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

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


September 14, 2009


That there’s some Brora left at the indies’ (and at the owners’, obviously) is the greatest of news, even if 1981 was probably not the best ‘vintage’ up there. While I’m at it, may I humbly but solemnly ask all distinguished bottlers not to dilute and/or finish any remaining casks they would have, even if they aren’t all state of the art? Right, right, I should mind my…
Brora 26 yo 1981/2008 (46%, Dun Bheagan, dry sherry butt, cask #1526, 684 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: a dry, austere, chalky, grassy, mustardy and mineral Brora, getting then rather leafier, leathery, a tad porridgy and even yoghurty. Vanilla custard. Not from the best batches, obviously, but Brora is Brora (how clever, S!) The dry sherry is not too obvious but certainly noticeable. Really improves over time, getting pleasantly grassy and ‘walnutty’, also with that waxiness that’s so peculiar. Mouth: very good, assertive attack on cider (minus the fizz) and pepper plus sweet mustard, with a pleasant greenness that reminds me of these ultra-dry Portuguese white wines (vinho verde). Then more fresh almonds, lime, a certain smokiness, green apples. Gets then oilier on the palate, and more lemony as well. Very good. Finish: long, dry, with more pepper and even capsicum. And always these lemony notes and a lingering peat. Comments: Brora is maybe not that easy to recognise here but it’s excellent whisky for sure, even if better so on the palate. One of the most lemony Broras I ever tried. SGP:473 - 88 points.
Brora 27 yo 1981/2009 (51.3%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #291, 330 bottles) It’s the first time I come across a 1981 Brora bearing these kinds of cask numbers. Up to today, we’ve rather seen quite some #57x (Signatory), #107x (The Bottlers), #142x (Duncan Taylor, Signatory) or #15xx (Chieftains/Dun Bheagan, Signatory). Let’s see what gives… Colour: pale gold. Nose: completely different from the Dun Bheagan, bigger but certainly not less austere. Flinty, mustardy, leathery, waxy and very mineral, with these notes of damp clay and even a little sludge. Gets then superbly almondy, with huge notes of orgeat syrup (you don’t know what it is? Google it!) With water: as often, we go greener, more vegetal, farmier, more organic, but also more phenolic and even a tad tarry. Engine oil? Mouth (neat): holy fudge! Probably one of the best 1981 Broras I ever tried. Magnificently sharp (like a blade, as they say), zesty, half-oily, half-lemony… If there’s one malt whisky that may remind me of my beloved Alsatian Rieslings, it’s this one. And pepper, and mustard, and chilli, and lime, and… With water: perfection. Medicinal. Peaty… Please call the anti-maltoporn brigade. Finish: long, astoundingly oily, waxy, peppery and peaty. Comments: let’s not spoil the magic, let’s keep our mouth shut. SGP:374 - 93 points.
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
II’ve checked the stats of little Whiskyfun again, particularly the number of visits that each of the top 25 ‘tasting index’ pages have gathered within the last twelve months. The figures range from roughly 30,000 for #1, Ardbeg to 8,000 for #25, Glendronach. I believe this has something to do with each brand’s notoriety and appeal as well as with the number of expressions I’ve tried so far.
So, these figures should be taken with a grain of salt since, for instance, I’ve tried many more Ardbegs or Laphroaigs than Lagavulins, just because there are so many more various Ardbegs and Laphroaigs, old or new, in the market. Anyway, here’s the Top 25. Unsurprisingly, Islay rules - and surprisingly, there are still two long closed distilleries. Proof that Whiskyfun's readers really are connaisseurs and certainly not the average Joe (I'm sorry, Joe!)
  Last 12 months Previous 12 months
Highland Park
Port Ellen
Caol Ila
Glen Grant
Port Ellen
Highland Park
Caol Ila
Glen Grant
What's also rather remarkable is how Highland Park boldly overtook Macallan. Springbank makes great progress (the rank isn't so much higher but the figures are), as well as, rather surprisingly, Bunnahabhain. The revived Glendronach, that was very, very far away last year (around #80) is already #25. Well done!

MUSIC - Recommended listening: in the series 'let's listen to our readers and go for easier music', Japanese kings of pastiche Pizzicato Five are doing their Concerto (ten years ago or so). Please buy Pizzicato Five's music.

