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All the linked files (mp3, video, html) are located on free commercial or non-commercial third party websites. Some pictures are taken from these websites, and are believed to be free of rights, as long as no commercial use is intended.

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Copyright Serge Valentin
Angus MacRaild
2002-20
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May 25, 2024


Whiskyfun

 

Feis Ile, Lagavulin Day Special - Interview

 

"With one
or two exceptions,
I think it's very silly."

Today, we are republishing a little gem, an interview with Mike Nicolson that we first published on Malt Maniacs back in 2004, twenty years ago, which then quite quickly disappeared from the web, for reasons I can't quite recall.

I am often asked what has changed in the whisky world over the past twenty years. The industry would invariably respond that they have gained a better understanding of maturation and wood, which has enabled them to offer even better whiskies while realising that age ultimately doesn't matter much. Hmm.
In truth, I think that just reading this twenty-year-old interview, published here unchanged and, of course, with Mike's permission, will suffice to give a better answer to that question.
But who is Mike Nicolson? A former Distillery Manager of several entities, including Lagavulin where he also used to organise extraordinary blues concerts with his own band, Mike retired twenty years ago and moved to Vancouver Island, from where he had responded to this interview at the time. Since then, distillers from around the world have sought his immense talent and he remains active to this day.
I hope you enjoy reading or re-reading this old interview as much as I did, even though I now realise some of my questions were a bit silly! But Mike knows how to brilliantly answer even the most foolish questions, all while avoiding the automatic corporate language that unfortunately adorns 99% of interviews, making them seem or sound like mere PR pieces rewritten by ChatGPT...
(While you read this interview, you might also enjoy listening to Mike sing the blues and play the guitar with his band Michigan Curve, even though this album wasn't recorded in the old Malt Mill that time. I love it! You'll also find it on Spotify)

Lets go...

 

 

Mike Nicolson's interview

By Serge
December 18, 2004 (republished integrally May 25, 2024)

 

Trying to explain to you how I came to having a chat with one of the most malicious, most professional and remoter (to Scotland, no need to say) retired distillery managers and blues guitarist would be way too long and complicated, as were notably involved some 10-packs of French cigarettes, an ex-racoon, Ron Sexmith – the singer, the Oban lifeboat and Dr Nick Morgan, of Diageo fame. Yes, no less… But if you want to learn which colours you should never wear when visiting a distillery, why Lagavulin is magic or whether whisky is better today or not, please read on… And oh, by the way, please warn your family and your neighbours, you might well burst into laughter from time to time!

 

Q// Mike, you were the Manager at Blair Athol, Lagavulin and finally Lochnagar just before you retired. Were there other distilleries you've been working at?


MN//
Are you sitting comfortably?
Firstly, Caol Ila is missing from your list, which I had the privilege of Managing during my time on Islay and if you wanted to get me in trouble with Billy, Flora and the "Black Hand Gang", missing it out would be a good way of doing it. You don't want to get me in trouble, do you?
Prior to the places already mentioned, I was managing Glenkinchie but, that was a long time ago and it will be safe to drink now as all the stuff I made will have been consumed already.
In a junior management capacity, Linlithgow (St. Magdalene), Hillside (Glenesk), Linkwood and Muir of Ord.
There is another list of briefer working visits, dating back to the time when men walked in front of automobiles with red flags – Glen Albyn, Glen Mhor, Rosebank, Aultmore, Cardhu, The original Caol Ila, Dallas Dhu, Dalwhinnie, Benromach, Millburn, Teaninich and Glentauchers.


Q// Wow, there's almost only Mannochmore missing! I'd have loved to ask you a few questions about Loch Dhu… Anyway, what was the biggest change moving from Blair Athol to Lagavulin/Caol Ila and then to Lochnagar?


MN//
Well, the weather for a start. Snow &big floods, to a place so windy that on most days everyone has the same hairstyle, to more snow and Big hills and, the folks of course, always different, thank God.
For the technophobes: - distillation régimes and levels of technology. For the sociable: - the amount of interaction with the customers.
Blair Athol spirit character is such that it requires to be distilled rather quickly, Lagavulin on the other hand, has the longest and slowest spirit run that I have ever seen. At Lochnagar the object was to maintain a spirit character that would not normally be delivered by the design of the plant there. Tricky eh?
Blair Athol, when I spent time there, was technologically very sophisticated and energy efficient but the layout seemed to have been designed by a blind man having a bad day. The change from traditional mash house plant, at Lagavulin, to something a bit more up to date, happened during my tenure and, that is always a good time to find out how paranoid you actually are. The Lochnagar equipment is without a great deal of sophistication but as I suggested before, you have to sort of keep your eye on it.
One of the biggest changes in the business during my time, was the development of distilleries as educational and marketing tools which means, that Managers get to meet the customers face to face and learn stuff.
Blair Athol being sighted in a big tourist town, conducts its visitor facilities as you might expect, for large numbers, in support of its malt and as a key ingredient of it's well known associated blend, whose name escapes me for the moment. To run an enterprise of this nature requires a different Manager's skill set to be developed, for which he/she might find violent rages, formal executions, cross dressing and low standards of personal hygiene, to be fairly unhelpful.
Lagavulin, being sited where it is, means that not many people go there. It also means that a high proportion of those that do find their way there come by way of a pilgrimage, therefore paying the ultimate homage to the magic liquid. So, there you have it, lovely people, albeit pleasantly obsessed, bit of time to talk to them, occasional requests for the Manager's autograph or small fragments of his clothing, well, tough job huh?
Lochnagar, as home of the Malt Advocate Course (1), takes this personal interaction thing to another level. The Manager at that particular establishment, persuaded/ pushed/ordered/blackmailed by a Marketing department who, daily, have to be talked out of invading Poland, gets to tell people the truth about the mysteries of the production of some of the best Malt Whiskies around. Fortunately, he is assisted in this endeavour by an outstanding collection of "experts", some of whom have moustaches, large livers, wonderfully bad attitudes and are patrons of the Oxford Bar.
The job specification is an interesting read, involving sleep deprivation, a precise knowledge of the location of pharmacies and their opening hours, the ability to cope with anxiety levels similar to a crew member of Apollo Five and, being good at herding cats. The successful applicant will be rewarded by meeting lots of wonderful people from all over the World including, fellow employees, a large proportion of whom appear to be fundamentally disturbed and, additional reward is provided by being supported by the remarkable Distillery staff and, of course, Lucy (2).


Q// I must say Lagavulin really has a cult status. Are there specific reasons for that, except the fact that it's a great dram from Islay?


MN//
Yes, although that's a pretty fundamental exception, it's magic.
I dunno completely how it works, that people will name their children after the place but, it has drama.
Having spent four years watching winter storms, some of them in July, from that house on the point, it's something that you don't forget in a hurry.
History was normally something we read about when we wore short trousers but, it's not usually something you go to work in every day. Not that I ever was an avid history student but after just a little time there, you know that you are part of a community which has been there for a very, very long time indeed when you can walk over to the castle and see the remains of the sea gate, where the long ships were pulled up.
After that, you're into that continuum thing where you are reminded that life is short and that you are following on from those that went before, who made an exceptional spirit in that place, for generations.
Then of course there are the people that work there. They are similarly exceptional. Gentle, proud, funny, creative and too supportive of "White Settlers" like me, just passing through.
And the other good thing is, that they all have long memories so, you can hear the stories like," The mash house ghost" or, how Big Angus spent the Chairman's visit locked in a cupboard. Killer stuff. The place seems to have a propensity to attract eccentrics or perhaps it just provides the opportunity for them to flourish, like Sir Peter Mackie, a hugely successful entrepreneur but a nutter none the less.
So, like I said, I dunno, s'magic.


Q// Oh yes, the people! I remember last time I visited the distillery with a few other maniacs… Pinky was our guide, and he really made my day. Little man, huge personality! I guess you worked with him…


MN//
Pinky is a star. Vertically challenged he may be but ………….. He's big in Japan.


Q// It's not that I want to insist too much on Lagavulin, but the Lagavulin Distiller's Editions are excellent drams – the recent 1987 just won a Malt Maniacs Award - how do you feel about the wider spreading of the practice of 'finishes"?


MN//
With one or two exceptions, I think it's very silly.


Q// Well, at least that's a clear answer! So, apart  of these 'finishings', what's the biggest improvement in production since you started working?


MN//
The way my former employer encouraged Managers to treat the folks that make the liquids. When I started in the business as a young man, things got done because the boss said so, period. Thinking, most forms of creativity, and involvement out with your own discipline just didn't happen much. By the time I left the business the boys and girls "on the floor" were performing formerly management functions, bringing all of their individual skills to the benefit of the workplace, demanding involvement and decision making powers. A transformation and, from my point of view, as a Manager, a delight.


Q// I see. And what's the piece of 'tradition' you regret has disappeared since you started working?


MN//
Flogging the employees and the Manager's right to the local virgins, yeah, it was bad when that went.


Q// Oh, so what I heard wasn't just a rumour! ;-) But 'technically' speaking? I mean, direct-fired stills, European casks, open-air worm condensers… You know, the anoraks like us will always suspect the industry is trashing tradition to make more profit. Maybe it's a myth, and whisky's actually better nowadays than it used to be…


MN//
Christ Serge, an interview was ok but if you want a book, I might need a little lie down first.

Personally, I believe that it's pretty plain that whisky today is better than it used to be.

If you started a business, today, that involved hundreds of geographically scattered entrepreneur types doing their own thing with limited education, low levels of technology, poor communication and no minimum quality standards and where everywhere was a long walk to the pub, I would be surprised if your expectation of success would be great. If you look back to the first time it became generally commercially "visible", it was drunk, often, as a "cordial" i.e. it was so bad, that you had to put stuff in it to get it down your neck.

