MALT MANIACS #103
Whisky Glasses; a Study
Does your glass affect your dram?
Olivier's Travels - Three Chimneys Restaurant
A Dozen Disposable Drams
Book Review: How to Blend Scotch Whisky
Spring Stunner Alerts
An Interview with Andy Watts
A Dozen Drifting Drams
Prohibition & the Scotch Whisky Industry
Independent Port Ellens
Malt Maniacs #103 - May 1, 2007
We're on a road to nowhere, but we don't care!
After we re-launched our E-zine with Malt Maniacs #100 in January
I had actually hoped we would be able to pick up a monthly pace.
Well, that was a bit optimistic, but I'm now aiming for around six
issues each year - and perhaps the occasional 'Special Edition'.
Hopefully that's doable without flogging the maniacs too much ;-)
Meanwhile, our mad house temporarily turns into a glass house.
After Serge opened our previous issue with 19 very useful tasting tips, the maniacs discussed one of his tips with particular interest; the one about the importance of a good glass. It has been a while since Klaus submitted his big 'glassware test', so now it's time for another look at glasses. Lawrence and Craig decided to pick up the assignment; both submitted an extensive glassware test.
Other noteworthy articles in the issue of Malt Maniacs include the first edition of a new travel column by Olivier, a book review by Davin de Kergommeraux and an interview with Andy Watts from the James Sedgwick Distillery in South Africa, conducted by Joe Barry. Check out the green column at the right for the full contents of this issue. Over the next few weeks I hope to finish the new 'personal profiles' of the maniacs and the new 'archive' section as far as 1997, 1998 and 1999 is concerned. Stay tuned for further expansions.
With four fresh issues under our belt since Malt Maniacs was 'unfrozen' in January, I'll finally have some time to work on a brand new Malt Madness website as well. So far there are only a handful of fresh log entries, but I plan to launch refreshed versions of all the pages that are part of the old ADHD version of Malt Madness. For the foreseeable future, most of the 'freshness' will be on the pages of Malt Maniacs, though...
And that's pretty much 'it' for this issue, I guess.
Next time, our focus will be on... plain, simple water...
Don't forget to check out The Specials Section at the bottom of the homepage for some recent discoveries by various maniacs - or consult the MaltMenu for an ever growing overview of the widely available (and affordable) single malt whiskies.
Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs
There are many whisky glasses on the market
currently, some of which you have to buy and some
of which are given as presents by distilleries or even
included in the price of a bottle of single malt whisky.
In some cases the glasses and quite good for nosing
and in other cases, they're just good for drinking.
There's nothing wrong with the latter, but I felt an attempt should be made to identify the husks,
the flour and the grits, so to speak.
This is the second examination of whisky glasses
published on Malt Maniacs - the first was conducted
by German ex-maniac Klaus Everding. That E-pistle
can be found in the ADHD section. Just look for it in
Malt Maniacs #4 (according to the 'old calendar').
Some glasses make claims while others arrive
without fanfare or explanation. I do not have a
scientific background so I did not approach this
project in a scientific fashion. However, I attempted
to be logical. I selected 16 commonly available
glasses and divided then into four groups.
I grouped the glasses based on common characteristics; the Tulip or Thistle Group based on their general bulbous waist and narrower openings, the Copita Group
based on their common heritage from Spain and the sherry industry, the ISO Nosing & Tasting Group glasses and their close cousins and finally the Miscellaneous Group
, a catch all for the remaining glasses, ranging from quite common to very odd.
I deliberately left out the common whisky tumblers as they are not suited from nosing and tasting whisky. But good for drinking...
My task was to nose each glass with three different types of Scottish Single Malt whisky; a sample of new make (yes, I know it's not legally
whisky), a Highland whisky matured in primarily ex-American bourbon barrels at and a phenol laden Islay bottled at 46% without the addition
of color or chill filtration. I nosed all three whisky sample with and without water. When water was added I used an equal measure of water
to whisky. I selected the glass with the best characteristics for nosing from each of the four groups; I performed a further evaluation of these
four glasses using the above described process. I nosed each group from right to left and from right to left being careful not to over tax my
senses. I also nosed and tasted 2, 3, 4, & 1 etc to ensure that the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and the last samples (and visa versa) were consistently being judged by a fresh nose.
The Tulip or Thistle Group
The picture shows, from left to right; 1) the "Perfect Whisky Glass",
2) the Glencairn and 3) the Tulip or Thistle with Stem. These glasses share a common theme in that they are based on the shape of the original whisky nosing glasses; The Tulip or Thistle with stem being the nearest in design to the older style of this glass. They are commonly seen sporting Ardbeg or Glenmorangie livery which is generally made by Andrews Parke. This is an award winning glass, popular on the continent - so says Andrews Parke.
The Perfect Whisky Glass is also from Andrews Parke who supplies glassware to the industry. When compared to the Glencairn it can be best described as the 'mini me' of the whisky glass world. The Glencairn is the most commonly available whisky glass available today with over a million glasses in use around the world. They are renowned for their ability to handle rough use, something that many over indulging whisky enthusiasts the world over appreciate.
Comments New Make Nosing: Good capacity to present on the nose, the essential elements of the new make come through clearly.
Possible advantage of the nose being closer to the surface of the spirit? After a few minutes the sample opened up and presented fruity sweet on the nose with little evidence of the alcohol. This glass presented 1st of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: Once again this little glass proved itself.
It had the best nose of the group and thus presented 1st of the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: Once again this glass performs well and places 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented 2nd behind the tulip with stem.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : With this whisky the performance of all three glasses improved and while the mini Glencairn presented well it came in 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass continues to do well but presented a close 2nd place to the Tulip with Stem.
Comments New Make Nosing: After a few minutes of nosing this sample very little was presented on the nose.
I found this to be surprising since I have a lot of experience with this model. I eventually increased the size of the sample in this glass.
This glass tied for 2nd place of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: A surprise with this glass; it had less on the nose than the Tulip with stem.
This glass presents 3rd of the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : Simply less on the nose, this glass presents last in the group (3rd).
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: A distant 3rd to the other two.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : Still a good nose but not as good as the other two.
Much to my surprise this glass came in 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: A good glass but it does not measure up to the other two.
Thus, it presents 3rd in the group.
This glass is often adorned with the logo of Balvenie, Glenmorangie or Ardbeg.
Comments New Make Nosing: This glass presented the 'hottest' sample, the alcohol is more evident with the nose playing second place to the alcohol. An advantage is the stem allowing the hand to cup the bowl of the glass for hand warming of the whisky. After a few minutes this sample opened up more than the others and nosed very well. This is the identical glass to the Glenmorangie & Ardbeg glasses that come with a 'cap'. This glass tied for 2nd place of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: Surprisingly good. I will pay more attention to this glass in the future.
It presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : This glass continues to do well and presents well in 2nd place.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented 1st in the group with a superior performance.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: This glass presented very well on the nose with the most vibrant sample. This glass presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass continues to surprise me and presents 1st of the group.
The Copita Group
The picture shows, from left to right; 1) the Cobalt Blue Nosing & Blenders
Glass, 2) the Dock Glass, 3) the Whisky Nosing Glass and 4) the Scotch
Malt Whisky Society Glass.
These glasses are all based on the Spanish Copita which is a traditional
glass for nosing & tasting sherry that originated in Jerez, Spain. Once
again Andrews Parke supply most of these glasses and they simply call
them "tasters". Some "tasters" are supplied with gauge lines to provide
a precise measure of water to whisky.
The Cobalt blue glass is used in blind tasting so that the person
conducting the assessment cannot be biased by the color of the whisky.
Some other glasses are provided with a watch cover to allow the
contents to be swirled to prevent spills and to keep in the aromas.
This glass is used for blind sessions to hide the color of the whisky.
It allowed for the fruitiness of the new make to shine through on the nose.
Comments New Make Nosing : This glass consistently presented the best nose of the 4 glasses in this group - ended 1st of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : A better showing with water, more on the nose. This glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: Once again this group performs in a very similar fashion.
This glass presents last in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented last in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : Another surprise but this glass once again had the best nose of the group.
So, this glass presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass was marginally behind the other two and presented 3rd place in the group.
From the back of the tube: "This very particular shape of glass is used by the Distillery Manager when nosing new make spirit and by the Master
Blender, when nosing the mature whiskies he will use in his blend. The bulbous bowl allows the spirit to be agitated prior to nosing and the narrow
aperture helps retain the alcohol vapours. The calibrations on the side are used to measure the correct quantity of water to be added to release the
bouquet. When nosing the whisky at Cask Strength, the ratio of whisky to water is 1:2 and for bottle strength whisky, 1 part water to 1 part whisky.
Still water (...) must always be used. It is preferable to cover the glass with a watch glass and leave standing for 5-10 minutes before nosing. In the
17th and 18th centuries, this shape of glass was known as a "DOCK GLASS", as it was used by wine and spirit merchants at the Docks to nose their
shipments before accepting them. This glass is blown and fashioned entirely by hand in exactly the same way it would have been then."
Comments New Make Nosing: I did not use the watch glass for consistency.
It has a much larger mouth that the other glasses in this group. This glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: Some capacity to present was lost with the addition of water.
This glass presents last in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: This glass performs just slightly better than the others and presents 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: Simply not as much on the nose, this glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : Still very good but not as much on the nose as the others.
This glass presented last in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: This glass was just noticeably less capable than the other three.
hence, it presents last in the group.
From the back of the box "This very particular shape of 17th century glass is used by the Distillery Manager and the Master Blender when nosing
new and mature whiskies. Before nosing, still water (at room temperature) should be added to a ratio of 1:1 for cask strength. The spirit is then
agitated, covered with the watch glass and left for 5-10 minutes. This glass has a much narrower mouth when compared to the dock glass."
Comments New Make Nosing : I did not follow this advice nor did I use the watch glass for consistency. This glass presented 2nd.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : This glass did quite well with the addition of water. This glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: A good effort here and it presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: A good performance with good delivery of aromas; this glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : Just edged out the Dock Glass, possibly due to the narrower opening.
This glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass did well and was only just nosed into presenting 2nd place by the SMWS glass.
Comments New Make Nosing: This glass consistently presented the least amount on the nose from this group.
In comparison to the Cobalt Nosing & Tasting Glass this glass, to my surprise, appeared to have a dramatically reduced nose presentation. This glass presented last in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : An upset! This glass presented the best on the nose with the addition of water.
This glass presents 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : A bit of a surprise here with a good nose, this glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: A good performance here that offered up great aromas; this glass presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: A good clean delivery of the characteristics of the whisky. This glass presented 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This little glass did very well bringing out slightly more aromas than the others.
This glass presented 1st in the group.
The ISO Nosing & Tasting Group
The picture shows, from left to right; 1) the Glenfarclas ISO Style Glass,
2) the ISO Nosing & Tasting 7.5 Ounce Glass, 3) the Laphroaig "Bowl
Sided' Glass, 4) the Macallan "straight Sided' Glass.
These glasses are more modern design but still has some heritage in
based in the Copita Group and this can be readily seen when the two
sets are compared. The true ISO glass is slightly smaller than the larger
glass in the group which is currently available from Glenfarclas.
A very similar and ever so slightly smaller glass is currently available for
sale ebay from a German seller; these glasses are sporting the livery of
both Glenfiddich and Balvenie. The Laphroaig and Macallan glasses are
less common than the other two in this group but can still be found in
similar styles in the market place.
This glass is crested with "The Grand Order of Glenfarclas Whisky".
It is slightly taller than the ISO Nosing & Tasting Glass and is also .5 of a centimeter taller.
Comments New Make Nosing : Despite having a nearly identical shape to the ISO glass there was a clear difference.
The Glenfarclas glass was much more pronounced on the nose. This glass presented 2nd of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: This glass continues to present well with improvement with the addition of water.
