120 - 01/08/2002 - LOSING MY RELIGION - The perfect single malt doesn't exist; so now what?
121 - 10/08/2002 - Aberfeldy 12yo - Aberfeldy 1978/1996 - Royal Brackla 16yo 1984/2001 - ...
122 - 31/08/2002 - Balblair NAS - Littlemill 8yo - Lochside 10yo - Tamnavulin 12yo - Glen Moray NAS - ...
123 - 06/09/2002 - Brora 19yo 1982 - Brora 24yo 1977 - Brora 28yo 1971 - Brora 29yo 1972 - ...
124 - 04/10/2002 - Campbeltown Investigations: Springbank (6x) & Glen Scotia (3x)
125 - 31/10/2002 - Sheep Dip 8yo - Famous Grouse 12yo 1989 - Corriemhor Cigar Reserve - ...
126 - 11/11/2002 - Suntory 12yo 'Yamazaki' - Slyrs 3yo - Ankara 5yo - Glenroc NAS - Clonmel 8yo - ...
127 - 22/11/2002 - Talisker 20yo 1981 - Tactical 19yo 1980 - Port Ellen 24yo 1978 - Caol Ila 1978 - ...
128 - 28/12/2002 - Auchentoshan 3 Wood - Bladnoch 1987 - Bladnoch 1988 - Bladnoch 1992 C/S - ...
129 - 29/12/2002 - Rosebank 1979 - Saint Magdalene 1975 - Linlithgow 18yo - Linlithgow 26yo - ...
Keen observers may have noticed that we've arrived at log entry #120.
Another small milestone in my search for the perfect single malt.
To tell you the truth, I've arrived at a point in my quest where I'm starting to wonder if that 'perfect' single malt I imagined in 1996 really exists. In fact, I'm pretty sure it doesn't - at least not in the sense that there is an affordable official bottling out there that scores 100 points and keeps on doing so year after year.
Since I started my mission, I've learned that that there can be considerable differences between different batches of the 'same' malt. Sometimes the differences are minimal, sometimes they are considerable. Some distilleries manage to achieve a high level of consistency from year to year (Dalmore, Longmorn), some are less successful in that respect (Bowmore, Edradour). Some distilleries seem to release better bottlings every year (Aberlour, Bruichladdich), some are on a slippery declining slope (Macallan, Lagavulin).
What's more - my 'perfect' single malt might make somebody else want to throw up.
It's all a matter of personal taste.
So, there's no such thing as 'THE perfect single malt'.
A pessimist would say that statement instantly degrades my mission to a fool's errand.
Nay, I say! Even if the Lagavulin 16yo had been that 'perfect single malt' I once believed it to be, life would be pretty dull (not to mention short) if I drank it all day, day after day after day. One of the things that attracted me to single malts in the first place was the incredible variation in style and character between different single malts. In that light, the quest for one specific bottle or bottling seems like an act of utter folly.
So what? I can be pretty reasonable when I have to be (more reasonable than most people actually), but there's a time and place for everything. When I sink into the cushy cushions of my drinking chair, reason and logic usually are the first things to fly out of the window - gradually followed by the loss of social inhibitions and eventually sanity and the control of my bodily functions. But that's just under the perfect circumstances, of course. Usually, my brain and liver stay in control.
Anyway, they don't call me 'Mr. Flexible' for nothing...
(Well, actually they call me 'Mr. Wobbly' but that's beside the point.)
All I have to do is redefine the objectives of my quest - and that's easy.
After all, isn't the journey itself much more important than the destination?
So, the quest of noble grandeur I've undertaken should honour the differences in character and style between single malt whiskies produced at different distilleries. Instead of looking for 'THE' perfect single malt, I will devote
phase two of my mission to an investigation of Scotland at a distillery level. Each active distillery should get a fair chance - or at least a second one. And I won't make the same mistake twice.
Instead of trying to determine what 'the perfect distillery' might be, I will try to seek out a number of 'top' distilleries who seem most qualified to meet my dramly needs. I will keep a record of all the single malts that received a score of 80 points or more on my HIT LIST. This should allow me to compose a 'portfolio' of top distilleries by the time I've finished phase 2 of my mission. It has taken me 5 years to finish phase 1; thinking I could finish phase 2 within a year seems like sheer (malt) madness in the cold light of day. What's more, sampling just two different bottlings from a distillery seems hardly enough to make any final claims about it. I guess I should try at least three versions from each distillery if I want to be fair.
That's all well and noble, but do I really want to try more bottlings of Isle of Jura or Littlemill?
Not really, to tell you the truth. I guess every distillery deserves at least a second chance, but if both bottlings don't meet my personal enjoyment standards I don't feel obliged to torture myself a third time. At the same time, I have no objections to trying more than three bottlings from a distillery that managed to impress me before. In fact, it make sense to do a few checks to find out if a distillery really is as good as I think. So, I decided to use the 'Still Scores' of the distilleries to determine how many versions I should try. These 'Still Scores' are expressed by 1-5 stars;
***** = Absolutely top material;
**** = Constant overachiever; almost always worth the money;
*** = Decent scores along the range; worth a try if the price is right;
** = Constant underachiever;
* = Highly avoidable; spend your money on Glenfiddich instead.
Those among you blessed with some sense of numbers will have realised by now that this seriously increases the scope and magnitude of phase 2 of my mission. I still have to sample at least two bottlings from each active distillery
in Scotland just like before, but all distilleries with a 'Still Score' of three stars or more require further investigation. The level of investigation required is defined as follows;
3 stars = at least 3 bottlings / 4 stars = at least 4 bottlings / 5 stars = at least 5 bottlings
So, where does this leave me when it comes to my 'Scotland by Dram' project?
Let's try and keep things simple and transparent by redefining the end of the SbD-project as the end of phase 2 of my mission. The original deadline of 31/12/2002 is out the window, of course. With the hugely increased number of different bottlings I'll have to sample (and accounting for frequent bad nose days and the drop in my discretionary income) I can count myself lucky if I can finish the project by December 2005.
I will go about things as alphabetically as possible, and will publish a 'Distillery Guide' in the 'mAlmanac' section of the site as I go along. That should keep me (and you,
hopefully) entertained for quite a while.
Things have been very chaotic over the last few months.
I've been chasing across my shelves at breakneck speed.
Fortunately, I don't have to worry about a 'deadline' by the end of this year anymore, after I increased the scope and length of the 'Scotland by Dram' project (see log entry #120 for details). What's more, I've heard some rumours that Pernod/Ricard will be mothballing Allt-A-Bhainne, Benriach, Braeval and Caperdonich.
Things could be worse, because I have lots of other things to keep me occupied these days.
Nevertheless, I found some time to speed up the traffic on my shelves.
Once more, my choices were driven by cold, hard alphabetics.
To get rid of the excess bottles in my collection, I started by opening a bottle.
I know this sounds illogical, but this is a case of two steps forward, one step back. I really wanted to try the fresh bottle of Aberfeldy 12yo (40%, OB, Dewar's) against it's older, stronger brother in my collection.
Nose: Ah, that's interesting? Very spicy, very herbal. Playful prickle. Then it moves into a sweet & sour direction, becoming fruitier. Then more organic notes appear - leather? Some smoke after 10 minutes, but then it drops off quickly. Some water revives it again, releasing much more smoke. Only for half a minute, though - then it seems dead for good. No, wait - it picks up again. Japanese crackers in the end?
Taste: Harsh and rough at the start. Hint of salt liquorice. Orange lemonade in the finish?
Not as endearing as the nose. Although it has its moments, it's slightly disappointing.
Score: 78 points. With a palate to match the note it would have reached my Hit List with a score in the mid-eighties. This is a real nasal roller coaster! Unfortunately, the taste is just so-so.
When I spotted this bottle it at Gall&Gall during the June shoppings I though: 'Hey, only 43 Euro's is a steal - let's pick it up. I'm still not really used to our new currency. 'Only' 43 Euro's translates to almost 100 guilders. That would have bought me an Ardbeg 17 or Laphroaig 15 at Ton Overmars, so from a 'value' perspective this isn't a real winner. But I don't regret picking it up - it's a pleasant diversion.
Next, the Aberfeldy 1978/1996
(59.3%, Scott's Selection) from my top shelf.
Nose: Nice! A little overwhelming at cask strength. Seems sweeter with five drops of water.
Creamy. Sherry. Great development over time, with organic notes growing stronger and stronger.
Taste: Soft start, followed by a big, fruity burn. Groovy, baby! Spicy. Bitter undercurrent.
Mild sherry accents that complement the other elements rather than overwhelm them.
Score: 83 points seems a bit on the conservative side tonight, but I'll have plenty of time to increase the rating later on. Both bottles are far from empty, so I will be able to do a proper H2H later.
OK - I've now sampled a grand total of 3 different versions of Aberfeldy.
A younger version (9yo 1991 Signatory Vintage) I tried last year scored only 70 points, so the average score for this distillery ends up in the upper seventies. This translates into a final 'Still Score' of 3 stars. Alphabetically speaking, this is where I should turn towards my Aberlours. Well, that's not the plan for tonight. The Aberlour JOLT (see mAddendum 106A) in March left me with 7 different Aberlours on my shelves, so tha's more than enough to warrant a separate Aberlour session in a few months time.
So, I turned to the Allt A'Bhainne 1989/1999
(50%, John Milroy Millennium Selection) instead.
Nose: Smoke & toffee. Powerful and sweet. Spirity at times. Hazelnuts? Tea?
The oiliness it showed when I had just opened was still there, but not as strong.
Spices. After +/- 15 minutes eucalyptus and overcooked vegetable notes take over.
Taste: Strong, sweet and malty start, then heaps of salt on the palate. Numbing.
Suddenly, a strong impression of eucalyptus and paraffin. Increases over time.
Score: 77 points. Above average, but not something I'd buy again. I've only sampled one other version of Allt A'Bhainne (an old James McArthur 12yo bottling which scored 70 points) so I will have to try and find a third version before I can declare a final judgement on the distillery.
The Allt A'Bhainne was empty, the Aberfeldies move to my middle shelf for further investigation. As a kind of epilogue, I opened the Royal Brackla 16yo 1984/2001
(43%, Coopers Choice).
Nose: Polished. Fruity and nutty. Melon. Sweetish. Very pleasant, but a little nondescript.
Fruity elements grow stronger over time, but the overall impression isn't very intense.
Taste: Not very strong in the start. Coffee in the centre? Hint of sherry.
After some breathing, the burn seems to grow stronger. Long finish.
A decent single malt in the 'classic' style, but not a lot of personality.
I found it difficult to come up with a score for the the Coopers Choice Royal Brackla, so I sampled it again in a H2H with its older brother, the Royal Brackla 20yo 1978/1998
(59.8%, UDRM, Bottle #3887). It was my last dram from this bottle, but with a score of 79 points I won't shed any tears about this bottle leaving my shelves. The nose of the 16yo started sweeter and more sherried than the UDRM, which seemed much more grainy and spicy. It seems remarkably flat for its strength. After a minute the 16yo shows more fruits, while the UDRM started to show more cask strength power. At first the Cooper's choice seems the winner, but after a while the tables are turned. Given enough time, the UDRM really blossoms. More fruits and more sherried with an enticing hint of smoke. After diluting the UDRM to +/- 40%, it showed more fruity notes - lighter, fresher fruits than in the 16yo. Meanwhile, the 16yo keeps dropping off. And it isn't that spectacular to begin with. A standard malt in the classic style.
The taste of the 16yo started creamy and malty, but turned bitter quickly. Good burn, though. Then a strong black coffee sensation. The UDRM seemed very bitter as well, but became sweeter and smoother. A bit like choco-rum. Oak and tannin in the finish.
Royal Brackla 16yo (43.0%, Coop) = 76 points
Royal Brackla 20yo (59.8%, UDRM) = 79 points
So, now I've sampled three different (Royal) Brackla's as well. The McGibbon's Provenance 6yo 1994/2000 I tried a while ago at 'De Still' scored 70 points, which is quite impressive for such a young malt. Combined with tonight's scores we arrive at a Still Score of 3 points for Royal Brackla. Definitely worth a try if the price is right. Three stars and three versions - I can cross Royal Brackla off my 'Scotland by Dram' list, as well as Aberfeldy. Both distilleries seem to produce mostly recommendable malts.
That concludes tonight's proceedings.
I'll continue on my alphabetical journey and have a close look at Aberlour in a few weeks time.
August is usually a very slow month for me, malt-wise.
Not this year, though. Temperatures have been unusually low for a couple of weeks and I've made some good progress is solving the shelf situation. When I told my brother Franc about the overpopulation problem he generously offered to come over and help me get ride of some of the excess whisky on my shelves.
He's a real philanthropist, my brother...
Now, before I get to the tasting part, let me explain the little 'Brothers Blind' game we play from time to time. Basically, it's very simple. Franc leaves the room, I pick a malt from my collection and pour us a dram, Franc
returns, we sample the malt, Franc guesses and I gloat, then I leave, Franc pours a dram, etc.
The 'game' element lies in the fact that you get points for every accurately identified whisky. You can try to put a name to the malt in one go, which means 5 points if you get it right. You can also try to narrow the search down by selecting a group of 5 malts which might include the blind. Get it wrong and you receive zero points right away. If it's indeed one of these five, you receive 1 point for getting the 'direction' right, but then you will have to guess which one it is. The score for selecting the right one among these five drops to 3 points for the first guess, 2 for the second one and 1 for the third guess. Anything for a giggle...
I started by pouring Franc a Balblair NAS 'Elements'
(40%, OB), blind of course.
The nose was spicy at first, becoming smoother and creamier quickly. A little oily too, with hints of fruit and soft peat. Not entirely 'harmonious'. The taste was smooth with apple overtones. A little malty. Fruit sweets? Gingerbread? Dull and quite bitter in the finish. I'd give it a final rating of 74 points this time. It seemed like a small 'amazing discovery' when I first opened the bottle, but today I wonder why I loved it so much in the first place. Decent, but not spectacular. Nice pricing, though.
Meanwhile, Franc commented that the aroma was very different from the taste - in a good way. He found something 'moldy' in the nose. Franc was disappointed by the taste after the nose. I agree; the taste (and especially the finish) isn't very remarkable but the nose does quite well in the summer. Franc kept discarding malts he was sure it wasn't - no Islay malt, no Aberlour, No Glenfiddich... He finally guessed wrong when he put all his money on a Glengoyne. Sorry - no points for my little brother this time around.
Now Franc shoved me out of the room to pour a blind for me.
When I was allowed back in the room, I found he had poured me a malt with a very oily nose with hints of sweetness and smoke. Some fruity notes as well. The oil was so overwhelming that I didn't even have to taste the stuff to narrow it down to two choices - Ledaig NAS Sherry or Littlemill 8yo. I also found furniture polish, but that didn't help me. The taste was bitter and oily. Hint of ginger. Almonds? No sweetness at all in the start; a smidgen in the centre. Very alcoholic, like a cheap rum. I didn't find any peat in the nose and taste, so I discarded the Ledaig. I gambled correctly - it was the Littlemill 8yo (40%, OB).
This means I immediately earned 5 points in tonight's game. I rated the Littlemill at 65 points during the last tasting but that's too generous. The rating drops to 62 points . Utterly unimpressive.
Now it was my turn to pour a blind again.
I went for the Tamnavulin 12yo (40%, OB). The nose was sweetish with a spirity start. Quite oily. Soft maltiness, opening up with spicier notes over time. It's a good thing Franc didn't pour this as a blind for me because I would have never recognised it. This is much better than I remembered - it sort of sucked immediately after I opened the bottle, but this time around the nose scores well into the 70's. Over time, it becomes fruitier (citrus?) with traces of pepper and peat. Very interesting! After about ten minutes the oiliness I detected during earlier tastings returned, but never as disturbing or overwhelming as in the Littlemill. The taste was not as surprising as the nose, but it performed all right.
A little sweet and malty with an appealing fruity dryness.
I increased the score to 72 points. Just keep in mind that this one definitely needs some time to break in.
Meanwhile, Franc was struggling to make heads or tails of this one.
He found the nose sweet and smoky. It reminded him a bit of a young white wine - yes, I understand what he means. I'm not sure what it is that provokes the association - perhaps the light fruitiness? Or maybe the colour? Franc found the taste sweet and smoky. His failure to identify the Balblair correctly had made him cautious, so he went for a short list; Aberlour 10yo, Auchroisk 10yo, Balmenach 10yo, Glenlivet 12yo French Oak Finish and Tamnavulin 12yo. Yes, 1 point for Franc already. But which one is it exactly? Franc's first guess was Balmenach 10yo; he got it right the second time and earned himself 2 extra points that way.
