Malt Maniacs #013
Old Endings & New Beginnings
Oi! Oi! Oi!
Update from Minnesota, America
Malt Minion, Connoisseur, Expert?
The Waters of Life; My Favorite Malts
Pilgrimage to Orkney
Another American Update
4th Quarter Acquisitions
Malt Maniacs #013 - December 1, 2000
Hey, hey... We're still not a real WhiskE-zine (in the sense that we cover all whisky-related topics we'd like to cover), but in-between the chatter about recent releases some articles are gaining some real depth. Despite his frustrations Klaus submitted an interesting piece about his classifications for Islay.
That's actually an interesting idea. Perhaps we should think of our own 'classification' system for malts - based on their flavour profiles instead of the region where they were produced. Based on my experience so far, a regional classification beyond 'Mainland', 'Islay' (peaty) and 'Lowland' (triple distilled and light) is of little use in everyday life.
That doesn't mean that it's all humbug though...
Even if the production of whisky isn't as influenced by regional factors as some would like us to believe, visiting a distillery is still a very special experience. Well, for whisky 'anoraks' like us anyway. A dram becomes even more enjoyable if it is enjoyed in the glorious Scottish landscape that has surrounded the distillery for decades or even centuries. But you don't have to take my word for it; just read Krishna's report on his pilgrimage to Orkney.
Meanwhile, with six columns on the Malt Maniacs Matrix it starts to offer a useful 'broad overview' of the current whisky market. I wouldn't mind it getting a little broader though, so next year the hunt for a few more experienced team members of our dramming crew is on. We now have maniacs in Europe, America, Australia and Asia - lets see if we can find one in Africa as well.
And those are alle the additional comments for MM#13.
I hope you enjoy this issue. Feel free to contact me at the address at the bottom of the page if you'd like to contribute.
Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs
E-pistle #2000/35 - Old Endings & New Beginnings
Submitted on 12/10/2000 by Roman Parparov, Israel
For the past few weeks, on a Russian movie channel a series of Sherlock Holmes movies (Russian made) was shown.
The movies themselves are superb, of the best Soviet era movie production, with the actors very seeingly enjoying their parts in the movie. Vassily Livanov that acts as Holmes himself, is considered the best performer of Holmes in the world, even above British actors, and his picture is posted in the museum on Baker St. 221B in London.
And what a way to watch these wonderful movies (11 series total, one per evening) - with a pipesmoke and with a whisky glass. I had three bottles which had only about 150-200ml of the drink in it, and finished them during the series. So, the remarks are about the change the malts underwent towards the bottom of the bottle. All the malts have been opened at least half a year beforehand. No ratings were changed, since IMHO malts should not last that long in such state.
Laphroaig 10yo went down significantly, most of its spirit gone.
The iodine became more dominating and the malt much less pleasant.
Glenlivet 15yo was quite preserved. It became more sherried, but not too oppressive and definitely the description of a "well, stable" malt fits to it excellently.
Talisker 10yo was still absolutely magnificent, despite the time in the open bottle. After the series ended the bottle still contained a couple of drams, which accompanied me when I was watching another Russian movie, of the entirely different scope - Solaris, by Tarkovsky.
And then, my gf came back from her trip to Italy, and she brought me the "Italian" marked whisky - Macallan 7, which I am consuming right now. Great stuff, great value! Here comes the
description: Relatively dark and a bit mirky.
Nose: quite a lot of peat, not Macallanish.
A bit of sweetness which is Macallanish. Minty, spicy.
Taste: sweet with a hint of salt of the regular Macallan in the beginning, then the young age hits in. Peat playing together with mints and chocolates. Excellent, no afterburn, very bold for the stated 40% alc.
We'll have to see how it lasts, but, for example, for guest reception, when the bottle might end in few evenings this must be always considered a choice. A definite winner. The price of $20 only and an excellent experience.
Preliminary rating of 85 - above Macallan 12
E-pistle #2000/36 - Oi! Oi! Oi!
Submitted on 25/10/2000 by Craig Daniels, Australia
Well, we really had to have an Islay night as most of us would feel slightly cheated if we went through a whole tasting year without at least one visit to our very favourite whisky isle. I'm sure that if most of us had to pick a Gold Medal Malt; our "number one, must have, can't survive without, desert island dram", a goodly percentage would put an Islay somewhere very near the top of the list. Islay holds a special place in the heart of every malt lover as Islay offers a style for everyone. Ranging from the sneakily sophisticated to the "knock your socks off" brigade; Islay has something to satisfy those that look for impact as well as those that seek complexity.
For me Islay captures the very essence of the malt whisky adventure.
