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Hi, you're in the Archives, January 2010 - Part 2

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


January 31, 2010



Glenkinchie 1966/1988 (46%, Moon Import, The Costumes, hogshead #2573, 264 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: gold. Nose: unexpectedly aromatic, starting all on dried herbs and flowers. Potpourri, lime-blossom tea, patchouli, then eucalyptus leaves, camphor (a little), banana skin… Gets then more leathery and leafy, maybe even a tad meaty (cured ham), with just faint whiffs of cigar box and apple peelings. Walnuts. Polished and kind of antique but not weak or tired at all. Slight OBE starting to appear (metal polish, soot). Mouth: extremely coherent with the nose but maybe a tad dry and too leafy at the attack. Strong tea, tea powder (the one that the Japanese use for cooking), leather, walnut skin… Kind of a meaty bitterness, some pepper, apple peelings… Far from being unpleasant but I think the nose was in a different league. Improves a bit if you give it quite some time, with more spicy cake and a little butterscotch and honeydew. Finish: rather long, broader than the palate, with a beautiful combination of soft spices and dried fruits (figs and lemons). More lemon marmalade in the aftertaste. Comments: great nose and great finish but a palate that’s a tad more tired in my view. A great whisky anyway! SGP:351 - 88 points. (and muchas gracias Jeroen K.)
Glenkinchie 33 yo 1975/2008 (60.7%, AD Rattray, reflll hogshead, cask #2967, 189 bottles) Five stars A sister cask of the version by Malts of Scotland that we enjoyed a lot a few months ago (WF 91). Colour: gold. Nose: starts very chocolaty but I think that’s often the case with high-strength unpeated oldies. Some vanilla as well, cinnamon, black tea, marzipan, camphor… One can feel that there are many more aromas behind all the alcohol, so let’s try to unleash them. With water: a ‘grassy cavalry’, with loads of apple peeling, lemon zest, walnut skin and green tea, then sudden notes of balsamico and dry white wine. Coriander. Mouth (neat): uurgh, this is strong! Huge lemon and green apples combination. With water: it’s still big, even when slaughtered with a lot of water. More lemons, quinces, oranges and maybe kiwis, coated with many dry spices such as soft paprika and cinnamon. Very faint dustiness. Finish: long, on the same flavours. Big notes of lemon zests. Comments: top notch old Glenkinchie from high-quality wood. SGP:551 - 90 points. (and thank you Angus).
More distillery data Our tastings: all Glenkinchie that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))

There aren’t any Whiskyfun Whisky Awards and there will never be any (cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye) since I believe Awards should be handed out carefully and preferably after some serious 100% blind tastings by a large panel of rather experienced tasters when that's possible.

By the way, what do I mean with ‘100% blind’? It’s a situation where the taster knows nothing about the whiskies he’s got under his nose, whilst a situation where the taster knows that this or that sample is, say a ’18-21yo Speysider bottled at 43% vol.’ is hardly a ‘100% blind’ situation, is it? No Awards
Now, I do foolishly publish some personal ‘Top Tens’ in every issue of Whisky Magazine France, last time in December it was a list of my ten favourite bottlings of 2009, which I just updated on January 30 since I wasn’t quite done with 2009 at the time (only 450 whiskies bottled in 2009 tasted so far and many more to come at this point). The Top Ten is now a Top Sixteen.
So, since I get quite a few requests for this kind of list, here are the current standings, which I shall probably complete in the coming weeks (right, months or even years). But please remember, it’s all very personal and reflects much more my tastes than anything else. Again, certainly no awards!
Favourites of my favourites with 95+ points
(NOT ‘best of the best’) – alphabetical order:

Karuizawa 1967/2009 (58.4%, OB, shared cask for LMDW and for TWE 10th anniversary, C#6426) This one was a cask shared between these two well-known whisky importers, distributors and retailers that are La Maison du Whisky And The Whisky Exchange.

Karuizawa Longmorn
Longmorn 39yo 1969/2009 (58.9%, G&M for The Mash Tun and KasK, Tokyo, 460 Bts.) Even better than La Traviata - or Madame Butterfly ;-)
94 points – alphabetical order:
Glen Grant 50yo 1954/2009 (42.2%, Ian McLeod, C#3612, 100 Bts.)
Longmorn 1969/2009 (59.3%, G&M Reserve for Japan Import Sys, 1st fill sherry, C#5293, 405 Bts.)
Port Charlotte 2001/2009 (56%, Alan Robinson, bloodtub #R37)
93 points – alphabetical order:
Ben Nevis 34yo 1975 (63%, Prestonfield for LMdW, Bourbon cask #7439, 146 Bts.)
Brora 27yo 1981/2009 (51.3%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, C#291, 330 Bts.)
Clynelish 27yo 1982/2009  'Synch Elli' (46%, The Nectar Daily Dram)
Clynelish 27yo 1982/2009 (53.9%, The Perfect Dram II, Bourbon, 240 Bts.)
Clynelish 38yo 1971/2009 (47.9%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 145 Bts.)
Glenfarclas 1968/2009 (51.2%, OB for Lindores Whisky Society 5th anniversary, C#699, 11 Bts.)
Elements of Islay NAS 'PE1' (58.7%, Speciality Drinks Ltd, 'Port Ellen', 50cl)
Port Ellen 27yo 1982/2009 (58.6%, Signatory for LMdW, 3rd Release, Cask#1523, 229 Bts.)
Port Ellen 29yo 1979/2009 (52%, Old Bothwell for LWS 5th anniversary, C#1654, 11 Bts.)
Port Ellen 29yo 1979/2009 (53.8%, Douglas Laing, Platinum, for World Duty Free, 261 Bts.)
Port Ellen 30yo 1979/2009 '9th Annual Release' (57.7%, OB, 5,916 Bts.)
You’ll probably have noticed that they're almost all single casks, some batches being ridiculously small, probably all sold out since quite some months, and that old Longmorns, Clynelishes and Port Ellens (but only the best ones) do rule the list, which should further stress that it’s all very personal, so as always, please do not take all this too seriously (I insist, no awards, only a wee personal list!). And again, some other malts that were bottled in 2009, especially in the last months of the year, will most probably join the areopagus in the coming weeks.
PS: Having said that, had I decided, in a moment of distraction, to hand out some 2009 WF Awards 'ex cathedra', I'm sure Glendronach would have won one of the trinkets.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: better than Blood Sweat and Tears? This time it's Lonnie Smith and his band (and his Hammond B3) who are spinning that famous wheel... Please buy Lonnie Smith's music.

Lonnie Smith

January 30, 2010

(this session under the aegis of famous newspaper Zeitgeist)
(warning, tongue in cheek, please do not take this too seriously!)
After having been thinking (very) hard, we composed the most extraordinarily comprehensive line-up ever, in order to come up with the definitive answer to this utterly important question: have ‘foreign’ whiskies become better than Scotch? Of course, we had to select whiskies that were in a similar league so that the results couldn’t be biased, and here’s how we did it: we chose a stunningly wide assortment of 5 (five) whiskies that have all been bottled at between 40% and 44% ABV and that are all more or less gold in colour (what a brainwave, eh?)
What’s more, we shall number all whiskies at random, so that we can try them totally blind and not be influenced by their ‘pedigrees’. No need to say that it’ll be totally impossible to guess which is what and what is which within such a coherent and homogeneous line-up.
So without further ado, let’s try them if you please…
1. Two stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: pretty nice! Rather natural and maybe a tad simple but the maltiness is pleasant. Notes of cornflakes, orange cake and brioche, then ripe pears and strawberries that may suggest this is pretty young. Very faint smokiness and a little toasted wood. Grass. A tad average but well made. Mouth: a tad thin in the attack, but getting rather spirity and ‘alcoholic’, lacking body. A bit blendish if I may say so. Little middle. Finish: short but relatively clean. Comments: the nose was okayish but the palate didn’t really deliver. Lacks a little more structure – but it’s quite good globally. SGP:230 – 71 points.
2. Four stars Colour: gold. Nose: starts with a distinct OBE (slightly metallic, with quite some ‘good’ dust, old cupboard…) and an obvious peatiness, with ashes, coal oven and even a little mint. Rather complex, maybe not very big. Keeps developing, more on leather and cigar box, roasted nuts and maybe a little incense. Subtle! Mouth: creamy, oily and herbal attack, with quite some pepper, fig jam and cough drops. Quite some peat as well, unusual notes of coriander and maybe just a slight bitterness. Honeydew, mint, cough syrup. Good body. Finish: rather long, spicier, but there’s also even more honey and cough syrup. Oomphy. Comments: very good, old style (and most probably an old bottling). SGP:453 – 86 points.
3. Five stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: yeah! Starts on a lot of honey and other ‘beehivy’ notes, with many rich yet fresh fruity notes that are soon to turn up. Ripe apples, pineapples and bananas, then more caramel crème and nougat, then superb notes of liquorice and aniseed, and finally these slightly resinous notes that scream ‘old casks’. Those can sometimes be over the top but this time they really add depth and complexity to the whisky. Superb nose (where I might detect quite some old Glen Grant and/or Caperdonich and/or Glenlivet and/or Glenrothes and/or…). Mouth: a wee oaky blast at very first sips (cinnamon, nutmeg) but then it just won’t stop unfolding, shooting flavours like arrows, one after the other. Dried oranges, coconuts, bananas, spearmint, liquorice, cloves, butter pears, marshmallows, lemon balm… It’s endless, both ‘old’ and juvenile in style, which I believe is a perfect combo. Finish: maybe not the longest ever but the coconut stands out, as well as some banana skin and roasted bread. No drying tannins whatsoever. Comments: fresh, mature, complex and entrancing to follow. SGP:561 - 91 points.
4. Five stars Colour: full gold. Nose: the same kind of superb resinous notes are here as well but right from the start, together with quite some melon jam, very ripe nectarines (make that peaches) and apricots and quite some cinnamon. Hard to say whether this one is older than the previous one or not. Also a little heather honey ala Highland Park, as well as a little graphite and linseed oil. Also a very, very faint grassiness (chives?) Great nose, very balanced and very elegant. Mouth: extremely coherent, with once again a little more ‘oak’ than in the previous one, and maybe more ‘responsiveness’ as well but also a little less complexity, just a little. Cinnamon infused in melon juice, topped with a little honey and just pinches of dried ginger. Very, very good old whisky. Oh, and a little salt. Finish: long, all on melon and cinnamon now. And a little mint. Comments: all right, all right, of course it’s an old Bruichladdich! SGP:551 - 91 points.
5. Two stars Colour: full gold. Nose: balanced but moderately aromatic, with some nuts and toasted bread, a little honey again, a little wood smoke (or rather fir cone smoke) and just wee hints of wine barrel and liquorice wood. Pleasant, but very light profile. Mouth: good attack but it’s having a little trouble after the three previous ones, and screams ‘I’m young’. Not that it’s undrinkable, not at all, but it feels a tad ‘aromatized’ if I may say so. Hints of blackcurrant leaf tea (or buds), quite some fresh oak (but it’s not plankish), a little ginger and quite some vanilla. Falls a bit in the middle. Some candy sugar and a feeling that’s a tad ‘rummy’ at times. Finish: not long for sure but clean and maltier, the notes of candy sugar having grown bigger as well. Also more honey. Pleasant. Comments: a very good dram for sure, even if it’s a tad ‘lab whisky’. I guess it would have benefited from a slightly higher ABV. SGP:331 - 74 points.
Drum roll, revelations, verdict and ranking:
#1 and winners ex aequo with 91 points each:
3. and 4., i.e. Black Bull 40 yo (40.2%, Duncan Taylor, blend, 2010) and Bruichladdich 33 yo 'Legacy V' (40.9%, OB, 1690 bottles)
#3: 2. with 86 points, White Heather 8 yo (43.4%, OB, blend, 1980s)
5. with 74 points, Kavalan 'Concertmaster' NAS (40%, OB, Taiwan, Port Cask Finish, 2009)
1. with 71 points, Armorik (42%, OB, Warenghem Distillery, single malt, France, 2009)
Okay, let’s shoot a press release now… Joking! (but we could write quite a few catchy headlines, couldn’t we?) What did we learn? Nothing. Does such a session make any sense? Of course not. Old White Heather blends were generally great. These Bruichladdichs from the early 1970s are always superb. The brand new Black Bull 40yo is a blend, but obviously not just any blend (it’s one or maybe the highest scoring blend in my book). This Kavalan ‘Concertmaster’ at 40% does not display the fullness that other bourbon matured versions already have (some of the ‘Solists’). The French Armorik is well made but it cannot compete with most Scottish malts or prestige blends, although they now have some cask strength versions that are said to be very good.
Anyway, shall we do this kind of weird session again? I hope not, as we always compare similar whiskies and always within the same session.
(with apologies to The Times – well, not really.)
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))

