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Malt Maniacs Issue 002

Malt Maniacs E-zine

Malt Maniacs #002

The Water of Life (Part II)
prE-pistle #1998/01 by Louis Perlman, USA

More tasting reports and observations from our foreign correspondent in New York, Louis Perlman. This time: Springbank, Lagavulin, Balvenie (again) and Littlemill - and a whisky book by David Lerner.

Breaking in Bottles
prE-pistle #1998/02 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

Louis recently made some comments about bottles that require time to 'break in'. Time & whisky - an interesting phenomenon. Apparently one should wait with emptying a bottle - but not too long...

Earls of Zetland Report January 1998
prE-pistle #1998/03 by Craig Daniels, Australia

After Craig sent me the reports of the 'Earls of Zetland' tastings in 1997 I asked him to keep us updated about their adventures.

Stage Names for Understudies?
prE-pistle #1998/04 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

Craig's latest report made me think about some of the 'fake identities' that are used for single malts - like the infamous 'Loch Dhu' that's actually produced at the little known Mannochmore distillery.

A Night with David Grant
prE-pistle #1998/05 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Craig recalls a tasting session / master class with David Grant of Glenfiddich and Balvenie fame. Interesting stuff...

The Water of Life (Part III)
prE-pistle #1998/06 by Louis Perlman, USA

More assorted comments from Louis about his latest tastings and purchases, including the Bowmore 'Darkest' and Dalmore 12yo.

Current Events (Spring 1998)
prE-pistle #1998/07 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

Most of my prE-pistles for 1997 and 1998 are fairly short because I was focusing on my personal 'Liquid Log' on Malt Madness at the time.

Prized Malts
prE-pistle #1998/08 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Craig responded to a few of my 'bang for your buck' suggestions with a whopper of an E-pistle, containing a few dozen 'prized malts'.

Overpriced Malts
prE-pistle #1998/09 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

The Dutch are infamous for their penny pinching, so I couldn't resist submitting a short response to Craig's comments on whisky prices.

Earls of Zetland Report February 1998
prE-pistle #1998/10 by Craig Daniels, Australia

The February 1998 tastings of the Earls of Zetland covered An Cnoc 12, Benromach 12, Glengoyne 10 and the Sullivan's Cove from Australia.

Rapid Response
prE-pistle #1998/11 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

Once again a fairly short entry rescued from the old forum.

Earls of Zetland Report March 1998
prE-pistle #1998/12 by Craig Daniels, Australia

In March 1998 the Earls of Zetland organised a 'Macallan Vertical' tasting with the 12yo, 18yo 1977 and '1874' Replica bottling.

Blind in the Woods
prE-pistle #1998/13 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

Craig's comments about 'blind tasting' (nosing and tasting a whisky without knowing which bottling you've been served) reminded me of a session in 1996 where I identified a Bowmore 12yo as the blind.

Earls of Zetland Report April 1998
prE-pistle #1998/14 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Those Australians have some great ideas to keep their tastings interesting. This time, the 'Old versus New' session looks at old and new expressions of Bowmore 12yo and Longmorn 15yo.

Next IssuePrevious Issue

Malt Maniacs #002 - April 30, 1998
 

No, I'm afraid that Malt Maniacs still isn't a 'proper' E-zine yet...
This second issue of MM was reconstructed from our old forum, so the structure is still a little 'episodic'. Things started to develop, though... Our E-pistles were growing longer and longer and somewhere along the way our discussion slowly evolved beyond the simple sharing of tips on worthwhile whiskies.

Keep in mind that the 'Vox Populi' section that would later transform into our E-zine started out as a relatively small addition to my 'Liquid Log' on Malt Madness. Taken by itself, some comments in the first issues could appear to make little sense, but at least they offer a 'historical perspective'.

Among the three proto-maniacs (Craig, Louis and yours truly),
only Craig had been 'seriously' dramming for a number of years. That means that he probably was the only one to fully grasp the  importance of the factor time on whisky. It's incredibly important from many different perspectives (finance, distillation, maturation, marketing, etcetera) but we see the effects in the official bottlings on the shelves of our liquorists as well. I think Louis and me are only beginning to realise the implications of time on the shelves.

Many of the independent bottlings are produced in relatively
small batches and often they are even 'single cask' bottlings.
By contrast, most of the younger and more affordable official
bottlings are so-called 'vattings' - blends or mixtures of many
different casks. It's simply impossible to extract more than a few
hundred bottles from a single cask, so if a certain distillery decides
to release a batch of 5,000 or even 10,000 bottles they need to
use multiple casks (sometimes of different sizes and 'types').

Depending on the popularity (and price) of a particular bottling, stocks at the liquorists will at some point run out, after which they will have to place new orders. The 'demands of the market' work their way up the supply chain until they reach the distillery.

At some point the master blender at the distillery will have to produce a new 'vatting' of (usually) at least a few dozen casks that resembles the previous batch as closely as possible. Because each cask of single malt whisky is unique, that new vatting will never be exactly the same as the the previous one.
This phenomenon is known as 'batch variation'.

The amount of 'batch variation' depends on the stocks of the distillery (the more casks to choose from, the more options) and the skills of the 'master blender' that selects the casks that should be used for the new vatting. If all goes according to plan, they'll achieve a 'brand consistency' and the average consumer won't notice a significant difference with the previous batch.
But things don't always go according to plan...

Sweet drams,

Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs

prE-pistle #1998/01 - The Water of Life (Part 2)
Submitted on 29/01/1998 by Louis Perlman, USA

Hello Johannes, I opened my birthday bottle of Ardbeg and I think that it needs to break in too.
Meanwhile, Martin and his friend Bob sent me a miniature of the Springbank 12/100 Mistake scotch.
I poured half an ounce, and compared it to my own bottle. Well, last week I wasn't so thrilled with it, but what a difference a week made. I am starting to really like this stuff, which is bad considering how much it costs. It is almost as good as the better version. Also, we went out for my birthday on Monday night. Great steak, among the top 5 I have ever consumed. They also had a very nice SMS list, and I went for Talisker 10. Wow, Scottish rocket fuel indeed. I can see why it is #2 on your list.

I am sure that my bottle of Balvenie 10 won't last that long.
It will become one of my 'working malts', meaning that I enjoy it enough to consume frequently, but cheap enough to be able to replace. In that respect, Tomatin has lost it's place at the top of that list. Any reference to Macallan 18 was regarding it's general reputation. If I was writing for Michael Jackson, I would have to rate the 18 higher than the 12, but ratings don't have to count for personal consumption, as we all know. By the way, my bottle of Lagavulin really improved after sitting for three weeks. The first time around, it had somewhat of an oily body and little taste. I know that no one has described it as such, and that is why I reserved comment. It is really coming into it's own now, and I am giving it another few weeks. In any event, the bottle is getting a lot emptier than any other in my collection after only two times around. It may not be 'accessible', but once you get there......
The same was unfortunately, not true for the Springbank.