In my personal pantheon of great whiskies (scoring over 8.8) nearly half are from that tiny speck of windswept peat west of the Mull of Kintyre. In descending order of magnificence they include: Black Bowmore 1965, Ardbeg 15 (Allied Distillers), Laphroaig 15, Lagavulin 1979 DE DMPX, Ardbeg 30 (Very Old) Ardbeg G&M (D1975 B1992), Ardbeg 1974 G&M (Spirit of Scotland), Caol Ila G&M (D1972 B1992), Bowmore 17 and Bowmore 1965 20 (Laird's Club). (Incidentally, Aberlour, Springbank and Glenfarclas account for 8 of the remainder. For the October meeting we have representatives from the heart of all the styles although the peat monster has gone AWOL as both the Lagavulin and Caol Ila, while indubitably displaying healthy whacks of peat don't announce its presence by leaping out of the glass at arms length.
Bunnahabhain 12 - Everybody knows that I hold this malt in high regard and consider it a much underrated dram. Most of the things I've written about Bunnahabhain before don't warrant repeating except for a couple of snippets : "A lovely, well balanced malt, despite the fact that its flavour profile suggests a coastal highland rather than exhibiting classic Islay traits. It improves in the glass with more toffee and peat coming out" and "easily the best highland malt made on Islay".
Lagavulin 8 (Ian McLeod & Sons Island 8) - that this whisky is from Lagavulin is pure speculation on my part, but I have my reasons. The Signatory Islay we had early in 1999 was from Lagavulin and while the Macleods Island 8 taste profile doesn't resemble Lagavulin 16 it has quite a lot in common with the youngster from Signatory. Both actually taste like a cross between Laphroaig and Bowmore or maybe they could even hail from Caol Ila. There are hundreds of variables that affect the final taste of a whisky and both the type of wood and the length of time in wood make a huge contribution. I'd bet money that the Macleods 8 is 100% bourbon wood. The lively lifted bubblegum, sweet smoke and vanillan oak in the young one is typical of youthful Islay whiskies from all the peatier distilleries, while only the Lagavulin 16 of all the big peat monsters has any appreciable sherry wood at all.
Caol Ila 21 (1975) - I have tried this one twice and fallen in love with the immaculate bourbon treatment with vanilla and stripped pine dominant over the expected Islay phenols and creosols, except in the finish where the smoke really explodes. I've always scored it high but have to concede that it does lack the complexity & depth that 20+ years in bourbon oak should have produced. Given that caveat, this is a very, very nice malt, and if the industry was handing out gongs for cleanliness this one would win a prize. A beautiful example of a mid-peated 100% bourbon wood Islay, but not as awesome as it could have been. Apart from the age, this one has more than a bit in common with the youngster from Lagavulin.
E-pistle #2000/37 - Update from Minnesota, America
Submitted on 27/10/2000 by Patrick Whaley, USA
Busy, busy, busy. School is back and I have my hands full!
On top of that, I am searching for a graduate school. Single malts have taken the back seat. So it may be a bit understandable that my future single malt encounters will be minimal. Anyway, on to the good stuff. I've included my ratings and some notes from my latest tasting.
As I touched upon in my first update, I know that some people don't like ratings and think that they aren't worth much. Even I will concede that ratings are not indicative of a universal agreement. Simply, we all have our own preferences. But nevertheless, those of us who embark on this journey, are on the quest for the best malt. My ratings are not static, they are adjusted from tasting to tasting, or upon reflection. So here are my ratings: 90's is excellent and should not be missed at all, 80's is above average and very good, 70's is average, 60's is something that I really don't prefer.
So that's a look into my world of ratings.
Even thought they may not mean much I think it's fun to do.
And for my latest tasting:
Nose: semi-sweet, astringent, slightly peaty
Taste: a little oily, medium body
Finish: spicy, medium length, fades to lingering peat
It retains some typical Islay characteristics. The nose isn't as intense as other Islay's.
I was surprised by the finish, I thought it would have been longer. It did have a nice peaty punch though. This isn't as intense as Laphroaig or Lagavulin, or even the Darkest. In my notes I describe it as having a medium body. I mean this with regard to the overall picture of single malts. But for an Islay, I don't think I would consider it medium, probably because the first Islay's that I had were the Laphroaigs and Lagavulin. Those malts are just monstrous, and this malt doesn't have the dimensions of the Islay Giants.
I know that there are lighter Islay malts out there, it's just that I haven't had any of them.
Glenmorangie Port Wood
Nose: soft, hint of port, buttery, spicy citrus, flowery, butterscotch, vanilla?
Taste: light, sweet, good mouthfeel, vanilla again? butterscotch?
Finish: medium, traces of port
Very interesting and very good! I only pick up vanilla, butterscotch, and nuts in the nose occasionally.
The nose of this one is almost right up there with the Mac 18. I wanted to taste more port, I found it to be too subtle. But I really like this malt because there is so much going on in it, complex I would say. And that is why it got an 87. I love the different finishes on malts, it adds a new, refreshing dimension in my opinion. I would like to see more port and other finishes (I know the Springbank will be here in a few years). I also thought the finish came up a little short.
