(Current entries)

Whisky Tasting


Daily Music entries



Hi, you're in the Archives, June 2011 - Part 1

May 2011 - part 2 <--- June 2011 - part 1 ---> June 2011 - part 2


June 14, 2011



Martin Carthy 70th Birthday Concert
Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, May 14th 2011

Martin Carthy, grand old man of English folk music, is about to celebrate his seventieth birthday. Whenever you read about Carthy a couple of stories always come to the fore.  There’s the one about teaching Bob Dylan tunes such as ‘Scarborough Fair’ and ‘Lord Franklin’, which were subsequently Dylanised as ‘Girl from the north country’ and ‘Bob Dylan’s dream’.  And the Paul Simon story, where Carthy’s arrangement of ‘Scarborough Fair’ was appropriated in a less gentlemanly way. 

Martin Carthy

These anecdotes (we’re treated to a very amusing one about Bob Dylan, a cold winter, a piano and a Samurai sword) are all well and good  but  tend to obscure Carthy’s huge influence on music and musicians around the Western world, and possibly beyond.  So here’s what composer, performer and producer Van Dyke Parks recently had to say about Martin Carthy: “my favourite British musician …is Martin Carthy. Nothing more exemplary or beautiful has ever come out of England than the works of Martin Carthy. They protect and define England. So I must admit that is my secret love. It's the street sensibility, the roots, that I love ….”

Martin and Eliza Carthy

Eliza and Martin Carthy

There’s a lot of South Bank love for Carthy tonight:  dads and lads, sons and mums, the usual folk club crew, and the now-familiar younger funky folksters too, a suitably rich and varied audience to celebrate such a distinguished career.   Introduced by his daughter, Eliza Carthy (“he’s a wonderful man for looking after my mum, and for looking after me”) Carthy  performed the first half of the show by himself, reminiscing, mostly about the songs and where he found or learned them, as he went.  Starting with ‘Jim Jones’, the song of a defiant convict transported to Australia for poaching, ‘Bill Norrie’ (child murder, and possibly a bit of incest too), ‘Long John’ (love, kidnap, near-execution and redemption) and ‘Georgie (the execution of a child poacher), Carthy laid bare the darker side of English folk music that inhabits many of his songs.  This reflects, he explained in an interview in the Guardian shortly before the concert, the ‘subversive’ nature of these very English songs: "when I started out, the folk scene was a highly political affair, but I didn't understand until later the way in which English folk music has a subversive quality which creeps in under the door. It gets under your skin. And so I have come to realise the value of folk music as our collective understanding of the value of subversion for and of itself."  None more subversive, in his opinion, than “the jewel in our crown”, the relentlessly brutal and brutalising ‘Prince Heathen’, the tale of a woman who refused to shed a tear no matter how cruelly she was treated, which closed the first half.  “The song goes to such extraordinary lengths ... it’s about firmness in the truth” said Carthy in an interview with Living Tradition.  According to the interviewer  “it’s arguably impossible to understand Martin at all as a musician without understanding this song and his attitude to singing it…”

The second half began with a little more levity as Tom Robinson, much admired as a composer by Carthy, took the stage and sang  Steve Knightley’s ‘The cold heart of England’, his own ‘Blood brother’, recorded by Carthy when he was with Band of Hope, and, as a bit of a sing-along, ‘Martin’.  Eliza Carthy then sang ‘Lofty tall ships’ and ‘The bows of London’ ( a very sad case of fratricide, just for good measure), before performing solo ‘The snow it melts the soonest’ and ‘Yonder comes the morning’. 

Carthy returned with career-long collaborator, the famously deceased Dave Swarbrick.  A very lively (and characteristically mischievous) Swarbrick fiddled his way with Carthy through a handful of tunes including the glorious ‘Byker Hill’, one of Carthy’s career-defining songs.  And finally of course we endure the ensemble rendition of ‘I shall be released’, dedicated (rather gratuitously I felt) to architect and prisoner of conscience Ai Weiwei, before Carthy returned again with his famous interpretation of the Harry Lime theme.

Martin Dave
With Dave Swarbrick

And finally a word about Carthy’s guitar.  It’s not just the songs nor the wonderful singing that make Carthy stand apart.  His guitar work, trademark picking of melodies on a CGCDGA tuning, is quite unique.  For most of the evening he played his Martin, wonderfully resonant and perfectly suited to his percussive and melodic style of playing.  And even if, like most of us, you can never aspire to play like Carthy, you can now aspire to own a ‘signature’ guitar just like his.  If you can ever find one, that is: made by Martin in 2003, you’ll have to search hard and have several thousands of quids in your pocket for this one.  Maybe better advised simply to spend a few quids on some of Carthy’s CDs and enjoy the work of one of the UK’s finest guitarists and interpreters of ‘traditional’ songs, ever. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Listen an watch Martin Carthy on YouTube


Ardbeg 20

Tasting three Ardbeg but NOT the crocodile

Ardbeg 8 yo 2001/2010 '33.92' (57.5%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, first fill bourbon, Earth daughter) Three stars Colour: white wine. Nose: raw, spirity, sharp, smoky, porridgy, mineral… And close to new make so far, even if there’s no fruits whatsoever. Whiffs of sea water and mint. Very simple. With water: nada, niente, nichts, nothing. Still raw and very simple. Mouth (neat): pear juice, peat, salt and alcohol in a gangue of vanilla cream. As simple as it can get. With water: more pear juice. Finish: rather long, pearish, smoky. Comments: sure it’s Ardbeg but I don’t think anyone should dump these onto the market at just any age, just because it’s Ardbeg and because the brand name sells to punters just now. This is quite good, yet very immature spirit in my opinion. SGP:447 - 80 points (still, because it’s flawless immature spirit ;-)).

