Malt Maniacs #008
Glen Rothes Vertical Tasting
The Four Whisky Seasons
Some Other Single Malts
Clan Drummond - Treasures from the Vault
Tasting Report Lagavulin 1979
Spring 1999 Report from New York
The Big (Peat) Fix
A Brave New World
Malt Maniacs #008 - August 1, 1999
Phew... Time flies when you're having fun.
But it doesn't if you're not - and for some mysterious reason my web editor (NetObjects Fusion) crashed about six times on this page alone. And because I was already behind schedule I couldn't pay as much attention to the 'front page' pictures as I would have liked. As a result, the fact that the Port Ellen warehouses at the beach are featured in the picture doesn't mean there is also an article about Port Ellen. Sorry about that...
Meanwhile, we just had the second meeting of maniacal malt minds in Amsterdam this year. Last year Craig Daniels came over from Australia and this year Canadian Davin de Kergommeaux dropped by in my home town. You can read all about it in the two E-pistles we've dedicated to the topic.
Well, not 'all', in fact...
We were far too busy having fun dramming and talking about the wonderful world of single malt whisky. Because the liquor stores in Davin's part of Canada are government controlled, the portfolio of available malts in the colonies isn't too extensive. Consequentially, Davin felt positively overwhelmed by the variety of single malts available in Holland. I didn't tell him that only two or three years ago we were not much better off than the Canadians ;-)
There are a few other 'highlights' in this issue of Malt Maniacs, but I have to admit that the prE-pistle about 'Seasonal Malts' was actually published a little while ago on Malt Madness .
As I confessed earlier, I misplaced a good deal of the old 'vox populi' contributions, so filling all the 'prehistoric' issues of Malt Maniacs was quite a struggle in some cases.
Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs
Three @ different ages from the same distillery" - [Delightful, little known & delicate Speyside]
Another regular "theme" for tasting, except this is a much rarer offering. As a Club we usually tread the tried and true path of familiar commercial malts with much stronger market recognition such as Macallan,
Glenfarclas and Aberlour. All of which threw up a couple of corkers and fondly remembered drams such as the Macallan 1874 and the Aberlour 1964.
Glen Rothes is a slightly different and rarer proposition.
Glen Rothes distillery was built in 1878 and spirit first ran from the stills in 1879, slap bang in the middle of Speyside and the scotch whisky industry's first big boom. However the distillery remained relatively obscure until Berry Bros & Rudd started marketing singles from Glen Rothes under the Cutty Sark banner in 1989. This push gathered significant steam in the period 1992-94, with new packaging and labelling. It is one of life's delicious little ironies that the much vaunted packaging for the latest releases of Glen Rothes won an industry prize in 1994. Nice looking package but the bottle doesn't pour real well! One questions the wisdom of a marketing strategy that links single malts so closely with blends, no matter how superior they are perceived to be. Seems to send one very strong message: this is an approachable (read bland and inoffensive) single malt designed for blend drinkers. Me thinks this a tad shortsighted as the blend drinkers probably aren't the target market and sticker shock would be an issue; why would a blend devotee who's willing to part with $30 for a Cutty Sark suddenly be willing to cough up $60-90 for a 'Cutty Sark" Malt. Seems to me that United Distillers made the right decision when they took all reference to Johnnie Walker off the Talisker label prior to the launch of the Classic Malts. Doesn't mean I think any less of Glen Rothes the Malt, far from it, just the marketers that decided to hook the single to the blend.
Prior to this the only singles from Glen Rothes were available from independents such as Gordon & MacPhail.
Much better known (and revered) within the blending trade where its reputation has stood the test of time being held in exceedingly high regard over the last thirty years: most of the make ending up in blends like Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse. Pretty little town is Rothes-on-Spey and home to some venerable distilleries too, such as Glen Grant and Glen Grant No. 2 (otherwise known as Caperdonich) along with even more obscure wee beasties such as Speyburn and Glen Spey of which I know little and care less. I visited Rothes when I was in Scotland but never made it to any of the distilleries: an oversight I intend to rectify next trip. For this meeting we have the opportunity to try one malt representative of each three of these eras within the recent history of the distillery: an 8yo from G&M (bottled circa 1986), a 12yo from Berry Bros. & Rudd (bottled in 1989) and proprietary offering in the "new' packaging, bottled in 1997.
Glenrothes 8 G&M (bottled circa 1986) - one of my personal favourites, with a finish to shame many malts of much greater age, this is a lovely medium sherried malt with a lot of depth and character. The Club hasn't sampled it since September 1996 and as there isn't much if any of this stuff extant anywhere in Oz, I doubt whether we'll ever get another chance. My tasting notes indicate a fruity malt with some burnt nuts and rosewater in the finish. Perfumed, with sherry and a little peat. Lovely stuff, can't wait to get reacquainted.
Glenrothes 12 (bottled 1989) – one of the 12yo's mentioned in Charlie Maclean's Pocket Whisky Book, this one is also pretty rare. Some found its way to Melbourne where I snaffled a few bottles in June
1998. Must admit I was slightly disappointed when I first tasted it, expecting a bigger, rounder and richer malt. Nevertheless upon frequent revisiting it grew on me and the family 'rosewater perfume' is
definitely discernible. This one has some thin metallic notes, a faint hint of pyrethrum daisy, not dissimilar to Tormore.
Holds its own amongst other Glenlivet style malts.
Glenrothes 1982 (bottled 1997) - Haven't tasted it so can't comment. The only notes that I can find that relate specifically to the 1982 are in Doug McIvor's Top Single Malts, where he noted "delicate peatiness with butterscotch, a touch of sherry and spice" although the 1979 17 year old won many fans at a giant whisky "love-in" organised by Daniel Lerner and held at the JUdson Grill, New York City in 1997. Given that he also liked Highland Park 12, Oban 14, Ardbeg 17 and Bowmore 17 a lot too, I guess we can accord him some credibility.
EoZ May 1999 Report Card
The May meeting was very well attended. It was an interesting night with the blind causing more than a modicum of controversy, not only by fooling most of those assembled but as to whether it was any good or not. Some very strong (and uncomplimentary) opinions were aired which would be less than music to the ears of J&G Grant. John Roberts did make the very valuable observation that we should stick an 'old' bottling of Glenfarclas 12 (cream cylinder) up agin the 'new' one in the blue livery at the next "Old versus New" Night.
