Malt Maniacs Archive - 2003
MM Archives - 2003

Ah, the year 2003... 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 #2003/?? - My '2002' Dram Diary
by Craig Daniels, Australia

The Dram Diary concept arose out of the original "52 Challenge" (which was an inspired idea even if I don't recall who came up with it) and became a welcome disciplinary tool for my tasting notes.  I always put my notes on paper first as not all the whiskies are tasted at my place and my computer is stuck away in a room that is not conducive to drinking and transcribe them later.  Of course the longer I leave it, the more likely I am to miss recording for posterity one of the whiskies I've tasted.

Dram Diary 2002 (New malts sampled 1/1 to 31/12/02):

1 - Glenrothes 13yo Rum Finish (43%, ChC) - 76 points
Nose is a bit flat, with some hay or straw, maybe some dried pears, a slight melon fruitiness and a dry maltiness, but gets progressively more cereal packet cardboardy.  Palate is a little dull too, but with a bit of sharpness in the finish indicating some wood astringency but I can't get any overt rum character. Gets a dull metallic, dried pears & damp blotting paper note in the nose after a while; maybe that is the rum influence?  Finish is bit short and a bit sharp.  Doesn't really pack much punch anywhere; nose, palate or finish.4/1/02: different glassware reveals more evident and immediate sweetness - Old Jamaica Rum & Raisin chocolate and a hard candy/demerara sugar sweetness along with the melon noted earlier.  Becomes very sucrose and glucose sweet, but stays curiously flat as well.  Rum detectable in the palate as a hard cane sugar edge.

2 - Glenrothes 26yo 1973 (43%, OB, sampled on 4/1/02) - 84 points
Colour is a medium amber brown with umber autumn leave highlights.  Very shy nose early, which never really becomes lively.  Has the typical burnt nuts aroma, but more refined than the 1989.  The nose is fruity but dry - maybe dried pears comes closest.  Palate is initially toffee sweet but dries out and the burnt nut notes come through in the back palate; something like peanut or almond brittle.  Pretty smooth overall and there's a nice lingering creaminess in the tail.  Refined and definitely classy, however remains on the bland side and was slightly less interesting and generous than expected.  Would most likely appeal to super deluxe blend and cognac fanciers.  I suspect that brandy balloons would show it to better advantage by opening up the nose more quickly and more fully.

3 - Glenmorangie 13yo Fino Sherry Finish (43%, OB, sampled on 4/1/02) - 88 points
Colour is a palish gold with lemon highlights.  Nose is very interesting and shows discernible character development.  Starts with a flinty, almost crusher-dust note of the Fino treatment then shows almonds and some thin honey.  Has an apricot kernel and marzipan note.  The almond nougat & orange blossom creaminess of the base bourbon wood is expressed more strongly over time, but the transition is gradual and seamless and continues delicate and never becomes cloying; almost like an aristocratic beauty disrobing fine vestments to reveal an equally attractive core underneath.  Left in the glass a very long time, the classic gentle citrus creaminess of the bourbon standard 10 year old is all that remains.  The palate is rich and rounded and very good; reminiscent of the 1972 Single Cask and probably slightly superior to recent examples of the 18.  There's also a nice fresh citric acidity, like lemonade sherbet in the back palate that keeps the finish very clean.  Superior in every way to any and all of the 12 year old wood treatments.

4 - Bunnahabhain 17yo 1979 (56%, Signatory Vintage, Butt # 5108, sampled on 4/1/02) - 91 points
4/1/02; Colour is a dark umber brown with an olive green tinge in the meniscus.  Nose starts with a hint of pickling spice, pickled onions, soy sauce and top quality balsamic vinegar, like all the funky gravy notes of the standard 12 but in concentrated and rarefied form.  Rich and meaty yet very dry and slightly sour, bit like hot and sour soup made with a rich clarified & reduced beef stock- not a hint of stewed fruit or brandied pudding anywhere.  Very multi-layered and shows amazing development in the nose over time.  Palate is also quite rich with burnt or roasted meat and strong nutty notes.  The palate becomes both richer and drier, with the dark bitter chocolate and bittering herbs/hops of Old Pulteney, but with more depth.  The aftertaste has a meaty richness.  Much drier and meatier than either Glenfarclas or Macallan but just as triumphantly and impressively put together. 
Very unusual yet rewarding and satisfying experience.

5 - Bruichladdich 10yo (46%, OB, new 2001 bottling, sampled on 4/1/02) - 77 points
Palate recall and malt marker memory has the 'new' one being pretty much identical to the B10s bottled in the late 1980's, early 1990s. It's incredibly similar to the 'old' bottling - I'm pretty sure it must be stuff that was distilled under the Invergordon regime and to the exact same recipe as the ones the Club tasted in the early 1990s. The Earls scores probably sum up the old B10 pretty well. (6.62 in 1990, 6.75 in 1991, 7.0 in 1992. the Earls mark lower than me, my score in 1992 was 7.5. The adjustment factor is pretty consistent (~1.102) so the Earls equivalent range is 7.3-7.7 which I think is fair. The night in 1992 when we last had it at the Club it was the highest scoring amongst Scapa 8 (ugh,) Dufftown 8 (boring) and Old Pulteney 8. The OP came in second, but the OPs from G&M are incredibly varied - some are big chocolatey numbers, others are bland and insipid - which my tasting notes reflect. I certainly wouldn't think it worth more than 7.7. Depending on the price I can't see them moving a lot of it. Its OK but it still smells and tastes like a highland. Actually, if you mixed Scapa, Arran and Balblair together you'd get pretty close to the B10.

6 - Brora 1972/1997 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, sampled on 26/1/02) - 81 points
Another one where I don't know if it's the identical whisky to one tried in December 1997 but my tasting notes from then are eerily similar, although from the feel of the respective notes I liked the one in 1997 better than the one tasted in 2002. - 17/12/97 - "Lots of clean peat, heaps peaty in the palate, gets better in the glass, sweet but peat hangs around throughout the finish - has liniment building in the background".  26/1/02 - "Big plastic bandaid smell early which dissipates, obvious peat and a sweet edge, then the topical antiseptic ointment becomes more obvious.  Smells very much like an Islay. Peaty in the palate, but the finish is shorter and more highland rather than Islay. The reprise has the industrial charcoal dead coal fire ember aftertaste of Tomatin, Tormore, Dalmore and the single grain Cameron Brig rather than the smouldering autumn leaves and garden bonfires of true Islays. 
The finish is the only thing that reflects its regional identity.

7 - Knockando 1987/2000 (43%, OB, 750ml) - 80 points
Best official release since the 1982.  Equal highest score I've ever given the younger vintage Knockando, but still a bit too sweet for my tastes. Pale to medium gold (4LG ie darker than Glenmorangie 10 but not as dark as Dalwhinnie 15) with a bright, buttercup yellow tint in the meniscus.  It has a strong sense of honey, honeysuckle and heather, some bread dough, but fresh and not cardboardy and a faint hint of that gentle floral crayon smokiness that you can get in Glenlivet, Cragganmore and Cardhu.  The peat hangs around in the tail.  This one has more body and a better mouthfeel than the 1984 12yo. The sweetness becomes slightly cloying in the finish. I'd guess 100% bourbon casking - I can't find any sherry in the nose or the palate. I guess the closest descriptor is a cross between Dalwhinnie and Cragganmore, but less buttery than the former and less refined than the latter.  By no means challenging or stellar, but eminently drinkable.

8 - Poit Dhubh 12yo (40%, OB, sampled on 20/02/02) - 74 points
Curious and slightly weird nose to start, with strong sour (almost balsamic) notes and then nori seaweed. 
That sour and salty attack fades quickly and is replaced by liquorice that grows stronger.  There is a hint of japanese paint stick crayon and a chalky hint of plaster, sterile dressings and mustard cress.  Both the palate and nose are quite sweet to start and they both get progressively drier. The nose gets lighter and becomes very much like Cardhu, Cragganmore or An Cnoc, but with more lifted volatiles than any of them.  There's something vaguely medicinal, but if it's got Talisker in it, it must only be a smidgen or the peating levels were dropped for a private batch run.  Pleasant without being demanding.

9 - Lammerlaw 12yo (43%, OB, sampled on 20/02/02) - 71 points
Quite spiritty initially, slightly grainy and freshly malty.  Not sure but there may be some sherry wood in the regime as there's a hint of sour fruit and cherries underneath the malt. The nose becomes quite flowery with plasticine and a little bit of smokiness.  As the nose develops it becomes very barbershop with lollywater, brilliantine hair oil or california poppy.  There are some slightly dusty and chalky notes and a hint of ethyl acetate.  Reminds me a little of Inchmurrin, Arran and Mosstowie with some hints of Glenlivet as well.   Quite light bodied and quite clean on the palate.  Has some of the airplane dope of the 10yo but the lasting impression is of hair tonic & eau de cologne, rather than the lanolin and sour bread dough that were the other dominant characteristics in the 10 year old.

10 - Inchmurrin 10yo (40%, OB, sampled on 27/02/02) - 73 points
Very dry perfumed nose early with a curious plaster of paris note (maybe that's the eucalyptus that Jackson mentions) and mint, but the freeze dried herbs rather than freshly picked.  Then some slightly fruity notes come out, like guava and bananas, but again unripe and the banana peel or plantain rather than the typical aroma of ripe bananas.  Very light and ethereal and the palate is light too.  Slightly fruity with a hint of menthol and a slightly weird metallic/medicinal finish; not unattractive, just unusual.  There is no grip in the finish at all - almost a ghost scotch.  Not used to something quite as insubstantial.  Interesting.  Would make for a fascinating trio up against Arran and the Cradle Mountain.

11 - Glenfarclas-Glenlivet 17yo (53.2%, Glenhaven, sampled on 16/3/02) - 82 points
Very interesting malt.  I can spot the lineage through the OB 17 and the OB 22 Millennium.
The colour tends to suggest bourbon or refill sherry and the nose didn't have any discernible 'classic' sherry, probably refill barrels, quite creamy with pine and honey.  Also has a hint of butter and peanuts, bit like some older Clynelish.
The palate was good and firm with the impression of buttered popcorn.  Interesting.

