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Hi, you're in the Archives, December 2009 - Part 2

December 2009 - part 1 <--- December 2009 - part 2 ---> January 2010 - part 1


December 31, 2009


Four for the price of one!
Tessa Souter, Pizza on the Park, London November 12th 2009
Sonny Rollins, Barbican, London, November 14th 2009
Chick Corea, Bela Fleck, Barbican, November 15th 2009
Blind Boys of Alabama, Allen Toussaint, Barbican, November 18th 2009

Tessa Souter There are times when you just love living in London, no matter what its overcrowded and under-funded public transport system, congested highways, heaving pavements, hyped restaurants and tawdry shopping streets throw at you.  London Jazz Festival is one of those occasions: a week packed with the most sensational artists ranging from guitar wizard Bill Frisell to saxophonist John Surman.  Of course the difficulty is choosing  what to go and see, but in the end we settled on three shows, but began with a pre Festival gig at the Pizza on the Park (it turns out to be quite a week for pizza) by Tessa Souter, recently interviewed by Serge for Whiskyfun.  She may be in London because boyfriend Billy Drummond (whom she talks about quite a lot) is playing on the South Bank with Carla Bley.  It’s her first time with this trio of piano, bass and drums (I noted at times that some of the arrangements cried out for a guitar) and as pianist Nick Weldon mentioned over the urinals, it was “a bit nerve wracking” for the band.  When it’s going well Ms Souter cuts a graceful and serene figure, arms crossed as the band solo away.  But when they get it wrong she throws a glance that could shatter glass.  Her voice is clear and strong, deeply thoughtful, and she can hold a note and a tune effortlessly. 
Her act comprises mainly standard tunes, the love theme from Spartacus, Freddie Hubbard’s ‘Little sunflower’, Leo Ferre’s ‘Avec le temps’, Wayne Shorter’s ‘Native dancer’ and “Bill Evans’ ten bars of melancholy”, ‘Blue in Green’, some featuring her own lyrics.  And there are also original compositions such as ‘Usha’s wedding song’, and a surprising unaccompanied duet with drummer Winston Clifford.  And many of the evening’s songs, including ‘Crystal rain – sunshower’ and ‘Eleanor Rigby’ are from Ms Souter’s new album, Obsession, copies of which were being snapped up by the audience (many of whom were family and friends) at the end of the show.
Sonny Rollins
Ask anyone who their first choice performer for the Festival was and most would probably have picked veteran saxophonist, or should I say ‘saxophone colossus’, Sonny Rollins.  He’s nearly eighty, bent and stooped, red silk shirt and shades, looking as cool as you like, and raising a defiant fist to the packed Barbican as he takes the stage.  I’ll be clear that this was not the most challenging of musical evenings, but the playing, both of Rollins and his band, was of the first order.  The material was mixed, with even Noel Coward providing a canvas for Rollins’ improvisations.  His playing was remarkably strong from the off, relaxed and fluid, and as the notes soared from his saxophone so he rose in stature and straightened himself like a young man.  Such is the power of music.  The interplay between Rollins and trombonist Clifton Anderson and guitarist Bobby Broom brought some unexpected subtlety, but I noticed that it was Rollins’ favoured calypso melodies that seemed to most engage the audience, notably the finale ‘Don’t stop the carnival’, famous to English audiences through Alan Price’s hit version.  Naturally it brought the audience to its feet for a well-deserved ovation for an hour-and-half’s pure pleasure.
Futureman (The Flecktones)
I must confess ignorance of “the Jimi Hendrix of the banjo” Bela Fleck, despite the fact that with his band the Flecktones they have featured three times on Whiskyfun pages (apologies again Serge).  Actually I don’t believe the ‘Hendrix’ moniker really does Fleck justice for the versatility that he brings to a powerful but more often than not underestimated instrument.  For a band leader he’s surprisingly reticent in his playing, but perhaps that’s because of the hugely talented Flecktones, who make light work of hugely complex arrangements.  Tonight they comprise Howard Levy on piano and harmonica (after his solo of ‘Amazing Grace’ I vowed to go home and throw my collection of harps away, but perhaps what I should do is sign up for his on-line harmonica school instead), on electric bass the mesmerisingly powerful Victor Wooten (who needs reminding that he’s not playing a lead guitar), and his brother, the piratical Futureman, on the ‘Drumitar’.  These few words cannot do them justice – simply let it be said that their set was probably the best support act I’ve ever seen, with a deserved standing ovation. 
Bela Fleck and Victor Wooten are listening reverentially to Chick Corea
I suppose it takes someone as good as Chick Corea to have the nerve to ‘follow that’, as they say.  But then he does have drummer Lenny White and bassist Stanley Clarke to hand to help, in a recreation of the classic Return to Forever line-up that’s missing only guitarist Al Di Meola.  When we saw Corea with Gary Burton a few years ago I wrote that “it’s easy to forget that Corea is even there”, such was the subtlety of much of his playing.  With this line-up he appeared to achieve the same result, giving Clarke the lion’s share of the set to produce impossible solo after impossible solo, supported more than ably by the very full drumming of Lenny White. Yet it was Corea’s effortlessly moody playing that held the whole thing together.  As a finale he brought back the Flecktones who paired up with their counterparts for duelling solos on Corea’s ‘Spain’.  The witty White versus the deadpan Futureman was a delight, but Wooten’s electric bass and Clarke’s acoustic bass  together was a simply explosive combination, making it feel like you were watching and feeling  Godzilla running towards you at breakneck speed. 

Chick Corea

Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke
I can’t imagine Allen Toussaint running; he appears to do everything with a remarkable New Orleansian  laid-back ease.  His opening set for the Blind Boys of Alabama ran pretty much like the last performance we saw him give: a humourous run through his astonishing back catalogue of compositions, all played with that wonderful syncopated New Orleans keyboard style.  But he has released a new album, The Bright Mississippi, a distinctly Toussaint take on a collection of songs, some traditional New Orleans tunes, like ‘St James Infirmary’, others modern compositions like Thelonius Monk’s ‘Bright Mississippi’.  He played both of these, and ‘Singin’ the blues’, paying tribute to the influence of producer Joe Henry: “he heard in me a different light, heard something in me that I didn’t know was there..”.  The album, like any Toussaint performance, is highly commended.  Sadly I didn’t feel quite the same about the Blind Boys of Alabama, who seemed to have lost some of their dignity in the chase for commercial success since I last saw them not long after the release of their hugely successful album Spirit of the Century.  They’ve also sadly lost a few members: founder member Johnny Fields died only in November, whilst Clarence Fountain has stopped performing due to ill health, leaving Jimmy Carter as the surviving lead singer and graduate of the Talladega Institute for Blind and Deaf, where the group started in the 1940s.  Too many references from the stage to buying CDs and merchandise became tiresome, and some of the faux-rabble-rousing gospel schtick, was simply undignified in my rather conservative English view of things.  But that didn’t stop the audience having a great time, and no doubt buying lots of CDs as they left.  Job done.

And for anyone who’s counting, that’s four gigs and three pizzas in the space of  seven days, which is almost more than a body can handle. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

Tessa Souter
Sonny Rollins
The Flecktones

Yamazaki 'Owners Cask' 1996/2008 (56%, OB, barrel, Selected by Kawachiya “Magic Tasty”, cask AS70127) Colour: gold. Nose: starts on a lot of vanilla and ginger, very modern. A lot of oak but nicely integrated. Some wood smoke as well, roasted malt, a little camphor. With water: same style, very modern, huge notes of sweet vanilla. More flowers (dandelions) and a little ginger (or speculoos). Mouth (neat): once again, very modern. Fruity, really in Glenmo Astar style, kind of engineered. With water: loads of vanilla and sweet ginger, even more ‘modern’. Finish: medium, rather simple. Comments: a rather undemanding modern malt whisky, not an oakbomb but quite. SGP:530 - 79 points.
Yamazaki 'Owners Cask' 1996/2008 (63%, OB, hogshead, Bottled for Yoshitomi, cask AW70162) Colour: straw. Nose: starts very spirity, malty and certainly grainier than the previous one. Nail varnish, apple juice, more wood smoke. Notes of ale. With water: gets kind of vinous, which is strange. Old white wine, fino sherry, wine cellar. Then huge notes of nutmeg and plain oak. Mouth (neat): heavy and esthery at the same time, extremely powerful. Loads of srawberries and bubblegum. With water: it gets pleasant, rounder, mid-grassy, mid-fruity. Strawberries, quite some pepper. Finish: medium, on the same notes. Comments: rather more complex than AS70127, less ‘simply sweet and vanilled’. Good! SGP:540 – 82 points.
Yamazaki 'The Single Cask' 1996/2007 (61%, OB, sherry cask AX 70051, 422 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: More discreet, more on apple juice and fresh walnuts. A big smokiness comes through after a moment, otherwise we’re all on goodberries. Whiffs of warm Guinness. With water: smells almost like dry sherry and even marc de Bourgogne. Walnuts, mint, barley sugar. Very nice. Mouth (neat): thick and rich, very creamy. Apple liqueur, vanilla custard. With water: another one that’s very modern, with a lot of sweet oak. Loads of vanilla. Finish: medium long, rather simple. Comments: heavy sweet oak but it’s not unpleasant. The sherry comes and goes. Sherried Scotch usually displays much less plain sweet oak. SGP:540 – 82 points.
Yamazaki 'The Single Cask' 1996/2007 (62%, OB, sherry cask AX 70052, 430 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: once again, this is extremely potent. Grassier, with discreet notes of sherry that make it slightly sour. With water: similar to the previous one but we get more tar and whiffs of bicycle inner tube. Maybe a faint soapiness. Mouth (neat): similar but with more oak and just a little sherry as well as more pepper and ginger. With water: round, rich, on buttered caramel, soft spices and vanilla, then sweet sherry and white pepper. My favourite so far. Finish: medium long, on tea with milk and fudge. Comments: a lot of sweet oak once again but the result is very nice. SGP:541 - 84 points.
Yamazaki 'The Single Cask' 1996/2008 (62%, OB, sherry cask AX 70053, 432 bottles) Colour: pale gold. Nose: plain apple juice at cask strength (well.) Cider. With water: strawberries and vanilla custard plus grated ginger. It’s rather less of an oakbomb in fact, even if it’s not too complex. Mouth (neat): big, creamy, ultra-sweet but well balanced. With water: very good balance even if does tatste modern once again. Sweet oak, ginger, vanilla and a little cinnamon. Finish: medium long, on can sugar and sweet oak. Comments: once again, a lot of oak but once again, it’s pleasant. SGP:531 – 83 points.
Yamazaki 'Owners Cask' 1996/2006 (63%, OB, sherry butt, cask AP70041) Colour: pale gold. Nose: powerful with ‘a smoky impression’ once again. Roasted nuts, maybe a little milky. Cut grass, notes of Belgian beer (trappiste). Then quite some old nuts and that ‘smell of yellow’ (flor). With water: same notes of tar as in AX70052 (sounds very Star Wars!) plus gunpowder. Dry sherry, hints of sulphur. Mouth: powerful, with a huge sweet oakiness. Heavy notes of walnuts, grass, apple peeling. Very thick on the tongue. With water: grassier than the others and also more complex. Fruits, vanilla, soft spices of all sorts, all that coated with tar (liqueur?) Finish: long, going on on tar. Comments: the most unusual and my favourite within the flight. SGP:451 – 86 points.
And thank you, Bert V.

