(Current entries)

Whisky Tasting


Daily Music entries

Petits billets d'humeur
(in French)



Hi, you're in the Archives, October 2009 - Part 1

September 2009 - part 2 <--- October 2009 - part 1 ---> October 2009 - part 2


October 14, 2009



Glendronach 16 yo 1979/1996 (58.1%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #96.6, ‘Scents from Austria, Russia and the Balkans’) A funny teaser on this old one! Maybe a mix of Sachertorte, vodka and gunpowder? Something to do with 1914? Colour: gold. Nose: punchy and rather raw and spirity, esthery and indeed a tad sulphury (gunpowder indeed, gas). Nail polish remover. More and more sulphur… Aargh… With water: no. Vase water and damp wood. Improves a bit over time but never quite gets there. Fern. Mouth (neat): sweet, raw, overripe apple coated with some sort of vanilla and marshmallow sauce (!) plus quite some green tea (tannins). Hmm… With water: it’s better but still raw and very simple. Spirity. Mixed eau-de-vie (tutti frutti – oh Rudy). Finish: rather long but a bit raw and immature. Comments: neither really bad nor flawed but utterly boring in my opinion. Austria, Russia and the Balkans deserve better whisky. SGP:341 - 72 points.
Glendronach 37 yo 1972/2009 (53.3%, OB for LMdW, oloroso sherry butt, cask #705, 275 bottles) Colour: mahogany. Nose: starts smoothly on a rather fruity/chocolaty kind of sherry, with just a little tar in the background. No sulphur that I can detect (it seems that trying to spot sulphur in almost any whisky is a new game in certain circles ;-)). Goes on with a fifty-fifty combination of ‘red’ fruitiness (raspberries first) and light meatiness (rather ham, bacon…), the whole being rather clean but also maybe not immensely expressive. A little parsley. With water: explodes with many fresh fruits, blood oranges, mangos, raspberries and many other ones. Enters another, higher dimension, with ‘something’ that’s usually more to be found in very old peaties. And quite some nutmeg and dried cardamom. Mouth (neat): very nice attack, rather more unusual than on the nose. Red fruits and medicinal notes? Raspberry and cassis jellies mixed with cough syrup (pine resin, eucalyptus) and pepper? And bitter chocolate? Sounds weird but it’s very pleasant in fact. With water: once again, water works very well, even if not as spectacularly as on the nose. More liquorice and a few leathery notes. More cassis jelly, more pepper. Finish: long, more on peppered chocolate and raspberry liqueur. Just a faint tannicity. Comments: just excellent. The chocolaty/tannic notes still are below my limits, despite the old age of this mucho olorosoed Glendronach. SGP:561 - 90 points.
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
It seems that the good people at The GlenWonka were plain amateurs, they didn’t even think of issuing a ‘vintage-alike’ bottling as mesmerising as the new Macallan 1824. 1824, of course, is… the number of decanters within the release. Brilliant, a true stroke of genius! Okay, the distillery was also founded in 1824.

Macallan 1824

The Moodie Report adds that the recommended retail price is €1,450, and that Jim Murray gave it a score of ‘97.5%’ (sic), ‘the highest ever score for any single malt whisky.’ ‘The 2009 release is bottled at 48%abv and drawn exclusively from sherry seasoned Spanish oak casks.’

<< WF takes this opportunity to announce that we could put our hands on The GlenWonka’s old archives, where we found this stunning albeit aborted project of a GlenWonka ‘763 replica’, supposed to be ‘barley al-kohl’ distilled in Persia (ha, relocations!) It is very sad that it never came to light!

MUSIC - Recommended listening: more 'elliptic' (or at least very unusual) music with the fabulous Annette Peacock and Paul Bley doing Mr. Joy (that was on the duo's 'Revenge' album, 1971). Or when synthesizers were bringing true madness to music... Please buy Annette Peacok and Paul Bley's music.

Annette Peacock

October 13, 2009

Warning, I’m completely inexperienced regarding these kinds of whiskeys. I’ll post impressions and even dare add ratings (!) but in no way they should be taken as ‘judgements’. They’re just there to reflect the preferences of a (almost) total and eternal newbie in these matters. Thanks for your understanding. Please read the above lines once again, and then you may read the following…
The Classic Cask 15 yo 1984/1999 (45%, OB, Kentucky Straight Rye, batch #RW101) Colour: pale amber. Nose: all on soft sweet oak at first nosing, vanilla, a little coconut, just touches of ginger and something that would remind me of some middle-aged rum. Also hints of overripe strawberries and plum jam. Very nice, maybe just a tad dusty in the background (slightly chalky). Mouth: quite some oak at first, then the rye’s fruitiness bursting on your palate. A mix of strawberries, bitter oranges and tinned pineapples, all that coated with vanilla and caramel. Quite some pepper from the oak in the background (white pepper) and touches of cloves. Just a little cinnamon. Finish: medium long, unexpectedly earthy now with the rye glowing in the aftertaste (strawberry drops). Comments: what can I say? Good stuff. SGP:520 - 84 points. (please do not take too seriously)
Sazerac 18 yo 1984/2002 (45%, OB, Kentucky Straight Rye) Colour: pale amber. Nose: punchier than the Classic Cask but also more directly varnishy at first nosing. Also more oak and notes of dried bananas. The rest is closer to the Classic Cask, with some coconut, vanilla and ginger. Toffee, even vanilla fudge. More mint after a while as well as a little eucalyptus. Bigger, cleaner. Keeps getting nicer over time and easily leaves the Classic Cask behind now. Mouth: rich, oily, much fatter than the Classic Cask, with the cursor more towards the wood than towards the fruitiness. That means more spices, cinnamon, cloves, maybe cardamom. A little black tea (tannins). Notes of strawberry drops blinking on and off. Finish: long, with even more tannins and notes of coconut milk. A tad ‘green’ in the aftertaste (capsicum?) Comments: excellent despite the slightly heavy oakiness (according to Scottish standards). SGP:351 – 88 points. (please do not take too seriously)
Michter’s 10 yo (46.4%, OB, batch #7, Straight Rye) Colour: amber. Nose: less expressive than the Sazerac despite a slightly higher strength. More orange cake and overripe plums. Also less oak even if it gets a tad dusty after a few minutes. Maybe it needs water to wake up? With water: water works very well, to the point where it starts to resemble the Sazerac. Banana, mint, light toffee, vanilla, even a little bacon, liquorice. Very fine nose. Molasses. Mouth (neat): a rawer whiskey indeed, rather tannic at first sipping. A lot of cinnamon and green tea, I’m sure you see what I mean. The rye’s fruitiness is almost absent. With water: it’s the oak and the tannins that have the say now. Water doesn’t work as beautifully s on the nose I’m afraid. Finish: not short but maybe too drying and tannic. Comments: the best part is on the nose when diluted down to 40%. SGP:350 – 78 points. (please do not take too seriously)
Rittenhouse (100° US proof – 50%, OB, Straight Rye) A ‘Pennsylvania style rye’ says the back label. Colour: pale amber. Nose: more spirity and punchy, rawer than the first three, much less complex. Damp wood and something slightly meaty (ham). This is strange because a 21yo that I had last year was much more emphatic. With water: not the same development as with the Michter’s. Maybe a slight meatiness and a certain roastedness plus hints of crystallised oranges. Cointreau? Mouth (neat): more straight pleasure than with the Michter’s, all this is more rounded and polished even if the oak is still big. Notes of kirsch, green tea, banana skin. With water: water works well on the palate this time, the fruits are back. Strawberry jam. Finish: long, balanced between the oak and the rye. Some mint and liquorice, especially in the aftertaste. Comments: it’s good. SGP:441 - 80 points. (please do not take too seriously)
Wild Turkey (50.5%, OB, Straight Rye) Colour: dark gold. Nose: once again, no big talker when undiluted. Whiffs of beer, mash, oak and leather. Tutti frutti spirit. With water: more mash, boiled cereals, beer… It’s as if water did set its age back to 2yo. Notes of malt (seriously). Some varnish. Mouth (neat): it’s a little smoother than the Rittenhouse but it’s still a beast. Quite some pepper, capsicum like in the Sazerac, cardamom… Gets more and more spicy. Just hints of Turkish delights. With water: resembles the Rittenhouse, with maybe more notes of bubblegum and tinned pineapple. Medium tannicity. Finish: medium long, balanced, rather smooth. Toffee, pepper and marmalade. Comments: nose and palate are completely different. I prefer the palate I must say. SGP:451 – 79 points. (please do not take too seriously)
Old Potrero 2 yo and 1 month (62.2%, OB, Pure Pot Still Rye, Essay 10-RW-ARM-3-G) 18th century style spirit. Colour: pale gold. Nose: you know what? This is quite nice but it seems that the cask was relatively active. A little beer and butter but also ginger, roasted nuts, vanilla and litres of various fruit spirits (I’m thinking of plum and kirsch but also raspberry.) Also small berries spirit, such as sorb or rowan tree. Young but works well. Just a faint sourness that’s a tad disturbing (tiny-wee hints of baby puke). With water: smells more and more like eau-de-vie. No signs of oak anymore, this is young, nicely distilled spirit. Mouth (neat): plain eau-de-vie! Tutti frutti! (yeah, yeah, oh Rudy). With water: same. Finish: rather long, maybe just a tad grassier. Comments: it doesn’t taste like whisky but once again it’s excellently distilled. I sort of (should) know what I’m talking about mind you, I do distil fruits since twenty years. SGP:720 - 78 points. (please do not take too seriously)
Thomas H. Handy (67.4%, OB, Straight Rye) Said to be 6 years old, made by Sazerac. It is well known that in some parts of the US, the strength goes up instead of down thanks to the heat and dryness. Water evaporates quicker than alcohol, unlike what usually happens in Scotland. This rye at 67.4% abv is probably a good example. Colour: amber. Nose: not much, the alcohol blocks almost everything. Vanilla sauce? Roasted peanuts? With water: haha, water never was that worthy! Superb whiffs of shoe polish and old leather, old books, tar, ham, metal polish, herbs… We’re much closer to Scotch than with any other rye I could try (right, I tried very little of them). It is superb. Mouth (neat): guess what, it is ‘swallowable’ but it’ll hurt your oesophagus. Strawberries… With water: once again, water did wonders. Mint, camphor syrup, banana, liquorice, vanilla liqueur, 100% agave tequila, coffee, cloves, pepper… Fab! Finish: endless. Comments: with the Willets, my favourite rye so far. But then again, I didn’t try many – oh, was I supposed to like the 18yo better? SGP:552 - 90 points. (please do not take too seriously)
(Thank you Mr Tom B., you rock).
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
Interesting stats (?!), the top cities where WF is read:
1. London - 2. Paris - 3. Zurich - 4. Berlin - 5. Munich
6. New York - 7. Stockholm - 8. Frankfurt - 9. Taipei
10. Goteborg - 11. Amsterdam - 12. Oslo - 13. Helsinki
14. Alborg - 15. Tokyo - 16. Malmo - 17. Moscow
18. Oulu - 19. Tai-Chung - 20. Glasgow - 21. Edinburgh

