Malt Maniacs E-zine

Malt Maniacs #011

HarLeM Foundation & Manifest
prE-pistle #2000/15 by Klaus Everding, Germany

The first prE-pistle of this issue comes from our sixth and freshest malt maniac; Klaus Everding (Germany). The name of his club is HarLeM; the name of a New York neighborhood that was named after... a city in Holland, not far away from (old) Amsterdam... Coincidence or not?

My First Official Report
prE-pistle #2000/16 by Roman Parparov, Israel

After his first report as a 'foreign correspondent in MM#10 Roman whipped up a second prE-pistle in a matter of months.

Summer of 2000 - Parts I & II
prE-pistle #2000/17 by Louis Perlman, USA

Louis faithfully keeps us posted on his recent liquid discoveries. I would love to mention a few highlights, but since Louis doesn't give scores I'm not sure which ones he liked best ;-)

Ardbeg 8yo - Four Times Over
prE-pistle #2000/18 by Klaus Everding, Germany

Klaus discovered that there can be huge differences between four different eight years old expressions from Ardbeg distillery.

Raiding the Vaults - Off the Beaten Track
prE-pistle #2000/19 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Craig manages to find a nice mix between reviews of relatively 'standard' bottlings and obscure material. This time he reviews Glencadam, Royal Brackla and Imperial.

An Indian's Pilgrimage to Islay
prE-pistle #2000/20 by Krishna Nukala, India

Hurray! We now have a team member in Asia as well. On a 'continental' level we now cover most of the globe - only Africa (and perhaps South America) are still 'blank' on our world map...

HarLeM July Tasting
prE-pistle #2000/21 by Klaus Everding, Germany

Our fresh German maniac attacks the whisky world with a vengeance. His first 'big' tasting report goes straight for a few 'advanced' malts like Strathisla, Ben Nevis, Glengoyne and Speyburn...

Rating Single Malts
prE-pistle #2000/22 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

To the outside observers the topic of rating single malts might seem like a nerdy one, but especially since we started publishing our scores on the Malt Maniacs Matrix we've been thinking about it a lot.

Summer of 2000 - Part III
prE-pistle #2000/23 by Louis Perlman, USA

As we sample more and more malts, we try to seek out more of the obscure material - like Aultmore, Miltonduff and North Port.

Woodwinds Orchestra
prE-pistle #2000/24 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Another very well-written contribution from Craig. I have to admit I almost feel like a 'shadow member' of the Earls of Zetland by now.

Next IssuePrevious Issue

Malt Maniacs #011 - August 1, 2000

In the second issue of 2000 we made another step forward in our goal of creating a truly global on-line community. Our fresh foreign correspondent Krishna Nukala from India has already promised to write more contributions, and starts off with an enthusiastic report of his recent visit to Scotland - Islay to be precise.

So, we now have seven members in our team.
I think that we'll have to disconnect our 'collective' efforts from my purely personal stuff on Malt Madness somehow - maybe even start a separate 'Malt Maniacs' website if we can find a few more whisky freaks who are eager to spread the word.

Of course, pointing other people to the best buys in single malts isn't the smartest thing to do. The harsh economic laws of supply and demand could very well cause the prices of the bottles that we like the most to go up eventually. So, apart from spending lots of time on these E-pistles (time that we could have spent drinking more whisky ;-) they could eventually cost us money...

Well, I can't speak for the other members of the dramming crew, but I can still afford to be generous about it. The internet boom is slowly turning into an internet crash, but that's exactly why more and more companies start to understand they need some good advice about e-business. That's a service I happen to provide, so I've got plenty of work for the forseeable future - and therefor plenty of discretionary income. It would be wise to invest that money wisely, but I'll probably spend it on bottles instead ;-)

Speaking of which...
I've recently upgraded my old 'Best-to-Worst List' (an overview of all the single malt whiskies I've tried, ranked from best to worst) to a Hit List which focuses on the very top of the list. The entire list just grew too long for a single HTML page. And that's it for now; I hope you enjoy the articles in our whiskE-zine.

Sweet drams,

Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs

E-pistle #2000/15 - HarLeM Foundation & Manifest
Submitted on 05/06/2000 by Klaus Everding, Germany

OK, here comes the story anbout the foundation of our club and the manifest.

Hamburg 1998, foundation of HarLeM
Autumn 1998 – birthday party of Doc Michi:

In a quiet corner three people met who shared the same secret pleasure – the love for single malts.
But the tasting of single malts is an expensive hobby. 10/bottle is normal. Due to that fact they had consumed only a few well known malts. But this soon became history. They planned the foundation of a private whisky tasting society. And their plan for the years to come was to boldly go where no whisky-taster has gone before.

11/14/98, apartment of Doc Michi, first tasting session

When we started we had only the book from Michael Jackson, the Edinburgh malt whisky tour in the WWW and our own small experience as guiding lines. Contact to whisky shops with a large range of different malts was not established. And there was also the problem to get good tasting and nosing glasses. Anyway, things had to get going. We solemnly signed our foundation manifest (see later) and sharpened our pencil to fill out the tasting forms (see later).

Macallen 12y – Oban 14y – Laphroaig 10y were on the program – a short visit to Speyside, the Highlands and Islay.

We started with the Macallen 12y which is known to be the sweetest and fruitiest malt. Colour: dark amber
Fragrance: very complex composition of fruits and wood with notes of sherry, grapes and malt, a hint of vanilla and honey.
Taste: a liquid poem, beautiful development
the start: Easy going. A stroll on a fruit market. I can't put my finger on a special fruit
middle: sweet with sherry and malt, toffees
finish: glowing peat fires - the taste lasts very long. Score: one of the most delicate fruity whiskies I know.
Pure fun, especially on campfires in summer. The 12 y old Mac should be in the vaults of every serious malt fan.

The next whisky was a western highland malt Oban 14y
Colour: gold
Fragrance: fruity, malty, fresh wood, a note of tobacco and a hint of rum-aroma, very alcoholic.
Doc Michi said that he didn't like the smell at all. "Smells a bit like a fart and like rubber", was his judgement.
Taste: After a rather expressionless malt note there is a short flicker of fruits and mint. Finish with smoke and peat and pronounced wooden bitterness. Score: This malt is no winner. Ok, – I would drink it but never would I spend my money for it.

The last whisky was a true heavy weight, – Laphroaig 10y, – no half measures!
Colour: amber
Fragrance: smoky, peaty, tar, seaweed, a very reticent fruity note
Taste: smoke, tar medicine, a bit peaty. This is like a campfire of driftwood on the sea. Very heavy and long lasting.

When you intend to kiss your wife or girlfriend after consumption of Laphroaig (even on the next morning) then she should either like the taste/smell or drink her own share. Score: marvellous – I love it – those heavy smoky notes. On the other hand I fear an equal share will hate it. There are no half measures. The ultimate whisky for rainy days in Hamburg.

