150 - 01/11/2003 - DRAMSTERDAM 2003 DIARY - Special Two Page Report ( 1 / 2 )
151 - 01/01/2004 - The 'A' List; 10 x Aberlour & 3 x Aberfeldy. Aberlour wins the argument.
152 - 15/01/2003 - Sampling Session at De Still with Stewart Laing. Fun was had by all.
153 - 29/01/2004 - Mark Adams crossed the Atlantic for the second time in two months.
154 - 07/03/2004 - Whisky Live London 2004 - Some preliminary scores and observations.
155 - 30/04/2004 - Walpurgisnacht 2004: Whiskies from the World.
156 - 10/05/2004 - North End tasting in Leiden: Going back to blends.
157 - 18/05/2004 - Christmas in May - a festive tasting of three Brora's.
158 - 21/05/2004 - More Deviant Drams - Another assortment of oddities & rarities.
159 - 31/05/2004 - Golden Oldies - including three respectable old G&M bottlings.

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Log Entry # 150 - November 1, 2003
Topic:  AmsterDram 2003 Adventures

Oh, boy....
The malt mania around this website reached a new
crescendo in November and December 2003. We had
the 2003 Malt Maniacs Awards, I passed the 500 malts
mark and several maniacs flew to Europe (Scotland,
Amsterdam and Alsace) in 2003 for some serious
sampling.
 
There were far too many alcoholic adventures to fit on
this single page, so I had to publish everything on two
separate pages. Log Entry #150 contains notes on some
hundred single malts that were all brand new to me.
It's by far the biggest log entry ever...
 
CLICK HERE for (page one of) the full report.

Meanwhile, I've decided to wrap up my Little Black Book .
Now that it has notes on 500 single malts, it's time to start an all new 'Track Record' with links to the tasting notes in this Liquid Log. I'll also expand the Distillery Data section with profiles on all Scotch whisky distilleries.
 

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Log Entry # 151 - January 1, 2004
Topic:  The 'A' List

Well, well, well - a new year has finally arrived....
Another opportunity to spit the future in its eye with a few bold new year's resolutions.
First of all, I plan to expand my horizons a bit in 2004 by sampling more 'deviant drams'; i.e. alcoholic drinks other than single malt Scotch whisky. Since I started this liquid log seven years ago I've been drinking Scotch single malts almost exclusively. The world of single malts has changed quite a bit since the 1990's, so I guess I should check out some other stuff to see what has been happening outside Scotland for the past decade. I've got the feeling that I may have been 'idolising' the cognacs and armagnacs I've tried in the 1980's while some blended whiskies deserve another chance to impress my 'experienced' nose...

Anyway, that's something I can pick up on the next 'Walpurgisnacht'.
My second new year's resolution concerns maltier matters. There was a little bit of confusion during the calculations for the 2003 Malt Maniacs Awards regarding the regional pedigree of some distilleries. Up until now I've faithfully followed the regional classifications from 'the pope of pints', Michael Jackson. However, as it turns out the jury is still out on the actual part of Scotland where some distilleries are located. Take the three silent 'Inverness' distilleries Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor and Millburn, for example. Michael Jackson believes they are located in the Speyside area while Jim Murray thinks you should look for them in the Northen Highlands.

Serge did a little survey and it seems Michael Jackson stands quite alone on this.
Fellow whisky writers Helen Arthur, Charles McLean, Wallace Milroy, Lamond Tucek, Neil Wilson and Stefan Gabanyi all put the three 'Inverness' distilleries in the (Northen) Highlands and looking at the map that seems to make sense. So, I'll change the regional identification for these three distilleries in all lists on this site. Serge's survey mentions a number of other distilleries with 'dubious geographical origins as well; Ardmore, Banff, Benromach, (Royal) Brackla, Dallas Dhu, Glenburgie, Glendronach, Glen Garioch and Tomatin. I'll have myself a 'Borderline Personalities' session later this year to find out once and for all where there distilleries actually are.

Now for new year's resolution number three - the biggest and boldest one.
I started publishing so-called 'distillery profiles' a while ago, but somehow I got stuck halfway through the 'A' section. For those of you who just tuned in: I plan on expanding the Distillery Data section with profiles and tasting notes for every active distillery in Scotland. There's no more room for fresh tasting notes in the digital version of my Little Black Book so I'd better start working on those distillery profiles again. I definitely won't be able to finish all of them this year, but I'll make every effort to at least make it to Edradour. I'll worry about the 'Glens' and the rest of the alphabet next year - assuming I even get as far as 'E' this year.

However, I haven't abandoned my philosophy on the need to sample at least three different expressions from a distillery before opening my big mouth and blurting out an opinion. In fact, five or ten expressions would be even better, but I haven't got money growing out of my ears, you know... The problem is that factors like the type and the age of the cask(s) might be just as important as the location where the spirit was distilled. I'm not a huge fan of the standard Glenlivet 12yo, but I've sampled some stunning examples from sherry casked Glenlivets in their twenties that could easily beat any Macallan of the same age. Or take Brora; I've sampled expressions from this Higlander that put most Bowmores and Bunnahabhains to shame. If I really wanted to get serious about my distillery research I'd have to try and get my hands on samples of freshly distilled spirit, as well as a wide range of samples matured over different periods of time in different types of casks.

But my life is complicated enough as it is, so I'll just stick with 3 expressions for now.
Since it would be rather foolish (not to mention presumptuous) to write a distillery profile before I've formed an opinion about that distillery, I'll have to check which (active and inactive) distilleries need further investigation. Let's check the Distillery Data list for all distilleries that (theoretically) deserve my attention, shall we?

Please note that I'm quite conservative when it comes to labeling distilleries 'active' or 'inactive'. Take Tullibardine, for example. Investors are building a shopping mall / distillery / visitor centre on the premises of the old Tullibardine distillery, but it will be years before any new whisky will actually be bottled - if ever. Until I see any 'new' Tullibardine single malt whisky actually making it to our shelves I'll flag it as 'inactive'. On the other hand, we have distilleries like Glen Scotia and Scapa that don't operate all year long. Should they ever cease to produce malt whisky entirely I'll label them 'inactive', but for now I consider them alive and kicking.

Looking at the full list I decided that most of the inactive distilleries didn't really need my immediate attention. Especially with distilleries closed in the 1970's and early 1980's, all new releases will be 'old' whiskies in their 20's or 30's from casks that were not bottled for one reason or another. That means that their style might be very different from the original 'house style' of that whisky - which is hardly helpful for my research.
More important; most of these old and rare bottles usually cost you an arm and a leg.
Until I've found another steady job I can't afford to spend very much on malts.

My research so far indicates that I'm not missing much with the majority of these silent distilleries anyway. Until now I haven't been impressed by any botling from Allt-A-Bhainne, Balmenach, Banff, Coleburn, Glen Albyn, Glenlochy, Glenugie, Hillside/Glenesk, Littlemill, North Port / Brechin or Tullibardine. So, I'll just ignore them for the time being to focus on malts that are more likely to move me. I haven't tried any bottlings of Ladyburn or Kinclaith (both closed in the 70's) but since they are extremely rare anyway I'll keep them off my list as well. Based on the expressions I've tried so far, interesting things may have happened once at Caperdonich, Dallas Dhu, Glencadam, Glenglassaugh, Glen Keith, Glenury Royal, Imperial, Lochside, Millburn and Pittyvaich. These distilleries require further investigation before they are either elevated to the mythical status of 'legendary lost distillery' (like Brora or Linlithgow) or dismissed as obsolete enterprises unable to keep up with the times.
That leaves the following active distilleries;

  1. Cardhu - Very hard to come by as an IB and since 2003 as a 'single' OB as well.
  2. Craigellachie - Extremely hard to find, especially in Holland. A rarity.
  3. Dalwhinnie - The 15yo and Double Matured OB's are easily available, but no IB's.
  4. Deanston - A bottom shelf brand here in Holland. Both OB's I tried scored below average.
  5. Glenallachie - An obscure distillery. I've only tried two young IB's from Signatory so far.
  6. Glenburgie / Glencraig - It's alive, but not as we know it... Very hard to come by.
  7. Glendullan - I wasn't interested after trying the 8yo OB, but the 23yo 1975 changed that.
  8. Glen Spey - Another obscure distillery, bottlings are very hard to find (and swallow).
  9. Glentauchers - Gordon and Macphail occasionally release 'semi-OB's of Glentauchers.
  10. Inchgower - Both bottlings I tried scored in the 70's but some maniacs were more impressed.
  11. Isle of Jura - The cod oil in the 10yo OB has kept me away for a long time. Second chance?
  12. Knockando - Based on my research so far this seems like a fairly MOTR Speysider.
  13. Knockdhu - A.k.a. An Cnoc. The old 12yo OB's were decent enough - and very affordable.
  14. Lochnagar - A.k.a. Royal Lochnagar. We visted the distillery last year but it was closed.
  15. Pulteney - A.k.a. Old Pulteney. Could be interesting; both bottlings I tried scored around 80.
  16. Speyburn - The 10yo OB from the 1990's was rather underwhelming, I'd have to say.
  17. Strathisla - It's hardly an 'obscure' distillery, but somehow I've only tried the 12yo OB so far.
  18. Teaninich - I've only tried a 1982/1998 Connoisseurs Choice bottling so far. Score: 70 points.
  19. Tomatin - This could be quite interesting. I liked the 12yo OB more than its score suggest.

Nineteen active distilleries left that require further investigation. So, if I want to finish all A-E distillery profiles this year I will have to start hunting down undiscovered bottlings of Cardhu, Craigellachie, Dalwhinnie and Deanston. (Note to anybody in the posession of samples from these distilleries that I haven't tried yet: I'm very willing to swap. Drop me a note, please!)

OK, after this lengthy introduction it's time to focus on the job at hand.
Those of you who have been folowing my alcoholic adventures for a while may remember I've had quite a few 'alphabetically inspired' sessions in 2002 - log entries #101 and #106 in particular. The focus has shifted a bit during my 'coastal crunch' and the MM Awards, but now it's time to finish up on all matters concerning 'A'. I'll have to tie up some loose ends before I can set my sights on 'B'.

At the top of the list we find Aberfeldy from the Midlands.
It owes its top position to simple alphabetics, but is it a 'top malt' too?
 
Not quite yet, I'm afraid. The current still score is *** which can be translated as 'average'. But careful analysis of the numbers shows that Aberfeldy is banging against the ceiling of the three stars bracket. The average score is pulled down by a mediocre 1991/2000 Ultimate bottling but the other two bottlings I sampled were better than average. Fortunately, I've got a brand new version on the table tonight that should help me decide between three and four stars.
 
The 'new' Cadenhead's bottling I'm about to try is one of three Aberfeldies on the table; a 12 years old official bottling released a few years ago, a seventeen years old Cadenhead's miniature bottled in 1995 and a 1978/1996 Scott's Selection bottling. That should be enough for me to make up my mind.

I started with the Aberfeldy 12yo (40%, OB, Dewar's) that performed reasonably well during earlier tastings with a score of 78 points. Nothing spectacular, but slightly better than average in my book.
Nose: Malty, sherried and a little fruity - didn't seem as spicy and herbal as before.
Polished. Fresh. Sweet & sour. Fruitier and spicier with time. Hint of leather and smoke?
Taste: Dry and gritty at first. Malty and a little bitter. Some faint salt liquorice?
Alcoholic. Not a lot of depth. Slightly disappointing - it seems to lack character.
Score: 78 points seems about right. This time it didn't quite thrill me as before.
A middle-of-the-road malt; better than average but not much more.