I have also had a Littlemill 8 adventure. How did I get to it? Well, my wife gave me a book by David Lerner as a present.
It is not nearly as detailed as Michael Jackson's, only general tasting notes for each brand, but easy to read thru which I did.
When I saw something interesting, I went back to MJ for a closer look. Littlemill seems to be closing down quite frequently as one corporate owner after another has had financial difficulties. Since it was only $28, I figured what the heck. This is an interesting SMS. Soft, as it is described, which is different than mild or subtle. It's hard to convey exactly in words. The finish was most amazing. Long after I had brushed my teeth (which usually kills any lingering effects), it was still there, marshmallows and all.
Not an everyday drink, but very interesting indeed.

Cheers

Louis
 

prE-pistle #1998/02 - Breaking In Bottles...
Submitted on 30/01/1998 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

Hey, that's an interesting comment you made there, Louis...

You mentioned the need for a bottle to 'break in' earlier and I've found the same with some other single malts.
It's a good thing that I usually don't rate a whisky until I've emptied the last glass from the bottle, because some do indeed seem to need a few days or even weeks to reach their prime. At the same time, I've found that a few bottles I've been keeping on my shelves since 1995 or 1996 seem to have lost some of their 'edge'. It's not true for all malts, though, so there's no easy 'rule of thumb'. My first 'goal' will be sampling at least one version from each distillery, but once I'm done with that I may look into this phenomenon in more detail.
Results of my research will be published on these pages when I've reached any meaningful conclusions...

As for Springbank... It seems that many Americans are crazy about it, but I'm not a real fan yet.
I recently tasted another Springbank expression at a bar to check out what all the fuss was about. I have to admit this Cask Strength bottling was considerably better than the 3 other (younger) versions I've tried, but it still doesn't come near my Top 10. I'm having an An Cnoc 12yo right now, which is very pleasant, but not great. Be that as it may, for the price of any Springbank bottling (even the relatively young ones) I can get at least three bottles of An Cnoc - and you know us Dutchmen... So far it seems that the real talents at Springbank are working in the marketing department (if they're getting away with their insane prices) rather than in the still house...

Anyway - I found a dusty official bottling some time ago in a store behind the Rijksmuseum that was bottled four years ago.
There are a lot of different versions from this Campbeltown distillery around, but they're not quite at the top of my shopping list...

Springbank 14yo 1979/1994 (46%, ON, Distilled 12/79, Bottled 1/94, Springbank Distillery)
Nose: Rich, yet light, sweet aroma.  Somewhat oily.
Taste: Rather salty and dry; took it's time developing around my tongue and kept floating in the back of my mouth.

I haven't tasted any other new stuff over  the last few weeks, but I'm planning a major session on my birthday in a few days.
There are a lot of 'working' bottles on my shelf that have managed to elude me up until now (including Glendullan 8yo, Speyburn 10yo and Cardhu 12yo), but it's time they faced their final judgment...

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

prE-pistle #1998/03 - EoZ Report January 1998
Submitted on 31/01/1998 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Greetings fellow Maltsters,

After the dust had settled and I had a chance to reflect on the night, I realised that our first meeting was a classic example of why most of us belong to a malt club in the first place: it allows you to sample very diverse whiskies you either couldn't normally afford or wouldn't be game to shell out the hard earned on the off chance that the whisky might actually be worth the asking. Vive la difference!

Macduff 27 53% - As suspected this was an independent bottling, in this instance from James MacArthur. 
This company is fast building a solid reputation because this whisky (along with their exquisite Caol Ila 17) is one of the nicer malts I have tried in a goodly while.  It starts with a big spirit hit, an early whiff of peat and the distinctive dry mintiness of good bourbon oak. (Considering the age, there wasn't a lot of sherry evident)  The palate is distinctly fruity, with a curiously attractive sherbet like zinginess and a dried apricot sulphuriness.  The fruity tingle lingers in a long, distinguished finish.  Started off as a seriously good whisky, but lacked the depth and roundness needed to achieve greatness.  Quite yummy and moreish just the same!  Score 8.4

Loch Dhu - I'm still not really sure what to make of this one.
A black whisky, the colour of stout, with some of the other peculiar characteristics of stout. A curious nose with lots of burnt notes. Lots of lifted estery, sweet Speyside perfume hovering apparently disconnected above a scorched toffee pan base. It even had some of the burnt malt/bitter herbs that one detects in Guinness. Don't know how they did it or why! Despite the marketing job, was it any good?
Not many of us thought so. Too many flat spots. Score 6.8

Bowmore "Legend" 57% Gillies Club - This is one of the "sports" that the Gillies Club bring in every so often.
They vary from great to ordinary: this particular one was good.  They have obviously secured one of the better barrels as the commercial  "Legend" is a nine year old and not much chop. Although not a close relative of the rip snorter of the mid 80's, this one had the added distinction of being unmistakably Bowmore with a tropical fruitiness in the nose and palate. This one had it in spades. Bonzo neatly captured the mood when he commented that it was a "fun" malt. This whisky started out as an 8.0+ but the increasingly strong violet, lavender and geranium aromas became too much over time. In the washup, lacked balance, but a lot of fun! Score 7.6

The Blind: Strathisla 12 - Selected by Bernie Glover and guessed right by a few.  I had it narrowed down very early on to Cardhu and Strathisla.  Early on it had the slightly salty toffee of Strathisla, yet the perfumed peat of Cardhu.  It fell apart pretty quickly: went thin and watery which screamed Cardhu to me.  Oh. Well! I now know that Strathisla also disintegrates after 30+ minutes.  Score 7.0

Craig
 

prE-pistle #1998/04 - Stage Names for Understudies?
Submitted on 05/02/1998 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

Another interesting report from the Earls of Zetland tastings, Craig!

I haven't tried any bottlings under the 'Macduff' name yet, but I did try a Glen Deveron 12yo official bottling some time ago - produced at the same distillery if Michael 'not the pop singer' Jackson is anything to go by. I wonder why they use different names for malts from the same distillery in this case. If the whisky is produced differently (like with Springbank / Longrow or Tobermory / Ledaig) I can understand why a single distillery carries different 'brands', but I don't think that's the case here. Has the distillery been renamed in the past, like was the case with Cardow / Cardhu or Glenordie / Ord / Glen Ord? Perhaps...

However, my slightly cynical nature leads me to believe that other considerations could play a role here.
I imagine that many people like us who are on a 'voyage of discovery' eventually want to try at least one bottle (or at least one glass) of each Scottish single malt that's available. By releasing the 'same' whisky under different names, they might be able to sell multiple bottles to unsuspecting consumers who don't know the full list of Scottish distilleries by heart.
There could be another reason, though...