MUSIC - Recommended listening: WF absolute favourite Brian Auger doing In and out in 1967 (that was on 'Open'). Please buy Brian Auger's music.

Brian AUger

October 12, 2009



Balblair 1991 (43%, OB, +/-2009) A brand new vintage bottling. Colour: pale gold. Nose: it seems that it’s a Balblair that’s right in the middle between youth’s grassy and slightly mashy/porridgy notes and the plain exuberant fruitiness that’s often to be found in older expressions. Mildly vanilled, with also notes of cut grass, not too ripe banana, oranges and strawberries. Hints of lemonade. Mouth: sweet and fruity, more on white fruits this time, mainly apples and a little pear. There’s also quite some vanilla, a certain oakiness (tannins), the whole getting grassier over time. Not really a strong presence but it’s globally enjoyable. Finish: medium long, a little more drying (banana skin). Some honey and oranges in the aftertaste. Comments: good, but maybe not the most Balblair-esque Balblair. SGP:451 – 83 points.
Balblair 18 yo 1990/2008 (46%, Cooper's Choice) Colour: straw. Nose: less fruity than the 1991, grassier, with also more milky tones and whiffs of freshly sawn oak but little vanilla. Very ‘natural’ malt whisky, maybe also a bit ‘neutral’. Hints of ginger tonic, green tannins, faint sourness. Mouth: punchy, good attack, fruitier now, also a little caramelised. Vanilla fudge, apple peeling, malt, a little coffee and just wee hints of strawberry sweets. Finish: just like the 1991, it becomes drier and more marked by the oak. Comments: we aren’t too far from the official, but this one is a tad rougher, especially on the nose. Good but a little ‘middle of the road’. SGP: - 81 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: I've always been wondering whether Archie Shepp was human or not. Or maybe he's only a genius, as Crucificado may show (from his 'Stream' album). Ah, the first measures... Please buy Archie Shepp's music.

Archie Shepp

October 11, 2009

Sad news, our friend Michiel, who’s not only the biggest Springbank collector in the world but also very knowledgeable and always ready to help just found out that a part of his collection was stolen (exactly 183 bottles that were in a storage house, not at his home).
No need to say that Michiel is devastated so please let’s try to help him by keeping an eye open on any suspect auction or other kind of sale that would include one or several Springbanks or Longrows that are listed there (Excel list). Should you notice anything, please just drop us a line.Thank you!
Please note that the remaining part of Michiel’s collection is neither in that storage house, nor at his home anymore.)

October 10, 2009

(superlative variations on mint and honey for the week-end)
Highland Park 1973/2001 (45.4%, OB, cask #11151, 500 bottles) Colour: amber. Nose: rich, starting on menthol and honey, pine resin and walnuts, unusually medicinal. Vicks, balsam, a little orange marmalade. Gets then more mentholated and briny. With water: becomes even more aromatic but maybe also a tad rubbery – just a tad. Mouth: rather powerful, with more oak and tannins than on the nose. Develops on caramel and liquorice as well as the trademark honey. Also a smokiness, the whole being drier than on the nose. The mint comes out after that, as well as some fig, date and salted butter caramel. With water: gets rather earthier. Finish: long, salty, maybe a tad drying but otherwise very, very nice. A few vinous hints in the aftertaste. Comments: rather less emphatic than other old officials but still great. Nice smokiness. SGP:542 – 90 points.
The Dragon 1973 (56.6%, Robertson, Kirkwall, Highland Park, 75cl) A very rare and much sought-after private version of HP, bottled in the late 1980s or very early 1990s on Orkney in a Bordeaux-shaped wine bottle. There were also two other bottlings/vintages. Colour: amber. Nose: superb, complex! Beeswax, pollen honeycomb, maple syrup, a little mint once again and just faint whiffs of bicycle inner tube. Then a lot of Vicks again. Rather compact and very beautiful. With water: just like the OB, it gets earthier. Notes of angelica, vanilla and salmiak liquorice. Gets even more complex after a while, with more fresh fruits such as kiwis and peaches. Mouth (neat): rich, powerful, on toffee, mint, raspberry drops and eau-de-vie. Then loads of salmiak again (salty liquorice). Very punchy, compact yet rich and ‘wide’. With water: not as much difference as on the nose. A little more peat and herbal tea (verbena, lemon balm). Finish: long, on more of the same. Comments: the Vicks + smoke + salmiak combination reminds me of some old Ardbegs. Wow, now I understand why HP lovers desperately seek this one. SGP:563 - 93 points.
Highland Park 18 yo 1972/1991 (56%, Dun Eideann, Donato, cask #9017, 120 bottles) Colour: amber-orange. Nose: starts on an amazing blend of honey, oranges, raisins and old papers and books. Loads of sultanas! There’s also notes of late harvest Alsatian Pinot Gris, and then the same kind of medicinal notes as in the others. Magnificent (this time!) winey notes in the background, mint… ‘Clean old barrel’. With water: more on old leather, various herbal liqueurs, very old Sauternes, more mint… And faint whiffs of burnt matches and exhaust pipe. Too ‘sulphury’? Not! Mouth: rounder and rather creamy attack, getting then superbly dry, with distinct notes of parsley. Then wine sauce, with a beautiful spiciness. Cloves and various peppers. With water: more salt, ham, milk chocolate and overripe apples. Finish: very long, wonderfully mentholated. Comments: ultra-superlative (was that short enough?) SGP:552 – 94 points.
Highland Park 21 yo 1972/1994 (56.5%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, sherrywood) Colour: deep amber. Nose: starts maybe a tad simpler than the Dun Eideann but hugely ‘focused’. Honey and oranges galore, then coffey and flints. Supremely compact. With water: gets amazingly phenolic. Loads of mint liqueur, chocolate liqueur, ham and old leather. Mouth: very powerful, ultra-rich, creamy and oily. Coffee-schnapps (high-end coffee plus high-end schnapps), toffee, salt… Incredibly ‘thick’. Develops on citrons and orange tree honey. With water: fantastic, rounder but still powerful, fruitier. A little tar. I’m runny short of superlatives… Finish: long, fruity, mentholated, just superb. Comments: well, ‘wow’. SGP:562 – 94 points. Note: we had this little HP session as a well deserved reward after having filled quite some samples for the MM Awards 2009 - with heartfelt thanks to Olivier!
BREAKING NEWS! Did Google change logo - AGAIN?
Yes, after Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, Flickr, YouTube, Orkut and very recently iTunes, this is what appears to be a new genuine tour de force by Whyte & Mackay!

