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Hi, you're in the Archives, November 2008 - Part 2

November 2008 - part 1 <--- ---November 2008 - part 2 ---> December 2008 - 1


November 30, 2008

Just after Louis-Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy acquired Ardbeg Distillery, their marketing directors started to wonder why no Ardbeg single malt was ever sold to a market as large as Croatia. Therefore they hired a well-trained and well-known detective named Igor to investigate the matter. After a long and hard search Igor found out that at a remote place called Filozici, on the remote island of Cres that lies in a remote sea called the Adriatic, operated a man called Dr. Know (pronounced dr:nou), a man who was very much loved by the locals. The reason for that is that Dr. Know produced a spirit called ‘Ardbeg’ that everybody there just adored.
With the help of the intuition, Igor found out that in the hidden cottage, a very complicated machinery had been built, which was capable of producing millions of bottles of Ardbeg on a daily basis.
Igor immediately measured the heighth of the spirit still, finding it to be the tallest on the island. That was the reason why such a sophisticated and successful spirit was produced.
Igor also measured the strength of the spirit that was running directly out of the condenser (105% pure ethyl!), as well as the strength at which it was then immediately bottled: 52.3% vol.
But Dr. Know was soon to show up round the corner and was immediately arrested. Igor found out that the moonshiner’s real name was Tomislav, a man with very good connections in France, Italy, Germany, Canada and Islay.
It was also found out that Tomislav had been spying on the original distillery for a long time and had learned about how to make such brilliiant spirit during his numerous visits to Islay (picture from Scotland Yard's Archives: the man caught spying in one of Ardbeg's warehouses).
But the story ends well. Igor made a fatal mistake when he decided to try the Croatian Ardbeg and all at once he forgot his duties and instantly became friend with Tomislav. The two fellows subsequently decided to send a wee sample of the Croatian Ardbeg to a famous whisky writer in the U.K., who awarded it with the title of ‘World Whisky of the Year’ after having scored it 97.5 points out of 100! The only little mistake that Igor and Tomislav had made was to write the origin of the spirit too quickly on the sample’s label, so one may well have have read ‘Canada’ instead of ‘Croatia’. They had also written 'Uiggidill', which means 'whisky' in Cressian dialect.

November 28, 2008


The first results of the Malt Maniacs Awards 2008 are in!

On Malt Maniacs of course!