This glass presents in 1st place.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : This glass did well with good delivery or aromas and presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass showed a slight change and presented 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: Once again this glass did well (1st in the group) with a very good nose presentation.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass presented just slightly better than the ISO glass and presented 1st in the group.
This is almost an identical glass to the Glenfarclas glass.
Comments New Make Nosing: This glass presented well on the nose but something was slightly lacking.
This glass presented 3rd of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: An improvement over the showing without water. This glass presents 2nd place.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : reduced delivery of aromas; this glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented 4th in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : This glass presented the sweetness of this whisky well. It presented 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: Just slightly behind the Laphroaig glass; the ISO glass presented 3rd in the group.
This glass has quite a long stem with a very unusual round bowl and narrow mouth, the narrowest mouth of the group.
Comments New Make Nosing: This glass presented the 'hottest' nose & sharpest nose of the group.
More alcohol came through and less of the characteristics for the new make. This glass presented last of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : Again this glass improved with the addition of water, more aromas are evident. This glass presents in 4th place.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: This glass presented last in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: Some initial good pints from this glass. This glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: This glass performed well and presented 2nd in the group just behind the Glenfarclas glass.
This glass can also be found crested with Glengoyne, Highland Park and Bunnahabhain from the time when these distilleries were all owned by the same company.
Comments New Make Nosing : The best nose of the group by far, a surprise with this glass. I had simply bought the set of 4 for decoration. This glass presented 1st of the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : A good nose with the addition of water but some slippage. This glass presents in 3rd place.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: This glass presented 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: A better than average delivery of aromas; this glass presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : This glass lost some of its ability to deliver the flavours to the nose.
This glass presented last in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : This glass seemed to be at a disadvantage with the flatter sides and lack of bowl. It presented last in the group.
The Miscellaneous Group
The picture shows, from left to right; 1) Bruichladdich Wide Bowl Tumbler,
2) the Glenmorangie "thistle" Glass, (without stem) 3) the Riedel Single
Malt Glass, 4) the Concentrator, 5) the Small Brandy Snifter.
This group represents the odds and sods of the whisky glass world and
is not based on a common shape. They have generally, at one time or
another, been made available for free from the distillers with the exception
of the Concentrator; I have seen all the others sporting distillery livery.
The Bruichladdich glass was recently made available with a bottle of their
single malt inside the Bruichladdich tins and at first I thought that its design
was based solely on its ability to fit inside the tin. True or not it actually
worked quite well.
The Glenmorangie "thistle ' glass (without stem) was also a glass that
came free from the distillery but is not as common it's taller cousin the
Thistle with stem as discussed in the first group.
The Rediel glass is known to many malt enthusiasts and many swear by it; I simply swear at it. The Concentrator reminds me of the copper jacket lining of a hollow point .45 ACP bullet (without the lead core) which is equally unsuitable for nosing single malt whisky. To be fair this is a glass from the world of wine and perhaps it is better suited to an environment with lower ABV such as wine. But I doubt it. The Small Brandy Snifter is a common sight in many bars around the world and can be pressed into service when you are offered you aged dram in a cut glass tumbler. The Scotch Malt Whisky Society uses this style of glass at the Vaults and Queen Street in Edinburgh.
This glass was included in tins of Bruichladdich Single Malt in several markets.
It is the biggest glass of the entire study with a huge mouth atop a large bowl and narrowing waist.
Comments New Make Nosing : Actually it's not bad, I thought it would be hopeless. To be fair I have to presume that it was designed for drinking but it does present well on the nose. Beats the pants off the Riedel and Concentrator. This glass presents 1st in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : This glass continues to shine. I think an advantage is that since the mouth is so wide you have the ability to put your nose deep into the glass. This glass presents 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: The Highland malt is does not come through with enough force and this glass presents 2nd in the group simply because the Concentrator offers too much alcohol.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass presented 2nd in the group with some minor loss of aromas.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : It does well, surprise, surprise. This glass presents 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: Once again this glass presented much better than the others in the group and presented 1st.
This little glass actually has some good characteristics and presented reasonably well on the nose.
The new make fruitiness & malt came through and the alcohol did not run amok.
Comments New Make Nosing : This glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: Very little on the nose even with the addition of the Riedel sample (it wasn't using it, trust me). This glass presents 4th in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: This glass simply does not present enough aromas and presents 4th in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water : This glass presented 4th in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: An almost tie with the small brandy snifter. This glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: Less on the nose this round, this glass presents 4th in the group.
Famed for being very expensive and 'fancy'.
Comments New Make Nosing: Not a single hint of what was in the glass. It might as well have been water.
Only after forcing my nose deep into the glass did I manage to find the smallest hint of spirit. Hopeless. A waste of money.
This glass richly deserves last place in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water : Nothing. This glass presents in last place.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: Finally, a wee hint of aromas; this glass presents last in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water : Hopeless, presented last.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water: How the hell this design made it out of the factory is beyond me. This glass (soon to be rubbish) presented last in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water: I have come to the conclusion that this is not actually a glass but merely a vessel for the display of flowers. It has held firmly and passionately to last place in the group.
This glass has two dimples, one for the thumb and one for the fore or pointing finger.
The idea is to place a digit in each dimple and then nose and taste your whisky leave the other fingers to lie by idle.
Comments New Make Nosing: Concentrator is right, it's like breathing in living flame as it strips the tissue from my nasal cavity. All alcohol, where the hell is the new make? This glass richly deserves last place, Wait, already taken? We have a tie for last place. They can both have 5th place since they are clearly not good enough for 4th….
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: Lots of aromas but none that can be identified in any other sample.
Very odd. This glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water : Simply too much alcohol and does not release the aromas of the malt; this glass presents 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water : Still too much alcohol and not enough aroma; this glass presented 3rd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : It has the advantage over the Riedel in that you can actually nose some aromas but just the wrong ones. This glass presents 4th in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : Oddly enough a slight improvement but inexplicably this glass delivered the smell of peanut butter. This glass presented 3rd in the group.
This glass is quite common in many bars and restaurants and makes a suitable alternative to a large tumbler.
This is the glass the SMWS uses at both the Vaults and Queen Street venues.
Comments New Make Nosing : A slight tendency to let the alcohol over power the new make but still lots of the fruitiness comes through, the malt is lost in action however. This glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on New Make Nosing with Water: A good presentation on the nose. This glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt without Water: This glass does well and presents 1st in the group.
Comments on the Highland Malt with Water: This glass once again did well and presented 1st in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed without Water : This little glass actually does quite well; the aromas came through fairly well. This glass presents 2nd in the group.
Comments on the Islay Malt Nosed with Water : A good performance with this glass, it presented 2nd in the group.
The picture shows, from left to right;
1) the Glenfarclas ISO Style Glass,
2) the "Perfect Whisky Glass",
3) the Scotch Malt Whisky Society Glass (The Winner!),
4) the Balvenie "thistle" Glass with stem,
5) the Bruichladdich Wide Bowl Tumbler.
With each set of glasses included a favorite of my own.
Also in each set there were surprises; not once did my favourite glass come in first place. In both the Copita and the ISO Group the difference between the glasses of each group became negligible with the addition of water with both the Highland and Islay malts. The differences were very difficult to notice and all glasses presented in a similar fashion. There were noticeable differences with the new make. I also suspect but did not examine that some glasses, like the "Perfect Whisky Glass", may have benefited from the "glass size to whisky ratio". There was simply more whisky in the glass as compared to others.
The five winners from the first round were: the 'Perfect Whisky Glass" and Tulip or Thistle with stem (both tied for 1st place in group); The SMWS glass; the Glenfarclas ISO Nosing glass and the Bruichladdich Wide Bowl Tumbler.
2nd Round (The Finals)
The clear winner of the first nosing of the second flight of the new make, undiluted was the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) glass from the Copita Group. It beat out the other four glasses, there were simply more aromas to be nosed. In the second round of nosing with the new make, diluted, all glasses improved with greater delivery of aromas. Please see my upcoming E-psitle of the benefits of adding water to your dram, "To Add Water or Not", in MM#104 for more details on that aspect.
The winner of the second round of nosing of the new make, diluted was once again the SMWS glass were superior delivery of aromas.
The winner of the second round of nosing the Highland Malt, undiluted was the SMWS glass.
The winner of the second round of nosing the Highland Malt, diluted was the Glenfarclas ISO Glass. (SMWS glass was a very close second.)
The winner of the second round of nosing the Islay Malt, undiluted was the Glenfarclas ISO Style Glass.
The winner of the second round of nosing the Islay Malt, diluted was the SMWS glass and with four 1st places this glass presents 1st of the 16 glasses studied; the Glenfarclas ISO style glasses presented in 2nd place.
Care of your Glasses
It is imperative that you take proper care of your glassware to avoid contamination; this can occur during storage, while cleaning or just prior to use. During storage glasses can take on the odour of the cabinet they are stored in (particularly older wooden cabinets) and are also subject to contamination from dust. Prior to use examine your glasses visually and with your nose; check for dust and any odors that should not be present. Recently just prior to a tasting I nosed a glass and immediately a sour off note which was subsequently traced to a drying towel that was badly in need of a wash. At another tasting a fellow participant handed me her glass to offer some point on the nose which I had not detected in my sample. I was repelled by a strong odor of hand cream all around the rim of the glass.
I always hand wash my glasses using a low residual soap that does not contain perfume or coloring agents.
Do you want your glasses smelling of green apples? Also always avoid towels that have been dried with a fabric softener.
Rinse the well with water and avoid dish washers as they can leave soap reside, if you can let your glasses air dry or use paper towel.
You are well on your way to malt tragicdom, when you actually start to think about
the glassware you use when you choose to have a whisky and whether you make a
decision to discriminate between how you serve a malt and how you serve a blend.
In a philosophical sense you're looking at whether form follows function and whether
form can augment function. I mean people argue that way about any article designed
for use by humans from hand held blenders to automobile seats and on a macro scale
about built spaces from buildings to cities, so why not the glass in which you serve your
malt whisky. I suppose there are two very basic questions that anyone should ask.
Does the glass matter and if it does, why is that the case? Or is there any rational
reason why it should? Do you pay any attention to the glassware you choose when
you come home from work and pour yourself a pre-prandial dram or even a digestif?
And does it really matter what glass you nose and taste from?
Depending on your purpose you may choose a different glass for judging & evaluation
than for enjoyment. Basically the theory is the same - you need a glass that has a bowl
shape - this does two things the bowl allows the spirit to have a big exposure to air
and to trap the volatiles that come off first and fast so you can smell them before they
dissipate into the ambient atmosphere.
Traditional whisky tumblers are primarily designed to reduce the nose on a whisky
and work well with a blend with water or soda. They are primarily designed for a
relatively long drink rather than to enhance the evaluation. Some also believe that the
straight sides are about allowing the aromas to dissipate quickly which would make
sense if you're trying to hide a relatively poor spirit, which was probably the case in
Prohibition days, but is counter-productive if you've spent $100 or more on a good
single malt and want to savour the experience.
As you can see from the photos below, I have a whole stack of different glasses.
I find myself drawn to a small core which I find useful. In the accompanying photos my favourite glass for enjoyment is the Photo 2: Brandy Balloon Glass D which is light, a nice size, good quality with a nice fine rim and affords a reasonable sensory experience with 30ml or so. For this reason, I very rarely use any of the big balloons for anything as it's too easy to pour yourself a triple without intending to.
