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Malt Maniacs E-zine

Malt Maniacs #010

Y2K
prE-pistle #2000/01 by Louis Perlman, USA

In hindsight the global panic attack about 'Y2K' may have been a tad overblown, but as a member of the IT community suffered the consequences. Fortunately, Louis could calm his nerves with malts.

I'm Back!
prE-pistle #2000/02 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

Well, it's not much of an 'E-pistle' really - but I've included Davin's short (but fairly enthusiastic) reaction to his most recent visit to Amsterdam for posterity. More details in an upcoming E-pistle.

My Rating System
prE-pistle #2000/03 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

I've written extensively of my personal rating system (which works quite well, I think), but some people still don't get it ;-)

EoZ February 2000 Report Card
prE-pistle #2000/04 by Craig Daniels, Australia

A fresh report card from our most prolific member so far. In fact, most of the whisky wisdom on these pages comes from the colonies.

Malt Maniacs Meeting II - in Amsterdam
prE-pistle #2000/05 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

I've already published a report on Davin's visit to Amsterdam in my Liquid Log, but now you can get the other side of the story - straight from the Horse's mouth so to speak...

Bowmores & Stuff
prE-pistle #2000/06 by Louis Perlman, USA

Bowmore was one of the first single malt distilleries to take marketing seriously - and the first to make some big marketing blunders...

March = Macallan Month
prE-pistle #2000/07 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Another fresh report from the boondocks in Australia...

Mega-MaltMap Revised
prE-pistle #2000/08 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

Some recent e-mail discussions outside this forum inspired me to take another look at the Mega-MaltMap and the regions of Scotland.

How Whisky Makes us Smarter
prE-pistle #2000/09 by Kees Mink, Holland

I haven't included many of the 'off-topic' discussions of the old forum, but this one from Kees Mink still cracks me up.

Thanks Malt Madness!
prE-pistle #2000/10 by Roman Parparov, Israel

Before the 'forum' on Malt Madness evolved into an E-zine we had a lot of 'chatter' from occasional passers-by, but gradually a team of regular 'foreign correspondents' formed around the site. Here's one...

On the Beaches
prE-pistle #2000/11 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Anzac Day is a special day in Australia - and each year Craig organises a special tasting to commemorate the occasion.

This & That
prE-pistle #2000/12 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

A few recent insights from Davin in the area of prices.

Message from Hamburg
prE-pistle #2000/13 by Klaus Everding, Germany

A fresh 'foreign correspondent' from Germany joins our ranks.
He kicks off in his own uncompromising fashion, complaining about the rising prices of malt whisky and 'bloody rotten corks'...

Old Favourites
prE-pistle #2000/14 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Because of the phenomenon of 'batch variation' it's useful to revisit old favourits every now and then to see how they changed.

Next IssuePrevious Issue

Malt Maniacs #010 - April 1, 2000
 

If you're an avid Malt Maniacs fan you may be puzzled by the picture I chose as an illustration for this issue. Well, don't be...
This archive was reconstructed after a site crash and I needed a few random pictures to fill up the holes. So, in this case I picked a picture from the 'maniacal' visit to Glenfarclas in 2003.
Just consider it a (admittedly lame) April fools joke...

The articles in this tenth issue of Malt Maniacs are still mainly provided by the four 'proto-maniacs' Craig, Louis, Davin and yours truly, but 2000 was the year a few other maltheads joined our ranks as well. The first one is Roman Parparov; born and raised in Russia but now working for NASA in Tel Aviv, Israel. He might as well be living on Venus or Mars as far as single malt whisky is concerned; bottles are virtually impossible to come by in the holy land, it seems...

Another fresh face in the crowd this year is Klaus Everding, a physicist from Germany. I know that my English words often seem rough compared to the polished English of the Anglophones Craig, Davin and Louis. That's not just because English is their mother tongue. Very much like other 'roman' languages like French, English is inherently more polite than the more 'Saxon' languages Dutch and German. Our vocabulary and grammar tend to be more 'to the point' and may appear blunt to the outside observer. That's not because we aim to be rude; we just prefer the efficient transfer of information from one person to another. Klaus can say in 100 words what Craig needs 500 words for ;-)

As far as the future of our emerging 'Malt Maniacs' collective is concerned: I'll try to transform this forum into a proper E-zine in the future - but in order to do that we need more members. I really want to offer as many different perspectives as possible; ideally from all parts of the whisky world.

So far, we've been able to offer perspectives from our regular crew from the USA, Canada, Australia and Holland. Our secret dreams of global coverage have just come a few steps closer now that Roman Parparov from Israel and Klaus Everding from Germany have both agreed to send us follow-ups of their first reports.

So, the next step would be looking for other malt whisky freaks in the UK, Scandinavia, France, Spain, Italy - and Asia, Africa and South America as well, ideally... Drop me a message at the address below if you'd like to share your perspectives on (malt) whisky with other people via the world wide web

And that's all the 'editorial blurb' I have for now.
Check the column at the right for the full contents of this issue or just scroll down and start reading...

Sweet drams,

Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs

E-pistle #2000/01 - Y2K
Submitted on 06/01/2000 by Louis Perlman, USA

Hello, all... First of all, Happy New Year.
The best part of it was the Y2K non-event. I was supposed to spend 3 days in 'sunny' upstate New York in our data center, but that got called off by Saturday night. So at long last, here is the wrap up of my year end SMS activity.

First, a little story. It goes without saying, that I try to convert anybody who will listen into SMS lovers. My father consideres himself an expert on whisky in general, to the point that he doesn't need to drink any. Since we spend an occasional weekend at my parents so they can spend more time with their grandchilderen, I keep a bottle or two over there - including a 1/3 full botttle of Dalmore 12. When we were there back in November, I couldn't find it. When I asked my father, he said that if it was the oval bottle, then it was gone. Apparently, he had a customer in from overseas, and invited him over for a home-cooked dinner, and they 'discovered' the Dalmore. Fortunately, I had stopped by a liquor store on the way over to see if I could find anything interesting, so I didn't have to spend the weekend 'dry'. In any event, I replaced the Dalmore with some Old Pultney 12. It's OK, but not much more than that. Somewhat rich, a bit salty, but not very exciting. Perfect for this purpose, since I won't get upset if it too disappears.

Anyway, back to the yearend wrap up. Heading towards the end of the year, I really did mean to be good, and just place my W&L holiday order. But then D&M had to send me a catalog, so there went that idea. The problem is, that there is so much good stuff in their catalogs, and it is worth an order just to stay on the mailing list. Some of the info ends up on their web site, but not everything, and the site varies all the time. It's also the only place that I know of that has tasting notes on Cadenheads and the like, and the actual whisky is so darn good, of course. So I gave in to temptation, and ended up with:

Glen Albyn 17yr Glenhaven. This was their club selection earlier in the year. The current notes are different from back then (this happens on their site, sometimes). The original notes had it with honey and a bit of smoke and vanilla on the nose, initially sweet like hard candy, then a burst of heat, and settling down with chocolate on the finish. I'd say that they nailed this on dead on!! it is every bit as good as it sounds.

Glencadam 11yr Cadenhead. The notes say rich, creamy and smooth.
It's a component of Ballantines. Also accurate, and worth having.

Millburn 13yr Cadenhead. Brown sugar/hard candy, with a touch of sea salt.
I didn't really detect the latter, but this one is a keeper too. It's different from the Coopers Choice Millburn, which is very rich (i.e. sort of like an unsherried Macallan 18). Speaking of which,,,,,,

And  now on the the W&L yearend order. Since I enjoyed  the Glenhaven 'plain oak cask' Macallan, I decided to round up a few more, namely the Murray McDavid 21 and Adelphi 12. Only one small problem. The MMcD is pale yellow, even more so than the Adelphi, but it says fresh shrry cask on the label. Tastewise, the MMcD and Adelphi are nearly identical, the major differences having to do with age and strength. I intend to send an e-mail to MMcD to figure out what is going on. Any number of their Macallans are nice and dark. Anyway, the taste is very different from the Glenhaven, It is on the light side, with some of the Mac components present, but I am having difficulty coming up with good verbiage to describe it. All I can say is, that it is a high quality bottle, well worth it's $90 price tag. Yes, that's a lot of money but it's my yearend treat to myself.

