00 - 30/12/1996 - MY AMAZING DISCOVERY   -  The events that lead to my malt madness.
01 - 01/01/1997 - Vintage Islay Malt NAS - Chivas Regal Royal Salute - Teacher's '60' - ...
02 - 05/02/1997 - Allt-A-Bhainne 12yo - Glenlochy 1977 - Mortlach 1969
03 - 11/04/1997 - Longmorn 15yo - Knockando 1979 - Dalwhinnie 15yo - Tamdhu NAS - ...
04 - 08/06/1997 - Bowmore 12yo - Benriach 10yo - Bushmill's 10yo - Blackbarrel NAS - Tullamore Dew NAS
05 - 15/07/1997 - Ardbeg 1974/1995 - Ardbeg 19yo - Ardbeg 1972 Cask Strength
06 - 30/08/1997 - Macallan 12yo - Bowmore 6yo 1989/1996 - Macallister 8yo
07 - 18/10/1997 - 5 official Glenmorangie miniatures; 10yo - 18yo - Madeira WF - Port WF - Sherry WF
08 - 07/11/1997 - Macallan 18yo - Mortlach 16yo - Bowmore 12yo - Chivas Century of Malts - ...
09 - 15/12/1997 - Laphroaig 10yo - Blairmhor 8yo - Strathglen 12yo - Jameson 12yo - ...

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Log Entry # 0  -  December 30, 1996
Topic:  My Amazing Discovery

The world is divided in two kinds of people; those who haven't experienced single malt scotch whisky - and those who have! As hard as it is to imagine, I belonged to the former category once. Let me tell you how I went from one state of affairs to the other.

In the year 1991, my disgust for Jacques Chirac, 'Le Frog Majeur', had grown so bad that I had to take some form of action. My conscience forced me to make a drastic decision in order to hurt 'Duke Nuke-Em' where it hurts most; his wallet.  With tears in my heart and pain in my eyes I started my "Grande Boycotte de la Cognac et Armagnac". It goes without saying the first few weeks were hell. I deeply missed these liquid poems from France I had enjoyed so innocently before, and it wasn't long before I desperately started looking for an alternative.

And this is how it all began...
It was a hot summer night in August 1991 and a very small cafe near the Uilenburgersteeg in Amsterdam was to close down forever. I had visited the place a few times before, and had exchanged some cocktail-recipes with the barkeeper; a very fat guy in flowery shorts. When the cafe was forced to close down, I was invited to the Great Booze-Up on it's final night; All Night Free Drinks, absolutely free. (Apparently, the owner wanted to minimise his stock). Of course, this was an offer I could not resist. Because the drinks were (I have to stress this) absolutely free, I decided to not drink the same drink twice that evening. I tried to persuade my friends to join me in this interesting experiment, but they just laughed and laughed and laughed....

Parts of the evening are vague, but I remember the following drinks;
(consumed not necessarily in that order...)

  • an Amaretto di Saronno (erm... a girly drink, I know. I like it with lots of ice.)
  • an Absolut Wodka (with ice)
  • an Absolut Peppar Wodka (with lots of ice - heavy stuff)
  • an "Oude Jenever" (a revolting Dutch drink; Old Gin)
  • a "Beerenburger" (another revolting Dutch drink)
  • a Tawny Port
  • a Ruby Port
  • a Johnnie Walker Red Label (with ice, which isn't really a big sin with this stuff...)
  • a Southern Comfort (again, with ice)
  • a "Kamikaze" (a cocktail by the fat bartender- I forgot the ingredients)
  • a Cointreau (liqueur, with ice)
  • a "Niagara" (One of my own creations, it makes you piss like you wouldn't believe...)

Around midnight I developed a sudden urge for fresh air. Perhaps I just had too many intelligent conversations for one evening... I went outside and just sat there for a while, enjoying the last spasms of summer. After a while, I felt ready to resume my duties and went back in there. The bass line of Bruce Hornsby's "The way It Is" was overloading the speakers and everything seemed wonderful and laid back. When I reached the bar, the bartender - who knew of my experiment - grinned benevolently and shoved a cognac-glass in my direction. When he reached for a mysterious green bottle I told him of my boycott, but he assured me my next drink wouldn't be French.

He poured me a finger of the unknown drink, pathetically trying to hide the label from my curious eyes. Being of a somewhat suspicious nature, I feared an attempt to poison me, so I kept bugging the bartender until he finally admitted the amber liquid before me was Scotch. I told him I already had a whisky that evening and that it would be a shame to spoil my interesting little experiment.

I will never forget the flash of wistful contempt that - only for a moment - crossed his fat face. He explained to me that I was about to experience a Single Malt Scotch Whisky; something completely different from a blended whisky. He argued that single malts were a class of whisky on their own and these bottles shouldn't even be allowed in the same drinks cabinet with a Johnnie Walker Red Label.
Of course he was right...

