Ah, the year 2005... 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.
In 2005, these were just five of the E-pistles that we published:
E-pistle #2003/??? - An Interview with Mike Nicolson - by Serge Valentin, France
E-pistle #2003/??? - Ask an Anorak: What is a Distillery? - by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
E-pistle #2003/??? - Caramel Research - Prelude - by Klaus Everding, Germany
E-pistle #2003/??? - Ask an Anorak: The Fake Factor - Part III - by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
E-pistle #2003/??? - The Peaty Smell of Arrogance - by Michel van Meersbergen, Holland
And that's it for now. More E-pistles from 2005 will be added later. The results of the Malt Maniacs Awards 2005 are on-line as well.
Follow us on Twitter if you want to know when more of the old stuff will be published.
Trying to explain to you how I came to having a chat with one of the most malicious,
most professional and remoter (to Scotland, no need to say) retired distillery managers
and blues guitarist would be way too long and complicated, as were notably involved
some 10-packs of French cigarettes, an ex-racoon, Ron Sexmith – the singer, the
Oban life boat and Dr Nick Morgan, of Diageo fame. Yes, no less… But if you want to
learn which colours you should never wear when visiting a distillery, why Lagavulin
is magic or whether whisky is better today or not, please read on… And oh, by the
way, please warn your family and your neighbours, you might well burst into laughter
from time to time!
Q: Mike, you were the Manager at Blair Athol, Lagavulin and finally Lochnagar
just before you retired. Were there other distilleries you've been working at?
Are you sitting comfortably?
Firstly, Caol Ila is missing from your list, which I had the privilege of Managing
during my time on Islay and if you wanted to get me in trouble with Billy, Flora
and the "Black Hand Gang", missing it out would be a good way of doing it.
You don't want to get me in trouble, do you?
Prior to the places already mentioned, I was managing Glenkinchie, but that was a long
time ago and it will be safe to drink now as all the stuff I made will have been consumed already.
In a junior management capacity,- Linlithgow (St. Magdalene), Hillside (Glenesk), Linkwood and Muir of Ord.
There is another list of briefer working visits, dating back to the time when men walked in front of automobiles with red flags – Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor, Rosebank, Aultmore, Cardhu, The original Caol Ila, Dallas Dhu, Dalwhinnie, Benromach, Millburn, Teaninnich and Glentauchers.
Q: Wow, there's almost only Mannochmore missing!
I'd have loved to ask you a few questions about Loch Dhu…
Anyway, what was the biggest change moving from Blair Athol to Lagavulin/Caol Ila and then to Lochnagar?
Well, the weather for a start. Snow & big floods, to a place so windy that on most days everyone has the same hairstyle, to more snow and Big hills and, the folks of course, always different, thank God. For the technophobes: - distillation régimes and levels of technology. For the sociable: - the amount of interaction with the customers. Blair Athol spirit character is such that it requires to be distilled rather quickly, Lagavulin on the other hand, has the longest and slowest spirit run that I have ever seen. At Lochnagar the object was to maintain a spirit character that would not normally be delivered by the design of the plant there. Tricky eh?
Blair Athol, when I spent time there, was technologically very sophisticated and energy efficient but the layout seemed to have been designed by a blind man having a bad day. The change from traditional mash house plant, at Lagavulin, to something a bit more up to date, happened during my tenure and, that is always a good time to find out how paranoid you actually are. The Lochnagar equipment is without a great deal of sophistication but as I suggested before, you have to sort of keep your eye on it.
One of the biggest changes in the business during my time, was the development of distilleries as educational and marketing tools which means, that Managers get to meet the customers face to face and learn stuff. Blair Athol being sighted in a big tourist town, conducts it's visitor facilities as you might expect, for large numbers, in support of it's malt and as a key ingredient of it's well known associated blend, whose name escapes me for the moment. To run an enterprise of this nature requires a different Manager's skill set to be developed, for which he/she might find violent rages, formal executions, cross dressing and low standards of personal hygiene, to be fairly unhelpful.
Lagavulin, being sited where it is, means that not many people go there. It also means that a high proportion of those that do find their way there come by way of a pilgrimage, therefore paying the ultimate homage to the magic liquid. So, there you have it, lovely people, albeit pleasantly obsessed, bit of time to talk to them, occasional requests for the Manager's autograph or small fragments of his clothing, well, tough job huh?
Lochnagar, as home of the Malt Advocate Course, takes this personal interaction thing to another level. The Manager at that particular establishment, persuaded/ pushed/ordered/blackmailed by a Marketing department who, daily, have to be talked out of invading Poland, gets to tell people the truth about the mysteries of the production of some of the best Malt Whiskies around. Fortunately, he is assisted in this endeavour by an outstanding collection of "experts", some of whom have moustaches, large livers, wonderfully bad attitudes and are patrons of the Oxford Bar.
The job specification is an interesting read, involving sleep deprivation, a precise knowledge of the location of pharmacies and their opening hours, the ability to cope with anxiety levels similar to a crew member of Apollo Five and, being good at herding cats. The successful applicant will be rewarded by meeting lots of wonderful people from all over the World including, fellow employees, a large proportion of whom appear to be fundamentally disturbed and, additional reward is provided by being supported by the remarkable Distillery staff and, of course, Lucy.
Q: I must say Lagavulin really has a cult status.
Are there specific reasons for that, except the fact that it's a great dram from Islay?
Yes, although that's a pretty fundamental exception, it's magic.
I dunno completely how it works, that people will name their children after the place but, it has drama.
Having spent four years watching winter storms, some of them in July, from that house on the point, it's something that you don't forget in a hurry. History was normally something we read about when we wore short trousers but, it's not usually something you go to work in everyday. Not that I ever was an avid history student but after just a little time there, you know that you are part of a community which has been there for a very, very long time indeed when you can walk over to the castle and see the remains of the sea gate, where the long ships were pulled up. After that, your into that continuum thing where you are reminded that life is short and that you are following on from those that went before, who made an exceptional spirit in that place, for generations. Then of course there are the people that work there. They are similarly exceptional. Gentle, proud, funny, creative and too supportive of "White Settlers" like me, just passing through.
And the other good thing is, that they all have long memories so, you can hear the stories like," The mash house ghost" or, how Big Angus spent the Chairman's visit locked in a cupboard. Killer stuff. The place seems to have a propensity to attract eccentrics or perhaps it just provides the opportunity for them to flourish, like Sir Peter Mackie, a hugely successful entrepreneur but a nutter none the less. So, like I said, I dunno, s'magic.
Q: Oh yes, the people! I remember last time I visited the distillery with a few other maniacs…
Pinky was our guide, and he really made my day. Little man, huge personality!
I guess you worked with him…
Pinky is a star. Vertically challenged he may be but... he's big in Japan.
Q: It's not that I want to insist too much on Lagavulin, but the Distiller's Editions are excellent drams.
Actually, the recent 1987 'Distiller's Edition' just won a 'Warped Whisky Award' at the 2004 MM Awards.
How do you feel about the wider spreading of the practice of 'finishes'?
With one or two exceptions, I think it's very silly.
Q: Well, at least that's a clear answer!
So, apart of these 'finishings', what's the biggest improvement in production since you started working?
The way my former employer encouraged managers to treat the folks that make the liquids.
When I started in the business as a young man, things got done because the boss said so, period.
Thinking, most forms of creativity, and involvement out with your own discipline just didn't happen much. By the time I left the business the boys and girls "on the floor" were performing formerly management functions, bringing all of their individual skills to the benefit of the workplace, demanding involvement and decision making powers. A transformation and, from my point of view, as a Manager, a delight.
Q: I see. And what's the piece of 'tradition' you regret has disappeared since you started working?
Flogging the employees and the Manager's right to the local virgins.
Yeah, it was bad when that went...
Q: Oh, so what I heard wasn't just a rumour! ;-)
But 'technically' speaking? I mean, direct-fired stills, European casks, open-air worm condensers…
You know, the anoraks like us will always suspect the industry is trashing tradition to make more profit.
