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Paxarete, the unloved saviour of sherry casks?
E-pistle #2007/050 by Michel van Meersbergen, Holland

Why do 'antique' sherried whiskies taste different from their present day counterparts? According to Michel van Meersbergen we should look to the mysterious substance called 'paxarete' for the answer.

Whyte & Mallya
E-pistle #2007/051 by Krishna Nukala, India

Recently the Whyte & Mackay group (owner of several blend brands and the Dalmore and Jura distilleries) was bought by Indian mogul Vijay Mallya. Our very own Indian mogul Krishna reports.

Olivier's Travels; Les Trois Rois, Basel
E-pistle #2007/052 by Olivier Humbrecht, France

Olivier's travels take him all across the world, but now he writes about a Swiss hotel, less than an hour away from his home if France.

Book Review: Wort, Worms & Washbacks
E-pistle #2007/053 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

Davin's latest book review deals with a book that's a little bit 'off the beaten path'. Wort, Worms and Washbacks deals with the adventures and (mis)fortunes of John McDougall in the whisky world.

Victoria Whisky Festival Report
E-pistle #2007/054 by Wendy Harker, Canada

Because our fellow malt maniac Lawrence Graham is one of the organisers of the festival, the maniacs may not be entirely impartial on the topic. Fortunately, foreign correspondent Wendy Harker was...

A Dozen Diverse Drams
E-pistle #2007/055 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

With the reconstruction of the websites still taking up most of my spare time, it has been quite a while since I've published some fresh tasting notes. Here are a dozen of them - including a 1938 Rye Whiskey.

The Why & How of Rating Whisky
E-pistle #2007/056 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

The topic of scoring whisky is crucial to many of the projects of the Malt Maniacs, including the matrix, the monitor and our annual awards. Davin shares some of his insights on the subject.

A Whisky Weekend To Remember
E-pistle #2007/057 by Magnus Fagerström, Sweden

If it wasn't for the reports of the foreign correspondents we would not have been able to publish this issue on August 1 - while many maniacs are taking a summer holiday Magnus from Sweden reports.

Classifications of Whisky
E-pistle #2007/058 by Ulf Buxrud, Sweden

When the maniacs discussed a brand new approach to whisky classifications Ulf offered a section of one of his whisky books as a contribution to start the discussion. More will follow...

A Dozen Canadian Drams
E-pistle #2007/059 by Lawrence Graham, Canada

I've been 'scraping the barrel' to get enough E-pistles together to fill this issue of Malt Maniacs. Fortunately, Lawrence submitted a last minute E-pistle about... Canadian whisky.

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Malt Maniacs #105 - August 1, 2007

Well, I guess I have to face the fact that aiming for a fresh issue
of Malt Maniacs each month in 2007 was just a little too ambitious.
All the more so because I still have to 'reconstruct' most of the archives for both Malt Madness and Malt Maniacs. Fortunately,
Serge still manages to maintain a daily pace with WhiskyFun.

Meanwhile, the matrix and the monitor have been updated and we're making good progress with the Malt Maniacs Awards 2007. Other sections of the site are slowly filling up as well. In the library we now have The Good Book - an overview of Davin's book reviews on Malt Maniacs. Apart from the World Wide Whisky Events page by Konstantin, the bar now features an overview of festival reports too. That way you can check out if an event or festival you may want to visit is worth the trip. We've refreshed the MaltMenu as well; an overview of most widely available single malts that you might encounter when visiting a well stocked bar or restaurant.

As far as Malt Maniacs #105 is concerned; despite the summer holidays I think we've managed to collect a few interesting and entertaining articles. The first one should be a feast for anoraks; a closer look at the changing profile of sherry matured malts over the year and the mysterious substance that may play a role in the process; paxarete. A story that has been more in the public eye was the recent take-over of Whyte & Mackay by Indian business tycoon and politician Vijay Mallya. Will he turn out to be India's version of Italy's Silvio Berlusconi? Our indian maniac Krishna investigates.

By the way... You'll be reading more from Krishna in our next issue. He's just returned from a Classic Malts Cruise across the Hebrides along the West coast of Scotland. He has many tall tales to tell and is busy typing them up when you read this. And apparently he told some tall tales during the cruise as well... Well, at least he spread the gospel about the maniacs and our awards; the story already reached a South-African wine publication;
Sweet drams,

Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs

E-pistle 2007/050 - Paxarete, the unloved saviour of sherry casks?  (MV)

PaxareteEverybody who has tasted antique sherried whisky has noticed the huge differences
between the sherry profiles of the days that are passed compared to today's sherry
profile. More intense, more creamy, sometimes that great dirty edge to it. One cannot
prevent melancholic feelings; 'why are they not producing this stuff anymore?' to a more
sentimental; 'it was soo much better those days!' I, for one, happily dwell between the
lines and stick to the as rational as possible; 'This is great, classic sherried whisky!'

Where are those differences coming from?
Why is the present day sherry profile so different? Is there a chance we could return to that much loved sherry profile from 30 or 40 years ago?

Before we continue I try to explain in a nutshell the being of Sherry and the different
styles that are found. It all starts with wine from the Palomino grape grown in the
production zone of Jerez. Other grape varieties as Pedro Ximénez (or PX) and Moscatel
are used for sweetening or blending purposes. When fermented juice of the Palomino
grape is put in casks. A mouldy layer, called Flor, emerges.

After spending around five years under the protective Flor layer from oxidation in a
complex racking system, called Solera, it's ready for bottling under the name Fino
(when the grapes are grown in the area around Jerez de la Frontera) or Manzanilla
(when the grapes have grown the area around Sancular de Barrameda) and has a
light nutty/fruity style for Fino or a even lighter, acidic/mineral style for Manzanilla.

When this wine is further matured and the Flor layer starts to disappear it will turn
into an Amontillado, which is rich and more alcoholic. Sometimes the Flor does not
(fully) emerge. This happens when the grapes are pressed to heavy and to many
tannins from the grapes are released and/or the cask is releasing to many tannins.

The wines oxidises and develop into the dark, heavy styled Oloroso. Another type is Palo Cortado, in taste a cross-over between Amontillado and Oloroso but it's quite rare and of no interest for this e-pistle. It's the Oloroso casks we want to mature spirit in, as those will give colour and taste. A Fino casks is much more subtle and less appreciated. Everyone who has tasted a Fino cask matured whisky at younger age will know what I mean. Although far from complete this must give you enough (ultra) basic information about Sherry. Now we can continue.

When asked why sherry wood was so much better those days the most heard answer will be along the lines of "Sherry consumption was much higher those days, so there were more casks available" to "By law Sherry has to be bottled when exported, so there're no 'wet' casks outside Spain anymore and thus the quality has dropped". These two remarks are very general and need some more refinement. It's true consumption was higher but that applies mostly to sweet sherry (i.e. Oloroso or the sweetened Oloroso known as Amoroso or Cream). For the second line: It seems I fail to find any information about that law... What I can find is a law from 1978 stating Sherry has to be matured in the Jerez area and a policy since the same year encouraging producers to bottle in Spain. For example: in 1985 46% of the total export of Sherry was in bulk ! Sadly I don't know if 'bulk' means in casks, containers or tanks. It seems we can combine the two separate lines into one: There is a shortage of (Oloroso) casks outside Spain due to the fact all the (Oloroso) Solera's have to be situated in Jerez.

Let's return to my first refinement "the surge in consumption applies mostly to sweet sherry".
This, sadly, is something that we can't change, unless we decide not to be afraid for intense and heavy style tastes anymore. The producers concentrate on Fino and Manzanilla of which the sales have exploded since the popularity of Tapas since the late 1990's. There is a bright side to this story. In a attempt to put the wines of Jerez on the map again most producers changed their portfolio. With the sickening Medium Dry Sherries out of the public's grace producers saw their old Solera's of Amontillado and Oloroso used for sweetening and giving character to young wines being useless. Few decided to bottle small amounts of those old Solera's. They did that with huge success! Since the mid 1980's most sherry houses concentrate on two things: the production of light sherry and the sales of old Solera wines. Things get even better when the Consejo Regulador advised to give age statements on the labels. Instead of staring at a bottle of Barbadillo Obispo Gascon Palo Cortado people BUY a bottle of Barbadillo 30 years old Palo Cortado (which is exactly the same). All guaranteed by the 'Vinum Optimum Rare Signatum' or shortly 'VORS' seal. Sales have rocketed ever since. The production of sweet styled Sherries might be low, the flow of quality casks comming from the old Solera's does exist. Sadly the flow of PX casks have come to an almost standstill. Some old Solera's are released but the number is too low for sufficient use of casks in the whisky industry.

For the second refinement it's simple: I'm curious to know what way those beautiful casks were transported from London to Scotland.
Not dismantled on a open lorry during a three day's journey? Dismantled on an overnight's journey by train? Remember the statements in London empty Sherry casks were considered 'waste' those days. I can't imagine care was taken when transporting 'waste-material'. In short I think we suffer from our romantic minds here. Back then the casks will have suffered from transport on land as they do now from transport by ship - and I'm dead sure the dismantled casks are surrounded with the greatest care possible... On this matter I say we have both, winners or losers.

Up till now we've dealt with availability and transportation to Scotland of sherry casks.
For myself I can't find an answer why the profiles are so different. There must be more.

It shouldn't be hard to imagine vatting was done different back then. In lots of the old sherried whiskies I tasted so far I usually come to a conclusion quite some vattings were composed of at least one under proof Oloroso or PX cask, gently soften up with some younger oloroso and made (more) easy to drink with refill sherry and/or bourbon casks. This is very general and speculation although I feel I'm not far from the truth in this one. Nowadays such a vatting is virtual impossible. How many under proof casks will be left in the warehouses? How many companies dare to use great oloroso casks in a vatting that will eventually carry the age of 12 years? You know the answer yourself I suppose... And be honest, would you use such casks for a standard bottling or would you use them for that exclusive Single Cask thingy? I will be honest myself... a few years back the second option would be the absolute preferred choice 'tough slowly but surely I'm starting to come back on it. Why not use those casks to improve quality of the standard product? It's much more profitable to have loads people raving about your everyday 12 yo than a few about cask #1578. I'm not saying distilleries should stop their Single Cask bottlings but I would be fine with half the amount of them and be much happier when those casks, which produce a relative weak Single Cask, will be used for a standard vatting. I see we're drifting off the subject here...

At least we've got one reason for the differences in taste.

