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April 2010 - part 2 <--- May 2010 - part 1 ---> May 2010 - part 2


May 13, 2010


The CSS sessions – Four Glendronach

Glendronach 8 yo 'Octarine' (46%, OB, 2010) Four stars I believe this one will be launched very soon - sorry no pictures yet. It’s a pre-production sample. Colour: full gold. Nose: it’s quite amazing how close this one is to an old-style young Macallan. Sherry, stewed fruits, gunflints, smoke (wood) and flowers (more peonies). The smokiness grows bigger and bigger. BBQ. Also quince jelly and rosewater. Great nose at such young age. Mouth: full bodied, more on oranges this time, marmalade, milk chocolate, toffee and just a little strawberry jam. High quality. Finish: long, getting pleasantly bitter and spicy (liquorice and pepper). Comments: it’s not as ‘wide’ as the recent official 15 and even 18 but what an admirable sherried ‘compactness’. Watch this one when it comes out. SGP:552 - 87 points.
Glendronach 14 yo 1995/2010 (50%, Douglas Laing for Passchendaele 1917 Pipes and Drums, refill butt, 240 bottles) Four stars A bottling for charity – kudos. Colour: white wine. Nose: wood smoke again but much less sherry than in the Octarine. Charcoal, oatcakes, a lot of hay. Really dry but elegant. Muesli, smoked beef. I think water isn’t needed here. Mouth: very fruity, expressive, slightly fizzy. Blood oranges and tangerines plus a little green tea. Perfect body. Finish: long, clean, fruity (more green apples now). Also cranberry juice. Comments: high quality again, with a rather spectacular fruitiness. SGP:642 – 86 points.
Glendronach 1996/2009 (59.1%, Whiskykanzler, Germany, butt #196) Four stars and a half Colour: dark amber. Nose: the old Macallan 10 CS! Big gunpowder, leather, chocolate, prunes and ‘dry’ raisins plus hints of cured ham. ‘Good’ sulphur. With water: spectacular development on fresh mushrooms and cigar humidor. Old leather, Barbour grease. Mouth (neat): thick, rich, both fruity like the 1995 and leathery and tobacco-ish (sherry). Orange liqueur-filled chocolate, Cointreau. With water: more greenness, all great. Also touches of orange blossom water (or the pastries made thereof). Finish: long, with the oak growing bigger. Toasts, flints, a little mint. Comments: perfect old-style sherry monster. SGP:552 - 89 points.
Glendronach 16yo 1992/2009 (60.8%, OB for Versailles Dranken Nijmegen, Holland, 306 bottles) Five stars Colour: dark amber. Nose: more oak in this one and rather less gunpowder. Something earthy, something roasted. Aromatic herbs, chives. Quite beautiful clean dry sherry so far. With water: superb, classic! Very old balsamic vinegar, old rancio, whiffs of wood (pencil shavings). Mouth (neat): very rich and creamy, close to a great rum in a certain way. Cane sugar, Demerara sugar, liquorice and blackcurrant jelly plus cloves and pepper and quite some oak (or toasted bread). With water: resembles the 1996 now but always with these notes of dark rum. Finish: long, lively, fruity, less thick than expected. Comments: an extravagant dram that has quite a reputation – it’s deserved in my opinion. I like it even better than the first time I tried it. SGP:551- 90 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Glendronach that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

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May 12, 2010

Benriach The CSS sessions – Eight Benriach

What the hell is a ‘CSS session’? Well, CSS simply means ‘Cut the Crap, Serge’. Because my ‘rolling’ sample library now reaches alarming levels, I decided to sometimes spend less time writing down lengthy tasting notes but not less time nosing and tasting the whiskies, of course. So get prepared for some expurgated notes from time to time, at least until the sample library gets back to normal.
Benriach 12 yo 1996/2009 (46%, Duncan Taylor NC2) Three stars Colour: white wine. Nose: grassy and flinty, very mineral, less fruity than expected but still quite limey. Apple peelings. Gets then sweeter (ripe apples). Whiffs of cologne. Mouth: very sweet, easy fruits, lemon, apple and pear plus traces of coconut. Gets then grassier but never loses the big lemony notes. Fructose. Finish: medium long, on sweetened lemon juice. Comments: one of these ultra-fresh ones, probably perfect on ice. SGP:641 – 82 points.
Benriach 12 yo (46%, OB, sherry wood, 2009) Three stars Colour: amber. Nose: obvious sherry, coffee and old walnuts, dry. Orange marmalade. Gets then rather leathery and slightly vinous. Cherry stem tea. Hints of cheese (Comté). Then sweeter, Bailey’s, Alexander cocktail. Mouth: creamy, almost as fruity as the NC2 but with an added layer of leather, chocolate and liquorice (big). Bitter oranges. Finish: rather long, more vinous again. Faint dustiness, liquorice wood. Dry, pepper. Comments: not quite my kind of profile but it’s good. SGP:451 - 80 points.
Benriach 12 yo 1996/2008 (46%, Duncan Taylor NC2 for Whisky-Doris, cask #45757) Two stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: a mashier and grainier version of the NC2. Lager, farmyard, apple juice and fermenting hay. Nice ‘organic’ presence. Hints of pineapple drops. Mouth: grassy, mashy, rather bitter. Green tea, chlorophyll, ginger, green cardamom. Finish: long, very spicy. Loads of green pepper. Comments: huge contrast between nose and palate. SGP:371 – 78 points.
Benriach 12 yo 1996/2008 (52.1%, Duncan Taylor NC2 for Whisky-Doris, cask #45757) Two stars and a half From the same cask as the previous one, only at cask strength this time. Colour: straw. Nose: less fruits, more leather and fresh walnuts plus a pleasant flintiness. Damp clay, marzipan. Mouth: we’re close to the reduced version but the higher alcohol seems to bring a lemony tingle. Other than that, even more on green pepper. Finish: long, peppery, grassy. Comments: no need to try it with water, that was done just before ;-). SGP:371 - 79 points.
Benriach 23 yo 1985/2009 (49.0%, Signatory, bourbon barrel, cask #5501, 208 bottles) Four stars and a halfColour: straw. Nose: a big, ultra-grassy and waxy version. Graphite oil and walnut skins the  orange fizz and maybe litchi juice. I like it, it’s very ‘different’. Then more grass and hay. With water: superbly organic. A whole farm. Settles down then, on grapefruit juice and sweets. Mouth (neat): very creamy, oily, thick, on meringue-topped lemon pie. With water: sweet rounded. More coconut from the barrel. Finish: long, sweet, candied. Clean aftertaste on oranges. Comments: excellent. SGP:651 - 89 points.
Benriach 15 yo 1993/2008 (53%, OB for Potstill Vienna, cask #76257, 251 bottles) Three stars Colour: white wine. Nose: whiffs of vanilla, then a lemony grassiness, not too far from the Whisky-Dorisses. Porridge. With water: not much changes. Fermenting grass, raw barley, damp grains. Mouth (neat): powerful, very lemony. Tangerines, angelica. With water: easy sweet and mildly grassy. Good but not much personality. Finish: medium long, on barley sugar and lemon drops. Comments: pretty okay. SGP:461 - 80 points.
Benriach 13 yo 1994/2007 (56.7%, Whiskyfreunde Essenheim, 17 months Port cask, cask #4011, 273 bottles) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: ah, it’s a peaty version this time. Beautiful tobacco, bitter oranges, shoe polish and ‘clean’ manure. Very little Port influence so far. With water: more sweetness comes out. Raspberry jelly – nothing vulgar though. Mouth (neat): wham-bam combination of peat with fresh orange juice and lime juice. Works greatly, reminds me of a peated Signatory that was brilliant a while back. I think it was Sauternized. Finish: same notes, perfect. Nice greenness in the aftertaste (chlorophyll chewing gums). Comments: well done Essenheim. SGP:457 - 90 points.
Benriach 1982 (62.4%, Gordon & MacPhail, Cask series) Three stars and a half Probably very young, it’s an old-style label. Colour: gold. Nose: ouch, this is powerful. Cardboard, vanilla, flour and wet rocks plus a little café latte. Werther’s. With water: pipe tobacco, molasses, vegetables, soy sauce, Barbour grease. Unusual. Mouth (neat): burning! Is there peat now or is there not? Hard to say, such is this one’s hotness. Cough, cough. With water: quite some peat indeed, the rest being so much nicer than on the nose. Creamy vanilla and spices, pepper and liquorice. Finish: long, peppery, gingery, leathery. Comments: a hard one but it becomes wonderful on the palate once you found the right amount of water. SGP:365 - 84 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Benriach that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

