Malt Maniacs #107 - December 1, 2007
Well, actually... This issue was published just a few days before
December 1, because a lot of maniacs traveled to Alsace to help
choose the award winners in the Malt Maniacs Awards 2007.
All the (blind) scores arrived around November 25, so we were able
to calculate the average scores - and therefor the medals - but to
decide on the winners of several 'awards' in various categories we
had ourselves a little 'Malt Maniacs Conclave' in Alsace this year.
The results of the conclave will be published on WhiskyFun.
Meanwhile, there's a clear 'theme' to this issue of MM.
Many of the malt maniacs felt disturbed about the significant price
increases that we've seen in the whisky world in recent months.
Some of these maniacs were actually inspired to vent their spleens
in the form of E-pistles. Pit Krause from Germany was the first one
to tackle the topic in his Analogies between Wine & Whisky article
while Dave Broom looks at the way some distilleries are 'tarting up'
their whiskies in his E-pistle 'Whisky & White Gloves'.
If you're a fellow 'bulk buyer' of Scotch whisky, rising prices might concern you as well. In that case, Bert's report about some recently released 'stunners' (affordable whiskies) could be helpful. My purely personal Bang-For-Your-Buck List on Malt Madness offers just one perspective, so I'm glad some of the other maniacs want to help shine the spotlight on some of the best buys available.
And if you want to know WHY prices for many single malts are going through the roof, 'The Business of Spirits' offers some clues. Davin is our regular book reviewer, but this book by Noah Rothbaum was such a great match to the articles by Pit Krause and Dave Broom that I decided to write a quick 'bonus' book review. After all, Christmas is just around the corner - the time for giving gifts and/or reading a good book. The cover price of $24.95 will be well spent if it keeps you from buying that bottle of 'super-premium' Bowmore, Springbank or Macallan that you're secretly coveting.
Last but not least, Dr. Lex Kraaijeveld (professor of xenomaltology) kicks off a new series of E-pistles about 'deviant distilleries'. It's not that those distillery are bad - they're just not located in Scotland. The first article in the series deals with St. George Distillery in the far west of the USA; California (now ruled by Arnold Schwarzenegger).
And that's all for now - join the mailinglist for regular updates.
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs
MALT MANIACS #107
Analogies between Wine & Whisky
Whisky & White Gloves
Olivier's Travels; L'Ami Louis, Paris
Book Review: Charles MacLean's Whisky Tales
Recently Released 'Stunners'
Whisky Live Paris 2007 Report
A Dozen Deutsch Drams
Xenomaltology; St George (California, USA)
Extra Book Review; The Business of Spirits
A Speyside Sojourn
Or: Growing Analogies between the Wine and Whisky Cosmos - Worlds Collide?
"In this whisky, I can even feel the sparkle of the bubbles", I heard a guy say who was tasting
the Arran Grand Cru Champagne Cask some time ago. Aside from the screaming amount of
misinformation on this label and that guy's tastebuds, he probably didn't understand a lot about
the production process of Champagne – in the cask phase there are no "bubbles" involved at all.
It was the mental suggestion and the reputation conveyed by the label which did the magic for
him. Mmmhh, sad and funny at the same time. The wine suggestions seem to be exploited in
other places as well: Glenmorangie Margaux Cask Finish, Bruichladdich Recioto Finish, Edradour
Gaja Barolo Finish or Benriach Chateau d'Yquem Finish, just to name a few. These products show
that the wine- and whisky scenes keep growing closer to each other.
However, this did not happen in recent years only.
The wine world has been a model for traders of whisky for quite some time now.
And why shouldn't it be like this: both wine and whisky are alcoholic drinks to be marketed and
sold, both possess a mass segment and a small but growing connoisseur's segment, both are
agrarian products, both use their country's cultural tradition and beauty to boost sales.
Parallels seem to be a logical consequence – and we see them in the mutual owning companies
and investors (e.g. LVMH, DIAGEO, …), in people like Mark Reynier who trangress the borders or
in many merchants importing whisky along with wine into their countries (e.g. Oddbins, Jabur,
Berry Brothers & Rudd, V.E.L.I.E.R., Rinaldi, ...).
Despite those parallels one should not forget that wine & whisky are two completely different drinks,
whisky being more robust and less complicated in terms of serving and storing, but probably more demanding in terms of tasting and drinking. Is it a healthy development that both drink segments become more and more intertwined? What will the effects on the whisky world be like and what can be learned from the wine cosmos?
Accountants and Promoters Didn't Help Quality
As in every other field, the rules of economics slowly played a bigger and bigger role.
Single Malt – which often used to be a side product only making up a very minor part of the profit – was connected with the love for a great drink from exceptional casks. It didn't have to sell big time, it was a flagship in taste only, aimed at a small community of connoisseurs, representing the unique style of the distillery. Today, Single Malt is much more important for the revenues and keeps growing concerning the market share. The whiskies have to sell now – and hence often change their typicity into a mass style embraced by the consumer and taster. Some wines underwent a similar fate: for example, few Chianti Classico remain typical to their heritage, many Chateaux in Bordeaux changed their ways to reach higher scores by critics such as Parker or Suckling – in order to sell better.
Hence the wonderful variety of wine and whisky is shrinking.
There is no doubt that modern techniques enhanced the quality of wines and whiskies, but on the other hand, the cut in costs and the raise in productivity led to negative aspects like the use of barley or grapes with higher yield, manipulative production measures (e.g. wood chips, finishes, overdone barrique-treatment, tricks to speed up maturation), more vinyards and percentages of Single Malts despite lower quality, longer distilling periods, etc. – all of which even might outweigh the advantages of modernization in some eyes.
Other parallels can be seen in the marketing of both drinks. Just as whisky in general became much more expensive (not to mention the Ardbeg hype and first and foremost, the recent shamelessness of some Scots) – and only a tiny portion of that had to do with barley prices, most of it was mislead greed and a falsely conveyed shortage of whisky according to numbers published by the industry - wine also increased in price quite drastically. Due to a fantastic 2005 vintage in Bordeaux, subscription prices skyrocketed, and many other wine-producing regions in the world jumped on that train as well – after having increased their prices already! It is quite hard to find a nice Chianti under 10 Euros and whatever happened to those fair-priced Baroli or red Cuvees from Austria?
Unfortunately, people keep on buying wine and whisky regardless of the bucks to drop and the tag numbers won't go back once they are set in the mind. I hope this will change soon as whisky prices are reaching ridiculous heights and their presentations become pieces of art. But alas, the presentation of the bottle gains more and more importance in both segments anyway. Clever marketing strategies around that create expensive cult wines and whiskies with doubtful quality but impeccable looks. But can the real fans really afford those any more?
Many cult wines came from single vinyards with exceptional growing conditions, and these great Crus convinced
the connoisseurs. However, in recent years ever more Single Cru wines not worthy of such an outstanding classification – and price - swamped the market. Nevertheless, a huge part of the classifications, e.g. that one of
1855 in Bordeaux, are still intact and justified: 1st growths, 'super seconds', reliable Cru bourgeois wines (a term that just underwent a change for the worse), Riservas and Einzellagen provide a helping tool for the
connoisseurs. 'Second wines' of alternating quality made the expensive winemaker's products accessible to a broader market. But many 'second wines' from famous wineries suffered a significant drop in quality, only their
name remains as a selling point.
Whisky marketers learned from models like that. In earlier years, the 10-12 y.o. standard whiskies were the hallmark of a distillery and few versions were available. Now, these bottlings receive less attention in every aspect of the field because special expensive bottlings provide a higher margin and raise more interest. As classification and exceptionalism helped sales in wine, some distilleries rightfully were pronounced the 1er Grand Cru Classe of the whisky world (Springbank), others turned into the Rolls Royce of Malt Whisky (The Macallan) or the Ultimate Islay Malt (Ardbeg) – achieving a slightly higher price in the market than their competitors.
Whisky promotion has also tried to use the successful idea of 'regional terroir' in their marketing: In the past, the addition of the regional name to the distillery should enhance sales and lend to a recognition of quality, like in 'Tomintoul-Glenlivet' or 'Longmorn Glenlivet'. As regions and their styles turn hip or out in the turn of times, Islay could be seen as the new Pomerol, and the other areas try to copy this currently successful style (e.g. with heavily-peated Speyside whiskies lacking the body for such treatments).
The whisky industry always envied the possibility of wineries to rather quickly adapt to the market's demand. Stocks didn't pile up in the wine cellars, the wine could be sold quite soon. Distillers had to estimate the demand at least ten years ahead of sale. Only in Italy, younger whisky was desired. Marketing soon tackled this problem and started telling people that young whisky is great – and it worked! Many young drams with one-dimensional but powerful primary aromas like peat and masking cask finishes try to compensate the shorter maturation time and are bought frequently. It all seems to be a question of marketing whatsoever.
These young whiskies even sell at ridiculous prices (Ballechin, Port Charlotte, Very young Ardbeg).
The whisky industry even went a step further: like Primeur wines and subscription practice in wine, whisky is sold in advance now.
Casks and futures are being offered to private people to gain the necessary capital faster.
On the other hand the industry tries to dry out independent bottlers by not selling them any whisky or even buying back casks. Jamie R. MacKenzie from Morrisson Bowmore just said that there is no point in sustaining other companies with Bowmore's original product: "We can do the same and reach a higher price!" From his perspective, he has a point. Furthermore, prices can be controlled easier. The wine world doesn't really know IBs per se, but that also comes from the fact that there is no such thing as large scale wine blending to be marketed as blend. So overall, again no good news for connoisseurs of whisky and their wallets here.
