Feis Ile 2006

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Feis Ile 2006  
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Feis Ile 2006

June 03, 2006

PETE McPEAT AND JACK WASHBACK are leaving the Islay Festival 2006

June 02, 2006

Ardbeg 1978/1990 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail for Meregalli, 75cl) Colour: gold. Nose: very fresh and very maritime but rather discreet altogether, with hints of marzipan, kippers, fisherman’s nest… Very light in fact. Whiffs of peat smoke and oranges, hints of camphor, coffee and old books… Mouth: sweet and rather weak again… It’s almost a whisper. Otherwise we have lots of ‘discreet’ dried fruits, quince, earl grey tea, orange marmalade, maybe a little cardboard, with some rather drying tannins. The finish is rather short, slightly metallic and, again, tea-ish. The nose was nice but the palate is, or got a little too weak for my tastes. 80 points.
Ardbeg 1978/2000 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail for Meregalli) Colour: gold. Nose: quite discreet again and much less smoky and peaty, more on apple juice and tea, maybe a little varnish. Curiously grassier, with notes of green tea. Lots of orange juice. Did the peat vanish during the ten extra-years? Gets then quite caramelly and cereally. Whiffs of sea air after quite a long time. Mouth: the attack is a little more nervous, slightly more camphory, certainly even more cereally and caramelly but just as drying. Dried fruits, tea, propolis… A certain bitterness and grassiness. Lots of pepper as well. The finish is a little longer but bitterer and drier, with just hints of cough sweets. 80 points again.
Ardbeg 17yo 1965 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail CC old brown label) Colour: gold. Nose: this one is much more complex right at first nosing, starting on pipe tobacco and old orange liqueur. Gets very maritime, with lots of kelp, fisherman’s nest, fresh almonds, apple peels… Develops on the much expected medicinal notes such as camphor, bandages… Also quite some sandalwood, old style furniture polish, fudge, pu-erh tea… Not exactly bold but complex and delicate, lacking just a little more oomph to be a brilliant Ardbeg. Mouth: not too explosive, almost weak but with quite some oysters, cold tea, a little liquorice, smoky caramel… Too bad it’s too weak to be satisfying, especially the finish that’s more like a vanishing whisper. More interesting because it’s almost an historical piece than really thrilling, in fact. A collector’s item, 83 points.
Ardbeg 1975/2003 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail CC new map label) Colour: deep gold. Nose: this is a rather different profile! Starts extremely waxy and camphory, with also quite some coffee, creosote, pine needles, Quite some marzipan, hints of bay leaves, gentian roots and a little lemon. Bolder than the 1965 but definitely less complex. Mouth: curiously tired again even if certainly bolder than the 1965, starting on lots of mint flavoured tea but also something papery. Dried oranges, marmalade, honey… Gets really drying and caramelly after a moment. The finish is really drying… Too bad, the whole lacks complexity. A rather weak and too drying old Ardbeg in my opinion. 79 points.
Ardbeg 15yo 1975/1990 (46%, Cadenhead) Colour: straw. Nose: another one that isn’t overly expressive. Starts on quite some green apple but also oyster juice and lemon juice. Very fresh but very lightly peaty. Develops a bit on grapefruit and fresh almonds, hints of tin box, lemon marmalade, spearmint. Mouth: a fruity and spicy start with quite some oomph. Lots of crystallised oranges. Developing on cooked butter but also pineapple liqueur, bergamot, citrons, apple peel… Rather long, enjoyable, lemony and mineral finish… A very good one, even if it just doesn’t quite taste like an Ardbeg. 89 points.
Ardbeg 1976/1993 (46%, Duthie for Samaroli, 1020 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: ah, now we’re talking! It’s not yet an overly expressive one but we certainly get more aromas, such as ripe pears (beurrée hardy), liquorice, orange juice, melon, hints of cologne, camphor and eucalyptus leaves… Little peat again, that is. Mouth: creamy, almost thick, probably more balanced and less raw than the Cadenhead. Yet, it’s powerful, superbly lemony (drops), compact… Lots of orange marmalade, herb liqueur, fir honey, grilled Japanese tea (Hochicha)… The finish is a little sweeter but nicely orangey and bitter (err, just like bitter oranges). Excellent, very satisfying even if it’s not really complex. 90 points.
Ardbeg 26yo 1975/2002 (46%, Wilson & Morgan, anniversary selection) Colour: white wine. Nose: superbly fresh at first nosing! Now we’re really talking! Superb wax and fabulous notes of high-end pu-erh tea mixed with pure oyster juice. Extremely classy. Notes of fresh butter, freshly cut apples, Nepalese incense, orange flowers, lilies of the valley… Not really extravagant but so nicely clean and elegant. Mouth: a sweeter and fruitier attack than expected, maybe a tad weakish and too liquoricy but it’s still an excellent whisky. Notes of toffee, cereals, oatcakes… Develops on peppered cooked apples, vanilla crème and bitter oranges… Smoky but not too much. The finish is rather long, liquoricy and slightly cardboardy. Very good but the nose was much more interesting I think. 89 points.
Ardbeg 1973/2004 (49.5%, OB, Manager’s Choice for Italy, cask #1146) Colour: gold. Nose: much more classically Ardbeg, with lots of tar, peat smoke, liquorice, wet hay and wet dog plus a little eucalyptus and camphor as well as lemon juice and fresh almonds. Very bold and sort of electric. Huge notes of new tyres, coal smoke… This is just ‘Ardbeg’. Fab stuff. Mouth: a superb attack again, on espresso coffee, chestnut honey and of course lots of peat. Peated malt (grains), salted liquorice, hints of cloves and nutmeg plus some great oaky tones… Gets very medicinal… and a long finish on chlorophyll, peat, liquorice and a pinch of salt… Yes, just fab and, again, dangerously drinkable. 95 points.
Ardbeg 13yo 1991/2004 (55.1%, Acorn, Japan) Colour: gold. Nose: very caramelly at first nosing, also on cereals and cooked apples, vanilla sauce, all that mixed with peat smoke and sea air. Notes of chocolate and praline with hints of spearmint and lemon balm and also a little camomile tea. Not too complex but oomphy, balanced and enjoyable. Mouth: punchy, sweet, caramelly and very smoky, almost aggressive. Gets quite tarry and medicinal in the background, also rather hot, almost burning. Develops on cooked apples and pepper… Maybe a tad simple but rather coherent, with a long, invading finish and maybe just a little too much sweetness. 87 points.
Ardbeg 25yo 1976/2002 (50%, Silver Seal, 280 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: quite powerful and a little spirity at first nosing, on cooked strawberries mixed with peat smoke, a little tar, gooseberries and kiwis. Unusually fruity for an Ardbeg. Then we have all the maritime cavalry (sea air, shells, seaweed), apple skin plus quite some sherry. Hints of liquorice root. Rather bold and expressive but not extremely complex. Mouth: a rather smooth start with a nice creaminess and lots of dried oranges plus cough sweets and resin drops. Sweets, hints of marshmallows and Turkish delights. Maybe a tad sugarish but the finish is rather long and very balanced, with a lingering peat. A good one, no doubt. 88 points.
Ardbeg 27yo 1975/2002 (50%, Douglas Laing OMC for the US, 180 bottles) Colour: deep gold. Nose: starts on lots of resins, mastic, propolis, camphor, bandages… Notes of horseradish, mustard, curry… Lots of body! Gets then very tarry and medicinal before some huge notes of roasted nuts arise as well and finally bunches of tropical fruits (tangerine, mangos, citrons). Much more complex than the Silver Seal. Brilliant. Mouth: explosive, extremely resinous again as well as quite chocolaty and minty. I love this profile. Lots of salty liquorice, tea, lemon drops, lemon balm, Italian lemon liqueur and then herb liqueur, with a superb bitterness that give it lots of elegance. Gets then quite spicy, with notes of cloves and juniper, bitter oranges… The finish is very long, very balanced although slightly drying, on peat, resins and dried fruits topped with all kinds of spices including Chinese anise… A great one, no doubt. 94 points.