According to some German friends, this new old-style-bourbon looking bottling of Bowmore by Berliner company Jack Wiebers is meant to be some kind of humourus retaliation for some bad tasting notes that I had written about one of their Ben Nevis ‘Cross Hill’ (WF 39). I love the idea and find it very funny, even if I think that their excellent owner Lars-Göran is giving me too much credit. Way too much credit.

Now, it’s true that I had written that that very strange Ben Nevis was smelling of pure varnish, Uhu glue, dead mice, vinegar, hashish and gym socks. Maybe a tad extreme but I also added in my comments that it was certainly ‘a lame duck within Jack Wiebers' usual very high standard whisky ranges’, which I thought was extremely positive globally – and it’s still what I’m thinking of Jack Wiebers' whiskies as of today. Yet, it seems that I did hit a nerve near the Reichstag, since this new bottling of Bowmore apparently calls me ‘dead mouse eater’ on the front label (err, Lars-Göran, I wrote that that Ben Nevis was smelling of dead mice, not that I found dead mice on the palate – or didn’t I try hard enough? ;-)) and more or less ‘frog’ on the back label. Wanted

Maybe a tiny-wee tad panzerish but still, that is funny indeed, almost as funny as the fact that Lars-Göran apparently wants ‘freedom for all whisky collectors’. Great idea Lars-Göran, I’d suggest giving up bottling/selling the same single casks under different labels/series, that would most probably free many whisky ‘collectors’ even further ;-).
No offence meant, nor taken I hope.

Frieden und Gesundheit!
The Wanted Dead Mouse Eater aka the Frog ;-)
PS: seriously, I really think that all this is very funny and I say bravo, I even bought a few bottles of this very unusual Bowmore (but won't show them to my Mum)! I’d simply add what a large and very well reputed Scottish bottler once told me when we met after I had seemingly (and unintentionally) ‘killed’ one of his whiskies. I had started to sort of apologize (you know, Catholics…) when he interrupted me: ‘Serge, please go on being honest (well), because if you ever stop writing about whiskies that you don’t like, nobody will ever believe you anymore when you write about whiskies that you enjoy.’ Not that I care too much, but I don’t think it was just idle talk.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: La Habana's Chucho Valdes' playing always made me think of fireworks. Let's listen to the very wild Tumbao (live) and then buy all of Chucho Valdes' music.

Chucho Valdes

January 29, 2010



Inver Bridge 29 yo (46%, Norse Cask, vatted grain, casks #QW-gr1108, 348 bottles) Four stars A vatting by Compass Box for Norse Cask, of 1966 Invergordon and 1979 Carsebridge. It’s really sad that Norse Cask fell into bankruptcy last year. Colour: gold. Nose: very typical grain whisky, with a high dose of vanilla and coconut on top of some varnish and caramel. Quite some dried tropical fruits as well, including bananas and guavas. Easy and rounded, maybe just a tad spirity. Faint smokiness as well, unexpected. More and more coconut oil over time, macaroons. Mouth: ultra-sweet, ultra-easy and very rounded, on the same flavours as on the nose. Maybe a slight butteriness. Coconut butter, that’s it. Finish: rather long, all on the same flavours. Comments: extremely easy to drink, hence extremely dangerous. No ‘oldness’ from the 1966 at all. SGP:720 - 85 points.
North of Scotland 1973/2005 (45.0%, Scott's Selection) Three stars and a half A rare grain whisky, the distillery having stopped distilling in 1980. It’s next to Cambus distillery. Colour: dark gold. Nose: not extremely aromatic, but the general profile is typically vanilled and coconutty. A little grass as well. Globally rather similar to the Inver Bridge, only a tad grassier and less sweet/rounded. Gets more varnishy after fifteen minutes. Mouth: almost as sweet as the Inver Bridge at first sips but a tad ‘wider’, with some coconut and vanilla but also marshmallows and strawberry sweets. Orange drops. A very faint meatiness from the oak (hints of bacon). Finish: medium long, a tad grassier. Butter cream, faint sourness I the aftertaste, a little pepper. Comments: pretty good. SGP:541 - 84 points.
Cambus 18 yo 1991/2009 (51.9%, Signatory, refill butt, cask #55883, 664 bottles) Three stars and a half Colour: gold. Nose: this is much punchier, but also kind of maltier (sort of) than the previous ones. More spirity, frankly grassy, with also more fresh fruity notes (apples, pears) and quite some mint. A lot of café latte as well. Interesting profile for a grain whisky. With water: more smoke, gets even a little sooty. ‘Cut cactus’. Mouth (neat): the fruitiest of them all so far. Apples and pears again, pineapple drops, bubblegum and herbal tea (chamomile). Orange squash. With water: once again, it gets a little smoky and rather liquoricy. Finish: rather long, with ‘funny’ notes of aniseed. Comments: another very good one, rather unusual. SGP:631 - 84 points.
North British 30 yo 1978/2009 (54.7%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #Q247, 122 bottles) Four stars This baby gathered more awards than a James Cameron movie in 2009 (but nothing to do with Cameronbridge Distillery ;-)) Colour: gold. Nose: rather spirity and more floral than the others, with some oranges and pineapples. A little harshness, notes of hay, cow stable. Moderate vanilla/coconut. Quite some coffee as well. With water: big sweetness, bubblegum, also mint, even a little camphor. More complex than the usual grain whisky in my opinion. Mouth (neat): punchy, spirity, starting on a lot of coffee-schnapps. Kirsch, then more dates and figs and a little honey. Rather rich for a grain whisky. With water: excellent creaminess, with a very nice development on various fruit pies as well as a little icing sugar. Kiwis. Finish: rather long, fruitful. Coconut liqueur. Comments: very good grain whisky, with a wide fruitiness. Rather more complex than the ‘average’ single grain. SGP:630 - 87 points.
Strathclyde 35 yo 1973/2009 (55.2%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask # 74067, 176 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: gold. Nose: starts slightly grassy, with all the usual ‘grainy’ cavalry in the background, soon to come to the front. Typical vanilled profile, with also a little honey and coconut ‘as usual’. Fudge, a little cinnamon, blackberries. A little pepper as well. Almond liqueur, amaretto, tinned litchis. Rather complex! With water: gets very pleasantly herbal, with whiffs of moss and fern. Sweet mushrooms (?), ginger, marzipan. Mouth (neat): extraordinarily fresh and fruity at such old age, with various sweet apples, tinned pineapples, fresh mangos and then a sweet yet rather big oakiness (cinnamon, nutmeg, quite some ginger.) With water: more of the same, plus bananas and something like a sweet curry sauce. Finish: long, sweet, fresh and oily at the same time. Dried ginger in the aftertaste. Comments: excellent grain whisky at a perfect age. Very nice complexity. SGP:631 - 88 points.
Garnheath 40 yo 1969/2009 (51.6%, Douglas Laing, Old Grain Cask, ref #5540, 154 bottles) Four stars and a half The short-lived Garnheath Distillery was closed in 1985 (or 1986 according to some sources). Colour: full gold. Nose: we’re rather closer to malt whisky here, starting more on raisins and obvious notes of old rum. Quite some sweet oak, date liqueur, a little coal… Gets then rather grassier and rather dry. The tannins at work? With water: falls apart a bit, getting unexpectedly winey for a while. Old pinot noir barrel. Recovers after a few minutes, with more menthol, almond oil and pine resin (which happens pretty often with very old casks). Mouth (neat): starts on butter cream but some obvious notes of mint and liquorice are soon to take control, together with notes of ripe bananas and mead. A lot of ginger from the oak as well. With water: speculoos, gingerbread and mint liqueur. Very rich and concentrated. Finish: long, spicy and honeyed. Something ‘Thai’, whatever that means. Comments: maybe not always ‘perfect’ but most interesting to follow. I think the cask did a great job all these years. SGP:541 - 88 points.
Kawasaki 1976/2009 (65.6%, Ichiro's Choice, single grain, refill sherry butt, 432 bottles) Four stars and a half The very rare Kawazaki grain distillery in Japan is now closed. Let’s see if it’s a shame. BTW, when seeing the very high strength of many old Japanese whiskies, one may wonder if they aren’t using cling film in the warehouses… Or if it’s only a matter of air dryness and temperature? Colour: pale amber. Nose: to be honest, this one smells much more of old rum than of whisky, even grain whisky at first nosing. Sugar cane, orange zests, whiffs of fermenting grass, a little maraschino… With water: wow! Much more on soy sauce, parsley, balsamico, leather and a little hessian. Also bananas flambéed. Gets also a little musky. Water works very well. Mouth (neat): very thick, rich, infused with many many spices. Cough drops, honeydew, fir liqueur. This thickness makes it taste much smoother than expected considering the very high ABV. With water: some carefully made artisanal gingerbread. Various honeys and just a little varnish. Finish: long, rich, coating, between pine resin and bananas flambéed. Comments: this baby is rather richer and heavier than most Scottish grains, even very old ones. Maybe a tad decadent? SGP:661 - 89 points.
We’ll have quite a few Cameronbridge in the coming days or weeks.
More distillery data Our tastings: all grains that we tried so far (new window)

MUSIC - Recommended listening: want something extremely caliente for these cold days on the nortthern hemisphere? Try Tania Maria's Yatra-ta then. Yeaaaah, but how does the Brazilian diva do it? Anyway, please by Tania Maria's music...

