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Hi, you're in the Archives, February 2010 - Part 1

January 2010 - part 2 <--- February 2010 - part 1 ---> February 2010 - part 2


February 12, 2010

Ardbeg Rollercoaster

Losing my self-esteem: tasting the new Ardbeg Rollercoaster

Hi, this is the despicable guy who wrote, just three days ago: ‘time to try this new Ardbeg 'Rollercoaster', the current star in Whisky Bloggistan.. Hey, and what if we decided NOT to taste it?.. Shall we manage to resist?’ Well the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak! But rather than trying The New Wonder ex nihilo, we shall oppose it to an old 10. Let’s see…

Ardbeg 10 yo (40%, OB, green glass, 75cl, +/- 1989) Four stars The ‘green glass’ versions were usually less thrilling than the older ‘white glass’ versions, so this baby shouldn’t give such a hard time to the Rollercoaster. We already had a more recent version (70cl) that was really good but a bit weakish… (WF 82) Colour: straw. Nose: it’s a whispering Ardbeg, with these faint cardboardy notes that can often be found in old bottlings of some Islayers when they were bottled at low strength, but other than that it whispers well. The peat is discreet, then we have notes of ‘a plate of fresh oysters on a lot of wrack’ and finally a combination of wood ashes and coal smoke, with just a little lemon juice on top of it as well as a little putty and plasticine. Again, it whispers quite low so I’m curious about the palate. Mouth: greatest of news, it’s not tired, very, very salty in the attack, then developing on a mild smokiness combined with earthy notes and an expected combination of liquorice, lemon and pepper plus a rather typical sootiness. No drop at any moment. Finish: rather long, even more on salty liquorice and always that sootiness. Also a little olive oil. Comments: well, it hasn’t got the older versions’ grandeur and immediate ‘Ardbegness’ but a might fine dram it is, especially at just 40% vol. Medium peated. SGP:266 - 86 points.

Ardbeg 'Rollercoaster' (57.3%, OB, Committee, vatting of ten vintages, 2010) Four stars and a half Sorry, no picture of this one yet, so we just put a random picture. The Rollercoaster is a vatting of several casks spanning the last ten years (including some sherry), so it may be a better representation of the current Ardbeg style than a bourbonised single cask or even an ‘age-statement’ version. Not too sure about the outturn, as a good friend of mine said: 'most are guessing low (2-3000) but I've been told 15,000 worldwide'. If that is true, that would suggest they have used more than just one cask from each vintage. It seems that it'll be available both from Ardbeg's website on February 15 and from several US retailers. Colour: straw. Nose: ha, this one starts as kippery as whisky can be! What’s even more striking are the notes of cooked ham that aren’t often to be found in Ardbeg, even young ones. Yet, it doesn’t smell immature despite the slightly raw whiffs of mercurochrome and tincture of iodine. Very funny development on… wait, Absinth? Serious! Also embrocations, dill… Between a pharmacy and an herbalist’s shop. Some pears, sign of youth. The peat isn’t really big, maybe it’ll come out louder with water. With water: changes a lot, now much more on metal polish, soot, linoleum, apple peelings and wet clothes and newspapers. Still no huge peat and no ‘new rubber boots effect’. Mouth (neat): punchy and powerful, much, much peatier, smokier and rougher than the nose suggested. Not exactly ‘Supernova-esque’ but closer to that one than to, say the regular Tens. Something herbal and bitter, artichoke liqueur (I’m sorry), or Fernet-Branca… Stomach bitter? You have to like that – I do. With water: less bitter herbs and more ‘sweet’ ones, aniseed, cider apples, then quite some limejuice and more and more salt. And smoke, of course. Finish: long, salty and earthy, not that far from the old 10 at this point. Notes of gentian spirit as often in youngish Ardbegs (I think!) as well as a little eucalyptus/cough drops. Comments: nose and palate are quite different but what’s sure is that it’s a straight and genuine Ardbeg, especially on the palate. The younger parts (3 to 6yo) do not show off too much, which is probably great news, but it’s obviously not an old Ardbeg. Great work, it must have been tricky to compose such a vatting. SGP:256 (nose) and 369 (palate) - 88 points.

Update: a picture here (thank you, friend)
Update: according to the composition of the vatting, from 5.6% of 2006 to 9.5% of 1997, I've calculated that the average age of this baby (not the legal age) should be 7.81 years old. So not that young...

More distillery data Our tastings: all Ardbegs that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

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Amy Rigby Wreckless Eric

February 11, 2010


Tasting older and recent Penderyn

The last time I tried Penderyn it was in 2004, it was a Madeira finish, and I didn’t quite like it. Time to have a go at it again, with another batch of these early Penderyns and a more recent ‘Sherry Wood’. Penderyn now have also a peated version.