The three malts from Glen Rothes were interesting too, particularly as there was a perceptible diminution of sherry between the proprietory bottlings. I strongly suspect that a smaller proportion of the malt in the 15 spent time in sherrywood than in the 12yo. The old 12 (bottled 1989) and the new 15 (bottled 1997) were quite close in colour, nose and palate but the extra time in wood did not bestow any significant benefits and I for one thought the 15 the lesser of the three. Maybe it was a case of unfulfilled expectations as others, notably David LeCornu, considered the 1982 15yo the pick of the three. Whatever, I think my flippancy about the latest incarnation of Glen Rothes being aimed at blend drinkers through the marketing connection with Cutty Sark turned out to be not too far off the mark, as it was a dram where dominant characters were hard to pin down. On reflection I think I punished it in the scoring department for being blander than the others, so I guess for me the lack of readily discernible character in a malt is not a positive trait.
Glenrothes 8 G&M (bottled circa 1986) - As stated, one of my personal favourites, but one which I hadn't sampled for a fair while. Still lovely stuff, and worth getting reacquainted. Less perfumed and much more peaty (especially up against the proprietory offerings) than I remembered, but still with a great sherry treatment. Lots of fruit and nuts and some burnt toffee grace notes which continue onto the palate. Gets thinner with citronella in the nose and bitter herbs/metal in the finish; gets a bit rougher over time. The slightly metallic and slightly rough finish are the only thing that hints that it's an 8 yo. Still reckon, if tasted blind, most would think it much older and from a distillery like Aberlour or Caperdonich. Score 8.0
Glenrothes 12 (bottled 1989) – Very subdued early on being swamped by the nose on the younger cousin. Opened up to display soft toffee, cirtus and a hint of talcum powder. The palate had definite hints of lemon toffee and the citric notes continued into the finish. Stayed remarkably solid in the glass. A malt with few faults and excellent balance. Maybe a little bland considering the younger one, but improved over time. Didn't notice the 'rosewater perfume' or the pyrethrum so much this time, but more than holds its own amongst other Glenlivet style malts. Score 8.1
Glenrothes 1982 (bottled 1997) - Took a long time to detect/extract any definite character. Very similar to the 12yo, but with drier wood and hints of fruit tingles and sherbet that were faint but quite pleasant. However, developed an astringent woodiness after a while. My notes said "wood not that good". Was a bit thin and sharp in the finish. This one had the metallic tang in the finish. Wasn't bad, but not quite as good as it should have been. Reserve the right to revisit in different company to see if my opinion changes. Serviceable rather than splendid. Score 7.7
The blind - Glenfarclas 12 (new bottling-blue cylinder) - probably the most controversial blind we've had in the last couple of years. A huge difference in apprehension between those of us that thought it OK to quite nice and those who thought it very ordinary to awful; almost certainly the widest range of scores since the Aberlour 20. I was in the former camp and didn't pick up any of the chemical smells like pickling brine, cellophane and plasticine that the detractors found. My first impressions were of BIG toffee caramel akin to highlands like Dalmore and Glenury Royal. Then I started to get the meaty roasting pan/gravy/brine of Bunnahabhain and coastal malts like Inchgower and Oban 14. Must admit it did become very sweet and yeasty/doughy over time, which is pretty classically Speyside, so why did I pick it as an Oban 14. Although Glenfarclas was my second pick, I was pretty set on the Oban, because half the time Oban smells like a Speyside to me anyway & Oban was the only one of my palate recall possibles on JR's list. JR admitted that if he didn't know what it was he wouldn't have guessed it either. The "Old vs New" match up is definitely warranted Score 7.9
prE-pistle #1999/31 - The Four Whisky Seasons
Submitted on 30/05/1999 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
Hmm, yes... Again, your latest EoZ Report offers plenty of useful information, Craig.
But I guess our readers might find it even more useful if you edited your reports slightly for an 'international' audience.
Remember that (most of) the readers are not members of the Earls of Zetland, so for all they know 'JR' is that seedy character from the American soap series 'Dallas'... So, while that information is meaningful to EoZ members the MM audience might require an explanation...
Anyway, after some educational e-conversations with Louis I've started to think about the effects of seasons on whisky.
I've been told our climate in Holland is 'moderate', but nevertheless temperatures can sink as low as -20 and rise as high as +35 degrees Celsius on occasion. After a few years of single malt explorations I came to the conclusion that the freezing cold of winter requires a different malt than the humid heat of the summer. I found that the Lagavulin 16 that had warmed me on many a winter night somehow didn't seem alltogether 'appropriate' on a warm summer evening. And the Glenmorangie 10 that appeared so refreshing in August had lost a lot of its luster in January.
A nother interesting feature of the water of life. Objectively speaking, there are no great differences in the production processes and ingredients of different single malt whiskies. Nevertheless, the variety is amazing. On one end of the spectrum we have the 'Islay School of Peat & Smoke' - Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Talisker (an honorary Islay). These are the 'heavy' malts I enjoy the most in autumn or winter. On the other end, or rather on another end of the spectrum we have lighter and 'fresher' malts like Glenmorangie, Glenlivet and Dalwhinnie. My nose and tongue respond better to these malts in spring or summertime. And then there are the versatile Speyside malts; Macallan, Glenfarclas, Balvenie and the like. They tend to hold their own under all conditions.
I decided to add some 'seasonal suggestions' to Malt Madness; an arbitrary list with commercial malts that, at least to my taste, seem to perform particulary well in a certain season. The fact that this probably isn't very useful for visitors that don't live on the northern hemisphere in a place with a moderate maritime climate didn't deter me. Just another one of Johannes' famous feats of futility.
Spring (April, May, June)
Nature is awakening and there's the occasional ray of revitalizing sunshine between the spring showers.
The days are getting longer and warmer, but the nights are still a bit chilly. This time of the year, I'm looking for the sweet warmth of the Highlands rather than the peaty heat of Islay. The nights are still long enough for relatively complex malts that take their time.
Ben Nevis 10
Glen Ord 12
Glen Scotia 14
Summer (July, August, September)
During the long & hot afternoons and evenings of summer I want 'fresh' malts that are light and not too sweet.
