Malt Maniacs #017
Whisky Au Bain Marie
Unleashing the Clynelish
Latest Notes from Down Under
Vox Populi & Reply
Earls of Zetland February Report
February & March 2001 Malt Update
Earls of Zetland March Report
Ardbeggeddon II, Las Vegas
Malt Maniacs #017 - April 1, 2001
These first issues of our 'Malt Maniacs' E-zine contain all reports
that were written by the foreign correspondents for the previous
version of this site, i.e. before the team expanded and transformed
into the Malt Maniacs that roam the face of the whisky world today.
Since these articles were written long before the E-pistles that are
published on Malt Maniacs, we decided to call them 'prE-pistles'.
One of these prE-pistles is a report on Ardbeggeddon II by our
American maniac Louis Perlman. Ardbeggeddon is an amateur
whisky festival of epic proportions that is organised every year
by the PLOWED crowd in the USA. Over the course of two days,
Louis managed to sample 41 different single malt whiskies!
Read all about it in his tasting report with notes on all of them.
Considering that Louis sampled more than 40 different malts
during a single weekend, the '52 Challenge' that some of the
malt maniacs accepted doesn't seem all that, ehm, challenging.
Well, let me assure you that it IS... For one thing, Davin and I aim
to not only taste these whiskies and publish tasting notes - we
also want to come up with solid scores for all of them. DRINKING
the whiskies isn't the actual challenge; scoring them reliably and
coming up with meaningful tasting notes is...
Our main motivation for the '52 Challenge' is the need to fill the
malt maniacs matrix with more scores. Craig, Davin, Klaus and
myself have collected all our scores so far, but many of those are
for independent bottlings that are no longer available. And even
when it comes to official bottlings that are still available we have
to change our approach. Since we've become aware of the trouble
with batch variation we've realised that it would make sense to
add the bottling year to each entry on the matrix. Although it's not
always possible to determine the bottling year for an official bottle
with any degree of certainty, there are clues that can help one
make a pretty good guess.
Anyway, that's it for now.
I hope you enjoy this collection of musings and observations on
whisky. If you started reading in 1997 and have followed the
hyperlinks into the future, you may agree with us that Malt Maniacs
is becoming more like a proper E-zine with every single issue...
Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs
E-pistle #2001/15 - Whisky Au Bain Marie
Submitted by Lex Kraaijeveld, England
Among the exciting whiskies present at the Whisky Expo 1999 were two single malts from distilleries on America's west coast: St George's distillery in California and Clear Creek distillery in Oregon. What makes these whiskies special is that they are distilled in stills designed for making eau-de-vie. In these Holstein stills, the mash is heated by a heat source not used for any other whisky: a hot water bath.
Although the use of a hot water bath, also called "balneum mariae" or "bain-marie", is an innovation in the distilling of whisky, its use for distilling spirits goes back to the dawn of alcohol distillation in Europe. For instance, Arnold de Villanova, who lived from 1234 to 1313, mentions using a "balneum mariae" in his experiments on distilling spirits from wine. The use of a "balneum mariae" for distillation in general goes back much further in time. It was used by a school of Alexandrian chemists that came to prominence in the 1st century AD. Among these chemists were Maria the Jewess (after which "balneum mariae" is named, although there is no proof that she actually invented it), Zosimos and a certain Cleopatra.
These early chemists and their followers used a wide variety of heat sources for their experiments in distillation of a whole range of substances (but there is no evidence that they ever distilled alcohol): direct heat from the sun, sand baths, rising bread, ash, ant hills and even fermenting horse dung! A single tantalising page from a manuscript by Cleopatra on distilling perfumes survives and we know she used fermenting dung for her perfume manufacturing. In all cases these heat sources were preferred over direct fire when delicate substances were distilled.
So in a way, with the use of a "balneum mariae" for distilling whisky, a roughly 2000 year old strand of distilling history has been woven into the already rich tapestry of whisky heritage. It will be very interesting to explore the effects of using this heat source on its taste; some delicate congeners may be present in such whiskies that are not present in any other. As for the other ancient heat sources, I can see a whole new family of tasting notes emerge for the first whisky distilled by using heat from fermenting horse dung .....
E-pistle #2001/16 - Unleashing the Clynelish
Submitted on 19/02/2001 by Krishna Nukala, India
You have to take A9 towards north from Inverness to proceed for Brora in Sutherland where the distillery of Clynelish is situated.
The route is one of the most exciting of the eastern landscapes of Scotland meandering over cliffs whose base is washed constantly by the waters of the North Sea. Just after the Dornoch Firth if one looks carefully into the sea, the water enters through two vast hills and it is said that Alistair MacLean drew his inspiration from this dramatic setting to write 'The Guns of Navorone'. Shortly you will be at Carn Laith where you will encounter one of the largest and well- preserved Brochs of Scotland. A bit of Scottish history here. Brochs are the tall defensive towers found only in Scotland built over 2500 years ago and were meant to be watch towers to signal any invasions from invaders attacking from the North Sea. From here you take a right turn to enter into the village of Brora.
The Brora distillery is now owned by United Distilleries goes back to 1819 and it was sad to know that no whisky is being produced in the old Victorian building. A new construction has been made right next to it and one can see the shining copper stills of the new distillery through the huge glass panes. Clynelish claims to have the distinction of inducting first lady manager in the industry in the form of Ms. Kay Fleming. Unfortunately she was off on the day I visited the distillery. Nevertheless, a charming lady took me to a tour of both the buildings.
