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Malt Maniacs E-zine

Malt Maniacs #015

New Years Resolutions
prE-pistle #2001/01 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

Davin informs us about his new year's resolutions for 2001 - which include an attempt to sample one new single malt whisky each week. That's at least 52 new whiskies this year - should be doable... ;-)
So, a few other maniacs decided to join him in his quest.

What does Birch Whisky Taste Like?
prE-pistle #2001/02 by Lex Kraaijeveld, England

Lex likes to investigates the 'roads less traveled'. This time he tracks an obscure tale about birch whisky in the book that whisky writer Alfred Barnard wrote over a century ago.

Bowmore Darkest
prE-pistle #2001/03 by Jeff Jaskolski, USA

Jeff Jaskolski wonders why he loves his bottle of Bowmore Darkest so much while I seem to loathe the latest expression. Jeff provides an alternative to my Distillery Top 10 with his personal Top 10.

Batch Variation
prE-pistle #2001/04 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

I've learnt some time ago that batch variation is an important issue with large batch malt whiskies like the Bowmore Darkest. These days they sell thousands of bottles each day, so the distillery has to make a different batch every few weeks.

Earls of Zetland January 2001 Report
prE-pistle #2001/05 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Another tasting report from down under from Craig Daniels. The Earls of Zetland keep spreading the gospel of malts in the colonies. And apart from drinking the stuff, it would seem they produce malt whisky in Australia as well these days...

Auchentoshan & Glenfiddich
prE-pistle #2001/06 by Johnny M. Lawcock, USA

Johnny was surprised that I recommended the Auchentoshan 10yo
as a dram for beginners and offers some suggestion for alternatives.

Responsible Response
prE-pistle #2001/07 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

In response to Johnny's comments, I provide some additional comments about my purely personal favourite single malts.

Malts of Distinction
prE-pistle #2001/08 by Christer Sundin

I wrote about the fairly undistinguished 'Malts of Distinction' in a few recent liquid log entries. Now Christer Sundin has discovered a new range of bastard malts; 'Malts of Scotland'. The same thing?

Malts of Indistinction
prE-pistle #2001/09 by
Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland
Christer's message inspired me to dig a little deeper (just a little,
mind you) into the truth behind Invergordon's 'bastard malts'.

Next IssuePrevious Issue

Malt Maniacs #15 - Scotch malt whisky writings

Malt Maniacs #015 - February 1, 2001
 

Before we officially launched 'Malt Maniacs' in 2002, our little
international congregation of certifiable madmen had been growing
organically for a number of years. It all started in 1995, when I
published a few pages about my very personal experiences with
single malt whisky on the world wide web. It wasn't long before
the first 'E-pistles' dropped into my virtual mailbox.
 
While the site grew larger and larger, Craig Daniels, Louis Perlman
and Davin de Kergommeaux started to share their experiences with
me. After I decided to include their reports on the site we quickly
grew into a virtual collective, exchanging experiences, ideas and
opinions - just like people in a 'proper' whisky club do.

In those days 'forum software' was already available, and even in
those dark ages of the world wide web some on-line whisky clubs
like PLOWED (from the USA) and MALTS-L (from Germany) used the
software enthusiastically. Unfortunately, so did 'spammers'. What's
more, I've always felt uncomfortable about the fact that everybody
(including people working in the whisky industry) would be able to
publish their opinions on Malt Madness or Malt Maniacs without any
form of editorial control. I feared that this could easily jeopardise
our beloved independence...
 
So, after running a forum on MM for a while I decided to remove
that option again and return to the 'low tech' approach where the
people that wanted to leave comments could do so via e-mail. This
approach meant more handiwork, but at least we would prevent
the sort of manipulation that would raise its ugly head almost a
century later when communities like Facebook and MySpace saw
the light. Granted, this severely limited our potential for further
growth, but that wasn't a problem - because we never were a
commercial entity we never needed to grow, grow, grow like many
companies need to do these days. And because we could allow our
group to evolve organically, most of us remained inspired.