Pizzicato Five

September 13, 2009

The Crocodile, Tokyo, September 3rd 2009
Serge, as well you know when a rock artist decides to do “a reggae number” one heads for the hills (or the door), but I’ve found that normal rules do not apply in Japan. In any case, this country is home to the Ska Flames and the Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra and if they aren’t the best in the world at their chosen genre then I’ll eat your beret. Tonight, I am also prepared to waive my usual aversion to attempts to master reggae by artistes who should know better [or AMRAWSKB for simplicity’s sake] because the man in question is Joe Yamanaka.
Do I hear you ask, “who is Joe Yamanaka?” He’s the 6foot, half-Japanese, half-black singer who fronted Japan’s pysych legends Flower Travellin Band in the late 60s and early 70s. If you’ve got yourself a copy of Julian Cope’s book ‘Japrocksampler’ (and you should) it’s the FTB who are on the cover.. naked.. riding motorbikes. Their music was a mix of Sabbath, Can, Indian scales, drones, crazed guitar solos and Joe’s three octave voice screaming above it all. If there was a band which typified Japrock it’s FTB, especially on their second record, ‘Satori’. Check the track ‘Satori II’ to see what I mean.  
Flower Travellin Band, circa 1971
Anyhoo, these days as it transpires, Joe has ditched the wild Afro of FTB days and opted for bum length locks and as his very tight band kick into a roots reggae groove it appears that he’s also forsaken his former vocal style for one reminiscent of a Japanese-inflected Horace Andy.
I should also mention that tonight is Joe’s 63rd birthday and tonight’s gig, in a tiny Shibuya dive called Crocodile, promises special guests. The audience consists mostly of old bohemians (FTB fans no doubt), but there’s also table comprising a couple of Russian hookers hostesses, a 50-something local actor doing an impersonation of Fat Elvis and a pimp; while at the bar sits a woman who appears to be wearing a lap dog as a hat, sitting next to a clutch of old rockers, all black shirts and leather. Oh.. and us ... The Whisky Mag Japan crew: the Giant Gaijin -- a man who has just the day before discovered Joe and FTB and finally, thankfully, thrown away his Hayley Westerna cds -- the Fixer, the Yokohama Bureau Chief, the Boss and myself.
The thing about Joe, I realise, half way through the set, is that he sings everything with complete belief, so that even the clunkers, ‘Banana Boat Song’ anyone? are imbued with such sincerity that he somehow gets away with it. The numbers are interspersed with well-wishers giving him presents: flowers, a cake and a watch from Fat Elvis whose table is ordering increasingly frequent rounds of buckets of beer and tequila shots, many of which are being passed to the guitarist.
Joe Yamanaka
Joe Yamanaka
First set over, the stage is taken over by a bunch (posse? pose?) of rappers average age 12 - or so it seems. There’s a lot of posing, grabbing of crotches (maybe to check if their balls have dropped) and RnB crooning -- though in a vocal style that brings to mind a mosquito in a jam jar. I really do believe, Serge, that virgins shouldn’t be allowed to sing about sex. Still, it is all rather amusing.
The Russian hostesses disappear to the john -- which despite being little more than a portaloo is still furnished with a heated, spraying, bidet-equipped toilet. This is Tokyo after all. Joe then re-emerges, dressed in black with a reggae tam and red gold and green waistcoat. The music’s heavier, dubbier -- for a while anyway because then he starts crooning standards. Meanwhile, the Russians have returned, though one of them appears to have her knickers on back to front (she’s wearing hipsters, standing in front of me, I can’t help but notice); more tequilas are ordered and given to the guitarist, while Joe starts singing “You Are So Beautiful.. To Me” and once again, despite the maudlin nature of the song, manages to make it genuinely touching.
As this ends the band leaves and two of the old rockers get on stage. I look at Giant Gaijin. Can it be? FTB back together? The drummer kicks into a mororik tribal beat, the tequila-fulled guitarist unleashes long phased raga-like runs, then hits the riff to ‘Satori II’. Joe lets out a Tarzan-like howl. Suddenly its gone from chicken (or crocodile) in a basket to deep psychedelia. More tequila arrives, fat Elvis is screaming, the Russians are wiggling and the 12yo hip-hoppers are throwing shapes. Heads are being banged, arms are waving, quite where the lap-dog has gone I know not - trampled junderfoot perhaps and all the while a 63 year old Japanese rasta sings his lungs out. It’s one of those Tokyo moments where you shake your head, shrug, smile and leap right in. Russian
Joe and the FTB leave and a bleached blond soul singer (whose name we find out later is Shark) leaps on stage to grind out the most lascivious version of ‘Mustang Sally’ that I’ve ever heard. Elvis is sweating, one of the Russians dashes out to throw up, the pimp following shouting “Anya”, there’s a breakdance competition on stage, one of the hip hoppers’ trousers fall down, Joe is bouncing around, we’re all singing Happy Birthday, it’s total, hilarious, chaos. Joe Yamanaka. Hero. What more can I say? – Dave Broom
Listen: Satori, Pt. 2 (from Satori, 1971)
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
On Friday, September 25th there will be a great Whisky Collectors' dinner at Whisky Live Paris, with many old and recent rarities to try and some fantastic food as well. The whole program and booking form are here, have a look. See you there?
Caol Caol Ila 1984/1999 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail for Sandro al Navile, cask #6067) Colour: white wine. Nose: you know, sometimes it’s great to be able to nose a good fresh Caol Ila at just 43% vol. abv. This one is as briny as it can get, all on oysters, seaweed, fresh almonds and linseed oil, developing mostly on lemon, soaked barley and plain peat smoke. Exactly what I usually call ‘a Riesling malt’ (sorry Rieslings). Mouth: rather powerful at 43%, sweet and maybe a little more cardboardy right at the attack, with a lot of ripe apples. Gets then a tad violetty and maybe a little too candied for this profile (candy sugar, heavily sugared tea). Less a fresh clean Caol ila than on the nose. Finish: medium long, still very sweet and candied beside a moderate peatiness. Comments: I liked the nose much better than the palate but it’s still a good Coal Ila globally. SGP:545 - 80 points.
Caol Ila 22 yo 1984 (51%, Whisky-Fässle, bourbon cask) Colour: white wine. Nose: we’re already in front of something more spirity and maybe a tad more medicinal than the average Caol Ila, with whiffs of antiseptic and tincture of iodine. Those medicinal notes grow bigger and bigger actually, let’s see what happens with the addition of a little water. With water: not much changes, it just gets a tad more mineral and nutty, but the medicinal side remains. Mouth (neat): punchy, very good, clean, peaty and very medicinal once again. Gentian eau-de-vie. Very faint notes of strawberry bubblegum and quite some salt. With water: no more bubblegum, rather more salt, walnuts and indeed, clams (or queen scallops, as you like). Finish: rather long, with its medicinal side still there. Bitter almonds. Comments: an hospitalized clam? Anyway, excellent Caol Ila, somewhat south-shore style. SGP:367 - 88 points. Caol Ila
Caol Ila 1984/2008 (59%, The Whisky Agency) Colour: pale straw. Nose: this is much rawer when neat, more vegetal as well. Roots, damp earth, then almonds, walnut skin and that ‘coastality’ (or coastalness?) that translates more into clams and other seashells here. With water: gets grassier and even more austere before it gets smokier and, yes, very medicinal (camphor, Vicks). Quite mentholated too. Mouth (neat): big and archetypical this time, huge peatiness, a little aniseed, marzipan and all thing seashell. Reminds me of a Caol Ila Rare Malt but I just can’t remember which one (that’s very useful, thanks Serge.) With water: a little sweeter (vanilla) than the Whisky-Fässle but still austere globally. Green tea, notes of horseradish. Good ‘Islayness’. Finish: long, rooty, peaty and peppery. Especially the aftertaste is very peppery and has something of Talisker this time. Comments: simply very good. SGP:467 - 87 points.

