130 - 01/01/2003 - THE BIG CRUNCH - The sudden implosion of my collection
131 - 31/01/2003 - Port Ellen 18yo 1981/2000 - Port Ellen 22yo 1978/2000  - Caol Ila 1989/2001 - ...
132 - 05/02/2003 - Ardbeg 8yo 1992 - Ardbeg 9yo 1990 - Ardbeg 24yo 1975 - Ardbeg 27yo 1973 - ...
133 - 28/02/2003 - Laphroaig 1985/2000 - Laphroaig 1983/1999 - Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength - ...
134 - 01/03/2003 - Lagavulin 12yo Special Release - Lagavulin 16yo - six 'bastard' Islay malts
135 - 21/03/2003 - Bowmore 15yo 'Mariner - Bowmore 17yo - Springbank 1997/2002 - ...
136 - 01/04/2003 - Bruichladdich 1983/2001 - Bruichladdich 1986/1998 - Lochindaal 10yo
137 - 19/04/2003 - Ledaig NAS (2x) - Ledaig 5yo 1993/1998 - Ledaig 7yo - Ledaig 20yo
138 - 30/04/2003 - International Walpurgis Session: Germany, France, Belgium, Tasmania
139 - 29/05/2003 - The Big Crash: Glencadam 1985 - Glenglassaugh 1973 - MacDuff 11yo 1990 - ...

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Log Entry # 130 - January 1, 2003
Topic:  The Big Crunch

I have a drinking problem. The problem is that I don't drink enough...
Unlike wine, whisky doesn't age after it has been bottled - not significantly anyway.
But after a bottle has been opened a mysterious process called 'oxidation' starts to affect the whisky inside. That's not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. In fact, most freshly opened bottles improve after they've had the chance to 'break in' and breathe for a few weeks. As time goes by (and the level of the whisky in the bottle drops) many malts evolve. Some change for the better (Ardbeg 10yo springs to mind), but most whiskies eventually take a turn for the worst.

Usually that's not a real problem because 'the average consumer' empties 'the average bottle of whisky' within a matter of months, before oxidation has a significant effect. But as much as I'd like to pretend I'm a normal person - I'm not. With an 'official' drinking collection of 48 bottles it usually takes me well over a year to empty a bottle. That's long enough for some whiskies to suffer from oxidation. Like I stated before, some malts change for the better but in my experience that's an exception to the rule. During the 'honeymoon' of the first six months most whiskies manage to stay in character but after that changes will start to occur. Very often, these changes are quite minimal (it's more like certain 'accents' within the profile of the malt shift over time), although a few malts manage to lose 5 - 10 points in just a few months.

That's no reason for panic just yet. Especially as long as the bottle remains relatively full, there's only a limited amount of oxygen in the bottle to react with components of the whisky. But when you are confronted with dozens of bottles with only two or three drams left it becomes a reason for concern - maybe even panic. I have struggled with this problem before and in August 2000 (see mAddendum 45A for details) I decided to restrict my drinking collection to 48 open bottles, distributed over three shelves that held 16 bottles each.
This system worked for a while but collapsed earlier this year, leaving me with close to a hundred open bottles scattered through my apartment by the end of June. (See log entries #118 & #119.)  I managed to work my way down to circa 70 bottles since then, but that's still way too much. It kills me when I think about all these sweet little whisky particles fighting a losing battle against an overwhelming oxygen attack.

And oxidation isn't the only reason I'll have to adapt my drinking behaviour.
The Internet crisis finally caught up with me a couple of months ago. After surviving two reorganisations at Compuware I ran out of luck this summer. The entire department I used to work for was closed down and there was no more room for an E-Strategist like myself. So, I got axed. To tell you the truth, I didn't mind all that much. Before I worked in the IT branch I used to complain loudly about these overcharging, under-performing swindlers and there I was, working in that very same system.
The problem with the rat race is that even if you're winning, in the end you're still a rat...

Anyway, I'm drifting off towards the cliffs of soapbox preaching again - let's return to the topic at hand. I was telling you about the why's and what's of my adaptive drinking behaviour. I haven't found another steady job to fund my malt madness yet. My 'golden handshake', odd jobs (need a website, anyone? ;-) and the Dutch social welfare system keep me alive but I won't be able to drink in the style I'm used to for a while.

What's more, the Dutch taxes on alcohol have been raised even further this year.
This only gives wind to a general trend of rising prices for single malts - a trend that has been worrying me for some time now. Before the introduction of the Euro last year it was possible to find a good standard single malt like Dalmore 12yo or Glen Ord 12yo for less than 30 Euro's. And some really good stuff (Ardbeg 10yo, Macallan 12yo, Highland Park 12yo, Talisker 10yo, etc.) could still be readily obtained for less than 40 Euro's. But it becomes harder and harder to sensibly fill your shopping basket these days - at least here in Holland. Less than two years ago I could get a bottle of the Aberlour A'bunadh for circa 50 Euro's, but when I saw the latest batch (#8) at Gall & Gall last week the price tag said 88 Euro's. Even accounting for inflation and the higher price levels at G&G, that's a price increase of over 80% in less than two years! Well, that means the A'bunadh has just priced itself out of my good graces. The casks may be personally selected by Douglas Cruickshank (Aberlour's Distillery Director) but has he grown so much better at selecting casks in just two years? I seriously doubt it. And this is just one example - I could bore you with many more.

Bollocks! While the prices of many old favourites are slowly creeping upwards the 'quality' of some mainstream sleepers has been dropping. This means it's time for drastic measures. It looks like 2003 will be a bleak year (at least financially), so first of all I've decided to firmly re-establish the 50 Euro's price ceiling that was shattered so violently a few years ago. That will put pretty much anything over twenty years old out of my reach but I have to say I won't lose too much sleep over that. Let's not forget that these kinds of 'senior' bottlings have been a fairly recent invention anyway and as long as there are plenty of excellent 10yo and 12yo alternatives available I don't feel the need to shell out triple the amount of money for a whisky that won't be twice as good. In fact, you could argue that if they distilled and aged it properly in the first place the whisky should have been good enough for bottling years ago...
So, my first new year's resolution is not to break the 50 EURO PRICE CEILING in 2003.
Well - at least not while I'm in Holland. Who knows what will happen when I get to Scotland in Spring.

But once again we seem to have drifted off topic because I was telling you about the problems with oxidation and my collection. My second new year's resolution is trying to bring back my 'drinking collection' to 36 open bottles as soon as possible. The working title of this project is THE BIG CRUNCH.
If all goes according to plan I should be able to finish within six months or so. I decided I needed a new cabinet to accommodate my re-sized collection - i.e. something with (at least) three shelves.

On Friday the 13th of December I felt something I mistakenly mistook for good karma.
So, I went out to our neighbourhood IKEA to find myself a new whisky cabinet. To make sure the cabinet would suit my needs I had brought a bottle of Lagavulin 16yo with me. Whenever I pulled the bottle from under my raincoat to see if a cabinet would 'fit' I received strange glances from the shopping herd - but I'm sort of used to that by now. As I progressed down the winding isle as a senseless part of a stream of human flesh it became harder and harder to fight the urge to open the bottle there and then.

This must be what hell is like; one big infinite IKEA without an exit...
Fortunately this store did have an exit, but when I finally approached the end of the maze I still hadn't found a cabinet that seemed appropriate. So, I was forced to work my way back against the stream of sodding shoppers again to check if I had missed anything. The horror, the horror...
Just when I was about to start practising my goal-kicking techniques on a few screaming toddlers the corner of my eye caught a glimpse of a shiny glass & steel construction. I waded towards the contraption to have a closer look. Yeah, if my eyes didn't deceive me I seemed to like what I saw. Simple and sturdy, just the the way I like it. After planting my bottle of Lagavulin 16 on the top I liked what I saw even more.

Then it was time for the final test.
Because the cabinet would have to hold at least 36 bottles, it would have to be able to support at least 50 kilo's. And this cabinet had five shelves, leaving two shelves for part of my reserve stock. That's another +/- 40 bottles, bringing the total load to more than 100 kilo's. It so happens that the leisurely lifestyle I've been leading lately has made me put on some weight. I'm guessing I'm approaching 100 kilo's myself these days so that was pretty convenient. I figured that if the cabinet would hold my own weight it would probably hold the weight of the bottles as well. So, I ignored the puzzled glances of the public and carefully ascended along the shelves to the summit of the cabinet: the top shelf. The leisurely lifestyle I mentioned hasn't improved my agility either, so I imagine my mounting the cabinet must have made a pretty ugly picture.
Fortunately, I didn't have to watch the clumsy climb myself...

Finally, I managed to find a precarious balance on the top shelf.
Even some adventurous wiggling to simulate an earthquake didn't cause the construction to collapse so I knew I had found my new cabinet. I guess I could have hung around on the top shelf for a while longer to enjoy the view but I decided I had enough fun for one day and gracefully descended the shelves again. Slightly dazed and confused I made my way to the exit to pay and collect the box with the construction kit. Only after I loaded the box on my bike I realised I missed something: my Lagavulin 16yo. I had forgotten all about it after I put it aside before I climbing cabinet. Bugger!!! I didn't really have the stomach to go back in and face the shopping herd again, especially because somebody would probably have snagged it already. Fortunately, it was from a 'Port Ellen' batch and not one of my precious old 'White Horse' bottles.

I struggled with myself for a while before an epiphany hit me.
My very first bottle of Lagavulin 16yo was a gift from a drunken bartender.
I've already told the tale of my own amazing discovery in log entry #0 so I won't bore you with the details. The bottom line is that I never paid for my first bottle. After many cycles of the cosmic wheel of karma I've now returned a bottle of Lagavulin to 'the void' - in this case IKEA. Somebody is bound to find and open that bottle some day. I can only hope it might lead some lucky IKEA employee onto the path of single malts.
The price of the big crunch so far: 89 Euro's and a bottle of Lagavulin 16yo.
Not too bad, I guess...

Anyway - my excellent engineering skills allowed me to assemble my new cabinet within a few hours - just in time for the pre-Christmas party I organised on December 24. And as the picture taken at that very same party proves the new cabinet manages to hold over a hundred bottles just fine.

That was a pleasant surprise.
In fact, after I assembled the cabinet the three top shelves turned out to be deep enough to hold 16 bottles just as well as 12. That means I could easily go back to a drinking collection of (3x16=) 48 bottles if and when the situation of my nose and/or wallet improves. I can't really predict when that will be. I already informed you about my anorexic wallet and the current status of my nose is very bad as well. I haven't had a good nose day in months. Severely handicapped in this manner, I feel a lot of the extra Euro's I have to pay for a good single malt whisky are wasted.

That means 2003 looks like a bleak year, malt-wise.
But that's no reason to become gloomy, because I've found some alternative and more affordable entertainment. I've been focusing almost exclusively on single malts over the past decade. I'm under the impression that my analytical abilities have improved considerably during that time. Maybe this is a good time for a COMPARISON CAMPAIGN . I'll visit some other alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, sherry, port, jenever, cognac, armagnac, calvados, etc. Provided I discover anything interesting, I'll report on my experiences on these pages.

But wait a minute - cognac & armagnac?
Yes. I figured it's time to officially end my 'Grande Boycotte'.
Don't worry, I'm still no fan of the fraudulant powermonger Jacques Chirac. But I have to admit he seems to have grown wiser over the years - or at least his international politics have. And over the past year French malt maniac Serge Valentin has single-handedly managed to destroy most of my xenophobic prejudices about his fellow frenchmen. So, why deny myself the pleasures of these wonderful French distillates any longer?

And how about the 'SCOTLAND BY DRAM' project I wrote about in log entry #120?
Well, money is a major bottleneck now. That means buying a second or third bottle from a distillery I don't really fancy just because I need to taste three different versions doesn't sound very appealing these days. Originally, the plan was to gradually and alphabetically finish the distillery profiles in the mAlmanac.
Given the circumstances, I've decided to work on the profiles as I go along.
I'll try to add a few fresh ones with every major update of the site.

Finally, there's the 52-CHALLENGE 2003.
In E-pistle #05/06 Australian malt maniac Craig Daniels wrote about the challenge Davin issued a few years ago; the challenge to sample at least one new single malt whisky for every week of the year. That 'once a week' is just an average - the goal is to sample a grand total of 52 new single malts before December 31. That's mighty convenient for me, because my current Track Record is 348.
As long as my track record shows at least 400 different single malts on 31/12/2003 I'm fine. You would think that a decreased cashflow and a price ceiling of 50 Euro's would hinder me in my efforts, but my reserve stock, sample swapping and my upcoming visit to Scotland should make this a piece of cake.

Phew - I think that covers all my plans for and challenges for 2003.
Check out the upcoming log entries to find out about future victories and failures.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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mAddendum 130A  -  Opening Pandora's Box

I've made some references to 'The Pandora Project' in the past but now the shocking reports are actually starting to arrive. Since this is a 'Malt Maniacs' project you can find the reports in Malt Maniacs. So far we've published two E-pistles on the topic; E-pistle #05/03 (Serge's account of his experiences with the eight blinds I sent him) and E-pistle #05/04 (my own 'Pandora' report).
 

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mAddendum 130B  -  A Drop of the Irish

When Charles & Johanna came over in November 2002 they also planned to take some bottles home that they ordered on-line beforehand. As it turned out their eyes were bigger than their bags, so they had to leave some bottles behind.  After filling samples for future scientific research they left their mark on my shelves - in the form of four Irish whiskeys. I've been sipping from the bottles since then and to my amazement they were nearly empty by the end of January 2003.
Time to start 'The Big Crunch' with a last drop ot the Irish...

I started the Irish session with the Millars NAS 'Special Reserve' (40%, OB). Charles seemed pretty excited about this blend when we tried it in November but so far it didn't manage to really excite me. It's vaguely pleasant but not smooth enough for my tastes.
Nose: Malty. Light fruity notes. Some smoke? Gentle nutty elements, growing stronger.
A little bit nondescript, but pleasant enough. Notable improvement over time.
Taste: Flat and a little grainy. Rough. Thin. Fragmented. Cool. Melon? Beans?
Short finish, turning sour. Quickly forgotten. It loses lots of points here. Sweeter with time.
Score: 52 points. That means I like it - just not a lot. It could do with a personality.
The rating for a bottling I bought +/- 2 years ago was 47 points (see mAddendum 88A for details) so either it's growing on me or they improved the recipe. I imagine with some more older or malt whiskey in the vatting it could do quite well.

The next candidate was the Powers NAS 'Gold Label' (40%, OB) - quite an ugly bottle.
Nose: Ooh - grainy. Glue? Solvents? Milk powder? Faintly fruity. Something malty as well.
This one seems totally devoid of character. This isn't a nose - it's the ghost of a nose...
Taste: Smooth start, quickly evolving into fruity and liquorice notes. Speculaas? Short finish.
Contrary to the Millars, the taste beats the nose - very decisively, I might add. No great whiskey, though.
Score: 43 points. I'm a nose-man myself but I suspect this will score higher with people who focus on the palate.
The taste is very interesting but disappears within 15 seconds - A short burst of character. Gone too soon.