MUSIC - Recommended listening: a very easy yet classy big band piece by Horace Silver called Dameron's Dance (a reference to Tadd Dameron). That was on the Silver 'N Brass album. Please buy Horace Silver's music.

Horace Silver

October 9, 2009

No need to advertise Cynelish’s very peculiar fruitiness in the early 1970s, when it was working in tandem with Brora. We’ll take the occasion of the new 1972 G&M ‘Book of Kells for LMdW’ to do a short retro-verticale spanning four vintages, all being at very high strength for their ages. You may expect a bit of maltoporn… Or not!
Clynelish 32 yo 1971 (54.2%, Whisky-Fässle, bourbon cask) Colour: gold. Nose: fresh, vibrant and complex. Not quite an uber-fruity Cynelish at first nosing, rather a ‘ready-made’ blend of these old Clynelishes’ cardinal markers, that is to say fresh yellow fruits, beeswax, flowers and that very particular minerality. The oak is well behind that winning combo, distilling soft spices and a certain firmness to the whole. Compact! With water: oh yeah! Swims like Mark Spitz (remember Munich? Seven gold medals!) Almost perfection. Mouth (neat): very creamy, rich, oily, thick and… rather salty! That was unexpected. Loads of orange marmalade and ginger from the oak, zests, hints of dried bananas and quite some white pepper. Green tea in the background (the oak again). A rather firm and solid old Clynelish so far, no exuberant fruitbomb. With water: water does not seem to work quite as stunningly as on the nose. It got rather grassier but still very excellent. Finish: long, grassy, salty and waxy, with some peat in the aftertaste. Comments: this one’s only flaw may be that nose and palate, neat or reduced, aren’t 100% coherent but is that really a flaw? Great, big Clynelish. SGP:552 - 91 points. (10/10 update: I tried this baby again and it may deserve one or tow more points.)
Clynelish 36 yo 1972/2009 (59.4%, Gordon & MacPhail for LMdW, refill sherry hogshead, cask #14301, 197 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: this new one is probably less balanced than the 1971, but also more spectacular even if not really easy-easy. Starts on slightly overripe oranges and passion fruits plus a very distinct muskiness and even hints of foundation cream (or something like that). Also a lot of honey and beeswax, whiffs of peat and a rather unusual floweriness, a little heady. Lily? With water: wowowow! A whole beehive. Stunning. Mouth (neat): yes! Perfect attack, closer to the 1971 in style, that is to say spicy, even a tad oriental (reminds me of some Indian spice mix) and rather peatier than the ‘average’ 1972 Clynelish (but how ‘average’ can a 1972 Clynelish be?) Lemon juice, a certain greenness (rhubarb, sorrel, grass) and the expected waxy/honeyed combo. With water: fruitier, more honeyed, more ‘1972 Clynelish’ but there’s still quite some peat. Maybe not as ‘wowowow’ as on the nose. Say wowow (!Enough with that! -Ed.). Finish: long and firmer, more on pepper and ginger. Definitely spicier and beautifully so. Bitter almonds and pu-erh tea in the aftertaste. Comments: another one that goes in many directions. At least three whiskies in one here! And I did not know that G&M had 1972 Clynelishes… SGP:652 - 92 points.
Clynelish 33 yo 1973/2007 (54.5%, Signatory, refill butt, cask #8915, 399 bottles) Colour: white wine. Nose: we’re changing profiles here, with more freshness, more citrus fruits (lemon, grapefruits), a much bigger minerality and many earthy and rooty notes as well as a more obvious peatiness. It is one of these 1973 Clynelishes that tends to be a little more Brora-ish, which can’t be bad news! Also some fresh mint, a little wasabi and a faint farminess. Brora indeed. With water: it changed a little less than the 1971 and 1972. Peatier for sure, but also a tad bubblegummy later on. A little bizarre. Mouth (neat): how young and nervous! More classically ‘Clynelish’, maybe a tiny-wee bit more spirity than other versions (there are still notes of pear drops and tinned pineapples in this 33 years old), with quite some lemon, a mild waxiness, crystallised oranges, peat and hints of spearmint. Sweet mustard. With water: more notes of sweets and gumdrops. Definitely unexpected. Finish: long again but once again, this ‘young fruitiness’ is strange in an old Clynelish. Something from the sherry? Comments: very, very good but below the stunning casks #8912 and 8914 by the same excellent bottler. It’s as if this cask was more inactive. SGP:533 - 87 points.
Clynelish 23 yo 1974/1998 (59.1%, Rare Malts) Colour: straw. Nose: this baby is more brutal, more spirity, rougher and also a little more coastal (brine). It hasn’t got the other ones’ roundness and expressiveness but it’s true that it’s also ten years younger. Kirsch, tincture of iodine, lemon juice, then more classical notes of wax and pollen plus wet rocks. We’re already a bit in the style of the 1980s. With water: oh, this is bizarre, this one does not swim quite as well as its eldest bros but it’s still a champion. More grass, more wax, more orange zests. Mouth (neat): once again, it’s a tad aggressive a very first sipping but the profile is so perfect – provided you like this kind of course – that it instantly wins. Once again, we’re closer to the early 1980s in style, with the waxiness more to the front and less straight fruitiness. A lot of lemon though, and quite some grass and liquorice wood as well. Big malt whisky! With water: superb! Everything’s into position, perfect. It takes water much better than on the nose. Finish: long, classic, Clynelish. Comments: great dram, maybe a wee bit too young when it was bottled in my opinion. Yup, nit-picking. SGP:452 - 89 points.
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
Alright, just like every year as soon as Jim Murray publishes his new Whisky Bible, several friendly whisky bloggers, rebloggers and commentators start to question with the best intentions the use of numerical scores for whisky. Same discussions all over again since fifteen years, that old chestnut is a bit depressing. Not! ;-)
Not that it really matters but here’s my take again (I can always copy-and-paste it again next year ;-)). I’m fine with ANY way of assessing whisky, whether with or without numerical scores, letters, stars, thumb’s ups, glass icons, whoofs or barks. Only two obligations in my opinion: first, know a bit about whisky and keep learning, and second, be honest and, if possible, remain independent. Oh, and don't be too serious!
Why I’m using numerical scores (that system that's anything but perfect!):
- Because they’re a very easy way of sorting whiskies for my own use.
- Because it’s the easiest way of summarizing a full-blown tasting note.
- Because they’re widely used in all sorts of fields and since a very long time.
- Because Michael Jackson used them. He was our Master.
- Because professional or amateur tasters that I respect a lot use them. That includes the Malt Maniacs.
- Because when you want to calculate averages, especially within a team of tasters, numerical scores come very handy (mind you!) Just ask MS Excel...
- Because they are very handy for quickly comparing my feelings with whisky chums.
- Because I doubt anybody would thoroughly read thousands of ‘naked’ tasting notes while trying to find out about which Littlemills or Ardbegs the writer liked best.
- Because after a few hundred whiskies from the same distillery, not tasted at the same time of course, I like to be able to check which ones I liked best, for instance, even if there can be variations over time (learning curve…) Or the ones I should try again
- Because many friends keep telling me ratings are sometimes a bit useful.
- Because if it aint broken, I won't try to fix it.
Having said that, I believe there are conditions:
- Never blindly follow a score if you don’t know about the writer’s tastes and experience/position. Independent? Consultant? Industry people? Journalist? Retailer? Consumer? Sherry lover? Sherry hater? Amateur? Peat head? Student? Master Blender? Newbie? Industry blogger? Else?
- Remember that one single score is nothing but the expression of one guy’s opinion. It can't be science (no, Mum & Dad, actually it IS science).
- Always try to taste the whiskies yourself. I see scores and notes as suggestions as for what you may want to try yourself, should our tastes more or less match, certainly not as suggestions regarding whiskies of which you should instantly buy bottles, cases or palettes.
- Scores summarize tasting notes and do not replace them. Scores without tasting notes or with just one or two lines are much less useful, unless you know the writer very, very well. And I mean very well (for example, we can exchange simple ratings amongst Malt Maniacs because we know each other very well).
- I certainly understand why some people do not like numerical scores, nothing is black or white and nothing is perfect, and that's why I always add simple stars as well (just don't look at the scores then!) as well as a short profile that I call the SGP. I agree there can be some kind of feeling of diktat behind scores (or any other kind of mark) and I agree that's the ugliest part of it.
- I'm still looking for a better system, and so are many whisky lovers.
And after all, is all that so important? Let’s have fun and only fun with whisky, even if the fun may sometimes be a bit too mumerical for our taste! Peace.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: late master Claude Nougaro does Dansez sur moi live at the Theatre Des Champs Elysees. Dazzling. Please buy Claude Nougaro's music and never forget him!