Now let's try for the profile! When I study my notes on sherried whiskies and try to condense them to just a few words the following can be read: 'Spicy, clean yet slightly dirty' or 'Mellow, oily and slightly out of focus'. Two directions with one common divider: distilled before 1989 or after 1989. Let me urge to say there are loads of pre 1988 distilled sherried whiskies I don't like as there are quite some post 1989 sherried whiskies I do like. Again, this is very general! Let's continue; What happened around 1989? Quite right, by law the use of Paxarete became forbidden. Apart from a different style of vattings this is the only reason I can come up to explain the differences in 'old Sherry' and 'new Sherry'.

Perhaps this is a good time to investigate Paxarete a bit more.
Paxarete comes from the Sherry region and it's main component is cooked-in most (not fermented grape juice) which is dark because of caramelised sugars. There're two kinds of cooked-in most. The first is Sancocho, where the most is cooked-in to about 30% of its original volume and has a sweetness of 32o to 33o Baumé (measurement of sugar). The second is Arrope where the original volume is down to 20% with a sweetness of 36o to 40o Baumé. To get Paxarete one part most and two parts of Sancocho or Arrope are mixed together. After fermentation it contains 8 to 9% alcohol and has a sweetness of 11o to 12o Baumé. Like Sherry it ages further in a Solera. A much more cheaper type exists by the name of Color remendado where the most is replaced by young wine and as far as I know is immediately used, so no further maturation takes place.

Paxarete is/was a very important component of not only the colouring and blending of Sherry, it contributed to the general quality of Sherry as well. As the great book "Sherry" by fellow Dutchman Wim Mey has it: 'Clearly contributing to distinction'. In the whisky industry Paxarete was used to, as they say themselves, "rejuvenate re-fill casks". In a vacuum chamber it was blown into the casks. I can't help this feeling I have first-fill casks saw this treatment also. Paxarete was also used for colouring and giving aroma. It's not unthinkable different distilleries had their own variants on the above recipe and thus were able to create their own, as uniform as possible, sherry signature. This, of course within the limits of Paxarete itself. So it seems Paxarete was the forerunner of E150-A, the latter being much, much cheaper and thus favourable despite doing its job much, much worse. Here we go: I've got a dead feel the sherry signature we like some much in the old style whisky is for a huge part generated by: Paxarete. And to go on, not the shortage of oloroso casks or funny export, bottling or maturation laws has influenced the downfall of today's sherry profile, it was the prohibition of: Paxarete. So, finally got that out my system!

Now, is all of this bad? Not at all!
There's a general consciousness the sherry profiles of the past were the better ones, so why bother with the fact it was partly due to an alien substance? I can imagine, as with E150-A, it's difficult for some distilleries to admit the quality of their whisky depended partly of the use of something more than spirit, oak and time alone.

Now for the last question: "Is there a chance we could return to that much loved sherry profile from 30 or 40 years ago?"
Oh yes there is. As described above real Paxarete is a true natural, artisan product. It's an art that is about to disappear and any loss of such artisan knowledge is a shame. Furthermore I can see no objections not to use Paxarete again these days where we tolerate the most alien kinds of new oak, Port pipes, casks that contained Marsala, Madeira, Champagne, Calvados, Cognac, Brandy, Claret, Sauternes, Burgundy, Tokaj, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc etc, etc. Who knows what next - oh, I forgot to mention the herring cask experiment from Germany. One should realise that when we talk about the golden days of whisky, the 1950's to the 1980's, we talk about Paxarete as well. It's as much part of the whisky tradition as direct fired stills, brewer's yeast, worm tubs and under proof casks happily fading away in the warehouses.

I leave you with a final thought: Demands for whisky are very high these days (some companies are already claiming to have difficulties meeting demands) and the markets of China/South-East Asia, India and Russia not even fully up, it isn't difficult to see the industry will have huge difficulties maintaining whatever quality. Although producing reasonable quality spirit won't be a major problem, new distilleries are being build and more will follow for sure, maturing the spirit is another story. And the latter is of growing concern to me. That is to say... I'm sure the spirit will mature but is the industry capable of delivering quality matured whisky? Maniac Pit already showed his concerns (E-Pistle 2007/001) about the actions the industry take to keep up with the demand for casks - and spirit. Bourbon to be sold at one year of age. (Tactical move to generate more casks, will last for about two or three years), more and more malts bottled at ages between 5 and 10 years (Another tactical move which will last for the same amount of years). Turning to much younger and thus less suitable oak. In all, it's a kind of damage control but they are not the solutions we are looking for, the problems will return.

My alternative is simple. Ban the prohibition of Paxarete for third re-fill casks.
The Paxarete used should be of highest quality comming from Jerez. Think of it, it's traditionally linked to whisky, it has proven itself, it's artisan, it's biological and very important: we save parts of the oak forests by giving old casks truly a new life.

Happy Dramming!

Michel van Meersbergen

E-pistle 2007/051 - Whyte & Mallya  (KN)

Two faces of MallyaThe timing of my present reading of William Dalrymple's extraordinary work;
"The Last Mughal" could not have been more perfect. The book is a definitive
account of the tragic end of the Great Mughal Empire and how the British
supremacy established its firm hold in India by ruthlessly crushing the uprising
of 1857 (The nationalists call it The First War of Indian Independence but the
British call it Sepoy Mutiny).

Exactly 150 years later (the revolt started in May 1857), Vijay Mallya, an
ambitious and corporate king symbolically avenged the crushing of Indian
Nationalists, as his "East India Company" took total control of 163 year old
Whyte & Mackay. W&M was established around the same period when both
Bahadur Shah Zafar (The Last Mughal Emperor) and Sir Charles Metcalfe, the
British "Resident" were at their zenith. I am not sure whether Mallya timed
this with intention, but the effect of this coincidence is far too interesting to
be ignored by a student of Indian history. With this acquisition, Mallya has
closed on Diageo, the world's no.1 liquor company and the later has some
work to do to maintain its no.1 position.

As a 28 year old, Vijay Mallya (Vijay meaning victory), was catapulted into the
already established family business when his father Vittal Mallya died suddenly
in 1983. The father had set up several business units for his son although no
unit was doing any remarkable business at that time. It was said that Vittal
Mallya dealt in no less than 60 different products and Kingfisher beer, the
bread and butter of the group was second to Mohan Meakin's Golden Eagle
in all India sales.

Combining an astute business mind with a fair degree of brashness, Vijay
Mallya focused soon on a handful of units and quickly realized that his real
profits were hidden in the growth of alcohol business in India. He streamlined
all the IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor) products and separately launched
promotional and publicity campaigns for Kingfisher beer. Soon Kingfisher became
a pub-hold name in India and the "King of good times" had arrived. Within a short span of time, Vijay Mallya associated himself and his products with horse racing, fashion, sports, sailing and did anything to catch the eye of the media. In 2005 he launched Kingfisher Airlines – the logo and the name lending a very effective surrogate advertisement to its beer brand (direct beer and liquor advertisements are banned in India).

Vijay Mallya's brashness led him to several controversies and his take over of Shaw Wallace and confrontations with Manu Chhabria are well known to India's corporate world. Added to this, he got entangled in criminal case under (the then) notorious Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) and came out clean only recently. Vijay Mallya realized that to become an extraordinary successful businessman in India (and that too in liquor industry); he needs to be in the close quarters of New Delhi. With this in mind he entered politics in 2000 and soon became a Member of Parliament in 2002.

Liquor laws, its taxes and duties in India are very complex and are subject to both central and individual state laws. To protect the local liquor industry, Vijay leant his wholehearted support to the Government's policy of extremely high import tariffs even though they were against the WTO guidelines. It is another matter that in the process he became a hated figure with SWA. The astute mind knew that as long as he is tagged as a local liquor baron and sided with the government, the import duties would never be brought down by Government of India.

But the growing demand for grain based alcohol and the tag of being a local liquor baron were worrying him.
He disparately needed real and readily available stocks of alcohol and started looking towards Scotland and at W&M in particular. For time being, he flirted with the idea of buying whole of France's Taittinger, but withdrew in the last moment for strategic reasons but not without grabbing a part of Taittinger's Bouvet Ladubay for USD 15 million.

The cost of W&M acquisition came at a hefty price.
The initial negotiations were in the range of GBP 450-500 million which was thought to be fair priced. With 115 million liters of sleeping scotch at an average price GBP 30/litre (already over priced by at least GBP 5/litre) and a goodwill tag of GBP 75 million plus other assets, the initial price would have been just fair enough for any buyer. But consider this- the consortium of banks led by ICICI Bank & Citi Bank calculated the price of GBP 595 million to be worth its future potential and took an extra exposure of at least GBP 95 million on Vijay Mallya.
Well, the auditors, I think would find this figure to be very interesting!

Now that the deal is through, Vijay Mallya, as owner of Scottish Distilleries has to make amends with the SWA (or the other way round?). He also has to influence the Government to reduce duties to enable him to import his freshly acquired Scotch into India. Gavin Hewitt, the Chairman of SWA is as usual and typical of his comments "….he will not be given a free ride and he will have to commit to a certain code, besides the articles of association". Mr. Hewitt appears to be naïve; once Vijay is in SWA club, his charm would work through, influencing the right quarters and even mending of the articles of association of SWA. In fact, I am afraid, with Vijay Mallya in SWA, the very definition of whisky as per European Standards might under go change. As for import duties on Scotch, I am sure that some body is working hard in the Central Government quarters to reduce the duties as are some babus in individual state governments. In fact the government would have liked the deal to have been concluded by February 28, 2007, the day when the Union Budget was presented. The reduction of duties not only would help Vijay Mallya but also would make other Scottish whisky companies, who hitherto have been waiting impatiently for a very long time to sell their scotch to Indians happy.

The United Spirit's exports of blended whiskies to Russia and China are just round the corner or might have just commenced.
I am rather cynical about the whole situation. Now that Vijay Mallya has achieved his goal – I am looking at a future situation when the Europeans would have to taste some molasses based malt whisky blends and the Indians, malt whisky based IMFL! After all the world works on the principal of compensations.

Krishna Nukala
May 2007

(The views and opinions expressed in the article are purely of author's own)


E-pistle 2007/052 - Olivier's Travels; Les Trois Rois, Basel  (OH)

Good whisky in BaselLes Trois Rois Hotel-Restaurant, Basel - Macallan 30yo
December 2006, Switzerland (barely)

For me, Basel is an interesting place! We just need a 40 minute drive to really feel 'abroad'.
The whole family is always happy to go there: nice architecture in the old city, great shopping,
lots of street activity (music,…) and a great whisky shop called Ullrich. It is located in the middle
of the old town, it has a great selection of malts (about 600), all the big names, but also some
more difficult to get bottlers like Adelphi… and also a fabulous range of wines, which is the heart
of Ullrich's activity. Ullrich is the one that created that interesting Whiskyship festival in Zurich
which takes place in small ships on lake Zurich every November. He also organises a very interesting 3 days tasting of about 80 single malts end of November, not to be missed!
There is also a nice selection of whiskies in one of the larger store, opposite the Markplatz,
called Globus. Go to the basement, and you will find 150+ selections, all very interesting.
There is also a bar there where they have 30+ bottles open, some very interesting ones
including old Springbank versions. Swiss always liked Springbank, something with the name...

