Grain whiskies. We’ll do them by ascending strengths if you don’t mind, and won’t care about the ages or vintages.
Ship Chandler 'Scotch Whisky' (40%, Scamark, blended grain Scotch whisky, France, +/-2015) No kidding, blended grain, so the lower grade of them all. On the other hand, this is a cheap supermarket whisky, I believe I paid less than 10€ for 70cl of this diluted ethanol. Because make no mistake, grain whisky’s almost pure ethanol flavoured with oak. I said almost. Colour: gold. Nose: raw alcohol indeed, plus some fudge, caramel, vanilla, coconut and sawdust. It’s not repulsive, and it just couldn’t be anyway, since there’s almost nothing in there. Mouth: caramelly raw alcohol, plus various sweets. Marshmallows, Haribo’s best, a wee feeling of pears (great news in this context). The body’s rather thin. No, very thin. Finish: short and yet a bit burning. More cheap sweets, like these one-kilo packs that they sell in… supermarkets (sponsored by the Dentists Association). The aftertaste is akin to that of Diet Coke. Comments: not good, not extremely bad, just very, very bland. Would make Haig Club taste like Brora 1972 in comparison ;-). SGP:620 - 25 points.
Okay, let’s get down to serious business…
Cameronbridge 33 yo 1979/2012 (44.4%, Duncan Taylor, Octave for Glen Fahrn, sherry, cask #395111) I don’t often try these Octaves, because the outputs are so small that I feel these bottlings and very anecdotal. And sometimes too much on the oaky side of things. Colour: gold. Nose: anything sweet from some virgin American oak, with a very, very bourbony feeling. Werther’s Originals, coconut liqueur (Malibu and stuff), then marshmallow, then grassier touches (around hay and blond tobacco), then Cointreau or Grand-Marnier. The whole’s very sweet, very easy, and pretty sexy. Reminds of a… oh forget. Mouth: uebersweet whisky, with more or less the same flavours. Coconut, orange sweets, sweet vanilla cream, butterscotch… Having said that there’s no straight oak, so I guess there’s been some heavy charring done. Alligator style? Finish: relatively short, easy, undemanding, rather thinner than a good bourbon. Comments: in a way, it’s perfect whisky if you like them sweet and easy, and so well done Glen Fahrn. As for this taster, well, I much prefer congeneric whiskies, if I may. SGP:640 - 76 points.
Invergordon 1988/2014 'Caribbean Crème' (46%, Wemyss Malts, barrel, 171 bottles) Not the first ’88 Invergordon by Wemyss we’re having. Mixed feelings, let’s see… Colour: pale gold. Nose: ah, no, the name had scared me, but in fact it’s no coconut bomb, and even if there are touches of bananas flambéed and light rum, Cuban style, it remains light and pretty fresh. Some gentle oak, whiffs of varnish (cellulosic), a faintly sour side that’s not unpleasant (cider, perhaps) and quite some hay. So no tropical bomb. Mouth: it’s very okay, with a rather fresh fruitiness and rather more body than other grains (is that one of Invergordon’s marks? I couldn’t tell you). Orange juice, lemon grass, some light rum again, a drizzle of lime juice to make a ti-punch, and once again a feeling of bond tobacco. Finish: good length. Ginger liqueur, lemongrass, oranges and once again a feeling of rye. Comments: quite good if you ask me, although it may call for a few ice cubes. No Caribbean bomb, but indeed there’s something of rum. SGP:531 - 79 points.
Strathclyde 40 yo 1974/2014 (55.4%, Douglas Laing, XOP, refill hogshead, ref #10598, 150 bottles) Possibly because they were/are blenders, Douglas Laing have always had some old grains, some pretty much to my liking – given that they remain grain whiskies. BTW, XOP means Xtra Old Particular. Makes it sound a bit Cognacqy, doesn’t it. Colour: full gold. Nose: sure it’s got the same rather simple profile, with caramel, fudge, butterscotch, shortbread, vanilla cake, coconut liqueur and blond tobacco, but it seems that balance is perfect this time. Once again it makes me think of some excellent bourbon, the only problem being that our Scottish friends seem to need four times more time to make the same high quality. Ah, weather! With water: more hay and tobacco. Nice. Mouth (neat): a bit fresher than bourbon, with rather more fruits (pineapples), but other than that, we’re finding the same kind of flavours. Even touches of rye, mind you. Rye? With water: becomes very sweet, with the marshmallows coming out. Very fruity hoppy beer, like (let me find an example amongst the five different beers I’ve tried since January ;-)… Say Anchor’s Liberty Ale? Like that one. Finish: good length, nice freshness, good vanilla, caramel and stewed fruits. Comments: what I really enjoyed in this one as the fact that there wasn’t too much of that dreaded coconut. Very high quality grain. SGP:641 - 88 points.
Invergordon 7 yo 2006/2014 (61.5%, The Whisky Barrel, Burns Malt, Pedro Ximenez sherry Octave finish, cask #901446D) I know, sounds like it’s a weapon of mass destruction but we’ve had a sister cask earlier this year and found it pretty good. Some action! Colour: dark amber. Nose: I had found a blend of rum and armagnac in the other cask, and that’s what I’m getting again. I have to say this feeling is very pleasant, with dried bananas, raisins, prunes and plain sugarcane juice. And it’s even kind of light(ish) at this strength. With water: fun stuff. Pine cones in a barbecue, light pipe tobacco, artisan milk chocolate (no crappy vegetal greases and oils on top of cocoa), whiffs of thyme and rosemary… Its unusual, it’s very nice. Mouth (neat): bang! Tends to tear your head off. My, this is strong. I do seem to find notes of bacon, but I’m not too sure. Quick… With water: very good, even if it got a tad dry/planky. Chocolate, ham, grapes, gingerbread… Finish: quite long, with smoky bacon, chocolate and oranges. Sounds unlikely, but it’s not. Too bad the aftertaste is a little bitter. Comments: fun spirit. Who cares about how it’s done? It’s like the law and sausages, as the Germans use to say. SGP:651 - 83 points.
Another malt that’s quite uncommon. In any case, we haven’t done many Inchmurrin sessions on WF. As for what Inchmurrin is, you may remember that it’s one of the variations made at Loch Lomond Distillery. I remember Inchmurrin could be a little feinty.
Inchmurrin 15 yo 1996/2012 (43%, Signatory Vintage, refill butts, casks #24+25, 1409 bottles) I’ve always liked this ‘budget’ series by Signatory, there were quite a few cheap gems in the past. Colour: white wine. Nose: starts with these slightly dirtyish bready notes that are unmistakable, and would rather go on with cumin bread, hints of aquavit, plenty of ginger ale and touches of fennel. There’s a dustiness over all this, but in a way, it’s enjoyable malt whisky because it’s extremely cerealy. Mouth: I have to say some American experimentations with malt whisk(e)y aren’t far from this. Some oak, ginger, caraway, roasted sunflower seeds, poppy seed bread, then this dusty side again. White pepper, ale, bitter hops… I don’t think anyone will find more ale-y malt whisky. Good body at just 43%. Finish: rather long, with some kummel, juniper, more ale, and plenty of wholegrain bread. Forget about baguette. Funny coastal touches on the aftertaste. Anchovy paste? Comments: had I tried it blind I’d have said this is some American whiskey. Not bourbon! I like this rather unorthodox style. SGP362 - 79 points.
Inchmurrin 21 yo (46%, OB, +/-2014) The owners have tried hard to push the brand in recent year, but I find the ‘new’ packaging highly unlikely. Breaking codes is great, but risky (that’s smart, S.) Colour: gold. Nose: herbal teas galore! That usually means fresh oak. I find a lot of eucalyptus, grass, green tea, fresh bread again, whiffs of sour ale (again) and a little stale vinegar, Belgian white beer, then rather more vanilla and butterscotch, while the whole becomes rounder and a little softer. Mouth: rather hard, oddly lemony, peppery, bready in the wrong way (dust and crumbs), with notes of dough, baker’s yeast, and then more ‘chemical’ lemon. Macdonald’s Sprite. Yeah, it does become kind of fizzy/spritzy. More ginger ale? Finish: rather long, with a dusty oak. Not quite. Comments: I liked the 15 (WF 79) and the 18 (WF 80) better. And the younger Signatory. SGP:451 - 70 points.