October 8, 2009

by Nick Morgan
The Relentless Garage, Highbury London
August 27th 2009

Isn’t it great when someone plays you music by a band that you’ve never really heard before and you just fall for it on the spot – like love at first sight? Especially when it’s one of your children.
That’s what happened to me in the late summer when I was lucky enough to hear some pre-release tracks by the Soulsavers, from their now released third album Broken. So taken was I by the very distinctive mournful groove that the band set up that I went out the following day and bought album number two: It’s Not How Far You Fall, It’s the Way You Land. This is an immense piece of work which begins with ‘Revival’, quite simply one of the most mesmerizing songs I’ve heard in a long while. If ever there was a plea for redemption that we could all identify with, just a little bit, then it’s in this wonderfully powerful song. That it comes from the pen and lips of Mark Lanegan only gives the sentiment added potency. Lanegan, former Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age vocalist, one half of the Gutter Twins, and recent collaborator with former Belle and Sebastian singer Isobel Campbell, has, as they say, been through the mill. His journey from Seattle’s emerging grunge scene to Stoke-on-Trent’s Soulsavers has apparently taken him through more than a generous helping of all of the vices associated with ‘the rock and roll lifestyle’; “I drank so much sour whiskey I can hardly see” go the lyrics of one of his songs (‘One way street’ from 2001’s Field Songs), apparently not so much of an understatement,. Lanegan’s clean of addictions for now, there’s no drinking on stage, and apparently the after-show parties aren’t a lot of fun. But his singing is enough to stop you in your tracks, and if anything it’s better on stage than on the record.
Mark Lanegan
Mark Lanegan
And who are these Soulsavers? Hard to say, really. Originally a production and re-mixing duo from the Potteries, with a penchant for the electronic, they are Rich Machin and Ian Glover, who also have a successful sideline in writing film-scores. Their collaboration with Lanegan extends to their last two albums but has also brought in a host of other writers, musicians and vocalists, including Will Oldham, Richard Hawley, Jason Pierce and fellow-contributor’s to the latter’s Spiritualized. But in terms of style they have come a long way from their first album, and Broken has a distinctive guitar-led earthy blues sound which is even more emphatic performed live. Rich Warren, sometime of Spiritualized, Starsailor and The Cold Light of Day contributes much of the guitar on the last two albums, and is on stage wielding a frighteningly effective Fender Jaguar along with Machin (playing rhythm guitar and keyboards), and bass player Martyn Lenoble, Red Ghost on keyboards and vocals, and a sadly unidentified drummer. It’s Warren who almost steals the show with an insistent and aggressive performance that almost takes over from where Marc Ford, playing with Booker T Jones a few weeks before, left off. There’s lot of tremolo arm action, even more near-feedback and plenty of power. But that’s to discount Lanegan, apparently a foolish thing to do: “I would want Mark on my side in a street brawl. He’s one of those guys” said bassist Duff McKagan in an interview last year.
Lanegan follows the band onto the stage and takes a position in the centre which he occupies, almost unmoving, for the whole set. He’s not brawling, but he’s a big man, a powerful brooding figure swathed in shadow, who says nothing until he finally leaves the stage, post-encore, with a gruff but not grudging “Thanks very much”. The recently-refurbished Garage at Highbury Corner, it’s actually called the Relentless Garage but the only relentless thing about it is the heat, is full of record company types (one of whom very kindly got me the ticket, a rare piece of ligging on the part of your reviewer) and Lanegan adorers. They’re waiting for him, and although the gig only lasts sixty minutes they’re not to be disappointed. Broken
Any longer might either have been overwhelming, or over-doing it. The timing was perfect. As was Lanegan’s gloomy growl of a voice, as the band worked through songs from the last two albums, with the addition of an unlikely ZZ Top cover, Jesus Just Left Chicago. Highlights? Well certainly Oldham’s ‘You’ll miss me when I burn’, Gene Clark’s ‘Some misunderstanding’ and ‘Unbalanced pieces’, all from Broken. But the two special moments for me were ‘Jesus of nothing’ and the final encore, the aforementioned ‘Revival’. And it’s all about the intensity of the voice, matched by Warren’s tormented guitar. You know, there are times when you can hear more than echoes of the Alabama 3 in the sound of the Soulsavers, and you could occasionally think that Lanegan is pulling off a mean Larry Love impersonation. But for all their faux menace and outlaw behaviour there’s never a joke too far away in an A3 performance; that’s part of their appeal. There are no jokes with Lanegan and the Soulsavers. When Lanegan pleads for a revival, and for “this dark night to be done’, he really means it. - Nick Morgan.
Listen (and watch): Soulsavers featuring Mark Lanegan, promo clip for 'Revival'