As I do a lot of my malt judging with 10-15ml (both your nose and palate get tired after even a small amount of alcohol so if you're evaluating
8 whiskies in a session using a smaller glass makes sense, I use a small brandy balloon (Photo 2 Glass B) or the Glenmorangie/Ardbeg glass
(Photo 1 Glass D) as it delivers a reasonable surface area to volume ratio but doesn't let the spirit dissipate too quickly. The little lid is useful if
evaluating 6 to 8 whiskies at a time as it allows focus on the whisky in hand without other vapours intruding. I use the small balloons for the
Malt Maniacs Awards primarily because I have enough to be able to put 10-12 whiskies on the table at one time. So basically any glass that
has a narrower opening than the diameter of the bowl should work; the rest is personal preference. The slightly flared lip on the Riedel glass
and the Australian Brandy snifter gives good palate delivery, but the straight sides on the Riedel doesn't really produce the concentration of
aromatics in the head space of the other more efficacious styles. I want a glass that will give me a reasonable surface area to volume ratio so
the whisky doesn't go flat too quickly and allows the volatiles to come off relatively slowly. Then I like it to feel good in the hand and thirdly it should have a nice fine rim for improved palate delivery.
Odds & Sods Glassware... (Upper picture)
A ~ short stem version of the Glenmorangie glass identical bowl shape and capacity 120 ml (4 fl oz).
B ~ Arcoroc Viticole Sherry Copita (4 fl oz) - SMWS (Australia) glass - makes a half nip look like a decent drink. Works well with OP's.
C ~ Australian style brandy snifter with flared lip (125ml) - Works well all round, very solid performer especially for evaluation. Rank 1.
D ~ Ardbeg/Glenmorangie style tulip with straight chimney opening (120ml) - lid is a bonus when evaluating lots of whiskies. Rank 2.
E ~ Riedel malt whisky glass 12 fl oz 200ml - lip is good for delivery, but nose is let down by lack of headspace Rank 5.
F ~ ISO wine taster - ranks after C & D/A. Rank 7.
G ~ Bowmore thistle glass - OK but 15ml of spirits gets lost - better for recreation rather than evaluation.
H ~ Balvenie straight sided tumbler - befits whisky and soda.
The Brandy Balloon Style... (Lower picture)
A ~175ml crystal - nice but too dinky.
B ~ 190ml crystal - my preferred choice for blind evaluation Rank 4.
C ~ 210ml glass - does a job but not a favourite.
D ~ 240ml crystal (not sure of the brand - looks like a mini Bormioli or Schott Zweisel) my favorite dramming glass at home Rank 3.
E ~ 250ml crystal (Bohemia Claudia 22% lead crystal) - Earls of Zetland Trophy glass - good but a bit clunky.
F ~ 280ml glass - too chunky and I hate the rim.
G ~ 300ml crystal - very nice bowl shape and works very well for nosing but the short stem is a trap for fingers.
H ~ 350ml glass - too clunky.
I ~ 390ml crystal - OK but too big for everyday purposes.
J ~ 400ml glass - David McCoy "The Scotch Doc" glass. Weighs a ton and I hate the wide lip. Not used for evaluation or recreation.
Apart from the Riedel, Balvenie tumbler, Bohemia Claudia and Arcoroc Viticole, all the others were purchased in second hand and "opportunity" shops. I would spend at least three Saturday mornings a year scouring these places for little brandy balloons and any of the snifter style glasses.
Three Chimneys Restaurant, Skye - Talisker 20yo 1981/2002 (62%, OB, 9000 Bts.)
November 2003, The North-West Trail, Scotland
Being a wine grower, I am fortunate enough to be able to visit some fantastic restaurants
around the world and get treated with fabulous experiences, as much with the quality of the
food as with the ambience surrounding the places. Sometimes, I also get the utmost satisfaction to be able to end up a meal with a great dram of whisky.
I thought of sharing these experiences and decided to write about them.
The food, specialities of the area, what makes it special and also, of course, the whisky I was
able to taste. A lot of those places will be in Scotland, for the simple reason that it is easier to
find Single Malt in a restaurant in Scotland than in the Vosges Mountains or in Ottawa... I will
try to alternate international locations with classic Scottish scenery. I am also a big fan of
West and North West Scotland, so expect to see a lot of western stories…
The idea of this travel column germinated on Skye in 2005, as I was spending summer holidays
in a house with my family. At the time, I was extremely frustrated to witness how Skye had
changed over the past 20 years, and we were going from one disappointment to the other.
I almost wrote an epistle which would have looked like a game result: Islay 7 – Skye 1.
The allusion was of course to Islay's seven distilleries (not counting Kilchoman then) versus
Skye only one distillery: Talisker (don't get me wrong, I like a lot), but also to the fact that
Skye's huge tourism development has made it a paradise for camper vans and cheap & greasy foods, unlike Islay that kept it's remote Island charm.
My first visit to Skye, which was also my first time in Scotland, dates back to 1987.
Margaret and I just met a few months before and decided to spend a romantic week end on a romantic Island of Scotland. We drove non-stop from London to Skye in my old CitroŽn CX and stayed in a charming farm B&B, just a stone throw from Talisker. When I asked the owner to advise us a place where to eat, he told us to go to the Three Chimneys Restaurant.
I still do not know today how we were able to find the place, but when we arrived we saw a beautiful small traditional croft.
The restaurant, still the same today, is very small and has this stone wall, real fire, peat smell atmosphere. The food was incredible, mostly seafood, and the wine list was excellent, just like the list of Talisker whiskies available at the bar. The return back to the farm was memorable as we certainly drove all over the Island!
Today, the Three Chimneys still has this great feel and quality of food, but attracts people from around the world, giving a more impressive
and mundane atmosphere. A hotel was added next to the restaurant which makes it easier for travellers, and the place is now bursting of
activity compared to 1987! During our stay in 2005, we had a few dinners at the Three Chimneys and they were all excellent.
I was able to taste that superb Talisker 20yo 1981/2002 (62%, OB, 9000 Bts.) again that won the MM Awards a few years ago!
On our quest in trying to escape the camper vans on smaller roads, we got lost one day in a small village on the northern shore, actually not very far from Dunvegan McLeod's castle, called Stein (pronounced Steen). The village was in fact a short row of houses, overlooking the sea and breathtaking mountains in the distance. We couldn't believe our luck, because in the middle of that street there was a charming little restaurant with real fire in the fireplace and, just next too it, a charming little pub. We booked for that evening (advisable as it is very small (www.lochbay-seafood-restaurant.co.uk/) and we were able to sample a delicious sea food platter followed by locally caught lobsters. Absolutely everything was perfect there! Much later, we realized that this restaurant is now managed by the former owner of Arisaig House near Mallaig, one of Scotland great hotel, now closed.
Going out of the restaurant, we walked straight in the crowded bustling little pub (http://www.stein-inn.co.uk/).
I prayed for a good list of whiskies, and God must have had pity of me, as I saw, hiding amongst a few good bottles, a Highland Park.
It was the Highland Park 25yo (53.5%, OB, dumpy bottle in a tube box). Out of the 4 versions I have tried, this is for me the best one.
It has this classic round rich creamy toffee/light heather peat so typical of Highland Park. The palate is round and has very good length.
Of course, it is far from the older versions of the 80's, but still is much more complex and interesting than the recent 25yo OB.
I know that I must have been terribly prejudiced when I scored it 94 points , but this score reflects how I felt then.
And for that reason I do not want to change it...
No need to precise that this little place became our hub (it is possible to rent rooms there) and I was doing quality control regularly on that bottle just to make sure I wasn't wrong. At the end of the week, we left Skye on drove North towards Ullapool, but that is another story…
I don't usually care for compiling long tasting notes of the malts I try.
My personal notes just include the score, plus a brief summarizing comment like "wonderful orange notes", or "very chewy and rounded", or "unusually astringent". That is for most of the expressions I try, especially the more mundane ones. Anyhow, sometimes I feel I have to take deeper notes for some of the truly greatest malts I stumble upon: the funny thing is that I don't do it as a reminder of great bottles to buy again in future… because very often these bottles are the last one of their kind, found in a remote store covered by a layer of dust, or too pricey to justify another expense. Yes, it seems that in the last months I have tried some unusually fine and/or expensive bottles… it's not going to become a habit (a couple of them were actually a stroke of luck, bought at a very reasonable price compared to their age), but it was great fun. And in these cases I feel compelled to write at least a few notes more than I am used to…
For posterity, you know.
One thing stands clear for these dozen great malts I have tasted in the past 9 months: my tastes are drifting.
I used to love the peat monsters, and nowadays I find myself more and more neglecting them, almost bored, and swaying to the opposite side of the spectrum… towards the big sherry beasts. I love their luscious and winey embrace, the decadent fruitiness and tannins of long maturation in sherry casks, their red/amber colour. Of course in this E-pistle there are some "neutral malts" too, standing out for their delicate but not dull flavour palette (I love those rare occasions when a cask's influence is not in-your-face and the whisky is rich and full of complex flavours, perfectly balanced without woody excesses but lots of personality)… but the majority of the best drams I have had in the past months seem to come from sherry casks… and usually bold and lively ones, too. Apart from the two Port Ellens (which are not peat monsters anyway), all the other excellent malts in this E-pistle range from "unpeated" to "so slightly peated that it almost doesn't matter". What is NOT drifting in my tastes, is that I keep loving malts with lots of character: no boring or dull ones, no exercises in delicacy… Even the Bruichladdich 125th, which is certainly far from being powerful or bold, has a certain assertive richness which makes it soft but not "delicate" in the bad meaning of the word. Yes, it IS delicate and velvety, but it has lots of taste.
So, if you share the fondness of sherry with me, read on…
If you don't, read anyway, as there are a couple of gems to discover anyway.
Tobermory 32yo 1972/2005 (49.5%, OB, Brown/Purple Label, 1710 Bts., Sherry Finish) - 93 points
Nose: Whoah! This malt spent a lot of time in wood… and it shows (well, already the dark brown color should have been a hint)!
Old, dusty and musty drawers, wood furniture (pine), wood polish/wax, damp bricks and concrete cellar, ancient leather book covers… A triumph of "old and stale" smells, but not in a tiresome or nauseating way. Very fascinating, instead! Slight wineyness from the sherry, but again very dark and not fruity or "lively" at all. An "Addams Family"-like profile, if you know what I mean… dark and gloomy, but intriguing.
Palate: Oaky, tannic, bitterish… but never astringent or unbalanced. Lots of bitter licorice (it tastes like an alcoholic extract of the "Saila liquirizia" candy drops you can find in Italy), Petrus Boonekamp liqueur (which is good… since I usually hate liqueurs but Petrus is one of the few I can tolerate), medicinal herbs, room-temperature Guinness stout, some hints of peat, bitter propolis, Latakia tobacco... and then a late dark malty sweetness. The wonderful thing of this malt is how it can be bitter but not unpleasant: it maintains a wonderful round taste, warm and enticing, quite extreme in its tannins but without going over the top. An original and daring profile that I love.
Finish: Again, licoricey and bitter but without excesses or any astringency. Anise liqueur.
Comment: If you like sweet, clean malts… stay away! This is a dark, brooding, moody old beast: not brutal, not bad-tempered, not quizzical… but also far from being a whisky for all tastes. It beats many old malts I have tried due to its sheer originality and boldness (not a simple dried/tropical fruit galore, not a winey and overly-dry sherry monster, not an ultra-sweet and soft honeycomb feast like many old malts are). But of course you have to love at least some bitterness…
Convalmore 28yo 1977/2005 (57.9%, OB, Limited Edition, 3900 Bts.) - 89 points
Nose: A little known silent distillery, and one that I loved from the first sip from a Convalmore 24yo 1978/2003 (59.4%, Rare Malts) a couple of years ago. Why did I love it so much? Because of a clear and distinctive note of candied oranges… the same note that I found again later in a Convalmore 14yo 1983/1997 (43%, Signatory, C#1639, 580 Bts.) and in the bottling I am reviewing here! Yes, three expressions tried so far, and all of three smell deliciously of candied oranges! This expression is the best one I have tasted: together with the candied oranges, a great clean maltiness, some dark chocolate fragrance, and some buttery biscuits too. Very intense, with camomille flowers and just a hint of oakiness. Very clean, natural and similar in "philosophy" to most bottlings of the Rare Malts series.