The Trois Rois Hotel is an imposing landmark building in the middle of Basel, bordering the Rhine river.
Margaret (my wife) and myself often walked by this establishment and were a little bit scared of its imposing allure, old fashioned service and scary Swiss guards like dressed staff. One day, a heavy rainfall pushed everyone into all the tea rooms and cafes around town. In desperation we ended up in the Trois Rois Hotel. The bar was warm and welcoming, with deep comfortable leather armchairs, big dark wood panelling and a big roaring fire. The waiter asked us if we wanted lunch (it was 1PM). We hadn't planned it, but the lace look so welcoming once you were in it that we agreed. There are two restaurants: a formal one with a big menu, more for the evening and jackets are required, and a less formal one, ideal for lunch. Both of them have nice views over the river and benefit from the same kitchen. Lunch was classic: salmon/tuna tartare and Wiener Schnitzels (Breaded Veal) but really delicious. At the end of the meal the waiter asked me if I wanted a digestive, I said yes, he took us back to the huge bar and showed me the list. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw it.

My budget didn't allow me for a dram of Black Bowmore, so I settled for a more conventional Macallan 30yo (40%, OB, Sherry cask, Blue Label) served in a beautiful crystal glass with Scottish water on the side. I started to like this place quite a lot, and there was enough nice shop windows around the hotel to keep Margaret happy so I had plenty of time to enjoy this wonderful dram. The colour is deep amber and the nose is an explosion of sweet fruit cake, raisins, toffee, vanilla, buttered rich biscuits, in short, a great sherry nose! The first sip was soft, round, quite powerful and again showed all those delicious sherry flavours one should expect in a good Mac!

I started to feel like Winston Churchill, sitting in this 'out of the time' place. The second taste revealed more leathery, citrus, baked oranges, cinnamon, spices aromas. The overall power and length surprised me. Perhaps after a meal one's palate is more acute and receptive… or nore probably, 40% must have been very closed to cask strength, as there was lots of sherry here. 
This whisky went on and on, no wood tannins, all soft… a well deserved 93 points for me.

I think that I would have fallen asleep watching winter outside if the waiter hadn't awoken me with the bill... 


E-pistle 2007/053 - Book Review: Wort, Worms & Washbacks  (DK)

Wort, Worms & Washbacks (John McDougall & Gavin D. Smith).
The Angel's Share, Neil Wilson Publishing Ltd., Glasgow, UK, 1999; 211 pages.

The modern distillery manager is as much publicist as whisky-maker, traveling the world conducting tastings, visiting whisky fairs, entertaining distributors, and generally promoting his brand. Who hasn't sat in rapt awe as Jim McEwan spun a tale of Bruichladdich, catching each eye in feigned recognition? Gifted storytellers these modern distillery managers are. Who has not heard Stuart Thomson wax on about the wonders that make Ardbeg, Ardbeg with little stops along the way to praise sister distilleries Glens morangie and moray, without wondering how the more taciturn Mickey Heads will fare as his replacement?

But such was not always the case. In John McDougall's time the distillery manager's remit included increasing yields, recovering lost flavour profiles and searching out the little ingenuities that send angels' shares home in workers' lunch buckets. He did attend Vinexpo on behalf of Springbank, but other than that his work as a distillery manager was much more directed at making whisky.

In his more than thirty-five years in whisky, which began at Aultmore in 1963 as a management trainee, McDougall met and worked with most of the characters and lived most of the situations that find their way into the modern promoter's script, but perhaps because he was paid to make whisky rather than talk about it, McDougall has recorded these in a book that is at once rather amusing and quite informative. There are no rip-roaring belly laughs here (OK, maybe one or two), but chuckles abound and in the process the reader gets quite an unexpected insight into the whisky life.

Alcoholism, for one thing, seems an industrial hazard, for barely a chapter passes without tales of prodigious consumption by McDougall, his staff or his friends. But McDougall comes across as a man with his head screwed on straight who prefers getting his hands dirty to sitting in an office dictating correspondence.

Whisky anoraks love rules, facts and figures and all the minutia that contribute to the individuality of each distillery.
But in Wort, Worms & Washbacks, McDougall shows that often the rules are made up afterwards to suit reality. For example, at Clynelish distillery, a second plant was built on the same site, so to distinguish the output of the two plants the old one was re-named Brora and the new became Clynelish. Meanwhile, at Glendullan a second plant was built then later the original plant was mothballed, but no effort was made to differentiate the output of the two, and the Glendullan in some bottles may come from one plant, the other, or both.

Stories abound of coppersmiths pounding copies of all the little dents and imperfections into replacement stills so not to affect the character of the spirit, but when Laphroaig expanded, it was decided to replace two stills with a single one twice the size, character be damned. So are the neighbouring old Glendullan and new Glendullan different distilleries as contiguous Glenlossie and Mannochmore are, and did the old Laphroaig distillery produce a different whisky than the new expanded Laphroaig? Anoraks can debate ad infinitum and they'll find many other grey areas to question their precisions in a romp through Wort, Worms & Washbacks.

One gets the distinct impression that life as a distillery manager was far from lucrative but McDougall and wife Kay made do, living is tiny quarters and doing their best to raise a family though Kay was somewhat long-suffering and eventually the marriage collapsed. McDougall is generous when he writes of his wife and family but one wonders in the end what became of Kay after the break-up. Certainly there were many happy times, particularly when McDougall was managing Laphroaig and the family adopted the Islay lifesytle. The Tormore years were also happy ones, but they ended with a promotion to head office in Glasgow where an increased salary still meant a far inferior lifestyle. Here, perhaps, was the beginning of the end, for McDougall eventually chose to take a lower paying job as the hands-on manager at a silent Springbank rather than remain a head-office boy with little real contact with the makings of whisky.

Wort, Worms & Washbacks is a series of anecdotes tracing one man's career in the whisky business, and primarily in the production end of things. In his early career, McDougall worked for DCL, now Diageo, and moved among many of its distilleries doing stints at Aultmore, Knockdhu, Banff, Teaninich, Balmenach, Imperial, Dailuaine, and so on, before leaving DCL to become manager at Balvenie. He also worked at Ladyburn, Girvan, Laphroaig, Tormore and Springbank. That MacDougall knows his way around a distillery is clear and his insights provide a look behind the scenes at an industry that changed during his tenure and has been transformed since his retirement. Rare is the biography that lacks the soapbox, self-justification or congratulation, but in Wort, Worms & Washbacks the real article appears to shine through.

Davin de Kergommeaux 

E-pistle 2007/054 - Victoria Whisky Festival Report by Wendy Harker

Victoria Whisky FestivalThe second annual Victoria Whisky Festival, organized by
Maniac Lawrence Graham and his partners, was held 24-28
January 2007.  It was a five-day whisky event that began
and ended on high notes. The tasting events and
masterclasses kept everyone engaged and on the move. 
And the whisky?  Well, I certainly got closer to a couple of
memorable 40 year olds. The respectful and relaxed
atmosphere created a terrific opportunity to meet and talk
with industry leaders. I had a wonderful time and I can only
thank Lawrence and his very capable team for hosting an
extremely well organized and very personable Whisky
Festival. The festival was also a lovely time to reunite with
good friends and to meet a couple of new ones along the way.

When I wasn't attending whisky events, I spent my time sightseeing beautiful Victoria. It is a charming city to explore with its winding narrow streets and quaint shops. The festival hotel, the Grand Pacific, overlooks the beautiful Inner Harbour, which is surrounded by the snowcapped Olympic Mountains to the south, and the Cascades to the southeast. The weather was on our side with consecutive days of blue sky and sunshine. I have traveled extensively in Canada, and Victoria is undoubtedly the friendliest city in the country.

Midweek, the festival was kicked off by Jim Murray, whisky writer and consultant blender, who hosted two sold out "extravaganza" whisky tasting events held on consecutive nights. As most festival goers weren't arriving in town until Friday, I was impressed that Victoria could draw two full houses from the local populace.  What a warm-up, indeed. Each night, Mr. Murray walked the attendees through a 14-whisky tasting session, reflecting his signature of presenting whiskies from around the world, including single malts, blends, grains, and vatted malts and bourbons.  On one evening, the blind whisky tour began in Wales, with a dram of Penderyn, and continued until Ireland, Canada, the United States, and Scotland were respectively put on the map. Murray is quick to dispel one-dimensional notions that enthusiasts may have about whisky. He points out the merits of the various whisky styles and encourages questions and comments. Holding up one of the whiskies from the nights' flight, he begins to stir the pot, asking, "Where do you think this is from?"  Nosing their dram, participants pipe up, "Scotland, peaty, smokey…it must be Scottish!"  "Islay, I know my Islays!"  Within moments of nosing and tasting, the crowd has happily formed firm opinions of their "Scottish" mystery malt, until he waves before their eyes an emerald green bottle of Connemara, a peaty Irish beauty. Judging from the surprised laughter and lively chit chat, I am certain that all those gathered took home with them a greater worldly-wise appreciation of whisky. For all concerned, the Jim Murray Whisky Tastings were nights of discovery and substance.

Friday night was the much anticipated Richard Paterson Whyte & Mackay Tasting which was appropriately labeled, "Fab at 40". Whyte and Mackay are owners of Dalmore, Isle of Jura, Fettercairn and Tamnavulin distilleries. I had never been to a Paterson tasting before, and it was a good guess that I would be in for a few new tasting experiences.  I was therefore quite keen to get underway.  The evening was also going to be special because I was reuniting with friends and fellow Whisky Magazine posters, Mr. TattieHeid (Bruce) and Ron who was accompanied by his girlfriend.  I arrived without too much time to spare, and Lawrence kindly ushered me to my seat next to my forum mates.

Mr. Paterson, Master Blender, looking quite dapper and wearing his signature pocket handkerchief, sprang into action. In what seemed to be the most jam-packed few minutes of my life, Richard poured water from a silver pitcher onto the floor exclaiming, in the voice of a preacher at a revival meeting, "Uisge Beatha--the Water of Life"; spat on the floor while damning England (and apologizing to Jim Murray for doing so); and then threatened our lives if we held our glasses cupped in our hand, balloon style.  A smile on my face, I settled in for the night.