If you thought that fondling was a whisky-related problem, think again. This has been done in the wine industry for ages, and similar assemblages are sold in different markets under different names. To name a recent example, the very same wine by Argiano is marketed as 'non confunditur', as 'Oliviera' by Alexander von Essen and as a bottling for the Vatican according to the guide at he winery.
Ardbeg, or self-pronounced 'Ardbig' on the Islay Festival 2007, stunned the world with a giant bottle of 4,5l (not he first one in whisky ever, but certainly the most discussed). Such huge bottles with names of Kings from the Old Testament like Jeroboam or Methusalem depending on their size make sense in wine as they lengthen and improve the storage in the cellar. For whisky, which doesn't significantly change in the bottle for many years, they don't make any sense at first glance. But the secondary effect does, as it is a decorative one – with such bottles being on display in bars and restaurants, the winery on the label gets recognized and hence, gets some form of free advertisement. So congratulations, Ardbeg, goal achieved: people will see the bottle, people discussed that bottle. Great marketing, but pointless for the connoisseur.
There are even more marketing ideas behind labeling and bottle shaping in both wine and whisky. An evocation of a collectible desire – which is inherent in most of us to be honest - can improve sales significantly. In order to not only get consumers but collectors drawn to the product, different artists cover labels each vintage, series are established and numbers are strictly limited. "Trudy, wouldn't this rare whisky decanter look nice on the TV set next to velvet Elvis and the limited Svarowski duck?"
With so many parallels, the marketing segments team up now. Some whisky companies use the famous names of wineries on their label if the whisky has matured in the sought-after ex-barriques like from d'Yquem, Petrus, Margaux, Vega Sicilia, Gaja or Sassicaia. Morrisson Bowmore Distillers, for example, are connected with Chateau Montrose. Go figure … . Wine drinkers might be tempted to taste a whisky casked in barrels of their favorite winery and vice versa. From an experienced whisky drinker's point of view, a less heralded winery with reasonable cask price would have done. An average ex-wine cask costs about £20, but a Margaux cask, for example, exceeds this price dramatically. We can be sure that the extra-costs will be handed down to the consumer.
The Power of Critics
Robert Parker jr. along with other predominantly American wine critics and their publications (e.g. Wine Spectator) have an enormous power.
When they rate a wine well, its price is very likely to explode. There are different reasons for this influential position: first, people can't try all
new wines and need help. Secondly, many consumers don't trust their own palates and rather rely on the words of experts to avoid mistakes
and disappointments. With their 98 Parker Points-Brunelli they can show off their own expertise and their splendidly stocked cellar and are on the safe side.
This lemming-like pattern begins to spread in the whisky world as well. Jim Murray, for example, rated
an Ardbeg 27yo 1975 by Douglas Laing at 97 points. Just days after this became public, the price of the
bottle had doubled. My fellow Maniac Serge Valentin has an equal weight in this realm: whenever he
rates a rare Single Malt above 95, this bottle is sure to be gone at the usual sources. I remember when
he once favored a totally unknown French-exclusive bottling and German whisky forum members went
crazy over the question where they could get that bottle without ever having tasted it themselves.
Some of these people don't even intend to drink the whisky, they speculate with it. The industry has
taken notice of the growing importance of ratings too. Many distillers print favorable ratings of their
products on the label or mention it in the advertising campaigns nowadays. I was more than surprised
to hear Jim McEwan talk about the Maniac's comments on the range in the official Bruichladdich video.
There is no doubt that ratings are helpful and great for the consumer, but one shouldn't forget another
negative side effect. In order to score high, many wineries have abandoned their traditional style and
produce dense and ink-colored wines designed for tastings with massive primary aromas. Such wines
do well in terms of scoring, but they have lost quaffability and their soul. This resulted in uniformity,
an international wine style, loss of tradition and shorter lifespans in the cellar. I am afraid the whisky
industry could go similar ways.
Wine author Michael Broadbent recently asked, what we are looking for in a wine.
Do we want a defilee of aromas prancing in our mouth or do we want typicity and drinkability?
And how can wine critics be a fair judge of quaffability and finish when they spit the wine into a bucket
instead of swallowing it? These are justified questions which should also concern whisky tasters.
In my humble opinion, the overall winner of the Malt Maniacs Awards 20006, a Japanese Yamazaki Single Cask 1984, was exactly Broadbent's nightmare: so dark, densely concentrated and full of aromas to be called the perfect 'tasting whisky'. I bought a bottle and noticed a sad effect. I never wanted a second glass, the whisky was too far over the top. Did it deserve the award? This depends on the parameters of scoring, on the way of tasting and on the difficult question what we want in a whisky. If it is this profile, we are in danger of making the same mistake like some wine critics, and thereby influence the industry to cater to such demands. Imagine the results...
Another sad similarity between wine and whisky is the problem of fake bottles, although it is worse at wine: according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, estimated 5% of the top wines are fakes nowadays, many have been refilled. Like in whisky, the good fakes are hard to prove. Who knows how a Latour 1945 exactly tastes like in 2007 (not to mention different storing conditions)? Only expensive scientific analysis can bring a definitive answer. However, with so much money involved fakes will remain an issue.
The prices for top wines have risen ten times since 1970 and TIMES calculated a net gain of 90% for
speculators of top wine. No wonder that empty bottles of Petrus, Ornellaia, Biondi Santi, Margaux, Pingus, Screaming Eagle and other heralded wineries sell well on ebay. Fake bottles in whisky are a
problem under the radar at the moment. The fakes not only originate in Italy, not only old rarities get tampered with. Unlike the top wine estates, who think of laser signatures on bottles and other
measures to guarantee authenticity, the whisky industry hasn't really reacted to this problem. The very expensive Ardbeg single casks, for example, can easily be opened and closed again without any
trace. Who knows how many refills are cursing through the scene by now? Maybe the bottle designers should have invested a small portion of those £400 a bottle to provide a proper cap.
Could we borrow this terminology?
The whisky industry has always adopted parts of the terminology used in the wine world, mostly because those terms have been established in people's minds. But is it necessary to call a whisky a
Gran Reserva (Macallan) or a Cuvee (Springbank), especially when there are English terms like 'vatting'? At Bruichladdich, they 'decant' whisky now, which actually means they pour it from one cask
into another. Many distillers who produce PX-finishes call Pedro Ximenez a sherry, although the lion's share of this product is not from Jerez. I already introduced that mind-boggling Champagne finish.
Here, the wine 'lingo' is intended to sound innovative and help sales, but a wine buff can only wonder why the homework hasn't been done on correct terminology and the production process.
A one-sided E-Pistle?
Yes, so far, but let's change that. Of course, there are a lot of positive effects as well which are caused by the increasing parallels and cooperation between the wine and whisky scene.
To begin with, it is a healthy movement in general when people think outside the box and experience new tastes and concepts. There is absolutely nothing wrong with distilleries experimenting with all kind of wine casks in order to find a proper match for their product. New paths have to be taken to improve. On the contrary, it is very helpful for grappa-producing wine estates to profit from the knowledge of the Scottish stillmen, coopers and cask managers. We can see that already in great grappae casked in different wood types. The art of blending might be another field winemakers should be interested in. Guys like fellow maniac Olivier Humbrecht who understand both worlds in great detail can only enrich the scenes with their experience and combinatory spirit.
The wine-originating idea of being true to one's 'terroir' also starts to be applied in whisky, which we can see in Bruichladdie's Islay grown and Islay-bottled versions. This was done as experiment in the past: who doesn't remember the Springbank Local Barley or West Highland expressions. Whisky starts to become recognized as an agrarian product again, for which bio-standards should be kept. Vintages also play a more important role now – because they do matter.
Both drinks really do well in the market these days, which also might have to do with the fact that people become more educated and interested in sensoric pleasures. This is leading to a great spread of new distilleries and wineries all over the world. And as people become more interested, they travel to see their drink's origin. Hence the have a catalytic effect on (agro-) tourism.
Whisky drinkers recently learned how to combine the water of life with food. Whisky chefs like Martine Nouet show time and again that not only wine can accompany a fine meal. A fundamental understanding of wine and food pairing helps to create exciting whisky dinners nevertheless.
Moreover, wine habits have been the patron for many other things done in the whisky scene: departed, but never to be forgotten Michael Jackson was the first modern whisky critic, and he employed the Parker scoring system and parts of its language. Wine knowledge fostered the utter care to find the right glass for whiskies. I think there is much more to come: for example, a research on the ideal drinking temperature of the various types of whisky.
Let's see what the future will bring. I have to go now and reserve a subscription for a case of Kilkerran and for the new 1964 Black Bowmore 42 y.o. to be released just before the Christmas-gift rallye. I hope this will leave me enough cash to apply for the – hopefully never to be released - Ardbeg Single Cask duelling kit presentation with two bottles and antique muskets.
If truth be told, it was the white gloves which tipped me over the edge.
The asking price (£2,000 a bottle) is ludicrous of course, but it's the addition of the white
gloves which makes the release of Ardbeg 1965 the most absurdly pretentious idea yet
from the half-baked minds of luxury whisky marketeers. Who wears white gloves? The
Queen probably, Japanese taxi drivers, oh and snooker referees who, let's face it, are also
used to handling a load of balls. What does Glenmorangie think it is? A perfume company?
