malt whisky - Longmorn Glenlossie Bowmore

90 - 01/10/2001 - THE FOUR SEASONS  -  Weather, whisky & some seasonal suggestions
91 - 15/10/2001 - Scapa 12yo - Highland Park 12yo 1988 - Highland Park 12yo - Highland Park 18yo
92 - 27/10/2001 - Glentauchers 1979 - Glendronach 12yo - Glendronach 15yo - Strathmill 10yo - ...
93 - 11/11/2001 - Port Ellen 18yo 1981 - Caperdonich 1980/1998 - Teaninich 1982/1998 - ...
94 - 18/11/2001 - Macallan 18yo 1982 - Glenfarclas 21yo - Glenesk 1984/1997 - Old Pulteney 12yo - ...
95 - 22/11/2001 - Ardbeg 25yo 'Lord of the Isles' - Balvenie 17yo Islay Cask - Bladnoch 10yo - ...
96 - 03/12/2001 - Glenlossie 10yo 1989 - Convalmore 15yo 1983 - Pittyvaich 18yo 1976 - ...
97 - 07/12/2001 - Ledaig 20yo - Bruichladdich 15yo - Bowmore NAS Cask Strength - ...
98 - 08/12/2001 - Longmorn Glenlivet 12yo - Glenrothes 8yo - North Port 1981 - Tamnavulin 12yo - ...
99 - 09/12/2001 - Springbank 21yo - Mannochmore 20yo 1974 - Royal Brackla 20yo 1978 - ...

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Log Entry # 90  -  October 1, 2001
Topic:  The Four Seasons

Hurray!
The wind is howling, the rain is beating against the windows and it's COLD.
That means the Islay season is upon us once more. I've been told our climate here in Holland is 'moderate'. Well, at times it doesn't seem so moderate; on occasion temperatures can sink as low as -20 degrees Celsius and rise as high as +35. I know this may not seem all that extreme to those of you living in Siberia or the Sahara, but it's extreme enough for me.

After a few years of single malt explorations I came to the conclusion that the freezing cold of the winter winds requires a different malt than the humid heat of the summer. I found that the Lagavulin 16yo that had warmed me during the dark months somehow didn't seem alltogether 'appropriate' in the summer. There's nothing quite like a Lagavulin 16yo on a cold winter night. Preferably in front of a fireplace in the woods while the wind is howling in the treetops, but the radiator of my central heating system will do quite nicely as well whenever I'm in Amsterdam. It's a very personal thing, but I just don't seem to be able to enjoy an Islay malt (or most other malts, actually) in the summertime when temperatures exceed 20 degrees Celcius. Well, off course I ENJOY them - just not as much as during 'Sipping Season'. (Sipping Season lasts from mid-September to mid-May, as far as I'm concerned.)

Another interesting feature of the water of life.
Objectively speaking, there are no great differences in the production processes and ingredients of different single malt whiskies. Nevertheless, the variety is amazing. On one end of the spectrum we have the 'Islay School of Peat & Smoke' - Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Talisker (an honorary Islay). These are the 'heavy' malts I enjoy the most in autumn or winter. On the other end, or rather on another end of the spectrum we have lighter and 'fresher' malts like Glenmorangie, Glenlivet and Dalwhinnie. My nose and tongue respond better to these malts in spring or summertime. And then there are the versatile Speyside malts; Macallan, Glenfarclas, Balvenie and the like. They tend to hold their own under all conditions.

After discussing the topic of seasonal influences at length with Louis Perlman I decided to add some 'seasonal suggestions' to my liquid log. It's just an arbitrary list with commercial malts that, at least to my taste, seem to perform particulary well in a certain season. The fact that this probably isn't very useful for visitors that don't live on the Northern hemisphere in a place with a moderate maritime climate didn't deter me.
Just another one of Johannes' famous feats of folly & futility.

SEASONAL SUGGESTIONS:

Winter (January, February, March)
Short, cold days and long, ever colder nights. Snow, ice and hailstorms.
Give me heat! Give me Islay heat! Give me cask strength heat!
The human body needs the warmth of a powerful whisky to endure the cold. Sweetness or woodiness (?) doesn't hurt either. Winter is also the festive season with a christmas bonus for some of us. This allows some of us to purchase old and/or rare malts that we wouldn't normally buy.

Spring  (April, May, June)
Nature is awakening and there's the occasional ray of revitalizing sunshine between the spring showers. The days are getting longer and warmer, but the nights are still a bit chilly. This time of the year, I'm looking for the sweet warmth of the Highlands rather than the peaty heat of Islay. The nights are still long enough for relatively complex malts that take their time.

Summer  (July, August, September)
During the long & hot afternoons and evenings of summer I want 'fresh' malts that are light and not too sweet. I want malts that can easily be enjoyed outside, with some friends on the terrace. Complexity isn't neccessarily what I'm looking for right now. Summertime = partytime; I just want a malt that's accessible and can be ebjoyed in large quantities.

Autumn  (October, November, December)
Falling leaves, wind and rain. Lots of rain. That's autumn in Holland for you.
Because the days are getting shorter, the nights are getting longer. Or so I'm told.
The longer the nights, the greater the need for malts with warmth and character. Malts with personality. Malts that fire the imagination and fuel good conversation. Malts that offer a challenge for nose, palate and brain. Autumn is the best season for sherried malts - at least to me.

Does this mean that I don't like Talisker 10 in the summertime?
Of course not. But I know I appreciate the Talisker 10 the most when it's cold and wet outside.
I would like to stress once more that these are just personal, subjective opinions written in various stages of intoxication (I like to enjoy a dram while working on Malt Madness). All I can say is that every single malt mentioned here has given me great pleasure...

That's it as far as the seasons is concerned - scroll down for actual tasting reports.
 

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Log Entry # 91  -  October 15, 2001
Topic:  Orkney Touchstone Tasting

One of the big liquid events I've been looking forward to was the 'Touchstone Tasting' of four malts from Orkney, the main island off the north-eastern coast of Scotland. A touchstone tasting is not unlike an ordinary head-to-head tasting session, but instead of sampling the available malts in consecutive pairs, different malts are tasted against one 'touchstone' malt.

On the table:
Scapa 12yo. (OB) - middle shelf - opened 8 months ago, 3 drams left
Highland Park 12yo. (OB) - top shelf - opened over a year ago, 5 drams left
Highland Park 12yo. 1988 (Ultimate) - reserve stock - unopened
Highland Park 18yo. (OB) - reserve stock - unopened

It's not hard to guess which one will be the touchstone malt.
The Highland Park 12 (OB) has been one of my favourite malts almost since day one.
Lately, it has been pushed out of my top 10 by a few really stellar malts like the UDRM Saint Magdalene, but it's still one of the best 'bang-for-your-buck' single malts around.
I started the session with a H2H of the only two available 'official' bottlings of a twelve years old Orkney malt; Scapa 12yo (40%, OB, 100cl) and Highland Park 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl). Scapa ('that other Orkney malt') is the obvious underdog in this situation, with a preliminary rating in the mid-70's.
Nose: The HP was much more powerful at first. Big & sweet (apricots?), woody & sherried - just the way I like it. Tantalising hints of toffee. The Scapa seemed light and almost flowery in comparison. Fruity. Citrus. Soap? The Scapa becomes more powerful with time, but never reaches the volume of the HP 12. Both show a hint of salt; the HP has some peat as well. With time, the HP had more caramel and toffee.
Taste: The HP started sweet and powerful, with sherry, wood and smoke. Just the way I like it - reminded me of an excellent rum at times. Only a faint hint of peat in the finish. The Scapa started off softer, but quickly developed into a hot, sweet and salty burn. Dry finish. Lighter and maltier than the HP. Nice as well, but not as spectacular. (Note: The results may have been influenced by the fact that the Scapa had a crappy cork that didn't fit right. It disintegrated quickly and crumbled in the end.)

For the next H2H of the evening, I opened one of the 'Ultimate' bottlings I picked up before my Big Ban started; the Highland Park 12yo 1988/2001 (43%, Ultimate), to be precise. Bottle #492 from Sherry butt #10452 was distilled on 19/05/1988 and bottled on 29/01/2001 - the week of Klaus Everding's second visit to Amsterdam. In the glass, the Ultimate 12 looks just a tad lighter than the 12yo OB.
Nose: The Ultimate started off softer and lighter than the OB - and certainly not as sherried. Very gentle. It became a little oilier after a while, and the comparison between the two showed a hint of smoke in the OB I didn't recall from previous occasions.
After 15 minutes the Ultimate got salty and 'smoked sausage' notes as well.
Taste: The Ultimate starts sweet and deceptively soft, but quickly explodes into a heavy burn with almost Islay-like qualities. Smoke and some peat. Very dry. The OB started soft and became powerful as well, but took a tad longer to develop. In comparison, I found lots of wood and burnt toffee in the OB - and hardly any peat.

The OB 12 wins on the nasal front. It's bigger and more complex - especially for the first 10 minutes. The taste of the OB is more complex and balanced as well, but the sheer explosive power of the Ultimate 1988 is amazing. And it's a deceptive malt too - the nose of a mild Speysider but the kick of a Skye or Islay malt. Not unlike some Caol Ila's I've tasted; the friendly nose seduces you, but as soon as you taste the stuff... brace yourself! A few years ago, I tasted another Ultimate Highland Park that was distilled in 1988. That one was bottled in 1995 and scored 75 points. But this bottle is almost twice as old and plays in a different league. An interesting alternative to the OB with a price tag of 32 Euro's. It's a shame it will probably be sold out by the time my Big ban is over.

And finally, the highlight of the evening: HP OB's go H2H.
In plain English: Highland Park 12 vs Highland Park 18yo (43%, OB).
When I opened the 18, I noticed that the colour was a little darker than that of the 12, which could be a good sign - or maybe the guy who mixes the caramel through the malt was feeling particularly generous the day this bottle was produced... The booklet that comes with the 18 is a hoot.
It begins with 'Orkney's history stretches back to the dawn of time'. Obviously, the writer hasn't heard about the Big Bang theory yet - or basic geology for that matter. Another gem: '... but a shout away from the heather peat beds of Hobbister, master distiller to master distiller has passed on his golden secrets.'

Bla, bla, bla...  Let's just see if this malt warrants such swollen language, shall we?
Nose: Both have a lot of sweet fruits and honey, but some salt as well.
Definite similarities in character; the 18 has most of the elements of the 12, but is slightly more balanced and expressive at first. A little woodier as well.
Taste: The 12 started sweet with a slow, even sweeter explosion on the tongue.
Nice finish with some smoke. The explosion of the 18 came a lot faster after a smooth start.
Wow! Very deep woody and sherry notes in the middle. A little sweeter than the 12.
Toffee in the long, developing finish. Long and woody dry conclusion.

Phew! I'm struggling with my preliminary rating for HP 18.
It's very good stuff, that's for sure, but I had expected the extra 6 years on wood to have made a bigger impact on the spirit. It's slightly bigger and more balanced in the nose. The taste is smoother and lasts longer as well. If I had to express it in numbers, the difference would be no more than two points, which puts the HP 18 at 87 preliminary points - in the same league as the Balvenie 21yo. Port. Good stuff.

OK - that was fun. Let's review the results of tonight's tasting:
Scapa 12yo (OB) - A final rating of 75 points - Bottle empty
Highland Park 12yo (OB) - The rating of 85 points stands - Bottle empty
Highland Park 12yo 1988 (Ultm) - Preliminary rating: 84 points - moves to middle shelf
Highland Park 18yo (OB) - Preliminary rating: 87 points - moves to top shelf

The best malt of the evening was, without a doubt, the HP 18. It has all the qualities of the HP 12, but slightly enlarged. That's why it takes the place of the empty bottle of HP 12 on my top shelf without being rated - not unheard of, but a rare honour nonetheless. Under normal circumstances, the HP 12 would have been replaced right away, but with my big ban and all, I'll have to wait until Christmas before I can buy a fresh bottle. Until then, the 18 should be a worthy replacement.

However, the real revelation of the evening was the Ultimate HP 12. The fact that the character was quite different from the OB's could indicate that the master blender at Highland Park distillery mixes a fair amount of older (or more heavily sherried) stuff through the official 12 bottling. See added note 1 for more.

That's tonight's tasting over with - Bless you and goodnight...

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mAddendum 91A - Bye Bye Big Ban

After the wallet-shattering events in April (see log entry #80) pushed the number of bottles in my reserve stock past 100, I decided I wouldn't allow myself to buy any more malts until Christmas. And everything worked pretty well - for a while...

It all went pear-shaped on October 13, exactly 7 months after I started my Big Ban. When I came through Utrecht Central Station, I passed 'Traverse' - one of my favourite liquorists until I discovered Ton Overmars and Menno Boorsma. Over the years, their selection has grown, but so have their prices. I couldn't resist dropping by, just to see if they had the Balvenie Islay Cask on stock. It isn't officially available in Holland (yet?), but Traverse sometimes has some special imports on offer. Well, not today.
But they DID have some other very interesting stuff on stock...
Oh, the humanity of it all!

I stood in front of the shelves in agony.
I should never have entered the store! One of the most serious symptoms of malt madness is the temporary insanity that occurs when a malt maniac enters a whisky shop. The dreadful possibility that certain bottlings might become unavailable (or unaffordable) in the future can easily ignite a shopping frenzy.

And then there's the harmful effects of socialising with other malt maniacs. Over the last few weeks, American correspondent Patrick has been taunting me relentlessly. He has obtained a shit load of new bottles recently and I have to admit (reluctantly, mind you ;-) that some of them made my mouth (and eyes) water. While I was struggling to keep my Big Ban, Patrick made sure to keep me updated on every friggin' bottle he acquired. The evil fiend kept kicking me by e-mail while my big ban held me down! The urge to retaliate became stronger and stronger...