Maybe it's a myth, and whisky's actually better nowadays than it used to be…
Christ Serge, an interview was ok but if you want a book, I might need a little lie down first.
Personally, I believe that it's pretty plain that whisky today is better than it used to be. If you started a business, today, that involved hundreds of geographically scattered entrepreneur types doing their own thing with limited education, low levels of technology, poor communication and no minimum quality standards and where everywhere was a long walk to the pub, I would be surprised if your expectation of success would be great. If you look back to the first time it became generally commercially "visible", it was drunk, often, as a "cordial" i.e. it was so bad, that you had to put stuff in it to get it down your neck. And what happened? Well, progress. Science happened. People got smarter, experience and communication developed, folks got organized, sometimes even into these contemptible things called "companies". Someone wrote down some rules. Blenders happened. Customers (markets) happened. Everybody sobered up.
As far as change, improvement and innovation are concerned, those have been intrinsic parts of the business since it became one, this is not something new that just snuck up on us. Look at the grain still for instance, without which we wouldn't be having this nice chat because the business would have gone to the wall round about 1890. The key is of course, is not change but, responsible change. I can't speak for other Corporations but, the one I used to work for seemed to understand what most of the good bits are, like what whiskies do you make? Why do they taste the way they do? How do you consistently keep them like that? And, where do they fit in the business? If you know this stuff then there are some areas, product quality for instance, where your attitude to change is going to be and, I know this is a relative word, conservative. I would like to tell you that I enjoyed all the change that came my way, and yes every organization has a percentage of wild eyed, master of the universe types that would "sort out" the business by making all Scotland's malt whisky at one giant distillery just outside Paisley but, if you know what the good bits are, then there is usually someone around to make sure that these people are properly medicated.
I know that when they showed up tomorrow, the film crew that is, that they would be thrilled if they found everyone wearing wooden shoes, working by paraffin lamps with hacking coughs, missing digits and Franz and List but, maybe it's not a bad thing that we left that behind. At this point I should declare a vested interest. The whisky business has fed three generations of my family, some of whom were/are, Romantics, so, this change stuff has actually been pretty good for the Nicolsons.
(Author's note :-) Nicolson, small and historically insignificant bunch, more of a gang than a clan, quite content to be continually bossed about by the MacLeods, apparently, you know, fetching their slippers, that sort of thing. After two thousand years of hanging about, they finally do show up to fight. Where? Culloden. (Nice going boys.) Anyway Serge, at the next Maniac's convention, gimmie a call when you all go down to the beach with your forks, I could make some serious money from that kind of photo opportunity.
Q: It's true that there is clearly a debate between the maltheads who like a little mystique and the ones who think we should stick to the proven facts. What are your ideas?
Well, what's to argue about? They're both right.
With a history stretching over many hundreds of years making a product that remains an intrinsic part of Scottish culture and therefore, with thousands of stories to tell, it would be a bit dumb not to take advantage of our good fortune and use some of them. By dint of our inheritance though, making them up would render one as uncool as it was possible to be. Nor do I think that to convincingly use the romance that surrounds our product, one has to act like some backward Scottish hayseed, dressed like an advertisement for shortbread. Remember the Gospel according to Dr. Morgan, Chapter fourteen, Verse nine, "Customers want to buy a real product, made in real places, by real people". Yea, verily.
Now, the facts. The first thing to remember is, that often in spite of appearances to the contrary, whiskypersons don't know everything. Compared to our forefathers, we know tons but, happily, the product
is so complicated that we will all be a long time dead, for example, before the last mysteries of maturation have been unravelled. A lot of the reason for this conflict is the producers' fault. In days gone by, before we
knew what we know now, marketers would tell the customers what they thought the customers wanted to hear. The surprise, that there may be other reasons for individual spirit character, other than the magic
Scottish water or that the stillman is left handed and wears a kilt, is therefore, kinda understandable. The fact is, that not only do the producers now know more but, so do their customers. Bit of catching up to do I think?
Me? I'm in the romantic truth camp.
Q: Yes, but some people within the industry clearly get puzzled by these anoraks (us!) who want to know a little more than what's written in the ads. What do you think?
I wouldn't worry about it if I were you; the industry is full of people who are easily puzzled.
After all they were puzzled by gravity, the internal combustion engine, non-refillable fitments, how m&m's don't melt in your hand, that that really is Dave Broom's own hair, the tooth fairy and, like the rest of us, the fact that Keef is still with us.
Personally, I like anoraks, inquisitive, challenging, good for the grey matter.
Mind you, I might have to re-evaluate my position if my daughter brought one home. No, on reflection, that would probably be better than the procession of Neanderthals she seems to be specialising in at the moment. After all, anoraks have mastered the art of walking, communicate above the level of a grunt and most of them don't drool. If I have one teeny weeny criticism, it's that in their relentless and all consuming thirst for anorak knowledge, sometimes, they can take their eye off the ball. Like caramel for instance. (Don't mail me Germany, I'm not in.) Oh and the other thing is, and this is a bit delicate, couldn't we get them to dress a bit better? I mean, come on folks, it's actually ok to wear socks and even Martha Stewart thinks that yellow and orange don't go together.
Q: He he he, I really understand. It happens often that when visiting a distillery with some other maltheads, I feel I should say to the guide 'Look, I'm not with them, I promise!' Now, what puzzles me even more is seeing some guys visiting, say Lagavulin with an Ardbeg sweater, a Bruichladdich baseball cap and a pair of Laphroaig socks… Now, can you tell us how was life on Islay and why did you move to Canada? Any similarities?
Life on Islay was engaging. Special place. Lovely people, big sense of "togetherness" as opposed to that over used and much devalued word, "community". The invisible support network, that visitors would never see, was wonderful. Someone always knew the person who could help you with whatever the problem was, often, before you knew that you had a problem.
Why move to Canada? Well, public service really, so that my friend would have somewhere nice to come for his holidays.
Similarities? Since I live on Vancouver Island, you have to get a ferry to get here. That is the only thing that is similar.
What are more noticeable are the differences, here's a list:
- There are roads here, not just a lot of corners joined together.
- Nobody called "W" lives here.
- The ferry crew was not trained at the Slobodan Milosevic School of customer care.
- We got traffic lights.
- The band goes on before midnight.
- We got trees, lots of them. I mean more trees than you could shake a stick at, if you know what I mean.
That's trees as far as the eye can f----ing see. We got trees in places other countries don't have trees.
We're treed. Big time.
- There is no Co-op.
- The electricity stays on all the time.
- If you get into a fight with a policeman, he will not come round the next day just to check that you are OK.
Q: Nick Morgan told me you're a blues guitarist extraordinaire, and it's true
that some aficionados fondly remember your gigs on Islay, with your band.
Do you know some other musicians who, like us, are whisky aficionados?
I would need to refer you to the huge but underestimated talent that
is Mr. Adrian Byron Burns. Giant voice, astonishing guitar technique, cross
genre repertoire, a Gentleman and, I feel sure, available for bookings in your area.
See www.adrianburns.com and tell him Uncle Mike is looking for his ten percent.
Adrian's label is Private Edition and never, never miss a live show.
Q: Great, I just listened to a few MP3's he put on the CD section of his site.
He's really excellent, thanks for the tip! Two last, short questions now…
Do you remember your first dram?
Listen, I'm retired, I have trouble with yesterday.
Q: Ah… and what's your favourite dram?
When did you stop beating your wife?
Q: Okay, okay, the one you dislike most, then?
The guy that plays cement mixer on Metallica's second last album.
Wasn't that three questions?
Q: Ha ha, I can see that even if some are now retired, they didn't loose too many of their 'corporate' reflexes, did they?
Anyway, thanks a bunch, Mike, it's been a huge pleasure.
I hope you'll come again and play the blues during the Islay Festival in the coming years!
