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Hi, you're in the Archives, March 2011 - Part 2
       

March 2011 - part 1 <--- March 2011 - part 2 ---> April 2011 - part 1

 

March 31, 2011

Whiskyfun

Glenugie

Tasting two sherried Glenugies

Ah, Glenugie! One of my favourite closed distilleries, with many wonders having been bottled by the indies in the past (Sestante, Cadenhead’s…) Glenugie can be beautifully ‘tropical’ (passion fruits, oranges and the whole caboodle).

Glenugie 30 yo 1980/2010 (50%, Dun Bheagan, butt, cask #5375, 506 bottles) Two stars and a halfColour: straw. Nose: it’s a father shy and austere one or so it seems. I get some flints, clay, grass and only the zests from some oranges. Having said that, there’s also a more herbal profile that’s soon to take control, with some liquorice wood, roots, cut grass, aniseed… Also whiffs of old cellar, old wood… Touches of curry and mustard as well. With water: rubber boots coming out, bicycle inner tube, also some vanilla and ginger and very little other sherry influence at this point. Improves after ten minutes, becoming pleasantly citrusy. Citrons? Mouth (neat): oily mouth feel and an attack on pepper and orange syrup plus the same grassy notes as on the nose. The pepper grows bigger while the fruitiness almost disappears. More mustard as well. Slightly too bitter for my taste… With water: better, cleaner, lemony. Just like on the nose, water made it more citrusy. Finish: medium long, on lemon grass and a little butter, with some pepper and ginger in the aftertaste. Comments: it’s certainly good but there were so many great Glenugies in the past… SGP:361 - 79 points.

Glenugie 33 yo 1977/2011 (57.2%, Signatory, hogshead, 100 months oloroso finish, cask #2, 573 bottles) Four stars There was a sister cask two years ago that had been finished for 84 months. It was really good in my opinion (WF 86, MM 86). Colour: dark gold. Nose: a rather rich sherry, with quite some orange marmalade and milk chocolate. There’s also quite some mint, orange blossom, vetiver, a little cardamom, ‘green’ herbal teas (blackcurrant leaf, cherry stem)… With water: that works, even if it never becomes a fruit bomb. Nice notes of oranges and then leather, ham and bacon. Just a little… Also more mint and parsley. Watercress? Mouth (neat): a rich, slightly bitter kind of sherry, not so far from the 1980 in style but sort of better balanced. Moderate but pleasant fruitiness, with some blackcurrants (cassis), sloes, plums… Quite some orange marmalade as well… I’m not sure I could identify Glenugie here (well, let’s be honest, I’m sure I couldn’t) but it’s nice whisky for sure. With water: once again, water worked. More lemon, ginger, pepper… Gin? It reminds me of some gin matured in an ex-Islay cask that Alambic Classique have just launched. It’s quite spectacular in its own genre. Finish: long, lemony, gingery. Comments: I do not have sister cask #7 at hand but despite the longer finishing, I think this one’s rather less ‘vinous’. Same high quality anyway… SGP:551 - 86 points.

More distillery data Our tastings: all bottlings that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

MUSIC - Recommended listening: let's be easy-easy today - and sunny! - with Brazil's Monica Freire and her song No Anzol Do Sonhador that's on her CD 'Bahiatronica'. Bahia indeed. Please buy Monica Freire's music.

Monica Freire
 

March 30, 2011

Whiskyfun

Littlemill

Tasting three recent Littlemill
As I may have written before, there are more and more indie Littlemills around and many are very good. That keeps surprising the ‘older’ whisky lovers who were rather used to the very humble officials. We already had some great 1990s so let’s rather try some 1989 and 1991 today.

Littlemill 1991/2010 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseur's Choice, refill bourbon barrel) Four stars Colour: white wine. Nose: a fairly typical half-grainy, half-lemony profile, rather fresh and close to the grain. Add to that a good amount of fresh herbs (chives, grass) as well as whiffs of moss and damp earth and you have it. Simple but very pleasant. Mouth: good attack, very coherent, lemony and grassy and maybe a tad sugary as well. Lemon juice, Szechuan pepper, a little cinchona… Once again, it’s simple but it’s flawless, without any of the dirty-ish notes that were to be found in some Littlemills from the past. Excellent body at 43% vol. Finish: medium long, with hints of both white rum and tequila. That grassiness… Also some gin. Comments: excellently fresh but not dull at all. A kind of profile that grows on you… SGP:351 - 86 points.

Littlemill 21 yo 1989/2010 (57.4%, The Stillman's, bourbon barrel, 204 bottles) Four stars and a half The Stillman’s is a (talented) new Swiss bottler. Colour: straw. Nose: the barrel added many more vanilla notes to this one, as well as quite some muscovado sugar. Other than that there’s quite some vanilla and whiffs of wet gravel, muesli and apple peelings. I don’t know why I’m saying this but it reminds me of some Glen Scotia. Also some nice fresh mint. With water: yes! A basket of citrus fruits and notes of dry martini, James Bond-style. Mouth (neat): very nice attack, nervous and sharp but not without roundness, more on pears than the usual Littlemill. Goes on with some mint, cider apples, ginger, pepper, lemon… With water: becomes sort of younger. A fruit salad with a little pepper and ginger. Finish: rather long, fresh, lemony, with also notes of tangerines and a little ginger and zests in the aftertaste. Comments: all very good. Where did they hide all these casks? SGP:541 - 88 points.

Littlemill 19 yo 1991/2010 (58.1%, Cadenhead) Four stars and a half Colour: pale gold. Nose: this one is the most mineral of all three, with these whiffs of wet gravel that we already had in the 1989, limestone… There’s also quite some agave, other cactus, earth, roots (gentian!)… It’s not big but it’s quite spectacular I must say. With water: simply more of the same. Mouth (neat): perfect if you like this kind! Ultra-sharply lemony, very zesty and spicy, gingery, with also notes of fruit eau-de-vie (stone fruits, kirsch) and an added roundness. Cane sugar syrup. With water: we’re close to the Stillman’s but this one has also a little more grassy notes notes – and a little less fresh fruits. Finish: long, grassy, limey. Comments: a slightly grassier variant, just as excellent. SGP:451 - 88 points.

More distillery data Our tastings: all bottlings that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

MUSIC - Recommended listening: time for more powa music today, with Jane Getter and her punchy jazz-rock (okay, heavy fusion jazz). It's called The loop and it's on her 'See Jane Run' album. Please buy Jane Getter's music!

Jane Getter
 

March 29, 2011

Whiskyfun

Pulteney

Tasting two official 23yo Pulteney

Not too sure when these babies were bottled, they may well be very new as they seem to be unknown within MM circles. There are a bourbon version and a sherry version.

Old Pulteney 23 yo 'Bourbon' (43%, OB, bourbon casks, +/-2011) Four stars Colour: straw. Nose: despite the low strength, this one bursts with fresh garden fruits such as gooseberries and green apples as well as tangerines, all that on a bed (so to speak) of rather limey herbs (lemon grass, coriander, then mint and fennel) and the expected brine. It’s very fresh and kind of young (pleasantly so), with only touches of vanilla and straight oak. After fifteen minutes, some very nice notes of camphor coming through, something slightly medicinal, and more vanilla. Mouth: good body at 43% vol. and a profile that’s almost exactly the same as on the nose. Same fruits, same brininess, same vanilla and same herbs. Maybe a little more citrus fruits. Pink grapefruits? This is excellent even if it loses steam after a few seconds (the middle could have been a tad oomphier). Finish: medium long and very salty. Salted orange juice? Comments: excellent, vibrant, with only a little weakness on the palate after the very nice attack. Excellent freshness. This, at 46 or 50%!….  SGP:641 - 87 points.

Old Pulteney 23 yo 'Sherry' (43%, OB, sherry casks, +/-2011) Four stars and a half Colour: pale gold (unexpectedly pale). Nose: this one goes one step further, as it’s got everything that the bourbon already had, plus notes of red berries (raspberries and blackberries) and more honey. Also orange blossom water and touches of rosewater. A little fresh butter. Mouth: same comments. More body, a bolder middle and more complexity. A big saltiness again, blood oranges, green cardamom, white and milk chocolates, raspberry sweets, cranberry juice and touches of peat. Finish: medium long, even more on oranges. Salt and pepper in the aftertaste, then even ripe strawberries. Comments: quite superb. Too bad these two Pulteneys are so expensive (I’ve seen them at £199 each). Oh yes, and this, at 46 or 50%!….  SGP:652 - 89 points.

More distillery data Our tastings: all bottlings that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

 

SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))

Unavailable whiskies?
Friends, we can often read here and there that WF is all about rare, long gone bottlings. Really? I just had a quick look at all the whiskies I’ve tried in February alone and these are the figures:

68 bottlings in 28 days (2.4 expressions a day), including 43 whiskies that were bottled in the last two years and 25 whiskies that were bottled before. That’s 1.5 new/recent bottlings a day, which might well be more than at many other places that ‘specialise’ in new bottlings. Not that all that really matters… - Serge

JAPAN'S MUSIC - Recommended listening: more classical hard-bop jazz with Koichi Matsukaze and his band playing Under Construction (it's on the wonderful Shibuya Jazz Classics CD). Please buy Koichi Matsukaze's music.

