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Malt Maniacs #106 - picture by Krishna

Malt Maniacs E-zine


What we see in Whisky
E-pistle #2007/060 by Hasse Nilsson & Robert Karlsson

The first of two 'duo' E-pistles of this issue deals with the things we can tell about a whisky just by looking at it; the colour and the texture (or viscosity) of the liquid in your glass. We want pearls, not caramel.

Classic Malts Cruise 2007
E-pistle #2007/061 by Krishna Nukala, India

As one of the few whisky experts in India, Krishna had the opportunity to make another 'pildrammage' to Scotland. He was invited to join a select few on Diageo's 'Classic Malts Cruise' around the Hebrides.

Olivier's Travels; The Seaforth, Ullapool
E-pistle #2007/062 by Olivier Humbrecht, France

If you want to reach a Highland or Speyside distillery quickly it's smart to fly directly to Inverness. And if you're there, Olivier recommends the Seaforth Bar-Restaurant in the fishing village of Ullapool.

Book Review: MJ's Malt Whisky Companion
E-pistle #2007/063 by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

Oddly enough, Davin hadn't reviewed Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion yet - even though it was the book that helped most maniacs underway on their voyage of discovery through maltland.

Old Friends & Older Friends
E-pistle #2007/064 by Louis Perlman, USA

While some of the other American maniacs seem to have gone almost dormant Louis faithfully keeps submitting his reports from the front lines in New York - but I still haven't convinced him to give scores.

Benriach - Sleeping Giant to Shooting Star
E-pistle #2007/065 by Konstantin Grigoriadis, Greece

It will take me some time to reconstruct the 'Distillery Profiles' on Malt Madness, but there's no rush with the one about Benriach. Greek maniac Konstantin wrote an excellent article about the distillery.

Triple Blind Tasting
E-pistle #2007/066 by Peter Silver, USA

It has been a while since we've heard from American maniac Peter Silver, but here's an interesting contribution about a blind tasting.

The Influence of Wood on Whisky
E-pistle #2007/067 by Paul Dejong, Belgium

Paul DeJong isn't a certified malt maniac - but 'close family'.
After we included him in an e-mail discussion about wood (ignited by Michel's paxarete E-pistle in MM#105) he sent us this article.

A Dozen Dewar Rattray Drams
E-pistle #2007/068 by Lawrence Graham, Canada

Before I read Lawrence's article I didn't know that Dewar Rattray is the offspring of Morrisson Bowmore. I should warn readers that some of Lawrence's scores are overly generous compared to the opinions of some of the other maniacs, as expressed on the matrix.

The Road to Bremerhaven
E-pistle #2007/069 by Michel van M. & Thomas Lipka

We finish this issue like we started it; with a 'duo-E-pistle'.
However, this one derailed somewhere along the line...

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Malt Maniacs #106 - October 1, 2007

A lot has happened since our last issue, most notably the passing of the world's foremost whisky writer; Michael Jackson. Serge has put up a 'tribute' page on WhiskyFun with some public responses. Many maniacs started their quest for the perfect single malt with Michael's 'Malt Whisky Companion' in their hand. He will be dearly missed.

One a lighter note, we have another fresh issue of Malt Maniacs.
Well - I guess you know that by now, or you wouldn't be reading these lines. This 106th issue opens with a collaborative effort by Robert Karlsson and Hasse Nilsson from Sweden that takes a closer look at what we see in whisky. Other highlights of this issue are Krishna's report on the Classic Malts Cruise 2007 and an article about the influence of wood on whisky by foreign correspondent Paul Dejong. I had hoped to have an 'Ask an Anorak' E-pistle done about the questions about wood that Michel's E-pistle in our previous issue brought up, but just couldn't find the time.
I really have to spend some time on Malt Madness now...

Meanwhile, the brunt of the work for the Malt Maniacs Awards has shifted from Holland to France for now. When I write this some 180 bottles have arrived in France and Serge and Olivier are busy shipping the blind samples to the jurors. The 200 whiskies that we had to compare and classify last year really approached the limits of our amateur capabilities, so we decided to limit the maximum number of entries per distillery and bottler in 2007. The results of this year's competition will be published on or around December 1.

Our annual awards take up most of our free time, though...
I'm not sure how much time we'll have to work on a fresh issue of Malt Maniacs in the foreseeable future. If you join the mailinglist you will receive regular updates via e-mail. While I'm performing my jury duties I'll probably try do do some work on our old archive.

So, that's all for now...

Sweet drams,

Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs

E-pistle 2007/060 - What we see in Whisky

Whisky GlassYou You have often seen him – it's most often a he – while others bawls and toasts around him he lifts
his glass to the light, turns and twists it and mumbles to himself. He studies and observes, like a magician
in front of a magic love potion. To the uninitiated it seems ritual and geeky, but there's nothing strange
about it, whisky, you see, can be drunk with your eyes.
Merely by observing how the whisky looks and behaves in the glass a whole lot can be said about it's
character and attributes. The first thing to observe is the color. The hue of the whisky often tells a great
deal about how it's going to taste. When whisky is filled into casks it's colorless like water. The color,
that in the final product can vary from light white yellow to dark brick stone red and even black, is
exclusively derived from the cask. Depending on what the cask has previously held, how many times it
has been used and the size of it will to a large extent influence both the taste and color of the whisky.

Cheating with color

In this context is caramel, E150, a true villain that makes things considerably more tricky.
The whisky industry is to a large extent coloring it's bottlings. The reason is simple, a certain whisky
should have the same color no matter where and when it's sold. The specific color is a mark of quality
that is seriously guarded. Before bottling, a whisky is usually mixed, or vatted, from a large number
of casks, and some casks has it's contents colored more than others and in order to get the consistent
end product the mix is adjusted with E150. Representatives from the industry usually claim that they
use minuscule amounts of E150 and that this practice has absolutely no impact on the taste of whisky.

Unfortunately this is in many cases only what they want us to believe.
Whoever has tasted raw caramel remembers a disgusting, powerful, sweetish slimy and burnt taste.
It is quite obvious that this will penetrate and affect the whisky negatively, at least to some extent. Whoever claims differently should for instance sample Loch Dhu from Mannochmore, or it's successor Cu Dhub, a coal black, debatable, bitter sweet experience awaits you. Probably about 100% of all whiskies are color adjusted. The big exception is single cask bottlings and products from independent bottlers and more exclusive limited distillery releases. Summed up all these whiskies amounts to a insignificant part of all whisky that is being sold. More or less all volume whisky is colored, basically all blends and virtually all standard single malts from Lagavulin 16 to Glenfiddich 12 comes with a dash of added color. This grim fact makes it hazardous to judge a whisky based on it's color.
But let's assume that we have an uncolored, untainted by the industry, whisky in our glass. What can the hue tell us? American bourbon barrels won't usually color whisky much. It turns pale, light yellow and with age it turns golden. European sherry casks might on the other hand color the whisky in a red brownish tint. If the whisky is reddish in color it's not a hazardous guess that it has been sherry matured. The same colors can be derived from other wines that sherry, of course. During the last few years it has become increasingly common to finish whisky a shorter period of time before bottling by transferring the whisky to a red wine cask. Casks that has contained Port wine, Madeira, Marsala and so on grants the whisky basically the same colors that sherry will. Problems defining the type of cask by eye sight only will occur if the whisky has laid in new casks or if it has reached it's middle age (or more). Even an inactive inoffensive cask will in time color the whisky. To be on the safe side one then has to do an age assessment.

Old whisky hurries slowly

It is quite easy to see how old a whisky is, or at least, if it's old. A trained eye can with reasonable precision conclude age.
Especially if the whisky is served in a glass that the observer is used to. The explanation lies in chemistry. The longer a whisky lies in it's cask the more taste compounds it will extract from it. Taste compounds are often heavy carbon-hydrogen compounds with long molecule chains. At the same time flighty substances evaporates. This results in the fact that the viscosity of whisky will increase with time. Old whisky will flow slower than a young. When you tilt the glass and let the whisky flow over the insides small "legs" will appear while the whisky runs back to the bottom of the glass. The more legs (they're also called tears or curtains) the tastier the whisky will be, and the slower they run, the older the malt in the glass. A youngster will sprint quickly while the older will stride slower and with more class.

A powerful pearl

Now, after we've pin-pointed cask type and maturation age, we move on to deciding the strength of the dram.
With a few simple tricks this can be done with high precision. Again we tilt the glass, but this time we're not looking at the curtain but at the "rod" it's hanging from. The line that has formed where the whisky has not been in contact with the glass is most often sharp and distinct. A alcohol strength of around 40% gives you an even "sweeping" line. The more alcohol the "spikier" the border line will get. When we reach up to around 60% of alcohol the line is a single necklace of tiny whisky pearls. Again the explanation lies in chemistry, it's about surface tension that diminishes when the alcohol level rises.

If you're fortunate enough to have a non-chill filtered whisky in your glass the alcohol strength can also be measured by adding water. If the strength is more than 46% alcohol the whisky will turn hazy with water. You see, most whisky that is consumed globally is drunk with ice. A hazy whisky is not considered aesthetic. So in order to avoid the haziness that occurs when water is added the whisky is chilled to around 4 degrees Celsius, sometimes a bit higher. Then a form of sediment is formed and filtered away. The downside is that these sediments also contain taste compounds that consequently also are filtered away. As was the case with colouring of whisky almost all whisky is also chill filtered. The exception is again independent bottlers and more exclusive bottlings that are aimed at a more demanding audience. But again, if the whisky is non-chill filtered it can easily be decided if it's above 46% in strength by just adding a dash of water.

Yet another trick in judging the alcohol strength is a method that distillery manager Jim McEwan at Bruichladdich often demonstrates. If you put your hand as a lid over a glass of whisky and shake the glass forcefully a couple of times bubbles will form on the surface. If these immediately disappears the strength is below 50%. If, on the other hand, many small lingering bubbles appear the strength is above 50%. The small bubbles will move towards the outer shape of the glass and form into rings where every ring equals a strength of 2%. So if the bubbles form into two rings the alcohol strength is 50 + 2 + 2 = 54%, if three rings then 56% and so on.

Cask type, age and alcohol strength are in other words some of the things that you can get an estimation of without even nosing or tasting the whisky. As in all other areas it's training that will decide how skillful one gets at it. So keep that in mind the next time you see someone that acts strangely, turns and twists his glass and lifting it towards the light. He - because it's most often a he - is just practicing.

Hasse Nilsson & Robert Karlsson

E-pistle 2007/061 - Classic Malts Cruise 2007

Dramming in the Inner Hebrides

I knew my life would not be the same again when I saw the e-mail from Anne Baekkalund, Diageo's efficient secretary. It was an invitation to be a part of Diageo's annual event-The Classic Malt Cruise. I had been yearning to take part in this event for a long time and when the opportunity did come, it came in style. To be part of the event as a guest of Diageo simply means that you have arrived on the whisky scene! Diageo has been conducting this event for over a decade and it has been huge success since its inception. At one time more than 200 boats participated in the event but due to logistics and efficiency issues; Diageo limited the participants to about 100 boats for the last couple of years.

The boats converge at Oban from all corners of the world, but Diageo's special guests (about a dozen and half) are invited into three splendid vessels- the speedy Grampus, the  magnificent grand old lady Eda Frandsen and the classy French boat Chantilly. For the next 6 days it is sailing combined with fun and frolic and tasting of some of Diageo's exclusive malts. During the week, each boat takes its own course but meets for the pre-set events at the Classic Malt Distilleries in Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Port Ellen and finally at Talisker in the Isle of Skye.

Actually, the festivities start the day before the sailing-off day at the distillery at Oban.
After the initial introductions, we, the special guests were welcomed by a rotund Chinese looking gentleman who quickly whisked us away from the increasing crowd for a private tour of the distillery. "I am Kenny Gray, working in Diageo for 39 years and as Distillery Manager for last 4 years in Oban," he introduced himself. Oban is really a small distillery and if the jetting out chimney of the distillery is not observed, nobody actually would believe that there exists a working whisky distillery. It is surrounded by shops in the front and the famous McCaig's hill in the rear. "Oban is marketed only as a Single Malt and never really ends up in any blend that I know of," states Kenny, beginning the distillery tour. As expected from a small distillery, it has only one mashtun and the two stills are very small, much like those at Edradour. The malted barley which comes from Roseisle is peated not more than 1-2 ppm and only distiller's yeast is added to break the sugars from the malted barley. After the detailed tour, Kenny settles us into his office for a special tasting of Obans. We had some standard 14 yo Oban and a distiller's version of Montilla Fino cask, after which followed the special stuff like the 20 yo and 32 yo Obans. The tastings continued further with frozen Dahlwhinnie with Chocolate mousse, Cragganmore etc. Not a bad beginning for a first time participant of Classic Malt Cruise!

Neil Pendock, a wine & spirits journalist reporting for Sunday Times from Johannesburg is my cabin mate in the Chantilly for the next six days. Dave Broom, the other Malt Maniac co-sailing with me is cabined in Grampus along with Nick Morgan, Diageo's marketing chief. We left the shores of Oban by 10 am next day morning and our experienced skipper Graham Moss (when Graham is not sailing he is either mountaineering or predicting avalanches in Europe), soon parted away from the crowd of boats and headed south via the Firth of Lorn. Our first halt for lunch was at a remote island somewhere between Colonsay and Oransay Islands. After a couple of lagers, our rubber dinghy was launched and soon we were on an exploratory tour of the Garvellachs, where the mother of St. Columba was said to have been buried. The remains of some the earliest Christian settlers from Ireland, dating back to 500-800 AD could be found here. Towards evening we anchored at the Tarbert Bank Shallows to spend a quite evening in the boat with dinner cooked by our magnificent and ever smiling cook Topi.