I want to touch on one last thing before I end my update, multiple bottlings vs. a single bottling.
I do think that some distilleries may put out too many bottlings and sometimes it presents a problem, I don't know which one to pick! It's also tricky because you may have purchased a bottling from a distillery that has many products in its line and not like it. Then when you go back to the liquor store, you stand in front of another one of their bottlings and debate. Will it be good, or will it be a downer? Hit or miss. In a way, I suppose that is one thing that makes this exciting.
I also do wish that some distilleries would expand their current line up. Wouldn't it be nice to pick up, say a 10yo or 20yo Lagavulin?
I'd love that. But on the other side of the coin, would it be the same caliber as the 16? I really liked how Glenlivet expanded their range. I tried the French Oak once and I liked it. I really would like to see a Laphroaig 21yo bottling. I've heard that the 15 and 30 are worlds apart, night and day. I don't think I will be able to get my hands on the 30 for quite some time. A 21yo bottling would show a glimpse of the process of Laphroaig aging. And of course, it would be more affordable than the 30.
That's it for now. I hate to bring this up already but, pretty soon I'll be trying to decide what I want to uncork for New Year's.
I'm sure I'll hit that in the next update. Enjoy your tastings.
E-pistle #2000/38 - Malt Minion, Connoisseur, Expert?
Submitted on 15/11/2000 by Klaus Everding, Germany
If you look at the malt madness matrix you will see there are several degrees of malt lore.
I haven't reached the heights of Michael Jackson, Craig Daniels or Johannes. Just been promoted to 'malt aficionado', I still think that my life as 'malt minion' was the most interesting part of my malt career.
When I started there was a whole new world to explore.
Hundreds of malts, - the promised land and a lot of them at reasonable prices. I was a lucky guy and found my true loves very soon. Now when I explore the malt land I rarely find shining gems. Most of the time it's "hmm, - nice stuff", rarely "Aaahh, - can I have another one" and my last moment where something very special and marvelous was revealed is more than 9 months away.
Why is this so?
Islay seems to be my preferred malt regions and there are only 7 distilleries on the island.
Speyside offers a wider range. But the Speysiders – sweet and fruity, sometimes interesting (e.g. the Macallan) – that's not the region where I hope to find the holy malt grail. Ok, there is the opportunity to stay on Islay: 13 different Ardbegs available at my shop and 29 different Caol Ilas. This should be enough to keep me busy for some time. But then I would have to switch to independent bottlers. Every bottle unique and all too soon no longer available. To lose a malt with which you have fallen in love is like the death of a pet.
There is also another disadvantage with the independent bottlers.
They are almost twice as expensive as the standard distillery bottling. To pay more than 70 Euro for a malt hurts my purse. And there are also bottles of known and favoured malts which have to be replaced when they are empty. This too sucks my account.
Well, I think I will upgrade to malt connoisseur someday.
But I can foresee the time when the attraction of known and valued malts overwhelms my passion to find something new.
My personal malt universe will slowly collapse.
And maybe it will explode in another big bang and I will be reborn as a malt minion...
E-pistle #2000/39 - Nitrogen Injectors
Submitted on 16/11/2000 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
I know how you feel, Klaus...
My latest genuine 'Amazing Discovery' was the UD Rare Malts Caol Ila 1975 C/S, a bottle I opened over 6 months ago.
Since then, most of the new bottles I opened failed to tickle my fancy. Nevertheless, I keep reminding myself that even 'mediocre' single malts like Glenfiddich Special Reserve or Isle of Jura 10yo are 'better' than your average blended whisky or bourbon - or at least much more interesting. But I guess that's a struggle within each malt maniac - the desire of the body to just enjoy the 'best' or 'nicest' whisky and the desire of the brain to learn more about one of the few remaining 'pure' products in this marketing-driven world.
Sometimes this learning process is painful... ;-)
Meanwwhile, somebody posted an interesting piece of news on the forum about a possible way to slow down malt oxidation!
I immediately sent a message to the members of the Malt Madness mailinglist;
'Hi guys, I've just got a tip that may be bogus, but may be very valuable as well.
There may be a way to slow down malt oxidation! Nine out of ten malts react negatively on a prolonged oxidation process.
Now I haven't had the chance to try it yet, but there seems to be a device called a nitrogen injector. It's used in the wine world to inject nitrogen into a bottle that has been opened. The theory is that the nitrogen, being heavier than oxygen (?), will create a layer between the drink and the rest of the air in the bottle, protecting it from oxidation. Such an injector should cost as little as 25.- U$.
Can anyone confirm or deny the soundness and practical usability of this info?'
Here are a few replies that offer useful information on the subject:
Roman M . Parparov wrote: I asked a friend of mine who is a chemist about it.
He said we should use ARGON and not nitrogen. Argon is indeed much heavier than oxygen and would suffice.