MUSIC - Recommended listening: a kind of music that we don't often have on WF, some nice sweet and easy loops by DJ Whitesmith. It's called Benjamin's lane - please buy DJ Whitesmith's music.

DJ Whitesmith

GlenWonka Foreshots



Remember that we managed to get hold of the secret archives of the sadly brankrupt distillery The GlenWonka? Our latest find is this weird project of a new bottling called 'Foreshots', that was to be launched in 2010.

In a press release that was to be broadcasted this month, famous whisky expert Angus W. Apfelstrudel had written: "For immediate release - We knew that several Scottish distilleries were about to launch new make into the market after our successful own ‘The GlenWonka’s Naked Truth’ that we launched last year, that's why we decided to go one step further and to propose sample bottles of our stunning foreshots, with guaranteed methanol content. We plan to propose to the most loyal fans of The GlenWonka further one-off bottlings of our mashing water, wash, low wines and feints, all very fairly priced at £120 a 37.5cl bottle. We believe these highly exciting new bottlings will be a huge success among the most discerning whisky enthusiasts. We are even more delighted because these new bottlings are the quintessence of everything The GlenWonka stands for, which is making the single malt scotch whiskies gin vodka drinks of tomorrow with our past in mind.”

Annoucement: for immediate sale, 32,271 empty refill bourbon barrels and 6 empty refill sherry butts. Please contact Fergus at fergus@thewglenwonka.co.uk.


May 11, 2010


Tasting three official Springbank

Springbank 10 yo '100 proof' (57%, OB, +/-2010) Five stars The version at 46% is superb, let’s see what gives with 11 extra-degrees. Colour: pale straw. Nose: well, it’s Springbank. Oily, fresh, coastal, flinty, slightly farmy, grassy, lemony, porridgy… In short, big. With water: a fisherman’s boat early in the morning after a night of fishing. Also beer, porridge and wet clothes or sheep (right, wool). Aspirin tablets. Mouth (neat): excellent, powerful, lemony, mentholated, zesty and riesling-esque. Quite some grain as well, raw barley, pepper, even a little wasabi or horseradish. More uncompromising than some neighbours from Islay’s south coast. With water: perfect, waxy, flinty and lemony. Finish: long, zesty ad oomphy. Very elegant. Comments: last time we chatted with MM compadre Charlie MacLean I asked him which distillery was closest to ‘old style’ Highlands ala Old Clynelish in his view. ‘Springbank’, he replied. Unsurprisingly, he was right. When this make will be 20 years old it’ll be a crushing winner. Oh, and what an amazing improvement on the older versions of the 100 proof (circa 2004)!!! SGP:373 - 90 points.
Springbank 12 yo 'Cask Strength' (54.6%, OB, +/-2010) Four stars Colour: straw. Nose: more oak influence in this one, more grass, more hay, more leather, more tar, more graphite oil and maybe more peat. Okay, ‘a faint peatiness’. With water: maybe a tad butyric now, hints of sour cream… Then grains and muesli. Flints in the background, clay. Mouth (neat): again, a sweeter and more rounded version of the 10, with more liquorice as well, bitter oranges, pine resin (sweets) and notes of cinchona (Campari-style). With water: gets drier, closer to the ten. Wee tannins, black tea, cinnamon. Lime in the background. Finish: long, more citrusy now. Comments: very good but I tend to like the 10 better for it’s more, err, ‘old Highlands’. SGP:463 - 87 points.
Springbank 12 yo 1996/2009 'Madeira Hogshead' (53.4%, OB, Oddbins exclusive, 179 bottles) Four stars Colour: amber. Nose: we aren’t far from the 12, there’s only an added layer of roasted nuts and smoked tea that covers – okay, masks – part of the wildness. More leather, walnuts, soy sauce and whiffs of menthol. With water: takes water greatly. Old balsamic vinegar, ham, furniture polish, walnut liqueur. Smells like some old sherried whiskies – fino. Mouth (neat): rich, maybe a tad heavy, caramelly for a while, then a bitter leather and something rooty and earthy. And a lot of bitter oranges. With water: worked very well, although I prefer my Springbank naked. Oriental spices and various herbs. Cinnamon from the wood. Finish: long, balanced, orangey, a little tea-ish. Comments: very good once again but to me there’s no need of extra-wine maturation. I know, not my business. Yet, I think I liked the 11 yo 1997/2009 ‘Madeira Wood’ a little better. SGP:562 - 85 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Springbank that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

MUSIC - Recommended listening: some very nice little blues with Vancouver's Marla Guloien singing Don't call me baby. Please buy Marla Guloien's music.

