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Hi, you're in the Archives, October 2006 - Part 2
October 2006 - part 1 <--- October 2006 - part 2 ---> October 2006 - part 3

October 25, 2006


Benrinnes 15 yo 1989/2005 (55%, Signatory, cask #2363, 690 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: a very toasted and rather coffeeish start, also very malty. Quite powerful. Lots of cornflakes, maple syrup, candy sugar, roasted nuts, hot cake… It’s maybe a tad too spirity, let’s see if water will make it more complex. Yes, that works despite a temporary soapiness as often. It gets both meatier and more flowery, with also hints of peat, wet hay and orange zest. Definitely nicer with water.

Mouth (neat): an extremely sweet, fruity, almost sugary attack, on various kinds of sweets (mostly pineapple or orange-flavoured ones) and fruit liqueurs (parfait amour, pineapple, manzana). Lots of bubblegum as well, grenadine, cranberry juice… Then we have a little smoke, candy sugar again, corn syrup, strawberry jam… Immensely sweet and fruity, really, to the point where not much else manages to come through, except maybe honey. I like this extravagance I must say, anything but boring. With water: less changes this time, maybe just a little salt appearing as well as some liquorice. Finish: long, with some added hints of bergamot and rose jelly, Turkish delights… Yes, really sweet, but flawless and highly drinkable. 85 points.
Benrinnes 1993/2006 (57.9%, Jean Boyer, Sherry cask, Best Casks of Scotland) Colour: gold, slightly paler. Nose: much more expressive, even when undiluted. Wilder and more complex at the same time, with the expected meatiness (ham) coming through right at first nosing as well as something very nicely resinous and flowery (lilies of the valley). Goes on with dried oranges and kumquats, pecan pie… And then we have the toasted/coffeeish/nutty cavalry just like with the 1989. No need to add water this time. Another one that may confirm that the Scots really improved their Malt making from the early 1990’s on. Mouth: bold and complex, thick, oily, creamy, what a nice mouth feel. Starts on something waxy and meaty again, roasted peanuts, black nougat, praline and chestnut honey. A little resin again (also fir honey), hints of cough sweets, candy sugar, crystallised oranges topped with chocolate… Gets sweeter and sweeter but never cloying. A lot of presence. Finish: very long, still full-bodied, lingering, mostly on candied fruits, toffee and buttered caramel. An excellent young Speysider with a perfect balance, maybe a little old style in fact. 88 points.


MUSIC - Heavily recommended listening - a little hard blues today with the excellent Albert Cummings doing Working man blues.mp3. Yeah! Please buy Albert Cummings' music, his new CD's out.



