160 - 01/06/2004 - Borderline Personalities: Is Dalwhinnie a Highlander or a Speysider?
161 - 03/06/2004 - Cadenhead's Revisited: Another selection from Andries' collection.
162 - 06/06/2004 - D-Day 2004: Six Deviant Blinds. A clash of alcoholic cultures.
163 - 15/06/2004 - Cadenhead's Revisited (Virtually this time...)
164 - 21/06/2004 - Midsummer Night's Ardbeggeddon: Six spectacular Ardbegs.
165 - 30/06/2004 - A Passion for Port Ellen: 3 PE's & my new Top 10 Distilleries.
166 - 01/07/2004 - Closing the books on 'A': 2 x Allt A'Bhainne, 1x Aultmore, etc.
167 - 03/07/2004 - The Big Push (Part 1): Cardhu, Deanston, Glentauchers, Hazelburn, etc.
168 - 11/07/2004 - The Big Push (Part 2): Ben Nevis, Dufftown, Glenlochy, Royal Lochnagar, etc.
169 - 22/07/2004 - A Bunch of Bowmores: Four Blackadder Raw Casks, one Hart Borthers & more.

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Log Entry # 160 - June 1, 2004
Topic:  Borderline Personalities

Poverty just doesn't agree with me...
It's a good thing I had the foresight (or rather, the lack of control) to start my 'Reserve Stock' during the fat years of the Internet boom, because it must have been almost a year since I last bought myself a new bottle. Fortunately, Serge's latest batch of samples should keep me suitably entertained for the next few months. In fact, I had lots of fun before I even opened a single sample, just by trying to figure out how to divide over a hundred single malts into a number of 'ideal' flights. After many hours of contemplation I had decided on at least one flight. As it turned out, quite a few samples came from 'borderline' distilleries.

What are 'borderline' distilleries, you ask?
Well, they are the proverbial flies in the ointment for every
single malt Scotch lover with a fixation on clearly defined
'whisky regions' along the lines of the French wine regions.
Borderline distilleries are built at the edges of these regions.
Just like countless other beginning maltheads, I completely
relied on Michael Jackson's 'Malt Whisky Companion' during
the first years of my voyage of discovery through maltland.
 
Jim Murray has named his new book the 'Whisky Bible', but I
think his latest publication still has a long way to go before it
has earned the same status as MJ's Malt Whisky Companion,
especially amongst beginners. Jim's book is a very enjoyable
read, but the poor lay-out of the tasting notes keeps it from
replacing Michael's 'Companion' as my main reference guide.
That being said, I have to admit that over the years my faith
in Michael's geographical gospel has started to wane a little.
I now have my doubts about his focus on whisky 'territoires'.

Take MJ's fixation on the 'coastal' character of 'coastal' malts, for example...
Granted, I sometimes find some salty and seaweedy in malts that were produced at distilleries along the coast, but then again I've found these 'coastal' notes in some inland malts as well, while some coastal distilleries like Glen Deveron and Inchgower seem to produce a fairly gentle and friendly spirit. And the distinctive peaty aroma of most Islay malts is easily mistaken for a 'regional' trait until you've tasted your first Brora or Croftengea. The supposedly 'typical' light Lowland style can be found in the standard Auchetoshan 10yo, but after playing around with a few different casks you sudenly get the Auchentoshan 'Three Wood' - something very few people would identify as a Lowlander in a blind test. What's next, an unpeated Islay malt?

Some people have even argued that the entire concept of 'whisky regions' is obsolete.
Well, it seems that advancements in knowledge and processes do indeed allow modern distilleries to choose whether or not they want to stick to their traditional regional style, so those people might have a point. But if we allow our train of thought to run a little further down that track, we eventually crash at the end of the line when we realise that most single malts aren't all that 'single' anyway. Most official bottlings are vattings of many different casks from that distillery, blended together to produce a consistent product. In that respect, many single malts are more like 'brands' than some would like to admit. Once you've sampled a few independent and single caks bottlings (preferably blind) you'll discover that many of these whiskies are very different from their official siblings. One could argue that this makes the whole concept of 'single' malts obsolete as well.

Well, I'm not quite ready to accept that just yet.
There's still so much to learn in the world of SMSW. Since I still haven't figured out 'the magic formula' on how to make the perfect whisky, I like to have as much data as possible on every single malt I try. And although the traditional whisky regions might not be as important in the modern market as they once were, I don't want to discard them altogether. So, maybe it's time I had myself a long hard think about these whisky regions.

Until now I've faithfully followed MJ's classification for the Mega Malt Map and the Distillery Data section, but a while ago Serge pointed out that there's no consensus among whisky writers when it comes to the actual location of some 'boderline' distilleries. Take the three 'Inverness' distilleries, for example. Michael Jackson puts them in the Speyside region, but Jim Murray thinks you should look for them in the Northern Highlands. Well, maybe it's about time I made up my own mind. Although geographical factors may be not quite as important as I once thought, I want to make sure I've got the facts right. That's why the goal of tonight's session is determining once and for all where a few borderline distilleries near the Speyside region are actually located. I'll work my way around Speyside in a clockwise fashion, starting in Inverness.

--- Inverness

There used to be three 'Inverness' distilleries (Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor and Millburn) but today all are closed. Although opinions differ on whether the Inverness area lies in Speyside or the Northern Highlands, everybody seems to agee they are part of the same regional 'family'. Michael Jackson is the only one who puts Inverness in Speyside, Jim Murray, Helen Arthur, Charles MacLean, Wallace Milroy, Lamond Tucek and Neil Wilson all consider the area part of the Northern Highlands - and I tend to agree. I don't have any samples from the area on the table tonight, but my virtual coastal explorations in November 2003 have convinced me that I'll need to review the regional classification of the Inverness distilleries, especially because the undisputed Northern Highlander Glen Ord is located just a few miles north of Inverness.
So, Inverness = Highlands.

--- Findhorn Valley

Opinions about the Findhorn Valley, just south-east of Inverness, differ as well.
Looking at the whiskies distilled at the five distilleries Michael Jackson puts in the Findhorn area (Benromach, Brackla, Dallas Dhu, Glenburgie and Tomatin), a 'Speyside' classification seems like the logical choice as well - until you look closer. These distilleries could be divided further into two sub-groups. First, there are the three distilleries near Forres; Benromach, Dallas Dhu and Glenburgie (a little to the north-east). I don't have any samples from these three distilleries available right now, but I do have samples from both other Findhorn distilleries on the table; Brackla and Tomatin. Brackla lies halfway inbetween Inverness and Forres, less than five miles southwest of Nairn. In fact, it's not actually located in the valley where the Findhorn river flows. Tomatin was built alongside the Findhorn river, but some 25 miles upstream from Benromach and Dallas Dhu.

Well, I think it's safe to keep Benromach, Dallas Dhu and Glenburgie in Speyside, especially because most writers do so as well. But we'll have to take a closer look at (Royal) Brackla and Tomatin, it seems. I decided to revisit the Royal Brackla 16yo 1984/2001 (43%, Cooper's Choice) on my bottom shelf first.
Nose: Rich and lightly sherried. Growing complexity with smoke, organics and spices.
Subtle overtones: marzipan, chocolate, mocca and something faintly fruity. Pleasant.
Especially after some breathing it grows very rich and complex. Tobacco? More spices.
Taste: Bitter start, hot centre, woody finish. A tad on the bitter side - too much for me.
Score: 79 points - two points more than my initial score of 77 points. Almost recommendable.
The nose is worthy of a score in the mid 80's but the palate struggles to make 70 points.

And, have I reached a conclusion on the pedigree of Royal Brackla? Hard to tell, really.
The nose has the round, malty character of a lightly sherried Speysider, but some of the power on the palate could suggest a coastal Highland malt. Especially with time, it has something coastal and smoky. I'm inclined to classify this as a Highlander and all writers except Michael Jackson seem to agree. And would that be a Northern or a Western Highlander? Looking at my experiences with Ben Nevis, Glengoyne, Glenlochy, Loch Lomond and Oban, I'd say Brackla's somewhat 'richer' character puts it in the North.

That brings us to Tomatin, a distillery under Japanese control located some fifteen miles South of Brackla. Until recently I had only tried the 10yo OB, but more recent encounters with older independent bottlings convinced me that I should pay a little more attention to Tomatin. Fortunately, Serge's latest package contained a sample of Tomatin 37yo 1965/2003 (47.2%, Hart Brothers, Distilled 11/1965, Bottled 5/2003, 5cl).
Nose: Subtle fruits and sherry at first - very refined. Raisins? Furniture polish? Smoke?
A little more powerful with time. Spices. Not very complex, but very subtle and enjoyable.
Interesting development with time. Many shades of sherry. No 'sherry monster', though.
Taste: A fairly weak start picks up quickly with gooseberry and liquorice. Great centre.
Doesn't need any water. Minty. Salty? Just a tad too woody and bitter in the finish for me.
Score: 88 points - leaning towards 89. While I was sampling this, 'The Thrill Is Gone' (the version by Manhattan Transfer) was playing in the background, but that clearly doesn't apply to this malt. Some single malt whiskies that have reached such an old age have lost their 'thrill', but this one is still going strong.

So, is Tomatin a Speysider, Northern Highlander or Eastern Highlander?
Well, for once MJ and JM seem to agree; they both put Tomatin in the Speyside region.
All other whisky writers I know go with the Highlands, though - and I'm inclined to agree.
Maybe the relatively high altitude of the distillery (over 1000 feet) has something to do with it, but most Tomatins I've tried showed a little more depth and spunk than your 'typical' Speysider. When I checked the bottle of the 10yo OB in my 'historical collection' of empty bottles I saw that the owners label it as a 'Highland malt' themselves, so I'll have to vote for the Northern Highlands as well.

--- Lossie

I just wrote that Glenburgie could be thrown into the same 'Findhorn' category as Benromach and Dallas Dhu, but it's actually located much closer to Elgin than to Forres. Elgin lies some fifteen miles East of Forres, along the river 'Lossie' that gives its name to this part of Speyside as well. I'll keep Glenburgie in the Findhorn Valley for now, although it might as well be grouped with distilleries like Glen Moray and Miltonduff in the 'Lossie' area. To the south we find many more distilleries that Michael Jackson puts in the 'Lossie' area (Glenlossie, Linkwood, Longmorn and Mannoachmore, for example) but there's no debate they are all Speysiders. There seems to be little confusion about Inchgower, 15 miles further East along the coast as well.
Everybody tells me this is a typical Speysider and I tend to agree.

--- Deveron

Traveling another 15 miles due East along the Northern coastline of Speyside we stumble across Glenglassaugh and, a few miles further down the road, Banff and Glen Deveron. Together with Glendronach (some 20 miles to the South) they are listed as the 'Deveron' distilleries by Michael Jackson. Well, let's see...

I don't have any 'Banff' samples on my shelves right now, but there was a MacDuff (from Glen Deveron) among Olivier's samples in Serge's package; MacDuff 36yo 1965/2002 (49.2%, Douglas Laing Platinum, 512 Bottles). Together with the Tomatin I just sampled, this is going to be one of the oldest malts I've tried so far.
Nose: Ooaah. Another 'old school' malt. It's hard to define, but I'm pretty sure now.
Many malts that were distilled in the 1960's show a fairly unique combination of traits.
It's a combination of subtle organics, something 'veggy' and maybe some smoke.
But unlike the Glenfiddich, this has an appealing (and growing) fruity sweetness as well.
Wow, after five minutes the fruit has taken full control. Christmas fruit cake. Wonderful!
Dustier after some more time in the glass. Dentist? Complex and extremely entertaining.
Taste: Hmmm. A little too 'piny' at first, but it sweetens out after a few seconds.
Pine and menthol remain dominant influences. Dry with a hint of oriental spices now and then.
Score: 87 points. I could have gone with 90 points for the nose, but the palate pulls it down by a few points. If I had a bottle of this it would end up on my top shelf and I would sniff more from the bottle than I'd drink.

The Glenglassaugh 31yo 1967/1998 (55.8%, Silent Stills, D 6/67, B 6/98, Cask #2893, 217 Bottles) was another sample that Olivier stuffed in Serge's latest package just before he sent it.
Nose: Grainy and a little sour. Slightly creamy. Rhubarb? Gooseberries? Opening up.
Quite overpowering at first. A little more medicinal with time. Hint of menthol? Maggi?
Subtle, soft organics. With a dash of water the profile didn't really seem to change.
Taste: Very odd at first. Nearly impossible to define. No real body. Something smoky?
Pine? Something 'historical'; it reminded me of the Glenfiddich 'Over 8yo' from the 1960's.
After adding some water the profile didn't change a lot, maybe a tad drier and sweeter.
Score: 83 points. Serge and Olivier both gave it 92 points, but it's not really my cup of tea.
It makes the 80's because it's mighty interesting at times, not because I particulary like it.
This is a whisky for maltheads with a taste for challenging 'old school' single malts.