And what happened? Well, progress. Science happened. People got smarter, experience and communication developed, folks got organized, sometimes even into these contemptible things called "companies". Someone wrote down some rules. Blenders happened. Customers (markets) happened. Everybody sobered up.
As far as change, improvement and innovation are concerned, those have been intrinsic parts of the business since it became one, this is not something new that just snuck up on us. Look at the grain still for instance, without which we wouldn't be having this nice chat because the business would have gone to the wall round about 1890. The key of course, is not change but, responsible change. I can't speak for other Corporations but, the one I used to work for seemed to understand what most of the good bits are, like what whiskies do you make? Why do they taste the way they do? How do you consistently keep them like that? And, where do they fit in the business? If you know this stuff then there are some areas, product quality for instance, where your attitude to change is going to be and, I know this is a relative word, conservative. I would like to tell you that I enjoyed all the change that came my way, and yes every organization has a percentage of wild eyed, master of the universe types that would "sort out" the business by making all Scotland's malt whisky at one giant distillery just outside Paisley but, if you know what the good bits are, then there is usually someone around to make sure that these people are properly medicated.
I know that when they showed up tomorrow, the film crew that is, that they would be thrilled if they found everyone wearing wooden shoes, working by paraffin lamps with hacking coughs, missing digits and Franz and List but, maybe it's not a bad thing that we left that behind. At this point I should declare a vested interest. The whisky business has fed three generations of my family, some of whom were/are Romantics, so, this change stuff has actually been pretty good for the Nicolsons.
(Author's note :-) Nicolson, small and historically insignificant bunch, more of a gang than a clan, quite content to be continually bossed about by the MacLeods, apparently, you know, fetching their slippers, that sort of thing. After two thousand years of hanging about, they finally do show up to fight. Where? Culloden. (Nice going boys.)
Anyway Serge, at the next Maniac's convention, gimmie a call when you all go down to the beach with your forks, I could make some serious money from that kind of photo opportunity.


Q// It's true that there is clearly a debate between the maltheads who like a little mystique and the ones who think we should stick to the proven facts, what are your ideas?


MN//
Well, what's to argue about? They're both right.
With a History stretching over many hundreds of years making a product that remains an intrinsic part of Scottish culture and therefore, with thousands of stories to tell, it would be a bit dumb not to take advantage of our good fortune and use some of them. By dint of our inheritance though, making them up would render one as uncool as it was possible to be. Nor do I think that to convincingly use the romance that surrounds our product, one has to act like some backward Scottish hayseed, dressed like an advertisement for shortbread. Remember the Gospel according to Dr. Morgan (3), Chapter fourteen, Verse nine, "Customers want to buy a real product, made in real places, by real people".
Yea, verily.
Now, the facts. The first thing to remember is, that often in spite of appearances to the contrary, whiskypersons don't know everything. Compared to our forefathers, we know tons but, happily, the product is so complicated that we will all be a long time dead, for example, before the last mysteries of maturation have been unravelled.
A lot of the reason for this conflict is the producers' fault. In days gone by, before we knew what we know now, marketers would tell the customers what they thought the customers wanted to hear. The surprise, that there may be other reasons for individual spirit character, other than the magic Scottish water or that the stillman is left handed and wears a kilt, is therefore, kinda understandable.
The fact is, that not only do the producers now know more but, so do their customers. Bit of catching up to do I think?
Me? I'm in the romantic truth camp.


Q// Yes, but some people within the industry clearly get puzzled by these anoraks (us!) who want to know a little more than what's written in the ads. What do you think?


MN//
I wouldn't worry about it if I were you; the industry is full of people who are easily puzzled.
After all they were puzzled by gravity, the internal combustion engine, non-refillable fitments, how m&m's don't melt in your hand, that that really is Dave Broom's own hair, the tooth fairy and, like the rest of us, the fact that Keef is still with us.
Personally, I like anoraks, inquisitive, challenging, good for the grey matter.
Mind you, I might have to re-evaluate my position if my daughter brought one home. No, on reflection, that would probably be better than the procession of Neanderthals she seems to be specialising in at the moment. After all, anoraks have mastered the art of walking, communicate above the level of a grunt and most of them don't drool.
If I have one teeny weeny criticism, it's that in their relentless and all-consuming thirst for anorak knowledge, sometimes, they can take their eye off the ball.
Like caramel for instance. (Don't mail me Germany, I'm not in.)
Oh and the other thing is, and this is a bit delicate, couldn't we get them to dress a bit better? I mean, come on folks, it's actually ok to wear socks and even Martha Stewart thinks that yellow and orange don't go together.


Q// He he he, I really understand. It happens often that when visiting a distillery with some other maltheads, I feel I should say to the guide 'Look, I'm not with them, I promise!' Now, what puzzles me even more is seeing some guys visiting, say Lagavulin with an Ardbeg sweater, a Bruichladdich baseball cap and a pair of Laphroaig socksNow, can you tell us how was life on Islay and why did you move to Canada? Any similarities?


MN//
Life on Islay was engaging. Special place. Lovely people, big sense of "togetherness" as opposed to that overused and much devalued word, "community". The invisible support network, that visitors would never see, was wonderful. Someone always knew the person who could help you with whatever the problem was, often, before you knew that you had a problem.
Why move to Canada? Well, public service really, so that my friend would have somewhere nice to come for his holidays.
Similarities?  Since I live on Vancouver Island, you have to get a ferry to get here. That is the only thing that is similar.
What are more noticeable are the differences, here's a list:-
There are roads here, not just a lot of corners joined together.
Nobody called "W" lives here.
The ferry crew was not trained at the Slobodan Milosevic School of customer care.
We got traffic lights.
The band goes on before midnight.
We got trees, lots of them. I mean more trees than you could shake a stick at, if you know what I mean. That's trees as far as the eye can f----ing see. We got trees in places other countries don't have trees. We're treed. Big time.
There is no Co-op.
The electricity stays on all the time.
If you get into a fight with a policeman, he will not come round the next day just to check that you are ok.


Q// Nick Morgan told me you're a blues guitarist extraordinaire, and it's true that some aficionados fondly remember your gigs on Islay, with your band. Do you know some other musicians who, like us, are whisky aficionados?


MN//
I would need to refer you to the huge but underestimated talent that is Mr. Adrian Byron Burns. Giant voice, astonishing guitar technique, cross genre repertoire, a Gentleman and, I feel sure, available for bookings in your area. Tell him Uncle Mike is looking for his ten percent. Adrian's label is Private Edition and never, never miss a live show.


Q// Great, I just listened to a few mp3s he did put on his website – in the 'CD' section. He's really excellent, thanks for the tip! Two last, short questions now, if you please… Do you remember your first dram?


MN//
Listen, I'm retired, I have trouble with yesterday
.


Q// Ah… and what's your favourite dram?


MN//
When did you stop beating your wife?


Q// Okay, okay, the one you dislike most, then?


MN//
The guy that plays cement mixer on Metallica's second last album. Wasn't that three questions?


Ha ha, I can see that even if some are now retired, they didn't lose too many of their 'corporate' reflexes, did they? Anyway, thanks a bunch, Mike, it's been a huge pleasure. I hope you'll come again and play the blues during the Islay Festival in the coming years!

(Mike Nicolson, Serge Valentin, December 18, 2004)

 

------------------------------

Footnotes added 2024

(1) Malts Advocates Course - an in-depth experiential training programme set up by the Diageo Malts team in 1998 for Diageo malt marketeers around the world, trade customers and writers, based at Royal Lochnagar.  Mike was the first host.  It was rolled out to distillery staff as 'Malt Advocates for Operators'.  Charlie Maclean and Dave Broom gave an independent point of view alongside Diageo experts such as Jim Beveridge and Neil Cochrane (both now retired).

(2) Lucy Pritchard - a long-serving member of the Diageo Malts team

(3) Dr Nick Morgan - formerly Global Marketing Director for Malts Whiskies at Diageo, now author and writer

 

 

A Little Lagavulin 16 just to Thank Mike

We'll just add a little tasting note, a Lagavulin of course. We taste Lagavulin 16 almost every year; it's one of the few expressions we closely follow. However, we had never tried a 2016 batch, yet we had a bottle hidden at the back of a shelf... (really, any excuse will do). In any case, this spirit was probably distilled in 1999 or 2000, indeed under the guidance of Mike Nicolson.

Lagavulin 16 yo (43%, OB, +/- 2016)

Lagavulin 16 yo (43%, OB, +/- 2016) Five stars
One of those renowned malt expressions that 'never really stayed what they previously were' over the years, at least since 2000, if not earlier. But no! As Duke Ellington said, 'Things ain't what they used to be,' and this is evident in all areas. As we ourselves age, past versions seem to improve, but of course, it's mainly us who change, not so much the whiskies (well, maybe a little). "The older I get, the faster I was," said racing driver Stirling Moss. Anyway, for me and if I look back at all my notes, Lagavulin has remained a superb whisky, sometimes leaning a bit more towards the sherry side, other times more on the tar and natural rubber side (BDSM outfit, some less reputation-conscious friends would say). Colour: gold. Nose: bravo Mike and gang! It's perfect, fresh and precise, salty, with just a hint of coffee, black olives, mandarins, leather, tobacco, liquorice, and heathery earth… This is truly what one can call a classic. Mouth: perfect, one of the rare whiskies that holds the 43% ABV perfectly without ever feeling hollow. Anyway, Lagavulin is never hollow; you just need to carefully avoid those flavoured with rum or tequila, completely unnecessary and incomprehensible treatments – should we expect the worst in the coming years? What would Mike think? Sea water, salt, coffee, bay leaf, leather, olives, tar, and really a lot of peat… Finish: surprisingly long for its strength. Pepper, salt, Seville oranges, tobacco, liquorice, tar, leather… Comments: it's a shame, its price has gone up and it's found much less often in bars and restaurants. It used to be my go-to whisky in those places.
SGP: 567 - 90 points.

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Lagavulin we've tasted so far

 

 

May 24, 2024


Whiskyfun

A small gang of Ardbeg, part 2

We continue, simply put... And we'll try to speed things up a bit compared to yesterday; one could write novels about certain Ardbegs. But that would be deadly...