Only after each pouring some new argon should be added. Getting an argon injector is a separate problem. :)
Klaus Everding wrote: Concerning the N2 Injector. I think, this device will really work.
And its not because Nitrogen is heavier than air, it's just because Nitrogen is less reactive than air, with about 16(?) Oxygen.
A better solution is the use of Argon, which is an inert gas much heavier than air and which is also used in chemistry.
Our HarLeM Chemist, Michael, could give you a detailed explanation.
Eric von Daeniken wrote: If the involved chemical processes are the same with both wine and whisky, I guess it should work.
But then there's a cheaper, though maybe odd looking alternative: Each time after you had a dram, you drop (clean!) glass marbles into the bottle so the fluid level will be kept up to the bottle neck where the amount of oxygen is minimal.
I've never tried it, and I guess with time you'll need some sieve while pouring...
2nd alternative: Just don't give the stuff a chance to oxidize, drink it before! ;)
Richard Block wrote: Hi Johannes, I, too, have heard about this contraption.
There is some information about it at http://www.scotchwhisky.com/newforums
The contributor there said that they can be had for around $7 USD. I have never seen one, though.
I was rather upset that you found it necessary to lower Lagavulin by two points.
I just hope that the distillery takes note. (of course, we'll have to wait 16 years to find out.)
Mats-Ola Ekberg wrote: Hi Johannes ! I have not tried the method for slowing down malt oxidation you wrote about either.
However, a friend of mine has, and he claims it is working. I use a slightly less sophisticated method. On the bottles with more than 1/3 of "air" i use those vacuum "things" normally used for wine bottles. I can't tell if it is working or not since I don't have anything to compare with, but I got that bit of advice on one of my trips to Scotland.
Well - that was some very useful feedback, thanks fellows!
I plan to do some 'research' into the oxidation phenomenon by buying four identical bottles and opening them three months after eachother and do H2H tastings in identical glasses. And then the next
phase would probably be try out various techniques to see which works best. I'll post the results in the Beginner's Guide on Malt Madness when the research is complete - If I ever get around to it ;-)
Until then, Eric's advice is probably best - empty the bottles before they can oxidize...
E-pistle #2000/40 - Islay Classifications
Submitted on 23/11/2000 by Klaus Everding, Germany
Islay Classifications: Laphroaig 10 vs Ardbeg 10
Johannes put in his last Malt Madness newsletter a recommendation for some malts which could be purchased for christmas.
No discussion about his recommendation, but one sentence let a shiver run down my spine: " Ardbeg 10 yrs - A relatively new bottling. The first alternative for Laphroaig 10." This can't be true! I love Laphroaig. The ten years old malt is my number one. And I love Ardbeg, especially the 17 year old and the 8y SigVin are wonderful. When I visited the Ardbeg webpage and read about the Ardbeg 10 I thought this malt would be something like a miracle. Other people were also enthusiastic about it. So I had to try Ardbeg 10 asap. I had my first dram an was disappointed. Second dram: also disappointed. Some weeks later we bought a bottle of Ardbeg 10 for my single malt tasting club and again Ardbeg 10 could not convince me. (Comment by Johannes: Klaus is right in commenting, because my remark on the Hit List should have been 'The lighter alternative to Laphroaig 10'. If I had to choose the Islay that comes closest to the Laphroaig 10 in character (amongst the ones I've tasted) it would be the Ardbeg 10, although it is indeed much sweeter than the 'Phroaig 10.)
Now whats the matter?
Laphroaig 10 is extremely smoky and peaty. Tar and medicine, salty. The impression of a campfire from driftwood at the sea.
Ardbeg 10 on the other hand is also very smoky and peaty. It also has tar and iodine components. But it is sweet and that makes the difference. I get the impression of used rope and rigging dissolved in sugar water. Result: I always need a bottle of Laphroaig in my shelves but Ardbeg 10 will not make it. Anyway if someone gave me a dram of Ardbeg 10 I would drink it and also finish another one if offered.
If I had to classify the Islay malts the following systen would come out;
1. strong. very smoky, peat, tar, medicine no sweetness:
I love them. Laphroaig 10y, Ardbeg 8y Sig Vin. Some Caol Ilas (Caol Ila 15y UD, Caol Ila 1982 16y SigVin and Caol Ila 1975 21y 61.3% (UDRM) may also be counted to that groups. The Caol Ilas have a wonderful fresh mossy note in the nose additional to the peat, smoke and tar which I love. The taste falls a little back behind the nose. Bowmore 56% is a nice cask strength with the attributes mentioned above. Another c/s malt (Lagavullin) Vintage Islay malt 58% is very young an extremly strong malt. It is unchillfiltrated and will knock you out of your socks. Even though it fullfills the taste description above, this malt is too heavy for me and I don't really like it.
2. strong, very peaty, smoky:
I mean the various incarnations of Lagavulin.
