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Hi, you're in the Archives, May 2016 - Part 2



May 2016 - part 1 <--- May 2016 - part 2 ---> June 2016 - part 1


May 31, 2016


The Ardbeg, I mean Ledaig works part two

Indeed we’re back with more peated Tobermory aka Ledaig. Yesterday we could check that late 1990s and 2000s distillate was much, and I mean much better than earlier vintages. Good, perhaps not better than the infernal early-to-mid 1970s, but they may be getting there. So, let’s go on, and try to ‘test’ various vintages to try to find when all that really improved.…

Ledaig 16 yo 1998/2015 (56.2%, Morrison & Mackay for HNSW Taiwan, hogshead, cask #700244, 258 bottles)

Ledaig 16 yo 1998/2015 (56.2%, Morrison & Mackay for HNWS Taiwan, hogshead, cask #700244, 258 bottles) Four starsMorrison & Mackay are the owners of the well-known Carn Mor brand a few accents missing). Colour: straw. Nose: midway, perhaps. There are a few dirty-ish notes, not obligatorily a bad thing in this context, and quite some burnt sugar (what we call cassonade), or even crème brulée, and damp old fabric. Having said that there’s also a very pleasant coal smoke and quite some fresh mint. Rubbing a few leaves in your hands (ready for a mojito). Tends to become fresher. With water: more damp fabric, sand, smoky porridge… Mouth (neat): ah yes, now we’re talking! Some kind of meta-spirit, or a blend of mezcal, gentian eau-de-vie, and, well, Laphroaig. Works. With water: gets sweeter, with touches of pears, but the profile remains the same, which is good. Finish: very long, sharp, peaty and lemony. A hints of burnt wood in the aftertaste. Comments: already an excellent batch, this one’s not part of the ‘wacky ones’. Huge peat. SGP:357 - 85 points.

Back in time…

Ledaig 23 yo 1992/2016 (55%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 180 bottles)

Ledaig 23 yo 1992/2016 (55%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 180 bottles) Three stars The danger zone! But its true that they did quite well with the 1993 last year, so, let’s expect something at least singular. Colour: pale gold. Nose: yeah well, some plastic coming out, porridge, paraffin, ink, new tyres… Also some yogurty smells, wet concrete, tarmac… Let’s say the jury’s still out though, since there’s also a pleasant leafy/grassy side. Our dear fresh almonds and walnuts… With water: not too sure. Custard, porridge, maple syrup, and bicycle inner tubes. How does that sound? Mouth (neat): a little unlikely, but intriguing indeed. Fanta, limoncello, lemongrass, wax, green tomatoes (yep), grape pips… Definitely unusual, but not totally fermentary (which is a civilised word for feinty, as you may have found out). With water: rather better. There’s always this fight between a Fanta-ish sweetness and the smoky peatiness, but it’s interesting, despite the custardy side. Can you smoke vanilla cream? Finish: rather long, with a little pepper and more fabric/tar/rubber. Greens. Comments: I’ll go for the same score as that of the 1993. I wager they have selected the best, or the most interesting/intriguing they had, and am sure that quite a few sister casks are rather 70-75 points material. Wild guesses. SGP:465 - 80 points.

So, 1998 quite good, 1992/1993 more unlikely… Let’s try a 1997!

Ledaig 16 yo 1997/2014 (51.1%, Pure Spirit)

Ledaig 16 yo 1997/2014 (51.1%, Pure Spirit) Four stars A bottling for France by our friend Régis. Colour: straw. Nose: ah, this is interesting, there’s already this sooty and smoky ‘Islay’ profile, and no feinty notes whatsoever. Rather lemon, coal, seaweed, tarry ropes… All that. With water: yes, menthol, beach sand, seaweed, peat smoke, hessian… Mouth (neat): clean and well-chiselled, peaty, lemony, fresh, what some call ‘crystalline’… We’re almost on Islay. With water: Islay! Finish: Islay! Clean zesty finish, long and fresh. Grassier aftertaste. Comments: you could always consider that Ledaig lost its, well, its Ledaigness between 1993 and 1997, but frankly, it was for the better. SGP:367 - 86 points.

So far, the 2000s, or even the mid-2000s are getting the inside track, but let’s further test that… And be a little quicker.

Ledaig 2001/2013 (58.9%, Malts of Scotland, bourbon barrel, cask #MoS 13049, 214 bottles)

Ledaig 2001/2013 (58.9%, Malts of Scotland, bourbon barrel, cask #MoS 13049, 214 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: yes. Bitter almonds, concrete, peat smoke, menthol, sea spray, lemon. With water: pure crystalline coastal peat. Perhaps one original marker of Ledaig, hints of damp fabric (old woollen jumper). Mouth (neat): immaculate lemony peat. Young Ardbeg ex-refill, there. With water: so good! Superb smoky and salty lemon. As one famous whisky writer would say, this is akin to a margarita but it’s infinitely better than all margaritas. So smart, so smart… Finish: quite long, pure, blady. Comments: much love. Quite stupidly, I missed this beauty when it came out two or three years ago. Note to self, be quicker with your Ledaigs next time! SGP:457 - 89 points.

Ledaig 10 yo 2004/2014 (53.2%, Liquid Treasures, bourbon hogshead, 179 bottles)

Tobermory Ledaig 10 yo 2004/2014 (53.2%, Liquid Treasures, bourbon hogshead, 179 bottles) Four stars Colour: white wine. Nose: perhaps a little young this time. Some sweet varnish, jelly babies, smoked marshmallows… Now what’s in the background just works, with green tobacco, grass smoke, garden bonfire, mint and seaweed… With water: the background comes to the front, the front goes to the background. And yet, it’s not quite like an early Italian opera ;-). Mouth (neat): indeed, perhaps a little young and roughish, with touches of pineapples this time, but all the rest is very fine. Tastes like some smoked Tomatin, but not like Tomatin’s smoked Tomatin. Are you following me? With water: gets syrupy and lemony. The limoncello syndrome, nothing embarrassing. Finish: medium, really very lemony. Brine and smoke in the aftertaste. Comments: good. SGP:466 - 85 points.


Ledaig 9 yo 2005/2014 (48.1%, Malt Barn, bourbon, 141 bottles)

Ledaig 9 yo 2005/2014 (48.1%, Malt Barn, bourbon, 141 bottles) Four stars and a half Malt Barn (or is that Maltbarn?) are always doing a super job. Small bottlings, great whiskies. Colour: straw. Nose: there, this brine, these olives, this mineral smoke, these limes… And the coastal freshness, plus hints of ultra-fresh butter… All perfect. To think that Ledaig used to be ‘dirty’, this is totally ‘clean’! Mouth: back on the top shelf. Pure, zesty, wonderfully angular (as they say around Pouilly-sur-Loire), smoky, with bits of cracked pepper and perhaps a tiny bit of bacon… Nutshell, it’s young and fresh, plus it’s quite complex. This is what the peoples want. Finish: rather long, immaculate, with this minerality in the background, around soot and ashes. Wonderful. Comments: there's a question I got to ask you, isn’t Ledaig becoming the new Ardbeg? SGP:357 - 89 points.

Let’s double-check that with another 2005…

Ledaig 8 yo 2005/2014 (48.1%, Pure Spirit and Whisky & Co) Four stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: same whisky. I’m not saying it’s from the same cask, but styles and aromas aren’t dissimilar. I should have been a politician, says my dear mother, who’s usually pretty right – but not in this instance. Mouth: same whisky indeed. No differences whatsoever but mind you, even the strength are the same. Finish: same. Comments: same, I’m afraid. There's a question I got to ask you, isn’t Ledaig becoming the new Ardbeg? Oh and if this cask has been reduced, that was a very wise choice. SGP:357 – 89 points.

Insisting, because perhaps was it just a one-off…

Ledaig 8 yo 2005/2014 (51.3%, The Whisky Mercenary)

Ledaig 8 yo 2005/2014 (51.3%, The Whisky Mercenary) Four stars and a half You know, since Diageo’s marvellous trick with their Lagavulin 8 yo, eight’s almost become the new twenty! Colour: white wine. Nose: it’s perhaps a little less ‘immediate’, and that may be because of the higher strength (yeah, only 3.2%, S.!) Other than that, styles, profiles, ideas, philosophies and goals in life are totally similar (S., there’s a lost episode of Inspektor Derrick on TV, you might want to go watch it.) With water: oh, we managed to reproduce the Malt Barn/Pure Spirit! A stroke of luck, perhaps. Mouth (neat): perfect. Lemon, peat, brine. I repeat, lemon, peat, brine. With water: same as the previous ones. Most probably not the same cask(s), but surely the same parcel. Finish: indeed. Comments: there's a question I got to ask you, isn’t Ledaig (slowly) becoming the new Ardbeg? SGP:357 – 89 points.

Okay, let’s drop those 2005s. There are many, and they probably represent the best bang-for-your-buck peaters these days. And since we were mentioning the early-to-mid-1970s, perhaps we should have one of those before we call this a tasting session. Game?

Ledaig 1975/1995 (56.5%, Blackadder, Limited Editions, cask #65, 180 bottles)

Ledaig 1975/1995 (56.5%, Blackadder, Limited Editions, cask #65, 180 bottles) Three stars and a half A bottling by the excellent Blackadder people, from before they found out about how to add oak scraps to their whiskies. I mean, into their whiskies. Wonderful bottle! Colour: pale gold. Nose: not that extravagant at first nosing, and that may be the strength. I remember it was the same with Sestante’s legendary 1973 ‘Wehrmacht label’. In truth there is a little plasticine or Play-doh, as well as quite a lot of ink (newspaper of the day, remember?) I’m also finding Comté cheese and Jimmy Connors’ socks after Flushing Meadows, but ‘in a subtle way’. No, really. Once all this wackiness has settled down, it’s a bed of cut grass, apple peel, fresh almonds, and cured ham. In fact, this is spectacularly complex. With water: bacon, game, horse saddle… and seaweed, coal smoke, lamp petroleum. Perhaps a little schizophrenic? Mouth (neat): unlike any other malt whiskies. Some hot artisan plum spirit (from a tiny ex-USSR republic), some sugary fruit liqueur, some strawberry jam, touches of rose-flavoured Turkish delights, all that on a smoky base that sits between used engine oil and supermarket ginger liqueur. Indeed, unlike any other malt whiskies, and totally not like the other 1972-1975 Ledaigs I could try. With water: ah, water did wonders! Spanish almond wine and barley water. Finish: long, unlikely, always a little ‘cheesy’, with some yogurt and many fermenting fruits, including plums (from that tiny republic). Comments: perhaps was this an example of the very first batches of ‘wackier Ledaig’? A lot of fun to be had wit this mildly peated Ledaig, but you have to keep an open mind. SGP:454 - 84 points.

I think we covered it all, pretty much. Amazing progress at Tobermory/Ledaig’s, for sure.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Ledaig I've tasted so far



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May 30, 2016


The Ledaig works part one

Ledaig, the Brora (and Longrow) of the West. A session that’s long overdue. Indeed there are many new ones around, especially at the indies that seem to favour the peated Tobermories these days. It’s true that the days of ‘wackiness’ are gone at Ledaig’s, and that some of Islay’s names are becoming rarer. And probably more expensive… Let’s kick this off with an official, and then see where the path leads…

Ledaig 18 yo (46.3%, OB, +/-2015)

Ledaig 18 yo (46.3%, OB, +/-2015) Four stars This baby’s meant to represent ‘the rebirth’ of Ledaig’s original style. Well, if it’s anywhere near the glorious 1972, 1973 or 1974, we’ll have to cheer. Colour: pale gold. Nose: maybe… Theirs is, indeed, this feeling of coal smoke, old stove, burning tea, burning kelp and other seaweed (beach bonfire), or metal polish, lit cigars… Plus a layer of both fresh and old walnuts, and perhaps a smidgen of curry mayonnaise (what?) and mustard. Something ‘original’ indeed. Mouth: good dirty, earthy, spicy (curry again) and pleasantly pungent arrival, but with some candy sugar in the background, which feels just a tad out of place. But other than that, this baby’s much to my liking.  Finish: long, ashy, peaty, with always this candy sugar. Muscovado coating? That’s just a wee bit tiring. Comments: I find it very good but I’m guessing that as usual, the indies will be cleaner and closer to the distillate. Unless there’s sherry… SGP:565 - 85 points.

Ledaig 1999/2015 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseur’s Choice)

Ledaig 1999/2015 (46%, Gordon & MacPhail, Connoisseur’s Choice) Four stars G&M have always had quite a lot of Ledaig. Colour: white wine. Nose: exactly what I was saying. Same core, cleaner profile, going rather towards leafy/herbal notes. Apple peel, fresh walnuts, green tea, seaweed again, and less oak spices. Lovely whiffs of lemon and grapefruit in the background, with a global style that reminds me of some early Ledaigs that G&M had exported to Italy via some well-known distributors, such as Intertrade – or was it Sestante? Some damp wool too. Mouth: I like this much better than earlier Ledaigs by G&M from the, well, early 1990s. Those could be dirty and fermentary, while this is sharp and clean, with a perfect zesty, leafy smoke. Love the feeling of stewed endives in the background. Finish: quite long, ashy, lapsangy (come on). Comments: equivalent to any peated Islay of similar age, but different. As we say, vive la difference. SGP:466 - 87 points.

Perhaps see what colleagues Signatory and Cadenhead have to say?...

Ledaig 10 yo 2004/2015 (60.4%, Signatory Vintage, 1st fill sherry butt, cask #900175, 439 bottles)

Ledaig 10 yo 2004/2015 (60.4%, Signatory Vintage, 1st fill sherry butt, cask #900175, 439 bottles) Four stars and a half Ouch, this baby may well tear us apart… Colour: amber. Nose: dirty raisiny smoke and metal polish, old coins, toolbox, a box of cigars, fumes, stove… And a lot of power! So, with water: typically cigary, with drops of gasoline and plenty of walnut wine. The peat and the sherry do not clash. Yes that sometimes happens. Mouth (neat): as thick as honey, as spicy as Thai food, as full of caraway as caraway liqueur, as full of cloves as some old-style mouthwash, and as medicinal as a blend of tincture of iodine and cough syrup. Will cure anything – well, perhaps not thirst. With water: excellently dry, walnutty, fino-ish, salty, smoky... And once again, you think ‘coal’ rather than ‘peat’. Finish: long and saltier. Salted cigars or something like that. Marmalade in the aftertaste. Comments: just super-hyper good sherried smoke, with a nod to Laphroaig. SGP:457 - 88 points.

