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Hi, you're in the Archives, December 2014 - Part 2

December 2014 - part 1 <--- December 2014 - part 2 ---> January 2015 - part 1


December 31, 2014



So, how was 2014
at Whiskyfun Towers?

HI. Well, 2014 will have been a rather ‘rich’ year for little Whiskyfun. We’ve celebrated our 12th year online as well as our 10,000th tasting notes for some whisky (a Brora, of course – that happened on September 14), while recent statistics suggest that we’re now welcoming around 8,000 visits/sessions a day on average, vs. 6,000 last year. That can only come from a growing worldwide interest for whisky, as we haven’t changed much to these lousy pages, have we? And WF’s anything but tailored to beginners or street drinkers, so, I’m quite chuffed about all that, thank you. I think I might go on for a little while…


But I’ve not only been an armchair fighter, I’ve also travelled quite a bit! First to Scotland, naturally, where we did a great pre-war whisky tour with some close friends from all over the world. The gig was to bring pre-war whiskies to their original distilleries, while being filmed by the BBC Scotland. Most distilleries have welcomed us con mucho gusto, only one very large yet very niggardly plant having behaved in a very disappointing way. Ardmore, Gordon & MacPhail and Glenfarclas, on the other hand, have displayed much panache and glory. Bless them! With my better half, I also attended the Lagavulin Jazz Festival on Islay later in September, a fantastic little event full of good sounds and great whiskies – or the other way ‘round. Only disappointment, no jazz blower ever tried to play a set of gradually emptied bottles of Lagavulin, but at least we avoided El Condor Pasa. By the way we’ll fly to Islay again in February next year, and bring very old peaters back to their respective homes, where they’ll get emptied. That should be fun! Another highlight of the year has been flying to California and discovering a few new craft American whiskies, as well as tasting a few bourbons with a bunch of great knowledgeable American friends.

Steve Dave

And of course, festivals! Luzern’s Whisky Ship, Limburg, then Paris Whisky Live where I did some classes with Dave Broom (well I’ve rather kind of assisted him) and Charlie MacLean, also Lausanne, as well as the tiny yet dazzling Oostende… Sadly, I couldn’t attend old favourites such as Zurich of the Whisky Show in London, but I will go there again, for sure. I missed them. Adding other festivals to my schedule would be a dream, but that’s very difficult to do, since I also have to work, mind you. What I always find amazing at whisky festivals is that there’s very little, or sometimes no drunken meat at all. Either festival-goers are very responsible and well-mannered, or they stand alcohol much better than Hemingway. Or both. Festivals are also always a good occasion to meet old and new friends, they are actually even more about friendship than about whisky. I’d add that some events would be even better, should they add more spittoons and more water. Oh, almost forgot to mention industry reps, it’s good to be able to chat with them and see that they don’t all live in the 20th century.

Because, in my opinion, a part of the Scotch Whisky industry lives in the past. These days many are busy doing branding instead of building and improving real content, not to mention genuine engagement. When you see some ads, you’d think we’re back in 1980. And of course they all seem to think they are Hermès or Patek Philippe, so they’re now creating distance, if not building walls between them and their customers, which some call their ‘fans’. I’m not joking. A good brand is obviously the greatest asset, but in my opinion, excessive branding kills and there will be casualties, because in many cases, they don’t quite have the products to match. Some seem to have forgotten that whisky’s an agricultural product that some of us are willing to put into our mouths and judge, and not decorations. No names.


Some also seem to believe that Scotch whisky, especially malt, is a Veblen good whose demand is proportional to the prices. According to the latest figures, that doesn’t quite seem to be the case, there are signs of a nose-diving demand. More empathy and transparency, and less arrogance may be a cure. And the trends we’ve all noticed in the past are going on, especially the rise of no-age-statement whiskies and wood/wine used for flavouring instead of maturing.

Some of these very young oak-doped whiskies can be quite good, and certainly flattering on the palate, but some are weak and totally uninspiring. Where’s the ‘spirit’? And too expensive. Sure there’s always been NAS whiskies, but they used to be young fresh tipples that were displaying perfect distillery character, and were priced very fairly. Today’s NAS whisky is often wood/wine flavoured, and more expensive than its older siblings.


In fact, not my business but I think the SWA should make age statements mandatory for malt whisky, or at least for single malt. In compensation, they should also allow the display of multi-ages or multi-vintages, provided actual proportions are disclosed – and controlled. Because in a way, it’s understandable that a distiller who’d vat together nine casks of 40 years old and one cask of 10 years old to give the whole more brightness would go NAS instead of 10 years old. But globally, I believe that the industry’s new mantra, “wood = time”, is a false equation. That’s why the indies beat the OBs fair and square these days, with only a few exceptions (Springbank!)

Having said that, it’s not easy either on the malternative front. For example, many rum or cognac bottlers are using additives that would be forbidden in Scotch whisky (but sometimes legal in other whisky producing countries, let’s be careful!) But in some way, flavouring the finishing casks or flavouring the spirit could be seen as being kind of the same thing.

Anyway, whisky lovers often chose Scotch because they used to think it was a superior spirit, and Scotch has to remain a superior spirit, with all its attributes. In my book, age is one of those attributes, just like the capacity of its engine for a car, its vintage for wine, its country or region of origin for cheese, or the name of the drummer on a jazz record. Without age, whether young or old, whisky loses its soul, and no silly Gaelic name could make up for that. And remember the saying, if you succeed in cheating your customers, don’t think they’re fools, that just means that they trusted you more than you deserved. Having said that, another saying goes like ‘the power of wilful ignorance cannot be overstated.’

Now, indeed, countries such as Japan, India or Taiwan are making great alternatives to Scotch. The results of this year’s Malt Maniacs Awards, for example, have shown that trend, but those whiskies were exceptional, I don’t think they’re faithful representatives of those countries’ global output.

Their owners have everything to win in a large blind competition, so they actively participate, while some Scottish brands seem to believe that they have everything to lose. That’s also what I’m noticing with the samples I get at WF Towers, some brands just don’t want free and independent (read uncontrollable) tasters to try their whiskies. As I often say or write, ‘some mail samples because they know we’ll say what we think, some others don’t for the very same reasons.’ All fine, fair game, we still love you guys, I’ll find your whiskies anyway, should I want to try them.


But maybe it’s time to have a closer look at what we’ve tasted in 2014...

So, here’s the list of all the whiskies and other spirits that were bottled in 2014 and that I scored 90 points or more. There were 56 whiskies altogether, vs. 72 in 2013, and I don’t think I’ve been harsher this year, while I’ve tried just as many whiskies as last year. So indeed, it’s not been the greatest year ever as far as quality’s concerned.

Drum roll please…


Awards Oscar

Includes only whiskies bottled in 2014! Please remember that we do not taste prices.

98 points (1)


Brora 40 yo 1972 (59.1%, OB, decanter, single cask, 2014)

97 points (0)

96 points (0)
95 points (0)  
94 points (1)
MinibottleLagavulin 1995/2014 ‘Feis Ile’ (54.7%, OB, European sherry oak butts, Space3,500 bottles)
93 points (5)
MinibottleArdbeg 20 yo 1993/2014 (57.1%, A.D. Rattray for Jurgen's Whiskyhuis)
MinibottleBrora 35 yo 1978/2014 (48.6%, OB, 2964 bottles)
MinibottleKaruizawa 33 yo 1981/2014 (55.3%, OB, La Maison du Whisky, sherry, Spacecask #136)
MinibottleSt. Magdalene 32 yo 1982/2014 (58.1%, Cadenhead)
MinibottleThe Nikka 40 yo (43%, OB, blend, 700 decanters, 2014)
92 points (12)
MinibottleArdbeg 1991/2014 (48.9%, Malts of Scotland for Hotel Bero, sherry
Spacehogshead, cask #MoS 14054, 185 bottles)
MinibottleArdbeg 1998/2014 (58.2%, Malts of Scotland, Amazing Casks, sherry Spacehogshead, cask #MoS 14027, 222 bottles)
MinibottleCaol Ila 1982/2014 ‘Smoke on the Water’ (46%, Wemyss Malt, hogshead, Space255 bottles)
MinibottleCaol Ila 30 yo 1983/2014 (55.1%, OB, Special Release, 7638 bottles)
MinibottleGlen Garioch 40 yo 1973/2014 (54.3%, OB for The Whisky Exchange, Spacesherry butt, cask #4297, 138 bottles)
MinibottleGlenfiddich-Glenlivet 41 yo 1973/2014 (43.1%, Cadenhead, single cask)
MinibottleKaruizawa 1981/2014 (54.5%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, sherry, cask Space#152, 566 bottles)
MinibottleKaruizawa 1984/2014 (58.5%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, bourbon, cask Space#8173, 363 bottles)
MinibottleLagavulin 12 yo 'Special Release 2014' (54.4%, OB, 31428 bottles)
MinibottleLaphroaig 16 yo 1998/2014 (58.2%, Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead, Spacecask #MoS 14001, 224 bottles)
MinibottleMortlach 25 yo (43.4%, OB, 50cl, 2014)
MinibottlePort Ellen 32 yo 1982/2014 (57.9%, Malts of Scotland, Diamonds, bourbon Spacehogshead, cask #MoS 14021, 145 bottles)
91 points (13)
MinibottleClynelish 18 yo (50.6%, The Whisky Exchange for The Whisky Show SpaceLondon, 2014)
MinibottleCraigellachie 23 yo (46%, OB, 2014)
MinibottleGlen Garioch 24 yo 1989/2014 (51.4%, The Whisky Agency, The Perfect SpaceDram, refill hogshead)
MinibottleGlen Grant 66 yo 1948/2014 (46.6%, Gordon & MacPhail for Wealth SpaceSolutions, first fill sherry butt, cask #1369, 160 bottles)
MinibottleGlengoyne 25 yo (48%, OB, +/-2014)
MinibottleKilkerran 10 yo 2004/2014 'Work in Progress - Bourbon Wood' (46%, SpaceOB, batch #6)
MinibottleLaphroaig 22 yo 1991/2014 (49.8, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, Spacebourbon hogshead, 168 bottles)
MinibottleLittlemill 23 yo 1990/2014 (51.2%, Whisky-Fässle, hogshead)
MinibottleLochside 32 yo 1982/2014 (55.2%, Malts of Scotland, Angel's Choice, cask Space#MoS 14019, 39 halves)
MinibottleMortlach 26 yo 1987/2014 (57.5%, Adelphi, refill sherry, cask #3101, 192 Spacebottles)
MinibottlePort Ellen 35 yo 1978/2014 (56.5%, OB, 14th Special Release, 2,964 Spacebottles)
MinibottleSingleton of Glendullan 38 yo 1975/2014 (56.9%, OB, Special Release, Space3,756 bottles)
MinibottleStrathmore 1970/2014 (43.8%, Malts of Scotland, single grain, bourbon Spacehogshead, cask #14032, 212 bottles)
90 points (24)
MinibottleAr4 (58.1%, Specialty Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2014, 50cl)
MinibottleArdbeg ‘Supernova SN2014’ (55%, OB, Committee Release, 2014)
MinibottleBalvenie 'Tun 1509' (47.1%, OB, batch #1, 2014)
MinibottleBunnahabhain 1987/2014 (50.4%, The Whisky Agency, refill hogshead,
Space210 bottles)
MinibottleBunnahabhain 24 yo 1989/2014 (50.8%, The Warehouse Collection,
Spacebourbon hogshead, cask #5695, 267 bottles)
MinibottleBunnahabhain 26 yo 1987/2014 (49.9%, Maltbarn, sherry butt, 121 bottles)
MinibottleCI7 (58.5%, Speciality Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2014)
MinibottleClynelish 16 yo 1997/2014 (50.9%, The Whisky Mercenary for Cask Six
Space10th Anniversary)
MinibottleClynelish 17 yo 1996/2014 (51.9%, Silver Seal)
MinibottleClynelish 17 yo 1997/2014 (52.4%, Maltbarn, bourbon cask, 166 bottles)
MinibottleClynelish 18 yo 1995/2014 (57.5%, Single Malts of Scotland, cask #10193,
Space265 bottles)
MinibottleGlendronach 18 yo 1995/2014 (52.2%, OB for The Whisky Agency, oloroso Spacesherry puncheon, cask #4408, 740 bottles)
MinibottleGlenlivet 50 yo 1964/2014 (42.3%, OB, 100 decanters)
MinibottleGlenturret 33 yo 1980/2014 (42,8%, The Whisky Agency, refill hogshead,
Space253 bottles)
MinibottleIreland 26 yo (51.6%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams and La Maison du SpaceWhisky)
MinibottleIrish Single Malt 26 yo 1988/2014 (50.4%, Ramseyer’s Whisky Connection, Space175 bottles)
MinibottleLittlemill 1989/2014 (47.6%, Whisky-Fässle, bourbon)
MinibottleLittlemill 23 yo 1990/2014 (51.7%, Jack Wiebers, bourbon, cask #1033, 144 Spacebottles)
MinibottleOctomore 5 yo ‘Islay Barley – 06.3’ (64%, OB, 2014)
MinibottleOld Pulteney 35 yo (42.5%, OB, 2014)
MinibottlePort Askaig 45 yo (40.8%, Specialty Drinks, 2014)
MinibottlePort Charlotte 9 yo 2004/2014 (46%, The Coopers Choice, hogshead, cask Space#1032, 330 bottles)
MinibottleSpeyside 60 yo (42.5%, Master of Malt, First Edition, single malt, 2014)
MinibottleSpringbank 12 yo 'Cask Strength' (54.3%, OB, batch #9, 2014)