December 30, 2009

The Forum, Kentish Town, November 10th 2009

It’s enough to drive you to drink.  It’s a cold November night in Kentish Town and upstairs the Forum crowd is looking distinctly thin on the ground.  Downstairs is filling up as the last stragglers arrive from the pub, but it’s a disappointing turn-out, as the flood of e-mails from various agencies urging me to buy tickets might have suggested.  We’re here to see Whiskyfun favourites the Alabama 3, who are touring to promote their new album Revolver Soul.  Only one problem – the album hasn’t been released.  In fact it’s not even finished, and as I write, producers Segs and Steve Dub (who in addition to many other things were responsible for the band’s second album, La Peste) have only completed about half the tracks, down at their headquarters at Jamm in Brixton.  The band have managed to part  with their record label, so the new album will be independently produced and released, allegedly in March 2010.  Don’t hold your breath. Larry Love
Larry Love
Sad then that this is one of the best Alabama 3 gigs we’ve witnessed for a while, as Jozzer and Trizzer agreed.  I heard some complaints about the sound mix downstairs, but upstairs it was pretty good for the Forum. It began with a first class DJ set from programmer and harmonica player Mountain of Love, aka Piers Marsh.  This guy rarely looks happy when he’s on stage with the band, and he even manages to look glum by himself, nervously looking at his watch as if suspecting that the rest of his comrades have left him to it while they carouse in the boozer.  But the music is surprisingly good – particularly the Mobyesque ‘Another man down’. 
Alabama 3
Sergeant Major Segs is backstage running the show having joined the band for a number of gigs on the tour -  so everything runs pretty much to plan.  It’s a brave set list, opening with new song ‘Bad to the Bone’ (not the George Thorogood tune) followed by ‘Shoot me up’ (normally a crowd-pleasing song reserved for the end of a set) and ‘Mansion on the hill’.  They’re all played at full throttle, with a dazzling light show to die for.   There are a number of other new songs, including the current single ‘Jacqueline’, a very atmospheric and pleasingly old-fashioned sounding rhythm and blues groove.  There’s also ‘She blessed me’, where Razorlight’s Johnny Borrell, (along with Joe Lean of the Jing Jang Jong) surprisingly something of a protégé of the band, joined on vocals, and managed to keep his shirt on.  Borrell, along with Shane MacGowan and Terry Reid, is one of a number of guests slated to appear on Revolver Soul.  In between it’s all the Alabama 3 songs you would ever wish to hear, ‘Woke up this morning’, ‘Bullet proof’, ‘Power in the blood’, ‘Mao Tse Tung’, ‘Woke up this morning’, ‘Up above my head’, ‘Let’s go back to church’, ‘Too sick to pray’ and closer ‘Johnny Cash’.  Larry Love’s vocals are really strong, The Reverend D Wayne’s musings suitably eclectic, and supporting them on vocals  (Devlin Love having gone on maternity leave) is the impressive Aurora Dawn, who manages to fill some of the space left by Ms Love’s absence.  My notebook tells me that Rock Freebase’s guitar playing was ‘muscular’. Segs pops in and out on bass, and the usual crew of guest vocalists (Errol T and B Attwell) are there too.  And in one unexpected Daily Mail moment Nick Reynolds joined Larry Love for a pointed and updated version of Country Joe’s ‘Fixing to die’, followed by an impassioned plea to “Bring our boys home from Afghanistan”.

If you want to know more about what it’s like touring with a band like the Alabama 3, and the ups and downs of being on the road, then I can do no more than recommend  the tour diary written by keyboard player, The Spirit of Love,  otherwise known as Orlando Harrison.  Mr Harrison can wield an impressive pen, and an impressive set of ivories, but don’t expect to find much there about this Forum gig.  His performance was best described as ‘erratic’, and I personally doubt he can even remember that he was on the stage. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Listen: Alabama 3 on MySpace

The Spirit of Love
Macallan Macallan 18 yo 'Fine Oak' (43%, OB, +/-2009) The last time I tried this baby was when it was launched around 2004. Time to do my revision I guess. According to the label, this recent version was ‘triple cask matured’, that is to say “matured for a minimum of 18 years in a unique, complex combination of Exceptional Oak Casks; Spanish oak casks seasoned with sherry, American oak casks seasoned with sherry and American oak casks seasoned with bourbon.” Colour: gold. Nose: starts fresh, light but balanced, honeyed and rather floral (dandelions, a little jasmine, orange blossom). Pleasant whiffs of malt and ‘a smokiness’, fresh hazelnuts, orange cake and vanilla, with just hints of sherry. Incense. Not really demanding but its lightness is most pleasant and does not give a feeling of weakness. Much more delicate than earlier bottlings. Little oak in this version.
Mouth: smooth attack, rather on oranges and other fruits (melon, peaches) plus a little honey, roasted nuts and light liquorice. More oak after that, light sherry influence, maybe a little dried banana. Medium bodied. Finish: medium, maltier and more chocolaty. Crystallised oranges. Comments: no winner in my view but it’s an easy dram, maybe a little ‘commercial’ but rather flawless and pleasant. The price is heavy, though (110€+). SGP:431 - 81 points.
Macallan Macallan 17yo 1991/2009 (52.8%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, Cask #21437) Colour: gold. Nose: much rougher than the OB, with more oak, grass and vanilla at very first nosing but it does get much closer to the OB after a few minutes, with the honey and the orange blossom coming out. Also notes of golden delicious apples, strawberry sweets and some very obvious whiffs of thyme and lavender (August in Provence – nah.) With water: gets a little grassier and oakier. Mouth (neat): much more talkative than the OB, fruity, fresh, well in the Speyside style (as Speyside is supposed to be). Fresh oranges and liquorice, malt, earl grey tea (bergamot) and quite some grass and green tea. The oak gets bigger, let’s see what happens with water again. With water: more oak but a pleasant one. Sweetened green tea, butter cream, cinnamon. Finish: medium long, maltier. Ripe apples. Comments: I wouldn’t say this Mac has a strong personality but pretty quaffable it is. SGP:451 - 83 points.
Macallan 17yo 1991/2009 (55.1%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, Cask #21439) Colour: pale gold. Nose: even more ‘brutal’ than the ’52.8’ at first nosing and more marked with the oak. A tad grassier as well. A little aniseed but no nice development over time this time, it remains quite closed. Maybe water will help. With water: indeed, it’s pretty close to its bro now. Maybe a tad more porridgy. Mouth (neat): we’re closer to its sister cask here (when neat), only punchier. Quite some oak. With water: same profile as cask #21437, with a little more coffee, liquorice and kirsch. Finish: rather long, malty again. Comments: same as for #21437, more or less. The latter is a little nicer on the nose in my opinion, this one is grassier. SGP:451 – 82 points.

December 29, 2009

by Nick Morgan

The Barbican, London, November 4th 2009

It takes a big man to fill a large stage and sing the songs of one of the most admired American songwriters of his generation.  But Steve Earle is no shirker.  In fact he’s just the person to take on the songs of Townes Van Zandt, given their close relationship and uncompromising personalities.  Van Zandt, a manic depressive with a strong self-destructive streak, was a mentor to the younger Earle , whose life was also lived on the edge. As Earle said, during what was a very personal and characteristically confessional performance, ‘it’s not a good sign when Townes van Zandt turns up to give you a temperance lecture”. 

Steve Earle
But his reminiscences were sharp and to the point, like his performance of Zandt classics such as ‘Pancho and Lefty’, ‘Where I lead me’, ‘Colorado girl’, and ‘Mr Mudd and Mr Gold’.  The latter, recalled Earle, was a song he’d sung on his first encounter with Zandt, when his hero turned up at a club and heckled him from the front row, until his version of Zandt’s own song silenced him.
Earle wasn’t exactly alone on the big Barbican stage; his two hugely resonant Martin guitars helped him fill the auditorium, and served as a reminder to the lasting reputation that Martin have for their instruments.  His playing was powerful but simple: – thumb pick and fingers, simple, unsophisticated but insistent picking patterns, somewhat resonant of that dark mountain music conjured up by Ralph Stanley.  “Townes used to say, there’s just two types of music, the blues, and zippedy-do-dah”, and needless to say there wasn’t much of the latter, and plenty of the former, in the course of two hours and over twenty songs.  Earle didn’t confine himself to Zandt’s work, including his own songs like ‘Tineytown’, ‘My old friend the blues’, ‘Goodbye’ (“this song was written fifteen years ago. The first song I wrote sober”), ‘Galway girl’ (“..and I want you to know I never drank cider”), and a final finale of the inevitable ‘Copperhead Road’ Steve Earle
The standing ovation that Earle received was a just reward for his efforts.  A spellbinding performance of great intensity.  And some great anecdotes that summed up both Van Zandt, and also Earle himself.  Here’s one, told when he broke the G string on one of his guitars (“too much thumb”).  “Someone told me when I was younger, ‘when you’re about forty, you won’t break so many guitar strings’,  I said, ‘Fuck you’”. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Steve Earle plays Townes Van Zandt on MySpace
Hakushu 'Owner's Cask' 1997/2009 (57%, OB, hogshead, cask BJ40958, Number 4) Colour: straw. Nose: a rather fragrant nose, with a good deal of vanilla and sweet oak blend with hints of porridge, ale, orange zests and old roses and lilac. I was expecting a little peat but there’s none so far. With water: it got unexpectedly shyer, as if water had closed it down. Maybe a little more butterscotch. Mouth (neat): sweet, fruity, powerful. Pineapple drops, tea, ginger, pepper. With water: gets sweeter, rounder and even more ‘modern’. Vanilla and ginger plus a little coconut. Finish: medium long, simple, clean, sweet. Comments: an unpeated Hakushu, state of the art modern whisky. Could be any Speysider matured for ten or twelve years in first fill oak. Good malt whisky but this isn’t exactly why we’re into whisky. SGP:441 - 80 points.
Hakushu 'Owner's Cask' 1997/2009 (57%, OB, barrel, cask BD40259, Number 3) Colour: straw. Nose: almost the same whisky as BJ40958. Maybe a little more plain oak. With water: evolves differently this time, with more wood spices. More ginger, vanilla, straight oak. Mouth (neat): once again, same as BJ40958. Listing many difference would mean splitting hairs and, frankly, showing off. With water: same. Just the same. Finish: medium long, sweetly oak and oakily sweet. Plain oak in the aftertaste. Comments: works very well, but other than that… Maybe a little more oomph than in BJ40958. SGP:441 – 80 points.
Hakushu 'Owner's Cask' 1997/2007 (59%, OB, barrel, cask BD40264) Colour: straw. Nose: again, more or less the same whisky, with a little more ginger and nutmeg. Maybe a tad plankish. With water: really the same as BD40259 with water. Mouth (neat): once again, kit’s more or less the same whisky as its two siblings. There are tiny differences but you really have to go from one whisky to the other back and forth to spot them and you never know what’s only your mind’s work. So… With water: a little more individuality in this one. Early grey tea, peppermint. Other than that, vanilla, ginger and nutmeg. Finish: rather long, oaky, a little greener than the other. Comments: wood technology at its peak. Flawless whiskies but they’re all so well ‘controlled and managed’ that they’re all more or less the same. Consistency may well be an asset, but maybe not with single casks? SGP:441 - 81 points.
Yamazaki 'Owner's Cask' 1997/2007 (50%, OB, barrel, Selected by Kawachiya “Elegant 1st Edition”, cask BP70187) Colour: pale gold. Nose: good oak, good vanilla, a slight grassiness and a little yoghurt. A rather simple profile when undiluted, kind of neutral. With water: the sweetness from the oak gets bigger, with more vanilla and notes of bananas and tangerines, white chocolate. Technically perfect but not really entrancing. Mouth (neat): good, compact, malty and oaky, with a lot of vanilla and oak behind all that and notes of gooseberries. A little liquorice. Flawless but simple, not a talkative whisky for sure. With water: gets sweeter, fruitier, rather lively, on fresh white fruits and soft spices. Finish: medium long, with quite some vanilla. Comments: tastes a tad ‘engineered’ but it’s good, no doubt. And certainly flawless despite the lack of individuality. SGP:440 – 80 points.
Yamazaki 'Owner's Cask' 1997/2007 (58%, OB, hogshead, cask BX70208) Colour: straw. Nose: extremely close to BP10187, only with a higher voltage that translates in a bigger grassiness here. Rather ‘neutral’ globally. With water: more presence this time, with more coconut, then bananas, oranges and notes of white rum. Something Irish rather than Scottish, I’d say. Mouth (neat): sweetness from the alcohol, apples, oak, vanilla… Once again, rather neutral when undiluted. With water: good fruitiness, fresh fruits, notes of papayas, nutmeg, ginger… Finish: medium long, certainly fruitier and a tad more complex than the previous one. Coconut liqueur in the aftertaste. Comments: very, very ‘modern’. Perfect, but no magic here. SGP:540 - 81 points.
Yamazaki 'Owner's Cask' 1997/2008 (58%, OB, hogshead, cask BX70188) Colour: pale gold. Nose: somewhere between both previous ones when undiluted. A little more ginger. These whiskies really need to be unlocked using water! With water: certainly the most complex of all three, even if it’s no complex whisky as such. Bananas again but also more various citrus fruits, tangerines, oranges, a little nutmeg. Very modern. Mouth (neat): sweet oak, vanilla, orange marmalade, pepper and ginger. Simple but more pleasant than the other two when neat. With water: same development as with BX70208. More fresh fruits. Finish: rather long, fresh and fruity, with a lemony signature. Comments: same as above. Very good but little individuality. Maybe a little too ‘new-world’. SGP:540 - 82 points.
And thank you, Bert V.