The Aberfeldy 17yo 1978/1995 (57.9%, Cadenhead's, D08/78, B10/95, 5cl) was a sample sent to me from France by fellow malt maniac Serge. My first nips a few weeks ago suggested this is pretty decent stuff.
Nose: Smooth and sherried. Hint of peat after a while? Opens up very nicely indeed.
Cookies and toffee. It's like a cakewalk in a cookie bakery. Something faintly medicinal.
Taste: Smooth, sweet and easily drinkable at cask strength. Woody, fruity burn in the centre.
A playful hint of fruits hangs around for a long time. Coffee bitterness in the long, long finish.
Score: 83 points . It loses a few points in the woody finish, but it's still a recommendable malt.

The Aberfeldy 1978/1996 (59.3%, Scott's Selection) was the first Aberfeldy I ever bought.
Nose: Not very powerful, but pleasant. Stronger and sweeter after a minute.
Some water releases subtler, more complex elements. Organics drift in and out of focus.
Taste: Soft and fruity. Quite sweet - much sweeter than when I first opened it.
The positive effects of breathing for a few months? Some sherried highlights.
Score: 83 points. My favourite Aberfeldy until the Cadenhead's came along. Now it's a tie.

So, does Aberfeldy deserve a place in the hallowed halls of four-stardom?
Not quite yet, I'm afraid. Both Aberfeldies that scored in the lower 80's were cask strength independent bottlings released almost a decade ago. More recent bottlings around 40% scored significantly lower, so I'll stick with three stars for Aberfeldy for now. Good, but not quite good enough...

Alphabetically speaking, Aberlour is next. So far, I've tried thirteen different versions.
Many of them were sampled during the Aberlour JOLT the maniacs organised in March 2002.
We discovered that Aberlour might dethrone Macallan as the top sherried Speysider soon.

Tonight I've assembled 10 different Aberlours; six of them brand new to me;

- Aberlour NAS A'bunadh Batch #8 (60.2%, OB)
- Aberlour NAS A'bunadh Batch #9 (60.0%, OB)
- Aberlour NAS Vintage 1990 Edition (40%, OB, Canada, Bottled +/- 2000)
- Aberlour 10yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003, KON 0086 021)
- Aberlour 12yo Double Cask Matured (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000)
- Aberlour 12yo 1990/2003 WH N1 (58.8%, OB, Bourbon C#11552, Bottled 10/10/03)
- Aberlour 13yo 1989/2003 WH N1 (58.7%, OB, Sherry C#13330, Bottled 10/10/03)
- Aberlour 15yo Sherry Wood Finish (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000)
- Aberlour 15yo 1988/2003 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, DL REF 875, 306 Bottles)
- Aberlour 16yo Double Cask Matured (43%, OB, LK3NO629 127)

With ten more drams to test tonight I'd better get busy...
Davin sent me a sample of the Aberlour 'Vintage 1990 Edition' (40%, OB) from Canada.
The bottling date isn't specified, but I expect this was bottled somewhere around 2000.
Nose: Not as obviously sherried as the 10yo at first. Spices. Hint of furniture polish?
Seems less expressive than most Aberlours. Dust? Tea leaves? Some smoke, perhaps?
Chicken stock? It has plenty of subtle complexities but you really have to work at it.
Taste: Odd, dry start with an impression of tea leaves followed by marshmallows.
Hot, dry centre. Woody. The shallow palate drags down the score a bit.
Score: 78 points. Well, I guess this classifies as 'Nice But Dim'.

My next dram was the 'standard' Aberlour 10yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003, KON 0086 021).
Nose: Gentle honey sweetness. More like nectar, really. Then soft soap perfume appears.
More fruit and sherry than the Vintage 1990 Edition, and even more so with time.
Not very powerful or complex but mighty pleasant. A must-try malt for every beginner.
Taste: Fairly weak start. Oily centre with early fruits. Dry finish. Hint of peat?
Not a lot of depth. If memory serves, it's not as extremely sherried as a few years ago.
Score: 78 points . There are differences, but I like it about the same as the '1990'.
If I'm not mistaken bottlings released around a decade ago were more heavily sherried.

The bottle of Aberlour 12yo Double Cask Matured (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2002, L302 1135 30414:30) on my middle shelf was nearly empty. Time to fill a sample for future research and empty the bottle.
Nose: Most sherried so far. Relatively fresh and fruity. Hint of smoke? Something spicy.
Taste: Fairly sweet. Malty and Great body. Dry and slightly bitter towards the finish.
Score: 82 points seems about right. Clearly a step up from the current 10yo.
Could this be an attack on the position of the Balvenie 12yo Doublewood?

I think the Aberlour 16yo Double Cask Matured (43%, OB, LK3NO629 127) is a more recent release than the 12yo Double Matured, but I'm not sure. I guess this expression was bottled around 2003.
Nose:  Aaaah... Rich, sherried and fruity. Sweet. Smoke and organics. Spices.
This seems feistier and more complex than the 12yo version. Coffee? Soy sauce?
Taste: Dry with a candy sweetness in the background. Fruity with a hint of mint.
Cool finish. Chewy with a very pleasant toffee character. Burnt caramel?
Score: 84 points - one point more than my original score of 83 points.
Especially after some breathing the nose shows a fascinating complexity.

The Aberlour 15yo Sherry Wood Finish (40%, OB) was bottled around 2000 and it seems likely it was the predecessor of the 16yo Double Matured. The name has changed, but the general idea is the same.
Nose: Hmmm... That's odd. It doesn't seem nearly as sherried as the 16yo at first.
It's complex enough, though. Especially after a few minutes it shows great organics.
Oh, boy - now I get the sherry. And lots of it! And no 'Sandeman' either - the good stuff.
Taste: Fresh, minty and malty start. Great mouth feel. Woodier towards the finish.
Score: 84 points . At first I was inclined to decrease my original score because it didn't seem quite as complex as the 16yo Double Cask Matured. Well, at the end of the day it turned out to be just as good.

11:25 - Time to switch to the 'overproof' stuff.
The Aberlour 15yo 1988/2003 (50%, DL OMC, cask DL REF 875, 306 bottles) was the only independent Aberlour of the evening. And just think that tonight's line-up doesn't nearly cover everything 'officially' released by Aberlour in the last few years. What a difference with the situation about a decade ago; you were lucky to find a distillery that offered more than two or three basic official expressions. And apart from Cadenhead's, Gordon & MacPhail and Signatory Vintage there were very few independent bottlings around as well. But the times, they are a-changin'. These days you could spend a whole wallet on different Aberlours.
Nose: Lightly sweet, lightly malty. Gentle toffee sweetness evolving. Sharp overtones.
Friendly fruits. Then it takes a more serious direction - wood and organics. Chloride?
I even got a hint of peat and smoke after fifteen minutes. That's a nice surprise.
Taste: Sweet start, sweet centre, sweet finish. Woody. Very hot. Yeah, I like it...
Score: 82 points . The mouth feel is great but the nose isn't very big or complex.
A bourbon cask? The 15yo and 16yo OB's show that some sherry can work wonders.

The Aberlour 12yo 1990/2003 Warehouse N1 (58.8%, OB, Bourbon Cask #11552, b. 10/10/03) is part of a 'couple'. At the distillery you can fill your own bottle(s) from either a bourbon or sherry cask.
Nose: Gentle start, but a spicy explosion soon follows. Hints of glue, paint and grain.
Honey? Shortbread? Vanilla? Dust. Interesting. Some fruits but no sherry at all...
Taste: Ooof! Big burn. Clearly an overproof malt. Sweet start. Very fruity centre.
Candy sweetness. Smooth. Almost feels like a good old grain whisky.
Score: 84 points was my initial score and I think that's about right. 

The Aberlour 13yo 1989/2003 Warehouse N1 (58.7%, OB, Sherry Cask #13330, b. 10/10/03) is the other part of the 'couple' I mentioned. Looking at the colour, there's no doubt this comes from a sherry cask.
Nose: We have a winner! Lots and lots of sherry. Wood and organics. Subtle fruits.
It definitely grows more complex over time. Dumtidum, Tralalala. I'm having fun.
Then more woody notes with a hint of leather - like an old library. Just fabulous!
Taste: Sherried, woody and fruity. Classy. Sweets. Dry and woody towards the finish.
It might be just a tad too dry and winey in the finish for some, but I just love it.
Score: 89 points. Needs some time to get there, though. A genuine sherry monster.
Too bad you can't get this in the shops - it's the most sherried Aberlour I ever tried.

I've tried the Aberlour A'bunadh Batch #8 (60.2%, OB) before, so I already knew what to expect; a more balanced dram than either one of the 'WH#1' bottlings. There's something to be said for vatting...
Nose: Nice. Plenty of sherry, but it seems less extreme than the WH#1 Sherry Cask.
Fruity. Occasional blasts of paint thinner. Marzipan? Cake? Organics. Hint of smoke.
Taste: Fruity and hot at cask strength. Water doesn't really change the profile.
Score: 86 points. A fine dram, but I think it's the 'worst' batch of the A'bunadh so far.
Still highly recommendable, mind you! It's especially nice when the organics take over.

I liked the Aberlour NAS A'bunadh Batch #9 (60.0%, OB) one point better than Batch #8 the last time I tried them together, but according to the matrix Craig and Davin feel the opposite. Time to check.
Nose: Whooaah. More organics than Batch #8. Marzipan and smoke. Spices and wood.
Something strangely herbal inbetween the sherry notes. Sorrel? Sodium Carbonate?
Taste: Sweet and malty. Oatmeal and syrup? Hot and powerful. Smoother with water.
Score: 87 points. Yeah, I'll stick with my original scores with these. Good stuff.

So, is Aberlour ready to overtake Macallan as the '#1 Sherried Speysider'?
Well, that depends on what part of the range you're looking at. When we look at the basic range of malts bottled at 40% or 43% and priced below 50 Euro's I think it's safe to say Aberlour wins the argument. The Macallan 10yo and 12yo used to be a class above similar Aberlours, but the quality of the basic Macallans has been dropping steadily while the Aberlour 10yo has pretty much kept in shape over the years. Add the Aberlour 12yo Double Cask Matured to the equation and I think Aberlour takes the crown in the 'budget' segment.

Things change when we look at the young cask strength segment. Some batches of the Aberlour A'bunadh have scored one or two points more than the Macallan 10yo Cask Strength (58.8%, OB) but I can get a litre of the Mac 10 CS for less than 50 Euro's while the latest batches of the A'bunadh go for 75 Euro's or more. With an imaginary 150 Euro's to spend on cask strength sherried Speysiders the choice between 3 litres of Macallan 10yo C/S or two 70cl bottles of the A'bunadh isn't very hard. Granted, the A'bunadh bottles look far more attractive but in this case I'd choose for the extra 'volume' of the Macallan 10 C/S.
Just think about it: 300cl vs 140cl - more than twice the bang for your buck!

I can't comment on the 'old expensive Speysiders' category yet because I haven't seriosuly sampled any Aberlours or Macallans older than twenty years yet. That could have been the tie-breaker, but for now I'll have to call it a draw. Both Aberlour and Macallan receive a 'still score' of four stars. I'll have myself a Macallan session soon to verify these conclusions.

