Whisky tasting notes & scoresEarlier entriesLater entries

Entry #350 - 01/01/2009; A Many Splintered Thing  (I had to 'freeze' my liquid log again for a while.)
Entry #351 - 09/03/2009; Back on Track   (I couldn't keep my liquid log frozen for very long.)
Entry #352 - 13/03/2009; Terva Snapsi - For Nordic Palates Only?  (I received an interesting sample.)
Entry #353 - 21/03/2009; The Macallan Response  (David Cox took issue with some of my comments.)
Entry #354 - 21/04/2009; Malt Madness 2.0  (I announced a short-lived novelty: background music...)
Entry #355 - 30/04/2009; Smoky Flavours  (I've sublimated my nicotine addiction into tea addiction.)
Entry #356 - 06/06/2009; Spring Tastings  (Some fresh tasting notes, including three Glendronachs.)
 

Entry #350 - A Many Splintered Thing...

January 1, 2009 - Oh, how the world has changed
since I added a Liquid Log to Malt Madness in 1997.
I added the log to the mostly 'static' information on
the site so that readers could enjoy some of the wit
and wisdom that was spread via the MM mailinglist.
A (b)log that was updated on a weekly or even on
a monthly basis was sort of a novelty at the time,
and an improvement on the 'interactivity' of MM.

Oh, how the world has changed...
First, Malt Maniacs evolved from a sub-section of
Malt Madness into a community and website that
could stand on it's own two feet (well, around 50
feet, actually). While having fun with whisky we
managed to accomplish a few things that we're
modestly proud of, like the Malt Maniacs Monitor
(now over 10,000 whiskies sampled and scored)
and the annual Malt Maniacs Awards competition.
What's more, with the new Malt Maniacs & Friends
group on Facebook the maniacs now have a forum
to discuss matters with other whisky lovers. Well,
there are actually hundreds of discussion boards
and forums on whisky available these days, some
of them quite excellent - you can find some on the
liquid Links page and I'll add some more soon.

As logs and blogs go, there are thousands of
them on the world wide web these days; again
some of them very good. In my humble opinion
French maniac Serge Valentin maintains the very
best of them all on Whiskyfun - on a daily basis!
Serge tasted his 5,000th dram recently, so he's
now way ahead of the pack with his 'malt mileage'.

Meanwhile, we still haven't quite recovered from the major site crash of 2006.
There are still loads of broken links in the Liquid Log section and a lot of other pages are in dire need of some serious polishing too. I've still got 58 distillery profiles to finish for the Distillery Data section - just for Scotland, perhaps it's time I added Ireland and Japan too - and it's time I wrapped up that Advanced Beginner's Guide as well. l receive a few requests each week, and I'm guessing it's something the average visitor is more eagerly awaiting than my next tasting report. In fact, I'd like to share a message I received about it a few days ago;

Hello!
 
I Started browsing your site yesterday, when I got back from work. And when I was finished for the day it was already six at the next morning, no wonder my eyes were a bit sore, after all I had been reading for ten hours in a row. After reading your beginner's guide, I'am anxiously waiting for the advanced beginner's guide. I have read about a dozen of whisky related books by respected authors, but none has been as inspiring as your beginner's guide, it truly makes the reader to share writer's enthusiasm towards the subject. I only wish, I would have found this site earlier, since my hobby almost came to an untimely end few years ago, with tasting of Edradour 10 "The Distillery Edition". It made me think, maybe this whole SMSW thing just is not for me, because this tastes just like sugar flavoured moonshine. Luckily I had bought Laphroaig 15yo at the same time and got back on track. This made me understand, that there would be a lot of "hits" and "misses" along the road. I think I will keep the Edradour as a punishment dram from now on. Now after few years since my first Single Malt, I still consider myself as a beginner, maybe an advanced one, but a beginner never the less. Keep up the great job!
 
Greetings from Finland
Antti Hämäläinen

Heartwarming comments - and a reminder of why I started Malt Madness in the first place.
So, until I've finished the Advanced Beginner's Guide, the Distillery Data section and some other sections that have fallen into disrepair, I'll 'freeze' this Liquid Log again. It may be quite some time before the log is re-opened (there's a lot of work remaining on Malt Maniacs as well), but you should be able to find a fresh dose of whisky fun every day on, erm, Whiskyfun... If you feel like participating in discussions, check out Malt Maniacs & Friends on Facebook - or the Liquid Links page for a number of other excellent forums and discussion groups.