Tania Maria

January 27, 2010

Caol Ila

Caol Ila 1978/1991 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, Old Map Label) Three stars and a half I always like to start a session with these Connoisseurs Choice, their low proof doesn’t oblige you to play with water. Colour: full gold. Nose: very typical nose, with a rather big smoke bonfire but also coal) followed with many coastal notes (clams, oysters, fish, seaweed) and notes of walnut skin, apple peelings and almond oil, with also a little graphite and maybe ink rubber. Some tar as well. More smoky/tarry than lemony/fresh. Mouth: not big and maybe a tad more ‘uncoordinated’ than on the nose, with a lot of salt right from the start on top of some liquorice and caramel. Even more salt after a moment, anchovies… Even plain brine. Quite spectacular in its genre. Finish: long for 40%, just as salty and ‘fishy’. Comments: impressively salty on the palate, quite extreme. Spectacular but you have to like that style… SGP:246 - 84 points.

Port Askaig 30 yo (45.8%, Specialty Drinks, 2009) Five stars After the successful CS, 17 and 25 (including a second batch of the latter), here’s the 30. Please note that we cannot be 100% sure it’s Caol Ila, but that it’s most probably not Bunnahabhain inside. Colour: gold. Nose: this one is much more vegetal and lemony at first nosing, and rather more medicinal as well. Some camphor, eucalyptus, lemon juice, a little antiseptic, then more coastal notes as expected. Oysters, then hints of wet dog (let’s put a term to our silly jokes with wet dogs) and whiffs of smoke and a little mint. Gets also a tad earthier, with a little vanilla. Globally fresher and less smoky than the CC. Very nice, gets drier after fifteen minutes. Mouth: less salt than in the G&M (I can’t see how there would have been more salt) but many coastal notes, smoked fish, then lemon marmalade, green tea, leather and notes of fresh walnuts. The medicinal notes are well there, crouched in the background. A little camphor, for instance. Very good but less polished than expected at 30yo. Finish: long, salty, more on fruit peelings and green tea. Medium peatiness. Comments: a very fine Caol Ila (oops) that’s rather far from age’s tiredness. Even at 40yo, this will be fresh and lively. SGP:466 - 90 points.
Caol Ila 24yo 1978/2002 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 300 bottles) Three stars and a half Colour: full gold. Nose: we’re closer to the Port Askaig than to the G&M but this one is a tad more metallic and grassy, maybe a tad buttery/lactic as well. Some coal smoke for sure, slightly tarry, getting them immensely ‘kippery’ as Dave B. would say. A whole plate of kippers and sardines, really! With water: more kippers, more grass, more fresh almonds but not much else I’m afraid. Maybe orange blossom water. A tad too tight. Mouth (neat): once again, it’s a rather raw version, green, salty and moderately peaty/smoky. A lot of greenness indeed (apple peeling, grass, green tea, chive…) With water: improves, becoming more coherent but not less grassy and lacking a bit of ‘width’. In other words, a 24yo that tastes like a 12yo in my opinion. Finish: long but rather simple. Quite some salt. Comments: very good but, as they say, ‘there are many better ones’. Still a rather high mark. SGP:266 – 84 points.
Caol Ila 19yo 1979/1999 (57.1%, Coopers Choice, Cooperage Label, VA.MA. Import) Four stars Colour: white wine. Nose: the most extreme so far, more spirity and rough than the others, starting all on garden bonfire and pears, with a little less coastal notes but a smokiness that grows bigger and bigger. Some rubber, tar, gum Arabic, even hints of exhaust fumes. The pears strike back as well as quite some marzipan and then mustard. With water: that killed the fruitiness for once, and made the whole smell even smokier and more tarry. Another one that got kind of narrower. Mouth (neat): sharp like a blade, quite salty once again, sort of ‘narrow’ but profoundly ‘fishy’. Some lime as well… Which makes me think of a tequila + lemon + salt combo. Ah, the power of mind… With water: more of the same. More lemon. Finish: long, ultra-salty and lemony. That almost killed the peat! Comments: rather brutal but spectacular in that sense. SGP:275 - 85 points.
Caol Ila 26 yo 1977/2003 (57.7%, Douglas Laing, Platinum, cask #L7020, 86 bottles) Five stars Colour: full gold. Nose: ah, it seems that this is more complex even if the high alcohol blocks it a bit (just a bit). More on dried herbs, smoke of course, incense, sandalwood, hints of wet dogs, seaweed, liquorice… Very curious to see what happens with water. With water: oh my! Fantastic development, even more complex. Some figs (figs in an unsherried Caol Ila?), many other dried fruits, something clearly tropical (papayas?), medicinal, fresh… Okay, let’s issue a maltoporn alert. Mouth (neat): ultra-punchy but magnificently lemony and coastal once again (you know, salt, fish, oysters…) Once again, the extra-dimension comes from the various herbs and spices that are to be found here, including mint, liquorice wood, lemon balm, coriander and many, many others. Fantastic palate so far, and I doubt it’ll collapse after careful reduction. Let’s see… With water: you bet! Finish: never-ending, brilliant, extremely focussed yet so assertive… Comments: a monster. All cursors are on eleven. This after 25 or 30 years of further mellowing in bottle will be outta this world, too bad there are (were) only 86 of them. SGP:467 - 93 points.
Caol Ila 1978/1992 (63.7%, G&M Cask, White Label, casks #5347-5351 & 11553-11564) Five stars This must be a powerhouse, and gonna be difficult as it probably hasn’t got any lubricating coating of vanilla and caramel like for instance many high-strength bourbons have. Colour: full gold. Nose: ouch! As raw, spirity and almost pungent as the high ABV suggests. Antiseptic, a little varnish, mercurochrome, tincture of iodine, green apples, lemon, sheep (wet raw wool)… Big big big! With water: wowie! Old Marlboro, leather, many kinds of nuts, patchouli, high-end soy sauce, pepper, spearmint, nutmeg… Immensely complex. Another one that’s stellar at just 14 years of age. Mouth (neat – fear not Serge, fear not!): yah! Either I’m really getting used to it, or it’s not THAT strong. Let’s say it’s ‘ingestible’, mostly thanks to its rather perfect profile that includes a fruitiness that we didn’t find in any other of these six CIs. In short: a lot of lemon. I love lemon. With water: of yes, we’re close to the Platinum now, only more lemony. Finish: very long, very lemony, with dried fish and moderate smoke in the aftertaste. Comments: just fantastic. SGP:566 - 92 points.
(With thanks to Geert and Konstantin)
Caol Ila And also Caol Ila 1977 (40%, Jas Gordon for Auxil, late 1980s) Four stars and a half Jas Gordon is or used to be a sub-brand of Gordon & MacPhail. Nose: rather delicate and elegant, on lemon tea and cold ashes as well as a little soot and lemon-scented soap (but it’s not ‘soapy’ as such). Almond oil. Quite sophisticated, gets then more ‘kippery’, coastal. Mouth: quite smooth but sleek, quite salty and lemony, with a refined peatiness and a little pepper. Good mouth feel at 40%, no thinnish body. Once again, gets more maritime after a while. The finish isn’t too long but very salty now. Comments: maybe a tad too smooth by today’s standards but extremely elegant and, again, not weak at all. SGP:355 – 88 points. (sorry about the crappy picture, that's the best an iPhone can do in a dark bar).
More distillery data Our tastings: all Caol Ila that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

MUSIC - Recommended listening: god R.L. Burnside nailed it with I'm Goin With You Babe!!! What a sound!!! It's a track I used to play every morning when waking up. Maybe I should do it again. Please buy the great late R.L. Burnside's music!

RL Burnside

January 26, 2010


Barbican, London
January 22nd 2010

It’s the first gig of the year and we’re running late.  The Friday evening traffic through a dark and gloomy metropolis is hesitant in persistent rain.  Hunched figures, tightly wrapped against the weather, run across the road without warning. 