We were off, the next morning towards Port Askaig and after sailing past Bunnahbhein on the starboard side, Chantilly reached the piers of Caol Ila. Eda Frandsen and Grampus were already anchored at the pier. The hosts from Caol Ila and other coordinators were waiting for us to take, first to Lagavulin and then to Port Ellen. Driving on the road to Lagavulin brought back fond memories of my first pilgrimage to Islay where I was baptized into whisky appreciation by my Guru – Mike Nicholson. Nowadays, in Mike's place you find another master craftsman of Diageo - Graham Logie. As usual, the guests undergo the tour of Lagavulin followed by Lagavulin tastings. While the guests were having the special tour, I sneaked away from the crowd to have a close look of the historic "Malt Mill" in the premises. It was locked. For those who are not really aware of what "Malt Mill" is, here is a brief. In the year 1907, when Sir Peter Mackie (nicknamed restless Peter), the original owner of White Horse lost his agency with Laphroaig, he built a miniature Laphroaig in retaliation within Lagavulin distillery. It was operative from 1908 to 1963 producing some of the peatiest versions of Lagavulin during the period. The Lagavulins and White Horse blends produced during this period are legendary and are collectors items. According to Dave Broom, "If you happen to lay your hands on any of the White Horse versions of Lagavulin, just grab them. They are treasure." When Graham had finished with his guests, I goaded him to open the "Malt Mill" and he was kind enough to oblige. The place was plain and simple and there were no hints of any distillery having once existed. I took some pictures of the old Mackie's versions of Lagavulin and the famous White Horse bottles under the watchful eyes of Graham Logie!  Visiting Malt Mill was another pilgrimage for me. The visit was followed by Port Ellen maltings tour and I have to confess that I did not enjoy it. Where once existed a distillery that produced such full bodied and finest Single Malts, you see grand scale production of malted barley that feeds almost all the distilleries on the island. I still do not know why Diageo closed Port Ellen in 1983 in preference to Caol Ila. Probably, it was more a business decision.

We came back to Caol Ila by evening for the grand international tasting and I was surprised to find the national flag of India in the tasting room. Obviously Diageo did its home work very well to honour the international guests. I felt like an International celebrity for a moment. Billy Stichel whose family has been serving Caol Ila since his great grandfather's time treated us with some of the stunning Caol Ilas during the evening. The winner of the evening was the Distillery Bottling of 2007 with 58.4% abv. We weighed anchor the next morning before the low tide had arrived, to head towards Skye, our final destination but not before halting at some of the stunning isles in the Inner Hebrides.

Our next halt was at Iona during the day where we scaled the highest peak (or hill!)  on the island, followed by visit to the  Abbey. Iona is known more for its religious lineage. St. Columba arrived from Ireland on this island in A.D 563 along with his dozen followers to spread the Lord's Gospel to the Northern Picts in Scotland and he was successful to a great extent. One hears a great deal about him in almost all parts of Inner Hebrides. Towards evening we moored at a remote island somewhere in Treshnish Islands to taste some of the spectacular malts of Diageo brought by Maureen Robinson, the master blender of Diageo. Dramming on these tiny isles with the sun sinking into the sea and the skies ablaze with a myriad colours is a magical experience. The setting was like a surreal Van Goch's painting. It was an evening to remember for the rest of my life!

Next morning we sailed past Fingal's cave through a swarm of Puffins. In the 3rd Century, Finn McCool (known as Fingal to Vikings) defended the Hebridean attacks by Vikings and died in Ulster in 283 AD. The cave had been found by Sir Joseph Banks in 1772 and since then visited by many famous souls like Sir Walter Scot, John Keats and many a ruling Kings and Queens of England. As you near the caves, you hear many weird sounds and it is said that the echoes emanating from the caves inspired Felix Mendelssohn to write Die Hebriden (Fingal's Cave Opus 26). (In puts here are from Wikepedia)

We halted at the island of Muck which is known for its local fresh sea food and we bought some Lobster and Crabs for the dinner. We moored towards the evening at the island of Soay where we were greeted for the first time during the six day of sailing by the lazy Atlantic seals. Finally we reached Carbost at Loch Harport where Talisker is situated right on the edge of sea with the dramatic Cuillins range in the background. Charlie Smith who would be retiring in a week's time after serving 40 years in the industry received us at the pier. After initial introductions, Georgette Crawford, the local brand home manager took us on the distillery tour. She was lamenting on the erratic weather situation for the last couple of years and said "We had to stop production during last two weeks due to lack of water," I murmured to myself "Bloody Global warming".

The distillery has one mashtun, 6 washbacks, 2 wash stills and 3 really small spirit stills. What intrigued me most were the U-shaped lyne arms of the wash stills and the open worm tubs in the rear of the still house. Dave later on clarified that "the real complexity of Talisker is brought out in the wash stills with its unique inverted U shaped lyne arms". Later on we gathered in Charlie's office to taste some of the stunning Taliskers – the winner being the 30 yo, 53.9%, Bottle No. 3043 special vatting that is sold only at the distillery. In the evening during the ceilidh, Charlie was officially given a farewell and he suddenly threw the keys of the distillery to the newcomer Willie MacDougal saying, "they are of no more use to me!" Willie, as many of know has worked previously at Oban and his last stint has been at Blair Athol. The dancing and singing went late into the night and the first leg of Classic Malt Cruise 2007 came to curtains. Classic Malt Cruise is a life-changing experience and if any one has the slightest opportunity to participate never let it go at any cost.

A little dramming during a Scottish sojourn...

ScotlandThe Pot Still (13th July 2007)

Last time I visited the Pot Still was in May 2003 when
Davin and I drammed together here. I tasted my first
Linkwood which turned out to be an average malt.
This time too, as I had sufficient time in hand, I headed
towards this historical water-hole to try something new
and with obvious motto of increasing my malt mileage.

It was a Friday evening and there was barely enough
space even to stand. The gentlemen behind the counter
were obviously impatient serving a boisterous crowd and
I knew it would irk them more if I had ordered the drams
from the bottles that were perched on the top of the
shelves. So I asked for the bar catalogue, selected some
which I thought could be in the bar man's reach. But he
came back apologetically. The gentleman declared that the
stocks in the Pot Still have gone low recently and decent
drams are costing more to stock nowadays. 

After some conversation and influencing him with my
recently made Malt Maniacs visiting card, I managed him
to retrieve a Convalmore, Millburn and a Royal Bracla.

1) Convalmore 24yo 1978 (59.4%, Rare Malts, Bottle No.2418)
Colour- beautiful golden yellow
Nose – Very refreshing, Lavender, fruits, malty and hints of oily notes that are difficult to identify
Palate – Very silky, cooked oats, sugary, sweet and hot, nutty. Takes time to open up. Not much of a finish.
Score 84 points - I thought it must have been a well made whisky, not helped by the wood.

2) Millburn 25yo 1975/2001 (61.9%, Rare Malts limited edition, Bottle No 4282)
Colour- beautiful golden yellow.
Nose – Lovely ripe tamarind, floral too, gentle on nose for its high strength.
Palate – Lots of tannins, hot peppers, toasted nuts, sweet and bitter.
Score 82 points - Sticks inside the mouth, a kind of woody finish. Does not linger long.

3) Royal Brackla 1991/2005 (46% G&M Connoisseur's Choice)
Colour – Golden yellow.
Nose – melon with floral hints, fresh bread.
Palate – sweet, thin sugary liquid.
Score 81 points - Medium body, not much of a finish. Difficult to find any thing more.

I could not try any thing more, as it was becoming increasingly noisy around and I was not really enjoying my tastings.
My scores too were decreasing and before I hit the seventies, I thought it was time to quit. May be in a quite and different environment I might have given few more points to each dram.

Oban Distillery (14th July 2007)

With shame I have to declare that I never tasted an Oban before. Surprisingly, even on the Maniac's Monitor, there are not many Obans. Therefore, it was all the more special, as I had tasted my first Oban at the very source, that too along with Kenny Grey, the distillery manager. After an interesting tour of the distillery, Kenny brought me and some VIP guests to his office for Oban dramming. First interesting fact I came to know - that Oban is not used in any blends but sold only as a Single Malt. After the dramming, I took some great pictures from the top of McCaig, from where the view of distillery down and sea in front is spectacular. No wonder Oban is called the "Gateway to the Western Isles". Here is an account of how the tasting went:

1. Oban 14yo (43%, OB, Probably distilled in 1992, Second fill bourbon cask)
Colour: Beautiful golden yellow.
Nose: Lots of caramel toffees, fruity, sea air, citrous, fruit cake.
Palate – creamy and nutty, sweet, never had such creamy malt at 43% strength. Good medium finish.
Score: 84 points.

2. Oban 14yo 1992/2006 (43%, OB, Montilla Fino Cask, Distiller's Edition)
Colour: Dark yellow, almost sherried tinge.
Nose – mild smoke, white peppers.
Palate – Very sweet, peppers, mild tannins and sherry. Smooth, medium finish.
Score 82 points.

Now the tastings were going on with Oban with ginger, frozen Dalwhinnie with Chocolate, etc and I was fast losing interest in the stuff that was going around. I said "Come on, Kenny, why don't you bring some special stuff like those 20 y.o and 32 y.o Obans lurking behind in the cabinet?" He had no option, brought out the bottles and poured the last remains.

3. Oban 20yo 1984/2004 (57.9%, OB)
Nose: This is what I call an elegant stuff. Fresh sea air, lots of fruits, mild smoke
Palate: salty, nutty, Christmas cake, raisins. Wonderful finish.
Score 90 points - Most enjoyable.

4. Oban 32yo 1969/2002 (55.1%, OB, 6000 Bottles)
Nose – Complex, licorice, Vitamin B syrup
Palate – Honey, toasted almonds, lots of tannins. Excellent long finish. The Winner of the evening
Score 91 points.

Caol Ila Distillery (16th July 2007)

Caol IlaWith our National Flag behind me, I felt like a celebrity, participating in an
international event. The master of ceremonies conducting the tastings was Billy
Stichel whose family has been serving Caol Ila since his great grandfather's time.

1. Caol Ila 8yo 'Un-peated' (59%, OB, Ex Bourbon cask)
Colour: very pale yellow, almost white wine
Nose: Hits you on the nose. Young spirit from the still, beer like & fruity
Palate: Grassy, sweet and salty, ripe guava, syrupy
Finish: hot, good wholesome feel on the palate. Excellent stuff.
Score 86 points.

2. Caol Ila 12yo (43%, OB, Distilled +/- 1994)
Colour: pale gold
Nose: typical Caol Ila smoke, vanilla, very refreshing
Palate: Very easy to drink, sweet & peaty, peppers, syrupy, more vanilla on palate
Finish: Medium, OK.
Score 83 points.

3. Caol Ila 18yo (43% OB, No other details given)
Colour : Golden yellow
Nose : very leafy, green grass, some florals too, leather satchel
Palate : Soapy, sugar syrup, green apples.
Finish: OK not much of body
Score 83 points.

4. Caol Ila NAS Distillers Edition (43%, OB, no other details given)
Colour :  amber
Nose : Fruitiest of all tried so far, mild smoke
Palate : Oily, seaweed, dry.
Finish: OK not much of body
Score 81 points.

5. Caol Ila NAS (58.4%, OB, Only available at the distillery, Bottled in 2007)
Colour:  amber
Nose: Feels like just out of still, lots of organics, leafy, coal tar
Palate: Very, very sweet. Apples, Green bananas, oily
Finish: Fantastic finish, ever lasting!
Score 91 points.

6. Caol Ila 25yo Natural C/S (59.4%, OB, No other details given)
Colour:  dark amber
Nose: Powerful on nose, old leather book stall, leafy, burnt leaves
Palate: Easy to drink, sweet and salty, sea weeds
Finish: Very good body, excellent finish
Score 88 points.

The tasting ended with tasting of some just distilled fresh spirits. (Very sweet and fruity)

An uninhabited island somewhere in Treshnish Isles (17th July 2007)

ScotlandThere are innumerable uninhabited islands in the entire
Scottish west coast and one can moor at any of these if
the rocks hidden below are avoided. Or you can drop anchor
nearby and reach the islands in rubber dinghies. Dramming
on these tiny isles with the evening sun sinking into the sea
as background, the skies ablaze with myriad of colours and
a play full seal appearing now and then in the quiet waters
 is a magical experience.

The setting was like a surreal Van Goch painting, as
Maureen Robinson, Diageo's master blender took out her
special samples and placed them on the mossy rocks.

It was an evening to remember the rest of my life!

1. Rosebank 25yo 1981/2006 (61.4%, OB, 2500 Bottles)
Colour: White wine
Nose: Fresh oak wood, citrous, lemon jests, some fennel
Palate: sweet and sour, lemony, dry, syrupy
Finish: creamy and medium. Good stuff.
Score 87 points

2. Glenury Royal 36yo 1970-2007 (58.5%, OB)
Colour: straw yellow
Nose: vanilla straight out of biscuit tin, tangerines, fresh oak
Palate: honey dew, silky smooth, sherried, very elegant
Finish: Expected much more, but it disappointed me. Ok.
Score: 88 points.

