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Malt Maniacs E-zine


An Introduction to Japanese Whisky
E-pistle #2007/010 by Robert Karlsson, Sweden

Inspired by the (somewhat unexpected) success of Japanese whiskies during the Malt Maniacs Awards 2006 competition, two maniacs took a closer look at the land of the rising sun. Robert's piece won the pole position over Luca's because it's more of an 'introduction' than...

Big (Malts) in Japan
E-pistle #2007/011 by Luca Chichizola, Italy

Luca's report doesn't delve into the history of Japanese whisky as Robert's does, but instead Luca focuses his efforts on the tasting.
And yes, he shot the pretty picture at the left himself as well.

A Different View on Finishing
E-pistle #2007/012 by Lex Kraaijeveld, UK

With wine lovers infiltrating the malt maniacs for some time now,
it's nice to see Lex having a whisky tasting for a 'wine' audience.
The twist: all the whiskies were matured in different wine casks.

Old Ledaigs; Some Favourite Dark Horses
E-pistle #2007/013 by Pit Krause, Germany

Pit's second E-pistle is a tad short for my tastes, but since we also had a bunch of fairly massive Epistles in this issue it came in handy.

Whisky Development during 2 World Wars
E-pistle #2007/014 by Konstantin Grigoriadis, Greece
A contribution from a member of a new 'sister community' in Austria, Germany and Switzerland; the Germaniacs. Konstantin looked at the effects of two world wars on the Scottish whisky industry.

Half A Dozen Disposable Drams
E-pistle #2007/015 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

Serge was the first one to pick up the 'Dozen Drams' gauntlet in our previous issue, so I guess now it's time for me to step up to the plate. I immediately weaseled out and tackled six instead of twelve drams.

Typical Indian Tastes in Scotch Whisky
E-pistle #2007/016 by Krishna Nukala, India

When Krishna visited Amsterdam for the MM Awards 2006 we had a few discussions about differences between 'European' and 'Asian' palates. As a follow up to his article in MM#100 Krishna now takes a closer look at a few 'typical' Indian flavours he found in single malt whisky.

The Night They Lost Their Virginity
E-pistle #2007/017 by Lex Kraaijeveld, UK

I've been hearing about 'Burn's Night' for a few years now, but never really knew what it was. Finally, Lex Kraaijeveld's report on the 2007 edition sheds some light on the matter. No, it's not about sex...

A Dozen & One Diabolical Drams
E-pistle #2007/018 by Michel van Meersbergen, Holland

Michel enthusiastically picked up the 'Dozen Drams' assignment and submitted an E-pistle. He picked a 'diabolical' theme and a handful of whiskies that challenged his perceptions of evil.

Ask an Anorak: Cask Fondling
E-pistle #2007/019 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

When I wrote a short column about 'cask fondling in MM#100 I had the idea that many maniacs felt it was a 'non-issue', but you wouldn't say that, looking at the number of responses - and their fierceness ;-)

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Malt Maniacs #101 - February 1, 2007

After our Italian maniac Luca ended Malt Maniacs #100 on a high note with a massive account of his first (and probably not last) trip to Scotland he's back again with another fine piece - about Japan. Apparently, missing out on a place on last year's MM Awards jury (sadly reserved for the 12 most active maniacs) has inspired Luca. And not just to write more - he has also submitted great pictures.

The honour of the 'opening article' of this issue goes to Swedish maniac Robert though. Just like Luca's E-pistle it focuses on Japan, but Robert's piece is a little bit 'meatier', looking at the whole history of whisky making in Japan. And later on our Indian maniac Krishna adds to the 'Asian' flavour of this issue with an E-pistle about some typically Indian tastes that can be found in single malt whiskies.
Japanese whiskies used to be a relative oddity on the shelves of European liquorists, partly because many were quite pricey compared to Scotch whiskies. But with the prices of some premium blends and malts going up, consumers start to look at Japanese whiskies as possible alternatives. The MM Awards 2006 already showed that they have learned how to make good whisky in Japan. As soon as they figure out how to distribute it efficiently in other parts of the world the Scots might have serious competition...
But probably not in the forseeable future.
There are still enough affordable Scotch malt whiskies available.
Although we seem to focus a but on the antique and exotic stuff lately we hope to present a selection of more 'mainstream' material in our 'Bar' section soon. Those bottlings will be more along the lines of the ones on my 'Bang For Your Buck' List on Malt Madness.

I'm also happy to report that the office section is now finished.
We may add fresh items later, but for now we're done. For your
enjoyment we have an explanation of our scores, the MM Matrix,
the MM Monitor and the MM Awards section. Hip, hip hurray...

Last but not least - we've finally made the first steps towards
building our very own database. We'll have to do it all without any budget and in our spare time, so it probably won't look very smooth in the beginning. But we're in no rush and can polish it later.
We hope to show you something in April or May this year.

Sweet drams,

Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs

E-pistle 2007/010 - An Introduction to Japanese Whisky  (RK)

This E-pistle was triggered by a tasting I organised at the Wexio Whisky Society
in Växjö, southern Sweden during the fall of 2006. Before I got the honor of holding
this event I did not know much about the history and details of  this phenomenon. Moreover, quite some Japanese bottlings competed in the Malt Maniacs Awards 2006
in which I was privileged enough to be a part of the jury. The discoveries made were
interesting enough to share with a broader audience and I hope you agree!

So, what's up with the current buzz regarding Japanese malt whisky?
Probably we can thank two 'institutions' for spreading the word in recent years.
Namely the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and Whisky Magazine. The first mentioned
started bottling Japanese whisky a while back and thus made a bunch of difficult to
pronounce distilleries more available for the whisky afficiniados of the world. These
quickly became widely known for the sometimes surprising world class quality. The
latter organized a whisky competition where a Yoichi 10yo Cask Strength bottling
won the "Best of the Best" category which raised more than a few eyebrows. As a
side note no less than four Japanese whiskies deserved a gold medal, out of 15, in
our own Malt Maniacs Awards 2006. Impressed yet? Well, I surely am. Let's continue.

The whisky industry of Japan has not one father but interestingely enough two. Who is the "true" father of Japanese whisky depends on who you ask, what web page you visit or what book you read. The histories of these two gentlemen are intricately interwined and I will try my best to sort it out for you. I begin with some background information about these two and their companies. Thereafter I'll dwelve into a little more detail about the distilleries and end with the whiskies themselves. Enjoy.

Shinjiro Torii and Suntory

Shinjiro Torii founded the company Kotobukiya Liquor Shop in 1899.
He was then only 21 years old and already known for his ambition (and nose). The company began selling imported Spanish wines but that didn't fall out very successfully as the tastes didn't agree with the local palate. He then decided to start producing his own port wine called Akadama Port. This proved more successful and laid the foundation for his future endeavours. In 1924 he founded the first Japanese whisky distillery Yamazaki, located between Osaka and Kyoto. He employed the help of a certain Masataka Taketsuru doing this, who we will get to know much better later on in this text.

The first whisky produced at Yamazaki was called Suntory Shirofuda and began selling in 1929.
Unfortunately no real hit as it probably was too smoky and harsh. Shinjori continued his experimenting with whisky recipes and aspired to produce a whisky which would go well with water, which is how the majority of Japanese drinkers prefer their whisky even today. This style got to be known as Mizu-wari which translates simply to "cut with water". He succeeded better with this and a number of products were released during the years to come, most notably a blend called "Kakubin" and later "Old". Today they produce 18 different variations.

The company changed name to Suntory in 1963, named after the rising sun and the name of the founder, whose name translates to "The road to the temple" by the way. This is also when they turned into brewing beer seriously and in time became the number one drinks company in Japan. They also began producing the melon-flavored liquor Midori which turned into a global success. In 1973 their second distillery, Hakushu, was founded. Located by Mount Kaikomagatake in southern Japan. This distillery was extended with Suntorys third distillery, called"Hakushu Higashi" (or Hakushu East) in 1981.

Apart from being proficient at making whisky, beer, wine, liquour (and a whole lot of other stuff too) they were pioneers when it came to marketing. They employed a certain Akira Kurosawa (look him up at IMDB or somewhere if you don't recognize the name) and started making TV advertisements which was a relatively new thing back then. Some clips can be seen here: One of the actors was a bloke called Francis Ford Coppola (no need to look him up I hope). Guess what inspired his daughter Sofia Coppola to make her widely acclaimed movie about making TV adverts for Suntory called "Lost in Translation"? Ok, a side note, I know. Following their successes they bought Morrison Bowmore distilleries and thus run Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Glen Garioch today. The company turned wildly diversified and grew frantically in the last decades leading up to today. Now they run over 180 subsidiaries and sell in excess of 12 billion USD on a yearly basis. Big business aye.

Masataka Taketsuru and Nikka

Masataka was born into a sake-producing family in 1894.
They had been brewing their sake since 1733. He was interested in chemistry and was sent to Scotland in 1917 by a Settsu Shusei Seizou to study this subject further in order to later return and start distilling whisky in Japan. In 1919 he was reading organic chemistry in Glasgow and thereafter at Royal College in Strathclyde. He had, at least, two interests apart from studying. Namely working extra at various close by distilleries and teaching jiu-jitsu. While teaching a youngster this sport he met his older sister, a Jessie Roberta Cowan of Middlecroft, or more shortly simply "Rita". In 1920 they married, something disliked by both sides of the family, and moved to Campbeltown where he got employed at Hazelburn Distillery. Their stay in Scotland did not last and they moved back to Japan the same fall.

After returning to Japan Masataka turned unemployed in 1922 as the company who had sent him to Scotland scrapped their plans for a Japanese whisky distillery due to the harsh economic climate of that time. Rita was teaching English at the time to support his family.

Things turned brighter in 1923 when he was employed by the aforementioned mr Torii.
Together they built the Yamazaki distillery. There was some dispute about the location of the distillery as Masataka wanted it placed at Hokkaido where the geography and climate is more Scotland-like. Shinjiro, undoubtedly the business man of the two, overruled and it was placed close to their main future markets. This probably started the rivalry between the two. At the time it was common practice that you signed for a company for a number of years. Masataka had done this and stayed at the distillery as distillery manager doing his sentence which lasted no less than ten years.

In 1934 he left the company and founded his own, called Dai Nippon Kaju KK. He chose the location of Yoichi at Hokkaido, the smaller island just north of the main island of Japan. The first distillery they built was called simply Yoichi. They started producing apple juice and –wine. Even today they still produce different fruit based products, such as cider, wine and brandy. The company quite quickly changed name to Nikka and their first whisky was sold in october of 1940. Nikka was taken over by the giant Asahi Breweries in the 1950's but Taketsuru stayed running things at the company.

In the beginning of the 60's he went studying to the United States and Scotland and when he returned the decision to build another distillery was taken. The distillery of Miyagikyo was started in 1969 at Sendai in northern Japan. The company also runs the Scottish distillery of Ben Nevis I should not forget to mention. In 1961 at the age of 65 Rita died and Masataka lived until 1979 when he was 85. They are buried overlooking the distillery of Yoichi.

One can say that if Shinjiro was the businessman, then Taketsuru was the uncompromising enthusiast.

The rivalry

The Japanese whisky industry is fundamentally different from the Scottish.
Especially when it comes to competition between the distilleries. There is as far as I know no exchange at all between the distilleries and seldom, almost never, is a cask sold to an independent actor. This means that there is ofcourse no market at all for independent bottlers in Japan, but it also means that as there are so few distilleries in Japan one company has to produce all the styles, sometimes very many, that they would want included in their blend recipes. And thus all by themselves. So how is that possible with only two distilleries each? Simply by experimenting heavily with different recipes and production techniques. By doing this Suntory and Nikka has managed to produce a broad variety of styles by using a wide range of still sizes and variable lyne arm angles among other things at the distilleries.

This probably dates back to when the location of Yamazaki was chosen which subsequently led to Taketsuru leaving Suntory and starting his own company. Another reason might simply be that both Suntory and Nikka, owned by Asahi, are huge players in the brewing business which makes them fierce competitors and why should they then exchange experiences?

The distilleries

The information here has been found on a variety of sources which more often than not conflict which each other and are probably less than updated. So please don't take this information as absolute truths.

Yamazaki (Suntory)

Named after the location where it was built. This was the first malt whisky distillery in Japan. Built by Shinjiro and Masetaka together in 1924. The water is fetched from underground Mount Tennoh and is known to be very "hard". They employ 12 stills of three different types and each produce a different spirit. The two low wine stills are heated by coal fire and the washbacks are now wooden again after being stainless steel in the past. The distillery has a very special look with pagoda roofs looking like blunt triangles. Atleast four different varieties of whiskies are distilled on a regular basis and other variants at times. Yamazaki is often called the most "Japanese" distillery when it comes to trying to define the style of the whisky. One fact that should not be neglected regarding this distillery is the 20 beautiful females that are employed by the distillery as tour guides. If this influences the perception of the whiskies I cannot tell as I have not yet visited the distillery (I'll be sure to check with Ulf after his visit there later this year). They produce about 3.5 million liters per year.

Hakushu & Hakushu Higashi (Suntory)

Meaning roughly "white place". Built in the early seventies and opened production in 1973. Hakushu Higashi or Hakushu East was built in 1981. The location is 700 meters of sea level which is more than double that of the highest distillery in Scotland which is Dalwhinnie at 326 meters. It is located roughly three hours from the sea, which is two to three times more than for it's Scottish colleagues. The water source is taken underground from Mount Kai-Komagatake and is the opposite of the Yamazaki water, meaning exceptionally "soft".

This distillery also has a special look with pagoda roofs joined together with a walkway.
The both distilleries are now joined into one operation but was once completely separate. At one time it's production was the worlds largest although that is probably not the case any longer. Hakushu had 24 stills of various shapes which produced a number of different styles, most if not all supplied for blending purposes. Hakushu East had 12 coal fired stills. It is unclear how many stills are in use today. Traditional materials seems to be in fashion here. They employ copper mash tuns and douglas fir is used for the washbacks, distillation over flame instead steam etc.

Yoichi (Nikka)

The distillery is named after it's location at Yoichi, Hokkaido at northern Japan. Founded there in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru for it's very Scottish like environment. Some claim the distillery is more Scottish looking than the Scottish distilleries themselves. They do their own malting once a year these days due to strict regulations. The rest of the barley is imported from Scotland. This is supposedly cheaper than to buy it locally produced. Interestingly enough the distillery used only one still in the beginning which must have made things quite interesting as they employed double distillation. They use four coal fired wash stills which is very unique, only Glendronach still use coal fired stills in Scotland and will probably not do so for much longer. Two spirit stills are used whereof one is the original from 1934. The modern one uses a condensor and the others use worm tubs. This distillery is considered the most "Scottish" distillery in Japan when it comes to style. Most often the whisky has clear peaty influence and is sometimes also found under the name of Hokkaido. About 2 million liters is output on a yearly basis.