The other item of note is the Highland Park 10yr Glenhaven. Finally, I found the cask strength bottling that is just like the distillery 12 & 18. And a bargain to boot at $40.. Howard at W&L is really a nice guy for not marking it up. Park Ave. started out at $90, and then put it on sale for $70. There is a lot of profiteering going on in NYC with Glenhaven's. Anyway, if you are interested in trying some cask strength bottles without breaking the budget, I highly recommend the Glenhavens.

This year turned out to be a good one, SMS (and other)wise. When I took inventory, I counted 60 bottles, almost double than 1/1/99. A bit over a year ago, I started to stock up on cask strength bottles after seeing large quantities of my Aberlour 18, HP 18, and Laphroaig 15 disappear each time I touched the bottle. At CS, the alchohol takes effect must faster, and I quickly hit the point where 'just another wee dram' isn't worth it.
However, this makes the bottles last much longer so I don't need to keep on buying so many, but that last point is really a terrible thought. There are definitely relative bargains among the private bottlings, when adjusted for proof. A $60 cask strength private bottling is a better deal than an $50, 86 proof distillery offering. I have found however, that the distillery usually DOES know what they are doing, and the older distillery bottles seem to be of higher quality than their younger siblings, So maybe I'll pick up a few things like the Bruichladdich and Dalmore 21's.

Other items on the list are Bowmore 18 and Laphroaig 12 Cadenheads. SMS ADVISORY: United Distillers is cracking down on private bottlings of Laphroaig, something I found out on the Murray McDavid page (on the discussion section). Obviously, when the current supply is eventuallly bottled and sold, there won't be any more. Since you like Laphroaig, I would suggest buying now (or at least as finances permit), or drop strong hints to family for a sure to be- appreciated birthday present. At least you can buy the distillery Laphroaig Cask Strength in Europe.

Well that's it for now.
The Plowed Springbank also arrived, and I'll have some notes on it and other Springers in my collection for the next communication.

Cheers.

Louis
 

E-pistle #2000/02 - I'm Back!
Submitted on 11/02/2000 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

Hi Johannes,

Arrived back from Rome on Wednesday night, but am in major jet-lag.
I can't begin to thank you for the tasting session in Amsterdam. It was amazing and I have notes to prove it! 
I'm glad it was as much fun for you as well. When I get back to normal, I'll type out my notes an send you an prE-pistle.

Wow, was I ever feeling no pain when I left your apartment, but thanks to a well trained liver I was sober in about two hours.
Remarkable! I'm glad you liked the Pike Creek. Personally I like it the least of the three, preferring the Gooderham and Worts and also the strangely mossy Lot 40.  None of them, however, are in the Scotch whisky league so your score of 40 compares to my own assessment, although you will find the Gooderham and Worts much more drinkable.

Thanks once again for a very enjoyable whisky tour.

Davin
 

E-pistle #2000/03 - My Rating System
Submitted on 11/02/2000 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

Hello, mellow fellows...

I've recently published some more notes about my purely personal spirit scoring system in my Liquid Log.
Now that we have our own 'matrix' (an overview of our scores for hundreds of single malts) it might be a good time to see if we all mean the same thing when we give a whisky a score of 70, 80 or 90 points. To kick things off, here's an explanation of the meaning of all the scores in my Little Black Book. It contains notes on almost all the whiskies (blends, single malts and vatted malts from all over the world) that have passed my tonsils since my amazing discovery some nine years ago. I use my little black book to translate the multimedia experience of a fine whisky into black and white. Perhaps I take my nosing and tasting too serious and is my 'hobby' just a way to rationalise a mild case of alcoholism. Nevertheless, since my senses went into overdrive, I haven't emptied a bottle of whisky (or, for that matter, whiskey) without sampling at least three glasses extensively with my eyes, nose and tongue. I've taken the fact that I had to drink some of the worst whiskies in the world in the process for granted.

But there I go again, blabbering on and on....
Back to the subject at hand: What about the infamous Johannomatic whisk(e)y rating system?
Well, first of all, it's strictly PERSONAL. Taste, like style and hygiene, is a personal matter.

So how do I come up with the exact ratings? Does the fact that Lagavulin 16yo scores 95 points and Drumguish 3yo 40 points means that Lagavulin is exactly 2.375 times as good as Drumguish? Well, not quite...

The basis of my alcoholic beverages rating system (as well as my life) is 'the Pleasure Principle' - I just try to translate the fun my nose and tongue are having into a number between 1 - 100. This means that the malts are ranked according to their perceived 'Fun-Factor'. What makes a malt 'fun', you ask? Well, to me that means a single malt with 'a lot of nose'; a big bouquet with a lot of different fragrances. And if the nose shows development over time in the glass that's a bonus. I like development in the mouth as well, together with a long finish. Some people judge a malt (partially) by its colour. Personally, I don't give a rat's ass about the colour; I wouldn't care if a whisky were green or orange - It's the aroma and the taste that interest me.

It's very hard to quantify, qualify and explain WHY I love a certain malt as much as I do.
What do I look for in a single malt whisky? What do I 'prefer' in a single malt whisky?
A malt that responds well to water - or a malt that doesn't need any water at all?
A nicely balanced nose - or a very expressive nose that highlights the extreme traits?
A chewy palate that ends in a clean finish - or a dry malt with a finish that lasts forever?
Well, it all depends. Instead of breaking my brains on these sorts of fundamental questions, I focused my attention on thinking of a system that would express HOW MUCH I love a malt as precisely as possible.
 
I'm trying to express my love for a particular single malt whisky in two digits.
The ratings are on a 1 - 100 scale. The theoretical average score of 50 points is the 'watershed' between me liking and disliking a drink. Please note that the scale includes other alcoholic liquids as well; drinks like beer, wine, blended whisky, bourbon, Irish whiskey, cognac, armagnac, calvados, grappa, etc. That means my scores aren't always comparable with other people's scores, for example those of malt-guru Michael Jackson.
 
 
The Meaning of the Numbers:
As far as the entire scale goes: here's the meaning of the bottom end of my scale - the drinks I don't like;
 
01 - 09:   Barely drinkable gagwater. Serving me this may result in physical violence.
10 - 19:   Truly disgusting. Varying degrees of awfulness; highly avoidable.
20 - 29:   Only suitable for intoxication purposes. Best used as Anti-freeze.
30 - 39:   Definitely not enjoyable. Don't pour me another glass, please.
40 - 49:   Flawed. I'll drink it, but don't expect me to be happy about it.
 
Above 50 points I'm slowly starting to warm up to things.
My scores on the 'positive' end of the scale mean something like;
 
51 - 54:   All things considered I like it, but just barely. It's a thin line between love and hate.
55 - 59:   I'm far from crazy about this, but I could find some redeeming qualities.
60 - 64:   Quite drinkable, but I could find nothing in there to get very excited about.
65 - 69:   An altogether satisfactory experience, but somehow it doesn't fulfil its potential.
70 - 74:   An enjoyable drink, just a tad below average. Could do better.
75 - 79:   A very enjoyable drink; above average but not exciting enough to be reccommendable.
80 - 84:   Recommendable. Very nice indeed, thank you. Pour me another one, please.
85 - 89:   Highly recommendable. Wonderful! Never a dull moment with one of these.
90 - 94:   Everybody should try this at least once in their life. Great liquids of the world.
95 - 99:   Exceptional. The sort of stuff where price starts to become almost irrelevant.
100 pts:   True 'aqua vitae'. Once I've found this legendary drink I can rest easy.
 