Three points to Franc; my turn again.
Franc kicked me out of the room and took his sweet time pouring the next blind.
This was a tough one. Franc had picked another 'oily' whisky. Nutty too. Grass? A little sweet with hints of smoke and fruit in the nose. Faint spicy notes. Gherkins? The taste was a little weak; gritty and malty, becoming sweeter over time. Bitter in the centre and finish, growing drier and more astringent towards the end. I couldn't find any unique elements to point me in the right direction so I had to guess based on how much I liked it - somewhere between 65-70 points. In the end, I selected a short list: Banff 18yo, Bladnoch 1987, Glenlossie 10yo 1989, Ledaig NAS Sherry and MacDuff 11yo 1990.
As it turned out, Franc had picked the Lochside 10yo (40%, MacNab, 75cl) from my shelves. No points at all for me during this round. Meanwhile, the rating for the malt end up at 65 points . (Franc gave it 63 points.)
With the score 5-3 in my favour we decided to go one more round. I banned Franc from the room again and poured us a dram of the Glen Moray NAS 'Chardonnay'
(40%, OB). Klaus brought over this bottle from Germany in June. It's a nice summer malt and I've been sipping it a lot over the last two months.
Nose: Sweet and sour. Yeast or dough? Some oil in the background as well. It has a very distinct fruity element and reminds me of a young white wine or grappa. Smokier, spicier and peatier after five minutes.
Taste: Sweet and malty on the palate. A little nutty. Not very powerful.
Alcoholic. Quite flat, to tell you the truth. Dry and winey finish. Unbalanced.
Score: 71 points. Nice, but it lacks depth and complexity. That being said, I have to admit it's a very suitable whisky for steady dramming on a hot summer night. Light and accessible.
Franc thought the taste was extremely sour and winey; he scored it at 68 points and guessed it was a Glenlivet 12yo French Oak Finish. Sorry, no points for Franc this time.
Around 23:45, Franc poured me a final blind dram.
Nose: Not a lot of volume. Cooked vegetables. Lots of spices after a minute.
Some soft sherry. Salted almonds or peanuts? Grows sweeter over time.
Taste: Malty and slightly nutty with a hint of pepper on the tongue. Faint liquorice?
Starts out with a strong salty component that grows sweeter over time. Coffee?
Score: 72 points, I'd say. A decent malt but nothing to get excited about. I was in the lead in tonight's blind game anyway, so I went for a direct guess this time. The spicy notes in the nose and the slowly developing sweetness led me to believe this might be the Teaninich 1982 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice).
No, it turned out to be the Old Fettercairn 10yo (40%, OB, 100cl). This once again proves my blind tasting abilities leave a lot to be desired. Ah well, training them is no punishment...
Anyway, after the 'official' blind tasting part of the evening was over we pulled out my chessboard and enjoyed a few quick games. In-between moves, I mixed the remains of the Balblair Elements, Glen Moray
NAS, Littlemill 8yo, Lochside 10yo, Old Fettercairn 10yo and Tamnavulin 12yo into one of my 'Special Blends'. Whatever combination I used, I wasn't able to produce anything that was better than the sum of its parts. The good news
is that we managed to clear away six bottles tonight, providing some much needed relief on my overpopulated shelves.
Phew! I just got back safe and sound from a big whisky hunt in France and Italy with fellow malt maniac Serge Valentin. That's more surprising than it sounds, because the largest part of my trip back to Amsterdam was spent on the German autobahn, pushing my foot down at the pedal at hard as I could. The speedometer said I was approaching 200 km/h - not a speed for hanging back and relaxing by.
I guess Serge's driving style during our trip to Milan had inspired me.
Of course, Serge had given me good directions about the shortest and easiest route from his home in Turckheim (near Strassbourg) to Holland. But when I saw a sign 'payage' on the way to Luxembourg I freaked out, because I don't know how the French system works. So, I neglected Serge's good advice and headed for Freiburg and the German route instead - Karlsruhe, Koblenz, Köln, etc. Anyway, that's not important right now. Let me pour myself a dram of the recently acquired Suntory 'Yamazaki' 12yo (43%, OB, Japan) and tell you all about my trip.
It all started when I arrived at Serge's home on Tuesday - roughly two hours too late. Except that I didn't know I had arrived when I got out of the car. I had left Holland before 6:00 AM and would have arrived pretty much on time if I hadn't gotten lost some ten kilometres from Turckheim. In the end, I ended up circling the nearby city of Colmar several times, desperately looking for a sign that said 'Turckheim' or a public telephone so I could let Serge know about my delay. Finally, frustrated like you wouldn't believe, I got on the right track and drove into Turckheim. But I had no idea how to find the address, so I was utterly relieved when I FINALLY spotted a public phone near the post office - the first one I had seen since I drove into France.
I stopped my car and got out to give Serge a ring when I heard somebody call out my name.
Now, I know I'm famous, but that's just ridiculous. Expecting to see a 'gendarme' who had somehow gotten wind of my liquor smuggling plans I turned around. Fortunately, it was just Serge. As it turned out, I had stopped less than a hundred meters from his house and he had been eagerly awaiting my arrival.
Without further ado, we got in Serge's big-ass Mercedes and headed for Milan.
Around 6:00 PM, twelve hours after I left, we crossed the Swiss/Italian border. How about that? I've passed through five countries today on a whisky hunt! Holland, Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy.
We managed to survive the Milan rush hour and find the Rubens Hotel without a map.
The hotel - quite recommendable, actually - was located at Via Rubens. What an amazing coincidence...
We both felt a bit peckish, so after we checked in at the hotel we decided to take a stroll into Milan to find a nice authentic Italian restaurant. Milan is a very interesting city, although a lot of the old buildings have been replaced by modern serial buildings. Fortunately, you can still get the occasional glimpse of the past in the form of a secluded courtyard or a renaissance facade. Milan reminded me a little of Antwerp and Amsterdam - a bustling, slightly dirty city that seems more interested in modern day-to-day life than in its history.
During out search for food we passed by Giorgio's shop at the Via Dei Martinitt. It was well after 21:00 PM and to my surprise the store was still open. In fact, if Serge hadn't pointed it out to me I would have walked by
ignorantly, unaware of the treasures inside. It seems there are little or no 'liquor stores' in Italy as I know them; every liquor shop I saw offered lots of other products as well, ranging from pastry and chocolate to coffee and
fruit. Sure, Giorgio's shop had some liquor in the window, but strangely enough there was nothing else than about a dozen 'special' bottlings of Jack Daniels. Since even the special bottlings of Jack Daniels aren't all that special
to begin with, I would have never bothered to enter the store if Serge hadn't been around. We briefly greeted Giorgio who was just closing up shop and asked what time the store would open the next morning. His answer: 6:00 AM. I
thought he was joking at first, but Serge assured me the store really opened that early. Amazing - but of no use to us right there and then.
Saying goodbye to Giorgio for the moment, we continued our search for food. As it turned out, it's much easier to find an Italian restaurant in Amsterdam or Paris than in Milan. We must have walked for almost an hour when we entered a busy seafood restaurant. The waiter told us we would have to wait for a while. This prospect became less and less appetising the longer I looked into the cold, accusing eyes of the dozens of dead fish on display directly in front of us. My appetite was disappearing quickly, so we decided to try our luck elsewhere.
Another reason for the weakness in my stomach might have been the Toscani Extra Vecchi cigar I enjoyed during our search for a restaurant. It's an Italian brand; made with very dark tobacco and very tightly rolled into a not quite symmetrical shape. A real challenge for your lungs and quite affordable at 1 Euro a piece. Serge told me the Italians usually cut them in half because one whole cigar is simply too much to handle in one go. I arrogantly dismissed his advice - after all, I'm used to smoking big-ass Brazilian cigars. Well, I should have listened to Serge. This is without a doubt the heaviest cigar I ever tried. A real 'stinkstick', something like the Loch Dhu of cigars! But unlike the Loch Dhu, I kind of like this. It's certainly not for every occasion, but when you're in the mood for something extreme this is great fun. The cigars are not much bigger than the ones Clint Eastwood smoked to get a genuine look of disgust on his face in Sergio Leone's 'Dollar' trilogy, but like Serge predicted I simply couldn't handle the whole cigar in one walk. When in Rome...
In my defence, I have to say I'm not really used to smoking (big) cigars before dinner.
Traditional dinner time in Holland is around 18:00, but as you travel South in Europe people sit down for dinner or supper later in the evening. Around 22:00 it seemed like rush hour in the Milanese restaurants. After some more wandering about we came full circle again, ending up in a simple pizzeria on Via Santa Maria Valle - less than 100 meters from Giorgio's store. It wasn't the nice authentic Italian restaurant we were looking for but the reasonable collection of single malts behind the bar pulled us in. I could write a full report on our dinner (a 'classic' Italian meal; carpaccio, pizza and gelato) and our conversation alone, but I won't.
Instead, I'll tell you about Serge's amazing whisky hunting instincts.
After finishing our meal we got up and made our way towards the exit.
Casually tucked away on a cabinet in a corner were less than a dozen bottles of whisky - maybe half of them opened. Like every malt maniac would do, I quickly scanned the bottles on display while I passed the cabinet. Ballantines, J&B, Lagavulin 16yo, Talisker 10yo - nothing out of the ordinary it seemed. I turned around to be on my merry way when Serge halted me and pulled a bottle of Bowmore from the back row. It didn't look all that special to me at first sight, but then I read the fine print on the label. Man, I need new goggles!
To my amazement, this was a Bowmore 1965 'Full Strength' (50%, OB, 75cl) - unopened!
Shaking with excitement Serge turned around to the waiter and grabbed him by the the throat, shouting 'What do you want for it, what does it cost!?!?' OK, OK, I'm exaggerating a little here; suffice it to say Serge got very excited. He tried to conceal it, but not very successfully.
This illustrates why Serge is a much better whisky hunter than I am.
First of all, I would have never thought about asking if a bottle was for sale in a restaurant. In my simple universe, shops are for shopping and restaurants and bars are for dramming. So, I wasn't in shopping mode. Second of all, I would have never bothered to ask for the price of a Bowmore 1965 under the assumption that it would be way above my price ceiling of 100 Euro's anyway. Boy, was I wrong. As it turned out, the price tag of 135.000 liras translated to only 85 Euro's! Naturally, Serge bought it immediately.
(Later research showed that this bottling has been valued up to 500 British Pounds at auctions.)
Serge is simply too generous for his own good. On our way back to the hotel he offered the Bowmore to me several times. 'Do you want it?', he kept asking. My politeness and unselfish nature (hahem) were severely tested, because indeed I wanted it. Of course I wanted it - I'm a malt maniac, remember? But I figured Serge really deserved the spoils of his hunt, so I managed to gracefully decline. Anyway, we retired to our rooms and agreed to meet again over breakfast early next morning to plan the rest of our whisky hunt.
I slept like a baby and woke up very early the next morning, in a state very similar to the state I used to wake up in on my birthdays when I was still a little Johannes. A mixture of anticipation and raw materialism. After reading
Serge's report on his first visit to Giorgio's place (see Malt Maniacs #3) I was very eager to see the famous treasure cave with my own eyes. After meeting up with Serge again over breakfast we didn't waste much time and headed
over to 'Bar Metro' as soon as we finished our second espresso.
Maybe that second espresso wasn't such a good idea, by the way.
I needed a cool head if I wanted to avoid another attack of malt madness and stay within my budget of 1000 Euro's. And let me assure you malt madness is lurking just around the corner at Giorgio's.
We entered the 'public' store around 9:30 AM.
A nice bar/delicatessen store with maybe a hundred bottles on the shelves.
A couple of rather old (75cl) bottlings and quite a few 'Silver Seal' IB's. Nice selection, but not overly impressive. We chatted a little with Giorgio over another espresso before we left the public part of the store and descended into Giorgio's vaults. And this is where things got really interesting...
Imagine, if you will, a large cellar.
In fact, imagine two large cellars filled with shelves.
Imagine these shelves filled with bottles like Lagavulin 12yo
(OB, 75cl, 400 Euro's), Talisker 12yo (OB, 75cl, 300 Euro's)
and a range of Macallan 18's that stretches well into the sixties.
Sorry, I'm tempted to use expletives here.
It's just that I'm usually quite happy with the amount of
money I get to spend on single malts. With lots of excellent
bottlings available for less than 50 Euro's here in Holland I'm
not often tempted to spend more than 100 Euro's on a bottle,
let alone 300 or 400. But this time I was tempted, let me tell you.
The picture at the left shows Serge (with French moustache)
and yours truly in front of Giorgio's private shelves.
You may notice the expression of mindless bliss on my face.
That's because I just acquired some very special bottles.
Here's an complete overview of my pickups;
- Ardbeg 9yo 1991/2000 (46%, Murray McDavid, 70cl) - 75 Euro's
- Ardbeg 21yo 1974/1996 (40%, Sestante / Giorgio d'Ambrosio, 70cl) - 98 Euro's (2x)
- Ardbeg 27yo 1973/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 70cl, 240 bottles) - 198 Euro's
- Bowmore 17yo (43%, OB, 70cl, gift cigar with cool cigar holder & whisky flask) - 93 Euro's
- Caol Ila 10yo 1988 (43%, Hart Brothers, 70cl) - 50 Euro's
- Caol Ila 10yo 1989/1999 (46%, Dun Eideann, 70cl) - 39 Euro's
- Glen Avon 15yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 75cl, bastard malt) - 62 Euro's
- Mortlach 21yo (40%, Sestante Import, 70cl) - 75 Euro's
- Suntory 'Yamazaki' 12yo (43%, vatted malt, 70cl, Japan) - 49 Euro's
- Tomintoul Glenlivet 12yo (43%, OB, 75cl) - 38 Euro's
(Check out mAddendum 123A if you want to know why I bought what I did.)
Malt madness comes and goes like a fever.
Today, restraint and logic just went out of the window.
I spent more than 800 Euro's on 11 bottles. Compared to my usual shopping pattern I behaved pretty erratic, but that wasn't entirely my fault. Things were severely complicated by the fact that Giorgio has a cavalier attitude towards pricing his merchandise. Most of the bottles in the cellar had no price tag attached to them and when they had it often showed the price in Italian lira's. Since I've never been to Italy before and I'm still trying to come to grips with the introduction of the Euro I had a hard time figuring out if they were bargains or not. With Giorgio having to calculate the price of almost every bottle by hand things were a little chaotic.
Anyway, after Serge and I spent almost an hour selecting our bottles it was time to take a look at Giorgio's private collection in the adjacent cellar. Let me warn you that visiting the treasure cave of Giorgio can be hazardous to your self esteem. Since I started my reserve stock about two years ago I've been experiencing frequent bursts of pride and anticipatory pleasure, but Giorgio's collection can humble even the proudest man into tears - especially when you are one of those people who think that single malt whiskies should be drank rather than collected. When will he ever find the time to drink all these bottles???
Just a few picks:
Hundreds of bottles from long
forgotten distilleries, dozens
of Macallans from the 1800's,
a huge range of old and rare
Springbanks, a 'Jim Clark'
Bowmore 30yo with a
Formula 1 car on the label...
You can find it all at:
Via Dei Martinitt 3
Giorgio can talk about his bottles for hours.
Well, in our case it was more pointing and smiling, because my Italian is even worse than Giorgio's English. But malt maniacs don't need a lot of words to communicate... After being surrounded by the most exquisite and rare malts for maybe half an hour I couldn't stand it any longer and had to get some fresh air.
After leaving Ali Baba's cave Giorgio kindly offered us a dram to recover from the disturbing images. We sampled the Glenury 20yo 1980/2001 (50%, Silver Seal, distilled November 1985, bottled July 2001, bottle #225 of 620, single barrel). Unfortunately, the standard glasses were rather small grappa glasses, which didn't have the level of aroma amplification I'm used to. What's more, it wasn't even noon yet - I usually never drink this early. As a result, my notes turned out very sketchy. The nose was sherried, but not the way I like it. It displays what I call the 'Connoisseurs Choice' effect - generous and indiscriminate use of sherry masking and blending most other fragrances rather than enhancing them. The taste wasn't very remarkable either - a malty, sherried whisky in the 'classic' style. It reminded me a little of the Millburn 1971 (40%, CC).
Score: 78 points. Better than average but nothing to get excited about from these glasses. This was actually the first Glenury (Royal) I ever tasted; the distillery closed in 1985.
Italian hospitality is pretty great. After we paid our bills, Giorgio asked if we would like to try another dram. Sure!