By the way, during the prohibition Laphroaig was not forbidden. It was tolerated as medicine. Many people with stomach problems (i.e . they had overeaten) told me that their complaint vanished immediately after a glass of Laphroaig.

- - - - - - - - -

HarLeM Founding Manifest

Hamburg's ruhmreiche Liebhaber erlesener Malts (Hamburg's famous lovers of exquisite malts)

· Hamburg's ruhmreiche Liebhaber erlesener Malts (HarLeM) is a private association of friends of scottish single malt whiskies.

· The aim of the association is the tasting of whiskies and the provision of sufficient numbers of different malts for the tasting by the member.

.  HarLeM encourages the exchange of knowledge in the following areas: production of whisky, history of whisky, distillery knowledge and sensual judgement of whiskies. Furthermore the members encourage the training of palate and nose. So the tasting of whisky will be an even more satisfying experience.

· Every second Saturday in the month the members meet. Conference venue is the apartment of a member.
The host will always be chosen in  the previous meeting.

· The meetings will take place in a friendly  and calm atmosphere. Raising hell, smuggling of blended whiskies and vomiting in cause of excessive alcohol consumption can be punished with immediate  expulsion from HarLeM.

· During the first  3 months after the foundation of "Hamburg's ruhmreiche Liebhaber erlesener Malts" (HarLeM) the  admission fee is one bottle of good single malt. After that period  two bottles must be supplied to become a HarLeM member. Associate members pay only  1/3 of the fee for  full members.  Of course the associates don't have the same kind of access to our whisky vaults.

· The HarLem members commit themselves to pay reasonable amounts  for the enlargement and maintenance of  the whisky stocks. Concerning the whisky stocks it has to be kept in mind that HarLem is not willing to tolerate decrease of quality by oxidation in half empty bottles. These bottles must be finished soon.

Planned projects:

· A short survey "scottish single malts"
· a tour around the isles (Islay, Skye, Orkney)
· Glemorangie (sherry, port, madeira) simultaneous tasting  in one session
· Speyside: a paradise for whisky friends
· specialities (independent suppliers)
· age research (the taste of the  same whisky at different age)

Hamburg 11/14/'98, the founders


E-pistle #2000/16 - My First Official Report
Submitted on 11/06/2000 by Roman Parparov, Israel

I'm glad to join the Malt Madness Team, indeed as some "beginner taster"!
I wrote to you before that the first tasting and nosing of Longmorn 15 didn't impress me much. I took some time and made a more profound session with it. The nose was amazing. The spectre is just so wide, the intensity good. It's surely my second favorite nose after Lagavulin's peat. The taste has some oiliness and a tip of bitterness that put it below other single malts I tasted so far (Laga, Talisker 10, Balvenie 10 and Glenmorangie 10), but still very much enjoyable.

I very much hope I'm able to travel to Europe in the end of the summer.
If all is perfect I will do it as a business trip to Germany (Munich) which I will extend by a week or two for some traveling - which may just include the BeNeLux countries. If not then I'll go by myself and I am not decided yet where to go.

We're taking a break from whisky or anything stronger than white wine here in Israel.
It's +32C with 70% humidity in Tel Aviv and +35 in Jerusalem. It's going to be at least that bad for the next two weeks...
And the a/c in my apartment broke down. Anyways, my supplies are not good currently as well since no one of my friends went abroad recently. Hopefully during August I will get some 3-5 more bottles and then my own trip... :)


E-pistle #2000/17 - Summer of 2000 - Parts I & II
Submitted on 20/06/2000 by Louis Perlman, USA

OK, here goes:

Right now, I am a bit behind in putting together my tasting notes. Computer problems, taxes, some vacation, kids' birthdays, whatever.
1999 was a major year for me malt-wise, as my collection doubled, to about 60 bottles. This created a few problems. First, I am running out of room. Second, older bottles that were visited regularly started to change, usually for the worse. Some of the Speysides conerged to a some sort of generic malt, and others just plain fizzled out. And finally, most of my acquisitions were cask strength, so they don't get used up nearly as fast as regular bottles, which compounds problems 1 and 2. (Reply by Johannes: My collection has reached about the same proportions and I recognise the problems. A few malts improve after extensive breathing in the bottle, but most malts, especially older ones and cask strength bottlings, are best finished within six months or so. This means I have to either increase my alcohol intake or exercise more restraint when it comes to opening new bottles. See the Forum for a discussion on this subject.)

So my New Year's resolution was to go for quality over quantity, meaning fewer, more expensive bottles.
One my self declared austerity period expired on 3/1, I was only partially successful. At the top of the list was the Longrow 10yr. This is a lovely dram whisch was produced at the Springbank distillery. A very fragrant nose to start with. On the palate, it is very gently, with some sweet notes on a lightly peated underpinning. The finish is quite long. I haven't yet found everything the Michael Jackson lists in his updated guide, but I am sure that they'll emerge if I keep on trying. One note of caution though. DO NOT offer the Longrow to blend (or bourbon) loving friends to show how good an expensive single malt can be. Less assertive malts will be dismissed in this context. As my friend Islay Bob from the PLOWED page notes, this is a malt to be enjoyed, not analyzed.

But I couldn't resist just a couple of more Glenhavens. This particular line doesn't get nearly as much press as Cadenhead, Signatory and Adelphi, but they are very drinkable, and bargains to boot. Several of mine cost $40 or less, including the 23 year old Dalmore (beware though, there is also tremendous profiteering on Glenhavens in the NYC area, the Dalmore was offered for $195 at a place near my office). The two that I acquired were the Glenfarclas-Glenlivet 17, and the Highland Park 21. Both have significance for my next report, but are significant in their own right. (Comment by Johannes: Glenhavens aren't available here in Holland, which is a crying shame because a 23yo. Dalmore for U$ 40.- sounds like my kind of medicine.)

The GF was too tempting to pass up at the same price as the distillery 17. Coming in at an uncharateristicly low 53% (for a 17 year cask strength or a Glenhaven), it is easily drinkable without water. As such, it tastes exactly like would be expected of a 17 year Glenfarclas at higher proof. I know this is a cop out, but what can you do. It would be very interesting to do a HTH with the 105.
As for the HP, I knew about it from when I was putting together a previous order. I've collected a numer of cask strenght HP's, a Signatory 20 yr 1975, Adelphi 10yr, and  Glenhaven 10yr. The first two are a bit off the mark for an HP. The Signatory lacks the trademark honey and heather, and the Adelphi is somewhat lighter in all areas than the distillery offerings. But the Glenhaven is dead on. Every bit as rich as the distillery 12 and 18, and it set me back a mere $40. So I really couldn't resist the Glenhaven 21 at $75. I was expecting to be blown away, but things never work out the way they are supposed to. Yet another lighter HP, so it seemed. But I have learned by now, to always allow for break in before making a final judgement. So a couple of weeks later, things had picked up a bit. Still lighter than the 10yr and the distillery offerings, the 21 was showing it's pedigree. It was much more complex than the 10yr, which seemed one-dimensional by comparison. So this one is a keeper, and well suited for it's real purpose, which I will reveal in the next update.