Inchmurrin (54.7%, Boutique-y Whisky Co., 543 bottles, 2014) This very strange baby fetched Silver at the Malt Maniacs Awards last year. Did my dear colleagues become mad, or is it brilliant whisky indeed? Let’s see… Colour: full gold. Nose: remember those anchovies in the Signatory? Well, this one does start a little maritime indeed, with a curious mix of sea breeze and… could that be quince jelly? It’s also got notes of putty and paraffin, certainly some oak sawdust, and then youthful touches of marshmallows, orange bonbons, and lastly, green tobacco. The thing they smoke in Indonesia… With water: little changes. Maybe did it get more croissanty. French breakfast! Where’s the armagnac? Joking… Mouth (neat): a modern concoction, very well made, with a zesty/orangey side that mingles with some soft and spicy oak, some buttered caramel and some Danish pastries. In the background, rather dill, aniseed and cumin. That means that that bready style is back, indeed. With water: excellent now. Reminds me of a super-young Aultmore by the very same Master of Malt and affiliated entities. Some great oak must have been used. Finish: not very long but clean, sweetly oaky, pastry-like, with some oranges in the aftertaste. Comments: I don’t want to know how it was made, neither do I need the age. And it’s got something American again. SGP:551 - 85 points.
Last time I’ve formally tasted Ardbeg Ten, that was in 2011 and it was a 2010 bottling. Liked it a lot (WF 87). Time to try a newer bottling of that emblematic malt whisky, but first the usual lighter aperitif of the same age…
Ardbeg 1990/2002 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Meregalli, Italy) This baby from the times when the little distillery was working intermittently. Colour: deep gold. Nose: plenty of sulphur and rubber at first sniffs, which wasn’t unusual. Brand new wellies, Pirellis, scuba diving suits… And all that. What’s quite spectacular is that after just one minute, all that vanished without warning, while the expected smoked oranges take the stage. Smoky raisins, ale, tobacco… But there’s also some plasticine, so the rubbery side hasn’t completely vanished, after all. And struck matches are coming back. Mixed feelings so far… Mouth: well, things improve a bit but it’s still a hard one, with a lot of putty, tar, plasticine, burnt papers… There’s also a lot of salt, and that’s the good side. Smoked salted water, barbecued bacon. Finish: rather long, a bit bitter, with a sulphurous aftertaste. Seawater. Comments: spectacular, but rather ‘too much’ for my taste. All this burnt rubber is, yeah, a bit too much. SGP:277 - 76 points.
Ardbeg 10 yo 'Ten' (46%, OB, +/- 2015) Colour: white wine. Nose: starts with rather more ginger and green pepper than I remembered, as if the proportion of ‘active oak’ had been raised, but I really enjoy this very dry profile. Plenty of seawater, oysters, wet dogs (we’re sorry, dogs), carbon paper, freshly ground pepper, garden bonfire, wet limestone… There’s even a very particular smell that only old guys and girls can understand, ‘opening a new audiocassette’. And the smell of a brand new Walkman to boot. Lastly, some raw malted barley, so I would call this style ‘kilny’. Mouth: just excellent. More and more whisky lovers are claiming that the Ten beats all special editions, and I think they might right. And since the Ten pays the bills, nobody should complain. Anyway, brine, almond oil, bitter apples, seashells, diesel oil, hessian, liquorice wood, juniper, caraway… Everything is to like. Good body, perfect mouth feel. Finish: long, salty, sharp, very smoky. Comments: that the new Ten killed the 1990 would be an understatement. In truth, the Ten may have improved. Great work, Ardbeg. SGP:358 - 89 points.
Perhaps a last one… I’ve heard this could be Ardbeg…
Islay Malt 20 yo 1990/2011 (53.4%, Whiskybroker, first fill sherry, cask #34, 86 bottles) Colour: dark amber. Nose: most probably not Ardbeg. Very little smoke, very little brininess, but indeed a coastal character. There is a little ‘mineral rubber’ but that may rather come from the sherry, not from the distillate. Other than that, some excellent bitter chocolate dominates the whole, together with two or three prunes and a handful of Corinthian raisins. Drops of walnut wine. With water: the kind of changes that sometimes happen with sherry, with pot-pourri, old roses, balsamico, tobacco and menthol. Mango vinegar – or something like that. It did get a little acetic indeed, but no worries. Mouth (neat): no, certainly not Ardbeg. Some thick and excellent sherry, walnut wine, Austrian chocolate liqueur (the name escapes me, but I’m sure Mozart was involved), strong coffee, bitter oranges… This works and despite the heavy sherry treatment, it never gets stuffy and/or cloying. With water: softer, not acetic at all, all on chocolate sauce. Mexican mole. Finish: long, chocolaty, pleasantly bittersweet. I’m sure this would be great to season some (high end) salad. Comments: not one of Islay’s peaters, so probably Bunnahabhain. An excellent old-fashioned Bunnahabhain. SGP:461 - 88 points.
So this is Sunday, time for rum. Rummage rummage rummage… (yes, indeed, diving to new lows)
Flor de Caña 4 yo 'Gold' (40%, OB, Nicaragua, +/-2013) Just everybody seems to like this wee baby. It’s true that the light colour (for some commercial rum) already is a good sign. Colour: pale gold. Nose: it’s fresh and it’s fruity, perhaps a little too light. There’s this slightly sour fruitiness from sugar cane, perhaps a little tobacco and possibly a little too much vanilla, but its not unpleasant. Having said that, such noses can make it flabby on the palate (in my short experience), let’s see… Mouth: sweet, soft, a little sugary, and perhaps a little weak. Pineapple and banana flambéed, molasses, muscovado sugar and sweet vanilla cream. Perhaps rather for mixing? Finish: a bit short, sugary. Sugar cane syrup in abundance. Plain white sugar in the aftertaste, as well as a little artichoke. That’s fun. Comments: I find it totally uninteresting, despite the artichoke. Probably not sipping rum, so my bad. SGP:730 - 55 points.
Mocambo 10 yo 'Pistola' (40%, OB, Mexico, +/-2013) A tasteful, sophisticated and very elegant bottling. I’ve had some Mocambos that I enjoyed, but this one’s really scary, isn’t it.
Colour: suspiciously dark amber. Nose: weird, but not that appalling, I have to say. Overcooked fruits, fruity molasses, cologne, prune sauce, then wet concrete and gravel, potpourri, vetiver, green oranges… Its quite perfumy, but bizarrely, that kind of works. Very unusual, in any case. Mouth: weird, but again, there’s some fun to this. More overcooked fruits with hundreds of liquorice allsorts and this kind of sweet spice mix they give you with the bill in Indian restaurants. What they call ‘Indian chewing-gum’ – and I have to say I like that aniseed-based mix. Finish: rather short and probably too caramelly and molassy, but the anise keeps it fresh. A miracle. Comments: seriously, this baby taste a bit like these unlikely liqueurs we buy at airports when travelling back from exotic countries (because the whiskies have gotten totally uninteresting in Travel Retail). Holidays! I don’t find it bad, at all, just… unlikely. SGP:820 - 70 points.
Hero 15 yo 'Solera' (42%, OB, Dominican Republic, +/-2014) I have to say I’ve seldom found interesting rum that came from the Dominican Republic. They’re usually plain sugar bombs – but of course I haven’t tasted hundreds of them. It’s also meant to be the rum of the South-American heroes such as, I guess, Zapata, Guevara, Marti, Villa, Bolivar (all dead so they won’t complain or ask for fees) or Shakira. Well not Shakira. Also, what’s 15 years old, the rum or just the solera? Colour: gold. Nose: hello? Sweet sugar cane, a few grassy touches, some oranges, some caramel, some sugarcane syrup. Kind of okay, it’s just that there isn’t much happening, so far. Mouth: typical liqueury Dominican rum. The background isn’t bad, with some hay and sugar cane, but the front is too sweet. Both Cointreau and Grand-Marnier are drier drinks if you ask me. Finish: very short. Leaves some sugar on your tongue. A bit of liquorice too. Comments: some acceptable sugar cane liqueur, but certainly not a malternative. SGP:820 - 60 points.
