2001, 70cl)
Although this particular bottle is half empty (I opened it +/- three months ago) I haven't really examined this new version closely - until now that is. Nose: Peaty from the start, mixed with some sour notes I don't recall from previous bottlings - at least not as pronounced. Slightly 'farmy'. It needs more time to reach it's zenith; previous bottlings had more stamina as well. Taste: Peat and especially smoke are the defining elements at first, although it seems slightly more 'watery' in the start than previous bottlings. And it's a different kind of smoke - somehow more 'chemical'. It's definitely not as well-balanced as before and I couldn't detect any iodine either. A noticeable bitter imperfection in the finish as well. Watered down to +/- 30%: The nose opens up a bit. Sweeter, with some more fruity notes. It didn't improve the taste a lot, although it solved most of the bitterness. Conclusion: 88 points. It's still a great malt, but it has definitely lost some of its former glory. This is most obvious in the taste. The magnificent finish was one of the reasons I fell in love with Lagavulin 16, but this one has a nasty bitterness in the (relatively short) finish. Some of the nearly perfect balance has gone. This version seems to have been 'dumbed down' even beyond the levels of the 1979 Double Matured.

2 - Old Lagavulin 16yo (43%, 'White Horse', bottled +/- 1999, 70cl)
I opened this bottle from my reserve stock especially for tonight's tasting. This is one of the last 'White Horse' batches. Previous H2H-tastings of 'old' Lagavulins versus 'new' Lagavulins were actually old-vs-old matches; this is the first time the packaging has actually changed between the versions I compared. Nose: This one is notably more balanced than the new bottling. Slightly less sherried than the new 'Port Ellen' bottling. No, let me rephrase that; in hindsight the sherry influence in the nose of the new 16 is not as well integrated in the nasal spectrum. Taste: Mostly smoke at first, then peat and salt and maybe even a hint of something medicinal. A big burn with a long, smoky finish. Warm and cold at the same time. Powerful smoothness. None of the bitterness I found in the new bottling. Conclusion: 92 points. Yeah, this is good stuff. I really love it, but looking at things objectively it seems I've been hanging on to my 'original' score for Lagavulin 16 a bit too long. This one gives me about the same amount as pleasure as the Ardbeg 17, so it deserves the same rating.

3 - Old Lagavulin 16yo (43%, 'White Horse', bottled +/- 1994, 100cl)
Like I wrote in the introduction about batch character differences, I feel that Lagavulin has been changing over the years. But that's just a feeling. And what's more, I have to rely on my memory. It's very possible that I've become spoilt by sampling so many excellent single malts. This is the time to find out if the Lagavulins I tried halfway through the 1990's are quite as good as I remembered. I bought this litre bottling in June 1995, took it with me to the woods and forgot about it afterwards. It turned up again last Christmas when I had to go to the cellar to find some wine for guests. The cellar had been some kind of time capsule, capturing the character of a mid 1990's Lagavulin. How did I know it was an 'old' Lagavulin? Well, the true Lagavulin Lunatic would recognise the telltale signs immediately; no back label, the volume indication on the left of the label and the text 'Guaranteed' on the red paper band across the cork. Nose: Wowie! Oh, boy - this is the good stuff. Lots of spunk. Peat and smoke and memories of the hospital - but especially peat. Never before has it been clear that they dumbed it down. It has notably more smoke and iodine than today's bottlings - without upsetting the balance, though... Taste: Peaty power. Smoke, salt, maybe even some iodine and pepper. Still, it's surprisingly smooth. Refined and rough at the same time. The finish seems to last much longer than the latest batches; some (coffee beans?) bitterness, but not unpleasant. Conclusion: 94 points. Well - I originally wrote down 95 points and had it there for quite a while. But I'm afraid that was partly for sentimental reasons. Lagavulin 16 was my first love and I've gone almost 10 years without finding a single malt that gave me as much enjoyment. Only in the last few years have I discovered some serious competitors. I guess I should use these as references. Compared to the UDRM Saint Magdalene 1979, it scores just a smidgen lower on my personal enjoyment scale.

4 - Lagavulin 14yo 1984/1999 (46%, Murray McDavid, 70cl)
Unlike the other bottles in tonight's proceedings, this 'MurMac' was opened more than a year ago. The 'breathing' of the malt may have had an effect on the malt, but I'm not even halfway through tonight's malts - which means there's no time to nitpick. The Murmac is also the only genuine independent bottling; all others are bastard malts. Nose: Citrus and smoke. Clean - much more transparent than the 16 OB. A fresh sweetness in the background; over time the peat grows stronger. And not just the peat - the Bourbon character wrestles itself to the foreground. Taste: Remarkably sweet at first. Bitter maltiness in the centre. Salty burn. Dry towards the finish, that goes on and on and on... Conclusion: 89 points. One more point than the previous rating of 88 points. It took me some time to get used to the bourbon characteristics, but once I opened myself up to it, the MurMac delivered in spades. A really 'honest' malt, that beats the latest release of the 16yo OB. Let's hear it for independent bottlers!

OK - It's time to move on to the 'Battle of the Bastards'.

5 - Fuaran Ile 1991/2000 (46%, Macleod bastard bottling, 70cl)
Tonight's first bastard bottle was brought over from Germany by Klaus in January. Being a 'bastard', the name of the distillery isn't indicated on the label. Klaus thought this was a Talisker, but the label states the bottle contains a single Islay malt - my guess is Lagavulin. Like the 'MurMac' it's matured in Bourbon casks and bottled at 46%. It isn't artificially coloured either. The text on the back label suggests this stuff has been bottled exclusively for the German market. Well, bottle no. 062 of 600 from cask 1110 has managed to sneak its way across the border... Nose: Smoke & orange peel. Surprisingly sweet at the start. Slightly medicinal; some salt. A whiff of Irish coffee? Becomes very spirity after a minute. Taste: The soft start is quickly replaced by a powerful salty burn. Numbing; this malt packs quite a punch!  Not very balanced, though. A little gritty in the dry and bitter finish. Conclusion: 83 points. The nose is very good, especially after some breathing. Sadly, the taste lacks some depth and stamina, although it does improve over time. The age difference of five years with the MurMac is obvious, but so is the family (Bourbon) resemblance. This could very well be a Lagavulin, but I haven't sampled enough young Bourbon Lagavulins to make any credible statements about its pedigree.