I want malts that can easily be enjoyed outside, with some friends on the terrace. Complexity isn't neccessarily what I'm looking for right now. Summertime = partytime; I just want a malt that's accessible and can be ebjoyed in large quantities.
Glen Garioch 15
Glen Moray 12
Autumn (October, November, December)
Falling leaves, wind and rain. Lots of rain. That's autumn in Holland for you.
Because the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer. Or so I'm told. The longer the nights, the greater the need for malts with warmth and character. Malts with personality. Malts that fire the imagination and fuel good conversation. Malts that offer a challenge for nose, palate and brain. Autumn is the best season for sherried malts.
Highland Park 12
Winter (January, February, March)
Short, cold days and long, ever colder nights. Snow, ice and hailstorms.
Give me heat! Give me Islay heat! Give me cask strength heat! The human body needs the warmth of a powerful single malt to endure the cold. Sweetness or woodiness (?) doesn't hurt either. Winter is also the festive season with a christmas bonus for some of us.
This allows some of us to purchase old and/or rare malts that we wouldn't normally buy.
Balvenie 21 Port
Highland Park 18
Macallan 10 C/S
Does this mean that I don't like Talisker 10 in the summertime? Of course not.
But I know I appreciate the Talisker 10 the most when it's cold and wet outside. I would like to stress once more that these are just personal, subjective opinions written in various stages of intoxication (I like to enjoy a dram while working on Malt Madness). Just see it as it is: a couple of suggestions. Remember that every single malt mentioned here has given me great pleasure...
Check out the Best-to-Worst chart on Malt Madness for an overview of ratings for all single malt whiskies I've seriously sampled since 1996. These ratings are just expressions in numerical form of the love I feel for a particular single malt whisky.
prE-pistle #1999/32 - Some Other Single Malts
Submitted on 02/06/1999 by Craig Daniels, Australia
SOME OTHER SINGLE MALTS - PRIMARY CHARACTERISTICS; COLOUR, NOSE, PALATE & FINISH
COLOUR : Dark amber with sparkling deep red highlights.
NOSE : Big caramel & oloroso sherry to start, mainly sweet and some faint sour notes. Nose gets drier with good peat and an excellent wood treatment showing through. Over time nice malty warm bread and appealing fruity notes become more obvious.
PALATE & FINISH : Generous, warm spirit, medium body and well balanced. Palate gets drier & sour fruity notes become apparent. Starts sweet, dries off in both the nose and palate. Good clean lingering finish with cream & wood. Aftertaste reminiscent of cherries & apricots.
IN A NUTSHELL : Dark, warm & generous with lovely fruity notes.
An Cnoc 12
COLOUR : Light amber/bright gold with bronze tints.
NOSE: Quite sweet, spiritty and uncomplicated to start. Clean, sweet & a bit of floral talc with some good, fresh minty wood coming through. Bouquet starts lightly floral & becomes more complex and woody/herby over time. Develops nice nutty notes and some slight vanillan cream.
PALATE & FINISH : Clean, sweet, smooth and well rounded & slightly oily. Fairly short, pleasant, clean & sweet creamy malt finish. Some astringent creamy herbs in the aftertaste.
IN A NUTSHELL : Clean with nice nutty notes. Some clean oak in creamy finish.
Balvenie 10 "Founder's Reserve"
COLOUR : Medium bright amber with gold highlights.
NOSE : Sweet with muted spirit, dusty & slightly floral. Very even, well balanced with more sherry & definite warm burnt toffee, spice and a nuttiness (maybe almonds) becoming apparent, supported by good peat and some woodiness. Some similarities with Armagnac.
PALATE & FINISH : Nice warm toffee with definite spicy citrus (bourbon) on palate. More peat and woodiness than in nose. Stays very well balanced and develops a creamy honeyed flavour . Clean, silky & classy finish.
IN A NUTSHELL : Slightly sweet with toffee, spicy citrus & honey. Smooth & classy.
COLOUR : Light amber/bright gold with bronze tints.
NOSE: Quite sweet, spiritty and uncomplicated to start. Clean, sweet & a bit of floral talc with some good, fresh minty wood coming through. Bouquet starts lightly floral & becomes more herby over time. Develops nice sherry (fruity) notes and some slight sweet & sour cream.
PALATE & FINISH : Clean, sweet, smooth and well rounded & slightly oily. Fairly short, pleasant, clean & sweet creamy malt finish. Some astringent creamy herbs in the aftertaste.
IN A NUTSHELL : Clean with nice minty oak. Delicate sweet & sour creamy finish
Glen Ord 12
COLOUR : Medium light amber with gold highlights.
NOSE : Sweet with creamy malt quite forward.. Very even, well balanced with more warm caramel toffee, some attractive spiciness, a hint of peat and some woodiness.
PALATE & FINISH : Nice warm toffee with mixture of bourbon (vanilla & citrus) and sherry wood (toffee & nuts) on palate. More peat and woodiness than in nose. Stays very well balanced and develops a creamy honeyed flavour . Medium bodied ,with good mouthfeel. Clean & classy finish. Lots of honeyed toffee in palate and finish.
IN A NUTSHELL : Slightly sweet with toffee, malt & honey. Smooth & classy.
COLOUR : Very dark amber brown.
NOSE : Big sherry immediately apparent and huge forward peat. Becomes more complex and improves with seaweed and iodine building in the background. Readily identifiable as an Islay malt as the iodine is apparent from very early on.
PALATE & FINISH : Initially displays good sweetish sherry with huge pungent peat flavours, reminiscent of garden bonfires & hospital corridors. Extraordinarily smooth considering the intensity of flavour. Due to the age, remains very consistent in the glass over time. Has one of the biggest, longest finishes of all single malts. Extremely highly prized by blenders and among the very best of commercially available single malts. A malt to cogitate upon and with.
IN A NUTSHELL : Best balanced of the big Islays. Truly a classic malt.
COLOUR : Dark amber with orange & brown highlights.
NOSE : A forward full sherry nose, with loads of peat. Definite pungent & persistent odour of bonfires redolent with aromatic hydrocarbons evident throughout the nose.
PALATE & FINISH : The smoke really explodes on the palate and the finish is long, dryish and clean with spicy pepper. Heaps of flavour, superb balance and a huge peppery dry and lingering smoky finish. Not for the fainthearted yet addictive stuff.
IN A NUTSHELL : One of the "pirate boots" brigade. Full on seaweed & peat monster.