Miyagikyo (Nikka)

The distillery was built at Sendai 300km north of Tokyo and came online in 1969. It's placed at the prefecture Miyagi.
Whisky from Miyagikyo kan also be found under the name of Sendai. This operation is bigger than Yoichi and uses eight stills for malt whisky distillation. Coffey stills are also used for making grain whisky. If the whisky from Yoichi have a Islayish signature whisky from here is probably more Speysideish in character. Yearly production is at approximately 4 million liters.

Other distilleries

There are a number of other distilleries around Japan.
Most notable Fuji-Gotemba run by another brewery company called Kirin.
Founded in 1973 and placed at the base of Mount Fuji. They produce limited quantities for the Single Malt industry.

Another distillery currently operation is Karuizawa, owned by Mercian.
This distillery was built in 1962 and is located west of the famous vacation town of Karuizawa. Also placed nearby a mount, namely Mount Asama which is in fact a volcano currently not in production though. Bottlings from here have a solid reputation but seldom, if ever, find their way outside of Japan.

Hanyu (or Chichibu) distillery is unfortunately no longer producing malt whisky.
However, parts of their stock remain and are bottled from time to time. Both independent (such as the one on your right from Full Proof Holland – famed not only for it's label) and under the name of "Ichiros Malt". Bottlings from here can be found outside of Japan and have a good reputation.

To the closed distilleries section we also add the Shirakawa distillery which was run by Takara Shuzo who today runs the Tomatin distillery. Mars Shinshu started in the 50's and probably closed in the 90's and is supposed to have had a peaty character.

The whiskies

So do these guys produce anything of interest? Oh yes they do indeed.
I have myself not tasted enough bottlings to draw any clear conclusions but I am personally quite impressed with what I've found this far. Most of these land in the high eighties or low nineties if we're to talk points. Generally speaking they produce stuff at least on par with the Scottish distilleries. No unimpressive feat I'd say. I tend to find them more often than not filled with interesting fruit character. And to me it is the exotic kind, such as apricots, melons, passion fruit and similar. Some claim that whisky in Japan age more quickly than in Scotland which could explain why there is often wood influence in the whisky in the form of just "oak", but also cedartree and sandal wood. But seldom too much, unless it comes to the sherry casks which I think become quite extreme. Although not many would agree that is a bad thing though! Also some trace of smoke or peat can be find in them which makes them ever more hauntingly nice to me.

At first Japanese oak was considered an inferior wood for casks but it has proved to work well after aging a while and when reusing them. A fact that has is now also embraced by the marketing departments as Suntory has started pushing products where such wood as used (such as the Hibiki 17yo, 21yo and 30yo blends). A small note on the barley; According to old tax legislation (more than ten years ago) all malt that was used for whisky production had to be peated so it could not be used for beer production. This could explain why traces of smoke are not seldom found in somewhat older Japanese whiskies.

So now for a few words about some of the best Japanese bottlings I have sampled lately (confused Awards tasting notes in italics):

Yamazaki 1984/2005 (56%, OB) - Almost black in color (very dark red). Nose is very dry, spicy, coffee, very special and woody/"rough". Super winey, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. Huge taste, roughness , almost grapes and slightly sour hops. Very lasting taste, but so dry and bitter it's like drinking Fernet Branca. Too much for me, but again, surely lovely for the sherry nut.
Winner of the MM Non-Plus-Ultra Award 2006 no less.

Yamazaki 1991/2005 (56%, OB) - Nose is very enjoyable with fruity sweetness, oily and a little buttery.
Yet somehow dry, laid-back spices and earthy tones. Also elegant notes of clean smoke? Taste is more cereal than fruity. Some vanilla but to me slighty chemical. Smoke is very difficult to find, an integrated difficult dram. Enjoyable? Definitely! My favourite Yamazaki product so far, apart from the standard 18yo.
Run find this one! Rumours says this vintage malt was part of a experiment where they were trying to produce a peatier more islayish malt whisky. Interesting!

Yamazaki 18yo (43%, OB) – Somewhat "slimey" and saturated nose. Overripe apple but opens up with time. Are there some tendrils of smoke below the fruit? Taste is dryer, stable-like, cereal, somewhat short. Enjoyable but not more.  I think I had a bad nose day this day as I had this previously at 88pts, but at the awards I gave it only 79pts which is unfairly low. This one I definitely recommend.

Yamazaki 25yo (43%, OB, 75cl) - A deep red color. Super surypy sweetness, raisin and dates. Also dry, derived from wood. Spicy. Taste is special, lots of wood influence, dry, bitter, slighty perfumy. To me over the top but surely something for the sherry sadomachochist. Too much for me!
Not much for extremes when it comes to sherry whisky I scored this very low (75pts) compared to all other maniacs in the awards.
Oh well, not a bad whisky but heeaaavvvyyy. Won the MM Global Village Award 2006.

Nikka 'Yoichi' 15y (45%, OB) – Impressed me tremendously (90 pts.) but unfortunately not so when analyzing it for the awards.
I granted it "only" 82 points. Undoubtedly a great malt regardless of what my confused mind thinks though!

Nikka 'Yoichi' 1989/2005 (62%, OB, C#127032) – One of the best whiskies I sampled last year.
This is a must have if you find it, I stand by my 93 points score like a rock.

Nikka 'Yoichi' 20yo (52%, OB) – Another beautiful expression with chocolates, toffee, some cardamom, raisin, figs, mature apples.
Very complex. Should be in the nineties any day.

Nikka 'Miyagikyo' 1987/2005 (62%, OB, C#89698) – Another very heavily sherried single casks.
Should stand up well against the adversary Single Casks from Yamazaki. This one I granted 87 points when sampled blind.
Although I am not into extremes as previously stated...

Nikka 'Taketsuru' 17yo (43%, OB) & Nikka 'Taketsuru' 21yo (43%, OB) – Scored at 91 pts. and 89 pts. respectively at the awards by yours truly. Wonderful stuff. Both with exotic fruits, exquisite vanilla and elegant wood influence.

Hakushu 21yo 1982/2003 (60.7%, SMWS, '120.1') – Filled with exotic fruit and spices (ginger!), also slightly medicinal but very fruity and fresh. Taste wise buttery, wonderful oak influence and spices return.  Real treat from SMWS this one, ninety material? Yes undoubtedly!

Hakushu 18yo (43%, OB) - Quite dry, restrained elegant interesting fruits. Exotic ones, papaya, passion fruit, also citrus and lemon grass. Also slight hints of smoke? Fresh and nice. Tastewise very drinkable, the slight traces of smoke returns. Lime. Wood derived spices. Slightly bitter at the end indicating at some age. Leathery also at the very end. Pour me another one, please. 87 points.

Hanyu 1988/2006 (56,3%, Full Proof Holland, Pancheon C#9204) – Beautiful fruity sweetness, some ginger, leather, vanilla spicy indeed. Traces of exotic fruit, wood and even a little smoke. Slightly peaty after water? Also some oranges. Tastewise it surprises being somewhat drier than anticipated on the tongue, tendrils of smoke, utterly delicious stuff. Buttery and butterscotch and toffee. Uah!  92 points and that's cheap.

To sum it up in a conclusive note: Japanese whisky is doubtless hugely interesting!
Let's join together in a prayer that they start to export more stuff so we can taste more from their excellent stills.
As it is now the prices are because of small output prohibitive in Europe and that is indeed a pity. So. If you haven't tried any of the nicer Japanese bottlings I'd suggest you pay a visit to a whisky fair close by and get your hands on a dram or two before they run out.
Or try to find a bottle although that is not always the easiest task unfortunately.

Robert Karlsson (with a little input from Ho-Cheng)

E-pistle 2007/011 - Big (Malts) in Japan  (LC)

Nikka whiskyI still remember when, many years ago, a guy on a Usenet group said: "Try some Suntory. The Japs decided to make their own whisky, and damn they made it good!".
Well, at the time I was not very much into whisky: there were a handful of Scotch single malts I knew and I enjoyed, but my knowledge of the topic was very poor, to use an euphemism. So, I didn't take into account his words…

Years later, in 2005, triggered by the excellent movie "Lost in Translation", my usual interest for many oriental things (including movies!) and the fact that my liquor store started selling two Suntory expressions, I decided to try some… One of those two bottles was the standard Hibiki blend, which I still haven't had the courage to try so far due to the high price (higher than a single malt, and I don't usually rave about blends), the other was the "Pure malt" (but actually a single) Yamazaki 12yo, from the Suntory-owned distillery in Osaka (the oldest distillery in Japan)

Yamazaki 12yo (43% OB, Bottled +/- 2006)
Nose: Nutty, vanilla, oak. Wood varnish solvent. Bourbonish.
Palate: Initially, a dry and nutty attack, like a bourbon. Then lots of sweetness and vanilla oakiness. Quite unusual, like a cross between a speysider and a bourbon (but never as cloyingly sweet and resiny as some). A bit sherried, some almonds, cedar and acetone. Very appetizing. A bit thin and metallic, even slightly acidic.
It should appeal to Jack Daniels fans.
Finish: Nutty, with dried grapes and an almost perfumy echo.
A little burn, which surprises considering the smooth palate. Dry.
Comment: No great evolution with time in the glass, and perhaps too bourbonish and with excessive cedary and acetone notes. Definitely interesting, but on the long run perhaps a bit cloying and unbalanced. Score: 81 points.

My first encounter with Japanese malts had been interesting, but not completely satisfactory: good and "different", but I still preferred the style of malts coming from Scotland. Later on, when I went to England in 2006 to see the stunning Depeche Mode concert in Manchester, I stumbled into another weird Japanese malt at the duty free shop of Luton Airport and I had to try it (mostly attracted by the unusual square small bottle, similar to a perfume, and by the label which was almost completely in Japanese):

Nikka NAS 'From The Barrel' (51.4%, OB, Btl. ca. 2006, Batch 22E34A)
Nose: Heavy dried and candied fruits, burnt sugar, acetone and freshly sawn wood.
Palate: Overwhelmingly sweet and intense, with lots of candy floss, burnt sugar, dark chocolate and nuts.
Maybe a whiff of peat? Some licorice and gentian root, too.
Finish: Tannins raise their head, but they are quite well-behaved, with no late bitterness.
Comment: Again, another definitely interesting but weird malt. Difficult to mistake this for a Scotch: it has bourbony notes, it's not the most typical Japanese malt, either, but it certainly avoids direct comparison with any other thing I have tried so far. Score: 84 points.

I later discovered that this "From the barrel" was actually a blend, which I would have never suspected from its taste profile!
Yes, it's a blend of malts from the Sendai and Yoichi distilleries, and a grain whisky. Ok, maybe someday when I will have some spare cash I should actually try that Hibiki, since it seems that the concept of blend in Japan might actually be better than that of the Scots… Some months later, after the surprising results of the 2006 Malt Maniacs Awards, I felt that I had to explore this world further.

I hadn't participated in the Awards, so I had missed the reportedly wonderful Yamazaki tasted by my fellow Maniacs, but I found myself with some spare cash and decided to order on the Web some random bottles which I had been wanting to try since months and which were not available in Italy. It looks like it was worth the effort, and confirmed the discovery that other Maniacs already had made at the Awards: that Japanese malts, while often very different than Scottish ones, can truly be excellent. At times, they can even easily sneak and pass as Scottish clones, but regardless of that they are often very good and intense experiences of their own. So here we go with the tasting of the new six bottles in my possession (two again from Suntory, owner of Yamazaki and Hakushu, and four from Nikka, owner of Yoichi and Miyagikyo – also known as Sendai)…

Hakushu 12yo (43.5%, OB, Bottled +/- 2006)
Nose: Bananas, candied oranges, ripe apples, blossoming roses, nail varnish. A faint whiff of peat.
Vanilla, again like in bourbon (but not as intensely woody as in Yamazaki 12, and in this case not cedary at all). Young wood furniture.
Palate: Sweetly malty, with the faintest of peat. Reminiscent of Bunnahabhain, perhaps, or a Balvenie 10 Founder's Reserve.
Not particularly complex, but sort of "pure", cerealish and clean, with no frills or evident flaws.
Finish: Mineral, malty, clean and increasingly spicy and slightly peppery.
Comment: A very "plain" malt but in the good sense of the word, meaning that it doesn't relay on big sherry, strong peat or other extravagances to capture the palate. And yet, it captures it indeed: a good "natural" experience, neither too delicate nor too overwhelming, simply very well balanced. Score: 84 points.

Miyagikyo 1990 (54%, OB, C# 27216, Warehouse 20, D. 1990.11.8, Btl. 2006.7.26)
Nose: White wine, aromatic herbs, coriander, damp earth, crème brulèe, tonic water, dry and slightly bitter (orange peel).
Not the most expressive nose among these Japanese malts, quite restrained. But give it time and it gets pleasant and oakier.
Palate: Dry and slightly bitter at first (again, classic Schweppes tonic water), then gets sweeter and malty, with banana, vanilla and "Sprite", but still on the bitter side like a fresh lager beer. Not a lot of flavor evolution but interesting.
Finish: Slightly smoky, malty. Some mint and candied orange. Again, slightly and stimulatingly bitter.
Comment: Intense on the palate, but with a slightly limited flavour palette. Quite austere but not unpleasant at all. Score: 83 points.

Yamazaki 18yo (43%, OB, Japan, 70cl)
Nose: Haha, this is evidently sherry matured (or at least a big part of the casks which went into it are)!
Yes, definitely better than the 12yo, although there is still that initial strong impression of wood varnish… and even glue!
Nutty, but also drier and more winey than the younger version. Rubber-coated medication bandages, overripe red apples, some licorice.
Palate: Rich and luscious, soft but intense. Refreshingly malty, but also with many fruity notes: oranges, apples, apricots.
The oak is less astringent, acidic and sharp than in the 12yo. Belgian double malt ale (Chimay?), English bitter, nuts.
Finish: Increasingly spicy, and no marked bourbonish or cedary notes.
Comment: The extra years of maturation and the higher percentage of sherry casks in the vatting make a big difference compared to the younger version. A rich after-dinner malt, but not too heavy or extreme to scare away lovers of delicate whiskies.
Apart from the nose, it could almost pass as a Scotch single malt. Score: 86 points.

Yoichi 15yo (45%, OB, Bottled +/- 2006)
Nose: Salty, slightly peaty and seaweedy, sort of Bowmorish. Getting nuttier, minty and slightly winey with time.
Palate: Very nutty, full of integral breakfast cereals (the unflavored kind, of course) and sort of flowery. Again, slight peat (almost imperceptible, like an old style Bruichladdich or a Bunnahabhain). Integral bread.
Finish: Bitterish in a freshly poured dram. After a couple of minutes in the glass, delicately malty and slightly oily.
Comment: Perhaps the less "distinctive" bottling in this comparison, but still very enjoyable.
Highly drinkable and screaming "quality". Score: 82 points.