Richard guided us through a slide show presentation accompanied by a historical and contemporary narrative about whisky production (referring to the stills as the "Big Bastards"), the art of blending and of the whisky entrepreneurs from Glasgow, James Whyte and Charles Mackay.  The Whyte and Mackay double red lions rampant seemed like pussycats next to their fiercely loyal spokesman and company blender of 36 years. I was fascinated by the story of the notorious Macgregors.  The abridged story is that when the Macgregor Clan was forced to change their name, many adopted the surname Whyte. The whisky entrepreneurs took the Lion from the Macgregors' crest and made it their emblem. The Lion allowed the Macgregors to move forward symbolically while maintaining their family identity without the notoriety. I will always think of this piece of history when I see a bottling of Whyte and Mackay.
Marking the end of the slide show and holding his glass high in the air, Richard chugged his dram like a sailor on shore leave and yelled, "Right!" Our attention was then drawn to the Whyte and Mackay range lined up in front of us. They were:
1. 12 yo Dalmore, 40% abv, Single Highland Malt
2. Isle of Jura Superstition, Single Island Malt
3. Whyte & Mackay 13 yo Blended Scotch Whisky
4. 40 yo Whyte and Mackay Rare Old Blended Scotch Whisky
5. 40 yo Dalmore, Single Highland Malt
Picking up whisky No. 1, Richard Paterson walked us through his tasting regimen: "Now approach your whisky like you are approaching a person. Whisky has to reveal its inner self. Talk to your whisky: Hello. How are you?" He then took a sip and, on the count of 13, (mmm-ha, mmm-ha, mmm-ha), swallowed. Richard described the Whyte and Mackay double marriage system of bringing together malt and grain whiskies. He emphasized the importance of patiently allowing the whisky to linger on your tongue and letting the flavours shine through. Taking another sip of the 12 yo Dalmore, he described notes of smoke, marmalade, marzipan, citrus and spice. I appreciated what he was saying and most importantly the art of blending was not lost on me. But, Richard and I had reached an impasse on his anti hand-warming stance. So, listening to my inner self, I cradled my glass discreetly under the table.  After all, the man was armed with a water pistol. 
I enjoyed the drams that were in front of me. It was a pleasure to begin with the 12 yo Dalmore. In the spring of 2005, in Ontario, the LCBO (Liqour Control Board of Ontario) dropped it from their inventory. I thought it was a loss because it is a very pleasant everyday dram and reasonably priced. My impression of the dram did not stray too far from the Blender's.

"Fab at 40": The last two drams were very memorable. I know my notes don't do them justice.
I keep wondering how can I write "really, really good" ten different ways!
The 40 yo Whyte and Mackay Rare Old Blended Scotch Whisky at 45% abv & 70% malt content turned out to be a special tasting for our group. Mr. Paterson said that it was the first public presentation of this whisky, with only 1000 bottles in circulation. The blend was made in honour of John McElroy for his 70 year dedication to Whyte and Mackay. Nose: floral, young tobacco; Palate: very chewy, tobacco, oak. 
40 yo Dalmore, 40% abv Single Highland Malt: 1000 bottles produced at $3,500 per bottling.  This was a rare opportunity to try something quite grand. Before we moved onto the final dram of the night, we were each given a small piece of chocolate at 86% cocoa fat. We were given strict orders not to taste either whisky or chocolate until the last piece of chocolate was dished out. To enhance the mood, the lights were dimmed. The plan was to kick back our whisky in one sweep and then drop the chocolate into our mouths for full effect. After a night of savouring my whiskies, it didn't feel right to treat this "jewel in the crown" with unbridled abandon. I did as instructed, but once the deed was done, I regretted not following my gut instinct. The whisky was wonderful alone and found that the chocolate had overpowered the delicate flavours and smooth-as-silk mouthfeel. It was an important lesson to be reminded that amongst the advice from experts and friends, it is about trusting what is the best way for me to enjoy my dram. It never hurts to be reminded of this now and again.
A slide was posted with a picture of the special Whyte and Mackay Prestige Range of 5 blends. The bottlings were: Thirty Years Old, Supreme 22 yo, Old Luxury 19 yo, The Thirteen and Special. Without having touched a drop, I think these are gorgeous bottles. The eye candy of the lot was the Thirty Years Old, a dramatic coal black bottle with two gold lions rampant. It is stunning.
Mr. Paterson is a very hands-on person and perhaps that is one of the reasons he has excelled as a master blender. It is important to not get too distracted by his antics (such as using the aforementioned water pistol to stimulate the rainy Scottish weather) because texture, aroma, and flavour are really at the heart of the matter for this man. This certainly was a wonderful night.
Saturday January 27th was a "celebration of whisky" day that began at 1:00 pm with the first Masterclass, and wrapped up in the early hours of the morning with a post festival party. The two events of the day were the afternoon Masterclasses, and the evening Media Event, Sponsors and Consumer Tasting.  I was also looking forward to reuniting with more Whisky Magazine Forumners and good friends Badmonkey (Craig) and WestVanDave (Dave), and meeting forum members Ibacha (Len), Cam and Inanime (Matt) for the first time.
All of the Masterclasses were sold-out. After each class, the friendly enthusiasts would swell the hallways waiting for their next class to start, all the while happily exchanging notes and stories with each other. This is where I first bumped into Dave and it felt wonderful to recognize a friend in the crowd. We didn't have much time to chat as we were heading in opposite directions to our respective Masterclasses.
During the afternoon, I attended the three Masterclasses listed below, accompanied at the first and second by Craig and Inanime (Matt) in the third. Each Masterclass was an hour in length.


1) Glenfarclas - Valley of the Green Grassland
Presenter: Mr. Robert Ransom, Sales Manager

Placed at each seating, a smart-looking and informative pamphlet gave a brief synopsis of the Glenfarclas history and tasting notes by
George Grant, Brand Ambassador. Glenfarclas has been a family owned business since 1865, when the distillery was first purchased by
John Grant. Mr. Ransom explained that Glenfarclas is a small company of 30 staff, and production remains computer-free. The Grant family continues to operate independently and strives for excellence by producing award-winning malts.   During the presentation, Mr. Ransom also commented that J & G Grant had appointed a new Distillery Manager, Mr. Shane Fraser.

The five whiskies presented were: Glenfarclas 17 yo, abv; Glenfarclas 21 yo, 43% abv; Glenfarclas 105, Cask Strength 60% abv; Glenfarclas 25 yo, 43% abv; Glenfarclas 30 yo, 43% abv

Last year at the VWF during the Consumer Tasting, I sampled the Glenfarclas 17 yo and loved it. When I saw on the programme that there would be a Glenfarclas Masterclass at this years' event, I just had to be there. I was delighted when the first whisky introduced was the 17 yo. I won't review them all, but my two favourites were the 17 and the 30 yo. At the end of the session, in my modest notes, I had described the 30 yo as "velvety-creamy, marzipan-nutty!!" I think I liked it. A bottle of New Spirit was passed around for us to nose and taste. It was so sweet smelling and bursting with pear flavour. Overall, I really welcomed the opportunity to sample such a wonderful line up of Glenfarclas whiskies.

Glenfarclas 17 yo, 43% abv
Nose: fruity, honey
Palate: balance of malt and sweet sherry, stewed peppered fruit
Finish: long lasting, slow wave of spice that ended sweet

2) A. Dewar Rattray
Presenter: Mr. James Cowan, Principle Sales Director

A. Dewar Rattray is owned by family member Mr. Tim Morrison who is fourth generation descendent of Andrew Dewar.
The companies focus is to bottle unique and exclusive casks of Scotch whisky.

The five whiskies presented were: Stronachie 12 yo, 43% abv; Balblair 15 yo, 62.9% abv, CS, unchillfiltered; Auchentoshan 15 yo, 59% abv; Teaninich 30 yo, 60.8% abv; Inchgower 25 yo, 55.3% abv, Oloroso Sherry Cask

I really enjoyed this tasting because of the variety of the selection. Each unique whisky
was distinguished by its region and unusual characteristics. It was a blast to contrast and compare the selection. The 30 yo CS Teaninich was my favourite. I found it delicate, and, as Craig would say, "damn good!" My tasting notes seemed to have trailed off mid-way through the selection as I sipped the whiskies and soaked in the ambience.

The Stronachie 12 yo piqued my interest because it was a new release by the LCBO (Liqour Control Board of Ontario) in the autumn of 2006. This is a recreation of a historical whisky. James Cowan explained that Mr. Morrison owns one of the three vintage bottles remaining from this long-closed distillery.  A sample was taken from the 1904 Vintage bottling, analyzed, and matched as closely as possible to malt from a modern distillery. The mystery distillery is a closely guarded secret. I left the Masterclass pondering Mr. Morrison's fascination with the Stronachie Distillery.

Stronachie 12 yo, 43% abv
Nose: fruit, hard candy
Palate: apple, cinnamon, lively, light peat
Finish: long, enjoyable finish

Balblair 15 yo, 62.9% abv
Nose: cocoa, smokey
Palate: creamy, bitter chocolate, vanilla
Finish:  mouth-filling, rich

Between my last two Masterclasses, an impromptu tasting took place in the Badmonkey's
palatial suite with four forumners and a bottle of Yoichi 12 yo. It was a memorable interlude for Craig, Matt, Dave and me to crack open one of the pre Festival promised Japanese 'mystery malts'. As we sipped our drams from the bathroom tumblers, we heard stories of Craig's recent trip to Asia and shared our impressions of the Masterclasses. The Yoichi 12 yo and the company hit the Wow! factor. But before I knew it, it was time for us to dash to our respective end-of-the-day Masterclasses with promises of getting
together at the evening's Media Event, Sponsors and Consumer Tasting.

3) Isle of Arran
Presenter: Mr. Douglas Davidson, Managing Director of Isle of Arran

The three whiskies presented were: Arran 10 yo, Non Chill-filtered 46% abv; Arran 100%, bourbon-sherry casks; Arran Calvados Finish.
(Sorry, I didn't record the % abv of the Arran 100% or the Calvados Finish)

Despite some frustrating and disappointing technical problems with his CD presentation, Mr. Douglas eventually found his groove and continued in a more personable fashion.  I really liked him--he is a soft-spoken and genuine man who is refreshingly candid and critical on such subjects as the Scotch Whisky Association, of which Arran is no longer a member, and their attitude toward finishes. In his opinion, "quality scotch is quality choice," full-stop. I enjoyed hearing his snapshot stories of how the Arran Calvados Finish came to be, and his journeys to the Chateau Margaux winery in France.