6 - Dhun Bheagan 8yo (43%, Maxwell bastard bottling, 75cl)
This is another bastard bottle that has reached me through international channels. Johanna from Canada brought it as a present when she visited Holland for last year's whisky festival in The Hague. It's a 75 cl bottling for the Canadian market. Nose: Very good, but not nearly as powerful as the Fuaran Ile. A smoky sweetness with some peat in the background. Farmy elements. Spicy accents. The character resembles the 16 OB much closer. Some degree of sherry ageing is very obvious after the previous two bourbon-matured versions. It really opens up after 10 minutes. Taste: The sherry maturation shows itself more in the nose than in the mouth, at least at first. It feels sweeter and less 'transparant' than the Fuaran Ile. Soft start, and for the first few minutes it remains slightly watery. Smoke is the defining element here. After a while, it becomes much more powerful with heaps of salt added to the smoke. The peat comes to the foreground as well; much more than in the Fuaran Ile eventually. Conclusion: 82 points. The nose is excellent, but I have to say the taste is a little one-dimensional. It's extremely smoky - a whisky from the Bowmore Darkest / Loch Dhu school of malts. Fortunately, they've managed to find a considerably better balance with other elements in this one. And that makes all the difference...

7 - Finlaggan NAS 'Old Reserve' (40%, Vintage bastard bottling, 70cl)
The Finlaggan was introduced in Holland very recently. It's another Vintage bastard bottling in the same plain green bottles used for the 'Vintage' Islays. The price is a bit steeper at 25 Euro's. Nose: Good first impression. Peaty and sweetish. Coffee? Some sherry influence is obvious, but it hasn't left a big impression. Taste: Smoky. Not very powerful. Sweet AND very peaty - not a common combination. The sweetness retreats after a minute, leaving a peaty but slightly flat impression. The smoky finish finishes too soon... Conclusion: 80 points. The style of this bastard malt is closest to the current 16yo OB, but it seems they've removed the sting. Or rather, it's too young to have developed a decent sting yet.

8 - The Ileach NAS (40%, Highlands & Islands SWCL bastard bottling, 70cl)
The Ileach (no age statement) is a bastard Islay malt that has been available outside Holland for some time now. I don't know if it's the same malt Jim Dawe sent me a sample of last year (see Log Entry #73), but if my senses don't abandon me I'll soon find out. Nose: Hmmm... It doesn't smell all that peaty to me. Light. Spirity. Paint thinner. Notable improvement over time, becoming peatier with chloride and vegetable notes. Some subtle fruity notes as well. Taste: Slightly dull start. The peat shows itself in the back of your throat after a minute. Tobacco? Too weak and flat to get me really excited. Slightly unpleasant aftertaste. Conclusion: 74 points. Definitely a different malt from the one Jim Dawe sent me last year (score: 78 points). Very different from the other malts I sampled tonight as well, which leads me to believe this may not be an actual Lagavulin after all.

9 - Vintage Islay 5yo (40%, Vintage bastard bottling, 70cl)
This has been without a doubt my favourite bastard malt so far. The first few bottles in the series I picked up around 1994 were 7 years old and absolutely stunning. At a price around 13 Euro's they managed to score 82/83 points. Over the years, Signatory Vintage have lowered the age of their Islay malt to 5 years while the street price has risen to almost 20 Euro's. (See log entry #85 for more details.) Nose: Much more powerful than the Ileach, with lots of peat and smoke. Dry. Some faint fruity/citrus notes in the background; an undefinable sour accent as well. Taste: Smoke and peat. Gingerbread? Rather rough. Unrefined, but honest. Conclusion: 78 points. At only 17 Euro's, it's still a very good deal, but it seems the people of Signatory Vintage have wised up and stopped using the really good casks for this bastard range.

10 - Vintage Islay 5yo C/S (58.4%, Vintage bastard bottling, 70cl)
Phew - my 10th malt and I'm starting to feel it... This is a cask-strength version of the previous one. Nose: A bit restrained at first. A little fruity? Strange... With some water: Ooomph! A smoky kick in your nose. Taste: Oooh... That's nice. A relatively soft start is followed by a big, sustained, peaty burn once you've swallowed it. Salt. Tar? Bone-dry finish. Very good. Conclusion: 83 points. A great winter-warmer at a decent price.

That was nice... Overall conclusion: Yes, Lagavulin 16 HAS been dumbed down!
It used to be the cornerstone of my rating system, but I can no longer pretend there is something like 'the' Lagavulin 16. The litre bottlings of yore were notably more outspoken about their Islayness; the latest 70 cl 'Port Ellen' bottlings have lost some of the charming Islay extremism. They are still very smoky, but the peaty and medicinal elements have faded into the background. If this alarming trend with the 16yo OB (rising prices, falling character) isn't reversed, I may have to turn to Ardbeg or Laphroaig for my regular peat fix. But let's not get carried away here. I've just opened most of these bottles, which makes these results rather preliminary. The malts should get the change to catch their breaths before I pass my final judgement on them. I'll put them in a special cabinet for now and revisit them again later this year - probably in November or December.