Time for some more serious stuff. Perhaps…
Indonesia 10 yo 2004/2015 (43%, Compagnie des Indes, cask #581, 259 bottles) Interesting! The distillery’s not disclosed, and sure we could try to play it ‘googling Sherlock’, but we haven’t got much time for that. Colour: white wine. Nose: hey hey hey! There’s something pleasantly dirty, or rather say phenolic or ‘dundery’, with brine, olives, pitch, salmiak, new tyres… What I also just adore is this rising honeyed profile, between heavy chestnut and fir honeydew. What a surprise, this is almost Jamaican. Mouth: perhaps a notch less Jamaican, but there’s a lot of strong liquorice, cough syrup, black olives, Tai soup (coriander and chillies)… There is a little sugar as well, but all remains very fine. The background is even a little coastal (anchovies?) Finish: quite long at this strength, briny, liquoricy… Comments: total surprise. I’m not too sure, but this baby could be the natural son of some heavy Jamaican and some lighter Mauritian. Very well done Compagnie, this is what indie bottling is about (if I may). SGP:562 - 87 points.
While we’re at it…
Worthy Park 7 yo 2007/2015 (43%, Compagnie des Indes, Jamaica, cask #WP31, 303 bottles) Pure pot still rum from an old Jamaican distillery, what could be better? Colour: gold. Nose: hold on, what is this? This is Alsatian fir liqueur, not rum! I’ve rarely nosed a spirit that was this piny and resinous. Pinesap, pinesap and pinesap, plus pineapple starting to rot. I swear I’ve not written that just to make some crappy alliteration. Even more unusual than the Indonesian, I’m so curious about the palate… Mouth: I’m afraid this is great. Making some mojito with pine needles instead of mint leaves. What it may lack would be a little more complexity, and there is a wee feeling of sugar, but this limy and piny style just works. Totally new to me. Finish: perhaps not very long, but I find a touch of salt, all for the better. And oh-so Jamaican indeed. Comments: I don’t think I’ve ever tried another Worthy Park, so this a first – and not a last. Again, well done Compagnie des Indes! (although 45-46% would have worked even better IMHO). SGP:561 - 85 points.
I had planed to try to go even higher (so to speak) but this is becoming difficult, isn’t it. Unless we call in heavy artillery…
Sainte Luce 1977 (45%, Chantal Comte, Martinique, +/-1992) Sainte Luce is actually Trois Rivières by another name. Naturally, this is rhum agricole. Colour: deep gold. Nose: curiously silent, this baby’s really struggling after the unusual Indonesian and Jamaican. A little dried banana, some leather, a bit of tobacco, a touch of earth, some liquorice, some vesou, some pinesap… No, wait, it does take off a bit, but that’s more the first flights by the Wright bros or Clément Ader than Ariane V or an Atlas rocket. Mouth: a little hot this time, with a lack of definition and some grassy/gritty notes that I do not find very enjoyable. Some greenish coffee, perhaps, as well as a little marmalade. It’s good, just not great, IMHO. Finish: quite long but once again, this baby doesn’t seem to know where it’s heading. Comments: good but frankly, I had expected much more. SGP:441 - 78 points.
An Indonesian winning a wee rum session? But seriously, folks? (as Joe Walsh would have said…)
I’ve only tasted around 30 Glen Spey since this mad website was started, so I don’t think I could tell you much about this very discreet Speyside malt. What’s sure is that the indies seem to have more of it this days – maybe also because the bigger names are becoming harder to find. Or too expensive!
Glen Spey 2002/2014 (46%, Spirit & Cask Range, refill butt, cask #10150, 298 bottles) A fairly new range. Colour: pale white wine. Nose: just what I had expected, this is almost barley eau-de-vie, in all its roughness and youth. Cut apples, pears, a touch of baker’s yeast, plenty of grass, whiffs of chalk and a wee feeling of artisan vodka, whatever that means. Almonds, fresh marzipan. This baby sure doesn’t make you swoon, but I enjoy its honesty and straightforwardness. No oak’s been harmed during the process ;-). Mouth: good, sweet, with a touch of earth, some pears, some apples and drops of corn syrup. Barley water, barley sugar. I find this simply good. Finish: medium length. Sweet barley and pear compote, all this is ‘au naturel’. Candy sugar in the aftertaste. Comments: probably not totally unforgettable, but yeah, I find this naked malt whisky loyal, honest, and refreshingly free of tricks. SGP:441 - 82 points.
Glen Spey 22 yo 1991/2014 (46%, Coopers Choice, Port finish, cask #6459, 300 bottles) Scary colours… Colour: salmony. Nose: you just have to forget this is malt whisky – and not rosé de Provence either – and you’ll be fine. Funny notes of red peaches, cherry stem tea, blackcurrant buds and moist pipe tobacco. I believe this rather works, I can’t find any obvious dissonances – maybe because the malt’s quite shy in the first place. Mouth: there is a buttery side this time, something slightly sour (cherry yoghurt?) and some kind of leafiness as well (same teas, fruit stems and leaves). Good body. Finish: medium. Sweets and herbal teas, with green tannins in the aftertaste. Add one marshmallow. Comments: I’m sure I’d have preferred it ‘au naturel’, but we’ve all seen Port finishes that have worked out much worse. SGP:451 - 78 points.
Glen Spey 20 yo 1991/2012 (48.7%, A.D. Rattray, bourbon hogshead, cask #800860, 256 bottles) Colour: white wine. Nose: it is a bit like the 2002, with a little more sawdust and vanilla, as well as these earthy tones that usually come with wood. Hay, broken branches, dead leaves. I also find this one a little too paraffiny, which may explain why Coopers Choice have decided to do a finishing on what was probably a very similar cask. I liked the nose of that one a little better. Mouth: yes, but I like this one better on the palate. Sure it’s a little harsh and ‘simple’, and very grassy as well, but it’s also got very fine notes of tangerines and grapefruits that did not make it in the Port finish. Something sour again – lemon-flavoured yoghurt? Finish: rather long, zestier, grassier, kind of blade-y. Always something that I enjoy. Comments: I’d say with these kinds of whiskies, the palate’s a little more important than the nose. That’s why I think I’ll go for… SGP:351 - 79 points.
A last one… Maltbarn should have it in Limburg, but since I can’t make it to Limburg this year (sob sob sob), let’s try it immediately.
Glen Spey 26 yo 1988/2014 (43.6%, Maltbarn, bourbon, 101 bottles) Colour: white wine. Nose: ah this is interesting. Grassier and more mineral than the others, with some linseed oil, notes of fino (right, fresh walnuts), wet concrete, then rather apple peelings and those broken branches that we already found in one of the others. Carbon paper, pitch… No ooh-ah whisky for sure, but it’s got a meditative side. Maybe does it need more time… Mouth: ooh this works. Once again, it’s the opposite of some modern in-your-face whisky, but it’s got a very lovely tropical side (right, half a mango) plus citrons and various half-grassy, half-mineral elements. Almond milk, for example, fresh walnuts, lemon skin, perhaps white peaches… It’s really soft, gentle, pretty complex and oh-so lovely. It just needs your time… Finish: rather good length. Grassy almonds plus barley syrup and a touch of honey. Comments: may you call some malt whisky ‘contextual’? Or would that rather be ‘moody’? Anyway, we have today’s winner. SGP:461 - 85 points.
Not the first time we’ll try these two, in fact it seems that we’re doing this every year.
Lagavulin 16 yo (43%, OB, +/- 2014) One of the most emblematic age-stated malts that I like following year after year. Sixteen years, tell me about an age statement! Colour: full gold. Nose: I’ve always heard stories about how Lagavulin 16 changed, becoming less this and more that, but if indeed it may have lost just a bit of profoundness when compared with the stupendous first 16s from the late 1980s-early 1990s, to me the flag’s still very high. In this case I rather find more dry smoke than before, more walnuts Manzanilla-style, more earthy/smoky pu-erh tea and more dry tobacco. That’s quite funny because last year, I had found it a little smoother and rounder than before. Forgot to mention ‘an old fisherman’s boat’. The boat’s old. Mouth: tobacco, salt, bitter oranges, walnuts, black olives, mezcal, even ‘ideas’ of Clairin, that fat Haitian white rum that’s so phenolic and briny, rather less rubber than usual (there really isn’t much), more black olives but sweeter ones, if that’s possible. In short this feels like ‘home’. Finish: rather long, very salty, with more walnuts and tobacco, then this earthy tea in the aftertaste. Salted tea. Comments: Mr Lagavulin Sixteen, I remain your fan. Yours sincerely, -Serge. SGP:367 - 90 points.