Maria Guloien

May 10, 2010

Tasting four young Bowmore
Bowmore 10 yo 1998/2008 (53.4%, World Liquor Brutus, Japan, refill butt, Cask #800034, 353 bottles) Four stars Colour: white wine. Nose: bang! Ultra-pure, hyper-zesty and hugely flinty young Bowmore that reminds me of the official 10yo ‘Tempest’. Oysters, seaweed, wet rocks and a medium peatiness. Waxed paper, paraffin, fresh walnuts. With water: more of the same plus cow stable. Mouth (neat): an oyster that had bathed in some lemon juice. Crystal-clean, lemony, salty and a little more peated than on the nose. With water: briney but also a little fruitier. Blackcurrant sweets. Finish: long, smokifruity. Juicyfruits and liquorice drops. Comments: the sudden fruitiness on the palate after reduction was unexpected but it’s all good. SGP:465 - 86 points.
Bowmore 1995/2009 (56.7%, Malts of Scotland, 'CLUBS', refill sherry butt, cask #113, 316 bottles) Five stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: starts slightly rounder than the 1998 but gets then almost as zesty, with a slightly bigger peat and a little more vanilla. A little rosemary and sage, whiffs of roses. Maybe a little cardboard too, let’s see what happens with water. With water: it got hyper-coastal so to speak. Crabs, langoustines, clams… ;-). Mouth (neat): interesting, it’s got the same general profile as the 1998 but I do also detect notes of tropical fruits that rather hint at a 1968 Bowmore if you see what I mean. That’s right, mangos, grapefruits, passion fruits… With water: same, with the tropical fruits becoming more distinct. Pink grapefruits. Finish: long, citrusy, slightly resinous. Mint liqueur and coffee. Comments: totally great, not ‘just another very good recent Bowmore’. SGP:555 - 91 points.
Bowmore 1995/2010 'The Dead Mouse Eater' (62.8%, Jack Wiebers, Wanted Series, 180 bottles) Four stars This bottling has a story, the dead mouse eater being… yours truly. Ahem. Let’s see if we find dead clams in this one… ;-). Colour: white wine, almost white. Nose: extremely powerful, a little spirity which is normal and quite medicinal. Antiseptic, mint, aniseed, seawater. With water: extremely similar to the MoS now. Seafood (but no dead clams ;-)) Mouth (neat): bang! Same whisky as the 1998, only a tad more complex and even more powerful at the same time. Huge lemon and ‘oyster water’ plus liquorice and a slight rootiness (gentian spirit). With water: same. Ultra-zesty. ‘A blade’. Finish: long, peaty and ‘chiselled’. Grapefruits. Comments: excellent and emblematic of the make. SGP:466 - 87 points.
Bowmore 16 yo 1993/2010 (59.9%, The Perfect Dram, bourbon hogshead, 209 bottles) Five stars Colour: straw. Nose: we’re close to a bone-dry Riesling here, with some grapefruit and a big minerality. Also some coal, ashes, leaves, tar, roots, lemon… More cask influence than in the ‘dead mouse’ and more iodine as well. With water: now it’s the least coastal of all four but all these fresh herbs are wonderful. It’s also unexpectedly floral (lilies). Quite some vanilla. Mouth (neat): all citrus fruits plus a tiny-wee mint. Huge grapefruit, the whole is very zesty. With water: a wider fruitiness (grapefruits but also hints of passion fruits). Finish: long, citrusy, slightly waxy. Slightly organic aftertaste (herbs and mushrooms, Jägermeister). Comments: this one has got something a tad Longrowish in my opinion. Great, great Bowmore anyway! SGP:556 - 90 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Bowmore that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness
SHORT RAMBLINGS (too long for Twitter! ;-))

After several well-established competitions such as the International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC), the World Whisky Awards (WWA), the Malt Advocate Whisky Awards, the Icons of Whisky Award, the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Awards...

... or the International Spirits Challenge (ISC), the Malt Maniacs Awards (the best of courset - err...) and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SWSC) plus loads of other smaller and sometimes - not always - frankly insignificant yet much trumpetting 'premium international competitions', here's a brand new one, the Spirits of the World Contest. Dodgy English but at least their graphics are appealing... Hats off!


MUSIC - Recommended listening: simply Fathead's Where's the blues taking me. Please buy Fathead's music.


May 9, 2010


Tasting two Octomore

Octomore 'Futures' 2002/2008 (46%, OB, 80.5ppm, Bourbon/Buffalo Trace Casks) Four stars This one was the first official Octomore, sold en primeur and distilled when then peat level was rather lower than today’s. It was about time I ‘formally’ tried this little baby. Colour: white wine. Nose: what strikes me first is the huge ‘maritimeness’ of this, as well as the medicinal notes that seem to have developed in an open bottle. Sea air, antiseptic (mild), bandages, then boiled cereals, muesli, coal smoke and garden bonfire. It’s no peat monster on the nose, but it’s not Blasda-ish of course. Very faint hints of new plastic pouch, or brand new tyres. Mouth: easy and even smooth attack, sweet, unexpectedly fruity, certainly not youngish, with notes of cane sugar and lemon liqueur. There is some tar, a little cough syrup, liquorice, and a very pleasant saltiness. Faint notes of tinned fish (sardines) but it’s not kippery as such. Finish: long, saltier and more coastal but rounded and very drinkable. Comments: this youngster really improved in its bottle. All the youngish notes that it had when the bottle had just been opened have disappeared and this is now mature – and much to my liking. And it’s no extreme peat monster. SGP:437 - 85 points.
Octomore 5 yo '02 2 Orpheus' (61%, OB, 140ppm, 2009) Four stars This heavily peated Octomore has been finished in Pétrus casks, Pétrus being the most famous (and one of the most expensive) of all Pomerols. This rather risqué combination sounds a bit like ‘The New York Dolls play Schoenberg’ (or Ann Coulter reads Engels) to me but what’s sure is that it should be fun (and we’re mucho into having fun with whisky!) Colour: salmon/blush wine. Nose: I’m sorry, all my references are useless here. It doesn’t smell exactly like malt whisky at first nosing, rather like something else, maybe a blend of tequila, crème de cassis and Finnish tar liqueur. What’s interesting is that this slightly reckless attack then transforms into something much more coherent, as if the spirit had defeated the wine. After ten minutes: a slightly rounder version of the previous ‘high-ppm’ version of Octomore (01.1, 02.1). With water: bye-bye Pétrus! I must say I like this nose a lot now. Very faint hints of the best wine vinegars (the Italians excel at that – willingly! ;-)) Mouth (neat): no dichotomy this time, wine and peat mingle right from the start, even if the end result makes me rather think of heavily smoked tangerine liqueur (should that exist) or even of a blend of bubblegum vodka and natural tar liqueur. It’s very unusual, but it’s not dissonant at all. With water: it got excellent, all on Seville oranges and almond oil. Finish: very long, with more notes of oranges. Comments: I had thought I would dislike this slightly ‘dog-and-pony-show’ bottling but I must confess that I really enjoyed it, even if I like the ‘regular’ Octomores better (WF90 for 02.1). SGP:548 - 86 points.

MUSIC - Recommended listening: Chumbawamba's conscious hit Add me and its quirky lyrics. Please buy Chumbawamba's music!