Penderyn (46%, OB, Wales, finished in Madeira, bottled December 2004) Two stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: starts much nicer than my old notes suggested but it is not the same batch. A tad spirity at very first nosing but soon to become rather pleasant, malty and slightly smoky, with hints of leaves and a little leather polish. Also hints of orange peel, then roasted honey-covered nuts as well as just faint hints of tinned pineapples. Nothing to do with the very first batch, as far as I can remember. Gets more spirity again after fifteen minutes, a little rough. Mouth: quite good but I feel we’re closer to the earlier batch, with a mix of bitter/burnt oak and, just like I wrote in 2004, ‘cheap rum’. Apple juice, bubblegum, butter cream, a little lemon fudge. It was probably too young at the time and I’m not sure it could stand the wood treatment. Finish: rather long, a tad better now (strawberries) but there’s still some bitter oak in the aftertaste. Comments: certainly better than the 49 that I had given to that earlier batch back in 2004. Or maybe it was the same batch, in that case it hugely benefited from six more years in glass. SGP:451 - 70 points.
Penderyn Sherrywood (46%, OB, Wales, finished in oloroso, bottled June 2008) Three stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: it isn’t immensely different from the older ‘Madeira’ version, maybe a tad fruitier and grassier, sort of fresher and, quite strangely, rather younger in style. Hints of bubblegum and pollen/honey, then cider apples and fresh walnuts, bison grass vodka, and just a little cooked butter. Whiffs of fresh oak (sawdust) and white chocolate. The whole is rather clean and nicely balanced, better polished than the ‘old’ Madeira. Mouth: once again, this one isn’t extremely different from the ‘2004’ as far as global profiles are concerned but all rough and immature edges have now been smoothen out, leaving room for more freshness and fruitiness. Strawberry drops, banana liqueur (hints), tangerines, a little candy sugar, a little vanilla fudge… The sherry is discreet, which was probably the best option here. Finish: medium long, sweet, a little more honeyed now. Faint dryness in the aftertaste, pleasant. Comments: kind of a blend of an Irish and a young Speysider, rather sexy and easy to drink. Certainly better than many Scotch at same age, but not many Scotch are sold at same age – yet! (since ‘international comparisons’ are de rigueur these days…) In short, I like it. SGP:541 – 80 points.
PS: apparently, that was our 6,000th tasting note, but let's not make a great song and dance about that if you please. Nose: check, palate: check, liver: check, wallet: check... Let's move on!
PPS: no we won't do any tweeting nor any facebooking about that very minor event.
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))


I love cigars, but they don’t like me.  Or let’s put it this way: they don’t like me as a (amateur, I insist) whisky taster. 

I used to be a member of a cigar club here in Alsace twenty years ago, the good Zino Davidoff was even our president. That was before Davidoff stopped making Habanos so good times, as you can imagine. Then, in 1999, after a tour of the American Wild West on a Harley, I decided to quit smoking. Long story. It’s only rather recently that I got into cigars again, with full-blown cupboard humidors and all that jazz. The problem is that after two or three months of smoking one daily cigar, I noticed that my nose and palate were starting to change and that my tasting notes for whisky were becoming harder to write. For example, my perceptions of my beloved benchmark – or reference – whiskies were starting to change and that was a bad sign. I had to make a choice: either drop whisky tasting, or drop frequent cigar smoking. I went for the latter and these days I only smoke cigars very occasionally. Almost never, actually.

But don’t get me wrong, cigars and whisky go marvellously well together, it’s just that they can change each other so much! That’s incompatible with properly assessing the whiskies in my opinion. Yet, I’d have loved to write about whiskies and cigars on Whiskyfun, to build a small section about pairings and so on. So, a dead end? Not quite, thanks to an excellent friend of mine who is both a great cigar aficionado and a dedicated whisky connoisseur. He’s another Frenchman, lives in Singapore and you may well know him already: his name is Emmanuel Dron.
So, from today on, we’ll have Whisky and Cigar pairings every once in a while, maybe once a month. And the best news is that Emmanuel does it one hundred times better and much more ‘professionally’ than yours truly would have done it.
So, let’s start all this right today with…


PARTAGAS Lusitanias 1998 (Cuba)
Length: 194 mm   diameter: 19,45 mm (Cepo 49)
Format: Double Corona (Prominente)
Vintage: 1998 - Box: 50 - Box Code: 3SU-VC-1


The analysis of the box code can provide us with additional information:
3SU = march 1998
VC =  Villa Clara, the name of a provincial factory

The wrapper: colorado, mat, no band (cigars from boxes of 50 did not bear any band at that time.)

  Aromas before lighting:chocolate, white pepper, gingerbread, a sensation of smoothness.
Draw before lighting: excellent, with just the right hint of resistance.
Combustion: perfect, a beautiful light gray ash. The cigar is very steady and does not require to be rectified or relit.
Strength: from medium to strong.
Aromas: precious wood, macadamia nuts, sweet spices, becomes more toasted, on grilled almonds and then turns earthier with a hint of liquorice.

The three thirds: 1) a very beautiful start, subtle, medium strength but full-bodied and with a nice volume of smoke. The aromas are persistent. 2) it gains power and aromatic complexity, more and more unctuous, with a beautiful structure. 3) even more powerful while maintaining its balance and its tempo but it loses in complexity.
Conclusion: a wonderful cigar that gains refinement and depth over time (12 years old). We may just regret that the third third, quite long, becomes a bit more one-dimensional towards the end.
93/100(the rating of a cigar can only be the evaluation of a unique cigar smoked at a unique moment.)

  Laphroaig 30 yo (43%, OB, 70cl, +/- 2006 REFLQ0167): rating by Serge 90/100. A very interesting pairing on sweet and salty flavours. The sugar from the cigar (cake, creamy) and the salt from the whisky. The Laphroaig however lacks a little body against the Lusitania, and its aromas (fruits, liquorice…) become hard to discern. The cigar takes over. Pairing 2/5 Laphroaig Lusitania  

Laphroaig 10 yo Cask Strength (55.7%, OB, 70cl): rating by Serge 92/100. A perfect balance strength / aromas. We find again the beautiful salinity of the Laphroaig that was already there with the Laphroaig 30 but this time with more body and length. Conversely the salinity of the whisky amplifies the creaminess of the cigar. This pairing forms a harmonious whole.  Pairing 5/5

  Laphroaig 1974 31yo (49.7%, OB for LMDW, sherry, 910 bts): rating by Serge 95/100. A legendary Laphroaig, sherry cask, which is pretty rare, the distillery usually favours the use of Bourbon casks. The two protagonists are so rich and complex that the chemistry does not really take. Each one expressing itself separately; the whole doesn't mingle together. Pairing 3/5 (Thanks to Jimmy for the Laphroaig 1974)  
  Conclusion : this Partagas is a flavour enhancer on the saltiness. The pairing with the Laphroaig 1974 has not been as balanced as I would have hoped (or dreamed, to be honest…). I think with a younger Lusitania (2004-2005), less evolved, fresh and oily, the pairing would take an entirely different dimension. The good surprise is the perfect match with the 10 yo Cask Strength, nothing to add, a moment of pure pleasure.  