Ledaig 22 yo 1993/2015 (54.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 252 bottles)

Ledaig 22 yo 1993/2015 (54.3%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 252 bottles) Three stars In my book, this is one of the difficult vintages, we’ve tried quite a few feinty ones. But this is also Cadenhead… Colour: straw. Nose: yeah well, this is a completely different style, closer to damp fabric, yogurt, plasticine, clay, ink, carbon paper… So more unlikely, but there are also nice notes bananas and even rum, not too sure where that came from. Whiffs of elderflowers as well, guavas… Intriguing is the word. With water: no, it doesn’t quite swim. A lot of cardboard coming out. Mouth (neat): intriguing indeed. Marzipan, barley wine, oranges, hay wine (they make that in the Vosges, it’s, well, an intriguing drink), some kind of smoked marmalade… With water: swims better on the palate but there’s this feeling of fizziness, Schweppes, cardboard again... Finish: rather long, and good news, it’s rather almonds and lemon that are expressing themselves now. Comments: I’m not sure anyone could do better with these wacky and dirty wishy-washy vintages. SGP:465 - 80 points.

Back to the supposedly better, younger ones! We’ll try to find one from then 1970s later on…

Ledaig 8 yo 2005 (53,7%, Highland Laird, Bartels Rawlings, +/-2014)

Ledaig 8 yo 2005 (53,7%, Highland Laird, Bartels Rawlings, +/-2014) Four stars and a half Colour: white wine. Nose: pure simple young Ledaig. Very narrow, but what it does it does it very well. Coal smoke, a working kiln, smoked almonds, lapsang souchong. With water: love this, raw wool, kiln, clay, and repeat. Mouth (neat): just perfect young peated whisky, and this time we cannot not think of Ardbeg. Pure crystalline lemony smoke, with a dash of salt and one of black pepper. With water: brilliant. The lemon is coming in. Finish: long, ultra-clean and well-chiselled young peat ‘monster’. Comments: at some point, there’s only one crucial question, ‘would I order a dram in a bar, or not?’ In this case, the answer is ‘a double, please!’ Yeah I know I’m now sounding like a 1930s ad for Dewar’s. Great young peater. SGP:367 - 89 points.

A last one, and let’s make it young!

Ledaig 10 yo 2004/2015 (60.4%, La Maison du Whisky, Artist, sherry butt, cask #900179, 588 bottles)

Ledaig 10 yo 2004/2015 (60.4%, La Maison du Whisky, Artist, sherry butt, cask #900179, 588 bottles) Four stars Another one by Signatory Vintage, and even a sister cask according to the numbers. Colour: amber. Nose: I think this one’s even more on cigars and walnuts. Drinking Château-Chalon while smoking some kind of Cuban double-corona… while having a gun that just fired in your pocket. Indeed this one’s got much more gunpowder on the nose. With water: extremely gamy, with truffles, used matches, fumes, gas, and more truffles. I’ve heard not everyone likes this as much as I do. Mouth (neat): a massive attack (I know) with more tobacco, flints, cloves, dried pears, and a tarry bitterness that tends to take over your tongue. Even your lips do feel it. Did I mention pepper and cloves? With water: careful, sherried peaters don’t always swim well. In this case, it takes a few drops, but don’t try to bring it down to 40% vol.! At roughly 50%, it’s excellent, and at around 40%, it’s dead. De Profundis. Finish: very long, green, ultra-leafy, acrid, drying. Artichoke, there. Ashtray in the aftertaste. Comments: phew. The sister cask was gentle and even debonair, when compared to this utter beast. Yeah go score such a thing… SGP:367 - around 86 points.

We’ll be back with more Ledaig, perhaps right tomorrow…

More tasting notes Check the index of all Ledaig I've tasted so far



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May 29, 2016


Malternative rums from Guadeloupe

… And from Marie-Galante, that tiny island south of the island of La Guadeloupe. There are several famous distilleries and brands in Guadeloupe and Marie-Galante, such as Bologne, Montebello, Longueteau, Séverin, Damoiseau, Bielle, Bellevue… In general, despite many exceptions, rhums from Guadeloupe – let alone Marie-Galante – are said to be a little wilder than those of sister island La Martinique. Let’s have a few more or less at random…

Père Labat 3 ans (42%, OB, Marie-Galante, agricole, +/-2015) Three stars and a half A well-know and well-respected brand by Distillerie Poisson. Loved their 8 yo a few years back (WF 86). Colour: white wine (mega-great-news). Nose: exceptional at first nosing, totally on cane juice and crushed bananas, then tiny touches of black olives, marzipan, honeysuckle, ripe blood oranges, peonies, pinesap, liquorice, fruit salad… An amazing complexity at such a young age. The liquorice tends to take over after a few minutes, but we love liquorice, so… Mouth: a big personality despite a little too much sweetness for my taste. Candy sugar, papayas, bananas, overripe mangos… The phenolic/grassy touches, as well as the liquorice, are a bit slow on the uptake, but quality’s definitely high. And let’s remember it’s a 3 yo. Finish: medium, more on cane juice again. A little green coffee, perhaps, and a drop of pastis in the aftertaste. After all, this is France. Comments: quite brilliant, just a bit of the expensive side given its age (60-65 euros). SGP:652 - 84 points.

Karukera ‘Rhum Vieux Agricole’ (42%, OB, Guadeloupe, +/-2015)

Karukera ‘Rhum Vieux Agricole’ (42%, OB, Guadeloupe, +/-2015) Three stars and a half An agricole, obviously, made by Distillerie de l’Espérance aka Longueteau. It’s said to be around 3 years old as well. Colour: deep gold. Nose: more aromatic, more emphatic than the Père Labat, with more overripe tropical fruits (mangos, papayas, bananas) and more vanilla, fennel, oranges, and cloves/caraway. It’s a fatter rhum agricole, much more demonstrative. Mouth: very creamy, rich, feeling stronger than 42% vol., with a large bowl of citrus jams, from oranges to pink grapefruits, and many sweet spices. Caraway again, ginger, vanilla pods, then rather some kind of liquorice-flavoured maple syrup, a little burnt sugar… Spectacular, never stuffy, extremely pleasant and easy, despite the huge body. Finish: long, with more muscovado sugar, touches of nutmeg… Comments: they are very different, the Labat being fresher and grassier, but I like them just the same. Quite a lot. SGP:742 - 84 points.

Perhaps a Longueteau from the same distillery?

Longueteau ‘VSOP’ (42%, OB, Guadeloupe, agricole, +/-2015) Two stars and a half Around 6 years old, matured in ex-Cognac casks. Colour: full gold. Nose: even more, yeah, emphatic than the Karukera, and perhaps a little too much now. Noses like a pina colada, with a lot of pineapple and coconut, which is very sexy in itself, but also a little, say vulgar. In the background, some vanilla and liquorice. Touches of varnish over everything. Extremely spectacular, but perhaps overly spectacular. Mouth: indeed, this is very rich, a little too oaky for me, jammy and gritty at the same time, with raisins and bananas. Finish: long, luscious, rich, round. Liquorice and dried bananas. Comments: I’m sure this is extremely good, but I liked the less ‘body-built’ Karukera much better. SGP:751 - 79 points.

Damoiseau ‘VSOP Réserve Spéciale’ (42%, OB, Guadeloupe, agricole, +/-2015)

Damoiseau ‘VSOP Réserve Spéciale’ (42%, OB, Guadeloupe, agricole, +/-2015) Two stars and a half This one’s a 4 years old, made in Distillerie Bellevue, which is not the same as Marie-Galante’s Distillerie Bellevue. Can be confusing when buying some ‘Bellevue’ from the indies. Colour: gold. Nose: a rather drier style again, without the wham-bam fruitiness from the Longueteau, although I do find some pineapples again. Bags of oranges as well, which gives it a very fresh style, most easy and likeable. Mouth: fresh and fruity, perhaps a little simple and without a lot of cane-y flavours – let alone phenols and all that. Easy bananas, papayas, vanilla, candy sugar, roasted peanuts, and a touch of honey. Finish: medium, very easy, and relatively light. Pleasant fruitiness. Comments: real easy and uncomplicated. SGP:641 - 79 points.

Domaine de Séverin ‘XO’ (45%, OB, Guadeloupe, agricole, +/-2015)

Domaine de Séverin ‘XO’ (45%, OB, Guadeloupe, agricole, +/-2015) Four stars and a half Agreed, we should have had their VSOP but we already tried it last year – and loved it (WF 86). The XO is a six years old matured in US oak. Colour: gold. Nose: it’s a bit like the Longueteau, bursting with fruits and flowers, but I’m finding it a little more complex and elegant. Rather flowers than vanilla, if you like. Honeysuckle, lime blossom… It’s also a little camphory/medicinal, which is just perfect. Mouth: I find this extremely good, big, rich, herbal… Some honeydew, some cinnamon, some ripe oranges, some sugar cane, a drop of eucalyptus oil, an obvious phenolic side… Excellent! Du they use a dunder pit at Séverin? (of course they don’t!) Finish: long, perfect, complex, fruity, herbal, tarry, mentholy… Comments: one of the ‘Jamaican’ Guadeloupeans. Malt lovers will love it (hint, hint). SGP:552 - 88 points.

Good, we’ve had a fair selection… No, wait, there’s Bielle!...

Bielle 2006 (42%, OB, Marie-Galante, agricole, +/-2015)

Bielle 2006 (42%, OB, Marie-Galante, agricole, +/-2015) Four stars Bielle had a totally stunning 2007 cask strength (brut de fût) last year (WF 90). This one should be gentler… Colour: gold. Nose: Bielle is THE malternative from the French West Indies, and this nose explains you why. Perfect camphor, mint, eucalyptus, toasted pastries, custard, liquorice, earth, tar, brine, bananas… It tells you many stories (involving quite a few drunken sailors!) Mouth: it holds its sugarcane tight when it tangos. So indeed, we’re close to sugar cane, and despite a few sweeter and more ‘mundane’ notes (syrups), the grassy structure keeps it tight and focussed. Now the nose was ‘better’, the palate’s a little less entrancing. Gritty raisins (feeling of marc de Bourgogne – I must be dreaming). Finish: rather long, really grassier. Pink grapefruits in the aftertaste. Comments: high class, even if ‘something’ was a bit disturbing on the palate. These grapy notes, perhaps. SGP:562 - 85 points.

Rhum Rhum 'Liberation 2015' (45%, Velier, Marie-Galante, agricole, 2015)

Rhum Rhum 'Liberation 2015' (45%, Velier, Marie-Galante, agricole, 2015) Four stars Now a 6 years old, bottled in 2015. It was distilled at Bielle but using Velier’s own set of stills, conducted by one of the Mozarts of distilling, maestro Capovilla. Apologies, one of the VIvaldis of distilling. Mind you, 6 years in the Tropics, that’s already XO quality. Colour: full gold. Nose: a gun that just shot (yes I’ve been in the army), cigars, cinnamon cake, bananas, gingerbread, bicycle inner tube, apricot jam, hay, horse saddle, peach jam. Not very ‘rhum’, you say? You’re right, this is metanoic spirit. Mouth: big, starting a little bitter (green tannins) but that’s no problem, and going on with some plantain, marzipan, salsify and Jerusalem artichokes, ginger, cinnamon, and then a sweeter side, with apricots and raisins again. This was some oak! Active French oak? Finish: long, perhaps a little pungent and bitter? I for one enjoy this herbal dryness in rum. Funny salty aftertaste. Comments: some active wood has been in use, so this is not totally distillate-driven, but what’s sure is that it’s totally malternative. SGP:462 - 86 points.

And now the possible grande finale…

Müller LL IV/3177 (59%, Habitation Velier, Marie-Galante, agricole, 2015)

Müller LL IV/3177 (59%, Habitation Velier, Marie-Galante, agricole, 2015) Three stars Müller is the name of the still(s). It’s like if the Scots would call their whiskies ‘Forsyth’, if you like. It’s a set of two pot-stills fitted with columns, as far as I can tell. The letters and figures in the name are just the ‘license plate’ of that set of stills, which are also used to make the ‘Rhum Rhum’ at Bielle. What’s funny is that they reduced it (not much, mind you, 59% vol.) using rainwater. Something that the Scots could do as well, given their pluviometry over there ;-). Colour: white. So, unaged. Nose: we’re entering clairin/mezcal/artisan cachaça territories. It’s a very ‘vertical’ spirit, with scents of lupin and lilies that are not often to be found elsewhere, then rather plantains indeed and this natural rubber that’s also to be found in the Rhum Rhum. With water: the green phenols come out. French beans and linseed oil, plus a touch of turpentine. Mouth (neat): sugarcane eau-de-vie, and indeed you cannot not think of some pot-still distilled aguardientes. Green olives and green bananas. With water: a sweeter side comes out. Cane sugar, limejuice, a wee bit of ham –which should go away with ageing. Finish: medium, rather fresh, more lemony. Notes of that very mild chilli we have in southern France, called piment d’Espelette – or Espelette pepper. Not even sure it’s chilli, to tell you the truth. The ham is back in the aftertaste. Comments: very good, but perhaps more for high-end cocktails, Herr Müller. SGP:472 - 82 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all rums I've tasted so far



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May 27, 2016


Little duets, Oban vs. Oban

Oban’s one of the most lovely distilleries, especially in the West of the mainland. But the output is small, so there aren’t many versions and the indies do not seem to have any.