Until this log is unfrozen I'll keep posting fresh tasting notes via the mailinglist and the Hot List in the mAlmanac. Of course, the Hit List and the Bang-For-Your-Buck List will be refreshed regularly as well. The tasting notes section of the various profiles in the Distillery Data section will be updated as and when I get to sample fresh expressions from these distilleries. Last but not least, I plan to write more regular contributions for the Malt Maniacs E-zine as well - so you won't have to miss my missives and tasting impressions.

That's it for now - next stop: finishing the DD section and the Advanced Beginner's Guide...

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

Entry #351 - Back On Track...

March 9, 2009 - Yoohooh! I'm back on track...
A bit earlier than expected, but I've made some pretty
good progress with the Distillery Data section (less
than three dozen profiles left to finish) and my spleen
was in dire need of some serious venting...

However, first there's some news from the world
of whisky I'd like to share with you. Martine Nouet just
informed the other maniacs that the corporation that
bought Whyte & Mackay in May 2007 now wants to
sell the company again. United Spirits (a division of
Vijay Mallya's United Breweries from India) paid 595
million pounds for Glasgow-based Whyte & Mackay at
the peak of the market (some would say bubble). It's
highly unlikely they will be able to fetch a good price
for the company in today's market, especially because
many competitors and potential buyers are actually
trying to reduce production at the moment. It seems
the whisky market has gone a little crazy - and the
picture at the right shows Serge sharing an example.
It's Suntory pre-diluted 'On The Rocks Whisky' that
comes in at 12% ABV. Serge will sample it shortly.

To me, this is a perfect example of product evolution that has turned into product deterioration.
Both in Scotland and Japan the focus has shifted from the whisky to the packaging over the years, but this is an extreme example. Instead of shipping the whisky at 40% and allowing the customers to dilute it with their water of choice, the water is now packaged along with the whisky to be shipped all over the world. I can't believe this is an environmentally friendly method of whisky distribution! What's more, how about providing your customers with the freedom to decide how much they want to dilute their whisky? Most importantly, what if people actually like to drink their whiskies ice-cold? I guess you'd have to store this in the fridge, because adding ice cubes to an already watered down whisky would generate a very watery drink indeed...

Still, there would be SOME alcohol in the slush that you would be drinking - which is more than you could say if you were drinking the 'halal' John Bow Alcohol Free Whisky that Belgian maniac Bert Bruyneel informed us about. What will they think of next? There's already a heated debate going on amongst the maniacs (can they call it whisky if it doesn't contain alcohol?), and in order to allow our readers to participate I've posted a link on the discussion board of the Malt Maniacs & Friends group on Facebook. 

That's it for now - more spleen venting in my next log entry...

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

Entry #352 - Terva Snapsi - For Nordic Palates Only?

March 13, 2009 - It's Friday the 13th today - an excellent opportunity to sample a weird dram.
In fact it's not so much a 'dram' as a liqueur - and it's not from Scotland either. However, it could
be interesting for peat lovers - at least those who were born in Scandinavia, Germany or Holland.
In the past I've noticed that the tastes of many people from our little corner of the world can be
slightly different from mainstream audiences living in areas with friendlier climates. Take liquorice
for example - the salted variety in particular. Most Dutchmen and -women love it, but foreigners
tend to loathe the taste. In a similar fashion, the taste of tar appeals to people from Finland in
particular (and to other Scandinavians, Germans and Dutchmen to a lesser extent), while the
people from other parts of the world usually fail to see its charm. I wonder what has caused
these 'taste borders' in Europe; could it have something to do with the cooler climate here?
Well, I can speculate about that another time; let's try it and see how tar liqueur tastes...

Terva Snapsi NAS 'Mausteena Aito Terva' (21%, Oy Shaman Spirits Ltd, Finland)
Nose: Smoke. Liquorice. Dry salami sausage. Salty. Extreme, although not terribly complex.
Very phenolic. Salt fish? Yeah, this most definitely resembles the profile of an Islay malt whisky.
And tar of course; the smell of a freshly laid road. Hint of chloride? Slightly sweet undercurrent.
Taste: Smoke and kippers; Krishna would love this I imagine... Very unique. I like the profile...
However, oddly enough, I find this harder to swallow than a very heavy Islay whisky.

Hmmm.... This one was difficult to rate... In fact, I might have found it impossible to score if my rating scale was based on malt whisky alone. However, I am the 'anchor' of my own system - my scores just reflect the amount of fun I've had with a particular drink. In this case I had loads of fun with it. Nevertheless; it can't hurt to sample another dram to calibrate my senses. I went for a semi-finished Ardbeg; this wasn't finished in a wine cask or anything like that, but Jack Wiebers threw it in an old cask that had contained Strathisla whisky.
Does that make it a proper whisky?