Oops! Forgot. It is. Ardbeg 65, its price tag, its hand-blown glass made from Islay sand
(something even Bruichladdich hasn't thought of) and the white gloves smacks of LVMH
viewing whisky as operating in the same, absurd, fashion as the perfume industry; a place
where style will always triumph over content. Adding some seaweed from the shore at
Ardbeg would allow you to add another £200 to the price.
I'm less concerned about the price simply because I've long given up on trying to work out
quite how whisky firms work out their prices of their top-end offerings. Asking thousands of
pounds for a bottle smacks of... well greed would be the first word to spring to mind. Greed
and playing on the desires of deluded numpties who think their lives will not be complete
without this bottle. Maybe the 1966 should come with a free box of tissues.
I know what the marketing department's reaction will be when the price question is raised.
"If people don't think such a rare whisky is worth the money they won't buy it." It's hardly a
valid answer. We all know a 'rare' official bottling from Ardbeg (or Port Ellen, Brora, Dalmore
etc) can demand a stratospheric price because there will always be consumers who are
sufficiently obsessive to shell out for it. Top-end whisky is moving in the same direction as
top-end wine, a rareified world where the liquid itself is unimportant because most people
buy the wines as investments, or fetish objects. In many ways, the price has become the
signifier, not the contents of the bottle. The whisky, in other words, has ceased to function
in the way in which it was originally intended .. a drink. The super-rich (or deluded, the terms
are often inter-changeable) buy these bottles as a trophies. They'll never drink them.
The same applies to whisky collectors.
This upwards shifting in price is all part of malt's attempts to reposition itself as a luxury product.
I have no problem with this in principle. Malt has plenty of luxury cues: scarcity, heritage, the notion of being hand-crafted, the perceived higher quality of the product itself all of which add to the whole experience of drinking the brand.
The luxury market is changing however. It is no longer the preserve of the uber-rich, it is no longer simply about, dare I say it, bling.
Luxury has become affordable and as it has, so malt whisky has to justify its price. Although malt isn't a mass market product (see last issue's rant) it still needs to be careful not to just slap a high price tag on itself and wait for the consumer to buy into its new position. The collector's demands and justifications will remain the same. The consumer, however, is changing. They may want luxury, but the brand needs to justify its price, not just with the overall story.. but the taste of the liquid itself.
If malt is to become luxury it needs to engage with the consumer, not withdraw into the esoteric world which Ardbeg 65 is aimed at.
The people who buy a Patak Philippe watch will wear that watch, just as if you buy a Rolls-Royce you'll drive it. Top-end whisky however is in danger of forgetting that its primary function is as a drink.
This isn't restricted to Ardbeg. This over-inflated sense of worth has driven up the asking price for rare official bottlings (rarely, you may have noticed, independent bottlings!) of Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Dalmore, Bowmore, Glenlivet, Glenfarclas etc etc. The whole industry is playing the same game. In the past couple of years we've seen Macallan and Highland Park repositioning themselves as luxury brands by basically repackaging themselves and doubling the price. Is the liquid twice as good as it was before? Of course not. It is the image which has changed.
There is, I would like to believe, a limit to any consumer's credulity, something which the brand owners should take cognisance of.
I once asked Joe Heitz, one of the old school of Napa winemakers, why his wines, so highly regarded, were a fraction of the price of those coming from new producers with no pedigree. "You can cut a man's hair every fortnight," he replied, "but you can only scalp him once." Eventually people will ask the very simple question.. is this worth it? When they do, the liquid better stack up.
Could it happen with malt? Look at Cognac. It too went down the luxury route, with ever more expensive bottles.
Then the market those bottles were targeted at (the Far East) collapsed. The result was that the Cognac industry went into a tailspin from which it has only just recovered thanks to American hip-hop community -- though even they, the epitome of bling, refused to pay the over-inflated prices for top-end brands. In the interim though, many Cognac houses went bust.
The Cognac industry behaved like a perfume house. It was into packaging, image, elitism, luxury.
It had racked its prices up so high that when the question was asked: "is this brandy worth it, do I really want it?", the answer was "No." The word which springs to mind is hubris. It's one that the malt whisky industry could do well to learn.
Dave Broom, Scotland
L'Ami Louis in Paris - Lagavulin DE 1981/2000
December 2006, France
Paris! Home of some the world's most photographed buildings and monuments (just check fellow Malt
Maniac Konstantin's Whisky Live pictures on his website), one of the best Whisky Lives you can go to
and also one of the food Meccas any 'gastronome' dreams of visiting. The famous La Maison du Whisky
(www.whisky.fr), centrally located on Rue d'Anjou, is a must-see destination for any whisky fan.
Beware if you go there with your spouse, because, while you might enjoy yourself looking through the
numerous bottling of whiskies (and also Rum) you will not notice how long you can actually stay there,
talking to the competent Marc Bellier, so your other half might get lost in the nearby Rue du Faubourg
Saint Honore and transform her, or your, credit card in a melting mass of plastic. A Springbank Local
Barley will look cheap compared to half an hour shopping in that street!
There are many wine shops where I always like to stop by.
It is always interesting for me to see wine selections from all over France and the world. By far the largest and most impressive would be Lavinia, Blvd de la Madeleine, with their multi layered floors and huge selections. They also have a great spirits selection, and, because of their Spanish connection, a fantastic selection of rare Chartreuses from Tarragona (a sweet high abv plant liqueur made by the Chartreux religious order). If you think single malt has become expensive, try to buy an 1960's Chartreuse...
Again, a Local Barley will look dead cheap.
In a much smaller scale, but with a selection of wine just as impressive, the Verger de la Madeleine (Blvd Malesherbes) or the Caves Auges (Blvd Hausmann) will be more approachable, with the possibility to converse with the owners, and also the opportunity to have access to rarer or older wines. My absolute favorite, I must confess, is the Caves Legrand, located in the oldest part of Paris, in the Gallerie Vivienne, near Rue de la Banque (actually just a block away from Whisky Live's Palais Brogniard). The shop is spread over different rooms, displaying a huge selection of fine wines, not just the fancier labels, but anything worth of interest. What also should motivate you to go there is the fact that there is a small wine bar, offering a very interesting selection of wines by the glass and some plates of cold charcuterie or various tapas.
There are also many 'top' restaurants in Paris, as you know. If you want to experience excellent French cuisine and some whisky, go try the new Lucas Carton. No more 3 stars, as they 'downsized' their operation to 1 Michelin star and gave it a look of 'luxurious brasserie'. The food is really excellent, produced by a skilled team lead by Alain Senderens. On their menu, they advise a glass of wine with each course. This wine is carefully chosen by the chef and sommelier to pair the food the best way possible. Each time I have been there, they always had a starter that was proposed with a glass of whisky. Last time, I had a 'dos de saumon' (salmon back), beautifully cooked and served with a Talisker 10yo OB. I always liked this whisky and felt that it paired this dish beautifully. Adding some water helped a lot, as it revealed even more the smoke, made the palate taste sweeter and didn't overpower the fish course.
There is one restaurant in Paris I always wanted to go to, but never managed to get in.
Not only you have to book a long time in advance, but you have to be 'properly' introduced. This place is called l'Ami Louis, in the 3rd arrondissement, rue Vert-Bois. Last December, my friend Jean-Jacques, also a great whisky fan, who has been there for many years, told me that he would be in Paris at the same time as me and managed to get a table for lunch.
L'Ami Louis keeps a low profile inside out. It is a very small brasserie-like restaurant, only maybe 8 or 9 tables, all cramped together in a small
room, with just one narrow alley in the middle. The room is paneled with old dark oak, the tile flooring has seen Louis XV and in the middle of
the room, there is an old cast iron stove, warming up the room in winter. As you walk across the room, you have to bend under the exhaust
metal pipe that runs across the room. At the opposite of the entrance, there is an opening where you can see the tiny cuisine with all the
chefs hustling behind old traditional wood ovens. All the staff is dressed in the old fashioned black and white coats...
Don't get me wrong, the place has certainly seen many wars, but looks actually great.
I've heard friends sitting back to back with Demi Moore or others with Jacques (the tall one, past French president)...
So you guessed it, it is also a place where celebs and politics go to. Rest assured, we went there to eat, drink and have fun! At l'Ami Louis, you do not order a menu or a course, you order food. You can choose amongst a list of simple foods like scallops, chicken, foie gras, beef, duck… If you choose the foie gras, you will receive half a kilo of foie gras. If you take the chicken, you do get the whole chicken for yourself, if you choose scallops, you do get the whole pan… Each main course is served with delicious French fries, a mountain of it, and they replace the plate with fresh ones every 10 minutes. You guessed it, do not eat a few days before going there and do not plan traveling just after! The wine list is monstrous, it has a huge selection of wines, mostly Bordeaux based, and mostly quite expensive, but it is possible to find real gems, like this Chapelle d'Ausone 1998 (the second wine of Ausone in Saint Emilion from an excellent vintage).
Towards the end of an excellent meal, we both felt like having a good whisky.