To cut a long story short, I left the premises clutching 9 new bottles;

You can tell I was feeling adventurous; I haven't tasted any of these bottlings before.
The Aberlour A'bunadh was another version than the one currently on my middle shelf. My open bottle (lovely, lovely!) doesn't have a 'batch' number and comes in at 59.6% - just 0.3% lighter than this Batch No 6. The price is a little higher than the 51 Euro's I paid for my first bottle, but it's still relatively cheap - prices have been exploding here in Holland. I've seen it at Gall & Gall for 78 Euro's and even Ton 'Easy Money' Overmars wants 68 Euro's for it! The SigVint Ardbeg 8yo 1992 is the successor of the SigVint 8yo. 1991. That bottle scored 80 points, and that score might have been on the conservative side. If this one is just as nice it offers good value at 34 Euro's. That was the price tag on the Ultimate Springbank 11yo 1989 as well, so I couldn't pass it up. Independent bottlings of Springbank are quite rare and even the younger official bottlings are considerably more expensive. That makes this bottling a steal.

Objectively speaking, that isn't the case with the Douglas Laing Talisker 'Tactical' 19yo 1980 50%, the Douglas Laing OMC Ardbeg 27yo 1973 50% and the official Ardbeg 30yo 'Very Old'. The price I'm willing to pay for a bottle may be slowly rising, but I'm still not completely comfortable with shelling out more than 100 Euro's for a bottle. Sadly, one of the many symptoms of malt madness is an adverse effect on one's cognitive abilities - even without sampling the product itself. All three bottlings were already present in my reserve stock, but since they are among the rarest and most expensive bottles in my current collection I'm hesitant to open them. In my warped logic, buying these spare bottles made sense because it maximises the return on my previous investments. In effect, it allows me to open a few very special bottles without remorse. Looking at it from that viewpoint, I made a good deal today.

Breaking my Big Ban didn't satisfy my malt hunger - it only increased it. Back in Amsterdam, I went to Menno Boorsma. According to his website, he had Aberlour a'bunadh and Macallan 10 100 Proof on stock for +/- 50 Euro's. That seemed like worth the trip. Sadly, he had neither one on stock at the moment. I had pretty much tasted everything else, except the Longrow 10 that's still too rich for my blood at more than 90 Euro's. Uncharacteristically, I left without buying anything. As a result, my malt fever had reached a critical level when I made my final stop of the day at Ton Overmars. I left the shop with:

Almost all these purchases at Ton Overmars were familiar bottlings.
I picked up 3 bottles of Ardbeg 10 because it offers a lot of bang for my buck at a price of only 35 Euro's. Over the last 18 months, this malt has been rising steadily on my Best-to-Worst list and it has just made my Top 10 with a score of 87 points. Ardbeg 17 (92 pts), Balvenie Doublewood (85 pts), Connemara (76 pts), Glendronach 15 (84 pts) and Glen Scotia 14 (84 pts) are 'old favorites' that offer great value as well.

The odd couple are the Caol Ila and Springbank.
The SigVint Caol Ila 11yo 1989 is essentially the same as the two bottles in my reserve stock, but it comes in a silver tube, isn't chill-filtered and has a slightly higher proof of 46%. A H2H with the 'normal' version should be intriguing. And finally the Springbank 21. So far, I've only 'officially' tasted two versions (CV and 14yo. 1979) and I wasn't too crazy about them. Very nice, but simply too light to impress me. Nevertheless, Springbank has many fans, especially in the US. And what's more, a few older versions I tried in bars were excellent. I figured such a high profile distillery deserved one final chance to impress me.

Having satisfied my immediate need for a liquid fix, I hung around for a while longer chewing some fat with Ton. To my dismay, I discovered that I could have saved 25 Euro's by ordering the Ardbeg 1973 OMC here instead of picking it up at Traverse. Darned! My malt madness kicked in again, so I ordered:

The bottles arrived within a week. I'm especially pleased with the OMC Ardbeg 29yo 1972 and Ardbeg 26yo. 1974. The whisky in these bottles was produced before the distillery made some changes in the production process in 1975. Especially the 1972 should be interesting; it has been finished in sherry casks for at least 6 months. The UD Rare Malts Mortlach 20yo 1978 (62.2%) was on my list because Jaap, a malt buddy from Holland, is raving about it. This may prove to be a bad gamble, but I really wanted some Mortlachs in my collection. Looking at age and proof, it will be hard to find other Mortlachs that offer a better price per dram. The last bottle on the list was the Vintage Island 8yo Cask Strength; reputed to be a genuine Talisker. Only 26 Euro's - this should provide a lot of bang for my bucks.

Was that it?
Almost. A few days after the latest shipment arrived, I opened the Springbank 21 (see added note #2). My first impressions were memorable enough to ignite one last attack of the malt madness bug. This time, I managed to restrict myself to malts that had proven themselves in battle. I ordered:

Yes, I went malt mad again.
My latest seizure pushes the number of bottles in my reserve stock well into triple digit territory again, effectively cancelling out all the progress I've made since April. The only progress I've made lies in the increased 'exclusivity' of my collection. I've cleared out some of the 'mundane' bottles in my reserve stock, while some of my latest purchases are among the most expensive bottles I ever bought.

All bottles moved directly to my reserve stock, except for the Connemara NAS, Vintage Skye 8yo, Black Bottle 10yo and Isle of Skye. They were opened within a few days and emptied within a few weeks. See mAddendum 91B for details.

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mAddendum 91B - Affordable Fun

I opened some of the bottles I acquired recently to help me prepare for the Islay season that lies ahead.

The Connemara NAS (40%, OB, Irish) is a steal at 20 Euro's.
Nose: Smoked ham and melon. Fresh. Some sour (citrus?) notes as well.
Very nice. A gentle sweetness around the smoke and peat. A broad spectrum.
Taste: Leather, peat and iodine - much more than I expected.
A little rough. Smoky and dry, but there's sweetness too. Big burn.
Conclusion: 78 points.
This bottle is more extreme than my previous one (see log entry #75), especially in the taste.
This one actually beats some of the weaker Islays, like Bowmore Legend and Bruichladdich 10.
And it's considerably cheaper to boot. Of all the Irish whiskies I've tasted, this offers the most bang for your bucks.

The Black Bottle 10yo (40%) is 'just' a blend, but offers great value as well. This latest bottle seemed identical to the one I emptied a couple of weeks before; great in the nose but simply too unbalanced on the palate. (See log entry #94H for details.) The rating of 71 points stands. After some of the 'Vintage' bastard malts, this is one of the best buys under 20 Euro's.

Ian McLeod's Isle of Skye 8yo (40%) is a blend that contains the Talisker single malt.
That's the reason I've been looking for this bottle for a few years now.
Nose: Quite restrained. Grainy elements. A little malty. Remarkably flat, actually.
Some smoke, but it's more like smouldering plastic than burning wood.
Taste: Ouch! Clearly a blend. Faintly sweet. Superficial.
After the first shock of disappointment, in recognised the Talisker pepper.
Chemical sweetness in the aftertaste, but on the whole it's a decent finish.
Conclusion: 52 points. I expected something more - especially because I've heard some raving reports about it. As it turns out, this doesn't offer as much value as the Connemara. Or the Black Bottle 10 for that matter - a blend that actually delivers the power this one promises.

OK, let's proceed with the real thing; Vintage Island Malt 8yo Cask Strength (57%, SV bastard malt). It's bottled at a neat and round percentage, which leads me to believe this is not a 'real' cask strength whisky. I've tasted CS malts that were more than three times as old and still clocked in well over 60%. Not to worry, though; 57% is quite satisfactory.
Nose: Overwhelming. Strange - in a good way. Salty. Faint hint of fruit in the background. A splash of water causes a short burst of fragrances before the salt starts to dominate once more.
Taste: Multi-layered. At full strength, it starts dry with an explosion in the back of the throat. Then, it becomes much more complex with sweeter notes. The finish is long and strong. Maltier in the start when diluted, but the powerful punch remains.
Conclusion: 82 points. Pretty amazing stuff! It beats the Vintage Islay 5yo. CS (Lagavulin), which hasn't matured to this level of complexity and sophistication.

That's it for now, at least as far as the latest bypass tastings and acquisitions are concerned.
But don't wander off yet - there's more...

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mAddendum 91C - Status 52-Challenge

So, where does this latest tasting put me in the '2001/52-Challenge'?
Comfortably in the lead, I should think. The last time I checked (on June 19, to be precise), the counter stood at 39. Since then, I've tasted and rated 11 new single malts; Ben Nevis 10yo, Clontarf NAS, Glencadam 1987, Glenesk 1984, Glenfiddich 12yo, Glen Garioch NAS, Glengoyne 10yo, Linkwood 11yo, Macallan 10yo, Scapa 12yo and Tomintoul 10yo.
With ten weeks to spare, I've now tasted 50 new single malts this year.
Only two more malts to go.

That's all, folks.
 

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Log Entry # 92  -  October 27, 2001
Topic:  '52 Challenge' Finale

The last time I checked, the counter of the 2001/52-Challenge stood at 50.
For those of you who've just tuned in: In January, Davin 'Daredevil' de Kergommeaux, Craig 'The Nose' Daniels, 'Liquid' Louis Perlman and yours truly agreed to try and sample 52 new single malts this year - an average of one per week. Tonight, the heavy drinking I've been doing this year will seem not quite as senseless when I complete the challenge with my fingers in my nose...

The evening was unusually warm for the time of year.
The perfect occasion for a final 'Speyside Push' before the cold tail of autumn whips me into an Islay frenzy. For this tasting session, I selected five neighbouring distilleries from the North-eastern part of Speyside;
- Aultmore
- Glendronach
- Glentauchers
- Strathisla
- Strathmill

OK - First of all I'll have to figure out a final rating for the Aultmore 11yo 1985/1997 (43%, Signatory Vintage, bottle #468 of 484 from oak butt #2904, distilled 9/10/1985, bottled in 8/1997). Aultmore is one of the lesser known Speyside distilleries, located not far from Strathisla and Strathmill. This bottle has been hiding on my middle shelf since last November, so the final rating is long overdue.
Nose: Grainy start with a good deal of citrus. Spicy. Herbal.
Pinch of salt. Medium 'volume' - the lack of sherry wood is obvious.
Seems more like a Lowlander than a Speysider at first.
Taste: Bittersweet. Quite woody, but smooth at the same time.
Gingerbread. Decent burn, but it lacks complexity and depth. Dry finish.
Final rating: 71 points; the bottle moves to bottom shelf. The paradoxes in the taste make it an interesting malt - but only for a little while.

My next target was the Glendronach distillery, located in the far East of the Speyside region - in the 'Deveron' area, to be precise. The distillery (founded in 1826) is not active at the moment, but it hasn't been demolished either. At the moment, I have two different bottlings of Glendronach in my collection; the 12yo. 'Traditional' in my reserve stock and the 15yo. on my middle shelf.
I started with the Glendronach 15yo '100% Sherry Casks' (40%, OB, 100cl).
Nose: Stunningly rich! Very sherried. Big. Sweet & woody. A hint of smoke.
Oriental notes. A little spicy. Grows even wider and more complex over time.
Reminded me of Macallan - and the forest after an autumn shower.
Taste: Toffee and caramel. Very woody. Liquorice.
Liquorice in the finish as well, developing into very dry oak.
Interesting development but just too dry and woody towards the end.
Conclusion: 86 points. The nose is right up there with the first bottles of Macallan 12 I tasted - maybe even slightly more complex. In a H2H, the glendronach 15 managed to actually beat the Mac 12 currently on my top shelf on the nasal front. Sadly, it loses the extra points in the taste department.

Then I opened the Glendronach 12yo  'Traditional' (43%, OB). Contrary to the 15, this version is matured in both sherry and bourbon casks. This must have been one of my liquorist's more creative imports - the cork had a Cyrillic 'Oikonomicon' customs seal on it.
Nose: Not as powerful as the 15. Much less sherried, too. Slightly spirity at first.
Grows over time. Rotting hay? Hint of incense?
Taste: Pepper in the start? There's something I didn't expect!
Liquorice. A little peat. Dry finish, but not as extreme as the 15.
Preliminary conclusion: Mid/Upper 70's. I'm not sure yet.
It may improve after some breathing - the 15 certainly did.

The idea of having a H2H session of Glendronach 12 vs 15 was very tempting, but I still had a lot of tasting ahead of me. Uncharacteristically, I managed to restrained myself.  There'll be plenty of time for a H2H later; these bottles are not going anywhere. At least, not far; the 15 moves to my top shelf, banishing the Cragganmore 12 (sob...) to my bottom shelf - at least for now. The Glendronach 12 moves to my middle shelf for further investigation.

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy - Now I get to open another bottle from my reserve stock.
I chose the Glentauchers 1979/1998 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, bottled 1998), which comes from one of the last undiscovered (active) distilleries on my list. It was a good thing I 'opened' it, because the cheap tin screw top had somehow been screwed up. This bottle has been breathing illegally for who knows how long!
Nose: Quite soft. Citrussy. Chemical fruity sweetness.
A little nutty. Hint of peat in the background. Disinfectant?
Taste: Fairly simple and a little bland. Sweet and malty. Dry burn.
The finish is more interesting and lasts for quite a while. Good mouth feel.
Conclusion: Hmmm... Lower/Mid 70's, I'd say. Not very impressive for a malt this old; it lacks complexity. Let's see how some more breathing on my middle shelf affects it.

Now all I have to do to finish my plan for tonight is empty two bottles from the bottom shelf; the Strathisla 12 and Strathmill 10. The Strathisla 12yo (43%, OB) has been on my shelves for almost 2 years now and it shows. The character has definitely changed - and not for the better.
Nose: faintly sherried. Starts restrained, but becomes more powerful.
It settles as a malty, lightly sherried malt with distant fruity notes.
Taste: Pleasant malty burn, but not quite sweet enough for my tastes.
Hint of sherry? Some salt. Dry finish. Breaks up after a while.
Conclusion: It certainly hasn't improved with time, but the rating of 74 points stands.
I figure anything that happens after a year doesn't count.

The Strathmill 10yo (43%, SV Scottish Wildlife,) comes from the same area as Strathisla, just like the name suggests. There's a Sciurus vulgaris (common red squirrel) on the label, which turned out to be quite appropriate. The malt seemed a little common to me as well.
Nose: Nutty (?) at first. Slightly oily. Soft sweetness in the background.
Not very outspoken. It doesn't leave a real impression.
Taste: Smooth and a little spicy. Sweeter than the Strathisla.
Sweetness becomes more bitter, like oranges. Decent burn. Menthol?
Conclusion: The rating of 67 points stands. Smooth but unremarkable.
A surprisingly forgettable whisky; 'common' like the squirrel on the label.