Sweet drams,

Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs

E-pistle #2001/01 - New Years Resolutions
Submitted on 01/01/2001 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

New Years resolutions, you know those promises you make on January 1 and forget by about the fifteenth. 
Well this year my resolution was to taste a new malt every week.  To add some incentive I issued a challenge to the Malt Madness team to join me.  I figure if Michael Jackson can taste 500 malts in a year, we can taste at least 52 that are new to us.  To qualify the malt must be new to the taster, some kind of tasting notes must be made, and a provisional score (subject to future validation and adjustment) must be assigned.  I won't say who took up the challenge, but there are several of us in on it now.  For January my new malts are Strathisla 1985 from Gordon and MacPhail; Arran nas; Milroys Talisker 1988 8yo, Littlemill nas; and Lochindaal 10yo.

Strathisla 1985 (40%, Gordon and MacPhail) - Provisional score:  80 points
An Quaich ordered in some miniatures for Christmas and I bought a mixed case of Strathisla 1985 and Glentauchers 1979.  Though the cheaper of the two, the Strathisla is most certainly the superior malt.  It's rich, sweet and has a nice, coating, mouth-filling feel.
Nose:  Malt, wood, dusty green hay and dried grain.  Nutty.  Dry and dusty then sweet, floral, honey.  The nose develops slowly and very obviously over time, becoming sweeter and maltier and ending up with a hint of brown sugar.  With water the nose is grassy and grainy with lots of malt and hints of honey and wood.
Palate:  Very sweet and mildly woody, oily, warm but not spicy until the middle when a warming minty tingle appears.  A brief, passing bitterness that develops into tobacco then damp earth.  With water it's sweet and malty, spicier, with a slippery mouth feel and a hint of grass.
Finish:  Long, sweet malt and wood.  Slippery.
Empty glass:  cocoa, nuts, wood and fudge.

Arran NAS (43%, OB) - Provisional score:  75 points
Having tried the 2 year old Arran spirit, I didn't have very high hopes for this one.  The two year old had been a very chemical tasting concoction, and at cask strength not particularly enjoyable.  The nas was a pleasant surprise.  A few years in oak had worked off the acetone edges leaving a sweet, malty whisky.  Malt Madness surfer and Toronto malt aficionado, John Di Marco had drawn my attention to the Arran whisky in an e-mail in which he wondered about its island qualities.  Well, I could remember no smoke in the 2 year old spirit, and found none in the mature whisky either.  Arran is not typical of island malts, being much maltier and lacking any overt peat smoke.  No doubt the folks at Arran have plans to bring out a more mature version as time goes by.  Given the tremendous improvement between the two year old and this nas version, which is probably less than 5 years old, we can only wait for bigger and better things to come.
Nose:  Malty cereal, sweet floral esters.
Palate:  Quite sweet, smooth and warming, but not too spicy at first.  Subsequent sips become hotter and spicier.  The mouth feel is a bit oily.  With water it's sweet and malty with a brief spiciness.
Finish:  Just fades out sweetly.
Empty glass:  Sweet and sour.  A new aroma for me:  rye crisps.

Talisker 8yo 1988 (45%, Milroys) - Provisional Score:  91 points
Wow, this is great whisky.  If the already boisterous 10 year old distillery bottling could be any friskier, Milroys have found the casks to prove it.  In a head to head with the 10 year old distillery bottling, the Milroys 8yo was much paler in colour, almost clear.  Smokier than the 10yo and not as sweet, it had a distinct hint of bitter chocolate.  In a head to head with Ardbeg 17 the Milroys 8yo was smokier and sweeter and the Ardbeg smelled sour after nosing the Talisker.  Head to head with the sweet, malty Arran, the Milroys Talisker was also sweet, and even more so when water was added.
Nose:  Smokey, sweet, flowery and dry.  Medicinal with a licorice undertone.  Very Islay-like. 
After adding water it becomes very sweet with milder smoke and antiseptic.
Palate:  Spicy and sweet then very hot.  Smokey.  Spicy, peppery; gets hotter and smokier in the middle. 
Medicinal and smoky with an Islay air.  Bitter chocolate.  Smokier than the 10yo. 
With water it is quite sweet with muted but developing smoke.
Finish:  Smoky, medium-long.  Cigarette ashes.
Empty Glass:  Smoke and musty medicine. 
This is good whisky.