Shepherds Bush Empire
November 5th 2008

Fleet Foxes
Few new bands can have earned such plaudits over the past year as Seattle five-piece The Fleet Foxes, whose eponymous album (released in June) found dewy-eyed reviewers looking back forty years with unwarranted affection to the great summer of love, whose soundtrack has so clearly inspired composer Robin Pecknold and his colleagues.
These hugely talented young men, (the five-piece which recorded the album subsequently lost two members and gained a couple more, including drummer J Tillman, who played a largely unappreciated acoustic solo support set here), with their unruly hair, unkempt beards and nonchalantly-worn shabby clothes, exude the spirit of the sixties. Their conceit is that of the purist, the enthusiast, the gifted amateur, the searcher for truth and beauty rather than fame and fortune – ‘not much of a rock band’ as they describe themselves. And according to the press, the band and their various family members live the sort of idyllic, almost communal life style, that those reviewers harking back to a lost golden age (and no doubt a lost youth too) might wish for themselves. Why, even their merchandise store turns its back on merchandise, preferring to offer ‘artefacts’ for sale instead. Tell me Serge – since when has a t-shirt been an artefact?
The Fleet Foxes
The Fleet Foxes
The Shepherds Bush Empire is packed to the rafters (a lot of the audience sporting unruly hair, unkempt beards and nonchalantly-worn shabby clothes) and there is an air of eager, if uncertain, expectation. But whatever the preconceptions, the whole place is blown away by an enchanting start, with the unaccompanied ‘Sun Giant’ followed by album opener ‘The sun it rises’, a song caught somewhere between Steeleye Span’s English idyll, and the unabashed and joyful audacity of ‘Suite Judy blue eyes’ (do you remember just how remarkable that sounded played for the first – or was it second – time at Woodstock?). These boys can sing. It’s not just Pecknold, whose voice must be a recording technician’s dream (and an A&R man’s for that matter) but the whole band. We’ve already heard Tillman’s delicate high-notes, but combined with Pecknold and his colleagues the impact is stunning. However I do get a growing sense of déjà vu as the evening wears on – and realise I’m not thinking back even a few decades but rather a few months. Same theatre, different band. It was the Zombies in March playing the famously miss-spelt Odessey and Oracle, “a piece now regarded as a landmark album – straddling the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson on the one hand and the Beatles and Lennon and McCartney (sorry Sir Paul, I mean McCartney and Lennon) on the other”. And sadly, once that thought got into my mind (not the Sir Paul bit I hasten to add) it unleashed a small wave of negativity which I found difficult to lose as the evening progressed – sadly quite the reverse. And the Photographer was no help – after about 15 minutes, frustrated at not getting a good shot, she had firmly adopted the ‘I’m a bored Photographer get me out of here’ look.
So before Whiskyfun is hacked out of existence by starry-eyed naive and idealistic, unruly hair, unkempt beard and nonchalantly-worn shabby clothes-sporting youths, let me repeat how good these guys are, they can play, and as I’ve said, they sing like angels (Pecknold singing Judee Sill’s ‘Crayon Angels’ and ‘Oliver James’ solo was spine-tinglingly good). They’re also quite personable. Anyone who comes on to the stage the day after an American Presidential Election and says “You know, this is the first time I’ve walked on stage and not felt bad about being American” has to win a small place in your heart for their candour alone. And their radio style chit-chat about politics and all that sort of stuff is insouciantly charming. And I did mention they could sing, didn’t I?
Fleet Foxes But the sad fact is they’re all source material and no synthesis. There’s no real argument here – no hypothesis. I’m not saying it’s plagiarism – it’s so much better than that, but these boys have got a long way to go before they’re the real deal. The songs are episodic – almost incomplete. And the lyrics – well if you’ve got a mind open to the realities of the world we live in, then you have to wonder where they could have come from – if not, of course, from Odessey and Oracle and its like.
And you just can’t write songs and keep your head totally in the sand, as some reviewers would seem to wish. But I would like to think that the Fleet Foxes, and their genius Mr Pecknold, do have a truly great album inside them somewhere. And I’ll be the first to buy it.
In the meantime, here’s a nice idea for anyone struggling to decide how to spend their VAT cuts and tax rebates, as the fall of world capitalism brings Christmas strangely closer. This is an after-Christmas-lunch game, for adults only, involving a blindfold and a copy of the Fleet Foxes very nice album, and a copy of the Zombies Odessey and Oracle (Revisited), recorded live at the Bush this year. (If you listen closely you might hear a gentle Fender amplifier hum in the background, but rest assured it was only the Photographer snoring gently). Get your DJ to alternate tracks and try and guess which is which. Hours of fun and seasonal obfustication guaranteed. - Nick Morgan (concert polaroids by Kate and Nick)
Listen: The Fleet Foxes' MySpace page


Mortlach 1954/2008 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, licensed bottling) If I’m not mistaken, this one is 54 years old, more or less! Colour: amber. Nose: it seems that this one is very well alive after all these years! Of course it’s not a restless youngster anymore but it displays most of the very subtle aromas that one would expect from such an oldie, starting with milk chocolate and balsamic vinegar, beeswax, old wooden furniture, leather, roasted nuts and ‘old liqueurs’ and ending up with verbena, old tea, dried mint, various other herbs and old Burgundy wine (game). Much more coffee after ten minutes – actually, it does smell like plain coffee! Mouth: hey-hey, it’s almost restless! Very concentrated, creamy, sweet and fruity (bananas flambéed), with notes of old Cognac (these spirits do start to taste almost the same when they are very old) and old rum (ditto). It’s also a little almondy, getting finally more and more resinous and herbal (tannins). Notes of old sherry too. Finish: long, more on ‘old’ jams. Fig jam? Comments: there is quite some wood in this one but the spirit was big in the first place and stood the oak. Maybe not totally stunning but the fact that it’s still so much alive after all these years is an achievement as such. SGP:471 – 86 points.

