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Hi, you're in the Archives, April 2009 - Part 2
       

April 2009 - part 1 <--- April 2009 - part 2 ---> May 2009 - part 1

 

April 30, 2009


CONCERT REVIEW by Nick Morgan
ALAN PRICE AND HIS BAND
The Bull’s Head, Barnes, London, April 9th 2009

I’m not sure if you’ll have heard of the English comedian Bobby Thompson, otherwise known as The Little Waster. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of you won’t have.

Bobby Thompson
Thompson was born and brought up in County Durham, Wearside, and throughout his career remained largely unknown outside the North, and particularly North-East, of the country. His dry and misogynistic humour ("Wu got off the train at Blackpool, the porter came up an' asked if 'e could carry me bag. I said 'Na, let 'er walk'.") was formed and fashioned by the poverty, unemployment and indebtedness that had historically defined so many working-class lives in the area (it was, of course, the home of the famous Jarrow marchers of 1936): "A man come to oor door. I says come in, tak a seat. He says 'I'm coming in to tak the lot.'". I remember people taking coaches from Lancaster to see him perform in the early 1970s, but his thick accent was as impenetrable to the majority in the South as the scenes he described, and success (unlike the Inland Revenue) eluded him.
Alan Price   Coincidentally, singer, organist, musical arranger of the Animals and composer of note, Alan Price, was also born in County Durham, in the village of Fatfield where Thompson was brought up. And although Price has lived in comfortable and uber-middle class Barnes on the banks of the Thames for many decades, his live show in the famous Bull’s Head (where he plays around once a month) has more than a echo of a dour and down-to-earth Thompson show, even if Price’s accent has been softened and modulated by years in the South.
Correctly assessing the average age of his audience at around sixty, Price begins with a truly sad story having recently attended the funeral of drummer Reg Isadore (famed for his work with, amongst others, Robin Trower), the victim of a massive heart-attack. “You see”, he said, like a grandfather sharing a cautionary tale with a group of wide-eyed innocents, “Reg wouldn’t take his pills. He should have known better but he wouldn’t take them. And then he went out for the weekend and – well, that was it. Heart attack – gone’. He lingers on the last word, eyes scanning the crowd like an Ancient Mariner, for the next one to go. In what follows there’s enough fiscal misery to delight the Little Waster - pensions advice (the diminishing value of pension funds being a hot topic amongst this particular tranche of the population at the moment), the falling value of savings and the dangers of romance with younger women (“you know in the end they’ll take all your money”). And there are also a few warm reminiscences of some of the myriad of distinguished people Price has worked with during his career, most of whom seem to have been ‘miserable’.
Alan Price Band
This impoverished running commentary almost became tedious – but it wasn’t enough to detract from Price’s performance, or that of his excellent band. Peter Grant was on bass, Martin Wild on drums, and on guitar and vocals the truly sensational Bobby Tench, whom I swear I last saw playing with Streetwalkers in Banbury way back in, well, you can guess. Together they made a sympathetic and at times surprisingly rocking background to Price’s timeless material and some well-chosen covers (including ‘the most miserable song in the world”, written by “that miserable git” Jackson Browne “as part of his divorce settlement”). Most of which was sung by Price in a voice that, like his sometime partner Georgie Fame, could have been plucked from three decades ago. In addition to some Animal highlights, notably ‘Please don’t let me be misunderstood’ the evening was stolen by Price’s compositions for the score of Lindsey Anderson’s (who according to Price had “a very myopic view of British society”) Oh Lucky Man.
Bobbt Tench
Bobby Tench, esq.
‘Sell sell’, ‘Changes’, ‘Poor people’ (dedicated, naturally, to the Royal Bank of Scotland’s Fred Goodwin), and ‘Oh lucky man’ are all outstanding examples of a truly English song-writing aesthetic, even if the influence of Randy Newman (composer of Price’s hit ‘Simon Smith and his amazing dancing bear’) looms large on some of them. And of course these were followed by his ‘Jarrow song’ (“I remember that people there used to drink tea out of jam jars”) which celebrated the famous Jarrow march and was a top five hit in the UK. All of which, of course, helped Mr Price take up residence in lovely Barnes. I wonder what the Little Waster would have said about that? - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)
 
PETE McPEAT AND JACK WASHBACK
 
 
Glenrothes

TASTING – TWO SHERRIED 1990 GLENROTHES

Glenrothes 15 yo 1990/2005 (43%, Jean Boyer, Best Casks of Scotland, first fill sherry) The good people at Jean Boyer’s are good at finding exquisite sherry casks, such as a more recent Dailuaine… So this should be good. Colour: dark gold. Nose: it’s a flowery kind of sherry, as elegant as sherried Glenrothes can be. In that sense this one is close to an OB. Notes of pollen, dandelions, acacia honey and apricots, then a few winey notes (a little rancio and strawberry jam), walnuts and just the right amount of gunpowder. Actually a little more vinous than the average OB. Mouth: rather winey again at the attack but clean, also rather nutty. Gets then much more honeyed and ‘walnutty’, with just a few kirschy notes in the background. Notes of coffee and black tea (Russian) plus a little pepper (just as black). Good presence, good dryness. Finish: rather long, drier, clean, chocolaty. Comments: a good sherried malt that reminds us a bit of the old Macallan 12, with ‘a smokiness’. SGP:352 - 84 points. (and thank you, Anthony)
Glenrothes-Glenlivet 1990/2008 (46%, Cadenhead, 610 bottles) Colour: amber. Nose: starting all on walnuts and gunpowder (sulphur again) and developing more on coffee, dark chocolate and leather. Also quite some burnt cake, liquorice and tar but that’s pretty all. For lovers of this style. Mouth: a lot of sherry, with exactly the same flavours as on the nose. Faint dirtiness. Finish: long, with a little more honey. Comments: simply good! Typical dry, heavily sherried middle-aged malt. In the same league as the Jean Boyer. SGP:352 - 84 points.
 

April 29, 2009


Glendullan

TASTING
THREE GLENDULLAN

Glendullan may well not be the ‘bluest chip in Scotland’ but I must say I have fond memories of a very fruity young official 8 years old that we had in France ten or fifteen years ago (as a fighting bottling for the distillers).

Glendullan 11 yo 1996/2007 (46%, Duncan Taylor, NC2, cask #10712) Colour: pale straw. Nose: amazing how this one reminds me of ‘my’ humble yet beloved old 8yo! Imagine very ripe white cherries and gooseberries plus some watermelon and add to that a few spices (freshly ground white pepper), then top the whole with some fresh dairy cream or maybe mascarpone, spread some vanilla-flavoured sugar and that’s it. Mmmm… Mouth: ultra-clean pear spirit this time, with some aniseed in the background. Develops more on tangerine liqueur… This one should take ice like a charm later in summer! Finish: medium long, not complex but wonderfully fresh. One may try to sprinkle a fruit salad with this, or even drink it with Perrier (don’t shoot!) Comments: simple pleasures are the best ones. SGP:720 – 84 points.
Glendullan 14 yo 1993/2007 (46%, Murray McDavid for Malts&More, Bourbon/Rioja Tempranillo, cask #05/0052 no.4, 493 bottles) Colour: apricot/salmony. Nose: as often, the wine brought some smoky and flinty notes to the youthful spirit, as well as a grassiness that may come from (relatively) fresh oak that’s not been heavily charred or toasted. To cut a long story short, take the desert we just had and add raspberries plus a little mint, or even chervil. A little sulphur in the background (struck matches). Mouth: exactly the same happens on the palate, it’s the 1996 plus raspberries, pepper and a faint rubber-like bitterness. Gets kind of fizzy (orange soda). Finish: medium long, clean, fruity, with less of the rubber. Comments: these faint sulphury notes are not disturbing and the rest is beautifully fresh. Same usage as the 1996 would be suggested. SGP:731 – 84 points (-2 for the faint sulphur, +2 for the raspberries ;-)).
Glendullan 12 yo 1996/2008 (58.2%, Cadenhead, bourbon hogshead, 252 bottles) Colour: white wine. Nose: vanilla crème at cask strength! Plus nutmeg and cinnamon… The spirit hasn’t much to say here, but water should help. With water: indeed, we’re extremely close to the NC2 now. Let’s say it’s almost the same whisky. Hints of leather. Mouth (neat): rich, creamy, all on vanilla but also on oranges and gooseberries. More expressive than on the nose, as almost always with high-strength whiskies. With water: once again, it got very good, clean, rich, creamy, almost as thick as a liqueur but also as fruity as a… fruit liqueur. Finish: medium long, crisp, fruity, clean. Comments: we’re obviously in the very same category as above. One more point for the extra 12% vol. (let’s not be cheap!) SGP:720 - 85 points.

MUSIC – Recommended listening: Canada's Paper Moon doing a cover of Hot Little Rocket's "Down With Safe". Very good, let's buy Paper Moon's music!

Paper Moon
 

April 28, 2009


PETE McPEAT AND JACK WASHBACK
 
(with thanks to Olivier)
 