Lagavulin 1998/2014 'Distillers Edition' (43%, OB, lgv 4/503) Another one that I’m always trying to follow. Colour: dark gold. Nose: it seems to me that the ‘DE’ got closer to the ‘16’ in style, with maybe a little less wine influence, and a general profile that would rather be on ‘the 16 plus oranges and a touch of maple syrup’. So it’s marginally more aromatic and rounder than the 16… Although, I have to say that after a few minutes, there’s rather more Havana tobacco and hay/farmyard that are coming through. But globally, as I had noticed with the 1997/2013, this baby rather got cleaner and straighter. Not that there’s anything to complain about, mind you. Mouth: maybe a touch of gingery oak in the arrival, then this maelstrom of all things from the sea plus tobacco and bitter oranges. Some bitter chocolate too, a drop of crème de menthe and liquid tar, then herbal teas and more tobacco. Little sweetness from the PX, which is great. The body’s not huge. Finish: long, appropriately bitter and tobacco-ish, with drops of seawater in the aftertaste. Plus pepper, quite a lot of it. Comments: very, very lovely dram, but this time, I’ve enjoyed the straighter side of the 16 a little better. That didn’t happen every year. SGP:457 - 88 points.
That’s all, folks, there isn’t much new Lagavulin at WF Towers these days. (and thanks Fabien!)
Today: BLUES. What would go better with some Lagavulin than the great Lagavulins? The band gathers several well-known whisky personalities such as our friends Tim Hain and, as a guest star, Colin Dunn. And on harmonica, Alan Glen whom I've already seen playing with the Yardbirds ten years ago in London. So please enjoy this greatly 'Lagrange-y' track titled... Whisky!
April 22, 2015
A bunch of malty nobodies
Nah, that’s exaggerated, I agree, but indeed we’ll have a few ‘bastard’ malts as we used to call them within maniacal circles. Which means that we don’t know the mother(s) and we don’t know the father(s). Which won’t make them any less good, obviously… And we’ll do that at random.
Angels' Nectar (40%, OB, Highfern, Scotch blended malt, +/-2014) Very nice packaging, but the low strength makes it a little… say ‘retro’. Agreed, the absence of age statements does not. Colour: white wine – which is cool. Nose: ah! No, this is interesting. Plenty of barley and breads (wholegrain, pumpernickel) with a touch of honey and a slightly smoked blend of fruit juices, chiefly apples and pears. So we’re close to the raw materials, and I find all that refreshing and, well, very pleasant. Mouth: a little more oomph would have been welcome, but it’s not weak and these bready/earthy notes work extremely well indeed. In short, a very malty composition, slightly smoky, that partially remind me of aged pot still vodka (Polugar), which is something I enjoy a lot. No sweetish/caramelly notes, hurray. Finish: good length given the strength. Sweet barley, overripe apples, sweet bread… Indeed, that’s malt whisky. Comments: a great surprise IMHO. This baby’s been very carefully composed and tasted very ‘authentic’, whatever that means. The opposite of big brand blends. SGP:452 - 83 points.
Amber Glen ‘Speyside’ (40%, Amber Glen, single malt, +/-2015) This by a newish independent bottler. I rather like the very traditional packaging but once again, the low strength is a bit scary. Colour: gold. Nose: it’s a rounder, softer, rather more ‘mainstream’ malt after the Angels’, well in the style of young Speyside without sherry. Or refill. It’s nice, honeyed, slightly fudge-y, with touches of quinces and oranges that are always welcome. A very easy nose. Mouth: good! Reminds me of Aberlour 10 yo, or other tenners from Speyside. Mars bar, cornflakes, drops of stout, a little honey, maple syrup, a touch of marmalade and… we’re done. Finish: medium length, rather more honeyed than before. Raisins in the aftertaste. Comments: very honest, faultless and loyal young Speysider. Little magic, perhaps, but sometimes you’re thirsty and this one won’t disappoint. SGP:441 - 79 points.
MacPhail's 10 yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, single malt, +/-2014) Utterly love this old shy label. Smart anti-branding at work. It’s another undisclosed Speysider. Colour: gold. Nose: same territories as with the Amber Glen, with a little more sulphur this time. Between used matches and ‘a gun that was just fired’ (as far as I can remember from my days in the army). Also whiffs of cabbage and asparagus, if you see what I mean. Not everyone hates that! Mouth: very, very strange. Goes on with these sulphury notes, and there might be some Mortlachness in this, although I do not find much meatiness. Beyond that, honey, sweet malt, sweet ale and a little marmalade. Finish: good length but this time, there’s something slightly metallic. And those matches. Comments: bizarre, that’s all I can say. I know friends who’d think these odd notes are assets, but they’re a minority – but minorities should be respected. SGP:452 - 72 points.
That one was very un-G&M, let’s try again…
Pride of Orkney 12 yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Highland malt, 75cl, +/-1990) Highland Park? Scapa? Stromness? ;-). A vatting? The label wouldn’t say. Colour: gold. Nose: rather grassier, more vegetal, on cut grass and almond skins, with a little putty as well. Not much fruits. Having aid that there’s some ‘garden smoke’, burning grass… The whole remains austere, even after fifteen minutes of breathing. Mouth: ah, this is old Highlands indeed, with a waxy mouth feel, some interesting notes of cooked turnips (really, Baldrick), then more mineral notes, between dust and earth. Not much sweetness, let alone fruits, but this very ‘old style’ profile just works. As if imperfections were an asset. Finish: rather long, peaty and earthy, maybe a tad dirty towards the aftertaste. Salty soap? Also lavender sweets. Comments: furiously un-modern, that’s all I can say. Like driving a 1925 Citroën. SGP:362 - 78 points.
Corriemhor 'Cigar Reserve' (46%, Fox Fitzgerald, single malt, +/-2014) I smoke three cigars a year – do I qualify? Am I entitled to having a sip of this special composition? Colour: deep gold. Nose: there, there’s what was in the MacPhail’s, that is to say struck matches, exhaust fumes, gunflints… Having said that, that side tends to become quieter, while earthier, almost chalky notes take over. Becomes frankly meaty after just a few seconds, and that would come with a little soy sauce. Mouth: full and big bodied, with marmalade and grass, then this slightly meaty side again (really, it is pretty Mortlachian – unless that’s Benrinnes), then the usual marmalade, plus honey, plus roasted malt, plus raisins composition. Heavy style. Finish: long, very malty. Sour cherries and plenty of liquorice in the aftertaste. Comments: if it’s a cigar, then it’s a strong one. Maduro Cohiba or stuff… Oh, whatever. SGP:452 - 80 points.
Speyside 30 yo '6th Edition' (43.7%, Master of Malt, single malt, 238 bottles, 2014) We’re returning to quieter waters. Colour: pale gold. Nose: a light flowery side, between Benriach and Balblair (perhaps), with a little soft oak on ripe bananas, apples and dandelions. You may add a little vegetal earth and certainly quite some green tea. Nice nose, but it may suggest a drying, tired palate, let’s see… Mouth: no! There is some power, there is some fruitiness, and there is an unusual ‘tropical’ combination. Apricot plus papaya juice, topped with Bourbon vanilla and drops of Sauternes? Some dryness from the oak (and time) is trying to take over, you can really feel that, but the distillate, even if rather light, manages to keep those at bay. Finish: good length. Sweet apples, cinnamon, oranges. Comments: very good and easy. I also remember some old Speymalt by G&M. SGP:561 - 85 points.
Antony's Choice 15 yo 1991/2006 (56.3%, Chieftain’s, Speyside, sherry butt, cask #5668, 660 bottles) That’s right, an older bottling from the times when almost all undisclosed Speysiders used to come from Glenfarclas. I’m not saying this one does! Colour: mahogany/coffee. Nose: sherry galore. Prunes, raisins, leather, marmalade, dried figs and dates, oloroso, liquorice… In short, this seems to be what some of us call ‘a sherry monster’. With water: did I say this was a sherry monster? It is. It is almost sweet sherry. Mouth (neat): a blend of kirsch, PX, cream sherry, and oloroso. The Scots haven’t much to say in this context, but the whole’s almost perfect. With water: the oranges come out. Marmalade. Finish: long, with a perfumy side, between rosewater and dried longans. Chocolate. Comments: a bit extreme by today’s standards, perhaps, but Antony sure knows what he’s doing. SGP:661 - 87 points.