So, there were very few utter stunners in 2014, which may confirm a trend that we’d noticed quite some years ago, that is to say that there are less crappy whiskies, and less great glories. Is that another effect of wood technology gone mad? Industrialisation?
Some names are also slowly disappearing from these lists. No Bowmores anymore, for example, while some of last year’s blue chips are gone as well, such as Benriach and Glendronach. Imagine, only one Glendronach in our top list in 2014, while we had no less than 13 of them  last year. Was it only a flash in the pan? Oh and no more Highland Park, and no more Macallan either. That’s a little sad, because I’ve tried quite a bunch. Unless there was some stunner that I simply didn’t see.
We’re also probably seeing the tail of Karuizawa and Port Ellen, yet they still perform extremely well. St. Magdalene hasn’t said its last word, thanks to Cadenhead. The indies have also issued some excellent Ardbegs, I’m glad we have five of them in our wee list (but they’re expensive). Caol Ila remains top notch stuff. Clynelish remains Clynelish. A few officials have issued some great – albeit very expensive – malts, such as Balvenie Tun 1509, Craigellachie 23, Glengoyne 25, Mortlach 25 or Pulteney 35. As far as fairly priced whiskies are concerned, which is even greater of course, there were the new Kilkerran batch 6 and the new Springbank 12 CS, both superb, as well as Lagavulin 12 and Feis, and Ardbeg Supernova.

Other than that, Littlemill keeps performing very well in WF’s little book, and we’re now seeing some undisclosed  indie Bushmills doing greatly as well. Don’t we like fruits? And Brora, of course. As far as bottlers are concerned, our friends the Germans go on stealing the show (chiefly Malts of Scotland and The Whisky Agency), but the Brits and the Scots gave us some great ones as well. Cadenhead are definitely back up there, while the retailers/bottlers such as The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malts are doing greatly as well, kudos to them.
Now if you really need some sort of  ‘WF’s whisky of the year’, there would be two of them, Brora 40 yo and Kilkerran Batch #6. The good news is that for the price of one Brora, you could buy one hundred ninety-five bottles of Kilkerran. - your Serge


One last thing while I'm at it, we did a bit of race car and motorbike sponsoring again in 2014, which is a silly idea indeed since WF only generates losses anyway (WF’s income being strictly zero). First, we sponsored a car at the Rallye de France WRC (58th, no bad, bravo Cyrille and Mathias), and then we sponsored two bikes that, with the Lonan Gentlemen and our friend Ralfy – of Ralfy fame ;-)- were meant to try to break two speed records at Bonneville salt flats in August. Sadly, the Speed Week was cancelled due to flooding, while I had hoped I could publish the news of a speed record at the same time as I was publishing WF’s 10,000th whisky review. But it seems that ‘we’ shall be able to try again, maybe when we’ll publish our 12,000th review. Because mind you, at Whiskyfun, we love fast cars and motorbikes just as much as we enjoy slow whisky.   



December 30, 2014


Strong Benromach
and stronger Benromach

The very vibrant and diverse Malt Maniacs & Friends community on Facebook can be a bit pushy. Well, I feel pushed. Since our friend Ralfy selected the new Benromach 10 years old as his malt of the year – certainly a great choice as far as daily drams are concerned – everybody’s talking about Benromach, and some are now commenting on the new 100 proof, while I haven’t tried it yet. That’s why I’m feeling ‘pushed’… Time to put things straight!

Benromach 10 yo '100° proof' (57%, OB, 2014)

Benromach 10 yo '100° proof' (57%, OB, 2014) Four stars So yeah, this is the new 100 proof. It’s obviously Gordon & MacPhail distillate, as Diageo sold the distillery to them in 1992/1993, while G&M reopened it in 1998. Well, that were Diageo’s ancestors, United Distillers. Colour: amber. Nose: the other day there was an article about smells that were disappearing, including ‘gun caps’. Well, this has clear notes of gun caps, walnuts, struck matches and burning pinewood at first nosing, before more bitter oranges, earth and leather are joining in the dancing. So a very fino-ish character altogether, I even find a little mustard. With water: it’s pure smoky and waxy manzanilla! Mouth (neat): rich, oily, both sweet and pleasantly astringent, very peppery, thick, bitter… In short, rather beastly. The bitter oranges, and regular orange peel as well, do come in after a few seconds, together with some kind of smoked chocolate and a wee bitter/sour feeling. Ginger liqueur? Big stuff, as they say. With water: it’s tobacco and leather that are coming out. Always some walnuts, as well as a growing saltiness. Finish: lasting, leathery, smoky. Bitter oranges and pepper in the aftertaste. Comments: big characterful smoky stuff, a great display of ‘good’ sulphur. Excellently old school again. SGP:463 - 87 points.

Now go find another youngster that’s as strong as that… Oh I think I’ve found something…

Benromach 18 yo 1976/1995 (65%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection)

Benromach 18 yo 1976/1995 (65%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection) Four stars Is this strong enough for you? ;-) This is UD Benromach. Actually, that was the DCL back in 1976. Colour: straw. Nose: very Benromach, with some linseed oil, gravel, soot, ‘ideas’ of smoked salmon, then cider apples and green plums. Extremely potent, but noseable, I’d say. With water: lovely grapefruits, soot, sand and marmalade. A great clean nose that shows us that there’s always been minerality in Benromach, even if sherry often masked it a bit. Mouth (neat): violent and brutal. Bang! It’s so strong that I think I’ll add water right away… With water: extremely oily, with some pepper, some pepper, some pepper… and green lemons. And bitter oranges. It’s a wrestler that wouldn’t make your life easy, but I think that’s an asset. Finish: long, extremely peppery. Some kind of bitter limoncello in the aftertaste. Comments: a devilishly potent Benromach. I hate to write this but it’s not for beginners. Challenging, but in a great way. SGP:372 - 86 points.

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



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December 29, 2014


Three Glen Garioch. Almost a tradition.

I thought we could do another short ‘consecutive’ Glen Garioch verticale today. Expect apples.

Glen Garioch 22 yo 1991/2013 (52.9%, Whisky-Doris, bourbon hogshead, cask #5754, 259 bottles)

Glen Garioch 22 yo 1991/2013 (52.9%, Whisky-Doris, bourbon hogshead, cask #5754, 259 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: gold. Nose: it’s a rather mineral and waxy one at first nosing, then we find more wild flowers as well as a little burnt wood. At the fruit department, the expected apples and one small orange. A little sawdust. With water: more barley sugar, honey, sweet oak, vanilla… Mouth (neat): creamy and fruity, with a few bubblegums and marshmallows, then more apples and oranges, then a little green tea. A little lemon as well, some leaves… It’s right between the fruity ones and the grassy ones, so I’d say it’s balanced. With water: the fruits win. Finish: quite long, with a wee phenolic side. Maybe some camphor. Comments: impeccable modern-era Glen Garioch (i.e. virtually unpeated). SGP:551 - 88 points.

Glen Garioch 23 yo 1990 (51.4%, Highland Laird, Bartels Rawlings, +/-2014)

Glen Garioch 23 yo 1990 (51.4%, Highland Laird, Bartels Rawlings, +/-2014) Four stars Highland Laird is a fairly new line, the bottler being located in the UK. Colour: gold. Nose: a few buttery and vinegary notes flying around at first nosing, but it all gets much cleaner and fruitier after just three seconds. It’s similar to the 1991, actually, only with more vanilla, cake, then oranges, orange blossom… With water: gets sauvignony. Works very well, and it’s great to find a different early-1990s Glen Garioch. Mouth (neat): rather unusual, with more pepper and aromatic herbs than normal, such as thyme and rosemary. A touch of butter once again, sour apples, vanilla, honey, tarragon… It was an unusual cask for sure. A little pu-erh tea. With water: always this earthy side. Finish: quite long, mentholated and earthy, with a little burnt butter in the aftertaste. Even some bacon, smoke. Comments: a different one that loves water. SGP:462 - 86 points.

Glen Garioch 25 yo 1989/2014 (50.3%, The Whisky Agency, refill hogshead, 246 bottles)

Glen Garioch 25 yo 1989/2014 (50.3%, The Whisky Agency, refill hogshead, 246 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: pale gold. Nose: this one’s very fresh and fruity, it’s certainly a grand one. A beautiful basket full of apples, oranges, peaches, melons… On top of that, one mint leave, a few drops of olive oil, a spoonful of honey and a little grated coconut. Perfect. With water: fab. Earthy teas and tobacco, in all fruity lightness. Whiffs of old books. A little iron (or old tin box). Mouth (neat): really very perfect. Same fresh fruits plus a very discreet metallic touch and a little more honey. The fruity combination is also a tad more citrusy than on the nose. With water: excellent. There must have been some old Chinese tea of high quality in that barrel. Finish: medium long, earthy, leafy. A touch of marzipan and liquorice in the aftertaste. Comments: simply lovely and very entertaining. SGP:562 - 89 points.

As expected, closely grouped fire!

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


Pete McPeat and Jack Washback




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December 28, 2014


Sunday Malternatives, quatro mezcales

I’ve only tasted around 25 mezcals so far, so any Mexican cab driver will be much more experienced than yours truly. Having said that, I’ve already discovered some great ones, especially some that were distilled from wild agaves such as tobala. That’s probably the main difference with tequila, which has to be distilled from blue agave, while you can use many varieties for mezcal. Including more qualitative ones. 

San Cosme (40%, OB, mezcal, joven, +/-2013)

San Cosme (40%, OB, mezcal, joven, +/-2013) Three stars This small batch unaged mezcal from Santiago Matatlán in Oaxaca is distilled from espadin, which is mainly a cultivated agave. They use copper stills, not stone, and the brand seems to be very recent. Colour: white. Nose: it’s a pretty smoky mezcal, very earthy too, a style that’s certainly akin to that of Ardbeg or Laphroaig, in a way. This baby does, in fact, nose almost like Laphroaig’s newmake, only without any pear or pineapple notes. Very intriguing… Mouth: some punch at 40% vol. Once again we’re almost on Islay, with really a lot of smoke, ashes and earth, then more briny notes, olives, maybe seaweed… It’s maybe a little astringent too, this is certainly not smooth and polished spirit. And yes there’s something medicinal as well (disinfectant), as well as a little lemon and salt. Slainthe! Finish: rather long, very earthy and ashy, with notes of burnt herbs in the aftertaste. Comments: it would be fun to try this at 50 or 60% vol. Blind! It’s to be noted that the price is relatively fair, around 30€. SGP:354 - 82 points.

