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Hi, you're in the Archives, January 2012 - Part 1

December 2011 - part 2 <--- January 2012 - part 1 ---> January 2012 - part 2


January 14, 2012

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

I don’t drink, I taste, part 2
I’ve been a bit silly in my first post. I wanted to explain ‘why I’m not an alcoholic’, and for that purpose I wrote about the amounts I swallow when I taste whisky, that is to say 1cl on average.

I think I wrote either too much about that, or not enough according to some very worthy questions I got since I published my very incomplete little piece, so please let me explain a little further.

To make things clear, I only swallow 1cl on average (I insist on 'average') but I'll rather pour 3cl into my glass to try to get the full experience. It's just that I'll actually swallow only 1cl. Again, on average! Oh, and if it's Brora 1972, I'll probably swallow everything. Moreover, it’s not because I’ll only swallow 1cl that I won’t put more into my mouth globally. I need the amount I actually swallow to comment on finish, aftertaste or retro-olfaction but I don’t need to swallow everything to comment on nose (not kidding!) or on a rather large part of what’s happening on the palate. So, for each whisky, I’ll usually need around 3cl on average, sometimes less, sometimes more, of which I’ll actually swallow one third. Again, on average. I'll especially need such good amount if I also try the whisky with water, which is almost always the case with high strength whiskies.

Also, should I have to try only one whisky ex-abrupto, with no comparisons (benchmark malts, similar whiskies), I'll probably need more than that and would possibly try to have that baby on several occasions. But I almost never taste singletons, because I think I’m not too good at that. It may be okay for some, especially if you only write a few words or a funny sentence (like ‘very fruity’ and then ‘this is the Glentowbullin we all like when there’s nothing else around’) but I for one always try to write tasting notes that are relatively detailed, because I think we should show respect to all distillers and all whiskies. Especially bad marks have to be thoroughly explained, I think smashing a whisky with almost no explanations is either very silly, or simply barbaric. Or both. Or very pretentious.


No taster will be taken seriously if
there aren't silly pictures of him
looking very inspired while nosing
the 'golden nectar'. Arf!

Again, the fact that I’m bad at tasting ‘isolated’ whiskies is why I almost always do ‘line-ups’ of several similar whiskies (same distillery, age, style…) and use benchmark whiskies. It’s also only because of that that I feel I can add scores to my notes with a little confidence. I’ve tried to explain all that in this little piece titled ‘How to make your inherent subjectivity a little more consistent’.

Oh and one last thing: the downside of swallowing the whiskies, even only 1cl, is that you cannot taste many, many whiskies in a row, even if you drink a lot of water. Well, you can, but you’ll have to face the consequences and to spend a lot of time proofreading/correcting your tasting notes on the next day ;-). I won’t swear that never happened to me. Happy weekend!


January 13, 2012


Tasting two independent Laddies


Br2 (49.3%, Specialty Drinks, Elements of Islay, 2011)Four stars It doesn’t say it’s a Bruichladdich but it cannot be Browmore, can it? Colour: white wine. Nose: the freshest freshness ever and a brininess that’s even more obvious than usual. Much more obvious… So we have sea air, oysters and seaweed, then a flintiness and then the expected fruitiness, with peaches and not-too-ripe melons as well as just a few herbs and some grass. Chives? The whole is really very fresh. Mouth: excessively fruity, starting with tart lemon and lime, then peaches and melons again. A fairly simple but wonderfully chiselled profile that reminds me a bit of the new official Ten, minus the heavier vanilla/oak. All good. Finish: quite long, with more salt again, brine, lemon and a honeyed aftertaste… Comments: very perfect youngish Bruichladdich, nervous and ultra-clean. SGP:641 - 87 points.

Bruichladdich Queen

Bruichladdich 2001/2011 (62.5%, Queen of the Moorlands, sherry hogshead, cask #312, 200 bottles) Four stars and a half From the very first distillation under the ‘new regime’. Colour: amber. Nose: gunpowder all over the place at first nosing, then roasted chestnuts and coffee. Goes on with Corinthian raisins and coffee as well as whiffs of pencil shavings and bacon, with a growing smokiness (wood and coal but not peat). Garden bonfire. Also smoked ham… And then ‘cask strength’ espresso. The gunpowder tends to disappear. Peace! With water: more gunpowder again, then leather and burning leaves. Game. Becomes a tad vinegary as well… ‘Old nun who neglects herself’ as we say in my old wine club. Err… Mouth: yeah, it’s one of these young sherry monsters that really taste as ‘mature’ as some much older whiskies. Again a little gunpowder and pepper, then quite some menthol (more to be found in much older whiskies in my experience), raspberry fruit jelly, liquorice, a tarriness… The complexity is quite astounding here, even at such high strength. With water: perfect sherriness. We’re not too far from those famous Port Charlottes ex-sherry bloodtub, minus the heavy peat – but a peatiness there is. Finish: long and fruitier. Blood oranges. Bitterer in the aftertaste. Comments: absolutely superb. Without that wee winey/vinegary side in the nose, it would have easily fetched 90 in my book. SGP:662 - 89 points.


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

I don’t drink, I taste
Am I an alcoholic? I know even wondering about that could be a sign, but it comes from the fact that I often get ‘polite’ questions about that very topic, not really from fellow whisky enthusiasts, rather from other friends, not to mention my family. This is what I usually tell them:
I don’t drink, I taste!

Indeed, I taste roughly 1,000 whiskies a year and swallow more or less 1cl of each (sometimes more, sometimes less). Some tasters swallow more, some others swallow just nothing, I’m happy with 1cl on average. Whiskies that are hard to pin down require a little more, sometimes much more, while some others require infinitesimal amounts, especially when you compare several very similar whiskies, because nuances stand out. I don’t think you can assess whisky when you don’t swallow – all you can do is select/control/blend, which are completely different purposes. Finish, aftertaste and retro-olfaction are very important parts of a spirits tasting session, much more so than with wine, and you don’t get them if you don’t swallow at all, I think.