Koichi Matsukaze
 

March 28, 2011

Whiskyfun

Port Ellen

Tasting two Port Ellen plus two or three

I think these vintages are a little ‘sweeter’ and ‘rounder’ than the ones from the 1960s and 1979s but I guess more careful research should be done.

Port Ellen 27 yo 1982/2009 (48.6%, Murray McDavid, Mission Gold, enhanced in Yquem casks, 1175 bottles) Five stars Finishing PE in Yquem is quite transgressional… and rock and roll. Almost a statement if you ask me. Oh well… Colour: pale straw. Nose: oh wow! It’s true that Sauternes casks usually work very well, I remember well the first Sauternes finishings that Celtique Connexion did in France ten years ago (Braes, Caol Ila), they were brilliant; some peated Benriachs by Signatory were superb as well. It seems that this PE is of the same kind, with a subtle peat/yellow fruits combo that’s most beautiful. Almond oil, fresh walnut skins, shellfish, linseed oil, ink, apricots, plums, shoe polish… It’s all rather gentle, that is. No extreme PE extravaganza so far. With water: all PE now, no more Yquem influence that I can get. Fresh almonds, linseed oil, soot and tar plus whiffs of hessian. Mouth (neat): it’s quite amazing how the Sauternes’ sweetness complements the malt’s fiery temperament and makes it ‘easier’ without dumbing it down. Great notes of grapefruits, plums, citrons and kumquats with a peppery and gingery peatiness. Great body. Absolutely no ‘spinelessness’ from the ultra-sweet wine. Most probably not first fill. With water: top notch, easy-fruity PE. An easy PE? Finish: medium long, saltier, peaty, briny… Turkish delights in the aftertaste, Yquem wasn’t completely dead ;-). Comments: it’s quite interesting how the Sauternes’ influence never stopped fading away, making all this quite breathtaking. One that works! SGP:457 - 91 points (err, did I just score a finished PE above 90?)

PE
Whiskysite.nl version

Port Ellen 28 yo 1982/2010 (57.5%, Whiskysite.nl and QV.ID Belgium, Refill Sherry Puncheon) Five stars Colour: pale straw. Nose: it’s a slightly sweet PE at first nosing, starting on some unusual ripe apples and vanilla notes and very little sherry influence. Some tarte tatin, dates, roasted chestnuts… The peatiness is moderate and there are very little tarry notes. Rather a PE ‘de salon’? Having said that, there are also some very farmy notes in the background, heavy cigar (genuine Cuban Partagas?), strong game (‘aged’ pheasant)… With water: more tobacco, diesel oil, ink, metal polish… Mouth (neat): perfect! Punchy, with an utterly perfect balance between the ‘big peat’ and the ‘nervous citrus fruits’. Lace at cask strength (wot?). With water: drier, with more chillies, paprika and cinnamon from the wood ‘joining in the dancing’. Finish: very long, on grapefruits, ashes and cinnamon. Smky/tarry aftertaste. Comments: simply another great one. SGP:358 - 92 points.
Pe2 Port Ellen 1983/2010 (56%, Malts of Scotland, Refill Sherry Butt, cask #MoS 66, 322 bottles) Five stars Colour: white wine. Nose: ah yes, it’s one of these crisp, crystal clean Port Ellens that defy their years. Seawater, smoke, peat (relatively moderate, it’s no diabolical peat monster), fresh butter, fresh almonds, wet clothes and just a little lemon juice. Not very complex but it’s already a lot. Little tar that I can smell so far. And no sherry whatsoever.

With water: hurray, it’s the diesel oil, motor oil and ‘old trawler’ notes that come out now. Also these very typical medicinal notes, not really iodine, camphor or antiseptic, rather bandages and aspirin tablets. Damp chalk. Mouth (neat): sharp like a blade, as they say. Chiselled, extremely narrow but beautifully so, mostly on smoked fish (very kippery for sure), ashes, almond oil and bitter marzipan plus dashes of freshly squeezed lemon. Gets then drier, very ashy (and in that sense a tad Superoctonovamore-esque). With water: super-clean, really super-clean. You know what? It reminds me of that old 10yo that Signatory Vintage bottled for the Scottish Wildlife fund fifteen years ago. In a certain sense, we’re close to some young PE here. Finish: long, ashy, smoky. Comments: great. If you’d like to have some ‘young style’ PE, catch this one if possible. The newest official, for instance is much smoother and rounder (but absolutely fabulous). SGP:267 - 91 points.

Pe2 (59.5%, Specialty Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2010) Four stars There’s something rotten in the kingdom of Whiskyfun, I’ve written notes for Pe3 before Pe2. No good. Colour: dark amber. Nose: starts on smoked ham, goes on with smoked ham and develops even more on smoked ham. Right, I’m joking but there are bags of ham indeed, as well as hyper-mega-huge whiffs of struck matches. It’s the best example of a malt whisky where those notes can be quite fabulous and not obligatorily a flaw. What’s more, I think those kinds of aromas are quickly filtered by our olfactory bulb and after two or three seconds, whoosh, gone. So, smoked ham, big yet evanescent whiffs of struck matches, then roasted chestnuts, a lot of cigar ash, kilos of dark chocolate and cocoa, gravel and clay, soot and, as often in PE in my experience, tar. Quite extreme. With water: a tad more vinegary, as often. Balsamico. Then old roses, ambergris and benzoin – what a change. Mouth (neat): very creamy, very rich yet zesty (not as zesty as the 1983 though), with an attack that’s a tad unusual with sherried PEs. Less on soot/tar/ashes/cocoa and rather more on lemon and roasted nuts, with a big smokiness in the background. Funny touches of ‘acidic’ fruits, kiwis, rhubarb, grapefruit… What’s also quite striking is the youth here and in that sense it’s close to the MoS. It could have been a 12yo whisky and btw, I’m wondering if it spent all its life in sherry. With water: the leathery/rubbery notes are back. Finish: long, citrusy, leathery, gingery, not very ‘sherry’. Unexpected notes of bubblegum. Comments: I’m in a moral dilemma here. There were and still are many ‘better’ sherried PEs around in my opinion (DL, JMcA, Pe1 of course – WF 93) but this one displays many unusual and interesting aspects. A bit of conservativeness will be de rigueur… SGP:377 - 87 points.

Port Ellen

And also Port Ellen 1982/2010 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseur’s Choice) Four stars Colour: straw. Nose: starts fresh and relatively light, well in the style of most ‘reduced’ PEs by G&M. It’s rather sweet at first nosing, with also something slightly chalky. Flour, newspapers… Some candy sugar. Becomes more medicinal after a while, with also some damp earth, then marzipan. Gains power and becomes almost ‘young’ at almost 30 years of age. Mouth: more powerful than on the nose and very salty. It’s almost sea water! (yes, quite). Notes of green olives, brine, with a pleasant bitterness. Becomes more peppery after that. Finish: a little bitter but balanced. Lemon zests and more smokiness. Comments: one of the good cuvees in my opinion – if you like them salty. Good power at 43% - and almost 30 years. SGP:457 – 87 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all bottlings that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

JAPAN'S MUSIC - Recommended listening: between noisism, pastiche and collage, this is a fascinating little piece called Por Una Cabeza by tenor saxist Katayama Hiroaki. It's on his CD 'Quatre'. The song was originally a tango by Carlos Gardel. Please buy Katayama Hiroaki's music.

Katayama
 

March 27, 2011

Whiskyfun

MICHAEL JACKSON was born on March 27, 1942. He's still the best.

MJ

Hibiki

  Japan
Tasting two Japanese blended whiskies
Hibiki’s a blend while Taketsuru’s a vatted malt but hey, both are relatively high-end ‘blended’ whiskies by the two big cats of Japanese whisky. Plus, after all these high-octane Japanese malts, trying some whiskies at 43% will make for nice vacations…

Suntory 17 yo ‘Hibiki ‘ (43%, OB, +/-2010) Three stars I know I should have tried the 21 instead but I don’t think I have it. Colour: gold. Nose: starts on whiffs of hot chocolate and roasted chestnuts, with also hints of café latte and a faint dustiness. Goes on with a little vanilla, bouquet, brioche… It becomes relatively dry, with notes of cut grass. Little fruits in this blend, which is a little surprising. Mouth: good attack, good body, rather fruity (pineapples) and slightly candied. Corn syrup, light honey and then touches of mint and liquorice plus a violet sweets. It’s very good, much better than older batches of the 17 in my opinion. A very satisfying whisky. Finish: medium long, on even more liquorice and mint. After Eights? Comments: as I wrote, this one has nothing to do with earlier batches that I used to find a little weakish. The malt content must be very high. SGP:532 - 82 points.

