Malt Maniacs Archive - 2002
MM Archives - 2002

Ah, the year 2002... We remember that year vaguely...
And that's because our archives for this year haven't been completely reconstructed yet. During the first 15
years of our collective malt mania we produced over a thousand E-pistles about (single malt and/or Scotch)
whisky, but a bunch of those articles may have been lost due to a few massive site crashes over the years.
When MM founder and editor Johannes van den Heuvel retired in 2012, he finally had the opportunity to try
and collect all the old content in one, easily navigable archive - or rather in part 1 and part 2 of the archives.
So far, all E-pistles from 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 were recovered.

E-pistle #2002/?? - An interview with Derek 'Bowmore' Gilchrist
by Patrick Whaley, USA

First off Mr. Gilchrist, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer some of our questions.
So here we go!

Q1 - How long have you been working at Bowmore?
I have been with Morrison Bowmore Distillers for around six years. Before that I worked for their then UK Distributor as a Brands Manager for Bowmore for another four years more.  Before that, during my career in Spirits marketing I have had experience on such brands as Macallan, Langs Whiskies, Glengoyne Malt Whisky, Isle Of Jura Malt Whisky and Mackinlay's Whiskies - some names from the past!

Q2 - What is a typical day for you at the distillery?
Actually our Head Office is not situated at a distillery.  We are based in the centre of Glasgow, Scotland.  Here we have the blending & bottling facility together with all the other HO functions such as Marketing, Accounts, Production Sales etc.

Q3 - What is your favorite part of the job?
It all really.  There is no one part that stands out - it is so varied.  We do have great fun designing & developing new styles and the packaging to go around them.  We have a good group of Distributors around the globe but they do keep us busy - whether developing promotional activity, advertising or even PR initiatives.  We meet with the Key Distributors regularly and discuss our central strategy for our brands and how they can implement it in their marketplace - to ensure a global strategy is in place.  Each market is at a different stage of Malt Whisky maturity and so this is quite a meeting of minds. Still, Bowmore is booming around the globe so we must all be doing something right.

Q4 - What do you attribute to the boom of single malt scotch in recent years?
Availability. First through the Specialists who began to take an interest in the category and now through to the Multiples who have, in very recent years, begun to list a number of Malts.  Coupled with this, a number of good Malt Writers around the globe who have managed to explain the category - much like the wine writers have done for many more years. This coupled with good marketing. (I would say that though!)  In reality, most Malt Whisky went into the former Blended Whisky Market and so nobody had really marketed Single Malts until the past few decades.  Then somebody realised that great Single Malts were being turned into average Blended Whiskies - amazing it took them so long to work it out.

Q5 - What characteristics do you think constitutes a great whisky?
Now there's a question !  and probably 'character' is the answer.  There are so many Malt Whiskies around you need something special to get to the top.  Probably our confidence comes mostly from the liquid in the bottle - before you add all the other elements which we dream up to support it, such as packaging, advertising & promotion. I/we truly believe in the product - it is such a good dram, whatever the age or finish.  This is the most crucial factor in our growth over recent years.  The Distillery team produce the great whisky and many years later we bring it to market.  But if it was not good we would not get the repeat purchase and we would not grow.  So put it down to the team at the Distillery in the first instance.  At Bowmore Distillery, on Islay, the team have more years of experience between them than possibly any other product or production facility you could name (whatever the product) and this gives us unparalleled consistency of production.

Q6 - Names like Bowmore, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg are considered be top notch malts, if not powerhouses.
What makes Islay such a breeding ground for producing top caliber malts in your opinion?

In my opinion, simply because they are not 'simple' malts.  Each has a character all of its own and each, partly because of the island location, has had continuity of working practice and, crucially, the workforce over the years.  This continuity of workforce has meant that all the experience has been passed down over the generations, from father to son to grandson - and it really works when you have a product which is distilled by one generation and bottled by the next or even the next - they all take great pride in their art.  I think that many of the mainland competitors miss this continuity.  You will see when you visit the island, or perhaps I should say you will 'feel', the warm of the Islay people - in my opinion it also shines through the whiskies.

Q7 - Is there any friendly competition amongst the distilleries on Islay?
Yes, but I'm not sure if we really see it as competition in the true sense of the word.  Because we all have different products there is a place for each.  Tastes vary amongst consumers - your readers will each have their own favourite - either overall or for a particular time or place.  I don't think that we fight amongst ourselves, we are all taking on the, current, market leaders and possibly the Blended whiskies, to grow our shares.  Islay whiskies have a quality all of their own and we are very proud of them all.

Q8 - Why has Bowmore chosen to market such a broad range of official bottlings?
Basically, because we could. It may sound flippant but we found that much of the competition just did not have the portfolio of whiskies available to them so one way we could differentiate Bowmore from the competition was to provide a wider age / style range - a major USP for us.  Much of the competition had used their older age stocks either in their core brand or had whittled them away into Blended Whiskies over the years.  Bowmore, having been family owned for many years still had much of the 'family silver' still intact. We are, carefully, bringing this to market but still keeping much up our sleeves - for a rainy day! In addition, I note you say 'official bottlings' and this is a good point because we believe that you only get the truly 'great' Bowmore Malts from the source.  An unofficial bottling is not really the same thing.  It has not been warehoused at Bowmore, on Islay, in the damp cellars, by the sea and does not have the same characteristics at all. It may be 'interesting' and it is probably a good dram in its own right but it is unlikely to be a great example of a true Bowmore.  Such casks could have been warehoused anywhere on mainland Scotland. They could have been badly maintained, had poor climate control or even been moved into other casks at some time, who knows?  That is why we never make comment on such whiskies - and we do get asked.  We would hate to see a consumer faced with his first Bowmore from an unofficial bottling -there are just too many variables, out with our control, which could damage the maturation process - much better paying for the real thing in my book.

Q9 - Do you have any particular favorite within the Bowmore range?
Like many, I like Bowmore 17 Years Old. 
But some of our more recent additions such as Darkest, Claret, Dusk and Voyage are great in their own right.

Q10 - What was the actual age of Bowmore Surf?
Well, as you know, we do not declare an age on Surf.  In reality it is similar to Legend in the Domestic marketplace, around 8 Years Old. (Surf being available in the Travel Retail marketplace)

Q11 - What exactly goes into the Cask Strength?
Again, there is not an age declared on Cask Strength. So the answer I give today should not be taken as gospel for all eternity.  For the case of this interview I can say that today the product is a minimum of 12-13 Years Of Age.  You basically take a Single Malt and don't reduce it to the standard strength of 40% or 43% - just leave it at the nominal cask strength of 56%, simple really. Many consumers like the higher strength as it gives another aspect to the dram.

Q12 - What proportion of malt is casked in first fill sherry, refill sherry, first fill bourbon and refill bourbon in the 12 yo?
Does the proportion change in the Mariner 15 and 17?

With the 12 Years Old, 15 Years Old and 17 Years Old the recipe is similar; each is made up with (approximately) 30% Oloroso Sherry Butts, a mixture of First & Second Fill, the remaining 70% is American Ex-Bourbon Casks.  This 70% is broken down as (approximately) the first 20% being First Fill and the remaining 50% being second fill. All of the above is approximate as all depends on individual cask quality.

Q13 - It seems that Bowmore switches direction in the older bottlings. The 21 and 25 are much mellower than the Mariner.
Even the 17 is in that direction. Do you select certain casks to be older bottlings? And if so, what criteria are used?