Ardbeg 13yo 1975/1989 (54.8%, Intertrade, 75cl) Colour: straw. Nose: rather spirity, punchy, powerful, getting extremely medicinal with lots of camphor, bandages, embrocations, iodine, mercurochrome… Amazingly straightforward, almost sharp, austere… Gets very mineral, flinty… Hints of grass. Really sharp like a blade., getting also quite almondy Just great. Mouth: yes, a fabulous attack, creamy, resinous, lemony, peaty, smoky, lemony, peppery, salty. What a fabulous whisky! No need to go any further, this one is as close to perfection as it can get. 96 points.
Ardbeg 15yo 1973/1988 (53.4%, Sestante, clear glass yellow/green label) Cololur: straw. Nose: a little more discreet at first nosing, probably smoother and sweeter. It smells a little clumsy after the fab Intertrade. Lots of apple juice, sugared smoked tea, spearmint and cold camomile tea. Also rather grainy, on porridge, cereals… Little peat here, at least when compared to the Intertrade. Not very ‘Ardbeg’, strangely, like if it was a finish (chenin?) Mouth: sweeter but very great as well. Maybe a tad more on vanilla, fruitier, more on apple skins and walnuts, waxier, maybe a tad greener but what a great one again. Not quite as perfect as the Intertrade, though. 92 points.
Ardbeg 24yo 1965 (54.4%, Cadenhead, dumpy white label) Colour: white wine. Nose: oh, this is very different, starting on lots of metal, fishy smells and old Riesling as Olivier points out. Very complex, really a malt for wine freaks. A superb austerity! Fisherman’s nest, spring water, kippers, hints of camphor again, iodine (yes it’s medicinal), rubbed lemon skin… Another fab one, it seems! Mouth: a superb attack, resinous, camphory, with dried apples, lots of lemon juice, green pepper, quite some salt, candied oranges. Gets very spicy, with some chilli, white pepper, a little wasabi, thyme… A very long, waxy, camphory and peppery finish. Excellent, too bad the palate doesn’t quite fit the nose although are superb. 93 points.
Ardbeg 18yo 1974/1992 (54.9%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection, 150th anniversary) Colour: white wine. Nose: this one is quite expressive, starting on whisky-topped porridge and olive oil, getting then very maritime (kippers, seashells, dry kelp, salt march) and then quite lemony. A very wild one, raw and powerful but really superb. Hints of bitter oranges and smoked tea, citrons, un-sugared rosehip tea, lemon-scented candles… I love it for it’s so extreme and wild. Mouth: nervous and powerful, with lots of lemon juice, oranges, candied lemons, lemon fudge, wax, peat, smoked tea. Very lively, sort of acidulous, with a long, peaty and lemony finish. Another one that I simply adore. 95 points.
Ardbeg 18yo 1974/1992 (57.6%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection, 150th anniversary) Colour: gold. Nose: much more sherry influence, with quite some dried fruits, coffee, hints of sulphur, overripe oranges… Also chocolate, something very farmy… The sherry then fades away and leave room for quite some salted liquorice, pipe juice (yes), tar, shoe polish… Hints of balsamic vinegar and ham. After a few minutes this one starts to resemble the first one more and more… Another perfect one anyway. Mouth: creamy, bold, invading, incredibly complex, probably wider than the first one, with a little more honey, pistachios, very old rum... And a fab peat in this fab Ardbeg. The finish is just indescribable. 96 points.
Ardbeg 18yo 1974/1992 (57.7%, Cadenhead Authentic Collection, 150th anniversary) Colour: gold. Nose: it seems that there’s more sherry here. A little more caramel and chocolate. It’s also a little more animal, more reductive. Nice skunk (says Davin), game, dried beef (Grisons beef), horse stable… Anyway it’s simply another fab one. Mouth: roughly the same profile as the one we just had, just a tad simpler, lemonier and less fresh but it’s another brilliant Ardbeg, no doubt. Okay, 94 points. We should get a tax controller to squeeze a few more drops out of the glass, says Olivier.
Ardbeg 1976/2000 (53.2%, OB, Committee Reserve, cask #2394, sherry, 446 bottles) Colour: amber. Nose: ah, yes, this is sherry! Starts on huge notes of balsamic vinegar and soy sauce, lovage, smoked ham, crispy bacon, grilled garlic then Smyrna raisins, old rum… Then we have all the usual resinous ‘stuff’, hints of camphor and embrocations, herbs (thyme). Ardbeg’s ususal markers are sort of toned down here but the result is still beautiful. Superb notes of walnuts and chestnut honey, slightly burnt cake, myrte… Superb again. Mouth: creamy, powerful, rather nervous, probably not as complex as on the nose but highly drinkable. Gets minty, with notes of cough sweets, ripe pineapples, banana liqueur… And then the resin and finally the peat and the pepper that won the fight, with a very long and bold finish on tar and peat. Excellent, especially the nose. 93 points.
Ardbeg 1976/2001 (55.5%, Douglas of Drumlanrig for Scotch Single Malt Circle) Colour: amber. Nose: even more sherry but it’s rather simpler, more on the usual chocolate, rum, raisins and dried oranges. The spirit is quite overwhelmed here although it’s very nice whisky of course. Hints of resin, camphor, mint with chocolate, coffee, dried apricots. Extremely chocolaty in any case. Mouth: very creamy, very fruity and resiny, on bitter chocolate and lots of wood, coffee, dark toffee, getting lightly vinous and hugely peppery. Again a good one but the sherry and the wood really dominate the whisky here. 88 points.
Ardbeg 25yo 1975/2001 (58%, John Milroy, sherry butt) Colour: gold. Nose: quite some sherry but the whole isn’t overly expressive. Quite some torrefaction, roasted nuts, barbecued beef, coal… Then we have lots of apples, light honey, a little wax. Quite some pipe tobacco, prunes, caramel… Gets a little dusty but nicely so. Whiffs of seawater… Most enjoyable. Mouth: very powerful, sweet but not clumsy at all, very spicy and peppery. Lots of cloves and juniper, old white wine, bold peat… Gets a little hot and almost burning but the finish is long and quite lively, on ripe fruits (strawberries), peat and vanilla. Very good balance. 91 points.
Ardbeg 1975/1987 (57%, Samaroli, 648 bottles) Colour: white wine. Nose: oh, this is bizarre. Starts with asparagus cooking water, stale beer, cabbage, tin box and goes on with rotting fruits, turnips, old oysters, wet cat. Err, this one is really strange. It’s not completely flawed but maybe there were one or more rusty nails in the cask? Mouth: this is better now but there’s still something bizarre… Overripe oranges, wax… gets sweeter and sweeter with time, even waxier but also quite lemony. ‘Chemical’ orange juice? Something slightly dirty in the background, very grassy and curiously sugarish. Quite some muesli as well… The finish is long but sharp, green, very lemony… More a curiosity but one worth trying, even if isn’t exactly ‘good’ in my books. 80 points.
Ardbeg 11yo 1978/1990 (59.4%, Sestante) Colour: straw. Nose: powerful but not overpowering, not too aromatic, starting farmy on wet hay, notes of pu-erh tea, coffee, grains, grapefruit juice… A little closed in fact, let’s try it with water… It gets much cleaner and peatier indeed, with hints of coal, dill and anise, wet cardboard, matchstick… Quite some lemon again, hints of wet dog, notes of peated malt indeed…. Very, very good but don’t even think about trying it without water. Mouth (neat): sweet and lemony, liquoricy, also quite green. Quite hot and hard. With water: much more complex, with very nice notes of crystallised oranges and quinces, dried pears, smoked tea, fresh pineapples… Keeps developing on seafood… The finish is very long, still a little spirity even at less than 50%, on apples, pears and tarry, smoky notes… A very good Ardbeg again but it’s maybe not the total wonder I was expecting – this one has a huge reputation. Or is it me? 91 points, still.
Ardbeg 16yo 1977/1993 (62.5%, Scotch Malt Whisky Society 33.19) Colour: white wine. Nose: pungent, mineral and lemony with also apple and pear juice but water is desperately needed here. Almost no phenolic smells whatsoever without water. So, with water: indeed we have a little more peat, almonds, orgeat syrup, lamp oil, olive oil… But the whole stays simple and curiously very young. Very little phenols globally. Mouth (neat): very sweet and lemony again, almost like a mixture of apple and lemon juices plus a little pineapple. It’s the alcohol, obviously… Let’s try to wake the peat up! With water: still very simple but more phenolic indeed, very lemony, farmy… It’s simple peat, the whole tasting just like some 6 or 7yo Ardbeg. Good but, again, simple. No real thrill. 82 points.
Alright, we made it! Now, we didn’t taste all these Ardbegs in a row, don’t worry… We took very, very large breaks!