Anyway, that's it as far as the 'A' distilleries are concerned - at least for now.
I have some other business to finish in the next few weeks but I'll return to the A List soon.

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Dram Diary # 151 - 01/01/2004

78 - Aberfeldy 12yo (40%, OB, Dewar's, Bottled +/- 2002)
83 - Aberfeldy 17yo 1978/1995 (57.9%, Cadenhead's, Distilled 08/78, Bottled 10/95, 5cl)
83 - Aberfeldy 1978/1996 (59.3%, Scott's Selection)
78 - Aberlour NAS 'Vintage 1990 Edition' (40%, OB, Canada, Bottled +/- 2000)
86 - Aberlour NAS A'bunadh Batch #8 (60.2%, OB)
87 - Aberlour NAS A'bunadh Batch #9 (60.0%, OB)
78 - Aberlour 10yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003, KON 0086 021)
78 - Aberlour 12yo Double Cask Matured (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2002, L302 1135 30414:30)
84 - Aberlour 12yo 1990/2003 Warehouse #1 (58.8%, OB, Bourbon Cask #11552, Bottled 10/10/03)
89 - Aberlour 13yo 1989/2003 Warehouse #1 (58.7%, OB, Sherry Cask #13330, Bottled 10/10/03)
84 - Aberlour 15yo Sherry Wood Finish (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000)
82 - Aberlour 15yo 1988/2003 (50%, DL OMC, DL REF 875, 306 bottles)
84 - Aberlour 16yo Double Cask Matured (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003, LK3NO629 127)

With one fresh Aberfeldy and six fresh Aberlour I now have 578 Scotch single malts on my Track Record.
 

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Log Entry # 152 - January 15, 2004
Topic:  Still Session with Stewart Laing

I received a last-minute invitation to join an Old Malt Cask tasting session hosted by Stewart Laing at De Still.
That was an opportunity I didn't want to miss, so I hopped on my bicycle and paddled my way downtown. Tasting sessions at De Still generally start at least half an hour later than advertised, so I had time to order a dram beforehand. I went for the Isle of Jura 'Superstition' (45%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003) because Jura is one of the active distilleries that require further investigation - I've only tried one other expression so far.
Nose: More sherried and maltier than the standard 10yo OB. No oil - but no peat either.
It seems like a big improvement over the 10yo but it doesn't make a lasting impression.
Taste: Ah, there's the oil. Very soft start - it doesn't feel like 45% at first. Where's the peat?
Gritty and a little superficial. Smooth but unsatisfactory. A waste of goof peat, if you ask me.
Score: 66 points . I've heard some good comments about this peated Isle of Jura, but I'm afraid it's not peaty enough for me. I'm one of those people that feel that if you're going to use peat, you might as well use lots of it. This hardly makes an impact; maybe they should have called it the Isle of Jura 'Superficial'...

After I finished my first dram I noticed Stewart Laing at the other end of the bar.
As it turned out Stewart knew Malt Madness quite well; he asked me to convey his warm thanks to the other maniacs for spreading the malt gospel. He told me he and his brother feel that maniacs like ourselves are partly to 'blame' for the growing percentage of malt whisky that is being bottled as a single malt instead of being drowned in grain whisky to supply the 'body' for blends. In return, I thanked Stewart on behalf of all maniacs for saving some fine old casks of Ardbeg and Brora from ending up in some deluxe blends for the Asian 'bar' scene - one of Douglas Laing's prime markets before the Asian recession nudged them towards bottling some of the stock from their bulging warehouses as single malts. Yeah, it was an all-round backslapping party...

Stewart started the session by telling a little bit about the history of Douglas Laing.
The company was founded as a blending business in 1948 by Douglas Laing, Stewart's father. These days Stewart and his brother Fred run the company which has risen to fame rather quickly since they became serious about single malts a few years ago. Stewart started his career in the industry in 1967 at Bruichladdich. The tasting session itself was one with mixed results, because five out of the six malts were selected by Dutch importer Hans Bresser. It seems his tastes are quite different from mine in the sense that tends to select fairly 'middle-of-the-road' malts that I usually don't get very excited about. One of his personal favourits, the Chieftain's bottling of Glencadam 16yo 1985/2001 struggled to score above average in my book. What's more, since this was a rather large event for Still standards (more than 20 people present) Stewart and Hans didn't get the chance to pass along all the freaky little details like bottling year or number of bottles. Unfortunately, that means my notes are not very useful because I'm not sure which bottlings we tried exactly. They are most likely bottlings in Douglas Laing's 'Old Malt Cask' range or part of the 'McGibbon's' range that takes its name from the maiden name of the mother of the Laing Brothers.

We started with an OMC bottling of Highland Park, distilled in 1978 and bottled in September 2003. The nose was sweet and slightly coastal. A hint of lemon. Buttery? Spicy. Chloride. Something sweaty. The taste was malty, bourbony and a bit alcoholic. I even found a trace of peat at the start of the bitter finish. I'd have to say this comes from a bourbon cask - and a fairly tired one at that. My score: 79 points. The next dram was an 18yo Glenrothes, bottled under either the Old Malt Cask or McGibbon's Provenance label. It's a shame I didn't catch the other details, because the nose was very nice - easily up there with the 1973 OB, despite the heavy glue / acetone notes in the start. A disappointing palate that flattens out way too quickly pulled the score back to 80 points.

The next step was a Lochside distilled in 1979 and bottled in December 2001.
To me it seemed very oily, just like the 10yo MacNab bottling I tried a few years ago.
This OMC or McGibbon's bottling got 77 points on the Johanno-scale; too bad I missed the details because I've only tried two other versions of Lochide so far. Anyway, the distillery closed in 1992 so it's no high priority.

Malt#4 was MUCH nicer and scored 85 points - the best one so far. It was a 13yo Linkwood, re-casked in rum wood for 6 months. If you ask me, it beats the Glenfiddich 21yo Havana Reserve with a stick - even though that's one of my favourite Glenfiddichs. The nose had lots of sherry, lemon drops and all kinds of organics in the 'rotting hay' spectrum. It really opened up with time with glue, bisquit and cherry.
The taste was woody and fruity with a peppery prickle. Not bad at all.

The Glencadam 29yo 1971 wasn't half bad either - it scored a recommendable 83 points.
I found sorrel, gooseberry and grains in the nose. Could almost be a grain whisky. Very pleasant. The palate was smooth and oily with a hint of peat in the background. Sourish like apple streacle or young blackberries. Fresh cheese? Odd and interesting, a real shame I didn't get the details of this one. I've only tried two other versions so far which both scored in 'average' territory. This one could have tipped the scale.

The last malt was a bottle Stewart brought over from Scotland himself: a 1978 Port Ellen. The peat was very subtle in the nose but strong on the palate. It was the winner of the evening with 87 points, but since I have no further details that's pretty useless information. So, as far as my 'analytical research' is concerned the evening wasn't very productive - at least not the part at De Still. Fortunately, Stewart organised a little surprise 'pop quiz' after the session and I managed to name 3 distilleries owned by 'the Japanse' (Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch). This won me a small bottle of Glen Garioch 19yo 1982/2002.

I opened the Glen Garioch 19yo 1982/2002 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC 'Advance Sample', DL REF 901, 20cl) immediately after I returned home. I wanted to be able to produce at least some notes tonight.
Nose: Dusty and musty at first. A unique kind of oilyness I hadn't experienced before.
Interesting. Something chemical and glue-like, but not entirely unpleasant. Spices.
Odd fruits. Reminded me a bit of grappa. Little improvement with time or water.
Taste: Alcoholic with little definition first. A little oily and fragmented. Harsh.
Grows sweeter and chewier towards the centre. Flat. Burning hot, dry finish.
Score: 69 points, I'm afraid. It's interesting enough, but just not my style.

Hmmm - that would be a rather downbeat finish to a rather upbeat evening...
Not to worry, though... I spotted a bottle on my middle shelf I didn't report on yet.
The Mortlach 16yo (43%, Flora & Fauna) ended up on my shelves last December through a bottle swap with Alexander van der Veer. It did very well when I decided to open the bottle a few weeks ago.
Nose: Sherry, holding back for a few seconds before taking your nose by force.
Fruits, wood, smoke and maybe a hint of rubber in the background. Wonderful.
Time unveils new layers of complexity - especially in the tropical fruits department.
Taste: Sweet and round at first, solid fruity centre, long fabulous finish.
Surprisingly smooth. Just dry and winey enough in the finish to keep you pouring.
Score: 87 points for now - might even creep up further with time and some air.
I think this is the highest scoring F&F bottling I've tried so far.

So, that's a far better score to finish the evening with, wouldn't you agree?
Quite right. Goodnight!

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Dram Diary # 152 - 15/01/2004

69 - Glen Garioch 19yo 1982/2002 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC 'Advance Sample', DL REF 901, 20cl)
66 - Isle of Jura NAS 'Superstition' (45%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003)
87 - Mortlach 16yo (43%, Flora & Fauna)

Just three fresh malts for my Track Record it seems, bringing the grand total to 581 Scottish single malts.
 

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Log Entry # 153 - January 29, 2004
Topic:  Mark Visits Amsterdam - Again!

After visiting Amsterdam in November and December 2003 American maniac Mark Adams crossed the Atlantic once again in January. Unfortunately, Mark's visit coincided with a skiing trip I had planned with some friends. However, I managed to return to Amsterdam a little earlier than planned so we could have at least one sampling session togther. We invited Dutch maltoholics Alexander and Arthur over for this occasion as well.

Before 'the AA-team' arrived Mark and I started 'work' on a number of 'king size' samples he brought over from Paul Joseph from CVI Import in the USA. They have an impressive portfolio of brand and labels. Apart from a number of Hart Brothers and Caledonian Selection single malts Mark had muled over an interesting cognac sample, and not just any cognac. When we tried the Daniel Bouju 'Royal' (60%, Cask Strength, CVI) against a dusty old bottle of Ragnaud-Sabourin 'Alliance No. 10' VSOP (41%) on my shelves, the differences were simply amazing. Next to the 'Royal' the nose of my VSOP almost seemed to vanish into thin air. Compared to the Bouju heavyweight, the Ragnoud-Sabourin seemed like the pour cousin and smelled distinctly like glue. It has the faint memory of grapes I love in most cognacs, but not a lot else. Maybe this has been on my shelves for a few years too long... The palate wasn't half bad, though. Sweet and creamy with a touch of wood in the background. Not much else worth mentioning, I'm afraid. Score: 75 points.

Meanwhile, the Daniel Bouju 'Royal' didn't show any sign of the inbreeding usually associated with royalty; this is quite possibly the very best cognac I've tried in at least a decade. The nose showed off lots of wood and organics. Treacle. Maggi. Even more organics over time. Just great. After half an hour it smelled a bit like a great old sherry. The taste was very sweet and woody - in a very good way... I found some herbs in there as well. It becomes smokier with time; The finish was dry and 'winey', like you'd expect. I think it's safe to say this kicks off my inspection of 'deviant drams in a spectacular fashion! My score: 92 points.
I'll keep the rest of the sample for further investigation on 'Walpurgisnacht'.