Although we've already received some questions from readers for our new 'Ask an Anorak' series, once again I have a pressing question of my own I wanted to 'throw to the wolves'. We'll start with some questions from readers in MM#13, I promise. This time the question looks deceptively simple: 'What is a distillery?'. As you can read in log entry 200 and this E-pistle, the answer is far more complicated that you might imagine.
Johannes: Lex and I are working on a Lex-Icon (a list of distilleries world-wide) and we want to make sure we have the same data on the lex-icon as on the Distillery Data list on Malt Madness. So, now we arrive at a fairly fundamental question; 'What is a distillery'? More precisely, should we consider Glenburgie / Glencraig as one or as two distilleries? And it's the same for Miltonduff / Mosstowie. They used different sets of stills to produce these whiskies, so Lex' argument that they are two different 'production lines' seems to make sense. But while 'still type' might be an important factor w.r.t. the end result, so it the peating level of the malt or the wood in which the malt is matured. From that perspective, you could also say that Tobermory and Ledaig are two different distilleries - or 'old' Macallan and 'Fine Oak' Macallan for that matter... Any thoughts on this?
Lex: I now realise that Johannes and I are the only ones who know what the Lex-icon actually is.
The full name is Global Malt Lex-icon (GML) and it's a database of all malt whisky distilleries in the world.
So one distillery is one entry (hence the question as to how to treat Glenburgie/Glencraig etc). Information provided are things like addresses and phone numbers, web-sites, grain used, still type, operating status, main labels, etc. There will also be a downloadable/printable checklist which will only list the distilleries per region and country.
Just so people know what we're talking about!
Serge: Maybe we should consider a distillery is an 'equipment', which is mainly characterized by the stills
they use, whilst the raw materials they use (like the malt) isn't really part of the distillery, so to speak – as they almost always come from other locations/plants. So, I'd say I'm a 'Lexian' considering this matter ;-).
I'd say different stills (either wash and spirit, or only one of those) means different distilleries.
(Especially when considering the use of Lomond stills within a site that normally uses pot stills.)
That also means that single grain made for instance at Lochside or Ben Nevis comes from a 'different' distillery, even if they carried the same 'brand name'.
Tweaking of the equipement (rectifiers etc.) but with the very same stills (and even if not using all the stills) equals same distillery, even if not the same brand names. For instance at Loch Lomond. Variations of peating levels, organic barley or not, bere or optic or chariot etc., finishings, warehouse location, type of yeast and captain's age don't count when the same stills are used. Otherwise, as they all start to launch dozens of variations on these aspects (like, say at Bruichladdich), there will soon be much more 'distilleries' than stills in Scotland! My two cents...
Davin: My humble opinion: diferent stills or consistant different processes equal different malts, therefore different products and I think of them as different that way. Ledaig is not a variant of Tobermory, it is a different malt and I prefer to see it listed separately. Same for Longrow/Springbank. Definitly Glencraig does not equal Glenburgie, nor Miltonduff Mosstowie. I think consistantly different products should be listed under separate heading on the Matrix & Monitor and dispense with 'please see': But what of Knockdhu and An Cnoc? To me they are the same. Macallan though has chosen to call both of two diffrerent product Macallan so let it be. Same with finishes. They want those to represent the distillery while others have chose to differentiate the names.
Thomas: Here's my take on things: I don't know if I got Davin right, but if so I have to disagree: not every different production process justifies a separate distillery name IMHO. Case in point: the new Ardbeg Kildalton. An unpeated malt from the distillery that is usually known for the most heavily peated whisky, so totally out of line with their regular range. But would you consider it a different single malt? I don't think so. And how would you name it, btw, since they had chosen to label it an Ardbeg after all? And what if a Ardbeg had chosen a different name for this malt? Would that make it a "new" malt? They used the same equipment, only they used unpeated malt in this case, so most would still consider it an Ardbeg, I guess. And if one day they'd choose to produce an only lightly peated whisky? Yet another distillery? I thing that's taking it too far. Or are we supposed to investigate every production process from now on (Bruichladdich alone would probably drive us crazy..).
Next borderline scenario: Springbank/Longrow/Hazelburn.
In Schobert's latest Whisky Treasury (I believe that's what's it called in English) Frank McHardy describes the rather complicated methods that Springbank uses to produce three different malts. According to that (and this is really simplified now), Longrow is double distilled, Hazelburn triple distilled and Springbank somewhere inbetween (two and a half distillations). But they are using the same stills even if in different combinations.
So to me it boils down to the "hardware" that is used in the process. In that respect I'm on the same page as Serge. Let me use a "car analogy" here: if tomorrow Ferrari decided to produce red trucks you would still consider them a Ferrari no matter what they look like. The same goes for whisky in my mind.
Davin: I accept that stills define distillery.
Arbeg vats both peated and non-peated distillations and releases it as Ardbeg (eg 17yo includes both). Others do the same (eg Glengoyne) Why not let the distillery decide if they have one product or more. W.r.t. cars, Daimler Chrysler makes Maebach, Dodge Ram, Prowler and Mercedes, using the same production facilities, in part, but one would not consider them even siblings (OK maybe Merc & Maeb) nevermind the same product. I think we should organize the matrix and monitor by the name given by the distillery so people can find things at first glance. As far as your Lexicon - I think different mechanical processes (i.e.) different stills in the same facility producing different malts equal different distilleries. However not all is black and white, for some distilleries vat different malts from different stills to make different malts with the same name (Macallan e.g.).
Ulf: Regarding the classification issue I am tagging along with Serge.
Back in 1996 when I first launched my web page I tried to categorize by talking about 'hard' and 'soft' versions, with soft as a subsection to hard. My definition for hard followed Serge's and was, hence, equipment driven. Simply, if one distillery operated multiple production lines then it qualified for multiple, uniquely named, entries in the distillery column. Soft was 'recipe' driven. Like different levels of peating, type of finishing/maturing, type of barley but also special bottlings by the producer or any IB. Simply, I used 'soft' to categorize all versions that deviated from a specific production line's main characteristics as defined by the distillery per see.
I treated, and still do, a 'soft' version as a recipe version from a given distillery. My two pence.
Olivier: I might have missed one chapter, but how about this.
If stills define the distillery, how do you distinguish Bruichladdich, Port Charlotte and Octomore?
After all, they are produced with the same stills, same age of the captain?
Only peat levels differ, but they are presented as different distilleries.
Lex: Are they, Olivier? Neither of them has been bottled yet, but I very much doubt the label will say that Port Charlotte is distilled at Port Charlotte distillery and Octomore at Octomore distillery. Personally, I'm on the line as Serge and Ulf, which is that different sets of stills at the same site are different distilleries and that variations having to do with peating, maturation, finishing, etc are different malts.
So, a single distillery can make different malts;
Bruichladdich: Bruichladdich/Port Charlotte/Octomore
But of course you can argue long into the night about this, preferably with a nice dram, as there are arguments either way. For MM and the GML, what Johannes wants to get at is whether to consider situations like Glenburgie and Glencraig as different distilleries (i.e. listed separately) or as one.
Johannes: Yeah, Lex is right - we could argue about this long into the night...
For example, I could postulate that casks are very important 'equipment' as well.
Anyway, it's obvious that not everything is completely 'black or white' in this case, so we may as well decide on this issue in a democratic fashion. And the majority vote clearly goes to treating Glenburgie and Glencraig as two different distilleries - and Miltonduff and Mosstowie as well. Two more distilleries for the Distillery Data overview on Malt Madness.
Blasted - that means that phase III of my mission just became a little bit harder ;-)
And as long as we're making fundamental decisions, how about these distilleries?
I know some of these were already mentioned, but I'd like some more opinions.
- Littlemill & Dunglass
- Glen Flagler / Killyloch / Garnheath
- Springbank / Longrow / Hazelburn
- Tobermory / Ledaig
Lex: Here's how I treated these in my own files:
- Littlemill & Dunglass: Same set of stills AFAIK, so same distillery.