September 11, 2009

Booker T Jones

by Nick Morgan
Bush Hall, Shepherd’s Bush, London
July 30th 2009

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be trapped in aspic somewhat like a lark’s tongue, suspended against your will in a particular moment of time not of your choosing, unable to move forward, unable to go back? Can’t be pleasant, can it? Almost like being in a coma. And yet that’s where some people seem to wish to preserve legendary Hammond organ player Booker T Jones, if their reactions to his new album, Potato Hole, are anything to go by. For these critics, Booker T isn’t allowed to sully the memory of the famed sixties house band for Stax records that he shared with Steve Cropper, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn and the late Al Jackson, with ‘new’ music, let alone with the very contemporary heavy blues sound that marks the new offering. The fact that he collaborated with the feisty guitar-driven Drive By Truckers on the album has earned the scorn of others (who nonetheless choose not to criticise the presence of Neil Young’s guitar on some of the recordings), the choice of covers of songs like Outkast’s ‘Hey ya’, derision. According to these views, Jones’s fate should be to spend the rest of his life honouring that relatively brief period of his career, joining in regular reunions with the remnants of the band. Now don’t get me wrong on this point; when we saw Mr Jones and the remaining MGs in London a few years ago it was both a memorable and moving experience (and the show Steve Cropper put on at last year’s Rhythm Festival was pretty special too), exhibiting the real timeless quality of much of the MGs’ work. But surely all that that shouldn’t mean that Booker can’t, as people like to say these days, ‘move on’, let alone move forward?
Booker T Jones Ask the audience in the tiny (and very sold-out) Bush Hall, that hidden gem of music hall architecture, a rare oasis in the desert of Uxbridge Road (another is the wonderful Esarn Kheaw restaurant) in west London. I guess only about half had heard the new album (judging by the number queuing to buy it at the end of the show), and had showed up more on the basis of past reputation than recent work. But Mr Jones and his marvellous band (not on this night, as on most of his tour, the Drive by Truckers) converted almost everyone. The withering looks of contempt that were shot at one lonesome soul who shouted “Play some of the old songs” about half way through, said it all. Not that the ‘old songs’ didn’t get an airing: the set was divided about forty/sixty in favour of older material, not all of it from the MGs.
“Here’s a song I wrote for Albert King”, says Jones, as the band break into ‘Born under a bad sign’; the passion with which this was played led to an enforced guitar string change off-stage (no guitar technicians tonight, it’s every man for himself) during which he softly growled his way through ‘Dock of the bay’ (composed by MG Cropper and Otis Redding).
Booker T Jones
It has to be said that what set this performance apart, bringing the new material to life and resuscitating some of the old stuff too, was Jones’s band: two gun-slinging guitarists and a tighter-than-time rhythm section. Marc Ford, allegedly fired by the Black Crowes for excessive drug-taking back in the late 1990s, and now refusing to tour with them again because ‘he fears for his sobriety’ in their presence, owned the centre of the stage, spitting out riffs on his Hofner with an unexpected intensity. His partner, former Fabulous Thunderbird Troy Gonyea, largely confined subtlety to the trash-bin and played with a brutal dexterity; the two of them egged each other on as the night progressed (reaching a climax with a suitably epic version of ‘Hang ‘em high’) under the watchful eye of Mr Jones, himself no mean guitarist ("I became a keyboardist by default, because 'Green Onions' was a hit. But in my heart and soul I was always a guitarist”). Another former Thunderbird (and former Nightcat), Ronnie James Weber, played low-slung bass to Darian Gray’s enthusiastic and perfectly timed drumming. Add to this Mr Jones’s characteristic incisive, yet often understated Hammond organ, and you have one of the most compelling bands we’ve seen all year, far exceeding our expectations for the night.
And of course the ear-splitting bonus was to catch an act like this in such an intimate venue, where you could see the band warming and responding to the huge excitement and enthusiasm of the audience. They went on to play a set at the Cambridge Folk Festival, where, said a reviewer, they “opted for bombast over communication”.
Well, that’s ‘folkies’ for you, missing the point yet again. I checked in my dictionary, and for the record, there was no padding or stuffing of any nature in this gig (nor, I should add, in the soft-spoken Booker T who kindly took time at the end of the gig to speak with fans). This was blues and soul music of the best possible sort, from the heart, and proving in the case of Mr Jones, that there’s a lot of life left in the old dog yet. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Listen: Marc Ford on MySpace
Booker T Jones on MySpace
Booker T Jones with Marc Ford in London - 30 July 09 (youtube)