Ardbeg 1991/2005 (57.1%, JWWW The Cross Hill, 'Finished' in a Strathisla cask, 270 Bts.)
Nose: Sharp and quite salty. Some faint fruits in the background. Vague hints of something meaty.
Taste: Hot and burning. Peat, of course - but it's perhaps a tad superficial. Sharp, but it lacks some depth.
Score: 79 points - this really isn't very impressive after the Terva Snapsi. The result of oxidation?

So, now I decided to do an odd little experiment... I wasn't enjoying this Jack Wiebers bottling a lot, so I decided to spice it up with a few drops of the tar liqueur; let's see how that works out... 

Ardbeg 1991/2005 - Terva Snapsi Mixer (57.1%, JWWW Germany / Oy Shaman Spirits Finland)
Nose: More medicinal. Smokier too. Oddly enough the fruits seem a little more on the surface as well.
Salty with a little more subtlety than the 'clean' version. Meaty and ever so slightly chalky. Hey, bubblegum!
This is an unexpected result; by adding a few drops of tar liqueur the whisky has grown more complex.
Taste: Wow, it had a big impact on the taste; much smokier. The finish seemed to last a little longer.
Fairly dry, although it seems to last a little longer than without the added liqueur. More 'definition' too.
Score: 83 points - weirdly enough this has given the plain whisky a little more 'oomph' and complexity...

So, this is a bit of a surprise - a few drops of Terva Snapsi improve an fairly mediocre Islay malt whisky!
I guess you could consider this a very elementary cocktail - a type of drink that is usually considered 'inferior' to a single malt whisky. In this case I would like to disagree... Because 'the whisky industry' will likely try to unload quite a few younger and weaker single malts on us in the foreseeable future I can imagine how a bottle of this stuff could be a very good investment for peat lovers - just a few drops will spice up an average dram quite a bit. And if you're looking for maximum bang-for-your-buck you could even try to mix it with a blended whisky.

If you'd like to order a bottle, contact:
http://www.shamanspirits.com/www/index.php?info=tuotteet&tuote=tervasnapsi&lang=en

If you'd like to research the interesting history of pine tar, check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tar.

That's it for now - but I'll probably do some more experiments in upcoming log entries...

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

Entry #353 - The Macallan Response

MacallanMarch 21, 2009 - Those of you that have been following my liquid
log since the 1990's may know that my attitude towards Macallan
has changed quite a bit over time. The distillery used to be in my top
10 during the 1990's when the regular 12yo bottling was a superb
sherried dram at a friendly price. Even then, there were some more
expensive expressions, but there was no need to invest in those if
your main concern was your own enjoyment - as opposed to making
a statement about the size of your wallet to other people.
 
However, all that changed when Macallan introduced the 'Fine Oak'
range in 2004. They dropped the claim that they only used sherry
casks overnight (more on that later) and pulled the sherry matured
expressions from many markets altogether. The sherried Macallan
varieties that I had loved so much disappeared from Holland as well,
so I used the Macallan distillery profile to vent my spleen a little bit.
 
My emotional outburst caught the eye of Macallan's David Cox not
too long ago, and he was kind enough to respond to some of the
facts and opinions published in the distillery profile. Excellent; this
would allow me to present the other side of the debate as well...
 
"Dear Mr van den Heuvel,
 
I read your profile of The Macallan under the "Malts Madness"
umbrella with considerable interest and not a little dismay! I fully
respect your dislike of the character of The Macallan Fine Oak range
and any notes you may have on the overall character of the various
Macallan bottlings. There are however a number of comments which
are factually and chronologically incorrect, giving the impression that
we are, to allude to your phrase, "big, fat liars" ! Whilst malt whisky
fans should delight in reading your tasting notes, I am concerned
when The Macallan is accused of outright duplicity.
 
(...) Allow me to address the two main areas of concern :
Bourbon barrels : The Macallan has filled bourbon barrels with Macallan new make spirit for many years, but until 2004 when we introduced the Fine Oak range, no Macallan bottled by ourselves for sale was matured in bourbon barrels. We only matured in sherry seasoned casks, the vast majority of which were, and are, Spanish oak butts. Thus the labelling on the 1982 18yo, which you refer to, is entirely correct. The Macallan that was filled into bourbon barrels was, until 2005, matured only for third parties, who would either use it in their blends or sometimes sell it as a single malt under their own labels."