What’s more, I taste those 1,000 whiskies within the whole year, of course not within just a few months or even weeks. That wouldn’t be serious, would it! Having said that, some pros are ultra-fast and very good. While some...
Anyway, that means that I swallow approx 0.35 units of alcohol when tasting one whisky. So 1,000 whiskies * 0.35 unit = 350 units of alcohol per year, so less than one unit per day on average.
The WHO recommends a maximum to men: 3 units per day (but some other 'serious' sources say 2 units, some 4 or even 5, go figure, doesn't sound exactly 'serious' anyway). Tthat means that my tastings for little Whiskyfun ‘consume’ 1/3 to 1/2 of my maximum daily intake according to the World Health Organization or other serious bodies, while I do not drink wine or beer on a daily basis. I hardly drink any beer, in fact, and only drink wine during the weekends or at restaurants.

In the streets of London, 2005.
If even the Standard says so...

Oh, and I feel absolutely no addictions to alcohol, honest. So indeed, I don’t think I’m an alcoholic. And as I said, I don’t drink anyway, I taste!

Addendum: please read Part 2.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: a sweet little African ritornello by the band Afro National (an old band from Sierra Leone, I believe) to match another sunny day in Alsace. It's called Gbaunkalay. Please buy Afro National's music, if you can find it.


January 12, 2012


Tasting one old Glenfiddich for Brian

Maybe you’ve heard the sad news, there’s been a tragic accident on Saturday at Glenfiddich Distillery, during which distiller Brian Ettles lost his life. I think we never pay tribute to the distillery workers enough, maybe because the PR people use to catch all the light. Well, that's their job, after all. Anyway, this little session is for you, Brian, and for you it won’t be just any Glenfiddich!

Glenfiddich 1956

Glenfiddich 1956 (unknown ABV, Thomas Bucktrout & Co. Ltd., Guernsey, +/-1970?) Five stars It’s in 2009 that auction house Bonham’s sold eight unlabelled bottles of Glenfiddich 1956, bottled by or for wine merchants Thomas Bucktrout & Co. Ltd. in Guernsey. Let’s try one of those today, with thanks to our friend HH Hansen. Colour: deep amber. Nose: oh my! It’s one of these old-style ‘genuine’ sherry monsters, full of dried fruits, spices and waxes. To the brim! It’s also magnificently mineral and oily, with these whiffs of old-style motor oil and then an endless development on leather polish, very old balsamic vinegar, roasted sesame oil (it’s very obvious here) and God knows what else. Utterly brilliant and totally unmatchable in my opinion. I have no idea as for the strength but it’s very aromatic and frankly big, so I’d say around 50% but the palate will tell us more. Mouth: all right, maybe rather around 45/46%, but what a superb half-dry, half-orangey attack, on something like liquorice infused in orange liqueur. Goes on with the expected notes of prunes and dark chocolate, then touches of polished wood (sandal? Cedar?) and a good deal of pepper, cloves and caraway. Finish: very long because it’s so coating and oily. Great notes of herbs, mint, parsley, tarragon… And even touches of strawberry jam. Comments: I’m wondering whether this wasn’t rather sold in 1956 originally, rather than distilled. It’s a style that rather reminds of pre-war Mortlach (G&M)… It’s big and absolutely fantastic, I’m sure it’s the kind of heavenly dram that Brian is now having in the Paradise of Distillers. Slàinte, Brian! SGP:673 - 94 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: this is for you as well, Brian. McCoy Tyner plays For Heaven's Sake (from Nights Of Ballads & Blues). Please buy McCoy Tyner's works.


January 11, 2012


Tasting a few more Speysiders


Aberlour 20 yo 1990/2011 (46%, Mo Or collection, release #31, cask #102107, 300 bottles) Three stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: it seems that it’s another ‘fresh’ Aberlour, all on garden fruits (apples, pears, gooseberries, greengages…), with touches of melon as well and just a little wax and graphite oil behind all that, bordering on rubber but it’s no straight rubber. Nice nose, more than just a youngish ex-hoggie middle-aged Speysider. Mouth: a slight fizzy/gingery side at first sip, followed by apple jelly, pear drops and light ‘breakfast’ honey. Acacia? The funny fizziness vanishes after one or two minutes. Also hazels and custard. Finish: medium long, sweet, a tad sugary in a pleasant way (cane sugar). Touches of bitter oak in the aftertaste. Comments: simply very good quality Aberlour from refill bourbon wood. Very drinkable. SGP:641 - 84 points.


Mortlach 18 yo (55.3%, straightfromthecask.co.uk, 2011) Four stars Straight From The Cask is a Scottish company that organizes whisky tastings, tours and private bottlings. They now have this own Mortlach. Colour: amber. Nose: typical sherried Mortlach, and big time! Starts with struck matches – which is absolutely not a bad thing in this context, I insist, no rotten truffles or brand new rubber boots and such -, gunpowder (same comments), flints and roasted chestnuts, with then in the background, prunes, chocolate, leather and that very typical meaty or even gamey profile. With water: becomes more herbal, on parsley and chives, plus rocks and clay, then quite a lot of beef stock. Old wine cellar. Mouth (neat): a rich and extremely spicy attack, on peppered ham and then even more chestnuts than in the nose. Glazed chestnuts? Loads of that, and then a little caraway, liquorice and… yeah, chestnut honey. With water: more fruits now, Seville oranges, dried bananas… Finish: long, with the pepper, ginger and caraway back in the aftertaste. Comments: an extremely typical big-bodied sherried Mortlach. The burnt matches profile won’t please everybody but I loved the chestnuts! Reminds me of the old Flora & Fauna cask strength, same kind of profile – and same score. SGP:552 - 86 points.