- Glen Flagler / Killyloch / Garnheath: AFAIK two different sets of stills, so two distilleries.
- Springbank / Longrow / Hazelburn: Same set of stills, so one distillery.
- Tobermory / Ledaig: Same set of stills again.
Davin: I have thought about this from time to time and my preference has been to use the same naming
protocols as the ditilleries, but I have never felt strongly enough to raise the issue. We are trying to organize objectively, information that is subjective. If we all use the same definition, whatever you decide,
we'll get used to it and become comfortable. I think Serge and Ulf have made the most cogent arguments so far and I am quite agreeable that unique equipment equals distinct distillery regardless of where housed.
So Glencraig and Glenburgie are different distilleries. Good. But what happens when one distillery buys stills from another?
(Can't remember the examples but am aware of some.)
1. Littlemill & Dunglass - hypothetical at this point.
2. Glen Flagler and Killyloch - made using different stills therefore different distilleries.
3. Springbank / Longrow / Hazelburn is made using same stills but different mechanical processes.
Therefore different malts. I would personally prefer to list them as different 'distilleries' as well.
4. Tobermory / Ledaig are entirely different products by RECIPE but are made by the same processes using the same stills. I prefer to list them separately but agree both are product of same distillery. In fact, in correspondence with the distillery a while back I was told that sometimes the current owners didn`t know whether a cask contained Ledaig or Tobermory until they tasted it!
I believe Bruichladdich has already released a bottling that includes both 'Bruichladdich' and 'Port Charlotte' so they seem to be going with the 3 products but one distillery approach. Agreed, casks are important equipment, but what of Glenmorangie 10 which is matured in ex-bourbon casks as opposed to Glenmorangie 18 which is a vatting of whiskies matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks? Of course that's not the biggest can of worms Glenmorangie has opened...
Charlie: And don't forget LochLomond/Inchmurrin/Old Rosdhu/Craiglodge/Croftengea/Glen Douglas/Inchmoan.
All made on two pairs of pot stills with 14-plate Lomond-style rectifying columns attached. Each of the seven is distinguished either by being drawn off at different plates or by using differently peated malt....! The truth is they are different 'makes' from the same distillery/plant, rather than different 'expressions' of the same make (as in ages of a particular malt, or a wood finished version). As such I would be inclined to list them separately. 'Make' is the key word - used by producers, not by marketeers, who refer to 'brand' (take note Serge!), as, I'm afraid, do most consumers. This raises the whole issue of even using the term 'brand' in relation to malt whisky, the product(s) of a single distillery. Are the products of the chateaux of Bordeaux 'brands'... hold me back from a rant! In your Lex-Icon the problem can be solved by simply heading the list: DISTILLERIES AND MAKES. 'Expressions' of either may be listed under the individual entry. How's that?
Mark: I think Charlie's idea is a good one, provided we supply a few words in explanation of the terms.
'Makes' and 'brands' are different, but we might well remember that most malt anoraks will seek out product and info on said product using the name given on the label. So, in the end, labelling practice holds sway. I think that the Matrix and Monitor should use the fuller list of Distilleries and Makes. The Distillery Profiles section should include distilleries only, and list all of their make in the details, 'distillery' here defined as a structure or structures housing stills, and resulting necessarily in a shorter list of 'distilleries'.
Ulf: I think Charlie solved the Gordic knot by separate what I lumped together for my own classification
several years ago under the umbrella 'recipe versions' by dividing this group in 'make' and 'expressions'. I feel comfortable with this as long as a product name, a 'make' corresponds to an identical setting of a
flexible still over time (Loch Lomond case) but also where the process always is manipulated in fixed stills in the same way for a specific product (the Springbank case). Expression then categories a 'make' in
subgroups such as type of barley, peatiness, maturation parameters, finishing and bottlings (OB-series, IB-series).
Two pence thought.
Johannes: Thanks, maniacs. You've given me a lot to think about.
Lex and I will use your comments for the Distillery Data section and the Lex-icon.
We'll brood on it a little bit and publish the results of our deliberations in the forseeable future.
YOUR TIME IS LIMITED
Some of the fiercest wars have been fought about questions of belief.
Fortunately the malt community has not reached that degree of escalation... Yet...
But we also have our fields where we debate with passion and lack the arguments and hard facts.
One of these fields is the question: "Does the addition of caramel to single malts change the taste?"
Jim Murray is one of the zealots who argue "Thou shalt have no caramel!" (Whisky Bible 2004). He says that caramel (when overused) can kill a whisky dead. Others (preferably those who sell whisky) say, "We use caramel only to adjust the colour. It has no influence on taste and aroma." And then there are those who say e.g. "Ah, that Highland Park does not taste as good as I remember. Damn! They certainly use too much caramel." And so caramel is the baddy without real evidence.
SALVATION IS NEAR
This cannot go on forever. We need hard facts.
And so the malt maniacs have set up an experiment;
- a team of experts whom you can trust
- a handful of malt bottles with no initial caramel
- real spirit caramel from a bottler.
Currently our Master of Ceremonies is preparing samples of the malts with well defined concentrations of caramel.
These samples will be shipped to the team and we will taste them several times blindfolded. This will show where the treshold concentration for detection of caramel lies. If we find out that it is necessary to turn a pale white wine coloured malt into a sherry monster to have an effect, you can rule out caramel as explanation for a change in taste and aroma. Our results will be published in an E-pistle a.s.a.p. Until then you still have time to discuss vividly about the effect of caramel. And to heat things up a little bit, I will add some basic facts about caramel and a preliminary experiment with E150c caramel.
While googling for caramel I found out that caramel is no easy to understand product.
Caramel is made by controlled heat treatment of carbohydrates (e.g. sugar, molasses).
To promote caramelization and to define which kind of caramel you want acids,alkalis or salts may be added.
Basicly there 4 different kinds of caramel, depending on how they are produced and where they are used:
- E150a: plain or spirit caramel
- E150b: caustic sulfite caramel
- E150c: ammonia or beer caramel, bakers and confectioners caramel
- E150d: sulfite-amonia caramel, soft drinks or acid proof caramel
Caramel is a dark brown to black viscous liquid, sometimes also solid.
It has an odor of burnt sugar or brown bread (pumpernickel) and usually tastes bitter.
For the tinting of whisky E150a is used. If you want to dive deeper into the world of caramel, I suggest:
A few months ago I made an experiment together with a friend.
We used E150c caramel (bought in a supermarket), Glenturret 12yo (40%, OB), and plain water.
Here is my record of it;
The caramel we used is a viscous brown liquid which smells like pumpernickel, liquorice and blueberries.
I have no idea whether the different kinds of caramel taste/smell different.
I give some E150c into a beaker glass and add water to it (approx. 1:4).
The liquid is still rather viscous but easier to handle.
1. Water Experiment
A - Normal concentration (giving the water the colour of eg. Glenmorangie 10yo OB):
Nothing to detect, neither nose nor taste.
B - Sherry monster concentration (e.g. like Macallen 100 proof OB):
Nothing to detect, neither nose nor taste.
C - Loch Dhu concentration, almost black:
I smelled pumpernickel, burnt toast, blueberries. Tasted a little bit bitter.
2. with Glenturret 12yo OB
Although this malts contains initial caramel (I live in Germany where it must be statet on the label) this malt was the best available good benchmark candidate from my shelves since it is rather fragile (no obvious strong taste or smell identifiers). There were no big changes when I gave the Glenturret the colour of a sherry monster an not even when adding enough caramel to change it to an ultra-sherry-monster. Then I maded a blind tasting: pure (ha!) malt vs coloured malt with eyes closed and a friend giving me the different glasses. BIG SURPRISE - I could always identify the E150c coloured malt. Well, the statistics were not great. I made only 3 attempts. But I don't think that it was only by chance.