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February 10, 2010

Kilchoman Kornog

Tasting two young peaty ‘Ks’

At the risk of being seen as a very slow and lazy ‘whisky blogger’, I had decided to keep my Kilchoman Inaugural Release from September last year aside until I could get the brand new general release of Glann ar Mor’s Kornog, the Breton peated single malt that’s already quite cult within advanced whisky circles.

My aim, as you can guess, was to taste them together as their concepts are pretty similar: new distilleries, young three years old whiskies, strong Celtic environment and, not that it matters too much, same initials! (How silly is that, S.?)
Kilchoman 'Inaugural Release' (46%, OB, 2009) Three stars This one was finished in sherry casks. Colour: white wine. Nose: straight young peat and little sherry influence at first nosing, it’s obviously not been finished in some first fill sherry cask. It’s soon to get rather oily after that, with notes of paraffin oil, oilcloth, fresh putty and then some ‘traditional’ coastal notes. Clams and fresh almonds would be the combo here. Also whiffs of coal smoke and just hints of antiseptic. It’s not very complex yet but the cleanliness is pleasant, it’s already lost all the rough edges that were quite obvious in the newmake that we tried at the distillery back then. Just hints of wet sheep (sorry, sheep, we love you almost as much as we love dogs). Mouth: the attack is rather sweeter and rounder, maybe it’s the sherry, with a peat that’s not as omnipowerful as expected but little fruitiness either. There are also notes of olives, that we sometimes get in young peaty whiskies, as well as quite some saltiness. Distinct ‘kipperiness’. Globally quite balanced. Finish: long, more raisiny now, with a little cardamom in the aftertaste and a ‘lingering peat’ (but why does peat always linger, I ask?). Comments: good baby whisky, more to my liking than when I first tried a sample of it in September last year (casually). I guess it also benefited from a few months of rest in its bottle, trying whisky that’s just been bottled never being too good because of bottle shock and all that jazz. SGP:256 – 82 points.
Kornog 'Taouarc'h Eilvet 09' (46%, OB, Glann ar Mor, 2009) Three stars and a half A vatting of two bourbon barrels and one Sauternes cask, so it’s technically not a Sauternes finish at all. Colour: pale straw. Nose: spectacularly different from the Kilchoman, starting quite extravagantly, on loads of isoamyl acetate, that is to say notes of ripe pears, bananas and pineapples, coming most probably from the Sauternes cask as all ‘bourbon’ samples of Glann ar Mor that I could try so far were lacking such relatively heady notes. What’s also quite funny is that the peat then takes over but very gradually, as if someone was slowly pushing a cursor towards the much expected coastal and smoky aromas. It’s a kind of peat that’s rather more refined and mature than Kilchoman’s but it’s true that Brittany’s climate is rather hotter than Islays – although it’s not Bangalore or Taiwan, far from that – which suggests that Kornog or Glann ar More will mature faster. Anyway, it’s an extremely entertaining nose, probably quite ‘Sauternised’ but absolutely not winey nor vinous. Mouth: this is much creamier and oilier than the Kilchoman, punchier and smoother at the same time, starting on pretty much the same fruity notes as on the nose (but it’s a little easier on the bananas and heavier on the apricots). A peatiness that’s clear and loud but not overpowering kicks in faster than on the nose, the whole mingling perfectly well as such young age. Notes of bubblegum and strawberries in the background as well as a very faint rubbery bitterness that balances the big fruity notes. Again, rather spectacular. Finish: long, with many more spices now. Maybe a little yellow curry, notes of cashew paste, sesame oil… Comments: an unusual whisky, very far from the Kilchoman (whilst I had thought they might have been sort of similar – silly me). It’s not easy to compare it as it’s so singular with these exuberant Sauternes notes that are rather different from a finishing’s, and maybe I liked the single cask that was issued last year a little better (call me conservative if you like), but it’s still impressive young single malt whisky. And already sold out or so it seems – no wonder.  SGP:546 - 84 points.
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))

The other day, the excellent American publisher John Hansell over at What Does John Know? handed over the Malt Advocate Whisky Award “Pioneer of the Year” 2010 to all whisky bloggers collectively. Cool!

Very cool indeed but I for one tend to believe ‘blogs’ are just a specific technology that’s part of a more global move that exists since the inception of the Internet, so true ‘innovation’ or ‘pioneers’, I’m not 100% sure. Whisky ‘blogs’ are around since at least Johannes’ Malt Madness (1996 - or was it 1997?) and a few others, most sadly dead today, and communities where whisky lovers interact exist since Malts-L and the newsgroups (around 1995?) So, nothing really ‘new’ under the sun in my humble opinion but it’s true that it all became much easier to implement without much knowledge of hmtl and other devilish languages, which may explain why there are so many new ‘blogs’ today, many excellent by the way including What Does John Know?. So, the ‘noise’ got much louder indeed, which does seem to change the whole landscape, not to forget the new traffic/lead generating technologies such as Twitter, Facebook and other Delicious, that did not exist back then and which many are now using without much restraint. Push and pull.
What’s also quite new in my opinion is the way a part of industry sees all this, from plain horror (remember, they used to think that blogs ‘destroyed brands and wrecked lives’ ten years ago) to necessary evil. They always listened, for instance many were members and still are members of Malts-L, but today some are literally invading the digital space, forums, blogs and such, and much to some old friends’ surprise, we punters aren’t all pinching our noses! This, I think, is new indeed.. Blogs Attack
Circa 2000?
Granted, today, very few of these industry guys manage to go beyond binary corporate talk and indirect selling/channelling (win a bottle! - second prize is a case! ;-)) but I think that’ll come, maybe once the SWA or others will have organised good seminars or webinars on this very topic ;-). Not that that doesn’t sort of exist, there even used to be kind of a guidebook for distillers and bottlers that was explaining ‘how to deal with the malt maniacs’, among other worthy topics. Imagine! Send booze
Anyway, today some bloggers are actually industry types and that’s fine, but the line is getting more and more tenuous - for instance we’re all 'friends' with the remotest Distillery Manager on Facebook - the only thing I hope is that some ‘bloggers’ will manage not too fall too much into this friendly trap, or there will actually soon be no true independent ‘blogs’ left anymore, only look-alikes. Power to the consumer? Not quite.
Okay, time to try this new Ardbeg 'Rollercoaster', the current star in Whisky Bloggistan.. Hey, and what if we decided NOT to taste it?...Shall we manage to resist?
Peace and Santé