Take that Loch Dhu 10yo you tried, for example.
After reading all the negative comments about Loch Dhu in the 'Public Warnings' section, I can imagine that this 'black whisky' was sort of an experiment and they didn't want to damage the 'brand name' of the Mannochmore distillery in case the experiment wasn't a success. After reading all the public warnings, I haven't tried the Loch Dhu yet, but I think it's safe to say that it wasn't an 'overall success' so far.

So, perhaps names like 'Loch Dhu' are used as 'stage names' to put some distance between the 'brand' and the distillery?

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

prE-pistle #1998/05 - A Night with David Grant
Submitted on 12/02/1998 by Craig Daniels, Australia

I just thought I might record the bits and pieces that I gleaned from the night some of us spent in June 1996 with David Grant of Glenfiddich and Balvenie fame. Maybe it was the occasion, or the august company but the Glenfiddich was better than I remember it.  Not by much mind you, but better none the less.  The yeasty notes were not so forward and the main impression was of mown hay and a fresh perfume.  It is still characteristically soapy after 30+ minutes in the glass.

The Glenfiddich is a vatting of spirit from 8 year old plain wood (1st fill bourbon barrels), 12 year old plain wood (1st fill bourbon barrels) and 8 year old oloroso wood (1st fill sherry barrels).  These components are not available individually and were only provided for instructional purposes.  The exact amount of 12 year old and even older spirit was not revealed, but a couple of interesting things did crop up:
(1)  The exact amount of 8 yo sherry in Glenfiddich is 8%, & 10 yo sherry in Balvenie Founder's Reserve is 9%.  This doesn't sound like much of a difference but as Mr Grant pointed out it does represent an increase of over 10% in the sherry treatment &
(2)  The malt used to make both Glenfiddich & Balvenie is identical including the amount of peat.  We didn't manage to find out to what extent the malt is peated, but if Highland Park (at 8ppm/phenol) is any guide it must be 6ppm/phenol or less.

One interesting comment that Mr Grant made was (without mentioning the distillery by name, but obviously referring to The Macallan - they don't mention the competition directly), that while the Macallan is matured exclusively in sherry wood it is not all put into 1st fill sherry wood. Judging by the Glenfiddich 8yo sherry that we tasted this has to be true as 12 years in this type of sherry wood would completely hide the malt and the spirit. The Glenfiddich 8 sherry is dominated by sulphur (as in dried apricots) cordite/gunpowder and is like an even more emphatic and unbalanced version of Glendronach Sherry.

Another interesting comment to emerge was that the Balvenie 12yo Double Wood is designed to replace the Balvenie Classic.
The differences between the Double Wood and the Founder's Reserve are greater than just the extra two years in wood.  The 10 yo is a vatting of same aged spirits from different woods (91% bourbon wood matured and 9% sherry wood matured).  The Double Wood is treated differently.  If I understood the story, all of the Double Wood spends a minimum of the first ten years in bourbon wood, then all of it spends the next 3 to 4 months in "new" sherry barrels then the whole lot gets put back into bourbon barrels to settle down and marry prior to bottling.  This sounds like a lot of bother but if you can get a similar effect to the Classic without having to have the stuff in bond for the extra six years it makes a lot of economic sense: less capital tied up and you can sell it cheaper.

Bottling younger spirit is not new for William Grant & Sons as the Glenfiddich used to be bottled as at least an 11yo with the age on the label (although I'm not 100% sure of my facts here). Whether or not the older version of Glenfiddich was better than the new, younger model is a barren argument but very few serious maltsters would today say they prefer Glenfiddich to Balvenie, which was the opinion of Professor McDowall when Glenfiddich was a 11 year old in the late 1960's. The Double Wood is nice and at around $65 to $70 retail it is a more economic proposition than the Classic (which used to sell for between $90 & $110 depending on who had any left).  Of interest as well was the information that the malt that ends up being sold as the Single Wood is chosen from the very best of the 10 year old bourbon barrels and given an extra 5 years in the same cask: hence the name and the exclusively bourbon treatment shows in both the colour and the nose.

As an aside, nosing a big sherry treatment like the Glenfiddich 8yo sherry was very instructive as their are definite smoky notes as in cooked/burnt smells (dried apricots/chutney etc) rather than the burning leaves/garden bonfires that comes from lots of peat a la Laphroaig or Talisker. This helps explain the mystery of a malt like Glengoyne, which while the barley is unpeated, the spirit has a significant sherry treatment. According to the books I have read, roughly a third of Glengoyne is matured in sherry wood. I think this explains why people including experts (as in Winestate Magazine) get some peatiness out of Glengoyne. The smokiness of most Scotch comes from both peat and sherrywood. (I think this is a useful thing to know come the malt tasting competition as it should help sort out the likes of Glenkinchie, Glengoyne and Tullibardine.)

Craig
 

prE-pistle #1998/06 - The Water of Life (Part 3)
Submitted on 14/02/1998 by Louis Perlman, USA

By now, I was hoping to have some interesting news on the SMS front.
Things have been delayed slightly, so I don't want to say anything premature.
In the meantime, Talisker 10 has gone to the top of my want list. It's also gone down a few dollars recently (low $30's), so I hope to get some soon before it get's warm. Not that it has been exactly cold this winter, only once below freezing and just one snow flurry.

But anyway, the big thing for me on the SMS front is that I am definitely and absolutely going to St. Thomas in June.
As a result, I have declared a temporary SMS freeze. The only exceptions are going to be some $20 Dalmore 12 which is too cheap to pass up, and Bowmore 12 Darkest if the place that advertises it for $40 ever gets it in. I can bring back 10 bottles (the two of us, that is) duty free, and at four bottles for the price of three, being patient will pay off.

As far as those expensive bottles are concerned, I didn't find them to be overly expensive.
After all, 18yr old Glenmorangie and Macallan go for about $50, and at casket strength, allow for another 40%. I am going to try to get two or three of them this year. Now that I have settled down on my favorites, I do not plan on accumulating bottles just for the sake of buying them. I don't have enough room and it is also going to be hard to justify spending $40 of anything that I am likely to like less than Lagavulin. Had some last night by the way. I'll need to stock up at the rate that I drink this stuff. Of course, this all sounds good right now, I might not have that much self restraint if someone praises something interesting on the internet.
I hope that you have had some good SMS experiences recently.

The Ardberg 17, isn't this the first bottling for sale since they were taken over by Glenmorangie?
Senility must be setting in because I have been curious to see what it would be like ever since I heard about the takeover.
So far, the 17 hasn't made it over here. I hope that it lives up to it's tradition, and that GM can price it in line with thier own stuff eventually. Now that would be a treat. While I wait for the 17 to show up here, I found a bottle of Casket Strength Bowmore (no age specified) for a reasonable $35. It is breaking in, so I will have an update soon.