Oban 14 yo (43%, OB, +/- 2015)

Oban 14 yo (43%, OB, +/- 2015) Four stars The last rotation I tried was circa 2012, and I had troubles with the nose, which was kind of bretty, as they say in wine. I had ended my note with ‘we’ll try Oban 14 again in a few years’. Here we are. Colour: gold. Nose: well, it’s still rather cardboardy and mustardy, leathery, with touches of skin care. Green walnuts. What’s nicer is this mineral side, sea battered rocks… And the manzanilla! A rather salty fino. The troubling aromas tend to go away, this baby just needs time. Mouth: wood smoke? And more mustard, radish, salt, walnuts… It’s as if Oban 14 was getting bigger and more and more coastal over the years. Some strong ‘dryish’ honey, more manzanilla, some malt, and just a wee drop of soy sauce. I really enjoy all this dryness. Finish: long, with a most pleasant salty and smoky bitterness. Would that be manzanilla again? Comments: huge progress! It’s become a bigger whisky. I used to have it at 80, and now it’s… SGP:362 - 86 points.

Oban 1999/2014 'Distiller's Edition' (43%, OB, Montilla fino finish)

Oban 1999/2014 'Distiller's Edition' (43%, OB, Montilla fino finish) Four stars Hey, haven’t they used these fino casks for the regular 14 too? That may explain why I found the latter so, well, fino-ish. Colour: gold. Nose: it’s close indeed. Perhaps a little rounder, a notch less coastal, with a little more dried fruits. But that would be dry fruits, such as these excellent small figs they have in Turkey. Other than that, it’s juts as leathery and ‘walnutty’. Hints of marmalade, whiffs of cigarette smoke. Mouth: same feeling, a rather fatter Oban, but the profiles are very close. Perhaps a little more pepper in this one? What’s sure is that it rather feels 46% vol. Finish: rather long, full, nutty, fino-ish (obviously), salty, peppery… Some dry ale in the aftertaste. Comments: it’s funny that while being located in a very touristy area, Oban would not quite be a malt for beginners or casual drinkers. SGP:462 - 86 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Oban I've tasted so far


Pete McPeat and Jack Washback




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May 26, 2016


Another grainy verticale

Grains. Am I the only whisky enthusiast that did not totally fall for them – yet? Believe me I’m trying hard, and I’ll try hard again today. We may come across some excellent ones, after all. We’ll even try to select some of the best new or recent ones, apart from the apéritif, which might be a little… strange…

Loch Lomond (46%, OB, Single Grain, +/-2016)

Loch Lomond (46%, OB, Single Grain, +/-2016) Two stars They can produce any kind of whisky at Loch Lomond Distillery, thanks to their various stills. Including NAS grain, all they may be lacking is a retired footballer with a well-known appetite for brands and cheques. Colour: white wine/straw. Nose: mercurochrome and varnish at first nosing, then some gentler apples and vanilla, with a little sawdust in the background. It’s not un-nice, at all, it’s just rather discreet. A little fennel, perhaps. We’ve nosed worse grains. Mouth: a little spirity, but the vanilla does a good job. Something of Black Barrel, the father of all contemporary branded grains. Excuse me? Right, and Cameron Brig. Finish: medium, a little hot. Apples and vanilla. A lot of gritty green tea in the aftertaste. Comments: I was ready for worse. It’s the strength and the wood that are doing the job here. Better than a kick in the teeth, as they say in rugby. SGP:440 - 70 points.

Invergordon 1988/2015 ‘Rosy Apple Brulé’ (46%, Wemyss Malts, butt, 494 bottles)

Invergordon 1988/2015 ‘Rosy Apple Brulé’ (46%, Wemyss Malts, butt, 494 bottles) Two stars and a half They seem to enjoy Invergordon at Wemyss. Now their names tend to become more esoteric, which is actually fun. Now not too sure you write brulé, in French it’s brûlé, but let’s not start to quibble upon one tiny circumflex accent. Colour: gold. Nose: it’s really bourbon-like, with a lot of vanilla, burnt sugar, burnt cake, caramel, toffee, café latte, Nutella… There’s also a little earth that may come from the sherry, but no raisins or suchlike that I can detect. Mouth: it’s got this ‘hot thinness’ that so very grain in my book. More burnt sugar, a little syrup coating your palate, but a thinnish middle. Glenfiddich-filled chocolate like they make in good old Switzerland. Finish: short, with touches of rum, perhaps. Candy sugar, old white wine. Comments: perhaps they could add a little glycerine to add body, like some do with ‘rum’. But that would be streng verboten, no need to say. SGP:530 - 78 points.

Let’s try a stronger Invergordon…

Invergordon 25 yo 1991/2016 (57.7%, Cadenhead, World Whiskies, bourbon hogshead, 192 bottles)

Invergordon 25 yo 1991/2016 (57.7%, Cadenhead, World Whiskies, bourbon hogshead, 192 bottles) Three stars If Cadenhead put these grains into their ‘World Whiskies’ series, does that mean that they consider them not to be totally Scottish? Colour: white wine. Nose: I’m really trying my best, but I’m sorry, this doesn’t work with me. We’re close to vodka! Even if some notes of brunt caramel tend to come out. Mouth: no, wait, this is nicer. There’s some earth, some roots, a gentiany feeling that I always enjoy, touches of wormwood that mingle with some grated dried coconut, coconut balls, a little grenadine… I’m not into these sweet flavours, but the earthiness that coats them kind of transfigures them. I agree, a bold term. Finish: medium, a tad varnishy, but the marshmallows and coconut keep it rather playful. Comments: one of the better ones in my book, but that’s partly because I enjoy coconut. SGP:520 - 81 points.

Let’s try some older Invergordon this time…

Invergordon 42 yo (47.7%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, batch 6, 238 bottles, 2016)

Invergordon 42 yo (47.7%, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, batch 6, 238 bottles, 2016) Four stars If you ever wondered how a Coffey still works, the label will tell you. Colour: gold. Nose: crème de menthe and myrtle liqueur at first nosing, then newly sawn oak and pinewood, then rather white chocolate and Malibu/coconut oil. Some grated manioc, perhaps, and even a little ham. There’s more happening in this older one than in all the others – combined. Mouth: more coconut balls, marshmallows, white chocolate, pralines, banana split, vanilla… There’s something festive, and something tropical to boot. Finish: medium, sweet, with more coconut and white chocolate. Some sweet spices in the aftertaste, from the oak. Speculoos, vanilla custard. The crème de menthe is back in the aftertaste. Comments: doesn’t age matter even more with grain whisky? (oh, not again!) SGP:731 - 85 points.

Let’s try to answer that seminal question, with…

Garnheath 41 yo 1974/2015 (48.9%, Douglas Laing, Xtra Old Particular, refill barrel, cask #11029, 141 bottles)

Garnheath 41 yo 1974/2015 (48.9%, Douglas Laing, Xtra Old Particular, refill barrel, cask #11029, 141 bottles) Four stars Moffat’s Garnheath grain is very rare, just like the malt that used to be made in the same distillery, Killyloch/Glen Flagler. I’ve tried a sister cask by Càrn Mòr last year, and found it very excellent (WF 87). Will this be this session’s blaze of glory? Colour: pale gold. Nose: it’s subtle, and that’s the wood. Light herbal teas, dried flowers, butterscotch, brioche, vanilla pods, moss and fern after a summer rain, chamomile… The butterscotch wins it after five minutes, while more and more ‘good’ coffee comes out. Italian style! Mouth: seriously, this is extremely good. We’re not far at all from the old Invergordon, with the same coconutty and chocolaty goodness, the bananas, a little coconut butter, some tinned papayas. I’ve also got hints of earthy/rooty/gentiany things in the distance, which I adore (You'll have noticed that I have a tendency to ramble.) Finish: medium, rather candied. Orange drops, aniseed sweets (do you know Anis de Flavigny? You should!) and a little maple syrup. Comments: super-mega-hyper good. Now that I’ve tried around five Garnheaths (nothing to brag about), I’m starting to believe it was one of, if not the best Scotch grain whisky. SGP:640 - 86 points.

It got better and better today, those are my favourite sessions!

More tasting notes Check the index of all grain whiskies I've tasted so far



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May 25, 2016


Brand new Tastival and other Jura

The new Jura Tastival 2016 just came in, but of course we won’t taste it just like that, out of the blue and without any proper sparring partners. Let’s see what we’ve got up our sleeves… rummage rummage… Perhaps this?

Jura 'Turas-Mara' (42%, OB, travel retail, 1l, +/-2016)

Jura 'Turas-Mara' (42%, OB, travel retail, 1l, +/-2016) Three stars No age statement, so a story instead, as usual. In this case, it’s about Gael emigrants to America in the 18th and 19th century. After all, why not, you learn about History instead of maths… Colour: gold. Nose: very Jura, with walnuts and mustard, then burnt wood and bitter marmalade. I do find a smokiness as well, and the usual bit of metal polish, which is quite Jura as well. Also some dried kelp, perhaps. Very dry nose! Mouth: some vanilla and raisins at first sips, with a rather thick mouth feel, then the same, much drier development on walnuts and mustard, with a fino-ish character. Also quite some cloves and ginger, with a peppery side. Finish: medium, spicy, with a little bitter oak and green peppercorn. Very active oak! Salty aftertaste. Comments: I find it very fair, with some personality and character. As usual at almost all distilleries, the owners have ‘pushed the oak’ a bit, but indeed it’s a very pleasant dram. SGP:362 - 82 points.

Yeah, let’s try a ‘naked’ young Jura, just to be sure…

Jura 8 yo 2006/2014 (46%, Hepburn’s Choice, 508 bottles) Two starsColour: almost white. Nose: exactly the Turas-Mara, without any oak or wine. Which means that there’s much more porridge and beer, as well as leaves and grass, while the metal polish and the mustard keep dancing under your nostrils. A little fruit as well, but not much. Gooseberries, perhaps. Also curious whiffs of foreshots, but just tiny-wee drops, naturally. Watch the methanol! Mouth: really raw, eau-de-vie-ish, unpolished, and frankly new-make-y. Porridge with schnapps inside. Well, there’s more schnapps than porridge, which may please our friend in Schwarzwald, there, on the other side of the mighty Rhine river ;-). Finish: quite long, with a little salt, beer, yeast, and anything new-make-y indeed. Including pears. They have great pears in Schwarzwald. Comments: interesting, but I think this would need a lot of ice to become ‘sippable’. And a swimming pull plus a ukulele (what?) SGP:451 - 72 points.

Back to the OBs…

Jura 16 yo (40%, OB, +/-2014)

Jura 16 yo (40%, OB, +/-2014) Three stars and a half Apparently, last time I tried the 16, that was in 2007. Personally, I wouldn’t bottle a 16 years old at 40% vol. Colour: gold. Nose: typical metallic nose, tin box, engine, caramel… But that’s just the start, for it would rather unfold on overripe apples, apple crumble, potato peel… And always quite some metal polish. Mouth: very dry and leafy, with a feeling of quaffing seawater infused with tobacco leaves (or something like that). Plus the obligatory walnuts. Sadly, the low strength makes the bitter and salty dryness stand out, like in a manzanilla. Manzanilla has its aficionados – I’m one of them – but this style is very ‘segmenting’. Finish: shortish, very dry, salty, tobacco-ish, leafy… Comments: it’s not the latest ‘Duriach’s Own’ bottling, which is sweeter and rounder according to the very excellent Jean-Marc Bélier, taster and note-maker extraordinaire at LMdW. SGP:362 - 83 points.

Jura ‘Tastival 2016’ (51%, OB, triple sherry finish)

Jura ‘Tastival 2016’ (51%, OB, triple sherry finish) Four stars Not the actual picture yet. This year’s brand new Jura festival bottling, I believe out right today on the island. Apparently, it is NAS, and I guess ‘triple sherry finish’ means that a part was finished in oloroso, one part in fino, and one part in PX (or amontillado?), and not that they did that on the whole batch successively. Let’s try it… Colour: gold. Nose: Jura likes sherry. Globally, this is a bolder Turas-Mara, with more structure, marmalade, seawater, and, apparently, peat. Quite some leather too, coal, soot, earth… With water: nosing a good IPA, plus leather, nuts, and bread. There’s nothing better than good bread (apart from whisky that tastes like good bread). Mouth (neat): very good job. It’s kept Jura’s acridness and even its leafy/metallic side, but there are also more oranges and honey, which makes it rounder and better approachable. And, there, raisins. So perhaps PX? With water: fino-ish mustardy, dry, leafy, tobacco-ish, and salty. Indeed, the Turas-Mara on steroids. Finish: long, with more marmalade. Perfect salty aftertaste. Comments: is that the Jura Festival or the Sanlucar de Barrameda Festival? Seriously, very good Jura. All we also need is an age statement. SGP:362 - 87 points.

An age statement, he said… And why not peat, while you’re at it?...