Nikka 21 yo ‘Taketsuru’ (43%, OB, +/- 2010) Four stars Colour: gold. Nose: it’s another dimension for sure, with many more fruits, even if it’s no big whisky. Quite light globally but complex, malty, slightly earthy (just like many Japanese malts that we just tried) and otherwise rather floral. Honeysuckle, lily of the valley, dandelions, then more honey and beeswax, vanilla, coconut (fresh American oak), oranges, bananas… It’s rather delicate whisky but it’s quite lively as well. Also a little peat and mint. Mouth: rich, peatier than on the nose and very fruity (fruit salad, blood oranges, pineapples). There are also many candied and pastry-like notes, butterscotch, baklavas (orange blossom), jams, honey… It’s very good, very fresh, kind of sexy (but not vulgar at all). Finish: rather long, smooth, with more spices (sweet cinnamon, cardamom, aniseed), honey, peat and a little spearmint. Comments: perfectly composed and kind of fresher than most high-end Scottish blends. I find the 21 quite variable, sometimes it’s fabulous and sometimes its, well, a little less fabulous. This one was sort of between both in my opinion. SGP:642 – 85 points.

JAPAN'S MUSIC - Recommended listening: Japanese born drummer and composer/improvisor Ikue Mori does Smell with Belgian avant-garde singer Catherine Jauniaux. That was on the duo's Vibraslaps CD that was recorded in 1992. Please buy Ikue Mori's music and attend her events.

Ikue Mori
 

March 25, 2011

Whiskyfun

Pinetop

 

Pinetop Perkins:
a Whiskyfun tribute
by Kate Kavannagh

“When Pinetop wasn’t but fourteen years old, he’d walk out there and barrelhouse”.    So we learn from David “Honeyboy” Edwards,  fellow Delta blues veteran and one of the many  friends left behind by Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins, who died on Monday, aged 97.

What would become an award-winning blues piano playing life began on 7th July, 1913 on a plantation near Belzoni, Miss.,  and progressed with Perkins’ childhood move to Shaw, Miss., where he played local juke joints and met Edwards, two years his junior.  It wasn’t all sweet music: cotton plantation work, being knifed in the arm, which put paid to guitar playing, and a struggle for keyboard recognition ensued.

Perkins’ love of Clarence “Pinetop” Smith’s boogie-woogie piano inspired not only the soubriquet but also the drive for success: by the 1950s, he had appeared on Sonny Boy Williamson’s King Biscuit Time radio show from Helena, Arkansas, and made his first solo recording for Sun Records.   He toured with guitarists Earl Hooker, Big Joe Williams and Robert Nighthawk.

Famously chosen for Muddy Waters’ band, a very dapper Perkins gathered other fine band members (drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, guitarist Bob Margolin and bassist Calvin Jones) at his astonishing performance, singing and playing, back in Helena at the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival 2008.   The previous year had seen a yet another Grammy on top of his 2005 lifetime achievement award,  but not the last: this was February’s for best traditional blues album ‘Joined at the Hip: Pinetop Perkins and Willie  “Big Eyes” Smith’.   The admiring Helena audience had contained the equally dapper Honeyboy,  a participant in the 2007 Grammy winning album with Perkins.   

Huge respect, and rest in peace, Pinetop. - Kate

Listen: Sit in the easy chair

(Bibliography:  Edwards, David Honeyboy “The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing: The life and times of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards”.  Chicago Review Press 1997).

 

Hakushu

  Japan
Tasting two more Hakushu
It’s a 1990 that won last week’s Hakushu session (WF 90) so let’s see whether another 1990 will dethrone it or not. Just before that one, we’ll have a younger 1995…

Hakushu 1995/2006 'Owner's Cask' (60%, OB, barrel, cask #5B40049) Three stars Colour: gold. Nose: frankly, I think this is a little too plankish. I’m not against oak, not at all, but in this case there’s simply too much vanilla and cinnamon in my opinion, as well as too much tea and apple peelings. Now, 60% vol. is a lot so some my feelings may have to change soon… With water: not really, despite a very pleasant honeyness that rises up, as well as a few fruits. Let’s say it’s nice, but it’s a little too simple. Mouth (neat): it’s good, it’s very good, and it’s relatively simple yet again. Textbook modern ‘bourbonised’ malt whisky, with exactly the right amounts of vanilla, ginger, cinnamon and maple syrup. A bit too technical for this taster but I won’t deny it’s kind of ‘perfect’. With water: ditto. Nice greenness (mint, chives) from the wood. Finish: medium long, clean, a tad earthier as often with these whiskies. The expected spiciness in the aftertaste as well as a certain sucrosity. Comments: perfectly made but not unforgettable. How PC is that? SGP:541 - 82 points.

Hakushu 1990/2005 'Owner's Cask' (60%, OB, cask #0C42635) Four stars and a half Colour: pale gold. Nose: this one smells just like the perfect modern malt whisky from American wood. Some coconut but not too much, some vanilla but not too much, some bark but not too much and quite a few tinier notes such as lily of the valley, bananas, pineapple, nutmeg, roasted hazelnuts, marshmallows… In short, this works. With water: works even better. Herbs, perfumes, fruits… Especially ripe juicy peaches. Top notch. Mouth (neat): excellent! Powerful, rich, creamy but not heavy at all, which is quite miraculous in my opinion. Hints of banana liqueur, vanilla as usual (with all these fresh bourbon casks around I’ll soon have to go deeper into the various kinds of vanilla, or maybe even origins), a little lemon, maple syrup, touches of white rum… It’s no whisky, it’s pure sin. With water:  what strikes me now is how close this is to the best Balvenies. Oh well… Finish: long, clean, with a touch of peat, some pepper and the same earthiness that we already got in many Japanese whiskies (I think it’s a side effect of very active wood.) I must say this finish is much simpler than I had expected. Comments: truly excellent but it won’t dethrone the other 1990 (cask # 0D40177). Lost points at the finish. SGP:552 - 89 points.

More news and a worthy POV on Japanese whiskies today at Nonjatta

 

March 23, 2011

Whiskyfun

CONCERT REVIEW by Nick Morgan

EDWYN COLLINS AND HIS BAND

Shepherds Bush Empire, London, February 16th 2010

I was musing on sparrowhawks.  Reminiscing about the scene in my very urban West London garden on 26th December last, when we watched one make a festive breakfast of a blackbird in a tree we normally call ‘the tree of life’.  Not on that occasion.  And why?

Sparrowhawk

Because in my mind’s eye  was Edwyn Collins’ most recent album, Losing Sleep, whose cover is adorned with closely-observed illustrations of birds drawn by Collins.  Always a ‘nature punk’, he began this work as he was in the early stages of recovery from the two massive strokes he suffered in 2005. “I think my real recovery began with my first bird drawing” he said a few years later, when the collection was first put on show in London and cities around the UK. He’s still drawing, an updated exhibition is currently doing the rounds again and there’s a published volume of prints too. They are pretty good: not a sparrowhawk amongst them as it happens, although there is a very vicious-looking and wonderfully detailed  hobby (remarkably, we get those in London too, in the summer).  Frankly, this ornithological train of thought was really a way of ignoring the fact that not only was the 94 bus empty, but also the favoured Shepherd’s Bush Thai restaurant and, worst of all, my second  home on the first floor of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.  It’s not just because the Photographer is missing, hors de combat at home, chewing dry toast.  Or because everyone’s in the bar: that’s empty too. The place is just deserted.  The reason?   The populus of the Metropolis is either still at home, or in the pub, watching the Alsatian’s Arsenal take on Barcelona in the European Championship.

So apart from a few noisy chums there is almost no-one there to see openers The Maxwells play a rather nervous debut performance, fronted by a somewhat stage-struck Will Collins (son of Edwyn), or Two Wounded Birds, with Margate’s particular (and quite pleasing) answer to California’s surf guitar sound.   But somewhere around 9.30, just as Mr Collins’ band take the stage, the theatre fills up as if by magic, to give a warm ovation to Collins as he walks across and perches himself carefully atop a large bass speaker cabinet. 

Edwyn Collins
Edwyn Collins

The band - sometime Sex Pistol Paul Cook on drums, Rockingbirds’ Sean Read on keyboards and Andy Hackett on guitars, Pretender James Walbourne on bass and acoustic guitar, and Tom Edwards on guitar - are really excellent, and good-naturedly endure Collins’ impatience as he rushes them through a long set at break-neck speed.  It opens with the title track from Collins’ rightly highly-regarded new album: a soulful and painfully autobiographical account of his  recovery from illness.  Other songs from the new album saw a queue of guests join the stage.  The Magic Numbers’ Romeo Stoddart sang on  ‘It dawn’s on me’, the Cribs’ Ryan Jarman sang on ‘What is my role?’ and Nick McCarthy sang and played keyboards on the driving ‘Do it again’, whose catchy chorus shows the influence of McCarthy and fellow Franz Ferdinand member Alex Kapranos, who co-wrote the song with Collins.  There were two other highlights from the new record.   Firstly, Hackett’s neat guitar solo and feedback control on ‘Humble’; the guitar in question was, I think, a solid-body Gretsch 6121 (Hackett, as you may know, runs vintage guitar dealers Angel Music)  and you can hear him play it on the record.  And then Walbourne playing a very melodic acoustic guitar as Collins sang ‘Searching for the truth’: one of those life-affirming music moments.