Coleburn 17 yo 1968/1985 (46%, Cadenhead's Dumpy, Black Label, 75cl) As you probably know, Coleburn Distillery was closed in 1983. Colour: pale gold. Nose: typical old Highland style at first sniffing, a style that’s more and more difficult to find at operating (Clynelish, Pulteney, Springbank and? And?...) It’s certainly rather smoky, dry, maybe a tad wobbly aromatically but the absence of in-your-face sweetness makes it most desirable. Moss, mushrooms, mustard, soot, saltpetre, wet cardboard, chalk, grass, paraffin, fermenting hay… Really old style! Mouth: once again, it’s no perfect whisky at the attack, it’s probably a tad too cardboardy and oddly sooty/mineral but the rest is superb. Wasabi, leather, old rum, walnuts, dry sherry, pomegranate, dry white wine (sauvignon)… It’s kind of naughty but don’t we all like that? Finish: rather long, now much spicier and much more peppery, with a distinct peatiness. Herbs. Comments: times gone by. I think any true malt aficionado should rush out and grab these old Highlanders before they’re really history. Even if some aren’t really perfect. SGP:463 – 89 points.
Coleburn 26 yo 1983/2009 (49.5%, The Whisky Agency Fossiles Series, Bourbon, 120 bottles) Colour: white wine. Nose: this one has got more or less the same old-skool aromas as the old Cadenhead but it’s also got an added fruitiness that makes it slightly Clynelish-esque. Tangerines, orange blossom water, also lime tree blossom, then coal smoke, mustard again, hints of asparagus (no sulphur!), flints, gin, earth… We’re so far from modern whiskies here! Probably not technically perfect but absolutely lovable. Mouth: exactly the same happens on the palate. Old style, slightly ‘artisan’ profile but with more fruitiness, oranges, light honeys, mead, roasted chestnuts, Provence herbs, greengages, mustard, sweet horseradish sauce… Finish: very long, better structured around the cask’s spices. Pepper and curry spices. Cardamom. Comments: this one keeps improving in the glass and becomes truly magnificent after a few minutes. But only 120 bottles, f**k! And probably sold out. Seriously, it should be forbidden to launch such wonders when you don’t have at least 500 litres at hand. Oh, and comparing those with some shitty young modern whiskies will just make you cry. Don’t do it. SGP:362 - 92 points.

September 8, 2009



Ardbeg 15 yo 1994/2009 (57.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 273 bottles) Another one from the ‘semi-active’ period, when the Laphroaig team led by Iain Henderson used to go to Ardbeg and let it run a bit so that it wouldn’t get ‘rusty’ while it was closed. It’s great that the good people at Cadenhead’s could put their hands on some of these rare casks. Colour: straw. Nose: powerful, spirity and quite aggressive. Very medicinal at first nosing (mercurochrome), with also notes of fresh almonds and apple peeling and something that would remind us more of Caol Ila than of Ardbeg. Seashells? With water: a tad more ‘beg but still a tad more, say restrained than other expressions. Huge whiffs of wet campfire smoke, then more rabbit hutch. ‘Farmyard under the rain’. Mouth (neat): indeed, it’s a little more Caol Ila than Ardbeg once again, less ‘fat’ and maybe a tad more ‘elegant’ than the usual ‘beg. Maybe it’s got something to do with that b****y purifier working or not back in those days? With water: excellent! As tarry, salty and hugely phenolic as expected. Finish: long, smoky, phenolic, resinous. Comments: it’s funny that water would reinforce this one’s Ardbeggian character, whilst it’s not very Ardbeg when undiluted. A very, very interesting – and good of course – dram. Well done, Cadenhead. SGP:267 - 89 points. (and thank you, Angus)
Ardbeg 9yo 1999/2008 (58.5%, Adelphi, cask #626, 274 bottles) This one was distilled by the ‘new’ owners, Glenmorangie plc. Remember, they took over in 1997. Colour: pale gold. Nose: powerful of course, and rather more ‘Ardbeg’ than the Cadenhead’s at first nosing. More tar, camphor, straight smoke and the famous ‘fisherman’s boat’ that we all know very well. With water: cough syrup galore and tarmac galore. And tons of smoke. Mouth (neat): once again, it’s fatter and oilier than the Cadenhead’s, and mucho more medicinal as well when neat. Engine oil (not that we sip engine oil too often), cough syrup, lemon syrup, green apple liqueur (remember, the one they make in Spain) and then even more cough syrup. Graphite, pencil lead. Not very complex but very idiosyncratic, as they say. With water: well, this time it hasn’t got all of the Cadenhead’s phenolic profile, even if it’s more pungent. It’s as if it was a slightly lighter spirit, with a little less ‘grease’ and ‘fattiness’ but more cleanliness. Strange that water worked that way. Finish: long, of course. Just a little cardboard. Lemon. Comments: very, very interesting to compare both spirits with little wood influence. Most interestingly, the younger one was bigger and fattier when at cask strength, whereas it’s the older one that was the most phenolic and fat when diluted down to +/-45%. It’s as if the ‘younger’ distillate has been ‘pushed’ a bit. Oh no, the purifier again? SGP:268 - 87 points. (and thank you, Konstantin)

MUSIC - Recommended listening: the good pop of Tracy Shedd, with Whatever it takes. Please buy Tracy Shedd's music.