Well - that settles it...
An official 'Hurray!' is in order. With more than two months to spare, I have completed the 52-Challenge. And let me tell you; it was no picnic! During the course of the challenge I've spent a lot of my time tasting mediocre malts when I could have been tasting the likes of Lagavulin 16 and Ardbeg 17.
Although it wasn't a real 'competition' as such, it pleases me that I've managed to beat Davin and Craig to the punch. As far as Louis is concerned - well, the astonishing Ardbegeddon 2 Event (see his 28th E-Report) gave him a decisive head start. Those of us with normal livers never had a chance to catch up.
So - although it wasn't a race, I came in second ;-)

Having completed the 52-Challenge, I can shift my attention to some of my other pet projects, like the Malt Madness Matrix and the completion of phase 1 of the mission. There are only three undiscovered (active) distilleries left - a situation that will be rectified within a few weeks.

Finishing the 52-Challenge made me feel pretty good about myself.
That's just as well, because my morale could use a boost. Like many people have so accurately predicted, I failed miserably in keeping the Big Ban I imposed upon myself.
(See mAddendum 91A for the gory details...)

- - -

mAddendum 92A - Springbank 21yo & Dufftown 12yo

A few days after I broke my Big Ban, my 'little' brother Franc dropped by for a song writing session. We fuelled our inspiration with the remainder of the Braes of Glenlivet 15yo, but found ourselves with an empty bottle around 22:00 PM.
Time to bring out one of the big boys.

I opened the recently acquired Springbank 21yo (46%, OB) because this bottling will become unavailable soon. Due to production gaps at the distillery, a 21 years old Springbank OB won't be marketed for a couple of years. I already missed out on the Springbank 12, so I wanted to check if the raving reports by Andrew Dinsdale and Louis Perlman were justified. If so, I still have the opportunity to stock up. My bottle with code 00/199 25/08/00 produced a very decent 'Plop!' when I opened it.
Nose: Wow! Big, Sweet and sherried at first. Menthol.
Wonderful development. A multitude of fragrances.
Taste: Ooh! That's nice. Wood. Liquorice. A sophisticated sweetness.
Preliminary conclusion: Upper 80's to lower 90's - the retribution of Springbank! I wasn't too crazy about the bottles I've had in my collection earlier (14yo. 1979 and CV), but at first glance this one seems like a Top 10 candidate to me. Franc gave it a big thumbs-up as well.

Now we had to empty a bottle from my middle shelf to make room for the Springbank. Franc wanted an 'easy' malt to sustain us for the rest of the night, So we chose the Dufftown 12yo 1987 (43%, Chieftain's Choice).
Nose: Slightly oily notes. Whiffs of grain. Easy on the nose.
After a few minutes: Sweet and nutty. German sweet bread?
Taste: Undescriptive. Nice, but less complex and sweet than the nose.
A little gritty. Slight bitterness in the finish. Some pepper? A little dry.
Conclusion: 73 points. Not very complex, but extremely drinkable.
Franc gave it only 70 points, so I had to kick his ass - again...

No further notes...
 

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Log Entry # 93  -  November 11, 2001
Topic:  Phase 1 Finish line In Sight

Tonight is a night of historic proportions.
It's the night I get to open my bottles from the last undiscovered (active) distilleries in Scotland. I've recently opened bottles of Royal Brackla, Braes of Glenlivet (Braeval) and Glentauchers, which brought down the number of 'mystery malts' in my collection to eight. Five of these bottles were produced by distilleries that are either dead or in the vegetative state that is known as 'mothballed'.
I'm talking about:

- Balmenach (mothballed in 1993)
- Banff (closed in 1983)
- Brora (closed in 1980's)
- Glen Albyn (closed in 1983)
- Glenglassaugh (mothballed in 1986)

The original purpose of my mission was to locate the best single malts available and spend the rest of my life happily getting drunk on those 'best single malts'. With that in mind, it makes little sense researching distilleries that will (probably) never operate again. As years go by, it will be harder and harder to obtain the product of these distilleries, so I'll disregard them for the immediate purpose of this phase of my mission. Incidentally, I haven't bothered to acquire bottles of Glen Flagler, Glenury Royal (both closed in 1980's) and Ladyburn (closed in 1970's) for the same reason.
This leaves just 3 undiscovered, active distilleries;

- Caperdonich
- Glenlossie
- Teaninich

I started this session with a moment of silence to commemorate the occasion and prepare for the discoveries that lay ahead. Then I put 'Conquest of Paradise' by Vangelis in the CD-player and poured my first glass ever of Glenlossie. The Glenlossie 10yo 1989/2000 (43%, McGibbon's Provenance) is not coloured or chill filtered. As far as I'm concerned, that's a big plus for a single malt. Another nice feature of the McGibbon Provenance bottlings is the precise indication of the season in which the malt is distilled and bottled. In this case, the whisky was distilled in the autumn of 1989 and bottled in the spring of 2000. The result is a Speyside malt that's extremely light in colour, which indicated maturation in a bourbon cask.
Nose: Soft and pleasant. Apples? Grainier after a minute. Distinctively oily after some more breathing, with some spices. Hint of peat after 30 minutes.
Taste: Sweet and soft, becoming very fruity. Dry at the same time!
Warm in the finish. Pine? Falls apart after a few minutes in the glass.
Preliminary conclusion: Lower-to-mid 70's. A little light for my taste. Nice development in the nose, but very hard to classify on the first tasting.

Let's proceed with the Caperdonich 1980/1998 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice).
This Speyside distillery is located not far from the Glenrothes distillery. The Glenrothes bottlings I've tried so far were pretty good, so let's hope there's a family resemblance.
Nose: Ooh! Nice. Round, sweet and a little sherried. Early fruits (Apple?).
Becomes maltier, with later fruits (raisins) and some smoke.
Taste: Sweet and malty. A little smoky and sherried.
Sweet oak in the finish. Not much individuality, though...
Preliminary conclusion: Mid-to-upper 70's. Very drinkable, but a little bit 'fuzzy' - it's hard to identify unique characteristics. It may open up after some breathing.

Finally, I reached the pinnacle of a 5 year tasting career when I opened the last bottle from an undiscovered (active) distillery; the Teaninich 1982/1998 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice). The Teaninich distillery is located in the southern part of the northern Highlands, about a mile west from Dalmore. If geography is an important factor, this one should do OK considering its neighbour (in casu Dalmore 12) does so as well.
Nose: Restrained. Some sherry sweetness. Sawdust. Pine. Menthol.
Taste: Sweetish. Not unlike rum. Seems stronger than the actual 40%.
Very subtle elements as well. Pine? Grainy notes. Medium dry finish.
Preliminary conclusion: Lower 70's. Little or no similarities with the Dalmore.

OK - Do you realise what this means?
I think it's time I gave myself a big applause....
I've now sampled the product from every active distillery in Scotland!

That means I've kind of finished phase 1 of my mission.
'Kind of', because I haven't emptied a dozen bottles from my most recently discovered distilleries yet; First-timers like Benrinnes 15yo and Convalmore 1983 proved to be too good to rush them carelessly through my shelves. However, when I started my mission I had planned on emptying at least one bottle from each distillery before proceeding with phase 2. Don't worry; I'll nitpick about these technicalities later...

So...
Now what?
Open yet another bottle to celebrate? Sounds like a plan!
But what bottle would be suitable to commemorate this occasion?
It has to be a special one; maybe even an 'irreplacable' one.
How about a Port Ellen - an Islay distillery that closed in the 1980's?
Excellent idea! I'm on a roll tonight...

The Port Ellen 18yo 1981/2000 (43%, McGibbon's Provenance by Douglas Laing) is present in my reserve stock in two flavours. Both are winter (1981) distillations, but one is bottled in the spring of 2000 and the other in the autumn of 2000. When a cask of single malt whisky is bottled, this usually happens in a single run. This means these bottles probably come from different casks, one aged a few months longer than the other.
The 'tasting notes' on the box are exactly identical, though.
Hmmm.... Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

After careful deliberation, I chose the 'younger' spring distillation. The colour is a deep reddish brown; very dark, especially considering it's not artificially coloured. This indicates sherry wood ageing.
Nose: Peat & sherry. Quite gentle at first, but becoming more complex after a minute.
Peatier after 5 minutes. Very nice.
Taste: A sweet layer around a soft peaty heart. Smoke and sherry. Toffee. Chewy dryness. The finish doesn't seem particularly strong for a malt this old, but it keeps on playing around your tongue and palate.
Preliminary conclusion: Mid 80's. Very nice! Seems at least as good as the Signatory Vintage 1975 I had on my shelves over a year ago.

This latest eruption of malt madness has left a chaos on my shelves, but I'll worry about that later. Tonight, I'd like to take the time to reflect on what I've learnt so far. Just give me a minute to get in my rocking chair while I pour myself another glass of the Port Ellen and put on another record - Victoria's Requiem, to be precise.

See mAddendum 93A below for my liquid reflections...

- - -

mAddendum 93A -  Phase 1 Preliminary Review

Thanks to tonight's session, I've almost completed phase 1 of my mission.  Almost?
Well, yes... Those of you that have been paying attention may have noticed that the original goal of phase 1 of the mission was to empty at least 1 bottle from every active distillery in Scotland. Right now, 17 bottles in my drinking collection are 'firsts' - the first bottling from a particular distillery I've tried. They are (bold);

 

-> Top Shelf

Ardbeg 10yo
Ardbeg 17yo
Benrinnes 15yo
Caol Ila 1981/1995
Dalmore 12yo
Glendronach 15yo Sherry
Glenfarclas NAS '105'
Glenmrangie Madeira WF
Glen Scotia 14yo
Highland Park 18yo
Lagavulin 14yo 1984
Lagavulin 16yo
Laphroaig 10yo
Macallan 12yo
Saint Magdalene 19yo 1979
Talisker 10yo

-> Middle  Shelf

Aberlour NAS A'bunadh
Bowmore NAS Cask Strength
Bruichladdich 15yo
Convalmore 15yo
Glendronach 12yo
Glenfarclas 21yo
Glentauchers 1979/1998
Highland Park 12yo 1988
Ledaig NAS Sherry
Macallan 18yo 1982
Mannochmore 22yo 1974
North Port-Brechin 1981/1998
Old Pulteney 12yo
Pittyvaich 18yo 1976
Royal Brackla 20yo 1978

Springbank 21yo

-> Bottom Shelf

Arran NAS
Aultmore 11yo 1985
Bowmore NAS Darkest
Cragganmore 12yo
Dailuaine 16yo
Dallas Dhu 10yo
Glencadam 1987/1997
Glenesk 1984/1997
Glenfiddich 12yo Special Reserve
Glenfiddich 15yo Solera Reserve
Inchgower 12yo
Littlemill 8yo
Lochside 10yo
Oban 14yo
Old Fettercairn 10yo
Tobermory NAS

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Together with the 3 bottles from the last undiscovered distilleries in Scotland I opened tonight, that makes 20. As soon I've emptied these bottles I will have finished phase 1 of my mission. Completing the 52-Challenge two months ahead of schedule (see log entry #99) has boosted my confidence considerably. Eventually, my confidence got so boosted that I recklessly decided to commit myself to a new goal; I'll try to empty these 20 bottles before January 1, 2002 - exactly 50 days from today.

If I succeed in my 50 Day Push, I can proceed with phase 2 of my mission next year. Phase 2 will probably be very different from what I expected when I started phase 1 five years ago. For one thing, I'm thinking about an approach where I start rating malts 'by the dram' instead of 'by the bottle'. There are so many different factors that influence a particular tasting experience ('nasal condition', amount of time the bottle has been open, size and shape of the glass, weather, room temperature, amount and quality of water, malts sampled before, dinner enjoyed before, mood, etc.) that I frequently find a deviation in ratings for drams from the same bottle. Sometimes just a few points, but in a number of cases 5 points or more.

What's more, the differences between different batches of the 'same' single malt can be huge - with the notable exception of 'single cask' bottlings. The Bowmore Darkest is an excellent example. (Don't just take my word for it; check Davin's 11th E-Report or the Malt Maniacs Matrix for a second opinion.) In fact, my ratings for subsequent batches of commercial bottlings like Glen Ord 12, Lagavulin 16 or Macallan 18 are rarely identical. I've come to appreciate the fact that a good Master Blender has to do much more than mix a good whisky every time - he has to try and mix the 'same' whisky every time from variable recourses.
A daunting task...

Rating 'by the dram' also means no more preliminary ratings.
My sinusitis used to be almost chronical, but I've been having a lot of good nose days lately (knock on wood). As long as I make sure to avoid serious tasting on 'bad nose days', I feel I've gained enough experience over the last 10 years to rate a single malt on the first date. In fact, I have been doing so for a while now - at least with the bottles in my collection. My 'final' ratings are actually nothing more than the average of a number of preliminary ratings collected while the bottle remained 'under investigation' on my middle shelf. Provided I don't try to 'seriously' rate more than 4 or 5 malts per night, I think I'll manage.

I can imagine an approach where, at least for my log entries, I say goodbye to preliminary ratings and give a rating as soon as I've opened a bottle and sampled it. This would enable me to better track the development of a 'breathing' bottle over time. The rating would be likely to change while I take my time to finish the bottle. An added bonus of this approach is that it makes it possible for me to score drams I've tried in whisky bars or at festivals.

Anyway - all that is not important right now.
I'll get back to this topic in due course; I've got bigger problems...
Emptying 20 bottles in 50 days is hard enough as it is, and to make matters worse I'm severely handicapped by limitations I invented myself - namely my current 'shelf system'. It seems like I adopted it in the distant past, but in fact it was just a little over a year ago - on August 5, 2000 (see log entry #46 for the details).