After spending such a huge chunk of our allowance on malts we could use all the free bees we could get. Our second dram was a Bowmore 16yo 1985/2001 (50%, Silver Seal, bottled September 2001, bottle #331 of 480,
Sherry wood. The nose was surprisingly light at first. Clean with faint Islay notes. After a while some subtle sherry notes emerge. The taste showed some smoke. A big burn, thanks to the 50%.
Score: 79 points . This probably isn't a fair rating, but with the small grappa glasses I couldn't really get to the bottom of the nose. To me, the taste was just so-so and it didn't feel like anything that should be on my hit list. Serge raves about these Silver Seal bottlings but I can't really see what all the fuss is about.
Oh, boy. This report is getting bigger and bigger. I guess I should skip over most of the other details of my trip if I want to finish it before Christmas. After we said our goodbyes to Giorgio we checked out of our hotel, quickly stopped at a store called 'Galli' and picked up some more bottles - in my case the Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish (43%, OB, 70cl, White label) for 34 Euro's and a bottle of Old Cricket NAS Original Whisky (40%, blend, probably not even Scotch) at the amazing price of 4 Euro's! Italian alcoholics must be happy people...
Arrivederci Italy, Bonjour France.
Before I get on with my report on the French adventures, I'd like to take this opportunity to formally apologise to the fine people of Italy who may read this. I really tried to speak to you in your own language but somehow my language gearbox seemed to jump back to Spanish every time I opened my mouth.
Anyway, after a smooth ride through Switzerland with discussions moving from Zino Davidoff to jazz and from Yquem to E-business we arrived in France around 17:00 PM. Time enough to visit the wonderful medieval cathedral and city of Colmar and pick up a few cheap bottles in a supermarket:
- Benrinnes 1985/1999 (43%, Mac Kullick's Choice, Cask # 1213, 70cl) - 35 Euro's
- Talisker 10yo Version A (45.8%, OB, 70cl - 27 Euro's
- Talisker 10yo Version C (45.8%, OB, 70cl - 27 Euro's (2x)
During a crazy ride through some characteristic Alsatian mountain villages Serge tried to prove that the taxi chauffeurs in Paris aren't the only crazy French drivers, doing some serious damage to his car in the process. Nevertheless, we arrived safely around 20:00 PM at his beautiful home. It's a very characteristic building, creatively decorated by lots of 'bric-a-brac' and many paintings by Serge. After a nice light dinner (skilfully prepared by Serge's wife Frederique) and some music on an ancient gramophone Serge and I retired to his study for the second highlight of my trip: a big Brora sampling.
We started the tasting with a Clynelish 10yo 1989/2000 (43%, Hedges & Butler, cask #005895, bottle #068).
The Clynelish distillery is the successor of the Brora distillery that closed in the 1980's. For a little over two decades
both distilleries were active. Between 1969 and 1983 Brora used unusually heavily peated malt for their whisky while Clynelish produced a more 'mainstream' whisky. The nose was mellow and a little one-dimensional. Oatmeal
and hot milk. Yeast? Some flowery notes too - violets? Faint hints of smoke and horse stable. Nutty and sweet elements grow stronger with time. The smoke keeps teasing in the background.
Sadly, the taste was flat and bitter with a rough mouth feel. Dry finish.
Simple and utterly uninteresting. Maybe the cask was tired or treated badly?
Score: 70 points according to Serge, 72 points on the Johanno-scale on account of the decent nose. So, not a big winner then. The two other bottlings of Clynelish I sampled earlier (an 8yo Ultimate and an 11yo Signatory Vintage) both scored around 80 points, so this qualifies as a mild disappointment.
Then we turned to the peatier stuff, starting with the Brora 19yo 1982/2001 (46%, Chieftain's, distilled June 1982, bottled December 2001, Casks #1189 and 1192, 1332 bottles, Sherry butt). It was part of a special deluxe
Chieftains series in a big black box I've never seen before. Nice packaging.
Nose: Wow! Very sherried. Sweet and fruity, but no peat. Classic style.
Wet dead oak. Vanilla and the skin of sour pears. A faint hint of smoke.
Taste: Dry with a liquorice tingle. Smoky bite after a few seconds. Tannin?
Very, very woody - too much for my tastes. A serious case of cigar mouth.
Score: 86 points according to Serge, 82 points on the Johanno-scale.
Very nice packaging but I suspect it has a price to match it.
The taste is not as good as the nose; I think we can do better tonight.
Next one: the Brora 24yo 1977/2001 (56.1%, UDRM, bottled October 2001, bottle #1599).
My notes on this one are rather sketchy due to an overdose of conversation and music. We enjoyed a classical record of fellow malt maniac Mark Adams from America.
Nose: Fruity & peaty - an unusual combination. Smoke and resin. Dry Lapsang Souchon tea.
Taste: Dry and peaty start with a pinch of salt. Liquorice. Leather.
No disturbing sherry notes. A real 'I can't believe it's a Highlander' Highlander.
Score: 90 points according to Serge, 87 points on the Johanno-scale.
Excellent stuff - a Highlander with the taste of a real Islay malt. Great!
Louis Perlman has been raving about the Brora 28yo 1971/1999 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 283 bottles) for quite a while now, so I was glad I finally got the chance to sample it. Heavy legs in the glass. The nose showed many of
my favourite elements; salt, leather and a hint of seaweed. Sushi? No smoke, though.
The taste was clean and clear; brine and bourbon with fruits in the background. Pleasant dryness. It has what Serge calls 'a peacock's tail' - a taste that opens up into different elements after time.
Score: 88 points according to Serge, 88 points on the Johanno-scale as well. Yes, this is the good stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if my score turns out even higher after I sampled it again. Of course, we will never know if the bottle Louis sampled was from the same cask. Although I haven't encountered a bad or mediocre OMC bottling yet they often release different batches of the 'same' malt coming from different casks. Since we're talking about single cask bottlings here there may be significant differences.
We finished the Brora part of the evening with the Brora 29yo 1972/2002 (59.5%, Douglas Laing Platinum Edition, 2nd batch, 240 bottles). The bottle and label are quite ugly, actually.
Nose: Soft peat. Wet dog. Tar, Salt. The peaty element grows stronger over time.
Horse stable. Ammoniac. Soda? Some faint fruity and sour notes too.
Amazing development! With some water it softens out.
Taste: Salt and peat, pure and clean. Sorry, no further notes.
Score: 93 points according to Serge, 93 points on the Johanno-scale as well.
Yes, it's an almost perfect single malt - but it has the price tag to prove it. 200 Euro's will buy me two bottles of Saint Magdalene 1979 UDRM, so I'd rather invest my money that way. That being said, this stuff is really, really excellent. I can say without exaggeration that this is the best Brora I ever tried - or the best Highland malt for that matter. In a blind test I would have certainly (and wrongfully) identified this as an Islay malt.
So, it seemed like the perfect time to open the bottle of Ardbeg 27yo 1973/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 240 bottles) I bought at Giorgio's. I had high hopes for this bottle.
Nose: Horse stable. Salt. Chloride. A straight shooter, just the way I like it.
It has a narrow 'spectrum' at first but grows deeper with time.
Taste: Bone dry in the start, then the amazing Ardbeg explosion. Peat. Serrano ham. Smoke. Growing drier and drier into an amazing long finish. After 10 minutes subtler elements emerge. Lemon fruit sweets!
Score: 91 points according to Serge, 92 points on the Johanno-scale. It will be mighty interesting to sample this against the Ardbeg 24yo 1975/2000 (50%, OMC) on my top shelf.
Well, these were mostly smashing results, especially for the Brora's!
Who would have ever though a Northern Highlander in his late twenties could beat an Islay malt of similar age? But then again, the Ardbeg was freshly opened - it may improve over time. However you look at it, you have to admit the people of Douglas Laing know what they are doing when they select their casks. And I don't feel really confident about adding the 4 Brora's to my hit list just yet, but Serge filled 125ml samples of all four malts for me, so I will able to check tonight's results thoroughly at a later date.
(More about our miniature exchange in a future log entry.)
We finished the evening on an exotic note with a dram of the Ankara Malt Viski (43.0%, OB) from Turkey while we traded some more bottles - miniatures and big ones. I brought a bunch of miniatures from Amsterdam, together
with a strange IB of Glen Albyn 10yo (43%, Noord's Wijnhandel, 70cl). I noticed Serge ogling it during his visit to
Amsterdam in June so I figured it might make a nice gift. When I examined the bottle more closely I noticed the label
doesn't say anything about it being a 'single' malt. Hmmm... Could this be a 'fake'? The credentials of the bottle of
Ladyburn 8yo (40%, OB) Serge presented me with were a little vague as well. No indication of it being a single malt.
The distillery was closed in the seventies. An 8yo would have been bottled in the eighties. But... it's a 70cl bottle,
while 75cl bottles were the norm in those days. The words 'pure malt', as well as the text about 'The Ladyburn
Distillery Company' instead of 'the Ladyburn Distillery' point in the direction of a vatted malt as well.
Anyway, I was pretty tired from my travels so we had to call it a night.
I slept like a baby and awoke at dawn when Serge's cat snuck in through the balcony doors and snuggled up on my feet. Man, I could still taste these Brora's in my mouth. Circumstances forced me to travel back to Holland quickly, so I thanked Serge and Frederique for their wonderful hospitality and headed North.
Phew! That finishes the report on my trip.
I don't care to much about travelling but I have to admit it was worth it this time.
- - -
mAddendum 123A - Details on the Giorgio Shopping Spree
My first choice at Giorgio's was the Ardbeg 9yo 1991/2000 (46%, Murray McDavid).
German maniac Klaus Everding doesn't like it too much (76 points on his scale) but I've never tried a Murmac Ardbeg before and I really wanted to after sampling the excellent Lagavulin 14yo 1984 they bottled.
I bought two bottles of the Ardbeg 21yo 1974/1996 (40%, Sestante / Giorgio d'Ambrosio) after Giorgio calculated the price; 98 Euro's. Serge told me these Sestante bottlings are universally considered to be among the very best in the world, so this seemed like a good deal to me. All the more so because the prices of the latest official Ardbegs that appeared on the market have been growing and growing.
The fourth bottle was an Ardbeg as well; the Ardbeg 27yo 1973/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 70cl). I already have two bottles from a different batch (228 bottles) in my reserve stock. This bottle was one from 240, distilled in March 1973 and bottled in October 2000; the ones in my reserve stock are from a series of 228, bottled in September 2000. It was the most expensive purchase of the trip at nearly 200 Euro's. Especially compared to the Sestante 21yo the price is quite steep, but I really wanted to pick up a special Islay malt we could open on the big peat session we had planned for when we got back to Alsace.
The Bowmore 17yo (43%, OB) was no bargain either at 93 Euro's. But it came with a cool whisky/cigar flask that made it simply irresistable. Serge got me a very nice cigarette/liquor flask when he visited Holland in June and now I also have a cigar/liquor flask for my other pocket. Even more luxury when I'm on the road - and 2 extra drams. The prices of the two Caol Ila's I bought seemed to be reasonable. I bought the Caol Ila 10yo 1988 (43%, Hart Brothers, 70cl) and Caol Ila 10yo 1989/1999 (46%, Dun Eideann, 70cl), mainly because bottlings from both IB's are not widely available in Holland and young Caol Ila's usually perform very well.
My next purchase was the Glen Avon 15yo (40%, 75cl). Glen Avon isn't a distillery; it's a bastard malt marketed by Avonside Whisky - a subsidiary of Gordon & MacPhail. This was an old 75cl bottle with a misprint on the box. Rumour has it that the whisky in the bottle is a Speyside malt - maybe even a Macallan. Then came the Mortlach 21yo (40%, Sestante Import, 70cl). It seemed like a very decent deal at 75 Euro's - some older Mortlachs I've tried were truly excellent. It's a shame it's bottled at only 40%, though. I usually like my malts best at a strength of 46% or more.
The two last bottles on my list were relative oddities.
I picked up the Suntory 'Yamazaki' 12yo (43%, OB) because I mistook it for the 'Hibiki'; a single malt whisky from Suntory. I suspect this is a vatted malt, given the indication 'pure malt' on the label. Never mind, the price was reasonable enough and I've never tried it before. My heart jumped when I saw the Tomintoul Glenlivet 12yo (43%, OB, 75cl) for just 38 Euro's. I really love the unique 'jugendstil thermos' design of the bottle. I bought a litre bottling covered in dust a few years ago and didn't think these old bottles would still be available anywhere. It was my last and cheapest purchase at Giorgio's.
That concludes my list of purchases at Bar Metro.
The total sum of more than 800 Euro's may seem like a lot of money, but not when you've visited Giorgio's cellars. These were just the bottles I bought - there were many, many other amazing whiskies I coveted, like the Lagavulin 12yo (OB, 75cl), the Talisker 12yo (OB, 75cl) and the Ardbeg 24yo (Sestante). Considering the circumstances, I was very proud of myself for staying within my 1000 Euro's budget. Besides, 'big spender' Serge spent a similar amount on just five or six bottles, so I did all right, bang-for-your-buck wise. Fortunately, unlike some of the other maniacs, I don't have a spouse I have to explain my actions to...
During the weekend of September 27-29 a bunch of malt maniacs participated in a Springbank JOLT (Joint On-Line Tasting - see Malt Maniacs for details). I had a couple of bad nose days during the JOLT so the proceedings weren't as revealing as I'd hoped. Tonight was a relative bad nose day as well. That's a real problem for me - I get 2 or 3 good nose days a month if I'm lucky. So a lot of the time I just sit around waiting for a good nose day to come by so I can sample this or that malt. The problem with planned 'events' like whisky festivals or JOLTS is that I never know if I'm going to have a good nose day or not. Anyway - I really need to finish some bottles so I'll just plug along as best as I can.
I went for another go at Springbank this weekend.
To mirror the 3-day JOLT, I distributed the following menu over three nights;
- Campbeltown 10yo Single malt Scotch Whisky (40%, Signatory Vintage bastard bottling)
- Glen Scotia 9yo 1991/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage)
- Glen Scotia 14yo (40%, OB, bottled 2002)
- Mitchell's 12yo (43%, Mitchells blend)
- Springbank 10yo (46%, OB, Batch 00/164, bottled 2000)
- Springbank 10yo (46%, OB, Batch 00/257, bottled 2000)
- Springbank 11yo 1989 Oak (43%, Ultimate, bottled 2000)
- Springbank 12yo (46%, OB, bottled 1996)
- Springbank 15yo (46%, OB, bottled 2002)
- Springbank 21yo (46%, OB, bottled 2000)
Night I - The Prelude
I didn't get a chance to taste the 'other' Campbeltown stuff during the SpringJOLT, so I started off with the non-Springers in my collection. The first one was the Mitchell's 12yo
(43%, blend). It's produced by the same company that owns Springbank; J. & A. Mitchell & Co Ltd. I picked up this bottle because I expected a 'Springbank' blend to
contain a large portion of the malt. Maybe it does, but malts form other parts of Scotland are added as well. Of course, they don't say which malts and in which combinations.
Nose: Relatively smooth and creamy for a blend, although there are grainy elements too.
Gentle with faint hints of fruits. Water melon? Some smoke. Something flowery?
A nutty oiliness and some 'veggy' notes. Organic overtones. Sour moments.
Taste: Sweetish and smooth in the start, coating the tongue in the centre. Grainy.
Flat at first. Hint of smoke. A pinch of salt. Turning sour. Strawberry curd? Gooseberries?
Not unpleasant at all, but ultimately too grainy and bitter in the finish.
Score: 58 points. Quite nice but a bit bashful.
Analysis: Low-fat sour cream. Very respectable for a blend.
There are definitely some Springbank characteristics there, but they seem diluted somehow. It's more along the 'bourbony' line of the Springer 10yo than the fuller character of the older, more sherried bottlings.
The next candidate: Campbeltown 10yo (40%, bastard malt, Signatory Vintage).
Nose: Light. Sweet. Nutty with peaty, smoky and oily elements developing quickly. Grassy?
Some soft fruits too. Ooh, much better than the blend. Chicken soup? More salt later on.
Taste: Quite smooth. Soft smoke, growing stronger and stronger. Spirity / bourbony.
Menthol freshness in the centre. The finish is dry like smoked Savoyard sausage.
Score: 80 points. One of the very few bastard malts that's worthy of a place on my hitlist.
Analysis: An 'Islay Light'. The nose is just a smidgen too oily for me but other than that it's just fine. Actually, it seems quite similar to the Springbank 10yo - just a little sweeter. I've always assumed this was a Glen Scotia but since it's a bastard malt I guess it could be a Springbank as well. Last year's bottling in this bastard series was an 8yo (see log entry #72 for details) which wasn't too spectacular with a score of 75 points. Klaus thought even less of it. But this 10yo is great! Excellent value too with a price around 15 Euro's.