I could see three bottles only on top of a shelf, almost unreachable, except for me of course. The two first ones were recent 'mundane' malts, nothing to get excited about, but the last one was a Lagavulin 1981 Distiller's Edition (43%, OB, Pedro Ximenes finish). I knew that some of those older DE were excellent, but, waow, we didn't expect it to be that good. Whisky works just like the food at l'Ami Louis, if you order one, you keep the bottle on the table until you're finished with. I guess they expect most people to take only one glass, or just a little top up. The bottle was half full, and an hour later it was empty… What a great whisky! The peat combines perfectly with the sherry. The nose is intense, shows all the classic tar, smoke one expect from a Lagavulin, but gently softened up by the fresh fruits, raisins influence of the PX. The palate is elegant, doesn't feel heavy, there are no sulphurs or overly powerful gunflint character, just beautiful pure sherry influence and smoke. It is not a light whisky, but the lower ABV makes it so easy to drink. It fully deserves that outrageous 92 points rating.
I do hope that they have more of this whisky in their deep and dusty cellars.
Getting out of the restaurant was the most difficult thing, first getting past that stove without getting my head burned, and then facing the outside bright light that someone had turned on full blast while we were eating inside...
Whisky Tales (Charles MacLean),
Little Books Ltd., London, UK, 2006; 288 pages.
An expanded version of Maclean's Miscellany of Whisky, to which nine new chapters have been added,
Whisky Tales is an eminently readable and fascinating compendium of ruminations and little-known
details collected by MacLean in a quarter century of writing about whisky. With historical notes, songs,
poetry, pictures, and sidebars interspersing 29 chapters MacLean has achieved what other writers
have only tried when mixing diverse whisky material in a single book.
Waymack and Harris, for instance, in their excellent Classic American Whiskeys, proceed neatly through
the history, processes and trappings of Bourbon and rye, then clumsily dump a bunch of cocktail recipes
at the end, as if to add pages. Andrew Jefford in his brilliant Peat, Smoke and Spirit has written two
books then physically combined them into one by alternating chapters on whisky and Islay. It works
a lot better, but MacLean, perhaps because he cuts from so many so cloths, has managed, brilliantly,
to stitch vastly disparate pieces into a single, cohesive whole. That said, and despite the chapters being
neatly sewn together, Whisky Tales is a book that can be opened at almost any page to start reading,
for each chapter stands on it's own. Reader beware though; the just-one-more-page syndrome kicks
in pretty quickly. Some chapters are based on lectures MacLean has given over his career, others are
re-writes of articles published in lesser-known journals, and each includes gems that just didn't fit into
other of MacLean's works.
The story of whisky and its organically evolving production methods lends an authenticity to whisky as a farm product and whisky-making as a craft. So it is surprising to learn in Whisky Tales, that Welsh whisky is a science experiment. In Wales, free from Scottish whisky regulations, two scientists have designed a whisky still and a whisky process that have allowed Penderyn to produce a fine dram that would likely not even be called whisky if made anywhere else.
The only distillery in Wales uses a unique still designed by Dr. David Faraday as a hybrid of the pot and the column, which allows new-make whisky to be ready for the cask after a single run. Quite an energy saving this. With Faraday's still in place, Dr. Jim Swan had the idea of having Penderyn's wash prepared off-site at a local brewery, and then suggested introducing lacto-bacillus to generate a range of new flavours during a second, bacterial fermentation. In America, Virginia whiskey, arrives at the distillery as low-wines imported from out of state, and American whiskey in general uses a sour mash process which is the essence of Swan's lacto-bacillus process. However, for the British Isles this is very unique and it is surprising that the resulting Penderyn whisky is so Scotch malt-like.
Smuggling gets but passing coverage in the popular whisky guides, and usually by way of romanticizing it.
MacLean gives the reader a brief history of Scottish smuggling before the Excise Act of 1823 helped bring to an end "an episode in Scottish history which is at once brutal and violent, romantic and heroic." He then ends the chapter with a detailed description of an illicit distillery, clipped from a March 1823 edition of The Scotsman newspaper.
In a chapter called "Firing the Stills" MacLean talks about the effects of direct firing, now almost completely gone due to health and safety regulations. According to Whisky Tales the naked flame heats the still unevenly creating a heavier spirit. The uneven heat also leads to some burning on hot spots in the still, which imparts unique character called 'empyreumatic' to the spirit.
In an attempt to solve a problem that didn't exist, bureaucrats at the Scotch Whisky Association recently cast aside the 100-year-plus tradition of calling mixed whiskies containing grain and malt whisky together, "blended whisky," and mixtures of various malt whiskies containing no grain whisky, "vatted malts". Confusingly, the SWA chose instead to apply the word "blended" to all mixed whiskies of any composition. But for a few new arrivals, however, whisky writers and bloggers have largely cried foul and stuck to the old, and more descriptive, terminology. Whisky Tales is destined to be part of the whisky literature for some time so it is gratifying to read in a book published in 2006, MacLean's detailed explanation of vatting and blending and his conclusion, in the face of a world crazy for single malts, that blended whisky is a "miraculous creation."
MacLean likes words and chooses them respectfully, occasionally giving the reader a brief etymology to aid understanding. This is typical of Whisky Tales – taking a different look at a familiar subject. Illustrated with colour plates and etchings, there's a feeling of age and substance to the book. Some readers may wonder at a publisher's decision to release an expanded version of MacLean's Miscellany under a new name, but there really is a lot of new, rarely-found material here recounted in the same engaging style that made Miscellany such a treat to read.
Hello all, here I am again with my second 'stunner report'.
Before I start giving notes and quotes for the new-found stunners, I would first like to put the
spots on a recent and imminent development in the whisky industry: Recent enormous price
increases also shock the Malt Maniacs. It is getting crazy: the new Black Bowmore comes out
at 2000,- GBP, earlier, there was the Ardbeg 1965 for approx. 3000,- Euro, Ardbeg even made
it crazier with the Ardbeg Purdey Gun Case: two bottles of Ardbeg 1974, with off course a
beautiful wooden box together with a gun, for the price of 12.816,- Euros (a fellow Maniac
proposed to point that gun to the marketing idiot who came up with that idea).
Off course, the indies noticed this, so they also try to pick a grain.
We saw a Springbank 40yo 1967/2007 at 43,1% from Duncan Taylor at the Weinquelle
(Hamburg, Germany) retailing at 1.399,- Euro, but the thing comes … in a nice wooden box.
I think I should help those purchase departments for buying wooden boxes, because they
seem to be doing a worthless job !!!
After Whisky Live Paris (which I didn't attend), lots of rumours came about crazy prices of
more 'standard' Laphroaigs, Lagavulins, etc. … they are all suffering the same disease:
they are getting money-sick.
For this reason, we think the whisky-lovers-lunatics should give a clear signal.
We should say NO to that kind of bottlings, and leave those to collectors. I mean the type of whisky collectors who just look at their bottles and don't drink them. I even would dare to expand this 'no' also to the all types of 'drinking' bottlings that are reaching unreasonable prices.
I have been able to select a dozen more of whiskies that have a good price/quality ratio (of course according to my personal taste).
Good news is that Duncan Taylor (yeps, the guys from the 1967 Springbank) not only produces collectors' bottles, but also is an outstanding supplier of stunners. Also the guys from The Single Malts of Scotland are regulars in my report. This time, I tried to search some 'obscure' stunners as I promised. I succeeded in finding 5 products from more so-called 'obscure' distilleries.
Here under are my notes and quotes for the yield of last summer:
Auld Reekie 'The Big Smoke' 12yo (46%, Duncan Taylor)
Nose: a blast of peat, very phenolic, medicine, hints of straw.
Palate: smooth and oily, a blast of peat, remains very phenolic and medicinal. A peat-bomb in any sense of the word.
A nice finish with an interesting development.
Verdict: 85 points – an interesting 'daily dram' for the peatheads - Ca. € 40
Clynelish 14yo 1992/2007 (46%, TSMOS, c# 1607, 178 bts.)
Nose: a basket of green fruit, nice oakiness, some hints of vanilla, a nice malty sweetness.
Palate: slightly peppery and quiet oily, malty sweet, orange, green apples, minimal whiffs of peat, leathery.
Fruity and oaky notes keep on dominating in the finish with also some interesting nuttiness, which I often have while tasting Clynelishes.
Verdict: 89 points , a nice, pretty complex and well balanced dram - Ca. € 45,-
Arran 'NC2' 10yo 1996/2007 (46%, Duncan Taylor)
Nose: mineral notes, malty sweet, sligtly peppery, very clean and grassy.
Palate: oily and rather smooth, evoluating to slightly peppery, mineral notes are quiet dominant, remains very clean.
Verdict: 85 points, a nice appetizer, very clean and pleasant Arran - Ca. € 38,-
Ardmore 12yo 1994/2007 (46%, TSMOS, C#578/598, 745 bts.)
Nose: a delicate peatiness, quiet some citrus, some chalky notes.
Palate: pretty oily and peppery, very nice mouth feel, a fruity peatiness, orange zest, mineral.
A nice and complex finish, lasts quiet long.
Verdict: 86 points . I like the oiliness of this one, really great mouth feel - Ca. € 49,-
Imperial 'NC2' 12yo 1994/2007 (46%, Duncan Taylor)
Nose: some banana notes, malty, estery, waxy, straw.
Palate: spicy and initially dry to get more oily, clean, salty, a very nice and complex development. Very nice and warming finish.
Verdict: 87 points. This is a stunner in any sense of the word... - Ca. € 35,-
Tobermory 12yo 1995/2007 (56,9%, TSMOS, c# 482/828, 861 bts)
Nose: slightly alcoholic, straw, dried flowers, pears, peachy notes.