May 7, 2010


Tasting two 1973 Teaninich

Teaninich 1973/2010 (41.8% Berry Bros & Rudd) Four stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: a superb start on wood smoke and quince jelly, assertive and beautifully ‘full’ and balanced. More toasted oak after that, the obligatory but nice vanilla, hints of overripe apples, something slightly ‘oriental’ (fresh baklavas), a little cedar wood, incense and just hints of apple peelings (very nice, lively sourness). Perfect nose. After ten minutes: more cappuccino and marzipan. Mouth: the oak is a little more obvious than on the nose but other than that it’s a sweet, fruity and vanilled malt that’s very sippable. Cinnamon over a mirabelle pie, white pepper, a little barley sugar, a little liquorice… All pleasure. Finish: medium long, with the tannins and the vanilla coating ripe plums. Comments: the palate is a little less complex than the nose but it’s all much pleasant. ‘Good stuff’. SGP:441 - 86 points.
Teaninich 26 yo 1973/1999 (50%, Douglas Laing, OMC, 378 bottles) Three stars and a half Colour: pale gold. Nose: this one starts with the same smokiness as in the BBR but also more greenness, grass, fresh wood (broken branch). Notes of fresh fruits in the background, strawberries, apples, some vanilla and then even more wood smoke and maybe a little coal. Charcoal. Less polished and easy than the BBR. After ten minutes: rather big notes of pils beer but I wouldn’t say this is a very yeasty malt. Also a little liquorice wood. Mouth: this time this one is the fruitiest, with many kinds of plums and dried fruits (apples, a little banana – not fresh) plus a nice spicy combo (ginger and pepper first). Slight roughness, maybe a tad spirity. Finish: long, greener. Tannins, green tea, apple peelings. Just a tad drying in the aftertaste. Comments: another very good Teaninich. SGP:451 - 84 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Teaninich that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

MUSIC - Recommended listening: some quite superb ethnic jazz (what a stupid category name) by percussionist Richie Barshay called Peacock. You can really see a peacock walking... ;-). Please buy Richie Barshay's music.

Richie Barshay

May 6, 2010

Cold London

by Nick Morgan
The Barbican, London, March 9th 2010

Regular  readers of these reviews will know how much we normally enjoy the themed music shows that now seem such a feature of the programmes of both the Barbican and Southbank. 

They may be a tad shambolic and under-rehearsed, but there’s normally a great bond between audience and performers, and a shared sense of excitement  about the fact that no-one can be sure quite where the evening will go.  And the occasionally eclectic combination of performers is not only a great way of being introduced to artists one might otherwise never see (for example, the Photographer’s new favourite Green Gartside)  but can also bring out some stunning interpretations of familiar works.  Sadly then, this evening’s show, Songs in the Key of London, ‘curated’ (as they like to say) by Chris Difford (of Squeeze fame), singly failed to reach the bar set by other shows.  It’s not that there wasn’t a great line up: Kathryn Williams, Suggs, Mystery Jets’ Blaine Harrison,  Robyn Hitchcock and  James Hunter were but a few of the performers. And I wouldn’t fault their enthusiasm, certainly not Difford’s, who visibly willed and nursed many of the performers through their pieces. 

It was just that the whole thing failed to gel, from compere Phil Daniels, almost going through the motions as he read awkwardly from a script, to the accompanying visuals which constantly evoked an assumed  golden age of the late 1960s, through a number of lacklustre performances, and the almost completely monochrome, mono-cultural and mono-chronological nature of the event.  As the music of the wonderful Lord Kitchener reminded us at the start of the show and during the interval, London (like all cities) is nothing if not a melting pot, from whence its cultural strength and richness derive.  Sadly little of this was reflected on the stage during the evening.


Low marks went to Kathyrn Williams, who frankly struggled with show openers  ‘Foggy day in London’ and ‘A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square’, while Chas Jankel and Derek Hussey with the house band never captured the intensity of the Blockheads’ performances of songs like ‘What a waste’, and ‘Billericay Dickie’.    Indeed, the latter being a song whose lascivious references to  Burnham-on-Crouch  and other Essex locations might have disqualified it from inclusion.  I was less than persuaded by Phil Daniels’ performance  of Blur’s ‘Parklife’ with Natty, and James Hunter seemed very out of place singing Donovan’s ‘Sunny Goodge Street’. 

Peggy Sue’s folksy rendition of the Clash’s ‘Guns of Brixton’ was a nice idea, but ultimately prosaic.  Difford sang David Bowie’s ‘London boys’, and later joined Glenn Tilbrook for ‘Up the junction’, but only after Tilbrook had stunned the audience with a rendition of Des O’Connor’s forgettable period piece, ‘Dickie dum dum’, a very inferior take on ‘Engerland swings’.  I found Jools Holland’s bluesy assembly of London musical clichés was little more than an assembly of London musical clichés, and ‘Oranges and lemons’, a tribute to Ian Dury, co-written and performed with Suggs rather weak. 


I wasn’t sure why Rico was asked to struggle through ‘Love’, although he did provide one of the more insightful moments of the evening when asked “what was it like when you came to London, Rico?”,  he answer: “cold”.  And although the performance remained muted, if not a tad self-congratulatory, his  audience certainly warmed up when Suggs returned with Chas Smash  for ‘We are London’ from Madness’s acclaimed recent album The Liberty of Norton Folgate, and ‘Our house’. Personally I think I’d had enough by then, although I confess I couldn’t take my eyes off their impeccable hand-tailored jackets.  In retrospect, the pick of the bunch were probably Robyn Hitchcock singing ‘Tramways of London’, Tunng, who sang John Martyn’s ‘London conversation’, and Blaine Harrison’s  sweet covers of Elvis Costello’s ‘Man out of time’,  and ELO’s ‘Last train to London’.

So we left slightly early, heading into the cold London streets, which meant turning our backs on Elvis Costello singing ‘Hoover factory’ and ‘London’s brilliant parade’, as the encore, and the predictable ensemble performance of the Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’.  A very unsatisfactory evening.  And I sensed my discomfort was shared by many in the audience.  No doubt everyone had come with different preconceptions of what the evening would hold, but I suspect few were realised.  And maybe therein lies the problem.  London is too big a city, with too big a narrative, to be captured in a few hours of songs, mostly drawn from only a few decades of its history. - Nick Morgan


Elvis Costello on myspace


Blair Athol

Tasting two young Blair Athol

Blair Athol 10 yo (40%, Fortnum & Mason, 2010) Two stars and a half Colour: pale gold. Nose: starts extremely easy, fresh and fruity, on a combination of pear juice and barley sugar. Some pleasant whiffs of wild flowers (lilies of the valley). Gets even more pearish after a while. Undemanding, I’d say. Mouth: sweet and light, kind of summery, on apple pie and just a little liquorice. Goes done effortlessly but it isn’t weak. Finish: short but even more on liquorice. Comments: not much happening but it’s pleasant, this one would go well on ice. SGP:431 - 78 points. PS: F&M write that this one ‘has a rich and decadent character’. I guess the copywriter was drunk or under unlikely substances.

Blair Athol 1998/2009 (46%, Berry Bros & Rudd, cask #2157) Three stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: same kind of profile as the Fortnum’s, only a little bigger and more on ripe apples and less on pears. Gooseberries and plums. Very easy! Mouth: once again we’re close to the Fortnum but with more oomph and even more liquorice on top of the notes of apples and light honey. More spices too, ginger, liquorice… A little orange and caramel as well. Finish: medium long, clean, fruity, easy. Very, very slight feintiness in the aftertaste. Comments: I must say there isn’t much to say. It’s good, right. SGP:441 - 83 points.

