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Hi, you're in the Archives, March 2009 - Part 2

March 2009 - part 1 <--- March 2009 - part 2 ---> April 2009 - part 1


March 31, 2009



Glendronach 15 yo (40%, OB, US, 100% matured in sherry casks, +/-1995) Various batches of this older version never quite convinced me, contrarily to some stunning 12s and vintage 18s. Colour: full amber. Nose: starts well on raisins and prunes but it’s soon to get rather weird, with herbal (nice!) and cheesy notes (hard in this context). Imagine a combination of parsley/sage with gym socks and camembert. Gets even mouldier then, all on old rotten wood (old abandoned wine barrels), saltpetre and mushrooms (say, oyster mushrooms). It has its moments (nice balsamic notes) but the whole is frankly too shaky for my taste, even if it does settle down after a good twenty minutes (on walnuts). Mouth: I must say this is nicer now, even if the attack is a little thin. Dry raisins (large black ones), mocha, chocolate, cherries in eau-de-vie, toffee… Not very complicated but the style is very nice, kind of antique, sometimes closer to some brandy. Finish: not long but clean and all on raspberry jam and dark chocolate this time. Comments: it is a very good dram actually, and the shaky nose is entertaining. Probably better than some other batches. SGP:551 - 83 points.
Glendronach 15 yo 'Revival' (46%, OB, 2009) This one is the brand new version under new owners and Billy Walker’s management. 100% oloroso matured. Colour: amber. Nose: except for the oloroso notes, this new one simply hasn’t much to do with the old 15, but it sort of kept the best parts (balsamico, mushrooms, raisins, parsley). Much cleaner but certainly not monodimensional, beautifully sherried, developing all on walnut liqueur, beef stock, hints of Madeira at some point (rather than straight sherry), soy sauce, mint sauce, a little camphor, maraschino (very obvious after a while), horse stable, coal smoke… Very complex in fact, and pretty brilliant so far. ‘Wow’. Mouth: big, rich, nervous and wonderfully sherried, immediately remind us of some older Macallan 18s (Gran Reservas). Coffee, chocolate, prunes, dates, beef jerky, dried bananas, figs, orange liqueurs… And a very nice rancio in the background. As for spices, we have cloves, cinnamon and just a little star anise. Finish: rather long, with the spices getting bigger and just a faint dustiness. Fades away on blackcurrant jam. Comments: the fact that some distilleries still have such old style sherried whiskies may well be the best of recent news from the whisky world. Adorable whisky. SGP:462 - 92 points.
Glendronach 18 yo 'Allardice' (46%, OB, 2009) 100% oloroso matured. Allardice was the name of the founder of the distillery in 1826 but some other sources claim that the name was rather Allardes. Well, that shouldn’t change anything to this new baby’s aromas and flavours… Colour: amber. Nose: less aromatic and playful than the new 15, with a sherry that’s kind of subdued and straighter malty/nutty notes. It’s also a tad grassier (walnut skins, apple peelings, cut grass). Picks up steam after a few minutes, with beautiful whiffs of wet earth and just hints of old roses (surprise!). Keeps developing for a long time, more and more on roses and Turkish delights, which was unexpected. Orange blossom water. Mouth: curiously ‘younger’ than the 15, and a tad more on fruit eaux-de-vie (kirsch, raspberry). Maybe the percentage of first fill casks was lower than in the 15 – or maybe not. Very good but less complex. Finish: medium long, on oak-matured raspberry eau-de-vie (or something like that) Comments: once again, a very good whisky but the 15 is in a different league in my view. SGP:651 - 87 points.
MUSIC – Recommended listening: the Dub Narcotic Sound System - Monkey Hips And Rice (from their 1996 CD Boot Party). Good fun. Please buy the Dub Narcotic Sound System's music. Dub Narcotic Sound System

March 30, 2009



Springbank 18 yo (46%, OB, 2009) Let’s see if this brand new Springbank is anywhere near the excellent Longrow 18 from last year. It was matured in 80% sherry, the rest being bourbon. Colour: full gold. Nose: what strikes me first is the youthfulness here, as it starts all on notes of blueberry yoghurt and fresh ripe strawberries as well as hints of gamay (Beaujolais nouveau) and muesli. It’s a rather big smokiness that enters the dance after that, with whiffs of lapsang souchong tea, espresso coffee and brown coal (stove) as well as a little putty, fresh walnuts, soaked grains and candle wax. The fresh fruits/’wet’ smoke combination works very well in our view. Oh, and Barbour grease… Extremely well composed. Mouth: assertive and a little rougher than on the nose, maybe a tad less ‘forthright’. Rather oily mouth feel. The sherry is a little more obvious too (redcurrants, cassis buds)… Bubblegum, liquorice allsorts, raspberry jam… Also oranges, and once again a rather obvious smokiness. Hints of chilli (spicy pizza sauce). A tad roguish, pleasantly so. Finish: long and in the keeping with the palate. Notes of bitter tea but also strawberry sweets and a hotness. Comments: a magnificent nose, rather old skool, and a full-bodied palate that’s more than just very good. The spirit talks. SGP:653 - 90 points.
Springbank 11 yo 1997/2009 ‘Madeira Wood’ (55.1%, OB, 9,090 bottles) This one was fully matured in Madeira wood, not just finished. Colour: full gold. Nose: this is rougher and wilder than the 18, and not just because of the higher strength. First whiffs of distillation, wash, boiled cereals… Then the very same kind of rather superb smokiness as in the 18 (maybe a tad more towards a garden fire under the rain), and finally a lot of cereally and mashy notes again, not quite porridgy but… Hints of Madeira indeed but it’s anything but winey as such. Old walnuts, cake, malt. With water: impressive, we’re very close to the 18 now! And whiffs of a farmyard after the rain. This one takes water perfectly well! Mouth (neat): hot, rich and very fruity, starting on loads of overripe oranges and notes of violet sweets and just a very faint bitter rubber – nothing unpleasant. Quite some liquorice too, orange liqueur… and more liquorice. With water: once again, it swims like Mark Spitz. Smoked orange liqueur (uh?), Darjeeling, nougat. Finish: long, with some soft spices (cumin?) and notes of orange cake like on the nose. Comments: very good, maybe just a tiny tad more, say sloppy than the 18. SGP:541 - 87 points.

proposes his malt cocktails for the Springtime

TODAY: "Versailles on the other side"

Pour into an old-fashioned, with ice:
- 6 cl Woodford Reserve bourbon (batch of your choice)
- 4 cl old cognac
- 2 cl Grand Marnier or Cointreau
- 1/2 lemon juice
Stir and finish moderately with Perrier. Decorate with various fruits.
One old rule in the art of making cocktails is to never blend grain and grape alcoohols... well there is also something that says "rules are to be broken" isn't it ?...
Choose a good V.S.O.P. or even X.O. cognac (e.g. Hennessy VSOP, Gourmel 10 or 20 carats) rather than a too young and "biting" one.

MUSIC – Recommended listening: the nasty, very nasty F.U.N.K. by Betty Davis (1975). Please buy Mrs Miles Davis' music.

Betty Davis

March 29, 2009

by Nick Morgan
HMV Hammersmith Apollo
London, March 9th 2009

In a word, Serge, disappointed. Very disappointed indeed. Don’t get me wrong. You couldn’t fault the effort of a band who pounded away relentlessly for an hour, and then returned for another twenty minutes’ encore. And those who thought it a short set obviously can’t imagine just how knackered these four now-not-so-young men must have been when they finished.

Maybe I should have seen them sooner – about five years ago to be precise. But I’d expected so much more than art-school-smart image projection and a wall of remorseless mono-rhythm sound, so loud that it left me with a throbbing head for almost twenty-four hours. I had thought that Franz Ferdinand were supposed to be clever, the saviours of post-punk British guitar music, tightly constructed, fashionably discordant, with wry and knowing lyrics beyond their years. Well maybe they are – but any subtlety was washed away in a tide of sub-disco rock and roll, with every song starting to sound dangerously like the one before and the one after, and that famous riff from ‘Take me out’, the chart success that broke the band, seemingly cropping up in every song.
And lest anyone get the wrong opinion, I was in a very small minority, because the packed HMV Hammersmith Apollo (yes – HMV have decided to invest in the venue game, a sure sign that live music must be on its way out) loved every minute of it, the crowd close to the stage screaming like it was 1966, and everyone baying for more when the set reached its slightly premature end.
Upstairs they had deserted their seats in favour of standing by the third song, ‘Do you want to’, and the majority of the audience, including the late Giant Haystacks who was helpfully sitting in front of me, stayed on their feet for the whole night. Clearly unable to dance in such confined space instead they jerked and twitched like Shakers at a meeting, or was it, I wondered, the onset of a collective bout of irritable bowel syndrome? Talking of irritable reminds me of the Photographer, who sat firmly in her seat all night, looking like she was sucking a soor plum, occasionally rolling her eyes heavenwards, and mouthing unrepeatable obscenities at various members of the entranced audience. No chance of any pictures here, even if she’d been inclined to try. As you might have guessed, she didn’t like it much either. Giant Haystacks
The faux Glaswegian four have a new album out: a bold departure into keyboard-driven disco said some of the reviews; simply poor, said others. It’s certainly hard to pick the albums from the songs – indeed although the set list of around 16 songs is only slightly tilted towards the new work, you might have thought that heard live, they all came from the same disc. But new or old, the crowd know their stuff, when to sing and when to chant. Front man Alex Kapranos manages to whip them up into a frenzy with ease. As you may know, he’s something of a gourmet (he’s been a chef), having written extensively about the culinary adventures of rock and roll tours, so I had half expected to see him in Hammersmith’s finest where we ate our dinner. Then I remembered that it now takes his people over two hours to fit him into his famously skinny-fit jeans before he goes on stage – so no pre-gig feast for him.