Pierde Almas 'La Puritita Verda' (40%, OB, mezcal, joven, +/-2014)

Pierde Almas 'La Puritita Verda' (40%, OB, mezcal, joven, +/-2014) Two stars and a half Artisan mezcal again, fully espadin, distilled in copper. We had tried a stronger Pierde Almas two year ago, and found it rather smooth and not hugely smoky. This version is meant to be the lighter brother. Colour: white. Nose: indeed it is much lighter and rounder than the San Cosme, rather more on fresh lemons and green apples, then green olives and a faint cologny touch. It’s very clean, easy, and fresh. Who wouldn’t like this very easy nose? Mouth: we’re extremely close to the San Cosme now, it’s a very similar spirit, just a little lighter, more citrusy, and less earthy/smoky. Finish: rather long, a little rougher, a little less chiselled. Funny touches of caraway and aniseed in the aftertaste. Comments: certainly less ‘Laphroaig’, but good quality joven nonetheless. SGP:452 - 78 points.

Del Maguey 'Wild Papalome' (45%, OB, mezcal, joven, +/-2014)

Del Maguey 'Wild Papalome' (45%, OB, mezcal, joven, +/-2014) Three stars Del Maguey have been the pioneers of ‘modern’ mezcal. Papalome (first time I’m encountering this) is a rather squat wild agave that, apparently, is mainly used to produce an agave liqueur called bacanora. Colour: white. Nose: it’s a fatter, greasier mezcal after the rather fresh San Cosme and Pierde Almas. It’s rawer as well, with hints of raw kirsch and slightly burnt eau-de-vie, then rather green pepper. Also whiffs of tinned capers, a drop of patchouli essence, then more and more tobacco. Lots happening in there… Mouth: indeed it is fatter, earthier as well, a little sour, a little dirty, and certainly spicier than the others. Not an easy mezcal for sure. After ten minutes, we’re rather having concentrated lemon juice, a little salted fish, chilli, ash and earth, then more and more grapefruits. Quite an experience! Finish: long, much tenser, sharp, chiselled… And very peppery. A drop of Tabasco in the aftertaste – or would that be Worcester sauce? There’s also a welcome fruitiness. Pomegranates? More grapefruits as well. Comments: a beastly mezcal, not one you’d enjoy ‘just like this’. What’s sure is that it’s very complex, but it lost me a bit. Maybe I’m not qualified enough. SGP:462 - 81 points.

A last one…

Bruxo No.1 (46%, OB, mezcal, joven, +/-2013)

Bruxo No.1 (46%, OB, mezcal, joven, +/-2013) Two stars 100% espadin. Bruxo seems to mean witch in Spanish, so we might have to be careful… Colour: white. Nose: it’s much rounder, seemingly sweeter, and less mezcaly than all the others. Mild wood smoke, some smoked ham, then a little damp earth and whiffs of overripe fruits. Pineapples? Pleasantly and nicely balanced, but it doesn’t seem be one of those punchy and smoky and grassy mezcals. Mouth: it is punchy, but that’s more the alcohol. Peppermint, ashes, burnt wood, lemon. It’s a rather simple one, quite easy, certainly ‘good’ but probably not mindboggling. Kind of the exact opposite of Del Maguey’s papalome. Finish: rather long, on a curious blend of pink grapefruit and pepper. Comments: one mezcal that’s not a smoky one. Enjoyable for sure, just not extremely ‘interesting’ in my book. But the fruitiness was very appealing. SGP:551 - 76 points.

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



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December 24, 2014



... And from Whiskyfun too!



Our Christmas tasting,
Highland Park from 1970 to the 30s

All right, I’ve been toying with several ideas for this year’s Christmas tasting. Various old malts, a best of malternatives, or our ‘traditional’ Clynelish or Brora session, but in the end, my good old friend Olivier won. I mean, Highland Park won. And these are not going to be just any Highland Parks, mind you, because I really wanted to celebrate, an to go a little crazier than usual. Ready?...

Highland Park 8 yo 1970/1978 (86.8° US proof, Averys for Corti Brothers)

Highland Park 8 yo 1970/1978 (86.8° US proof, Averys for Corti Brothers) Four stars One of the earlier independent bottlers, Bristol-located Averys’ whiskies are rarely to be seen these days. It’s really a thrill to be able to try ‘old young unsherried’ Highland Park, this baby should be pretty smoky… Colour: white wine (all natural, hurray!) Nose: indeed it’s smoky, and extremely mineral and herbal. As flinty as a wine by Didier Dagueneau, as inky as the Sunday Times, and as grassy as a freshly mown Murrayfield under the rain. The smoke is rather of the medicinal kind, so rather Laphroaiggy, I’d say. The palate should as sharp as a blade… Mouth: a little sweeter than expected, so rather towards demi-sec chenin (like), but indeed very peaty, almost acrid. Burnt herbs, a drop of heather honey, some green pepper, something oily (grape pips oil?)  - and, guess what, much less citrus than in other relatively big peaters from that time. Very little fruitiness actually. Good solid body. Finish: long, acrid, ashy and grassy. This feeling of ink and pepper again in the aftertaste. Comments: this baby’s really austere, I can see why sherry casks could have made this more… sexy? SGP:273 - 85 points.

Highland Park 12 yo 1966/1978 (86.8° US proof, Averys for Corti Brothers)

Highland Park 12 yo 1966/1978 (86.8° US proof, Averys for Corti Brothers) Five stars I had tried a 1966 by Duthie for Corti Bros back in 2006, that one had been very unusual. But this one’s younger… Colour: pale white wine. Nose: this one feels even younger than the 1970, while it’s certainly got a less smoke and mineral notes. Having said that there are more fruits, rather around not-too-ripe white ones, apples, rhubarb, green apples… Then these whiffs of ‘old tin box full of old coins’ – so yes it’s pretty metallic – and then a few farmy notes, hay… It’s certainly a little steely, and with this profile it could well be a blade indeed (diving to new lows, Serge!) Mouth: superb! Very clean yet fatty/oily arrival, with notes of engine oil and lemon oil, that ink again, many aromatic herbs (dried parsley for sure – which I usually rather get in heavy sherry), then fantastic touches of grapefruits and limes. Well the parts aren’t that stupendous, but the whole is. Perfect fullness and oneness. Finish: long, very narrow, precise, smoky and mineral. The aftertaste is rather earthier, and smokier as well. A feeling of coal. Comments: perfect Old-Highland style, uncompromisingly austere yet again. What a spirit! SGP:373 - 91 points.

The Dragon (Highland Park) 20 yo (no ABV, Robertson, Kirkwall, +/-1986)

The Dragon (Highland Park) 20 yo (no ABV, Robertson, Kirkwall, +/-1986) Five stars Another of these famous Dragons that all HP lovers… well, love. The label wouldn’t tell us much but the original buyer wrote on a back label that it was purchased from John Currie in August, 1986. So it’s a 1966 or from an older vintage. It’s “from a batch of 200 barrels, one of which is opened and bottled every so often”. The good old days… My favourite Dragon so far was a 1973 at 56.6% (WF 93). Colour: gold. Nose: wham. Instant complexity (how’s that possible?) with just anything a whisky lover would desire. Waxes, oils, dried fruits, antique aromatic mixtures, jams, chutneys and one olive. Ha. Really, the complexity is astounding, and it’s another ‘movie-malt’ rather than just a picture (like many modern whiskies). Should I have to pick only five aromas, I’d say old walnut liqueur, I’d say sweet mustard, I’d say Barbour grease, I’d say pitch and I’d add ‘a new box of cigars’. A-m-a-z-i-n-g. Mouth: oh sweet Vishnu! It’s huge (like 50% vol., I’d say), it’s powerful, it’s shock-full of old liqueurs and herbal teas, it’s phenolic, it’s smoky, it’s got dried bananas (nothing odd here), tobacco, leather, walnuts, marzipan, bitter oranges, mustard again, caraway… It’s just a wee bit drying towards the finish. Finish: indeed, this is very long, a tad acrid and even astringent, but otherwise absolutely marvellously astoundingly complex (that was three adverbs, S.) Eucalyptus drops in the aftertaste. Comments: thank you John Currie, you sold a stunning bottle back in 1986. SGP:562 - 94 points.

Highland Park 15 yo 1963/1978 (86.8° US proof, Averys for Corti Brothers)

Highland Park 15 yo 1963/1978 (86.8° US proof, Averys for Corti Brothers) Five stars Another one that was bottled in the summer of 1978, from two casks. That was another summer of love in California! Colour: gold. Nose: it’s a lady. How delicate, how complex, how subtle after the 1970 and 1966 by the same bottler. This 1963 has got more dried fruits, camphor, menthol, quince jelly, some stunning floral notes (elderflowers), whiffs of old oils and greases and waxes, some walnuts again, then delicate touches of damp earth and our beloved mushrooms. In a way, it’s a lighter version of the Dragon. A little fresh butter as well. Mouth: amen. Bigger than the nose suggested, and pretty unusual. There are flavours that are rarely to be seen in whisky, such as various vegetable soups (really), some lovely bitter nuts, or the insides of fruit stones, some kind of salty and maritime things… Could that be caviar? More classic tobacco after that, leather, smoked almonds, some polished wood (rather liquorice wood), mustard, even a little horseradish… It’s a little challenging at times, but don’t we like challenges? Finish: long, and unexpectedly salty and leafy. There’s a feeling of heavily smoked and salted fish. Comments: it’s fabulously unusual, and it even loses you sometimes. SGP:462 - 92 points.

Highland Park 15 yo 1963/1978 (70° UK proof, Averys, UK bottling)

Highland Park 15 yo 1963/1978 (70° UK proof, Averys, UK bottling) Two stars This is the ‘British’ counterpart of the previous one. I know what you’re going to say, I should have had it before that one, because of its slightly lower strength. You’re right. Colour: white wine. Nose: it’s not the same batch, this one’s rather closer to the 1966 by the same excellent Averys. It’s got a little more smoke, though, but it’s also got sour notes that are a little less.. thrilling. Such as fresh rhubarbs and cider apples. Maybe also a little too much plasticine? Mouth: no, not really. It’s rather too metallic, sour, with notes of rooting fruits, especially oranges. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still great whisky, but the others just overshadow it. Finish: rather long but strangely bittersweet and sour. Sucking silverware while drinking lemon and pear juice. Comments: a bit of metal contamination may have happened here. It’s still very drinkable, and even kind of bright, so worth a more than decent score, but yeah, this can happen with very old bottles. SGP:362 - 75 points.

Now, how about the craziest head-to-head ever? Kind of? Drum roll…

Highland Park 40 yo

Highland Park 40 yo (43%, OB, black ceramic, rotation 1974, Aosta valley, Italy, good level) Two stars and a half Indeed this baby bears a tax seal from the Aosta valley in northern Italy. The rotation years are printed on an horizontal strip that’s on top of the necks. The fact that this was sold in 1974 goes to prove that these famous babies had been distilled way before WWII. Colour: very dark amber. Nose: oh this baby tells us many stories. It’s got cured ham, old liqueurs, embrocations, pinesap, cigars, polished wood, chestnut honey, roasted nuts, chartreuse, leather, even a little absinth… I agree, that’s pretty much everything whisky can have. I’d say its typical ‘old+old’ whisky, with some aromas tending to transform into something probably sappier. Let’s see…

Mouth: I say quite. Bottle ageing took its toll and while this has power and determination (what?), several transformations seem to have taken place in the decanter. The waxy and oily sides grew a little too big – yes that’s possible – while a slightly unpleasant meatiness took over at the fruit department. A curious feeling of mutton with mint sauce. All the rest remained rather impeccable, with some kind of salted honey and a peatiness that never gave up. So it’s all a little strange, but you wouldn’t expect such an old glory to taste like a modern NAS Scotch straight from Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Would you? Finish: rather long but the excessive sappy tones are too dominating. Comments: What can I say? It’s got flaws, but it would still beat many a modern bottle. Ah yes, this: careful with old stone decanters. SGP:382 - 78 points.