The system entailed that I divided my collection of opened bottles between 3 different shelves. Each shelf holds 16 bottles. The top shelf is reserved for old favourites like Lagavulin 16 and Macallan 12, while freshly opened (unrated) bottles go to my middle shelf. The bottom shelf is the final destination for three sorts of rated bottles; 'unable to replace', 'too average to replace' and 'too expensive to replace'. Every time I open a bottle from my reserve stock, I have to rate a bottle on my middle shelf and move it to either my top shelf or bottom shelf. Consequently, I have to empty one of the bottles on my top or bottom shelf to make room. I guess all this sounds pretty complicated - and it is.

My current shelf system works pretty well in the sense that it manages to keep the number of opened bottles down to 48 most of the time, but it is flawed. For one thing, it limits the number of new bottles I can try because freshly opened bottles have to remain on my middle shelf for months while they wait for a 'final' rating. Lately, the increased flow into my reserve stock has transformed my bachelor pad into some kind of freakish whisky research laboratory. The many 'bypass operations' I've had to conduct over the last year prove that my current shelf system can't properly channel my curiosity. As a result, a lot of bottles remain on my shelves longer than a year - and in my reserve stock even longer. As far as I'm concerned, that's not desirable. The longer the period between acquisition and tasting of a bottle, the smaller the chance I'll be able to obtain spare bottles in case of an amazing discovery.

Furthermore, the content of my top shelf isn't limited to 'old favorites' anymore. With bottles like UD Rare Malts St. Magdalene 1979 and Flora & Fauna Benrinnes 15 up there, it's obvious I've loosened my restrictions regarding replacability and value. Likewise with my bottom shelf. Surely, fine malts like Cragganmore 12 or Dailuaine 16 deserve a more elevated position? Somehow, the current situation just doesn't seem right.

So, I think it's safe to say my shelf system is in dire need of a revision.
If I decide to say goodbye to preliminary ratings next year, I won't be needing a middle shelf for unrated bottles. This would enable me to change the distribution of bottles across my shelves.
Somehow, the most logical solution seems to be:
Top shelf =  Top Malts  (> 80 points)
Middle Shelf =  Average Malts  (70 - 79 points)
Bottom Shelf =  Disappointing Malts  (< 70 points)

Of course, these 'borders' are variable. It all depends on the average quality of the open bottles in my collection at a particular moment. If I were to suddenly open all 'Old Malt Cask' bottlings in my reserve stock, I'm sure some bottles with ratings in the lower 80's would be pushed towards my middle shelf.

Oops! I just looked at the time.
It's 03:45 AM and I'm blabbering on and on...
To tell you the truth, I have completely forgotten what point I wanted to make when I started writing this added note. No matter; I'll call it a night and start my 50 Day Push tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'll do some more thinking about a new shelf system.

 

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Log Entry # 94  -  November 18, 2001
Topic:  Significant Shuffling

Last week, I opened four 'new' bottles from my reserve stock (Caperdonich 1980, Glenlossie 1989, Teaninich 1982 and Port Ellen 1981) without properly making room on my middle shelf. I'm currently thinking about a new shelf system, but until December 31 I'll stick with what I know. That means I'll have to do some drinking, some rating and some shuffling tonight in order to clear away 4 'old' bottles. I decided to go for some of the malts in the Malt Madness Matrix that I haven't rated yet.

I started with the Old Pulteney 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl), quite shapely bottled.
I opened this bottle almost a year ago, on December 2 (see log entry 65). Pulteney is the northernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland; only the Orkney distilleries are situated farther to the North.
Nose: Quite restrained at first. Malty, with some sherry, some nuts and some oil.
A low profile sweetness as well. A little peat and turpentine after a while.
Taste: Nice! Smooth. Spicy burn combined with menthol freshness. Good and long development; from a sweet honey start, through coffee and pepper in the centre to a long salty finish.  Final rating: 79 points. Lots of Northern Highland character, but there are some softer Speyside elements as well.
With a little more power, it might have reached 80...

Next up: the Glenfarclas 21yo (43%, OB). Michael Jackson, Craig Daniels and Louis Perlman seem to be very enthusiastic about it with ratings approaching 90 points.
Let's see if I like it better than when I opened it in June.
Nose: Ooh! Opens with a flash of rum-like power.
Lots of 'special effects' around a heart of sherry.
Settles down after a minute, becoming slightly oily and smoky.
Taste: A little disappointing, to tell you the truth.
Slightly spirity at first. Very long, very dry finish. Lots of wood.
Final rating: 83 points - the same rating it received in June. It's a very good malt, no question about it - just a little short on individuality and character. It's not exciting enough for me to warrant a rating in the upper 80's. Not yet anyway; I'll closely monitor its evolution over the coming months.

After intensive tasting over the last 2 months, the Macallan 18yo 1982 (43%, OB) seemed to be slightly less complex and endearing than the 18yo 1976 that enjoyed the hospitality of my shelves a few years ago. Craig Daniels and others have reported on a slight but steady drop in the quality of Macallan OB's over the last years - and I'm afraid I have to agree with them. Tonight's tasting revealed:
Nose: Sherry! This has all the trademark Macallan traits & treats.
Late fruits (cherries). Wood and smoke move to the foreground.
Taste: Dry oak and sherry. Less sweetness than earlier bottlings.
Wonderful development with lots of fruity sensations. Extremely dry and woody in the finish.
Final rating: 89 points. Wonderful! It scores 1 point below the 18yo. 1976. The woody, smoky notes seem to be emphasised more in this version, which makes for a slightly less balanced malt. A little sweeter and it would have reached 90 as well.

And then there's the Aberlour A'bunadh (59.6%, OB), a cask strength malt that immediately captured my imagination when I opened it this summer. This is the first bottling without a 'batch' number; I'm very pleased that I've managed to secure 2 bottles of batch #6 for my reserve stock. Too bad the prices are exploding.
Nose: A wide spectrum of saturated shades of sherry. Very fruity. After dilution oriental notes emerged.
Taste:  Mighty sweet and woody at cask strength. Very drinkable.
Lots of oak in the finish. Softer and sweeter in the start when diluted.
Sherry comes to the foreground. Liquorice. Smoke.
Final rating: 89 points . I'm even leaning towards 90 points.
A few tiny flaws in the taste keep it from passing the 90 points benchmark, but it's a big winner nonetheless.

While I'm at it, I might as well figure out a final rating for the Highland Park 18yo (43%, OB). This bottle sneaked its way onto my top shelf two months ago to replace the HP 12yo OB.
I couldn't decide on a final rating back then, but I'm on a roll tonight. Let's try again...
Nose: Very nice! Cinnamon? Honey sweetness. Sherry. Heather.
Faint smoke & peat. Hard to define, but stays true to the distillery style.
Taste: Big burn. Salt & Sweet. Cinnamon again. Then fruitier notes.
Woody - oak and pine. Wonderful balance. Good, dryish finish.
Final rating: 87 points. Another top malt! So this is what the HP12 tastes like after it has had some time to think... I like it. The difference with the HP12 isn't significant enough to warrant the significantly higher price, though. If anything, this malt emphasises what a great value malt the HP12 actually is.

Hip hip... hurray. Another 4 single malts to add to the Malt Madness Matrix.
But where to put all these bottles now that they're properly tasted and rated?
I've now got 52 open bottles and only room for 48.
This means 4 bottles have to be removed and emptied as soon as humanly (and humanely) possible.

Finding a spot for the Glenfarclas 21 is easy.
The Glenfarclas NAS '105' (60%, OB, 100cl) on my top shelf is nearly empty anyway. At just 36 Euro's for a litre at 60% alc.vol., it offers amazing value - it currently ranks number 4 on my bang-for-your-buck list.
Nose: Powerful as ever, even though it was opened well over a year ago. Sweet at 60%. After dilution, sherry and malt come forward. Vegetable soup???
Taste: Quite drinkable at cask strength - sweet and round.
Dry, burning finish. Very nice, but it doesn't betray its young age.
Conclusion: The rating of 81 points stands. See log entry #90 for more detailed tasting notes on GF 105 and 4 other versions. I poured myself a last, generous dram and removed the empty bottle from my top shelf.

There's no question the Aberlour A'bunadh is top shelf material as well. But figuring out what bottle has to go is not so easy. I finally decided on the Glen Scotia 14yo (40%, OB). This Campbeltown malt is a completely different whisky, but the bottle on my top shelf is almost empty. I have 2 spare bottles in my reserve stock to sustain me in the future. I forgot to make specific notes for this one. It was a little maltier than I remembered, with mysterious vegetable notes. Peat after 10 minutes. No need to change the rating of 84 points , though. The GS14 remains a well-rounded, playful Campbeltown malt.
(See log entries #35 and #74 for tasting details.)

The Macallan 18 belongs on my top shelf as well. The Macallan 12 is the obvious target for replacement, but that bottle is not nearly empty. The quality of the Macallan 12 may be slipping, but it's still a very good malt that deserves my full attention. The Caol Ila 1981/1995 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice), on the other hand, was nearly empty. The cheap tin screwtops Gordon & MacPhail use for these bottlings makes them poor choices for long term storage after opening. Considering I opened this bottle more than 18 months ago (on April 1 2000, see log entry #33), it's high time I emptied it.
Nose: Restrained. Sweeter than I remembered. Toffee? This malt has definitely changed a lot since I opened it - the smoke and peat have virtually disappeared.
Taste: Toffee. Sweetish start, then smoke drifts to the foreground.
Some salt, some peat. Interesting enough, but not a lot of 'volume'.
Conclusion: The nose seems to have suffered a little from oxidation, but considering I opened the bottle over 18 months ago I won't hold it against it. The rating of 82 points stands.

And then there's the Old Pulteney 12 that needs a place to stay. A nice malt, but with the current abundance of greatness on my top shelf, I had no choice but to move it to my bottom shelf. The first bottle to catch my eye was the Glenesk 1984/1997 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice). I opened it exactly one year ago and decided on a disappointingly low score a few months ago (see log entry #87).
Nose: Prickly. Restrained. Paint? No individuality or character to speak of.
Taste: Strange. Is this what Davin calls 'musty'? Could easily pass for a blend.
Conclusion: The final rating of 58 points stands. A disappointing single malt. The contents of the bottle may have suffered from illicit breathing - like all Connoisseur's Choice bottlings, it has a cheap tin screwcap. I just don't trust these things.

Oh boy....
All these hassles make it extra obvious that I desperately need a new shelf system.
But I'll worry about that next year; right now I'm busy with my '50 Day Push' - an attempt to empty 20 bottles from 'recently' discovered distilleries this year. Tonight I took care of Glen Scotia and Glenesk.
Only 18 bottles to go...

See the mAddendum 94A for some notes on 'home vatting'...

- - -

mAddendum 94A - Home Vatting

So - How do I produce my infamous home-made 'Special Blends'? I usually start with a mixture of 2 - 5 quite 'basic' single malts to form anything between 50 - 70% of the end product. I used to use blends (mostly Teacher's) as well, but I'm in a position to exclusively use single malts now. That means there's no grain whisky to spoil things...

The selection of the malts that forms the basis for the blend depends mainly on availability. At any given time, I have no more than 50 opened bottles available for blending. Even less, when you think about it, because you can be damned sure I won't use the likes of Macallan 18 or Ardbeg 17 for blending. Based on the available malts, I try to imagine a combination of characteristics that would work - if possible around a certain 'theme'.

After sampling the first vatting, I decide if I want to go for 'nose' or 'taste' in the second vatting. Composing a good blend is a genuine art and I don't have the skills or craftsmanship (yet?) to produce a special blend that is more than the sum of its parts. On rare occasions I manage to mix a blend that either smells or tastes better than any of its components - but never both. This just goes to show how very difficult the task of the master blenders at the distilleries really is.

When I've decided which 'route' I want to take, I add a number of other malts to the mix and sample the product again. Based on the results of this second vatting, I either (a) 'bottle' the vatting, (b) add more malts or (c) go back to the first vatting for another try. When I've found a combination that works, I 'bottle' it to let the malts 'marry' for a few weeks. Of course, this should happen in a wooden cask, but I don't have any of those lying around. So, I use a couple of special (350 ml, 500 ml or 700 ml) bottles instead.

I guess the procedure sounds pretty complicated, so I'll take you through the vatting experiment I did today with Glentauchers 1979 and Caperdonich 1980. Both are Speyside malts nearly 20 years old, rather delicate and subtle. They both could use some more power in the taste - a cask strength malt maybe?
For my first vatting, I mixed:

15 ml Glentauchers 1979/1998 (40%, G&M)
20 ml Caperdonich 1980/1998 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice)
10 ml Royal Brackla 20yo 1978/1998 (59.8%, UDRM)

First Vatting Results (15 ml sample):
Nose: Big, sweet and fruity. Wow! What a nose! I got lucky!
Sour notes as well. Rotting hay first, then fresher citrus notes.
Taste: Delicate. Soft start, with a 'bite' in the middle. A little flat.

Man! Sometimes you strike gold on the first time. I'll probably make this vatting as it is, because the nose is amazing! The taste could use some Islay power, though - and maybe some big sherry and woody notes as well. I hope I can achieve this without spoiling the nose. The Vintage Talisker 'bourbonish' 8yo. C/S could add some sparkle to the mix but then it needs something heavy and sherried to balance it. Glendronach 15 or Aberlour A'bunadh are excellent, but I want these excellent bottles to last as long as possible. How about a sip of the Benrinnes 15? Ordinarily, I would deem it too good for blending, but I'd better pick a bottle I'll have to empty anyway in my '50 Day Push'.
To the 30 ml left in my blending tube, I added:

10 ml Talisker 8yo (40%, SV bastard single malt)
10 ml Benrinnes 15yo (43%, Flora & Fauna)

Second Vatting Results (25 ml sample):
Nose: Hmmm... Strong in the start, but not as balanced as the first vatting.
Taste: More balanced. Soft start, followed by a big, peppery explosion.
That would be the Talisker, I guess. Oily notes as well. Wonderful long finish. Slightly numbing.