Now it was time to focus on whisky of the single malt persuasion.
In fact, Mark had already started the proper dramming with a Strathmill 11yo 1988/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 420 bottles) from my shelves while I was still submerged in the Daniel Bouju. He was less than thrilled and gave it 75 points. Still, that's pretty generous compared to my own score of 63 points. Not one of Douglas Laing's finest hours, if you ask me. We proceeded with the Miltonduff 34yo 1966 (43.6%, Hart Brothers, CVI) which was a cask strength (!) malt. It showed its class in the glass with nice and heavy 'legs'.
Nose: Fresh fruits and salt liquorice - an interesting combination. Water melon. Smoke.
More liquorice with time, but it disappears after five minutes. Maybe even a hint of peat?
Taste: Sweet and sherried. Hint of smoke. Fruity like fruit cake or marshmellows. Fabulous finish.
Score: 85 points - My initial score of 83 points didn't fully express my appreciation for this beauty.
Mark scored it in the same region; 84 points for this baby.

The Inchgower 26yo 1976/2002 (49.9%, Hart Brothers, Distilled August '76, Bottled September '02, CVI) was the third Inchgower I've ever tried. The other two scored in the mid 70's, which isn't very spectacular.
Nose: Unique and very interesting. Coastal in the top of my nose. Briny and nutty.
Something very faintly medicinal. This malt shows some odd combinations...
Taste: Rather flat. Hot. Very bitter in the finish. It doesn't have enough 'body' for my tastes.
Score: 78 points. A smidgen above average, but a disappointment at this age and strength.
Mark liked it far better than I did with a score of 85 points, putting it above the Miltonduff.

The Glenturret 10yo 1991/2002 (55.5%, Hart Brothers, Distilled 10/91, Bottled 9/02, CVI) also came from a distillery I'm not very familiar with yet. After a disappointing encounter with the 12yo OB in the 1990's I never went out of my way to find other expressions from this Midland malt.
Nose: Nice and sweet. Dusty. Paint thinner. Hint of cinnamon candy.
Nutty. More coastal with more organics with a few drops of water.
Reminds me a bit of a rye whisky. It needs some time to fully develop.
Taste: Simply wonderful! Sweet and dry - hard to describe but very enjoyable.
After adding a little water some liquorice emerges. A palate that beats the nose!
Score: 84 points. By far the best Glenturret I've tried so far. Impressive for a 10yo Midlander.

I think this is about the time Alexander and Arthur joined the tasting.
We decided to change tactics for the rest of the evening, switching to H2H tastings.
Our first H2H put Mark's Macduff 27yo (51.7%, Caledonian Selection, HH37/6, CVI) against a bottle that ended up on my shelves by mistake; the Macduff 11yo 1990/2002 (43%, Coopers Choice). I bought a second bottle of this highly mediocre malt because I simply forgot I had already bought a bottle a few weeks before. Both noses shared a family resemblance in the form of some mild organics. The Coopers Choice showed oil, rotting hay and some sherry as well - but it's the vile stuff they serve in retirement homes and strip clubs. Meanwhile, the Caledonian entertained us with sweet menthol and liquorice in the nose. Furniture polish? Maggi? The bouquet is very well composed and mighty complex. The difference in class was painfully obvious for our noses, although the bouquet of Coopers Choice did grow more complex with time. After five minutes I got string beans and it had grown distinctly more coastal in style. On the palate the difference was just as obvious; the Coopers choice seemed 'raw' and had a sourish finish. It showed few redeeming qualities apart from a ciderish apple sparkle that would make it perfectly suited for a summer evening on the terrace. Actually, there's lot's of stuff in its character that reminds me of white wine. The Caledonian was bolder, heavier and sweeter, although it also revealed some apple elements. Long, fruity finish that remains hot. Not as good as the nose, though.

So, where does that put us, ratings-wise?
I didn't really 'like' the profile of the Coopers Choice that much, but it's something quite unique that's for sure. And isn't that what single malts are all about? So, I decided to increase my score from 67 to 70 points. A Glen Deveron by any other name is still a Glen Deveron... Opinions on this one differed, though - Mark really hated it with 65 points while Alexander was quite content with a score of 76 points.
We were more unanimous in our appraisal of the Caledonian; recommendable.
I went with 83 points, Mark with 85 and Alexander with 81. Good stuff.

We thought the H2H approach worked rather well, so we proceeded with a close comparison of two respectable old malts; the Balmenach 30yo 1972 (50.1%, Hart Brothers, Port Wood, Distilled January 1972, CVI) against the equally respectable Glen Grant 29yo 1972 (53.6%, Hart Brothers, Distilled October 1972, CVI). The nose of the Balmenach started with lots and lost of organics. Maggi and stock cubes. Rhubarb! Rubber? Complex and absolutely wonderful - a match for any sherry casked malt. This nose easily scores in the 90's. The nose of the Glen Grant was quite fabulous as well and triggered a powerful 'cough syrup' association. Sweet and sherried. Cinnamon and a hint of soap. Beautifully balanced. Meanwhile, the Balmenach didn't do too well on the palate. It's extremely dry and woody, although it also has moments of endearing cookie sweetness. That keeps the score for the Balmenach at 84 points. (Mark and Alexander went with 83 points, while Arthur didn't like it very much at 75 points. The taste of the Glen Grant combined fruits, sherry and wood quite beautifully. Deep and complex. My initial score of 87 points was increased to 88 points after a second sampling.

The last H2H was a showdown between the Bruichladdich 11yo (59.6%, Caledonian Selection, Cask 2301) that Mark muled over from CVI and a blind that Alexander brought. I forgot the specifics about the blind (it was a 12yo 1989/2001 Caol Ila), so I'll just give you my notes for the Bruichladdich. I found mostly paint thinner in the nose. 'Grain warehouse' as well. Gentle, distant fruity sweetness. No peat at all. It's quite nice actually, but it might have been a Lowlander or old grain whisky as well. Drinkable at C/S, but only barely. With some water it really drops all pretence and showed it's bourbon aging. Woody and a bit flat in the centre. Still, I went with a score of 79 points. Arthur more or less agreed with his 80 points, but Mark surprised us all with a score of 90 points. It seems there's another Laddie fan amongst the malt maniacs - support for the French faction...

Anyway - that was the end of yet another fun-filled session.
And I didn't just have fun; I learned a few things as well. First of all that my hunch about old Glen Grants was right. I'm not too crazy about the young stuff they put on the market but some of these old casks are magnificent - not unlike Glenlivet. And it's not the first time I've been pleasantly surprised by a Hart Brothers bottling either. The two Caledonians from CVI didn't impress me quite as much, but they still scored comfortably above average. It seems Paul Joseph has a dab hand at selecting malts we maniacs like.
See Mark's E-pistle in MM#9 for another perspective on this session.

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Dram Diary # 153 - 29/01/2004

84 - Balmenach 30yo 1972 (50.1%, Hart Brothers, Port Wood, Distilled January 1972, CVI)
79 - Bruichladdich 11yo (59.6%, Caledonian Selection, Cask #2301, CVI)
88 - Glen Grant 29yo 1972 (53.6%, Hart Brothers, Distilled October 1972, CVI)
84 - Glenturret 10yo 1991/2002 (55.5%, Hart Brothers, Distilled October '91, Bottled September '02, CVI)
78 - Inchgower 26yo 1976/2002 (49.9%, Hart Brothers, Distilled August '76, Bottled September '02, CVI)
70 - Macduff 11yo 1990/2002 (43%, Coopers Choice)
83 - Macduff 27yo (51.7%, Caledonian Selection, HH37/6, CVI)
85 - Miltonduff 34yo 1966 (43.6%, Hart Brothers, CVI)

With the exception of the Cooper Choice MacDuff all these malts were brand new to me.
There are now exactly 588 Scottish single malts on my
Track Record.

 

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Log Entry # 154 - March 7, 2004
Topic:  Whisky Live London

Woweeeeh! I've just returned from the best whiskyfestival I've ever visited!
Unfortunately, I don't have the time to write a full and detailed report right now.
However, I'll add my 'Dram Diary' with all 44 (!) undiscovered malts I got to sample below and I'll give you a very brief overview of some of the (many) highlights. I'll write a full report for Malt Maniacs #10.

First of all, there was meeting fellow maniacs Serge
(again) and Olivier (for the first time) in the beautiful
store of Berry Brothers in London. We were welcomed
by Douglas McIvor who served us a delicious liquid
breakfast. The Frenchmen discovered that I'm not the
only one who frowns upon spitting out your malts and
then it was off to Whisky Live. That turned out to be a
very nice surprise; even though we had booked too
late to join any of the masterclasses we met many
'industry' folk who took all the time in the world to
pour us their finest drams and answer even our most
maniacal questions. We were treated especially well by
Kirsty McLeod from Duncan Taylor, Jim McEwan from
Bruichladdich and Andrew Symington from Signatory
Vintage and Edradour. Andrew surprised me by
pouring us some very good Edradours; I was particulary
impressed by the 30yo 1973/2003 (53.4%, Butt #97).

Next: the Edradour 1983/2004 Port Wood Finish (55%).
This was a 'work in progress', but we already loved it in its current state.
The nose is quite unique - and not 'unique' as in the bad batch of the 10yo OB I've got on my shelf to frighten off alcoholics. No, this was actually quite recommendable with a score of 81 points.

One of the biggest surprises was the Invergordon 36yo 1965/2002 (51.8%, Peerless, c#15539, 252 Bottles). This was a grain whisky, matured in first fill bourbon casks and poured by Kirsty McLeod from beneath the counter. Oh, boy, what a treat. I was already quite impressed by the Garneath 1969/1990 (47%, Humbrecht) Serge brought to Scotland last year but this one was even better. After an initial 'citrus' impression the nose starts to reveal pretty much the whole spectrum of aroma's you can find in a whisky; it reminded me a bit of my beloved 'Magda '79 in that respect. The predominant impressions were those of an old grain warehouse. Definite proof that grain whiskies deserve further investigation. Serge and I both gave it 91 points.

Meanwhile, Laphroaig made a serious attack at Ardbeg's number one spot on my Best Whisky Hit List.
All four versions I tried during this trip scored in the 90's; 93 points for the Laphroaig 10yo Original Cask Strength 'Red Stripe' (57.3%, OB) and 90 points for the three others, Laphroaig 11yo Port Wood Finish (60%, Signatory Vintage Straight from The Cask), Laphroaig 16yo 1987/2004 (50%, DL OMC, 312 Bottles) and the Laphroaig 1976 (43%, OB) we enjoyed at the swanky 'Salt Bar' in London. That's also where I tried my first really spectacular Longrow ever; the Longrow 1987/2001 (45%, Samaroli, Cask #123). With 91 points it even beats the Springbank 21yo I love so much and an even higher score would be defendable.

And that's it as far as this mini-report is concerned, I'm afraid.
You'll have to wait patiently for Malt Maniacs #10 to read the full report.
Meanwhile, check out Whiskyfun for a bunch of pictures, or scroll down for my dram diary.

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Dram Diary # 154 - 07/03/2004

For your browsing convience I've printed the names of the real stellar malts bold.