Things became more interesting with the Jameson NAS 'Crested Ten' (40%, OB), a triple distilled blend. You would think this is a 10 years old whiskey but they don't actually say it anywhere on the bottle. Let's see what my senses tell me.
Nose: Phew. Paint thinner. Seems a lot like the Powers at first. Then it becomes fruitier.
Sweetish. Not entirely unpleasant. Doesnt seem like a ten years old to me, actually.
Taste: Flat and a little uninspired. Minty freshness. Fruits. Beer in the finish. Too sour.
Metallic. The palate reminded me a bit of Austrian fruit distillates called 'Bauern Geist'.
Score: 47 points. Smells and tastes a lot like the Powers - the worst Jameson bottling I've ever tried.
But hey, that's just me. I can see how people can go for this 'type' of whisky. Beats a JWR, that's for sure.

The final 'Charles & Johanna' Irish whisky of the evening was the Locke's 8yo (40%, OB), a single malt whisky. I've tried a version without an age statement almost two years ago and that batch wasn't bad at all with a score of 73 points. This new bottling with an orange label could be even better - but then again it might not be. You never know...
Nose: Beer! Turned into fruitiness after a few seconds. Then very strong honey notes appeared. Real fresh honey with wax. Wow! Sadly, it disappeared after a minute, leaving mostly grainy notes. Really flattens out quickly.
Taste: Beer again. Smooth but not sweet enough for me. Decent burn. Soda feeling.
Chloride? Sour in the finish. Unbalanced, but it has character. Just not my kind of character.
Score: 56 points . It's very interesting, but only for a brief moment.
I have to say I liked the NAS batch I tried much, much better. Odd...

Well, I have to say Johanna made the right choice using the room in her suitcase for malts like the Lagavulin 12yo and Macallan 10yo Cask Strength. I don't know the prices of these whiskies but I'd say they are hardly worth a transatlantic flight. There are much better Irish whiskies available - although maybe not in Canada. It must be really tough living in a country with such poor malt supplies. I can afford to scoff at these whiskies because I can choose anything I like from literary thousands of different whiskies. If I only had the money, that is...

Let's count my blessings with a H2H of the Connemara NAS (40%, OB) and the Connemara NAS Cask Strength (59%, OB). These are two of my absolute favourite Irish single malts. This may seem unfair match but I wanted to cleanse my shelves of Irish stuff.
Nose: The 40% version produced very strong apple and cider aroma's. Beer? The 59% was more spirity at first but showed cider and beer notes as well. Strange, neither one seemed as deep and peaty as before. Maybe oxidation has taken its toll. After five minutes the standard version showed more fruity and flowery notes while the peat and smoke in the cask strength version began to emerge as well. It had a gentler, more fruity side as well - very citrussy. After ten more minutes it had grown into the big, organic malt I remembered. Lots of power but it has a sweeter side as well.
The C/S is a malt you can get lost in. Best Irish I ever had, I think.
Taste: The standard version was smooth and a little flat. Sweetish and slightly bitter in the finish. Dry, cool finish. Not as interesting as earlier bottles. The C/S started salty and bitter before evolving in a big, bitter burn. Is that sherry? With a few drops of water the fruity elements grow stronger. A big burn. Long finish with a lingering cherry overtone.

The results:
Connemara NAS (40%, OB, batch L1133) = 75 points.
Connemara NAS Cask Strength (59%, OB, batch L1121) = 82 points.
The latest batch of the standard Connemara isn't quite as pleasant and peaty as earlier batches but the new C/S bottling is really beautiful. It's sort of a low-budget alternative to the Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength. I've sent samples to both Craig and Klaus and their opinions were quite diverse - Craig wasn't enthusiastic and gave it 75 points but Klaus loved it 87 points worth. Well, 87 points may be a bit excessive but it certainly makes my Hit List with 82 points.

And that's pretty much I have to say on the subject right now.
 

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Log Entry # 131 - January 31, 2003
Topic:  Coastal Crunch - Prelude

In my perspective there used to be three groups of Islay distilleries.
The first group I would like to call THE BIG THREE - Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig.
These 'Kildalton' distilleries produce the real 'peat powerhouse' whiskies I'm crazy about. Pretty much any version they release ends up on my Hit List of best whiskies (scoring at least 80 points) and I haven't tasted a 'bad' bottle from these distilleries yet. These malts usually wear their Islay hearts close to their sleeves. Although IB's may show very different faces from the OB's they usually reveal some trademark features that betray their noble heritage. I'll get into 'the big three' in more detail in the upcoming log entries.

I used to refer to the second group as THE LITTLE THREE - Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain. 
Don't get me wrong, 'little' doesn't neccesarily mean soft or weak. But they are no peat monsters either. To me it has always felt like other influences (sherry, among other things) distracted from the Islay character I'm looking for rather than improved upon it. What's more, I've never been able to find a strong distillery character in bottlings from these distilleries. Batch variation between Bowmores is so strong that every bottle you pick up is like a little game of Russian roulette - it might be great and it might be, erm...,  'not so great'. I can't comment too much on Bunnahabhain. The young ones I tried myself didn't really make me jump up and down but I've heard some good things about older bottlings in their twenties and thirties.

Until very recently Bruichladdich didn't impress me either but under the new management good things are happening. The new range is notably better and it makes you wonder what they were doing wrong in the past if they have casks this good lying about. If the secret is just cask selection and vatting I dearly hope the stuff they used to bottle as single malts in the old days will be reserved for blends in the future.

And then we have the two ODD ONES OUT; Caol Ila and Port Ellen. Of course I know Port Ellen has been silent for twenty years now, but new bottlings still appear on the market regularly. I found most Port Ellens and Caol Ila's I've sampled not quite as peaty and overwhelming as 'the big three', but at the same time they are usually much more transparant than 'the little three'. By these standards, I may have to clasify Bruichladdich as part of this group in the future. But I'll worry about that later - now it's tasting time!

Many of the bottles in my inflated drinking collection are Islay malts.
I wrote about 'The Big Crunch' in log entry #130. Given the old-fashioned freezing temperatures we've been experiencing lately I figured it might be a good idea to start the deflation of my collection with the 'coastal'  malts on my shelves. Tonight is the start of 'The Coastal Crunch'; the extermination of all excess Islay malts in my collection. I'll investigate The Big Three in February while March is reserved for The Little Three.
With any luck I've cleansed my shelves of most winter warmers by Springtime.

Tonight I focussed on 'the odd ones out' - Caol Ila & Port Ellen.
I had another bad nose day so instead of the usual nose/taste/score 'format' I used the 'Chinese Portrait' style Serge Valentin introduced in E-pistle #01/03. Serge uses a person, a wine and a car to describe a whisky but I felt the need to use a more elaborate format to convey my feelings about the malts I sampled.
These are my 'markers':

- Nose: The way it smells.
- Taste: The way it tastes.
- WPGPGW: Would Probably Go Pretty Good With... / A suitable dinner suggestion.
- A scene: A suitable situation, a painting, a scene from a movie, whatever...
- A person: An actual or fictuous person that fits the character of the malt.
- A song: A pop song that captures the mood of a malt for me.
- Score: How much I like it on a 1-100 scale.

Tonight I'll take this format for a test drive and see how it feels.
I started with the three Caol Ila's on my top shelf. (See log entry #102 for details of a previous encounter.) There was enough whisky left in the bottles to fill 125ml samples of each malt for later inspection so I could have myself some final drams tonight with a clear conscience.

Caol Ila 1989/1999 (43%, Mackillop's Choice, d. October 1989, b. May 1999, Cask #1804)
Nose: Salted flowers. Chloride - like an indoor swimming pool. Low volume. Dust. Exhausted.
Taste: Salted honey. Brine. Fiery. Sweet peat. Very dry. Powerful but a little shallow.
WPGPGW: Thai Chicken soup with Coconut & Cream.
A scene: A cold dawn on a sand dune overlooking Timbuktu.
A person: That frog-blowing kid from 'Reflecting Skin' by Philip Ridley.
A song: 'Keep Young And Beautiful' by Annie Lennox.
Score: 81 points - but that's probably not a fair rating. Too much breathing, perhaps?

Caol Ila 11yo 1989/2001 (46%, Signatory Vintage Unchillfiltered, Re-fill Sherry Butt #5377)
Nose: Spicy. Salty. Dusty. Horse stable. Chalk? Little detail. Dry. Melon?
Taste: More sherry than peat at first. Smooth force. Little depth. Sweetish.
WPGPGW: Melkmoes (a traditional Dutch cold soup with buttermilk, smoked sausage, parsley and raisins.)
A scene: A night under the endless skies over the steppes of Mongolia.
A person: The guy in Edward Munch's 'The Scream'.
A song: 'Aerial Boundaries' by Michael Hedges.
Score: 83 points . A good malt at a great price. Recommendable.

Caol Ila 12yo 1989/2001 (46%, Signatory Vintage Unchillfiltered, Bourbon Barrels #774 & 775)
Nose: Clean. Salt and sweet. Spicy. Peppers? Interesting development over time.
Taste: Smooth start, then peat, smoke and salt are unleashed. Burn baby, burn!
WPGPGW: Oysters.
A scene: A horse stable on Christmas morning after heavy snowfall.
A person: Parsifal.
A song: 'Mother of Violence' by Peter Gabriel.
Score: 85 points. Very good value. Hightly recommendable.

So, any profound thoughts on Caol Ila?
Based on tonight's tasting I would say the extreme drought on the palate could be something to identify Caol Ila in a blind tasting. Almost every bottling I've sampled so far was very dry - drier than any Laphroaig I've ever tried. Other than that few obvious identifiers spring to mind. Which allows me to proceed with the two Port Ellens on tonight's menu - two older and more expensive Islay malts.
Once again, I managed to fill a few sample bottles for later analysis.

Port Ellen 18yo 1981/2000 (43%, McGibbon's Provenance, Winter Distillation)
Nose: Sherried start. Fruits. Briny. Complex. but not very peaty. Toffee? Coffee?
Taste: Very pleasant, but not exactly Islayish. Good burn in the finish, though. Dry.
WPGPGW: Game. Deer or wild boar would be good, I imagine.
A scene: A walk across the frosty fields with the dogs on a sunny November morning.
A person: Charles, Prince of Wales.
A song: 'Golden Brown' by The Stranglers.
Score: 84 points . My previous rating of 86 seems a tad generous.

Port Ellen 22yo 1978/2000 (60.5%, UDRM, bottle #2204)
Nose: Very elegant. Citrus fruits & furniture wax. Peat, smoke and rubber. Needs some time & water.
Taste: Bittersweet - like orange skins. Coffee beans? Hint of peat, but this is no peat monster.
WPGPGW: Some sweet desert like Bakláva or Créme Brúlee.
A scene: The 'Requiem' scenes from Milos Forman's 'Amadeus'.
A person: Sir Anthony Hopkins.
A song: 'Hope' by Toad The Wet Sprocket
Score: 93 points. A very fine malt, but not quite worth the 94 points I gave it last time.
Well, it still manages to hold to its second place on my Hit List, so there's nothing to be ashamed about.

With just two Port Ellens under my belt tonight I feel a bit bashful about making any claims about any deep insights I might have gained into the soul of the distillery. So, I won't...
Instead, I'll reserve my judgement for a later (good nose) day.

And that kind of wraps things up for tonight.
What does that mean for my '2003 project progress'?  Well, I've successfully emptied five old bottles, so 'crunch -wise' I did pretty good. As far as this year's 52-Challenge and the 'Scotland by Dram' project are concerned I've made little progress. All the big bottles I emptied tonight were sampled and scored before.
Watch the upcoming log entries for reports on other Islay encounters.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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Log Entry # 132 - February 5, 2003
Topic:  Coastal Crunch I  -  Ardbeg

I returned to the woods on February 5 to celebrate my 37th birthday.
Before you start imagining droves of birthday guests partying like there's no tomorrow: my actual birthday 'celebration' is usually a solemn occasion with just three or four close friends. Given the fact that my actual birthday is almost always cursed with shitty weather I decided to move the party part of my birthday to the summer years ago. This leaves me free of any social obligations on the big day itself.
This year I brought the number of guests back to the absolute minimum: one.
It was my brother Franc and strictly speaking he wasn't even a guest.

After a few quick family visits, an invigorating walk through the woods and a traditional Winter dinner (snert and boerenkool) it was time to settle down and share a few drams and thoughts with Franc. He surprised me with a DVD of 'Delicatessen' - a movie I had managed to avoid so far, despite many recommendations. We decided to watch the movie during the first few drams of our session and enjoyed ourselves immensely.
That's also the reason some of the following notes may appear a little fragmented.
Tonight's menu featured six Ardbegs - four toddlers and two adults;

- Ardbeg 8yo 1992/2000 (43%, Signatory Vintage Millennium Edition, fresh bottle)
- Ardbeg 9yo 1990/2000 (43%, McGibbon's Provenance Autumn Distillation, fresh bottle)
- Ardbeg 9yo 1991/2001 (46%, Murray McDavid, 125ml sample from Serge)
- Ardbeg 9yo 1990/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 125ml sample from Serge)
- Ardbeg 24yo 1975/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, bottle opened +/- 6 months ago)
- Ardbeg 27yo 1973/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, bottle opened +/- 6 months ago)

All of them are independent bottlings. I decided to focus on IB's because I discovered a 'problem' with some of the mainstream OB's that were released since Glenmorangie took over Ardbeg distillery. Both the 'new' 10yo and 17yo bottlings are fabulous Islay malts, but their characteristics don't really show the typical Ardbeg signature I've found in some independent bottlings - a combination of leather, peat and horse stable aroma's. If I had to venture a guess about the cause of this phenomenon I'd say the reason could be that many of the IB's I've tried were single cask bottlings, where as the OB's are vattings of several casks. These vattings are designed to fit a certain profile. Could it be that the profiles of the 10yo and 17yo OB were designed with their major Islay 'competitors' in mind?

If so, they succeeded in composing some great alternatives to the big Islay brands that were on the scene when Glenmorangie bought Ardbeg. The Ardbeg 10yo offers an excellent substitute for clean, bourbon styled Islays like the Laphroaig 10yo or young Caol Ila's, while the 17yo is capable of taking on the more sherried and refined tonsil-teasers like Lagavulin 16yo or the older expressions of Bowmore. I can't really argue with such a strategy; the results sort of speak for themselves...

Anyway -  In search of the true soul of Ardbeg I focussed on IB's tonight.
The Ardbeg 8yo 1992/2000 (43%, Signatory Vintage, matured in oak casks #414-415, bottle #730 of 910) was bottled just after its birthday. Distilled on March 19th 1992 and bottled on March 28th 2000, it was plucked from the cask less than a fortnight after it had reached the ripe young age of eight years. This bottling hasn't been artificially coloured, which accounts for the extremely light (white wine) colour.
Nose: Nice! Clean, dry and slightly peaty. After a few seconds leather and salt emerge.
Powerful. The bourbon cask influence is obvious; this is not as 'frivolous' as the OB's.
Deeper and more 'serious' than the previous (1991/1999) bottling. Franc found fruits & oak.
Taste: A little Islayish on the surface but it seems to have a weak heart at first.
Smooth start. Pleasant but not as powerful as you'd expect. Sweet & peat.
Speculaas? But then it picks up with more peat and smoke. Dry, slightly bitter finish.
Score: 85 points . I really like this stuff. The aroma is mighty complex for such a young malt - at just 8 years it gives a glimpse of what's to come in later years. I'm fond of its straightforward style, although it could do with some more depth and substance.  If memory serves, the previous version (see log entries #28 en #37) was pleasant but not quite as impressive. All I can say is: Good job by Signatory Vintage.