3. Glenkinchie 20yo (58.7%, OB, Bourbon cask finished into a brandy cask)
Colour: Golden yellow, with a greenish tinge
Nose: Lots of grassy notes, melons, woody
Palate: sugar syrup, nutty, some oriental spices, may be ginger
Finish: Dry and long, the most enjoyable Glenkinchie I have ever tasted
Score 91

4. Talisker 12yo (45.8%, OB about 20,000 bottles for Friends of Classic malts)
First fill sherry cask
Colour: Deep amber red
Nose: very fruity, smoky sweet notes
Palate: lots of tannins, nutty, sherry, toffee, very sweet
Finish: Long and lasting
Score 88

5. Port Ellen 28yo 1979/2007 (53.4% OB)
Colour: Deep amber
Nose: Very smoky and peat, exhilarating nose, unknown fruits
Palate: lots of tannins, toasted nuts, and rum cake, full bodied
Finish: Long and lasting
Score 88

6. Lagavulin 13yo 1993 (57.5%, OB)
Colour: Deep amber
Nose: Oh! Old leather shop, mild peat and smoke, complex
Palate: chewy, butter and nuts, sweet and seaweed
Finish : Fantastic Long finish
Score 89

7. Brora 30yo (55.3%, OB, Refill American and European cask)
Colour: Dark
Nose: caramel toffee, sweet smoke and peat, horse stables
Palate: lots of tannins, butter scotch, chewy, vitamin syrup
Finish : Everlasting and impression making
Score 91

8. Lagavulin 21yo 1985/2006 (56%, OB, European cask)
Colour: Dark chocolate
Nose: very fruity, smoke & sherried, furniture polish, exhilarating
Palate: Rich and chewy, sulphur, medicinal but so easy to drink
Score 90

9. Lagavulin 12yo (56.2%, OB, American oak cask)
Colour: pale amber
Nose: fresh sea air, smoke and vanilla
Palate: lots of body, more smoke and peat, ice cream
Finish : Very long and lasting
Score 89

10. Talisker 30yo (50.3%, OB)
Colour: Deep amber
Nose: very complex, exhilarating and exotic fruits, mild smoke
Palate: Mild volcanic eruption on the palate, nectar, raisins and nuts, toffees, very, very sweat
Finish: Just like any great Talisker!
Score 92 points - truly, the winner of the evening.

Dramming at Talisker (18th July 2007)

Classic Malts ShipsCharlie Smith served the industry for four decades and many of the exhilarating
Taliskers we enjoy today are due to his creation. I have been lucky to meet this
legend at Talisker just before his retirement and consider it an honor having
drammed along with him in his office. Dave Broom was sitting just opposite me.

1. Talisker New Make (70.5%, Not officially bottled)
On the nose it is very salty and smoky. Very sweet and fruity.
Actually it is not that fiery.

2. Talisker 18yo (45.8%, OB, Mixture of American & European oak casks)
Colour: Deep Amber
Nose: Peat and smoke, florals coming from behind.
Palate: creamy, sweet & sea weed, mild tannins and sulphur notes
Finish: Very long
Score 87 points.

3. Talisker 25yo (56.9%, OB, Bottled 2006)
Colour: Deep amber
Nose: very complex, smoke is way down, some oak wood and Christmas cake
Palate: Explosive, warm and after some time turning into sweet syrup,
Finish: Just like any great Talisker!
Score 90 points.

4. Talisker 30yo (53.9%, OB, Bottled in 2007, for sale at the distillery only)
Colour: Deep amber, almost brownish
Nose: Briny, complex, sea air, sweet notes lurking from behind
Palate: Very warm, sweet and salts, raisins, dried nuts, chewy
Finish : That satisfying feeling! VOW
Score 93 points for Bottle No. 3043.

The Whisky Exchange (21st July 2007)

It is has been one of my long standing wishes to meet this gentleman of the whisky industry. I made it a special point to meet him at his exchange before my return to India. Finding his store at Park Royal in London was a Herculean task but it was worth all the effort. Sukhinder has a great "nose" finding interesting whiskies and he himself does not know what rare stocks he is in possession. His warehouse is not that difficult to break into and it may not be a bad idea if some maniac helps me to loot his exhilarating stuff some day!

1. Balblair 40yo (47.7%, TSMS, Anniversary selection, matured in Hogsheads, 215 bottles)
Colour: Exhilarating dark brown
Nose: Luxuriant wood, raisins, dried sweet fruits
Palate: Nectar, velvet smooth, Christmas cake, rich on palate
Finish: Very very long. Extremely satisfying
Score 93

2. Clynelish 34yo 1972/2007 (50.5%, TSMS, cask no. 20156/24651, dist 13.12.72, bottled 14.03.2007)
Colour: medium brown
Nose: salty, smoke and mild peat,
Palate: sweet, leather book, malty and salted butter
Finish: Very long. Very Good
Score 89

4. Bowmore 16 yo, Dist 4.10.90 Bottled 14.03.2007. 58.5%, cask No 1333, 283 bottles, The Single Malts of Scotland
Colour: deep amber
Nose: Most important- It does not have that perfumes, nice smoke and peat
Palate: Very salty and sweet, full bodied, coal tar, sea weed and medicinal
Finish: Creamy long lasting
Score 91

5. Caol Ila 16 yo, dist 11.01.1991/bottled 14.03.2007, 57.9%, Hogsheads, 298 bottles, The Single Malts of Scotland
Colour: bright amber
Nose: Typical Caol Ila on nose. Medicinal
Palate: Fruits and nuts, vanilla, creamy
Finish: Very long finish
Score 90

6. Springbank 13 yo, dist 26.11.1993/bottled 16.03.2007, 58.7%, refill sherry, 563 bottles, The Single Malts of Scotland
Colour: dark brown,
Nose: varnish, turpentines, exotic fruits, mild smoke
Palate: Exotic fruits, vitamin syrup, raisins, toasted nuts; one can drink loads of this
Finish: Excellent long finish
Score 92

7. Longmorn-Glenlivet 1971/1999 (58.6%, Scotts selection, Sherry wood)
Colour : Such luxuriant colour!
Nose: Sultanas, exotic fruits, exhilarating stuff, very rich
Palate: You can drink this instead of sherry! After dinner malt, Honey,
Rich cake with lots of nuts and rum
Finish: A Class apart
Score: 94

8. Springbank 1997/2007 (55.2%, OB, batch no.1)
Colour: dark
Nose: interesting nose, waxy, nutty.
Palate: Very smooth, and salty, dried fruits, milky
Finish: Long long finish, very enjoyable
Score 89

9. Lochside Single Blend, 42yo 1964/2006 (47.7%, Scotts Selection)
Colour: rich brown
Nose: Lots of wood, varnish, luxuriant nose
Palate: Sweet syrup, creamy and lots of fruits, malty.
Finish: Very silky and long
Score: 92. Never tasted a better blend in my life.

Before leaving for lunch, Sukhinder asked me my year of birth and when I said 1955, he went inside and brought this bottle.

10. Talisker 38yo, dist between 12-28/5/1955, bottled in 1993 (53.6%, G&M, casks 1310,1311,1257)
Colour: Luxuriant dark red
Nose: Complex, old leather shop, mixture of dried fruits and nuts, lots of sherry
Palate: Rich sherry, toasted almonds, Oriental spices, even though the level in the bottle was very low, it has not taken air.
No sign of degradation. Absolute stunner.
Score 94. 

A perfect ending to a most exhilarating tour of Scotland.


Krishna Nukala

E-pistle 2007/062 - Olivier's Travels;  The Seaforth, Ullapool

The Seaforth Bar-Restaurant in Ullapool - Ardbeg 1978 G&M
Old picture of The Seaforth, UllapoolFebruary 2007, The North West Trail, Scotland

If you are in a hurry to reach the wild Highlands of Scotland, do not bother landing
in Glasgow or Edinburgh. It will take you ages to clear out customs, get you luggage
and eventually find a car, and then battle with the traffic, especially in Glasgow! To
avoid all this, fly directly to the small regional airport of Inverness (BMI or Easyjet).
You'll see the luggage being unloaded directly in front of you and minutes later you
can be in your car driving off. If you are in a real rush, Ord distillery or Tomatin are
only 20 minutes drive away… if you are a little more patient, Craigellachie is one
hour down the A9, and if you are looking for Highland tranquillity, a place where
the mountains meat the sea, drive West, one hour, and you'll reach Ullapool.
Ullapool is a true fishing village, with a great Harbour road and their pubs, some
local ferry services with the only connection to Stornoway in the outer Hebrides.
There are a few restaurants there (The Ceilidh Place would come on top of my list),
but if you are looking for a simple bar/restaurant with great local atmosphere, good
malts and interesting pub (sea)food, go to the Seaforth, just opposite the harbour.

The drive from Inverness is truly beautiful. Before driving by the Ben Wyvis mountain (yes, that one!), you'll pass Ord distillery and maltings. Not a well known destination, but the distillery is very attractive, the visitor centre is well made, and a tour of the plant is a must do. Perhaps more interesting, is the proximity of one of Diageo's malting plant. Visits must be organized well in advance, as it is not open to the public. If you prefer something lighter, there is also the Black Isle Brewery…

As the road climbs the mountain range separating the west to the east, the scenery changes from luscious and green, to deserted and wild. If you are lucky, you will see more dears than cars. If you arrive by night at Ullapool, you will see the lights of the harbour in the distance, and you can ignite appetite for some seafood or fish & chips, because this is what you will get at the Seaforth. That evening we arrived at around 6PM in Ullapool, the sky was almost dark and the bar started to fill up with locals, all drinking beer and whisky and watching Scotland getting smashed by the Italians in rugby. Thank god it wasn't France, because the 'ambiance' was warm!

On the menu that night: freshly baked crab claws, a full platter of it!
I am now used to look in the bar corners, as often that's where the more special bottles are hidden…
I spotted a full bottle of Ardbeg 1978/2005 (43%, G&M). Quite pricey at £8 a dram, but that's Ardbeg now! The claws were delicious, meaty and nicely spicy, served with chips that only the Scotts know how to do. The Ardbeg was classic, exactly what I expected: a gentle smoky/peaty nose, not really organic or farmy, but more like a slow roaring coal fire. The match with the crab was perfect. The mouth showed more power than I expected for only 43%. Deliciously round, good length and above all highly pleasurable and drinkable.
A good Ardbeg: 88 points.

The Scottish rugby team now lost the game, so we decided to head off north…


E-pistle 2007/063 - Book Review: Malt Whisky Companion

Malt Whisky CompanionMichael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion (Jackson, Michael)
Dorling Kindersley Limited, London, UK, 2004; 448 pages. 
(Published in the USA as
Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch, Running Press, Philadelphia.)

In July 1909 The Royal Commission on Whiskey and Other Potable Spirits reported to the Scottish
Parliament that "whiskey is a spirit obtained by distillation from a wash saccarified by the diastase
of malt" and "Scotch Whiskey is whiskey, as above defined, distilled in Scotland."  This pronouncement
ended a campaign by malt distillers to have grain whisky and blends, declared "not whiskey" and was
the official end of more than 400 known years of malt whisky as the dram of Scotland.  Drowned in a
sea of blends and dependent on the blenders for it's continued existence in any form, malt whisky
quietly disappeared from public consciousness. 

When Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion was first published in 1989, the world was just on
the cusp of re-discovering malts and Jackson, already an accomplished beer writer, provided the first
distillery-by-distillery analysis of their flavours and aromas.  He was a man in the right place at the
right time, with a pen that drew hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, into the mysteries and joys
of single malt whisky.  Long before his fifth and final edition of Malt Whisky Companion hit the stores
in 2004, Jackson had become a cult figure in the whisky world - THE cult figure - and far and away its
best-known authority and most respected writer. 

How did he do it? 
First through steady, reliable, and descriptive reporting of what he smelled and tasted. 
Although he begged forgiveness for his enthusiasm, he did not resort to fanciful malt-o-porn, but
kept his descriptions spare and honest, with room for the reader to exercise his own taste buds.

It seems a right of passage for malt anoraks to spend a few years, first honouring Jackson's tasting notes, seeking and generally finding the flavours he does, then suddenly to grow into their own palates and noses and begin to doubt The Master, only later to return when they recognize the individuality of each palate and the consistency of Jackson's.

It was with this book that Jackson introduced the 100-point scale for rating malt whisky.  Though much criticized as too subjective or unreliable, Jackson's scale is now the standard for serious tasters.  Those willing to take the time soon learn to interpret Jackson's numbers and adjust them to their own palates, but better still, to repeatably rate whiskies themselves. 

The Fifth Edition begins with what's new in malt whisky.  Here readers of past editions are brought up to date on micro distilleries, Japanese malts, single casks, finishings, chill filtering, whisky and food, and collectors.  The volume of tasting notes has quadrupled from fewer than 250 in the first edition to over 1000, and Jackson apologizes for having to shorten some entries to make room for the burgeoning volume of new releases. The Companion is best known for its overview of all of Scotland's malt distilleries, but it also provides a comprehensive and very readable primer to the components that go into making whisky.  More than just malted barley, water and yeast, the book talks about the whisky-making process, the equipment, wood and casks, peat and smoke, history and trends, and some of the more controversial events.  His four whisky regions, Highlands, Lowlands, Islands, and Campbelltown, are described, as are their whiskies, and their sub-regions.  The Companion is both a good reference and a great introduction to single malt Scotch.

Jackson loved malt whisky, in part, because it is an authentic product.  "Whisky is a real drink," he wrote.  "A single malt is as real as it gets."  He was particularly fond of The Macallan and was sometimes accused of being in their pocket.  Indeed, 27 of the book's 448 pages are devoted exclusively to profiling Macallan.  Then, throughout the book he makes frequent reference to Macallan, describing, for instance, the richness of Golden Promise new-make tasted blind, or the pains the distillery takes to ensure a steady supply of suitable sherry casks. "The Macallan distillery receives what might seem disproportionate attention in the following pages," he explains, "because it takes what might aptly be termed single-minded positions on almost every issue:  the variety of barley; the strains of yeast; the size of the still; and the provenance of the casks."  Notably, tasting notes for the Fine Oak versions are not included in this edition.