All of them symphonies in peat. I prefer the predominance of smoke.
So if I have to choose between Laphroaig 10 and Lagavullin 16 I select Laphroaig.
3. balanced, smoke, peat, tar, some sweetness, some fruits, sherry:
I love them. Ardbeg 17 which tells you a long story when tasting it and Laphroaig 15 are in that group.
These malts have lost a great deal of their bite. But they have gained complexity. Something to enjoy when you want to tickle your taste buds and don't want to punch them with sheer power. Bowmore 12y and Bowmore 15y (Mariner) are less complex but they can also be put into that group.
4. strong. very smoky, peat, tar, medicine, sweet:
I have found the Arbeg 10y and the Caol Ila 3385 days old 55.7% SigVin belonging to that group. This arrangement is not really my cup of tea. The sweetness and the peaty and smoky notes are in disharmony for my taste. I believe a perfect balance can only be reached with more resting time in the cask.
5. the rest:
Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain and Port Ellen don't appear in my system. The reason: These malts are not so powerful as the other Islays and I have only tried the standard Bunnahabhain 12y and one dram of Bruichladdich 10y. The younger Bowmores don't appear in my system because I haven't tried them yet, but I think that they would belong to group one.. The newer editions of Bowmore (Darkest, Voyager, Dusk) don't appear because a tasting of Bowmore Darkest gave me a terrible shock. Pfft, - such a terrible malt. I don't think I don't want to get involved in Bowmores latest single malt experiments.
Hoops, I just wanted to write some lines about why I think that Laphroaig 10 and Ardbeg 10 don't play in the same class...
And now a small characterization of Islay malts has come out. Well, I think that doesn't matter.
Although the subject Islay would deserve more space.
E-pistle #2000/41 - The Waters of Life; My Favorite Malts
Submitted on 25/11/2000 by Markku I Manninen, Helsinki, Finland
Johannes, I've been having a good time at your maltmadness site.
I'm an even more recent convert to the Malt Faith than you but very eager to catch up!
As it is very late and I have to go to sleep, I only want you to know there's one more drammer appreciating your work in the Net!
My list 'de favorits':
Laphroaig 10yrs. Yes, I do love the stuff the best! A symphony of impressions and as you noticed, it gets better and more subtle with each added drop of water. Gorgeous liquid! I downed 50 bottles of it last year.. tough to admit!
Talisker 10yrs. I'm reminded of tough, rugged Scottish Rugby players whenever I taste the other great Islander. This one has a somewhat uncompromising character. I could imagine writing a story about a master sniper who cools off his nerves with Talisker. My very first Malt. I first sampled it back in a Soho, London whisky shop, May 1990.. I liked it but I couldn't get the message back then, though.. On you 5th decade you realize that you teach your sense of taste new tricks!
Macallan 12yrs. Luxurious bouquet, hues of sherry, like silken linen on a tent bed. Wondrous but a somewhat vain palate. A slightly pot-bellied and self-satisfied character in comparision to Laphroaig, which is such a savage genius among Malts!
Lagavulin 16yrs. There is something I hate to love with this nectar.
My first impression of the sixteener was 'murky but enticing, sinister, lethal, cunning' but then the impressions got better - but never light. For some reason or another I associate Lagavulin with cemetaries and mortality. It's not a funny malt. If I had a secret bottle, it'd be Lagavulin.
Springbank 12yrs. Oily, perfect, deep, positively glue-like.
Profound, heady aroma. Like its ancestors were from the Caribbean.
In contrast to Lagavulin, S. is positive in tone.
Old Pulteney 10yrs. To include this lightweight is an idiosyncrasy. I love to eat fish and I habitually drink OP with aquatic delicacies. I love the salty/seaweedy nose. This is the one to use if you want to introduce women to Malts!
I wrote the comments under the influence of Laphroaig and the Macallan (10rs both).
BTW, it's very hard to find some brands in Finland and then the ones we can buy at the State Alcohol Monopoly are heftily priced.
The 10yrs old Laphroaig cuts my purse by the equivalent of £30!
One last Special Mention: Last winter I was dining at the George, a high class eatery in Helsinki.
On a wheeled liquor tray I soon spotted the characteristic shape of Ben Nevis. The edition was 26yo. old, 51.2% . I had never tasted the brand. 4cls cost me £12! It took me to a ride of senses that took the best part of 20 minutes. The nose was deeply satisfying, self-assured, warm, beguiling. Phenoles and petroleum on more organic, fruitier aromas. Ancient liquorice. Not unlike an old Velocette motor cycle in a blossoming garden. The first sip was a numbing experience! it certainly took a minute to realize that such an array of tastes was possible! Water widened the taste but also slacked the crisp interaction bundle of organic and chemical elements.
I recommend you to start BN out without water and after the first third try a 3-6 drops of H20.
After the dram I was very, very pensive. I whole new universe had been shown to me!