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

May 5, 2010


Tasting young and old Mannochmore

Mannochmore 8 yo 2001/2009 (62.1%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, #64.20, 481 bottles, 'Chilli, vanilla, Nutella') Three stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: whah! It instantly reminded me of the quite famous 18yo Manager’s Dram at 66%, with these heavy notes of olive oil, linseed oil, graphite and ink plus an immense grassiness. A little acetone, wet gravels after a summer rain, then more bubblegum, pears and, indeed, Nutella (or any other kind of fairly industrial confectionary). With water: gets a tad acetic (vinegar) but that’s all right. Cider. Mouth (neat): very strong, estery and bubblegummy. Strawberry sweets. Simple but pleasant so far. With water: it got very good now, still a bit simple but the very sweet fruitiness is pleasant. Pear drops, raspberry drops and marshmallows. Finish: long, getting more herbal in the aftertaste. Sorrel? A little pepper too. Comments: a rather spectacular wee beast. SGP:630 - 84 points. (and thanks Gordon)

Mannochmore 27 yo 1982/2010 (58.4%, Cadenhead, Chairman's Stock, sherry cask, 221 bottles) Four stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: what’s quite funny is that this one doesn’t nose much older than the 8yo at the start, but develops with a reather peaty/earthy profile. Roots, damp earth, clay, vanilla… It’s all quite austere but rather elegant and very ‘old style’. With water: great herbal notes. Many kinds of herbal teas, cherry stems, green tea, plain grass, whiffs of linoleum… Mouth (neat): excellent attack, very fruity but full and quite rich, nervous, citrusy. Oranges, papayas, pineapples and hints of cider apples (a greenness). With water: the herbal notes that we had on the nose are back. Smoked tea, white rum, rosemary, black pepper… Very good! Finish: very long, even more herbal and peppery. Touches of mustard. Comments: thank you Mr Chairman, there aren’t that many great Mannochmores around. SGP:272 - 87 points.

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

MUSIC - Recommended listening: Espen Sorensen aka Mzungu Kichaa (The Crazy White Man) singing Ukiwa. Please buy Mzungu Kichaa's music.

Mzungu Kichaa

May 4, 2010

by Nick Morgan
The Union Chapel, London
March 22nd 2010

I have no doubt that Peter Green is the greatest British blues guitarist that ever lived, and I’m sure he probably has a place in the world’s top five.  He was, as I read somewhere recently, the only British guitarist whose talent ever scared B B King.  He was in a different league from the school of musicians who preceded and followed him in John Mayall’s Bluesbreaker academy.  And his style was very different from the greatest of those, the popularly proclaimed deity Eric Clapton, despite the fact that they both looked to the same regal triumvirate of Kings, Albert, B.B. and Freddie, as their main source on inspiration.   

Peter Green

Clapton was (is) a brilliant technician who easily assimilated and mimicked a huge range of styles; he was fast, and as he showed with Cream was capable of holding his own with a pair of pretty formidable jazz musicians.  But what distinguished Green was his remarkable and quite effortless fluidity, and, something sometimes lacking in Clapton’s work, the depth of emotion that he could convey with a few well-chosen notes.  If you don’t believe me then go and listen to ‘Love that burns’, from the Mr Wonderful album, or even Green’s take on Duster Bennett’s ‘Jumping at shadows’ on the Fleetwood Mac BBC sessions.  It was almost as if Clapton played at the blues, while Green lived the blues, something which later events probably confirmed.  And there was another difference too.  Green’s haunting voice, although I think often overlooked, was as powerful as his guitar technique.  Combined, the two were a force of nature, supported of course by the unique sound that Green produced from his famous Les Paul, with the reverse-fitted neck humbucker, or was it the out-of-phase centre position wiring, or both?  That, you may recall, was the guitar that Green gave to a young Gary Moore almost forty years ago, the very same one that Moore sold for allegedly over $2 million dollars in 2006.

Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac circa 1970

I’m sure that I don’t really need to recap on Green’s rise and fall from musical grace.  He replaced Clapton as an unknown in the Bluesbreakers, left after a couple of years to form Fleetwood Mac with drummer Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, and found number one notoriety  in both the UK album and singles charts with an expanded group that included guitarists Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan.  On the other side of the Atlantic, Carlos Santana adopted Green’s ‘Black magic woman’ as his signature tune.  Blues morphed into a more contemporary style with songs such as ‘Man of the world’, ‘Oh well’, and ‘Green Manalishi’, the lyrics of all of which spoke of Green’s increasing disillusionment with both fame and fortune, which  went hand in hand with an increasing experimentation with narcotics.  His epic encounters with LSD and mescaline are well documented, as is the binge at a private after-show party Munich in 1970, which his then fellow band-members still believe was the final trigger for the mental illness which has plagued him ever since.  Green left Fleetwood Mac shortly after the Munich incident, and without him the band slowly imploded (Spencer walked out on tour in the US to join the Children of God cult, of which he is still a member; Kirwan, an alcoholic, was eventually fired and is still thought to be living rough in London), before reforming with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, and recording Rumours, one of the highest grossing albums of all time (and developing a collective cocaine habit to match).  Green gradually withdrew from the music world, famously worked briefly as a grave digger in North London, had a short time in prison having threatened a former accountant with a shotgun, all the while suffering from extreme schizophrenia, and the enduring effects of treatments such as ECT.  Surprisingly he re-emerged in the late 1990s with Peter Green’s Splinter Group, and a series of well-regarded albums.

I have to say that seeing Green with the Splinter Group back in about 2001 was a fairly distressing experience, but perhaps that’s because I hadn’t quite known what to expect.  Despite the encouragement of fellow band members Nigel Watson and Roger Cotton (who almost nursed him through the set), Green seemed very uneasy and uncomfortable on stage, played mostly rhythm guitar to Watson’s lead, and could barely string a few words together.  I wasn’t surprised when he quit in 2004, or that questions were raised about the probity of the band, and the benefit that Green was getting from it. 

Peter green

But he’s back again with Peter Green and Friends, and on the basis of this performance at the Union Chapel, a little more relaxed than formerly.  He’s got a pretty good band, Nick Lowe collaborators Geraint Watkins and Matt Radford are on keyboards and bass, the well-travelled Martin Winning on tenor saxophone.  Fronting the band was Mike Dodd, a willing but frankly rather irritating cheerleader, no doubt deemed necessary as a foil to Green, who barely addressed the audience, and rarely looked up from his guitars.  The set was really a run-through of standards (at times frankly quite pedestrian) and some highlights from Green’s back catalogue, like ‘Rattlesnake shake’ and Freddie King’s ‘The stumble’.  A less patient and forgiving audience could have become ill-tempered, but we’d all queued for at least an hour to get in (there was some sort of cock-up with tickets) and we were all very much on Mr Green’s side.  As he warmed up he rewarded us with occasional glimpses of Green brilliance.  He was positively animated when he played two songs by New Orleans guitarist Robert Parker, ‘Steal your heart away’ and ‘Blues get off my shoulder’ (which he also sang very well), when you could just close your eyes and imagine what the rest of the evening could have been like.  But all too often his playing was hesitant, and if I may use a technical term, ‘clunky’, and his voice lacked the power and conviction of the past.  The audience, as you might imagine, went wild for a medley of ‘Oh well’ and ‘Albatross’, and Green’s final encore, ‘Black magic woman’, which he strangely played more like Carlos Santana than Peter Green.