So that’s it really. The lesson of the evening, if there is one, is that you shouldn’t wait until bands are releasing their third album before you go and see them. It’s often too late. But of course, you can make your own mind up – as I write they’re starting a tour of continental Europe after which they head for the States, so go and have a look. - Nick Morgan

Listen: Franz Ferdinand's MySpace page

Old Grains


Invergordon 43 yo 1965/2009 (52.7%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #15532) Good news that Duncan Taylor still have casks of these 1965 Invergordons. My favourite so far was cask #15539 that was bottled in 2002 (91). Colour: full gold. Nose: almost violent and kind of acetic at very first sniffing, but that rapidly vanishes and then we have ultra-bold notes of varnish and acetone plus a lot of vanilla and coconut, as expected. Most probably a bourbon cask. The varnishy notes get then rather more discreet, in favour of more vanilla, coconut, café latte and a little orange liqueur. Still a bit violent, let’s add water. With water: another planet, really. No more varnish and much more high-end orange and coconut liqueurs. Or Mandarine Imperiale? Old rum? Very fruity. Mouth (neat): this is plain orange liqueur at cask strength with a few spices (cinnamon first, then star anise) and rather less coconutty notes than in other ‘expressions’. Very creamy, almost thick on the tongue. And good. With water (although water isn’t obligatory here): well, water brought out more ‘tannins’ and I wouldn’t say it improved the whisky. Finish: long, clean, orangey and cococnutty. In short, a classic. Comments: actually, this one is very tricky, as you’ll need two glasses. Indeed, the nose really improves with water whereas that doesn’t work with the palate! Great old grain anyway, but give it a little time so that the rather heavy varnishy aromas can vanish. SGP:730 - 88 points.
North of Scotland 1964/1981 (100° proof, George Strachan, cask #37526) A very rare old bottling by a rare bottler, from a rare distillery that was closed in 1980. Colour: gold. Nose: this one is a little smoother than the Invergordon despite a higher strength (most probably bottle ageing that smoothened it) but there is a little acetone remaining and the overall profile is a tad bland and simple. I’d dare to say ‘vanilla and orange-flavoured vodka’ to give you an idea – but remember we’re no grain freak. Something by Absolut. With water: rather in the same vein but there’s also a little caramel. Pleasanter for sure with water, smoother and fruitier. Mouth (neat): once again, this one isn’t ‘coconutty’, nor orangey by the way. Rather on lemon marmalade and something like gin-fizz plus quite some vanilla again as well as lactones. Big notes of cloves. With water: it’s good but there’s a quick ‘varnishiness’ happening (S, c’mon!) Also more Malibu if you see what I mean. Finish: long and rather spicier, with quite some ginger. Comments: a good old grain, and it’s not everyday that one can try North British at less than 20 years of age anyway. Maybe just a tad ‘wonky’. SGP:541 - 78 points.
Carsebridge 28 yo 1965/1994 (57.8%, Signatory, cask #155112, 600 bottles) Colour: pale gold. Nose: almost silent at first nosing, extremely different from the two others, with little vanilla and little wood influence. Rather a growing grassiness and pleasant notes of wet limestone and chalk that give it a very singular profile. Something smoky/tarry as well. Unlike grain whisky and unlike malt whisky! With water: unexpected notes of parsley and lovage and whiffs of freshly squeezed lemons, skins included, and wax. Very nice. Mouth (neat): once again, this is different and rather grassier than the usual old grain, but it’s also quite powerful and a little bitter - a little hard to enjoy without water. With water: now it’s very good even if more typically ‘grain’, with notes of oranges, coconuts, nougat and bubblegum. Simpler pleasures, but pleasures. Finish: rather long, maybe a tad sugary, with quite some wood at the retro-olfaction (pencil shavings, sawdust). Comments: multifaceted – as they say. Good old grain whisky. SGP:552 - 86 points.

March 27, 2009

MJ It's also Michael Jackson's birthday and we're all invited to raise a dram or three to his memory. (drawing: Bruno Marty, a member of the excellent French whisky-
distilleries forum)


It’s usually said that high-class golden spirits such as cognac, armagnac, rum, calvados and malt whisky do converge when they get very old, to the point where some say that it’s often quite difficult to distinguish between them.
But that may be a legend, as it’s not that often that one can try some at very similar ages, not to mention similar vintages. Now, we had the opportunity to gather three very old ones, one Armagnac, one Speyside and one Jamaican rum, so let’s see if that ‘convergence’ is plain mythology or not.
Château de Laubade 1945 (40%, OB, Bas Armagnac, bottled July 1985, 70cl) Château de Laubade is the best known of all Armagnac producers (not merchants/bottlers). This vintage was probably the first post-war, as the Gers region was liberated from the German army around harvest time in 1944. Colour: amber. Nose: starts unexpectedly spirity and oaky at the same time, with a kind of roughness, but it’s soon to get softer and wonderfully ‘roasted’ (torrefaction, burnt cake, espresso) and, believe it or not, a little malty. A lot of prunes as well, fruitcake (dried pears), old cassis liqueur, old leather… And finally these typical notes that one should get in most very old golden spirits, involving mint, camphor, eucalyptus and precious woods (including thuja.) Could one say this is an old sherried malt whisky? Most probably! There’s more and more sherry actually. Mouth: starts a little more vinous and certainly more oaky/tannic, with the same kind of harshness that we already had at first nosing. Softens up after that, developing all on prunes and chocolate liqueur, ganache, cocoa and plain coffee beans (that we were crunching when we were kids – remember?) Notes of figs as well, and even a slight saltiness. Very good but maybe not spectacular, the body being maybe a tad thin. Finish: short to medium, drier, all on coffee and cocoa. Quite a lot of oak. Comments: great nose, good palate – the fate of most of the very old spirits when they were integrally aged in wood. SGP:350 – 86 points.
Avonside Glenlivet 39 yo 1938 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Italy, Pinerolo) This one was distilled just before WWII. We already had a 33yo 1938 that was extremely good, albeit quite ‘mushroomy/mouldy’. Let’s see how this older version behaves. Colour: pale amber. Nose: indeed, we are not too far from the Armagnac here, with roughly the same kind of oaky tones, but instead of coffee, prunes and fruitcake we have rather notes of kumquats, bergamot, quince jelly and fresh almonds. Even freshly cut apples (granny smith). In short, this is somewhat fresher than the Armagnac but the general quality is roughly the same, that is to say pretty high – provided you like old spirits. Mouth: very good at the attack but gets then very dry and oaky, very close to the Armagnac in that respect, even I the Armagnac was globally better. Gets very resinous – wrongly so – and very tea-ish (strong over-infused black tea). A few very nice fruity notes do linger on (green bananas, apples) but other than that this is too drying for my taste. Finish: shortish but very tannic and oddly peppery. Comments: too much wood, too much time in cask. Too bad because most of the other whiskies in this ‘black label’ series are quite superb and sometimes totally stunning. SGP:261 – 80 points (for the nose).
Long Pond 1941/1999 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Jamaican Rum, cask #76) This cask was shipped to the UK right after the war in 1946, and finally arrived at G&M’s warehouses in Elgin in 1967 (not that it spent 21 years on the road, mind you), where it spent 32 further years. Colour: gold. Nose: well, this is rum and it could certainly not be anything else, and certainly not wine brandy. Starts extremely aromatic, on ultra-huge notes of sugar cane and fantastic herbal notes (dill, Colombo spices), then fabulous woods (red cedar and sandal plus the same hints of thuja as in the Armagnac), then quite some incense, then ripe plums, then puréed black olives (what we call tapenade here in France)… What a stuning nose! Endless development on all things woody and spicy – absolutely terrific spirit. And these wonderful ‘rancid’ notes that one can find in old rums. Mouth: punchy and majestic – and certainly not overly woody this time. Beautiful notes of Corinth raisins, sugar cane of course, bitter oranges and very ripe bananas, then all kinds of spirits such as date or fig from the middle-east, then fir honeydew, then rum-soaked (obviously) sultanas, then a little ginger, turmeric and cardamom… And more oranges, more cane sugar syrup, crystallised pineapples… All that in a perfect oakiness, not dominating at all. But beware of rumoporn, better cut this here. Finish: rather long, wonderfully raisiny and orangey. Comments: amazing to which extent the original notes of sugarcane remained intact here. Absolutely superb but dangerously drinkable… Could this have been whisky? No way! SGP:651 - 92 points. (and thank you, Heinz!)
And another horror on WF: a quick mix of all three spirits (equal parts). On the nose, it’s the rum that really dominates its buddies, even if the whisky does have it say in the background (cut apples, mushrooms). The palate is very good, but once again it tastes more like old rum. The latter does tame the Armagnac’s and the whisky’s excessive tea-like tannicity, the whole displaying a very appealing spicy/chocolaty/raisiny character. Anyway, this is a fun drink, and maybe some bottlers should try to combine various golden spirits and to produce such a ‘global dram’ (even if I doubt they would ever use spirits from the ‘30s/’40s). But how would one call it? Rumskignac?