Tracy Shedd

September 7, 2009


Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
July 9th 2009


Lowe and Cooder
It’s not often I moan about tickets being expensive; after all, everything is relative isn’t it? But I was a little taken aback to find that it was likely to cost me £75 a seat to see Nick Lowe and Ry Cooder perform together in Edinburgh, in what at the time was billed as their only UK appearance.
Yes, I was suckered by that one again, because by the time the gig came around it was part of a neat UK tour taking in (amongst others) Belfast, Liverpool and London, in turn a leg of a European tour that has now gone to Japan, New Zealand, Australia and, of course, the USA. So much for exclusive. But think of it this way: when did Cooder last play in the UK? How many chances do you get to see him? And when, since their Little Village collaboration with John Hiatt and Jim Keltner back in 1992, did he last play with Nick Lowe? I can’t honestly remember when Cooder was last in the UK, but I do know I saw him in Glasgow back in the 1980s (the stage and house lights failed at the horrible SEC and he played about a third of the set in the dark), and he may have been here since then, but not often. So like I said, it’s relative. And who really knows what the market’s worth? In terms of recent gigs, seventy-five pounds is almost worth two Bruce Springsteens, or apparently two Bert Janschs, three-and-a-half Buzzcocks, four and a bit Sonny Landreths, a three-day ‘early bird’ ticket to this year’s Rhythm Festival (of which more soon) and one Michael Jackson (deceased). But it’s not as simple as that, is it? Bruce has been playing in the UK almost annually for the past three or four years, Bert two or three or more times a year, the Buzzcocks once or twice a year, and the same with Sonny. You can get these guys almost anytime. The reclusive Cooder might never come back. Cooder and Lowe together: who knows if the chance will ever be repeated? And even if it is, this time round you could say you were there for the first one, the original. But hang on, here’s another consideration. Will it be any good? I mean, they both have outstanding individual reputations but together, with no recordings to sample in advance? It’s simply a lot of money to pay for a transient hour-and-a-half of aural stimulation. But everything is relative.
The great lafayette
The Great Lafayette
And as it happens, I wasn’t the only one to take the plunge. We’re inside the lovely old Festival Theatre, or Empire Theatre, as it was formerly known. The early twentieth century interior, installed following a catastrophic fire in 1911 which claimed the life of the famous illusionist, The Great Lafayette, was restored to its former glory from Bingo House squalor in the early 1990s. It is in stark contrast to the modernistic glass frontage and entrance that was built concurrently.
The boy and I are in row E in the centre of the front stalls – and the whole block is packed. The rear and side stalls (tickets being sold for a couple of weeks before the gig at two for £35) are almost empty, and there aren’t a lot of people upstairs. So it was the real enthusiasts who decided that there was genuine value in the ticket price. And it has to be said they were not to be disappointed: frankly, were it not for the fact that I’d already decided to write about it, I would have forgotten what I paid by the time I left the theatre on an enormous high. It was, if you know what I mean, one of those gigs where everyone leaves with a huge smile on their face. And when they think about it later (years later) they will still smile.
What an odd couple Lowe and Cooder are. There’s lanky Nick Lowe, with sharp creased trousers, a retro sports shirt, and that perfect coiffure, bass swinging low (I haven’t seen him play the bass for years, and remembered how effortlessly good he is), his left knee twitching like a crazed metronome. Cooder is jeans, t-shirt, jacket and bandana. He crouches over his guitar, a furrowed brow and worried frown on his face every time he starts to move his slide for another perfectly impossible riff, the expression changing to astonishment when it actually works. Lowe marvellously sweet-voiced, Cooder gruff and bluesy, with that uncanny ability to add in a spoken “You know it’s true”, or “Yes sir” just at the perfectly-syncopated moment. The referee is Joachim Cooder, fluently elegant on the drums, never too much, never too little, and on backing vocals and percussion for almost all of the set, support act Juliet Commagere and her keyboard player Alex Lilly.
Cooder Lowe
Ry Cooder (L) and Nick Lowe (R)
Lowe and Cooder exchanged songs throughout the set, both looking back and forward. So Lowe’s contributions ranged from ‘Tearstained memories’ and ‘A fool who knows’, both from Little Village, his bubblegum hit, ‘Half a boy and half a man’, the Jim Reeves classic ‘He’ll have to go’, a new song (I think), ‘One of these days you’re going to pay’, and as part of the encore, ‘What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding’. Cooder’s contributions began with a medley of ‘Fool for a cigarette’ and ‘Feeling good’, and went on to include ‘Chinito chinito’ from the wonderful Chavez Ravine, and classics like ‘Crazy ‘bout an automobile’, a particularly funky ‘Down in Hollywood’, ‘The very thing that makes you rich (makes me poor)’, ‘Jesus on the mainline’, the beautifully delicate ‘Teardrops will fall’ (which listening to it could have been written by Lowe) and ‘Little sister’. Finally the trio played ‘How can a poor man stand such times and live’, with such an introduction from Cooder, who can make a single guitar note go a very long way, that my notebook observes ‘perfect, enough to make you cry’.
Not that anyone was. “How is it out there?” asked Lowe in one of his digressions. “It sounds good up here on stage, which is all we really care about”. Well, Nick, it sounded good in the seven-and-fives too. And if the audience was divided on anything it was only that Cooder loyalists felt Lowe had held Ry back, while the Lowe fanatics thought there was just too much Cooder. Me, I was in the middle: it was simply perfect. And guess what, I’m still smiling as I write. – Nick Morgan
Listen: Ry Cooder and nick Lowe on Youtube
HP 21