Amazingly enough, these were the first Lagavulins I sampled this year.
This means I can cross one more distillery off my 'Scotland by Dram' list.
Status Scotland by Dram / Second Chance Challenge: Only [65/42] distilleries left.
 

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Log Entry # 108 - April 6, 2002
Topic:  Islay 'B' Bonanza

OK - after a 'Lagavulin' detour, I've finally arrived at 'B' on my virtual tour of Scotland. Why not start with the Islay trio (Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain) while the temperatures are relatively low?

Yeah - why not.
I don't usually watch sports on television, but I always make an exception for the 'Six Nations' rugby tournament. The matches between France, Italy, England, Ireland, Wales and (of course) Scotland are aired by the BBC. Most of the time, I don't really care who wins or loses - I just want to see an interesting and exciting game. It goes without saying that I feel differently when Scotland is playing. I'm always cheering for the Scotchmen. Well, not always - The match Ireland-Scotland always takes me into an emotional no-man's land.

Two of my rugby team-mates (Arend & Dennis) had joined me to watch the game and enjoy some drams.
After my missionary work in the field, they have both developed an interest in whisky. When they arrived, Arend proudly informed me he had just bought 'a few green bottles from that hospital island'. 'Ardbeg?' I asked while saliva started to fill my mouth in a Pavlov-like reflex. 'Yeah, that's the one.' he said.

Even though there are almost 20 Ardbegs in my reserve stock, I had too suppress a sudden attack of malt-envy. The 10yo and 17yo on my top shelf were emptied a few months ago and I currently don't have any open Ardbegs on my shelves. 'Which ones, 10 and 17?', I spitted moistly. 'Eh, no, 10 and 15 I think.' he answered. Well, I'm pretty sure Ardbeg hasn't released a new bottling I'm unaware of, so I asked Arend if maybe he meant Laphroaig? 'Yeah, that's the one.' he said.

Ah! I happen to have 3 excellent Laphroaigs on my top shelf right now (10yo C/S OB, 15yo OB and 15yo 1985 DL OMC), and I was pretty sure Arend wouldn't have at least one of them. With a benevolent smile, I directed Arend to my top shelf. 'Yeah, that's the one.' he said, pointing to the Aberlour A'bunadh.

Hmmm... I'm pretty sure Aberlour is a Speyside distillery, but I had not time to pursue the topic further. The match had started and I had to divide my attention between the television and the first dram I was pouring; the Bunnahabhain 12yo (40.0%, OB, bottled +/- 2001).
Nose: Soft. Obvious sherry in the start. Seemed almost fruity.
Alcoholic; a bit like rum. Pinch of salt. Hint of oil after a while.
Notable improvement after 30 minutes - peat & pleasant sweet toffee notes.
Taste: Very sherried. Salty, but not much power. Sour notes.
Malty and a little sweet in the centre. Dry finish with some smoke.
Score: 79 points. The nose seems a little dull and the taste lacks expression too.
Analysis: That was a bit of a disillusion. The second one of the afternoon; when I played 'Westering Home' by Scottish band the McCalmans I discovered that the actual song went very different from the melody my brother Franc and I had invented for it when we discovered the lyrics on the back label. Given the almost 'melancholical' picture of the lone fisherman on the front label we had imagined a solemn and heartfelt ballad, not the happy sing along-song it turned out to be...

Meanwhile, rather than taking notes or making useful comments, Arend and Dennis were busy cheering for Wales. Crazy fools! Fortunately, they quickly switched sides once I explained my 'Distilled Happiness Theory' to them - a theory about the relation between International rugby and the quality of the whisky on our shelves in years to come. Together with golf and sheep loving, rugby is one of Scotland's national passions. When the Scottish national team wins a match, the average Scotsman will be significantly happier than when they lose. I imagine this is a cumulative effect; the more matches Scotland wins, the happier the average Scotsman will be. Now, some of those average Scotsman work at distilleries. As we all know, happier people perform better at work. The improved performance should translate in a better end product: the 2002 single malts we'll have in our glasses in decades to come. A win for Scotland is a win for the whisky world.
Of course, a similar argument could be made for Ireland.

Anyway, we were ready for a re-fill.
I opened the Bunnahabhain 12yo 1989/2001 Sherry Finish (43%, Chieftain's); the first independent bottling of Bunnahabhain I've ever seen in Holland. The packaging of the new Chieftain's bottlings is distinctly different from the previous series that appeared in Holland in 2000. Old bottlings were called 'Chieftain's Choice' and came in a paper/plastic box with little production data on the label. By the end of 2001 the new range appeared, just called 'Chieftain's'. They come in a sturdy golden tube with much more info on the label.
Nose: Wow! A sherried punch. Fruity and sweet. Marzipan. Banana? Dried apples.
Whiffs of smoke and soap. Oriental spices. Very faint peat in the background.
Taste: That's weird - no sweetness at all! Oh, wait - there it is... Just a little at first, but it grows stronger. The taste seems to need a few minutes to find the right balance, but when it does it's great! Gingerbread. Marzipan again. Slightly dry in the finish.
Score: 83 points. I was even tempted to go for 84 points. Great job by the people of Chieftain's!
Analysis: Angus McSherry. More depth and subtlety than the current 12yo OB, it seems.

The rugby match was becoming increasingly exciting, but I managed to sneak in a quick H2H of the official Bunny 12 against the Chieftain's. First nasal impression for both: Softly sherried with some fruit. The nose of the Chieftain's had notably more volume than the OB and developed faster. It seemed a little more complex as well. The IB was the first to show some peat, and had the best balance after a minute. Fortunately. the OB catches on after a while. The taste of the OB was soft and sweet with a good dose of sherry - but not too much. Hmm, on second thought, I may have been a bit too harsh on the OB; it's no powerhouse Islay but once you sample it open-minded it's a charming little malt. I increased the score to 80 points.