And now, one compadre that was sold one year earlier and on the other side of lovely Italy…

Highland Park 40 yo (43%, OB, black ceramic, rotation 1973, Adriatic import, Venezia, Italy, good level) Four stars By the way, I’ve added ‘good level’ because many old ceramics tend to be ¼ empty or more, even when unopened, which will change the whiskies, obviously. Colour: very dark amber. Nose: it may well be the same whisky as the previous one, but it’s actually very different, which may come from bottle ageing. In short, it’s got less sappy and resinous tones, and rather more straight fruits, around overripe apples, dried figs and dates, quinces, bergamots… Then more earth and cigars. It’s all a little more discreet, but let’s check the palate… Mouth: a monster! Well, not quite. ODE (Old Decanter Ageing, not the same thing as Old Bottle Ageing) took its toll once again, but this one is still vivid, clear, rather pure old Highland Park. Many teas, tobaccos, dried fruits, some smoke, a complex spice mix, red apples (isn’t it amazing that notes of fresh apples remained there after 40 years in wood plus 40 years in a decanter?) and then a growing leafiness. And quite a lot of leather. And it’s even tannic after all these years. Finish: long, a little sappy indeed, a little drying as well, and very tea-ish. Over-infused eucalyptus tea, perhaps. Comments: this baby’s still standing on its two feet, even if it’s about to lose one arm and a few teeth. My score will probably be a little too high, but who cares? SGP:472 - 85 points.

You see, tasting very old bottles can be akin to playing Russian roulette. It’s fun, but it’s dangerous. That’s why we’ll have only one more before we’re done. But as you may have guessed, this won’t be just any old Highland Park…

Highland Park 10 yo (20 U.P., OB, 1950s)

Highland Park 10 yo (20 U.P., OB, 1950s) Five stars Or maybe late 1940s… Definitely pre-war distillation, bottled at 20 under proof, so 100-20=80 proof, that is to say 46% vol. To think that several contemporary bottlers are claiming that they have kind of ‘invented’ the glorious strength of 46% vol. ;-). It’s advertised as being ‘pot still pure malt’. No need to tell you that this ancient ‘St Magnus’ label is fantastic, no wonder the owners have replica-ed it on some of their recent bottlings. Well done! Colour: amber. Nose: oh no! I mean, yes! It’s a whole, it’s not a collection of aromas, just like the greatest wines. It’s actually hard to break it down into descriptors, but I could try. What’s striking me first is the earthiness that’s in this. Imagine you’re wandering in a long-forgotten mine or something… or a cave. There’s a mustiness, some saltpetre for sure, some mushrooms… Then you’re in an old garage, full of old cars (I could quote prestige makers but I won’t – or maybe Delahaye?), with scents of old leather, Bakelite, natural rubber, cardboard, used oil, concrete… Wait, how much time do we have? Yeah, so I’ll only add beeswax, old chartreuse and dried figs. There. Mouth: is there a language for this? Semantics? A vocabulary? Shall we even dare commenting on this? First, once again, it’s a whole. It’s not a jigsaw, it’s a Turner. Listen, I may have tried ten whiskies that were as ‘high’ as this in my whole tasting life, or maybe even less, and each and every time I couldn’t not think of Duke Ellington. That must be some kind of disease. The great Dave Broom has just written, in a great article in Whisky Advocate about the Islay Jazz Festival, that yours truly ‘can’t listen to jazz and taste whisky’. That is true. Because jazz already is in the greatest whiskies. And in this one there’s Duke Ellington. Oh and the whole Duke Ellington Orchestra, with Juan Tizol and all those guys. Oh hell, please call the Anti-Maltoporn Brigade before it’s too late. Finish: no comments. Comments (still): hasn’t this art been lost forever? SGP:463 - 96 points.

Merry Christmas, friends!

(with heartfelt thanks to Duke E., Olivier H., Max R. and Diego S.)

Pete McPeat and Jack Washback




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December 23, 2014



St. Magadalene 1982
by Cadenhead

It really amazes me that Cadenhead still have some St. Magdalene! Proof? They just issued a new one, and I thought it’s a great opportunity to do another wee super-square session. Same vintage, same distillery, same bottler. And why not?

St. Magdalene 11 yo 1982/1994 (62.6%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection)

St. Magdalene 11 yo 1982/1994 (62.6%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection) Five stars You know why these bottlings are interesting, that’s because you’re supposed to find the original style of a long-gone distillery, especially when it’s as young as this. And as pale in colour. Colour: white wine. Nose: when I opened this bottle one moth ago the whisky was horribly brutal, but now I find it rather more approachable. As often with St. Magdalene, what’s really impressive is the petroly side, the extreme leafiness and the wonderful mineral profile. So even at 11 years old, it’s already very complex, with some mezcal, gravel, green tea, lamp oil, earth and tobacco. We aren’t far from the stunning Rare malts 19yo that had impressed us all at the time. With water: medicines? Chalk? Smoked tea? Mud? Menthol lozenges? Hessian? This so very St. Magdalene… Mouth (neat): cough, cough… It’s really strong, and all I get is quite a lot of apples and pears (young spirit) plus a greasy and ashy leafiness. Cough, cough… With water: but this is artisan, single village mezcal! Brine olives clay smoke tea grapefruit rhubarb ashes coal oil… Finish: long, sharp and precise, always with this leafy minerality. What a spirit. Chalky/grassy aftertaste. Comments: what a spirit indeed. What’s really fun is to check how un-Lowland St. Magdalene was. I had another 11 by CAD at 61.5% at WF 90, but this will be… SGP:372 - 91 points.

St. Magdalene 30 yo 1982/2012 (55.4%, Cadenhead, 192 bottles)

St. Magdalene 30 yo 1982/2012 (55.4%, Cadenhead, 192 bottles) Five stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: those are the wonders of refill wood, you keep the freshness and the original style. Indeed, we aren’t that far from the 11, this is just a little rounder, more mentholy, and even more complex. Clay, chalk, citrons, grapefruits and green tea coated with the finest honeydew and some kind of tar liqueur, Finnish style. And then more and more damp earth, humus, dead leaves, engine oil and all that. Just superb. With water: it gets very mineral. Schweppes, clay, mud, damp hessian, limestone… And in the background, a little lemon. Zing! Mouth (neat): extraordinary, and I mean it. I think we haven’t been paying enough attention to these whiskies when they were easily available, but now that this style is gone gone gone (all about the distillate, not all about stupid oak), all we can do is cry. Unless you’ve got a stash or close friends who’ve got one. With water: fat and nervous at the same time, immaculate, pristine, zesty, extremely mineral. Lemon oil. We’re close to some very petroly riesling once again, and we won’t complain. Finish: quite long, with a marvellous balance and an extreme cleanliness. Very tense whisky. Comments: I’m afraid this baby will be very hard to beat, but you never know, refill wood can do wonders to old whiskies. SGP:272 - 92 points (almost 93).

St. Magdalene 32 yo 1982/2014 (58.1%, Cadenhead) Five stars Well spotted, this is the brand new one! Older and stronger, that’s the spirit! It’ll only be out in January, so no picture yet. Colour: gold. Nose: I wouldn’t say it is very disappointing that this baby’s so close to the stunning 30 yo. Except that it’s a little closed… So… With water: incredible, this is even ‘higher’ than the 30. I guess you could keep these casks for one hundred years and the whisky would still be fresh and lively. I’d say this one’s a little more medicinal this time, always very mineral, and with subtle touches of fresh nuts and herbs. It is exactly my preferred style of whisky. There. Mouth (neat): makes you wanna sing a nice song. When sharpness is the greatest asset, there’s more lemon juice than in the biggest lemon. But indeed it is strong… With water: fab. Please call the anti-maltoporn brigade (they’re pretty busy these days, aren’t they). Finish: long, sharp, clean and superbly leafy and lemony. Comments: do you know that story about that Lowlander that used to be one of the best Highlanders? And I loved the medicinal side in this. What a whisky! SGP:272 - 93 points.

My oh my, another wonderful strike!

(and tack, Tomas)

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


Pete McPeat and Jack Washback




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December 22, 2014


Four Glendronach, one old glory

A rather 'traditionnal' session, we've often done this, always with pleasure.

Glendronach 12 yo 'Sauternes Finish' (46%, OB, 2014)

Glendronach 12 yo 'Sauternes Finish' (46%, OB, 2014) Three stars and a half I find it fantastic that the good people at Glendronach know how to spell Sauternes. I wouldn’t say all Scottish distillers and bottlers know that, how many ‘Sauterne’ have we seen? Colour: gold. Nose: not the usual Glendronach, as you may have guessed. I find slightly sour grapes and raisins – not a bad thing – and then rather mirabelles and apricots, as well as a little honey and chamomile tea. I don’t find many spices, so not sure this was actually French oak. It should have been, but I don’t find any evidence. Mouth: nah, this works. Same ripe mirabelles and apricots, quinces, then more and more custard and plain vanilla, which, indeed, rather hints at American oak. A little porridge, perhaps. Also honeysuckle and light cinnamon. Finish: good length, rather on soft and rounded Christmas spices. Sweet gingerbread. Greener spices and strawberries in the aftertaste – maybe it was French oak, after all. Comments: very well composed, the wine doesn’t clash at all. It’s not even too Sauternes-y. SGP:541 - 84 points.

Glendronach 18 yo 1995/2014 (52.2%, OB for The Whisky Agency, oloroso sherry puncheon, cask #4408, 740 bottles)

Glendronach 18 yo 1995/2014 (52.2%, OB for The Whisky Agency, oloroso sherry puncheon, cask #4408, 740 bottles)Five stars Colour: reddish amber. Nose: want chocolate? And prunes? Black raisins? A little chalk? Blackcurrant jelly? Granddad’s old moist pipe tobacco? Salmiak? With water: earth, mushrooms, pot-pourri, leaves… Mouth (neat): it’s quite funny that while PX is supposed to be much sweeter than oloroso, Glendronach’s whiskies that were recasked in oloroso can actually be pretty sweeter than those that were recasked in PX. Well, what I wanted to say is that this one’s rather sweet, almost jammy (plums and strawberries). Leather and coffee in the background, the coffee tending to come to the front, which makes the whole drier. With water: excellent! Not all sherry monsters swim well, but this one could cross the Atlantic. There’s more pepper for sure. Finish: quite long, this time more on tobacco and bitter oranges. Pepper and caraway in the aftertaste. Comments: no dissonances, perfect sherryworks, excellent selection. SGP:562 - 90 points.

Glendronach 21 yo 1993/2014 (52.1%, OB for Whiskybase, oloroso sherry butt, cask #23, 681 bottles)

Glendronach 21 yo 1993/2014 (52.1%, OB for Whiskybase, oloroso sherry butt, cask #23, 681 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: dark amber. Nose: it’s drier indeed, starting right on chocolate and coffee. Warm coffee dregs, then some kind of fruity liqueur, hard to describe. Could that be Parfait Amour? (which is some kind of orange liqueur anyway, despite the unnatural purple colour). Also whiffs of soy sauce, which I always enjoy mucho. With water: as often, it’s the earthiness that comes out more. Mouth (neat): sweeter than expected. Very sweet, in fact, but balance is kept. Cointreau and Kahlua, fifty-fifty. Are we 100% sure it was oloroso? Or was it sweetened oloroso? Also a little oregano, pepper and chives. With water: always this feeling of spiced jam and liqueur, but that works very well. Hot chocolate, orange liqueur, Italian hazelnut liqueur, a drop of Jaeger. Okay, okay, Jaegermeister, not Jaeger-Lecoultre! (oh c’mon, S.!) Finish: good length. It’s really all ion spiced chocolate and Cointreau. Cloves and cinnamon in the aftertaste. Comments: appropriately Christmassy, I’d say. And excellent once again. Aren’t they masters at ‘this’? SGP:652 - 88 points.