Highland Park 21 yo (47.5%, OB for travel retail, +/-2007) The 21yo caused quite an outcry when it was recently brought down to 40% ABV because lowering stocks. This is the former version. Colour: full gold. Nose: a very flowery and honeyed start, very aromatic, its smell hangs heavy in the room. Lilac, orange blossom, dandelions, heather, then fresh orange juice, light sherry, sultanas and even whiffs of golden rum. A little oak as well, earl grey tea, vanilla, and then apple pie and pastries. A very expressive one, it’s maybe even a tad too wordy. I’m joking. Mouth: rich and almost as honeyed as on the nose, but it’s rather less rounded and luscious than expected. The oak speaks almost immediately, with some green tea, vanilla and a faint sourness, with more and more spices arriving to the front. Mostly ginger, cloves and green pepper. The rest is all on orange cake and macha. Finish: long, a little more citrusy, with even more spices. A rather peppery aftertaste. Comments: a very discreet peat in this version, and nose and palate are quite different. Very good nonetheless. SGP:552 - 88 points.
Highland Park 21 yo 1987/2009 (50.2%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #1528, 261 bottles) Colour: pale gold. Nose: it’s very interesting to compare this version to the OB. The ‘DNA’, as you’re supposed to say these days, is well the same, but all the honeyed and floral part is toned down, whilst there are more notes of cut grass, paraffin and an obvious minerality. Nutshell: les emphatic, but a little more complex. It’s impossible to say one is better than the other on the nose, maybe the palate will help us decide. Mouth: it is amazing how close to the OB we are here at first sip, but most amazingly, this one develops towards more complexity and a more challenging, hence more interesting profile. It’s sooner to display some great lemony and orangey notes as well as a little bergamot, green apples, not too ripe kiwis, lemon grass, then pepper and hints of coriander… All that is coated with a little honey in fact, but it’s no honeyed HP as such. Finish: long, getting grassier and even sort of greener, always very fresh, with quite some peat in the aftertaste. Comments: simply an excellent old skool version of Highland Park, more ‘naked’ than most OBs. Superb, complex spirit, highly recommended. SGP:462 – 90 points (and thank you, Herbert).

September 4, 2009



As you probably know, Glencraig was a single malt made with Lomond stills at Glenburgie Distillery. They stopped making it in 1981 and I guess we can consider it’s a ‘silent malt’ if not a silent distillery. The stills have been dismounted.

Glencraig 1970/1994 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, Old Map Label) Colour: full gold. Nose: not much happening but it’s not unpleasant. Rather malty, attacks on a little cake and light tea, faint orangey notes (right, orange pekoe) and goes on with a little vanilla and hints of caramel. Gets a tad cardboardy but it’s perfectly noseable. Cooked butter. Mouth: rather nervous, sweet, malty and caramelly, very close to a good blend I must say. Chivas? Hints of Turkish delights and wine gums. Roasted nuts. Finish: unexpectedly long but the notes of caramel do almost all the talking – I’m not saying it’s all added E150 of course. Comments: not bad, not bad. Hard to say more… SGP:331 – 78 points.
Glencraig 34 yo 1974/2009 (42.4%, Duncan Taylor, Rarest of the Rare, cask #2922) Colour: straw. Nose: a rather more austere version, with a bigger oiliness, hints of linseed oil, graphite, shoe polish and a faint smokiness (coal). It’s rather less flowery than earlier bottlings by Duncan Taylor, getting also grassier. Apple peeling. More presence than in the 1970 but I wouldn’t say this is big whisky. Mouth: a very dry and unusually grassy attack, we aren’t too far from some white rum or tequila here. Not a big body but it’s interesting whisky, one can really feel the difference with malt made in traditional pot stills in this one, the structure is very different whilst it’s not like grain whisky either. Good freshness, a little bubblegum, pineapple drops, all that coated with a little cinnamon from the oak. It’s good, no doubt. Finish: not too long but still clean, more on green apples this time. Comments: perfectly drinkable and perfectly enjoyable, it’s nice that the casks was fairly ‘weakish’, one can still find the spirit’s original characteristics. Interesting bottle. SGP:330 - 82 points.
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
Diageo just announced the launch of The Manager Choice (not to be mistaken for the Manager’s Dram), a series of 27 single casks, one for each of their Scottish distilleries in operation (minus the new Roseile). The casks have been selected using a Byzantine tasting process involving the company’s nosing and blending experts Maureen Robinson and Jim Beveridge as well as several distillery managers who were gathered for one full day at Blair Athol (must have been some party!) The brief was simple: each cask had to display the distillery’s genuine character but also be different from the core ranges. An example of the experts’ answers is the Oban that comes from a sherry cask instead of the usual refill American oak.
The first set. The Glen Elgin obviously offers the best value,
there areat least 2 more cls in the bottle!
So, the first six bottlings to be launched today are Linkwood 1996 (£200), Mortlach 1997 (£250), Oban 2000 (£300), Teaninich 1996 (£200), Glen Elgin 1998 (£250) and The GlenWonka 2006 (£7,599)… Woops, I mean Cardhu 1997 (£250). The bottlings will be available to Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands and online at several retailers that may ship worldwide. It is already said that the whole operation is not likely to be repeated.
Comments: the Bauhaus-inspired labels are really beautiful but as a lot of online whisky people already noticed, the prices are extremely high when compared to any current bottling, including, yes, Ardbeg, not to mention the independents. It’s a very unusual move for Diageo, and I’m wondering what the unspoken message behind these prices can be. It cannot be only for the money, as there will only be +/- 9,000 bottles altogether – my guess -, a drop in Diageo’s malty ocean. It cannot be the price of true scarcity either, these whiskies being all very young. Just a market test? Well, my bet is that they want to arouse curiosity around bottlings that MUST be of extremely high quality and after all, they more or less match the prices that now fetch older young bottlings by Samaroli and other worthy collectables of very high quality. Assuming that’s true, and it just cannot be untrue or it would mean instantly killing the whisky crowd’s goodwill (but do they care?), these prices may simply be the prices of any new single malt whiskies of the very, very highest quality. After all, is a £10,000 Patek Philippe too expensive? Any Swatch owner will answer yes, but a true watch fan may not.
So we won’t follow the digital pack just now and wait until we have these babies on our desk, which should happen soon. Pateks or Swatches? As always, the truth will lie in the glass so as they say, stay tuned…
LAST MINUTE: Right, that was written a few days ago and thanks to some very 'free' PR playing involving embargos, veiled reference, online shops, foreign branches, leaks and screeches, we're probably (hopefully?) the very last place on the Web where these news are published, and I must say I'm rather proud of that. Even Christian News Daily and Tacoma Weekly have it - not! Did I ever tell you that we aren't too much into publishing presse releases? Oh, yes, and there's also a new Ardbeg Corryvreckan out, a bunch of Brookladdies, and Palin wanted to keep pregnancy 'a secret', and barley prices are down, and Chelsea is banned from transfers until 2011, and...