Ardbeg 12 yo 1998/2011 (55.4%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams) Four stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: now we’re starting to talk. More presence, more complexity (although this is no complex whisky thus far), more fruitiness (pears) and a most enjoyable rootiness (gentian, celeriac). Some smoke of course but it’s no peat monster. With water: develops gently, with more putty, almonds, marzipan, apple peelings and soot/ashes. Mouth (neat): once again, we’re much higher – so to speak – than with the SMWS. Still a tad brutal but this is more complex, with kippers, liquorice, ginger, more smoked fish (salmon), marzipan, green tea, more liquorice… Very good, very good! With water: now it’s perfect! Not complex, not mindboggling, not really majestic but absolutely perfect. Finish: quite long and a tad rounder, which is always welcome in a finish (and seldom happens). Comments: I think Ardbeg starts to become really interesting at 12 years of age, unless it’s ridden with sweetish vanilla of course (sherry’s all right ;-)). SGP:447 - 89 points.

Ardbeg 20 yo 1991/2011 (48.3%, Douglas Laing, Old & Rare, refill hogshead, 81 bottles) Four stars At 400 Euros a bottle, this better be utterly stellar. Hey, maybe it is! Colour: pale gold. Nose: come on! There isn’t much more happening than in the 1998 at first nosing, or maybe a little more vanilla? Also some nice and interesting notes of tuberose… The good news is that it does take off after a few minutes, with more soot, ashes, liquorice and a little sugarcane. Maybe traces of antiseptic as well. Not insignificant at all but we’re still relatively far from all the great older ones that we can still find for more or less the same price. With water: mixed feelings. It becomes a tad sour although I like these whiffs of hessian, wet fabric and rhubarb. Dry white wine. Nosedives after twenty minutes, with more stale apple juice. Mouth (neat): a slightly polished version of the 1998, a tad sweeter. Cider apples, salmiak, brine and white pepper. Nice! With water: it’s got something of the great ones (putty, tar, clams, brininess, ‘ a good soapiness’ and such) but that’s not enough. The briny notes are a tad too much in my opinion (remember the fabulous Fishky?) Finish: medium long, on pickle and ashtray juice. Comments: this one made me angry. Sure I never take prices into account when assessing a whisky but in this case it’s impossible not to do so. Coz as the great rapper Aristotle once said: ‘Greediness and stinginess will kill the patrons’ goodwill as surely as the crow will kill the sparrow’ (free translation). SGP:356 - 86 points (let’s not exaggerate!).

More distillery data Our tastings: all bottlings that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

June 12, 2011


Glen Moray

Tasting three Glen Moray

Time to have a few Glen Morays today, from some youngish independent versions to an oldie by Duncan Taylor. Glen Moray is rather a low profile distillery in my book but nice surprises can occur. Let’s see…

Glen Moray 13 yo 1996/2010 (43%, Dun Bheagan, cask #91981/91984, 1419 bottles) one star and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: starts very grassy and quite mineral, with also notes of cut apples and porridge. Also a little cardboard. Claiming that there are other aromas would be a tad far-fetched… Having said that, there’s more and more porridge… Mouth: perfumy and bitter at first sips, then notes of burnt wood and caramel. Yeast, leaven, strawberry drops, Parma violets… Forgettable, I’d say. Finish: medium long, with more burnt notes. Corn syrup. Comments: this one reminds of ten years ago, when some bottlers were issuing hundreds of cheapo young single casks at low strength that were, well, very unlikely. Dispensable! SGP:341 - 69 points.

Glen Moray 10 yo 2000/2011 '35.48' (59.3%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Coffee kisses and cappucino) Two stars Colour: white wine. Nose: well, this is even more on grass and porridge. Absolutely no fruitiness whatsoever. Porridge and grass, grass and porridge… With water: we’re close to the 1996. Cheese, socks, cardboard and porridge plus apple juice. Mouth (neat): young and very sugary. Prickly. Apples, lemon squash, ginger and pepper. Also a weird saltiness. Hard. With water:  sweeter and rounder, that is to say better but it’s extremely young and immature. Beer, pear drops and jelly bears all over the place! Finish: quite long, sugary. Comments: I think Glen Moray needs top wood. Having said that, it’s a little better than the 1996 in my opinion. SGP:431 - 71 points.

Glen Moray 38 yo 1971/2010 (48.7%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #7032, 256 bottles) Four stars DT had an excellent 1973 in 2010 so we have deep expectations here… Colour: gold/amber. Nose: I wouldn’t say there’s no grass and no porridge in this baby but there’re also many other aromas, starting with some coffee and vanilla, then some kind of tropical fruits (very ripe mangos?), beeswax, hints of old sherry, a little eucalyptus and then quite some butter. Also whiffs of fermenting hay. Maybe it’s little dirty in a certain way but it’s rather complex. A dirtiness that’s an asset here. With water: becomes leafier, very pleasantly so. Leather. Mouth (neat): I guess it’s the wood that does the job here, and it’s some very nice wood despite quite some green tannins. Beeswax again, mocha, orange liqueur, quite some cardamom… With water: more of all that, especially green cardamom. Finish: medium long, spicy and rather grassy. Fino-ish, in a way. Comments: I’m not sure it’s as much to my liking as the 1973 (WF 88) but it is very a good Glen Moray for sure, quite drier. A nice cask. SGP:451 - 85 points.

More distillery data Our tastings: all bottlings that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

MUSIC - Recommended listening: France's Gérard Manset has got his very own universe. Have a go at Rouge Gorge (robin) that was on 1975's 'Rien à raconter' album to find out... And then please buy Gérard Manset's music, thanks.


June 10, 2011


Classic session, a wee verticale of Longmorn



Longmorn is a classic anyway, even if its profile can change a lot between the old fruit bombs and the more austere young ones. Let’s try four versions spanning four decades…

Longmorn 13 yo 1997/2011 (59.9%, The Whisky Cask, bourbon) Three stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: by Jove, this is punchy! Raw and pungent spirit that assaults your nostrils and almost makes you cry. In the background: grass, apples (green, bitter ones) and pears… Water is obligatory here. With water: raw malt and grass plus green apples and porridge. We’re very close to the distillate here, it’s obviously no first fill bourbon wood. Having said that, Longmorn’s distillate is nice enough… Mouth (neat): yoodleaheedoohaa… Indeed this is strong! Raw, spirity, sweet alcohol with very little wood influence that I can detect. Quick, water: swims like a champ. Fresh fruits, strawberries, pears and oranges. It’s no complex dram but it’s very drinkable with water. Finish: medium long, a little more on bitter oranges and kumquats, with a grassy aftertaste. Comments: a very natural young Longmorn that lets the spirit talk – provided you’ve got water. SGP:551 - 84 points.