June 01, 2006

YESTERDAY WAS JURA DAY! Davin reports...
Thank God Serge decided not to shave! Otherwise we would have missed the ferry to Jura and lost out on one of the most entertaining distillery visits and some of the tastiest cask samples of Feis Ile. Visitors to www.feisile.org have already voted Jura the best distillery tour of past festivals. This year the good Jura vibes began as soon as we boarded the ferry and were told passage was free for distillery visitors. Nice touch boys. The weather had changed dramatically by the time we reached the distillery; just compare the picture at the left with the one we posted from Port Askaig yesterday morning!...
Our visit began with the mandatory distillery tour where we learned that Jura’s stills are among the largest and tallest in Scotland. The real action, however, took place in a stores room where we sat down to some of the most wonderful old Jura samples. If there’s one thing we’re learning on this trip it’s that there are lots of superb casks lying quietly in Scotland’s warehouses, and Jura’s are no exception. We began with a 58.9%, 16yo that had spent its life in an oloroso sherry cask absorbing notes of sweet Christmas cake and spices. Next up was another marvelous 16yo, this time one that had spent all but 6 weeks of its maturation in a bourbon cask. The rich spices, manager Michael Heads told us, came from a six-week period spent in a virgin Limousin cask. The French Limousin oak had laced the citric whisky with cloves and cinnamon. This was truly an outstanding dram, reminiscent of the festival bottling of two years ago (and still available, if you ask, for a temptingly low 50 pounds).
This year’s festival bottling was a bit of a surprise. I rated it 90 points, and I was not the most generous among us. It’s a young, peated, single cask Jura, distilled in January 1999. Most of its life has been spent in refill American oak with 6 months in a solera cask and another 6 in Methuselah (i.e. ancient) sherry. If the PLOWED guys are reading this, there’ll be a bottle at Ardbeggeddon VIII. Meantime, I’ll let Serge tease you with his tasting notes below.
Tutoured tastings over, we moved on to a vatting competition. Four more splendid old cask samples were set out and we were invited to create our own vatting, the best of which was to be awarded a bottle of the festival malt. In true Maniacal fashion we tried our damnedest, but judges Michael Heads, Willie Tate and Willy the brewer did not come through for the Maniacs. Oh well, we took home enough prizes from the nosing competition; I guess they wanted to share the wealth!!
The morning ended (somewhere around 1:30) with an auction of a professional vatting of the four malts we had vatted ourselves. Our judges, along with master blender Richard Patterson had got together earlier to create a batch of eight bottles, each signed, which they were auctioning off for local charity. When Willie cut the bidding off, our own Serge was the lucky winner. More fun than e-Bay and guaranteed not to be a fake. A bottle was sold yesterday and there’ll be another on auction on Thursday and Friday. What’s happening with the other four we’re not sure, but as we left, Olivier put in a long-distance bid on tomorrow’s auction.
If you’re at Feis Ile as you read this, make a point of getting over to Jura. It’s a sleeper of a distillery and when they start bottling more single casks like we tasted today they’re going to become quite collectible. Meantime their special bottlings are going at bargain basement prices even though they really are quite special.