Traditionally, the distillery produced Brora and since some time (probably from 1983) it stopped producing the whisky in this name and all whisky produced now is only Clynelish. Clynelish does the malting from outside. It has its own springs coming down from high above the mountains running at the back of the distillery. There are eight wash backs and six stills. All the stills are oil heated. After the desired strength of alcohol had been arrived at, the casks are stored (thankfully) in the cellars of the old Victorian building. The cellars contain mostly Clynelish although I could spot three vintage casks of 1972 Brora. The distillery has also kept six casks separate for its 2019 bi-centenary celebrations! The bottling is done outside at Leven, Pfife.
Back in the Clynelish office the standard 14-year Clynelish is offered for the tasting.
The liquid was of pale gold and I approach the stuff with my usual reverence. The first sip was surprisingly fruity. I close my eyes to unravel the other secrets of this wonderful whisky with my second and subsequent sips. It has a full body with a hint of peat and the taste lingered long after my exit from the distillery. A big whisky, and I can vouch that even beginners could fall for it. My rating: 83 points.
E-pistle #2001/17 - Latest Notes from Down Under
Submitted on 20/02/2001 by Craig Daniels, Australia
I had a little tasting at home to road test samples of two malts from Ardbeggeddon 2 sent to me by Mark Kaplan.
I also had a chance to submit the Tomintoul-Glenlivet 12 to a second inspection for inclusion in MMM. The truly reliable benchmarker was Glenlivet 12; I am always surprised at the quality of the recent bottlings of The Glenlivet 12 at 40%. It's a lovely clean whisky, with floral and linen notes early and then yeast and malt notes build in the background. Never becomes funky or disintegrates and this time I scored it CD78 (MMM 79). The QPR is quite good and at 79MMM points can be included in my 'Recommended Buy' category. In Australia we can get it for AUD50 per litre and it boosts a cheap blend into the 'deluxe' category very rapidly, especially if you add a tiny bit of a good sherry malt (Aberlour a'bunadh or Macallan 12 do the trick). My recipe for a grand long drink (over ice and water) is 50% Clan Campbell (or Teachers or Langs Supreme 5) with 40% Glenlivet 12 and 10% Macallan 12. This is the kind of drink that gets me through our summers (regularly 10 days over 30degC and sometimes 8-10 days over 35degC) hence the need for a long drink.
The Tomintoul-Glenlivet 12 43% has been opened a while and was my second trip (for MMM rating purposes). The first time I subjected it to serious analysis, it was amongst some heavily sherried malts and seemed spiritty with obvious and astringent oak, but a pretty typical Speysider with a bit of an unwelcome bite in the palate and finish. First pass score CD76-78. Second time it was very malty with some obvious bourbon wood. The slightly astringent wood was still there (with a pronounced spirit prickle right at the top of the nose). The nose developed some rich yeast cake and sour fruit notes and became increasingly unbalanced with souring wood and a funky yeastiness which I don't particularly like. The yeast and sour notes were also obvious on the palate. The mouthfeel was good although the finish was a bit hot and sour. Not as nice or acceptable as first time around nor anywhere near as solid a whisky as the 'old' 8 year old, which was lighter and cleaner than this 12. Second score CD 74-76. Final MMM score 75. It's OK but while it has character, it also has a few negative points. I'd drink it but wouldn't buy another bottle, especially as it cost me US$38 (with taxes) and that works out at around AUD70 for a 750ml bottle.
Bunnahabhain Family Silver 1968
40% (First pass - not scored for MMM yet)
Nose; soft and slightly sweet, clean and refined. Gets some honey,cream and caramel toffee notes.
Stays impeccably clean. Has a light summer feel to it, not as bright as Dalwhinnie or Scapa but in that general style.
Palate and mouthfeel; lovely mouthfeel, exceptionally smooth with some lovely cream biscuitty notes in tail.
Soft and sophisticated - could well have been a Bruichladdich. CD score 83-84
Glenfarclas Christmas Malt 1971
53.1% (First pass - not scored for MMM yet)
Nose; Big sherry nose of recently waxed floorboards, floor polish and wax. After a short while gets that big mint toffee and dutch chocolate icecream nose of Glenfarclas and Macallan 25s, with a faint hint of rancio. Seems a bit heftier than either of the 25's but may be due entirely to the extra proof. Palate and Mouthfeel; very good legs, big sherry palate-fruitcake, brandied fruit, bitter herbs-drying finish - strong creamy notes in the reprise. Gets cherries and flowers, a faint hint of peat and much creamier with addition of a little water. Seriously good whisky - score CD 87-89.
The Bunny was nice (and scored a lot like the Bruichladdich 15, which it closely resembled) but the GF was in a class of its own. The Bunny didn't have any detectable sherry wood and I suspect that it is a mix of first and second fill bourbon wood exclusively. I also didn't find any classic markers like 'sea-air or flowers' but that could've been because the Glenlivet is so floral that it hid it in the Bunny. The stuff in the glass didn't give any clues it was Islay either as I didn't get any peat and if I'd had to guess I would've said Bruichladdich or Scapa as I have no other experience with unsherried and unpeated Bunny. I'm actually a bit surprised that such a soft, sophisticated and low-impact malt scored so high at A2 - it wouldn't have made my top ten at A1. The Glenfarclas OTOH, was certainly one out of the box - in the same class as Macallan 25 and any of those Adelphi Glen Grants and with the higher proof, much more impressive. Also takes to water better than any Adelphi and the proof probably nudges the score up higher than the Mac 25.