76 - Aberfeldy 25yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003)
89 - Aberlour Abunad'h Batch #11 (59.8%, OB)
91 - Ardbeg 10yo 1993/2004 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 338 Bottles)
88 - Bowmore 16yo 1987/2004 (46%, Whisky Galore, Bourbon Cask)
82 - Bowmore 20yo 1983 (51.4%, DL for The Vintage House, 258 Bottles)
78 - Bruichladdich 1988 'Sinnsear Forefathers' (50%, OB, 100% Bourbon, 1000 Bottles)
81 - Bruichladdich 14yo 1989/2003 (46%, Murray McDavid, MM1689)
75 - Bruichladdich 14yo 'Links' (46%, OB)
87 - Bruichladdich 14yo 1989 'Cairdean Family' (46%, OB, Sherry Refill, 2000 Bottles)
84 - Bruichladdich 18yo 1984/2002 (46%, OB)
85 - Bunnahabhain 25yo 1969/1995 (53.3%, Signatory Vintage)
88 - Bunnahabhain 36yo 1966/2003 (40.7%, Peerless, Cask #4874, White Port)
88 - Caol Ila 12yo 1991/2004 (50%, DL OMC, Cask #879, 860 Bottles, 6 Months Sherry Finish)
88 - Caol Ila 19yo 1983/2003 (46%, Berry Brothers)
89 - Clynelish 1972/2002 (46%, Dundeil, Cask #14307)
82 - Dailuaine 1975/2003 (46%, Berry Brothers, Cask #5539)
75 - Edradour 1993 Sauternes Finish (58%, 3 Months Sauternes Finish, WIP)
81 - Edradour 1983/2004 Port Wood Finish (55%, WIP)
88 - Edradour 30yo 1973/2003 (53.4%, OB, Butt #97)
65 - Glen Elgin 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003)
79 - Glen Elgin 12yo 1991/2003 (46%, Whisky Galore)
84 - Glen Garioch 15yo 1988/2003 'Cognac Cask' (46%, Whisky Galore)
90 - Glen Garioch 29yo 1968/1997 (55.9%, OB, Cask 629)
90 - Glenlivet 28yo 1975/2003 (54.1%, Signatory, Cask #5719, Bottled 19/6/2003)
93 - Glenlivet 1971/2003 (55%, Berry Brothers, Cask #6447)
83 - Glenlivet 34yo 1968/2002 (45.9%, Peerless, Cask #1579, refill sherry, 218 Bottles)
72 - Glenturret 10yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003, New Label)
83 - Highland Park 13yo 1990/2003 (46%, Whisky Galore, Bourbon Cask)
82 - Imperial 1990/2003 (approx 60%, G&M Special reserve for Whisky World, Holland)
75 - Isle of Jura 16yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003)
82 - Ladyburn 27yo 1973/2000 (50.4%, OB by William Grant)
93 - Laphroaig 10yo Original Cask Strength 'Red Stripe' (57.3%, OB)
90 - Laphroaig 11yo Port Wood Finish (60%, Signatory Vintage Straight from The Cask)
90 - Laphroaig 16yo 1987/2004 (50%, DL OMC, 312 bottles)
90 - Laphroaig 1976 (43%, OB)
92 - Longrow 1987/2001 (45%, Samaroli, Cask #123)
74 - Macallan '1841' Replica (41.7%, OB)
77 - Macallan '1876' Replica (40.6%, OB)
88 - Macallan 27yo 1976/2004 (48.5%, Douglas Laing Platinum, 235 Bottles, Bourbon)
81 - Mannochmore 11yo 1991/2003 (60.2%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #16587, 596 Bottles)
83 - Port Ellen 21yo 1982/2003 (50%, DL OMC, 348 Bottles)
86 - Port Ellen 24yo 1979/2004 Burgundy Finish (58.8%, Signatory Straight from The Cask)
83 - Rosebank 13yo 1990/2003 (46%, Whisky Galore, Sherry Cask)
83 - Speyburn 1974/2001 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice)
91 - Springbank 35yo 1968/2003 (46%, Berry Brothers, 3 Casks)

Except for the Glen Elgin OB, all these bottlings were brand new to me.
That's 44 fresh entries for my
Track Record, bringing the grand total well past the 600 malts mark with 632 single malts from Scotland. And I better get to work on that 'Deviant Drams' section, so I can find a spot for my notes on that spectacular Invergordon 36yo 1965/2002 (51.8%, Peerless, Bourbon Cask #15539). What a wonderful world...

 

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Log Entry # 155 - April 30, 2004
Topic:  Walpurgisnacht 2004

Yes, it's that time of the year again... The witches are zooming across sky on their broomsticks and the goblins are having their wicked way with every hapless chicken that foolishly decided to spend the night outside. It's 'Walpurgisnacht' again; time to gather all my courage and sample some 'deviant drams'.

I started the session quite conservatively with a miniature of Maker's Mark (45%, OB, 7/28/94, Bourbon). American whiskey is usually spelled with an extra 'e', but in this case the front label says 'Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky'. Darned 'artists' - don't you just hate it when they draw outside the lines?
Nose: Sweet and grainy with something faintly fruity (orange skins?) in the background.
Hint of glue? Smoke? It doesn't seem quite as overwhelming as Jack Daniels or Jim Beam.
Growing complexity, more organics. Mint? Some breathing obviously had a positive effect.
And it just keeps getting better and better - one of the very best bourbons I ever tried.
Taste: Sweet and quite mellow at first, growing hotter and stronger in the centre.
It's still no match for a single malt, mind you - the finish is rough, harsh and uninspired.
Score: 48 points . That's right- I come very close to liking this. Actually, the nose alone would have put it in the seventies or even eighties, but the palate drags it down below 50 points again. I don't know what it is, but there's something in the superficial slickness of these Americans that just rubs me the wrong way. If you've got a sweet tooth for bourbons, give this one a try. Otherwise, stick to the real stuff from Scotland.

I proceeded with some samples sent over from the UK by Lex Kraaijeveld.
The first sample was the St. George Lot 3 (43%, OB, USA). Now there's something I've never tried before; an American single malt whiskey (!). They use 100% malted barley for the mash, but no peat whatsoever. The whiskey is distilled (just once) in a relatively small 'Holstein Still' traditionally used for eaux de vie.

Nose: What's that? It's like walking into a wedding cake bakery. Marzipan & lots of
fruits. And not the 'European' fruits like apples or strawberries I often find in Scotch
single malts. This has all kinds of 'exotic' fruits like passion fruit, grenade apple and
overripe mango. A very enjoyable experience that shows another side of whisky.
Taste: Ooh, that's too bad. Very little of the sweetness has transferred to the
palate. Young and brash. It actually tastes very much like some grappa's and eaux
de vie I've tried. With time it gains some more depth and gravitas, but in the end
it remains a little flat and chemical I'm afraid.
Score: 67 points. Not bad at all for a malt that's composed of mostly three year
old whisk(e)y! Interesting things are happening in California.
And I'm not just talking about 'The Governator'...

For my next dram I hopped across the Pacific to New Zealand.
Yes, they make malts there too - so far mostly in the 'sub-standard' category,
 I'm afraid. The first whiff of the Milford 12yo 1990 (43%, OB) reminded me of
the 'greasy' Tobermory.
Nose: A little bit oily at first, growing grainier. Nutty later on. Fairly restrained.
Shoe polish? It really needs a minute or ten before it grows more interesting.
Taste: Ouch... Flat and boring. Like beer that has been left in the sun for a few days.
Oily overtones as well. Growing strangely sour and fruity towards the gritty finish.
Score: 61 points . Please note that I had it in the mid 50's for the first 10 minutes.
It definitely showed some improvement over time - just not quite enough for me...

The sample of Sullivans Cove NAS Australian Premium Single Malt Whisky (40%, OB) was sent to Holland by Canadian malt maniac Davin de Kergommeaux. So the whisky in this little bottle crossed the world twice.
Nose: Wow!!! Coffee and fruits and pipe tobacco. Strange oriental organics as well.
Quite spectacular. Wet cardboard. Is this what Davin calls musty? Wet milk powder.
It really took me back to my youth, visiting farms and feeding the cattle.
The fruity elements grow stronger over time. Now I get some smoke as well.
Taste: Waaah! This is a major disappointment after the great nose. Flat and soapy.
However, that's just the start; it develops into a full, meaty and fruity centre. Long finish.
Score: 74 points - and it might have made the 80's if it hadn't been for the soapy, perfumy start.
A very nice surprise from down under - a few steps up from the 2yo I tasted last year.
A bottle of this could last you for many years - just sniff it and don't drink too much.

OK, time to return more familiar European territory; bonnie old Scotland.
The Glenmorangie 12yo 'Golden Rum Cask Finish' (40%, OB) was another sample from Lex. Of all the silly superlatives I've heard over the years, 'golden' rum cask is up there with the best and brightest.
Nose: Lightly fruity with some soft grainy overtones. Something vaguely coastal?
Restrained. Citrus. I had a very hard time picking up any distinguishing marks.
Smoke? More organics with time. It took me some time before I started liking it.
Taste: Blank start - bitter but growing sweeter and fruitier towards the centre.
Plenty of heat, but it remains flat and slightly soapy. Whiffs of smoke. Dry finish.
Score: 73 points . Not especially my cup of tea and it loses points on the palate.
The nose of this 'Morangie somehow reminded me of the Glenfiddich 'Over 8yo' from the 1960's I tried recently, but that one performed much better on the palate. Was this a 'rescue attempt' for some bad casks?

My next dram was something quite special; the Croftengea 10yo 1993 (54.8%, OB) from the Loch Lomond distillery . This was the first EVER bottling of Croftengea, made especially for the 2004 Whisky Fair. This heavily peated malt (peating levels are said to be comparable with those used by the Kildalton distilleries on Islay!) is just one of the many different blends and malts produced by the Loch Lomond distillery. Yeah, that's the same distillery that managed to get so many of its bottlings on my Shit List.

Nose: Strange. 'Farmy'. Odd organics. Quite interesting - growing VERY interesting.
It has whiffs of oil and 'grain warehouse'. I can't say I like it, but it's something else!
It's somewhere in an unexplored corner between coastal, oily and medicinal.
Sweeter, fruitier and more complex with some time and water. Dentist? Unique.
Shows new facets every time - the nose of my 2nd dram started with gooseberries.
Taste: Sweet and hot. Smoky centre and finish. Wow, this is better than I expected.
Peppery prickle, mellowing out towards the finish. Smoke remains the dominant factor.
A second tasting showed lots of liquorice root and some vaguely fruity impressions.
This does have the power and punch of an Kildalton malt, but not the body or depth.
Score: 84 points - but it needs a few bonus points for character to get there.
Nevertheless, by far the best thing that ever came from the Loch Lomond distillery,
if you ask me. It's funny that LL seem to have succeeded where Mannochmore and
Speyside have failed: creating a 'smoke monster'. Not so much in the nose, but on
the palate. The Loch Dhu had just too much 'body' for me and the Cu Dhub simply
didn't have enough. It seems they got the balance figured out for this one and the
nose is very interesting as well. It seems a new contender has entered the arena,
and it comes from one of the unlikeliest of distilleries: Loch Lomond.

I think this qualifies as an 'amazing discovery'. If they ever take this into production and get it on the shelves for under 40 Euro's, some Islay distilleries (Bowmore in particular) could face some serious competition from the mainland again. So, will Loch Lomond be the new Brora? Let's just wait and see what happens...