by MM correspondent Bruce Crichton

That’s another Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival over and done with and here is my account of it. My mission, at the start of each festival, is to ensure that every dram that comes my way is ruthlessly obliterated. Because of this, I apologise in advance for any factual errors in my report as I am relying on scribbled notes and a memory made hazy by my mission, one in which I have never failed. (Indeed, the Titanic will raise itself on the day that I do fail.)
All of the views expressed on the whiskies available are a reflection of my own ability to nose and taste. Again, I must caution the reader that I am to articulate tasting notes what the Venus de Milo is to heavy metal drumming. The sharp-eyed reader will also notice the repetitive nature of my descriptions of the heavily sherried whiskies on offer. My notes are misleading, in this respect, as the differences between each of the whiskies were considerable but the same flavours were all present, albeit in varying degrees.
My friend and I began the long weekend by taking the bus tour to the now independently-owned Benriach distillery where Stewart Buchanan was to be our guide. Stewart gave us an in-depth and highly technical tour of the distillery, which has been in continuous operation since 1965 and was sold off by Pernod Ricard in 2004. Stewart’s knowledge was to be tested to the full by some inquisitive members of our party.
During the tour, Stewart explained that the distillery opened in 1898 and closed in 1899 but its’ malting remained in operation, supplying, amongst others, it’s neighbour Longmorn.
Stewart took us through the process from start to finish and noted that the barley is peated, for certain runs, to 35 ppm and that the water source for the distillery is the same as Longmorn. He also added that extra stills had been added during a 1985 refit by, then owners, Chivas Brothers. In an unusual twist, we had the chance to smell some old, empty casks, that had been ex-sherry or ex-bourbon (used to mature the peated spirit). There was a Tokaji wine barrel that was empty but had not been used -a lucky escape as the wine had gone off and the nose was decidedly acidic. We were informed that about 10 percent of the whisky is used for single malt bottlings and the rest is used for blending, presumably a large part going to Chivas Regal. We headed to the dunnage warehouse where we viewed some wine casks set aside for limited edition bottlings and Stewart explained that the owners were examining the possibility of re-opening the maltings which had remained in perfect working order, despite not being in use.
We rounded off our tour with a nosing of three cask strength samples before tasting the peated 10-year-old ‘Curiositas’ bottling. We thanked Stewart for our tour and headed next door to Longmorn.
Our host at Longmorn Distillery was Ann Miller, International Brand Ambassador. By contrast to it’s neighbour, Longmorn was established in 1894 and has remained open since. Ann explained that Longmorn gained a reputation for quality amongst master blenders very quickly, within a few weeks, in fact.
Like Benriach, the maltings is not in operation but, unlike Benriach, there are no plans to restart malting barley, as it is a time-consuming and laborious process. The distillery prefers to buy in barley from a professional maltster with the peat levels being kept very low.
Heading through the distillery we discovered that Longmorn had switched to metal washbacks 10 years ago, for ease of maintenance and that the wash stills are tall and wide-necked, which helps to make the spirit rich and full-bodied. The stills are also larger than Benriach’s and produce 3.5 million litres of alcohol per year. The distillery is working at full capacity and has been since Pernod Ricard bought over Chivas in 2002. The percentage of whisky used for single malt is variable but there are plans for some new expressions in the near future. Ann explained, however, that we will never see an 18 year old official bottling as a large quantity of Longmorn goes into the Chivas Regal 18 year old blend – a sad end for such a glorious whisky, but that’s another story.
The fun really began as Ann took us through our masterclass. After smelling the clearic, we had an 8-year-old sample, at 58%abv, from an ex-bourbon cask that tasted of vanilla and cereal with a slightly syrupy finish. A tasting of whisky from an 8-year-old hogshead – a barrel which contains new wood staves and which had the effect of freshening the whisky slightly and giving it a more pronounced vanilla flavour, followed this. Next was the 15-year-old official bottling, at 45%abv. The colour indicated that most of the whisky had been matured in ex-bourbon casks with only a slight sherry influence discernible. This was deliciously sweet and malty with a well-developed body and a long creamy finish. After this, we tasted a 1969 vintage which had more of the same flavours but which was incredibly smooth and didn’t require the addition of water. Ending the class was a 17 year old 2 cask bottling, at 58.3%abv, which is part of a range of bottlings available from Chivas distillery shops.
While we were tasting the final dram, Ann discussed the fine art of whisky blending with us, noting that Longmorn will form a large part of the Royal Salute blends. By this time, the tour was over-running slightly so we bade Ann farewell and Mike Hendry took us back to Dufftown.
After a respite, we headed to Susan Webster’s Douglas Laing talk and taste, where we had four unchillfiltered bottlings from the Old Malt Cask range, at 50% abv, and one from the Provenance range, at 46%abv. We opened with a 1982 Saint Magdalene, a lowland distillery that closed in 1983. This whisky was matured in a second fill bourbon cask. Susan described it as a breakfast whisky to go with crumpets and butter and I found to be dry and slightly sharp with vanilla being the dominant flavour.
This was an interesting chance to try whisky from a long gone distillery and was a good starter for the session.
Second was a 1985 Macallan, matured in a refill bourbon hogshead. In the view of Douglas Laing, these refill bourbon casks ensure that the maximum amount of distillery character is retained in the bottling. This one was chewy and had a taste somewhere between walnuts and hazelnuts. The nose was spicy and the finish smoky and long. At this point, the talk really picked up. To keep a fresh palate, Susan was taking only sips of her whisky and adding only a little water before throwing her drams into my bucket. I very kindly stepped in to relieve Susan of this heart-breaking job and polished off her Macallan and the other drams as well.
A Provenance Blair Athol, from 1994, followed and this was matured in a sherry cask. It was rich and sweet and tasted of syrup, honey and toffee. It also didn’t have the sharp and general Bell’s character of the distillery bottling. As we were tasting, Susan explained that the Provenance range states the season in which the whisky was distilled. The idea behind this is that many whisky experts, Susan’s father included, believe that the season affects the whisky distillation and the whisky distilled in winter is heavier than that distilled in summer. I finished mine quickly and made a mental note to buy a bottle as soon as possible.
Our next dram was an amazing 1979 Glen Rothes which had spent 27 years in a first fill sherry cask and a few months in a Madeira cask. The tasting notes on the bottle described it as ‘attractively unusual’. Taken neat, this whisky was smoother than a smoothfish’s smooth bits, after it had been put through a smoothing machine, ironed till it’s nice and smooth and then fed to the man who taught Roger Moore how to be smooth (and that’s dead smooth). It tasted of sherry trifle, toffee and wedding cake with a liqueurish finish. Susan explained that this was a serendipitous bottling as it had been transferred to a Madeira cask in the mistaken belief that it had been matured in a bourbon cask. Susan and I later discussed the similarity between this and a 1979 vintage from the same distillery in Douglas Laing’s Platinum range, featured in the Autumn 2005 festival, and we wondered if there would have been any detectable difference between the casks if they had both been bottled at the same age and strength.
Finally we had a 1991 rum-finished Ardbeg which had a pungent, phenolic nose but which was surprisingly light to taste. Whisky festival regular Phil Yorke, sitting next to me, described it as tasting like a ‘soft, smoked Bavarian cheese’ which was a lot better than the rubbish I had written so I went with his description and, when the session ended, I filed it under ‘Mmmmmm! Seconds!’
On Saturday, Mike Lord took our first talk and taste of the day and we went on a supermarket sweep. As we began, Mike said, to much laughter, that the point of this event was to make sure that we never buy supermarket whiskies again and save our money for quality whiskies like the ones stocked by his shop. Also, the idea was that we should try to guess which single malts were in these supermarket bottlings as Mike had contacted the supermarkets, himself, for information and had received only bland, nondescript drivel in response.
First was a 12-year-old Speyside from Waitrose. This had vanilla on the nose but was bitter to taste and the finish was short and unremarkable. Steve Oliver suggested that we shouldn’t rule out Angus Dundee distillers as the suppliers for this whisky and if they are, then on this evidence, they are keeping all the good casks for themselves.
Much more promising was Asda’s 12-year-old Speyside, which had a sweet nose and a spicy, slightly sweet palate with a winey finish. This bore a striking resemblance to Glen Moray, in the view of most of the tasters.
Sainsbury’s 12-year-old Speyside had a non-existent, sphinx-like, nose but a very sweet palate and a tangy, peppery finish, though none of us could really guess which distillery it came from.
Asda’s 12-year-old Highland had sherry and honey on the nose and taste with lots of chewy sweetness and a long, chocolate finish. Mike suggested that this could be Dalmore and not many disagreed with him.
We ended on a light note with Tesco’s Glen Ranoch Highland malt, which is extremely cheap, and Mike had everyone in stitches as he read out the notes on the bottle which were clearly written by someone with a severe hallucinogenic drug problem and were aimed at the customer who has no idea about whisky and who intends to drown their whisky with a fizzy drink. In it’s favour it was smooth and had no off-notes but the only taste any one could get was caramel and, judging by it’s rich colour, there had been plenty of it added. No one had the faintest idea what distillery this could have come from.
Rounding the talk off, Mike said that the second purpose of this session was to find out if there were any genuine gems amongst supermarket whiskies and we all agreed that Sainsbury’s own was excellent. I also thought both the Asda bottlings weren’t far behind.
Being a fully paid-up member of the ‘I like food, food is good’ school of thought (anyone who has seen me from sideways on can confirm that this is true), the whisky and cheese event taken by Annabel Meikle of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society was not be missed.
As we started, Annabel explained that she gained a thorough knowledge of cheese from years of working in a delicatessen and that she began working in the bar of the SMWS and now looks after corporate membership. On our plates were 5 slices of cheese, oatcakes and a mysterious substance, which turned out to be honey.
We also were given a pamphlet detailing the whiskies we were going to be having and the cheeses, all of them small batch cheeses made from unpasteurised milk.
As we tasted our first whisky, an 18-year-old Glenkinchie at 52%abv, Annabel told us that lowland whiskies complement creamy cheese and we were having Flower Marie cheese, made in East Sussex. Tasting cheese and honey together, for the first time, I commented “Mmmmm! Dat’s de best food in de world evvah!” (Talking with your mouth full is a very bad idea). The whisky and cheese complemented each other wonderfully and the Glenkinchie was dry and tasted of lemon and citrus.
Next up was another lowlander, Bladnoch 13-year-old at 59.21%abv, and Ragstone Log goat’s cheese. Again, the cheese was creamy and delicious and the whisky was peppery neat and opened up, on reduction, to reveal syrupy sweetness on the palate and a peppery finish. The third combination was a 16-year-old Aultmore, at 56.6%abv, and Criffel – a soft cows cheese made from organic milk in Dumfries, in the Scottish borders. Neat, the Speyside whisky was soft, sweet and smooth and tasted of biscuits. The cheese was older and heavier and was tangy and herbal to taste. A 36-year-old Longmorn, at 52.1% abv, was very heavily sherried, an interesting contrast to the previous day’s bourbon cask offerings, and the nose was very sweet. The accompanying cheese was a Mimolette cows cheese from Northwest France. The cheese was rock hard but melted in the mouth. The whisky didn’t change too much with water and was extremely sweet and tasted of very rich toffee and fudge – a genuine delight.
Finally came our heaviest dram, a 25-year-old Caol Ila at 56.5%abv, and the cheese was a Dunsyre Blue made from cows milk in the Pentland hills, near Edinburgh, which tasted both sweet and peppery. The Caol Ila was surprisingly floral to nose and was lightly smoky and salty to taste, with a peppery finish and rounded off an exciting and informative talk in superb fashion.
After this, a trip to the Scott’s restaurant, at the Tannochbrae hotel, was in order, as it is for any member of the school of thought I mentioned earlier.
Again, Allan and Susie served up a series of delightful courses, each accompanied by a whisky supplied by Duncan Taylor and co and a story from Ricky Christie, formerly of the North of Scotland Distilling Company.Once again, Ricky demonstrated his oratorical prowess with a series of tales about his father, Whyte and Mackay’s Richard Paterson, blizzards during the Speyside Distillery’s first firing of the stills and breaking ice with golf clubs, tastings at St. Andrews University and throwing whisky in the fire (this is very ill-advised, Ricky assures us).
During an interlude, Ricky also gave us the chance to taste a new project of his entitled ‘VALT’ – vodka made from malted barley. Though not a vodka drinker, I found this to be smooth and pleasant and not at all deserving of death by carbonated soft drinks. The meal continued and Ricky had more stories to tell of lost Americans in the Cairngorms, drunken chauffeurs, ‘Willie the watcher’ and his Asian successor, and of the ‘Horse’s Neck’ – a sure-fire hangover cure.
As for the whiskies which accompanied the meal, of particular interest were a Whisky Galore Rosebank 12-year-old which was light, fruity and floral and a 1996 bourbon cask Macallan which was smooth, fresh, vanilla-sweet and left the official ‘Fine oak’ bottling eating it’s dust.
A 1969 Macduff was extremely heavy and thick tasting of sherry, toffee and fruit-cake and freshened considerably on addition of water and a 1992 Caol Ila 13-year-old had a pungent nose but an unexpectedly light taste and a crisp finish and was an excellent choice for a nightcap.
Sunday began with a trip to Knockando estate with the multi-talented Mike Hendry as our driver. On the way, Mike demonstrated his in-depth knowledge of the local area and we then disembarked to commence our walk along the Speyside way with David Newlands as our guide. David is a wildlife expert and we enjoyed a fine morning’s walk over the water supply for the Tamdhu, Cardhu and Knockando distilleries, stopping to sample the official, no age statement, bottling of Tamdhu.
Our walk continued and David enlivened our walk with his knowledge of local flora and fauna as we passed numerous trees, various types of berries used for making gin, jelly and syrup, plants used as eye medicine, food flavouring and insect repellent. On the way, David pointed out a heron, in the Spey, and we were able to view it, from distance, using his equipment and, also, a dipper, which is a bird unique to fast highland rivers which survives by eating stonefly larvae. David also noted that, had we been here in centuries gone by, we would have been under water, in the Knockando glacier lake.
We continued our walk past the Imperial and Dailuaine distilleries, pausing, in-between, to taste a rare official bottling of Imperial, at 15 years old and 46%abv, and some Walker’s shortbread. We then reached Aberlour, our destination, and headed to the Old Pantry Restaurant for lunch, where I heartily recommend the turkey broth. Thanks to David for a fine morning’s entertainment.
Heading to the Whisky Museum again, we arrived in time for Alex Bruce, of Adelphi, who was conducting the talk and taste session.
Alex gave us a brief history of the original Adelphi distillery which was in the Gorbals area of Glasgow but closed in the early part of the 20th century after a disastrous collapse of it’s washbacks. The name was later bought over by an Edinburgh-based bottler and then the company changed ownership recently and moved out to Ardnamurchan, in the west highlands of Scotland, where popular whisky writer, Charles MacLean helps to select the casks. Each of Adelphi’s single cask bottlings are unchillfiltered and always at cask strength so that, in Alex’s view, the customer can decide which strength is best to taste at.
The packaging is also quite minimalist in order for the customer to view the natural colour of the whisky in the bottle.
As we began our first dram, Alex explained that many distilleries do not like their name appearing on independent bottlings and, so, Adelphi have brought out the ‘Breath of’ range which specify only the region on the label. We tasted a 1985 ‘Breath of Highlands’ at 55.1%abv, which Alex joked could have been named ‘Breath of Deeside’, and I found it to be very sweet with strong flavours of syrup and honey. Water freshened it and opened up tastes of apples with a hint of coconut.
Alex explained that Adelphi bottle 3 to 4 times per year as we moved on to a 1991 Tamdhu, at 60%abv. This was matured in a sherry cask and tasted of chocolate with a velvety finish. As we were tasting, Alex said that the company’s whiskies are in such high demand, relative to supply, that it’s not unusual (as Tom Jones would say) for bottlings to be sold out within minutes of release.
Next up was a rare chance to taste Glen Scotia, from Campbeltown, a distillery very much in the shadow of it’s illustrious neighbour, Springbank, and which is very infrequently seen in independent bottlings and is, apparently, even less frequently to be found in good independent bottlings. This 1991 cask, at 61.6%, was absolutely brilliant and was dangerously smooth when taken without water. The nose and taste were both of vanilla and peat and a slight addition of water revealed sweetness and some light smokiness. (Even better was when Swedish chocolate expert Paul Martensson gave me his to finish. Result!)
We then had a virtually opaque 1980 Inchgower, at 60.4%abv. This had previously made an appearance at the Spring festival’s independent bottler’s challenge event. Without adding water, this one was so smooth that I wish I hadn’t used all my superlatives earlier in the report (I must invest in a thesaurus). The whisky was strong in that it didn’t collapse on addition of water, like some sherried whiskies can do and it tasted of toffee, fruitcake and cake icing. Interestingly Alex suggested that it would go with dark chocolate and Paul Martensson stepped up to supply him with some.
Alex told us that they had another Inchgower cask, also heavily sherried, from the same vintage but which, in his view, was overdone and had become rubbery and sulphurous to taste. However, it had proved popular in Germany, where these flavours are welcomed in a whisky.
Between drams, Alex revealed that whiskies can sometimes gain alcohol, by volume, depending on where they are matured, noting that he had tasted a cask at 66%abv. He said that an Islay whisky matured on the island is rarely more than 56%abv while a cask matured on the mainland can retain it’s alcohol or even gain strength, in percentage terms. Accordingly, we closed the session with a chance to taste a 1984 Caol Ila, which had not yet been officially bottled. This was at 59%abv, suggesting mainland maturation, and had a lightness of nose and taste that one would associate with whisky half this age. Again, it was smooth before reduction and water revealed a taste of smoked sausage with pepper on the finish.
Thanks to Alex for a great tasting and anyone who is able to obtain a bottle of one of these whiskies before they inevitably sell out will surely not be disappointed.
After a day of relative rest, Monday began with a bus trip to Glenallachie distillery, just outside Aberlour. Our guide was to be Dennis who gave us a lively, fascinating and jovial history of the distillery that was built in 1967 and was owned by Mackinlay-McPherson and was associated with the Original Mackinlay blends. The distillery was bought over, and promptly closed, by Invergordon distillers in 1985 but re-opened in 1989 when bought over by Campbell distillers, who have since become Pernod Ricard. 2005 was a record year for spirit production, 2.8 million litres of alcohol as compared to 3 million at Aberlour. Dennis also reckons that the distillery is ripe for expansion.
Dennis joked that when Glenallachie was bought over, the ducks in the pond cost more than the distillery did and, as if on cue, the ducks appeared and waddled across the car park. As we went through the whisky-making process we looked in to the washback where Dennis told us that a man had fallen in and taken 3 days to drown as, every time he was pulled out, he jumped back in again. The wash stills, Dennis informed us, were the biggest in the Pernod Ricard group, which includes Chivas brothers.
Bringing an entertaining tour to a close, Dennis broke open a single cask bottling, at 57.8%abv, which had sherry character for all to see and which Dennis described as having ‘longer legs than Betty Grable’, a quote well worthy of using in this report. To my mind, the nose was prickly, as if it had been matured with a hedgehog in the cask, and the whisky had a full body and was very smooth, despite it’s high strength. A slight addition of water revealed it to have fruitcake, syrup and toffee on the palate and Dennis told us that this bottling, like Friday’s Longmorn, was only available in distillery shops owned by Chivas brothers.
Thanking Dennis for a great tour, we bade him farewell and festival regular Dr Stephen Lunn managed to bring the remainder of the bottle back for the dregs party. We headed round Benrinnes to our next port of call, Glenfarclas distillery where Ian McWilliam was to be our guide.
Ian told us, as we began our tour, that the distillery was established in 1836 and was bought over by John Grant and has remained in the Grant family’s ownership ever since and is now in the 5th generation of Grants to own Glenfarclas.
Glenfarclas takes its’ water from ‘the green burn’ off Benrinnes hill and the distillery has exclusive rights to the water. The distillery uses lightly peated Optic barley and is currently running at about 75% of production, though it is hoped that there will be a period of full production in 2007.
We continued through the distillation process where Ian showed us the expensive five roll mill, used to crush the barley and the de-stoner, both Swiss-made, and which have never failed since it’s installation in 1974. Glenfarclas has the largest stills in Speyside and they are directly fired, which is unusual. An experiment was carried out with the more usual steam coils but the spirit was unrecognisable and direct heating was re-introduced.
As we viewed the warehouse, Ian told us that in Glenfarclas’ view, first fill bourbon casks influence the maturation process too much, so they use second fill casks together with first fill Spanish Oloroso sherry casks, personally selected by the Grant family. Our highly informative tour, full of interesting titbits came to an end and we moved on to our masterclass which had the added bonus of two extra drams of whiskies usually sold abroad.
As we nosed and tasted a surprisingly sweet clearic sample, Ian explained that Glenfarclas do not chillfilter any of their range and then handed round cask strength 10-year-old samples from bourbon and sherry casks to nose and take a small taste of. The sherry cask was incredibly dark for such a young age - the David Dickinson of whisky. We opened with the 10-year-old version, which was slightly sharp and toffee-sweet with an aperitif quality about it. The export-only 12-year-old, at 43%abv, was next and had more obvious sherry character and was sweeter and more syrupy than its' younger brother. The 15-year-old, at 46%abv, was in a darkened bottle as consistency of colour is apparently hard to obtain. This had good ‘legs’ and a mouth-coating feel with a rich, smoky and velvety finish. By comparison, the export-only 17-year-old, at 43%abv, was very light and had more vanilla and was fresh, perhaps indicating more bourbon and second-fill sherry maturation as Glenfarclas matures it older whiskies in refill sherry casks.
The 21-year-old (43%abv) was lighter still, in colour, and was very fresh and lively tasting much younger than its’ years would indicate. The 25-year-old version, again at 43%abv, was dryer and softer and tasted of vanilla. It was best neat and would make a good nightcap. The 30-year-old had more sherry character and tasted of dark chocolate. Again, it was a lot lighter than one would expect given its’ age. Finishing the class was the 105 proof bottling, which is ten years old, despite having no age statement on the bottle. This was fruity on the nose and palate and dangerous to have with taste buds already warm with it’s more-ish qualities and high strength surely leading to alcoholic oblivion, if one is not careful. As we were finishing our drams, Ian told us to watch out for a series of vintage bottlings, of casks from every year between 1952 and 1997, to come in the near future. These will be called the ‘Family Casks’ with a new, exclusive, bottle being created for the purpose.
Thanking Ian for a fantastic tour and class, we headed for home, considerably more boisterous than we had been when we set out and we must have given a new meaning to the word ‘cacophonous’ to any one who had the misfortune to hear us.
Allowing sufficient time for the world to stop melting, we headed to the final talk and taste of the festival where ‘Bad boy’ Mark Watt presented us with a selection of unchillfiltered bottlings from Duncan Taylor. (Rumours that Keith Richards routinely chides Mark for living far too fast are neither confirmed nor denied.)
A 1994 Whisky Galore Imperial, at 46%abv, was a good opener, with an acidic nose and it tasted mostly of vanilla with a very creamy middle and finish. Comfortably the best independent bottling of Imperial to be had.