Here are some 'anchors' or 'benchmarks' in my rating-system;
80 - Bowmore 12yo, Dalmore 12yo, Glen Ord 12yo
60 - Glenfiddich Special Reserve, Johnnie Walker Black Label
40 - Drumguish 3yo, Dimple
20 - Johnnie Walker Red Label
 
60 points is the very least I expect a decent malt to score.
So how come my top single malt whisky scores 94 points instead of 100?
Well, first of all: I'm an optimistic person. It's feasible that I will one day encounter a single malt that surpasses even the wonderful Lagavulin 16. Second of all: Before I discovered single malts, I had been rating cognac and armagnac for several years. My whisky rating system is derived from my original cognac/armagnac scale. See the info to the left for my benchmarks.
 
I don't take my tasting and rating TOO serious, but serious enough to wait until after I've sampled at least 5 glasses of a particular whisky before I give my final rating. Due to frequent attacks of sinusitis, my nose is often 'out of synch'. As a result, I'm often not able to fully explore a single malt on the first or second tasting session. And then there's the time-factor. Some malts change considerably in the months after the bottle is opened. And even then my final ratings aren't always all that final. Sometimes there are notable differences between various bottles of the same malt. It's a shame not all distillers put the dates of distillation and bottling on the label. Whenever I encounter a malt that has changed considerably since my last tasting I will update the rating. This has happened with Lagavulin 16yo (down), Ardbeg 17yo (up) and Macallan 10yo 100 Proof (up).
 
If I really want to examine a whisky closely, I compare it to two or three 'reference' malts.
At any given time, there are 48 different open bottles 'on stock' in my collection , which is quite useful for the calibration of my senses. That way, I don't have to rely on my memory alone to place a particular single malt in 'the grander scheme of things'.
 
I'm afraid that's about all there is to tell about my rating system.
Now I know what you're thinking; "That's not much of a system!". Admittedly, it's a bit nonsensical to try and express a single malt experience in numerical form. Nevertheless, my system allows me to make some kind of quantifiable comparison between whiskies - which is nice.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

E-pistle #2000/04 - EoZ February 2000 Report Card
Submitted on 23/02/2000 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Well, well, at last, they cried, "the 'Earls' is finally getting into gear for the year 2000".
Explaining the lack of a January meeting is easy: it was neither considered reasonable or feasible to have our January meeting on a public holiday, so the traditional kick-off had to wait to February. For those of you that are blissfully unaware that I have recently returned from the madlands, the badlands and the maltlands of America I must advise of contact and valuable intellectual discourse with like malted souls in that both prosaic and phantasmagoric place. And the malts at Ardbeggeddon (A2K) weren't bad either. MOK, map, FX, Foaf, Mark K, Bushido, Tom B you know who you are and thank-you for a truly great time!

Sense of place is a weird commodity in Las Vegas, believe me, especially when you're shoehorned into the back of a Mercedes with two other 19 stone maltsters and carted around Las Vegas on a malt raiding party.  I managed to withstand the feeding frenzy until I saw a Glen Moray 16 replete with (airline baggage handler defeating) tin packaging that I couldn't in all conscience leave on the shelf, having been well and truly versed and primed in malt acquisition behaviour by this stage of the game and eager to display newly acquired skills.
However, the further chronicling of my adventures in La La land must await another occasion.
 

February 23rd  "Laird's Choice"  -  Report Card

Benriach-Glenlivet 13 (William Cadenhead) - One of Bob's stash remaining from the Earl of Zetland auction in 1995 and another of those Cadenhead sports bottled in the late 1970's.  It was different:: an interesting and intriguing malt.  Quite spiritty early with a hint of dry wood, chalk and flint plus some wood extracts like camphor and something faintly like liniment.  Gets better in the glass with tropical fruity notes; guava and a hint of pineapple sherbet.  The nose gets a dry mintiness suggesting 100% bourbon wood.  The palate was light and clean with pleasant lifted fruit characters and a slightly bitter finish and a metallic/steely aftertaste almost like a good Coonawarra riesling. Being a bit left field didn't hurt it in my books.  Best of the night for me.  Score 8.1

Glenfiddich Solera 15 - Bob is nothing if not brave to spend the clubs' precious treasure chest on product from a distillery that most of us don't have a lot of time for, but it's always good policy to give them another chance.  It was a case of good news and not so good news.  The Solera 15 was the good news.   Early on I got custard and honey with nice yeast bun notes.  After a while the sweet bread dough maltiness typical of a lot of lighter Speysides came to the fore.  A medium dry sherry was obvious on the palate but funnily enough didn't show in the nose.  The finish showed drying wood and some sour sherry notes.   After a very long time the nose showed a hint of grapiness and a whiff of pyrethrum, but not offensive in any way.  This whisky had both solidity and grunt; characteristics not normally associated with Glenfiddich.  Well worth the asking price of ~$72.  I might even buy a bottle myself.  Can't say fairer than that!!  Score 7.9

Glenfiddich Ancient Reserve 18 - I was expecting the age to reveal itself in a high quality and rounded malt.  Sad to say it didn't.  The nose was very subdued and slightly musty (mushroom and old barns) early on.  Showed some yeast and sourish sherrywood after a while, but never developed any real depth.  Unfortunately after 10 minutes or so the nose went steadily downhill; became oily with overtones of cardboard and soap flakes and after a long time had a whiff of lavender water and even a hint of brillantine hair oil.  It was smooth with a pleasant malty nuttiness on the palate and the sourish sherry wood reprised in the finish.  There were too many similarities to both the Special Reserve and the 50% CS 15 than I thought healthy for the market prospects of a whisky they want to sell for $100.  I mean its not as if they can't make a decent malt as the Excellence 18 attests.  Save the money and drink the Solera 15..  Score 7.4

The Blind – Oban 14 -  Selected by an absent Keith Dobson, henceforth to be known by the sobriquet "the legend" (as christened by John Roberts) who has achieved a double unique in the annals of club history.  Not only did he get the blind right at his very first meeting, BUT he also was sneaky enough to choose a blind that NO-ONE managed to get right.  Now, Bronte, being a crafty and devious bastard from way back has contrived to achieve this feat at least twice that I can remember, but a new chum???  Unheard of!  And Oban, bloody Oban!!!  Those who know me well, know that Oban 14 is the cause of many wince making memories, especially at the Streah.  I reckon it's been a blind at Earls and Streah meetings about 12 times in the last decade and I think I managed to get it right just once.  On this occasion I didn't get close.  I'd narrowed it down to 4, all Speysides,and settled on Strathisla 12, not for any better reason than I thought I found a little bit of peat, a good whack of sherry and a hint of chocolate in it.  I usually like Oban 14 and rate it higher than this.  Score 7.3

Regards

Craig Daniels
Treasurer
Earls Of Zetland Malt Tasting Club
 

E-pistle #2000/05 - Malt Maniacs Meeting II
Submitted on 04/03/2000 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

Have just returned to Canada from a most enjoyable working three weeks in Europe.
There, my exposure to unusual malts and ability to discern flavour subtleties went through logarithmic growth. It began in the Netherlands with a visit to Rob Stevens' Whiskyslijterij De Koning in Den Bosch (officially known as 's Hertogenbosch.)  With 1100 whiskies on display Rob's shop has all the elements of a living whisky museum.  This becomes especially true when you finally think you've seen everything, so he invites you back to his tasting room where the really rare stuff is kept.  Then, while you're 'nosing' samples of malted barley, he casually mentions he could double his selection if he chose to.