Readers who have followed The Companion from the beginning have had a ride through the history of single malt Scotch in its heady blossoming.  Reading successive entries for Ardbeg, for example one goes in the first edition from two-pages with three tasting notes, for a distillery that has been closed since 1983, to five tasting notes for a recently re-opened Ardbeg in the second edition, four in the third edition, with questions of how the new Ardbeg will taste with the maltings remaining closed when the distillery reopened in 1989, to five pages and thirteen tasting notes for a re-reopened Ardbeg in the fourth edition, and fifteen more, including the PLOWED Society's Ardbeggeddon, in the fifth edition.  Despite worries that Ardbeg's quality may decline under new ownership, top scores improved from 89 for a Connoisseurs' Choice Ardbeg in the first edition to 93 for an official bottling in the fifth.

Similarly, the history of other distilleries in this time of rapid expansion, the emergence of new distilleries and new malt whisky countries, and the growth of independent bottlers is tracked throughout the editions and summarized in the fifth.  To cover malt whisky's growth over this time The Companion has expanded, (with a little help from Dave Broom, Jürgen Deibel, and Martine Nouet), from 240 pages to 448.

Jackson called this work Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion (in the USA it's Complete Guide To Single Malt Scotch), and for many, it truly is a companion, with dog-eared copies showing up wherever there is whisky. Without question, the most influential whisky book ever written, the most copied, and with the fifth edition the best selling, The Companion is still very much current and is required reading for anyone serious about Scotch malt whisky.  And, with apologies to Gunn, Daiches, and Alfred Barnard, for so many whisky enthusiasts it will remain the book that started it all.

In his fifth edition Jackson talks of a sixth, but in an interview earlier this year he told Whisky Cast's Mark Gillespie his publishers would not commit to a date, and he didn't really have time to pursue them. With Jackson's death in August 2007 that pursuit will never happen.  Let's hope that the notes for a new edition are found in his papers and that some of the friends who helped Jackson with his final Companion (and contributed to his 2005 Definitive World Guide) will finish the job for him.  His legacy is intact, but that would be a fitting tribute.

Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

E-pistle 2007/064 - Old Friends & Older Friends

Old Friends & Older Friends - the older friends first...

Glenfarclas 50yo (50% est. cask sample)
Glenfarclas 35yo 1959 (52.6%, Whyte & Whyte)
Glenfaclas 32yo 1974 (57.4%, OB)

Two out of these three were samples I smuggled out of Whisky fest last fall.
The 50 year old was generously poured during George Grant's seminar. It was estimated that a bottle could go for 10,000 GBP or dollars (I don't remember which, not that it matters). The 1974 is the current top of the line GF in the US, superseding the 1968, which was bottled at 43%. The 1959 was born in the same year that I was, and in most years, I have a dram only on or close to my birthday.

So how did these old timers stand up? The 50 year old was a look back into time, but it had
obviously faded over the years. It was kind like looking at a 50 year old photograph. As such, it can't in itself be described as a great dram, but rather shows just how the distillery has maintained its consistency over five decades. And kudos to George Grant and co. for sharing the 50 year old wit the general public, rather than turning it into a ornament for billionaires' yachts.

The 1959 W&W is more typical of am older SMS.
More wood than desirable, but still a very luxurious dram. Which brings us to the 1974. At a mere 32 years old, it was clearly the best balanced on the group. There were layers of fruitcake, with all of the ingredients present and accounted for. perhaps not as rich as the 1968, but I am going on memory here. There was just one small imperfection, a slightly watery body, which is not expected at cask strength. So I would give a 93 points rating, as opposed to 96 points for the 1959. I see that both the Malt Advocate and Jim Murray in the 2007 Whisky Bible also rate the 1974 slightly below the very best malts.

And now for some old friends.
These are some of the malts that I got going with 10 years ago, so it's time to see how they have fared over the years.

Lagavulin 16yo (43%, OB 'Port Ellen')
Talisker 10yo (45.8%, OB)

This was not a HTH per se, but I purchased new bottles of both last fall, so it makes sense to look at them together.
My story with Lagavulin is similar to that of so many SMS lovers, including our esteemed Editor. Once I finally tried the mighty Lagavulin, I totally freaked out over it, and went thru a bottle every six months for the next few years. My rating at the time was 93, two down from MIchael Jackson. That was because my  personal reference at 95 was the Springbank 21, and I felt there were two degrees of separation between the Springer and Lagavulin.

But then I moved on to other things, and it was a very long time since I had a dram of the Big L.
In the meantime, the designation on the bottle (and box) changed from White Horse to Port Ellen, and many Lagavulin fans thought that the quality took a step down as well. It didn't come as a surprise then, that I agreed with this assessment. In the WH days, Lagavulin threw the peat, iodine, and seaweed at you all at once, in a marvelously complex presentation. Now, the iodine and seaweed were way in the background, and the peat was more prominent.

The comparison to the current Talisker was very interesting. As Luca observed on the MaltMenu, there is more vanilla sweetness and less pepper than before (the Talisker 10 used to be nicknamed 'Scottish rocket fuel'). Still, I find the 10 to be well balanced, and very flexible. The comparison with Lagavulin was worthwhile. Bottled at a slightly higher ABV, the Talisker has less filtering, so it has a firmer body. But Lagavulin still has the edge in complexity. I have previously rated the Talisker 88 points, and I am going to continue to do so, and that is my new rating for the Port Ellen Lagavulin.

Just for fun, I threw the latest version on the Compass Box Whisky Eleuthra into the mix.
With only 20% of the malt being Caol Ila and the rest Clynelish, the Eleuthra doesn't quite compete as a peat monster, (gee, maybe that's why CBW also has the Peat Monster in it's line). I am going with 87 as my rating, and the Eleuthra is still my favorite CBW creation.
And now for some un-peated malts;
Highland Park 12yo (43%, OB)
Balvenie 12yo (43%, OB Doublewood)
These were third and seventh 'real' single malt scotches that I knowingly purchased as such. The late, lamented, PLOWED page described Highland Park as 'orgasmic', and I had to agree. Smoke, heather, and honey, all combined in the perfect package. And the 18 and 1977 were even better. But once into the New Millennium, the distillery seemed to go downhill. I have sampled the 12 any number of times since then, and have come away underwhelmed. This includes the latest hip flask shaped bottle. The whisky is bland, there simply isn't very much there. I had previously rated the HP 12 six points higher than the Glenmorangie 10 which I now rate 83, but the current HP definitely scores lower. I haven't had the change to do a HTH, so I will issue a provisional rating of 81 points - I wouldn't be surprised if it ultimately went lower.

It pains me to have to say this, as Highland Park was once considered a top tier distillery.
And now to close on an up note...

When I first tried the Doublewood a decade ago, I found it to be a pleasant dram, perfect for non-scotch drinkers.
The sherry casking was well integrated, but final product seemed to be a bit on he timid side, compared to the more exuberant 10 year old. Over the years, I found the 12 DW to be even less involving, until last year. It's like someone at the distillery woke up and started to smell the whisky, because a bottle purchased in early 2006 was the best one I've tried yet. The finishing is nicely done, and dovetails well with the overall Balvenie honey and marmalade profile. This is a nice choice if you want a bit of sherry, but not all the way to the Macallan level. Another bottle purchased this year was just as good, so I'm gong with 82 points , as it's still a step behind the Glenmorangie 10.



E-pistle 2007/069 - The Road to Bremerhaven

The road to Bremerhaven ... and to score # 1000 
by Thomas Lipka (Germany) and Michel van Meersbergen (Netherlands)

Thomas: I don't know how we came up with the idea at all, but I think it was about a year ago...
It was in Limburg when Michel told me that Christel and he planned to visit Klaus Everding – the now ex-maltmaniac – in Hamburg.
I asked Michel to drop by on his way back by all means once they made the trip. After all, you should seize any opportunity to share a few drams with a fellow maniac. These opportunities are way too scarce anyway if you ask me. As far as I know the meeting with Klaus never materialized, but every time Michel and I exchanged mails the topic of 'dropping by' came up again and finally we agreed on a meeting in March after an earlier try in January had to be postponed. Christel and Michel planned to arrive in my hometown Bremerhaven on Friday afternoon and to leave again on Sunday morning. That would leave us with two tasting nights and a day of sightseeing.
Time enough to do some serious damage to our livers, I assumed… and rightly so. ;-)

Michel: Indeed, the visit to Klaus did not materialise to this date, which does not mean it will never happen!
Beware Klaus!! Indeed it took a while before we could nail a date. It came to the point where I thought it was never going to happen at all. No surprise once we did set a date I was very happy. In fact so happy Christel switched to MaltWidow-mode when she saw me and still had no clue about our 'date'. Luckily she actually liked the idea of getting over to Bremerhaven for good company, drams and... shopping. I left her under the impression Bremerhaven is a metropole, a shopper's paradise, the Milan of the North - home of the diamond encrusted credit card. Google Earth has Bremerhaven as a former outpost of Bremen where there's no shop-fun at all... As you said Thomas, time enough to do some serious damage to our livers!

Thomas: As luck would have it, after we agreed on a date for our meeting I learned of a tasting.
I heard that on that Friday night there would be a "Silent Stills" tasting at my local whisky dealer. As usual with Ingo Kirchhoff he would not reveal his line-up in advance but since you regularly get pretty good or at least decent whiskies for your money there I asked Michel what he thought about starting off our weekend dramming at that place. Seemed that he liked the idea somewhat because both Christel agreed and Michel agreed to enjoy a 'Teutonic Tasting' as he put it.

Michel: Okay, okay... It's a matter of saying right?!
I'm always surprised because of the general discipline the German audience at whisky fairs and could only imagine what a German small-scale tasting would look like. Nothing to do with uniforms, spike moustaches, picklehaubes or shouting orders... (although it would have been a very, very funny). Back to the topic. Always interesting to attend Silent Still tastings. Bottles from closed distilleries fetch high prices these day and I find too often the contents are not on par with the money you have to pay for them.

Thomas: But we – or I rather – had one more thing on our agendas for this weekend.
According to my count I had 983 whiskies scored for the Malt Monitor and thus was closing in on # 1000! When Michel learned about that he immediately promised to bring something special for this occasion: a somewhat legendary bottling. He wouldn't tell me what it was, however. I hardly couldn't wait… Finally the big day was there. Good thing I left work as early as possible because Christel and Michel were there earlier than expected. And a good thing, too, that I bought some 'Butterkuchen' (a German sort of cake) on my way home to go with the coffee because they seemed quite hungry from the trip. Time flew buy as we talked all afternoon. I had made arrangements beforehand with Jeffrey, a friend of mine, to pick us up by car for the tasting so there would still to be time for some pizza later on to chase the coffee and the cake – and to lay some groundwork, of course, before we left.

Michel: Good company is never too early... ahem... Well we left quite early. Terra Incognita has lots of surprises and I rather anticipate on those. It was an enjoyable ride. Due to the ‚shortest way to' option in stead of the ‚fastest way to' option on the routefinder we were forced to take B-routes, or Landeswegen, and got a pretty good idea of the surroundings of this part of Northern Germany. I was really surprised to see peat-cutting exists here! Perhaps an indication to the popularity of peated malts in the Bremerhaven area? As said, the surroundings were great. Lots of flat- and moor-land which, I can imagine, you can only truly enjoy when coming from the same surroundings. People from those areas should know what I mean. Thomas and I were at one point exchanging mails about sea-side walks in rain or gale force wind and actually see and fully understand the beauty of it... While we can go into lengthy details about the shades of grey of the sky, the colour of a boiling sea... it remains a mystery to people living more than 10 miles from the sea...  Well, back to whisky! After some hob-nobbing, butterkuchen and quite some large coffees the first dram was poured. It turned out to be the Cragganmore 20yo 1981/2001 (59.3%, The Bottlers, Refill sherry C#1589). A lovely dram with quite some unexpected smoke on the palate. It scored 86 points. It was about time to have a little snack before we were running out of time for the tasting at Ingo's.

Thomas: But it wasn't long after our sparse meal (did I ever mention I'm no cook?) that Michel got kind of antsy.
And it wasn't because his nicotine patch had went off and he was craving for a cigarette while fighting withdrawal symptoms. Instead he finally went to the cardboard box he had brought and picked up a bottle of Mosstowie 15yo (40%, Sestante Import, Bottled 1980's). The chase for malt # 1000 was officially on!

Michel: What can I say? You might not be a cook but you capabilities of putting deep-frozen pizzas in the oven and get them out in time are simply great! I guessed the Mosstowie would be the perfect after-pizza dram. Highly drinkable and has enough power despite its low abv. Especially after food that has subtle spices or herbs it stands out..

Thomas: Maybe it was the atmosphere or the anticipation of good things to come but I liked this one pretty much scored it at 86 points, slightly higher then Michel had it rated. Anyway, this was # 984 according my book. We were good to go and do some serious business.

Michel: You see? I'm right about the Mosstowie!
Besides that, I like to go to a tasting with my palate switched on so what better than a good low abv malt? It must have been a strange sight for Jeffrey when he came to pick us up - three people already in semi- to high spirit. 

Thomas: Actually, I think Jeffrey would have been deeply disappointed if the scene he found would have been much different…

Michel: A few minutes drive brought us at the shop, with two small pagoda's, where we took some time to look around a bit.
Apart from a more than decent collection of malts you'll find some whisky infused jams made by a privateer. Different kind of fruits enhanced with, let's say, Talisker, Lagavulin, Caol Ila. Even a orange jelly with Port Charlotte! Rumour has it Diageo found out about this jams and ordered the producer to stop the use of the names Talisker and Lagavulin because they're protected trade marks... Well, I do understand Diageo has to be very strict on this one but to treat a privateer producing jam... it has an atmosphere of bullying to me.