The taste has improved, but the nose hasn't. The influence of these powerful malts is just a little too strong. I think I'll go back to the first vatting for my final attempt of the evening. While I emptied my second dram of the second vatting for inspiration, I explored my shelves for suitable candidates. I finally decided on two soft-spoken malts from 1981 and 1982 who would complement the other three malts in the mix rather than overpower them. This would add a nice 'theme' to the vatting as well. It would contain 5 malts from 5 consecutive years; 1978-1982. The recipe for the final vatting (500 ml):

- 100 ml Royal Brackla 20yo 1978/1998 (59.8%, UDRM)
- 150 ml Glentauchers 1979/1998 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail)
- 200 ml Caperdonich 1980/1998 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice)
- 25 ml North Port - Brechin 1981/1998 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice)
- 25 ml Teaninich 1982/1998 (40%, Connoisseurs Choice)

Final Vatting Preliminary Results (15 ml sample):
Nose: Soft start, evolving into a big, balanced landscape of fragrances.
Fruity with hints of sherry. Maybe a little too smooth for my tastes.
Taste: Spicy start with chocolate and orange on the palate.
Medium dry. Interesting development around tongue and throat.

It's 02:15 - time to call it a night.
I'll report on the further development of this vatting in the future.

 

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Log Entry # 95  -  November 22-25, 2001
Topic:  Whopping Whisky Weekend

Oh boy.... I've done some heavy drinking this year, but the past weekend has been one of the biggest liquid events of 2001. Over the course of 4 days, I've sampled more than 20 different single malt whiskies - a lot of them previously unknown to me.

Day 1 - Thursday, November 22
Ardbeg tasting with Stuart Thompson

It all started on November 22, around 18:15 when I arrived fashionably late to meet Johanna Ngoh and her boyfriend Charles in the lobby of their hotel. Johanna is an editor for the Canadian edition of whisky Magazine 'An Quaich'. We got digitally acquainted through Davin, the Malt Madness correspondent in Canada. The ice was immediately broken when they surprised me with a Canadian bottle of Dun Bheagan 8yo - an unchillfiltered 'bastard' (pardon my French) bottling of Lagavulin. An excellent choice, especially because this bottling is not available in Holland. Even if it were, it would be different - this is a 75cl bottle, while all 'standard' bottles currently sold in the European Union are 70cl.

We had a little time to kill before the main event of the evening, so we strolled over to the 'Gall & Gall Exclusief' near Dam Square. Like most foreign guests, Johanna and Charles were surprised to discover how small Amsterdam really is. Most locations inside the canal zone are within walking distance of each other - sometimes even crawling distance. The collection and prices at Gall & Gall weren't particularly interesting, but we had a hard time leaving just the same. Nearly every bottle we spotted on the shelves ignited a lively exchange of experiences and opinions.
The 'critical mass' of malt maniacs is 1 - whenever more than one are gathered in a room (especially one filled with bottles) you can expect an explosion of tall tales of liquid experiences. Sadly enough, there wasn't enough time to discuss everything we wanted in detail - we had to leave for the 'Stuart Thompson' Ardbeg tasting in 'De Still'.

We arrived around 19:00 sharp as requested - to find that the event would start an hour later than originally planned. Quite a bummer, because we were very eager to start the tasting and Johanna and Charles seemed a little tired from their flight. The wait was worsened by the fact that three different Ardbegs were poured before us on the table - Ardbeg 10, Ardbeg 17 and the new 'Lord of the Isles' bottling (+/- 25yo. old). The glasses were already on the table when we walked in, so when we finally were 'allowed' to drink the whisky had been breathing for 90 minutes in a room filled with smoking and beer-belching people. That can't be good!

The misery was soon forgotten when Stuart Thompson, manager at Ardbeg distillery, started addressing the punters around 20:15. His undiluted Scottish accent commanded the immediate respect and silence of all the whisky lovers in the bar. After all, Scotland is the 'holy land' of all whisky fundamentalists.
And for some, Islay is the holiest.

Previous to the actual tasting, Stuart told us something about his own history in the whisky industry. Before he started managing the Islay distillery, he worked for Glenmorangie - who bought Ardbeg in 1997. Founded in 1815, the distillery quickly became an 'insiders secret' and was quite successful. Chances turned around 1980 - about the same time Ardbeg gave up on their own floor maltings. The stills had been operating infrequently since 1981 and according to Stuart the place was a shambles when he first saw it - 'Beirut and Sarajevo rolled into one', I think his words were. With an investment of 5 million Euro's, Glenmorangie has managed to revitalise the distillery since then. And the malt community has applauded them for it - rightly so, I think.

Stuart kept his introduction short and sweet - in maybe twenty minutes he dazzled the audience with lots of industry information and anecdotes. Along the way, we picked up some wonderful information about the history of the distillery since 1815 and the way Ardbeg operates today. For one thing, Ardbeg only uses first-fill or second-fill casks for their single malts. Third-fill casks are also used, but only for blends.
Like most distilleries, Ardbeg uses bourbon casks for the largest portion of the whisky they produce. Sherry casks are used as well, but since they cost around 400 pounds a piece not as often as bourbon barrels (+/- 50 pounds a pop).

All this talk about whisky made me pretty thirsty, so I had already been sipping illegally from my Ardbeg 10 before we got to the official tasting part of the evening. I usually start my sessions with the younger malts, and save the older ones for later in the evening. When we started tasting around 20:30, we did so with the Ardbeg 17yo (40%, OB) instead of the 10. I hadn't thought about it, but this actually makes sense. Because the 17 - at least this version - is bottled at 40%, it's not as 'heavy' as the 46% 10.
And that's not the only reason. The actual age of the whisky in the bottle is over 17 years, because Ardbeg produced little or nothing in (2001 -/- 17 =) 1984. This means older stock is used in the vatting. What's more, part of the current vatting is the unpeated 'Kildalton' malt, produced by the distillery around 1979 and 1980.

But how good was it, you ask?
Well, I had a terrible nose day and couldn't pick up very much.
Nose: Almonds? Seemed much oilier than I remembered, even more so with time.
Taste: Sorry, no notes. Case of sensory overload. It didn't seem nearly as good as the bottle on my top shelf, but maybe that was due to the breathing during the delay.

We proceeded with the Ardbeg 10yo (46%, OB). A nostril symphony of salt, peat and smoke. Later, it showed some sweetness in the nose, but none in the taste. The 17 seems almost 'sherried' in comparison. As it turns out, that's not surprising - the 10 is produced from 100% bourbon casks, while the 17 is a mixture of bourbon and sherry casks . I don't remember the exact percentages, but I doubt the 2% sherry / 98% bourbon ratio Arthur wrote down is correct. I imagine that a mere 2% is not enough to make a significant impact - at least not enough to explain the big differences between the versions.

The taste of the 10 was peaty, bitter and dry. Especially the peat stands out after the trademark Ardbeg explosion. I really like the fact that it's bottled at 46%. This means chill filtration isn't 'required'. Ardbeg made a big point about this when they introduced the 10, and today it seems they have set a trend. (See Louis's E-Report #34 for more information about the adverse effects of chill filtration.)
Another advantage, as far as I'm concerned, is the good 'mouth feel' of slightly overproofed malts like Longmorn 15, Talisker 10, Ben Nevis 10 and this one. Funnily enough, Charles and I were discussing the very same topic when we were 'en route' to De Still. A proof of 40% is a little too soft for me, 43% is OK, but 46% is better - especially because you can always add a few drops of water to release the aroma's without castrating the taste. Therefor, I was mighty pleased to learn all official Ardbeg releases will be bottled at 46% in the future.
Tonight's tasting convinced me to increase the final rating of Ardbeg 10 once more. It goes from 87 to 88 points. It's just SO versatile! This malt never becomes dull.

The Ardbeg 25yo 'Lord of the Isles' (46%, OB) was the absolute highlight of the evening - and the premiere of this version in Holland! It is made up of 15% sherry casks and 85% bourbon casks from 1974, '75 and '76.
Nose: Very rich, presenting a broad spectrum of fragrances. Good stuff!
Much more iodine than the other Ardbegs I've tasted - almost like Laphroaig.
Taste: Very smoky! With a few drops of water it opens up.
Damn this bad nose day! I knew that I was experiencing something great, but I wasn't able to produce any useful notes. My gut feeling tells me that this one might score well over 90 points. With a price of 100 pounds per bottle, I doubt I'll be able to try it again anytime soon, though. Maybe I can trade one of the Ardbeg 30's in my reserve stock for it with another malt maniac.

Somewhere along the way, Stuart claimed that Ardbeg was the most heavily peated malt on the market today, with phenol levels of 50 ppm. Johanna and I looked at each other with a sceptical frown. What about Laphroaig or Longrow? When Johanna confronted Stuart with her doubts, he claimed that the shape of the stills at Ardbeg and a mysterious device at the top of the stills (called a 'regulator', if I remember correctly) were accountable for the slightly smoother Ardbeg style.

With a few more malts behinds our belts, we finally got to exchange a few personal words with Stuart while Arthur from 'the whiskysite' kept pouring generous drams from the bottle of Fraser's Reserve 7yo (40%, bastard malt) from his private locker at De Still. This is reputed to be a bastard Ardbeg - Stuart had never tried it before. It appeared young and quite fresh in the nose, with lots and lots of salt in the back of the taste. Again, my sinusitis prevented me from picking up anything meaningful. We finished off Arthur's bottle within half an hour, and that served him well, because he was the one responsible for the delay of the session in the first place.

We left a little after 22:00. I could see that Johanna and Charles were pretty exhausted, so I didn't bring up our original plan to visit L&B's afterwards. I was a little tired as well, to tell you the truth. I dropped them off at their hotel and returned home. After I got there, I resisted the temptation to open the Dun Bheagan 8yo. right away. I was having a bad nose day and I wanted to have control of all my faculties when I tried it for the first time.

Instead, I made sure to get a good night's sleep before:

Day 2 - Friday, November 23
International Malt Whisky Festival Den Haag

Sadly, the tasting conditions were as deplorable as the night before. I had one of the worst nose days in modern history and only a few of the stands offered water for the cleansing of the glass and dilution. To make matters worse, the current popularity of single malt whisky attracted droves of loudmouthed 'yuppie' and 'dinkie' nitwits to the event. All the stands were very crowded and cigar smoking was actually promoted.
As a result, I'm only able to reproduce short glimpses of the malts I tried.

On the positive side, everybody received a proper nosing glass when they arrived and the location in the 'Grote Kerk' in The Hague was well-chosen. The beautiful old church added a (thin) layer of solemnity to the occasion. The whisky stands themselves were very crowded, bit the church was big enough to offer enough secluded seats to recover from intensive dramming. And let's not forget the wonderful conversation that could be had - there were quite a few serious malt maniacs between the philistines.

I arrived around 18:00 and took a moment to absorb the atmosphere. Only for a moment, though - my main goal tonight was absorbing the whisky. My first stop was the stand of Pernod Ricard, importers of Jameson, Bushmills, Aberlour and Craigellachie in Holland. I went for the Aberlour 15yo (43%, OB). I have a bottle in my reserve stock and I wanted to know if it was special enough to save for a special occasion.
Nose: Sherry, but a nutty sweetness as well. Quite light. Nice!
Taste: A very smooth start, followed by a buttery toffee sweetness.
Very nice indeed with a superb balance; drinkable all evening if necessary.
Well into the 80's, I suspect. Worth saving for a while longer.

Since I have the Aberlour A'bunadh on my shelves right now (and since it was a little early for a cask strength malt, I selected the 'new' Aberlour 10yo (43%, OB) as my next malt. When I tried an earlier bottling about seven years ago, it scored 80 points, but a bottle I tried earlier this year only reached 77 points. At the stand, they offered the latest bottling, which seemed back to true form. Very nice with lots of sherry. I forgot to make proper notes, but this one made it to my shopping list.

This was my first stop of the evening. Since my dramming capacity is limited, I passed on the Bushmills, Jamesons and Craigellachies. I strolled over to the next stand; Gall & Gall. After the luscious drams Pernod Ricard poured, they looked a little cheap with Glenfarclas 8 as their only single malt. They offered Te Bheag and Poit Dubh as well, but who wants to drink blends when there are so many single malts around?

I merrily skipped along to the Glenfiddich / Balvenie stand and nearly tripped when I spotted a bottle of the Balvenie 17yo 'Islay Cask' (43%, OB). Now that's interesting! I've been curious about it since I heard about it but it became (scarcely) available in Holland just a few weeks ago. It kind of 'replaces' the 15yo. Single Barrel, which is no longer produced. Age-wise, they belong to the same cohort, but the price of the 17 Islay lies around 100 Euro's - more than twice what I had to pay for the 15, which was bottled at 50.4% to boot. The new 'single barrel' version of Balvenie is the 25yo. old, but that one costs somewhere near 150 Euro's.

Does that mean the new bottlings are better?
Well, the nose of the 17 started very peculiar, and it took a while for the Islay character to come to the front. It remains relatively soft, though - nothing like a real Islay malt. The taste was very dry for a Balvenie. It seemed disappointingly flat and I couldn't pick up very much in my terrible tasting condition.
I had prepared myself for a very positive experience, but it turned out differently. Based on these impressions, I probably won't shell out 100 Euro's to add it to my collection. It's too early to tell, but maybe William Grant & Sons have a new, 'upmarket' strategy for Balvenie. This would make sense, because previous Balvenie bottlings (especially the 12 Doublewood) offered much better value than their main single malt, Glenfiddich.

I can only hope that the Balvenie 10yo. and 12yo. Doublewood remain at the current levels of price and quality. If not, I'm afraid they are destined for a big fall on my 'bang-for-your-buck' list. I certainly hope not, especially because the stand crew was very nice and poured a very generous dram. I didn't want to abuse their hospitality, so I left the 21yo. Port Wood alone. Instead, I proceeded to the 'Classic malts' stand. They had all the standard versions of the classic malts available. I might have dropped by if they had the Distiller's Editions, but they were not in sight. So I proceeded with my tour of the festival.

The next stop was the Bladnoch stand. The man who recently brought this Lowland distillery back to life, Raymond Armstrong, was enthusiastically engaged in conversation, so I didn't get the chance to speak to him in person. I did get a little taste, though. They poured the Bladnoch 10yo (43%, Flora & Fauna) in tiny plastic cups. As a result, I couldn't smell or taste anything meaningful. The combination of a bad nose day, a young lowland malt and the small cups resulted in a nice experience without any remarks. A shame, especially because Bladnoch is my favourite Lowland distillery after Saint Magdalene.