I’ve no doubt Green must find some pleasure in these gigs, and he certainly seemed to have a few jokes with the band as the evening went on.  And no doubt there is some therapy in it too.  But it’s still quite distressing, and uncomfortably voyeuristic, to witness what the ravages of drug abuse and ill-health have done to someone who, at his best, was little short of a genius.  Which I suppose is where I prefer to remember him. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

Listen to Peter Green on myspace (fan page)


A short Balblair verticale


Balblair 1990/2009 (46%, OB) Two stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: starts fresh and fruity (apples, pears) but also a tad sour. New wood (broken branches), vanilla-flavoured yoghurt, custard, then strawberries and bubblegum/Marshmallows. Very young. Mouth: very young yet again, all on garden fruits (peaches, apples, pears) and jellies, with some icing sugar and hints of pineapple sweets. Not that it’s bad at all but it tastes like a 5 years old in my opinion. Finish: medium long, fruity, bubblegummy. Comments: the casks mustn’t have been very active here. Perfectly quaffable but lacks a little structure and complexity in my view. SGP:630 - 78 points.

Balblair 1978/2010 (46%, OB) Four stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: a much more mature and, above all, much more complex version. Light honey, flowers, stewed fruits (peaches, plums) and vanilla plus a little mint and even camphor. Then a little dill, aniseed, moss, fern… The freshness is quite superb. Gets finally a tad more chocolaty and nutty, with hints of Nutella and buttered toffee. Mouth: so much bigger and more complex than the 1990! We’re on another planet, with many fruits (cherries, peaches, gooseberries, oranges) but also many spices (a little ginger, nutmeg, cumin, cardamom). Gets more and more citrusy. Finish: medium long, even more citrusy. A fruit salad. Comments: not quite a fruitbomb but we aren’t too far. Beautiful profile ala old Balblair. SGP:641 - 89 points.

Balblair 1973/2006 (45%, G&M Private collection, cask #3184/3185, 385 bottles) Four stars and a halfColour: dark amber. Nose: this one is much more on spices, various woods (sandalwood, cigar box) and coffee. No sherry monster, rather a polished old gentleman so to speak. Hints of parsley and various other herbs, old rancio, old books... Very nice. Mouth: starts all on a very chocolaty and coffee-ish sherry plus notes of raspberry eau-de-vie and a herbal dryness. Strong liquorice, thyme, coffee-schnapps, a little Jägermeister… It’s all very expressive. A few drops of water work very well, making it fruitier and fresher. Finish: long, all on bitter chocolate and herbal liqueurs. Comments: old style sherried Highlander, excellent, with something very “G&M”. SGP:552 - 88 points.

Balblair 1965 (52.3%, OB, American Oak Ex-Sherry Butt, cask #894, 350 bottles, +/-2008) Three stars Said to have matured in an ex-Ardbeg cask. Colour: straw. Nose: I was expecting something rich and complex but it hasn’t got most other old Balblairs’ beautiful fruitiness. Instead, it’s rather closed, curiously pearish, with only a few herbal notes that bring some sort of complexity to the whole (liquorice and aniseed). Maybe water will help. With water: it woke up but it’s pinewood galore! Mouth (neat): indeed there’s something smoky and resinous that may hint at an ex-Islay cask but I’m not sure that it matches Balblair’s usually superb fruitiness too well. Notes of retsina, honeydew, fir liqueur, grapefruit liqueur and some rather big lemony notes. Actually, it’s quite spectacular (much more so than on the nose) but these resinous notes make it a little shaky in my opinion. With water: nicer but even more resinous and mentholated. Bénédictine and… toothpaste? Finish: rather long, on the same flavours. Comments: an oddity in my opinion. It’s quite good at times but sometimes these strange Balblair-Islay combinations make it weird. And does the ex-Ardbeg cask really make this baby worth £1,250.00? ;-) SGP:562 - 82 points.