By the time I finished the H2H, Scotland had defeated Wales 27/22.
Hurray!!! Let's hope we can taste the victory in a decade or so. After analysing of the match, we got back to the topic of Arend's mystery bottles. All that heavy tackling must have been too much for his poor memory cells, because he just couldn't remember the name of the distillery. After 5 minutes of growing despair and confusion he decided to call his wife Anita so she could check the name. It turned out to be... Bricklaggis. Well, almost...  I showed Arend my bottle of the 'old' Bruichladdich 15 on my bottom shelf and he finally made a positive identification. I was getting a little sceptical by now, so we went on-line to check. As it turned out, Arend had the full range of (new) Bruichladdichs on his shelves. Now that's interesting! I've had a few fleeting encounters with the new 10 less than a year ago, but other than that the range was new to me. Before I read Serge's Malt Maniacs interview with Mark Reynier, I wasn't to keen on trying them. Mark's enthusiasm has made me curious about the difference between the new and old versions.
We agreed we should visit Arend's place to check them out.

Not before trying my 'old' Bruichladdich 15yo (43%, OB) first, though...
Nose: Seems very spirity at first. Malty, a little sweet with a hint of oil.
Much more 'depth' after some breathing - more peat and fruit.
Taste: Very soft, but there's a distinct pinch of salt. 'Muddy'.
Speysidish sweetness - brownies? Some peat in the finish.
Score: 78 points. Analysis: Nothing wrong with this, but no high-flyer either.

Around 21:00, we got on our bikes and dropped by Arend's place for a in-depth look at the new range of bottlings from the Bruichladdich distillery. First, we tasted all three bottlings separately;

Bruichladdich 10yo (46%, OB, new bottling)
Nose: Light, soft and sweet. Some banana? Almost flowery.
More 'volume' than the old 10yo, but it fades away over time.
Taste: Clean and smooth, but not a lot of depth.
Score: 77 points. Nice, and much more interesting than the previous 10yo.
Analysis: Still no powerhouse Islay, mind you! Should do very well in the summertime.

Bruichladdich 15yo (46%, OB, new bottling)
Nose: More sherried than the 10yo. Slightly dry. Seems restrained for the first 5 minutes, but then it opens up. Spicy. Some salt. Cookie-dough sweetness. Growing balance and complexity. This is a malt that needs some time, but it reveals some unexpected sides if you allow it to bloom.
Taste: Smooth, but with a peaty twang in the background. The taste remains entertaining for a long time. It follows the beat of the nose, but plays a different melody.
Score: 83 points. Analysis: Good selection / vatting job by the new owners!

Bruichladdich 20yo (46%, OB, 70cl, new bottling)
Nose: Starts out as the peatiest of the three, but softens up after 10 minutes.
Amazing development! Sadly, it wheezed out after 30 minutes.
Taste: Clean, Islay character. The peatiest Bruichladdich I've tried so far.
Score: 81 points. Analysis: Nothing wrong here, but not as complex as the 15yo.

Next (and long overdue too): a H2H2H of the three new Bruichladdichs.
The new 10 seems soft and flowery, with more 'volume' than the old 10. The 15 was drier, saltier and didn't have as much 'volume' at first. The 20 was the peatiest of the three. Decreasing sweetness with age. The sweetness in the 10 is light and honeyish (heathery?), while the 15 seems more sherried. All the new 46% bottlings are much more transparent than the old versions. The 10 drops off after fifteen minutes; the 20 after half an hour while the 15 keeps on going and going and going.... As far as the taste is concerned: the 10 is very smooth, the 15 hints at some hidden power in the background while the 20 shows clean, undiluted Islay power. Conclusion: Bruichladdich seems to 'go against the Islay grain'. While many OB's of Bowmore, Bunnahabhain and Lagavulin seem to be slipping, the new range of Bruichladdich is a big step forward compared to previous releases. It isn't one of my favourite Islay distilleries yet, but it's heading in the right direction.

My, my - look at the time. Only 23.45 PM.
Time to say my goodbyes and return home for some Bowmores.

My bottle of Bowmore Darkest (43%, OB) is a bit of a strange case. It was quite awful when I opened in in August 2000 (65 points) , but I has shown steady improvement ever since.
Nose: Sweetness, smoke, sherry and fruit. Quite nice, actually.
The smoke component grows stronger quickly. Faint hint of peat.
Taste: Smoke is the main component, with more wood in the finish.
Sourish dissonances. One-dimensional. Still not very good, I'm afraid.
Score: 68 points. In the two years since I opened my bottle it has improved considerably - at least the nose has. Unfortunately, the fundamentally unbalanced taste keeps it from reaching 'reccommendable' status. No reason for a promotion - it remains on my bottom shelf.
Analysis: The bitchy Bowmore...

The Bowmore 15yo 'Mariner' (43%, OB, 70cl) was the last Bowmore in my reserve stock. Because I've experienced big differences between different batches in the past, I've started to regard Bowmore as a tricky investment. The risk of picking up a bummer bottle just seems too great.
Nose: Fruity, nutty and a little musty. Feinty. Not very well integrated.
A lot going on; A wide palette of fragrances, but it feels a little 'chemical'.
Nice development. This one shows much more peat than the Darkest.
Taste: Sweet & extremely sherried. Soft and slightly fruity. Not very Islayish at first, but then the peat and salt emerge. Lots of wood. The sherry character is very pronounced.
Score: 82 points. The family resemblance with the Darkest is obvious.
Analysis: Not a real marine animal.