As we tasted a 1980 Knockando from the ‘Rare Auld’ range, at 48.3%abv, Mark explained that this range was previously called the ‘Peerless’ range but they decided to change it ‘s name. The reason being that another company had used the name ‘Peerless’ and the grandson of infamous gangster Lucky Luciano owned them. Knockando is not commonly seen in independent bottlings and this was light and had a vanilla taste with a fresh and winey finish.
A 1970 Glen Rothes from the Lonach Range, at 40.3%abv, offered a relatively inexpensive chance to sample old whisky. In this case, a vatting of 2 casks which had fallen to a very low alcoholic strength. This one was delicate and tasted of wine. As we tasted, Mark told us amusing stories of hiding in the Macallan warehouse and eavesdropping on Charles Maclean. Mark also thought that some extra alcohol would have improved this whisky.
A 1981 Glenugie, from the ‘Rarest of the rare’ range at 61.9%, was the last heavily sherried dram of the weekend, from one of the many distilleries culled in 1983. Mark joked that the high strength was because the cask had been wrapped in Clingfilm. It was very light and tasted like a much younger whisky but water revealed some rubbery notes and this cask was probably past its' peak. Just to show that one man’s meat is another one’s poison, an American gentleman was so impressed that he asked to try it again at the end. Mark described this as like ‘Pickled onion Monster Munch’; the best tasting note ever made.
We ended with the vatted malt ‘Big Smoke 60’ at a self-explanatory 60%abv. Despite it’s name, it was delicate, sweet and not especially smoky and Mark told us of going for drinks with his schoolteacher, when he was 18 and still at school, as we finished our drinks.
The festival was brought to a close, as always, with the dregs party, in the Whisky Shop. Abandoning any attempts at tasting notes, we picked off stragglers from previous tasting events such as a Provenance Ardmore, a Whisky Galore Mortlach, a Serendipity (Glen Moray and Ardbeg), an Old Malt Cask Glentauchers and an official bottling of Ardmore. This dregs party was a well-behaved affair and it was knocked on the head at a civilised hour and everyone went home.
Finally, I’d like to thank all of those involved in organising and running the festival and, in particular, Mike Lord, Steve Oliver, Georgie Crawford, Mike Hendry, David Newlands and Allan and Susie at the Tannochbrae. I hope to see everyone again in May 2007. - Bruce Crichton


October 24, 2006

HELLWOOD The Mean Fiddler, London, October 18th 2006
Guitar cradled in his arms, the tall, angular and slightly awkward Jim White leans down towards the microphone and announces in his nasal southern burr, “We’re Hellwood, and London, we’re here to blow you away …..err….in a minute …You ready Johnny?” To the left of the stage the small and stocky Johnny Dowd is fidgeting with his guitar, stubbing out a cigarette and winning admiring glances for his Travoltaesque shirt. And were it not for the fact that these two share an obsession with the darker things in life, both of them masters of what might be called alt.country faux-gothic god-soaked gloom, you might wonder what they are doing on the same stage. Orange juice drinking Jim lightens his noir with a wistful humour, a deep sense of love and subtle musical complexity, and he’d rather be at home changing the nappies of his new two month old daughter than trapped in one corner of the Mean Fiddler stage. “If Johnny Dowd didn't exist, Quentin Tarantino would have had to invent him” said London’s Evening Standard. Whisk(e)y drinking roll-up smoking Dowd (“in fact I’d drink just fucking anything you gave me at this moment in time”) gives the impression of being a taut bundle of latent aggression (an impression supported by constant references to the fight he’s supposed to have had in Glasgow the previous night). He’s in a confrontational bluesy punk-rock mood – and in his dark world (“Johnny Dowd – the kingpin of sin”) there’s no room for humour (until, that is, he melts into a huge smile - which to be honest he does at the end of each song).
    Yet these two clearly have a deep rapport and considerable mutual respect (“Did I tell you about my cock?” goes a hypnotic and repetitive refrain to one of Dowd’s songs, “Well yes Johnny, actually you did, quite a lot” intones White by way of reply). So much so that they’ve made an album together, Chainsaw of Life, under the name of Hellwood, with fellow Dowd collaborator Wille B, drummer and bass-pedal player extraordinaire. It’s a characteristically dark affair, almost perhaps too sombre, which to be honest needed this performance to bring it to life.
Tonight the three of them are on stage, along with organist Michael Stark. The Mean Fiddler is pretty full – mostly men, mostly mid-thirties plus and mostly big Dowd or White fans (or both). It’s clearly not a place for neutrals. Once Dowd sorts himself out the band lash into ‘Alien tongue’ and ‘Man in a plaid suit’ – two of the punkier songs from ‘Chainsaw’, both sung by an animated White. Willie B’s drumming is of the Animal school, his organ pedals producing a booming backdrop for Dowd’s staccato guitar – “now that’s what I call rock and roll” mutters Dowd, clearly warming up as he drawls his way through ‘God’s back pocket’ – “I’m a human stain on everything divine … a Romeo of spiritual deviance”, supported by White who’s using a child’s toy to distort his voice. In the course of the evening they play the entire album and by and large the songs get better and stronger as they go on. There are some obvious winners, ‘A man loves his wife’ (“You know a friend of mine heard that song and said Jim, you’ve written a real beauty there, but I had to tell him that my muse Johnny Dowd wrote most of the words”) and the sharply ironic Katrina-inspired ‘Thank you lord’ – another monotone Dowd vocal. But a couple of songs that didn’t seem to perform on the CD are real surprises here – ‘Firework factory’ (with a surprisingly agitated ending from Jim White) and the simply superb slow groove ‘Thomas Dorsey’, which unless I’m mistaken Dowd hijacked with lyrics from his song ‘No woman’s flesh but hers’. The house is truly rocked – especially by ‘Spider in the room’ a really danceable and funny tune written by White. “I’ve got fucking spiders in my head” shouts the swaying drunk next to me in a moment of absolute silence. “Hmm” says Jim, “sounds like you need some of that mental insecticide”. Jim’s right. We move.
“This is one of the moments everyone in the band likes best” says Dowd, as White steps forward to sing ‘God was drunk when he made me”. White later tells a characteristically convoluted story about a theological confrontation with country star Sleepy LaBeef provoked by the song as an introduction to ‘A bar is just a church where they sell beer’, a solo performance that helpfully allows Dowd to recharge a glass or two. It’s during this song that we all notice that the lighting rig on the ceiling is shaking with a frightening degree of fury, Poltergeist style – “Is that you Sleepy?” asks White, “Is that you Lord? Are you angry?” Actually it’s the Kooks – or their gyrating teenage fans - who are playing upstairs in the Pickle Factory, but the dramatic effect is wonderful. A refreshed Dowd returns to introduce, to everyone’s bewilderment, a ZZ Top medley, performed by Willie B and Stark (I think you can find it on the album they’ve just released) before playing a heavy duty version of his own ‘Ding dong’, and while White gets almost all the toys out of his percussion toy box, Dowd manages, as he has done a number of times earlier, to sing, smoke, drink and play guitar at the same time – a truly inspiring accomplishment.

