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September 14, 2014




So after twelve years of Whisky Fun, today we’ll publish our 10,000th tasting notes. No need to tell you that I’ve been thinking hard about this session. Selecting old whiskies? New whiskies? Rare whiskies? Bang-for-your-buck whiskies? Obscure bottlings? All-time favourites? Rum? (Come on Serge, not rum!) And then I remembered that the very first inception of this little website was all about Brora, aka ‘old’ Clynelish distillery. So I decided to go back home, in a way, and to choose three very emblematic – to me, at least – whiskies. One very old blend by Clynelish’s former owners, Ainslie & Co, then the brand new Brora Special Release, and lastly, the brand new official Clynelish ‘Special Reserve’, which might represent the future of malt whisky. Why am I saying that? Because it’s ‘NSA’, baby…
I have many other stories to tell you, such as a failed attempt at breaking a motorcycle speed record at Bonneville (as a wee sponsor) just last month to celebrate WF’s 10,000 tasting notes, and several others. But this is not the day, I’ll rather tell you all that in the coming ‘celebratory’ weeks. Because mind you, we’ll keep celebrating WF’s 10,000th, with quite a few other exceptional whiskies…But let’s focus on our Ainslie’s – Brora – Clynelish just now, if you don’t mind…
… Especially because this will be a very unusual set-up, as I’ve called two great friends for help, for once. One of them is my old buddy Olivier ‘Zind’ Humbrecht, the superstar winemaker from Alsace (he simply makes the best whites in the world if you ask me). Olivier’s been totally instrumental in my whisky life – although I’m not totally sure I should thank him. With Olivier, we’ll taste the whiskies together at home, and then I’ll taste them a second time two days later, while on Islay at the Lagavulin Jazz Festival, with another great friend as a guest taster, the very famous independent whisky expert and author Dave Broom. Dave is simply the best in his art, and keeps making me feel like Justin Bieber listening to the Duke Ellington Orchestra.
(… Fast Forward…)
And these, my friend, are the amalgamated results of our two wild sessions:

One Brora, his ancestor and his successor


The Royal Edinburgh (OB, James Ainslie & Co., driven cork, +/-1910) Five stars An old bottle bought for me at an auction a few years back. Time to crack it open! Shouldn’t be a fake, but you never know, let’s see. What’s sure is that the embossed/moulded bottle fits the label and bears the same owners, James Ainslie & Co., a company that was transformed into Ainslie, Baillie & Co. in 1913, hence my guestimate of 1910 as the year of bottling. BTW, we’ve tried a Royal Edinburgh by Ainslie, Baillie & Co. last year, it was just fab (WF 94.) I’d add that despite the label that advertises Clynelish as the brand’s ‘home distillery’, as was customary at the time, this is probably a blend. But probably a blend with high old Clynelish content, and most possibly 19th century Clynelish! Oh and the driven cork is fitted with a small early Bakelite-like peg in its middle, something only to be seen with very old closures as far as I know. Colour: straw/pale gold. Nose: quite surprisingly, we do not find any ‘OBE’, but it’s well fully 100% (that’ll do, fellows) Old Highlands, and certainly close to modern Clynelish and even more so to Brora. Olivier finds it very waxy indeed, while I’m finding touches of tinned pineapples. Dave finds tallow, a little pear compote, then more mineral notes, pencil shavings, lead… Even myrtle and chestnuts. After more breathing we’re all finding more coal, iodine and wee touches of tomato leaves. Also a little mocha. Mouth: remarkably punchy, a bit acrid at first, but with a very oily mouth feel, very dense. Feels like 46% vol. but we wouldn’t know for sure. Rather spicy with some bay leaves, pepper, cedar wood, paraffin, candle wax, mineral oil… Olivier also finds some grape seed oil, juniper… Dave thinks that the age shows more on the palate, and finds a lot of coal as well, ashes, yellow plums, and then more and more yellow chartreuse (Tarragone of course) as well as the fatness of wulong tea. Finish: gently fades away, with touches of birch sap says Dave. A touch of sherry and a touch of mineral sulphur. Comments: phew, it’s certainly not a fake. It keeps improving once oxygen’s done its job. SGP:463 – OH 92 – DB 88 – SV 91 points.

