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Hi, you're in the Archives, December 2013 - Part 1

November 2013 - part 2 <--- December 2013 - part 1 ---> December 2013 - part 2


December 13, 2013


Tasting two new old Bunnahabhain

There are still old Bunnahabhains around and many are very fairly priced. Thumbs up! Unless, of course, the whiskies are flat and tired...

Bunnahabhain 33 yo 1980/2013 (45%, James MacArthur, Fine Malt Selection, bourbon, cask #84)

Bunnahabhain 33 yo 1980/2013 (45%, James MacArthur, Fine Malt Selection, bourbon, cask #84) Four stars Around €120, that's fair! Colour: gold. Nose: archetypical old style Bunnahabhain, that is to say an elegant combination of meadow flowers, overripe apples, soft honey and roasted peanuts. It's all pleasantly discreet and maybe a tad feminine (I know, I know). Would rather go on with apple peeling, walnuts, a little malt and touches of orange peel. This one could have been an old official. Lovely nose. Mouth: granted, the palate is a wee tad more, say ordinaire, but it's still lovely and most drinkable. Apple and orange juices, nuts, light honey and a little chocolate. Tends to become a little too grassy, but that remains all fine. Finish: of medium length and even more on apple juice. Good freshness. Comments: maybe not a contest whisky but it's so easy and very quaffable that I'll go for an excellent - and much deserved - score. Great nose. SGP:541 - 87 points.

Bunnahabhain 40 yo 1973/2013 (46.2%, Acla Selection, refill butt, 167 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 40 yo 1973/2013 (46.2%, Acla Selection, refill butt, 167 bottles) Five stars The bottlers, Acla da Fans, are located in Martina in the eastern part of Switzerland. It's a tax-free place. Colour: pale gold. Nose: we're in the very same family, this is a typically flowery Bunnahabhain. What's really striking is the total absence of any signs of old age, and the beautiful honey/flowers combination. This is actually pure honey for a while, before I start to find apples and tea (delicate orange pekoe). Love this nose. Mouth: yes! We aren't far from the 1980 but this has rather more depth as well as an entrancingly fresh fruitiness. So it's a 'fruitsalady' old Bunnahabhain, with apples, oranges, slices of bananas and even a little pear. A few green tannins make it a notch fizzy but that's a sort of an asset in this context. Almost forgot to mention the obligatory honey... Finish: medium length, touches of cider now, more oranges and a little cinnamon. Comments: the fact that it's so fresh and, above all, not oaky, has to be rewarded. But warning, it tends to go down too quick. SGP:651 - 90 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Bunnahabhain I've tasted so far



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December 12, 2013


Young Lagavulin 1979 vs. old 1976

Old Lagavulins are extremely rare, so rare that I've never tried any if my memory serves me well, apart from the official 30 from a few years back. Granted, I've tasted quite a few 'old young ones' but that's something else. As for the prices for the new official 37yo (+/- €2700 at some places at time of writing), they are in line with what's to be seen at other distilleries, which is very, very, and I mean very regrettable, but certainly not illogical. We'll start this little session with another Lagavulin that was distilled in the 1970s as the apéritif, but it's a much younger one. Let's see what happens...

Lagavulin 1979/1992 'Vintage' (43%, Vintage Malt Whisky Co, for Auxil, France)

Lagavulin 1979/1992 'Vintage' (43%, Vintage Malt Whisky Co, for Auxil, France) Five stars This is an early, pre-Finlaggan bottling of Lagavulin by these excellent bottlers who've always had quite some whiskies that were 'furiously Lagavulinian'. I insist, this one has 'Lagavulin' on a sticker, it's not an undercover version. 1979 is the vintage of the famous and brilliant first official Distiller's Edition (WF 92). Colour: white wine. Nose: wet dogs (I'm sorry, dogs) and seawater at first nosing, then a little barley sugar and the smell of tinned sardines in olive oil. It's relatively soft, maybe because of the low strength, rather delicate but frankly coastal. Would rather go one with apple peel and fresh almonds, as well as just wee whiffs of candy sugar that I often found in Lagavulin. It's all a little brighter and less on rubber/tar than, say the official 16s. Mouth: you bet, this is now very tarry! It's actually a very dry, very smoky and very tarry and salty Lagavulin, with also big notes of fresh putty, bitter liquorice, this little rubber, chewing tobacco... That's it, it's almost pure chewing tobacco with a little bitter olive oil. Big stuff. Finish: surprisingly short but quite salty, always with this feeling of putty and liquorice. Salty aftertaste. Comments: I think some OBE 's been going on. Great whisky, only the shortness was a little, ah, eh, short. SGP:266 - 90 points.

Lagavulin 37 yo 1976/2013 (51%, OB, Special Release, 1868 bottles)

Lagavulin 37 yo 1976/2013 (51%, OB, Special Release, 1868 bottles) Five stars No further gibberish, let's try it. Colour: deep gold. Nose: starts with something fragrant, like some perfumes for men that would include incense and sandalwood, as well as more and more vetiver. Certainly some aniseed and dill as well. Then it's rather citrus and liquorice wood, then vin jaune or manzanilla (yes, fresh walnuts), a side that never stops growing over time. It's actually very restless, it never stops changing, which is both fabulous and a drawback if you want to write tasting notes... Aaargh! Also wee touches of paint thinner (high quality paint thinner, of course), creosote, a new box of cigars, various oils and waxes, touches of turpentine, overripe apples, teak oil... Oh and there, it changes again, becoming much more coastal and almost as smoky as a youngster. Bonfire, oysters and such. Phew, this baby really shakes you off!

With water: no huge changes, let's say it became fresher and a wee notch more medicinal. Lemon juice with a few drops of antiseptic. Oh and vetiver, and sandalwood, and seaweed, and... Here we go again! Mouth (neat): the oak feels a bit (astringency) but only for fraction of a second, because lemons, smokes and especially lapsang-souchong tea are soon to come to the rescue. I think we're really in the world of tea here, it's sharing many similarities with an old pu-erh, the soft kind of woodiness (incense once again, sandalwood, 'sweet' cinnamon), the mild fruitiness around kumquats and dried papayas, the earthy smokiness... Then there's some honeydew, lemon pie, a faint camphory touch, certainly some cough syrup 'as always', some black chocolate, oysters, lemon balm... We're experiencing the same phenomenon as on the nose, it keeps changing. Oh, and there are lovely touches of ripe melon. With water: same development as with the nose, let's keep this as short as possible, we're not writing a (poor) novel, are we! Finish: the oak's back and we're rather on black tea and cocoa powder. Dry aftertaste. Comments: this one is extremely difficult to score, since a. it doesn't stop changing and b. the taster can lose his marks, which is a consequence of a. I certainly did sometimes. So a brilliantly challenging whisky, I'd say, it's sometimes almost like playing chess against Kasparov (I imagine). Phew, I think those have been the longest tasting notes I've ever jotted down, apologies. Please take my score with a grain of salt. SGP:365 - 94 points.

(with thanks to the Bar du Nord in Carouge, Switzerland)

More tasting notes Check the index of all Lagavulin I've tasted so far



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December 11, 2013


The quest for malternatives,
today sixteen armagnac

In theory, armagnac could get even closer to malt whisky as it's often a little less 'polished' than cognac. Yet I haven't got any plans to taste many of them, I'd rather like to have just a few from four or five houses, to check to which extent armagnacs can make for real malternatives 'globally'. And as armagnac often bears a vintage, we're even allowed to build a kind of verticale... By the way, as far as figures are concerned, while Scotland alone sells more than 1.5 billion bottles of whisky per year (that's right), armagnac produces around six millions of them, so 1/250. Tiny, but lovely.