Gretsch

In between the new stuff was a clutch of Collins’ classics and if you haven’t listened to these recently, you should, because there is some outstanding material which easily stands the test of time.  From the Orange Juice days  he played ‘What presence’, ‘Consolation prize’, ‘Rip it up’ and ‘Falling and laughing’ (which Collins claimed as the first song he ever wrote, not a bad start).  There was also more recent solo material like ‘Home again’ and of course the multi-million selling ‘Girl like you’, which guitarist Edwards played with considerable gusto as Collins stood at the microphone to sing.  And I should mention that young Master Collins, possibly the worse for a couple of shandies and boasting a little prematurely of Arsenal’s victory over Barca, joined his dad  at the end for ‘In your eyes’.

This was a wonderful performance, by a great band and an inspired writer and singer.  And as I said, pretty life-affirming too. - Nick Morgan

 

Yoichi

  Japan
Tasting two animal Yoichis (roar!)
The Yoichis we had last week have been very ‘extractive’, with a lot of (tamed) wood. I guess these two won’t be much less oaky…

Yoichi 1988 'Vintage' (55%, OB, +/-2008) Four stars We had the 1989 ‘vintage’ last week and liked it quite a lot (WF 87). Colour: full gold. Nose: starts with some big earthy notes, mushrooms, damp cellar and quite some leather, which is quite different from the 1989 that was fruitier and kind of easier. Quite some walnuts as well in this one, flor, cigar tobacco, shoe polish… And always this earthiness. With water: more on all that plus more liquorice wood, roots, gentian, green cigars (like they have in Indonesia, their smell is very, well, peculiar).While we’re in Indonesia, there’s also quite some cloves. All that is very appealing if you like fino-like profiles. Mouth (neat): rich, creamy, with high oak extraction (ginger, mustard, pepper, curry) and some playful notes of bitter oranges and kumquats coming more and more to the front while it remains very oaky globally. In other words, kind of green (so what?) With water: even oakier. Tea, pepper and cinnamon and just touches of vanilla plus a peatiness that arrives. Peppery peat? Some mustard as well, or dare I mention wasabi? Finish: long, maybe a tiny-wee bit sweeter but always very spicy. Comments: well in the style of the series. Big whisky out of big oak, maybe not for everyone... SGP:374 - 86 points.

Yoichi 1991/2008 (63%, OB, 5th Anniversary of Bar Cask Tokyo, cask #129445) Four stars and a half Colour: pale amber. Nose: starts delicately perfumy (peonies, maybe a little musk) but it’s soon to get rather oaky, with also whiffs of ‘warm’ thuja wood, eucalyptus, a little sandalwood, cloves, ginger… Cigar humidor. Its very punchy but a not-too-narrow glass allows you to notice that it’s complex whisky. Wild animals (all sorts, really), horse sweat… Very unusual. With water: more, much more on humidor, with also gamey notes. Three years old Spanish ham (pata negra). More ‘usual’ oak influence after a few minutes, with some ginger and apple peelings. Mouth (neat): heavy, very heavy but not cloying thanks to all these spices from the oak. Maybe also a tad varnishy for a few seconds but otherwise we’re all stewed plums and apricots with a lot of pepper, cloves and cinnamon. It’s very strong whisky though, hard to enjoy at 63% vol. With water: became rather rounder although the oak remains big in the background, with a lot of cinnamon and white pepper. As with the 1988, the peat appears more vividly now, together with notes of crystallised oranges and a little cane sugar. Quite some ginger as well. It’s globally less ‘wild and animal’ than on the nose. Finish: long, a little more candied and ‘kumquatty’. Some kind of earthiness in the aftertaste. Comments: a wild beast indeed, very expressive, with huge wood influence. Fun to follow. SGP: 464- 88 points.

 

March 22, 2011

Whiskyfun

Hanyu

  Japan
Tasting two punchy Hanyu
Four out of the five Hanyus that we had last week were superb, let’s try to beat them with two other ones that are pretty rarer… And I’m very curious about the first one, a very young version…

Hanyu 2000/2005 (60%, OB, Ichiro's Malt, American oak puncheon, cask #6076, 516 bottles) Five stars From second fill wood that had contained grain for almost seven years. I think this is the old Hanyu Distillery’s last vintage. Colour: pale gold. Nose: the oak talks first, with a profile that lies between green tea, vanilla and ripe berries such as gooseberries and redcurrants. The latter suggest it’s young whisky indeed but I wouldn’t say it’s immature, not at all. It’s also pleasantly grassy and slightly coastal and earthy at the same time, which is amusing. With water: it’s coconut and white chocolate galore, with only touches of cinchona. Then more marshmallows but in no way it’s immature whisky. Mouth (neat): excellent, punchy, very creamy, fruity, sweet, sexy… Sure it’s young but this liqueury feeling is very pleasant. Many tinned fruits (apricots, maybe litchis, papayas, others) and just the right amount of cinnamon and pepper from the oak. I must say it reminds me a bit of some Amruts. With water: excellent, truly excellent. Complex, earthy, fruity, spicy, herbal… It’s really got everything, all that with a superb freshness. Finish: long, clean, chocolaty. A desert malt. Comments: a gifted child that doesn’t even rely on some heavy sherry. Certainly impressive, especially since puncheons are very large casks, no barrel or even hogsheads. SGP:542 - 90 points.

Hanyu 1986/2007 (58%, OB, Ichiro's Malt, hogshead, 225 bottles) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: this one’s very funny because it starts on unexpected notes of bicycle inner tube and smoked tea as well as an unusual fruitiness. Tamarind? Also hints of green bananas, tinned pineapples, pears… Also a little dry white wine, dried roses… It all makes for a rather strange combination but I think it works. With water: these notes of rubber became more mineral, just like in some high-end chardonnays (think good Meursault) but it’s also got something animal that’s more to be found in the old pinots noirs. Malt whisky for wine lovers? Also smoked tea and smoked ham. Mouth (neat): ah yes, this is great. It’s a little too strong of course but anyone would immediately understand that this is excellent spirit from excellent wood. Great herbal/fruity/spicy combination, with perfect balance. Superb earthiness, touches of aniseed and wormwood, juniper berries (ala good Dutch genever), cloves… Sure it’s very strong but any drop really explodes on your palate (without any collateral damages). With water: it’s maybe a tad less complex than expected but other than that, it’s all great, mainly on something such as guavas with cinnamon and candy sugar. A little more vanilla as well, and always this perfect earthiness in the background. Finish: long, with the spices more to the front – yes, as almost always. Maybe a little drying. Comments: what a superb whisky! Only the relatively drying finish will prevent me from scoring it even higher than…. SGP:553 - 91 points.

JAPAN'S MUSIC - Recommended listening: Osaka born jazz pianist Aki Takase and WF favourite David Murray at the sax do a joyful Ellingtonia that was on their wonderful CD 'Blue Monk'. Please buy Aki Takasse's (ad David Murray's) music.

Aki Takase
 

March 21, 2011

Whiskyfun

Japan

  The Japanese sessions, tasting four Japanese classics…
With all the great and incredibly courageous people of Japan in our thoughts.

Yamazaki

Yamazaki 10 yo (40%, OB, +/-2010) Two stars and a half Imagine I never wrote any proper notes for the regular Yamazaki 10! I always found the 12 a tad too ‘easy’. Colour: pale gold. Nose: it’s no powerhouse, it’s rather a discreetly grassy whisky, very moderately aromatic, slightly earthy and mentholated. Unexpectedly dry when you think of the single casks of similar age… Mouth: easy, good structure, moderate peat, pepper, cider and cornflakes. A faint saltiness s well. Too bad the middle is a little weakish, maybe 40% vol. is too low for this malt whisky. Finish: medium long, on peat and paprika plus a little corn syrup. Ginger. Roasted nuts. Comments: it’s good whisky but there are many better Yamazakis in my opinion. Probably hundreds – no, thousands. SGP:342 - 79 points.

Hakushu 12 yo (43.5%, OB, +/-2010) Three stars and a half Last time I tried the 12 that was in 2005. Time to revise my opinions. Colour: pale gold. Nose: much more aromatic than the Yamazaki 10, with an obvious peatiness and notes of moss and fern. Some candy sugar as well, white rum, straw, farm yard, cow stable (just faint ideas of that), apple pie… Very nice nose, with more presence than in many entry-level Scotch malts. Funny notes of sake developing after a while, lemon grass, fresh coriander… Mouth: sweet but relatively nervous, mildly peaty, spicy and ‘oriental’, with these notes of lemon grass yet again as well as a little caramel. Honey sauce and liquorice. Finish: medium long, on more of the same. Comments: so much more to my liking than the Yamazaki 10! Nice personality. SGP:442 - 84 points.

Miyagikyo 10 yo (45%, OB, +/-2010) Four starsColour: pale gold. Nose: the peat is rather big in this one, the whole being rather grassy. Mint and eucalyptus. Garden bonfire and grapefruit juice… Something slightly chalky as well, damp clay, earth… A very dry one, very different from a sweeter and rounder batch that I tried two years ago. Mouth: full bodied, rooty, earthy and mentholated. The higher strength shows. Notes of ginger, some salt, liquorice wood, sweet oak, then more herbal teas such as chamomile and Chinese anise, maybe a little thyme, celeriac… Finish: rather long, clean, earthy, peaty and curiously winey. Champagne? Comments: quality is high here. Keeps improving, go Sendai! SGP:454 - 86 points.