Even if I like Laphroaig with its wondrous complexity I had to admit that Ben Nevis far surpassed it and all other Malts I have sampled. A week later the memory of the taste lingered on my tongue like a route traced by a thin needle to the surface of the organ. The most complex sensual experience ever effected by an alcoholic drink!
It was, of course, partly the responsibility of the vintage bottling.
It should be compared to Laphroaig 30yrs, which cannot be bought in Finland. The bottle was almost finished by then. The head waitress told me it was the last bottle and that no more was to be expected! Well, my luck, exactly! No other restaurant in Helsinki stocked Ben Nevis, as the one I had sampled was a private import! The last I heard was a piece of better news: more BN was to be made available before summer. Only I'm worried if they can get the same quality as the 26yrs old one.
Well, that's it. Actually, I now got the inspiration to go and check out the George.
They make the best coeur de fillet in this city.
Great moments & all good things!
E-pistle #2000/42 - Pilgrimage to Orkney
Submitted on 28/11/2000 by Krishna Nukala, India
Friends around often ask me why I am so mad about this stuff called single malt.
Frankly, I have no reasonable reason. The possible reasons could be that when I drink any aged dram I feel that I am drinking history, I am drinking culture and above all I am drinking the adventurous Scottish spirit with which this wonderful stuff is made. They say people who visit Scotland have certain deliberate reasons. For the love of the highland country-side, for Scottish history, for the sound of the bagpipe or for the Scottish down to earth hospitability that beckons a traveler to visit the country again and again and again.
The outer Islands are for adventurers and Orkney is one of them. My last visit to a Scottish distillery was to the southernmost of the Hebrides. Lagavulin in the Isle of Islay. This time I chose to visit the most Northerly distillery in the world - The Highland Park at Kirkwall. The base point has to be at Inverness. To reach Orkney one has to travel to John O Groats, which happens to be the most northerly point of mainland Scotland from where the ferry takes you to Orkney. The Orkney is a group of islands. The main Islands are Burwick, Kirkwall, Stromenss, Hoy, Shapinsay and several others. The ferry from John O Groats (this funny name, named after a Dutch fellow who a couple of hundred years ago tried to establish the place as an important port town) takes about 45 minutes to reach the Island of Burwick. The voyage is made through the path where the Atlantic waters meet the North Sea and the effect is so dramatic that you actually see the turbulence in the sea and feel the wind blowing at 50 –60 mph. If you have a pair of binoculars you can see gray seals sunning themselves on the shores of small isles, the puffins, skuas and the cormorants diving in and out of the turbulent waters. The vessel is escorted by schools of porpoises most of the journey.
The Orkney bus is waiting for the ship's passengers to take in to the island. The bus takes a full hour to cross across several islands which have been connected by man made roads. History has it that the Orkney served as an important submarine base for the British during the Second World War. Churchill saw this potential and closed the entry to the enemy vessels by putting huge boulders ( each weighing 2-3 tons) to connect the isles with the help of Italian Prisoners of war! Finally we are in Kirkwall and I checked into a small B& B hotel. I can see the chimneys of The Highland Park from the window of my hotel room. Before I made a visit to the temple I wanted to explore the island. The entire surface of the island is like a bald fellow's head. With winds blowing constantly at such high speeds through time immemorial there is no possibility of any vegetation save its lush green grass. With plenty of Highland cattle, Shetland ponies, lakes with rainbow trout and mute swans, the Orkney is a traveller's delight seeking solitude with adventure.
Despite its sparseness, Orkney has a fearce sense past with strong allegiance to Viking culture. Nobody knows why the 5,000 year old ring of Brodgar was built (dates back even before pyramids). The magnificent St Magnus Cathedral dating back to 14th century is a masterly work of Romanesque and Transitional styles. A walk on the sea shore with craggy high mountain slopes bring you to the seabird colonies and you must be an ornithologist to identify the different species. Simply sit there and watch the sun sink in to the ocean. The setting is stunningly peaceful.
Visit to The Highland Park is only by prior appointment. The 1798 built distillery looks more like a Prison with the two Pagoda like chimneys looking like gallows. The tour of the distillery begins with the floor maltings. You see the malted barley strewn on the floors of the distillery for natural drying. The floor mating is a speciality of Highland Park. The peat is digged from Hobbister, a nearby Moor. The peat offers its heathery taste typical to Highland Park and it is a wonder how the distillery consistently maintains the true character of the whisky. The distillery has four stills and surprisingly 80% of the distilled alcohol goes for blending of "Famous Grouse' at Glasgow. The rest is bottled for the connoisseurs of " The Highland Park". There is a small gift shop in the distillery where one can buy Highland Park of different ages. The 12 year old is the standard one followed by 18 year, 25 year, a bicentenary 1977 vintage reserve and a 35 year old cask strength. To mark my visit to the distillery I pick up an 18 year old which is the best I could afford.