TASTING – SIX GLENCADAM
Glencadam
Glencadam 10 yo (46%, OB, +/-2008) “The Rather Delicate Highland Single Malt”, states the label. Colour: white wine. Nose: well, this is a typical ultra-clean, ultra-fresh half-fruity, half-grainy young whisky, with faint whiffs of coal smoke and a slight waxiness (more paraffin). A lot of apple juice topped with a little limejuice. Not mindboggling but most pleasant so far. Mouth: as clean, crisp and fresh as on the nose, with an excellent body. Uncomplicated but assertive. Lemon, strawberries and tangerines with some candy sugar and a little honey. Good stuff. Finish: rather long, on the same notes. This is no dissonant malt whisky! Comments: like them clean and fruity but not immature? This one is for you. SGP:531 – 84 points.
Glencadam 15 yo (46%, OB, +/-2008) A new livery for the 15, it’s true that the former one was quite strange. Jim McEwan used to say this 15 was his favourite malt, after Bruichladdich of course (err, probably!) Colour: straw. Nose: it’s not that often than a 15 is a 10+5 years, if you see what I mean. Yeah, well, I mean that this one noses exactly like the 10 with five extra-years, that is to say with more vanilla, more spices (soft ones here) and a more refined fruitiness (added ripe strawberries here). The rest is similar (apples, lemon, wax, smoke.) Very nice. Mouth: exactly the same happens on the palate, all flavours playing louder this time. That means that it’s big whisky, full flavoured, interestingly citrusy and getting maybe just a tad too grassy/dry after a while. Quite some vanilla. Gets then funnily medicinal (no Laphroaig though), a tad camphory. Eucalyptus drops. Finish: long, still very zesty. Comments: more complexity in this one, a very entertaining profile. We like this one a lot, and it’s rather fairly priced. SGP:641 - 87 points.
Glencadam 25 yo 1983/2008 (46%, OB, decanter, cask #1002) Colour: deep amber. Nose: this is obviously another league, even if the slightly lemony notes that we had in the others are well here. The rest is quite symphonic, on all things ‘old’ and ‘preciously woody’. Fantastic notes of dry sherry, old furniture, wax polish, leather, walnuts, cured ham, whiffs of tarmac/’good’ sulphur, prunes, raisins, chocolate, lovage, parsley… A total classic, perfectly balanced sherried whisky that reminds us of many older versions of Macallan. ‘More classical, you die’ would say Arthur – but these ‘good’ sulphury notes never stop getting bigger. Mouth: starts like a classic, assertively and on full sherry but the same kinds of citrusy notes as in the 10 and 15 enter the dance after that, growing bigger and bigger just before a true herbal explosion, with wonderful notes of verbena liqueur, genepy (European alpine liqueur) and various herbal teas. I think I never had that much genepy (okay, make that ouzo or pastis if you don’t know genepy) in a malt whisky. Finish: long, even more on genepy (resp. ouzo, pastis, raki, absinth, whatever….) Comments: a great nose but maybe not enough ‘idiosynchracy’ there, and a very unusual and most spectacular palate. Not for malt lovers who hate any forms of sulphur, that is… SGP:561 - 89 points.
Glencadam 16 yo 1991 (46%, Milroy's, Single & Single Collection, +/-2008) Colour: straw. Nose: another very fresh and very clean Glencadam but this time it’s maybe too clean, displaying only a few mineral, grassy and ashy notes for a start, and developing on the same kind of fruitiness as in the 15yo, only a little simpler and less expressive. Very nice, though… Mouth: once again, we’re very close to the OBs. Big fruitiness, a lot of apple juice and quite some strawberries. Maybe a tad simpler once again, less polished. Finish: long, fruity, youthfull, ending on bubblegum and black pepper. Comments: a good dram. I didn’t quite like it when I first tried it (100% blind) but I think it benefited from a little breathing. SGP:631 - 82 points.
Glencadam 34 yo 1974 (50.2%, Exclusive Malts, sherry cask #2179, 2008) Colour: full gold. Nose: this one has something that reminds us of the official 25/1983 but everything is toned down a bit here. A little more figs and dates but less of the rest, especially the herbs (parsley and such). Less sulphur as well but there is some left. Let’s see if water will make it bigger. With water: ho-ho, here come the parsley and lovage and here comes the… sulphur and leather. Not offensive at all, though. Still a bit under then 1983 OB globally. Mouth (neat): more directly expressive than on the nose, now water need here it seems. The attack is both very spicy (chilli peppers) and very fruity (truckloads of sultanas), the whole developing more on orange syrup and jam, orange blossom honey and some zesty fruits as well (tangerines, maybe very ripe mangos.) Not extremely complex but extremely sippable, I’d say. Finish: long, creamy, rich, fruity and perfectly balanced. Very discreet oakiness. Comments: once again, a very good Glencadam, offering a lot of pleasure. SGP:541 - 87 points.
Glencadam 19 yo 1989/2008 (57.6%, Signatory, sherry butt, cask #6018, 575 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: probably the shier of them all, but that’s probably the high strength. Vanilla-infused vodka. No changes over time. With water: that made the oakiness come out, as well as notes of butter and melon. Baked pears. Very different from the previous five. Mouth (neat): much more expressive than on the nose when undiluted, starting on a lot of orange squash, orange drops, tinned pineapples and very ripe melons. Yes, this is very fruity, too bad there’s something just a tad metallic in the background (silver spoon). With water: fresh, uberfruity and extremely young, as if it was ten years old – max! Not a first fill sherry cask, obviously. Finish: long, on pears and pears (and pears). Comments: not a bad dram for sure, but it’s not quite mature at 19 years of age in our view. Other than that, it’s pretty flawless. SGP:531 - 78 points.

MUSIC – Recommended listening: the wonderful late Nino Ferrer going brasilian just like anybody was at the time - but better, with La Rua Madureira (1969). Please buy Nino Ferrer's works...

Nino Ferrer
 

April 24, 2009


TASTING - THIRTY-FIVE JAPANESE WHISKIES

It's Limburg this week-end, so no posts until Monday, or maybe Tuesday, except possibly a few Tweets (or maybe not, we'll see!). In the mean time, let me unload a bunch of older 'Japanese' sessions. I believe all have been previously published on Nonjatta, Chris' ultimate website about Japanese whiskies, where you'll find detailed information about all these whiskies and distilleries. Oh, and before you ask, of course we haven't tried all 35 whiskies in a row, but in separate sessions. And now, let's all sing, "Schnapps, das war sein letztes Wort, Da trugen ihn die englein fort, Schnapps das war..." See you! - S.

 

FOUR NIKKAS ‘PURE MALT’

Nikka
Nikka Taketsuru 12 yo (40%, OB, pure malt, +/-2008) A pure malt named in honour of Nikka's founder. We already tried the 17 (80) and the 21, that we liked quite a lot (85). Colour: gold. Nose: this is very floral and fruity and really reminds me of the Balvenie 10yo. Apple pie, plum jam, dandelions, nectar, vanilla crème and cappuccino. Very good presence and a very clean profile, with very soft tannins in the background. Mouth: very, very sweet attack on, well, sweetened apple juice and nutmeg, with more malty notes and cereals after that. Gets then more on roasted nuts and butterscotch, with an amusing salty touch. Not really big nor complex but highly sippable. Finish: medium-long, all on vanilla cookies and apple pie topped with a few grains of salt. Comments: warning, this is good and highly drinkable. Remember, no refills! SGP:621 – 80 points.
Nikka Pure malt 'Red' (43%, OB, batch #02H22C, +/-2002) Colour: gold. Nose: there’s more peat than in the Taketsuru, but we wouldn’t say this is peaty whisky. Rather grassy but not too much, malty but not too much, fruity (oranges, marmalade, quinces) but not too much… We’re getting closer to the Taketsuru after a while, with delicate floral notes (yellow flowers) but… Not too much. Keyword: balance. Mouth: once again, this is bigger whisky than the Taketsuru, but also less smooth and less directly drinkable. The attack is rather punchy, all on cooked fruits and cornflakes, but it drops a bit after that. Mead and something perfumy. Baklavas? Gets then quite dry. Finish: medium-long, maltier and more caramelly, and then maybe a tad soapy in the aftertaste. Again a little salt. Comments: good balance but I think I liked both the ‘black’ and the ‘white’ versions better. This ‘red’ lacks a little more oomph on the palate in my opinion, but it’s still good, flawless malt whisky. SGP:432 – 78 points.
Nikka 21 yo (43%, OB, Pure Malt, +/-2007) Colour: gold. Nose: we’re well in the same family, but this is obviously more complex and, I must say, quite superb. Once again, we’re in Balvenie territories, with very round notes of quince pie, orange blossom water and apricot jam, the whole getting then even ‘jammier’, with notes of dried longans, figs, dates and a lot of acacia honey. Buttercream, hot brioche. Very round, very soft and very luscious. Reminds me of a Pinot Gris Vendanges Tardives from a good maker’s. Mouth: once again, this is very creamy, sweet, rounded and fruity but never ‘lumpish’. Notes of mango pie, Mirabelle jam, earl grey tea, bitter oranges marmalade… And then a rather superb spiciness, very mellow but firm. Excellent backbone. Finish: the longest so far, less sweet, spicier and even a tad peaty/peppery. Comments: very excellent, maybe one of the best vatted I had. Masterfully composed. SGP:642 - 90 points.
Super Nikka Whisky (55.5%, OB, pure malt, +/-2007) Colour: deep gold. Nose: more power, more oak, more vanilla and more grassy notes than in its ‘colleagues’, but that may come from the higher strength. More bourbonny for sure and a tad plankish, but I’m sure water will help mucho. With water: ah yes, this one swims like a champ. More phenols, whiffs of hashish, camphor and tiger balm… And then it gets very dry and grassy, in a pleasant way. Very good spiciness (nutmeg). Mouth (neat): good stuff but both the alcohol and the oak sort of block any other flavours that may, or may not be there. A little viscous. With water: once again, that worked, even if it does get a little ‘regular’ in style this time. Good oak, good vanilla, good green bananas and good hints of coconut liqueur (no brands!) It’s only after a good ten minutes that it starts to develop more towards ‘funny’ herbal notes. Sorrel? ;-) Finish: long, ‘modern’, ‘normal’. Sweet vanilla and soft tannins. Comments: an interesting whisky, that goes through unusual notes but ends up being rather, err, ‘regular’. That is to say ‘modern’. Oh well, I’m sure you see what I mean. SGP:551 – 84 points.
 
FIVE BLENDS FROM NIKKA’S
Nikka 'The Blend' (40%, OB, +/-2008) They wrote ‘Malt Base Whisky’ on the label… Doesn’t that precisely mean ‘Blended Whisky’? Colour: gold. Nose: rather spirity, pretty malty and a tad cardboardy, with also whiffs of warm paraffin and olive oil. Very little fruitiness, a rather austere profile. Not unpleasant I must say, and certainly not ‘commercial’. Mouth: rather dry, not really weak at the attack but a little too cardboardy. Good proportion of peated malt it seems, and even a little salt, but that’s not enough to lift this one to recommendable levels, even if this is certainly not undrinkable. Actually, it does improve over time, gaining body and an even bigger peatiness. Also a little pepper and quite some ginger. Finish: short but clean and, again, nicely peaty. Comments: a blend that reminds us of Black Bottle in a certain way – not the 10yo that is. The palate is much nicer than the nose. SGP:232 – 74 points.
Nikka 'Gold & Gold' (43%, OB, blend, +/-2008) Colour: gold. Nose: we’re close to the ‘Blend’, only even drier and a little maltier. Hints of beer and soft spices (ginger, cumin). Just as austere, but these whiskies are probably not made for deep nosing. Mouth: not very big at the attack but rounder and creamier than the ‘Blend’. Notes of beer again (gueuze, fruit flavoured Belgian beer), marzipan, quite some malt and the same kind of salty peatiness as in the ‘Blend’. Really warms up after a few minutes. Hints of kirsch. Finish: medium-long, maybe just a tad too sugary but the peatiness blends well with soft spices and something slightly ‘oriental’ (orange blossom water). Aftertaste a tad too spirity. Comments: a blend of good quality. SGP:342 - 76 points. Nikka
Nikka Nikka 'Kingsland' (43%, OB, +/-2008) What a ‘beautiful’ N°5-alike bottle! Colour: gold. Nose: once again, we’re close on the nose but this is a little bigger and certainly smokier. Also quite grassier… A higher proportion of malt whisky, probably. Hints of bananas skin. Mouth: similar to the ‘Gold & Gold’. Mouth feel a little oilier. The whole is a tad more candied and rich, and there are also more spices. Reminds me a little of some ginger liqueur I tried once – well, of its good side, because. Finish: medium-long, even more gingery and sweet. Comments: another good one, with quite some personality. The sweetest so far, a little less peaty as well. SGP:441 – 76 points.
Nikka Nikka 'Super' (43%, OB, +/-2008) These bottles with very long necks are very clever as even when the level goes down a bit because of evaporation, the contact surface with air remains very small. Colour: gold. Nose: ah, this is much more expressive than the ‘Blend’, ‘Gold & Gold’ and ‘Kingsland’. Much more honeyed and fruity (dried figs), with also the same kind of waxiness. Also a little cardboard but the overall profile is very enjoyable. Gets smoky. Quality blended whisky. Mouth: pretty much the same as the Kingsland’s, only a little smoother at the attack, and a little grassier after that. Finish: maybe a little shortish but clean. Spicy baklavas. Comments: a good blend. SGP:341 – 75 points.
The Blend of Nikka 17 yo (45%, OB, circa 2007) Colour: gold. Nose: now we’re really talking. There’s peat, there’s a whole basket of fruits, there’s a rather beautiful spiciness (nutmeg, cumin, dried cardamom) and then a long development on coastal notes and pineapples. An unusual combo that works very well. Much more in malt whisky territory. And keeps improving! On par with the best Hibikis so far. Mouth: same feeling on the palate. Not a big bodied whisky but everything is there, from peat to fruits and from spices to herbs. Pineapple syrup, dried ginger, light caramel, lychees (very obvious). Tastes more and more like a spiced-up lychee and pineapple salad. Finish: long this time, balanced, lingering, spicier at this stage. More cloves. Comments: a very, very good blend that will defeat many malts. The proportion of malt whiskies must be huge. SGP:542 – 87 points. Nikka