With Jura manager Michael Heads and that auctioned rare bottle that will now rejoin the Alsacian maniacal vaults.
Isle of Jura 8yo (40%, OB, Charles McKinlay, late 1970’s) Colour: straw. Nose: starts on big bold notes of passion fruits, guavas, lemon juice… Incredibly fruity. Develops on ‘arranged’ rum (with pineapple), banana flambéed, getting quite peppery (white pepper) with also a little cactus juice, tangerines... What a great surprise! Mouth: not too powerful but superbly orangey and spicy (cloves, pepper, nutmeg) and then very tropical again (mangos). The finish is rather long and quite peppery… Wow, Jura! Excellent. 89 points.
Isle of Jura 10yo (40%, OB, late 1980’s) Colour: gold. Nose: much grainier and more caramelly, with notes of roasted nuts and light honey. Hints of dried oranges… Lots of malt as well, cereals… Extremely different. Mouth: weaker than the 8yo, very grainy and, to be honest, too light. Sugared tea? The finish is very short, grainy and a little nutty. In short, not much happening in there. 75 points.
Isle of Jura 10yo (40%, OB, 1990’s) Colour: white wine. Nose: quite discreet again but fresher and cleaner than its older sibling. Mashy again but also nicely fragrant (lilies). Lots of grain, porridge, oatcakes and a little sea air. Fresh and enjoyable but not complex. Mouth: sweet, malty and grainy, with lots of cereals, sugared tea, herbal tea, cake… A good mouth feel. Gets also saltier than its brothers, especially toward the medium long, malty finish. Not one that will make you starch your head but it’s most drinkable. 80 points.
Isle of Jura 10yo (40%, OB, circa 2005) Colour: gold. Nose: much farmier, wilder, on soaked grain but also a little peat, wet hay, porridge, beer, boiled cereals… Much less gentle than the other ones but also more interesting I think. Hints of liquorice and violets. Mouth: creamier, with thicker mouth feel, starting on liquorice, muesli, light toffee… Definitely better, with a finish that’s also longer, bolder and spicier. Good! 83 points.
Isle of Jura 10yo (40%, OB, 2006, new presentation) Colour: gold. Nose: quite in the same vein but there’s probably a little more sherry and notes of dried oranges, more honey, more liquorice. It’s almost a bold whisky with lots of presence. Mouth: yes, much better, creamier, with quite some body. Lots of liquorice, gingerbread, chestnut honey, cloves, then quite some orange marmalade. They must have increased the amount of sherry casks in the vatting, and that worked beautifully. The finish is long, satisfying, compact, spicy and honeyed. Very good, excellent progress I think. Watch Jura! 86 points.
Isle of Jura 1999/2006 ‘Feis Ile 2006’ (58.4%, OB, cask #5000, 500 bottles) A new extravaganza by the Jura crew, finished for six months in a solera cask and six further months in Mathusalem sherry. Colour: gold. Nose: starts quite smooth and honeyed, tarry, gingery, rather syrupy. Notes of dried oranges, getting then nicely vinous and animal (game, gravy, cow barn). Hints of liquorice. Gets beautifully resinous, with hints of eucalyptus and camphor, old Chartreuse, toffee… Very complex considering it’s young age. Mouth: nervous, starting on heavy liquorice and salt. Creamy. Quite explosive and very rich. Goes on with salted caramel, resin, fir honey, cough syrup, crystallised oranges and lemons… Lots of peat but it’s nicely integrated. Gets spicy, on cloves and pepper. Long finish on lemon balm and smoked tea. A very rich one and a finishing that really succeeded I think. 89 points.
PETE McPEAT AND JACK WASHBACK at the Islay Festival 2006

Davin trying to cheer up a pour guy who spent all his hard earned money on Festival bottlings, near Finlaggan.
Almost all distilleries are now offering special Feis Ile bottlings but whereas some seem to try to price them fairly and not to milk the cow too much, some others clearly go as far as they can in remorselessly bilking the pour souls like us who go to Islay because it’s ‘a friendly place’ and wish to bring back souvenir bottles. Well, yes, Islay is probably friendly but beware, there are more and more traps around the corners. A short study let us find out that you have on one side the distilleries that sell their one-offs for more or less £10 a year (£299.00 for a (OK, rare and excellent) 30yo Ardbeg or £60.00 for a 6yo Bowmore that they wouldn’t even let you try before you buy one bottle or more – that one, they can…).
On the other side you have the sort of ‘fair’ prices such as £100.00 for two 18yo valinches at Bruichladdich, £45.00 for an excellent peated 7yo Jura, £65.00 for a 12yo Bunnahabhain or £50.00 for a 12yo Laphroaig (the best deal if you ask me)… But hey, if you want to bring one of each back home you’ll still have to throw exactly £619.00 into the ‘local’ business. That's more or less the current price of a Brora 22yo 1972 Rare Malts! Or twice the price of a night with a Glaswegian girl, says Davin... Or one night with an Edinburghian one, adds Olivier (or one full year with a sheep on Islay). Err…

May 31, 2006

We're off to Jura this morning. As you can see on this picture taken 'live' by Davin while we were waiting for the ferry at Port Askaig, the weather can change dramatically here (in the background, the famous Paps of Jura). Fortunately, the current is strong enough to prevent the water from freezing, so the ferry will run.We do worry a lot about Jura's famous palm trees, that is... We hope they won't freeze.
ARDBEG DINNER YESTERDAY, Olivier reports... 
The drive from port Charlotte to Ardbeg yesterday evening was pure magic: fabulous cloudless blue sky, magical scenery, Loch Indaal revealing its pure white sands at low tide, Bowmore lit up by a beautiful sunset… That’s all nice, but what also cheered us up, was the knowledge of having a dinner prepared by food and whisky expert – and fellow maniac - Martine at Ardbeg, with, hopefully, some interesting malts…
Martine chose recipes to suit the malts chosen by Stuart Thompson, and she is very good at this! Adding the right spices and bacon to accommodate the soup with the vigorous Still Young Ardbeg, herbs and sweetness to fight the rich wood influenced Glenmorangie Truffle Oak 1993, honey and vanilla to pair the sweetness of the Glen Moray 16yo and the cream & Stilton mousse to go with the classic Ardbeg 10yo.
The star of the evening was most surely then Ardbeg 1972/2003 (49,9% OB for V.E.L.I.E.R Italy, 246bt, cask 2782): magnificent pure aromas of camphor, iodine, creosote, almost medicinal, smoke, all in a very elegant combination. The cask must have been quite neutral as it let the distillery express its true character: forceful, intense, rich and very long on the finish, showing the textbook smoky character of Ardbeg unspoiled of any wood expression. True class and dangerously drinkable. 96pts. Thank you for the treat.
Oh yes, none of this would have been possible without Jackie. As Stuart says, she’s the real boss! Scottish women….


Craig may call Bunnahabhain one of the best Speyside distilleries, but Burns Stewart prefer “The gentle taste of Islay.” Gentle yes, but powerful too as we found touring one of the warehouses Tuesday morning where we tasted (sorry, nosed) four sublime whiskies from 1969, 1971, 1976, 1977, and a terrific peated 1997 in a PX cask.