Nick Drake
Manners and post-Christmas seasonal goodwill are set aside as the more confident drivers jostle for lane and position, or hustle for a few extra yards’ advantage.  I almost hit two pedestrians as I missed a crossing light, turning from a minor road (yes, if you’re reading this, it was me, and I heartily apologise).  Eventually we arrived at the parking spot and then endured a costly fiasco with a ticket machine, paying three times more than we should have done into the coffers of Westminster Council for a half-hour slot (two quids).  That’s eaten into the considerable fiscal advantage to be gained by deploying the ‘half-price pizza’ offer kindly sent to me by those nice people at Pizza Express.  Yes, in case you hadn’t noticed we’re still in the grip of a recession, so it’s cheap pizza for all. It’s the Barbican, so it must be pizza.  And, I reflected, Barbera D’Alba in glass, American Hot (extra chillies) on plate, all of this for fucking Nick Drake.  Not that I bear anything against Mr Drake himself, nor his pretty, if not somewhat dated, songs.  But I despise the hoards of journalistic parasites who feed off his memory (as with the late Syd Barrett, who I see monopolises the cover of this month’s music magazine) and the PR agencies who ensure that every up and coming record company hopeful has Nick Drake in their list of influences.  Appropriate then that the opening song for this celebration of Drake’s work (and that of his arranger, Robert Kirby, who died last year), and it truly was a celebration, is ‘Parasites’, sung by a truly shirtadelic Robyn Hitchcock.
In case you don’t know, Drake died in 1974 from an overdose, facing an apparently failed career in music with three poorly-selling albums behind him and little critical acclaim.  But blessed with an early death (in grim hindsight, the ultimate price for critical and commercial success), his legend has outgrown anything he might have become had he have lived longer.  And brutally, regardless of how good they might be, the legend has also outgrown the quality of his original songs, famous for their melancholic, fey and world-weary sentiments.  But as is apparent from this performance which, perplexingly for a cynic like myself, is one of the most joyous and  ironically life-affirming I have attended for a long time, some musicians really do love him.  There is love on the stage, and love in the over-reverential audience.  The result is a great show. Nick Drake
Nick Drake, Bryter Layter, 1970
Indeed, how could it fail with a house band led by musical director Kate St John, featuring  Danny Thompson (who played on Drake’s Five Leaves Left in 1969 ) on bass, Zoe Rahman on piano, Neill McColl on guitar (he also sang a passionate version of ‘Northern Sky), and an eight-piece string section, with some beautiful cello playing from Ian Burdge as he accompanied Kirsty Almeida on (unsurprisingly) ‘Cello song’.  The line-up of performers was even stronger.  Folk-scene veteran Vashti Bunyan, weak of voice but strong of heart, sang ‘Which will’, and a perhaps ill-chosen composition from Drake’s mother, ‘I remember, you remember’.  Scott Matthews triumphed with ‘Place to be’, and struggled a little in the second half with ‘Day is done’ (“I think I’ve had too much to drink, actually”).  Lisa Hannigan turned in two cracking performance with ‘At the chime of a city clock’, with some beautiful clarinet playing from St John, and a rumbustious and other-worldly ‘Black-eyed dog’, singing, stamping her feet and playing a type of  harmonium.  Teddy Thompson played guitar and sang, making ‘Poor boy’ (performed with a surprising gospel swing) and ‘River man’ (brilliantly flowing piano from Rahman) sound as if he could have written them himself.  He made a bit of a thing of following the astonishingly-voiced Krystle Warren onto stage (we’ve seen these displays of false modesty before) after she’d turned in a remarkable and deeply soulful version of ‘Time has told me’, but the two of them later sang a marvellously uplifting version of ‘Pink moon ‘.  A “passing through from LA” Harper Simon played ‘From the morning’, picking his guitar with considerable verve. The Photographer particularly liked Scritti Politti front man Green Gartside, who looked remarkably nervous but sang perfectly on ‘Fruit tree’, and joined the irrepressible Hitchcock (“The Hungarians say there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  Nick Drake wasn’t Hungarian but he did want a free ride”) on ‘Free ride’.  Hitchcock closed the show (before the ensemble encore of ‘Voice from the mountain’) with a solo performance of his own song ‘I saw Nick Drake’ (“I saw Nick Drake at the corner of Time and Motion”).
Nick Drake
This was a fabulous evening, and a hugely optimistic way to start a new year of reviews.   It may not have enamoured me any more to the cult of Nick Drake (a neighbour visits his grave at least once a year – who would do a crazy thing like that?) but it certainly opened the lid on many of his songs, even if a few of those performed here sounded somewhat “Radio 2”.  I’m sure it was almost too happy an evening for the average Nick Drake fan to bear, but I simply loved it, and even managed to forget (at least for a while) that I’d almost knocked two people down on the way to the show.  Sorry again, folks. - Nick Morgan (concert photograph by Kate)
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))

I’m starting to get sick of Twitter’s stupidity. I mean, yesterday the ‘shocking’ or at least ‘embarrassing’ news of ‘Taiwan whisky beating Scottish whiskey’ was all over the bloody place.

Frankly, I’m all for PR blitzkriegs and general hyperbolising, it’s usually fun to follow and after all, the doctors claim that we need to laugh at least once a day. But that one clearly went too far, even further than all these ridiculous launchings of 50yo-something vanity single malt Scotches, usually priced at £10,000+, that even Playboy wouldn’t have cared to write about in… 1973 (you know, trying to generate a halo effect around a brand name and all that jazz.)
So, what happened exactly? A bunch of tasters (and some are very well-known and hugely respected – rightly so) have tasted exactly… drum roll please…  FIVE 3yo whiskies blind, under the banner of The Times. Fine!
Guess what, the one that won that smallish contest was a Kavalan malt whisky, from Taiwan. I say that isn’t surprising, as Kavalan is very good indeed. Surprisingly good. But what’s even more surprising is the list of the four other whiskies it was opposed to:
- One English, St George 3yo. Why not, it’s a good dram but of course it’s not quite ready yet, so it can easily be beaten by ‘more wood technology’.
- Three Scotch: Langs, ‘a three-year-old Scottish premium blend’ (LOL, LOL, LOL), King Robert (whazzat?), and Bruichladdich’s X4+3, an experimental malt whisky that I quite like but that’s anything but representative of Scotch whisky.

Seriously, such a little tasting session is more than fine, but I think no whisky lover, even the wettest newbie, would have even thought of composing such a wobbly line-up with the aim of coming up with bold, definitive statements such as 'Taiwan beats England', or 'England beats Scotland', or 'Taiwan beats Scotland' (or even Scotland beats Scotland, which can happen). Sure, anybody can do whatever he likes, and again, that session was probably fine and friendly, but I find the fact that The Times, the AFP and several other newsagents, followed by countless clueless sheep Twitterers, claimed that ‘Taiwan beat Scotch’ (shock, horror and disgrace!) really over the top. To think that the same folks give us news about global warming, politics, war in Afghanistan and finance. Scary!
Between us, Kavalan is great whisky, it deserves much better.
And let's not forget, 'Triumph without peril brings no glory' (Corneille)

Peace and santé!
7:30 GMT update - blimey, and now it's all over the French press, newspapers, RTL radio... And of course no mention of the set-up, number of whiskies and so on. 'Taiwan beat Scotch' - what a coup!
13:30 GMT update - Now, as some Malt Maniac rightly pointed out, finding a 3yo Scotch malt whisky that would defeat a 3yo Kavalan (or Amrut, or a Japanese, of the French Glann ar Mor, or, or...) in a blind session could well be a tricky task...Maybe because Scotch malt whisky isn't meant to be sold at such young age?


Braeval 1999/2008 (43%, Jean Boyer, Gifted Stills, sherry wood) Three stars and a half Braeval is the ‘new’ name for Braes of Glenlivet. Colour: white wine. Nose: very fresh and fruity, youthful, on peaches and pineapples plus a little maple sugar and just a faint farminess and ginger tonic. A clean, simple, very pleasant spirit. Mouth: sweet, easy and fresh attack, very clean, on various fruit jellies (I’d say greengages and butter pears) and a combination of candy sugar and tea. A little bergamot. Rather less simple than on the nose. Maybe also a little aniseed and even fresh mint. Very refreshing whisky. Finish: medium long, with quite some spices such as white pepper and a little cinnamon, although I wouldn’t say it’s spicy malt whisky. Comments: very good young Speysider that should go perfectly well on ice – but it’s very good when neat as well. SGP:430 – 83 points.
Breaval 1996/2004 (43%, Jean Boyer, Best Casks of Scotland) Three stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: this is much richer, rounder and more biscuitty than the 1999, with much more vanilla, cake and butterscotch. Notes of ripe plums and candy sugar as well. Also notes of apple juice and English scrumpy (not the industrial, flavourless so-called ciders). Mouth: once again, this is rather rich but we’re pretty closer to the 1999. A tad thicker though, with more herbal notes and more vanilla as well. Earl grey tea, butter cream, ripe pears and peaches plus some candy sugar. Finish: medium long, a tad more fudgy, leaving a faint saltiness. Comments: a more ‘mature’ version of Braes despite its younger age. Clean spirit for sure, probably from a more active cask. SGP:441 – 84 points.
Braes of Glenlivet 20 yo 1989/2009 (59.3%, The Single Malts of Scotland, hogshead, cask #299, 262 bottles) Four stars Colour: straw. Nose: starts on a blend of slightly wild farmy notes with some creamy café latte and vanilla crème. A little less coconut than when I first tried it but it’s still got something of an old single grain. Also a little chicken bouillon. With water: the farminess gets a tad bigger, as usual. That won’t change. Some mint as well. Mouth (neat): we aren’t that far from the 1996, and this one isn’t even any bigger despite the much higher ABV. But it’s very creamy, sweet, with the same kinds of aromas – maybe a little more pineapple. To be honest, I may well have thought this one was younger, had I tried both blind. Good stuff anyway. With water: excellently fruity and candied. Very ripe gooseberries and strawberries. Finish: rather long, clean and just as fruity. And once again, a little salt plays with your lips… Comments: simply very good. Ultra-clean, very fruity Speysider with no signs of age. Just a tiny-wee tad more complex than the 1986. In other words, one more point. SGP:451 - 85 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Braeval that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

January 25, 2010

Port Ellen
Port Ellen 26 yo 1982/2009 (52%, Old Bothwell, cask #2729) Four stars Colour: full gold. Nose: doesn’t start too powerful but the profile is great, rather leathery, tarry and sooty. Coal oven and butter cream, then fresh walnuts and almonds, with a few animal notes in the background (slightly gamy) and just hints of Demerara sugar. Not wham-bam, rather elegant. With water: more and more of these notes of marzipan that peat can produce after quite some years. Mild sherry. Also a rather huge earthiness, mushrooms, more leather and just a little sulphur. Gets gamy. Mouth (neat): nervous and powerful attack, but there’s also something unusual in there. Some cardboard and dust, paraffin, lemon zests… Then salted fish, rollmops, kippers and more lemon. The whole is a little ‘chemical’ in a certain sense. With water: those notes did not disappear. More salt beyond that. Sardines. Finish: rather long, frankly salty now. Anchovies and that cardboardy/chemical note remaining in the aftertaste. Comments: very good Port Ellen but I feel it’s slightly offbeat at times. SGP:367 - 86 points.
Port Ellen 26 yo 1983/2009 (54.9%, Old Bothwell for Thosop bvba, Belgium, Cask #220) Five stars Colour: white wine. Nose: this will be quick, it’s just a typical flinty and slightly lemony ‘natural’ Port Ellen, with a wide range of aromas in the background: almonds and walnuts (and other fresh nuts), kippers, oysters, linseed oil, apple peelings, wet rocks, graphite and just a little custard. Ultra-clean, ultra-classy. Moderate tar. With water: gets more organic and more coastal. More seashells, seaweed, iodine…  Just wee hints of ‘new plastic’ (brand new Renault ,-)). Mouth (neat): superb attack, sharp like a blade, lemony, Riesling-esque, mildly smoky but very mineral. Doesn’t quite develop any further but that was already more than enough. With water: very good, old style, kippery, smoky and almondy – as it should be, I’d dare to say. Faint earthiness that brings an extra-dimension. Finish: long and extremely coastal. One to quaff on oysters! Comments: very good selection by Mr Luc Timmermans. SGP:367 - 91 points.
Port Ellen 29 yo 1979/2009 (53.9%, Old Bothwell, cask #7089) Four stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: the most austere of them three, almost closed, with just a little vanilla and seashells. Kind of a more restrained version of the 1983, a tad smoother as well. A little more vanilla. Maybe water will unleash many more aromas? With water: nope, not really. Only more wet wool and ‘farmyard after then rain – whether on Islay or not’. Not an unpleasant nose, not at all, it’s just that it’s a tad narrow, narrower than the other ones anyway. Mouth (neat): we’re much closer to the 1983 now. Actually so close that both whiskies are hard do distinguish from each other. Say this one is a tad more lemony, hence maybe a tad mono-dimensional. But a great PE it is. With water: same comments, exactly. A slightly smoother and less ‘coastal’ version of PE. Finish: long, a tad more almondy now. And sardines again… Comments: maybe not the best 1979 ever, especially the latest official 30yo is a good notch above it in my book. But a pretty fine dram it is! (hints a bit at Caol Ila in my opinion). SGP:356 - 88 points.
Port Ellen 26 yo 1979/2006 (54%, Old Bothwell, cask #7094) Four stars Colour: white wine. Nose: a slightly sharper and less vanilled version of the previous one. It’s also a tad soapier – but nothing embarrassing. With water: no more soap but more tar, hessian, iodine and clams. Water worked well. Mouth (neat): once again, we’re very close to the other un-sherried ones. And once again, this is maybe a tad soapier and waxier (not in the greatest way). With water: works, the soapiness has been killed but that did not bring many more aromas to the table. Kippers and almond oil, with a slightly herbal smokiness. No, wait, it does improve a lot over time, with some liquorice kicking in, tar, concentrated lemon juice, citron… PE is back! J. Finish: long, getting better and better. Something like salted and peated limejuice? Comments: an interesting one that started in a wobbly way but that didn’t stop improving after that. A ‘movie-malt’ again, but not a classic in my opinion. SGP:457 - 86 points.
(with thanks to Luc)
More distillery data Our tastings: all Port Ellen that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