No, as I said earlier, all Bowmore Single Malt is produced in exactly the same way.  Certain casks are left aside / planned to be left aside for the older ages but, as you will know, the age on the bottle is the minimum age so a 21 Years Old could have ages higher than that in the bottle.  The reason it is mellower is because of the maturation process.  It sleeps in its cask and does change over the years - don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  You used to get many an old blender tell the tale that whisky did not change after ten or twelve years but it was just not true.  Sure it does not change if you put it into glass at ten or twelve years but leave it in a cask and the maturation continues - and it generally mellows.  The peat recedes and the various flavours of the wood come through.  Best way to see this is to pick up one of our Miniature Collection Drums.  They contain Legend, 12 years Old, 17 Years Old and 21 Years Old - try them from the youngest through to the oldest and you will see the development through the years.  A Vertical Tasting like no other.

Q14 - What made Bowmore decide to use new and different styles of finishing we see in the Claret, Voyage, and Dusk bottlings?
Boy, you did get a good number of questions together!  It really started for us with Black Bowmore.  We found some old sherry casks of Bowmore with an amazing spirit inside and decided that rather than just use them in one of our standard age bottling we would bring them out as a limited edition - we knew they were extra special.  After their success and the massive prices they began to command at auction, we decided that we should attempt to produce a sherry casked Bowmore for the wider market.  To replicate Black Bowmore we would need both luck and thirty years of maturation so we took some 12 Years Old Bowmore, selected some choice sherry casks, and matured it for a further period to see what would happen.  Luck WAS on our side because when we looked at it after two years it had turned into what you now know as Bowmore Darkest.  I should point out that we did look at it several times during these two years and at only one year, although it was good, we did not think it was the great dram we were looking for.  However, when we got close to the two years additional maturation we all agreed we had a winner and designed up Darkest to bring it to market.  It is still only available in limited quantities but, because of the two year process, it does enable us to produce a Sherry Casked Bowmore in a more realistic timescale than the unique Black Bowmore - it is known as 'Son of Black Bowmore' within our team.   Claret , Dusk and Voyage have followed on from this initial maturation programme.  We selected some really unique Claret casks and carried out the same trials - again, after two additional years of 'finishing' we found the best balance and, since this time, have decided that we should always finish these whiskies for around two years - and have a programme in place to achieve this.  We think that this is the reason our Bowmore finishes have shone out from some of the competitors who we know finish their products for much lesser periods - and achieve their own results.

Q15 - What is in store for Bowmore in the future?
Well, that would be telling.  All I can really say is that we have steady growth plans - and that quality whisky is what we see as the key to our growth - so no take-over of the world market in the short term just steady growth in line with our maturing stocks.

Q16 - Any new bottlings in the years to come?
Perhaps some more Black Bowmore, that is supposed to be as I know it is not likely, and hey, you can always dream.? Yes there will be further new bottlings.  But, as you can imagine, we lay whiskies down today to mature and be bottled generally between ten, twenty and thirty years from today. So we are working with whiskies today many of which were distilled in the sixties, seventies and eighties. How many products or businesses work on such timescales ? There could be another Black Bowmore in the No1 Vaults - you will just have to wait and see.

On behalf of Malt Madness, thank you very much Mr. Gilchrist.

It was a pleasure.

Derek M. Gilchrist
Marketing Director - Whisky
Morrison Bowmore Distillers Limited
 
Patrick Whaley
 

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E-pistle #2002/?? - Trio de Vioncelles en Islay Majeur
by Serge Valentin, France

Hi, fellow malt aficionado,

The way people talk about Scotch whisky improves time after time. A while ago, most people here knew that there was "blended whisky" on one side, and "pure or single malt" on the other side. This is history. Now, they know that among the single malts, there are the "regular ones" on one side, and the "peated ones" on the other side. We should thank the UDV Classic Malts for that. I think that the time is not so far, when the marketers will write "peated" or "not peated" on their labels. Besides, some clever distilleries already started to do that; Glengoyne (unpeated), Tobermory-Ledaig (peated)…

Anyway, peat is very trendy. We already had Bowmore and Lagavulin on our "hypermarket's" shelves. Then came Laphroaig. Then came several "low-budget" bottles of Islay malts, most being labeled as "Glen Anything". And very recently, came Ardbeg 10 (as you can guess, most liquor stores people aren't very happy about that). Consequently, more and more malt newbies ask for advice about "what's the best" peated malt they can buy in Hypermarkets. When they are good friends, I always answer: "Why not come to my place, and find out?" That's what Isabelle and Laurent did last evening. We had some Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 10 and Lagavulin 16. I know, I'm not the first, nor the last person who writes about this Southshoreislayish kind of confrontation. But well, nobody's going to stop listening to Mozart's Don Giovanni just because it's very classic and famous.

Arbeg 10yo (46%, OB)
Laphroaig 10yo (40%, OB)
Lagavulin 16yo (43%, OB)

Color:
Ardbeg: light straw
Laphroaig: light amber
Lagavulin: pure amber

Nose:
Ardbeg: a lot of peat, very pungent, smoke, lamp petrol
Laphroaig: seawater, peat, smoke, hints of gentian bitter, ether
Lagavulin: a lot of smoke, peat, fresh almond, orange zest, leather

Mouth:
Ardbeg: a lot of power. Peat, smoke, stick of liquorice. Not that complex, though.
Laphroaig: rather light, and quite watery at first. Some peat and the famous "medicinal" savours are here, but everything is quite mild.
Lagavulin: a lot of power, a lot of peat, a lot of smoke, hints of kirsch, sherry and marmalade. Very complex. Strong and round at the same time, like a sumotori.

Aftertaste:
Ardbeg: peat, hints of whitecurrant. Very long, but still a certain lack of complexity,.
Laphroaig: nice and gentle mix of sea, peat and "medicine".
Lagavulin: fully coated mouth, smoke and peat…
Five minutes later: too difficult to determine in such a "head-to-head-to-head" tasting session.

A person:
Ardbeg: Richard Wagner
Laphroaig: Antonio Vivaldi
Lagavulin: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

A car:
Ardbeg: a Porsche Turbo 1976
Laphroaig: an Alpine
Lagavulin: a Ferrari Daytona

A wine:
Ardbeg: Opus One (California)
Laphroaig: Guigal Cote-Rotie (not one of the top three ones)
Lagavulin: Red Sassicaia or Angelo Gaja (Italy)

A score:
Arbeg 10 yrs, 46%: 86
Laphroaig 10 yrs, 40%: 83
Lagavulin 16 yrs, 43%: 92

In short, Ardbeg was extremely peaty but kind of too rough, Laphroaig was slightly too light and watery (this was the new 40% vol version - I'll organize a 40%-43% face to face tasting session very soon - there's a lot of buzz about Laphroaig's hypothetical decline going on these days), whereas Lagavulin was quite perfect. The latter bothered me, because everybody loves Laga 16, and I don't like to feel so "mainstreamish". But let's face it, it's superb malt!

In a nutshell now:
Ardbeg 10 = peat
Laphroaig 10 = seawater
Lagavulin 16 = smoke

Couldn't be shorter! This makes me think about a silly little joke we used to tell:
Three old chaps who hadn't seen each other for a long time meet at a party.
They all bring a bottle of whisky.
The first one brings a bottle of Ardbeg Provenance.
The others ask: "Hey, nice bottle! Is it expensive?
- Well, I spent the wages I got for one hour of hard work"
The second one brings a bottle of Ardbeg 1975
"Hey, nice bottle too! Is it expensive?
- Well, three hours of hard work...
The last one brings a bottle of Johnnie Red. The other two say:
"Well, that's not such a bad whisky. Is it expensive?
- Hum, I had to work one long week to pay for it!"
The others exclaim: "Hey, why did you buy such an expensive bottle?"