Yoichi 1987 (63%, OB, C# 113200, Warehouse 15, D. 1987.7.19, Btl. 2006.7.27)
Nose: A bit too alcohol-dominated, even with water. Evident sherry and peat. Denaturated alcohol. Similar to some well-peated Juras.
Give it time, and it will develop into sandalwood, licorice, incense, old furniture and even a hint of Brora-like waxiness.
Palate: Syrupy, oily, thick. Spent ground coffee, huge fireplace smoke, then a dark and brooding sherry influence.
Raisins, mint, camphor, propolis, rubber bandages, sandalwood and lavender (no, not the unpleasant FWP of some Bowmores!).
Finish: Long, extremely smoky… I feel like I have eaten lots of unsugared licorice and then smoked a pack of Gitanes!
Comment: A true powerhouse! One of the most intense malts I have ever tried, even with water!
On the palate it reminds me a bit of Talisker 20yo 1981/2002 (62%, OB, Sherry, 9000 Bts.), but more peated and perhaps slightly better integrated… though not for the faint of heart! Score: 91 points.

Yoichi 1989 (62%, OB, C# 127032, Warehouse 15, D. 1989.10.10, Btl. 2005.7.29)
Nose: Buttery biscuits, herbal liqueur. Give it time (and a splash of water) to release wood polish, old furniture, balsamic vinegar, smoke, old leather covered books, dusty and moldy cellar notes, rotten wood, gorgonzola cheese, wasabi and ground white pepper.
Palate: This is weird! Incredibly syrupy and thickly sweet, similar to Unicum liqueur, full of gentian root, rhubarb, quinine, burnt sugar and cough medicine! Lots of licorice and honey, deep oakiness. The lovely tannins perfectly complete the picture and prevent this malt from becoming cloying and overly sweet.
Finish: Almost unbearably hot even with water, long and warming, again on burnt sugar, licorice and herbal liqueur.
Mouthwatering and intense even several minutes after swallowing!
Comment: What a weird malt! It's big, bold, but also extremely compact and with a coherent and well-targeted profile.
Not immediately identifiable as Japanese, but neither identifiable as something else... Score: 92 points.

So, it seems that we can't really identify a typical Japanese profile...
I wouldn't even dare to identify some consistent regional or distillery styles, though for example Hakushu is a mountain distillery, Yoichi is usually considered Highland/coastal, and Miyagikyo is "Lowland". These regional labels in my opinion neither seem very much to apply if used in comparison to Scottish malts, neither as standalone ones. Maybe I can feel something coastal in Yoichi, that's all…

Leaving alone these pointless thoughts, one thing is certain: once again we have had a confirmation that Japanese malts can be truly interesting. Can they replace the flavors of a Scottish whisky? No, but they are a worthy alternative. As this little comparison shows, there are several different flavor profiles to be explored… some of them quite stunning and unusual. Of course not being able to find these bottles in bars and in many stores does not help, but in the world of free commerce it might be worthy a few minutes of your time to do some online shopping and discover this fascinating new world with your own senses…


E-pistle 2007/012 - A Different View on Finishing  (LK)

Finishing a malt in a different cask than the one it has spent most
its maturing life in is a practice which is becoming more and more
common. Of course, I'm not telling you anything new and you'll also
be aware that the use of exotic and unusual casks for finishing
purposes is becoming more and more controversial among malt
aficionados. On the one hand are the arguments that using exotic
finishing casks are a marketing gimmick and a way to spice up what
is otherwise a malt of mediocre quality.

On the other hand, if the process results in an enjoyable dram in
your glass, then what's the problem? I will come off the fence straight
away and state that what counts for me is what is in my glass.
If I really enjoy malt X finished in casks which have contained Y, then
I don't care that malt X was mediocre to begin with or that the use of
cask Y was purely done to put a unique product on the market.

This argument will probably run and run.
What I want to tell you about in this e-pistle is that I recently had the opportunity to see the argument from the other side: how do wine buffs regard the use of 'their' beverage of choice to enhance another alcoholic drink?

Let me first explain how I got to be in this situation. Shortly after I started my new job in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Southampton, I joined the university's wine tasting club. Once a month there is a themed wine tasting, and the atmosphere couldn't be more relaxed and friendly. During a truly fabulous tasting of a range of clarets, Guy, who was running this particular tasting (and also happens to be my group leader), mentioned that some of the casks that have been used to mature the claret get shipped off to Scotland, "as they're then still good enough for maturing whisky". As Guy said that, he winked at me, as he knew that I was very much into whisky …. But Guy's statement triggered an idea with me, and to make a long story short, it was agreed with Hugh, who basically runs the wine club, that I would host a tasting of malt whiskies finished or matured in wine casks. Besides this being the first time I would host an official whisky tasting, it would give also me an opportunity to see how wine lovers see 'wineskies'!

First nut to crack: the line-up. What I wanted was malts from six different distilleries, finished or matured in six different wine casks.
And we're talking actual wine here, not fortified wine such as port, sherry or madeira. On top of that, I wanted to bring in an element of blind tasting, so people would have to taste and think a bit. And stay within the budget Hugh gave me, of course!

This was a really fun puzzle to solve and what I finally came up with was a tasting of three pairs of two malts, each pair consisting of one malt from a red wine cask and one from a white wine cask. While pouring the two malts, I would make clear which malt came from which distillery. I would also say that one of the two came from this particular red wine cask and the other from that particular white wine cask, but let people taste and guess which malt came from the red and which from the white wine cask. Of course, the order of malts poured was such that the first pair would be the easiest and the last pair the hardest.

First pair consisted of the Glen Moray NAS 'Chardonnay' (40%, OB) and the Glenmorangie NAS 'Burgundy' (43%, OB).
Even if you have no or little experience in tasting whiskies, it should not be too hard to guess which of the two comes from a Chardonnay cask and which from a Burgundy cask. The Glen Moray is light and fresh, with some sour notes coming through at times. In contrast, the Glenmorangie has a rich winey nose, is much fuller-bodied and has a spicy dry finish. Indeed, everyone in the group guessed right, although walking around the tables and talking to people, several based their judgement mostly on the Glenmorangie being clearly darker in colour. That worked out ok, this time at least …..

Second pair: the Bruichladdich 14yo 1991 'Yellow Submarine' (46%, OB, matured in Rioja casks) versus a Monbazillac-finished 'Highland' malt (from an unspecified distillery); 'Highland' 13yo 1993 (46%, Jean Donnay's Celtic Whisky Company). The story as to how this particular Bruichladdich got its name is always a fun one to tell of course!  The 'Highland' is clearly much sweeter (butterscotch, rum-raisins), with a thicker mouthfeel, than the Bruichladdich which is fruity-spicy and pretty complex. The thick sweetness from the Monbazillac should have given it away, but thinking that, as in the first pair, the darker-coloured malt came from the red wine cask didn't work out this time (the Bruichladdich is much lighter in colour than the 'Highland'). About two thirds of people matched malt and wine correctly this time.

Finally, the third pair. I wanted to make guessing the type of wine
cask really hard this time, so I chose two pretty peated malts.
We put the Bowmore NAS 'Dusk' (50%, OB, Finished in a Claret
cask) and the Longrow 10yo 1995 (55.6%, OB, Finished in Tokaji
wood). I also wanted to add an extra element of guessing for this
last pair, so decided not to give away the fact that the white wine
in this pairing was Tokaji, but just referred to it as a 'Mystery White'.

With one of the bottles I ordered for this tasting came a courtesy
copy of Jim Murray's Whisky Bible, so the first person to get the
'Mystery White' right would win this. Around the peat of Bowmore
are more flowery notes (plus some FWP, the problem clearly hasn't
left the system completely yet) and the finish is relatively dry.

In contrast, the Longrow is a wee bit less peaty and has a thicker
mouthfeel. The sherry comes through from the primary maturation
and it is a touch sweeter than the Bowmore. For someone not used
to tasting whisky this certainly was the hardest pair to call and,
indeed, only about 50% got the malt-wine matching right (so overall
not better than random).

After several wrong guesses from the group (Sauternes wasn't a bad guess) as to the identity of the 'Mystery White', Hugh himself was the first one to shout out 'Tokaji!'.  He seemed quite pleased with his wee price and as he was the one who allowed me to do this tasting in the first place, a worthy winner as far as I'm concerned!

We usually round off a wine tasting by asking for a show of hands at the end, indicating which of the wines served that night was your favourite. No reason not to stick to tradition just because we've tasted whiskies rather than wines. I didn't count the hands, but the Monbazillac-finished 'Highland' and the Tokaji Wood Longrow seemed to have been pretty much the joint favourites.

So how do wine buffs regard wine-finished whiskies? On purpose, I didn't talk about the controversy that 'wineskies' are stirring up in the whisky world. The people attending ranged from those who had never tasted malt whiskies before to those knew their basic malts, but for whom wine-finishing was mostly a new thing. While walking around the tables, pouring whiskies, talking to people, I did not hear a single remark suggesting that wine-finished whiskies were regarded as a bad thing.

And why would they be?
People really enjoyed the evening and the malts on offer and for many the tasting opened their eyes as to how varied in taste malt whiskies can be. It was fun and educational. At the Christmas Dinner a week later, people again told me how much they enjoyed the evening. Several also asked me where to buy specific malts. Enjoyment is what it's all about with whisky (or any other drink), so getting people to enjoy malt whisky is a positive thing, isn't it? And are you asking whether I enjoyed hosting my first ever official whisky tasting?

Am I a malt maniac or what?

Silly question …..


E-pistle 2007/013 - Old Ledaigs; Some Favourite Dark Horses  (PK)

(Sorry, the original title 'Some of my Favourite Dark Horses: Ledaigs distilled around 1972' was too long ;-)

There is nothing like a mature and complex peated Malt on a chilly night in the cold time of the year... And I mean those fine old whiskies, not the pressure-cooked young ones we get swamped with these days. Mostly, the choice is coming down to an Islay-Malt or some rare Garioch, Brora or Talisker, and rightly so. Even one of those fine Japanese Single casks or an Ardmore would be nice.

However, one beauty has unjustly been forgotten – maybe because bottles are rarely seen: Ledaig, especially the ones distilled in 1972. Only few other whiskies offer such complexity paired with heavy peat – and high 'drinkability'. The quality of the barley malt used at Tobermory/Ledaig was comparable to Talisker and Brora (same source) in that year and has been delivering equally stunning results. In my eyes, good 1972 Ledaigs rank up as high as the finest Ardbegs of this period. I would trade some Islay Malts of the 1970's any time for a nice Ledaig!

Unfortunately, more recent Ledaigs fail to reach the level of quality the proprietors achieved between 1972 (reopening) and 1975. One can already see a decline after 1972. Only the 1972s possess this elegant maritime character of salt, spices, iodine, tar, a hint of sulphur, peat and smoke along with peach, gorse, vanilla, and numerous other aromas in perfect balance. Later in 1974, the peat levels were decreased which made briny fruits come forth in the whiskies of this time.

Nowadays, the leading aromas of this  are farmyardy and vegetal with more peat again since the 90's.

Having been a fan of this Mull Malt for quite a while now, I keep on trying expressions of 1972 and the years after.
Bottles are hard to get, though. The photo shows some of my 1972 Ledaigs, and some of them are not yet sampled or opened (e.g. the Moon Animal series, the black labeled G&M, etc.). I will open them on suitable occasions.

The following list shows my personal favourites which I have tasted until now – and is, of course, open for discussion.

96 - Ledaig 18yo 1972 (55,9%, James MacArthur, 75cl)
95 - Macnab 15yo (43%, Unknown Bottler, Unknown bottling year, 75cl, Rumoured to be Ledaig distilled in 1972)
94 - Tobermory (Ledaig) 1972/1995 (50%, Moon Import, 'De Viris Illustribus')
94 - Ledaig 1972/1997 (49,8%, SMWS, 42.8)
93 - Ledaig 22yo 1972/1995 (51.3%, Cadenhead's)
90 - Ledaig 32yo 1972/2005 (48,9%, Alambic Classique, Fondled Sherry Butt,  Same as Curious Birds-Bottling by Bernd Wolf)
90 - Ledaig 1974/1992 (56%, OB)
90 - Ledaig 1972 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, Old cream label, 5cl)
89 - Ledaig 31yo 1973/2004 (54,8%, Chieftain's Choice Sherry Hogshead #1710)
89 - Ledaig 32yo 1972/2004 (48,5%, OB, Oloroso Sherry Butt Finish)
89 - Ledaig 30yo 1974/2005 (48,7%, Signatory, Sherry Cask #3223)
89 - Ledaig 1973/1995 (53,4%, Cadenhead's)
88 - Ledaig 32yo 1973/2005 (45%, Chieftain's Choice, 240 Bts.)
87 - Ledaig 1974/2000 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, map label)
87 - Ledaig 1974/1992 (43%, OB)
86 - Ledaig 30yo 1974/2005 (48%, Signatory, 204 Bts.)

Pit Krause


E-pistle 2007/019 - Ask an Anorak: Cask Fondling

A Quarter Cask?After I published my 'Cask Fondling Phenomenon' E-pistle in MM#100 I received
many responses from both 'our audience' and 'the industry'. For a while I feared
that I was the only one with some (possibly paranoid) concerns about the 'mist'
that sometimes surrounds particular single cask or 'semi-single cask' bottlings.

I've also already received some disturbing 'case studies' from people within the
industry who seem to be happy that we now write about this topic on our site.
But - and here's the catch - NONE of them wants to be quoted on the topic.
Why? Well, let's face it - the whisky business is still a BUSINESS and they don't
really want to 'throw rocks through their own windows', so to speak.
FYI, below is a message I received from one 'anonymous source'.

''In general I do think this topic deserves some debate - especially when handled too
excessively. For me, being a collector myself, it's quite annoying "having" to go for one
whisky appearing in two or three different phenotypes. On the other hand, there are
suppliers selling big lots bulk-wise so everyone can buy, let's say 1-50 liters of Glen
Dingleberry at the same time. Needless to say the labels will all be different from
each other and sometimes even bottle shapes will vary. There is no legal obligation
to state the precise ABV so this allows the bottlers to "play" around a bit, too.
There are established bottlers out there selling smaller numbers of bottles
(< cask or sometimes even < half a cask) when requested.

The remainders will be released under their own labels or alternatively put together with a sister cask and sold as "single malt".
Technically, they are not doing anything (legally) wrong. So what should we think about this phenomenon? Clearly no one wanst one whisky to be labeled with 3 different or why not even 30-100 different (then we'll be discussing the personalisation label problem) papers. But where's the limit and why? What is the (moral) common sense to come back to? No easy subject, I have to admit. And one that was always discussed controversially amongst collectors (for example, Signatory Vintage already did this from the very beginning, i.e. with bottling an identical whisky under A) Dun Eideann, B) Signatory Vintage, C) diluted as "Sailing Ship series" and D) for the Scotch Single Malt Circle). Many more examples to find.