I sniffed the glass suspiciously and the rest is - as they say - history.
As it turned out that I had my first whiff of a 16 years old Lagavulin.
I felt like a blind man that could sudenly see. Was this whisky? Never before had I smelled things like leather, smoke, and peat in a whisky - or in any other drink for that matter. It wasn't like anything I've smelled or tasted before, but when I had finished my glass I knew I had found my alternative for cognac and armagnac. Apart from Glenfiddich, it was my first single malt experience and today, almost 50 different single malts later, Lagavulin 16yo is still my favourite

That very same night we sampled three other single malts he had on stock (Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich and Bunnahabhain, if memory serves) and the differences in taste and character truly amazed me. The barkeeper was either extremely drunk or he liked my cocktail recipes very much, because when I finally stumbled to the door to find my bicycle and get some sleep, he put the half-empty bottle of Lagavulin in my trembling hands.
After nearly losing my keys in the canal I managed to unlock and mount my bike. Have you ever driven dead-drunk through Amsterdam in the summer, desperately trying to protect a half-filled bottle with "the water of life"?  Probably not, but I can assure you: It's a wonderful experience...

Perhaps as a result of those last few drinks, I don't seem to be able to recall the name of the cafe, and now it's gone forever. Since that fateful night, however, I've become a great fan of Scotch Single Malt Whisky. It was the beginning of my personal 'Holy Grail' mission; the quest for The Perfect Single Malt.

So, that's the story on how my disgust for Jacques Chirac provoked my "Grande Boycotte de la Cognac et Armagnac", thus leading to my amazing discovery of SMSW.
And that's just the beginning of the story...

The Mission

I have been enjoying single malt whiskies since my amazing discovery, over 5 years ago.
In fact, I've been enjoying them more and more. When I started out, I maintained a drinking collection of around a dozen bottles of whisk(e)y and cognac. I bought the occasional single malt (mostly Lagavulin 16, Talisker 10, Highland Park 12, Glen Ord 12 and Dalmore 12), but over 3/4 of the whiskies in my collection were blends (Scotch & Irish) and vatted malts. I just couldn't afford to drink single malts all the time - although I would have liked to...

But since then I've picked up a nasty case of 'malt madness'.
I started to scoff at 'ordinary' blends.
I started to taste more and more different single malts.
I started to spend most of my Christmas bonuses on single malts.

Today (December 30, 1996), I have a drinking collection of almost 40 bottles, most of which are single malts. Over the last 5 years I've tasted more than 100 different single malts; half of them 'by the glass' in restaurants and bars, half of them 'by the bottle' in the comfort of my own home. Sadly, I never kept any notes on those experiences. All that remains are some vague memories.
What a wonderful waste!

I may be mad, but I can also be quite serious when it comes to single malts.
So serious, that I have decided to devote myself to a mission.
A mission to find the best single malt whisky in the world.

Of course, this is no mean feat. I'm sure many livers and credit cards have been destroyed while their owners were trying to achieve this goal. If the third edition of Michael Jackson's Malt Whisky Companion (a very useful guide through maltland) is anything to go by, there were over 330 different single malts available in 1994. Over the past few years, I've encountered quite a few bottles that are not mentioned in his book. This proves there are a lot more than 330 single malts available; a conclusion strengthened by the fact that I recently spotted a list of 700 (!) different single malt whiskies on a website. I guess the growing popularity of this type of whisky plays an important role in more single malts becoming more widely available.

Nevertheless, I feel confident. And that's because I've got a strategy.
And you definitely need a strategy for this type of undertaking.
Here's the plan:

Phase 1 - 'Search & Destroy'
The first part of the mission is 'seriously' tasting at least one single malt from each active distillery in Scotland. In this case, seriously means 'by the bottle'. Every now and then I have a tasting session in a restaurant or at a friend's house, but I feel I can't take those experiences too seriously. Just one or two drams are not enough to form a solid opinion - at least not for me. On the other hand, these tastings can offer another interesting perspective on a single malt. After I've sampled at least one version (preferably more, of course) of the product of each active distillery in Scotland, I can start a process of elimination on a distillery level. Based on my nosing and tasting experiences, I can select the more interesting distilleries and discard the... well, let's just say the less interesting distilleries.

Phase 2 - 'Private Investigations'
After phase 1 is completed, I can focus my attention on a 'shortlist' of distilleries that produce my favourite kind of single malts - the good kind. Instead of tasting single malts from as many different distilleries as possible, I will now try to taste as many different versions of a select group of distilleries. One of the consequences is that I will probably have to taste a lot more private bottlings during this phase.

Phase 3 - 'Malt Mayhem'
This is where I should have made enough 'malt mileage' to be able to sensibly invest my money in the best single malts available - or a liver transplant. I will able to stock up on the best single malts available, and maybe even buy myself a cask of one of my favourites some day.

Sounds like a plan, huh?

Of course, phase 1 alone will take me several years (and loads of cash) to complete. Wouldn't it be a shame if all those tasting experiences would slowly fade from my memory - just like the memories of the +/- 100 single malts I've tasted so far? I thought it would. What's more, I've heard some nasty rumours about alcohol having some kind of negative effect on the human memory. I consider myself barely human, but that could mean that the more I drink, the more I forget.