E-pistle #2001/18 - Vox Populi & Reply
Submitted on 20/02/2001 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
I've received a message from Jake Fox today with some 'public warnings' and a suggestion;
"Ave. First of all, I have to say I love Malt Madness. It's the best whisky-site I have seen so far and definitely the most comprehensive.
The whisky warnings were interesting indeed. The quality (or lack thereof) of Johnnie Walker Red Label cannot be overemphasized. I would've poured half a bottle straight down the drain if I weren't afraid it might damage the sink... I also suggest warning people of Jack Daniel's Old No 7. It's probably good if you like that kind of stuff. Then again, so is manure :-) I also have a suggestion. I for one love reading your musings, so why not start a weekly/monthly column, where you could briefly share your thoughts on whisky and things (life, for instance). Perhaps small notes on whisky and cigars, whisky vs. brandy, regional differences/preferences, whisky and food, shopping experiences..."
Well, I haven't tried manure myself yet, but I know the Jack Daniels Old No. 7 ;-)
I'm indeed not crazy about it; I have the occasional glass - just one - with lots of ice on a hot summer night. But I have to admit that I enjoy it more than the Four Roses bourbon, which is just plain awful IMHO. Compared to single malts, there's just no complexity whatsoever; just the alcohol and an overbearing sweetness. That being said; I've been told that only the cheap bourbons make it to Holland. So, disqualifying an entire whiskey category based on my own experiences with the cheaper varieties would be like disqualifying the entire 'Scotch whisky' category based only on my experiences with blends.
As far as your suggestion goes: My 'Liquid Log' pages should work as some kind of diary of all malt-related happenings in my life.
I would love to cover a wider range of topics, but the truth of the matter is that there are just not enough hours in a day to let me do all the stuff that I would like to do. When I discovered the wonders of the world wide web in 1995 I immediately began developing a bunch of different websites. Two other websites I loved working on were the 'Movie Madness' site about my love for cinema (also in English) and the 'Weird Planet' website with short stories, poetry, politics, philosophy and absurdistic snippets. I stopped working on the 'Movie Madness' site after I discovered the 'Internet Movie Database' website which had already accomplished what I had in mind for the distant future. As far as 'Weird Planet' goes: I haven't found a site quite like it, so I may pick this up again once I'm happy with the whisky site(s).
Oh - and one final word about whisky and cigars...
In the past 'cognac & cigars' formed a traditional combination - but so were sewer rats and the black plague. ;-)
In modern times advertising and marketing people are trying their best to link whisky to other 'luxury products' like cigars and chocolate. While this may be fine from a strictly 'enjoyment' point of view, but trying to combine an exquisite malt whisky with a cigar or a piece of chocolate really is a waste of a perfectly enjoyable malt whisky. The taste (or smoke) of the chocolate or cigar will completely overpower the subtler elements of the malt whisky. So, if you want to combine whisky with chocolate or a cigar, please choose a cheap blend...
E-pistle #2001/19 - Earls of Zetland February Report
Submitted on 28/02/2001 by Craig Daniels, Australia
One of the most enduring and important functions of a malt club is to provide opportunities to taste whiskies that are available but as a collective we have not subjected to our particular version of the inquisition. To this end the brains trust went out and looked at the retail shelves and chose some that might prove to be worthy additions to one's top shelf. Of the three on the agenda for this month, Ledaig and Glen Scotia have some similarities both as distilleries and as whiskies. Both are in intermittent production with periods where the stills are silent and ownership changes hands pretty frequently. The whisky they produce is also similar; definitely robustly west coast in style with a dry bourbon woodiness, subtle yet readily discernible peat and a marine character that is described as 'a hint of the sea'.
Glen Grant is the odd one out. It is one of the pillars of the industry, being consistently in the top three of total world sales of single malt whisky and shifting an awful lot of product in Europe and the Far East. However we've only ever had one 'official' bottling and that was the no-age stated, which is at best a beginner's malt in the same mould as Glenfiddich Special Reserve and Tamdhu NA. Maybe not programming "beginner's" malts is not that all that surprising as we've never programmed the ubiquitous Glenfiddich, probably because of the howls of rage and massive tonnage of scorn that would be heaped upon the perpetrators.
However I have it on good authority that the Glen Grant 10 is a class above the no age, in much the same way that the Glenfiddich Solera 15 and Cask Strength 15 are superior to the Special Reserve. Glen Grant reminds me a lot of Glenlivet, not just because of the dominant market position but because their whiskies perform similarly. As I have remarked before, I never understood the fuss that industry insiders and whisky writers made about Glenlivet until I tasted older bottlings. If you try hard enough, you can catch glimpses of the swan that is Glenlivet at 20 years plus in the 'cygnet' Glenlivet 12. Hopefully the Glen Grant 10 will afford the same sort of window on Glen Grant at 21 years, when it really starts to hit its straps as a great whisky.
Things are hotting up on the South Australian malt scene. Over the next three months we are going to see some events of significance occur in Adelaide that I hope anyone with even a passing interest in our spirit of choice will not miss. Firstly (apart from the 'normal malt meetings) there is an ultra-special and unique event planned for May 9; the Millennium Malt Convocation, which is the first time the three public malt clubs in Adelaide have ever officially got together to celebrate their mutual regard for their shared passion; single malt scotch whisky.
Secondly, the National Malt Tasting Championship is scheduled for 24 June 2001.