MUSIC – Recommended listening: best of Krautrock, these guy were really in advance! They were the German superband Can, this time playing Spray in 1973... Please buy Can's music!


March 26, 2009



Glenfiddich 1991 'Don Ramsay' (40%, OB, 2005) Don Ramsay is Glenfiddich's head cooper. This batch was made out of no less than 225 casks. Colour: pale gold. Nose: typical Glenfiddich, maybe a tad drier than usual at first nosing and a tad more vanilled. Whiffs of dandelions, cornflakes, fresh mint leaves, then roasted nuts and overripe apricots. Quite some milk chocolate as well, and finally obvious whiffs of newly sawn oak. Nice nose. Mouth: rather punchy at 40%, with the oak playing the first parts (hints of pencil shavings – no, that isn’t as bad as it sounds – and strong tea.) Gets then fruitier, more on light banana notes and strawberries, and finally quite spicy, all from the oak I guess (a lot of nutmeg and cinnamon.) Finish: medium long, with added notes of crystallised oranges that go well with the spices. Comments: the oakiness is just at the limits when considering Glenfiddich’s soft profile, but otherwise it’s excellent malt whisky. SGP:431 - 83 points.
Glenfiddich 21 yo 'Rum Finish' (40%, OB, Cask selection #19, Bottled +/- 2008) This is the older Havana Reserve, now with batch numbers ala A'bunadh. Colour: full gold. Nose: much richer than the 1991 of course but not exactly rummy. Quite some sultanas and honey, then sweet white wine (late harvest gewurz’), vanilla crème, tinned litchis, oriental wood (sandal, cedar), even incense… Gets more and more fragrant but, once again, not rummy. Mouth: round and creamy, more powerful and candied than the 1991 but, once again, not exactly rummy. White-fruits fruit cake, soft oak and soft spices (white pepper, cinnamon), gingerbread and speculoos. Finish: just like the 1991 this time, the finish is a tad too oaky for our taste but still clean and fresh. Comments: simply very good. SGP:531 - 85 points.
Glenfiddich 21 yo Millennium Reserve (40%, OB, +/-2000) Colour: gold. Nose: quite superb, complex, delicately flowery and perfumy (musk, old roses) and then wonderfully fruity, with some of the fruits that we already had in the ‘Rum Finish’ (litchis) but also kumquats and tangerines. Hints of coriander. Gets maybe just a tad too milky/buttery after a moment but nothing unpleasant. Mouth: very excellent now, nervous, fruity, spicy, complex, subtle, balanced… A good step above its bros, with a little more of everything actually, and very distinctive notes of blood oranges. Also hints of cranberry juice – pretty unexpected. Finish: rather long, still very complex, with added notes of milk chocolate and more spices too. Comments: a great dram, too bad there were these slightly offbeat milky notes on the nose, otherwise we would have reached 90 on our modest scale. Oh, and it’s so drinkable! SGP:631 - 88 points.

proposes his malt cocktails for the Springtime

TODAY: "Strawberry field"

Pour into a tumbler, with ice:
- 6 cl Auchentoshan Classic 40%
- 2 cl strawberry liqueur
- 1/2 lemon juice
- Finish at will with orange juice
Stir and decorate with berries and (if you have one!) a wheat leaf.
You may change it into a "so trendy" smoothie, substituting the strawberry liqueur with strawberry juice, using a blender/mixer, and with crushed ice instead of big ice cubes.


MUSIC – Recommended listening: André Prévin's ex-wife Dory Prévin sings a very scary song in 1970, called With my Daddy in the attic. Or the art of contrasts... Please buy Dory Prévin's music!

Dory Previn

March 25, 2009



This is no joke, this is not April 1st, it seems that you can indeed smoke any beverage yourself, just like Portland’s Lance Mayhew does. According to him, you could use a barbecue and ‘draw smoke off of the barbecue, cool it and give it a place to pass over the alcohol.’ Another solution is to buy a smoking gun and to load it with peat (widely available, just google peat briquettes). We didn’t try to do it yet, but be sure we will, maybe in summer (with due precautions and not using cask strength whisky!)

Prime Blue


Prime Blue (40%, OB, Morrison Bowmore, Asia, Pure Malt, +/- 2008) Prime Blue (http://www.primeblue.com.tw) is a very successful brand in Taiwan, with more than 1Mio bottles sold per year. Nice music on the website too! Colour: full gold. Nose: round, malty and caramelly, pretty inoffensive but certainly balanced. Goes on with pleasant notes of yellow flowers, honey and bananas flambéed, apricot pie and just hints of peat of the background that prevent it from being too soft. Perfectly composed, I’d say, despite the rather heavy notes of hot caramel that get a tad too obvious after a while. Mouth: sweet, malty and caramelly, reminding me a bit of JW Black even if this is no grain. Apricot pie, apple pie, roasted peanuts, brownies, malt, honey, café latte… You see what I mean. No traces of peat at this stage. Pleasant. Finish: here’s the flaw, it’s very short, leaving an obvious bitterness in the aftertaste, maybe from E150 – or maybe not! Comments: perfectly fine, and the lack of finish will get unnoticed anyway, as soon as one or two ice cubes will be added to this baby. SGP:331 – 75 points.
Prime Blue 12 yo (40%, OB, Morrison Bowmore, Asia, Pure Malt, +/- 2008) Colour: dark gold. Nose: strangely enough, this older version is less expressive than its younger sibling, as well as a little grassier. It also seems that there’s a little more peat, leaves and leather, and less straight ‘caramelly honeyness’. Very nice nonetheless on the nose. Mouth: good attack, once again rather drier than the NAS version. More peat, more spices (quite some pepper, cardamom powder, nutmeg), more oak and more orange marmalade. Good body too. Finish: not too long but ‘existing’, with more citrusy notes. Hints of bergamot. Comments: this is simply good and pretty flawless. A good surprise, and most certainly a high-level discotheque whisky, nicely packaged. SGP:352 - 80 points.
Update: Ho-cheng tells us that these good malts are marketed by Suntory Taiwan (not Japan) and that the 12yo was rated No.1 in a pure malt blind tasting competition in 2008.
Dam-ba (40%, Ian McLeod, Asia, Pure Malt, +/- 2008) On the front label: ‘very extra old pure malt scotch whisky’. Very extra old? Let’s see… Colour: full gold. Nose: strange, very strange… And completely different from the Prime Blues. Much drier, kind of tea-ish, peatier as well, leafy/grassy, on the verge of being cardboardy. Old walnuts. Actually, it’s rather nice once again, only very different. Hints of diesel oil and plain kerosene come through after five minutes. Let’s see what happens on the palate, it could either be great, or a complete disaster… Mouth: no it’s no disaster, quite the contrary, even if this is in no way as balanced (some would say commercial) as the Prime Blues. Starts spicy and leafy, with a lot of peat (say half a Talisker’s peatiness) and a lot of spices (first pepper and ginger, then paprika, soft chilli), lacking maybe only a little more depth. Goes on with quite some lemon marmalade and even more ginger, the peat getting even more obvious at the end. Smoked tea. Finish: we’re back on more malt and caramel but there’s always quite some peat. Comments: big surprise, this is very good despite the 40%, and despite a little lack of balance. Recommended! (if you live in South-East Asia). SGP:245 - 83 points.


MUSIC – Recommended listening: Texas' very famous country singer Kimmie Rhodes singing All In all (from her CD Walls fall down). Please buy Kimmie Rhodes' very sweet music.