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February 9, 2010

Or worrying about the meaning of life…
Laphroaig 8 yo 2001/2009 (59%, The Perfect Dram, Liquid Library, bourbon) Four stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: powerful of course, peaty of course, coastal or course, a little medicinal of course, not too complex of course, but darn nice of course. An extremely clean and zesty ‘expression’ of young Laphroaig. With water: as often (always?) it’s the organic/wild part that gets louder. Barnyard, ‘wet sheep on Islay’ (well) and quite some menthol. Wet rocks. Oh, and gentian, which is pretty cool! Mouth (neat): sure it’s extremely punchy but sometimes Laphroaig can be quite smooth at very high strength, and that’s the case here. Very beautiful combination of citrus fruits and smoke/tar. With water: more mineral and almondy. Finish: long, ultra-clean. Comments: it’s no secret that Laphroaig is one of, or maybe the Scottish malt that’s the most thrilling when very young, but let’s not forget that peat can mask any young spirit’s flaws. Anyway, this one is a fine example of a very young malt that’s already wonderful without any obvious wood technology (no big creamy vanilla). SGP:348 - 88 points.
Laphroaig 8 yo 2001/2009 (59.1%, The Whisky Cask) Four stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: more or less the same as the Perfect Dram. Trying to detect any differences would be nothing but another kind of nasal masturbation. With water: diverges just a bit, slightly more vanilled and a tad less mentholated than the PD, otherwise similar. Mouth (neat): once again, more or less the same as the Perfect Dram. Smoked tangerines and lemons. With water: same. Finish: same. Comments: same, more or less. These young Laphroaigs offer one of the best quality/age ratio in the market, I’m not sure Ardbeg or even Lagavulin can compete with it at this kind of age. SGP:348 – 88 points.
Laphroaig 8 yo 2000/2009 (58.8%, The Perfect Dram, Liquid Library, bourbon) Four stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: this one seems to be a tad rounder and fruitier than the 2001s, a tad smokier as well. More complex as well, it seems, but let’s see what happens with water. With water: nope, in fact it’s pretty similar, maybe just a wee tad rounder and more polished. Less mineral, a little less fresh. Mouth (neat): much closer to the 2001s now, maybe a wee tad more peppery. Classy anyway. With water: indeed, rather creamier and more almondy than the 2001s. As for the rest, we’re quite close indeed. Finish: very long, with some green tea and salt on the tongue. Even hints of black olives. Comments: really great. Bottle to stash away for later enjoyment around 2025, when it’ll be more mature but not any oakier or vanilla-ridden. Think of an official 10yo CS that you would have bought around 1995… SGP:348 - 89 points.
Laphroaig 9 yo 2000/2009 (58%, The Perfect Dram, Liquid Library, refill sherry) Three stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: superb! It’s a little tricky to nose this deeply at full strength but I get some huge yet wonderful notes of freshly cut green apples. With water: hmm, it gets a tad stranger, hard to say if it’s nice or not, or rather if I like this or not. Faint cheesiness appearing, dairy cream, sour apples… Oh well, let’s wait for the palate! Mouth (neat): ho-ho, same notes of fresh green apples plus some camphory and minty notes, cough drops, something ‘freshly herbal’ (sorrel?)… Unusual. Also a little coffee and almond pie. With water: water works much better than on the nose in my opinion, it brings out quite some peppermint. Finish: long, rather herbal. Maybe some Bénédictine? (which just celebrated its 500th anniversary, by the way.) Comments: again, not an usual versions. I absolutely adore some parts of it (the menthol) but some other parts leave me colder. Oh well, you should really try it by yourself. SGP:467 - 84 points.
General conclusion and as Corneille wrote, “aux âmes bien nées, la valeur n’attend point le nombre des années” (in souls nobly born, valour does not depend upon age.) Anyway, well done Germany, once again, and may your Mannschaft be much weaker than your whisky bottlers in South Africa in a few months’ time! ;-).
More distillery data Our tastings: all Laphroaig that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

MUSIC - We're in 1964, French actress Andrea Parisy sings Laisse tomber les tabous (Break the taboos). Very 'free 60s'. Please buy Andrea Parisy's music and movies.