There are changes in store for the Arran Distillery--Distillery Manager
Gordon Mitchell is retiring, and a new 3000-cask warehouse is being built. It will be first of its kind to be used in the whisky industry, modeled after a winery warehouse. Unfortunately, I didn't have the chance to ask him about the difference between this and a traditional whisky warehouse, and what benefits he expected from it.

Arran 10 yo, Non Chill-filtered 46% abv
Nose: sorry, I left this blank
Palate: lemon, pear, mild cinammon
Finish: lovely and balanced

This was Matt's first time sampling whisky from the Arran Distillery. He was really impressed.
He said that he tends to favour peaty-smokey whiskies, but was now going to add Arran to his home collection.
I am sure there was more than one convert in the room!

By the end of the afternoon, I was full of good whisky and very pleased with the Masterclasses that I had attended. The rotation of classes ran quite smoothly, which reflected the dedication of the team of organizers and volunteers. The Masterclasses were a shining opportunity to be introduced to a number of whiskies that I had never tried before, and to learn about the distilleries and companies that produce them.  Last but not least, the camaraderie shared between the whisky enthusiasts was hard to beat.

Rest of the itinerary:

The Media Event, Sponsors and Consumer Tasting were next on the itinerary.
Lawrence had kindly invited the forumners to attend the Media portion of the "Media, Sponsors and Consumer Tasting" that was scheduled Saturday from 5:30 - 6:30 pm. The Media Event and Sponsors is equivalent to the "VIP" portion that is offered by other festivals. I welcomed the opportunity to chat with industry representatives and to check out the nights' whisky selection at a slower pace. The Consumer Tasting was scheduled a little later between 7:00 pm -10:00 pm. On the Festival website, the Consumer Tasting is described as "the heart of the Victoria Whisky Festival". It certainly lived up to its billing, as the ballrooms filled to capacity with whisky enthusiasts and industry insiders representing "a selection of over 90 different whiskies from Canada, Scotland, Ireland and the United States." Jim Murray, whisky writer, also occupied a booth and was kept busy through the night selling and signing copies of the Whisky Bible 2007.
In just its second year, the Consumer Tasting has already expanded from one to two large ballrooms.
There were two break away rooms, as well, with tables covered in emerald-green linen, holding trays of delicious appetizers like smoked lamb and chutney croustade. The attendees also received a goody bag that included a complimentary glass from the Glencairn Crystal Studio in Scotland. Significantly, the Victoria Whisky Festival was a voucher-free event.  Having experienced voucher and non-voucher festivals, it was lovely not to have to fiddle with a ticket system, or for that matter pay above and beyond the entrance fee to sample choice drams. The friendly and cooperative atmosphere prevailed until the last person (which I think was me) had left the premises. For attendees requiring a ride home, transportation was provided by volunteers. The volunteers are from the Victoria Whisky Festival benefiting charities, The Rock Solid Foundation and the T.L.C. Fund for Kids.
My drinking objective of the evening was to explore new whiskies, including variations of some of my favourites like Highland Park. The whiskies that I sampled were: Scotches: Glenlivet Archive 21 yo; Old Pulteney 17 yo; Hazelburn 8yo; Murray McDavid Highland Park 1989; Dewar Rattray 30 yo Tomintoul; Canadian: Potter's Special Old Rye, Potter's Distillers; Centennial 10 yo, (Rye) Highwood's Distillers; France: Whisky Breton, product of France, bottled by Warenghem, Lannion-Bretagne 22300. I was told that the bottling could be purchased for $38 (Canadian) for 700ml in West Vancouver government store;  Irish: Connemara, Single Malt Peated Irish Whiskey.
One of my observations was that the Bourbon selection was slim.
I would encourage the organizers to increase the profile of Bourbon at next years festival.
There are two new Canadian whisky distilleries in the planning stage on Vancouver Island.
They are Shelter Point Distilleries and Winchester Cellars. Both distilleries had booths at the festival. With its natural surroundings of glacier -fed water, sea air, and rich farming community, Vancouver Island is well suited to making great whisky. Shelter Point is a joint partnership between Jay Oddleifson (Vancouver Island) and Andrew Currie (Scotland). The Distillery will be located on the University of B. C.'s former experimental farm, a 700-hectare site outside of Courtenay, nestled by the Strait of Georgia. The farm will be a self-contained operation housing the distillery, warehouse and malting house, as well as growing barley. The whisky will be stored in American oak casks and the projected annual production will reach 50,000 litres, or roughly 65,000 750-millilitre bottles.
The name behind Winchester Cellars is Ken Winchester, a winemaker since 1982, who along with partner, Bryan Murray, is moving forward with this dream. Mr. Winchester has expanded his talent for making wine into whisky production. At the festival, Ken said that they have bought their new potstill, which is a traditional copper still made by Muller of Germany. To age the whisky, they are using a combination of sherry and bourbon casks, and will naturally branch out for finishes in wine barrels. They will be offering cask futures by the end of 2007, and welcome drop-ins to take a peek at the still.
Midway through the night, Lawrence had organized a picture-taking of the Whisky Magazine Forumners. Unfortunately, Craig and Matt were unavailable, but Bruce (Mr. TH), Ron and Elaine, Len (Ibacha), Cam, Dave (WVD), Lawrence and I had gathered in front of the camera for our photo op. As Forum members, we spend most if not all of our time communicating via cyberspace. The opportunity to exchange our whisky opinions with each other in person felt like a treat. The combination of world class whiskies and fine company amidst the beautiful atmosphere of the Hotel Grand Pacific makes this festival something to put on your "must do" list.
Due to other obligations, I didn't attend the Aberlour Distillery Dinner that marked the last night of the festival on Sunday January 28th. Mr. Ed Patrick, President of the Companions of the Quaich, was hosting this affair. Ed also lives in Toronto and leads our monthly Companion get -togethers. He is a very dedicated and knowledgeable whisky man whose jokes are not for the weak-kneed. From experience, I know without even attending the Aberlour Distillery Dinner, it would have been a wonderful time.
There is no doubt that the Victoria Whisky Festival 2008 event will be sold-out again in record time, so I would recommend registering your name and contact information on the official website, for advance notification. Next year's Victoria Whisky Festival has been scheduled on January 25-27th, so mark it on your calendars and start saving your pennies. Hopefully, I will be clinking my glass with more of you next year.

Wendy Harker

E-pistle 2007/055 - A Dozen Diverse Drams  (JH)

Feis Ile 2007Pffft.... the past few months have been very hectic here in Amsterdam.
Worst of all - I had to skip Feis Ile 2007, so I didn't have my usual 'wet vacation'.
Too bad - but I should be able to make it next year. And the good news is that
Serge has reported about it so lively on WhiskyFun that it almost feels like I did go.
And thanks to the many miracles of modern technology those reports came with
pictures these days - like this one of Olivier feeding a fresh oyster to fresh maniac
Konstantin at Lagavulin. That's a 'Feis Ile' tradition at Lagavulin that goes for every
maniac. Well, not the 'feeding' part - but Konstantin resisted tradition...

Anyway, due to my busy schedule I've had hardly any time to sit down for a serious
sampling session. Because the reconstruction of the Malt Madness and Malt Maniacs
websites takes much more time than I anticipated I don't have time to update my
Liquid Log on a regular basis. That's why I decided to put my log back in the freezer
for now and keep everybody updated on my Liquid adventures via Malt Maniacs.

Unfortunately, I've been suffering from a string of 'bad nose days'.
I just don't like to drink good whisky when my nose isn't in top shape.
Still, I managed to scrape together my notes for a dozen recently sampled drams.
I'll get into some 'conceptual' and 'strategic' topics concerning the future of Malt Maniacs in the next issue, but for now I'd like to share my notes on a dozen of the most noteworthy recent notes from my 'Little Black Book'. You can find my complete 'Dram Diary' with all my seriously sampled drams since the last update of the Malt Maniacs Monitor on the front page of the Malt Madness website.'
So, here are my tasting notes for 'a dozen diverse drams' - mostly long overdue samples on my shelves;

1) Benriach 25yo (50%, OB, Bottled +/- 2006) - a bottling that I gave 80 points during the Malt Maniacs Awards 2006.
Nose: Initially it's richer and spicier than I remembered. Malty, flattening out. Fairly neutral, but nicely balanced.
Honey sweetness after a few minutes. Mint? Metal? Clear improvement over time, ending around 85 or 86 points for complexity.
After adding a few drops of water I got more metallic and 'dentist' smells in the foreground. Poppy seeds? Gorgonzola cheese?
Taste: Not as good as the nose; feels a little rough. The distinct herbal and piney flavours are not quite up my alley.
Maybe a flash of lightly salted liquorice after half an hour? Definitely interesting, but too much pine for my tastes.
Verdict: I'll crank it up to 81 points . An average of 80 points at the start and 82 points after half an hour.
And I should stress that based on the nose alone it could have reached 85 or 86 points in my book.

2) Glen Grant 50yo 1956/2006 (40%, G&M) - a sample I received from Hans Offringa, a Dutch whisky writer.
Nose: Rich & fruity; clearly from a sherry cask. Currants & black berries. Profile like a red wine! Hints of smoke and wood.
Refined sweetness. Very concentrated nose at just 40%. Almost like a liqueur or reduced wine sauce. Cherry Marnier? Kirsch?
Evolution and growing complexity in the fruits. Meanwhile, hints of soy sauce emerge. Something vaguely meaty?
Based on the nose alone this would surely reach the 90's (92 or 93 points). Some faint organics after half an hour.
Taste: Hey! A surprisingly serious bite; antique smoke along the lines of some Glen Gariochs bottled in the 1970's. Tannic.
None of the luscious sweetness of the nose. In fact, it's quite austere - with the wood growing a tad too dominant in the finish.
Verdict: 90 points - a glorious Glen Grant on the nose; lacks the body and finish required to climb further into the 90's.
Many malts this old suffer on the palate. The wood and tannins takes over and suck out most of the sweetness.