Palate: peppery and slightly oily, VERY nice development, liquorice. Warming and pleasant finish, keeps being peppery, a nice one.
Verdict: 87 points . A nice and complex malt, really challenging - Ca. € 48,-
Tullibardine 1988/2006 (46%, OB)
Nose: seafood, malty sweet, very clean, pine apple, vanilla.
Palate: slightly spicy and initially rather dry to get creamier, malty sweet, straw, kiwi fruit, hints of vanilla.
Nice marshmellowy finish, pleasant but not to long.
Verdict: 88 poits and a true stunner - Ca. € 53,- (I know … more than 50, but for sure a bang for the buck.)
Balblair 1997 (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2007)
Nose: deep nose, wet forest ground, humus, sweet pears, subtle floral notes.
Palate: spicy and a pleasant creaminess, fresh fruity tones dominate, white chocolate, bananas.
A nice, complex and pretty long finish, with in the end hints of a pine forest.
Verdict: 87 points , and again a bargain for what it is - Ca. € 39,-
Compass Box NAS 'Oak Cross' (43%, Compass Box, Vatted Malt, Bottled 2006)
Nose: very clean and grassy, green apples, a sharp maltiness, dry lavender, mineral notes.
Palate: pretty dry, malty sweet, very fruity, nice spiciness. The finish is nice, but straight ahead, remains pleasantly spicy.
Verdict: 86 points : I got this one twice blind before me: during last year's Malt Maniac awards, and now again by Bert Coorevits.
I seemed to like it twice, so ... no doubt for me - Ca. € 33,-
Imperial 1994/2007 (46%, Daily Dram)
Nose: peppery, mineral, very clean, wet grass.
Palate: spicy and initially creamy, mineral, coconut, slight bourbonny notes, vanilla.
The finish gets more floral, combined with a nice malty sweetness.
Verdict: 87 points, and I urgently have to taste some more Imperials ;-) - Ca. € 45,-
Springbank '100° Proof' 10yo (57%, OB, Bottled +/- 2006)
Nose: very coastal, nice peaty veils, very medicinal, a true citrus basket, some almond.
Palate: a firm and creamy mouth feel, coastal notes remain, much citrus, mineral, I keep on getting hints of peatsmoke.
This smokiness also persists in the finish, nice complex finish.
Verdict: 89 points , evolutes really nice - Ca. € 52 … I know, more than 50 again, but for the same reason as the Tullibardine.
Redbreast 15yo (46%, OB, +/-2007)
Nose: coal, mineral, peaches, marshmallow, floral, sweet apple, burnt sugar.
Palate: smooth and creamy, peaches, sweet fruitiness combined with nice floral notes.
Remains fruity sweet in the finish, but drying up in the end.
Verdict: 86 points - Ca. € 50,-
Wouldn't it be a correct signal, if us whisky lovers would massively try to support companies that do effort for supplying us good products to correct prices? I think it's worth at least some consideration... So, again I wish you all a happy hunting after these bang-for-the-bucks. I'll be back for more Stunner Alerts as soon as I find one more dozen. After all, this 'quest for stunners' turns out to be not as easy as I initially expected. Stay tuned for more...
Whisky-live Paris, September 22-24, 2007
Paris, La ville lumière, is famous for its Tour Eiffel, Avenue des
Champs-Elysées and all its other tourist attractions. France is well
know for its wines and good food, but it is also the major market in
the world for Scotch whisky (in volume), therefore it is not surprising
that France is hosting two whisky-live events a year, one in Lyon and
one in Paris.
This year, the theme of the Whisky-live was "The Collectors" and the
event was held at the prestigious auction house "Christies". The
premises were very pleasant and the price of the entry adapted to
the circumstances (40€ for one day and 60€ for two days). Two
vouchers were included with the tickets, which allowed you to taste
2 collectors whiskies randomly selected, a voucher for some Pu-E(h)r
Tea and for two pralines. As for any Whisky-live events, all whiskies
served during the festival were for free. With plenty of excellent
bottles available for tasting, this is the perfect event for any whisky
enthusiasts to try the latest products from almost all the companies
involved in the whisky trade.
And what about the whiskies?
I tasted a large number of whiskies and here are my short notes for a selection of the whiskies I tried during that event:
Aberlour 18yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2007)
A gentle, soft, malty and quite simple whisky. Rating: 76 pts.
Auchentoshan 16yo (53.7%, OB, 4800 bottles, Bottled 2007 from first-fill bourbon cask)
This whisky was rather special & with a rather surprising flavour profile (spirity, rough, bitter, on vanilla & liquid soap).
Rating: 73 pts.
BenRiach 22yo 1984/2007 Port Finish (54.2%, OB, Cask #4049, 264 Bottles)
Amongst the 3 new BenRiachs available, this is the one I prefer; sweetness of the Port marrying very well with the heavy peaty spirit.
A successful combination. Not less than 88 pts.
BenRiach 29yo 1978/2007 Moscatel Finish (52.2%, OB, Cask #4413, 216 bottles)
This time, this is a combination of a lightly peated BenRiach, very fruity (on apricot and peach) with a moscatel (wine) finish.
The wine influence is quite pleasant and the finish is slightly bitter and dry. Rating: 81 pts.
BenRiach 29yo 1978/2007 Tokaij finish (52.5%, OB, Cask 4416, 264 bottles)
The wine influence is so strong that you don't know what type of beverage you are drinking. Not for me. Rating: 57 pts.
Benromach NAS '2000' (60.4%, OB for LMDW, Cask #724, Bottled 2007, 250 bottles)
A powerful, heavily peaty, quite complex & a serious challenger to the young Islay whiskies, with additional floral notes.
Rating: 85 pts.
Benromach NAS 'Peat Smoke' (46%, OB, Bottled 2007)
Quite different from the Benromach 2000, less matured and more on grapes and burnt sugar. Rating: 77 pts.
Caol Ila 1975/2007 (58.4%, Signatory Vintage, Cask #458, 221 bottles)
Caol Ila was rebuilt in 1974 and the Caol Ila from that period are very difficult to find.
In spite of its 58.4%, it can be drunk straight quite easily. This Caol Ila is a rather gentle whisky but with a lot of mineral.
Rating: 89 pts.
Caol Ila 22yo 1984/2007 Grenache Finish (54.1%, Murray McDavid, Mission Gold, 567 bottles)
A very peaty Caol Ila, very expressive & intense, that I really enjoyed. Would have scored even better if not for the winey influence.
Rating 86 pts.
Glen Elgin 31yo 1975 (46%, Berry Bros & Rudd, Bottled 2007)
A very juicy and rich Glen Elgin, extremely pleasant, on sweet and tropical fruits, and reasonably priced. Rating: 90 pts.
Glenfarclas NAS 1994 Family cask (59.6%, OB, Cask #29935. Bottled 2007)
The sherry influence is very strong, with some rubber, but this Glenfarclas is otherwise very elegant and rather complex for its age.
I don't like much rubber notes, so the rating is 83 pts.
Glenugie 29yo 1977 (49.6%, La Part des Anges, cask #360444. Bottled 2006)
A good, complex, and rather heavy and smoky (cigar box) Glenugie. Rating: 84 pts.
Laphroaig 25yo (40%, OB, Bottled 2007)
Dry and tannic, this Laphroaig is rather disappointing and a pale copy of the former 30 YO.
Probably too diluted with 40%. Rating: 73 pts.
Linlithgow 25yo 1982/2007 (49.1%, Murray McDavid, Mission Gold, 1000 bottles)
Fresh, floral, light, grassy and subtle, with a nice fruitiness. Hopefully, this whisky has not been ACEd, but the result is an ace.
Rating: 90 pts.
Lochside 40yo 1966/2007 (54.4%, Signatory, Cask #7536, 213 bottles)
This is a nice and very mellow Lochside, heavier and less fruity than most other Lochside bottlings. Rating: 85 pts.
Macallan 1951/2001 (48.8%, OB, 632 bottles)
This was my last dram of the event, an excellent and very old very sherried Macallan, with a lot of orange influence, relatively smoky and tannic. Reminded me of the old Macallan 30 YO sherry. Rating: 91 pts.
Miyagikyo 1989/2007 (60%, OB, Cask #105419, 459 bottles)
A whisky with an excellent, but becoming in light, sweet and fragrant the mouth, with some bitter-dryness.
It is better slightly diluted. Rating: 84 pts.
Nikka Takesturu 21yo 'Pure Malt' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2007)
Not surprised that the whisky magazine rated this Taketsuru the best blended malt of the world in 2007.
The mouth feel is very pleasant, but even more so there is a superb balance between the flavours. Rating: 87 pts.
Old Pulteney NAS 1969/2006 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail)
A very nice and fruity Old Pulteney, sharing some similarities with some old and fruity Bowmore.
With a few %ABV extra, would have scored better. Rating: 85 pts.
Port Charlotte 6yo 'PC6' (60.6%, OB, Bottled 2007)
The new Port Charlotte is partially matured in Madeira casks.
The new PC6 is a bit more complex than the PC5, but also more docile. Rating: 82 pts.
Port Ellen 25yo 1982/2007 (58%, Signatory for LMDW, Cask #07/258, 288 bottles)
It is not one of the most peaty Port Ellen, but this is rather mellow, complex and with a long development in the mouth.
If you like a complex Port Ellen, this one will appeal to you. Rating: 88 pts.