I thought harder about possible differences between coloured and uncoloured malt and came to the following conclusion. There is a slight difference in the mouthfeel. The E 150-malt is a bit oilier. Additionally it has lost some of its edges and is marginal more fruity. My friend who did the experiment together with me can support my results. We both think that caramel added to whisky has (almost) no influence on the taste and nose. I think it is unlikely that the blenders add so much caramel to a malt that a pale white wine coloured malt suddenly looks like a sherry monster. And only in such cases the results are on the edge of the detection limit.
But these are just preliminary results - a full report about our research will follow.
Guess what; I've just received a message from Ho-cheng about yet another fake that popped up in Taiwan.
Together with Italy, that seems to be a genuine treasure trove for any dedicated fake hunter....
: Not fake, just fun!
After the fake Arran 1982, I have found another odd "label" in the store.
The same chain store that sold the Arran is now selling "Longrow 14yo 1993".
What? 1993 14yo? Are you sure it's 2005 right now? I asked the shopkeeper.
It is obvious the shopkeeper doesnt' know what I am asking about.
It turns out the store changed the paper box into a wooden box in Taiwan to sell more.
However, someone had the bright idea to put a vintage on the box.
It is obvious he has no sense about the numbers. Anyway, the bottle itself has no problem.
I actually asked politely if I can get the original paper box.
They asked me to leave a contact number but never call back!
Johannes: Well, Ho-cheng, I must say I don't really agree this is not a 'fake'.
If we accept the excuse 'mistake on the label' or 'mistake on the box', that would make it
very easy for fakers and malicious traders to cover up an intentional fraud if they're caught.
Especially when we're dealing with a store that has sold confirmed fake bottles before I think
the 'burden of proof' is on the store and we should consider any 'mislabeled' bottle as suspect
until proven otherwise. This box says there's a 14yo whisky from 1993 inside - which can't be
the case because we're living in 2005. Taking shipping from Scotland to Taiwan into account
(assuming this bottle actually came from Scotland), it's likely that it was bottled in 2004 at
the latest - so, it's either a 14yo bottling (like it says on the front label of the bottle itself),
a younger expression distilled in 1993 or none of the above. If I understand Ho-cheng's story
correctly, they 'invented' the 1993 vintage. Well, malt maniacs care about details like that!
I'm really astonished by the contempt 'Drinks Wines & Spirits Co.' from Taiwan shows their
customers. Based on the information provided so far it seems they are either involved in
the whole faking process or they just don't care about the source of the bottles they sell.
The end result is just the same: the consumer pays for something he doesn't receive.
By the way, Ho-cheng - did you find out more about that fake Mortlach you reported?
Ho-cheng: Yes I did! It was sold in a cart sale at the top floor of Pacific Department Store, Yonghe City Branch.
Address: No.238, Sec. 1, Zhongshan Rd., Yonghe City, Taipei County 234, Taiwan (R.O.C.). I have been contacted by Diageo once asking if my friend who bought it was willing to provide evidence (the bottle, reciept, ect.). After contacting my friend and said yes. We were not contacted again since then. There is a local importer name on the back label, but the company seems not to exist. The back label shows a company name and an address. But we do not know this company nor we can find any information about the company. It's not in the government data base, so it should be either broken or have never existed.) We don't know who or which company should be reposnible for the bottle. As you know the department store knows very little about the cart sale. It's a temporary stand and the invoice was issued by the department store.
Johannes: Well, that just doesn't sound very kosher to me...
Surely the store must know who sold a certain shipment of bottles to them?
And even if they don't, it doesn't seem like they were very very alarmed by this news.
But if they don't know or care who sold these fakes, they're very likely to buy other fakes in the future!
So, whether they knowingly sell fakes or just don't care, it seems a shop to stay away from.
I guess finding the guilty party responsible for any of these frauds is almost impossible.
But then again, for all practical purposes it doesn't really matter if a trader:
A) knowingly passes along (confirmed or suspected) fakes
B) unknowingly passes along (confirmed or suspected) fakes
C) is gullible enough to buy bottles that are identified by 'amateurs' as fakes
D) pretends to be gullible enough to buy fake bottles himself
In the end, the consumer receives a severe beating with the short end of the stick...
Reason enough to keep monitoring the Fake Alert page, I'd say... It might be prudent to be extra careful when it comes to traders who have sold 'confirmed' fake bottlings in the past. There's no guarantee that's the only fake in their collection.
But how about that suspect 'Mandibolari' Ardbeg 1988/2002 I mentioned in E-pistle 13/05 recently?
Any more maniacal insights in this malty matter? Have we heard back from Ardbeg yet?
Just to refresh your memories, here's Mr. Gambi's reply w.r.t. that Ardbeg '88;
'I can guarantee the authenticity of the product because it has been personally selected by me.
The origin of the casks is from various bottlers in the UK, whose name of course I keep jealously secret.
Regarding the Ardbeg 14yo distilled 1988 and bottled 2002, I asked the same question to the seller of the cask, who answered that the Ardbeg distillery was re-opened in 1989 for what concerns official distillation and bottling, but the independent bottlers managed to get some casks at the very end of 1988. That's why my label displays the 1988 date: of course I believe in what the British guys say, because they are usually honest people. Perhaps this independent bottler was too "honest" in giving me this information which should have been reserved to those in the business, because the distillery is considered officially re-opened in 1989. Perhaps I should have asked the seller the permission for writing 1988, but frankly I was in good faith and I didn't think of the issue. Anyway, I confirm what's on the label because I trust the UK seller and I am sorry that the bottle is considered suspicious, because I consider it 100% authentic. Of course everything is questionable, because in the whisky business there are indeed some suspicious bottles, or even openly fake or tinkered... and all coming from the Bologna area.'
Craig: Actually the "Ardbeg operational in 1988" story is both plausible and reasonable and should be verifiable.
Lots of distilleries operate very intermittently and it would be in the interest of the owners and potential owners to be making sure that the equipment is in working order during any sale negotiations, so cranking up the stills in the period where sale negotiations were taking place is not at all far fetched. Also look at it from the 'new' owners point of view, particularly from their marketing and "branding" perspectives. they'd want to be able to specify a date from which they were exclusively responsible for the make, so that "line in the sand" would have to be after they took over control of the distillery. The Ardbeg 1892 is a much more difficult proposition. Submitting the stuff for chemical analysis would be proof, but who's going to do it?? If you would not trust Mr Gambi to be telling the truth, why would anyone trust that the whisky he had analysed was the whisky in that particular bottle. And as we know from the WMD fiasco, proving a negative is almost impossible.
Charlie: I do want to say 'Bravo Snr. Gambi'. I had an equally embarrassing moment in Leiden last year, presenting a bottle of Brora 30yo, distilled 1984. Someone in the audience: "But you say in your book that Brora was closed in 1983..." Panic phone-call to Diageo's archivist. She ran a check, and, like Mr. Gambi says re Ardbeg, there was limited production during this period. As for the old bottle - it looks ok to me. I am thinking of capsule and label condition. Dave's observations about 'Mc' rather than 'MacDougall' are interesting, but I have a family bible from the 1930s where my great-great grandfather inscribed the names of his (13) children. He spells their surnames MacLean, McLean, M'Lean, Maclean and Mclean. In truth, as a spoken language, Gaelic is very flexible when written! Roman, look out for the next issue of the (Russian) 'Whisky' magazine. I devote my editorial to fakes, and mention the good work done by the maniacs. You are the only one who will be able to read it!
Thomas: Hi all, my thoughts on Mr. Giambi's answer;
I've read his statements about the Ardbeg 1988 a few times and still am not sure what he is saying.