Then I moved on to the Glen Scotia 9yo 1991/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage).
Nose: Spirity but not very powerful at first. Dry. Yes, there's fruit as well. Faint sweet and salty notes. Nutty and slightly oily. Ginger? Cookies? A little spicy. It becomes a little peaty after ten minutes. Very pleasant.
Taste: Soft start. Malty, with a growing burn in the back of my throat. Bourbony.
A very long, sweetish centre. Fruitier notes emerge over time. Dry and fruity finish.
Score: 81 points. Very versatile. The nose really needs some time, though.
Analysis: No obvious Campbeltown credentials, but a great all-round malt.
Looking over my notes (including the old ones in my little black book) it seems like all Campbeltown malts share some nasal elements; nutty and oily; salty with a little smoke. And maybe the faintest hint of peat? The taste is often smooth and creamy - although some Glen Scotia's have a menthol freshness I didn't find in any Springbank so far. I'll have to ask the other malt maniacs about that; it would be interesting to see if they can identify a certain 'Campbeltown' style.
Next candidate: the Glen Scotia 14yo (40%, OB) - my second bottle.
Nose: Hmmm... Nothing much at first. Malty. Then some sherry and furniture polish. Ah, now the fruits appear. Nectarines. Apricot. This is developing quite nicely. Ooh, wait a second - a whiff of eucalyptus.
Taste: A weak, unstable start is followed by a decent burn. Something fruity.
Not a lot of sweetness. Not nearly as appetising as my previous bottle. Too much sherry?
Score: 80 points. My previous bottle (bottled +/- 1999) was much more transparent and 'coastal' and scored 84 points. The sherry influence seems a lot stronger here - and it's not helping.
The nose keeps it in the 80's - but just barely. Another great malt in decline.
Analysis: It doesn't seem to show many of the 'Campbeltown' characteristics I just mentioned.
I have to confess I've always had a soft spot for Glen Scotia - at least up until now.
For one thing, it's the only reasonably priced alternative to Springbank if you're in the mood for a Campbeltown malt . Well, I'm talking about the Springer OB's here. Every once in a while you can find a relatively affordable IB, but so far I haven't found any that really tickled my fancy.
At 22:35 the night was still young, so I could have proceeded with the official Springers. But I was having a pretty bad nose day and I didn't want to waste too much of the good stuff under these circumstances. My supply of OB's
will have to last me for two more days, so I can't waste any of it on idle dramming.
During the JOLT the Springbank 11yo 1989/2000 (43%, The Ultimate, distilled 10/3/1989, matured in oak cask #104, bottled on 9/5/2000, bottle #182) proved to be a bit of a disappointment at 77 points. What's more, it seemed fundamentally different from the OB's I tried. The colour is curiously light as well.
So, I guess this will be my dram for the rest of the evening.
Nose: Spirity. Light fruits. A little dusty. Perfumy. Dry and salty after a few minutes.
Barbecue spices. The fruity notes become more dominant and settle down again.
Pleasant, although there's the occasional disturbing whiff of paint thinner. Liquorice all sorts.
Taste: Weak. Sweetish start. Dry and gritty. Bourbony. Unbalanced and a little sour in the finish.
Liquorice. Pleasant fruitiness comes and goes. No major flaws but no reasons for celebration either.
Score: 76 points . And that's just because the nose remains entertaining throughout.
Analysis: Underwhelming. I can see why Springbank didn't want to use this cask themselves.
That's all the notes for the first night. No big insights just yet - just a feeling of mild intoxication...
Night II - The Main Event
Now it's time to get to the heart of the matter; the 'official' Springbanks. Thanks to the frantic sample swapping that has been going on between some of the malt maniacs lately (see mAddendum 124B) I had the opportunity to add
two interesting OB's to the line-up, the 12yo and 15yo.
Initially, I had planned these two 'Old vs New' H2Hs;
Springbank 10yo (46%, OB) vs Springbank 12yo (46%, OB, bottled 1998), and
Springbank 15yo (46%, OB, bottled 2002) vs Springbank 21yo (46%, OB, bottled 2000)
When I announced these plans during the SpringJOLT Serge asked if the 'new' 10yo shouldn't be considered a successor to the Springbank CV rather than to the 12yo. I guess Serge's right. And the 15yo isn't a real
'replacement' of the 21yo either - they introduced this version just because they ran out of 21yo stock.
So, I'll sample the OB's sequentially instead and go for a big OB Hopalong H2H on night III.
I started the dramming with the Springbank 10yo (46%, OB, 00/164, bottled 2000).
Nose: The start is spirity and a little oily. Some citrus - more light fruits later on. A barely detectable hint of bonfire smoke, growing stronger. Really opens up with some breathing. A splash of water kills it, though.
Taste: Smooth, creamy start. Sweet and malty. Good burn. A little gritty in the finish. A good standard malt, but nothing more. Diluted to about 40% it seems much more winey in the finish, leaving a sour aftertaste.
Score: 79 points at best. It scored 80 points at an earlier tasting but I just can't justify the position on my hit list that comes with a score in the 80's. If I'm in the mood for a malt of this type (usually in the summer) I'd rather go for a Glenmorangie 10yo or Cellar 13. (Or the Glen Scotia 14yo, which is cheaper.)
Analysis: Not the best Summer investment. I've heard some rumours through the grapevine: Springbank seems to be re-casking most of the current 10yo distillate into sherry casks. Seems like a good idea.
To verify my impressions, I went for the Springbank 10yo (46%, OB, 00/257, bottled 2000) next.
It's another batch than the one I sampled just now, but also bottled in 2000.)
Nose: Caramel. Sweet. Nutty. A little fruitier than the other 10yo - much, much more so after a few seconds. Amazing! This seems like the essence of lemon drops. Am I imagining things? Very faint hint of menthol? After a minute: Some oil and string beans, although the fruit remains present. Drops off a little later.
Taste: Dry and smooth at the same time. Seems a little flat at first. Sweetish. Leafy? Soft fruitiness in the finish with some sour notes - just like the other 10yo. It starts out rather weak but after five minutes I found a decent salt & pepper burn, with some nice puffs of smoke. Orange skins?
Score: 77 points . Not all that different form the 164, but less cohesion and balance.
Analysis: A bad 'Bang-For-Your-Buck' rating - even for a Springbank.
Too bitter in the finish, although I have to admit it's pretty versatile.
I sampled the Springbank 12yo (46%, OB, bottled +/- 1996) for the very first time during the SpringJOLT. I've heard many enthusiastic stories about it and I have to admit I wasn't disappointed.
Nose: Ooh! Sherry! I didn't find that in the previous two 10yo's. Deep sherry tones and hints of mint.
The nose is wonderful, but a little one-dimensional at first. Over time, the bouquet blossoms.
Coconut. Fruity - lots of heavy late summer fruits as opposed to the early fruits of the 10yo.
Pear. Orange marmalade. Turkish delight. Some salty/peaty notes. Oriental notes. Soy sauce?
Taste: Sherry. Some sweetness over a strong malty burn. A little salt.
Maggi? A little wood as well, although that's just a minor element.
Score: 84 points . Not bad at all! I can certainly understand why people like it so much.
Analysis: A bit like a diluted incarnation of the 21yo. This is much more to my liking than the 10yo version.
The 10yo showed some Glenmorangie characteristics (less sherry) while the 12yo reminds me of the Balvenie 12yo Doublewood.
Now we get to the next highlight, the new Springbank 15yo (46%, OB, bottled 2002).
It's a brand new bottling - again sampled for the very first time during the JOLT.
The vatting is said to contain +/- 80% sherry casks. With a street price of almost 100 Euro's in Holland they can go scru themselves! Once again I have to thank Serge for allowing me to sample this bottling. Strangely enough, it's one or two shades lighter than the 12yo.
Nose: Candy sour-sweetness. Slightly perfumy. Not as powerful (or sherried) as the 12yo at first. Opens up after 5 minutes. Something in the fruity corner I can't describe in the foreground. Organic. Nuts. It grows fruitier and fruitier over time. A little dusty. Faint coastal notes. Drops off again after 10 minutes.
Taste: Very similar to the 12yo - more so than the nose. Cookies. Wood. Dry. Cool burn. Minty fresh.
Deep sherry. In fact, this is a little too sherried and not quite sweet enough for my tastes.
Score: 80 points . Not quite as balanced as the 12yo, it seems.
Analysis: A nice dram, but no worthy successor of the 12yo.
The last dram of tonight was the Springbank 21yo (46%, OB, 00/199, bottled 2000).
Nose: Ah, that's interesting. Like a blend of the 12 and 15, only better. Powerful.
Sherry and wood again, with an intriguing interplay of spicy and organic notes in the background.
Complex and very well balanced. Fruity episodes. Lemon drops. Oak. Lots of development.
After fifteen minutes it grows some balls and shows some coastal teeth.
Taste: Fruit sweets. Raisin bread. Wood. Salt liquorice? Very nice, but not quite as spectacular as the nose.
Score: 89 points - maybe even 90. In this case a year of breaking in has definitely helped.
It consistently scored 87 points at earlier tastings but now I feel it deserves more. It's a smashing malt.
Analysis: Really excellent stuff; great for just sippin' away but it bears close examination as well.
Any preliminary conclusions?
Well for one thing I seem to prefer the bottlings with more sherry.
I'll have to wait for tomorrow's results before I can say anything definitive.
Night III - The Competition
OK; time for part III (a Hopalong H2H), even though bad nose days are here again.
After last night's debauchery I'm going to take it a little easy tonight.
Round 1 - Springbank 10yo '164' vs 10yo '257'
Round 2 - Springbank 10yo '164' vs 12yo
Round 3 - Springbank 12yo vs 15yo
Round 4 - Springbank 15yo vs 21yo
The first match: Springbank 10yo (45%, OB, 00/164) vs Springbank 10yo (45%, OB, 00/257).
Nose: Yes, the fresh 257 is noticeably sweeter at first. The overall character is quite similar for both malts; softly oily with salty sea notes and some fruits. Both showed oriental elements as well. Some cereal / malty notes too. Nutty? The 257 isn't quite as spirity as the 164 and demonstrates more sherry elements over time. The nose of the 00/164 seemed more smoky and coastal, while the 00/257 was sweeter, fruitier and more polished. Both drift away into a more coastal direction. After 20 more minutes the 164 became even more coastal with faint hints of fruit while the other one flattened out a bit more.
Taste: No big variations between the two. Both are a little salty and start relatively soft.
Creamy and chewy. Gritty, malty and nutty with a big burn in the back of your throat.
Honey sweetness. Fruity. A finish that becomes drier and drier. That are the major impressions for the 164. The 257 was quite similar, although not quite as sweet. It had a bitter coffee beans element I didn't find in the 164. Maybe burnt caramel would be a better description.
Match #2: Springbank 10yo (46%, OB 00/164) vs Springbank 12yo (46%, OB, bottled 1998).
Nose: Ooh, just as I suspected - the 12 had much, much more sherry. Primary impression for the 10 was spicy, oily and slightly sour. Meanwhile, the 12 seemed very sweet and polished. More depth. Turkish Delight? After fifteen minutes the 10 was still bourbony spicy while the 12 gained some nuts, so to speak. After a few more minutes it showed much more organic notes through the sherry curtain - very pleasant and versatile.
Taste: The 10 started with a very nice sweet and sour contrast. Medium finish. The 12yo was much more powerful with lots of wood in the start and hints of liquorice. The taste of the 12 evolves into a big, long, fruity burn with cool episodes. At first sight the style of the 12yo is very similar to that of the 21yo.
No question who's the winner here - the 12 beats this 10 by at least five points. Excellent!
Match #3: Springbank 12yo (46%, OB, bottled 1996) vs Springbank 15yo (46%, OB, bottled 2002).
Nose: The differences aren't as pronounced as between the 10 and the 12, but in this much the 12 is clearly much more powerful. After a minute, the 15 seemed to become much more spirity, numbing the nose. Both are fruity and sherried, but the 12 just seems to try a little harder. With results, I might add.
Taste: The 12 was wonderful as before with strong wood and fruit - and a hint of liquorice.
The 15 was rougher and seemed more alcoholic. A similar profile, but not as well-defined.
The finish of the 15 was very dry.
Match #4: Springbank 15yo (46%, OB, bottled 2002) vs Springbank 21yo (46%, OB, bottled 2000)
Nose: The 15 seemed very 'unsherried' in comparison. It seemed relatively dry and coastal with salt and oil. Nutty? Maybe even cooked vegetables? Meanwhile, the 21 displayed the familiar panorama of fruit and wood. After five minutes the organics in the 21 appear and it blows away the 15 completely. Wonderful!
Taste: Next to the 21 the 15 seems dry, rough and 'bourbony' on the palate. Strange sour elements. The 21 was much sweeter and woodier than the 15, much more depth, much more perspective. I liked the 15yo a lot when I first tried it but next to it's 'sipplings' it falls apart. I have to agree with Serge's feelings of disappointment voiced during the SpringJOLT.
Well, that was educational.
To finish my research I did a final H2H with my two favourite Springers;
Match #5: Springbank 12yo (46%, OB, bottled 1996) vs Springbank 21yo (46%, OB, bottled 2000)
Nose: The 12 had more volume at first. After a few seconds they were nearly identical - Sweet, woody and sherried with a hint of (coco)nuts and fruits. I can now see why Michael felt it resembled a Macallan 18yo during the return of the Germaniacs in January. After a minute the 21 takes the lead, growing in complexity with more organic and fruity notes. Gradually the 21 seems to grow sweeter and sweeter.
Both kept improving in the glass but the 21 never gave up the lead.
Taste: The 12 started dry and woody, followed by a menthol freshness. The finish is dry and woody again with a tannin feeling. The cool menthol lingers in the back of your throat. The 21 was much fruitier with more complexity and development. The woody elements seem more 'sculpted' and add a sense of depth. I found the menthol freshness of the 12 again in the 21, though.
Both are very good, but at the end of the day the 21 is the ultimate winner.
The numerical results after my investigations:
Springbank 10yo (46%, OB, 00/164) = 79 points.
Springbank 10yo (46%, OB, 00/257) = 77 points.
Springbank 12yo (46%, OB, 00/257) = 85 points.
Springbank 15yo (46%, OB, 00/257) = 79 points.
Springbank 21yo (46%, OB, 00/257) = 90 points.
Any bright conclusion?
Well - yes... After this weekend's proceedings I've sampled seven different Springbanks.
Enough to be able to award a 'Still Score' to Springbank. I finally decided on 3 stars; the 21yo on my top shelf is fabulous and the old 12yo makes a great dram as well, but none of the newer versions (10yo & 15yo) ended up in the 'Highly Recommendable' area of my Hitlist. But it's a close call - if I should encounter a few other good Springers the scale may be tipped in the direction of 4 stars. Some people judge a Springer by its colour and they may very well be right. As a broad generalisation I would say that the darker the Springer, the more sherry casks went into the vatting - and the more I like it.
I'm afraid that's all the 'whisdom' I've gained so far. Watch this log for further discoveries...
- - -
mAddendum 124A - Pandora Prelude
A while ago the malt maniacs starting swapping samples (see the next mAddendum for more on that).
As part of his first shipment, Klaus sent me two blind samples to investigate. Ah, I like a challenge!
At a first tasting (on a bad nose day) I got these impressions for Klaus' Mystery Malt #1;
Nose: Sweet, fruity and alcoholic. Apple / Cider / Calvados. Beer. Perfumy. Extremely fruity. After 5 minutes a whiff of smoke? Ooh , it grows stronger. Hmm, it's actually quite nice after 10 minutes, with more coastal and organic notes. Sweet dough. The nose keeps improving - or maybe my nose was just opening up...
Taste: Ooof. Flat start. Sweetish and extremely smooth. Quite thin. A little fruity. No depth whatsoever. The stuff really sticks to your tongue for a long time. Dry. Doesn't taste like a single malt at all - at least not like any I know.
After I mailed my first impressions to Klaus - his reaction was:
'Grin grin, - your tasting and nosing notes make me so happy.
Yep, this malt is not great. But it is a single malt and you have tasted it before. Hint: It is not a Speysider.'
I waited for a better nose day to come around and sampled it again.
Nose: Beer and fruit. A little sweet. Soft smoke and more organic notes after a while. Light, but enough going on to keep you entertained. Notable improvement over time. The fruitiness becomes more pronounced (water melon, apple and banana). A pinch of salt? Smoked sausage and a hint of peat. The longer you wait, the better it gets. Almost like a soft Islay malt after 15 minutes.
Taste: Beer again? A little bitter in the start, becoming sweeter and smoother. Quite flat. Hint of smoke, followed by a menthol freshness. Not nearly as good as the nose. Score: 76 points. I really like the nose.