Well, it's hard to say anything definitive about the distilleries based on bottlings that are three times as old as the 'standard' product of the distillery, but based on these results I'm quite happy to keep these 'Deveron' distilleries in the Speyside region. I could have investigated the matter further with three samples from the Glendronach distillery (20 miles south of Banff and Glen Deveron), but based on my experiences so far most bottlings fit the Speyside description perfectly. When it comes to the 'Deveron' distilleries I'm quite content with keeping things as they are for now, especially because Michael Jackson and Jim Murray agree on this.

--- Eastern Highlands

Some ten miles Southeast of Glendronach we find Glen Garioch.
Everybody seems to agree this is a Eastern Highland distillery, but since I happen to have two fresh samples from France on my shelves right now I might as well try and form my own opinion on the matter. I started with a relatively young version, the Glen Garioch 12yo 1990/2003 (56%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Cask).
Nose: Sweet and grainy - nothing of the heavy fruit I found in the 15yo OB. Straw?
Quite alcoholic, but quite nice. Maybe some more organics after adding some water.
After five minutes I even imagined a very subtle whiff of peat in the background.
Taste: Quite thin, even at cask strength. Sweetish start, followed by a long peppery centre.
Fairly dry, woody finish. Tired. It definitely has some traits that could be seen as 'coastal'.
Score: 77 points - just a notch above average, if you ask me. A generic bourbon matured malt.
I really haven't got a clue why Serge and Olivier deemed it worthy of a score in the upper 80's.

Fortunately, there was another sample from Glen Garioch hidden in the package.
The Glen Garioch 21yo 1965/1986 (43%, OB) is another exciting 'blast from the past'.
Nose: Oh, boy - we've got another sherry monster on our hands! Sherry and old fruits.
Polished anitique old furniture. And there's some peat and organics in the background too.
The oriental spices you get in spicy Shezuan dishes. Peppers? Beef bouillon. Ox tail soup?
Something sweet as well. The profile just keeps shifting in many different subtle ways.
With time, the smoke becomes the dominant factor - maybe just a little too much so.
Taste: Extremely woody start, growing peatier and peatier with time. Smoke as well.
Lots of (sweet and salt) liquorice in the finish. Oh boy, this is one for Islay lovers.
Feels MUCH more powerful than the actual 43%. The smoke is a tad too dominant.
Score: 92 points . Maybe a tad too one-dimensional on the palate, but a fabulous dram. It seems Brora had a little brother. This one deserves the eternal glory that comes with a spot in the top segment of my Hit List.

Anyway, as expected I can keep Glen Garioch in the Eastern Highlands. Modern day bottlings may not be nearly as peaty as (some) bottlings from the past, but there's obviously something rugged and almost coastal about many bottlings - even though Glen Garioch is located almost 20 miles from Scotland's East coast.

--- Bogie

If I'm not mistaken, the 'Bogie' area defined by Michael Jackson (along the Eastern edge of Speyside) is home to just one lonely distillery; Ardmore. At first sight it may seem a little bit precious to define a special region for a single distillery, but let's not forget that there are plenty of islands with just one distillery (Arran, Jura, Skye) that are widely recognised as specific area's on the whisky map of Scotland. Besides, the sense or nonsense of defining a seperate 'Bogie' area is not the real issue here; we'll have to decide if Ardmore is a Speysider or an Eastern Highland whisky. Well, as luck would have it, there was an Ardmore among Olivier's samples.

The Ardmore 21yo 1977/1999 '100th Anniversary' (43%, OB), to be precise.
Nose: Sherry fruits and a whiff of smoke. A classic profile, growing bolder with time.
It's not terribly complex at first, but it opens up with time. Hint of marzipan?
Taste: Hmmm. A tad perfumy in the start, growing smoother and sweeter.
Chewy. Fruitier after a little while. Some smoke as well? Oh yes, definitely.
A little bitter and winey in the finish. Something 'piney' as well. Hint of menthol?
Score: 82 points . The nose justifies a score in the upper 80's, but the palate doesn't.
It's clear that I'm not as big an Ardmore fan as some of the other malt maniacs.
This one somehow reminded me of a Bowmore, although it isn't quite as peaty.

Hmmmm... I guess keeping Ardmore in the Speyside area is the most logical choice, although another alternative springs to mind. Looking over my old tasting notes, a case could be made for extending the boundaries of the 'Bogie' area or inventing a brand new region for Ardmore, Glendronach and Glen Garioch. These are three distilleres on the Eastern edge of Speyside that produce a slightly more potent product than the distilleries to the west - or even the distilleries that once operated a little bit to the South along the coast. The spirit from these stills seems to need a little more time than usual to reach its full potential as well - but when it does: watch out! But maybe redrawing the borders of Speyside all by myself is just a tad ambitious. Let's respect the status quo for now and keep a close eye on future drams from this area.

So, was Ardmore the last of the 'borderline' distilleries surrounding Speyside?
Let's check the rest of the map. Fettercairn and Glencadam (some 30 miles southwest of Aberdeen) are universally acknowledged as Eastern Highlanders, and so is (Royal) Lochnagar a little to the North-East. Traveling back in the direction of the 'Inverness' area where we started, we come across three more distilleries. Balmenach and the 'Speyside' distillery (of 'Drumguish' fame) produce fairly generic whiskies that aspire to be decent Speysiders, so it seems best to keep them in Speyside. But a little further South we find one last 'Borderline' distillery: Dalwhinnie. Michael Jackson marks it as a Speysider, but Jim Murray puts it in the central Highlands. Hmmm, let's check the official bottlings in my historic collection. Well, that settles it. According to the label the distillery lies in Inverness -shire and it's a Highland malt. So' I'll change the regional classification from 'Speyside' to 'Western Highlands' - although a case could be made for the North or Midlands as well.

Hmmm... It seems I'll have to update my Malt Map.
Tonight's research suggests that the classifications of these distilleries should be updated;

Brackla - from Speyside (Findhorn Valley) to Highlands (North)
Dalwhinnie - from Speyside (Central) to Highlands (West)
Glen Albyn - from Speyside (Inverness) to Highlands (North)
Glen Mhor - from Speyside (Inverness) to Highlands (North)
Millburn - from Speyside (Inverness) to Highlands (North)
Tomatin - from Speyside (Findhorn Valley) to Highlands (North)

But that's not the end of it. I'll have to check out the rest of Scotland and consult with the other malt maniacs before doing anything drastic. We might even have to invent our own system of regional classifications in the future . I'll get back to this 'borderline' issue in the near future to sort things out once and for all.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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Log Entry # 161 - June 3, 2004
Topic:  Cadenhead's Revisited

One of the benefits of the current recession is that I have lots of free time on my hands.
That means I had plenty of time to join fresh Dutch malt maniac Alexander van der Veer during a visit to the Cadenhead's store in Amsterdam to check out some of their new stuff. When I arrived Alexander still hadn't, which gave me the opportunity to browse through the store for a bit. The first thing I noticed was that their stock has expanded significantly since my last visit with Davin. Proprietor Andries Visser estimated that they now offer at least 50% more different bottles than a few months ago, mostly Cadenhead's but some OB's as well. Their rum selection had doubled in size as well.

As soon as Alexander arrived I put him and Andries
in front of Cadenhead's traditional blackboard for a
quick snapshot. I don't recall precisely what bottle
Alexander (at the left) was clutching so blissfully,
because Andries quickly ushered us into the back
of the store to sample some of the new stuff.

This wasn't a real 'organised' event, so Alexander
and I ended up sampling different whiskies. There
was little chance of things going 'organised' during
this session anyway, because Andries and Wally
(a regular client who joined us a little later) kept
putting new 'must try' samples on the table faster
than we could taste them. Pretty soon things had
evolved into another chaotic (but fun!) session.

I've just finished my 'Deviant Drams' page, so I felt
inspired to start with a pair of Irish whiskeys in the
'World Whiskies' range from Cadenhead's. The first
Irish malt was the Cooley 10yo Irish Peated Malt
(59.8%, Cadenhead's WW, Bottled 03/2003, aged
in bourbon cask, 222 Bottles). The nose was grainy
and quickly grew more powerful. There was a hint
of smoke and dried ham on the palate. I did find a
little bit of peat on the palate, but not very much.
I had a very hard time making heads or tails of this
one. The high proof gives it an extra punch on the
palate, but to tell you the truth it didn't appear all
that peaty to me - certainly not as peaty as the
Connemara Cast Strength, produced by Cooley as
well. It's fairly simple, but I like it better than most
Irish - let's go with a score of 77 points for this.

I liked the Cooley 12yo Irish Peated Malt (60%, Cadenhead's WW, Bottled 04/2004, 234 Bottles) even
better. It's the successor of the bottling I've just described.
The nose was grainy like the 10yo, but a little more potent with a complexity not often found in Irish whiskeys.
It starts of rather gentle in your mouth, but then there's a sudden blast of peat, growing more dominant later on. The peat is strong in this one. Much peatier than the 10yo, so let's appreciate that accordingly with a score of 80 points, shall we? I'd still choose the Connemara Cast Strength OB over this one, though.

Looking at the name 'Cooley' on the label, a nagging question popped into my mind. When exactly does a 'Cooley' whisky become a Connemara, Locke's or Tyrconnell? I'll have to do some research into the Irish whiskey situation in the future, but right now I'll set my sights for Scotland.

In hindsight it wasn't such a bright idea to start with two overproof whiskeys.
But the next two bottles were no weaklings either. I felt it would be nice to try the next two Speysiders H2H; the Glenlivet (Minmore) 27yo 1973/2000 (47.2%, Cadenhead's, Bottled May 2000, 246 Bottles) against the Glenfiddich 31yo 1973/2004 (48.9%, Cadenhead's, Bottled April 2004, 186 Bottles). I had never seen the name 'Minmore' before, but as it turns out that's the name of the current location of 'the' Glenlivet distillery. The first 'Glenlivet' distillery was established in 1824 by George Smith, one of the first legal whisky entrepreneurs. The first site was George's own farm at Upper Drumin, a little over a mile North of the current site at Minmore. As production expanded, George Smith and his son John Gordon built the current distillery at the site of Minmore Farm in 1858. So, 'Minmore' is just a fancy name Cadenhead's use for Glenlivet.

Anyway, the first nasal impression of the Glenlivet was malty, while the Glenfiddich seemed fruitier and a tad medicinal. The Glenlivet quickly became amazingly complex with a very pleasant liquorice root overtone. Apart from the fruit (gooseberries after rainfall) the Glenfiddich showed organics and 'Tikkels' salmiak liquorice. By far he best Glenfiddich I ever tried, even though I didn't care much for the taste: a little 'veggy' and too bitter in the finish for me. The Glenlivet did better on the palate; sweet, creamy and chewy. Beautifully polished with lots of body. For a long time I had both whiskies at 87 points , but the fact that it continued to improve with time (escpecially in the mouth) lifted the score for the Glenlivet to 88 points.

Although the overall winner of this H2H match was the Glenlivet, the Glenfiddich is nothing to be scoffed at either. Too bad it's almost impossible to find other independent bottlings from this distillery, because Cadenhead's have just proven that I have severely underestimated this distillery in the past. There's very little in the current range of OB's to get excited about; my favourits (the 15yo cask Strength and 21yo Havana Reserve) are the only ones that reach 'recommendable' levels in my book. But just like Glenrothes, Glenfiddich seems to be too preoccupied with mass-marketing their range of run-of-the-mill OB's to recognise the goodwill they could create in alcoholic anorak circles by releasing a few of these special casks every now and then. And if they can't be bothered with it themselves, it's about time they changed their anal attitude towards independent bottlings. It seems that Cadenhead's may face legal action from Glenfiddich for releasing this, but that might lead to another PR disaster along the lines of the recent scandal about the fake Macallans. Maybe Glenfiddich shouldn't make too much noise about an independent bottling that outperforms 'the real thing'.

I had planned on sampling some more of the new Cadenhead's bottlings, but by this time 'supercollector' Wally had arrived and he had some bottlings he wanted us to try as well. The first one was from a bottle that was nearly empty; the Springbank 1965/2002 (46%, Lombard's Jewel of Scotland). I got furniture polish and mild sherry tones in the nose - not nearly as extreme as in the 21yo OB. It was exceptionally smooth on the palate with a fabulous mouth feel. These really were the last drops from the bottle, so its score of 87 points is quite impressive. Not the best Springbank I ever had, but it has a place in the upper echelon.

The Glen Garioch 16yo 1988/2004 (54.4%, Uisquebaugh Society, Distilled 18/4/1988, Bottled 22/04/2004, Bottle #137 of 280) was a very recent bottling for the Dutch Uisquebaugh Society. The nose was just stunning with an absolutely unique combination of apricot and tea leaves. Very special. I was so captivated by the nose that I forgot to make any notes on the taste. Still it managed to earn a score of 84 points. Good stuff.