It is still very fishy to me. Especially this part keeps me wondering: "but the independent bottlers managed to get some casks at the very end of 1988". Nowhere it says that these casks were actually filled with whisky distilled in 1988. The independent bottlers only "managed" to get some casks. And only independent bottlers got some from that 1988 distillations!? What about any official bottlings? Wouldn't you think that Glenmorangie would have made it officially known that there were some test runs done before they took over? Wouldn't they use these cask for whatever purposes if they were any good (which obviously they are) ? And who would have run the production in 1988? Afaik, Iain Henderson took charge of things in 1989. Do you think he just dropped by a few months earlier, cleaned up the mess of five or six silent years and made some excellent runs just like that? That leads me to two possible solutions. Either these casks are from 1983 or before, which I doubt, because every bottler would have loved to present older casks, or Mr. Giambi got lied to. And saying that all British are honest guys is as naive as saying all Germans have been nice all the time... So IMHO, Mr. Giambi more or less accepted the possible lie, either out of naivity or knowingly for profit's sake. These are all just assumptions on my side, of course, but unless Stuart Thomson confirms production in 1988 I tend to consider his story highly unlikely.
Louis: These explanations from Mr. Gambi prove nothing.
All of the sources are trustworthy, but cannot be revealed. Uh-huh...
And I have the Brooklyn Bridge to sell. I have inherited the exclusive rights from my now-dead grandfather...
Maybe Mr. Gambi will trust me also...
Ulf: Hello MM's. This is what Stuart Thomson told me when I asked him;
'Dear Ulf, There was no production at all at Ardbeg during 1988. Regards, Stuart.'
Johannes: Wow, this radically changes my perspective on things - again!
At first I thought this Ardbeg 1988 bottling was fishy, then Mr. Gambi's explanations more or less convinced me that it could be genuine (and even quite special) and now there's almost no denying that this is a 'fake', is there? Or at least that the information provided on the label isn't correct. And if somebody in the sales chain isn't telling the truth or providing the correct facts about one aspect of this bottling (namely the vintage), he could be 'fibbing' or mistaken about other aspects as well, no? Maybe we weren't sampling an Ardbeg at all in November in Alsace, but a young Lagavulin, Laphroaig or Caol Ila. It was a very nice Islay whisky, but there are many more 'very nice Islay whiskies' around - at very nice prices too. It don't know the 'street price' of the Mandibolari Ardbegs, but I imagine you could get yourself two or three bottles of the 10yo OB for that money. So when somebody pays a hefty premium for a Mandibolari Ardbeg, he (or she) usually does so because he (or she) hopes that such a single cask bottling could offer a new perspective on the distillery. As it turns out, they may have been paying good money for a 'fake'.
Or am I jumping the gun here? Is this a 'confirmed' fake?
Davin: This is not the first time I have heard of small runs being done at Ardbeg during the time they were closed.
Despite what Stuart says, it may be prudent to find a second reliable source.
Lawrence: Didn't Laphroaig do some small production runs at Ardbeg while it was silent?
I seem to remember that this is so but cannot remember where I read it.
This should be kept in mind if any future questions/bottlings arise.
Craig: I agree with Davin and Lawrence.
I would be very careful to rely on one source especially when attempting to prove a negative. WMD's anyone?
Also it may be Ardbeg, but not from 1988 - now this may mean it is fraudulent, but it might also mean that the broker who owned the cask got the distillation date wrong and Mr Gambi could be perfectly blameless. I'm not saying he is, just that to suggest otherwise might not be the friendliest thing one can do on the web and making open accusations is fraught at the best of times.
Mark: The "1988" would probably make more sense if either of the "8"s was a misread.
Blurred vision, smears, dust accumulation, and the like could easily 'morph' an 8 into a 3 5 6 9 or 0, and vise versa.
Happens all the time with important numbers. What about checking with the Excise Board?
Are they pure evil and not to be contacted? I would guess their records to be scrupulous.
Ulf: I agree in principal with Davin, Lawrence, Craig and Mark as well.
Note that we do have an OFFICIAL statement from Ardbeg saying that no productions occurred during 1988.
This must carry more weight than loose rumors saying production occurred in 1988. I have heard such rumors as well, like the Laphroig version. However, none of them have specified 1988 as a definitive year for such productions. And this is the core question in the Gambi matter. For curiosity reason; did any MM acquired one of these bottles? May I suggest the following:
1. Check with the Excise Board. If they deny then the bottles ought to be classified as fakes.
If they confirm production during 1988 then Ardbeg is wrong and the bottles MAY be authentic (not ARE).
2. Go back to Mr Gambi and tell him that the OFFICIAL standpoint from Ardbeg is that no production whatsoever did occur during 1988. Ask him to contact his supplier to provide him with a document disclosable to anyone it may concern confirming that the cask stems from a 1988 run. Postpone further action until the Excise Board replies and/or Mr Gambis reaction is known. My tuppence...
Olivier: I have the same opinion. I do not think that there is a more disorganized distillery as Ardbeg.
Once, it took over 2 years to receive an order from them. It wouldn't surprise me if they didn't keep any official record of that time or, even better, if they can't find them anymore.
Lex: Agree, the statement by Stuart is only as good as the Ardbeg archives allow.
That doesn't mean Mr Gambi is right, only that the matter hasn't been solved yet.
Definitely we should confront him with the official statement by Ardbeg and see whether he can disclose more.
Charlie: I am with the rest of you. Be cautious. Can we ask Stuart to expand upon his brief reply?
We should also remember that many distilleries, including Ardbeg, thought in terms of seasons not calendar years.
So, that would be season 1987-88, 1988-89, etc
Johannes: Hmm... many excellent points, maniacs - now I'm in doubt yet again...
Stuart Thomson 'officially' confirmed that there was no production at Ardbeg in 1988.
For me personally, that would be quite enough to classify this particular bottle as 'too hot to handle'.
Nevertheless, I kindly informed Mr. Gambi of the clear statements made by Stuart Thomson.
I also asked if he might be able to check the information provided by the seller.
Here's the speedy reply I received:
'Thanks for your e-mail. I cannot furnish personal information on my suppliers of barrel.
I am sorry that you have these ideas on my bottle. You also classify the bottle as you want, I am sure of what I do. I have had many compliments for this bottle, the whiskey is liked a lot, the barrel was of the year 1988 and me I believe in my supplier of barrels. Thanks for your collaboration. Giuseppe.'
Hmmm... Now this sounds a little familiar. That was more or less the stance Mr. Jacobs took, no?
I understand that traders are not too happy if questions are raised about bottles in their collection, but like I wrote earlier in the Hazelburn case, I personally believe that this 'see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil attitude' is irresponsible. If somebody like Stuart Thompson says there was no production in 1988, the least you could do is check the facts with the seller of the cask. Anyway, if I had to choose between the opinion of Stuart Thomson on one hand and the alleged claims of a 'mystery man that can't be revealed' on the other, I would be quite happy to err on the side of caution and keep away from these bottles. However, right now the majority of the maniacs seem to agree we need more 'proof' before we can make any definite claims.
After thinking it over, I suppose those maniacs are right. So, watch this space for more.
I've asked the Excise Board, but they're public servants so I won't hold my breath...
Lex: Must say I'm disappointed in Mr Gambi's reaction.
Basically what he's saying is that the bottle is genuine, that we just have to believe him.
Every bit of evidence against the bottle being genuine doesn't matter because the whisky is nice.
Well, the question is not how good the whisky is, but whether he's putting a fraudulent bottle on the market.
Note that he doesn't even argue Ardbeg's/Stuart's statement or try to come up with an explanation as to how a 1988 cask of Ardbeg could still exist. Let's see what the Excise avenue brings up. I'll hold judgement for now.
Johannes: Aaaargh! I just pulled a muscle trying to put my foot in my mouth...
It seems I will have to swallow my earlier remark about public servants - together with some humble pie.
I received a first, preliminary response from the UK Excise Board within half an hour! Very promising indeed.