Well, as far as I'm concerned that's a perfect example of 'duplicity' right there...
For those of you that just tuned in, here's the text that's on the label of the 18yo 1982 bottling: "For reasons not even science can wholly explain, whisky has always matured best in oak casks that have contained sherry. Due to increasing expense and scarcity, other distilleries no longer insist on sherry casks. THE MACALLAN DIRECTORS DO." Perhaps the fact that English isn't my mother tongue clouds my judgement, but if they state on the label that the Macallan directors insist on sherry casks, I interpret that as: Macallan uses only ex-sherry casks. If they wanted to prevent possible misunderstandings in that respect, they should have written: 'the Macallan directors insist on sherry casks for the Macallans that are bottled by ourselves' or something along those lines. Alternatively, they could have taken steps to ensure that independent bottlers would not be able to use the name 'Macallan' for either any independent bottlings from the distillery, or for single malts from the distillery that were not (fully) matured in ex sherry casks. But they didn't, did they?

"Today, the Macallan alone accounts for some 65% of all sherry seasoned casks imported into Scotland for maturing scotch whisky. The Edrington Group, of which The Macallan is a part, accounts for over 90%. Of our current range, the Sherry Oak bottlings are 100% matured in sherry seasoned casks from Spain. For the Fine Oak range, sherry seasoned casks from Spain still account for over 50% of the cask make-up."

Ah yes - David makes a valid point here. My comments in the distillery profile could be interpreted as meaning that bottlings in the Fine Oak range were matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks. This is not the case; the label of the '2004' expressions clearly states that they were "carefully matured in a unique combination of bourbon and sherry oak casks". So, even in the 'Fine Oak' series some ex sherry casks are used. Of course, there can be massive differences between 'sherry seasoned' casks as well; a first fill cask that contained an Oloroso sherry will have a very different effect from a refill cask that previously contained a dry sherry.

"In defence of bourbon barrels, whilst some are indeed "crappy" (!), most are not. In our view, they impart a different maturation character to the whisky, neither better nor worse, just different, and appealing to some more than others. You can see from the above that The Macallan remains overwhelmingly the biggest user of sherry casks in the business; they completely define the character of Sherry Oak Macallan, and significantly influence the character of Fine Oak Macallan, which is leavened by the inclusion of some bourbon-matured Macallan."

Hmmm.... That's a bit like saying that dead isn't better or worse than alive, just different ;-)
I feel that, very much like beauty, 'quality' is in the eye of the beholder. I've used the phrase 'crappy' partly to express my own preference for sherry casks and partly as a pun related to the text on the aforementioned labels claiming that "whisky has always matured best in oak casks that have contained sherry". Doesn't this imply that whisky that wasn't matured in ex sherry casks wasn't matured 'best'? But I fully agree that tastes are different and there may be people who prefer the Fine Oak profile over the Sherry Oak. I'm just not one of them...

"Antique bottles : From 1998 to 2000, we went into the market to buy a number of nineteenth century Macallan bottles, from both McTears in Glasgow and from a few private collectors. These had been appearing at auction from the mid 1990's, in response, we assumed, to the growing interest in old single malts and the expectation, on the part of the owners, that they would see a substantial appreciation in their value. The previous Macallan management had bought a few of these bottles, from which the 1874 replica bottling had been produced back in 1996. On the strength of the bottles we had bought back, replica bottlings were produced of the 1861 (in 2001), the 1841 (in 2002) and the 1876 (in 2003). Having taken on responsibility for the old fine and rare Macallan portfolio in the summer of 2002, I decided to get a glass expert from Sotheby's in London and a forensic paper historian to examine our collection of old bottles. I had no suspicions about these bottles at this stage, but I felt it prudent to have them checked as a matter of course. Both these experts came up to The Macallan and duly reported their conclusions (the glass expert in July 2002 and the forensic paper historian in September 2002) that, in their considered view, both glass and paper were genuinely of the (nineteenth century) period. As the closures of the bottles also looked perfectly genuine, I felt we had carried out an exercise of due diligence on the collection we had bought."

Yeah, fair enough; in this case it seems I've got some of my facts wrong - I didn't realise the first replica (the 1874) was produced as early as 1996. Still, the bulk of the replica's were released in the early noughties - when the first rumours about fake shenanigans had already started to circulate among whisky lovers and on the web. But granted, even if a more sceptic attitude might have been prudent I guess that the actions of The Macallan so far can be considered 'due dilligence'. But wait, there's more...

"In Issue 28 of Whisky Magazine (Dec 02 / Jan 03), Dave Broom wrote an article questioning the authenticity of the whisky in a number of old bottles, citing examples of The Macallan, Talisker, Ardbeg and Longrow, amonst others. To my knowledge, little, if any, sophisticated investigation had ever been carried out on the age of old whiskies, so, with the help of the Scotch Whisky research institute, we began to investigate methodologies and practitioners, before settling on the radio carbon accelerator unit at Oxford University , which determines the approximate age of materials and liquids through the amount, and breakdown, of carbon 14 in the atmosphere. The whole process, from putting in samples of known aged Macallan to check the accuracy of the methodology through to drawing random samples from some of the eighteenth century bottles and then awaiting the results of the analysis, took from June 2003 to March 2004. During this time, we were in the hands of the scientists at Oxford; they work at their own pace, untroubled by the commercial pressures of their customers! The results were duly published in the late spring of 2004.