The Ardbeg 9yo 1990/2000 (43%, McGibbon's Provenance Autumn Distillation) was another fresh bottle but I have actually tasted this version before. At a 'Provenance' tasting in De Still in March 2001 I gave it 81 points. Tonight we would find out if this score is justified.
Nose: Dry. Seems sweeter and fruitier than the Signatory bottling at first. Sherry.
Diverse but restrained. Water melon? Dough? Wet dog? Spicy. Franc smelled bacon.
More leather, salt and organics after a minute, but the fruit remains ever present.
The Islay character took some time to develop.
Taste: Sweetish (honey) start, weak center, sourish in the finish.
It's dry and salty but other than that it doesn't have what it takes.
Score: 79 points seems more than enough, quite frankly. It's certainly not a bad whisky but as an Ardbeg it's utterly forgettable. Even at such a young age I've come to expect exceptional performance by Ardbeg. This is just average. So, save yourself 10 Euro's and a disappointment by investing in the 8yo SigVint instead.

The Ardbeg 9yo 1991/2001 (46%, Murray McDavid, Bourbon casks) was one of Serge's samples.
Nose: Strong fruity start. Dusty. Dry.  Not very expressive. Menthol? Slightly oily.
It smells a bit like the attic of an old grain warehouse. Sweaty socks later on. Bandages?
Strange aroma's for an Ardbeg. Over time, the nose grows more powerful.
Salt. Horse stable. Leather. Yes! Still, I can't find a trace of peat in the nose.
Taste: Sourish and smooth start. Restrained, but it develops into a big dry burn.
Slightly gritty. More salt and sweet sensations after a while. Overall improvement.
Wow, this one really needs a few minutes! Some peat. A dry, deep burn and a salty finish.
Score: 87 points . It didn't really seem like an Ardbeg for the first few minutes, but suddenly there was an explosion of Islayness. Of course - that must be the delay in development I noticed in other Ardbegs!

Hmmm... It seems we're slowly creeping towards cask strength territory.
Or rather 'overproof' territory; I'm quite sure the proof of the Ardbeg 9yo 1990/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, distilled September 1990, bottled August 2000, 372 bottles) was achieved by the addition of water. But then again, if Glenfiddich can claim their 15yo, 51% ABV expression is a 'cask strength' whisky the issue remains open for debate. Not something to worry about right now...
Nose: Soft start. Citrus. Dry. Water melon. Restrained. Let's put it away for 5 minutes.
With some water it opened up a little - but not much. All it needed was some more time.
Notably more powerful after 15 minutes. Still fruity, but briny as will. Spicy with a hint of smoke.
Taste: Deceptively soft start, followed by a big sweet burn. Malty.
The aftertaste seems to last forever. Very nice, but this is no peat monster.
Score: 84 points. Not bad but not spectacular either. Just recommendable.

All these young Ardbegs definitely needed a few minutes to open up - particulary in the nose department. Franc suggested the drams should be poured fifteen minutes before consumption so that greedy guzzlers don't miss out on most of the fun. Well, that idea is not as strange as it sounds - some wines need to breathe in a 'decanter' as well before thay can be appreciated to the fullest. Why not whisky?
Looking at these scores it seems that the rumours about the current 'overaged' Ardbeg 10yo OB could very well be true. With a score of 89 points (the same as the latest batch of the 17yo) the latest batch of the 10yo performs even better than all the IB's I sampled tonight - although the 9yo MurMac comes close.

Around 00:00 AM the clock struck midnight.
I'm now officially 37 years old. Time to break out the 'middle-aged' Ardbegs.
Previous encounters with these fabulous malts were not very well documented, so I'll try to get to the bottom of these bottles tonight. Just to be on the safe side, I made sure to fill 125ml samples of both.

The Ardbeg 24yo 1975/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 713 bottles) was distilled in October 1975 and bottled in May 2000. The number of bottles of this single cask batch indicates a huge sherry cask.
Nose: Peat, salt and horse stable aroma's. After a few minutes some soft fruits.
Grain attick. Medicinal. With time more and more fragrances join the nasal orchestra.
Taste: Absolutely wonderful combination of sweet and peat, developing into a salty center with hints of liquorice. Hugely entertaining. I was affraid to add water but when I did some very unusual dusty elements flowed to the foreground before settling down again. After some swirling the Ardbeg 24yo emerged victorious as a sweeter version of itself. Fantastic. This whisky proves why some old Ardbegs are legendary.
Score: 92 points . These is one of the very few malts that make it into the 90's based primarily on its taste. The nose is excellent as well, but the palate is the real winner here. A very noble drink.

The Ardbeg 27yo 1973/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 240 bottles) was poured into a relatively small bourbon barrel in March 1973, only to come out again well over 27 years later in October 2000.
Nose: Salt, peat and some very faint early fruits in the background. Cow stable.
Vegetables? Not quite as expressive as the 24yo at first but with some time it picks up.
Wow!!! After a splash of water the OMC 27yo pulled a 'Jeckyll & Hyde' on me.
Brute Islay force had overwhelmed the sweeter and fruitier elements - interesting...
Peat, peat, peat, peat... Galvanised rubber - like new tires. Very, very nice.
Taste: Salt and liquorice in the start, turning hot and dry quickly. Big peaty burn.
Slowly evolves into an everlasting finish that makes you go for an instant refill.
Score: 92 points. Slightly different from the 24yo but every bit as enjoyable.

01:55 and we were not tired yet.
Plenty of time for three H2H's to clear the table;
H2H#1 - Ardbeg 8yo 1992 (43%, Signatory) & Ardbeg 9yo 1990 (43%, McGibbon's)
H2H#2 - Ardbeg 9yo 1990 (50%, OMC) & Ardbeg 9yo 1991 (46%, Murray McDavid)
H2H#3 - Ardbeg 24yo 1975 (50%, OMC) & Ardbeg 27yo 1973 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC)

After pouring the drams for H2H#1 the nose of the 8yo (SigVint) started out even weaker than that of the 9yo (McGibbon's). But the 8yo picks up after a minute, growing more powerful than the 9yo. The 9yo seems slightly more polished. The taste of the 8yo had no trouble getting started - raw peaty power from the start. In comparison, the McGibbon's didn't seem quite as Islayish, so lovers of the real peat monsters should put their money on the 10yo OB. Or better yet, save more than 15 Euro's and pick up the 8yo Signatory Vintage.
Oddly enough, it seems I completely forgot to take notes on H2H#2. If memory serves, the MurMac proved slightly superior to the OMC once again, while the OMC was notably sweeter in the nose.
And then it was time for the highlight of the evening; H2H#3. Both seemed remarkably similar at first, although the nose of the (sherry) 24yo was slightly more expressive. Somehow the influence of the sherry cask doesn't seem very strong, so I assume they used a 2nd or 3rd re-fill cask. Both noses grew more powerful quickly - another example of the Ardbeg delay. Both are veritable 'time-bombs'; over time they kept changing and changing - especially the 27yo 1973/2000. Good stuff.

I have to admit our noses and palates were pretty much burnt out by this time of the night.
Maybe Craig's policy of limiting serious tastings to four drams isn't such a bad idea after all...
The good news is that I managed to empty 3 big bottles and I can add 4 new Ardbegs to my Track Record, cranking up my 'malt mileage' to 358 seriously sampled single malts. What's more, I have gathered sufficient information for the Ardbeg Distillery Profile. While filling the profile with the snippets of information and experience I've gathered so far I was struck by a small epiphany.

I really loved the first batch of Ardbeg 17yo when I tried it in the Spring of 1998 - but that was when I had only sampled one other big bottle (the Connoisseurs Choice 1974/1995) and a few mini's of other expressions. After sloshing away many bottles with pleasure the profile of 'the' 17yo sort of became what I expected to find in an Ardbeg. When the 10yo reached our shores in 2000 I was slightly disappointed at first - this was not at all what I had expected. I always felt that the 17yo has a sherried character like the Lagavulin 17yo or Laphroaig 15yo. The style of the Ardbeg 10yo, however, showed more kinship with the 'peat monster' profile of the (old batches of the) Laphroaig 10yo - salty, transparant and somewhow more 'bourbony'.

Before I learned to love it I rated it in the mid eighties, but by the time I reached the bottom of my first bottle it had reached 89 points. That's just as much as the score for my second batch of the 17yo. That means I'm either growing more open-minded when it comes to my malts - or that the rumours are true. Which rumours, you ask? That would be the rumours about the current batches of the Ardbeg 10yo containing much older whisky than the age statement would lead you to expect. Intruiging...

And that's all I have to say about Ardbeg right now. A bunch of fresh bottles in my reserve stock are already 'making sheep's eyes at me' but they will have to wait for the next chilly season. I'm still in 'Big Crunch' mode and I should be working on emptying bottles - not opening them. Because the empty spots left by the two old OMC Ardbegs were immediately filled by the two freshly opened youngsters I made no actual progress, crunch-wise. The good news is that I can add 4 more malts to my Track Record.

That's all from Amsterdam - Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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mAddendum 132A  -  Ardbeg 1975/1998

After having investigated a sample of the Ardbeg 1975/1998 (43%, OB, 70cl, sent to me by Mats Ola-Ekberg from Sweden) a few years ago I managed to obtain a second sample just a few days after the Ardbeg 'coastal crunch' session. I figured it might be appropriate to add some 'final' notes on the Ardbeg 1975 to this log entry;
Nose: Peat and salt - more so than the 17yo although the difference isn't that pronounced.
The overall character is a bit more extreme than the 17yo at first - and I like extremities in a malt.
The peat vanished quite quickly and abruptly, leaving an unexpected 'Highlandish' sweetness.
Taste: Wonderful, with the traditional Ardbeg delay and all. Peat, but so much more.
Quite soft for an Islay malt. It was almost like there was a soft layer around the peaty heart.
The faintest hint of fruits. After some breathing, it develops some more sweet components too.
Score: 89 points.

 

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mAddendum 132B  -  Official 'Bravo' to Jacques Chirac

Hip, hip hurray. I was very relieved to see a glimpse of reason illuminating the depressing atmosphere that marked the beginning of 2003. It's ironic that the person who opposed George 'Mad Dog' Bush Junior's warmongering was (of all people) Jacques Chirac - the fraudulent frog that was responsible for my Cognac boycott and subsequent discovery of SMSW. I'm still no fan of 'Frére Jacques' and I'm sure he has alternative motives but this was the last nudge I needed to end my big cognac & armagnac boycott.
 

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Log Entry # 133 - February 28, 2003
Topic:  Coastal Crunch II  -  Laphroaig

Bad nose days are here again....
When will this curse be lifted from my Scotch saturated soul?
Not anytime soon, it seems. But the weather is still wonderfully wintery here in Holland. Snow in the streets, ice on the canals, the wind howling in the chimney - perfect conditions for another 'Coastal Crunch' session. And what better distillery to focus on than Laphroaig, 'The Home of Iodine'. Like other Islay malts, Laphroaig is peaty - very much so, in fact. But the primary element that identifies most Laphroaigs for me is iodine.

Tonight's session offered a selection of four Laphroaigs;

- Laphroaig 15yo (43%, OB)
- Laphroaig 15yo 1985/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC)
- Laphroaig 1983/1999 (52.5%, MacKillop's Choice)
- Laphroaig 10yo C/S (57.3%, OB, 100cl, 'Green Stripe')

The 'standard' Laphroaig 10yo (43%, OB) wasn't on tonight's menu. It used to be one of the 'regulars' on my top shelf but the last batches of the tenner (I always go for the 43% litre bottling) didn't manage to excite me quite as much as they once used to. Maybe the recipe is actually changing, but it's just as likely that I'm slowly becoming spoilt by the top shelf tipple I've been consuming lately. Just when I was about to write a 'Laphroaig Lamentations' article about my feelings of alienation and despair the amazing 10yo Cask Strength version found its way onto the Dutch market. This version was heavier and more medicinal than the 'standard' 10yo ever was, so there was no further need for complaints.

OK, enough blabbering - it's tasting time.
I've always preferred the Laphroaig 15yo (43%, OB) over the standard 10yo offering but I've never been as crazy about it as Craig Daniels who feels this is his absolute favourite 'commercial' malt.
Nose: Not very much as first. Sherry and a whiff of smoke. Then it powers up. Toffee?
Wow. Organics, but the sherry masks most of the peat. No trace of iodine this time. It becomes extremely complex, although the nose of this batch (L00994 / L01241, bottled +/- 2000) appears to be not nearly as peaty as that of the bottle Davin bought me in 2000 (batch L00994 / L00995, see Log entry #31 for details).
Taste: Yes, this is very nice! A small adventure on your palate. Sardines? Very good.
Feels natural. Fruit and sherry followed by a peaty punch and a long salty finish.
Hint of lemon? Feels more powerful than 43%. Wood in the centre. Long, satisfying burn.
Score: 87 points seems about right - 1 point more than my score for the freshly opened bottle. The palate is really excellent but the nose of this batch is not exquisite enough to reach the top echelon of my hit list.

The Laphroaig 15yo 1985/2000 'Laudable' (50%, Douglas Laing OMC) has offered me a very different perspective on the distillery and I'm sad the bottle is nearly empty. Fortunately I've got two spare bottles stashed away in my reserve stock so I can have another look at Laphroaig from this perspective again.
Nose: Wow, much drier than the OB. Slightly oily - very different from the OB style.
Organics. After adding some water the 'definition' of the nose improved.
Taste: Salt and peat, nothing more. Really focussed at 50%. Extremely long finish.
Seemed even drier and more powerful with a few drops of water. Faint sweetness?
Score: 91 points - 92 would be just too generous. Maybe it has suffered a little from oxidation.

The sample of Laphroaig 1983/1999 (52.5%, MacKillop's Choice, distilled April 1983, bottled May 1999, cask #1849, bottle #114) was provided by Klaus from Germany. Initial sniffings were inconclusive.
Nose: Wow! Very strange at first. Very strong toffee notes. Chloride? Some fruits. No peat.
Alcoholic. Rum cake. A wonderful deep sweetness. Then organics appear, growing stronger.
Oh, yes, much better. Leather? Paint thinner? Something vaguely fruity. Still no peat, though.
It never becomes as deep or complex as the 15yo OB or OMC bottlings, but I sort of like it.
Taste: Soft, sweetish start. Seems weaker than 52.5% at first. Hint of lemon? Dry. Hot.
A big burn develops after ten seconds but it doesn't really seem like an Islay whisky here.
Woody. Dusty? The finish is a little too 'winey' for me and seems fragmented somehow.
Score: 83 points. Great nose, average palate. Maybe it would have scored a little higher in less esteemed company. But then again this one is the oldest and 'strongest' of the evening so far, so I expect it to deliver.