COLOUR : Medium gold with yellow/orange highlights.
NOSE : Lots of spirit & caramel to start, mainly sweet and some faint sour notes. Nose gets drier with a hint of peat and a dryish oak treatment showing through. Over time gets some mashy, warm bread characteristics.
PALATE & FINISH : Generous, warm spirit, medium body and well balanced. Palate gets drier & sour fruity notes become apparent. Starts sweet, dries off in both the nose and palate. Good clean lingering finish with mashy/malty notes. Aftertaste reminiscent of apricots.
IN A NUTSHELL : Light, malty with drying creamy finish.
prE-pistle #1999/33 - Spring Cleaning
Submitted on 14/06/1999 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
I've been buying quite a few new bottles of single malt whisky over the last couple of weeks.
At the same time, I've been drinking hardly anything due to the warm weather. It's time to empty a few old bottles to make room for some new ones. Technically speaking, it's still springtime - so let's do some late Spring cleaning...
The first bottle to go is the Old Rhosdhu 5yo
(40%, OB, 70cl), matured in oak casks. You would think it would be distilled at 'Old Rhosdhu' distillery, but it actually comes from the 'Loch Lomond' distillery. I had never tasted anything from this distillery before, and after the Old Rhosdhu I'm not in any hurry to try anything else. The first thing that comes to mind when you smell this malt is 'Phew!'. Sickeningly slick. Castor-oil. Sweat and cheap aftershave. Hints of coffee. The taste is very oily as well. Perfumy. Just too smooth - it's gone before you know it.
Rating: 44 points. This wanders into Drumguish 3yo territory. Perhaps only the truly great distilleries like Lagavulin can produce something that's enjoyable at such a young age.
After this insult to my senses, I decided to try a more mature malt.
I picked the Tamdhu 12yo 1984/1996 (43%, Ultimate, 70cl, distilled 27/1/84, bottled 3/96, cask #169, bottle #376 from 410).
The nose is flowery, slightly oily and a little bit grainy - but not unpleasantly so. Plenty of character. The taste is smooth and malty. Sweetish, but with a bitter undercurrent. Rating: 74 points. Two points more than the 'no age statement' distillery bottling. I suspect it would have scored considerably higher if they would have kept it in the cask for a few years more. Now it's not worth the extra 20 guilders; it only shows that the official NAS version offers very good value at 45 guilders a bottle.
Yes, I like the direction this tasting is taking.
Let's try an even older malt. The Inverleven 21yo 1966/1988 (46%, Cadenhead's, 75cl) was a gift from a nephew of mine, who received it as a gift many years ago and only poured three or four glasses of it before deciding he didn't really like it. It is currently the oldest bottle in my collection - in more ways than one. It was distilled in May 1966 and bottled in February 1988 (!). This means this malt was bottled over 10 years ago. That's even before my amazing discovery. This may also be the explanation for the fact that this is a 750ml bottle, instead of the 700ml bottles that are standard in Europe these days. Or maybe it is just another example of creative importing. Anyway - Despite (or perhaps because of) its advancing years, this malt didn't perform too well. The nose was watery and a little 'farmy' at first. It opened up and improved a bit with some water, gaining more obvious pine and cedar notes. Some salt; a hint of malt, smoke and toffee. The nose was quite OK, but the taste was a bitter disappointment. Short but numbing, with a bitter burn on the tongue. Rating: 65 points.
I've come to expect more from malts this old (but maybe the time the bottle had been opened screwed things up...
Still, the Original Mackinlay 21yo (a blend!) scores a lot better than this single malt.
Having thus proven (again) that older isn't always better and that a single malt isn't better than a blend by definition, I decided to finish the session with something completely different; the Paddy NAS 'Old Irish Whiskey'. The label just says that it's old - not how old it is. That's not much help then, is it? This is a triple distilled blend from Ireland, the green island. I've never been to Ireland or Scotland, but if the impressions I get from pictures and stories is anything to go by, the character of the product mirrors the image of the countryside. Irish whiskeys tend to be softer and more 'rounded' than their uncompromising and 'wilder' Scottish brethren. Anyway - I've tasted the Paddy plenty of times in the 'Mulligan's' Irish pub in Amsterdam, but I've never bought a big bottle before. Now I have. I put a 'Clannad' CD in the player and started my investigation. The nose starts sweet and malty. A little smoke. I got the same 'coffee' association I get with Jameson, but that may just be a 'neural glitch' caused by too many Irish coffee's. The taste had a very soft start, becoming drier. Smooth with a decent afterburn. Nothing there to keep you entertained for long. My rating: 49 points. It's very drinkable, but ultimately just not interesting enough for my 'sophisticated' taste.
In conclusion: Tonight's tasting produced some mixed results. I'm sure there's a lesson to be learnt here somewhere.
I just can't figure out what it is...
prE-pistle #1999/34 - Treasures from the Vault
Submitted on 23/06/1999 by Craig Daniels, Australia
23 June 1999 – Clan Drummond - "Treasures from the Vault"
Another regular "theme" for tasting, with some rarities I have stashed away over the years.
While I could sit on these at home and savour them at my leisure, I figure that sharing them is a goodly part of the pleasure. These three are all nigh on unprocurable now. Since 1995, I have been motoring around the country, both here and interstate, noodling for the rare gems that lie secreted on back shelves of bottleshops and bagging the old and the rare. A lot of them are at surprisingly good prices, probably because the price sticker put on them in 1990 or thereabouts is the same one when I come along, armed with trusty credit card. However, not all off them were cheap, but worth the extra 10 or 20 bucks precisely because you can't get them anymore. It's can be a bit pot luck though coz with older bottlings light strike can be a problem; any malt that has been sitting exposed on a shelf for 8-10 years may not be as nice as one kept in its packaging, hidden away in a nice dark drawer somewhere. I remember an Aberlour 10, from about 3 or 4 years ago just so afflicted. So while I'm willing to share the rewards of my endeavours in industrial archeology, I also share the risk.
- I admit to a liking for the gentler, more refined Islays and this is a personal favourite.