To my knowledge, the Macallan is the only brand to have undertaken this research, and to have gone public with it. It would send out a stronger signal if others were to follow suit, as it's in everyone's interest within the world of scotch whisky to try and root out the scam merchants who have taken advantage of the upsurge in interest in older whiskies. Whilst we have a good idea of the origin of the re-filling, we will never be able to prove it in a court of law and have decided not to pursue any action in the courts."

Hmmm...
The fact that it took six moths between Dave Broom's article and the start of the radio carbon dating (and then almost a year before the results were published) doesn't suggest that the people of Macallan were all that eager to investigate this further and publish these result, does it? Macallan may be the only brand to have undertaken this research, but then again (as far as I know) they were the only brand to ever launch a range of replica's of 19th century bottles. So, it seems other brands wouldn't have a need to conduct similar research.
Hey, did I detect a hint of sophistry there? ;-)

Still, all that's not ideal but understandable - so far I can accept the way in which Macallan handled this.
However, I DO have a problem with the fact that Macallan claims to have 'a good idea about the origin of the
re-filling'
but apparently isn't willing to use or share that information to 'try and root out the scam merchants'.
Macallan (as well as some other major malt whisky producers) don't actually seem that eager to try and tackle the problem of the whisky fakers. And why would they? After all, it's mostly a problem for the whisky consumers brave or dumb enough to invest in 'antique' bottles. They HAVE done something else though: distribute massive amounts of 'dummy' bottles of Macallan's more expensive offerings to liquorists around the world. It's hardly surprising that quite a few of these dummy bottles have now emerged on e-Bay where they were used in a whole new generation of scams. So, at a time when Macallan should have been extra aware of the existence of 'scam merchants' and fakers, they actually facilitated them with plenty of 'refillables'...

"As far as our replica bottlings are concerned, firstly we cannot prove the authenticity of the whisky within the original bottles either way, as it was all used at the launch events in different markets. I should stress that we took only a random sample from our extensive collection of old bottles for analysis, and whilst the sampling results indicated post 1950 whisky, there was no certainty that all the remaining bottles were so. (...)  With kind regards, David Cox."

Indeed, as long as the remaining 'antique' bottles are not tested there is no way to be certain - but the fact that no further tests were done probably says enough... So, while I greatly appreciate the time and effort David Cox put into an extensive reply to some of the criticisms I laid out in the Macallan distillery profile, I'm afraid he didn't manage to convince me that Macallan could become 'my brand' again in the foreseeable future. Even if the Sherry Oak expressions became available in Holland again, the prices put them outside my league. To quote fellow malt maniac Davin de Kergommeaux: "As the last ten years have shown, those who drink whisky because they enjoy the flavour are abandoning Macallan to the collectors, the show-offs and the newbies."

Well said, Davin... That doesn't mean that I've given up hope, mind you. In fact, if the current credit crisis lingers on for a while longer I have high hopes that it helps to deflate the current ultra premium malt whisky bubble. If that happens, I hope that Macallan manages to produce a great sherried whisky for a great price again like they did in the 1990's. Until then, I'll keep checking samples of Macallan - like the three I'll report on now;

Macallan 12yo 1990/2002 (59.2%, Village Malt, Dist. Jan. 1990, Btl. Oct. 2002, C#12028, 600 Bts.)
This was a sample from Ho-cheng, who didn't like it very much with a score of only 68 points.
Nose: Oddly watery. There's some spicy Macallan character, but it seems highly diluted. Metallic. Sour.
After a few minutes of breathing something sickly sweet. Menthos? A lot of changes, interesting.
Then, after some more breathing I got wet cardboard. After circa ten minutes it slowly dies out.
Taste: Weird... A little smoky in the start? Hey, is that peat in the centre or just the high proof?
Hint of pine? It grows hotter and harsher over time. The finish is even harsher. Chemical sweetness.
This really doesn't taste like a Macallan. One of the 'markers' for Macallan is raisins for me...
Score: 69 points - I'd guess this was either from a bourbon cask, mislabelled or fraudulent...
I can't say I really like it, but at least it's not boring... In fact, I'd admit it's an interesting dram.