Finally, there's the fabulous Laphroaig 10yo Original Cask Strength (57.3%, OB).
I'm not the only one who thinks this is one of the greatest new OB's on the market today; fellow malt maniac Craig Daniels from Australia put it at #4 of his Best Malts of 2002 and it's at #6 in Serge Valentin's Top 10. Finnish maniac Matti Jaatinen even liked it enough to put it at #1 of his list of favourites. Klaus has it at #9, but that bottle may have been from an other batch that wasn't quite as spectacular. This is the bottling with the green stripe, bottled around 1999-2001. Serge reported on a new version with a red stripe (bottled in 2002) but I haven't seen that one on our shelves yet. Given the fact that it's currently priced at less than 50 Euro's I made sure to secure a bunch of spare bottles for my reserve stock. I opened one of them a few days ago to let it break in so I could have myself a very interesting H2H tonight - a freshly opened bottle against one opened over a year ago.

OK, time to stop chattering and start sampling.
Nose: Both are peaty and medicinal, but the sherry influence in the old bottle seems slightly stronger than in the fresh one. At least at first - after a minute both had grown towards eachother. With 10 drops of water things changed a bit. After 5 minutes the sweetness of the old bottle was a little more obvious. The different elements in the aroma of the fresh bottle seemed not quite as integrated as those in the old bottle - it seemed 'fresher' somehow. Now there's a big surprise... What I mean to say is that the fruits in the fresh bottle are 'early' fruits (apple, strawberry, etc.) while the old bottle shows more 'late fruits' like peach or apricot. Pinapple? Both also showed a wonderfully organic side of themselves. After adding a decent splash of water the old bottle really blossomed - the fresh one not as much. The old bottle wins here.
At cask strength both palates started out sweet before turning smoky and peaty.
Maybe a hint of liquorice in the fresh bottle. All in all, the differences were minimal.

The differences that did appear may have been caused by the pieces of cork in the last dram of the old bottle. Every time I opened the bottle pieces of the appalingly crummy cork just crumbled off. So, by the time I finished the bottle it almost looked like one of Blackadder's 'Raw Cask' bottlings with little chunks of debris at the bottom of the bottle. I'm quite sure this is chill-filtered, so the crap in my glass must've been cork. Anyway, at the end of the day (quite literally in this case) the old bottle gets 93 points while the fresh one receives 91 points for now. I'm quite sure it will open up further after some more breathing.

So, what's the progress w.r.t. my 2003 projects?
Only one addition for the Track Record, I'm afraid - the McKillops Choice 1983/1999. On the other hand, I've been making pretty some good progress with the eradication of the excess bottles on my shelves. My shipment of a few hundred 125ml miniature bottles from Revol finally arrived, almost two months after I placed the order. This allowed me to transfer the remains of quite a few heavily breathing bottles (+/- 1/3 full) into sample bottles, greatly decreasing the effect of oxidation. This will allow me to keep those samples stashed away for a prolonged period of time, so I can use them as 'benchmarks' in the future.

A lot of the sample bottles found their way to other maniacs as well. Craig and Serge received some disclosed malts and a 'Pandora package' - a bunch of 'blind' single malt whiskies for them to explore and identify. You can read all about their experiences and deliberations in the Pandora II Transcript I've written for MM#5.
(See mAddendum 133A below for our scores for the Pandora II malts.)

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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mAddendum 133A  -  Pandora II

Last week Craig, Serge and I explored and judged eight blind samples as part of 'The Pandora Project'.
Four blind 'Overproofs from All Over' were sent to Craig and Serge; Bladnoch 1992/2002 (58.5%, James McArthur), Glenfiddich 15yo Cask Strength (51%, OB), Glen Ord 23yo 1974/1998 (60.8%, UDRM) and Talisker 19yo 1980/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing). Their task: Identify the region (2 points) and the Top 3 'likely candidate' distilleries (3/2/1 points).
Here are the malts and the results;

- Bladnoch 1992/2002 (58.5%, James McArthur)                     CD = 80, JH = 82, SV = 87
- Glenfarclas 22yo Millennium Malt (43%, OB)                        CD = 88, JH = 88
- Glenfiddich 15yo Cask Strength (51%, OB)                          CD = 86, JH = 81, SV = 82
- Glengoyne 16yo Scottish Oak Finish (43%, OB)                    CD = 86, JH = 70 
- Glenlivet 28yo 1968/1996 (49.1%, Signatory Vintage)           CD = 87, JH = 86
- Glen Ord 23yo 1974/1998 (60.8%, UDRM)                           CD = 83, JH = 81, SV = 81
- Mosstowie 12yo 1970 (40%, G&M)                                      CD = 80, JH = 78
- Talisker 19yo 1980/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC)            CD = 84, JH = 86, SV = 89

Check out E-pistle #05/12 for a full transcript of the proceedings.
The bad news is that I scored a measly 5 points while Serge scored 18 (!!!) points.
The good news is that I can add five new single malts to my Track Record, Glenfarclas 22yo, Glengoyne 16yo Scottish Oak Finish, Glenlivet 28yo, Glen Ord 23yo UDRM and Mosstowie 12yo 1970. This puts the grand total at 365 single malts.

 

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Log Entry # 134 - March 1, 2003
Topic:  Coastal Crunch III  -  Lagavulin

I'd like to brag about the 8 different Lagavulins I had on tonight's table, but strictly speaking that's not true. Exactly 75% of the malts on the menu were 'Bastard Malts' - single malts of questional origin without any 'solid' credentials. These whiskies are marketed by blenders and independent bottlers and find their way onto shelves around the world at a much friendlier price than the average 'official' or 'independent' bottling. But there's a reason for these low prices. According to a recent discussion on Malts-L there's some sort of 'pecking order' among the bottlers and blenders of Scotland - or 'picking order' if you will.
Whoever comes first in the line gets to pick the best casks.

Obviously, the owner of the distillery comes first. In the case of Lagavulin, that's the UDV (United Distillers & Vinters) conglommerate. They own over 25 distilleries, including the 'classic malts'. People of UDV select the casks they want to keep for their 'official' bottlings and brands; the rest is sold to independent bottlers and blenders. The companies with the biggest muscle and the best contacts may get to 'cherry pick' casks but smaller companies and the odd consumer will usually have to settle for whatever's left.
(Serge has written some words about this topic in E-pistle #06/06.)

It seems logical that the 'worst' casks end up in blends or vattings - or as 'bastard malts'.
This takes us back to the topic of the evening. The six 'bastard' bottlings on tonight's menu are all supposed to be Lagavulins, but there's no way to be sure. If they are, it sheds an interesting light on UDV's claim that stocks of Lagavulin are running low. Even if that's true, it seems they have only themselves to blame; especially the 'Vintage' bottlings are sold in huge numbers. This leads me to believe they are vattings of different casks. In my experience vattings are seldom more than the sum of their parts, which could mean that some of the casks in these vattings are actually pretty good and could have made interesting single cask bottlings. Anyway - you can read more about this in log entry #79 and log entry 107.

Enough beating about the bush - let's have a look at tonight's menu;

- Finlaggan NAS 'Old Reserve' (40%, Vintage bastard bottling, 70cl)
- The Ileach NAS (40%, Highlands & Islands SWCL bastard bottling, 70cl)
- Vintage Islay 5yo (40%, Vintage bastard bottling, 70cl)
- Vintage Islay 5yo C/S (58.4%, Vintage bastard bottling, 70cl)
- Dun Bheagan 8yo (43%, Maxwell bastard bottling, 75cl)
- Fuaran Ile 1991/2000 (46%, Macleod bastard bottling, 70cl)
- Lagavulin 16yo New (43%, 'Port Ellen', bottled +/- 2001, 70cl)
- Lagavulin 12yo 'Special Release' (58%, OB, bottled 2002, 70cl)

The plan is to sample them in pairs - two straight after eachother, followed by a H2H.

The Finlaggan NAS 'Old Reserve' (40%, 70cl) was bottled by Vintage.
They also market the 'Vintage Islay 5yo' bottlings I'll sample later tonight.
Nose: Alcoholic with a peaty impression. Very faint leather? Not many details.
It seems rather flat for an Islay malt, but I'm guessing this is les than five years old.
Some improvement after a few minutes. Smoked ham. Some sherry influence?
Taste: Weak, sweetish start. A soft peaty and smoky warmth develops quickly.
Medicinal. Sweet liquorice. Salt? The dry, bitter finish ends very sourish and unbalanced.
Score: 78 points. I gave it 80 points last time but either it suffered from breathing or I've grown even more spoilt over the past year. With a price under 20 Euro's this would be an excellent everyday dram in wintertime but I had to pay over 25 Euro's. That's too much - an extra tenner will get me the vastly superior 16yo OB.

The Ileach NAS (40%, 70cl) was bottled by Highlands & Islands Scotch Whisky Company Limited - I think Gall & Gall has the exclusive rights to sell this in Holland. BTW: Did you remember me calling some people at G&G 'carpetbaggers'? Well, guess what: The mother company of G&G is Ahold. Hmmm...
Nose: Seems much sweeter than the Finlaggan. That's odd. Cardboard? Porridge?
Wait, now I'm getting some leather and horse stable elements. Chloride and light fruits.
Menthol? Wet wood. Beer? It strikes me as very, very young.
Taste: Ouch. Fragmented start. Picks up a little, but not much. Pffft...
Score:  71 points . Again lower than last year's 74 points. Hardly any Islay characteristics.
This seems more like a very young Bunnahabhain or Bowmore than a Lagavulin. No big fun.

A quick H2H of the two proved my initial suspicions, although I did find some sweetness in the nose of the Finlaggan as well this time. After a minute of breathing the difference in class and character is huge - the Finlaggan is of another class. I didn't find that many differences in the taste, though. The scores stand.

The next candidate was the Vintage Islay 5yo (40%, 70cl), another Vintage bottling.
I've mentioned this old favourite many times before; see log entry #107 for more details.
Nose: Hmmm. Nothing much first. Then some odd chemical fruity notes. Liquorice all sorts.
Chloride. More alcoholic than peaty. The cheap screwcap may have allowed it to breathe.
Taste: A deceptively soft start. Then comes the Islay heat. Burn, baby burn.
Much more powerful than the first two but not refined enough to reach 80 points.
Score: 78 points seems about right. No top malt but great value for less than 20 Euro's a bottle.

Instead of a H2H with its cask strength brother I put the Vintage Islay against the Finlaggan. The noses were quite similar - maybe the Vintage Islay showed some more cereals in the nose. Very enjoyable, but it's clear their characters were not fully developed when they were plucked from the cask. The palates are powerful enough but once again they lack the depth and maturity of an older single malt. Unlike the Ileach, these two could very well be genuine Lagavulins. I'll stick with 78 points for both malts - just short of greatness.

I finished the first part of the evening with the Vintage Islay 5yo Cask Strength (58.4%, 70cl).
This is a sibling of the 40% version I sampled earlier tonight, but this is most likely another vatting.
Nose: Ah! Leather, peat and smoke. Horse stable. Then some subtle fruity elements.
Vintage Lagavulin. Seems older than the 40% bottling. Freshens up with some water.
Really opens up with some time. Earthy. An 'old school' peaty Islay malt. Very good.
Taste: Undiluted, it starts dusty, followed by a unfolding sweet burn. very dry, clean finish.
With a splash of water the sweetness made way for peat, smoke and liquorice. Astringent.
Score: 83 points. Not bad at all for a bottle that costs just 25 Euro's. It seems this one improved considerably during a year of breathing. That's something I've noticed about other cask strength malts as well; they seem to withstand oxidation better than malts that are bottled at 40 or 43%.

After a little break to give my nose and palate a rest, I proceeded with two slightly older 'bastards'.
The Dun Bheagan 8yo (43%, 75cl) was a gift from Charles & Johanna from Canada.
Nose: Sweeter and more sherried than the other bastards so far at first. Earthy
Well balanced and composed. Smoke. Liquorice. Peat, but not as much as the OB's.
Hint of spices? Not very much more to tell - another bad nose day, it seems.
Taste: Very pleasant combination of sweetness, smoke and coffee.
Dark and brooding with a melancholic twist in the finish. Good but not great.
Score: 83 points. One of the best bastard Lagavulins I've tried so far. This bottle doesn't show any effects of oxidation. Could it be that older malts withstand breathing better than young ones?

The colour of the Fuaran Ile 1991/2000 (46%, bourbon cask #1110, bottle #62 of 600, 70cl) was much lighter than that of the Dhun Bheagan. I've been nipping from it quite a bit lately.
Nose: Salt and smoke. Spices. Organics. Horse stable. Bitter like organge skins. Quite dry.
Ammoniac? Chloride? Lighter and more transparent than the drams I had earlier tonight.
Taste: Smooth start. Smoky and salty. Dry with the a hint of coffee. Pepper.
More (sweet and salt) liquorice after a while. Hot burn. More Skye than Islay
Score: 83 points . It seems to have suffered a bit from breathing - the cork wasn't perfect.

When I sampled the Dhun Bheagan and the Fuaran Ile H2H the most obvious difference in the nose was the slightly lighter, drier character of the Fuaran Ile. The nose of the Dun Bheagan showed liquorice and a whiff of fruits. The Dun Bheagan was more earthy than the Fuaran Ile, which is more of a 'straight shooter'. I could be wrong, but to me this match seems to illustrate the difference between maturation in a bourbon cask and the influence of a sherry cask. Anyway - both malts will be greatly appreciated by peatheads. Sure, I'd pick the 16yo or 12yo C/S official bottlings over these if I had to but they will do quite nicely for everyday dramming.

Around 23:45 it was time to pay hommage to the two 'official' Lagavulins on my shelves.
Too bad I'm getting a bit light in the head. I guess I should have eaten something beforhand...
Anyway, don't be surprised if my notes grow increasingly incoherent as you scroll down.

The Lagavulin 16yo (43%, 'Port Ellen' OB, 70cl) was bottled circa 2001 and it's my least favourite batch of Lagavulin 16 ever - unfortunately I couldn't find any 'solid' details. My advice: avoid this batch.
Nose: Ooh. Leather - like my old school bag. Whiff of citrus? Other fruits as well.
Smoke. Ashes? Something fishy? This is odd; this hardly seems like an Islay malt.
Taste: Smooth start with a slowly developing burn. Smoky and dry. Flat.
Sweet like syrup after 5 minutes. Liquorice. Big burn in the middle, sour finish.
Powerful but nowhere near as complex as previous batches.
Score: 82 points - some breathing has had little effect. The first 'Port Ellen' batch I tried wasn't quite as good as the 'White Horse' batches of the 1990's but it still scored comfortably in the upper 80's. This batch is enjoyable enough but nowhere good enough to make it to my top shelf. Not worth the asking price.