All right, a last one, and not one of these ubiquitous-yet-excellent new OBs…

Glendronach 17 yo 1979/1996 (51.9%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #96.3)

Glendronach 17 yo 1979/1996 (51.9%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #96.3) Five stars One of the early Glendronachs by the honourable Society. It’s called ‘Inspiration for the future’. I’m joking. Colour: red mahogany. Nose: typical older hyper-sherried Glendronach, this time with a lot, I mean really a lot of gunpowder, then soy sauce, then dried porcinis, then cigars, then Spanish ham (bellota stuff, you know), then Cointreau-in-coffee. With water:          almost sublime, with parsley and beef bouillon. Chives, more parsley, marrow soup… Magnificent, really. Mouth (neat): huge, fat, sweet, and yet balanced arrival, ridden with all kinds of raisins. So sweeter than expected after the nose, with also big notes of sugared mocha, Cointreau again, then more spices and leather to keep it afloat. Pepper and ginger first, then cinnamon. With water: exceptional. Sweet, spicy and meaty, this is some kind of royal Tai dish. Finish: long, a little sweeter again. Traditional rancio and old Malmsey, I’d say. Comments: restless and even a little challenging, at times, but stunning with water. A great precursor and a kind of ‘hidden gem’. Great selection by the SMWS, truly a benchmark. SGP:562 - 93 points.

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

(thank you Phil, merci Simon)



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December 21, 2014



Malternatives on Sunday,
great cognac for Christmas time

It used to be a tradition in France, people would have presented friends and family with bottles of cognac for Christmas, usually from just any brand, bought in just any shop. It's true that a famous French humorist, Pierre Desproges, used to say in the 1970s that "whisky is the idiot's cognac".  Anyway, more boisé and caramel would have changed hands on Christmas day than in the rest of the year, but now that the smaller houses and the real ‘propriétaires’ are really up again, things are changing and people start to discover how great true cognac can be. So let’s not depart from traditions, let’s have a few cognacs! I have to confess I’ve done a bit of pre-selection…

Ragnaud-Sabourin V.S 'Alliance No.4' VS (41%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2013)

Ragnaud-Sabourin V.S 'Alliance No.4' VS (41%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2013) Three stars and a half This should make for a good aperitif, as this family house is highly respected, and as V.S means very young. It’s 100% distilled from ugni blanc. Colour: pale gold. Nose: it is, indeed, a slightly grappa-ish cognac, in a very nice way, bursting with fresh fruits rather than oak-driven… stuff. I find chiefly ripe peaches and golden raisins, with touches of liquorice and marzipan in the aftertaste, as well as dandelions and other flowers from the fields. Very fresh and clean. Mouth: we’re really close to a good Speysider, just with a little more raisins and rather less malt of course, although there is a kind of maltiness. Slightly burnt cake, apricot tarte, a touch of caramel. It’s rather potent cognac in fact, it’s even slightly rough, which works very well. Finish: rather long, with a little honey, marshmallows and a few tannins in the grapier aftertaste. Comments: this baby’s got something of Dalwhinnie, perhaps. Up my alley. SGP:541 - 84 points.

Let’s have one by another very good house…

Daniel Bouju V.S.O.P (40%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2013)

Daniel Bouju V.S.O.P (40%, OB, Grande Champagne, +/-2013) Three stars and a half This is cognac de propriétaire, all from ugni blanc and integrally from Grande Champagne. Colour: red amber. Nose: this one is very fragrant, it’s got peonies, it’s got a little sandalwood, it’s got old roses… So it’s very floral globally, with also whiffs of pot-pourri, then rather blood oranges and, once again, very ripe peaches. High class. Mouth: it’s still got rough edges, as this baby isn’t old and, apparently, is all matured in new French oak, but I do find the very same flowery and very aromatic notes as in the nose. Rose syrup? Notes of liquorice allsorts, peach liqueur, then more spices but it’s never spicy as such. A little cinnamon and cumin. The liquorice wins in the end. Finish: long given the strength, with a rather imposing oak now. Heavily infused rosehip tea. Comments: lots happening in this little VSOP. It’s a notch less fresh than the Ragnaud-Sabourin, but a little more complex at the same time. Right, same score in my book. SGP:551 - 84 points.

Another VSOP please…


Tiffon 'VSOP' (40%, OB, +/-2013) Three stars Another famous little house, owned by the Braastad family that emigrated from Norway in the 19th century. They own the Braastad brand as well. Colour: amber. Nose: it’s very different from the Bouju, that is to say less aromatic, and much more on polished woods, herbs and nuts. So a drier style for sure, less emphatic, but maybe a notch more elegant. A little mint and a little earth, we’re closer to malt whisky again. In a way! Mouth: once again, the oak’s more apparent, which makes the whole spicier and slightly grittier. Black tea and tobacco, then more oak extracts, pinesap, mint lozenges, more liquorice… So an oakier style globally, but in no way I’d call this ‘too oaky’. Finish: quite long, rather leafy, with apple peelings and walnuts. Comments: high class once again, it’s just a wee bit less my style. We’ll have another, slightly older ;-) Tiffon in a few minutes… SGP:461 - 82 points.

Giboin 1974/2005/2014 (43.1%, OB for La Cagouille, Borderies, Réserve lot n° 1974-2)

Giboin 1974/2005/2014 (43.1%, OB for La Cagouille, Borderies, Réserve lot n° 1974-2) Four stars Serious stuff, this! The Giboin family are propriétaires in Cherves near Cognac, and they’ve bottled this baby for the rather ‘funny’ seafood restaurant la Cagouille in Paris, where you’ll find a very large cognac cellar (hint, hint). It’s been distilled in 1974, went into demijohns in 2005, and was bottled earlier this year. Colour: amber. Nose: classy older cognac, better rounded, more complex, more elegant. Thrilling notes of maraschino, pecan pie, pineapple flambéed, sultanas, limestone, dried apricots, then a little wormwood and verbena, a touch of fudge, liquorice… In short, a marvellous nose, both coherent and wide. Mouth: a little rougher than expected, with a wee feeling of armagnac, but it tends to come round after just thirty seconds, with wonderful notes of Turkish delights and rosewater, then rather jams and jellies. Such as peach jam again and again. The oak isn’t absent, but all is fine. One can understand why this was poured into demijohns a while back. Finish: rather long, spicier, a little mentholy. Grapy aftertaste, slightly sour, calvados-style. Comments: stunning nose and excellent palate despite the roughness, then a finish that was a little gritty for me. Great, great cognac nonetheless. SGP:561 - 86 points.

Now, we have to talk…

Cognac Briand 1893 (OB, Vieille Fine Champagne)

Cognac Briand 1893 (OB, Vieille Fine Champagne) Five stars A marvellous bottle, probably bottled around 1950, so already very old. I can’t seem to find any mention of some contemporary Cognac Briand, so I guess the brand doesn’t exist anymore, and the name’s probably more famous for its old sexy art deco ads that are being replicated ad nauseam these days. Colour: mahogany. Nose: first, its not tired at all, and second, it’s rather simpler than the previous ones, with more obvious raisiny notes. We’re even having notes of Muscat, go figure. After that, it does become more complex, with superb notes of old liqueurs, tarts and pies. Apricots, mirabelles, then a little caramel, perhaps, and wee touch of ham and parsley. Chicken bouillon? A drop of pinesap too, even a little tar… Oh forget about what I had written, this is complex old cognac. Mouth: the body’s impressive, there’s no weakness at all, no flabbiness, no excessive dryness, only high quality cognac. We’re rather on the piny/tarry side at first, but stewed fruits and herbal liqueurs are soon to kick in. Plus plenty of raisins of course. I even find a touch of salt, but cognac cellars are often very close to the Atlantic. There’s also a feeling of very old sweet wine. The body remained perfect, and the mouth feel is even quite fresh. Finish: long, with a little sourness, not unpleasant. The meaty/herbal side grew bigger and in the end, it’s almost like some Thai chicken bouillon. Comments: how could this baby survive like this? Two wars and many hundreds of thousands of thirsty invaders and liberators, I guess it’s been perfectly hidden somewhere. In he UK? SGP:661 - 90 points.



L'Esprit de Tiffon (40%, OB for Wealth Solutions, 150 decanters, 2014)

L'Esprit de Tiffon (40%, OB for Wealth Solutions, 150 decanters, 2014) Five stars This extremely old blend of cognacs comes from the owners’ private paradis. It is totally pre-phylloxeric, a significant part even coming from the very Napoleonic 1805 vintage. I find it extremely smart and kind that the distributors would have dispatched samples of this utter glory to a few journalists and bloggers, while the whole batch had already been sold upfront and no further publicity was needed. Thank you! Colour: rich amber. Nose: it is difficult not to think of Austerlitz (right, and Waterloo) when nosing this. It is very impressive spirit, with a totally amazing roundness and fullness, an immense freshness, and, dare I say, a flabbergasting youth. And yet you can feel that it’s been polished by time, you get whiffs of ‘the interior of an old Jag’, of some kind of old cordial, of some kind of posh English marmalade, of old humidors and other worthy old wooden boxes (but no wood as such!), of old tobacco blend, of mirabelle jam, of fresh kugelhopf – or is that panettone?, of raisins of course… This nose is a piece of art! And it remains plain and pure cognac, that’s the most important part, perhaps. Mouth: and yet there are notes of very old calvados in this. 1805 calvados? It’s not quite a mildly luscious, old, slightly tired cognac, it’s even kind of vigorous, there’s plenty of life, and beyond any intellectualisation, which is always a trap when you try legendary drinks, it really is ‘very good’. Raisins are playing first fiddles, which is normal, then there’s stewed peaches, then old liqueurs, then herbal teas, plenty of them. Finish: not too long, it’s becoming a little fragile perhaps, but it would leave your palate as clean as a baby’s. Don’t I find a little eucalyptus in the aftertaste? Comments: I do not think this beauty has spent a lot of time in wood, the components have probably been transferred to the paradis relatively early in their lives. Maybe after 30 to 40 years. That’s why, I guess, the whole remained so fresh. A very moving, and truly wonderful spirit. SGP:541 - 92 points.

(with mercis to Olivier, Patrick and Michal)

More tasting notes Check the index of the few cognacs I've tasted so far



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December 19, 2014


The Laphroaig Sessions,
Part Four and last

This isn’t Laphroaigfun.com, so this will be our last little Laphroaig session this year – but we’ll have many more next year, God willing. Let’s start this with a lighter strength…

Laphroaig 20 yo 1990/2010 (46%, Mo Or Collection, bourbon hogshead, cask #5941, 449 bottles)

Laphroaig 20 yo 1990/2010 (46%, Mo Or Collection, bourbon hogshead, cask #5941, 449 bottles) Four stars and a half In my wee experience, 1990 and 1991 were great ‘vintages’ at Laphroaig. Colour: straw. Nose: clean and yet complex, with delicate notes of ‘an oyster plate with lemon and seaweed’. Then even more iodine, antiseptic, brine, lime and a touch of white vinegar that works extremely well in this context. One drop of vanilla essence. Mouth: so good! Perfect strength, smoked fish, green apples, lemons, ashes, soot, brine… It’s a more complex style than that of late-1990s vintages such as the ones we tried yesterday and the days before. Love the coastal side. Fresh almonds. Finish: long, very clean, zesty, immaculate, perfect. Maybe a little sawdust in the aftertaste (loses one point, I’m afraid). Comments: oysters in a bottle. I love oysters. SGP:457 - 89 points.