Benriach 1969 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, Old Map label, +/-1985) An older 1969 at 12yo under the old ‘brown label’ was great, so this one should be a worthy sparring partner for the new official 1976. Colour: dark gold. Nose: not all these old indie Benriachs were very fruity but this one is! Superb profile, all on fresh oranges mixed with fresh mint leaves at first nosing. It gets then rather drier, with some cocoa and coffee, various herbal teas as well as plain tea, but also various tropical fruits that glimmer in the background, mainly mangos and passion fruits. All that isn’t too big of course but this oldie’s freshness is quite stunning. Mouth: greatest of news, it’s not weakish nor tired, rather vibrantly fruity, with this very peculiar blend of fresh tropical fruits (again, mangos, tangerines, passion fruits and oranges) with many soft spices (oh well, you name them). There’s also a little honey and just a very faint tiny-wee dustiness that one may find in some of these old CCs. Finish: surprisingly long, with more herbs now, such as parsley and even thyme. An extra-dimension, great! Too bad it looses steam in your glass after ten minutes, and gets drier and maybe a tad soapy. Comments: to be honest, it’s not as big a Benriach as my notes may suggest but excellent it is – for ten minutes. A few more degrees would have propelled it over 90, no doubt. SGP:630 - 89 points.
Benriach 1976/2009 (51.6%, OB for LMdW, hogshead, cask #3551, 160 bottles) Colour: full gold. Nose: the 1969 but at cask strength, punto basta. Actually, there’s a little less mint and a little more fresh fruits (same as above plus bananas) as well as a little more oak. Globally, it’s superb, as expected. Water isn’t needed but let’s try… With water: more mint and other fresh herbs. Some farmy notes too. Mouth (neat): oh yeah, it’s a 1976 Benriach. The oak is quite obvious but the rest is a fruity symphony, led by all citrus fruits. Don’t worry, I’ll spare you further crappy musical analogies. With water: oh does it swim well! The best fruit salad. Finish: maybe a little drying but long and superbly balanced. Passion fruits, mangos, oranges and a little honey. Maybe hints of Turkish delights. Comments: exquisite, as expected. Maybe a tad sharper than earlier official 1976s. SGP:831 - 92 points.

October 7, 2009



Bowmore 15 yo 'Darkest' (43%, OB, +/-2009) The old Darkest, that had no age statement, never quite convinced me (that’s an understatement) but let’s try this newer version, now at 15 years of age. It’s a sherry finish. Colour: amber. Nose: hey hey, this is quite nice! The sherry is rather discreet while the peaty brine is rather beautiful. No disturbing notes of burnt rubber like in older versions, rather a pleasant cleanliness and hints of dried seaweed as well as a few farmy notes (clean cow stable – well…) Also a little leather and raisins. Well made. Mouth: round, starting on chocolaty peat (eh?) and bitter orange marmalade and developing more on cake and spices. Pepper. Some overripe apples in the background and a little caramel. Faint leather and tobacco. Finish: medium long, with a distinct saltiness and maybe a little more sherry. A tad rounder but there’s quite some pepper in the aftertaste. And peat, of course. Comments: amazing how the Darkest improved since… err, eight years or so. Its balance is particularly impressive. SGP:456 - 86 points. (ouch, just checked that I already tried a 2007 version, that I had at 87. Oh well…)
Bowmore 10 yo 'Tempest' (56.3%, OB, first fill bourbon, Batch #1, 2009) Colour: gold. Nose: punchy, clean, crisp, peaty, coastal, mineral and slightly lemony. Not aggressive, flawless – so far. With water: this is interesting, it gets rather more spirity and aggressive when diluted, as if water had unleashed some kind of tincture or iodine and mercurochrome (is that the ‘tempest’?). But it’s soon to calm down, getting more complex, with aromas that are usually to be found in much older Islayers, such as camphor and pu-erh tea. Mouth (neat): the most superb combination of peat, lemon, pepper and iodine that one could taste, with a few spices from the oak in the background (the usual nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger). It’s no overly complex whisky but once again, the balance is impressive. And it’s so drinkable at cask strength! With water: once again, complexity arrives with water. More herbs and even pine resin, the only thing that’s just a tad disturbing is a slight ‘new oak’ note (a little too much ginger/nutmeg for my taste). But that’s nothing. Finish: long, clean and perfectly balanced once again. And very fresh. Maybe a tad sweeter than before (marmalade?) Comments: it’s great that the Distillery joined the many independents who already issued superb young clean Bowmores in recent times, even if this Tempest is a little sweeter than most. A lovable 10yo. SGP:457 - 88 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: remember the 1970s, when Hare Krishna people used to wander in the streets selling some kind of devotional music on cassettes and LPs? The band Rasa was one of the most successful at the time, and I'd bet Jamiroquai or Simply Red listened to Everything You See Is Me back in 1978! Please buy Rasa's music.


October 6, 2009

Port Ellen


Port Ellen 29 yo 1979/2009 (53.8%, Douglas Laing, Platinum, for World Duty Free, 261 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: starts raw and slightly sour, ‘close to the mash’, with some lemon, yoghurt, fresh almonds and wet rocks. Noses certainly younger than almost 30yo. Oh, and quite some peat of course. Gets pretty cleaner after a few minutes, more on fresh walnuts and marzipan as well as a little camphor. Yes, an improvement! With water: typical high-end Port Ellen, need I say more? Beach under the rain, sheep, wet grass, raw peated barley, the sea… That’s right, Islay. Mouth (neat): excellent attack, compact, peaty and almondy with quite some lemon as well. Superbly resinous in a certain way, clean, fresh and punchy but starting to get more rounded around the corners. Develops mainly on apple peeling and fresh walnuts. Superb, in fact! No mashy notes whatsoever. Grows more lemony, kind of sharper and zestier after that. Another restless PE. With water: more salt, more pine resin, more lemon marmalade, more walnut liqueur, more fresh putty. Exceptional balance. Finish: it’s maybe not the longest PE I ever tried but everything is in place. Nutshell: lemon, peat, salt and almonds. Comments: one of the best Port Ellens I could try this year. It’s a tad slow at the start but then… What a trip indeed. SGP:447 - 93 points. (Thanks a bunch, Billy!)
Port Ellen 27 yo 1982/2009 (58.6%, Signatory for LMdW, Collectors’ Edition, cask #1523, 229 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: a much rounder and more polished version, unusually fruity for a Port Ellen, with rather beautiful notes of fresh oranges and passion fruits. Port Ellen, really? Actually, it does remind me of some older vintages such as 1969, which is great, great news. The peat is toned down like in these old Islayers that we like so much (Laphroaig 10, anyone?) Smells more and more like peated blood oranges, should that exist. After a few minutes: gets more austere and a little closed, with much less fruits. Strange! With water: oooh, it woke up! Cow stable, dried seaweed, very old leather grease and tiny-wee hints of new tyres, typical of many PEs. Entrancing whisky, what a movie! Mouth (neat): we’re very close to the 1979 now, only a little more polished. It’s also a little smoother despite the higher strength, but a big PE it is. Superb compactness, with the peat to the front and a wide array of pepper and other spices on second row. All that works perfectly well. Gets then even more powerful and even nervous, with quite some iodine, lime and plain salt. Amazing how it grows bigger and bigger over time. It’s a giant! With water: please call the anti-maltoporn brigade. A wild beast. Finish: very long, actually a little too rough and youngish at 27yo. I’m not kidding. Comments: lots happening in this one – it’s a true movie-malt. A thriller-malt? SGP:358 - 93 points.
Pe1 (58.7%, Specialty Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2009, 50cl) Colour: pale amber. Nose: I must say I’m not surprised the good people at TWE/Specialty Drinks chose a sherried version, and what a version. A lot of chocolate at very first nosing, then a little gunpowder, then the same kinds of fruits as in the 1982, only dried or crystallised instead of fresh. There’s also quite some wildness behind all that, with a little game and quite some balsamic vinegar. Quite some ham too. State of the art sherried PE so far. With water: warning, you have to like this kind of profile! Indeed, it got very different, with something like clams plus well-hung game, before it settled down a bit with more fresh almonds and marzipan. Even praline. What a rollercoaster! Mouth (neat): you can’t tame a good PE, can you? It’s as if the spirit refused the sherry’s influence on the palate! There is some sherry, of course, but the spirit is that big that the wine’s influence gets sort of peripheral (do you see what I mean?) A very nervous PE, zesty, lemony, wild, herbal, biting… It’s the wildest of them all despite the sherry cask. With water: appeased, on high-end Cuban cigar, bitter chocolate, coffee and Corinth raisins. Hey hey, the sherry stroke back! Finish: endless, with a little mint and many other flavours. Splendid retro-olfaction. Comments: a huge whisky in a little bottle (wasn’t that too easy, S.?) SGP:468 – 93 points.
Conclusion: some PEs can be, well, not too nice (sometimes sulphury), but today it was an unquestionable strike. Sure I could have tried to split hairs and come up with different scores but to do that I’d have needed decimals. We’re not there yet! (and I hope we’ll never be!) I’ll try the new 30yo OB later on…

MUSIC - Recommended listening: some forgotten but very good pop soul from the early 1970s (very 'Hair'), Barbara Massey and Ernie Calabria doing Play with fire. Please buy Barbara & Ernie's music.