But anyway, I went back to my Ardberg 1974. It has broken in nicely.
I would say that is is not much like Lagavulin, but more like Bowmore 12. Less Islay intensity though, which I don't mean as a criticism.
I do like the Ardberg very much. Your Ardberg showdown sounds tantalizing, I can't wait to hear how it went. I haven't seen the 1972 CS that you mention. Park Avenue does have an 18yo Adelphi bottling, at a cool $100. How was your comparison between the 1974 and the 17? It seems to me that it would be interesting to add the Bowmore 17 to the mix. Lagavulin goes for $37-40 typically.
I intend to pick up two more bargain bottles at St. Thomas prices. That should last for a while.

Louis
 

prE-pistle #1998/07 - Current Events
Submitted on 15/02/1998 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

Let me see - what's new over here?
Well, After a long quiet period I bought myself three new malts I was very curious about - that Ardbeg 17 (cost me an arm and a leg - but pretty much worth it at first sight), a Scapa 1989 (from the same Island as Highland Park, but so extremely different they seem to come from different continents) and a Linkwood 1984 - Very interesting. And a friend brought me a bottle of Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish for my birthday - which was a very nice surprise. And we didn't even finish it in one evening! ;-)

I haven't given Ardbeg 17 a final tasting and score, but it was just a slight disappointment at first tasting.
This was the fourth Ardbeg expression I've tasted, and it scored less than it's older brothers. This might have been expected, because it was also the cheapest version, at around 100 guilders (the equivalent of +/- $50). Still, I found it an amazing malt which might score in the upper 80's region - Typically Islay, although I missed the characteristic "delay" in taste development of the other versions I've tried. My absolute favorite version was the 1972 Cask Strength - The only one that comes near Talisker and Lagavulin. The last version is extremely rare here in Holland, but if you can get your hands on it it's an absolute winner, I think!

But, this may be all premature. I'm having a tasting-session at my place next month and there will be a head-to-head comparison between the Ardbeg 17 and Ardbeg 1974 Connoisseurs Choice. I hope to establish a final rating then..

What else? Ah yes... Good idea to get the Talisker 10 before it gets warm again, Louis.
It's one of my favorite autumn and winter malts, but in the summertime I think I would prefer a Balvenie or a Glenmorangie.
And at $30 I think it's an absolute steal... It hasn't been my number two for all these years for nothing. Since you liked the Lagavulin, I think you'll appreciate this one as well.  Wait a minute.... I was thinking about adding a new page to my site, but I didn't know what it should be about, but now I think I have an idea - "the four malt-seasons"...  Hmm.... Furthermore, U$20 for Dalmore 12 is an absolute steal! - I think it's my favorite Low Budget malt, together with Glen Ord 12, which both cost around $30 here in Holland.

And finally, a suggestion for Craig in Australia: Here's a theme for a future tasting session of the Earls of Zetland: Johannes' "Low Budget" Suggestions: Glen Ord 12, Singleton 1981, Glenmorangie Port Wood finish, Dalmore 12 and Longmorn 15. (And excuse me if I seem like an idiot and you already know these malts and found them not worthy mentioning...)

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

prE-pistle #1998/08 - Prized Malts
Submitted on 16/02/1998 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Hello, or as us Aussies are supposed to say: Yeah Gidday... Here is a short list with some of my 'prized malts'...

Bowmore 17yo - So its a commercial bottling, but only very special guests with good palates get to sample.
Dallas Dhu 15yo 1984 - Very rare - very delicious. Luscious, rich and fruity, mildly peated -excellent balance and finish.
Glenfarclas 23yo 1985 - Simply superb.  Best 'farclas I've ever tasted.
Glenrothes 8yo - Not too many 8yo score over 8.0 points. This is one.
Ledaig 11yo 1972/1983 - A delight. Drier than Talisker, sweeter than Longrow and more lightly peated than both.
Lochside 17yo 1965/1982 - Smells for all the world like an old Macallan or Glenfarclas but with a huge choc-mint palate. Fun.
Macallan 18yo 1967/1986? - Closer to the best 18's. Newer ones 1974, 76 & 77 have all been lighter bodied.
Miltonduff 14yo 1973/1991 - Lighter Speyside at its best. Exceptional balance.
Mosstowie 12yo 1971/1984? - Rare and fun! Lifted piney scent, pine needles and Norsca gel. Big unctuous palate.
Mosstowie 19yo 1975/1994 - Lovely, but nothing like the younger one. Lots of fruit in the nose and palate. More sherry wood.
Port Ellen 16yo 1979/1995 - Similar to but better than Talisker. Couple of marks shy of the Caol Ila - almost as great.
Royal Brackla 1969/1984 - Rare - lots of very pleasant traits. The kind of malt which completely justifies the independents.
Talisker 12yo 1986 - Big & bold! Pepper and smoked almonds. Yummy.
Tamdhu 15yo 1992 - A Speyside exemplar. Official release, not available anymore. Almost as good as Glenfarclas 21 or Mac 18.

I may be a bit left field liking the Tormore 10. The ones I have are fairly old bottlings (bottled about 1988-90) so they may be completely unlike the current commercial releases.  Whatever I like it a lot: Tormore 10 is quite fruity with a touch of clean, faintly herby/metallic peat and a curious hint of hot machine oil - like industrial sewing machines, which is unusual because the other whiskies I think smell industrial (Bowmore Legend and Cameron Brig) I really don't like.

The Balvenie 10 is very good, although the older one (in the brandy shape bottle with the long skinny neck) was even better and I've salted away a half dozen. The distributor in Australia decided to clear the decks of old stock about 3 years ago and the retailers were selling it for A$35-40 a bottle.  At US$23 it was such a great bargain I bought about 16 of which I've sold/given away/drunk 10.  The Balvenie 12 is one of those malts where the nose is better than the palate, probably because of the short time actually in first fill sherry barrels. But its a lovely malt to sniff.  Like you, I think more than half the fun is in the nosing and allowing the whisky to develop and change in the glass over time.  by the way, I normally drink whisky out of medium brandy balloons, but I have recently purchased some tulip clear crystal glasses (like the Glenmorangie tasting glass) and these seem to make any whisky appear drier and more floral.  I will conduct more extensive experiments and keep you informed.

Regarding some of your 'Low Budget' suggestions in your previous forum entry:

Glen Ord 12 - Tad too yeasty and floral for me (score 76) nevertheless a lovely dram, excellent value.
Singleton 1981 - Haven't tasted this one.  Last Singleton I had was a 1976.  Lots of class, very good wood.
Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish - Hasn't reached our shores yet (and won't be cheap) (Glenmorangie is seriously overpriced in Oz.).
Longmorn 15 - I acknowledge the quality, the class and the elegance but find it almost indistinguishable from the Cragganmore.

And last but not least...