There is no end of first-fill sherry butts and puncheons racked two high in the dunnage warehouse and manager John MacLellan took great pride in presenting some of his very best. All excellent, brilliant even, the peated was, of course, a surprise and we were delighted to learn they have been putting away peated stock every year since 2003.
John credits much of this quality to the long-standing policy of filling first-fill sherry, and to the fact that the distillery does not run at capacity which allows a little more time each step of the way. Years in the warehouse may bring quality to the maturing spirit, but so do just a few extra hours of hours mashing and distilling and John takes full advantage of the leisurely pace to maximize the quality. The stills are tall allowing lots of head room for a refined spirit and Bunnahabhain emphasizes this by filling the stills to about 40% capacity extending the head space even further.
It wasn’t open day when we toured, so we missed the Bunnahabhain burgers, but the wonderful smells of balsamic, mushrooms and old wood that greeted us as we entered the warehouse made up for that. With any luck Friday we’ll be back for more.
Bunnahabhain 1967/2002 (40.5%, JWWW Prenzlow Collection, 120 bottles) Colour: amber. Nose: not too powerful but quite fresh at such old age, starting on lots of dried bananas and apricots, acacia honey and heather, maybe a little kiwi and pineapples. A very nice, smooth sherry. Something a little resinous, waxy… Whiffs of sea air. Very pleasant but not extravagant. Mouth: much more powerful than expected but also a little drying. Gets then immensely minty but the tannins really take control then, with lots of cinnamon… gets frankly cardboardy the finish being really drying and sort of green and too tea-ish. Too bad but alas, that happens with many old whiskies. 80 points (or more if you favour the nose a lot).
Bunnahabhain 25yo 1964/1990 (46%, Masters of Malt, cask 4852-6) Colour: straw. Nose: starts very fruity, on a mix of vanilla crème and tangerines, ripe kiwi, getting then quite waxy (shoe polish, furniture polish, beeswax). Develops on apple juice, caramel crème, with also a little oak. Hints of bread crust, getting then a little grassy, with quite some tea. Mouth: quite punchy, starting on marshmallows, Turkish delights, crystallised fruits, notes of icing sugar… That’s a little too much, I must say. Gets then a little dirty, with some cheap fruit liqueur, orange drops… Really too sugarish. The finish isn’t too long but slightly cloying, on all these overripe fruits. Too bad, the nose was quite nice. 78 points.
Bunnhabhain 12yo (86° proof, OB, US import, late 1980’s or early 1990’s) Colour: gold – amber. Nose: just superb at first nosing, on quite some coffee and tea, orange marmalade and banana skin. An ideal breakfast malt? Superb notes of toasted brioche, smoked tea, apricot jam. Quite some smoke in the background, burnt wood, graphite, iodine… Really superb. Mouth: again a superb attack, with lots of sherry (much more than in the current versions) and lots of salt, a little chlorophyll, dark toffee, espresso… As good as it gets! Goes on with notes of apricot pie, chestnut honey, herbal tea (camomile), salted liquorice and a very fine tannic structure with lots of spices. The finish is unexpectedly long, smoky, gingery and honeyed… Just perfect. 91 points.
Bunnhabhain 20yo 1979/1999 (50%, Douglas Laing OM, 358 bottles, sherry matured) Colour: deep amber. Nose: a very classical sherry, perfectly balanced. Quite some coffee, rum, Smyrna raisins, toasted bread, getting quite waxy, with some rubbed orange skin, spearmint… Gets then quite chocolaty and flowery at the same time (nectar and pollen, buttercups…) Light honey, faint whiffs of eucalyptus and finally the wine (all sorts of crystallised fruits). Excellent. Mouth: creamy and very expressive but maybe a tad too rubbery. Fruitcake, liquorice and a little salt, salmiak… a little tarry… Hints of over-infused tea but that’s easily bearable. The finish is long, creamy and salty, on roasted apricots. Very good! 89 points (it would have made it to 90+ points, hadn’t it been just a little too rubbery for my tastes).
Bunnahabhain 1983/2003 (57.5%, Scott’s Selection) Colour: gold. Nose: rather expressive but simple at first nosing, starting on quite some ginger, vanilla, tannins… Quite spirity as well. Pear spirit, porridge, getting very coffeeish (the high alcohol). Not much maturation here. With water: gets even rougher, grassy but also nicely farmy. Notes of gentian, roots… It’s better with water. Mouth: bold attack again but lots of oak and lots of fresh fruits (pears and apples). A rather obvious lack of maturing again. A little drying. With water: that works again. A finer liquorice, notes of fudge, café latte, cooked apples… Gets also more peppery, the water draws out the spices. A rather long but maybe rough finish, on wood again. Thank God somebody invented water. 79 points (but my friends really disliked it I must say).
Bunnahabhain 14yo 1992/2006 (52.6%, OB for Feis Ile 2006, 761 bottles, finished in Pedro Ximenez casks for 2 years) Colour: deep amber. Nose: amazingly fruity and liqueur-like, starting on banana liqueur, cherry liqueur (guignolet), kirsch, apricots, Grand)Marnier, getting then quite gingery (ginger tonic, Campari). Fresh bananas, walnuts… Develops on wine cellar, empty barrels, gingerbread. Extremely marked by the wine but, quite curiously, the balance stays almost perfect, even if I would say it smells like ‘whisky’ as we all know it. Mouth: extremely creamy attack, with a nice bitterness (quite like Maraschino), lots of orange liqueur, white Port, apricot liqueur. Not quite as complex as on the nose but still very well integrated. Very sweet. The finish is long but maybe a little too bubblegummy, almost sugarish. An unusual ‘product’ in any case, that reminds me of the new Caol Ila DE for it’s not really whisky anymore I think, but the end result is enjoyable. A very nice winesky. 84 points.
Bunnahabhain 1997/2004 (57.8%, Scotch Malt Whisky Circle, cask #5665) This one comes from the heavily peated batches they made at that time (and which they are making again since 2003 I believe). Colour: white wine. Nose: lots of peat but also lots of purity that may come from the tall stills (what’s more, the spirit stills are 60% empty when they distil, hence creating an even higher ‘neck’.) Much less oiliness than in an Ardbeg or a Laphroaig – it reminds me of Port Charlotte. Not too complex but very close to ‘green’ peat smoke. Enjoyable but like all heavily peated malts, only time will make them more complex and balanced. Mouth: raw, sweet peat smoke, that’s all. Flawless but very simple. We had a greater one directly from a sherry cask with John at the distillery this morning. I don’t like very young whiskies usually but this one will still make it to 80 points because of its purity.
Port Ellen 1974/1991 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail old map label) Colour: pale gold. Nose: a rather elegant and refined start, with a beautiful waxiness and quite some rubbed orange skin and lamp oil. Notes of caramel crème. Gets then quite maritime, on oysters (fat Loch Gruinart oysters, says Olivier), seashells, kelp… And then superbly fruity, with orange marmalade, boxed papayas, even avocados… Yes, just superb, even if not exactly oomphy. Full class. Mouth: an excellent attack that shows that 40% can be alright as long as the malt has got something in the pants. Indeed, this one fires on all cylinders: peat, smoke, chocolate, fruits (passion?), honey (chestnut)… And then the expected marzipan, something tarry, smoked tea, candied oranges… Lots of pleasure indeed and a rather long, waxy finish with something salty and slightly rough and drying. Not too far from perfection. 91 points.
Port Ellen 1974/2005 (58.5%, Signatory, cask #6756, 266 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: a very unusual start on green olives and even gherkins. Then the smoke arrives, getting bolder by the second, even kind of acrid like burning tyres. Lots of personality, I think I never nosed something similar. Goes on with bitter chocolate, hints of old books, garden bonfire… And then something rather meaty such as smoked ham… Also coal smoke, burning paper… A very assertive Port Ellen, it seems. Mouth: fruitier (quite some orange marmalade and apples) but extremely smoky again. Rather sharp, getting quite vegetal… Also a little drying but nothing excessive… The finish is very long, smoky, lemony and always a little drying… Well, this one was a smoky one indeed (with something Laphroaigish). Excellent stuff. 91 point (it would have deserved a little more, hadn’t it been quite drying).
Port Ellen 19yo 1981/2000 (59.4%, The Bottlers, cask #1550) Colour: amber. Nose: oh yes, yes, yes (I’m mimicking Davin), when great peat meets great sherry and sleep together for quite a few years it gives a fab baby. Superb raisins, superb rum, superb chocolate, superb smoke, superb peat, superb soy sauce, superb balsamic vinegar, superb orange marmalade… Something of a high-end cognac… Well, I guess you get the picture. Stunning. Mouth: a superb attack, with tons of sherry but nothing ‘heavy’, lots of smoke and rubber (just below the limit I must say), chocolate, blackberry jam, dozens of different jams in fact, pralines… Okay, it’s just superb. There’s just a little too much rubber for it to be 100% perfect (95 points or more) so it’s going to be 93 points.
Port Ellen 1980/1997 (64.4%, Gordon & MacPhail ‘Cask’, cask #5105-5110) Colour: white wine. Nose: extremely spirity, to the point where even the peat gets unnoticed. Notes of pear and gooseberries, newly cut grass, motor oil… Gasp, water needed! Right, that doesn’t change a lot, maybe just an added minerality but that’s all. What a savage beast! Mouth (neat): extremely sweet, powerful, spirity… Hard to enjoy this one when naked (the whisky). With water then: yes, this is quite better, fruitier but not more complex I’m afraid. Maybe notes of pineapple drops but that’s all. The finish is long but mainly on raw alcohol and grass. The simple side of Port Ellen, it seems. 80 points.
Port Ellen 25yo 1979/2005 ‘5th Annual Release’ (57.4%, OB, 5280 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: an extremely farmy and tarry start, with quite some high-end rubber (as Davin would say). Gets then very grassy, with also notes of pumpkin soup, celery, chervil… Very assertive, going on with wet dog and wet hay and finally hints of aniseed, camphor and fuel oil. I like this nose a lot. Mouth: really punchy and powerful, with lots of salt and lots of smoked ‘stuff’ as well as a little mint. Lots of smoked tea, liquorice, notes of kippers. A rather straightforward palate without the notes of burnt rubber that can appear in some Port Ellens. With water, the nose gets even farmier, the water making the phenols go out. Heavy notes of cow barn. The palate gets fruitier, on dried pears and earl grey tea… Really excellent. 92 points.
Port Ellen 14yo 1983/1997 (43%, Signatory, butt #266) Colour: white wine. Nose: this one starts quite strangely, on bitter almonds, diesel oil and waxed paper. Plenty of notes of rotten fruits, hints of amaretti… Rather weird I’m afraid. Mouth: even weirder, with a sour attack, very cardboardy. Notes of turpentine, rotten oranges, new plastic, over-infused green tea… A short finish, quite bitter and kind of dirty. Well, there are misses sometimes. 68 points.
Port Ellen 19yo 1982/2002 (43%, McGibbons Provenance, spring/spring, cask #3733) Colour: white wine. Nose: again it’s kind of dirty, with notes of aspirin, ‘chemical’ lemon juice, lemon drops, getting then a little cheesy and minty (yes, a strange feeling). Not too much peat but quite some grass. Gets quite flinty after a while… No too bad actually. Mouth: the attack is a little bitter but rather nicer than what the nose suggested. Starts on almond skins, apple seeds (arsenic says Davin), then lots of tea and wax. Green tannins and a little salt, with a medium long finish on bitter almonds and apples. Not too bad, I’d say. 79 points.
Port Ellen 18yo 1977/1996 (43%, Milroy’s) Colour: very pale white wine. Nose: very closed, with a little lemon, chalk, stones, aspirin again, grass… Then notes of tangerines but not much else. Unusually discreet, let’s try to wake it up with a little water… No, that failed, it just gets weaker. Mouth: yawn, this is very bizarre… Lots of bitter oranges, stale fruit juice, cheap fruit liqueurs, aspartame… Quite disturbing. With water: gets even worse, with lots of cardboard and cold tea. This one is flawed I think, too bad. 69 points.
Port Ellen 19yo (50%, Douglas Laing OMC, ex-sherry, details to come) Colour: straw. Nose: a rather strong sherry influence, with lots of caramel (in the Werther’s genre) and lots of peat. Nice praline, toasted brioche, vanilla creme and milk chocolate. Enjoyable, a very ‘pastrial’ Port Ellen. Mouth: powerful, peaty and also extremely fruity. Lots of strawberries and plums, caramel, honey… Maybe it’s a little too sweet and not fresh enough for a Port Ellen. Was it a finishing? The finish is long, caramelly and peaty at the same time… Not one of the best ones but quite some pleasure. 85 points.
Port Ellen 24yo 1975/1999 (46%, The Prestonfield, cask #1775, 350 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: extremely fresh and clean at first nosing, on freshly cut golden delicious apples (with a new knife says Olivier) and fresh almonds. Very elegant, very austere (in a superb way)… Goes on with whiffs of camphor, candle wax, getting then quite maritime (oysters, iodine). Not very complex but really elegant. Apple skins. Mouth: too bad, it’s much less interesting now, with a sweetish and slightly cardboardy attack. Frankly offbeat, with notes of rotten oranges and overly sugared tea, ‘chemical’ vanilla. Notes of orange zest… The finish isn’t too long but smoky and peaty, with an okayish peaty aftertaste (finally)… Such a gap between the superbly clean nose and the rather disjointed palate! 80 points (for the nose).
Port Ellen 21yo 1982/2004 (61%, Douglas Laing for Potstill / Whisky Club Of Austria, 302 bottles) Colour: amber with bronze hues. Nose: not overly expressive, probably masked by the alcohol but we do have quite some cocoa, roasted nuts, pecan pie, old books, old furniture… It really takes off after a moment, even without water. Something musty and mushroomy, over-infused tea, dried boletus and morels… Notes of soy sauce and balsamic vinegar, toasted bread… Also quite some orange liqueur… Really a fat, thick one. With water: all the ‘animality’ and ‘farminess’ come out now, mainly on cow barn, horse dung, fermenting fruits… Quite a beast indeed. Mouth (neat): powerful, fruity and maybe a little drying. Lots of roasted nuts again, all sorts of fruit jam, prunes, amaretto… Quite extreme, the sherry slightly dominates the malt (and God knows which malt) but its monstrousness makes it quite spectacular. Gets very spicy, woody (lots of cloves), waxy. Quite some rubber but a bearable one. With water: fuitier, more balanced, with lots of jam and less smoky and nutty flavours. Finish: long, creamy, invading… Yes, this one is a beast! A showcase sherried Port Ellen. 92 points. (and thanks Konstantin).
Port Ellen 23yo 1976/2000 (58%, Signatory, cask #4762, 258 bottles) Colour: full gold. Nose: much fresher but also closed at first nosing, let’s give it a little time… Right, we do have a little apple juice and smoked tea, cinnamon from the wood, bananas, pineapples… Not much peat but it does get quite grassy and maritime at the same time (hay, kelp). In any case, an average Port Ellen it seems. Mouth: more typical now, sweet, gingery and peaty. Not complex put nicely bold and balanced. Crystallised quince, gentian eau-de-vie, apple pie, dried ginger, liquorice root… The finish is rather long, bold, peppery and slightly camphory… Very enjoyable. A good example of a malt that starts with difficulties on the nose but that fires on all cylinders on the palate. That doesn’t happen too often, I think. 88 points.