TASTING
NIKKA’S KEY MALTS (and a grain)

These ‘Key Malts’ are sold by Nikka in small 180ml bottles, all at 55% vol., as components for blends that you can then assemble yourself. They are available at the company’s famous ‘Nikka Blender’s Bar’ in Tokyo, and each is marked with two main adjectives that are supposed to characterise them. I think it’s a very clever idea, but let’s not take chances and just try each separately for now, without any water for once.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky 12 yo 'Woody & Mellow' (55%, OB) Colour: gold. Nose: typical grain whisky from a rather active casks. Loads of vanilla and coconuts, the whole being still quite soft and very rounded. Distinct whiffs of plain oak (sawdust, roasted nuts) and hints of yellow flowers. Mouth: rich, smooth, extremely coconutty and vanilled, developing on ripe bananas. It’s probably quite simple but we can really see how this will be a perfect ‘rounding base’ for any blend. Finish: not very long but in keeping with the palate, with soft, silky tannins. Comments: again, we’re not into grain whisky but what’s sure is that this is faultless. SGP:520 – 80 points.
Nikka Key Malt Miyagikyo 12 yo 'Soft & Dry' (55%, OB) Colour: pale gold. Nose: very expressive but very malty and grainy, with big notes of bakers’ yeast, bread, soaked grains, yoghurt and vanilla crème. Hints of chicken bouillon as well – and, believe it or not, warm sake (very particular yeastiness.) Mouth: well, it’s not that dry I must say, rather fruity at first sips (apple juice), but it does get yeastier and more porridgy indeed after a few seconds. Big maltiness as well, notes of lager beer this time, sake again (yeah, sure!)… Finish: rather long, on a 50/50 mixture of beer and cider. Comments: I don’t think this is very pleasant as such but it may bring a good structure and a certain ‘assertiveness’ to a blend. In other words, an ‘anti-grain’ component. SGP:261 – 75 points.
Nikka Key Malt Yoichi 12 yo 'Woody & Vanilla' (55%, OB) Colour: pale amber. Nose: much more bourbonny but not only bourbonny. A lot of vanilla as ‘promised’ but also black tea, apple juice, stout (right, Guinness), cocoa powder (bitter) and not too ripe bananas. Goes beyond a simple bourbon bomb. Mouth: rich indeed, vanilled indeed, and woody indeed. Very woody in fact, the spirit having extracted loads of spicy components from the wood. Lactones, ginger, tannins (very tea-ish), white pepper, over-infused tea… Was that new oak? Finish: not long but pretty tannic. Comments: another one that really tastes like a ‘component’ and not like a ‘complete’ whisky. But it’s good! SGP:461 – 78 points.
Nikka Key Malt Miyagikyo 12 yo 'Fruity & Rich' (55%, OB) Colour: gold. Nose: this one is, indeed, much fruitier, starting on cider apples and gooseberries but developing more on melons (big aromas) and butter pears. Hints of rum in the background (molasses, candy sugar). We’re rather close to Speyside here. Mouth: very smooth, fruity and rich indeed. The melons are back – and big time. Actually, this tastes like new-wood-matured melon eau-de-vie. Well, ‘probably’, as I’m not sure anybody has ever tried to produce such an oddity (I may try one day, when melons will be on sale). Finish: medium long and now really liqueur-like. Comments: the fruitier and ‘richer’ of all fruity and rich whiskies, but don’t expect anything else. SGP:740 – 80 points.
Nikka Key Malt Yoichi 12 yo 'Sherry & Sweet' (55%, OB) Colour: full amber. Nose: classic sherry, totally flawless. Chocolate, raisins, ham, toffee, coffee, prunes and strawberry jam. The chocolaty notes start to dominate a bit after a few minutes. Mouth: big and much to my liking, even if this isn’t properly a complex whisky. Same flavours as on the nose, minus the meaty notes (no ham and such here). Very slight rubber. Finish: longer than its colleagues. Strawberry liqueur and Armagnac. Comments: once again, one can really ‘feel’ how this would make for a perfect component for a blend, but it’s also a very good malt whisky as such. SGP:631 – 84 points.
Nikka Key Malt Yoichi 12 yo 'Peaty & Salty' (55%, OB) Colour: pale amber. Nose: typical ‘Japanese’ peatiness, a combination of straight peat smoke, bitter oranges and polished leather. Very rich and very engaging. Develops more towards smoked fish and seashells, with also quite some spices (nutmeg and grated ginger). Gets finally pleasantly earthy. Compact and very flawless. Mouth: explosively ‘Islay’ I must say. Big peat (even if it’s probably not a ‘peat monster’), salt, orange marmalade, orange drops (and even icing sugar), Virginia tobacco, candy sugar. Once again, this is balanced and flawless. Finish: medium-long and rather citrusy and salty. And a little rooty/earthy. Comments: another one that would certainly stand on its feet alone. SGP:356 – 85 points.
I’m sure you’re now wondering whether we’ll try and do a vatting of these or not, aren’t you! The answer is yes, but we won’t toy for hours with our samples and rather compose one single vatting, which will consist in 7 parts: 2 parts Coffey grain and 1 part of each of the five ‘Key Malts’. What’s very handy is that as all components are proposed at 55% vol., it won’t be a nightmare to try to calculate the average strength of our vatting ;-).
Nikka
Serge’s Nikka Vatting ‘2-1-1-1-1-1’ (55% - I hope so, Private) Colour: gold. Nose: hey, cool! Something a little ‘modern’, in the sense that there’s obviously much oak, vanilla, lactones, coconut, ginger and so on, but also a rather wide range of ‘secondary’ notes. Leather, bananas, apple peeling, tea, a little peat smoke… As expected, the rather raw yeasty and malty/grainy notes that were in some components have been absorbed by the oakiness – or so it seems – or maybe just covered. Mouth: wow, the peat is much bigger on the palate, and dominates the woody vanilla this time. So much so that this is still a very peaty whisky (say, thrice as peaty as a current Highland Park). Other than that, we have quite some ginger, green tea, mocha, a little blackberry jam, fudge, hints of chilli… All that is very good, very good. Finish: certainly longer than any of the components. I didn’t know that blending could stretch a whisky’s finish. Comments: I’m so proud of myself! Imagine, a whisky that I created myself!… I’m feeling a bit like God now… Ok, agreed, let’s cut the crap, this isn’t funny. SGP:455 – 87 points (honest) (with heartfelt thanks to Bert V.)
Coffey

TWO COFFEY GRAINS BY NIKKA

Nikka Coffey Grain 1992/2007 (57%, OB, cask #116333, Warehouse #20) Beginners may not know that ‘Coffey Grain’ and ‘coffee bean’ aren’t sort of the same thing. Coffey grain is grain whisky distilled in so called ‘Coffey stills’, named after Mr Aneas Coffey, an Irishman who invented this kind of continuous still around 1830. Colour: gold. Nose: huuuge notes of vanilla and coconuts, then white chocolate, cut grass and nutmeg, with a faint soapiness. Needs water, so with water: less aggressive but not really more complex. Maybe a little more gingery and almondy, with also a little menthol. Mint-flavoured marzipan? Mouth (neat): hot and extremely fruity and vanilled. Litres of coconut liqueur and quite some soft spices plus a little salt (straight from the oak). Good but rather monodimensional, just as many grain whiskies in our opinion. With water: the tannins come out, together with quite some pepper and kind of a grittiness. Finish: medium-long, sweet. Ginger, vanilla, coconut, tannins, white pepper. Comments: it’s pleasant and flawless spirit but I find most of these grain whiskies a little boring, with the oak doing all the work. Yawn… SGP:530 - 79 points.
Nikka 12yo '70th Anniversary' (58%, OB, Single Coffey Grain, Bottled +/- 2008) From a 4-set that includes four 12yos (Yoichi, Miyagikyo, Coffey Grain, Blend,). Colour: gold. Nose: rather different from the 1992. Less rounded and less ‘directly’ vanilled but rather more spirity, with also fairly strange whiffs of sweat (locker room after a rugby game – on second thought, not quite). Also hints of blood oranges and something like lychee liqueur (we already had lychees in several Nikka blends). Ginger. It’s a little bizarre, let’s add water now. With water: cleaner but once again, not really more complex. A lot of marzipan, just like in the 1992. More honey and putty as well as what the Berbers call ‘hamlou’ (almonds, honey and argan oil mixed together). Mouth (neat): almost the same whisky as the 1992 when undiluted. Hard to pick up any differences, so let’s add water right away. With water: same. Sweet wood extracts… Mashed chestnuts. Finish: same. Comments: once again, it’s very good spirit, perfectly made, but we’re not into grain, many taste the same, it’s a bit boring, blah blah blah… I’m sorry. SGP:530 - 79 points.
Miyagikyo