Palate: Again, a fierce and intense flavour… some water is recommended to bring out the great malty sweetness and the candied oranges. It's a malt that (like the aforementioned 1978 Rare Malts expression) can gladly take some water, rigorously at room temperature, and some warming from the hand to bring out the best flavours: it becomes less burning but remains extremely tasty, not dumbed down at all and still very warming and rich. Crunchy wafers, tea (Earl Grey?), some apricots. Simply yummy, though not extremely complex.
Finish: Long, warming, again on tea, apricots and the always present candied oranges.
Comment: Not a cheap bottle, but very worth its price. A great fruity malt, though not overly sweet or "friendly" at all.
It beats the Rare Malts version thanks to its extra richness and maltiness.
Clynelish 1973/2006 (54.3%, The Prestonfield, C#8912, 405 Bts.) - 93 points
Nose: Pungent (but not harsh) and sweet, rich on gorgonzola mustiness, honey, propolis and wood polish. Obviously old, but not tired or excessively musty or stale. Bubblegum (banana flavoured?), candied orange and citron, very vague hints of peat, pepper… A whole array of intense and apparently contrasting flavours, so beautifully integrated that I can easily say that while I usually am not a huge fan of Clynelish/Brora's profile, I could spend hours sniffing the glass from this expression. One of the best noses I have ever found EVER.
Palate: Quite similar to the nose, with the trademark waxiness from this distillery. Not cloyingly sweet and waxy like some other expressions, not too thick: rather, a beautiful balance between a clean malty sweetness and some great orange dryness. Chewy, dangerously drinkable and smooth at cask strength, with no need of water (though it can take a drop). Again, the peat and the mustiness are very subtle. Of course Serge says all of this so much better at http://www.whiskyfun.com/archiveoctober06-1.html#091006, so have a look there because I tend to agree on his comments (though I am much less sophisticated). No evident sherry, although La Maison du Whisky says it is from a refill sherry butt. Finish: Long, but not extremely complex. Very pleasant and rich anyway, on similar flavours like the ones found on the palate.
Comment: As I said, I am not a big fan of this distillery's typical profile, but this expression really won my heart. Together with the Brora 30yo (56.6%, OB, 3000 Bts., 2004), which is mustier, peatier and with some mushrooms too, it's the best I have tried from this distillery-couple of distilleries. Big thanks to Serge for pointing out this bottle on his Whiskyfun site, otherwise I would have missed it (which would have been a shame, as it has a great quality/price ratio).
Bruichladdich 20yo 1986/2006 'Blacker Still' (50.7%, OB, first fill oloroso and port pipe, 2840 Bts.) - 87 points
Nose: Is it a wine or a whisky? I don't usually like Bruichladdich's wine finishing experiments (too weird, and applied on a distillate that is often too flat for my taste), but this smells interesting: you just have to accept that there's more from the cask than from the malt itself. Extremely dry, sherried, winey: not necessarily complex, but bold and yummy. It truly smells like a bottle of fruity, lively and sparkling rosŤ wine! Dried plums, cherry syrup and vinegar complete the scenario.
Mouth: Again, very winey and dry. You really can't say it tastes like port: the sherry is dominant here. Not a juicy and chewy sherry like in Macallan or some Glengoynes, rather an astringent, slightly metallic sherry like in some young Glenfarclases… but richer. Some spent ground coffee, but ultimately it's just big fruity wine here. Extreme and not for all tastes, but I like it.
Finish: Mouth-drying, again on dried plums (and apricots and peaches, too). Must I say again that it's winey?
Comment: Love it or hate it… this is one of Bruichladdich's usual experiments, but one of the best I have had. At least it has a huge character, and it's very lively and enjoyable.
Bruichladdich 1970/2006 '125 years' (40.1%, OB, 2502 Bts.) - 90 points
Nose: Delicate and very Bruichladdich-ish. Bananas (both banana peel and the fruit inside), vanilla, wood polish, melon, buttery biscuits. All quite restrained, but rich, sweet and very classy. No overpowering wood astringency… no bad oakiness at all. The years just show as a vague mustiness, like sweet gorgonzola, and some mint. Just a slight hint of peat. Having not tried Olivier's wine in which it was finished, I really can't say what comes from the original bourbon cask and what from the wine: but if I had tasted this one blind, I certainly would have never even slightly touched by the remotest idea that this expression is wine finished.
Palate: Juicy, initially on fruit (orange, apricot, peach) jellies, then getting slightly more tannic and oakier, but always sweet, delicate (though not wimpy at all) and never betraying such a huge amount of time spent in a cask. Age shows as a wonderful rounded and quiet taste, not as wood influence. Some genepy liqueur, plus other herbs (mint, licorice) and of course vanilla. It's really a "soft" profile, apparently quite bland but actually complex and ever-changing. Again, very refined.
Finish: Getting drier, more astringent and spicier (white pepper, cinnamon), but still soft and well-behaved. It leaves a very long pleasantly oaky aftertaste.
Comment: I am usually not a big fan of Bruichladdich, as I tend to consider most of their core expressions too bland and with some herbal/organic notes that I don't like, and their wine finishes often too weird and masking the flavour of the original distillate. This one was really a surprise: the exact opposite of the 'Blacker Still, very delicate and restrained but with lots to tell. A meditation dram.
Lagavulin 16yo 'White Horse' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 1988, 75cl) - 91 points
Nose: Very smoky, but not only peat smoke… there's charcoal, there's cigarette smoke… It's a thick and dense smokiness, not only a piercing and monochromatic one. Then malty, slightly sherried, but ultimately dry. More pungent than recent releases.
Palate: While some versions from the past years have reminded me of Adelscott beer (overly sweet, a bit too thick and "domesticated"), this one is sharper, peatier (though not a peat monster like some young Ardbegs) and drier. It has a full and chewy smokiness which perfectly complements the sherry, the malty sweetness, the licorice and the hints of salt. It's more organic, more medicinal, more… Lagavulin! The newest batches have again partially returned to a more intense profile than the overly sweet and soft ones from the early 2000's, but this oldie beats them all. Just think of the Lagavulin of nowadays but more intense, sharper and a bit livelier. As some others I have said, like the result of mixing 3 bottles of the "modern" 16yo with one bottle of the 12yo Cask Strength…
Finish: Long, warm, smoky and full of licorice.
Comment: It's not that different from the Lagavulin you all know (and thus I won't take too much time describing its qualities), but it's slightly better in all departments. An effect of self-illusion, since I did not taste it blind? Maybe, but I enjoyed it a lot (and big thanks to Michel for the sample!).
Glen Grant 30yo 1972/2002 (46%, Wilson & Morgan Barrel Selection, C#692) - 93 points
Nose: Deep, sweet, redolent with overripe cherries and strawberries. Medicated bandages. Very sherried and luscious, almost "rotting" but in a pleasant way (not putrid, just so overripe that it seems to be on the verge of going over the top). Not overly woody at all! Just some wood polish. Propolis, rhubarb. Barolo chinato. Antiques shop. Not extremely intense, but very rich, with a deep dark sweetness.
Palate: Syrupy, enormously sweet and winey. Like concentrated cherry syrup, or like a very old port. Then getting fruity and slightly sour. Very similar impressions like those found on the nose, with the addition of licorice. Dangerously drinkable, a true dessert whisky, a treat for anyone with a sweet tooth.
Finish: Getting moderately astringent and slightly oaky, in a very pleasant way. Orange marmalade, tropical fruits galore. And always that feeling of overripe fruit, almost rotting but never unpleasant or excessive.
Comment: A hell of a bottling, the best I have tried from Fabio Rossi and one of the best sherried malts ever. No sulphur, no excessive astringency: pure sweet pleasure. One complaint, though: if bottled at a higher ABV to gain some extra intensity, and if it had been just a little more extravagant and unpredictable, it would have been even more stunning and deserving of 95-96 points. But you really can't complain about a malt so rich, rounded, luscious and "gourmand". Good luck in finding a bottle of this around, as even Fabio Rossi doesn't seem to have any more of this in stock… I bought the last one stocked by a little bar/wine-shop in Torino which is usually well-equipped with bottles and lots of other deluxe food articles for sale.
Macallan 12yo 1989/2002 (60.1%, Wilson & Morgan Barrel Selection, Sherry Butt, C#8273, 678 Bts.) - 90 points
Nose: Very oaky, dark and licoricey. Camphor, apples, strawberries. Red and very tannic wine. Balsamic vinegar (the good handmade one you can find in Reggio Emilia or Modena, not the supermarket kind). Very unique and stimulating.
Palate: Green apples, bitter orange marmalade. Full, juicy, sweet and slightly bitter but very rounded.
Sherried, but not verging on wine and fruit… rather on sandalwood, lavender (the GOOD one… not the Bowmore FWP!).
Also slightly smoky. Definitely bold, appetizing and ever-changing.
Finish: Not extremely long, but intense on licorice and again on green apples and bitter oranges.
Comment: A "difficult" malt to evaluate due to its contrasting flavours, and one that improves a lot with oxidation in an open bottle. It marries an "old" and musty character with remains of a young brashness, in a very exciting way: a great accomplishment, though, with such a young age. Not for all tastes due to the perhaps dissonant impressions, but quite original. Certainly very different than the ultra-sherried and luscious official bottlings: a completely different profile, but a very exciting and adventurous one. Not a common expression, but slightly easier to find than the other W&M bottlings in this E-pistle (which are definitely out-of-stock).
Port Ellen 23yo 1979/2002 (46%, Wilson & Morgan Barrel Selection, C#5538) - 89 points
Nose: Moderate peat. Quite dry and winey (white wine).
Also a bit farmy like a Brora (hay, grass, organic notes, and a hint of beehive smell). Disinfectant, lemon peel.
Palate: Initially dry, then sweetly malty. Peat, farmy notes and a big mineral taste.
Clean, lemony and slightly bitterish like a good lager, with a distinct taste of yeast. A bit herbal, very balanced but still very lively.
Finish: Very much like beer, with a bitterish hoppy aftertaste and again a lemony and herbal impression.
Comment: An extremely classy expression from, released in a dry and clean bottling full of farmy notes and a very malty and hoppy palate. All the discreet peatiness of Port Ellen, combined with notes of German lager beer and a touch of lemon peel. Not as austere as other expressions from this distillery, but neither too "friendly" or immediate. Not as renowned as the two sherry cask expressions from the same period, but very interesting and probably more crystalline, mineral and "pure" (though I am still waiting to try the sherry version, which I am going to put my hands on hopefully soon).
Port Ellen 21yo 1982/2004 (50%, DL OMC for Sarzi AmadŤ Milano, REF479, Sherry, 385 Bts., D. 11/'82 Btl. 05/'04) - 91 points
Nose: Aaah, so Port Ellenish (refined peat, lemony and mineral notes) in spite of the heavy and lusciously sweet (but not cloying) sherry cloak! Leather, licorice, a hint of denaturated alcohol, camphor and some fresh wall paint. Quite simple, but very enjoyable.
Palate: Quite full and bold, on licorice, peat, apricots, Belgian ale, spinachs and whole flour bread. Not as syrupy and chewy as initially expected (it maintains a slightly thin mouthfeel), but very impressive indeed. Of course the sherry and the peat dominate the scenario, but there's some subtlety behind them, and anyway it's a very enjoyable and solid profile.
Finish: Getting spicier, on peppers, bitter licorice and big tannins: very hot after a while, a really volcanic aftertaste, warming and tingling. Earthy.
Comment: A powerful expression of Port Ellen, maybe not overly complex but with a strong character. The sherry perfectly marries with the peat, for a stout and enjoyable malt, with a straightforward and delicious profile… a bit like an Ardbeg Uigeadail with more sherry and slightly less peat. It looks like it was a special bottling from Douglas Laing for Italy, so don't hold your breath hoping to find one so easily.