In my home town, Ottawa, Canada, all liquors are sold through a government owned outlet called the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO).  On a really good day you may find 40 government-issue malts in stock. Dutch regulations preclude tasting during business hours, but that didn't prevent me from arriving back in Amsterdam with a serious case of Ardbeg-mouth.  And I'll never be able to say again that I've not tasted the old-style peat monsters. If you're visiting the Netherlands take the opportunity to visit Whiskyslijterij De Koning.  Den Bosch is about an hour's train ride from Central Station in Amsterdam, and well worth the 40 Guilders return fare.

Day Two ended in Amsterdam with a total annihilation of the Dutch reputation for parsimony.  But let me tell you how it began. 
On a previous trip I had spent an enjoyable and educational afternoon with Johannes van den Heuvel, the creator of this web site. Johannes is an eccentric, but generous Amsterdam malt maven and he is every bit as much an original as is his site.  In any case I had arranged for another private tutoured tasting, but first Johannes took me on a walking tour of the Amsterdam tourists never see – the whisky shops. Gall and Gall near Dam Square impressed me with neither their prices nor their selection, but Whiskyslijterij De Koning is a hard act to follow.

We then wandered through seedier areas stopping here and there to peruse the stock, with Johannes feeling obliged to purchase something at every shop.  Finally we came to M. Boorsma at Ferdinand Bolstraat 112 which had an impressive array of whiskies and excellent prices.  Anyone wanting to purchase whisky in Amsterdam would be well advised to seek them out.  Anyway I picked up a Laphroaig 15yo as my contribution to the evening and we were on our way to Johannes' place to begin the ritual. Johannes believes in what he calls head to head tastings.  Two whiskies are sampled at a time to allow for comparison.  He is also the guy who taught me to smell the empty glass after the alcohol has evaporated to get another perspective on the flavours, a process I have since found very informative.

The highlights of this session were a Longmorn Glenlivet 1963 (what Johannes calls his Craig Daniels Longmorn, named for its donor), the Laphroaig 15 yo and a 1991 Ardbeg from Signatory (which occasionally reminded me of my dog). The Longmorn was sweet but earthy with a mild honey-floral nose, immediate but fading astringency, an orchestra of complex, changing, grassy/floral flavours on the tongue and a sweet finish.  The sweetness increased with water.  The Laphroaig 15 was milder but more flavourful than the 10 yo with a sweet tobacco flavour that migrated instantly to the back of the throat. 

I made detailed tasting notes which are posted below because, most importantly, I found the confidence to share my tasting experiences with others. Johannes has posted the results of our session elsewhere on this web site.  I told a colleague who was supposed to join us at the tasting, but was unable to, that I was almost embarrassed at Johannes' generosity, so I'm also a little more embarrassed to see how much credit he has given me in his tasting report. Now this was just supposed to be a tasting session, but Johannes pours a pretty generous dram, so by the time we had finished our 14th, you can imagine my condition.  I could barely walk to the subway.  But it was then I learned the benefits of having a well-practiced liver, for full sobriety returned within a couple of hours and I learned that if I limit my intake to 14 generous drams I can avoid a hangover altogether as next morning I was up and ready to move on to London.

Below are my notes on the head to head tastings. 
Be aware these were written in progressive states of inhibriation!

1a. Scapa 1989 Ultimate 8yo 43%
Strong, spicy - feels stronger than 43%, floral/malty?
Floral nose, but not too strong. With water, burns a lot, very peppery; burn of cinnamon, with no cinnamon flavour, powerful.

1b. Glen Rothes 1985
Good nose - some rubber.
Much stronger nose than Scapa; oily feel
With water, some sweetness, some burn / slight burn on tongue.

2a. Balvenie Portwood 21
Nose rich - honey - lots of honey.
Flavour - rich broad and sweet very pleasant mild sweetness warm and spicy.
With water, nose diminishes but stays sweet. Feels sweet.

2b. Suntory Kakubin
Not much nose - malty and dry.
Tastes sweet and warm, quickly gets slightly bitter.  Finish dies quickly.
Johannes says soy sauce, and now I smell it (power of suggestion?)
Water kills the nose and the flavour - can taste the water.

3a. Laphroaig 10 yo
Medicinal, disinfectant, burning. Musty - vegetables.
Very long warming finish. Burning - rougher than the 15yo
With water becomes slightly sweet , tastes like Ardbeg without the licorice.

3b. Laphraoig 15 yo
Nose - smells like Laphraoig 10 with a mild, sweet tobacco added.
Taste - sweet, burning - goes back to the throat immediately.
Gets peaty in the middle, mouth gets oily. Warming and burning, sweet and a bit peppery - spicy; milder than the 10 yo but more flavourful and complex. With water, sweet, still medicinal.  sweeter than the 10yo.

4a. Longmorn Glenlivet 1963 40%
Nose - mild - hint of honey.
Flavour - sweet, quite astringent at first then astringency fades, very complex, some burn at sides of tongue.
Stays sweet, round and mouth-filling With water, still sweet with a slight earthiness, becomes sweeter with water.

4b. Glenfarclas 105 60%
Nose - rich, strong, grassy, cereal.
Taste - extremely astringent, quite sweet, some spice that fades quickly.
Becomes cloudy when water added, very milky with water.
Nose gets fresher with water and flavour becomes sweeter and slightly oily.

5a. Ardbeg 17 yo  40%
Nose - rounder than the 1991 and barely sweet, some disinfectant, some sourness.
Taste, much sweeter, licorice, almost fishy.

5b. Ardbeg 1991 Signatory 43%
Nose - smells like a barn, mild dog odour, medicine, disinfectant.
PMU farm, almost a powdered milk in nose, some Laphroaig in nose.
Taste - sweet, some earth, very spicy and sweet, mud, warm on tongue.  no licorice at all. Becomes muddy in middle.  With water, lots of Laphroaig, just a hint of licorice at end.

6a. Laphroaig 15  - 43% (reprise)
Nose - very dry
Flavour - sweet, some disinfectant.  Very sweet with water.

6b. Macallan 10 yo cask strength 57%
Nose - sweet and lots of caramel.
Flavour - very, very sweet - lots of spices and alcohol, very astringent. burns your tongue, warms throat. Add water - very enjoyable

7a. Courvoisieur VSOP
Fine champagne cognac. Very dark colour.
Nose - raisins and wine, raisins so strong, oranges, sweetness, very very sweet and fruity. Raisins don't come out in the flavour, oily feel in mouth. Add water - cognac and water don't mix - just the same, but less so - diluted.

7b. Lammerlaw 10yo. (whisky from New Zealand)
Nose - malty, bananas.  Banana right out front.
Taste - very sweet and spicy, burning on front and sides of tongue.
Very long finish - becomes astringent.

- - -

London - the next day. Cadenhead's was the first stop on this leg and frankly, it was only because I was in the neighbourhood.  On two previous visits I had found the staff rude, and disinterested, but this time someone else was minding the store, and we soon were into an animated conversation. Unfortunately there were no Ardbegs in stock so I left empty handed, which is not my wont.  I wonder if the proprietor misunderstood me, or vice versa, because when I got home I noticed an Ardbeg listed on their site, so I needlessly went home empty handed. In Milroy's, Doug McIvor and I discussed the relative merits of various Ardbegs.

Actually I didn't know it was McIvor until I got back to the hotel and opened the new Whisky Magazine. 
In any case he brought me up to the main floor bar, purportedly to look up Michael Jackson's notes on the Ardbeg 1975 and the 30 yo.  Well, reading quickly turned to sampling and Doug left me to discuss the two with the barmaid who made sure I took long enough to really savour them.  I had already picked up a 30 yo from Rob Stevens, so left Milroy's with the 1975 tucked under my arm.

Evenings the following days passed quickly as my colleague and I sampled dozens of miniatures from Whiskyslijterij De Koning and Milroy's.  Another Longmorn Glenlivet (12 yo which Craig Daniels has since told me he prefers), Scapa 1988, Glenfarclas 30 yo, Rosebank 1988, Bruichladdich 10 yo cask strength, 2 varieties of Poit Dhubh, Mortlach 15 yo and on and on.  Some tasting notes are more complete than others, but you get the idea.  My palate just grew and grew and grew.  A pleasant surprise was a McMichael Islay Scotch Whisky I picked up at Marks and Spencer.  Probably a young Laphroaig.