Dalmore 12 - Excellent isn't it? One of my personal recommendations. Dalmore 12 is an big and assertive old-fashioned Northern Highland Malt best suited as an after-dinner digestif. It has a well rounded warm caramel toffee nose with some bitter marmalade fruitiness and evident sherry character.  A warm, generous palate with an astringent nuttiness balanced by good peat in the finish.  A robust malt most accurately described as noble or aristocratic. Dalmore 12 is a big, generous and assertive malt with loads of character. Obvious malt and sherry in the nose with some burnt notes.  Big, full and moderately sweet palate with warm caramel toffee dominant.  An old-fashioned, hearty & well-crafted malt which thoroughly deserves the noble/aristocratic tag.  An approachable, fun malt and one worth making a regular acquaintance. Tasting Notes: Nose - Big, yeasty and malty at first, with warm caramel toffee becoming dominant.  Nice warm & complex sherry notes develop in the background along with some interesting and not unattractive astringent notes reminiscent of marmalade and rubber. Body - Medium to full. Palate - Big, sweet and very well rounded.  Starts sweet and stays that way with very pleasant warm toffee.  Some clean smokiness and burnt nutty toffee in the aftertaste. Finish - Still sweet, but drying considerably. Long & satisfying.

Finally, on prices... A Macallan 18 costs about A$90-100 (US$ 60-66).
Most commercial (10-12yo) malts cost between A$50 & 60 (US$33-39). The Classic Malts go for ~A$56. Sounds like we get a worse deal on the young ones and a heaps better deal on the older ones. Anyway, I don't think the older distillery bottlings are worth the asking price. I have no desire or intention to shell out A$250 for a Macallan 25, when the 18 is just as good.

Cheers for now,

Craig
 

prE-pistle #1998/09 - Overpriced Malts?
Submitted on 19/02/1998 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

Gidday, Craig - and everybody else reading this - or, like we say in Holland - Goejjedagdan!
I'll try to reply to some of your recent comments...

On: 'I may be a bit left field liking the Tormore 10': "A bit left field", Craig? - More like an extreme radical! :-)
I re-tasted the 12yo a few nights back and discovered that time had not been kind to this one. Of course, that's just my purely personal opinion - and I just have a problem with whiskies that have a certain 'cod oil' element I'm allergic to (like Isle of Jura).

On glassware: Interesting - I always make sure to use the same type of glasses when I set out to compare two or more malts, but this is more like a habit than a conscious decision. I HAVE noticed that, for me, the Cognac balloon-glasses "give the best nose", so to speak.
The Glenmorangie glasses are quite OK too, I think.

On an earlier comment you made in your first E-pistle 'I am spoilt in Adelaide with 4 malt whisky clubs':
Well, Amsterdam (population +/- 700.000) has no official malt societies at all, so indeed, you're spoilt, Craig.
That's why internet is such a wonderful invention - It gives me the opportunity to exchange thoughts on single malts with other dilettantes or even serious maltsters like yourself ;-)

On Longmorn 15 vs Cragganmore: Well, I sympathize with your mixed emotions about Cragganmore - Very hard to define, although I have grown to like it more and more over the years. I would have little trouble distinguishing between them, I think - The Crag' 12 was "lighter" and less "woody" and "nutty" that the Longmorn 15 - Both scored the same, though - 81 points, which is recommendable in my book.

On prices: Yes indeedy - A liter of Lagavulin 16 (my top malt) is under US$ 40,- over here, so that partly explains why I haven't obtained a big bottle of the Macallan 18 or 25 yet - I tasted the 18 on a few occasions, though, and preliminary scores indicate that it should rate just a little over the 12. I found that I usually find the 18+ versions a bit too "woody" for my taste. The Glenmorangie 18 was another bit of a disappointment at first. The Port Wood Finish is amazing, though. Almost worth the price.

I also noticed you mentioned a lot of older malts in your 'Prized Malts' report.
Due to the nature of the Dutch tax-system, most older malts (18 and more) are unaffordable or simply unavailable over here.
A Macallan 18 is about US $ 150,-, I don't know how much that is in "Aussie" money ;-). Most distillery bottlings around 10 and 12 years are readily available, however - and usually very reasonably priced between $25 and $40,- This means my journeys in malt-land have thus far been confined to the "younger" and cheaper area's. Nevertheless, I have made some great discoveries there.

As for independent bottlings: the only 'brands' that are currently widely available in Holland are Gordon & MacPhail and Signatory Vintage. I assume that most of the malts listed in your latest reports are independents as well, but since you usually don't mention the bottler I can't check out the prices and availability of those bottlings here in Holland. I think the 'market' here isn't developed enough yet for brands like Cadenhead's to make a serious effort here. The good news is that there are loads of relatively young vatted malts and 'bastard malts' (single malts from undisclosed distilleries) available for less than 25 guilders, though - the equivalent of 12 or 13 U$ dollars. That's a tad more expensive than blends like Johnnie Walker Red Label or William Lawson's, but I'm more than happy to pay a modest premium for whiskies that really taste MUCH better than those crappy blends.

I expect that well over half of the price of a 'big' brand bottle of blended whisky goes towards bigger margins and advertising campaigns anyway, so I'd much rather buy 'small' brands where you don't have to sponsor the extra advertising and PR staff of massive corporations like DIAGEO. In a way, it seems the 'smaller' the brand, the likelier you are to pay an 'honest' price at your liquorist...

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

prE-pistle #1998/10 - EoZ Report Card February 1998
Submitted on 27/02/1998 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Greetings, here's the Report Card for the February 1998 'New Released Malts' tasting.

There are new expressions (or instantiations) appearing from distilleries all the time.
The usual trend is for the new release to replace an older expression being withdrawn from the market. The Glengoyne 10 fits this mould.  Very occasionally a malt gets re-badged to create a consistent naming reference (Glenordie to Ord to Glen Ord) or establish a point of difference (Knockdhu to An Cnoc) to distinguish from Knockando. Very occasionally we get a completely new malt such as Alt'a'Bhaine from a new distillery and even rarer is one from a new non-Scottish distillery. Australia now has its own single malt whisky in the Sullivan's Cove.