After sampling six 'overproof' malts my nose and palate started to wear out and I indicated that I had my fill for the afternoon. But Wally wouldn't hear of it and poured me a Dewar's 12yo 'Ancestor' (40%, Bottled 1980's). You'd think that a blend bottled at 40% would make little impact at this point in the session, but it actually did. The nose was round and malty, peatier and much mure potent than the current 'Special Reserve' version bottled at 43% - which was pretty good to begin with. It made quite an impact on my palate as well - at just 40% it's really much more potent than your average blend. I tried that one for the first time last month and with a score of 66 points it stands head and shoulders above most other blends in this price bracket. This 'Ancestor' bottled in the 1980's did even better with a score of 77 points . Wally argued that today's blends are generally of lower 'quality' than those bottled two or three decades ago because of the success of single malts. I can't confirm that from experience, but I have to admit my own thoughts have been running down that track as well. Stewart Laing told me in January that the precentage of Scotch whisky sold as single malt has grown from 2 to 5 percent in recent years. And every cask of malt whisky that's bottled as a single can't be used in a blend. That makes sense, doesn't it?

I already mentioned they also do rums at Cadenhead's.
And since they have tripled the shelf space for rums, it seems they are becoming more popular. I didn't want to miss the opportunity to sample the Enmore 13yo (73.6%, Cadenhead's, Bonded 04/1990, Bottled 06/2003). I was amazed by the high alcohol percentage because I've heard spirits tend to mature faster in warmer climates, but Andries told me that Cadenhead's ships all its rums to Scotland for maturation. The nose of the Enmore had mocca, ground coffee, dust and grain. More organics, leather and tea later on. By far the most complex rum I've smelled in over a decade. Just fabulous. I wasn't quite as thrilled about the taste at first, but after a grappa-ish oily and fruity start I got all kinds of interesting impressions; dusty, peppery, salty, medicinal and even a little leathery towards the finish. A well-deserved score of 80 points.
I guess I really should pay a little more attention to rums in the future.

And that settles my report on another fun-filled session at Cadenhead's in Amsterdam.
For many years Ton Overmars has been my favourite malt monger in Amsterdam, but I find myself spending more and more time at Cadenhead's. Ton Overmars is located in the outskirts of Amsterdam while Andries' store is conveniently located in the centre of Amsterdam at Huidenstraat 19, near 'Het Spui'.
I find myself 'in the neighbourhood' more and more...
 

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Log Entry # 162 - June 6, 2004
Topic:  D-Day; Six Deviant Blinds

Three members of the Malt Maniacs delegation that attended this year's Islay festival finally managed to assemble enough courage to attack my package of 'Islay 2004 Pandora Blinds' on the last night of their visit. Considering Davin, Olivier and Serge had been dramming for a week before they got to the Pandora package their noses and palates were still in remarkable shape. Here's a quick rundown of their performance;

Blind #1 was the Caol Ila 11yo 1991/2002 Port Finish (46%, SigVint Unchillfiltered, Cask #02/472, 1132 bottles). Davin thought it was a Lagavulin and gave it 81 points, which is close to my own score of 82. Serge, who isn't a fan of 'finishes', gave it 86 points and guessed it was an Ardbeg while Olvier (87 points) got it right and identified it as a young Caol Ila. Excellent job looking for the 'hidden identity' beneath the surface.

Blind #2 was a Bowmore 17yo 'Mariner' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000, Cigar Tube Gift Pack, Italy), and all three maniacs immediately identified it as a Bowmore. In fact, they all felt it was a 'bad Bowmore' and scored it at just 71 (Davin), 65 (Serge) and 68 (Olivier) points. Hmm... That's odd. Bowmore is infamous for batch variation, but when I opened it a little over a year ago it seemed just fine. I bought this bottle in Italy in 2002 and when I opened it in March 2003 I scored it at 84 points. I'll have to check the bottle a.s.a.p.
Anyway, the important thing is that all of them got it right.

That wasn't the case with Blind #3; Talisker 1986 DE Double Matured (45.8%, OB).
Davin (83) didn't even dare to guess, while Serge (82) put his money on Bunnahabhain and Olivier (82) on a 'finished' Bowmore or Bruichladdich. Well, that'll teach me to try and be smart by hiding a single malt from Skye in an Islay flight. I actually included it because I liked this version better than the 1988 edition submitted for the MM Awards - and so did Davin who gave the '1986' 89 points last time he tried it disclosed ;-)

It seems Islay is still pretty much a stone-age community when it comes to the electronic superhighway. The maniacs had a hard time getting in touch with the outside world, and it seems they hadn't gotten the news about this being an Islay flight. After mistaking the Talisker for an Islay malt, Serge (88) thought that Pandora Blind #4 - Laphroaig 15yo (43%, Bottled +/- 2001) - was a Springbank. It seems that Davin (86) was communication with the spirits when he put in his answer: 'Mortlach like Laphroaig'. I don't quite know if that's correct or false. Some doubts on Olivier's (88) side as well: Ardbeg or Laphroaig.

Blind #5 was the Bruichladdich 11yo (59.6%, Caledonian Selection, Cask #2301, USA) that Mark Adams brought over from CVI in January. Like many Bruichladdichs it was just a tad too light for my tastes, so I gave it just 79 points. Mark liked a whole lot more with a score of 90 points. The scores of Davin (83), Serge (86) and Olivier (85) sort of even things out on the matrix. None of them identified it correctly, though. Davin had no idea, Serge thought it might be a Ben Nevis while Olivier was quite specific: A Cadenhead's cask strength bottling of something slightly peaty like Bunna?  Well... Close but no cigar.

The last blind in this Pandora Islay flight was the Ardbeg 11yo 1991/2002 (62.1%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Hogshead , 306 bottles). This was the latest batch of this whisky before they started dropping all kinds of information from the label. Davin (93), Serge (95) and Olivier (93) all loved it - even more so than I (89) did. And even better, all of them identified it as an Ardbeg! Very impressive indeed. Too bad Olivier couldn't resist being a tad too specific in his guess; he thought it was a 'sherried' Ardbeg while this came from a bourbon cask. But that doesn't change the fact that Olivier still identified most malts correctly tonight. Oh what a nose...
But the whole team performed admirably - they all identified both Bowmore and Ardbeg.

Speaking of Bowmore...
I'd better check that bottle of Bowmore 17yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2000) on my middle shelf. I think I tried just one dram; directly after opening the bottle. A Bowmore-loving friend of mine had one or two drams as well, but the bottle is still 3/4 full. Let's find out if the whisky in the bottle has deteriorated.
Nose: Hmmm... Very soft sherry and a memory of peat, growing stronger over time.
A hint of furniture polish as well. There's not much else going on, though. Leather?
Just a tad sweeter with time. Organics. Smoked ham? Pleasant, but it remains a tad dull.
Taste: Whaaaaat???? What has happened here? I'm getting 'Darkest' flashbacks!
Smoky and burnt. Flat. Perfumy. Sour, uneven finish. Hint of menthol or pine?
It's completely destroyed. Oh boy, the worm has certainly turned in this one...
Score: 65 points . That's right. I usually ignore changes in a bottle that take place more than a year after opening, but in this case only a few drams had been taken from the bottle - in which case I expect my bottles to last a little longer. Oxidation isn't supposed to become a problem until after you've started on the second half of the bottle. Please note that the nose still isn't bad - it's the 'French prostitute with 3 degree burns' taste that spoils the fun for me. Strange though - a bottle of the 17yo bottled in the 1990's lasted for over a year without any problems. I only rate this 10 points higher than the Bowmore Darkest (55 points) because it started out as a decent dram - and maybe because I like the cigar annex liquor tube that came with it ;-)

Well, now I've burnt my palate I might as well do some more dramming...
The efforts of the three Francophone maniacs inspired me to tackle Serge's flight of 6 'deviant' blinds. I've been trying more oddities lately and maybe I'm starting to become a little less 'fascist' about malty matters. After all, the thing that attracted me to SMSW in the first place was character. But if the first malt whisky I ever tried had been a cheap supermarket vatting or bastard malt I probably wouldn't have found as much character as I did in the Lagavulin 16yo. And since many of my experiences with other liquids have been with bottom shelf varieties as well, it's safe to assume that there are still some amazing discoveries ahead.

So, let's see if there are any amazing discoveries among these blinds, shall we?
Blind #01. Nose: Grainy start, growing fruitier and maltier quickly. Sweet and creamy.
Very pleasant actually - an older grain whisky perhaps? A little more alcoholic with time.
Fruits remain dominant. Quite pleasant, although there's something 'chemical' about it.
De bouquet drifts around the different corners of the fruity spectrum. Bubblegum?
Taste: Ouch! Bitter and a little bit herbal in the start. Sweeter in the centre. Gritty.
Dry and chalky. Something reminds me of French 'genepy' liqueur. Could this be a gin?
Woody and a tad winey in the flat finish. With time the 'wine' impression grows stronger.
After 10 minutes the palate grew drier and saltier - maybe even smoke? Soap. Bubblegum.
Score: 54 points. The nose is pretty excellent, but with this taste I can't go much higher.
First guesses: An old grain whisky or gin, or maybe some kind of fortified wine product?
It was: Sikkim Old Gold Single Malt (40%, OB, India, Bottled +/- 2002).
My baffled reaction: Wow. Unusually grainy and fruity for a malt whisky.

Blind #02 . Nose: Sweeter than #1, with more paint thinner.
Alcoholic. Odd fruits. Sour grapes or vinegar in the back of my nose.
Not a lot of complexity. Grappa? After 10 minutes the character changes.
Now it resembles whisky a little bit more - blended or grain, not malt.
Maybe more of an 'apple' aroma on second tasting. Or rather apple pie.
Taste: This has a very flat and tired start - like old lukewarm beer.
Fruitier, sweeter centre. Watery. becomes very fruity with time.
I found many things that reminded me of wine or Begian fruit beer.
Score: 37 points. Once again I liked the nose better than the palate.
First guesses: Grappa perhaps? Or a foreign attempt at making whisky?
If it turns out to be the latter, I'd have to say that this is a failed attempt.
It was: Swissky NAS Single Malt (42%, OB, Switzerland, Bottled + 2002).
My baffled reaction: Oooh... a failed attempt indeed. Highly avoidable.
What a load of crap this is... Well, at least compared to Scottish malts.
Well... At least compared to some Scottish malts. I suspect Drumguish
is roughly the same age as this Swissky, and it doesn't score much higher.

Blind #03. Nose: Ah, sherry and furniture polish. We have some good stuff now!
Sweet and woody. The wood grows stronger - could this be a cognac or armagnac?
Aaah, this opens up very nicely. Sweeter with time. Whiff of menthol, followed by organics.
Taste: Woody with a subdued fruitiness at first. Dry. Wood remains the dominant factor.
It took me some time to really start liking it. Maybe too woody for some. Smoke perhaps?
Score: 82 points. Just a tad too woody and gritty on the palate to reach the upper 80's.
First guesses: Cognac, armagnac or maybe an exotic rum? Not sure, really.
It was: North British 18yo 1979/1997 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Single Grain).
My baffled reaction: WOW!!! Another grain whisky to make me see the error of my ways.

Blind #04. Nose: A wonderful fruitiness that reminds me of candy from my childhood.
Very expressive. Thinner. Bubblegum again. Not extremely complex, but just wonderful.
Slowly the woody and alcoholic elements merge. Nutmeg or cinnamon? Macallanish.
Taste: Very woody in the start and centre, growing fresher and fruitier. Smoke. A little flat.
This is quite similar to the previous sample. A tad too winey in the finish for me, though.
But just like the previous sample, it grew on me as my glass grew emptier and emptier.
Score: 83 points . The nose is magnificent but it has no real stamina on the palate.
First guesses: It's extremely fruity. This must be an old cognac or armagnac.
It was: Yvan Auban 1962/2002 (Unknown ABV, Armagnac, France).
My baffled reaction: Well, I loved it - might have stayed in the cask a little too long?

Blind #05. Nose: Grainy and chemical. Sour. Vinegar again? This resembles the second blind.
Sorrel? Farmy notes. It mellows out after a bit but never becomes remotely likeable.
Taste: Distilled vegetable juice? Something metallic. Nasty finish. Bleuh.....
I had to throw it down the sink - not something I do lightly.
Score: 15 points . This really is one of the nastiests samples from France so far.
First guesses: Not a single clue. I hate it, that's for sure. Please give me a JW Red instead.
It was: Couvreur Jura Vin Jaune 3yo (51%, Michel Couvreur).
My baffled reaction: Oy... I've heard such good things about Monsieur Couvreur's work.

Blind #06. Nose: Aaah, that's better. Soft start, quickly growing more complex.
Numbing. Very woody at first. Ghurkins? Developing organics. A very strange puppy.
Taste: Sweet and woody in the start, developing into a full centre. Fruity. Nice.
It grows smokier towards the finish - maybe even a little peaty? Pinch of salt?
The mouthfeel is pretty great as well, even though it's a tad dry and winey. Hot.
After a while some liquorice notes emerged. The sherry remains the dominant factor.
Score: 87 points . Yep, I really, really like this. The closest thing to a malt in the flight.
First guesses: Could be a cognac or armagnac, but a heavily sherried Speysider as well.
It was: Macallan 25yo 1976/2001 (50%, Silver Seal, Single Barrel).
My baffled reaction: Hahah! I'll have to try it again against some other Macs.