Littlemill NAS (40%, OB) - Provisional Score:  82 points
Lowland whiskies have a reputation for being light, but in the case of Littlemill, that does not mean flavourless.  This is an interesting and unique whisky and I recommend it highly, if only for the second sip when malted milk flashes across your upper lip, then lingers and lingers on the palate. 
Nose:  Dry and dusty then floral and sweet.  Develops into flowers and honey then even later, green apples.  With water it's oily, estery and sweet with a hint of nutmeg or egg nog.  Maybe minty, like creamy mints.  A hint of dry hay.
Palate:  Sweet, mild, delicate, chocolate and malt.  Oily.  On the second sip it's creamy, like malted milk.  This is the first time I've tasted this flavour in a malt and it is very unusual, especially on the upper lip.  Water brings out the malted milk and adds a further hint of spice, but overall I prefer it neat.
Finish:  It just slowly fades out.

Lochindaal 10yo (43%, OB) - Provisional Score:  73 points
I had heard rumours of a new Islay distillery called Lochindaal, so when I came across it, I had to try it.  First sip, and I knew something was up.  It tasted just like Bruichladdich.  A quick reference to "the literature" confirmed that it was not a new distillery at all, but an independent bottling of the same old Bruichladdich the distillery supplies (in Canada at least) at 40%.  So, for a second tasting I tried a head to head with the Bruichladdich, which was just a little bit fresher and more flavourful.
Nose:  Initially very malty, then dusty and malty.  Dry grain, a bit fruity and estery.  Fruitcake, sweet and sweet and sour.  With water it's green and grassy with a few whiffs of smoke.  Drier than the Bruichladdich.
Palate:  A bit sweet, like cereal.  Pepper develops in the middle.  With water it's more flavourful.  Woody with a slight hint of peat smoke when breathing out.  Bitter chocolate follows initial sweetness.  A bit spicy in the middle with the flavour of black pepper.
Finish:  Long and woody.
Empty glass:  Sweet with a touch of wood.

That's one month down, eleven to go.
Coming in February two Connoisseurs Choice Ardbegs, the 1975 and 1978, and two others yet undecided.

Davin
 

E-pistle #2001/02 - What Does Birch Whisky Taste Like?
Submitted by Lex Kraaijeveld, England

"... and the aged Manager informed us that there is annually made a certain quantity of Birch Whisky, which his father taught him the secret of making."

This is a sentence from the description of Langholm distillery in Barnard's epic distillery tour in the 1880s, Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom. What is Birch Whisky? It doesn't seem very likely that it was simply malt whisky matured in barrels made of birch wood rather than oak, because that does not really fit with the 'secret of making' that Barnard refers to. Brian Townsend, the author of Scotch Missed and Lost Distilleries of Ireland told me that it was not uncommon in those days for distilleries to make spirit with certain additives if a customer or pub requested it. He suggested that birch whisky may have been made by adding birch bark or twigs to malt whisky.

There is also another possibility, a very different one. Reverend John Grant, the minister of Kirkmichael parish on Speyside, writes in his report for the Statistical Account of Scotland in the early 1790s: "Till of late that the little wood of the kind has been better preserved, the inhabitants used in the month of March to extract a liquid from the birch, called fion-na-uisg, a bheatha, which they considered as very salubrious and conducive to longevity. By an easy metaphor, the name has been transferred to denominate that well known spirit distilled from malt; but a spirit of different effects in its consequence."

Preparing an alcoholic drink from the sap of birch trees is an old and widespread tradition in the Highlands; I have come across quite a lot of references to it. A 19th century recipe for 'birk wine', for instance, calls for three pounds of sugar and one pound of raisins to be added to one gallon of birch juice, after which it is boiled, allowed to ferment, strained and then casked for five months.

Could it be that the word 'whisky' in birch whisky is loosely used by Barnard and he actually talks about this casked 'birk wine'? Or that birch whisky is a spirit distilled from 'birk wine'? Or are there two pieces to the puzzle and is birch whisky genuine whisky flavoured with 'birk wine' in some way? All these possibilities would certainly seem to require knowledge of some recipe.