December 28, 2009

by Nick Morgan


Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean,
October 17th-24th 2009
Part Two

I’m not particularly keen on getting too close to performers; it seems to me there’s something quite important about keeping your distance.  I’m sure many musicians must feel the same about their audience.  It’s not about being aloof, it’s just that getting too close can compromise your judgement, and erode some of the essential magic that gives great artistes their ‘aura’.  But just try keeping your distance on a boat, especially after a few days.  You live with the performers – Mavis Staple’s cabin is just a few doors down from ours – and more importantly you eat with the performers. 

El Dia
El Dia de los Muertos, Blues Cruise-style
And believe me, if I learned one simple fact it’s that eating, next to the music (and the drinking), is about the most important activity on a cruise ship, both for cruisers and performers.  It’s possibly a value for money fixation, but there’s food being served somewhere from seven in the morning to three or four the following morning. And where there is food being served, there’s always someone to eat it.  Actually gorge is the word that springs to mind. It’s hardly surprising that the charming Indonesian waiters are almost as crazy as their guests by the end of the week.  They on shift ‘till about four in the morning; breakfast service is at seven.   So it’s breakfast, lunch and dinner with the stars, and let me tell you that seeing some of them eat is the best way to destroy the magic at a stroke. Lest you‘re wondering I’m not just talking about Coco ‘Big Breakfast’ Montoya, or Dave ‘Two helpings’ Mason, or Michael ‘More Pancakes’ Burks.  Well, as they say, “what goes on the boat stays on the boat”, so my lips are largely sealed. 
You bump into people all over the place, when you’re not bumping into the boat of course..  The colourful and highly energetic Café R&B singer Roach Carruthers, and her husband and guitarist Byl, brought with them their charming son, whom we saw every morning as we took our daily constitutional.  I had a wonderful chat in the lift with Lonnie Brooks about the difficulty of adjusting to time zones (it turned out later that at that precise moment Mr Brooks Snr should have been talking at a workshop session about song writing). And naturally enough the Photographer, for whom the word ‘distance’ has no meaning, could barely restrain herself (or be restrained).  Has,Buckwheat Zydeco yet recovered from the embrace (or was it an assault?) that he received from his No 1 Fan whilst trapped in the lift?  Cafe R&B
Cafe R&B
One morning we also spent a couple of deck lengths trailing Johnny Lee Schell, guitarist and singer with the Phantom Blues Band, whose idea of keeping fit involved strolling with a stogie. 
The Phantom Blues Band, as I’m sure you’ll be aware, were formed in 1993 as a studio band for the recording of Taj Mahal’s Dancin’ the Blues, since when they’ve recorded and toured extensively with Mr Mahal, as well as releasing their own material and supporting other artists.  Their first set out on the deck was very accomplished – this is a band to die for – but they lacked the presence and charisma of a strong front man.  
Dave Mason
Dave Mason with Phantom Blues Band
So that’s why we bobbed and bounced around in the bay off Cabo San Lucas, uncomfortably close to Hurricane Rick, while we waited for former Traffic co-founder Dave Mason, to join the boat. Mason of course walked out on Traffic (or was he fired?) after the release of their second album, and although he’s had a moderately successful up and down on-off career in the United States (he’s even a partner in a guitar-making business) he’s more or less history back in the UK, merely a curiosity, with a bit of a reputation for being ‘difficult’. 
And, as we all agreed, an odd pairing with the Phantom Blues Band for a Blues Cruise, and sadly not a great success.  There was some surprising heckling for such a convivial occasion during Mason’s first set with the band from audience members impatient for Mason to join them on stage (you may remember that in the past he was infamous for not showing up at gigs); he ended up playing for about a third of the set and it wasn’t too impressive.  As Schell told a fellow deck-walker, “Dave was like a fish out of water last night and didn’t really know what he was doing, but he’ll settle down after a couple of days”.  Well frankly he didn’t seem to, although he certainly did enjoy his breakfast.
Lonnie Brooks
Lonnie Brooks
A more inspired and successful combination was the Brooks family band, featuring brothers Ronnie and Wayne Baker Brooks, and pater familias Lonnie Brooks, aka  Guitar Junior, aka Lee Brooks.  With their band the Brooks entourage charmed audiences over the week in their three sets and frequent guest slots with other artists.  In addition, under the watchful eye of producer, journalist and musicologist Dick Sherman they participated in one of the highlights of the Cruise, an extended workshop on the Chicago Blues. Lonnie Brooks was born in Louisiana and, as he explained, was making a good living as a guitarist (Guitar Junior) in Texas before meeting up with Sam Cook, who took him to Chicago in 1960.  There he encountered another and well-established Guitar Junior, and as a consequence changed his name to Lonnie Brooks.  He’s semi-retired, but still managed most of his trademark licks on his hugely over-amplified Gibson SG, his deep voice strong and resonant.  Even with such a youthful and polished band, his style harked back to the less sophisticated heyday of the Chicago sound, with some welcome rough edges to his playing that were noticeably missing elsewhere. 
Ronnie Brooks
Ronnie Baker Brooks
Ronnie Baker Brooks was a guitar prodigy but turned away from the instrument for a time as a teenager (“I broke my daddy’s heart”), conscious that his peers at college viewed blues music as something of an anachronism, and seriously lacking in cool credentials.  This subject, the retreat from the blues by those communities who created it, was a constant source of reflection in the Chicago Blues workshop.  Had anyone bothered to look around the boat, the sorry conclusion would have to have been that the Blues had been colonized by late-middle-aged middle class whites, many of whom no doubt saw it as a refuge of relative safety in the face of House, Hip-hop, New Wave, Garage, modern R&B et.al. To their credit, both Ronnie and brother Wayne, have positioned themselves as evangelists for the blues in all communities. 
The laconic Wayne Baker Brooks, author of the best-selling Blues for Dummies (he told a very funny story about the difficulty he had in getting his father’s endorsement for the book) opened the family set with a high-energy take on the traditional format, revealing himself as both an accomplished vocalist and lead guitarist. 
Jellybean Johnson
Jellybean Johnson
His album Mystery has been, as he reminded us on more than one occasion, highly acclaimed.  It’s no coincidence that on Ronnie Baker Brooks’ new album Torch, the lead track, featuring veterans Jimmy Johnson, Eddie Clearwater and Willie Kent (in addition to dad Lonnie)  is ‘The torch of the blues’.  Ronnie explained how the blues had lost its foothold in those traditional Chicago communities that had welcomed migrants from the South before and after the Second World War.  But clearly as you can hear on his record, he hasn’t given up the fight by a long way.  The album, incidentally, was produced by Jellybean Johnson, who joined Brooks  for ‘Love me baby’, to play a simply soaring and note perfect Hendrix-inspired solo that nearly upstaged Ronnie’s fluid and fluent contemporary take on Chicago blues soloing.  
Brroks Bros
The Brooks Brothers Band
Joining the Brooks on stage for the seminar was Elvin Bishop, who as it turned out was one of the real stars of the whole Cruise.  Bishop turned up in Chicago in 1959, a country boy from heavily segregated Okalahoma, who was staggered by the warmth and welcome of the City’s blues community (he was in Chicago to study Physics at University but why let that spoil the story).  As he explained, there were so many blues clubs in Chicago at the time that anyone with a guitar who knew a few tunes was likely to get a seat in a gig.  Bishop found a mentor in guitarist Little Smokey Smothers, and played with artists such as Hound Dog Taylor and Junior Wells, before forming a band with a young man whom he had met shortly after his arrival in the city; the rest as they say, as far as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was concerned, is history. 
Bishop, his distinctive style of slide guitar well established, left Butterfield in 1968 and commenced on a solo career that saw him develop a distinctive form of high-energy country-blues R&B.  He scored a top-ten hit with ‘Fooled around and fell in love’, and after years of touring gave up a long-standing love affair with the bottle in the 1990s.  “My band’s been sick, my wife’s been sick, almost everyone’s been sick, but  this up and down, rolling round thing just reminds me of when I was drinking, except it ain’t costing me a dime”.  His three irresistible shows were delivered with an unfailing, if not slightly crazed enthusiasm, shared by his band which featured  Steve Willis on keyboards, Bobby Cochran on drums and vocals (his sweet soul voice a useful foil to Bishop’s cracked country tones) and Ed Earley, whose trombone was a perfect accompaniment to Bishop’s slide guitar in some very slick arrangements.  Elvin Bishop
Ed Earley and Elvin Bishop
Buy Bishop’s 2007 Booty Bumpin’ live album and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what the band sounds like live.  Buy his 2008 The Blues Rolls On to be reminded that he is still a very serious and highly-regarded blues musician – but you could see that just from the affection with which he was regarded by the Baker-Brooks clan.  He also, in perhaps the most surreal moment of a pretty surreal week, gave a cookery demonstration (pork chops and stewed okra) along with Cochran (oatmeal pecan cookies), but that’s another story. Elvin Bishop

Twelve hundred blues musicians and fans on board a cruise ship, storm-bound  in the Pacific for a week, can give you a pretty myopic view of the degree of enthusiasm (misguided or otherwise) that currently exists for the blues.  So we were brought back to terra-firma with a bump a few days later when we joined twenty-odd enthusiasts in San Francisco’s world famous Biscuit and Blues club to see local boy David Landon and his band, with guest artist Chris Cain.  Although half the audience proved to be an office party noisily slurping  jugs of tequila and scoffing chicken wings, who left after the first set,  two real fans had flown from Chicago especially to hear Landon play.  There were also a few familiar faces in the joint: Landon’s bass player Steve Evans works with Elvin Bishop, and drummer Randy Hayes with Coco Montoya.  Landon was certainly very accomplished, although a charisma-free on-stage persona didn’t help his cause, especially when Cain was somewhat larger than life (well, certainly larger than his straining bib and braces).  Their techniques contrasted starkly; Landon somewhat restrained, prudent and economic with his solos, whilst Cain was profligate in the extreme, with a “why play four notes when you could play ten?” approach to everything he did.  But Landon produced one instant of sheer brilliance during the night when he held  a note on his Gibson Es, using all the sustain it would give him, for longer than I ever heard before (and that includes listening to the King of Sustain, Buddy Guy).  So one memorable moment which made up for a lamentably tiny audience, sadly so familiar to a British blues enthusiast. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Listen: Wayne Baker Brooks on MySpace Elvin Boshop on MySpace