Kimmie Rhodes

March 24, 2009

Duncan Taylor <- Leafing through Duncan Taylor's original bond book in 2006. What an impressive list of old casks!
Macduff 39 yo 1969/2008 (40.8%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #3668) Colour: straw. Nose: rather shy at first nosing, maybe a tad cardboardy, but gets then more emphatic, on fresh almond milk, walnuts and pine resin. Hints of green bananas, freshly sawn oak. Returns on a lot of almondy notes, which we find nice. A lot of fresh mint after ten minutes, even plain menthol. Mouth: quite some oak of course but balance is kept. This old whisky is well alive, even if the big mintiness and the growing notes of green tea and nutmeg makes it more and more drying. Finish: a little bitter at this point. Olives picked directly from the tree, liquorice wood, aniseed. Comments: somewhat pastis-like. Wood matured pastis? That’s an idea! Anyway, cask #3681 bottled in 2006 by Duncan Taylor was way better in our opinion – quite a stunner actually (WF 91) SGP:361 - 80 points.
Glenrothes 38 yo 1970/2009 (42.3%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #10577) Colour: pale gold. Nose: very different from the Macduff, much fruitier (bananas, ripe apples) even if there’s a slight feintiness, which is a little bizarre here. Butter, beer. More kirschy notes as well. This one does not smell ‘old’. Closes up a bit after a moment, which was unexpected and reminds us of some wines. Needs a long time before it opens up again, more on pineapples and verbena. Mouth: good attack, balanced, more candied and almost a little caramelly, with an obvious maltiness and notes of cornflakes and café latte. Coffee liqueur. Finish: rather long, just a tad tannic. Slightly rummy. Comments: this one doesn’t quite match some of the stellar 1968s and 1969s by the same bottler – many have reached 90+ in y book, but it’s still very good old whisky, not too tired. SGP:461 - 85 points.
Caperdonich 39 yo 1969/2008 (42.2%, Duncan Taylor, Lonach) These old Caperdonichs are almost never disappointing, and probably some of the best BFYB old malts on this little planet. Colour: straw. Nose: unusual for sure, starting on something like cold herbal tea. Chamomile is very obvious, as well as a little anise and mint just like in the Macduff. Goes on with beautiful hints of citrons, tangerines and even mangos, and finally a little vanilla crème and an unusual grassiness that reminds us of Japanese green tea (the one they use for cooking). Beautiful nose. Mouth: as always, this could have been overly drying and woody but it isn’t the case – at all. Good attack, good body, a fresh fruitiness (fresh pineapples) and just a little mint. Alas, the whole drops quite a bit in the middle, leaving just some notes of lemon and white pepper. Finish: rather short but clean and, once again, not drying. Comments: an excellent old dram for whisky lovers that aren’t always seeking power (and glory, err…) Too bad there was this slight weakness on the palate. SGP:441 – 87 points.
Caperdonich 36 yo 1972/2009 (55.6%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #7421) Colour: full gold. Nose: this is superb! Magnificent notes of dried apricot, figs, prunes and dates combined with notes of mocha, nougat and cream puff. Maybe a tad decadent? I’m joking… With water: some rather superb farmy/vegetal notes arise and the fruitiness gets even bigger. High-end coffee, soft spices, aromatic woods, ‘arranged’ rum… Wonderful! Mouth (neat): wonderful, punchy, rich, nervous, with a lot of fruits that sort of keep the obvious oakiness at large. Lemon sauce, quinces, aniseed cake... With water: more of the same, with the citrusy part getting bigger. Unexpected saltiness (smoked fish?) Finish: long, clean, fresh, fruity and spicier now (mustard, 4-spices). Comments: well, this is no surprise. Most of these 1972 Caperdonichs from DT’s are brilliant, with the one for The Nectar (50.3%-126 bts) topping the list (WF 93). Highly recommended. SGP:542 - 91 points.
Glen Grant 36 yo 1972/2009 (46.2%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #8948) Colour: straw. Nose: we’re obviously a little below the Capderdonich in terms of complexity but the ‘pleasure factor’ is almost as high. We’re a little more on ripe apples, butter pears, vanilla custard and crystallised oranges. Develops towards more notes of fresh oranges, with just a little ginger and nutmeg. Very, very elegant. Mouth: fruity, fresh, youthful yet complex, delicately spicy (cinnamon)… Tangerines and gooseberries, ripe apples (do you know star crimson?), praline and nougat… Simply very good. Finish: rather long, with the spices playing louder now. Quite some pepper and a lot of ginger (you have to like that). Comments: an excellent old malt that proves that Glen Grant can be great even without a heavy sherry treatment. A little more complexity would have pushed it towards 90/91 points, and maybe it had a death seat after the Caperdonich. By the way, you don’t ignore that Caperdonich and Glen Grant are very close neighbours, do you? To the point where Caperdonich had been christened ‘Glen Grant #2’ when it was built in 1898. SGP:531 - 89 points.
Glen Grant 38 yo 1970/2009 (49.9%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #3494) Colour: gold. Nose: this one has a hard time after the 1972. Closed, then simply very grassy. Water should help. With water: wow, water really works like a 1000W amplifier here! Fab ‘fruity grassiness’, stunning ‘mouldiness’ (I know, mouldiness shouldn’t be stunning)… Not unlike the inside of a well-kept cigar humidor. If the palate matches this nose, we have a winner. Mouth (neat): very close to the 1972, only more powerful and with added flavours of lemon squash and drops. Lemon balm syrup. With water: oh, too bad, that did not work this time. Don’t get me wrong, water did not make it weaker or anything, it just didn’t add any extra flavours. Maybe just a slight ‘farmy grassiness’ which is what often happens when you add water. Finish: rather long, rather grassy. Comments: I had thought this one would defeat the 1972 but that didn’t happen on the palate, quite the contrary. Oh well… SGP:451 - 88 points.
Glenlivet 39 yo 1968//2008 (41.4%, Duncan Taylor, Lonach) Colour: straw. Nose: hard times! The Caperdonichs were superb, the Glen Grants were excellent… And this Glenlivet is shy and silent, mostly on cut grass, fresh almonds, fresh walnuts and hints of hay and wet papers. Blackcurrant buds. Whiffs of paraffin and linseed oil. This seems to be for lovers of grassy whiskies! Mouth: better than on the nose for sure, and more directly enjoyable even if we’re curiously close to plum spirit here. Slightly bubblegummy (and on strawberry sweets). Cake. Finish: medium long, with a little more wood. Comments: let’s face it, I’ve made a mistake when I decided to put the Glenlivets after the Caperdonichs and Glen Grants. It would have been better off after the Macduff. Pretty good, but rather uninspiring spirit. SGP:341 – 79 points.
Glenlivet 39 yo 1970/2009 (52.6%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #2009) I guess cask #2009 had to be bottled in 2009! Colour: dark straw. Nose: rougher than the 1968 but just as grassy. Cut grass and almonds. Not much else but maybe water will help. With water: improves a bit indeed, but we’re still very grassy and austere here. Unusual coastal notes (even twenty minutes after it was watered down), seaweed, sea breeze. Other than that it’s shy whisky. Mouth (neat): this is obviously better than the 1968 but just as on the nose, it’s rough and grassy spirit. And dry as a bone! With water: no development I’m afraid. The good news is that it’s very ‘straight and clean’ now. Finish: medium long, hard to define. Many friends would just say ‘good malt whisky’. Comments: very good old whisky but as several official bottlings have already shown, Glenlivet may need quite some sherry to rise above standards. SGP:341 - 81 points.
Glenlivet 39 yo 1968/2008 (53.6%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #5246) Colour: full gold. Nose: unbelievable that this comes from the same distillery! It’s much more assertive, almost wham-bam, interestingly spirity (top-notch white rum) and getting wilder and wilder (game, shochu). Also wet stones, wet dead leaves, mushrooms… A tad whacky but we like this! With water: more mushrooms and even something slightly peaty/smoky. Old leather and kumquats, mild grassy cigars (Dominicans). Mouth (neat): very big attack, really punchy and, once again, very ‘different’. Chlorophyll, resins, pink pepper, saffron… All that is a little rough, bitterish and ‘green’ I must say. With water: right, water helped a bit this time. Very nice notes of grapefruits and bitter oranges. Cinchona, ginger tonic. Who said Campari? Finish: long, with more oak and more spices, all from the pepper family. Not drying, though. Comments: unquestionably the best of the three Glenlivets, but not quite in the same league as the Caperdonichs/Glen Grants. SGP:352 - 83 points.


MUSIC – Recommended listening: Australia's brother-sister duo Angus & Julia Stone do this very nice song called Here we go again (from their 2007 CD A book like this). Please buy the duo's music!

Angus and Julia Stone

March 23, 2009



Talisker 1991/2004 'Distillers Edition' (45.8%, OB, Amoroso finish) Colour: full gold. Nose: it’s always quite noticeable that the ‘DEs’ do let the original distillery’s character shine through (right, maybe not Glenkinchie’s…), which is the case once again with this Talisker. We get a lot of leather, shoe polish, soot, fresh walnuts, freshly ground pepper, peat, new rubber boots (just hints) and seawater, then an added layer of chocolate and orange jam (maybe Pimm's No. 1) that work well. More coastal notes (oysters, oyster sauce) and even more leathery tones after a while. Mouth: big, extremely creamy and zesty at the same time, with a lot of pepper (they must be throwing ground black pepper into the casks at some point!) and a lot of peat combined with orange marmalade and lemon blossom honey. Very rich, almost thick, evolving towards cloves and more orange, the sherry as such being rather discreet even if this is thicker and sort of fatter than the average Talisker. Gets maybe just a tad sugary (orange drops) but the pepper keeps it balanced. And there’s more and more dark chocolate… Finish: long. Ever tried peppered chocolate filled with orange marmalade? Comments: maybe the sherry finishing was aimed at making a smoother version of Talisker, but like we already checked with other batches, that failed miserably ;-). SGP:546 - 88 points.
Talimburg 24 yo 1984/2008 (52%, The Whisky Fair, rum finish, 244 bottles) Maybe more double maturing than finishing here, as this one spent more than two years in a rum cask (maybe not first fill, having said that). Colour: straw. Nose: unusual! Much more buttery and ‘creamy’ than expected, and much more flinty/mineral as well. Keeps changing, passing by lime peeling, wet wool, wet chalk, fermenting hay, Jägermeister, oregano, chives (very huge notes of cooked chives, actually)… A different fruitiness only comes through after a looong time, with an oranges/molasses combo that’s rather unusual once again. Finally gin fizz. This one needs a lot of time on the nose, but then it gets very pleasant. Mouth: a little disconcerting at the attack, as if it was hesitating between some sort of ‘lemon confectionary’ and a full load of peppery notes. There’s also more rum than on the nose (vegetal/sugarcane). It’s finally the traditional Talisker character that wins the game, with as much pepper as in the DE, maybe even more. Also traditional mustard (‘moutarde à l’ancienne’), not the sweetish swill that some make ‘somewhere’ and a growing grassiness. Finish: long and unexpectedly similar to the DE (chocolate, pepper, oranges). Comments: it’s as if Talisker will always defeat the invaders, no matter who they are (read which kind of wine/spirit). Anyway, his is very good once again. SGP:357 - 87 points.