Nobody can say how far one could go. There is also an English company that does not buy unlabeled whisky in small numbers, but simply buys retail bottles (such as Rare Malts or Scott's Selection), removes the original labels and applies its own instead. I must say I dislike this very much. But:
A) - is this different than buying unlabeled stuff from the producer and applying your own labels and...
B) - if the answer is yes, then why (especially when the labeled stuff comes directly from the producer, too)? From what point on?
Maybe there is a need to find a definition of what's morally "correct" and what is rather unacceptable.
This could be a good task for the Malt Maniacs - to generate such a definition.''

Wow... Coming up with such a definition wouldn't be easy - we're not the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).
But then again, it's not likely that this is a battle the SWA would be willing to fight.
Well, let's ask the maniacs about it then...

Johannes - Hi maniacs, I've received quite a few responses from 'the industry' about the cask fondling phenomenon.
It seems I'm not quite as paranoid as I first thought - of if I am, at least I'm not the only one... Any other input?

Pit - Hi guys, here's my 2 pence in the 'cask fondling' debate. I think the cask-fondling phenomenon has become quite common - I could add cases of incidents. However, I think one should distinguish between the driving idea behind this practice. Should it be for making more money and selling the same cask twice (eg to collectors), it is shameless. But if a small whisky-club or group wants to have a club-whisky, it cannot take 400 bottles ... and here fondling is OK.  In both cases, it should be mentioned on the label somehow.
But I will dream on ;)

Johannes - Agreed, Peter! I wouldn't have so much of a problem with it if all the information was available.
I'd like to know WHO did WHAT to WHICH cask and WHEN - but often indeed this information is kept 'vague' or even hidden.
So, I guess the big question would be determining the conditions under which 'cask fondling' is a good thing...

Bert - Another example is Longmorn 22yo 1969/1991 (61%, G&M for Intertrade, Highlander label, Turatello Import) together with Longmorn 1969/1991 (61%, G&M Cask white label). Further on what Pit is stating: indeed, cask fondling is a great solution for smaller clubs wanting an own club bottle. On the other hand, I don't think it 's really about selling the cask twice to collectors, a cask that is good will sell automatically (the example I mention above happens to be a GREAT dram), and there won't be many collectors for a mediocre to bad cask ;-).
Another example with an Ardbeg imported by Dugas (1975/2002, 46,2%, cask 4701).
Half of this cask was for Clan des Grands Malts (club of Dugas), and half was for 'société Dugas'.
Same cask, two destinations ... I don't think Dugas wanted to make big Money by doing this.

I personally think it's more about a 'shared investment', so that one person (or company) wouldn't have to pay all costs, taxes and expenses. I fully agree they should mention on the label if the cask has been brought out under two labels, but indeed ...
Small chances this will ever come true.

Johannes - Well, well, well.... You SEEM to be making a good argument, Bert - but I notice some 'sleight of words' ;-)
I agree that cask fondling is 'a great solution for smaller clubs wanting an own club bottle' as you say. But let's face it, wanting your own name on a bottle is sort of a vanity project after all - especially if there are 'other' bottles available that contain the very same whisky. If 'your own unique bottling' is presented in a way that suggests you have 'your own unique whisky', I feel we're already treading into murky waters. But OK, I can see how I'm too much of a cynic to fully appreciate the charms of having your own club bottling. No problems if it doesn't put the bottlers of that bottling on a slippery slope with regards to being completely open about it.

But that's quibbling... I have bigger concerns with your argument 'a cask that is good will sell automatically'.
Quite possibly, but as we've learned over the years, not all casks are good. And I don't agree with you that all collectors try to avoid bad or mediocre casks - some collectors don't even drink whisky!  But again, I could be a little too 'fundamentalist' for my own good here - in the grander scheme of things the more that some people pay for crap whiskies, the less I'll have to pay for the remaining good ones. Again, no problems if it's just about a 'shared investment' - my worries start when people have to start 'bending the truth' to pass a whisky off as more unique than it actually is. I seem to recall a recent event where a 'special bottling' of ONE bottling was made.

If the rest of the cask was dumped in the drain or consumed on the day of bottling, I would indeed consider that a VERY special bottle.
If the contents of the same cask were used days, weeks or months later for another 'special' bottling?
Not quite so much...

Robert - Just thought I should add an example of exactly what Bert is talking about.
My own society here just a few weeks ago bottled an excellent bourbon casked (#1340) Highland Park 23yo, our first bottling!
This could never have been done if we were to have bought the whole cask, instead we bought half (228 bottles) and the rest is bottled for RMW by G&M where it is now for sale at RMW (well, in fact it has run out I saw just now, a pity!). We shouldn't forget that the vast majority of whisky drinkers out there are in if for the pure fun of it. And having society, festival, shop, etc bottlings are indeed very fun (at least I think so) and I think it's quite hard to argue that such endeavours should be forced to buy whole casks just to avoid some future possible discussions regarding who, why, when, how, if, when, by whom, for whom, insert-your-own-reason-code-here questions etc.
Oh well. I fail to see that the fondling cask "problem" in 95% of the cases is really a problem, that's just all :).

Johannes - Very good points, Robert, and in the examples that you & Bert mentioned I have no 'fundamentalist' problems with it.
It seems you know ALL there is to know about these casks and all bottles that came from it. So no 'problems' there as far as I'm concerned. I just worry about cases where not all the information is made available to the public. So, Robert, I don't think I ever called the practice a PROBLEM - I carefully chose the word 'phenomenon'. I guess most of you were already aware that this happened on quite a large scale, but it was new to me so I wanted to find out how the other maniacs felt about it. As I wrote in my article, I haven't actually quite made up my own mind yet. So, any other perspectives?

Robert - Okay, my apologies. I won't question the fact this is a phenomenon! :)

Serge - Well, I'm somewhat between you two.
I see no problem with 'cask splitting' when it's between two very separate entities (clubs, bottlers, whatever) - except when we make fools our ourselves by rating both very differently ;-). On the other hand, it's more a problem when a single bottler sells the same cask under two different labels of his own, especially collector's malts such as Port Ellen. It's somehow the same when Springbank sells the same Hazelburn under different labels, the aim being obviously to load the collectors. One question we could ask ourselves: why would 'some' bother with tweaking ABV's, hiding cask #'s (or even vintages!) if it's such a 'clean' operation? Because they WANT (need?) to hide it. On the other hand, people who do that a lot, like Jack Wieber, do that most often with utterly great whiskies and frankly, I think we'd better get mislead and buy twice the same great Longmorn 1972 than buy two crappy Glenwhatevers that are actually very different.
Well, some split casks, some split hairs ;-).

Michel - As Robert I have less fundamental problems with the phenomenon of fondled casks.
My club did a very good Benriach. We never had the finances to buy the whole cask so a split had to happen.
Exception was we got our own club back label and so we were able to come up with a nive bottle for a reasonable amount of money.

As with different labels from the same bottler. Well, if I have a certain infrastructure with brand A in country B, or when brand C just doesn't work in country D, (label design, difficult to pronounce brand name or a brand name suggesting funny things in local language... that kind of things) is it wrong to use the brand (name/label) that does work? I think this practice has become visible because of our abilities to buy our bottles from any place on this planet any time we want. It's no longer an exception to have lots of bottles over here in Europe that were intended for the Japanese market only. So... there we go.

I do strongly oppose against milking the collectors/drinkers by marketing the same cask under different labels in the same market and agree some information should be mentioned about the whereabouts of the cask and it's bottlers or labels. Just as Pit I demand the right of freedom to dream! Yet some bottles just put a smile on my face. The Port Ellen 22yo from Whisky Doris and the Port Ellen 23yo from Jack Wieber. One can almost hear the negotiations between the two. "Well, we can share this cask but you have to wait with bottling it for just a few weeks because we can have a 22 years and a 23 years from the same cask!" Crafty Bastards! :-))

Lawrence - It is fun to have your own club bottling (as I know from our our small effort with Ben Nevis) and Robert is correct, if it wasn't for being able to share a cask, it would not have happened for a lot of clubs. But as Serge pointed out the danger for the 'raters' is giving two different scores. In any case I'm quite sure the practice is here to stay and has been going on for quite a while.

Bert - Doesn't this say something about 'scoring' a whisky?
There are SO many things that can influence a score: the line up, time of the day, state of mind, VERY important: do you give a whisky enough time ;-), ... that it is very possible that one scores the same whisky differently when tasting it again later. I wonder if there would be maniacs who have the same score for the samples in the awards vs earlier scores on those same whiskies.

Serge - Hi Bert, You're so right, and that's the whole point of the Matrix / Monitor - only averages are 'solid' (4 ratings needed).
Indeed, there are varying ratings from the maniacs. That happened at the awards (vs same malts tasted earlier indeed) but also when some maniacs send me 'new' malts/ratings and sometimes forgot they already tasted one or two. Scores can widely diverge. BUT it's the exception. The usual 'variance' is of +/- 2 points. I should add that the way some Maniacs label their malts varies more widely than their scores ;-)))

Johannes - Indeed, I agree with Bert & Serge; there are MANY influences that could push a score up or down; weather, moods, environment, preceding dram, food, etc. I have to admit that for that very same reason I still prefer to score whiskies 'by the bottle' to scoring 'by the sample'. Influences that play a role during one session are 'averaged out' if you try a dram six or seven times. But I think that would be a topic for an entirely different AaA discussion: how to create the PERFECT tasting conditions... Or maybe that already came up in an earlier discussion? Bugger, I need to get to work on that index of discussions for the new ' Bar' section...
So let's push this discussion back on track or wrap it up...
Any fresh comments / insights w.r.t. 'cask fondling'?

Ulf - A few reflections. It is great with the opportunity to 'share' casks.
However I insist that it should be under controlled and agreed circumstances like all parties involved disclose the information that 'this is n'th tranche of cask y which generated z bottles under this label'. This makes it clear that the other ones are just label versions. For me this is the gentlemanship of ways, and only way, to do it. All manipulations like bottling a half part one side of a calendar year and the rest on the other side claiming this is two distinct different whiskies, tweaking ABV's, hiding the fact that this is just a tranche of a cask etc. is simply dishonest. I could use stronger wordings but stop by this.

Regarding the worries, mentioned by someone, that there is a risk to score the same substance stemming from two or several tranches from the same cask differently, then don't worry. I am pretty sure that all of you score the identical whisky served blind differently during the course of time. I haven't seen, so far, a wine or whisky taster who is consistent in his or her opinion over time. With one exception, Australia's first Master of Wine Michael Hill-Smith. He has, like musicians perfect ear, the perfect palate and memory bank. I am not ruling out that we do have members blessed likewise. A simple lackmus test; how many identified the doubled sample included in the last MM massive tastings?

Johannes - Phew! I'm very glad that I'm not the only 'concerned citizen', Ulf!
I was feeling that I might have out-anoraked the other anoraks on this topic ;-)
But, Robert, Bert and Lawrence make good points as well... Indeed, I guess it's just like Pit said: it's the 'intention' that counts...
I know that many maniacs have far better noses and palates than me, but I'm happy to report that in the case of this year's sneaky 'double' sample I actually arrived at the same score for both bottlings; 87 points. It think that was pretty close to the ultimate average in the end as well. But, like all jurors I had my fair share of weird scores as well - and tasted a Tobermory from Wilson & Morgan that I scored in the 80's at a festival below 70 during the blind tastings.

Davin - Hi All, Just coming in now at the end and will add some somewhat cynical comments:
Someone said there are so many things that affect the score. Well there shouldn't be if you take scoring seriously.
First, if you are serious about it you won't score whiskies after eating a load of spicy food.  Second you will seek a neutral environment, third you will use a reference malt, fourth you will prepare your palate, fifth you will give the whisky time to develop in the glass, and so on.  If you are tasting at a show that's one thing, but you can still control many variables.  If you are tasting for the Awards you should control all the variables you can.  Of course there will be minor variations among tasting sessions, and our use of averages nicely flattens these out, but if you are just whipping the malts down to get scores and build your mileage then those scores are bogus anyway.

I agree that some club bottlings really are vanity bottlings. If people want to see their name on a bottle and can't afford to buy a cask, why not just buy a few REALLY good bottles, soak the labels off and apply your own?  In fact each club member could have his own favourite malt bottled.  The ultimate club bottling, everyone is happy, and quality is guaranteed!  If you are bottling to learn about and experience the bottling process that's one thing, but if it's an ego trip, why not go all the way? If you can only afford half a cask and decide to split it with someone, why on earth would you use separate labels except to fool people or out of vanity?

Bert - After reading your post, I started to think one shouldn't try to be holier than the Pope, Davin.
Let me explain. I can imagine it's fun to have a club bottling. Something you selected together with your members. 
Something from your own. Do you call this vanity? Frankly, I would really like the idea, and I wouldn't care if people would call this vanity. If a club can't handle (pay) a whole cask, I can easily imagine that people would share a cask to realise this own club-bottle.
Is this to fool people? No. Is this vanity ??? I wouldn't call it like that.

What percentage of the whisky-loving community will ever even notice this, have a problem with this???
Us whisky-lunatics are 0,00000XX% of this community, try to realise that. Do you really think it's always about 'fooling' people?
I'm afraid we are making this a LOT bigger than it is.

Further, I actually support what Michel was writing earlier: what if some titles or names are unpronounceable in one or other language/country, what if a word means something totally different in two different languages/countries? An example: the word 'Pute' means 'Turkey' (the animal) in German, but means 'whore' in French. Can you imagine when I was working for a German company in a former live, putting turkey products labeled 'pute' on a French buyer's desk ??? Was good fun !!! Some bottles with different labels are even being released in other parts of the world for this reason, see what I mean? I simply mean we shouldn't dramatise, but also look at other possible reasons. Not everybody is fundamentally bad, sometimes there are reasons that really are reasons to work with different labels.

Johannes - Well, there you go again with your sophistry, Bert... ;-)
I don't think Davin or anybody else ever suggested anything remotely like 'it's always about fooling people'.
So, either YOU are the one trying to fool people here, Bert - or you should read the messages more carefully ;-)
That being said, perhaps I should stress once more that I'm not AGAINST the practice (yet). As I wrote earlier I just never given it much thought and I only became aware of potential shenanigans recently. And then I started thinking, and a few questions popped up.
Nothing wrong with questions, is there?

Robert - Ho! I just looked up vanity in an attempt to try to understand what Davin is talking about.
One definition is: "A bathroom cabinet in which a sink is mounted."
Another is: "Emptiness; unsubstantialness; unrealness; falsity"

Somehow I hope that the first definition is what Davin refers to as the other definition sounds incredibly harsh.
So many people, including myself and probably most of the Maniacs too (who has by the way been talking about our own bottling for so long) find few things more fun than selecting a cask for bottling. To just let go of this concept because one simply cannot afford a whole cask sounds like an incredible strange, in lack of a more diplomatic word, "phenomenon" to me.