Longmorn 22 yo 1988 (53%, Silver Seal, 315 bottles, +/-2011) Four stars Colour: gold. Nose: completely different from the 1997, starting on a lot of custard – and I really mean a lot, a faint mustiness and tons of overripe apples. Then there’s quite some orange juice – rather Fanta in fact. Touches of cereals as well, muesli… Not a fruit monster but it’s fruitier than the 1997 for sure. With water: more sour but pleasant oak. Broken branches, a little milk, oatcakes… Then more vanilla and coconut. The whole works very well. Mouth (neat): starts on some loud notes of marshmallows, coconut and vanilla, not unlike some high-octane grain whisky from first fill white oak. Then more fresh fruits, touches of bananas, apples and oranges. With water: easy, sweet, creamy, fruity… The coconut got even louder. Orange squash. It’s got something of Bushmills’ malt – or am I dreaming? Finish: rather long, with more spices such as white pepper, as usual. Comments: a really good one from an active cask. Do you like coconuts and oranges? SGP:741 - 87 points.

Longmorn 35 yo 1975/2011 (50.8%, The Nectar of the Daily Drams) Four stars and a half Colour: pale gold. Nose: we’re getting there, it’s a classic fruity old Longmorn, very fresh, very appealing. Citrusy, very marginally sour (green apples again, lemon, fresh walnuts), with touches of passion fruits and then a little more oak. With water: more orange zest notes mingled with clean fresh oak. Classy. Mouth (neat): the expected fruit salad, with no excessive oak on top of it. Papayas, apples, bananas, touches of tinned litchis… It’s sweet, it’s fresh, it’s enjoyable. With water: typical fruitiness, with a slightly fizzy feeling. Lemon and orange juice, squashes, touches of kiwis. Impeccably fresh. Finish: medium long, fresh, fruity, with hints of marzipan and maybe a little mint. Cinnamon in the aftertaste. Comments: a perfect example of these hugely drinkable Longmorns from the 1970s. Some are too oaky in my opinion but this one isn’t. Only one added flavour and it would have made it to 90 in my book. SGP:751 - 89 points.

Longmorn 30 yo 1969/1999 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 191 bottles) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: yeah, that’s it, a Longmorn from the 1960s, bottled at ideal age. Astounding freshness AND amazing complexity. I guess there’s no need to advertise these bottlings, so I’ll tell you a little story instead. Once upon a time there was a rich merchant whose business required him to travel abroad. Taking leave, he said to his three daughters, "Dear daughters, I would like to have something nice for you when I return. What should I bring home for you?" The oldest one said … What, you say you don’t care? Mouth: did I ever tell you the story of Beowulf? Listen! We have heard of the glory of the kings who ruled the Danes in olden times. Scyld Scefing often drove enemy warriors from… Ahem, excuse me. Finish: barely. Comments: time to call the anti-maltoporn brigade – or I tell you the old story of The Boy Who Had Never Seen a Woman… Seriously, no contemporary whisky tastes like this utter splendour. SGP:762 - 95 points.

More distillery data Our tastings: all bottlings that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

MUSIC - Recommended listening: the craziest progressive folk band ever, Comus, playing Diana (that was on their 1971 album 'First Utterance'). Please buy Comus' music - and it seems that they're around again!


June 8, 2011


Port Ellen, 1969 against 1983
I’ve decided to do another rather whacky session today, which will consist in trying to find out about the changes that occurred in Port Ellen’s spirit between its reopening in the late 1960s and it’s closure in 1983. To fulfil that all-important mission ;-), we’ll oppose two rare 1969s (yes, baby) to two recent 1983s…

Port Ellen

Port Ellen 31 yo 1969/2001 (40%, Silver Seal, First bottling, 156 bottles) Five stars I believe Silver Seal used to source their whiskies from Douglas Laing’s so no wonder they had a 1969, just like Alambic Classique in Germany had one (WF 95, mind you). Colour: gold. Nose: right, right… Imagine a blend of some very old orange liqueur such as Cointreau or Grand-Marnier with a little tar and liquorice, sea water, fresh walnuts and almonds, old books and … something such as crushed kippers. Do you get the picture? Granted, it’s no huge whisky after all these years but such a delicate Port Ellen is quite rare, although the recent Annual Release #10 is a bit in this style if I remember well. Also tangerines… Mouth: it’s rather light but certainly not toothless at just 40% vol. and it’s very, very briny and kippery. I’ve read my old notes for the 1969 by DL and it appears that both versions are quite different. More kippers in this, some tarry liquorice, crystallised oranges, almond oil… Well, I must say it starts to resemble my old notes more and more after a few minutes, although this seems to be saltier and globally drier. Also tinned sardines in this one? Anchovies? Finish: medium long, between ashes, salted and smoked fish and almonds oil. Comments: wonderful old Port Ellen, sometimes a little light and sometimes very expressive (when the saltiness starts to talk). SGP:257 - 92 points.

Port Ellen 1969 (62.2%, Gordon & MacPhail, +/-1983) Five stars A 1969 by G&M bottled at 15yo for Intertrade has been utterly stunning (WF 96). Colour: pale gold. Nose: a p.o.w.e.r.h.o.u.s.e. Ultra-big notes of lime and green apples, sour herbs (sorrel?), a little yeast/yoghurt and a huge smokiness. Little tar this time, rather a huge, grassy peat, although it does get a little quieter after a few minutes. It becomes also very medicinal for Port Ellen (bandages, camphor). Caraway seeds. This may well be brilliant whisky as well but let’s play with water now… With water: there’s actually much more of the very same. Lemons and grapefruits, lemon pie, brine, kippers, cumin… It also became rather less medicinal, in fact. In other words, a clean, crystal-clean old young Port Ellen. Mouth (neat): wah! So powerful, so pungent, so explosive. Almost apocalyptic I have to say. No I’m not scared, but… Tankers of limejuice, bags of green grassy peat and wheelbarrows of apple peelings. Not much else so far on my palate but I’m sure water will do wonders again… With water: OMG. One of the most perfect combinations of lemon, salt and smokiness I’ve ever tasted. It is simple whisky, but it is perfect whisky. Finish: you bet! It’s simply endless, with the kippers and a lot of ashes in the aftertaste. Comments: sadly, this will probably have been one of my last opportunities to try some young old-style Port Ellen. A good example of the reason why I keep writing all these silly tasting notes in my online tasting diary (yup, that’s Whiskyfun.com). Having said that, this PE won’t reach 95 points because it’s not complex enough for that. Yes I can be a bugger… SGP:378 - 94 points.