At last count there are only 9 people on the planet who can lay claim to having won one of these and a fair percentage of them will be at the MMC on 9 May 2001. If any of the PLOWED, Yahoo or Malts-L list crowd want to be part of either event let me know and I'll pass on the organiser's details. Three months notice is not a lot, but I only found out myself last Wednesday.
February 28, 2001 - Report Card "Ne'er tried Before"
Glen Scotia 14 - Lovely clean nose and a nice firm palate. Slightly sea-spray salty in both the nose with a little bit of edible seaweed on the palate. Stays clean and medium dry in the finish. I found it developed something akin to chocolate in the tail, but maybe this was wishful thinking. Overall a firm and assertive dram without any rough edges. Very different to any Speyside. Score 8.2
Ledaig 1990 - malty and yeasty with fat barley and fudge to start. Dries out in the nose, loses some of the flabbiness and develops an astringent woodiness. Palate is drying but the mouthfeel is oily. While there are some woody phenols in the nose, there's no forward peat, but it's quite evident in the palate and finish. Not as dry as most Ledaigs that I recollect, and a little bit too much like the Tobermory we tried in October 2000, which I didn't like much at all. Pleasant enough but nothing to write home about. Score 7.8
Glen Grant 10 - I was hoping this one would be a pleasant 'find'. I wanted to see some embyonic evidence of the greatness glen grant achieves after 18-20 years. Alas it actually reminded me of middle of the road Irish triple-distilled to start with that subdued oak, sandalwood and baby powder nose. If I'd had it blind I might have thought it Irish or a lowlander, which doesn't automatically mean it's not good but it definitely lacked some heart. Deeper delving showed some floral notes and it opened up a little over time. The palate was quite light, quite floral in a recognisably Speyside kind of a way and there was a big creamy and pine wood reprise in the finish. Overly refined. Score 7.3
The Blind – Aberlour a'bunadh - A very big whisky with definite similarities to Springbank 12 100 proof, although with a bigger alcohol kick, more forward mint and much bigger rancio notes in the tail. It is definitely an impact malt and has never failed to impress on the six or seven occasions where I have put it through its paces. I think the fact that so many thought it could be the Springbank 12 100 Proof speaks volumes for the inherent quality. Good stuff. Score 8.3
E-pistle #2001/20 - February & March 2001 Malt Update
Submitted on 01/04/2001 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada
Beginning with this update, I am using a proper nosing glass, purchased as Cadenheads for nosing my malts, and a proper tasting glass for, well, you know what for. Most of these malts have been tasted 3 times, usually on consecutive evenings. I'm hoping in weeks to come to do some head to heads and tasting panels with my new malts, but for now the punishing grind of the 52 Challenge is unrelenting.
Ardbeg 1975 Connoisseurs Choice
- 40% - Provisional Score: 88
A nice Ardbeg, and noticeably better than the CC Ardbeg 1978. In turn, it can't quite measure up to the distillery bottled 1975.
Compared to the Ardbeg 17yo, the smoke of the CC 1975 dominates, but next to the Ardbeg 10 it simply disappears.
Nose: Smoke and Vicks menthol, rich, full, clove oil. With water becomes sweet and sour, smoky with a little sweetness.
Muddy and medicinal.
Palate: Smoke and mud; rich muddy middle.
With water: smoky and warm; spicy and tingly in the mouth. Richer and more flavourful than the 1978.
Finish: Long and medicinal.
Empty glass: Smokey, barn smell, ,medicinal, sweet and musty.
Ardbeg 1978 Connoisseurs Choice
- 40% - Provisional Score: 84
This is the CC 1975 only less so. A bit of a disappointment after the 1975, but hey, it's an Ardbeg, and still has a lot to offer.
Nose: Smoke, rich, full, develops a bit of mud. With water it stays rich and smoky with a bit more muddy and medicinal tones.
Palate: Smokey with a bit of earth. Becomes spicy and hot. Mud in the middle. Sweeter than the 1975. With water it is smoky, but less so than the 1975. It is also less powerful than its older brother, and somewhat sweet in the middle.
Finish: Long and smoky.
Empty Glass: Dry grain, smoke, sharper than 1975, sweet.
Glenfiddich Solera Reserve 15yo
- 40% - Provisional Score: 73
Nose: Sweet, fudge with a hint of gunpowder. Sourish, wood. Over time the gunpowder becomes more pronounced and I like it.
Palate: Feels like it's going to be bitter, but it isn't. Hot and very spicy. The spice slowly concentrates on the tongue and the mouth becomes slippery. Peppery. Leaves your mouth feeling like you've put too much pepper on your food. Sweet with a brief hint of metal.
Finish: Medium length, hot and spicy, becoming mildly woody.
Empty glass: Sweet, faint hint of fudge.
Glenfiddich Ancient Reserve 18yo
- 40% - Provisional score: 71
Nose: Fresh, dusty, grass, some spirit, some malt. Many subtle smells – tobacco, apples, green apple, fruitcake, peat.
Palate: Briefly bitter. Hot and warming, Not much body at first, then slippery. Spice quickly fades. Not as sweet as the 15yo.
Finish: Medium length, fades to nothing.
Empty Glass: Sweetish, not much smell.
Glenallachie 1991 Sherry /Cask Signatory Vintage
- 43% abv.
Natural colour – dark yellow apple juice. Initial impression: A disappointing hiss rather than a plunk when the bottle was first opened, but then came the strong and wonderful scent of honey, beeswax and sweet wood.
My hopes were high for something to match the greatness of the Balvenies.