Jim White and Johnny Dowd
And after almost two hours they finish, ‘though Dowd is looking as though he’s in the mood to carry on all night. Instead, along with Willie B and Jim he sets up the merchandise store where they happily chat to their adoring fans – while a few wait patiently as Michael Stark burns them CD’s of the evening’s gig which he’s taken as a live feed from the mixing desk. Now there’s a first. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)
Many thanks Nick, I must say I didn’t know Johnny Dowd before, very idiosyncratic to say the least. There's some interesting music on his myspace page (but what would we do without myspace???) Good music as well by Willie B. and Michael Stark on their Tzar page but then again, every time I hear Hammond, I melt... I just hope I won't melt too much at Brian Auger next month. - Serge

Bowmore 1968/2006 (41.5%, The Taste Still, cask #3823, 144 bottles, Belgium) Colour: straw with bronze hues. Nose: a superb fruity attack as (almost) usual with these old Bowmores but this time there’s also a little peat coming through, as if all the peat hadn’t been ‘aromatically converted’. That does give this version an extra-dimension. Lots of pink grapefruits, passion fruits and mangos plus hints of vodka-orange, orange drops, tangerine liqueur and lemon balm.

A beautiful sharpness, quite unusual in these old Bowmores. It develops on various kinds of fresh herbs (parsley, dill, celery), with also something slightly wild and farmy (hay, smoked ham). Lots of presence, ending with quite some lemon juice and some great oaky tones. A tireless old Bowmore, brilliant. Mouth: the attack isn’t exactly powerful but rather ‘wide’, with the expected bitter oranges, grapefruits and lemon zests. A very pleasant bitterness (walnut skin, apple skin, dried ginger) mingles with all sorts of herbal teas and something waxy and rather resinous. Less complex on the palate than on the nose but still very expressive and pleasant. Medium long finish on quince jelly, bitter oranges and quite some salt remaining on your tongue and lips for a long time. Another excellent 1968 Bowmore, very interesting because it’s a little less of a fruitbomb than many of its twins. 93 points. (correction: this one has been finally labelled using a regular Duncan Taylor Rare Auld label, not the dummy white label - thanks Kirsty)
Bowmore 30 yo 1972/2002 (50.3%, Signatory, cask #928, 192 bottles) Colour: white wine, amazingly pale. Nose: this one is much sharper and spirity, an also rather less expressive at first try. Much more austere but also peatier and more mineral (chalk but also aspirin) as well as rather vegetal (grass). It gets peatier and peatier with time, in a beautiful way. Lots of fermenting hay, beer, sour cream, myrtle liqueur, celeriac, dried kelp… Gets much smokier as well, with also notes of torrefaction, cappuccino and smoked tea. How great, although completely different from the 1968. Mouth: a stunning attack, with more fruits now (grapefruits, crystallised oranges, kumquats) and lots of salt right from the start. We have also a big, bold peat (okay, not like in Ardbeg but we aren’t that far) and lots of ‘coastality’. Oysters, kippers, anchovies… Really fantastic! A very long finish, bold, punchy, very dry, salty, smoky and citrusy… Another true masterpiece from the shores of the Loch Indaal, no doubt about that. Probably more elegant and uncompromising than most ultra-fruity and sexy Bowmores from the 60’s. Maybe that’s why I really loved it, despite the slightly shy start: 94 points.

October 23, 2006


KEVIN AYERS The Arts Theatre, Soho, London, October 15th 2006

By a strangely strange coincidence there was an article about Britain’s famous ‘Canterbury scene’ of the late 1960s and early 1970s in yesterday’s Guardian, accompanied by a striking photograph of a rather androgynous-looking Kevin Ayers in a Paisley-patterned dressing gown. Ayers got one mention in the piece, in the same breath as Wilde Flowers, Soft Machine (which he co-founded), Gong (Ayers was a member for a year or so) and Caravan (come on, everyone remembers In the Land of Grey and Pink).

No room here for the “along with Syd Barrett the most important artist in the creation of the British psychedelic movement” which you’ll find in many books and articles, or any consideration of his later (or even current) career. You may even have thought, that like the recently and sadly departed Syd, he was dead. No doubt that’s partly (mainly?) because Ayers seems to have spent most of his career walking away from projects just as they seemed to be becoming successful, preferring instead (as some suggest) a lazy and louche lifestyle in Spain and France.
A new album in the late 1980s (Falling Up), and another in the 1992 (Still Life with a Guitar) mark about the whole of his recent original work, although there’s little shortage of reissued material and newly released archive stuff from the BBC and others. However he’s recording a new album (Unfairground) and touring, albeit briefly. And did you know Serge, that he was awarded the Ordre de la Grande Gidouille by your very French Collège de Pataphysique?
I tend to buy concert tickets like others buy books, in front of a computer, after-dinner, with a glass in my hand and a few magazines and newspapers by my side. It’s one of those habits that makes life a wonderful lottery. So as we sat in the middle of the front row of the tiny and largely empty Arts Theatre in the centre of Soho on a Sunday evening when I could have been at home enjoying a glass of claret with some rare roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, the thought “what the hell am I doing here?” was writ largely on my mind. But we very much enjoyed support act John Redfern, a soulful voice, complex and accomplished acoustic guitar and a satisfying suggestion of the Blue Nile all means that it might be worthwhile looking out for his forthcoming album May be Some Time. And after his thirty minutes or so the place did fill up with maybe 60 people or more, many of whom looked as though they could well have been Canterbury survivors, although I’m not sure that could be said of the inebriate immediately behind us with the painfully loud comedy shout (“Whey hey hey heeeyyy”) that greeted the start and end of every subsequent song. No, he was just a pissed-up moron.
Ayers came to the stage with accompanist Max la Villa, a versatile guitarist who straddles both classical and contemporary music (he’s worked with Jah Wobble) with ease. He’s also got good eyesight, which is pretty crucial as the stage is almost pitch black (could it be, we wondered, that Kevin is trying to hide the effect of time on those once beautiful British public schoolboy features?). Hence no photographs. Kevin can’t see the set-list, and is reluctant to wear his spectacles (more vanity?), so it’s Max who calls the songs.
And now I’ll tell you something – almost from the moment the first song started the clock stopped –in fact it went backwards, and I swear the Arts Theatre just for an hour or so was whisked through a time-space continuum, or whatever they’re called, to about 1970. I suppose it could have been the pataphysics, but the principle reason was Ayers’ voice, that rich, slightly posh, rather diffident, somewhat regretful, somewhat ironic and very knowing baritone. He didn’t play the guitar too well, couldn’t remember all the words, but he sang like, well … Kevin Ayers, and as you should know, it’s one of the most unique voices in contemporary music. We got about fourteen songs (each of course accompanied by an increasingly irritating “Whey hey hey heeeyyy” from the moron, who hadn’t, or so it appeared, joined the rest of us in the time warp) starting with ‘Too old to die young’, and including ‘Eleanor’s cake which ate her’, ‘I don’t depend on you’, ‘Lady Rachel’ (perfect), ‘Blame it on love’, ‘Didn’t feel lonely ‘till I thought of you’, ‘Something in between’, ‘Whatever she brings we sing’ and a final, brief ‘See you later’.
All over in less than an hour, but perfectly charming. And really the only conversation centred on Ayers’ increasing anxiety about the lack of alcohol in his glass – “This is not what I call a drink!” he complained, displaying the bottle of water that had been brought to the stage when he complained of thirst. “I know I really should be talking but I really don’t have anything to say except the songs” he told us later, happy with a large Scotch in his hand. And not even a goodnight, just a languid wave as the clock rushed us back to the twenty-first century. “Whey hey hey heeeyyy”! - Nick Morgan
Thank you Nick, all the Canterbury/Soft Machine generation has always been quite hot here – both before and after Robert Wyatt’s cult LP Rock Bottom. Imagine we had a (almost) neighbour who joined Daevid Allen’s Gong in 1973 and eventually became the band’s leader. His name was Pierre Moerlen, he was a brilliant drummer and sadly, he passed away last year. But back to Kevin Ayers and his bananas and mananas, with this great page you passed me, where our distinguished readers will find an mp3 of a whole 2006 gig he played at London’s Cobden Club, please check the 'audio' page. And oh, yes, we also have the rather velvetundergroundesque Stranger in blue suede shoes.mp3 (from Whatevershebringswesing) - Serge.

Ballechin #1 (46%, OB, Burgundy matured, 6000 bottles, 2006) Edradour’s peaty novelty has been finally bottled one good month ago and came from Burgundy hogsheads. Colour: salmony. Nose: quite expressive at first nosing, starting on smoke, red fruits and the trademark farminess. Or a burnt down cow stable that was full of strawberries? Lots of burnt cake, apricot pie, strawberry cordial, whiffs of coal smoke, flints, fresh walnuts.

Also a little rubber (new bicycle inner tube) and quite some grilled (hochicha) and smoked (lapsang souchong) teas. Much more rounded than expected, with it’s very own style (no imitation Islay at all). Mouth: the attack is more directly peaty and vegetal (French beans, chlorophyll chewing-gum) and maybe a tad drying (quite some tannins – not unlike cold over-infused tea) but it gets then much better balanced, the fruitiness coming through (strawberries, blackcurrant jelly) together with quite some caramel and cappuccino. Something toasted. Certainly enjoyable, with always this typical farminess that’s better absorbed in this peated version than in Edradour I think. Finish: medium long, peaty, malty and jammy, with also quite some very ripe peaches. A good one, very mature for its age (3 to 4 years I think) – certainly a new voice nicely tamed by the wine casks and probably the reduction. This should be rather extravagant at cask strength. 85 points.
Old Ballantruan (50%, OB, 2006) Another peated youngster from the mainland, this time from Tomintoul (the ‘Speyside Glenlivet’ name on the label may well be a little misleading). Nose: little peat but ultra-huge notes of caramel at first nosing, very unusual. Lots of vanilla as well, malted chocolate (Ovomaltine), cornflakes… Slowly switches to kind of a farminess, with hints of manure, fermenting vegetables and fruits, soaked peated barley, wet chalk… Kind of a liquorish sweetness in the background. Very demonstrative and not exactly subtle but rather pleasant I’d say. Mouth: very sweet, less peaty than the Ballechin, with again huge notes of caramel, vanilla fudge and roasted nuts. Is that natural? Very malty as well, something Irish, with also hints of violet and lavender sweets, dates and smoked tea. Gets slightly cloying after a while, almost sugary. The finish is much longer than the Ballechin’s, invading, very vegetal now, cardboardy and tarry, with also a schnaps-like fruitiness. Not complex at all but funnily wild and thick. A new generation of malt for new generations of drinkers? 82 points.