Jura 25 yo 1989/2015 ‘Heavily Peated’ (60.9%, Signatory Vintage, bourbon, cask #30729, 194 bottles)

Jura 25 yo 1989/2015 ‘Heavily Peated’ (60.9%, Signatory Vintage, bourbon, cask #30729, 194 bottles) Four stars I remember well when these peated batches first came out, they caused quite a stir. Colour: pale gold. Nose: okay, it’s not that peaty. It’s rather very sooty and mineral, extremely dry, and very leathery and paraffiny. Not unlike when we were opening a new pack of plasticine or Play-Doh, when we were kids. But it’s also very strong, so… With water: gets farmy. Cow stable, hay, the farmer’s old leather jacket, and the petrol for his tractor. Okay, his bioethanol, if you like. Mouth (neat): eating your leather jacket. Huge leather polish, plain leather, a very acrid smokiness, and this feeling of eating grass (S., you’re much too old for rugby!) Bags of black pepper. With water: we tamed it, it seems. Perhaps a little too dry and leafy, but other than that, the salty, coastal, and lemony peatiness just works. Quite some black pepper too. Finish: long, big, ‘perforating’, leathery, and salty. What’s great is that bitter marmalade and green tea come out in the aftertaste, making the signature gentler. Kind of. Comments: a rather brutish Jura that really needs water. As they say in Austria, not for sissies. I really like. SGP:365 - 86 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Jura I've tasted so far



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May 24, 2016


A few Yamazing NAS, AU, and Vintages

Time to try more Japanese whiskies. It’s true that the disappearance of age statements and the massive price hikes (our friends seem to get more Scottish than the Scots with their whiskies these days) have kind of curbed our enthusiasm, as the good Larry Davis would have said. First, an apéritif…

Yamazaki ‘Sherry Cask 2009’ (48%, OB)

Yamazaki ‘Sherry Cask 2009’ (48%, OB) Three stars and a half Yes, the ancestor of those insane newer batches that are fetching very high prices at auctions. Apparently, this very ‘2009’ now goes for around €1,800 a bottle. No age statements and one mad world. Colour: dark red amber. Nose: lets admit that this is pretty lovely, with a bag of dried fruits and marmalades, many raisins, and a blend of various tobaccos and precious woods, all that covered with touches of menthol and liquorice. Perhaps a little cellulosic varnish. Ultra-classic, a kind of polished, less ‘rustic’ Glenfarclas. Whiffs of old wine cellar. Honestly, this is a beautiful nose, a kind of JS Bach of the whisky world. Mouth: starts with marmalade on burnt cake, goes on with wheelbarrows of dried dates, keeps going on with notes of ruby Port, cherry liqueur and even Amarone, and gets then very raisiny. Corinths. Once again it’s highly polished, and at times you’d think you’re having some old oloroso ‘dulce’. The strength is perfect. Finish: long, rather tobacco-ish now, that is to say a little drier. Some cherry-flavoured marzipan in the aftertaste. Comments: what it is, is extremely good. What it’s not is moving and subtle. Or as they say in Scotland, ‘good not great’. Some oak is feeling a bit, as in many Japanese whiskies. I had tasted it at the MM Awards 2009 – 100% blind of course – didn’t write notes, but went for 83 points. I’ll be a little more generous this time, but remember this is no blind tasting. Probably one of the worst Q/P ratios out there ;-). SGP:651 - 84 points.

Good, let’s get serious…

Yamazaki ‘Age Unknown’ (43%, OB, 1989)

Yamazaki ‘Age Unknown’ (43%, OB, 1989) Five stars That’s right, the ancestor of the ancestors of the current NAS Yamazaki, since this baby was bottled in 1989 under the ruling of master blender Keizo Saji. Some sources in Japan state that the majority, if not the totality was distilled in the 1960s. Colour: deep amber. Nose: what’s in there, and that wasn’t quite in the ‘2009’, is complexity. In fact it is amazing, since it reminds me of the famed pre-war Macallans, such as the stunning 1938 ‘handwritten label’. Fantastic combination of honeydew, old Yquem, Cohibas, old plum wine, crème de menthe, chartreuse, chocolate liqueur (drops), honeysuckle, perhaps a little elderflower… No, a lot of elderflower. I know that’s an acquired taste, but I for one (and as an Alsatian) am all for it. Perfect nose, with a great deal of complexity. Sends the ‘2009’ back to school. Mouth: of sweet Vishnu! Starts magnificently, with the strongest chestnut honey blended with liquid caramel, and rather develops on some kind of fruitcake seasoned with aromatic herbs. Figs, star anise, a touch of cane sugar, dried bananas, apricots, old sweet Madeira, a little pipe tobacco, more honey, a bit of light fudge, soft liquorice… Really, it is amazingly complex, and it feels like more than 43%. Finish: long, rich, silky, doing the peacock’s tail for a long time. How many caudalies? Perhaps more than 100? In case you don’t know, which I doubt, a caudalie is one second. It’s a measure of how long any drink lasts on your palate once you’ve swallowed it. Comments: yeah sure, under these conditions and circumstances, you don’t need any age statement! SGP:661 - 94 points.

Yamazaki 2003/2014 (55%, OB, for the Whisky Shop, Spanish oak bota corta, cask #ADDY3038)

Yamazaki 2003/2014 (55%, OB, for the Whisky Shop, Spanish oak bota corta, cask #ADDY3038) Four stars and a half There, a proper vintage. Colour: mahogany. Nose: starts with this feeling of ‘sherried bourbon wood’ that’s sometimes to be seen in modern sherried malts, which suggests it was bespoke sherry-treated new oak. Now who would be against all these smoked prunes? Add burnt honey, Demerara sugar, actually old high-proof Demerara rum (Port Mourant), and orange peels and you’ve got… this. We’re far from the ‘Age Unknown’ as far as complexity is concerned, but it works. With water: soy sauce, tobacco, and lovage. Nice. Excuse me? Yes, and umami. Mouth (neat): some massive, oaky, slightly sour (tamarind, red currants) arrival, extremely thick and ‘extracted’, perhaps a little difficult. Huge bags of cloves and these tannins that are ‘sticking your tongue and your palate together’. This is extreme indeed, one could think of the wildest batches of Glenfarclas’ famous ‘105’. With water: what’s better is that it swims like a champ, becoming beautifully chocolaty and liquoricy. Bitter oranges. It’s not that it became ‘complex’, but it’s very fulfilling. Finish: long, balanced, on tobacco and chocolate. Thin mints in the aftertaste. Comments: I like it actually much better than the ‘Sherry 2009’, even if styles are similar. SGP:561 - 88 points.

A last rare one…

Yamazaki 1986/2009 'Owner's Cask' (51%, OB, Butt/Mizunara, cask #6B0021)

Yamazaki 1986/2009 'Owner's Cask' (51%, OB, Butt/Mizunara, cask #6B0021) Five stars While thinking of Bert V. We had tried some sister casks five years ago, especially cask #6B0018 had been quite fantastic (WF 90) while #6G5020 had been even greater in my book (WF 91). Now what is ‘butt/mizunara’? Probably a butt made out of mizunara oak, unless only parts of the butt were in that Japanese oak a.k.a. Quercus mongolica (some staves, and/or the heads). Colour: full gold. Nose: it’s well know that Yamazaki loves mizunara – and conversely. No exception to the rule here, this is crisp, fresh, ‘resinously oaky’ in a great manner, with a wonderful herbal side, mint leaves, touches of chalk, and then, and I swear I’m not making this up, obvious notes of some of the most mineral rieslings. We’re talking Ste-Hune by Trimbach, for example. Das esch echt tip top! Now, it was a butt, but I don’t find any sherry. With water: superlative menthol and eucalyptus. Wandering throughout an small unknown island in the Mediterranean. Mouth (neat): one of these very sappy ones. Chartreuse, genepy, wormwood, verbena, all that. The freshness is impressive, and even if one feels that this baby’s pretty much oak-infused, all the oils and saps from the quercus mongolica manage to make it, or at least keep it perfectly fresh and elegant. Quite the opposite of American oak – not that I don’t like American oak, of course, but there. So, it’s great. Fresh almonds. With water: gets creamy and fruitier. Peaches in syrup, plus perhaps a little drying green oak? Not too sure, but careful with water, just a few drops will do. Finish: long, clean, with more citrus on top of all these sappy and mentholated notes. Comments: I’m usually not too fond of oak-driven spirits, but this time, I feel I have to bow my head before this butt that never saw any sherry (unless I’m wrong again). SGP:571 - 91 points.

(Merci beaucoup Phil, Ryan in Taiwan, and SImon!)

More tasting notes Check the index of all Japanese whiskies I've tasted so far



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May 23, 2016



Our talented correspondent Angus reports
(almost) live from Islay

Tasting four new
bottlings for Feis Ile

So once again we couldn’t make it to Islay for the festival, but our good friend Angus McRaild is over there and could send us his own tasting notes. I think it’s important to know that Angus and yours truly share very similar tastes with regard to whisky (perhaps not w.r.t. folk rock, though), and that you may take his scores exactly as if they were mine, should scores matter. - Serge

Bowmore ‘Feis Ile 2016’ (54.9%, OB, American Virgin Oak & European Oak Sherry Casks, 1500 bottles)

Bowmore ‘Feis Ile 2016’ (54.9%, OB, American Virgin Oak & European Oak Sherry Casks, 1500 bottles) Two stars and a half
Apparently this is matured in virgin oak before being re-racked into fresh sherry. Hmmm...
Colour: Coppery orange
Nose: It really is the oak that sings loud and clear first. New oak, pencil shavings, a little caraway liqueur, some turpentine effect from the alcohol. After a little time some creosote and tarry notes emerge morphing quickly into a light ashyness. Some glimmers of Bowmore are in there, poking bravely through the clouds of new oak. With water: more sea air and little more depth overall. The wood shavings are still quite prevalent but there’s also old motor oil and tool sheds knocking about in there now which is certainly pleasant.

Palate: Hot, syrupy oak at first with lots of glazed fruits and tar liqueur. This is much nicer on immediate delivery than the nose. More fat, pulpy fruits and oils but also quite a lot of oak still, there is more distillate character but you’re never forgetting it’s really an oak-forward whisky. Some nice sweet gristy notes and peat oils emerge on second sip with notes of orange marmalade and something slightly coastal like sandalwood. With water there is a little more deft green fruit but its no fruit-bomb Bowmore. Greengages, various jams, then more wood derivatives such as pin resin and tea tree oil. With a bit more time it really starts to display some nice notes of wormwood and Green Chartreuse.
Finish: A lot of residual tingling on the front of the palate and a nice coastal fade but not overly long. Slightly sticky woody notes and something menthol in the background.
Comments: It has its moments but this sort of bottling feels a little like a missed opportunity. Bowmore’s distillate is so distinctive it’s kind of frustrating that for a Feis bottling they don’t embrace and show off their own best qualities. The oak is just a bit too prevalent here and there is a bit of a confusion between the virgin oak and the sherry. 79 points.

Bowmore 17 yo ‘Hand Bottled’ (56.1%, OB, Feis Ile, PX cask matured, 2016)

Bowmore 17 yo ‘Hand Bottled’ (56.1%, OB, Feis Ile, PX cask matured, 2016) Four stars and a half
Colour: Polished copper
Nose: Immediately muscular, coastal, gingery and tarry with big notes of creosote, old kreel nets and dried seaweed. Some freshly ground black pepper, capers in brine, nutmeg and eventually something sticky molasses from the sherry. I’m not normally the biggest fan of modern Bowmore and sherry together but this seems very nicely integrated so far. Some leafy and earthy notes emerge with a little time in the glass along with hints of graphite and ink. Gets increasingly more spicy as well with more notes of ginger and cumin. With water: softer with notes of fresh ginger bread, hot kippers with lemon juice and various smoked teas. Ultimately a lovely medley of gentle smokiness, resin, leafy sherry and seashore characters.

Palate: Peated sticky toffee pudding (that doesn’t exist but perhaps it should...?). Also smoked Dundee Cake (time to stop inventing phenol-infused puddings perhaps?) Lots of jams, creosote, tar liqueur, camphor, hessian cloth and some dark fruits. Maybe becomes a bit tart and tannic after a couple of sips. Lets add some water... more brine notes, smoked mussels and syrupy camphor notes. The sherry and the distillate remain pretty well integrated with nice notes of warm rye bread, black tea and freshly kilned malt. Some more medicinal qualities appear with time such as mercurochrome and a lick of iodine.
Finish: Good length with some solid resinous smokiness, seashore bonfires and peat oils.
Comments: I often find these big, sticky sherry casks and Bowmore can become easily disentangled and a little un-balanced. This, however, was a solid one and a good surprise. A highly quaffable and very worthy Feis bottling. Coming soon to an auction near you no doubt... 89 points.

Lagavulin 18 yo (49.5%, OB, Bicentenary Edition, Feis Ile 2016, Refill Hogsheads & European Oak Bodega Sherry Butts, 6000 bottles)

Lagavulin 18 yo (49.5%, OB, Bicentenary Edition, Feis Ile 2016, Refill Hogsheads & European Oak Bodega Sherry Butts, 6000 bottles) Five stars
I didn’t make it over to Lagavulin’s open day this year but apparently the queue was one of the finest and most impressive yet. When I went this morning to buy a couple of bottles for myself there was still a queue. Perhaps you could call it a ‘living queue’. Each time it is depleted it gets topped up with fresh whisky enthusiasts. Anyway, quite excited to taste this one...
Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: What’s great is that they’ve really tried to embrace the distillery character. Immediately you have lots of these elegant dried kelp notes, subtle camphor aromas and mineral qualities. Lots of fresh oysters, lemon juice, wet rocks, seashore pebbles, sheep’s wool and various medicinal tinctures. Totally classical and quite seductive. I almost don’t want to add water but I don’t want to bring Whiskyfun into disrepute (again). Water brings out some autolytic qualities, the breadiness of a good Blanc du Blanc Champagne along with preserved lemons, smoked cereals and crisp white peppery note. Even a wet dog or two (Serge always apologises to the dogs but I think they probably enjoy being wet). Totally wonderful. 
Palate: Bready, peaty, slightly yeasty, gristy, lots of these wonderful tertiary notes which are only found in peated whiskies given sufficient maturation time. Green fruits aplenty, almost more fruity than most modern Lagavulins with a wonderful citrus edge; lots of lemon peel and citrus oils. Some green olive notes and resurgence of these briny notes including capers and anchovies. Perhaps you could add this to a Puttanesca...? With water... it dons a Mezcal mask and gives up notes of smoked agave, more various olives and a soft but luscious phenolic signature.
Finish: Lemony, oily, fruity, smoky, peaty long and totally satisfying.
Comments: This is quite a departure from previous years Feis bottlings, it doesn’t have the same blade-like, ashy sharpness. Instead, this really reminds me of the very early 16 year old White Horse bottlings from the late 1980s. It’s the same kind of fruit-driven, gently phenolic sort of Islay malt. A little paean to the past and a great bottling for their 200th anniversary. I love it, a hugely pleasurable dram. Lets hope that quite a few will be opened and enjoyed rather than just traded at auction. 92 points.