How many did we have? You say seven? That’s hardly a session, is it? Let’s go on for a little while…
House Malt 23 yo 1990/2014 (48%, Wilson & Morgan, sherry butt, cask #17, 753 bottles) Warning, warning, just saw that this baby was a ‘single Islay malt’. If it’s peated, it’ll kill this session. Colour: dark amber. Nose: phew, little peat, if any! So should be Bunnahabhain, and a lovely hyper-sherried one at that. Chocolate sauce, Corinthian raisins, leather, plum spirit, balsamic vinegar, glazed chestnuts, Manzanilla (smells dry indeed), one new tyre, and prunes. Not a throwaway in the bunch. Mouth: rather perfect sherry. I’m not sure I need say more. Walnuts, prunes, raisins in abundance, pipe tobacco, bitter oranges, a spoonful of Demerara rum, chestnut honey, a touch of pickled ginger to keep it ‘nervous’… Finish: very long, ample, raisiny, but not too sweet… Comments: I find this excellent. House malt? Well, our Italian friends have got great houses. SGP:562 - 90 points.
Black Snake 'VAT No5 - First Venom' (57.5%, Blackadder, 464 bottles, 2014) This baby was finished in a PX butt, which isn't always a crime or total nonsense. Well, sometimes it is. Oh and it is a single malt, while I believe earlier batch(es) were vatted. Wait, I guess we need a great quote from Black Adder before we go on. Let’s choose one… Maybe this: “Worst idea since someone said ‘yeah let’s take this suspiciously large wooden horse into Troy, statues are all the rage this season’.” Colour: full gold. Nose: this is fortified brioche, butterscotch and raisin bread. Plenty of raisins, and yet it’s youthful and fresh. With water: the barley comes out, the ‘PX’ goes away. Mouth (neat): just excellent. An earthy touch, some marmalade, some honey, bags of raisins, a little grass to keep it ‘alive’… And even a little peat. Some peat must have been involved somewhere, sometime. With water: good. No more peat, rather pear and pineapple spirits, which implies youth. Maybe something too grassy, around grape skin. Finish: quite long, grassy and fruity as the same time. It’s as if the spirit got rid of the PX, in a way. And yet, raisins remain in the aftertaste. Comments: I don’t know, I really don’t know. Loved some aspects, others were a little too sweet for my taste. Was that the PX? (says the guy who’s flying to Jerez this week). SGP:651 - 81 points.
Today we’ll have three big Karuizawas from last year, all ex-bourbon to be as coherent as possible. And while we’re at it, we’ll do it as a short verticale.
Karuizawa 34 yo 1980/2014 (63%, OB, No.1 Drinks for LMDW, bourbon, cask #6476) Colour: amber. Nose: starts a wee bit solventy, which is normal at this strength. It’s even a notch acetic at first nosing, but everything starts to become smoother and rounder after a few seconds, with very lovely notes of café latte, warm sawdust, dried apricots and church incense. I also find a little botrytis, sultanas and just hints of dried roses. At some point I could not not think of some older Willetts. With water: a perfect shortbread/marmalade combination, with a great freshness and no overoakiness whatsoever. Takes water very well. Mouth (neat): hugely concentrated, to the point where it gets very mentholy and kind of lemony (bitter lemon marmalade with some ginger), but those flavours keep it rather fresh, and even approachable. Also Seville oranges, bags of cinnamon and quite some liquorice wood, with a little feeling of ‘sucking your pencil at school’. With water: some kind of cocktail made with cinnamon, various citrus liqueurs and just a touch of ginger. The freshness remains impressive. Finish: quite long, with a few more oaky spices, as almost always (teas), but the lemony signature keeps it ‘high’. A touch of maraschino in the aftertaste. Comments: I’d say these ex-bourbon versions aren’t as wham-bam as the sherried ones, but I find them lovely. Even at 63% vol.! SGP:661 - 89 points.
Karuizawa 35 yo 1979/2014 (58.8%, OB, No.1 Drinks, bourbon, cask #8187) Colour: amber. Nose: same ‘family’, obviously, but this one’s rather grassier, kind of more vegetal, with peelings and roots (beetroot, celeriac). After a few seconds, it’s some brioche that comes through, together with a very superb earthiness ‘out of nowhere’. That, I like. Black tea, pipe tobacco, menthol, a drop of turpentine, a little humus… All that on the usual marmalade and butterscotch. Croissants au beurre. With water: cough syrup! Love these hints of eucalyptus. Mouth (neat): oh lovely! Creamy limoncello and mandarine impériale plus pipe tobacco and earthy spices. Citron liqueur. The citrus is impressive, and reminds me of some old ex-active oak Rosebank. With water: even more to my liking. All things citrusy plus a few things earthy, especially liquorice wood. Finish: long, with a little caraway coming through. Probably the most expensive aquavit in the whole world ;-). Comments: seriously, this one’s just great. SGP:661 - 91 points.
Karuizawa 35 yo 1978/2014 (63%, OB, No.1 Drinks, bourbon, cask #8383) Colour: amber. Nose: even more acetic and solventy than the 1980 at first sniffs, this is almost a blend of nail polish remover and balsamic vinegar when unreduced. Let’s give it time… zzz… Well, nothing beats time with anything related to whisky, even a few minutes in the glass. Gone the solventy notes, hello fudge, marmalade, butterscotch, rancio (touches) and not-too-sweet raisins. Pretty often, these old ex-bourbon Karuizawas do display sherried notes, which is funny. With water: cough syrup, just like in the 1979, but this time the whole got even more medicinal. Some kind of secret concoction that would cure just anything! The croissants are back as well. Mouth (neat): as creamy as honey, rather spicy, marmalady and rather tannic. Ginger, cinnamon mints, cumin, strong tea…But once again, the citrusy side saves it. Even better, that comes with perfect earthy tones. With water: almost the same whisky as the 1979, with just a few more medicinal and kind of spiky touches. Peppermint? Finish: long, citrusy, earthy and spicy. Comments: I think I liked this one even better than the 1979. We’re approaching the best sherried versions! SGP:562 - 92 points.
There's a new official 10 yo entirely made by the current owners. As usual, we'll add a few other Benriachs to the line-up.
Benriach 10 yo (43%, OB, 2015) I believe this is one of the first official Benriachs to have been distilled by the new owners, under the watchful eyes of Billy Walker. Colour: gold. Nose: a few bready/yeasty notes at first nosing, then some overripe apples and a blend of plum spirit and pale ale (some kind of IPA). A touch of wet limestone as well, but the whole’s very barleyish rather than plain fruity. Perhaps a few greengages? Mouth: more fruits, less ale. I find oranges and a creamy vanilla (butter cream, fudge), then rather touches of limoncello, while the sweet barley speak out again after a few seconds. Touches of white pepper, quite possibly from the oak. Finish: good length. Pepper, vanilla and malty beer, plus stone fruits in the aftertaste. Swiss Abricotine? Comments: rather firmer and more vigorous than expected. Not a smooth/easy one! I really like it. SGP:451 - 83 points.
Benriach 15 yo 'Pedro Ximenez Sherry Wood Finish' (46%, OB, +/-2014) First tried this expression in 2007, when it was still nicknamed ‘Ximinez’. I had kind of liked it (WF 79). Colour: deep gold. Nose: I’m totally certain it’s improved quite a lot. I mean, in my book. This has depth and not many ‘in your face’ winey notes’, while subtle notes of chamomile, honeysuckle, roasted argan oil and dried figs are pleasantly playing together. There’s also a very fine oakiness, with some walnuts and a delicate vanilla. And marzipan, and blond tobacco. Very nice, as they say in whisky forums. Mouth: indeed, well done. Dried fruits and a little pepper, nutmeg and strong black tea, so the oak’s slightly obvious, then a spicy jam that would contain bitter oranges and strawberries. Let’s not forget cloves. Finish: long, a little caramelised – in a good way. Comments: a very fine dram, with a finishing that was done with care IMHO. They’re very good at that. SGP:551 - 85 points.
Benriach 15 yo 1996/2013 (47.5%, Whisky Spirits, Whisky Seasons) That was a pretty series! There’s been many very good indie 1996s. Colour: pale gold. Nose: starts with pineapples and pears plus a faintly solventy side, not unpleasant at all, and rather goes on with bananas and cut grass. Marshmallows. So it’s a fruity Benriach, but not quite a ‘tropical’ one. Typical mid-1990s. Mouth: it’s fruit syrup! Barley water, pineapples, peaches, apples, gooseberries… And all that. Plus a touch of lemon that adds freshness and ‘vivacity’. Finish: medium, sweet and fruity, with a little more oak in the aftertaste. Comments: easy, very loyal, and slightly summery, which can’t be bad. I’m sure it would take ice well. SGP:551 - 83 points.