Cragganmore 18 yo 1993/2011 (55.3%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #1385, 494 bottles) Four stars and a half All suggests a sherry butt here! That’s great as most other indie Cragganmores around are from refill hoggies. Colour: full amber. Nose: a straight, ultra-clean dry oloroso style, far from the style of the Mortlach. Plenty of dark chocolate, then rather cloves and blackberry jam plus prunes and heavy Demerara rum. I like, as they say on Facebook. With water: as often, it’s the herbal side that comes out, with parsley like in the Mortlach, hay, wet leaves, leather polish… Mouth (neat): super excellent ultra-classic sherry monster, between chocolate (truckloads), oranges (wheelbarrows) and spices such as cloves and cumin (a wee bag). With water: more spices! Black pepper, a little green tea, something mineral… Finish: long, dry, spicy. Cloves and pepper in the aftertaste. Comments: a wonderful kind of dry sherry, even if no fruits came out when water was added. Very dry indeed and in that sense spectacular. SGP:362 - 88 points.


Tomatin 35 yo 1976/2011 (51.4%, The Whisky Agency, refill sherry, 313 bottles) Five stars I have quite a few 1976 Tomatins yet to taste but this baby is quite new, so let’s have it first if you don’t mind. Colour: full gold. Nose: yes. You need more? Dandelions-mirabelles-apricots-mangos-quinces-beeswax-wild strawberries-bergamot-candle wax-sandalwood… Is that enough? With water: camphor, menthol and eucalyptus from the wood. And the rest again… Mouth: the oak is rather loud at first sips, with this feeling of peppered green tea (I know, I know) but other than that, it would just unfold on the very same notes as on the nose. Dandelions-mirabelles-apricots-mangos-quinces-beesw… okay, okay. With water: works in favour of the fruits, not of the oak, which is great news. Finish: long, clean, fruity, with just the right amount of oak at this point. Mint in the aftertaste. Comments: this is not funny anymore. I’m joking, it’s another great bottle by the Limburgian team – and another great 1976 Tomatin. SGP:651 - 91 points.

Glenrothes 42 yo 1969/2011 (44.7%, Duncan Taylor for Men O'Quaich, octave, cask #49884, 65 bottles) Five stars At this age, it can go wrong. Let’s check (yeah, any excuse is good)… Colour: amber. Nose: it’s the menthol that comes out first, sign of age, followed by many stewed fruits and a wide range of resinous/sappy tones including beeswax and propolis. Then it’s fruitcake galore and yet again, a feeling of old Demerara rum (like Port Mourant). And then, more and more smoke, which come unexpected. Old coal stove, lovage... Complex and beautiful. Mouth: as often with these old malts, the first sips won’t tell you whether it’ll be over-oaked or not. Seems to hesitate quite a bit, before starting to unfold in a beautiful manner, forgetting the oak and becoming wonderfully ‘beehivy’ and ‘tertiarily fruity’ (that’s more than enough, S.!) Many jams and honeys, chutneys, orange and caramel sauce… Finish: medium long, with more and more ‘sweetish oak’. It’s not dry oak, it’s a kind of, like I said, sweet oak. Or rather a blend of herbal teas with a little honey? Liquorice rolls in the aftertaste, and big time. An earthiness as well, and cinnamon. Comments: not one of these old malts that fade out, quite the opposite in fact. It’s all quite big and very complex and deserves time. Same high quality as the Tomatin in my opinion, but the Glenrothes is maybe a tad more ‘different’ and ‘original’. SGP:552 - 91 points. PS: I didn't know - or I had forgotten, arf - that it was from an octave when I wrote those notes. That explains the 'sweet oak'.


MUSIC - Recommended listening: this isn't Sun Ra's happiest piece but since the sun is shining all over Alsace today, I felt I could post this stunning lamento called When there is no sun (from 1978's New Steps). Please buy Sun Ra's music!

Sun Ra

January 10, 2012


Tasting six very naked Speysiders

Naked… I mean very light in colour and with very little cask influence, so very close to the original distillate. It’s a style I like but the spirit has to be classy or the whiskies can be very, very average in my opinion, or even insipid. Let’s have a few and see…


Imperial 20 yo 1991/2011 (46%, Part des Anges, bourbon barrel, 270 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: what strikes first is the balance and the ‘fullness’ here. It’s classic ‘natural’ Speyside in the background, with apples and barley, but there’s an additional layer of fresh herbs and almost-phenolic notes. A little soot, touches of camphor, linseed oil… Also wet gravel, clay… Classy spirit for sure. Mouth: excellent, with these phenolic notes yet again, bordering on shoe polish, plus perfect notes of melon and maybe pomegranate. A little pine resin as well, almond oil, marzipan… Truly excellent. Finish: rather long, complex, a little medicinal and always a little phenolic. Mint and liquorice in the aftertaste as well as a little coconut. Comments: excellent but no surprise here, both the distillery and the bottler are/were well-reputed (as you know, they closed Imperial). SGP:452 - 89 points.


Glen Elgin 16 yo 1995/2011 (50%, Liquid Treasures, bourbon) Two stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: plain and pure apple juice with just a little barley. Then more cornflakes and a slight flintiness. More straightforward than this doesn’t exist. With water: same, with maybe tinned pineapples somewhere. Barley… Mouth (neat): good, full, sweet Speyside. Malt, apple pie and touches of lemon and liquorice. It’s all good but I wouldn’t say there’s much happening here. With water: improves. Add ripe greengages ;-). Finish: medium long. Barley sugar and just a tiny-wee touch of oak. Comments: good malt whisky from a fairly lazy cask. No flaws, no thrills, Scotch! (as Cosmo Kramer would have said). SGP:441 - 79 points.