How the mighty have fallen...
But there's no reason to panic just yet. Although my confidence in the quality control team at UDV has been shaken a little, this may very well turn out to be a 'fluke' batch. There's a good chance that future batches will be better. I haven't had a chance to find out because the Lagavulin 16yo has vanished from the shelves of the 'Vomar' supermarket that still offered it for 32 Euro's. Klaus reported about a shortage of Lagavulin 16 in Germany as well, so maybe the rumours about stock problems are true. But then again I wouldn't at all be surprised if these 'shortages' are the logical consequence of UDV's marketing strategy for Lagavulin.
Well, if they don't manage to get their act together with the 16yo bottling it's an academic discussion, as far as I'm concerned. The excellent and affordable Lagavulin 16 'White Horse' has been my number 1 malt for a decade, but as soon as it ceases to be excellent or affordable I'd happily switch to the Ardbeg 10yo or Laphroaig 10yo for my peat fix. Or the younger bastard Islay bottlings for that matter.

Fortunately, there's the Lagavulin 12yo Special Release (58%, OB, 70cl)
Nose: Ah, peat and smoke. Spicy & fruity start with strong alcoholic overtones.
Some ginger and lavender in the background? Very entertaining.
With a little water I got ammoniac, peppermint and sweet fruits.
Even sweeter with more water. Dry leather & other organic notes.
Taste: Undiluted, it started sweet before turning salty, hot and dry. Serrano ham.
With some water it became fruitier in the start. Big, salty burn. A powerhouse malt.
Score: 88 points. I had it at 89 points before but that's a tad too generous. This is a good single malt but at roughly 75 Euro's it's no 'bang-for-your-buck' winner. There's bound to be less 'special' releases in the future and its price will determine if I buy more bottles. If it's priced below 50 Euro's I'll think about it - with a higher price I probably won't.

A H2H of the Lagavulin 16yo against the cask strength 12yo wouldn't be fair, but I still wanted to do a quick H2H sampling to finish the evening in style - the slightly intoxicated style I'm used to, that is. So, I decided to confront the Lagavulin 12yo Special Release (58%, OB) with the Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength (57.3%, OB). The nose of the Laphroaig seems peatier and more medicinal at first - a little more 'volume' altogether. After a minute the Lagavulin opened up some more, but it never becomes quite as big and complex as the Laphroaig - not even after adding some water. Both seemed to become a little sweeter and oilier with the water. The palates were smoky, peaty and powerful - just as you'd expect from a cask strength Islay malt. So, no reason to change the current scores; 88 points for the Lagavulin and 93 points for the Laphroaig.

And that concludes this Lagavulin session. I had another bad nose day, so my notes are relatively sketchy. The results pretty much confirmed earlier findings;

1) Most bastard Islay malts you can get for less than 25 Euro's offer great value.
2) Batch #31000034 of the Lagavulin 16yo OB 'Port Ellen' is sub-standard.
3) The Lagavulin 12yo 'Special Release' is great, but not quite as great as the (cheaper) Laphroaig 10yo C/S. So, the Laphroaig seems like a better investment - especially because you get one litre of C/S whisky.

That's it - pleasant drams,

Johannes
 

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Log Entry # 135 - March 21, 2003
Topic:  Coastal Crunch IV  -  Bowmore

Well, this is going to be a short and sweet report.
At the moment I have only two Bowmores on my shelves - The Bowmore 15yo 'Mariner' I opened in April 2002 (see log entry #108 and #113 for details) and the freshly opened Bowmore 17yo I picked up in Italy last year. Both bottlings have quite a few fans among the other maniancs, scoring 85 and 86 points in the matrix.

I have to admit I've never been a big Bowmore fan. I love Islay malts because they are extreme, so I've never seen the point in drinking 'lighter' Islay malts like Bunnahabhain or Bowmore when I could be anaesthetising my senses with an Ardbeg, Lagavulin or Laphroaig. Some disturbing encounters with the Bowmore Darkest pushed me in the camp of the Bowmore sceptics a few years ago, but I'm open-minded enough to give the Bowmores on my shelves another chance.

The Bowmore 15yo 'Mariner' (43%, OB, Batch B180B) didn't really impress me when I opened the bottle almost a year ago. The score of 82 points certainly isn't bad, but compared to the Laphroaig 15yo or Ardbeg 17yo it isn't spectacular either. However, a year of breathing in the bottle may have had a positive effect.
Nose: Smoke, sherry and a hint of fruity perfume; typically Bowmore. Pepper?
It has changed considerably since I opened the bottle - and not in a good way.
Fortunately, it opens up with more peat after a minute. Sweeter and nuttier.
Taste: Bitter start, before it grows peatier. No sweetness. Chemical and perfumy.
The perfume element seems to have grown stronger over time - not a good thing.
Hot. Unbalanced. Sherry and smoke. Sourish, winey finish. Breaks apart pretty quickly.
Score: 80 points - recommendable, but just barely. My score for this bottle has been dropping steadily; it scored 82 points when I opened it, 81 points a few months later and now I don't feel I can go higher than 80 points on the Johanno-scale. The nose is interesting (and improves considerably after some breathing), but the taste rubs me the wrong way. So, I'm not as excited about the Bowmore Mariner as some of the other malt maniacs, who generally rate it between 84 and 86 points. Well, that's life. Vive la difference!

Time to open the Bowmore 17yo (43%, OB, Batch B181B) I bought at Bar Metro in Italy last year. I went a little bit crazy in Giorgio's treasure caves - ordinarily I wouldn't have spent 93 Euro's on such a mundane bottle, but it came in a gift package with a very nice stainless steel cigar & liquor tube I couldn't resist.
Nose: Sherry and smoke. A little deeper and more organic than the 15yo.
After a while fruitier notes emerge. Wet wood. Hint of mint? Spices. Mint?
If there's any peat in there, it's overwhelmed by the smoke. Sweeter with time.
Taste: No sweetness at first. Hint of liquorice? Smoke. Dry and a little bitter.
Floral perfume. The same sourish, winey dissonant in the finish.
Score: 84 points. It seems quite similar to the 15yo at this points.
I will let it breathe for a while to see how it develops.

When I did a quick H2H of two tiny drams of the two Bowmores, the nose of the 15yo seemed smokier and more uni-dimensional than the 17yo. It showed more perfume notes as well. Both are sherried, but the 17yo was more balanced and definitely more to my liking. Not question about it; the 17yo has the superior nose. The differences on the palate were not as pronounced - maybe the 15yo is a tad smokier and more 'metallic'. I stand by my 'final' scores, but with just two Bowmores on tonight's menu I don't feel qualified to make any other general claims about the Bowmore distillery at this point. All the more so because I'm having yet another bad nose day. Not to worry - there's plenty left in the bottles to re-visit them in the future.

So, after just two stiff drams my Bowmore investigation is over.
This left me only mildly intoxicated around 21:00. That's not a satisfactory situation; I'll need quite a few more drams to forget my frustrations about the recent 'allied' invasion of Iraq. Don't get me wrong, I'm not rooting for Saddam Hussein (even though he seems to be a fellow whisky lover) - it's just that recent events have shattered a lot of my illusions about the progress of mankind. It's ironic to see how eager some 'democratic' governments are to ignore international law and the will of their peoples to bring their own peculiar brand of justice and democracy to less 'enlightened' parts of the world.

I'm usually a pretty flegmatic and easy-going character (well, I like to think so), but like many people around the world the recent events left me frustrated and worried about the precendent that has been set. Given the British participation in the invasion I even contemplated a Scotch whisky boycott, but after giving it some thought I felt that would be unreasonable. The vast majority of the Britons was in favour of taking the high road in this conflict; it wouldn't be fair to 'punish' them for the misguided actions of their government. So, instead, I'll just have a few more drams than usual and hope that this nightmare will be over soon.
Klaus sent me a very appropriate quote from Peter Hammill for the occasion;

So here's to the circus,
Let's drink to the game of forgetting
The marionette strings that jerk us,
The real world just outside the door.

While the bombs are dropping some 5000 miles to the South-East, the 'real world just outside the door' is heating up as well - it's almost 15 degrees Celsius outside and we haven't seen a cloud in days. That means spring is just around the corner here in Holland; pretty soon I'll have to say goodbye to the Islay weather. I had hoped to finish my 'coastal crunch' before the end of winter, but it seems my investigation of Bruichladdich will have to wait a few more weeks.

No problem - I'm experiencing another bad nose day anyway, so single malts would be like pearls before swine at this point. I decided to go on a drinking binge with the Black Bottle 10yo (40%, blend).
Nose: Starts out smoky and rather flat. Organics. Oriental spices. A faint trace of peat.
It really needs a few minutes, but then the Islay character reveals itself.
Taste: Sweet start, becoming smoky and perfumy very quickly. Dry. Sherry.
Chinese spices. It loses a lot of points in the sour, unbalanced finish.
Fragmented. Hint of fruit? No peat. Have they added Bowmore to the recipe?
Score: 68 points. Another whisky that doesn't quite match up to earlier batches.
The nose is excellent and powerful as before, but the taste profile has changed.

The (black) bottle was more than half full when I started my drinking binge and before the clock struck midnight it was empty. I can't say I reached the state of oblivion needed to forget the international troubles but at least the alcohol softened the sharpest edges of some shattered illusions.

Peace,

Johannes
 

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mAddendum 135A - First 2003 Shoppings

I neglected to keep you posted on my more recent shoppings. With good reason - I made these purchases when I was busy sending batches of 'blind' samples all over the world for the Pandora Project and I didn't want to tip the maniacs off. In January I reluctantly dropped by Ton Overmars to pick up a few modest additions to my collection. The reluctant part of my trip was caused by the fact that the alcohol taxes in Holland have been raised even further this year. Consequentially I have to pay at least 2 Euro's more for every bottle. (Read log entry #130 for more on this topic.)
Here are my January 2003 pickups:

- Black Bottle 10yo (40%, OB, 18.95 Euro's - was 16.75 Euro's in 2002)
- Caol Ila 11yo 1990/2002 Port Finished (46%, Signatory Vintage Unchillfiltered, 36.95 Euro's)
- Caol Ila 12yo 1990/2002 (43%, McGibbon's Winter Distillation, 32.95 Euro's)
- Glenglassaugh 1973 (40%, Family Silver, 43.75 Euro's!)
- Glenlossie 10yo 1989/2000 (43%, McGibbon's Autumn Distillation, 32.95 Euro's)
- Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength (57.3%, OB, litre, 49.75 Euro's - was 47.50 in 2002, 3x)
- Ledaig 5yo 1993/1998 (43%, Ultimate, oak cask, 20.40 Euro's)
- Ragnoud-Sabourin VSOP (41%, Cognac, 37.20 Euro's)
- Springbank 1997/2002 (45%, Signatory Vintage 'Stills of Scotland' Non-Chillfiltered, 28.30 Euro's)

Shortly after I muled home these bottles I felt the need to order just a few more 'old favourites';

- Auchentoshan NAS 'Three Wood' (43%, OB, 45.95 Euro's - was somewhere around 40 Euro's in 2002)
- Glenfiddich 15yo Cask Strength (51%, OB, 39.95 Euro's)
- Glenglassaugh 1973 (40%, Family Silver, bottled +/- 2000, 43.75 Euro's, 5x)
- Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength (57.3%, OB, litre, 49.75 Euro's, 2x)
- Macallan 10yo Cask Strength (58.8%, OB, litre, 59.95 Euro's)

Most of these bottles were obtained for their 'Bang-For-Your-Buck' value.
Watch the upcoming entries in this log for tasting reports on these acquisitions.

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mAddendum 135B - Pandora III

As I write this, phase III of the Pandora Project is in full swing. Klaus Everding, Mark Adams and Michael Wade all received a package of six 'blind' 125ml samples. Their task: Spot the Lowlander inbetween 5 Speysiders (2 points) and guess the Top 3 'likely candidate' distilleries (3/2/1 points). Mark asked if I could work some sherried Speysiders into the formula. You can find a full transcript of the proceedings in E-pistle 06/12.
 

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Log Entry # 136 - April 1, 2003
Topic:  Coastal Crunch V - Bruichladdich

The last distillery I'll visit virtually during my 'Coastal Crunch' is Bruichladdich. After recordbreaking amounts of sunshine in February and March it seems King Winter is making a last-minute comeback to wreak havoc on all the innocent little trees I planted a few weeks ago. The good news is that conditions are perfect for another 'Coastal crunch' session to polish off some Islay malts on my shelves. Before Murray McDavid took over, Bruichladdich used to be my least favourite Islay distillery. The first bottlings under the new ownership have helped me see Bruichladdich in a different, much more positive light. The new 10yo beats the old 10yo and the difference between the new 15yo and the old version is even more obvious. And that's not just my opinion - according to the matrix the vast majority of the maniacs seem to agree with me on this.

So, what's on tonight's menu?

- Lochindaal 10yo (43%, Associated Distillers Limited)
- Bruichladdich 11yo 1986/1988 (46%, Murray McDavid, MM2083)
- Bruichladdich 1983/2001 (46%, OB, Ceramic, )

Technically speaking, the Lochindaal 10yo (43%, Associated Distillers Limited) is a 'bastard malt'. It's a well known fact that the previous owners of Bruichladdich supplied the bottler with the malt, but Mark Reynier told Serge the new management stopped supplying Associated Distillers after they took over the distillery. The name Lochindaal refers to either the bay to the East or the old Lochindaal distillery that was dismantled in 1929. I don't usually include bastard malts in my Track Record but in this case I'll make an exception.
Nose: Not a lot. Something faintly sherried. Hint of toffee? maybe some smoke. Restrained.
Then soft fruity notes appear. Apple? Something metallic in the background. Sweat?
Rotting wood? Clearly, these are some 'old school' Bruichladdich casks or vattings.
Taste: Flat. Bitter start, growing sweeter in the center. Metallic. Dark chocolate.
Smoke? Sour, unbalanced finish. Winey and way too short. Bitter burn in the tail.
Score: 68 points. Sub-standard merchandise. I can't comment on other batches but I think I know how the old management of Bruichladdich got rid of their bad casks. Not reccommended.

The label of the Bruichladdich 11yo 1986/1988 (46%, Murray McDavid, MM2083, D 11/1986, B 05/1998) claims it was bottled in May 1988, but I'm guessing that's a misprint. When I read the other small print on the label I discovered that this whisky has been matured in (one or more) refill sherry casks. That was a bit of a shocker. When I bought the bottle I assumed it was a bourbon casked malt, just like some excellent MurMacs from Ardbeg and Lagavulin I tried. The colour is a very light strawish yellowness that normally indicates maturation in a bourbon cask. In this case it could mean it's a re-re-re-refilled sherry cask. We'll see.
Nose: Odd. Clean. Fresh with something oily and a pinch of salt. Dry. Alcoholic.
A morning walk along the beach after an oilspill. Some chloride? No peat.
Some flowery notes after 5 minutes. Opens up further with time, becoming fruitier.
Taste: Salty on the surface with a sweetish undercurrent. Turns sour. Woody. Bitter.
Dry. Peppery prickle. This has more power than the OB's that were released at the time.
Score: 78 points. Not very impressive, given Murmac's track record.  I guess this cask (or these casks) were past their prime. It seems some MurMac bottlings are 'single cask' bottlings while others are vattings of several casks. Too bad they don't include these details on their otherwise informative labels.