Yamazaki 18 yo (43%, OB, +/-2010) Four stars and a half Another expression that I haven’t tried since 2005 or 2006… But I always loved the 18. Colour: amber. Nose: ah yes, now I remember why I always loved the 18. Perfect balance between richness and sleekness, with myriads of tiny aromas that make it very complex. Many herbs (mint and eucalyptus as often but also sage, rosemary, touches of camphor…) then many fruits, most dried (dates, sultanas), then fabulous whiffs of old pu-erh tea (humus and leather), then old rum, maple syrup, jams… Oh well, it’s really fantastic. Mouth: perfect body even after a whisky that was stronger, with an oiliness, some tea, a little leather, cardamom, other spices, sherry… Granted, it’s probably a little oaky and tannic but it can stand that. Also bitter oranges, ‘green‘ spices, more tea, cinnamon… Finish: medium long, with more berries. Blackcurrants and rich pipe tobacco. Comments: I guess it’s hard to make much more out of 18yo and 43% vol. SGP:652 - 89 points.

JAPAN'S MUSIC - Recommended listening: much less Japanese influence in Quasimode's music but when some jazz musicians are this skilled, well... Let's listen to Percussion Revolver (it's on The Land of Freedom - and very Horace-Silverian) and then buy all of Quasimode's music...

Quasimode
 

March 20, 2011

Whiskyfun

Japan

  The Japanese sessions, tasting seven ex-bourbon Yamazaki from 1997 to 1991

With all the great and incredibly courageous people of Japan in our thoughts.

Yamazaki

This won’t be easy as the Japanese master wood technology like nobody else in my opinion. So, all these whiskies should be quite similar but let’s try to detect nuances without splitting (too many) hairs.

Yamazaki 1997/2008 'Owner's Cask' (57%, OB, bottled for Shinanoya, barrel, cask #BX70191) Three stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: starts on fresh oak, freshly broken branches, grass and touches of fresh ginger. Goes on with more vanilla but it never becomes a ‘vanilla bomb’. Touches of mint and eucalyptus, varnish, sawdust… Bubblegum after few minutes. Youngish but clean. With water: more of the very same, no changes whatsoever. Mouth (neat): creamy, fresh, lemony and very sweet. Jelly beans all over the place as well as some barley sugar and vanilla. Some white pepper in the background, becoming a tad bitter. With water: simple pleasures. More malt, barley sugar and lemon liqueur plus touches of juniper berries. Sweet and rounder with water. Finish: medium long, clean, rounded, very ‘bourbon’. Some apricot jam. Comments: maybe not much emotion in this one but despite the slightly shyish nose, it’s ‘perfect’ malt whisky. SGP:551 - 83 points.

Yamazaki 1996/2008 'Owner's Cask' (59%, OB, bottled for Whisky Master, barrel, cask #AW70059) Four stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: much, much more lactones and vanillins in this one. Coconut and vanilla custard, then more earth and grass as well as the same notes of broken branches as in the 1997. Much fruitier and rounder, much more ‘modern’. With water: it changed directions a bit, becoming much more gamey and farmy, even after twenty minutes. Once you get used to those notes, it’s all a coconutty extravaganza. Mouth (neat): exactly the same differences as on the nose. More of everything especially marshmallows and coconut cream. That cannot only be the extra-2% I guess. Pink grapefruits and a little pepper. With water: coconut liqueur and ginger liqueur, fifty-fifty. Finish: long, on the same flavours. A little more orange in the aftertaste. Comments: the oak’s sweetness is very big here. Perfectly made, provide you like modern whisky (more on that in the coming days). SGP:751 - 85 points.

Yamazaki 1995/2006 'Owner's Cask' (58%, OB, barrel, cask #5Q3015) Three stars and a half Colour: pale gold. Nose: more or less the same whisky as the 1997 at this point. Fresh, grassy, with a lot of fresh wood. A little more coconut arising after a while, putting this one more between the ’97 and the ’96. With water: more coconut. It’s almost Malibu (with some vanilla sugar). Mouth (neat): yet again, somewhere between the two previous ones. Sweet coconut and white pepper. With water: almost the same whisky as the 1996 now. The coconut and vanilla (and sweet lemon) are huge here. Finish: long, simple but perfectly balanced. Comments: we’re almost in liqueur territories here. Same style an global quality as the others. SGP:751 - 84 points.

Yamazaki 1994/2005 'Owner's Cask' (59%, OB, bottled for Futakata, barrel, cask #4Q70069) Four starsColour: straw. Nose: this one is different, starting on wulong tea as well as jasmine before it gets more ‘regular’, that is to say mainly on fresh oak, vanilla and grass. Some coconut arising yet again after a few minutes, a little bubblegum… With water:  superb earthiness, mushrooms, roots, that jasmine again, pu-erh tea… The most complex nose so far. Mouth (neat): same feeling as with the other ones except that this one’s a little fuller and rounder and probably a little less citric/nervous. With water: well, it’s the earthiness that comes out now, it lost a part of its roundness. Nice mentholated and sappy notes. Finish: long, with more and more mint and liquorice. Comments: funny how this one evolved. It’s got something that reminds me of rye whiskies – but I know so little about rye! Anyway, this one is excellent in my opinion. SGP:551 – 87 points.

Yamazaki 1993/2005 'Owner's Cask' (58%, OB, bottled for Nakano ZINC Tokyo, barrel, cask #3F3045) Four stars and a half Colour: pale gold. Nose: the most ‘closed’ of them all so far, with very little coconut and/or bubblegum but more whiffs of cigarette tobacco and old polished furniture. It’s maybe more complex and delicate at this point. Only faint touches of marshmallows. With water: whiffs of cow stable and horse sweat, tobacco, smoked tea… In short, more on all that. This one is far from an ‘engineered vanilla bomb’. Mouth (neat): a very close profile once again. This one has a little more greenness on the palate, it’s also the most aggressive so far. Matcha cake. Other than that we have the same notes of coconut, vanilla, marshmallows and white pepper as in the other ones. With water: more or less the same. More fruitness, more jelly beans. Finish: long, sweet, round, ‘marshmallowy’. In other words, back to square one. Comments: this one is fun to follow, from simple bourbon sweetness to almost phenolic notes, back and forth. SGP: 652 - 89 points.

Yamazaki 1992/2006 'Owner's Cask' (55%, OB, selected by T. Nigita, barrel, cask #2Q70394) Three stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: we’re around the 1997 here, with very little differences, even after a long time. Maybe a little more menthol than in the others. With water: classical bourbon cask. Vanilla, sawdust, sawdust and vanilla. It’s not that it’s unpleasant, not at all, it’s just very… ‘average’ in my opinion. Too simple. Mouth (neat): this times it’s rather different, with rather more tropical fruits than in the others. Oranges and pineapples plus hints of curry sauce. A little less coconut and vanilla, which can’t be bad news. With water: same, with only a little more earthy notes as often. Finish: medium long, clean, balanced, between vanilla and ginger. The coconut is back in the aftertaste. Comments: technically perfect, but only perfect, in the sense of ‘flawless’. Lacks a bit of the structure that the others had, it reminds me a bit of some (good) grain whisky. SGP:541 – 80 points.

Yamazaki 1991/2005 'Owner's Cask' (53%, OB, bottled for Whisky World, barrel, cask #1V70373) Five stars Colour: straw. Nose: it’s not older than all the others as it was bottled six years ago – already! – but it does nose more mature, more ‘tertiary’, with beautiful notes of pine needles, aniseed, green olives, tobacco like in the 1993 and just touches of cured ham. Very nice nose in my opinion. With water: some kind of peat comes out, sea water, smoke… Whiffs of farm yard as well, curry, menthol… This one’s really complex! Mouth (neat): oh yes, this is another dimension. It’s very big even if it’s the ‘lightest’ (so to speak) of the flight but it’s also got some refined notes of sandalwood, many spices, dried figs, some chlorophyll, white chocolate… With water: yes it’s the best – sorry, my favourite. Unexpectedly salty, slightly resinous, briney… Did they throw a few black olives into this cask? Finish: fairly long, on the same notes. Comments: there’s a peatiness here – a peated Yamazaki? What’s sure is that quality is high. SGP:554 – 90 points.

JAPAN'S MUSIC - Recommended listening: something 'emphatically joyous' today, with some big, big frantic funk/fusion/love boat jazz by Japanese guitar hero Masayoshi Takanaka and his super band. It's called Ready to fly and it's live! Please buy Masayoshi Takanaka's music...

Takanaka

 

Chenin all over the place last night...

Chenin

Our own twenty years old wine tasting club 'the Süf Club' gathered last night around a few chenins. The winner was a Vouvray 1986 Clos Naudin, second was the Saumur Brezé 2007 by Guiberteau. La Coulée de Serrant 1990 has been crushed! (12 blind tasters).

 

March 18, 2011

Whiskyfun

Unusual Japanese

Japan
The Japanese sessions, tasting three unusual Japanese whiskies With all the great and incredibly courageous people of Japan in our thoughts.