Andrea Parisy

February 8, 2010

Let’s try more of these famous peated Bunnahabhain (aka Moines) that were distilled in 1997 ‘exclusively for the peatophiles’ as the excellent distillery manager John McLellan used to say, maybe a tad derisively.
Bunnahabhain 1997/2009 (55.3%, Malts of Scotland, cask #3172, 279 bottles) Four starsColour: dark gold. Nose: punchy, with these notes of walnut liqueur that a second fill sherry + peat combination sometimes create, and a lot of peat there is! Some leather too, bitter oranges, cinchona/Campari, quite some tar, cocoa powder… With water: it’s as if water had killed the sherry dimension. Much more seaweed, clams, seawater, smoked fish and lemon. Sea fruit salad? Mouth (neat): excellent attack, punchy and kind of mineral, the sherry being rather dry and certainly not dominating (think light seasoning). Also some walnut liqueur again, plain walnuts, marzipan, lemon marmalade… A little wax as well, salty liquorice… The whole is quite concentrated. With water: changes directions a bit, very nicely, just as peaty, but kind of earthier. Fresh mushrooms. Some toffee in the background. Finish: long, leafy and leathery now. Bitter almonds and a little chocolate. Salty aftertaste. Comments: excellent, perfect maturation. Twelve years in a rather active cask worked very well with this ‘Moine’. SGP:357 - 87 points.
Bunnahabhain 11 yo 1997/2009 (58.6%, Adelphi, cask #5368, 610 bottles) Four stars Colour: full gold. Nose: rather less explosive than cask #3172 but also a tad straighter and fresher, with a peatiness that’s cleaner and a tad more ‘coastal’ whereas the whole is a little less complex, with much less sherry influence. Kippers and custard plus a little antiseptic, mercurochrome. A tad ‘southshore-ish’. With water: straight zesty peat, a tad mono-dimensional now. Close to raw malted barley, a little paraffin. Mouth (neat): more or less the same differences as on the nose. Very powerful, big peat, quite some salt, lemon and vanilla cake, just a little ginger… Very little sherry now, if any. With water: it’s best part. Clean zesty almondy kippery and salty peat. No sherry (did I really find sherry on the nose?) Finish: long, clean, good oomph, lemon, salt, peat. Comments: quite superb on the palate, but needs water. Quite a ‘peat monster’. SGP:257 - 85 points.
Bunnahabhain 11 yo 1997/2009 (59.0%, Acorn, cask #5433) Three stars Colour: white wine. Nose: this one seems to come from a bourbon cask, with these big vanilla notes that even manage to dominate the big peatiness for a while. The combo isn’t unpleasant at all I must say, as the whole develops on whiffs of almond oil, fresh putty and marzipan, getting then rather coastal (seaweed) but rather less kippery than the Adelphi. And wet dogs! (sorry, dogs) With water: just like the Adelphi, it got rather simpler and mono-dimensional. Straight peat. Mouth (neat): young peat, big strength! The closest of them all to the official Moine/Toiteach, with faint notes of wet paper and then a lot of lemon and raw peat. Much less vanilla than on the nose. Maybe a little simple… With water: dry peat and dry lemon, with a big saltiness but also a few cardboardy notes. Finish: long, peaty, very salty. Comments: straight peat monster, no subtleties on the palate. Having said that, it’s very good whisky ‘of course’. SGP:267 - 80 points.
Bunnahabhain 10 yo 1997/2008 (59.2%, Signatory, Heavily Peated, Refill Sherry, cask #5362, 568 bottles) Four stars We already had three of these casks by Signatory, all very good: #5272 (WF 88), #5274 (46% - WF 84) and #5354 (WF 88). Colour: dark gold. Nose: we’re extremely close to the ‘Malts of Scotland’ now, only with a little more leafy/grassy notes. Also a tad more spirity but that’s probably the higher alcohol. With water: not quite the same this time, this one is clearly more mineral and maybe even a tad metallic. Also whiffs of shoe polish. Mouth (neat): once again, same whisky as cask #3172, only more powerful and even more concentrated. Really big! With water: ditto. Maybe a tad drier actually. Lemon pie, peat, pepper, marzipan, walnuts and salt. Finish: long, big, lingering, a tad grassier now. Comments: excellent, extremely punchy but not ‘binary’ like some young peat monster can be. ‘Not for the fainthearted’, as they say. SGP:367 - 87 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Bunnahabhain that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

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Yusef Lateef

February 5, 2010



Glenburgie 1999/2008 (43%, Jean Boyer, Gifted Stills) Three stars and a half This very nice series by French bottler Jean Boyer usually displays a lot of freshness and cleanliness, ‘close to the spirit’. Colour: white wine. Nose: ho-ho, it’s a big, flinty, waxy and fruity spirit, with a lot of fresh apples (various kinds, both sweet and ‘green’) plus whiffs of hot paraffin and linseed oil. Big malty notes as well, close to the barley, as well as just a little sugar cane as can be found in the best white rhums agricoles. Really curious about the palate… Mouth: sweet, clean but not dull at all, starting on notes of young calvados, grenadine syrup, apple juice and just a little white pepper. Very big for 43%. Goes on more on toasted bread and cornflakes, with also a little cake and just hints of pineapple and pear drops (signs of youth). Very good. Finish: long, very compact, clean, fruity and roasted, with these waxy notes always there in the background. Oranges in the aftertaste. Comments: a potent young Speysider with a perfect structure. SGP:552 - 84 points.
Glenburgie 5 yo 1965 (43%, OB, 75cl) Four stars We’re making a big jump to the past here, this young baby was distilled thirty-five years before the Jean Boyer. Colour: straw. Nose: this is amazing, we’re extremely close to the 1999 in style, with the same kind of flinty/grassy notes, linseed oil, apple peelings and maybe just hints of cardamom and coriander. Gloablly a tad less fruity and a tad grassier and spicier. Very little old bottle effect despite the fact that this one spent six times more time in glass than in wood. Classy young spirit once again. Correction: OBE appears after fifteen minutes, with quite some shoe polish and coal. Mouth: OBE right away, it’s rather different from the 1999 now. Big marzipan and liquorice, some tar (old style cough drops), smoked tea, maybe even some kind of peat… Also a little pine resin. Finish: long, smoky and resinous. Cider in the aftertaste. Comments: I’d have never said this was an old young Speysider. It’s really full and big – people who do not believe in glass maturation should really try to taste it. SGP:363 - 86 points. (and many thanks Luc).
And also Glenburgie 25 yo 1983/2009 (54.7%, Signatory, hogshead, cask #9815, 180 bottles) Four stars Colour: gold. Nose: this is rather different from the two youngsters, even if these notes of paraffin and linseed oil are well here. There’s much more bitter chocolate, cinnamon, leather and all sorts of ‘old stuff’ that usually lie in attics, such as old clothes, old books, old wood and, obviously, a lit dust. Also notes of fino sherry, vin jaune, old walnuts… With water: mint, mint and even more mint. Also wet hay, wet grass, fresh mushrooms… Quite foresty, this one! Mouth (neat): hot and punchy, much more ‘middle-aged Speysider’ at the attack (but does that make any sense? Does such a ‘middle-aged Speysider’ style really exist?) Ripe apples, pears, then green bananas, butter cream, green tea and liquorice wood. A lot of cloves and even junipers coming through. It’s a very nervous dram! With water: more of the same, more or less. Finish: long, malty, mildly oaky, grassy. Main descriptor: apple peelings. Comments: a little rough at times but very ‘natural’ and most enjoyable. Swims very well. SGP:361 - 87 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Glenburgie that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

MUSIC - Recommended listening: let's go straight to the point, I love the way Wanda Johnson sings the blues. Listen to The pane. Listen to Dropping names. Buy Wanda Johnson's music.