I fail to see what's so horrible about bottling part of a cask. And what is really the reasoning behind trying to (futily) *demand* that people who do it should tell the consumer *why* they've done it? These guys can do almost anything they want and if they are in it for the money, then fine! I doubt many in the whisky industry is in the business for  charity. And what's so wrong about bottling half a cask now, and the rest a year later? That should just be interesting, to see if something has happened if nothing else. Aye? No?
Is there even one decidly "wrong" (what's wrong by the way?) or outright deceptive fondling out there?
Oh well, I'll just sip my questionable bottling of wonderful Highland Park...

Johannes - Well, Robert - that's a fairly sharp response to Davin's legitimate questions..
It seems that Bert and yourself get edgy by the mere fact that we think this 'phenomenon' deserves discussion.
Well, I still think it does, I'm afraid. I can certainly understand that those who have done their own club bottling feel 'protective' about it as if it were their own little baby. Don't worry, we're not trying to kill your baby!

As for 'vanity'... On it says 'excessive pride in one's appearance, qualities, abilities, achievements, etc.'.
I think Davin had a meaning in mind somewhere in between the two 'extremes' you mentioned... Of course, being brought up as a Dutch protestant, I was always taught that 'vanity' (in this case: too much interest & pride in outward appearances) wasn't a good thing. I'd hate to sound like a reactionary old fart, but I think some comments are a tad naive. On one end you seem to have little problems with the fact that some bottlers try to 'hide' some details of the history of a bottling if it suits them, but later on you suggest that it could be interesting to see what happens to the 'other half' of the cask that's bottled later. Yes, it could - if you actually knew about it! That is my main point (and I think Davin's as well) - IF you knew the full history of the whisky in a bottle, THEN you could learn something about it. However, when part of the story is left out or misrepresented, you could learn 'wrong' things about the interaction between a whisky and a cask...

So, I wouldn't want to 'demand' anything from any bottler - where did you get that idea?
However, I also reserve the right not to buy any bottles where I suspect something 'strange' might have happened to it that prevents me from learning anything from that bottle. I still haven't decided that I'm AGAINST cask fondling, but I want to KNOW about it when it happens, so I can actually learn from the experience. After all, it was just about drinking nice whisky, an Highland Park OB would do as well.
Yes, I would strongly encourage 'full disclosure' as a policy but obviously any bottler or club is free to do whatever they want.
We're not the SWA or hostage takers, so we're not in any position to make 'demands'.

As far as the 'own Malt Maniacs bottling' we've indeed discussed in the past is concerned...
I guess I'm the naive one now, but the thought of sharing 'our' selected cask with somebody else simply never even crossed my mind. For me having 'our own single cask bottling' automatically meant that we would choose and bottle that whole cask ourselves. That would be an interesting project, but (for me personally) I'd lose most of my interest if we'd have to produce a 'half a single cask bottling' - in my mind that wouldn't make it UNIQUE enough anymore. To me, still trying to get such a bottling made would indeed be 'vanity'...

But that's just my personal opinion.
Malt Maniacs is all about sharing different perspectives on our mutual passion, so we should feel free to disagree.

Robert - Hm, Well, I too agree that we should feel free to disagree which is what I thought I did by posting that.
I probably mistook Davin's message as I found it was quite harsh - but I misunderstood most certainly. As was my message it seems.
It was not meant as harsh nor naive and I'm certainly not edgy - at tops confused but that is my normal state so I seldom recognize that state anymore anyway :)

Regarding "demand" of full cask history on the labels I thought that was just what was asked for in this whole thread.
But I misunderstood that too then. *I* don't need this information, but I don't think I'm naive just because of that, or if I am then, so be it. I fully accept that the bottlers want to make money and experiment (I have not high feelings for tradition when it comes to anything really). I still haven't seen any "problematic" fondled bottlings out there.. it happens and to me it's OK, I guess that's what I've been trying to say all the time (strongly influenced by myself being involved in several cask fondling experiments also via the Scandinavian Whisky Society which I could write lots about). Damn, I write too many words.

And finally about choosing ones own cask. It's still a single cask to me regardless if you leave some of the spirits still in there or send it elsewhere. You've still gone through the process of selecting it, owning it, drinking it etc. All the joy is still there, well to me it is at least!
Well, as I seem to continously misunderstand this discussion I'll gracefully (?) withdraw myself from it.
No hard feelings...

Johannes - Hey, hey - no problems with 'cutting edge' discussions, Robert. Please continue to share your perspective.
We don't all have to agree on a certain topic - but debate should never be avoided. Please don't feel 'personally attacked' when some of us place some modest question marks with SOME fondled cask. We should be able to discuss everything uninhibited and try to present the information (all different perspectives) as clearly as possible, so the readers should be able to make up their own mind. Your position (as I understand it) 'I don't need to know the answers' is perfectly legitimate - but I think a position like 'don't ask the questions' isn't.

As I already said, I have no problems with the phenomenon IF it all happens in the open.
In that case, consumers can decide for themselves if they want to invest in a particular bottle.
Anyway, let's see what other responses we receive.

Davin - You make excellent points Robert; please continue to contribute.
My points were extreme just for the purpose of making a point and not meant to offend. 
I also have participated in club bottlings and know there is much to be learned from going through the exercise. 
We also get to buy really excellent whisky quite inexpensively.  We make a deal with a retailer to take any bottles we can't sell so the whole cask is bottled with the same label and has the retailer's name and ours on it. We also call it a vanity bottling as a self-depricating joke.

Vanity manufacturing is big business over here.  When I was in the record business I pressed some really crappy records because some band or another that could not get a record deal paid me to manufacture crap for them.  Now, with the internet and other new technology that makes manufacturing very easy, this is no longer called vanity pressing, it is called self-production and there are lots of really good acts who choose to do it.

There is also an industry the publishes (or should I say prints) utter crap books for people who want to stroke their own ego or establish themselves as experts by being able to say they have written a book. There are a couple of whisky books on the market right now that are vanity books, also known as self-published.  One in particular just repeats the crap that is written on promo material from the distilleries yet calls itself a guide for newbies.  This is ego, out of control and done by someone who is vain enough to waste trees without contributing to the literature.

When it comes to bottling whisky, I think that people should be doing so in order to get good whisky cheap, or to get good whisky to market or to make money, but not just so they can make themselves feel important.  To me it is just ego to bottle a few bottles out of a cask just so you can see the name of your club on a label, even though the identical whisky is going into other bottles with a different name. There is a business in Scotland that specializes in "putting your name" on bottles of whisky.  They don't even tell you what whisky it is.  Well, if its a special bottling to promote some business, or event, or a wedding souvenir, or something I can hold my nose and accept it, but if it is labelling just to see your name on a whisky bottling - well I think that is vain.  Vain means excessively proud or conceited, especially about one's own attributes.  In a sense it also means boastful.

Now, I'll end here as I have to find some Black Bowmores. 
I am going to open 3 or 4 of them, add two drops of Bowmore 17 put in my own corks and capsules, soak off the labels and add my own, then submit them to various competitions (and Jim Murray).  Then I'll put the one or two that remain for sale on e-Bay and make a killing. 
Just joking!!  ;-)).

Please Robert (and others) if I seem a bit harsh stick to your points. Your opinions are just as valid as mine. 
I just tend to state the extreme for rhetorical purposes.  Do what ever you want.
If you are having fun with your whisky who cares what someone else thinks?
Especially an old fart like me.

Michel - Well, I do think this 'phenomenon' deserves discussion and with some interest I see we are splitting up into two groups.
One group sees it as an academical problem and the other has, or better, uses it as a practical parameter or sheet laid on today's whisky market. I seem to be ripped apart having a strong feel for the high moral ethic approach as, at the same time, I do understand the more 'realistic' approach of the business as well. But I can't keep myself from thinking the following: Do I have a right, as a Neerlandais, to judge label information coming from a bottle which is exclusively marketed for i.e. the Italian or Japanese market in comparison to a Dutch or French label of the same whisky or cask? Was I, in marketing terms, supposed to buy that certain bottle in the first place?

That's what I tried to say earlier. The use of internet shops, world wide, has made the 'local approach' visible.
I think a globalisation of label information on single cask bottlings is not far away, or at least a more widespread discussion about this matter is needed and will take place in a forseeable future, just because the consumer is using different tools to get what he wants - the whisky industry, or better the independants still have to react on that change. Hopefully...

As for 'local market label variants' or 'shared casks' or 'stage bottled casks' the case, for me, is much more subtle.
The 'local label variants' gives me a very bad taste, so that's cleared up. Altough some exceptions excist. Some bottlers are just not that very popular. For me Hart Brothers had to many up and downs to receive a full hearted confidence. I realise this is the wrong state of mind... But to have more confidence in a Wieber label (tough this is fainting....) and thus trying what was once an official HB bottle provided a second chance for the whisky and me me think about HB again. Tight corners I know, yet for me this is a part of reality I can't deny...

The 'shared cask' - between two completely different companies - is more difficult.
If I was to come across a wonderful cask and I didn't have the funds to buy the whole I would try to get me some sponsors.
One certain Port Ellen jumps to mind. Shared between the SSMC and Wiebers. I have a feel Wiebers sponsored the SSMC to buy that cask, enableling SSMC to provide their members with a very nice PE for a reasonable price while the non-SSMC crowd had to deal with a huge price for the Wiebers bottle. Bear with me... The SSMC / Wiebers case is just hypothesis and pure speculation! It's just an example that jumped into my mind since I almost laid my hands on the SSMC bottle and the seller knowing that I already had the Wiebers bottle, pointed out both bottlings are identical. It shows what CAN happen outside an otherwise completely harmless and innocent 'deal'...

Is it fair? No...
Is it leaning towards fascism - you're not a member of our club so go away and get ripped off, we don't care? Almost...
Can we prevent this practice? I'm afraid we can't... Do we want to prevent this practice? Here's where I, for myself fail to come up with a solid opinion. A lot comes down to the fact whisky clubs want to DO something for their members, offer a very pragmatic reason to be paying member of a certain club. A club bottling for a low price might provide the perfect reason. Is this vanity? Perhaps...

Perhaps we're too f**cked up with our passion and forget the fact the 'Joe Average of whisky drinking' couldn't care less...
He (or she) just wants to enjoy his/her dram.

'Stage bottled casks' are risky to me. There's no control or what so-ever and the whole practice seems to be very freud-sensitive.
If there's case of cask wich is bottled half at CS and th other half is dilluted to 5 or 6% ABV lower due to dilluting... I must confess I got really paranoïd when Serge suggested this practice earlier on in this discussion. It calls for an urgue to develop a very, very precise definition of 'Cask Strength'. No room for interpretation or what so ever! Untill that definition exists we can only accept the practice and we can respond by not buying anything from that company, or just plainly accept it happens and hope the best of that what is in the bottle.
A example of where suggested fondling has taken place:

- Clynelish 32yo 1971 (55.5%, Jack & Jack Auld Distillers, Cask #2704)
- Clynelish 32yo 1971/2002 (54.2%, Premier Malt, Cask #2704)

Once both in the Montor where the PM received more points compared to the J&J.
Perhaps more oxygen in the cask did good work, or diluting it 'just', was what the spirit needed...
I'm happy not being a judge in this matter...

In my opinion it comes down to this. The industry provides a tool (fantasy labels, cask fondling and gawd knows what more).
This tool is harmless in itself. It can become harmfull in the hands of a reseller, not giving us information which should come with a certain bottle. Also this tool can become harmfull if we, the happy consumers, don't pay attention to the bottles we buy. Essentially, I feel a large portion of responsibility is in our own hands. It's good to have this discussion! It's evenly good to realise publication on MM might hopefully develop an 'awareness' on the buyer's side as well as a critical note pointed towards the industry or re-sellers...

Finally I've made my point, no matter if it adds up or completely fails to do anything in this discussion... :-)

Davin - I agree with what Bert said earlier.  I am sure it is fun to have club bottlings because I was just tasting one from about 7 or 8 years ago and it is special and it still gives a thrill to know how much work and travel and expense went in to selecting the cask and how truly brilliant the whisky tastes all these years later.  I have another different one tucked away to celebrate a special anniversary in 2016.  I think there is a lot to be learned doing your own bottling.  My objection is to having several labels for the same whisky and pretending each is different.  As I say, on our labels we have our name and the name of the retailer who buys and re-sells all we can't afford.  However, since this is a hobby and the objective is to have fun, I agree we should not worry a whole lot about what other people (such as the Pope) might think.

There have long been bottlings made specially for specific courntries. I don't see how this means separate labels for parts of the same cask.  Labelling laws are such that in Canada many distributors just add a bilingual label to whisky that has an English label on it.  In some cases they put the lael over top of the old one, but usually they just add an second lable to the back, side or above/below the original.  I still think the label should be used to describe the whisky and if people are just going to buy a few bottles to put their own name on them it's really no different than soaking the labels off existing bottlings and adding their own label.

What percentage of the whisky buying public will even taste malt whisky? 
But, the fact remains that among malt aficionados, more and more people are noticing and commenting on cask fondling.  
So people DO notice.

Johannes - Hi maniacs, I hope Davin's reply put Robert at easy a bit.
But remember we're MANIACS - and sometimes we get a bit mad about the things we're passionate about.
We believe in discussing all things fair and square - but in all openness and based on solid arguments. That's really the MAIN problem here. There are no angels or devils in the whisky business - but a LOT of 'shades of grey'. The more 'mystery', the more chances people at the darker side of grey have of doing stuff they might otherwise not have if they felt it was 'policed'. You are completely legitimate in feeling this situation doesn't need 'policing', but you appeared to be saying 'The maniacs should not 'police' this'.
In those cases you're bound to get some strong responses ;-)

But 'I feel your pain', Robert ;-)
Just to let you know we're not completely paranoid, I'll forward you some 'anonymous case sudies'...
Maybe THAT will finally convince you that SOME people (a small minority, I'm sure) have less than 100% pure motives.
If, after reading those stories you still feel we should not pay attention to this, so be it. For me, removing labels from bottles and replacing them with your own claiming that it's your 'own' bottling is simply ridiculous, but if people want to buy those bottles: fine by me...
At least the readers of MM can now make up their own minds about the phenomenon - at least there's some 'awareness'.

And as far as I'm concerned that means our main goal has been achieved. So, theoretically we could wrap up this discussion...
However, Pit just informed me about a case of 'finishing' that's so extreme that it sort of fits with the theme for the day...

Pit - In Germany, there is the first Herring Finish around... of course, a Laddie, but by a private guy (Klaus Pinkernell).
I still hope it was a joke. The whisky was finished in two casks: Lagrein wine and Herring!

Johannes - Blasted!!! I've been joking about but secretly playing with the idea for years now.
I imagine the brine and fishy aroma's could be great, but was also worried about a possible oily taste or smell.
So, that was sort of a 'double finish', right? Maybe even a first for Bruichladdich?

Lex - As to the herring finish, I can hear the frowns of the SWA moving into place!