October 22, 2006

Carsebridge 1965/2006 (46%, Berry Bros, 425 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: starts on varnish and old furniture right away, lots of roasted nuts and American coffee. Hints of smoke probably from the wood, caramel crème, hot croissants, freshly sawn oak… Goes on with a little menthol, vanilla, hints of bitter oranges… Rather perfect if you like grain whisky. Mouth: starts on quite some varnish again but gets then very fruity (lots of apple juice, very ripe gooseberries, green bananas that make me think of an Irish). Hints of bubblegum, lots of vanilla again, a little nutmeg… Nice oakiness, with silky tannins. Not dry in any way. And then again these nice mentholated notes. Finish, medium long, very fresh (vanilla ice cream), getting just slightly bitter after a moment (chlorophyll, green tea). Very nice old grain whisky, in any case. 87 points.
Invergordon 1966/2006 (49.4%, Taste Still Selection, bourbon cask #2722, 109 bottles) Colour: gold, slightly paler. Nose: extremely close, maybe a tad rounder, even more on caramel, coffee and vanilla and less on fresh oak. Just as nice – again, if you like grain whisky. Mouth: this one differs on the palate, it’s a little rougher and less rounded. Maybe more happening here, with lots of soft spices (cinnamon, cloves, juniper) but still quite some varnish. Nice marzipan as well. Quite similar other than that, with just a rather longer and fruitier finish. Same quality as the Carsebridge, maybe just slightly more entertaining. 88 points.
Cameronbridge 27 yo 1979/2006 (56.6%, Duncan Taylor for La Maison du Whisky, ‘From Huntly to Paris’, cask #3526, 138 bottles) Colour: pale gold. Nose: again, we’re exactly in the same vein. This one is maybe a tad closer to the Carsebridge, slightly fresher than the Invergordon, with again quite some freshly sawn oak. Extremely hard to come up with distillery character on the nose – but should there be any? Palate: punchier of course, thanks to the higher strength but the global profile is similar again, maybe just a tad simpler and more sugary. Lots of vanilla and caramel as well as cappuccino. Longer finish, very bubblegummy now. A very good one again, no doubt – although I must say tasting three unsherried grains in a row, even if very good ones, gets a bit boring… 85 points.
MUSIC – Recommended listening: it's Sunday so we go classical with Sweden's (but he lives in Paris) Erik Wickström playing Alban Berg's Piano Sonata Op. 1.mp3. A rather stunning piece Berg composed in 1908, that sounds sometimes very Gershwinian. Please go to Erik Wickström's concerts. (via the piano society)
NIOU billet en langue française ici (avec un invité !)

October 21, 2006

Mortlach NAS (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 1970’s) Colour: apricot gold. Nose: starts nicely flowery and fruity (nectar, light honey, ripe apples) but also frankly smoky and mineral. Whiffs of coal, fireplace, flints… Also a slight meatiness in the background, something like ham. Not really bold but rather playful and certainly enjoyable.
Mouth: granted, the attack is a little low-key but not watery. Quite some tea, honey, cake, cereals… And again a slight smokiness together with something pleasantly metallic. Old bottle effect? Gets also a little resinous and waxy… The middle is a little weak, that is – we really got used to higher strengths – but the finish is ok, pleasantly bitter and caramelly, with also quite some tea (tannins). Rather good. 80 points.
Mortlach 1959/2001 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail) Colour: dark amber – mahogany. Nose: oh, this one smells exactly like a newly polished old cupboard. Lots of cellulose varnish, beeswax and ‘new’ leather at first nosing… Fruits? Here they are, with lots of blackcurrant jelly, grenadine, cranberry juice… And then we have these smoky, flinty and slightly meaty notes like in the ‘old new’ one. Goes on with quite some roasted nuts, black nougat… And finally the expected resinous and minty notes (just hints). Probably the closest to old cognac whisky can get. Sort of antiquated but really excellent despite the low strength. Mouth: extremely coherent with the nose except that the varnishy notes are slightly overwhelming at the attack, the whole being also a little drying. Really for cupboard makers, this one ;-). What’s interesting is that this kind of over-woodinesss does not taste like a flaw here, quite the contrary. The sherry is present but discreet, it’s really the wood that almost plays solo. Now, we do have hints of roasted raisins, coffee beans, bitter chocolate and also cough drops… The finish is surprisingly long, drying, quite nicely tannic and slightly sour… Closer to an old armagnac than to a cognac on the palate, in fact. Even something of an old calvados (the dryness). Well, maybe it’s like an antique car; it’s less ‘perfect’ than a brand new one but it’s got its own charms. A malt for nostalgic people? For old MP’s? But what a great nose! 88 points.


MUSIC – Recommended listening: goldies but goldies - We're in the mid-70's and Richard Hell and his Voidoids are doing their famous Blank generation.mp3. One of the first great american punk rock LP's if memory serves... Please buy Richard Hell's music, he's still around and doing all sorts of arty-crafty things (many in France - often very good I must say).


October 20, 2006

Highland Park 28 yo 1977/2006 (48.5%, OB for La Maison du Whisky, cask #4259, 217 bottles) Colour: amber. Nose: rather expressive at first nosing, with lots of fruit jam, notes of fresh herbs but also maybe a little too much rubber. It’s soon to calm down, the fruitiness having vanished and the whole having got much less expressive, except for quite some vegetal and herbal notes.
That’s a little bizarre I must say but it already happened the first time I tried this one. Rather nice hints of lilies, though, something milky… Other than that we have the usual notes of honey, beeswax and what everybody calls ‘heather’, but it’s all rather discreet. Ah yes, also whiffs of wood smoke and spearmint. A rather shy old HP on the nose but it did improve again after a moment. Mouth: a rather bizarre attack, rather nervous but with a slightly thin mouth feel. Quite some marmalade, kumquats and ripe apples but it sort of falls apart after a while, with just a few spices remaining (cinnamon, a little nutmeg and maybe hints of cloves) plus notes of dried pears and pear spirit. Gets then quite dry and drying, especially at the slightly short and cardboardy – and salty - finish, with just the retro-olfaction being better and a little bolder (quince jelly). Sure it’s still very good whisky but it’s a little disappointing considering its pedigree… 86 points.
Highland Park 35 yo 1962/1997 (Cask Strength, OB, John Goodwin retirement) Funny ‘G’ on the label instead of the usual ‘H’, in honour of ex-manager John Goodwin. Colour: deep amber. Nose: this is a completely different story! Starts almost extravagantly, on old leather, cigar humidor and lots of nutmeg. Then it’s a maelstrom of aromas – but an elegant and disciplined kind of maelstrom (?): antiques shop, old cupboard, old books, ginger, heather honey, pollen, cedar wood, Virginia tobacco… amazing. Then we have something superbly vegetal (a little chlorophyll, camphor, eucalyptus leaves)… All that keeps dry and straight, extremely elegant, not unlike the best old Springbanks – isn’t that a pleonasm, by the way? Very classy nose, that’s for sure. Mouth: much bolder, much more invading than the 1977. Superb spiciness mingling with all sorts of dried fruits, both exotic and ‘western’. Ginger and cinnamon plus kumquats, dried lychees and longans, soft liquorice, argan oil, pistachios and bitter almonds… Then figs, prunes and huge notes of mirabelles… Then verbena and chamomile… The oak is very present but is really an asset here, bringing a great backbone to the whole. But beware maltoporn, let’s go quickly through the finish now (long, superbly spicy, gingery, with notes of old yellow chartreuse and always this excellent mirabelle eau-de-vie). Okay, 94 points for this one (and thanks, Giuseppe).



Operational: 1964~1981
Region: Speyside (Lossie)
Neighbours: Glenlossie, Glen Elgin
Address: Miltonduff, Elgin, Morayshire, IV30 3TQ
Last Owner: Hiram Walker & Sons Ltd.(later became part of the Allied group)

Mosstowie was the single malt produced by Lomond Stills in Miltonduff from 1964 to 1981. It was named after a hamlet about a mile away from the distillery. It’s the last distillery to have installed Lomond stills. There were two of them according to many books, which may imply the fact that these two Lomond stills worked in tandem. But as there's little information about these lomond stills I haven't been able to find out more.
The Lomond still was invented by Alistair Cunningham, who was a chemical engineer at Hiram Walker. The Canadian company needed a solution to have 42 differently flavored malts within 6 distilleries in hand. His solution was a cylindrical still with a water jacket mounted vertically above it. Within the still neck were three rectifying plates that could be adjusted horizontally and vertically, and water-cooled or left dry to vary the degree of reflux. The angle of the lyne arm could also be changed to allow for even greater control of the reflux. So, basically the whole design was to control the reflux to have different styles of malts. Alas, the process doesn't seem to have been successfu as almost all the Lomond stills installed have been taken away, mostly because the plates often became clogged with residue.
I had the experience of tasting 4 different malts produced from Lomond stills, they were quite similar, creamy, fruity and light.(I believe all were coming from bourbon casks). But remember, the Lomond still was invented to produce very different styles of malts, so the extent of difference must be the most important factor. Michael Jackson, as well as some other authors, described Mosstowie as being heavier, oilier and smokier than the normal Miltonduff, which I don’t quite agree from my experience with, for instance, the Mosstowie Duncan Taylor bottling. In fact, when Jim McEwan showed me the Lomond Still he got from Dumbarton site in 2004, he also said this kind of still will produce an extremely light style of malt. But of course he hasn’t got the chance to try that yet. I heard from him that they’ll start to re-build Port Charlotte distillery next year (2007) and they’ll use the Lomond still from Dumbarton and an old pot still from Port Charlotte in the Port Charlotte distillery. Let’s wait and see what will happen.
It is very hard to find Mosstowie's malt in the market. Some available IBs malts are:
Mosstowie 29 yo 1975 (44.5%, Duncan Taylor Rarest of the rare, Cask#5812)
Mosstowie 29 yo 1975/2005 (48,4%, Duncan Taylor, Rarest,, c. 5809, 128bt)
Mosstowie 1979/1999 (40%, G&M)
Mosstowie 12 yo 1972 (G&M)
Mosstowie 12 yo 1970 (40%, G&M Connoisseur’s Choice, old brown label)
Mosstowie 1975/1994 (40%, G&M Connoisseur’s Choice, old map label)
Mosstowie 1979/1999 (40%, Connoisseur's Choice)
Mosstowie 1970 (40%, G&M Connoisseur’s Choice, Old map label)
Mosstowie 26 yo 1979/2006 (52.8%, Signatory, bourbon cask #12756, 274 b.)
I just can’t help to open my only Mosstowie in my collection. I actually already tasted this bottle during a DT tasting:
Mosstowie 29 yo 1975 (44.5%, Duncan Tayler Rarest of the rare, Cask #5812)
Color: Light gold. Watering, not that oily. Large legs.
Nose: Very fruity. Lots of citrus/orange, sweet. A little bit of soapy flowery notes. Hint of heather. Very clean. A little bit pepperish, adding water pulls more flowery notes. Soap again.
Palate: Light body. Dry. Sweet. Short finish. Even if it's a little dry, it's quite active as an old malt.
Conclusion: 85 points, still a little too light for me.
- Ho-cheng

Whiskey, Michael Jackson, DK, First American Edition 2005
Whiskey, Walter Schobert, Neil Wilson, English Edition 2002
The Scottish Whisky Distilleries, Misako Udo, Distillery Cat, November 2005 revised
Malt Whisky Yearbook 2006, MagDig Media Limited 2005


MUSIC - Recommended listening - I know some will say this is another very unlikely choice but that won't prevent me from posting about the late Harry Nilsson doing Fred Neil's interstellar mega-hit Everybody's talking at me.mp3 in 1969. Delightfully old-fashioned, but please buy Harry Nilsson's music.