(Reply by Johannes: Hmmmm.... Sounds mysterious...)

As promised, here is the next installment:

After a prolific first quarter of the new millenium, I wasn't planning any new acquisitions for a while. But then I stumbled across a terrific sale, and had no choice but to stock up. At the top of the list was the Highland Park 1977 200th anniversary bottling. I really wanted a high end HP, but the distillery 25 was a bit too much for my consience at $150-175. So when I discovered the 1977 at about two thirds the price (typically $105-115) and noticed that Michael Jackson actually rated it a point higher than the 25, I went for it.

My initial impression was that it was a really nice Highland Park. Just to be sure, I pulled out my bottle of the distillery 18. Well, the 1977 made the 18 taste like dishwater. BUT, this is something that has happenned to me with my other HP's as well. Both the 12 and 18 were extra good upon opening. I suspect that the funnel shape of the HP bottles has something to do with this, perhaps allowing the vapors to gather at the top, and become absorbed by the first dram. So I gave the 1977 a couple of weeks, and things had evened out a bit. Nonetheless, the 1977 is a very fine dram, and probably worth double the price of the 18. By the way, this is why I purchased the Glenhaven HP 21 that I mentioned in the previous update. I ended up with two bottles for the price of one, and they will last a heck of a lot longer.

Next bottle was the Dram Select Speyside 21, actually a 21yr Glenfarclas.
This one has a 'street price' of $60, a good bit less than the distillery offerring. The nose was typical of sherried Speysides.
The body was a touch lighter than medium, with the spiciness that Michael Jackson found in the Glenfarclas 21. The first comparison that comes to mind is with the (duh) Macallan 18. What's left of my three year old bottle has fizzled out, but I remember it being 'extry syrupy', with a huge, peppery finish. Nowadays, the Mac 18 is severely price gouged in the US, going for $75 or more. Anyway, these aren't exactly my favorite type of malts, but Dram Select is still disapearing rather quickly. Meanwhile, there's the Glenhaven Glenfarclas-Glenlivet 17 from my previous update. This is an interesting comparison, the extra 4 years vs higher proof. I would say that the 21 gets a few extra rating points over the 17, but I definitely enjoy drams at higher proof. To solve this dilemna, I drink them shotgun, a dram of each side by side!!

Moving on, we come to (drum roll, please) the first distillery release from the Isle of Arran. There is no age statement, but it is said to be 8 years old. Also, it seems to have matured rather quickly, due to reflected heat from the surrounding granite mountains. One thing I can say, is that it isn't like anything I might have imagined. Nothing in common with any other island malt, the IoA is light bodied, smooth and creamy, with a vey warming finish. There is a bit of peat, which comes fom the water, since the whisky is otherwise unpeated. It reminds me of my Glencadam Cadenhead. This one has joined my warm weather, daytime contingent. Regarding price, it is going in the high $40's. If you are budget constrained, I really don't think that it's worth that much. But if  $10 or so of that is allocated for pride of ownership, I would say go for it. After all, how do you put a price on being first one on the block with a hot new bottling? (Comment by Johannes: The Isle of Arran has become available in Holland recently - for only 60 guilders at my favorite liquorist. The reason I didn't pick it up on sight is that I have some negative emotions about this malt. A few years back, a very aggressive salesman from (if memory serves) the company John Devereaux in London tried to sell me a a cask of the stuff. His approach was so annoying that I couldn't bring myself to pick up the bottle last time I saw it, but I suppose curiosity will get the better of me soon.)

And now a couple of things to close. I have always been interested in Craigellachie, based of descriptions I have seen.
The only one available in the US has been a Cadenhead, at $80+. That was a little rich for my wallet, but the sale included a Scott's Selection for somewhat less. As advertised, rich, being both fruit and oaky.  And finally, one bottle that's easy on the budget. I was at a friends, and he wanted to toast somewthing or the other. Out came a bottle of Glen Garrioch 8. Very pleasant actually. Slightly grassy with a light smoky underpinning. Perhaps it would become boring aftr a while, but perfect for guests who may not care.
A steal at <=$20, and blows away blends at this price.


E-pistle #2000/18 - Ardbeg 8yo - Four times over
Submitted on 26/06/2000 by Klaus Everding, Germany

Hi Malt Madnes fellows,

Greetings from Hamburg. The reason why I mail you (and the others)  is a description of a special tasting session which I had together with a friend: Ardbeg signatory vintage 1991 8y in different flavours:

a) Ardbeg Signatory vintgage 1991 8y 43% cask 611-615 bottle 2261/2360
b) same cask 624&626 bottle 1086/1688
c) same - don't know the other values
d) Ardbeg Signatory vintage 1991 8y 60.2% cask 616 bottle 96/320

The 8y old Ardbeg is a real winner. "Smoke!"  it says a little cheeky. "I am a real Ardbeg." Well, - this might be true considering the smokieness and peatyness. But the young one lacks the developement of his older brothers. This stuff tastes more like the Laphroaig 10y. Crazy, you might say, 3-4 times the same whisky. But there was the influence of the casks:

a) is by far the best:
Colour: very pale and slightly green
Aroma: smoky, peaty, medicine. A mixture of ashtray and sticking plaster. But there is also an unobtrusive fresh grass note.
Taste: comes immediately to the point: extreme smoky and peaty, a night at the sea with a campfire from tary oily wood. 
No other nuances. Real afterburner!

b) and c) resemble the winner a)  but  the delicate smoke and peatyness is less pronounced. An unpleasant spirity note comes to life.
I guess that the bigger casks (this is at least true for b)) might be the reason.

d)  I expected that the taste of the cask strength Ardbeg would be more intense than his 43%-brothers.  But to my disappointment nothing happened. The only difference to b) and c) was  the strong presence of spirit. Well there is 30% more alcohol in it. A dillution had no influence on the malt except for a decrease in taste. The cask strenth dilluted to 43% tasted not half as good as Ardbeg 8y a) and was poorer than b) and c).  Altogether the cask strength was a disappointment. Perhaps an 8y old whisky should not be aged in the hogshead (250 l cask).


E-pistle #2000/19 - Raiding the Vaults
Submitted on 28/06/2000 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Imperial and Glencadam are both in the Allied Distillery stable and are very much producers for the blended market.  I have never seen an official release as a single from either. Royal Brackla, until very recently was owned by Diageo (United Distillers & Vintners) but was recently sold to Bacardi.  There have been official releases from Brackla but they have been forgettable in the extreme.  The G&M offering is much more tasty than the UD Flora & Fauna release which had to be the most insipid Speyside around after the ubiquitious Glenfiddich.  The Imperial 15 is from James MacArthur, a minor independent label, that has still managed to have some beauties in its stable.  I have had all of them before and they are all interesting without being exceptional.  The Brackla is the pick, but the Imperial has some left field wood qualities to it that might intrigue a few. Glencadam has been mothballed recently so another in contention for the "silent stills' theme night.