Finally, I sampled the Bowmore Cask Strength (56%, OB, 100cl) on my middle shelf. This is actually one of the 'weakest' cask strength whiskies I've ever tried.
Nose: Strange and a little chemical. Salt. Sherry. Feinty and alcoholic.
Intriguing development underneath a spirity surface. Nuttier with some water.
Taste: Sweet. A big, sharp burn. Unpleasant bitterness in the finish. Like with the other Bowmores I tried tonight, the taste is not nearly as good as the nose. Water improves the palate.
Score: 78 points. The nose improves notably with water, but time hasn't been kind to this bottle. It has lost some 3 points since I opened it, mainly because of the fragmented palate.
Analysis: A glimpse at a better future through broken glass.

Hmmm... I was in the mood for a Bowmore H2H2H, but it's 03:55 AM - Sleepy time.
So, what do tonight's events mean for my shelf situation? First of all, the superior Chieftain's Bunnahabhain 12yo pushes the official Bunny 12 from my middle shelf to my MSN stock. Opening the Bowmore 15 meant that I have to remove one bottle from my 'active' shelves. I had planned on the Bowmore Darkest, but I really want to do that Bowmore H2H2H one day. And I'd like to see how the 15 Mariner develops compared to the Darkest as well. So, the 'Old' Bruichladdich 15yo moves to my MSN stock instead.

Status Scotland by Dram / Second Chance Challenge: Only [62/41] distilleries left.
 

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Log Entry # 109 - April 30, 2002
Topic:  Walpurgis Weirdness

As I've written in previous log entries, April 30 is 'Queen's Day' in Holland, the day when the unwashed masses celebrate the birthday of our queen Beatrix. But the date is significant in a much older, germanic/batavic tradition as well. Since medieval times, the night of April 30 is also 'Walpurgisnacht'.
That's the night when the witches get their broomsticks out of the closet to violate the airspace over Northern Europe on their way to a big secret house party in the sky. Gnomes and Goblins leave their lairs to dance with 'The Horny One' in the pale moonlight. Whoaoaoahh... Spooky stuff...

The name 'Walpurgisnacht' may have something to do with Saint Walburga, an English missionary in Germany. Before her death in +/- 779AD she came to her brother Winnebald's abbey in Heidenheim ('home of the heathens'!!!) together with her other brother Saint Willibald. She assisted the more glamourous Saint Boniface, who was brutally killed in Dokkum, Holland - in 782 AD, if I remember correctly. He was terminated by the 'Friezen'; a barbaric, red-haired Dutch proto-viking tribe living on heaps of mud sticking out of the North Sea. I guess they frowned upon do-gooders in those days, because as soon as St. Boniface started spreading the gospel they got a bit miffed and chopped off his head. They may have even drunk from his skull, but there's no photographic evidence of that.

Anyway - Walpurgisnacht is a night of weirdness. Fellow malt maniac Klaus Everding from Germany came up with a nifty idea. He suggested the maniacs would join eachother on April 30 for a live, on-line tasting of 'weird' whiskies. Great plan! You can find the report on my experiences (and a picture of the bottles I sampled on this weird night) below. Check out 'Malt Maniacs' for details on the adventures of a few other maniacs.

01 - Balmenach 10yo (43%, Scottish Wildlife)
02 - Banff 18yo 1980 (43%, Chieftain's Choice)
03 - Bladnoch 1987/1999 (40%, Connoisseurs Ch.)
04 - Edradour 10yo (40%, OB, 70cl)
05 - Glen Scotia 9yo 1991 (43%, Signatory Vintage)
06 - 'Old' Fettercairn 10yo (40.0%, OB, 100cl)
07 - Littlemill 8yo (40%, OB)
08 - Ledaig NAS Sherry (42%, OB)
09 - Ledaig 20yo (43%, OB?)
10 - Lochside 10yo (40%, Macnab, 75cl)
11 - Loch Dhu 10yo (43%, OB, 20cl, USA)
12 - Mannochmore 22yo 1974 (60.1%, UDRM)

Before I get to the confirmed 'weird' bottles,
I'll whet my apetite with some fresh bottles
from my reserve stock I'll need to open
anyway. I realize some of them may not
appear all that weird, but I was forced
to be flexible during my selection process.
On June 21, some Malt Maniacs will gather
in Holland for 'A Midsummernight's Dram'; an international open air malt whisky festival
in our little 'family-forest' on De Veluwe.
I don't have a proper drinking collection over
there, so I need to assemble a special MSND-stock.
I started my session around 16:00 - earlier than usual. Twelve malts for tonight's tasting may seem like a lot to handle, but I desperately need the practice for June. I suspect the number of drams processed during the 'Midsummernight's Dram' will be significantly higher. To make matters even worse, the MSND festival takes place the night after the Macallan JOLT on June 20 where we will sample sixteen different Macallans.

The Balmenach 10yo (43.0%, Scottish Wildlife) has a grouse on the label. It doesn't look very famous, so I take it there's no relation between this single malt and the mediocre blend by that name. The distillery was mothballed in 1993 by United Distillers who owned it at the time. It has been sold to Inver House since then, who haven't bottled anything yet. So, I guess it has a weird element to it.
Nose: Not much at first. Spirity. Apples? Citrus? Soap? A little nutty.
Relatively restrained, although it does open up after five minutes.
Taste: Sweet start. Coffee? Bitter chocolate. Ciderish, almost Irish.
The sweetness disappears. Bourbon dry. Slightly unpleasant in the finish.
Score: 71 points . I suspect bourbon casks were used exclusively for this one. It might have benefited from a good sherry cask, because this Balmenach is a little short on character as it is.

The Banff 18yo 1980 (43%, Chieftain's Choice) was produced by another silent (Speyside) distillery, closed in 1983. I have to admit I really like the name; it sounds a bit like an elf or goblin that could have appeared in Shakespeare's 'Midsummernight's Dream' or Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings'.
Nose: Rum. Alcoholic and restrained at the same time. A hint of oil.
Some sweeter, fruity notes after a minute. More development over time.
Taste: Sweetish start, with a suggestion of smoke in the background.
The sweetness vanishes after a few minutes. Dragging, dry, bitter finish.
Score: 64 points . The nose isn't too bad, but utterly unremarkable - and so is the taste, to tell you the truth. And to think the whisky needed eighteen years to reach this questionable level! I'll shed no tears over the demise of this distillery.