Nose: Esters, warm, sweet spice. A nice sharp spice in the nose.
Heavy white clover honey smell develops into a milder honey then becomes floral.
Adding water makes it spirity and estery but the honey remains.
Palate: Sweet, very hot and spicy. I think this is the hottest malt I have tried yet. Quite astringent.
There is an initial flash of spirit, but it never returns. The initial sweetness is short-lived and quickly turns quite hot.
Lots of hot spice all over the tongue and mouth. With water it remains hot and spicy but a metallic, cheesy bitterness develops.
It is mildly astringent. The spice becomes peppery, which it is not in the undiluted dram.
Finish: Medium in length, spicy and hot, then fading.
Empty glass: Maple sugar, pine soap.
Initially I scored this malt at 78, but it just didn't live up to the initial impressions, nor does it become complex or lingering.
Nominal score: 72.
Caol Ila 15yo Flora and Fauna
- 43% abv
(Well fauna actually – it's got a sea lion on the label)
Initial impression – mmm woody and smoky, nuts and tobacco.
Nose: Yes, smoky but not overpowering. Chemicals. A malty freshness.
Kippers. Subdued Islay sweetness. Develops into a typical Islay smokiness. Water reduces the smokiness.
Palate: Sweet and smoky. A milder, subtler but still southern Islay with a wonderful peat smoke when you breathe out through your nose. Creosote. A bit spicy and tongue tingling. With water a bit of bitterness. Still warming, spicy and smokey.
Finish: Long, warm, Islay smoke.
Empty glass: musty, earthy, medicinal.
Nominal score: 81
– 43% abv
Initial impression: Nutty, peanut skins and smoke.
Nose: Strong, alcohol, subtle smokiness, hint of licorice. There are lots of suggestions of scents that I just can't place. Sour pipe tobacco. The smoke is way in the background and tobacco up front. The tobacco smell lingers in your nose for four or five breathes. A little bit of wood – tobacco box. I expected a lot more wood in a 21 year old whisky. This is a very pleasant nosing whisky so take your time before you taste. With water a musty round sweet and heavy licorice emerges. Flashes of sweet and sour and the wood disappears from the nose.
Taste: Sweet and medicinal, smokey. Warming. Very spicy on the tip of the tongue. Hints of woodiness. This is a great whisky and one in which the complexity is just seductive. What next??? best describes the experience as the whisky develops in the glass and in your mouth. With water, more sweetness and a transient, slightly oily feel. A nice warm mouth feel.
Finish: A pleasing, long and somewhat smoky middles fades into sweet and powerful licorice then to mouth-filling warm smoke.
It's unusual the way the smoke grows, as it's fairly muted in the beginning. It's a longish finish that finally just fades away.
Empty glass: Sweet tobacco, spit on a hot stove.
Nominal score: 93 (man, that's right up there with my favourite Ardbegs.)
Still to come this month: MacAllan 7yo and Clynelish from Signatory. It's month 3 of the 52 Challenge and I'm still on track.
E-pistle #2001/21 - Shetland Whisky
Submitted by Lex Kraaijeveld, England
This will be my attempt to write about a whisky that never seems to have existed ....
At the moment, six of Scotland's islands give birth to whisky: Islay, Jura, Mull, Skye, the Orkneys and, happily again, Arran. On top of that, several more islands have had one or more distilleries at some time in the past: Bute, Gigha, Seil, Tiree and even Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
Entirely missing from this list is Scotland's northernmost island group: the Shetlands. There is no mention of a Shetland distillery in the lists published by Michael Moss & John Hume and by Charles Craig. When I contacted the Shetland Museum, its curator, Tom Watt, confirmed that there has never been a whisky distillery in the islands and told me he was not aware of a still licence issued to someone in the Shetlands.
Could it be that, because of the large distance from the centres of government, Shetlanders simply did not bother with applying for a licence? In other words, did illicit Shetland whisky ever exist? Or was there never any distilling of whisky in the islands? The Shetland Museum did not know of any evidence for illicit distillation of whisky or any other spirit in the Shetlands. Additional lack of evidence comes from the Statistical Account of Scotland, the combined reports of more than 900 parish ministers published in the 1790s. These parish reports contain numerous references to whisky drinking and distilling, legal and illicit, but none of the ministers of the twelve Shetland parishes mention whisky. They certainly do mention spirits. Spirituous liquors are considered bad for the morality and health of the people, but it is repeatedly said that the fishing wouldn't be possible without a little gin, or spirits in general. Half an anker of gin is listed in one parish report as part of the expense of a fishing boat during the season, twelve pints of spirits in another and a third report mentions a bottle of 'Geneva' among the provisions taken on a fishing trip. Gin is named as the most common spirituous liquor by one minister.
A few years later, in 1798, John Stein gave evidence to the Committee on Distilleries and said about distilling that it "spreads itself over the whole face of the country, and in every island from the Orkneys to Jura". Is there any significance in him referring to the Orkneys as the northernmost island where distilling takes place and not the Shetlands? Unless and until I find some evidence to the contrary, it appears that the Shetlands have been a still-free part of Scotland and that Shetland whisky indeed never existed.
E-pistle #2001/22 - EoZ March 2001 Report
Submitted on 28/03/2001 by Craig Daniels, Australia
Next Meeting: 28 March 2001 - "Four Blind Mice" / "Competition Practice Night"
Some of the new members might feel intimidated about approaching four whiskies blind. All I can say is don't worry, you have a 1 in 24 chance of getting them all right without knowing a thing. Besides the best tasting notes you will ever make are made when the whisky is masked as you can only find what is really there, not what the label might lead you to expect to be there. My advice is; come along, join in the spirit and have some fun. Remember, until the whiskies are finally revealed your choice is as valid as that of anyone else.