Glen Grant 19 yo 1992/2011 (59.4%, James MacArhur, Old Masters, bourbon, cask #35955) Four stars I always liked this quote by Rob Burns on JMcA's labels, 'An honest bottle and a good friend'. Quite different from the usual ‘This is the best whisky ever made, aha, aha’ that can be found elsewhere. Colour: white wine. Nose: indeed it reminds me of the old 5s from the 70s, but this has more oomph and more depth, even if it’s all very naked. Apples, barley, oranges, touches of yogurt, muesli, gooseberries and then a little chalk… Narrow but quite powerful. With water: same. Touches of dill, then more raw barley. Mouth (neat): sweet, natural and quite complex. Very mashy in fact, we’re close to some beers, with a little caramel, yeast, sweet bread, then more apples and lemons… I like this. With water: very good now. Sweet barley, sweet spices, a little marzipan, candied oranges… It’s very full. Finish: long, nervous and fresh, citrusy. Comments: I like this, it’s very ‘naked’ but the spirit is of high quality. Nothing ‘average-ish’ here. SGP:541 - 85 points.


Glen Moray 17 yo 1994/2011 (55%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #1877, 303 bottles) Two stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: quite raw and very close to the grains, with a lot of porridge, oatcakes and various breads (cornbread?) as well as a little mead. It’s not often that we’re as close as that to the raw materials when tasting a 17yo malt whisky. With water:  even more so. Maybe a little grapefruit. Mouth (neat): plain barley sugar and lemon squash, with something eau-de-vie-ish. Slivovitz? Touches of vanilla, maybe a little tinned litchi. With water: same plus a little ginger tonic. Or speculoos? Finish: medium long, becoming grassier. Herbal tea, pepper… Comments: certainly good but I wouldn’t say it’s the most tastebud-catching malt that’s been bottled last year. SGP:341 - 78 points.


Glenlivet 1994/2011 (58.9%, Berry Bros & Rudd, cask #58453) Three stars Colour: straw. Nose: we’re in the same territories here but this Glenlivet seems to be more complex, with more fresh garden fruits such as apples and gooseberries. A whole fruit salad, in fact. It’s all very fresh and there’s this feeling of ‘elegance’ that’s often to be found in Glenlivet, even in youngish naked ones such as this baby. With water: opens up, with some peaches and apricots. Or is it nectarines? Mouth (neat): fruit salad yet again, with an interesting spiciness. Cinnamon and nutmeg, then more vanilla fudge. Nice, fresh and full-bodied without being heavy. With water: same plus notes of oranges. Ginger, white pepper. Finish: medium long, sweet and elegant. Comments: won’t make you scratch your head but it’s all perfect in a relative simplicity. SGP:541 - 82 points.


Cragganmore 20 yo 1991/2011 (53.5% Master of Malt, cask #1146) Three stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: same territories yet again but this time it’s drier and flintier, lemony, a little riesling-esque, pleasantly mineral, with the malty/barley notes in the background and notes of cider apples becoming louder. With water: a faint earthiness, very nice. Fresh mint. Mouth (neat): fresh and oily, with probably a bigger personality than both in the Glenlivet and in the Glen Moray. That translates into a little more maple syrup and then a little pineapple and some lemon sherbet. Becomes quite tart, in a very pleasant way. With water: creamier, sweeter, fruitier. Pear and pineapples drops, tinned fruits, apple pie. Finish: medium long, more on barley sugar. Comments: classy spirit in a pretty naked form. All pretty good. SGP:541 - 84 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: remember The Airplane's violonist the late Papa John Creach? He had both a very singular sound and some unusual own compositions. Let's listen to Gretchen that sounds like the OST of an old French movie (from the album 'Filthy') and then buy his music.

Papa John

January 9, 2012


Eight younger Clynelish and an older one

More youngish Clynelish can't do no harm, even if I doubt this ill be an easy session. We'll kick things off with the well-known OB, as 2010's batches were much to my liking.


Clynelish 14yo (46%, OB, +/- 2011) Four stars Colour: gold. Nose: this may sound stoopid but I think the OB gets more and more 'Clynelish' since it was launched seven or eight years ago. This is extremely mineral and flinty, with whiffs of flowers (peonies and violets), grass and paraffin. Then a little yeast, wet rocks, candle wax and touches of lemon squash. Greatly un-sexy, if you see what I mean, with a straight wood influence that's kept to the minimum. The whiffs of violets are a little new I think. Mouth: starts biggish, peppery, fairly salty, with some brine, bitter oranges, olives, juniper and ginger. A little more vanilla and toasted oak after that, with a little more roundness. Finish: medium long and perfectly bitter and salty. Comments: I like this pretty austere style, that's shared with Springbank these days in my opinion, although Clynelish tastes a little saltier. SGP:353 - 86 points.


Clynelish 2003/2009 (46%, Càrn Mor, Scottish Liqueur Centre, cask #2223, 20cl) One star My my, this is young! Colour: very pale, almost white. Nose: but this is new make! Very, very nice new make but new make. Slightly perfumy, with these violety notes yet again, a little diesel oil, grass, graphite oil and then litres of apple juice and whiffs of wood smoke (fir wood?). A soapiness as well. Mouth: raw alcohol at first sips, with this feeling of burnt kirsch and soap, grass, lemon peel… Then even more grass and even more paraffin/soap. Finish: quite long, with the saltiness becoming more invading (almost). Raw apple spirit. Comments: this will probably become excellent spirit one day but at five or six years, it's almost an infanticide. For education purposes only? SGP:262 - 65 points.


Clynelish 11 yo 1998/2010 (46%, Hart Bros) Two stars Colour: straw. Nose: bang, paraffin, grass and soap on eleven. It's as if there was only one aspect of Clynelish talking, and you really have to like that. Frankly, you can always intellectualise anything but this baby is too hard so far. Mouth: better, but not quite where it should be. Less soap and much more salt, lime and grapefruit. Ultra-zesty and lemony, in fact, we're in tequila territories. Finish: long, on the same notes. Comments: an impaired Clynelish? I think it's very interesting work in progress and indeed the palate is already very good but the nose lacks depth and roundness. Bottled way too early in my opinion. SGP:462 - 74 points.