A far better malt than the 10 year old, being richer and rounder but keeping the attractive yo-yo biscuit notes in the nose and palate that make the ten interesting. One of the oldest in my collection, having won a couple of gold medals at an International Wine & Spirit Competition in 1983, looks like it was bottled about 1985. This was an eagerly awaited re-acquaintance and the evident class endeared it to the meeting, especially John Rasmussen who, attending his first meeting, was mightily impressed. Started quite mild and malty with a faint hint of brine and an ever so light wafting of sea air & seaweed. Became sweeter in the nose with trademark honey biscuits emerging after 10" or so. Palate was quite soft and rounded with a nice hint of liquorice in the finish, indicating good bourbon wood. Both nose & palate get softer and more enticing over time with more cream in the palate and a nice reprise of seaweed in the tail. Pleasant, well crafted and nicely balanced malt. Old, rare and very nice. Score: 83 points.
Mosstowie 19yo 1975 - not that old, being bottled in 1995, but being from the lomond stills at Miltonduff, certainly makes it both rare and interesting. Only three distilleries used lomond stills, the others being Glenburgie and Inverleven Nothing like the bourbon wood 12 year old, the club has tried before, this one has a biggish sherry treatment with lovely golden red highlights. Tastes much closer to Caperdonich (apricot/fruit) or Linkwood (fruitcake and cordite) than the normal offerings from Miltonduff, nevertheless a rich and perilously slurpable dram. Lomond stills were an interesting byway in the history of Scottish malt distilling, being introduced into the Hiram Walker stable of distilleries in the 60's. They have cylindrical still necks rather than the usual tapering inverted cones and can incorporate rectifiers in the column. For a very clear picture of the only one extant (at Scapa, in use as a wash still) check out the whisky Store web site at Fout! Bladwijzer niet gedefinieerd.. The theory behind it was to increase the range of malts available for Ballantine blends without building new distilleries, you just put a set of different design stills into existing plant and use the same mash etc. I suspect it was largely a corporate insurance policy to ensure the supply and variety of fillings for blending during the whisky boom of the 50's and 60's. A most pleasant and gratifying surprise given it was markedly better than I remembered. On previous occasions I have thought it finish a little thin & hard, but on this occasion it was interesting and unexpectedly complex. Started with evident sherry & floor polish in the nose, but on the lighter end of the sherry scale and lacking the base notes of sulphur and cordite you get in bigger sherry treatments. The nose was nicely backed by some sweetish fruitiness, more like apricot fruit bars rather than dried or stewed. Quite a healthy whack of peat in the palate and finish with a very classy creamy reprise - got both bourbon & sherrywood accents but beautifully integrated. Perhaps not classic, but a perfectly serviceable example of an older, lighter speyside. Score: 82 points.
Glendronach 26yo Royal Wedding - the RW in the official name stands for Royal Wedding, the nuptials of Andrew and Fergie to be exact and is a vatting of malts distilled in their birth years (1959 & 1960). As I put the program together in January and we didn't even know that Sophie was in the picture then I'm not claiming prognosticatory ability, just a serendipitous calendrical conjunction as Edward and Sophie tie the knot this week. You don't often get to try malts of this age and venerability and the Glendronach is only surpassed in quality within the series by the Glen Grant, which alas is just not around any more. In celebrating the perpetuation of hereditary monarchy, us republicans can take comfort in the thought that even the lowliest pleb can partake of a superior dram and 'dips their lids' to G&M for doing their bit for queen and country. Well, well, how good was this one? But only for fans of big, beefy & woody malts apparently because some found the woody congeners too much. Although technically not a speyside but an eastern highland, this one displayed all the classic traits of older Linkwoods, Glenfarclas, Dailuaine and their ilk. Started with lots of sour fruit, roasting pan & chutney and a healthy dash of furniture polish & beeswax. The palate was smooth and mellow; surprisingly soft with a big splash of dry minty wood expressed through traces of napthalene/camphor in the finish. Very woody throughout with a good, full mouthfeel. More depths of fruity wood & peat fought through after 20" or so. Then it gets some very, very attractive chocolate and coconut a la Springbank 21. Develops layers of complexity and did not fade or thin out at all. Quercus robustus indeed! Splendid stuff. Score: 87 points.
Blind: Balvenie 10yo (new) - Pretty sure I knew which neighbourhood it hailed from right off the bat and was helped a lot by Bernie's list, as I'd decided early on that it could only be three of the 8 possibles. Mind you it wouldn't have been quite so easy a decision if Tamdhu 10, Aberlour 10 and Glenfarclas 10 had been there as my tasting notes pointed divining rod straight at Speyside. "Started with toffee and yeast and a hint of fruit (apples & pears?). Palate was fruity sweet with estery notes in the tail. Became more yeasty (scone dough & cream) in the nose. A hint of sherry but not overt or obvious at all. Nice mouthfeel, quite soft and pleasant." Thought it might be Benriach 10, but decided on Balvenie 10 as Benriach (to me) has more obvious sherry. (As an aside, this is the easiest way to tell the new Balvenie 10 from the 'old' one in the cognac flask tall bottle, which has a more obvious sherry treatment: more fruit & nuts and orange peel and a .5 better dram for it too!) The new one may be less distinguished but a serviceable & pleasant dram nonetheless. Score 7.8
prE-pistle #1999/35 - Tasting Report Lagavulin 1979
Submitted on 28/06/1999 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada
Got in about midnight last night. Thanks very much for your kind hospitality while I was in Amsterdam.
I went back to your Whisky bar and tried Dallas Dhu 16yo (disappointingly pleasant/easy) and Ardbeg 17yo which did not come close to the Ardbeg 17 you gave me. Maybe it was the company, maybe the glass, but I did buy a 70cl Ardbeg and three miniatures to bring home.
I checked out your tasting report on Malt Madness - looks like you feel the same about the Lagavulin DE as I do about the Talisker. Great, but not as great as the original. The Lagavulin I have is the 1980, while in Amsterdam it's 1979, but I imagine the taste is pretty similar.
Compared to Canada the shop in Utrecht was amazing, so I absolutely have to get to your shops in Amsterdam.
I found the whisky much better displayed than in Oddbins or Cadenhead's in London. It was also the first time I had seen Signatory miniatures. In any case, thanks again.
prE-pistle #1999/36 - International Connections
Submitted on 30/06/1999 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
The secret of the difference between the Ardbeg's could simply be the time in the bottle, Davin - oxidation.
I have noticed that most Ardbegs tend to improve in the months after opening, and my bottle was about 6 months old.