At the stand of Moët Hennesy Holland (Dutch agents for Ardbeg, Glenmorangie and Glen Moray) I ran into Arthur, the guy from 'the whiskysite' again. We took advantage of a quiet moment at the stand and ambushed Bob Bron, managing director. We had a very nice conversation; Bob took the all the time to answer every question we had while we enjoyed a stiff dram of the Glenmorangie 10yo (43%, OB). Strangely enough, this bottle seemed more like the Cellar 13 than previous versions of the 10 - Softer and sweeter with a smoother, less 'coastal' character.

When the topic of 'special' wood finishes came up, Bob admitted to being less than enthusiastic about most results of this practice - including the Glenmorangie Sherry. Such candour is rarely seen - a lot of people in the industry act like the product they are selling is the best in the whole wide world. I have to agree with Bob, though. I absolutely love the Glenmorangie Port and Madeira finishes I tried, but the Sherry didn't do it for me. Neither did most other special wood finishes I've sampled so far, for that matter. However, malts like the Balvenie Doublewood prove that multi-maturation CAN work beautifully.

I would have liked to hang around a while longer, but I had only covered half of the festival so far. This meant I had to say my goodbyes and move along. I stood in line for a Springbank 10 for a while, but got bored after a few minutes and wandered off to the Bowmore stand. There I tried the Bowmore NAS 'Dusk' and Bowmore NAS 'Voyage' . (Things were becoming increasingly vague, so I forgot to jot down the alcohol percentages.) Both whiskies are finished in port wood casks. The guy behind the stand proved he knew very little indeed when I asked him about the differences between the two - apart from the alcohol percentage. 'Well', he told me, 'One is aged in ruby port and the other one in ordinary port.'
Huh? - what's 'ordinary' port?
When I inquired if he meant white port or tawny port, he replied (in a louder voice): 'No, ordinary port!'.
Baffled, I turned towards my drinks to investigate for myself - only to find out that I couldn't. Two people standing in front of the stand were sucking on huge cigars like their life depended on it and the stench of over burnt tobacco overwhelmed everything in my glass. In the mouth, both malts seemed to be disappointingly thin and superficial. It may have been the result of my bad nose day or other external circumstances, but my gut feeling tells me there's a good chance these bottlings are two other examples of the ill-conceived 'hype' finishes we talked about with Bob Bron.

After enjoying a short break and two tasteless salmon sandwiches, I was very pleasantly surprised when I resumed my tastings with the Connemara NAS Cask Strength (59.2%, OB). This stuff packs a whallop! Ka-Boom!!! The taste seems even peatier than that of the normal Connemara, which was the peatiest Irish whisky on the block so far. I haven't seen it in the shops yet, but I'll make sure to pick it up on sight - if the prices are as friendly as those of the ordinary bottling, that is.

My next surprise was even bigger.
At the stand of Bresser & Timmer (Dutch importers of Chieftain's Choice, MacLeod's and Provenance) I spotted a familiar face. As it turns out, half of Bresser & Timmer was Hans Bresser, an old army buddy of mine. In 1986 and 1987 we both fulfilled our military service with the 101 Military Intelligence Company in Apeldoorn. This was almost 15 years ago, but it seems a lot longer. Can you imagine there was still a cold war going on? Of course, we had a lot of catching up to do, so I hardly noticed the malts he poured me.
Those were the Caol Ila 11yo (43%, Chieftain's) and the Balmenach 11yo Rum Finish (43%, Chieftain's). I got so caught up in our conversation that I forgot to take proper notes. All I remember is that the Balmenach seemed to show more bourbon than rum maturation and that the Caol Ila was very pleasant with a good dose of peat. The bottles looked very different from previous 'Chieftain's Choice' bottling I tried, and they seem to have dropped the 'Choice' part of the name as well.

After arranging a little reunion for next year, I moved on to the stand of De Still.
There, I sampled the Ledaig NAS (42%, OB, no sherry finish). I saw this version at Gall & Gall Exclusief yesterday and had to suppress an impulse to buy it. I have a sherry finished version on my middle shelf (also bottled at the unusual strength of 42%) and I thought it would be interesting to compare the two. Because Ledaig is produced by the infamous Tobermory distillery, I managed to restrain myself. A good thing too, as it turned out. This malt is extremely oily in the nose and the taste - a characteristic I don't cherish in a malt. Like the Tobermory NAS, it's leaves a greasy impression. Avoidable.

By now, I had come full circle.
Just as well, because at this stage I could hardly taste or smell anything at all.
I decided to revisit the Pernod / Ricard stand for a taste of the Bushmills 16yo (40%, OB). This Irish malt is matured in three different types of wood; Bourbon, Sherry and Port. All I noticed was aniseed and coffee beans in the nose.  Back at the Gall & Gall I had a dram of Poit Dhubh NAS , (43%, blend). All my notes say is 'sparkly' and 'soft nose'. It is a blend produced by a company with a most Gaelic name: 'Prában Na Linne', meaning 'a smugglers outlet by the Sound of Sleat' (www.gaelic-whiskies.co.uk).
They also make 'Te Bheag' - another 'Gaelic' whisky.
I actually had a nice conversation with a guest and a friendly Gall & Gall employee at the stand. It's amazing how a few (or in this case more than a few) drams improve my social skills...

Not my tasting skills, though. My notes for the Magilligan NAS (a pure pot still Irish whiskey from Cooley) only tell me that it smelled like beer, while all I got from the Glenfiddich 18yo 'Ancient Reserve' (40%, OB) was apple in the nose and salmon in the taste. And that might have been just the mediocre salmon sandwiches haunting me...

A little before 21:00, with a whole hour of free drinking ahead of me (!), I decided to get on the train back to Amsterdam. I suppose these kind of festivals are great for introducing novices to the wonderful variety of single malts, but I personally prefer different dramming conditions. The event was just too crowded for my liking and the cheap side-shows started to get on my nerves as well. It's amazing to see how a whisky festival attracts droves of entrepreneurs selling clothes, shoes and even fish! Can you believe it - Funky fishmongers stinking up the place? If you ask me, they shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a dram of single malt whisky.

Humbug!

Day 3 - Saturday, November 24
Gordon & MacPhail Speyside Breathers

The world looked a little bit cloudier than usual when I woke up.
I'm getting too old for heavy dramming without consequences.
Nevertheless, by nightfall I really felt like opening a few bottles from my reserve stock - I just wasn't sure which ones to pick. When I rummaged through my collection for inspiration, I noticed that the contents of the Gordon & MacPhail Longmorn Glenlivet 12yo had been evaporating at an alarming rate. The level of the liquid in the bottle had fallen to less than 1 centimetre above the label - at least 3 drams had vanished!

Damn these cheap tin screw caps!
To tell you the truth, I have been avoiding Gordon & MacPhail bottlings like the plague since over a year now. The reason: These unreliable tin screw caps GorMac uses for most of their bottlings. Not only am I doubtful about their sealing abilities, they are 'plopless' too. Call me a stubborn old traditionalist if you want, but I just want to hear a distinct 'plop' when I open a bottle. The fact that GorMac bottle almost everything at 40% doesn't help either - I prefer my malts to be served at 43% or more.

I decided to open the Longmorn Glenlivet 12yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail) right away to keep it from evaporating further. Technically speaking, it's an 'independant' bottling but G&M have been marketing a 12yo. old Longmorn for years now. This makes is one of the 'standards' between unofficial bottlings.
Nose: Very rich with lots of development. Fruity. Alcoholic!
Taste: Toffee sweetness, leaving a sweet layer in the mouth.
Malty; very well-balanced. Nice burn and development. Soft finish.
Preliminary conclusion: Lower 80's.
This seems like a steal at the 29 Euro's I paid last year - even if it has lost a few drams while breathing without permission. Sadly, prices will most likely have risen considerably since then.

Alarmed, I checked for other 'suspect' bottles in my reserve stock. Fortunately, most appeared to be OK. The screw top on the Glenrothes 8yo (40%, MacPhail's Collection, 1999 bottling) was a little loose, so I picked that one as my second fresh bottle for the evening. I purchased this one because I wanted to check if a younger, unofficial Glenrothes would perform as well as the 1985 OB I enjoyed a few years ago.
Nose: Amazingly deep and powerful at this percentage / age.
Fruity. Some sherry. A hint of nuts and oak.
Taste: Woody start, with no sweetness whatsoever.
Macallanish. A long peppery / spicy development. Dry finish.
Preliminary conclusion: Lower 80's. Very drinkable, a serious overachiever.

Now I had to find room for these two bottles. Ergo: 2 bottles would have to disappear from my middle shelf. In the spirit of the evening, I went for two other GorMac Speysiders - I made sure to pick 'virginal' bottles with the '50 Day Push' in mind.

I selected the Glentauchers 1979/1998 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail) from my middle shelf.
It suffers from the same breathing problem as the Longmorn 12.
Nose: Soft, sweet and fruity. Citrus? A little oilier after a minute.
It improves with some more breathing, taking a nuttier direction.
Taste: Bitter at the start, malty in the middle and quite dry in the finish.
Nice development, long finish. Something 'fishy' (?) after 10 minutes.
Conclusion: 76 points. Quite an interesting dram. It seems like a few weeks of breathing have improved it - at least a few points worth since October 27.

Finally, I turned to the Caperdonich 1980/1998 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice).
Connoisseurs Choice is the most prolific range of independent bottlings by Gordon & MacPhail. I have my reservations about GorMac, but I have to admit they made it possible for me to sample the product from a large number of 'low key' distilleries.
Nose: Light and fruity - a smoother version of the Glenrothes 8 I tried earlier.
Needs some time. Evolving into older fruits. A faint hint of peat and smoke.
Taste: Quite rough on the tongue at first, but then the wood softens up.
The finish develops into a sweety/salty burn that seems to go on forever.
Conclusion: 75 points. I'd love to see how this would evolve after a few more months of breathing, but I guess this is one of the first victims of the 50 Day Push. Possibly the quickest mover in the history of my shelves - if I manage to empty it as planned.

The two bottles I was supposed to empty tonight were far from... eh... empty. I could handle one or two more drams tonight, but finishing off both bottles would be very unhealthy. So I decided to use them for one of my 'special blends' to enjoy the results later. I knew I wasn't giving the bottles the respect they deserved, but some sacrifices have to be made if I want to finish this first part of my mission this year. I suppose that serves me right for taking it easy through the first 4 years of phase 1...

Only one more day to go before this wonderful whisky weekend is over.

Day 4 - Sunday, November 25
Mull Mayhem

In my original plans for this weekend, tonight was reserved for a big tasting session at my place with Johanna and Charles from Canada. Sadly, they had to return to Canada earlier than planned. I still wanted to do some sampling, though. I will change my current shelf system soon, but it works fine for what I've got planned for tonight. Inspired by the Ledaig I tried at the festival, I decided to process three different malts from the Tobermory distillery from the Isle of Mull. Apart from the 'Tobermory' malt (made from unpeated malt), it produces Ledaig as well. The name of this whisky, made with peated malt, is pronounced as 'Led-chig' - meaning 'safe harbor' in Gaelic.

At the start of the evening I poured myself a stiff dram of the Tobermory NAS (40%, OB) from my bottom shelf. This is one of the lowest scoring malts ever and the bottle is nearly empty. Last chance for this bottle.
Nose: Soft. Oily and a little bit sweet. Salted peanuts? Paint?
Becomes sweeter after a few minutes, but oilier as well.
Taste: Smooth and greasy. Faint hints of menthol and mint in the finish.
Astringent. Rough and gritty. It has a bit of a 'bourbon' feel to it.
It almost seems like almost one year of breathing on my bottle shelf (see log entry #68) has actually improved this malt. Some of the rough edges are gone and it has grown more complex. It remains an unremarkable whisky, but I would score at least 5 points more than it did last year - somewhere in the lower sixties, perhaps. These changes occurred a year after opening, so the 'official' score remains 55 points.

The Ledaig NAS Sherry Finish (42%, OB) on my middle shelf was a limited edition for the year 2000. When I opened it this summer, I was pleasantly surprised. Based on the price tag (28 Euro's) and my previous experiences with the Tobermory, I was very sceptical.
Nose: Quite restrained at first. Slightly grainy. Sherry notes?
A little oil, but not as much as the Tobermory. Increasing sweetness.
A hint of peat after a while, growing stronger with time.
Taste: Soft start, becoming sweeter. Liquorice? Not as good as the nose.
A little malty. Smoke. Bitter in the finish - is that the peat?
Final Rating: 70 points . What a difference a cask makes... This sherry finish seems a lot better than the 'normal' version I tried two nights ago at the festival. And it is much more balanced than the Tobermory. Not a great whisky, but very decent value; cheaper than most premium blends and definitely more interesting.

The Ledaig 20yo (43%, OB) is something completely different. The two 'no age statement' versions were produced after the distillery reopened around 1990, but this one dates back to the days of different owners and different production and storage methods. Unfortunately, the information on the label is very limited.
Nose: That's more like it! Sherry, fruit and a little peat. Much more depth than the two younger versions. Something in there reminded me of the dentist - Iodine?
Taste: Soft peat in the start, becoming stronger and stronger. Smoke.
Quite complex. This could be a summer alternative for Islays.
Man, this is a nice surprise! To tell you the truth, I wasn't expecting too much. It seems I underestimated this malt - a preliminary rating of 78 points.

To conclude my investigation, I did two quick H2H sessions;

Tobermory NAS vs Ledaig NAS
The family resemblance is obvious in the nose, but the Ledaig is clearly more complex and refined. It has the oil that's so obviously present in the Tobermory, but many other things as well - including some peat. The peat was present in the taste of the Ledaig as well - not in the Tobermory. The finish of the Ledaig is longer and more refined than the Tobermory. Five drops of water in each glass brought some sweetness to the front in both. Again, the Ledaig showed much more detail and perspective in the nose.
Both noses increase in complexity and grow notable sweeter with time.