Laphroaig ‘Cairdeas’ (51.6%, OB, Feis Ile 2016, Madeira Finish)

Laphroaig ‘Cairdeas’ (51.6%, OB, Feis Ile 2016, Madeira Finish) Four stars
An interesting fact: the Cairdeas Laphroaig’s for the Feis are bottled at a strength which corresponds to the year of bottling. Last year’s was 51.5% and the year before 51.4%. This year’s release was matured for around 8 years in bourbon barrels before being re-racked into madeira hogsheads for a further 2 years.
Colour: Light Salmon pink.

Nose: Ash, mercurochrome, iodine, some mineral notes and creosote. It’s a big, bone dry Laphroaig that almost has something of good Sancerre (although the colour would suggest a rose). Thankfully the Madeira is quite shy on the nose at first, you rather just get some pretty typical and good modern Laphroaig characteristics. Develops on oily, fulsome peat qualities with brine, TCP and a variety of medicinal notes. Perhaps a tiny shred of red fruits from the Madeira but its very quiet; it was probably a dry Madeira. With water: no massive changes, still a big, dry, hyper-clean, coastal Laphroaig.
Palate: Quite consistent with the nose, lots of TCP, tar, iodine, wet beach pebbles, seaweed in the sun and wet smoked grains. So far the colour is where the Madeira has the loudest voice. A nice savory smokiness develops all on gentle ashy notes, bonfire smoke and olive oil. Not hugely complex but quite direct, well structured and precise. With water there is a little suggestion of fruit from the Madeira but again it is very subtle and totally dominated by these quite straightforward Laphroaig characteristics. Really good stuff.
Finish: Ashy, mineralic, briny, lemony. Another big, bone-dry blade that lingers to nice smoky embers on the palate.
Comments: I think Laphroaig are very smart with their Feis bottlings. Not expensive, quite simple, very classical in style and loads of bottles so there are no silly queues and everyone can afford and acquire one. The Madeira finish seems a little pointless and disposable to me but it certainly didn’t hurt the whisky and was well integrated. A good, solid Laphroaig that is destined for hip flasks on the shore in years to come. Which is exactly what these bottlings should be I think. Well done Laphroaig. 86 points.



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May 22, 2016


Tequila and mezcal head to head, again

Last Sunday we tried to answer this crucial question, what’s best, mezcal or tequila? Everything has been lousy, the procedures and the results, which had been an unexpected draw. So we’ll try again, picking up various tequilas and mezcals at random…

Corralejo ‘Reposado’ (38%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2010)

Corralejo ‘Reposado’ (38%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2010) Three stars This blue baby – but is it blue agave? – was triple distilled, according to the label. Colour: very pale white wine. Nose: it’s a rather earthy and rooty one, reminding me of some Swiss gentian eau-de-vie. I also get bitter oranges and grapefruits, as well as a little tincture of iodine, which makes it  rather ‘mezcaly’ tequila. A little tar and plasticine as well. Mouth: I find it very good, rather mineral and earthy again, with a development on grapefruits again, with a saltiness in the background. Lacks punch, though, this would probably rock at 45% vol. Finish: medium, perhaps a little too bitter this time. Which is strange, since it was triple distilled using an unusual set-up, pot then column then pot again. Comments: what’s sure is that I like this reposado much better than their anejo. SGP:461 - 80 points.

Pelotón de la Muerte (41%, OB, mezcal joven, +/-2015)

Pelotón de la Muerte (41%, OB, mezcal joven, +/-2015) Three stars and a half100% espadin from Oaxaca. But what a name, yet again! Better than Norse gods or Scottish lighthouses? You decide… Colour: white. Nose: very typical rustic mezcal, ridden with iodine, smoked herbs, earth, olives and gherkins, lime, and perhaps pickled samphires. It’s very fresh, it is a style that I like a lot. Mouth: super good, starting medicinal (more iodine, antiseptic), getting very earthy, with lemon peel, more olives, and a very ashy side, ala Octomore. Lapsang souchong. Another mezcal that’s making googly eyes at some of Islay’s peatier whiskies. The strength is perfect. Finish: long, very smoky, tarry, earthy, and lemony. Excellent. Comments: could we have this in a more civilised bottle? I’m joking… What’s sure is that mezcal is taking the lead. SGP:363 - 83 points.

Tres Mujeres ‘Extra Anejo’ (38%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2015)

Tres Mujeres ‘Extra Anejo’ (38%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2015) Three stars and a half Another strange bottle. This one’s quite expensive, around 70€. Let’s see what these three ladies have got to tell us… Colour: straw. Perhaps extra-anejo indeed, but not for very long. Nose: this one’s very soft, much softer than the two previous ones. It’s like nosing Glenmorangie after Ardbeg. Having said that it’s complex, delicate, rather floral, with some lilac and orange blossom, and then a superb green wulong or any other top-range green tea. Only wee touches of lavender-scented soap, as can be found in many tequilas. Mouth: a little firmer, starting rather medicinal once again (antiseptic, camphor) and going on with sweets and jellies. Even raspberries. Turkish delights. The agave keeps singing in the background, which keeps it fresh and, well, agave-y. I find this very good. Finish: medium, sweet. Blood oranges, this time? Comments: it’s quite amazing that these 38% taste like 43%. Proof that it’s big spirit. Liked this one quite a lot. SGP:551 – 84 points.

Mezcal Eterno ‘Joven No.1’ (40%, OB, mezcal, +/-2016)

Mezcal Eterno ‘Joven No.1’ (40%, OB, mezcal, +/-2016) Two starsMore sleek packaging around this trendy pure espadin from Oaxaca, that’s meant to be ‘artesanal’ (the equivalent of craft with whisky). Colour: white. Nose: well, not much happening, especially after the Peloton and the Tres Mujeres. Whiffs of broken branches and damp earth, perhaps, gravel, grass… It is very discreet so far, I’d never had said this was craft mezcal. Mouth: a little more happening. Prickly lemon juice, a little ginger, touches of salt, a little tar and rubber… Really one of the softest mezcals I could try, you’d rather think it’s a mixto (only partially agave). Finish: short, a little ashy. Comments: a very gentle mezcal. Perhaps not for us whisky people. SGP:341 - 76 points.

Jose Cuervo ‘Tradicional Silver’ (38%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2014)

Jose Cuervo ‘Tradicional Silver’ (38%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2014) Two stars One of the largest brands, together with Sauza. And of course, as mentioned on the label, this unaged tequila is ‘handcrafted’. Colour: white. Nose: even less happening than in the Eterno. It’s not that it’s not nice, it’s just pretty innocuous, with a little lemon, a little grass, and a wee bit of olive. Mouth: same power as that of the Eterno, that is to say not much, but its relatively clean. More lemon and grass, plus a touch of pitch and a curious feeling of sugar syrup, and even vanilla. A real light one. Finish: short, a little sweet, but clean and rather fresh. Oranges in the aftertaste. Comments: harmless blanco or joven, not bad at all. Perhaps tequila for good people who do not like tequila? SGP:341 - 75 points.

Mezcal is having the floor again…

Mezcales De Leyenda ‘Oaxaca’ (42%, OB, mezcal joven, +/-2015)

Mezcales De Leyenda ‘Oaxaca’ (42%, OB, mezcal joven, +/-2015) Two stars and a half This one’s organic mezcal, made with espadin agaves from San Juan del Rio in a small Mexican cooperative. Colour: white. Nose: nice definition, with some lemongrass and a wee gamy side, around smoked ham, perhaps. Then the usual olives, some tar, a little plasticine, and perhaps hints of chlorine. The whole is very nice, pretty light, and seemingly refreshing, let’s see… Mouth: in the style of the Eterno, so relatively light, although more smoke and salty brine start to come out after a few seconds. Salted lemon juice? Ready-made margarita? Finish: short to medium, lemony, briny. Really gentle, a tad smokier in the end. Ashy aftertaste. Comments: pretty good, just a little lazy at times. Another introductory mezcal? SGP:342 - 78 points.

Herencia De Plata ‘Reposado’ (38%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2015)

Herencia De Plata ‘Reposado’ (38%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2015) one star and a half From Jalisco. I had found their anejo relatively to my liking (WF 78). Colour: white wine. Nose: it’s a very fruity, sweet one, with, well, fruits coated with corn syrup and custard. That gives it a fudgy and chocolaty character I’m not too fond of. Mexican Nutella? Mouth: same feeling of Mexican Bailey’s, not quite my thing. Butterscotch. The agave-y notes are well hidden behind all that, provided they’re there. More or less in the style of the Tequila 2 that we had last Sunday, only even rounder and fudgy. Finish: short, chocolaty, vanilla-ed. Comments: I’m sure this baby has got its fans, but I wouldn’t say it’s for whisky enthusiasts. Unless you’re a fan of Haig Club, that is. SGP:531 - 68 points.

Del Maguey ‘San Luis Del Rio Special Stitzel-Weller Cask Finish’ (42%, OB, mezcal, +/-2014)

Del Maguey ‘San Luis Del Rio Special Stitzel-Weller Cask Finish’ (42%, OB, mezcal, +/-2014) Two stars Oh, no! And around €140, mind you. In short, another scary cross-genre spirit, modern-Scotch-style. Colour: extremely pale white wine. Nose: good, the oak is totally anecdotal at this point, which is great news. Having said that it hasn’t got most other Del Maguey’s vibrancy and punch, I’m finding this one a little sleepy, as if it had been filtered. Distant ashes, olives, brine, tar… Mouth: better, but it’s still a little uncertain. Finding limoncello in mezcal, is that normal? Then rather salted margarita, with a little vanilla and Nutella. Exactly what I wouldn’t like to see in some craft mezcal, but that’s probably only me. Well, not sure… Finish: medium, a little uncertain. What I enjoy is this floral smokiness. Geranium? A little chalk in the aftertaste. Comments: disappointed – especially given the price. I find the cheaper Del Magueys much, and I mean much better. SGP:541 - 74 points.

One last tequila…

Ocho ‘La Latilla Reposado’ (40%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, 2015)

Ocho ‘La Latilla Reposado’ (40%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, 2015) Four stars Single estate tequila! I have to say I had really enjoyed Ocho’s Curado a few years back (WF 85). Colour: almost white. Nose: it’s a superb, highly polished tequila, very subtle and complex, with a lovely floral freshness and many cooked fruits, from apples to mangos. So it’s not quite of the smoky/herbal style, but this very delicate profile is wonderful. Barbecued peaches. Mouth: excellent, with a soapy arrival – we’re talking ‘tequila soap’ – as well as hints of violets, jasmine tea, and tangerines. We’re far from the heavy and often very spectacular ‘all agave’ smoky style, this it’s beautiful. Twenty years ago, I’d have added that it’s a little feminine. Finish: short, perhaps, but beautifully floral and fruity. The agave yodels in the aftertaste. Comments: excellent, if a little soft, perhaps. SGP:441 - 85 points.

… And one last mezcal…

Pierde Almas 'Tobaziche' (48%, OB, mezcal, +/-2015)

Pierde Almas 'Tobaziche' (48%, OB, mezcal, +/-2015) Four starsTobaziche is a variety of wild agave. This mezcal matures for around 12 years (probably in stone) before it’s liberated. It comes from San Baltazar Guelavila, and is ‘genuinely craft’. Colour: white. Nose: back to the smoky/leafy/briny, totally agave-y style that we cherish. I wouldn’t say it’s wham-bam mezcal, though, as it’s not totally big, but the purity is impressive. Smoked tea leaves, perhaps used coffee grounds, cigar smoke… All very nice. Mouth: perfect, extremely agave-y, starting rounded and even a little sweetish (grenadine syrup, Cointreau), and getting then brinier and smokier by the second. Also floral tones, such as geranium, lavender, and violet. I know that doesn’t always sound great in whisky, but under these circumstances, that’s all good news. Tends to become more citrusy as well, with tangerines and  pink grapefruits. All for the better. Finish: rather long, extremely fresh and sauvignony. In other words, more grapefruits. Very smoky aftertaste. Comments: simply super good, it’s one of those Islays of tequila/mezcal. Perhaps rather Caol Ila? SGP:453 - 87 points.

So, the results. Did we mangae to decide between tequila and mezcal this time. The former’s averaget was rather close again – says this guy who always thought mezcal, when not taki is 78.4, while the latter’s is 79.6. Thang the industrial junk into consideration, was always vastly superior to tequila.

LAST MINUTE BONUS!! (because you’ve been quiet and understanding ;-))

Licor de Nanche (20%, OB, Casa Argàez, Mexico, +/-2011)

Licor de Nanche (20%, OB, Casa Argàez, Mexico, +/-2011) A bottle that comes straight from Mexico. To be honest, I had thought it was tequila before I checked the label more carefully. And I should have noticed that it came from Yucatan, not from Oaxaca or Jalisco! Nanche is nance, AKA golden spoon, a very acid yellow fruit that grows in tropical America. A first here at WF Towers. Colour: deep amber. Nose: amazing, you would think you’re nosing some old sweet moscatel. It’s also got a cheesy and vinegary side, not that far from some balsamic vinegars, as well as hints of sorghum spirit like they make in China. Perhaps fermenting figs as well. Mouth: very good! Rather vin de paille this time, we’re close to the world of sweet wine, both in structure and, well, organoleptically speaking. What’s really lovely is that it’s not too sweet. Like it. Finish: rather long, not too spirity. More old sweet muscat. Comments: a good surprise, this is better than a bad tequila! I’ll poor some to some wine friends tonight – blind of course. Some fun to be had. SGP:730 - (useless) points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Tequila and Mezcal I've tasted so far



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May 21, 2016


Islay, a good cause, and a White Horse

Suffering from Islayitis here in Alsace. Not that I haven’t been to Islay qui a few times in recent months or years, but it’s the fifth or sixth time I’m missing Feis Ile. In a row, so to speak! So as a kind of compensation, we’ll have a good dram of an old White Horse, from the biggest bottle of White Horse I’ve ever seen.