Here is part of their response;
'I am in receipt of you email regarding your discovery of what may turn out to be a fake bottle of malt whisky. (...) I believe that 8 year old Ardbeg is the youngest spirit that they bottle then its is 10 year old, 15 year old, 18 year old and 20 year old but there may even by older malts bottled by Ardbeg. (...) The fact that there was no production at Ardbeg in 1988 may have little effect on the position as a bottle produced in for example 1988 may be valid as being either 8,10 12, 15 years old the spirit would all have been produced the relevant number of years stated on the bottle earlier as a minimum. (e.g. a 10 year old bottle may contain some 11 or 12 year old spirit in the finished product. (...)'
Hmmm, yes... They may have gotten some of their facts mixed up, but at least they tried.
As far as I know the official Ardbeg range includes a 10yo and a 17yo, but not a 15yo or 18yo.
But that's nitpicking. I responded and tried to explain that all we needed to know is whether or not Ardbeg operated in 1988 or not. If the excise board says 'no', we have conformation that the information on the Mandibolari Ardbeg doesn't reflect the facts. However, until we've received a 'final' answer from the excise board we can't make any definitive claims.
Let's wait and see what they come up with...
Serge: I remember some people from G&M's telling me that they have some casks of Ardbeg made by Iain
Henderson when he was running Ardbeg intermitently in the late 80's. So, my take is that Mr Gambi isn't suspect of frauding (what would be the difference between a 1988, late 1989 or 1990, value-wise?) but that
either it IS some 1988, or it's some late 1989 or 1990 but he simply made a small mistake. Frankly, the whisky's good, and we've seen MANY errors on labels elsewhere, so, I wouldn't accuse Mr Gambi of frauding.
I'd write 'mislabelling' instead of 'fake', that's all. It's more 'funny' than 'a fraud'.
Yes, I'd write 'funny mislabelling', in fact.
Johannes: Well, maybe we do actually need a new 'mislabeled' category.
Serge makes a very good point about the lack of obvious motivation for 'faking' an Ardbeg 1988.
But how can we ever tell the difference between a 'fake' and a 'wrong label' - especially when the seller (in this case Mr. Gambi) maintains that the information on the label IS actually correct. If he had taken the trouble of contacting his source and check the data, he would have been able to either confirm that the cask came from 1988 (according to his source, of course) or that somewhere along the line there has been a mistake in the data stream. Now we'll just have to keep guessing.
Maybe I have been a bit paranoid about fake bottlings lately.
However, I googled 'Ardbeg 1988' and I came up with no hits at all for other '88 bottlings.
A definitive answer from the Excise Board should help us determine the status of this bottle.
So, let's close this dossier for now and wait until we can uncover some more information.
... Or: A Blind Islay tasting at Cadenhead's Amsterdam...
Once upon a time there was a little kid who thought he knew a thing or two about Scottish Single Malts.
Not that he had lots of experience with SSM's, no, just a year or two. He did however, had quite some experience with wine. For fifteen years to be precise. For some freak reason he had won a blind tasting event three times. No reason to say the first and second time he was very surprised with the outcome. The third time something nasty seeded in his mind. 'Hell, I'm good at this, and the others... mere jokes'. Yes my dear readers, it was not only alcohol which shot to and thru his head. Add to that the fact he even won his first blind malt tasting and you can imagine that the just mentioned 'nastiness' growed like the Magic Bean from a certain tailor… It had to go wrong…
I'm not going to bore you any further with this silly story. Lets jump forward in time and go one with more interesting subjects on the blind tasting of eight Islay malts organised by Cadenhead Amsterdam. It was announced as 'Islay As It Used To Be'. Perhaps it was my recent 'Limburg' adventure. I got drifted away with visions from 1970's bottled Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. 1980's and 1990's Cadenhead dumpy's. Things like that. I'll guess Limburg made me greedy and unrealistic. I wouldn't be fair if I had not told you the presented line-up at Cadenhead's was equally impressive. Here we go:
Ardbeg 'Lord Of The Isles' NAS 46% OB
Bowmore 21 years 43% OB
Bruichladdich '1970' vintage 44.2% OB
Bunnahabhain 1963 – 2003 42.9% OB
Caol Ila 16 years 58.6% Cadenhead
Lagavulin 25 years 57.2% OB
Laphroaig 30 years 43% OB
Port Ellen 25 years 4th annual release 56.2% OB
The fact I had sampled four of them already made me feel very confident about the blind part of this tasting. The four others shouldn't be that difficult… Wait a minute, this is about enjoying old Islay malts, not some kind of childish competition. Once entered the Cadenhead store I had two samples from different bottles of Glen Elgin from the same cask. (Lombard) Whisky buddy Frank pointed out that differences were beyond believe and was curious about my opinion. I didn't take any notes but the differences were there, no doubt about that. I couldn't come up with an explanation so Frank came up with an interesting concept. He thinks the bottle line was not properly cleaned before bottling the Glen Elgin. One bottle was filled right after emptying the cask and thus got polluted with the traces of the before bottled malt. The other bottle was filled later in the process and therefore: clean. Sounds logical but also very improbable. A possible reason for bottle variation? Perhaps the Maniacs can help us out on this theory.
Once we all sat down the tasting started:
1st blind: Colour: Deep gold. Nose: Lychee, hazelnut, apricot marmalade, butter. Develops towards honey, cederwood, dried apple, crème brullé, sour briny notes and grapefruit. Subtle and light smoke. Very special
and needs quite some time to open completely. Palate: Very parfumed in a good way. Raspberry, vanilla, grapes, lychee, orange marmalade, gala melon. Finish: Beautiful spicy wood, hints of pepper, smoke returns
. Glycerine and fresh malts. Extremely satisfying.
93 points - My Guess: Bruichladdich. It was: Bruichladdich '1970' (44.2%, OB, 2002).
Nice start and a classic dram. For me the best Laddie so far. Lots of development to keep you focused for ever and you don't have to work for it! Complexity combined with extreme satisfaction.
2nd blind: Colour: Medium gold. Nose: Yep, this is Ardbeg! Powerful yet subtle, deep. Faint rubber, chocolate with coffee, seaweed and vanilla, wet wood en roasted notes. Subtle peaty underlayment. Palate:
Hey, surprise here. Not as rounded as I remember, spicy notes and cinnamon and white pepper. Slightly explosive and a tad sharp. Sweet apple and cake dough, later some peat emerges but acts as fundament.
Finish: Vanilla, Italian licorice, some iodine and some civilized peat.
89 points - My guess: Caol Ila. It was: Ardbeg 'Lord of the Isles' (46%, OB, 2003?).
Hmm. That's odd. I tried Ardbeg LOTI only two month earlier and that sample was much, much softer.
I got drifted towards a older Caol Ila because of the Ardbegish nose and the relative sharp palate.
Too bad… What was bad that our corner at the table was oh so sure it was Caol Ila.
We were screaming it. It was a hilarious moment when Andries showed the bottle.
3rd blind: Colour: Light gold. Nose: Lots of apples and acids. Peaty and licorice, smoke.
Seaweed, vanilla butter, salmiac, light sulphur, smoked fish, tar and rubber.
Palate: Butter, seaweed, smoke and salmiac Needs a lot of water to open.
Finish: Lots of pepper and sweetish peat.
85 points - My guess: Bowmore. It was: Caol Ila 16yo 1977/1993 (58.6%, Cadenhead, july 1977 / december 1993)
Ohhh… Missed the beat in this one, didn't I?
Talking about beats, almost everybody agreed this Caol Ila was quite 'off-beat'.
The ABV should have warned me and I got drifted away with the sour nose.
4th blind: Colour: Hazel. Nose: Manzanilla and spicy. Lot of wood, sandle wood and oxidized seaweed. Coal smoke. Palate: Rather thin and somewhat incomplete. Notes on seaweed and cooked apple, some more
woody notes. Finish: The cooked apple continues, wet wood and disintegrated after a few minutes to come back with light maple syrup and tannins.
86 points - My guess: Bunnahabhain. It was Lagavulin 25yo (57.2%, OB, 2002)
Not again! I tried the Bunna last September at the distillery and one thing that really stood out for me was the woody nose with lots of Manzanilla sherry influences. The palate had trouble with the Bunna 'Moine' I had before, so little information from that. The Laga seems to have the same wood signature and that put me in the wrong direction. There you have it!