Another brilliantly composed flight from France.
Well, that's pretty much it, really. I think the results speak for themselves...
I've done worse in the past - but I should do better in the future.
 

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Log Entry # 163 - June 15, 2004
Topic:  Cadenhead's Revisited - 'Virtually' This Time

Two weeks ago I had myself a 'Cadenhead's Revisited' session in their store in Amsterdam.
As usual, the tasting didn't really proceed in an orderly fashion, so when I sorted my notes I discovered that I had actually sampled only one Scotch single malt bottled by Cadenhead's. That's hardly satisfactory, wouldn't you agree? Fortunately, Serge's latest shipment of samples included a bunch of Cadenhead's bottlings. Two of them were samples of fairly recent bottlings, two others were minatures released in the early 1990's. Let's follow the old adage 'age before beauty' and start with the golden oldies.

I figured that it might be best if I started with the 'lightest' one;
Glen Elgin-Glenlivet 22yo 1971/1993 (50.1%, Cadenhead's).
It was distilled in September 1971 and bottled in October 1993.
Nose: Organics. The 'historic' smell I find in many old malts.
Something sweeter in the background, growing stronger. Mint.
Nice but not terribly complex. It doesn't really need water.
Taste: Pine at first, developing into menthol and eucalyptus.
Something 'meaty' as well. Not quite sweet enough for me.
Too bad - the taste pulls it down to just under eighty points.
Score: 78 points. The nose reminded me a bit of the 1960's
bottling of Glenfiddich 'Over 8yo', but this is more 'cheerful'.

So far I've sampled only two other versions of Glen Keith; the
Glen Keith-Glenlivet 22yo 1973/1995 (57.1%, Cadenhead's)
will be my third. It was distilled 04/1973 and bottled 10/1995.
Nose: Deep and complex. Organics, Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte.
There are some striking similarities with the Glen Elgin I just had.
It sweetens out a little with time. Tea leaves? Hint of smoke.
A devastating spicy punch after 5 minutes. More mellow later.
Taste: A surprisingly light fruitiness. Honeyish. Drinkable at C/S.
Unfortunately, the palate (especially the start) breaks up with
a few drops of water. Bounces back fresh and fruity later on.
Score: 79 points. I had this at 80 points for quite a while but
with time the finish became just a tad too dry and woody for me.

I proceeded with the Linkwood-Glenlivet 14yo 1987/2002 (58.6%, Cadenhead's), matured in refill sherry casks. Every single Linkwood I've
tried so far scored above average, so this should be good as well...
Nose: Light. Mildly sherried. Prickly. Something vagualy 'veggy'? Maltier with time.
It grows a little more potent after a minute with developing organics. Hint of smoke?
Even more organics after I added some water, but a hint of cream and marzipan too.
Wait a minute now - is that the faintest hint of peat I detect in the background?
Taste: Ultrasweet start, developing into a fabulous fruity centre. Chewy. Quite hot.
With a dash of water it grows easier on the palate, but a little more bitter as well.
Score: 84 points . It worked itself up from an initial 82 points by a steady performance.
I even had it at 85 points for a moment, but the water I added wrinkled the smooth palate.
It actually 'felt' more like a bourbon matured malt or grain whisky after I added water.

Dram #4 was the Ben Nevis 15yo 1986/2002 (62.7%, Cadenhead's).
Nose: Ah... A deep, rich fruitiness. Sweet sherry. The fruits slowly dissolve with time.
Then the organics emerge: horse stable, leather and sweat. Something metallic too.
Taste: Taken with very small sips it's extremely fruity and just a tad dusty perhaps.
Take bigger sips and you'll tastebuds will regret it - this is a real afterburner. Nice but hot.
It somehow seems a little more 'toffeeish' with some water. The fruits remain, though.
And interesting sweet & sour playfulness remains, lifting the score by a point or two.
Score: 88 points. That's 1 point more than their Ben Nevis 15yo 1977/1993 (60.9%).
Remarkable consistency! Let's call this one 'The Big Ben' from now on...

And that's pretty much it for this tasting report.
The Glen Keith brought me one step further on my quest to sample at least three expressions from all active distilleries in Scotland. Oops, wait a minute... No it doesn't - Glen Keith was mothballed in 1999, so it's not an active distillery. But checking the 'to do' list of 19 active distilleries I compiled on January 1, I'm happy to report that I can cross three distilleries from that list; Inchgower, (Isle of) Jura and Tomatin.
Three down, sixteen more to go. Watch this log for my progress reports...
 

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Log Entry # 164 - June 21, 2004
Topic:  Midsummer Night's 'Ardbeggeddon'

After the 'A-List' session in January I guess I really should be focussing on some other 'A' distilleries (Ardmore, Arran , Auchentoshan and Auchroisk), but somehow I'm drawn to Ardbeg - my current favourite distillery by far. I've sampled more than two dozen different bottlings so far and there hasn't been a bad bottle among them. Some of the 'big names' have let me down at some point or another (Macallan and Bowmore spring to mind), but Ardbeg seems to be a guarantee for quality.

I had a major Ardbeg tasting in February last year and another one in December, but I just couldn't resist having a go at the Ardbegs from Serge's latest package. The traditional 'midsummernight's dram' session in the woods had to be cancelled due to shitty weather but I wanted to make sure that the longest evening of the year would be an enjoyable one. And you just can't go far wrong with Ardbeg, can you?

Dram #1: Ardbeg 1978/1999 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, 5cl).
Nose: More fruity than peaty at first, then more feints and coastal traits emerge.
It has a certain 'chemical' quality. Potent, but it doesn't explode like other Ardbegs.
It never becomes really complex, although it shows some fruity and medicinal subtleties.
Taste: It starts out sweet but becomes very peaty quickly. Lots of power at 40%.
Very smoky. Surprisingly little substance and complexity for a 20yo Ardbeg, though.
Score: 83 points . No 'MOTR' G&M bottling, but just a tad too unidimensional for my tastes.
If memory serves the 1974/1995 expression from G&M was considerably more complex.

Dram #2: Ardbeg 1966/1987 (46%, Moon Import 'The Birds', Oak Cask #2443, 264 Bottles).
Nose: Oof... Very heavily sherried. Fruits, dust and a hint of perfume. Woody. Organics.
Furniture polish. Sweets. A lovely profile that softens up with a few drops of water.
With time, more mellow, 'grainier' elements emerge: and now I get some dried barley.
Taste: Sweet and woody - could have been a fine cognac or an old Speysider.
Excellent body. Smoky. Fruity as well. Very salty in the finish, but no apparent peat.
I did find a hint of liquorice, though. This one feels much more powerful than 46%.
Score: 92 points. Too bad that the sherry overpowers most of the Islay character.
During this tasting I only found a trace of peat in the finish. Nevertheless, this is top malt.
In a way it reminded me of the Talisker 20yo 1981/2002 (62%, OB) ages in sherry Casks.

Dram #3: Ardbeg 23yo 1974/1997 (51.2%, Signatory Vintage, Casks #1063+65).
Nose: Fairly 'grainy' start. Much lighter than the Moon Import. Developing organics.
Oooahh... very nice. Fruitier after a minute. Peat creeping forward. Something minty.
Subtle smokiness - burnt steak? Some 'veggy' elements after a generous dash of water.
Taste: Ayayay... A disturbing whiff of soap in the start. That just pulled it out of the 90's.
Beer? Very smoky at cask strength. Water doesn't help - it only accentuates the smoke.
With time the perfume retreats to give way to drier, more medicinal notes. That's nice.
Score: 84 points. I can't really fathom why Serge and Olivier both gave it 92 points.
The nose is mightly pleasant, but it's more 'Bowmore' than 'Ardbeg' on the palate.

Dram #4: Ardbeg 29yo 1973/2002 (51.4%, Douglas Laing Platinum, 137 bottles).
Nose: Fruity at first, growing peatier quickly. Subtle and complex organics. Grains.
Oh boy, I'm in peat heaven. It's no 'monster' though - it's surprisingly subtle. Rubber.
With 10 drops of water a whole new brigade of organics and veggy notes is unleashed.
Taste: Sweet and round at first; easily drinkable at this strength. Salt and pepper.
And then there's peat - lots of peat. What a great body - this is the Heidi Klum of malts.
Score: 95 points . It seems the Laings have done it again. What a whopper of a whisky!
Too bad I only had a sample, or I could have done a H2H with the 25yo on my Top Shelf.
The second best Ardbeg I've ever tried - a very impressive work of distillation art.

Dram #5: Ardbeg NAS 'Committee Reserve' (55.3%, OB, Bottled 2002).
Nose: Once again a surprisingly grainy start. Mellow, then more peat emerges.
Organics. Extremely pleasant, but not a lot of 'definition' at cask strength.
With some water there was little change - maybe some more medicinal notes.
Taste: Sweet at cask strength, but soapy as well. Then the peat emerges.
Hot and smoky. No change with water. The soap keeps it far away from the 90's.
Score: 88 points. Hmmm. A very good malt, but I prefer the 10yo or 17yo myself.

Dram #6: Ardbeg 10yo Cask Strength (58.7%, OB, Bottled 2003 for Japan, 900 Bottles).
Nose: WOW!!! Grainy and fruity - like an old grain whisky. Oatmeal? Then organics.
The peat takes a very long time to show itself. Chloride and ammoniak after a while.
Very lively. Wonderful complexity. Hint of dust? It grew a little sweeter with water.
Taste: Soft start, growing smoky very quickly, then peatier. Very dry. Hint of beer?
The peat and smoke seemed stronger after I added a little water. Hint of liquorice.
Score: 89 points . I was ready to go with 90 points for the nose before I tasted it.

When I started the session, I had actually planned on having a go at the four Ardbegs currently occupying a spot on my Top Shelf (the Ardbeg 'Uigeadail' 10yo & 17yo OB's and Douglas Laings Ardbeg 25yo 1975/2000) too. However, some of Serge's samples were pretty generous so I was already feeling a tad light-headed. I decided six drams was quite enough for one evening - especially since 33.3% of the malts I tried tonight made it to the very top of my Hit List; the impressive Ardbeg 1966/1987 by Moon Import from cask #2443 (92 points) and the stunning Ardbeg 29yo 1973/2002 Platinum Edition by Douglas Laing (95 points). Too bad they bottled only 137 bottles of it, because it's the second best Ardbeg I've ever tried.

Including these two Ardbegs there now are 46 single malts that scored 90 points or more on my Hit List. That's 6.95 % out of all the 662 single malts I've tried so far. And out of these 46 malts at the top of the list, no less than 10 (i .e. 21.7%) are Ardbegs. The numbers are even more impressive if we only look at the very top of the list and draw the line at 93 points. Out of the 14 malts that managed to score 93 points or more, 6 are Ardbegs - a whopping 42 .9%. Or, from another perspective; out of the 31 different expressions of Ardbeg I've sampled so far, no less than 32.3% - almost a third - managed to achieve eternal glory at the top of my Hit List.

Two other bottlings on tonight's menu (the Committee Reserve and the cask strength 10yo bottled for Japan) gave me about the same amount of pleasure as the official trio (Uigedail, 10yo and 17yo) so I scored them in the upper 80's. That's where the bulk of the other Ardbegs I've tried scored as well. You may have noticed that I'm pretty strict when it comes to ratings, so even malts that score in the lower 80's (like the Signatory and Connoisseurs Choice bottlings I tried tonight) are recommendable. Basically, I feel that a sub-standard Ardbeg is still much 'better' than a standard single malt whisky. The 'worst' Ardbeg I sampled so far was the Ardbeg 9yo 1990/2000 (43%, McGibbon's Provenance Autumn Distillation), but that still managed to earn 79 points.

So, there's little doubt Ardbeg deserves its place as my #1 distillery.
But how about the other 9 distilleries on the 'favourite ten' list in the Distillery Data section? I compiled the latest Top 10 about a year ago, before the 2003 MM Awards and Whisky Live 2004. I guess I should have myself a 'Top 10 list review' soon to find out if the list needs adjustment. I'm wrestling with one issue in particular; should I keep 'silent' distilleries like Brora, Port Ellen, Saint Magdalene on the list?

Anyway, that's a topic for the next session.
For now I bid you goodnight...
 

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Log Entry # 165 - June 30, 2004
Topic:  A Passion for Port Ellen

Port Ellen was one of the last Islay distilleries I developed an interest in.
After discovering Lagavulin 16yo in the early 1990's and the Laphroaig 10yo shortly afterwards it took me several years before I actually explored Islay a little further. Bunnahabhain 12yo, Bowmore 12yo and Bruichladdich 10yo followed around 1995, but it took me at least two more years before I discovered Ardbeg and Caol Ila. At the time only independent bottlings from these distilleries were available and very few of them made it to Holland.
Fortunately, both OB's and IB's are plentiful these days.