3) Old Farm 1938/1943 100 Proof Straight Rye Whiskey (50%, OB, USA) - another sample from Hans Offringa.
Nose: Woohaah! Wood and fruits, not unlike the Glen Grant. Rich and fruity. Smoke and organics after half a minute.
Unfortunately, the magnificent nose loses steam after ten minutes. Something metallic? Then pure grain smells emerge.
It has lost most complexity after fifteen minutes, but has grown notably sweeter in character. More oatmeal and grains.
Taste: Rich and smooth with growing amounts of wood and smoke. More meaty notes with refreshing hints of mint. Wow!
Unfortunately it loses steam after a while, just like the nose. Almost takes a medicinal direction at times. Smooth & sweet
Verdict: 90 points - making it by far the best American whiskey I've EVER tried! Thanks, Hans! A real eye-opener.
Not quite as complex as the Glen Grant - but what would you expect after just five years in the cask... Amazing...
The sweetness emerging from the empty glass is an experience in itself. That lifted it from 89 to 90 points.

These two old whiskies (in two different senses of the word) are surprisingly similar. Just like I've had to revise my 'conservative' opinion about blends after a sampling session with some 'antiques' at Van Wees last year, it seems that I now have to revise my opinion about American Whiskeys. Quite a few maniacs (including Davin, Louis and Michel) have been 'preaching the gospel about bourbons' and we've just invited a few producers of American whiskey to the Malt Maniacs Awards 2007 - but now I'm getting side-tracked.

4) Highland Park 21yo 1984/2005 (56.1%, OB, Gerry Tosh, C#43, 289 Bts.)
Nose: Deep and rich. I think this would be what Michael Jackson calls 'christmas cask'. Undercurrent of raisins and meat.
Something very vaguely metallic as well. Quite lovely. Subtle, though - maybe I should have waited for a better nose day.
After ten minutes I also got a whiff of sweetish sake and cardboard. Maybe condensed lime juice? Impression of old dried spices.
Taste: Surprisingly powerful and feisty at +/- 56%. Smooth mouth feel turns grittier towards the finish. Touch of liquorice?
Score: 89 points - but I can see why the other maniacs that tried it gave it 90 points or more. Fairly woody finish.

5) Dufftown-Glenlivet 14yo 1966/1980 (45.7%, Cadenhead's, Dumpy bottling, 75cl)
This sample came from Bert Bruyneel and found its way to Holland via fellow Dutch maniac Michel van Meersbergen,
Nose: Hah! Mint and antiquity. Very pleasant on my nose, but no development to speak of. .
Taste: Dusty sweetness. Fairly flat, could be oxidised. Even then, it's an interesting and 'austere' dram. .
Score: 81 points - b.

6) Glenury Royal 12yo (40%, G&M Licensed, John Gillon & Company, Btl. Early 1980's, 5cl) - sample from Michel
Nose: Ah! Sweet & malty start. Subtle 'veggy' notes emerge, but they are very well integrated with the sweetness.
Metallic. Not the sort of profile I instinctively like, but a surprising complexity that almost pushes it into the 80's.
Taste: Oy! Dusty. Weird start... Even a hint of something medicinal? Vaguely minty and metallic as well.
Score: 80 points - maybe just a tad oxidised? Still very interesting - almost enough to make it to 80 points.
In fact, after some 10 minutes in the glass it made the jump to 80. Yes, I would recommend this.

7) Tullibardine NAS (40%, OB, 'Painted Label', Bottled +/- 1995, 5cl) - I didn't see an age statement on the miniature bottle.
Nose: Sweeter than I expected - and not as oily. Quite pleasant actually! What a nice surprise...
Taste: Ouch... For a moment there I thought I could actually recommend a Tullibardine. But then I tasted it.
It has the oil I loathe, although there's a pleasant coffee influence towards the finish.
Score: 70 points - which still isn't bad for a Tullibardine, mind you.

8) Pittyvaich 12yo (43%, Flora & Fauna 'OB', +/- 2000)
Nose: Herbal broth with a nice touch of fruit. Pleasant sweetness. Over time 'veggy' elements take over.
Taste: Starts out sweet (but rather undefined) on the palate as well, but disintegrates towards the finish.
Not spectacular, but an interesting twist of liquorice in the finish kept it well above average.
Score: 78 points - not my kind of profile but interesting...

9) Cragganmore 15yo (57.8%, Cadenhead's, 35cl, Bottled +/- 2006)
Nose: Fruity with a hint of cardboard. Nice enough, but little development over time. Fairly 'MOTR'.
Taste: Fairly sharp and a little bit 'veggy'. Nothing else really stood out. Maybe I didn't add enough water?
Score: 77 points - which is not all that impressive compared to the official bottlings at just 40 or 43%.
Still good whisky, but perhaps a tad below the standards of

10) Bunnahabhain 20yo 1979/1999 (50%, DL OMC, Sherry, 358 Bts.)
Nose: Loads of sherry and burnt notes, occasionally wandering into Bowmore Darkest territory. Hints of soap?
Quite complex within a clear 'bandwidth'. Subdued sweetness with whiffs of marshmallow and oriental spices.
Taste: extreme amounts of sherry and smoke. Rough mout feel - possible oxidation of the sample? Old fruits. Buysman?
Score: 88 points - but it needs some time to get there. Just a smidgen too roasted & toasted for my tastes.
With a smoother mouth feel and some sweetness on the palate it migh have reached 89 or even 90

11) Lagavulin 1990/2006 Distillers Edition (43%, OB, PX finish)
Nose: Surprisingly light and fruity start. In fact, it's extremely fruity. Is this actually Lagavulin? Leather but no peat.
Ah wait, now the organics drift to the surface. Very pleasant. Hey, now the fruits are back. Strawberry? Water melon?
Taste: Smoky, rather than peaty, especially towards the finish. Excellent mouth feel. Maybe lacks some complexity?
Score: 86 points - still highly recommendable, but not everything seems perfectly integrated. Very hot at just 43%.
In fact, after half an hour I was leaning heavily towards 87 points, my score for last year's batch.

12) Ardbeg 1981/2005 'Kildalton' (52.6%, OB, 5ml from 'The Peat Pack')
Nose: Grainy start, quickly opening up into salted fruits (?). Hint of lemon - or detergent perfume? Then real fruits.
Taste: Hah! This also has the trademark 'delay' in taste development - the peat takes a few seconds to emerge.
Maybe some salmiak? Over time the finish grew on me - touches of fruit and something vaguely metallic.
Score: 85 points - although I had it at 84 points for most of the time.

And that's all for now, I'm afraid...

Sweet drams,



E-pistle 2007/056 - The Why & How of Rating Whisky  (DK)

Without question rating whisky is controversial. 
Popularized by Michael Jackson through five editions of his
Malt Whisky Companion, whisky scores are much in vogue
these days.  But when anything is in vogue there are
always naysayers and Jackson's success has, itself,
brought detractors. Still, ratings are here to stay and I
must admit The Companion often guided my early malt
whisky purchases.  Even when I began to realize I didn't
always agree with Jackson I learned to adjust his scores
to suit my palate.
Call it sophomore logic or say a little knowledge is a
dangerous thing, but somewhere into my second year
of seriously tasting malt whisky I hit the wall on ratings.
My palate was developing and I found myself drinking
more and more whiskies not found in Jackson's book
and unable to imagine what his scores would be. 
How could he assign a number to something that was
so subjective I began to ask dismissively.  My confidence
was growing and by golly I was going to challenge the
expert. Surely scores were just a lazy writer's way of
avoiding loquacious tasting notes.
Besides, if Jackson's lowest score for a single malt is 59 and his highest 96, as in his 5th edition, wasn't this really a 40-point scale? 
But then real logic kicked in.  No, if your least favourite dram scored zero, then the impression would be that nothing could be worse.  Why would a malt not get half points – a score of 50, just for being drinkable?  And same at the other end.  No matter how fantastic that 1948 Macallan, shouldn't there be a little headroom just in case something better comes along?

Then I joined Malt Maniacs and was encouraged to start scoring whiskies seriously. 
At first I resisted, in part because my scores were all over the map and to defend that failing I had claimed that scoring just seemed so arbitrary, so relative, and so dependent on outside influences.  I mean, ask me two days in a row what my favourite dram is and I'll give you two different answers.  At least.  How can you compare Lagavulin in winter with Rosebank in summer?

But slowly my scores became repeatable and I began to gain confidence.  The epiphany came in Speyside when five of us sat down and began scoring malts consistently within a point or two of each other.  My palate had developed to the point where I could reliably deconstruct a whisky's traits and rank them.  Quickly I began to develop little techniques to help me score reliably.  

First, when scoring in a group, I write my score down before anyone has a chance to say theirs. 
That way I'm not influenced by others.  

Second, I try to compare the whisky I'm scoring with some standards.  How does this whisky compare with others I know well? 
When possible I make this much more objective by tasting the whisky in question directly head to head with Glenlivet 12 year old.  Glenlivet 12 is a whisky I know well.  It's a nicely balanced, multi-layered dram with just a little bit of everything in it.  It's predictable, reliable, available everywhere, and a dram I'd happily drink every day.  This is my signal whisky.  It is neither stunning, outrageous, nor bland and I have assigned it a score of 75 points.  On an enjoyability scale I compare every whisky to Glenlivet 12.  

Third, when possible I try to score whisky blind.  This means I cannot be influenced by others' opinions, by advertising, or by reputation, so my score is based on the whisky in the glass and nothing else.

Fourth, I take my time.  I used to say my score wasn't final until I had finished a whole bottle of a whisky, but I soon noticed that after a couple of sessions the scores tended to converge.  I still like to try a whisky several times and linger over each glass, but honestly, subsequent scores rarely vary from the first, well-studied tasting session.  

Finally, I try to score whisky with and without water.  Since you can never go back, this means pouring two drams, one to dilute and one to nose and taste at bottle strength.

Now, when I help judge the whiskies for the annual Malt Maniacs Awards, my tastings are all done alone, totally blind, in a neutral environment, with no distractions.  I try to taste each whisky at least twice, then go back and compare the ones with similar scores.  Little adjustments happen and slowly I come up with my final numbers.  Meanwhile, eleven other people around the world are doing the same thing, each in isolation.  Then, when the scores are all in, they are averaged to come up with final ratings based on twelve people's independent opinions.  Only then are the identities of the whiskies revealed.  I've had some surprises, but so far no embarrassments.

Much of the criticism of scoring is based on the notion that ratings are arrived at capriciously, but most scorers I know take it seriously enough to avoid curry or chili before rating whisky, to seek a neutral environment, to taste but not drink, to accept that their tastes and therefore their scores will differ from others' and to have the confidence to stick by their own impressions.  Most serious scorers know this is an art not a science and understand that from time to time they will surprise themselves.

Publicly declaring opposition to scoring too early in your whisky life can limit your pleasure later as you are then committed to an opinion that experience may change.  So before you make up your mind, follow my five simple techniques and over a period of months or years develop your ability to discern, differentiate and rank the little nuances.  Whisky is a wonderful contemplative, but it's just that much more fun when you sit down and analyse it from time to time.

Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

PS: you can find more thoughts on scoring whiskies in the 'office' section of the Malt Maniacs website...

E-pistle 2007/057 - A Whisky Weekend to Remember by Magnus F.

May 17 to May 20 is a weekend I will remember a very long time.

I was driving to Holland to pick up quite a lot of bottles Karuizawa
1994 from Full Proof. I asked three friends if they could go along so
we could get everything across the border to Sweden without any
custom problems. They were not hard to convince to come along.

We started early on the Thursday morning. Everything went fine
until 1 kilometer from Rödby in Denmark. The queue for the ferry
was long and it took us an hour to go that last kilometer. But the
reward for our patience were waiting on the other side, the
Bordershop in Puttgarden. Most of the customers of Bordershop
are Swedes and Danes going there to buy cheap beer, wine and
liquor. We passed these three floors of cheap stuff and went
straight to the whiskysection. They have lots of the ordinary stuff,
some to great prices some not so great. But what they do have is
reasonably priced Old Malt Cask (some at really great prices) and
also some Douglas Laing Platinum to very good prices.

This time the bargain was a 30 year old Glen Grant from 1976 for the stunning sum of 60 Euro! They had three left and we bought them all. After a good look in their two locked cabins of nice whisky we went out of there with around 20 nice bottles. A good start of our whisky weekend. A short stop at Calle's in Heiligenhafen resulted in four Rare Malts bottles and a Tobermory 1972 for Jonne.
His first in his upcoming collection of 1972 whiskies.

We then continued to Hamburg were we should spend the night.
We didn't have a clue where the hotel was situated, but it said city centre, so we followed the signs to Zentrum. When we were closing in on the city centre I spotted a small café called Café Spalding. "Hey, wait a minute, wasn't the street where our hotel is named Spaldingstrasse? Oh there is the hotel now." A short walk later and we were sitting at the Innen Alster and drinking beer. A dinner later and we were back at the hotel and tasted some of the whisky samples we had brought with us.

Friday morning it was time to visit Weinquelle in Hamburg.
I had ordered 25 Ardbeg Peat Packs for a big tasting next year and we also had the chance to start the day with a little whiskytasting. Arran Amarone Wine Cask Finish, NA, bottled 2007, 55% was a bit of a disappointment. I usually like what Arran do with finishes to be able to release young whisky, but this one was not as good as some of the earlier ones, winey, spirtuous and a hint of chocolate, 77 points. Bunnahabhain, Cask 11987, 1979-2000, 20 years, Mackillop's Choice, 58,9% was a lot better. Buttery and malty with vanilla and fruits gave it a 86 point score from me. Next one was also a Mackillop's Choice (quite a new acquiantance for me), Dailuaine, Cask 1236, 1980-1999, 19 years, Mackillop's Choice, 55,2%. Grass, grapes and a bitter finish rendered in a score of 80 points. The last one tasted at Weinquelle was a Bruichladdich, Sherry cask, 16 years old from 1989, OB for Hanseatische, 46%. This was a nice Laddie with cocoa, plums, flowers and sherry. I liked it and gave it a score of 86 points.

Now it was time to get going and head for Holland, but first a little detour to Duisburg to pick up 4 bottles of Ardbeg Very Young. After a bit of a worry to get to the store (it's not easy to find the way in these big cities when you have never been there before) we could pick up the 4 Ardbegs and also buy three more Ardbeg Peat Packs. The nice man in the store offered us a dram of Cragganmore, Cask 960, 1989-2002, 13 years, Signatory Un-chillfiltered, 46%. A lot of citrus in it and also a bit of soil. A bit strange but interesting enough to get a score of 83. We then looked around and spotted a shelf high up with some very interesting opened bottles. We were able to buy three drams that attracted us. Glenrothes 1979, 1979-2004, OB, 43% was filled with red apples, nuts, nice oak and a little bitterness, 87 points. Glen Grant 1965, bottled 2004 from Gordon & McPhail, 40% was my choice as it is my birthyear. A lot of fruitsweetness, raisins, peaches and cocoa pushed it into the 90's for me. As it is from my birthyear I might have been a little biased but I put it down for 91 points at last. The third dram we bought was a Strathisla, 40 years old, G&M, 40% and it was also very good. The sherry was dominating with almonds and cocoa just behind. A bit dry finish and a score of 90 points. A very good day so far, but it was going to get a lot better!

We left Duisburg and set our course for Arnhem, Holland and Jeroens house.
We found our way quite easily this time and arrived at Jeroen's house around six o'clock in the evening.
After having installed us we were offered some welcome drams before dinner.

We started with a Glen Spey, 21 years old from James MacArthur, 55,4%. Bottled around 1990 and a very nice starting dram with it's citrus and grass and some earthy tones. I put it down for a score of 84. Very soon after that one an Aberlour from 1963, bottled 1984, Cadenhead, 46% came to the table and now we got vanilla, fruits and a lot of sweetness. A little bit better then the Glen Spey and a score of 85.

Now it was time for some old blended whisky.
First up a Jameson bottled in the 60's-70's at 43%. I do have a hard time to appreciate Irish whiskey and this one was not my kind of whisk(e)y. Very spiritous, synthetic and rubbery. A low score of 45 from me. Fortunately I soon got a new dram to get my tastebuds to like me again. White Heather, 43,4% bottled in the 70's got my mood back up with it's fudge, chocolate, nuts and some scorchiness and 81 points. Another bottle from the 70's was the White Horse, 43%. It had nuts and a litte bit of suphurness like from burning matches. Not bad for a blend but not more than 77 points.

It was now time for some dinner and just in time for that two more whiskyfriends from Belgium turned up. After a nice Chinese meal with great wine we had a cup of coffee and a dram to the coffee. I said right away that this is not a whisky, this is a rum. I was right but I would never guessed that it was a rum from 1947! A special Cadenhead bottling that never came out on the market as I understood it.

Now it was time for our tasting.
Jeroen had promised us a high-end tasting, so I was expecting 8-10 very nice drams, but I had never in my wildest fantasy expected the things we got. All in all we tried 50 whiskies this very long night. We started out very seriously with tastingnotes for everything but they became smaller and smaller and the last 15 drams I just put down a score, a score that obviously can't be taken too seriously.

My handwriting was a bit hard to read when we got home and the letters were getting bigger and bigger the longer down the list I came. My friend used his mobile phone to take notes and Jeroen said early in the evening that it would not work so good. He was right! The day after my friend had tasted a Highland Pak Absdadadars cask!

We had a wonderful evening/night with lots of laughs, good music and marvellous whisky. When I went to bed around 3 o'clock in the morning the house was actually spinning around. Maybe that's the way they build houses in Holland?

The journey back home the day after started a lot later than we had planned, I doubt we were driving legally that day, but we drove safely and returned home late at night with loads of whisky in the trunk and some unforgettable memories in our heads.

Magnus Fagerström, Sweden (

E-pistle 2007/058 - Classifications of Whisky  (UB)

(TEXT FROM MY BOOK, not to be copied without copyright note)

With influences from the MacLean Wheel, Philip Hills Bar chart and David
Wisharts Profile table I have compiled a structure analysis chart not only
to my own benefit but also for the purpose to demonstrate notes taken
during the analytic phase. 

A structure analysis chart or personal 'observation' chart is provided in
conjunction with each descriptive taste note, throughout this publication.
The chart serves as a foundation for the descriptive phase and is the key
to the verbal elaboration.

Each chart element is ascribed a weight ranging from 0 to 5, except the
colour.  The weights represents  0 for not present, 1 for a vague, 2 for low,
3 for  medium, 4 for pronounced and 5 for dominating  notes.  For the colour,
the range is from 0 to 20 in steps of 1, where clear as water is set to 0 and
dark as molasses is set to 20. The spectrum includes shades of light yellow
to dark brown. The values assessed are not intended to be summarized
and serving as a score for the whiskies.

The scope of each category element, except the colour element are;

Peaty/Phenolic/Smokey - Are not flavours from water that flows through peat bogs but where peat and coke is used in the kilning process. (Flavour range is light to pungent and from  mossy, earthy, peaty, phenolic notes to  bonfires, burnt heather and arson).

Sherried/Winey - Flavours from a cask's previous content.
Its origin may be a range from various types of of sherry to other fortified wines like Port and Madeira but also table wines and its different grape varieties.  Madeira often contributes with a light oxidized note. (Flavour range is in conjunction with the casks previous usage).

Fruity/Estery - Estery flavours of fruity types are formed by acid reactions during the fermentation and maturation.
Others ore formed through catalysis during the distillation. (Flavour range is from pear-drops to fresh citrus and tropical fruits.  From Strawberry and other red berries to peach and melon. Dried fruit, sultanas and raisins but also Christmas pudding, fruit-cake and tart are frequent used descriptors for this category but also nail polish, varnish and acetone).

Floral/Aldehydic - Estery flavours of floral types are formed by acid reactions during the fermentation and maturation too, but also by aldehydes. The aldhydes forms when alcohol is exposed to air and during distillation in pot stills. (Flavour is aromatic and fragrant. Range is from leafy, sappy, new cut grass, hay, heather and herbal to greenhouse and summer meadows. Mint, violets and honeysuckle are other descriptors).

Cereal/Malty - Characteristics of the malted barley carried over from fermentation.
Usually disappears by long maturation. (Flavour range is from, simple grain and cereal to distinct barley. From mealy, husky, mashy to malt extract and biscuits. Yeasty notes and cooked veggies are other descriptors).

Feinty - Also known as tails or after-shots. It is the final spirit from the spirit still the end of distillation. The feints are low in alcohol, and the major part is returned for re-distillation. Feints are formed during the distillation as well as the maturation phase.  In small proportion they are the essential elements in the flavour of a whisky. If present above a moderate level it makes the whisky improper and undesirable. (Flavour range is from Hessian cloth and ageing books to leather and leather goods like car seats and saddles. 
Tobacco and mustiness like naphtha are other descriptors).

Medicinal/Maritime - The maritime, the 'salty' notes are often said to be the result of maturing whisky in appropriate micro climatic conditions. Perhaps this may be a contributing factor but these notes, medicinal and maritime are in general developed by the fermentation and distillation process. The salt level found in whisky is not organoleptic detectable; however, it is not inappropriate to describe a sensory sensation as 'salty' even in the absence of such substance.  (Flavour range is from brine, sea foam, sea weed to salt and iodine but also turpentine carbolic acid).