The final acquisition came in Rome where I picked up a Macallan 7 yo, as it is unique to Italy.  Well, I bought a bottle for about $15 US, but was kept so busy I had no chance to open it.  It's an interesting package though.  More whimsical than the standard issues.  Much of the labeling is in Italian and the picture shows a man rolling out a barrel clearly marked Macallan 7 years old.  The neck label is signed Armando Giovinetti special selection.  I have told Johannes I'll bring it with me to Amsterdam next trip.

In the end Canada is richer by two Ardbegs, a Caol Ila, a Port Ellen, and the 7 yo Macallan. 
And right now my liver is getting a well deserved week off!

Davin
 

E-pistle #2000/06 - Bowmores & Stuff
Submitted on 09/03/2000 by Louis Perlman, USA

Despite being in self imposed restraint mode, whisky wise, I have a few things to report.
First of all, the Morrison Bowmore brands are going for fire sale prices here in NYC. So I picked up the Bowmore 17, Darkest, and Mariner for $40/33/30 respectively, instead of the usual $50-60/60+/50 that they usually go for. The 17 is the laid back Bowmore, although I usually find the idea of a laid back Islay to be an oxymoron. A month of break in was required, as it was dull and lifeless upon opening. For those who find the Islay intensity of Lagavulin and Laphroaig too much, this one could be a nice substitute, although I am not sure I would feel the same at it's usual selling price. The Darkest is really a nice dram, though. The effects of the sherry casks are abvious, but everything is very well integrated, and the sherry has metamorphosized into other things. And finally, the Mariner is a winner as well. It reminds me of my first bottle of the 12, tons of peat, nothing held back. I am definitely going to stock up on these latter two.

Going back to January when we went out for my birthday, there were only a few things on the list that I hadn't tried, so we went for Glengoyne 17 and the current Longmorn 15. The GG was nice and smooth, and well rounded. But with the going price in the mid-$50 range, I don't really find it worth the money. The Longmorn was another story. I had previously had the miniature from the Heritage collection and was unimpressed, but there were reports that the newer releases were better. This one definitely was. Nice and rich. Raisins were the dominant component, and I think that this one goes well with deserts. For $45, it is a good choice for when Lagavulin won't do. One of these day's, I'll have to compare it with the new Macallan 15 for about the same price.

And here is one you will like, the Laphroaig 12 year Cadenhead. This is something that I've wanted, and independent Laphroaig bottlings are being stamped out under the current ownership. See Murray McDavid's web site for more information. The Cadenhead has all but disppeared, but I saw a bottle locally, so I snapped it up. Talk about central heating, this is one for those nice cold winter nights. Of course, you've got the distillery cask strength version, which hasn't been imported here yet.

One more small item, now in residence at my parent's house is a Cooper's Choice Imperial 14. It's similar in style to the Glenlivet 12, with a touch of smoke. Pretty decent like all of the CC's, but you don't really need to own them all. My favorites are the Dallas Dhu and Millburn, both of which are no longer in existance.

Oh yes, my sister went to St. Thomas again. I gave her a list of interesting items, of course none of which were there. But I did remeber that they had some Rare Malts, so I asked her to pick one up for me. Since I had no idea which ones they might have, I told her to pick one at random, and surprise me. As it turns out, the store only had two in stock, so I ended up with a North Port. This one has the distinction of getting one of the lowest scores in Michael Jackson's 2000 edition. In all honesty, he doesn't grade the aperitif style malts very highly, and it was quite pleasant.

Anyway. I am not sure if I mentioned this already, but this year I have decided to go for quality, rather than quantity. last year, I nearly doubled my collection, to 60 or so bottles. Problem is, that older bottles fizzle out if they were opened too many times, and I am running out of room as well. My company pays out bonus in mid-March (don't bother asking why, they probably could'nt tell you if they tried!), so I'll have some free cash. High on the list are the Longrow 10, and the Highland park 1977, as well as a few other items.
I'll send the update as soon as there is something to report.

Cheers.

Louis
 

E-pistle #2000/07 - March = Macallan Month
Submitted on 22/03/2000 by Craig Daniels, Australia

The March meeting is one not to be missed.  Three vintage 18 year old Macallans will be fair reward for those who manage to turn up. 
Due to assiduous purchasing over the last four years and the exercise of tremendous self-discipline (many a time I was sorely tempted to crack the 1967 I bought in 1995) the club has the opportunity to try three different vintages of one of the world's truly great malts.  Macallan 18 has been one of the club's regular high scorers.  Most memorably it was the blind at one of our highest ever scoring meetings, the Black Bowmore night in August 1994, where it managed to rank second in very august company indeed. The 1967 has been sampled at least twice, (last in December 1993) as has the 1977 (Oct 1997 & Mar 1998).  I don't recall the club ever having programmed the 1980, so that'll be a first.   This month we are going to test the proposition that, with the passing of the years, the flavour profile of standard-bearer malts such as Macallan 18 has shifted.

There has been a widely held belief in malt circles that older is often better. This is a contention that the Earls have enjoyed exploring over the last few years with the ''Old Vs New'' evenings.  Probably more importantly in the grander scheme of things is that it is a belief that those with extensive cellars and the auction houses of the world delight in furthering as it improves the provenance and margins on 'older' material, boosting prices etc.  Also more recently there has been an argument raging over the internet about flavour shifts in revered single malts.  While I think that some of the doom and gloom is the product of a reactionary tendency to regard older bottlings as better (feathering the nest of Christies et al), our previous experiments have at least demonstrated that the proposition has a modicum of truth, at least for some malts.  I think the argument surrounding Macallan is at once both more technical and also much more contentious.

Macallan 18 makes excellent experimental material for at least two reasons.  Firstly it is a mighty fine dram in its own right as both international opinion and club scores verify.  Secondly, the folk at Macallan go to great pains and have invested a lot of cash and credibility in promoting the position that each vintage of the 18 is as close to the previous ones as it is humanly possible to make it.  I take them at their word and accept that they try their hardest, but I also understand that distillers, even as fastidious as Macallan, are not immune to the impact of fashion, market research and production costs.  I suspect the effects of the steeply rising cost of sherry wood may be evident in the diminution of first fill oloroso barrels in maturation.

Are the three Macallan 18s discernibly different?  Probably not as much as we might suppose but probably more than the owners would care to admit.  So the first comment here is that I don't expect people to have a go at saying which one is which, unless they particularly want, but to actually have everyone work out which one they like most, next and least and record the answers.  Once we've done that we can work out which one those assembled thought was the 'best', ie. the highest scoring.  I figure there might be the odd surprise on the night.
 

March 22nd  "Macallan Horizontal"  -  Report Card

The report card will take a different format from the usual, as to be perfectly honest I didn't take many notes and my scores were of less interest to me than the thoughts and scores of others. The purpose of the evening was to try and discover whether there had been a change in the flavour profile and the quality of Macallan 18 in the last decade or so. I did my best to make it an objective test by making sure that we tasted them all masked so that the tasters did not know beforehand which was which.  This was done to really find out which of the three was judged to be the preferred one and to avoid any possibility that tasters would adopt the reactionary assumption that the older one is automatically better.