OK, I'm clutching at straws here, but I guess the Bladnoch 1987/1999 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice) has a slightly 'weird' story behind it as well. For one thing, the distillery is the the Southernmost in Scotland. I hold this Lowlander in high regard after sampling some good Signatory Vintage and Ultimate bottlings. The distillery was mothballed during a large part of the 1990's, but Raymond Armstrong brought it back to life recently.
Nose: Peculiar, heavy at first. Coffee beans? Organic. Fruity. Some citrus.
Becomes extremely oily quickly. Fortunately, the oil fades away after 5 minutes.
Wonderful development - whiffs of peat, honey and heather.
Taste: Very soft. Smooth, creamy start. Honey sweetness. A gentle malt.
Oily. Just dry enough in the finish to make you go for an instant re-fill.
Conclusion: 76 points. This one seemed like a disappointment at first, but a second glass proved that this is actually a decent young Lowlander. It's just that the oily component in the overall recipe is a little too pronounced at times. Maybe some breathing will help.

By 18:00, I figured I might as well add some 'weird' music to the experience. I went for Josquin Desprez, a medieval composer who wrote 'La Déploration de Johannes', among other things.

I guess the Edradour 10yo (40%, OB) is pretty weird as well. For one thing, it was produced at the 'smallest distillery in Scotland'. About 2 years ago, I sampled an earlier bottling. It came in a tall, unremarkable bottle and scored 70 points. The packaging of the new bottling before me is much more attractive. The bottle is very pretty, although the text 'Scotland's smallest distillery' on the cork seems a bit tacky. This may be true from a purely 'technical' point of view, but the owner of the distillery is Pernod Ricard - one of the largest conglommerates in the whisky world...
Nose: Unbalanced start with sour vomit notes. Soap. Sherried. Farmy, organic notes. Woody. Sweet. Dusty. Interesting development; very sour after 10 minutes. Later on more smoke emerges, while the sherry notes grow stronger. Lemon sweets after 20 minutes. Nuttier with 5 drops of water.
Taste: Ough! Very strange at the start. Molasses & Mint. Eucalyptus? Malty. Slightly oily. A very unpleasant chemical undercurrent. Bitter. With time, it grows even worse. Rotting wood. Old vomit. Stomach acid.
Score: 42 points. The taste is really horrific! After some breathing (+/- 30 minutes), the nose becomes quite decent actually (+/- 75 points); this keeps the overall score from dropping even lower. The taste is simply awful - probably the worst tasting single malt after Loch Dhu 10yo. Craig informed me this new bottling is very different from the previous one and I have to agree. Sadly, that's about all we're in agreement on. Craig felt the new bottling he tried is much better than the old one. How can this be? Batch differences or senility? Or a bad cork, maybe? I sniffed the cork and it didn't smell very lady-like.

I've never encountered a malt that showed a bigger difference between nose and taste. Which brings up an interesting point: shouldn't the scores we give to single malts be composed out of two different ratings, one for nose and one for taste? This would be very helpful with malts like Edradour 10yo. As for Edradour being the smallest distillery in Scotland... I think that one of the genuinely independent distilleries in Schotland deserves that title. Arran? Bruichladdich? Bladnoch? Glengoyne? Springbank?

OK - what's next?
Well, I'm flexible. A.f.a.i.k, the Glen Scotia 9yo 1991/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage) is one of the first clearly labeled Glen Scotia's that have been bottled since the distillery reopened a while ago. Bottle #266 of 722 (distilled 11/02/1991, bottled 29/01/2001) was matured in Bourbon casks #222/223.
Nose: Sweet, nutty start. Gingerbread. Soft sweetness.
Oilier after a while. Pinewood? String beans?
Taste: A little flat. Bourbonish. Pinch of salt. Eucalyptus.
No sweetness whatsoever. Slightly oily. Dry, briny finish.
Score: 75 points. If memory serves, the 14yo OB is much better.

You know what else is weird? The 'Old' Fettercairn 10yo (40.0%, OB, 100cl) is only ten years old and yet they call it old. Ten years isn't very old, is it? I know I didn't feel very old when I was 10, that's for sure.
Nose: Nondescript. Slightly oily. Dusty. Nuttier and maltier with time.
A lot of the character seems to have evaporated since I opened the bottle.
Taste: Sweet and malty. A hint of oil. Nutty. Peanutbutter?
Slightly watery. Some liquorice in the background. Short finish.
Score: 72 points . This bottling (+/- 2000) seems not nearly as good as my first bottle +/- 1990. No top shelf candidate, but decent value. A good base for vatted malts as well, because it's quite 'neutral'.

On to the next one; the Littlemill 8yo (40%, OB, 70cl). I'm not really looking forward to this tasting; previous tastings indicated that this is one in the 'Loch Lomond' style.
Nose: Extremely oily. Something rotten. Overcooked vegetables. Sweeter and softer after some breathing; quite pleasant, actually. A faint hint of peat after 15 minutes.
Taste: Very smooth. Creamy. Not a lot of character. Bourbonish twang in the finish. Bitter aftertaste.
Score: 61 points. This one doesn't improve in the bottle; It scored a little below 70 points when I opened it, had dropped to 65 points by the time I had figured out a 'final' rating and now it has sunk even lower. Perhaps the fact that the distillery is owned by Loch Lomond should have warned me. Seems like their master blenders haven't really 'mastered' their craft yet.