Glengoyne 10 - Malts from this distillery are often underrated and tend to perform better as blinds.  I thought the 12yo which you used to be able to get for around $40 was excellent value, bearing in mind that its main competition in this price bracket was Glenfiddich, Glenlivet 12 and the execrable Glen Parker.  It was always a clean, slightly sweet & creamy whisky which managed to avoid the excessive yeastiness of some of the cheaper Speysiders like Glen Keith and Glenfarclas 10. Its unpeated, so if you smell smoke it must be the wood. Pale gold colour.  Quite a pleasant gentle quaffer.  Clean, slightly sweet & creamy, indeed quite like its older sibling the 12yo, but without the sweet & sour wood complexity.  Bit of spun sugar/marshmallow in the nose, not a lot of sherry except for a burst in the finish..  In a group with other inoffensive light malts like Brackla 10, Linkwood 12.  Not too bad.  Score 7.0

Sullivan's Cove - Australia may have its own single, but its not anything to be proud of yet! 
I was curious to see what others thought so I paid particular attention, which was very hard as I was struggling to think straight let alone record faithfully the "dissipate maunderings" (apologies to Stephen Fry) of other wordsmiths (aka bullshit artists) in the room.  I think the consensus was: EXECRABLE.  A "Viktor' (most unattractive) nose: pickling vinegar, synthetic beef booster, vegemite, off caramel & acetylaldehyde.  Palate was better, but with a very grainy, slow burning fuse.  Left spirit etching on the old esophagus.  David LeCornu, who gave it 3.0 (and is faced with a moral dilemma, coz he's a distributor), hinted darkly that it might have been fiddled with because you can do things under Australian law that you wouldn't get away with in Scotland.  I was surprised I scored it this high. While this whisky is young and has a lot of curious burnt notes in the palate and nose its not obviously very peated, (in the early part of this century, the application of peat was used to try and hide a lot of distilling faults in Island and Campbeltown malts).  I think the burnt notes must come from the barrels. Still very young but well made: shows promise.  Reserve the right to lower it next time.  Score 6.0

An Cnoc 12 - The rebadged Knockdhu 12, which was rare in Australia anyway.
I don't recall tasting either at a club meeting since I joined in 1991.  I've had this one quite a few times and find it relatively easy to identify from the nice fennel like notes.  This characteristic indicates a bourbon oak/plain wood treatment. Likeable and acceptable, but a tad fiery in the nose to be really good. I think the An Cnoc is OK. I like the dryish, herby hints of thyme and fennel, but there's a little too much spirit prickle in the nose to score higher. The slight roughness in the palate may indicate some indifferent or immature wood: would be better as a 14yo. We're tasting the Glengoyne 10, not the 12.  The 12  (score 73) was one the malts which I used to benchmark other malts. I always found it a clean and creamy malt and very similar to Tullibardine 10. Almost a light bronze colour.  Nose is a bit more astringent and dry than the Glengoyne.  Some dry woody, herby grace notes.  Not a lot of length with quite a clean, dry finish.  I quite like it and except for that characteristic prickly spirit at the top back of the nose would score quite highly.  Too fiery in the nose: suggests immaturity, despite the disclosed age  Score 7.3

The Blind: Benromach 12 - Selected by David LeCornu and guessed right by Steve "Death or Glory" Graham. 
David reprised his erstwhile partner in crime (Steve Matthews) by bringing a blind which the club has not tried before.  Naughty, Naughty!  Nevertheless, as a club we are invariably more honest in our appraisals of blinds than the disclosed malts and I think the assessments around the table were very honest and pretty close to the mark. Alex (the new Mrs Keegan) gave a spot on description of the Glenlivet 12: to me it smelled like a Glenlivet but not THE Glenlivet, (not quite enough peat).  It had a typically Speyside, sweet estery nose, but with some pretty classy honeyed depths, which was why I picked the Dalwhinnie 15.  Best of the night.  Score 7.8.

Craig
 

prE-pistle #1998/11 - Rapid Response
Submitted on 01/03/1998 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

I've just had the chance to read your previous reports and your latest e-mail, Craig...
What a great idea to divide the whisky ratings of Michael Jackson in 'underrated' and 'overrated'.
It is weird, but a lot of people have let me know they agree with me on the way my scores differ from MJ's.
Of course, I compared your ratings to mine and they are indeed very similar with one MAJOR exception...

I recently re-tasted that Tormore 12 and I thought the initial score of 71 points was too generous. I wrote: 'Note: This malt seemed to change considerably over the six months it took me to empty the bottle - and time hadn't been kind to it. The initial score was 71 points, but the last few glasses seemed unbalanced and bitter and wouldn't score over 63 - 64 points'. Here are my first concise tasting notes;

Nose: Nutty oiliness. Quite "grassy", light and clean. Some smokiness.
Taste: Bittersweet; turns saltier and heavier when dilluted.

You're spot on with the Macallan 12 and Glenfiddich - two touchstone malts. It was funny to see how a lot of my scores (Cragganmore, Highland Park, Glenlivet) were just in between your scores and MJ's. By the way - while I share your dislike for the Glenfiddich "Special Old Reserve", I really like the Glenfiddich 15yo Cask Strength (51%). Absolutely wonderful! Great idea of the "theme" tasting sessions, too - like the Macallan Vertical that's coming up. If I could afford the bus-fare I would join your club!

Finally, about An Cnoc (which is confusingly made at the Knockdhu distillery): An Cnoc is one of those malts that may not be a real challenge to the nose and tongue, but it gets nicer with every glass. It's just SO easy on the tongue, a nice summer malt. I wrote:

Nose: Gentle, oily aroma. Simple but pleasant. Mild, but with and "aftertingle" in the ceiling of my nose.
Taste: More complex and "bolder" than I expected. Some creamy bitterness in it's afterglow.
Not a "big" malt, but very nice and easy on the tongue. Good value.

Please make sure to inform me of your findings on the Glengoyne 12yo, because although it has been on my shelves for half a year now it still manages to elude me. I quite like it, but I'm not sure why. Here are my provisional tasting notes;

Nose: What a fruity nose! Some chloride & dust. Malt & sherry. Dried apples, ripe bananas and then green apples. Very rich.
Taste: Somewhat "dusty" at first; malty with a dry finish. Mocca? Lacks balance, but quite nice nonetheless.

I'd like to write a lot more - but I'll do that tomorrow or this weekend in my 'Liquid Log' on Malt Madness instead...
Please keep in mind that English isn't my mother tongue and I've only recently started to write in English on a nearly daily basis. So, it always takes me a little longer to formulate my ideas than in Dutch.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

prE-pistle #1998/12 - EoZ Report Card March 1998
Submitted on 25/03/1998 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Here's the latest musings from me downunder. I don't know if you are far enough down the path of malt addiction to readily submit your palate to the test, but if you want a very stern test indeed, trying to pick the difference between masked bottlings of same age malt from the same distilleries comes close to the edge of malt lunacy.  Anyway next month I'll let you know whether there was a discernible difference or whether it was all in my (deluded) olfactory imagination.