Bon courage,

Serge
 

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E-pistle #2002/?? - An interview with Raymond 'Bladnoch' Armstrong
by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

The number of active Lowland distilleries has dropped at an alarming rate over the last decades. For a while, it seemed like Bladnoch would share the fate of Saint Magdalene and Ladyburn, forever lost to Lowland lovers around the world. Fortunately, Irishman Raymond Armstrong came to the rescue. We thought we'd ask him a few questions about his adventures in the whisky industry.

Q1 - First of all, let's establish if you are a genuine 'Malt Maniac' yourself.
How crazy are you when it comes to single malt whisky?

Raymond: There are probably degrees of malt mania and I don't suppose anyone wants to think of himself as a maniac. We run whisky schools at Bladnoch and the people who attend could possibly be considered malt maniacs. Indeed at a recent school one of the members who had flown all the way from USA had been quite worried about his sanity. Only when he met everyone else did he discover that there were others who were probably even more intense about malt whisky than himself. He was not concerned that the whisky school might be a waste of money, only that he could think of no counter argument to the claim that he was crazy.
I like to think that I personally am not so much a malt maniac, just someone crazy enough to buy a distillery...

Q2 - Well, buying your own distillery makes you an honorary malt maniac in our book. But most other malt maniacs are content with consuming and discussing single malts, leaving the production to 'the experts'. Did you have any previous experience in the whisky production or trade?
Raymond: No, but I would have loved to have come to this industry aged 30. (I'm now 53.) In fact because of my Calvinistic upbringing in Northern Ireland I may just still have some guilt qualms about making whisky. I still own a small building and property company and some of our employees would say I have no expertise in that field either. Prior to that, as a surveyor I did bomb damage compensation work. I probably have quite extensive experience in that field but fortunately it is less necessary now in N.I.

Q3 - That sounds like a totally different walk of life. After pilot, fireman and porn star, running a distillery must be high on the list of dream jobs for boys of all ages. But few would go as far as buying an airline or a movie studio to find gainful employment.
Raymond: I have to smile to myself at the idea of finding "gainful employment" in the whisky industry. Buying a mothballed distillery and restarting production inevitably means the opposite of "gainful" employment. It all costs quite a lot of money, I like to think it is an investment or so I tell my bank manager, in other words there is at least a possibility of getting the money back.

Q4 - OK, point taken. But before we get into the intricacies of the whisky trade, we'd like to know a little more about your history as a whisky (or whiskey) drinker. Do you still remember your first dram?
Raymond: I sometimes ask this same question of people in the distillery and get a lot of different answers. Probably my first taste of whiskey was when quite young. It was out of a bottle that was kept purely for medicinal purposes for I was brought up strictly tea total. Drinking alcohol was a sin and enjoying anything, except two church services on Sunday was not permitted. Even later in my teens I don't remember the taste of alcohol making the earth move. My choice of whiskey rather than beer was probably because a whiskey glass (I live in Ireland) was smaller than a beer glass. I used to play rugby and the sight of several pints sitting in front of anyone after a match was daunting, so I chose whiskey. Very quickly I got to realise that if you are going to drink whiskey it might as well be one you enjoy. My particular choice was Redbreast a 12 YO Irish Pot Still Whiskey which was very pleasant. In fact I drank only Redbreast for quite a while until at one not to be forgotten party I mixed my drinks. Too much mixed with too many. I couldn't look at Redbreast for about 10 years.

Q5 - Ah, yes, I guess we've all been to these kinds of parties at one point or another. But apparently you've somehow managed to overcome these traumatic events. Can you describe your ultimate malt moment?
Raymond: I am perhaps a little bit unusual in that the times when I feel like drinking a malt might include for example when I am out for a walk, I love to find a wee miniature in my pocket which I planted earlier to "surprise" myself with, or when hill walking when I reach the top of a mountain and wish to reward myself - Beautiful. At lunch time if I'll have a beer with my lunch, the wee dram looks more inviting, but people sitting beside you might think you are an alcoholic.
The nicest dram you will every taste will be at cask strength on a cold January morning in a distillery cask filling store where the product is not just free from tax but free... and beautiful.
Buy a distillery and find out for yourself...

Q6 - Yeah, right... Assuming I ever got the funding together, I still wouldn't know where to start. But maybe I could pick up some useful pointers from somebody who actually lived through the rebirth of a distillery. Somebody like..., well, somebody like you, actually. Can you tell us something more about why and how you acquired Bladnoch?
Raymond: I purchased Bladnoch in October of 1994. United Distillers had mothballed it in June 1993 along with Rosebank, Pittyvaich and Balmenach following the hostile take-over bid by Guinness of Bells and DCL. I was in South West Scotland looking for a holiday home and the distillery cottage was empty. Its location just 30 minutes drive from the ferry to Ireland was ideal. When I first asked UD to sell it they were a little surprised.
At the time I was able to justify the price which as usual I didn't have, by the possibility of converting some of the stone buildings into additional holiday accommodation to rent. I work as a Chartered Surveyor in the building trade in Northern Ireland. The distillery land extends along the river for about 2 miles and we have fishing rights and planning permission for caravanning/camping. So it was sold to me as property not as a distillery. If the truth be known I got the title deeds and my bank manager got the debt. One of the conditions of sale was that it should not be used as a distillery.

Q7 - Is that so, Raymond?
Then how is it that Bladnoch operates as a distillery today?

Raymond: There's no short answer to this question, but a distillery is an interesting building. As a builder I have redeveloped quite a variety of buildings and whilst I love old stone and slate roofed buildings, I'm not usually too sentimental about them.  In the case of Bladnoch, although a great deal of plant and equipment had been removed when it was closed down, the stills and washbacks and major items remained intact. Try walking through a distillery at night and it can nearly talk to you. If Prince Charles can talk to plants I can listen to my distillery. There is the noise of the water running underneath, the noise of the copper stills cooling in the night air (even when the distillery is mothballed), the noise of old timbers creaking. It's almost like a living thing, that just needs a little bit of human effort, to make it go and to reward you with its' wonderful spirit.

Q8 - Ooh, you're getting all mushy and poetical on us here... ;-)
And what if there were a short answer?

Raymond: The short answer is that although I bought the distillery with a restrictive covenant preventing distillation, there was a considerable amount of local pressure to reopen. If you live in a rural community like Galloway it's difficult to remain divorced from it, even if you only bought the place intending it to be a holiday home. I wasn't responsible for closing the distillery, but for nearly two hundred years it has played an important part in the life of this area. I don't think anyone would be permitted to own it without discharging some obligations to the community. In the end I made a New Year resolution to try to get permission to reopen. I'm happy to say that the community was right and United Distillers agreed.

Q9 - Hurray! Galloway sounds like a great place to live.
So now you had the permission you needed. Even so, I imagine it must have been very tough to start things up again from scratch. What problems did you encounter and, more importantly, how did you succeed?