Ardbeg
One of the last casks filled by Allied/Laphroaig before
closure of the distillery and the sale of Ardbeg to
Glenmorangie the following year (WF Archive)

 

 

Islay Single Malt 14 yo 2009/2023 'Southern A' (50.2%, Maltbarn, 'Circles', bourbon cask)

Islay Single Malt 14 yo 2009/2023 'Southern A' (50.2%, Maltbarn, 'Circles', bourbon cask) Five stars
An 'A' in the south, what could that be? Ardenistiel? Islay's Ardmore? Wasn't there once an Ardtalla Distillery? Not too sure about the latter. Colour: white wine. Nose: we're close to the best batches of Ardbeg 'Ten', with a magnificent and quite sharp purity, on petrol, then rather massive doses of verbena liqueur, a bit of rubber and tar, hessian, polystyrene glue... In short, all those things we love. With water: crushed herbs, especially parsley. Then a new inner tube. Classic. Mouth (neat): a bit sweet at first (absinthe with its sugar), then more on citrus and pepper. And again, that smoky limoncello note. With water: all things coastal, salty and lemony come to the fore. Finish: long, tense, almost 'pointed'. Peppery lemon in the aftertaste. Comments: what a gentle beast! Of course, we love it…
SGP:667 - 90 points.

It's a real shame that one can only discover Ardbeg once in a lifetime. (Pointless comment, typical of this miserable website – Ed).

Kildalton 14 yo 2009/2023 (52.1%, DramCatcher, hogshead, cask #1102)

Kildalton 14 yo 2009/2023 (52.1%, DramCatcher, hogshead, cask #1102) Five stars
Colour: vin blanc. Colour: white wine. Nose: this is quite a gentle Ardbeg, even if the profile is similar to the previous one. Grapefruit syrup, ashes on the beach, followed by a more medicinal side. Old cough syrup, camphor balm, lemongrass... Then oysters. It's quite magnificent on the nose. With water: we find model glue and boat deck oil (teak oil). Mouth (neat): pure recent Ardbeg, lemon, smoke, ashes. Again, very much in the style of the best official 'Ten', not necessarily the first 'Introducing Ten Years Old', if that rings a bell. With water: isn't this an unadulterated official? Pepper, ashes, zest, brine. Finish: long and even more peppery. Comments: I adore it. Dior J'adore, Ardbeg I dig (that's pathetic, S.).
SGP:567 - 90 points.

These 2009s seem really top-notch, but let's be sure…

Kildalton 13 yo 2009/2023 (59.1%, SCSM, China, hogshead, cask #2116, 445 bottles)

Kildalton 13 yo 2009/2023 (59.1%, SCSM, China, hogshead, cask #2116, 445 bottles) Five stars
From the Chinese 'Single Cask Single Malt' crew. Colour: straw. Nose: an Ardbeg identical in every respect to the previous one. No complaints at all. Now, I'm not saying it's exactly the same whisky, of course, but in a double-blind tasting, they would be indistinguishable. Mouth: same comments apply, even the extra watts don't change much. It's excellent, with notes of lemon, ash, and smoke. With water, just to see how similar indeed it is to the previous one: well, it is. Perhaps it's just a tad more medicinal with a few additional touches of glue. Or not. Finish: the same, identical, thus excellent. Comments: I feel I should apologise to the excellent members of SCSM. Will they ever forgive me?
SGP:567 - 90 points.

Secret Islay 6 yo 2017/2023 (61.4%, Swell de Spirits, #2 Pop Intercaves, blended malt, France)

Secret Islay 6 yo 2017/2023 (61.4%, Swell de Spirits, #2 Pop Intercaves, blended malt, France) Four stars and a half
The thing is, even if the origins were truly secret, it's often quite clear which cask batches are hitting the market, and it only takes one to let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, for the origin of the whole lot to be revealed. Additionally, the term 'blended malt' is becoming increasingly controversial, as we've discussed before. Except for genuine blended malts, of course. Colour: white wine. Nose: it has the feeling of new make, but that's far from unpleasant. It's almost like it's been aged in concrete eggs, ha. Very pretty Williams pear eau-de-vie, smoked fish, fireplace ash, extinguished pipe, burnt pine wood... With water: the traditional chalk and virgin wool soaked in rainwater. And fresh bread. Mouth (neat): absolutely excellent. Peat, white agricole rum, mezcal, lemon juice, a touch of quinine... It's almost like an Islay white spirit. So, not really immature young Ardbeg, rather a young Ardbeg that was selected and grown so that it could be enjoyed at a very young age. It's quite superb. With water: still that smoked pear with peat. It would be amusing if fruit distillers started peating their products, there might be a market for that! You say it already exists??? Finish: this is where it falters a bit, as is almost always the case with very, very young whiskies. Essentially, it lacks a bit of polish, but that's to be expected. A full ashtray in the aftertaste. Comments: very spectacular, very good. I didn't have enough of it, but otherwise, I would have tried this baby in a mizuwari. Because we're not afraid of anything at Château
WF. SGP:657 - 88 points.

Right, enough with the young gangsters, let's try one or two old glories, just to put everything into perspective and 'recalibrate our benchmarks', as one might say if we wanted to appear serious...

Ardbeg 19 yo 1975/1995 (47.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection)

Ardbeg 19 yo 1975/1995 (47.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection) Five stars
We've never tried this one, but last year we sampled another from this series, a 75/95 at 51.8%, which was rather intergalactic (WF 94). Colour: pale gold. Nose: a different world. Cadenhead, in those blessed times, were offering undiluted malts in this series, meaning these 47.3% were, in theory at least, natural. Old turpentine and ancient paint pots, those famous tarry ropes, pine sawdust, notes of black garlic, new leather and old leather (not the same thing at all!), then citrus liqueurs, bone broth, old amontillado (whether there's a sherry influence or not)... What a nose! Mouth: here we rediscover the complexity of old malts whose strength has naturally declined. This one has lots of plasticine, beef fat, candied lemon, cooked whelks, camphor, old chartreuse, tar liqueur... This might not sound very coherent, but rest assured, it is in the glass. Finish: only medium in length, but it's the complexity that wins the day. If I dared, I'd mention mint sauce – English recipe, of course. And again, beef marrow and... black garlic! Lots of pine in the aftertaste. Comments: it might not have the punch of last year's bottling (I mean the '75 I tried last year), but what a beauty, even if it's a beauty that's a tiny bit 'worn' here and there. Well, you know what I mean.
SGP:476 - 92 points.

Ring ring, the last one for today, please…

Ardbeg 28 yo 1972/2000 (49.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 492 bottles)

Ardbeg 28 yo 1972/2000 (49.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 492 bottles) Five stars
Another seminal series and a bottle that doesn't even tell you what type of cask it came from. In those blessed times, the cask type was usually only mentioned if it was sherry, and even then, only if it was heavily sherried. Essentially, no one cared much about the cask type, and that was perfectly fine—they were distillers or maturers, not cabinetmakers or winemakers. Okay, I'll stop now... Colour: gold. Nose: the purity of those years! It is, or rather was, much more medicinal than modern Ardbegs, though not in the Laphroaig sense. Essentially, it's more tarry ointments rather than mercurochrome and bandages. The rest unfolds with new tyres à la Port Ellen, shellfish à la Caol Ila, engine oil and rubber à la Lagavulin, and smoked oysters à la Bowmore. Sorry, but no exotic fruits of any kind. Mouth: entirely on tar, bitter almonds, and a bit of burnt rubber. I had forgotten just how brutal and massive these Ardbegs could be, even at a relatively modest strength like this. Harsh ash, salted lemon liqueur, tars, forgotten balms (can't remember which ones), olive oil... In fact, these Ardbegs were really more about the whole experience rather than a sequence of aromas and flavours. In short, they were Ardbegs. Finish: sublimely Ardbeg. An incredible balance of pine resin, rubber, salt, smoke, lemon, and lapsang souchong. A tiny hint of passion fruit right at the end. Comments: there used to be some very fine people who were not liking this style at all, and frankly, we were understanding them. It's massive! But we still absolutely love it...
SGP:468 - 94 points.

In life, we always have the urge to criticise what we once loved, and this might be the case with distilleries like Macallan or Ardbeg, but when you have the right expressions in the glass, you have to be honest and admit that these are or were indeed damn good whiskies!

(Thank you KC, Edward and other crazy friends)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Ardbeg we've tasted so far

 

May 23, 2024


Whiskyfun

Alas! No Feis Ile for me this time again, but we were on Islay just a few weeks ago for the opening of the new Port Ellen. In any case, this won't stop us from tasting many Islay whiskies over the next few days, although not in sync with the official days of each distillery, of course. For instance, we'll start with some Ardbeg...

A small gang of Ardbegs, part 1

(Picture, Ardbeg during the time of modest and amusing marketing, in 2007 (WF Archive)

Ardbig

It's true that I've somewhat neglected our Islays lately, even though I thoroughly enjoyed the first Ardnahoe the other day. Rest assured, we'll make up for it in the coming days, starting with a few Ardbegs that we've been sitting on for a while. Not all of them are labelled 'Ardbeg', but there's no doubt about the origin of these small and great whiskies... Oh, and let's start with the worst aperitif imaginable, so that it serves as a lesson to us all...

 

 

Ardbeg 12 yo 'Special Reserve Bottled 1966' (80° proof, OB, 262/3 FL. OZS)

Ardbeg 12 yo 'Special Reserve Bottled 1966' (80° proof, OB, 262/3 FL. OZS) Four stars and a half
- FAKE. A lot of issues with this bottle. It features a red Italian tax band with two stars and '0.750', dating it between 1975 and 1991, which doesn't match 1966, although it's not conclusive proof as these bands could have been added later if these bottles had been then re-shipped to Italy after a few years. Additionally, there's a large D at the bottom of the label, used in France until around 1982, indicating duties were paid, but a French bottle would never display proof degrees or ounces. Moreover, the SC295 code on the glass base was produced post-1966, from 1968 onwards. There's also no mention of an importer, French or otherwise. Therefore, there are too many inconsistencies for this bottle to be genuine, but on the other hand, forgers often used young malts from G&M available at the time they made them, and those could be very good! So, this could very well be Ardbeg from 1972, 1973, or 1974, for example (but not at 80° proof UK, obviously). Finally, all genuine Ardbeg collectors assert that it's a fake, and frankly, that's enough for me. Anyway, let's try this very suspect Ardbeg for the cause... Colour: straw. Nose: from the bottle, which I hold in my hands, it smells unmistakably of Ardbeg from that era, with plenty of ashes and soot. However, in the glass, it flattens out rather quickly, moving towards smoked water, apple juice, caster sugar, and indeed, a bit of pine resin. Well, honestly, it gives an illusion, but certainly not at 80° proof, so nearly 46% ABV. But yes, it does smell like Ardbeg… Mouth: yes, typically a young Islay, not necessarily Ardbeg despite the acrid and very ashy character, somewhat sweet. Also a medicinal and salty side. It's quite good, actually. Finish: medium length, salty, with lemon, limoncello (you see, it's Italian made – hey, just joking!) and still plenty of smoke. Comments: really has a G&M CC vibe. I think it's an old fantasy fake, already quite aged, meant to adorn Italian collections for aesthetic purposes only, and probably not a recent fake aimed at scamming overly naïve aspiring speculators worldwide. But it's a very, very good Islay whisky and most possibly light Ardbeg indeed!
SGP:467 - 88 points.