So I should say, take your time with your Ardbeg 17...
For those of you that weren't there, Davin is talking about the liquor store on Utrecht Central Station - I think it's called Traverse.
Good selection and reasonable offers every once in a while. I may write a bigger report on the store later, for now I'd like to share a report on Davin's visit. Since I started this site a little over 3 years ago, I have gotten to know a lot of other malt whisky lovers all over the world. That's a major kick for me - I just don't meet that many other malt maniacs in real life. But a few days ago, Davin came over from Canada for a few drams when he was in Amsterdam. He really surprised me with a generous gift; he bought me a whole bottle of the wonderful Lagavulin 1979 DE (Double Matured) before he left. Unfortunately, I neglected to take notes on the tasting session itself.
(See Davin's previous report for some more details.)
Tonight, I'm having a session to make up for lost time.
I started off with the first glass of Davin's Lagavulin 1979 Distiller's Edition Double Matured (43%, OB, 70cl), a malt I've had my eye on for quite a while now. I poured myself a glass of the "ordinary" Lagavulin 16yo (43%, OB, 70cl, still my current #1) next to it for comparison.
The DE had more nose than the 16 at first; and more varied aromatic nuances to boot.
A lot sweeter too; that must be the Pedro Ximenez finish. Certainly not as obviously Islay as the 16, with it's iodine and ammoniac. The aroma of the 16 took a while longer to develop, but after a few minutes both glasses were exhaling the most wonderful aroma's. And then for the tasting. Ah. A very nice palate; smoother than the 16. But then I noticed the taste misses the exhausting crescendo of the 16, which takes almost a minute to dissolve. The DE certainly isn't as "wild" as the 16, and loses it's aroma more quickly. The 16 has more "staying power", and the development of the aroma takes a lot longer than with the DE.
So then I added some water. It pretty much killed the nose of the DE, and didn't help the 16 much either. Oops - wait a minute. Suddenly the nose of the DE comes alive again. The taste grows a little sweeter after you've added water. One of the rare whiskies that responds well to water. Back to the 16 that has blossomed also after the water. More oily, still peaty, and with a wonderful afterburn on your tongue. Preliminary conclusion: At first tasting the Lagavulin 1979 seems like a very good malt, but it won't knock the 16 from the top of my list. The extra subtlety from the double maturation takes away some of the peaty, smoked quality that I love in the 16. Well - I'll have another tasting session soon to confirm my initial impression, which would put it around 90 points.
Up next: The final score on the miniature of the 'official' Ardbeg 1975 (40%, OB, 5cl) Mats Ola Ekberg sent me from Sweden.
Next to the last glass of my second bottle of Ardbeg 17yo (40%, OB, 70cl) for comparison, of course. Oh boy, the 1975 is also great. Like the Connoisseurs Choice '74, it had more peat and salt than the 17 yrs, although the difference isn't that pronounced. The character is a bit more extreme than the 17 at first - and I like extremities in a malt. And then there is a unexpected sweetness. And the palate is really wonderful too, with the traditional Ardbeg delay and all. After some breathing, it develops some more sweet components too. But what about the 17? The last few glasses from my second bottle of Ardbeg 17 were even better than I remembered. After some difficult deliberation, I decided that both malts fully deserve 90 points. This means that the original score of Ardbeg 17 (89 points) will be revised.
And as long as we're revising ratings; I managed to find another bottle of the Macallan 10yo 100 Proof (57%, OB, 70cl), and this one seemed even more powerful that the one before. Truly amazing stuff. After close comparison with the Mac 12 I have to say that this one is at least as good - if not better. What it lacks in balance it more than makes up for in character and power. So the original score of 88 points has just gone up to 89 points.
Finally, I decided to go with the brand-new Tullibardine 10yo
(40%, OB, 70cl).
Hmmmm. Quite soft and oily - not unlike cod-oil. And there seem to be some cooked vegetables in there also, along with something I can't quite put my finger on. Pleasant, but not impressive. The taste started of with a mild and distinctive sweetness, but ended in a tannine-like dryness. I'm thinking lower 60's here.
I didn't want to end the evening on such a depressing note, so I poured myself a stiff dram of the cask strength Mac 10.
Amazing value at just 85 guilders. You really get several different malts for the price of one; the malt changes with the amount of water you add. Great stuff, a very highly recommendable malt.
prE-pistle #1999/37 - Spring 1999 Report from New York
Submitted on 14/07/1999 by Louis Perlman, USA
We've been in the house for about four months now, and life has pretty much settled down.
There are still some boxes left, but they are starting to disappear. So then, here is all of my whisky activity since my last note.
- There was in very interesting thread on the Plowed page back in March.
It seems that lighter peat was used once the distillery was acquired back in 1975, with the intention of using the whisky for blending.
So anything distilled afterwards is along the lines of the distillery 17, rather than the G&M 1974. After seeing this, I rounded up all of my Ardbegs for a showdown. The results are in my next report. I'll add that I wasn't initially impressed by the Signatory, but I have come to like it a bit more. One problem here is that there simply isn't any older Ardbeg left, so I'd better enjoy it while my supply lasts. Late news, I had a bit of extra cash to blow so I picked up the G&M 1975, again, in response to it's rapid disappearing act, It set me back $92 (ouch), up from the $80 that I could have had it for not too long ago. I may wait until the fall to open it.
Springbank - Two low end acquisitions were an 8yr Murray McDavid and an 8yr Cadenhead, both intended to preserve my older stock. The Cadenhead is a perfect younger sibling to the distillery 12/92. The Murray McDavid is pale yellow, with a bit of fruit and a bit of brine. Very pleasant, but is better when not imbibed along with it's darker cousins. Also, a bit of coconut has emerged in my 21yr, not apparent when first opened. One of these days the Plowed bottling will show up, I've got two bottles on order.
Tomatin 17yr Cadenhead: actually sitting around for a while, this is rather pleasant, with some orange and less heat than advertised.
Adelphi 12yr Glen Rothes: Similar to the distillery bottlings, also a fine dram.
Adelphi 8yr Aultmore: A lighter scotch, quite pleasant, but overpowered in comparisons.
Highland park 1975 Signatory: A bit disappointing, since this was expensive. It's missing the honey and smoke. Then I dug up some tasting notes, and they match my observations. Since I had the notes all along, I should have looked at them first. Then again, my memory gas been a bit scrambled after every thing that went on in my life over the last year. There is a 10yr HP Adelphi that sounds interesting.