TWO MIYAGIKYO

Miyagikyo 1989/2007 (60%, OB for LMdW, cask #105419, Warehouse #20) Colour: amber - apricot. Nose: what strikes first is a rather marvellous smokiness. Peat of course but also exotic woods such as eucalyptus and even pinewood smoke. This big smokiness never disappears and is only complemented with whiffs of earl grey tea, orange marmalade, furniture polish, cigar box and beeswax. It is a superb nose, even at such high strength. With water: it gets both fruitier and meatier. Say cured ham with pineapple slices. More wax and leather as well. Mouth (neat): heavy, immensely concentrated, starting all on plum spirit (zwetchke – sweet purple plum) with hints of Chinese anise and cinnamon. An unusual kind of spiciness. Gets then just a tad winey but never too much. Water may be needed more than on the nose. With water: the oak comes through now, the whole losing its ‘vividness’ a bit. Actually, water did not work too well here. Finish: long but a little too tannic and drying. Comments: great nose, both when neat and reduced, and great palate when neat, but the palate gets quite disappointing when diluted. Too bad, I had the feeling this one would go over 90 points. SGP:465 - 87 points.
Miyagikyo 1986/2008 (63%, OB, cask #80283, Warehouse #23) Colour: gold. Nose: as superb as the 1989 at first sniffs, maybe even more so. More straight peat, very ‘wet’ (garden bonfire with wet grass) and a lot of lemon balm, lime, crystallised oranges and hints of passion fruits. Great nose at 63%! With water: oh, this is very strange. Gets kind of ‘pleasantly rotten’, on notes of well-hung game, gunpowder, even mud… Strange but nice, even if a tad ‘perverse’. So much for a friend who was telling me that Japanese whiskies were ‘lab whiskies.’ Mouth (neat): ultra-strong but funnily enough, this is ‘swallowable’ as it does not really burn. Very rich but straighter than the 1989 again, with a big smokiness and a very special association of citrus fruits and very aromatic fruits such as ripe raspberries and even rose-flavoured sweets (or high-quality Turkish delights). With water: gets drier but very pleasantly so this time. More bitter chocolate, un-sugared herbal tea and plain tea, notes of cough syrup, peppermint… And always a lot of peat. Finish: long, maybe a little simpler than expected because of the rather heavy woodiness but very clean and very peaty (and quite salty). Comments: a big, concentrated dram that stands water perfectly well this time. At 63%, it’ll make for two bottles for the price of one - almost. SGP:566 - 89 points.
And also Miyagikyo 10 yo (45%, OB, +/-2008) Nose: fragrant and very oaky, with a lot of vanilla and hints of star anise, orange blossom water and bitter oranges. Very expressive. Mouth: very expressive as well, with a lot of oak again, notes of black tea and chewed Havana cigar. Also hints of morels and dark chocolate. A very unusual malt – and very interesting. 84 points.
 

FIVE PEATY YOICHIS

Yoichi
Yoichi 1987/2005 (49%, OB, Peated, cask #254816, Warehouse #3) Colour: pale gold. Nose: starts very meaty, on lovage and ham with notes of veal cooked in butter, even a tad acetic (wine vinegar). A lot of bacon too (the ferry to Islay at 8 in the morning – hard for continental stomachs!) The good news is that all this gets cleaner and purer after a few minutes, much more on crystal-clean peat, lemon juice and white pepper with faint whiffs of incense and sandalwood. Very, very discreet notes of horse manure. Very nice nose but nothing too wild here, even if it gets both fruitier and cheesier after a good twenty minutes. Mouth: a very compact attack, all focused on Seville oranges and peat. More citrus fruits after that (slight fizziness) and more herbs, with hints of coriander and parsley. Good development on crystallised ginger and Szechuan pepper, with a return on crystallised oranges. Very balanced peat. Finish: long, half-round, half-wild, with added notes of chewed cigar. Comments: maybe not total magic but very, very good. Perfect balance peat/wood that create a most pleasant spiciness. SGP:455 - 87 points.
Yoichi 1987/2007 (55%, OB, 2000 bottles) This one won the 2008 World Whisky Awards prize for the best single malt whisky in the world, it was about time we decided to try it! Rumours say that there’s been subsequent bottlings after the Award but no idea if this is true, even if we did see at least two different labels for this one. This sample was gathered early in 2008 so it should be the original version. Colour: gold. Nose: straight peat smoke and mocha at first nosing, then more Virginia tobacco, old wooden furniture, burning beeswax (candle), new tyre and new leather jacket. Hints of smoked tea as well (lapsang soochong) and just a little seawater. Very nice, rather compact. With water: more of the same, with even bigger notes of newly tanned leather but otherwise no further development. Actually, it falls down a bit after a few minutes, really losing steam. Mouth (neat): we’re more or less in the same category as the other 1987, only more aggressive and lemony. Notes of limoncello and a little nutmeg. With water: now it got really, really good. Perfect balance between the peat, the spices, the dried fruits and the various other phenolic notes. Quite some buttered caramel. Finish: long, getting a tad grassy and drying now. Comments: very good Yoichi (of course) but some parts are nicer than others. What’s sure is that there are better Yoichis – in our book! SGP:364 - 85 points.
Yoichi 1986/2008 (59%, OB, cask #112112, Warehouse #15) Colour: pale amber. Nose: starts a tad meatier again, closer to the single cask version of the 1987s, and just like it, gets then much sharper and ‘crystal clean’. Big notes of vanilla and lactones (a little too bourbonny here), then cinchona, ginger tonic, leather, moist tobacco and wet earth. The most organic version so far. Also hints of bubblegum and strawberry sweets. With water: much more development than with the 1987. Vanilla and lemon crème, fermenting hay, horse manure again... Nice nose, a lot of smoke and something medicinal after a while. Hospital. Mouth (neat): hot, peaty, earthy, minty and peppery, with also quite some orange marmalade and just hints of cough medicine (something ‘paraffiny’). With water: added notes of bitter oranges and gentian but other than that, no changes. Finish: rather long, gingerier and mintier now. Comments: another one that’s very good. There’s no bad single cask or small batch Yoichi anyway! SGP:365 - 85 points.
Yoichi 1991/2007 (62%, OB, cask #129493, Warehouse #15) Colour: amber. Nose: really straighter, more vivid and more ‘mineral’ peat smoke. The driest and the most austere of all, but maybe that’s because of the very high strength, so let’s add water right away. With water: big fruits and big peat, an excellent combo, well above the 1986 and 1987s in my opinion. Superb waxiness and leafiness, notes of marzipan-filled dates, fresh putty, macadamia oil, limejuice… A great nose no doubt. Mouth (neat): big very punchy and very similar too its siblings. Maybe a tad grassier and bitterer but once again, water is obligatory. With water: oh yes, the best so far, no doubt. Straight ‘coastal’ peat, fresh nuts (almonds, walnuts), lemon zests, coriander, cardamom, sage, green pepper, heart of palm… Totally excellent. Finish: long, a tad sweeter and rounder now. A little mind in the aftertaste. Comments: goody-good! My favourite so far and by far. It seems that they increased the peat levels at Yoichi’s between 1987 and 1991 (but I may be way off the marks here). SGP:467 - 90 points.
Yoichi 1987/2006 (63%, OB, LMdW, cask #113200, Warehouse #15) Colour: pale amber. Nose: certainly the most ‘Ileach’ of all five at first nosing, and the most ‘caramelly’ as well. Quite some sulphur. But again, that may come from the very high alcohol, so with water: once again, we aren’t too far from the last distillery on Kildalton road here. Peaty, tarry, fruity (cider apples, lemons) and the most coastal of them all (seashells). Hints of paraffin. Mouth (neat): maybe the better balanced despite its high strength – or so it seems. Very spectacular notes of ‘earthy leather’, with a very nice bitterness. With water: again and again, we’re on Islay, with big tarry and liquoricy notes mixed with apple compote and quite some salt. On second thought, we may be on Skye. Finish: very long, with more pepper. Comments: a big, wild Yoichi, maybe less ‘crafted’ and ‘engineered’ that its siblings. Maybe this style has something to do with a different set-up of the stills, maybe the excellent Chris at Nonjatta’s has the answer… SGP:646 - 88 points.
Kariuizawa

KARUIZAWA ‘92+’91+’86

Karuizawa 1992/2007 (61.5%, Number One Drinks Company, American oak/Sherry Butt, cask#3330, 430 bottles) Colour: amber. Nose: hot and maybe a tad lactic at first nosing, with the sherry being quite obvious but not raisiny or chocolaty at all. A little raw and spirity, hints of ale. Water should help: ah it got sort of richer, more candied and much more on crystallised oranges and honey. Huge notes of fino sherry (notes of ‘yellow’). Water really works here. Mouth (neat): extremely rich, hot and concentrated. Same notes of ale as on the nose, peat, curry, plum spirit (good slivovitz), dried ginger… Rather explosive I must say. Quick, water: right, it’s the smokiness that comes out now, together with notes of date arrak, dried longans, oranges and even very strong coffee (ristretto). This one really needed water! Finish: long, on coffee beans and bitter chocolate, which is very far from our first impressions on the nose. Ginger. Comments: I had this one at 83 before but probably didn’t give it enough time. What’s more, water did wonders on it. SGP:553 - 85 points.
Karuizawa 1991/2007 (62.5%, OB, cask #3318) Colour: full gold. Nose: once again, this is very hot, a little more on the leafy/earthy/mineral side. Whiffs of crushed almonds and then a sudden ‘bubblegummy burst’, with the odd winey notes. With water: the bubblegum disappeared but the rest didn’t. Very nice earthiness and notes of figs. Are figs one of Karuizawa’s markers? Mouth (neat): very hot once again and a profile that’s closer to the 1992’s at this point. Plum spirit and truckloads of spices from the oak. ‘Ouch’ (err…) With water: it doesn’t seem to get any more complex this time, as if alcohol had anaesthesised it for good. But it’s still very good. Finish: long, still a little simple and all on figs and ‘oaky’ spices. Slight earthiness that grows bigger in the aftertaste. Comments: very good (especially this earthiness) but not the best. SGP:452 - 84 points.
Karuizawa 1986/2008 (60.7%, OB, cask #7387) Colour: amber. Nose: once again, it’s hot whisky but the notes of old walnut liqueur, brown coal and tarry rope are superb. When I first nosed this one (blind) I thought it was an old Hakushu. With water: superb. Same profile, with a little more mint and sandalwood. The one that’s probably the most ‘Japanese’ in style. Mouth (neat): sweet, rounder and better integrated than the youngsters. Everything is big but everything is mellower. Vanilla, ginger, fruit spirit and orange marmalade. With water: absolutely excellent. Peat, salt, spices, liquorice and gentian. Finish: long, more vegetal now, with notes of lemon and pepper. We’re close to the Scottish isles here! Comments: the best of the flight, luv’ it. SGP: 454 - 90 points.
Karuizawa

KARUIZAWA ‘77+’71

Karuizawa 1977/2008 ‘Noh Whisky’ (62.8%, Number One Drinks Company for LMdW, cask #7026, 528 bottles) From a first fill sherry butt and bearing a beautiful label… ‘and I said noh, noh, noh!’. Colour: amber – brown. Nose: an explosion of raisins, fir honeydew and walnut husk, developing on tar, cigar smoke and liquorice. Actually, it’s amazing how this one smells like cigar smoke – and like plain cigars as well. Not brutal despite the very high strength but let’s add water, still. With water: stays on the same notes and it’s not even really smoother. Just a little more menthol and plain malt. Not extremely complex but ‘damn nice’ if you see what I mean. Reminds me of some old very sherried Port Ellen but with much less peat of course. Mouth (neat): extremely rich, kirschy and coffee-ish (our beloved coffee-schnapps) and pretty hot. Water is more than needed here. With water: it got sweeter, rounder (plum jam) and much more peppery (black pepper, chilli crisps), with a tarry feeling again. Big whisky for sure, lots of sensations. Finish: very long, with notes of chestnut liqueur and lapsang souchong tea and a fruity tang (gooseberries). Comments: really a big, fat (and phat), restless and imposing old sherried whisky, wilder than most old heavily sherried Scotches that we could try so far. One for the (golden) hipflask rather than for the cognac snifter? SGP:663 - 90 points.
Karuizawa 1971/2008 (64.1%, OB, cask #6878) This one won one of the five Gold at the Malt Maniacs Awards 2008. What an amazing strength at 37 years of age! Colour: amber – bronze. Nose: very hot and more on gentian eau-de-vie and very ‘ripe, dry figs’ (not rotting but quite). This should be superb but it’ll burn your nostrils as sure as 1+1=2. So, with water: loads of soft spices, ginger, sultanas, a little mint and unusual hints of Swiss cheese (gruyère – no flaw here, rather the contrary). It IS superb. Mouth (neat): ouch! As hot and heavy as a spirit can be, but not vulgar it seems… These notes of figs seem to be there, though… With water: yes, the figs are here, alongside dates, caramel fudge, a peppery peatiness, sultanas and plum jam. Simply excellent. Finish: long, maybe just a tad rough (but the 1977 was a little rough as well). Comments: yes, simply excellent. Gets even better after 30 minutes of breathing. SGP:563 - 90 points.
Karuizawa