Cassaigne 'Réserve' (40%, OB, armagnac, +/-2012)

Cassaigne 'Réserve' (40%, OB, armagnac, +/-2012) Two stars and a half An entry-level 4 yo armagnac from the Château de Cassaigne that's located in Ténarèze. Colour: amber. Nose: starts really well, with bags of raisins and strong honey and a little chocolate as well. Quite a bit of toasted oak too, liquorice, the whole remaining a little light, but certainly not weak. A well-made young armagnac so far, not very grapy. Mouth: not light, but smooth, honeyed and fruity. What stands out is big back cherries and 'of course' sultanas. Loses steam around the middle, with some kind of gritty oak starting to take over, but no big deal. Finish: short but relatively clean. Some bitter caramel in the aftertaste. Comments: very honest! Some parts reminded me of the very best Armenian brandies. SGP:741 - 78 points.

Cassaigne 'Vieille Réserve' (40%, OB, armagnac, +/-2012) Two stars This one's around 6 years old. Colour: amber (a little lighter than the younger one but colours are probably adjusted). Nose: completely different, much more fragrant, more cognac-like, with roses, oranges and peaches on top of the milder raisins and honeys. Not too big, though. Mouth: very similar to the Réserve. Maybe a little rougher and grittier, actually, it's a little too drying. Finish: medium length, a little bitter. Bee propolis. Comments: I really liked the nose a lot but the palate feels 'boisé-ed'. Not sure that's something they do in armagnac but anyway, the simple Réserve was better. I mean, more to my liking. SGP:651 - 75 points.

Cassaigne 'Hors d'Age' (40%, OB, armagnac, +/-2012) Three stars A blend of 'comptes d'âge' between 10 and 15, so technically a 10 yo but probably around 12 on average. Colour: dark amber. Nose: this one has already lost a part of youth's fruitiness and goes more towards old woods, tobacco and even menthol and earth. Fresh mushrooms. It's a very nice nose I have to say, we're not too far from some old Speysiders. Old sherried Macallan, I'd say, which is a profile I already found in one or two cognacs if I remember well. Mouth: very fine, rather grapier than the others, with more fruit eaux-de-vie, prunes for sure, raspberries, cherries, oranges... Good palate, good mouth feel. Finish: sure it becomes a tad bitterish but the fruits make up for that. Grape pips, dark chocolate. Comments: this one is very fine. It's got sufficient age and the distillate is nice. SGP:651 - 80 points.

Let's change houses and go from tradition to... err, Scotchness...

Gélas 10 yo 'Single Cask Double Matured' (41.8%, OB, bas-armagnac, 550 bottles, +/-2012)

Gélas 10 yo 'Single Cask Double Matured' (41.8%, OB, bas-armagnac, 550 bottles, +/-2012) Two stars This one's making sheep's eyes at whisky lovers, with its modernish packaging, the age statement, the double maturation... It's been 'finished' in 'Jurançon Nigri' wine barrels, Nigri being a domaine down there in Jurançon. At least it's kind of coherent as Jurançon's not too far from Vic-Fezensac in Gers, where the Gélas house is located. Having said that, not too sure about using English words such as 'single cask', fût unique would work just as well. Colour: full amber. Nose: same nose as the Cassaigne Hors d'Age, really. I can't find the Jurançon but I wouldn't say I'm trying hard. Maybe this one's a wee tad oakier and drier. I also find more pine needles. Mouth: same, it's that Cassaigne with a little more oomph and maybe a bigger grapiness. I also seem to find a few green tannins. Finish: quite long but a little 'green' indeed. Comments: not bad at all but I like my armagnacs to be a little better polished. The 18 to come may have that... SGP:561 - 76 points.

Gélas 18 yo (48.8%, OB, bas-armagnac, +/-2013)

Gélas 18 yo (48.8%, OB, bas-armagnac, +/-2013) Four stars This one's totally unfiltered, not just unchillfiltered. It's a 'pure' armagnac, without any finishing or double-maturation. 100% ugni blanc. Colour: full amber. Nose: there it comes, raisins, prunes, honeys, brioches, a little tar, liquorice, praline, apricot cake, ditto with plums, quinces... Now we're talking! Mouth: pretty perfect. Especially the higher strength works perfectly, and even if this baby kept most armagnacs' trademark 'artisan' grittiness, all these fruits, both fresh and as jams, work perfectly. Cassata ice cream, angelica, orange zests, baklavas, liquorice... All very fine. Finish: long, not green, not oaky, balanced, jammy and 'crystallised'. Big liquorice in the aftertaste. Comments: another galaxy after the 10. I like this one quite a lot. SGP:651 - 87 points.

Gélas 21 yo 'Single Cask Double Matured' (44.2%, OB, bas-armagnac, 305 bottles, +/-2012)

Gélas 21 yo 'Single Cask Double Matured' (44.2%, OB, bas-armagnac, 305 bottles, +/-2012) Three stars This time it's Pacherenc (actually Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, I suppose) from the famous Madiran 'Montus' that's been used, so another wine from the same global region as armagnac. Montus' Pacherenc is a dry wine. Colour: deep amber. Nose: I don't think it's got the 18's full armagnacness, there are rather notes of coffee and chocolate that hint at sherried malt whisky. Also leaves and humus, leather, orange peel... I like this quite a lot, in fact, but it's just that it's a little too 'world', maybe. It's also becoming a little vinous after a few minutes. Mouth: same, this is very nice but it doesn't scream 'armagnac!' Could be fine brandy from elsewhere, could be cognac, could aged grappa (we'll have a few in the coming months, by the way)... Again, don't get me wrong, this is very, very nice, it's just a little 'indefinite'. Ripe fruits, jams, a few spices, some oak, some tea... Finish: quite long, rather grapier and winier. Pretty oaky aftertaste. Comments: I'm not sure the Armagnac people should mimic the Scots (who've been mimicking the Cognac people for so long). It all starts to feel a little, ah, err, congenital. Now, this is excellent brandy. SGP:561 - 82 points.

Pause... (because the next one will be lighter)...

Delord 1990/2012 (40%, OB, bas-armagnac)

Delord 1990/2012 (40%, OB, bas-armagnac) Two stars Delord is a well-reputed little house in Lannepax, in the Gers region. They distil their own wines, the output being of... 30 litres per hour at full speed. Not quite Glenfiddich, I'd say. Colour: full amber. Nose: we're back on raisins and honeys, with apricots and quinces behind that. It's a light, rather fresh nose for an oldish armagnac, I especially enjoy the whiffs of herbal teas, between lime tree and chamomile. Very easy. Mouth: too bad, I find it a little too sweet and too honeyed. Too liqueury, you almost feel sugar. I'm not saying sugar's been added, of course, and neither am I saying this is sickly sweet, but there, there's too much sugariness. Other than that, it's fine armagnac. Finish: same. Excessive sweetness (for my taste) works even worse in the finish. Sweet cider in the aftertaste. Comments: liked the nose, didn't like the palate too much. Not the first time... SGP:740 - 72 points.

Domaine Les Bidets 1989 (49.9%, L'Encantada, bas-armagnac, +/-2013)

Domaine Les Bidets 1989 (49.9%, L'Encantada, bas-armagnac, +/-2013) Five stars Hurray! L'Encantada, which means The Enchantment in the local language, is a brand new independent bottler in Vic-Fezensac, one of the capital cities of armagnac (and corrida bulls). These new G&Ms of armagnac are two young and very passionate fellows, kudos to them! Colour: deep amber. Nose: ho-ho-ho! Menthol liquorice peaches Demerara prunes Port Mourant tar chocolate Hampden cinnamon tobacco Enmore... Did you find the odd ones out? Seriously, we're almost cruising along the Demerara River. Mouth: we're back in Armagnac but we've stopped off in Voiron for some Chartreuse and in Le Puy for some Verveine. Now, some petroly, tarry and liquoricy 'Demerara' notes remain. Or rather Caroni? A big, fat armagnac that'll please many a whisky - and rum - lover, including this one. Finish: extremely long, tense, tarry and almost smoky. All that on prunes and raisins, of course. Comments: dring dring dring, I think we found a perfect malternative! I also think this is 100% baco. Implacable. SGP:662 - 91 points.