In the distillery shop, a standard dram is offered for tasting. Cautiously I approach the glass. The nose is very heathery.
For an island whisky, The Highland Park appears exceptionally sherry (although half of the resting period of Highland Park is in bourbon casks) there is no bourbon trace at all. The whisky is very smooth and has a delicious taste with touch of honey. The whisky is exceptional and no wonder why the experts call it "An Orcadian Delight". My rating: 88 points.
E-pistle #2000/43 - Another American Update
Submitted on 22/12/2000 by Patrick Whaley, USA
Finally the semester has ended and it is time for a break. Hopefully I will get to have a few good nights of tasting. I have quite a bit to cover in my update, 4 sets of tasting notes, including my first head to head, and an incident at a restaurant. So here we go.
Bowmore Cask Strength
Nose: soft, sweet, salt, caramel, smoke, dark chocolate
Body: peat, sweet, semi-thick
Finish: good initial burst of peat, lingering, long, thick
Very pleasant nose, it seemed to develop different scents with time, very impressive.
The body of this malt is almost deceiving, I'm not sure if it is thick. It doesn't feel thick in my mouth, but as it goes down and the finish kicks in it sure does. I would definitely consider this a complex malt with good depth.
Interesting note: There have been some very interesting e-mails amongst the members of Team Madness regarding Bowmore.
This was started when Louis sent us the explanation of his rating system. He said that he is fond of the 12yo and Darkest, and did not like the Cask Strength. Johannes doesn't care for the Darkest. Davin and I had a few e-mails about the Darkest. We both noted that both of our bottles were not very stable, sometimes it was good, other times it wasn't. I gave the Darkest an 85 because a sherry finished Islay was new to me, and when it was good it was damn good. I give the Cask Strength an 85 also. I really do think it is a great single malt. This example just goes to show that people have different tastes.
Nose: soft, light, mint, fruity, coconut, thin
Body: caramel, light, slippery
Finish: peat/mint?, fruit, short to medium
I wasn't expecting much from this malt but I was surprised. I like the touch of coconut, as I think it really helps out this malt.
The nose is thin at times, sometimes you really have to pay attention to get it, or my nose is really bad. The little touch of peat/mint is also a good contributor. I give Cardhu 12 a rating of 78.
And now for my first head to head! I put two heavyweights to go at it, to dual for Islay supremacy, Lagavulin 16 vs. Ardbeg 17.
I sure was excited, for this was my first taste of Ardbeg.
Nose: salty, peat, smoke, iodine, whoa dense peat! almost rich
Body: salt, sweet, big body, great balance, thick
Finish: long, big, intense, warming, peat and smoke cover the mouth
Nose: soft, gentle, chocolate, light peat, licorice
Body: citrus, oak, thick
Finish: long, peppery, peaty, licorice
Does the Ardbeg have what it takes to dethrone the king?
After all, when you're #1, there is only one place to go, and that is down.
Who gets the Islay bragging rights? Who takes it? Which distillery reigns supreme?
Lagavulin. I find the Ardbeg to be lighter than Lagavulin. Lagavulin also has a bigger, more intense finish. I also think Lagavulin is more full bodied than Ardbeg. I like the chocolate in the Ardbeg. The nose isn't that of a typical Islay. Ardbeg is a complex malt. The 17yo isn't as bold as Lagavulin or the Laphroaigs. Lagavulin is big, but it is so well balanced. It is powerful, but not overpowering. Lastly, I was surprised by the color of Ardbeg, I've never seen an Islay that light. As far as ratings, I give Ardbeg 17 an 89.
Back in November I went to a nice restaurant. They had the best single malt list that I have seen at a restaurant.
I decided to try something that I have never had, so I chose Springbank 12. I was getting excited, I've heard so much about Springbank. My excitement soon dissipated when it arrived tot he table. It came in a glass that you usually get at a bar when you order something straight, I don't know the exact name of the glass but I hope you know what I am talking about. I was so disappointed. I knew I wasn't going to experience it properly, so I just drank it for enjoyment. The coconut in the nose was rather pleasant. It cost $11.50, and for that much it should come in the proper glass. The restaurant was a classy one, but I can't believe that with the amount of money you spend that you can't get a proper glass.
That's it for this update. I'm looking forward to a nice purchase of malts soon.
Everyone have a Merry Christmas and a Happy, safe New Year.
I still haven't decided what I will be drinking that night, I'll figure it out later. Back in 2001.
E-pistle #2000/44 - 4th Quarter Acquisitions
Submitted on 23/12/2000 by Louis Perlman, USA
This report covers some 4th quarter acquisitions.
The main point was to fill a few gaps in my collection, and also pick up some recent offerings.