Update: all these bottles of Ardbeg 12 'bottled 1966' may contain very different whiskies!

Ardbeg 'Anamorphic' (48.2%, OB, Committee Release, bourbon, 2023)

Ardbeg 'Anamorphic' (48.2%, OB, Committee Release, bourbon, 2023) Three stars and a half
These gimmicky bottlings aren't series we follow regularly, but since it's on our desk... Very late with this one indeed. I'm sure this one is genuine; no serious forger would have dared making such a bottle. It's about losing your head, so only NAS (boo) but fun (hurray). In any case, fat whiskies better lose their heads than their tails, I'm telling you. Colour: straw. Nose: the resemblance to the unfortunate 12 is evident, so it was indeed an Ardbeg. Ash, a bit of vanilla, chalk and slate, some sweets, charcoal, then curious slightly sour notes, reminiscent of hearts of palm or pickled baby artichokes. The custard then comes back to wrap it all up. Not bad. Mouth: a bit strange. Lemon Schweppes, Aperol, a little ginger, hints of silver spoon, a tiny touch of pineapple, perhaps from charred wood? Also some pink peppercorn chocolate, which isn't bad at all. Finish: rather short and a bit hesitant, it reminds me somewhat of Serendipity. Those odd pineapples return in the aftertaste. Comments: quite good but a bit undetermined. Reconstructed Ardbeg?
SGP:656 - 84 points.

Ardbeg 13 yo 'Anthology The Harpy's Tale' (46%, OB, 2023)

Ardbeg 13 yo 'Anthology The Harpy's Tale' (46%, OB, 2023) Four stars
A blend of Ardbeg ex-bourbon and Ardbeg ex-'sweet Sauternes'. Actually it doesn't make much sense to write about 'sweet Sauternes' having said that, all fresh Sauternes being sweet by definition. You can make dry white in the region, but then you cannot call it Sauternes. A good example is the superb 'Y' d'Yquem, which is a 'simple' Bordeaux. BTW Yquem and Ardbeg share the same owners, they would know. Right… Colour: pale gold. Nose: like! We know peat and Sauternes/Barsac can work very well, as we could already see at Kornog's and elsewhere. So no clashes, rather smoked mirabelles, peppered quinces and tarry apricots, plus some charcoal and seawater. A touch of cream cheese in the background, or gorgonzola, which is fun. Works well too. Mouth: very nice combo, even if the wine is very prominent. The thing is, good Sauternes is not a 'winey' wine. Also a lot of smoke, tar, coal, liquorice and just tonnes of ashes. I have the impression they've kept pushing the ashy side in recent years at Ardbeg, have they not? The combination keeps working very well, despite this slight, err, sweetness. Good integration. Finish: medium long, with good balance between, say the honeyed apricots and the tarry ashes. No feeling of a disjointed whisky. Some medicinal notes in the aftertaste, cough syrup… Comments: very good drop.
SGP:656 - 87 points.

Ardbeg 13 yo 2010/2023 (61.3%, OB, Private Single Cask, Second fill oloroso sherry butt, cask #1944, 578 bottles)

Ardbeg 13 yo 2010/2023 (61.3%, OB, Private Single Cask, Second fill oloroso sherry butt, cask #1944, 578 bottles) Five stars
Will this one be a kerosene-y 'beg, at this strength? Colour: full gold. Nose: the DNA is there, it's not been altered, there's a lot of crushed slate and charcoal mixed with seawater and a little green walnut wine. Touches of turpentine and linseed oil too, also root vegetables,  beets, parsnips, celeriac… We always love these. No signs of kerosene, by the way, or is it me? With water: bandages, stewed spinach (yep), hard-boiled eggs (no big S though), leaven, seaweed, beach sand at low tide, tarmac… Mouth (neat): great, just great. It makes me happy to try this little monster that, in truth, would take no prisoners. Rather a lot of green pepper too but water might be needed as early as now… With water: superb Ardbeg, with these perfect lemons that are roaming most versions of the 'Ten', with a much cleaner profile now that water's been added. Perfect tar, peppers, lemons indeed, pine and verbena liqueurs (they almost always work in tandem IMHO). Finish: long, with the ultimate signature, pink grapefruit. Comments: proof that whisky can be both complex and high-def. Perfect young Ardbeg, are they all like this one? Was it Mickey Heads?
SGP:657 - 92 points.

Well, I thought we were going to have magnificent independents that would totally crush the official NAS releases. Not too sure, let's move on...

Secret Islay 2009/2023 'They Inspired – Bert Vuik' (53.3%, Michiel Wigman, 'A Rare Dram But Extremely Good', sherry, 238 bottles)

Secret Islay 2009/2023 'They Inspired – Bert Vuik' (53.3%, Michiel Wigman, 'A Rare Dram But Extremely Good', sherry, 238 bottles) Five stars
An extraordinary person on the label (and another in the background). Undoubtedly the first true collector and connoisseur of Ardbeg, leaving absolutely no doubt about the origin of this little gem: it's Mannochmore (hey, we can have a laugh, can't we?) Cheers and hugs, Bert! Colour: white wine. Nose: forget the sherry, for now this is an extremely pure, precise Ardbeg, with a wonderful softness built around oil paint, shells, graphite, and fireplace ashes. With water: fresh country bread at five o'clock in the morning (okay, six) and a platter of Islay oysters, plus soaked virgin wool, Islay mud and certainly a good dose of lanolin. A hint of a new pullover. Mouth (neat): taut as a bow, lemony and brimming with ashes and green pepper. Could that be olive oil in the background? With water: proof that Ardbeg can indeed show a softer side. Very ripe apple, salt, more oysters, our friends the winkles, old paint, grapefruit… Finish: long and both oily and taut at the same time, which is unusual, I admit. Comments: just avoid adding too much water, and in this case, for me it easily scores...
SGP:667 - 92 points.

Islay Region 5 yo 2017/2023 (60.2%, Douglas Laing's Single Minded, for World of Whisky Waldhaus, Switzerland, refill barrel, cask #DL17749, 258 bottles)

Islay Region 5 yo 2017/2023 (60.2%, Douglas Laing's Single Minded, for World of Whisky Waldhaus, Switzerland, refill barrel, cask #DL17749, 258 bottles) Four stars
Two generations of Bernasconis on the label! Let's remember that the Waldhaus am See in St Moritz, Switzerland, houses one of the, if not the most famous and extensive whisky bars in the world. I take this opportunity to wish a fantastic birthday to the engaging Claudio Bernasconi, who celebrates his 70th this month! Of course, we have an Ardbeg in the glass, and I'm delighted, especially since it's rare to find one this young that isn't NAS and fiddled with using improbable casks and outlandish stories. Well, well… Colour: very pale white wine (Swiss wine, ha-ha just kidding). Nose: totally on ashes, wet flour, yeasts, and cider. With water: pure Ardbeg, acrid smoke, fireplace, campfire, old car exhaust pipe. It reminds me of those wonderful Swiss cars, the Monteverdis. Mouth (neat): if you've ever tasted Ardbeg's new make, it's a bit like that. It's admirable that the bottlers haven't tried to disguise it with improbable casks. Beautiful tension on lemons, the sea, bread dough, oysters, and smoked fish, it also almost feels, at times; like gin flavoured with peat smoke (yes, yes, that's a positive comment in this context). With water: back to a lemony, tarry, and salty new make. Finish: an avalanche of ashes. An ashtray after a Cigar Club meeting, if you see what I mean. Comments: if they have many casks like this one and if everyone has the patience to wait another twenty years, it's going to be magical. For now, it's magnificent but of course, a bit young, just like Mr. Claudio B.. An understatement. Come on, we love it…
SGP:568 - 87 points.

Kommunen Schnaps 'Vol. 6' (55.9%, Private, Garrison Brothers bourbon barrel, 90 bottles, 2024)

Kommunen Schnaps 'Vol. 6' (55.9%, Private, Garrison Brothers bourbon barrel, 90 bottles, 2024) Five stars
When you spot the Kildalton Cross on a label, rest assured it's not Glenkinchie. And if you see a VW Kombi, the bottler is either Californian or German. Colour: gold. Nose: it has the slightly rugged edge of the 2017, but there's also a soft coat of sweetness brought by the bourbon casks. This leads more towards medicinal syrups, herbal notes (juniper, pine needles), and bitter orange marmalade. There's still plenty of tar and, above all, those legendary 'tarry ropes'. With water: smoked marzipan and cigarette ashes! Mouth (neat): very compact, full-on with pine bud liqueur and fresh rubber, tar, and Corsican citron liqueur. It's massive and not very complicated, but it's very comforting, like an old Deep Purple track. 'Nobody gonna take my car, I'm gonna race it to the ground...' Yes, well... With water: now it's truly perfect. Wonderful notes of smoked and salted chocolate. You should try this. Finish: very long. Comments: this is a young, conquering Ardbeg. I fear it might be impossible to find, which is a shame because it ticks all the boxes. I love it and have always dreamed of owning a VW Kombi painted in psychedelic colours. You're right, a boomer's fantasy. Peace and Love!
SGP:567 - 90 points.