Mortlach 35 yo 1936 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail for Pinerolo, rotation 1972) 35 years in wood plus 35 years in glass, this should be close to perfection! Colour: full gold. Nose: we’re on another planet here! Totally exceptional, in the same league as very old Yquems and other old white wines of the highest grades. Let’s not be too long (the anti-maltoporn brigade may be watching), this is fantastically ‘phenolic’, herbal, waxy, sooty and fruity - and immensely complex. Mouth: a miracle. All the fruits (okay, mainly dates, quinces and figs), all the nuts (macadamia first, very obvious here), all the ‘resins and oils’ and probably hundreds of tiny other flavours, many not even known to Man (don’t get carried away, S.!) Amazing presence, it’s only after a good twenty minutes that it starts to show signs of relative tiredness, which is totally normal of course. Finish: not too long but so complex! It’s the leathery and sooty part that’s the most active at this point. Comments: a poem. I think it’s a dimension that you just can’t achieve with only wood maturing, and I believe that some Scots should try to create ‘paradises’ like they have at their best enemies’ the Cognac houses. Even if that may costs them quite some years on the labels (non-wood years don’t count). Who will try that first? After all, that’s what The Macallan sort of did with their Fine and Rare series - many being rebottled old G&Ms just like this Mortlach – and a Macallan 1926 Fine and Rare was just sold for USD 70,000 in South Korea this year! SGP:552 – 96 points.
Mortlach 36 yo 1936 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail for Pinerolo, rotation 1973) Colour: full gold. Nose: this is not quite the same whisky, as it’s a little less fresh and rather nuttier and more chocolaty. It’s less sooty/waxy too, and a tad less complex. A bigger OBE as well. Anyway, brilliant whisky again, just a ‘slightly subdued variation’ on the 35yo. Mouth: exactly the same happens on the palate. Same differences, without exceptions. Finish: ditto. Comments: another magical old Mortlach from the golden years. Isn’t it strange that while Europe was preparing for one of the worst wars ever, some distilleries such as Macallan, Linkwood, Mortlach or Talisker were distilling the best whiskies ever made by Man (and computers of course – pfff…)? SGP:443 - 91 points.