Ocean 12 yo ‘Special Old’ (43%, OB, Sanraku, blend, German import, +/-1985) one star and a half This has nothing to do with the movie mind you, it's an old blend made from Karuizawa and Yamanashi malts and grains. Not too sure about what Yamanashi was, it may have been Kawasaki by another name? Will have to check that with Chris at Nonjatta. Colour: gold. Nose: waaah! Awfully spirity, grassy and cardboardy, with notes of raw wood alcohol and one-penny bubblegum. Also notes of wet gravel and then even more cut grass. Is there some Karuizawa in there, really? Now, all of Karuizawa’s malt whisky may not have been as fantastic as the old bottlings that we get here in Europe… Mouth: this is better I must say, sweeter, even a little sugary, lightly fruity (dried apples), with a pleasant oiliness. Some caramel, white chocolate, muscovado sugar… Not bad at all. Finish: short, grainier again, grassy… Too bad the nice sweetness didn’t last. Comments: the nose was quite disastrous but the palate was more than okay. Quite weak globally, probably more a collector’s item. SGP:341 – 67 points. PS: check Ocean’s old advertising trays at Nonjatta’s, they’re worth their weight in pure gold.

Togouchi 18 yo (43%, OB, +/2007) Two stars and a half This is whisky from a small distillery owned by shoshu makers Chogoku-Jozo. The cask aren't stored in a warehouse but in an old disused tunnel. Colour: straw. Nose: more polished than the Ocean and certainly nicer, although there’s something obviously rawish and grainy here, which suggests it’s a blend and no pure malt whisky. Some coconut, marzipan, fresh hazelnuts, porridge and a little grass, then hints of sweet cooked vegetables such as salsify and beetroot, touches of candy sugar… It’s quite unusual but not unpleasant I must say… Mouth: excellent body, once again it’s a whisky that delivers more on the palate than on the nose, although not everything is brilliant here. Indeed, there’s something a little too dry and peppery in my opinion, with some green oak and tea. Otherwise it’s good, pleasantly malty, with these funny notes of salsify again. Cornflakes and a little ginger plus touches of vanilla fudge. Finish: rather short but clean, peppery and gingery. A very peppery aftertaste ala Talisker. Comments: I think it’s not in the same league as most Japanese malts but it’s probably one of the good Japanese blends. An unusually dry blend and an interesting bottle. SGP:362 - 78 points.

Kawasaki 1982/2009 (65.4%, 'Ichiro's Choice', single grain, refill Sherry Butts, 668 bottles) Four stars and a half We had a 1976 Kawasaki a few years ago, it defeated six old Scottish grains! (WF 89). This 1982 fetched Gold at the MM Awards 2010. Colour: amber. Nose: what a powerhouse! Bursts with heady notes of sweet sherry (raisins) and old grain (vanilla and coconut), all that with very high impact on your nostrils. It’s really spectacular but water is obligatory provided you’ll be needing your nose in the coming days. With water: some smoke comes out (yes I know it’s grain), fruitcake, sandalwood, nutmeg, touches of saffron… Beautiful. Mouth (neat): extremely powerful and sweet, reminding me of some high-strength American rye. Big coconut! With water – because yes water is obligatory: a bed of many fruits and many spices. Kumquats, ripe mangos, coconut and raisins plus cloves, cinnamon, ginger, Chinese anise and liquorice, the whole being very rich and creamy, it’s almost a liqueur (something reminds me Compass Box’s excellent Orangerie). Finish: very long, rich, liqueurish. Some pepper and ginger in the aftertaste as well as touches of litchis. Comments: I’m not a grain guy but I cannot deny this is of extremely high quality. Imagine all those casks had been lost (or forgotten, at least) and were rediscovered very recently! SGP:751 - 89 points.

JAPAN'S MUSIC - Recommended listening: between high quality nu jazz and soft patterns ala EST, they're the Indigo Jam Unit and they're doing Arctic Circle. Please buy the IJU's music...

Indigo Jam Unit
 

March 17, 2011

Whiskyfun

Japan

  The Japanese sessions, tasting four Hakushu

With all the great and incredibly courageous people of Japan in our thoughts.

Hakushu

 

Hakushu 1998/2008 'Owner's Cask' (58%, OB, for Kawachiya 'Elegant 1st Edition', cask #CL40799) Four stars Colour: straw. Nose: very young, fresh, a tad spirity, with notes of strawberries and marshmallows at first nosing, then a slightly grassier profile, with also touches of vanilla and linseed oil. Goes on with more menthol and humus, damp earth, clay, moss… This one is changing fast…. And now we’re back on marshmallows and even bubblegum. Oh, and a lot of coconut. With water: coconut to the max. Not unlike some grain whiskies, such as recent young Girvans or… remember Black Barrel by William Grant? Or Greenore in Ireland… This one has simply a little more depth – maybe because it’s malt whisky. Mouth (neat): fresh young spirit, with something of some older grain whisky from first fill bourbon wood. Huge notes of coconut and vanilla and… well, not a lot of other flavours. So, it’s simple but very good so far. With water: pure coconut milk with only a little ginger and tonic water. And vanilla. Lactones galore. Finish: pina colada… and mai tai while we’re at it as there’s rather more lemon now. A peppery blast in the aftertaste, rather unexpected. Comments: a young and restless beast, extremely sweet, very spectacular. It’s extremely well made, normally I’d go for around 80/82 points for this kind of uebersweet profile but this is worth more since it’s so perfectly mastered. SGP:831 - 85 points.

Hakushu 1993/2007 'Owner's Cask' (58%, OB, barrel, cask #3F40487) Four stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: same as above, just much shier with the bubblegum and louder with the humus notes. Also more roots, gentian… It’s probably a normal evolution, this one being obviously more mature than the 1993. What’s sure is that it’s rather clean but complex distillate. With water: there is a lot of vanilla and there is quite some coconut but it’s also getting more complex. Hints of rye, cranberry juice, earth again… Very nice nose. Mouth (neat): youngish, powerful, creamy, extremely bourbonny. Tons of vanilla, coconut and strawberry jam. Extremely sexy whisky, very sweet. No gingery notes from the oak this time, it’s all very sweet. With water: lifted by some lemony and earthy notes, quite superb. It’s not the expected coconutty extravaganza. Finish: long, chiselled, lemony and earthy, with a little peat now. And vanilla of course but little pepper, whether white or black (well, or grey). Comments: high quality barrel technology, certainly not devoid of interest. In truth, this is very good – and very easy to drink. Too easy… SGP:742 - 88 points.

Hakushu 1990/2007 'Owner's Cask' (61%, OB, for Scotch Whisky Research Centre NARA, cask #0D40177) Five stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: this one seems to be a much peatier version, much more maritime as well, with whiffs of seaweed on top of similar earthy notes (humus and all that). Also touches of rubber. Big notes of old pu-erh tea emerging as well, walnuts… Another complex one that keeps changing. With water: it’s a very green, very ‘grassy’ peatiness this time, but earth and humus are well here as well. Garden compost, green olives... It’s quite spectacular. Mouth (neat): big, powerful, rich, sweet, peaty, lemony… It’s clearly an Islay-style malt, only from more active/sweet wood than what the Ileachs were probably filling at the time. It’s not unlike some recent youngish Ardbegs ex-first fill or even virgin oak (late 1990s vintages). With water: indeed. Excellent. Finish: long, peaty, ashy, lemony, slightly tarry, with quite some liquorice in the aftertaste. Comments: reminds me of… oh, forget about that, it’s simply a perfect peaty malt whisky, extremely satisfying (but terrifyingly moreish). A marginally bigger complexity and there, above 90. SGP:457 - 90 points.

Hakushu 'Heavily Peated' (48%, OB, +/- 2009) Four stars Colour: white wine. Nose: a peaty one obviously, fresh and clean, more on brine and even seawater than the 1990 but also less complex, simpler, classically peaty just like any young Islay would be. Some medicinal notes, more ala Laphroaig this time. Antiseptic. With water: ashier, smokier, more mineral as well but even simpler globally. Nice, but simple and maybe a tad too ‘whispering’. Mouth (neat): ha! Now we’re more around Caol Ila. I guess I shouldn’t mention other bran… sorry, distilleries but that’s quicker. Anyway, this is very good now. With water: I’m afraid it really suffers from the comparison with the 1990 (but sadly, I didn’t know that that one was going to be a peaty version so I put it before this ‘Heavily Peated’.) It’s good, it’s relatively lightly peated, it’s not far from a young Caol Ila again… Yes, it’s good. Finish: medium long, clean, ashy, a tad ‘green’ (apple peelings), with a little pepper in the aftertaste as often. Comments: try this blind and you’re on Islay. Wasn’t that the whole point in the first place? SGP:347 - 85 points.

JAPAN'S MUSIC - Recommended listening: Sadao Watanabe is probably the most famous Japanese sax player and even if I think he's made things too 'smooth' on some records, he's got an incredible sound and many of his albums have been brilliant. Let's listen to his version of Dindi and then buy all of his music.

Sadao Watanabe
 

March 16, 2011

Whiskyfun

Japan

  The Japanese sessions, tasting eight Yamazaki, Sherry vs. Mizunara. Which style will be the winner? With all the great and incredibly courageous people of Japan in our thoughts.