Kildalton 15 yo 2008/2023 (57.6%, Oxhead Whisky Company, sherry butt, cask #5530)

Kildalton 15 yo 2008/2023 (57.6%, Whiskynaut, sherry butt, cask #5530) Four stars and a half
It says 'since 1815' so it is either Laphroaig (year controversial) or Ardbeg (apparently nobody ever cared). The name 'Kildalton' should give it away, as I believe it is, indeed, officially Ardbeg's 'trade name'. Colour: straw. Nose: surprisingly lighter, more on herbal teas and yeasts, that famous old tweed jacket that has seen so many winters, fresh wool, roots (do wild carrots grow on Islay?), with a few touches of mild horseradish and gentian. 'Gentian' is a magical word at Château WF. With water: nature after the rain. Earth, plants, shrubs, beach, radishes... Mouth (neat): simply superb. Lemon, ashes, liquorice, celery, fresh walnut. Perfect texture. With water: younger, fresher, more fruity. Quinine, bitter orange, walnuts, I suppose that's the sherry talking. Who would complain? Finish: long, lively, almost cheerful for Ardbeg. A bit of glue and varnish in the aftertaste. Comments: a lovely dialogue between the malt and the sherry. Once again, go easy on the water.
SGP:576 - 89 points.

Well, I believe we'll be back tomorrow with more Ardbeg.

(Merci Logan, merci Patrick)

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Ardbeg we've tasted so far

 

May 22, 2024


Whiskyfun

WF's Little Duos, today indie sherried young Aberlour

It is one of the few distilleries where we taste many more official releases than independent bottlings. A bit like Lagavulin, really. Yet we'll have two indies today…

(Classic print ad from the 1970s. All malts were using more or less the same angles.)

Aberlour

 

 

Aberlour 12 yo 2012/2024 (48.2%, Signatory Vintage, Small Batch #9, 1st fill oloroso sherry butts)

Aberlour 12 yo 2012/2024 (48.2%, Signatory Vintage, Small Batch #9, 1st fill oloroso sherry butts) Four stars
A relatively recent series, seemingly well-regarded across various quarters. Colour: amber gold. Nose: classic sherry, walnut cake, dark ale, and a hint of molasses, followed by a generous array of dates and toffee. very well-balanced, excellently constructed around the sherry profile. Mouth: quite spicy at the outset, with notable ginger, nutmeg, and grey pepper… the toffee then gracefully joins in, accompanied by a sweeter sherry (noticeably sweeter than the usual oloroso). One cannot help but think of A'bunadh, but here there is a touch more citrus, featuring blood oranges and a hint of Szechuan pepper. Finish: fairly long, with a persistent woody and chocolatey character. a subtle café-kirsch note lingers in the aftertaste, adding a pleasant complexity. Comments: a rather spicy and fairly modern interpretation of an Aberlour 'sherry'. Nothing to fault, it certainly does the job.
SGP:551 - 85 points.

Aberlour 11 yo 2011/2022 (55.9%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, PX sherry cask, cask #22, 290 bottles)

Aberlour 11 yo 2011/2022 (55.9%, Blackadder, Raw Cask, PX sherry cask, cask #22, 290 bottles) Three stars and a half
Colour: dark gold. Nose: this expression is all about walnuts, mustard sauce, oxidation, Malaga, old figs, beef, and dried ham... It's pure sherry, which I greatly appreciate. Adding a few drops of water brings out a subtle earthy note. Think flowering plant soil, tobacco, leather, and a touch of umami... Mouth (neat): really quite Malaga! Raisins and mustard, a cascade of nuts (both old and fresh), and an abundance of PX. Then, it becomes much spicier with cardamom, nutmeg, pepper... It's quite forceful, almost aggressively so. With water: a slight vinegar touch, dried fruits, pickles, and a hint of cedarwood... Finish: long, rather taut, with a touch of vinegar again (balsamic), bitter chocolate, and clove... Plenty of PX lingering in the aftertaste. Comments: it's more complex than the 2012, but also a bit wild and even somewhat unruly. Very good, in any case.
SGP:461 - 84 points.

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Aberlour we've tasted so far

 

May 21, 2024


Whiskyfun

Some Springbank to celebrate… well, Springbank

Still a top-five distillery in my book. Let's choose three or four of them from the stash…

(Staves in the yard, 2005, WF Archive)

Springbank

 

 

Springbank 5 yo 2017/2023 '100° proof' (57.1%, OB, Society Bottling, fresh bourbon, 2166 bottles)

Springbank 5 yo 2017/2023 '100° proof' (57.1%, OB, Society Bottling, fresh bourbon, 2166 bottles) Four stars and a half
One has fond memories of some very old Springbank 5-year-olds, the ones with black labels. Colour: white wine. Nose: oh the elegance of this distillate, even at an almost forbidden age. New tweed, virgin wool, lemon juice, paraffin, slag, basalt, and finally, strawberry candy. The latter should have disappeared after a few years, but at five, it remains. It's amusing. With water: more austere, with smoked tea, grape seed oil, plasticine, and quite a bit of charcoal. Mouth (neat): simply impeccable. Lemon, engine grease (not something we consume every day), various waxes, a drop of seawater, a bit of kiwi and rhubarb. Impeccable, truly. With water: softer, almost fruitier, with herbs and flowers—borage, pansies, nasturtiums. That's amusing too! Finish: rather long, truly fruity, it's almost moving when you know that this fruitiness will meld between, let's say, 5 and 10 years. Roughly speaking... Comments: it's a bit like a photo of an infant before he/she starts to really grow. A very beautiful photo, by the way.
SGP:652 - 88 points.

A rather new one…

Springbank 24 yo 1999/2024 (54.5%, Decadent Drinks, Westie Sponge 3, first fill sherry butt)

Springbank 24 yo 1999/2024 (54.5%, Decadent Drinks, Westie Sponge 3, first fill sherry butt) Five stars
Probably the exact opposite to the awesome 5 yo. Colour: deep gold. Nose: right, it does start with a wee box of old matches, but those are the same matches you would find in any proper high-grade oloroso (or amontillado, or palo cortado). They would lead you to menthol and cough lozenges, citron liqueur, fresh moist black pipe tobacco, which in turn would lead to very old PX, VORS stuff and such, then cold cuts, goulash, crazy sausages, prunes and raisins, then the blackest potting soil and the craziest pudding. Or the other way 'round. With water: really something antique, it reminds me of those replica vintage cars, such as the Argentinian Bugattis 'Pur Sang' or those crazy Excaliburs from the 1980s. An old whisky made today. Chocolate, coffee, gravy, umami sauce. Mouth (neat): cream of Springbank. Root vegetables, thickest marmalade, truffle, chen-pi, a glutamatey side as well, Worcester sauce, some kind of sweeter balsamico, sloe liqueur… Is there really only one drink in my glass? With water: everything mingling together. I find dates particularly prominent. Finish: long, creamy, VORSy (what?). More gravy, liquorice, marmalade, dried figs this time… It became rounder and sweeter, while all matchsticks are gone, if I may say so. Which leads us to… drum roll… Christmas cake. Comments: huge personality, many asperities as we say, and something a little, but truly, decadent indeed. No Eurovision malt whisky, if you see what I mean (S., I'm sure they don't). And hurray for Spain! Quite a coup by the Sponge, while this series is slowly coming to an end. I'd bet the future will be even better (that'll be £10, Sponge).
SGP:662 - 93 points.

Well, since we're not joking around, let's bring out the heavy artillery and steer clear of the more common (though very good) current productions…

Springbank 1977/1993 'GO-DD' (53.9%, OB, cask #332, 335 bottles)

Springbank 1977/1993 'GO-DD' (53.9%, OB, cask #332, 335 bottles) Five stars
An official private bottling of old, not too sure about what 'GO-DD' exactly means or meant, I doubt this was a bottling for the Vatican, was it? What's sure is that 1977 is a pretty rare vintage. Colour: white wine. Nose: as soon as you encounter a Springbank that's not overwhelmed by the cask, you realise the distillate hasn't changed much over the years. Essentially, it's oily, waxy, lemony, maritime, with hints of petrol and damp chalk. In short, it could just as well be a 2007/2023, and that is fascinating. With water: here comes the virgin wool, clay, grapefruit peel, seaweed, and oyster shells. Mouth (neat): splendid, tense, lemony, always with wax, salt, oysters, engine oil, and paraffin... With water: even saltier and waxier. Wasn't there a secret underground passage between old Clynelish/Brora and Springbank? Yes, of course, I do have the geographical layout of Scotland in mind, why do you ask? Finish: fairly long, oily, still on beeswax, salt, oysters, lemon, a touch of petrol... Eternal Springbank, really. It's fascinating, as our Canadian friends would say. Comments: same league as that of the Sponge, but in a diametrically opposite style. I admit, I did it on purpose.
SGP:563 - 93 points.

Springbank 28 yo 1966/1994 (55.6%, The Bottlers, cask #1018)

Springbank 28 yo 1966/1994 (55.6%, The Bottlers, cask #1018) Four stars and a half
Another one that's ticking all the boxes. The Bottlers (#1 IB at MM when they were active), 1966 (think LB), plus the ideal age and the fact that a 1965 brother did extremely well a few years back here on WF. Colour: gold. Nose: I find it curiously resinous, but this should fade away… It is also extremely waxy, piney, you'd almost believe we're nosing some (lovely) Greek retsina. Really a lot of polish. The biggish resinous side is still there after fifteen minutes, unaltered. With water: old woods, fern, old stump, mosses, mushrooms… but there's also some wonderful nougat and old sweet wine. Not retsina. Mouth (neat): awesome waxes, orange cordials, and a side that really makes you think of some old Demerara rum that would have gone a little over the top. Was this Springer matured in the tropics? In the Scottish 'tropics', near Ullapool? I mean, do you know Inverewe Garden? With water: waxes, encaustic, menthol, old apples. Finish: rather long, more on apple peel. Comments: it might have been a bit tired when it was bottled, this doesn't resemble OBE at all. But it remains wonderful once you get past the woodiness. The old waxy notes are magnificent.
SGP:461 - 89 points.