Furthermore, while most of us noted definite differences between the three, the family resemblance far outweighed marginal variations, especially between the 1977 and the 1980.  I thought the 1967 much easier to differentiate from the others, I suspect for two main reasons.   Firstly, when the 1967 was distilled and racked, new sherrywood, while more expensive than fresh bourbon wood, was still relatively inexpensive compared to later when the price relativities made a strong bottom-line argument for a reduction in the proportion of first fill sherry barrels used in the maturation of the later vintages.  Secondly, when the 1967 was bottled (circa 1985), the scotch industry was in the middle of a huge slump, the single malt market was still languishing at less than 3% of total sales and there wasn't much demand at all for older malts.  I suspect that these factors combined to deliver a greater proportion of older material into the 1967 than went into the 1977 and especially the 1980.  My logic would tend to the conclusion that the 1980 had both less first fill sherrywood and less older material (due to special releases such as the 1874 and Gran Reserva), but I don't expect the company to confirm my hypothesis.

But I here all fair minded maltsters cry; 'What does it matter if there is less first fill sherry wood and older material if malt lovers prefer the 1980 to the 1977 and 1967?'  Fair enough question too!  The really interesting result of the masked tasting was that only 1 out of the 18 tasters ranked the 1980 highest, 4 ranked the 1977 first and a whopping 13 (72%) regarded the 1967 the superior dram (even when they hadn't guessed Malt B to be the 1967).  The mean scores for the three were 1980 (7.97), 1977 (8.14) and 1967 (8.39).

I contend that the experiment lent solid support to the widely held belief across the international malt community that the quality of the Macallan 18 has indeed been slipping and the most depressing conclusion one can reasonably draw from the results is that the best Macallan 18's are behind us.  To get equivalent quality in a Macallan as the 1967 we're going to have to shell out a lot more dough.  I know one thing, if I spot any Macallan 18's from earlier that 1980 on retail shelves from now on I'm going to grab them.

The Blind – Balvenie 10 -  Selected by Keith "The Legend" Dobson, who lived up to his newly acquired status by being one of only five maltsters to identify the Macallans correctly.  Well done for someone at only his third tasting.  Congratulations also to Alex Keegan (whose blind descriptors were perfect for Tormore 10, but it wasn't on the list of possibles) who got all four right as did the Laird.  Bob is in awesome form leading up to the Malt Tasting Competition so as much as the Rob Roy might try to stack the odds in their favour by not releasing the practice list, the date of the competition or the venue, we'll be ready for them no doubts whatsoever.  While Keith didn't manage to fool everybody this time, the big sherry in the Macallans sure made the Balvenie seem anaemic in that department, sending more than a few into the Glenkinchie camp.  I didn't find any orange at all this time and in the company it appeared very yeasty.  I probably would've picked it as Glen Keith except it wasn't on the list.  Balvenie was closest so I got it right. Score 7.3

I remember promising some of you that I would keep you informed on this topic and for those of you who are interested and those of you who might be tempted to have a go, here's the latest on the Australian National Malt Tasting Championship.  It's being organised by the Rob Roy Malt Club and the chief sponsor will be Glenfiddich.  This will guarantee some international press coverage, hopefully and maybe even a few profiles of local tasters might find their way into UK papers, (especially if we win).

Malt Whisky Competition - Adelaide South Australia 2000
While a provisional date was set in April 2000 it has now been postponed until late May or even June 2000. The sponsor will be Glenfiddich and they are waiting for one of their international promotional people to be an official at the competition. This is what is holding up the timing of the competition. I'll keep you posted when more news breaks.

Regards

Craig Daniels
Treasurer - Earls Of Zetland Malt Tasting Club
 

E-pistle #2000/08 - Mega-MaltMap Revised
Submitted on 11/02/2000 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

I'd like to intererrupt the regular broadcasts for a special announcement...

The Mega-MaltMap was one of the first pages on the Malt Madness site and it has now been revised completely.
I already started to play around with a version in 'dynamic HTML' in 1998, but now I've finally published a version that I'm happy with.
You can move your mouse across a satellite image of Scotland and you'll have an instant overview of all distilleries in that region - both active and recently closed. That should be handy if you're planning a trip to 'the holy land'.

A few readers have suggested it's also useful for composing 'flights' of similar malts for tastings.
Well, to a certain extent.... But in my years of dramming I've learned that Scotland doesn't really have 'terroirs' like (for instance) France. There are three 'regional' styles that are easy to identify: Highlands, Lowlands and Islay. For actual purposes - especially for a relative beginner - there's little need to distinguish between Highlands, Islands and Speyside malts. And the differences between Highland, Islay and Lowland malts are actually more 'technical' differences than geographical ones. Islay malts taste the way they do because the malted barley is heavily peated and Lowland malts are so light because they're triple distilled as opposed to double distilled.

Anyway, check out the MegaMaltMap for much more details...

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

prE-pistle #2000/09 - How Whisky Makes Us Smarter
Submitted on 02/04/2000 by Kees Mink, Holland

Now finally, something that makes sense... to some of us.
A herd of buffalo can move only as fast as the slowest buffalo, and when the herd is hunted, it is the slowest and weakest ones at the back that are killed first. This natural selection is good for the herd as a whole, because the general speed and health of the whole group keeps improving by the regular attrition of the weakest members. In much the same way, the human brain can only operate as fast as the slowest brain cells. Excessive intake of alcohol, as we all know, kills brain cells, but naturally it attacks the slowest and weakest brain cells first. In this way, regular consumption of whisky eliminates the weaker brain cells, making the brain a faster and more efficient machine.

THAT is why you always feel smarter after a few whisky's...
Smart enough to come up with some intruiging questions for the weekend;

- What hair color do they put on the driver's licenses of bald men?
- If quitters never win, and winners never quit, what nut came up with "Quit while you're ahead"?
- If it's true that we are here to help others, then what exactly are the OTHERS here for?
- If a man says something in the woods and there are no women there to hear him, is he still wrong?
- If a person with multiple personalities threatens suicide, is that considered a hostage situation?
- Since light travels faster than sound, isn't that why some people appear bright until you hear them speak?
- So what's the speed of dark?
- How come you don't ever hear about gruntled employees?
- After eating, do amphibians need to wait an hour before getting OUT of the water?
- If you're sending someone some Styrofoam, what do you pack it in?
- Why do they sterilize needles for lethal injections?
- Is it true that cannibals don't eat clowns because they taste funny?
- Isn't Disney World a people trap operated by a mouse?
- Whose cruel idea was it for the word "lisp" to have an "s" in it?
- If it's zero degrees outside today and it's supposed to be twice as cold tomorrow, how cold is it going to be?
- If a cow laughed, would milk come out her nose?

Kees Mink
 

E-pistle #2000/10 - Thanks Malt Madness!
Submitted on 27/04/2000 by Roman Parparov, Israel

I always used to enjoy "strong" drinks - from classical vodka during meals in a pure Russian style (I was born in Russia and lived there until I was 16, so I received my education) - to cognacs. I used to think that Johnnie Walker Black Label is the best there is to offer. Then I ran across a Scot that told me I was utterly misled, and that I should taste a single malt Scotch.

In the Middle East - the drinking culture is very low. The aborigine population is used to consume mostly 'arak' - a hardly tasteful experience, and the young age of the state and hot climate lessens the desire of alcohol consumption. So most people don't know both how and what to drink and often quite big guys are totally stoned after a litre of beer like Carlsberg. Unfortunately, here in Israel single malt Scotch whiskeys, top Irish, Cognacs, Armagnacs and other superior quality strong drinks are taxed by the state on import by some 200-250%, and to this tax also a 17% VAT etc. are applied, so a bottle of Macallan 12 yrs costs in a store about $150. You can bring a bottle from a Duty Free without being taxed, though.

I went to WWW to seek about Single Malt resources and of course ran across your site immediately.
I wrote down some top names from your bang for buck list and gave it to friends of mine that were planning to come to Israel. So, this February a friend of mine came from US and brought me the first bottle of Single Malt - it turned out to be Glenmorangie 10yo. This was a breakthrough. The difference was felt immediately. I understood, that now I am a single malt whisky person.