Thomas: Especially if you consider that this private firm consists of two people: the owner and his wife! I think it is obscene in a way to use all your muscle in a case like this. It is said that the privateer's lawyer advised them to not sue Diageo about this. Diageo has announced that they will push this case to the very limit, up to the European Court if necessary. Although the small firm in all likelyhood would win in the end it probably would take so much time and money that they'd be bankrupt by the time the final sentence is passed!

Michel: The tasting turned out very well. As expected a very disciplined audience and an interesting line-up.

Thomas: Talk about different expectations or perceptions. 
Anyway, these are our notes (Michel & Thomas):

Inverleven 1990/2005 (40%, G&M Licensed) - 81 points from Michel, 83 points from Thomas
Colour: Golden. Nose: Malts, vanilla, some dry oak, lemon skin, salmiac, hints on butter, some charcoal, apple, apple pie, yeast and some cinnamon. Palate: Slightly neutral. Vanilla, straw, oath meal ccandies, salmiac. Slightly flat and prickly oak. Finish: A bit creamy now. Some eucalyptus, subtle notes on honey, licorice and wheat germ oil. Great springtime dram, solid made and satisfying. What's more to ask for?
The nose hits you with estery components right away, very fresh and fruity. Green apple (cooked?), pear, cinnamon.
Later it gets a bit buttery in addition to a  light woodiness. Palate: creamy mouthfeel and sweet, which lets me think of cherry ice cream. The finish is very sweet at first, yet very short, again followed by a late transition to a more bitter tail. Maybe these were the licorice notes Michel detected. A nice dram to start with.

Dallas Dhu 22yo 1982/2005 (43%, Signatory, C# 705, 407 Bts.) - 82 points from Michel, 83 points from Thomas
Colour: Pale amber. Nose: Great notes on dark malts. Hints on smoke, subtle charcoal, roasted hazelnuts, pear, some beer and ashy oak. Palate: Roasted malts, some smoke, roasted almonds, sahy oak, hints on crème brulée, some liquorice and humus. Finish: Some green malts, walnuts, almond oil and seems to have some feints as well. Another enjoyable dram from a somewhat overlooked distillery. As I write this I can tell you I had a DD 1979 cask sample from Cadenhead which is truly worth looking out for. It will be bottled... somewhere now I guess.
Nose: Quite reluctant, lemon, used dishwater and in a way musty. Weird isn't it? I couldn't get it into in any kind of category until Michel mentioned something which I misunderstood. He said "pear" but what I understood was "beer". And of all a sudden I knew what the nose reminded me of: German Weizenbier (wheat beer) which is often served with a slice of lemon. I don't like Weizenbier which kind of explains my cluelessness. Funny how the mind works sometimes, though. Palate and finish were much more to my liking, though. Quite peppery, lots of vanilla and a nice touch of wood, before the lemon stages a soft comeback.  

Banff 20yo 1980/2000 (43%, Signatory, Butt #634, 702 Bts.) - 84 points from Michel, 82 points from Thomas
Colour: Golden. Nose: A tad rubbery, some peat, organics, cabbage water, potatoes and some thai basil. Palate: Salmiac, strawberries, hints of peat and some grapefruit. Finish: Very subtle peat, juicy malts, eucalyptus and tarces of garden mint leaves. Too bad of the sulphurous notes in the nose. But that didn't keep me to come up with a 'recommendable' score. It has the right kind of dirtyness for me...
Nose: rubber and sulphur, yet unusual, not unlike some Port Ellens, for example. Somewhat flat on the palate with vanilla being the overriding component. Finish rather short,woody and quite spicy.  Not exactly flawed but hardly exciting. 

Banff 25yo 1980/2006 (43%, Signatory, C#2917, 292 Bts.) - 86 points from Michel, 85 points from Thomas
Colour: Dark golden. Nose: Enjoyable vegetal notes, grapefruits, eucalyptus, fudge and traces of smoke. Develops a hint of peat, bubble gum and some perfume. Palate: Some smoke and peat, butter, oily vanilla, orange candies and faint notes on tropical fruits. Finish: Very faint notes on sulphur, some vanilla, crème brulée and traces of smoke. Enjoyable Banff be it a tad straightforward.
A very good Banff with nice fruity influences.

Aah, this one is better! Smoke and matches, both very lightly and pleasant. Juniper, vanilla and hay.
Palate: Peat, fir, bubblegum, a little bit too artificial, though. The middle long finish shows malty sweetness, interwoven with a hint of pepper and oak. Definitely more interesting than the 20yo.

There was a small incident with the two Banff's. As the tasting was quite crowdy two bottles of each malt was needed.
The Banff 25yo failed in the shipment so one part of the audience had the 20yo, the other had the 25yo.

We managed to try both of them anyway. Good old German organizational skills, I'd say!
Famous words of Ingo 'the tastemaster': 'Well, you see, they're coming from the same year, it's the same distillery so I can't see the differences between the two can be that big'. I was not sure if I had to laugh or to get upset with these words...  
He always does that and it beats me why. This is a guy who usually is very knowledgeable in all aspects of whisky, be it about production, history or else. Yet he repeatedly neglects the influence that casks have on the final product. Very weird.

Millburn 26yo 1979/2005 (58.1%, Signatory, Butt #26, 531 Bts.) - 81 points from Michel, 81 points from Thomas
Colour: Amber. Nose: Aspirine, vegetal, roasted almonds, eucalytus, great 'bitterness'. Develops malts, slightly sulphurous, fudge, lactic acids, pastry, gunpowder while added water brings out some grapefruits. Palate: Starts of with quite strong chemical notes. Nettle juice, pollen, buckwheat honey. Finish: Quite sweet. Sugared whipped cream, green malts, medicinal and fades away with notes on cough bonbons. A good Millburn that could have showed some more 'green' notes on the palate but with a rather diffuse finish.
Nose: Peppermint, eucalyptus and a bit musty, but in a pleasent way. Michel also suggested veggies which sounded right. I found it quite flowery as well (roses). Plastic notes accompanied by freshly mown grass, a hint of smoke and finally turning a bit sour (the infamous buttery notes of Millburn?) The palate and finish to me were kind of puzzling. Very malty, bubble gum. Nice burn on the tongue, oak and a surge of a slightly chemical sweetness. A 'confused' score of 81 points.

This one was followed by the Glencadam15yo (40%, OB, 2007) which Michel already knew, so only my notes here: Nose: Overripe fruits, veggies. The palate shows some fruits preserved in rum and sugar (called Rumtopf in German). The dram finishes off with a solid yet unimpressive interplay of tannins and sweet components. 82 points.

Port Ellen 1982/2006 (40%, G&M CC, D. 09/'82, Btl. 09/'06, refill sherry butts) - 82 points from Michel, 86 points from Thomas
Colour: Pale golden. Nose: Subtle peat, some rubber, dried autumn leaves, moss, some metallic notes. The rubber intensifies after a while, spirity, cereals, vanilla, some tar and tobacco. Goes on with rubber bands and eucalyptus. Palate: In yer face peat, tar, vanilla, crème brulée, tobacco, nutmeg and develops a more simple kind of blunt peat. Finish: Some oak, peat and metallic malts. Well, another proof peat/smoke for peat's/smoke's sake doesn't work for me. And that price... pfff...
I liked this one a little bit better than Michel. Not very surprising since this is Peaty Tom talking... However, for a 24yo Port Ellen you would expect more maturity and complexity. The nose hits you right away with its oily and very peaty character. In the mouth there is added strawberry sweetness and pear but it pretty much ends there again. Except for smoke and barley to the end this one didn't give me that much. A good malt if you're into the heavy and peaty stuff but for that price (about 160 EUR) you'll probably get better bottles (or more cheap ones for the price of one…). 

Thomas' girlfriend Anke picked us up after the tasting and soon we were back at headquarters for two Clynelish Night Caps.

Clynelish 30yo 1972/2002 (46%, Berry Bros / The Dundeil Selection, C#14307) - 91 points from Michel, 90 points from Thomas
Colour: Amber, grey hues. Nose: Ashy vanilla, candle wax, grapefruits skin, prepared melon, roastbeef, some hums and autumn leaves. Develops more and more parafinne. Palate: Waxy malts, ashes, some silver polish, slightly dusty malts and dusty oak. Dusty is still very enjoyable in this one...  Finish: Some ashy malts, vanilla, hints on cheese and fudge. Great old Clynelish!
Both Clynelishs were samples from bottles shared with some friends and I haven't tried them before either. So here goes: Nose: Gras, seaspray, classical Clynelish waxiness, but also salt and kippers. Hmm, I'm getting hungry again! Palate: quite strong, pleasently burning on the tongue, malt, hint of pepper, buttered caramel, fudge, Finish: a whiff of smoke, and fudgy again. And the cheese you detected probably was the Cheddar I had put on the table…   ;-). Anyway, a wonderful whisky.

No way Thomas, I had a clean palate when I tried this Clynelish... but seriously, I had more 1970's Clynelishes which had something cheesy - nothing negative here - on the palate (i.e. the Whsiky Fair bottle) or in the finish.

Clynelish 1972/2002 (56.3%, SSMC, C#14287) - 90 points from Michel, 88 points from Thomas
Colour: Dark golden. Nose: Honey, peach, quite subtle. Slightly metallic, orange cream, waxy malts, hazelnut ice cream, some salmiac, cinnamon, custard and tarragon. Palate: Short, yet bold attack. Damp oak, some feints... Waxy orange skin, caramel, some coffee, hints on ginger, mace and nutmeg. Finish: Wax, roasted malts, slightly drying oak and chemical bananas. Another classic Clynelish!
Nose: much more in your face and sweeter than the Dundeil. The seaweed is moch more underlying. Roasted coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla. Palate: olives, salmiacs, licorice, spicy and woody, hints of rubber. Finish: very creamy and long but just a tad too sweet for me which was kind of overdoing it. Too bad, because I loved the nose. 88 points. But, in case you are still counting: my malt mileage was now at 993. Tomorrow would be the day!!  ;-)

Michel: After a good night's sleep and a great breakfast, the 'himbeeren' with Laphroaig jam was truly great, the four of us headed for a Bremerhaven city tour. It seems Bremerhaven is waking up from a relative long period of sleep - that should be 'not being an important NATO-harbour anymore - and what beautiful morning Bremerhaven can expect! The old harbour front is completely overhauled. A new hotel with the looks of the Burj Al Arab is being build. The brand new museum 'Deutsches Auswandererhaus'  looks very nice (although we didn't enter...) and the Klimahaus were former, 20th century climatically conditions such as 'spring' or 'winter' can be experienced, will be finished somewhere next year. But it's not all 'just new' in Bremerhaven. There's this charming, just a bit cheesy, fish harbor where most of the early 20th century warehouses are converted to shops and restaurants, a real crowd pleaser. In all, Bremerhaven is in the middle of some very positive dynamics. Let's hope the available 450.000.000 euros for this operation will be spend for the benefit of the entire city and not just on a strip of land 3 kilometers by, let's say, 400 meters?

Thomas: Well, I hope I do not sound like a local bum, but if you ever happen to visit Bremerhaven in the near future make sure you visit the Klimahaus. You will experience a  discovery trip through the world's climatic zones, a journey along the 8th degree of longitude that shows the diversity of the world's climates. This is copied right from their website: "One of the main attractions of the Klimahaus® is a trip around the world from and to Bremerhaven, always along the 8th degree of longitude. Over 5,000 square metres, you will become a world traveller: strolling through a variety of different climes and meeting people whose everyday life is heavily influenced by the prevailing climate. You will experience extreme temperatures and encounter strange animals and plants. Interactive exhibits will help you to literally grasp even complex interrelations of the various factors of the world's climates." Check out the website at!

Michel: Cruising the harbors in beautiful weather makes a person hungry. At one of the restaurants in the old harbor we had a small dinner - a Fischerfrühstück with loads of north-sea prawns (north-sea prawns are undeniably the best on this planet...) and scrambled eggs - the perfect basis for a night's dramming! After we picked up some bread and cheese we headed home where Martin Diekmann was expected to join. Martin is a member of the recently established German speaking chapter of the International Maltmaniacs, the MaltGermaniacs by the way. If you speak German you should have a look at their website:  The Third of 'Die Drei von Bremerhaven', Hans-Jürgen was not able to come. Too bad, we still have to settle this thing between our nations' kitchens. Next time you guys, no more excuses! You WILL prepare me Schnitzel and I WILL have a laugh about it!!

Thomas: To be a bit more precise: Hans-Jürgen isn't actually from Bremerhaven, but lives about 1 hour and 45 minutes away.
One reason he didn't just drop by…   ;-)

Michel: Well Thomas, I sincerely don't care! :-)
I stick to 'Die Drie von Bremerhaven' for me, as a Dutchie, it has a certain something to it...
Back to Saturday night. It took Martin a bit longer than expected to come so we decided to start with some easy dramming.