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

May 3, 2010

Crazy exercise – tasting nine 1982 Port Ellen

Port Ellen 1982 Port Ellen 21 yo 1982 (46%, Silver Seal, 375 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: gold. Nose: a classically tarry and rather mineral Port Ellen that smells almost like brand new rubber boots. Very nice coastal notes flying around, seaweed, seashells… Also a little diesel oil, roots. Very ‘idiosyncratic’ and in that sense lovable. Mouth: excellent attack, rather oily, on lemon and peat, then a development on oysters and kippers. Slight fizziness. Finish: rather long, more peppery. Quite some salt in the aftertaste, brine. Comments: so good, so far. A PE at a perfect drinking strength. SGP:347 - 88 points.
Port Ellen 1982/2007 (46%, Berry Brothers, Berry’s Own Selection, cask #2850) Four starsColour: very pale white wine. Nose: completly different from the Silver Seal, much fruitier and much less tarry and smoky. Rather Caolila-esque (wot?) Apples, sea air and porridge. Not quite the most spectacular PE ever. Mouth: better than on the nose. Stewed fruits, apple compote, salted fish and just a little cardboard. Wee metallic notes (old silver spoon). Finish: long, almondy and very salty. Comments: good Port Ellen but lacks a little consistency. Cask #2469 by the same bottlers and issued in 2007 as well was waaaay better in my opinion (WF92). SGP:456 - 85 points.
Port Ellen 18 yo 1982/2001 (50%, Douglas Laing, OMC, sherry cask, 276 bottles) Five stars Colour: mahogany. Nose: big dry sherry and smoke, much more medicinal this time. Antiseptic, dried kelp, coffee, lemon, leather and loads of balsamic vinegar. With water: gosh, water was never so precious, it made wonders. Fantastic notes of tar, eucalyptus, putty, gunpowder and hessian. Cough syrup. No more vinegary notes at all. Mouth (neat): extremely punchy and maybe a little ‘uncoordinated’, between the big sherry and the heavy distillate that both sing their own songs. Coffee, prunes and blackcurrants on one side, raw peat and brine on the other side. Maybe water will have mingling powers. With water: it has! Lemony liquorice, bitter chocolate, tar liqueur, herbal liqueurs… Finish: extremely long, heavy, invading. Salmiak everywhere! Comments: a spectacular sherried PE but water is obligatory or you’ll miss it. SGP:268 - 91 points.
Port Ellen 27 yo 1982/2010 (53%, The Nectar of the Daily Dram) Five stars Colour: straw. Nose: yet another different profile, this one being much more mineral and grassy but neither tarry nor medicinal. Probably the most elegant so far if not the most spectacular. Wet limestone, seashells, damp earth, coal smoke. With water: water brought out more fruits, apples, pears, maybe a little rhubarb… It became gentler. Mouth (neat): sharp and very clean, lemony, salty, peaty and mineral. ‘Chiselled’ as they say. Gets then more and more lemony and peaty. With water: exactly the contrary of what happened on the nose, it got rather drier and more leathery and mineral. Finish: long, mineral, grassy, smoky and ashy but not rough at all. Comments: a textbook PE. High quality. SGP:358 - 90 points.
Port Ellen 1982/2010 (56%, Thosop BVBA, Belgium) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: we aren’t far from the Nectar version at first nosing, only with more roundness and a little more organics. Natural wool, apple peelings, rocks, seaweed, a little menthol, touches of vanilla… It’s rather complex for Port Ellen. With water: drier, with even more menthol. Herbs, whiffs of damp clay. Oranges, hints of kummel. Mouth (neat): superb attack, all on lemon, grapefruits, quinces, oranges and black pepper, with a roaring peat supporting the whole. It’s not aggressive at all, though, the drinkability is perfect even at full strength. Yet, with water: very ‘full’ and extremely well balanced between the spirit’s rawness and some added fruity notes that make it very, well… balanced. Orange liqueur plus black pepper, ginger and a spurt of lemon. Finish: long and unusually soothing for Port Ellen. A peaty jam? A saltiness in the aftertaste, as often. Comments: a slightly more drinkable version of a high-end Port Ellen. Did they make magnums? SGP:467 - 92 points.
Port Ellen 1982/2007 (56.8%, Parkers Whisky) Five stars Colour: gold. Nose: this one is slightly rougher than the others but the profile is perfect. Peat, sea air, limes, kippers, a little tar, coal, oils… With water: gets brinier, maybe a tad sour. Sauvignon? Mouth (neat): extremely close to the Thosop, both being almost undistinguishable. Okay, this one is probably a tad more limey and salty and less polished. With water: once again it’s similar, only with more notes of salted fish. Tinned sardines and limejuice? Finish: long, crisp, limey and salty. Comments: same quality as the Thosop, only a tad less drinkable and more roughish. SGP:367 - 91 points.
Port Ellen 27 yo 1982/2010 (57.3%, Whisky-Fässle) Five stars Colour: straw. Nose: this one is a tarry one again, not that far from the sherried DL – without the sherry of course. New tyres, coal oven, garden bonfire and Riesling. Quite splendid. With water: a little coffee now, leather, black pipe tobacco. Kind of fino-ish. All that is great. Mouth (neat): bang! Bursts with pepper, lemon and ginger, all that being duly smoked and tarred. With water: excellent! Added notes of gentian spirit and many other earthy, rooty and medicinal notes. Finish: long, long, long, on these earthy notes and quite some strong green tea. Comments: a beautiful brute. SGP:268 - 92 points.
Port ellen 24 yo 1982/2006 (58.7%, Part des Anges, cask #PDA539, 562 bottles) Five stars Colour: full gold. Nose: more discreet, vanilled, almost floral than most of the other ones. Caramel cream with a little tar liqueur and some faint coastal whiffs (sea air). Fresh walnuts. It’s not a huge PE so far but the balance is quite perfect. Smells like a much older one (1969 anyone?) With water: same, gets only a tad more maritime. Kippers! Also coal ashes, oven, charcoal… Mouth (neat): reminds me of the Silver Seal, only with much more power. Raw peat, lemon, anchovies and black pepper plus touches of dried ginger. Much bigger than on the nose! With water: more of the same, especially lemon. Gets globally more complex. Finish: long, salty, lemony and beautifully herbal (sorrel). Comments: maybe not the most formidable PE nose ever but the palate is spectacular. And it loves water. SGP:357 - 91 points.
Port Ellen 27 yo 1982/2010 (62.6%, The Whisky Agency, bourbon hogshead, 168 bottles) Five stars Colour: pale gold. Nose: very austere, mineral and grassy. Whiffs of patchouli, cut flowers, earth, wet rocks, just a little menthol… The very high ABV may block it a bit. With water: gets much fruitier, with some lemon, hints of pears, watermelons. Lemon-sprinkled oysters, touches of dill. Mouth (neat): well, it’s not that aggressive – or am I getting used to CS PEs? It’s a crystal-clean, mineral, peaty and lemony Port Ellen and it is superb despite, or maybe thanks to the ‘green bitterness’ that underlines the whole (green apples). With water: drier but even punchier now, very sharp, very mineral, very lemony. Finish: extremely long and even zestier, with a huge minerality. Comments: sharp like a blade, as they say. And quite superb. SGP:368 - 91 points.
PS: I feel it’s important to add that such tiny score gaps (90-92) don’t mean much and do not really allow any kind of ranking. Most of these PEs are in the very same league despite their differences and they’re all equally recommendable.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Port Ellen that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

MUSIC - Recommended listening: Roy Guzman's excellent jazz guitar showcased in a piece called Desahogo. Please buy Roy Guzman's music.

Roy Guzman

May 1, 2010

by Nick Morgan
Royal Festival Hall, London, March 15th 2010

People often ask me, “Nick”, they ask me, “How do you have such an apparently encyclopaedic knowledge of music?”.  It’s like asking a magician how he does his tricks, isn’t it?  But I will share one essential source that has informed fully my views of the principal performer featured in this review, and given me numerous other compelling insights (as they sometimes say in marketing). 


Did you know, for example, that would-be British Prime Minister David Cameron’s favourite song is ‘Tangled up in blue’, or that if he were cast away on a desert island his one luxury would be a case of ‘Scottish’ (sic) whisky?  Or that cult economist Vince Cable was a fan of Pat Boone’s ‘Love letters in the sand’.  And if you’re wondering, Gordon Brown didn’t express as much enthusiasm for the Arctic Monkeys as he was to later.  What am I talking about?  It’s BBC Radio Four’s Desert Island Discs, which for over forty years has been inviting celebrities to talk about their lives and careers.  It’s a simple formula show where guests are asked to choose their eight favourite records, one of which, along with a book and a luxury, they have to nominate to accompany them,  marooned on an imaginary island.  How else would I know that Jarvis Cocker is a fan of Lieutenant Pigeon’s seminal ‘Mouldy old dough’, or that Madness singer Suggs could contemplate spending his life in solitude with Peggy Lee?  All of life is captured in this sometime marvellous programme, where week by week actors are cheek by jowl with politicians, Nobel winning scientists, writers, painters, comedians and occasionally musicians.  Of course the programmes and personalities can sometimes be prosaic, no matter what their claimed achievements might be.  But on other occasions,  the gentle narrative of someone’s life can be gripping, haunting, never forgotten. 

John Cale certainly fell into the latter category (as did a memorable half- hour with Christy Moore), as he described his childhood, dominated by a tyrannical grandmother who never forgave Cale’s mother for slighting the family’s reputation by marrying ‘beneath her station’, and subsequently falling on hard times.  Although father spoke only English, grandmother insisted that the household spoke Welsh only. 