MUSIC – Recommended listening: best of noise. This amazing band is Japanese and they're called Boredoms. Have a try at this great track called Ante 10 (warning, large file) and maybe, just like us, you'll think that there's still something new and interesting to come out of the rock scene (yes, even after FZ)... Please buy Boredom's music.


March 22, 2009

TASTING – FOUR 1976 ARDBEG (a perfect Sunday session)

Ardbeg 1976
Ardbeg 1976/2004 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseur’s Choice) Colour: pale gold. Nose: wow, even at 43%, this tells us how much Ardbeg was a fabulous whisky back in the mid-1970s (not that it isn’t anymore, mind you.) Exceptional mix of leather, tar, liquorice, warm butter, cough syrup, iodine, horseradish, kelp, caramelised apples and diesel oil. Only lacks a little length on the nose. Mouth: excellent body and powerful attack but once again, that doesn’t last for too long, which may well be this one’s only flaw. Both ashier and fruitier than on the nose (more cooked apples) but also beautifully salty and coastal, with notes of cough syrup and almond milk, getting then more citrusy. Finish: too bad it’s a tad shortish but other than that it’s perfect, with something flinty like in some white sauvignons. Comments: top notch Ardbeg as far as the profile is concerned but lacks just a little oomph to make it to 90+ in my book. SGP:457 - 89 points.
Ardbeg 24 yo 1976/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, for World of Whisky, 648 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: a more powerful and more austere version of Ardbeg, much more mineral, flinty, lemony and almondy/resinous. On the other hand, there’s rather less medicinal and coastal notes than in the G&M, although those do show up a bit after a few minutes. Different, but high-class. Smells way younger. With water: unexpected whiffs of cooking cabbage – well, not really unexpected, we already had that with various old Ardbegs. Leek, wet wool, stale seawater, then tobacco, fresh newspapers and a return on porridge and other soaked grains. Like many old Ardbegs, this one tells you a story. Mouth (neat): indeed, this is one of these ultra-zesty Ardbegs, probably not too complex but stupendously lemony and salty (frankly, somebody must have thrown two or three fistfuls of salt into this barrel!) With water: oh nohhh! It falls apart and gets cardboardy, dry and tea-ish. This one swims like a horseshoe, so much for an islander! Finish: superb when @50% vol. but not too nice @+/-40%. Strange! Comments: I shouldn’t have tried it with water (hah, amateur conscience), it would have gone much higher on my scale. SGP:367 - 88 points.
Ardbeg 1976/1999 (56%, OB, Manager's Choice, sherry cask, warehouse #10, cask #2391, 497 bottes) Colour: dark amber. Nose: oh, this is another variation, and another interesting one. Starts on quite some coffee liqueur and chestnut liqueur that get progressively more tarry and meaty, to the point where it starts to smell almost like plain beef stock after a while. Spectacular heavily sherried malt so far, ‘Ardbeg’ working almost as a seasoning here. At deeper nosing there are myriads of leathery and resinous smells, wonderful! With water: superb. We’re very close to an exceptional Havana cigar (nothing to do with the cheapy-crappy whisky+cigars marketing lines.) Mouth (neat): bang! Immensely rich, salty, smoky, tarry, chocolaty, raisiny (not sweet raisins) and fantastically dry. Cough drops (Pulmoll), tar liqueur, bitter oranges, brown tobacco (untipped Gauloise)… Can malt whisky be bigger? With water: it’s a kind of fruitiness that comes out with water, somewhere between orange marmalade and, quite unexpectedly, lychee liqueur. Right, just a drop! Maybe a tad disconcerting at this stage. Very fruity. Finish: maybe not the longest old Ardbeg but balance is perfect – and everything is there, well in place. Comments: a very ‘wide’ malt whisky, let’s only hope it’s not only history. SGP:467 - 93 points.
Ardbeg 1976/2002 (53.1%, OB, cask #2390, Feis Isle 2002, 494 bottles) Of course we tried this one several times before but we never wanted to publish tasting notes as it was part of a very traumatic experience back in 2002. To cut a long story short, somebody stole several bottles of this one (and other fab Islayers) while we were flying back from Islay in 2002, thanks to the interstellar level of incompetence of both Heathrow and Swiss. We needed seven years to recover… Colour: dark amber. Nose: we are not very far from the old MC (a sister cask!) but this is certainly more ‘chiselled’ and both more austere and more majestic. An amazing nose where beef stock (yes, again), leather, bitter oranges, eucalyptus, chocolate, unlit Habano, game, old car engine, cooked seashells, dried seaweed, wet leaves, smoke and pumpernickel (wet black bread) keep whirling tirelessly. With water: this cask must have been touched by a god (pick your favourite). Mouth (neat): okay, the sister cask was a scoundrel, this one is a lady. Same flavours and feelings (please read above) but subtler, more serene, more appeased… In short, simply more elegant, and isn’t elegance what we all miss and lack in f****g 2009? I don’t know why, this one makes me think of Joni Mitchell (strange how our brain works, eh!) With water: more of the same, with a little more salt. Finish: eternal. Comments: you should try to put your hands on one of these bottles. SGP:457 - 96 points (unchanged). PS: if I remember well, this was priced at £99...


MUSIC – Recommended listening: The New Pornographers' Neko Case does a rather rooty song called Buckets Of Rain. Please buy Neko Case's music...

Neko Case

March 20, 2009



Pittyvaich 12 yo (54%, James MacArhur, cask #15096, +/-1989) James MacArthur had several young Pittyvaichs, all rather good. Colour: gold. Nose: very powerful, rather aggressive, hugely grassy and a tad soapy and spirity. Doesn’t sound too nice but water may work here… With water: it got much more approachable but still big, with more overripe apples but also quite some wood smoke and toffee. And ‘a peatiness’. Mouth (neat): ultra-sweet attack, all on pineapple sweets and strawberry sweets, with a lot of alcohol. Indeed, unreduced fruit spirit. With water: I wouldn’t say it got any more complex. Fruit spirit and liqueurs, quince, apples and hints of orange blossom water (oriental pastries, Turkish delights.) Finish: long, still very fruity, with just a little pepper from the wood. Comments: a rather simple malt but its ‘natural’ side makes it appealing. Less smokiness on the palate than on the nose. SGP:642 - 83 points.
Pittyvaich-Glenlivet 13 yo 1977/1991 (58.4%, Cadenhead, black dumpy) A sherried version that I already tried (and loved) but I never wrote proper tasting notes. Time to repair that. Colour: dark amber. Nose: rather aggressive again but there’s a lot of chocolate and coffee, which I like. Then parsley and chicken broth. A bit hard without water, though, so with water: once again, water worked beautifully. Superb espresso coffee with high-end schnapps and a faint peatiness. Mouth (neat): strong, very sweet just like the JMcA but with the added layer of sherry (chocolate, prunes) that make it more complex. With water: excellent, huge fruitiness (oranges and grapefruits first, then pineapples and strawberries) and always these coating notes of coffee, prunes and chocolate. No meatiness on the palate, though. A little liquorice. Finish: extremely long, on fruit-filled chocolates. Comments: I had scored this one 90 a few years ago but I’ve been a little dubious about that score since then… I was wrong. Big whisky and another great old dumpy. SGP:653 - 90 points.
Pittyvaich 29 yo 1979/2008 (50.2%, Duncan Taylor, Rarest of the Rare, cask #5640, 139 bottles) Sister casks #5637 and #5639 haven’t been much to my liking (sugary) so let’s see… Colour: gold. Nose: austere, raw, grassy, not far from the 12yo by JMcA, only more vanilled and a little more polished. Porridge. With water: it doesn’t develop as much as the youngsters, getting only easier and more rounded. Vanilla, hints of wet paper, grass. Mouth (neat): exactly the same happens on the palate, a huge, raw whisky with a big grassiness and notes of candied fruits plus quite some oak. Not easy. With water: this is better and we’re now extremely close to the 12yo by JMcA. Frankly, it’s exactly as if 29-12=17 more years of maturing didn’t change anything to this Pittyvaich. Probably a multiple refill cask. Finish: long, fruity and, well, very young. Comments: it seems that this cask is rather better than former bottlings from the same series, but don’t expect to find the mellowness and zenitude of an old well-aged Speysider. SGP:631 - 83 points.

proposes his malt cocktails for the Springtime

TODAY: "Danish in the bush"

Pour into a shaker, with ice:
- 6 cl Bushmills Malt 10 yo 40%
- 1,5 cl Cherry Heering
- 0,5 cl white mint liqueur (e.g. Get 31)
- 3 cl pink grapefruit juice
Shake then strain into a cocktail glass decorated with a shamrock.
May also be served on crushed ice to obtain a "Frozen Danish in the bush"


MUSIC – Recommended listening: let's have some funk today with India's 'original diva of soul' Asha Puthli and her Lies (1973). Asha notably sang with Ornette Coleman and Tom Jones, which says long about her ecclectism. Please buy her music!