What’s more, travellers and pilgrims who are lucky to be on Islay over this weekend will have the opportunity to try this very bottle as well and compare their own tasting notes, thanks to salmon fisherman extraordinaire and part-time hotelier Jon Beach aka Jonny Fiddler, who’ll be selling drams of it for charity (can’t quite recall which good cause it is, though, Jon, if you ever read this, please remind me!) As for where on the island you’ll have a chance to cross Jon’s path, I’m not too sure either, but I’d bet that won’t be too far from Port Ellen. Should I get more information, I’ll just post an update below these notes…

Look for this gentleman (cap is optional) >>>

White Horse (no a.b.v., OB, blend, no capacity but around 6 litres, +/-1960) Five stars In Bordeaux, a 6l bottle is called an impériale, but I’m not sure you could use this rather Napoleonic moniker to characterise a product from Her Very Gracious Majesty’s own lands and terroirs. Now remember that with old wines, the larger the bottle, the higher the quality, which might be true as well with whisky – or not. What’s more, according to Jon, he’s got ‘an e-mail from Diageo’s Dr Nick Morgan where he says he's 99.9% sure it's 99.9% Malt Mill in the bottle. Honest.’ We have absolutely no reason to question that statement! Colour: full gold. Nose: it’s amazing how close we are to both an old chardonnay from Bourgogne and some bone-dry ale – but I’m no beer expert. What’s sure is that wine enthusiasts and beer freaks alike are going to like this. Maggi, old walnuts, old tools, soot, then a growing smoke (coal, peat, wood, all of them), ‘nosing the engine of an old Jag’, allspice, Jägermeister, tobacco, Russian black tea (loose leaves)… It’s all superlatively fantastic, if you enjoy your whisky dry and very complex. Pssst, it MUST be Malt Mill!

Mouth: my god it’s huge! Starts with marmalade and an acrid/pungent smoke, plus a lot of salt, before it bursts into myriads of phenolic, graphite-y, mineral and herbal elements. We’d need two hours to list them all (quite) but just to give you a few examples, there’s some thyme, tobacco, tangerines, chalk, lovage, soy sauce, beef stock, seawater, beeswax, rosemary, oregano, very black tea, liquorice, tar… And lots and lots of other molecules. One of the peatiest blends I’ve tried. Finish: absolutely endless, very herbal and tarry. Long-forgotten herbal liqueurs, Fernet-Branca, crème de menthe,  salt, sooty smoke… … … Comments: we all know old White Horse used to be one of the best, if not the best blended Scotch ever. This is a particularly fat-tastic example. Try it if you’re on Islay! SGP:365 - 91 points.

UPDATE: Jon will be at Lagavulin all day and it'll be £5 a pour (a steal if you ask me) or £20 a 100ml bottle. He'll also have a couple of Port Ellens available. All the money will be going to the webpage set up by John McLellan's family to raise money for the Beatson Cancer Unit in Glasgow.



May 20, 2016


Little duets, today Glenallachie vs. Glenallachie

Oh I so like the underdogs no one is interested in ;-). This isn’t going to be a hit on Facebook, but just between us, who cares? (I know some attention whores do care, but both you and I are well above that, aren’t we?)

Glenallachie 20 yo 1995/2015 (52.3%, Liquid Sun, bourbon)

Glenallachie 20 yo 1995/2015 (52.3%, Liquid Sun, bourbon) Three stars Colour: white wine. Nose: a Speysider ex-refill wood. So fruits and a few wild flowers. And plenty of malted barley, beyond the apples and the dandelions. A little fresh bread as well, I mean, real bread, not these square industrial things used to make those dreaded club sandwiches. With water: barnyard. There. Mouth (neat): simple and good, good and simple. Very barleyish, plus apples drizzled with lemon syrup. With water: rounder, fatter, fruitier, more citrusy. Swims extremely well, without becoming as complex as… well, a 40 yo Speysider ex-refill sherry. Finish: medium, clean, sweet. Apples and barley. Comments: one of the millions of such casks they have over there in Scotland, but it’s really good! SGP:451 - 81 points.

Glenallachie 22 yo 1993/2015 (57.3%, The Warehouse Collection, bourbon hogshead, cask #5077, 244 bottles)

Glenallachie 22 yo 1993/2015 (57.3%, The Warehouse Collection, bourbon hogshead, cask #5077, 244 bottles) Three stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: a drier one, with more leaves and fresh almonds. A little mint as well, green tea, perhaps linseed oil… More complex, seemingly, but it’ll all happen on the palate. With water: shortbread and tinned peaches. Mouth: the wood was more active, there’s more coconut and vanilla. That works well. Some tangerines, white pepper, angelica, sweet fresh butter, perhaps a drop of pineapple juice… This is very pleasant! Some parts remind me of ex-bourbon Aberlour. With water: very good malty fruitiness, partly citrusy, partly orchardy. That would be a western orchard, say in Kent ;-). Finish: medium, clean, fresh, fruity. Comments: I’m not sure I’ll remember this cask forever, but it does the job and it does it very well. Extremely quaffable. SGP:551 - 84 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Glenallachie I've tasted so far


Pete McPeat and Jack Washback




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May 19, 2016


A little bunch of Caol Ila, part deux

The older ones. You don’t need any more literature, do you? (Serge, for crying out loud, there’s more difference between literature and what you scribble, than between Glenn Gould and Mariah Carey.)

Port Askaig 19 yo (50.4%, Specialty Drinks, +/-2016)

Port Askaig 19 yo (50.4%, Specialty Drinks, +/-2016) Four stars and a half The first version in 2013 was absolutely excellent (WF 88). Colour: white wine. Nose: some linguist may have invented the word ‘vibrant’ just for this. It is pure briny and smoky Caol Ila, polished by time and not by wood, with fresh apples, fresh almonds, and a discreet mentholy side. Then a little antiseptic/TCP/iodine, and a good dollop of seawater. With water: your old jacket after a walk on Islay. Should I add ‘after the rain’? Mouth (neat): once again, it’s the purity that’s impressive. A smoked blend of seawater and lemon juice, with a few essential oils thrown in for good measure. Mint, camphor… With water: gets a notch fruitier (citrus) and, as often, a little earthy. Mud under your shoes (after that famous walk on Islay). Finish: long, zesty, chiselled, blade-y. I had noticed some sweetness in the first batch, but not quite in this one. Comments: as Ayrton Senna used to say, “If you take away Caol Ila, you take away (one of) the reasons why I do this.” Just put Eau Rouge instead of Caol Ila. SGP:447 – 88 points.

Caol Ila 19 yo 1995/2014 (46%, Signatory Vintage, Un-Chillfiltered Collection, hogshead, casks #457-458, 692 bottles)

Caol Ila 19 yo 1995/2014 (46%, Signatory Vintage, Un-Chillfiltered Collection, hogshead, casks #457-458, 692 bottles) Four stars It’s often that the vatting of two or three sister casks brings better results than one single cask. More complexity, for example… Colour: straw. Nose: it’s pleasantly metallic (old tin box) at first nosing, and really very grassy, with cider apples, cut grass, green tea, and all that. No smoke bomb this time, rather a lovely sappy development, with old fir liqueurs and touches of caraway and liquorice, before it starts to get in line. Freshly smoked malted barley – or ‘visiting Port Ellen maltings’. Mouth: classic, zesty, ashy, coastal, salty, lemony… Caol Ila’s very consistent, isn’t it. Perhaps touches of rhubarb and gooseberries from a presbytery garden (what?) Finish: medium, a little more almondy. Salted lemon-flavoured marzipan – yes, should that exist. Comments: go find something bad to say about these whiskies… SGP:456 - 87 points.

Caol Ila 20 yo 1995/2015 (57.7%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, butt, 564 bottles)

Caol Ila 20 yo 1995/2015 (57.7%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, butt, 564 bottles) Five stars I can’t see how or why something would go wrong. Unless it was a PX-treated butt, you never know… Colour: white wine. It wasn’t a PX-treated butt. Nose: grass and iodine everywhere, plus the same old wet tweed jacket and the sharpest lemon juice ever. A blade-y nose. And fresh almonds, but I get no butt (well done again, S.) With water: totally unmarked by the wood. Pure youthful Caol Ila, only polished by time. Mouth (neat): cuts you in halves before you even notice. If it’s a blade, it’s a katana. Huge lemon, plus other acid fruits, rhubarb again and again, barely ripe grapefruit... But a butt? If it was a butt indeed, they last used it for sherry whilst the invincible armada hadn’t even set sail yet. With water: superb ultra-sharp profile, totally blade-y. Smoked lemon juice. Finish: long, millimetric, super fit, razor sharp… (I think we got what you were trying to say, S.). Comments: a butt? Wasn’t it rather a great ex-Sancerre cask? Spectacularly sharp. SGP:466 - 90 points.

Older vintages, please…

Caol Ila 31 yo 1984/2015 (54%, Malt Barn, bourbon, 68 bottles)

Caol Ila 31 yo 1984/2015 (54%, Malt Barn, bourbon, 68 bottles) Five stars Ah, the joys of micro-bottlings and shared casks… Colour: straw. Nose: sometimes Caol Ila seems eternal. I mean, you could come across very old ones that remained totally fresh and as playful as a bunch of nymphs, and this one’s just another example. The only signs of older age that you’ll notice are wonderful mentholated, terpenic, sappy tones that make it nose a bit like some artisan turpentine (Leonardo’s). Other than that, oysters (from Loch Gruinart, obviously), kelp, peat smoke and lemon are making the rendezvous. With water: fantastic. Goes towards old tailor’s shop, plasticine, lamp and linseed oil, turpentine indeed… We’re in Leonardo’s studio! Mouth (neat): totally perfect. There’s more ‘time’ this time (!), with some chartreuse, maraschino, marzipan, smoked salmon, white pepper, lemon liqueur, a touch of diesel oil, and, well, ‘old Caol Ila’. S-u-p-e-r-b. With water: please call the anti-maltoporn brigade immediately! Adore the chlorophyll that comes out, amongst many other tiny flavours. Finish: perhaps only medium to long, but superbly resinous and almondy. Comments: some superlative, perfectly aged Caol Ila that’s got it all going on. Gives you faith in whisky – although I know, only 68 bottles. Probably zero at time of writing. SGP:465 - 93 points.

Caol Ila 1980/2015 ‘The Admiral’s Beacon’ (46%, Wemyss Malts, hogshead, 285 bottles)

Caol Ila 1980/2015 ‘The Admiral’s Beacon’ (46%, Wemyss Malts, hogshead, 285 bottles) Four stars To reduce or not to reduce a 35 years old Caol Ila, that is the question. Apparently, they found the answer at Wemyss Malts’. Having said that, as a Frenchman, I have to say I don't have a good feeling about this Nelsonian name … The Admiral’s Beacon? Wasn’t that bacon instead? Colour: straw. Nose: ah. Noses younger than the 1984, incredibly fresh, perhaps a little diaphanous, so to speak, but this is just like a walk on the shores of Islay, on the Atlantic side. A distant bonfire, some chlorophyll gums in the pocket, the sea spray, your old Barbour jacket (no tweed this time)… And a glass of this for a perfect stereo effect. Mouth: everybody knew this would be good, and indeed it is. It’s even excellent, but the stunning nose was rather fresher and more complex, while the palate is a little ‘greasy’ and bizarrely sweet. Bananas? Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally amazing, it’s just that the oak – I guess that’s the guilty party – made it a little round and ‘Speyside-y’ for Caol Ila. But it is excellent, again, don’t get me wrong. Finish: long to medium, with a little candy sugar, tangerine jam, and custard. The aftertaste is a tad ‘untidy’, perhaps, but it’s true that we had some very sharpy ones just before. Anyway, great old Caol Ila, no question about that. Comments: a sweet and fruity old Caol Ila, which is remarkable, in a way. Interesting that it didn’t go towards mangos and passion fruits, but Caol Ila is neither Bowmore, nor Laphroaig (smart observation, S.) SGP:655 - 87 points.

There are always older vintages…

Caol Ila 1979/2014 (46%, Mackillop's Choice, for World of Whiskies, cask #5297, 264 bottles)

Caol Ila 1979/2014 (46%, Mackillop's Choice, for World of Whiskies, cask #5297, 264 bottles) Five stars Not too sure if this is natural cask strength or not, as the label actually states ’46.0%’. This baby dates back to the times when they still had a few interesting whiskies in travel retail, before they started to get flooded with overpriced NAS… err, things. Colour: pale gold. Nose: whiffs of apple vinegar and bone dry riesling, I like this. We’re really approaching the style of the old pre-extension Caol Ilas, with this very specific smoky/tarry fruitiness that’s so entrancing. Old garage, oils, fisherman’s boat, carbon paper, tarry ropes, hessian, fish oil… I’m sure you see what I mean. Also overripe apples, barley water, a little clay… Perfect! Mouth: some punch! You would have thought it was going to be a little lazy, but not at all. A lot of liquorice, both salted and sweet, perfect walnuts and almonds, some whelks (I’m sorry, whelks - wait…), a wonderful lemony herbalness, a welcome bitterness after that (artichokes?) and a fast growing feeling of ‘eating the ashtray’. The winning trio mint and camphor and eucalyptus is there too. Finish: long. Do you think you could have smoked salmon with mint sauce and lemon? No, it’s not because our dear friends the English do it, that it’s ‘normal’… Comments: another exceptional old Caol Ila. I’m starting to wonder, isn’t Cao Ila the malt that ages the most gracefully? SGP:565 - 92 points.