November 27, 2008

Brucihladdich Octomore


We really do admire how the Bruichladdich crew managed to improve the brand’s fame and image and to increase ‘to the max’ the value of the dowry of thousands of casks they got when they bought the distillery in the very early 2000s – not that there weren’t quite a few straight gems as well within the bunch, of course! But now is the time to try their three brand new ‘100% original’ bottlings, all fully made by the gang, in their naked glory (the whiskies, not the gang…)
Bruichladdich 2001/2008 ‘Resurrection’ (46%, OB, bourbon, 24,000 bottles) From the first runs of Bruichladdich by the new owners, using malt that was peated to 10ppm before they went back to very little peat after that. It seems that there were also batches at other peat levels (we’ve also seen 5 or 8). The bottle itself is very, say ‘noticeable’ and the name of 'Resurrection' rings a bell (Renaissance, anyone? Who will launch a Rebirth? ;-)) Colour: pale gold. Nose: what strikes first is the peat, quite unexpectedly. It’s as if Bruichladdich’s trademark freshness and cleanliness worked as an amplifier for the tiniest ‘ppms’. The peat calms down after a while, that is, leaving room for quite some iodine and even medicinal hints (unexpected again), as well as notes of fresh mint and aniseed. It’s also quite farmy in the background (farmyard, hay, wet wool). Very little sweetness and fruitiness here and in that sense it’s extremely different from older ‘natural’ versions that always had a little apple/pear/peach/melon/you name it. After ten minutes: a lot of smoke and elements from the sea (make that sea air). Mouth: once again, this is very surprising, much peatier than expected. Very ‘maritime’ again (oysters!) and rather herbal and spicy (mint, green tea, ginger, white pepper.) Quite ashy/smoky as well. Hints of bitter fruits developing (cider apples) as well as chlorophyll but the peatiness is still unexpectedly huge. Finish: long, smoky and vegetal (Japanese green tea). Comments: a huge surprise. This has strictly nothing to do with the older 10 or 15yo, whether recent or formerly bottled by Invergordon or earlier owners. It has to be ranked among the peated Islayers – not the monsters of course -, even if it does also have something of Scotland’s northeastern coast. By the way, we like it a lot. SGP:255 - 87 points.
Port Charlotte 2001/2008 ‘PC7’ (61%, OB, American oak, 24,000 bottles) PC5 was youthful and fruity (86) and PC6 was bigger and fuller but also just a tad winey on the nose as it spent some time in Madeira casks (88). Greatest of news, PC7 is ‘more traditionnal’, that is to say partly bourbon and partly sherry matured (thanks Arild). Colour: gold. Nose: much more spirity than the Laddie of course, thanks to the very high alcohol. We do get coffee (as often in high-strength whiskies), pears and smoke but that’s pretty all. Nothing unusual, let’s add water… With water: now we’re talking! Extremely organic, all estery notes having vanished, with a big smokiness and big both farmy and coastal notes (from wet dogs to clams – excuse us dogs and clams). Also quite some freshly ground black pepper, walnuts and just hints of car dashboard polish. Mouth (neat): strong, very strong. Fructose, salt and apple peeling but that’s all. With water: the peat and the smokiness are very big now, almost a bit acrid. The whole is much less fruity than PC5 and 6 but also better integrated, with also more salt and just hints of butter pears. Finish: very long, peaty, liquoricy and a tad gingery. Comments: it is extremely clean and rather fat at the same time. It’s probably a little less exuberant than PC6 but also ‘sleeker’ in a certain way. Which we appreciate mucho! SGP:247 - 89 points.
‘Intermediate bonus’ - another PC for good measure: Port Charlotte 6 yo 2002/2008 (57.6%, Streah, cask #85, 281 bottles) Streah is a new small indie bottler. It seems that they have only bottled this PC so far. Colour: straw. Nose: this one is easier to nose when undiluted. It’s a tad less smoky as well as fruitier than the PC7, with more ‘direct’ coastal notes (seaweed). More notes of tincture of iodine and vanilla as well. With water: the difference is exactly the same. More fruits (pears, apples, gooseberries) and more ‘fresh’ notes (kelp, grass, fresh walnuts.) Less smoke. Mouth (neat): extremely close to the PC7, almost as strong, with a bigger smokiness this time. With water: we’re extremely close to the PC7 again. Maybe just a tad fruitier again, and maybe also a tad more peppery and less ‘fat’. Finish: long, clean, really half-peaty half-fruity (green apples), with a very peppery aftertaste. Comments: one year younger than the PC7 and one can feel that from the added fruitiness. But it’s great whisky anyway. SGP:347 - 87 points. (and thank you, Tomislav)
Octomore 5 yo ‘Edition 01.1’ (63.5%, OB, bourbon, 6,000 bottles, 2008) Here it is, the frightening peat monster that was distilled out of malt that was peated to 131ppm (whilst the ‘Futures’ used malt peated to 80ppm). Everybody knows that ppms in the barley and ppms in the spirit aren't the same thing and that one may lose a huge proportion of the peatiness during the mashing/brewing/distilling process, but still, 131! Unusual bottle too! Colour: straw. Nose: once again, it’s a bit hard to get many aromas from such high strength but the first overall sensation I have is ‘an ashtray full of cigar ash at four in the morning’ plus quite some olive oil. With water: a maelstrom of kerosene, diesel oil, tar, fermenting grass, canned sardines and even anchovies. And both the habanos and the olive oil are still there. The only possible comparison with other ‘general profiles’ would be with ‘old young’ Ardbegs such as the 10yos white label. Mouth (neat): very, very unusual! The peat is extremely big, even at full strength, and you get almost the same flavours as when you chew raw peated malt. Other than that there’s some other ‘stuff’ (fruits and such) but I feel it’s too dangerous to go any further without bringing this baby down to roughly 45% (Serge, you sissy!). With water: an immense smokiness, notes of pipe juice, salmiak, Japanese oyster sauce, mastic, walnut skin and ultra-dry fino sherry (yes we know this one didn’t mature in sherry casks.) Finish: long, extremely tarry and liquoricy, with a little salt – or rather a saltiness. Comments: good, one may have thought that after all the fuss, this unusual whisky may have brought nothing but shrugs and disappointments. But truth is that this is a very impressive beverage, both very spectacular and extremely good, far from being only a peat record breaker. As Jean de la Fontaine would have said, this garage whisky has got ‘le ramage et le plumage’ (both warbling and plumage.) The new Le Pin of the whisky world? SGP:249 – 89 points. (I’m sure Octomore will fetch 90+ points within only a few years, maybe even one single year, but of course you have to be a peatophile to enjoy this. Now, who isn't these days?)