October 19, 2006

Brora 19 yo 1981/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, 564 bottles) Colour: dark straw. Nose: this one is very demonstrative right at first nosing, starting a Clynelishesque waxiness plus lots of fruits (mostly bitter oranges), getting then rather farmy (wet hay, grain barn). Truly superb.
Then we have something resinous coming through, with notes of pine resin and tiger balm… And then fresh apricots and almonds. Again, superb. Mouth: punchy, with a sweet and resinous attack. Something citrusy (lemon balm?) and again lots of wax, pollen, a slight cardboardinesss, earl grey tea, spearmint… A little icing sugar to keep the whole very vivacious but no peat or farminess at this stage. Long finish, waxy and citrusy as it should be, with hints of smokiness coming through now and quite some lemon juice. Very good – there wasn’t only peat in Brora’s life! 88 points (and thanks Konstantin).
Brora 23 yo 1981/2005 (58.2%, Signatory, sherry butt #1555, 535 bottles) Colour: pale amber. Nose: starts much rougher and rawer but also slightly peatier. Notes of wax again but also a little cardboard, pond water… Yet, it gets much more expressive after that, with quite some ginger ale, hints of wet dog, sweat straw, beer… Sharper and more austere than the OMC but it gets really peaty and smoky after a moment. Not close to a Brora from the early 70’s of course but it is a classy one. Mouth: much, much closer to the OMC, just even punchier at the attack. Resin, wax, orange zests, icing sugar… We’re very, very close, with maybe just something slightly meaty now (ham). Very good. Finish: slightly hotter but other than that it’s the same whisky. 88 points – up 1 point since last time I had it (and thanks, Carsten H.)
Brora 24 yo 1981/2006 (59.3%, Signatory, sherry butt #1517, 597 bottles) Colour: pale amber. Nose: much closer to the OMC than to it’s sibling by Signatory, with exactly the same kind of mix of wax and fruits plus the trademark farminess at first nosing. Now, it develops in a different direction, more on coffee and caramel (Werther’s) plus roasted nuts. Hard to tell you which nose I prefer. Mouth: same whisky again on the palate, with just a little extra-power from the alcohol and maybe a feeling of saltiness (from the alcohol???) Finish: a bit creamier and longer but again, it’s just the same whisky. 88 points.


MUSIC – Recommended listening: Brazil's excellent vocalist Zeze Freitas sings Zica Bergami's Manga.mp3, with the excellent Rodrigo Botter Maio on saxophone. Superb! Please, buy these people's music.


October 18, 2006

Bunnahabhain 33 yo 1967/2001 (41.25%, Douglas Laing Old Malt, US, 204 bottles) Colour: pale gold. Nose: a rather expressive start on oak and fruits (bananas, guavas, overripe apples, tangerines), in a style that isn’t too far from old Bowmores or Bruichladdichs. Superb freshness considering its age, the whole gaining balance with time. It gets less extravagantly fruity (but now e have also ripe gooseberries and pears) but slightly camphory as well as very nicely and softly spicy (a little ginger, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg).
And then it gets nicely soft (like a morning sunrise, err…), slightly oriental, on whiffs of incense, sandalwood and smoking nargileh, with a final, rather bold return on ripe bananas. Typical and flawless. Mouth: exactly as expected, with a very nice attack on bananas flambéed and coconut milk plus quite some vanilla and a rather bold oakiness (slightly overinfused tea). Add to that a little liquorice, orange cake, Grand-Marnier, apricot jam and you have a very expressive old Bunny, with a rather long, fruity finish with no excessive dryness whatsoever despite the oak that’s well here. Not hugely complex on the palate but the balance is totally perfect. 91 points (and thanks, Luc)
Bunnahabhain 27 yo 1978/2006 (55.6%, Signatory, cask #2542, 509 bottles) Colour: full gold. Nose: punchier, more spirity, starting on very unusual notes of ambergris and quite some vanilla. Also something slightly metallic (copper saucepan), lilies of the valley, mastic, argan oil, suntan lotion, paper, plastic (new car)… Again, very unusual. Then we have wet stones and chalk, seltzer… And then the sherry comes through, after a good five minutes, the whole getting much more classical: sultanas, rancio, soy sauce, parsley, a little fresh mint, caramel crème… Very entertaining if you give this one a little time! Mouth: punchy but not violent, with a very thick mouth feel (you could use a spoon I guess). Starts mostly on all kinds of both crystallized and dried fruits (no need to list them all) plus a little caramel. Very lively and ‘candied’, with just something slightly rubbery in the background (more like chlorophyll actually). It stays like that for a very long time, resembling a fruit liqueur more and more, until the finish that’s hugely… err, fruity and candied. Very simple on the palate but so nicely compact and coherent that simplicity’s almost an asset here. 89 points.


by Nico Meijboom (MM correspondent)

Operational: License to operate granted on 20 June 2006
Region: Northern Highlands (West coast)
Address: Drumchork Lodge Hotel, Aultbea, Wester Ross, IV22 2HU, Scotland
Owners: John and Frances Clotworthy
Contacts: website - email
Tel: +44 1445 731242

After 3 whisky trails in Scotland with friends from “Het Genietschap” and a family trip to the Speyside, I convinced my spouse Rianne that it would be a great idea to return to Scotland in 2006 with just the two of us. Because she is not to keen on whisky we made an agreement upfront and split the week in Scotland from April 27 to May 7 equally between whisky related events and beautiful scenery. After visiting some distilleries and thoroughly enjoying the Speyside whisky festival 2006 we travelled on 1 May from Dufftown to Wester Ross.
In Tain I promised Rianne that the Glenmorangie stills would be the last copper still she would see this year. After a short stop at Brora later that same day, we drove into the wastelands of Wester Ross. In order to ensure at least some proper dramming in Wester Ross I had cunningly booked one night at the Drumchork Lodge Bed & Breakfast in Aultbea. The Drumchork Lodge is run by Frances Oates and John Clotworthy, who have gained international renown for the hotel as “The Highland Home of Malt Whisky”, winning numerous awards for both the collections and presentations of Scotland’s National drink and have also won Top Whisky Bar in Scotland several times with its 700 single malts on the shelf.    
After a few days of enjoying the stunningly beautiful and lonely landscape of Wester Ross we finally arrived at Aultbea and I was pleasantly surprised to discover a brand new distillery named “Loch Ewe” right next to the hotel.

Works in the garage
This new distillery is the brainchild of John and Frances, who transformed a garage behind the hotel into a distillery and were recently granted a distillery licence - the first private licence in 190 years. This makes Loch Ewe now officially the smallest legal distillery in Scotland; a title previously held by Edradour. However, the extremely small alembic still of Loch Ewe is from a different order of magnitude than Edradour’s stills and there is no intention at all for Loch Ewe to become a competitor to the existing distilleries.
John’s intention is that guest to the hotel can learn in a 5 day course how whisky was prepared in the old days. The guests will brew, ferment and distil using an illicit size still and cask it at the end of the week. This new Single Malt drink will be called “The Spirit of Loch Ewe” and not single malt whisky. For practical reasons it is not possible for the spirit to mature for 3 years, because of the extremely high evaporation rate from the currently used small casks (only 5 litres!!). In the future John expects to fill a couple of ex-bourbon casks as well in order to create also an official Loch Ewe Scotch single malt whisky. Rianne did not mind at all to learn more about this charming small copper still and of course we got the full tour from John. By coincidence the guys from “the Malt Project” where at Loch Ewe on the same day to shoot some footage for their next release.
It will take a couple of years before the first tasting notes of Loch Ewe single malt scotch will appear on this website, but there is an opportunity to sample “The Spirit of Loch Ewe” at the Leiden whisky festival 2006, where John will be present to promote his distillation course. For the time being the connoisseur has to do it with the pictures of this charming distillery.
Interview with John Clotworthy (17 September 2006)
John, thanks for making yourself available for this interview for the Malt Maniacs website. Can you start by giving a short introduction to yourself and how you developed your affection for malt whisky to the extend that you wanted to start your own distillery?
I am enjoying whisky for more than 20 years now. The first bottle of single malt whisky I bought was Highland park 12Y. When I took over the Drumchork Lodge hotel in 1997 there was nothing on the shelves and here I also started with Highland Park 12Y. Now my collection has grown in 9 years time to over 700 different whiskies. The majority of them are single malts, but I have an open mind for all whiskies as I believe they can all be enjoyable on a particular point in time.
The idea to start my own distillery was inspired by comments and questions I got when I was hosting Nosing and Tastings. People asked if they could learn in practice how whisky was prepared in the old days of illicit distilling.
Was it difficult to obtain a license for distilling?
Yes, the Customs and Excise department initially would not allow a license because under the current legislation the minimum volume of a still must be 1800 litres and mine is just 40 gallons. However, my still has the same size as the one from John Smith of Glenlivet, when he got his licence in 1824. After 2 years of campaigning with help from Members of Parliament, a license was granted in 2004. Then it took us another 2 years to build the distillery in a garage next to the hotel and to complete the additional work required for the license. We recently received the final document dated June 20 2006. It is a weird coincidence to see the date 2006-2006 on the license; I take it as a positive omen for my distillery. This is by the way the first private license rewarded in 190 years.
Do you have any previous distilling experience?
No, I have been talking and learning from several people with experience. Nowadays distilleries are completely run by computers. This type of distillation goes back to the fully manual process.
What is the capacity of the still per batch?
As it is all done in one pot we start with 25 gallons of water and 25 kg of malted barley. At the end of the second distillation we obtain roughly only 5 litre of 75% spirit.
Do you use a particular type of barley and who takes care of the malting?
I purchase milled malted barley from the Inverness maltings and have no preference for barley type as yet. One of my plans for the future is to try to make my own malted barley.
Any preference for peat level?
My first trial runs were with unpeated barley. Because we are in a coastal area I would like to move to light peated barley. Not as peaty as Ardbeg, but more peaty than Bunnahabhain.
Do you use a particular yeast strain?
Standard dried yeast, but I am currently looking for a faster fermentation yeast.
Water source for malting and cooling?
First trial runs were done with the high quality tap water we have in this area. When we start with the distilling classes we can use water from a nearby loch.
Can you tell something about the process using an alembic still?

Mashtun, washback, wash still and spirit still are all in one pot. We are using an alembic pot still which was used by the ancient Egyptians to produce perfumes and aromas as far back as 200BC. Around 200AD European monks were using this design of still to make pot ales and their fortified wines. That's where the Aqua Vitae, the water of life, comes from.
We dismantle the still and use just the copper pot to start with a porridge of malted barley and hot water. The filtering of the wort from the draff is done with great difficulty. The wort is put back into the copper pot and yeast is added. After fermentation the wash is heated and the still part is added. The low wines are collected and after cleaning the pot the second distillation should yield approximately 5 litres of spirit at 75%.