Macallan NAS '1851 Inspiration' (41.3%, OB, +/- 2004, Asia) - another sample from Ho-cheng.
Nose: Weakly sweet, like rotting milk powder. Something vaguely metallic here as well. Weird.
It does indeed seem like a watered down version of a blend with some OBE. Shoe polish.
Hey, after five minutes whiffs of citrus and soap. After that some fruity notes emerge. Needs time.
Hey, wait - after ten minutes it devolved in a more 'veggy' direction. Metal remains dominant.
Taste: Fairly weak, very smooth start. Grows more potent in the centre. Soap? Nondescript finish.
Score: 76 points - just like the previous sample this didn't show many Macallan 'markers'. Cloying.

Macallan-Glenlivet 20yo 1980/2001 (46%, Kingsbury's, sherry butt, C#16453)
Nose: Citrus. Hint of OBE? Some leather. Slowly the fruity component grows stronger.
Just like the palate there's not too much 'definition'; it's hard to pick out specific aroma's in this one.
After some fifteen minutes a metallic component emerged in this one as well. Is my nose off today?
Taste: Quite sweet with a powerful fruity component. Coffee. Peat? Not too much definition though.
Score: 83 points - not the typical 'old school' fruitiness of the OB's but certainly enjoyable enough.

That's it for now - more tasting notes after I've finished a few more distillery profiles...

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

Entry #354 - Malt Madness 2.0

Malt Madness 2.0Malt Madness 2.0April 21, 2009 - The future is now! When I started out the
Malt Madness website on GeoCities in 1995 it came with its
own crappy background music - in midi format! Well, I guess I
was still a gadget freak in those days... Nevertheless, it didn't
take me very long to realise that the fact that the sound quality
was usually horrendous might not enhance everybody's
enjoyment of the website. What's more, because the music
(I use the phrase loosely) would start to play automatically,
whether the visitor wanted it or not, it was not very user
friendly. So, I quickly removed the music from these pages.
 
However, thanks to the slow but inevitable passing of time
I'm now able to offer the esteemed readers of the Malt Madness
site some songs to enjoy while they read my latest log entries.
Just hit the 'play' button at the top of the home page to start
the music. These five songs will be refreshed regularly - or at
least as long as the free service that offers them remain active.
Unless you're an unusually slow reader (or an unusually fast
listener) the careful selection of five songs shouldn't be
exhausted before you've reached the bottom of this page.
 
Even if you usually share my taste in whiskies, you might not
share my taste in music - or at least not in all cases. Please
don't hesitate to let me know whether or not you consider this
'jukebox' an improvement on the Malt Madness website or not.
Who knows; I might even take your wishes into consideration ;-)

And that's not the only change on the homepage of Malt Madness.
Serge added a nifty 'Twitter' widget to his Whiskyfun site a while ago. This inspired me to start playing around with some 'web 2.0' gimmicks in order to allow me to add some comments and news to Malt Madness from anywhere in the world. Serge was kind enough to build a Twitter widget for me, but in the end I decided to use another solution that would allow me to use a little more than 140 characters per 'tweet'. 140 characters may be enough to write what I'm doing at any given point in time, but given the complexity of my thoughts - well, as long as I'm sober, that is - 140 characters is not really enough to express my thoughts coherently...

Thoughts about a possible shift in the balance of whisky power for example.
Our Taiwanese maniac Ho-cheng informed us about rumours that are flying around the world wide web; leading whisky producer Diageo may or may not plan to buy the drinks division of LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey). That would certainly be a shock - I've grown into a fan of Diageo over the years (they usually deliver good malts at decent prices), but the same cannot be said of the carpetbaggers from LVMH. Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not the anti-trust authorities would sanction such a move; it would increase Diageo's influence in the whisky world. One the other hand, the toxic influence of LVMH could spread to Diageo. On a macro-economic scale the move is surprising; just like the USA the UK has been living on credit for the last few decades. I would imagine Diageo would need to borrow at least some money to finance this purchase, but according to one well informed malt maniac Diageo has plenty of cash at the moment.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

Entry #355 - Smoky Flavours

Twinings Lapsang Souchong TeaApril 30, 2009 - It recently dawned on me that my ego must
be a lot larger than it looks from the outside... Some people
have recently asked me why the number of tasting notes in
this Liquid Log has diminished in recent months. I guess I'd
have to admit that this could be caused partly by the fact
that I'm not quite as motivated as I've been over the past
decade to add very regular tasting notes.
 