KARUIZAWA ‘81+’88+’88

Karuizawa 'Vintage' 1981/2007 (58.1%, OB, cask #103) This one was selected by Marcin at One Drinks Company and it did extremely well at the Malt Maniacs Awards 2007, with a Gold Medal and the Top Japanese Malt Award. Colour: amber. Nose: truly powerful, starting on an immense, but truly enjoyable woodiness. Big varnishy notes, almonds and marzipan, green tea and hints of horseradish (or wasabi – Japanese indeed). Then it’s the wilderness that speaks out, with notes of humus, moss, pine needles, roots, wet dead leaves... And finally a big mint and a big eucalyptus. Oh, and our beloved dried mushrooms. It’s not really subtle whisky but the boldness and compactness are very, very enjoyable. With water: now it’s fully on dried mushrooms (boletus and these huge black Chinese ones) and Havana tobacco. Hyper-concentrated. Mouth (neat): huge, fat, punchy, heavily concentrated. ‘Good’ oak infusion, walnut skin, curry, mustard and bread crust. Goes on with cough syrup and green bananas. It’s amazing that all this oakiness remains good – I mean, excellent. With water: it’s the spices that really go out now. Pepper first, then cloves and cinnamon, then nutmeg... How big this is! Finish: very long – more of the same. One of the most muscular whiskies I had these months, no doubt. SGP:586 - 91 points.
Karuizawa 19 yo 1988/2007 (60.6%, The Whisky Fair, sherry wood, 462 bottles) Colour: amber with green hues. Nose: very similar to the 1981 but a tad more discreet and more marked by the sherry (but not by the wood) at first nosing. Maybe a little more tobacco and old leather. Great menthol as well. Gets a little beefy after a while. Hints of lovage and dried parsley. Gets really bigger after a while and maybe a little more complex than the 1981. Frankly, this is great. With water: it got more mineral, ashier, maybe a tad more austere now. Funny how it diverges from the 1981 with water. Also notes of ham. Excellent anyway. Mouth (neat): very, very close to the 1981, with maybe an extra-roundness (sultanas) and a bigger fruitiness (dried bananas, figs). It’s superb, I must say, but let’s not tempt fate and add a little water to it: it got even closer to the 1981, with maybe just a little more orangey notes and a little less spices and oak. Similar finish. Just as excellent I think, no reason to give this one a different score. SGP:676 - 91 points.
Karuizawa 19 yo 1988/2007 (58.3%, The Whisky Fair, refill sherry, 480 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: punchy but much less marked by the cask this time. Much fruitier as well (tinned pineapples), with notes of ginger and spearmint as well as a little lemon juice. Whiffs of linseed oil and cut cider apples. Starts to ‘sauvignonise’ after a moment. Excellent zing. With water: not much change here, were’s till on dry white wine, lemons and pineapples. Mouth (neat): punchy but sweet and fruity again. Pear and lemon drops, pineapple jell-O, strawberries, vanilla fudge, a little ginger again, bergamots, chamomile tea, hints of mocha... With water: gets more complex, with quite some grapefruit, ginger, cinchona, vanilla fudge, lemon pie... And then even more ginger. Quite amazing how gingery this one is. Finish: long, candied, lemony and gingery. Very good again, even if it hasn’t really got its siblings’ pretty immense stature. SGP:553 – 87 points.
Komagatake

TASTING: TWO KOMAGATAKE

According to the excellent nonjatta, Shinshu is a distillery that’s located near Suntory’s Hakushu distillery and that does not make whisky anymore. Let’s see if it’s a shame…
Shinshu Komagatake 1989/2006 (60.1%, OB, cask #616, 430 bottles, bourbon) Colour: full gold. Nose: it’s the oak that does all the job here. Huge vanilla, huge lactones, whiffs of sawdust and hints of coconut, strawberries and ginger. This one reminds us of the ‘Missouri Oak school’. We aren’t too far from grain whisky here. With water: it’s much nicer. Not any more complex but the smoothness is perfect now, with a faint maltiness. Very ‘Glenmorangie’, maybe the famous Highlands distillery had been benchmarked at some point? Mouth (neat): typical uber-sweet very oaky whisky. Exactly the same profile as on the nose when neat. Needs water again! With water: the wood really stands out now, with an unusual blend of plain cane sugar and very dry tea and spices (white pepper). A rather light distillate it seems. Finish: medium long, clean but a little indefinite. Comments: good average light whisky in a rather active cask (that won!) Maybe not much depth but it’s perfectly drinkable. SGP:431 – 77 points.
Shinshu Komagatake 1986/2006 (60.5%, OB, cask #448, 402 bottles, sherry) Colour: amber. Nose: classic mild sherriedness over a rather simple whisky, or so it seams because water is really needed. Quite some oak, oranges, cedar wood and dried coconut. With water: a bigger meatiness with a little coal smoke and whiffs of rusty iron but the whole remains a tad too simple in our opinion. Mouth (neat): concentrated sweet wine over very active oak and a shy spirit. Very hot and burning so quick, let’s add water again: it got much better! Quite some bitter chocolate, prunes, coffee and old walnuts, the oak getting then much bigger and rather drying. Finish: medium long, clean, more on strawberries, with the same kind of oakiness as in the 1989. Comments: perfectly good whisky and an unusual bourbonny background, as if this was an ex-bourbon cask that was sherry-treated; but it’s most probably not the case. SGP:441 - 80 points.
 

April 23, 2009


TASTING – THREE TOP NOTCH BLENDS
Cream Cream of Glenlivet (40%/70°proof, The Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries, 1970s) Wolverhampton & Dudley, aka Wolves, used to be a large brewer and pub operator and have been renamed Marston’s a few years ago. I didn’t find much information about this whisky, which wasn’t issued as a blend, nor as a malt, but as a ‘Special Scotch whisky’. Did that mean blend? Colour: full gold. Nose: an immediate old bottle nose, and a beautiful one, blending passion fruits and these metallic notes that can be so beautiful (‘aluminium pan’, silver polish). A faint mouldiness too, mushrooms, old leather, parsley… Quite some malt as well, roasted nuts, caramel, pine resin… A beautiful old blend for sure, with maybe something ‘Glenlivetty’ indeed. Yes, maybe!
Mouth: ooh-aah! A big, big whisky at the attack, really full flavoured, starting with tons of oranges and various cakes (including anise cookies) and going on with malty and nutty notes, just before it starts to get drier and fade out a bit, which is rather normal after all these years. A big presence anyway, and more peat than on the nose. Finish: medium long, still very malty and slightly bitter and tee-ish. Comments: an excellent surprise but I must say that often happens with old blends, whether very popular or rather obscure like this one. SGP:332 - 86 points.
Old Parr 12 yo (40%, OB, McDonald Greenless, 1970s) With the funny label that states that Thomas Parr, A.D.1483-1635, aged 152 years, was interred at Westminster Abbey. The Old Parr brand is big in South America these days (check the old Peruvian ad!) Colour: full gold. Nose: this one is completely different from the Cream of Glenlivet, much more on toffee and chocolate, with an even bigger maltiness and more smoke as well. More empyreumatic. Less old bottle effect too, but it gets a tad soapy after a while. The peat is quite obvious here. Very nice and way above a standard blend for sure. Mouth: this palate is very, very similar to the Cream of Glenlivet, only a tad maltier and more tea-ish/bitter. Traces of kumquats. Finish: rather long, in the same vein. Comments: well, no surprise here, all whisky fans know that these old Old Parrs were (and maybe are still) rather good drams (and that they tend to extend any drinker’s life, obviously, although old Thomas Parr became blind way before he passed away.) SGP: 343 - 84 points. Old Parr
Black Bull Black Bull 30 yo ‘Deluxe Blend’ (50%, Duncan Taylor, 2009) An old brand that’s been revived by Duncan Taylor. This new version is made out of 50% malt and 50% grain, the whole having been vatted at birth and then matured for thirty years in sherry casks. Colour: gold/amber. Nose: we’re much closer to the Cream of Glenlivet than to the Old Parr, although everything is bigger in this new baby, and not only the alcohol. Very pleasant whiffs of precious wood (and maybe thuja), wood varnish, then Seville oranges, a slight meatiness (ham), wet hay… Then we’re back on chocolate and coffee, before some rather sexy notes of dried bananas and coconut come through, reminding me of these old grains that Duncan Taylor issue from time to time (Invergordon 1965, anyone?) More leather and pipe tobacco after a few minutes – a rather beautiful sherry.
Mouth: rich and creamy yet rather dry at very first sips, with notes of brownies and roasted chestnuts. The orange marmalade does kick in after that, as well as some bitter caramel and liquorice. It is not a luscious old blend for the 19th hole, rather a vibrant and nervous fighter that’s much closer to malt whisky than to grain on the palate. Pleasant dryness and an oakiness that’s quite assertive (hints of pine resin). Good stuff! Finish: long and spicier now, with quite some black pepper and cloves, dark chocolate and bitter oranges. Comments: alas, I never tried the old version of Black Bull, but this new one is quite potent and, considering it’s a blend, top shelf material for sure. SGP:352 - 87 points.

MUSIC – Recommended listening: That's right, the fabulous Booker T. & The MG's doing their Green onions in 1962. Please buy Booker T. Jones' music (and all things Stax!)