Yoichi NAS 1991/2007 Single Cask (62%, OB, Cask #129493, 504 bottles)
The combination of heavy peat and an excellent sherry cask deliver an excellent whisky that any whisky aficionados should try.
One of the best surprises in the Whisky-live in Paris, if not the best. Rating: 92 pts.
In conclusion, it was a great event and I wish to thank La Maison du Whisky and Whisky-Magazine for the excellent organisation of the event and all the distilleries and companies present for granting us the permission to taste their excellent whiskies.
If you do not know what to do in September next year, think about visiting the Paris Whisky-Live!
Patrick Brossard, Switzerland
OK. Just so you won't get overly disappointed, this story is not about a
dozen drams. And it's not even about German drams! But it is about a
dozen memorable moments enjoyed while being in Germany, at least.
I was one of many fortunate souls that attended this year's Whiskyfair in
Limburg back in April. A most splendid arrangement that from now on has
a non-removable entry in my calendar. At whisky fairs I sometimes enjoy
a dram or forty. Call it a weakness or a strength. I call it madness.
While talking about madness...
This fair is not only a meeting point for excessive amounts of super
interesting malts, it's also a meeting point for excessive amounts of
certified malt maniacs! There were no less than roughly half of us present,
many of which I met for the first time. A great bunch of guys who had the
sense to bring not only their good spirit but also some good spirits (now
that was a low one, I know...).
Hopefully we'll break this attendance record the next year as I don't
think as many has been present on one single event before.
Anyway, from everything I enjoyed during these three days and from everything I brought back I have tried to distill the most impressive and perhaps also slightly unexpected experiences (& the two worst ones too). Hm, what does he mean with "brought back" some may wonder. For those of you who come from an excessively controlled country (such as Sweden) it should be clearly pointed out that you are allowed to bring the alcohol you buy at German fairs with you when, or if, you leave! So, geekish people naturally bring (hundreds of) empty sample bottles and fill them up on site and take home, as even the most hardcore liver will definitely succumb to the selection available in Limburg. This is a seriously awesome way to fill your spare time once you get home.
Back to the list. Don't take the order too seriously. Everything in there is wonderful (except the last two).
I sampled four expressions in Limburg, all very impressive. I have enjoyed a few good Banff's over the years but was not quite ready for this consistent high quality (I have by the way sampled another half a dozen Banff's since April and most are really excellent, a stellar outsider distillery unfortunately demolished already in the early 80's).
90 - Banff 15yo 1963/1978 (45.7%, Cadenhead dumpy)
89 - Banff 1978/2002 (54%, Franconian Malt Society, 127 Bts.)
88 - Banff 29yo 1975/2005 (45%, Signatory Oval Decanters, C#3340, 269 Bts.)
91 - Banff 30yo 1975/2006 (42.4%, Duncan Taylor RoR, C#3416, 147 Bts.)
A distillery that is quite unknown to me. I did not expect such good stuff, and especially not from a 13yo!
Impressive cask, in my opinion it beats the living daylights out of the two Stillman's Dram tried previously.
Both OB's and at 26yo and 30yo! Well done Cadenhead.
91 - Fettercairn 13yo 1980/1993 (46%, Cadenhead's, oak cask)
80 - Fettercairn 17yo 1989/2006 (55.4%, Blackadder, C#1348, 278 Bts., Hogshead)
88 - Fettercairn 22yo 1962/1985 (46%, Cadenheads dumpy)
Another distillery of which I have little experience. These three were all nice but the pair from Sestante blew me away.
Exquisite fruitiness and concentration. A little reminiscent of very good Springbanks. Probably more or less impossible to find though and was demolished about the same time as Banff (sigh).
92 - Glenugie 20yo 1968 (43%, Sestante)
91 - Glenugie 20yo 1968 (54.8%, Sestante)
83 - Glenugie 25yo 1981/2006 (51.5%, Duncan Taylor RoR, C#5158, 323 Bts.)
Good performance from this not always impressive distillery. Ok, not the most common bottlings admittedly.
In fact the two best bottlings I've tried from here, only beaten by an old Mosstowie (made at Miltonduff using Lomond stills) bottled by Sestante. If you're into Miltonduff try to find the Antica Casa Marchesi Spinola bottling, it's rumoured to be absolutely stunning.
87 - Miltonduff 13yo (43%, OB, late 70's)
84 - Miltonduff 1994/2006 (45%, Samaroli Coilltean, C#10614, 392 Bts.)
87 - Miltonduff 26yo 1980/2006 (45.1%, Adelphi, C#12501, 124 Bts.)
5. Port Ellen.
Not much of a surprise that Port Ellen ends up amongst the best out there. I did try to stay away from peaty stuff at the fair due to palate exhaustion factors but these did slip through (thank god). From what I heard the Port Ellen TWF was sold out way before the fair started.. a bit sad, a few bottles could be saved to the event itself aye? Oh, just me being jealous again.
90 - Port Ellen 11yo 1983/1994 (40%, The Whisky House)
91 - Port Ellen 23yo 1983/2007 (56.7%, DL Platinum for TWF, 180 Bts.)
86 - Port Ellen 26yo 1979 (50%, DL OMC, rum finish, Cask ref#DL3081, 342 Bts.)
91 - Port Ellen 27yo 1979/2007 (57.1%, DL Platinum, 258 Bts.)
This not much of a surprise either. Springbank delivers, and especially the older ones.. unfortunately (for my wallet).
The Hazelburn impressed me also and is on top of the heap tried from there this far, shows promise indeed.
91 - Springbank 23yo 1965 (50%, Duthie for Samaroli, ageing monography, 660 Bts.)
90 - Springbank 30yo 1965/1995 (43%, Hart Brothers)
90 - Springbank 36yo 1969/2005 (45.6%, The Whisky Fair, 197 Bts.)
89 - Springbank 38yo 1968/2006 (54%, The Whisky Fair, Sherry Hogsh., 117 Bts.)
82 - Springbank 8yo (43%, OB for Japan, Pear shaped, Late 1960's)
86 - Hazelburn NAS (59.2%, OB for Brevin & Jahnel)
7. Tobermory (Ledaig).
I wonder what decides if Tobermory or Ledaig should be used on the label. The two from Alambic Classique below were distilled on the same day, doubtful that production should differ much on the same day I guess. Not that it matters, this is good stuff and I am on the conservative side here as these all (except the 11yo) were huge sherry bombs and some also quite nasty (sulphuric and peaty) which many out there likes more than me. The one from Whisky Doris evaded tax on the way home, my precious.
80 - Tobermory 11yo 1994/2006 (43%, Krugers, 843 Bts.)
89 - Tobermory 33yo 1972/2006 (49.6%, Alambic Classique, C#9721, 198 Bts.)
91 - Tobermory 34yo 1972/2007 (49.5%, Whisky Doris, 96 Bts.)
86 - Tobermory, Ledaig 32yo 1972/2005 (48.9%, Alambic Classique, C#8721, 396 Bts.)
89 - Tobermory, Ledaig 33yo 1973/2006 (48%, The Whisky Fair, 281 Bts.)
Must be added partly because it's Brora (grin) and partly because the 30yo was amongst the best of everything I found at the fair.
Many thanks for showing me the way Olivier. The others were good whiskies but didn't really deliver as expected.
83 - Brora 23yo 1981/2005 (48%, Dun Bheagan, C#1512, 648 Bts.)
89 - Brora 26yo 1977/2003 (54.9%, DL Platinum, 228 Bts.)
87 - Brora 27yo 1974/2002 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, Anniversary Selection)
93 - Brora 30yo 1972/2002 (46.6%, DL OMC, 204 Bts., Germany)
Splendidly enough old Strathislas are not very difficult to find but ouch, one from 1937 and what a beaut it was too! Amazing!
And the Whisky Doris one.. whoa! These two only beaten in my opinion by the 1955/2003 bottled by G&M (thanks again Krishna!!).
On the other hand the 21yo from G&M below impressed not at all.
92 - Strathisla 1937 (70 proof, G&M, mid 70's)
79 - Strathisla 21yo (40%, G&M, sherry wood, special selected cask, 70's)
89 - Strathisla 30yo 1976 (46.2%, Exclusive Malts, C#2913, 156 Bts.)
93 - Strathisla 35yo 1969/2005 (56.3%, Whisky Doris, C#2516, 90 Bts.)
10. Karuizawa (Japan).
At the stand of Dutch Connection was a certain Bert Vuik who stocked a serious collection of Japanese wonderful stuff.
Amongst them I located a whole heap of lovely small quite special looking Karuizawa bottles that were real nasty sherry taste bombs. Quite Japanese in style with that special woody and astringent dominance. Phew, this lineup is not for the weak of heart nor the bourbon lover. A must try for sherry lovers, very consistent high quality.
89 - Karuizawa 1988/2007 (59.3%, OB, C#7683)
82 - Karuizawa 19yo 1986 (56.3%, OB, C#6206)
88 - Karuizawa 24yo 1981 (57.9%, OB, C#348)
90 - Karuizawa 28yo 1977 (63%, OB, C#7026)
91 - Karuizawa 30yo 1975 (63.6%, OB, C#7587)
11. Glen Flagler.
Now we reach bland country. This was as watery and uninspiring as it gets.
Not that it was flawed, it was just very flat and utterly & hugely not price worthy (good for the mileage but not for the wallet one could say). Stay away from these in case you're not hunting bottlings from odd distilleries.