(Thank you KC )

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Springbank we've tasted so far

 

 

Wgiskyfun 101

  Are independent whiskies becoming more expensive?

Many good people mention price differences between official malts and those from independents, with variations in both directions depending on the distilleries' reputation. As the saying goes, Springbank is not Mannochmore. Now it's important to remember that distilleries theoretically do not need to buy the whiskies they offer (although many have done so for their very old, highly prestigious malts). Larger independents mostly, if not entirely, purchase white whiskies, which they then age in their own casks. Here, too, the price is not the same, even if this practice seems to become less common, unfortunately.

Smaller independents, however, must buy their casks ready for bottling, which is significantly more expensive. To summarise, if a kilo of barley costs the same whether it's Springbank or Mannochmore, a 25-year-old Springbank cask is definitely not priced the same, whether you are the distillery's owning company or the independents of The Jolly Good Old Bottlers from John O'Groats. On the other hand, these Jolly Good Old Bottlers might offer you excellent young Mannochmore at a very good price! But don't blame them if their new Springbank is priced very high.
We will have to see how a potential new whisky loch might affect this situation. Rumour has it that 2.5 to 3 times more Scotch whisky is currently being distilled than is being sold. So, in 25 years, there could be some great deals! In theory, that is, because if India and China start increasing their consumption – India already does - our hopes as consumers might be dashed. On the other hand, this would be rather good news for all our friends.
 

May 20, 2024


Whiskyfun

Wines and Glencadams

Times are changing, with more and more distilleries now structuring their ranges around the world of wine, using more or less subtle finishings. Personally, I find it uninteresting from a both organoleptic and philosophical standpoint, but on the other hand, it can be fun and amusing. And we can clearly see that there are more and more enthusiasts of these styles... Perhaps they are right! It also seems that we are moving from renowned appellations (for example, Pomerol) to broad regions (Bordeaux) or even grape varietals (for example, Merlot), the casks being probably much cheaper. Oh, and what was that old saying about 'grapes and grains' again? Now, remember there were some excellent recent Glencadams, such as the 25 yo 'Remarkable' or the 19 oloroso, or the 15 oloroso, or just the plain 15 that's wonderful.


We had to resort to artificial intelligence because
such a wine doesn't exist in real life.
Our sincerest apologies.
(The Management)

Glencadam 'Reservé de Bordeaux Merlot Wine Cask Finish' (46%, OB, +/-2023) Two stars
I really don't want to split hairs again but I'm afraid the word 'Reservé' does not exist in French. It's either 'réserve' or 'réservé'. Colour: white wine. Quite pale for a Merlot. Nose: strawberry, ripe damson, prunes, flavoured beer, cherry, then cakes, muffins, scones... It's decent, it's 'transgenre', why not! Mouth: premix, fruit juice and young malt whisky. Young Pineau des Charentes. Finish: medium, fruity. Dried figs, strawberries, walnut cake. Comments: it's alright. One would never drink this regularly, but for a tasting, it's not too terrible, even though we'd prefer a good blend.
SGP:651 - 74 points.

It might be a secret plan of the whisky industry, making us appreciate blends in comparison with these NAS malts flavoured with little wines. It's very clever, it might just work!

Glencadam 'Reservé de Burgundy Pinot Noir Wine Cask Finish' (46%, OB, +/-2023)

Glencadam 'Reservé de Burgundy Pinot Noir Wine Cask Finish' (46%, OB, +/-2023) Two stars
I suppose they mean either 'Réserve de Bourgogne' or 'Burgundy Reserve'. Even ChatGPT wouldn't come up with 'Reservé de Burgundy'. This sounds like the name of a monk in 'The Name of the Rose' by Umberto Eco. Colour: pale gold. Nose: it's not too bad, better than the Merlot, less on the jammy side and more on leaves, buds, and even the proverbial cherry... But don't expect Chambertin. Mouth: the return of stewed red fruits and cherry stalks as herbal tea. Some Belgian kriek. Finish: medium, fruity, rather balanced. A hint of blackcurrant bud. Comments: it's not bad. The main point, as with the Merlot, is that there's no real clash, thanks to the relative neutrality of the malt used.
SGP:651 - 76 points.

Glencadam 'Reserva PX Pedro Ximénez Sherry Cask Finish' (46%, OB, +/-2023)

Glencadam 'Reserva PX Pedro Ximénez Sherry Cask Finish' (46%, OB, +/-2023) Three stars
They got it aaaall right this time! And well done for accentuating the first 'E' in Ximénez, generally everyone forgets it (especially us at WF). Colour: amber. Nose: this is much more classic, feeling far less about flavouring, and that's undoubtedly because we're already very accustomed to PX in our whiskies. After all, fortified wines are quite different from table wines (no kidding, S.?). Walnut wine, raisins, dried figs, blackcurrant liqueur, guignolet… It seems sweet but also quite pleasant. The palate will reveal the truth… Mouth: very sweet, very fruity, indeed very sugary, one wonders how much PX was left in the cask after the obligatory (yeah right) rinsing. Lots of white chocolate, then sweets and honey. Finish: quite long but it's the PX that does the job. Cherry liqueur in the aftertaste. One might wonder if they bought stocks of cherry liqueur from Eastern Europe? Comments: it feels a bit like PX re-fortified with malt whisky, but I find it quite enjoyable. To be served over two scoops of vanilla ice cream?
SGP:741 - 80 points.

Perhaps an indie – and kings of finishing too.

Glencadam 10 yo 2012/2023 (46%, Murray McDavid, Benchmark, Koval Bourbon Cask finish, 919 bottles)

Glencadam 10 yo 2012/2023 (46%, Murray McDavid, Benchmark, Koval Bourbon Cask finish, 919 bottles) Three stars and a half
Looks like quite a few ex-Koval casks have been brokered in Scotland in recent years. Colour: white wine. Nose: pleasant, quite fresh and fruity, with honey, fresh brioche, cereals, hints of pear cake, tarte tatin, very ripe apples, and equally ripe apricots... All these elements blend well together, with a firm and straight structure leaning towards green pepper and cinnamon. That must be the Koval influence. Mouth: it's really good, quite easy-going, not complicated, just a tad sweet, but with lovely notes of tarte tatin again, maple syrup, custard, some sultanas, nougat, and just a hint of 'grain whisky and white pepper', likely from the bourbon. Finish: nice length, sweetness, biscuits, honey, ripe pears, and a little icewine touch at the very end, with more white pepper too. Indeed, wine seems to be with us today. Comments: really nice, easy, enjoyable... and superior.
SGP:651 - 84 points.

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Glencadam we've tasted so far

 

May 19, 2024


Whiskyfun

  A word of caution
Let me please remind you that my humble assessments of any spirits are done from the point of view of a malt whisky enthusiast who, what's more, is aboslutely not an expert in rum, brandy, tequila, vodka, gin or any other spirits. Thank you – and peace!

 

Dominican, Martiniquais, and Jamaican rums, along with a few from other countries

We'll start with a small procrastinatory aperitif. We've been putting off this moment for a long time...

 

Picture: in 2016 Barceló announced that they were the first rum to achieve carbon neutral status based on 'The Bilan Carbone license'.

Well, I discovered that the rum 'Two Drifters', distilled near Exeter in England and available on EasyJet, was actually even 'carbon negative' according to the 'Climeworks' label. They collaborate with Carbfix, who turn the captured CO2 into stone and store it underground. We need to try Two Drifters! BTW, Flor de Caña just announced that they were the world's first spirit to be both carbon neutral and fair trade certified. Now Pernod's Absolut is carbon neutral too, apparenlly. One wonders, however, if in light of these examples, it is not necessary to produce spirits with a very neutral taste to achieve such 'carbon neutral' status.

 

 

Barcelo 'Gran Anejo' (37.5%, OB, Dominican Republic, +/-2023)

Barcelo 'Gran Anejo' (37.5%, OB, Dominican Republic, +/-2023)
So they say they're carbon neutral. We found the plain 'Anejo' extremely poor the last time we sampled it (WF 15) but given that this one is a 'Gran Anejo', our expectations are slightly elevated. Colour: gold. Nose: we often mock Bumbu, Don Papa, or Diplomatico, but at least those 'rums' have some flavour. Here, there is almost nothing, save for a hint of medicinal alcohol and liquid caramel. I doubt this little expression is intended to be savoured on its own; it likely needs a boost from Coke or Red Bull. Moreover, the term 'savour' seems rather anachronistic in this context. Mouth: seriously, this should be served over ice. On its own, it's quite dreadful, somewhat sweet, alcoholic, with rather vulgar flavours. We might say rotting Brussels sprouts and old turnips cooked in beet sugar syrup. Finish: short, which is the good news, but the aftertaste is rather unpleasant, requiring a large glass of sparkling water to cleanse it away. Comments: to be honest, the very low alcohol content itself did not bode well. Neutral on all accounts.
SGP:220 - 25 points.

Mhoba 'American Oak' (43%, OB, South Africa, +/-2022)

Mhoba 'American Oak' (43%, OB, South Africa, +/-2022) Two stars and a half
This pure cane juice rum was finished in South African whisky casks, likely ex-Three Ships. Intriguingly, the new rum is initially matured in large demijohns fitted with charred American oak staves, before being transferred to these whisky casks. Colour: deep gold. Nose: the whole world now knows that Mhoba can be pretty fantastic and this is just more evidence. It slightly resembles a very good young high ester rum in the style of Savanna, just a tad softer. Diesel oil, olives, overripe bananas, a hint of graphite, liquorice, roots… Mouth: perhaps a little more chaotic than on the nose, less precise than the rather formidable cask strength version for LMDW that we tasted in January, but still lovely, fairly funky as they say, but with some burnt notes, beyond the saline or even maritime aspect. Finish: fairly long, saline, still a bit burnt and woody. Some smokiness in the aftertaste. Comments: nothing to complain about, it's good, but perhaps the reduction to a low proof doesn't quite suit it, which, in my opinion, is the case with almost all spirits heavily marked by wood ageing. The single casks rather tend to score around 85 – 87 points in our modest lists.
SGP:352 - 79 points.