May 30, 2006



The process of making whisky is always described through the distillation and aging process. Since fewer distilleries malt their own barley on site, visitors tend to forget the delicate and highly important operation that consist of malting the barley, in short, in making the barley ready for use by the distillers (or brewers…). Both visits of Glen Ord (Eric Walker) and Port Ellen (Peter Campbell) maltings were extremely interesting.

It is my belief that during the malting process, the barley will acquire and develop most flavours (including peat for example) that distillers will extract and shape up later on.
Since most of us use the left side of the brain to think (the logic mathematical side), we always try to understand HOW things work: how is barley malted, how is whisky made... Fewer of us try to really understand WHY whisky is made, because you need to warm up your right side of the brain (sorry, it’s early in then morning). I do not think that it is a coincidence that barley is used to make aquae vitae -the water of life- and other grains, like maize for example, are less successful.
OK, I’ll develop that another day, here is HOW barley is malted:
Barley is composed of a husk, containing an embryo and an endosperm (starch). The starch is the element distillers want to use as it transforms itself into sugars (glucose) through the actions of enzymes (amylases), and sugar eventually ferments into alcohol. The main problem is that the starch is hidden, or protected, behind solid protein cell walls within the grain. Why? Well, starch is the fuel the embryo will want to use in order to develop and grow into a plant, because that is what a grain is supposed to do, and starch is caviar for most fungus, mould, and other microscopic predators… so it is well protected. In nature, the embryo will develop naturally in springtime, after a winter dormancy period, and certain temperatures/humidity conditions. In a malting unit, these conditions are artificially created by warming up and steeping the grains in water to allow the humidity to rise to about 45% through usually 3 consecutives baths for a total period of 2 to 2,5 days. This will wake up the embryo, which will start to grow an acrospire (a little stem under the husk) and rootlets. After 2 to 3 days, the endosperm modifies through the action of powerful enzymes (proteases) and will break the protein cell walls, freeing the starch. This used to be done traditionally on a malting floor, now, in huge rotating drums… At this stage, if one rubs the grain on a board, it will ‘write’ or leave a white trace composed of the starch. If the endosperm is under-modified, in short, the stillman will give hell to the malting unit as it will be impossible to release the starch, if it is over-modified, the distillery manager will complain because of the lack of alcohol production.
When all biological modifications are finished, the malted barley has to be stabilized, dried up again in a kiln, where peat fires can be used with the dry air for peating purposes. The drying husk will be able to absorb some quantities of phenols, that will vary according to the length of the fire and amount of smoke generated by the peat. Whether the peat is dry or denser and more humid (if harvested deeper), will generate different amount and quality of smoke. Peating a malt is not an exact science. In Glen Ord, they will mix peated and un-peated malts to obtain the customer’s specification. In Port Ellen, where most malted barley is peated (at the exception of small un-peated barley for Caol Ila), different peat levels can be mixed together to obtain a more precise ppm level. Most distillers like to rest the fresh malted barley for some time before use.
Oh yes, I forgot, different barley varieties apparently behave differently. For the moment Port Ellen maltings use mostly Optic, but they will move to Troon, as it has apparently a better yield in the fields, grabs the peat quicker and has a higher alcohol yield.
One last sad information: as it takes roughly 1000 years to produce a metre of peat, Islay may be in shortage of peat in about 25 years. Thank god, according to maniac Davin, there are huge reserves under the ice in northern Canada… - Olivier.
How to Blend Scotch Whisky
Alfred Barnard (1904)
How to Blend Scotch Whisky With a Brief Description of Lagavulin Distillery, Islay, Laphroaig Distillery, Islay, Craig-Ellachie Distillery, Glenlivet, also titled: Hints to Blenders with a Brief Account of a Trip to the Hebrides and a Short Sketch of the Three Famous Distilleries: Lagavulin, Islay, Laphroaig, Islay, Craigellachie, Glenlivet.
With a title like that you almost don’t need a book, but this 36-page outing from Alfred Barnard, no doubt originally commissioned by Peter Mackie who owned these three distilleries, and re-released yesterday by Schobert’s Whisky Watch in support of the Museum of Islay Life, is filled with delightful glimpses of turn of the century blending, distilleries and distilling. The book is beautifully reproduced exactly as the original but for a hard cover replacing the original paper.
Nuggets like this: “Age is the first essential in Scotch whisky … for public-house trade it should never be less than two and up to four years old” provide perspective for today’s drammers who think whisky doesn’t come of age until at least its third decade. Fans of regional differences will be interested to learn Barnard divided Scotch whisky into six classes: Islay, Glenlivet, North Country, Campbeltown, Lowland Malt, and Grain and of all the “Highland” whiskies, Lagavulin was undoubtedly the best. Those with an interest in American prohibition will be curious to learn that whilst it is called moonshine in the USA, Barnard tells us that illicit whisky was dubbed “moonlight” in Scotland, while with duty paid it became “daylight.”
All and all the book is packed with wonderful historical anecdotes and century-old views that tell us though whisky may be a traditional product that tradition has changed dramatically in the intervening years. Recommended with many thanks to Nick and Kate. - Davin.
Caol Ila 11yo 1991/2003 (46%, Signatory, Port finish) Colour: straw. Nose: the trademark Caol Ila freshness and ‘coastality’ with quite some sea air, smoke and both apple and lemon juice. Very little Port influence if any, which may be good news. Mouth: punchy, sweet and smoky, with quite some peat but a little more wine influence now. Notes of ripe strawberries and cranberry juice, slightly sour. I feel the sweetness is a little excessive here, I prefer Caol Ila when it’s a little more direct. The finish is rather long, peaty and, again, slightly sweetish. Not too bad although a little simple but there are many better ones, Signatory’s included. 80 points.
Caol Ila 7yo 1989/1997 (43%, Signatory, cask #4516) Colour: white wine. Nose: quite unusual, with lots of paraffin and lamp oil, new plastic and almonds at first nosing. Huge marzipan, peanuts, cardboard, brand new car, tyres… Quite interesting and enjoyable. Mouth: alas, this doesn’t work too well on the palate. Rather disjointed, rubbery but not in a good way, with quite some bitter oranges but also a certain weakness that makes the whole quite unpleasant I’m afraid. The finish is short, on marzipan and cardboard… Okay, the nose was interesting but the palate really lacks body and compactness. 77 points.
Caol Ila 1993/2006 ‘Distillers Edition’ (43%, OB) A brand new one finished in Moscatel, which is a kind of Muscat mostly used in hot countries to produce sweet wines. It’s usually quite light and aromatic. Colour: gold. Nose: much more straightforward than expected and certainly not 100% Caol Ila, in the sense that it’s much fruitier and sort of exotic. I get quite some grapefuit, bananas, papaya, lots of fresh ginger (wood? peat?) then white and black pepper, cloves, quite some juniper… I guess all that comes from the interplay between Caol ila and the wine and what’s funny is that you can’t really recognise any of them. A third dimension? Palate: it’s much, much more on Muscat now, the whisky’s really overwhelmed. We have again truckloads of fresh ginger (maybe Caol Ila hides somewhere there), pineapples, something musky (from the wine), nutmeg, various other spices… Maybe this one will be interesting on Moroccan food! The finish isn’t too long but extremely muscaty again… Well, the wine stole the show here, obviously. The end result is kind of an oriental cocktail that’s quite enjoyable, I must say, but quite far from what I’d call ‘whisky’ or ‘Islay’, not to mention ‘Caol Ila’. A rather pleasant ‘mixture’, still. 82 points.
Caol Ila 1974 (40%, Gordon & MaccPhail CC old map label) Colour: gold. Nose: starts really like most of these old glories from Islay that lost their peat and got superbly waxy instead. Rubbed orange skin, fresh almonds, beeswax, green bananas, coconut. Rather unusual for a Caol Ila but beautiful. Goes on toasted bread, lily of the valley. Then the peat comes in, late but superbly, with a little wet hay, paraffin, marzipan… Mouth: maybe a little weak (and drying) like often with these series but otherwise it’s very pleasant, with lots of mint, peat, mashed bananas, porridge, grain silo, white pepper… Quite delicate, maybe just a tad cardboardy, with a medium long finish on white peaches, wax and hints of dry white wine. Great! 88 points.
Caol Ila 15yo (43%, OB, ceramic, 1980’s) Colour: straw. Nose: again a beautiful one it seems, starting on argan oil, walnuts, fino sherry and hints of balsamic vinegar. Not too bold in fact but very elegant and refined, with also notes of pu-erh tea, humus, fern, freshly squeezed oranges, marzipan, maraschino, sorb apples, old books, old wine cellar, Comté cheese (or dunnage whisky warehouse). Just great. Mouth: starts like an old fino sherry or a vin jaune with lots of added smoke. Quince, grape skins, coffee toffee, mocha, then peppered apples, walnuts again, tea again, bitter lettuce, chicory… And a long, superbly ‘vinous’ finish – fino style again. A beauty, not tired a t all despite the fact that this was a ceramic. 92 points (and thanks, Fred).
Caol Ila 28yo 1974 (46%, The Prestonfield, cask #12625, 305 bottles) Colour: white wine. Nose: simpler at first nosing but certainly not less expressive. Again lots of walnuts and balsamic vinegar, notes of Riesling, tangerines, hints of passion fruits and gooseberries, not too ripe strawberries, getting then a little flinty and finally quite farmy (hay). Most enjoyable, a classy Caol Ila. Mouth, sweet and smooth at the attack but getting then almost violently peaty and smoky – a Caol Ila that could send many Ardbegs back to the school of peat. Quite some grass and lots of citrus fruits, paraffin… And a long, bold and peppery finish. Excellent, just a little rough on the palate. 89 points.
Caol Ila 25yo (53.4%, Cadenhead) Colour: white wine. Nose: rather close to the Prestonfield but a little rougher and grassier, with lots of lemon juice and pepper, hints of sauvignon blanc and whiffs of nutmeg powder. Very compact and expressive at the same time. Mouth: very punchy, peaty, lemony, smoky and peppery! Lots of body and a bold mouth feel. Gets more and more peppery after a moment and more and more lemony as well, with a long and… err, lemony and smoky finish. Rough and a little raw but it’s good stuff, 88 points.
Caol Ila 21yo 1981/2002 (58.2%, Signatory, cask #465, 364 bottles) Colour: straw. Nose: this one seems to be more austere and more coffeeish but that may come from the higher alcohol. Very grassy, lemony, with whiffs of dill and chive but it’s quite closed otherwise. With water: not much more except a little violet and liquorice. Mouth: punchy and spirity, probably nicer than on the nose, with lots of lemon juice, a little pepper and quite some peat. Quite salty as well. With water: gets much sweeter and a little waxy, with quite some bitter oranges. The finish is rather long, compact, citrusy and smoky. Good but maybe a tad simple on the nose. 80 points.
Caol Ila 15yo 1969/1984 (60.4%, G&M for Intertrade, celtic label) It’s always moving to taste some Caol Ila from the ‘pre-rebuilding’ years. Colour: straw. Nose: really sharp, extremely lemony and mineral, austere, grassy, musty… Gets then very nicely flowery, which is rather unusual with Caol Ila in my books (lilies), very tarry like some Port Ellens, gaining lots of complexity after a few minutes. Quinces, marzipan (again!), hints of gin and tequila, With water: it gets farmier as often. Mouth: a superb, sharp but balanced, extremely lemony attack with also quite some salt. Very intense, with a superb, smoky peat (not green in any way). Lapsang souchong tea, kumquats, all sorts of spices…And it gets even smokier with water. Oh yes, this is great stuff, arriving in waves on your palate, invading… No need to tell you more, this is close to perfection and the finish is just endless, endless, endless, endless… 96 points.