Clynelish 15 yo 1995/2011 (46%, Aberdeen Distillers, cask #ABD 1007, 224 bottles) Four stars A label by Blackadder. Colour: straw/pale gold. Nose: starts almost like the Hart Bros but goes deeper and wider, with less soap and more straight sulphur and shoe polish. Metal polish. Oh, when I write sulphur here, I mean real 'yellow' sulphur, not rotten eggs of course. Mouth: excellent, very 'Clynelish', big whisky, mineral, waxy and lemony, with all things salty and coastal in the background. A slight feeling of fizziness (the whisky, not the taster). Finish: long, more bitter and gingery. Bitter oranges and citrons in the aftertaste. Comments: a rather wild version, not very far from the OB. Like. SGP:362 - 85 points.


Clynelish 13 yo 1998/2011 (48.8%, The Whisky Agency, House Malt, bourbon, 267 bottlest) Four stars Colour: white wine. Nose: clean, maritime, waxy young Clynelish. Humus, brine, hay, shoe polish, leather. Mouth: ah yes. Punchy, waxy, earthy, salty and just a little spicy (cloves). Then more lemon. Finish: long, on pretty the same notes. Comments: no need for longish babbling, this is classic young Clynelish. Maybe better balanced than others, I'd put it exactly in the same league as the 14yo OB even if this is a notch less waxy. SGP:362 - 86 points.


Clynelish 11 yo 1995 (52.5%, The Maltman, +/-2006) Three stars I believe it's ex-Hart Bros stock that's been labelled or relabelled as 'The Maltman', as it's a brand new label/brand. Colour: very pale white wine. Nose: another very austere and very 'naked' one - no, no oxymoron -, all on paraffin, fresh butter, grass, soap, leaven, lager, rocks… And quite a lot of diesel oil. Curious about the palate… Mouth: almost the same whisky as the 11yo by Hart Bros now, I mean at first sips. Big saltiness, lemon zests and, rather than tequila, litres of plum eau-de-vie. Slivovitz! Finish: long, with some salt and always these notes of eau-de-vie. Comments: another raw and austere one but if you're willing to play with it, it'll reward you. SGP:362- 80 points.


Clynelish 13 yo 1997/2010 (52.1%, James MacArthur, Old Masters, bourbon, cask #4643) Four stars James MacArthur had some extreme 1989 Clynelishes in the past, a bit difficult. Let's check this recent one… Colour: white wine. Nose: same raw, flinty and waxy profile as the 1998 that we just had. And just as much shoe polish and walnut skin. Maybe also mothballs (just wee touches). Mouth: perfect now. Big, with great balance and a lot of phenols, waxes, polishes and salt. In short, very Clynelish. Finish: long, pleasingly bitter, grassy and waxy. Salty aftertaste. Comments: maybe not the easiest nose but the palate was pretty perfect. For lovers of the style! SGP:263 - 86 points.


Clynelish 1997/2011 (53.9%, Archives) Four stars Colour: white wine. Nose: very narrow this time but what it does it does well. Pure graphite oil, paraffin, shoe polish and fresh walnuts. Not even sure about the walnuts. Maybe a little marzipan? Mouth: sharp, narrow and… perfect. A feeling of peat smoke, wax, lemon skins, cider apples and brine. Who needs more? Finish: long, a notch more lemony, with that faint soapy feeling that not exactly soap, like in many Clynelishes. It's not exactly wax either but let's rather call that 'wax'. Comments: textbook young, raw Clynelish. What a distillate! SGP:263 - 87 points.

Time for a last one now… Perhaps an older one? Such as this one…


Clynelish 22 yo 1989/2011 (50.9%, The Whisky Agency, bourbon, 267 bottles) Five stars 1989? Warning, Hedges & Butler had some terrible ones in the past, but I've seen some great ones as well! Colour: pale gold. Nose: yeah, this is where you understand why they age malt whisky. The phenols and mineral 'things' are already starting to reach a third dimension, so to speak, and there are many more tertiary notes than in the youngsters. Beautiful notes of beeswax, kumquats and juicy ripe melons on top of the classic mineral notes. The coastal notes are more discreet, the shoe polish has vanished and the whiffs of brine have become softer and more elegant. There's also a little more camphor. Mouth: big and perfect. Cinchona, honeydew, apple crumble, beeswax, apple peelings, limoncello, touches of green tea, a little pepper, maybe cardamom… Yes, perfect. Finish: long, with the apple peeling and the wax a little louder. Very clean aftertaste on bitter oranges, lemon, bitter almonds and a smokiness… Comments: perfect, just perfect and an ideal introduction to the high-end Clynelish style. I'm sure these casks will be absolute stunners at 25 or 30 years of age! SGP:462 - 91 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: the ultra-elegant Spanish jazz pianist Tete Montoliu plays Don't blame me, with Rufus Reid and Akira Tana. It was on the CD 'A Spanish treasure'. Indeed. Please buy Tete Montoliu's music.


January 8, 2012


Tasting White Dogs

Many American distilleries prepare their mash (what they'll let ferment and then distil) after some specific recipes, blending different grains (wheat, rye, maize/corn, barley) in various proportions. Those recipes are called 'mash bills'. Although I believe tasting some new make spirit rather belongs to mixology blogs or to vodkafun.com, let's have three examples that are currently sold in the market.


Buffalo Trace White Dog Wheated Mash (114 US Proof, OB, 2011) A blend of maize, wheat and barley. It's the recipe that's used to make WL Weller and Pappy Van Winkle. Colour: plain white. Nose: a naked, grassy spirit that reminds me of Absolut. A lot of raw ethanol, burnt grass, a little plastic… Frankly unpleasant, let's see if water will work… With water: same, then a little more humus. Saltpetre. Mouth (neat): no. Starts burning and with strange notes of burnt black olives on a cheap pizza and then falls apart, with only bitterness remaining. Ouch! With water: okayish now, but there's always these notes of all things burnt. Finish: medium long, on raw alcohol and bitter herbs. Maybe a touch of honey in the aftertaste. Comments: stuff that shouldn't be sold in my view. No doubt this will become great once mature, but as new make, it's quite ugly. After all, that's what the old Scots were saying, bad new make makes great whisky and reversely. SGP:240 - 25 points.