So, let’s try the 1983s now. I’ve often thought that the first few months of 1983 have been a very good period for Port Ellen, as if the distillery had been trying to tell us its best stories before it would get mothballed and later dismantled. The testament vintage?

Port Ellen 27 yo 1983/2010 (54.8%, Douglas of Drumlanrig for Whisky Manufaktur, refill hogshead, cask ref #6724, 120 bottles) Five stars Colour: white wine. Nose: well, this one isn’t very different from the G&M at first nosing, only slightly yeastier and a little more on sour apples. In fact, it’s rather narrower, more mineral, less medicinal and less citrusy. Which doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful whisky, because it is. There’s also a little ink and, once again, a lot of coastal notes. With water: anything from the sea. Shellfish, seaweed, water, fish and… ahem, a little petroleum. Mouth (neat): this time we’re extremely close to the 1969 by G&M, which is obviously great news. That means a lot of lemon and lime, a good deal of brine and other salty things and then more almondy notes and apple peelings. With water: rounder, sweeter, creamier… But just as peaty. Excellent. Finish: long (of course), maybe a tad too candied now, with notes of vanilla and even honey that were rather unnecessary here in my opinion. Comments: funny how it became much sweeter once reduced, but the whole is just excellent. SGP:467 - 90 points.

Port Ellen 28 yo 1983/2011 (53.4%, The Islay Trail, oak butt) Four stars Oak butt? Aha… ;-). Colour: straw. Nose: this one is very interesting because it’s very grassy and ‘green’, in a very nice way. A lot of fresh almonds, walnut skin, fern, then linseed oil, oysters and clams, a little soot, fresh butter… It’s sort of delicate after the two monsters that we just had… With water: oh, this is strange! Water brought out huge whiffs of paraffin oil an even ‘lemony turpentine’ (yes I know that doesn’t exist) plus quite some cardboard and newspapers. Metal polish. That was unexpected but not totally unpleasant... Mouth (neat): once again we’re close, with a lot of lemon (more pie and marmalade than fresh juice), salt, kippers, almonds and marzipan and small green apples. With water: more salt and more lemon, with a little dryness in the background (ashes, paper, grape pips). Finish: long and dry. Comments: I think this one had a little problem with water, but otherwise it’s a very, very (very) fine 1983 that, at 53% vol., doesn’t require water anyway. Does it? SGP:367 - 87 points.

Conclusion: funnily enough, I think that what they were distilling in 1983 was the closest they could get to early 1969-1971 Port Ellen in style, despite the fact that PE wasn’t using malt from the PE maltings yet in 1969, as the nearby malting plant was built in 1973. By the way, here’s a little reward for you (I may have published these in the past)…

Port Ellen

Left, Port Ellen’s very first cask after its last reopening since 1929, in April 1967 (left, manager Angus MacTaggart) and right, Port Ellen’s very last cask, a 1983 (possibly from May).

More distillery data Our tastings: all bottlings that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

MUSIC - Recommended listening: some strange blues from the past with king of 'space age pop' Leon Johnson aka Chaino doing a very 'strange' Gone Ape thirty or forty years ago. Please buy Chaino's music.


June 7, 2011



Tasting two recent official Macallan plus an older one

Macallan 1996-1999/2011 'Royal Marriage' (46.8%, OB) Three stars I guess there’s no need to tell you why they did this bottling. Colour: amber. Nose: it does remind me of some old style Macallan (we’re very far from the Fine Oak series here) but without any biggish fruity sherry. In fact, it’s quite austere and dry, rather on dark chocolate and leather. Also touches of bitter oranges, ginger tonic and a little wet cardboard. Pippa was more impressive! Becomes a tad more aromatic after a good ten minutes (more oranges and more tree bark) but it never becomes ‘big’. Mouth: classic youngish sherry monster, with all what’s needed but a slight roughness that makes it ‘unfinished’, so to speak. Simply too young? Bitter oranges, black raisins, bitter chocolate and some gingery notes that are a tad inappropriate here in my opinion. Finish: rather long, with some green spices from the oak on top of the bitter oranges. Grassy aftertaste. Comments: I think this is a little too raw and youngish for such an occasion – and such a price. Lacks polishing. I liked the previous generation a lot better (WF 88) but it’s true that they had chosen casks from Charles and Diana’s birth years (1948 and 1961) instead of newish vintages such as 1996 and 1999. SGP:461 - 81 points.

Macallan 13 yo 1997/2010 'Easter Elchies' (52.3%, OB, sherry butt, cask #432) Three starsColour: dark amber. Nose: starts just like the Royal Marriage, that is to say dry and austere, but it’s soon to become rather fuller and fruitier, with more blood oranges, strawberry jam and raisins, but there’s also a faint dustiness in the background. Flour? Then roasted chestnuts and Demerara sugar, also a little balsamic vinegar as often. With water: no further development. Maybe a little more leather and mint, as well as a little bacon. Well, that’s some further development, I guess. Also a flintiness. Mouth (neat): rich, fruitful sherry, bursting with raspberries and strawberries, then orange liqueur and a little kirsch and other eaux-de-vie (stone fruits). Just like the RM, it’s a tad raw and a little too straight for me. Young, slightly immature sherry. With water: much nicer in my opinion, although not really more complex. Some spicy oak comes through (gingery, also curry-like notes). Finish: long, even spicier. Notes of new oak. Comments: pretty good but I wouldn’t say this one was very impressive. The oaky/gingery notes are a little odd in this context – ha, wood technology! Maybe an older version of the ‘Easter Elchies’ will be more to my liking? Let’s see… SGP:461 - 82 points.