Thomas: To be honest with you, at that point I was a little bit tired.
The big Fischerfrühstück and a day of sightseeing combined with the contrastingly warm interior of my house did their part.
But Michel was restless again (the privilege of youth?) and was pushing a nosing glass to-and-fro. Okay, okay, I got it – no mercy!!  ;-) 
So he "forced" me to try a
Milton Duff 26yo 1980/2006 (48%, Dewar Rattray, Cask #12502 , 132 Bts.). Nose: Mint, bonfire sweetness, honey, supported by a backbone of vanilla. Palate: very rich and oily mouth feel, later enormously sweet. Ends on orange juice and very mature fruits. Despite the overly sweetness which I usually don't like, a very good one! 87 points. Speaking of which: the next one on my crusade was a George T. Stagg (65.45%, OB, c2005) that Michel also had brought along. The problem I have with a lot of American whiskeys is the pronounced sweetness they show and it was the same one with the Stagg.
Very drinkable, but I wouldn't like a whole bottle of it. 77 points.
Here Michel joins in again with his commentary:

Next on line was a bottle I bought recently. Glen Elgin 1976/2006 (45.1, JWWW Cross Hill, 224 Bts.) - 82 points.
Colour: Amber, orange hues. Nose: Hints of ginger and peach. Some sharpish oak, apple pie, cinnamon, black pepper, liquorice, vanilla, some fudge and gets a tad sulpury after a while. Palate: Somewhat timid. Cookies, some mace, faint notes on damp card board and slightly medicinal. Finish: Nice and creamy now. Some green oak, some resin and has a metallic feel towards the end. The Glen Elgin was a bit disappointing. It came from a fresh opened bottle and lacked the personality you should expect from a 30yo whisky. Recently I poured some samples from it and the nose was much better already. Expect new a new score in a foreseeable future. For now it's on 86 pts.
I agree with Michel. This one wasn't overly impressive – yet. Nose: Sweet honey, spicy oak, hints of rubber, licorice, the slightest sulphur which gets stronger over time. Very balanced but far from excellent. Palate: 'tastes' quite strong considering the ABV, leaving a burning sensation on the tongue. Fruity sweetness, but somehow not very expressive besides that. Finish: warm and long, but it doesn't exactly talk to me. 83 points.

After this somewhat bland malt Michel definitely went after me! Here comes a Springbank 1996 'Spiritus Sulphuris Volatilis' (57.5%, OB, priv, C#118, 306 Bts., ca. 2006). And it was living up to its name!! Nose: Rubber, chocolate, sulphur in a very big way, overpowering, almost numbing and not very pleasant. Adding some water added wet flintstones and minerals. Taste: Sulphur again, but much smoother now, better integrated into some faint peat and some ripe fruits. Finish: the addition of water once again helps. Cremay, marzipan, nuttiness and – of course – sulphur. One of the few malts that I scored by its components: N: 65 p., T: 84 p..
Final verdict: 79 points. I just couldn't get over the nose. 

Yeah, strange malt this is. It's soo over-sulphurised (not comming from the cask!) it's funny! Truly lives up to its name.
While Thomas was trying to tame the Springbank I had a go at at an 'antique' Glen Garioch, the
Glen Garioch 10yo (40%, OB, btl. 1980's, 75 cl) which I gave 85 pts. Colour: Amber. Nose: Some balsamico, devlops smoke, black pepper, leather, honey, peppered orange skin, ginger bread and slight signs of OBE. Dried tarragon, licorice, caramel, subtle notes on sulphur and hazelnut cream. Palate: OBE, smoke, spicy oak, some pollen, leather, cinnamon, pepper and caramel. Finish: Cinnamon, OBE, caramel and minerals. Fades away with notes on vanilla and coffee, gets a tad herbal. Soon after the Glen Garioch Martin came in. He brought some very interesting samples we just had to try.

Numero uno was one I barely couldn't wait to get my hands on once I saw it. Martin actually poured us a Highland Park 30yo 1955/1985 (53.2%, G&M for Intertrade, 216 Bts.) that he had received from fellow maltmaniac Luc. But Martin warned us right away that something might not be right (anymore?) with this one since he found it to be extremly soapy! Considering the fact that Luc and other maniacs had rated this one very highly not that long ago this announcement was quite puzzling. But I had to agree with Martin. This one WAS disappointing. So far I had tried some outstanding Intertrade bottlings and old Highland Parks can be a revelation. But this one? Nose: very subtle sulphur, the malty sweetness covers light licorice notes. Palate: still unimpressive, nothing that really stands out, some malts, hint of sherr, but no honey for example, no special qualities. Finish: lightly floral go with the reappearence of sulphur.
I'm afraid this HP simply has suffered from oxidation. 83 points only. 
Colour: Amber with brown hues. Nose: Hazelnut cream, rosted almonds, licorice, liquorice later on, hints on peach, subtle notes on resin, pistachio's and gets subtle perfumed. Palate: A tad flora. Hints on rosewater, subtle sherried and delicate notes on almonds. Finish: Juicy oak, beer, almonds and fades away with notes on crème brulée. I had it at 86 pts.
The sherry and the subtle rosewater had a very nice interplay...

But Martin wasn't going to be discouraged by his disappointment and poured us another heavyweight...
Bruichladdich 33yo "Legacy V" (40.9%, OB, 1,690 Bts.) which had been bottled in 2006. While the first three 'Legacys' had been classics, the fourth in this series had been not up to that elusive standard in my opinion. Let's see if this one fairs better. Nose: overripe fruits, cinnamon, paint stripper, wet paper, hint of grass. Palate: tropical fruits, raspberry, nice sweetness overall. Finish: a little bit too short and weakish on some oaky notes to propel it in exclusive 90 point company, but nonetheless an improvement over its predecessor. 87 points.
Colour: Amber with grey hues. Nose: Aplple compote, hints on cinnamon, honey, dried apricot, hints on fresh oak and develops notes on pine resin. Palate: Honey, pollen, apple compote, beer, subtle sherry, cannabis, hints on tropical fruits and cherries skins. Finish: A tad too short. Slighlty mineraly, some oak and rather diffuse. 85 pts. Nice but it's rather 'correct'. Nothing exciting here...

That was my #999 malt by the way, so stop the presses and drum rolls please as I approach the magic barrier!!.

[Editor's remark - and from here on it just wasn't clear anymore who was writing what - sorry about that...]
[Please look at this at a little 'puzzle' to help your brain cool down at the end of MM#106 if you will...]

And Michel kept good on his promise. He really presented a legend, the Lagavulin 16yo (43%, OB, 75cl), but not your garden variety edition you get today, but the very first 'White Horse' bottling of the 16yo standard from about 1988. In case you didn't know, the standard Lagavulin until then had been the 12yo. Good luck if you are chasing one of those bottles.. Now let's see if the old Laga is really so much different from nowadays bottlings as a lot of people claim. Nose: Definitely different! Not as punchy, way more subtle, even some fruitiness that reminds me of Ardbeg, especially the 75s, that had some winey and grappa notes to boot. Obviously there is a lot of peat and smoke as well, but wonderfully balanced with the other components. The taste offers you the same wonderful sweetness and peat notes. Just yummy! The finish is middle long and smooth and shows some tender strawberry notes to go with the peat. There is none of the bitterness of the spirit caramel influenced Lagavulins you find nowadays. Michel was right. This was a worthy anniversary malt for Peaty Tom! 91 points (Just to think that that was the standard back then…).

So what's best to follow up the Lagavulin?
How about a Lagavulin 21yo 1984/2005 (42%, Murray McDavid, Mission, bourbon, 132 Bts.)?   ;-) 
Nose: Vanilla! Very youthful. If this were a lady she'd be lying about her age, showing only the traits of a young Islay whisky: barley, malt peat, seaspray. Palate: stays young, no added dimensions, despite 21 years in the cask you still get associations of new make. Finishes on smoked tea, oak and tannins. This hasn't been a very active cask, obviously, but it's still a solid whisky. 84 points.
Colour: Dark golden. Nose: Tobacco, smoke, some cooked apple, grain barn, slightly metallic. Develops smoked trout and mashy malts. Palate: Faded peat, some smoke, malts, drying mouth feel. Lapsang Souchong, tannic feel. Must be comming from a tired cask. Finish: The oak continues, some 'dry' malts, smoke gets thru and fades away with notes on charcoal. Can't say I'm overly impressed... 83 pts.

But we weren't far from done. Martin just kept on firing with interesting stuff. The Bushmills 1984/1996 (57%, OB for Celtic Whisk(e)y, cask #11758) had recently been reviewed very positively by Serge, so let's see if we can join the parade. Nose: Very expressive. Furniture polish, tobacco, dark chocolate, polished leather, plums and Rumtopf (fruits in rum and sugar). Palate: Tia Maria, creamy, a bit sticky and a tad to sweet. Finish: very warming, long and powerful. Water brings out more chocolate notes and that creaminess again. In a way very clean, whatever that means. 84 points in my book, but I am not a lover of overly sherried whisky. If that's more along your alley you might very well love it. Colour: Dark amber. Nose: Loads of sherry, some tropical fruits, diesel, bearing grease, some exhaust fumes, butter scotch, coffee, chocolade, Madeira wine and licorice. Palate: Diesel oil at first. Bearing grease, some tropical fruits, caramel, humus and over-ripe banana. Finish: Licorice, chocolate, black pepper, walnuts with hints on tropical fruits. 88 pts. Interesting tough over-sherried, lovely over-sherried that is. After that, it went strictly downwards for a while. Martin used to own (almost?) all Bruichladdich valinches but decided to sell a lot of them because he was disappointed about the quality of  the majority of them. Two that he hadn't tried before had to stand our judgement tonight.

First up was the Bruichladdich 1989/2005 Tonga Valinch (57%, OB, bourbon C#1880, Caroni Trinidad rum enhanced, 348 Bts.). At that point this one was like "Knüppel auf'n Kopf" as we say in Germany (like you got hit with a stick over your head). I couldn't believe Bruichladdich actually bottled this one. The only thing I wrote down was: totally unimpressive, 70 points. It was so bland I was  shaking my head in disbelief. Colour: Pale golden. Nose: Cane sugar, lots of alcohol, subtle notes on malts, some brad, tea leaves and gets a tad peppery. Palate: Quite hot, overwhelming alcohol. Hints on soap, some cane sugar, make-up powder and has a rancid sweetness. The rum 'enhancement' make for an even more shallow feel. Finish: Vanilla and eventually knocks out the tastebuds. 71 pts.

The next one didn't fare much better.
The Bruichladdich 1986/2001 'Launch ot the First Edition Bottlings' Valinch (53.5%, OB, C#700, 1200 Bts.) was just as boring. It hasd some fudgy, buttery notes, some sweetness but nothing to write home about. At this point I didn't even bother to take notes anymore. Not a very maniacal behaviour, Michel chided me. But I didn't care anymore. This was the Launch of the first bottlings valinch? Barely 72 points. Colour: Amber. Nose:  Buttery malts, fudge, oily sherry oak. Some cinnamon. Turns mouldy after a while and develops notes on burnt oak and malts. Palate: A tad shallow and bleached out. Mushrooms and burnt caramel. I can't say I liked it. Finish: Caramel, rotten walnuts and fades away with beer. Thomas decided not to try the third valinch of that night...

Bruichladdich 1990/2005 'The Purest Malt' Valinch (55.5%, OB, C#710, 350 Bts.)
Colour: Golden, grey hues. Nose: Clay, Malts, gun powder, bruin bread, jumoy oak, sluphurous oak. later on some pineapple jam and apple kernels. Palate: Quite harsh. Sahrp malts and oak, a tad sopay as well. Faint notes on apple skin and kernels. Quite hot mouth feel as well... Finish: Quite some oak, pepper and nutmeg. Very jumpy from a somewhat uninsprired/tired cask. 77 pts. Very pure indeed... above average for that matter but I can't say it has an enjoyment factor.

A dissapointing row of Valinches....
It looked like we were all getting tired finally, but we couldn't go to sleep on such a sour note. What we needed was a strong finish in a literary sense. How about a  Port Ellen 23yo 1978/2002 (60.9%, Signatory, Dumpy, C#5265, 464 Bts.), Michel asked? Yeah, how about it!?   J Nose: Wow, heavy! One of the sulphury kind, but pleasant. There was something else which I couldn't come up with that late at night. Soy sauce, maybe? Overall very attacking and sharp. Palate: Mostly sherry, but with water you get something extra, something fresh like citrus. Finish: Long and quite spicy. This one can stand some water which lifts  it into the realms of the very good drams. 88 points for an excellent nightcap. While Thomas was enjoying the Signatory Port Ellen he poured me another Port Ellen:  Port Ellen 19yo 1981/2000 (59.4%, The Bottlers, D. 05/'81, Btl. 07/'00, Refill sherry C#1550) Colour: Dark amber. Nose: Nice maritime feel. Some smoke, hazelnuts, subtle notes on rubber, herbal broth, black pepper and notes on wild thyme. Palate: Chocolate, coffee, subtle notes on peat and generates more smoke. Slight hints on soap, roasted malts and some hints on caramel. Finish: Mocca, hazelnuts, chocolate, juicy oak and fades away with notes on chicorice. 89 pts.

Although the Port Ellens were like a power jolt we decided to call it a day after that and we all went to bed. And after an extensive breakfast the next morning it was time to say goodbye already to my friends. What's left to say is a big THANKS for all the great stuff they brought and for the good time we were able to share. And isn't that what drinking whisky is all about?

Yes indeed!
After a drive that took us a bit longer than expected - the weather was quite stormy that day - we made it safely home.
A great whisky-weekend!


Thomas & Michel - or Michel & Thomas?

Expected in Malt Maniacs #107 (among other things):

- A Book Review by Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada
- An episode of 'Olivier's Travels' by Olivier Humbrecht, France
- A small report about the Limburg Festival by Robert Karlsson, Sweden
- A Review of a handful of 'bang for your buck' malts by Bert Bruyneel, Belgium
That's it for now - Please visit the (new) archive or the old 'ADHD' version of Malt Maniacs for more E-pistles.

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E-pistle 2007/065 - Benriach; from Sleeping Giant to Shooting Star

BenriachTill May 2005, Benriach was for me just a name of a Speyside Distillery, where I tasted a few recent OB's, but nothing to fancy for my taste.
Well, the Old Greeks where saying "Panta Rey" (Everything is Flowing) that means that everything in life is undergoing changes, so my Opinion too about Benriach should change drasticaly ! 

The reason and the beggining of this change was a Trip to Scotland
in May 2005 and a visit to Benriach and Billy Walker, with Mario Prinz
from Potstill Vienna.