Buffalo Trace White Dog Rye Mash (125 US Proof, OB, 2011) Said to be the new make that'll become Sazerac, Van Winkle and Thomas Handy ryes. Colour: plain white. Nose: much, much more happening in this one. We're very close to Japanese green tea (the leaves, not the brewed product) and then white tequila, and big time. In that sense, it's quite pleasing and certainly interesting. Earth. With water: even more green tea, which is amazing and very interesting. Mouth (neat): once again, this is more pleasant than the wheated thing. Notes of juniper and something like gherkins? It's also sweeter, with touches of kirsch. With water: more sweet notes and caraway. I like - quite. Finish: quite long, on the same notes. Comments: the superiority of the very fashionable rye. Almost sellable as new make indeed in my opinion. SGP:351 - 60 points.

Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash #1 (125 US Proof, OB, 2011) It's the recipe that's used to make traditional Buffalo Trace Bourbon. Colour: plain white. Nose: we're somewhere between the Rye and the Wheat. Less expressive than the former, but more so than the latter. In fact, not too nice in my opinion. With water: no improvements, gets even rawer and hard to nose. Mouth (neat): nice this time! Lemon-flavoured vodka and gin, 50/50. This should be drinkable on ice. With water: same feeling, we're even closer to the rye version this time. Quite potable. Finish: medium long, a tad earthy. Some ginger and bitter herbs in the aftertaste. Comments: not too un-nice. SGP:351 - 50 points.

To be honest, it's only because of Whiskyfun that I tried those oddities. I'd have never touched them in my 'real life' ;-). They sell for $16 a half, which is sort of okayish but I'm wondering if anybody should sell unfinished products, even for the sake of education. I think such new makes should be given as free miniatures with full bottles of mature whisky. After all, some distillers sometimes give barley, or water, or even peat along with full bottles. But mind you, the rye and even the #1 were no bad vodkas and the whole thing stresses very vividly why maturing grain spirits in oak was such a great idea in the first place. When you know the fab Sazerac or Pappy, you cannot not be surprised by the new makes!


MUSIC - Recommended listening: Billie Holiday, 1958, Lady in Satin, Glad to be Unhappy. Please...


January 4, 2012


Does Islay whisky improve wine?

Just the once won't hurt, let’s taste wine today. Right, not just any wine…


Wehlener Klosterberg Pinot Blanc 2010 (12%, Markus Molitor, Mosel, Islay Cask) This little beauty was matured in an ex-Islay cask. Pinot Blanc is usually rather called Weissburgunder in Germany but not this time (after all, there’s very little Pinot Blanc left in Burgundy). Colour: pale. Nose: very fresh, with a beautiful balance between pink grapefruit, rocks and gravel and just faint touches of hessian and tarry rope. The peat/smoke is extremely discreet. It’s rather more ‘Riesling’ than ‘Pinot Blanc’, but not too sure if that comes from the Islay cask. Mouth: nervous attack, beautifully balanced yet again, with something of a Pouilly Fumé this time despite a little more roundness. Pink grapefruits are back, with a very light smoky touch that does not suggest ‘whisky’ as such. I’m wondering if they thoroughly rinsed the cask prior to filling because the very few other whisky-casked wines (let alone Islay casks) I’ve tried have been much more whisky-ish. Also a little passion fruits. Finish: not the longest ever but pure, clean and fresh, with some lemon and always this minerality. Comments: a very successful experiment, the winemaker seems to have avoided all the traps (in short, sort of fortifying the wine). Could using whisky casks transform cool climate Pinot Blanc into Riesling? Score: we don’t score wine. (and many thanks, Carsten!)


SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
'Rarites' on eBay, by jove!
As I already have posted on Facebook and even Twitter, it appears that there’s a seller on eBay named ‘whiskyfun-therarites’ (sic). For example, he or she’s currently trying to sell some Old Pulteney 21 for US $259.00 (while the best online retailers seem to have it for approx US $110-130.00). No, it’s no magnum. Let me simply confirm that Whiskyfun and yours truly have absolutely nothing to do with ‘whiskyfun-therarites’. - Serge

January 1, 2012

SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))
Happy New Year!
Where do we go from here?

Dear friend, if all goes well, little Whiskyfun should make it to ten years old in 2012.

Frankly, it’s quite a miracle that this measly website is still on its feet after all these years. I often tell my friends that such a ‘blog’ is a demanding mistress and that maybe I should have broken a leg or an arm on that very day of July 2002. I remember very well when I first started to toy with html, Dreamweaver, ftp and a few tasting glasses (yeah, there was already nothing on TV). In fact, I feel like it was yesterday.

Blog engines didn’t really exist but there were already one or two guys who had online tasting diaries and who were sometimes telling funny stories, such as Malt Maniacs’ Johannes van den Heuvel, who was/is the true pioneer (since 1995, imagine!) By the way, his ‘log entry’ of January 1, 2003, titled ‘The Big Crunch’, remains my favourite slice of whisky blogging ever. MM
Johannes' website, late 1990s >
And there was the brilliant Malts-L list with many great guys. Imagine Malts-L isn't completely dead today, after twenty years! Sure there was little function but there was a lot of content and since the start, content is paramount on digital media (as many current digital experts just found out, or so it seems). What’s also quite funny is that a few people sometimes compare the Malt Maniacs or Whiskyfun to printed magazines or books, as if our websites were less ‘genuine’, if not less ‘authentic’. Some old guys even treat all the blogs and websites around like the works of pure amateur copycats or me-toos. Well, they seem to forget that Malt Maniacs existed well before Whisky Magazine (for example) and that Whiskyfun had already been around for quite some time when the first Whisky Bible was launched (just another example, hem!) I’d add that both Johannes and yours truly – not to mention other MMs of course - are or have been writing in magazines about whisky or wine and that we’ve also been judges in well-known whisky competitions, not just in our beloved MM Awards.
So, if Whiskyfun is to go on for a little while, why do we keep this cavern-age, worn-out layout and why don’t we adopt full-blown Web 2.0 (3.0? 4.0?) integration? Isn’t it about time? It’s true that I could easily do it as the company I co-own has twenty-something very skilled high-tech guys working for us. So, piece of cake but I’ve always thought I’d consider such a move when Whiskyfun’s figures would start to show signs of decline, which was something that I thought was bound to happen when hundreds of new whisky blogs – okay, dozens, many very good – suddenly popped out of nowhere five or three years ago.   Web 2.0
But bizarrely, that didn’t happen at all and our figures are still rising, with many record days (6,000+ single visitors a day in November and December). If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, they say! And after all, you guys do vote with your feet clicks (thank you!) and you still seem to like this unlikely and shaky 'pirate' design. And yes the yellow background is just as unlikely, but at least it's not boringly 'google white' like everywhere else. Well, almost everywhere else.