Ulf - I talked to Klaus, the 'master mind' behind the Herring finishing.
Launch is on March 1st. The version is available at his Berlin shop only.
No advance orders taken. Possibility to order, if anything is left, from March 5. Another odd experiment; Some years ago I was given a bottle of a simple and ill-reputed blended very young whisky 'The Statesman'. I was told it was the record keeper, volume-wise, when it comes to whisky smuggled into Sweden. Now, down the line one of the handlers got the idea to improve the bottled content, meaning elevate smokiness. Earlier in life this guy had came across a bottle of Tequila that contained the not so uncommon gimmick 'the Tequila worm'. To be eaten by the one who gets the last serving. Inspired by this he stuffed small smoked eels in Statesman  bottles and re-labeled them with Chivas Regal look-a-like labels where 'Regal' was replaced with 'RÖGÅL), Swedish for Smoked eel. I have my bottle intact, dare not sample it. Perhaps I'll donate it to be admired and swallowed at a greater Malt Maniac function.

Martine - I would not like to get the last serving, Ulf !!!

Johannes - WOW!!!  I LOVE smoked eel, Ulf! (And Davin has developed a taste as well, or at least he politely pretends ;-)
If I'm at the opening at a Malt Maniacs function I'll most certainly give it a try!

Davin - Yes Johannes,  My taste for smoke eel is real - many thanks. 
However, whatever that stuff is they serve plane-side at Schipol is something else (airline food maybe?). 
Ulf - what other goodies do you have up your sleeve?  I suspect MANY.  Very excited here.  Ardbeggeddon begins in 24 hours & I'm praying the doctor delivers a certain French Maniac!

Lex - As en expat Dutchie, smoked eel is probably the one food item I miss the most from Holland (raw herring being the other one). Yes, you can get a form of smoked eel here in the UK, but it's not the same as the Dutch stuff and it's no comparison ....
So yes, I would most definitely give your Rogal a try, Ulf!

Michel - Bweee, smoked eel... Is this because of your 'Close To The IJselmeer Roots', Johannes?
For the non-Dutch: The IJselmeer is a 'lake', well, more a closed sea-arm actualy, eel-afficinado's feel the best quality eel is coming from. More precise: the vilages of Spakenburg and Elburg that is. Elburg is not too far away from a place Johannes calls 'The Woods' I believe...

Johannes - Quite right, Michel! The father from a friend of mine grew up in Harderwijk and he was the last in a long line of fishermen. He still went eel fishing and smoking regularly as a hobby in the weekends and then dropped by our place to drop off a few kilo's of freshly smoked eel. Delicious!  Perhaps that's where my preference for Islay malts comes from.

In fact, this sort of hooks into Krishna's recent E-pistle about 'Indian' tastes in whisky. I wonder if the preference for Islay malts in many 'nordic countries' (Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, Holland, etc.) comes from the fact that we almost all have some heavily smoked fish or meat dishes in our 'cuisine'...  I still feel there's a sort of 'border' running through Europe with the Northerners appreciating the heavy aroma's a little more and the 'Southerners' like the French and Italians going more for complexity and subtle flavours... Anyone care to comment on that? Hey, this could be our first 'Ask an Anorak' discussion this year - an excuse to 'open the bar'...

Michel - Ha Harderwijk... That was a strong third choice.
I tought it would 'politicly' more 'safe' to mention Spakenburg and Elburg becauce of their heavy errmm... Eel-culture.
Sometimes close to facism to my taste... I certainy agree with your hypothesis about taste prefference in the North or South.
The North European having a slight prefference to heavier tastes.

Ulf had an interesting point when sipping Olivier's wines, wich are rich and voloptious stating that more austere en acidic styled wines are more appreciated in the Scandinavian countries because of their Protestant background. Almost punisheing themselves for drinking excellent wine. I payed some attention at a few winetastings, trying to have a peek at the hosts wine cellar and Ulf is quite right I must say. Of all the Protestant hosts, the cellar reflected a more austere style of wines, (I tried to focus on the whites), where the Catholics had a far richer, sweeter reflection. This, ofcourse, can be an utter coincidence or I was hopelessly trying to confirm Ulf's story...

I feel a lot comes down to the availability of ingredients in the kitchen.
The more choices the more appreciation for a more complex taste. History can also have its impact. Being part of a old trade route might influence a national cuisine as a colonial history can have its influences. Indische Rijsttafel (the officious Dutch National Dish) made Dutch appreciate hot, spicy food a bit more than i.e. the Germans, or what about the English and their National Dish: Curry? The Belgiums were very lucky to be influenced by the French for so long. Scandinavians are somewhat unlucky. Iron ore and pine wood not being the most eatable things on this planet and they seem to be stuck up with reindeer and dried and/or smoke fish...
Or smoked eel pressure marinated in a bottle containg a blend... :-)

Being an atheist/metropolist might be the best 'state of mind' to fully explore the wonders of aroma!

Olivier - Hummmm, Austere and acidic doesn't sound pleasurable to me!
Maybe northerners are too mean to buy good wines or maybe they need something close to battery acid to digest those smoked fat eels... but anyway, Michel, the way you left the winery in your cute little car, I could've swore that you changed religion...

Johannes - Haha! Well, that's an interesting turn of the thread. Michel!
Indeed, 'the woods' are just a dozen miles from Harderwijk - in the old days you could still see 'the coast' and the town of Harderwijk from a nearby hill. It's smack in the middle of the 'bible belt' of Holland and my dear old grandmother used to call all the 'polders' in the west 'devil's land' because of the liberal customs and the fact that the land wasn't made by god...

By the way, thanks to the blessings of Wikipedia information about 'De Veluwe' is now also available in English.
Not even that - it's available in the local 'Low Saxon' dialect as well!  What is the world coming to...

Well - Krishna experienced the area when we dropped by there in September and barely made it out alive ;-)

Davin - Johannes: What, Johannes?  They thought you were chickens??  ;-)
And what of Canadians raised on moose meat, salmon, pancakes, potatoes, and maple syrup, Michel?  ;-)
I really think Krishna hit on something very interesting - and I notice even in Michael Jackson's books that he has descriptors I never even heard of.  Michel, I really liked that wasabe bit you and Serge put together.  We really should revive or expand that project.  One big major benefit of having an international team!

Johannes - Er, yes, I agree with Davin on Krishna's E-pistle...
It was published on WF in 2006 but I've pulled this into our 2007 pages because it fits in nicely with some recent discussions and upcoming projects... So, I'll publish it as one of the first 'official E-pistles of 2007... And interesting you should mention chickens, Davin... 'The Woods' is actually smack inbetween Harderwijk (famous for its smoked eel and dolphins) and Barneveld (famous for its chickens). The other Dutchmen on the team can vouch for the fact that it's known as 'kiependarp' - village of the chickens...

Ulf - Ok Johannes, you, Davin and Alex are in. Possibly Robert too, he comes fom a district in Sweden which is famous for the best smoked eel version in Scandianvia 'Flat-Smoked Eel from Vastervik' (the eel is de-boned before smoking and sliced thinnly like smoked salmon). And do I have to say that standard Lagavulin 16yo is a good chaser? For the unitiated, outside Scandinavia eel (and herring) is prepared by students of our culinary traditions (;-). . . (Perhaps I am starting a blaze...)

I subscribe to this hypothesis indeed, and have used it as an analogy/explanation at tasting session in Scandinavia since the beginning of (my) time. Talking about 'cuisine borders' running across (western) Europe; there is the recognized olive oil versus butter border running from approx. Dijon westward to Bordeaux.

Michel - Ha! Now, I'm was only mentioning my concept about Europe! What about the differences between Canada, the Good Ol' US of A and why not? South America! Enlighten us... Please! You know how much I envy you for living in the Mecca of Maple Syrup!!! (still have to try the las two tins. A nasty cold an Chritmas preventing me to have them at the table for scrootenizing!) I was under the impression a lot of the MM were already on their way producing writings about national taste markers? If not.. It's about time!
Have a load of goodies at Ardbeggeddon, Davin! You lucky B***** :-))

Johannes - Yep, very best wishes to Davin for Ardbeggeddon - and to Serge if his flu lets him leave Alsace.
And speaking of Alsace... Actually, Olivier, I still have a nice little liter pack of wine here that I had planned to bring to Alsace last year. And it'd good wine too - the box says 'qualitätswein' - it's called Peter Mertes Liebfraumilch Rheinhessen. I think the price was just 2,99 Euro's - which makes it cheaper than beer with an ABV of 8,5%! And you get some free sulfites with it as well ;-)

Robert - Ho! Now this was an interesting discussion.
I feel the need to brag a little. Where I am originally from (The Åland Islands), an archipelago between Finland and Sweden, we have loads of eels around. Usually we fish these only 10m from the quay where my home is. These freaks of nature can be really huge and usually they spend a day or so alive even after their heads are cut off. After cooking these in our own smokers (or whatever these devices should be called) it's indescribably tasty stuff. There is some great fishing there too by the way. My brother got 17 (!!!!) pikes only this weekend during 6 hours of fishing.. not every early January you can fish there though, weird weather these days.

Perhaps we should all meet up there and drink Ulfs Rögål and stuff us filled with smoked eels, fish and game while enjoying a wood fired real Finnish sauna some day? I dare you to stay in there longer than I, hehe :)

Johannes - this was an interesting discussion, Robert?
I'd like to think it still is! But I guess you're right... We started this discussion almost 10,000 pixels ago and have drifted quite a bit off topic in the process. I don't think we have reached a 'collective' conclusion about cask fondling we all agree on, but at least some readers of MM might start to ask questions regarding some bottles or casks with 'odd' data - like a weird case of Arran we've recently investigated.

One of our readers pointed us towards the site of one 'Uisge Beatha' society in Holland.
(So, not the 'Usquebaugh Society', that's yet another club in Holland.)  On their websites they discussed a cask of Arran whisky that was sold for 40 shares @ 27,50 Euro's. So, that's a grand total of 1100 Euro's for a cask of whisky - not spirit - and they didn't mention anything about storage and taxes that can easily double or even triple the price of a cask. Even if it were a cask of 3yo whisky that seems a tad cheap, but on the website they gave the impression that they wanted to let the cask mature for ten or twelve years. Ever vigilant, foreign correspondent Joep van Drunen sent a message to the club, politely inquiring about the cask of Arran in question. In response he received not one but two fuming flames from a member of the society. The messages contained a lot of hot air sprinkled with abuse, but not any actual answers to our main question: do they really sell casks of Arran whisky for 1100 Euro's and - if so - can we get some?
The agitated tone of the messages and lack of proper answers only made us more itchy...

Fortunately, a board member of the society contacted us later and explained things in a more civilised manner.
The bottom line is that all members of the society know about the taxes and other stuff, so they won't be unpleasantly surprised when the day of bottling arrives and they have to pay twice or thrice the original price of their 'share'. So, this case doesn't seem like a repeat of the 'cask futures' scheme of the early 1990's where some people lost their life savings in dodgy 'investments'. What's more, the 'cask shares' are only available to members of the society. So, no danger to 'the general public' there. I guess it's something the maniacs could get worked up over if a whisky web shop offered 'cask shares' like that without providing all the financial consequences, but they're a private club.
So, good luck to them and let's hope the Arran they make today is just as good as the stuff they made a decade ago ;-)

In fact - that little episode puts the whole 'cask fondling' phenomenon into perspective.
OK, so maybe the 'route' of a cask isn't always as transparent as we'd like, but at least those who choose a matured cask for bottling (with our without fondling) have the chance to sample the product beforehand, so they know what they're buying. If you invest in a cask of fresh spirit you never know how it's going to turn out. Of course, that could make it more interesting and exciting too. Getting samples of your own cask each year to see how it matures should be both fun AND educational.

But a bit of a gamble as well...

Expected in Malt Maniacs #102 (among other things):

- Serge Valentin's Tasting Tips.
- Davin de kergommeaux' perspective on a dozen different bourbons.
- Lex Kraaijeveld's article on 'Lomond Stills'.
- Louis Perlman's Report on Whiskyfest New York
That's it for now - Please visit the (new) archive or the old 'ADHD' version of Malt Maniacs for more E-pistles.

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E-pistle 2007/014 - Whisky Development during 2 World Wars  (KG)

The outbreak of war is always a reason for the introduction of restriction and control.
This affects everybody and everything - and the Scotch whisky industry was no exception.
The production of Scotch whisky suffered considerably in both World Wars. The restriction was the Intoxicating Liquor Act, which greatly curtailed the licensing hours, followed in 1915 by the Immature Spirits Act, laying down a minimum of two years in bond for all spirits.
In the following year, this has been extended to three years.

The Central Liquor Control Board was set up to control every aspect of the alcoholic drink industry. This was far away from Lloyd George's dream of nationalising the industry, but the Board had considerable powers and did, in fact, nationalise all of the industry's activities in an area of fifty square miles around Carlisle, in what is now Cumbria and established the Carlisle and District State Management Board to carry out the day-to-day running of them. A similar arrangement was made for an area around Invergordon. These extraordinary measures were taken because of the large munitions works in these areas and the threat which uncontrolled drinking would pose to safety and productivity.

The Board also decreed that whisky could be sold at an alcoholic strength of 25° under proof (37.2% ABV). By May 1916 the Board had prohibited all distilling except in few cases where distilleries had a license from the Ministry of Munitions for the production of industrial alcohol.

The industry reacted, and a compromise was reached where the pot stills were allowed to continue in production at a level of 70% over the previous five years. A total ban on pot still malt distilling was eventually introduced in June 1917 (not to resume until 1919), while grain whisky distilling continued at a reduced level. The strength at which whisky could be sold was the following: from 1 February 1917 spirits had to be sold within an upper limit of 30° under proof (40% ABV) and a lower limit of 50° under proof (28.6% ABV) anywhere in Britain engaged in the munitions industry. After that  sales of whisky on the home market were reduced to 50% of what they had been the previous year.

The problems at home were matched by difficulties abroad, due to the hazardous sea transport, but made worse by the banning of whisky imports in 1917 by Canada and the United States. The final blow came with the 1918 budget which doubled the duty on whisky and imposed fixed prices thus causing the distillers and blenders to absorb some of the increase. Consumption fell drastically and Lloyd George was happy! The grain distillers were in a slightly better position, supplying a Product much needed in the war effort. Although they saw their output fall, and the amount of grain whisky distilled almost cut in half, the emphasis was put on industrial alcohol and baker's yeast, the latter being a natural side product of the process.

The end of the war did not bring immediate relief, and it was a full year before distilling was free of restrictions.
However, the fixed price remained in force, and the Central Control Board with it, until November 1921. The next twenty years of peace included the closing, in many cases permanently, of a large number of distilleries, the disappearance or absorption of many companies, greater concentration in fewer hands and the arrival of the North Americans on the whisky scene. In 1900 there were over 150 Distilleries working in Scotland, in the Years 1932-33 the number of working Distilleries shrunk to almost 1/10th, to about 15 Distilleries, where none of those was working full time! Nobody was interested to be in the Whisky Business now! The repeal of the Prohibition in the US at the end of 1933 helped, so that a few more Distilleries started a moderate production, with the start of WW2 in September 1939, 92 Distilleries worked during the October 1938 - September 1939 Distilling Season.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, new restrictions were introduced.
There was total prohibition on grain whisky distilling, although the malt distillers, being less dependent on imported raw materials, were allowed to carry on until October 1942 at the latest. A complete ban was then imposed on all distilling until 1944, 45 of the Distilleries where used for drying and storing Grain. The end of the war brought no sign  of relief but the distillers had the sympathetic ear of the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, Churchill saw the enormous importance of the Scotch whisky industry and gave instructions accordingly:

"On no account reduce the barley for whisky.
This takes years to mature, and is an invaluable export and dollar producer. Having regard to all our other difficulties about exports,
it would be most improvident not to preserve this characteristic British element of ascendancy.