Nicaragua 12 yo (43%, Cane Island, Single Estate, +/-2022)

Nicaragua 12 yo (43%, Cane Island, Single Estate, +/-2022) Two stars and a half
The precise origin of this rum is a secret, but between us, does it really matter? What's amusing is that this rum is significantly more expensive than Flor de Cana of the same age. Colour: dark gold. Nose: oh, but this is not bad at all, with orange juice, an agricole character, multifloral honey, maple syrup, very ripe bananas and pineapples… Really quite good! Mouth: there's a sweet edge to it, it has probably been enhanced, which is a pity because the nose was truly beautiful. On the palate, it veers towards syrup and liquid caramel, while the background hints at sugarcane, orange, and honey. What a shame (though I could be mistaken, perhaps no 'liqueur' was added after all?) Finish: it's always the finishes that are tricky with spirits enhanced with sugar. It's somewhat cloying, moderately so. A pity, as it was a lovely juice. Comments: I suppose this is the taste the public prefers.
SGP:730 - 77 points.

Rhum J.M 'Epices Créoles' (46%, OB, Martinique, Atelier des Rhums, 2023)

Rhum J.M 'Epices Créoles' (46%, OB, Martinique, Atelier des Rhums, 2023) Four stars
Be aware, one might think this is a spiced or flavoured rum, but it's not. Or rather, it is, but they've done it by intensifying the wood, so we're talking about a young rum boosted with hyperactive wood (French and American oak). It's quite in the style of modern J.M rums, I believe. And much like many contemporary malt whiskies, deforestation doesn't seem to be a concern for distillers worldwide. Right, perhaps they're right… Colour: dark gold. Nose: we must admit, it works very well on the nose. Mango, geranium, jasmine, mandarin peel (chen-pi), prickly pear jam, manuka honey… In short, on the nose, yes, it works very well. Mouth: they've found a trick. I'm not entirely fond of the idea, but I must admit the result is quite impressive, with this combination of fruit jams and that majestic Szechuan pepper. Lots of juicy peaches, white, yellow… And a bit of our friend caraway. Finish: good length, more on spices, nutmeg and, once again, chen-pi (hi, Gene). It's only in the aftertaste that a bit of wood shavings appears. Comments: really very nice.
SGP:650 - 86 points.

Romero & Sons 1973 (51.8%, Flensburg Rum Company, Kirsch Imports, Ecuador, cask #22, 212 bottles, 2021)

Romero & Sons 1973 (51.8%, Flensburg Rum Company, Kirsch Imports, Ecuador, cask #22, 212 bottles, 2021) Four stars
We've already tried a sister cask last year and thought it was very good, despite, or perhaps because of its funny story. It seems that the casks have been topped-up over the years. Colour: deep gold. Nose: very soft, gently cakey, with a little cappuccino and a whole box of Hershey's assorted chocolates (the Christmas version). With water: a floral side, broom and gorse… Mouth (neat): really good. I cannot not think of the best batches of Santiago de Cuba, even is Santiago is ex-molasses and column, while this is ex-cane honey and bespoke pot still. More cake, orange liqueur, honeys, verbena… With water: Jaffa cakes, pancake sauce, more orange liqueur. Finish: medium, easy, with a lighter structure. Comments: a gentle old rum with attitude – and altitude, as it was stored in the high mountains for some time. I believe cask #36 had a little more oomph.
SGP:431 - 85 points.

Lluidas Vale 10 yo 2012/2023 (63.9%, Whisky Concerto, Requiem Chapter 5, Jamaica)

Lluidas Vale 10 yo 2012/2023 (63.9%, Whisky Concerto, Requiem Chapter 5, Jamaica) Four stars and a half
Labelled Lluidas Vale but of course, it's Worthy Park. We'll need to be cautious with the lethal alcohol strength. Colour: gold. Nose: this is a rather gentle WP at first glance, but at this strength, it's hard to detect many aromas. Let's fix that immediately. With water: we're really getting tar and rubber (new tyres), plus a load of salted liquorice straight from the Netherlands. I do mean salted liquorice, not another well-known Amsterdam specialty. Mouth (neat): lovely aromatic power this time. Vanilla flan topped with mangoes. Little funkiness at this stage. With water: we're edging a bit towards light style Hampden now, but of course, it's not Hampden. Beautiful fruitiness, tinned apricots and peaches, some white pepper… Finish: long, fruity and salty, with a hint of seawater. Still a lot of pepper and ripe peach in the aftertaste. Comments: it's a rather mild Jamaican for once, I imagine it was a 'lower' mark from Worthy Park. Of course, we like it a lot.
SGP:652 – 88 points.

Vale Royal 17 yo 2005/2022 'VRW' (61%, Velier & Silver Seal Serie Cedro, Jamaica, 193 bottles)

Vale Royal 17 yo 2005/2022 'VRW' (61%, Velier & Silver Seal Serie Cedro, Jamaica, 193 bottles) Five stars
This is Long Pond with the marque standing for 'Vale Royal Wedderburn'. So, a rather moderate ester content here, around 200-250 gr/HLPA. Colour: deep gold. Nose: it's powerful and very aromatic despite the very high alcohol level. One might mention charcoal and a new pair of Nike trainers, plus freshly grated turmeric. It's quite unusual. With water: magnificent notes of wood glue, varnish, and still those brand-new Nike trainers just out of the box (and possibly fallen off the back of a lorry, as they say). Touches of thuja wood. Mouth (neat): massive, with fruit brandies and woody spices. Extremely powerful, it slightly scrapes the palate but water should sort that out. With water: the fruits arrive en masse, all largely overripe. The ubiquitous bananas, for instance, and half-crushed strawberries. Lots of cinnamon and clove. Finish: very long, a bit rubbery and metallic. Pink bananas and those famous Nike trainers. Comments: a somewhat improbable side but we totally love it. You could replace Nike with any other brand selling plastic at the price of platinum.
SGP:562 - 90 points.

We absolutely must finish with a Hampden, but we'll do it quickly…

Hampden 23 yo 2000/2024 'LROK' (59.3%, The Rum Cask)

Hampden 23 yo 2000/2024 'LROK' (59.3%, The Rum Cask) Five stars
Good distillery, good marque, good bottler, what could possibly go wrong? Colour: straw. Nose: twelve litres of wood glue, seven kilos of green olives, plenty of seawater, a few gherkins, a fair amount of diesel oil, and an entire barrel of tar. The most astonishing part is that it's elegant, even if there's a slight hint of Saturday morning at IKEA. With water: absolutely no change, this baby is immune to water. Mouth (neat): these casks are always quite extraordinary. Lemon, olives, tar, salt, varnish. With water: exceptional. Salty varnish (yes), black olives, lemon, grapefruit, salted liquorice, and a touch of mezcal. Finish: long, with hints of salted pineapple and Parma ham. Comments: and to think that LROK is a 'light' marque in esters from Hampden's (it means Light Rhum Owen Kelly).
SGP:653 - 91 points.

More tasting notesCheck the index of all rums we've tasted so far

 

Wgiskyfun 101

  Rum versus Whisky

Having tasted over two thousand rums of all kinds, and likely three to four tonnes of added sugar in the process, we realise that unfortunately, there is no correlation between the selling price and quality in rum, whereas there tends to be in whisky, even if in whisky the correlation is totally and sadly exponential.

We've also observed another significant difference between the rum and whisky worlds: the range of our scoring scale is much broader in rum, which actually peaks higher on average and dips much lower. If we discount vintage bottles or spirits aged 35 years or more, there are clearly and proportionately more rums scoring between 90 - 93 points than whiskies, with Jamaica, Guyana, Trinidad and Guadeloupe leading the charge. However, there are also many more rums scoring under 50 points, some perilously close to absolute zero, according to my personal tastes as a rather seasoned spirits enthusiast.
Yet, what's also troubling in the rum sector is that the worst, the most inferior 'rums' are the most successful, the most profitable. Granted, many are not true rums, they are just advertised as rums by most retailers, lying by proxy being highly effective (thanks again, Google). Those are the brands that the big players are buying up. The best-selling whisky blends remain far superior to the best-selling rums, in my humble opinion. But as soon as we start to tickle the pot stills or the creole columns, the trend reverses and the grand rums begin to dangerously dominate the top of our modest little rankings, followed by the cognacs and armagnacs from certain small houses.
I'm actually starting to seriously consider whether to open more slots for these malternatives on WF. Or not, we shall see. Peace and salute!
 

May 18, 2024


Whiskyfun

 

 

 

Angus's Corner
From our correspondent and
skilled taster Angus MacRaild in Scotland


Some Laphroaig,
for my son

Last week we welcomed our son, Arthur MacRaild, into the world and our family. If it's ok with you, we'll mark the occasion by indulging in a few celebratory notes from my favourite distillery: Laphroaig.
Angus  

 

Laphroaig comes in for quite a bit of flak these days, and there's much about what the current owners do with it that I'm not too sure about to be honest, but the core distillate remains excellent. Most importantly the standard 10 year old is still a whisky which I find both pleasurable and evocative to drink in a pub or social setting.
Laphroaig was also my Dad's favourite dram, and the whisky that put the hook in me for whisky enthusiasm more broadly. I have no idea whether my kids, Molly and Arthur, will give two figs about whisky as they grow up, but as a very lucky and very happy dad, I'm hopeful and thrilled to toast their future with my favourite malt.

Biberon

 

 

First up is a what I consider a pretty provocative official bottling. On the rear label it says:

 

 

"Our first Elements edition explores experimentation with mashing and fermentation styles to reveal an unexpected new dimension to our signature style… Using two different types of wort and mashing in old and new style tuns, Elements 1.0 finely tunes the process to create a non-chill filtered, 100% Islay malt with greater tropical fruit notes, without losing any of signature phenolic and maritime peatiness."

 

 

This is quite fascinating to me as I have spent pretty much the entirety of my short whisky career making noise about fermentation as an agent of character in Scotch Whisky.