Anyway, the thrill isn’t gone at Whiskyfun Towers and both those rising figures and all the wonderful new whiskies and bottlers around keep me entertained in wonderful manners. Also the friendly readers I meet at the three or four whisky festivals I attend every year, always a great pleasure! What puzzles me just a little more is the slight negativity that seems to be creeping these days in certain corners of the World Wide Whisky Web. Sure it’s only a very small fraction, hardly noticeable on the wonderful big picture, but I'm afraid there’s a very small bunch of ill-bred wet blankets otherwise very, very cool people (I'm sure!) around who seem to be roaming some whisky forums or comments sections on blogs, finding fault with just everything and everybody and who can sometimes make surfing the Whisky Web a little depressing. Should we drown them in a vat of Loch Dhu?

Of course not and we have to respect anybody's freedom of speech, but I believe that whisky should remain fun in all circumstances and all about friendship and camaraderie, especially from our amateur point of view. That things can get very rowdy about politics, the current crisis, cluster bombs or starvation in Africa, I understand, but whisky? Come on, it's just a drink! Having said that, it's sometimes good to spark things off, just for fun, provided that's done respectfully, with no intentions to harm anybody and, above all, not at the expense of fellow whisky lovers. Blog
Mind you, there are many obligatory topics for any seasoned online commentator, such as talking about whiskies that so ridiculously expensive that even Jonathan and Jennifer Hart would make fun of them. Or about the many phoney whisky competitions. Or about caramel and chill-filtration that seem to be to whisky what Florida is to elections. Or about hard discounters, don’t some buggers sell some whiskies for a third of what we have to fork out elsewhere?  Not even a third, a sixth! Or about the ‘experts’ or ‘gurus’, these guys who, just because they are believed to have a wee following (drunkards, probably), do not have the same rights to say what they think as the average online commentator. Power to the people, power to the uninformed masses! (err, I may have been carried away a bit there.) Oh, and you have to slam many scoring systems as well, because yours is obviously better since it’s yours. And age, because age doesn’t matter (proof: I tried three young whiskies that were bloody excellent and my old chum Bud, who’s into booze since a long time, said I was right.) Regions are irrelevant as well, by the way. Don't get me started on blends. Sulphur is the devil (that’s why they often add some during the process of making whisky, how crazy is that?) And the Chinese who’ll soon snaffle all the best whiskies, my! And the online impostors. Remember, if you’re online, you’re an impostor, unless you remain anonymous and use a nickname such as frolicthecat or superboozer. And sherry is crap. Peat is crap as well (it’s so passé, dear). And the damned speculators, may ten thousand fleas itch their b... for the ten years to come! Man, are we all idiots? Not to worry, the great Georges Courteline said it best: “To be seen as an idiot in the eyes of an imbecile is a pleasure worthy of a fine gourmet.” Anyway, let’s rather talk about whisky if you don’t mind…Yes, it was about time.

Indeed, an interesting trend that I seem to notice is that while in previous years, we had seen more and more ‘experimental whiskies’ (read shelf-space wideners or buzz-catchers), in 2011 we’ve seen the return of the good old ‘traditional’ malt whiskies, thanks to several new independent bottlers and distillers who’ve done a tremendous job bringing out old or less old glories. I had never seen so many great Littlemills, Tomatins, Glenallachies, Strathmills, Caperdonichs, Benriachs, Glendronachs, Glen Keiths, Glenglassaughs… Avoidable stuff ten years ago, today shining stars! What’s more, many whiskies that were distilled in the 1990s (after the whisky loch) are now mature and I think most are utterly brilliant. Think Bowmore, for example! Caol Ila! Clynelish! Or Bruichladdich’s latest Ten! A golden age as far as quality is concerned, much, much better than what was available ten years ago in any case.

And better than thirty or forty years ago?  Hmmm, let’s not start to quibble… Let’s only hope that they have enough good casks for the seas of whisky that are distilled today.
So, which whiskies did really impress me in 2011? I think the easiest would be that I listed my favourite bottlings that I tasted within each month since January 2011. There were many others of course (I think we’ve tried around 1,100 new whiskies in 2011) but let’s keep this short and sweet…
  Fav recent bottling

Fav older bottling

Fav bang for your buck

January 2011

Karuizawa 1975/2010 (61.8%, OB for LMDW, cask #6736, Imported by LMDW)

Port Ellen 12yo (62.7%, James MacArthur, pale version, +/-1985)

Aberlour 'A'bunadh' Batch #30 NAS (59.8%, OB, +/- 2010)

February 2011

Glen Keith 40yo 1970/2010 (45.1%, The Whisky Agency, exbourbon hogshead, 215 bottles)

Ardmore 20yo 1968/1989 (58.4%, Dun Eideann, Casks #5490-5491)

Blair Athol 12yo 1998/2011 (60.3%, Single Cask Collection, bourbon hogshead, cask #2767, 337 bottles)

March 2011

Port Charlotte 9yo (54.9%, Reiffersheid, sherry blood tub #887, 40 bottles, 2011)

Ledaig 21yo (54.2%, James MacArthur, 500 years of Scotch whisky 1484-1994, +/-1994)