A last drop and we’re done. Dear distillers, the floor is yours…

Caol Ila 21 yo 1975 (61.3%, OB, Rare Malts, +/-1996)

Caol Ila 21 yo 1975 (61.3%, OB, Rare Malts, +/-1996) Four stars Wasn’t this one the very first Caol Ila within this legendary series? To be honest, some were close to bottled rocket fuel, but that was one of their many charms. Let’s see if this baby’s as extreme as some of its sisters, while remembering that this should come from the very first batches after the distillery had been expanded/rebuilt… Colour: straw/gold. Nose: probably a bit closed, especially after the wonderful trio that we just tried. A feeling of smoked apples, perhaps some cigarette smoke, perhaps some tincture of iodine. But careful, it will pierce your nostrils, so to speak. The alcohol is extremely powerful and even aggressive. So, with water: this feeling of wine vinegar again, limejuice, damp gravel, fresh concrete, chlorine, iodine, earth… It is brutal. Imagine the bridegroom, circa 1995, “honey, I bought a new bottle of whisky to celebrate, let’s open it!” Why don’t marriages last, they ask… Mouth (neat): huge, and yet totally compact. Medicinal alcohol and limoncello, plus some lemongrass, perhaps, and some extra strong mints (perhaps). Fisherman’s Friends. Frankly, it is too strong, you just cannot enjoy it just like that, even while watching the most breathtaking Korean horror movie. With water: we tamed it, and we’re quite proud. Fish oil, paraffin, almonds, ink, plastic, chilli… Finish: extremely long, on smoky concentrated lemon juice. Comments: a total beast. You don’t taste it, you fight it tooth and nail – and it leaves you exhausted and bloodless. I’m so glad it was our last whisky today. Goin’ to bed now… SGP:565 - 87 points.

(And thank you Angus and Fabien)

More tasting notes Check the index of all Caol Ila I've tasted so far



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May 18, 2016


A little bunch of Caol Ila

It can happen that all Caol Ila within one single session do fetch very high scores, as it probably is one of the most consistent, and one of the best distilleries. Will that happen again today?

Caol Ila 8 yo 2007/2016 (53.7%, The Whisky Agency, bourbon hogshead, 324 bottles)

Caol Ila 8 yo 2007/2016 (53.7%, The Whisky Agency, bourbon hogshead, 324 bottles) Four stars Nice labels on these new TWAs. Colour: very pale white wine. Nose: I’d call this ‘after-new-make’, which is the state of whisky just after it reached ‘maturity’, that is to say when it lost the last rough, fermentary and spirity notes/flaws that are inherent to immaturity. That means that this is still totally spirit-driven, but already full of seaweed, fresh almonds, lemon peel, and peat smoke. Very, very clean. With water: wet wool, old tweed jacket, almond oil, damp clay… Mouth (neat): it’s really powerful, and once again I’ve got the feeling that they cranked up the peat levels in recent years. A peppery smoke, plenty of green apple, lemon, oysters, and a drop of Tabasco to go with them. Also a perfect green bitterness. With water: gets even grassier and peatier. Perfect straightness and sharpness, very clean. Finish: long, very well-chiselled, mezcaly. Comments: mezcal indeed, but of course this is smokier than the smokiest mezcal. SGP:467 - 86 points.

Caol Ila 2006/2015 'Whisky of The Year' (52.9%, The Auld Alliance, 156 bottles)

Caol Ila 2006/2015 'Whisky of The Year' (52.9%, The Auld Alliance, 156 bottles) Four stars The name’s a joke by the good people at Singapore’s Auld Alliance bar. Disclaimer: “any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.” End of disclaimer. Now the whisky is real. Colour: white wine. Nose: ashier, drier, more austere than the 2007. Hints of fresh rhubarb and sorrel, lime, grass, kelp, damp chalk… With water: the wet tweed jacket is back, and it would come with two Irish Setters – completely wet, of course. We’re sorry, dogs. Mouth (neat): big, sharp, very green, very lemony, with more rhubarb. A touch of mustard – or wasabi, there. With water: rather almondy this time. Barley water, marzipan… Finish: long, very zesty, very similar to that of the 2009. Grapefruit. Comments: same ballpark, same high quality, same freshness, same score. SGP:466 - 86 points.

Caol Ila 9 yo 2006/2015 (51.3%, Sansibar and S Spirits, bourbon, 340 bottles)

Caol Ila 9 yo 2006/2015 (51.3%, Sansibar and S Spirits, bourbon, 340 bottles) Four stars This should be very similar… Colour: white wine. Nose: indeed, but this one’s got a little more medicinal notes (iodine, bandages) and perhaps a little more pineapple as well. So it’s a little fruitier. With water: I get more eucalyptus and more wet dogs. Old clothes, touches of truffles… Mouth (neat): excellent, mentholy and earthy, so a little different this time. The pineapples are there too (and lemon, oysters, seaweed, smoke, ashes, seawater… As usual). With water: indeed, it’s a little fruitier. Liquorice allsorts, violet drops, anis bredala (an Alsatian thing)… Finish: medium, with even more sweet liquorice. Grassy smoke. Comments: same high quality, this one’s just a little more deviant, thus a little more interesting. Good, one more point. SGP:556 - 87 points.

Caol Ila 2001/2015 (58.8%, Malt Barn, sherry, 192 bottles)

Caol Ila 2001/2015 (58.8%, Malt Barn, sherry, 192 bottles) Four stars and a half Colour: straw. Nose: more oak influence, as expected, but it’s still pretty distillate-driven. The combination creates notes of amaretti, and other almondy things, while there’s a whole fruit salad in the background, with even papayas. Some herbal teas, and rather less peat smoke than in the younger siblings. With water: a superb leafy smoke, with a complexity that wasn’t to be seen in the others. It hints at pre-reopening Caol Ila, so very early 1970s. Really. Mouth (neat): very punchy, more citrusy, more minty, and more kind-of-terpenic. Strong peppermint liqueur, more amaretti, and even a few drops of maraschino. Did all that come from the sherry cask? It’s very intriguing. With water: extremely good. It loves water. Liquorice wood. Finish: long, extremely well defined, and yet rather wide. Almonds, saps, smoke, citrus, menthol… Comments: smashing. I almost went for 90. Well done Malt Barn! SGP:556 - 89 points.

Let’s try an older very young sherried one…

Caol Ila 1998/2008 (59.1%, Gordon & MacPhail, sherry, casks #12875+12876)

Caol Ila 1998/2008 (59.1%, Gordon & MacPhail, sherry, casks #12875+12876) Four stars Colour: gold. Nose: it’s leafier, greener, with more tobacco, earthy tea, walnuts, soy sauce, umami… A different style, a similar very high quality. And let’s not forget that G&M did a lot for Caol Ila, most very old ones coming from their own stable. With water: as often with G&M, the whisky gets cloudy. Chlorine, smoke, pine needles and, perhaps, burning hashish. Mouth (neat): almost like crunching menthol cigarettes while drinking good retsina. Very mentholy, sappy, chartreuse-y, and smoky. This was some cask, it had a lot to say. With water: ah, it doesn’t swim too well, careful with water. Tends to disintegrate, even with a few drops. Finish: long, oily, mentholy, sappy. Comments: what a beast. I’ll never understand the good people that keep telling us that Caol Ila is a gentle, very lightly peated Islayer. SGP:476 - 87 points.

Caol Ila 19 yo 1997/2016 (40.2%, Sansibar and S Spirits, sherry, 599 bottles)

Caol Ila 19 yo 1997/2016 (40.2%, Sansibar and S Spirits, sherry, 599 bottles) Four stars I’m sure it was ‘natural cask strength’. Did they store it in the dampest, coldest warehouse in Scotland? Colour: full gold. Nose: as delicate as an old dry white wine, perhaps a very old manzanilla? Lovely old leather, walnut wine, earth, ‘a city just after the first rain’, many herbal teas, fresh asparagus, old wine cellar, saltpetre, touches of camphor, moss, mushrooms… I short, it’s extremely tertiary. Mouth: something really different. Blind, I’d have said it’s an old peater from G&M’s old ‘brown’ Connoisseur’s Choice series. Burnt walnut cake, a little marmalade, touches of bitter caramel, cedar wood, black tobacco, some kind of dry balsamic vinegar (only cheap industrial ones are sweet anyway), only hints of bitter oranges… I’m not sure it’s technically perfect, but its got many charms, for sure. Finish: a little short, and a little oaky/drying. Eating tobacco. Comments: it hasn’t got the youngsters’ brightness and punch, and sure the peat’s not big here, but it’s got something sexy. Hard to describe. SGP:464 - 85 points.

Tomorrow, part II, some older Caol Ilas. Stay tuned.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Caol Ila I've tasted so far



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May 17, 2016


More blended malts because this is 2016

Question of the day, between a disclosed single malt that wouldn’t tell you about its age, and an undisclosed one or even a blended malt that does, what’s the most trustworthy? Yeah, I agree, it all depends on who’s behind it. The two first ones are good examples of trustworthy bottlings, since they do not sport any of those seminal notions, only ‘good names’.

Enlightenment (46%, Compass Box, blended malt, 5,922 bottles, 2016)

Enlightenment (46%, Compass Box, blended malt, 5,922 bottles, 2016) Four stars A name that sounds like some John Coltrane, how could we be against that? No ages given this time (remember the recent controversy) but we still know that this baby contains 48.2% Clynelish… And the remainder just doesn’t matter. I’m joking, it also contains 36.7% Glentauchers, 10.8% Balblair, and 4.3% Mortlach. This is pure class, and remember Imelda Marcos’ famous quote, “after all, the mass follows class. Class never follows mass.” Don’t tell me you’d have preferred some Wittgenstein! Colour: white wine. Nose: I understand what they’ve tried to do, a lighter, fruitier, more consensual Clynelish. And they succeeded. Much freshness, wheelbarrows of golden delicious apples, a lot of wisteria, and a waxiness that’s much closer to beeswax than to plasticine. Is it being a sexist if you say that it’s got a feminine side? Which is, no need to say, a compliment? Mouth: it’s rather punchy, zesty, slightly mentholated for a start, before it starts to unfold on more acidic apples, gooseberries, white currants, and perhaps a touch of pineapple. This time, Clynelish’s wax got a little shier, I’m not sure I’d have recognised it. Finish: medium, fresh, fruity, with more grassiness. Comments: very good vatting, but I’m not sure I don’t prefer some excellent single Clynelish, Balblair, Glentauchers, or Mortlach. Or maybe am I missing a few drops of Laphroaig? Otherwise yeah, I find it extremely good. SGP:551 - 86 points.

The Whisky Agency 'Extra Old' (44.7%, The Whisky Agency, blended malt, sherry, 2015)

The Whisky Agency 'Extra Old' (44.7%, The Whisky Agency, blended malt, sherry, 2015) Four stars What does Extra Old or XO mean? In Cognac that means that the youngest component is at least six years old. But in this very case, that’s probably older… Colour: gold. Nose: it’s a firm, pleasantly rubbery and grassy start that we’re experiencing, before more and more walnuts and hazelnuts would join in the dancing, together with some marmalade and ‘dry’ raisins. Also whiffs of exhaust pipe, brake pad ‘after Monaco’, and used matches. Reminds me of some sherried Macduffs and Tamdhus that we’ve seen in recent years here and there. Mouth: those garage-y notes remain, with more struck matches and ‘hot brakes’, but I’m also finding some walnut cake and some praline. I enjoy the bitterish and earthy tea notes in the background very much. Finish: long, but appeased and gentler. But there is quite some leather and tobacco in the aftertaste. Comments: for lovers of this style, that sometimes also reminds us of some sherried Mortlachs. Oh let’s not start to play the guessing game… (you did, S.!) SGP:471 - 86 points.

Siar Port 18 yo 1997/2015 (46%, Murray McDavid, blended malt, 685 bottles)

Siar Port 18 yo 1997/2015 (46%, Murray McDavid, blended malt, 685 bottles) Four stars Only two malts, matured in bourbon and finished in sherry. Colour: white wine. No fist fill sherry involved. Nose: in the style of the Enlightenment, with a fresh orchardy fruitiness coated with custard and light honey, which actually makes it a tad rounder. No sherry that I can detect. Some sides remind me of ex-bourbon Aberlour, but I’m sure I’m wrong. Apples, pears, touches of bananas, acacia honey… In truth, this could as well be Balblair. Mouth: immaculate malty fruitiness, with some apple crumble, Ovaltine, butterscotch, shortbread, Weetabix, and drops of maple syrup from two years ago (when they get darker). Total malty goodness. Finish: medium, always very malty, with touches of lemon that, once again, lift it a bit. Nice fresh signature, but the aftertaste remains very malty. Comments: imagine some friends asking you ‘how does malt whisky taste?’ You may pour this. SGP:551 - 86 points.

We could have an older one…

Royal Mile Whiskies 40 yo (47.1%, Royal Mile Whiskies, blended malt, 337 bottles, 2015)

Royal Mile Whiskies 40 yo (47.1%, Royal Mile Whiskies, blended malt, 337 bottles, 2015) Four stars and a half A vatting of Glenrothes, Macallan, and Tamdhu. What could have gone wrong? On the one hand, many flavours may overlap between these three malts, but on the other hand, some coherence may have been obtained, let’s see… Colour: dark gold. Nose: very complex, and not tired. Roasted chestnuts and maple syrup for a start, then chocolate and praline, then toasted brioche and warm croissant, then some pipe tobacco, without any obvious pencil shavings or other undesirable oaky tones. A little wood smoke though. And far away in the distance, the usual marmalade and raisins. Mouth: excellent and lovable. It’s more or less a blend of various honeys with a little Sauternes, or better yet, straw wine from Jura. Then some leafy tea, some tobacco, and once again a little marmalade that keeps it appropriately fruity. The oak’s a little more obvious this time, but we’re rather around cinnamon cake than straight planks or chips. Really excellent. Finish: medium, clean, never oaky as such, rather on dried figs and dates. When is Christmas this year? Oranges in the aftertaste. Comments: we’re bordering the 90 points. Great blended malt. SGP:651 - 89 points.

(Many thanks, Phil and Simon!)