MUSIC - Recommended listening: one of the absolute masters of modern jazz trumpet, Italia's Enrico Rava, plays a wonderfully appeased Lady Orlando (from his superb fairly recent CD New York Days). Please buy Enrico Rava's music!

By the way, the picture is by our friend Swiss jazz photographer Juan-Carlos Hernandez, who's as good at the camera as Rava is at the trumpet (there are many fantastic photogtraphs on his website, check them out!)

Enrico Rava by Juan-Carlos Hernandez

January 24, 2010



It’s been quite some time since I tried Glenfiddich’s core range. I guess it’s time to have a quick sip of three of it’s most famous representatives.

Glenfiddich 15 yo (40%, OB, +/-2009) Two stars and a half I could not spot any mention of a solera maturing on this newish version of the popular Glenfiddich 15. Colour: full gold. Nose: nicely grassy and mildly chocolaty, with hints of ginger and cardamom that give more presence than the old ‘soleras’ in my opinion. Also hints of apple juice and wood smoke, cooked butter, orange cake... Perfectly all right so far, I’d say. Mouth: smooth, malty, fruitier than on the nose. Notes of overripe apples and pears, then cinnamon and green tea, maybe a tad drying. Not much happening here, especially the middle being a tad thin, but the freshness is pleasant. Finish: medium to short, malty, just a tad dusty. Some vanilla. Comments: another good ‘access category’ single malt that’s perfectly composed. Having said that, it’s probably not really for malt freaks. SGP:331 - 78 points.
Glenfiddich 18 yo (40%, OB, batch #3186, +/-2009) Two stars and a half The 18 now bears a batch number. Ha, fashion… Colour: gold, a tad paler than the 15. Nose: starts rather on various herbs, parsley, mint and even chives, with also a little oak (whiffs of pencil shavings) and straw. Goes on with some malt and just hints of sherry and farmyard. Nice but globally a little less aromatic than the 15. Mouth: more body in the attack than the 15, but we’re well in the same family. Some chocolate, apple compote, white pepper, nutmeg, roasted hazelnuts… Gets then thinnish. Good balance but even if the 15 wasn’t a racing horse, I liked it a little better. Finish: short, rather dry, nutty, with notes of herbal tea (say cherry stems – and why not?) and walnuts. Comments: good stuff once again but lacks body for my taste. Again, I like the 15 a little better. SGP:231 - 77 points.
Glenfiddich 15 yo 'Distillery Edition' (51%, OB, +/-2009) Three stars I believe this one replaces the older CS at 51% vol., which many malt lovers, well, loved. Colour: gold. Nose: bigger than the others of course, a little rougher (well, as rough as Glenfiddich can be), with more obvious oak (sawdust) and more vanilla and wood smoke. Gets then more and more chocolaty, with also hints of black pepper and cut grass. No estery/pearish notes whatsoever. Mouth: good attack, rather ‘wide’, more on pears this time as well as various spices. A little ginger, pepper, paprika, cloves… The base is rather fruity. Hints of nougats and liquorice. Well made. Finish: rather long, clean, malty and fruity, with quite some spices in the aftertaste. Cinnamon. Comments: good stuff! The pears and the spices go well together on the palate. Water brings out more smoke and malt. SGP:441 - 81 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Glenfiddich that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

MUSIC - Recommended listening: prodigious German pianist Joachim Kühn playing a breathtaking version of My Heart Belongs To Daddy (from his CD Famous Melodies). Listening to Joachim Kühn is like reading a great novel. Please buy his music.

Joachim Kuhn

January 22, 2010

SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))

Our Dutch friend and WF reader Nico Hoenen has got a great idea: he’s donated a bottle of Ardbeg OB Single Cask # 1275 1998-2009 55,4%, 1st fill bourbon barrel, 252 bottles (yup, the new one) to help Haiti via the Dutch Television.

Actually, he’s selling 5cl samples for €20 + shipping from Holland and will give all the money he’s raised to the cause. What’s more, Nico’s been in touch with Michael Heads, the famous manager of Ardbeg Distilley, and Michael offered one more bottle to that very worthy cause.
So, should you like to participate and get your own sample of that very rare Ardbeg (retails for £180 - distillery only), please just drop an email directly to Nico, like I just did myself. I say bravo Nico and bravo Michael!

Update: sold out. Thank you everybody!
Why danger, you may ask? Well, simply because I usually love these Clynelishes and I may well swallow more than I should (meaning down all glasses)… So watch my prose around #7 or #8, it may well make even less sense than usual. And don’t try this at home!
Clynelish 12 yo 1997/2009 (45%, Exclusive Malts, cask #4608, 383 bottles) Four stars Colour: pale straw. Nose: blimey, this starts well! A full Clynelish with flying colours, that is to say just the right amounts of wax, fruits, brine and flints. Lamp oil, orange skin, lemon, beeswax, white apples, sea air, damp clay and just whiffs of wet seven years old golden retriever (okay, any dog, really). Mild ginger. Mouth: excellent, very Clynelish once again, with that perfect balance between fresh fruits and some waxy/resinous notes. Quite some herbs behind all that, lemon zests. Maybe just a tad less complex than on the nose. Finish: long, on the same notes plus a little pepper, with these very ‘symptomatic’ notes of paraffin in the aftertaste. Comments: a young Clynelish as it should be, I’d dare saying. I like it much better than when I previewed it, which should prove that one should always take time when assessing a whisky. SGP:452 - 87 points.
Clynelish 1992/2004 (45%, Samaroli, cask #6298, 396 bottles) one star and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: uh-oh, this is completely different. Much more plastic, chemicals, metal (tin), artificial lemon juice (Fanta Lemon, terrible) and tons of chalk or even aspirin (effervescent tablets). Very strange… Mouth: better than on the nose but still shaky and strangely metallic. Lemon juice, rosewater… clay? Too bad there are these weird metallic notes, the background seems to be very classy. Finish: very long and actually better, that is to say much more on lemon zests and pepper but it’s a tad late. Comments: I really gave this one a lot of time, it did not really improve. Some kind of flaw somewhere? Nails? SGP:271 - 68 points.
Clynelish 12 yo 1995/2008 (46%, Villa Konthor) Four stars Colour: straw. Nose: back to normality. Same kind of profile as in the 1997 by David Stirk, only more mineral, zesty and flinty. Also seawater, lemon juice, crystallised oranges, light honey, vanilla and a good deal of smoke. Farmyard just after a sudden Summer rain (wot?)  Mouth: big, punchy, classy, lemony, waxy, zesty, mineral, peaty and peppery. What you’d expect from a mildly peated Islayer from the South shore in a certain way. Finish: long, more ‘Talisker’ if you see what I mean. Spicy and peppery. Comments: just excellent and unexpectedly peaty (say there’s a big feeling of peatiness). SGP:353 - 86 points.
Clynelish 1993/2007 (46%, Berry Bros & Rudd, cask #7540) Four stars and a half BBR had a fantabulous 1992 a few years ago (cask #7168) so let’s hope this one will be just as great. Colour: white wine. Nose: ho-ho, it smells like a very dry fino sherry, with also something slightly metallic like in the Samaroli and tons of cut grass, leaves and walnut skin plus quite some paraffin. Damp earth. The most austere side of Clynelish but this time it works perfectly, the metallic notes being an asset here. Mouth: huge, very lemony, ultra-zesty and sharp like a blade, as they say. Hugely almondy as well. Perfect. Finish: as long as a Fidel speech. Comments: bang for your buck – at the time because mea culpa, mea maxima culpa, I should have tried this one much earlier. SGP:263 - 89 points.
Clynelish 16 yo 1992/2009 (46%, The Single Malts of Scotland, bourbon barrel, cask #5871, 293 bottles) Four stars Colour: straw. Nose: the fruitiest of them all so far, starting much more on oranges, grapefruits and melons as the other ones but that fruitiness is soon to vanish, leaving room for quite some flowers (I usually find little floral notes in ‘young’ Clynelish). Notes of tinned litchis. A fairly gentle recent Clynelish. Mouth: indeed, it’s gentler, rounder and smoother than the other ones but the fruitiness is now quite beautiful, not quite in the style of the 1970s but not too much in the style of the 1990s either. Turkish delights, pear liqueur and herbal teas. Finish: rather long, a tad waxier and more resinous now. Putty. Comments: a tad unusual in my opinion but very, very fine. SGP:551 - 85 points.
Clynelish 16 yo 1993/2009 (56.4%, Adelphi, cask #7545, 204 bottles) Four stars Colour: white wine. Nose: almost brutal, super-flinty, mega-waxy and very fruity. Big whiffs of damp earth, apple peelings, burnt herbs and grapefruits, then vin jaune or fino. ‘Neo-oxidative’, as they say. With water: that didn’t really work, it got very grassy and rather less complex, maybe even closer to plain fino sherry. Not that we don’t like fino sherry. Mouth (neat): very strong but the mix of fruits and wax is extremely typical. Oranges and marzipan. With water: perfect, water works much better on the palate than on the nose. Peaty, mint, bitter oranges and grapefruits, coated with beeswax. Finish: long, with more pepper and the same kind of peatiness as in the 1995 by Villa Konthor. Also a little salt. Comments: excellent dry Clynelish by Adelphi. SGP:363 - 87 points.
Clynelish 1990/1999 (57.4%, Scotch Single Malt Circle, cask #3210) Five stars Colour: straw. Nose: not that powerful, rather smoother and rounder, with more vanilla on top of the great coastal/waxy notes. Lemon marmalade. Balance and sense of ‘fullness’ are on eleven. With water: more of the same plus added notes of strawberries, often to be found in Clynelish when the ‘wildness’ gets quiet. Superb nose indeed. Mouth (neat): yes sir, it’s great whisky. Very punchy, peppery, fruity, resinous, kind of green, oily and thick but not cloying at all… My kind. With water: more grapefruits and a little salt. Extremely compact yet demonstrative. Finish: endless and as ‘Clynelish’ as Clynelish can be. Some oranges for sure. Comments: a stunning middle-aged Clynelish. SGP:362 - 90 points.
Clynelish 1990/2004 (57.6%, Gordon & MacPhail, cask #11628, First Fill Sherry) Five stars Colour: amber. Nose: the sherry is quite obvious but I wouldn’t say it’s got much of its say ‘against’ the big distillate. Some toasted brioche and cappuccino but the overall profile is as waxy, flinty and even mentholated as Clynelish can be. Maybe hints of struck matches and bacon. With water: yes! Granted, it’s not one of these old sherried glories but the mix of tobacco and dried beef and ham that’s now been created is absolutely stunning. An unlit great cigar (say a Lusitania from the best years). Mouth (neat): much more sherry influence this time, and I wouldn’t say it’s rounded, polished sherry at all. Loads of cloves, speculoos, mulled wine, ginger, bitter oranges… Did they manage to overwhelm our beloved Clynelish? Let’s see… With water: you bet! The best fruitcake ever. Finish: wow. Comments: water is obligatory, but then… Congrats G&M. SGP:452 - 91 points (our winner, heartfelt thanks Konstantin).
Clynelish 1990 And also Clynelish 19 yo 1989/2009 (55.4%, Acorn, cask #6076) Three stars As if we hadn’t had enough, let’s now have one from the late 1980s. Can anybody have enough Clyenlish anyway? Colour: pale gold. Nose: the longer time it has spent in wood is really obvious here, as we get much more vanilla crème than in the others. More mint and pine resin as well, then much more farmy notes, cow stable, even manure. With water: fail! It got almost horrible, as weirdly metallic and chemical as the 1992 by Samaroli. Mouth (neat): totally excellent now, with just the right amount of maturing. Superb lemons, peppermint, a little honey, grapefruits, lemon pie, hints of dill, kiwi and icing sugar. Less wax and ‘minerality’ than in its siblings. With water: not a disaster like on the nose this time, not at all. Very enjoyable notes of citrus fruits and maybe just a little cardboard. Finish: Comments: excellent when neat, but swims like a locomotive on the nose (so to speak), which I didn’t notice when I previewed this baby as I didn’t try it with water (agreed, shame on me). SGP:353 - 80 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Clynelish that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