Booker T MG
 

April 22, 2009


Scapa

TASTING
THREE SCAPA

Scapa 1993/2005 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, licensed bottling) Colour: white wine. Nose: starts as briny as expected, with quite some sea air, but gets then more flowery and slightly tea-ish (earl grey, with bergamot). More fresh oranges after that, a little vanilla fudge, just hints of wood smoke and finally notes of cedar wood (cigar box, or even humidor) and cinnamon. Fresh, clean and rather complex. Mouth: smooth and a tad shy at the attack, with this feeling of sugared vodka that one can sometimes find in ‘shy’ whiskies, but it does improve mucho after that. Nice notes of gingerbread and speculoos, vanilla fudge once again, sweet liquorice… Gets then a tad drying, on white pepper and cocoa powder but it’s still nice whisky. Good freshness altogether. Finish: short to medium, a little more on cold tea and fudge. Pencil. Comments: a good, inoffensive everyday dram. The soft side of the islands. SGP:341 - 80 points.
Scapa 16 yo (40%, OB, 2008) The recent new Scapa, already pretty well-known. Strange that they bottled it at a slightly stingy 40% vol. The older 14 was nicer than the previous 12, maybe this 16 will go further towards quality. Colour: full gold. Nose: we aren’t too far from the G&M as far as the style is concerned, we’re actually very close, with maybe a little more honey and more citrus fruits as well as a little white chocolate. The rest is all on sea breeze, cinnamon, yellow flowers and earl grey tea again. Hints of menthol. Light and crisp, certainly not weak – yet? Mouth: a little more oomph than in the 1993 but it’s still not big whisky. A crisp clean lemony touch, oranges, spice mix for mulled wine (star anise, cloves, cinnamon and… and… well I can’t remember just now.) Also apple compote and something clearly caramelly and roasted (well, caramelized peanuts) that reminds us of some blends. Acceptable body. Finish: medium long, with the oak kicking in, making the whole a little drying. Quite some pepper and a little salt plus a little mint. Comments: once again, good whisky with a nice personality but a little more punch would have been welcome. In the same league as the older 14yo, but the new bottle is much fancier. SGP:431 - 83 points.
Scapa 14 yo 1991/2005 (56.1%, Douglas Laing for John Scott & Miller, 303 bottles) JSM (John Scott & Miller) is a grocery store in Kirkwall. They also have their own line of Orkney whiskies, some old Highland Parks having been exquisite. Colour: white wine. Nose: as expected, this one is more a brute, more an islander than his low-strength bros. It’s much more on wet rocks, garden bonfire, fresh walnuts, kelp, rubbed lemon skin… Gets then even grassier and a tad spirity. Rougher indeed. With water: not much development I’m afraid. It gets even grassier and just a tad coffee-ish. Hints of bubblegum as well. Oh, and bacon… Strange combo. Mouth (neat): rough and perfumy attack, with notes of newmake that aren’t too… well, nice. Very spirity and without any finesse, but water will (should!) help this time. With water: creamier and much, much maltier and meatier, with something reminiscent of Mortlach. Beef jerky, dried oranges, gin fizz and honey. These are the best moments. Finish: rather long, still not quite tamed and civilised but the profile is acceptable. Peppered orange marmalade. Comments: a rather difficult Scapa in our view, but the palate is enjoyable once reduced a bit. Water is obligatory. SGP:452 - 77 points.
Stephane

STEPHANE THE MAD MALT MIXOLOGIST
proposes his malt cocktails for the Springtime

TODAY: "Samurai Sling"


Pour into a highball, with ice:
- 6 cl Karuizawa 12 y.o.
- 2 cl cherry Heering (or another cherry brandy)
- 1/2 lemon juice
Finish with Perrier and decorate with cherries or/and exotic fruits.
In memory of the excellent Singapore Sling.
Variants : substitute Karuizawa with a young japanese whisky of your choice.

MUSIC – Recommended listening: more Northaf caliente with Rachid Taha singing Ya rayah with a bunch of great musicians. Please buy Mr Taha's music...

Rachid Taha
 

April 21, 2009


Laphroaig

TASTING – ANOTHER THREE LAPHROAIGS

More and more Laphroaigs to try – we already wrote notes for +/-150 of them – and only God knows why we never get bored with these babies. Maybe it’s got something to do with quality… Signatory Vintage, among other bottlers, already showed us that 1990 and 1991 were great years at Laphroaig’s, so we have deep expectations now...
Laphroaig 17 yo 1991/2008 (52.7%, Cadenhead's, Bond Reserve, bourbon hogshead, 206 bottles) Colour: pale gold. Nose: it is a tad spirity and rubbery at first nosing (newly opened box of rubber bands), as well as weirdly bubblegummy (or a newly opened pack of Haribos this time), and never quite manages to find its way out of these rather invading notes, even if nice notes of fresh almonds and wet wood smoke do come through. Slight sourness too (overripe apples). Water may be needed here… With water: indeed! Here comes the smoke, the tar, the camphor, the sea air, the grapefruits and the tangerines. A completely different Laphroaig with water – quite superb! Mouth (neat): it is much, much more to my liking than on the nose when undiluted! Clean, crisp, on fresh notes of lemon marmalade with fresh ginger, pepper plus ‘of course’ a lot of peat and anything from the sea (weed, shells, other seafood…) Very good. With water: excellent, crisp, clean, almondy, citrusy, smoky… And a little more herbal as well. Top notch. Finish: very long, ultra-clean yet very complex and rich. Superb aftertaste on smoked marzipan or something like that. Comments: this one swims like the hidden son of Mark Spitz and Shirley Babashoff. Too bad the nose was a bit off when undiluted. SGP:548 - 89 points.
Laphroaig 18 yo 1990/2008 (56%, The Whisky Agency, bourbon hogshead, 240 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: this is much more ‘Laphroaig’, whatever that means. Actually, that means that there are no heavy rubber and no bubblegum whatsoever, rather a straight smokiness (pine wood smoke, peat smoke ‘from the kiln’) as well as notes of antiseptic (not big), almonds, lemon zests and smoked fish (make that trout for a change). With water: more of the same, with a little more wet hay and even more smoked fish, with also an added zestiness (more lemon juice). Mouth (neat): quite unusual, starting big and powerful but also sweeter than usual, with notes of dried pineapples and various fresh fruits that we didn’t get on the nose – at all. Goes on with a lot of sweetened lemon juice sprinkled over smoked fish, something slightly drying (flour, tapioca, cocoa), and finally a bigger smokiness (lapsang soochong tea). Not a classic, but very good nonetheless. With water: a big smokiness mixed with lemon zests. Somewhat dry and austere but that is pleasant. Finish: long, very dry, all on smoke, smoke, smoke and ashes. Comments: less luscious than other Laphroaigs, hence very interesting. Maybe a tad Calvinistic? SGP:258 - 89 points.
Laphroaig 12 yo 1991/2004 (59.0%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, N°.29.32, 'As good as it gets') As good as it gets? Let’s check whether that very bold statement is pure codswallop or not… Colour: full gold. Nose: all right! It’s like if this one was at least ten years older, as there are already these magnificent notes of fresh fruits (passion, tangerines) that one may find in much older expressions of Laphroaig. And kumquats, soot, coal, ripe gooseberries, smoked almonds, refined oysters (fines de claire), tincture of iodine… Epitomical, as they say. With water: wow, wow, wow! More of everything, including more elegance and a stunning leatheriness that’s only to be found in much older bottlings. A typo somewhere, for sure – stencilling of the casks, bond book, in the bottling hall, at the SMWS’ headquarters, whatever! Mouth (neat): extremely ‘full’ yet very wide, most certainly one the most medicinal of all medicinal Laphroaigs I’ve ever tasted. It’s hard to describe it as these medicinal things are usually not things that you may swallow, but I’d say that we have quite some antiseptic, bandages (gulp!), mint and eucalyptus-based balms, camphor… And mercurochrome. Enough to cure many illnesses. With water: massive! Finish: long, full, more Laphroaig than the most Laphroaig of all official Laphroaigs. Comments: of very, very, very high quality. Like we sometimes say, this is why we’re into whisky (but they should really check this typo problem at the SMWS! ;-)) SGP:558 - 93 points. (and thank you Marcel)
 
Lindores FESTIVALS: The Lindores Whisky Festival will take place in Oostende, Belgium on October 24 & 25, 2009. Once again, a great opportunity to taste rare whiskies and to meet nice people. A part of the program has already been announced and seats can be booked right now on the Lindores’ website, ‘Events’ section (Cadenhead’s white labels tasting, Lagavulin breakfast, Battle of the Springbanks and so on…) But the genuine highlights of the festival will be this…
WORLD EXCLUSIVITY:
The whisky and shrimp croquettes!

Some delicious traditional Oostende shrimp croquettes seasoned with rare whiskies such as Bowmore Bouquet, Springbank 12yo 100proof Samaroli, Laphroaig 10yo Bonfanti or, if your budget is tighter, Glenfarclas 10yo or Arbdeg Renaissance will be served during the whole festival by Super-Chef Geert Bero and Maître d'Hôtel Luc Timmermans. Luc commented: 'These won't be available as samples, so be there!' We will!

MUSIC – Recommended listening: this will surely ring a bell (oh no...), it's Pierre Henry, grandfather of electronica, 'doing' his very famous Psyche Rock in 1965 (from Messe pour le temps présent, a work for Béjart's ballets). Please buy Pierre Henry's works...