Wanda Johnson

February 4, 2010

Highland Park Black


Highland Park 18 yo 1958/1976 (43%, OB, James Grant, Green dumpy, black label, 75cl) Five stars A 17yo 1958 version bottled in 1975 was superb but maybe a tad less entrancing than other HPs in these celebrated ‘dumpies black labels’ (WF 91). My favourite so far in this series were the non-vintage 17yo (WF 95) and the 21yo 1959 (WF 95). Colour: gold – it’s not one of these dark sherry versions. Nose: extremely distinctive and very ‘old middle-aged HP’, starting on quite some linseed oil, a little linoleum, a good deal of cough syrup and a rather dry form of honeyness, going on with notes of dates and an obvious peatiness, as well as quite some sea breeze and some faint tarry notes. A little marzipan as well, bitter oranges and just hints of fatty cured ham (jamón ibérico de bellota? Whatever…) Superb but that’s hardly a surprise. Great elegance. Mouth: exceptional attack, complex, spicy and honeyed as HP can be, with a good deal of peat and salt on top of many dried fruits (pineapples, figs, bananas) and an obvious leather as well as tiny-wee notes of cardboard or flour. Some oranges too, lemon-flavoured toffees… Wow. Finish: quite long, on a fab combination of honey, fresh oranges and a very elegant sweet and soft spiciness. A faint bitterness in the aftertaste (strong liquorice). Comments: just stellar. Only the wee cardboardy notes on the palate will prevent me from going higher (buggers!) SGP:564 - 93 points.
Highland Park 20 yo 1959/1979 (43%, OB, James Grant, Green dumpy, black label, 75cl) Five stars Again, I adored the 21yo 1959, let’s see if this slightly younger version is on the same planet. Colour: amber, much darker than the 1958. Nose: there is, indeed, rather more sherry than in the 1958 (chocolate, ganache) but also some fab hints of olive oil and, most of all, litres of orange blossom water and tons of heather. Gets then more and more chocolaty, with also notes of glazed chestnuts (marrons glacés), precious leather (not a Hell’s Angel’s perfecto) and just hints of old wood, maybe thuja wood (slightly resinous). Outta this world. Mouth: well, this is more or less the same whisky as the 1958, only with an added and perfectly integrated layer of great sweet sherry. That is to say more chocolate and more prunes. Changes direction a bit in the middle, going for more medicinal notes, pine resin and, strangely after all these years, quite some orange squash. A tad unusual but rather magnificent. Finish: long, maybe a tad ‘dirtier’ than the 1958 but also jammier, with quite some salt in the aftertaste, but also les peat than in the 1958. Comments: maybe a wee bit less elegant than the 1958 but it has more oomph and drive and not the tiniest flaw in my opinion. Okay, one point higher. SGP:652 - 94 points.
Highland Park 45 yo 1964/2009 (42.2%, OB, Orcadian Vintage Series, 290 bottles) Five stars From two hogsheads, retail price £3,750. Colour: gold. Nose: exceptional! Of course, putting the two great old dumpies before this new slightly GlenWonka-ish 1964 could have been like setting a trap for this one, but it doesn’t fall into it, not at all. Vibrant and nervous, absolutely not sluggish, starting very ‘widely’, with many aromas arising right at first nosing. We get quite some camphor, old waxed paper, hints of burnt wood, rather big notes of sandalwood and church incense (I mean, really big, did they mature these casks in Kirkwall’s cathedral?), quite some honey, orange blossom water, mint liqueurs, dry herbal liqueurs, spearmint, apricots and many other things. Also some unexpected whiffs of jasmine coming through after a while, fantastic! Actually, it’s got something ‘Chinese’, really. Hugely complex. Just hints of old wood, old empty wine barrel after twenty minutes. Mouth: it’s now that it should get tricky… You bet! Sure it’s drier and pretty woodier than the dumpies, but it’s also got these majestic notes that only very old malts that aged perfectly well can display. Let’s cherish these notes, because no super-dopey quickly aged modern whiskies will ever display them, however good they are. Let’s not list them all, that would be much too long, but there are notes of ancient oranges, Szechuan pepper, barley sugar (right, that can be found in young whiskies as well), natural vanilla, bitter cocoa, many many spices (let’s call that the old-whisky spice mix, with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices). And many other notes… Finish: medium long, with the oak starting to appear more clearly, but always in an elegant manner. Some mint and pine resin like often in very, very old casks. Comments: I’m sure some taster have or will think that this old one is a tad too woody and drying in the finish, but I do not quite agree. There is some oak but it’s perfectly integrated and I cannot see how a 45yo whisky would not display a little wood and quite a tannicity. So, I think this one is fantastic but I agree it’d better be, at this price. SGP:461 – 94 points.
PS: the vatting of all three is as glorious and complex as a Breugel. Err…
(with thanks to Konstantin)
More distillery data Our tastings: all Highland Park that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

MUSIC - Recommended listening: I just realised I haven't been posting some Eric Dolphy since six years. Shame on me! Let's listen to the sheer brilliance of the man at the alto on Les (from 1960's Outward Bound, but what a first record!) Please buy Eric Dolphy's music!