Well, the Ledaig NAS (42%, OB, Limited 2000 Edition, Sherry) on my bottom shelf is pretty weird as well. For one thing, it's the first bottling I've ever tried that was bottled at 42%. Usually, it's either 40% or 43%.
Nose: Relatively restrained. Starts sweetish, but drops off quickly.
A little oil, but not as much as the Tobermory. Increasing sweetness.
Sherry notes? Citrus? Some peat after a while, growing stronger with time.
Taste:  Soft start, becoming sweeter. Light sherry. Licorice? Slightly grainy.
Hint of peat on the palate. Toffee. Not as good as the nose; gone too soon.
Score: 69 points . This actually isn't bad for something distilled at the Tobermory distillery, owned by Burnt Stewart. It's one of the candidates for my personal 'Distillery Hall of Shame'.

My second Ledaig of tonight was the Ledaig 20yo (43%, OB).
The name means 'safe haven' in Gaelic, and that's what it was to me. None of the malts I sampled tonight scored above average, but previous tastings of this Ledaig always brought a smile on my face.
Nose: Full and sweet start, then some soapy notes. Sherry.
Nice candy fruitiness. Provoking hint of peat. Fungal at times.
Taste: Very smooth at first, but after a soft start and a sherried centre a very strong, peaty finish emerges. Fish? Menthol? Smoke and a little sweetness too. The finish is ultra-dry, but pleasant.
Score: 79 points . The nose is just a little too weak to make it 80 points.

And then there's the Lochside 10yo (40%, Macnab, 75cl). I picked up this bottle in March 2000 for +/- 20 Euro's. This bottling is quite rare, and as a result street prices seem to have sky-rocketed since then. Serge told me about an asking price of 100 Euro's at an auction last month!
Nose: Oily, a little grassy and some fruit. Water melon.
Sweeter with time, but it remains very light.
Taste: Malty, but no sweetness. A little 'sparkly' in the center.
Oily; not a lot of depth. Some fruity notes. Very dry finish with a bitter twang.
Score: 68 points . This makes Lochside of the silent distilleries I won't be stocking up on.

What is the weirdest whisky ever produced?
Surely, that must be the Loch Dhu 10yo (43%, OB, 20cl, USA, my special little torture bottle). Mark Adams told me that the current 'street price' for this bottling  is 160 U$! Pretty amazing when you consider it's the worst single malt whisky I've ever tried - EVER! Of course, that's just my opinion; I've heard there are people who swear by it - some in positive manner, others... well... not so positive.
Nose: Smoke and ashes. Tia Maria? Old Mocca? Flat.
Taste: Eugh! Ash. Buysman. Insecticide. Super-thin.
Score: 14 points. Yes, this one actually seems a little 'better' (a very relative in this situation) than the big bottle I had almost two years ago. I usually need to drink at least 20 drams before I get the drive to puke, but just 1 small dram of Loch Dhu does the trick just fine. Amazingly enough, filling your 'empty' glass with two drams worth of water for cleaning makes the water turn as dark as whisky.

The last single malt for tonight: the Mannochmore 22yo 1974/1997 (60.1%, UDRM, 70cl) on my middle shelf. It was produced at the same distillery as the Loch Dhu but performed reasonably well earlier on.
Nose: That's more like it! Smoke and some peat. Hint of fruits and flowers. At +/- 50%, it opens up and moves in a sweeter direction. Organic. Diluted to +/- 40%, chloride suddenly overwhelms everything else.
Taste: Undiluted, it's really powerful. Sweet start, smoky in the center. Salt liquorice? Still very strong at 50%, but smoother towards the finish. Nice but impersonal at 40%. Mega-smooth, though - like whipped cream.
Score: 77 points. Unlike the Loch Dhu 10yo, this is a 'decent' malt - but not much more...

Whoo... I had to adjust my nose after the cask strength Mannochmore. I hope I haven't burnt out my senses, because the real highlight of the evening is coming up. I closed the evening with a very special treat, the Marc de Gewürztraminer 2001 (55%, distilled 08/12/2001, 70cl) Serge Valentin produced himself. The label is hilarious - you have to see it to believe it. This marc hasn't matured in wooden casks, which seems to be tradition in Alsace where Serge lives. This also explains the complete absence of color in the distillate.
Nose: Wow! Weird indeed! Seems like a very fruity grappa at first. Am I imagining grape juice here? I don't have a suitable frame of reference to describe what I'm sniffing here. Not much development over time - not very surprising considering the lack of aging in wood.
Taste: Yeah, this is a bit like grappa - only nicer. Oily. Some soapy notes. Sweetish. It reminded me about a strong fruit distillate I've tried in Austria, 'Bauerngeist'.
Score: Well, rating this stuff would be a little pointless - it's late and I have absolutely nothing to compare it with. It's better than any grappa I've tasted so far, that's for sure!

Fzzzbk... It's late and I'm feeling a bit 'weird'. The Mannochmore, Littlemill, Lochside and Old Fettercairn move to my MSND-stock, making room for the four fresh bottles from my reserve stock. The Bladnoch was actually the second version I ever tried officially, and so were the Glen Scotia and Edradour.
This means I managed to make some decent progress in my 'Second Chances Challenge'.

Status Scotland by Dram / Second Chance Challenge: Only [62/41] distilleries left.

- - -

mAddendum 109A - Spring Shopping Spree in Amsterdam

Spring is in the air and I felt the sudden urge to subject the contents of my wallet to some serious 'spring-cleaning'. What was my excuse this time? Well, a couple of certified malt maniacs will visit Holland in June and I need to assemble a suitable collection. Furthermore, I wanted to check if Menno Boorsma and Ton Overmars really were the only two decent liquorists in Amsterdam.