Tomatin 33yo 1967/2000 (43%, Cooper's Choice for VA.MA Italy, Sherry, 252 Bts.) - 92 points
Nose: Old but not tired, long on nutty and dry sherry notes. Winey, like those bottles of red wine which have already passed their peak age, slightly oxidized. Not many red fruits, this time: the nuttiness and the oak prevail. Enjoyable, a bit pungent and dry marsala-like, but not extremely complex.
Palate: Rich, luscious, chewy, shrouded in great dry sherry. Much more expressive than the nose, getting gradually sweeter. Chocolate powder, licorice, boiled chestnuts, yellow apples… and of course lots of wine. It's not dissonant, though, as the sherry perfectly marries with the malt for a nutty and slightly honeyed ensemble. Very rich in spite of the rather low ABV, and absolutely not lacking in strength. Some late rhubarb and tannic astringency.
Finish: Lots of oak, but a good one. Not dusty or tired, simply very aromatic, on gentian and other herbs. You can taste it for several minutes.
Comment: Not a particularly "different" or unique malt, but a great example of long dry-sherry maturation: there are some more interesting, peculiar and complex expressions of this kind, but this one more or less summarizes all there is to say in its genre. And, in addition to that, it's very enjoyable: a very autumnal dram (too bad we are in spring!). Again, not many of these bottles should still be around…
Glenlivet 25yo 1976/2001 (46%, Wilson & Morgan Barrel Selection, C#5522) - 91 points
Nose: Very dry sherry, winey, oaky and full of dried fruits, nuts and balsamic vinegar.
Mouth: Bold, initially quite astringent, spicy (cinnamon, pepper) and citrusy. Then getting winey, with lots of good tannins. Definitely lively, crisp and not completely tamed. In spite of the age, it still has some edges: not as rich and ripe as the W&M Glen Grant above, not as sweet and luscious. But very interesting, with bitter oranges and, again, lots of oak.
Finish: Oaky, pleasantly astringent. Long and very nutty.
Comment: A dry, spicy and tannic expression of this legendary Speyside malt. Many years of Oloroso sherry maturation have erased the crispy, flowery maltiness of the distillate, bringing to it character, structure and complexity. For lovers of a drier sherry character and complex wine flavours rather than of simple sweet maltiness or sun-dried raisins character like in other old expressions of Glenlivet. Due to this quality, it might also be mistaken for a very old official Macallan from decades ago… Again, a bottle which is hard to find nowadays.
So this is all… An impressive array of expressions, I must say: some excellent recent ones (which you should try to find as they won't be here forever), and some just as excellent older ones which you should grab by all means if you stumble upon them (good luck in case you want to try and find them!). I was particularly impressed by the often overlooked Tobermory, by the unusual Clynelish and by the confirmation that you really can't go wrong with an aged sherry-cask Glen Grant. And, of course, by the Macallan: so different than the usual distillery profile, younger than the rest of the lot, but with really much to say. A very unusual expression, probably from a cask that the distillery gave away because too different from their standard profile… The fools!
Well, I hope you enjoyed reading, and that my E-pistle pushed you into looking around for some equally excellent bottlings… or into drifting a bit yourselves from your usual tastes and experiment a bit! Have fun!
Or; The Effects of the Prohibition on the Scotch Whisky Industry
Too much has been written about this period of American history for
anything new to be written here. The Prohibition (from 1920 to 1933) led
to many violent deaths, corruption and the growth of organized crime on
an unprecedented scale. This well-meant policy divided the nation.
Prohibition was imposed on a society which neither had the will nor the
means to carry it out. Its effects on the whisky industry were profound.
After the restrictions of the First World War, Scotch whisky enjoyed a
modest boom, but it proved short-lived as the effects of the Depression
began to show. Any hopes of expanding exports to the United States
seemed destroyed by Prohibition, and exports of over seven million
gallons in 1920 dropped by a million gallons in the following year.
Thanks to a loophole in the American legislation, some Scotch whisky was legitimately imported into the United States for 'medicinal purposes only'.
The quantities of the so imported Scotch were far in excess of the needs
as a Medicine, but where far from meeting the demands of the American
drinking public. Fake Scotch was being brewed in every available bath or
bucket the 'liquor racket' (The Liquor Mafia) could get, and unscrupulous
German spirit manufacturers added many thousands of cases of
their own brew.
The Bottles and Labels where so well made, to appear to be genuine Scotch whisky.
(Faking seems to have a long history..., but the Labels where Beautiful.) The activities of the Fakers suffered a serious setback when Peter Mackie, of White Horse fame, successfully prosecuted one firm for exporting German spirit under the label of Black and White Horse Scotch Whisky. Apart from the whisky which was imported thanks to the medical loophole, the Scotch whisky houses could not legally export to the United States, and most were not prepared to take any direct measures to break American laws. But, if they did not act to meet the demand for Scotch whisky, they knew the American public would either turn to alternatives or have their health and taste for Scotch whisky permanently ruined by the imposters and Fakers.
Records show that exports of Scotch whisky to Canada, the then British West Indies, the French Atlantic islands of St Pierre and Miquelon - indeed to anywhere within reach of the United States - simply exploded overnight. The number of Vessels used for 'rum running', (carrying wines and spirits to destinations outside United States territorial waters) was Incredible. It was not quite an safe undertaking, but the dangers where small compared with the risks run by the bootleggers, who were responsible for landing the illicit goods on United States territory and ensuring their safe delivery.
Scotch Whisky prospered under these conditions, particularly as the official distilling of American domestic whiskies had ceased.
However, in addition to the Fake substitutes, the practice of cutting (diluting the genuine Scotch with water, wood alcohol or other eventualy Harmfull stuff) was a further threat. A threat which was successfully turned into an opportunity by Francis Berry of Berry Bros, whose blended whiskies were well established in the United States. Whilst enjoying increased sales, he was very anxious to avoid faking of his whisky. There seemed to be no easy answer, until he met a Captain Bill McCoy at Nassau in the Bahamas, a very popular entrepot for the suppliers of 'Rum Row' (the passage in the high seas just outside American limits and stretching 150 miles from Montauk Point on Long Island to Atlantic City in New Jersey).
Berry Bros, a highly respectable firm of London wine and whisky merchants then launched a new brand of Scotch, the first of the 'light'
whiskies, exclusively for export, the Cutty Sark. For the booming Bahamas market, which was the back door into Prohibition America, Francis
Berry saw advantages in working with Captain McCoy, whose reputation for dealing only with genuine goods had led to the idiom: 'It's the
real McCoy'. (This is just one theorie on the origin of this phrase, in my opinion the most plausible one.
Fact is that it has nothing to do with Dr. McCoy from the 1960's TV series, Starship Enterprise…)
On this basis the new Cutty Sark established a impressing reputation in the United States which held it until the Prohibition was repealed and after. Chivas Bros, the Aberdeen whisky merchants, were said to be working 24 hours a day to blend and bottle their whisky, which was then packed in waterproof boxes and dropped outside US territorial limits for collection by their 'customers'. Similarly, Teacher's supplyied the bootleg trade with Highland Cream in cases sewn up in hessian Fabric.
William Manera Bergius of Teacher's justified it in the following terms: 'We are letting the Americans have good Scotch whisky to drink in place of their own somewhat poisonous distillations, and we are bringing good American money into this impoverished country.'
During Prohibition, Teacher's shipped more than 137.000 cases of Scotch via its own particular 'rum run' to Antwerp, and - using a Vessel called Littlehorn- to San Francisco Bay. The owner of Littlehorn was Joseph Hobbs, who was later to become prominent in the Scotch whisky industry. Hobbs, Scottish by birth, spent a great ammount of time in Canada, including a period as a agent for DCL. He returned to Scotland in 1931 when it seemed that Prohibition's days were numbered and, in preparation for the great boom in the United States market, he entered into association with National Distillers of America to acquire and run a number of malt distilleries, through the Glasgow firm of Train & McIntyre, blenders and merchants.
The distilleries bought were Bruichladdich, Glenury Royal, North Esk (now Glenesk), Fettercairn, Glenlochy, Benromach and the now (sadly) defunct Strathdee Distillery. The Management was given to the Associated Scottish Distilleries Ltd. National Distillers of America withdrew from Scotland in 1954 when they sold Train & Mclntyre and four of their distilleries to DCL.
The American Prohibition was far from being a bad thing for the Scotch whisky industry.
They not only used the time to consolidate its reputation in the United States, but also managed to repel attempts of American distillery concerns to establish themselves in Scotland at this time. But not everything was positive, there were also victims in the Scottish Distillery lansdscape. It is said that Campbeltown whisky boomed during the American Prohibition, but indeed, this period was the cause for many great Scotch brands to loose their reputation. The Big demand for whisky led to a reduction in quality which in turn gave Campbeltown a bad name. During the 1920s all, except for one of the twenty distilleries in and around Campbeltown were closed, the exception being Rieclachan, which closed in 1934. Only two Distilleries returned to active life: Glen Scotia and Springbank.
At the end of the Prohibition in 1933 there was a struggle between American companies for the exclusive agencies for the better known brands of Scotch. Smarter operators had already established themselves, because they undestood that Prohibition was something that would not last long. One of them was Joseph Kennedy, the Boston politician of Irish origin and father of later US President John F. Kennedy. In prospect to the prohibition end, he secured for himself the New England agency for Dewar's and Haig (as well as Gordon's gin) and he was importing stocks under special licence for 'medicinal' purposes, to be ready for the expected boom after the end of the Prohibition.
It was thanks to the efforts of the import agencies of tha Priod, that Scotch Whisky was able to gain a significant share of the US spirits market, even when something like 20,000 different liquor brands flooded the Market when the Prohibition was repealed.
In my previous E-pistle the six annual expressions of Port Ellen were sampled.
Here follows another row of Port Ellen bottlings, this time from independent bottlers only.
Douglas Laing are seriously blessed with a seemingly never ending line of Port Ellen bottlings being released. From what I understand that won't stop anytime soon either which is a very good thing indeed. In this report six bottlings from their Old Malt Cask range is sampled and one from their McGibbons Provenance series. Old Malt Cask is their "middle" range, below Platinum but above Provenance. They also fiddle with a range called "Glen Denny", this time in the shape of a 27yo Port Ellen bottled for a Swedish whisky club. The Golden Cask range is bottled by a certain John McDougall who has been involved with quite a few distilleries out there throughout the years. These days he does some cask hunting too. Here I try one of his Port Ellen bottlings. Raymond Armstrong at Bladnoch is also doing some bottling from other distilleries than his own. This time he found one from Port Ellen which I got my eager hands on. Signatory, presentation needless, ends the session with another fine specimen.
Port Ellen 25yo 1978/2004 (50%, DL OMC, REF657, 604 Bts.)
Nose: Toffee & citrus. Kind peat and oily in a slightly winey manner if that makes sense.
Moderately tough with clear malty influence.
Palate: a much more brutal smoke appears. The mouthfeel is strong and peppery.
Dry smoke with some woody tones also in the aftertaste. Nice but not overly so, 87 points.
Port Ellen 23yo 1983/2006 (50%, DL OMC, 716 Bts.)
Nose: More classic "sour" peat a la Islay here with a some dryish whiffs of smoke.
Some pears and licorice but also quite round with some leathery tones and dried figs perhaps? Iodine also.
Palate: Oily mouthfeel, more fruit than only pears appears. The smoke goes into the background and the taste is long and round in a very pleasant way. The finish turns smokier, tobacco appears and white peppers again. Quite nice indeed as opposed to what I thought the first time I sampled this one some time ago, obviously I failed to give it enough time back then, now it's at a solid 89 points.
Port Ellen 25yo 1980/2006 (50%, DL OMC, DL Ref#669, 201 Bts.)