The Macallan Vertical was a huge hit.  Even with a couple of regulars missing, we managed to attract 19 tasters and one guest. My records show this was the biggest ever rollup to a regular Club Meeting. Warmed the cockles of my Treasurer's heart and makes September 1997 (poor turnout for all those luvverly Islays) an aberration, thank the stars.  Such a fulsome response included a couple of newcomers, the new licensee of the Earl's Tavern Sam Lamissa and Geoff Jarrett's cousin, John Morton.  John was destined to discover what we already knew, that with a few drams under the belt, Geoff tends to get a tad voluble and garrulous.  We hope he recovers from the effects of Geoff's bravura performance: a'stream of consciousness' worthy of Henry Miller or J.P Donleavy rather than James Joyce.  I reckon that describing the Macallan 18 as the "Sex in the Afternoon" Malt is going to take some beating in the annals of club folklore.  Tom Perry's Bullshit-o-meter suffered overload and now needs to be re-calibrated.

Macallan 12 -  I don't know if it was me, but I wasn't overly impressed.  May have been a rogue bottle as I usually score it higher.  I'd like to see the scores for this one up against 12's we've had in the past.  Lots of forward sherry and possessed of the typical nice mint, but there were some sulphury and sour wood aromas which I wasn't expecting nor welcomed particularly.  Still had a nice mouthfeel and a long drying finish.  Very similar to Glendronach and Glenfarclas, but sweeter with more emphatic sherry.  Score 8.0

Macallan 18 (1977) – It was a delight getting reacquainted.  Nose starts kicking goals straight away: smooth, creamy and enticing with honey and something nutty and waxy (like macadamia?).  Nice and clean with lots of lifted minty notes and a suggestion of honey ice cream in the palate.  Tends to reach and hold the summit readily; stays solid in the glass.  Stacks up well in any company  Score 8.5

Macallan 1874 Replica -  Very special treat.  Took a while to warm up (nose was a little shy to begin with a lot less obvious sherry than the usual Macallan offerings), but really started humming after 10-15".  More like the citrus/apricot fruitiness of Glenrothes or the Macduff 27 we had a couple of months ago, but altogether more refined, subtle and rounder, hence higher scoring.  It was remarkably lively on the tongue for such a mature malt and it sang a subtle variation on a theme every couple of minutes.  One to savour.  Score 8.7

The Blind: Bunnahabhain 12 - Selected by Steve "Death or Glory" Graham and guessed right by a motley crew including a couple of ex-World Champions.  I will be very interested to see the final scores for the night, because given the quality of the company I thought this malt held up very well.  Excellent, understated sherry treatment and lots of lovely briny toffee notes in the nose & palate.  Confirms my strong belief that this is a much underrated malt.  Tricky blind coz it's the best highland malt made on Islay.  Score 8.1

Those with even a passing acquaintance with single malt whisky can tell a Lagavulin from a Glenlivet, but it takes an educated palate (and plenty of practice) to distinguish between two similar Speysiders, say, Glenfarclas & Strathisla in their standard 12yo guise.  On a completely more refined plane are the variations in bottlings from the same distillery.  These minor nuances are the very grist to the mill of the malt aficionado: integral to their charm and capacity to delight (and disappoint), but most importantly are critical to the "bluff" involved in the general camaraderie of malt tasting.  My twisted idea of fun: put everyone's assumed knowledge of malt to the test and possibly their putative reputations to the sword (Hee hee!).

Craig
 

prE-pistle #1998/13 - Blind in the Woods
Submitted on 31/03/1998 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

Ah... The humanity of it all...
Craig's comments about 'blind tastings' reminded me of a tasting session I had last year in 'the woods'.

Every now and then I flee the big and hectic city of Amsterdam to absorb some peace and quiet in the country.
My family owns some property in 'De Veluwe', one of the least populated area's of Holland. Once every year, usually at the first full moon of the summer, my brother and I organise a big all-night theme-party in the middle of the woods. The party-place is a clearing, surrounded by old oak trees, the light is provided by a flew globes hanging in the trees and the music is hand-picked by myself. (... and therefor of excellent quality.) Drinks and overheated guests are cooled in a big old bathtub in the centre of the clearing. A lot of people bring their tents (as well as a wide variety of drinkable and smokable substances) and the partying usually continues until the sun rises again.

In 1996, the theme was 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', everybody danced around aimlessly in toga's and big white sheets to the subtle rhythm of new age music. It was a great success, so we decided to simply pick the same theme for this year's events. I've been doing a lot of whisky evangelising among my friends lately, so I decided to add a broad selection of whiskies to the mix.

I started by pouring a Scotch single malt, Benriach 10yo (40%, OB, 70cl). It came alive quite nicely after a disappointing first whiff of "grain". Very soft, but it grows more interesting as you go along. Nutty (?) and flowery sweetness. It just needed some time to breathe, I guess. A rather soft taste with a powerful afterglow. Despite an uninspired start it turned out to be a nice summer-malt. It was quite popular with the guests as well - especially the ones who were used to drinking blends. A well-deserved 71 points.

I have to remind myself to shoot the clerk at my neighborhood Gall & Gall (a Dutch chain of liquor stores).
He recommended the BlackBarrel NAS from Grant's - a single grain whisky. I didn't particularly like the Invergordon 10yo, another single grain I tasted a while back, but I decided to give this type of whisky another chance. Big mistake. No aroma's to speak of and an almost sour taste. Hardly detectable whiffs of chloride and grass. Long (but unfortunately rather nasty) aftertaste. 31 points - and that's just because I'm in a good mood.

The Glen Talloch 8yo 'Pure Malt' is a 'vatted malt' - a blend of malt whiskies from different distilleries. A vatted malt doesn't contain any grain whisky - which seemed like good idea after the Blackbarrel. I'm not sure, but I think this stuff is bottled exclusively for the Dutch market. It has a sweetish nose, very malty. A sweet, deep undercurrent. Softer and more balanced than the standard Glen Talloch blend, but similar in character. The taste doesn't live up to the very decent nose; soft, uncharacteristic and gone too soon. 48 points.

Around 23:00 I figured it was time to leave Scotland and cross the sea to visit the Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland. They claim Bushmills is the oldest whisky distillery in the world; founded in 1608. The Bushmills Malt 10yo is one of the few single malts produced in Ireland. The nose is soft and not very expressive. The taste was soft, dry and a little salty. A bit rough on the palate. The taste lacks development and vanishes quite quickly. Rating: 49 points. Most guests seemed to be more enthusiastic about it than I was.

Next up, an Irish blend; Tullamore Dew NAS. 'Smell-wise', it's quite complex for an Irish whisky. Soft taste, but not very characteristic. The quality of the 'Dew' seems to change quite a bit from year to year, but overall it's one of my favourite Irish whiskies. Not as good as the Jameson 12yo, but a lot better than the "standard" Jameson. This year's version gets a cool 50 points.

By now, we had tasted a Scotch single malt whisky, an Irish single malt whiskey, a Scotch single grain whisky, a Scotch vatted malt whisky and an Irish blended whiskey tonight. This should prove to anyone that I'm not prejudiced when it comes to alcohol.