Raymond: The practical problem was obvious. United Distillers had closed the place and cannibalised it to ensure that it would never again operate as a distillery. All electrical equipment had been removed, shafts cut in half, mash tun floor, pumps, valves, heat exchangers, pipes etc. everything removed except stills and washbacks. The other more difficult problem was negotiating the removal of the restrictive covenant to permit small scale production. We are only permitted to distill 100,000 litres compared to the 1.3 million litres Bladnoch produced in the late 1980s. This doesn't represent a problem as I couldn't afford to produce any more than that amount unless I was permitted to sell it to a blender. In some ways the reduction in numbers of small independent distilleries also affects the smaller blenders because they have difficulty getting malts. Most of the larger companies prefer now to be self sufficient. They don't want to either buy from outside their own organisations or sell to outsiders.
If I was large enough I'd probably do the same.
I succeeded in the first instance because I didn't know what I was letting myself in for.  I had basically to rebuild the place and to do so with limited  financial resources.  If I had been more knowledgeable about what was involved I might have been less willing to try. I also succeeded because I was determined to succeed. I am a keen hill walker and there is an appropriate Chinese proverb which says "A snail can climb the highest mountain, - slowly"  If you are on the top of a mountain in Scotland in winter, cold,  tired and wet, you have got to get yourself back down to comfort. There is little point in complaining. The difficulties we encountered were only difficulties, they were not life threatening. I also succeeded because of the thought that two local farmers, T. & A. McClelland, were able to succeed in 1817 with much fewer resources than were available to me.
It is also true that I succeeded (we succeeded) not least because I had the help of our stillman John Herries who had worked in Bladnoch for over 10 years and was keen to see the place operational again. I also was fortunate that in a large organisation like UDV there was at least one human being among senior staff, a gentleman called Dr. Alan Rutherford who could see no reason for not allowing small scale production at Bladnoch if their was anyone crazy enough to try. Without his help and that of his company it would not have been possible and both have my gratitude.
And think on this; Is it not a wonderful industry that still makes it possible for a small individual with limited resources to purchase a distillery, reinstate it, and enter the market of the wonderful world beating product that Scotch whisky represents.  To quote the immortal bard: "I sing the juice Scotch bere can make us, In glass or jug. Oh thou my muse! Guid auld Scotch drink!"

Q10 - Oh, boy, there you go again Raymond. There lurks a poet in the hart of every Irishman ;-)
So, with the help of John Herries and Alan Rutherford you managed to revive the distillation tradition at Bladnoch. When did you start production again at Bladnoch, and are bottlings of the whisky you produced already available?

Raymond: Unfortunately we only restarted production in December 2000 so it will be a long time before we see the product through to fruitition. In fact we were a little bit superstitious. I really wanted the year 2000, the new millennium not to be over without Bladnoch having distilled. I wanted to think that Bladnoch entered the new century and millennium optimistically. The December distillation took place before all the permissions were signed up. I pleaded "Irish" ignorance and was lucky. We have however casks of 10yo and 13 yo Bladnoch.

Q11 - I don't suppose these were forgotten and abandoned casks you discovered at distillery?
Raymond: Alas no. The only spirit we discovered at the Bladnoch was about 200 litres which had slept in the pipes since closure in 1993. At first when we opened the valves we thought it was caustic used for cleaning. I can confirm that 7 years in a stainless steel pipe is nowhere near as good as 7 years in wood. Nonetheless I felt obliged to try to syphon it out and when it accidentally entered my mouth I felt obliged to swallow it. I was brought up not to waste anything...
The 10yo and 13yo casks were generously offered for sale to me by Dr. Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie.

Q12 - Hmmm - The 'Bladnoch 7yo Stainless Steel Limited Edition' sounds like the kind of bottling a real malt maniac would love to try, but I guess we'll have to settle for the casks you mentioned. When those casks are bottled, I guess the bottles will be the first 'official' Bladnochs released in almost a decade. Have you decided on issues like age, strength, filtration and colouring yet?
Raymond: We had planned to use the last whiskyschool group to select some casks for bottling and we are also in the middle of sorting out a new label which is not an easy task. John McDougall and John Glaser of Compassbox have also promised me some expert help in tasting. In the meantime I just do some practice tastings by myself. To bring a mercenary note to the question. Things like age, strength etc. are taking second place at the moment to matters such as bottling costs, packaging costs etc. Also we have only just completed on the Customs and Excise paperwork because (although our warehouses were registered to receive whisky which we produced at Bladnoch) additional registrations were required to bring in whisky from another warehouse, even though it was Bladnoch. Overall I have a lot to learn.

Q13 - Well, you seem to be on the right track. We've been talking about the old stuff, but what about the new product distilled since 2000? The new Arran distillery put a single malt on the market as soon as it was legally possible - after only three years of maturation. Theoretically, we could see a new Bladnoch on the shelves in 2004.
Raymond: I think we are unlikely to sell Bladnoch at less than 8yo. Arrans' case was slightly different. As a new distillery they had nothing older to sell and people were keen to sample the new taste. We restarted production in December 2000 after being mothballed in June 1993, so the youngest of the former stock will be 15 when the new produce is 8yo. We might decide to bottle some stocks of 10yo and 12yo and leave them in bond (which is obviously cheaper) to ensure that in the future we have something younger than 15.
Incidentally at one of our whiskyschools we did a peated Bladnoch at about 22 parts per million instead of our usual 3ppm. That certainly brought a different smell to the distillery. We also give the spirit a bit more time in the copper now than in the Bells and UD era when the stillmen were always under pressure to complete distilling on time before the next shift arrived. The distillery was working three eight hour shifts. Also on one or two occasions we have changed our distilling technique with some interesting results. We keep notes on any changes that might influence particular casks.

Q14 - Yes, about those casks. Even the finest of spirits can easily be ruined if you put it in the wrong cask. What type of casks do you use for the new whisky - and why?
Raymond: We are not producing whisky to be used in a blend, so we can have a variety of casks. Blenders would probably want more consistency. That said it's important that we retain the traditional citrussy notes typical of a Lowland malt and bourbon casks generally compliment and enhance Bladnoch. We also purchased some very good quality sherry butts. Even at 18 months old the spirit from a 6 year old sherry hogshead has achieved a wonderful colour. The young wood, 6 year old means it breaths well and the impregnation with a good quality sherry for that period should produce interesting results. On the other hand it may be overly powerful for Bladnoch and we might have to recask the whisky in a few years.
I have received a lot of assistance in the purchasing of casks from Gordon Motion who works in the quality control department of Edrington (Famous Grouse, Macallan, Glengoyne) In large companies a lot of managers get moved around to gain experience. As a result many well known distillery managers have spent time at Bladnoch and are genuinely pleased at its survival. Ian Henderson of Laphroaig, and Ian Millar of Glenfiddich to name but two. Gordon Mitchell of Arran has also been very helpful, as has Ian McMillen of Burn Stewart.

Q15 - Hmm, it sounds like genuine Scottish sweat is part of the new Bladnoch recipe.
Now let's talk about another important ingredient. Are you producing a 'fully Scottish' malt at Bladnoch, with Scottish barley?

Raymond: A "fully Scottish" malt from a distillery that is much closer to Ireland than to the Highlands or even Glasgow; from a distillery that up until the mid nineteen fifties used the Irish style of triple distilling and like Irish distillers doesn't use peated malt; from a distillery that between 1911 and 1937 was owned by Royal Irish Distillers of Belfast; from a distillery situated in remote Galloway were its' inhabitants are known in Scotland as the Galloway Irish and where in the last century Gaelic was spoken. To be sure I'll be producing a "fully Scottish" malt!
We buy our malt from Simpsons of Berwick on Tweed, variety 'Optic' or 'Chariot'. We hope in the autumn to be sourcing it from a farmer at Garlieston 6 miles from the distillery. He has an organic farm and although I have no real preference for organically grown barley, I am pleased to be able to use a local product. It will cost us very slightly more but then because of our small scale production, most of our costs are slightly higher, probably 2 per litre of alcohol as against perhaps 1.30.

Q16 - I imagine that's not the only disadvantage you have compared to larger companies.
As a small, independent distillery you have to compete with 'the big boys'. How will you put Bladnoch on the map again?