Ten years forward…

Laphroaig 12 yo 2000/2013 (55.2%, Riegger's Selection, sherry finish, cask #4121, 174 bottles)

Laphroaig 12 yo 2000/2013 (55.2%, Riegger's Selection, sherry finish, cask #4121, 174 bottles) Four stars Granted, this is a finishing, but maybe is it a light one? Colour: pale gold. Nose: yes, the finishing is very discreet, hurray. So we have a clean one again, rather fresh, with only three or four raisins playing around quite some seawater, liquid smoke, coal and kilned malt. It’s not a hugely coastal Laphroaig (didn’t they lose a small part of their DNA?) With water: more marzipan. Mouth (neat): very creamy, thick, pleasantly liqueury, on grapefruit liqueur, black pepper, ashes and straight green peat. Very grassy smoke combining quite well with the sherry’s sweet roundness. With water: more fresh grapefruits. Sherbet! Finish: medium length. Even more grapefruit, this is fun. Comments: a fresh young Laphroaig that’s sweetly citrusy. Would be perfect in summer on a little ice. SGP:546 - 85 points.

Laphroaig 1996/2012 (52.5%, Exclusive Malts for whisky.com.tw, Taiwan, refill hogshead, cask #7315, 199 bottles)

Laphroaig 1996/2012 (52.5%, Exclusive Malts for whisky.com.tw, Taiwan, refill hogshead, cask #7315, 199 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: fresh clean pearish mildly smoky and globally very fruity for Laphroaig. Very easy, which is obviously a good thing! With water: more earth, just a little manure, hay… So it’s a little farmier. Mouth (neat): perfect, very ‘focused’, all on smoked papayas, guavas, grapefruits, marzipan… Quite a lot of salt as well. This is super-clean. With water: all very good. Salty peat, almonds, a few tropical fruits remaining. Some earth as well, which is even more perfect. Finish: long, clean, smoky and earthy. More gentian eau-de-vie in the aftertaste. Comments: that was quick, because that was all very excellent. Not much else to say, bravo! SGP:557 - 88 points.

Laphroaig 20 yo 1990/2010 (56.1%, The Whisky Agency, bourbon, 273 bottles)

Laphroaig 20 yo 1990/2010 (56.1%, The Whisky Agency, bourbon, 273 bottles) Five stars It seems that I forgot to try this baby when it came out. Is that blue gentian? Colour: white wine. Nose: it’s rather ashier and smokier than others, and maybe a little closed when unreduced. Garden bonfire? Cigar ashes? Lemon juice? With water: a little mercurochrome and tincture of iodine, bandages... In short, the trademark notes of hospital. Mouth (neat): oh my, this is perfect. Sharp lemony peat, Schweppes-Lemon, a little angelica, aromatic herbs, some mint… It’s a rieslingian Laphroaig, a blade, no, an axe! With water: ashes and lemon juice. Zing. Finish: long, ashy, smoky, blade-y, perfect. Salty aftertaste, very appropriate. Comments: it’s the purity that’s striking. Whistle-clean. SGP:468 - 91 points.

Good, I think we’re ready for our last Laphroaig this year. And this won’t be just any Laphroaig, mind you…

Laphroaig 28 yo 1967 (50%, Scotch Malt Sales, Japan, +/-1995)

Laphroaig 28 yo 1967 (50%, Scotch Malt Sales, Japan, +/-1995) Five stars One of the highlights of the Lindores Shrimp Croquette Festival in Oostende this year. These old bottlings for Japan are very rare, and very prestigious, despite (or because of?) some very unlikely wording on their labels. Such as, on this very one, “This whisky is casked malt served from the barrel directly to this bottle for carring.” Mpffff… Colour: gold. Nose: oh, no! Didn’t the bottlers add a few litres of Yquem from the same vintage to this? You know, Yquem 1967… I’m not joking, I’ve never found such wonderful notes of apricot jam, heather honey, beeswax and old roses in Laphroaig, never. Beyond that, touches of old cigars, clay, camphor, all sorts of unknown flagons in a long-closed pharmacy, and maybe whiffs of fir cone smoke. It’s all pretty delicate, and yet firm, and yet delicate, and yet firm, and yet… With (a few drops of) water: more of the very same. Brilliant. Mouth (neat): makes you yodel. Big, almost massive, very piny, resinous, sappy, it’s some kind of very old herbal liqueur that used to cure any disease. Even malt mania. Some kind of honeydew. With water: ah yes, greases and oils, more old liqueurs, many herbs, liquorice, some piny smokiness, the best oysters, mint drops, some sap… It’s all very… symphonic? Oh and would you mind calling the anti-maltoporn brigade before it’s really too late? Finish: it’s where it loses one or three points (not only because this is the end), it’s losing a bit of focus, perhaps, but it’s still quite extraordinary. Comments: pure magic, the work of time, both in wood and in glass. Philosophical whisky. SGP:575 - 95 points.

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



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December 18, 2014


The Laphroaig Sessions, Part Three

We’ll have more strong ones today, all by one single (and excellent) independent bottler.

Laphroaig 1996/2014 (56.2%, Malts of Scotland, Lindores Whisky Fest 2014, brandy hogshead, cask #MoS 14057, 180 bottles)

Laphroaig 1996/2014 (56.2%, Malts of Scotland, Lindores Whisky Fest 2014, brandy hogshead, cask #MoS 14057, 180 bottles) Four stars and a half A brandy hogshead, that’s rather unusual. Ex-cognac wood? Colour: white wine. Nose: there is, indeed, something slightly raisiny floating in the air, but other than that, it’s pure clean coastal Laphroaigness, with a lot of iodine, fresh oysters, and only a mild medicinal side. Not much oak, all for the better. With water: perfect! The camphor comes out, together with some mint, eucalyptus and hints of bicycle inner tube. Linoleum. Swims extremely well. Mouth (neat): it’s sweet youngish Laphroaig, an excellent distillate, full of rooty notes, some lemon, a clean smokiness, a little pepper and very few raisins. Perhaps. Very crisp. With water: it’s really sweet now, rounder, with some peach jam, for example. From the brandy wood? Finish: quite long, a little leafy, earthy… Creosote, cherry stem tea, leaves… Comments: this baby doesn’t behave the same way once diluted, nose (crisp) and palate (round) become really different. Fun stuff. SGP:567 - 88 points.

Another 1996…

Laphroaig 1996/2013 (56.2%, Malts of Scotland, bourbon, cask #13028, 213 bottles)

Laphroaig 1996/2013 (56.2%, Malts of Scotland, bourbon, cask #13028, 213 bottles) Four starsColour: white wine. Nose: really different and maybe a little butyric. Warm custard, crème au beurre, herbs, mud, seawater… I find this baby very intriguing I have to say. Damp earth… With water: oh, wet cardboard, raw wool, gravel, ink… Rain on Islay, I’d say. No big smoke. Mouth (neat): rather soft at first, but then there’s the expected peat blast. Wham! Lots of citrus as well, lemon, big pepper, a saltiness… A funny two-step arrival, and that would work every time you take another sip. With water: some lovely tropical fruits coming out. Pink grapefruits, perhaps. A little brine as well. Finish: good length, but it’s all relatively smooth after the funny arrival. The pink grapefruits are still there in the aftertaste. Comments: several Laphroaigs for the price of one! Quality remains high, as expected. SGP:547 - 87 points.

And another 1996…

Laphroaig 1996/2012 (56.1%, Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead, cask #MoS 12041, 240 bottles)

Laphroaig 1996/2012 (56.1%, Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead, cask #MoS 12041, 240 bottles) Five stars Colour: amber. Nose: a smoky and dry one, reminiscent of the Shinanoya that we had yesterday. Gunpowder, fumes, leaves, tobacco, walnuts, engine oil, bacon, bitter chocolate… Need I say more? With water: ink, old books, more fumes, more bacon, liquid smoke, lamp oil, dried porcinis… All this is very dry and smoky, I can’t find any fruitiness. Wait, after a good fifteen minutes, some raisins and dates arise… Mouth (neat): something of an heavy Demerara rum at first sips, with also something slightly grapey, and then it’s an avalanche of pepper, cloves, bitter oranges, leather, tobacco, salted liquorice… With water: the dried fruits come out right at first sipping this time. Some kind of peppery and smoky raisins. Finish: long, miraculously balanced. Perfect smoky sherry. Comments: hard to beat if you like both sherry and peat. Ten more years and it would reach 92/93, no doubt about that. SGP:557 - 90 points.

Enough 1996, let’s have some potent 1998s…

Laphroaig 1998/2014 (55.9%, Malts of Scotland, for Whisky Messe Nürnberg, sherry hogshead, cask #MoS 14002, 155 bottles)

Laphroaig 1998/2014 (55.9%, Malts of Scotland, for Whisky Messe Nürnberg, sherry hogshead, cask #MoS 14002, 155 bottles) Four stars More sherry, more extravagance I guess. Colour: amber. Nose: a sweeter sherry this time, and a mild smoke – and a discreet Laphroaigness. A little leather plus plenty of figs, raisins, dates, then moss and damp earth, pine needles… A walk in the forest after the rain with a large pack of sultanas in your hands, I’d say. And a gun, as there is some gunpowder. Much more herbal liqueur after ten minutes, smoky chartreuse? With water: it’s the dry smoke, as well as roasted chestnuts and toasted bread that come out. Got drier this time. Mouth (neat): very creamy and very sweet, before more pepper comes in. Liquid honey, orange liqueur, sauternes… Was that PX? With water: a kind of sweet syrup that tends to dominate the distillate. And we all know that it’s not easy to dominate Laphroaig. Finish: quite long, still rather sweet, with an earthy background. A lot of chocolate in the aftertaste. Comments: an unusual one. This baby plays with your senses! SGP:657 - 85 points.

A last one…

Laphroaig 16 yo 1998/2014 (58.2%, Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead, cask #MoS 14001, 224 bottles)

Laphroaig 16 yo 1998/2014 (58.2%, Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead, cask #MoS 14001, 224 bottles) Five stars Colour: amber. Nose: oh this is smooth and rounded, classic, clean, wonderful sherried peated whisky. No rough edges at all this time, no gunpowder, no bicycle inner tube, and no rubber bands. Smoked earth and soot plus glazed chestnuts, Corinthian raisins, dried pear rinds, and then indeed, more classic Laphroaigness managing to find its way throughout the sherry. Sea air, iodine, smoked almonds, camphor… What a wonderful balance this time! With water: more of all that, plus a little soft curry powder or something. Unless that’s Christmas spices. Mouth (neat): immediate serenity and happiness. Om… I mean, some stunning notes of smoked oranges. Perfect integration this time. With water: some kind of high-end old Banyuls, old sweet wine, old rancio… Amazing. Finish: long, perfect, full, elegant… and magical. Not many sherry casks can produce such clean and profound spirit. Love the ganache in the aftertaste. Comments: it seems that we have a winner! SGP:655 - 92 points.

Session over, but stay tuned…

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



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December 17, 2014


The Laphroaig Sessions, Part Two

Let’s start Part Two with a very young one, if you don’t mind…

Laphroaig 7 yo (54.9%, Jack Wiebers, Passenger Liners, 2013)

Laphroaig 7 yo (54.9%, Jack Wiebers, Passenger Liners, 2013) Five stars It would be hard to draw a label that would be more ‘maritime’ ;-). And beautiful! Colour: white wine. Nose: there, it’s purer than crystal, ultra-zesty, flinty, lemony, smoky of course. This baby isn’t particular about details, but despite the rising notes of pears and pineapples, signs of youth, the whole works a treat so far. With water: just pure perfect young Laphroaig. Lovely whiffs of tobacco and dried kelp. Mouth (neat): terrific young Laphroaig, as sharp as the sharpest blade (they used to make some in a village near my place named Klingenthal, but I digress…) Notes of briny mezcal, the best Williams pear spirit, olives, oysters… This is terrific! With water: perfection. Finish: long, very salty, smoky, coastal, only mildly medicinal. I believe Laphroaig has lost its medicinal side somehow, but this is still great. Comments: absolutely perfect. Would beat many older ones. SGP:547 - 90 points.

This started well!