12 - Glenfarclas 1961 (43%, OB, sampled on 16/3/02) - 94 points
Nose has sherry, chutney, nutmeg, chocolate and varnish.  Palate is rich and creamier. 
Mouthfeel is magnificent - lots of old sherry character, but it justs hums along, developing but not changing noticeably in the glass. Remarkably constant and very nice. 19/5/02: Has the floorboards of Dailuaine and the meatiness of old Bunnahabhain. An incredibly good mouthfeel, best of any of the whiskies tasted in 2002 so far. Deepest sherry treatment of any whisky I've ever tasted.

13 - Glenfarclas 30yo (43%, OB, sampled on 16/3/02) - 93 points
More refined than the 1961 with less overt oloroso and more cedar/sandalwood of the oak coming through.  It also has a mint toffee character that is delicate and refined. 19/5/02: lots of lifted cedar wood and amazingly fresh considering the age.  Has a hint of sour fruit in the finish. Lovely stuff

14 - Glenfarclas 15yo (40%, OB, bottled circa 1978, sampled on 16/3/02) - 86 points
Colour is a umber brown, with a bronze hint and looks a bit dull & tired, no highlights in the meniscus.  The nose was curiously dusty and much drier than more recent offerings.  It has the aroma of old parchment and a musty edge.  It also has the dry mint toffee aroma of good Glenfarclas.

15 - Macallan 17yo 1984 (62%, MacKillop's Choice, Bottle # 0212, sampled on 27/3/02) - 82 points
Cream and piney nose.  Honey, cornflakes, liniment and butter.  Palate is bitey with lots of woody phenols.
With a splash of water there is definite pine resin, camphor laurel and pine needles - bit like Mosstowie 12 1970 (G&M CC).
Reminds me of lots of the UDRM 100% bourbon malts.  Plenty of grunt but no real distillery character.
I suppose I can say I've tried an unsherried Macallan, but so what?

17 - Balblair 10yo (40%, G&M, bottled circa 1980, sampled on 24/4/02) - 83 points
Starts with obvious vanilla then crushed nut skins (peanuts and almonds), gets a fruity candied orange peel note, then apple pie and cinnamon.  Palate is fruity with vanilla and dark chocolate. Has a hint of angostura bitters/dark unsweetened chocolate and dried herbs (thyme, peppermint, rosemary) in the tail.  The nose develops quite a bit considering the age.   The whole package is amazingly complex for the age.

18 - Old Pulteney 8yo (57%, G&M, bottled circa 1976, sampled on 24/4/02) - 81 points
Starts fruity and nutty with chocolate and nuts.  Gets a strong hint of 'green apples' after a while.  Proof is obvious on the palate and there's a definite spirit bite. Lots of chocolate in the finish. With water it gets woodier with fresh cedar and sandalwood.  Bit hot but lots of character.

19 - Old Pulteney 18yo Sherry Cask (58.8%, OB, sampled on 24/4/02) - 84 points
Has the phenacitin and phenalinine of Pulteney 12 and the dark chocolate and dried herbs.  Also has a very nice ginger and acetone note with a lot of dried fennel seed in the mix.  Fresh and clean and the proof isn't obvious.  Certainly doesn't nose or taste that high - more like 50% rather than 58.8%.  Pretty interesting, but not so good on the QPR. Score might be a bit low.

20 - Glen Grant 30yo 1965/1995 (40%, G&M, sampled on 19/5/02) - 87 points
Lovely vine sap nose, lots of dried leaves then butter and resin.  The palate is fruity and creamy.  Nice but a bit ordinary after the nose.  The cream and fruit hang around in the finish.  Gets a real floorwax note in the nose after 20 minutes and the sherry is more forward.  Very good but would be better at 50%.

21 - Glen Grant 21yo (40%, G&M, bottled circa 1990, sampled on 19/5/02) - 83 points
Light and slightly icing sugar nose - lots of melon and ginger. Then popcorn and woody phenols.
The woodiness is more obvious in the palate and a bit excessive.  Has the classic Speyside aspirin in the tail.
Good but ordinary in comparison to the 30yo.  Maybe the score is too low.
15/6/02: Resin, vine sap, lychees and more obvious sherry this time round.  Score revised upwards

22 - Ardbeg 29yo 1972 "The Ardbeggeddon" (48.4%, Douglas Laing, sampled on 26/5/02) - 87 points
The whisky of PLOWED fame. The comments in Whisky Magazine were very interesting.  I think what we can extract from the Michael Jackson/Dave Broom divergence (92.5/77.5) is the classic division between nosers who reward impact and those who value complexity and subtlety, with Jackson on the first side of the fence and Broom on the other. I also would discount Jackson's notes as only Broom remarked on INTENSITY, which I think (along with the staying power and the expression of 'carbolic soap' and 'bicycle tire repair kit') was the dominant characteristic for me.  Can't say I loved it - more in awe of it. Really starts pumping out the phenols after 4 or 5 minutes exposed to air.  Very dry and classic coal tar - then gets the hospital theatre smells of gauze and sterile dressings and band-aids, then a strong hint of lanolin.  Quite strange, but the lanolin is really evident on the palate.  The dryness of the nose is counterpoised against a very oily palate and an impression of hot boot polish.  Remarkably intense and the phenols become insistent - at the end, probably too much - started to smell like the clay powder you get when you open a bicycle repair kit.
It stood up well in stellar company - hence the relatively high score.  Bizarre, but fascinating.

23 - Port Ellen 18yo 1976/1995 (58.8%, Signatory Vintage, distilled 9/76, bottled 8/95, sampled on 26/5/02) - 88 points
Beautifully crafted Islay whisky.  Would have scored higher in different company I'm sure as the nose seemed shy against the UDRM Caol Ila 21 1975 and the Ardbeggeddon, yet it wasn't overpowered, just took a while to reveal its manifest charms - had the best mouthfeel of the flight.  Nose was shy to start with soft fruits and smoked applewood cheese - very savoury and appetising, but low impact, especially considering the proof.  The palate was slightly sweet and definitely fruity, then the smoky notes came out.  The palate is ultra-smooth and the finish is immaculate.  Low impact but incredibly well crafted whisky.

24 - Longrow 21yo 1974 (46%, OB, cask #1549, bottle #5 of 350, sampled on 26/5/02) - 84 points
Faintly disappointing.  A bit overwhelmed in the company, but it might have been palate fatigue as it was sampled after the OP's including the Ardbeggeddon. However having said that, I still think the Longrows from 1973 and 1974 bottled at 13 and 14 years reside at the apex of what bourbon wood Longrow is capable.  This one had a hint of the tarry rope, a little honey and it was super smooth.  The finish seemed a bit short but see earlier remark.  Probably have to taste it in a flight with other 43-46% drams of similar vintage to do it justice. 10/8/02 - third trip to bat and still faintly disappointing - has a sulphur, spent match note in the nose after a while and a lemonade sweetness, then some peanut brittle and the honey found previously. Still impeccably well behaved in the palate and a tad short in the finish.  Nice but nothing outstanding.

25 - Auchentoshan NAS Three Wood (43%, OB, sampled on 28/5/02) - 82 points
Probably couldn't do this one justice as was sampled in less than ideal conditions.  Thought it OK but not all that good - the Pedro Ximenez seemed to float over the top of the other woods and was a bit too insistent.  If I get another chance to sample, I might offer an amended score.  26/10/02 - Tasted it again and blind and original thoughts stand.  The Valdespino aromas are immediately evident and there's a meaty gravy type note reminiscent of Bunnahabhain and Glenfarclas but in the palate it's far too thin and short.  As a blind it scored 81, thus a MMM score of 82 is fair.

26 - Bladnoch 1987/2000 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, sampled on 15/6/02) - 80 points
Slight hint of melon and hay in the nose, becomes slightly nutty and increasingly creamy - very pleasant fresh and clean nose.  Palate is decidely creamy, maybe a hint of orange.  Light in body and a fairly light clean finish.  Pleasant and inoffensive.

27 - Saint Magdalene 1981/1999 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, sampled on 15/6/02) - 83 points
Slightly subdued, initially chalky with plaster-of-paris, some definite lemon zest and some dried fruit (dried pears).
Palate was dry and fruity, some bitterness and the finish was quite tannic - bit like an oaked chardonnay. 
The nose is clean and fruity with a stone dust and slightly off fruit note. Leathery and peppery in the palate.
Can't believe this could be the same malt that Michael Jackson gave 67 points.

28 - Benromach 15yo (40%, OB, sampled on 15/6/02) - 78 points
Hugely (and overly) sweet initially, toffee, scotch tablet, honey and caramel.  Some flax and linen and some aniseed or liquorice underneath but the sweetness blankets everything.  Had good legs in the glass, only place the age really showed.  Palate is quite grippy, shows more alcohol than the proof suggests and the finish shows honey and nuts.  Lacked the delicacy and elegance of the 12yo tasted in 1999, but is definitely a more robust and bigger bodied whisky - like Knockando on steroids.  Not good on the QPR

29 - Brora 1982/1999 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, sampled on 15/6/02) - 77 points
There are Broras and Broras.  Some are highly peated and interesting (1972) and some are not. 
This was one of the latter.  Malt, cream and raw peanuts: little or no smoke to speak of. 
Brora without the peat is just boring and bland - an undistinguished highland with naught more to recommend it.

30 - Braes of Glenlivet 1979/1997 (58.1%, Signatory V., Cask #6082, Bottle #358 of 370, sampled on 15/6/02) - 86 points
Big sherry cask - first fill oloroso if I'm not mistaken.  Is a lot drier than Macallan or Aberlour and more in the 'roasting pan' of Glenfarclas or Bunnahabhain mold.  Has some of the sulphury notes of Glendronach and has a few rough edges.  It's a bit lightweight under the big sherry overcoat, but it gets extra points for the uncompromising sherry attack. 
Definitely mild mannered underneath the flash clobber.