The taste isn't nearly as good, but decent enough to keep the overall score just a few points above average.
But what is it? Well, it's no Speysider according to Klaus. It's not powerful enough to be one of the big Islay malts either. Maybe
it's an old Bruichladdich 10 or 15, but I don't think so. Campbeltown? Could be, but I would have to put my money on an Irish
malt - the Connemara NAS. That's the only one I can remember that combines fresh fruity elements with these soft coastal notes.
What's more, I sent a blind sample of the cask strength brother of this bottling to Klaus a while ago and I wouldn't be surprised if he would try to outsmart me with this one. As it turned out I was right. It was the
Connemara NAS (40%, OB, batch L1099).
This batch didn't seem quite as easy on the tongue as previous ones - hence the lower score.
The second blind sample, Klaus' Mystery Malt #2, came in a small 5cl bottle, so I had to be extra careful not to spill anything. A
first nosing directly from the bottle produced strong and dry iodine impressions. From the first proper tasting I got:
Nose: Stone dry with soft fruity elements. Opens up over time. Sweet undercurrent. Coastal.
Taste: Dry again. Medicinal. Iodine. Big Burn.
Score: 81 points. But what is it? Well, it's an Islay malt, that's for sure. Caol Ila was the first thing that came to mind. Laphroaig is an option as well. Or a very young Lagavulin - maybe the 5yo Signatory Vintage bastard? I can't find any Ardbeg or Bowmore characteristics in there and it's too powerful to be a Bruichladdich or Bunnahabhain.
When I confronted Klaus with these findings he replied:
'You are right. It is a coastal malt. But with young age you are wrong.'
Hmmm... So it's not 'young'. Of, course, I don't know what Klaus considers to be 'young'.
These blind samplings are really great puzzles! Time for a second, all-or-nothing tasting.
Nose: Dry. A little fruity. Not a lot of volume. Not as medicinal as when I first tried it.
I even get so 'veggy' notes now. Soap? This doesn't really seem like an Islay malt.
Taste: Soft dry start, opening up into fruits first, then peat a few seconds later. Bourbony. Very nice.
A big, long afterburn throughout my mouth. Hops in the finish. Fits the nose, but it's more powerful.
Score: 78 points. I like the dry burn.
So, what could it be... I don't think it's an Ardbeg anymore. It still could be a Caol Ila - and a new Bruichladdich 10yo might be an
option as well. These are the only two Islay malts I could think of. And outside Islay? Well, I'm pretty sure it's no Speysider. A
Brora, perhaps? Nah, that isn't 'coastal'. Oh, wait a minute... Yes, it IS coastal actually - North-east coast of Scotland.
So, if it isn't an Islay malt I'm pretty sure it's a Clynelish or Brora.
Any more options? You know what, I'm just going to follow the coastline and see what else it could be. A coastal Lowlander like
Bladnoch? Nah, too powerful. Or a Campbeltown malt of course, it doesn't seem like any Springbank I ever tried but I guess it
could be an independent Glen Scotia. It certainly isn't an Arran and it doesn't seem oily enough to be a Tobermory. Ledaig could
be an option, I guess. Oban? No, not likely - I didn't find fruits in the nose of the Oban. The taste on the other hand... Talisker is
coastal too. Well, I still have to open the two latest batches of the 10yo OB but this isn't anything like my previous batches. Not
enough pepper. Which brings us to the Orkneys. It could be a Scapa 12! Checking my old notes in my little Black Book I find
some similarities. Man this is hard! To end my suffering I sent Klaus this list of 5 'usual suspects' and awaited his response;
(1) Clynelish or Brora, any IB
(2) Caol Ila, any IB
(3) Scapa 12yo OB
(4) Oban 14yo OB
(5) Bruichladdich 10yo OB
As it turned out, his response greatly increased my confidence in my analytical capabilities.
(Well, at least until I remembered it was mostly a lucky guess...)
Klaus wrote: 'Hi Johannes, you are a malt monster! And you are right with your first guess - it is a Brora.
Brora 20yo 1981/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage, natural colour, matured in oak cask)
(Distilled 31/3/1981, bottled 5/4/2001, cask #575, bottle #165 of 405)
I am a little bit disappointed by this malt. A 'sippling' (sister malt, also distilled in 1981 but aged in sherry cask and bottled 2 years earlier) was more to my liking. But this bottle belongs to Christoph Stransky. Again congrats to your excellent guess.'
Well, as my rating shows I wasn't very crazy about it either.
Above average but certainly nothing like some of the Brora's I tasted at Serge's (see Log Entry #123 for details).
The interesting thing is that I've got a 'sippling' of this bottling in my reserve stock. It's the Brora 19yo 1981/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage), distilled on 31/3/1981 and matured in oak as well. But my bottle (#621 of 728) comes from casks 573 and 574 instead of cask #575 and it was bottled in January 2001 instead of April.
That concludes the report on this mini-session; read on for more info on sample swapping and the Pandora Project.
- - -
mAddendum 124B - Miniature Bottle Bonanza
Things are heating up on the sample-swapping front. Some of the malt maniacs had discussed the possibility of swapping
miniature samples by snail mail in the past, but somehow we never got around to it. But after French maniac Serge put the topic
on the agenda once more we started some serious swapping a few months ago. My first shipments went out in August. I sent a six
-pack of these 125ml samples to Klaus: Caol Ila 12yo 1989/2001 Bourbon Casks (46%, Signatory Vintage), Glenlivet 12yo French
Oak Finish (40%, OB), Glen Scotia 14yo (40%, OB), Macallan 15yo 1984 (43%, OB), Teaninich 1982 and a blind: the Connemara
NAS Cask Strength (59.0%, OB). Klaus had a lot of fun with the blind and ended up giving it a score in the upper 80's.
A few weeks later I received a nice return package including the Slyrs 3yo 1999/2002; a single malt bottled in Bavaria. The rest of the package contained a Chieftain's Caol Ila 11yo 1990/2002 Rum Finish, An OMC Clynelish 10yo 1989/1999, a official Glen Deveron 10yo 1989, a MacKillop's Choice Laphroaig 1983/1999 and the two 'blind' samples I wrote about in mAddendum 124A.
Check out upcoming log entries for the sampling results.
I also sent a package to Roman in Israel, containing Aberlour 100 Proof (57.1%, OB), Bowmore NAS Cask Strength (56%, OB),
Caol Ila 12yo 1989/2001 Bourbon Casks (46%, Signatory Vintage), Dailuaine 16yo (43%, Flora & Fauna), Laphroaig 10yo Cask
Strength (57.3%, OB) and Pittyvaich 18yo 1976/1995 (43%, Signatory Vintage). Sadly, the bottle containing the Pittyvaich had
broken in transit. (All were 125ml samples.) My next (and by far the largest) exchange was with Serge in September.
Before I returned to Holland I received these samples:
- Ankara Malt Viski (43.0%, OB, Turkey)
- Ardbeg 9yo 1990/2000 (50.0%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
- Ardbeg 9yo 1991/2001 (46.0%, Murray McDavid, Bourbon cask, MM2999, D 02/1991, B 02/2000)
- Bladnoch 1988/2001 (40%, G&M Connoisseur's Choice)
- Brora 19yo 1982/2001 (46.0%, Chieftain's Choice, Casks #1189-92, Sherry)
- Brora 24yo 1977/2001 (56.1%, UD Rare Malts)
- Brora 28yo 1971/1999 (50.0%, Douglas Laing OMC, 283 Bottles)
- Brora 29yo 1972/2002 (59.5%, Douglas Laing Platinum Selection, 2nd batch)
- Clonmel 8yo (40.0%, Celtique Connection, Irish / French)
- Glen Mhor 22yo 1979/2001 (61.0%, UD Rare Malts)
- Glen Roc NAS (40.0%, OB, Pure grain whisky from Brittany)
- Macallan 1970/1988 (43%, OB, authentic 5cl miniature)
- Port Ellen 19yo 1982/2001 (43.0%, McGibbon's Provenance Spring distillation)
- Port Ellen 22yo 1979 Annual Release (56.2%, OB)
- Rosebank 20yo 1979/1999 (60.3%, UD Rare Malts)
- Saint Magdalene 23yo 1975/1999 (41.5%, Cadenhead's, Cask Strength)
- Springbank 12yo (46%, OB, bottled 1998)
- Springbank 15yo (46%, OB, bottled 2002)
- Eau de Vie Gentiane from Alsace (bottled at 50.0%)
in return for some two dozen samples from my shelves. And then I discovered that 8 more bottles would fill the box perfectly. Although Craig volunteered to be the first test subject for 'The Pandora Project' I sent Serge eight 'blind' samples as well. Which brings me to the next mAddendum...
- - -
mAddendum 124C - The Pandora Project
Amongst the chaos that accompanied the big overhaul of Malt Madness and Malt Maniacs we've invented a great new project to keep ourselves off the streets: 'The Pandora Project'. Sounds cool, eh? But what does it mean....
Well, it means that I spent my considerable handcrafting talents on our own 'Pandora's Box'.
It is a masterfully constructed and protected cardboard box that is designed to hold eight 125ml sample bottles. And not just any bottles. At least four of them will be 'blinds' - single malts of undisclosed origin. Trying to identify a malt with no clues whatsoever about its ancestry is a huge challenge, so when the postman arrives with the box he is is usually greeted with a mixture of excitement and dread - hence the name 'Pandora's Box'.
The first two shipment went to Serge Valentin in France and Craig Daniels in Australia.
I sent Craig two 'flights' of samples; 4 disclosed malts and 4 blind ones. The disclosed malts were Ardbeg 27yo 1973/2000 OMC, Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998, Laphroaig 15yo 1985/2000 'Laudable' and my new bottling of the Edradour 10yo.
The theme for the blind flight was 'Overproof Islanders';
- Blind 1 - Bowmore NAS Cask Strength (56.0%, OB)
- Blind 2 - Connemara NAS Cask Strength (59.0%, OB, Irish)
- Blind 3 - Port Ellen 22yo 1978/2000 (60.5%, UD Rare Malts)
- Blind 4 - Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength (57.3%, OB)
Craig has already had a big identification session; his report should be published on Malt Maniacs soon. Serge (who received two
blind sets because he's French) didn't report on his experiences yet so I can't reveal his blinds just yet.
I'll report back as soon as there's a new wave of swapping.
Phew! I just uploaded a new version of the site and I felt I deserved a dram.
But the Internet-crisis has finally caught up with me a few months ago. Until I've found gainful employment again I'm forced to drastically cut my liquor budget. So, I'd better get used to drinking middle and bottom shelf whiskies again. No problems - I'm flexible. As a matter of fact, German maniac Klaus proposed sort of a 'Walpurgis' micro-JOLT today. For those of you who've just tuned in: 'Walpurgis' is a reference to the first 'weird malts' theme session we organised on April 30. (See log entry #109 for details.) Klaus, Serge and I sampled a couple of 'weird' malts and exchanged the results.
My samplings started with a blend with the funniest name I've ever seen.
It was the Original Oldbury Sheep Dip 8yo (40%, vatted malt). The bottle looks like the design hasn't been changed for at least fifty years and the label is very funny. It shows some people herding sheep circa 1900. A picture of people actually dipping the sheep might have been even funnier... The marketing babble on the label is 'vintage' as well. It says: 'This Whisky is Much Enjoyed by the Villagers of Oldbury-on-Severn'.
Nose: Very spirity. Sweetish. Rotting apples? Cough syrup? Vague malty and fruity notes.
Quite flat. Coffee beans? Grainier after a few minutes with whiffs of something oily.
Notable improvement after 15 minutes; sweeter, nuttier and more balanced.
Taste: Oofff... Weak, sweetish start, followed by a chemical burn. Flat.
A little oily at first, sweeter after a few seconds. Gritty and metallic finish.
Score: 43 points . Only slightly better than the Johnnie Walker Red at first, but with time the nose mellows out. The taste is utterly unremarkable, but has no major faults. Just flat and a little boring. I've received several warnings about this whisky but you can count yourself lucky if this is the worst you've ever tried...
The next vatted malt, Corriemhor NAS 'Cigar Reserve' (40%, Whyte & Mackay) was composed by master blender
Richard Paterson. This is a German bottling with caramel colouring, priced at 29 Euro's. I had my first sampling in a small, 'Glenmorangie' type tulip glass, for tonight's 2nd dram I used one of my my 66cl fishbowls.
Nose: Started out very restrained - at least in a Malt Whisky Society glass. It seemed very flat, like a blend. After a few minutes it strongly reminded me of Tia Maria. It becomes stronger with time - more fruits. In a larger glass, the smoke was much more obvious. All in all, the nose performed a little better in the big cognac bowl. Sweetness, sourness and a hint of coffee. Fruit. Chloride. Soy sauce. Still not very exciting, though.
Taste: Ooh... A very smoky start. Heavily smoked ham. Liquorice. Dry. Fragmented. Tia Maria again!
The palate has indeed something that reminds me of cigars. That being said, it's too flat and chemical to mess with the big boys. For a moment I was even afraid it would end up in Loch Dhu territory.
Score: 62 points . As far as vatted malts go, I've tasted far worse. But I've tasted better too - and for less than 29 Euro's. I have to admit I liked the smoky notes, although I personally prefer the Black Bottle.
Speaking of smoky notes; I found some in a sample sent to me by Matti Jaatinen from Finland. The weird thing about the Famous Grouse 12yo 1989 Vintage Malt Whisky (43%, 100cl) is that it's a 'vintage' vatted malt. You
don't see that every day... A bit pointless, if you ask me.
Nose: Malty and a little spicy. Apple? Sweetish. Hints of smoke and liquorice.
Starts off rather weak but becomes more powerful. Lacks definition, though.
Taste: Sweetish, peppery start. Interesting at first but flattens out in the centre.
Liquorice. Soap. Unbalanced. Lacks development. Weak finish. Is this a vatted malt?
Score: 47 points . Nothing to get excited about. I wonder what malt(s) they used for this vatting! Granted, it's better than the ordinary Famous Grouse blend - but not much.
That was the last vatted malt on my shelves.
I was forced to delve deeper into the sub-bottom shelf depths of my drinks cabinet.
I opened the Mac NaMara NAS (40%, blend) in June but haven't been able to decide on a final rating just yet. According to the label it's a 'Gaelic Scotch Whisky'. I wonder what that means - Gaelic Scotch?
Nose: surprisingly deep and nutty for a blend. Coffee and tobacco. Honey.
Sweet and much stronger than most blends. Creamy. Watermelon. Barbecue spices?
Distinct whiffs of peat after 10 minutes. Some smoke too. Juniper? Very impressive!
Taste: Watery start, then an unpleasant sharp burn. Cleaner after a while. Coffee & fruits later on. Cool on the palate. Sourish. Metallic finish. Bummer. A hint of smoke. The finish reminded me a lot of gin and 'jenever'.
Score: 61 points . The nose is very, very expressive for a blend! I haven't tried the JW Black in a while, but if memory serves this one will beat it with a stick on the nasal front. The nose alone would easily reach 80 points! Sadly, the taste isn't in the same class, which drags the overall score down quite a bit.
Still, this is one of the most recommendable blends I know.
According to the recommendations on the box the Isle of Skye 8yo (40%, Ian Macleod) is 'An exceptionally smooth
and mellow Scotch whisky blend containing a high proportion of Island and Speyside malts.' Yeah, right. How much would that be exactly, 'a high proportion'? Or how about this: 'Its smoothness, mellowness and quality are
guaranteed by the fact that every whisky in the recipe has been mellowed in oak casks for at least eight years - the recognised age of maturity for many malt whiskies.'
Nose: Not very pronounced. A little malty. More coastal notes and smoke after a minute.
This really needs some time - the nose becomes bigger and more 'islandy' over time.
Taste: Soft, smooth start. Big burn a few seconds after I swallowed it. Grainy. Beer?
A hint of the Talisker pepper in the centre. More later. A little sour and uneven in the finish.
Score: 59 points . The Talisker influence isn't as dominant as I'd hoped.
Well, that's funny... The Isle of Skye 12yo (40%, Ian MacLeod) is 'an exceptionally smooth and mellow Scotch whisky blend containing a high proportion of Island and Speyside malts' - just like the 8yo I just tried.
Nose: Smoke and fruits. Cigar tobacco. Melon. Some organic notes as well. Like in the 8yo, the smoke grows stronger over time. Very pleasant. Excellent aroma, much better than the 8yo. Not unlike the Bowmore profile.
Taste: Phew, that's a major disappointment! Sour and unbalanced. Very weak.
No Talisker markers. Flat. It feels like somebody already diluted it to about 25%.