Domaine Les Bidets 1985 (45.2%, L'Encantada, bas-armagnac, +/-2013)

Domaine Les Bidets 1985 (45.2%, L'Encantada, bas-armagnac, +/-2013) Four stars and a half Forgot to say, Domaine Les Bidets lies in Arthez d'Armagnac, so in the Landes. Colour: full amber. Nose: a slightly softer and fresher version of the 1989, less wham-bam, maybe more elegant then, rather more on tobacco (including Kools, ha!) and figs and dates and raisins. Exactly halfway between Guyana and Armagnac (that would be right in the middle of the Atlantic, I'm afraid). Mouth: typically armagnac now, but there's still quite some menthol and liquorice flying around. Not as directly impressive as the 1989, but there's now something rather mineral that comes through, together with some grassy tones, chlorophyll gum, then more traditional fruits such as peaches, plums and oranges. Cloves, cinnamon and pepper bring the spicy counterpoints. Feels a little stronger than 45.2% vol. Finish: long, big, thicker again, almost invading. Delivers 'the toothpaste effect'. Only the aftertaste is a little below par, with something a little too green, grassy and sour. After all, this is brandy. Comments: another wonderful one. Actually, it may be 'technically' better for the Gascons (the people who live there), but whisky lovers should prefer the 1989. Especially peat heads ;-). SGP:651 - 88 points.

Break! We've got some older - and lighter - ones on WF's tasting table, but they wouldn't stand a chance after the very big Bidets by L'Encantada. We'll be back tomorrow (but no worries, everything will be published in one go).

Labiette Castille 1985/2012 (40%, OB, armagnac)

Labiette Castille 1985/2012 (40%, OB, armagnac) Three stars and a half Although it doesn't say so on the main label, this one's a bas-armagnac too. Colour: amber. Nose: rather smooth and rounded and with rather more 'traditional' prunes and raisins than the others. Quite some milk chocolate too, this one seems to be a very gentle and mellow well-aged armagnac. It's also getting a tad balsamic, with hints of rancio. Mouth: perfectly typical armagnac, maybe not totally 'wow' but everything's there, well in keeping with the nose. There's also a little mint, which adds freshness. Only the low strength makes you want for a little more oomph. Finish: fairly short, rounded, on more prunes and a little honey. Rather oranges in the whispering aftertaste. Comments: some very fine, undemanding, easy armagnac in my opinion. SGP:640 - 83 points.

Labiette Castille 1982/2012 (40%, OB, armagnac)

Labiette Castille 1982/2012 (40%, OB, armagnac) Three stars and a half The 1985s slightly older brother. Oh and nice moustaches! Colour: amber. Nose: this one's completely different. Less smooth than the 1985 and much grassier, with also some fresh butter, touches of ham and even a feeling of leather and beer, which takes the biscuit. This could almost be whisky. Mouth: we're fully back on tracks, with a palate that's very close to that of the 1985. Same raisiny, pruny and honeyed profile, same touches of mint and above all that, oranges and maybe cinnamon and cloves. And star anise. A little more punch this time, but it remains lightish. Finish: rather short but we're having a little salt here. Rather 'a salinity'. Comments: less 'classic' than the 1985, especially on the nose. The palate was faintly superior, but overall qualities are similar, so all very fine. SGP:551 - 83 points.

Delord 1978/2013 (40%, OB, bas-armagnac)

Delord 1978/2013 (40%, OB, bas-armagnac) Three stars Just bottled this year. Colour: dark amber. Nose: rather shy. Let's give it a little more time... (zzz)... Well, it's got more polished wood, spices and waxes than the younger ones, the older age does feel. Also more leather and tobacco, mushrooms, walnuts, a little earth, toasted oak... It's often said that old spirits tend to converge and this is a fine example. Old style Macallan springs to mind once again. Mouth: the oak starts to feel but the fruity base is solid enough to stand that. A layer of black tea, cinnamon and tobacco over prunes and raisins. Sadly, the low strength is a problem again, it's all a little thin and not much is actually happening on your tongue after a few seconds. It's all on the sides and the back. Finish: short, a tad grapy. Cinnamon. Funnily, some excellent honey's appearing towards the aftertaste and the retro-olfaction is very pleasant, on orange cake. Comments: I'm dead sure that 3 more percents alcohol would have propelled it towards a higher planet. SGP:651 - 82 points.

La Fontaine de Coincy 1973/1994 (45%, OB, bas-armagnac)

La Fontaine de Coincy 1973/1994 (45%, OB, bas-armagnac) Two stars A little-known armagnac house. Let's see if we start to find OBE since this baby's been in glass for almost twenty years... Colour: deep gold. Nose: this one is completely different, it's much greener than most others, grassier for sure, drier, more on oils as well, I even get a little petrol and touches of saltpetre. More apples too and little signs of any raisins or prunes. Reminds a bit of aged sloe eau-de-vie (prunelle - we'll have a few in the coming months). Very curious about the palate... Mouth: oh no! Something weirdly fizzy. Strongbow? That's very sad because one can feel some very nice flavours beyond that, especially tangerines that aren't too common in armagnac. Finish: quite short, grassy and curiously fizzy again. Comments: a rather odd one. I really enjoyed some parts and it's far from being flawed. But yeah, there are better ones, including old bottles. SGP:551 - 70 points.

Domaine Le Sablé 1973 (40.1%, L'Encantada, bas-armagnac, +/-2013)

Domaine Le Sablé 1973 (40.1%, L'Encantada, bas-armagnac, +/-2013) Four stars and a half The Domaine Le Sablé is located in Lagrange, but they've made armagnac only in 1973, 1974 and 1976. How rare is that? What's more, they've used only baco. Colour: deep amber. Nose: these fellows at L'Encantada know what they're doing, don't they. Let's keep this short, this is a superb nose that's ridden with old furniture polish, oils (olive), porcinis (armagnac is a good region for porcinis) and raisins plus camphor. Gets more and more medicinal, which is superb indeed. Now, it's no 1960s Laphroaig ;-). Mouth: well, it's a little strange, in the sense that it's no typically rounded armagnac. Maybe that comes from the natural low strength, but it rather starts on mint, cough medicine and plain fruit wine (strawberry wine, rhubarb wine), before developing more towards orange blossom water, rosewater and plain orange juice. What's very impressive is the freshness of it all, and the fact that it never feels weak. Finish: medium length. Added fig liqueur and just touches of ginger. Blood oranges keep it very fresh. Comments: great personality and character, this is no usual old armagnac. I tended to like the 1985's immediacy even better, but this is on par with the lovely Encantada 85 (although very different). What a ****** great idea to have built a small independent bottling house down there in Gers! SGP:661 - 88 points.

Delord 1969 (40%, OB, armagnac, +/-2012)

Delord 1969 (40%, OB, armagnac, +/-2012) Three starsImagine you can get these old armagnacs for a song and a dance. Say around 100 Euros. Colour: deep amber. Nose: this old baby is struggling a bit after the last 1973 but it's making quite a creditable job. It's a more traditional style once again, rounder and softer, more on raisins and chocolate (you may add prunes as usual) with a kind of small earthy/minty side that only comes with great age. I mean, in spirits. Mouth: really good, but nothing really special and I wouldn't say the great age of this armagnac brought much more complexity. It's even a notch drying after a few seconds (cocoa), other than that it's all raisins. Finish: short, raisiny, with some tea (tannins). Comments: it's actually very very good, it's just that it lacks character. A smooth and easy old one, not much to add. No real malternative, in fact, just very good armagnac. SGP:660 - 82 points.

Last try, at Delord's once again...