Port Ellen was the last Islay distillery to catch my attention.
Since it was closed in 1983, I figured it would become harder and harder to obtain (affordable) bottles from this distillery in the future. Well, maybe I should have started paying more attention sooner, because bottlings of Port Ellen are quite plentiful these days - and there are some real beauties among them. My own personal favourites are the Port Ellen 22yo 1978/2000 (60.5%, UDRM, 93 points) and the Port Ellen 23yo 1979/2003 (46%, Wilson & Morgan Barrel Selection, Butt #6769, 91 points) but most other bottlings are nothing to be scoffed at either. Only one version I tried scored in the seventies, the others all earned scores in the 80's. That's more than can be said about an 'alive and kicking' distillery like Bowmore.

At the same time, I'm not sure if I should keep Port Ellen on my 'Top 10' list of favourite distilleries at the top of the Distillery Data page. Just like Braes of Glenlivet and Saint Magdalene, it's a 'silent' distillery and there's something to be said for only including active distilleries in that list. That's a perfect excuse to have a go at three PE samples Serge sent me from France recently while I give it some thought. I often compose my flights going from young to old, but in this case I ordered the malts from low to higher ABV's.

The Port Ellen 14yo 1983/1997 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Distilled 20/1/1983, Bottled 4/1997, Butt #80) was bottled quite some time ago and didn't really blow me away when I first sniffed it.
Nose: Restrained start. Then some soft organics emerge. The faintest hint of peat.
This is an Islay malt in the 'Bruichladdich' style - very light. It grows stronger, though.
It really needs a few minutes to open up, although it never grows into a peat monster.
Taste: Once again quite restrained at first. Subtle fruits, peat and smoke in the centre.
A tad gritty towards the peaty, bitter finish. Maybe a distant hint of liquorice?
Score: 83 points. Not too bad, considering this is the youngest PE I tried so far.
I like the growing complexity in the nose, but it loses points on the palate.

The Port Ellen 20yo 1982/2002 (50%, DL Old Malt Cask, Sherry Cask) provided an entirely different experience. This is a great example to illustrate the effects of time and wood.
Nose: Ah, the sherry and fruit seems very pronounced after the bourbon casked 14yo.
The sherry overpowers the Islay characteristics at first. Then the organics appear.
It opens up beautifully over time. Lapsang Souchong tea? Something 'meaty'.
Taste: Oh boy, this is a sherry monster! Wood and all kinds of fruit. Smoky finish.
Liquorice. Perfectly drinkable without a drop of water - doesn't feel like 50% at all.
Score: 89 points. A beauty, just a tad too woody on the palate to make it into the 90's.
But then again I can imagine actually scoring it in the 90's on a windy autumn night.

The 14yo Signatory Vintage bottling has been the youngest PE I ever tried for roughly half an hour; now its position is taken by the Port Ellen 12yo 1981/1993 (63.8%, Cadenhead's, D04/1981, B10/1993).
Nose: Very light at first; coastal but not especially peaty. Alcoholic burn.
With some water some subtle organics emerge, growing stronger. Hint of fruits?
Maybe a faint hint of oil in the background? Now I get some peat and smoke.
Mellows out considerably with a second splash of water. Grows more complex too.
Taste: Hot and sweet at cask strength. Great body, provided you take small sips.
The palate shows some more 'definition' with some water, but the finish grows bitter.
Score: 82 points - just like the 14yo Signatory Vintage it loses points on the palate.
In the end the finish is just too dry and bitter for my tastes. A tired cask, perhaps?

Well, that was very nice...
But sampling these three malts hasn't brought me any closer to a decision regarding the inclusion of silent distilleries in my Top 10 list. Hmmm... Well, I guess I should recognise the fact that even after a distillery has been closed bottlings can become available for a few decades to come. In fact, the 'silent still' factor sometimes takes many years to work its way into the street price - especially if it wasn't a 'high profile' distillery. So, I guess there's no harm in keeping silent distilleries on the list for now; provided new bottlings are released on a fairly regular basis. But that brings us to the next question; what has changed since last year?

Well, almost a year ago (on 01/07/2003) the list looked like this;

01  -  Ardbeg
02  -  Laphroaig
03  -  Lagavulin
04  -  Talisker
05  -  Highland Park
06  -  Aberlour
07  -  Macallan
08  -  Caol Ila
09  -  Braes of Glenlivet
10  -  Saint Magdalene

Like I already concluded in my previous log entry, the top position of Ardbeg remains unchallenged. I'm still confident about Laphroaig in second position as well, but Lagavulin will have to give up its #3 spot I'm afraid. Laphroaig secures it second place with the excellent and affordable 10yo Cask Strength OB, but the quality of the Lagavulin OB's (16yo and DE) over the last few years has been wobbly at best. There are very little 'confirmed' independent bottlings of Lagavulin available to convince me otherwise, so I'll drop Lagavulin to #5. The #3 position is taken by a brand new entry in this Top 10 - and a silent distillery too boot: Brora. This one managed to stay beneath my radar for over a decade, until Serge served me my first few Brora's in 2002. Out of the 15 expressions I've tried since then, four scored in the 90's and seven in the upper 80's. Enough for a #3 spot, wouldn't you agree? The relatively solid performance of the 10yo OB and the amazing 20yo Sherry Cask OB keep Talisker comfortably in the #4 position of the list.

So, the first five slots are taken by the three Kildalton distilleries on Islay and two other distilleries that are famous for their 'powerhouse' malts; Brora and Talisker. Is there room for any more Islay distilleries in my Top 10 for the year 2004? Well, I had Caol Ila at #8 last year, but to tell you the truth when given the choice I'd always choose a Kildalton malt over a Caol Ila, no matter how excellent some expressions are. Only one of the 22 Caol Ila's I've tried so far managed to earn a score of 90 points and there are quite a few with scores in the lower 80's and 70's, so I'm afraid Caol Ila doesn't cut it anymore as a Top 10 malt. Although I've tried some fine older expressions of Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich lately none of them makes it to my Top 10 just yet. Finally, there's Bowmore - and you'll understand why they are a long way from ever making it on the list again. All this leads us to the conclusion that if any other Islay distillery deserves a spot on the list, it's Port Ellen. And looking at the average scores, I'd say it deserves the #6 position just below Lagavulin.

That leaves us with four more slots to fill.
What about Highland Park, previous holder of the #5 position? Well, the latest batches of the 12yo and 18yo OB were not quite as exquisite as I remembered and none of the bottlings I tried scored in the 90's, so I'm afraid this Orkney distillery will have to drop from the list. The same goes for Macallan who have been releasing a string of sub -standard bottlings lately - most notably the 'Traveller's Editions' and the 'replica's'. That kind of behaviour isn't what you'd expect from a 'Top 10' distillery - and I won't stand for it. Macallan is off the list and the crown of 'best mainstream sherried Speysider' is passed on to Aberlour. They occupy the #7 slot for now, although rising prices for their 'shock trooper' A'bunadh may force it further down the list in the future.

Now for the last three slots. There are a number of distilleries I'm only slowly starting to appreciate. I haven't really tried enough expressions of Tomatin to put it in my Top 10. I did try some fabulous Glen Gariochs - but quite a few mediocre ones as well, so GG is no serious candidate yet either. I had Breas of Glenlivet (Braeval) at #9 last year but with five out of the six expressions scoring in the upper 80's I think a promotion to slot #8 is warranted. The last two slots go two prime examples of regional styles; Saint magdalene and Springbank.

That leaves us with these 'Top 10 Distilleries' on 01/07/2004;

01  -  Ardbeg
02  -  Laphroaig
03  -  Brora
04  -  Talisker
05  -  Lagavulin
06  -  Port Ellen
07  -  Aberlour
08  -  Braes of Glenlivet
09  -  Saint Magdalene
10  -  Springbank

Just like the previous list of 'Top 10 Distilleries', this list reflects the situation at this point in time. It's likely that the list will change again in the future. I wouldn't be surprised if Highland Park or Caol Ila made a comeback. If I manage to try some more older versions Glenfarclas might appear on the list, or maybe even Glenlivet. Tomatin could be a contender as well - and so could Bladnoch, Glendronach and Mortlach.
Investigating this matter further will be no punishment, I'm sure...

Anyway, that's it for now.
Please check out the dram diary below for a review of my exploits in June.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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Dram Diary # 165 - June 2004 (New discoveries & revised scores)

88 - Ardbeg NAS 'Committee Reserve' (55.3%, OB, Bottled 2002)
89 - Ardbeg 10yo Cask Strength (58.7%, OB, Bottled 2003 for Japan, 900 Bottles)
83 - Ardbeg 1978/1999 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, 5cl)
92 - Ardbeg 1966/1987 (46%, Moon Import 'The Birds', Oak Cask #2443, 264 Bottles)
84 - Ardbeg 23yo 1974/1997 (51.2%, Signatory Vintage, Casks #1063+65)
95 - Ardbeg 29yo 1973/2002 (51.4%, Douglas Laing Platinum, 137 bottles)
82 - Ardmore 21yo 1977/1999 '100th Anniversary' (43%, OB)
88 - Ben Nevis 15yo 1986/2002 (62.7%, Cadenhead's)
65 - Bowmore 17yo (43%, OB, Italy, Cigar Gift Pack, Bottled +/- 2000)
78 - Glen Elgin-Glenlivet 22yo 1971/1993 (50.1%, Cadenhead's)
87 - Glenfiddich 31yo 1973/2004 (48.9%, Cadenhead's, Bottled April 2004, 186 Bottles)
77 - Glen Garioch 12yo 1990/2003 (56%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Cask)
84 - Glen Garioch 16yo 1988/2004 (54.4%, Uisquebaugh Society, Distilled 18/4/1988, Bottled 22/04/2004)
92 - Glen Garioch 21yo 1965/1986 (43%, OB)
83 - Glenglassaugh 31yo 1967/1998 (55.8%, Silent Stills, D 6/67, B 6/98, Cask #2893, 217 Bottles)
79 - Glen Keith-Glenlivet 22yo 1973/1995 (57.1%, Cadenhead's)
88 - Glenlivet (Minmore) 27yo 1973/2000 (47.2%, Cadenhead's, Bottled May 2000, 246 Bottles)
84 - Linkwood-Glenlivet 14yo 1987/2002 (58.6%, Cadenhead's)
87 - Macallan 25yo 1976/2001 (50%, Silver Seal, Single Barrel)
87 - MacDuff 36yo 1965/2002 (49.2%, Douglas Laing Platinum, 512 Bottles)
82 - Port Ellen 12yo 1981/1993 (63.8%, Cadenhead's, D04/1981, B10/1993, Oak cask)
83 - Port Ellen 14yo 1983/1997 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Distilled 20/1/1983, Bottled 4/1997, Butt #80)
89 - Port Ellen 20yo 1982/2002 (50%, DL Old Malt Cask, Sherry Cask)
79 - Royal Brackla 16yo 1984/2001 (43%, Cooper's Choice)
87 - Springbank 1965/2002 (46%, Lombard's Jewel of Scotland).
88 - Tomatin 37yo 1965/2003 (47.2%, Hart Brothers, Distilled 11/1965, Bottled 5/2003, 5cl)

That's 26 single malts on this month's dram diary; 24 of which were brand new to me.
That means there are now exactly 665 single malt whiskies on my
Track Record.
You can find more information about the deviant drams I tried this month in... erm.. the
Deviant Drams section.

 

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Log Entry # 166 - July 1, 2004
Topic:  Closing The Books on 'A'

I'm afraid that after an alphabetically inspired session in January I lost track of my new year's resolution to try and finish some more 'distillery profiles' this year. That might be just as well, because I decided that trying to keep the 'sampled siplings' overviews in the profiles synchronised with my Liquid Log wouldn't be an easy task. And it wouldn't get any easier if I still had to hunt down some 'missing' bottles while I was working on the profiles. So, I made a NEW PLAN - I'll postpone work on the distillery profiles for now and try to finish my other 'project' first; sampling at least three expressions from every active distillery a.s.a.p. We're now into the second half of 2004, so I'm not sure if I'll be able to finish this project before 2005 - but I'll give it a shot.

Anyway - I already tackled Aberfeldy and Aberlour in January, but I discovered a forgotten sample hidden at the back of one of my shelves; the Aberlour-Glenlivet 15yo 1987/2003 (62.1%, Cadenhead's). This single cask bottling was matured in a bourbon cask - a rare opportunity to try an unsherried Aberlour.
Nose: Hey, this is surprisingly feisty. Mostly alcohol and organics at first. Coastal & floral.
Grows a little more serious with time - sweeter as well. It really mellows out with time.
With ten drops of water it grows more powerful again for a few minutes. Cattle barn?
If they had poured me this in a blind test I might have guessed Clynelish or Ledaig.
Taste: Surprisingly drinkable (and very sweet) at cask strength. Chocolate in the finish.
Woody. The organics I found in the nose appear on the palate as well after I added water.
Score: 85 points . I would have never identified this as an Aberlour in a blind test, though. I haven't really sampled enough Aberfeldies (especially OB's) to make any statements about its 'house style', but when it comes to Aberlour the heavy sherry character is a powerful 'marker' to identify it in a blind test. Especially in the younger expressions it's the defining element, maybe even more so than with Macallan.