It is well and truly apposite that we start thinking about practising for the Malt competition, as the date for the 2001 National Malt Tasting Championship was announced last week. It's going to be on 24 June 2001 and while the Earls of Zetland have a proud record in the National Malt Tasting Championship, the office holders of the EOZ desperately want the Club to remain competitive. We are always on the look out for where the new talent might be coming from as those who have been there before have probably lost the edge along with the lust for the chase.
I don't know exactly how previous winners prepared for the competitions that they won (and all our little hints are yet to be collected and published) but my tips can be refined down to three key themes; proper preparation, solid strategy, holding the line tactically and keeping your nerve. I also admit that I worked very, very hard to win in 1995. Of course I'd love to win again, but I'm not as driven as I was in 1995. Then (and for the first and only time in my life to date) I actually understood all the sports psychology terms like 'focus' and 'centring' and 'being in the zone'. It's rewarding but draining as hell too. I don't know how Bronte and Bob felt after winning the competition but I know I didn't train as hard for the competitions in 1996 and 2000, as I'd already climbed Everest and felt I didn't really have anything more to prove.
When I was 'driven', I started practising on sets of six different whiskies about three months out, always two sets a weekend and sometimes three getting the barman to put together random combinations, then building a 'malt marker data base as an aide de memoire. Providing your nose actually functions properly, that level of effort will probably get you into the top six, but the ritual and routine you adopt on the day sorts out the winner. The strategy I chose in my first competition in 1994, of hunting for particular whiskies and trying to find characteristics peculiar to a particular malt, wasn't optimal and by the time I got to the competition in 1995, I'd factored a couple of other tactics into the equation. Namely making sure I tasted and made notes for every whisky on the list, using colour as the first sorting mechanism and "pairing" to line-up and compare whiskies of similar hue. But a lot relies on making the right decisions on the day, holding your nerve and drinking as little of the whisky on the table as you can get away with. It's not easy and it's too easy to get confused, befuddled and lost. There are plenty of talented tasters that have never won a competition, probably because with 12 whiskies in front of you there is a very real danger of information overload, never mind the effect of alcohol on decision-making processes, so starting with four is a good solid and meaningful introduction.
Team selections will happen later, probably around Anzac Day and we'll have 6 blinds to sort out the hopefuls.
For those of you who understand the math, 12 masked whiskies is not twice as hard as 6, it's actually 665,280 times harder.
Welcome to the arcane world of malt competitions.
May Is The Most Momentous Month
May is going to be the busiest and most exciting month ever in the history of the club.
Because of Anzac Day falling on the fourth Wednesday of the month, we've moved the April meeting to the 2nd of May. Having three of the industries most popular 18 year old whiskies on the agenda will be a spectacular start to a magnificent month of malty celebrations, because on the 9th of May we have the Millennium Malt Convocation. This evening is the culmination of six months planning and unprecedented co-operation between the three public Malt clubs in Adelaide to present a not to be missed event of great whisky, great food and even greater value. Then on Wednesday 23rd May we are having the Taste-off to select a team for the National Malt Tasting Championship and finally we have probably everyone's favourite theme night; the Islay Night to round off the month on 30 May 2000. This Islay Night promises to feature a trio of youthful peat monsters par excellence including the exquisite rarities of Ardbeg 10 and Longrow 10 alongside the redoubtable and hairy-chested Laphroaig 10. They may be pre-adolescent but they pack a punch and all of them (but especially the Ardbeg and Longrow) show depths of complexity well beyond their tender years.
So, almost every Wednesday in May hosts a club function. A packed diary indeed!
March 28, 2001 - Report Card
"Four Blind Mice"
I wasn't there, having an alternative engagement at the Hyatt, so I've compiled this report on the basis of information provided by Bronte Milde and Steve Graham who deputised for the Laird and Treasurer who were both away.
It's always interesting to get feedback from these nights as everyone thinks telling the difference between Highland Park 12 and Cragganmore 12 is going to be a complete doddle until they're actually put on the spot. All the literature and all your previous experience tells you that these whiskies are exemplars of particular styles, the 'Island' and the 'Speyside' and these styles are quite distinctive. Makes you wonder when 8 out of 13 tasters collect them into the right pair but only 4 get these ever so distinctive whiskies the right way round. Does it mean that the tasters' noses are less than exact instruments or that the literature is claiming variance where there is little or none? A little bit of the former and a big whack of the latter would be my conclusion.
Now they were the easy pair. Sorting the less well known but remarkably similar pair of Glenturret 12 and Glenfiddich 15 was a taller order, but once again 8 got them into the correct pair and once again 4 got them the right way around. I think that was a good effort. Well done to Steve Graham who was the only taster to get them all right, but reflecting on the score sheet, the following got very close and can take as much heart as they like from the following comments. Geoff Lamont, Bernie Glover and Allan May got Cragganmore and Highland Park the right way round and missed Glenfiddich and Glenturret. From a 'team coach' nosing perspective that was the more acceptable/forgivable mistake to make. Craig Morton, Bob Reid and Martin Brackman-Shaw got them all into the correct pairs and got the Glenfiddich and Glenturret, which was definitely the harder pair, but missing the easier ones is what costs you in a serious malt competition, so you only get a bronze medal. Not to put too fine a point on it, the rest need much more practice.