31 - Balvenie 17yo Islay Cask (43%, OB, sampled on 15/6/02) - 85 points
Glad I put it in a flight with Brora 1972 and Balvenie Doublewood 12 as this was useful in working out how much smoke I could smell, given the Brora is a highland peated to around 30ppm and the B12 is as near unpeated as not to matter.  Can you smell the smoke - yes.  Can you taste it - not really.  This is an interesting phenomenon as with most Island whiskies peating is more obvious on the palate than the nose.  The peat smoke is not that integrated either, seems to float above the typical honey and bread dough of Balvenie.  The whisky underneath is pretty good though.  Interesting experiment but nothing more.

32 - Lark NAS Single Cask Whisky (40%, OB, sampled on 15/6/02) - 70 points
Has bubblegum and candy cane, then a big hit of green apple air freshener and then lots of vanilla and pine wood notes.  Not all that integrated but could easily be mistaken for a 5 or 6 year old highland. The young fresh wood notes are almost certainly cask extracts.  The body is light and the finish pretty short.  Doesn't leave much of an impression.  All the attractive bits are in the nose and front palate.   Be very interesting to put it up against Cradle Mountain and Arran.  That would establish a pecking order.

33 - Aberfeldy 12yo (43%, OB, sampled on 18/6/02) - 77 points
Nose is nicer than the palate - lots of cereal notes, malty and lacking complexity.  Also has some burnt toffee and peanut brittle which carry through to the palate.  Palate is a little hot with burnt toffee notes and a creamy finish. The burnt notes hang around in the tail.  More honey than the Benromach 15 but appears very similar.  Pleasant but nothing special.

34 - Tomintoul 30yo 1966 (52.7%, Signatory Vintage, sampled on 4/1/02) - 89 points
Pretty damned good - reminds me most of the  Glenlivet 22yo 1973 (56%, Signatory), although there are some distinctive (and quite tart), fruit acid and asian herb notes that emerge after 20 minutes.  Nose is initially very fresh and woody - freshly ironed linen, sandalwood, gauze and some stone fruit - maybe pear, kumquat and lychee.  Definitely 100% first fill bourbon cask.  The fruitiness becomes more prominent and it also gets mixed spice and something quite tart- someone said tamarind pulp - which was very, very close to the mark.  Lots of asian herbs and spices and quite unusual, but very attractive.  Recognizable as generic Glenlivet in style, but with a gentle fruit acid and hot and sour soup bite and no worse for that.

35 - Bruichladdich 25yo 1965/1991 (54%, G&M, sampled on 17/7/02) - 85 points
Colour is a reddish brown with raw copper highlights. Nose has evident spirit then sherry, almonds, toffee, fresh wood and a bedrock of stewed fruit, coconut and praline - echoes of Springbank and Glengoyne. Palate has lots of sherrywood and pine needles - Springbank meets Mosstowie. This is a whisky where the base spirit lacks the robustness to carry the big sherry treatment. Nice but not great.

36 - Benrinnes 21yo 1974 (60.4%, UDRM, sampled on 24/7/02) - 73 points
Another in the UDRM stable.  Starts with an estery sugariness, candy cane, then fresh pine and cane furniture.  The palate is sweet to start with an evident spirit bite and a woody astringency.  There's a metallic bite in the finish and a few rough notes.
It also develops a slight saltiness like salt taffee.  The metallic bite is prominent in the aftertaste.
Disappointing and nowhere near as good as the F&F 15yo 43%.

37 - Springbank 10yo (46%, OB, sampled on 10/8/02) - 77 points
New release in Oz.  I really can't say I like the nose.  Very sweet with something almost like saccharine: near, but not the same as the unguent and ointment of Longrow or Ardbeg (for instance). Quite strange and faintly disconcerting, the overtly sweet nose suggests a mix of Tobermory (fudge), Glen Mhor (scotch tablet) and young Bowmore (green apple air freshener).  Something like gauze and candy follows through onto the palate.  26/10/02 - Has a strawberry aroma and slightly funky wood and a hint of salt.  That faintly artificial sweetener aroma is definitely there along with some ordinary wood.  Really can't say I liked it much. 
Even less impressive than the unlamented CV.  I really couldn't recommend it.

38 - Springbank 31yo 1967/1998 (46%, MMcD, sampled on 10/8/02) - 93 points
Lovely nose - almost no sherry, must be refill sherry if any at all. Lots of stewed fruit, but with fresh fruit acid notes, redcurrant and a lemonade fruit note.  Lots of cream underneath. Remarkably lively for the age. Best Springbank since the PLOWED Murray McDavid 32.

39 - Springbank 26yo 1969/1995 (52%, Signatory Vintage, 90, sampled on 10/8/02) - 90 points
Lots of sherry - chocolate and fruitcake.  Develops in the glass.
Still very impressive after 25 minutes, but not quite as enchanting as the 31yo.

40 - Springbank 25yo (46%, OB, sampled on 10/8/02) - 88 points
Nose is woody and fruity - has more sandalwood and cedar than both the independent bottlings.  Fruit notes have more of the bubblegum than the older two.  Has more of the sweet coconut cream notes than the others with a nice underpinning of bourbon vanillans and cream.  It was interesting but was less lively than the Murray McDavid and not quite as impressive.

41 - Glengoyne 21yo (43%, OB, sampled on 10/8/02) - 84 points
Nose starts creamy with honey on toast, and a bit of coconut.  Then fruit, caramel and obvious bourbon wood notes.  The creamy notes develop and the fruit turns into raisins.  There's also a dusting of freshly milled pepper, some tart fruit (raspberries or loganberries), then the nice woody phenols of vine sap, some leafy aldehydes and a strong impression of honeycomb and beeswax. - the palate has lots of honey and burnt caramel.  The finish is a bit burnt and a little woody.  Not quite as smooth as a 21 year old whisky should be. Interesting and classy without being great.  Good value on the QPR.

42 - Highland Park 1975 (52%, Signatory Vintage, Bottle #50 of 212, sampled on 12/8/02) - 82 points
Very pale - almost white wine. Colour is indicative of refill bourbon and nose confirms diagnosis.  Has a creamed wheat note and definite vanilla with a long pine creamy note.  Nose is flat and shy considering the proof. Underwhelming - reminds me a little of the Longrow 21 but without as much discernible peat.  Also reminded me of the UDRM Clynelish but not as good.

43 - Bunnahabhain 14yo 1977/1992 (52.6%, JM, sampled on 22/9/02) - 83 points
Honey, cream, cut stone and a little bit of spirit prickle and a trailing hint of peat.  Peat is more apparent on the palate but quite dry with a charcoal edge.  Finish is all dry charcoal, fire embers and dry sherry.  Much drier than the standard 12 and more like Clynelish, Bruichladdich and Scapa.

44 - Dailuaine 12yo 1977/1993 (62.2%, JM, sampled on 22/9/02) - 76 points
All bourbon wood and quite assertive both in the wood and spirit.  Acetone, cedar and pine resin, a hint of peat and a growing impression of paper.  Palate is all bitey alcohol and astringent wood.  Starts dry and stays that way.  A little bit of peat comes out in the finish.  Very uncompromising whisky & just too woody.

45 - Caol Ila 14yo 1977/1992 (60.2%, JM, sampled on 22/9/02) - 87 points
Nice nose, peaches and other stone fruits, good Islay garden bonfire smoke which builds over time.
Palate shows consistency and growing depth.  Lots of smoke and burning leaves.  Finish is long and warming.
Very nice.  Caol Ila's seem to reach their peak between 14 and 17 years in good bourbon wood.

46 - Great Outback 15yo (40%, OB, sampled on 25/9/02) - 78 points
Very sweet and chemically volatile nose - hair oil, eucalyptus and mint toffee, then pine oil and white pepper.  Palate is on the oily side but lacks grip - very soft and fades fast.  Reminds me most of a combination of Inchmurrin, Lammerlaw and Yamazaki.  Nose is interesting. The finish is short and wraithlike.

47 - Linlithgow 9yo 1981/1991 (62.6%, WC) - 81 points
Big spirit nose, lots of bourbon character - citrus blossom, citronella, then chocolate - citrus palate, fruit acid - lemon zest.  Lively palate - more citrus notes, finishes warm and very clean.  Interesting malt and a lot of fun.

48 - Glen Elgin 12yo (43%, Flora & Fauna) - 78 points
Nose is creamy but with definite dry wood and a dusty/stony note, bit like cellulose shirt boxes and rubble.
The palate is malty and has a discernible peaty/coal ember note.  Has the steam train smoky finish of Tormore and Tomatin.  Has more obvious peat than the older DCL version, but of equivalent quality.

49 - Deanston 12yo (40%, OB) - 74 points
Nose starts very grassy then popcorn and a hint of butterscotch, then it gets fudge and strawberry and cream. The palate is initially fruity (tinned peach syrup?) yet fairly dry and the finish has a hint of charcoal.  Quite light overall and the strawberry reminds me of the new Springbank 10, although this is definitely a lighter style.  The nose is better than the palate and the finish has a bit of the coal fire embers of highlands like Brora and Dalmore.

50 - Bowmore NAS Cask Strength (56.0%, OB, sampled on 26/10/02) - 83 points
Nose has sweet ointment and a hint of pickling vinegar.  There's also a sweet Islay candy and ointment. 
The Palate is sweet and peaty and there's tobacco and leather in the finish.  Nice but lacks a certain refinement. 
Thought it might be from Lagavulin or Laphroaig.  I didn't find the tropical fruit I usually find in Bowmore and it appeared more heavily peated than the usual Bowmore offering.

51 - Connemara NAS Cask Strength (59.0%, OB, sampled on 26/10/02) - 75 points
Has a lemon peel and popcorn note in the nose.  A whiff of peat but not much.  A bit of dry charcoal and a hint of liquorice.  Palate is a little simple and a bit rough.  I thought it might be a very lightly peated Island - (Scapa, Bruichladdich, Tobermory or Arran).  I got Limerick (a Cooley malt bottled by Adelphi) identified as an Arran once before, so the fact that it was Irish wasn't too big a surprise.