Glenhavens - There is a story here. In some states, regular grocery stores and supermarkets can sell alcholic beverages, California being one of them. A while ago, the Plowed regulars in LA found Glenhaven Dalmore 23yr and Clynelisg 14yr at absurdly low prices, and offered to pick some up and ship them to anybody who was interested, and I took them up on it. The prices were $35 for the Dalmore and $28 for the Clynelish, or something like that. They are both very nice drams, about what could be expected from each name. But here is the best part. I recently saw the Dalmore priced at $165-195 in a couple of stores. Glenhavens aren't expensive, so I think that there is some serious profiteering going on here.
And to close the Dallas Dhu 17yr Cooper's Choice. Since the distillery has been demolished and there are lot's of good things said about Dallas Dhu, I figured that I should have some. It was only $35 and what a treat! Oakey and malty, it's a very fine dram. The Cooper's Choices are very reasonably priced, so you might want to keep an eye out for them The Royal Brackla is supposedly even richer.
I have also been looking at Malt Madness on a regular basis.
Somebody was kind enough to send me a miniature's worth of Lagavulin DE. I came to the same conclusions as you did, more polish, but missing some 'Islay intensity'. The distillery Ardbeg 1975 is not available here, and ditto the the Macallan 10/CS. Macallan prices have risen over here, due to profiteering by the importer.
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Ardbeg update. Having been rather befuddled regarding the various Ardbeg's in my collection, Bushido's information a few weeks ago helped clear things up. The only thing left to do was to round up the entire batch for some serious research. The results, while generally predictable, produced a few surprises.
First up, the distillery 17. Much less peat than the Bowmore 12 I used as a reference, and virtually no smoke.
The overall effect is very gentle, kind of like down in St. Marteen and St. Thomas where there is very little surf, but little wavelets that keep on lapping gently against you. A pleasant dram, even if it doesn't fully uphold the Arbeg legacy.
Next, the distillery 1978. Definite family resemblence to the 17, but more assertive in every area. But is worth a 60% premium?
Not really IMHO. At $80 or so, it would be worth it, but I can't really see it commanding a three figure price tag. I'm glad my bottle was a present. Now on to a 1974 23yr 50.9% Signatory. Tons of peat here, more than the reference Bowmore. But this one goes in a totally different direction (cask and/or aging location?), so it doesn't really figure in the comparison. It broke in significantly over two months, so perhaps there is more yet to come.
And finally, a HTH between the G&M 1974 that we all know and love, and the 1978.
Surprisingly enough, the 1978 does better against stiffer competition. More smoke is brought out going against the 1974 as well. So I have to backtrack from my earlier comments. If you are buying one special bottle, the 1978 probably wouldn't be the best choice. But if you're blowing a whole bunch of cash, go ahead if you're an islay lover. This has certainly been an interesting adventure. Any comments or other observations that would shed additional light into the Ardbeg mystique are appreciated. BTW, Herb at Park Ave. told me that the 22yr 1975 GampersandM is similar to the 1975, but with less peat. I'll pick up a bottle when the budget allows.
Well, that's all for now.
I am supposed to be broke with the house and tuition, but there always seems to be a few dollars for worthwhile pursuits.
prE-pistle #1999/38 - The Big (Peat) Fix
Submitted on 28/07/1999 by Craig Daniels, Australia
28 July 1999 – "The Big (Peat) Fix - Islay Malts"
It might not exactly be the malt world equivalent of a Heavyweight Championship bout, but LAPHROAIG vs LAGAVULIN is a worthy contest. Given both are the two commercial exemplars of heavily peated malts readily available and both have their diehard patrons, it comes as a major surprise that this is the first side by side comparison at a club meeting since November 1992. Thus it's a much overdue exercise. Maybe a medieval joust is a more apt simile. Sir Lagavulin and Sir Laphroaig to your steeds and prepare for battle. As a fair maiden between two chivalrous knights we have the Caol Ila 21, a lighter peated malt, but with an OP kick.
Islay whiskies hold a particularly tightly held regard in the malt community, not just in Australia but all over the world. I think (no really believe) it's because Islay whiskies display the very best and most ebullient (if not strident) characteristics of the very best of Scotch Whisky. Of those of us who admire Islays among the top echelons of malts, we all have our favourites. Mine include especially nice (yet affordable) bottlings of Bowmore, Caol Ila and Port Ellen, with a special place in the pantheon reserved for David's Laird's Club Bowmore 20.
When most of us are seriously pressed for an opinion it's not altogether a big surprise that most of us consider that Laphroaig 10 comes second to Lagavulin 16, however the exact reasons for that preference are not often exposed to analytical investigation. This is most unfortunate and a side by side comparison is long overdue, so here is an excellent opportunity to taste the market leading Islays head to head, separated by a moderately low peated (and clean & classy) Caol Ila which has excellent bourbon wood characteristics.
I suspect the preference exists because Lagavulin has the extra complexity delivered through the use of some sherry barrels during maturation and the length of time in wood. But (and it's a big but), it could just be a matter of the price differential ($12-20) in the local market which hasn't improved over the last three years. The obvious question here is why would your average malt fancier shell out $77+ for a 10 year old Laphroaig when you can get an older Lagavulin 16 pretty well anywhere for $65 or less. Good question, hey??
Laphroaig 10 - If you believe the marketing hype, this is the peat monster 'par excellence'. I admit to a sneaking fondness for the 10yo, especially when I get some Bowmore like fruitiness and floral bon bons, but place the 15yo in a far higher class. The 15 yo is one of my 'desert island' malts along with Talisker 12, Bowmore 17 & Caol Ila 17. The 'froig 10 tends to be a bit too uni-dimensional to be worthy of the tag of greatness but it is an exemplary individual and honest dram nevertheless. As this is a pre-1992 bottling, one thing to watch for is the occasional appearance of tropical fruit notes along with the peat reek and Irish Moss cough linctus. Find something like guava, mango & fujoa along with a hint of tomato vine, lantana and lavender and you have one of the truly nice 'froig 10's.