Macallan 11 yo 1995/2007 'Easter Elchies' (60.2%, OB, sherry hogshead, cask #9457, 285 bottles) Four stars Colour: full amber (slightly paler than the 1997). Nose: ah yes, this is something else! Starts on some unexpected notes of fresh mint, aniseed and dill and develops more on café latte, polished oak (with a bit of varnish) and milk chocolate. Hints of almond oil, coconut, barley syrup and vanilla… American oak sherry wood? There’s definitely something ‘George-T-Staggish’. With water: more of the same. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted a sherry monster that was so close to premium bourbon, although the sherriness is very superb as well. The best of both worlds? Mouth (neat): punchy, curiously bourbonny but quite brilliant. Big oak (we’re near a decoction here) but everything’s under control. Liquorice, prunes, orange liqueur, bitter chocolate… Quite a beast. With water: there, we’re closer to the older Macallans that I liked so much, even if there’s something slightly disturbing in the background (Schweppes/ginger?) Finish: long, all on ginger, bitter oranges and various herbal liqueurs. Very gingery aftertaste. Comments: once again, some straight oak comes through but the end result is superior to the 1997 in my opinion. SGP:561 - 87 points.

More distillery data Our tastings: all bottlings that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

MUSIC - Recommended listening: a little Afro funk straight from the glorious 1970s with Ghana's great band Sweet Talks playing Eyi Su Ngaangaa. Aren't you hopping on your chair now? Please buy Sweet Talks' music!

Sweet Talks

June 6, 2011


Sufjans Stevens

by Nick Morgan
Sufjan Stevens
Royal Festival Hall, London, May 13th 2011

Sufjan Stevens first came to prominence with the release of his 2003 album Michigan, the first part of his 51 States project, a hugely ambitious plan to produce a record for each of the United States’ fifty component parts. This was followed by the universally acclaimed Illinois, subtitled, in an unlikely homage to Slade, ‘Come on feel the Illinoise’.  Together these two records defined Stevens’ quite unique (in the world of rock music) sound and his expansive breadth of vision.

The songs, more often than not led by Stevens’ banjo and other quirky folk-style strings but backed by lush orchestrations with full-on brass sections, was pure Americana, in a tradition that was defined by Aaron Copeland.  And Stevens’ new take on the American pastoral was applied to both the rustic (Michigan) and the urban (Illinois, and particularly ‘Chicago’).  But the formula (not meant in the pejorative sense) of wonderfully compelling melodies backed by these big arrangements, remained the same.  Perhaps surprising then that his new album, The Age of Adz (pronounced ‘odds’), has been heralded by critics and some fans as a shocking departure from the old, to a new style dominated by electronica and dance rhythms.  On the face of it, it is; but as this first of two nights at the Royal Festival Hall made very apparent, appearances, whether aural or visual, can be very deceptive.  And though at times this hugely enjoyable performance was, noisy, high-disco-camp, funny and self-deprecating, at its heart (despite the fact that Stevens rather pointedly flung his banjo to the floor half-way through the first song) was the same musical blueprint, melodies and arrangements, that made both Michigan, and particularly Illinois, such a delight to hear.

Sufjans Stevens

Stevens’ muse in creating Adz (pronounced ‘odds’) was artist Royal Robertson, or to use his full title, ‘Libra Patriarch Prophet Lord Archbishop Apostle Visionary Mystic Psychic Saint Royal Robertson’.  A Louisianan artist, who in turn took inspiration from early sci-fi films and comic books, tinged with a blend of pulp fiction, Robertson’s work was Stevens’ ‘springboard into a cosmic consciousness in which basic instincts are transposed on a tableau of extraordinary scenes of divine wrath, environmental catastrophe and personal loss’.  Well, that’s what the website says.  It’s all very reminiscent of Sun Ra.  Flying spaceships, weird alien figures, outlandish costumes and an ever present motif, the Eye of Providence.  

But the effect is compelling, from the first moment when a masked and caped figure put the Festival Hall’s giant organ through its paces.  In fact, it turned out to be an electronic stand-in, as the real 7866 pipe organ is still being refurbished, but it was still pretty impressive.  This was ‘Swan Song’, prompting Stevens to attach a giant pair of swan’s wings to his back.  ‘I’m here to entertain you for the evening, so I’m going to play you a couple of pop songs” said Stevens (sans wings) before moving onto ‘Age of Adz’ (pronounced ‘odds’) and ‘I walked’ from the new album.  This was one of the shorter of his digressions, which covered diverse topics such as his dancing technique (painfully studied and self-parodic) and the life and times of Royal Robertson; ‘Royal’, as a note to completists, was blazoned on his guitar with luminous paint. 

Sufjans Stevens 3

The majority of the material in the main set came from Adz (pronounced ‘odds’), with ‘I want to be well’ deserving particular mention for the Casio keyboard solo. The set ended with a suitably climatic, loud and lengthy ‘Impossible soul’, during which Stevens donned some very improbable costumes which looked as they had come from a pretty ancient episode of Dr Who.  The audience went crazy.  And to finish, Stevens treated his diehard fans to an encore of songs from Illinois.