52 - Port Ellen 22yo 1978/2000 (60.5%, UDRM, sampled on 26/10/02) - 89 points
Excellent nose with evidently good wood and obvious age. Nice fresh cedar and a fruit acid note of fresh nectarines, then a slightly sour fruit note.  The palate has lots of coal fire peat and sweetish fruit but not altogether convincingly Islay - I thought it was Caol Ila or Highland Park.  Very, very good and gets better in the glass.

53 - Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength (57.3%, OB, sampled on 26/10/02) - 91 points
Best of the unknown flight for me although both the Port Ellen and Laphroaig were a class above the others.  The nose was lovely with lots of sweet Islay ointment and the classic 'garden bonfire' smokiness.  The plate was very peaty but with an understory of vines and moss. Has a pepperiness and a slight bit of aspirin in the tail thus I thought it might be Port Ellen or Talisker, but thought it was most likely an Islay.  Thought it was too classy to be Laphroaig.  Very, very good.

54 - Bruichladdich 20yo (43%, OB, sampled on 26/10/02) - 81 points
This was part of a mystery malt night where 6 whiskies were tasted blind and we had to try and guess the distillery.  This was also the first time I'd ever tried this one, so it was a good if stern test.  I found this malt very elusive and very hard to describe.  It has a range of aromas in the aniseed, orange peel, cereal and malt range and is quite subdued.  It definitely gets better in the glass but I just didn't think it was particularly good.  I thought it might be a bourbon Springbank or even Glenturret.  I didn't have Bruichladdich in any of my five guesses.  To me Bruichladdich has a honey biscuit note and I didn't find it in this one, although the mashy, cereal character is in the same family.  The 'old' 15 (bottled 1985-1990) is much better.

55 - Ardbeg 27yo 1973/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask, sampled on 20/11/02) - 89 points
Colour: pale gold with honey/putty hue. Nose: Immediate hit of lemon zest and ointment, then screaming, moaning Islay peat: tarry ropes, old rigging and fishing piers . No way this isn't an Islay - and the liniment and lemon combination says Ardbeg. Leave it for 20 minutes and then the classic rubber bike tyre repair kit and chalk smell emerges- this is a close cousin to the Ardbeggeddon.  Palate: The palate is brutal and takes your breath away - the creosote and tar is huge - bigger than any Laphroaig ever made.  Original assessment of Ardbeg confirmed by palate. The back palate is super dry.  Finish: Hangs around a long time - with a mix of carbolic and bandages reprising - medicine cabinet and bicycle tyre repair kit.  Probably not as brutal and slightly better balanced than the Ardbeggeddon and a better whisky.

56 - Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979/1998 (63.8%, UDRM, sampled on 5/12/02) - 86 points
Nose; quite hot, then citrus peel, cashews, buttered popcorn, a hint of hot metal and plaster/chalk, rainwater, cucumber, some creamy notes (maybe dessicated coconut). Gets some nice light syruppy notes and more of the cashews and buttered popcorn after 20 minutes. Palate; again hot, a bit metallic with some burnt nuts in the front palate and quite dry. Mouthfeel is good, nice and viscous with bitter cucumber in the back palate and metal in the tail. Finish is long and warming with fresh rainwater and bitter cucumber and a creamy citrus note.  Interesting nose, but the spirit is overheated and too insistent.

57 - Macallan 10yo 1961 (40%, OB, sampled on 18/12/02) - 89 points
Lovely apricot nose and some barbequed pineapple, then chocolate covered apricot and creamy malt and fresh linen, some charred fruit and candied orange peel. Palate has some burnt nuts, then a stone fruit note then toffee, chutney and peat.  The finish has burnt fruit, good oak lactones and a whack of peat.  More like the 1874 replica and doesn't taste anything like the oversherried 12's and 18s on recent offer and much better for it.

58 - Macallan NAS "Twenties" Replica (40%, OB, sampled on 18/12/02) - 83 points
18/12/02 - Lots of sherry in the nose with floor polish, beeswax, dates and christmas pudding.  The waxiness gets stronger and a chocolate note emerges after 20 minutes.  The palate is quite rich and round, with burnt toffee and roasted nuts and some lingering leafy notes.  Finish is long with burnt toffee and warming - much more generous and satisfying than the 1930's.  Still had some rough edges - not the usual polished package.

59 - Macallan NAS "Thirties" Replica (40%, OB, sampled on 18/12/02) - 80 points
Nose is very waxy, like wax covered cardboard fruit cartons, then tropical fruit and varnish. Left longer it gets bitter notes of bitter marmalade, tobacco leaf and more waxed cardboard.  Palate is fruity with wax and bitter herbs. The finish has burnt and bitter notes.  Reminds me of an ordinary version of Glenmorangie 18. Didn't think it was particularly good or worth the coin.

60 - Macallan NAS "1861" Replica (42.7%, OB, sampled on 18/12/02) - 87 points
Much nicer, richer and rounder than either of The Travellers - the nose has brandied fruit and cocoa/coffee, burnt nuts and a hint of gunpowder.  After 20 minutes there is shellac and balsamic vinegar and some swampy, boggy and forest floor notes. Palate has sour fruit, burnt nuts, lots of woody phenols and a touch of aspirin. The finish is long with burnt nuts and varnish notes.  No obvious peat.

Anyway, the Dram Diary has become indispensable in helping me keep track of the bottling details and individual notes for each different expression. It's a great format to keep a journal of your adventures in Maltland, and results in a nice historico-chronological record

Craig
 

= = =

E-pistle #2003/?? - French Still Life
by Serge Valentin, France 

Or: Why making water of life may be more fun than drinking it (and why doing both is even more fun).

Any maniac's dream is to distil his own spirit, don't you agree?
I made this dream come true eleven years ago, with some of
my best old chaps. You can see on the picture taken in 2002
a part of our still and, from left to right, Philippe, Christophe,
Jean-Yves (kneeling), Jean-Michel and yours truly.
Thomas is missing on the picture, because it was taken early
in the morning, and we had a pre-distillation-day dinner at
Thomas' place on the evening before. As always, we drank
a lot, and Thomas' beloved wife Joelle asked him, in the
morning, to wash up the dozens of glasses before leaving
for my place…  Yes, entering matriarchal age, indeed.

By the way, maniacs Johannes and Klaus were invited as well,
but they couldn't make it. Too bad! Anyway, "What a fearsome
bunch of fellows!" said Mark "Bruichladdich" Reynier when he
saw the team. Hum, perhaps he fears that we'll compete with
The Laddie one day or the other… But he shouldn't, because
we're not considering building a bottling hall in my garden,
at this moment…

So, here's the whole story.
Every year since 1992, one day in November or December,
I rent that 80 litres and 500 kg copper still that's delivered
right to my garden's door by its owner. It's a traditional Alsacian still
that must be 50 years old or more, and it works perfectly, I can tell you.  We distil a different spirit every year.
For example: marc de gewürztraminer, mollein flowers, quince, riesling lees, quetsche, mirabelle etc. In 2002, we distilled some Williams pear, and I must say the result was quite good, as Johannes will testify once he's tasted the sample I just sent him.

But maybe you'd like a little technical information now.
Okay, let's go, and first, please note that the still isn't a direct-fire one, but one with a water-bath, which is much better and makes it easier to control the heat. So, at the very beginning of the day and after a good triple espresso (because of the night before), we start up the fire under the water-bath. We always use some vine shoots, which give you an excellent and constant heat. Of course, we never forget to pour some water into the bath, and into the huge condenser that's behind the still itself (no, you can't see the condenser on the picture). As soon as the fire is burning, we pour the fermented fruit into the still (yes, we need to put aside and replace the big copper lid to do that). By the way, we're letting the fruit ferment in some white plastic casks for one month or so before the distillation day, and you can see a part of these on the picture's far right side.
Once the bulbous lid's in place, we put the copper 'swan's neck' that goes from the lid to the condenser on…

Then, we wait (and start to taste white wine, in the meanwhile).
It takes a very long time to get the fruit 'sauce' warm enough for evaporation to start…
Maybe one hour and a half later, the first drops of alcohol start to come out the bottom of the condenser.
Take care; the first alcohols to run out of the still are highly toxic! Of course, we put the first litres aside. It will make an excellent medicine to rub our limbs when we'll suffer from rheumatisms, as all the old people here in my village have told us.

The main issue is to control the fire during the whole processing.
Any excessive heat would let the fruit burn in the still, even if we're using a water-bath still, and that would lead to ugly tastes – yes, the same as the ones you get in some bad single malts… Furthermore, it could let the still burst into pieces, and this would be highly dangerous, as you may imagine. Anyway, once the still's output becomes weak and watery, we just remove the swan's neck and the copper lid, causing the process to stop instantly. We swing the whole still down, using the big handle on its right – one man isn't enough to do that, because it's very heavy - and let the liquid pour into some wheelbarrows…
It's almost boiling, so we have to do that with a lot of care. Then, we just flush the liquid away.
I guess the fish and the rats have a nice party then…

Okay, once we're done with the first batch, we start a second, then a third one etc… until all the raw material has been distilled once. Of course, these runs are quite quicker, just because we don't need to let the whole machine run hot again. Anyway, by 17:00 or 18:00 pm, all of the first distillation is completed, and no need to say that we've already had our shares of wine, whisky, oysters, meat, dessert etc. with all the other good friends who come by to say hello (and have a few drams with us) during that very day.

It's time to start the magic of the second distillation.
This is when we'll have the opportunity to taste the fine eau de vie as the first drops will stream down out of the still. But before that, we clean the whole still up, so that the second run's vapours really enter in contact with raw copper, which will allow all the fine aromas to catalyse. And then, we pour all the first run into the still, close the whole thing down, and wait an hour or so before "it" begins to leak. Again, we'll throw the first one or two litres away, just to prevent any vulgar alcohol to make its way into our precious bottles. Then, we'll measure the output's alcohol level constantly, so that it won't drop under approx. 50%. As soon as that alcohol level is reached, we stop the process, by just taking the swan's neck off.