Anyway, this bottle was freshly opened so we may see some improvement over time.
Crunch-wise, opening this bottle cancelled out the emptying of the Lochindaal. So, if I want to make any progress in downsizing my drinking collection, I'd better finish another bottle. 

Strictly speaking, the Bruichladdich 1983/2001 (46%, OB, matured in bourbon cask #1331) isn't a bottle. It's a ceramic jug; one of only 600 'bottled' on 11/10/2001 for a German customer. I've been dramming with this laddie quite a lot over the last few months - ceramic jugs tend to speed up the oxidation process.
Nose: Spirity, fruity start. Gentle, becoming spicier over time. Not a lot of volume at first.
Then it picks up with a pinch of peat and some smoke, growing stronger and stronger.
Hint of oil? Something sweet as well - coconut? Needs at least 15 minutes to develop.
Taste: Smooth. Toffee-sweet start, evolving into a herbal, bitter center. 'Beerenburger'?
Transparant. Big burn. The dry finish has a disturbing fruity off-note. A little too bitter for me.
Score: 84 points . My initial rating was 85 points but the finish is tad to sour and bitter for me.
Still, it's an excellent choice for a single cask bottling - the best Bruichladdich I've tried so far.

Tonight's results were pretty much as expected - no big surprises here.
The 1983 Ceramic bottled under the 'new regime' performed very well, but the 'old school' 1986 MurMac and Lochindaal didn't really do it for me. It goes without saying that the 'new & improved' Bruichladdichs that have been released lately were distilled under the old management as well. That means Jim McEwan & friends are fishing in the same pool of casks. It's amazing to see cask selection having such an impact on the product that reaches the shelves of malt mongers around the world.

At the same time, it makes you wonder what they'll do with the sub-standard casks. It will probably be another decade or so before the 100% 'new' Bruichladdichs are old enough to face the outside world; let's hope they have enough good casks lying in the warehouse to maintain the new & improved standards. Of course; Octomore and Port Charlotte will be the whiskies I'm REALLY interested in - they promise to be some genuine peat monsters in a decade or so. Let's keep our fingers crossed...
(See the interview with Mark Reynier in MM#2 for more on this topic.)

And that's the end of another short and sweet tasting session.

Peace,

Johannes
 

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mAddendum 136A - Independents Day

Serge Valentin wrote a bunch of excellent E-pistles about independent bottlers and bottlings for Malt Maniacs #6. Inspired by his adventures, I pulled a few IB's from my shelves to keep me company while I wrote down my own thoughts on the subject. Here are the bottles and samples that didn't survive my affections:

84 - Bladnoch 1992/2002 (58.5%, James McArthur Old Master's Cask Strength Selection)
85 - Highland Park 11yo 1988/1999 (61.5%, Mackillop's Choice)
81 - Highland Park 12yo 1988/2001 (43%, Ultimate)
87 - Longmorn 32yo 1968/2000 (62.3, Mackillop's Choice)
84 - Mortlach 1989/2002 (43%, Cooper's Choice)
84 - Mortlach 21yo (40%, Sestante Import)
74 - Springbank 1977/2002 (45%, Signatory Vintage Stills of Scotland)

Check out E-pistle #06/10 if you want to know all the sordid details...
 

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Log Entry # 137 - April 19, 2003
Topic:  Coastal Crunch Epilogue - Ledaig 

The weather is clearing up again, and this time it looks like Spring is here to stay.
You know what that means, don't you?  It's time to polish off the last 'coastal' single malts on my shelves to make room for some summertime whiskies. Well, at least the bottles that are almost empty - I'm quite sure that the amply filled bottles of Laphroaig and Lagavulin will be able to withstand the heat of summer to welcome me in good shape (= un-oxidised) later this year. All I have to do tonight is finish five Ledaigs.

I picked Ledaig to finish my 'Coastal Crunch' because the Islay weather conditions are definitely behind us now. As far as 'coastal' single malts go, Ledaig (a.k.a. Tobermory) is one of the lightest ones. Together with Arran, Isle of Jura and maybe the Campbeltown whiskies, Ledaig represents a lighter and fresher type of coastal malt. The main product of the distillery is the (unpeated) Tobermory, a malt I'm not too crazy about. But Tobermory also bottles a more heavily peated malt - the Ledaig. In that respect, the story of Tobermory/Ledaig is similar to that of Clynelish/Brora. My first encounters with a sherry finished official bottling of Ledaig were less than memorable, but other versions managed to tickle my fancy.

Tonight's menu featured five different versions;

- Ledaig NAS 'Peated' 2000 Edition (42%, OB, Standard version)
- Ledaig NAS 'Peated' 2000 Edition (42%, OB, Sherry Finish)
- Ledaig 5yo 1993/1998 (43%, The Ultimate, Oak Cask #28)
- Ledaig 7yo (43%, OB, short clear bottle)
- Ledaig 20yo (43%, OB, tall clear bottle)

The Ledaig NAS 'Peated' 2000 Edition (42%, OB, Standard version) was the rest of a sample sent to me by Serge in January as part of our 'Pandora Project' - see E-pistle #05/04 for more details. It'll be interesting to compare this 'regular' version to its sherry finished sibling tonight; was that one a 'cover-up'?
Nose: Youthful. Briny and a little oily. Some smoke. Diluted power. Beer. Salt.
Hint of citrus? A faint whiff of dry peat drifts along the sweet fruity background.
The peaty component grows stronger for the first 15 minutes but then it drops off.
Taste: Sweet start with a clear toffee note. Liquorice? Then the powerful burn starts.
Once again, I tasted a beer-like bitterness on the palate. The finish is bitter as well.
Score: 78 points. A very pleasant surprise, especially when you give it 15 minutes. Although it doesn't strike me quite the same as before I think we can blame oxidation for that. To bad I missed this one when it was released; just like the sherry finished version it was sold for just 28 Euro's. Decent value.

I proceeded with the Ledaig NAS 'Peated' 2000 Edition (42%, OB, Sherry Finish). This is a 'sister bottling' to the standard Ledaig NAS I just tried. Earlier encounters suggested the sherry finish may have been a desperate attempt to save a whisky that wasn't suitable for human consumption.
Nose: Indeed, sherry. Acidic. Citrus. A Fruity sweetness hangs around for quite a while.
Wait - now I get some peat! Smoke and organics. Hey, some breathing worked wonders!
Horse sweat. Chloride. Rubber. This really becomes much more interesting with time.
Taste: Rotting wood. Burnt caramel. Menthol? Sherried and woody after 15 minutes.
Smoke. Sour finish. Not really my style. Artificial; not as balanced as the standard version.
Score: 70 points . This is very strange - unlike most other malts I know, this seemed to drop off in the months after I opened the bottle, but after almost 18 months the nose really blossomed again. Based on the nose, I'd go with at least 76 or 77 points right now. Unfortunately for Ledaig, I won't 'count' any changes that occur more than a year after I opened the bottle. Quite entertaining, though.

Next, I tried the two 'No Age Statement' versions head-to-head.
The difference in the nose is amazing. The standard version was briny, transparant and honest while it seemed like the sherry finish had to hide something at first. The unsherried version almost seemed like a young Islay or Campbeltown malt while the sherry finished version had some Speysidish characteristics - maltier with hints of toffee and sweet dough. After 15 minutes the tables were turned - the nose of the sherried Ledaig had opened itself up and showed many surprises. When it comes to the taste the standard version was the clear winner; the sherry finished Ledaig somehow rubbed me the wrong way.

Anyway, let's move on with the Ledaig 5yo 1993/1998 (43%, The Ultimate, Oak Cask #28).
Nose: Whow! Clean. Spirity. Fruit, salt and even some peat. Spicy with lots of spunk.
Smoke, citrus and a little oil. Cattle feed. Dusty. Fruit and peat keep popping up.
Coastal. A little bit of everything, but it's pretty much dead after a few minutes.
Taste: Soft start, but it picks up after a few seconds. Good sweet burn. Toffee.
It grows sour and woody quickly, losing a few points in the process. Bitter finish.
Score: 73 points - a very decent score for a 5yo malt. I have to say I rated it even higher when I opened the bottle a few months ago. It seems this confirms my suspicions about young malts being more vulnerable to oxidation than older and/or cask strength whiskies. Will have to do some more thinking on that...

The next candidate was the Ledaig 7yo 'Peated' (43%, OB, short clear bottle). The text on the back label was in French, so I assume this was bottled for the French market - imported by Auxil. I'm not sure if this expression is intended as the replacement of the 'NAS' version or as an addition to the range.
Nose: Soft and a little oily. Not very expressive. Wait - some peat (not much). Herbal.
Chloride. Spirity. The peat drifted away to the background and didn't return.
Needs a while. Then things developed into a fruitier direction with tangerines.
Orange skins? Hints of menthol sweets. Something creamy. Intruiging.
Taste: Quite a bite, followed by a salty, peaty burn. Sulphur? Some organics.
Very dry, although it grows fruitier and sourish over time. Bitter burn in the finish.
Score: 77 points. An 'Islay Light' and decent value to boot. Still, I prefer the real stuff.

So far I've been tasting only young Ledaigs, giving me a somewhat limited perspective.
It's time to crank things up a notch with the Ledaig 20yo (43%, OB, tall clear bottle).
Nose: Oooff! Paint thinner. Something chemical. Vegetables. Dusty.
More sherried than the younger versions. Fruity with some smoke. Winegums?
After some breathing the coastal elements grow stronger - no peat, though.
Taste: Smoke. Dry. Hot. Long. Wow! A little bitter, but not unpleasant. Resin?
Pinch of salt. After a few minutes it grows fruitier with a sherried, woody finish.
Score: 79 points . It loses a few points on the nose, which is almost non-existent at first. It grows more and more interesting over time. All in all, this is quite an inttriguing malt. Worth a try.

Wow - I have to say these Ledaigs have really improved my opinion about the Tobermory distillery (and their owners, Burn Stewart). The Tobermory NAS I sampled a few years ago was just too flat and oily for me. It reminded me of the Isle of Jura 10yo that's produced nearby - another malt I'm not particularly fond of. Maybe my tastes have changed since then, but some of these Ledaigs are quite to my liking. Well, when I'm in the right mood - my scores for these malts varied a lot on different occasions.
Sometimes the trademark bitterness in the taste is a tad too much for me.

And that's about it for tonight. As far as my Track Record is concerned I've made a little progress; the Ledaig 5yo (Ultimate) and 7yo (OB) were added to the list, bringing the number of seriously sampled malts to 371. That means I'm making good progress in this year's '52-Challenge'. Crunch-wise, I'm doing quite OK as well. Tonight's session featured 4 big bottles and a Pandora sample - all are now empty.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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Log Entry # 138 - April 30, 2003
Topic:  Walpurgis Whiskies 2003

Last year, fellow malt maniac Klaus Everding started a nice tradition: Walpurgisnacht.
April 30 is the night we search the darkest corners of our liquor cabinets for the really odd and weird stuff we usually keep hidden from our friends and family. It's the one night of the year we can forget about things like sophistication and decorum; the one night we can let the barbarian inside us roam free...
Here's what's on this barbarian's menu for tonight;

- Drumguish NAS (40%, Speyside distillery, Scotland)
- Sonnenschein 1989/2000 (43%, Sonnenschein distillery, Germany)
- Blaue Maus 1993/2001 (40%, Blaue Maus distillery, Germany)
- Spinnaker 1993/2001 (40%, Blaue Maus distillery, Germany)
- Piraten Whisky 1986/1994 (40%, Blaue Maus distillery, Germany)
- Lark 4th Release 2002 Single Cask (40%, Lark distillery, Tasmania / Australia)
- Filliers 8yo Graanjenever (50%, Graanstokerij Filliers, Belgium)
- Eddu NAS (40%, Distillerie des Menhirs, France)
- The Dram With No Name (Mystery bottle, Serge Valentin, France)
- Valentin's Day Massacre #1 (> 65%, Serge Valentin, France)
- Eau de Vie Alsace Gentiane (50%, Serge Valentin, France)
- Cuvee 'Osama' Marc de Gewürztraminer (55%, Serge Valentin, France)

A challenging line-up, don't you agree?
Twelve alcoholic accidents waiting to happen, if you ask me...
Apart from one Scottish whisky, I've got whiskies and spirits from Australia, Germany, France and Belgium. Obviously , the character of some of these 'refreshments' will be very different from the single malt whiskies I'm accustomed to. I'll try to keep an open mind about things...
So, tonight I'm an open-minded barbarian on a mission.
I figured I might as well put on some 'Walpurgis' music to fit the mood.
And what would be more fitting that Wagner's 'Walkürenritt' (Ride of the Valkyries)?

18:05 - let's hit 'play' and turn our glazy glare towards the 'Walpurgis' whiskies. To calibrate my senses, I started with a dram of the infamous Drumguish NAS (40%, OB, Speyside distillery) on my bottom shelf. There had been some unregistred traffic on my shelves and one bottle needed to go anyway.
Nose: Flat and malty. Slightly oily. Something vaguely flowery?
Opens up a little over time, but not enough to show any real character.
Taste: Unbalanced. Sweetish. Metallic in the finish. Vanishes quickly.
Score: 44 points. Still, this is a little better than the version I tried a few years ago. Just a little, mind you... Maybe they've added some older whiskies to the vatting? Or they stopped bathing in the washback?
I hope this doesn't set the mood for the rest of the evening...

In honour of Klaus (who fathered the Walpurgis idea) I decided to proceed with four German whiskies. German? Yeah, that's right. After I sampled the Slyrs 3yo in November 2002 (see log entry #126 for details), Lex Kraaijeveld from Celtic Malts dropped me a line. He informed me that there were some more German malt whiskies and that he would be glad to send me some samples. By all means! We quickly arranged a swap, even though Lex's observation about the Slyrs being 'the best German whisky he ever tried' worried me a little. With a score of 66 points the Slyrs hardly qualifies as my favourite dram, so if Lex and I have similar tastes in whisky this could be 'torture hour'. But hey - no pain no gain...

18:25 - I started with the Sonnenschein 1989/2000 (43%, Privatbrennerei Sonnenschein) because it's the odd one out; it's the only whisky not distilled by the 'Blaue Maus' distillery - and it's by far the oldest whisky as well. The distillery was founded as far back as 1875, although they didn't produce whisky in those days. This whisky is distilled with Scottisch malt and matured in 'Scottish' casks - whatever that means. They also produce vodka under the name 'Vivat'. (See www.sonnenschein-brennerei.de for more details.)
Nose: Ooph... Oily and 'veggy'. Cod oil. Pork fat. Wheat? Some other grainy elements.
Dusty. Something coastal and fishy in the background? Spicier with time. Faint cinnamon?
Taste: Cod oil again. Very smooth and oily, growing bitter towards the finish. Clean.
Menthos freshness. I don't like the oily overtones, but it grows fruitier and more pleasant.
Wood. After a while the finish seems to become dry and sour, while reamining bitter as well.
Score: 40 points . It's drinkable enough but this might as well have been a vodka - this doesn't really smell or taste like a whisky. Well, not a Scotch whisky anyway. Way too oily and fatty for me.
It seems they use the same still for their whisky and their vodka.