MUSIC - Recommended listening: a tiny musical miniature, the Arabesque I, op.82 composed by Brazil's Amaral Vieira in the 1950s, here played by the excellent pianist Paulo Gazzaneo. Please buy Paulo Gazzaneo's recordings.

Oaulo Gazzaneo

January 21, 2010

Glen Ord


Glen Ord 10 yo 1999/2009 (45%, Exclusive Malts, cask #7, 422 bottles) Four stars I’ve often noticed that Glen Ord can be stupendous when rather old (ah, the official 30 in its fancy square decanter!) but also very interesting when young, as it’s a rather characterful distillate. Colour: pale gold. Nose: ah yes, here’s this very idiosyncratic (c’mon) combination of aromatic fruits with coal smoke and flints. Typical. Notes of strawberries, grapefruits, blueberries, guavas, then smoked tea, coal smoke indeed, eucalyptus leaves and just a little wild thyme. Classy! Mouth: very sweet and nervous, with a good deal of ginger from what seems to be some very active oak. The wood is more obvious than on the nose. Some white pepper, oranges, nutmeg, some kind of resinous fruit (sorry, my vocabulary fails me), cinnamon, bitter almonds… Less wildly fruity than on the nose, but some additional notes of honeydew and even mead do add more dimension to this baby. Finish: rather long, more on cough sweets and thyme tea. Comments: well matured, well crafted. I don’t know which kind cask this was but it wasn’t a tired x-fill one. Very good, and a nice contrast between nose and palate. SGP:551 - 85 points.
Glen Ord 13 yo 1996/2009 (59.1%, Whisky-Fässle for Whiskystammtisch Rebstock Biberach, bourbon hogshead) Four stars Just in case you didn’t notice, this is a bottling for Germany ;-). Colour: white wine. Nose: we’re pretty close to the 1999 but this is both fatter and kind of waxier. Now, that could come from the much higher ABV so let’s add water right away. With water: superb development on fresh ‘Western’ fruits. Cherries, apples, gooseberries, grass. Also some wax that reminds me a bit of Clynelish. Mouth (neat): rich, big, oily and unexpectedly peaty (is that really peat?) at the attack, unfolding more on apples and various fruit liqueurs. Ripe kiwis, gooseberries and litchis. With water: superb, really. Many fruits, that smokiness, liqueurs, cold herbal tea… Finish: long, fruity – and did I mention wax? Comments: one of these very classy young Glen Ords. Same high quality as the 1999 but a tad more mature and ‘phat’. Big dram f’r d’Stammtesch as we say in Elsass. SGP:652 – 87 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Glen Ord that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)
Ukrainian whisky


The other day I posted a label for a Soviet whisky (sent by our friend Dmitry), calling for a sample. No success so far but Dmitry sent us this other label, from USSR-era Ukraine this time. I find it absolutely wonderful and think our Scottish friends should draw their inspiration from it. Having said that, not sure I'd like to sample it...
More about this whisky: it's from the 1970s and is rather 'anti-soviet', 'a monument to an epoch displaying the Ukrainian mentality, humour and self-irony'.
It was distilled from... beetroots!.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: still cold here, let's have some funky Hammond with Ricky Peterson playing Drop shot. Brian Auger's hidden son? Please buy Ricky Peterson's music.

Ricky Peterson

January 20, 2010

Longmorn 1962 (40%, Captain Burn's, Ryst-Dupeyron, +/-1990) Five stars Ryst-Dupeyron is mainly an Armagnac dealer in the French city of Condom (no kidding). They source their malts from G&M’s. Colour: amber. Nose: not one of these very fruity old Longmorns, rather a dry sherried one, starting with a lot of dark chocolate and various roasted nuts and developing more on a great combination of dried herbs (parsley, mint) and bacon. Also whiffs of fresh mushrooms and maybe just a pinhead’s worth of balsamico. Actually very complex, keeps developing for a long time, towards even more mushroomy notes and, at last, a few fruits (dried bananas and pineapples) that make it resemble a very old rum. Great. Mouth: great indeed, amazing how this one is alive and kicking at just 40% and after +/-30 years in wood plus +/-20 years in glass. Superb blend of chocolate (both milk and bitter), prunes, maybe Armagnac (did the people at Ryst-Dupeyron’s dope it with a few litres of 19th century Bas-Armagnac?), just a little soy sauce and hundreds of dried fruits. And so drinkable! Finish: amazingly long given the strength, a classic. Beautiful dry spiciness. Comments: typical high-flying digestif, to sip after a good foie gras and a confit of duck, while chatting with your best friends. Oh the vision… SGP:551 - 93 points (and thanks Jeroen).
Longmorn-Glenlivet 1966/1985 (57%, Brae Din Int for Moon Import, sherry wood) Four stars This was bottled for Moon Import’s 20th anniversary. Colour: red amber. Nose: exactly the same whisky as the 1962, only with more power and a slightly narrower profile that may well come from the much higher ABV. Quick, let’s water it down… With water: that didn’t quite work, as the whisky didn’t really get any more complex, rather a tad metallic and strangely herbal. Now, it’s still a brilliant old whisky, he’s just having a little trouble after the 1962. Mouth (neat): exactly the same comment as with the undiluted nose, it’s rather close to the 1962, only much more powerful and spicier. With water: excellent now, maybe not as complex as others but the profile is great. Campari, oranges, ginger. Finish: long, still on oranges and ginger. Cinchona. Comments: very, very good, but there are so many stunning old Longmorns… SGP:461 - 87 points.
Longmorn 1968/2009 (60.5%, Gordon & MacPhail Reserve for Limburg, cask #5274) Five stars A very high ABV, stunning at more than 40 years of age. Did they fill this one at 80% vol.? I loved this baby when I first previewed it last year. Colour: gold. Nose: completely different from both the 1962 and 1966 and from ‘regular’ uberfruity old Longmorns. Starts on quite some vanilla and varnish, as if it was a teenage bourbon cask and develops on a rather superb combination of almonds (and marzipan), putty, walnuts and apple peelings. Then a lot of mint (really a lot) and notes of linseed oil and just a little bacon. With water: more of everything, with added notes of oranges and ‘good’ ginger tonic. Wonderful. A lot of menthol. Mouth (neat): very thick, very powerful, all on oranges, lemons, coconut, vanilla and grated ginger and pepper. How punchy! With water: that brought out more bitterness from the wood plus more ham but it’s all more than fine. Soft tannins, pepper, ginger. Finish: very long, maybe a tad dry now but all these spices are of the highest grade. Comments: truly excellent but the amazing 1962 still rules the session in my opinion. Imagine, 40% vol.! SGP:462 - 91 points.
Longmorn 1969/2009 (57.7%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Whisky Exchange's 10th Anniversary, cask #5305) Five stars Colour: dark amber. Nose: classical big deep sherry at first nosing, with everything you’d expect from that style (prunes, coffee, chocolate, fruitcake et al) but also a blend of four ingredients that work fabulously well when combined: oranges, olive oil, honey and fresh mint. Try that at home, you’ll see what you’ll see. Goes on with more leather and heavy pipe tobacco (the thick, moist, black ones). With water: gets rather decadent, with many ‘half-aromas’, meaning it’s very, very complex. Soot, orange liqueur (and many other liqueurs), various spices, apple peelings, tea, raspberries… And an avalanche of other aromas. Mouth (neat): a tad fruitier than the 1968 (grapefruits, green apples, even litchis) but just as powerful and spicy. Much less ‘deep sherry’ than on the nose that is. Sultanas, cough syrup (eucalyptus getting more and more obvious). With water: firm, fruity, slightly resinous, orangey, clearly ‘old Longmorn’ now, the sherry being a tad more reserved now. Finish: long, firm, spicy, a tad oakier. Oranges and ginger tonic. Obvious oakiness in the aftertaste. Comments: just great, only the finish starts to be a tad drying at such old age. SGP:551 - 92 points.
PS: I tried a quick vatting of all four as I sometimes do after quite a few glories. All I can say is ‘Mamma mia!’ Some day I’ll have to do a big best old Longmorns vs best old Strathislas session.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Longmorn that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)

MUSIC - Recommended listening: ah this sound... 1967?... Cream? Quite, it's Jack Bruce doing Come To Me with Robin Trower on their recent album Seven moons. Please buy Jack Bruce and Robin Trower's music!