What barrels do you use?
It took a while to find a supplier for the type of casks I had in mind (5-10 litres). I managed to find a supplier in Germany, so the wood type can be called German Oak. The casks have been charred and I can put sherry in them to precondition the wood, depending on the customer’s preference. The cask can contain a volume of 5 litres of spirit.
Maturation time?
Here is a practical problem. Legally you are only allowed to call the distillate Scotch Whisky after 3 years of maturing in Scotland. However, after 3 years a 5 litre cask will be empty.We will therefore not call it whisky, but the official name is “Spirit of Loch Ewe”. I expect that a couple of months maturing should be sufficient.
How did your first runs go?
Very well. Once I got used to operating the equipment I was quite impressed with the results. The taste of the unpeated spirit is very fruity and cereal.
What is the plan forward? How to attract visitors to the lodge/distillery? Planning any classes?
As a matter of fact I have just been updating the website of our hotel. The course lasts 5 days and will include dinner, bed and breakfast and duty paid on the spirit. I have been promoting on Whisky Live in Glasgow and will be at the whisky festival in Leiden in November.
What is the price of the course?
This depends on the size of the group and what they want. For details people can contact us for an individual package price.
Is it possible to let the spirit mature in your own warehouse?
Yes, but I really recommend that people take the cask home. Because of the high evaporation rate from such a small cask it will be empty after 3 years in our warehouse. After a couple of months it should be fine for consumption.
Been in touch with Edradour recently on your newly acquired status?
I have not talked to Andrew Symington recently. It is not my intention at all to start to promote ourselves as the smallest distillery in Scotland, although I have the legal right to do so. I would more advocate Loch Ewe to be the “most unique distillery”.
John, thanks for your time for this interview and we are looking forward to see you at the Leiden festival in November and sample some “Spirit of Loch Ewe”.
You’re welcome. See you in November.


MUSIC - Heavily recommended listening - not exactly amusing but totally beautiful: Blake Allen singing a soulful Executioner's song.mp3 that will leave you speechless. Wow! Please, please buy Blake Allen's music...


October 17, 2006




by Davin de Kergommeaux (Canada)

You’d expect any event held in Paris to be world class, Paris being a centre of fashion, culture, and the cultivated. Whisky Live Paris met that expectation and more. With everything San Francisco has to offer a whisky show there would have to be pretty amazing and the Whiskies of the World Expo was.

In Canada however, not much happens in the malt world so you could be forgiven for not expecting much of a show. But then along comes the Victoria Whisky Festival in sleepy little Victoria – population 350,000 and a two hour ferry ride from anywhere - to prove what can be done by folks with a mission; the Victoria show too, was fantastic.
In Toronto sale of whisky is regulated by LCBO, a government monopoly with virtuoso talents for sucking the life out of the whisky hobby, and now they have applied that virtuosity to whisky shows as well. For two years running, our friend Johanna Ngoh has brought all the major players together each Fall, in Toronto, for her acclaimed Spirit of Toronto whisky show. LCBO blocked her every move, but the wily Johanna found other means to bring in great whiskies and great Scottish characters to go with them.
Then LCBO asked the Whisky Live folks if they’d ever thought of bringing their consumer show to Toronto. “A fair question of interest given the business we’re in,” they told me. Only thing is, Whisky Live’s dates magically coincided with LCBO’s annual pre-Christmas whisky promotion in October. But with Spirit of Toronto already scheduled for October, LCBO in a stroke of passive-aggressive brilliance, managed to push the upstart Johanna off the calendar and deliver half the show at twice the price. Yes, twice the price, because at Whisky Live Toronto you must purchase your drams – no free sampling – and while the stated purpose of selling vouchers is to control drunkenness the effect was just the opposite.
With drams ranging from $2.50 to $7.50 (for mostly very ordinary whiskies) the whisky show quickly became a whisky bar with people demanding full measures and downing every drop. Remember the silver dump buckets and spittoons at Whisky Live Paris, Victoria Whisky Festival and World of Whiskies Expo? They were nowhere in sight here, although a few plastic garbage pails did substitute service.
Organizer, Damien Riley-Smith put on a brave face, saying he had a wonderful venue to grow into over the coming years. Well, he’s right. It was a large venue, made to seem all the larger for the lack of people. Damien estimated the crowd at 850; I’d guess half that number. Take your lumps Damien. You’ve been LCBOed. It won’t ever get better than this if you continue to work with them, and how can a big organization like yours not?
Consider that for their “Whisky Generation” promotion LCBO is bragging about the “sensational selection” of new malts they are making available in Toronto. Such “sensations” as Green Spot, Highland Park 18yo, Old Pulteney 12yo, The Macallan 15 yo Fine Oak, Aberlour 16yo, Te Bheag (and LCBO still thinks Praban Na Linne is a distillery – LISTEN LCBO: THERE IS ONLY ONE DISTLLERY ON SKYE AND IT’S CALLED TALISKER. Praban Na Linne IS NOT A DISTILLERY, IT’S A BUSINESS OFFICE and Te Bheag is a blend. That means it is a mixture of whiskies that come from many different distilleries - but I digress.), Edradour 10yo, Glengoyne 17yo, Glen Garioch 15yo, Auchentoshan Three Wood, Bowmore 16yo 1989, Bowmore 17yo, Ardbeg Ugeadail, Arran 10yo, and, . . . oh wait, . . . that’s the whole list and not a sensational one among them. Remember Damien, this for a city of 2.5 million people.
Producers and brand ambassadors also stayed away from Whisky Live in droves. Where were the Bruichladdich folks for instance? Their drams made my day at WL Paris and Victoria Whisky Fest. And are they leading a general retreat? One prominent exhibitor was wondering aloud last night if these whisky shows are getting to be too much work for too little return. To be fair though, there were some outstanding malts there as well. Two Tullibardines, a 1966 and a 1964 were the best I’ve ever tasted from that distillery, and Diageo had a terrific line-up of Taliskers as well as pouring three UDRM Rare Malts in their Masterclass. Michael Jackson cancelled at the last minute (health) but Ronnie Cox was his normal, brilliant self, though the only real star to attend.
“ But did you have fun?” Damien asked when I expressed my disappointment, and yes, that was a fair question because I did have fun, not from the whiskies, but because the show gave us Canadians a gathering point to see those folks we’ve only met on the web. Rob Faragher, for instance, brought a group from St. Catherines and after the show we retired to his hotel where another whisky festival began, with half a dozen drams I’d never seen before. Damien, you’re doing us whisky nuts a real service with your shows and your magazine. Thank you for all the other Whisky Lives. I hope you didn’t lose too much on Toronto and if you do come back next year, come on over to Rob’s room after. We’ll give you some real drams the folks at LCBO have never even heard of.
Johanna has not replied to our requests for information but her website says she’ll do her show in the Spring. Fingers crossed that she repeats her past successes. - Davin
November 6, 2006 Whisky Live Toronto – Correction
Damian Riley-Smith (note correct spelling of his name - sorry Damian) advises that final attendance at Whisky Live in Toronto was 788, and not half of 850 as reported. By comparison Whisky Live South Africa had over 10,000 visitors over six nights last year. Johanna Ngoh responding to our review of Whisky Live advised that she is still working at her whisky business, though she gave no details. - Davin


Port Ellen 23 yo 1978/2002 (59%, Signatory, butt #5268, 564 bottles) Colour: pale straw. Nose: powerful and pungent at first nosing, not very smoky and rather farmy (huge notes of wet hay, fermentation). Gets then rather minty and vegetal but the whole is rough and not very expressive. It’ll probably need a little water…

Okay, great news, that does work. I gets much more ‘coastal’, with notes of seashells, iodine, developing on diesel oil, tar, maybe hints of ‘new plastic’… Not a winning nose but certainly a nice one. Mouth (neat): ultra sweet at first sip, but with quite some cardboard and even a slight soapiness. Too much alcohol, this one really needs water. So, with water again: it got much sweeter, on apple compote but also tea, white pepper, ginger. Gets earthier and earthier, rooty, with also notes of ginger tonic, cinchona and bitter oranges, probably from the wood. Rather long finish, peppery, mustardy and smoky, maybe more like some Taliskers rather than ‘regular’ Port Ellens at the finish. Not stellar and slightly atypical but very good, that’s for sure. 88 points.
Port Ellen 27 yo 1978/2006 (54.2%, OB, 6th Release, 4560 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: much ‘easier’ than the Signatory at first nosing, starting on lots of lemon juice and smoked tea (lapsang souchong). It’s soon to get unusually maritime (some would say ‘fishy’) with notes of smoked oysters but also kippers – clean ones. Lots of iodine. Then we have freshly cut apples, peaches, green melons… Whiffs of newly cut grass, chives… It’s probably a little more civilized and tamed than most earlier versions I think, but maybe also a little more complex. No tarry notes, no new tyres this time but it’s very expressive just like that but let’s see what it gives with a little water: not much development but it already told us lots of things. Not exactly a swimmer in fact – at least on the nose. Mouth (neat): peaty, waxy, salty and lemony, with an almost perfect balance right at first sip. Again, it’s a little rounder than ‘usual’, maybe a little more ‘obviously good’ and less austere and sharp than most previous editions. Gets quite spicy (green curry, soft wasabi) and liquoricy before we have quite some fruits such as bitter oranges and tangerines. With water: gets a little fruitier and even spicier, in a beautiful way. Notes of quince jelly, herbs liqueur, parsley and dill, getting more and more peppery, especially at the very long, beautifully sharp and invading finish – maybe the best part here. Very compact, with a superb earthiness remaining on your palate for ages (plus my beloved old Pu-erh tea). That superb finish will lift its mark from 90 to 92 points.


MUSIC – Recommended listening: today we'll have some of Alela Diane's 'pirate's gospel' with The rifle.mp3. Great new voice I think, please buy her music!


