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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

April 1, 2014


SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter ;-))

10,000, but that does not count. This is April 1st, after all

Friends, apparently today we’ll have our 10,000th spirit on little Whiskyfun, but it is not a milestone we’ll celebrate with much pomp, as since this is ‘Whisky’fun, I’ve decided that only whisky should count. Indeed, I’ve actually only formally tasted 9,528 whiskies, the other 471 spirits having been rums, tequilas, cognacs and a few other drinks, some very unlikely I have to add. What’s more, only a fraction of those other spirits have been genuine ‘malternatives’ in my opinion, that is to say interesting alternatives to a well-aged malt whisky.
All that means that our official 10,000th whisky won’t be quaffed and assessed before the end of this year, if all goes well. And that, we will try to celebrate indeed! But in the meantime, I thought we could still have something unusual as our 10,000th and 10,001st spirits, such as…


19th century 15 yo cognac
vs. 19th century 15 yo Scotch malt

How does that sound? As you probably know, whisky became much sought after in the end of the 19th century mainly because Cognac’s vineyards – as well as those of many other European grape-based wines and spirits - had been devastated by the well-known phylloxera epidemic, and could simply not produce, let alone export anything anymore. That’s why I thought it would be interesting, and possibly fun, to try to identify with a pre-WWI spirit enthusiast who would have compared, head-to-head, a surviving bottle of pre-phylloxeric Cognac with a new bottle of Smith’s Glenlivet, both spirits being of the very same age for good measure. Shall we proceed?

Cognac 15 yo 'Grande Champagne' (Cox & Bowring, Derby, +/-1880)

Cognac 15 yo 'Grande Champagne' (Cox & Bowring, Derby, +/-1880) Five stars Vintages were very common in the 19th Century, but it’s the first time I see an age statement. This is most possibly early landed cognac, that is to say cognac that had been exported in barrels to wine and spirit merchants and shippers such as Cox & Bowring, and further aged in the UK. It is said that those cognacs used to be softer and paler, because of the colder and wetter climate in which alcohol evaporates faster than water. Cox & Bowring do not exist anymore, but the city of Derby remains famous for its most illustrious company, Rolls-Royce.

Colour: amber, so not that light. Nose: the freshness is simply amazing. It’s not very different from the handful of pre-phylloxeric cognacs I could already try, and I wouldn’t swear it’s obviously ‘early landed’, but indeed and despite the probable 150 years between when this was distilled and today, it’s a rather clean, almost coastal style that I’m finding. Yes I know Derby’s very far from any sea, but it could be that they had warehouses near the sea! Anyway, what comes after all this freshness is rather a blend of old polished wood, the obligatory raisins, a stunning camphory side as often in old spirits, whether cask-aged or cask+glass-aged and then a wide range of pastries, brioches, pralines, chocolates… I also love the notes of orange blossom, then the touches of dried parsley and other fine herbs. On the other hand, there’s little rancio this time, so it’s not very ‘tertiary’. But stunning it is! Mouth: come on! Imagine this baby’s even rough after all these years, it’s even got this kind of leafy rawness that’s usually more to be found in artisan calvados. But after that, and despite a faint sugariness, it’s all a bed of roses, with pastries again, quince jelly, raisins, sweet old liqueurs, figs, crushed roasted hazelnuts (reminds me of halva, in a way)… The grapes only come out after a few minutes, together with hints of prunes and, again, a little calvados and even aged marc. This could come from folle blanche, that grape variety that’s still to be found in Armagnac and that used to rule Cognac before the phylloxera. In a way, it’s rather less smooth and polished than contemporary cognacs. And the body and strength are perfect, the whole almost feels like +/-45% vol.

Finish: granted, it’s not very long, and it’s rather the leafy/gritty side that comes out more, but it remains balanced. A little caramel and rubber in the aftertaste, not the best part. Comments: what’s always difficult to do when tasting these old glories is to forget about their stories and ages. You have to forget that this was distilled more or less when Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens were writing their most famous works, or you’ll just miss your main goal, which is to assess a spirit for what it smells and tastes. But that’s hard to do, I can tell you… SGP:541 - 91 points.