Barbara Ernie

October 5, 2009



Benromach 10 yo (43%, OB, 2009) The first 10yo entirely distilled by the current owners, Gordon & MacPhail, who bought the little but valiant distillery from Diageo in the late 1990s. Colour: gold. Nose: it’s a characterful spirit, starting with typical farmy and malty notes as well as quite some grass and tea plus a little peat smoke. Goes on with notes of vanilla custard, chamomile, quite some liquorice wood, a little porridge and then a bigger grassiness that goes very well with the general profile. Mustard. A style that’s a little ‘old skool’, very pleasantly so. And good news that they didn’t try to dope it with overactive wood! It does remind me a bit of the old Banff actually. Mouth: even more unusual than on the nose, with an attack on liquorice, mustard again, blackcurrant jelly (containing little sugar) and a leathery dryness as well as a faint saltiness. It’s also quite farmy again, organic in the organoleptic sense of the word, getting finally a little roasted and sweeter. Coffee beans. Finish: surprisingly long, with a good deal of green peatiness and hints of white rum. Cane sugar in the aftertaste. Comments: a lot of individuality and an excellent old style malt, more a Highlander than a Speysider. SGP:453 - 87 points.
Benromach 'Organic Special Edition' (43%, OB, 2009) There’s been a first ‘organic’ in 2006, this one is a new batch. Colour: gold. Nose: sweeter and rounder than the 10yo at first nosing, with what seems to be more wood influence with typical gingery and nutmeggy tones. The profile is also a little simpler and more on cereals. Unusual notes of cumin, quite a lot of cardamom too, scented candles. Vanilla, roasted maize. Very interesting and rather unusual but the 10yo has more class in my opinion – so far. Mouth: to tell you the truth, this one is having troubles after the 10. It’s less full and it does lack a bit of coherence. Curious combination of fresh fruits (raspberries), mead, sweet spices (mulled wine mix), ginger and a faint dustiness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s actually quite pleasant and interesting but once again, the 10 was mucho classier. Finish: pretty long but the oak gets bigger, with quite some nutmeg and even more ginger. Unexpected notes of raspberry liqueur in the aftertaste. Comments: good and unusual but once again, it had trouble after the 10. I also seem to remember that I liked the first organic a little better (85). SGP:441 - 83 points.
Benromach 2002/2009 'Sassicaia Finish' (45%, OB) Finished for two years in that Supertuscan’s casks. Colour: pale apricot. Nose: less presence than both the 10 and the organic and a vinosity that’s there but not wham-bam at all, probably not first fill Sassicaia wood (good news if it’s true, I say). Other than that it’s rather rounded, mildly fruity malt, displaying some of the 10’s main markers (grass, a little mustard, a little smoke, tea). It’s nice. Mouth: once again, no excessive vinosity but there are some notes of fruit drops indeed. Strawberries, raspberries… and other berries. A little sour, all that coming from the casks, most probably. I liked the nose better. Finish: rather long but getting a little too tannic and sour for my taste. Comments: I think red wine wood is always very tricky to handle. This one isn’t bad at all, but the others were much more to my liking. The 10yo is a whisky I’ll buy. SGP:551 - 78 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: for Michel, Marion Brown and this magnificent Solo that was on the album 'Reeds 'n Vibes' that he recorded in 1978 with Gunter Hampel. Please buy Marion Brown's music.

Marion Brown

October 4, 2009


Kings of twittered and facebooked PR blitzkrieg (copyright the excellent Tim Forbes over at The Whisky Exchange Blog) Whyte & Mackay have just issued two lavishly packaged new Dalmores. Let’s see what gives.
Dalmore 18 yo (43%, OB, Matusalem sherry finish, 2009) According to the info sheet, comes in a 'Robust top loader box with an innovative lid that becomes a bottle plinth in cobalt blue/purple with silver graphic and detail.' Enough to make The GlenWonka blue, I mean green with envy. Colour: pale amber. Nose: the wine strikes first here, with typical mildly sour and slightly sulphury notes at first nosing. The good news is that they’re soon to vanish, leaving room for more straight Dalmoreness, that is to say notes of chocolate, malt and oranges. Orange squash, ganache, blood oranges and just hints of strawberry jam. It’s still a bit vinous in fact but nothing too much. Keeps developing on fresh walnuts and a little ginger tonic – and Campari. The more you wait, the cleaner it gets. Nice nose. Mouth: not big but balanced and a little antique in style, starting with notes of lavender and violet sweets, then the expected oranges and a delicate oakiness. Falls a bit after that, with a middle that’s maybe a tad thin. Some winey notes glimmer in the background. Finish: not very long but a bit bolder again, with quite some cloves and dried oranges. Little winey notes at this point. Comments: good Dalmore, just a tad too winey for my taste. I believe it would benefit from three or four more % abv. More or less in the same league as the good Dalmore King Alexander III. SGP:441 – 83 points.
Dalmore 1981/2009 'Amoroso Sherry Finesse ' (42%, OB, Amoroso finish, 484 bottles) What a name! According to the info sheet, this one comes in a 'Very Heavy, premium, innovative solid acrylic cocoon style box'. Cocoon? The movie? Colour: amber. Nose: much less vinous than the 18 at first nosing, and much more complex it seems. Whiffs of old roses, tinned litchis, loads of fresh oranges and tangerines, maybe a little tamarind, musk, then the same kinds of notes of ginger tonic/cinchona as in the 18. The whole is very fresh, very elegant and maybe a little feminine. Very beautiful. Mouth: excellent attack, extremely well balanced, fresh, fruity, clean and vibrant. Excessively coherent with its nose, with exactly the same aromas/flavours, which does not happen too often. Please re-read above. Finish: medium long, just as clean and fruity as before. Loads of blood oranges and just a little dry oak in the aftertaste. Comments: many of W&M’s malts are finished these days but their ubiquitous and engaging master blender is not. SGP:531 - 88 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: Barbara's Hop là. Nuff said. Please buy Barbara's music.