Pierre Henry
 

April 20, 2009


TASTING – FIVE OLD BUNNAHABHAIN
Bunnahabhain
Bunnahabhain 38 yo 1970/2008 (40.2%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #4075, 213 bottles) These old ‘Bunnies’ are usually very good. Colour: full gold. Nose: a full truckload of fresh fruits explodes, with thousands of ripe kiwis, green apples, tangerines and apricots crashing right under your nose. Sorry about that weird image. The oak kicks in after that wham-bam start but it’ll never manage to dominate the huge fruitiness, adding just some very nice vanilla and ginger notes as well as a little ‘all-flowers’ honey and fresh mint. It’s no complex whisky actually, but the pleasure is integral. Mouth: there is some wood in the attack, and in rather large quantities (dry tea, cherry stem tea) but the fruits do resist it and the combination works well. Once again, it’s no complex whisky but the balance is perfect. Ripe apricots and blood oranges with some white pepper, cinnamon and nutmeg as well as a little acacia honey (a light one). Finish: medium long, still beautifully balanced. Hints of Turkish delights. Ends on oranges and even papayas, with a straight oakiness remaining. Comments: simple pleasures but full pleasures – well, we don’t always need complexity, do we! SGP:641 - 89 points.
Bunnahabhain 35 yo 1973/2008 (50.1%, The Whisky Agency, refill sherry, 509 bottles) Colour: full gold. Nose: this baby is completely different from the 1970, much more austere, flinty, meaty and even kind of dirty (hints of cold cuts, probably from the sherry.) It’s only after a good ten to fifteen minutes that the fruitiness starts to develop, with the same kind of honeyness as in the 1970 (mixed wild flowers) and a faint smokiness that’s quite beautiful. Hints of gunpowder. It wouldn’t stop after that, having a ‘farmy moment’ (stable), then a coffee moment, then pastries (butter croissant, baklavas, lemon pie…), then, then, then… A wonderful nose but it takes its time. Exactly the opposite of the 1970 in that sense. Mouth: it’s more ‘direct’ than on the nose, with more fruits upfront (dried pineapples, ripe juicy apple), kind of a smokiness, orange drops and squash, then lemon balm and dill… There’s a faint dirtiness in the background (and a little rubber) but the whole works very well. Much more compact than on the nose. Finish: rather long, with a little less fruits and a little more rubber. Comments: a wonder on the nose, a very good whisky on the palate, that’s what we think. It’s astonishing that there isn’t more oak. SGP:452 - 90 points.
Bunnahabhain 34 yo 1974/2008 (59.3%, The Perfect Dram, oloroso, 300 bottles) amazing colour – and amazing strength! Colour: mahogany. Nose: full-blown oloroso but not of the clumsy/lumpy kind. Chocolate sauce (mole), Corinthian raisins, prunes and dried oranges (loads). Also hints of old Armagnac. Amazing how this one is easy to nose at such high strength, but let’s not go too far and reduce it right now. With water: whooo, now it smells just like an old wine cellar somewhere down there in Jerez. Balsamic vinegar, horse sweat, mushrooms, saltpetre, old… err, sherry! Either you like this, or you don’t. I do but maybe a wine background is really needed here. Mouth (neat): starts very, very flinty, getting aggressive because of the very high strength. Water needed! With water: a very pleasant prickliness (lemon, not too ripe kiwis), quite unexpected, then these leathery notes, walnuts again, ‘acidic’ coffee (un-sugared of course)… Once again, a bit ‘like it or not’ but it’s quite spectacular. Finish: rather long, even more leathery, getting finally completely dry – but never drying. Bitter chocolate. Comments: an old sherry monster that wasn’t made in the lab, if you see what I mean. SGP:262 - 91 points.
Bunnahabhain 32 yo 1976/2008 (55.7%, The Whisky Agency, fino sherry, 300 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: as expected, this one is much drier, more austere and grassier than its siblings, probably thanks to the fino. Fairly big notes of fresh walnuts, leaves, tea, shoe polish… With water: it got sort of fruitier, but also maybe simpler, as if water closed it down. Not a good swimmer? Mouth (neat): ah yes, this works wonderfully now! Superb complexity right from the start, even if the whole is rather super-dry. Pu-erh tea, walnuts (of course), mushrooms (morels – not kidding), oatcake, liquorice, very old comté cheese (there is quite some salt!), balsamic vinegar and just hints of old rancio. Seville oranges. It’s a little unusual actually but much to our liking. Much closer to Jerez in style than some other ‘sherry’ whiskies and a beautiful sourness. With water (even if water may well not be needed here): well, not much improvement. Pass. Finish: long, with more fruits now, which is funny. Pomegranates, cranberries and such. Comments: this Bunny is a problem. The strength is high but it doesn’t seem to swim too well. Bah… SGP:361 - 89 points.
Bunnahabhain 1978/2008 (50%, Samaroli, Coiltean, sherry butt, cask #7224) Colour: white wine. Nose: this one is a much rougher and rawer version of Bunnahabhain, quite different from earlier distillates. We’re much more on butter, fermenting hay, overripe apples, green tea and lemon balm. It’s not that it isn’t nice whisky, but the others were clearly in a different category as far as I can tell. With water: no luck. Mouth (neat): once again, this is so much simpler than all the other ones. Grainy, grassy, flinty… It’s not bad of course, it’s just very simple without the ‘explosive temperament’ that the 1970 had. With water: gets cardboardy. Finish: ditto. Comments: not the best version of an old Bunnahabhain in our opinion but it’s also true that it came after quite some stunners. And it’s no flawed whisky of course! SGP:251 - 78 points. 2010 update: this was in fact bottled at 45% ABV. (thanks Oliver)
 

CD REVIEW by MM's Luca Chichizola
DEPECHE MODE - SOUNDS OF THE UNIVERSE
(Mute Records / EMI)

SOTU
You know you are in trouble when a band opens their new album with the same irritating and dissonant screeching noise for the third time in their career. Songs of faith and devotion used this device to instantly grab attention on “I feel you”, as a desperate scream of help and a warning as if to say “we have changed, we no longer are synth pop idols, we have become loud and aggressive rock devils”. 2005’s Playing the angel used the same trick (possibly even louder and to a more arresting effect) for the opening track “A pain that I’m used to”, as a symbol of how back on the saddle Depeche Mode were, of how boldly and aggressively, full of renewed confidence, they were ready to kick ass once again after the very atmospheric but subdued Exciter.
Sounds of the Universe, once again, starts with 80 seconds of electronic distorted noise. Granted, this time it’s a less aggressive and more spacey noise (in theme with the title of the album), more like a radio getting tuned, but the effect is puzzling, a bit irritating. And, worse than that, it sounds like a cheap trick, like something tried once too many. Bad foreboding for the quality of the album, hailed by the band as a glorious and arrogant return to their electronic roots?
Personally I had great hope for SOTU, since in almost thirty years of career Depeche Mode never released one truly bad album. Actually, after experimenting in pure synth-pop and then in Einstürzende Neubauten-like extravaganzas in the early ‘80s, they nailed a chain of mind-boggling masterpieces: albums that are considered landmarks of electronic arena rock, triumphs of darkness and desperation, filled with rousing anthemic songs and quiet ballads. Depeche Mode are one of the few bands which managed to match experimentation with pop sensitivity, to have a constantly stunning sense for great hooks, melodies and lyrics, to reach commercial success and critical praise at the same time. Not to mention the success of their 2005-2006 tour for Playing the angel: I attended to the Manchester show and it truly was a memorable evening, with the band in peak form and many genuinely moving moments.
And yet, SOTU falls flat on its face. It’s the first serious wrong step in Depeche Mode’s career, an album that does very little to innovate, to move the listener, to at least repeat the same old formula in a manner which I can consider something more than “plain listenable”. It’s an album that adds nothing new to their repertoire, that sounds artificial, “easy” and not challenging… but without even that extra sparkle and hookiness that would be required to make it radio-friendly and truly “easy-listening” commercial stuff. Depeche Mode
Yes, it’s a weak album both under the point of view of a longtime Depeche Mode fan (although there will be some who disagree and say it’s great), and under that of a casual MTV audience (because many of the songs are simply too flat and not immediate enough to qualify as chart material). Sure, a mediocre Depeche Mode album still is better than 90% of most modern pop music (for the truly bad stinkers, just have a listen to Britney Spears or Take That…), but it’s a disappointment nonetheless.
The album starts quite nicely (after the noisy electronic intro…) with “In chains”, the usual hot and sweaty DM song. It’s not bad at all, and rather catchy: moody and doomed enough to be one of the standouts. “Hole to feed” is the first of the three tracks penned by lead singer Dave Gahan rather than by the usual Martin Gore, and also the best of them: a hard beat, a rough and dirty sound and pace. Then we have the only gem of the album: “Wrong”, which is as simple as it is effective and pumping, an instant Depeche Mode classic. It’s not a coincidence that it was chosen as first single, as its dynamic, doomed, spooky and powerful electro-blues sound is relentless and truly memorable. Fourth on the tracklisting we have “Fragile tension”, again one of the best tracks, well paced and full of synth sounds, but backed by a distorted electric guitar. Very catchy, desperate and ominous. The good stuff ends with the next song, “Little soul”, a slow, tortured, whispered and moody track which sounds very much like something out of Exciter with some of the electronic effects wizardry from Playing the Angel. Again, some nice guitar work by Gore on this song! So far the new Depeche Mode album would be completely acceptable: nothing groundbreaking or particularly exciting, but a solid work in their tradition. But then it starts to lose steam, to become more and more unfocused, like a collection of yawn-inducing B-sides with the occasional spark of genius which only makes the listener angrier at the thought of what a missed occasion it is.
“In sympathy” is generic radio-friendly (but not particularly catchy) disco-pop, a very weak and undistinguished song. “Peace” is sonically interesting with its ‘80s sound and almost religious choirs, but lyrically it’s one of the most awkward DM songs since 1984’s “People are people”, and the second Gahan track “Come back” is amateurish and bland stuff that seems like a leftover of his solo debut album Paper Monsters (yes, not even deserving of being considered in the same league of his second solo album Hourglass which was vastly superior although by no means a masterpiece and certainly very overproduced at times). Then we have the usual instrumental, “Spacewalker”, which is very retro: a sort of a ‘70s sci-fi electronic soundtrack, actually not bad and rather atmospheric, though very cheesy and frankly too short and underdeveloped. The pace picks up a little with “Perfect”, which again is a rather generic and very electronic disco-like slow song, but at least it’s very pleasant and a with a truly wonderful, abrupt, sincere and dramatic (but also, sadly, brief) change of pace and mood in the second half. Very space-age and rather uplifting, although again rather pedestrian (except, as I said, for that unexpected twist after the middle of the song). And then, there’s nothing more to remember… The third song by Gahan (“Miles away/The truth is”) is as heavy-handed, instantly forgettable and un-melodic as the second one was. “Jezebel”, the only ballad sung by Martin Gore alone (he usually sings two or three per album), has fine doomed/perverted lyrics and the usual great vocals that the wonderful larynx of Depeche Mode’s main author/second singer can provide… but it’s also something that we have heard dozens of time before, and the “orchestration” is so poor that it sounds like bad lounge music, like one of those ludicrous basic prerecorded backing tracks from a Casio keyboard from the ‘80s.
The album ends on a particularly weak note with “Corrupt”, a song very DM in style but so bland and generic in its grittiness and darkness, that even after several repeated listenings I still fail to find a hook of particular interest to sing/hum along. Casio
What went wrong with this album? An excess of self-confidence? A lack of creativity after eleven stunning records? Who knows… Gore had clearly expressed his enthusiasm for having managed to overcome his creative block and having effortlessly written almost a double quantity of songs compared to how many (or, rather, few) he had always managed to provide for the previous records, so many that the band was forced to discard a lot of them because as they often state in interviews they are allergic to releasing double albums. Well, not to be mean, but perhaps he should have kept concentrating on quality rather than on quantity… The scariest consideration is that Gore has always been the lyrical creative genius of the band, while golden-voiced lead singer Gahan always seemed content to be a “plain and simple singer” (a quote from that unexpected brilliant moment in “Perfect”)… at least until Playing the angel, when he threatened the band to leave if they hadn’t let him write a few songs (a hard dilemma, since his solo album “Paper monsters” had shown very run-of-the-mill writing and musical talents). Actually, Gahan’s three tracks for PTA were surprisingly good, with “Suffer well” particularly brilliant and probably the best song in the album. The scary thing, as I said, is not that Gahan’s three songs for SOTU are nothing to write home about (everyone is allowed a moment of greatness in life, and good Dave already had his one with PTA), but that this time in many instances the superiority of Gore as a songwriter struggles to come through. Actually, some of the Gore-penned songs in SOTU are just as bad and uninventive, with the most trivial lyrics and rhymes, as the worse Gahan offerings…
Another gripe is with the production. Returning at the task is Ben Hillier, who had done at the same time a great and a lousy job with PTA. Great, because the album was energetic, in-your-face, punchy (as Hillier himself said in an interview with his very Brit accent: “doirtier, grittier”). Lousy, because the album was so filled with aggressive noises, so distorted and “ugly-sounding”, that at times it could become tiresome to the ears. No big problem, as the songs were top-notch and as a one time experiment the gritty/noisy production could be accepted as something innovative and fresh for a band which was in need of such a facelift. The problem with SOTU lies in the fact that musically there is not much meat on the bones to start with, and as a consequence there was little a producer could do to embellish the songs and fill up the holes. And, starting from an already dangerous situation, Ben Hillier and the band took some further questionable steps.
Many songs either sound sparse, cold and empty (a big contrast to 1997’s Ultra, which was even MORE sparse… but soooo warm and atmospheric!), or filled with electronic gimmickry to try to conceal the lack of a solid melody. To put it in other words, there only is a certain amount of dissonant/ random/unnecessary background bleeps, plinks, plonks, chimes, etc. that the human ear can stand before they become distracting, annoying and most of all completely out of place. And, again, while in PTA they actually fit quite well in the overall economy of the songs, here they sound like cheap tricks from a tired magician’s hat. Ultra
In old Depeche Mode albums, every weird sound and sample (fireworks, scissors, ping pong balls, hammers on iron, trains passing by, etc.) had either a precise meaning or was at least interesting and impactful (let’s not forget the influence that Einstürzende Neubauten had on the band from Basildon!). Not here: on SOTU they rarely have other purpose rather than filling the awkward gaps in the songs, and they all sound vague, generic, purely electronic. Again, like the cheesy Casio-like backing track in “Jezebel” which I mentioned before. And yes, I know that the band deliberately tried to recreate an ‘80s sound by using old equipment and buying from eBay some prehistoric analog synths, but in my opinion the result is much flatter, colder/more electronic and less organic than what they achieved 25 years ago when they were using this same kind of equipment!
This review will probably seem too harsh to many Depeche Mode fans. Sorry, but I am a fan too: it’s the band I love most, and I own all of their CDs/DVDs/singles. I have a ticket for their show in Milan in June, and I will be glad to attend (even if they will probably play lots of material from SOTU) because in live performances they are a marvel to behold, even better than in studio albums due to different arrangements/pacing and to a great scenic presence. Weird for an “electronic” band, isn’t it? But if you have never been to a Depeche Mode concert, please trust me on this and give them a try. So, as I said, I adore the band… but sorry, this album is in my opinion the weakest they have ever released. It is not offensively bad, it actually comes out as pleasant and rather listenable, and certainly less dark, ominous and desperate than expected. At times (occasionally…) it even shows the usual hints of brilliance, and 4-5 songs surely deserve praise. But still, it is globally only marginally better than both Dave’s or Martin’s solo efforts… and in some particularly weak moments, quite a notch below compared to the best cuts from them.
Score: 72 (but your mileage may vary).
Note: Sounds of the universe also comes in a very expensive but exquisitely crafted special deluxe edition including extra CDs with some of the songs which didn’t fit on the regular edition of the album, some remixes, a whole lot of interesting never-released-before demos, and a “making of” DVD. Not to mention the nice booklets with Anton Corbjin’s usual excellent photos, a poster and two badges. Even if the album is only so-so, I couldn’t miss it in my collection… Depeche Mode
 