Preview tasting


Aberfeldy 10 yo 1999/2009 (45%, Exclusive Malts, cask #23, 419 bottles) Three stars Light honey on the nose, plus sawdust and cut grass. Earth, leaves… Less fruity than expected. Nice spirit. Mouth: rich and creamy, vanilled and gingery. An active cask, or well done re-racking. ‘Modern’ and good.
Aberlour 14 yo 1995/2009 (46%, Duncan Taylor, NC2) Easy on the nose, a tad varnishy, fruity and slightly spirity. Then ham and white peaches. Mouth: very sweet, fruity, on bubblegum and strawberries plus a little liquorice. Highly drinkable.
Aberlour 1990/2009 (54.5%, Malts of Scotland, cask #16847) Four stars The oak talks first, with hints of pencil lead and shavings, then moss and cut grass, some ham in the background. Mouth: rich and complex, kind of a fruitier A’bunadh. Cherry jam and ginger. Once again, quite some oak. A very rich but not fat dram.
Ardmore 25 yo (51.4%, OB, 2009) Three stars Much less peat than expected, rather a silent profile, on porridge and a little soot. Ashes, grass. Mouth: more peat mixed with green apples, a little gentian and white currants. Good but a tad disappointing for Ardmore at 25 years of age, lacks complexity.
Auchroisk 34 yo 1975/2009 (45.8%, Jack Wieber, Old Train Line, cask #71820, 206 bottles) Four stars The nose is unexpectedly discreet yet young, on pineapples and strawberry sweets (stuff by Haribo). Some grassy oak. Gets bigger, on aniseed and vanilla. Mouth: very good despite a big oakiness. Liquorice, ginger and strawberries. Tastes much younger than 34.
Benriach 12 yo (46%, OB, sherry wood, 2009)  Mildly vinous on the nose, a little mint plus blackcurrant jam and ‘old wine barrel’. Pleasant. Mouth: interesting, with notes of cherry stem tea, oak, blackcurrant buds and a little liquorice. Cinnamon and pepper in the finish. I wouldn’t say Benriach is easily recognisable – and it’s no ‘classic’ sherry maturing. Mulled wine. Again, interesting.
Benriach 23 yo 1985/2009 (49.0%, Signatory, bourbon barrel, cask #5501, 208 bottles) Four stars and a half Vanilled and ‘sweetly’ oaky, with big notes of aniseed and dill on the nose. Mouth: very good attack, with Benriach’s typical fruitiness plus notes of bubblegum. Mild spices in the finish. Excellent mouth feel.
Blair Athol 1998/2009 (46%, Berry Bros & Rudd, cask #2157) As fresh and fruity as Blair Athol can be. Gooseberries and pear drops on the nose, with whiffs of grass. Nose: same, with a little coffee and kirsch. Chocolate. A good version, a tad youngish.
Braes of Glenlivet 20 yo 1989/2009 (59.3%, The Single Malts of Scotland, hogshead, cask #299, 262 bottles) Four stars Nose: coconut and vanilla, not unlike some well-casked old grain. Café latte. Mouth: creamy, very sweet, pineapples and gooseberries in vanilla plus ginger and white pepper. Playful, does not taste its age.
Bunnahabhain 29 yo 197/ 2009 (44.8%, The Single Malts of Scotland, barrel, cask #28811, 205 bottles) Five stars Nose: fragrant and as elegant as Bunny can be when old. Banana skin and hay, tangerines, old roses. Mouth: perfect fruitiness, perfect balance, orange blossom water, pastries, honey and old Sauternes. Soft oak. Highly drinkable.
Bunnahabhain 1997/2009 (55.3%, Malts of Scotland, cask #3172) Four stars and a half Peaty and oaky nose, curiously medicinal. Tincture of iodine and pencil shavings. Very unusual ‘Moine’. Mouth: very earthy, rooty, peaty and medicinal. Gentian eau-de-vie, liquorice wood. A richer version of these peaty 1997s, with added complexity..
Bunnahabhain 11 yo 1997/2009 (59.0%, Acorn, cask #5433) Two stars and a half Very discreet, almost silent, even with water. Hints of seawater and mild smoke, metal polish. Mouth: good ‘rooty/earthy’ peatiness but the profile is very simple. Apples and pepper. Clean finish.
Bunnahabhain 11 yo 1997/2009 (58.6%, Adelphi, cask #5368, 610 bottles) Clean simple peat on the nose. Mercurochrome, iodine. Mouth: creamy peat, vanilla, cough syrup and peat. It’s one of the good peated 1997s in my opinion, always interesting to see how tall stills sort of purify peated malt.
Craigellachie 12 yo 1996/2009 (45%, Exclusive Malts, cask #7287, 327 bottles) Three starsTypical young Speysider, fresh and fruity, slightly floral. Loads of tinned pineapples on the nose. Mouth: quite some soft spices from a rather active wood (ginger) and the fruitiness in the background. Resinous. Unusual wood influence.
Craigellachie 25 yo 1984/2009 (53.7%, The Perfect Dram & The Nectar, bourbon hogshead, 256 bottles) Four stars and a half Big ‘sweet’ varnish and sawdust on the nose, then vanilla and grass and earth plus bananas. Mouth: impressive attack on apricots and mirabelles, then gooseberries and kiwis. Very fruity. Vanilla, oak and pepper in the finish. Works very well. 89
Clynelish 16 yo 1992/2009 (46%, The Single Malts of Scotland, bourbon barrel, cask #5871, 293 bottles) Four stars A grassy and almost vegetal Clynelish on the nose, very fresh but not really fruity. Whiffs of roses. Mouth: fruitier, young, slightly spirity. Turkish delights, peaches. Unusual Clynelish.
Dalmore 17 yo 1992/2009 (59.1%, Cadenhead, Sauternes hogshead, 319 bottles) Two stars and a half Full maturing in Sauternes wood if I’m not mistaken. A grassy nose, with quite some porridge but no Dalmoresque oranges that I can get. Not the most Dalmore of all Dalmores. The Sauternes lies in the background, more on wine wood than on wine as such. Mouth: very rich, creamy, the wine is very obvious now. Apricots and green barley, a lot of oak. Very unusual, not to my liking but not doubt it’s well made.
Dalmore 12 yo 1997/2009 (59.8%, James MacArthur, bourbon, cask #5604) Four stars Young nervous grassy Dalmore, with quite some vanilla and coconut from the oak. Turkish delights. Nose: rich, fruity, sweet. All kinds of fruit drops. Strawberry jelly. Super pleasant and very drinkable, well selected Mr. Arthur.
Glen Ord 13 yo 1996/2009 (59.1%, Whisky-Fässle for Whiskystammtisch Rebstock Biberach, bourbon hogshead) Four stars Typical Glen Ord with a little smoke, vanilla, grass and wax. Not wham-bam, very elegant. Mouth: oily mouth feel, apple liqueur, ripe gosseberries and orange liqueur. Banana sweets. Classy young spirit.
Laphroaig 8 yo 2000/2009 (58.8%, The Perfect Dram, Liquid Library, bourbon) Four stars Nose : hot but very ‘Laphroaig’, medicinal, smoky and maritime. Iodine galore, a little vanilla and ginger. Mouth: sweet clean rich peat. Smoked pears and kippers. Archetypical young ‘phroaig, high quality.
Laphroaig 8 yo 2001/2009 (59%, The Perfect Dram, Liquid Library, bourbon) Four stars and a half Rawer, more organic and farmy and less coastal than other Laphroaigs on the nose. A vintage effect? Wet sheep. Mouth: more almonds and lemon. Salt. Close to Mother Nature, quite spectacular despite its roughness and youth. 88
Laphroaig 9 yo 2000/2009 (58%, The Perfect Dram, Liquid Library, refill sherry) Two stars A bit weird, not sure the combination works well here – for my taste of course. Wet cardboard and apple peelings, whiffs of ‘new plastic’, strauck matches. Mouth: a little better than on the nose but still a little weird. Asparagus and bitter oranges. Well, of course it’s a matter of taste but I’ll pass – for once.
Laphroaig 12 yo 1996/2009 (59.8%, The Perfect Dram, Liquid Library, bourbon) Five stars Nose: a very austere, leafy and grassy Laphroaig. Fino, vin jaune, fresh walnuts and apple peelings. Less smoky/peaty than others but very, very elegant. Mouth: perfect. Enough said.
Old Fettercairn 34 yo 1975/2009 (57.2%,Whisky-Fässle, Bourbon hogshead) Five stars Superbly elegant nose, half fruity half resinous. Plum jam and chlorophyll, wax… Mouth: excellent, fruity and spicy, very lively. Kiwi, grapefruits, lemon, honey, green tea. Fantastic dram, perfect maturation.
Speyside 33 yo 1976/2009 (53.4%, The Perfect Dram, bourbon hogshead, 125 bottles) Five stars Typical old bourbon aged Speysider. Vanilla, malt, walnuts, apples, dandelions, wet wood. Mouth: rich, very nervous, mildly resinous and minty, then apple compote, tangerines and bananas plus soft spices. White pepper. Excellent – if you don’t need a name.

December 26, 2009

Caol Ila 1969 Christmas tasting


Caol Ila 1972 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice for Fiori Ferdinando, old map label, 75cl) Four stars Italy’s Ferdinando ‘Nadi’ Fiori is a true pioneer and one of the most engaging whisky people ever. Colour: gold. Nose: rather subtle at first nosing but quite big as well despite the low proof, starting grassy (almonds and cut grass) and medium peated, with whiffs of both fresh and dried seaweed in the background. Gets then mildly resinous, with notes of putty and a little turpentine, walnuts, maybe a little sherry (rather fino), vin jaune, hints of rosemary… I wouldn’t say this is too coastal, nor smoky, nor ashy but beautiful it is, even if it’s more whispering than shouting. Mild pleasures… Mouth: good attack, a tad weakish but getting bolder after that, mostly on cider apples and lemon juice. The peat is obvious but not big… Notes of weissen beer, salted lemon juice, not too ripe fruits (goosberries), more green apples… A rather sharp profile despite the low strength. Finish: medium long, all on lemon and salt, the smokiness fading away. Comments: very good but as often, I believe this would have benefited fro a few more degrees. Speaking of which… SGP:353 - 86 points.

Caol Ila 1969/1986 (54.6%, Gordon & MacPhaif for Meregalli, Celtic Label) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: Jesus, I didn’t know such an old bottling could be so spirity and rough, even if it does settle down after a few minutes of careful breathing (me, not the whisky). All sorts of wet things, clothes, papers, animals, plants… Then a lot of thyme and parsley, a little smoke, capers (serious), even gherkins, lemon juice, hints of vinegar, sauvignon blanc, tincture of iodine, mercurochrome… Highly unusual, let’s see what happens with water. With water: It doesn’t get any calmer, rather more organic and kippery. Lemon-sprinkled kippers, that’s it. Mouth (neat): really explosive! Lime juice and lemon juice with a good dose of smoke. Seriously, it’s like a peated lemon juice. With water: superb. Lemon marmalade, peat, rhubarb jam, smoked fish, ashes, limejuice, hints of lemon balm, quite some salt… Finish: long, lemony, ashy and maybe slightly mouldy in a certain way. Fits it well. Wet closes. Comments: a spectacular old Caol Ila, but not THAT different from more recent batches distilled after the distillery was reconstructed/extended, that is to say after 1974 if I’m not mistaken (yes, yes, I should check maltmadness.com). SGP:365 – 91 points.

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December 25, 2009

Glenlivet 1938

Christmas tasting

I’ve been thinking hard about this little Christmas session. I had considered trying a few expensive recent old bottlings but finally decided to go for something less ‘bling-bling’, something much more classic, from a very classic distillery, displaying a classic profile. Right, something ‘globally’ classic…
Glenlivet 1938 (70°proof, Gordon & MacPhail, 75.7cl, late 1960s or early 1970s) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: ahwowowow! The most subtle and superb combination of dried fruits, everything in a beehive, almond oil and similar smells plus anything preciously woody. To be more precise, we have figs and dates, honeydew and beeswax, almond oil and fresh ‘high-end’ putty and notes of old cupboard, cigar box and old books (or well kept antique shop). It’s all very complex and fantastically mingled, like if it was a very old Sauternes from a great vintage. Totally infectious, I can’t see who wouldn’t adore this nose, even people who usually hate scotch. Mouth: maybe just a tad dry at first sip but then it keeps unfolding in fantastic sequences. Honey and roasted nuts, cake, Corinth raisins, dog rose hips, chewing tobacco, liquorice, bitter chocolate, a little cardamom… Ah well, this is endless and, above all, absolutely not tired despite the low strength. Finish: not too long and maybe a tad drier and tea-ish but additional notes of oriental pastries in the aftertaste really make it even more fantastic. Comments: a perfect pre-war Glenlivet that stood the test of time quite perfectly. These bottles are still rather easy to find and they would usually go for just a few hundred Euros. Bargains, especially when compared with recent GlenWonka-esque oddities. SGP:442 - 92 points.
Avonside-Glenlivet 35 yo 1938 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Pinerolo, rotation 1973, 75cl) Five stars Colour: pale amber. Nose: rather different from its twin, showing more OBE and more herbal and leathery touches, less rounded but certainly not less interesting. Beef bouillon, cigar box, metal polish, wax polish, a little parsley, banana skin and finally hints of old cough syrup, eucalyptus and even camphor. Maybe a tad less coherent than the ‘regular’ G&M and less polished, but certainly as entertaining and maybe even more complex. Mouth: I was afraid this one would be too dry on the palate but greatest of news, it’s even less so than its sibling. The attack is unexpectedly vibrant and even big, and we get more or less the same flavours as on the nose but with more dried fruits and rather less ‘phenolic and resinous’ notes. Date liqueur, sweet liquorice, old orange liqueur, nougat, quinces… Actually, it’s amazingly fruity! Incredible after so many years… Better stop now. Finish: long, longer than the other one in any case. Hazlenuts, oranges, cloves and various honeys. Comments: this one is quite incredible. Usually, such oldies would display great noses but slightly weakish palates, whereas this 1938 isn’t that fresh on the nose but amazingly zesty on the palate. Another proof that well kept ‘50/50’ bottles can be total winners (here 35 years in wood, 35 years in glass). Happy Christmas! SGP:542 - 93 points.