So, now it's time to finish my research on some other 'A' distilleries.
The Allt-A-Bhainne (a.k.a. Allt A'Bhainne) distillery was mothballed not too long ago, so technically speaking this meant I didn't have to sample a third bottling or write a complete distillery profile. Well, not until the possible revival of the distillery anyway. (To make it easier for myself I decided to ignore silent distilleries.) But since Serge's latest shipment contained two Allt-A-Bhainne samples I figured I might as well try them tonight.

The Allt-A-Bhainne 16yo 1985/2001 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 5cl) was up first.
Nose: Oy... Oily and a little bit sour. Old sweat. Stale beer? Then a hint of smoke emerges.
Something metallic. Veggy. Cheap white wine. Toothpaste. This is not my cup of tea at all!
Taste: Weak, flat start. Improves a little in the centre. Gritty, uninspired finish. Very odd.
Score: 56 points . Hmmm... Stewart Laing told me in January that he and his brother sample everything themselves and stand by every bottling they release. It seems their noses are honed to perfection when it comes to picking out excellent Ardbegs, but if you ask me they made a boo-boo with this one. Maybe veganists will like this, but I can't imagine this ending up in any of the maniacs' top 10. Or top 100 for that matter. This is just below par for a single malt, let alone an Old Malt Cask bottling. It's only accomplishment is making it to my Shit List.

The Allt-A-Bhainne 18yo 1980/1999 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #19000, 5cl) was distilled on 22/10/'80 and bottled on 11/8/'99 as one of 2450 botles - Bottle #229 to be precise. The code on the label is 99/1031.
Nose: Very grassy, followed by soft menthol notes. Growing oiliness. Dentist?
Another oddity. It grows a tad more coastal (and enjoyable) after five minutes.
Metallic. Veggy. Some vague citrus notes? Yes, it grows fruitier with time.
More organics and 'peanuts' later on. It definitely grows more interesting with time.
Taste: Sweetish start. Fairly flat. Little development. Dull. Rough. Weak, bitter finish.
Score: 52 points. And here we have the second Allt-A-Bhainne to make it to the Shit List.
The fact that the development in the nose is interesting keeps it (just) above 50 points.

Well, that was quite a disappointing experience. To tell you the truth none of the bottlings I tried before tonight really rocked my world either (70 and 77 points), so I'm not overly upset about the demise of Allt A'Bhainne. Survival of the 'fittest', I guess. Actually, these mediocre malts put me in a pretty good mood, because Allt A' Bhainne was the only remaining distillery on the 'A' list that I hadn't tried three versions of yet.

Ardbeg would be next; but I had myself a 'dedicated' Ardbeg sessions two weeks ago.
That brings us to Ardmore - an under-rated distillery according to some people. I wouldn't know about that, but most of the 5 (fairly young) expressions I sampled so far scored in the upper 70's. That can be translated as 'better than average, but not quite recommendable'. I guess that would make me one of the people who has been 'under -rating' Ardmore. I would love to give the distillery another chance tonight, but it seems I don't have any samples available right now. I'll have to do some more Ardmore research later on.

Fortunately, I do happen to have a bottle of Arran on my bottom shelf.
My bottle of Arran NAS Non-Chillfiltered (46%, OB) was probably bottled in 2003. It didn't do very well in the months directly after opening (67 points), but maybe I should give it one more try tonight.
Nose: Quite nice. Light and mellow with a whiff of stale ale at first. Something grainy.
It flattens out very quickly, though. Its grows oily, 'veggy' and slightly metallic.
Taste: Slick and smooth start, quickly growing sweeter and maltier in the centre.
Like the nose, it falls apart pretty quickly. It becomes harsh, woody and bitter.
Score: 67 points seems about right. Not a bad whisky, but not a good malt either.
With all three versions I've tried scoring in the 60's, the 'still score' remains 1 measly star.

Let's see, what's next? Oh yeah, Auchentoshan - one of the last surviving Lowlanders.
And what do you know... Serge's latest shipment did actually contain an Auchentoshan.
The Auchentoshan 10yo 1992 (46%, Whisky Galore, 5cl) was bottled around 2002.
Nose: A little 'veggy', but not unpleasantly so. Grainy & oily, but sweetens out quickly.
Fruit & dust. Much more expressive than the OB's of a similar age. Grows 'sharper'.
Faint hint of marijuana? Grows smokier with time. Falls apart after adding water.
Taste: Soft and sweetish with a hint of oil in the centre. Fruitier in the finish.
Fairly gritty; nothing to get very excited about. Beer. Numbing and bitter finish.
Score: 70 points. I like it a little better than the 10yo OB, but not very much.

The (Singleton of) Auchroisk is the next distillery on the list.
I do have a bottle of the 1981 OB in my Reserve Stock, but I think I'll wait with opening it until some other maniacs are in town. So far we have only two expressions of Auchroisk on the matrix, not including this one. Which brings us to the relatively 'obscure' Speyside distillery at the end of the 'A' list; Aultmore. I've tried 3 versions so far, none of them older than 12 years. The Aultmore 15yo 1987 (46%, Whisky Galore) was a 5cl trade sample like the Auchentoshan, but I don't have details on the bottling date for this one.
Nose: Fruity start, growing 'farmy' and slightly sour quickly. Developing organics.
Sweetens out with time. Malty, but I noticed something medicinal as well. Sweat?
Taste: Fruity start, then lots of wood opening up into a sweet centre. Fresh.
Pleasant mouth feel, growing extremely smoky. Way too bitter in the finish for me.
Score: 75 points. This sort of grew on me over time. I had it in the upper 60's for the first 5 minutes. Given enough time, it becomes surprisingly 'coastal' in the nose. The gritty, woody finish keeps it below 80. Maybe this one is just too smoky on the palate for its own good - the smoke overpowers nearly everything else.

And that was really (and finally) 'it' as far as all the 'A' distilleries are concerned.
After tonight I can cross Allt-A-Bhainne off the list list of 'liquid targets' (inactive distilleries that need further investigation) I identified on January 1. And that wasn't the only progress I've made. Since June 1 I've tried three different expressions of Glenglassaugh and I sampled my third Glen Keith two weeks ago. Imperial got wiped off the list after Whisky Live and I tasted my third Lochside on May 31. That means I'm making pretty good progress when it comes to the inactive distilleries.

But how about the relatively 'obscure' active distilleries?
Not quite as much progress there - I only managed to cross four distilleries from the list.
I tried my third version of both Inchgower and Balmenach in January when Mark brought over a bunch of CVI samples. Isle of Jura (I sampled my third version at Whisky Live in London) and Tomatin (I tried 2 new versions recently) . That leaves 16 more distilleries that require further investigation. Maybe I'll be able to fill some more holes on Saturday when I'm meeting up with Alexander again for another 'Cadenhead's' session.

Until then...

Johannes
 

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Log Entry # 167 - July 3, 2004
Topic:  The Big Push - Part 1

Well, it's official: I have a new favourite liquorist in Amsterdam.
For many years that has been Ton Overmars, but when he increased his prices considerably last year the main reason for a lengthy trip to the outskirts of Amsterdam disappeared. Fortunately, Andries Visser and Erik Schut opened their Cadenhead's store in the centre of Amsterdam around the same time. The recession has kept me from actually buying a lot of their stuff, but that wasn't because I didn't want to. For a long time the only Cadenhead's bottlings I know were the old dumpy bottles at De Still. I sampled and rated many of them before I realised that these bottles could have easily been opened over a decade ago. Many of them performed below par, which dragged Cadenhead's to the lower part of my 'best-to-worst' list of bottlers.

Fortunately, Andries opened his tasting collection to me on many occasions, allowing me to experience some 'fresh' Cadenhead's. On previous occasions the tasting sessions generally evolved into chaos within a few drams, but this time I went there with a plan. Actually, my plan was the very same plan as that of my fellow malt maniac Alexander van der Veer - trying to fill some of the holes in our malt mileage. We both realised that we hadn't been taking full advantage of the fact that Cadenhead's has bottlings from pretty much every active distillery in Scotland on their shelves - as well as quite a few inactive ones.

When I arrived around 15:00 PM Alexander was already down to business.
I didn't waste a lot of time either and poured myself my first dram of the day.
For starters I went for a Cardhu/Cardow 13yo 1987/2000 (56.9%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon, 318 Bottles) because IB's of Cardhu are pretty hard to find. In the past I've only tried two batches of the 12yo OB. As you may have heard, owners Diageo have taken the single malt off the market and replaced it with a vatted malt.
Nose: A soft maltiness. Smooth but not very distinctive. Tea. Faint organics.
It picks up a slight nose prickle with time. A good malt that lacks personality.
Taste: Sweet start, growing maltier first and then bitter towards the finish.
Heavy course brown bread. Not quite sweet enough in the finish for me.
Score: 80 points. Well, it's the best Cardhu I ever tried, that's for sure.

I was just working my way down my 'to do' list and my next stop was Deanston.
The Deanston 25yo 1977/2003 (50.3%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Hogshead, 198 Bottles) was my third ever expression as well. Earlier encounters with the 12yo and 17yo OB's were not exactly memorable.
Nose: Light and surprisingly sweet. Grassy. Salmiak. Melon. A well defined nose.
Taste: A tad tired. Malty with a hint of eucalyptus or menthol. No sweetness.
Score: 81 points. Once again this is much better than the OB's. Could this be another example of a distillery that doesn't live up to its potential due to careless cask management or lack of interest in small series?

I'm on a roll! The Glencraig 22yo 1981/2003 (57.5%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Hogshead, 216 Bottles) was distilled at the Glenburgie distillery and I've only tried two very young Glenburgies by G&M so far.
Nose: Sweet. Furniture polish. Organics. Spicy. Sweaty. Whiffs of fudge? Good stuff!
A nasal adventure. The nose is very entertaining and worthy of a score in the upper 80's.
Taste: Hmmm... No sweetness whatsoever. Grains. Uneven mouth feel. Fragmented.
It grows very bitter in the finish. It it just me or is the average whiksy growing more bitter?
Score: 79 points . The nose is great but I can't honestly recommend it due to the fragmented taste.

Well, so far so good. These scores may not be astronomical, but let's not forget we're dealing with fairly mundane and obscure distilleries here. There's sometimes a good reason for a distillery not being very popular as a single malt in maniacal circles. Alexander and I took a small break to compare notes and ponder the wisdom of Cadenhead's policy to bottle everything at cask strength. I have to say that I find some of this whiskies a little bit too strong at cask strength. It's true that you can always add water, but that sometimes disrupts the structure on your tongue and palate. But then again so might adding water at an earlier stage...

Anyway, things were getting even more interesting with our next dram: Hazelburn.
There's no reason to get your pants in a twist just yet; this whisky wasn't distilled at the long gone 'Hazelburn' distillery that was founded in 1836 and visited by Alfred Barnard in 1887. This Hazelburn is one of the branches on the steadily expanding Springbank family tree. After the 'normal' Springbank, the peated Longrow they now have a third brand. (Kilkerran distilled at Glengyle will be next.) Hazelburn is a Campbeltown malt, but it's triple distilled like traditional Lowland malts, using unpeated malt. I haven't seen any 'official' bottlings yet, but when Kate Wright dropped by Andries' store last week she left a cask sample of Hazelburn for us to try.

So, the Hazelburn 7yo ????/2004 (unknown ABV, Cask #999) was a 'work in progress'.
Nose: Very polished with fruity overtones. Paint thinner. Organics moving forward.
Very peculiar. Interesting development. A wide variety of spices. Amazing for a 7yo.
Taste: A tad disappointing at first, but it kept improving over time. Blackberry.
A faint hint of liquorice. Very pleasant mouth feel. Remarkably smooth at this age.
Score: 85 points. Really fabulous at only seven years old. I guess the Springbank people are facing a nasty dilemma; bottle it in the near future to cash in or wait and see if it grows even better with age. And I guess I'm facing a nasty dilemma myself as well; should or shouldn't I add cask samples to my Track Record?

Well, that was fun - and so was the Glentauchers-Glenlivet 24yo 1977/2001 (57.5%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Hogshead, 276 Bottles). I had only tried one other version so far; the 1979/1998 by Gordon & MacPhail.
Nose: Polished, but a little middle-of-the-road. Rum. Opens up very nicely, though.
First more spices and organics emerge, followed by more fruits and flowers. Nice!
Taste: Very pleasant. Not very outspoken, but it has a charming liquorice side to it.
Score: 84 points. This is almost getting boring: it's the best Glentauchers I 'ever' had.
This was only my second Glentauchers though, so I'll need to try at least one more.

I finished the afternoon at Cadenhead's with a Strathisla-Glenlivet 17yo 1987/???? (60.5%, Cadenhead's). I wasn't too crazy about the 12yo OB in the 1990's, but the G&M 'Royal Wedding' bottling was great.
Nose: Rich and 'farmy', full and spicy. Balanced. A classic profile, very nice.
Taste: Big and round. Toffee. Nice and 'chewy'; a loverly mouthfeel at c/s.
Score: 83 points. Not as great as the 'Royal Wedding' but much more to my likeing than the 12yo OB.