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Henri Texier

November 26, 2008

With thanks to Olivier
TASTING – FIVE NEW TOMATINS (a short verticale)
Tomatin 12 yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008) Colour: straw. Nose: light, very fresh, all on apple juice, strawberries, light honey and cereals. A perfect breakfast malt? Cleaner than earlier batches in my opinion. Good news! Mouth: clean, fruity and grainy but lacking oomph and complexity at this point. Something roasted and rather malty but we’re in ‘blended’ territories here (if that makes any sense). Finish: medium-long, malty and ‘simply’ honeyed. Comments: a very pleasant nose but a palate that’s still a bit too mundane for our taste (how pretentious is that?) SGP:320 - 77 points.
Tomatin 18 yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008) A recent version that I never tried before. Colour: straw. Nose: very nice nose! More complex than the 12, much more flowery and honeyed. Unexpected hints of smoke as well. Apple peeling, fresh walnuts, grapes, hints of capsicum. We like this a lot. Mouth: much richer and more complex than the 12, woodier as well. Jammy, with notes of apricots, herbal tea (cherry stem), quince, cough gums, pine resin… Almost as nice as on the nose. Finish: rather long for 40%, a tad earthier. ‘Good’ rubber. Comments: a surprise. Excellent and worth any cent, which cannot be said regarding all recent Scottish bottlings, can it? SGP:441 - 86 points.
Tomatin 25 yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008) Colour: pale gold. Nose: once again, a very pleasant nose, more on the fruity side this time. Tinned pineapples, guavas, lavender honey (that does not smell like lavender perfume, eh!), tangerines, ripe bananas… I always found kind of an Irishness in older Tomatins and this one is no exception. Mouth: rich, fruity, lively. Excellent despite its low strength. Very Irish once again. Bananas flambéed and apple pie. Finish: long, candied and fruity. Comments: even more expressive than the 18 but maybe a tad less complex. Anyway, I really like these malts that are so fairly priced – but not only because of that. SGP:631 - 85 points.
Tomatin 1976/2008 (49.6%, Scotch Single Malt Circle, cask #19085, 336 bottles) Colour: amber. Nose: almost the same overall profile as the 25, only with more punch and added herbal notes, ranging from pine resin to dill. Also hints of fresh putty. Extremely sexy! Mouth: very punchy and very fruity but a little less so than the official 25. The wood is more present (tannins) and so are the resinous notes. Green tea, cough syrup, strawberry jam, heavy liquorice and cinnamon. Gets maybe just a tad too kirschy after a moment. Finish: long, with also the same kind of rubberiness as in the official 18. Comments: a big fruity dram with quite some tannins that give it a very solid structure. SGP:661 - 88 points.
Tomatin 42 yo 1965/2008 (50.0%, Duncan Taylor Rare Auld, Germany, cask #20939) Colour: gold. Nose: it’s quite fantastic to be able to try this after the 25 and the 1976, for it’s really the ‘natural’ evolution of them. The fruitiness got more complex and maybe a little less wham-bam whilst the spicy and resinous notes from the wood got bigger. Cigar box, old furniture, wax polish, pollen, bananas flambéed, nougat… In short, this is quite superb. Let’s only hope that the palate won’t be too woody and dry… Mouth: super, it’s not woody at all, rather extravagantly fruity, almost bubblegummy. Big notes of strawberry drops, marshmallows and grenadine syrup. Even hints of lychees and Chupa Chups lollipops. Rum-soaked pineapples. It’s only after a good ten seconds on your tongue that the oak’s tannins start to get more obvious but never invading. Finish: long, now half-fruity, half-oaky and spicy but never drying. Comments: 42 years of age? Ha, a youngster! SGP:641 – 90 points. (and thank you Herbert)