Nose: This one is tougher with a clear fresh influence of iodine which makes it quite the dry one.
Then a compote of fruits suddenly appear and we're talking tangerines, citrus and apricots.
My mind wanders to cedar tree, vanilla and perhaps even some hay. Hm, a little sulphur too? Incredibly complex and so nice.
Palate: Big fruit and smoke also on. Very concentrated tastes which is not so long but while it lasts it's pure pleasure. 91 points.
Port Ellen 1979/2006 (53%, The Golden Cask, C#7983, 280 Bts.)
Nose: Very light and even a little watery compared to it's opponents.
But there are elegant tones of toffee, leather, oranges and smoke.
Palate: The taste has more oomph with smoke and an oily pleasant fruityness.
At the end it shows evidence of oak and a slight hint of perfume. A nice dram indeed but not world class. Around 88 points.
Port Ellen 26yo 1979/2005 (50%, DL OMC, C#2014, 568 Bts.)
Nose: Some butterscotch, oily and quite a lot of fruity sweetness. Cedar tree? Relatively light, earthy and just a tad peaty.
Palate: Nice fruityness, almost of the exotic kind. Not very Port Ellenish at all but enjoyable indeed.
There is smoke also but it's a little too much on the elegant and short side to score higher than 89 points.
Port Ellen 27yo 1978/2006 (51%, Glen Denny, C#607, 372 Bts.)
Nose: This one is among the toughest ones on the flight. Feels almost young.
Quite big "sour" peatyness, coastal but with a rather simple maltyness.
Palate: The taste is also rough with peat and only a little smoke.
Some buttery, but the malt domination continues and to me it feels quite simple and not really on par.
83 points but many would disagree I suspect.
Port Ellen 18yo 1982/2001 (50%, DL OMC, Sherry, 777 Bts.)
Nose: Crazy sherry influence. Loads of raisin, figs and dates. But a little astringent at the same time.
Under the sherry there's other kinds of fruit (pear?) and some peat although most is swallowed but the sherry.
Palate: Tastewise it's much more balanced, the sherry steps back and it turns real tasty with smoke and dried fruits sweetness.
Yum! Lasts quite a while with peppery tobacco and an oaky note. 90 points.
Port Ellen 21yo 1978/2000 (50%, DL OMC, 342 Bts.)
Nose: This one is quite perfumy, apples, some pears, light almost floral. Quite refreshing and a little malty too.
Palate: The taste is dominated by maltyness and not much more. Simple and at the end a little sour and cooked vegetables?
A nice nose but the taste drags it down to a slightly disappointing 84 points.
Port Ellen 23yo 1978/2002 (59%, Signatory, butt #5268, 564 Bts.)
Nose: Quite tough, strong smoke. Slightly uncut but with time milk chocolate, pears, vanilla, lime, honey and malt arrives.
Complex, tough and awesome.
Palate: Taste is at first quite simple with lots of malt.
After water and time it opens up and the fruit hinted at from the nose appears (pears & lime) with vanilla.
Spicey but tastewise not really Port Ellenish perhaps, but so nice. 91 points.
Port Ellen 22y 1983/2005 (46%, McGibbons Provenance, C#2102)
Nose: Immature young apples and rather tough smoke. Some tar, malt and (pleasant) viola. A little on the sour side.
Palate: Taste is refreshing, light, nice smokyness, tasty. Very drinkable but perhaps a little too light? 87 points.
Port Ellen 24yo 1982/2006 (60.4'%, Bladnoch, butt#2461, 644 Bts.)
Nose: One (very) dry smoky, tarry piece of work. Can't find much peat, it's really the dark coughy kind of smokiness here.
Damn it's dry. Dried sea-weed on the shores next by a forest fire? Hm. Intriguing.
After water it turns more sour a' la Islay, the peat arrives. Also some malty sweetness which was not there at all before shows up.
Palate: Tastewise it's fruiter than expected, intimately interwined with the dryish smoke. Nice. 88 points.
There seems to some traits that can be found in most of the Port Ellens sampled here. Many have elegant peaty tones and are not quite as offensive as one could've thought. Fruit is often there, yet they are most often quite dry and "clean". Coastal influence is strong, iodine is around, also seaweed and licorice. Leather, not seldom sulphur, also tobacco and "old" notes are around at times. Port Ellen delivers, but not necessarily every time. Unless we're talking the annual releases, those are safe bets but require loads of patience.
- A mineral water test by Ho-cheng Yao, Taiwan
- A Macallan Tasting by Craig Daniels, Australia
- A Book Review by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada
- An article on whisky classification by Ulf Buxrud, Sweden
- A report on the Limburg Whisky Festival
That's it for now - Please visit the (new) archive or the old 'ADHD' version of Malt Maniacs for more E-pistles.
After receiving the 'glassware' E-pistles from Lawrence and Craig for this issue, I planned to do my own little glassware test.
I've been thinking about it ever since Klaus Everding sent his own E-pistle on the topic many years ago but never found the time.
Unfortunately, I STILL couldn't find the time, so I decided to try to get some opinions out of the maniacs on the topic in an 'Ask an Anorak' discussion and focus on a tasting report instead. During the last few months hundreds of samples have been piling up and it's high time I worked some of them out of the way.
In fact, I had started enthusiastically with the task in MM#101 - but only got as far as half a dozen.
People are laughing at me more than enough already, so I decided I should try to clear out at least one blemish on my reputation.
Quite a few of the other maniacs have already managed to finish a 'dozen drams' E-pistle by now, so it's high time I matched their pace. And unless another maniac beats me to it I'll deliver a 'two dozen drams' E-pistle next time.
But this is now - or rather last week.
I started early on a Sunday morning to work my way through 12 samples. I kicked off the tasting proceedings with two samples from Richard Furman from the USA and a third (the Caol Ila) from Serge or Thomas, I think.
1) Talisker 1992/2005 Distillers Edition
(45,8%, OB, Jerez Amoroso Finish) - from Richard Furman, USA
Only ten minutes after pouring this dram did I realise that I had a 1986 expression to compare it with,
Nose: Smooth, sweet surface. Obvious sherry influence. Then the organics start to emerge. Great development.
Maggi? More and more organics over time, but after ten minutes it drops dead. Let's put it away for 5 minutes...
When nosed next to the 1986 version it appeared MUCH sweeter and fruitier
Taste: Strong peat for a few seconds, evolving into smoke over time. Feels quite rough at just 45.8%. Raw wood.
It actually starts out quite pleasant but loses steam pretty quickly. Hesitant tannins. Falls apart on the palate.
Score: 84 points - I have to put it in the 80's because the nose is excellent for five minutes, but it falls apart quickly.
It does make a comeback after ten more minutes but never quite reaches the heights of the 1986 expression again.
If it hadn't had that strange weak spell after 10 minutes it would still have been in the upper 80's...
Wait a minute...
I still have a little bit left from my Talisker 1986 Distillers Edition (45.8%, OB) - let's pour a dram for a H2H session...
Nose: Ooh, more organics from the start... A little rougher with some more diesel oil. Some leather. Hey, antiquity?
That's odd - in my memory 'old school' Taliskers were never exceptionally organic - but this one is... Spicier than the '92 too.
Taste: Even the ABV is identical this has a slightly 'smoother' burn than the 1992. The wood doesn't sit at the surface.
Score: 88 points - just 1 point down from 89. I know very few maniacs agree, but this has a brilliant touch of 'antiquity'.
But I agree that's a very personal score - the difference in profile with the 1992/2005 isn't massive...
And that touch of noble oxidation could have happened on my shelf, I guess - but I've learned to love it...
2) Caol Ila 1993/2006 Distiller's Edition
(43%, OB, Moscatel finish) - from Serge or Thomas?
This would be the first expression of a Caol Ila DE I've tried. Smart move from DIAGEO, but will it work?
Nose: Light, sweet and slightly dusty. Much more restrained than the Taliskers. Not a trace of peat at first.
It powers up after a few minutes, but it's still more 'veggy' than 'peaty'. And then the wine finish overpowers everything else.
No wait - after five more minutes the organics finally join the party, lifting my initial score of 80 by a point to 81.
Taste: Ooops.... Yes, there's peat here, but it's so weak I first thought we had yet another oxidised sample here.
It picks up, though. I got a nice touch of salted liquorice on the palate. Yet, it remains strangely smooth on the palate.
In fact, when I compared it with a sip of the Talisker '86 Doublewood, that one offered a much bigger punch.
Score: 81 points - nothing wrong if you need a clean alternative for a limpy Bowmore, but a 'classic' it ain't.
I prefer the normal 12yo by a few points - which is usually the case with these 'double matured' ones.
3) Lagavulin 1989/2005 Distillers Edition
(43%, OB, PX finish) - from Richard Furman, USA
Well, let's see how this double matured expression performs these days - I haven't tried it in a while...
Nose: Aaah... Yeah, the familiar leather and peat that I love. Dirty organics emerge after a minute. Right up my alley.
I'm afraid it falls apart after a few minutes, pulling it down from my initial score of 88 points. Still great whisky, mind you!
Taste: Sweet and peaty. But maybe a little thinner than I remembered at first. But then the peat explodes. Lovely!
After a few minutes the sweetness evaporates, leaving a Laphroaigish 'diesel' impression. hey, slightly perfumy finish?
Score: 87 points - but I should add that it's a VERY personal score. This profile might not suit everybody.
So, that's three down - just nine more to go.
Let's take a look at some of the Whiskyfair samples that I've received over the past few months...
4) Clynelish 32yo 1974/2006 (58,6%, The Whisky Fair, Bourbon Hogshead, 266 Bts.)
I've tried this one before and gave it 87 points at the time. Let's see what another try with a fresh palate & perspective gives.
Nose: Some salmiak behind the things you'd expect? 'Zoute Griotten'? Quite bold. Some subtle lemon drops in the background.
Excellent development over time. Some subtle fruits pop up now and then. It doesn't punch you in the face but keeps tickling.
Taste: Yes, quite LOVELY on the palate at cask strength. Sweet and salty with a lovely smoothness. Grows a tad astringent.
A touch of salmiak here as well - which feels a little bit odd, because I usually find that in the heavily peated Islay malts.
Score: 89 points - two points up from my original score in the Malt Maniacs Awards 2006 - just a smidgen short of the 90's in my book but I can certainly see how some maniacs would rate this in the 90's.
5) Glenglassaugh 27yo 1978/2006
(56.8%, The Whisky Fair, Artist Edition, 211 Bts.)
I've been struggling to strike Glenglassaugh from my 'Hamstergeddon' list and now I seem to find them everywhere...
Nose: Farmy and fruity - and unusual combination. Salmiak or something salty here as well after a few minutes?
Whiffs of paint now and then. Quite fresh for its age and it keeps changing. Sweetness grows more prominent over time.
Taste: Quite sweet, solid mouth feel, not too woody. Well, maybe just a smidgen too much wood in the hot, dry finish. Rubber?
Score: 84 points - but leaning towards 85 or even 86 most of the time. The sharp finish strips it back to 84 points over time.
6) Tomintoul 40yo 1966/2006
(45.2%, The Whisky Fair, 139 Bottles)
What is it with these German bottlers like TWF and Jack Wieber(s)? They seem to have a taste for the really old stuff.
Nose: Aaah! A clear smell from my childhood I can't identify... Sweet and very fruity. Hubba Bubba chewing gum?
Definitely fruity candy. Raspberries? Here's a malt that 'shakes its tailfeather'. A BEAUTIFUL nose that keeps surprising.
Over time it grows more serious with occasional whiffs of something farmy. Hint of mint? The development never ends.
I didn't dare to add water because it might break up the blossoming of this malt. Amazing vivacity. Definitely 90's material.
Taste: Hmmmm. Fairly weak in the start after the last two 'overproofs'. It picks up after a few seconds. Sweet fruits again.