By now it was time to say our goodbyes to Andries, because he had to close up shop.
Alexander and I headed to my apartment and proceeded with the dramming. After six cask strength whiskies my nose was starting to lose consciousness, so I decided to try just one more dram 'seriously' tnight. Pretty soon my eye fell on Serge's sample of the Glentauchers 12yo 1990 (46%, Whisky Galore). Well, that seemed like an excellent choice. The 24yo I tried at Cadenhead's was my second Glentauchers, so I had to try one more.
Nose: A very distinctive buttermilk aroma, but not much else. Gooseberries? Some spices.
Very hard to describe. Developing organics. Almost 'sweaty'. Entertaining development.
Taste: Smooth start, quickly followed by a pleasant malty centre. Hint of chloride?
Some menthol & something 'veggy'. Loses a few points on the palate.
Score: 79 points. I don't know the street price for this one, but it will probably be a lot less than the 108 Euro's they want for the Cadenhead's bottling. I liked that one five points better than this Whisky Galore bottling, but anal anoraks like myself that just want to try a Glentauchers for the heck of it might as well for a cheaper bottling. So far I haven't been able to discover many family resemblances between the ones I tried.

After I had made up my mind on the Glentauchers we were joined by Maaike de Jong.
Maaike is a girlfriend of mine who has joined me in many tasting sessions, but never in a really 'serious' capacity. When I told here some time ago about my ideas about trying to set up a Dutch 'live' chapter of Malt Maniacs she responded enthusiastically and she quickly agreed to go on a strict 'training regime' to try and sample at least 100 different single malts. While Alexander was busy filling the caveats in his malt mileage we poured Maaike a number of blind drams to help her find some 'benchmarks' for her scores. Directing the tasting demanded most of my attention, so I stuck to the 'Italian' Bowmore 17yo for the rest of the evening. This really is a strange puppy. This time I really didn't enjoy my first dram, but when I poured another one an hour later it wasn't nearly as horrible as the first one. I keep struggling with Bowmore lately.

And that's where my notes end for tonight.
I've made some excellent progress today in the area of 'obscure' distilleries.
Next week I'll have myself another 'Big Push' to deal with some more of them.

Goodnight and farewell for now,

Johannes
 

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Log Entry # 168 - July 11, 2004
Topic:  The Big Push (Part 2)

Well, I've just received an excellent 'Borderline' E-pistle by Davin.
It deals with an interesting discussion among the maniacs about the 'borderline personalities' issue. I'll need some more time to compose my thoughts on the topic, but maybe some of the whiskies on tonight's menu will help shed some light on the subject. That won't be the main objective though - that will be hunting down some more obscure malts on my little 'to do' list. After last week's session at Cadenhead's Amsterdam I could cross quite a few obscure distilleries from that list. I'm finally making some decent progress in filling out the last 'blank' spots on my Track Record - which means I'm approaching the end of phase two of my malt mission. Well, maybe not. I'm having second thoughts about the goals I set for phase two of that mission, but I can break my brain on that later; now I'll just plough along on the chosen course.

I started this session with a sample from Olivier, the Royal Lochnagar 26yo (40%, Von Fass).
Lochnager is hardly an 'obscure' distillery (au contraire, it's 'royal') but somehow I've only ever managed to try one bottling. The score of 74 points for a 12yo OB from the late 1990's didn't send me running in the other direction, but I haven't been searching very hard for other expressions either.
It's about time to find out if I've been missing anything for all these years...
Nose: Alcoholic with a hint of apple - reminded me of calvados. Sweeter 'bakery' aroma's next.
Quite transparent with a playful spicyness. More fruits after a minute. Then nuttier.
Subtle organics keep shifting in and out of focus. A wonderful sweet, satisfying undertone.
Taste: Ultra short fruity start, turning bitter, then sweet, then bitter again. Very entertaining.
Distinct fruitiness. Hint of beer in the finish. Feels quite hot at 40%. Tad winey in the finish.
Score: 83 points . Pretty good stuff; the only thing keeping it from the upper 80's is the finish.
I imagine this would have performed even better at 46% or 50%, though.

Any 'regional' implications?
Well, according to the map it's an Eastern Highlander, just like Fettercairn, Glencadam and Glen Garioch. Together with Lochnagar they are the last remaining distilleries in the Eastern Highlands. Their erstwhile brethren Hillside/Glenesk, Glenugie, Glenury Royal, Lochside and North Port were all closed at least a decade ago, which brings up the first question: Do 'regional styles' change over time? I've heard many people commenting on a change in style of 'malt whisky' in general, so then it's feasible that regional styles change as well. An interesting question, but if I want to do some research on it I'll have to pick another region to do it. Expressions from these silent Eastern Highlanders are very hard to find.

OK - but what if we look at the distilleries that are still active? Well, flip back to log entry #87 for a tasting report of a bunch of these Eastern Highlanders. I've only tried three Fettercairns so far, but it seems that the main 'markers' I got for them were: oily, maybe fishy, mild organics and light smoke. If you put it like that, it seems almost 'coastal' doesn't it? My experience with Glencadam is even more limited, but I found some oil and maybe a little organics as well in both bottlings I tried. The non-representative preliminary data so far: Glencadam is a little sweeter than Fettercairn. Both of them seem to a little more potent and expressive than your average Speysider, so I guess it's justified to label them as Highlanders.
That leaves Glen Garioch, and that's a distillery with two sides to it. Some bottlings (the younger OB's in particular) tend to be sweetish, rather fruity with a hint of oil. However, there are also some heavily peated and smoky bottlings available. I guess I simply don't have enough data to say anything definitive just yet, but having an 'Eastern Highlands' classification seems to make sense for now.

And what about the Western Highlands on the other end of the Scottish mainland?
Well, that's where Olivier's sample of the Glenlochy 49yo 1952/2001 (43%, DL Old Malt Cask, Bourbon Refill) comes from. It goes without saying that this is going to be by far the oldest bottling I've ever tried - EVER! I may have tried one or two bottles older than myself, but never anything this ancient. What's more, I never tried an OMC at 43% and this will be only the second Glenlochy I'll ever sample.
You'll understand I opened the sample with trembling hands and sweaty brows.
Nose: Ooaah. Wood and tobacco. Heavy fruits. You can smell the time. Maggi! Hint of pipe smoke?
A slightly perfumy fruitiness grows stronger over time. Slightly dusty. Crayons? Clay? Pine? Sorrel?
Taste: Oy... A tad perfumy in the start, smoothening out quickly into a mellow fruity centre. Salt.
Bubblegum. Something faintly metallic. Soft citrus sweetness. Pretty good apart from the start.
The empty glass smells very sweet, and keeps doing so until the next day. Quite remarkable.
Score: 88 points . It comes dangerously close to Bowmore FWP at times, but most of the time it's just magnificent - the nose in particular. A whisky to get lost in. Might have made the 90's with a steadier performance and a palate to match the nose.

Hmmm... That's nice. Anything else from the Western Highlands?
Yes, actually! The Ben Nevis 30yo 1971/2001 (55.6%, OB, Cask #2516) was another sample from Olivier. I've already sampled five other expressions of Ben Nevis so far, but I couldn't pass up this opportunity to check out another Western Highlander right now. I'm really eager to solve this 'geography' mystery.
Nose: Rich sherry with a hint of coffee, followed by a mellow and musty fruitiness. Sweet dough.
Developing organics. Maggi. Spices. Some 'garden bonfire' smoke. Cherry pralines. A real sherry monster.
Sweaty. It softens up considerably after some ten minutes, balancing out. Extremely pleasant.
Taste: Smoke and perfume in the start, developing into a fruity centre. Woody finish. Salty? Not great.
Eucalyptus? With some water it didn't soften up noticably. Another oldie dragged down by the palate.
Score: 87 points. Once again the nose was worthy of a score in the 90's. The taste wasn't.

Well, these bottlings both are much older than the average single malt, so they may not be 'representative'. Even in young malts the influence of the cask may be more important than any 'birth defects' the spirit picked up during the distillation stage, and it seems logical to assume that the longer a whisky stays in its cask, the more it will be influenced by that cask. Which brings us to another interesting question: is the location of the warehouse a 'regional' factor as well? Somewhere during the first part of our maniacal discussion, Olivier argued that it should be - as should be things like barley supply, yeasts, etc. That's a very good point. In fact, if you really want to be prissy about it, there's something to be said for making a clear distinction between 'regional' influences before and after distillation. (I'm assuming that the actual location of the distillery and the stills has little effect during the distillation ; -)

Anyway - I'm getting side-tracked again. What about the Western Highlands?
Well, as luck would have it, I had a younger, more 'mainstream' bottling available for testing.
Jan Beiaard sent me a sample of Dalwhinnie 15yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1995) when he saw there were only two other versions on my Track Record so far (both OB's as well); the 15yo 'Centenary Reserve' bottled in 1998 and the 1981 Distillers Edition released around the same time. I've actually sampled different batches of this 'normal' 15yo during the 1990's at a friend's place, but none of them really 'seriously'. Faithfully following Michael Jackson's lead, I have been classifying Dalwinnie as a Speysider for many years. However, during the Borderline Personalities session I noticed that most people put it in the Highlands - although opinions are divided on where in the Highlands exactly. I'll go with 'west' for now - until my experience suggests otherwise.
Nose: Flowery and a little grassy at first. A hint of oil, developing into nutty and malty tones.
Hint of honey? Hay? Something very lightly fruity - apples or pears perhaps. A little MOTR.
Taste: Fairly flat at first, becoming a little rounder, maltier and sweeter towards the centre.
Doesn't really leave a lasting impression. Surprisingly hot and dry in the finish.
Score: 71 points . It's just not really my type of malt, I guess. Too much 'one size fits all'.
This batch reminded me a bit of the old Cardhu single malt - maybe a little lighter.

Hmmm... after these drams I really can't say much more about the Western Highlands.
Based on earlier encounters, I feel pretty confident I can throw Ben Nevis and Oban into the same bag of Highlanders with some 'coastal' traits. Tonight's Glenlochy could possibly fit into that category as well, but that's hardly the case with Dalwhinnie. The two other 'western' Highlanders could be Midlanders just as wel; Glengoyne and Loch Lomond. In fact, I imagine that throwing them in with Glenturret, Deanston and maybe Tullibardine could make sense. Based on the limited number of bottlings I tried it seems that these three are much more 'Lowlandish' than the other Midlanders; Aberfeldy, Blair Athol and Edradour.

There's little discussion about the pedigree of Dufftown (Speyside; close to Balvenie and Mortlach to be precise) but oddly enough we have only one expression on the matrix so far. That's not right, so I went for a Dufftown to finish this little session; in this case the sample of Dufftown 11yo (58%, Von Fass Cask Strength) sent by Olivier. I have to admit I have a soft spot for Dufftown. The very affordable 10yo OB has helped me through many writing sessions in the 1990's without forcing me to take out a mortgage to afford the bottle.
Nose: Fudge. Sweet and malty. Yeah, this is the 'Dufftown' profile I remember. Then a hint of lime.
The citrussy side grows stronger, evolving into stale, warm beer. Now the beer grows stronger.
Now it transforms into something dusty and fruity like dried apples. Very intersting development!
And it goes on. After ten minutes the organics move in. Wet pipe tobacco. Quite remarkable.
Oddly enough, it has sort of an allergic reaction to water, becoming metallic and sharp.
Taste: Sweet. Mouth coating. Once again, this profile reminds me a lot of the 10yo OB.
Hmmm. Now a hint of something smoky and fishy. Perfectly drinkable at cask strength.
Unfortunately, a splash of water breaks up the palate. The smooth finish grows dry and flat.
Score: 82 points. I had it somewhere in the lower 80's first, but then it slowly krept into the upper 80's thanks to the amazing development in the nose. However, its poor response to water pulled it down again. I think that a malt at this strength should be able to stand some water. Not everybody is used to sloshing down lquids of almost 60% ABV, you know... And the lack of any data on vintage or bottling year didn't help me giving this one the benefit of the doubt either. I just have a problem with giving high scores to generic bottlings that can easily be released in many anonymous batches. It's still a very intriguing malt, but I can't honestly 'highly recommend' people to buy a 70cl bottle. I can give it a lukewarm recommendation at best.

Hmmm... Why am I suddenly feeling so light-headed?
Wait a minute... I'm afraid I completely forgot to have lunch and dinner today.
Or breakfast for that matter. Well, that explains it. Maybe I should count my blessings and call it a night. But not before I've checked the progress with the extermnination of those pesky little obscure distilleries hiding away in the dark corners of my Distillery Data section.

<Checking... Please Hold... Checking... Please Hold...>

Blimey! I just checked my 'to do' list and at the moment there are only ten active distilleries left I haven't tried at least three different expressions from. How's that for progress, eh?
The active distilleries that require further attention are;

- Craigellachie
- Glenallachie
- Glendullan
- Glen Spey
- Knockando
- Knockdhu
- (Royal) Lochnagar
- (Old) Pulteney
- Speyburn
- Teaninich

Just 10 more to go - that's excellent news!
There are a bunch of inactive distilleries that could theoretically use some extra attention as well, but for the majority the chances of revival are slim indeed. They are Banff, Coleburn, Dallas Dhu, Glen Albyn, Glen Flagler, Glenlochy, Glenugie, Glenury Royal, Hillside, Kinclaith, Ladyburn, Millburn, North Port and Pittyvaich. If I run into any more of these that will be great, but I won't go out of my way to find them. There are four other distilleries that have a slightly bigger chance of returning to the land of the living; Caperdonich, Glencadam, Littlemill and Tullibardine. I'll keep my eyed peeled for other expressions of those.