June 28th  "Raiding The Vaults - Off The Beaten Track"  -  Report Card

Glencadam 12 - When I indicated that I thought this malt ordinary, I was accused (by some unkind souls) of unloading a malt I didn't want on the club.  As it turns out it wasn't as mediocre as I recalled and I realised that I no longer had a Glencadam in my 'distillery collection'.  It wasn't bad and I would've preferred to hang on to it.  The nose started subdued but with a slight hint of sour toffee and a distant whiff of dry herbs.  As the nose opened up there were some more dry woody notes and a definite hint of stone fruit, maybe young cherries.  The palate was medium firm with a bourbon wood reprise and a sour warming finish.  Flat in the company.  Acceptable, but not stellar.   Score 7.6

Royal Brackla 14 - much more impactful malt overall: definitely more rounded and 'in your face' than the Glencadam.  Lots of Highland (rather than Island) peat, unusual in a Speyside but perhaps reflecting distilling mores 30 + years ago: pity more around now don't have a decent whack of peat.  Initially the nose showed burnt toffee & a lifted minty caramel edge.  Then some honey and more fudge.  The palate was earthy with a smudgey peat, lots of nutty notes and a sour finish.  Funky & interesting and the toffee notes lasted a long time in the finish.   Score 7.9

Imperial 15 - I'm still not sure about this one.  I seem to like it when it's fresh and when it's been in the glass 30 minutes plus, but not in between, when there seem to be too many over-extracted wood notes.  Starts nice and mild with a faintly fruity nose; custard apples which segue into vanilla slice and something like avocado.  Then comes lots of stripped pine notes and a strong hint of camphor.  I got the bay leaves/menthol/chalkiness of camphor the first time I tried it at the Streah (16 Feb 2000), so it wasn't (just) my imagination.  After resting a while the dominant note in the nose is chalk/dry herbs - thyme and sage?  The fruitiness goes from the nose, but stays in the palate and finish.  Pretty complex.  Score 8.0

The Blind – Springbank 12 100 Proof -  Selected by David LeCornu and guessed right by yours truly.  David tried hard to hide it amongst some exclusive and imaginative creations and managed to fool almost everybody.  I was pretty sure it was an OP when it got within 6 inches of the olfactory equipment.  I know a lot thought it might be a sherried Bowmore, but I for one didn't find near enough peat, however given my failure to spot Lagavulin in the competition, this leaves me on shaky grounds.  I must apologise to the Laird, for an intemperate outburst upon his choice of Bowmore,  I realise with the benefit of hindsight that exclaiming 'anyone who thinks it's a Bowmore needs a nose rebore' could be found to be offensive.  I like this whisky and when I called it 'fat, hot whisky' this wasn't derogatory.   It has a seriously minty sherry nose with some sour notes. Develops a faint hint of eucalyptus.  The nose is very,very nice.  Score 8.4


E-pistle #2000/20 - An Indian's Pilgrimage to Islay
Submitted on 08/07/2000 by Krishna Nukala, India

Single malt whisk(e)y is practically not known in India but I fell in love with this elixir in 1994 in New York City, USA.
Since then I was not the same man. I am so obsessed with single malts that, I not only taste these "thoroughbreds" but make it a point to visit the "temples" from where they are distilled. After drinking a dram of Lagavulin 16yo accidentally in London in 1998, I was so moved  that the next thing I did was to make a pilgrimage to Islay the next day. I met Mike Nicholson in the distillery and it was an education to be in the man's company.

Here's my E-pistle on my above pilgrimage:

Having completed my official programme during my recent sojourn to Europe I was contemplating whether to pursue a long standing dream of mine or return home quietly. The idea of returning home appeared too unadventurous and so I decided on the idea of pursuing my long standing dream - the dream of making a pilgrimage to the land where the ultimate elixir is produced. Yes, make a pilgrimage to the home of single malts - Scotland. With idyllic settings of  rolling  meadows, countless number of lochs, crystal clear streams, green valleys and above all warm, friendly people, Scotland has enough attractions to offer. Having decided to go on a trail in pursuit of uisge beatha - I was a little confused which part of the country I should  visit, whether the Northern Highlands, Speyside, Lowlands or the Islands. All these are the home of finest single malts each offering its unique style and taste. My instinct lead my finger on the Scottish map to the southernmost island of Hebrides - The Isle of Islay.

Islay is the home of eight single malts each characterising its own style with no compromises.
The eight jewels of the island are ArdbegBowmore, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Lagavulin, Laphroaig (Prince Charles'  favourite) and Port Ellen. A tiny island situated about 60 kilometres into the Atlantic from the main land, Islay is well accessible by Caledonian Macbrayne shipping and ferry services.

The journey from Glasgow by bus takes one through one of the most beautiful terrain of Scotland along Loch Lomond, the largest of the country's lochs by surface area. It took me three hours before reaching Kennercraig, the starting point of the ferry. M.V. Isle of Arran, the ship which shuttles between Kennercraig and Islay has already berthed and awaiting for the passengers. When I sat on  the bench on the open deck of  the ship and looked around the idyllic surrounding, certain peace descended upon me and  for a moment I thought my decision to make this pilgrimage was not bad after all. The ship reached Islay a full two and half hours later  and berthed at Port Askaig, the northernmost of the three  small ports on the island. Most of the passengers left by their cars and a few were left at the ferry terminus waiting for the bus to take them  into the island. My destination was Port Ellen which was 15 kilometres from Port Askaig and  I wrongly took a bus to Port Charlotte situated at the  other corner of the island. I got down from the bus and suddenly found that the wind was getting colder and not a soul to be seen anywhere. The only creatures around were the cows and sheep grazing on the meadows around. I felt as though I was at the end of the world and time stood still.

Suddenly a car approached from nowhere and I took courage to thumb it down.  A couple were travelling and as luck would  have it, they were going to Port Ellen and offered me a lift. I checked in to "The Trout Fly" bread and breakfast hotel owned by a cheerful couple. Since my stay was short I requested Mr. Hedley, the owner of the hotel to fix for an appointment to visit the Lagavulin distillery for the next day. There was no chance that I could visit all the distilleries in a short time. Then came the shock. The distilleries are not opened to public on weekends.  I reached the island on a Friday evening and my return ferry was on Sunday afternoon. I felt as though my whole effort was  wasted. I requested  Mr. Hedley whether he could arrange my visit to the distillery at once. The time was 5.30 P.M. Mr. Hedley contacted the distillery and after explaining that a person from India came all the way  to see the distillery, the manager of the distillery, who was calling it a day agreed to wait for me. The distillery was 4 kilometres away and Mr. Hedley was kind enough to take me in his car.  Mr. Mike Nicholson , the manager of the distillery was waiting for me. A man around the age of 55 years, Mr. Nicholson has been in the business of whisky distillation for about 30 years and is in charge of  Lagavulin distillery for the last three years. Incidentally,  Lagavulin is the premier brand among the single malts of United Distilleries which  also produces the famous White Horse.