April 17, 2009


TASTING – FOUR BRUICHLADDICH
Bruichlkaddich
Bruichladdich 15 yo ‘Links Torrey Pine USA’ (46%, OB, ACEd in Château Latour caks, 18,000 bottles, 2008) Bottled to to commemorate the US Open 2008. Colour: slightly apricotty. Nose: there are little winey notes as such at first nosing, rather whiffs of warm fudge and praline plus hints of blackcurrant jam (not winey here). Behind that we have a rather fresh and, indeed, kind of Atlantic spirit, combining hints of fresh melon and sea breeze. Fresh, clean and pleasant, the usually big wine of Château Latour working just like some soft spices here. Mouth: it’s the sweetness that strikes first, with quite some fruit liqueur and then notes of cherry stem tea and white pepper. It all goes from that sweet fruitiness to more and more spices, probably from the oak. Notes of rosehip tea. Finish: medium long, the fruitiness and the spices being at the same levels here and mingling well. Comments: not a demanding whisky but one that’s very drinkable and totally flawless. A lazy adman would write “a perfect 19th hole dram”. SGP:541 - 85 points.
Bruichladdich 18 yo 1989 (46%, OB, ACEd in Carmel Wine Cask) Carmel is a winery in Israel and the wine is kosher. Not too sure this Bruichladdich is kosher – or not kosher - as well but there’s quite a lot of nice writing in Hebrew on the back label. No ‘kosher stamp’, though. Colour: apricot. Nose: very, very similar to the Torrey Pine. Maybe even more praline/nougat, and a little less ‘Atlantic freshness’ as the owners would say, although the proportions of both components do change every minute. Very close. Mouth: once again, we’re very close to the ‘Links’ here but it’s as if there was something more ‘spicy/oriental’ (not kidding!) Baklavas? The whole, although very similar, is a little more emphatic than the Links but maybe a little less elegant and balanced. A little rubber. Finish: longer than the Links’ but maybe a tad spirity/kirschy. Comments: not much to add. Nice dram, maybe a tad hot. SGP:541 – 83 points.
Bruichladdich 21 yo (46%, OB, Matured in Oloroso Sherry casks, 2008) Fully matured, and not just finished in oloroso casks. Colour: full gold/pale amber. Nose: this one starts on rather obvious whiffs of struck matches and rubber bands, but we wouldn’t say it is unpleasantly sulphury. Develops on notes of farmyard after the rain, old Port, mulled wine (cloves and cinnamon) and hints of bubblegum (or a pack of liquorice allsorts), and gets finally more on gunpowder and tar/tyres again. In short, yes there is some sulphur but unless you hate that, it’s still a very nice nose that we have here. Mouth: much richer than the ACEd versions, with once again quite some gunpowder (not that we chew that kind of stuff every day) and rubber bands (that we used to chew at school.) After that it’s more an orangey and peppery profile that develops, with quite some old oak (slight mouldiness) and more and more spices including cardamom and cinnamon. Notes of raspberry liqueur. Finish: long and, just like the ‘kosher’, maybe a tad kirschy/spirity, with also quite some pepper. Comments: a middle-aged olorosoed Laddie that’s not on the ‘thick and round’ side, nor ultra-dry as some are. Kind of a nervous sub-Blacker Still if you like. Now, I’m happy because of the three OBs we just had, I liked the cheapest one best. Yeah, let’s fight the recession! SGP:531 - 83 points.
And also Bruichladdich 1988/2007 (46%, Berry Bros & Rudd, cask #1879) Colour: pale straw. Nose: the antithesis of the three Laddies we just had. No obvious cask treatment, rather a slightly shy-ish but also ultra-clean malt, with quite some grass, fresh butter, grapefruit and green melon (not the very aromatic orange ones). Also the same kind of slightly coastal notes as in the Links (sea breeze). Mouth: very nice attack, surprisingly waxy/phenolic ala Clynelish. Marzipan, lemon marmalade and ginger. Zing! Finish: long, a tad rawer and more peppery thanks to the oak (I guess). Comments: a good Bruichladdich ‘à l’état de nature’. Pardon my French. SGP:341 - 83 points.

MUSIC – Recommended listening: The Fantastics! playing The White Out with a good groove and of course a Hammond organ (from their 2009 album Mighty Righteous). Please buy the Fantastics' music!

The Fantastics
 

April 16, 2009


Port Ellen

TASTING
TWO 1983 PORT ELLENS

It’s been ages (OK, months) since we had our latest Port Ellen. Are they finally getting rare indeed? These two puppies come from the very last months of distilling, as Port Ellen got mothballed later in 1983.

Port Ellen 1983/1998 (54.9%, Scott's Selection) Colour: straw. Nose: ‘a newly opened paint box’. Then there’s quite some lemon and whiffs of raw alcohol as well as tincture of iodine but that’s pretty all. Raw! With water: hesitates a little between these notes of paint and a straighter peatiness but finally makes the right choice, and then it just unwinds. Tarmac, our beloved wet dogs (sorry dogs), kippers (sorry kippers), leather (sorry leat… err…) Superb and frankly oldardbeggian if you give it a little time. Mouth (neat): much, much better than on the nose when neat. Thick and creamy, with a lot of lemon marmalade, pepper and notes of white rum (mojito!) and then the expected ‘peat blast’. Ultra-clean and extremely palatable at almost 55% vol. With water: simply more of the same and added notes of string mustard. Btw, did you know that Obama loves mustard? Finish: rather long, more austere, a classic. Comments: not one of the sexiest Port Ellens but at 17 years of age, it’s got quite a lot to tell. The diluted nose was the best part. Oh, and the peat is big. SGP:248 - 89 points.
Port Ellen 1983/2008 (58.4%, Scotch Single Malt Circle, Refill Sherry, cask #2542) Colour: full gold. Nose: this one is more buttery/sulphury at very first sniffing, but some lemony and slightly fudgy notes are soon to get it back on the straight and narrow. Amazing how fast this one improves, after some additional notes of bitter oranges and honey (unusual in Port Ellen) have arrived. Very zesty nonetheless. With water: what happens is less spectacular than in the Scott. Maybe a little more leather (and shoe polish). Seafood, kelp, tarry rope. Mouth (neat): this one is much meatier and more leathery than the Scott, with the obvious sherry giving it a rather animal profile. Smoked fish (your pick) as well. A little rubber and some slightly ‘chemical’ notes showing up after a while (fake lemon juice – I mean, industrial lemon juice.) Other than that it’s extremely good Port Ellen. I feel water isn’t needed again but duty, heavy duty! With water: didn’t I tell you so? It doesn’t collapse but except for even more leathery notes, there isn’t much development. Finish: long, a tad grassier now. Unusual notes of celeriac and, just as in the Scott, quite some mustard. Very dry in the aftertaste. Comments: rather multifaceted, which isn’t always the case with Port Ellen in our opinion. SGP:247 - 90 points.
 
PETE McPEAT AND JACK WASHBACK
 

MUSIC – Recommended listening: the very crazy but very talented Rita Mitsouko and their Petit train (superb Bontempi sound - that was in 1989). We miss Fred Chichin... But please buy Rita Mitsouko's music.

Rita Mitsouko

April 2009 - part 1 <--- April 2009 - part 2 ---> May 2009 - part 1


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heck the index of all entries:
Whisky
Music
Nick's Concert Reviews

 

 

Best malts I had these weeks - 90+ points only - alphabetical:

Bunnahabhain 34 yo 1974/2008 (59.3%, The Perfect Dram, oloroso, 300 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 35 yo 1973/2008 (50.1%, The Whisky Agency, refill sherry, 509 bottles)

Karuizawa 1986/2008 (60.7%, OB, cask #7387)

Karuizawa 1971/2008 (64.1%, OB, cask #6878)

Karuizawa 1977/2008 ‘Noh Whisky’ (62.8%, Number One Drinks Company for LMdW, cask #7026, 528 bottles)

Karuizawa 'Vintage' 1981/2007 (58.1%, OB, cask #103)

Karuizawa 19 yo 1988/2007 (60.6%, The Whisky Fair, sherry wood, 462 bottles)

Laphroaig 12 yo 1991/2004 (59.0%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, N°.29.32, 'As good as it gets')

Nikka 21 yo (43%, OB, Pure Malt, +/-2007)

Port Ellen 1983/2008 (58.4%, Scotch Single Malt Circle, Refill Sherry, cask #2542)