Well, that was a very nice surprise! Now it's time to set sail for France.
The Speyside 13yo 1989/2002 Sauternes Finish (43%, Celtique Connexion, 373 bottles) was produced in France by shipping a cask of an anonymous, bourbon-matured Speyside malt to France where it was finished in a sauternes wine cask. So, technically speaking this isn't Scotch whisky anymore. Or is it? There have been some debates on this issue. The strange thing is that if the empty sauternes cask had been shipped to Scotland before the finishing and bottling there wouldn't have been any discussion about its heritage.
Nose: Wow!!! Overwhelming, sweet start. Burning leaves. Lemon. Cough syrup. Hint of peat?
Amazing complexity. A nose worthy of a score in the upper eighties. Very, very nice.
It's not a typical 'Scotch' whisky, though - it could have been a cognac just as well.
Palate: Woody, bitter start. Fruit centre and (short) finish. Drops dead very quickly.
The finish is a little bit sourish and 'winey' with strong tannins. The fruits grow stronger.
A palate worth a score in the lower sixties, although it picks up after some breathing.
Score: 75 points - three points up from my initial score of 72 points. About average.

That's not a bad French attempt at whisky, but of course the 'local' drink is cognac.
And they're surprisingly chauvinistic about it as well, even though they drink more whisky than cognac in France. When French malt maniac Serge finally got hold of a copy of Jim Murray's 'Whisky Bible' and read Jim's less than less than glowing comments on the national Frenh drink he responded with some flaming comments on his new log on Whiskyfun. Well, I have to side with Serge on this. My preferred drink during the 1980's was cognac - mostly Courvoisier VSOP - and in my humble opinion there are very few of Jim's beloved Scottish blends that even come close. But as it turned out a few months ago, that Courvoisier doesn't even come close to one of the very finest cognacs I've ever tried; the Daniel Bouju 'Royal' (60%, Cask Strength, CVI). Mark Adams brought it over from California in January and there was just a little left in the sample.
Nose: Woody and fruity, rich and complex. Hasn't suffered at all from oxidation. Maggi.
Right now it reminds me of the Macallan 10yo 100 Proof from the 1990's. Liquorice?
Develops more creamy elements and organics with time. Wonderful balance and composure.
Taste: Very woody at first, growing sweet and fruity in the centre. Fruit sweets. Minty.
Dry. It doesn't seem quite as rich and complex as the nose. Still bloody great, mind you.
Score: 92 points - leaning towards 93. The very best cognac I had in over a decade.

Time for the last glass of the evening: Marc de Gewurztraminer Turckheim 2003 (Unknown ABV). This is de stuff distilled on December 6, 2003 by Serge & his friends - with some minor assistance from some of the malt maniacs. It probably isn't fair to put this after the Daniel Bouju, but my experiences with the 'Chateau Osama' from 2002 taught me to save this stuff for last. The aftertaste can be rather... 'impressive'. As always, the distillate is crystal clear because it hasn't matured in wood - not even for a single minute.
Nose: Pungent, dusty and extremely fruity. A faint whiff of oil. Ghost of wine.
If it had been a little heavier and sweeter it could almost have been a liqueur
Not really my kind of profile, but it doesn't smell as much as grappa as last year.
After some breathing I got some faint organics. A little water had no effect.
Taste: Dust and fruits again. Hey! I like this much better than last year's product!
Again, it doesn't taste quite as much as Grappa. Short, gritty finish. Quite hot.
Either Serge & friends are getting craftier or I'm getting used to this Alsacian stuff.
Score: 45 points this time. I didn't score the 'Chateau Osama' but I guess that would have ended up in the lower 30's. Now, it would be really interesting to see what would happen if they aged this for a few years in a proper cask . Since the distillate has a lot of character from itself already it would need just a few years. And you wouldn't need an expensive sherry cask either. An second-fill Islay cask could be interesting...

Well, that was a far more pleasant end to the evening than I feared.
In true 'Walpurgis' fashion I've tried some weird stuff tonight. And for once the winner of the evening, but a superb cognac. It would have ended up in the top echelon of my Hit List if it had been a whisky. The other big surprise was the Croftengea. Let's hope they release this to the ordinary punters soon.

And that concludes my report on this year's Walpurgis session.
I'm afraid the aftertaste of Serge's 'Marc de Gewurztraminer' is as potent as ever so tasting anything else tonight would be completely pointless... No problem, I've made enough progress for one evening.

Sweet drams!

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Dram Diary # 155 - 30/04/2004

84 - Croftengea 10yo 1993 (54.8%, OB)
73 - Glenmorangie 12yo 'Golden Rum Cask Finish' (40%, OB)

Only two single malts from Scotland for my Track Record tonight, bringing the grand total to 634 single malts.
The other stuff will be added to the 'Deviant Drams' page as soon as it's done.
 

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Log Entry # 156 - May 10, 2004
Topic:  'North End' Tasting in Leiden

Hollands one and only whisky publication 'Whisky Etc.' organised another tasting session for their third issue and I was asked to join the tasting panel again. I accepted the invitation, even though this time there would be no single malts on the table. If you've read some of my earlier log entries you'll know by now that I'm not a big fan of most blends; there's just something about the grain whisky on the palate that rubs me the wrong way. I've discovered that the more malt whisky they put in the blend, the likelier I am to like it - but I guess I'm not unique in that respect. Anyway, one of my new year's resolutions involved broadening my horizons by sampling some more whiskies that were not 1) single 2) malt whisky 3) from Scotland. I figured this was as good an opportunity as any to start. (Last week's 'Walpurgis' session doesn't really count - I do that each year.)

So, it was off to the old city of Leiden this time, just half an hour from Amsterdam by train.
The venue was pub 'North End', just a ten minute stroll from the train station. The weather was quite beautiful for the time of year (17 degrees Celsius, sunshine, mild breeze) and so was the town (respectable old buildings and pretty student girls in less respectable summer skirts). The 'Nort End' Pub itself was beautiful as well and I guess our host Martijn Snoeck had at least 100 different single malts behind the counter. That's not quite as much as the hundreds of bottles that fellow panel member Willem Ham has back at his bar on Texel, but apart from De Still in Amsterdam I think Martijn's collection is one of the best of any bar in Holland. A recommendable watering hole; not just for the locals (mostly students) but for international drammers on the prowl as well.

Anyway; when I arrived the rest of the panel was already in the mood for dramming.
Apart from Martijn, Willem and myself they were Maarten Willems (also present at the Texel tasting) and Anita von Boltog – Ohlschlager from Wijnhandel Van Genderen in Spijkenisse. 'Shadow tasters' Wouter Wapenaar, Jaap Vissering and Thom Olink also joined us in the sampling procedure but kept their opinions more or less to themselves. A full report on the tasting session will be published in the upcoming issue of 'Whisky Etc.' so I'll keep it short and sweet for this entry. You'll have to get yourself a copy of Whisky Etc. for the full monty.

I have to say I was less than impressed with the first two 'premium' blends.
The nose of the Ballantines 12yo Special Reserve (40%, Bottled +/- 2003) was fresh and a little flowery. Mild spices. Something grainy jumps forward after a minute and is very obvious on the palate as well. Not my kind of whisky, I'm afraid - 38 points this time. That's twice as much as the 19 points I gave to the standard Ballantines in the early 90's, though. If today's standard bottling is anything like that from a decade ago, this 12yo is a serious jump up - but it doesn't reach likeable levels for me. Things were very much the same with our second premium blend; the Famous Grouse 12yo Gold Reserve (40%, Bottled +/- 2003). The nose appeared a little maltier than the Ballantine's, but I couldn't get a lot of distinct aroma's - even from the big balloon glasses I brought. The taste was gritty and quite dull as well, but in the end I liked it a fraction better than the Ballentine's so I went with 39 points for this one. Not something I'd recommend to anyone myself, but I should stress once more that I'm a little 'allergic' to grain whisky.

Our third whisky was the Grant's NAS 'Ale Cask' (40%, Bottled +/- 2003). While the 'trade' tasters (Martijn and Anita) had enjoyed the first two drams far more than the rest of the panel, they really didn't care for this one. Once again they found the rest of the panel on the other side of the fence. Willem, Maarten and myself were not particulary impressed by number one and two, but now things started to grow more interesting. I found the nose slightly oily with some citrus and faint organics. And indeed, a whiff of old ale. The most expressive nose so far. The taste was sweet and fruity, just the way I like it but too 'liqueurish' for Anita. For me this was the first blend that approached likeability with a score of 47 points.

Things improved even further with the Johnnie Walker Gold Label (40%, Bottled +/- 2003).
It's no secret that I despise the 'Red Label', but I'll never turn down a Johnnie Walker with a
black, green or blue label. This would be my chance to try a fifth expression without having
to buy myself a big bottle. It's a blend of 15 whiskies aged for at least 18 years, released
to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary. According to the marketing gobbledygook
it's made according to a recipe from 1920, but given the fact that the vast majority of
the distilleries that operated in those days are now closed I find that hard to believe.
Nose: Hey, now I get some peat and pepper. Did they use Talisker for this one as well?
Grainier and fruitier with time. The first one to reach 'likeability' and the winner so far.
Taste: A little prickly at first, but unlike #1 and #2 it it has body and substance.
Score: 60 points for now - just like the Black Label I tried in the 1990's.
Is it worth the +/- 75 Euro's they want for it? Not by a long shot...

The Jameson 18yo (40%, OB) didn't really belong in this line-up because technically speaking it's not a blend. More to the point, it's an Irish whiskey. But I didn't complain because it was the best whisky so far. The nose was very pleasant; lightly fruity with subtle organics playing around. Not terribly complex, but very accessible and enjoybale. Is that the 'pot still' character I've heard so much about? It could have reached a score in the lower 80's if it hadn't let me down on the palate. That keeps the score at 76 points. Nice but dim.

We finished the session with the Chivas Regal 18yo (40%, Code FP6512N, Bottled +/- 2003). I'm afraid this was the first time I didn't agee with the order of the line-up. So far the whiskies had been getting better and better, but as soon as I felt the gritty burn of grain whisky on my palate I felt we were on the way down again. Not far down though - I found the taste hot and lacking in complexity, but the nose was excellent for a blend; dried aplles, spices, peanuts and organics. Sweet and possibly the best nose of the evening.
I finally decided on a 'final' score of 59 points.

And that concluded this session for 'Whisky Etc.'. We were in fairly high spirits by now, discussing a variety of topics ranging from International politics to the cultural significance of Arno & Gratje and De Selvera's. We hung around for a bit longer, discussing the results and enjoying the atmosphere of 'North End' before we all headed home again. The train ride back to Amsterdam allowed me to check my notes and draw my conclusions. It seems I can cross 'blends' off my list as alternate drinks with potential - I simply don't like most affordable ones, and the 'premium' blends I do like (a little) are more expensive than some single malts I like (a lot).

So, it's safe to say I'm not converted to blends. Make mine a malt, please...
I could wrap up my report now but there's something else I'd like to get off my chest.
Before I returned home I dropped by Gary and Julie, an American couple that moved to Holland last year because they didn't like the smell of the changing political winds since George Bush Junior and his cronies took over in Washington. Gary had ordered a few bottles from my Trading Stock and he was willing to pay in cash. Given my current situation of 'unwealthiness' (poverty would be to strong a word with 100+ bottles in my Reserve Stock) I was more than willing to drop off the bottles on my way back to Amsterdam.

I had planned on returning home immediately afterwards to write my report on the 'North End' events, but Gary and Julie insisted I hung around for a bit to help them out with polishing off some old bottles in their cabinet. Well, after an afternoon filled with blends I didn't mind trying some of the Scottish blends they liked before they discovered single malts. I didn't make any tasting notes, but I managed to give scores to all three whiskies. I wan't crazy about the Cutty Sark 12yo (40%, Bottled +/- 2000, too light for me) and gave it 36 points . The same was the case with the Pinwinnie Royale (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000, too flat for me) with 31 points. The one I liked best was the Famous Grouse Islay Cask Reserve (40%, Bottled +/- 2003).
It's nothing like a real Islay malt, but I went as far as 49 points.