Lp5 (52.4%, Specialty Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2014, 50cl)

Lp5 (52.4%, Specialty Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2014, 50cl) Four stars Another new one by the Mendeleyevs of whisky, in London-on-the-Thames. Colour: straw. Nose: it’s a milder youngster, with more fresh fruits and less raw power. Peaches and gooseberries on a bed of peat smoke, iodine and dried kelp. A little antiseptic as well, just to contradict myself. With water: raw peat, sheep dung and kelp. A walk in… wait, say the Oa? Mouth (neat): oh this is quite perfect again. Pure peat, pepper and bitter oranges, without any fatness. It’s got some notes of some kind of sweet olives as well, a bit Nyons-style. By the way there won’t be much Provence olive oil this year because of a nasty Japanese fly called Suzuki (!) that literally slaughtered them all. Sorry, digressing again… With water: rather the sweeter side of Laphroaig. Maybe a wee bit too sweet for me, but that’s very all right. Finish: quite long, fruity, sweet. Smoky peaches and apricots. Comments: one of the fruitiest young Laphroaigs I could try. It’s like fruitier rieslings, they aren’t quite what you’d expect from riesling, but they can work. SGP:547 - 86 points.

While we’re in London…

Laphroaig 18 yo (50.9%, The Whisky Exchange, bourbon, 2014)

Laphroaig 18 yo (50.9%, The Whisky Exchange, bourbon, 2014) Four stars and a halfThis baby should be a 1995 or a 1996. Aren’t we good at math? Colour: gold. Nose: it’s a relatively mild one, with something old style indeed, which goes well with the retro label. Such as a lighter peat and rather more tropical fruits, mango chutney, then more vanilla and hints of coconut and sawdust. Just hints! With water: oh yes, some lovely whiffs of fresh herbs, chives, lemongrass… And a little sheep dung again. Welcome to Islay! Mouth (neat): it’s a drinkable Laphroaig. Don’t get me wrong, Laphroaig’s always drinkable, but this one’s a little easier, while retaining the smoky side, the citrus, the iodine and the smoke. Some sweeter oak behind all that? I find hints of grenadine. With water: very very good. But let me issue a warning, this is too drinkable. Finish: not the longest ever, but it’s got some great notes of apple peelings, green tobacco, tea… And lemon! Comments: a great variant, so not the usual very-very-good-but-a-wee-tad-boring mid-to-late 1990s Laphroaig. SGP:457 - 88 points.

Oh, after the great 7yo by Jack Wiebers, we could also try this earlier oddity…

Laphroaig 13 yo 1996/2009 (51%, Jack Wiebers, Auld Distillers, Lafite finish, 180 bottles)

Laphroaig 13 yo 1996/2009 (51%, Jack Wiebers, Auld Distillers, Lafite finish, 180 bottles) Two stars and a half A Laphroaig Lafite finish! The alliteration works, no doubt, but the whisky? Colour: pale apricot. Nose: well well well, this isn’t ugly. Mullein flowers, apricots, peaches, even something muscatel, notes of all-vitamins fruit juice, then some kind of smoked butterscotch, coconut milk and fudge. A discreet sulphury side as well. What I enjoy is the fact that there’s no straight cabernetty feeling here, well done. Not first fill, I guess… With water: not quite. Doesn’t swim too well, it got oddly farmy for Laphroaig. Whiffs of manure. Mouth (neat): no, not quite, it’s starting to be dissonant. Too many spices from French oak? With water: well, it’s all right, it’s got nicer notes of ripe gooseberries. Finish: good length. Some sweet fruit sauce with spices. Ginger. Comments: we’ve tasted worse. I find it okay. Ish. SGP:655 - 78 points.

Laphroaig 12 yo 1998/2010 ‘The Moon’ (59.9%, Shinanoya, Japan, sherry, cask #800043, 288 bottles)

Laphroaig 12 yo 1998/2010 ‘The Moon’ (59.9%, Shinanoya, Japan, sherry, cask #800043, 288 bottles) Four stars and a half I believe that one was a butt that was shared with the Scotch Single Malt Circle in Germany. Colour: amber. Nose: it starts very flinty and leathery, like many sherried peaters. Lots of old walnuts, engine oil, bark, whiffs of exhaust fumes… It’s all very dry and pretty austere. The smoke’s huge. Also some earthy truffles. With water: wonderful, everything gets easier, beautifully earthy and mushroomy. Visiting the working kiln. Mouth (neat): bitter chocolate and oranges, lots of oranges, then a massive peppery side, smoked ham, more leather again, crystallised oranges… Certainly not an easy Laphroaig! With water: more sweetness and even more smoke and pepper. Peppered strawberries? Raisins, orange blossom water… Finish: long and peppery. Also more cloves this time. Comments: a bit brutal when undiluted, but it became more affable when appropriately reduced. SGP:467 - 88 points.

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

(Thank you Konstantin and Ulli)



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December 16, 2014


The Laphroaig Sessions, Part One

Plenty of Laphroaigs yet to taste, both officials and independents, and both new and old bottlings. Don’t worry, we won’t do all that in one go, but we shall start with some epitomical bottlings, such as some old OBs… 

Laphroaig 10 yo (43%, OB, F.&C. Torino, Italy, late 1980s, 75cl)

Laphroaig 10 yo (43%, OB, F.&C. Torino, Italy, late 1980s, 75cl) Four stars Ah, Bonfanti, Filippi, Cinzano… All Italian importers who had some fantastic young official Laphroaigs! This one’s a little more recent, but it was bottled before the mid-1990s for sure, as it hasn’t got the royal warrant. Let’s see if it was as stunning… Colour: gold. Nose: yes. I’d say it’s rather less on tropical fruits than earlier bottlings, while being more medicinal than any officials I could try so far. It’s really all on bandages, embrocations, antiseptic, camphor, burning pinewood, Kools… Very spectacular, all you still need is a nurse ;-). Mouth: exceptionally brutal, once again it’s stronger than earlier bottlings, more austere, certainly smokier and vastly more medicinal. Peppery smoke, cough medicine, mercurochrome, acrid green apples, then indeed notes of grapefruits but I couldn’t find any hints of mangos or passion fruits, that was more in the 1960s and 1970s. Finish: very long, very smoky, rather rough. Saltier aftertaste. Reminds me of some smoked oysters. Comments: the kind of Laphroaig that explains why they used to use the ‘love it or hate it’ kind of line in their ads. Pretty extreme! Now, this sissy of a taster used to prefer the gentler, fruitier ones! SGP:258 - 87 points.

Laphroaig 15 yo (90° US proof, OB, unblended, Regal Brands, USA, +/-1980)

Laphroaig 15 yo (90° US proof, OB, unblended, Regal Brands, USA, +/-1980) Five stars So an American bottling this time, bearing the famous ‘red – or pink – 15’ on both the main and the neck labels. BTW have you heard that Laphroaig will reintroduce the 15? Great news if they manage to keep the older profile. Colour: gold. Nose: pah-pah-pah-pah-pah… Eating passion fruits and mangos on an old stove while smoking a Cuban puro. It’s this style that made us all Laphroaig lovers. It’s simply extraordinary and emblematic of that era when Bowmore and Laphroaig used to rule Islay – as far as malt whisky’s concerned, of course. Mouth: silly me, what a mistake to have had this baby before newer bottlings! It’s just that at this relatively low strength of 90proof/45% vol., I had though we should have it before the CS and/or wine-doped versions. Excuse me? The whisky? Well, it’s as brilliant as peaty whisky can get. Smoked passion fruits, ashy mangos, salted grapefruits and all that. Please call the anti-maltoporn brigade! Finish: long, and more peppery than expected. Wonderful ‘tropical’ signature. Comments: whisky that matters. SGP:546 - 93 points.

My nose is shaking…

Laphroaig ‘Cairdeas - Port Wood Edition’ (51.3%, OB, Friends of Laphroaig, 2013)

Laphroaig ‘Cairdeas - Port Wood Edition’ (51.3%, OB, Friends of Laphroaig, 2013) Two stars NAS, Port aromat… I mean, finishing, everything we love. But hey, you never know… Colour: salmony. Nose: well well well, this isn’t too unpleasant, I don’t get many strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants, cassis and other berries, rather a slightly sweeter peat smoke and more oranges than usual. Also whiffs of old barrels, musty cellar, antiseptic… With water: same, plus something slightly soapy. On the other hand, the coastal side tends to come to the front, with more seaweed. Which is nicer, of course. Mouth (neat): the sweetness comes out this time, this is very ‘experimental’. Smoked sweets? Ashy marmalade? Cassis liqueur and seawater? I wouldn’t say everything clashes, but I find it a little dissonant. Bah, not my style at all anyway. With water: some soapy tannins arise, forget water. Finish: quite long, a little bittersweet. Green pepper and raspberries? Comments: not ugly at all, but this is not for me, I find these bottlings pointless generally speaking. I love Port and raspberries, just not in my whisky. I used to like the PX Cask better. SGP:646 - 74 points.

Another chance for the Cairdeasses…

Laphroaig ‘Cairdeas - Master Edition' (57.3%, OB, Feis Ile 2010)

Laphroaig ‘Cairdeas - Master Edition' (57.3%, OB, Feis Ile 2010) Four stars and a half From when they were still allowed to mention the composition on a label, in this case ‘spirit ranging from 11 to 19 years of age’. So, it’s an 11 years old. Colour: straw. Nose: there! A nice, rather pure Laphroaig coated with a little natural vanilla that makes it rather rounder, but certainly not dull. Iodine, seaweed, fresh hazelnuts, a rather mild smoke for Laphroaig, everything’s coherent. With water: more sea stuff and hessian. A lot of hessian. Mouth (neat): yes, this works! Pure zesty smoky lemony modern ‘Phroaig, with an oily mouth feel, possibly from some active American oak. Smoked grapefruits. With water: excellent, crystal-clean, going towards the second-tier 10yo CS. Finish: long, clean, very smoky, ashy, salty. Very peppery aftertaste. What we were expecting. Comments: a little biting, and that’s what we were waiting for. A little too simple to reach the 90-mark in my book, but we’re close. SGP:458 - 89 points.

Laphroaig 15 yo 1997/2014 (54.3%, La Maison du Whisky, Artist #4, sherry hogshead, cask #3350, 291 bottles)

Laphroaig 15 yo 1997/2014 (54.3%, La Maison du Whisky, Artist #4, sherry hogshead, cask #3350, 291 bottles) Four starsWith a very lovely label by Albane Simon. After all, since we need labels, why not let true artists make them? Colour: gold. Nose: what’s impressive is to nose this along the Port Wood. This is so much better integrated (the wonders of refill, perhaps), and yet I do find wee touches of strawberries, and even raspberries. Also kippers, smoked bacon, old musty cellar, then more leather and walnuts, and perhaps a little parmesan cheese? It’s not a whistle-clean Laphroaig at all, but everything’s in sync this time. With water: sweeter leathery notes. Mouth (neat): massive! Sweet peat, as we sometimes say. Some kind of smoked orange liqueur with a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper. There’s a roundness to it (raisins, figs) but the spirit was huge and keeps the whole ‘nervous’ and not clumsy at all. With water: smoked walnut wine with a little salt. Swims well on the palate, and even gives out old-style medicinal notes. Finish: long, sweet, slightly leathery and earthy. Bitter oranges in the aftertaste. Comments: excellent, even if this is not my preferred style. SGP:557 - 86 points.

See you tomorrow with more unusual Laphroaigs!

(Thanks Olivier, Tim)

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



Block Today: JAZZ. Performer: Matana Roberts. Track: Thrills. Please visit her website and buy her music...

December 15, 2014


Malt Maniacs Awards 2014
The results have been published. Check them out.

Tasting: more Pappy than Pappy!

I thought we could try more Bourbons and American whiskeys today, while keeping in mind that I remain a humble apprentice. We’ll add a few old bottlings for once, not that I’ve never seen any before, but I had always thought tasting some while I was totally inexperienced would have meant throwing pearls before swine. Not sure that changed much, having said that…  We’ll have the oldies first, since their strengths are lower. They’re not bourbons bearing the name “Pappy Van Winkle”, they’re bourbons made by Pappy Van Winkle.