Asha Puthli

March 19, 2009



Springbank 1965/1988 (46%, Moon Import, The Birds, cask #367, 504 bottles) From a butt. Colour: dark amber. Nose: a very evanescent fruitiness (oran… whoosh) and then the most magnificent meatiness one can find in whisky, combining plain beefsteak and venison. I’m not kidding, this smells just like a wonderful piece of cooked meat. Make that tournedos Rossini (beef filet topped with foie gras and mushrooms). Mouth: no, it does not taste like tournedos Rossini! We have rather a huge yet complex fruitiness involving tropical fruits (dried lychees, avocado milk, kumquats, coconut liqueur and so on) and countless soft spices. The rest will remain between me and this malt ;-). Finish: not excessively long but rich and candied, mainly on dried dates and orange-flavoured caramel. Comments: the only problem with these whiskies is that their greatness is expected, so no surprises. What a pity! Now, this at cask strength would be… unimaginable! SGP:532 - 93 points.
Springbank 34 yo 1964/1998 (52.2%, Cadenhead's, sherrywood) Colour: amber/brown with red hues. Nose: aw! Once again, there’s a lot of sherry but this time we’re much more on old Chambertin, with these exceptional notes of wild cherries and a smokiness that’s not to be found in Springbank anymore. You may add to that a litany of ‘secondary’ aromas such as prunes, cigar box, ‘old Jaguar’ (sounds very pre-credit crunch, doesn’t it!), horse saddle, black truffles (and something petrol-like), old books… Better stop now. Mouth: punchy and invading, thick and oily yet elegant, still on crystallised cherries and prunes, with quite some chocolate, Grand-Marnier, hints of malt extract (just hints!), stout and burned cake (brownies). More cherries after that and an unexpectedly growing fruitiness (even more cherries!) Finish: medium long, with a very faint sourness that may be this one’s only flaw – and a tiny one. Comments: an old liqueur with a Springbank label ;-). Superb anyway! SGP:641 - 92 points.
BONUS – The grand horror! We secretly took this photograph at Oostende’s whisky festival last year and we think it should give you a good idea of the current state of affairs in the whisky collectors’ world. Some seem to be ready to go to any extremities! What a wonderful, terrible world… ;-)


MUSIC – Recommended listening: the very excellent (and Scotsman) ex-Men at Work Colin Hay singing the sad but beautifully soulful Up in smoke. Please buy Colin Hay's music.

Colin Hay

March 18, 2009

“I can't think of anyone else with lower editorial standards, prepared to sanction such low quality drivel. God bless you”, wrote Mike Nicolson in a note attached to the ‘little scribble’ that he just sent us. Agreed, a strange way of pitching but actually, many whisky bloggers or even real life press tycoons would kill to be able to publish some of Mike’s drivel, because just in case you don’t know, he’s one of the most famous - albeit iconoclastic - retired distillery managers (think Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Blair Athol or Lochnagar and several other dream factories). Mike does also share with us the love of The Blues – he’s a guitarist and singer extraordinaire - and a propensity to ride motorcycles faster than he should, according to some of the most skillful surgeons who officiate near Vancouver Island, where Mike now lives because the place ‘has roads, not just a lot of corners joined together.’ So, with no further ado, here’s his ‘low quality drivel’, carefully unexpurgated for Whiskyfun’s most distinguished and indulgent readers. - S.
PS: Mike, can we have more of this drivel?
Mike Nicolson MIKE NICOLSON's

The Distillery Engineer

A Distillers’ life is not a happy one. Well, not true really. Most of the time it’s cool. Even self depreciating, weirdo, insecure, socially challenged, paranoid Scottish persons, can have a good time being a Distillery Manager.
It’s just that when you visit the distillery, you usually only see the “front of house”. The manager will be wearing the slightly frayed, subtly stained, tweed sports jacket, the checked shirt, the flannels and the round toed lace ups. The tie will be completely wrong but, if you’re lucky, it will subtly match the antique nicotine stain on his fingers. This, by the way, is a sartorial “Great leap forward” from thirty years ago, when archetypal Distillery Manager chic involved a brown workcoat, a tweed bunnet and being forty pounds overweight.
The completely forgiving thing is, that the inhabitant of this unfortunate style disaster will, usually be a very nice man……… or woman. Which reminds me, I completely forgot any reference to moustaches or sabre scars.
In spite of carrying the great traditional burden of Scottish low self esteem he /she will be, charming, interested, welcoming, effusive and, will roll his/her “r’s” in a completely engaging way. Amusing stories and anecdotes of distillery life will spring from his/her lips, the tour will be great, and everyone will have a good time. Who says these Scots fellas’ don’t know nothin’ about public relations?
This being so, it’s not the Manager that I would like to feature in this brief epistle but, the unsung hero of Malt Whisky making,……………….the distillery engineer!
Who? Well I’m not surprised you’ve never seen one, sightings are registered on a similar frequency to those of Bigfoot. As far as distillery visitors are concerned they may well be fleeting, illusory, ethereal beings, due mainly to their fear of strangers, particularly white ones but, to the Manager, they are an essential and integral part of keeping the supply of the magic liquids flowing, for your continued delectation.
(God bless you all. Keep up the good work.)
As far as this particular species is concerned there is no derivative type as their personal attributes will range wildly from obsessive compulsive to spaced out hippy trippy “think good thoughts and it’ll go…………..man”. They will be however, similar in appearance, in that they wear the same torn overalls, their battered boots will be forever strangers to polish and one arm will probably be slightly longer than the other, from habitually carrying the toolbox in the same hand. The oil is so ingrained in their hands that sometimes you catch yourself wondering if it isn’t actually leaking out of them. They do share, disarmingly and unaccountably, one common trait, optimism. Good people to have around.
My own experience of distillery engineers has been significant, rich and varied, ranging from Callum, whose conventional approach to mechanical adversity was to use a forever bigger hammer, to Alistair, whose finest work was done on the back of a cigarette packet. From George, who was a sort of, before his time Paul Teuttle to Billy, a not so borderline lush.
Managers and engineers share stuff. They will be there with you, lying in the oil filled culvert, with the blow torch, trying to thaw out the oil supply to the boiler at three o’clock in the morning, in January. They will be apparently happy to help you work in any dark, damp, smelly place, which visitors never see, with your pyjamas sticking out of the bottom of your trousers, attempting to persuade some usually large mechanical device not to have a mind of it’s own.
They share ownership too.
A distillery is a microcosm of society that doesn’t always follow the conventional model. Take managers for instance, they are responsible aren’t they? They live there, they run the Distillery, they worry about the character of the spirit it produces don’t they?
It’s “their” distillery isn’t it? Well, yes, but engineers own it too.
How is it then that distillery operatives will take instruction from their engineer? That shouldn’t happen, according to the closely typed line diagram so thoughtfully produced by the Human Resources Department, to remind us of the way things should be. Respect is the answer.
When things breakdown, everyone sees the engagement of the engineer to get it running again, quickly. He is the man who knows the fine detail of every little wire and pipe, their relationship and function. He is comfortable entering “the belly of the beast”, where it can be sometimes uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, to render mechanical surgery to rapidly restore it’s health. So, it’s “his” distillery too, if you know what I mean. Listen, never mind distillery operatives, anyone will take instruction from engineers, when you’re faced with that kind of commitment, it’s easy.
I’ve been lucky, of the good, the bad and, the cosmetically challenged, all the engineers that I have worked with have been great. Motivated, resourceful, funny (and you need to be pretty damn funny to make me laugh in an oil filled culvert in January) and unfortunately, unsung, so, how about it? Next time you crack the eighteen year old, how about a little toast to the black hand gang.
'May their spanners never be rusty!'
We had been having some periodic trouble with the discharge valve on Washback Number three. For the uninitiated, a washback is a very large, usually wooden, fermenting vessel full of foaming goo which gives off large amounts of carbon dioxide which unsuspecting visitors can be invited to sniff by sticking their heads inside, to hilarious effect.
Several weeks went buy until the valve was driving everyone crazy. Finally, Sandy, the distillery engineer announced that he had “had enough” and was going to take it apart that morning. Several hours went buy until there was a knock on my office door and in comes a rather wet and dirty Sandy but, with a gleam of achievement in his eye. “Hey boss look what I found in that faulty valve” says he, thrusting forth, triumphantly, a pair of very mangled spectacles.
I looked at them for a moment………………….. and then sent him back, to look for a shoe.
- Mike Nicolson
Glen Grant