Luckily, I have a few dozen Yamazakis yet to taste at WF Towers, which should allow me to compose an interesting flight today. Why not a few sherry casks? Or better yet, a few Mizunaras (Japanese oak)? Wait, why not both? That should make for a nice two-part verticale…

The four sherry versions…

Yamazaki Sherry

Yamazaki 1999/2008 'Owner's Cask' (56%, OB by Shinanoya, bota corta, cask #DV70391) Four stars As you may know, bota corta means short boot in Spanish but in this context bota means butt. Colour: dark brown amber. Nose: aggressive, pungent, very flinty at first nosing. There’s also a lot of toasted bread, charcoal, dark chocolate and gunpowder, with notes of blackcurrants in the background as well as quite some herbal tea (such as cherry stems). Not an easy one so far, even if it tends to become smoother and fruitier over time. With water: that worked, even if it became a little vinegary. Nice notes of pipe tobacco, prunes and beef bouillon. Mouth (neat): a huge fruitiness this time plus quite some alcohol. It feels like a 60%+ whisky. Raspberry jam, cherry liqueur (say Heering), a little bacon, a certain saltiness, figs… With water: ah, we tamed it! But the flavour profile remains the same, only the strength went down. Maybe a little more spices, pepper, a little curry, mustard sauce… Also quite some bitter chocolate. Finish: long, fruitier this time while usually, whiskies become spicier at this point in my experience. Notes of blackberry jam. Some pepper in the aftertaste, as often. Comments: a very good cask, probably a little young and roughish. SGP:472 - 85 points.

Yamazaki 1994/2007 'Owner's Cask' (60%, OB, sherry butt, cask #4R70005) Four stars and a half Colour: dark reddish amber. Nose: this one is a very vinous version, very grapey but certainly not unpleasant, quite the opposite. Very nice whiffs of date liqueur (or some kind of arak) and ultra-big notes of fruitcake. Tons of fruitcake. It’s also a little gamey… Also whiffs of patchouli after a few minutes. With water: typical development on balsamic vinegar and cured ham, very very nice. Mouth (neat): ah yes, this is something! Sure it’s too strong but it seems that it’s all balanced yet rich, on many, many red berries and sweet/soft spices. This should be a very good one once water’s been added. With water: ah yes, this one is quite perfect, not too ‘sherry-only’, rich, toasted and spicy. Notes of American oak, ginger, nutmeg, a little cinnamon. Finish: long, clean, spicy. Some curry and ginger, orange marmalade. Comments: a good example of a malt that combines big power and good complexity, with quite some oak on top of the sherry. A profile that’s not often to be found in Scotland in my experience. SGP:662 - 89 points.

Yamazaki 1991/2007 'Owner's Cask' (61%, OB by Kawachiya, sherry cask, cask #1S70462) Four stars Colour: amber. Nose: yet another variation on sherry (wood), this one is much less marked by the wine and much grassier and more mineral than the other two. Maybe refill or a sherry hogshead (it doesn’t state ‘butt’ on the label). Quite some putty and marzipan, almond oil and touches of rubber bands. Also quite some orange marmalade, a little strawberry jam... Nice nose that reminds me of HP’s recent ‘Magnus’ versions. With water: it lost almost all of its ‘sherriness’ and went towards more modern notes of vanilla and ginger. A little smoke as well, herbs, resins… Very pleasant complexity in this one. Hints of pencil shavings. Mouth (neat): creamy and extremely powerful. Even a tiny drop will explode in your mouth. Water is obligatory. With water: it’s mainly citrusy notes that make it to your taste buds, oranges, then sweet spices, ginger, a little angelica, funny touches of woodruff… It’s also more tannic, slightly green (strong green tea). Finish: long and dry, even a little bitter. Thyme and liquorice wood. Comments: another interesting cask, halfway between ‘full sherry’ and ‘newish/plain’ oak. It’s very good in my opinion. SGP:562 - 87 points.

Yamazaki 1990/2008 'The Cask of Yamazaki' (60%, OB, sherry butt, cask #0N70645) Four stars Colour: full amber. Nose: bang-bang, gunpowder and struck matches! It’s the driest of them all when unreduced, going on with a little rubber and leather as well as whiffs of earth, humus, mushrooms… One of the well-known variants of what can come out of a sherry cask. With water: all on dried mushrooms, tobacco and gunpowder. It’s really extreme in its own genre. Mouth (neat): another smashing Yamazaki, ultra-powerful, maybe a little bitter and rubbery but yet again, it’s almost un-swallowable without water. Let’s not take any chances. With water: high extraction! Why ex-sherry Japanese and ex-sherry Scotch do not taste the same at all, I don’t know. There must be a secret somewhere, or the meanings of ‘sherry cask’ are completely different in both countries. I’ll have to ask Dave Broom… Dave, are you reading this? Anyway, this is good, with a very sweet and spicy oakiness. There. Finish: long, more on orange marmalade and ginger, which isn’t an unusual finish in Japanese whiskies. Comments: Phew, we made it. Even if we had only four whiskies thus far, I feel like we had ten of them. These Japanese ‘monsters’ are hard to handle in my opinion, or maybe we ought to drown them straight away? SGP:362 - 86 points.

I think we’ll make a very long pause before we tackle the four Mizunaras…

Good, here are the four Mizunaras.

Yamazaki Mizunara

As you probably already know, Mizunara is one kind of Japanese oak (I think there are others). It’s said to contain more lactones than other oaks. You may check some much better explanations at Nonjatta’s (as always as soon as we’re dealing with Japanese whisky).

Yamazaki 1986/2007 'Owner's Cask' (57%, OB, Bar Barns 5th anniversary, Mizunara oak, cask #6G5020) Five stars Colour: deep gold. Nose: it’s a burst of fresh tropical fruits including coconut (Chris explains why very well) but also pineapples, mangos and papayas, then something more ‘candied’ (maple syrup), a little fresh butter, some wood smoke, very distinct and then an unexpected moisture, between humus and fern. Also touches of pine needles. It’s all very beautiful and does not smell ‘engineered’ at all. With water: well, it doesn’t get any more complex. In fact, water didn’t change it at all. Maybe a little more humus? After ten minutes: more ‘new oak’, ginger and vanilla. Closer to American oak now. Mouth (neat): perfect! Rich, creamy, fruity, jammy and delicately spicy, all that at the same time. Well, it’s quite peppery as a matter of fact but the notes of chutneys (various kinds) and jams are quite perfect. Mirabelle, apricot, mango… Also something slightly ashy, probably from the oak. With water: a bigger oakiness but the mangos as well as touches of oranges manage to compensate that. Excellent. Finish: long and, as expected, a tad drier and more on cinnamon. But no big deal… Comments: I didn’t really get much notes of sandalwood or incense – which seem to be other markers of Mizunara oak but who cares, it’s excellent whisky. Great selection by Bar Barns. SGP:562 - 91 points.

Yamazaki 1986/2007 'Owner's Cask' (49%, OB, Mizunara oak, cask #6B0018) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: the profile is close to the previous 1986’s but everything is toned down. I don’t know which part of that effect comes from the lower strength. Technically, none! A tad more on ‘white oak’, maybe, with a little more vanilla. Other than that it’s a much lighter fruitiness. With water: water unleashed more aromas this time, making this one much closer to cask #6G5020. Same mango and coconut-driven fruitiness and same whiffs of humus and fresh mushrooms. Quite superb now. Mouth (neat): again it’s a tad narrower than the previous one when neat but on the other hand, the fruitiness is more immediate and easy. It’s rather more citrusy, with some grapefruits. Lemon zests. With water: more citrusy touches, more freshness. Less oak than in its sibling, more freshness. Finish: long, citrusy, very clean, very fresh. Comments: it’s hard to decide between both 1986s. The first one was a tad wider on the nose… Oh well… SGP:552 - 90 points.

Yamazaki 1984 (48%, OB, matured in Japanese Mizunara oak, +/- 2009) Five stars This baby won bags of awards including quite recently. It won the ‘Best Cask Innovation Award 2009’ at the MM Awards 2009 as well as a very solid silver medal (average 89 points). It was about time I retasted it and published some notes. I had tasted an extravagant 1984 ‘Vintage Malt’ back in 2006 and loved it (WF 91). Colour: pale amber. Nose: close to the first 1986 in style but a little more cooked or rather stewed, as if there was a little sherry action in this one. It’s a little closer to an old Sauternes in fact, with faint muscatty touches as well as a little more mint. Superb nose for sure, extremely appealing. Yes, sexy. With water: even more complexity, with some pipe tobacco this time, mushrooms, honey, maybe a little saltpetre… Perfect! Mouth (neat): luscious, as they say. Rich, candied, citrusy, nervous, spicy, herbal… It’s a very ‘wide’ profile. The spicy oakiness is also a tad more obvious than in the 1986s, with more cinnamon, but all good. With water: changes quite a lot, becoming unexpectedly medicinal. Quite some cough syrup in this one, mint and liquorice… Finish: long, reminding me of some honeydew. Pine sap and white pepper the aftertaste. Comments: maybe not the greatest ever in my opinion but it’s consensually excellent so to speak, which is ideal at any tasting that would involve a dozen tasters or more. I can’t imagine anybody would dislike this great baby. SGP:661 - 91 points.