Raymond: I think it is much easier now for a small company to compete. Websites and internet selling offers us the chance to put our product directly in front of people in their own homes. In how many big distilleries can you speak at night directly to the owner or to the stillman? In our case he is probably the person who next day will be wrapping up your bottle. Malt drinkers are an unusual customer in that they are often prepared to go to great lengths to obtain a product, to research it, to know where, how and by whom it is produced.  It is no longer essential to have huge marketing budgets. Having said that, I think that large companies can do a great deal for the industry. They can advertise the product to new markets and they don't have to obtain an immediate return on their expenditure. They should be able to plan for the long term. The disadvantage is that whisky may not be their only product. Do they promote a long term product like malt whisky or do they please today's' shareholders by producing gin today that they can sell tomorrow, or perhaps the choice includes selling more beefburgers?
As regards putting Bladnoch on the map again, because of our limited resources, (that just means we haven't much money) we are permanently short of staff, particularly clerical staff. We put our money into production rather than marketing but at the end of the day selling our product is going to be very important to us. We can't simple arrive 6 or 7 years down the road and expect to be recognised in the marketplace, but it is difficult. Things like whiskyschools, tasting events, and most importantly for us, free publicity like this article, for which I am grateful, keep us in the public eye. Our Visitor Centre gets about 25,000 visitors each year.  Rather surprisingly we get quite a lot of free television. In July for example a few episodes from a series called '2000 Acres of Sky' is being filmed at Bladnoch. The producer got no "Brownie" points from me for saying he "needed a rather dilapidated old distillery". He tried to retract the insult by saying his make up people would have to do some work on the buildings.

Q17 - You told us you were only allowed to distill 100.000 litres a year - that's roughly 140.000 bottles. Not a whole lot, considering  it will have to nourish thousands of Bladnoch lovers around the world. Do you plan on targeting specific markets in the future?
Raymond: Is this a trick question to test my maths or have I been giving my bank manager incorrect figures?  Our 100,000 ola's is based on original litres of alcohol at 100% i.e. "pure alcohol" not at the 40% figure you used.  We lose about 2% per annum in evaporation, which after 10 years should leave us about 80,000 litres measured at 100%, or 186,046 litres at 43% equivalent to 265,780 70cl bottles.  Put another way our 100,000 ola's will be reduced in strength by the addition of water and filled into the casks at 63.5% abv. This will require 630 hogsheads each with 250 bulk litres.  In reality with leakage and other losses including theft you could find yourself averaging as little as 30 cases of 12 i.e. 360 bottles @ 43% from each hogshead. Recently we regauged 20 of our 13yo hoggies and they averaged 114 litres of alcohol (equivalent to 378  70cl bottles @ 43%).

Q18 - Oops, my mistake. But since you brought it up: it seems to be common practise nowadays to dilute the fresh spirit before it is casked - in your case to 63.5%. Why is that? I'm absolutely crazy about the UD Rare Malts Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998, which comes in the bottle at a whopping 63.8% after 19 years in wood. This leads me to believe this malt must have been casked at well over 70%. What are your thoughts on this?
Raymond: I'm not sure I can answer your question other than to say that it's the traditional strength of filling at Bladnoch, but tradition only goes back to living memory.  At a strength of 63.5% rather than the original 70% the spirit requires more casks and more storage space, consequently there does not appear to be a cost benefit. The strength of a 19 year old Bladnoch will obviously be influenced by the filling strength, time in wood and the evaporation levels (influenced by cask size and type, condition, number of previously fillings, warehouse conditions etc.) 
Although filling at a higher strength gives you more bottling options I am considering the opposite i.e. filling a few casks at a variety of low strengths. I personally prefer to sip my whisky without adding water and can do so up to a strength of about 50%.  Fill at 50% and you may find your cask strength in 10 years below 40% and not capable of being sold as whisky. I sampled a 10 yo Bladnoch recently which came out of the cask at just 50% abv. I have no idea why its strength was so low but it tasted delicious.
In fact your Saint Magdalene was (I think) only distilled twice and is unlikely to have been filled much above 70%.
Why then after 19 years was the evaporation level so modest?
In our warehouse even after just 18 months there is a noticeable difference in maturation of spirit held in 500 litre butts compared to the 200 barrels.  The butts are developing more slowly. Recently I was considering purchasing some good quality sherry butts from a bodega in Spain. I was put off by the fact that their capacity was about 625 litres.
There was a possibility that a man of my age might not see the benefits.
Ignoring the maths, if the whisky turns out exceptionally good I might just retire and drink it myself. If it's bad I may have to drink it myself. There should still be some middling quality stuff left for the rest of the world. Seriously though I think as a very small producer we would be most effective by concentrating on the UK and perhaps one or two European countries which are the most accessible.

Q19 - Like Holland, for example?
Raymond: Living in Northern Ireland I didn't have the opportunity in my youth to travel in the same way as people living on continental Europe. Even after just one visit to the Whisky Festival at The Hague (and despite having no experience in marketing or promotion) we get more interest in our whisky from Holland than any other country outside the UK. Interest includes both visitors to our website and visitors to the distillery. I might add that people are not just interested in our whisky but they are also interested in the distillery and in us, its' employees, which is nice.
A small business like Bladnoch is naturally keen to raise its' profile in Europe. Holland with a high standard of living, and where most people speak English and seem to me to be quite similar in character, (even if not as good at football as Ireland who are still playing in the world cup) is an obvious choice. Bladnoch is only about three and a half hours drive from Newcastle and the ferry to IJmuiden. Ryanair and Easyjet do flights from Amsterdam to Prestwick about one and half hours drive from the distillery. They also do a cheap car hire package. So despite being located in a rather remote part of Scotland, we are more accessible than many other distilleries.

Q20 - I'm sure a lot of 'single malt pilgrims' will be glad to know that. And I guess the Whisky School you run at the distillery would be another excuse to drop by. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Raymond: The whiskyschools have been attended by a wide range of people from all over the world, both sexes and all ages. Usually we meet for dinner on Thursday night in the pub opposite the distillery. First thing Friday morning we mash in under the supervision of John our stillman and John McDougall who is our resident expert. On Saturday we distill the wash that was mashed in on the previous Wednesday and was fermenting during Thursday & Friday. On Sunday they select casks and fill them and put them in the warehouse. All this including talks, tastings, cleaning etc. I have not yet managed to get them involved in the "managerial" work performed by the distillery owner, i.e. cutting grass, painting --- the list is endless!  And there's more good news, the participants pay 300 for this doubtful "privilege".  I was wondering if anyone would be interested in taking part in a "building" school in Ireland, learning to drive a wheelbarrow etc.
Essentially it is very enjoyable and I hope when everyone goes back home they will bore there friends to death talking about Bladnoch. See www.whiskyschool.com for details.

Q21 - And now for something completely different: A little bird told us that you have been secretly stockpiling the Loch Dhu 10yo. Will you be serving it at the Whisky School as an example how a single malt SHOULDN'T taste?
Raymond: I feel a little bit guilty about all the scorn that is heaped on Loch Dhu - including by yourself Johannes! I've tasted it once or twice but even the sales rep selling it to me referred to it as an RBB (Rough as a Badgers Bum) He was a big strapping Highlander and I didn't like to be so indelicate as to enquire how he had come to obtain this rather detailed knowledge.
It's true that I did buy rather a lot of Loch Dhu when I heard production was stopping.
Unfortunately it all sold out rather quickly in our shop, hopefully not in preference to Bladnoch.
I have to say that I wish I had kept it, for it sells regularly in McTears auction at a very good premium.

Q22 - Don't get me started on Loch Dhu 10yo. And let me assure you I'm not the only one with strong feelings about this malt. When I served it during this year's 'Midsummernight's Dram' in Holland it ignited a lengthy discussion about the extreme treatment they must have given the poor casks to produce this 'Aqua Crematoria'.
Raymond: At Bladnoch I'm considering some experimentation on placing emphisis on differences in distilling techniques as well as on wood. Springbank does this through double distillation, triple distillation, and two and a half times but I think with the flexibility available to small distilleries this can be successfully carried much further. For example if I was to offer you two minatures of Bladnoch and the label read that one was taken from the earlier part of the run, say from 74% down to a cut at 67% and the second was from the second part of the run 67% down to say 60% which would you buy?
I suspect some malt maniacs might want to buy both, because they not only enjoy a good whisky but they have become almost obsessed by taste and the detailed information relating to taste analysis. It's amazing to see how malt maniacs are not just curious about taste, but also interested in acquiring every detail on how the taste was created. It is ironic that distillers strive for consistency and then seek to offer different expressions through a wood policy. Almost 90 malt distilleries offering a wide range of tastes and still we seek more...