Now, we have several litres of an excellent middle cut (what we call 'le Coeur de chauffe') at approx. 65% vol. Most peasants here will let the second run go down to 30 or 40%, so that they don't loose a drop of alcohol, but we don't, as we don't need a lot of eau de vie… And the 'tail' isn't that good. So, what do we do now? Well, we just add some pure mineral water into the spirit, so that we get something like 47-49% alcohol, and pour it into some nice Alsacian shaped white glass bottles.
We cork each bottle, put a nice and funny label on it, and we're done!
Like cooking, that's the women's work.
Don't get me wrong, we're no old-fashioned machos, but the men are just too drunk at that time of the day to be able to glue a label on a bottle nicely – and not upside-down. The spirit's already highly drinkable, as fruit spirits give much more aromas out than newly made whisky. But it's always better to let white eau de vie age a few months, or even years in its bottle before you drink it, because aging will remove its harshness. The best place to lay your bottles down is your attic, because it's very hot in summer and very cool in winter, and that heavy treatment really softens the spirit.

Now, I perfectly know that you want to ask me two questions:
1 – Is all that legal in France?
2 – Did I ever try to distil whisky?

Both answers are 'yes'. Please let me explain why and how.
Firstly, anybody in France is allowed to distil, as long as you declare the day of operation to the customs office at least eight days before - don't ask me why the customs have to deal with that, where is the legendary French logic?
It's quite expensive: you'll have to pay approx 15 Euros per litre of pure alcohol, and you aren't allowed to distil anything else but the fruit from your own garden or orchard. Of course, the game here is to declare much less than what you actually distil, but we never play that game, no need to say.

Secondly, yes, I tried to distil whisky, which is completely
illegal, as nobody will have some barley or any other grain
in his garden. But I only produced 4 litres 'whisky', using
my little Italian 'pocket' copper still (see the picture).
I ask any French customs official who may read these
lines for leniency towards that horrible act.
Guys, I really love you all!

That little still on the picture allows me to distil only 3 litres
of raw material at a time, but it works perfectly – much better,
at least, than any glass or steel system I've seen at various
places. But did I cut some barley, malt it and brew it?
No, I haven't got the equipment to do that. I simply went at
the nearest supermarket, and I bought approx one hundred
and fifty 75cl bottles of Pure Malt beer!
Yes, my own single malt may be the most expensive in the
world, and maybe the worst as well! So, again, I distilled the
beer twice, and did pour the spirit (70% alcohol) into a little
4 litres oak cask in which I had let some late harvest
gewürztraminer age for a few months.
Now, at this very moment, the 'whisky' is approx. one year old.
All I can tell you, is that the gewürztraminer has already given
a very heavy sweet taste to the spirit, so that it's really an oddity. I'm not sure anybody will tell you it smells and tastes like genuine whisky. But who cares, I did it myself, cock-a-doodle-doo!

Now, if you really consider distilling your own stuff at home, you know a little more about how to do it.
- Don't forget to make sure it's legal in your country, even if some will think it's even more fun when it's illegal,
- don't expect to get a Ardbeg-like spirit at our very first try,
- always control the heat (this could be a general piece of advice for the whole life),
- and never, ever drink the first drops that come out of the still.

And if you need more information (and perhaps a little encouragement) just drop me an email.

A votre santé,

Serge
 

= = =

E-pistle #2003/?? - Independents Day II
by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland 

Hi, it's me again...

After re-reading my first 'Independents Day' E-pistle, I felt I hadn't really covered the topic.
First of all, I've only included companies I've succesfully googled - i.e. that have their own website.
When I sent my first list to Serge, he pointed out that my selection criteria were a bit whimsical. I have to admit he's got a point there. Fortunately, he also provided me with a huge list of independent bottlers I 'missed' before. Some of the names on Serge's list were rather obscure, but others are reputable companies that didn't make it to my first list only because they don't have their own website (or if they did, I simply couldn't find it). Serge wasn't the only one who felt I hadn't been thorough, since I published the E-pistle many people have commented on the E-pistle and pointed out ommissions.

So, without further ado, I'll give you an updated selection of independent bottlers.
I've used Serge's huge list as a basis; feel free to let me know if there are any other significant independent bottlers we've missed. Please note that I'm talking about bottlers of SCOTCH single malt whisky here - listing bottlers and producers of grain whisky, blends or other related products would be taking things too far, I think. In the new list I've also included the names of the bottlers I've already covered in E-pistle 06/09 - they are printed in italics. Many thanks to Serge for collecting most of the data.
 

An A-Z selection of independent bottlers:

Acorn (a Japanese bottler - good but expensive bottlings according to Serge)
Adelphi (used to be a distillery, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Bar Metro (see liquid log entry #123 for a report on our visit in September 2002)
Blackadder (all single cask bottlings, not coloured or chill-filtrated, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Bloomsbury (a London bottler in Bloomsbury, not to be confused with the new Royal Mile Whiskies store)
The Bottlers (bottles only single casks, beautiful labels according to Serge)
Cadenhead (claims to be Scotland's oldest independent bottler, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Caledonian Selection (specialises in decanter bottlings, very old Macallans for one thing)
Celtic Whisky Compagnie (a French bottler in Brittany that bottles some Sauternes-finished single malts)
Clan des Grands Malts (a French club that occasionally bottles some single cask malts)
Dormant Distillery Company (an oddly generic name, hardly information on the web)
Douglas Laing (responsible for some high-end Ardbegs and Brora's, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Duncan Tailor & Company (responsible for 'Whisky Galore' and the 'Peerless Collection')
Glenhaven (an American bottler, activity seems to have slowed down after its manager Bill Thompson died)
Glenscoma (a German bottler, famous for bottling some 'bastard' Kininvie - and for being sued by Grants for that)
Gordon & MacPhail (one of the biggest names, active since 1895, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Hart Brothers (based in Glasgow, solid reputation, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Hunter Hamilton (another Scottish bottler from Glasgow, also bottles 'Glen Denny')
Intertrade (an Italian bottler, I've seen a 40yo Glanfarclas for more than 1200 pounds)
James McAllister (a Scottish company that bottles mostly Glen Scotia for supermarkets)
James Mac Arthur (based north of London, one of the first bottlers to bottle at cask strength)
Kick Bar (based in Bologna, Italy, specialises in Islay malts like Bowmore and Port Ellen)
Kingsbury (a subsidiary of Eaglesome's Ltd / Springbank, just like Cadenhead's, Serge's raving about them)
Kirsch Import (a German bottler, based in Syke, famous for their 'As We Get It' Macallan series)
Loch Fyne Whiskies (located in Inveraray, Argyll, bottle their own 'Inverarity' range of bastard malts)
Lombard's (bottles the 'Jewels' series, Jewel of Islay, Jewel of the Highlands, etc) 
Mackillop & Co (a Glaswegian company, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Macleod's (bottles many brands, including Chieftain's and Hedges & Butler, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Master of Malt (just like Loch Fyne and Royal Mile Whiskies, this is a shop and bottler at the same time)
Maxwell (a.k.a. William Maxwell & Sons, known best for their Dun Bheagan malts in French and German markets)
Merchant's Collection (an Italian bottler, little information available, Macallan and Springbank)
Michel Couvreur (from Belgium, exclusively bottles luxury 'bastard' whiskies)
Milroy's of Soho / John Milroy (in London, shop established in 1964, subsidiary of Murray MacDavid)
Montgomerie (a fairly new independent bottler, no further info at this point)
Moon Import (an Italian bottler, very expensive, Serge reccommends the 'Horae Solaris' or 'In The Pink' series)
Murray McDavid (formerly also Mark Reynier's 'La Reserve', see E-pistle 06/09 or the MR interview for details)
Oddbins (a famous off-license company, bottles the Springbank 'Against The Grain' among other things)
Rossi & Rossi (Italian, bottlings include Wilson & Morgan range, Serge reccommends the 'Barrell Selection' series)
Royal Mile Whiskies (started as a shop in Edinburg, now a second store has oppened in London)
Ryst-Dupeyron (French, from Condom in the Armagnac region, owners of 'Captain Burn's')
Saint Andrews Beverages (located in Fife, Scotland, bottle their own 'Benivor Elite Selection')
Samaroli Import (a big name from Italy, active since 1968, expensive, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Scotch Connection (German, products include the Piper's Preferred range, company out of business?)
Scotch Malt Sales (from Tokyo, Japan, bottlers as well as distributors, including Vintage Malt Whisky Company)
Scotch Single Malt Circle (a club that operates very much like the Scotch Whisky Society)
Scotch Whisky Society (a 'commercial' society that issues its own bottlings, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Scotmalt (a Morrison Fairlie brand, based in Stirling, bottles many cask strength Macallans)
Scott's Selection (an excellent range by the Speyside Distillery Company, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Sestante Import (Italian bottler, seems to have quite a reputation but very little info on the web)
Signatory Vintage (one of my personal favourits, enormous range, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Silver Seal (a small Italian bottler with head offices in Glasgow, bottlings are rare and expensive)
Ultimate (the range bottled by Dutch importers Van Wees, very affordable but all too often forgettable)
Vintage Malt Whisky Company (a young but very active bottler, see E-pistle 06/09 for details)
 

Please note that this list is by no means complete - and it isn't meant to be either.
In fact, I've purposely deleted about half the names Serge supplied because I could find little or no substantial information about these companies and their status when I searched the web. And these were just the 'active' bottlers; I could add many 'silent' bottles to the list as well; Corsini, Douglas Murdoch, Duthie's and Whyte and Whyte, to name just a few. I could - but I won't...
I will add some more info on these active bottlers to the overview in chapter 6 of the mAlmanac.