Lagavulin 16 - All been said before. Universally admired as one of 'the Great Malts' from Amsterdam to Los Angeles and all points North and South. Mind you I suspect that the very latest are not quite so redolent of garden bonfires as the ones that most of us cut our malt teeth on, so it will be interesting to see whether it holds its own in the 'peat monster' stakes. I have struck some detuned Lagavulins lately, but I hope this is not one. I have also heard rumours that United Distillers plan to use only refill casks for Lagavulin, which, if true, is a damn shame as I believe Lagavulin owes its pre-eminence amongst Islay malts almost entirely to the judicious and intelligent use of 1st and 2nd fill sherry wood.
Caol Ila 21 (1975) - I have tried this one recently and liked the immaculate bourbon treatment with vanilla and stripped pine dominant over the expected Islay phenols and creosols, except in the finish where the smoke really explodes. I scored it high but had to concede to the more level-headed critics who insisted that it lacked the complexity & depth that 20+ years in bourbon oak should have produced. Given that wood quality hasn't always shone through in most of the Rare Malt Collection that both our club and the Streah have sampled I suspect that the barrels may have been chosen purely for age rather than excellence. Having said that (and awaiting the protests from UD or fellow travellers) this is a very, very nice malt, and if the industry was handing out gongs for cleanliness this one would win a prize. A beautiful example of a mid-peated 100% bourbon wood Islay malt, but not as good as it should have been. Classy but not classic.
July was a GREAT night with the precious jewels of Islay lined up for our instruction and delectation. (I thought I'd better come up with something different to my stock phrase of 'edification and delight' as word
processing makes self plagiarism just too easy). Having three of the little darlings lined up reminds you just why we love Islays and not withstanding the company the Laphroaig managed to hold its own. Mind you
I've managed to have it three times in different company very recently and I seem to detect some significant bottle variation, as the one I had at the Earls Tavern as part of the Islay Inspirational Night to welcome Bob
Reid was a little better. John Roberts brought the blind and managed to fool everyone with the Highland Park 12 except Tom Perry and Alex Keegan. Well done to them both. Tom is on one helluva roll. I reckon
over the last two years he has been our most successful 'guesser', but I'll leave it to Bob to do the data crunching.
July 28th 1999 - The Big (Peat) Fix - Report Card
[Laphroaig Vs Lagavulin plus an OP Caol Ila thrown in]
- Biting the 'frog is a rather endearing PLOWEDism for tasting the froig.
I must admit that after not having exposed the Laphroaig 10 to the rigours of serious analysis for a goodly while, that I found it both tasty and interesting. Initially I found it bright and woody-sweet, with geraniums and dusty lantana with the trademark burnt notes only really obvious in the palate. It was quite peppery on the lips, like Talisker and Port Ellen. The smoky notes developed in the nose over time and the more typical rubber and burnt toast came to the fore. Then I started to get old rope, salt and vinegar chips and cough linctus, which while not sounding all that enticing are my descriptors for good Islay, so I guess that means it must be a good Islay.
Good but not great. Score: 8.1
Lagavulin 16 - Some of the recent bottlings of this one have appeared somewhat detuned so it was gratifying to find this one kicking goals from the outset and not leaving one feeling cheated. Mind you there is not much more one can add about Lagavulin and my tasting notes were so brief as to be almost insulting, but it wasn't intended. 'Sherry wood, leather, warm tar and vegemite' was all I wrote, yet I still think it one of the truly great malts and indubitably a benchmark Islay. Score: 8.5
Caol Ila 21 1975 UDRM - Between the Streah and the Earls I've managed to try a few of the United Distillers Rare Malt C/S series, ranging from good to great and this one is lodged in the upper echelon. Significantly better than the Clynelish and while very different, almost in the same class as the sublime Glenury-Royal. The nose opens to immediately reveal typical vanilla and stripped pine of an immaculate bourbon treatment with the peat notes very timid early on. The alcohol is pretty obvious but not as insistent as the proof would suggest. The palate is big but smooth and the smoke really comes back in a big way in the finish. Very nice and whistle clean. A good example of an aged 100% bourbon wood Islay malt. Lacked the earthiness of the other two. Score: 8.4
Blind – Highland Park 12 - As much as I hate to admit it, I didn't really get close to guessing this one. Didn't find anywhere near enough peat, but in amongst Laphroaig and Lagavulin I guess the olfactory sensors were taking a fair battering in that department and not finding peat was understandable. To me the dominant characteristics were a soft perfumed nose with rose water and toffee early and after 20'', lots and lots of honey and toffee. Didn't find any overt sherry or citrus and while I got some woody phenols in the finish (burnt toast & nuts), both the palate and finish said highland peat rather than islay or island. I guessed it as Strathisla 8 and would have put Oban 14 and Bruichladdich 10 in front of HP12. To me the woody phenols and rosewater said highland/speyside and not island/islay. The whisky also had some rough edges that I don't remember in Highland Park 12. Don't think this bottling was as good as some we've had before. I suspect that there was less sherry wood in this one than earlier instantiations. Another great malt on the slide? Score 7.8
prE-pistle #1999/39 - A Brave New World
Submitted on 31/07/1999 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
Still very busy with the new Malt Madness site here, so here's another very short & sweet report I'm afraid.
And it doesn't even contain scores or tasting notes - despite the summer heat I'm having a cold, which means 'bad nose days'.
Well, that's probably because I've spent most of the last few years basking in the glow of a computer screen...
There's a bright side to working as an Internet Consultant, though...
Working on all those new web projects requires me to do a lot of thinking about the future of the world wide web. I believe things will evolve from fairly static websites to an environment where on-line communities are much more important. And the great thing about those on-line communities is that they are not controlled by 'the industry' (yet). We do have the old 'static' Vox Populi section, but for the new site I want to use a more accessible format that invites more people to share their passion for whisky via the web. The possibilities of dynamic HTML are endless, although I may have to build two different versions of MM - one of Internet Exploder and one for Netscape Navigator.
Every time I have to incorporate a database into a professional website it gives me a headache.
Nevertheless, I'm already thinking about the next stage of our 'matrix'. We don't have a great deal of data yet, so it should be easy to load it into a database once I figured out how to make it work. After I have, we could do all sorts of nifty things, like include pictures of the bottles with our scores and tasting notes, rank our whole 'malt mileage' from best to worst, search for specific aroma's or flavours, etc.
But let's not get carried away just yet - I'll have to finish the new site first...
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