More tasting notes Check the index of all blended malts I've tasted so far



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May 16, 2016


Little duos, Aberlour light and heavy

Just like The Whisky Lodge in Lyon did last year, and LMDW much earlier, The Whisky Exchange managed to have their own official cask of Aberlour, which is as rare as hen’s teeth (unless Monsanto or any other wizards of genetics have just managed to prove that old saying wrong – same with flying pigs). But first, a wee apéritif…

Aberlour 13 yo 1995/2008 (43%, Jean Boyer, Best Casks of Scotland, recoopered hogsheads, 1200 bottles)

Aberlour 13 yo 1995/2008 (43%, Jean Boyer, Best Casks of Scotland, recoopered hogsheads, 1200 bottles) Three stars and a half Similar label as shown on picture. This from the old sample library. Colour: white wine. Nose: pure raw maltiness, on barley, apples, candy sugar, and smidgens of mint. Rather goes towards Fanta and ginger ale after a few seconds, but while uncommon, that’s not unpleasant. Porridge with drizzles of crème de menthe. Fun nose. Mouth: pure, clean, on all orchard fruits, plus sunflower honey and a blend of orange and apple juices. Plus a little barley syrup. Goes down like that, you don’t even notice. Dangerous. Finish: medium, on sweet malt and more candy sugar, mixed with apple juice. Vanilla-ed signature. Comments: pure good undemanding malty goodness, which I find very good. Right. SGP:541 - 83 points.

Aberlour 16 yo (53.5%, OB, for The Whisky Exchange, first fill sherry, cask #4738, 2016)

Aberlour 16 yo (53.5%, OB, for The Whisky Exchange, first fill sherry, cask #4738, 2016) Four stars and a half Colour: amber. Nose: the exhaust of an old English straight-six. Say 007’s. Plus some pencil shavings and other things made out of cedar wood. That gives the whole a funny bourbony side (yup I had noticed it was fist fill sherry), but some changes start to occur after just thirty seconds, with more fruit pudding, roasted chestnuts, lit Cuban cigars, marmalade, and Demerara sugar. You may make that Demerara rum. There’s also something metallic (old penny book), and drops of mint and liquorice essences as well… Really intriguing! With water: class and classic bold Speysider from some active wood. Some dill, fennel, parsley… Mouth (neat): exactly the same feeling, with a bourbony start full of ginger, caraway, and nutmeg, and a long development on triple-sec, spicy Christmas cake, liquorice liqueur, and rich high-esters rum. With water: careful, too much water will make it quite aquavity (!) Caraway… But other than that, it’s superb big bold Aberlour. Finish: very long, spicy, liquoricy, ending on chestnut purée mixed with thick agave syrup (I imagine). Comments: it may not go in for subtleties, but this fat and punchy style works a treat. I, for one, quite love it. SGP:561 - 89 points.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Aberlour I've tasted so far



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May 15, 2016


Tequila and mezcal head to head

To celebrate that Mayan city that a kid in Canada had just discovered using Google Earth, and that wasn’t actually a Mayan city, let’s have a few tequilas and mezcals today. Yeah I know, just any excuses. We’ll select them more or less at random, and have each categories in turn. Starting with, eenie meenie…

Los Arango ‘Reposado’ (35%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, 2010)

Los Arango ‘Reposado’ (35%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, 2010) Two stars A bottle from the Mexican market, bearing the year of bottling. Sadly, the cork is very lousy… The name refers to Pancho Villa, it seems. Yeah, marketing stories are even lousier in Mexico than in Scotland. Colour: straw. Nose: very light, but rather elegant, soft, whispering, with whiffs of soft lemon juice and only a moderate ‘agaviness’. A little lavender and a touch of fragrant soap, as often. Mouth: really light, fresh, clean, slightly earthy… Not a lot to say, actually. The very low strength – again, it’s not a bottle for export – probably is a handicap. Finish: very short, but clean. It hasn’t got more power than a sylvaner or a white zin. Comments: it’s a clean, very easy spirit, but it’s frustrating. I think the original juice was probably ‘nice’. Ha, nice… SGP:231 - 70 points.

A mezcal now…

Mexcal Burrito Fiestero (40%, OB, mezcal joven, +/-2016)

Mexcal Burrito Fiestero (40%, OB, mezcal joven, +/-2016) Three stars Ha, imagine someone in Scotland starts to use the brand ‘Whixky’ or ‘Scotx’. A good idea or what? Right, right… Colour: white. Nose: the opposite of that Arango tequila. Much harsher, wilder, much more rustic, and much, much smokier and earthier. It’s acetic in a good way, there’s pickled gherkins, olives, cigar ashes, a lot of brine, flints, myrtle, a little camphor… Now beware contrasts, we’ll have to double-check all that in a few minutes, after we’ve tried other mezcals and tequilas. Mouth: its really earthy and dirty, and I’d swear there is some peat. Notes of old fabric, dishwater, which is a little less nice, but nothing to worry about. Also some eau-de-vie-ish notes, proof that this is very young indeed. No long aging in stoneware or glass. Finish: medium, calms down, and becomes a little soft. Earthy lemon. Comments: my kind of spirit. It’s just that we’ll possibly come across (even) better ones in a few seconds… SGP:353 - 82 points.

Back to tequila…

XQ ‘Blanco’ (40%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2014)

XQ ‘Blanco’ (40%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2014) Two stars The bottle looks really weird, like many other tequilas. The result of a meeting between bottles of Dimple/Pinch and Sandy MacNab. Colour: white. Nose: it’s hard after a good mezcal. This noses almost like some slivovitz, with some almond and some, well, plum spirit (well done S.) Zweschke. Mouth: better, more agave-y, but the plums remain there. It’s also got a thickish texture that’s a little scary, but of course they wouldn’t have glycerined it, would they. What’s sure is that the weak Los Arango was a cleaner, more complex spirit.  Finish: medium, a little fermentary. Comments: oakayish, but I think it lacks definition to appeal to malt drinkers. Unless, as a mixer… SGP:331 - 72 points.

Mezcal please…

Marca Negra ‘Dobadán’ (47.8%, OB, mezcal, single agave, +/-2015)

Marca Negra ‘Dobadán’ (47.8%, OB, mezcal, single agave, +/-2015) Four stars This rather successful one comes with a perfect hipster-compatible packaging. I like it though, and I’m no hipster (even my offspring agrees). It seems that Dobadán  is pretty rare. Colour: white. Nose: ooh, nice! It noses a bit like some Octomore new make, if you see what I mean. Perfect farmy, earthy, and smoky style, with even hints of horse dung, black olives, some kind of basaltic mud, and in the background, rather overripe bananas and other rotting fruits. ‘Ideas’ of Jamaican dunder-pit rum. Mouth: huge! Sure there’s the higher alcohol, but there’s also plenty of gritty, acrid, harsh, pungent (that’ll do, S.) stuff. Mixing olive brine and cigar ashes. Finish: long, superbly dirty. Comments: there’s something perverse and wacky to this fantastic spirit. The New York Dolls’ preferred? SGP:463 - 86 points.

Tequila please…

2 ‘Reposado’ (40%, OB, organic tequila, 100% agave, +/-2016)

2 ‘Reposado’ (40%, OB, organic tequila, 100% agave, +/-2016) Two stars Remember ‘reposado’ means only a few months of aging, often only two or three. So basically, they’re unaged spirits (and that’s why I’m having some amongst blancos/jovens). Colour: very pale white wine. Nose: ah, this is a tequila that’s got a little more to tell us, even if it’s much softer and shier than the mezcals. A few coastal notes, for example, or these touches of grapefruits. What’s quite striking is that there are loads of gooseberries. Mouth: unusual. Nougat and custard, light honey, cappuccino, butterscotch… It does feel a little liqueury, or ‘Baileyish’… Did the short aging happen in virgin oak? Finish: medium, with a little more agaviness. The vanilla stays there. Comments: not quite my thing, but I’m sure that technically speaking, it’s a very good one. But are they bourbonising tequila too? SGP:431 - 75 points.


Del Maguey ‘Pechuga’ (49%, OB, mezcal, +/-2014)

Del Maguey ‘Pechuga’ (49%, OB, mezcal, +/-2014) Three stars I’m sorry, but LOL! This is the well-know espadin-based mezcal that’s distilled a third time with some chicken hanging in the still. They don’t make much of it – but as they say, there might be a reason. Colour: white. Nose: it’s complex. I’m not saying I’m getting the chicken, but it does have soft olives and capers, a little fresh walnut, savagnin-style, some grapefruits, and then more and more guava. We’re talking guavas found on location, not our supermarket guavas that are pretty odour and flavour-less. Having said that, I like the Marca Negra’s sharper and cleaner nose a little better. Mouth: it’s good, for sure. Citrusy, earthy – still can’t find the chicken – with as many gooseberries as in the ‘2’, some grass, some green tea, and an ashy/earthy herbalness. Perhaps a blend of lapsang souchong with gunpowder green tea? A little aniseed too, even pastis. Wasn’t it a French chicken? Finish: long, but once again, I prefer the ones that are better chiselled, sharp, blade-y… Comments: these pechugas are legendary, but I think there are better mezcals. At Del Maguey’s, for example. SGP:452 - 80 points.

We must get back to tequila…

1921 ‘Reposado’ (40%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2015)

1921 ‘Reposado’ (40%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2015) Four stars This is 100% blue agave. Once again, the packaging is rather baroque. Colour: pale white wine. Nose: and once again, this is a much softer spirit, but we’re rather going towards the good mezcals this time. Hints of artichokes, olives, Brussels sprouts, smoky earth… In short, it’s rather more agave-y than the average tequila. Mouth: very good! Yesss, a tequila that I really enjoy! Olives, lemon, smoke, peat (yeah, really), gherkins, even a little tar… All good. There’s a wee roundness in the background that’s a little less engaging (vanilla) but that’s nothing. Finish: medium, appropriately sharp, zesty, earthy, smoky… Comments: wasn’t that artisan mezcal? No, I’ve checked the bottle again, it’s well tequila. But after all, all tequilas are mezcals… SGP:452 - 85 points.

Is there going to be a twist in the drama? Let’s see…

Derrumbes ‘San Luis Potosí’ (43.5%, OB, mezcal, +/-2015)

Derrumbes ‘San Luis Potosí’ (43.5%, OB, mezcal, +/-2015) Three stars and a half This is single-variety mezcal (it’s called salmania, dunno what it is, wild or cultivated…), from a single village, namely San Luis Potosí. Sure we could do some research, sure… Colour: white. Nose: oh, potatoes! Then turnips and roses, beetroots, old clothes, tinned litchis, tinned sardines, and fermenting rhubarb. Or rhubarb wine. Saying that this is unusual would be an understatement. Mouth: yesssss. Gentian, roots, earth, green apples, cranberries, then bizarre – but lovely – notes of sweet old liqueurs, such as parfait amour and curaçao, while the earthiness keeps leading the pack, which is a good thing. Really unusual, with a sucrosity that I hadn’t expected, but the whole works. Finish: medium, a little sugary, but the very earthy/herbal background keeps it fresh and straight. Comments: fun spirit, a little disconcerting at times. But that’s a clear asset when you taste many spirits. SGP:652 - 84 points.

Good, where are we? One, two, three…seven, eight agave-y spirits. Do we push this to ten? OK, a tequila then… Eenie meenie… Oh, ‘sugar!’…

Mejor ‘Pink’ (40%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2016)

Mejor ‘Pink’ (40%, OB, tequila, 100% agave, +/-2016) Three starsWell, this quote is worth its weight in peanuts: ‘Mejor Pink is a chic presentation of Mejor's fabulous Blanco Tequila. Made from hand-selected 100% Blue Agave, Pink is dressed up with a vibrant hue and stylish contemporary packaging to exude a sophistication that complements the ultra-smooth superior quality of Mejor's Tequila. Pink is chic modern luxury.’ Copywriters on acid. Colour: please do not ask! Nose: frankly, it’s okay. It doesn’t smell of roses, cheap cologne, or cheap jelly babies. A typical light, rather agave-oriented nose, fresh, clean… And pink. No! Mouth: I hate to write that this is good. You just have to forget about the colour. Lemon, touches of earth, olives, brine, smoke, green apples, herbs… Finish: medium, nicely salty, agave-y, earthy… Comments: I had feared it would have been sweetish, or strangely girly, or inexpressive. Not at all, this is pretty good tequila – just with a very weird colour. Correction, copywriters AND marketers on acid! SGP:452 - 80 points.

Mezcal’s last turn…

Papadiablo (47%, OB, mezcal, +/-2014)

Papadiablo (47%, OB, mezcal, +/-2014) Some expensive mezcal made out of espadin (cultivated agave) mixed with various wild agaves, but I don’t know about the proportions. Very lovely packaging, by the way – just don’t mistake it for the sparking water on your table. Colour: white. Nose: no! Varnish, Uhu glue, more jelly babies, pineapple drops… Where’s the wildness? Where’s the smoke? Where’s the earth? It’s there, actually, but totally subdued. A little camphor coming through, which is better. Mouth: no way. Strange, ridden with nail polish and other varnishes, wrecked distillation (distilled tropical fruits, usually a total miss)… You have to wait for a long time before more positive ideas come to your mind. About the packaging, for example… Finish: medium, still very varnishy. Comments: with mezcal, anything goes, but there ought to be limits. I think this one’s totally weird. Have I mentioned perversion before? SGP:441 - 50 points.

A little math now. Tequila’s average is 76.4, while mezcal’s is… 76.4. I swear I did not make that up.

More tasting notes Check the index of all Tequila and Mezcal I've tasted so far



Block Today: JAZZ. Performer: Matthew Shipp. Track: Cohesion. Please visit his website and buy his music...

May 2016 - part 1 <--- May 2016 - part 2 ---> June 2016 - part 1



Best malts I had these weeks - 90+ points only

Caol Ila 1979/2014 (46%, Mackillop's Choice, for World of Whiskies, cask #5297, 264 bottles)

Caol Ila 31 yo 1984/2015 (54%, Malt Barn, bourbon, 68 bottles)

Caol Ila 20 yo 1995/2015 (57.7%, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, butt, 564 bottles)

White Horse (no a.b.v., OB, blend, no capacity but around 6 litres, +/-1960)

Yamazaki 1986/2009 'Owner's Cask' (51%, OB, Butt/Mizunara, cask #6B0021)

Yamazaki ‘Age Unknown’ (43%, OB, 1989)