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December 24, 2009



Writing tasting notes for malt whisky can be tedious, that’s why with the help of whisky taster par excellence Dave Broom, we built these shortish albeit accurate tasting notes that can be used for just any malt whisky. Just copy and paste them for use on any forum, website, masterclass, Twitter, Facebook and other worthy places where tasting notes are de rigueur. CAUTION: may work with blends but does not work with other kinds of booze.

<Here Name of malt whisky>
Colour: between a Canaletto and a Rembrandt.
Nose: starts with a kind of expressiveness that I’ve encountered before. Elliptic whiffs of carefully malted barley encapsulated in skillfully mastered oak, with glimmers of various fruits, a florist's worth of blossoms and discreet nuts, as well as what might or might not be an enigmatic peatiness mingled with flying organic touches.
With water: changes, for the better or for the worse depending on the amount of water. The viscimetry is profound.
Mouth: a more than acceptable mouth feel and quite an attack, sweeping your palate with a mostly balanced assertiveness caused by what seems to be an obvious dose of alcohol. Develops more on a Brownian combination of malt, fruits, oak and various congeners.
With water: there’s less alcohol.
Finish: an expected length, with some notes becoming more obvious and others less so.
Comments: well in the style of this kind of malt whisky but comparatively better than others. Recommended if you enjoy this kind of make.

Talisker 8 Christmas tasting


Talisker 1957 (70°proof, Gordon & MacPhail, black label, ‘pure malt’, 1970s) Four stars and a half Colour: amber. Nose: an unusual amount of smoke for such an old bottle, as well as a lot of leather and ‘a sherriness’. Goes on with more and more meaty notes and more and more peat as well, before it gets frankly herbal, with a lot of parsley (like often with these old gems) and lovage, even whiffs of balsamico. Did they peat balsamico at the time? Also quite some green mustard. In short, this baby is unexpectedly potent but it has to be said that the bottle was in a perfect shape when it was opened. Just tiny-wee whiffs of soap coming through after fifteen minutes. Mouth: obvious OBE now, with a blend of sweet mustard, leather and white pepper as well as quite some salt right from the start. Actually, it gets saltier and saltier, with good pepper and juts hints of bitter chocolate. Incredible how this one is salty! Some shoe polish as well, liquorice, pine resin… Finish: medium long but as salty as, err, salt. Salmiak? Dry. Comments: really extreme in its saltiness, it is to be wondered if a few pinches of salt weren’t added to these lovely casks. Spectacular but you really have to like, eh, salt! Little fruits or other sweet elements. SGP:255 - 89 points.

Talisker 8 yo (43%, OB, Distillers Agency, Grande Marche Francesi, cork, ‘pure malt’, late 1960s) Five stars An old glory that was recently slaughtered at (kind of) a wine tasting. Don’t ask… Colour: gold. Nose: this is more complex but less phenolic and peaty/smoky, starting more on figs and quinces mixed with a good deal of leather once again. Also quite some old polished wood (right, our old cupboards), some mustard but less than on the G&M, and then a lot of ‘coastal’ notes such as oysters and seaweed. Gets rounder again after a while, with notes of raisin cake and apricot pie, with a subtle but obvious glimmering peat in the background. Wait, that peatiness grows bolder by the minute, to the point where it’s now peatier than the G&M. Amazing development, it juts doesn’t stop changing… Also whiffs of motor oil and brown coal. I’d even say it gets frankly sooty. Another ‘movie-malt’ (as opposed to ‘photo-malts’ that don’t change much). Wait, now we have high-end salami and walnuts! Sounds weird but believe me, ‘s wonderful. Mouth: starts in the same way as on the nose, that is to say more on dried fruits and raisins mixed with liquorice and leathery tones. There’s also a wonderful bitterness (artichokes) and a peat that grows bigger and bigger. There’s a little less salt than in the G&M but I’d still qualify it as ‘very salty’. Other than that it’s all very subtle and complex, with various herbs, teas and spices. Not tired at all despite the old cork. Finish: long, as much on salmiak (salty liquorice) as the G&M now, but with more raisins and even a little vanilla. Great aftertaste on cough syrup and smoked tea. Comments: triple wow. Too abd these bottles are so expensive, when you can find them. Yup, some other useless tasting notes, I’m sorry. SGP:465 - 93 points.

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December 23, 2009

Port Ellen 1970 Christmas tasting

TWO 1971

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, we’re having a few sessions with old glories for Christmas. Yesterday it was old Strathislas, today rare old Port Ellens and tomorrow and the days after tomorrow we’ll have two 1938 Glenlivet, two very old Taliskers and two old Caol Ilas. Most will come from G&M’s racing stable…

Port Ellen 1971 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseur's Choice, +/-1990) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: the most amazing combination of gentle peat smoke and cold coffee at first nosing, followed with a whirlwind of phenolic and resinous aromas. A few aromas as they come: fresh walnuts, old turpentine, flints, coal oven, engine oil, tar, hessian, almond oil, clams (or any other seashells, really), cigar smoke, smoked ham, smoked salmon… It’s simply both endless and subtle, rather different from more modern ‘wham-bam’ PEs (that we love as well of course). Complex peat, does that exists? Mouth: not exactly big of course but wonderfully lemony, smoky and resinous, ashy, tarry, salty, grassy… More citrusy notes after a few seconds, even tangerines and oranges, quite some marzipan… Too bad it falls just a bit towards the middle of the middle, with the salt coming to the front. But what a fantastic profile, imagine this at 50% vol.! Finish: medium long, grassier, with the fresh walnuts that we already had on the nose leading the pack, then salt and lemon. Comments: does anybody have a 1971 at 50% vol. or more fore sale? SGP:366 - 91 points.

Port Ellen 1971/1989 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail for Meregali) Four stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: we are, of course, very close to the previous one but this is a tad more grassy, meaty and dry, the meatiness growing bolder by the minute. Ham, beef jerky, even sausages… It’s only after a few minutes that the very same kind of smokiness comes out, but with less flinty notes. Globally meatier, I’d say. Also a little lemon in this one. Mouth: a little more oomph than in the ‘CC’, but maybe less definition, with faint beerish notes and hints of stale lemon juice. Other than that it’s mighty fine of course, but less impressive than on the nose. Medium peatiness. Finish: rather long, grassy and lemony, maybe a tad cardboardy. Salted marzipan. Comments: most aficionados know that not all these old Port Ellens are magnificent. This one isn’t one of the heaviest hitters in my opinion but it’s still a very fine old peated whisky. SGP:255 - 85 points.

Port Ellen 1970/1987 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail for Meregali) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: this one is very different on the nose, much grassier than the 1971s. Starts on mega-huge notes of apple peelings and fresh walnuts, raw asparagus, rhubarb, putty… (you get the drift) before it gets much more mineral and sooty, beautifully austere I must say. More green apples, seaweed, tar and finally straight peat smoke. Beautiful again! Oh wait, and there’s even quite some hashish – not joking, as well as pine resin. Oh and hints of cow stable, the whole getting more and more organic. Amazing development. Mouth: once again, it’s no real punchy whisky after all these years but it’s extremely complex and loaded with various phenolic and smoky notes. You know what, better call the anti-maltoporn brigade… Finish: long. Oh, and with notes of black olives, which is adorable. Comments: I had a 18yo 1970 CC once that was very good but not pure magic. This one is, despite the 40% vol. SGP:267 - 94 points.
(With thanks to Carsten and Patrick)

Preview tasting


Ardbeg 11 yo 1998/2009 (57.9%, Adelphi, cask #1981, 185 bottles) Four stars and a half A nose that’s rougher and more vegetal than the young OBs, slightly resinous and a mouth that’s very biiiiiig. The peat isn’t enormous but the grassiness is. Lots of lemon too.

Caol Ila 13 yo 1995/2009 (46%, Signatory for Waldhaus am See, cask #10036, 855 bottles) Flinty and austere nose, a palate that’s more coastal, with sweet fruits and mild peat. Very drinkable.

Caol Ila 26 yo 1982/2009 (49.9%, The Whisky Agency, Liquid Library, bourbon) Five stars Very elegant nose, perfect balance peat, almonds and sea ‘elements’ on the nose. Perfect mouth, fruity and peaty, on lemon and green tea with medium smokiness and liquorice. Perfect!

Caol Ila 26 yo 1983/2009 (55.3%, The Perfect Dram, refill sherry, 240 bottles) Five starsLeather, smoke, orange zests and bacon on the nose. Rich mouth, fruity, elegantly fruity, with more peat than in the ‘average CI’. Peated marmalade. High quality, flawless sherried CI.

Caol Ila 1980/2009 (54.0%, Malts of Scotland, cask #4935) Four stars and a half Nose: walnut liqueur, leather, tobacco and meaty peat. Chocolate. With water, oranges and game. Mouth: rich, heavy and kirschy. Unusual for Caol Ila but impressive. More leather with water, good bitterness.

Port Askaig 25 yo 'Batch 2' (45.8%, Specialty Drinks, 2009) Four stars and a half Classic medium peated but straight CI, just like batch #1. Very good palate, rather lemony, salty, medium peated, maybe a tad dry in the finish. Maybe not quite the same level as #1 in fact but very close. I’ll compare them – thoroughly ;-).

Port Askaig 30 yo (45.8%, Specialty Drinks, 2009) Five stars Earthy/coastal nose with a little vanilla and marzipan. Mouth: perfect balance between fruits, peatiness and coastal notes. Excellent on the palate.

Clynelish 12 yo 1997/2009 (45%, Exclusive Malts, cask #4608, 383 bottles) Typical young Clynelish on the nose, wax and lemon, gooseberries, maybe a tad spirity. Mouth: once again, typical. Orange drops and wax, getting a little grassy. Good.

Clynelish 19 yo 1989/2009 (55.4%, Acorn, cask #6076) Four stars Wild and organic, farmy, on cow stable and white wine. Not the most pleasing. Mouth: much fruitier, superb, tropical fruits, oranges. A palate that’s way above the nose but more thorough tasting will be needed.

Clynelish 16 yo 1993/2009 (56.4%, Adelphi, cask #7545, 204 bottles) Four stars A flinty and grassy nose, estery, getting hugely fruity. Oranges and strawberries. Mouth: typical mix of fruits and wax. Bitter oranges and hints of olive oil.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: noisism at its best, André Serré and his 'The Start', beautifully recorded at a Formula One grand prix a few years ago. But is this really music?