For one thing, I've accomplished my goal to sample at least
six expressions from every (active and recently closed) malt
whisky distillery in Scotland already a few years ago. At the
same time French malt maniac Serge Valentin manages to
publish fresh tasting notes on Whiskyfun almost on a daily
basis. Even without my frequent 'bad nose days' I wouldn't
be able to sustain such a pace - especially at a time when
I'm still struggling to reconstruct two websites that crashed
in 2006 - almost three years ago. So, at the moment fresh
tasting notes are not such an important element of my liquid
log as they once were. In the foreseeable future most of my
tasting notes will be published on the Hot List (part of the
mAlmanac) and the profiles in the Distillery Data section.
 
But these are not the main reasons for my diminished activity.
After many unsuccessful attempts, I've now (sort of) stopped smoking.
I'm still a nicotine addict, but I've adopted a more high tech delivery system...
Serge pointed me to the 'E-cigar', a contraption that releases small amounts of nicotine upon request. Thanks to the device I'm now able to withstand many days without nicotine - but I still suffer from the occasional craving for a smoky taste in my mouth. These days I'm able to satisfy those cravings with a nice cup of tea. No ordinary tea, mind you - I need 'Lapsang Souchong' tea for that. The heavy smoky aroma is not for everyone (it's the equivalent to an Islay malt in the tea world), but it helps me struggle through those weaker moments.

Twinings Lapsang Souchong teaUntil recently I've been a big fan of the Twinings Lapsang
Souchong tea. It's a 'black' tea (originally from the Wuyi region
of the Chinese province of Fujian) which distinguishes itself
from most other teas by the fact that the leaves are fermented,
not unlike pipe tobacco. The leaves are dried over pinewood
fires instead of the regular method of letting the tea leaves
naturally. Until recently Twinings carried the variety in the
purple packaging shown at the right, but recently this version
was replaced with a new, much blander version which comes
in red packaging. I guess that these sort of changes shouldn't
surprise me anymore at my age (almost every commercial
product is changed every few years to try and increase the
profit margin on that product even further; this happens with
malt whiskies too), but when it involves a favourite product
of mine it almost feels like being betrayed by an old friend...

Anyway - it's a well known fact that quitting smoking will have
a profound effect on one's tastes. Over the past few months
I've done very few serious tastings, so there's simply not too
much to report on. However, I've recently received some fresh
samples I'm eager to report on, so I'll be flexing my taste buds
once more in the foreseeable future. Let's hope they managed
to find a new equilibrium by now...

Oh, and one more thing...
The rumours about a sale of the LVMH drinks division to
Diageo that I mentioned in my previous log entry have now
been officially denied, but according to some well informed
maniacs SOMETHING is happening in the background.
Stay tuned for more information about that...

Oh, and about that background music I boasted about last time?
The 'music industry' website that offered them suddenly replaced the full songs with 30 second clips...
Bastards! So, it seems that most of the music industry is still not willing to evolve... Fortunately, there are still plenty of other ways to share music with friends on the world wide web. For example, you can find lots of free music in newsgroups and (free) software like Limewire or DC++ if you're willing to put some effort into it.
Also, if you are on Facebook I've added a few dozen songs to my profile...

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

Entry #356 - Spring Tastings

Port AskaigJune 6, 2009 - It's been a while since I've published some fresh
tasting notes, so I've rummaged around in my whisky cupboards to
find some fresh material. I succeeded - I found samples of a number
of recent releases that were eagerly awaiting closer inspection. The
menu included two new releases in the independent Master of Malt
range, the new versions of a number of official bottlings in the revived
Glendronach portfolio and two expressions in a new range of 'bastard'
Islay whiskies from The Whisky Exchange; Port Askaig.
 
It's never a good idea to start a tasting session with heavily peated
or overproof whiskies, so I kicked off this session with three brand new
Glendronachs at regular strength. These are three new versions that
were composed by the new owners of the Glendronach distillery, the
people that were responsible for the successful revival of Benriach not
too long ago. I've always had a soft spot for Glendronach (especially
the 15yo '100% Sherry expression from the 1990's), so let's find out...
 
Glendronach 12yo (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Wow! Classic with coal smoke and a good dose of sherry.
Loads of character; reminds me of a whisky made in the 1980's.
Some candied fruits in the background. Bubblegum? Diesel?
Taste: Fruity and powerful with a touch of smoke in the finish.
Feels slightly chalky in the end - which works well in this case.
Just like the nose, it resembles an 'antique' style of malt whisky.
My kind of style, but the mouth feel betrays the fairly young age.
Score: 83 points - quite good considering the 45 Euro's price tag.
With a sweeter, 'fatter' finish it could have reached the upper 80's.