It must have been around midnight when Richard, one of my best friends, came up to me and told me he had an interesting challenge for me. Because I already had a few cocktails, I was feeling pretty daring. (I think you know the feeling...) Recklessly I accepted, without knowing what the challenge was.  Richard smiled viciously and unveiled  a large green chemicals-bottle with a large toxic-sign on it. He told me he put three-quarters of his favourite single malt in it, and I could have it all if I could determine the content of the mysterious green bottle.

So that was a nasty mess I had gotten myself into...
I had never done a real blind test before, so I was likely to make a fool out of myself in front of my friends. After all, I was the one constantly whining about the subtleties and differences of single malts. I was in luck, though; Unwittingly, Richard had made it easy for me by picking an Islay whisky - that peaty and smoky aroma is unmistakable. But my friends didn't know that, so why make them any wiser? I amazed and astonished them by declaring it an Islay whisky after only two sniffs from the bottle. Richard reluctantly had to admit that I was right so far.

Eric, another friend of mine, declared that the challenge obviously wasn't challenge enough.
He double-dared me with a new challenge: If I could determine the distillery as well as the age without a nosing glass, he would get me another bottle of that very same malt. If I failed, he got to drink the rest of the green chemicals bottle.
And there I was, faced with a difficult decision.

Well - not difficult at all, really, considering the state I was in.
With a benign nod I accepted. After some more serious sniffing and a few guzzles I managed to narrow my options down to a Bowmore (any age, they are so hard to keep apart), a 6 years old Lagavulin or a Bunnahabhain. The amount of sherry in nose and palate finally made me decide on the Bowmore 12yo, and guess what: I was right.

So there I was - with half a bottle of Bowmore 12yo and a fresh one in the pipeline.
Surrounded by my friends who would think of me as a suave and sophisticated malt-oracle in the future.
The full moon was beaming its beams and Puccini's Madame Butterfly was playing in the background. The leaves of the oak trees gently shivered in the wind and it was a true "Midsummer Night's Dream". It could have been one of the highlights of my life. It was at that moment in time, that fate decided to fart in my face. I don't know if the diet of that evening (a lot of peanuts and a lot of booze) had something to do with it, but I suddenly needed to make an emergency-visit to the toilet. Needless to say, this proved quite a blemish on my newly found status. When I finally managed to return to the party-place, the bottle was already empty. And I knew I could never again bring up the glorious moment in conversations with my friends, because it would always be linked to my somewhat less glorious finale and exit.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

prE-pistle #1998/14 - EoZ Report Card April 1998
Submitted on 22/04/1998 by Craig Daniels, Australia

The "Old Versus New" night went OK, even though the turnout went from the sublime to the ridiculous with only 8 tasters.

Last year we pioneered this concept with Balvenie and Aberlour and only Tom Perry and Allan May got them all right. 
Mind you, last time the "old" Aberlour was a sport and I doubt whether anyone disagreed with Allan when he gave his reasons for choosing the "odd" one as the "old" one: "I hope it's the old one as otherwise we don't have much to look forward to."  It made me wonder whether malts can be affected by light strike.  Any experts out there who can set me straight?  Anyway, the night proved that it takes a fair dollop of luck and no little skill to detect the variations in malts, at the same age, from the same distillery.

This time we did it with Longmorn and Bowmore.  Longmorn has been a significant distillery in the history of single malt distilling, having a reputation for fine, well rounded malts with malt enthusiasts and blenders alike.  All the famous whisky writers put in their very top echelon, and along with Glenlivet, it is Seagram's flagship distillery.  Longmorn is included because of my disappointment with the 15yo recently released as part of the Heritage Selection.  An Old Grey Mare if ever there was one: ain't what she used to be!  David LeCornu, au contraire contends that the two versions are very similar being significantly less sherried than the sublime G&M 12 yo.  So I guess this means that one of our olfactory memories is faulty but which? The reason for Bowmore is much more straightforward.  As a particularly favoured distillery of our Club, I would hazard a guess that malts from Bowmore have been subjected to closer scrutiny than those from any other distillery and very rarely found wanting, except for the occasional 12yo and the first release of the Legend.  Lots of experienced maltsters (JR and myself among them) reckoned that Bowmore 12 used to be really good then went through a rough patch then improved again.  Being charitable, I think Morrison-Bowmore got stiffed with some ordinary barrels in the late 70's early 80's and this showed in the commercial releases between 1989 to 1991.  I am really quite excited about this particular pairing coz it will either reinforce or explode my prejudices.

It turned out as an instructive exercise with some interesting results. The two Bowmores were markedly different and the Longmorns less so. Opinions were divided over the new Bowmore, with some thinking the nose over the top with too much lilac and lavender perfume for comfort, but at least you could tell it was an Islay, which was always my beef about the commercial bottling circa 1991, not that it was a bad malt, but that it wasn't obviously an Islay.  My thoughts about the Longmorn were proved right, at least to me and my previous reservations about Seagrams and wood seem to be reinforced.  The older one was richer and rounder with a better mouthfeel. 
The new 15 (the Heritage Selection) is thinner and a lot drier : not to my liking at all, at all.

Longmorn 15 (New - 1996) -  A little spiritty to start, a wee touch of toffee and some dry woody notes.  Only the merest whiff of peat, but I may have been imagining this.  Bit thin and if the age was not stated I would've thought it younger.  Another pretty boring offering from Seagrams.  Bit of a shame, because they had a chance to release something worthy of the title "flagship" malt.  OK, but too much like Cragganmore 12 to score better.  Score 7.6

Longmorn 15 (Old - 1988) – This one had more of the Longmorn traits I remembered with fondness.   Nice buttery, toffee nose.  Richer bodied and smoother than the new version with a rounder mouthfeel.  Slipped down a treat.  Malty and distinctly nutty - good generic Glenlivet traits.  Smoother, richer and longer lasting than the new.  Score 8.1

Bowmore 12 (Old - 1991) -  Slightly smoky, some dry fruity notes, bit of burnt marmalade.  Not overly sweet.  Got a lot better in the glass, which I kind of remembered it doing the other times I tasted this batch in 1994 and 1995.  Not bad stuff and no obvious wood faults, so that theory has been put to the sword.  The serious lack of early obvious peat makes me wonder if there was experimentation with the water supply around the time it was distilled or the peating of the malt changed although that would be a longer shot.  Score  7.9

Bowmore 12  (New - 1997) - I've always got hospital corridors, tropical fruit, lavender and lilac out of Bowmore so this one was typical in that sense, but there was something else there as well.  I now know exactly what some WWW acquaintances of mine mean when they talk about air freshener in Bowmore, coz I finally detected the disinfectant notes of which they speak.  This Bowmore had an awful lot in common with the cask strength Legend we had in January, which was over the top as well.  I think that the best idea would be to mix the old and the new bottles together.  Not the greatest 12 yo but at least you could tell it was Bowmore!  Score 8.2

Craig
 
 

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