December 22, 2009

Strathisla 1960

Christmas tasting

We’ve already tried some excellent but slightly ‘too much’ 1960s by G&M, such as a version for Kensington Wine Market in Canada bottled at 58.2% (WF88) and another one for La Maison du Whisky that was bottled at 50% in 2008 (WF89). Let’s see if these new babies are a tad more… civilised.
Strathisla 1960/2009 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail) Four stars Colour: amber. Nose: a marvellous oak at work here, as it starts all on furniture polish and ‘old cupboard’ but without these notes of varnish that one can sometimes find in these old glories. Other than that it develops more on mildly meaty notes (cured ham, beef bouillon) and ‘dry’ raisins, then quince jelly and just touches of figs and fresh mint. It’s no big Strathisla so far, it’s even a tad shy-ish, but it’s very ‘pleasantly’ balanced. After fifteen minutes: gets very ‘Indian’, with rather big whiffs of curry! Mouth: the oak does all the talking on the palate, the attack being a tad tannic and tea-ish. Amusing touches of lemon balm, though, as well as orange squash that sort of compensate for the oakiness. A tad papery too. Old Muscat wine, hints of Bailey’s. Finish: medium long, on oranges and tea. Less drying than I had feared. Comments: another very good old Strathisla but, as I wrote, the oak got a tad too loud for my taste. Way above par, still! SGP:351 - 86 points.
Strathisla 1960/2009 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail for LMdW, 1st fill sherry hogshead, cask #2548, 177 bottles) Five stars Colour: deep amber. Nose: very close to the ‘43%’ at first nosing, only bigger and maybe a tad more liquorice. Gets then more and more chocolaty, the sherry influence being bigger than in the ‘general’ version. Old precious wood, thuja wood, bitter oranges, juniper, cloves, cardamom… Quite some rancio too, dried mushrooms, even black truffles… Gets even earthier after a moment. I’m curious about the palate, it can be hit or miss with this kind of nose, let’s see… Mouth: it’s a hit! Sure there’s a lot of oak but it’s much more polished here, and the extra 7% vol. probably do wonders here. Prunes, chocolate, Christmas cake, also that kind of cake that our German friends call ‘Stolle’, marmalade, touches of cumin, thyme tea, cocoa powder… In short, it’s great. Very classic old sherry. Finish: long, all on chocolate and coffee, with just hints of orange liqueur in the aftertaste as well as more oak (strong black tea) and mint. Comments: big, concentrated and very exuberant, but you have to like them heavy! SGP:461 - 90 points.
Strathisla 1957/2007 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail) Five stars Colour: deep gold. Nose: oh, this is much less sherry influenced and much more on fruits and honey – in other words, one of these winning exuberantly fruity old Strathislas, or so it seems. Don’t get me wrong, there is some sherry but it’s not the very chocolaty kind of sherry. Figs, quinces, beeswax, orange marmalade and rosewater, then ripe apples, gooseberries and even hints of pomegranate, all that coated with quite some nougat, praline and a mildly vanilled oak. Superb! Also hints of olive oil and mint flying around. Mouth: once again, the oak is louder on the palate but the deep fruitiness and ‘jamminess’ make for a great counterpoint here. Big mouth feel for a 43% malt whisky. Mirabelle jam, apricot cake, tons of sultanas, cane sugar, then quite some cinnamon from the oak, cloves, orange blossom water… Finish: unexpectedly long, all on milk chocolate and blackberry jam. The balance is perfect. Comments: look, I don’t want to insist but this is sold for less than 300 f*****g Euros a bottle, it’s fifty f*****g years old, and it’s f*****g good whisky (while most distilleries sell their 40yos for 1,500 Euros a cruet when not more). Do you get the drift? SGP:551 - 92 points.
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
Belgium's Paul Dejong (L) and Switzerland's Patrick de Schulthess (R) have just joined the Malt Maniacs. Little countries, big guys ;-). Welcome!
Preview tasting


Macallan 'Select Oak' (40%, OB, '1824 Collection', 2009) Two stars and a half A nose that’s curiously perfumy, with some rosewater and notes of bubblegum. Lychees. The palate is a tad thin but not unpleasant. Burnt cake and light ‘American’ coffee. A light dram indeed.

Macallan 'Estate Reserve' (45.7%, OB, '1824 Collection', 2009) Three stars The nose is more classic than the Select Oak, malty, with notes of oranges and honey. Reminds me of the old 12yo sherry. Mouth: easy but rather rich, a tad drying. Tea, orange zests, vanilla, toffee. Rather nice finish. A very pleasant recent NAS Macallan, but £235, really?

Pittyvaich 20 yo (57.5%, OB, 2009, 6000 bottles) Rather floral and very natural, close to the barley on the nose. Flints, overripe apples and vanilla custard. Mouth: rich, very creamy, with litres of coffee and then a rather huge grassiness and big marzipan. Some bacon, then a lot of Guinness. Good but very unusual.

Port Ellen 29 yo 1979/2009 (53.9%, Old Bothwell, cask #7089) Nose : all on smoke and coffee, grass, fresh walnuts, apple peeling and linseed oil. Grassier and waxier than the usual PE. Mouth: excellent, citrusy and resinous, almonds, marzipan. Very lemony and rather salty finish. Perfect maturation.

Port Ellen 26 yo 1982/2009 (52%, Old Bothwell, cask #2729) A dark sherry version. Nose: all on leather and walnuts again, medium peat, cigarette tobacco and ripe strawberries. Seville oranges. Great freshness, not a lumpy sherried one. Mouth: sweet, fruity, resinous and mentholated. Smoked tangerines. Very lively, another great one.
Port Ellen 26 yo 1983/2009 (54.9%, Old Bothwell for Thosp bvba, Belgium, Cask #220) Close to the 1979, only grassier, more mineral and more resinous. A PE from the beautiful ‘austere’ school. The peatiest too. Mouth: perfect combination of peat, seashells, lemon and pepper, with very mild tar. Black pepper, liquorice and mint drops in the finish. Brilliant, 2009 was a great year for the Port Ellen fans.

Rosebank 19 yo 1990/2009 (52.9%, Acorn) Two stars and a half A little sulphur, then vegetables and paraffin on the nose. Fresh putty. Mouth: starts a tad rubbery, then crystallised lemons and smoked tea. Pepper and ginger in the finish. Very unusual Rosebank, not one of my favourites.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: a bit of classic jazz today with the late German born pianist Jutta Hipp and her quintett playing Indian summer sometime in the 1950s. Please buy Jutta Hipp's music!

Jutta Hipp

December 21, 2009

Glenlivet Nadurra
Glenlivet 13 yo 'Faemussach' (59.1%, OB, cask #40127, 2009) Two stars and a half Colour: gold. Nose: doesn’t start very boldly, it’s rather blocked by the alcohol, unusually grassy for Glenlivet, spirity and mineral. Just hints of sour woodiness, cocoa. With water: indeed, some additional aromas are unleashed but it never really gets ‘open’. Fresh almonds, apple peelings and just touches of vanilla, then plain barley. Very close to the barley, I’d say. Mouth (neat): rather brutal, estery, with something unusual in the background. White chocolate? Marshmallows for sure. With water: easier, rounder, sweeter but still a tad estery. Not quite all on pear drops but there are pear drops as well as tinned pineapples. Finish: medium long, half grassy half fruity (pears, apples). A little pepper and something slightly metallic. Comments: perfectly good but no thrill as far as I’m concerned. Suffers from the comparison with the rather extravagant Nadurras. SGP:251 - 78 points.
Glenlivet 'Nadurra' 16yo (57.7%, OB, batch#1007D, bottled 2007) Four stars and a half Colour: gold. Nose: ah yes, this is Nadurra! Sweet and very fruity, with that ‘Irishness’ and loads of bananas mixed with a little ginger and quite some vanilla. Simple but real pleasures. With water: more of the same plus quite some coconut oil. Modern but perfectly composed – very active oak well mastered. Mouth (neat): not quite as brutal as the Faemussach but very powerful and much less demonstrative than on the nose when undiluted. Sweets and green tea. Burning. With water: ah, here’s the fruity cavalry! Lemon juice, oranges, bananas, mangos… And vanilla, and ginger, and white pepper. Finish: long, with the ginger and pepper getting louder. The drawback of very active oak, I guess. Comments: I always thought the Nadurra(s) was the best modern-style, sweet oak-bomb in the market. This baby won’t make me change my mind. SGP:542 - 89 points.
Glenlivet 'Nadurra' 1991/2009 (48%, OB, Triumph barley varietal, batch#0809A) Four stars Colour: gold. Nose: it’s less emphatic than the 16yo, somewhere between that one and the Faemussach in style. Hints of banana skin and vanilla plus quite a few tannins. Gets then very fresh and mentholated, with quite some papaya s and guavas. The fruitiness never stops getting bigger. With water: we’re well in the same family as the 16yo, only a tad less loud on the fruits. Maybe a little more elegant, in fact. Mouth (neat): sweet, creamy, very fruity, on apricot jam, ripe mirabelles and vanilla. Very good, easy style, molto quaffabile (wot???) With water: not much changes, only the oaky part is further revealed. Some green pepper. Finish: long, drier, with more tannins (heavy green tea). Comments: very good, but I’m wondering if it swims well. Water made it a tad too drying on the palate, but it’s still very perfectly well made. Just avoid water, for once! (now, what was that Triumph barley supposed to taste like? ;-)) SGP:461 - 87 points.
Glenlivet 37 yo 1972/2009 (56.8%, The Perfect Dram, 141 bottles) Four stars Colour: gold. Nose: starts slightly rough and kirschy, with hints of porridge and wee touches of rubber mixed with some liquorice wood and various fruit jams. Gets rather maltier after that, as well as a little farmy. Certainly not one of these gentle old Glenlivets so far. With water: gets much softer and rounder, with more vanilla and dried fruits such as figs and hints of angelica. Also floral touches as well as a little pollen and honey. The slight roughness disappeared almost completely. Mouth (neat): big, powerful, more ‘Speyside’ and ‘Glenlivet’ in style (no kiddin’) than on the nose when undiluted. Gooseberries and strawberries, cereals and oranges with notes marzipan and once again a wee hint of rubber. With water: once again the rubber disappeared. More overripe apples and camomile tea. Very good soft oak, not drying at all. Finish: long, a tad grassier, with even more tea and a little more oak than before (white pepper). Comments: another tireless oldie that’ll benefit from a few drops of water. Very good. SGP:461 - 87 points.


Dear friend, it’s that time of the year that calls for wee changes! Indeed, after quite some years, I decided to change a bit the way I’m publishing my humble tasting notes and scores on Whiskyfun. As you may know, I always pair similar whiskies, most of the time whiskies from the same distilleries, sometimes bearing same ages, or vintages, or wood types… I believe this way of assessing whiskies offers multiple advantages but frankly, it can also be pain in the neck. You need a huge sample library to find worthy ‘opponents’ to this brand new Glenthat 10yo, sometimes the sessions can be boring because you really have to work hard to detect variations and nuances (think six young bourbon Caol Ilas…) and, above anything else, the process can be slow and that’s why I can only publish one session a day, max! The problem is that I often get many more new whiskies than I can taste in these painfully ‘organised’ sessions, and that’s why I just decided to open a new rubric on Whiskyfun: the Preview Tastings.
In these Preview Tastings I’ll try only new or very recent whiskies, without writing long tasting notes but also without scoring them because I believe you can’t really score whiskies properly when you’re in a rush and when you’re not comparing them to similar drams. So, I’ll just put stars (from zero star to five stars, including halves) and only come up with scores out of 100 once I’ll have tried these whiskies in the proper ‘WF’ format, which should happen within the following days, weeks or… err, months.
While I’m at it, I’m sorry but despite the requests I’m getting, I’ll still refrain from implementing an actual ‘blog’ format where readers could comment and add their thoughts on the various whiskies I try or any other matters. Not that it wouldn’t be a worthy addition to WF, mind you, but I simply don’t have enough time for that. I’m deeply sorry!
So, here’s a first batch of quite a few  ‘abbreviated’ notes (right, pleasantly expurgated notes). I’ll post many more in the coming days, should the Christmas frenzy allow me to do so…
Preview tasting


Armorik (42%, OB, Warenghem Distillery, Brittany, France, 2009) two stars Well made single malt, pleasantly fruity. Strawberries on the nose. More oak on the palate, orange cake, cornflakes.

Edradour 12 yo 'Caledonia' (46%, OB, 2009) three stars All on roasted chestnuts and burnt caramel, then thyme and bacon on the nose. The palate has a wee bit of soap at the attack but otherwise it’s pleasantly nutty and orangey. A good rich Edradour, above par.