May 29, 2006

A Yak over the Loch Indaal, attacking Bruichladdich!
DAVIN'S REPORT - Dinner Saturday night with the crew from Bruichladdich was a wild affair with yaks swooping down from the sky, Robin Laing custom pressure-writing a song for Mark Reynier to present to the mayor of Islay Peru – yes he was there, with an interpreter – and Jim McEwan in full form holding forth wherever he could find an ear. Yaks, are old WWII warplanes from Russia – (they dazzled us with a demonstration Sunday at Laddie Open Day.) The six pilots joined us in the bar where they loaded up on courage for today’s aerobatics. Robin Laing, as we all know, is a Scottish / Celtic whisky singer who sang a few tunes at Jim’s masterclass to help celebrate Bruichladdichs 125th anniversary today, and Jim McEwan is the best-known, best-loved son of Islay and the man LCBO staff have called the most passionate person in whisky.
Jim was over to Toronto a few years back to speak to the honchos at LCBO headquarters and so great was his aura that the troops in the stores are still whispering with reverence of their chance to meet the man. Not long after, 14 different Bruichladdich bottlings appeared in the stores – pretty good when you consider the average LCBO had fewer than 40 malts on offer. But oh how things change. Two years later and my local store now has100 malts on the shelves at any one time, but shockingly there’ll soon be no Bruichladdichs. That’s right, the wine weenies in LCBO Head Office have DE-LISTED Bruichladdich. Shit man, to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of malt whisky that’s like the local 7-11 de-listing milk. Praise the government revenues all you like – (Alberta has the same income with 60% of the sales Ontario gets, and prices to the consumer are much lower) – this monopoly thing just doesn’t work for consumers.
Laddie day yesterday was a party, as always, with blazing sun, musicians galore and the afore-mentioned yaks, dubbed “The Drambusters”. We ran into Mel and Gordon Homer at Jim’s masterclass and Ho-chengs’s buddy Eric (Lin Huang). Highlight though, was touring the warehouse with Martin Markvardsen, soon-to-be Brand Ambassador for Macallan and Highland Park, who walked us from cask to cask, valinch in hand, pulling samples. Nothing however to match the 1970 Bruichladdich Jim poured at his masterclass. Close to the perfect Bruichladdich, Jim plans to give it a few months in 4 casks Olivier has donated to the distillery. Hey Jim, they’re undoubtedly marvelous casks, but this is already a marvelous whisky. Bottle it bud; it doesn’t need enhancing!
- Davin
PETE McPEAT AND JACK WASHBACK were at Bruichladddich
Bruichladdich 10yo (42.9%, OB, 1970’s) Colour: white wine. Nose: very fresh and really maritime, with also quite some grain and notes of porridge. Lots of sea air, light honey, hints of melon and peaches… Very, very ‘nice’ (sorry). Mouth: quite some oomph but it’s more on grains, cereals, malt, getting then quite caramelly. Too bad it isn’t as fresh and maybe a little weakfish, but the finish is enjoyable, with quite some salt. A good one from the old days! 85 points.
Bruichladdich 32yo 1972 ‘Legacy IV’ (47.5%, OB, 820 bottles) Colour: gold. Nose: a little discreet at first nosing but soon to develop on honey dew, ripe peaches and then various aromas from the bees (hive, pollen, beeswax). Then we get some mocha, cappuccino, also bigarreau cherries and finally something cardboardy, even slightly chalky. Not a total star, lacking a little expressiveness but still a very good old Laddie. Mouth: quite creamy and rather fresh, with the trademark melons and nectarines but also quite some oak, the whole getting slightly drying. The finish is medium long, maybe a little too much on cinnamon and white pepper – in short, tannic. Not a bad one at all but previous issues have been better in my books. 87 points.
Bruichladdich 25yo 1968/1994 (50%, Cadenhead) Colour: straw. Nose: we’re more or less in the same league here, with truckloads of melons and peaches plus quite some honey but developing in another direction: more on ginger ale and cinchona, getting then rather grassy (cactus juice?) Quite some gin, even aniseed and fern, moss, pine needles... A great freshness. Mouth: a bold and powerful attack, on melon jelly (yes, we know our markers), a little vanilla and what resembles a little peat. Gets then quite peppery and maybe a tad too tannic. Lots of spices as well (nutmeg, star anise)… Really oomphy, with a long finish on fruit jam and spices. Maybe a tad too woody and drying but otherwise it’s an excellent whisky. 88 points.
Bruichladdich 17yo 1986/2004 (55.5%, Cadenhead, bourbon hogshead) Colour: white wine. Nose: this one seems to be much more spirity and raw, closer to fruits such as pineapples and pears as well as grass, beer… Also quite some smoked tea. Less typical and expressive than its siblings. Hints of liquorice. A baby that’s rather hard, I must say… Mouth: sweeter now but also slightly cardboardy, grassy again, getting bitterly waxy. Quite some bitter liquorice… The finish is long but a little indefinite, spirity and again, grassy (although water will make it a little fruitier). 78 points.
Bruichladdich 16yo 1979/1995 (43%, Signatory, cask #834-35) Colour: straw. Nose: very fresh, starting on apple juice and getting then a little salty and grassy. Whiffs of aniseed and dill, celery… Simple but clean and straightforward. Mouth: very sweet and fruity, with quite some vanilla crème, apple juice again, getting then grainy and grassy with hints of liquorice. Quite some apple skin too, walnuts, ham… The finish is rather long and quite salty, maybe a tad papery and bitter. Well, nothing too special here I must say but it’s certainly not bad whisky. 78 points.
Bruichladdich 1991/2002 (46%, Cooper’s Choice, two years portwood finish) Colour: straw. Nose: the wine is coming through right away. Rather fragrant and caramelly, with notes of apricots, peonies and lots of vanilla. Whiffs of violets and then toasted bread. Gets really vinous after a while. Nothing special here, I think. Mouth: very sweet and sulphury attack but a very weak middle and a caramelly finish, with just a pinch of salt. A poor palate, I think, this is a good example of why I usually don’t like finishes, especially with Port. And life’s too short… (and everyday is a bonus, so why waist your bonus on this?) Phew. 67 points.
Bruichladdich 13yo 1991 (55.3%, Blackadder Raw Cask, cask #3266) Colour: white wine. Nose: very grainy and coffeish, with quite some nail polish, cellulosic varnish, newly cut grass… Not much else, I’m afraid, almost pure alcohol. With water: gets even grassier but that’s all. Mouth (neat): sweet and fruity (apples and pears) but very, very simple and immature. With water: a tad more peppery but again, that’s all. Long but spirity finish. Not too bad but uninteresting: 72 points.
Bruichladdich 15yo 1989/2004 (57.9%, Gordon & MacPhail, cask #1957, 275 bottles) Colour: full amber; Nose: very ‘oloroso’ at first nosing, starting on raisins, chocolate, brownies, lots of ‘sherried smokiness’… Goes on with lots of argan and pistachio oils (hello, J.), burnt cake, coffee beans, then hints of spearmint. Lots of rectitude and elegance, I love this one, that reminds me of the best sherried OB’s. Mouth: punchy, nervous, minty and slightly bitter at first sip, developing on all sorts of roasted nuts, cocoa, bitter oranges… Really superb, I think. Goes on with notes of maraschino liqueur, sesame cream, praline, black nougat… Tons of peanut butter! Very good, no doubt… And the finish is long, perfectly balanced, with a perfect dryness. Yes, that’s perfect. What a great surprise! Classy, classy stuff. 91 points (and thanks, Michel).
Bruichladdich X4 (86%, Cask Strength, distilled 2006) This one has been four times distilled, and it’s still new make of course. Well, six weeks old, actually. Aaargh! Aaargh, really? Let’s see… Nose: very strong of course but not ‘over-explosive’ at all. Lots of berries, mostly wild raspberries (eau-de-vie). Not burning at all, most surprisingly, a beautiful nose, very pure. Whiffs of white chocolate and praline. Mouth (neat!): extremely pure, soft and smooth. And, I must say, delicious. Warming of course but not hot, very smooth, really, tasting just like a wild raspberry eau-de-vie. I don’t know how it’ll mature but it’s really great just as it is. Maybe they should put it into demi-johns for a few years (hint, hint) and forget about calling it whisky. Now, as Jim McEwan says, ‘the barrel is a greater invention than the wheel because you can’t mature whisky in a wheel!, but I’m sure glass maturing would be a hit. By the way, with a few drops of water (reduced to roughly 60%): it gets rather more violent, curiously, and is more on pears than on raspberries. Anyway, it’s a gobsmacking experiment indeed.