February 3, 2010

with Graham Coxon, KT Tunstall and Kathryn Williams
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, January 30th 2010
I think, Serge, that this is what the Sports TV channel would call a Super Saturday.  Mind you, I began to wonder whether Saturday would ever happen as I sat on a plane for almost three hours at Aberdeen the previous evening in a snowstorm waiting for the runway to be cleared and the plane’s wings to be de-iced.  But London’s a different country, it’s sunny and not quite freezing, so a perfect afternoon to be at Craven Cottage to watch the Villa record a strangely unconvincing 0-2 win over injury-hit Fulham.  It’s a pretty and old-fashioned little ground next to the mighty River Thames, and what it lacks in atmosphere (West Londoners only shout at parking wardens, and, occasionally, at their nannies), it makes up for in friendliness.  Aston Villa

So we enjoyed a hearty and largely consensual debate with some Fulham fans, some Villa diehards, a group of Irish Liverpool supporters (obviously lost) and a pair of bewildered Finns with very little English, on the futility of Emile Heskey, a subject which might merit a degree course in its own right.  But not here.  Many layers of thermal clothing were discarded as we hotfooted it from the Cottage to an untried pizza joint (too much onion, soggy cheese, nice Primitivo) on the South Bank, thence to the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

A couple of years ago, Robyn Hitchcock went on an Arctic expedition, courtesy of Cape Farewell, a charity dedicated to engineering  “a cultural response to climate change”.  He sailed in good company, including from the musical world Jarvis Cocker, K T Tunstall (she was on her honeymoon with husband Luke Bullen) Laurie Anderson and Martha Wainwright. 
Why?  Well, according to Hitchcock’s blog, “as the scientists aboard research the effects of ice-melt on the ocean bed, and trace the possible mutation of the Gulf stream through salination tests, we artists are being exposed to a landscape that cannot fail to affect our work …we will take the story back with us and spread it like butter on the toast of our item-rich society”.  And tonight, a ‘Maritime Evening’ presented by Hitchcock as part of the Shift Festival, (Artists’ take on Climate Change) is part of the spreading. Polar bear
For an evening in support of such a hot topic, there was a strange absence of propaganda or proselytizing; perhaps Hitchcock was leaving the music to speak for itself, aided of course by some of his occasional outbursts (“Humanity is doomed, but it’ll make no difference in the long run”).  He began with a jaunty rock and roll sea shanty (something about a ghost ship as I recall), followed by a version of Martin Carthy’s ‘Polly on the shore’ (“but not with his ridiculously complicated tunings”), when he was joined by cellist Jenny Adejayan, whose playing added a very distinctive and haunting character to several songs. 
This was followed by Hitchcock’s  ‘Raining twilight coast’, and the subversive ‘Wreck of the Arthur Lee’ (a tribute to the great, if not unpredictably late Mr Lee, whose response was also unpredictable: “"I'll wreck HIM!" and "I'm gonna kick his *#!& ass!". Then, "I don't care if he's ALFRED Hitchcock...I'm gonna mess him up").  By this time Hitchcock had been joined by his current UK touring band, and on acoustic and electric guitars Graham Coxon, looking every bit like rock and roll’s answer to Alan Bennett. Coxon was followed by the very pregnant and very tuneful Kathryn Williams who sang her own ‘Winter is sharp’ (about the hardship of life in fishing communities), and duetted with Hitchcock on ‘The Grey Funnel Line’.  Adding depth to her performance were the two backing singers (names sadly unknown) who, as with Adejayan’s cello, added a real presence to the evening.  One provided beautiful harmonies to Hitchcock’s voice as they played ‘Bay of Biscay’ at the end of the first set. Hitchcock
The evening continued in a similar vein: the two backing singers opened the second half with a pretty ‘Drop the anchor’.  Hitchcock sang ‘Oceanside’ from his album Perspex Island, with some very loud guitar from Graham Coxon, who then picked his way through ‘Brave the storm’, and blasted through ‘Caspian Sea’, both from the Spinning Top album.  KT Tunstall arrived on stage (a diminutive yet powerful presence) fresh from finishing her new album in Berlin and sang first ‘Slow motion rock’, then an unaccompanied, and very cleverly written composition on the fate of the hunted whale, followed by a song that may have been called ‘Greenland’ or ‘Qeqertarsuaq’, or ‘Uummannaq’, inspired by one of the towns visited on the Cape Farewell adventure.  Remember the name: it was, we were assured, a world exclusive.  And Hitchcock then played his Arctic composition, ‘There goes the ice’, which sort of speaks for itself, before the ensemble returned for a rousing finish of his ‘Underwater moonlight’, giant octopus and all.  This was a thoroughly enjoyable show, full of wit and pathos and some great performances.  But very notable, I should not forget to say, was Hitchcock’s singing, as he spent the evening launching himself at a succession of impossibly high and low notes with great verve and aplomb.  He is a performer well worth the price of a ticket (unlike Emile Heskey, perhaps) and tours the UK and the USA soon.
And where are the photographs, I hear you say?  Ask Big Colin.  The last time I saw him was in the middle of a skirmish outside the famous Embassy Suites in Tottenham, simultaneously ejecting three hoodlums from a party.  He’s like an Anglo-Saxon Mike Tyson on steroids and angry pills with a neck like a very, very big bull.  No doubt sent to the wrong place but he’s here, prowling at the front of the stage at the QEH, hands clasped menacingly in front of his stomach.  When he saw a hapless soul just in front of us pull a camera from a pocket he simply leant forward and bit it in half, handing the two pieces back to the hapless snapper.  Discretion, we decided, was very much the better part of valour on this occasion.  Thanks, Big Colin. – Nick Morgan Mike Tyson
Listen: Robyn Hitchcock