68 - Glen Flagler NAS (40%, OB, Medieval label, Import House Milan)
69 - Glen Flagler NAS (40%, OB, red stripe label)
OK. I like salt but this was ridiculous. My lips hurt for days after… fortunately I sampled it near the end of the fair and very little.
Be thee warned, but be thee also aware that some folks seems to like it! No names but a certain Alsatian comes to mind. This is a herring cask finished Bruichladdich made by stupidcask.de which raises the bar even for the finishing madness of the distillery itself (which is no easy feat). The "Vorher", the unherringed variant of the same whisky, was also available at the stand and was more in style what would be expected from a 14yo sherried finished Bruichladdich.
59 - Fishky (50.2%, StupidCask, Herring finish)
The hotel room is already booked for next year.
If you're into malt whisky and live on planet Earth then this event should not be missed.
And don't forget to bring your sample bottles...
A ferry ride took me from Pier 1 near San Francisco's Ferry Building
to Alameda and from the ferry terminal there it was just a couple of
minutes walk to St George distillery. This was where I visited the
distillery a couple of years ago, although they have now moved
to a larger premise nearby.
Responsible at the distillery for a range of spirits, including St
George Single Malt Whiskey are Jörg Rupf and Lance Winters.
Lance is one of those rare people who really consider distilling as
an art form, so meet one of his creations!
St George is distilled in a Holstein still, a still type normally used
for distilling eaux de vie. On top of the small (65 gallon) copper pot
is a column which contains a series of plates, allowing fine-tuning
of the distillation process. The mash is 100% malted barley, but no
peat is used for drying the malt. Lance uses the smoke of beech
and alder wood and this wood smoke gives a very different kind of
smokiness to the finished product: much sweeter & more fragrant
than peat smoke. There is only one distillation and maturation
takes place in ex-bourbon barrels, French oak casks and a small
proportion of port pipes.
The first bottling of St George a few years ago was 3 y.o. and one of the most fruity and elegant whiskies I've ever tasted. Remarkably smooth and very fragrant, with fructose-like sweetness and drier, more nutty notes. Recently St George 'Lot 3' was released, which is still technically a 3 y.o. (the age of the youngest whiskey in the vatting), but contains a significant amount of 4 to 6 y.o. whiskeys. Plus that the wood smoke influence has been increased. 'Lot 3' is fuller, richer & clearly more malty. Its fructose-sweetness has been toned down a bit and it has gained a subtle, almost incense-like, sweet smokiness. I hope Lance will consider a cask strength bottling in the near future.
On some of his business cards, Lance refers to himself as an 'evil genius'. An experimental spirit distilled solely from tangerine blossoms that he let me taste was a true testament to that title. Pure essence of tangerine, devilishly delicious...
There are some 'perks' that come with running sites like Malt Madness and Malt Maniacs.
Sometimes distillers, bottlers or publishers send me stuff to review. Especially in the case of bottles of malt whisky the reviewing process can be quite pleasurable ;-) Well, not quite always, actually... I won't mention any names, but after a newborn European distiller enthusiastically sent me some of his first experiments it took me a few days to recover from the tasting session. After I had regained my senses I advised him not to submit his first bottles to the Malt Maniacs Awards quite just yet ;-)
Although Davin is now our semi-official book reviewer (check out The Good Book for an overview)
I still receive the occasional book - and the latest in the list was 'The Business of Spirits' by American
writer Noah Rothbaum. Initially, I wasn't sure the book was particularly useful for the real 'anoraks';
just one of the seven chapters deals with Scotch (single malt) whisky. What's more, it's perhaps not
really aimed at an 'international' audience. A lot of the references and stories deal with brands and
examples that may not be familiar to readers outside the US. For example, the 'Grey Goose' luxury
brand of vodka that's mentioned on several occasions is sold mostly (some 95% of it) in the USA.
However, recent discussions amongst the maniacs about the recent epidemic of price gauging in
the whisky world made me look at the book in a different light. If you want to understand a little
more about the 'tricks of the trade' that are used to make us drink more whisky (and make us pay
as much as possible for it), the book offers a pretty good read. The book focuses heavily on the
sales & marketing aspects of the spirits business - which makes sense given the title. If you want
to get an idea about how 'the industry' perceives you, the consumer, this is an excellent read.
Especially the story of the aforementioned 'Grey Goose' vodka tickled my fancy...
As you may know, vodka is a 'clear spirit' that, unlike whisky, doesn't require any maturation.
That's a very good thing from the perspective of the producer; the vodka that is made today can
be sold tomorrow. This means that they don't have to invest vast amounts of capital in maturing
stocks like producers of whisky and cognac. However, there was one problem with vodka: it wasn't
perceived as a 'premium' spirit, so consumers were unwilling to pay a lot of money for a bottle. For
some two decades the 'price ceiling' for a bottle of vodka was around 15 dollars, set by the 'deluxe'
brand Absolut. Absolut vodka was the 'top of the line' for a long time, priced around 15 to 20 dollars.
However, a decade ago Sidney Frank (the US importer of the German 'Jagermeister' herb liqueur) jumped in.
He felt that the American market was ready to pay much more for a bottle of vodka - provided that it was perceived as a luxury product. One of the justifications for the high price of a bottle of 'Grey Goose' vodka (circa 30 dollars as opposed to circa 15 to 20 dollars for a bottle of Absolut) is the fact that it is produced in Europe. Not in Scandinavia, Poland or Russia though - it's made in a purpose-built factory in France. The plant produces some 16,000 bottles an hour, the vast majority of which ends up in the US. The brand became a huge success on the American market - and all Sidney Frank had to do was add a much higher price tag to the bottle. The audience simply confused a higher price tag with higher quality - or at least with 'luxury'. Sidney himself said: 'Vodka is just water and alcohol, so if I sold a bottle for $30, the $10 difference is almost all profit.' - but that didn't stop the American market from embracing the new brand enthusiastically.
Sidney Frank recently sold the 'Grey Goose' vodka brand to Bacardi for more than 2,000,000,000 dollars...
So, the book is far too light on information about whisky to make it a useful investment for the 'anoraks' focused on whisky.
However, if you're interested in the 'business' aspect of spirits in general it's a different story - especially if you live in the USA. The typically American flavour of the contents might make it a little harder to digest for an international audience, but even then the cover price of $24,95 could be wisely spent. From my perspective, 'The Business of Spirits' by Noah Rothbaum is an excellent book if it keeps you from shelling out thousands of dollars or Euro's (or the equivalent in your own currency) on one of those 'super-premium' single malts like the Ardbeg 1965.
As promised in E-pistle # 2007/29 I decided to return to
Speyside, not only because I wanted to concentrate on that
particular area but also to see if there had been a change in
the distilleries "No free dram without the full tour" policy which
seemed to be prevalent two years previously. So on the 11th
of March 2007 I left Johannesburg for Heathrow but before
going up to Scotland two very interesting meetings lay ahead
for me in Europe...
Some time prior to my departure I had been invited to join the
select band of Malt Maniacs and this trip gave me the perfect
opportunity to meet with the "boss", Johannes van den Heuvel
so I enquired about flying into Amsterdam, only to be told that
for the Dutch Government to issue me with the necessary
Shengen visa a trip to Cape Town to the Dutch Embassy for
a personal interview would be required.
Wow, a 2000 km journey for one night in Holland, I mean the
USA has the same requirement and maybe they have every
right to be paranoid but who the hell are the Dutch? (Sorry,
Johannes nothing personal!) Anyway more enquiries revealed
the Belgians would be only too happy to issue the visa by post
and thus I would be flying into Brussels instead of Amsterdam
which resulted in the unexpected pleasure of a meeting with
fellow Maniac Bert Bruyneel who on hearing I would be in
Brussels insisted on coming to my hotel to meet me.
Monday 12th March. Whilst in transit at Heathrow for Brussels I had my first experience of the new security regulations when at a BA
checkpoint my "highly suspect" can of spray (not liquid) deodorant was discovered and confiscated (110mls not 100 as permitted)
notwithstanding the same airline had carried it on a 10 hour flight a few hours before! Monday evening was spent exploring the hotel
surrounds and discovering that dark Belgian beers must, in quantity, be treated with a little caution especially when followed by whisky!
The next day was spent going to and walking Brugge flat which was very enjoyable, what a quaint picturesque town.
That evening at about 1815 Bert arrived and when I had earlier asked how I would recognise him he had replied " That's easy, I will probably be the only person walking into your hotel carrying a case of whisky" which is exactly what happened! I was concerned how we would carry out our tasting as back in South Africa you would most certainly not be permitted to sit in a licensed hotel reception area consuming your own alcohol but Bert did not seem to think there was a problem and neither did the hotel manager so with some glasses and a bottle of still water from the bar we were all set.
We tasted 9 whiskies including my first Japanese experience, two Nikka single cask bottled at 63%, a 50yo Secret Stills Isle of Skye bottled at 45% by G & M which much to my disappointment unfortunately did not carry its age well but this was more than made up for by Bert's piece de resistance which he asked me to try and identify blind. Well I placed it possibly Speyside but definitely Highland – it was in fact a 1966/2006 43.4% Cask 3316 bottle 49/151 Bowmore from Duncan Taylor. It blew my mind and was without doubt the Dram of the Night! Bert also got on the phone to Billy Walker and arranged a tasting at Benriach as well as promising to do the same for me at Glenfarclas. Altogether a great evening made even more so after I heard not only had he driven 1200 kms there and back to a client that day but then after returning home had driven another 80 kms to my hotel. Thanks Bert, your enthusiasm was much appreciated.