Please don’t bother with the colours of the whiskies on the pictures, as always they are meaningless. Actually, the version at the right is paler than the one at the left.
Glen Grant 25 yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, licensed, +/-1995) ‘Highland Malt Scotch Whisky’ written on the banner. Colour: amber. Nose: a very nice sherry, very elegant and somewhat antique, with rather emphatic notes of sandalwood, orange marmalade and leather as well as hints of banana skin. Alas, that doesn’t last for too long and the whisky gets then a little simpler, maltier and maybe a tad shy. Mouth: good, malty, sherried, very nutty and caramelly, with quite some sherry but also dry notes of tea and cinnamon. Good body at 40% this time. Finish: medium long, even maltier, on orange cake and more cinnamon. A tad drying. Comments: rather undemanding but good. We’re quite far from all the excellent vintage versions, having said that. SGP:441 - 83 points.
Glen Grant 25 yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, licensed, +/-2008) ‘Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky’ written on the banner. Colour: gold. Nose: quite shy right at first sniffs, with less sherry and a little more butter/porridge. Very faint dustiness. Also a little vanilla, mint and hints of ‘ironed wet fabric’ (if you see what I mean). A very discreet malt whisky. Mouth: once again, this isn’t big whisky at all but the profile is pleasant, with a little sherry but much less than in the older version. A little more fresh fruits (pears, peaches), apple pie and soft spices (cinnamon, a little ginger.) Finish: medium long, with a little more oak now (tea). Comments: likable and, well, nice. It’s a little hard to say much more… SGP:431 - 79 points.


MUSIC – Recommended listening: she's a Kabyle from Algeria and she's a terrific singer, Souad Massi does Yemma (Mummy I Lie To You) (that's on her 2007 live album). You must buy Souad Massi's music!

Souad Massi

March 17, 2009


Ronnie Scott’s, London
March 7th 2009

It’s a full house at Ronnie Scott’s as a trim and dapper Georgie Fame takes to the stage for the first show of the evening. It’s the end of a seven-day residency – “it’s been a long week – and now all we have to do is blow our brains out for ninety minutes – twice”.

Ronnie Scott's London
Fact of the matter is that Fame and his band were probably holding a little in reserve for the second set (veteran saxophonist Alan Skidmore was certainly trying to avoid bleeding lips so early in the evening), but no-one in the audience was going to complain about that. Just like Ronnie Scott’s (this year celebrating a fiftieth birthday), where he’s been playing an annual residency for four decades, Fame is a British jazz institution. And this early Saturday evening audience – birthdays, anniversaries, you name it, they’re celebrating it - are looking for the sort of entertainment that Fame and his band are guaranteed to deliver.
And it’s not just music, fantastic solos almost casually thrown out with the sort of charming insouciance that one might expect from British jazz musicians, that we get. We are, after all, in the presence of one of the great personalities of UK music. Someone whose list of collaborators reads like a who’s who of jazz, R&B (as we used to call it) and even rock. Fame gently reminds us of his rank after song number two, ‘Get on the right track baby’. He leans forward over the keyboard of his Hammond organ (Fame, it is claimed, was among the first British musicians to adopt the Hammond) , and seems to manage to catch the eye of everyone (even those looking at his back) in the audience. Gerorgie Fame
He speaks with the authority of a benevolent uncle who brooks no contradiction. “Now, I personally believe that Ray Charles’ popularity in Europe was solely down to Eddie Cochran, who brought his love of Charles’ music to England when he toured here in 1960. That of course was the infamous tour when he died in a car-crash just outside Chippenham. I was his 16- year-old piano player”. There’s no bullshit here: Fame, whose face and grey hair may give away the years, but whose voice is astonishingly timeless, is the real thing, and he oozes an effortless coolness.
And who wouldn’t be cool with a band like this? Fame’s two sons, Tristan and James Powell, are on guitar and drums. Alec Dankworth, of the great jazz dynasty, is on bass. Anthony Kerr is playing vibraphone, Guy Barker trumpet, and Skidmore, apparently unencumbered by a bandaged hand, saxophone. It’s a band that’s been playing together for 15 years or more. There are more reminiscences from Fame: in “the obituary section” he plays a song he wrote for the recently-deceased Blossom Dearie, who had penned one for him after seeing him perform for the first time in the 1960s, and also recalls composer Steve Gray, who died last year. “This song needs an obituary too”, he says, before introducing ‘Yeah yeah’, his chart hit.
Skidmore rips his way through a solo on ‘Birdy birdy’ (“it’s as close to rock and roll as I can get these days”). And with his own Mose Allisonesque lyrics Fame sings some new songs – ‘All I know’, an exploration of the memory loss that comes with advancing age, and ‘Guantánamo by the sea’, thoughts prompted by a frustrating attempt to get a work permit at short notice to play at New York’s Blue Note Club.
This is a more than satisfactory performance. The playing is outstanding, the band all in equally good humour. And it’s not that we haven’t seen Fame perform before, by himself and with Van Morrison, it’s just that he simply belongs here – ‘forty years at Ronnie Scott’s and nothing changes’ he complains as he struggles to adjust the piano stool. He is, as we sometimes say, ‘in with the bricks’. So if you visit London, and get a chance to see him at Scott’s, then don’t hesitate to get a ticket, whatever the cost. - Nick Morgan
Listen: a nice and famous old one by Georgie Fame and the Blue Fames, Sitting in the park (1966)

proposes his malt cocktails for Spring

TODAY: "Pat is mat!"

Serve into a shot glass:
- 2/3 Power's irish whiskey
- 1/3 Cointreau or Triple sec Combier
This one is a shot, drink it straight. Frozen, cold, or at any temperature you like... but bottoms up!
Could be a pretty good "starter" before celebrating St Patrick :)
Variants: Try to mix another "strong liqueur or spirit" with an irish whiskey you like, to make your own St Pat's shot!
TASTING – FOUR IRISH (‘coz indeed, it’s St. Patrick today)
Greenore 8 yo (40%, OB, Irish grain, Limited Edition, Bottled 2007) Please remember that we are neither too much into grain whisky, nor too much into Irish whisky, so please take all this with a little salt. Colour: straw. Nose: starts on hints of banana and coconut flying around, getting then rawer, grassy and spirity before it finally gets rather silent, with only a little grated coconut and praline remaining. Pretty inoffensive so far, but certainly cleaner and nicer than the early version that we tried back in February 2005 (only 60 points at the time). Mouth: starts on bananas and molasses rum with a little café latte and goes on with the same flavours. Very faint ‘bubblegumminess’. Still a little spirity. Finish: rather short but not unpleasant, on very ripe apples (golden) and simple rum again. Comments: a good ‘dram’, progressing for sure, but maybe not for malt drinkers. Sweet and light, maybe a discotheque whisky that should come in various colours. SGP:420 - 70 points. (scored 100% blind)
Greenore 15 yo (43%, OB, Irish grain, Limited Edition, 5,000 bottles, 2008) Colour: pale gold. Nose: it’s funny how this one smells like some tequila (reposado?) at first nosing, but I must say it gets then shy and very mildly aromatic, with only traces of bourbonny oak and vanilla around a rather vegetal profile as well as notes of wet chalk. A little coconut milk as well. Very soft and a little more complex than the 8yo. Mouth: once again, we’re between various spirits here (rum, tequila and whisky). Vanilla, pineapple liqueur and candy sugar plus a little wood and liquorice. More coconut liqueur after a while (yup, Malibu and the likes). Finish: medium long, sweet and still slightly rummy. Molasses and green tea. Comments: a few steps above the 8yo in our view but still not the thing… Now, it’s most certainly ‘good’ spirit, but it just cannot compare to malt whisky, especially malt whisky by Cooley. SGP:430 - 74 points. (scored 100% blind)
Bushmills '400th Anniversary 1608' (46%, OB, Bottled 2008) Colour: gold. Nose: not that we have tried hundreds of Bushmills before, but this one truly is unusual, with less exuberant fruity notes than usual and firstly much more waxy, leafy and earthy notes, and secondly huge milky and porridgy notes that aren’t too pleasant in our opinion. Yoghurt sauce. A little quirky and bizarre… Mouth: much, much more pleasant on the palate! Round, sweet, malty and grainy in the attack (hence less Busmills-esque once again), but then the notes of bananas and vanilla sugar do kick in. Hints of rosewater, Turkish delights and dried tropical fruits (these mixes that one can buy, sliced coconuts, papayas, pineapples, guavas…) Good palate! Finish: medium long, in keeping with the palate. Comments: not too complex but pleasant, a worthy variation on Bushmills’ usual ueber-fruitiness. SGP:541 - 77 points. (scored 100% blind)
Tyrconnel 15 yo (46%, OB, cask #1852/92, bottled 2008) Colour: straw. Nose: another league, no doubt. Rich, fruity and vanilled at first nosing, getting then much more complex, on Jasmine tea (very obvious), ripe bananas, fresh mint leaves and ripe gooseberries. Very, very nice, aromatic, fresh and clean but not simplistic, even if a tad ‘modern’ in style. Mouth: oily mouth feel and a good attack, much firmer than the three other Irish we just had. Starts on both malty and rummy notes, with an obvious grassiness as well as quite some liquorice and green tea, with a good structure. Gets then a little sweeter and ‘sexier’, with notes of dried apricots, quince jelly and vanilla custard, getting finally leafier and earthier. Hints of pear eau-de-vie. Finish: long, grassier and oakier. Plum spirit. Comments: an Irish with cojones (if you allow me) that reminds us of Saint-Magdalene in a certain way. No, we won’t elaborate any further… SGP:461 - 86 points. (scored 100% blind)