Addition 24/6/2010: For a long time, the nature of Langholm's Birch Whisky has remained obscure to me, but I recently received an e-mail from Walter Jacobson. He discovered two references (from two different sources) to birch wood being used in drying the malt: "Since the alteration, however, on the distillery laws, and the establishment of small stills throughout Scotland, a considerable opening for the smaller sized birch has been found in these distilleries, where it is consumed with much success in drying the malt used in the manufacture of whisky, as it communicates no disagreeable taste to the malt, or unpleasant flavour to the spirit, and the heat which it produces is strong and steady." The other quote says: "The branches are employed as fuel in the distillation of whisky; and they are found to contribute a flavour to it far superior to that produced by the use of fir-wood, coal, or peat." These two references (thanks Walter!) could very well solve the enigma. Birch Whisky seems to have been distilled from malt dried by the smoke of birch wood! Also, the first of the references suggests that it was commonly used at some point in time, though it may be that in Barnard's days, Langholm was the only distillery still using birch wood for drying its malt.

Lex Kraaijeveld, UK
 

E-pistle #2001/03 - Bowmore Darkest
Submitted on 17/01/2001 by Jeff Jaskolski, USA

Johannes, I am quite suprised at how poorly Bowmore Darkest has treated you. It was one of the first bottles of single malt scotch I have ever owned and it was wonderful (sadly it has been depleted and hasn't been replaced yet).  More recently, I have had a couple of drams from my Father-in-law's bottle....still wonderful.  It is almost exactly how I remember my bottle. We all know that preference is very personal and subjective, but I have sampled 45+ malts over the last year, and look at the top of my list:

1.   Talisker 10
2.   Springbank 12
3.   Bowmore Darkest
4.   Springbank 10
5    Laphroaig 10
6.   Lagavulin 16
7.   Glenmorangie Fino Sherry finish
8.   Highland Park 12
9.   Balvenie 12 Doublewood
10. Bowmore 12
11. Cragganmore 12

As you can see, we have a lot of similar likes.
This is why I am so suprised about your experiences with Bowmore Darkest.
Perhaps you got a bad bottle.

Regards,

Jeff Jaskolski, USA
 

E-pistle #2001/04 - Batch Variation
Submitted on 18/01/2001 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

Judging from the enthusiastic reports I have been receiving about the Bowmore Darkest, it seems I've been dealt a bottle that was not nearly as good as the 'average' Bowmore Darkest. But then again, that's a calculated risk when you buy a single cask malt.

Nevertheless, I won't buy another bottle anytime soon to find out if it's better than my first one.
It's priced at 58 Euro's here in Holland - considerably more expensive than my favorites Lagavulin 16, Talisker, Ardbeg 17 and Macallan 10 100 Proof. It these kind of prices I'd rather 'play it safe' and buy a bottle that I know I love than take another gable at the expensive Bowmore Darkest. Most of the malts you mentioned are in the top of my list as well - with the notable exception of the Glenmorangie Sherry Wood Finish. The bottle I bought scored 73 points, a dram in a bar a few months ago 74 points. Not very impressive. I like the Port and Madeira a lot better. But then again, the Glenmorangie special wood finishes are rumoured to display relatively big differences between bottlings.

The more official bottlings I try, the more obvious the importance of batch variation becomes.
And the most interesting part is that batch variation seems to be much stronger in some 'brands' than in others.
I may have to add a chapter about the phenomenon to my Beginner's Guide to Scotch malt whisky.

Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
 

E-pistle #2001/05 - EoZ January 2001 Report
Submitted on 24/01/2001 by Craig Daniels, Australia

This is the traditional kick-off, when and where the Laird gets free rein.
And he has come up with an intriguing bunch!

Arran Sherry malt - In the general scheme of things (where some distilleries trace their histories to 1770 and earlier), Arran is a veritable babe in arms, being conceived, constructed and commissioned between 1992 and 1995. Thus by definition this Arran malt has to be fairly young. I'd hate to have money on it but 4 years would be my guess, but don't automatically think that young whisky lacks flavour or subtlety. Anyone who has tasted the very youthful Cradle Mountain or young lowlands will recognise an immediate similarity; stripped pine, icing sugar and fairy floss, yet the Arran has more malty depths than either Cradle Mountain or Littlemill. A fascinating glimpse of a work in progress.