Mr. Nicholson took me for the guided tour of the distillery for the next one hour and it was an education to be in this man's company.
Any layman knows that whisky is produced by a combination of water, barley (maize or rye) and yeast. Only connoisseurs or mad men go into further details of whisky making. The secrets of single malts slowly started unravelling to me as Mr. Nicholson explained how the water is sourced, the barley malted with the help of island's peat, the alcohol separated and finally, the most intriguing of all, how the whisky is matured. The whisky is matured in Oak casks which were previously used for maturing wines. The cask imparts the colour and its own flavour to whisky. The casks rest in the warehouses breathing the air from the Atlantic for full sixteen years!  May be it is the island's mystic nature of water, peat and ocean wind that makes this whisky so special.

In his office Mr. Nicholson pours a dram and offers me the glass.
My hands tremble, and I can hardly believe myself, holding the 16 year old in my hands, at the very source where it is produced.
I  bow my head, nose the remarkable stuff and take a sip with utmost reverence. It hits my palate and the velvet touch unfolds the taste of the entire character of the island. The whisky is bold. It has class.
I had never tasted a whisky of such class ever before.

On my way back  to India, when I was window shopping in the liquor section of the Duty Free shop at Heathrow airport, the sales girl was showing several makes  of single malts and was trying to sell me a bottle of Lagavulin.  I showed her my 16 year old  bought at the very source. It had the autograph of Mike Nicholson.

My next pilgrimage will be to Orkney by the end of August 2000 - and you can probably guess the "temple"!

Krishna Prasad Nukala

E-pistle #2000/21 - HarLeM July Tasting
Submitted on 09/07/2000 by Klaus Everding, Germany

Hamburg 7/8/00: Strathisla 12y, Glengoyne  10y,  Dalwhinnie 15y & several others

First session of my whisky tasting club after the holidays.
I was a little enthusiastic. More than 6 week without my malt friends. Time of abstinence. Only my personal stock  of malts to rely on.
The project for this evening was a hop over the highlands starting with Glengoyne in the south and ending with Glen Ord  to the north (see Johannes' beautiful interactive map of Scotland), all in a very civilized atmosphere. But there were some changes.
1. One whisky replaced: Glen Ord, which ranks high in Johannes' value for money list, was no longer available at my whisky shop. They had problems with their supplier. So I decided to buy a Strathisla from Speyside instead.
2. Civilized atmosphere? : When we had finished our regular two tasting rounds with the three malts all of us were still thirsty. So we decided to finish three other half empty bottles. Soon one after the others dropped out. I managed to stay awake till the end but my memories are a little bit dim.
Ok, - enough of the preliminaries. Here comes the report.

Strathisla 12y 43%
I think almost every malt fan has seen pictures of the Strathisla distillery. The pagoda style malting floor is really beautiful. Another interesting point is the whisky bottle. Strathisla doesn't use the standard whisky bottle type. They have flat bottles (almost like amaretto). I like this design, its my number three after the bottles of Glen Rothes and Balvenie. A slight disadvantage is bad pouring behaviour.
Colour:  full gold. Like many other distilleries the guys at Strathisla use colouring  (something made from sugar.
I don't know the English term) to get a reproducible hue.
Nose: Very intense aroma. Malt and fruits, sweet but not the typical pointed Speyside sweetness.
There is also a clear note of fresh pipe tobacco (unflavoured stuff).
Taste: first sweet, some peat  and maybe  some toffees. This is what happens on the tongue. Not very impressive but that's the best part of the malt. When the liquid reaches the throat it is sharp and burns (even after the second 4cl glass). Now to the  praised finished: in almost every whisky book I read about a long soothing finish. Bullshit! There's nothing like that. The only noticeable  impression was an unpleasant bitter note which luckily soon vanished. My friends can confirm this judgement.
Score: Nice bottle, nice aroma, but the taste is hardly acceptable. Definitely not a winner. There is just one small hope for the Strathisla. This judgement is made on a  fresh opened bottle. I have made the experience that the taste and the nose gets better when you give the malt 1- 2 weeks to breath.  I received my best results on 80% full bottles, 3 weeks open.

Glengoyne 10y
The distillery of Glengoyne lies on the imaginary border between Highlands and Lowland. Glengoyne is the only distillery which uses unpeated  malt and unpeated water for the  production of their malts. Colour: Pale gold
Nose: very pleasant fragrance. Fruits (ripe and more then ripe ones), honey and toffee.
Taste: very simple sweet and fruity taste. Some hints of toffee and coffee.  Vanishes quickly.
Score: Again a whisky whose smell is better than the taste. This stuff tastes like a Lowland whisky (no wonder) and I don't like the Lowlands either. If someone gave me a bottle as present, I would use it as aperitif but not for stand alone tasting.

Dalwhinnie 15y
Dalwhinnie comes in a nice bulbous bottle. The distillery lies in the middle of the Highland. Colour: full gold
Nose: sweet and fruity, honey, citrus and bergamot notes. The citrus notes are responsible for a slightly pungent impression.
Taste:  sweet, the fruits are citrus fruits maybe some mint too. There is also a spicy note  but I can't describe the spiciness. It reminds me of the Christmas cookies named "Spekulatius" which are available in Germany. The finish is slightly smoky and peaty
Score: Best whisky of the three ones officially tested during this session. Scent and taste was ok.  I said ok, and this means I would like to have this malt in my collection but spending money for it at the whisky shop, - no chance!

After we had finished two rounds with the three whiskies on the program all were thirsty for more. And there was the half empty Ben Nevis in the shelves. It seemed to whisper: "Release me. I want to please your taste buds."  We couldn't withstand this request. So here it comes:

Ben Nevis Signatory Vintage 1990 bottle 139/775 9y old
Ben Nevis comes in the typical SigVin sheet metal tube and standard whisky bottle.  The distillery gets its water from Scotland's highest peak in the Western Highlands.
Colour: intensive old gold
Nose: hard to define – surely there is fresh wood to be smelled (sandalwood not pine, oak or cedar). Then there is a spicy impression and a reserved fruity note (raisins?) finishes the bouquet. 
Taste: The first impression is sweetness followed a spicy note. Sandalwood (a wood note which lacks bitterness), nuts and toffees are also present. The taste is a bit unbalanced and the worst of all, you swallow the malt and everything is over within seconds. No aftertaste!
Score: The Ben Nevis 1990 SigVin is an interesting malt but it should have stayed for some years in the cask. A 12 or 16 year old Ben Nevis should have the potential to become a really marvellous whisky. Some day I will try to verify this assumption.