On that happy note I bid you goodnight.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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Log Entry # 169 - July 22, 2004
Topic:  A Bunch of Bowmores

After the two 'Big Push' sessions earlier this month there are only 10 more active distilleries in Scotland that require further research. To tell you the truth I'm not in any rush to finish phase II of my malt mision because I don't really know how to approach the next phase. I don't think I'm being immodest when I say that I've honed the fine art of escapism to perfection, so I didn't really surprise myself when I cowardly decided to return to more familiar territory tonight. There were quite a few Bowmores amongst the samples in Serge's latest package, and I have been looking for an excuse to have myself a session dedicated to the distillery that's taken over the position of my least favourite Islay distillery a while ago.

For the last few years the order at the top of the 'Islay Honours List' has been pretty constant (Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Caol Ila), but the order of the distilleries on the 'Islay B-list' (Bowmore, Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich) has changed quite a bit. During most of the 1990's Bowmore was my favourite, followed by Bunnahabhain and finally Bruichladdich. Just a few years later Bruichladdich has krept to the top of the B-list after the new owners stirred things up, while Bowmore has plummeted to the very bottom after releasing a series of sub-standard official bottlings. The large majority of the bottlings on tonight's menu are independant bottlings, so maybe they will be able to save the day for Bowmore.

The Bowmore 1989/2002 (46%, Signatory Vintage Unchillfiltered, Hogshead #20942, Bottle #211 of 402) was sent to me from Germany by Thomas Lipka. He was very enthusiastic about it, but I have to admit I was quite sceptical myself. The last Bowmore I really liked was Serge's 1965 OB, bottled in the 1980's.
Nose: Quite light. A little peaty, peppery and sweaty at first, growing fruitier. Slowly developing organics.
Hint of chloride? Just a few drops of water does wonders for the nose. Sweeter with more smoke.
The fruitier elements grow stronger. Then maltier again. Faint toffee? Hey - now I get ant acid!
Taste: Ah, that's nice! Smooth. Mint? Fruity, chewy start, growing peatier and peppery, then smokier.
Peatier than most Bowmores. Unfortunately, a coffee bean bitterness spoils the party after a while.
Score: 84 points. I wasn't too impressed by the nose at first, but it's a real charmer on the tongue.
With some water the nose reveals some nice surprises as well.
Best Bowmore this young I've tried in quite a while.

I proceeded with the Bowmore 12yo 1991/2003 (46%, Hart Bros, Bottled July 2003, 5cl) from Serge.
Nose: Sweetish and slightly grainy. Then some sour and dusty notes emerge. Mouldy?
Resembles a grain whisky rather than an Islay malt, but then it materialises, growing sweeter.
It never really display any real peat - but none of the dreaded perfume either.
Taste: Oy... Quite gritty. Dull and simple. Triplex. Mediocre mouth feel and no character.
It becomes peatier and a little more potent after a while, but it's too shallow for my tastes.
Score: 73 points . Well, this one isn't going to improve Bowmore's standing in my book, that's for sure.

The Bowmore 14yo 1989 (46%, Whisky Galore, 5cl) was yet another miniature from Serge.
Nose: Well, it starts off nice enough. Rich, sweet and round. Cheese cake. Sour fruits.
Some soft organics lurking in the background, growing more powerful over time. Peanuts?
Hey, now I get oriental spices and maybe even eucalyptus. Very interesting.
Taste: Soft start, very slowly developing into a smouldering sweet heat. Peaty punchline.
A splash of water seemed to remove some of the subtle balance and brought the peat forward.
Score: 87 points . Great stuff. It's not an old malt, but it moves at an almost geriatric pace.
At times the character reminded me of the 1980's 1965 OB Serge found in Italy.

Well, so far I haven't found any of the 'FWP' that haunts some of the OB's.
After a little break to let my nostrils and tastebuds recover from the mild peat attack I turned my attention to four different expressions in Blackadder's 'Raw Cask' series that Serge sent from France. This would be an excellent opportunity to check the variation between these similar bottlings.

The Bowmore 10yo 1991/2002 (61.2%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Cask #15093, D 09/1991, B 04/2002, 5cl) was clearly from a 'raw cask'. There was all kinds of miniature debris floating around in my glass.
Nose: Ooh, surprsingly soft and friendly - like a flowery meadow in springtime.
Someting vaguely nutty. Then it picked up some strange sour notes. Is that lemon?
Taste: Surprisingly drinkable at cask strength; sweet start, growing peaty. Good mouth feel. Nice.
Still powerful with some water - maybe slightly more medicinal. Then I got some unexpected citrus.
Score: 82 points . A very nice malt - but the nose doesn't betray its Islay heritage.

I proceeded with the Bowmore 11yo 1991/2003 (60.7%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Refill Sherry Cask #22535, D 09/1991, B 03/2003, 5cl), which once again had little black flints floating in it. Another 'raw' cask.
Nose: Once again a fairly friendly start, but this one shows a more organics. Sweaty?
Vegetables? Quite unique, but 'tight'. Adding some water didn't really change the profile.
Taste: Sweetish & hot at cask strength. Peaty & dry in the centre. Again I found some citrus.
With a splash of water it became just too dry and bitter for my tastes. Uneven mouth feel.
Score: 80 points . I had it at 82 or 83 points for a long time, until water destroyed the palate.

The Bowmore 12yo 1989/2002 (63.3%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Cask #22533, D 12/09/1989, B 04/2002, 5cl) was third in line. At 63.3%, this is a powerful puppy - let's hope it's not too 'aggressive'.
Nose: Once again 'grainy' aroma's and a pleasant sweetness. Then some peat emerges.
The organics grow stronger and more complex with some water. Some 'zoo' aroma's.
Taste: A bit sour with a primary impression of organics, growing into a big, sweet centre.
Fabulous mouth feel, and unlike the 11yo I just tried this one can stand some water as well.
Score: 83 points . Another Bowmore without a shred of evidence for perfumy indiscretions.
Now I'm starting to suspect that the 'smoke & perfume' style of some OB's has evolved 'by design'.
And I wouldn't be surprised if the recipe involved generous quantities of caramel.
What an horrific thought... I guess I'll have to check that later tonight.

The Bowmore 12yo 1989/2002 (63.2%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Cask #22534, D 12/09/1989, B 04/2002, 5cl) was nearly identical to the previous bottling; it's just one cask further down the line.
Nose: A little flatter and harsher than the previous three. Some organics emerge.
Veggy? With some water it opened up nicely and showed some fruity notes as well.
Taste: Once again flatter than the three other Blackadders. Touch of citrus again.
It becomes quite harsh after you've added some water. Hot, dry and bitter finish.
Score: 79 points . What a difference a cask makes... I had it at 77 points for a long time, but it opened up quite nicely once I poured it into another glass. Some fresh air helped, but not enough for a score in the 80's.

So, now I've finished with the independent Bowmore samples.
Let's go crazy and empty the big official bottles of 15yo and 17yo OB on my bottom shelf as well.
With the massive amount of samples to try I haven't opened any fresh big bottles in quite a while, but it's time I made some room for a few fresh bottles from my reserve stock. The recession has been quite effective in reducing the arrival of new bottles on my shelves, but after the shopping mania of a few years ago I still have more bottles than I actually have room for. Time to clear away some bottles while I collect my thoughts on Bowmore. The nose of the 15yo 'Mariner' started off remarkably fruity, before it turned into a soapy and perfumy direction. Fortunately, the fruits took control again, together with some subtle smoke and organics. The taste was more smoky than peaty. This is still pretty good, so I'll stick with my score of 80 points. The Mariner wanders close to the edge before returning to more mainstream territory, but the 17yo enthusiastically plunges head first into an abyss of perfume and smoke. The nose starts off agreeable enough, but it leaves little or no impression on your tongue - except for a nasty bitter burn, that is. The score remains 65 points.

OK, so what have we learned tonight?
Well, for one thing that the Blackadder 'raw cask' bottlings might now be quite as 'raw' as we're lead to believe. I've found debris in undiluted, unfiltered malts before, but that didn't look anything like the stuff I found in the Blackadders. The material in the Blackadders consisted mostly of thin black flakes and small pieces of charcoal, while the stuff I found in some other unfiltered bottlings was much lighter in colour - almost like very fine sand. Arguably, this could also have been material from a dried out cork, but there's something else that bothers me about these 'Raw Cask' bottlings. Four out of the four 5cl miniatures I tried had a lot of debris in them. That leads me to believe that you can find it in ALL Raw Cask bottlings.

But how is that possible? Depending on the way they bottle a cask, you would expect a lot of debris in either the first or last bottles in the bottling run, but not in all bottlings - including 5cl miniatures. I discussed the matter with Serge and he confessed that he and Olivier had their doubts as well. He suspected that the wood must have been added later. I'm a romantic at heart, so for a while I tried to come up with alternative solutions that wouldn't shatter yet another one of my dreams about the Scottish 'traditions'. I even considered the possibility of a technique where they rapidly spin the cask while filling the bottles, but that seemed a bit far-fetched. So, the most logical explanation seems to be that the material is added artificially. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but filtering out the debris in a cask to evenly distribute it over all bottles in a bottling run later seems like a very labour intensive procedure. I'll have to do some more thinking on this...

Anyway, if these 'additives' in your glass are not your kind of gimmick, they are quite easy to get rid of, provided you use cognac snifters to (better) enjoy your malts. If you do, all you need is a second glass to pour your whisky into while you slowly tilt and turn your first glass. Most of the wreckage of the cask will stick to the side of your first glass, leaving you to enjoy your whisky without chunks of charcoal. And there's an interesting side-effect to pouring your malt from one snifter into another; it seems: malts 'open up' quicker. I guess the effect is the same as pouring wine into a decanter. It works like a 'turbo boost' - you get there quicker but maybe it's not a technique suited for explorers who want to relax and enjoy the 'landscape'.

And that's it for tonight, I guess.
I could go on for quite a bit longer about Bowmore, but I'll reserve that for the distillery profile. Right now I'll need to turn my attention to the preparations for the 2004 MM Awards.
Stay tuned for news on that topic.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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Dram Diary # 169 - July 2004 (New discoveries & revised scores)

85 - Aberlour-Glenlivet 15yo 1987/2003 (62.1%, Cadenhead, Bourbon Cask)
56 - Allt-A-Bhainne 16yo 1985/2001 (50%, DL OMC)
52 - Allt-A-Bhainne 18yo 1980/1999 (43%, Signatory, Cask#19000)
70 - Auchentoshan 10yo 1992 (46%, Whisky Galore)
75 - Aultmore 15yo 1987 (46%, Whisky Galore, Bottled +/- 2002)
87 - Ben Nevis 30yo 1971/2001 (55.6%, OB, Cask #2516)
82 - Bowmore 10yo 1991/2002 (61.2%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Cask #15093, D 09/1991, B 04/2002, 5cl)
80 - Bowmore 11yo 1991/2003 (60.7%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Refill Sherry Cask #22535, D 09/1991, B 03/2003, 5cl)
83 - Bowmore 12yo 1989/2002 (63.3%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Cask #22533, D 12/09/1989, B 04/2002, 5cl)
79 - Bowmore 12yo 1989/2002 (63.2%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Cask #22534, D 12/09/1989, B 04/2002, 5cl)
73 - Bowmore 12yo 1991/2003 (46%, Hart Bros, Bottled July 2003, 5cl)
84 - Bowmore 1989/2002 (46%, Signatory Vintage Unchillfiltered, Hogshead #20942, Bottle #211 of 402)
87 - Bowmore 14yo 1989 (46%, Whisky Galore, 5cl)
80 - Cardhu/Cardow 13yo 1987/2000 (56.9%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon, 318 Bottles)
71 - Dalwhinnie 15yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1995)
81 - Deanston 25yo 1977/2003 (50.3%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Hogshead, 198 Bottles)
82 - Dufftown 11yo (58%, Von Fass Cask Strength)
79 - Glencraig 22yo 1981/2003 (57.5%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Hogshead, 216 Bottles)
85 - Hazelburn 7yo ????/2004 (unknown ABV, Cask #999)
88 - Glenlochy 49yo 1952/2001 (43%, DL Old Malt Cask, Bourbon Refill)
79 - Glentauchers 12yo 1990 (46%, Whisky Galore)
84 - Glentauchers-Glenlivet 24yo 1977/2001 (57.5%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Hogshead, 276 Bottles)
83 - Royal Lochnagar 26yo (40%, Von Fass)
83 - Strathisla-Glenlivet 17yo 1987/???? (60.5%, Cadenhead's)

No less than 24 new entries for my Track Record in July 2004 - not bad at all...
 

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