In all honesty, I have to say I like the taste of the 8yo much better. Strange...
Score: 58 points - and that's just because of the wonderful development in the nose.
By now, I had run out of the reasonably good and interesting stuff. The Cutty Sark NAS (40%, blend by Berry Bros & Rudd) was on offer at the supermarket last week for 10 Euro's a bottle.
Given my current financial situation I decided to give it a try. Poor me...
Nose: Bland and watery. Dry. Improves a little after some breathing.
Taste: Malty. Gritty. Semi-sweet. Sharp, numbing burn in the centre. Hint of liquorice?
A little metallic. My tongue was too anaesthetised to detect anything in the finish.
Score: 21 points . A remarkably bad blend. Must remember NOT to buy it again.
Well, that serves me right! I've just been rereading my notes for the evening and at times I sound like a spoilt brat. 'Oohoo, this scores only 58 points...' Whiskies like the Cutty Sark are great for putting things in perspective. I enjoy
everything that scores 50 points or more. That means that with the exception of Loch Dhu 10yo, Drumguish and maybe two or three others I've enjoyed every single malt whisky I tried over the last decade. When I look at vatted
malts and blends the Corriemhor, Mac Namara and two versions of the Isle of Skye performed above the 'average' of 50 points as well.
Note to self: must remember not to whine so much...
My last choice of the evening, the Old Cricket NAS Original Whisky (40%, OB), may not be a 'genuine whisky'. The
label says it's a whisky and it's bottled at 40% but the words 'Scotch' or 'Scotland' are absent from the label. But hey, who cares at a price of just 4 Euro's!
Serge and I both picked up a bottle during our trip to Milan.
Italian alcoholics must be happy people - getting drunk on this stuff is very affordable.
Nose: Well, it smells like whisky. Cheap whisky, to be precise. Alcoholic.
Featureless - which isn't necessarily a bad thing in a cheap whisky.
Taste: Flat and sweetish at first, evolving into a sharp burning sensation.
Sterile. An acidic burn all the way to your stomach. Metallic finish.
Score: 26 points. Actually, I've had far worse than this. Well - just a few minutes ago actually...
Compared to the Cutty Sark or crap like 'Big Blend' this is top notch hooch.
But the Ankara from Turkey (see my next report) beats it, bang-for-your-buck-wise.
Most of these bottles were brought over in June by Serge and Klaus. This means that the prices I paid were probably a little lower than the 'street prices' in Holland - if they would have been available here. The 27 Euro's price tag on the Sheep Dip is ludicrous, of course. 20 Euro's for the Isle of Skye and 25 Euro's for the 12yo version doesn't seem like a very sharp deal either. I have to admit Cutty Sark and Old Cricket are very cheap, but with ratings in the 20's they are more or less 'off the scale'.
Cheapness is a quality I admire in a whisky...
But after drinking single malts almost exclusively for a few years my sharp price-instincts have eroded. During my student days I always managed to seek out (and destroy) the cheapest bottles in the store. As the years went by and my discretionary income grew, my price ceiling grew with it. The 10-Euro-a-bottle-barrier was broken in the Summer of 1996 when Chris Rea's 'On The Beach' was a hit and pretty soon the 20 Euro's barrier fell as well. My amazing discovery of single malts in 1991 lifted the price ceiling to 30 Euro's and around 1997 it had risen to 40 Euro's. And then things went really crazy over the last two years with me paying more than 100 Euro's a bottle without blinking (too much). Even the 200 Euro's price ceiling was shattered eventually.
But with the prospect of an increased intake of blends and vatted malts in the foreseeable future I may have to re -evaluate my 'Bang-For-Your-Buck' criteria. Quite drastically too, I imagine. I've developed a taste for the good stuff but I'll just have to set my sights a little lower until I've found gainful employment again. Although 50 Euro's seems like a reasonable price for a good single malt whisky, I would be able to alternatively spend my dough on three or four decent blends or vatted malts.
Anyway, there's no need to panic just yet - my reserve stock should keep me dramming for a while longer.
- - -
mAddendum 125A - Autumn shopping
I have to be a little careful when it comes to spending my limited malt budget this season, but when fellow malt maniac Patrick Whaley informed me that The Whisky Exchange offered the new Lagavulin 12yo Special Release (58%, OB, bottled in 2002) for 45 Pounds I just had to order some. After VAT and shipping cost that amounts to almost 100 Euro's, but it's still a lot cheaper than the 136 Euro's Serge reported on earlier. I ordered 3 bottles. The price of this bottling surprises me a little when I look at a similar bottling like the Laphroaig 10yo C/S. In the Laphroaig range the 10yo C/S is positioned between the normal 10yo and the 15yo. Could this be interpreted as some kind of acknowledgement that there are 'problems' with the current Lagavulin 16yo?
Anyway - I also did some shopping at Ton Overmars and managed to restrain myself this time around:
Brora 24yo 1977/2001 (56.1%, UDRM) - 85 Euro's
Clynelish 14yo (46%, OB) - 37 Euro's (2x)
Linlithgow 1982/2000 (61.6%, Scott's Selection) - 80 Euro's
Isle of Skye 12yo (40%, blend) - 25 Euro's
I also spotted two new Caol Ila OB's - a 12yo and an 18yo.
For once, I managed to keep my money in my pocket. I may pick them up next time, though...
Today is the first anniversary of the first day I could claim to have sampled the product from all 'active' distilleries in Scotland. (See log entry #93 for details.) What's more, it's W.W.I Armistice Day all over Europe, Independence Day in Angola and the beginning of Carnival in the Southern provinces of Holland. Reason for some kind of celebration, I guess. In fact, I welcome the excuse to sample some of the 'deviant' stuff on my shelves. Whiskies from Japan, Germany and France, for example. Or a couple of blends and vatted malts I didn't report on before. Over the last few years I've almost exclusively been sampling single malts but the 'Walpurgis' session on April 30 (see log entry #109) made me remember something I almost forgot: A whisky doesn't have to be expensive to provide pleasure.
I started this session unusually early (around 17:00) because I had a lot of 'work' ahead of me. My first dram of the evening was something special, the Suntory 12yo 'Yamazaki'
(43%, OB) from Japan. This bottle was acquired by mistake in Milan two months ago (see log entry #123 for details). Suntory is Japan's largest producer of whisky with
a market share of more than 60%. The company produces several other drinks as well, including vodka, gin, brandy and various liqueurs. The company owns three different distilleries; Yamazaki (the first), Hakushu and Hakushu
Higashi. The label says it's a 'pure malt', so this bottle could contain whisky from more than one of Suntory's stills. Craig Daniels claims it's a single malt, though...
Nose: Wow! A little oily and grainy at first, with a strong shoe polish association. Sour sherry notes. Some smoke. Malty. Is that peat? Soap? Two-stroke oil. Surprisingly deep and organic. Sherry? Subtle, not a lot of volume. Rice crackers? Very spicy & aromatic. Great development. Shows a different face every minute.
At times it had something fishy, not unlike Hákarl - an Icelandish shark speciality.
Taste: Weak, creamy start. Nice, but a little grainy as well. Not as good as the nose.
Oily. Improves after a few seconds into a solid centre, followed by a dry, lasting finish.
Sweet. It becomes maltier and fruitier over time, but remains a little rough and 'bourbonish'.
Score: 77 points. Not bat at all for a 'replica' of a Scotch whisky!
In fact, it's one of the best non-Scottish whiskies I ever tried.
Suddenly, I was in the mood for some 'exotic' music as well. I went for a voyage of discovery into the music of Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto - something fellow malt maniac Serge Valentin recommended. And since I was tasting malts from exotic places, I figured I might as well finish Serge's sample of the infamous malt whisky from
Turkey, the Ankara 5yo Malt Viski (43%, OB).
Nose: Spirity and alcoholic. Sweetish. Malty. Smells more like a blend than a single malt.
Liquorice all sorts. Chemical fruity notes. Candy cane? Paint thinner elements grow stronger.
Coconut. Something nutty? Hint of hops? Really opens up after ten minutes.
Taste: Sweet and bitter. Mocha? Pleasant hot, peppery burn. Not a lot of depth.
Score: 69 points. Not nearly as bad as I expected. And priced around 5 Euro's a bottle! If they sold this stuff here in Holland ten years ago I might have never bothered to check out the Scottish malts! I'm all for Turkey joining the EU if that means the Ankara will appear on our shelves as well. Davin was right - this is a winner.
Closing in on Western Europe, we arrive in Bavaria, Germany.
The Slyrs 3yo 1999/2002 (43%, OB) is one of the few German single malts.
Nose: Spirity. Dusty, like the attic of a grain warehouse. Milk powder? Corn? Soy sauce.
Fruity sweetness - the same unidentifiable fruity elements I found in Serge's 'Chateau Osama' and some grappa's. Slightly oily. This doesn't sound too appetising but this German malt is not entirely unpleasant. In fact, the combination works quite well here. After ten minutes spicy and herbal elements come forward.
Taste: Ooof! Paint thinner. Very fruity. Bittersweet - more bitter than sweet.
Herbal. Malty. Big burn. Very dry. Strong tannin impression in the centre an the finish.
I kind of like this stuff. Very different from a Scotch malt, but quite interesting!
Score: 66 points. An impressive accomplishment, considering the 'minimum' age of this malt.
I moved along to the Glenroc NAS (40%, OB), a pure grain whisky made in Rennes, Brittany, France. The distillery,
Milibreiz, is one of about half a dozen operating in France today. After some legal troubles with the Scots they were forced to change the name to 'Gwenroc' for later bottlings.
The colour is very dark for a grain whisky - artificial colouring perhaps?
Nose: Phew! Very, very fruity in the foreground. Nectarines, pineapple and orange zest.
Cointreau! Mandarin Napoleon, maybe. No - it's really more like Cointreau.
The best grain whisky I ever nosed, although it's much more like a liqueur than a malt.
Taste: Phew again. Flat without any inspiration. Bitter. Fruit. Orange skins. Sucade?
Cool on the palate. Again, it seems very much like Cointreau liqueur after a minute.
Score: 57 points . Barely on the good side of average in the grander scheme of things, but much better than any Scotch grain whisky I ever tried. Far superior to the Invergordon or Blackbarrel, that's for sure. It did remind me a bit of Serge's 'Chateau Osama' - but in a good way. When Klaus reported on his tasting last week he found lost of tropical fruits and he thought it smelled more like a soft drink than a whisky.
Well, that's a good point. This is hardly a whisky. But I think it will be excellent on a hot summer night.
The Clonmel 8yo (40%) is an Irish/French whisky according to Serge. It's unchillfiltered.
The origins of the name are Gaelic; 'Cluain Meala', meaning 'The Honey Meadow'.
Nose: Fruity - but not nearly as much as the Glenroc. Polished. Spirity. Furniture wax?
Opens up a little after five minutes, becoming sweeter. Hops.
Taste: Flat start. Dull. Watery. Menthol & eucalyptus. Sweetish in the centre.
Uninspired. Metallic. Beer? Ultra-dry finish. It loses a lot of points here.
Score: 35 points . Nothing too offensive about it but it has no redeeming qualities either.
OK, enough wandering around the world...
Maybe it's time to return to Scotland for for the highlight of the evening.
This morning the mailman dropped off the 3 bottles of Lagavulin 12yo 'Special Release' (58%, OB, bottled in 2002) I wrote about in mAddendum 125A. Of course I just had to open one of them a.s.a.p. The design of the bottle is very similar to that of the 16yo; the label rambles on about 'The Strange Horse of Suinabhal'.
I got a decent plop when I opened the bottle; the colour seemed a little light - more bourbon wood?
Nose: Ah! That's the peat I remember from the good old days. The latest bottlings of the 16yo I tried we rather smoky than peaty. The peat has returned, but at the expense of some other elements I liked in the Lagavulin 16yo 'White Horse' - like leather and just the right amount of sherry.
This is clearly a younger malt - not as polished; more Bourbon wood influence?
When I added a dozen drops of water the nose became MUCH sweeter for a moment.
More powerful as well. Lots of character. Salt. Spices. Mint??? Organic notes.
Grows more powerful over time, especially with some more water.
Taste: Powerful. Liquorice root when undiluted, with more sherried notes towards the finish.
A tad bitter. The finish turns smoky and dry in the tail. Lasts for quite a while. The burn in the middle seemed to grow stronger after I added a few drops of water but a lot of the 'definition' on the palate vanished.
Score: 89 points . Well, very provisional points. I know I like it (a lot!) but I'll have to taste it against the 16yo and a number of younger 'bastard' Lagavulins to make up my mind about a 'definitive' score. And a H2H with the Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength seems like a good idea as well - at first sight that's the BFYB winner.
Finally, I finished the bottle of George Dickel No. 12 (43%, OB, Bourbon, 100cl). That's short for 'George Dickel
Original Tennessee Finest Quality Sippin' Whisky Superior No. 12 Brand'. It is distilled only (sic) at the Cascade Hollow Distillery in Tullahoma, Tennessee, USA. The slogan: 'There Ain't Nothin' Better'.
Nose: Did somebody fart? It wasn't me and I'm the only one here...
A little dusty. Bourbony. Chemical candy fruits. Liquorice All Sorts? Very strange...
Taste: A flat bite. Dryish. Milk powder. Fruits. A little sweeter after a while.
Score: 47 points. Sippin' indeed - everybody would be well advised to avoid big gulps.
Although I have to say I didn't find it all that 'superior', it's quite possibly the best bourbon I've ever tried. I haven't sampled the trendy RX 6yo bourbon from the same distillery but this stuff certainly beats bigger names like Jack Daniels and Jim Beam.
With a rating below 50 points I honestly can't recommend the George Dickel for human consumption, but Bill Bruno's writings on the label are so brilliant you could consider buying a bottle as a work of art. How's this, for example: 'There are many superb Scotch Whiskies, innumerable fine cognacs a host of different bourbons. But there are only two
Tennessee Whiskies. George Dickel created the finest.'
One of the most original marketing claims I've heard in years...
Well, that was weird indeed...
Last year Johanna and Charles hopped over from Canada for the annual whisky festival in The Hague. They came back for this year's edition and we scheduled a few sampling sessions around the event itself. I met them on Dam
Square on Friday afternoon and we swung by a Thai restaurant to lay a foundation in our stomachs and counter any ill jet lag effects. After the meal it was back to my place for some serious sampling. Well, not that serious -
especially because I was suffering from a bad nose day once again.
As a result, my notes are rather sketchy.
The evening was still young when we started the proceedings around 20:00 PM, so it seemed appropriate to make our first dram a young one - the Glenrothes 8yo (40%, G&M). Although the 'Gordon & MacPhail' style overwhelms the distillery character in some of their bottlings I have to admit I really like this one. In fact, I think it's one of the best G&M bottlings I've tried so far - especially when you take into consideration that this is a 'juvenile' malt. It's a bit middle-of-the-road, but if you're looking for a solid, malty malt this would be an excellent choice. Score: 80 points (was 79). It went down altogether smoothly with Charles as well.
We had a sip of the Auchentoshan Three Wood (43%, OB) before we opened a bottle I've been insanely curious about ever since Serge brought it over from France: the Bruichladdich 1983/2001 (46%, OB). It's one out of 600
ceramic jugs - a special edition bottled for a German customer, distilled on 27/04/1983, matured in bourbon cask #1331 and bottled on 11/10/2001.
Nose: Fruity and alcoholic with lots of perspective.
Taste: Sweet. Creamy. Coconut. Herbal - like 'Beerenburger'.
Pickled gherkin in the finish? Charles said it reminded him of Springbank. I can see why.
Score: 85 points . A mighty fine dram that beats the 10yo, 15yo and 20yo.
An excellent choice for a single cask bottling - the best Bruichladdich I've tried so far.
My guests liked it a lot as well.
We moved on to the Glenfarclas 21yo (43%, OB) and that's where my notes ended - too much fun discussing music and malt matters with Johanna and Charles. Without my notes it's hard to recall the rest of tonight's menu (I'm afraid a few brain cells were lost) but here are the other malts I remember;
- Aberfeldy 1978/1996 (59.3%, Scott's Selection)
- Ardbeg 24yo 1975/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC)
- Ardbeg 27yo 1973/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC)
- Braes of Glenlivet 1979/1997 (58.1%, Signatory Vintage)
- Caol Ila 11yo 1989/2001 (46%, Signatory Vintage, Unchillfiltered, Bourbon casks)
- Lagavulin 12yo Special Release (58%, OB, bottled in 2002)
- Ledaig 20yo (43%, OB)
- Port Ellen 22yo 1978/2000 (60.5%, UDRM)
- Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 (63.8%, UDRM, brought a tear to Charles' eye)
I'm an evolving alcoholic. My body seems to have adapted to the use of alcohol in a way that allows me to draw all the energy I need from my drams. As a result, I don't receive any protest signals from my stomach at times when less evolved people start to feel a bit peckish. This makes me a bad host. My regular guests know to just ask when they get hungry but Johanna and Charles were far too polite. Consequentially, they had just about fainted when the clock struck 2:00 AM. After an emergency ration of crackers and cheese they caught a cab to their B&B in the city centre for a good night's sleep to prepare for...