18:55 - After the orchestration had changed to 'Zur Burg' from Wagner's Rheingold I proceeded with my second German whisky; the Blaue Maus 1993/2001 (40%, Blaue Maus destillerie). The distillery, founded in 1923 and owned by Robert Fleischmann, claims to be the only whisky distillery in Bavaria. They produce three other brands as well; Krottentaler, Spinnaker and Schwarzer Pirat. 'Blaue Maus' means blue mouse, which is a funny name for a distillery I think. Who said Germans don't have a sense of humour?.
(See www.fleischmann-whisky.de for more information about the distillery.)
Nose: Ah, that's more like it. More like whisky, I mean. Malty and fruity. Tangerine?
A little dusty. Pleasantly spicy. Still pretty oily, but not as much as the Sonnenschein.
Whiff of toilet cubes? Not bad at all, although it lacks the depth most Scottish malts display.
Taste: Yuck! Cod oil again. Oily, dusty and sour. Weak and unbalanced. Flat. Chalk?
Dry finish. Bad wood? Too much breathing? The palate drags the score down quite a bit.
Score: 43 points. The nose decisively beats the Sonnenschein, but the taste clearly doesn't.

19:20 - Time for the Spinnaker 1993/2001 (40%, Blaue Maus destillerie) that's produced at 'Blaue Maus' as well. Just like the two other whiskies from Blaue Maus distillery, the colour is a tad darker than that of the Sonnenschein. A quick sniff last week promised an interesting bouquet.
Nose: Hmm... Subtler and fruitier than the blue mouse. Oil. A little grainy and alcoholic.
Marmelade? This one seems a little fresher at first but the noses are rather similar.
There seems to be something 'coastal' going on in the background as well.
Taste: Hurrgh... Weak and watery start. Oil. Eucalyptus? Cool. Maltier with water.
Actually, it picks up quite a bit with time, growing sweeter. Sourish, dry finish.
Score: 45 points. Quite similar to the Blaue Maus, but spunkier and a little fresher.
Wagner's piece 'Brunhildes Erwachen' from Siegfried seemed strangely appropriate.

19:55 - Lex warned me several times about the Piraten Whisky 1986/1994 (40%, Blaue Maus destillerie), so I saved this German for last. I wanted to sample as much as possible before I overexposed my senses. But in the end there's no room for fear on Walpurgisnacht - I'll have to sample and score everything on my list.
Nose: Sweet. Oil and dust again - and maybe a hint of fruits. More fruits emerge.
A little sweet. Nutty. Peanuts? Spices and maybe even a hint of salt after a while.
Some smoke. With a drop of water some metallic notes emerged. Best nose so far.
Taste: Whooh! A fatty, bitter burn. Metallic. Hot. Tannins? Astringent. Dry. Tar?
It grows oilier with time. Hardly tastes like a whisky at all. Worst palate so far.
Score: 38 points . To me, this 'pirate whisky' seems not significantly worse than the other German whiskies. But then again I value an interesting nose. If I rated on taste alone, this would score much lower.

So, how did these 'teutonic' malts perform?
It seems the Germans better leave the 'copying' of whisky to the Japanese.
Every one of these 'whiskies' had a distinct oily character that's not to my liking.
Of course, that's just my opinion. If you happen to like Scotch malts like Isle of Jura 10yo or Tobermory NAS this just might be your cup of tea. However, if you share my antagony towards oily aroma's in a whisky you'd be better off with other German distillates like Asbach Uralt or Kirschwasser for now. But then again, the Germans are just starting out - I'm quite sure the first whisky the Scots distilled a few ages ago wasn't too refined either. And the Slyrs 3yo I sampled last year proves that the Germans are making very good progress. With some luck they'll need less than three centuries to perfect the production process ;-)

One thing's clear: the German alcohol works just as well as the Scottish alcohol.
That's why I'm starting to feel a bit woozy and in need of emotional musical support. And what better music to accompany this defeat of the Germans than the score for the opening scene of Ridley Scott's 'Gladiator'? That scene portrays another defeat of the Germans, two millennia ago.
A wonderful soundtrack.

20:35 - After this slightly disappointing German experience it's time to travel to the other end of the world. The Lark 4th Release 2002 Single Cask (40%, Lark distillery) was distilled and bottled in Tasmania by Bill Lark. Craig Daniels sent me a sample a few months ago and it's time I put it to the test.
Nose: Paint thinner. Alcohol. Dust. Whiff of fruits? Spices. Flowers and some liquorice.
Pleasant enough. It grows fruitier and sweeter over time. Yoghurt? Blueberries?
With a few drops of water the fruity elements became stronger. Soap perfume?
Taste: Yeah, that's much more like whisky - or bourbon at least. Rough palate. Coffee?
Soft fruity elements. Water melon? A cool, bourbony burn. Beer? A straight shooter.
Score: 67 points. The nose starts out rather unremarkable but picks up after a while. The palate's just fine. If somebody had served me this stuff 'blind', I would have guessed it was some sort of high-end bourbon or rye whisky. Friendlier than any Canadian or American whiskey I've tried and a fair match for many Irish malts. This whisky has some flaws, but it's a very interesting alternative to 'the real thing'.
Let's hear it for Tasmania - the Lark is the best whisky I've had this evening!

21:00 - I've been dramming for three hours now; time for a break.
Just as well, because Menno and Marlies dropped by for some emotional support.
Today is 'Queen's Day' in Holland - a difficult time for democratic minds like Menno, Marlies and myself. Most of the time we can forget about the fact that we live in a monarchy, but on a day like this we feel ashamed to be Dutch (even more than ususal). The 'royal' family are nothing more than the decentdants of people who were marginally better at exploiting their serfs than other 'noble' families in the middle ages. After centuries of inbreeding and leeching off their 'subjects' with a 'Let them eat cake' attitude, they still are one of the richest families in the world. Even in the 21st century they control much of the Dutch political process.

That's why M&M started a tradition a few years ago.
They've declared April 30 their peronal 'Day Of The Republic'. They go out and try to spread the gospel of the republic to the orange crowds in the streets. The weather had been really shitty today, so many people M&M encountered were die-hard monarchists - not the most receptive audience for their message. At the end of the day M&M needed a sympathetic ear and they knew I own two of those...

Menno and Marlies don't like whisky, so I decided to serve them something else.
Pouring the Filliers 8yo Oude Graanjenever (50%, Graanstokerij Filliers) was a symbolic way of sticking it to the Dutch royals. Jenever is supposed to be the Dutch national drink, so we were having a Belgian jenever. (Actually, Belgium is a monarchy as well, but let's not dwell on that right now...)
Nose: Wow! Deep and a little fruity, unlike any Dutch jenever I've ever tried.
Clean. Sweet. Not very complex, but mighty pleasant. Fruits grow stronger.
Taste: Unremarkable. Short burn. Little flavour. Slightly astringent finish.
Score: 49 points. Best jenever I ever had the misfortune of tasting. One of the clerks at Ton Overmars reccommended it to me and I have to give him credit for that. This is pleasant enough, but still not my kind of drink. One thing that bothered me was the red wax sealing - I couldn't avoid polluting my glass.

M&M were not too crazy about the Filliers 8yo either - they are wine people.
I'm not, so I couldn't serve them a decent glass. They opted for tawny port instead.
Good choice, if I may say so. I kept myself moist with water during the next few rounds; I was already in high spirits and I didn't want to confuse my palate any more than neccessary tonight. M&M hung around for a while longer to discuss heavy topics like amateur philosophy, geopolitics and compulsory breast implants. A little sadder and hopefully a little wiser they left shortly before midnight to catch the subway.

24:00 - Time to resume the Walpurgis session and move south, to France.
The Eddu 'Silver' (40%, Distillerie des Menhirs, Brittany) was another sample sent to me by Lex Kraaijeveld. According to Lex, it's distilled from a mixture of malted and unmalted buckwheat. Interesting...
Nose: Wow! Seems very fruity at first - more and more so with time. Unique fruitiness.
Like 'Coebergh' berry or cherry liqueur. A bit floral. Some organics after a while. Very different.
Taste: Very strange. Unique. Again the 'Coebergh' association at first. Something soapy.
The fruity start evolves into a cool, flat centre. Fudge? Sourish and dry in the short finish.
Score: 57 points. A very nice fruity surprise, although the soapy finish is a handicap.
Tonight, France beats Germany - but only because the Slyrs 3yo isn't on the menu.

00:35 - I proceeded with two mysterious blinds Serge Valentin sent me a while ago.
The colour of Blind #1 was quite dark without the reddish hue some sherried malts display.
Nose: Phew! Very powerful. Sour sherry and smoke. Cough syrup. Sweet like a liqueur.
Grows even more powerful after a minute, becoming way too fruity for my tastes.
Organics. A little oily. This is a blowtorch for your nose; unbalanced and uni-dimensional.
More pleasant after five minutes - is it growing on me? Yes, it is! Very interesting...
Taste: Yuck! Absolutely horrific. Sour. Cigar smoke and cough syrup. Vivid flashbacks to Loch Dhu.
Wet oak. A sick sweetness in the back of your throat that turns sour and hangs around for ages.
Score: 13 points. After I got used to the nose it was actually quite nice, but the palate completely ruined the party for me. That's probably because I was expecting the taste of whisky. When I informed Serge about my first experiences he disclosed the identity of the 'whisky'. It was a shocker...

This was the 'whisky' he distilled himself and wrote about in E-pistle #05/11.
Before you start to think I'm too unkind; Serge himself agreed it wasn't top notch material.
Serge hadn't thought of a name yet, so we did some brainstorming on that. The 'official' name according to the MM naming conventions would be something like 'Vallee de Turckheim 1yo 2002/2003 Cask Strength Spirit (>65%, Serge Valentin)' but we decided to go with 'Valentin's Day Massacre #1'. I think Serge could do some good business distilling batches of this stuff for people who miss their Loch Dhu ;-)

01:15 - I'd like to say something about the colour of Blind #2 but I can't.
This stuff is completely transparant. That indicates that it's either water (unlikely) or one of the traditional Alsacian distillates Serge wrote about in E-pistle 05/11. I'll just have to taste and see...
Nose: Phew! That's no water... Spirity and fruity with some perfume. Hint of oil.
It reminded me of grappa - or the 'Chateau Osama' I'll get to try later tonight.
Taste: Brrr... Brutal, alcoholic. Rough. No sweetness. Something faintly fruity.
Well, I'd have to say this seemed like something that's freshly distilled.
Score: 23 points. Once again, this isn't my cup of tea. It feels hot and gritty.
But hey - it's an honest spirit and if I had to, I could get drunk on it...

I didn't have a clue what I was sampling here, so I dropped Serge another note.
He revealed that this was actually the new make spirit he distilled from 150 big bottles of pure malt beer. Serge distilled the beer twice in his mini-still and put most of it in a small oak cask that was used to mature some late harvest gewürztraminer. After about a year, it had transformed into the 'VD Massacre #1' I just wrote about. But Serge hadn't put all the spirit in the cask; he saved some in a glass bottle and that was the stuff he sent me as 'Blind #2'. That means I've been tasting these samples in the wrong order, I guess.

I really should be going on with the session, but with my newly acquired knowledge I couldn't resist putting these two together in a H2H tasting. This time I noticed quite a bit of residu in the matured spirit. It's amazing to see how much colour it absorbed from the little cask in just a year. On first nosing, the fresh spirit lost to the matured version . The fresh spirit seemed like a fruity grappa, while the VD Massacre #1 smelled like an actual whisky. Like a very good one, actually! Deep fruits, organics and smoke. Woody. Pilchards? Very sweet. Cough syrup. Shoe polish. Amazing complexity for such a young spirit. It seems some breathing in the sample bottle has improved the nose considerably. Hugely entertaining, I'd give the nose at least 80 points.
But then it was tasting time. The fresh spirit was fruity, rough and alcoholic like before. Very fruity in the finish as well, turning sour unlike anything I've tried before. The matured version tasted hot, fruity and woody. Something like liquorice. Smoke. Unlike any whisky I tried before.
A very sour finish that lasts forever - I recognise the fresh spirit.

What a difference a year makes...
I'll stick with 23 points for the fresh spirit (I've had far worse) but my 13 points for the VD Massacre #1 doesn't do justice to the wonderful nose. It has really grown on me and I've found the perfect way to enjoy the rest of my sample: just nosing, no drinking. That way, it will last me for a long time. I've cranked up the score for the matured spirit to 30 points but the taste is still a major handicap. I think maybe the cask surface vs contents ration has caused this to hyper-mature very quickly. Maybe re-casking it into bourbon wood (or something else fairly 'neutral') would be interesting - just to let it settle down for a few years.

02:05 - I'm starting to feel a little tired. Let's wrap this up. The sample of Eau de Vie Alsace Gentiane (50%, Serge Valentin) has been on my shelves for almost a year now; I've finally assembled enough courage to open it. Serge's samples are always surprising - sometimes good and sometimes... not so good.
Nose: Fresh and extremely herbal - like Alp herbs liqueur. Spirity. Dusty after five minutes.
Very different. Some subtler elements are struggling to get to the foreground - and fail.
Taste: Ouch! Very herbal. Cool. Menthol, Eucalyptus. Very fresh. Lots of personality.
Is that gentian? Probably. Clean. Dry. Hardly any sweetness. Surprising concoction.
Score: 49 points . Not really my style, but very, very interesting. A decent burn.
I could really grow to like this stuff - especially in the summer.

I ran out of steam around 2:45 AM, but I had one more bottle to take care of.
And not just any bottle, the infamous Cuvee 'Osama' Marc de Gewürztraminer (55%, Serge Valentin). Every year Serge and some friends distill some Marc de Gewürztraminer in his garden - just a few bottles. It comes in the traditional Alsacian long-necked bottle with a label especially designed for that year.
Nose: Fruits. Attick of a grain warehouse. Grappa. Hint of oil. A little herbal.
Once again, this reminded me a lot of grappa, especially for the first ten minutes.
After a while the fruity and oily aroma's weakened, revealing a more spirity undercurrent.
Taste: Fruity, dry burn. Citrus. Quite smooth, though. A little herbal? Not very 'deep'.
Score: I'm too tired and too drunk to give a proper rating. Better luck next time...

Pooh... Getting sleepier... Harder to type...
Must keep on going...

Must...

Fzzzbk...

ZZzz......
 

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Log Entry # 139 - May 29, 2003
Topic:  The Big Crash

Well, that was a shocker...
This morning - the last morning before my very first pilgrimmage to Scotland - the hard disk of my computer went into self-destuct mode. After clicking away alert messages for over an hour, the disk produced a squeeky sound not unlike that of nails scraping across a blackboard and before giving up. I'll have to check the extent of the damage later - for now it means I will have to take my notes on tonight's session the old fashioned way - with pen and paper. Well... As it turned out some of my notes were sketchy anyway, because my mind was already roaming through the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland...