Scapa 1989 - We had a Scapa 12 last year. This is a fraction younger, but should be in the same mould; light, fresh and clean, but there is many a gentle pleasure to be had from understated island malts. Should be gentle and friendly.

Bowmore Claret - I've been lucky enough to have experienced this before and while I don't want to give too much away, this is one of those whiskies that makes belonging to a malt club worthwhile. The traditionalists probably don't like it, but it is a hint of where the industry might think it's heading and you don't have to shell out mega-bucks to find out whether you like it. I think it's better than OK but wouldn't oft forgo a dram of Bowmore 17 or 21 in favour of the Claret. I can say a few things with my hand on my heart; it is interesting, exotic in the extreme, rare and expensive.
 

January 24, 2001 -  Report Card "Laird's Choice"

Arran Malt - At first waft the Arran reminded me powerfully of Cradle Mountain, the Tasmanian single some of the Earls road tested in December 1999. The Arran was similar but better. I'm beginning to suspect that all young malt whisky has that nougat, marshmallow and icing sugar nose. While the label quite clearly mentions sherry casks, both times I've had a taste I've noted lots of bourbon wood type flavours of sawmill and pine forest floor, which doesn't say sherry to me. If it was matured in sherry wood my bet it is that it was third refill wood. A long and considered inspection on this occasion revealed nougat and pine with marshmallow, peanuts, malt and dough in the palate, a kick of pepper and nutmeg in the tail along with a cream pastry note. Developed some sweet & sour (acetone & acetic acid) notes like youngish Glengoyne or Tullibardine. I'd be very surprised if the malt was peated as I didn't get any smoke or earth/fudge notes at all, which sort of reinforced the Glengoyne/Tullibardine analogy. Palate was obviously youthful and a bit bitey, but the spiciness made it much more complex than the nose suggested. I'd certainly like to try it at 10 yo. To bottle it at 4yo is bordering on infanticide. Score 7.0

Scapa 1989 (G&M) - The Scapa provided the biggest note of controversy on the night and was easily the most contentious among the assembled tasters. Some thought it the best whisky in the line-up but I was on the side of the naysayers as I thought it rather strange with some wood faults. There was something I found unpleasant in the nose. The wood was more than a bit funky; like scorched meranti (like the smoke that comes off a worn & wet drill bit) rather than clean pine or oak and there was a strong suggestion of bourbon mash rather than malt. The palate was OK to good; gentle and faintly gingery and the overall score was rescued by the mouthfeel which was very good; it had a plushness and roundness that was close to luxurious. A pleasure to swill and swallow but I really thought there was something amiss with the nose. Score 7.2

Bowmore Claret 56% - third trip to this particular well and I still think this stuff is overrated and overpriced. Surprisingly the in-house tasting notes are close to the mark. I agree with roses and sea salt however I also got some attractive dusty tar and old rope, but I guess that hot macadam & worn hemp don't quite make it in the painfully positive world of liner notes. Yet all these nice traits sit under an increasingly cloying sweetness that eventually bashes everything else into submission. The palate and finish are good, especially the finish. While it's interesting it is streets short of greatness; no way known I would kick the Bowmore 17 or 21 out of bed to get to the Claret. Bob brought a sample of the Bowmore Dusk along for comparison purposes and it was very similar if toned down a couple of notches, which in this case was a plus. The Claret is improved by the addition of a dash of water that brings out a most attractive dark chocolate note. My scores have bounced around since I first tasted this whisky, so maybe I just don't like the 'experiment'. Still better than a lot of others. Score 8.2

The Blind – Gillies Club Bowmore Legend 58% - The blind was another cask strength Bowmore, (which I got right) - but it's not one that many of us will ever get to stumble across again, being a Gillies Club-Australia bottling of Bowmore Legend bottled January 1994 at 58%. First off I got a big, bourbon wood O/P nose with lots of peat. Armed with those clues I had it narrowed down to 5 pretty quickly and eventually decided it had too much peat to be Clynelish 12 (my second choice), far too much to be Bruichladdich 1965 or Highland Park 1955 OP and nowhere near enough smoke to be Ardbeg 1972 13. Pretty good, if young, Bowmore with very typical Bowmore traits of lifted sweet lavender and antiseptic ointment. Much, much better than any commercial release of the Legend at 40 or 43%. The high proof gives it added oomph! Score 8.0