Q23 - Well, I for one am glad that Bladnoch is one of those 90 surviving distilleries.
Considering the new product won't be bottled for another few years, Bladnoch fans will have to make do with the bottlings that are available today for a while longer.  If you had to 'paint a picture' of your distillery with three bottles that best represent what Bladnoch is all about, which current bottlings would you choose - and why?

Raymond: I think that in choosing a bottling I am less likely to use the usual taste criteria. I would have difficulty not being influenced by political factors. I should really say "all UDV bottlings are best" because they are, but also because they hold the largest amounts of Bladnoch stocks some of which I have been unsuccessfully trying to persuade them to sell. I probably would choose the UDV 10 YO Flora and Fauna bottling, not for any of the normal taste reasons although I think it's a really delicious dram but because in many ways it represents the continuity and survival of Bladnoch and particularly during the next six or seven years. The closure during the UDV period of ownership was desperately traumatic. They bought the distillery, they expanded it, they closed it, they cannibalised it, vandalised it and they sold it, with a restriction that it should never again distill. In fairness they later removed a restrictive covenant once again making production possible, and did so without payment of a single pound/euro. In addition they sold me back some plant and equipment without which I would have found it impossible to reopen.
For a reason equally nothing to do with taste I am a little reluctant to promote the more recently introduced UDV Rare Malts Bladnoch, again a most wonderful dram. To me it denoted not so much an expression of an old rare whisky from a fine operational distillery but rather the last exploitation of a distillery that had been "put down" for purely financial reasons. I have unsuccessfully requested on their www.raremalts.com website, if they would indicate that we are once again distilling and possibly even indicate our opening times or telephone numbers or a link to our website www.bladnoch.co.uk. Naturally, they show these details for distilleries that are in their ownership.

Q24 - OK, let me rephrase my last question: What would be your personal choice?
Raymond: When it comes to personal choice I have to declare Bladnochs' independence and individuality. My choice will always be a bottling from one of the many independent bottlers whose efforts have largely ensured that Bladnoch has remained in the marketplace and at affordable prices. These as you know include Signatory, Cadenheads, James McArthur and Gordon & MacPhails.
In the early part of the last century Bladnoch traded under the name T&A McClelland and their label included the boldly printed letters ESS  (Extra Strong Scotch)  So give me a good quality cask strength dram and I will give you a happy man.
I want to finish if I may with a quote from Brian Townsend in Scotch Missed, Lost Distilleries of Scotland. "It is somehow impossible not to feel a special regret at the demise of Bladnoch. Among the 100 or more distilleries chronicled in this book, few can match it for the richness of its history and its stubborn ability to survive for so long against such odds. Bladnoch is one distillery about which a small novel could be written rather than the brief pen portrait given here. So much about it is noteworthy - and is still today rated as a distilling gem. The rarer sherried examples which occasionally come to light are exceptional by any standards"
OK, Raymond, on that lyrical note I'd like to thank you for your time and wish you lots of luck in making Bladnoch a success once more. I'm quite sure you will succeed.

Johannes van den Heuvel
Certified Malt Maniac
 

= = =

E-pistle #2002/?? - A Short Note on Indian Single Malt
by Krishna Nukala, India

The only so called Indian Single Malt available is "Mcdowell's Single Malt Whisky" (MSMW). I've tasted the stuff a few times. The first time I tasted it was somewhere in 1993, the last time was a month back. Although it is better in taste and acceptable as a whisky (more than any of the other so called Indian whiskies), I reserve my right to call it a single malt.

For a beginner or un-initiated it may seem to be a single malt. But at this stage I feel I am enough experienced at least to recognize a good whisky. The first drawback about MSMW is non specification of any age. Alcohol strength is a standard 43% abv. The color: a golden yellow. A swirl of the liquid does not show any oily character. The nose is fairly oakish and appears as any genuine imported scotch. Initial palate gives a faint mint like taste with considerable amount of wood. A little sweetish taste can also be detected. More than this I cannot detect any other characterstic about the whisky. The 3rd or 4th dram reveals the true character. I can distinctly feel the burnt rubber synthetic taste that is associated with all the standard molasses based whiskies of India. That gives me a doubt that the whisky is made out of standard non-grain based alcohol laced with some imported Scottish malts. It could be possible that the "blend" has been aged for some time in oak casks to give a feel of woody character.

I am aware that I am raising doubts about a whisky that is claimed to be a single malt (the stuff is produced by the largest liquor company in India - Mcdowell India Ltd). In his 'Malt Whisky Companion' (4th edition, page 327-329), Michael Jackson lists the malts produced outside Scotland. According to him even Pakistan produces a single malt. There is no mention of India. Here in lies my malt experience. Here in lies the reputation of a fellow Malt Maniac. To prove whether I am right or wrong I have to visit the distillery. The distillery is situated at Goa, a beautiful seaside resort on the Arabian sea. Presently I am too tied up with my official and personal problems to make a trip which takes about 5-7 days. But I shall do it soon. I shall be happy to prove myself wrong so that I can proudly claim that India too can produce a single malt.

(Why don't I try sending a sample of the stuff to fellow malsters for their opinion? I think I should do that!)

Krishna
 

In 2002, these were just five of the E-pistles we published:

E-pistle #2002/??? - An interview with Derek 'Bowmore' Gilchrist - by Patrick Whaley, USA
E-pistle #2002/??? - Trio de Vioncelles en Islay Majeur - by Serge Valentin, France
E-pistle #2002/??? - An interview with Raymond 'Bladnoch' Armstrong  - by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland
E-pistle #2002/??? - A Short Note on Indian Single Malt - by Krishna Nukala, India
E-pistle #2002/??? - Whisky Hill Dram Jam 2002 - by Michael Wade, USA

And that's it for now. Follow us on Twitter if you want to know when more of the old stuff will be published.
 

= = =

E-pistle #2002/?? - Whisky Hill Dram Jam 2002
by Michael Wade, USA

Sorry, no reports covering July - September 2002.
Instead, a report on the 'Whisky Hill Dram Jam' (May 3rd - May 5th, 2002).

May 3d, 2002

I met Sir Dave at his abode in Arlington around 2pm, just on time for departure.  Dr. Entropy and FX were in rare form that day, partly because of the late night pre-festivity dramming but more due to the levity of the upcoming event.  In our neck of the woods, any day is an excuse to get together and have some drams…. Halloween, birthdays, hell, even Bastille Day… But when May rolls around - truly it is a special time - for Uisgetom hosts his annual fling, the Whisky Hill Dram Jam near Rochester, NY.  This year it would be even more special, as our west coast friend FX would join us; and in addition Tom had planned a special surprise guest….
So after a quick lunch we set off on our 8 hour drive.

We arrived about 8:30PM or so to be greeted by Tom and our mystery guest… None other than S'Tan himself Marty O'Kari, Ardbeggeddon VIP and PLOWED Spiritual Leader (or Head Spirit Reciever)…  We are all astounded to see Marty and the dramming commences…. After downing oodles of B1, we were handed the ceremonial welcome dram….