Anyway, for tonight I had planned a little (virtual) tour of 'The Great Glens of Scotland' - just to get into the spirit of things. After concentrating mostly on 'coastal' malts for the last three months my sampling schedule finally allowed me to leave the shores and return to the glens of Scotland. I've been putting off this session for months because I wanted to focus on the heavier stuff, but summer is already in the air and it's time to finish 'The Big Crunch'.

I started this session around tea time - as light as possible, of course.
And they don't come much lighter than the Glen Grant NAS (40%, OB, batch LK50860).
Some people doubt wheter or not this is a single malt or a vatted malt. Well, the fact that the claim 'single malt' can't be found anywhere on the label would suggest it's a vatted malt - especially because the label of the 10yo does explicitly state that that is a single malt. But then again, the label of the NAS says 'The Glen Grant distillery was established at Rothes in ... 1840. This pure, clear malt whisky is distilled there to this very day.' Hmmmm... If 'this pure, clear malt whisky' refers to the contents of the bottle it means it was distilled at Glen Grant and therefor it's a single malt whisky. So, why don't they say so? Puzzling...

Anyway, here are my notes on this NAS bottling - an earlier batch scored 65 points.
Nose: Flat and a little spirity. Soft fruity (citrus) and flowery notes. Something salty?
A light nectar sweetness with a whiff of pepper. More sweet dough later on. Beer.
Very light and transparent. Well composed - it might as well be a vatted malt.
Taste: Sparkly. Superficial sweet & sour start, slowly invading your mouth. Fruits.
Smooth. Sourish finish with bitter ovetones, like a Belgian abbey beer - Chimay or Duvel.
Score: 66 points . Maybe it's just my imagination, but this recent batch seems smoother and somewhat better balanced than the previous batch I tried. If it's a vatted malt it's one of the best I've sampled so far. But I don't actually think it is a vatted malt; this shows all the signs of a promising young single malt that has been ripped from its cradle a little too soon. I've never actually tried an old Glen Grant before but I've heard stories of fabulous bottlings popping up now and then.

My next choice was the Glenmorangie 10yo (43%, OB).
I bought myself a bottle from a fresh batch (bottled +/- 2002, I imagine) after my very first Pandora tasting. Serge had hidden a 'Morangie 10 among the blinds - the standard 40% bottling. My score was a deflating 65 points. Well, that was a shocker. It had been quite a while since my last 'official' encounter with the Glenmorangie 10 but the last bottle I tried (a 43% litre bottling, bottled in the mid 1990's) scored 81 points. To find out if Serge's sample was just a fluke or if another one of the big names is on a slippery slope I went out in search for a fresh bottling.
I couldn't find a 40% version so I went for the 'Duty Free' 43% litre.
Nose: Sweetish. Soft & spicy. A little grainy. Pinch of salt. Rhubarb? Oily & nutty.
Hop. Faint fruits after a while. Heather honey. Chloride. Maybe some liquorice.
Faint hint of something coastal? Yes, absolutely. And is that peat? I think so.
Taste: Sweetish start. Sour & bitter - like Rhubarb? Hops in the finish - beer-like.
Bourbony. Unfortunately, the palate is flat and superficial. Wood. Fresh oak?
Score: 74 points . The nose is fine but the finish is rather nasty. It loses points here.
This batch seems smoother than Serge's 40% bottling, but not nearly as good as a few years ago.
Too bad... Another one of the big names in decline?

The Glen Deveron 10yo (40%, OB) was shipped from Germany by Klaus. According to Klaus, the bottle said 'Pure Single Malt' - whatever that means... The 12yo OB I sampled a few years ago scored only 63 points, so I'm not expecting any fireworks.
Nose: Sharp. Clean. Apple cider? Fresh maltiness. Quite dull, but lighter and more pleasant than I expected.
Needs a few minutes of breathing to fully develop. It never becomes very interesting, though.
Taste: Weak. Malty. Sweetish center. Not very pronounced. Occasional hint of vomit?
Light fruitiness. Bitter and slightly dry in the short finish. Unremarkable.
Score: 68 points . MOTR - simply not a very good single malt whisky. Too bad.

I did a quick comparison with the MacDuff 11yo 1990/2002 (43%, Coopers Choice) on my bottom shelf.
Don't let the name fool you - it was distilled at the same distillery as the Glen Deveron.
Nose: Sharp and spirity at first. Very yeasty. Beer brewing aroma's. Cattle feed. Subtle fruits.
Dusty. Moldy. Interesting off-notes. It's like the apple cider in the Glen Deveron has gone bad...
Taste: Prickly. Sherried with a big burn - but it lacks depth and substance.
Slightly sweet. The finish is sourish and starts to disintegrate quickly. Plywood.
Score: 67 points . The 72 points I gave earlier were definitely too generous.

When I dropped by 'Traverse' in Utrecht last summer I was asked to test a sample of a new malt they considered for inclusion in their assortment; the Glencadam 16yo 1985/2001 (43%, Chieftain's). I never got around to it until now, and as it turns out I tried it before at the 2002 Whiskyfestival in The Hague.
Well, let's try the sample and get some more detailed tasting notes than last time I tried it.
Nose: Light. Sweet and malty. Oily. Faint, old fruits. Nice balance. Organic overtones.
Cookies? Very pleasant, actually. A malty malt in the 'Gordon & MacPhail School of Malts'.
Veggy. Camphor? Much more powerful after 5 minutes with salt and smoke coming forward.
Taste: Creamy. Rather weak. Menthol? Nondescript start, evolving into a light sweetness.
Heather honey. Bigger burn in the center. Modest and not very pronounced. Dry finish.
Score: 77 points . Good nose, mediocre palate. We've heard that song before...
Not enough personality and 'spunk' to leave a lasting impression.

Time for a simple but nutritious dinner - an omelette with mushrooms, shrimps and Gouda cheese.
With a full stomach I jumped three decades into the past with a bottle from the early 1970's.
It was the Glenglassaugh 1973 Vintage Reserve (40%, Family Silver). The distillery, built in 1875 and located in the far North of Speyside - or, if you're looking from a different angle, the far North of the Eastern Highlands. It has always been a distillery focused on producing malt whisky for use in blends like Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse. The Glenglassaugh distillery was mothballed in 1986. Amazingly enough, the price tag on the bottle said 43.75 Euro's. First I thought they had forgot to print a 1 or a 2 at the left, because malts this age will often set you back at least 100 Euro's. But not this time; when I asked about it the clerk told me the price was right. I absolutely agreed the price was right, so I bought it.

Anyway, when I opened it in February to get a first impression I absolutely loved it.
Glenglassaugh wasn't listed on the matrix yet, so I immediately siphoned off five 125ml samples to send to some of the other malt maniacs. When I did, I noticed this malt has 'heavy legs' - a symptom of old age. Let's see if this is a good thing...
Nose: Distinguished. Sherried, fruity and a little sweet. Slightly herbal. Spicy. Butter?
A whiff of smoke. Lots and lots of interesting stuff going on in the background. Amazing.
Wow! Much like a kaleidoscope, the nose keeps changing and changing. Lemon drops!
Taste: Ooof... Sherry and smoke - a possibly lethal combination... (Bowmore Darkest flashback)
The Glenglassaugh pulls it off, though. Soft an sweet. The finish lingers on and on and on.
It reminded me a bit of the Glendronach 15yo Sherry Casks.
Score: 86 points, I'd say. The nose is among the best I ever encountered!
Too bad the palate seems tired and uninspired - something I've found in more old malts.
Analysis: The malt with the kaleidoscope nose. It seemed to 'peak' between 10-30 minutes.

Because the Glenglassaugh reminded me of the Glendronach 15yo Sherry Casks (40%, OB) I decided to do a quick H2H between the two. And that was a wise decision, because it made me realise that I've either over-rated the Glendronch 15yo or under-rated the Glenglassaugh 1973 with 86 points. The nose of the 'Dronach receives bonus points for pure personality but compared to the 'Glassaugh it seems to offer little else than sherry, sherry and sherry. Well, maybe a hint of smoke and some fruits. But then again, what would you expect from a malt '100% matured in Sherry Casks'. Meanwhile, the ever changing Glenglassaugh became more entertaining by the minute. The 'Glassaugh showed sherry without allowing it to dominate the stage like it does in the Glendronach. And there's just so much more going on. But there's not a lot of difference in the taste - neither one managed to overly impress me here. The nose of the Glendronach made a sudden come-back after +/- 20 minutes, preventing the score from dropping more than a point. With 85 points it manages to hang on to its 'highly recommendable' status. I'll stick with 86 points for the Glenglassaugh, but with a more interesting palate it might have even reached the lower 90's.

OK - it's now seven drams and seven hours later - time to catch a good night's sleep.
Several other Glens are winking at me, like a bunch of Glenfiddichs and Glenlivets, two bottles of Glenrothes, cask strength UDRM bottlings of Glen Ord and Glen Mhor, samples of Glengoyne and Glenfarclas in their twenties... Maybe I should?...
No, I'd better try to get on the plane sober tomorrow.

But there's one thing I've got to finish before I can catch some Z's.
I've decided to add a 'Dram Diary' at the end of every tasting report from now on.
Nothing fancy - just a alpabetical list of all the drams I sampled during that session and the scores they've earned. I'll print the new discoveries bold, as well as the scores of the familiar malts that go up or down. That will make it easier for me to copy them to my Track Record and Little Black Book later on. Looking over the seven malts I sampled tonight, I can add four new malts to my ever expanding Track Record; the Glen Deveron 10yo, Glenglassaugh 1973 and these fresh batches of Glen Grant NAS & Glenmorangie 10yo.
Not bad for a night's work...
 

Dram Diary 29/05/2003  (New discoveries and changed scores are printed BOLD.)

77 - Glencadam 16yo 1985/2001 (43%, Chieftain's)
68 - Glen Deveron 10yo (40%, OB, bottled +/- 2000)
85 - Glendronach 15yo Sherry Casks (40%, OB)
86 - Glenglassaugh 1973 Vintage Reserve (40%, Family Silver)
66 - Glen Grant NAS (40%, OB, batch LK50860, bottled +/- 2002)
74 - Glenmorangie 10yo (43%, OB, bottled +/- 2002)
67 - MacDuff 11yo 1990/2002 (43%, Coopers Choice)

 

So that's it from me for now.
Watch this log for a report on the awesome adventures of the Malt Maniacs in Scotland...

Sweet drams,

Johannes

- - -

mAddendum 139A  -  Preliminary Ratings

I abandoned my system of preliminary ratings a while ago but the recent string of bad nose days has forced me to invent an updated system of indicative scores. Even on a bad nose day I can usually tell if I like a single malt or not - although I've noticed that I tend to severely underscore the malts that I've rated very high in the past based mainly on the nose. It seems that my palate has a larger influence on the score than usual on a bad nose day. This makes me extra careful about saying anything too final about a whisky on a bad nose day. To distinguish between an 'indicative' rating from a 'final' one I decided to go with an 'alphabetical' system along the lines of an idea from French malt maniac Serge Valentin.
The scale runs from A-G and the letters have the following meaning;

A = 90+
B = 85 to 89
C = 80 to 84
D = 70 to 79
E = 60 to 69
F = 50 to 59
G = Below 50

Not only will I start to use this new and upgraded system from now on, I decided to go back over my notes for the last two years to see if I could find ratings I wasn't quite sure about. My search showed that I need to make some changes on my Track Record. I'll have to change the 'final' scores for the eight malts below into indicative ratings. Most of these drams were enjoyed at festivals during less than perfect conditions.

B - Ardbeg 1975/1998 (43%, OB, was 90 points)
C - Bruichladdich 1984 Legacy (46%, OB, was 82 points)
C - Caol Ila 23yo 1978/2002 (61.7%, UDRM, was 83 points)
D - Clynelish 10yo 1989/2001 (43%, Hedges & Butler, Cask #3243, bottle #704, was 76 points)
C - Laphroaig 1983/1999 (52.5%, MacKillop's Choice, April 1983 / May 1999, cask #1849, was 83 points)
C - Port Ellen 24yo 1978/2002 2nd Annual Release (54.3%, OB, was 83 points)
C - Talisker 20yo 1981/2002 (62%, OB, 9000 bottles, was 82 points)

My resolve about the need for a system of 'indicative' scores next to my regular 'Good Nose Day' system was only strengthened after a recent Pandora session with a couple of blind samples from Serge. After the ordeal described in E-pistle 07/06 I could add the following five malts to my Track Record.

C - Ardbeg 1975/2000 (43%, OB)
B - Braes of Glenlivet 16yo 1979/1995 (60.4%, Signatory Vintage, USA Bottling)
F - Bruichladdich 1989/2002 (58.5%, OB, Paris Whisky Festival single cask)
D - Glen Mhor 22yo 1979/2001 (61%, UDRM)
C - Port Ellen 19yo 1982/2001 (43%, McGibbon's Provenance)

(See E-pistle 07/06 for some more thoughts about indicative scores.)

- - -

mAddendum 139B  -  Exotica / International Track Record

During last month's Walpurgis session (see log entry #138) I focused on hard drinking, not on hard thinking.
As a result, my memory was a bit fuzzy. When I re-read my report to help me remeber what actually happened I had an epiphany. Many of these 'Walpurgis' whiskies may not have been Scottish, but they are proper single malt whiskies, so there's no reason to exclude them from my Track Record. After all, I've included Irish and Australian single malts before... Come to think of it, there are some whiskies I sampled during the 'Mirror Walpurgis' session in November 2002 that would qualify as well. I found these nine single malts I could add to my Track Record;

69 - Ankara 5yo (43%, OB, Turkey)
43 - Blaue Maus 1993/2001 (40%, OB, Germany)
56 - Clonmel 8yo 'Unpeated' (40%, OB, Ireland)
67 - Lark 4th Release 2002 Single Cask (OB, Tasmania)
38 - Piraten Whisky 1986/1994 (40%, OB, Germany)
65 - Slyrs 3yo 1999/2002 (43%, OB, Germany)
40 - Sonnenschein 1989/2000 (43%, OB, Germany)
45 - Spinnaker 1993/2001 (40%, OB, Germany)
77 - Suntory 12yo 'Yamazaki' (43%, OB, Japan)

That means my Track Record now shows 390 malts.
And that means I'll inevitably break the 400 malts barrier next month in Schotland. Hurray! Maybe I'm prejudiced, but based on these results I'd have to say the Scots are the masters of the art of distillation. Interesting things are happening in Germany, Turkey, Japan and Tasmania, but my palate still prefers the average Scotch whisky.

- - -

mAddendum 139C  -  Mysterious Notes

I write a lot about drinks and even when I'm not writing about drinks I generally drink while I write.
The problem with writing while you're drinking is that you often find crumbled pieces of paper with mysterious notes scribbled on them.  Even when the information is intelligable (which is often not the case), there's usually no clear memory attached to these besmudged pieces of paper. A note I found recently dealt with the Caol Ila 24yo 1975/2000 (54.3%, Wilson & Morgan, Italy). It said: 'Nose: Clean, tired, wood, smoke, hint of pine? Taste: Bitter. Woody. Fragmented. Gritty, bitter finish. Too much breathing? 65 points.'
I'm not sure about the origins of these notes, so I won't include them in my Track Record or Little Black Book.

 

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