I didn't get around to making any tasting notes because we were soon engaged in heated (but very enjoyable) political discusions. Even though Gary and Julie are raving liberals by American standards, some of their views would be considered extremely conservative by European standards. We fully agreed on the invasion of Iraq, though. Julie called it 'a bad idea running amok'. The discussion drifted towards wartime propaganda and manipulation by the media. I argued that today's 'modern' propaganda tries to prey upon our basic fears and lowest instincts just as much as the propaganda from WWI&II. People who are afraid are easily manipulated. Which brings me to the reason for this little political intermezzo. When I finally returned home after many hours of enlightening discusions I decided to delve into the collection of old posters on my hard disk to send Gary and Julie a few examples from the wonderful black-and-white world of wartime propaganda.
There I found these two gems I just had to share with you;
 

 
Obviously, 'this mad brute' on the right is 'the German'. Can you spot the 10 differences?
No further comment... Well, except for the fact that an amazing number of movie and/or propaganda posters have the monster and/or enemy holding and or a scantily clad buxom damsel in distress. Quite sick...

No Dram Diary this time; I haven't tasted a single single malt during this session.
Goodnight - and don't believe everything they tell you...
 

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Log Entry # 157 - May 18, 2004
Topic:  Christmas in May

Ooaaah - I've just returned from a few days of 'gardening' (i.e. cutting down overgrown pine trees) in the woods and I'm feeling pretty exhausted. Nevertheless, I managed to mule a humongous package filled with more than 100 samples back with me - the prospect of adding so many new malts to my Track Record gave me strength... Serge's package had been sent to the woods because it seems 'the glug club' (that secret brotherhood of thieving postal and airport workers with fine taste and questionable character) hasn't discovered this route - at least not yet. And the box wasn't soggy either, so it seems the danger of breakage had been avoided as well this time. All around good news...

Obviously, I didn't lose a minute after I reached the comfort of my own home.
When I sat myself down with the package and carefully started opening it I felt the same kind of exhilaration I felt as a kid when it was time to open my christmas presents. But unlike the little Johannes from a few decades ago, I managed to restrain myself and open the package in an orderly fashion this time. That was just as well, because on top of the contents I found an extra carboard lid with a rather mysterious message in Serge's handwriting: 'Be Careful! Close All Your Windows! Beware The Yellow Chips!'.

Hmmm.... Sounds just like the paranoid rantings of a madman, doesn't it?
But that's what I first thought when he told me Frenchmen (and Frenchwomen) often spit out the precious golden liquid from Scotland after having tasted it as well. I simply refused to believe it at first, but later I've seen this sacrilege performed before my very own eyes. Quelle horreur! Anyway, having learned to take Serge's words seriously I made sure that all my windows were firmly shut before I proceeded with opening the box.

And suddenly it was just like christmas...
As it turned out, 'the yellow chips' Serge had warned me about were the Styrofoam chips of ultra-light, ultra-sticky packaging material he had used to fill the space between the bottles. I had faithfully closed all windows, but in my eagerness to open the box I had forgotten about the wildly spinning fan on my ceiling overhead. Needless to say, the yellow chips were flying everywhere and it looked like it was snowing in my living room. Ah well, the industrial grey and black colour scheme of my living room could use some brightening up anyway. So, I was feeling especially festive when I sampled my very first drams from the package.

Inspired by Serge's weblog on Whiskyfun I've decided I wanted to publish fresh entries in this liquid log more often. But until they've perfected cloning I can't drink and write much more than I already do, so the consequence of a higher frequency will be that some reports will be a little more 'to the point' than they have been in the past. I decided to start my attack on Serge's samples with the remains of three 5cl Brora samples for two reasons; Brora is Serge's favourite distillery and I don't particulary trust the tin screwcaps on these miniatures. I've got almost two dozen other Brora samples on my shelves awaiting inspection, but they are stored in sample bottles with proper plastic lids and they've proven their worth over the last few years.

Dram #1 was the Brora 18yo 1981/2000 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Distilled 11/6/81, Matured in Sherry Butt #1081, Bottled on 10/4/2000, Bottle #1363 of 1850, 5cl). So far I've only sampled one other Brora bottled by Signatory (the 20yo 1981/2001 from Cask #575 sent by Klaus) and I found that one slightly below par.
Nose: Oah, a swelling orchestra of peat and organics. Smoke and bitter chocolate.
It shows some dramatic aroma's I've never found before. Hugely entertaining.
It reveals some subtle flowery elements (lilac blossom?) after 10 minutes. Chloride?
Mellows out after fifteen minutes with sweet spices, marzipan and almond spice.
Taste: Ultra smoky in the start, growing towards liquorice in the centre. Dry.
Unfortunately, the smoke tends to overpower pretty much everything else. Tired.
I have to say it could do with some more body. Or some more 'live' peat for that matter.
Score: 84 points . I'd go for 90 or 91 points for the nose, but the palate drags it down to a score in the lower 80's. It has the same sort of strong peatiness I found in the Croftengea - more 'burnt peat' that dominates everything than 'toasted peat' where you get much more subtle organic elements as well. I was surprised that I didn't find any of the fruity elements usually associated with maturation in a sherry cask.

Next up was an older, bolder bottling; the Brora 26yo 1974/2001 (50%, OMC, 258 Btl.).
Nose: Aaaah... Suddenly I'm back on the attick of my grandfather's old grain warehouse.
Sweet and grainy, more powerful and fruitier after a minute. An exploding fruit basket.
Hallelujah, I love it. Like a very old, sophisticated Cragganmore. But where's the peat?
Wait a minute, now something starts to stir beneath the surface... Yes, subtle organics.
Slowly the organics and coastal traits work themselves to the foreground. Interesting.
Salmiak salt and finally, yes, peat. Very nice development over time. Watch this one.
Taste: Ay... Fairly insubstantial at first. Dry peat. Coffee? Hint of liquorice. A little flat.
Lacks substance. Once again I can't seem to find enough satisfaction on the palate.
However, it packs quite a peppery punch and it grows on you as you finish your glass.
Score: 88 points. A powerhouse malt. Just like the 18yo from Signatory, the OMC doesn't reach its full potential score in the 90's because the palate isn't quite as spectacular as the nose. Never mind, 88 points is still very respectable. A word of warning, though: You really have to give this one a little time.

I saved the youngest Brora until last, because it comes at a whopping 60.4%.
Tonight's 'grand finale' was the Brora 13yo 1982/1995 (60.4%, Cadenhead's, oak cask, 5cl); by far the youngest Brora I've ever tasted - and quite likely the youngest Brora I'll ever taste as well.
Nose: Feisty start, much more along the lines of the OMC than the Signatory.
Complex 'bakery' aroma's mixed with organics. Almonds? Speculaas? Coffee. Sweet spices.
Reminds me a bit of an Italian trattoria. It leans towards the sweeter side of things. 
Taste: Not quite as sweet on the palate at first. Smoky. A cool, fruity heat. Woody.
Best body so far, even at cask strength. Long, dry, fruity finish. Once again no 'live' peat.
Score: 87 points - but it really needs some time and water to get there.
Good stuff. Not the greatest Brora I ever tried, but it beats quite a few older bottlings.
They just don't make 'em like this anymore...

So, have we learned anything new tonight?
Well it's not like we needed any further proof that the demise of Brora should be lamented. They have proven long ago that it's possible to distill a peat monster in the Highlands. And not just any 'peat monster' - Brora has produced malts that rival anything Islay has to offer. If you would have asked me a few weeks ago if anything even remotely 'similar' is produced in the Highlands these days I would simply have answered 'no'. But after my encounter with the Croftengea on Walpurgisnacht I'm not so certain anymore. Croftengea comes from a much more 'mundane' distillery from the other end of Scotland (Loch Lomond) and I would never have expected such a fine dram to come from the distillery that brought us Loch Lomond, Old Rhoshdu and Inchmurrin. Many other (and less 'mundane') distilleries are experimenting with increased peating levels since a few years, so the future looks bright enough for peat lovers who feel the need to search beyond the shores of Islay.

No Dram Diary this time - I've decided to do my 'bookkeeping' once a month from now on.
Now it's time to get all those nast little yellow chips off my furniture ;-)
 

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Log Entry # 158 - May 21, 2004
Topic:  More Deviant Drams

As it turns out, I've forgotten to sample all the 'odd' stuff on my shelves on Walpurgisnacht. What's more, Serge's latest shipment contained some 'Deviant Drams' as well. So, I guess I'll have to organise a little 'reprise' session tonight before I can concentrate on the maltier matters that lie ahaed.

I started with the Glenfiddich 'Over 8 Years' Pure Malt (43&, OB, Bottled 1960's).
When I sampled it for the first time in December I wasn't very impressed, but when
both Serge and Olivier awarded it scores in the upper 80's I decided I needed to
investigate this 'blast from the past' (sent by Albero Righi from Italy) once more.
Nose: Cider and rotting apples - almost smells like a calvados at first. Very powerful.
Strange organics. Dentist? Very little sweetness. Unlike anything I've smelled before.
After some fifteen minutes it softened out, growing grainier, sweeter and deeper.
Taste: Odd start, developing into a fruity, chewy fruityness that lingers in the finish.
Smoke. It has lots of personality. The finish turns too bitter and woody in the end.
Score: 73 points. I was inclined to stick with my original score of 69 points for this
one at first, until I noticed the 'second wind' it got. A malt with a multiple personality.
It has much more character than the present day Glenfiddich 12yo - just not my kind
of character, I'm afraid. Maybe this is just an old 'style' of whisky, but it just isn't
quite sweet enough for my tastes. But if the blends of those days tasted anything
like today's, I can certainly understand how Glenfiddich broke open the market for
single malts. Compared to a modern blend this almost packs an Islay punch.
Alberto's sample offers a tantalising peek into the past..

Strictly speaking the next dram wasn't a 'deviant dram' either.
However, the Longrow 1987/1996 (46%, Kisrch Import, Cask 118, 5cl) didn't seem to
fit in with any of the flights I've composed for the upcoming tastings of Serge's samples.
Reason enough to just splice it inbetween the oddities and rarities on tonight's menu.
Nose: Ooh, that's nice. A creamy, sweet peatiness. Developing smoke and organics.
Wow!!! Horse stable. Leather. It gets more and more serious. Amazing for its 9 years.
Taste: Smooth start, quickly growing hot and salty. Not as complex as the nose. Smokier towards the finish, ending in a bitter twang. Faint hint of liquorice. It feels much more potent than the actual ABV of 46%.
Score: 89 points. I wasn't overly impressed with the first two Longrows I've tried (both OB's, both scoring 83 points) but the Samaroli bottling I tried in London in March just blew me away and this is highly recommendable as well. In hindsight, I could have included this in the line-up for any Islay tasting and it would have stood its ground. With a palate to match the nose it would have made the 90's, just like the Samaroli.