Saturday night - The Hague Whisky Festival.
Those of you who've read last year's report may remember that I was less than thrilled with the proceedings in 2001. The location (the 'Grote Kerk' in The Hague, an old church) was fine but the organisation attracted droves of cheap-jacks peddling fish, clothing, coach trips and cigars. That's right; they invited people over to sell stink sticks to the punters and actually encouraged them to light up there and then.
It seems this year they went out of their way to rub me the wrong way even more.
Most of the fishmongers were gone but there were even more ignorant cigar smoking yobbo's stinking up the place and some of them had even brought their FWP oozing wives along. What's more (and this hurts my cheap Dutch heart), many malt mongers charged money for the decent drams. The 40 Euro's admission fee included free 'fodder' like Glenfiddich 12yo and Bowmore Legend but you had to pay good money for most malts that were remotely interesting. This was something they conveniently forgot to mention on the website and in the brochures. Johanna was as surprised as I was. A 'festival' should be festive, right?
The 'free' nosing glass visitors received in return for their 40 Euro's wasn't something to get very excited about either - a thick, tulip style society glass. Fortunately, I brought my own fishbowl.
After a quick round of the Church we had (and paid) our first drams at the UDV/Diageo stand.
My first choice was the Talisker 20yo 1981/2002 (62%, OB, 9000 bottles).
The nose showed some organics but not a lot of perspective. Interesting woody notes although something seems 'off'. Bad or tired casks perhaps? The taste seemed very weak to me - especially for a cask strength whisky. I haven't got a clue why Serge thought it was worth 95 points. To me, 82 points seems more than enough. Johanna felt the 'Distiller's Edition' she tried was much better - at less than half the price! I'm glad I didn't waste my money on a big bottle. A hard act to swallow...
I've got the attention span of a fruit fly so it was off to the Bladnoch stand before we could try anything else at UDV . There we were in for a nice surprise. Last year they used little plastic 'tumblers' that produced no nose at all but this year they had proper glassware which was much better equipped to show off what's so special about Bladnoch . I stuck to my fishbowl and gave the Bladnoch 10yo (43%, Flora & Fauna) I sampled last year another try. The nose was rich and sweet. Fruity, becoming slightly oilier later on. Very pleasant; an excellent summertime malt. The taste seemed slightly oily, which kept the score at 79 points.
We hung around the Bladnoch stand for a while longer while we had an interesting chat with Raymond Armstrong's lovely wife Florence. She showed some great hospitality by pouring us something from the back of the booth; the Bladnoch 1992/2002 (58.5%, James MacArtur's Old Master's, Cask #717). The nose was fresh and fruity with lots of lemon. The family resemblance with the 10yo F&F is obvious but this bottling is much more transparent. The taste was spicy and peppery. It also showed some oilier elements, but not enough to push the score below 82 points . I had a chance to buy a bottle at De Whiskykoning after the festival and I wouldn't be surprised if the score increases quite a bit after I've had a chance to research this malt further.
I skipped along the isle for a moment to the Gall & Gall stand to get myself a taste of the only single malt they had to offer, the Longmorn 13yo 1988/2002
(43%, Coopers Choice, matured in oak casks). Even with my big fishbowl I could detect very little personality in the nose. There was a lot of power in the background but I couldn't really
figure out how much I liked it. So, no rating this time around. I didn't make any notes on the Milford 10yo from New Zealand either but I did manage to translate my feelings into a score: 67 points. I've since heard rumours that
Milford is nothing more than the last cases of Lammerlaw.
Then it was off to the Bresser & Timmer stand for a sample of the Glencadam 16yo 1985/2001 (43%, Chieftain's, distilled in April 1985, matured in casks #2689/2691, bottled June 2001, 1170 bottles).
Nose: Sweet toffee. Caramel. Furniture wax. Flowery with soft Islay accents.
Taste: Gritty and a little sour. Soft tannin in the finish. Wood.
Score: 77 points. Pleasant aroma; I may invest in a big bottle.
While Johanna and Charles crossed the isle to the Whiskykoning stand to have a chat with Rob Stevens I snuck back to the UDV/Diageo stand to spend some more money on a 'luxury' sample. After I managed to fight my way to the counter I had a Port Ellen 24yo 1978/2002 2nd Annual Release (54.3%, OB, Bottle #0720 of 12000). The nose was peaty and smoky. Ammoniac and other horse stable aroma's. Austere like the Ardbeg OMC's from the early seventies. The taste was softly medicinal with a salty burn later on. Lemon and other fruity elements as well. Surprisingly subtle. I would have to go with 83 points for now, although that might prove to be a tad on the conservative side on closer inspection. That being said, Johanna felt that the UDRM Port Ellens offer better value and I have to agree. It's a funny thing to hear all these stories about Port Ellen becoming very rare while we see PE's flooding the market in a big way.
My next stop was a stand where they served a bunch of different Adelphi bottlings. They're hard to find in Holland
so I felt I had to try one. Sadly, the fine print on the bottle was a tad too fine - I knew I was tasting a Dailuaine but couldn't make out which one exactly. It was pleasant enough, scoring 80 points.
I circled back to the UDV stand for a sip of the Caol Ila 23yo 1978/2002 (61.7%, UDRM). I couldn't pick up much at this point of the evening but I did notice that the nose seemed a little uni-dimensional. The same ammoniac and horse stable smells I found in the Port Ellen but not much else. The score of 83 points shouldn't be taken too seriously. The same goes for my score of 67 points for the Milford 10yo from New Zealand.
We managed to secure a last dram before the festival ended around 23:00 PM.
The Bruichladdich 1984 Legacy (46%, OB) went down pretty well and scored 82 points. According to Louis Perlman the 1984 is 60% bourbon casked and 20% each fino and oloroso sherry, compared to just 20% oloroso casks for the Bruichladdich 15yo. Well it's a very decent dram but not quite comparable to the superior 1983 'Ceramic' (single bourbon cask) we opened last night.
We left the church and foolishly wandered into a noisy bar nearby for a quick beer. Bad choice, so we quickly caught a cab to Amsterdam to enjoy a few more beers while we discussed our festival impressions. None of us was really enthusiastic; the main pressure points were the cigar smoking yobbo's, the often moronic crews at the 'corporate' stands and the fact that you had to pay for the interesting samples. It wasn't all bad though. We had a quick chat with Jim Murray (who mentioned the Ardbeg 1975 OMC we tried last night as one of the best whiskies he's ever had) and Raymond Armstrong. And a few people among the stand crews really made an effort to pass along some useful information. Nevertheless, this will most likely be the last time I've dragged my sorry ass to The Hague for the festival. Given the conditions I described this isn't a place where any serious maltster should hang around for too long.
After a Sunday of rest and contemplation I met up with Charles and Johanna again on Monday evening in de Still. I arrived a little early which gave me the opportunity the check out some of their latest acquisitions. My first choice
was the Clynelish 10yo 1989/2001 (43%, Hedges & Butler, Cask #3243, bottle #704). I had sampled a 1989/2000 bottling at Serge's in September (bottle #68 from cask #5895, see log entry 123 for details) and I
wanted to find out if the relatively low score for that bottling (72 points) was representative.
Nose: Malty and 'middle of the road' at first. Oatmeal. Not very pronounced. It really needs a minute, but then soft fruity notes emerge. Fruit cake? Opens up with spices, toffee and sherry notes later on.
Taste: Soap. Thin. Not sweet enough for my tastes. Gritty with a sour burn. Dry.
Score: 76 points . Just like with Serge's bottling the nose is quite OK but the taste falls behind.
Overall, this bottling performed a little better though.
Just when I had finished the Clynelish Charles and Johanna arrived - reason to celebrate with a round of drams. If memory serves Charles went for a G&M Mortlach 21yo while Johanna tried the Glenfiddich Havana. I went for the
Ardmore 11yo 1990/2001 (46%, Signatory Vintage Unchillfiltered, distilled 31/05/1990, bourbon cask #6367, bottled 12/12/2001, bottle #20 of 323). I sampled an earlier batch in March that scored just 71 points, but that bottle was polluted with cork. I figured Ardmore deserved another chance.
Nose: Lemon, apple, pear & other fruits. Light. Something nutty. Very nice
Pleasant organics after a while. Veggy - a little too much so, in fact.
Taste: Sweetish and slightly gritty. Vegetables. Not as pleasant as the nose.
Score: 78 points. A good thing I gave Ardmore another try.
We hung around for a bit longer to chew some fat before we decided to continue the dramming at my place. Before we left we admired the bottles in the private lockers; an ever changing collection of a few great whiskies, a few decent ones and a great number of fairly mediocre bottles. I'll try to make notes next time to give you an impression of the drinking behaviour of the locals and regulars at De Still.
Back at my place we started the proceedings with the last drops of my Springbank 21yo (46%, OB). Wonderful as ever; check out log entry #124 for tasting notes. The Springer is a hard act to follow, so the Mortlach 21yo (40%, Sestante) I opened for the occasion was slightly underwhelming. The character of the nose seemed fairly similar to that of the Springbank; fruity and sherried. The taste didn't produce any surprises either. A pleasant combination of bitter and sweet like cherry liqueur filled chocolates. Nice 'legs'. Charles suggested the proof (40%) might have something to do with the relative disappointment after the 46% Springer; he prefers his malts at 43% or more. I completely agree - I personally like the 'mouth feel' of a malt best at 45 to 50%. Hopefully the Mortlach will open up after 'breaking in' - I'm kind of counting on it, so please don't take the score of 82 points too seriously.
If memory serves we sampled a bunch of Irish whiskies next - Jameson Crested Ten, Millars, Powers Gold Label and Locke's 8yo. Johanna and Charles had purchased quite a few bottles during the weekend but then they discovered
they had bought more than they could carry home with them. After we tried them they filled 125ml samples and left the big bottles at my place to be emptied at my own discretion.
No problem! - I'll report on them later.
Once again I neglected to make proper notes so I'm not quite sure what else we tried.
We did open the Talisker 19yo 1980/2000 'Tactical' (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, distilled December 1980, bottled October 2000, 348 bottles). The nose was wonderful and much fruitier than I would have expected. Salt. Some peat in the background. Marzipan. Lovely - and growing lovelier by the minute.
The taste didn't show as much depth and character as the nose. It starts off surprisingly soft but then the big burn starts. A powerful centre with peat and salt. Salt in the finish as well. Very dry.
Score: 86 points . Very much like the Laphroaig 15yo 1985/2000 'Laudable' (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 318 bottles) we sampled later on, the character of the malt is very different from the 'official' distillery profile.
Judging from their reactions the Macallan 10yo Cask Strength (58.8%, OB) was the highlight of the evening for Charles & Johanna. They didn't seem very interested when I suggested it to them but the fact that Charles rushed to Ton Overmars the next day to score a bottle (just 51 Euro's) says enough, I think.
It seemed we only had been dramming for a little while when the clock struck 3:00 AM. Time for my guests to leave and catch some z's. And that sort of concludes my report on a wonderful whisky weekend. I only covered a fraction of the stuff we sampled and discussed but covering everything would simply take too long.
Bless you and goodnight.
I know I'm going against my own seasonal sensibilities here, but I recently acquired some Lowland samples from Serge and I was very, very curious about them. What's more, I'll have to try a couple of Auchentoshans anyway if I want to be able to write a proper Distillery Profile for Auchentoshan. So, although the temperatures call for Islay warmth I'm going for a couple of cool Lowlanders this weekend of 2002. Tonight I'll focus on two of the three remaining active Lowland distilleries; Auchentoshan and Bladnoch - the third one being Glenkinchie. Tomorrow's menu features the silent distilleries Rosebank and Saint Magdalene.
I think the Auchentoshan 10yo was the first Lowlander I ever tried, somewhere in the early 1990's. I was less than enthusiastic and didn't look at another Lowlander for many years. But then I stumbled across a nice Bladnoch - and
then another one. Only a few years later the Saint Magdalene 1979 UDRM (yes, a Lowlander) had managed to take the pole position on my Hit List. The sample of the Auchentoshan 10yo
(40%, OB) Matti sent me from Finland was from a batch that has been bottled almost a decade later.
The code on the back label was 100/0000275/18.
Nose: Phew. Seems very oily. Overcooked vegetables. Cannabis? Salted peanuts?
Fish? Noticeable improvement over time; the aroma's seem better 'integrated'.
Taste: Yuech! Cod liver and eucalyptus. Very smooth. Watery. Eucalyptus?
Faint chemical sweetness. Faint liquorice? Gritty in the finish - chalky like rhubarb.
Score: 58 points. This bottling seems far worse than my first batch!
Analysis: Distilled cod oil. Avoidable.
And how about the Auchentoshan NAS 'Three Wood' (43%, OB)? This bottling is matured in three different casks; American Bourbon, Spanish Oloroso Sherry and Pedro Ximenez. I opened the bottle on March 31.
Nose: Ooh, that's more like it. Lots of sherry. Wood and fruits too. Mighty pleasant.
Whiff of peppermint. More smoke after a while. Sweet fruit cake. Organics. Tobacco!
Salt? Wait, now I get the same 'salted peanuts' impression I got with the 10yo.
Spices. Playful. Great development over time, although it remains rather delicate.
Taste: Smooth start. Sherry. A little sour and unbalanced. Something minty.
Fruits. Wood. Liquorice root. Smoke and tannin in the finish. Very dry. Fried fish?
Sweeter later on. Lacks depth. A bit of a letdown after the great nose.
Score: 82 points . The taste isn't too spectacular but the nose is simply wonderful. It's rich and expressive and shows a lot of the elements I love in older Aberlours, Macallans and Springbanks. The Three Wood isn't quite in the same league but it's getting close. With a matching palate it would have reached the upper 80's.
Analysis: Three times a lady. Recommendable.
OK - Let's do a quick H2H of the two Auchentoshans...
The difference in the nose was amazing. Hard to believe these puppies are produced at the same distillery. The Three Wood had sherry, fruit, wood and smoke - and much more volume. Some mint again. The 10yo remained oily. The taste of the 10yo is oily as well, although the smoothness is a nice quality. The taste of the Three Wood matched the nose: Woody and sherried - just the way I like it.
No contest - the Three Wood wins by more than 20 points.
This means I've now tasted three different versions of Auchentoshan - two different batches of the 10yo and the Three Wood. If it wasn't for the Three Wood the still score for Auchentoshan would be no more than one measly star. The Three Wood proves that they know how to produce a very decent dram at Auchentoshan. So, I wonder why do they put their reputation at risk by producing something as bland as the 10yo. Maybe ten years is just a little too young for a triple-distilled Lowlander?
Anyway - enough about Auchentoshan for now. Let's have a look at Bladnoch, one of the very few other active Lowland distilleries. The first Bladnoch that caught my eye was the Bladnoch 1988/2001 (40%, G&M
Connoisseur's Choice). This was one of the 125ml samples I received from Serge in September.
Nose: Hmm... Fresh and smooth. Malt. Light with fruity overtones. Intriguing.
Soft, early fruits. Strawberries? Apples - Granny Smith? Weak organics.
Not a lot of volume but very pleasant development over time.
Taste: Ooh... Not so nice at first. Menthol? Growing sweeter with time. Wet wood.
A powerful peppery prickle in the centre that lasts very long. Dry finish.
Score: 79 points. Almost makes it to my hitlist but the taste lacks depth.
Analysis: A near miss. Seems like a very decent summer malt, though.
For reference purposes, I proceeded with the Bladnoch 1987/1999 (40%, G&M Connoisseur's Choice). I opened this bottle roughly six months ago during the first Walpurgis session on April 30 (see log entry #109 for details) and have been sipping from the bottle quite frequently after that. I've heard some people describing the Bladnoch style
as 'coastal'. When it comes to this G&M bottling I guess that must have been a coast where they've just had an oil spill or something...
Nose: Quite oily. Malty with a whiff of pepper. Citrus? Growing sweeter. Smooth. Hints of smoke and fruits after fifteen minutes. Seems impressive at first but proves to be a bit shallow.
Taste: Yuck... Oily as well. Menthol freshness again. Interesting development over time.
Fruity. Gingerbread. Pine? Something sourish that might hint at a bad sherry cask?