Delord 'L'Authentique' (45.9%, OB, bas-armagnac, 2012)

Delord 'L'Authentique' (45.9%, OB, bas-armagnac, 2012) Four stars and a half This baby is a vatting of seven casks from the 1960s and 1970s. In theory, and also because of the higher strength, this one could be more convincing than the other Delords. Let's see... By the way, I find it strange to state that this one is 'authentic', as if the others weren't. Colour: amber. Nose: wait, this is something! Same feeling as with the Encantada 1989, we're almost in Guyana. I wrote almost because it's still not quite as Port-Mourant-esque (what?), and because there's also more pencil shavings and other oaky tones ala modern Scotch, but the global feeling is pretty perfect. Some kind of smoked black chocolate with drops of tar and liquid liquorice. Almost forgot the big black raisins. Mouth: again, not quite the Bidet 1989 and maybe its a notch too smooth, sweet and even vanilla-ed (aaargh) but all the rest is pretty perfect. Old Sauternes, apricots, raisins, mint drops, chocolate, plums... All very good. Finish: long (hurray) and rather focussed this time. Dare I write Christmas cake with good proportion of dried pears and oranges? Comments: simply a full, big, rich yet elegant armagnac. Well done, Delord! SGP:651 - 88 points.

So, which malternatives did we find in armagnac? Remember a malternative is a quality spirit that would please a whisky enthusiast, not only a quality spirit in its own right. For example, a great Williams pear eau-de-vie can be fab but it cannot make for a malternative in my humble opinion. Anyway, here's the list of today's 'real malternatives':
Domaine Les Bidets 1989 (49.9%, L'Encantada, bas-armagnac, +/-2013) - WF 91
Domaine Les Bidets 1985 (45.2%, L'Encantada, bas-armagnac, +/-2013) - WF 88
Domaine Le Sablé 1973 (40.1%, L'Encantada, bas-armagnac, +/-2013) - WF 88
Delord 'L'Authentique' (45.9%, OB, bas-armagnac, 2012) - WF 88
Gélas 18 yo (48.8%, OB, bas-armagnac, +/-2013) - WF 87
Five real malternatives out of sixteen armagnacs, that's not bad in my book!



Block Today: JAZZ. Performer: this will go well with the armagnacs, he's Stéphane Grappelli. Track: Daphné (with Gary Burton on vibes). Please visit buy their music...

December 10, 2013


Two indie Bunnahabhain 1987

Isn't it funny how some batches/series from one single distillery manage to suddenly catch the attention of many a whisky lover? This time it's a bunch of sherried Bunnahabhains 1987 that seem to be all of high quality. Let's have two more!

Bunnahabhain 25 yo 1987/2013 (49,4%, The Whisky Agency, Perfect Dram, Fino hogshead, 255 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 25 yo 1987/2013 (49,4%, The Whisky Agency, Perfect Dram, Fino hogshead, 255 bottles) Four stars Colour: pale white wine. Probably refill. Nose: I wouldn't say the sherry's very obvious. There might be some kind of fino/manzanilla notes but those may as well come from the distillate. Talking about the distillate, it's absolutely lovely, firm and tense, maybe more 'islands' than other Bunnahabhains, with some brine, cut apples, a bit of linseed oil, then more grapefruits and a little leather. It's also a little farmyardy, with even distant whiffs of seaweed fire as well as drops of sauvignon and blackcurrant leaves. Really elegant and superbly self-restrained. Mouth: more fruits, less mineral and farmyardy notes. I also find a lot of vanilla, which came unexpected. Custard, slightly sour, maybe. Other than that, rather gooseberries, apples, grapes, a little lemonade and a spoonful of damp earth. Very slightly fizzy. Finish: good length. Now more barleyish. Porridge with banana slices, perhaps. Comments: I think I liked the nose a little better this time, but the whole is of high quality once again, like everything in this series. Maybe did the fino impart this wee sourness? SGP:452 - 86 points.

Bunnahabhain 26 yo 1987/2013 (50,2%, Archives, sherry, cask #2557, 233 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 26 yo 1987/2013 (50,2%, Archives, sherry, cask #2557, 233 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: full amber. Nose: what's really interesting is to check to which extent both whiskies are close to each other despite a much darker colour this time. Almost like the TWA with an added layer of cigar tobacco and old Pu-erh tea. A wee bit more mineral too, with even two or three struck matches. Mouth: some big and spicy bitter oranges, some strong tea, both green and black, some tobacco, some gingerbread and a quite a lot of nutmeg. Not a typical spiciness for a sherry cask, unless it was European oak. Good mouth feel. Finish: long and very spicy. Bitters, herbs liqueurs, bay leaves and more nutmeg. Comments: a wee feeling of new oak in this one, where does that come from? Otherwise it's a very great Bunnahahain, even I tend to like them even better when thy're a notch smooother. Ha, smoothness! SGP:462 - 89 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Bunnahabhain I've tasted so far



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December 9, 2013


More quarrelsome Highland Park

Maybe you remember that I had found the three first - and cheaper - bottlings from the 'NAS warriors' series quite underwhelming. My impressions have since been confirmed, blind, by my compadres the malt maniacs, but there are also more recent warriors that are said to be in another league. Let's see!

Highland Park 'Sigurd' (43%, OB, travel retail, 70cl, 2013)

Highland Park 'Sigurd' (43%, OB, travel retail, 70cl, 2013) Four stars Colour: gold. Nose: relatively smooth and easy, with ripe melons and peaches, as well as whiffs of eucalyptus and camphor. That's nice. Also a little crème brûlée and touches of liquorice. I think there's much more happening than in the previous warriors. More and more overripe apples after ten minutes, as well as old walnuts. Mouth: a little thin but not as frustrating as the '40%'. Tarte tatin and orange cake, earl grey, mead and apple juice. A touch of salt, a little Ovaltine, some liquorice... And some honeydew. Finish: rather short and a little drying. Tea. Nice oranges, soft spices and honey in the aftertaste, though. Comments: certainly a very, very fine Highland Park but a little more oomph would have been welcome. Whether it's worth €150 remains to be discussed (how PC is that?) SGP:441 - 85 points.

Highland Park 'Ragnvald' (44.6%, OB, travel retail, 70cl, 2013)

Highland Park 'Ragnvald' (44.6%, OB, travel retail, 70cl, 2013) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: a completely different planet. This one hints more at the old glories, with all these precious honeys, the mild smoke, the touches of metal polish, the hints of fruitcake and the lovely combination of cigar smoke and cedar wood. Wonderful phenols and waxes. We're really talking now. Mouth: indeed. High quality HP, phenolic, medicinal, with many precious woods and spices mingled with ripe fruits and herbal teas as well as a little menthol. Prefect body this time. I especially like the notes of mango cake and honeydew, as well as the touches of bitter oranges that never stop growing. Finish: quite long this time and rather spicy. Cardamom and pepper, oranges again, maybe one or two slices of tinned pineapples... A little salt playing with your lips after you've swallowed it all. Comments: this one really delivered. The finish is rather spicier than other oldies - because there's probably quite some old HP in the mix - but the fruits remain fresh and vivid. The joys of multi-decade vatting, I suppose. SGP:652 - 90 points.

No Thorfinn around, so let's have a new independent version instead...

Highland Park 28 yo 1985/2013 (48.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 252 bottles)

Highland Park 28 yo 1985/2013 (48.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 252 bottles) Five stars This one was bottled in October this year. Colour: straw. Nose: it's a fruit salad, more or less, with just a little sunflower oil and some barley water. And this works quite brilliantly! No I won't list all fruits, but I could tell you that there's also a little paraffin coming out after five minutes, together with some green tealeaves. Becomes drier, leafier, grassier and waxier over time. The fruits are gone after ten minutes, but I love waxes and oils in whisky, so... Mouth: perfect... for me. If you don't like waxy, grassy, sharpish palates, you may continue your way ;-) but if you do and give this baby a little time, you'll be rewarded with limes and grapefruits as well as touches of salt and 'extreme' green tea, Japanese style. What a distillate! Finish: long and extremely well chiselled. Agreed, that also means 'narrow', but high definition can also be an asset. Comments: does little but does it extremely well. For aficionados, I'd say. SGP:362 - 90 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Highland Park I've tasted so far


Pete McPeat and Jack Washback



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December 8, 2013


Two refreshing new Swedish malts

Sweden is another country where there are more and more new malt distilleries. Don't they already have five of them? I guess the cool climate up there must make any spirits mature very slowly, so heavy wood may be needed unless you can wait for decades and decades. Anti-Indian malts, in a way...

Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No.1 (45%, OB, Dubhe Single Malt Whisky, Sweden, +/-2013)

Spirit of Hven Seven Stars No.1 (45%, OB, Dubhe Single Malt Whisky, Sweden, +/-2013) Two stars This one was made on an island, and does not come cheap. However, such new ventures are very costly so around €95 is probably pretty normal. Colour: gold. Nose: interesting! And I'm not saying interesting while meaning 'bad', not at all. In fact it's a somewhat empyreumatic whisky at fist nosing, with unexpected whiffs of camphor, bandages and cough syrup... Was that pine wood??? (just kidding). There's also quite some vanilla and then the expected notes of ginger and porridge, while the medicinal side tends to disappear. Mouth: amusingly, the same camphory and piny notes strike first and give this baby a feeling of dry herbal liqueur, or even naked pastis. Some aniseed indeed, wormwood, liquorice... And once again, that goes away and quick, leaving room for oak, ginger and a dry graininess. Finish: good length but it tends to become a notch cardboardy. Comments: a two-step whisky. I liked the first step better, but I think this sure is a fine effort. Will probably improve over the years. SGP:362 - 75 points.

Smögen 3 yo 2010/2013 'Primör' (63.7%, OB, Sweden, casks #5 & 14-21)

Smögen 3 yo 2010/2013 'Primör' (63.7%, OB, Sweden, casks #5 & 14-21) Three stars and a half The very first bottling by Smögen, that already had a great reputation even before any bottling was released. How did they do that? It's highly peated malt (45ppm) and I like it that they disclose the age instead of going NAS and using an unlikely name straight from wikipedia. Colour: deep gold. Nose: a wee bit too strong at almost 64%, we have to be careful, but I do get something like... wouldn't that be smoked butter and orange fudge with a little soft curry powder? With water: the oak went to the middle distance, while the smoke comes out, although that one remains light. More spicy oranges, raw barley and touches of full grain bread. Pumpernickel? New oak but no wham-bam vanilla and coconut, that's cool. Mouth (neat): fights and bites you. Some prickliness, spearmint, ginger, bitter oranges, crystallised melon, lemons, tonic water... Needs water for sure. With water: that worked, even if it remains very spicy and kind of 'gin-tonic-y'. The gingery side remains obvious but it blends well with the smoke. Sweet mustard. Finish: long, between bitter oranges, ginger and a little sawdust. The smokiness is more obvious in the aftertaste. Comments: a funny combination of traditional and 'modern' tastes. Very entertaining, I doubt one could do much better with 3yo malt and new oak. Most encouraging, kudos, the future is bright for Smögen. SGP:464 - 83 points.



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December 6, 2013


Dufftown thirty years after

I know I've been tasting many new whiskies this year, probably too many in fact, and I feel I've been neglecting the 'old glories'. It's just that old glories can wait, they'll only become even older. However, having both new and old bottlings within the very same session can be fun too. Let's try that again today, with some Dufftown...

Singleton of Dufftown 18 yo (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Singleton of Dufftown 18 yo (40%, OB, +/-2013) Two stars and a half We had only tried the Singleton 12 yo until today, a fair ' introductory' malt. Colour: gold. Nose: relatively soft and quite leafy/leathery at first nosing, while it would rather develop on overripe apples and old walnuts. There's also a little tea and tobacco, before it becomes maltier. No big nose but there's some complexity. Mouth: I like the profile quite a lot, a shame that it's so light and thin. Really feels diluted but the profile itself is quite wonderful indeed, with oranges (both bitter and very fruity), overripe apples, oriental pastries (with honey and orange blossom water) and then a little quince jelly. Touches of crushed bananas. Finish: short, sadly, but love the sultanas and the tea (earl grey). Comments: a superb composition almost murdered with Scottish water. The world needs a cask strength version! Or even 45.8% vol. would do! Loses a good nine or ten points because of its very frustrating weakness on the palate. SGP:451 - 79 points.

Let's go back in time and see what a higher strength can do...

Dufftown-Glenlivet 8 yo (80° proof, OB for Ghirlanda, Italy, +/-1968)

Dufftown-Glenlivet 8 yo (80° proof, OB for Ghirlanda, Italy, +/-1968) Five stars We've already tried several old 8s but never with this label bearing a 'red distillery' (instead of a white one). Geek stuff, I agree, but 80° proof UK means 46% vol... And warning, these old Dufftwons 8 can be either 'meh' or utterly stellar. Colour: straw. Nose: not meh for sure. Old Highlands style in full swing, with great whiffs of shoe polish, metal polish, engine oil, Seville oranges, camphor, soot, ashes and walnuts. Same kind of tobacco as in the current 18. Perfect power. Enough! Mouth: absolutely superb, just like their bros the Blair Athols from the same era could be, although the Dufftowns used to be fatter and less fruity. That's exactly the case here, it's very waxy and kind of petroly, with then a lot of old liqueurs, tars, oils and crystallised oranges and citrons. An unbeatable style. Finish: long, pleasantly sour (towards lemons and green apples), which further 'lifts' it. Wonderful freshness and the aftertaste is unexpectedly salty. A wee bit of mustard too. Comments: fabulous. Now, watch out, the versions at 46% or 80° proof are incomparably better than the ones at 40% or 70° proof. So make no mistake, should you try to find these old bottles. SGP:552 - 92 points.

In theory, we should stop here but the flesh is weak... Will this baby manage to 'climb over' the glorious old 8, despite a lower strength?...

Dufftown-Glenlivet 1963/1977 (70°proof, Berry Bros & Rudd, 26 2/3 FL OZS)

Dufftown-Glenlivet 1963/1977 (70°proof, Berry Bros & Rudd, 26 2/3 FL OZS) Five stars So, only 40% vol. but these bottlings are legendary... And more sherry may do the trick. Colour: mahogany. Nose: philosophical, theological and introspective (to the point, S.!) That translates mainly into roasted chestnuts, furniture polish, chocolate and black raisins, then a whole bag of herbs and dried flowers. Orange leaves, wormwood, chamomile, eucalyptus, honeysuckle... Also a little soy sauce and some iron (old tools). After twenty minutes, we're almost nosing an armful of Habana cigars. An amazing nose, extremely profound and... philosophical. Mouth: the sherry works as an amplifier, as expected. The 40% vol. (probably more like 37% vol. after 35 years in the bottle) feel more like around 43 or 44% vol. And there's a lot of menthol, eucalyptus, camphor and liquorice, which makes this baby as fresh as some lightly sugared Chartreuse (so a very old bottle that got really dry).  I'll spare you the chocolate and all the other flavours, I can hear the anti-maltoporn brigade coming. Finish: all right, it does lose a little steam now, but the profile remains superbly mentholated. Comments: quite stunning despite the low strength, only the finish is a little weak. Malt lovers often mention G&M or Cadenhead when talking about 'the greatest early indy bottlers'. Do not forget BBR! SGP:462 - 92 points.

(with thanks to Olivier)

More tasting notes Check the index of all Dufftown I've tasted so far



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December 5, 2013


Strathisla-ing today

Strathisla is a perfect Christmas malt, especially all the smoothly sherried old ones that G&M have granted us with through the ages, usually at very fair prices. But as I like to contradict myself just for the sake of it, let's rather have some lightly coloured ones today...