There are few performers who could match the panoramic musical landscape that Stevens creates.  His songs may be a little too self-absorbed (I may be guilty of gross understatement on that point) but that’s easily forgiven, particularly when the three- man (sometimes four) trombone section start blasting away.  Quite unique and quite unforgettable; the odds (pronounced ‘Adz’) are that you’d fully agree. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Listen to Sufjan Stevens on myspace


Kilkerran Kilchoman

A tasting session that doesn’t make any sense

What I’m about to do doesn’t make any sense, at all. These whiskies are extremely different – well, they should be – they only have in common their young age, the fact that they’re new and the fact that both start with ‘Kil’. I told you, this little session doesn’t make any sense…

Kilkerran 'Work in Progress' (46%, OB, 3rd batch, 2011) Four stars and a half I liked the ‘WIP 2’ really a lot (WF 88). This new one from Glengyle Distillery by Springbank is around 7 years old (picture is WIP 2). Colour: straw. Nose: a big, fatty, oily, waxy nose at first nosing, then old style sourness (cider apples, porridge), ink, linseed oil, coal, leaven, pils beer… I don’t have WIP 2 at hand but they’re probably very similar, which is good news, obviously. A very peculiar style – or more than that, a statement. After 15 minutes: more walnut skins and ink, and much less porridgy/yeasty notes. Mouth: so obviously Springbanky! Lemon, oil, minerals, wax, grass, earth, roots… It seems to me that these casks were less active than WIP 2’s, I seem to get less vanilla but then again, it’s been months. Anyway, we won’t complain, as vanilla is whisky’s ketchup (back up, Serge!) Finish: long and briny, with some lime juice and a little barley sugar. A tad fizzy at this point. Comments: I wrote it before, they’re the only ones who make this style these days, unless I’ve missed some. My cup of malt. SGP:452 - 88 points.

Kilchoman 2006/2011 (60.4%, OB, bourbon, cask 249/06) Four stars Colour: white wine. Nose: a relatively sweet, fruity and civilised version of Kilchoman, with pears and peat smoke ahead and some iodine in the background. Not complex yet but very clean. I remember when we first tried the newmake quite some years ago on Islay, it was much rougher but I guess that’s normal. With water: the farminess comes out, as expected. Cattle dung (yes that can be nice!) and grains. Visiting a malting plant. Mouth (neat): bingo, there’s this earthy rootiness that I like so much (gentian). There isn’t much else at this point, but it’s a style that I really like a lot. Also touches of salt. With water: more gentian spirit and touches of sweet lemon. It’s narrow but with such flavours, narrowness can be an asset. Finish: long, simple, ultra-clean. Lemon and peat. Comments: it’s embarrassing. Usually, I tend to favour complexity and this baby is anything but complex at five years old or less (not sure), but the fact is that its heart is perfectly chiselled. SGP:447 – 87 points.


June 3, 2011


by Nick Morgan

Jim White
The Jazz Café, Camden Town, London
May 2nd 2011

Jim White’s back in town promoting a new side project album, Sounds of the Americans, the fruit of collaboration with the Juilliard School in New York.  In case you’re wondering, the Juilliard, based at the Lincoln Centre , is pretty much the top of the tree when it comes to performing arts in the USA. 

Jim White

Amongst its numerous alumni it counts a varied and unlikely bunch of well-known names: Steve Reich, Val Kilmer, Barry Manilow, Kevin Spacey, Miles Davis, Steve Guttenburg, Nigel Kennedy and Kelsey Grammer.  Mr White is clearly in the big time.   Co-written with Dan Nettles (aka Kenosha Kid) Sounds of the Americans is an eclectic collection of songs, music and spoken pieces devised as a soundtrack for a play, The Americans, based on the works of writer and actor Sam Shepard.  “I don’t understand why I was asked”, said White, “because he and I have so little in common”.  Nettles provides a distinct jazz feel to some of the pieces; White provides a range of familiar characters and themes drawn from the extensive cast-list of the Southern American Gothic landscape that his songs inhabit. 

Jim is touring with a new band comprising Andrew Small on bass and Geert Hellings on guitar, principally Stratocaster.  White has been producing the new album for Helling’s band, Stanton; Hellings has kindly reciprocated by standing in on a short European ‘tour’ (including, much to my surprise, a support set for Ron Sexsmith at the Barbican).  “He’s better than Eric Clapton”, says White, “but he’s not American so you don’t have to resent him for it”. 

He certainly brings a more lyrical and melodic feel (‘dreamy’ say my notes) to White’s songs, quite a contrast from the Telecaster- wielding Patrick Hargon who has toured with White in recent years.  With the band is White’s drum machine (“the drummer who doesn’t drink”) and his loops pedals, which allow him to create artfully textured pieces.

Jim White

You must have to be patient  working with Jim White.  His live act is as much about his anecdotes (“I’m the Salvador Dali of north-west Florida”), not necessarily linked to the songs he’s about to play, as it is about the music.  Tonight is perfectly balanced, some familiar stories, and some less so. I’m sure I hadn’t ever heard the one about the competing cross-dragging Jesuses in White’s home town of Pensacola, which preceded ‘If Jesus drove a motor home’, while  the LSD-drenched introduction to ‘A perfect day to chase tornadoes’ was pleasingly familiar.  The set was well put together: ‘Rambler’, ‘Keep it meaningful you all’ and ‘Speeding motorcycle’ (shades of Jonathan Richman)  with readings from White’s extensive collection of local newspaper cuttings such as ‘Man finds kitty litter in his Mustang convertible’.   All four songs feature on Sounds of the Americans.

There were a few new unrecorded pieces like the reggae-inspired  ‘State of Grace’ (“Hillbilly meets Rasta to make peace in the world”), and a well-chosen mix from his previous works.  ‘Jailbird’, ‘A town called Amen’, the hauntingly wonderful ‘Wound that never heals’, ‘Still Waters’, ‘Handcuffed to a fence in Mississippi’, ‘Christmas’ (“voted the second saddest alt.country song of all time by Mojo magazine”) and the achingly pretty ‘Bluebird’ were real treats. 

Kate Jim White
It’s a perfect act for a nice crowd on a Monday night at the Jazz Café.  At the end, the musicians (not the drummer) sit on the stage chatting to fans;  White even manages to reminisce with the Photographer about the fate of the pair of jeans he sold her at the Roundhouse a few years ago.  There’s a good memory for you. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Listen to Jim White on myspace


With thanks to Jean d'Ormesson. Sort of...


Longrow 14

Tasting one Longrow and one, ahem, peated Springbank

Berry Bros have already issued some 1992/2009 Springbank that was labelled as ‘Peat-Smoked’. It was excellent (cask #71, WF 91) and, quite curiously, extremely close to some Longrow ;-). We’ll oppose this baby to a recent official Longrow for Belgium… Those fine people have no government but they usually get damn good whisky!