Score: 74 points . I think Serge hit the nail on the head with this one.
Analysis: A little oil spill in your glass.
Of course, the availability of two consecutive bottlings of Bladnoch calls for a H2H.
In fact, Serge also did a tasting with both bottlings in June and found ratings of 74 points for the 1987 and 83 points for the 1988. Let's find out how I feel about them when they go head to head.
Nose: The '87 was much oilier than the fresh and honeyed '88. The '87 seems very dull and restrained in comparison - earthy and herbal. Nuttier later on. The '88 is the big winner in the nose department; sweet, smooth and mellow. Both noses drop off after five minutes, settling down into oily nothingness. After maybe 30 minutes both noses come to life again - very interesting.
Taste: The '87 starts sweet, then turns bitter, then sweet again. Gingerbread? Interesting development that lasts for a long time. Still sweet in the finish. The '88 is sharper at the start before it hits a weak spot. After a few seconds it picks up again, evolving into a big bittersweet burn.
The results: No need to change my earlier ratings. The 1988 wins, no question about it. It simply has so much more to offer in the nose department. Tonight the difference didn't seem like Serge's nine points, though. But then again there's no accounting for personal taste. The bottom line is that neither one manages to reach 'recommendable' status.
OK, that takes care of the 'Connoisseur's Choice' Bladnochs.
When it comes to these bottlings by Gordon & MacPhail I've found that they often gravitate towards a certain middle-of-the-road style that tends to mask the original distillery character. Fortunately, I managed to secure a bottle of Bladnoch 1992/2002 (58.5%, James MacArtur's Old Master's, Cask #717) after the whisky festival last week. That should enable me to check what a different bottler makes of the Bladnoch. I needed to open a fresh bottle anyway to replace the empty Auchentoshan Three Wood.
Nose: Clean. Fresh. Dry and spicy at first. Hey, is that a faint hint of peat?
Soft fruits as well. Nutty - hazelnuts? Something like Italian Christmas bread.
Pleasant. Great development; too bad some oily notes slip in after a while.
Sweeter and more alcoholic after adding some water. Remains relatively light.
Taste: Light, sweet and fruity at cask strength. Pine? Faint liquorice.
Hint of smoke. Strangely enough the burn grows stronger with some water.
Score: 82 points. A lot 'fresher' than the CC bottlings. Hold the water on this one.
Analysis: Is that worth a silver medal at the IWS Competition? The taste really isn't very complex.
Which brings me to the end of tonight's notes. Any conclusions?
Well, maybe some very preliminary conclusions. Like I explained before the G&M Connoisseur's Choice Bladnochs might not be the most 'representative' examples. As far as a 'still score' for Bladnoch is concerned, it seems tonight's results (74+79+82) would put Bladnoch in the *** range. But when I take the two bottlings I've tried in the past into account (79+82) I think it's safe to award four stars to the distillery Especially when you take into consideration that all Bladnochs I've tried so far were in their early teens. If Bladnochs prove to age as gracefully as some other Lowlanders a still score of **** should prove to be appropriate.
This takes care of Auchentoshan and Bladnoch, but the Lowland fun isn't over yet. Tomorrow I'll have a look at Rosebank and Saint Magdalene to finish the year in style. I'm drooling with anticipation...
After last night's look at 'contemporary' Lowlanders tonight's investigations will take me into distant past.
Well, not THAT distant - Saint Magdalene (a.k.a. Linlithgow) closed down in 1983 and Rosebank followed a decade later. These distilleries were located just a few miles from each other in the Eastern Lowlands, near Edinburgh. When the Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979 UDRM took the pole position on my hitlist about a year ago it was only the second bottling from this distillery I ever tried. I haven't 'seriously' sampled any other versions since, but tonight I've got three new versions on the table to help me determine my feelings for Saint Magdalene. There's only one Rosebank on tonight's menu but the tasting results should be enlightening as well; so far I've only tried versions that were all bottled in their early teens.
I started with the Saint Magdalene 1975/1999 Cask Strength (41.5%, Cadenhead's).
This was a sample provided by Serge. He tried it during his 'Summertime Blues' tasting and felt it was worth 87 points at the time. Although we're 'officially' dealing with a cask strength malt there's no need to pull out the water jugs just yet - the 'cask strength' is 41.5%. The weird thing is that the 19yo 1979 UDRM bottling that comes in at a whopping 63.8% is just five years younger than this version.
Nose: Dry and modest at first. After a minute more fruity and woody notes emerge, but it remains 'low key' for quite a while. But then it starts to open up with deep sweet overtones. Estery. Forest aroma's. A little spicy. Hint of peat? Distinctly smokier later on.With 5 drops of water more organics appear - Ants???
Taste: Very smooth and creamy. Malty with a hint of eucalyptus. Sourish. Dry finish.
Good but nothing to get very excited about. Not quite sweet enough for my tastes.
Score: 82 points . The nose really needs a few minutes but it's well worth the wait.
Analysis: The same 'great nose - average palate' song & dance again. The taste feels more powerful than the 41.5 %, but ultimately it lacks the depth and complexity I would expect from a malt this age.
OK, now this feels a little bit weird... After the 'cask strength' Cadenhead sample I proceeded by opening a 'standard' big bottle with a higher alcohol percentage; the Linlithgow 18yo 1982/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage,
distilled on 15/12/1982, matured in oak cask #3002, bottled on 14/8/2001, bottle #311 of 472).
Nose: Wow! Flowery and strangely sour. Soft fruits. Radish? Perfume. Cereals. Soft peat? Subtle organic notes as well. Dry episodes. This has some of the complexity of the UDRM 1979, but not the depth.
Taste: Sweetish with a hint of smoke in the background. Citrus. Big burn in the centre.
Malty. Dry finish. Mighty pleasant but once again it's the nose that stands out.
Score: 85 points. Yes, this is highly recommendable stuff.
Analysis: Dazzling. Feels much more powerful than the 43% on the palate.
The Linlithgow 26yo (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask, 50ml) was a miniature I picked up for the princely sum of 11 Euro's at the festival in The Hague. Unlike the standard size bottles the label provides no information about the
year of distillation or the year of bottling. Bummer. That means this could be anything, even a vatting from the leftovers in different casks. Admittedly the label is very small, but they found room for droning on about their
'preferred strength of 50%' and stuff. So, if it's all the same to Douglas Laing I'd like him to use the space on the label for more useful details next time.
Nose: Ooh, that's nice. Subtle sweet sherry notes. Something floral as well.
Some organics after a minute. Pinch of salt? But then it seems to fizzle out.
After 5 minutes it makes a comeback, evolving into sort of an 'Islay Light'.
Taste: Relatively restrained with some surprising peaty elements growing stronger.
Quite powerful. Salt. Growing complexity. Very little sweetness. Bitter episodes. Dry finish.
Score: 84 points. A party for your nose, but the palate remains fragmented.
Analysis: An 'Islay Light'. (It reminded me of the OMC Ardbeg from the early seventies.)
The last sample was the Rosebank 20yo 1979/1999 (60.3%, UD Rare Malts); provided by Serge as well. Given the similarities with my number one malt I have high hopes for this Rosebank. High hopes indeed...
Nose: Oooh, this is lovely. A nasal fruit basket. Pear and pineapple. I have to say the alcoholic overtones tend to overwhelm the other elements. Pinch of salt and peat. Drier after some time and dilution. Strong toffee notes after adding more water - which sadly turn into veggy notes after a minute. Ends dry again.
Taste: Chloride in the start, then sweeter. Lemon drops. Peppery burn. Playful.
Astringent with bigger sips. Sweeter after dilution, although the burn remains.
Long, dry finish. With some extra water it falls apart, so be careful with the H2O.
Score: 86 points . Just like the Linlithgow 26yo it's a Lowlander with some Islay traits.
Analysis: A very fine malt, despite the fact that it keeps fading in and out. Hold the water.
I finished off tonight's Lowland investigation with a H2H between the Rosebank 1979 and a 'sister' bottling, the Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 (63.8%, UD Rare Malts). There are many similarities between these two
bottles; both are Lowlanders, distilled in 1979 at distilleries that have been closed. Both are bottled at a hefty cask strength percentage after maturing for two decades. And both are UDRM bottlings.
You would think the results would be quite similar.
So - were they?
Well, the 'Magda starts a little sweeter in the nose but after 15 seconds both are very alcoholic. Then things settle down again, although the Rosebank remains spirity. Compared to the Saint Magdalene the Rosebank seems a little
oily and sour. Both malts started to develop quite nicely, producing the most fabulous aroma's. Both show a lot of perspective but at the end of the day the Rosebank shows some tiny flaws while the Saint Magdalene doesn't. Also,
the 'Magda was more balanced and outspoken in the nose. After 5 drops of water the alcohol came to the foreground again. After a few minutes of breathing in the glass the Magdalene had recovered from the water - the
Rosebank hadn't. Fifteen minutes later the development in the Rosebank had pretty much ended, but the Magdalene kept evolving. The more I try it, the more I love it.
It's a real roller coaster ride for your nose. An amazing spectrum of fragrances.
I diluted the whiskies to a drinkable strength (+/- 50%) and compared the palates.
The Saint Magdalene was sweet and flavourful, the Rosebank dry and a little smoky. Both are excellent malts, but the Saint Magdalene beats the Rosebank decisively. It's just SO deep and complex, showing different sides of its personality with every sniff and sip. Ooh, I'm getting all giddy again...
Rosebank 20yo 1979/1999 = 86 points (same as before)
Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 = 97 points (was 95)
Yeah, that's right - 97 points for the Saint Magdalene!
Because the Lagavulin 16yo had been my number one malt for almost a decade with a score of 95 points I subconsciously started to treat those 95 points as some kind of a 'ceiling' for my Hit List. But the very reason for leaving some 'headroom' on the hitlist was the possibility that I would encounter an even better malt than the Lagavulin 16yo. And let's face it, the Saint Magdalene is 'better'. Of course, that's a completely subjective observations. 'Good' and 'bad' are words I shouldn't be using in this context because it's all a matter of personal taste. The fact that I award 97 points to a whisky doesn't mean it's 'good' in some objective kind of way, it just means I like it a lot. In fact, I liked the Saint Magdalene better than any whisky I've sampled before. So I figured it deserved a higher rating than any whisky I've sampled before.
Everything is relative so I gave a couple of other 'tearjerker' malts in the top segment of my Hit List a nudge in the right direction as well. The Port Ellen 1978/2000 (60.5%, UDRM), the Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength (57.3%, OB)
and the Laphroaig 15yo 1985/2000 'Laudable' all received an extra point.
My ratings should express my love for a malt and I absolutely LOVE these. Maybe all this is a reaction to some e -mail exchanges I had last week with malt maniacs Louis, Craig and Serge. Louis broke the '95 points' barrier and I decided it was time I did so as well. I love Magda and it's time the world knew about it. When Craig reported back on a sample of the Magdalene I sent him he didn't think it was great and awarded it 'only' 86 points. Did that discourage me? No, it didn't! If anything, it only fanned the flames of passion. 97 points it is!
Phew... 01.35 AM and I've finished my Lowland investigations.
On a single night I've more than doubled the number of Magdalenes I sampled. The 1979 UDRM bottling still reigns supreme while the other four versions I've tried scored in the mid-eighties. With 5 out of 5 bottlings scoring over 80 points I think it's safe to award a still score of five stars (*****) to Saint Magdalene. Posthumously, if it were. A lamentable loss for the whisky world. Meanwhile, the impressive score for the UDRM Rosebank can't make me forget the three younger versions I tried, all scoring in the lower 70's.
So, the still score for Rosebank remains three stars (***) for now.
Well, that was fairly interesting. After conquering the Lowlands I feel ready to take on some bigger game in the coming months. During the rest of this winter I will try to focus on the Islay malts in my collection.
That's it from me - best wishes for 2003,
PS: A few days after writing this report I received a shipment of samples from Craig in Australia. One of them was the Linlithgow 9yo 1982/1992
(62.6%, William Cadenhead Authentic Collection). Wow, a 'young' Saint Magdalene! What a wonderful opportunity. It was the first sample I opened and here are my notes:
Nose: Lots of power. Very Spirity. Then very faint floral and fruity notes appear.
Citrussy. Bittersweet like orange peel or rhubarb. Organics. Hint of peat in the distance.
Dry. Slightly oily. Shoe polish after 5 drops of water, growing sweeter and more transparant.
Menthol? Not as expressive as I would have expected, but a drop of water works well.
Taste: Easily drinkable at cask strength. Sweet and sour like lemon drops. Fresh. Big Burn.
A little gritty on the palate. Slightly uneven. Smoother with some water. More power too.
The more water you add, the stronger it burns - something I've observed before.
Score: I'd have to go with 81 points. A fine example of a young Lowlander.
- - -
mAddendum 129A - Malt Megalomania
You may have noticed that things have been a bit chaotic since the start of 2002.
I was suffering from delusions of grandeur and I thought dividing Malt Madness into two different websites would be a good idea. Well, as it turned out it wasn't. So, after spending around 8 months separating the content into Malt Madness (a purely personal website) and Malt Maniacs (a collective effort) I decided to reintegrate the sites again. In the new situation, Malt Maniacs will be one of the three main sections of the site, the other two being this Liquid Log and the mAlmanac.
If all goes according to plan the reintegration should be finished by February or March 2003.
After that, things should start to get back to 'normal' on Malt Madness.
Meanwhile, the chaos on my shelves that was caused by the events this summer hadn't solved itself.
There's room for only 48 opened bottles in my current cabinet and there still are dozens of other heavily breathing bottles hiding in several nooks and crannies of my apartment. In fact, the situation is about to get worse because I've come to the conclusion that even 48 open bottles is too much for me to handle. So, I've bought myself a brand new cabinet at IKEA that holds 36 bottles comfortably - twelve on every one of the three shelves. My next log entry will deal with one of my most ambitious projects for 2003: cleaning up my apartment. In this case, that means working my way through some 40 nearly empty bottles.
The goal: Shrinking my drinking collection to 36 bottles.
This project will henceforth be knows as 'The Big Crunch' - read all about it in Log Entry #130.
- - -
mAddendum 129B - 2002 Christmas Shopping
I have been doing my Christmas shopping early this year and I kept my head relatively cool.
After trading one of my Lagavulin 12yo C/S bottles (and a McKillop's Choice Caol Ila 1989) with Canadians Charles & Johanna for a bottle of the Talisker 20yo 1981/2002 (62%, OB, 9000 bottles) I had to drop by Ton Overmars to replenish my reserve stock of cask strength Lagavulins. While I was there I couldn't resist picking up some 'BFYB' bottles as well. I went for a couple of cask strength malts; Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength (57.3%, OB, 100cl, 47 Euro's), Macallan 10yo Cask Strength (58.8%, OB, 100cl, 60 Euro's) and a bottle of the old Macallan 10yo 100 Proof (57%, OB, 70cl, 48 Euro's). Yeah, that's right! When I asked a clerk I met at the Festival in November about the cask strength Macallan (it wasn't on display) he told me he had seen two different versions in a corner of the cellar. Aha! For the past two years I have been pestering Ton about the old '10yo 100 Proof' bottling (even better than the new '10yo Cask Strength' version, IMHO) but he always told me he had none left. I immediately suspected the clerk had uncovered some secret stash of Ton's so I played the dumb duck and innocently asked him to bring up both bottles. He did and I bought both, even though it seems they just raised the price of the Cask Strength version.
About a week later I learned that the Dutch taxes on alcohol will be raised even further next year. This means that single malts
(and especially cask strength single malts) will become even more expensive in the future.
So, I decided I should buy myself a few more bottles before the prices go up even further.
Once again, I went to Ton Overmars because he's still the cheapest source I know for my malts.
I picked up a Brora 20yo 1981/2002 (46%, Signatory Vintage Unchillfiltered, 66 Euro's), a Bruichladdich 11yo 1986/1998 (46%, Murray McDavid, 43 Euro's), a Glenmorangie 10yo (43%, OB, 100cl, 32 Euro's), a Ledaig 7yo (43%, OB, 26 Euro's) and finally a Linlithgow 26yo 1975/2001 (51.5%, Signatory Vintage, 83 Euro's).
My last purchase for 2002 - and for quite a while longer, I'm afraid - was an on-line order at Maison du Whisky in France. They still had some of the wonderful Saint Magdalene 1979/1998
(63.8%, UDRM) left for 'only' 99 Euro's. Actually that's a lot of money but I know how excellent it is. The distillery closed in 1983 so bottlings of Linlithgow / Saint Magdalene will be increasingly difficult to
find. Reason enough to order four spare bottles for my reserve stock.
I figured I might as well stock up while I still had the chance.
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