MUSIC - Recommended listening: I've got a few remarks telling me that I've been posting rather 'difficult' music in recent times, especially 'free' jazz and such. Really? Bah, we aren't stubborn at WF towers so let's see if this good, loungy slice of easy jazz by Four 80 East called 'East Side' will be, err, easier. And as usual, please buy Four 80 East's music.

Four 80 east

September 3, 2009



Longmorn-Glenlivet 1972/2001 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, licensed) It’s no secret that the best old Longmorns come from the G&M stable, either directly or indirectly, so we have high expectations here. Colour: dark amber. Nose: YES. You know, when a perfect fruitiness combines with high quality sherrywood and creates the most marvellous coffee-schnapps in the world… So we have coffee, strawberries, wild raspberry eau-de-vie, milk chocolate, a little ginger, prunes, old Armagnac, sultanas… Balance and freshness are totally perfect. Mouth: rich and thick but approachable, extremely coherent with the nose, that is to say displaying the same notes of raspberry spirit with coffee, milk chocolate, orange liqueur, Riesling, chestnut purée, orange cake… Really superb, almost perfect in its relative simplicity. Finish: medium long, still fresh and clean, with only the faintest vinosity (grape juice) and added notes of blackcurrants. Comments: state of the art Longmorn at a perfect drinking strength. This one will put any whisky lover into a good mood – not only because it’s so easy to quaff! SGP:642 - 91 points. (thanks a lot, Philip)
Longmorn 32 yo 1976/2008 (54.7%, Whisky-Fässle, bourbon hogshead) LOL, have you ever seen an advertisement on a whisky label? There’s one here, for Harald Kirsch and Jens Unterweger’s book ‘Scotch Whisky Guide’. That’s clever and I’ve heard the book was very good. Maybe we’ll see more ads and some sorts of co-branding on whisky labels in the near future? Colour: gold. Nose: good, it’s another great Longmorn, minus the sherry but with an added waxiness and minerality instead. Superb sparkles of fresh oranges, gooseberries, even kiwis, rubbed lemon skin, then wet rocks, ginger, lemon balm, flint, lime… Great nose, really überfresh. With water: isn’t this straight peat that comes out? As often, we have also whiffs of ‘farmyard after an early summer rain’ (ha!) and then touches of dill, aniseed and various other herbs. Excellent. Mouth (neat): oh wow! Fantastic! Big fresh oranges and all liqueurs made thereof plus something superbly resinous and kind of oily and, once again, mineral. A very good ‘cool climate’ Riesling indeed, with loads of grapefruits and other ‘nervous’ fruits. With water: more of the same, with also clementines and notes of marzipan-filled dates. I’m not kidding. Finish: long, a tad more resinous and grassy. Lemon zests, mint-flavoured liquorice. Comments: I wouldn’t say water adds much to this one, it’s already quite fabulous at full strength. Ultra-mega-top-notch Longmorn. SGP:652 – 92 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: Femi Kuti and a whole bunch of great musicians doing Fela's Water get no enemy (it's on the fab album Red Hot & Riot). Please buy Femi (and Fela) Kuti's music!