Springbank 1992/2011 'Peat-Smoked' (46%, Berry Bros & Rudd, cask #61) Five stars Colour: straw. Nose: gee-hee-hee… Ancient style Ardbeg and ancient style Longrow, both from 1973, blended together for our enjoyment. Right, they may have found an easier and cheaper way to produce this glorious malt whisky but it does smell ‘old style’ indeed, extremely elegant, sooty, tarry, ashy, oily and medicinal. Our dear wet dogs are back as well (sorry, dogs), together with notes of antiseptic, a little camphor, graphite oil, hessian and then plain seawater. Oh, and whiffs of clay. Brilliant, just brilliant. Mouth: extremely classy attack, clean and fresh, briny and rounded at the same time, with some bitter chocolate, flints (like when you lick some pebble), bitter oranges, ginger, cinchona, lemon, ash… All very, very good. No flaws whatsoever. More and more cough sweets coming through. Finish: maybe not the longest Longrow ever but perfect, salty. Orange zests and touches of cinnamon in the aftertaste. Comments: same very high quality as cask #71. I think this one isn’t to me missed if you like L******. SGP:356 - 91 points.

Longrow 14 yo (56.2%, OB, Belgium exclusive, +/-2011) Five stars Colour: white wine. Nose: this is a rather sourer version, less ‘clean and elegant’ than the 1992, almost dirty in a nice way, porridgy, yeasty, much closer to raw barley and lemonade than the 1992. There’s also more oak, sour wood, ‘ideas of clean baby puke’ (have to be careful with those descriptors), liquorice, roots, earth, fern, moss… I know all that doesn’t sound 100% nice but believe me, it IS nice and not only because it’s so different… With water: it’s the soot and the tar that come out now, together with whiffs of aspirin and wet clothes. Leaven. Mouth (neat): superb attack, even more ‘different’ than on the nose, with an extravagant combination of bitter oranges, vanilla, pickle juice (yup) and kippers. Maybe that sounds unlikely but all that works beautifully on your palate. With water: more sweetness, orange squash, gin, lemonade and lemon drops, plus a touch of wasabi for good measure. One of the most unusual profiles in the whole whisky world. Finish: rather long, with more ashes, pepper and cinnamon. Slightly drying but that’s all right. Comments: globally a little harsher than the 1992, but that may come from younger age. What’s sure is that quality is very similar and I cannot see why I’d score it differently. By the way, we need France exclusives. SGP:366 - 91 points.

Please wait, we’re not done yet, there’s also a recent wee Hazelburn by Springbank that’s waiting in my sample library. A good occasion to crack it open…


Hazelburn 8 yo 2002/2011 'Sauternes Wood' (55.9%, OB, 2180 bottles) Three stars This baby spent 5 years in refill bourbon and 3 years in Sauternes casks. Colour: amber. Nose: frankly, I don’t know if it’s just my mind wandering off but I think it smells like rum agricole at first nosing. Maybe it’s the Sauternes’ French oak? Pencil shavings, Demerara sugar, quite some leather, wine cellar… It seems that the ‘Springbankness’ isn’t too noticeable here but maybe it’s the Sauternes wood speaking (while there are very little apricots/plums). With water: a bigger yeastiness, grass, porridge… Mouth (neat): the barrique is extremely talkative! Heavy oak, herbal teas, leather, green tea, rosehip, hints of Jaegermeister… The whole is very loud. With water: it became sweeter and now we find the apricots, but the leathery notes are still very loud. Quite some orange marmalade as well, lemon drops, pipe tobacco... Finish: long, on more bitter oranges and tea. Comments: it’s good, obviously, but it has a little too much wine/oak influence for my taste. Remember, it’s all a matter of individual taste. SGP:462 - 81 points.

June 1, 2011


Ron Sexsmith

Ron Sexsmith
The Barbican, London, April 30th 2011

To be honest I’m not entirely sure who was more surprised, me, the Photographer, or Ron.  But from where I was sitting I could see just how much Ron Sexsmith was taken aback by the unexpected rock-star reception royale he received from the more-often subdued Barbican audience. 

Perhaps this is Ron’s moment.  He is, after all, one of the great living songwriters, widely admired and eulogised by his peers, but always, apparently, the wrong side of commercial success.  His many tribulations have been laid bare in the film documentary Love Shines, recently aired in the UK.  It was filmed during the recording of his latest album, Long Player Late Bloomer, produced by veteran Bob Rock, whose alumni include Metallica, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Joan Jett and Bryan Adams.  Rightly or wrongly, the film portrayed a singer haunted by his past, plagued by stage-fright, and wracked with uncertainties as a result of continued commercial failure.  

The album, so said the film, was his last chance to break through and achieve the success he craved; hence the presence of the unlikely Rock, an established hit-maker with a Midas touch.  But the story ended on a low:  the album was rejected by Warner Brothers, and then by a smaller independent  label for being ‘too mainstream’ (and to be honest, despite the marvellous songs, it does have some Radio 2 moments, thanks to Mr Rock’s production).  Was there any future for our hero?  Well apparently yes.  The album has been released to some acclaim on Cooking Vinyl in Europe and the movie has been something of a hit.  And at the Barbican the crowd are going, as I said, rock-star wild.