And now for something completely different...
When Davin de Kergommeaux and Mark Adams visited the San Fransisco WOW Expo 2003 in April they spotted a Malt Maniacs quote at the Murray McDavid stand. Recognitian at last! Hurray ;-)  But after I heard what the quote was my pleasure quickly turned into wonder. Granted, MurMac is one of my personal favourite bottlers and most other maniacs hold them in high regard as well, but a.f.a.i.k. we never had an official 'popularity contest'. So what was going on?
As it turned out, the quote was based in this score-card:
 
86,80    Murray McDavid
86,24    Douglas Laing
86,20    Adelphi
84,86    United Distillers Rare Malts *
84,75    Mackillop's Choice
83,33    Milroys
81,79    Coopers Choice
81,04    Cadenhead
80,67    James McArthur
80,50    Official Bottling *
80,15    Flora & Fauna *
80,09    Signatory Vintage
79,24    Gordon & Macphail
78,75    Kirsch Import
77,53    Chieftain's Choice
76,80    Hart Brothers
76,39    The Ultimate

OK, that explains things...
This score-card was part of an 'internal memo'.
A while ago Serge did some doodling on his computer, playing with the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - a big list with ratings for all single malts the malt maniacs have tried so far. The number of whiskies on the monitor passed the 1000 mark recently, providing us with an extensive database with scores to study. One of the things he calculated were the average 'bottler' scores, based on our individual ratings. The result was this score-card, ranking the main independent bottlers from 'high' to 'low'.
Serge also sent a copy of his findings to Mark Reynier (of MurMac) when he informed the other maniacs.
Understandably, Mark interpreted this list as our 'official' results - hence the quote at the WOW...

So, did Mark jump the gun on this? Well, that depends...
If you include all 1000 single malts on the monitor into the equation, Mark's right and Murray McDavid is #1.
The 'Malt Maniacs Monitor Independent Bottler Top 10' looks like this;

01 - Murray McDavid
02 - Douglas Laing
03 - Adelphi
04 - Mackillop's Choice
05 - Milroys (owned by Murray Mc David as well)
06 - Coopers Choice
07 - Cadenhead's
08 - James McArthur
09 - Signatory Vintage
10 - Gordon & Macphail

That means there's a solid foundation to MurMac's claim at the WOW.
But there's another way of looking at the numbers as well...

We never really discussed this topic amongst the maniacs, but I think the fact that many malts on the manifesto have been sampled by just one maniac is a problem. Especially independent bottlings are released in limited numbers, so the odds that your average IB is sampled by several maniacs are rather slim. But we decided long ago that a whisky should be sampled and rated by at least three different malt maniacs to receive an 'official' MM score. Even though we've started adding single malts with just two ratings to the matrix a while ago, I think those average scores shouldn't be taken too seriously. The whole purpose of publishing our 'collective' ratings is to offer the malt loving community something more that just one person's opinion.

So, an argument could be made for including only malts that have been sampled and scored by at least two or three maniacs. (After all, you need at least two different values if you want to calculate an average.) That means we should be looking at the matrix instead of the manifesto. If we do that, we find just five Murray McDavid / Milroy bottlings - and only one of them has a 'solid' average score. So, this policy puts independent bottlers like Cadenhead's, Douglas Laing and Murray McDavid in an awkward position. No matter how good the IB's may be, compared to the OB's they have just a slim chance of ending up on the matrix. That gives the official bottlings an unfair advantage, because most IB's never get a chance to compete.
Well, let me tell you that this injustice will not stand! I think I can say (with all due modesty) that the malt maniacs have already earned themselves a reputation on the www. That means we have an obligation to 'the public' and to ourselves to try and cover as many releases as possible. Since we started our sample swaps last year the number of IB's in the matrix has already grown significantly and that's just the beginning...

Behind the scenes we're busy setting up a 'Malt Maniacs Awards' infrastructure. That's just a working title right now, but I think you get the idea. After setting up a number of guidelines and categories we will start a big survey of the official and independent bottlings that have been released recently to determine which distilleries and bottlings are the team favourites. To make sure all maniacs on the testing team are on the same page we're reviewing our rating policy right now. I don't want to spill the beans on the details just yet, but if you have subscribed to the mailinglist you will receive more information about this project in the forseeable future.

But all these big plans don't help us out right now.
Until our new 'system' is operational we'll have to rely on the cold hard numbers in the current matrix.
Is Murray McDavid also the 'best independent bottler' if we only take the matrix malts into consideration?
To find out I asked Serge to extract a list of top scoring bottlings from our manifesto. To make sure the list would contain only malts that had received the official 'Malt Maniacs Seal of Approval' I specifically asked for the malts that had been sampled by at least three different malt maniacs. I realise this puts independent bottlers at a disadvantage compared to the distilleries and their owners, but I guess we'll just have to live with that for now.

Here's the Matrix Independent Bottlings Top 20 Serge came up with (including average scores):

93,86   Brora 29yo 1972/2001 (59.5%, Douglas Laing Platinum Selection 2nd Release)
91,38   Ardbeg 27yo 1973/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
91,25   Ardbeg 29yo 1972/2001 'Ardbeggedon' (48.4%, Douglas Laing / PLOWED)
90,30   Laphroaig 15yo 1985/2000 'Laudable' (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
89,90   Ardbeg 24yo 1975/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
87,00   Caol Ila 12yo 1989/2001 (46%, Signatory Vintage, Bourbon casks)
86,43   Ardbeg 8yo 1992/2000 (43%, Signatory Vintage Millennium Edition)
86,38   Braes of Glenlivet 17yo 1979/1997 (58.1%, Signatory Vintage)
86,00   Talisker 19yo 1980/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
85,71   Ardbeg 9yo 1990/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
84,71   Caol Ila 1989/1999 (43%, Mackillops Choice)
84,43   Ardbeg 9yo 1991/2000 (46%, Murray McDavid)
83,40   Ardbeg 8yo 1991/1999 (43%, Signatory Vintage)
83,14   Brora 19yo 1982/2001 (46%, Chieftain's Choice, Sherry casks)
82,88   Bladnoch 1992/2002 (58.8%, James McArthur)
82,88   Mortlach 21yo (40%, Sestante Import)
81,71   Highland Park 11yo 1988/1999 (61.5%, Mackillops Choice)
81,50   Glenrothes 8yo (40%, Gordon & Macphail)
80,86   Linkwood 12yo 1989/2002 (43%, Coopers Choice)
80,57   Brora 20yo 1981/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage)

OK, that looks quite different, doesn't it?
When we use this policy Murray McDavid really suffers from the fact that it's hard to obtain for some maniacs. Based on just the malts on the matrix I'd have to say Douglas Laing has just as much right to the title 'Best Independent Bottler' as MurMac. And these were just two different approaches to the selection process - I imagine there are many more that would produce other results. The bottom line is that we'll have to do some hard thinking within the maniacs to decide which system works best. Just bear in mind that the 'handicap' that makes it difficult for IB's to enter the matrix provides an even bigger obstacle for independent bottlers that bottle mostly single casks and/or relatively small batches. 

And that's the story as far as the matrix is concerned...
When it comes to my own personal preferences I can sing a happier tune for MurMac.
Granted, Douglas Laing reigns supreme on my Hit List as well, but with fabulous bottlings like the Ardbeg 9yo 1991/2000 and Lagavulin 14yo 1984/1999 Murray McDavid could very well be my second-favourite independent bottler. And that's after tasting just six or seven different versions. Signatory Vintage remains a strong contender as well with a wide range of affordable bottlings from many different distilleries. Availability and affordability have made Signatory Vintage one of the few independent bottlers that's well represented in the matrix. This has given them a significant advantage, it seems...

And that pretty much concludes my thoughts on independent bottlings in general.
I'd like to finish this E-pistle with some more information about Murray McDavid. A while ago Serge and I had a discussion about whether or not the MurMac bottlings were single cask bottlings. Each bottling has a unique 'cask ref' number (like MM 2356) on the label, which Serge interpretred as a single cask number. But he also found most labels showed the text 'Aged in X casks for X years'. Furthermore, when I visited the Murray McDavid website I noticed they have a clear philosophy on the topic, favouring vattings of specific casks over single cask bottlings.

We were not quite sure what to make of it, so Serge decided to drop Mark Reynier a note.
He got back to us quickly with the following response;

"MMCD are NOT single casks - necessarily - for the reasons I have explained to you and which are outlined on our website under the "Sum of the Parts" philosophy.  There is cask reference number: MM (Murray McDavid) followed by four digits that are our reference numbers - not a Customs  allocated cask number.  There are usually between one and five casks selected from a parcel after tasting for their qualities, the remainder being sold on, or retained for aging.  It is very rare that we come across a single cask that truly merits being bottled on it's own, being harmoniously balanced.  By marrying two or three very good casks together, we obtain two things: an even better bottling - and more depth of stock;  The former is obviously desirable,while the latter allows the consumer to repurchase a preferred bottling. Remember - MMCD bottles for drinking, not collecting."

Well put, Mark. And you made a very good point with your 'repurchase' remark - I could kick myself for not buying some more of that stupendous MurMac Lagavulin 14yo 1983. Like I said at the beginning of this E -pistle, (international) availability is a key issue when it comes to the success of IB's on the matrix. As the number of malts in Serge's manifesto grows, so will the number of IB's on the matrix. We've already sampled close to 1000 different single malts and I feel it's only a matter of time before the IB's will be able to compete seriously with the OB's.

One final remark.
All these independent shenanigans have given me a different perspective on my own quest.
I'm currently trying to sample at least 3 different bottlings from each distillery, but what if the companies that select and bottle these malts are an even more important factor when it comes to product 'quality'? It's too early to tell, but I wouldn't be surprised if this turns out to be the case. Until then, I'll follow the chosen path of 'distillery research'.

And that's it from me on this topic - at least for now.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

In 2003, these were just five of the E-pistles that we published:

E-pistle #2003/??? - My '2002' Dram Diary - by Craig Daniels, Australia
E-pistle #2003/??? - French Still Life - by Serge Valentin, France
E-pistle #2003/??? - Independents Day II - by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
E-pistle #2003/??? - One More Visit to Scotland - by Olivier Humbrecht, France
E-pistle #2003/??? - Pandora VI Pandemonium - by Serge Valentin, France

And that's it for now. More E-pistles from 2003 will be added later. The results of the Malt Maniacs Awards 2003 are on-line.
Follow us on Twitter if you want to know when more of the old stuff will be published.
 