Craig Daniels, Australia
 

E-pistle #2001/06 - Auchentoshan & Glenfiddich
Submitted on 24/01/2001 by Johnny M. Lawcock, USA

Johannes, It's an very nice and usefull site you have made.
I have used and read it extensively after I found the address. Keep up the good work. I have a few opinions about SMSW.
The Auchentoshan 10 yrs is recommended as an beginners dram, by nearly anybody. That must be an joke!!! My bottle tastes like "Cat Piss" (whatever the taste are on that). I can't describe it closer than "metallic", maybe feint?? Perhaps it's a bad bottle??

Re: The Glenfiddich Ancient Reserve. Most Maltwhisky lovers wrinkle their nose when mentioned.
Okay it's not an great dram, but it's doing okay. Never forget that this single malt actually started all, that we enjoy so much today. We therefor have to say thanks to Glenfiddich for that. And allways have a bottle in our cabinet (if you can't find an excuse for it, you can do it because it's now discontinued and replaced with and 12 yrs old). But hurry up before the last bottles are gone.

At the moment I have 20+ bottles in my cabinet, where I'm drinking of 12 at the moment, including the mentioned C.. Piss (hoping that I one day will discover why people recommend it). Have actually just taken a glass of it "BWADR", are now trying to take the bad taste with Bowmore 12yo. My favourites are by so far:
 
- Highland Park 12 yrs
- Talisker 10 yrs
- Balvenie Double Wood
- Laphroig 10 yrs Cask Strength
- Bowmore 12 yrs
- Bunnahabhain 12 yrs

Re: prices in Netherlands.
OOhhh Johannes how are you lucky. So low and fair prices.
In my next life I will live there. Only problem is that I have to learn to say like an Seal or Sea Lion.
But it's perhaps like my own language Danish, foreigners say it's nor an language, it's an bad habit. Last bottle I bought was an Glenfarclass 12 yrs, for the price of $61.00. Anyone higher??? But it seems like I have solved the problem. In the future I will import from Netherlands or Luxembourg, which should give no problems with customs. I have tried twice.

Johnny M. Lawcock, USA
 

E-pistle #2001/07 - Responsible Response
Submitted on 25/01/2001 by by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Johnny,

When you look at my rating for the Auchentoshan 10yo, you'll notice that I personally don't like it very much.
In fact, a recent tasting in a bar indicated that the original score of 68 points may have been a bit generous.
What makes it a good beginners malt is the fact that it represents one of the 'extremes' of the single malt spectrum.
Many people consider it to be the quintessential Lowland malt, triple distilled with a clear, spirity, feinty, almost grainy style.
If you have determined you don't like the Auchentoshan, you have learned that the (young) Lowland malts are probably not your 'thing'.
This means you can focus your attention on the other regions; Highlands, Islay and Campbeltown. But it's wise to keep an open mind about this - I didn't care much for the first Lowlanders I've tasted (Auchentoshan 10, Glenkinchie 10) but recent experiences with older versions of Bladnoch and Saint Magdalene have greatly improved my opinion about this region.

When you mention the Glenfiddich 'Ancient Reserve', I think you may actually mean the 'Special Reserve', which used to be bottled without an age statement but is now becoming available as a 12 years old. The 'Ancient Reserve' is actually an 18 years old single malt. I haven't tasted that one yet, but the new 12yo. (Special Reserve) and the 15yo. (Solera Reserve) are on my shelves right now, as well as the 15 Cask Strength - which is actually quite good. I guess Glenfiddich deserves some credit for opening up the single malt market, but constantly keeping the disappointing Special Reserve on my shelves doesn't sound too appealing. The best I can do is give the new 12yo bottling a fair chance after I've opened the bottle.