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November 25, 2008


Bloomsbury Theatre, London, November 1st 2008

It apparently took Eliza Carthy seven years to produce her new album, Dreams of Breathing Underwater, her second of entirely self-penned songs as opposed to arrangements of traditional tunes. Not that she hasn’t been busy or preoccupied during this time. She’s been dumped by a record company. She fell out with her management, dealt with some difficult personal stuff and, by her own account, spent a lot of time “down the pub”. And now she’s expecting a baby.

Eliza Carthy
She also released a couple of albums, including 2002’s highly-acclaimed and award-winning Anglicana. She has also been involved in some notable collaborations, principally with those bastions of British folk music, mother Norma Waterson and father Martin Carthy. She’s also a leading light of Imagined Village, a very creative exploration of the roots and identity of English music. And she featured notably on the Rogue’s Gallery collection of sea-shanties, making an inspired contribution at this year’s live piratical performance at the Barbican. As it turns out we’re very lucky to be seeing her at all at the start of this tour to promote the new record. After only a couple of gigs she was forced to cancel the tour due to a problem with her vocal chords that can’t be treated during her pregnancy – but like the trooper she is, she hopes to begin touring again in the Spring. Don’t be surprised if the baby’s on stage with her singing along, in true family tradition.
The new album is quite inspired in its breadth of vision, ‘though I have to say it’s one of those pieces of work that is made so much more accessible by having heard it sung in live performance. It draws heavily on the English (and British) folk traditions, but blends these with a disparate array of worldly influences, sometimes not always to best effect on record, but when once heard live, the whole thing seems to work perfectly. Eliza Carthy
Which might explain why the album is top of my current play list (vying for that spot at the moment, for what it’s worth, with Willie Dixon’s I am the Blues), and why “Hug you like a mountain” keeps on being played on the random shuffle of that i-Pod in my head. At the centre of everything is Ms Carthy’s remarkably deep and expressive voice – it owns the songs, despite the very superior nature of her own playing, and the musicians around her. Emma Smith (whose collaborations range from Ms Carthy, to Damon Albarn and Hot Chip) is playing double bass, world-music specialist Phil Alexander plays accordion and piano, and standing in on drums is Tim Wright. Barney Morse-Browne plays cello, and also began the evening playing multi-looped cello and guitar under the guise of Duotone. They turn in a splendid ensemble performance, with Ms Carthy joining on violin, accordion, and a hypnotic electric tenor guitar on songs such as ‘Follow the dollar’.
This, like all of the songs on the new record, has a story to tell, albeit some are more obvious than others. But sung by Ms Carthy they are rich in imagery, and her voice brings to life the colourful characters that inhabit so many of them. None more so than bar-room dreamer and lothario ‘Mr Magnifico’, co-sung tonight in excellent style by guest Tim Matthew, violinist with Edinburgh’s Mystery Juice. It’s one of the songs that doesn’t quite work on the album but live it is pure Alex Harvey Gothic, dark and brooding with a driving dynamic Latin rhythm. It would be hard to pick out other highlights from such an all-round set, but if pushed I’d mention ‘Two tears’, combining strands of