Anyway, I hope those that were there enjoyed themselves, regarded the whiskies on their merits and maybe learned something. Reflecting on the score sheet, and the whiskies I chose, I swear I didn't try and make it too hard. Choosing two pale whiskies and a slightly more amber pair, was to attempt to demonstrate the importance of colour in malt identification. If I wanted to make it purely a matter of luck then I could've put Glenfarclas 10, Balvenie 10, Benriach 10 and Aberlour 10 on the table. Now there's a ball breaking, ego destroying set if ever there was one!
E-pistle #2001/23 - Ardbeggeddon II, Las Vegas
Submitted on 29/03/2001 by Louis Perlman, USA
The second annual Ardbegeddon festival took place at the Hard Rock hotel in Las Vegas, January 5-8 of this year.
The idea for the first one came about that if the real Armageddon didn't take place at the stroke of midnight on 12/31/1999, might as well celebrate the distillery that also escaped that fate. The event was eminently successful, so A2 was held a year later.
The format was simple. Anybody is welcome.
All whisky was donated by the attendees, and even a few by those unable to make it.
The official list is at:http://members.tripod.com/house_of_malt/ardbeggeddon_II.htm
Those are not misprints, and even more bottles showed up!!
The event itself was an incredible experience. It was really great to meet people who I'd only met over the internet, and a bunch more who I met there. Everybody was super friendly, and every time I turned around, somebody was hawking a bottle they had brought. Not an unkind word was heard the entire time. And most notable, despite the large quantity of whisky consumed, the evening was a model of civility.
Here is the list of the whiskies that I sampled at A2. We were in Las Vegas for barely 36 hours, so tasting was not conducted in any sort of formal manner. For that reason, there are no ratings, but I substituted the star system instead. *** are reserved for my Top 5, ** for things that would have been had those 5 not been there, and * for generally distinguished malts. I would say though, that the Springbank 32 CS and Ardbeg Committee might well have achieved 100 ratings. A word on tasting order, there was none. While it is generally better to taste in ascending order of peatiness and/or intensity, I ended up trying pretty much each bottle as I stumbled across it.
Day 1, Midnight Saturday until whenever.
1) Balvenie Classic *
An item of high interest, as it was mentioned in the malt Advocate's Cult Whisky article. Certainly better than the standard 10, 12, and 15 (my only experience with the 21PW was inconclusive). While I didn't find the sherry casking to be fully integrated, this may have been due to the bottle having just been opened. For the $70 that this bottle supposedly cost, I'd say it's a good value, especially considering the pride of ownership factor, but I wouldn't go much higher with any sort of budgetary constraints.
2) Longrow 25 1974 ***
A much more robust edition of the 10yr Longrow, this stuff is awesome.
3) Springbank 32 1977 Cadenhead Chairman's Stock ***
Put simply, the best Springbank I've ever had. Nothing more to say.
4) Springbank 40
The Malt Advocate let the cat out of bag here, saving me having to do it. Let's just say that it is now a window in time, back to what was a truly great whisky 5-10 years ago.
5) Springbank 24 **
Just a wee bit behind the 32 above.
5) Springbank 27 1969 Signatory **
6) Mortlach 12 (mid 80's, first US distillery bottling)
This was my first exposure to any Mortlach, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Very pale, and light in body and taste. Slightly dry, with just a whiff of smoke. Interesting, but can see why Mortlach is usually sherry casked.
7) Ardmore 18
Of interest because it got mentioned in Jim Murrays MA article on blends as bring the smoke and kippery element in Teachers. I could see that here, but nothing special otherwise.
9) Springbank Local Barley *
A very definite resemblence to my other bourbon-casked Springers, the new distilley 10, and the 32 year old Plowed Murray McDavid. Unfortunately, the cask strength worked against me here, as it was almost 4:00 AM NYC time, so I didn't get a better impression.
10) Springbank 15 *
Somebody pointed to this bottle for some reason, which I've long since forgotten.
11) Mortlach 1961 Scott's Selection
Similar in charactor to the 12 above, but a bit more robust.
### Late flash, the malt Advocate reviwed it in the 1Q 2001 issue, and I see my own observations in their write up. So I wasn't doing so bad under the circumstances after all ###
12) Glenfarclas 1971 Christmas **
Incredibly good stuff, and similar in charactor to my 1959 Whyte and Whyte (but a bit different than the Dram Select 21)
13) Longmorn-Glenlevet 1970 Scott's Selection ***
What a dram to end the night with. Everything one would want from a classic sherried Speyside, IMHO.
Day 2, Sunday 7:00-10:30 PM
14) Balvenie Classic *
Tried it again, just to be sure. Same results as the night before.
15) Ardbeg Provenance **
Ah, now here is a winner. Cask strength provides a welcome kick. A bit laid back, as seems to be the case with the older Ardbegs. Would have gotten the third *, but got edged out of my Top 5 by the.....
16) Ardbeg Committee ***
A single cask picked by, you guessed it, a committe at the distillery, and sold only in the distillery shop (and long gone, by now). Amazingly, at 40% it actually topped the Provenance.
17) Brora 18
Another Malt Advocate cult item. I can see the overall charactor, but this particular bottling isn't quite cult-worthy.
18) Brora 1975 Rare Malts *
OK, now we're getting somewhere. But this bottle probably needed break-in and/or water, and I didn't have time to experiment.