First off is the Bladnoch 16yr 1980 Signatory. It arrived just too late for my summer malt roundup, where it really belonged. This is the sister cask to the one Michael Jackson reviewed, and tastes about the same. I had wanted to get some Bladnoch for some time now, as the distillery had been mothballed. United Distillers actually agreed to sell the distillery, and you can read all about it at www.bladnoch.co.uk, but I still wanted to try some. I went for the Signatory over the more common G&M due to a slightly lower price and 43% ABV vs 40%. So, how does lemon sherbert work taste as whisky? Quite well actually. We had some really nice weather in October, with the temperatures approaching 70 (20C). A dram of Bladnoch outside was a real pleasure. My rating is in the mid-80's.
Next up was the Glenrothes 1987 12 year old. I missed the legendary 1979, as it was just a bit out of my price range ($42.95 rising to $49.95, that sounds funny given what I easily spend nowadays). The 1982 was a big disappointment, but The Malt Advocate (www.whiskeypages.com - click on Buyers Guide) loved this one. Good body, nice and rich flavors, with a touch of spiciness. A truly wonderful dram. It goes for about $50, but don't let the age get you. it's well worth the asking price, IMHO. I rate this one 89.
One bottle I really wanted to try was the Glen Scotia 14, since Johannes likes it, and I wanted to see how it compares with the younger Springbanks. By itself, the body was slightly oily in a good way, which combined nicely with some maltiness and a touch of salt on the palate. Compared to the new Springbank 10 (see below) however, it fell a bit short. The Springer had firmer body, and greater complexity. however, I noticed that Johannes puts the GS in the Spring (season) category. Well, the nice October was still around when I first opened the bottle, but it was already November when I did the HTH. So I do like the Glen Scotia, and will wait until Spring to get a better measure of it. Rating is 84, possibly subject to change.
So now on to the Springbank 10. This replaces the heavily sherried 12 year old, which I love. The sherry influence has metamorphasized into other things, leaving the wonderful creamy coconut and brine combination, which I find so addictive. The new 10 is gold, rather than amber, and has coconut, toffee, and a touch of salt. I suppose that it is more honest than the 12, but my heart is with the 12. Supplies are still good, so stock up now if you also like the 12, just like I'm doing. The 12 continues to earn it's 90 rating, but I give to 10 an 88.
... and here are the rest of my 4th quarter 2000 pickups:
Rosebank 10yr 1989 Signatory. Another gap filled in my Silent Stills collection.
While Rosebank is usually referred to as charming or romantic, this one is lemony like my Signatory Bladnoch, but just a bit less so. As such, I'll save it for warmer weather, and it wasn't too expensive at $37.
Bunnahabain 20yr 1979 Murray McDavid. After Craig gave the Bunny some praise last year, I noticed this new Murray McDavid release on their website. While it's pretty much as advertised, it
hasn't captured my fancy as of yet. I seem to need either a strong dose of peat or a moderate amount of sweetness, and this one falls in between. Still, my Murray McDavid Bruichladdich and Royal Brackla opened up after
almost a year, the latter, just finished off, really acquiring a nice frutiy bloom. Maybe it's something
about those 'B' distilleries.
And finally, two Port Ellen's, a Port Ellen Hart Brothers 13yr 1982 43%, and the Port Ellen Scott's Selection 22yr 1976 57%. The 13yr is straw colored, with the typical dose of peat on the nose, It starts off deceptively mild, with perhaps even a touch of sweetnes in the peat. But then look out!! The beast rears up on it's hind legs and blows you away. Since this was terrific at 43%, I figured that things would be even better at cask strength, and acquired The Scott's Selection. And my intuition was absolutely correct. This thing kicks butt and everything else in it's path. Perfect for saving on the heating bill on those cold winter nights. My next personal objective for Malt Madness a Peat Monster Bash showdown between the Port Ellen's and my Laphroaig Cadenhead, and one mystery contestant. By the way, Port Ellen's are disappearing fast. If you are at all interested in some of the most lethal Islay's ever produced, buy now.
And now a couple of quick impressions. We were out somewhere where I wasn't counting on having any decent whisky, but was pleasantly suprised to find some Glen Garrioch 15
and the Glen Rothes 1982 16yr. Needless to say, i sampled both. The GG was smooth and pleasant, some sweet notes and a touch of smoke. Not very exciting though, and I wouldn't rate it more than 79 or 80.
But the bottle was half empty/full (see below), so I don't want to pass final judgement just yet.
The Glen Rothes 1982
was another story. The only previous time I tried it was in a restaurant, and wasn't impressed.
But when drinking out, there is no way of knowing how long the bottle has been sitting there. This bottle was opened that night, but it was very similar to the 1987 that I like so much, just a bit less good. I'll give it an 86, giving up 2 points for quality, and another for being 4 years older and the same price as the 1987, as long as the 1982 is still around.
Late breaking news: The Ardbeg 10 walked in the door just a few days ago.
It's every bit as good as Craig says it is. Look for a complete write up in the next prE-pistle.
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