Benriach 17 yo 'Solstice 2nd Edition' (50%, OB, +/-2014) A peated one this time, or better yet, it’s ‘heavily peated’. I remember the first Solstice, a 15 yo, was finished in Port, which is the most unlikely combination in my book. I mean, peat+Port. And yet, I had liked it (WF 84). Colour: apricot/salmon. Yeah well… Nose: indeed it is unlikely. Blackcurrant-flavoured Jell-O made with smoked water, Beaujolais that would have been stored near an old oil stove, smoked red peaches… And all that. And yet, there is a feeling of oneness that’s very… intriguing. Mouth: well, indeed, vive la difference. It’s a little rough around the edges, and there’s really a lot of bacon, cranberries and blood oranges, but the combo kind of works despite all these odd aspects. I also find a lot herbal tea, around cherry stems or blackcurrant buds. Indeed, it is ‘spécial’, in the French meaning of that word. Oh forget… Finish: quite long. I guess someone managed to smoke cassis. Comments: as long as there’s balance, I’m not against any form of experimentation. Not sure one would quaff a whole bottle in one go, but there. Score unchanged. SGP:645 - 84 points.
Good, we had PX and we had peat, let’s have both.
Benriach 1994/2013 (51.5%, OB for Independent Spirit, peated, PX sherry finish, cask #2993, 298 bottles) Colour: amber. Nose: ah yes, it’s this combo that creates a lot of earth and leather, beyond any straight peat or straight sherry. More or less like nosing a box of sweetened cigars, or some strong Belgian Kriek beer. All sorts of old leather ware, saddles, bags, motorcycle jackets… There is a fruitiness as well, but it’s a little hesitant. Nectarines and cherries, perhaps? Mouth: rich, creamy, spicy and fruity. Its peaty but not that peaty – less so than some very lovely un-sherried 1994s by Signatory, for example. Or ex-hoggy OBs. Cigars, smoked ham, chutney, gingerbread, marmalade… Finish: long, rich, spicy. Lots and lots of smoky bitter oranges in the aftertaste. Comments: very good, I’d add ‘of course’, but I do prefer the zesty, straight, whistle-clean official hogsheads. Those often fetch 90-91 in my little tasting book. SGP:565 - 82 points. I know, forgot to add water. Too late.
Benriach 22 yo 1991/2014 (50.7%, The Whisky Agency, refill barrel, 182 bottles) Aaahh, refill! BTW, I really like it that the bottlers decided to add their faces onto the labels. Apologies, guys. Colour: straw. Nose: yeah! Back to the distillate! It’s rather waxier and oilier than I would have thought, and unfolds on all orchard fruits known to Man. Plums are ahead in this case. Add a spoonful of light and delicate acacia honey, and you’ll have a good picture. Mouth: it’s almost light and liquid honey at first sips, before the fruits start to sing along. Apples and tangerines, so this one does have a tropical side. A touch of crystallised pineapples, also a little lemon. Finish: quite long, fresh and zesty. Like these touches of tobacco in the aftertaste. Comments: northern or tropical? I mean, the fruits? What’s sure is that this is some very good clean fruity Benriach. SGP:641 - 87 points.
Benriach 1991/2010 (57.2%, Scotch Single Malt Circle, bourbon, cask #32281, 209 bottles) This one is for Bill Miller! Colour: pale gold. Nose: oh yes, this is complex, and goes beyond the fruits. Great notes of patchouli, tobacco, earthy tea, orange zests, old books… So it’s rather more tertiary than the Agency’s, but maybe that’s the higher strength. Let’s see. With water: sweet barley everywhere. Back to the roots! Mouth (neat): very creamy, rich, both thick and graceful. Moves like oil in your glass. Mandarin liqueur, limoncello, orange blossom water and sweet barley. Plus honey. With water: lemony barley goodness. Malt whisky as nature intended (are you sure, S.?) Finish: rather long. Overripe apples and gooseberries. Comments: I found this absolutely excellent. Pure clean well-distilled and well-aged malt whisky. Yeah, as nature intended. Well done Bill (and Maggie). SGP:641 - 90 points.
A last one for the road (always thought this expression was totally stupid, but there).
Benriach 29 yo 1984/2014 (50.3%, OB, Tawny Port Finish, cask #4051, 269 bottles) A peated one. There you go, the unlikelies are back. Tawny and peat? And why not Lady Gaga with Tony Bennett? Colour: red amber. Nose: I don’t know, I really don’t know. Some new leather for sure, bitter oranges as well, ditto marmalade, limestone, gunflints… But in truth, it’s more or less like opening a new pack of cigarettes. As far as I can remember… With water: nicer. Oriental spices, tobacco, old leather jacket, soy sauce, old teas, dirty oil… Mouth (neat): starts very well, on marmalade, but some kind of greenish spiciness is soon to take over. Green pepper, rocks, French beans, blackcurrants, sloe, caraway. Indeed, all that’s a little unusual. With water: forget. Leather, tobacco, dark chocolate, prunes, brine, peat smoke. We ended up on Islay, it seems. I cannot not think of some old sherried Laphroaigs. Finish: long, meaty, kippery, leathery. Great finish. More bitter chocolate and coffee in the aftertaste. Comments: ups and downs, but it all ended greatly. Needs time… and water plus a good pipette. SGP:564 - 88 points.
Today: JAZZ. Performer: Don Sebesky. Track: Psalm 150. Amen. Please visit his website and buy his music...
April 17, 2015
Another little bag of Irish
Well, just three of them but we won’t have ‘regular’ ones today.
Dunville's 'VR' (46%, OB, Echlinville Distillery, malt whiskey, PX cask, +/-2015) Pretty much like what’s happening in the US with sourced whiskies launched as pseudo-own distillates under ‘legendary old brands’, this is sourced Irish whiskey, most probably finished in PX. Now that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. Colour: pale gold. Nose: it’s okay, its okay, just rather light. Whiffs of copper, nuts, ripe bananas, and apple juice. A little more cardboard and almondy soap coming through after a few minutes, but I still find the whole rather okay. Mouth: more body than expected, some peppery oak, touches of tinned fruits (pears and pineapples, then a slightly gritty, gingery side. A little rough, the juice must have been relatively young. Finish: quite long, with some bitter tea and apple peelings. These almondy notes again in the aftertaste. Comments: I don’t find it extraordinarily Irish. The whole’s rather, well, okay. SGP:351 - 75 points.
Cooley 23 yo 1992/2015 (55%, Cadenhead, Irish) A brand new Cooley by Cadenhead. Please note that I’ve used the picture of an earlier (very good – WF 90) bottling. Probably a barrel as well. Colour: pale gold. Nose: well, how many times have I already told that story about a friend who was pouring young peated Cooley to punters on the parking place of a famous Islay distillery starting with an A, around twelve years ago, and managed to let everyone believe it was young whisky from that very Islay distillery? Indeed, you could think this is a slightly lighter and marginally fruitier A***. Especially love this smoky earthiness, these whiffs of lit cigars, the touches of garam masala and the horse saddle notes. With water: more fruits and more rooty notes. A little more barley as well. Mouth (neat): one of the fruitiest ueberpeaters I’ve tried. Shouldn’t work but it does. Smoky pineapples (not hand-grenades) and peppery litchis, then rather various oranges, especially bitter ones. And blood oranges. Really an unusual style, and this baby still roars like a tiger after 23 years. With water: perfect. Peat and fruits work in tandem, almost like… let’s see, say John Coltrane and Duke Ellington? (S., you’re afraid of nothing.) Finish: long, and rather more on fruits rather than peat this time. Strawberry yoghurt. A rather exceptional signature, as fresh as a baby’s… err, mouth. Comments: I absolutely love this style. Balance is deliciously perfect – what a tango! SGP:556 - 91 points.