By now everyone had finished 8 well filled glasses of malt. Time to discuss the ranking before it was too late.
Here comes the result.
- no whisky with state of art status tested this evening
- ranking: Dalwhinnie and Ben Nevis are the best ones ( 2 people voted for Dalwhinie 2 for Ben Nevis). Strathisla and Glengoyne are the loosers (also 2 times Strathisla and two times Glengoyne)

Walter, our philosopher, left the tasting team. He feared he would violate our tasting society rules (no puking allowed) and decideded to go homes. To be true, when I went to the balcony to smoke a cigarette I too had the impression of heavy seas. But me  and the two remaining members were brave.
We put an eye on the Bunnahabhain 12y. Time for the trinklied "Westering home".
Concerning the Bunnahabhain there is a short story I want to tell you.

When I was at the university my friend Carsten graduated and made his PhD. Me and some other guys from the university were invited for the celebration. There was the problem of the present for the party and I had a nasty idea. I knew that Carsten loved Bunnahabhain single malt and so I bought a bottle for him. Now comes the mean part: I also bought a bottle of Mümmelmann, a low cost version of the terrible German herb-flavoured liqueur named Jägermeister. I exchanged the content of the bottles after washing them out thoroughly. When we handed the presents to Carsten some of my bolder friends asked for a Mümmelmann. Graciously Carsten filled the glasses but rejected biddings for a Bunnahabhain. The poor fellow hadn't noticed our trick yet. For our vindication I must confess that we pointed out to Carsten that he should take a closer look at the "Mümmelmann" drinks (golden liquid instead of  brown almost violet colour) and maybe sniff at glasses. When he realized what had happened he immediately confiscated the "Mümmelmann" bottle. But he was man enough to let us finish our drinks although I fear every drink was a wound to his heart.

But now back to my HarLeM malt tasting session with three members almost drunken as a lord. My report relies on an earlier tasting session of Bunnahabhain since my tasting buds and my conciousness were far from perfect.

Bunnahabhain 12y - Nice bulky bottle (almost like a port wine) with a cord on the cardboard tube. So the container is a very easy to carry. The text of the song "westering home" is printed on the container. This whisky comes from Islay my favourite region for malts.  But I don't think that Bunnahabhain is typical for Islay.
Colour: full gold
Nose: interesting and very aromatic. Sweetness and the impression of rotten leaves, the stickiness of honey and resin.
There is also a distinct  aldehyde  note and some wood.
Taste: It starts with sweetness. The middle tones are more complex: toffees, coffee and some wood  form the main impression. The finale is written in soft smoke and peat notes. Score: This is not the kind of whisky I would expect from Islay. It lacks the pronounced peatiness and smokiness. Maybe the water which is used for the production of the malt is the reason. Bunnahabhain imports its water from the main land.

I have to confess that I gave myself the biggest share when it was my turn to divide the remaining content of the bottle.
Bunnahabhain is really nice, although not in my Top Ten.

Now it was Heino's turn to leave. The reason ,- not the degree of his drunkenness but the last train to his home in the suburbs of  Hamburg. Only Doc Michi and me remained. His girl friend was still away visiting a friend. He secretly told me: "Dagmar (his girl friend) always tells me that I'm soo sweet when I have drunken a bit too much.." "You're right", I replied , "same is true for Marlou (my girl friend). Well- let's make our girl friends a bit happier. There is the bottle of Speyburn, almost finished, just enough for a final drink for us."

Speyburn 10y
No real report about this one. Every time I've tried  this malt it was late in the evening.
Just a few words: seems to be a typical Speyside malt, - sweetness and fruits, - lasts not very long...
But the price is ok (20 € for the 0.7 l bottle)

Home at last. I have finished this report. It turned out to be longer than expected. Hope you are not bored by it. As I read the lines again I fear one could get the impression that my malt tasting society HarLeM is a club of heavy drunkards. This is not true. You might say that we pursue our efforts on the field of malts with German grundlichkeit as Johannes stated, but to get drunk in style is not our main goal.


E-pistle #2000/22 - Rating Single Malts
Submitted on 23/07/2000 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

This July 2000 Malt Madness update began as a e-mail exchange with Richard Block, a student in Texas who is surviving his student days drinking 1,000+ day old blended Scotch.  I've had my share of blends and found that a perfectly vile blend can be rendered somewhat drinkable by the addition of a portion of Laphroaig 10.

Richard and I got onto the subject of rating whiskies, and I have to say, I'm beginning to wonder about the value of ratings.  I use Michael Jackson's book to help me decide about new malts, but I know how to adjust his scores to my tastes, and he has a pretty comprehensive list.  I know he grossly over-rates the sherried whiskies, and grossly under-rates the Lowlanders and apéritif types. We're trying to develop a consistent scoring system for Malt Madness, but tasting is so personal I wonder if we will ever do it.  I also have to ask, why do we rate whisky?  We can remember anything that's truly memorable, so the reason to score whiskies must be to help others decide if they should buy an unknown bottle or not.  If this is the case, since taste is so subjective, probably a scale of 0 to 10 is all we really need.

I like the way Whisky Magazine rates the whiskies on a 1 to 10 scale (with quarter points allowed so it is really a 40 point scale). It's interesting that the same whisky will occasionally be rated differently by the same taster in different contexts.  I guess this shows they're being honest, and I was delighted to see them publish the details of a tasting where the illustrious Michael Jackson mistook the blended Famous Grouse for Macallan and Macallan 10 for Bruichladdich. Jackson attributed his error to the fact that there is a lot of Macallan in Famous Grouse. "Not so" says Craig. Tamdhu and some Highlanders with a touch of Macallan as top dressing.  But the rumours of Macallan in FG have started and I'll bet a lot of posers will be tasting it there "spontaneously."

Richard scores his whiskies on a scale of 0 to 100. "As you know, I'm not down on blends," he says, "so I rate 'em as I see 'em.  Most of the crappy ones rate 5 - 15, some of the better ones ...  30 - 60, the really good ones in the 70's to low 80s, the best in the 90s and Royal Salute 21 --- 96!!!"  I too would like to have the subtlety of nose to be able to use the whole 100 points, but in the mean time I have to say it's pretty rare for me to award the same score to a whisky at different tastings.  Overall, though, the distribution is pretty consistent. (Comment by Johannes: For me, 'ratings' are a helpful way to quantify a nosing and tasting experience, making it easier to give a certain malt its rightful place in the cosmic order of things. I think we can all agree that preferences in the field of taste and smell are personal (and cultural) by definition. I don't care too much for cooked carrots or spinach, but there seem to be people out there who like it.)

Admittedly, there are a few pitfalls, but I think ratings can be very useful als long as we take them for what they are - a way to express and communicate purely personal malt preferences in numerical form. Please keep in mind that my 1-100 scale includes blended whiskies, and I need quite a few points to express the difference between Ballantine's and Lagavulin 16yo. old. See my 'system' page for details.)