Fairly short finish, but surprisingly fresh for such an old whisky. Not as great as the nose, but very good mouth feel for a 40yo.
Score: 91 points - which is an average of a nasal score in the upper 90's (!!!) and a palate that scores around 83 points.
In fact, I had it at 89 points until I took my last sniffs from the empty glass. I decided this deserved the highest honours.
A bit like some of Wack Wiebers' bottlings. Those lucky enough to own a bottle should just sniff it and not drink it...
The second trio down - six more to go. After a quick lunch with some chervil soup and smoked salmon I proceeded.
There were plenty of other TWF samples on my shelves, so I selected three others in the range.
7) Glen Scotia 30yo 1975/2006
(47.5%, The Whisky Fair, Rum barrel)
Nose: Wow! Something chemical - rubber but not quite. 'Slime' playstuff? Evolving molasses sweetness. Hint of rhubarb.
Over time it grows farmier and more complex. A feast for the nose. Drops away after some fifteen minutes though.
Taste: Bugger... This has the same problem as the Tomintoul; the palate doesn't back up the nose. Hint of peat???
If feels quite hot and feisty - but has little of the complexity that the nose suggests. Still a very good dram, mind you...
Score: 83 points - bonce again the palate doesn't quite deliver on the nasal promise.
8) Springbank 38yo 1968/2006
(54%, The Whisky Fair, Sherry hogshead, 117 Bottles)
My notes on this one are sketchy because I received a phone call just when it was getting interesting
Nose: Woehaah! Rich and fiery. Lots of complexity in the middle of the spectrum. Nutmeg? Dust? Interesting development.
Taste: Smooth start, quickly opening up. Old fruits. Like many other oldies, it drops off and turns gritty in the finish.
Score: 89 points - I didn't make many notes (so I can't say much about WHY I liked it) but used the time to make sure about the 89.
At times it dropped back to 88, but then an unexpected whiff of something... unexpected kept pushing it back up again.
9) Ledaig 33yo 1973/2006
(48%, The Whisky Fair)
Nose: Grainy start, growing maltier while sweetening out. Hint of something metallic. Opening up with fruits and flowers.
At first the peat wasn't that apparent, but over time it crept to the foreground. Growing lovelier and lovelier when given time.
Hey! Now I get 'dirtier' organics - sweaty and a little leathery. Just like the Tomintoul, it really blossoms after fifteen minutes.
Taste: Sweet and warming - feels hotter than 48%. Maybe a tad rough in the finish, clearly the effect of the years in wood.
After the peat showed itself in the nose I found it on the palate as well. Hey, now I understand Pit's love for the old stuff.
Score: 90 points - none of the oil that sometimes bothers me in younger Ledaigs. Crept up from 87 to 90 in half an hour.
Wow.... Good results...
Let's take things in a peatier direction now with the last three drams of the afternoon...
10) Glen Scotia 6yo 1999/2006 'Peated'
(52.7%, OB for The Whisky Fair, C#541-542, 464 Bts.)
Nose: Fresh with an intriguing 'dirty' streak. Touch of cardboard. Turning saltier and 'nastier' - which is a good thing.
Taste: Feels quite young and thin at first. Over time a touch of liquorice emerges.
Score: 83 points - which is quite incredible, because when I checked the monitor I found I already tried it and gave it 82 points.
That was also the score where I kept lingering at until it made the hop to 83 points until I found the endearing salt liquorice.
11) Laphroaig 8yo 1988/2006
(48.5%, The Whisky Fair, Artist Edition, 420 Bts.)
Another young peat monster - a lot of them are bottled by proper independent bottlers these days. It's a nice trend.
Nose: Hey... A surprisingly gentle start. Meaty? A real 'bloomer', opening up quickly. Medicinal elements grow stronger.
Something vaguely dusty emerges after a few minutes. More complexity than you usually find in the young peat monsters.
Taste: Dry with a touch of salted liquorice. Very nice and chewable, although it's not quite as complex as the nose.
Score: 87 points - which is especially impressive considering it's only eight years old - and not a 'quarter' cask...
12) Vanilla Sky 14yo 1992/2006
(53%, The Whisky Fair, 297 Bts.)
This is most likely a Lagavulin (Serge pointed out the anagrammish name), but since it doesn't say so on the bottle we don't know.
Nose: Hmmm... Is my nose burning out? Clearly a clean peat monster with loads of depth, but I feel I missed the subtleties.
Taste: Great mouth feel. Peaty, dusty and slightly peaty on my palate. Reminds me of a MurMac bottling I tried years ago.
Score: 88 points - I feel pretty confident about my score on the enjoy-o-meter, but don't have very detailed notes...
So, those were the malts I've got proper notes on. As you can see, the notes were growing shorter with every dram anyway.
That means that this is the perfect moment to wrap up this report...
How to Blend Scotch Whisky by Alfred Barnard. 2005; 36 pages (Hanau, Germany)
Schoebert's Whisky Watch. Originally published: London: Sir Joseph Causton & Sons, pre-1905.
When Alfred Barnard, in the employ of Harpers, set out some 120-odd years ago to report on
the distilleries of Scotland & Ireland for their Weekly Gazette, he knew relatively little of making
whisky, and certainly nothing of what made a good one good. As he proceeded to visit each
distillery, his knowledge grew, though as Richard Joynson points out in his introduction to the
2003 edition of Barnard's better-known The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, which
compiles those Weekly Gazette articles, he never mentions the shapes of the stills he sees on
his journeys, nor makes any mention of cask management.
However, Barnard's weekly appearances in Harper's during the mid-1880's lent him widespread
credibility so it is not surprising that Mackie and Company, distillers, blenders, and bottlers, would
engage him to write an account of their blending facilities and three distilleries. The publication
year of How to Blend Scotch Whisky is not known, but presumed to be a couple of decades after
Barnard began his whisky journey, and certainly his familiarity with the influence of wood had
It is a short book, text filling only 25 of its 36 pages but it is loaded with nuggets, apparently
directed at those who blend whisky or buy it in bulk. Judicious use of high quality and well-aged
grain whisky is salutary to a blend, but the majority of London merchants, unlike Mackie and Company, used excessive amounts of cheap grain whisky to make inexpensive, barely drinkable concoctions.
Barnard prefers well-aged Lowland malts over grain whiskies for blending and includes a recipe for a most popular blend, which combines 5 parts Glenlivet whiskies, 3 part of Islays, 3 parts Lowland malts, 1 part Campbeltown and only 4 parts, or 25% grain whiskies. "The idea," Barnard tells the reader, "is to produce a blend so perfect that it strikes the consumer as being one liquid, not many." Could this be the famous Whitehorse blend developed by Peter Mackie?
Of other techniques, he recommends buying only the finest Highland whiskies for blending, using older whiskies – he suggests an average age of 7 to 10 years as ideal, though accepts from 2 to 4 years old for a public house – and "marrying" blended whiskies by returning them to the source casks for 3 to 6 months after blending. He warns against adulteration of the whisky and suggests that only the softest water, such as that of Glasgow, where, by coincidence, Mackie and Company are located, be used for reducing the whisky to bottle strength.
Barnard ranks age over flavour in selecting blending whiskies, but flavour is second on his list of essentials and among the six classes of whisky – Islay, Glenlivet, North Country, Campbeltown, Lowland Malt and Grain, he ranks Islay the best due to its roundness and fatness. He dismisses an earlier prejudice against Islay indicating "it is [now] more carefully made, the flavour being more delicate and less pungent, owing to the use of dry peats instead of damp ones for drying the malt. Wow! Those less delicate Islays must have been staggering. Islays, by the way, he considers as Highland whiskies.
At Lagavulin Peter Mackie himself escorted Barnard on his tour and Barnard's description quite exceeds that in his Harper's rendition, detailing the surroundings, less so the works, but more the processes from selecting barley and making good malt, to careful filling into cask. He compares mashing to making tea and is most impressed with the length of service of many of the staff at Lagavulin. Clearly Lagavulin was Mackie's premiere distillery and they must have been well pleased with the good light in which Barnard cast it.
Mackie and Company did not own Laphroaig, but were virtually sole agents for their whisky and again, Barnard sings its praises. Things were to change a few years after Barnard's visit when new owners at Laphroaig terminated Mackie's agency.
Laphroaig's output at the time was a mere 24,000 gallons annually and, says Barnard, "the distiller will not increase the size of the plant, nor enlarge the vessels, lest he should in any way alter the character of this highly-prized spirit." Well, philosophies change and Laphroaig now produces more than 20 times what it did at when Barnard visited.
Peter Mackie founded Craigellachie Distillery in 1888, a year after Barnard completed his tour on behalf of Harper's, so How to Blend Scotch Whisky adds another distillery to Barnard's written body of work. Modern whisky pilgrims staying at the Craigellachie Hotel can demonstrate their whisky anorakdom by enquiring in which room Barnard slept while visiting the distillery.
Available at the Museum of Islay Life for 12GBP this unfortunately ISBN-less work provides interesting insights into whisky making of a century ago. Clearly written to promote the business of Mackie and Company, it offers the first-known description of Craigellachie Distillery, along with greater details of Lagavulin and Laphroaig than Barnard's better-know work. A novelty perhaps, but one from which a novice will gain a good overview of how malt whisky is made while the more experienced malt fan gains new insights into its esoterica.
Lately, we frequently notice prices of whisky always going higher.
It gets tricky of spending our money to whisky that performs well with its price/quality ratio.
This is why we started nominating 'Stunners' on our Wee Dram site. Those are comparable
to the Bang For Your Bucks that Johannes started publishing on Malt Madness in the 1990's.
Because that list is still frozen, I thought recent discoveries should be covered here.
The 'Stunners' on our list cost with no exception less than 50,- Euro a bottle, but they al
l have an outstanding price/quality-ratio (to our taste off course). We think it's a good idea,
even our duty that we, as whisky-lovers who have the opportunity of tasting quiet some
different whiskies, help our fellow-whisky enthusiasts to spend their hard earned money to
good value for money nectar.
From now on, I will make a regular 'Stunner-Report' on Malt Maniacs. For my first 'Stunner
Report', I went hunting on Whisky Live Verviers (Belgium), and selected these bottlings:
Nikka NAS 'Pure Malt Black' (43%, OB, Btl. +/- 2006, 50cl) - Ca. € 35
Nose: A typical Nikka nose, nice citrus but also some fresh oaky notes, subtile hints of peat.
Palate: Smooth and a little oily, peat is more present on the palate, orange zest, hits of vanilla: Nice long and warming finish.
Verdict: 86 points - Great balanced dram, nothing wrong with this one … yes, the Japs are coming.
Glenfarclas NAS '105 Cask Strength' (60%, OB, +/- 2006) - Ca. € 48,-
Nose: nice sherry, slightly nutty, some cardboard, a true fruit basket.
Palate: starts peppery & rather dry, beautiful sherry experience, a slight nuttiness which evolutes to the fruitbasket from the nose.
Verdict: 88 points - This one is the result of a great piece of vatting.
Tyrconnell 10yo (46%, OB, Madeira Cask finish, Ireland, +/- 2006) - Ca. € 48,-
Nose: Citrus, winey, malty sweet, leather creme.
Palate: Spicy & quiet creamy, malty sweetness and citrus dominate the palate. A long, nice finish, nice development, remains creamy.
Verdict: 86 points - A nice, easy going, not super-complex but well-balanced whisky.
These are the 'Stunners' I selected at Whisky Live Verviers (out of more than 30 tasted whiskies).
I wasn't really happy about this 'yield'. My quest for stunners didn't go as easy as I thought (hoped). As I stated before, it gets really tricky for finding true Stunners. Now our Uber Maniac 'kindly requested' that I make that half a dozen, so I continued looking. I tried here not to go for the commonly known stunners, but got more into the more obscure material. I came across this one:
Glenlossie 'NC2 Range' 13yo 1993/2006 (46%, Duncan Taylor, Sherry cask) - Ca. € 49,-
Nose: Dry leather, slightly nutty, some pepper, mineral, dried flowers.