When we arrived at Benriach, someone was already waiting for us
outside the Distillery, a very sympathic and friendly guy who welcomed
us and introduced himself as Billy Walker (at this time i didn't knew
who he is or what he's Job at the Distillery).

In the Next hours Billy and Alan McConnochie, the Master Distiller, showed us everything inside and outside the Distillery, the Warehouses, the old malting facilities. Billy told us many interesting stories and much about Benriachs history, so lets take a travel back in Time and have a closer look in Benriach's history.., we program our Time machine and set it to bring us to our first destination timepoint at:

The beginning of the time voyage, starting at the Victorian Times (1837-1901)

1898: The BenRiach Distillery is established by the Grant Family on the same site as the Longmorn Distillery.
Indeed, locally BenRiach was sometimes referred to as 'Longmorn 2'. However, the timing proves to be unfortunate, preceding the 'Pattison Crash' by just a few months. 'Pattison, Elder and Co', fronted by Robert and Walter Pattison, were the biggest purchaser of whisky at that time. Because of their buying power, distilleries were willing to extend significant credit to Pattison Elder, unaware of the firm's precarious financial position. When they eventually went bust, many distilleries were crippled, and the whisky business moved into a period of recession.

Benriach Railway1900: Widespread distillery closures follow the Pattison Crash, and BenRiach is mothballed after just two years of production. The distillery remains closed until 1965, however BenRiach's floor maltings remain in constant production during this period, providing malted barley for the fully operational Longmorn Distillery.
1965: BenRiach is re-opened by Glenlivet Distillers Ltd, having been almost totally rebuilt, and production re-convenes. However, a large number of the distilleries mothballed in 1900 remain closed to this day, and in some cases have been demolished.
1978: Glenlivet Distillers Ltd, and the various distilleries under their ownership, including BenRiach and Longmorn, are purchased by Canadian whisky firm Seagrams.
1983: In addition to the regular distillation, production of peated malt whisky commences. This move is a response to the increasing cost of Islay whisky due to a general industry shortage. With no Islay distillery in their portfolio, and with peated malt a key component in Seagram's blended whisky brands, the firm decided to produce their own peated Speyside, at BenRiach - a very unusual move at that time for a Speyside distillery.
It is as a result of the stock of peated BenRiach that the previous owners laid down that we are able to bring you 'Curiositas', the only comercially available Speyside single malt distilled from peated malted barley.
Since taking over the distillery in 2004, we have continued to distil both varieties of BenRiach; peated and non-peated.
Rest assured that the future of both styles of BenRiach is secure.
1985: As production steps up, BenRiach is expanded from two stills to four.

1999: The BenRiach floor maltingsare closed, after 101 years of uninterrupted operation.
The maltings remain in good working order, and could be re-activated almost immediately.

2001: Seagrams are acquired by French firm Pernod Ricard, creating the 2nd largest spirits firm in the world after Diageo.
Of Pernod's stable of distilleries, Glenlivet, Aberlour, Glen Grant and Longmorn remain at full capacity. Glenkeith, silent since 1999, remains closed and Edradour, the smallest malt distillery in Scotland, is sold to independent Signatory. Four distilleries in the Pernod Ricard group move to rotational production, distilling for just 3 months of the year; BenRiach, Allt a'Bhainne, Braeval and Caperdonich.

2002: All four distilleries are subsequently mothballed in August of 2002.

2004: In April 2004 BenRiach is acquired by an independent consortium consisting of 3 partners; Scotch Whisky veteran Billy Walker, and South Africans Geoff Bell and Wayne Keiswetter. Production re-convenes immediately, meaning the inventory is effectively uninterrupted. On the 7th August 2004 the first bottling of BenRiach under the new owners takes place; BenRiach 'Heart of Speyside', 12, 16 and 20 years old, and the peated 10 years old are all released to the public for the very first time. On the 20th September 2004 the first distillation under the new owners is filled to cask. 96 'green' (i.e. first fill bourbon) barrels are filled, numbered 1 to 96, and are immediately transferred to the BenRiach warehouses for maturation, not to see the light of day for at least 12 years.

2005 January: The first series of official single casks bottlings from the distillery are released. Bottled in December 2004, and branded as 'BenRiach Limited Release', 4 vintages,  from 1966, 1970, 1978 and 1984 (peated), are brought to the market.

2005 October: The 2nd series of 'BenRiach Limited Release' single cask bottlings are liberated, with 7 vintages, from 1968, 1972, 1975, 1976 (peated), 1979 (peated), 1986 (peated) and 1988, launched. These were bottled in September 2005. BenRiach also launch 'Authenticus', aged 21 years and distilled from peated malted barley. The bombastic older sibling to Curiositas, this is the 2nd peated expression from BenRiach.  As a peated single malt from Speyside, and with annual production limited to 800 six-packs, this is a rare whisky indeed.

2006: The 3rd series of 'BenRiach Limited Release' single cask bottlings are liberated, with 8 vintages, from 1968, 1972, 1975, 1976 (peated), 1978 (classic speydide), 1980 (new wood), 1984 (olososso sherry peated) and 1986 (fino sherry peated), launched.
These were bottled in June 2006.

2007 May: BenRiach Launches 3 Heavily Peated Wood Finishes:

83 - Benriach 12yo 'Importanticus Fumosus' (46%, OB, Peated Port Finish, 2520 Bts., 2007)
80 - Benriach 12yo 'Heredotus Fumosus' (46%, OB, Peated Pedro Ximinez Finish, 3180 Bts., 2007)
78 - Benriach 12yo 'Arumaticus Fumosus' (46%, OB, Peated Jamaican Dark Rum Finish, 1740 Bts., 2007)

2007 August: The 4th series of 'BenRiach Limited Release' single cask bottlings are liberated, with 8 vintages.
These where/will be bottled during Mid-August 2007. Following the data and my ratings of these bottlings :

92 - Benriach 34yo 1972/2007 (49.7%, OB, Classic Speyside, Japan Only, C#3580, 198 Bts.) 2007 OB
[This one is only for the Japanese Market and wont be officially available elsewhere]
90 - Benriach 31yo 1975/2007 (53.7%, OB, Lightly peated, Port finish, C#4451, 708 Bts.) 2007 OB
87 - Benriach 30yo 1976/2007 (55.5%, OB, Richly peated, Port finish, C#4469, 798 Bts.) 2007 OB
89 - Benriach 29yo 1978/2007 (52.2%, OB, Lightly peated, Moscatel finish, C#4413, 216 Bts.) 2007 OB
84 - Benriach 29yo 1978/2007 (52.5%, OB, Lightly peated, Tokay finish, C#4416, 264 Bts.) 2007 OB
87 - Benriach 22yo 1984/2007 (54.2%, OB, Richly peated, Port finish, C#4049, 288 Bts.) 2007 OB
83 - Benriach 21yo 1985/2007 (54.5%, OB, Richly peated, Oloroso finish, C#3766, 666 Bts.) 2007 OB (666, The Devils Cask ???)
79 - Benriach 13yo 1994/2007 (55.5%, OB, Richly peated, Port finish, C#26, 324 Bts.) 2007 OB

Last but not least,  some preliminary information from Alistair Walker :

"In addition to our various expressions (classic Speyside style, heavily peated BenRiach, wine finishes) we also have some small quantities of triple-distilled BenRiach. Some of this was produced by Chivas back in 1998, and we also ran a small trial ourselves in Feb 2007. Both vintages have been filled into 1st fill bourbon casks, although we do plan to re-rack the 1998 into 2nd fill sherry casks for a period of time.
Eventually these will be released as a triple distilled BenRiach bottling.

There are also plans afoot to start malting at BenRiach. We couldn't malt sufficient barley to cover our current production, and will still have to buy in most of our malt barley, but we are thinking about malting the barley we use for our peated whisky on-site."

The End of the time voyage, we got back home safe :-)

BenriachPhew, what a travel !
And knowing that so much history makes thirsty, Billy and Allan already
had prepared a marvelous Tasting for us :-)

We tasted the following bottlings, among with Cask Samples of the
second series of 'BenRiach Limited Release' single cask bottlings;

Benriach NAS (40%, OB, 2004, Heart of Speyside)
Benriach 12yo (43%, OB, +/- 2004)
Benriach 16yo (43%, OB, +/- 2005)
Benriach 10yo 'Curiositas' (46%, OB, +/- 2004)
Benriach 20yo 1984/2004 (55%, OB, C#627, 253 Bts.)

(The last is my all time Favorite !)

The first think I did, after arriving to Glasgow, was, to buy all the
2nd series of 'BenRiach Limited Release' single cask bottlings, I could
get, for our WCoA Club Tasting back in Vienna.

After this Experience in Scotland at the Distillery with Billy Walker and our Tasting in Vienna, my opinion about Benriach changed dramaticaly from a "so-so Disillery" to one of my Favorite ones. Benriach combines for me a whole Range of tastes from Exotic fruits to Heavy Peat, and that in different analogies. Below a range and ratings of Indepentend Benriach Bottlings that i find extraordinary good:

92 - Benriach 1975/2004 (56.5%, Scotch Single Malt Circle, C#7215, Dd:12.75/09.04, 199 Bts.)
92 - Benriach 21yo 1984/2006 (56.7%, TSMOS, CaskRef 490/514, Sherry Hog., Dd:09.84/09.06, 481 Bts.)
92 - Benriach 28yo 1975/2004 (57.8%, Signatory C/S, C#7218, 251 Bts.)
91 - Benriach 28yo 1976/2005 (56.9%, Signatory, Sherry, C#9442, Dd:12.76/04.05, 426 Bts.)

After reading the above and after tasting a few of the above Bottlings (OB's and IB's), i hope you can see, why a Distillery that lived for so long time in the Shadow of Longmorn and almost has been called "Longmorn 2", now has made a such a good name and reputation.

Konstantin Grigoriadis

(with many informations from Billy & Alistair Walker)
(The Historical and Preliminary Informations are provided for me to use, with the explicit permission of Billy & Alistair Walker)


E-pistle 2007/066 - Triple Blind Tasting

Triple BlindTRIPLE BLIND TASTING - By Peter Silver
In conducting research with human subjects, one technique
that is used to prevent any preconceptions from influencing the
results is called blinding.  An example of a single blind is one in
which the participants don't know what they are tasting, as in
the Malt Maniacs Awards.  Quite often there is a control group
and an experimental (test) group. A double blind means that
the neither the subjects nor the researcher know which is the
control or test group.  A triple blind goes one step further and
not even the data analyst knows which group is which.

For my purposes, I took a double blind test without a control or
experimental group and added a further blind of my own choice,
as you can see in the photo.  The samples were selected by my
lovely fiancé, Jessica and only had numbers on the bottles. 

No one during the tasting knew what they were sampling.
Randomization was introduced  by the use of a lazy susan
spinning wheel for sample selection.

My sincere gratitude to Wallace and Adam for conducting this experimental tasting with me. While I doubt that this research will be published in any scientific journal in the near future, I can say for certain that we all had a very good time!

Laphroaig NAS "Quarter Cask" (48%, OB, 2005, Second Edition)
Nose: peat and smoke, flowers, small amount of iodine
Palate: soft with peat, smoke
Finish: light
Score: 87 points.

Suntory 'Yamazaki' 16yo 1986/2003 (45%, OB,  C#0779)
Nose: maple syrup, honey, bourbon
Palate: light body with bourbon overtones
Finish: not much of a finish, a bit watery
Score: 78 points.

Glenlivet 34yo 1968/2003 (54.9%, DT, C#8225, 558 Bts.)
Nose: fruit, honey
Palate: pepper, spicy, floral
Finish: long and sweet
Score: 90 points.

Caol Ila 15yo 1990/2005 (43%, MacKillop's Choice)
Nose: peaty, smoky, iodine, honey
Palate: more peat than smoke, honey, rich
Finish: strong and long
Score: 87 points.

Balvenie 17yo 'New Wood' (40%, OB, 79 casks, Bottled 2006)
Nose: spicy, wood, cinnamon, honey, vanilla
Palate: honey, wood spice, the nose was better
Finish: med long
Score: 83 points.

Aultmore 12yo 1991/2004 (58.4%, SMWS #73.12, Sherry)
Nose: bad vanilla extract – "like one that's been sitting in your grandmother's pantry for 30 years", sour, spoiled
Palate: skunked, honey, soapy, edradour like
Finish: lousy
Score: 60 points.

Scapa 14yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2006)
Nose: mint, menthol, honey, vanilla," it's like having toothpaste shoved up my nose"
Palate: clean, light, menthol
Finish: quick and gone
Score: 76 points.

Glenlivet 18yo (43%, OB, +/- 2005, New label)
Nose: allspice, cinnamon, sherry
Palate: sherry, honey, vanilla
Finish: medium long, so much better than the standard 12yo
Score: 83 points.

Linlithgow 21yo 1982/2003 (63%, DT, C#2211, 246 Bts.)
Nose: spicy, chili fire, pepper
Palate: honey, wood spice, pepper
Finish: long
Score: 86 points.

Highland Park 23yo 1982/2006 (57.9%, Park Avenue Liquors, C# 443)
Nose: sherry, spice
Palate: sherry, doesn't develop, just stays on sherry
Finish: long and sour
Score: 83 points.

Macallan 36yo 1969/2005 (41.5%, DT, C#6854)
Nose: citrus, sherry, honey
Palate: citrus, spice, pepper, a very nice balance
Finish: medium long
Score: 84 points.

Famous Grouse 30yo (43%, OB, vatted)
Nose: cleaning fluid
Palate: very ether like
Finish: none, "is this some kind of whisky sorbet, that you have between samples to cleanse your palate?"
Score: 77 points .