Nah go climb over such a thing… Unless, unless, this…
Limerick 23 yo 1991/2015 ‘Slaney Malt’ (58.1%, Adelphi, Irish single malt, cask #8265, 202 bottles) The label states ‘Slaney Malt’. Colour: gold. Nose: more fruity than fruits. Or one of the fruitiest malts ever. Guavas, papayas, bananas, mangos and all that. But not only that, there’s a fair amount of sweet and soft tea that support that extravagant fruitiness, and it never becomes cloying or simply ‘too much’. I don’t know if that rings a bell to you, but in Switzerland, they have some sweets named ‘Sugus’ that just smell like this. Well, you need at least twenty unwrapped Sugus to match this. Ah, childhood memories… With water: meadow flowers, nectar, and tinned fruits. All of them. Mouth (neat): extreme fruits, but with elegance. Would make a Lochside 1966, a Clynelish 1972 or a Benriach 1976 taste bitter and grassy in comparison. Well, quite. More citrusy than on the nose, with mainly tangerines and pink grapefruits. Oh and Sugus. And you don’t even notice that it sings at 58% vol., which may be a little dangerous. With water: less dangerous – and just as great. Finish: rather long, very fresh, very fruity. Spring in Provence. Comments: very ‘cool**’. It’s absolutely fab to be able to taste both the thesis and the antithesis from the very same distillery. Great work Adelphi and Cadenhead. SGP:751 - 91 points.
Let’s simply go on, no need to wait any further. ‘Things that are done need not be done’, used to say my grandma in her impeccable middle-Alsatian dialect.
Islay 8 yo 2005/2013 (46.1%, Sansibar, single malt, 188 bottles) Many great whiskies already in this Sansibar series from northern Germany. Colour: white wine. Nose: we’re really on the smoky side, it’s almost like nosing the exhaust pipe of an old English car, into which some little rascals would have hidden a few lemons. Oh and on the beach, that old car’s on a beach, but the whole isn’t as coastal as it could have been. Touches of band-aid as well but again, not too much. Mouth: sweet smoke. Remember that old psych-rock band? Plus salt, almonds, almonds, and a few kippers. Good strength that makes it highly drinkable. Finish: long, very smoky, with a briny and almost olive-y aftertaste. Comments: a very solid young Islayer, offering nothing but smoky pleasure. SGP:357 - 84 points.
Smoking Islay (58.2%, Blackadder, single malt, cask #BA2013/451, 370 bottles, 2013) Let’s only hope this baby will be as much to our liking as the other Smoking Islay we had the other day. Colour: straw. Nose: it’s a rather fatter one, starting with candy sugar and some kind of caramelised apple pie, before more peaty and coastal goodness comes out, with also a clear and loud medicinal side. Oysters, lemons, bandages, antiseptic, shortbread… rings a bell. Mouth: perfect in its immaculate peaty nakedness (wot?) Lemon drops, a little fennel, plenty of smoke, eucalyptus syrup and seawater. Stir well. Finish: very long, chiselled, peaty and very zesty. The candied side that we had found in the nose is gone. Comments: excellent whisky in an excellent series. In my opinion. Great bitterish aftertaste that keeps it ‘nervous’. SGP:357 - 86 points.
Classic of Islay 14 yo (60%, Vintage Malt Whisky Co, for Jack Wiebers, single malt, cask #3007, 2006) I know, an old bottle, but it is one of the indy malts that are said to be Lagavulin. Colour: gold. Nose: some perplexity at WF Towers, since this is much more acrid, dryly smoky and ashy than Lagavulin, without that epitomical sweetness. Well, at first nosing, because indeed, it all becomes deeper, with wonderful whiffs of overripe apples in an old seaside cellar, or something like that. Lovely touches of humus and wild spicy mushrooms (there are some that I adore and that grow late in the season, that we call pieds-bleus AKA Lepista nuda. Mouth: that unmistakable combination of a big peatiness with wee tart oranges and a ‘cigar’ smokiness. In a way, it’s akin to the official 12, but with a little more roundness, with hints of raisins coming through. Refill sherry or something? Finish: very long, on, well, peated oranges and raisins. Comments: how could anyone be against such whisky? Unless you’re severely against peat, of course. And Lepista nuda. SGP:557 - 89 points.
Islay 14 yo 1994/2008 (53,1%, The Daily Dram) Another older bottling that was said to be Lagavulin. And 14 years old to boot. Colour: pale gold. Nose: yes this is perfect. Starts with broken branches and fresh hazelnuts, goes on with some sweet kind of cough syrup, then we find a much bigger minerality that comes with whiffs of farmyard and hay under the rain. There’s also rather a lot of iodine for Lagavulin, but why not. Mouth: starts sweet, on candied ginger and bitter oranges, and rather goes on with some kind of smoky sloe gin, gentian, horseradish, then some very strong lemon. Some salt as well, while the mouth feel remains oily, almost thick(ish). Finish: very long, still walking on this thin Lagavulinian line between civilised sweetness and raw peated madness. More cough syrup again in the aftertaste. Funny pineapples at the retro-olfaction. Comments: smashes you and leaves you breathless. Having said that, it doesn’t quite go into subtleties, but the fullness is impressive. SGP:457 - 88 points.
Peat Reek (60.6%, Blackadder, hogshead, cask ref #PR20132-3, 216 bottles, 2013) Right, a peat reek, just what we needed ;-). Colour: white wine. Nose: easy, sweet peat, with cut apples and fresh almonds, as well as clams, perhaps. Much gentler than the name suggested, unless I’m starting to suffer from peat fatigue. Mouth: sweet and easy, even at such high strength. Grapefruits and tangerines covered with liquid smoke and barley water, with a little marzipan in the background. I find it quite Caol-Ila-esque. Well, very Caol-Ila-esque. Finish: long, clean and zesty, with a peaty gentleness and always these lovely tangerines, especially in the aftertaste. Comments: what, you say that was bottled at more than 60% vol.? I just haven’t noticed. Soft as smoky silk – or consensually peated? SGP:556 - 86 points.
Images of Islay 'Ruvaal Lighthouse' (53,2%, Malts of Scotland, 217 bottles, +/-2014) What’s sweet with this series by the very excellent Malts of Scotland is that they make you revise your Islay geography. So, Ruvaal (actually spelled as Runaal on this label) is located on the northeastern tip of Islay, which suggest Bunnahabhain. Unless, unless… Colour: pale white wine. Nose: yeah, sweet peat with whiffs of peat syrup and then damp hessian in an old cellar. It’s not a deep peater, but it’s got this je-ne-sais-quoi (how do you like my French?) that makes it elegant and, well, smart. Mouth: simple, rather immaculate, with a sweet side again. I’d say this baby would make for a good introductory peater. Made in high stills, most possibly, because it hasn’t got much congeneric fatness. Finish: medium length, with more sweet peat – but the peat’s quite big. Comments: all good, I’d say. Peated whisky to drink like that. SGP:546 - 83 points.
Images of Islay ‘Kildalton Cross’ (53,2%, Malts of Scotland, 195 bottles, +/-2014) Right, with a name like that, this should be Ardbeg. But how could we be sure? Colour: white wine. Nose: curiously gentle and vanilla-ed at first nosing, with indeed a touch of hessian and seaweed-on-the-beach-near-an-old-boat, and indeed something marginally campfire-y, but yeah, all that remains gentle and very polite. Mouth: more happening, but it’s probably very young, because sweet fruits are leading the race, as jams and as syrups. Some fudge as well, a little lemon marmalade, smoky fruits… It’s also got something of that cherry-flavoured pipe tobacco I used to smoke thirty years ago. Ah yes, Borkum Riff, that’s the name. Finish: long and as sweet as sweets. The peat’s somewhat buried beneath those fruits. Comments: very interesting, and probably from blending stock. Whether the purifier was on or off, I couldn’t tell you ;-). SGP:646 - 83 points.
Islay (41%, Natural Color, France, +/-2000) An oldish French thing I had in my library. I believe this series has been dead for a long time. You don’t break codes with complete impunity, do you ;-). Colour: straw. Nose: immediate Coal-Ila-ness, with these sweet almondy notes, the mild coastalness, the elegant smoke and these touches of cut apples. Nice delicate nose, it’s just a little, say too discreet. Mouth: very mild, but the profile’s pleasant. A tiny bit of sardine in a glass of a cocktail made out of lemon juice, almond oil, apple juice and sweet barley water. Not much body, sadly. Finish: unexpectedly - and relatively – long, salty, briny, sardine-y. Comments: fine. This baby had its moments, but the lack of oomph and drive was a little problematic. SGP:345 - 79 points.
We’ll have them as Hell’s Angels would do it (although I used to have a friend who was a Hell’s Angel and who… would never touch alcohol). So no order, no water, everything like savages. Ready? Charge!...