Without realising it, I have become part of a whisky tasting group here in Ottawa.  We don't have a name and we don't rank the whiskies we drink.  Mainly John, Al, Richard and I get together for camaraderie and to enjoy a few malts, usually at the Barley Mow.  The most recent evening was memorable mostly for the sullen waitress, and her inability to understand the need for nosing-type glasses.  We tried, among others, Benrinnes (very spicy), Longmorn (mmm... , sweet and peaty) and Benriach (OK), then finished off with several Lagavulins, which Richard had ordered on arriving, then left untouched in order to save our palates for the more delicate others.

Next event is August 11 when we will retire to a local park with bottles and bags to spend a day playing wino.  When we achieve face-down drunkenness, our wives will pick us up and drag us home.  Richard (Block) thinks I'm too old for this tomfoolery.  Then he reconsiders "Oh wait a sec... you're never too old for a dram of Lagavulin!!!!"  I'll let him know around the middle of August.

I waded into the "self-styled connoisseur" controversy by dropping a line to Bowmore's Derek Gilchrist asking him how I could become enough of a connoisseur to enjoy their malts.  I had an immediate reply from one of his colleagues saying he was on vacation but would reply on return.  Perhaps if he was ready for vacation his scathing attack on Internet malt groups was just a symptom of burn-out. For those who don't read it until 3 years from now, this issue has been well covered on all the malt discussion groups and should be in their archives. Essentially, in a response to a query regarding unpleasant flavours in some Bowmores (and I have to admit, I can't taste them) Mr. Gilchrist said that many of the self-styled connoisseurs on the Internet don't know what they're talking about (this, by the way, is true), and that there were no problems with Bowmore products. He went on to say that Bowmore will take legal action against websites that post negative comments about Bowmore products. My comment that if his nose was as snotty as his attitude, it's no wonder he needs a chromatograph to identify his Bowmores, elicited zero comments when posted to the MALTS-L group.

This may be a symptom of the burgeoning number of discussion groups.
Over the last year I have noted a decided drop-off in activity on individual whisky discussion sites, as more and more discussions groups emerge.  It looks like the growing numbers of sites are fragmenting the core group of contributors and reducing the contributions to each.  It'll be too bad if some of the older sites don't survive the competition.  Already is dead, and it looks like the Howff will soon follow.  The Whisky Magazine site, even though well-seeded by WM-originating messages also seems fairly inactive. 
What's your favourite discussion group?  Let me know.

Anyhoo, I'm taking the month of August off. Will do some camping with my son and malt buying in Cape Cod and Vermont.
Also expect to do a lot of tasting getting the palate ready for the fall and the beginning of the new drinking season. 

May slip in a few Belgian beers, another vice introduced to me by Johannes!

All for now,


E-pistle #2000/23 - Summer of 2000 - Part III
Submitted on 23/07/2000 by Louis Perlman, USA

When summer arrives, the more intense Islay's stop working for me, especially Lagavulin and Laphroaig.
So for this summer, I decided to work my way thru the lighter malts in my collection. Since almost all of these are cask strength bottlings, I paired them off, and will compare one pair each week.

Leading off were the Miltonduff 12yr Cadenhead (60%), and the Glen Rothes 12yr Adelphi (56.5%). Both pack a lot of heat, a splash of water is mandatory with these two. The Miltonduff was my first cask strength bottle. I decided that I 'needed' one, and asked for a recommendaton at Park Ave.  Herb recommended the MD, saying that something more intense wouldn't be a good choice for a first timer. Well, once I opened the bottle, the first two sips put me into orbit. I remember eventually waking up feeling like I'd put away about half of a regular bottle, even though total consumption was barely an ounce. In another six months though, I managed to get things under control, not really being affected by the higher proof. Just as an aside, I have a friend who has a reputation as a boozer. Once when he was over, I offered him the Miltonduff. He promptly downed an ounce, and pronounced it to be really good. He than asked for doubles, which he also threw straight down. Finally, I suggested that he try the Springbank 12/92, which he liked even better. And you couldn't tell that he'd had anything!!

Back to the matter at hand, I remember the Miltonduff as being somewhat fruity. Michael Jackson says flowery, and I can go along with that. The Glen Rothes is indeed crisp and fruity, with light spice underpinnings. If you think that you'd like the Miltonduff, I would recommend a standard strength bottling, but I like the Glen Rothes. At around $60, it's reasonably priced, relative to the distillery bottlings, althought there is a Hart Brothers CS currently available that goes for even less.

Round 2: Bruichladdich 21 (distillery) and Scott's Selection 12 (55.3%).
When I got started with SMS, I didn't bother with Bruichladdich, figuring that an un-intense Islay would be a contradiction in terms. But after reading various tasting notes, it seemed like this was perhaps the ultimate summer dram. Perfect for a late afternoon near the ocean, with the sun heading for the horizon. Well, I think I got this one right. The 21 is a splendid dram, light to medium bodied, with a whiff of salt and fruit on the nose. I'll second the distillery tasting notes, vanilla, fruits (they say stewed, but I'd substitute my wife's fruit salad), more vanilla, and a hint of sea salt. The finish is long and pleasant. At $80, it is at the limit of what I would spend for a regular strength bottle without some sort of special reason, but in this case, it is definitely worth it. I had my eye on a 17yr Cadenhead, but at $85-90, that was just too much. So it was nice to find the Scott's Selection for a nice bit less, generally available in the $65-75 range. The Scott's Selection is similar to the 21, but I think that the age difference comes in to play. It definitely served it's purpose, namely preventing a large amount of the 21 from disappearing. I really like both of these. Bruichladdich doesn't get a lot of respect, but it's good stuff IMHO. Too bad the distillery has closed.

Round 3: Two light, pale malts, the Aultmore 8yr Adelphi and Northport 19yr Rare Malts. For some reason that I can't remember, I decided to get the Aultmore last year, and my sister brought me back the Northport from St. Thomas earlier this year. Both come it at 60%, and set me back $60.  The Aultmore has a nice, fragrant nose, a light, pleasant taste, and very little impression of high proof (it certainly is though!). This makes it quite pleasant in the summer, when no extra heat is required, even with the A/C on. The Northport is drier, slightly grassy on the nose, with a hint of bananas on the palate. Michael Jackson doesn't regard either of these very much, giving them 74 and 69 respectively. I think this is a little bit harsh. The Aultmore is easily the equal of Dalmore 12 which he rates a 79, but I will say that I don't find myself going back for yet another 'just another wee dram' with either of the two. If you are interested in a lighter cask strenght bottle, I certainly recommend the Aultmore. SInce Rare Malts tend to be expensive, I doubt that you'll find the Northport for only $60, and in any event, there are better bottles out there even for that price.

That's all for now. In the next two reports, I will be covering the Bowmore 20yr 1975 Signatory, Aberfeldy 17yr 1978 Cadenhead, and a whole bunch of others.


E-pistle #2000/24 - Woodwinds Orchestra
Submitted on 26/07/2000 by Craig Daniels, Australia

July is usually a good month for attendance and has been the focus in past years for some of our more popular nights.  This year will be no exception, being the second of our three Super Premium Nights for 2000.  This will be one of the highest quality nights of the year.