Smith's Glenlivet 1899/1914 'Port Jackson Vat' (John Harvey & Sons, Choicest Old Liqueur Scotch Whisky)

Smith's Glenlivet 1899/1914 'Port Jackson Vat' (John Harvey & Sons, Choicest Old Liqueur Scotch Whisky) Four stars This is an amazingly rare bottle. John Harvey & Sons, blenders and merchants in Bristol (now owned by Beam inc, unless they were just sold to another party), had shipped one or several casks of Glenlivet 1899 to Sidney in August 1912, the casks having returned to England in May 1914 before bottling, so one hundred years ago. The name ‘Port Jackson’ was that of the sailing ship that brought the barrels to Australia in 1912, and of course also the name of Sidney’s wonderful natural port. This way of trying to speed up the ageing of spirits may have been inspired by a well-known practice in Bordeaux, where for example Cos d’Estournel used to do ‘Retour des Indes’ cuvées (back from India).

Anecdotally, with great friends who had flown over from Singapore, Japan, Sweden Holland, France, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and of course Scotland itself – plus a BBC crew that were travelling with us – we brought this very historic bottle back to the Distillery a few weeks ago, where we cracked it open together with some enthusiastic Pernod representatives. In return, we were offered unlimited access to the warehouses, plenty of 50yo cask samples to try, thirty-six girls, twenty centilitres of ultra-young spirit to share, a private gig by the Rolling Stones, plenty of the freshest Highland waters, one Bentley Continental each, access to a lovely tasting table and very comfortable chairs, great sandwiches, a meeting with Pippa Middleton (we’ve been sad to learn that she had nothing to do with Pernod’s almost-eponymous Distillery) and five kilos of the best Russian caviar. Well, only one of those may have been true, and again, today is April 1st, but let’s properly taste this oldie now…

Colour: amber, exactly the same shade as that of the cognac. Ha! Nose: it is to be wondered why late-19th century and early-20th century connoisseurs would have considered malt whisky was a good alternative to cognac. Because after all these years, this Glenlivet has strictly nothing to do with the cognac, except for their ages and colours. But it’s just as stunning, much drier, certainly smoky (there was quite some peat for sure), with first a little paraffin, then dry oils, some clay, some pine resin, drops of menthol, some new leather and then some dry apples. Cider apples. In fact it’s relatively compact while the cognac was almost instantaneously wide, but it starts to open up more after two or three minutes, with more tobacco, cedar wood, fresh porcinis, also fruitier notes, maybe blood oranges and bergamots, a little butter cream… All that is rather delicate, certainly elegant, and obviously of very high quality. I couldn’t tell you if the +/-35,000 kilometres from Bristol to Sidney and return did change anything, but what’s sure is that this nose is absolutely brilliant and terribly moving. Err, let’s keep a cool head if you agree… Mouth: it’s a three-step palate, which does not happen very often. Cough medicine and assorted mentholated notes first, then stewed fruits with their skins, then more woody/leathery touches. It’s really funny that those remain clearly separated and did not really mingle together over the many years. To be honest, it’s not the greatest old whisky ever, it’s actually quite drying and globally rather too leafy/leathery, but some parts are absolutely lovely. Walnuts, for example, or sugar cane, or chestnut honey, or baked apples. In fact, it tends to improve with further breathing, with now notes of maraschino, cherries in kirsch, even a little peach jam, candy sugar… It’s hard to detect whether it was ‘improved’ or ‘arranged’ (with honey, pajarette, or even brandy, or whatever…) or not, but that could be. Anyway, it’s simply excellent. Remember, very old bottles may have gone horribly wrong, while this one was in pristine conditions. Excuse me, but ‘wow’. Finish: good length, a tad burnt, maybe, and unexpectedly cognacqy this time. Raisins and baked apples.

Comments: you may have noticed that brands tend to Wikipedia-ise more and more their publicity whenever they issue an oldish whisky. When the Beatles recorded Love Me Do, when Gagarin became the first human in space, when Elizabeth II was crowned, when Jaguar’s E-type was launched… Well, imagine what could be said about a whisky that was distilled in 1899! We could, for instance, mention the first Hague Peace Conference... Oh forget. SGP:452 - 87 points (but of course, 99 emotional points!)

The Russian delegation at
the Hague Peace Conference in 1899

(with kisses and hugs to the PWWT gang)


Whiskyfun fav of the month

March 2014

Favourite recent bottling:
St Magdalene 30 yo 1982/2013 (58.5%, Douglas Laing, Platinum, refill butt, 99 bottles)  - WF 93

Favourite older bottling:
Macallan 1952 (80°proof, OB, Campbell, Hope & King, Rinaldi Italy, late 1960’s) - WF 96

Favourite bang for your buck bottling:
Bowmore 10 yo 2003/2013 (53.4%, Whisky-Doris, cask #20188, 179 bottles)  - WF 90



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