With the coming to power of the Labour government in July 1945 everything changed again.
Their view was that cereals, including barley, must be allocated first to meet essential food requirements.
Supplies to the distillers had to be controlled, and in 1945 were only 43% of the amount, available to them just before the war.

It was not until 1949 that distilling on the pre-war scale was permitted, and the distillers had to wait until 1953, before the rationing of grain supplies was lifted and 1954 for the removal of all the war-time restrictions.

Konstantin Grigoriadis

(Sources used: many)

E-pistle 2007/015 - Half A Dozen Disposable Drams  (JH)

I've been told that limitations can stimulate one's creativity.
With that in mind, I came up with a little assignment for the maniacs.
The task: write an E-pistle around your tasting notes for a dozen different whiskies.
The catch: Think of a 'theme' and a alliterative title along the lines of 'A Dozen D* Drams'.
This wasn't occupational therapy, mind you - I felt we needed more tasting notes on MM.

Oh, I thought I was so clever - until I decided to try and put together a tasting myself.
Then I suddenly realised that it wasn't so easy to match the recently added samples on my shelves to a specific 'theme' - especially if the name had to start with 'D'. I finally settled on the fairly obvious 'disposable drams' (they were all small glass and plastic sample bottles, you see) and since I anticipated the arrival of a few hefty E-pistles at the end of this issue I've restricted myself to half a dozen samples this time. Hey, I make the rules so I can break 'em.

One of the highlights of this session was certainly my first tasting of Kininvie.
Well, I've sampled whisky that was distilled at the Kininvie distillery (from the owners of Glenfiddich and Balvenie) before, but never as an official bottling. Thanks a lot, Ho-cheng!
But before we get to that, first a few samples I received from Michel van Meersbergen...
Starting, fairly unexpectedly, with a blend...

1) Whyte & Mackays 'Special' NAS (43%, OB Whyte & Mackay, Cream label, 5.5cl, Blend, Btl. Early 1970's) - from Michel
I used to have my fair share of prejudices about blends - but that was about the cheap blends I drank in the late 1980's.
Nose: Sweet with some faint pickles in the background, growing dustier. After a few minutes clear notes of antiquity.
Here's a whisky that deserves some serious attention. Hints of diesel oil? Turpentine perhaps?
Taste: Oy... Flat, sweetish and dusty with a hint of perfume. The taste seems oxidised or just seriously off.
That being said, after some fifteen minutes some pleasant medicinal and antique notes emerged.
Score: 82 points - the nose is remarkably complex for a blend, but the taste kept it from the 80's for a long time.

2) Glenturret 12yo (43%, OB, Oval gold label, Bottled mid 1980's, 5cl) - from Michel
I've never really been a big fan of Glenturret, but maybe this oldie can change my opinion about the distillery?
Nose: Wow! Quite an expressive nose. Well.... It expresses a lot of vagueness very loudly. Hint of Maggi?
Over time it mellows out, becoming actually very pleasant after some 20 minutes. Some freshly squeezed celery.
Taste: Bweurgh! Phew, this has certainly passed the point of no return. Like the Whyte and Mackay, but far worse.
Harsh feeling. Again, it's a combination of perfumed antiseptic stuff and dust. And here time doesn't redeem it as in the W&M.
Score: 48 points - I don't know if time is the sole culprit here, but apparently oxidation completely ruined the palate for me.
Something in the taste reminded my of my grandmother's moth balls and old clothing cabinet.

Of course, this brings up an interesting question...
Oxidation seems to have had an effect on the W&M, but maybe not necessarily all bad.
On the other hand, it pretty much ruined the Glenturret. The nose recuperated after a long time, but the taste never did.
In the end I gave an overall score of 48 points to this oxidised miniature, but I'm quite sure it would have scored higher had it not been oxidised. So, I won't submit that score to the monitor - fresh bottles and miniatures might be fine.

3) Glengoyne 12yo (43%, OB Lang Brothers, Bottled early 1980's, 5cl) - from Michel
I wasn't that keen on Glengoyne in the 1990's, but the new owners take much greater care with cask selection it seems.
Nose: Light and very slightly oily at first, sweetening out. In fact, it becomes remarkably sweet. That puts it over 75.
Taste: Not nearly as sweet as the nose at first, but it gets there. Mouth feel improves over time as well.
Score: 77 points - Certainly not a bad dram, but it's not quite 'up there' with the bottles from the 1990's.

4) Longmorn-Glenlivet 13yo (46%, Cadenhead's Black label, Sherry Wood Matured, Btl. late 1980's, 5cl) - from Michel
I've tried a few old 'dumpy' Cadenhead's bottlings at 'Whiskycafe De Still' I wasn't crazy about, but they probably were 'dead'.
Nose: Whow... Quite unique. A combination of fruits, spices and organics I've never encountered before. Onions?
Pickled herring? It sweetens out over time, growing more 'introspective'. Never boring and quite a challenge.
Taste: Yep, there's antiquity for you. Leather. Hints of smoke & rubber? Excellent mouth feel at 'only' 46%.
Score: 88 points - one of the finest Longmorns I ever tried. Lovely indeed, leaning towards 89 points in fact.

And now for the 'piece the resistance' - my first 'official' Kininvie which came all the way from Taiwan.

5) Kininvie 15yo 1990/2006 'Hazelwood 105' (52.5%, OB, First fill sherry cask, Bottled August 1 2006) - from Ho-cheng.
Needless to say, this is something very special - if I'm not mistaken the very first official bottling of Kininvie ever.
Nose: Light & malty. Not too expressive, but clearly very well made. Perhaps a tad too sweet for some, but I like it.
It remains light in character, but over time some heavier and more herbal notes appear (without growing 'piney').
Sweetened oatmeal? Faint spices hop in and out of the picture. Very subtle fruits and flowery aroma's. Whiff of plastic.
Actually, this grows nicer and nicer as you give it more time. Even some excellent organics emerge after half an hour.
Hey, in the end I even got a whiff of something medicinal. You have to work at this one, but it's rewarding.
Taste: Smooth and sweet. Although it comes from a sherry cask it feels a bit like a bourbon. Not a lot of wood notes.
Some development over time on the palate - some fruity notes join the party; the sherry comes to the surface now.
Score: 84 points - I had it at 83 for a very long time, but with the nose still going strong after half an hour it hopped to 84.

6) Inchgower 27yo 1976/2004 (55.6%, UD Rare Malts) - from Ho-cheng
I could have closed on a high note with the Kininvie, but I needed to fill at least half the required 'dozen'...
Nose: Heavier than I expected. malty with a hint of oil and something metallic. Vaguely dusty like a heap of old barley.
It grows a little 'dirtier'over time - which is good. Spicier and nuttier and something reminding me of recent Deanstons.
And again the metallic notes pop up. Opens up immediately after adding water. Dentistry aroma's. Upper 80's now.
Taste: Quite sweet, great mouth feel at cask strength. A little nondescript, but very nice. Let's give it a minute...
Hm... Not much change there. The nose lifts it to the upper 80's but the palate keeps it at a relatively modest 85.
Score: 85 points - a very good whisky, but not TOO exceptional considering the Kininvie is just half the age...

So, the winner of this set was the Longmorn from Cadenhead's - and quite convincingly, I might add.
In fact, Longmorn is a solid, reliable distillery that's perhaps just a smidgen too soft-spoken to make it into my Top 10.
However, if I try a few more expressions like these it just might make the jump one day... I've always 'liked' Longmorn because of the affordable and rather good 15yo OB - maybe I'll learn to 'love' Longmorn in due time. I already have a soft spot for Longmorn because it was the first bottle I shared with a fellow malt maniac in 1998 - it was a Longmorn 1963 brought to Amsterdam by Craig Daniels.

Sweet drams,


E-pistle 2007/016 - Typical Indian Tastes in Scotch Whisky  (KN)

Johannes informed us about his plan to publish a series of articles about typical local
Indian spicesflavours that might not be familiar to a person living in another point of the world.
I will start with an explanation for three flavours I mentioned in E-pistle 2007/002.

1) Asafetida - Called Devil's dung in Europe, it is a resinous substance derived from
Ferula plant (native of Iran). The milk, when extracted from the stem or root of the plant
is very pungent and sulfurous - and it very quickly solidifies as rock. It is used in cooking
mainly for digestive purpose and offers a typical strong smell not liked by many. I detected
asafetida in the Bowmore 40yo 1966/'06 (43.4%, DTC Peerless, C# 3316) that was offered
to me by Luc in Antwerp. Its presence was unmistakable on nose & palate and I immediately recognised it and uttered "Asafetida". Bert, Luc and Davin who were with me had blank faces and did not understand what I was saying. I could not find sufficient vocabulary to explain it to them then, but later at Johannes's place in Amsterdam, when I narrated the story, he too did not understand and had to Google it out. To re-establish my claim I asked Luc to send me a small sample of that Bowmore in exchange of a small sample of Asafoetida for him.

2) Guava - Guava is native fruit of Mexico and Brazil and is grown in the back yard of almost every home in India. Guava is to India what Apple is to western world. Like apple, guava smells and tastes different at different stages of ripening. The green one is hard and juicy and as it ripens it develops a strong and fruity smell. The ripe fruit is yellowish with soft flesh and tiny, hard seeds. It is a good laxative and some even consume it to get relief from piles. The ripe fruit has a lot of sugar content and I have tasted distilled guava liquor when I was in Bombay and I must say it is very good – far better than the smelly Goan fenny.
I detected ripe guava in Auchroisk 26yo 1979/2006 (56.7% Signatory Sherry cask) during the Malt Maniac's Awards 2006. When I described the stuff as ripe guava, Johannes described it as something vaguely fruity. Yes, Johannes you might not have tasted a guava and that is why the taste is vague to you!

3) Betel nut - Also called areca nut is actually a type of palm fruit.
The nuts are small, say 2" in diameter with very hard fibrous covering like coconuts. The whole nuts are greatly in demand throughout the country. The main use of the nuts is as offerings to God during religious ceremonies. It may also have some digestive properties but I am not sure. One cannot really describe it as bitter in taste but the texture on the palate is like extreme tannins on the palate. It is the main ingredient in paan, which is made with betel leaves, calcium hydroxide, dried tobacco flakes and other condiments. Chewing paan is India's national pastime - undoubtedly. I get this betel nut taste in many of the extremely sherried Speysiders like Aberlour, Benrinnes, in some Port Ellens and several of the Glengoynes. This years' Awards Gold medalist Macallan 30yo 1976/2006 (45.3%, Adelphi, C#2749, 206 Bts.) has this typical vagaru (the exact description of the taste of betel nuts in my language – Telugu).

Many other Indian tastes like green chillies, black peppers, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander, cayenne etc are recognised in many malts even by western palates. Two of the typical Indian tastes which I am eagerly looking forward to find in SMSW are mango and curry leaf. It's high time the Scots matured whisky in casks made out of mango wood or curry leaf trees!



E-pistle 2007/017 - The Night They Lost Their Virginity  (LK)

Robert BurnsHa! Got your attention, didn't I? No, don't worry, MM hasn't gone X-rated. I'm referring to some friends of mine joining us (my girlfriend Irma and me) for a Burns Night celebration last night. They'd never been to a Burns Night before, had never eaten haggis, had only a vague idea of what tatties 'n' neeps were and had never even heard of skirlie. So Sanna, Joel and Karen were about to lose their haggis virginity.

Of course, there are traditional ways to celebrate Rabbie's birthday, now almost 250 years ago.
But over the last few years we've been hosting small groups of friends for an annual Burns Night at my home and so we've developed my own traditional ways to celebrate. Every tradition was a novelty one day, right?

Key thing: as much as possible of the food, drink and music on offer is to be Scottish.
So we kicked the evening off with serving Scottish wine. Scottish what? Yep, wine, although not made from
grapes. Scotland has a very interesting wine maker, located just south of Kirkwall on the Orkney islands, and it does my Dutch heart good to be able to say he is Dutch! Emile van Schayk established the Orkney Wine Co. a number of years ago and makes wines from a wide range of fruits, for as far as possible grown locally.
We actually spent a good part of the day at his winery, talking and tasting, during our holiday on Orkney a few years ago, but that's another story. Last night I opened a bottle of his gooseberry wine and I think it went down pretty well. Getting ready on the cooker in the mean time was a big pot full of potatoes and turnips, a pan with skirlie and, of course, two big fat shiny haggises!

You can't start dinner on Burns Night without reading some of Rabbie's poetry; that goes without saying.
Sanna is from Germany, while Joel and Karen are American, so I think I got away with reading "Address to a Haggis" in my very best imitation of a Scottish accent (if I didn't, at least they kept their thoughts to themselves .....). The whisky bottle I had opened to accompany dinner was Compass Box' "The Spice Tree". A toast to both Robert Burns and John Barleycorn and people were ready to taste haggis for the very first time in their lives ..... I think they were a wee bit anxious about eating something that has a reputation of just being some cut up offal in a sheep's stomach. But to their surprise (and my relief!) they really liked it!

My suggestion to sprinkle just a bit of whisky over the haggis was enthusiastically tried out and approved (yes, I know this is sacrilege in the eyes of some, but I like it, so just stop me). Needless to say the haggis, skirlie and tatties 'n' neeps disappeared quite quickly. For dessert, we tried out something new (remember, every tradition has to start one day?): a recipe for whisky and walnut tart from Mark Hix' book "British Regional Food". For the whisky I chose a Glenfiddich 15yo Cask Strength. Because it is a new recipe for us, I wanted to try it out with a whisky which has a relatively intense taste, but not too peaty or sherried. The tart came out really well and for next time I think I'll try a more sherried whisky to add just a bit more body against the walnuts.

Now if you expect me to rattle off the various malts we tasted after dinner, I must disappoint you.
People liked "The Spice Tree" so much that we actually kept drinking it and, well, finished, erm, the bottle completely.
I really like this malt, with the additional wood in the casks adding a fullness and complexity, with touches of polished wood, that are hard to find in any other malt. What a crying shame the SWA forced John Glaser to stop producing such a delicious and innovative malt .....

Oh, and what about music playing throughout the evening?
All Scottish artists, of course and I wanted to go from traditional to more modern as the evening progressed. Starting with a CD from John McCusker, arguably one of Scotland's finest fiddlers. Then on to Robin Laing's rendition of 'John Barleycorn' (timed to coincide with our double toast, of course) and the rest of his '"Angel's Share" CD. Then on to music from Capercaillie and finally the Cocteau Twins.