And then, another friend brought me a bottle of Lagavullin, 16yo. That was a moment of truth. The drink is absolutely amazing!
Now I am waiting for Balvenie 12, Macallan 12, Talisker 10 and Highland Park 12 to arrive in the near 3 months. Johnny Walker Black Label is only being used in preparation of Rusty Nail cocktail and a bottle of Red Label I had doesn't deserve more than preparing some hot drinks based on whisky.

Thanks for the great update on Malt Madness recently!
I've been brought recently Longmore 15 and Talisker 10. For the first one I've managed only a brief tasting and I found a bit of bitterness in the taste that I didn't quite like. I will have to get more profound tasting on it though. The second one is absolutely great. The main disappointment is that the size of the bottle is 0.7 and not 1.0 ! Talisker firmly occupies the 2nd place in my list after Lagavulin 16.

Recently I made another convert. A friend of mine stopped by and I offered him to have a drink. First, I gave him Balvenie 10, a lighter, sweeter malt. He liked it very much. Then I smirked and poured some Lagavulin to him. That really hit the spot! The guy wasn't a newbie in strong drinks, he has quite an experience with cognacs, but he was absolutely amazed by Laga. Tomorrow when I met him, he said that "the smoky one" is something unique he will have to get. :)

I am very interested in buying malts online, the only thing that bothers me is the Israeli custom tax, how much I can buy without being forced the 216% tax on it...

Roman
 

E-pistle #2000/11 - On the Beaches
Submitted on 26/04/2000 by Craig Daniels, Australia

26 April 1999 - "On The Beaches - Lest We Forget"

Our regular meeting night being the day after Anzac Day delivered a big impetus to the theme of this month's Tasting.  Given that Anzac Day originally celebrated the less than supremely successful landing on Turkish soil during 1915, I guess having a selection of malts made and matured by the seaside is appropriate.  Lots of malts come from seaside distilleries, so there were plenty to choose from but some are more interesting than others. 

We don't get a lot of opportunity to try Scapa as very little makes it's way here.  The one we're most familiar with is the Gordon & MacPhail 8 year old, which was pretty ordinary and used to make a lot of peoples bottom ten list.  The one we have to try is a 12 year old destined for the American market and brought back to these fair shores by Paul Rasmussen.  Like a lot of coastal malts (Bruichladdich & Glenmorangie being other examples) they don't necessarily show much marine character.  Scapa generally has a malty sweetness with a touch of spice and some fresh scone dough yeastiness.  Scapa, on Orkney and abutting the shores of Scapa Floe at least has some obvious connections to World War 1, being the final resting place of much of the Imperial German Fleet, scuttled after armistice. 

Neither Oban nor Bunnahabhain have any obvious connection, but Bunnahabhain is a favourite and I, for one, need more practice on Oban before the resurrected National Malt Tasting Championship sometime in the next couple of months.  Bunnahabhain is slap bang on the shores of Islay looking out across a scree of shale gray pebbles (no Australian would dare think of calling it a 'beach') to Jura, but it's a bonnie place all the same with a placid serenity found at few other distilleries. A good clean whisky, more like a Highland than an Islay, it has a nice fresh nose with malt and a hint of seaweed but very little obvious peat.

Oban is a rarity amongst modern distilleries, being in the high street of a major town.  Although not technically on a beach, it's pretty close (a couple of healthy irons would find the water).   Mind you it's not something that postcards are made of; up a short cul de sac at the end of a row of Georgian Terrace houses and looking much more like the entrance to a Barristers Chambers rather than a distillery.  Oban 14 is a chameleon in the whisky world.  It has a little of the typical coastal traits of fudge and honey biscuits, a little of speyside malty sweetness and a little bit of smoke in the tail.  A nicely rounded malt and very hard to pin down as a blind.
 

April 26th "On The Beaches - Coastal Malts"  -  Report Card

Scapa 12 - Not available in Oz, this one was brought back from America by Paul Rasmussen.  I must admit I wasn't expecting overly much with this one, and the less kind of those present probably echoed those sentiments, but I was pleasantly surprised.  Based on tasting notes I had read before, I was expecting it to be similar to Bruichladdich, but have to admit that it was closer to Aultmore and Knockando, especially after it had been in the glass a while.  Early on the nose was light, moderately sweet with apple pie, vanilla and spice (in the allspice-mace family) with a lot of creamy bourbon wood.  It evolved to display much more solvent style esters in the nose with a lot of lifted fruity notes, segueing into juicy fruit chewing gum and tutti frutti bubble-gum.  The dominant fruit character (moving from apples to something tropical  (melon & mango maybe). followed through to the palate.  Had a fairly light body but a nice clean mouthfeel and nothing untoward in the aftertaste where some drying tannins helped clean up the finish..  Clean and light, yet tasty.  Score 7.6

Bunnahabhain 12 -  My notes on the night were pitifully sparse - 'salty, sweet, malty and meaty', but they sort of say it all.  Showed all the traits needed to identify it ; nice sherry wood, nice fudgy maltiness and a nice whiff of salty roasting pan and gravy, plus an interesting hint of pickled onions and balsamic vinegar..  To digress a little, the meaty/nutty/briny aromas are also to be found in older, sherried Glenfarclas.  I've tried two independent sherried Bunnahabhain' (a 25 from Whyte & Whyte and a 17 from Signatory), that I thought were from Glenfarclas.  I find it interesting that malts from so far apart can show 'family' resemblances.  I suspect it's probably due to the type of barley and the sherrywood but it still is remarkable.  Nice clean, well crafted and tasty malt.    Score 8.1

Oban 14 - One more chance to practise on the elusive one before the malt comp.  Alas and alack, I still can't find anything distinctive in the Oban to hang a descriptor on.  It was faintly burnt toffee salty and moderately sweet (sweeter than the Bunnahabhain but not as sweet as the Scapa) with an irritating spirit prickle in excess of what the alcohol level suggested.  Had a bit of bite in the finish and some smoke and seaspray in the aftertaste, but not as obvious as Highland Park for example.   Bob loves it because it is so seamless.  I just find it annoying because I can't get a handle on it.  I also didn't think this particular bottle was as good as some we've had, but it may be the company or evidence of a bit of pique.  It was funny but the increase in alcohol level from the Scapa and Bunny (both 40%) to the Oban (43%) was readily detectable, the first time that I'd honestly noticed that I could tell the difference.  Score 7.9

The Blind – Springbank 12 46% - Paul Rasmussen supplied it and while he'd done his homework, he still managed to get one we hadn't ever tried before.  We have had a Springbank 12 before, it is true, but it was the 100 proof or "Double Dark"  much beloved of our American brethren.  However I couldn't get too cross at him as I had it pegged early on and was sure it was a Springbank but not the 100 proof.  Just goes to show that there are such things as discernible distillery character.  The nose opened with a scream of serious sherry, nice spicy notes; big and inviting. The colour was a trifle strange with a dark olive green sheen in the meniscus, similar to the 1967 Macallan last month but even greener.  I wonder if it's because the Springer is not chill filtered?  I picked it as having a higher alcohol level than the others and when I found coconut and vanilla icecream after about 15" I was pretty sure it was from Springbank.  It had a long hopsy metallic finish that diverged from the '"Double Dark" as well.   Best of the night by a fair margin. Very moreish.  Score 8.4

Regards

Craig Daniels
Treasurer - Earls Of Zetland Malt Tasting Club
 

E-pistle #2000/12 - This & That
Submitted on 18/05/2000 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

Johannes wrote about large increases in prices in his latest report in his Liquid Log.
I just checked his Dutch price list. Some (many) of those prices are just amazing. The Ardbeg 10 is about half what I'd pay in New York (can't get it in Canada).  Unfortunately customs checks very carefully, and they don't allow any bottles shipped into the country.  Man, That Ardbeg 1991!! And I remember how great it was.