October 2, 2009

Twinwood Arena, Bedford, August 21st-23rd 2009
There’s probably always one thing that sticks in your memory about a weekend like this, and sad to say on this occasion, it was abject sound engineering on the main stage, which plagued performers throughout. Glenn Tilbrook was the first to fall foul of this on Friday, when he performed with his Fluffers, an engaging and lively set that ranged from material from their new album Pandemonium Ensues, to classics from his Squeeze back catalogue. Mr Tilbrook has always struck me as one of music’s more genial characters, but his increasing frustration with the inability of the sound crew (who for much of the Festival had the appearance of frightened rabbits) to get the stage sound right was evident for all to see. Thankfully, that didn’t stop him, according to my notebook, from playing his guitar with his arse, an unusual technical accomplishment that I seem to have erased from my memory. More sound chaos ensued with Friday night headliners The Proclaimers, who were still very capable of captivating a crowd with tight harmonies and well-chosen material from their new album Notes and Rhymes, their hits such as ‘I would walk 500 miles’, and their covers, such as an electric treatment of Wreckless Eric’s ‘Whole wide world’. But their road manager spent much of the set glowering across at the sound desk who struggled with monitor levels, in the sort of threatening way large six-foot-plus Scots can have when they put their mind to it. Saturday’s headliners, Alabama 3, ended up doing the mixing themselves. Thus, harmonica player and tapes man, the permanently anxious-looking Mountain of Love spent as much time at the desk as he did on the front of the stage. Nonetheless, and despite a looming curfew (a result of the time it had taken to get the sound at least passable for them to take the stage), they turned in a characteristically high-energy set; Larry Love ended the evening leading the crowd in some community singing when the band were prevented from returning for an encore. Drawing on classics from Exile on Coldharbour Lane, the set also featured songs from MOR and Outlaw, and a couple of tracks from their forthcoming album Revolver Soul (co-produced, apparently, by ex-bassist Mr Segs), which they will be touring later in the year.
Glen Tilbrook
A Proclaimer
D-Wayne Love (Alabama 3)
Larry Love (Alabama 3)
Other festival highlights? Well, Nick Harper’s solo set featured some interesting songs played in an unusual open-tuned flamenco style, with singing-cum-rapping and fadoesque lyrics. The Demon Barbers, despite their plaudits, only served to remind me what was wrong with a lot of so-called ‘folk-rock’. The Photographer wandered off and found herself having a very nice chat with Jacqui McShee, who with husband Gerry Conway, keyboards player Spencer Cozens and others turned in a tidy set as Jacqui McShee’s Pentangle. The Strawbs’ ‘acoustic’ (let’s ignore the booming bass pedals that also seemed to act as an orchestron of sorts) sadly confirmed all my prejudices about the outfit; apologies to any Strawbs fans reading this. And Dave Cousins’ tea-bag dyed hair was almost as ghastly as the music. The Blow Monkeys had feedback problems and their AWB-style groove seemed out of place at six o’clock on a very hot Saturday afternoon. The Beat, led by an impossibly high-energy Ranking Roger and his son Ranking Junior (who was struggling to keep up with his dad), were fantastic: I’d forgotten just what great songs ‘Mirror in the bathroom’ and ‘Too nice to talk to’ were. Eric Bell, one-time lead guitarist with Thin Lizzy is best described as a disappointment, even fluffing his most famous riff, the memorable introduction to ‘Whisky in the jar’. And the excellent James Hunter? Well, he closed the weekend for us, but seemed totally out of place in Sunday’s late afternoon sunshine: his unique take on R&B is night-time music. But he turned out a typically tight and perfectly-sung set which got the crowd dancing, with Alvin Youngblood Hart admiring Hunter’s impossible guitar technique from the side of the stage. And I noticed that some of his band’s kids were having a great and no doubt rare time enjoying their Dads’ playing.
The Photographer with Jacqui McShee
Dave Cousins
Ranking Roger
James Hunter
Of course there was a lot more going on besides all of this, what with digital circuses, solar cinemas, therapy zones and the like, in addition to all the bars. A limited range of food providers produced some decent enough grub, and lurking among the Nissen huts were some gloriously tranquil and perfectly clean cloakrooms (who ever heard of electric hand driers at a rock festival?). The ever-optimistic promoter Jim Driver was already selling tickets for next year’s event before this one had finished, so who knows, we may be back next year, too.- Nick Morgan (performance photographs by Kate) Grub


Balvenie 14 yo 'Cuban Selection' (43%, OB, Cuban rum finish, 2009) Colour: gold. Nose: this baby does not start on Balvenie’s usual honeyed and flowery notes but rather on distinct notes of rum and a faint smokiness, rather unusual in Balvenie. It’s also rather malty, with hints of roasted peanuts and a little cake, then hints of Guinness. Not a big malt on the nose but it’s all nicely balanced and well composed, with some dried fruits coming through after a while. A little undemanding but, once again, very pleasant. Mouth: sweet, rounded, easy, then rather nervous, with quite some candy sugar. Other than that we have malt, nougat, a little caramel and just hints of honey sauce, then notes of tea and a slight grassiness. Salted vanilla toffee. I wouldn’t say this one is a complex malt but coherent and pleasant it is. Finish: medium long, on sweetened tea, with some rum in the aftertaste. Comments: a very good ‘commercial’ malt whisky that nobody will dislike, not even the girl next door ;-). SGP:431 – 85 points.
Balvenie 17 yo 'Madeira Cask' (43%, OB, Madeira finish, 2009) Colour: full gold. Nose: this one starts much drier than the Cuban and even farer from Balvenie’s usual smooth profile. It isn’t vinous as such, rather on leather and green tea, with even a little balsamic vinegar and something that may resemble a faint peatiness, probably from the Madeira. After a few minutes: more notes of herbal tea and even tobacco (newly opened pack of blond cigarettes) as well as whiffs of shoe polish. Just like the Cuban, it’s perfectly composed and the finishing is anything but overwhelming here. More leather after a few minutes. Mouth: this is funny, it was drier than the Cuban on the nose but it’s sweeter on the palate, with more wine influence this time. Notes of strawberries and oranges as well as just wee hints of bubblegum. Icing sugar, orange squash, marshmallows. Gets then drier again, with more herbal tea (very dry ones such as cherry stem or peach tree leaves and so on). Just a little honey. Finish: medium long, with obvious vinosity and tannicity but all that is under control. Comments: very, very nice nose, the palate is a little less enjoyable for my taste. I liked the Cuban a little better globally. SGP:451 – 84 points.

October 1, 2009

by Nick Morgan
(part one)

Twinwood Arena, Bedford, August 21st-23rd 2009


It’s festival time. We’ve given Cropredy a miss, probably a bad move as it happens. The line-up there (for a change) was first rate, the weather fantastic (despite the presence of Richard Thompson, who traditionally acts as a rain-magnet), and the performances (so I’m told) top-notch.

Instead, we’ve returned to the friendly Rhythm Festival, which despite low attendances last year, and other festivals falling by the wayside due to poor ticket sales, has managed to stagger on. There don’t seem to be many people here this year, although as I’ve observed before, the Twinwood Arena can easily soak up a large number of people without seeming very full.

The two campsites are fairly busy, but we still managed to get a good spot for the Whiskyfun Teepee (yep, that’s what the recession can do for you) and Jozzer pitched his next door.