The favourites you mentioned all score over 80 points in my system, so we're in agreement there.
And I guess I shouldn't complain as much about the prices of some of the single malts available here in Holland. I know people in Scandinavia, Great Brittain and the U.S.A. usually have to pay a lot more than I do, especially for the younger official and independent malts. The price you mentioned for the Glenfarclas 12 translates to 66 Euro's, but I only have to pay 34 Euro's for a liter bottle of Glenfarclas 12.

I guess the most important thing to keep in mind is that the notes and scores only reflect my own, purely personal opinion.
As soon as you've tried, say, two dozen different malts you can check the matrix to see which maniacs have tastes similar to your own.

Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
 

E-pistle #2001/08 - Malts of Distinction
Submitted on 26/01/2001 by Christer Sundin

I have a few comments on the "Malts of Distinction" I read about in your tasting report from December 12.
Last summer I tasted a malt called "Druichan" and the only info I found on the web was the Invergordon home page.
Druichan is one of the "Malts of Scotland", consisting of Kincaple, Glenluig, Craignure, Ferintosh and Druichan. (Cool names, huh?)

They're not very clear about it, but I got the impression that the "Malts of Distinction" and "Malts of Scotland" are just new labels on the stuff they distribute under their "real" names: Bruichladdich, Old Fettercairn, Tomintoul, Tullibardine, Tamnavulin, Dalmore and/or Isle of Jura. Druichan and Ardnave is most likely Bruichladdich. I guess the others must be tasted in order to find their real identity. I'm uncertain about the Lowlanders Glen Foyle and Kincaple since Invergordon don't sell any Lowland malts (?). Druichan tasted ok but it wasn't anything special. Above all it wasn't smoky, which I tend to expect from a "real" Ileach, heh... (IMO that matches Bruichladdich).

Another thing: You mentioned that Lagavulin isn't as good as it used to be. That is worrying indeed...
On the other hand, I recently bought a bottle of 10 year old, vintage 1988 Lagavulin through a company here in Switzerland.
It's bottled for "Moon Import" (an Italian company) and it's absolutely wonderful, in spite of the horrible label =) So, since we'll get the "normal" Lagavulin from 1988 in 2004, I believe the drop in quality is only temporary. However, in Whisky Mag's Lagavulin special I read that they have recently lowered the phenol levels, i e reduced the peatiness...

That's also worrying. Why change a winning concept?

Slainte, Christer
 

E-pistle #2001/09 - Malts of Indistinction
Submitted on 18/01/2001 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

After an utterly disappointing tasting session with Ardnave 10yo and Ben Wyvis 10yo on January 10, I can tell you with a large degree of certainty that the Ardnave is NOT a Bruichladdich. In fact, I'm having serious doubts about the supposed Islay heritage of this whisky. Over the years, I've tasted many different bottlings from each distillery on Islay, and this stuff doesn't even come close. It has none of the peat and smoke of the real Islay malts; even the relatively 'weak' Bruichladdich 10 packs a lot more heat than the Ardnave 10.
If it's indeed an Islay malt, my guess would be the (virtually?) unpeated Bunnahabhain.

The Ileach (a 'bastard' Islay malt) I tasted on January 16 is miles better than the Ardnave.
The Ben Wyvis performed very badly as well. And I have to admit that the fact that Invergordon used the name of an old, closed distillery for a whisky that has NOTHING to do with that distillery pisses me off. Are they banking on the fact that some weak-witted novice might pick up a bottle under the mistaken impression that he found a lost treasure from the past on the shelves of his liquorist?

If you are going to spend your money on 'bastard malts' you're much better off with the 'Vintage' series by Signatory.
The Black Bottle is a reasonable alternative as well if you're looking for Islay characteristics.

I didn't hear about the reduced phenol levels in Lagavulin 16 before, but that's certainly in keeping with my findings.
To my nose and palate, the character has moved in the direction of the 'Distiller's Edition' bottling. That's a great bottling as well (confidently scoring in the upper 80's), but for my nose and palate they got the balance between peat and sherry influence juuust right during the early 1990's. After 1995 the later bottlings of the 16yo were still fantabulous, but just a few points below the 'Port Ellen' bottlings.

Sweet drams,

Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland 

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