That's a score we're probably not going to match tonight, because now it's time to turn our attention to the actual deviant stuff, starting with the Compass Box 'Orangerie' (40%, John Glaser, Bottled 2003). Technically speaking, this isn't 'whisky' because the original whisky (I don't know if it was grain or malt whisky) is infused with cloves, cassia bark and orange peel. Hmmm... that could produce a 'Cointreau with balls'.
Nose: Wow! This does actually smell like Cointreau. The clove is very subtle, though.
The orange peel drifts to the foreground and stays there. Then the clove returns.
Taste: Here the bitterness of the orange peel is dominant as well. Big burn.
Feels a little bit flat and thin, to tell you the truth. Woody finish, slightly astringent.
I've got a feeling the whisky used for this didn't come from the best cask(s).
Score: Hmmm... This is a tough one. Sure, I like this. But it has very little to do with whisky, especially in the nose. It's far more expressive than your average malt whisky, but not quite as complex. It's really much more like a liqueur - Cointreau in particular. I don't have a bottle in my bar right now, so I can't do a H2H. And tell you the truth, I think I'd personally like Cointreau a smidgen more - provided it's accompanied by loads of ice, of course. The nose of the Orangerie is more complex, but it simply fails to impress me on the palate. So, let's go with 76 points for the Compass Box Orangerie. I'm pretty sure that's more than the original whisky would have scored if it had been bottled without 'special treatment'.

Let's try to get back on track with a 'proper' whisky; the Dewar's 12yo Special Reserve (43%, 5cl). It's a blended whisky, but at least it's all whisky in there. Visitors of Whisky Live 2004 all received a sample.
Nose: Surprisingly malty and spicy. Much more nose than your average blend.
Something faintly 'veggy'. Very subtle organics playing around in the background.
And it actually develops over time. Wow! Cookies. Smoke. Maggi? Is that cabbage?
Taste: Quite malty for a blend. Medium sweet centre, a little gritty. Flash of mint.
Coffee? Something vaguely fruity in the finish. Not as impressive as the nose.
Score: 66 points - very impressive for a blend! It beats the Johnnie Walker Black on the nose.
That's a very pleasant surprise; blends usually struggle to reach 50 points in my book.

OK, Now for the 'piece the resistance'; a H2H of two 'Bastard malts' from Italian bottler Wilson & Morgan. Their 'W&M House Malt Born on Islay 1994/2003 (43%, Cask #1496-1502, Caol Ila) was the only 'bastard malt' that was entered into the 2003 MM Awards, but it managed to beat several 'proper' Islay malts and earned a silver medal for its troubles. The sample wasn't completely finished yet, so that would give me an excellent opportunity to sample it against the 'W&M House Malt Born on Islay 1993/2001 (43%, Cask #2779-2786) provided by Alexander van der Veer. Alexander was pretty sure this earlier bottling was a Lagavulin. Well, let's have ourselves a little H2H and try to find out who fathered these 'bastards', shall we?

At first the nose of the Lagavulin was sherried and a little fruity while the Caol Ila peatier appeared peatier. It's funny how these differences reflect the differences in style between some of the OB's. After some five minutes the peat in the Lagavulin had drifted to the surface while the Caol Ila showed a little more organics. After five more minutes I got something like peanuts or almonds in the Lagavulin while the Caol Ila had grown a little more mellow. One the nose they share many characteristics, although they present themselves in a different order. I'd have to give the nose of the Lagavulin one or two more points than the Caol Ila because it shows a little more development over time. On the palate the Lagavulin started off a little weak, growing peatier and a little metallic over time. A lot of liquorice as well. Not an unpleasant combination, but it lacks the balance and complexity of the 16yo OB. Meanwhile, the Caol Ila packed its familair peaty punch. At just 43% it manages to match the Cask Strength OB that was released a while ago - at just a fraction of the price!

And what about the scores, you ask?
86 points for the Wilson & Morgan 'HMBoI' 1993/2001 (43%, Cask #2779-2786, Lagavulin?)
85 points for the Wilson & Morgan 'HMBoI' 1994/2003 (43%, Cask #1496-1502, Caol Ila?)

I checked my brand new 'Deviant Drams' page and as it turns out these Wilson & Morgan bottlings are the very best 'bastard' malts I ever tried, even surpassing the glorious 'Vintage' Islay Lagavulins of a decade ago. The recent 'Vintage Islay' bottlings still offer a lot of bang for your buck but they've always played in a clearly different league than the older official bottlings. But here are a few 'bastard' malts than come very close to the OB's or, in the case of Caol Ila, even gloriously surpass them. And these are malts for your wallet to enjoy.

After sampling the alleged Caol Ila (and some bloody great 'proper' malts) for the 2003 MM Awards I already thought it's a shame these bottlings aren't imported into Holland anymore. Tonight's results further cemented that opinion. That's why I've taken it upon myself to get Wilson & Morgan back to Holland. I've already has contact with owner and manager Fabio Rossi and things are looking good indeed. We may be able to offer the W&M range to Dutch readers through Malt Madness (or another website) in the not-too-distant future. I'll have myself a tasting session with all W&M bottlings in my collection soon to give the Dutch readers of MM the chance to get my opinion on a selection of the currently available W&M bottlings.

But that's for another night - I've done enough sampling for one evening.
Tonight's tasting has further increased my respect for the people at Glenfiddich (a little), Springbank (quite a bit) and Wilson & Morgan (a lot). The Dewar's 12yo Special Reserve turned out to be special indeed and even John Glaser's stab at a whisky liqueur managed to entertain me more than I would have expected.

All's well that ends well...
 

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Log Entry # 159 - May 31, 2004
Topic:  Golden Oldies

Serge's package included a lot of full samples filled from 'normal' bottles, but there were some 5cl miniatures as well that had been partly emptied by Serge and/or Olivier during recent tasting sessions. To make sure they wouldn't oxidise more than neccessary I decided to finish all these miniatures first. As it turned out I needn't have worried; the malts in question all (more or less) preformed as well as could be expected.

Tonight's first dram was the Auchentoshan NAS (40%, OB, Bottled 1980's, 5cl).
Nose: A hint of oil, not much else at first. Opens up a little with time, growing grainier.
Makes some evasive moves in the direction of malt and fruits but doesn't stay there.
Taste: Smooth and sweetish at first. Very slick, easily drinkable. A little malty and grainy.
Creamy and clean. Short, hot, woody finish. Maybe a light beer-like bitterness as well?
Score: 69 points. I guess I have to compliment the people at Auchentoshan on their remarkable consistency. Today they're making pretty much the same lifeless Lowlander they made two decades ago. I used to think all Lowlanders were supposed to taste like this, but over the years I've learnt that some time in a good cask can work miracles. This is a fine, accessible alternative for most blends, though.

The Lochside 20yo 1965 (40%, G&M CC, 5cl) was another 'golden oldie'.
It came from a silent distillery (Highlands) and was released in the 1980's.
I couldn't find the '20yo' age statement Serge mentioned on the label, but
it does state the vintage (1965) and this label is seems a lot older than the
oldest ones I've ever seen on a few bottlings from the early 90's at De Still.
Anyway, if Serge's right this was bottled around 1985. A blast from the past.
Nose: Oooaah. Sherry and furniture polish. Much more sherry with time.
This is far more extreme than many 'identikit' CC bottlings from the 1990's.
Not a hint of the oil I found so disturbing in the 10yo MacNab bottling.
It's not the most extreme or most complex sherry monster I've ever tried,
but it's very approachable, especially when it sweetens out after a while.
Is that rubber? Oh, boy - this just keeps getting better and better.
This is a malt that calls for a lit fireplace and a good book.
Taste: Oy, that's too bad. A little bit flat and woody at first. No body.
Fortunately, it develops into a mellow, fruity centre. Easy on the tongue.
Menthol freshness with maybe a hint of coconut. Sweeter with time.
Definite improvement over time, gaining more gravitas and complexity.
But then it falls apart again in the finish, losing one or two points.
Score: 89 points. It's no olympic athlete on the palate - it has a false
start and some weak moments before it reaches a fairly exhausted finish.
But the nose redeems the Lochside and earns the distillery an extra star.

Serge's sample of the Tomatin 1968/2001 (40%, G&M CC, 5cl) was next on my list.
Wheter or not this is an 'older' malt than the Lochside depends on your point of view.
The Lochside was distilled in 1965, making it three years 'older' than the CC Tomatin. But
when you look at the time the whisky spent in the cask, the Tomatin wins by more than a decade.
Single malts this old can be risky business.
Nose: Wow! Deep overwhelming fruity sweetness, unlike anything I've smelled before.
Pipe tobacco. Not extremely complex, but I just LOVE this profile! Simply fabulous. Pickles?
After fifteen minutes some spices and organics emerge, along with the occasional whiff of pine.
Vegetable soup? It just keeps developing. I think Tomatin just earned itself another star as well.
Taste: Sweetish and fruity like the nose at first, becoming smokier and sherried. Packs a punch.
Once again not terribly complex, but extremely lovable. Great body, great finish. Some menthol?
Score: 90 points . That's right, mum. After 'life imprisonment in oak cask' (in this case more than 30 years) this Tomatin is still going strong, Now I start to understand how Gordon & MacPhail built its reputation. Something must have gone wrong at the company in the 1990's, but like Derek Hancock already explained to us during last year's trip to Scotland (and the results of the 2003 MM Awards have proven) a fresh wind is blowing through the offices and warehouses of Gordon & MacPhail - and it isn't a farting cat...

Serge's last sample was the Strathisla 1948-1961/1981 'Royal Wedding' (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 5cl). And once again it turned out to be a bottling that significantly improved my opinion of the distillery. So far I've only sampled the 12yo OB, but with a score of 'only' 74 points it didn't really excite me.
Nose: Very classy. Sweet and sherried, but there's someting medicinal as well.
Subtle cigar smoke. Polished wood. Summer fruits in the background. Gravy.
Dazzling complexity - like an old cigar or theatre shop with lots of history.
Taste: Flat, smoky start, growing fruitier and dustier towards the centre.
It's odd, but it somehow tastes 'historical'. Is that the power of suggestion?
Score: 89 points. I like it, but the palate simply doesn't quite qualify for a score in the 90's.
This whisky has endured the test of time better than the marriage it was supposed to celebrate.

And that concludes the proceedings for tonight - and for this month.
The three 'golden oldies' on tonight's menu all earned impressive scores.
But does that also mean older malts are always better than younger ones?
Not quite, I'm afraid. I've sampled plenty of mediocre malts in their twenties and thirties.
This only proves (once again) that Serge has a great nose for sniffing out the great stuff.
Four samples down - only +/- 100 more to go ;-)

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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Dram Diary # 159 - May 2004 (New discoveries & revised scores)

69 - Auchentoshan NAS (40%, OB, Bottled 1980's, 5cl)
87 - Brora 13yo 1982/1995 (60.4%, Cadenhead's, oak cask, 5cl);
84 - Brora 18yo 1981/2000 (43%, Signatory Vintage, D11/6/81, Sherry Butt #1081, B10/4/2000, 5cl)
88 - Brora 26yo 1974/2001 (50%, OMC, 258 Btl.)
73 - Glenfiddich 'Over 8 Years' Pure Malt (43&, OB, Bottled 1960's)
89 - Lochside 20yo 1965 (40%, G&M CC, 5cl)
89 - Longrow 1987/1996 (46%, Kisrch Import, Cask 118, 5cl)
89 - Strathisla 1948-1961/1981 'Royal Wedding' (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 5cl)
90 - Tomatin 1968/2001 (40%, G&M CC, 5cl)

That's nine new 'proper' single malt whiskies for my Track Record - the tally is 641 right now.
I'll record the blends and bastard malts I've scored in the brand new
Deviant Drams section.

 
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