 

 

We have also, more broadly as malt enthusiasts, been talking about this faded - or 'missing' - tropical fruit character in Islay single malts, for years now. Indeed, tropical fruits are arguably most famously associated with Bowmore and Laphroaig makes from the 1960s and 1950s; if you want to pinpoint exotic fruits and their most vivid manifestations in Scotch whisky, it's hard not to invoke these distilleries and decades.

Exotic

 

 

So, to see this distillery's official owners adopting this language explicitly and associating it in the same sentence as something as geeky as mashing and fermentation is pretty revealing in my view. This isn't something that would have happened 10-15 years ago. It makes me wonder whether the cumulative weight of discussion in our culture about the phenomena of older style production characteristics and flavour profiles is beginning to be noticed, and perhaps even responded to, in these companies?

 

 

But, let's check the whisky itself and see if it isn't just marketing doublespeak…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laphroaig Elements 1.0 (58.6%, OB, 2023)

Laphroaig Elements 1.0 (58.6%, OB, 2023)
Colour: pale gold. Nose: I find it quite obviously 'Laphroaig' but in a more modern way than an old style way. It's more about the medicines, TCP, iodine and seashore characteristics. I would not say this is in the same arena as the tropical fruit bombs of the 1960s and 1970s. Having said that I do love the rather intricate mix of bandages and medicines, increasingly complicated coastal, mineral and seashore qualities and rather brusque, punchy salinity. It's a very good Laphroaig with a clear voice! With water: very much on seawater, sandalwood, mineral salts, brine and anchovy paste. Perhaps some pretty sharp citrus fruits too.

 

 

Mouth: reminds me of a good older batch of the Cask Strength 10yo without too much intense wood influence. Wet rocks, kelp, hessian, raw iodine, oyster sauce and a wee glimmer of pink grapefruit. Very classical and classy in other words, close to the familiar modern house style I would say. Getting extremely umami, coastal and salty, with a superbly brittle and sharp peat smoke beneath everything. With water: becomes thicker, broader and more to do with camphor, tar, mineral oils, hessian and thicker peat smoke notes, although still lots of iodine and impressions of kelp and kippers. Extremely classical Laphroaig really. Finish: long, peppery, warming, tarry and peaty! Comments: I find this really excellent, but I also don't think it demonstrates what it claims to - I don't find it a particularly fruity whisky I have to say. To me this is an excellent modern Laphroaig that foregrounds the distillate and distillery character without any overt or vulgar wood that cloys or gets in the way of things. I don't detect overt tropical fruits, and perhaps that says something about the distinction between my own impressions - and expectations - of fruity Laphroaig, and those of the owners/producers. What it really leaves me with is the desire to talk to the people responsible for this whisky and ask them their own views on it and about their original motivations and methods. As it stands, I think it's a very good modern Laphroaig that is better than quite a few of the recent 10yo cask strength batches in my view; even if there's a lingering frustration that it's also another NAS bottling that reveals little about its inherent DNA or construction.
SGP: 467 - 88 points. 

 

 

Laphroaig 10 yo (43%, OB, Spirit import, 70cl, early 1990s)

Laphroaig 10 yo (43%, OB, Spirit import, 70cl, early 1990s)
This shouldn't take too long, these batches are 'well kent'… Colour: gold. Nose: gorgeous, creamy, layered peat smoke that has a tangible fatness and feeling of texture about it. Underneath that those familiar things like dried mango, pink grapefruit, smoked and herbal teas and wee glimmers of passion fruit and kumquat. Pure class! Mouth: very focussed on tea, that is smoked teas like Lapsing Souchong, but also green tea with lemon, exotic fruit teas and herbal teas. I wonder where this impression comes from? There's also beach foam, hessian cloth, aniseed and anchovy paste. Very savoury and showing a beautifully, dry and complex peat smoke flavour. Finish: long, peat, elegantly drying, herbal and with more dried exotic fruits throughout. Comments: all present and correct! What witchcraft was afoot in these days?
SGP: 566 - 91 points.

 

 

Laphroaig 10 yo (43%, OB, 1 litre, early 1990s)

Laphroaig 10 yo (43%, OB, 1 litre, early 1990s)
This one should take even less time, in theory… Colour: gold. Nose: same profile, but perhaps even fruitier! Slightly less of this creamy and fat impression, and more on brightness, sharp fruits, tropical notes, wee crisp peat smoke and crushed seashell impressions. Love it! Mouth: wonderful 'total engagement', which is to say a profile that satisfies every craving: salty, fruity, sweet, smoky and also texturally impressive. In short: dried exotic fruits, saline coastal freshness, rich peat smoke and many subtle umami complexities that involve green olive, capers in brine, anchovy paste, iodine, camphor and seawater. In truth, we could probably have cut and paste the above note for the Spirit Import 10 yo, but of course that would be outrageous cheating! And it would have deprived us of tasting this one too. Finish: even longer, but notably saltier and drier, salt cured fish, brine, bone-dry peat smoke, pink sea salt and grapefruit acidity. Comments: such deadly whiskies these old Laphroaigs, they should probably be illegal.
SGP: 566 - 92 points.

 

 

Laphroaig 27 yo (51.2%, Elixir Distillers 'Director's Special', 1st fill barrel, 210 bottles)

Laphroaig 27 yo (51.2%, Elixir Distillers 'Director's Special', 1st fill barrel, 210 bottles, 2024)
Colour: deep orangey gold. Nose: we aren't too far away from the old 10 in many regards. Lots of tangerine, grapefruit and lemon, a feeling of smoked citrus fruits, crystallised citrus peels, smoked mead, smoked olive oil, lots of lovely things that have been gentle smoked with peat essentially. Evolves with more focus on medicinal embrocations, bandages, kiln smoke, Maggi seasoning, hessian cloth and a background oak spiciness. With water: sharper, more coastal, more mine ral and also a little more sooty with hints of charcoal alongside beach pebbles. rock pools and dried seaweed. Mouth: you do feel the age here with a little assertiveness from the oak, but the peat holds out rather remarkably with some beautiful peppery and salty notes, lots of familiar tarry flavours, dry phenolics, aniseed and salted liquorice. Add to that some smoked beers, more hessian and tarred rope. With water: excellent! Claws back this assertive salty side, with some further notes of juniper, tea tree oil and camphor. A few distant notes of dried exotic fruits such as mango and pineapple too. Those various teas are all back as well. Finish: long, nicely salty and drying with soy sauce, tar, pickled tarragon and iodine. Comments: totally excellent mature Laphroaig that shows its age in a very attractive fashion. Only these ever so slight hints of oak spiciness will prevent me going higher.
SGP: 466 - 90 points.

 

 

Islay 30 yo 1991/2022 (51.4%, Signatory Vintage for Wu Dram Clan '3rd Anniversary Collection', cask #2674, bourbon barrel, 237 bottles)

Islay 30 yo 1991/2022 (51.4%, Signatory Vintage for Wu Dram Clan '3rd Anniversary Collection', cask #2674, bourbon barrel, 237 bottles)
Ah yes, cask #2674, I have strong recollections of being in the Signatory Warehouses and rejecting this cask myself… ;) Xxx Colour: straw. Nose: these batches are just unbeatable. What I love is that they nose younger than 30yo, while still managing to display a lot of the kind of deep complexity that peated whisky can only accrue with age. So, in other words, super fresh and super complex! Which in this case is many coastal notes of pebbles, rock pools and seaweed, alongside bandages, squid ink, soy sauce, eucalyptus oil and a gorgeous, layered peat smoke. There's also some very familiar Laphroaig notes of TCP and iodine coming through loud and clear. A little sharp citrus too. With water: thick, crystalline peat smoke. Kiln air, kippers drizzled with lemon juice and shellfish broth. Also still powerfully medicinal. Mouth: superbly briny, salty, sharp and precise! Hugely coastal, hyper fresh and subdividing into dry peat smoke, wood ashes, crushed seashells, tar, black olives in brine and anchovy paste. Incredible salty, savoury profile! With water: the same powerful combination of saltiness, peat smoke, citrus and medicine, but now gathers fatness, texture and oiliness in the mouth. An impression of smoked olive oil cut with pickling brine. You could probably make some kind of dizzyingly silly dirty martini with this whisky. Finish: very long, extremely salty, medicinal, pure and stunningly peaty. Comments: those impatient Germans, this would perhaps have been ready by 40 years old. I am of course kidding. A great selection and probably a bottle to tuck away for 20-30 years of bottle ageing. Stunning old 'Islay single malt' that seems to combine the power and liveliness of a 10yo with the complexity of a 30yo.
SGP: 467 - 92 points.

 

 

Laphroaig 10 yo (91.4 US proof, OB, Carlton Import USA, 1960s)

Laphroaig 10 yo (91.4 US proof, OB, Carlton Import USA, 1960s)
From a bottle recently coughed up out of the USA, apparently with a low fill level… Colour: pale amber. Nose: what to say? An extraordinarily pure and deep aromatic peat profile, how you might imagine a slab of 3000 year old bog, smouldering on a plate would smell. But there's also medicinal roots, dried herbs, ancient liqueurs of various type, crystallised orange rind, bergamot, wintergreen and preserved exotic fruits. I find it very close in profile to the old 14yo OB bottling from the 1950s with this harmonious intertwining of peat, sherry and complicated tertiary notes. Mouth: it has probably softened somewhat with the lower fill level in this bottle, but the power and charisma of the peat flavour is still astonishing. Deep, broad, rooty, organic, herbal, vegetal, coastal and medical all at the same time. The sort of whisky that rips up and completely re-draws your internal mental assumptions about peat flavour. I also forgot to mention some stunning dried out old honey and honeycomb notes, also hessian, ink, pure tar extracts and this encroaching, utterly stunning saltiness, like peat smoked sea salt! One of these whiskies that leads the way and leaves you scrabbling to keep up… Finish: extremely long and profoundly deep, warm and glowing with old, dry, earthy peat. Comments: the label on this one says 'The richest whisky made' - no marketing double speak there! Slante, Arthur.
SGP: 566 - 95 points.

 

 

Big hugs to Mark, Phil and KC!

 

 

 

More tasting notesCheck the index of all Laphroaig we've tasted so far

 

May 16, 2024


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