Femi Kuti

September 2, 2009



Glenrothes 35 yo 1970/2005 (40.3%, Duncan Taylor, Lonach) Colour: gold. Nose: it does have these very peculiar notes of very old whiskies at low natural strength, something that combines oak with almonds, cardboard and tea, but the rest is fresh and fruity enough to keep it pleasantly balanced. Honey, earl grey tea, plum jam, apricot pie, a little banana, herbal teas, mint as often in very old whiskies… It’s probably up to the palate now! Mouth: good news, it’s not tired or overly dry at all despite an obvious oakiness. A lot of fresh fruits including slightly overripe apples, then dried figs, a little banana liqueur, mint liqueur, maybe even a little absinth. The spirit really was big enough to resist the oak here. Very nice old Glenrothes! Finish: only short to medium long of course but with more honey and soft ginger. Cinnamon. Comments: a very good surprise at such low natural strength. SGP:560 - 86 points.
Glenrothes 39 yo 1970/2009 (47.9%, Duncan Taylor for The Nectar, cask #10567, 127 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: exactly the same whisky as the Lonach on the nose, only with more oomph. Maybe added hints of passion fruits. So let’s move on if you please… Mouth: once again, it’s the same whisky with more oomph at first sipping, it’s quite troubling. Probably neighbouring casks. The main difference is that this one further develops on orange liqueur, various honeys, a little vanilla custard, gooseberries (big) and pomegranate, then roasted peanuts and finally a very lively citrusy side. Tastes younger and younger, as if it was ageing backwards in your glass. Funny and unusual. Finish: medium long, with the oak’s spices really kicking in now. A lot of cinnamon plus a little ginger and cloves. Drier in the aftertaste despite notes of apple liqueur and mint. Comments: very good! These 1970s are maybe not as great and ‘aromatically crystalline’ as some fantastic 1969s but this one really delivers at almost 40 years of age. Very good selection. SGP:651 - 90 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: let's all tap our feet with Willa Mae Buckner and her famous Yo-yo and then buy her music! (wasn't that short and sweet?)

Willa Mae Buckner
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
I just checked Whiskyfun’s statistics and found out that contrarily to what happened in past summers, there hasn’t been any apparent drop of interest in whisky in July and August (resp. 3147 and 3384 visits a day on average, which is close to high months such as November or December). – S.

September 1, 2009



Highland Park 30 yo (48.1%, OB, bottled +/- 2009) What can be more classic and classy than a thirty years old Highland Park? Colour: amber. Nose: burst with a blend of honey, or rather mead, sherry and liquorice as well as with whiffs or peat smoke. Develops more towards burnt brownies and toffee, and then we get quite some menthol and mulled wine (obvious hints of aniseed, for instance) before it returns to a more classical honeyness. It’s funny how the sherry comes and goes, maybe we could call this ‘echoes of sherry’. Ha, poetry! Tends to get a little less expressive over time, which is a little strange. Mouth: rich, fruity, assertive, with the sherry and the mint upfront and a development more on chocolate-coated orange zests, mead once again, lemon squash (unexpected in an old official HP), liquorice and a little peat once again. Finish: rather long, more on smoked tea, with some pepper coming to the front and a half-honeyed, half-vinous signature. Comments: it’s rather more nervous than expected and the first time I tried it blind, I thought it was the 25yo. I feel it’s less rounded and polished than earlier official 30s. Not so much of a classic, after all, but very good ‘of course’. Now, I think I like the 25 a little better. SGP:543 - 90 points.
Highland Park 30 yo 1978/2008 (55.1%, DL Platinum, 302 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: it’s a rougher and waxier version of Highland Park but there’s almost as much sherry as in the official 30. For once, an indie HP is rather close to an official one as far as the general profile is concerned. A little less honey, a little more vanilla and straight oak and almost as much peat. Gets then more toffee-ish. The sherry grows bigger and bigger, with just tiny-wee touches of sulphur. With water: gets beautifully herbal and waxy. Marzipan, orange marmalade, beeswax… The peatiness and the mint get even more obvious whilst the sherry gets a tad quieter. Overall improvement with the addition of water (as always, down to around 45% vol.). Mouth (neat): rich, thick, powerful but in no way assaulting, starting on sherry and various herbs such as rosemary and thyme (yup, a Provence barbecue). Gets then closer to the OB, with maybe an added meatiness (ham) and a little less honey. The pepper is sooner to arrive as well. With water: once again, it gets better, fruitier and more herbal at the same time, with even notes of cough drops and a little tar. And once again, less sherry. Finish: rather long, spicier and grassier. Little honey left in the aftertaste. Comments: finally rather different from the OB but in the same league as far as quality’s concerned. SGP:353 – 90 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: French bluesman Paul Personne doing his Loin d'ici (that was on his CD 'Instantanés'). Not bad, huh! Please buy Paul Personne's music...

Paul Personne

August 2009 - part 2 <--- September 2009 - part 1 ---> September 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!

Brora 27 yo 1981/2009 (51.3%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #291, 330 bottles)

Coleburn 26 yo 1983/2009 (49.5%, The Whisky Agency Fossiles Series, Bourbon, 120 bottles)

Glenrothes 39 yo 1970/2009 (47.9%, Duncan Taylor for The Nectar, cask #10567, 127 bottles)

Highland Park 21 yo 1987/2009 (50.2%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #1528, 261 bottles)

Highland Park 30 yo (48.1%, OB, bottled +/- 2009)

Highland Park 30 yo 1978/2008 (55.1%, DL Platinum, 302 bottles)

Longmorn-Glenlivet 1972/2001 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, licensed)

Longmorn 32 yo 1976/2008 (54.7%, Whisky-Fässle, bourbon hogshead)