Glencadam 30 yo 1978/2009 (46%, OB, cask #2335, 615 decanters) Four stars A rather smoky and nutty nose, dry. Leather, roasted nuts, chocolate cake and then green tea. Nice. Mouth: bitter oranges, honey and sweet spices. Quite some oak in the background. Finish on oriental pastries and black tea. Mint, aniseed. Same league as the 1983 from two years ago but drier.

Glendronach 16yo 1992/2009 (60.8%, OB for Versailles Dranken Nijmegen Holland, 306 bottles) Four stars and a half Nose: deep fruity and vinous sherry, mulled wine, strawberry liqueur and bitter oranges. Extravagant. Mouth: very creamy, on both heavy sherry and heavy ‘new’ oak. Vanilla, ripe strawberries and ginger. Pepper in the finish. Spectacularly rich.

Highland Park 21 yo (40%, OB, 2009) Four stars This one used to be bottled at 47.5% vol. but the new version comes at 40%, due to ‘a lack of stock’. Well… The nose is fresh and very HP, honeyed and orangey with good nougat and praline. A little briny. The palate isn’t really thin and balance is perfect, although it drops a bit towards the finish, which is shortish. Probably two or three points below the ’47.5’.

Knockando 18 yo 1990 'Slow Matured' (43%, OB) Two stars Flintier and more austere than earlier versions on the nose. White fruits, gooseberries. Mouth: weakish, a tad dusty and kirschy. The nose is much nicer in my opinion.

Knockando 21 yo 1987 'Master Reserve' (43%, OB) Two stars and a half Nice nose, a tad old style, soft spices and malt, chocolate. Malty palate, caramelly. Toffee and just a little pepper. Easy but not as rounded as expected. Not a malt aficionado’s dram?

Laphroaig 1990/2009 (53.2%, Malts of Scotland, Exclusive to Belgium, Bourbon Barrel #6463, 154 bottles) Four stars and a half Big nose, very smoky and maritime, tar and lemon, ham and oysters. Mouth: classic Laphroaig from a classic vintage. Liquorice and peat plus lemon and salt coated with vanilla crème. Flawless, richer than others.

Laphroaig 18 yo 1990/2009 (52.6%, Signatory, bourbon barrel, cask #09/61/1, 241 bottles) Five stars Similar to the MOS, only a tad more coastal and fresh and less ‘coated’. Almonds. Mouth: same comments. Almond oil, more iodine, more ‘oysters’, more medicinal notes. Excellent, as are most of these 1990s.

Linkwood 1973 (The Whisky Exchange's 10th Anniversary, pre-release, 2009) I believe this should be bottled shortly. Great nose, unexpectedly smoky, also nutty, with tons of dried fruits. High quality. Mouth: rich and creamy, superb oak and spices, loads of figs and fruitcake. Old Sauternes. Perfect balance. Dis gonna be good!

Longmorn 19 yo 1990/2009 (54.5%, The Single Malts of Scotland, cask #25003, 219 bottles) Four stars and a half From a hogshead. A rather austere nose, flinty, with lemony notes in the background. Cut grass. Mouth: rich, on loads of oranges and coconut. Very active hogshead! Sweet ginger and vanilla. Very oily mouth feel. A big Longmorn.

Longmorn 1969/2009 (57.7%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Whisky Exchange's 10th Anniversary, cask #5305) Nose: deep sherry, varnish and beef bouillon. Leather, pipe tobacco, overripe fruits. Mouth: in keeping with the nose plus various fruit liqueurs and eaux-de-vie. Ginger tonic. Very rich but playful.

Longmorn 1968/2009 (60.5%, Gordon & MacPhail Reserve for Limburg) Five stars Starts on big oak and varnish, then fresh walnuts and apple peeling, then ham and old books. Hints of diesel oil, unexpected in Longmorn. Mouth: thick, on coconut, vanilla and fig liqueur, then cough syrup and ginger liqueur. Explosive!

MUSIC - Recommended listening: a little vocal jazz again with the very good Denise Jannah singing a, err, very good version of the eternal Favorite things. Please buy Denise Jannah's music.

Denise Jannah

December 20, 2009

Telsington Telsington 2006/2009 (42%, OB, Telser, Liechstenstein, Pinot Noir barrels, 560 bottles, 50cl) The price for this is 290 Swiss Francs a 50cl bottle, that is to say 270 Euros for 70cl. No, this is no joke. Ah, and the packaging, the packaging… Colour: green bronze. Nose: starts on leather and walnut stain as well as whiffs of coal smoke and shoe polish, with typical ‘continental’ notes of spicy beer or even stout (no pot stills?). Goes on with notes of old wine barrel and roasted chestnuts, ends with a little hazelnut liqueur. Not the ugliest whisky ever but we’re very far from Scotch or even Bourbon. Mouth: drinkable. Reminds me of some blends. A smokiness again, roasted nuts, cornflakes, barley sugar and just touches of bubblegum in the background. Finish: medium long, sweet and grainy, with a little tar and a dry smokiness. Comments: certainly not one of the worse whiskies made in continental Europe, but most certainly not the best. Well, in a certain, way, it IS entertaining. And it’s most certainly the only, thus the best Liechtensteiner whisky indeed. SGP:332 - 64 points.
Castle Hill Castle Hill 'Doublewood' (43%, OB, Switzerland, cask #9920, 50cl) This one was first matured in chestnut wood (don't laugh, the Scots were using chestnut as well quite some years ago) and then in ex-Scotch wood. 75 Swiss francs for 50cl, that is to say roughly 70 Euros a full bottle. Colour: gold. Nose: ouch. Rotting barley, baby puke and ripe durian. Then a lot of cheese (do you know Appenzeller?)… Gets a tad cleaner after a few seconds, with more oak and vanilla, but these whiffs of gym socks are still there. Mouth: much better than on the nose, at least much more ‘entertaining’. I’d say Gruyère cheese (instead of Appenzeller) and green olives plus barley sugar and light honey. Finish: medium long, on sweet cheese and honey. Some dry wood in the aftertaste. Comments: a funny one for sure. Not sure I’d quaff many bottles of this but at least it’s not insanely priced. SGP:340 - 69 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: more blues, this time with Arkansas' Michael Burks and his Flying V giving us One more chance. Please buy Michael Burks' music.

Michael Burks

December 18, 2009

SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
The Glen Wonka Susan Boyle Edition As Whiskyfun’s most loyal readers may know, this humble little website managed to get hold of the archives of the famous bankrupt distillery The GlenWonka. Our latest find is this amazing secret project called ‘The GlenWonka’s SuBo Edition for Christmas 2009” (see dummy bottle on the left). We also found the sales sheet for this aborted yet stunning bottling and here are a few highlights:

- Limited edition of 45,001 bottles.
- 40% vol. (our favourite drinking strength).
- 36 months old, finished for three hours in Swiss Grenadine casks.
- Free Susan Boyle mp3 of award winning song ‘I drammed a dram’.
- Very collectable edition (although our whisky’s for drinking).
- First six bottles contain drops of 1789 GlenWonka (from a 10cl PET sample bottle that used to be kept in the distillery’s blending room).
- Three bottles to be auctioned at famous auction houses Blood Sweat and McTears and John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham’s. Minimum bid of £40,500 to be put by ‘anonymous Ukrainian bidder’, low fees to be negotiated with auction houses beforehand.
- Three bottles to be showcased at three main Heathrow terminals (in Little Planet of Scotch shops).
- 0.1cl samples to be shipped to A-list whisky and luxury bloggers and twitterers (ready-made tasting notes by well-known whisky expert Angus W. Apfelstrudel, Jr. and comments will be attached).
- Suggested retail price of general edition £999.99.
"The GlenWonka, the whiskies of tomorrow with our past in mind. Remember, together we can make Scotland a better world."

WF comments: we are stunned. What a shame that that The GlenWonka went bankrupt due to 'adverse winds'.
(With thanks to Lex!)


Ardbeg 36 yo 1972/2009 (43.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 60th Anniversary, hogshead, 94 bottles) They had a few of these at Harrod’s in London (Harrod’s? Don’t ask!), at a rather hefty price of £550. Well, if it’s stellar, the price is okay-ish… Let’s see… Colour: pale gold. Nose: typical! Starts on creosote and sea air. When I write sea air it’s actually oysters, seaweed, iodine, then hessian, ‘tarry rope on an old fisherman’s boat’ and just a little lemon. Some faint cardboardy notes do arise after that, with something slightly chalky and flour-like, signs of a peak that’s been passed. Also the expected notes of cider apples and lemon and just faint medicinal notes (antiseptic, also putty). Great nose but it starts to lack a little bit bit of oomph on the nose and reminds me a bit of Allied’s Very Old 30yo in a certain way. Mouth: excellent attack, firmer than expected. Typical maelstrom of putty, smoked fish, tarry liquorice, marzipan, lemon zests, bitter apples, straight salt, white and black peppers and plain peat. The middle is a tiny-wee tad less oomphy than it probably was five years ago but it’s still rather magnificent. Finish: medium, extremely typical. Smoked liquorice and marzipan plus a little salt. Fades away a wee tad too quickly for an Ardbeg. Comments: I tried it when the bottle was just opened and it was a tad weakish but a few days of breathing did wonders. Granted, it’s probably a tad down the hill but Ardbeg+72 still is a magic formula. And it’s waaaay better than the official 1965 that was bottled at a pretty similar age if I’m not mistaken. SGP:457 - 91 points.
Ardbeg 1972/2003 (49.9%, OB for Italy, VELIER, cask #2782, 246 bottles) An old glory that I already tried on Islay at the time but it’s time for a quieter and more thorough tasting. For some reason, part of this batch was shipped back from Italy to the distillery where they used to sell these glorious bottles for as little as £50 (shhhh, just between us, no ‘official’ price). Now it’s worth £1,000+ at the greediest sellers’. Free market, yeah, yeah… Colour: pale gold. Nose: simply a wilder version of the newer DL. The profile is exactly the same, only ‘louder’. Mouth: right, right, it’s all happening on the palate. Once again, the profile is very similar to the DL’s but this official is much bigger, oomphier, more satisfying and, well, punchier. You know that a whisky is great when you become short of descriptors, that is to say when the only descriptor you can come up with is ‘great old Ardbeg’. That’s exactly what’s happening now. Finish: maybe not the longest ever (old sherried Ardbegs may be longer) but totally wonderful. Comments: a breed that’s currently disappearing, that’s why these bottles fetch such high prices at auctions. Somewhat like a dead painter whose prices skyrocket at Sotheby’s or Christie’s, just because everybody knows that there will be no more. Ever. It’s probably the case here. SGP:368 - 95 points (up one point). (and thanks, Angus du Rangen).

MUSIC - Recommended listening: French veteran rocker Claude Moine aka Eddy Micthell sings C'est un rocker. Please buy Eddy Micthell's music.

Eddy Mitchell

December 17, 2009



Mannochmore 14 yo 1992/2006 (54.6%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, sherry wood, 486 bottles) Colour: amber. Nose: powerful and all on stewed fruits and warm wood (freshly sawn). Cut apples, pears, even what we call ‘poiré’ in France (cider made out of pears instead of apples), then some more obvious sherry notes (raspberry jam) as well as whiffs of horse sweat (not quite gym socks). Whiffs of varnish flying over the whole, gets then frankly acetic. Not the cleanest malt ever but entertaining it is. With water: in the same vein. Horse dung, manure, Parmesan cheese. Most probably flawed but very funny (provided you don’t have a full case in your cellar). Mouth (neat): very punchy but very acetic again. Lime juice, apple vinegar, ginger tonic, over-infused green tea… What a strange one! Also notes of icing sugar. Improves after a few minutes, getting less acetic. With water: relatively cleaner. Finish: long, mushroomy, liquoricy. Quite some lime in the aftertaste. Comments: after dirty Harry, dirty sherry and a whacky one. Some cask! Again, it’s very funny and entertaining whisky but it’s too perverse for my taste. There are many other fabulous recent whiskies by Cadenhead’s, so one may pass here. SGP:342 - 64 points.
Mannochmore 18 yo 1990/2009 (54.9%, OB, 2,604 bottles) Colour: full gold. Nose: this new one is a tad less expressive than the 1992 but also rather cleaner even if it is a little estery. Big notes of café latte and nougat, then gooseberries and freshly cut apples, more apple peelings, a little vanilla and then more straight malt. With water: huge whiffs of eucalyptus and fresh sawdust. Pine wood, mint liqueur. Mouth (neat): powerful, round, creamy, oaky (nutmeg, pepper and ginger) and rather citrusy but not as acetic as the 1992. Notes of straight wood, like when we were sucking our pencil at school, remember? More and more crystallised ginger. With water: really excellent now. Lots of wood extracts, probably quite ‘modern-style’ but the end result is pretty perfect. Vanilla, ginger, caramel cream and hints of marshmallows. Finish: long, rounded, all on sweet nutmeg and marzipan. Comments: whether one could recognise the distillery in this excellent malt or not is to be seen (I certainly couldn’t!) but what’s sure is that it’s a high quality bottling, less estery than other Mannochmores I could try. Very drinkable with water. SGP:442 - 88 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: a rare old French 'free jazz rock band' called Etron Fou Leloublan doing Christine (from their 1979 live album 'En public aux États-Unis d'Amérique'.) Or how a very simple sax riff can get very, well, infectious. Please buy Etron Fou Leloublan's music.