Jack Bruce

January 19, 2010



Macduff 19 yo 1990/2009 (55.7%, Whisky-Doris, sherry hogshead #1422) Four stars Colour: amber/bronze. Nose: quite some varnish and even nail polish at very first nosing, green apples, and then loads of bread crust, brioche, roasted chestnut and cake, before it becomes more classically sherried, on chocolate, coffee, blackcurrants, prunes and bacon plus a little wine vinegar. It’s big. The varnishy notes never completely disappear. With water: same profile plus a little smoke and hay. The vinegar is replaced with some lemon. Gunpowder, leather. Mouth (neat): rich and playful, extremely fruity, not thickish. Blackcurrants, green apples and oranges, cherry juice and liquorice. Little dried fruits this time, or only figs. A little milk chocolate. With water: gets a tad more bitter and herbal. Angustura bitter. Finish: long, spicier, very pleasant. Comments: an unusual kind of sherry monster – not quite a monster in fact. An interesting variant. SGP:552 - 85 points.
Macduff 1990/2006 (59.2%, McKillop's Choice, cask #7118) Three stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: some coffee and chocolate (from the high alcohol this time), then fresh fruits and fruit drops plus quite some vanilla but the whole is a tad blocked. With water: gets very grassy and farmy, even after the ‘waiting time’ de rigueur when you add water. Wet hay and rabbit hutch (people in the big cities do not know how a rabbit hutch smells, do they?) Mouth (neat): creamy and oily, liqueurish, with some bitterness (Jägermeister) on top of the expected fruitiness (ripe apples and oranges, a little bubblegum). Really big, water is needed. With water: just as big, water is pretty useless. More pepper and just touches of salt. Finish: very long and quite peppery. Comments: a wild and spicy version, very good but not easy-easy. SGP:362 - 84 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Macduff that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))

The other day I could read on an excellent forum something like ‘this whisky isn’t good, Serge gave it only 87 points’, and it was not the first time I could spot such rather excessive comments. Frankly, I think it’s not good, for several reasons:

- 87 is a very high mark on MJ’s scale, which is the scale the MMs and yours truly have always been using.

- Remember, notes and scores, even when coming from relatively experienced boozers tasters, are nothing but personal opinions, related to individual tastes (whether expressed in words, figures/symbols or both). Sure with a bit of training and unless you’ve got a very bad nose and a terrible palate, anybody should manage to depart a bit from these ‘individual tastes’ and become more ‘analytical’ but still, there will always be a good deal of subjectivity, even when the taster tries hard not to be ‘self-influenced’ (which, frankly, is very hard to do unless you’re a 60 years old Master Blender).
- I’m deeply concerned about the incredible inflation of very high scores that we can see here and there. Sure you’ll please many people and create some sort of buzz (and, above all, won’t offend anyone) by granting avalanches of 90+, or even 95+ scores to just any new ‘whisky’ but those scores won’t mean anything anymore if the trend goes on.
- Yet, it’s very tempting to do that. I’m still trying to swim against the tide but how can I express the fact that I liked that new Glenthis 12yo that I scored 87 a lot, when more and more people think ‘very good’ means 95? (or even 98?)
- And if we give 95 to the new Glenthis 12yo, which score for a stupendous 35 year old Ardbeg, Brora or Macallan? 127 points? Remember, it’s a 100-scale, for crying out loud! ;-)
So, please, please, don’t push me. A ‘87’ is a pretty great whisky in my book.
Peace and Santé,

MUSIC - Recommended listening: Ah, Gershwin, ah Hélène Grimaud! Let's have the Adagio - Andante con moto from the Piano Concerto in F major and then buy the entire Hélène Grimaud discography...

Helene Grimaud

January 18, 2010



Glencadam 1974/1991 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, Old Map Label) Three stars and a half A batch bottled in 1997 (under the ‘new map label’) was really good, full of tropical fruits (WF 85). Colour: gold. Nose: I think I never came across a Glencadam that was so smoky and sooty. Big whiffs of garden bonfire, exhaust pipe, then a lot of apple peelings and fresh walnuts, almonds, cut grass and just hints of rubbed orange skin. Also hints of tinned pineapples indeed but much less than I recall from the 1974/1997 (but that was a long time ago, I had to read my old notes). Anwyway, a very leafy/smoky Glencadam. More marzipan after a while. Mouth: good body and very pleasant profile at first sipping, mostly on oranges and tea, with a slightly drying/dusty feeling in the middle but a further development on bananas flambéed and orange cake. Mucho quaffable. Finish: medium long, more on oranges and orange squash, with a little cinnamon. Comments: a really good dram, one of these nice bottles that you can easily find for relatively cheap at auction houses or on evilBay. SGP:441 - 84 points.
Glencadam 30 yo 1978/2009 (46%, OB, cask #2335, 615 decanters) Four stars The 1983 bottled in 2008 in the same kind of decanter was excellent in my opinion, very complex and balanced (WF 89). Colour: amber. Nose: quite amazingly we get the same kind of smoky notes as in the 1974 but this one is globally nuttier and less leafy/grassy. Also quite some leather and cocoa, then pu-erh tea and marzipan, the whole being rather drier and more austere than the 1983 from 2008. Maybe just hints of sulphur and Madeira wine that I didn’t detect in my preview tasting session. Mouth: rich but not thick at all, a tad sweeter and, above all, much more orangey than on the nose. Then quite some honey, other citrus fruits (citrons?), green tea, lemon pips and a little leather, cardamom and green curry. Finish: rather long, with a very enjoyable bitterness. Spearmint and chlorophyll. Comments: very good, maybe a little less aromatic than the 1983 and a tad drier but quality is quite high in my opinion. SGP:361 - 86 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Glencadam that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)
WF SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
Back in 2005 I had written a few pages about Brora and Old Clynelish distillery but I wasn't quite happy with them and never published them (although a few friends knew of their existence).
Having said that, many malt lovers (especially the MMs) have insisted I should put them online since Brora was so interesting. Vox populi, vox dei, here they are, in all their very imperfect glory.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: WF favourite Nellie McKay singing a tribute to Doris Day, Mean to me (from her new album Normal As Blueberry Pie). Please buy all of Nellie McKay's music.

Nellie McKay

January 16, 2010

Arran 10 yo (46%, OB, +/- 2009) Three stars Colour: straw. Nose: a very clean, mildly fruity and malty spirit, with whiffs of smoke and a very faint ‘coastality’ that reminds me a bit of Bruichladdich. There’s still a bit of porridge and other boiled cereals in the background, signs of youth. Globally pretty fine. Mouth: sweet, rather nervous, excellently balanced, with a lot of pear drops, a little ginger, cider apples and just hints of kiwis and gooseberries. Very clean spirit. Finish: long, clean, sweet, with a rather nervous aftertaste. Oranges. Comments: not a huge personality but everything’s in place and the whole is mucho pleasant. SGP:431 - 80 points.
Arran 12 yo (46%, OB, 2009) Four stars Colour: gold. Nose: much more vanilla and cooked butter in this version, flints, struck matches (just hints) and bicycle inner tube, with also discreet hints of cooked vegetables (artichokes, cabbage). I know all that shouldn’t be good news but it’s actually very nice, with more personality than the 10. Mouth: rich, creamy, malty, fruity and spicy, once again it’s the 10 with more body and more complexity. Something slightly Irish, bananas, vanilla… There’s also a little sherry in the background. Orange drops. Finish: rather long, clean, a tad fresher now, more on oranges and apples. Barley sugar. Comments: very, very good, a rich yet ‘natural’ version of Arran, without too much cask doping. Classy. SGP:441 - 85 points.
Arran 12 yo 1996 'The Peacock Ltd Edition' (46%, OB, 6000 bottles, 2009) Three stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: much more vanilla and straight oak in this one, which a much more ‘modern’ variant of Arran. The spirit behind the rather heavy sweet oak is more or less in the same vein as the 10, not the 12. Pears, peaches and melons, then ginger and apple compote. Mouth: rich but once again, the oak is much more obvious than in the regular 12. Apples and pineapples coated with ginger and white pepper and a little mustard and liquorice in the background. Finish: rather long, the oak’s spices keeping the whole under a tight reign. Comments: very, very well crafted, with an obvious partial or total maturation in first fill American wood or even new wood. Works very well but I like the regular 12 rather better, I believe the distillate is classy enough to be able to stand on its two feet. SGP:451 - 82 points.
Arran NAS 'Pomerol Bordeaux Wine Cask' (50%, OB, 9420 bottles, bottled 2009) Two stars and a halfFinished in La Conseillante casks. I just had a 1986 Conseillante last week, it’s a great old style Pomerol, not a fatty cloying ubermerlotty one at all. But will this Glen Conseillante winesky be good? Colour: apricot. Nose: not too many winey notes and rather more flints and coal smoke at first nosing, then hints of sulphur and blackcurrant buds. The relatively fresh oak brings a faint mouldiness to the whole. Not unpleasant but as expected, the ‘natural’ Arrans are much more to my liking. With water: farmyard and cow stable, raw grains. LIttle winey notes left. Mouth (neat): the wine is more obvious on the palate, the whole being slightly sourish. Cider, touches of vinegar. With water: once again, water made the wine a tad less exuberant. Marzipan and apple pie, hints of sour cream. Finish: medium long, much more on candy sugar. Comments: certainly not one of the worst wineskies. SGP:441 - 79 points.
Arran 12 yo 1996/2008 (54.7%, Master of Malt, Refill Sherry Hog, 301 bottles) Three stars Colour: gold. Nose: a flinty/smoky start, with even more struck matches and blackcurrant buds than in the ‘Conseillante’. Some grass, apple peelings. With water: very nice, sweet barley and several organic notes, sweetened porridge, faint hints of Turkish delights, smoke, wet cloth. Mouth (neat): good and rich, rather ‘wide’, with a lot of liquorice, caramel, bitter oranges and straight malt. With water: more of the same, with added notes of green tea and green grains. Finish: medium long, sweet, candied, cereally. Discreet sherry. Comments: a very good indie version of Arran. SGP:341 - 81 points.
Arran 12 yo 1996/2009 (55.7%, Dewar Rattray Cask Collection, cask #96/723, 656 bottles) Three stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: less expressive than all the others but very clean, developing on quite some vanilla, custard and nougat. Some cut grass and then quite some almonds/marzipan. Orgeat syrup. With water: once again, the farmy side of the spirit comes to the front and remains there even after fifteen minutes (as you may know, most whiskies get farmy and even soapy when you just added water but all that usually settles down after a few minutes). Candy sugar, crème brûlée, apple pie. Mouth (neat): a good, punchy attack, creamy, slightly smoky and as liquoricy as the MoM. Quite citrusy as well, fresh oranges, barley sugar, marzipan… With water: ditto. An added greenness (apple peelings). Finish: rather long, with more and more grassy notes. Fresh walnuts and green apples, barley sugar. Comments: simply another very good Arran. SGP:341 - 82 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Arran that we tried so far (new window)
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness (new window)
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))

My friend, for once I thought we could talk a bit about something that many English or American speaking whisky bloggers or forumers have been mentioning in recent times: themselves and more generally the current state of whisky blogistan.