Strathisla 10 yo (43%, OB, Chivas Brothers LTD, early 1960s, 75cl)

Strathisla 10 yo (43%, OB, Chivas Brothers LTD, early 1960s, 75cl) Five stars A very old one from the times when owners Chivas used to 'push' Strathisla a little more than today. Why they don't bottle more Strathisla - and Longmorn - these days remains a mystery to many a whisky enthusiast. Colour: gold. Nose: this will be quick, it's a Provençal beehive in early August, with quite a few herbs and grasses around it, as well as a few old forgotten tools. Kss kss kss kss kss kss (that's not the bees, that was rather supposed to be the sound of cicadas singing their heads off in Provence.) Mouth: superb, all elegance and refined fruitiness, with a lovely base made out of beeswax and a little nutmeg. Precious apples, oranges, long-forgotten varieties of pears (what?) and then a carefully composed blend of herbal teas. Chamomile, honeysuckle, hawthorn... More a string quartet than a philharmonic orchestra, but it's great music. Finish: a little short and certainly drier, which is pretty normal. Waxy and lemony aftertaste ala old Clynelish. Comments: striking balance and elegance. These very old bottlings of 10yo Strathisla - when they kept well - were masterpieces. SGP:552 - 91 points.

Strathisla 23 yo 1989/2013 (58.1%, Berry Bros & Rudd, Switzerland, cask #5966)

Strathisla 23 yo 1989/2013 (58.1%, Berry Bros & Rudd, Switzerland, cask #5966) Four stars and a halfColour: pale gold. Nose: powerful and rather more on the grassy/floral side at first nosing. There's also more clear lemon and green apples, which makes it all very 'responsive', so to speak. It's even quite mineral, kind of chalky on the nose, in a good way. With water: some pleasant sour notes, cider, beer, apple juice... A little fresh sawdust and vanilla too, as well as even more 'yellow' flowers.  Mouth (neat): absolutely excellent, with a fruitiness that I find typically Aberlour/Longmorn/Strathisla, in a way. I hope that makes sense! So rather western orchard fruits, apples, plums, pears, yellow berries (gooseberries and such)... All that with drops of liquid wax. Oily mouth feel. With water: became even fruitier. Some barley water. Finish: medium length, on the same notes. Even more apple juice, maybe? Comments: state of the art very moderately oaked fruity spirit. Extremely quaffable. SGP:641 - 88 points.

I think we could have one more Strathisla. Let's see what we can find... (rummage rummage rummage)... Yeah, let's drop the lighter ones that wouldn't easily climb over the strong BB&R and rather choose the probably huge...

Strathisla 16 yo 1970/1987 (61.3%, Gordon & MacPhail for Intertrade, 75cl)

Strathisla 16 yo 1970/1987 (61.3%, Gordon & MacPhail for Intertrade, 75cl) Four stars A sherry monster, probably... Colour: very dark amber. Nose: a bag of prunes. A huge bag of prunes. Prunes are so dominant that not much else manages to come through. With water: as expected, we now have a little earth, some raisins, touches of black cherries (that could be Chambertin ;-)), a little menthol, some liquorice... and always a huge bag of prunes. Mouth (neat): very, very armagnaqcy. Big prunes and no-less-big raisins (Corinth) with some chocolate. Not that monstrous but certainly quite monolithic when unreduced. With water: same proceedings as on the nose, a little more earth, maybe apple peelings, touches of mint... But it all becomes very chocolaty after a few seconds. Hot chocolate. Finish: surprisingly shortish (when diluted) but there's chocolate everywhere indeed. Maybe hints of marmalade too, but little spices. One clove? Comments: excellent, just as expected, but the sherry's really immense. Maybe will 25 more years in glass make the whole a little more complex? ;-). SGP:641 - 87 points.

(with thanks to Franco and Jens)

More tasting notes Check the index of all Strathisla I've tasted so far


Pete McPeat and Jack Washback by Dave B



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December 4, 2013


Two or three St Magdalene 1982

Between us, I had feared no one would bottle some new St Magdalene anymore, not even some Linlithgow (same distillery by another name, as you very well know). So when I found out that the excellent Hart Bros just bottled one in October this year, well, I thought that was great news. The good old days aren't over yet! But as is customary, let's first have a little apéritif if you agree...

Linlithgow 1982/2011 (46%, The Ultimate, Rare Reserve, 284 bottles)

Linlithgow 1982/2011 (46%, The Ultimate, Rare Reserve, 284 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: pale gold. Nose: typical. I know younger enthusiasts do not come across St Magdalene very often anymore, and could be misled by the 'Lowlands' appellation, thus think it must be a light and fruity/grainy malt. Quite the opposite! St Magdalene could be very leafy, petroly, earthy and metallic, which means that it's never been a very easy malt. Some have even been a little 'meh', but others were magnificently complex, even if also a little challenging at times. Anyway, let's cut the drivel, this one is very typical indeed, leafy and parafiny, with quite some plasticine and notes of rubbed lemon skin on top of some kind of smoky apple juice. Ah, whisky History! Mouth: more fruits on the palate and that's where St Magdalene could get closer to its compadres Bladnoch and Rosebank. Citrons and lemons first, then grapefruits, all that on quite some soot, some kind of light ashes and many leaves and herbs. Thyme, perhaps? And always wee bits of paraffin... Finish: not extremely long but the same favours remain there, while a saltiness appears in the aftertaste. Comments: no ooh-ah malt whisky, this is actually a little austere but I like this 'old style', almost 'un-commercial' style quite a lot. You just have to accept challenges ;-). SGP:362 - 89 points.

St Magdalene 31 yo 1982/2013 (53.5%, Hart Bros, Finest Collection)

St Magdalene 31 yo 1982/2013 (53.5%, Hart Bros, Finest Collection) Four stars So yeah, a brand new bottling of St Magdalene, how cool is that? Colour: gold. Nose: this new one is even more extreme and 'pleasantly challenging' than the Ultimate, this time we find a huge bag of cut grass, leaves, fern and various herbs, with a faint soapiness, or rather an aroma that sits right between soap, fresh paint and putty. Sounds like a flaw but it isn't, it's just not an easy nose. So far! Also rubbed lemon peel again. With water: Barbour grease! Linseed and lamp oils! Paint! And maybe a few mushrooms as well. Mouth (neat): huge, very zesty, earthy, a tad soapy again, rather salty and also a little buttery. Don't trendy bartenders have a cocktail that uses lemon juice, paint, beetroot juice and cut grass? Maybe not... With water: water sorts this out. It became much cleaner - although St Magda's never totally clean - and even rounder - although St Magda's never totally round. More salt too, roots, turnips instead of beetroots...  Finish: quite long, very dry now. Strong green tea, wax... Comments: I hate to write this but this baby's probably not for everyone. No easy dram, no easy dram... The exact opposite of a modern, sweet, light, oak-doped malt. Schönberg vs. Händel (will you cut that kind of crap one day, S.?) SGP:262 - 86 points.

Let's have one more 1982...

Linlithgow 1982/2008 (61.8%, Càrn Mor, Celebration of the Cask, refill sherry butt, cask #2220, 582 bottles)

Linlithgow 1982/2008 (61.8%, Càrn Mor, Celebration of the Cask, refill sherry butt, cask #2220, 582 bottles) Five stars The strength is scary, reminds us of the very explosive and very superb 19yo Rare Malts, doesn't it. Colour: straw. Nose: yeah well, the high strength makes it shy, it seems, it's just a notch sugary and grassy. No St Magdalene can be like this ;-). Quick, water... With water: ooh this one swims well! No plasticine or soap or odd oils or whatever, rather minerals, fresh almonds and marmalades, then leaves 'as usual' and just a wee touch of white vinegar - it certainly isn't acetic. Also love the earthiness, the hints of oily rum Jamaica-style and the touches of black olives. A very complex malt. Mouth (neat): huge, extremely oily and powerful. Big liquorice! It's liquorice liqueur at cask strength, with only three drops of lemon juice. With water: absolutely perfect. More tobacco, teas, earths and citrus. Fab zestiness but with a lot of complexity. Finish: Comments: this monster needs a little time and quite some pipette work, but then... It really delivers! Superb, very stylish. SGP:462 - 92 points.