Images of Islay 'McArthur’s Head Lighthouse' (53,2%, Malts of Scotland, single malt, 236 bottles, 2014) Well, that lighthouse is located at the entrance of the Sound of Islay, so this could be Bunnahabhain. Unless the name’ McArthur’ rather refers to Lagavulin’s Iain McArthur AKA Pinkie. But I doubt it. Or it’s Caol Ila. Colour: almost as white as water. Nose: from 20cm, a hospital, where tons of antiseptic would have just been poured onto the ground. From closer, more briny smoke and ashes, as well as a little paint thinner and some kind of fruity varnish. Grenadine syrup. Mouth: extremely oily and coating, like syrup indeed. Limoncello, then those medicinal notes again, with some plasticine and lemon-flavoured marzipan. Fruit stones aplenty (plum spirit). Finish: long and salty. Anchovies in salt plus lemon. A lot of salt in the aftertaste. Comments: very young and frankly brutish. Maybe more demonstration whisky for your guests who’ve never tried peated whisky before. Yeah, future ex-friends, perhaps. SGP:448 - 81 points.
As We Get It 8 yo 'Islay' (58.1%, Ian Macleod, +/-2014) Some are claiming that this is Laphroaig. I won’t take any responsibility for it. Colour: very very pale straw. Nose: sweeter, a wee bit more acetic and butyric than the McArthur’s, with a touch of white balsamic vinegar, then a lot of lemon juice, brine and ‘whiffs of a working kiln in the distance’. Bizarrely, it’s much less medicinal than the MoS. It’s got a little more sweet oak as well. Mouth: bang, now we’re talking! Huge peat and smoke and pear bonbons, some kind of acrid pineapples (maybe not totally ripe), then brine and this feeling of ‘drinking iodine antiseptic’. Absolutely massive – and simple, but that’s almost an asset in this brutal context. Finish: extremely long, ashy, lemony, with a very drying aftertaste. It’s probably a good idea to drink a glass of water - or three – before it keeps dragging on for hours. Comments: same comments as above. How many friends do you have? SGP:448 - 82 points.
Smoking Islay (55%, Blackadder, cask #BA2013/450, 386 bottles, 2013) Many great ones in this series. As for what it is, the label states ‘The Spirit of Legend’, so… Nah, they all say that. Colour: straw. Nose: it’s a little gentler and it’s rather more complex, with hessian, smoked barley, oysters and other shellfish (including our beloved whelks), campfire and in the background, a little mocha and shortbread. The other ones weren’t balanced at all, this one is. Mouth: oh yes, this is excellent. Much more depth, with some earthy things, citrusy stuff, and briny… substances. The smokes better integrated as well, the grapefruits are singing loud, and, well, everything’s pretty perfect. No feeling of immaturity whatsoever. And love the fresh almonds. Finish: long, very clean, and yet complex. Love this freshness. Comments: not quite a surprise, but really, I find this excellent. Well done again, Sir Blackadder. And loved the coastalness, at times it was ‘wetter than a haddock’s bathing costume’ indeed. SGP:357 - 87 points.
Big Smoke '60' (60%, Duncan Taylor, +/-2012) Yeah, all indies have young NAS bastard peaters… Colour: straw. Nose: both sweet and candied (caramel, Demerara sugar) and a little more farmyardy than the others, with perhaps less coastalness and more hay, soaked grains, wet earth and humus. I find this different, and just as pleasant, even if it hasn’t got the Blackadder’s (very relative) complexity. Mouth: again, it’s rather sweeter and more farmyardy, with aspects that may remind us of that distillery that sits (very) near Dunnyvaig Castle. Plays the coastal/medicinal card a little less than the others, while sweeter fruits are a little more apparent. Tangerines, perhaps. But don’t get me wrong, at 60% vol., this is quite a monster. Finish: very long, but not ‘fat’. Imagine I manage to find some lightness to some whisky at 60% vol. Should I worry? Comments: very good, obviously, but it had a bit of a hard time after the Smokin’ Islay. SGP:547 - 80 points.
Sheep Dip 'Islay Malt Whiskies' (40%, OB, blended malt, +/-2014) Of course I should have had this one before the monsters. I make many mistakes. And imagine this would be a blend of Bruichladdich and unpeated Bunnahabhain, we’d be toasted! Colour: gold. Nose: please note that I’ve made a 20 minutes break. Yet, this is a gentle peater, right between stewed fruits (rhubarb first, which I just adore) and some lightly briny smokiness, with ideas of an old boat and smidgens of… a seafood platter. Agreed, that would be one langoustine. At times, older Laphroaig 10 would ‘nose’ like this. Not the older glories from the 1960s/1970s, let’s not dream. Mouth: well I find this good, balanced, harmoniously peaty and coastal, only the low strength kind of clashes with the smoky profile. Some kind of coitus interruptus, which is a shame because… Finish: very unexpectedly, it takes off again, with plenty of smoke and ashes, and a salty aftertaste. Comments: a rollercoaster at times, with highs and lows, but the composition works pretty well. Can we have a high-strength version? SGP:446 - 80 points.
Big Peat (55.7%, Douglas Laing, 2014) So this is the XYZth rendition of the ever-popular Big Peat that keeps proving that whisky mustn’t always be taken too seriously. There’s some Port Ellen in this late 2014’s vatting, probably a large proportion! (I told you, not too seriously.) Colour: white wine. Nose: of course it’s f***g nice, and naturally, it’s in your b***y face. What I especially like in this batch is the feeling of having great lemon on great oysters while some peat’s burning in the fireplace. Mouth: absolutely huge, chiselled, self-evident, irrefutable and admirably ‘Islay’. Some might claim that it’s bit young and rough, and those wouldn’t be totally wrong, but that’s often what peatheads are looking for in such whiskies. Finish: long, unexpectedly sweet and fruity, with pears and even pineapples that usually suggest young age. Comments: let’s not quibble, this is about fun and a refreshing unseriousness. Still, I find it a little immature… SGP:448 - 83 points.
Peat Bog 4.3/4 yo 2009/2014 ‘Part II’ (59%, The Whisky Cask, single cask, +/-2014) Ha-ha-ha, 4.3/4 years old, love that. Maybe not totally legal, but at least this baby’s older than some well-known newish official NAS from the entrancing island of Islay. Colour: white wine. Nose: my, are we sure it’s not rather 4.1/2 years old? Because beyond the pristine clarity and cleanliness of this spirit, and the very Pirelli-like tar and smoke, I do seem to detect some youth indeed. And something that, indeed, reminds me a bit of Dunnyvaig Castle, but I’m probably wrong. Enjoy the whiffs of old mop in the background. Mouth: totally young, as it starts with pears and would go on with pears. Can you cook pears in a mix of salted water, lemon juice and heavy/tarry liquorice? Finish: very long, brutal, peary and smoky. Comments: right, let’s not exaggerate, I’d say this funny baby’s rather immature. Maybe what we used to call a ‘whisky infanticide’ when everything wasn’t yet polished on the Web. Now, there is some fun for sure. SGP:648 - 78 points.
Speyside 13 yo 2001/2014 'Heavily Peated' (53.2%, The Whisky Fair, single malt, 193 bottles) I’m so sad I can’t make it to Limburg this year, partly because the Bundespolizei took my driving license. No, nothing to do with whisky. So, what could this be? Possibly an ex-Seagram distillery… Colour: pale white wine. Nose: it’s funny how a non-Islayness shows once you’ve had quite a bunch of Islay peaters. This is a tad flatter, fruitier, sweeter, grassier, and certainly less coastal. Barbecued peaches, perhaps? Mouth: same feeling, but it delivers more on the palate. The fruits are bigger and fatter, around tinned peaches, while the smoke’s more, say towards ashes. I also find bananas. Nothing briny/coastal this time. I have to say I’ve had some Ardmores that were a bit akin to this. Finish: same, the palate is a little shorter – and fruitier. Comments: it’s hard to try this after the Ileachs. And yet it’s most certainly excellent peated malt, but the fruits stand out as the nose on your face. SGP:655 - 78 points.
We’re losing steam, better stop now. But we’ll have more of those soon, including a wee bunch of undisclosed L*g*v*l*n. I can’t wait.
Today: JAZZ. Performer: a certain FZ. Track: King Kong. (the Make a Jazz Noise version). Please visit his website and buy his music...