= = =

E-pistle #2003/?? - One More Visit to Scotland
by Olivier Humbrecht, France

With my wife Margaret being Scottish and often homesick, I just need to say: "what about spending some time in Scotland?" and she is already preparing her suitcases... So, I do not need to find any obscure reasons to go there. On our last trip, we went to visit the Macallan and Edradour distilleries and had a tasting of Campbeltown whiskies with Euan Mitchell from Springbank.
These are my notes:

The drive to The Macallan was quite long and we managed to arrive late.
This wasn't a problem and the welcome was very courteous and the staff was understanding and re-arranged our booked tour. The visitor centre is modern, small and pretty, but similar to many other distilleries in its content: recent releases largely available (sometimes even more expensive than in the local shops). The only highlight was the entire 1926 - 1972 collection, exposed behind a glass cabinet: incredible colours and prices. The distillery itself is surrounded by beautiful fields (apparently planted with Golden Promise barley), but the buildings do not have the incredible beauty of the Islay distilleries. The distillery must have had a recent health and security survey, because many rooms were not accessible to the public. I learnt that The Macallan still uses about 20% of Golden Promise barley, grown in Scotland. It is an old variety, less sugar yielding but with more flavours. I asked where the other malt was coming from and the tour manager told us that everything comes from Scotland. (This is one of my dreams: a 100% Scottish malt.)  With a weekly production of 90.000 litres of malt (only 16% of the distillation is used), I doubt that there is enough barley in Scotland! The Macallan buys the barley already dried and without any peating. The process is very conventional. Only stainless steel is used and commercial fresh yeasts are used for each new fermentation. I counted 8 wash stills and 6 low wines stills. I noticed that the 'swan necks' were medium in height. (The finished spirit will become richer with short necks and richer with tall necks.)

We visited one of the wharehouses - not the mega-huge-multi-million-gallons, but one of the old stone built buildings. We were lucky enough to be able to nose a 1954 cask: absolutely wonderful, sherry, toffee, caramel, cinnamon and nutty. I rated the nose 95 points, but we weren't allowed to try it (and we insisted, believe me), so this was quite frustrating! Back in the visitor centre, we were offered a glass of the straight Macallan 10yo (40%, OB). Light colour, malty sherryish nose, quite weak with a dry unsatisfying palate but no real faults. Score: 77 points. This followed with the classic Macallan 18yo 1982 (43%, OB) which had a slightly darker colour. Nose: more pronounced sherry character, sweet oloroso type. Mouth: longer, strong sherry, sweet toffee. As Macallan as one can expect, but not the kind you remember forever. Score: 87 points.

At the end, we were offered to try the Macallan 1841 Replica. It appeared clearer in colour (perhaps I didn't have enough in my glass to properly asses the colour!) than the 18yo. The nose shows also sherry character, more subtle, mixed with interesting cereals, toasted bread flavours, almost burnt. Mouth surprisingly much drier than expected, quite austere, hint of peat?
Interesting but not for the sherry freaks: 87 points . On our way out, we purchased a bottle of the Macallan NAS Traveller's Edition 50's (40%, OB) and tried it straight away: gold colour, almost amber, satisfying nose, strong sherry, not very complex, round mouth, again strong sherry, nuts, vanilla, toffee, easy to drink, doesn't need water at all (neither did the other ones). 80 points.

Coming out of The Macallan distillery, we had an appointment at the Whisky Shop in Dufftown for a tasting of Campbeltown malts conducted by Euan Mitchell from Springbank. I expected that he was a member of the Mitchell family that runs Springbank, but there was no connection at all, pure coincidence (!!! or clever marketing). I learned that Campbeltown once had over 50 distilleries. Unfortunately there's only one left that operates today, producing three different whiskies: Springbank (distillation at 71% average when put in cask), Longrow (68% and more peated) and Hazelburn (triple distillation at 75%). When we asked what were the benefit of triple distillation, we were told that the whisky matures faster.
Springbang uses mostly bourbon casks, but occasionnaly also all the rest available.

We started with a cask sample of Hazelburn 5yo (59%, from fresh bourbon cask, to be bottled at 8yo at release time). Colour light yellow, nose caramel, bourbon, unpeated (triple distillation). Mouth: vanilla, caramel, strong tannins and wood, feels too dry today, needs more ageing, but good complexity. 79 points. Followed a tasting of three new makes: a new peated Springbang that tasted very interesting, not so burnt but more smoky. Hazelburn, very much like a young fine mirabelle eau de vie (yellow plum), disturbing and extremely delicate (is it the triple distillation?) and a Longrow that was peat, peat and peat, just like a Laphroaig new make.

Springbank 10yo (46%, OB, 60% bourbon casks / 40% sherry casks): Clear colour. Nose is fine, elegant, nice vanilla, wood delicate. Mouth coconut (bourbon), vanilla, good length and finishes dry. Good honest malt. 82 points.

Springbank 15yo (46%, OB, 80% refill sherry butts / 20% bourbon barrels). Nose is strong confectionary candy, toffee, chocolate and bourbon vanilla. Mouth shows strong dry fruits, candy, some dry wood and wine character.
Adding water makes it turn flat. 85 points.

I heard a lot of good of the Campbeltown 25yo (40%, OB) and did purchase it just under 40€ a bottle. In fact, we were told that this a vatting of 1/3 grain whiskies and 2/3 malt whiskies from distilleries as varied as Tamdhu, Springbank and Ardbeg. It is a whisky that will be produced only once (12000 bottles) from casks that had been lying in Springbank's Campbeltown wharehouses for over 25 years. Light straw colour. Nose shows delicate light sherry character, dried fruits, apricot, very sexy. Mouth is soft, great malt and grain character without being too cereal. Definitely a great bargain. Inbetween a blend and a single malt in character. 85 points.

The colour of the Longrow 10yo 1992/2002 (46%, OB, 3/4 bourbon casks, two days peat fire to dry the malt) was quite clear. Nose: oily, peat, burnt rubber but fine. Mouth: powerful, rich, great peat, smoke and good oily texture. With or w/o water. 89 points.

Longrow 13yo 1989/2002 (53.2%, OB, 100% refill sherry cask).
Clear straw. Nose shows light sherry character, despite the huge peat, iodine aromas. Very interesting combination (and I am not a sherry/peat fan). Needs aeration in the glass. Mouth: beautiful balance, peat dominates. Very long finish. Great, 91 points.
 

EDRADOUR: has anything changed?

Staying near Pitlochy, at the very place where Pandora champion Serge Valentin rediscovered that he liked single malts, we decided to go back and visit the Edradour distillery. Certainly not because of the quality of the 10yo OB Distillery edition we tasted numerous times in the past, but mostly because super legend Iain Henderson would take us around. Anybody wanting to visit this distillery should park his car in Pitlochy and walk down main street, pass Bell's Blair Atholl distillery until seeing an old railway bridge on the left. Take the turn, go under the bridge and follow the black spout walk that will take you through a forest, waterfalls and if you always go up hill you will end up at Edradour distillery. (45' to 1 hour walk easy). If you do not want to go back the same way, you can follow the normal road back to Pitlochy through Moulin. You'll find a great pub in the Moulin hotel, also having their own micro brewery.

The Edradour distillery is still the smallest distillery operating in Scotland.
(Well, until Ladybank will be in operation.)  It's located in the beautiful Perthshire countryside above Pitlochy. This distillery is so small because it was created by four farmers that didn't know what to do with their surplus barley production. Today it is a three man operation (including Iain Henderson), making 90000 bt a year since Signatory took over last year.

So, what has changed? The distillation process is classic. Iain Henderson changed only a few things ("he twiggled the stills"). He likes the shape of the stills which have a very short neck going horizontally) and produce a rich oily type of malt. If Edradour mostly used sherry casks in the past, they are also experimenting with other origins now. (I hope not too much, Port Wood finished Laphroaig from the unchillfiltered range is not my cup of tea). More interesting, Iain confessed having just finished a 8 week distillation of heavily peated malt (50 ppm like Ardbeg or Laphroaig). This malt will eventually be released as BALLECHIN distillery, an old distillery name from this area. A quick nosing of new make showed really strong, heavy rubber peat character, very nice. Much more barrels will be stored in the distillery buildings - before, 90% of Edradour was going into House of the Lords blend.
We tasted three new releases from Signatory, certainly better than the old 10 yo:

Edradour 10yo 1992/2002 (46%, Signatory Vintage Unchillfiltered Collection, D 7/1992, B 11/2002)
Light amber, Sherry, chocolate, round, dried fruits, lots of oak.
Great on the Scottish moors when the north wind blows hard and you need something warming. 78 points.

Edradour 11yo 1991/2003 (59.3%, Signatory 'Straight from the Cask', D 8/1991, B 3/2003)
Dark amber colour, powerfull nose, great character. Huge difference with the classic 10yo.
Strong dry sherry character on the mouth. Oak is perhaps overpowering without addition of water.
Best Edradour ever tried, but will the oak soften up? 85 points.

Edradour 13yo 1989/2002 (57.2%, OB, Decanter glass, D 10/1989, B 10/2002)
Very dark amber, cupper colour. Very dry sherry nose, strong cask influence (finish?)
Mouth: warm tea, sherry, wood and oak dominate, has much less fruit and flavour than the 11yo.
79 points.

I had the chance to meet Iain Henderson before; on Islay (with Serge) and at the Paris Whisky festival (with Serge also, bizarre, isn't it ?). Each time he was wearing a tie, looked clean and was speaking energetically. At Edradour he really looked like the guy doing almost everything, wearing his overall, smelling peat and fire and, even if he was as enthusiastic as ever, he certainly was less voluble. Small is beautiful…

Olivier Humbrecht
 

= = =

E-pistle #2003/?? - Pandora VI Pandemonium 
by Serge Valentin, France

(Comments and answers by Johannes are added in light green.)