May 28, 2006

PETE McPEAT AND JACK WASHBACK got their special releases!
well, shortcuts ;-) 
10:00 - We’re just onboard the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to Islay. The ship is still loading but already the drams flow. Valinch collector and Maltmaniacs foreign correspondant Martin Diekmann is next to us, wife Insa and son, Carl in tow, and on the other side, two serious Japanese drammers have already filled the air with the scent of peat, poured into their blue ISO glasses.
Hideo Yakaoma, chief editor of Cheese! Magazine (www.cheeses.shogakukan.co.jp/ ) who also translated Michael Jackson`s book into Japanese, is dramming heavy Islays with barman Yuki Ando of Japan’s Islands bar. Of course! It’s festival time and way past noon – in Tokyo at least. Hideo has visited every active distillery except Inchgower and this is his third consecutive Feis Ile.
Earlier, in the queue, we met David Wishart and his wife Doreen. We’ll catch up with David and Doreen today at Bruichladdich where David will be signing copies of his new edition of Whisky Classified – revised and expanded to include Johannes’ beloved Allt A’Bhainne among other new entries. Doreen won a Brora 30yo in the Port Ellen tasting competition last year so one of us will be appointed to distract her if there’s a bottle at stake again this year. We’re not quite on Islay yet, but already it’s shaping up to be a great festival.
13:00 - And now we’re on dry land - first stop, Lagavulin where we bump into Whiskyfun ace photographer, Kate and ace concert reviewer, Nick, who are on their way to commit genocide on some unsuspecting Lagavulin oysters. We’ve just watched a batch of the little buggers squirm in their 16yo Lagavulin bath before plunging down our own gullets so we say a brief hello and bid Nick and Kate on their way. Ahh, Islay, the only place on earth where you are always in the right place at the right time.
Then it’s off to collect some festival bottlings. No limit at Ardbeg and they give us a taste of their Feis Ile offering for 2006. It’s a wonderful old 1975 fino cask bottling (see Serge’s notes below). At Laphroaig they’re releasing a few bottles of their 12yo 1994 special bottling each day to spread the availability of the 600 bottles across the whole festival. Very egalitarian, but at a very affordable 50 GBP a bottle they need to pace it or they’d all disappear long before lots of Friends of Laphroaig make it to Islay.
Ardbeg 10yo (no ABV listed, flat miniature, 1960’s or 1970's) Colour: gold. Nose: starts a little discretely but then we have some fabulous notes of orange marmalade, fresh mastic, high-end marzipan, high-end rubber (hey?) and finally old garage, hard plastic, motor oil, salted butter… Wowie! Goes on with hot bakelite, cauliflowers, quite funnily rather coal smoke than peat smoke, hints of tangerine liqueur, paraffin, fisherman’s nest… I just love it! Mouth: a very creamy, both resinous and waxy attack with much more peat now, vanilla crème, boxed desert crème, Lots of candied quince, citron, salty liquorice, oysters,.. Gets then quite flinty, maybe slightly cardboardy and dry but the finish, although not long, is beautifully almondy and waxy. A stunning old Ardbeg, no questions, that ranks among the highest flyers. 95 points.
Ardbeg 10yo (40%, OB, Spirit Import, clear glass, 1980’s) Colour: white wine. Nose: this one is just as fab on the nose, maybe a little rougher, peatier and certainly more maritime. Much closer to today’s profile, more medicinal, with lots of iodine, something nicely sour, lemon juice, fresh oysters (Davin says gay oysters, don’t ask me why). Gets then extremely farmy, on wet dog, hay, turnips… Then motor oil again, tar… Again a fabulous one! Mouth: oh yes, yes, yes… I’m sorry but it’s so elegant yet powerful, compact and full-bodied… We won’t torture you any further. 95 points.
Ardbeg 10yo (40%, OB, green glass, straight neck, around 1986?) Colour: straw. Nose: probably more mineral and grassier, more on light coffee. Frankly less expressive than its brothers… Notes of linseed oil, a little turpentine and suddenly lots of eucalyptus and fresh mint, peppermint… Gets really wilder after a moment. Very nice indeed but maybe simpler. Mouth: now it’s weaker, a little cardboardy, papery… A little like a current 10yo that would have been diluted with too much water. Too bad, the nose was most enjoyable! 82 points.
Ardbeg 15yo (43%, OB, 50cls, mid 90’s) A bottle that was sold by Allied in duty-free shops alongside a Laphroaig. Colour: pale gold. Nose: another one that’s quite discreet at first nosing. Maybe closer to the mash with quite some porridge, rubbed orange skin. Develops on eucalyptus leaves, lemon drops, a little camphor, wet dog this time again… Maybe it’s a little subdued but quite racy at the same time. Notes of fresh almonds. Mouth: rather sweet and creamy, with one side that’s great (marzipan, olive oil, smokiness) but another side that’s a little weak and cardboardy, dusty, slightly caramelly… Yet, the background is there, firm and peaty, even a little medicinal, with a medium long but salty and waxy finish. You can’t compare this one to the best old 10yo’s but it’s still a very nice Ardbeg, maybe a bridge between the old and the new styles. 86 points.
Ardbeg 1975/2006 'Islay Festival 2006' (46.3%, OB, fino cask #4717, 165 bottles) Most interestingly, the Ardbeg for the festival is at 299 GBP this year, three times the price they asked for the 2002 release. I guess you can get a small used car for that price. Why so much money? ‘Because we haven’t got many of these casks left’ did they tell us quite apologetically at Ardbeg while something like an embarrassed angel was flying around us in the Old Kiln Shop. No wonder many friends who used to collect Ardbeg already quitted since a few months or years. Anyway, no other comments needed except this: ‘better be good!’… Let’s try it… Colour: straw. Nose: very pure and clean at first nosing, vegetal and quite farmy. Lots of peat and lots of smoke (it’s hugely smoky in fact), with little fino influence I think, immensely clean. Gets then much more maritime, with notes of seashells, oysters... Goes on with quite some green pepper, curry, peppercorn, then lime… Really ‘straight’, really pure, with also quite some minerality. Mouth: starts quite lemony, with ‘of course’ lots of peat and smoke. Goes on with fresh almonds, marzipan, a little paraffin… Again, it’s very pure and straight. Not violent at all, rather soft… Finish: not too long but very, very classy, with quite some spices, nutmeg and pepper. A brilliant Ardbeg but again, at 299 GBP, it had to be good… (yeah, yeah). 95 points.

May 27, 2006

After a great, great dinner we had yesterday at Cruachan Lodge in Stoer near Lochinver (thanks again for the marvelous food Maggie and Dennis) we left Assynt and Sutherland for Fort Williams where we had a great tour of Ben Nevis Distillery with manager Colin Ross. Davin wrote a report, please see below...

Unrealized Opportunities at Ben Nevis – by Davin
Though we were a good 3 1/2 hours late, manager Alex (Colin) Ross met us with a warm welcome then spent a good two hours proudly showing us around Ben Nevis and pouring two spectacular drams. Formerly a Hobbs grain and malt distillery, Ben Nevis is best known for its Dew of Ben Nevis blends (some of them single blends using malt and grain whisky, both formerly made on site.) Not the prettiest distillery from the outside, but inside the still room gleams with copper and probably the prettiest spirit still I’ve seen. Walk back among the warehouses and you’ll realize what attracted Mel Gibson when filming Braveheart, Liam Nieson for Rob Roy and Burt Lancaster when filming Local Hero. All three films used Ben Nevis warehouses 2 and 5 as sets. But it’s the whisky that brought us and we were surprised at the just excellent quality of a 40 year old blend and particularly an excellent 13yo cask strength single malt finished in a port bodega butt (not a port pipe). At 87 points it was just wonderful but when we asked why Ben Nevis doesn’t capitalize on the quality malts lying in the warehouses, Colin just talks about focusing on the 10yo. Maybe head office doesn’t have a nose, but judging from the port finish it’s for sure Colin does. Hey Ben Nevis, how about a few more special bottlings to crank up the Ben Nevis name. Get some buzz going guys; you’ve got the quality to do so. It’s not just free advertising, people will pay a good dollar for it. Anyway, we await the next port wood finish expected in 2008 and have heard rumours of some heavily peated Ben Nevis sleeping out back.
Thanks Davin! Meanwhile, we're heading to Islay with two fellows we know (too) well...

PETE McPEAT AND JACK WASHBACK on the ferry to Islay, May 27th

May 26, 2006

We landed safely in Inverness indeed the day before yesterday and after a short visit at the Whisky Shop there (it’s getting incredibly expensive globally, imagine for instance £9.99 for a 5cl mini of a 15yo Old Malt Cask) we went to Glen Ord where we could visit the maltings. It was extremely interesting, especially to learn how they blend peated and unpeated malt to come up with a required phenol level, which is quite different from what they do at Port Ellen (peating directly to the requirements of their customers and just adjusting the level with a little blending at the end of the process). Thanks Eric! Then we headed north-west, to Ullapool, Lochinver and finally Achnacarnin, where Olivier’s got a great holiday house. Other visits we could do until today:

- Excellent queens scallops at the Chippy in Ullapool (voted best UK takeaway for two years)
- Very interesting tour of Clynelish Distillery. We could let Mark, the friendly and most welcoming new distillery manager, taste some old Clynelish 12yo white label bottled in the sixties. It looked like he enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed his Brora 30yo.

- An amazing £2.5O tour of Glenmorangie Distillery unleashed the industry’s most treasured secrets. We were gobsmacked when we learnt that: 1. They all use the same barley in Scotland, there’s only one anyway. Glenmorangie uses only barley from the Black Isle. 2. Glenmorangie is unpeated because they neither use peated barley, nor peated water. 3. The stills are heated with electric coils, just like an electric kettle. 4. No caramel in Glenmorangie. The colour comes from the casks, but after three uses, there’s no colour left, so they sell the casks to blenders such as Bell’s, who don’t need casks that would colour the whisky, because they use caramel to colour it and to give flavour. 5. They use 4yo bourbon barrels because the Americans aren’t allowed to use their barrels for more than four years, which comes quite handy for the Scots. 6. Thank God we could have (well, buy) very good drams at the end of the tour, like an excellent 30yo oloroso finish or a 1993 truffle oak.
- Excellent tour of Balblair with Gordon Bruce. Exactly the contrary of Glenmorangie's. Lots of knowledge, lots of good spirit. Davin reports:

Balblair’s manager was off playing golf (it was a fabulous day – we’re having good luck with the weather), so Gordon Bruce greeted us in the parking lot of the pretty distillery and after a brief chat we headed inside for a manager’s tour. Balblair had been slated for expansion so as quaint as it is outside so is it modern inside – at least at the start of the tour. Massive malt bins had been installed before the expansion was stopped. “Malt performs better if it’s given a couple of weeks rest before it’s malted,” Gordon told us. These large bins hold several weeks supply of malt so it’s a happy outcome from the halted expansion. However, there the expansion ends, for only two pot stills process the low wines and spirit while a third smaller still sits silent, waiting, we presume, for consumers to discover Balblair.
After the tour we tasted seven examples of the distillery’s output, each one better than the previous. My favourite at 93 points, was the 38yo distilled in 1966 (44%, OB), but a 26yo from 1979 (46%, OB) rated 86. I gave a 27yo from 1977 (46%, OB) a solid 84, and a 31yo from 1969 (46%, OB) a full 90 points. Three excellent cask samples rounded out the tasting.
I first really discovered how under-rated Balblair is at Whisky Live last fall and now our tour confirms that Balblair is a distillery to watch. AND, I’ll keep my eyes on Knockdhu in the future as Gordon is moving there in a few months and one can only expect great things to follow.

May 24, 2006

WE SHOULD BE IN SCOTLAND! Davin, Olivier and yours truly will land in Inverness around 13:00 local time and we'll then head to Brora, where we'll visit Clynelish Distillery in the afternoon. We'll try to post a few tasting notes later on. In the mean time, here's our road map...

Roughly ten Maniacs were on Islay for the Festival in 2005, but this year should be quieter (well, not sure) as there will be only four or five of us. We had decided to take it easy in 2006 but it seems that our schedule is growing fatter by the minute... Anyway, we'll try to keep you posted on our adventures day by day, should the wonders of Scottish modern technologies permit... And oh, by the way, Pete and Jack will be on the island too!

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