So how did people feel about losing their virginity?
I guess Sanna's remark when she left for home summed it up:
"Losing your virginity can be a bit painful, but in this case it was a purely pleasurable and memorable experience."


Lex Kraaijeveld

E-pistle 2007/018 - A Dozen & One Diabolical Drams  (MV)

Wouldn't it be great, only sipping from the best spirit that ever left the stills, matured in freak cask that could have turned any liquid into nectar for the Gods, from the most delicate hand-blown crystal glass whilst your favourite photo model, which incidentally this time has an IQ of over 165, is sitting on your knee whispering sweet words and with semi raw voice making indecent proposals whilst stroking your ear with the most velvety of noses?

Well, keep on dreaming, reality has it different. Completely.
Reality lets you have some dram that suggests perfection, lets you have just a mere glimpse of that Eternal light, lets you think your mind is drifting away and lets the pencil in your hand starting to write down that illusive score that starts with a '1' and contains two more 'zero's' Just  at that point reality has this weird red dressed guy, cattle prod in his hands, silly tailed and laughing like a maniac jumping up and down in front of you...

'Soo you fool, you think you've found perfection no?'
This of course with a thin squeaking voice and poking with his nose in your ear.
His nose of course, feels like tennis gravel and turns out to be the only part of his body that is freezing cold. 'Ha, you think you're fit to recognize perfection?
How's that? Ever actually experienced perfection have you?'

To this questions I can only answer I have a feeling that suggests perfection, that I have no clue about perfection but have a frantic interest in...

'Well you little creature... I show you perfection, It'll be my pleasure to show you.
And this time I'll let you keep your soul'.

With a snap of his finger the glimpse of Eternal light becomes not a glimpse anymore, it becomes a blinding light the brightest white I'd ever seen, the Eskimo's might have archived 100 different shades of white... no-one will do for this one.

Tears setting in my eyes, sheer beauty.
Just at the moment I want to thank the Devil for showing me this the Hot One asks me to close my eyes, he puts his hand on my shoulder and makes me turn around. 'Now then, when you open your eyes you will see perfection in all it's aspects, be prepared it might shock you.'. In bewilderment I take a deep breath and prepare for things to come. Now that I have my eyes opened again I see things not unfamiliar to me... it's like the usual things I see, day in, day out. 'Hey what the H...' I try. 'Yup my little seeker...'. The red guy's face in the most wonderful grimace because of not trying to laugh too loud in my face. 'Never realised the Light you're soo desperately looking for means nothing at all? It just makes things visible! As they are... in state of perfection...'.

Now bursting in laughter he jumps up en down and pops from my view. Leaving me in a state of note being completely satisfied with the whole situation. Is this... It? Is perfection not something of exquisite beauty, something that makes whole mankind forget about all the terrible stuff they do to each other? Is the terrible stuff as much part of perfection as an Bowmore 1964 Samaroli Bouquet or a Springbank 12yo 57% bottled for the same Samaroli guy? Is 'reality' the final proof of perfection and mankind too stupid to understand?

Where does this lead to you might think? Well, it's not that difficult.
The Quest to find that 100 points scoring malt leads us to strange places, have us tasting sometimes great things, sometimes bad things and lets us perform strange things. A near perfect dram leads to confusion: It's sooooo great! I put it on 93... Funny how the high ranking malts always seem to get struck on critical notes. 'Perhaps a tad too woody, criticising a roughness that goes down to sub-molecular level.' Things like that. A near disaster is even more funny: It's sooooo bad I don't know if I should give it 40 or 10 points... Now the plot turns around. You just keep on looking for some good things. 'Okay, plain awful taste, yet the structure is not bad to be honest, and the finish has this charming feel' Perhaps you recognise this... For me personally things go out of hand in the 60 to 70 points-range. It's not good, that's for sure and it's not bad, that also for sure. Those malts that make you love to hate or hate to love. The kind of malt that leaves you wondering why it has ever materialised, it's not even bad enough to kick it back in the mud it came from. The kind of malt that creates uneasy silent moments at tastings, people staring at each other looking for the one that's going to shoot out first. In short: the kind of malt that shows you mediocrity is as much part of your hobby as every thing great or disgusting. We might not like it... they are part of whisky reality.
In all its perfect state of being.

Below are a dozen and one malts that I had the last few months that left me in bewilderment. Trying to find out the meaning of their existence, their purpose. Why I had no trouble loving to hate them and yet at the same time feel guilty I did so.
Here it goes, my personal schizophrenic Top 12 and One for the second half of 2006!

1) Kinclaith 1966 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, Old brown label, 1980's)
Colour: Pale amber. Nose: Liquorice, some eucalyptus, almonds, raw peanuts, gets slightly herbal and perfumed. Palate: This is another feinty Kinclaith... soapy, rosemary, cereals, liquorice and an unpleasant aroma of 4711. Finish: Vegetal and bitter. Not my cup of tea. 69 pts.
Well, it's not truly awful or disgusting, it did carry some balance and had some good things on offer. Yet the foul 4711 aroma put me off. It made this Kinclaith quite harsh at the end. And keep in mind those feinty aroma's are very tricky to me. Sometimes they can be very interesting, sometimes it destroys everything. Fun part of it is the fact some people do like them.
It always provides for a good discussion!

2) Glenisla 28yo 1977/2006 (48.6%, Signatory, C#19598, 274 Bts.)
Colour: Straw. Nose: Not very clear. Old paper, some peat. Appears to be stale and bleached out. Some stale apple pie, pastry. The old paper really dominates. Develops some raspberry icing, Apfelkorn and gooseberry jam. Palate: A tad perfumed. Apfelkorn, weird notes on chemical vanilla and marshmallows. On the whole the lot has a very chemical feel. Some oak joins in. Finish: Flimsy, custard and flowery/blossoms. Interesting yet not to be done again... 68 pts. Ahh, the thin line between old books and old paper. The first is of charming quality while the latter is of decomposing quality. The sour/sweet notes of the cellar at primary school where we collected old newspapers and sell them to the rag man for the support of charity funds.

3) Port Ellen 1983/2006 (53%, The Golden Cask, C#3120, 301 Bts.)
Colour: Dark straw. Nose: Some rubber, green oak. Very closed. Added water brings out lots of organics and quite some off-notes as well. Sulphur, rancid vanilla, walnut skins and card board. Palate: Like the nose... to many off-notes. Wet cardboard, walnut skins, some vanilla and the worrying kind of organics. Finish: Again, organics and a flat mouth feel. 68 pts. What can I say... It's perfect proof of decent spirit matured in a not-so-good cask. Happens all the time. What stands out for me is the ongoing rumour no more PE is left in the warehouses. I'm not too sure about that one, but good casks are getting scarce, no doubts! This was my first PE scoring into the 60's, there has to be a first time for everything. I'm afraid they're many more to come...

4) Fettercairn 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2006)
Colour: Dark golden. Nose: Apples, rubber, rancid sherry and notes on card board. Palate: The cardboard continues, brown bread, some caramel. Not my cup of tea. Finish: Malty, dusty, out of focus. 68 pts. This one completely failed to press any buttons at all. It left me completely indifferent, had troubles to make notes, I really tried but could not make many out of it. I'm not sure they're doing themselves a favour at Fettercairn. It surely can use some more personality!

5) Coleburn 14yo 1983/1997 (43%, Signatory, D. 04/'89, Btl. 07/'97, C#796, 3650 5cl Bts.)
Colour: Straw. Nose: Fairly sweet. Vanilla, oak, hints on rose water and heather, bubble gum, raspberries, some black pepper around the edges, melted anchor butter, Palate: Weird fainty palate. Raspberry cream, soap, heather, hints on smoke. Then vanilla and sappy leaves, dried garden herbs, dried chives. Finish: Licorice, salmiac, subtle heather. Not my cup of tea... 67 pts. Another highlight of indifference. It has a certain complexity but it all turns bad. For me personally that is... Mixed together, the ingredients fail to combine into something good...

6) Speyside 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled2006)
Colour: Amber. Nose: Malty, brown bread, dried apricots, wax and a mellow feel. Develops caramel and some late notes on that suggests some sherry. Palate: Flat mouth feel, caramel, malts, some pineapple, dates and develops lots and lots of notes on bread, dough and yeast. Finish: Humus, fudge, mandarin skin. 67 pts. Another of those 'Why-oh-Why' malts. It's really has nothing on offer, just this timid style, non -offensive cereal-style. Speyside should reconsider its cask-management if they want to go 'Single' so badly. But first they have to skip the nonsense line 'The Best Whisky In The World' line from their labels! Judging from the excessive malts and yeast notes the line 'The Best Breadsky In The World' might be more appropriate.

7) Edradour 10yo (58.8%, OB SFtC, Cotes de Provence finish)
Colour: Dark corn yellow, salmon hues. Nose: Rubbery kind of wine. Licorice, wet liquorice, some Thai basil, chervil and lovage. Cheap pastry, grapefruit cream. After a while notes on tea leaves emerge, while the rubberness continues. Palate: AS the nose suggested... rubbery wine, licorice, quite some pepper and sharp oak. Goes on with strawberry infused licorice, some chervil. Not my cup of tea. Added water takes out the burn, making way for some spices. Finish: A tad to sharp and burning for my taste. Water cools it down a bit, some soft spicy oak. 67 pts. Edradour on a wine finish... all ingredients for disaster! To be honest, initially had this much lower, but in a certain way it showed some charm which I could not resist. Like a hunter at night that has a rabbit in his spotlight and suddenly realises what funny little and fuzzy creatures they are, quite humorous too!

8) Tullibardine 15yo 1989/2004 (49.8%, Hart Bro's, D. 04/'89, Btl. 07/'04)
Colour: Pale golden. Nose: Quite musty vanilla, some dry, old wood, damp cotton, card board, butter candies, oath meal candies, Stale pollen. Water brings out some leaves, boiled beef (the fat). It's note very pleasant. Palate: A tad feinty, some soapy malts to begin with, then some vanilla followed by butter candies. All appears to be musty.  As the nose the same notes on boiled beef, this time not so present... Finish: Faint hints on leather, more a dark mouth feel. Some green malts and green oak. 66 pts. Actually, the first time I had notes on boiled beef in a whisky. I didn't like it very much but it brought some personality to an otherwise mouldy Tullibardine. Once again: an off-note can do very good things to a whisky. In this case: off-notes to the rescue!

9) Old Ballantruan NAS (50%, OB, ca. 2006)
Colour: Dark golden. Nose: Sour peat, caramel, fudge, Wherter's Echte. Very spirity, malts, wet cotton, cooked vegetables.
This in really not my cup of tea. Water brings out notes on lovage and liquorice. Palate: As the nose suggested. Sourish peat, vanilla, spirity, malts, old wood, wet paper and cotton. Some gun powder, potato juice... Finish: Sour peat... grapefruit, pepper, vanilla. Why should I drink this for pleasure. 65 pts. Peat for peat's sake from the highlands. I just cannot believe why they should leave the path of subtlety and come up with this freaks. I'd rather see Tomintoul doing a malting with coal IF they're after ashes and subtle smoke. Having said that, for its young age it comes quite a long way and one have to wait for another few years to taste what this experiment has lead to.
For now I remain very sceptic.

10) Glenturret 12yo (43%, OB, mid 1980's)
Colour: Amber Nose: Malty, buttery vanilla, some faint notes on sherry in the background.
Some slight OBE effects, subtle notes on chervil and tarragon. The malts shift to a more nutty aroma, Palate: Quite some feints in this one. Soapy attack, notes on 4711, lavender, linen cup board, damp cotton when ironed. Then some malts and sharp oak. Finish: Peppery malts, slightly flimsy mouth feel. Quite sharp considering its ABV. 65 pts. Well, the nose was quite all right but the palate... it reminded me of the ultra cheesy laundrette we had over here. You know... TL lighting, everything covered in a grey sadness, machines from the early 1970's. Especially at rainy evenings it provided all the reasons to get back to study so at least one would have the money to buy a washing machine for themselves... After a glimpse at our very own Miele washing machine, which is considered the Rolls Royce in Laundry-Land, one or two emo-points might have flown in... What really stood out was the mouth feel at 43% ABV. It was more like an ultra thin bodied 50%.

11) Kinclaith 20yo (46%, Cadenhead's black label, late 1980's)
Colour: Medium golden. Nose: Paraffin, leather and waxy malts. Very simple nose... Palate: Malty at first followed by a wave of Old Spice. Then some Schezuan pepper and wine gums. A disappointment to say the least. Finish: Woody, malty and drying oak. 62 pts. For about 22 years my grandfather presents me a bottle of Old Spice for my birthday. For about 10 years I throw it unopened in the waste bin under the scrutinising eyes of gramps. Relations between grandparents and grandchildren can be very difficult to understand. Let me assure you the old man has the time of life when I do this!  He still knows how to annoy the people that surrounds him. Back to the malt. Well... the note says it all, a disappointment to say the least. I tend to believe this distillery has become very much over-rated...

12) Bruichladdich 1989/2002 (44%, Moray, D. 15/06/'89, Btl. 02/'02, C#1668, 378 Bts.)
Colour: Medium straw. Nose: Fresh malts, salmiac, sulphur and black powder, all shallow. Later some icing sugar, raspberries, rubber, coconut and cocoa-butter. Palate: Fainty, salty malts and a bit spicy. Finish: Somewhat sweet, sulphuric, malty and some liquorice. 61 pts. This is an ever lesser version of the Coleburn mentioned before. This time it has less on offer and the palate is very difficult to understand...
If there was a proper palate that is...

Which brings us to the 'dozen and oneth' malt.
It's the kind of malt which have you die the second death.
Plain horrible and even the 'Hot One' might get the shivers of this one...

13) Edradour NAS Batch #1 (52.6%, Signatory, Tokaj Matured, B 08/'06)
Colour: Amber. Nose: Weird nose on rotten potatoes, malts, wash, new make, rotten milk. Lots and lots of distillery aroma's.
Can't say I like it... Very strong vegetal notes, household spirit. Added water brings out some mashed potatoes, 'raw' malts, green banana. Palate: It's disgusting! Starts of with terrible sour notes, rotten lemon juice. A sharper kind of potato juice, some honey-like sweetness around it. Finish: Some oaky influences and a tannic feel. Horrible dram. 30 pts. Actually, words fail for this nightmare... I have some malts scoring lower because they lack every aspect of being a malt. That was the truly nasty part of this one, it was soo much a malt... with everything going wrong. Let's forget about this one a soon as possible!

I hope my personal insights in the 60 to 70 points region was of interest to you.
Perhaps you want to find out yourself, as the Romans said: Dulcia non meruit qui non gustavit amara.
One cannot enjoy the taste of sweet without knowing the taste of bitter.

Michel van Meersbergen

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