Glen Miller
You’ll probably remember the Twinwood Arena: a former RAF base, famous as Glen Miller’s point of departure for his fateful journey into oblivion, and which serves as a venue for events, as a second world-war museum and as shrine to the memory of the lost band-leader. It’s full of surprises, and it’s full of beer, which is just as well; last year, if my memory doesn’t fail me, they ran out of ale early on Sunday afternoon. In this year of the ‘staycation’ there’s a very British holiday atmosphere to the place: beer with bacon for breakfast, followed by beer; beer and burgers for lunch, followed by more beer, then beer and biryani for dinner, followed by a few glasses of you-know-what. Actually that’s not quite true. For some, it’s cider and cereal for breakfast, followed by cider; cider and sausages for lunch, followed by more cider, then cider and succotash for dinner. The wonderfully diverse bunch of characters that we came across (sadly, all their nicknames, awarded by the start of day two, are unprintable) stayed in fairly good order; the Photographer having to bark at only one rather hapless intoxicate. When things did get slightly out of hand, the miscreants, a team of stewards and the police ended up providing a wonderful Sunday morning comedy half-hour, causing most of the main campsite to lay down their newspapers, turn off the Archers on the radio, and adjust the position of their fishing chairs for a ringside view. Maybe it was street theatre?
Oli Brown
Oli Brown
It’s an equally diverse bill which includes the up-and-coming and the over and out. In the former category was frighteningly youthful blues guitarist Oli Brown, who played a passable set with his band on Friday, but seemed a little out of place on such a big stage faced with a relatively small audience. Veteran pub rockers Eddie and the Hot Rods probably fall into the latter category, but no-one had told either cadaverous vocalist Barrie Masters, or ace guitarist and Whiskyfun fan Richard Holgarth, who together delivered a blistering performance on Saturday afternoon under equally blistering sunshine. There was also less reliance on big names from the United States, perhaps given that in 2008, some had performed so lamentably badly.
However, Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams have returned as festival favourites, openers and closers, following their sterling efforts in the rain last year. I have to say I’m not quite sure what all the enthusiasm was about. Wonderful festival fodder, perfectly pleasant but perfectly ordinary (despite the name) would be my conclusion. Original material that nonetheless trawls through a very obvious series of largely American influences, ranging from Dylan to Diamond, with a touch of Johnny Cash and Tom Petty in between. It’s nice, but not going anywhere. Perhaps I’m missing the point, or maybe it’s just that their faux hippyism stirred a distant fond memory in the ale- and cider-fuddled minds of the largely fifty-something audience, prompting their astonishing generosity.
Jozia Longo
Jozia Longo (Gandalf Murphy)
Of more interest was Alvin Youngblood Hart, who began his Sunday afternoon set firmly in North Mississippi Hill Country Blues style. He then moved through an eclectic selection of songs, using a wonderful collection of guitars including a lovely Harmony Bobkat, and took in urban blues, country and western and what used to be called blues-rock (in a very British vein). Despite a heavy cold (“This swine flu’s whooping my ass, man”) and some odd tuning from his guitar tech, he turned in a lovely cameo performance; in short, a big recommendation. If you can’t get to see him live then you can see him sing a couple of songs in the commendable Wim Wenders movie, ‘The soul of a man’. Equally worth seeking out is the smart-suited and distinctly coiffured Terry Reid, one of the great nearly-men of rock and roll, and for many years a permanent resident of the USA (not that he hasn’t lost a very cheeky English conversational style of presentation). Reid is one of the great rock voices, as he demonstrated in his Saturday evening set. You may remember we saw him last year at a disastrous gig with Mick Taylor (Reid was far from being the culprit, but fell victim, like the audience, to a spat between Taylor and drummer Mitch Mitchell). Here he’s with his own band, his own songs, some beautiful guitars and a hot-rod Telecaster merchant, Ed Rainey, to whom he’s happy to give a lot of space. There’s a strangely morose (not to say frankly slushy) feel to much of his more recent material (odd, given the irrepressible nature of the singer), and sadly, a sense that his still remarkable voice could do with some better and less ponderous songs.
Alvin Youngblood-Hart
Alvin Youngblood Hart
Terry Reid
But what a voice: “Respect to Terry Reid” as Alabama 3’s Larry Love said later. - Nick Morgan (performance photographs by Kate)
Listen: Oli Brown on Myspace
Eddie and the Hot Rods on MySpace
Therry Reid on MySpace
Kornog Kilchoman


Kornog 'Taouarc'h Kentan' (57.1%, OB, Glann ar Mor Distillery, Brittany) Kornog is the peated version of Glann ar Mor and this one is the first cask ever bottled. The malt had been peated to 35ppm, distilled in traditional direct-fired (hear, hear) pot stills and matured for a little more than three years in a bourbon barrel in the distillery’s warehouse on Brittany’s north coast. Two famous professional tasters – sorry, no names - have already tried it and were flabbergasted. Colour: straw. Nose: the first two words that come to mind are ‘balance’ and ‘freshness’ – and peat, of course. Kind of a slightly cleaner version of a seven or eight years old Ardbeg, with something medicinal (embrocations, bandages), obvious whiffs of sea breeze, iodine and seaweed and a light fruitiness that reminds me of a very good cider. There’s also some wax, a little engine oil, fresh walnuts and almonds and just touches of vanilla. With water: more marzipan and fresh putty like in some much, much older Islayers, even a little camphor. It gets also more widely phenolic, with a little turpentine, ink and diesel oil. Funny hints of bergamot in the background. Mouth (neat): excellent attack, balanced once again but potent, with more fruits than on the nose (hints of pineapple and pear drops that come from its young age, maybe even kiwi) and kind of a sweet peatiness that makes it very quaffable at cask strength – provided you like peat. Notes of oysters that remind me of Caol Ila this time, and quite some salt too. Smoked salted almonds. With water: more pine resin, maybe from the wood, as well as a little lemon and quite some marzipan. Finish: long, mostly peaty and resinous, which makes for a beautiful combo. Some lemon and salt in the aftertaste. Comments: a brilliant achievement, too bad there’s only one cask (a general release at 46% abv will be out in November). More Islay-like than all Scottish Islay-like Highlanders in my view, highly recommended if you enjoy seriously peated whiskies – and if you can find it! SGP:447 - 87 points.
Kilchoman 2006/2009 (61.1%, OB for Whisky Live Paris, fresh bourbon, cask 232/2006) This is the first ‘pure bourbon’ version of Kilchoman, the inaugural release at 46% abv having been finished in sherry casks. This baby was first poured at the opening ‘Icons of Whisky’ dinner at Whisky Live Paris last Friday and pulled enthusiastic comments from most of the audience. Colour: white wine. Nose: this one is just as peaty as the Kornog if not more, and rather wilder and rougher around the edges. Very hot at more than 60% abv but not unbearable, with even more iodine and a much more obvious farmy character (wet hay, farmyard after the rain and all that jazz). It’s also a little less medicinal than the Kornog. With water: goes on in the same direction, very peaty, half-farmy, half-coastal. And iodine, mercurochrome, even more whiffs of damp farmyard… Mouth (neat): once again, this is bigger and less civilised than the Kornog, even if we’re well in the same kind of family. Apples, salt and all kinds of smoked things (your pick). It’s even rather kippery, and also a little less farmy than on the nose now. Rather big saltiness. With water: absolutely excellent now considering its age, peaty, fruity (cooked apples) and always very salty. Finish: long, peated, calms down a bit. Always this farminess. Comments: the Kornog is a little more mature and polished, the Kilchoman tastes a little younger and wilder. Both are of very high quality and it’s absolutely impossible for me to decide between both. It’s a tie. SGP:358 – 87 points.

September 2009 - part 2 <--- October 2009 - part 1 ---> October 2009 - part 2

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



Best malts I had these weeks - 90+ points only - alphabetical: a heavy month!

Benriach 1976/2009 (51.6%, OB for LMdW, hogshead, cask #3551, 160 bottles)

Clynelish 32 yo 1971 (54.2%, Whisky-Fässle, bourbon cask)

Clynelish 36 yo 1972/2009 (59.4%, Gordon & MacPhail for LMdW, refill sherry hogshead, cask #14301, 197 bottles)

Glendronach 37 yo 1972/2009 (53.3%, OB for LMdW, oloroso sherry butt, cask #705, 275 bottles)

Highland Park 1973/2001 (45.4%, OB, cask #11151, 500 bottles)

The Dragon 1973 (56.6%, Robertson, Kirkwall, Highland Park, 75cl)

Highland Park 18 yo 1972/1991 (56%, Dun Eideann, Donato, cask #9017, 120 bottles)

Highland Park 21 yo 1972/1994 (56.5%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, sherrywood)

Port Ellen 27 yo 1982/2009 (58.6%, Signatory for LMdW, Collectors’ Edition, cask #1523, 229 bottles)

Port Ellen 29 yo 1979/2009 (53.8%, Douglas Laing, Platinum, for World Duty Free, 261 bottles)

Pe1 (58.7%, Specialty Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2009, 50cl)

Thomas H. Handy (67.4%, OB, Straight Rye)