Woody - Oaky aromas, bitter tannins and astringent mouth feel are derived from the oak container.  The tannins are related to time and the number of times the container have been used and contribute in moderate amount to the balance.  Longer maturation extracts more tannin but contrary to wine the tannins are not markers of quality. Excess tannins may show that the whisky acquired age but overshadows its attributes. A bitterness, not sweetness, may also occur from excess use of the only permitted additive, the spirit caramel (E150).

Vanilla/Honey - Vanilla and honey flavours stems from the oak species used for the oak building up the maturing vessels.
The vanilla-like and other aromatic aromas are mainly caused when the oak lignin undergoes oxidation during its contact with alcohol and oxygen. Contrary to popular belief Quercus Alba or American white oak, the wood bourbon barrels are made of, yields a lower concentration of vanillin than their European genus. So where does the strong scent of vanilla found in bourbons then stem from? The answer lies in the practice of charring. The honey notes may be released by catalysis of aldehydes during the distillation process but are usually extracted by maturation in oak cask of Quercus Alba type, especially new ones. (Flavour range is from heather-honey, butterscotch, fudge, toffee to caramel and vanilla).

Nutty/Creamy - The nutty flavours are built up in well matured whiskies and generally related to whisky of higher quality. 
These aromas are lactones extracted from the oak vessel during the maturation phase.  Especially the European genuses of oak, Quercus Alba and Quercus Petraea, are rich in lactones with such properties.  The lactones also contribute to a buttery, creamy slight oily structure. (Flavour range is from coconut, walnut, hazelnut, almonds to chocolate).

Spicy - The spicy flavours are extracted from the oak vessel, especially new ones, during the maturation phase. Pine-resin like notes is occasionally found as a flavour from new oak wood. (Flavour range is from ginger, nutmeg cloves to cinnamon and pepper, but also cedar, sandalwood and pine).

Sulphury - The different copper parts of a pot still participate as a catalytic element during the various distillation steps.
For instance, this property removes natural sulphur formed and carried forward from the fermentation process and, further, contributes to chemical reactions during the distillation phase. Hence, experiments where vital parts have been replaced with stainless steel failed to produce adequate whisky.  These, unwanted, sulphur notes may enter during the course of the process at two instances; by new pot still or careless operating of the still; and by the hygienic treatment of casks.  The latter is a function of a not careful enough rinse of the casks after they have been sterilized by burning sulphur inside.

Copyright Ulf Buxrud

E-pistle 2007/059 - A Dozen Canadian Drams  (LG)

A Review of a Dozen Canadian Whiskies - The Old and the New

The first thing I had to learn about Canadian Whisky is that it's not supposed to taste like Scotch Whisky or Irish Whisky or American Whisk(e )y or Japanese Whisky. It's just supposed to taste like Canadian Whisky which evolved from the rough spirit of the our first pioneers to the famed product of the post World War II years to what it is today, a shadow of it's former self on the world stage. And almost all Canadian whisky has some rye in the mix and even as a lover of the whiskies of Scotland some of the Canadian whiskies listed below made me sit down and say "Oh my!". Canadian Whisky can literally be mouth watering. To the uninitiated rye can seem over powering on the nose and palate but like malt it has subtleties and complexities.

In Canada the brand is more important than the distillery and thus you will see whisky from several different distilleries under one or more brand names. And in every Canadian rye whisky you can taste the common heritage if Scotch, Irish or American whiskies. Canadian whiskies are dramatically under priced (or everybody else's whiskies are dramatically over priced.)  It is not a Canadian practice to use peat or to use ex-wine casks; the majority of casks used are of American origin.

Lot no. 40 NAS (43%, Corby Distillers) Corby Distilleries Limited, Corbyville, Ontario the label proudly states, but no more.
The distillery was established in 1859 and was located within the municipal boundaries of the town of Belleville and has now been demolished . The site is now in the hands for property developers. This should sound familiar; Lochside, Glen Lochy, etc, etc.
Color: Mid strength tea with reddish highlights.
Nose: Clean, some sweet wine notes(?) Very light rye, wood, spicy, very nice. No elbows. Caramel? Marked improvement after a few minutes.
Taste: Reminded me of Tormore 12 which is very Canadian rye whisky in style, white pepper, sharp dry oak
Finish: Sweet, peppery, muted cereal and rye notes, further dry sweet white pepper at the very end.
Score: 79 Points

Alberta Premium 40% NAS Canadian Rye Whisky (Jim Beam Brands World Wide) 
The one distillery in Canada that produces a 100% rye whisky and is located well within the city limits of Calgary in the industrial zone.
Color: Dark gold with reddish highlights. Really ugly bottle, no mind.
Nose: Rye, beautiful sweet Rye
Taste: Sweet oily development, rigid rye flavours, some diesel in the back ground and oaky dryness.
Finish: Rye with full sweet notes, first class whisky. Creamy butter and greengage jam.
Score: 91 Points

Royal Velvet 40% NAS 1970 tax strip (Black Velvet Whisky Co-Gilbey Canada) The cousin of Black Velvet also from Gilbey Canada.
Color: Medium gold
Nose: Sweet butter, light rye notes but more wine influence (?)
Taste: Dry with card board and very light oily rye, not over whelming. Well balanced.
Finish: Gentle and sweet. Rye,  butter. Fruit, pineapples, pears more rye.
Score: 87 Points

Alberta Springs 10 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky 40%. Also from Alberta Distillers in Calgary, Alberta.
After blending this whisky is re-casked for further maturation.
Color: Light gold
Nose: Gentle soft but well integrated rye notes, much gentler on the nose than its' NAS stable mate Alberta Premium.
Taste: Very gentle mouth feel with soft fruit and light rye. Very much a contemplative dram. Oily development. Mouth watering rye. Pineapples
Finish: Very well balanced and medium long with some sweetness looking back.
Score: 90 Points

Schenley OFC (Original Fine Canadian) NAS Canadian Whisky 40% (Schenley Distillers, Valleyfield, Quebec.)
Color: Golden dark honey.
Nose: Very muted rye, spirit and some back ground notes of caramel vanilla sweetness. Slight oiliness in the background.
Hints of great things ahead.
Taste: Clean rye, slight prickle in the mouth feel, sweet melon, dusty warehouses, cereal and wood notes. Toffee.
Finish: Warming and long with wave after wave of rye, very well integrated, good balance. Absolutely delicious.
Score: 90 Points

Centennial 10 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky 40% (Highwood Distillers)
Color: Light gold/copper.
Nose: Fruit cake, vanilla bean, background subtle hint of rye (or is it my imagination?)
Taste: Gentle rye but very focused, little else happening, some glace fruit.
Finish: More rye and toffee. Not overly long. A gentle whisky but chewy.
Score: 82 Points

Park Lane 15 Year Old Canadian Whisky (Corby Distillers-NO ABV Stated) 1952 tax strip.
Another fine whisky from Corbyville Distillery in Ontario.
Color: Deep gold with brown highlights.
Nose: Full on rye, sweetness, some brown sugar .
Taste: Very 'rounded' with a full mouth feel, huge mouth development of the clean rye. Quite dry, no bitterness but mouth watering rye and wood.
Finish: Long and warming with some later stages of wood notes resulting in a final dryness. Brilliant. After a few minutes the waves of rye are still reappearing in wave after wave along with sweetness. Thanks to Chris Raby for this one.
Score: 89 Points

Wiser's 18 Very Old Canadian Whisky 40% (JP Wiser's Distillery, Belleville, Ontario)
Color: Reddish gold, quite dark.
Nose: Quite mellow, subtle, rye, resin.
Taste: Again quite mellow with rye, tobacco, some oily/diesel notes but muted. Syrupy.
Finish: Gentle warming rye and tobacco, medium long, slight bitter at very last then, pop! Just a bit more rye.
Score: 86 Points

Wiser's 18 Year Old Oldest Blended Canadian Whisky (JP Wiser's Distillery, Belleville, Ontario- NO ABV stated) 1955 tax strip- distilled 1937. I was offered this bottle after a radio interview on whisky by a lady for the princely sum of C$50. I wish I could have bought a case. It was so excellent I drank the whole bottle myself and refused to share.
Color: Dark gold.
Nose: Rye, pepper, a very small hint of smoke(?).
Taste: Rye, sweet, stunning and the heaviest oily taste from the loads of rye in the mash bill. This is the biggest mouth feel of any whisky that I ever tasted.  Amazing, oh what has been lost. If all Canadian whisky was of this quality today….
Finish: Long, oily with a hint of heavy oily.
Score: 95 points

Gibson's 18 Year Old Finest Rare Canadian Whisky 40% (William Grant & Sons (Canadian Whisky Ltd).
Color: Light copper.
Nose: Fresh oak shavings, rye and a warming oily sweetness.
Taste: Cedar, rye, some rounded sweet notes, varnish and marzipan, winey. A bit of a violin makers shop here.
Finish: Long, wave after wave of perfect oily rye. Brilliant stuff. Goes on forever. Chewy, can't stop chewing on the finish. Mouth watering.
Score: 90 Points

Century Reserve 21 Year Old Canadian Rye Whisky 40% (Century Distilling Co., Kelowna, British Columbia). Bottle AC859 Nick Bennett, Master Blender.
Color: Medium gold with reddish highlights.
Nose: Gentle rye, sweet and clean, slight alcohol hovering in the back ground.
Taste: some hints of wheat (?), rye, sugar and wood. Diesel and more wood notes
Finish: Warming, blasts of rye and dry wood notes, slightly oily with hints of diesel in the back ground, very pleasant.
Score: 82 points.

Alberta Premium 25 Year Old 40% Canadian Rye Whisky (Jim Beam Brands World Wide). Despite the age this whisky sold for C$30 to C$35, a bargain at either price despite the ugly bottle (but it has a tube this time). The oldest Canadian whisky available and is actually 27 years old when bottled.
Color: Medium gold.
Nose: Rye, marmalade and sawdust, oak.
Taste: Stunningly gentle mouth feel with clean cut rye, burnt cake, tea.
Finish: Long, warming with waves of tobacco, rye and oak. Brilliant.
Score: 94 Points

I deliberately picked these whiskies since they are not commonly seen over seas, the more common being Crown Royal, Canadian Club etc. The ones I show cased are much, much better.


Expected in Malt Maniacs #106 (among other things):

- A Book Review by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada
- An episode of 'Olivier's Travels' by Olivier Humbrecht, France
- A report on the experiences during the Classic Malts Cruise by Krishna Nukala, India
- A 'liquid review' of a memorable trip to Scotland by Konstantin Grigoriadis, Greece
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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Malt Maniacs Issue #105 - Whisky Writings for 2007

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