The first item on my scouting list was 'De Wijnrank' in Amsterdam. That didn't go too well. After wandering about aimlessly for an hour without being able to locate the shop, I decided to hop on the tram to try and find the two next stores on my list, 'De Eekhoorn' and 'Proost' on the Kinkerstraat. Not much luck there either - no more than some twenty standard malts on the shelves at prices that didn't really tickle my fancy.

Finally, I struck gold at the 4th store on my list, 'Chateau PC Hooft', Honthorststraat 1 (near the Rijksmuseum). Because the prices are quite hefty, I hadn't visited the place again since I bought a Springbank 1979 there over five years ago. Their single malt collection wasn't very impressive, but just when I thought about leaving the store I spotted two bottles of Macallan 10yo 100 Proof (57%, OB, 70cl, European bottling) under a thick blanket of dust. This excellent bottling (score +/- 90 points) has been replaced by a new '10yo Cask Strength' version (58.8%, OB, 100cl) recently. I had already given up hope on ever finding extra bottles. The price of 55 Euro's was pretty steep compared to the 40 Euro's I used to pay at Menno Boorsma a few years ago, but in comparison with a similar bottling like Aberlour A'bunadh it's a far price.

I left the store (two Mac 100 Proofs richer) and proceeded to more familiar territory; Menno Boorsma at Ferdinand Bolstraat 112. Prices there have been on the rise for about a year now, but you can still find a few good deals there now and then. I left with:

Glen Scotia 9yo 1991 (43%, Signatory Vintage, 70 cl) - 32 Euro's
Laphroaig 10yo (43%, OB, 70cl) - 35 Euro's
Laphroaig 'Laudable' 15yo 1985 (50%, OMC, 70cl) - 65 Euro's
Macallan 10yo (43%, OB, 70cl) - 29 Euro's
Macallan 18yo 1983 (43%, OB, 70cl) - 75 Euro's

Final stop: Ton Overmars.

Aberlour 15yo (40%, OB, 70cl) - 39 Euro's (2x)
Aberlour A'bunadh No Batch Number (59.6%, OB, 70cl) - 55 Euro's (3x)
Bladnoch 23yo 1977 (53.6%, UDRM, 70cl) - 90 Euro's (2x)
Connemara NAS (40%, OB, 70cl) - 24 Euro's
Convalmore 16yo 1981 (43%, Ultimate, 70cl) - 39 Euro's
Finlaggan Old Reserve (40%, Bastard Lagavulin, 70cl) - 25 Euro's
Glendronach 15yo 100% Sherry (40%, OB, 100cl) - 37 Euro's
Glen Mhor 12yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 70cl) - 35 Euro's
Glen Scotia 14yo (40%, OB, 70cl) - 35 Euro's
Knockando 1986/1998 (43%, OB, 100cl) - 37 Euro's
Macallan 15yo 1984 (43%, OB, 70cl) - 55 Euro's
Mitchell's 12yo (43%, Springbank blend, 70cl) - 31 Euro's
Port Ellen 19yo 1982/2001 720/Sherry  (50%, OMC, 70cl) - 105 Euro's
Port Ellen 21yo 1979/2001 618/Sherry (50%, OMC, 70cl) - 107 Euro's
Port Ellen 22yo 1978/2000 (60.5%, UDRM, 70cl) - 120 Euro's (4x)
Port Ellen 23yo 1978/2001 764/Sherry Finish (50%, OMC, 70cl) - 129 Euro's
Rosebank 11yo 1989 (43%, Ultimate, 70cl) - 39 Euro's
Talisker 1986DE (45.8%, OB, 70cl) - 50 Euro's
Tactical 19yo 1980/2000 348/Bourbon (50%, OMC, 70cl) - 85 Euro's
Tactical 22yo 1979/2001 288/Bourbon (50%, OMC, 70cl) - 99 Euro's (2x)

After visiting these liquorists in downtown Amsterdam, I dropped by one of my neighborhood supermarkets and picked up a spare Lagavulin 16yo 'Port Ellen' (32 Euro's) and a litre of Johnnie Walker Red Label (17 Euro's) as one of the 'punishment' bottles for the MSN stock. When I returned home safely I had to find room for my new bottles - always a cheerful chore. As I was greedily fondling my new UDRM's, I noticed that the Port Ellen and Bladnoch didn't seem to have a number on the back label like they usually do. Strange... I decided to check the bottles in my collection; here are the results:

Caol Ila 21yo 1975/1997 (April) - LLXK00000020, Bottles #0519 & #1437, France, vertical on label
Clynelish 24yo 1972/1997 (September) - LLXK00000053, Bottle #940, France, vertical on label
Mannochmore 22yo 1974/1997 (September) - LLXK00000055, Bottle #0879, France, vertical on label
Royal Brackla 20yo 1978/1998 (May) - LLXL00000006, Bottle #3887, France, vertical on label
Benromach 19yo 1978/1998 (May) - LLXL00000009, Bottle #2036, France, vertical on label
Mortlach 20yo 1978/1998 (May)- LLXL00000014, Bottle #4419, France, vertical on label
Glen Ord 23yo 1974/1998 (October) - LLJL00000005, Bottle #6683 (!), France, vertical on label
Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 (October) - LLJL00000009, Bottle #1031, France, horizontal on label
Brora 21yo 1977/1998 (October) - LLJL00000010, Bottle #4003, France, vertical on label
Port Ellen 22yo 1978/2000 (October) - L15N03802610, Bottle #2204, France, horizontal on glass
Bladnoch 23yo 1977/2001 (October)- No number, Bottle #467, France

So, it seems United Distillers have stopped printing batch numbers on the labels or bottles after 2000. That's a shame, because I've recently heard some disturbing rumours about 'fake' single malts. The more information we can get off the bottle, the more certainty we have that we're actually drinking what we think we are drinking...

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