Brora 35

Brora 35 yo 1978/2014 (48.6%, OB, 2964 bottles) Five stars After last year’s 1977, and then the famous ‘big cat’ the 40 yo 1972, this is the brand new Special Release that’ll be available later this year. It doesn’t bear any vintage on the label as far as I can see, but the distillers have confirmed that it’s well 1978, while I’m afraid I’ve only tried two or three 1978s so far, as it’s a very uncommon vintage. Interesting! This baby’s a vatting of refill American and European oak casks, all for the better in my book as the distillery’s very singular character should really shine through despite the old age. Let’s see… Colour: gold. Nose: incredibly soft after the old Ainslie, rather fruitier than earlier releases (pomegranates). Freshly squeezed oranges, then lemon balm. Olivier finds more and more woodruffs, embers, peach skins… It tends to resemble the Ainslie’s more and more, with less oranges and more and more smoke. Takes its time. Dave finds notes of ‘an artist’s studio near the sea’ (linseed oil, paint, old turpentine, sea breeze.) This baby’s rather less earthy, farmy and ‘dirty’ than its older siblings. Mouth: very balanced, elegant… Olivier thinks it’s the most elegant Brora’s he’s tasted (and he’s tasted quite a few.) Starts more coastal than smoky, but the peat’s growing, ala Talisker. An obvious salinity. A little grapefruit. Dave found it tongue cleaning. He also finds linoleum, a bowl of fruits, wet rocks… Finish: of medium length, with notes of dead fire and embers, says Dave. We all find that it’s not a very wild Brora at this point, although we do find more bandages and creosote after twenty minutes. Heavy oil. Comments: some sides really make us think of an old Islay, with this very specific fruitiness. A rather easy Brora, which is just great. SGP:555 - OH 93 – DB 93 – SV 93 points (quite amazingly).


Clynelish 'Select Reserve' (54.9%, OB, limited release, 2964 bottles, 2014) Four stars and a half An interesting bottle, this one! In theory, I’d have preferred to see a vintage and/or an age, while this baby’s NAS, which may imply that there’s some young Clynelish inside. In reality, the youngest vintage inside is 1999, so 15 years old already, but there are much older casks as well. No I couldn’t tell you about those older vintages, or about the proportions. Besides, I think it’s the first time I see such emphasizing on the work of the blender on a single malt by Diageo, as Dr. Jim Beveridge’s role is heavily advertised on the rather lovely retro packaging. It’s true that having followed Clynelish’s vintages and their styles throughout the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, I imagine that working on such a composition may have been an orgasmic experience! Colour: gold. Nose: a different kind of complexity. Olivier feels the sugary side of the grains, notes of Gueuze, a touch of yeast, stone fruits, mirabelles, peaches… A touch of sawdust too, bark, young dry white Bordeaux… A little less emotion than in the others. Improves over time, with more aromatic herbs, lemon grass, lime… Dave finds it slow to open but worth the wait. A little ozonic, he says. He also finds fried plantains, ginger and ginseng. With water: more perfumed, with some pear tart. Also more classic Clynelish wax, wet limestone, a little menthol. Becomes purer. Mouth: creamy, fruity, powerful. Very thick, needs concentration. White fruits and not much wax at this point, which is a little surprising. With water: sir, it’s a revolution! Opens up, everything comes out, first wax then more white fruits, grapefruits, that salinity… Dave thinks it really needs water. Finish: long, on more or less the same notes. Some ash. Comments: the lineage is amazing, one can really feel that the three whiskies came from the same ‘terroir’. Terroir? Sure! But this Clynelish really needs water, it’s not an easy whisky when naked. SGP:552 - OH 89 – DB 89 – SV 88 points

One last thing, you may be wondering which whisky was #10,000. Well, technically speaking, it was the Brora, but I’d say all three were ‘#10,000s’.

All the best from Islay's Jazz Festival!



Block Today: JAZZ. This should go well with our 10,000th tasting notes! Performer: John Handy. Track: Hard Work. Please visit his website and buy his music...
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