(many thanks, Tom)

More tasting notes Check the index of all St Magdalene I've tasted so far



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December 3, 2013



Malt Maniacs Awards 2013
The results have been published!
Great work once again by Master of the MM Awards Keith Wood and his gang (Oliver, Robert...) As for the winners, the same names keep fighting for the top positions, it seems, but Japan, India, and Taiwan are gathering more and more gold year after year.
You'll find all the results at Malt Maniacs.


Tasting some pricey Ardbeg single cask

So! Let's have that Ardbeg 1992 by Douglas Laing that caused such a stir on the Malt Maniacs' Facebook page - and 120 comments at time of writing - because of its very hefty price: around £450 a bottle, while other bottlers such as Cadenhead's or Whiskybroker were recently offering some similarly aged Ardbegs for around £80 to £110. The excellent, and friendly, and very engaging, and very smart (and, and, and) bottlers argued that the whisky's stunning and that the very long distribution channel, that is to say agents, wholesalers and retailers - not to mention taxes and excises - where guilty as well, while other bottlers are selling 'direct', so at a much lower cost, through their own networks or websites. Fair enough, but let's see how this baby compares to another Ardbeg from the same years (so not from the glorious 1970s) and at a similar strength, that I'll simply select at random from my shelves. Eenie meenie miney mo, that one will be the...

Ardbeg 12 yo 1990/2003 (46%, High Spirits, 312 bottles)

Ardbeg 12 yo 1990/2003 (46%, High Spirits, 312 bottles) Five stars Ouch, a sherried Ardbeg, hope this will remain fair... Colour: very dark amber. Nose: it's a very smoky and tarry one. Chestnuts being roasted over a fir cones fire, pitch, and then more and more earth, old musty cellar, even plain mud, wet dogs (I'm sorry, dogs)... Would rather go on with herbal liqueurs, chartreuse and that very strange drink that the Corsicans make, myrtle spirit. Old dunnage warehouse. We're really sitting right in the middle between the old sherried ones (say 1976 Feis Ile) and the more modern Ardbegs such as the recent Uigeadails. So, great nose. Mouth: the sherry tends to dominate a bit in the arrival, this is really as thick and oily as chestnut honey. Quite a lot of mint as well, honeydew, cough medicine and liquorice, then raisins and prunes that create a feeling of, say peated armagnac. A little curry too, bitter oranges, some cardamom, certainly quite some cloves... Maybe the sherry's a little too heavy, but other than that it's an excellent Ardbeg. Finish: the menthol comes out more but there's also a feeling of 'having just swallowed 10cl of olive oil'. Earthy and chocolaty aftertaste. Comments: a thick beast, not extravagantly peaty but our vegetal friend may be hiding behind the 'wall of sherry'. SGP:476 - 90 points.

Ardbeg 21 yo 1992/2013 (48.6%, Douglas Laing, Old Particular, refill hogshead, ref #DL10065, 232 bottles)

Ardbeg 21 yo 1992/2013 (48.6%, Douglas Laing, Old Particular, refill hogshead, ref #DL10065, 232 bottles) Five stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: this baby's actually not perfectly comparable to the 1990, the styles are extremely different. This one's much cleaner, less peaty on the nose and much more on vanilla and yellow fruits such as peaches and mirabelles - at least at first nosing. More smoke (bonfire) and eucalyptus do come through after two or three minutes, though, together with some pinesap and a little antiseptic, as well as my beloved gentian (earth, roots, more antiseptic). There's even something a little vinegary, but that would be high quality balsamico, of course ;-). Fresh walnuts and almonds plus cider apples. It's a complex nose for sure, it keeps changing while remaining rather gentle. As far as the noses are concerned, I'd say it's more or less a tie. Mouth: a rather soft and smooth arrival with even a little pear liqueur and mild acacia honey, but it would then steadily accelerate, just like an old muscle car.  This one's for Tarantino! Pepper, quinces, kippers, plum pie, quinine, lime, cough medicine and then more earthy touches that start to dance the tango with the limes and lemons. A great (and expensive) margarita. Finish: long, ultra-clean and zesty. Limes, smoke, seashells and the usual salty tang in the aftertaste. Comments: there's no denying that this is a great Ardbeg, of the 'ultra-clean' variety that's not exactly what we could find in the 1970s - or in the late 1990s-early 2000s. But remember these batches were made by the Laphroaig people! ;-). So, yeah, I think this one's pretty much unbashable - not saying that the price is right, of course! SGP:466 - 91 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Ardbeg I've tasted so far



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December 2, 2013


Funny Benrinnes

Indeed in my experience Benrinnes is another 'funny' malt whisky, usually rather meaty but displaying wildly different styles depending on the ages and on the kinds of casks. It's often quite fat.

Benrinnes 2002/2009 (46%, Càrn Mor Scottish Collection, hogshead, cask #5)

Benrinnes 2002/2009 (46%, Càrn Mor Scottish Collection, hogshead, cask #5) Two stars and a half This one came in a 20cl bottle. I've found this series rather underwhelming but it's always pleasing to be able to taste near-newmake. Colour: almost white. Nose: apples, pears, porridge, beer and a little sunflower oil plus touches of barley water. It's not unpleasant, I have to say. After ten minutes, some Belgian gueuze beer. Mouth: sweet young malt whisky. Less fat and waxy than expected, rather on apple juice and a little orange. Same feeling of sweet beer as on the nose. Finish: medium length. Same flavours, apples... Comments: a pleasant drink, obviously immature but it could compete in the 'pot still vodka' category and possibly win. I like the fact th at this baby isn't oak-doped, it's not often that we can try some naked very young non-peater. No that wasn't a request. SGP:431 - 78 points.

Benrinnes 12 yo 'Stronachie' (43%, A.D. Rattray, batch #02/12, 2012)

Benrinnes 12 yo 'Stronachie' (43%, A.D. Rattray, batch #02/12, 2012) Two stars and a half Colour: gold. Nose: this one's really funny! A lot of butter caramel at first sniffs, some white chocolate, some marzipan and then more and more very floral Swiss cheese. Meadows in summertime. The buttery side never stops growing while more honey (rather mead, actually) comes through, as well as wild mushrooms. I may be dreaming but that could well be horns of plenty. No I'm not joking. Unusual. Mouth: what was very nice in the nose is a little, err, embarrassing on the palate. Touches of rancid butter, cardboard, mead again (or Breton chouchen, and cider while we're at it), then a lot of fudge and caramel. Sticky toffee pudding. Finish: relatively long, buttery and rather maltier. Ovaltine in the aftertaste. Comments: so another funny/unusual one. I would put it in the same league as the Carn Mor. SGP:441 - 78 points.

Benrinnes 15 yo 1998/2013 (47,9%, Sansibar, sherry, 233 bottles)

Benrinnes 15 yo 1998/2013 (47,9%, Sansibar, sherry, 233 bottles) Four stars Colour: light gold. Nose: we have the same kind of slightly wacky nose as with the Stronachie, except that this 1998 has many more fruits and jams, which makes all the difference. Around greengage jam, maybe, citrons, cherries... Other that that, there's some fudgy notes again, some oils and waxes as well as a few drops of Chartreuse. Also a little beer, Ovaltine, Swiss cheese and butter again. An entertaining nose. Mouth: ah, the fun of it! This time we're finding one or two Toulouse violet bonbons, then malt, raisins, drops of armagnac and a little marmalade. Finish: long but much more acidic, in a way. Verjuice? It's very interesting to have a finish that literally wipes any fatty notes off your palate. Comments: this one was extremely entertaining and just for that it deserves one or two extra-points in my book. SGP:561 - 87 points.

Let's have another, older one...