Old Fitzgerald 6 yo 1960/1966 'Venetian Decanter' (43%, OB, Stitzel-Weller)

Old Fitzgerald 6 yo 1960/1966 'Venetian Decanter' (43%, OB, Stitzel-Weller) Four stars and a half It seems that these babies were widely available, including abroad. For example, this is an Italian bottling. You’ll learn much more about them at the excellent Los Angeles Whisky Society. Colour: gold/orangey. Nose: smooth and mellow, much rounded, very easy, with some vanilla fudge, a little coconut liqueur, some maple syrup and a touch of mint. Again, this is smooth and easy, but certainly neither flat nor weak. The coconut tends to take the lead after one minute, we’re almost nosing coconut butter. Mouth: much fruitier and spicier than contemporary bourbons, and much less dominated by vanilla and other oak extracts, although some coconut there is. What’s amazing is that this bourbon is in perfect shape after almost 50 years in a (rather lousy) decanter. There’s probably quite some rye, with a feeling of juniper, some bitter oranges, some grenadine, some maple syrup again, two drops of stout… I certainly enjoy this! Finish: not too long, rounder and smoother, with more toffee. The spiciness (cloves) remains in the aftertaste. Comments: much to my liking. The Very Old Fitzgeralds from that era were probably in a higher league, but this is already ‘very good’! SGP:641 - 88 points.

Old Fitzgerald 6 yo 1958/1965 'Four Seasons Decanter' (43%, OB, Stitzel-Weller)

Old Fitzgerald 6 yo 1958/1965 'Four Seasons Decanter' (43%, OB, Stitzel-Weller) Four stars Not too sure whether the content of these decanters used to change much, or if Mr. Van Winkle used to seek consistency throughout the years, let’s see… Colour: gold/orangey. These colours usually suggest the use of caramel colouring, but I’m not sure that was legal at the time for bourbon. Nose: we’ve got our answer, this is very different. It’s got much more asperities, less roundness, less coconut for sure, and rather more straight oak. Pencil shavings vs coconut, that’s the game here, but I couldn’t tell you which one I prefer. Yet. Mouth: exactly the same feeling, this is oakier, bigger, more modern perhaps. Or maybe was the decanter even more airtight. Touches of varnish and vanilla, then lavender drops, sour wood, liquorice and cloves. Finish: medium length. Very spicy, even herbal. Cumin and cloves in the aftertaste. Comments: I think I liked the Venetian a little better altogether, it was more elegant and more charming, if not more subtle. SGP:551 - 85 points.

Original ad for the Four Seasons decanter, 1965

Old Fitzgerald

Old Fitzgerald 6 yo 1966/1972 'Classic Decanter' (100° US proof, OB, Stitzel-Weller)

Old Fitzgerald 6 yo 1966/1972 'Classic Decanter' (100° US proof, OB, Stitzel-Weller) Four stars The others were bottled for Italy, hence their ‘ABV’ statements, while this is an American bottle, bottled at a higher proof. The bald eagle gives that away anyway. Colour: red amber, so much darker. Nose: ah, this is certainly different. There’s some wood smoke, some liquorice, a lot of burnt cake and bread, then herbs, moss, chives, aniseed… Even a little ham, I think. I think we’ll try to add a few drops of water. With water: it got rather earthy, not something I’ve often encountered in bourbon. Well, in the few bourbons I’ve tried so far. Much more menthol as well, then a small feeling of soapy coconut, not unpleasant. Mouth (neat): high concentration, fully liquoricy, a little biting, with some aniseed, pastis, cloves, juniper… There’s a feeling of oak-aged gin, if you see what I mean. Big body, lots happening. With water: the oak’s spices come out more, and it loses all sweetness, which ain’t too good if you ask me. Very dry and drying. Finish: as drying as strong cold tea when reduced, perfectly spicy when neat. Herbal liqueur, bitter oranges. Pomegranates? Comments: careful with water! Other than that, it’s some big spicy and ‘nervous’ bourbon. I still prefer the charms of Venezia. SGP:461 - 85 points.

Time to try some contemporary ones…

Buffalo Trace 2001/2013 'Wheat 105' (45%, OB, Experimental Collection)

Buffalo Trace 2001/2013 'Wheat 105' (45%, OB, Experimental Collection) Three stars I know, I should have tried to put my hands on some new Pappy instead. You can only do your best. As for this baby, there’s more literature on the label than in the Library of Congress, so we won’t bother… You see, it’s experimental. Colour: amber. Nose: I like! Sure the oak’s a little too dominant for my taste, and yes there’s a little glue and varnish and even nail polish remover, but other than that, it’s a clean, rather fresh nose, with some mellowness, some sweet corn (I know) and whiffs of warm croissants straight from the oven, as well as fresh walnuts and almonds. There’s less happening than in the Stitzel-Wellers, but I like. Mouth: it’s a good spirit, with some sour wood, a funny herbal combination (zucchinis, chives, parsley), then more vanilla, a little flour, maybe a little stewed rhubarb, baked apples… I wouldn’t say the spirit was characterful, but the oak was good. Finish: good length, sweet, with some ripe strawberries coming through. Very sweet Haribo stuff. Comments: as I said, I don’t think there was much character in the first place – and some Scottish grains can be like that – but the barrels were rather impeccable IMHO. SGP:540 - 81 points.

While we’re having unusual stuff…

Rock Town 'Arkansas Hickory Smoked Whiskey' (45%, OB, +/-2014)

Rock Town 'Arkansas Hickory Smoked Whiskey' (45%, OB, +/-2014) Three stars and a half I had found their ultra-young baby bourbon excellent (WF 83). Very curious about this one… Colour: pale gold. Nose: I like bready whiskies more and more. Maybe that’s because I love good bread. This is as bready as whisky can get. I don’t find much smoke, but who cares. This is like putting your nose over a frühstuck table in a ***** ski hotel somewhere in Tyrol or Bavaria. You know, when they have a good thirty different wholegrain breads. No, not in Aspen and not in Squaw Valley. Mouth: same. There might be some kind of acridish smoke, and probably a good share of ginger and cinnamon from the wood, but what I like most in this baby is the spicy bread. Isn’t it refreshing to find the raw ingredients in any spirit? Finish: long, maybe a little too drying now, almost too bitter and tannic. Comments: I don’t know how old this is, it’s probably very young, but despite the slightly too extractive side (very small casks?), well, it’s one of my stuffs these days. I find this more honest and loyal than buying good readymade juice somewhere else. And yes it’s wheat. SGP:452 - 84 points.

James E. Pepper ‘1776’ (100° US proof, OB, straight bourbon, +/-2014)

James E. Pepper ‘1776’ (100° US proof, OB, straight bourbon, +/-2014) Three stars and a half An old brand and sourced stuff. We won’t read the long blurb on the website, but I’m sure they hand-pick and blend only the best barrels from Lawrenceburg, while building their own distillery. Where have we heard that already? As for the '1776' mention, it's a bit confusing, as I've also seen 1780 in older ads (founding year), as well as 1773. No, not 1492. Colour: full gold. Nose: of course it’s very nice, rounded, honeyed, vanilla-ed, full of maple syrup and soft spices, toffee and butterscotch, cinnamon and caramel… Mouth: and sure it’s quite perfect, sweet and spicy, with good oak, good pepper (no kiddin’), good vanilla, good toffee, good caramel, nice touches of coconut, custard, lavender sweets… Even the mouth feel is perfect. Finish: and the finish is in keeping with the palate, just spicier as always. And the aftertaste is appropriately peppery. Plum spirit and gin. Comments: yeah, it’s technically very good, for sure. And we don’t score stories, do we. The whole shebang is just a little infuriating. Oops, forgot to add water. SGP:641 - 84 points.

James E. Pepper ad, 1941

James E Pepper

Four Roses 'Single Barrel 2014' (54%, OB, cask #471T)

Four Roses 'Single Barrel 2014' (54%, OB, cask #471T) one star and a half It seems that an older batch has won a huge award next year (don’t ask). A lot of cryptic data surrounding this very expensive bottle, apparently it’s 11 years old, it’s been distilled using an OESF mashbill, which seems to mean that there isn’t much rye. Colour: gold. Nose: a little shy and gentle, and that should be the high strength. Cake and honey, corn syrup and custard. That’s more or less all I get this far. With water: wood. Newly sawn plank at the nearest DIY store. Mouth (neat): full-blown bourbon at high strength, a little estery and very cake-y, with some vanilla, sawdust and then various berries, raspberries, strawberries, other berries… I think the alcohol blocks it a bit, yet again. With water: rounder of course, but the oak’s too loud for my taste. Finish: long, a little bitter and very oaky. Comments: I find this very disappointing, I think it’s all oak. I found the cheaper Small Batch versions I could try much, much, and I mean much better. I mean, more to my liking. This is not really my style, that’s all. SGP:371 - 69 points.

Time to put an end to this madness…

Elijah Craig 12 yo ‘Barrel Proof' (66.2%, OB, +/-2014)

Elijah Craig 12 yo ‘Barrel Proof' (66.2%, OB, +/-2014) Four stars Yah! This baby from Heaven Hill seems to have convinced many a bourbon lover already, but we’ll stay strong and won’t get influenced! Colour: deep red amber. Nose: no, this is not nose-able. Cellulose and coconut-scented varnish galore! With water: sweet coconutty oak plus banana flambéed and a feeling of lake water (I know what I’m trying to say). That brings freshness, always welcome. Mouth (neat): I’m afraid I like this, even at this strength. Some kind of coconut sweetness made by some kind of Haribo. Highly regressive, in other words. With water: there, this is excellent. Sweet gin, banana liqueur, coconut liqueur (Malibu-like but so much better), and again this kind of earthiness (the lake water thing in the nose) that brings more dimension and depth – although it remains pretty simple spirit. Finish: long, sweet but with some backbone, earthier and grassier than other bourbons I could try… Comments: this one really killed the Four Roses, head to head. And yet it seems that it is/was cheaper. Life is a drag. SGP:551 - 85 points.

(thank you Giovanni)

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



Block Today: BLUES. Performer: Dave Meniketti. Track: Loan me a dime. Please visit his website and buy his music...

December 2014 - part 1 <--- December 2014 - part 2 ---> January 2015 - part 1



Best malts I had these weeks - 90+ points only

Cognac Briand 1893 (OB, Vieille Fine Champagne)

Glendronach 17 yo 1979/1996 (51.9%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #96.3)

Glendronach 18 yo 1995/2014 (52.2%, OB for The Whisky Agency, oloroso sherry puncheon, cask #4408, 740 bottles)

Highland Park 10 yo (20 U.P., OB, 1950s)

Highland Park 15 yo 1963/1978 (86.8° US proof, Averys for Corti Brothers)

Highland Park 12 yo 1966/1978 (86.8° US proof, Averys for Corti Brothers)

The Dragon (Highland Park) 20 yo (no ABV, Robertson, Kirkwall, +/-1986)

Laphroaig 7 yo (54.9%, Jack Wiebers, Passenger Liners, 2013)

Laphroaig 15 yo (90° US proof, OB, unblended, Regal Brands, USA, +/-1980)

Laphroaig 1996/2012 (56.1%, Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead, cask #MoS 12041, 240 bottles)

Laphroaig 16 yo 1998/2014 (58.2%, Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead, cask #MoS 14001, 224 bottles)

Laphroaig 20 yo 1990/2010 (56.1%, The Whisky Agency, bourbon, 273 bottles)

Laphroaig 28 yo 1967 (50%, Scotch Malt Sales, Japan, +/-1995)

L'Esprit de Tiffon (40%, OB for Wealth Solutions, 150 decanters, 2014)

St. Magdalene 11 yo 1982/1994 (62.6%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection)

St. Magdalene 30 yo 1982/2012 (55.4%, Cadenhead, 192 bottles)

St. Magdalene 32 yo 1982/2014 (58.1%, Cadenhead)