Blind tasting can be highly addictive.
Trusting just your nose, your tastebuds and your memory, making risky choices, eliminating some malts, hesitating between two other ones, thinking a while, changing your guesses, thinking again, tasting again (and getting different feelings than last time...) Yes, that's an heavily addictive sport, and I begin to like it more and more, provided the "sender" composes the flight with much art and skill. And Johannes proved to be a master at composing nice (but tricky) selections. Sure, it isn't that difficult to make a difference between a Lowlander and an Islayer, but what do you say when somebody asks you to make the difference between... Three Speysiders? Even worse: three Speysiders that are quite similar? I say let's try, even if I know the results will be painful, no doubt! But we're all some naked emperors, aren't we?

Pandora VI Assignment: Three Pairs of Speyside Siblings
The Clue: Half a dozen Speysiders, combined into three pairs of siblings. 3 are OB's, 3 IB's
The Task: Match up the pairs (2 points) and give Top 3 possible bottlings for each malt (3/2/1 points)

Before my final tasting I had some serious sniffings.
I made some short notes, just based on the nose to get each malt's main marker.
General feeling: all six are fine Speysiders, sherried, but not too much. Possible pairings: 1-4 / 2-5 / 3-6.
All these Speysiders showed great sherried noses, although not in the Macallan style. All are good whiskies, nose-wise (none under 80 points). But on the palate, none was really thrilling. That's why I would classify them under a 'mid-sweet, mid-sherried' category.

The bad news is that after my Big Crunch effort, I've 'lost' (i.e. vatted) most of my opened bottles or samples. So, apart from Macallan, I have to use my memory... Of course, all that made it even more difficult to come up with correct answers. All the malts are quite similar! Furthermore, Johannes told me I never tasted any of these, according to the Matrix and my track record. But as the malts are quite similar, there's no need to dig deep into their characteritics, because that would lead me to list always the same fragrances/tastes (sherry, honey, wood, toffee, liquorice, flowers, fruits...). So, I think the best method, like for Pandora II, was to try to get each malt's main marker. And that only by nosing it, because I was fearing that trying to get the markers on the palate would be nothing but confusing.

So, here's my method again: 1) Quick sniffs, 2) Getting the main marker (or rather the most specific one), 3) Stating each malt's name (provided I had tasted the distillery before), 4) Verifying my findings by nosing the malts deeper, and finally, 5) drinking it, just to check whether there was any contradiction. Anyway, let's start now.

Blind #1:  Aberlour NAS Antique (43%, OB)
First impression: Not too strong. 40-46%. Marker: flowers, rose, lilac. Could be Linkwood.
Specific marker: rose. First guess: Linkwood.
Nosing deeper: perfumy, sherried, quite fresh, crystallized orange. The freshness confirms it could be Linkwood.
Mouth: soft, oily, woody notes, sherry, drying. That's what I was fearing, the palate is somewhat undefinite.
Could be many Speysiders, including Linkwood.
Rating: 81 points. Official guesses: Linkwood, Aberlour, Glenrothes

So, there you go... Two points already.
This was the Aberlour NAS Antique (43%, OB) - a vatting containing whiskies from 10 to 25 years old. It's a duty-free bottling. Your guess was pretty good, because this 'Antique' is not quite as sherried as other Aberlours. I agree the palate lacks personality. I really wanted to get your opinion about this version. I liked it and gave it 81 points as well, but Klaus and Roman rated it below average in the matrix. Your score helps lifting the average rating to a fairly respectable 79 points.

Blind #2:  Mortlach 1989/2002 (43%, Coopers Choice)
First impression: Again, a 40-46% malt. Very winey, hence difficult to put a name on.
But not sherried enough to be a Macallan OB.
Specific marker: some mint/eucalyptus, but not a lot. First gues: Glenrothes.
Nosing deeper: winey, woody, liquorice. Hum, difficult! Mouth: rounded, then slightly bitter. Not that woody. That one is really tough.
I still had a sample of the Glenrothes 1985, and these are somewhat similar. Okay, let's go for Glenrothes, but...
Rating: 83 points. Official guesses: Glenrothes, Aberlour, Cragganmore

No points this time, it's a Mortlach. Maybe the 'winey' impression came from the sherry cask(s).
My score is 84 points, so once again we seem to enjoy this single malt about the same.

Blind #3: Glenrothes 8yo (40%, G&M)
First impression: 40-46% vol. Honey, more toasted than Linkwood. Could be Mortlach.
Specific marker: honey, toasted bread. First guess: Mortlach. Nosing deeper: very toasted, rich. Nice sherry. Could be a G&M bottling.
Mouth: soft, nicely rounded, subtle, very classy. Must be quite old.
Rating: 86 points. Official guesses: Mortlach, Glenfarclas, Aberlour

Hehehe...It seems you mixed up Glenrothes and Mortlach, just like you did with blind #2.
'Must be quite old' you say?  Au contraire, mon ami. This Glenrothes is quite possibly the youngest bottle in the flight - just eight years old!  You were spot on when you guessed it's a G&M bottling, though. Unfortunately that doesn't get you any points. I'm not quite as crazy about it as you are, but I like it a lot. Amazing character for its age and very good value.

Blind #4:  Glenrothes 1987/2000 (43%, OB)
First impression: 40-46% vol. Flowery. Could be a second Linkwood.
Specific marker: rose, floral. First guess: here's our second Linkwood. Nosing deeper: fresh, tangerine, turkish delight, less sherried.
Mouth: Just a little more pungent than #1. Maybe a higher alcohol level. Quite woody, gets a little dry and bitter.
Rating: 80 points. Official guesses: Linkwood, Aberlour, Glenrothes

Yes, another point - this is the second Glenrothes in the flight. I haven't 'seriously' rated this official bottling yet, but at first sight I have to agree the younger (and cheaper) G&M bottling is at least as good - if not better. Craig and Mark have scored this one around 80 points as well, but Louis seems to have the hots for this bottling - his score is a whopping 89 points.

Blind #5:  Mortlach 21yo (40%, Sestante)
First impression: 40-46% vol. Very winey (sweet wine). Could be the same distillery as #2.
The wine does mask the distillery's style (if any).
Specific marker: I can't find any. Tough again! First guess: none. Nosing deeper: sweet wine, liquorice, wood.
Mouth: Woody and dry, and a little watery as well. Perhaps the worst of the flight, but still not a bad whisky.
Rating: 78 points. Official guesses: Glenrothes, Aberlour, Cragganmore

Hahaha!  Your third mix-up of Mortlach and Glenrothes. Too bad, because you were right when you said this could be the same distillery as Blind #2. And you know what's especially interesting? I bought this bottle at Giorgio's in Milan because you told me these Sestante bottlings have quite a reputation. Given the fact that these bottlings are selected and bottled by Gordon & MacPhail for Sestante I had my doubts. I'm always eager to debunk a myth, so I bought a bottle for 75 Euro's. As it turns out, a bottle that has aged for about a third of the time and that costs about a third of the money (the Coopers Choice) beats it.

Blind #6:  Aberlour NAS 100 Proof (57.1%, OB)
First impression: Cask strength - approx 60% or just a litlle less. Very honeyed. Goes with #3. Mortlach?
Specific marker: very honeyed. First guess: Mortlach.
Nosing deeper: toasted bread again (another Mortlach marker), burnt wood, a lot of toffee. That's a C/S whisky.
Mouth: bold and rich, liquorice and wood. Gets more powerful and quite burning (Hey, UDRM anyone?). A little grassy.
Rating: 87 points. Official guesses: Mortlach, Glenfarclas, Aberlour

And that's another point you've earned, bringing your grand total to 4 points.
This is a cask strength whisky indeed - the predecessor of the more expensive A'bunadh.
I have to say I'm a bit surprised you didn't find any sherry or fruits in there.
Anyway - your rating resembles mine (85 points).

No need to say I used Aberlour as a joker... I'm not familiar at all with Aberlour, although it has been French-owned since quite a long time, but as I know Johannes loves to play some dirty tricks from time to time... Oh yes, pairings... Let's say: 1-4, 2-5, 3-6. Hum, perhaps too logical... Okay Johannes, how far from the tracks am I?

Dirty tricks indeed...
Well, you matched up the Mortlachs correctly, so I'll give you an extra point for that.
That puts your final score at 5 points for this session - not quite as good as the 18 points you earned at Pandora II but still better than the performances of some other maniacs, including myself. Your instincts were correct, I did compose a 'logical' line-up for the blinds - but it was 1-6, 2-5 and 3-4 instead of the one you suggested. No shame, I made this Pandora flight a very tricky one.
So; let's review your scores for this flight;

March Blind #1  - 81 points - Aberlour NAS Antique (43%, OB)
March Blind #2  - 83 points - Mortlach 1989/2002 (43%, Coopers Choice)
March Blind #3  - 86 points - Glenrothes 8yo (40%, G&M)
March Blind #4  - 80 points - Glenrothes 1987/2000 (43%, OB)
March Blind #5  - 78 points - Mortlach 21yo (40%, Sestante)
March Blind #6  - 87 points - Aberlour NAS 100 Proof (57.1%, OB)

Okay, mixed feelings here...
I got them all, but in a complete disorder. My 'specific marker' stuff didn't work, obviously. The one I was the most sure sure about was Linkwood, just because of these bloody flowery smells... Otherwise, again, all I can say is that these were really similar... Quite a cluster, isn't it? Anyway, I think it's really a matter of cask management, rather than a matter of distillery style...

And too bad for the Sestante! I just read Dave Murray's comments on Mortlach. He writes about a 16yo: "as enjoyable as it is, I'd prefer to see them drop about four years off it and serve it when the malt has a bigger say..." and later: "sadly (...) even the independents are usually seduced by age on this one" So true! That Sestante just proves that Mortlach does suffer from too long aging, because the wood just gets the whisky to dry. Perhaps does that come from Mortlach's partial triple distillation..
Anyway, that flight was really crafted 'en finesse'. Congrats and thanks!

Santé, Serge
 
 

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