Miltonduff 13 yo 1996/2009 (57.2%, James MacArthur, bourbon, cask #5563) Three stars Colour: white wine. Nose: flinty, grassy and very close to ‘nature’ if you see what I mean. Porridge, grass, apples and chalk plus a little coal smoke. With water: more of the same, grainy and porridgy. Clean spirit but maybe not the most interesting ever? Mouth (neat): big, fresh, fruity and spirity, very ‘young Speyside’. Hints of bubblegum and strawberries, apples, pears, pineapple drops. Tastes really young. With water: easy going, fruity and still very ‘nautral’. Finish: medium long, in keeping with the palate. Comments: good youngish unpeated malt whisky. Yeah, flawless but maybe a tad generic. SGP:441 – 80 points.
Miltonduff 22 yo 1987/2009 (56.1%, Alambic Classique, bourbon hogshead #9470, 209 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: gold. Nose: starts a bit in the same vein as the 1996, rather grassy and flinty but some rather rich notes of sherry and gunpowder do slowly arise. One of these bourbon cask matured whiskies that can smell of sherry. Some ham, bacon, leather, raisins and toffee. Some vanilla as well. With water: further opens up, on flowers (lilies, peonies), marzipan and rosewater. Quite superb. Mouth (neat): once again, there’s a ‘sherryness’ in the attack, with many dried fruits and jams as well as notes of prunes and chocolate. Also a little coffee. With water: excellent, even richer yet clean and fresh, on dates, figs, dried pineapples and various roasted nuts. Quite some spices arising after a while, mostly cloves, nutmeg and just a little star anise. Finish: long, rich, a tad more on marmalade and black pepper now. Comments: excellent ‘sherry-alike’ bottling of Miltonduff that I already liked a lot the first time I tried it. SGP:641 – 88 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Miltonduff that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

February 2, 2010

Macallan 12 yo 'Fine Oak' (40%, OB, +/-2009) Two stars and a half I think I haven’t seriously tried this well-known baby since 2004. According to the label, this version was ‘triple cask matured’. The rate things are going I guess we’ll see quadruple cask bottlings in 2010. Colour: straw. Nose: very malty, very cereally, with whiffs of ripe apples and pears flying around and hints of mint. No thrill but good balance, a perfect access-category malt so far, reminding me of Cardhu, Knockando or... Chivas Regal. Mouth: sweet, easy, not weak, malty and grainy, with some caramel, marshmallows, orange cake and a little liquorice. Hints of toasted bread. Finish: rather short but balanced, malty. Roasted nuts. Comments: not bad at all, hard to say more, this one doesn’t inspire me any maltoporn. SGP:231 - 78 points.
Macallan 15 yo 'Fine Oak' (43%, OB, +/-2009) Two stars and a half Triple cask as well. Colour: pale gold. Nose: a little more oomph than in the 12, with a little more oak and grass, then farmyard, apple peelings and hints of flints as well as a little smoke. Not unpleasant at all and rather complex. Develops more on bubblegum and a little parsley. Mouth: smooth and very sweet, with more oomph than in the 12 once again. Apple compote, honey, toasted brioche and a little sweet oak, with a little mint in the background. Quite some vanilla. Finish: medium long, balanced, malty and honeyed, some tannins in the aftertaste. Comments: very decent, with more sherry than the 12. SGP:341 - 79 points.
Macallan 'Select Oak' (40%, OB, '1824 Collection', 2009) Two stars and a half It was about time we tasted the next two ones seriously! PR blurb: ‘Select Oak uses 3 cask types – American Oak seasoned with either sherry or bourbon and first-fill European oak casks seasoned with sherry.’ Great. Colour: gold. Nose: the 12, only with much more sweet oak and a typically modern style. Vanilla, cardamom and ginger on top of a lot of ‘youth’, bubblegum, flowers. A little coconut. Mouth: very close to the 15 in style at the attack, then much more oak once again (nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, cinnamon). Burnt cake and a little coffee. The whole isn’t big. Finish: medium long, with good ‘toasted’ oakiness. Oranges and strong cold tea in the aftertaste. Comments: wood technology at work – seems to work. SGP:441 - 78 points.
Macallan 'Estate Reserve' (45.7%, OB, '1824 Collection', 2009) Three stars and a half ‘The Spirits Masters 2009 awarded Estate Reserve the best of the best as Travel Retail Grand Master - Estate Reserve takes you back to days gone by when liquid was drawn from a cask at marrying strength and on special occasions presented to the Directors of The Macallan Estate.’ Marrying strength, luv’ it! Colour: full gold. Nose: rather big ‘modern’ oak but not only that, also quite some richness, with notes of sherry, Seville oranges, chocolate and honey, with some gunpowder in the background, pencil shavings. Rather playful. Mouth: rich, malty, with good sherry. Honey, crystallised oranges, earl grey, then the oak’s spiciness (the infernal trilogy ginger-cinnamon-nutmeg) and quite some vanilla. Good body, good mouth feel. Finish: rather long, a tad more drying (more cinnamon) but also quite sweet, on peppered orange marmalade. Comments: once again, careful wood technology at work, I think this one works really well. Not too sure about the price though (+/-150€?) but ‘marrying strength’ just cannot be cheap, can it! SGP:442 - 83 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Macallan that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

MUSIC - Recommended listening: some great soul-funk by Australia's Renee Geyer, shockfull of licks, recorded live in 1976. It's called Person to person and I think you should buy all of Renee Geyer's music.

Renee Geyer

January 2010 - part 2 <--- February 2010 - part 1 ---> February 2010 - part 2

heck the index of all entries:
Nick's Concert Reviews



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

Highland Park 20 yo 1959/1979 (43%, OB, James Grant, Green dumpy, black label, 75cl)

Highland Park 18 yo 1958/1976 (43%, OB, James Grant, Green dumpy, black label, 75cl)

Highland Park 45 yo 1964/2009 (42.2%, OB, Orcadian Vintage Series, 290 bottles)