I have noticed no difference in prices here in Canada, but it may take time to trickle down through the government bureaucracy. 
Most prices were jacked up for Christmas, then dropped 3 to 5 dollars in Feb or March. There is only one retailer in Ontario and one in Quebec, though each has hundreds of outlets.  The prices are published and remain very stable for at least 3 months at a time.  Every malt is equally available all the time, as you can have any malt transfered to your local store in about 3 days.

The selection is limited to about 50 of the most common commercial malts and new additions are rare. 
One or two special malts are released every couple of months or so but these tend to sell out very quickly. For example when they brought in Laphroaig 15 it was all gone in under 3 hours. Te Bheag lasted about 5 days before all supplies were exhausted.  When I selected my favourite commercial malts, I had to leave out my real favourites as they are not available here.  I listed Quebec and Ontario prices, so no retailer can cry favouritism, though around here, they wouldn't even notice.

The next closest liquor store would be at least a 15 hour drive, and then it too is run by another provincial government. 
I could drive to the States in a couple of hours, but I can only bring one bottle back and then only if I've been out of the country for at least 48 hours. On a happier note, though, I think I have found a contact who can get the new Ardbeg 10 yo into Canada legally, and LCBO is releasing a Gordon & MacPhail Ardbeg in September.

I tried the Glen Scotia 14 yo when I was in London and yes, I did enjoy it.
Springbank is hugely in demand here, and only very rarely available, but you know what?  It doesn't knock me out.  Maybe after my recent experience with the Macallans I should give it another try. In Canada (and I think the US) Macallan has discontinued the 18 yo in favour of a 15 yo.  Apparantly this is due to insufficient stocks laid down in the 1980s.  I understand that the (superior) 18 yo is still available in the Netherlands and Great Britain. The 15 yo is almost $100 a bottle. Mine was a gift.

Just when I thought Macallan had dropped off my list I tried the 12yo and 15 yo again and really did enjoy them. 
This mouth of mine is growing daily!

All the best,

Davin
 

E-pistle #2000/13 - Message from Hamburg
Submitted on 17/05/2000 by Klaus Everding, Germany

Subject:  Has getting drunk in style become more expensive?

Hi Johannes,

Here comes mail from Hamburg, Germany, the small single malt tasting society Harlem.
In your last newsletter you reported that the price for many single malts has drasticilly increased.
We made the same observation here in Hamburg. To our luck the stuff we prefer (Islay Whiskeys, Macallan, Highland Park) is almost stable. It is very praiseworthy that finally someone informs the world about this serious problem.

Two other points, dark clouds on the delicate peaty whisky horizon, are alarming.
We can only hope that the same things don't happen in the Netherlands.

1. and by far the worst:
Our whisky shop informed us some month ago that the 1 liter bottles will soon vanish from the market. Some destilleries i.e. Glenmorangie don't  sell them anymore. Other companies will follow. The result: you get a 0.7 l bottle for the same price as a 1 l bottle. This happened to me when I wanted to try the Edradour (nice stuff, but too expensive and not the taste I like). I think those bloody eurocrats at Brussel are responsible for that developement. They should be drowned in Old Smugglers or something like that.

2. bloody rotten corks:
In the last year we had 10-20% of our whisky bottles with rotten corks. Of course our whisky dealer exchanges the bottles but you get no compensation for the disappointment. I think many wouldn't believe it, but a rotten cork can ruin even the heavy taste of a Lagavulin. The bad cork problem is not related to special distilleries.  We had Lagavulin, Bunnahabhain, Laphroaig, Dalwhinnie and one or two other bottles which were ruined. I think there should be a law that whisky distilleries get the best cork. Then come the other liquors and wines. And the manufacturers of girly plateau shoes, isolating stuff for walls and floors have to make the best out of the rest. Perhaps they could use recycled whisky corks (nice scent!).

Bye and may your whisky bottles ever be at least half full.

Klaus
 

E-pistle #2000/14 - Old Favourites
Submitted on 24/05/2000 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Next Meeting: 24 May 2000 - "OLD FAVOURITES"
Case studies in Score Variations - disclosed versus blind.
Nice to get reacquainted with solid and serviceable malts.

Tamdhu 10 is interesting, mainly because the size of variation between its score disclosed versus blind is so huge, but it happens with other malts as well although not so dramatically.  Balvenie 10 is another case in point, although in the other direction, "overrated when known".  The Club has sampled the Balvenie 10 on 8 occasions with the 'new' Balvenie 10 being the blind on all occasions it was the traditional blind.  The time we had both old and new versions together (February 1997) the scores were very close (7.03 versus 7.05) with the 'new' coming out ever so slightly but not significantly ahead.  This comes as a bit of a shock to me as I reckon the 'old' version is a 1/2 point better whisky, but obviously the rest of the club don't.

As a disclosed malt the Balvenie 10 has averaged 7.02 over 5 occasions since May 1990 and only 6.75 as a blind. (Macallan 12 also shows this tendency but not as starkly (7.32 B vs 7.54 D))  I think this, when compared with Tamdhu 10, indicates that every experienced maltster has a range of scores they award 10 year old Speysides, (simply because they are 10 year old Speysides) and when such a malt is on the agenda an appropriate score is allocated.  As evidence look at how close the disclosed scores are for the 2 malts in question (Tamdhu 10 6.85 versus Balvenie 10 7.02).  I also expect that the tendency to overrate Balvenie when disclosed and underrate Tamdhu relates to the reputation of the distillery and brand recognition.  Other malts that fit the "underrated as disclosed" criterion include Highland Park 12 (7.18 B vs 6.92 D) which dents my theory about reputation and brand recognition and Inchgower 12 (7.27 B vs 6.83 D) which confirms it!

With some other SMS the blind and disclosed scores are remarkably similar, indicating the performance of the malt matches reputation and expectation.  These include Bowmore 12 (7.23 B vs 7.26 D), Bunnahabhain 12 (7.31 B vs 7.38 D), and Lagavulin 16 (7.61 B vs 7.69 D).  Talisker 10, interestingly enough falls into this category as well (7.60 B vs 7.65 D).  Thus I think that both Lagavulin 16 and Talisker 10 fully deserve their place in the Club pantheon and Tamdhu 10 is a worthy companion on the agenda as no other Speyside 10 gets close to scoring 7.44 as a blind, making it an extremely good performer for the money.
 

May 24th "Old Favourites & High Scoring Blinds"  -  Report Card

Talisker 10 - the litre bottling is much more recognizeably Talisker than the current 700ml release which just smells like a highland with an above average peating level, maybe Glengarioch  the one from the litre bottle had the smoke and pepper we all know and love. If you find the litre bottle anywhere buy it and try it against the 700ml.  I bet you notice a difference.  On this night it was a good dram and deserving of the reverence in which it has always been held.  Score 8.3

Tamdhu 10 - very impressive. This was a pre 1992 bottling and it had a depth of flavour not found in too many 10 year old speysides.  It was also smooth and held up in the glass remarkably well.  Definitely had some funky fudge and gravy aromas along with nuts, marzipan, toffee and cream in the tail.  Excellent for a 10 year old Speyside.  Score 8.0

Lagavulin 16 - basicaslly the same story as Talisker.  The litre bottling is much peatier than the current 700ml release.  I can attest to this with some certainty as the Streah just happened to have the 700ml Lagavulin on the Wednesday immediately past.  That one took twenty minutes to develop any of the garden bonfires in the nose that used to leap out of the glass as soon as it got within a foot of your olfactory gear.  The litre one was much more redolent of the tar and leather and carbolic I expect in a Lagavulin.  I guess the lesson is clear - buy the litre bottling, it is better. Score 8.5

The Blind – Longmorn 15 -  Selected by me and guessed right by a few. 
A few thought it might be Highland Park or even Bruichladdich 15.  It was nice but not THAT good. 
Better than a lot and good value at the moment,  Score 8.0

Craig
 
 

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