Time for a fag outside the shop and try reshape a bit.
A nice dish with smoked fish and beef jerkies (Frank didn't like them at all: "I'm chewing it for minutes and it's still the same size… terrible!" ) made us ready for the second stint. Although the smoky jerkies were still leaving their marks nose and taste wise.
5th blind: Colour: Light amber. Nose: Some very deep manzanilla sherry. Raisins, fudge, Marsala en lots of wood.
Palate: Big Manzanilla start. Raisins and old rum. Very nice balance and concentration.
Finish: Long and somewhat stingy. White pepper, raisins and again old rum, ginger.
89 points - My guess: Errmmm yes, this is Bunnahabhain. It was: Bunnahabhain 1963/2003 (42.9%, OB)
There you have it indeed! I did a H2H with the Laga to find out if the wood signature was really that confusing. Let's put it this way: Incomparable the same… This blind proofed once again that older Bunna is something to reckon with. Woody as it might be, there enough behind it to beat the Laga with ease and fully justify the points given.
6th blind: Deep gold. Nose: Quite sour and soft. Very relaxed and matured.
Apple, beautiful peat, butter and soft spices. Palate: Pepper, nutmeg, cookies, burnt salty malts.
Finish: Cloves, pepper, tar, tannins. Peat returns and some green malts as well.
90 points - My guess: Laphroaig. It was: Bowmore 21yo (43%, OB, white top).
Oh no! This is getting traumatic. To mix up a Bowmore 21 with a Laphroaig 30 is quite something. To be honest: I never tried the Bowmore 21 years before and let me tell you, this is quite impressive stuff. Please take note this Bowmore had a WHITE capsule and came from a wide box. I've been told that the version with the RED top is of much lesser quality. Embarrassing as this situation might have been, it was my eye -opener for this evening!
7th blind: Colour: Medium hazel. Nose: Manzanilla wood, rubber. Sweet notes on Eau de Cologne, vanilla, pepper, nutmeg, coriander-seed and anis-seed. Some musty notes as well: rotten wood and hints of truffle.
Palate: Perfect harmony between spices, seaweed, wood and traces of smoke. Finish: Manzanilla returns together with bay leaves, pepper and roasted notes.
93 points - I stopped guessing from this point… It was Laphroaig 30yo (43%, OB, 2001?)
You've got to love this one. Perfect balance!
What would have happened if the Laph. was bottled at Cask Strength? Almost scary thought…
8th blind: Colour: Medium gold. Nose: Lots of pepper, smoked fish, smoked sausages, sulphur, black powder, sea weed, fudge, peat and smoke. Palate: Salty licorice and malty. Sweetish sea weed. Finish:
Rubber, pepper, salmiac, licorice and iodine. Very restrained and difficult to approach. Because it's Port Ellen from a just opened bottle and not given the chance to breath properly, not even in the glass I'll give it
88 points on intuition. If that's worth anything at all.
It was: Port Ellen 25yo 1978/2004 4th Annual Release (56.2%, OB, 5100bts)
The Port Ellen closed the official part of the tasting. Well, what can I say? Essentially one out of eight from which I already four sampled before… Hello reality! 'nough said about that. Looking from it from the other side, at least we (our corner at the table) dared to speak out and motivated our guesses. It brought a lot of dynamics in the session and we had our laughs, as did the other attendees. Actually, I met some nice people because of the hick-ups. Is that a wrong thing? Only a man who knows where he stands dares to fall. Or something like that. Where am I standing you ask? My love for Malts almost doubled this evening! Should give me enough solid ground to stand up again. There's no arrogance in that!
Enough with the sentiments!
Wally, the Cadenhead Regular and Super Collector brought us a surprise:
9th blind: Colour: Pale gold. Nose: Sulphur, pepper, milk acids, sour apple. Lots of peat and iodine. raisins,
vanilla butter and cotton. Has a sherried feel over it. Nice. Palate: Licorice, lactic acids, peat and charcoal. Some faint notes on yellow fruits which blends in with the milky character. Finish: Beautiful sulphur, lots of
fudge, smoke and peat. Very powerful and tasty!
90 points - My guess: Independent release of Bunna 'Moine' with sherry finish.
It was Ardbeg 1998/2005 'ZDFbeg' (55.5%, Whisky Kanzler, Oloroso, November 2004 - April 2005)
Now, Bunna and Ardbeg are light-years apart. The ones who have tasted Bunna 'Moine' however, know it's on par with young Ardbeg. My guess wasn't so bad after all. The sherry finish wasn't so obvious as it integrated perfectly with the Ardbeg and gave it in interesting 'not matured but certainly not too young' impression. Thank you Wally! At the tasting we met André and his lovely wife Gerry. They invited us for a drink at their place to round up this great evening. We had:
Dailuaine 23yo 1966/1989 years (55.8%, Cad. may 1966 - dec 1989)
Colour: Dark straw. Nose: Smoky, smoked sausages, marmalade, fudge, coal smoke, ammoniac, pepper, hazelnut, zest and oaths. Very nice and good concentration. Palate: Very soft and slightly oily. Malty, ammoniac, marmalade, zesty, smoke returns into the long finish. Very special indeed! 91 points
Pulteney 1966/2003 (40%, G&M)
Colour: Light amber. Nose: Polished wood, bees wax, vanilla, marmalade, passion fruit, honey, hints of glue and resin. Rose hips, coal smoke kicks in later. Palate: Coal smoke, marmalade, oaths. Should have been bottled at much higher ABV, it really suffers from it. Finish: Fudgy malts, pepper, marmalade, licorice and hints of ginger. Fades away with sweet dough and cookies. Another beautiful 'old' Pulteney!! 90 points
Brora 1981/1999 (50%, Lombard 'Jewels of The Highlands')
Colour: Pale straw. Nose: Very soft and subtle. Vanilla butter, subtle pepper, nutmeg, briny malts and smoke. Traces of peat. Palate: Again very soft. Sweet and salty malts, cooked apple and soft white pepper. Finish: Green pepper, fresh malts, nutmeg, mace. Some green notes as well. Very enjoyable! 87 points
Brora 18yo 1981/1999 (50%, DL OMC, june 1981 - oct. 1999, 335bts)
Colour: Straw. Nose: Pepper, light smoke, over infused tea, bitter malts, sea weed, deep rubber notes and hints of charcoal. Palate: Beautiful peat, and pepper, very Talisker-like. Nutmeg and soft sweet apples, vanilla butter. Finish: Peppery peat, soft spices, vanilla and a small explosion of white pepper. 90 points
Ardbeg 1991/2003 (43%, Mackillop's, 17 oct. 1991 - oct. 2003)
Colour: Pale straw. Nose: Hefty peat. Cooked apple, peppery notes, vanilla, bay leave and resin licorice.
Smoked sausages. Palate: Nice soft smoke, apple, iodine, pepper and nutmeg.
Finish: Lots of vanilla, peat, green malts and returning smoke. Clear and clean Ardbeg from refill bourbon casks.
Matured beautifully!! 90 points
Bruichladdich ??yo 1988/2003 'Valinch 'Middle White Pig Society' (59.9%, OB, 29 aug. 1988 - 23 may 2003, C#930)
Colour: Amber. Nose: Meaty sherry on the background. White pepper, raisins, red fruits.
Traces of smoke and briny notes. Palate: Fruits continues, preservative, raisins, light smoke, peat and rose hips.
Finish: Peppery, raisins and malty. Very nice mouth feel. 89 points
A perfect row to end a perfect night!
Many thanks to Andries and Eric from Cadenhead for the great tasting and their hospitality, Wally for the ZDFbeg and last but certainly not least André and Gerry for their hospitality and the brilliant 'night caps'!
Michel van Meersbergen
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