19) Highland Park 1974 *
My 1977 really needs higher proof, and the 1974 confirmed that. But following 2 Ardbegs and 2 Brora's, I wasn't able to be any more conclusive.
20) Glenlivet 22 1973 Signatory *
'Craig's Glenlivet', as it was being referred to.
My notes say: tasted a bit Springbank-ish.
21) Glen Grant Millenial 1964 36 Cadenhead
22) Bunnahabain 21 1969 Whyte & Whyte
For both of these 2 sherry monsters, the cask and it's previous contents by far overwhelemed anything left of the whisky's character. Whether this is good or not is strictly a matter of taste.
23) Lochside 18 1981 Murray McDavid
Pretty much as advertised on Murray McDavid's website.
24) Royal Brackla 24 Murray McDavid
As above. A bit drier than my MMcD RB 17 was.
25) Longmore Adelphi 30 1969 Adelphi (port wood) *
Quite good, but at cask strength, I couldn't discern too much. Pretty much what could be expected of a typical 'mere mortal' $150 bottle.
26) Glen Rothes 1972 %%incomplete%%
Supposedly the best Glen Rothes ever, and the few remaining bottles are highly sought after.
Unfortunately, my taste buds registered absolutely nothing. Darn.
27) Benromach 27 1965 Murray McDavid (portwood, 53%)
Same as #21 & 22 above. This is said to be Murray Mcdavid's first release ever.
28) Highland Park 27 1972 Adelphi *
See #25 above.
29) Tactical (Talisker) 20 Old Malt Cask **
A real surprise here, not at all like the distillery 10. Tons of peat, and very warming, but in a pleasant way.
I would have thought it was an Islay.
30) Brora 28 1971 Old Malt Cask ***
At last, the real deal. Those Douglas Laing folks sure know how to bottle whisky.
31) Cambus (single grain) 31 Cadenhead *
Something totally different, Pina-Colada being the overall theme. Lot's of fun, if nothing else.
32) Brora 18 1981 Old Malt Cask **
If I hadn't had the OMC 28 Brora first, I probably would have thought that this one is 'good enough'.
33) Aberlour Abunadh %%incomplete%%
Same problem as with the Glen Rothes 1972 above, but at least I can buy this one.
34) Clynelish 22 Rare Malts *
One perhaps wouldn't have thought the somewhat light Clynelish would stand up to extra aging, but that wasn't the case.
This once was similar to my 13yr Glenhaven, but more robust. One of the Rare Malt's worth looking out for.
35) Port Ellen 22 Hart Brothers *
My Hart Brothers Port Ellen 13 is quite intense, and my Scott's Selection 22 is extremely intense at cask strength.
So, the HB 22 at 43% should split the difference, right? Of course not. It was actually rather mellow, and more civilized.
36) Bowmore 30 Sea Dragon **
Another mellow Islay, but an incredibly good Bowmore. Worth the $200 if you're shopping in that price range, and you get the fancy ceramic bottle with the Sea Dragon design. Not a whiff of FWP.
37) Ardbeg 30 G&M
The G&M 1974 22yr was the standard in the USA for a few years. The 30yr was also available, but commanded a 'hefty' $120 price tag. However, the 30 seems to have lost something during the extra 8 years in the cask.
38) Very Old Ardbeg 30 **
Not this one though. A bit mellow, but plenty of Ardbeg charactor. ## Note on ratings, I'd put this at the bottom of the ** bracket, and the Provenance at the top ##
39) Longhrow 28 1974 ***
40) Springbank 32 1977 Cadenhead Chairman's Stock ***
41) Longmorn-Glenlevet 1970 Scott's Selection ***
My decision to re-sample my favorites on the way out (the Ardbeg Committe was finished).
E-pistle #2001/24 - Freezing Spirits
Submitted by Lex Kraaijeveld, England
Distilling of a spirit from a low-alcoholic liquid is basically nothing more than increasing the alcohol concentration by making use of the difference in boiling point between alcohol and water. But besides having a different boiling point, alcohol and water also have a different freezing point, which makes it possible to make a strong alcoholic spirit by gently freezing a low-alcoholic liquor: the water will freeze out of the liquid first, leaving an increasingly stronger spirit.
Chinese records of 'frozen-out' wine go back to at least the 6th century, and possibly even further. In Europe, the Vikings had a drink that was called "winter wine" but it is unclear whether this indeed was a 'frozen-out' spirit or not. The earliest solid European record of a 'frozen-out' spirit is from the late 16th century. Dutch sailors were forced to overwinter on Nova Zembla, an island off the north coast of Siberia, in 1596. They made the chance discovery that when their beer barrels started to freeze .....
There was scarce any unfrozen Beer in the barrel; but in that thick Yiest that was unfrozen lay the Strength of the Beer, so that is was too Strong to drink alone, and that which was frozen tasted like Water ... This Dutch-Siberian spirit was 'frozen-out' from a grain-based fermented liquor, so it basically was the 'frozen-out' counterpart of whisky!
Producing an alcoholic spirit by heat-distillation is a technique that needed to be invented, but the use of temperatures below the freezing point of water to make a strong alcoholic spirit can easily be discovered by accident; just leave a barrel with beer or wine outside in the cold. Such a chance discovery could be made in any part of the world that has a climate where temperatures drop well below freezing in winter. To my knowledge there are no records to support this, but I wonder if some farmers in the Highlands of Scotland didn't know about whisky's 'frozen-out' sister centuries before the heat-distilled spirit came into being ....
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