John Cale

It was cruelty too ghastly to hear, and possibly explained why Cale spent so much time trying to get away, first to London as a teacher, and then to New York as a musician, where he eventually met Lou Reed and formed Velvet Underground. 

Of course you can travel as far as you like, but a Welsh accent always gives you away, as Cale demonstrated when he briefly welcomed the audience at the start of this performance of his 1973 album Paris 1919.  Of course it’s all the fashion, playing whole albums like this.  But normally at least there’s a reissue, a DVD, or some other promotional or merchandising opportunity that accompanies the show.  Not here. 

Cale is apparently playing it simply ‘because he can’; and of course because he can pack out the Royal Festival Hall in the process.  He’s backed by a band (the nucleus of Little Feat, anxious to earn a living, played on the recording) and orchestra (nice strings and a very lively brass section), but the stand-out feature of the evening is Cale’s voice which booms through the songs with a verve and vigour that is frankly surprising for someone of his age.  That doesn’t always work to his advantage.  Paris 1919 is one of those albums which, for all its qualities, is somewhat trapped in its own time, and if the music can stand the test of time, the lyrics sometimes fall a little short.

Paris 1919

Now I should be careful, because I read somewhere that the “the subject of Paris 1919 is nothing less than the entirety of Western European high culture, viewed roughly from a post-World War I, Dada-Surrealist perspective. The album is an epic reassessment of history, geography and art itself”.  But be that as it may, any song called ‘Hanky panky no how’ is bound to raise at least a snigger, whilst references to Enoch Powell were sufficient to mystify the more youthful sections of the audience and I doubt anyone, me included, knew who Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg was.  But that is a slight aside, because the whole performance was thoroughly engaging.

And after a short break following the album performance, Cale returned with his band (and eventually the orchestra too) to perform some other gems from his back catalogue and demonstrate his remarkable versatility.  These included a wonderfully scabrous version of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ (all that was missing, thankfully, were bleeding ears), a touching setting of Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’, and finally ‘Dirty ass rock and roll’, whose line “Well, you can make a pacemaker blink” clearly now has more meaning for many of the audience than in it did thirty years ago.

Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas
This was one of those almost perfect Friday nights, with a bravura performance full of energy and good spirits, both from Cale himself and his Heritage Orchestra.  It’s just a shame, on reflection, that he had to endure such a painful childhood on the journey to get here. 

I’d almost expected him to take a case of ‘Scottish’ whisky to that desert island, rather than the leader of the Conservative Party, but actually he (John, not Dave) did the booze (and drugs) thing pretty hard in the 1980s, so really it’s not surprising that he took an espresso machine and a year’s supply of coffee beans instead. - Nick Morgan

Listen: John Cale's myspace page (with the original Paris 1919)


Bowmore 1972

Tasting two 1972 Bowmore

A good friend of mine told me that sessions gathering old Islayers that were distilled the 1960s or early 1970s should become increasingly rare on Whiskyfun. He was theoretically right but actually wrong. And no, he’s no politician. Watch this space, starting right today with two 1972 Bowmore. It is to be noted that I only ever had six or seven of those, some stunning, some so-so.

Bowmore 1972 (43%, OB, +/-1989) Four stars and a halfColour: gold. Nose: no big peat here, and no big fruitiness either. It’s rather one of these Bowmores that were at the crossroad of the big fresh fruitiness of the 1960s and of the higher peatiness of the mid to late 1970s. Bitter oranges and tangerines, sea air, leather, porridge, green bananas, apple peelings, plain grass, walnuts… It’s not a very expressive one for sure. Wee hints of spicy herbs do come through, rosemary, thyme… Also hints of seashells (clams). It’s rather complex but not very exuberant. Mouth: more oomph and more ‘Bowmoreness’, starting on a lot of orange marmalade and quite some dried ginger and cardamom. Then salty oysters, cough medicine, mild peat, white pepper, very faint cardboardy notes. Notes of mango chutney. Whilst the attack was relatively smooth, it gets then bigger and bigger on your palate. Spicy Chinese sauce for dim-sums. Finish: long, even jammier, more citrusy, more in the 1960’s style. Again, faint notes of cardboard in the aftertaste. White pepper. Comments: the nose was very nice but not thrilling and a tad discreet whilst the palate was much ‘fuller and wider’. A mighty fine dram ‘anyway’. SGP:564 - 89 points. (and thanks, Tom)
Bowmore 36 yo 1972/2009 (44.6%, Signatory for Waldhaus am See, cask #3889, 470 bottles) Three stars Colour: amber with reddish hues. Nose: an oakier and slightly more demonstrative version of the OB, with more sap, resins, mint and eucalyptus, even a little camphor. Yet it’s no wham-bam Bowmore at all. Goes on with more walnuts, dried mushrooms, cigar humidor, leather polish, smoked meat… The oak is rather of the ‘resinous kind’, which is to be found in many very old spirits that spent a lot of time in wood. Some liquorice. The whole is very dry despite the nice notes of orange marmalade that do come through after a looong time. Mouth: very oaky and quite drying right from the start, with also these notes of oranges (or rather vitamin C effervescent tablets) that are a tad disturbing. Strong black tea. Finish: long but tannic and drying. Lemony. Comments: this old Bowmore went over the hill in my opinion, even if it’s got a few very nice moments on the nose. A 1970 Bowmore by Signatory for Waldhaus am See was on another, muc, muchh higher plane in my humble opiniont. SGP:563 - 80 points.
More distillery data Our tastings: all Bowmore that we tried so far
The complete distillery profile on Malt Madness

April 2010 - part 2 <--- May 2010 - part 1 ---> May 2010 - part 2

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



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

Benriach 13 yo 1994/2007 (56.7%, Whiskyfreunde Essenheim, 17 months Port cask, cask #4011, 273 bottles)

Bowmore 1995/2009 (56.7%, Malts of Scotland, 'CLUBS', refill sherry butt, cask #113, 316 bottles)

Bowmore 16 yo 1993/2010 (59.9%, The Perfect Dram, bourbon hogshead, 209 bottles)

Glendronach 16yo 1992/2009 (60.8%, OB for Versailles Dranken Nijmegen, Holland, 306 bottles)

Port Ellen 18 yo 1982/2001 (50%, Douglas Laing, OMC, sherry cask, 276 bottles)

Port Ellen 27 yo 1982/2010 (53%, The Nectar of the Daily Dram)

Port Ellen 1982/2010 (56%, Thosop BVBA, Belgium)

Port Ellen 1982/2007 (56.8%, Parkers Whisky)

Port Ellen 27 yo 1982/2010 (57.3%, Whisky-Fässle)

Port ellen 24 yo 1982/2006 (58.7%, Part des Anges, cask #PDA539, 562 bottles)

Port Ellen 27 yo 1982/2010 (62.6%, The Whisky Agency, bourbon hogshead, 168 bottles)

Springbank 10 yo '100 proof' (57%, OB, +/-2010)