March 16, 2009

Jazz Café, London, February 28th 2009
Dennis Rollins I wouldn’t say the Jazz Café is full – but it’s far from empty and upstairs is largely occupied by happy diners, including (it turns out) the mum of saxophonist James Gardiner-Bateman and her pals. Gardiner-Bateman is one of the young British jazz musicians who form, along with band-leader Dennis Rollins, Badbone, perhaps best characterised as a 21st century funk-friendly incarnation of the early Crusaders.
Rollins himself was a Jazz Warrior, and earlier in his career was closely identified with Courtney Pine – founder of the Warriors - with whom he toured widely. Like Pine (who now has an honorary doctorate and OBE for his troubles), Rollins is deeply committed to musical education in the UK. In addition to his own band he works extensively with other musicians and will shortly be touring the UK with the legendary saxophone player Maceo Parker, a regular performance partner.
Dennis Rollins
Did I mention that Rollins plays the trombone, that most unfashionable of brass instruments - "I got the last instrument in the cupboard" – he told an interviewer, “and just got on with it”. In fact he’s an evangelist for his instrument, and rightly so, because in the hands of someone as talented as Rollins it is transformed from a support into a solo instrument that can easily match anything else in a brass section. Now obviously there has to be a physical skill in mastering such a difficult instrument, but added to this, Rollins brings a huge sense of gusto, or joie de vivre, and not a little technical savvy. He’s actually got more effects and loop pedals in front of him than most self-respecting rock guitarists, and he makes use of them throughout the set.
The content is nicely balanced between funk – ‘Full fat funk’, ‘Where it’s at’ and ‘Funky funk’ – and more melodic songs such as Steven Stills’ ‘Love the one you’re with’ and Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast car’. Rollins leads with his fluid and almost silky playing but was ably abetted by Gardiner-Bateman who contributed some ferocious solos on his alto sax, and by guitarist Johnny Heyes. Supporting are Alex Bonfanti on bass, Mitch Jones on keyboards and Jack Pollitt on drums. It’s a real ensemble show, and Rollins goes out of his way to give his musicians all the space they need to perform, and I’ve no doubt, develop. Dennis Rollins
But it’s no training session – it’s as accomplished a night of well-structured and well-performed jazz funk as you could wish for. And as I observed to the Photographer, if you walked into a club in New Orleans by chance and found these guys playing you’d probably think you’d struck gold. Tribute enough to the irrepressible Rollins and his fellow musicians. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Listen: Dennis Rollins' MySpace page


Auchentoshan 33 yo 1967/2001 (45.3%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 162 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: starts on superb whiffs of overripe apples, old walnuts, orange pekoe and quince jelly, with something slightly ‘antique’ (old waxed furniture, sandalwood, cigar box.) Keeps developing on all sorts of high-end woody notes, butter cream and praline, with just a little olive oil and beeswax and finishes more on eucalyptus wood and faint hints of tiger balm. Perfect ageing, I’d say… More nougat, orange blossom water and vanilla fudge after fifteen minutes. Very ‘gourmand’ but not thick at all. Mouth: rather fantastic, like many of these old Auchentoshans that were filled in top-notch casks. Amazingly fresh and fruity, with quite some apple juice, crystallised pineapples, bergamots, honey and orange marmalade. Gets then a little grassier and woodier, with extremely pleasant spices such as ‘soft’ ginger, star anise and cinnamon plus quite some lemon balm tea. Perfect balance. Finish: rather long, very clean, with a perfect balance between the fruits and the spices (more pepper in the aftertaste). Comments: a very fresh oldie, seemingly bottled exactly when it was at its peak. Reminds me of some old official 1965s and 1966s, only a little fruitier. Excellent but warning, also hugely drinkable. SGP:641 - 92 points.
Auchentoshan 24 yo 1984/2008 (57.2%, Signatory for Vinothek St. Stephan Vienna, cask #265, 186 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: we certainly aren’t very far from the 1967 at first nosing, with the same old wood + nougat combo but also more fruits (juicy fruit, a little bubblegum, strawberry drops…) Also quite some orange liqueur – a lot, actually. Pomegranate syrup. Kind of refreshing. With water: even greater, almost as majestic as the 1967, just a tad more on the fruity side once again. Triple-sec and Alexander cocktail (cocoa crème, gin, cream.) Quite some fresh ginger as well. Mouth (neat): Auchentoshan’s exuberant fruitiness at its highest, with a lot of strawberries and bubblegum propelled even further by the high A.B.V. Also quite some light honey and a lot of spices from the wood (chilli). Interesting and unusual combination. With water: the fruits got a little less demonstrative, leaving more room for vanilla custard and soft spices (masala, cashew sauce). Finish: rather long, clean, more on vanilla, fresh ginger and lemon balm. Comments: excellent Auchentoshan, I had feared it would have been in trouble against the 1967 but not at all. Once again, well done Vienna! SGP:731 – 90 points (and thank you, Walter).

March 15, 2009



When we asked our Taiwanese friend and Malt Maniac Ho-cheng what these odd bottles were, he instantly replied ‘I would recommend you do not drink them – the producer did hold a license from 2005 but it was suspended in 2007.’ No need to say that that rose my curiosity even further, so I asked Ho-cheng to tell me more and this is what he wrote back:

‘By law, it could be a distillery as it held a production licence (can be either distillation or fermentation.) Many of these small distilleries lost their licences simply because they bought industrial alcohol and re-distilled it to get rid of the added methanol. Indeed, the government requires industrial alcohol to include 1% methanol so that there isn’t any spirit taxes to pay. These ‘distilleries’ found it actually cheaper to redistill such industrial alcohol and you can imagine that some may not have been able to take out all of the methanol. That's why I advice you don't even try them.’ Scary, isn’t it? But there’s no such word as ‘can’t’ so let’s at least try to do a partial tasting of these potentially poisonous drams… And simply not swallow!
Noble Whisky (40%, Jiou Tusan Co, Taiwan) Colour: full gold. Nose: covered with a heavy dose of caramel and probably other ‘extracts’, which makes that it isn’t too catastrophic actually – or not for a while. Gets then worse and worse, on stale Schweppes, brand new tennis shoes, glue, boiling milk, just unpacked vinyl record and burning rubber. Mouth: nothing. Caramel in water, cheap gin and Guinness from the day before yesterday. Finish/aftertaste: inexistent but we spat it out anyway. Comments: vile, vile stuff! SGP:420 - 3 points.
Morandy Whisky (40%, Jiou Tusan Co, Taiwan) Colour: pale gold. Nose: rotten oranges on a bed of pencil shavings, topped with an ink-based sauce. Wet gravels, overheated electronics. The good news is that this one quickly dies (or is it me?) Mouth (banzai!): same as the ‘Noble’ one but with less caramel, which makes it actually kind of better. Ginger tonic, cornflakes, plastic and strawberry-flavoured jellybeans. Finish: a tad longer than the noble. Comments: this one is on the verge of being ingestible, and probably better than McDowell’s N°1 Diet Mate! And please don’t be mad at me, but I even drank two drops of it! Waaah, time to go to bed – see you tomorrow, if I survive! SGP:310 - 17 points. PS: see, we’re actually using the whole 100-scale!


MUSIC – Recommended listening: some sweet nostalgia in The Waybacks's beautiful little song Savannah (from their CD Loaded). Please buy The Waybacks' music.

The Waybacks

March 2009 - part 1 <--- March 2009 - part 2 ---> April 2009 - part 1

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



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

Ardbeg 1976/2002 (53.1%, OB, cask #2390, Feis Isle 2002, 494 bottles)

Ardbeg 1976/1999 (56%, OB, Manager's Choice, sherry cask, warehouse #10, cask #2391, 497 bottes)

Auchentoshan 24 yo 1984/2008 (57.2%, Signatory for Vinothek St. Stephan Vienna, cask #265, 186 bottles)

Auchentoshan 33 yo 1967/2001 (45.3%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, 162 bottles)

Caperdonich 36 yo 1972/2009 (55.6%, Duncan Taylor, Rare Auld, cask #7421)

Glendronach 15 yo 'Revival' (46%, OB, 2009)

Long Pond 1941/1999 (50%, Gordon & MacPhail, Jamaican Rum, cask #76)

Pittyvaich-Glenlivet 13 yo 1977/1991 (58.4%, Cadenhead, black dumpy)

Springbank 18 yo (46%, OB, 2009)

Springbank 34 yo 1964/1998 (52.2%, Cadenhead's, sherrywood)

Springbank 1965/1988 (46%, Moon Import, The Birds, cask #367, 504 bottles)