Springbank 1965 "Local Barley" (52.4%, OB, Cask 1965/9, bottle #22)
Color: Deep gold
Nose: Chocolate, coconut, candies, cherry
Palate: Sherry zest, rich bitter cocoa, sugar, fried dough
Finish: Long and deeply warming
Score: 92

I could tell this was going to be a Springbank kind of night, but first we needed to get some food in us.  Tom threw in the 3" Buffalo pizzas.  Pepperoncini peppers covered every inch of this pizza, famous in Tom's area.  I could tell it was going to be a great weekend, but moving on we had to participate in the official PLOWED ceremony as Lipping the Local Barley. Proudly we raised the bottle to our lips to commemorate a gathering of good friends and good malts. We listened to some great local music and shared stories; highly anticipating our coming trip to Scotland. (See my Feis Ile Report 2002.)

Springbank 31yo 1967 (46%, Murray McDavid, Fresh Bourbon)
Color: Light gold
Nose: Cookie dough, chocolate, vanilla and pralines
Palate: Milk chocolate, cookie crumbs, but a bit strung too thin
Finish: Medium and hazy
Score: 85

At the insistence of our resident Glenfarclas lover, FX, I was invited to try something.
I am not much of a Glenfarclas nut, I've had many bottlings that were pleasant, but also many which were uneventful and boring.  Often times it is too overwhelmed by sherry and not integrated well.  As far as big Speysiders go it does not round the top of my list.  However I must mention that at Sir Dave's Glenfarclas tasting I did discover some wonderful examples of the distillery's capabilities. This one was rather pleasant but dominated by sherry sweetness which masked some of the complexity. An average dram.

Glenfarclas 17yo 1977 (53.2%, Glenhaven)
Color: Deep gold
Nose: Sherry, cherries, herbal, a little alcohol prickle
Palate: Sherry moving to herbal esters, leafy and raw dough.  Dry, wet grass.
Finish: Short but vehement
Score: 75

And now back to the task at hand…. Springbank!

Springbank 12yo "Wood Expressions" Rum Cask (54.6%, OB)
Color: Pale Straw
Nose: Butterscotch, vanilla, some distillery characters emerge with a warm hand and some water but are held in restraint by the caramel butterscotch notes
Palate: Vanilla, pepper, slightly bitter.  The distillery character seems underdeveloped, or perhaps to put it in a better light, developing well, not having realized it's full potential.
Finish: Long and strong
Score: 89

I guess I could not stay focused on the task at hand…
Every time I reached for one of the many alluring gems from Campbeltown something else beckoned me… This time it was going to be Compass Box's latest offering at the time, a vatted malt called "Eleuthera", a vatting of Caol Ila and Clynelish.

Compass Box Eleuthera (46%, vatted malt)
Color: White wine
Nose: Burning chocolate, smoke and burnt caramel
Palate: Smoke, peat, a leafy fern fire
Finish: Warm and long
Score: N/A

Time for another Springbank…. And again a vatted malt this one called Moidart… a 25 year old vatted malt… Very interesting.  (As an aside I was able to obtain some of this for myself on my trip to Scotland, it is wonderful and really exemplifies that older, distinct Springbank character now nearly vanished from the current bottlings).

Moidart 25yo (46%, vatted malt)
Color: Dark gold
Nose: Coconut, chocolate and smoke, very oily
Palate: Smoky briny coconut, slight medicinal peat integrated very well
Finish: Long and warming, and deep in the stomach
Score: N/A

Ok, so it wouldn't be long at all before I strayed again from the Springbank fold.
I was tempted by what my cohorts were calling a "Raspberry Monster".
Hmmm… And a Tomatin no less? My only experiences with this distillery have been upsetting.

Tomatin 18yo 1979/1997 (60.8%, Cadenhead's, distilled July 1979, bottled September 1997)
Color: Light gold
Nose: Vanilla extract, cookie dough, alcohol prickle, candied fruits
Palate: Fried dough, whipped cream, skim milk, very unique
Finish: Long and hot
Score: 89
Comments: This one stands out as a very fruity example of malt whisky.
High marks for originality and uniqueness.

By this time it was only 11:30 but it was a long hectic day of driving so I decided to call it a night.
My nightcap, a Springbank of course!  8 Drams under my belt. 
Not bad but I would have to do better to keep up with the likes of these folk.

Springbank 29yo 1965/1994 (53.4%, Milroy's)
Color: Brown chestnut gold
Nose: Waxy, coconut oil, chocolate cream and banana
Palate: Pepper, sherry and chocolate.
Finish: Hot hot hot
Score: 93
Comments:  A damn fine example of a post closure sherried Springbank.
I have never had a bad Milroy's bottling.
 

May 4th, 2002

Ahhh….. The morning skalk; a celtic tradition, served to you preferably before you step out of bed.  In my case, I was partying with a bunch of hooligans and I would have to make do with getting my arse off the inflatable mattress and getting it my damn self.  To reward my journey to the Whisky Hill Shrine, my morning skalk was of course a Springbank, just about as good as the nightcap I had the night before.

Springbank 1965/1999 (46%, Murray McDavid, Fresh Sherry Cask MM580)
Color: Rich golden brown
Nose: Sherry dominates, velvety milk chocolate, raisins and fruit
Palate: Oily coconut , fruit, peach and apricot
Finish: Warm and zesty
Score: 90

Now that I was sufficiently lubricated, we sat down and enjoyed a full breakfast of scrambled eggs with wild leeks, fried potatoes and venison loin steak.  Simply amazing and a great start to the day.  Before I could even officially begin I got hounded again about Glenfarclas…. Fine, another go at it….

Glenfarclas 35yo (52.6%, Whyte & Whyte, Single Cask Sherry)
Color: Chestnut Brown
Nose: Brown sugar, treacle, cinnamon, sherry and sulphur
Palate: Strung out, bitter, past it's prime, burnt butter and sherry, over ripe dates
Finish: Bitter and whimpering
Score: 60

Moving on it was time to taste a couple of Glen Garioch whiskies.
I have always loved this distilleries output especially when heavily sherried and older.

Glen Garioch 16yo 1985 'Individual Cask' (51.9%, OB, Sherry Butt #1585)
Color: Deep mahogany
Nose: Rich sugared almonds, sherry peat fires and restrained smoke
Palate: Smoked nuts, a peaty chocolate kiss and a smoky oily backpalate
Finish: Long
Score: 88

Glen Garioch 29yo 1968 'Individual Cask' (55.9%, OB, Sherry Hogshead #618)
Color: Deep blood brownish red
Nose: Cocoa, molasses, sugared fruits, mint, oil
Palate: Smooth and waxy, pepper, burnt fruit, caramel, peat smoke in  the finish
Finish: Warm and soft but held in length.
Score: ??

At this time I needed a break so I took a walk around Whisky Hill checking out the views out into the valley.  Quite a brisk May day it was and I could surely see my breath in the early afternoon… I checked in on our dinner, smoking in the front yard… Hickory smoked ribs and wings…. It was going to be a grand night.  But it was time to get back to  business….
The guys were doing well, so I needed to catch up…

Springbank 31yo 1966 "Chairman's Stock" (50.5%, Cadenhead's)
Color: Reddish golden brown
Nose: Chocolate, coconut, marzipan, oil, sandy almonds, trail mix
Palate: A classic example of the old distillery character, dry coconut, wood zest, sherry and licorice
Finish: Hot and eternal
Score: 93

It was at this time that our mystery guest of honor, S'Tan unvealed to us the Mystery Dram.
Disguised in a Loch Dhu bottle (an old PLOWED war story), it was very dark and rich with no perceptible peat.
I guessed it to be cask strength and an older Speyside, heavily sherried.
I was right on 2 counts…. And the mystery dram was….