Scapa 17yo 1989/2007 (56.6%, D&M Afficiando's Club)
Nose: tight and bitter, needs water to open, then we got briny
Palate: honey, vanilla, briny
Finish: medium long
Score: 80 points.

Peter Silver

E-pistle 2007/067 - The Influence of Wood on Whisky

The Influence of wood on Whisky, the colour and the taste... - by Paul Dejong

The boring part: Chemistry.

Some experts say the influence of wood on, and the interaction of wood with whisky makes up for more than 70% of the aroma's in the final product! So, if wood is so important, the question arises: What is wood made of?

The building stones of wood are the following:

    * The main ingredient and building stome of wood is: CELLULOSE (C6H10O5). (compare this to the most important supplier of bio-energy: glucose C5H10O5)  Cellulose is good for about  40 to 50% of the total mass of the wood. (incidentally, cellulose is the main part of the total bio-mass on this planet!) Unfortunately, under normal circumstances  most multicellular living organisms cannot digest Cellulose. Only some bacteria can break down Cellulose!

    * A second, important constituent of wood is HEMI-CELLULOSE: Hemicellulose is a "conglomerate" of eight sugars (all with a similar chemical formula, C5H10O5 -  C6H12O6) which are essential for human nutrition, being Xylose, galactose, glucose, mannose, N -acetylglucosamine, N-acetylgalactosamine, fucose, and sialic acid. While cellulose is crystalline, strong, and resistant to hydrolysis, hemicellulose has a random, amorphous structure with little strength. It is easily hydrolyzed by dilute acid or base as well as myriad hemicellulase enzymes.

    * The third ingridient of wood is LIGNIN. Lignin is a very complicated molecule (polymer) and is -together with pectin- the fysical bond between Cellulose and Hemi-cellulose. It is the substance that makes wood strong and hard. When burned it forms what is chemically known as Methoxyphenols. The main methoxyphenols are guaiacol and syringol...and they are very wel known to the average whisky-affectionado as: phenols!

How does wood get its colour?

Why ask this?
Simply because the main ingredients of wood are clear or colourless (cellulose and hemicellulose)... and whisky is said to inherit it's colour from the wood. Several molecules and substances give colour to the wood;

 * the first is LIGNIN: Lignin becomes so strong and hard because of a chemical concept called Resonance. Resonance is also what  makes lignin look brownish...

    * the second group of molecules are the TANNINS or POLYPHENOLES: different acids that bond with sugars such as glucose to become tannins. The best known are Gallic Acid + glucose = Gallotannin and Ellagic Acid + Glucose = Ellagotannin. These tannins have a dark reddish-brown colour

    * also a part of the colour of wood are some acids (most noticably acetic acid and Formic acid) and Whisky-lactones (wonder how they got their name?)

As we all know, most Single Malt whisky is maturing in "second hand" casks that previously held Sherry (or other wines) or Bourbon.  As we all know, bourbon, like Scotch is a cristal clear liquid, and imparts no colour into the wood. Sherry or Wine however, usually have a colour of their own (from the start, or thru oxidation) and could impart colour into the wood, or leave chemical residu behind that has an influence on colour. An important chemical substance in wine is Tartaric Acid (E334), which, when bonded with Potassium, forms Potassium Bitartrate or wine -diamonds... these cristals, once formed , are UNDISSOLVABLE , and form a layer on the inside of a winecask (winecasks used to be the most important industrial source of these cristals) , thus possibly forming a barrier between wood and wine (or whisky)

Other well known, and almost equally boring trivia....

Casks used for the maturation of Scotch Whisky are usually made out of European red oak (Quercus robur and quercus sessilis) or out of American white oak (usually Quercus Alba). Could it be that these names were chosen for a reason? Could it be that European oak is actually red, and American oak is actually White? Bingo! Yes it could! European oak is actually darker in colour than it's American counterpart, because it contains a lot more lignin, and a lot more tannins! Hence "red" Oak. European Red Oak has a "looser" structure than American oak. European oak staves are usually split instead of sawed, making them a lot thikker and more difficult to work with. American oak has a denser structur, that allows it to be sawn in thinner, easier to modulate staves. Hence, an American casks holds less wood, and is easier and cheaper to make.

We also know that Scotch whisky matures either on Bourbon-casks out of American White Oak,  or on ex-wine-casks, usually out of European Red Oak. Extraction of Tannins, Lignin, Vannillin, Sugars happens better with a higher alcohollevel (up to appr. 66% this is true,above that level the extraction becomes less effective).

- New Make has an average ABV of 63,5%
- Wine (Sherry) has an average ABV of 15%

What does the Cooper do?

Oak is used to make casks, because it has a unique trait: It bends well when heated (an oak stave can be bend almost 90°).  The wooden staves are bend using steam, and once the cask is put together,  it is toasted or charred. For this, the cask is put over a heatsource with the 'lid' on. It heats up inside but the heat consumes the oxigen... then, when the lid is taken of, and the oxigen comes in, the wood ignites... when left to burn for appr. 5 to 15 seconds it is called toasted, when it is longer (appr. 20 tot 40 seconds) it is called charred. This toasting or charring has two purposes, it effectively sterilises the cask, and -more importantly- the heat pyrolises the lignin (giving phenols) and caramellises the hemicellulose-sugars (forming vanillin, amongst others)

- Most American Oak is Charred,
- Most European Oak is Toasted

So, how to distill this into a tasty, nicely coloured whisky?
After visiting some bodegas in Xerez, and after noticing that almost all the samples of Oloroso cherry we saw were, at best, as dark as an average whisky blend of today, we started wondering where the colour of a so-called dark oloroso matured whisky came from! None of the oloroso's we saw were even half as dark as that. Only pedro-Ximinez came close. But Bodega's rarely sell Ximinez casks, so dark oloroso actually being Ximinez was not really an option. So, How do these extra dark (black Bowmore, aso) whisky's erupt out of a relatively lighter (in colour) oloroso cask? Surely the whisky is further diluting the colour of the Sherry...

A couple of assumptions and conclusions:

- Wood colour is determined by the amount of lignin, Tannins, acids and lactones in the wood.
European red oak contains more of these colouring agents than American white oak

- Wine casks have matured a low alcohol drink, the wine extracts only very little colour from the wood.
Bourbon casks are maturing a high alcohol spirit at 63,5%, the optimum for extracting colour and taste from the wood (which is why most single barrel bourbons are so dark in colour)

-Wine casks were lightly toasted, whereas Bourbon casks are heavily charred.
This charring releases more caramel and lignin/vanillin and allows deeper penetration of new make into the wood. Colour in bourbon comes from the charring, taste in bourbon comes from the charring (vanilla-aroma's, maple syrup from the caramel,  relatively low in tannins)

- European oak is more porous than American oak, allowing for greater penetration (and sometimes leakage) of the newmake in the wood, allowing it the extract more colour and tannins from the wood. This is why Oloroso sherry casks are so dark, the colour and taste come from the wood (less vanilin and caramel due to less toasting, more tannins, hence some bitterness and more colour)

- American Oak and bourbon are maturing in a relatively warm and sometimes even hot conditions, which gives more expansion and contraction of the wood, speeding up the maturation process and often allowing the alcohol-level to go up, instead of down.

Due to the shortage of European oak (it's protected) , and the benefits of American white oak (cheaper, easier to handle, aso) more and more wine casks nowadays are made out of American white oak. Lightly toasted American oak that held wine is going to impart a completely different taste in whisky.... could this be the change?

So I guess you could say I'm with Dave in the ongoing e-mail discussion within the maniacs.
Although Michel's paxarette question is indeed food for thought!

Paul Dejong

E-pistle 2007/068 - A Dozen Dewar Rattray Drams

A Dozen Drams from A. Dewar Rattray; the Cask Collection and Stronachie 12 Year Old Single Malt.

Dewar Rattray is an independent bottler that has released some very good single cask offerings which are all non chill filtered and are caramel free. The range of whiskies reminded me some what of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.  The company can trace its roots to 1868 when it was founded by Andrew Dewar and William Rattray as an importer of French wines, Italian spirits and olive oil. Additionally the company also established itself as a specialist in the field of blending and storage of malt and grain whiskies. The company also represented well known Highland distilleries selling to West of Scotland wine and spirit merchants, publicans and the main Scotch whisky blending houses in and around Glasgow. 

Today, Dewar Rattray is owned by Tim Morrison - previously of Morrison Bowmore Distillers and fourth generation descendent of Andrew Dewar. The company bottles many single casks of Scotch Whisky, with each one chosen to reflect the different regions of Scotland.

Stronachie 12yo (43%, Dewar Rattray, )
Color: Mid Gold
Nose: Quite sweet, honey and malt.
Taste: Grass, leather, tobacco and malt.
Finish: Further sweet malt notes. Smokey malt at the end.
Comments: Very drinkable and well balanced. A solid Highland whisky (it would seem).
Score: 84 Points

Royal Lochnagar 10yo 1996/2006 (59.6%, Dewar Rattray,  Cask 515 (Refill Butt), 710 Bottles)
Color: Pale, very light.
Nose: New make and dry dusty notes, cut grass and lemon.
Taste: Huge green cut grass notes and green malt. Sweet.
Finish: Medium long, further lemon grassy development.
Comments: Very unusual and youngish for a 10yo.
Score: 80 Points

Ben Nevis 14yo 1992/2006 (57.2%, Dewar Rattray Bourbon Cask #694, 273 Bottles)
Color: Golden
Nose: Chocolate covered coffee beans. Malt. Oak.
Taste: Wood notes, slightly floral with some hints of smoke, peppered.
Finish: Medium long with sweetness like watered honey.
Comments: Quite different from the OB 10yo but very drinkable.
Score: 87 Points

BenRiach 15yo 1990 (57.3%, Dewar Rattray Bourbon Cask #10697, 301 Bottles)
Color: Very pale, light gold.
Nose: Very sweet, bourbon and delicate smoke. Lots going on. Very nice!
Taste: Salty fruit and malt.
Finish: Clean malt and other cereal notes.
Comments: Nice smoke, improves with water.
Score: 85 Points

Auchentoshan 15yo 1991/2006 (59%, Dewar Rattray, Bourbon Cask #478, 390 Bottles)
Color: Gold with slightly dark hues.
Nose: Light, buttery, malt & cereal, opens up with the addition of water, sweet.
Taste: Light mouth feel with floral & grassy notes, white wine, syrupy. Hints of malt.
Finish: Lots of flavour, no malt but grassy notes, heather.
Comments: Like a white wine, very different to the OB. Typical of the Lowland style.
Score: 80 Points

Balblair 15yo 1990/2005 (62.9%, Dewar Rattray, Sherry Cask #1146, 585 Bottles)
Color: Pale yellow.
Nose: Wood notes right off, very reminiscent of Glenmorangie 10. Copra (dried coconut for soap etc), ply wood shavings, honey.
Taste: Spicy, lots of wood influence with grassy notes. Coconut. Candle wax, citrus.
Finish: Very spicy again from an active cask.
Comments: A very strong whisky that benefits from the addition of water.
Score: 89 Points

Inchgower 25yo 1980/2006 (53.2%, Dewar Rattray, Sherry Cask#14161, 486 Bottles)
Color: Medium dark mahogany.
Nose: Sour cherries, water improves it a lot and reveals woody notes. Ginger
Taste: Very dry, more sour cherries, some slight funky off notes (sulpher?).
Finish: Very dry and sour.
Comments: Takes a lot of water & changes dramatically, under current of brown sugar on the nose that is not present w/o water.
A slightly odd whisky.
Score: 79 Points

Glenglassaugh 29yo 1976/2006 (53%, Dewar Rattray, Bourbon Cask #2368, 290 Bottles)
Color: Light Golden
Nose: Clean, slight honeyed sweetness; bourbon background notes.
Taste: Spicy cedar wood notes, slight development of soapiness & sweet peas after a while.
Finish: Warming with tobacco notes.
Comments: A very, very good dram.
Score: 90 Points

Teaninich 30yo 1975/2006 (60.8%, Dewar Rattray, Bourbon Cask 9419, 486 Bottles)
Color: Deeper darker gold
Nose: Very light, warm brown Demerara sugar. Soft Fruits.
Taste: Oddly Gruyere cheese. Sweet wet straw. Vegetative.
Finish: Medium long with development of smoke.
Comments: An interesting whisky with many dimensions, new developments at every turn.
Score: 87 Points

Tomintoul 30yo 1975/2006 (48.5%, Dewar Rattray, Bourbon Cask # 30, 313 Bottles)
Color: Dark gold.
Nose: Very fruity and stunning. Smoke and bourbon.
Taste: Old bourbon, tobacco, fruit, glace cherries and smoke.
Finish: Long and sweet with later delivery of smoke.
Comments: Simply brilliant. This is my favorite of the entire dozen.
Score: 90 Points

Bowmore 14yo 1991/2006 (57.8% Sherry Cask #2056, 573 Bottles)
Color: Dark, like old polished furniture, some reddish highlights.
Nose: Smoke, peat fires, hints of shoreline, rich macerated fruit, and some furniture polish.
Taste: Peat smoke, some briny maritime hints, slight orange & lemon.
Finish: Medium long with waves of smoke and redolent sherry. Very good
Comments: Brilliant! Finally a Bowmore I can cherish.
Score: 90 Points

Caol Ila 15yo 1991/2006 (56.7%, Dewar Rattray, Bourbon Cask# 743, 315 Bottles)
Color: Golden
Nose: Signature Caol Ila, heavy peat smoke, Islay kilns.
Taste: Smoke; burning peat fires
Finish: Long, warming peat fires, clean. Wave upon wave of peat smoke.
Comments: Every thing you would expect from this distillery.
Score: 89 Points

It's a pleasant change to see a line of single malts unadulterated by the finishing craze.



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