By the way, I’ve seen or I’ve been told that many have been very kind with little Whiskyfun and more generally the Malt Maniacs, heartfelt thanks guys and gals.
Our friends’ main conclusion is that there are more and more new whisky blogs and other kinds of digital efforts out there (forums, aggregators, re-bloggers, vlogs, blog-alike forums, podcasts, social communities, Twitter or Facebook accounts, iPhone apps, generic websites, be them amateur or business-driven…) and frankly, I think ‘the more, the merrier’, provided either the content or the concept, (better: both) are original, honest and bring something really new to the table. It is not even obligatory to know your whisky, as long as you keep learning. Even topics (old chestnuts?) such as 'What I think about Highland Park 12' or 'How many bottles do you own?' or 'Ardbeg is too expensive' are just fine. Of course, even the most dedicated whisky freak just cannot read everything anymore, whilst there was a time when you could browse the whole ‘whisky on the Web’ thing in just three minutes every morning.
Generally speaking, I’d add one main comment though : all our native English-speaking friends seem to forget that there are also many websites in other languages, and that many are huge, possibly larger than the largest of all the English-speaking ones.  In German, Dutch, Swedish, French, Japanese, Chinese, Danish, Greek, Russian… Many gather fantastic people, either very knowledgeable or really willing to learn.

I’ve also seen quite some pieces of advises regarding Whiskyfun’s (numerous) flaws and what I should do to improve the ‘global concept’. That’s very kind and I’ll think hard about them, but I’d like to further stress a few points:

Hot Air

- I do not consider Whiskyfun as been ‘in competition’ (what a word) with other websites, especially since alas, Whiskyfun is not quite tailored to the coveted ‘new whisky drinker’.

  • I know this isn’t PC but I’m much more thrilled with the fact that this very knowledgeable and experienced malt lover or industry exec reads WF every four months, rather than with the fact that one hundred new whisky drinkers just started to follow our little efforts last week (not true, just an example). Elitist? Pedantic? Bah, maybe, but I have nothing to sell and no sales channelling to do, no job to find, no pay-per-click system installed and no affiliation. All I have is passion (sometimes fragile), some great friends and a sample and bottle library.
  • What’s more, together with Johannes’ Malt Madness and Malt Maniacs, Whiskyfun is part of an old trilogy of websites where we try to avoid duplicate content (there’s enough duplicate content outside our ‘trilogy’ ;-)), and there’s a brilliant ‘Beginners Guide’ on Malt Madness. But don’t get us wrong, we’re not saying we’re any better because we’re around since a long time and pioneered a few things, that would be stoopid. After all Wolfgang was a better composer than Leopold, wasn’t he?
  • I'll never taste a brand new 7yo (right, no-age-statement) GlenWonka ultra-wood finish rather than a 1965 sherry for Giaccone that I have at hand, just because the 7yo is new, heavily marketed, rare, limited, widely available, utterly collectable, attractive to 'the new drinker' (and supposedly fairly priced).
  • Indeed, WF uses little modern technology and is very badly SEO-ised. Readers can’t comment. We like engagement but rather around a nice bottle. Our RSS feed is weakish. We make very, very moderate use of Twitter and Facebook. Our pages are way too heavy. Our handling of CSS is very poor. Tags? Nope. Php? Any database system? I don’t think so. Our design is, well, very ‘1990s’ (who said 1980s, who???) My English is dodgy at best. Html5? Not quite ready. Targeted, focused content? Nah, I know that mixing whisky with music was a bad idea, that really weakens our positioning on any search engines as it ‘dilutes’ the whisky keywords … And probably dozens of other flaws that make that WF should not succeed and, in the best case, slowly start to sink into oblivion, glass in hand. Sometimes I’m almost hoping that will happen… What’s sure is that we’re trying to favour content over function, and that WF will never look or work like any modern state-of-the-art Wordpress 2.9.1-fuelled ‘blog’.
  • Now, what we do have is statistics and to my amazement, WF’s visits have risen by 44.23% within the last 30 days (compared with the same period last year), despite all the new ‘competition’ (read new friends).
  • What I also just saw is that PostRank Analytics voted little WF ‘most influential’ Spirits blog in 2009 (the controversial Gary Vaynerchuk's Wine Library TV won for wine.) No quite sure how they came up with that, nor that it’s deserved or relevant but hey, for once WE won an award! ;-).
In short, yup, agreed, WF should change, but nope, that probably won’t happen in 2010 (2011, 2012, 2013…) Also because I have no time since what I’ll never do is taste less whiskies to be able to do more ‘marketing’. I'm sorry but I'd like to keep my own flame alive.
Peace, santé and rock on my friend,

PS: many new blogs are great, really. Should I be obliged to mention my three favourite newcomers, kicking and screaming I’d say Ralfy’s Whisky Reviews (tone of voice, dedication, originality, media, ethics), Tim’s Whisky Exchange blog (tone of voice, freedom, writing style and humour – all very rare with corporate blogs but he should post more – hint, hint!), and Lawrence’s Whisky Intelligence (comprehensive, all the news and all the press releases – hence of course sometimes quite some hot air but that’s not Lawrence’s fault ;-)). Other than that there are many excellent new tasting blogs, with a lot of good intentions but I'm afraid it would be too long to quote them all. I do not know them all but let’s say I like the ones that do not brag and trumpet too much or do not try to reinvent (and patent) the wheel best. And of course many older favourites, the list of which would be too long as well.


MUSIC - Recommended listening: I know everybody wasn't dead fan of Jacques Loussier's old 'Play Bach' albums but I must say his most recent 50th Anniversary Recordings were in a different league in my opinion. Let's have for instance JSB's Toccata and Fugue in C Minor (Overture)... Not bad, don't you think? So please buy Mr Jacques Loussier's music!


January 15, 2010



Balvenie 15 yo 1989/2008 'Single Barrel' (47.8%, OB, cask #13493) Three stars Colour: straw. Nose: unusually spirity and rough for Balvenie, although these Single Barrels were always a tad rawer than other official offerings. A blend of freshly cut apples with custard and just a little nail polish remover, then more apples and even kiwi juice and maybe a little lemon. Greengages as well, but little ripe mirabelles and apricots like we usually get in Balvenie. Very nice whiffs of fresh mint coming through after a while and finally cumin and cardamom. Unexpected. Mouth: very fruity attack, on pear pie with vanilla crème, a little yoghurt and a few tannins. Develops on more vanilla but also more oak, getting seriously peppery and gingery. Liquorice wood, notes of white rum. Finish: medium long, on vanilla, oak (green tannins), pepper and liquorice. Comments: certainly not a smooth and luscious Balvenie, but not doubt it’s a good dram, even if I tend to like the smoother current 12/17 yos better (even when they’ve been finished). SGP:451 - 82 points.
Balvenie 1974/1987 (56%, Duthie for Samaroli, 408 bottles) Five stars There are very, very little indie Balvenies so this is quite rare… Colour: straw. Nose: this is big and elegant at the same time, with many more ‘Balvenie’ notes such as light honey, ripe plums, apricots, various flowers and pollen, all that with a delightful crispiness. Hints of chlorophyll, spearmint and then marshmallows and strawberries. Jelly beans. How fresh, yet so much bigger than the OB! With water: some smoke, some thyme, some sage as well… Even more complexity, while it remains ‘focused’ and extremely coherent (no hole in the profile if you see what I mean). Mouth (neat): superb attack, as Balvenie as Balvenie can be, with a whole basket of fresh yellow fruits (from bananas to apples and from mirabelles to apricots), with a very complex spiciness (something Indian in all that, maybe also North-African). Extremely playful, with a huge but balanced grassiness behind all that. With water: just superb, with more honey kicking in, green tea, bitter oranges… Finish: not hugely long but all in keeping with the palate, maybe just a tad grassier (tannins in the aftertaste). Comments: we’ve yet to find a whisky that was bottled by Duthie/Cadenhead for Signore Sylvano Samaroli in the 1980s that’s not become absolutely stellar after twenty years or more of bottle ‘refining’. SGP:552 - 93 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: gosh it's cold in Alsace, time for the caliente Se Traba by late percusionist extraordinaire Ray Barretto and his band (a bunch of Fania all stars, recorded around 1973, it's on his album The Message). Please buy Ray Barretto's music.

Ray Barretto

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

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



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

Balvenie 1974/1987 (56%, Duthie for Samaroli, 408 bottles)

Black Bull 40 yo (40.2%, Duncan Taylor, blend, 2010)

Bruichladdich 33 yo 'Legacy V' (40.9%, OB, 1690 bottles)

Caol Ila 1978/1992 (63.7%, G&M Cask, White Label, casks #5347-5351 & 11553-11564)

Caol Ila 26 yo 1977/2003 (57.7%, Douglas Laing, Platinum, cask #L7020, 86 bottles)

Clynelish 1990/1999 (57.4%, Scotch Single Malt Circle, cask #3210)

Clynelish 1990/2004 (57.6%, Gordon & MacPhail, cask #11628, First Fill Sherry)

Glenkinchie 33 yo 1975/2008 (60.7%, AD Rattray, reflll hogshead, cask #2967, 189 bottles)

Longmorn 1962 (40%, Captain Burn's, Ryst-Dupeyron, +/-1990)

Longmorn 1968/2009 (60.5%, Gordon & MacPhail Reserve for Limburg, cask #5274)

Longmorn 1969/2009 (57.7%, Gordon & MacPhail for The Whisky Exchange's 10th Anniversary, cask #5305)

Port Askaig 30 yo (45.8%, Specialty Drinks, 2009)

Port Ellen 26 yo 1983/2009 (54.9%, Old Bothwell for Thosop bvba, Belgium, Cask #220)