Benrinnes 21 yo 1979 (61.5%, Chieftain’s Choice, +/-2000)

Benrinnes 21 yo 1979 (61.5%, Chieftain’s Choice, +/-2000) Two stars and a half This one could be 'even more strange'. Colour: pale gold. Nose: actually, it's not really strange, we're rather having a lot of alcohol, almonds and cut apples. That's the high strength, I believe. With water: a lot, and I mean a lot of paraffin and plasticine. And that's not saponification smells from adding water as they just wouldn't go away. Behind that, a superb lemon and apple pie, it seems! Sob... Mouth (neat): as thick as honey. Mint syrup, concentrated orange juice and grass. Cough, cough, this is really very strong. With water: very paraffiny again. Not obligatorily unpleasant but when there's so much of all that, well... Also barley water and almond oil again. Finish: long and grassier. Plasticine and citrons. Comments: one of the thickest bodies I've came across this year. There is some fun again in this. SGP:361 - 79 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Benrinnes I've tasted so far



Block Today: JAZZ. Performer: French-Egyptian guitarist Khalil Chahine. Track: Ninos. Please visit his website and buy his music...

December 1, 2013


Light Glen Deveron vs. Macduff

Another headline that doesn't make any sense as Glen Deveron is just another name for official Macduff. It's quite big and cheap in France and very easy to find in supermarkets.

Glen Deveron 15 yo (40%, OB, +/-2013)

Glen Deveron 15 yo (40%, OB, +/-2013) Two stars and a half I've never found the 10 yo Glen Deveron very impressive, it's always been cruising along the 70-75 points line in my book. Colour: straw. Nose: one of the most grainy and porridgy noses I came across in recent months. Then we have a little sawdust, plain dust, touches of oranges and a combination of butter and green tea. Not quite yak butter tea, though... There's something friendly in this unassuming nose. Mouth: Scotch. This tastes exactly like 'Scotch', that is to say Scotch as Boeotians (right, philistines) think Scotch is tasting. Malty, very slightly honeyed, marginally toasted, with a touch of grassy bitterness and oranges. Finish: medium and average. Comments: honest Scotch that really tastes like Scotch, whether single or blended. SGP:441 - 76 points.

Macduff 13 yo 2000/2013 (46.5%, Sansibar, sherry, 224 bottles)

Macduff 13 yo 2000/2013 (46.5%, Sansibar, sherry, 224 bottles) Two stars and a half Colour: gold. Nose: well in the style of many youngish sherried Macduffs, not a profile I'm very fond of, but reduction with water seems to have made it gentler. There are certainly quite a few used matches, quite a lot of butter caramel (Werther's!) and quite a lot of toasted brioche and bread. Slightly burnt chocolate cake straight from the oven. Mouth: quite strange. Bitter oranges, Campari, ginger and a both chalky and grassy side. It's becoming almost fizzy and prickly after a few seconds, with more grapefruit too, lemon drops, a wee feeling of 'plasticine smoked over a pile of burning matches' and, well, ginger tonic. Very unusual. Finish: quite long, the bitter oranges having become bigger, which isn't bad news. Comments: another funny one, I think. Demonstration malt whisky? SGP:351 - 78 points.

Those Macduffs have been either honest or interesting, but maybe we need another one. Such as a much older one?

Macduff 16 yo 1963 (70° proof, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseur's Choice, black label, +/-1979)

Macduff 16 yo 1963 (70° proof, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseur's Choice, black label, +/-1979) Four stars The oldest Macduff I've ever tried - as far as distilling years are concerned. A 1964 black label by Cadenhead has been very good (WF 87) while a 1965 'small white label' had been excellent (WF 90). Colour: gold. Nose: yesss! We have these un-missable notes of old herbs liqueurs, putty, old-style fresh paint, old toolbox and dried mushrooms that scream 'good OBE', before it all gets much drier and more austere. No fruits left whatsoever, and even a feeling of old bone-dry Madeira, moss, leaves... It's a rather beautiful nose but once again, with these kinds of noses, the palates can be flat dead or very acrid. Let's see... Mouth: well, it's not, not at all. More fruits than on the nose (around overripe apples and 'metallic' mangos) and a medicinal side that, I'm almost sure, wasn't there when this baby was bottled. Eucalyptus tea? Having said that, it tends to become a little flat and drying towards the middle. Finish: rather short, leaving much black tea on your tongue but almost nothing else. Or maybe a little mint? Comments: it's a funny game to try to detect what was there in the first place and what came from bottle ageing. I'm not saying it's an easy game! SGP:361 - 85 points.

Maybe we shouldn't leave it at that and try to find something that would be more enlightening. Such as a Macduff from a similar era, but bottled more recently and at a much, much higher strength. A challenge? You bet...

Macduff 35 yo 1969/2005 (61.1%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, sherry cask, cask #3686, 105 bottles)

Macduff 35 yo 1969/2005 (61.1%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, sherry cask, cask #3686, 105 bottles) Four stars I haven't seen or heard much from Duncan Taylor's since months and months, but I've got a large stash of older DTs in my library, such as this old Macduff that was bottled at a staggeringly high strength (bad pun, S.) Colour: rich amber. Nose: how would a cocktail made out of acacia honey, cellulose varnish and young Sauternes work? I think that would be as much as a hit as this big yet complex nose. Pretty wonderful, going on with a lot of vanilla, wee touches of coconut and a good slice of freshly baked plum pie. More bourbon than sherry, quite funnily, and it's very nosable at 61% vol. With water: much farmier. Damp wood, but also these beautiful honeyed notes. Mouth (neat): same feeling of high-end bourbon, with oranges aplenty and some kind of peppery honey. Touches of icing sugar too, orange drops... No burn! Halas, it tends to become a little bitter. Just a little... With water: mild success. Becomes a little Fanta-ish. Finish: long and spicier. More cinnamon as always. I mean, as often. Comments: a real Janus. Make what you want out of that. SGP:561 - 86 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Macduff I've tasted so far


Whiskyfun fav of the month

November 2013

Favourite recent bottling:
Karuizawa 31 yo 1981/2013 (60.5%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, sherry butt, cask #78)  - WF 93

Favourite older bottling:
Very Old Highland Whisky (Dymoch, Howden & Co. Ltd, Pure Malt, bottled +/-1910?) - WF 96

Favourite bang for your buck bottling:
Kilkerran 9 yo 2004/2013 'Work in Progress - Bourbon Wood' (46%, OB, batch #5)  - WF 91



Block Today: UNCATEGORIZABLE. Performer: John Zorn. Track: Makahaa. Please visit John Zorn's website and buy his music...

November 2013 - part 2 <--- December 2013 - part 1 ---> December 2013 - part 2



Best malts I had these weeks - 90+ points only

Ardbeg 12 yo 1990/2003 (46%, High Spirits, 312 bottles)

Ardbeg 21 yo 1992/2013 (48.6%, Douglas Laing, Old Particular, refill hogshead, ref #DL10065, 232 bottles)

Bunnahabhain 40 yo 1973/2013 (46.2%, Acla Selection, refill butt, 167 bottles)

Domaine Les Bidets 1989 (49.9%, L'Encantada, bas-armagnac, +/-2013)

Dufftown-Glenlivet 8 yo (80° proof, OB for Ghirlanda, Italy, +/-1968)

Dufftown-Glenlivet 1963/1977 (70°proof, Berry Bros & Rudd, 26 2/3 FL OZS)

Highland Park 'Ragnvald' (44.6%, OB, travel retail, 70cl, 2013)

Highland Park 28 yo 1985/2013 (48.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 252 bottles)

Lagavulin 37 yo 1976/2013 (51%, OB, Special Release, 1868 bottles)

Lagavulin 1979/1992 'Vintage' (43%, Vintage Malt Whisky Co, for Auxil, France)

Linlithgow 1982/2008 (61.8%, Càrn Mor, Celebration of the Cask, refill sherry butt, cask #2220, 582 bottles)

Strathisla 10 yo (43%, OB, Chivas Brothers LTD, early 1960s, 75cl)