Wednesday 14th March. Caught the train for Amsterdam for my meeting with Johannes, catering people on strike so no dining car and a derailment outside Amsterdam necessitated a change of trains at Schipol which made the journey interesting. Found my hotel which was close to the station in the middle of the tourist area and at 1415 Johannes arrived. Finally a face to put to a name! He suggested a walk to Cadenheads where we would have a tasting with the owner Andries and when we arrived we found Kate Wright from Springbank was also there as well as another South African, Johannes de Jong, all contributing to a good afternoon. We sat around a table at the back of the shop where Johannes (the boss) produced a number of interesting bottles from his carrybag, Andries added a few more and all in all we tasted 12 whiskies of which my favourite was a 1975 26yo Glenlossie bottled at 55%. The dark colour and strong sherry notes, just the sort of SM I really enjoy! The Bunnahabhain 35yo, the Kinclaith 30yo and the Glenordie 12yo were also interesting. Kate also took us through two examples of Campbelltown Loch, blends produced by Springbank which I had not seen before, the 21yo being most pleasant. A most enjoyable afternoon and to finally meet with Johannes after all our correspondence made the trip well worth while for me.
Thursday 15th March. Took the train back to Brussels for the Eurostar connection to London where I was to spend a few days with my son
before departing for Scotland. And let me tell you I will travel on the train anytime, rather than fly. It is so much more comfortable, large
armchair type seats, soundless(almost), friendly service, no crowds and best of all no intrusive security measures.
You are actually treated like valued customers instead of a herd of cattle.
Whilst in London there was something with a Maniac connection I wanted to do and that was to find a bottle of Olivier Humbrecht's wine. Establishing Waitrose stocked it I found a store in Kingston-on-Thames, went there and asked the wine manager where the bottles were. His answer was they definitely did not stock Humbrecht wines so I was looking over what they did have and guess what, there they were a small supply of Clos Windsbuhl 2002 Pinot Gris, so much for his knowledge! The bottle cost me 30 pounds which translates to ZAR428 which is the most expensive bottle of wine I have ever bought but don't worry Olivier I will not hold it against you, it was something I wanted to do and when Russell and I shared it the following evening we both agreed it was excellent!
Saturday 17th March. Caught the Easyjet from Gatwick to Edinburgh,
drove to Crieff (near Glenturret, more of that later) and on Sunday
drove to Elgin through a snowstorm, a first for me! It was to snow
the whole week I was there.
Monday 19th March. My first visit was to Benromach Distillery, a
picturesque small distillery which is owned by Gordon & MacPhail. After
the tour I tasted their standard NAS at40%, the new Organic at 43%
and preferred the standard.
Then I went to Dallas Dhu, now a museum, which was interesting as
you can "play" with all the equipment. In the afternoon I visited G&M's
head office where I met Michael Urquhart and export manager Derek
Hancock. Michael took me on a tour of the facility and showed me their
oldest barrel, a 1938 Mortlach (I wonder how much is left after the
angels have taken their share every year?). By the way Benromach is
a race partner of one of the yachts in the Clipper Round the World
yacht race and Michael and Derek will be coming to Durban when
the yachts have a stopover here in November.
The next visit was Benriach (arranged by Bert!) where manager Alan McConnochie gave me a warehouse tasting, my very first.
I tasted 7 samples including a 1976 port finish 54.4%, a 1975 sherry butt 54.1% and a 1966 hogshead 51.4% and it was for me an awesome experience. There is also a South African connection here, I think one of the partners is from SA.
I had decided to base myself in Craigellachie being central and discovered the Strathspey B&B, which also doubles as the local post office, right over the road from the Highlander Inn, which Carol Donaghy runs superbly so I had the best of both worlds, drams and supper at the Inn and bed in Carol's luxurious B&B. Dram of the night that night was a 1982 Dallas Dhu 25yo 40% by G&M.
Tuesday 20th March. In heavy snow started with a visit to Speyside Cooperage which I found very interesting and bought a DVD of the operation for my club members back home. Then called in at Abelour where I tasted their A'Bunadh Batch 17 60.6% without having to do "the full tour", are things looking up?
Decided then to try and reach Cardhu, turned off the main road, drove about ½ km down a very narrow road.
At that point the car started sliding into snow. Stopped and could not reverse! What now? After a bit of an effort managed to turn around and get back to the main road, realising I must be wary of this snow. Next stop was Tomintoul for an appointment with Master Distiller Robert Fleming, arranged whilst still back home through Andy Watts of Three Ships.
The girl at Abelour had told me to go via Dufftown which
I did but about 6 km's past there the road disappeared
under snow! I turned around and phoned Robert, it
seemed that was not the ideal route so off once again
back to the main road, past the Cardhu turnoff, up
through Glenlivet & eventually arrived without problem.
Another great experience, I was shown around by Tom
the production manager and afterwards had to give my
opinion of the products in front of Robert and Tom. Quite
nervewracking! I tasted a sample of Sept. 2006 New
Spirit, the 10,16, 27yo SM"s and their Old Ballantruan an
un-chillfiltered peated malt at 50%. Whilst there I found
an amazing coincidence, in the visitors book a month or
two before was a name and address from Gonubie in SA,
a small seaside town about 10k's from where I live!
I mean Tomintoul is not exactly on the tourist route and
is not open to the public so talk about almost bumping
into neighbours at the other end of the world!
That evening I had a dram at the Craigellachie Hotel's
Quaiche Bar. At last I've been there having missed it on
my previous visit.
Wednesday 21st March. Drove to Huntley where I met with Kirsty McLeod of Duncan Taylor & Co., another charming person in the whisky industry who showed me their operation. Whilst there she told me they were soon going to acquire their own distillery and I only found out later the Maniacs did not yet know about this so I had BREAKING NEWS but was not aware of it! I then had a tasting of 5 whiskies in her office, a 1970 Glen Grant, 38yo Auld Blended, a 33yo Lonach Caperdonich, a 1966 Bunnahabhain and a 34yo Port Dundas (sherry cask) at 58 %. She also very kindly gave me 6 5cl samples to take away, the youngest being a 34yo, which I ended up bringing back to SA and tasting here! (My favourite of these was the 34yo 1973 Strathclyde cask 74062 at 56.5%, a sherry beaut scoring 87.)
Then onto Keith and of course Strathisla which although closed had the visitors centre open and we were offered a free dram – things are looking up! In the afternoon went to Glenfiddich as I wanted to see Balvenie but was told they don't do tours there so that was that. That evening at the Highlander I sampled a group of Compass Box products, Oak Cross, Asyla and Flaming Heart.
Thursday 22nd March. Off to Macallan and arrived about 09:30 only to find they opened at 1100, but no trouble to them they opened the visitors centre for me, Margaret was very pleasant, certainly knows her products well and I was even offered a free dram – what hospitality, I could have stayed longer!
Next stop was Cardhu, much less snow this time, and what a difference between these two distilleries. Cardhu is Diageo, big and impersonal, our guide did not seem to have a sense of humour, was not over friendly so whilst I was glad I saw it I was also pleased to leave. Spent the rest of the morning looking at places like Tamdhu, Knockando, Cragganmore and Tormore.
In the afternoon my last "official visit" was a tour of Glenfarclas arranged by Bert and confirmed whilst I was in Amsterdam. George Grant took me around this very interesting distillery with a truly impressive visitors area and boardroom, modelled on the SS Australasia, where I tasted a 10, 12, 15 and 30yo as well as a Single Cask 1972/2001 43% (741 bottles). Another nice touch was the SA flag flying at the entrance to welcome me.
Friday 23rd March. Drove back down to Crieff with the last of the snow melting on the hills, a quicker journey this time with the roads back to normal and called in at Glenturret which had been closed the week before. I had previously been there in 1996 and now of course it is the home of The Famous Grouse with a huge grouse dominating the parking area. I think Glenturret has lost its identity, it was always so proud of being the "oldest' distillery but now I could only find a 10yo hidden away amongst all the Grouse products, a little sad and their magnificent liqueur whisky which I so enjoyed is, alas, no more. Anyway the ladies in the visitor centre were very cheerful and offered me a free dram, yes things have definitely improved in Scotland.
Saturday 24th March. After breakfast at the Crieff Hotel I drove through to Edinburgh airport, handed the car back and afterwards phoned Charlie MacLean whom I was hoping to meet in Edinburgh but as time had run out we just had a chat over the phone. Hopefully we will meet some time in the future.
So ended my time in Speyside.
I have only described my main visits although I saw other distilleries such as Glen Moray, Glen Spey, Glendullan, Craigellachie, Glen Grant, Glentauchers and Dailuaine which gave me the opportunity of exploring this really beautiful part of Scotland.
Before ending there are two points I would like to make:
1. Bearing in mind I was on my own the very strict drink/driving laws meant that all tastings done during the day entailed taking the smallest sip only and leaving the rest in the glass. I worked out afterwards I had left behind in various glasses over a bottle of superb single malt whisky – what a splendid vatted, sorry blended, malt they might have made!
2. And do the Scots still deserve their reputation? I am happy to say that certainly in Speyside things are much improved, the distilleries are offering drams without you doing the full tour and they seem to be aware this is good marketing practice. I can only presume and hope this is also happening elsewhere in Scotland.
Joe Barry, South Africa