Bowmore 'Black' 1967 (50.0%, OB, Second Release)
Color: Deep brownish black
Nose: Licorice, vanilla, caramel and chocolate moving to herbal notes after a few minutes.
Palate: Hard candy, herbs and cloves, cinnamon and chocolate…  Definitely heavily sherried.
Finish: Slightly hot and long
Score: 92

We adjourned for dinner celebrating our enjoyment of Black Bowmore….
We had our dinner of home hickory smoked ribs and wings with a wonderful seasonal salad with hot bacon dressing, a wonderful pasta salad with mountains of cheese and salami… Dinner was amazing and the conversation with the PLOWED Ringleaders was of course top notch…  After the great dinner, we realized based on the agenda we had a lot of Longrow's to work through before we could even THINK of getting to the Haggis ceremony.

Longrow 1987/1997 (43%, Signatory Vintage)
Color: Straw
Nose: rich caramel, butterscotch, marshmallow all on a backdrop of smoke and burnt grass
Palate: Sweet, marshmallow follow through, light smoke and ferny notes
Finish: Soft but long, like a classical tune on a rainy day to accompany a book
Score: 88

As always with PLOWED our drunken debauchery steered way off course and I was tempted by a couple of Taliskers.  The side trip was well worth the time and palate trashing as you will see…..

Talisker 25yo (59.9%, OB, bottled 2001, bottle #4966/6000)
Color: Dark gold
Nose: Talisker pepper but more restrained, almost muted, held against a backdrop of hard candy and mints
Palate: HOT.  Watered down distillery character comes out, whitewashed seawalls, but it is held restraint against a muted backdrop of more velvety flavors such as oak and chocolate
Finish: Hot
Score: 92

Talisker 12yo (??%, OB, bottled in the early 1990's)
Color: Gold
Nose: Talisker character of pepper and sea spray, brine and chili peppers but it is more defined and brash, and behind a muted veil lie the calmer flavors.  Like an intense wave building up.
Palate:  This is the only way to describe it.  After a few moments a sensation of warming rising from the chest moves to the back of the throat.  One of the most amazing whisky related sensory experiences I have ever had.  Confirmed by others.  The sweetness moves to pepper but the whole taste experience was almost entirely internal and the palate flavors paled in comparison. 
Finish: Warm and ever so long and slow
Comments:  Amazing.  Like a young wave on the horizon, building up for hours into a crescendo and then after the crash, the water recedes back slowly into the ocean.  It left me stunned.
Score: 95

After this experience I was ready to get back to the Longrow's.
We took a break, refreshed ourselves with some water and light snacks and watched some movies.  A lot of planning for our upcoming jaunt to Scotland was discussed and then it was on to the task at hand, before moving on… I was getting some serious Brain Drammage at this point, but I had to move on or my cronies would leave me in the dust.

(Added note: despite my best efforts, they did just that. I leave the tasting notes out for the next 2 because I ended up tasting them later during my Scotland trip and notes are provided in that coverage.  I have left the scores here, however, as MM seems to place an emphasis on scoring malts, something we just do not do in the PLOWED culture.  I promise you my scores are most likely arbitrary in nature and only reflect my personal views at that very time under those circumstances….  I am sure I will make many enemies {or friends?} based on my scores and I welcome all feedback to that effect.)

Longrow 10yo Sherry (46%, OB) - 87
Longrow 10yo Bourbon
(46%, OB) - 85

Longrow 9 yo 1992 (57.2%, Cadenhead's)
Color: Light gold
Nose: Smoky, milky and chocolate with cherry and mint.  Very appetizing
Palate: Sweet smoke. Hot chocolate with marshmallow, leafy and herbal
Finish: A hot one, no water added
Score: 90

Seeing as now it was well past dinner, and the theme of the evening was Ardbeg night, I decided to warm myself up with a new Bowmore release and then on to the venison Haggis ceremony.

Bowmore 1968 (45.5%, OB)
Color: Light gold
Nose: Candied fruits, light peat smoke and citrus, very rich
Palate: coconut, a smoky backdrop splashed with citrus and fruit moves on to fading oily smoke
Finish: Fruity
Score: 92
Comments: One of the best Bowmore bottlings I have ever tasted. Amazingly fruity.

At this time we had our "Ode to a Haggis".
After properly addressing the haggis and performing our duties thereof, we partook of the haggis.  It was truly wonderful haggis thanks to Tom, and I had mine with a splash of Glenglassaugh.  What a delightful recharge to prepare me for the theme of the night… Ardbeg… And some GOOD Ardbeg's too.  I learned there is no bad whisky on Whisky Hill….

Ardbeg 10yo 'Black Label Celtic A' (40%, OB, bottled +/- 1990)
Color: Palest of pale straw
Nose: Smoke, peat, pungent burnt oily lemon, herbal notes and bbq sauce
Palate: Not as brash as the nose suggests, herbal, smoky, a bit softer and held in restraint against the nose.
Finish: Thin
Score: 92
Comments:  Tasting a legend, thanks to FX's classic Ebay FOAF.
Sure it was only a miniature but it was enough for a good sample and plenty for me.

Ardbeg 1975/2001 (58%, John Milroy Selection)
Color: Yellow Gold
Nose: Sherry, smoke, citrus, creosote
Palate: Sherry, smoke, rich and oily in the mouth, the sherry and the smoke intergrate well
Finish: Sweet and long
Score: 92

Ardbeg 1975 (45.2%, OB, Sherry Cask #4702, Hand Bottled for the French Market)
Nose: Charred oak, pungent reeky liquid smoke, burning canola oil and peat, with citrus notes
Palate: Oily, reeky, smoky ferns, peat, musty oil and creosote.
Finish: Long and soft
Score: 93

Ardbeg 1977 (46%, OB)
Color: Straw
Nose: Peat, not as reeky as other Ardbegs of this age, smoke and wet wool
Palate: Smoky burning peat, kick in the face wood zest, a very pungent but distinctly bourbon flavor emerges in the end.
Finish: Long
Score: 90

Ardbeg  29yo 1972/2001 "The Ardbeggeddon" (48.4%, PLOWED private bottling)
Color: Pale
Nose: Sherry, peat smoke, lemon, driftwood fires
Palate: Kick you in the teeth oil, sherry, peat and tar.  Lemon citrus soot and grease.
Finish: Ouch, that hurt.
Score: 91
Comments: A monster; the fiercest Ardbeg ever.

I decided to make this dram my nightcap.
That made 18 drams for the day.  I was doing better today, but still not up to par.
It was a good day, and there were some classic moments.  In particular watching S'Tan fall asleep, dram in hand, and the invention of Mouth Vatting.  This was a sign of things to come, and a very positive shadow was cast on the Scotland trip…  I drifted off to sleep, images of the CalMac ferry and Ardbeg distillery swirling in my head, like a giddy child on the night before Christmas, knowing that the Scotland trip was only weeks away, but not knowing what was in store for me when I got there….
 

May 5th, 2002

The next morning I stumbled out to the skalk of the morning… chosen by Sir Dave….and called the Char Skalk.
What is the Gaelic definition of a Sherry Monster skalk taken before breakfast?

Longmorn 1973 (58.5%, Blackadder Raw Cask)
Color: Dark mahogany
Nose: Velvety chocolate sherry and fruit
Palate: Easy on the front palate, hot on the back.  Syrupy, oily.  Maple syrup. 
Fnish: Sweet and long
Score: 90
Comments: A sherry monster.

We were served a breakfast of home made blueberry pancakes, venison sausage and venison haggis.  An amazing experience as always… We all packed our things up and shared a few drams off the record…. Talking of days past and the days to come…. Whisky Hill Dram Jam is not to be missed!  As I stepped outside in the cold afternoon air I thought to myself "Only 364 days to go until next time!"

Dr. Entropy's coverage and pictures of the 3rd Annual Whisky Hill Dram Jam can be seen at
http://www.smwhisky.com/WHDJ-3.htm

Michael Wade
 

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