October 16, 2006

The Forum, Kentish Town, London, October 4th 2006
Well they may still be picking cotton in Mississippi, but back here in London autumn has set in, chilly mornings, early evening gloom and cold nights. This time of year also brings a new crop of fresh-faced students to the great metropolis, and it feels as though most of them are here in the Forum with us. Neatly-pressed grunge meets GAP outfits, too much money, too much beer, and rather too much pop-eyed wonderment at the simple glory of being grown up like this.
Of course most of them are boys. And to a man (or boy) they are all closet, or wardrobe, or garage, or may I say even basement guitarists – even the daft ones trying to do a mosh pit thing at the front. Yes, this cool autumnal night is about newly-found maturity celebrated with the king of bedroom blues guitar.
the black keys
It’s the Black Keys. You know, the two-hand outfit that shot to fame shortly after that other two-hand outfit, the White Stripes. Actually I didn’t really know that the Black Keys had shot to fame, so was astonished to find the Forum sold-out and almost bursting at the seams. I thought the scene was dominated by Jack and Jill, the roots blues supremos of the chic and chi-chi city set, who of course probably only know roots if they’re in their hair and need colouring. So whilst the White Stripes have almost become Big Apple social accessories, like one of those irritating little dogs that always simpers and shits on the sidewalk, the Black Keys have clung tenaciously and obstinately to their ‘roots’ origins of Akron, Ohio. They are, as critics might say, stuck in the basement. And even worse, to those star-spangled North east metro-sophisticates whose knowledge of their own country finishes at the end of the JFK runway, the Black Keys are stoically signed to those wonderful people at Fat Possum Records in Oxford, Mississippi, where if I’m not mistaken, they might still be picking cotton.
Dan Auerbach presides over the evening with the bearing of a man who’s, well, to be honest, playing the guitar in his bedroom. He seems almost oblivious to the audience, and barely seems to communicate with sidekick Patrick Carney, though the two are as tight as ninepence. Technicians might like to know that his two Marshall amps, rather than facing the audience are very deliberately pointed to the side, heavily miked. There are pedals all over the place, at least one of which stalls half way through the evening. I think he’s playing the Gibson with the Bigsby – but hey, if you want to check up on the details of this stuff then just look at the ‘Guitar Geek World’ section on the band’s forum. I have a feeling most of the audience do.It was Auerbach, by the way, whose life was changed listening to a Junior Kimbrough album in, surprisingly, his room at college. And though the majority of their tunes are self-penned it’s an inspiration that the band are happy to acknowledge – indeed what better place to start if you don’t know them than their recent tribute to Kimbrough, Chulahoma. Of course it’s easy to stress the derivative nature of their work, as intense blues groove follows intense blues groove. You half expect that the next line in every song will be “Well I’m standing next to a mountain”, and in addition to Hendrix you’ll hear as many seventies bands in their tunes as you can remember.
Dan Auerbach  the black keys
Dan Auerbach
But this would do the Black Keys a great injustice – their music is nothing but twenty-first century blues. Auerbach is a prodigious guitarist (did I also say that he also has the voice of a blues angel?), and it’s clear that in a set that lasts an hour (to the minute) there’s nothing wasted, nothing thrown away. Apart from the pedal breaking it’s almost technically perfect – I know that from the detailed notes the bloke next to me was taking. The audience of course are almost at prayer – they’re as familiar with the old stuff (I would suggest that after Chulahoma you buy 2003’s thickfreakness, and then this year’s Magic Potion) as the new, and no Serge, I don’t mean they’re singing along, they’re playing along in their heads.
Patrick Carney  the black keys
Patrick Carney
Hang on, what about the drummer? That’s Patrick Carney, who is also a bit of a dab hand at producing albums too. Well according to the pimple-pinching pre-pubescents who occupy the Black Keys forum he’s a bit of a miserable bugger, because all he does is come on stage and play the drums. What do they expect – tap-dancing and jokes? Let me tell you, no matter how good Auerbach’s guitar and singing was, this show was simply blown away by the power drumming of Mr Carney. In fact it wasn’t like being at a gig; it was more like a boxing match. And the bastard won every round. It went like this. Bell rings – soft approach, squirrelling round the snares, some light cymbals, a slow but incessant foot pedal on the bass drum. Audience seduced into blues rhythm and great singing, caught unawares.First the bass drum intensity increases. Then, “Christ, how can he do that with one foot?” The snare starts to kick in and the cymbals are going off everywhere, along with the tom-toms. By this time the bass pedal is slugging in the chest every time, pounding away. Can I take it? Deep breath – yes – it’s hot, but it’s cool. How naive. Without warning the bass pedal triples in ferocity and the floor mounted tom-toms start punching and pounding at you like a veteran heavyweight moving in for the kill. On the ropes! It’s the quorum in the Forum. Too much.
Down and almost counted-out. Drummer Patrick rises, spits out water contemptuously as a scantily-clad babe circles the stage with a board pronouncing “Song Two”. An invisible coach massages his neck, “You’ve got them champ, you’ve got them.” At the end of the hour he leaves the stage without a look, impatient, knowing that his job’s not quite done. Encore – the final round – the Kentish Town Killer beats us to submission. Only then, only then, does he turn, grin, and give us one wave. Phew!
And Serge you know it’s easy to make jokes at other people’s expense (thank heavens!) but one of the best things about this wonderful evening was that we’re here in this packed old theatre, listening to nothing but the blues, and the audience, average age 23, is loving it. And for that I say thank you Black Keys, (and of course thank you North Mississippi Allstars, and thank you Fat Possum Records, and even thank you White Stripes). Buy their records, go and see them. Keep the blues alive!
- Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate and Cadd).

Thank you, Nick. Jimi Hendrix had so many grandsons! I’ll spare you laborious and unnecessary developments on ‘but is this creation’ or ‘no bass, subconsciously deliberate mistake or marketing gimmick’ but it’s true that I really like to listen to the Black Keys because they sound exactly like my neighbour Florent S., six or seven years older than me, who used to sit by his window and play Woodoo Chile on his flower power painted Telecaster, as we were gathering in the street, dazzled, back in the early seventies. Only the yelling Mrs S. and her dreadful 1000W Hoover seem to be missing on the Black Keys records - I can’t hear them on the very Hendrixian Set you free.mp3 in any case. But where's Noel Redding?

Glendronach 12 yo (43%, OB for Previ Brescia, sherry casks, early-mid 1980’s) Colour: coffee. Nose: very dry at first nosing but soon to get both very herbal (aromatic herbs) and animal. Quite some thyme and rosemary, lovage, balsamico and soy sauce (or even Japanese oyster sauce). Goes on with huge notes of oxtail, game, lots of fresh parsley… Truly amazing, I love it! No sweetness whatsoever, except for maybe Smyrna raisins and old armagnac. Beautiful.
Mouth: oh yes, we’re in the same territories. Starts on unsugared coffee but also oxtail (not mixed, eh), soy sauce, salted liquorice, balsamic vinegar again, a little bitter caramel, bread crust… We do have a certain sweetness now (roasted nuts, pecans, fruitcake) but it’s still beautifully dry and meaty globally. Keeps going on with reduced beef sauce, gravy, notes of Madeira… A huge personality. Finish: maybe a tad short but superbly liquoricy, salty and coffeeish, with alos notes of kirsch and plum eau-de-vie. State of the art! 92 points (would have been even higher with a longer finish – and thanks, Luc!)
Glendronach 33 yo (40%, OB, oloroso, 2006?) Interesting to taste this new one that was probably distilled in the same years as the old 12yo. Too bad they didn’t bottle it at at least 43%. Colour: coffee – just the same. Nose: surprisingly similar at first nosing (soy sauce and herbs) but getting much fruitier and spicier after a while. Lots of orange marmalade, cooked strawberries, a little pepper, cigar box, sandalwood, whiffs of incense… Slightly smoky and gingery. We have also a little clove, Chinese anise, also smoked ham. Really complex and rich but still very elegant. Rounder than the old 12 yo but just as great. Mouth: very nice attack on bold notes of pineapple (soaked in rum) and very ripe melons but the whole is slightly weak (slightly disappointing mouth feel, lacking body). Now, the profile is great, with lots of sultanas, bitter chocolate, cocoa (slightly drying), violet and aniseed sweets, orange blossom, black toffee. Hints on mint drops. Gets just a tad drying after a (long) moment. Finish: medium long, really on sherry, roasted nuts and cocoa again, getting just a little cardboardy (tannins). A beautiful whisky, maybe just a tad too weakish and drying on the palate to make it over 89 points.

October 15, 2006

Highland Park 15 yo (40%, OB, 2006) Colour: gold. Nose: lots happening! Huge notes of heather – not just a myth -, nectar and honey mingling with very ripe oranges and whiffs of wood smoke.
A great surprise. A very elegant oakiness bringing a little vanilla, white pepper, cinnamon and quite some ginger to the feast. It keeps then developing on smoked meat (Islay beef?), a little coal, caramel, kumquats, and something frankly maritime (sea breeze) plus enjoyable ripe apple notes. Excellent despite the low strength. Mouth: not weak or watery at all, juts the mouth feel is slightly thin… Lots of honey and chocolate together with crystallized oranges and a little nutmeg. Simpler than the nose, for sure, but still very enjoyable. Gets rather smoky and slightly peppery after a moment, with also even more crystallized fruits. That’s all but that’s enough! Finish: medium long and maybe thin now but certainly not weak, still on chocolate, oranges and quite some smoke. Again, a very good surprise, especially on the nose. 88 points.
Highland Park 16 yo 1990/2006 (51.9%, The Single Malts of Scotland, hogshead, 291 bottles) Colour white wine. Nose: very different! Really powerful, starting on rather weird notes of wet cardboard, plastic, soap and lots of paraffin. Quite bizarre… Let’s give this one a little time, maybe it’s something very volatile… zzz… zzz… Right, let’s see: that worked, these odd aromas almost vanished, leaving room for quite some flowers (violets, lavender) and butter. It’s still a little cardboardy but much more enjoyable, with also a little coconut, vanilla, quite some ginger tonic, bay leaves and juniper… Very unusual, hence interesting. Mouth: very bizarre again, with quite some cheese crust, cardboard, rotting oranges, aspirin… And again it’s getting much better after a while. It’s not a whisky, it’s a happening! Now we have quite some bitter oranges, beer (Guinness but also bitters), all sorts of herbs (and that famous Jägermeister) and many spices (mostly cumin, green curry…) Immensely unusual, to the point where I don’t quite know what to think about it… Especially the finish is long but very herbal and strangely bitter. Well, it’s probably me… Please tell me what you think if you already tried this one. For the moment, I’m rather lost and I’ll just put temporary stars (thanks for your understanding ;-)).
Highland Park 1986 'vintage' (56.2%, OB, UK, cask #2794, 648 bottles, circa 2006) Colour: mahogany. Nose: a superb sherry now, with as much toffee and fruit jam as one can get plus a fantastic meatiness and lots of smoke. Incredibly elegant, bold yet so subtle… So, in no particular order, we have: high-end perfume in the Joy de Patou genre (nothing offending at all), dried oranges, strawberry jam, buttered caramel, oak smoke, smoked ham, old white Burgundy of the best kind, idem red, roasted nuts, old books, hot black truffles, cinchona, orange liqueur, smoked tea, chocolate, espresso coffee… Well, better stop now, I haven’t gotten all day. Mouth: … imagine the palate just matches the fantastic nose! Maybe just hints of sulphur at the attack but they don’t last for long and then it’s the charge of the light brigade (again!) on all flavours you can get in a great sherry (from oranges to smokiness and from chocolate to balsamic vinegar). Too bad it gets just a tad bitterish and sourish towards the finish, thanks to the very high sherry concentration. The finish itself is extremely long and concentrated as expected, fruity, jammy and now rather herbal (rosemary), getting even very minty- lots of cloves as well… A true sherry monster for true sherryheads, that’s for sure. Too bad it was sometimes slightly sulphury/rubbery, otherwise it would have fetched much more that 91 points.


MUSIC - Recommended listening - It's Sunday, we go classical with Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Musique pour les soupers du Roi Ubu.mp3 (composed in 1968 - played by Rundfunks-Sinfonie-Orchester Köln, conducted by Michael Gielen in 1972). Extremely entertaining, with funny quotes of Lully (of course) but also Mussorgski, Ellington and many others. Great collage!

October 2006 - part 1 <--- October 2006 - part 2 ---> October 2006 - part 3

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

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

Bowmore 30 yo 1972/2002 (50.3%, Signatory, cask #928, 192 bottles)

Bowmore 1968/2006 (41.5%, The Taste Still, cask #3823, 144 bottles, Belgium)

Bunnahabhain 33 yo 1967/2001 (41.25%, Douglas Laing Old Malt, US, 204 bottles)

Glendronach 12 yo (43%, OB for Previ Brescia, sherry casks, early-mid 1980’s)

Highland Park 1986 'vintage' (56.2%, OB, UK, cask #2794, 648 bottles, circa 2006)

Highland Park 35 yo 1962/1997 (Cask Strength, OB, John Goodwin retirement)

Port Ellen 27 yo 1978/2006 (54.2%, OB, 6th Release, 4560 bottles)