Glendronach 15yo 'Revival' (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: WOWEEE!!! Not unlike the 12yo when it comes to the 'classic' character.
Whiffs of rubber and mould - but in a good way. Sherry like the old 15yo, but less fruits & sweetness.
A serious sherried malt with loads of character. Quite complex too, revealing layer after layer. Meaty?
A faint whiff of lemon grass in the background. Tertiary fruits emerge after a few minutes. Soy Sauce.
Taste: like the 12yo this has a dry, chalky character. It has more 'body' than the 12yo though. Smoke?
Just like the nose, it shows a more serious side of sherry than the fruitier '100% sherry' predecessor.
Score: 89 points - I think this is more complex than the earlier version ever was. Good job!
It needs some breathing to get there though - immediately after pouring I would have gone for 86/87.
At circa 60 Euro's this offers very good value - let's hope they will be able to keep it up...

Glendronach 18yo 'Allardice' (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Now, this seems a little sweeter and fruitier than the 12yo and 15yo. More old stocks?
Shows a strong grassy episode after a few minutes. A little sharper and not as expressive as the 15yo.
Taste: Woody and quite smoky - surprisingly so for a Speyside whisky. Smooth mouth feel at first.
Marmelade. Sublimated fruits; like candied oranges without the sweetness. Chalky, gritty finish.
Score: 85 points - a good whisky, but I would personally invest in the 15yo instead.
At circa 75 Euro's a bottle it's not hideously expensive, but not the best value malt available I think.

Well, that certainly was a nice surprise; in a time when many old favourites are losing some of their cool, the new owners have steered Glendronach straight against the mainstream. All three 'main' expressions made a solid impression with scores in the eighties - and especially the 15yo is stupendous. To my surprise, it's better than the old '100% sherry' version from the 1990's ever was. GREAT JOB!

Time for another fresh arrival, the Arran 12yo (54.7%, Master of Malt, Bottled 2008, cask sample).
Nose: Heavy rotting fruits - which is a good thing. Some spices in the background. my kind of style.
On the other hand, it doesn't offer a lot besides the very pleasant complex fruits. No, wait... Dust?
After ten minutes of breathing I did find a whiff of smoke as well. All in all, a very pleasant profile.
Taste: The palate matches the nose perfectly. This shows the fermenting fruits as well.
Not nearly as sweet as one might expect. The mouth feel is quite harsh as well - too bad.
Score: 81 points - I'm not sure if this was actually bottled yet or just a cask sample.

The other sample from MoM: the Islay 12yo (40%, Master of Malt, Bottled 2008, cask sample).
Nose: Hungarian dried salami, smoke and medicinal notes. At first sight I'd say this is Laphroaig.
Tar and creosote. Just my kind of profile; not terribly complex but exactly the 'style' I adore.
Taste: much more restrained than the nose suggests - almost watery. That's slightly disappointing.
After a lot of breathing tar became the dominant factor on the palate as well. hangs around in the finish.
Score: 82 points - but I should add that it's a very 'personal' score; I just love the medicinal profile.

Interesting... Both Master of Malt samples were more convincing in the nose than on the palate.
Could that be part of their 'house style'? Perhaps - although I should probably mark it as the 'new' house style. I've sampled a few Master of Malt bottlings from the 1990's, but haven't seen them on shelves for many years. I'm not entirely sure if they have been available in other countries all along or if they relaunched the brand. Meanwhile, a completely new brand on the market is Port Askaig - launched by Specialty Drinks (a sister company to Sukhinder Singh's Whisky Exchange). Based on the name I would imagine this 'bastard malt' is Caol Ila.

Port Askaig 17yo (45.8%, Specialty Drinks Ltd., Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Peaty, smoky and metallic with a hint of bad breath. Quite unique. Unlike any other Caol Ila I know.
The style reminds me of the MoM Islay 12yo - which could mean they make a 'Kildalton' style malt now.
Taste: Salmiak. Smooth and salty. Feels quite hot at this proof. Everything hangs together very well.
Score: 84 points - but this is the score for a freshly opened bottle, so it might climb a few points later on.

Port Askaig 25yo (45.8%, Specialty Drinks Ltd., Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: An obvious family resemblance with the 17yo, but lighter in style. Slightly chalky and salty.
Slightly dusty. It grows more 'veggy' after a few minutes. The profile changes after some breathing.
Peat disappears, Chloride. Not as extremely 'Kildaltony' (medicinal, tarry) after some more breathing.
Taste: Feels quite hot for a few minutes. Becomes more accessible but the finish remains hot.
Menthol or eucalyptus? Pine? Just like the nose, it changes quite a bit over time on the palate.
Score: 81 points - not really medicinal enough for my tastes, but Serge liked it much better than I did.
I have to admit I prefer the 17yo myself because that one's a little more extreme.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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