Ledaig NAS vs Ledaig 20yo
Next to the NAS., the 20yo. almost seems like an Islay malt. The nose takes a while to develop, but when it does, it goes in the direction of smoke and peat - just the way I like it. Both need more time than usual to reach their full potential. The differences in the nose are not so big, but in the taste the 20 is the obvious winner. Here the extra maturation really pays off. Smoothened power; very pleasant. (A day later, the empty glass of the 20yo. still smelled wonderful!)

The Ledaig 20yo moves to my middle shelf, the Ledaig NAS goes to my bottom shelf and the Tobermory NAS is empty. It's a little early for big conclusions, but based on my experiences so far it seems that Ledaig can be an interesting malt - provided it has matured long enough. Of course, the interesting question is: how long is long enough?

That concludes the proceedings for this weekend.
Does this mean I can sit down and relax?
Not quite - I still have 17 bottles to finish before January 1.
I'll better get some rest to prepare for the ordeal that leas ahead...

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mAddendum 95A  -  Acquisitions: Aberlours & Islays

Well, that was an exhausting weekend.
My weakened condition didn't keep me from visiting Ton Overmars on Monday, though... When I arrived, I noticed that he had raised his prices - AGAIN! If this keeps up, he may soon lose one of his clients. The shock sobered me up and helped me remember that I used to have a price ceiling. I actually went out to buy a few spare bottles of the OMC Port Ellen 1979 and Ardbeg 1972 OMC (priced well over 100 Euro's each), but in the end I chose these 8 'value' bottles instead;

Friday's sampling of the Aberlours reminded me of the fact that this is a very interesting distillery with high quality output. I picked up the Aberlour 10 on sight - a litre for 25 Euro's is a really great price and I wanted to give this malt another try anyhow. I avoided the Aberlour 12 Double Matured which was relatively unattractively priced at 45 Euro's and went for the Aberlour 'Antique' instead. This version is intended for tax-free sales only, so I don't know when I will be able to buy it again. The bottles of Aberlour 100 Proof were bought 'on faith'. Craig Daniels rates this bottling above the A'bunadh and a price of 42 Euro's for a litre of cask strength single malt whisky is great. The only one to top that is the Glenfarclas 105, as far as I know.

Four bottles of Aberlour is quite enough for one haul, so I turned thirsty gaze towards Islay. The Signatory Vintage Caol Ila 12yo. 1989 46% comes in two flavours; one aged in bourbon barrels, the other in sherry casks. A H2H should be intriguing. The McGibbons Provenance Port Ellen 1981 was priced a lot friendlier than the OMC 1979. Friendly enough for me to pick it up. Like the one already on my reserve stock, it's a winter distillation / autumn bottling.

That concludes today's purchases.
 

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Log Entry # 96  -  December 3, 2001
Topic:  Malt Mania Marathon - Part I

Have you been monitoring my recent '50 Day Push' exploits?
If so, you may have thought I had gone barking mad.
Well, I've reached the same conclusion.

Trying to empty 15 bottles in less than a month is sheer madness, and very unhealthy to boot. Besides, I wouldn't be able to give some very excellent bottles the attention and respect they reserve when I rushed them through my shelves like a maniac. Many malts evolve over the course of a few months in an open bottle; I wouldn't want to miss watching the malts on my shelves 'grow up', so to speak.
So what if I don't complete phase 1 of my mission this year?

I've come to my senses and reluctantly decided to give up on the '50 day Push'.
My reluctance was partly caused by the fact that this is my second 'project' this year that has failed. Although I've managed to successfully complete the '2001/52-Challenge' two months early, I failed at:
a) the '50 Day Push', and
b) my 'Big Ban'...
The score in this year's Whisky War so far: Whisky 2 - Johannes 1.

I might be able to even the score by successfully completing my final project for this year; the 'Malt Mania Marathon' . The objective is to figure out final ratings on the 16 bottles on my middle shelf before the year is over. That way, I will have ratings on at least one version from every active distillery in Scotland by the end of 2001. Rating the bottles on my middle shelf also enables me to improve my slightly dysfunctional shelf system soon - but I'll get into that later. I decided to go for 4 different Speysiders tonight. The big problem with Speyside malts is that there are so many of them. Especially over the last year, I was 'forced' to seek out bottles from relatively obscure distilleries like Glenlossie, Convalmore and Pittyvaich in order to complete phase 1 of the mission. Now it's time to put them to the test.

I opened the evening with the Glenlossie 10yo 1989/2000 (43%, McGibbon's Provenance, distilled Autumn 1989, bottled Spring 2000, not coloured, not chill filtered).
The distillery is located in the north of Speyside, close to Mannochmore.
The bottle was opened less than a month ago (see log entry #93).
Nose: Soft, grainy start. Heather and lemon grass (?) after a minute.
Slightly oily. More spicy after some breathing. Water doesn't help.
Taste: Soft and faintly sweet at first, evolving into a warm maltiness.
Smooth and clean. Bourbon drought in the short finish. A little bland.
Conclusion: 68 points. One would expect a northern Speysider to show some Highland characteristics, but this one seems more like an 'ersatz' Lowlander. I suspect this one would perform much better in the summer.

The Glendronach 12yo 'Traditional' (43%, OB) was produced in the south-east of Speyside. Glendronach is one of the few distilleries that still malts their own barley. Unlike the Glendronach 15yo OB (matured in 100% sherry casks) this malt has matured in a combination of sherry and bourbon casks.
The colour is very dark, though - caramel colouring perhaps?
Nose: Wow! Lots of sherry, but not as powerful and sweet as the 15yo. Powerful. Intriguing. Balanced. Rotting hay and incense over a sherry/malty surface.
Taste: Strange 'unsweet' start, but then it sweetens up. A little fruity.
Sweet liquorice. After a few minutes more wood (oak?) and some pepper.
Conclusion: 80 points . A nice surprise. Like the 15yo., this bottle has changed and improved a lot since I opened it for the first time (see log entry #92). For one thing, the sherry is much more obvious than when I first opened it. Very different from the sherry in the 15, though - not as sweet. Based on the wonderful nose alone, it might have reached 82 or 83 points.

Contrary to the two previous malts, the Convalmore 15yo 1983 (43%, Chieftain's Choice, Series 2952) has been hiding on my middle shelf for over a year now.
When I opened it (see log entry #58) it almost seemed like top shelf material.
Nose: Full and balanced. Sweet. Quite fruity in the start. Chemical coconut.
Develops into slightly sherried complexity with malty undertones.
Taste: Soft start quickly grows into a fruity sweetness.
Sherry. Toffee. Very smooth, but drier in the finish.
Conclusion: 80 points . We have another winner! I had been a little worried that this malt could have suffered from the prolonged hospitality of my middle shelf, but it actually performed quite well. Well enough for me to pour a second dram before I moved on to the last malt of the evening;

The Pittyvaich 18yo 1976/1995 (43%, Signatory Vintage, matured in oak casks, distilled 22/6/1976, bottled 2/95, cask #8633/34, bottle #222 of 630) was another familiar resident on my middle shelf. I opened it on December 2, 2000 (see log entry #65).
Pittyvaich is one of the lesser known distilleries, located in the 'Dufftown' district of Speyside. The distillery was founded in 1975 - and mothballed again in 1993/94. That means this bottle was produced about a year after the distillery started operating, and bottled about a year after it closed. Interesting...
Nose: Spirity. Sparkly. Some citrus. Subtle fragrances every now and then.
Maybe a distant echo of smoke. Bourbon ageing is very clear in this malt.
Taste: Light. Cool burn. Surprisingly juvenile for a whisky this old.
Unique combination of softness and strength. Very long, soft finish.
Conclusion: 73 points. In a blind test, I would have guessed this was a Lowlander. I can see why this distillery didn't survive. It lacks individuality - a younger Lowlander (or even a middle-aged grain whisky would probably have a similar effect in a blend. That being said, I can imagine how this one would perform better in the summertime.

OK - Four bottles rated, twelve more to go.
That's doable, provided my streak of good nose days continues.
 

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Log Entry # 97  -  December 7, 2001
Topic:  Malt Mania Marathon - Part II

Whooah - it's freezing outside! Time to bring out my mittens and a couple of island malts.
It all started relatively early (18:30) and relatively light (on Orkney).

The Highland Park 12yo 1988/2001 (43%, Ultimate, bottle #492 from sherry butt #10452, distilled on 19/05/1988, bottled on 29/01/2001) proved to be a very nice surprise when I opened it in October for a H2H of 5 Orkney malts (see log entry #91).
Nose: Surprisingly light. Fruity start with some smoke and some oil.
Salt and pepper? Faint hint of peat. Smoked sausage.
Taste: Starts quite soft (melons?), but grows much stronger quickly.
A deep toffee/chocolate sweetness develops into a long salty finish.
Conclusion: 81 points . This malt scores brownie points with the powerful taste, but loses them again because the nose lacks the volume and complexity of the 12 OB.

After my inspection of the 'northernmost' distillery of Scotland, I turned south to the isle of Mull. The Ledaig 20yo (43%, OB) was opened recently and caused quite a stir. It performed a lot better than I expected after two other versions (Ledaig NAS and Tobermory NAS) from the distillery proved disappointing.
Nose: Fruit and sherry. Peat. Chloroform? Some grainy notes as well.
Alcoholic. Farmy notes. Mighty interesting with lots of development.
Taste: Soft peat. This may sound like a 'Contradictio In terminis' but that's how it feels.
With time, the volume increases. No sweetness at first.
Intriguing development, but not balanced enough.
The peat grows stronger while smoke and sweeter tones emerge as well.
Finally, the sweetness disappears in a dry, peaty finish.
Conclusion: 79 points. The Ledaig 20 partly redeems the Tobermory distillery.
This might be a nice summertime dram, when the Islay malts are a bit 'too much'.

OK, enough dilly-dallying around the 'fairer isles', it's time to bring out the Islay malts.
The Bruichladdich 15yo (43%, OB) is one of those, although earlier tastings with this 1999 bottling indicated that this may be the 'weakling' of Islay.
Nose: Restrained. Slightly sweet and oily. Opens up slightly after a minute.
After some more time, it bashfully shows some faint Islay characteristics.
Some water unlocks the salt and a lot of other surprising elements.
Taste: Smooth. Very sweet start. Sour and malty in the middle.
No peat whatsoever!?! Pinch of salt in the dryish finish.
Conclusion: 78 points - but it really needs some water to reach that score. More complex (and more sherried) than the 'old' 10yo OB. Still one of the weaker Islays, mind you...
I would have picked this one as a Speysider in a blind test.

Finally, I sampled the Bowmore NAS Cask Strength (56%, OB). It is one of the oldest residents on my middle shelf. I've tried it often since I opened it last year (see log entry #67), but I haven't been able to determine a final rating yet. Preliminary ratings varied from 78 to 82 points.
Nose: Smoke, peat and sherry - it's a Bowmore all right.....
Hint of chloride and some salt. Water doesn't help much.
Taste: Undiluted, it starts surprisingly sweet. Then the big burn begins.
Smoke. Salty and dry with some powerful sweet episodes.
Nice, but slightly unbalanced. Sour notes in the finish.
Conclusion: 81 points . It's not as balanced or well-integrated as the 12, but more entertaining - especially in the taste. The nose isn't spectacular, though.

Phew - that's it for tonight. Four more malts seriously sampled and rated.
I'm halfway through the Malt Mania Marathon.
 

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Log Entry # 98  -  December 8, 2001
Topic:  Malt Mania Marathon - Part III

I'm taking advantage of a string of good nose days to decide on a final rating for the 16 bottles on my middle shelf. Tonight is the third session in a row; four more bottles await their final judgement. I selected four Gordon & MacPhail bottlings for the occasion.

I'll dispense with further pleasantries and get right to the tasting report.
The sampling started around 20:30 with the Glenrothes 8yo (40%, MacPhail's Collection, black label).
Nose: Big, fruity and sherried. Wonderful sweetness. Very pleasant.
Slightly alcoholic, not unlike rum. Whiffs of spices and liquorice.
Surprisingly powerful. It reminded me a bit of the Macallan 10yo.
Taste: Complete absence of sweetness at first. Very woody.
Seems younger in the taste than in the nose. Short, gritty finish.
Conclusion: 79 points . The nose is notably more refined than the taste; I imagine this one might have performed even better at a slightly higher proof.

The Longmorn Glenlivet 12yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, white label) was opened on the same night as the Glenrothes 8yo, about two weeks ago. The tin screw top of this bottle had been damaged, so it has been breathing heavily since I purchased it over a year ago.
Nose: That's weird - it seems not nearly as rich and fruity as before. Tonight, the primary impressions are oily and spicy. After some time and some water the fruit returns. Hint of smoke. A puzzling nose that notably grows stronger over time.
Taste: Malty. Toffee sweetness, clinging to tongue and palate.
Balanced and slightly fruity. Dry, 'puffy'  finish with a pinch of salt.
Conclusion: 82 points. This malt could keep you nicely occupied on a warm Spring evening; it keeps throwing surprises at you. The development in the nose is amazing!

The bottle of Teaninich 1982/1998 (40%, Connoisseur's Choice) was kind of special because it was the last bottle from an 'undiscovered' active distillery I opened.
This happened on November 11 (see log entry #93); now it's judgement day.
Nose: Hmmm... Spicy. Wet Prunus leafs? Some fruity notes as well.
Toffee sweetness after a while. More 'detail' than when I opened it.
It has some strange episodes; whiffs of ammonia and paint thinner.
Taste: Flat and a little grainy. The sweetness I detected when I opened it was gone.
Pine and sawdust. Unpleasant bitterness in the finish, but quite smooth.
Conclusion: 70 points. Pleasant enough, but no high flyer.

Which brings us to the last 'GorMac' of the evening. The North Port-Brechin 1981/1998 (40%, Connoisseur's Choice) was produced by a distillery that closed down in 1983, so technically speaking I didn't have to taste it for phase 1 of my mission. Well, I did it anyway.
Nose: Is this what they call 'perfumy'? Chemical fruits. Vanilla & Banana.
Peanuts? Not much individuality - or power for that matter.
Taste: Smooth and sweetish. Whipped cream. Dryish.
Hint of burnt caramel ('Buysman'). Short on character.
Conclusion: 60 points - A bit of a 'desert' malt, but not a very good one.
Easily drinkable, but it might as well have been a blend. Absolutely not worth the money. The Glenrothes 8 is half as old, but it has twice the power.