Yamazaki 1979/2008 'The Cask of Yamazaki' (55%, OB, Mizunara oak, butt, cask #RF1037, 294 bottles) Four stars and a half This one fetched high silver at the MM Awards 2008 but a Yamazaki 1990 had overtaken it. Anyway, once again some notes were long overdue. Colour: deep gold. Nose: it’s the oak that’s rather louder here, not that it’s plankish whisky of course but there are rather big notes of black tea, coconut indeed, marzipan, plain wood (newly broken branches), cinnamon and a faint sourness in the background (ale and mead – a lot of mead). With water: it’s nice but the oak really shines through now. Damp wood, pencil shavings… It’s quite beautiful if you like those notes but it may all be a little excessive. Mouth (neat): excellent fruity attack, rich, wide, creamy, with the oak being rather louder than in the other ones yet again. That translates into more cinnamon and tea as often but on the other hand, it’s as citrusy as the 1984. It’s even a little acidic, in a very nice way (lemon). Great body at almost 30 years of age! With water: same comments, the fruitiness remains perfect but a drying tannicity is starting to fly around. Finish: long but dry and a little tannic. Comments: very high quality, it’s just that the oak is a little too loud for my taste. I liked the ones from the 1980s rather better – as my scores may show. SGP:561 - 88 points.

Averages: 86.75 for the sherried ones, 90.00 for the Mizunaras… Ite Missa Est? Not quite, the Mizunaras were also older, hence more complex (yeah yeah), so let’s not jump to conclusions…

JAPAN'S MUSIC - Recommended listening: jazz composer and pianist Hiromi Uehara playing Green tea farm (from her CD 'Brain'). I'm sure the great Bill Evans would have loved this. Please buy Hiromi Uehara's music.

Hiromi
 

March 15, 2011

Whiskyfun

Japan

  The Japanese sessions, tasting five Hanyu
With all the great and incredibly courageous people of Japan in our thoughts.

Hanyu

Hanyu 19 yo 1991/2010 (56%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams, cask #377) Four stars and a half The cask had Japanese red oak heads. Colour: full gold. Nose: what’s striking is the immediate Japanese profile, even if more and more modern Scotches are starting to resemble the Japanese with their ‘wood technology’, which may be quite ironic. In short, vanilla, flints, linseed oil and wood smoke, with hints of dairy cream, ripe plums and crystallised ginger in the background. Nice is the word. With water: ha-ha, that worked! Beautiful fruitiness, bergamots, tangerines, ginger, a little leather, earth, wax… Water made it really complex! Mouth (neat): excellent spicy yet sweet attack, nervous, with an unexpected saltiness and distinct notes of kumquats and earl grey tea. Good mouth feel, rich but not thick. Goes on with quite some liquorice and always this faint brininess. The cask was active! With water: excellent, quite easy, moderately spicy, fruity, candied, all going towards Seville oranges and ginger. Very nice profile. Finish: medium long and pretty much in line with what happened before… A slightly mustardy and peppery aftertaste. Comments: simply all very good. It’s a good example of a cask that’s been very active but that didn’t dominate the distillate. SGP:552 - 89 points.

Hanyu 1990/2009 (53%, Full Proof, cask #9305, 200 bottles) Five stars This is the sequel to the funny Hanyu that was bearing Pete McPeat and Jack Washback on its label! Colour: amber. Nose: it’s the sherry that talks here, with raisins, prunes and milk chocolate plus a discreet but interesting touch of fruity Swiss cheese. Touches of brown sauce as well, maybe Marmite – or maybe not. Coal smoke. It’s rather big whisky. With water: wowie, water made wonders yet again! This time it’s all the raisins of the creation that line up, from sultanas to Corinthians and from Smyrnians to… of well, it’s just great. Mouth (neat): rich and creamy, spicy and jammy, with touches of ripe bananas and honey sauce. Excellent body. A fruity kind of sherry, rather complex. Also notes of liquorice wood. With water: water brings the oak a little more to the front, with more cinnamon and dried cardamom. Also nutmeg. Finish: long, rather sweeter again. Muscovado sugar and crystallised oranges with some sweet chillies and unexpected notes of plum spirit (zwetschke as they say, quetsche as we say – okay, I’ve heard it’s also called Damascus plum). Comments: very excellent, full bodied yet fruity and sexy. Had I tried this baby two years ago, I’d have recommended it. Too late I guess. SGP:652 - 91 points.

Hanyu 21 yo 1988/2009 'Noh' (55.6%, Number One Drinks, cask #9306, Sherry Butt, 625 bottles) Five stars I loved this one at the MM Awards 2010. Colour: amber. Nose: more or less the same profile as the 1990’s but with less fruity notes and more flinty tones, as well as a surprisingly medicinal profile. Antiseptic, camphor… There’s also a lot of bacon and gunpowder, really a lot! And black truffles. With water: totally extreme gunpowder and struck matches. Of course you have to like that but all I can tell you is that there’s no single note of rotten eggs or cooked cabbage/asparagus. Do what you want out of this ;-). Mouth (neat): on par, starting boldly, on bacon, smoked ham and liquorice. I don’t know where this huge smokiness does comes from but it’s really impressive. Also toasted bread, black olives and prunes. It’s very unusual but delicious. Extremely concentrated. With water: infused smoke. I’ve heard there are machines now that can smoke just anything, they look like some kind of hairdryer. They must have used that on this one. Finish: long, on honey-coated bacon. I’m sure you see what I mean. Comments: an extreme baby, and probably a very controversial dram. Let’s only hope we’ll always have controversial whiskies, not only middle-of-the-roadish vanilla-infused young spirits. SGP:644 - 90 points.

Hanyu 22 yo 1986/2008 (58.4%, Part des Anges, cask #2812, 305 bottles) Two stars As you may know, Part des Anges is a small but most engaging French bottler. Colour: full gold. Nose: another beautiful one, pretty much in the style of the 1991 by The Nectar, only with more olive and linseed oils and wet gravels. Quite some paraffin as well. Interesting, curious to check how it takes water. With water: ouch, it became cardboady and too parafinny for my taste. A lot of ink as well, brand new plastic pouches (but those are now streng verboten anyway in our countries)… Mouth (neat): a very strange attack, kind of soapy and chemical… And very briny as well. Bizarre bizarre… Maybe water will put all that straight? With water: it does work a bit but not totally, these ‘chemical’ notes remain despite more citrusy and kind-of-peaty notes. This one isn’t without making us think of the old Bowmore Cask Strength from the late 1990s. Gettit? Also something metallic… Finish: long, a bit better. Too bad these soapy notes didn’t go away. Comments: something must have happened – or did they do something unusual at Hanyu Distillery during the 1986/1987 season? Strange because there’s been a 1986 ‘Ace of Diamonds’ that was quite fab. And all the other bottlings by Part des Anges I could try have been great as well… SGP:372 - 70 points.

Hanyu 1985/2009 (57.1%, Ichiro's Malt, cask #1732) Five stars Colour: pale amber. Nose: we’re not far from both the 1991 and the 1986 yet again but this one is a little less on flints and oils and rather more on resins, pine sap, putty and marzipan. And once again, it’s beautiful… With water: well, it may be the most balanced of them all, the most classical so to speak. Spearmint, oranges, lemon, honey or rather mead, herbs, camphor… Seriously, this is brilliant. And it’s not even an opinion, it’s a fact ;-). Mouth (neat): yet again, we’re in the same territories as with the 1991 by the Nectar – but not the 1986. A lot of salt that plays with your lips, olives… Then a spicy and kumquatty (!) profile, very beautiful. Also some nice lemony notes that lift the whole. With water: top notch and flawless. Peaty, orangey, herbal and mineral, it’s got everything. Almost. Finish: long, with more zesty tones. A little sage as well. Comments: it’s the ‘wider’ of them all, the most complex and the most immediately satisfying. SGP:563 - 92 points.

JAPAN'S MUSIC - Recommended listening: some other sound geniuses (even if I'm usually not into drum and bass too much): DJ Krush and the legendary Akira Sakata with their amazingly lyrical piece called Slit of Cloud. Please buy tons of records by both DJ Krush and the great sax player Akira Sakata.

DJ Krush

March 2011 - part 1 <--- March 2011 - part 2 ---> April 2011 - part 1


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

Hakushu 1990/2007 'Owner's Cask' (61%, OB, for Scotch Whisky Research Centre NARA, cask #0D40177)

Hanyu 1985/2009 (57.1%, Ichiro's Malt, cask #1732)

Hanyu 1986/2007 (58%, OB, Ichiro's Malt, hogshead, 225 bottles)

Hanyu 21 yo 1988/2009 'Noh' (55.6%, Number One Drinks, cask #9306, Sherry Butt, 625 bottles)

Hanyu 1990/2009 (53%, Full Proof, cask #9305, 200 bottles)

Hanyu 2000/2005 (60%, OB, Ichiro's Malt, American oak puncheon, cask #6076, 516 bottles)

Yamazaki 1984 (48%, OB, matured in Japanese Mizunara oak, +/- 2009)

Yamazaki 1986/2007 'Owner's Cask' (49%, OB, Mizunara oak, cask #6B0018)

Yamazaki 1986/2007 'Owner's Cask' (57%, OB, Bar Barns 5th anniversary, Mizunara oak, cask #6G5020)

Yamazaki 1991/2005 'Owner's Cask' (53%, OB, bottled for Whisky World, barrel, cask #1V70373)