Etron Fou Leloublan

December 15, 2009


1971-1966, A VERTICALE

After the Malt Maniacs Awards and other fairly recent bottlings (we’re in high season, after all), I felt it was time to try a few old bottlings again, particularly old Springbanks. Why? Why not! (S., sometimes you’re quite dumb – Ed.) Not that we haven’t got many other new malts to try, mind you, but these old glories, whether sherried or not, mean, well, holidays in a certain way…

Springbank 35 yo 1971 (57.5%, Three Rivers Tokyo, The Life, 222 bottles) The whiskies under this label are always of very high quality, so we have deep expectations… Colour: white wine. Nose: what’s really striking at first nosing is the huge amount of smoke and tarmac that assault your nostrils, and then the rather superb development on white fruits, grass and coconut. Green apples, gooseberries, liquorice, fresh putty, coconut oil, marzipan… Spitzenklasse so far, very ‘naked old Springbank’ (no, don’t say ‘obviously’ ;-)). A lot of white chocolate and quite some vanilla after a few minutes. With water: ultra-amazing. Old school Highland with that coastal plus. Fab blend of coconut oil, marzipan, resins, lemon liqueur, wet clothes… Fan-tas-tic. Mouth (neat): punchy, very lively, fruity and as waxy as on the nose. Green apples. Gets then even more ‘coconutty’, reminding me of some old grains in a certain way, but this is more complex. Quite some lemon and a pinch of salt. With water: ite missa est, amen. Finish: that’s the problem, all good things have a finish. Comments: moving. The profile is perfect, exactly my taste. To our Japanese friends, I say Omodeto Gozaimasu! (hope google didn’t screw that one). SGP:452 - 94 points.
Springbank 34 yo 1970/2004 (51.2%, Prestonfield, cask #1631, 157 bottles) Colour: dark apricot/amber. Nose: the smoky/waxy notes are well here but they’re soon to be replaced by a big, very vinous sherry plus a little varnish. Not the chocolaty kind at all, rather ripe or cooked strawberries, plum jam, cassis (and their leaves or buds, very typical) as well as just a little rubber. Not exactly kirschy but you get the drift. Gets a tad quieter and rounder after a moment. With water: have you ever opened a large new pack of dried figs? Longans? Sultanas? Mouth (neat): big and very thick, heavily concentrated yet fruity and nervous, with a lot of blood oranges and black pepper, plus notes of green pepper (brand new Cabernet). Rather spectacular but quite rough at such old age. With water: it hasn’t got all of the 3 Rivers’ majesty and refinement, but it’s still wonderful, maybe just a tad too tannic and grapey. Maybe… Finish: long, more on oranges, with just a minuscule soapiness in the aftertaste. Comments: absolutely excellent, it’s just that the first one was close to perfection. SGP:552 - 90 points.
Springbank 27 yo 1969/1996 (51.8%, Signatory Dumpy, 632 bottles) From a sherry cask. There are several casks of 1969 by Signatory and thanks to a good friend, we’ll try all the other ones in the foreseeable future. Colour: full gold. Nose: a much more austere version, flintier, waxier, drier, more ‘fino’ in style at first nosing. It’s only after a few minutes that it gets fruitier and fresher, with first some ripe apples and pears, and second bananas and coconuts (but less coconut than in the ’71.) The least ‘wham-bam’ so far. With water: very different from the other ones indeed but just as spectacular once diluted. Subtler this time, more on herbs, teas, then tropical fruits, ripe mangos, wood smoke. Big whiffs of fresh hazelnuts. Oranges. Su-perb. Mouth (neat): wham! Huge citrusy notes, combining lemons, tangerines, oranges, crystallised citrons, kumquats… right, right, let’s not list them all. All that is complemented with many soft spices and a rather unusual kind of bitterness that I quite like. Liquorice juice? Spectacular so far. With water: more honey, oranges and beeswax. Fab. Finish: very long, very firm, more on dates and pepper. Some lemon at the retro-olfaction, keeps it very much alive (and kicking!) Comments: all these old Springbanks are hard to beat. I believe every whisky newbie should try hard putting his hands on one bottle or one sample, anybody needs references. SGP:442 - 93 points.
Springbank 40 yo 1968/2008 (54%, Chieftain's, oloroso, cask #1414, 398 bottles) From first fill oloroso. 25 to 35 years of age may well be ideal for old style Springbanks, but 40 might be too much. Let’s see… Colour: full gold. Nose: I was wrong. It’s still very fresh, waxy, mildly smoky, superbly resinous (fresh putty, almonds, apple peelings), with a wonderfully mingled dry sherry as a counterpoint. One of these rare old whiskies that make me think of old Rieslings (true ones, not the ueberfruity junk that seems to be so popular in certain circles). Also a little leather, then even fresher maritime notes and the kind of tar that we already found in the 1971. Also whiffs of old wine cellar. With water: no actual further development this time. Maybe added whiffs of chamomile tea. Mouth (neat): a sin. Hundreds of fruits, dozens of honeys and many spices. Symphonic, as they say. And astoundingly fresh and lively. With water: a tiny wee hint of dry oak complements the luscious fruitiness in the most wonderful manner. Finish: long, on sultanas, honey and hundreds of other fruits (and spices). Comments: I used to think that all the good old Springbanks had been bottled already. I was wrong. Amazing freshness. SGP:642 - 93 points.
Springbank 28 yo 1967/ (51.3%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, 27.35, 217 bottles) ' The winds from Islay have got into the cask'. Colour: gold. Nose: very close to the 1971, only a tad rounder. That means that we get smoke, tar, white fruits, sea breeze, then candle wax, coconut, white fruits, tinned pineapples… Gets then rather more citrusy and ‘nervous’, on lemon, dill and even aniseed. And fresh putty again. We’re back on seashells, oysters, ‘a plate of langoustines’ after a while. With water: warning, water does not work on this one. It got too cardboardy and a little too ‘chemically resinous’ for my taste. Mouth (neat): we’re very close to the 40/1968 this time, with the same kind of huge and complex fruitiness, maybe a little less honey but also a little more pine resin or fir honeydew. Warning, this one will make you yodel – better not try to find a bottle. With water: once again, water does not work too well (at +/-45%, I’m not going down to 30), although that’s much, much less catastrophic than on the nose. More mint but also a little more cardboard once again. Finish: long, resinous, minty. Extremely nice. Notes of Genmaicha (tea with roasted rice, ever tried that?) Comments: some parts are totally stunning, only the nose lost it a bit when diluted. Not enough to go lower than 90. SGP:452 - 90 points.
Springbank 24 yo 1966/1990 (58.1%, OB, Local Barley, cask #443) Colour: mahogany. Nose: wahhwahhwahh! It’s hard to find as much ‘old wax’, beeswax, old orange liqueur, leather polish, coal smoke, milk chocolate and roasted chestnut gathered in the same whisky. Also hints of metal polish, car engine (pick your favourite model), beef bouillon, parsley, old books, toffee… It’s really powerful but in no way aggressive. Becomes truly exceptional after ten minutes. With water: morels! Truffles! Old style pipe tobacco! Please call the anti-maltoporn brigade! Mouth (neat): now you yodel. As Rich as the Sultan of Brunei, as thick as honey and as ‘wide’ as… well, the world (sorry, never been too good at analogies and metaphors in English). ‘Spoonable’. With water: this will remain between this whisky and me, if you don’t mind ;-). Finish: ditto. Comments: no need to add even more to the legend, I guess. Simply, it’s no whisky, it’s a work of art. It was still a bit rough and overly sherried when I first tried it - the bottle had just been opened - but after two months of breathing, yes, wahhwahhwahh! SGP:662 - 96 points. 
Springbank Bonus: another one for good measure, the Springbank 24 yo 1966/1990 (60.7%, OB, Local Barley, cask #441) Colour: mahogany (a little redder than cask #443) Nose: much more closed and austere than cask #443 at first nosing, even if the faint whiffs that we get are more or less the same. Probably a case where the high alcohol really blocks the whisky, although I get quite some metal polish, parsley and leather. Does open up a bit after a few minutes, on notes of beef jerky and balsamic vinegar (same comment as for the Riesling, not the junk they will sell you for cheap in many supermarkets).
With water: funny, there’s a lot of anise, dill, cardamom, even crushed coriander on top of even more balsamic vinegar. A bit extreme in this style, but spectacular when diluted. Mouth (neat): kind of a lighter version of cask #443, and this is no light whisky. Extremely powerful, that is, much more chocolaty (and lemony as well), with more cough syrup. Maybe a tad less ‘multidimensional’ than cask #443 but still totally exceptional. Really curious about water… With water: once again, not as totally outta-this-world as #443 but amazingly good, rich, jammy, with so many dried fruits… Maybe the sherry is a tad ‘louder’ and ‘masking’ than in cask #443. Finish: endless, rich, big, phat… Better not try to taste another malt after this one. Or maybe an old peated? Comments: very, very high standards. To be honest, had I tried it before cask #443, maybe I’d have granted it with one or two more points. But after all, who cares? SGP:651 - 93 points.
Conclusion: with an average score of 92.7, this may well have been my ‘highest’ session ever… Unless, some old Ardbegs, a while ago…
(Thank you Ian, Konstantin, Luc and Lothar)

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Joanna Connor

December 2009 - part 1 <--- December 2009 - part 2 ---> January 2010 - part 1

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Best malts I had these weeks - 90+ points only - alphabetical:

Ardbeg 1972/2003 (49.9%, OB for Italy, VELIER, cask #2782, 246 bottles)

Ardbeg 36 yo 1972/2009 (43.5%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 60th Anniversary, hogshead, 94 bottles)

Avonside-Glenlivet 35 yo 1938 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Pinerolo, rotation 1973, 75cl)

Caol Ila 1969/1986 (54.6%, Gordon & MacPhaif for Meregalli, Celtic Label)

Glenlivet 1938 (70°proof, Gordon & MacPhail, 75.7cl, late 1960s or early 1970s)

Port Ellen 1970/1987 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail for Meregali)

Port Ellen 1971 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseur's Choice, +/-1990)

Springbank 24 yo 1966/1990 (60.7%, OB, Local Barley, cask #441)

Springbank 24 yo 1966/1990 (58.1%, OB, Local Barley, cask #443)

Springbank 27 yo 1969/1996 (51.8%, Signatory Dumpy, 632 bottles)

Springbank 28 yo 1967/ (51.3%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, 27.35, 217 bottles)

Springbank 34 yo 1970/2004 (51.2%, Prestonfield, cask #1631, 157 bottles)

Springbank 35 yo 1971 (57.5%, Three Rivers Tokyo, The Life, 222 bottles)

Springbank 40 yo 1968/2008 (54%, Chieftain's, oloroso, cask #1414, 398 bottles)

Strathisla 1960/2009 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail for LMdW, 1st fill sherry hogshead, cask #2548, 177 bottles)

Strathisla 1957/2007 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail)

Talisker 8 yo (43%, OB, Distillers Agency, Grande Marche Francesi, cork, ‘pure malt’, late 1960s)