Longrow 10yo 1999/2010 (57%, OB for Usquebaugh Society, cask #489, 258 bottles)

April 2011

Tomatin 34yo 1976 /2011 (51%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, refill sherry, cask #6822)

Ardbeg 17yo 1973/1991 (55.4%, Dun Eideann, Donato Import, Italy, cask #3933, 450 bottles)

Laphroaig 12yo 1998/2010 (59.9%, The Whisky Agency, Liquid Library, bourbon hogshead)

May 2011

Caperdonich 38yo 1972/2011 (58.4%, The Perfect Dram, sherry hogshead, 145 bottles)

Kentucky Crown 16yo (53.5%, OB, Bourbon, Willett, +/-1990)

Kornog ‘Sant Ivy 2011’ (57.8%, OB, Glann ar Mor, Brittany, first fill bourbon, 249 bottles)

June 2011

Caperdonich 38yo 1972/2011 (57.4%, Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead, cask #1144, 98 bottles)

Longmorn 30yo 1969/1999 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 191 bottles) 

Springbank 1992/2011 'Peat Smoked' (46%, Berry Bros & Rudd, cask #61)

July 2011

Strathisla 48yo 1963/2011 (51.8%, Gordon & MacPhail for Limburg, Book of Kells label)

Bowmore 35yo 1966 (43.7%, Kingsbury, cask #3300, 300 bottles, +/-2001)

Clynelish 12yo 1998/2011 (46%, Coopers Choice, cask #7732) 

August 2011

Glenfarclas 43yo 1968/2011 (47,5%, OB, Family Cask for Luc Timmermans, Manzanilla, cask #697, 133 bottles)

Caol Ila 18yo 1977/1995 (52.1%, Wilson & Morgan, cask # 93.13436, 288 bottles)

Ardbeg 'Uigeadail' (54.2%, OB, 2010)

September 2011

Tomatin 34yo 1976/2011 (48.7%, Liquid Sun, sherry butt, 366 bottles)

Springbank 1965/1987 (60.9%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #27.10)

Bruichladdich 10yo ‘The Laddie Ten’ (46%, OB, 2011)

October 2011 Port Ellen 27yo 1983/2011 (55.5%, The Whiskyman, 120 bottles)
Isle of Jura 1966/1986 (50%, Duthie for Samaroli, cask #1943, 180 bottles)
Longrow 18yo (46%, OB, 2011)
November 2011 Benriach 40yo 1971/2011 (49.8%, OB, hogshead, cask #1947, 229 bottles)

Bowmore 1969/1978 (58%, OB, for Giaconne, Frechio & Frasa Import, sherry, cask #6635, 300 bottles)

Ledaig 1998/2011 (61.2%, Malts of Scotland, sherry butt, cask ref #11010, 258 bottles)

December 2011 Port Ellen 32yo 1978/2011 (53.9%, OB, 11th Release, 2988 bottles)
Springbank 26yo 1969/1995 (51.7%, Signatory, sherry, 790 bottles)
Auchentoshan 1999/2011 (57.9%, Malts of Scotland, sherry hogshead, cask #155, 175 bottles)

Excuse me? Do you really need some overall 'winners' for 2011? That old chestnut? All right, but before that, please note that these are NO AWARDS. So, based only on scores – and I insist, scores are opinions and only opinions - hopefully informed ones, that would be:


2011 - My favourite recent bottling:

Port Ellen 32yo 1978/2011 (53.9%, OB, 11th Release, 2988 bottles) – WF 95
It saddens me that this baby’s been the object of much greediness and speculation in the recent weeks but it’s true that it’s an highly desirable bottle and some absolutely terrific whisky. Many Port Ellens are superb at around 30 years of age but I feel this one offers more complexity than the already great single casks, just like last year's release. Fantastic work by Diageo's blenders.


2011 - My favourite older bottling:

Port Ellen 12yo (62.7%, James MacArthur, pale version, +/- 1985) – WF 96
And yet another Port Ellen, a young one this time. A few naysayers claim that Port Ellen was only poor fodder for blends and that that’s why they chose to close it instead of Caol Ila (just rebuilt, hem…) and Lagavulin (Diageo’s headquarters on Islay, an existing single and Sir Peter Mackie’s home distillery!) Pure codswallop, as all the young PEs I could try so far have been quite magnificent, even at 40% vol. Try to catch some while that’s still – very relatively – feasible. BTW, there was an even greater heavily sherried version of this baby...


2011 - My favourite bang for your buck bottling:

Ardbeg 'Uigeadail' (54.2%, OB, 2010) - WF 92
A deep, rich and constantly thrilling version of Ardbeg that’s sold for around £45 to £50. I’ve always loved it since 2003 and this ‘L10’ batch remains superb. I know there’s absolutely nothing original in saying that Uigeadail is great whisky for a great price but I wasn’t going to select an obscure Glentowbullin Single Cask for Outer-Mongolia just to try to be smart, was I? What’s more, it’s simply got the best possible Quality-Availability/Price ratio in my book and no, that’s got nothing to do with heavy peat.

See you in 2012, glasses in hand, and Happy New Year to you, your family and your friends! Remember we're all teachers and we're all pupils. And let's keep whisky fun, it's only a drink! - Serge
PS: also many thanks to Nick and Kate at WF's concert review department. We'll publish our traditional, tongue-in-cheek Whiskyfun Music Awards very soon, stay tuned!

December 2011 - part 2 <--- January 2012 - part 1 ---> January 2012 - part 2

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



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

Clynelish 22 yo 1989/2011 (50.9%, The Whisky Agency, bourbon, 267 bottles)

Glenfiddich 1956 (unknown ABV, Thomas Bucktrout & Co. Ltd., Guernsey, +/-1970?)

Glenrothes 42 yo 1969/2011 (44.7%, Duncan Taylor for Men O'Quaich, octave, cask #49884, 65 bottles)

Tomatin 35 yo 1976/2011 (51.4%, The Whisky Agency, refill sherry, 313 bottles)