The four malts I've sampled tonight have filled my quota for the Malt Mania Marathon (I've now rated 12 bottles on my middle shelf), but there is another issue I need to solve. Klaus will be visiting Amsterdam again next year and he asked me to save some of the UDRM St. Magdalene 1979 for him. That means I'd better remove it from my shelves a.s.a.p. - there's less than 1/10 of whisky left in the bottle.
I put the 'Magda' in a separate cupboard for safe keeping and filled its place on my top shelf with the Longmorn Glenlivet 12yo. I sampled earlier tonight.

You may have figured out that this left a vacancy on my middle shelf.
I decided to fill it with the Tamnavulin 12yo (40%, OB) from my reserve stock. It's a relatively juvenile Speysider with a light yellowish/greenish colour. The front label screams 'This Naturally Light Rare Single Malt Scotch Whisky takes its colour from the Oak Casks, during it's Twelve long years of Maturation'. Yeah, right...
A keen observer will soon notice that this is actually a LOAD OF CRAP!
The EU back label clearly states that it's artificially coloured with E150a!
For those of you outside the EU: that's plain caramel...
Nose: Oily. Chemical. Vegetables - raw cabbage?
Quite restrained; seems a little 'grainy'.
Taste: Slightly off, like rotten fruit. Hint of pepper? Grappa?
Lack of sweetness. A little 'chemical'. Slight bitterness in the finish.
Conclusion: 66 points. Not nearly as good as the 10yo. old I tried a few years ago. The tenner (rating 71 points) had an endearing freshness that's completely absent in this version. And the humbug on the label makes sure it get's a few extra penalty-points.

That's it for tonight.
 

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Log Entry # 99  -  December 9, 2001
Topic:  Malt Mania Marathon - Part IV

During the last three sessions I reviewed 12 bottles on my middle shelf; this means only 4 open bottles in my collection lack a final rating. Time to tie up the last loose ends.

I figured the Springbank 21yo (46%, OB, 00/199, 25/08/2000) would be perfect to start the last lap of the marathon. My first impressions after I opened it in October were positive enough for me to secure two spare bottles while I still had the chance. Due to production gaps at the distillery, the Springer 21 won't be bottled for a while. Now it's time to translate my initial impressions into a solid score.
Nose: Sherry & oak. Amazing complexity after some breathing.
Much more sherried than other versions I tried. Entertaining.
Sweetens up after a while, becoming fruitier. Lots of development.
Taste: Oak again, mixed with salt liquorice. Not as complex as the nose.
Very little sweetness. Salt becomes more pronounced with time.
Conclusion: 87 points . A single malt that keeps you on your toes. On close inspection, it doesn't seem quite as exciting as when I opened it, but it's still a top malt.

From the Campbeltown peninsula, I shifted my attention North by Northwest to the isle of Islay. Although the Port Ellen distillery (closed in 1983) was located on the south shore of Islay (like the 'powerhouses' Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg), most versions I've tried resembled the 'softer' style of the northern Islay malts. The Port Ellen 18yo 1981 (43%, McGibbon's Provenance) seemed no exception when I opened it on November 11. (See log entry #93.) This bottling isn't artificially coloured or chill-filtered - always a good thing.
Nose: Peaty and sherried. A bit like a 'butch' Bowmore. Growing peat.
Clean - one of the freshest Islays. Hint of chloride. Nutty episodes.
Taste: Peat. Seemed not as sweet as when I opened it. Sherry.
Almost cool in the mouth, with peat, smoke and wood in the background.
Conclusion: 84 points. Not the best Islay I ever tried, but it has lots of character.
It's a shame it is quickly disappearing from the shelves. Port Ellen is one of the Islay malts that can be enjoyed in the summertime as well.

Two bottles down, two more to go.
I had saved two United Distillers 'Rare Malts' bottlings for last.
The Royal Brackla 20yo 1978/1998 (59.8%, UDRM, bottled may 1998) was decorked 1n June.
The bottle number (3887) showed that this is one of the relatively less rare 'Rare Malts'.
Nose: A lot. Fruity & flowery. Hint of lemon zest. Beer? Some oil. The dentist?
The (undiluted) aroma has amazing width and complexity.
A few drops of water destabilised the nose for a moment, releasing smokier and more spirity aroma's.
Taste: Very sweet at cask strength. Very nice, but nondescript. Big burn. A little water brought some saturation in the sweetness - nutty, honeyed and slightly toffeeish. Gritty and a little unstable. Very long, dry finish. Conclusion: 78 points. An amazing nose, but a slightly disappointing taste. This malt reacts strongly to water.

Which brings us to the last malt of the Malt Mania Marathon.
I opened the Mannochmore 22yo 1974/1997 (60.1%, UDRM) almost eight months ago on April 30. Bottle #0879 was bottled in September 1997, which makes this one of the first bottlings in the 'Rare Malts' series. And a rare malt it is; the Loch Dhu 10yo from the same distillery has been recently discontinued.
Thank heavens for that - it was the worst single malt I ever tasted.
Nose: Clean. Spirity with some smoke and peat. Numbs the nose.
Sweeter with time, showing soft fruity / flowery notes and more smoke.
With some water it became sweeter, then smokier.
Taste: Round and sweet with a growing smokiness. Tar? Salt liquorice?
After adding water the pepper in the finish becomes more pronounced.
Very smooth at +/- 50%, but it lacks identity and character.
Conclusion: 77 points. Infinitely better than the Loch Dhu 10, but certainly not worth the 65 Euro's I paid. Ah well, live and learn....

OK - I think a small 'Hurray' is in order. I've completed the Malt Mania Marathon!
That means the year 2001 was one of mixed successes. I finished two projects successfully (the '52 Challenge' and the 'Malt Mania Marathon'), but I failed the '50 Day Push' and my 'Big Ban'.

It also means that all the open bottles in my collection have been rated.
I'm now free to change my shelf system into something more suitable for my needs. I poured myself another dram of the Mannochmore while I started to redistribute the bottles on my shelves. I may get into the details of my new shelf system later, but it's really quite simple. The 'best' bottles go on my top shelf, the just 'good' bottles go on my middle shelf and the 'not-so-good' bottles go on my bottom shelf.
See the Stock List for the new & improved situation.

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mAddendum 99A - 'Scotland by Dram'

So, I've finished phase 1 of my mission and the 52-Challenge.
What's next? I decided to plan a virtual solo-tour through Scotland in 2002. During the 'Scotland by Dram' project I'll try to sample at least 1 dram from every active distillery in Scotland within the year 2002. I can turn to my current collection of 48 open bottles for 39 different distilleries. About a dozen more are present in my reserve stock; I'll have to rely on public tastings for the other 30 -odd distilleries. If I plan my tastings carefully, I may also be able to form 'second opinions' on the distilleries I've only tried one version of so far. Under the new rules of engagement I can add the tasting notes and ratings to Malt Madness as soon as I've sampled the malts. If things go smoothly my Little Black Book will contain notes on at least two different version from each active distillery in Scotland by the end of 2002.

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mAddendum 99B - Christmas Shopping

On December 27, I visited Ton Overmars to do some late Christmas shopping. Strangely enough, I find it much easier to resist temptations since I broke my Big Ban in October. Patrick came to his senses as well and has ceased his relentless taunting, which helps. I entered the store with the intention not to spend more than 50 Euro's on a bottle. This is actually harder than it sounds, because there are very few affordable new discoveries left, while the prices have been rising steadily - even at Ton Overmars.  My resolve was tested, but I passed up on the Balvenie 17 yrs. Islay Cask (105 Euro's) and Ardbeg 25 yrs. 'Lord of the Isles' (155 Euro's). They cost a pretty penny - I was quite sure I could spend my money more wisely. I even passed up on the opportunity to buy a spare Ardbeg 1972 for 111 Euro's. I already have two bottles in my reserve stock and I guess I'll just have to accept the fact that I can't buy eveything I want to. Instead, I went for a couple of more reasonably priced bottles - mostly old favorites.

These six bottles together cost me less than Ardbeg 25yo and Balvenie 17yo would have. The Ardbeg 1990/2001 Spirit of Scotland was something I just had to own when I saw it, even though it was priced slightly above my limit. Ardbeg is one of my favorite distilleries and I've never tried a bottling of this series before. And it's a cask strength to boot. If my recent experiences with the Laphroaig 10 C/S are any indication it should do very well. The Ardbeg 17yo and Bunnahabhain 12yo (nice price!) are old favorites but the new bottling of Edradour 10yo was a bit of a gamble. An earlier 10yo bottling I tried (clear, 'standard' bottle, 70 points) wasn't very exciting but Craig Daniels and a few visitors of the site insist that this bottling is much better. Well, it's certainly more attractive - a nice, bulky bottle in a nice, bulky tube.
The fact that it's produced at the smallest distillery in Scotland tipped the balance in its favour.
I don't have any high expectations of the Glenlivet 12yo French Oak Finish but the price was just nice enough to provoke the automatic grabbing response I don't seem to be able to get rid of. I've 'officially' sampled only three different versions of Glenlivet (12, 18 and 21) and non of them overly impressed me - well, maybe the 21 did. I guess it will be interesting to see how this high profile distillery responded to the 'special wood finish' fad. And finally, there's good old Macallan 12yo. Old indeed, because I've been getting reports a new 40% bottling is replacing this 1999 43% litre version - and it's not as good. Who can resist a price of 35 Euro's under these circumstances?
I sure couldn't...

And there's a new kid in town...
The latest 2001 bottling of Lagavulin 16yo had arrived on Ton's shelves and it was priced at 43 Euro's for a 0.7 litre bottle. That's much more expensive than previous batches - almost 10 Euro's more than a litre bottle in the good old days. The latest batch has a slightly different packaging than previous ones - at least here in Holland. The 'Classic Malts' seal has moved to the bottom of the box. The royal seal with the text 'By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen...' at the top of the label has been replaced by a little picture of a boat and the text 'Lagavulin Distillery, Port Ellen, Isle of Islay. The bottom of the bottle used to state 'White Horse Distillers Glasgow', now it says 'Port Ellen, Isle of Islay'. The changes are subtle, but I checked the old, empty bottles in my 'History' cabinet and they all had the exact same design - even the litre bottles.

Maybe Ton's pricing has become a little quirky, but it may also be the advent of a general rise in price of Lagavulin 16 in Holland. As soon as older stocks from shops with a smaller turnover (or larger stocks) are depleted this new bottling will appear on shelves throughout Holland and I'll now if the rising price is a national phenomenon. I guess such a development would be logical, given the fact that Lagavulin 16 is such a great whisky and Holland is no longer a third-world country on the international maltmap. After a malt market has been 'developed', prices at import-level ususally go up.

When I discovered single malts around ten years ago your average bottle of 12 years old single malt whisky would set you back 25 to 30 Euro's. A litre of Lagavulin 16 cost only 33 Euro's. Prices have been steadily rising since then. I guess I really should stop moaning about it, but don't forget I'm Dutch. For the last three years, Ton Overmars was a haven in a sea of rising prices, but no more. Most prices are still quite good, but he's no longer the cheapest address in Amsterdam for some malts. Aberlour A'bunadh, for instance, can still be obtained for 59 Euro's at Menno Boorsma while the Lagavulin 16 is a few Euro's cheaper at Gall & Gall than at Ton Overmars. That doesn't bode well...

Fortunately, I didn't have to go to Gall & Gall for Lagavulin 16. Actually, I didn't have to go anywhere because I already have 4 bottles in my reserve stock. But I knew a secret - a secret that has been eating me up inside. There is a dirty old supermarket in the ghetto where I live. The liquor part of the store mostly sells cheap beer, jenever (gin) and horrible fantasy blends with prices below 10 Euro's. Strangely enough, they do sell single malts as well - no less than five different ones! They have Glen Grant n.a.s., Tamdhu n.a.s., Glenlivet 12, Oban 14 and... Lagavulin 16! The fact that they carry the stuff is quite baffling, but the price of 32 Euro's is even more amazing.

Of course, I couldn't resist dropping by and picking up three spare bottles. The Lagavulin 16 has been my number one malt for 10 years now, so I really couldn't buy too much of it. One of the weekend-clerks at that store is an exception as well - he's a malt -crazed philosophy student that actually knows his stuff. We talked before and he tracked the origins of my previous Lagavulin batch for me. They are part of a batch of 200 cases (1200 70 cl bottles, 43%), bottled in 1999 and imported in january 2000. The store only sold small quantities, but now the stocks are depleted. They now had the new 2001 bottling on their shelves, but the price remained as pleasant as ever. Even if my three new bottles prove to be 'inferior' to bottlings from the previous millennium they'll likely offer plenty of bang for my bucks.

My final purchase of this year was made at Menno Boorsma. I managed to ignore the Longrow 10yo (105 Euro's) and McGibbon's Port Ellen 19yo 1982 (109 Euro's). I doubted long and hard about the Aberlour A'bunadh Batch #6 (59 Euro's). Compared to Ton Overmars and Gall & Gall, the price is very friendly but I already have two bottles in my reserve stock - enough for now.
I finally decided to go for two litre bottles of Highland Park 12yo (36 Euro's) instead. In his latest E-Report, Patrick reported that there's a new, square bottling in the USA. I don't know if the current (round) bottling will be replaced in Europe as well, but I didn't want to take any chances. Any malt that scores 85 points is welcome on my shelves.

There are now exactly 125 bottles in my reserve stock. They should last me for quite a while if the prices keep rising in the future. If the introduction of the Euro as an actual single currency next year (within two days, actually) causes prices to inflate beyond the borders of sanity I could go without shopping for a few years. If the single market has a positive effect (i.e. a negative effect on prices), It'll probably have a positive effect on my drinking (i.e. a negative effect on my health) as well...
 

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Liquid Log Entries - October to December 2001

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Ardbeg Scotch whisky
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