Palate: Enters spicy and creamy, malty sweet initially and flowery domination after. A nice and rather long finish, nice developpement.
Verdict: 85 points - A true stunner in any sense of the word.
Another one was one I already tasted before (blind in the Malt Maniacs Awards), and already had called a stunner.
However, I re-tasted it especially for this report. Thanks Bert Coorevits for the sample. Anyhow, I stick to my Awards-score …
I like this one:
Girvan 1989/2006 (46%, Berry Bros & Rudd, casks #110634 & 110635) - Ca. € 48,-
Nose: Surprisingly fruity, very 'grainy', vanilla, very nice nose.
Palate: Sweet and still fruity, nice and gentle grainy notes, very smooth over the whole line. Nice sweet finish, not to complex though.
Verdict: 85 points - Recommended to everybody who wants a good 'Grain whisky' introduction.
Laphroaig 8yo 1998/2006 (48,5%, The Whisky Fair 'Artist Edition', 420 Bts.) - Ca. € 48,-
Nose: Less peat and more fruit one would expect from a Laphroaig this age, very sweet, after some time, some smoked bacon, nice.
Palate: Mineral notes initially, but massive peat right after, whiffs of orange, creamy and mellow surprisingly complex for that age.
A long nice complex finish with some nice citrus notes.
Verdict: 89 points - I wish there were more 'youngies' like this one.
So, I wish you all a happy hunting after these stunners. I'll be back for more Stunner Alerts in the near future.
I even would like to especially look for stunners from lesser known distilleries, things that are kind of surprises ... the kind of things nobody pays attention to while whisky shopping. With this promis, I'm ending my first Stunner Report.
Interview with Andy Watts, manager of a whisky
distillery in Wellington, Cape, South Africa that produces
the 'Three Ships' whiskies; James Sedgwick Distillery.
Conducted on 8 February 2007 by Joe Barry
Andy thanks for agreeing to this interview. Perhaps
the first thing you could talk about is your involvement
with whisky. What's been your history so far?
Well my history with whisky and with Three Ships in
particular goes back to 1984 when I first started working
with the company Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (now
Distell). In 1987 I got the opportunity to go back to
Scotland where I worked for 7 months with a company
called Morrison Bowmore Distillers who have 3 distilleries,
Bowmore on the island of Islay, Glengarioch in the
Highlands and Auchentoshen the only Scottish tripled
distilled whisky in the Lowlands. I then moved to
Wellington to the distillery here where from 1989
onwards they established it as the home of South
African whisky. Our operations before that used to be in
Stellenbosch at a small distillery called R&B and when the
lease expired we moved the whole operation across to
Welllington and since 1989 I have managed this site
and headed up the production of Three Ships.
The website states that the Three Ships brand
was actually launched as far back as 1977.
What happened before you got here?
In 1977 Three Ships was launched under the marketing skills of Mr Francis Norton an extremely mad Irishman with a passion for whisky but in 1977 when it was launched it wasn't actually a fully fledged whisky because it contained matured Scottish malt whisky and unmatured South African grain whisky. It was only in 1981 that Three Ships became a fully fledged whisky meaning that both the grain and malt components had now matured for the minimum legislated period of 3 years.
That was my next question, is the South African minimum 3 years like Scotland?
Yes. The legislation in S.A. is basically word for word the same as what it is in Scotland – in terms of maturation period and in terms of raw materials used, additives for example can only come from the grain, there can be no flavours added, there can be no sugars added, so yes almost word for word our legislation here in SA is the same as Scotland.
The Bourbon Cask finish has a no age statement but was apparently six months in first fill Bourbon casks.
How long was it in other casks and what casks were they?
Any whisky which has a no age statement on the label you can take for granted has been matured for a minimum of 3 years so the base of the bourbon cask finish has been matured for the minimum of 3 years. What we did then was we selected the right blend of malts and grains and put them back for a further six months into first fill American oak casks. The whiskies we chose at that stage made up the first fully South African whisky in other words the malt and the grain were both distilled and matured in SA so the malts we chose were specifically very light in flavour so as not to fight against the extraction we wanted from the wood. In the original 3 year maturation period like in Scotland we use a lot of American oak and a small amount of ex brandy casks would also be in the mix for the malt maturation too.
Your website also says, talking now about the Single Malt, it is 100% natural – so you don't add caramel?
That's correct. The single malt as you can see from the bottle here in front of you, the colour in that is totally natural.
Most whiskies for consistency of colour do have caramel added to them at the bottling stage but the 10 year old as you see it here is as it came out of the cask.
Do you believe caramel can change the taste?
To be honest I don't think so. The concentration of caramel is incredible; you need minute amounts to make the colour changes which you see in the bottle. I honestly do not believe it can change the quality or the taste of the whisky.
And chill filtering?
I think that's a personal one too. I see the trend overseas is to move away from that – they say it is not natural to chill filter - in other words they are prepared to see a slight haze in the product and then to make the statement that this is now a purely natural product that you see and no chill filtering has taken place. Chill filtration does take out some of the flavours there is no doubt about that but I think in this country, in South Africa at the moment our customers out there are used to seeing a clean clear product and I think if you were in Bloemfontein in the winter and suddenly your whisky turned hazy you would probably get it back as a customer complaint. I don't yet think our consumer is educated at a level to understand chill filtration and what the benefits and possible disadvantages of it are.
The website states it was made from imported malt, where did the barley come from?
The barley came from mainland UK. This is an interesting question – because a lot of people ask if you bring in the barley from overseas how can it be South African? The whole definition of Scotch whisky and South African as well, is where the product is distilled and matured. In other words at the moment in Scotland it is possible, as a result of shortages, for the grain component to be French wheat and the barley could come from Holland. To give you an example up until the mid 1980's I would go as far as to say that 95% of all the grain used in Scottish grain whisky originated from the maize fields of South Africa. We exported vast amounts of maize to Scotland for the whisky industry. So yes we import our barley from overseas for the simple reason that there is no barley in South Africa which is suitable for distillation purposes. All the barley in this country available for liquid use is used up by South African Breweries.
And the same barley is then used for your standard blends as well?
Our original and the 5yo are still blends of SA and Scotch whiskies. I say SA first because that then means the majority of the whisky in these whiskies originates from SA, in other words is distilled and matured here in SA but there are still Scotch components in there too. The barley variety I use at the moment is Optic which is well established in the Scottish distilling industry but it is possible that other varieties are used in the base sourced in Scotland.
Your Single Malt which was a one-off won gold medals at the 2006 IWSC.
Do you have any plans to produce another single malt?
That's a good one. Joe as we discussed I have many plans but how many of them are going to get to the surface I really don't know. But yes I've products which have been identified for future releases and I think in view of the success of the 10 yo SM it would be very short sighted if we did not follow on that success with something on a more continuous basis. I think the 6000 bottles which were made whetted the appetite of a lot of people out there and it would be nice to give those people something on a continuous basis.
Andy, any sort of timeline you can give us?
Well I have product which is now ready but it is like an aeroplane at Heathrow airport, you have to wait for when you land and when you take off and our company has a lot of other products which are in that same line waiting to land and take off so you know they will stack me and rack me and fit me in when there is a gap.
Will it be a similar type formula or are you looking at something totally different?
The next project I am looking at is something totally different. The reason is that way back in 1977 when the idea was first pioneered to make a South African whisky you would have been absolutely stupid to have considered anything other than Scottish style whisky. The simple reason being that 99% of all whisky consumed in South Africa at that stage was Scotch and that was the trend right the way through the mid-90's until we became a part of the global village. I think over the last few years in the new market which has emerged, consumers who are now moving to whisky are much more susceptible to change, in other words it is not necessary now to have a whisky which definitely follows the Scottish style, the time could now be right to say this is something which has a South African style, something which is really unique to South Africa. So yes even though 60% of the whisky consumed in this country is of a Scotch style the other 40% is growing at an amazing rate and I think there is no reason at all why we can't stand on our own feet and do something slightly different and really South African.
Is there such a thing as a unique South African taste?
I think that is definitely in the hands of the marketers in how you actually market the product.
For example if you decided to go 100% South African maize, I don't think there is anybody else in the world who is doing that so yes you would have something there which is definitely unique to this country. If you look at bourbons for example they must contain by law a minimum of 51% corn which is maize, if you look at Scotland at the moment there is only one grain distillery which still uses maize, the rest use wheat. So yes there would definitely be licence to say that we could make something unique.
Andy, some technical questions. How many waters is the wort made with, I understand 3 is the norm?
That's somewhere again where we are very unique in our distillery and you will see that when we take the walk through. We do not do our mashing the traditional way they do in Scotland. Our equipment is slightly different, in other words we actually mash solids in, the same as they do in Scotland but we don't separate in a mashtun we have other methods of separation before going to our pots and then with the grain whisky that is a continuous process so there is no separation.
What are the washbacks made of and how long is the wash in them?
Ours are all stainless steel and our fermentations are normally between 54 and 60 hours, we temperature controll our fermentations- we know the optimum temperature at which our yeast wants to operate therefore we hold at that optimum temperature putting very little strain on the yeast so it can do its job under the best conditions possible.
What yeast do you use?
We use a dried yeast which we put together specifically for our products, both our grain and malts, by Anchor Yeast a SA company. We find the dried yeast works very well for us and the chances of any infections to the dried yeast is much less than in the traditional pressed or cultured yeast they still use in Scotland.
At what strength are your casks filled?
Our malt off the pots comes normally around 68% ABV and that is filled at distilling strength, our grain we distill to 94.3% ABV and then we break that down with de-mineralised water to again around 65% to 68% ABV before maturation.
What are the floors in the cask storage area made from?
You will see when you look at our maturation stores things are slightly different here too, we have enormous warehouses which are concrete floored and we use the palletisation method for stacking which gives us maximum utilization of the space available.
On your standard brands the label says Scotch, presumably imported in bulk – which distilleries do you use?
That is correct. We work with two companies which are not part of the major stables, we've come a long way with Morrison's as I have mentioned earlier and we also use Angus Dundee.
To make your blended product you need malt and grain whisky, do you have both systems on site?
Yes we do. Again I don't think there are too many distilleries in the world which have got the capabilities of doing both grain and malt on the same
site and what makes my job even more interesting is that where in a traditional or typical Scottish distillery you have a certain style of barley which
you bring in and you produce that product day in and day out, I am in the position where if I want to bring in heavily peated malt and run that for
two weeks I can and if I want to bring in unpeated malt I can do that as well. In other words I've got the whole spectrum which I can do here.
I can do from unpeated to heavily peated malts and I can do grain whiskies.
Do you have plans for any other products at the moment aside from the range we can see here?
We do do other products out of this distillery, other whisky products. 60% of the market in South Africa is still cut price spirits, be it brandy or be it whisky at this stage. So there is still a huge market out there for less premium products, not necessarily in terms of quality but maybe in terms of blend make up, and we do two products Harrier and Knights which also come out of this distillery as well.
Between 1886 and 1977 when whisky started here what did this distillery produce?
I think like every distillery in South Africa this distillery produced brandy and a small amount of gin but predominantly brandy.
Andy, a final question – this distillery is not open to the public.
Is there any particular reason why because surely if it was it would create more product awareness?
I could not agree with you more Joe – again I am racked and stacked until that idea gets off the ground. We sit with an absolutely stunning premises, we are 40 minutes away from Cape Town, there isn't another commercial distillery in the country, everything is in our favour to do something like that. You are 100% right but I can't tell you when because I honestly don't know.
Well, we will have to bring some pressure to bear on your marketing guys!
I would really appreciate that support! (laughs).
Andy thank you very much indeed for the interview, it was really very interesting talking to you.
Joe Barry, South Africa