Sexsmlith CD

Two songs in, ‘Heart’s desire’ and ‘Get in line’ (the latter from the new album) and Sexsmith pauses for a drink; “wow, my hands are shaking” he says.  Last time we saw him in London, in a much more intimate venue with only a tiny audience, he seemed almost petrified at the start; “I’m really nervous, I mean this is London, right?”.  Tonight the Barbican is sold out, meaning  two thousand people.  It’s a big night for him.  His career is on the cusp.  He’s already served up a pretty poor live performance of ‘Believe it when I see it’, one of the best tunes on Long Player, on BBC’s Later, a show that can make or break artists in the UK.  “One of the worst versions of this next song I’ve ever done” explained Sexsmith apologetically, blaming fatigue and jet-lag. Yet expectations are high.  Thankfully he more than delivered, with a four-and-a-half out of five-star show.  And although I was reminded just what a perfect piece of work Sexsmith is, with painfully-observed, brilliantly-crafted, and wonderfully simple songs, enchanting melodies, a sweet and deceptively strong voice, and, as he demonstrated more than once (on songs like ‘Wastin’ time’ and ‘Secret heart’) a very accomplished guitar technique, a lot of those stars should also go to his band.  In addition to their all-round great playing, the backing vocals from drummer Blake Manning, pianist Dave Matheson, and bassist Jason Mercer, were superb, taking many of the songs to another level.  Stand-in guitarist Stuart Cameron was only on his third gig, yet he was both note and pedal perfect, gave a pleasing rocking edge to the night (something that is somewhat lacking from the new album), earning the obvious admiration of his band mates in the process.

Ron Sexsmith 2

The set does full justice both to the new album and to Sexsmith’s considerable back catalogue of songs, from twenty years’ worth of albums.  And try as he might, he can’t escape the fact that he produced on some of his earliest recordings a handful of timeless songs that he is unlikely to surpass.  ‘Secret heart’, ‘Dandelion wine’, ‘Galbraith Street’, ‘Hard bargain’ (just recorded by Emmylou Harris) and the song that got him his first recording deal, ‘Speaking with the angel’.  Introducing this, written for his first child when Sexsmith himself was still a teenager, allowed him to take issue with one theme of the Love Shines movie, his allegedly strained relationship with his now adult son.  He was clearly at great pains to set the record straight on this point. 

He also won over any doubters in the audience at a stroke when he introduced ‘Tomorrow in her eyes’.  “This is possible the most romantic song I’ve ever written, and I’ve written a few …”, before handing a handwritten copy of the lyrics to a member of the audience who had requested them (through Sexsmith’s website) for his sweetheart.  Gooey stuff, but the crowd loved it.  Twenty-four songs in all, with an encore starting with a solo version of ‘Galbraith Street’, and then with the band ‘Not about to lose’ and from Long Player Late Bloomer, ‘Every time I follow’.  “This is incredible for me to have some momentum for a change”, Sexsmith had said as he returned to the stage, clearly moved by the response of his audience.  And as he finally left, to a standing ovation, it was difficult to understand how anyone could think this remarkable artist’s career could be in any doubt. – Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

Listen to Ron Sexsmith on myspace


Tasting two blends with Clynelish inside. Maybe…

Great King Street

So the wizards at Compass Box have come up with a blend! Not a blended malt, but a true blended Scotch, with both malt and grain inside. The packaging is very neat, well in the retro style that’s so much en vogue these days. Well done! And as I’m expecting something really good (if it’s Clynelish-driven, which I do not know but CB are as fan of Clynelish as I am), I’ll oppose it to an old blend by the owners of Clynelish, Ainslie & Heilbron, that may contain Clynelish as well even if it was ‘old’ Clynelish, that is to say Brora. Hope you don’t feel confused…

Real McTavish (43%, OB, Ainslie & Heilbron, blend, +/-1965) one star and a half It’s one of these blends that were often offered with spring caps but this one had a twist cap. Colour: gold. Nose: how unusual! I’m not sure I love this… Starts on big bold notes of cooked artichokes, mould and ink and develops on mega-huge notes of white rum agricole as well as some cheapo scented soap (say Cadum – whatever). It’s only after our nostrils have sorted all this mess that a mineral sootiness that may scream old Clynelish comes out, together with notes of bacon and, dare I say, marmite. Also pine needles. All very weird, with some parts reminding me of Ainslie’s Royal Edinburgh. Too bad it’s impossible to say what was there when it was bottled and what have developed through the years in glass. Let’s check the palate… Mouth: less weird than on the nose (I’d have spat it out anyway). Big body, with quite some pear liqueur, these artichoky notes again, hints of lapsang souchong tea (smoky, as you know), ashes… There’s also this meatiness again… What’s sure is that it’s anything but ‘commercial’ blended whisky. Finish: quite long, slightly salty and a tad bittersweet. Artichoke liqueur? Also notes of tinned pineapples. Comments: that’s what’s great with old blends, you may find really wacky stuff. Yes, I wouldn’t drink buckets of this, but it’s fun. SGP:463 - 68 points.

Great King St. (43%, Compass Box, blended Scotch, 2011) Four stars Did I tell you I liked the packaging a lot? Let’s check the whisky… Colour: straw. Nose: well, it’s certainly not a uh-ah sexy blend, because it starts dry, almost austere, mineral, slightly smoky and probably a little ‘Clynelishy’ indeed, but I have no proof. It seems that it’s a blend for malt drinkers as in truth, it smells of malt whisky. I do enjoy the slightly earthy tones as well, and the fact that it becomes progressively rounder and fruitier (garden fruits). There’s also a little ink and paper (remember newspapers?) and then more sweet vanilla that hints at fresh oak. Mouth: okay, it’s a ‘palate’ blend. The nose was nice, but the palate is quite excellent. Butter pears, smoky tea, touches of juniper berries, a fruity waxiness, a bit of liquorice wood, touches of ‘oaky’ spices (ginger and such) and a vanilla-ed sweetness, with just the right amount of that sweetness. Finish: medium long, on the same notes. No changes. Comments: it’s technically a blend, of course, but in my opinion it does not quite taste like a blend. Again, blend for malt drinkers, with quality base malt(s). Grain? What grain? SGP:442 - 85 points.

May 2011 - part 2 <--- June 2011 - part 1 ---> June 2011 - part 2

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



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

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

Longrow 14 yo (56.2%, OB, Belgium exclusive, +/-2011)

Port Ellen 1969 (62.2%, Gordon & MacPhail, +/-1983)

Port Ellen 31 yo 1969/2001 (40%, Silver Seal, First bottling, 156 bottles)

Port Ellen 27 yo 1983/2010 (54.8%, Douglas of Drumlanrig for Whisky Manufaktur, refill hogshead, cask ref #6724, 120 bottles)

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