Some Speyside whiskies seem to take to a long time in sherry wood better than others.  I suspect that there are a whole stack of reasons, but the relative heaviness of the new make must figure large among them.  Of the better known distilleries, both Macallan and Glenfarclas are definitely part of the 'heavy brigade' and as Buchanan, Case & Gellert noted in their 1981 book on Tamdhu, "its taste represents the larger type malts of the area. ie. it is not the delicate light variety characteristic of the Spey".  Lots of other distilleries make malts that can handle a big sherry treatment, but these three are in the vanguard no doubt at all.

Tamdhu 15 -  A very rare bottling nowadays as Tamdhu no longer releases a commercial malt at 15 years.  I suppose I've had the chance to drink this whisky at two clubs over at least 4 years up to February 1997 and have always liked it.  Now this may not mean much to you but I didn't score as high back in 1996 and 1997 as I seem to recently, but I still managed to score the Tamdhu 15 between 8.1 and 8.4 every time I've tasted it, The last time was as a blind at the Streah.  I scored it 8.2 AND got it right. A whisky that has grown in my estimation as my experience of malts has broadened.  Initially I thought it a bit of a one trick pony, but I suspect I was mistaking clarity for simplicity.  It has a lovely big and straightforward sherry nose with quite a nice rounded palate and a lingering toffee finish. A generous and robust whisky.

Macallan 18 (1979) - The more observant of you will note that the whisky originally intended for this spot was a Benrinnes 1974 21yo.  Now the reason it is not is because thanks to internet e-correspondents who confirmed my (admittedly dimming) memory of it as not having an appreciable sherry treatment, so I thought I'd better pick one that met the profile I was trying to achieve.  Macallan 1979 is a good replacement, being one of the rarest 18s.  The reasons for its rarity are manifold.  The scotch whisky industry entered a slump in the late 1970's and early 1980's and lots of distillers were overstocked, so started to slow laying down new stock.  Secondly, around 1997 and 1998, Macallan started to look for new vehicles for older material to realise better returns and hence the 1874 and Gran Reserva were born and launched.  Both reduced the amount of material available for bottling as the standard 18.  Besides the club hasn't had this one before so the 1979 gives us another notch on the collective gun butt.  Let's hope it is as good as the 1977 & better than the '80, which I suspect it will be.

Glenfarclas 21 - This whisky is a favourite, but (and there's always a but) I find I like it much better when tasted against other big sherried malts.  In the standard Glenfarclas showcase up against the inimitable (and exemplary) Glenfarclas 15 it seems a little over the top in the sherry department; a little too minty and a little too sweet, where the peat in the 15 lends more balance.  In amongst other sherried malts it performs better.  When the Glenfarclas 21 and the Macallan 18 were roughly the same price (around $85-95) it was a tough call as to which represented better value for money.  Now that Glenfarclas has decided to up the ante, unfortunately the 21 will lose market share.  Whatever the market fortunes of GF 21, this is one opportunity to taste one that was purchased for less than $100.

The other aspect that was notable was how similar the three disclosed malts were. To come across these three in a malt competition would be horrendous, not because they are in any way nasty but because they are so close together.  My aim to achieve a particular flavour profile was spectacularly successful, if I do say so myself.  And I was right about the Glenfarclas 21, it did seem more balanced in the big sherry company.  As a matter of fact I felt all three to be instruments from the woodwind section of a piece by Dvorak, with the Tamdhu and Glenfarclas playing the alto/tenor notes and the Macallan the bass baritone, but all in exquisite harmony.

July 26th   -  Report Card
"Sherried Speysides - Woodwinds In A Sublime Orchestra"

Tamdhu 15 43% -  Even more emphatically sherried than I remembered, especially in the first 5 minutes after pouring but also the only one of the three that had readily discernible Speyside characters lurking behind the sherry.  The nose was immediately clean and minty, with pine needles, nougat and rosewater/turkish delight emerging from behind the sherry after 15 minutes.  The palate was sherried with fruit and nuts and a metallic hint in the finish.  From the ability of the malt to poke its head up after a while I suspect the wood treatment would contain about 25-30% first fill sherry with most of the rest a combination of refill sherry and refill bourbon.  Although there might well have been some first fill bourbon in the recipe as well as the nougat and pine needles are classic bourbon wood traits, but I'm only guessing and I can't think of a way to get an answer to this kind of speculation.  It would be nice though to know how close I was.  Could be good for the ego.  A mighty fine malt and the base clarinet or oboe in this little woodwind ensemble.  Score 8.4

Macallan 18 (1979) 43% - There is no small anticipation when first hoisting an as yet untried Macallan towards the nasal passages and I was ready to be underwhelmed.  However the 1979 was much more true to type than the 1980 (which gets my vote for worst 18 ever) and more than held its own in the company.  There is something immediately inviting and reassuring in the Macallan nose.  I got floor polish, honey and treacle on the nose and honey and beeswax on the palate.  The finish was long and creamy and nutty, with a woody reprise.  It was fuller and rounder than the others, bigger and chewier, somehow more substantial and resonant.  The bassoon in this sublime orchestra.   Score 8.6

Glenfarclas 21 43% - 'Much more trepidation when approaching the 21.  It's a whisky that I have always regarded well, but when pushed don't seem to find much to justify the respect.  So I guess a little bit of my reputation was on the line with this one.  I'm still amazed at how well it fitted.  I'm partial to the cor anglais  amongst the woodwinds and this fitted the bill in spades.  More haughty and ethereal in the nose than either of the others; lifted and lighter.  The palate was big and minty, a little surprising considering the relatively coy nose.  The finish was initially sour but smoothed out with honey and cream.  The nose gets more woody with floor polish and varnish but both the palate and finish stay creamy with a hint of peach.  Lighter, creamier, flightier than the Macallan, but well and truly in the same class.  Score 8.6

The Blind – Glengoyne 17 43% - I failed miserably in my attempt to fool the multitudes as the first person to hazard a guess got it straight off the bat.  However, I wasn't really trying to trick people as I wanted to give the sherry theme another dimension by investigating how a lighter malt of similar age with about 30% sherrywood in the recipe (according to the background info) matched up against the heavy brigade.  Pretty well as it turned out and I thought having the others on the table for comparison made it easier to sought out the sherry and bourbon contributions.  The nose showed sponge-cake and fruit trifle, with a delicate hint of mint, (less than any of the others, but still enough to make an impression).  The palate is malt biscuit sweet initially with some slight lactic acidity, which becomes very creamy.  Honey on toast with sour cream reprises in the finish.  The finish is reasonably long and quite warming: more noticeable spirit lingers than in the others, maybe made it seem a little younger.  The balance of sherry and bourbon flavours was also much more typical of commercial highlands and I suspect that the proportion of first fill sherrywood compared to refill sherry was probably less than 10%.  I quite admire this whisky and thought it held up well.   Score 8.3


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Malt Maniacs Issue 011 - Malt whisky writings for 2000

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