And drinking more is just what I've got in mind!
That's why I decided to start this official 'log' of my journey through maltland - for your reading pleasure and my own peace of mind. Like the old ship logs of yore, it may appear somewhat dull to the naked eye. Those who know how to read between the lines, however, will experience a world of adventure, hardship and discovery.

This Liquid Log will feature some of my tasting experiences, but not all.
An overly rigid approach could get in the way of my creative tasting process.
But then again, I want to make sure I can keep a proper record of all the malts I'll 'officially' sample in the future. That's why I've also bought myself a
little black book, which will list every bottle of single malt that passes through my collection from now on. It replaces the little red book I've used since 1985 to keep some rough notes on my tasting experiences with all kinds of liquors, mostly cognac, armagnac and calvados.

This system of double bookkeeping (the Liquid Log and my Black Book) should ensure that the majority of the malts I taste are properly documented. Over the next few weeks, I'll taste all the single malts in my collection (+/- 30) and add them to the brand new on-line version of my little black book.

Let the malt madness begin!

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Log Entry # 1  -  January 1, 1997
Topic:  'Premium' Blends

This is the first real entry in my new 'Liquid Log'. A joyous occasion, so you would think I would pick the oldest and rarest bottles in my collection for tonight's session. Well - I didn't. Instead, I decided to approach my new mission in a structured fashion. Before I concentrate my sessions on the single malts in my collection, I'll try to 'phase out' some of the blends and vatted malts. Comparing them to single malts would be a bit like comparing apples and oranges, and I need to create some shelf space for a number of new acquisitions I've got planned anyway. So, tonight's line-up features a couple of 'premium' blends that have been on my bookshelf for a few months now. Musical choice: John Rutter's 'Magnificat'.

I decided to calibrate my senses with a re-tasting of the Vintage Islay Malt NAS (40%, bastard bottling, 70cl). The bottlers of this independent label use the product of different distilleries each year, so the quality varies quite a bit from one year to the next. A few years back, they used a 6yo old Lagavulin, and that was an outstanding malt that has been in my top 10 for a long time. And it only cost fl. 30,- guilders - Less that 15 U$ Dollars. It scored 81 points, quite amazing for such a young malt. Now however, they must've used a 3yo Bruichladdich or something. (Although the sherry-overtones might indicate something like a Bunnahabhain...) It's an Islay all right (that's obvious from the first whiff), but the taste is quite a disappointment.
Something in the neighbourhood of 74 points this time around.

After this (relatively) bad start, things lightened up when I opened the miniature of Chivas Regal 'Royal Salute' (40%, blend, 70cl) I'd been saving for a few weeks. Marvellous with a capital Mmmmm. I don't usually indulge myself with the overpriced "Premium Blends", but this was a gift and a greatly appreciated one at that. The miniature-bottle looked wonderful. I will have to get myself a large bottle soon. Around 80 points. I can't quite put my finger on what makes it so great, but I think this is my favourite blend. (Well, I haven't "seriously" tasted Johnnie Walker's Blue Label...)

I continued with the Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label (40%, blend, 70cl), a blend far superior to it's red labelled younger sibling. Heavy, malty aroma. A hint of oiliness with a candyish sweetness. Pleasant taste, not very pronounced, flows gently to the back of your mouth. 60 points, which makes it one of the better blends I've tasted so far!

I finished the tasting session with a Teachers '60' Reserve Stock (40%, blend, 70cl), a blend containing at least 60% pure malt whiskies, including the Glendronach. I like the ordinary Teacher's a lot (50 points - I often use it as my touchstone blend), but this one is even better. It's a blend, but it has an almost malt-like quality. This one falls in the price-range of cheaper vatted malts, but is actually a lot better than most vatted malts I've tasted thus far. 56 points.

Man - it seems that even the premiumest of blends have a hard time tickling my fancy these days. Ratings around 60 points just mean 'adequate'; it takes at least 75 points ('more than adequate') for me to get excited these days. Am I getting spoilt by all the great single malts I have been tasting recently? I am afraid so. But hey - I've been only tasting single malts for about 5 years now. Let's see how I feel in another 5 years. I should have made some significant progress in my mission by then.

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Log Entry # 2  -  February 5, 1997
Topic:  31th Birthday Session

Woo-hee, it's my birthday!
More than enough reason to have a tasting session with the three rarest bottles in my slowly expanding collection of single malts. Over the last few weeks, I have been frantically sampling the malts on my bookshelf. I started
my mission with a vengeance; within the course of a month I have seriously sampled 28 of the 31 different single malts currently on my bookshelf. All this hard work was done to fill my brand new Black Book with tasting notes and ratings on all the malts currently in my collection.

And what about that collection?
Well, at the moment it's not very impressive - in the sense that most of the bottles in it aren't that expensive, old or rare. Over the past five years, I've tasted every reasonably priced single malt whisky on the shelves of the three nearest liquorists. As far as I'm concerned, 'reasonably priced' means 70 guilders (about 40 U$ Dollars at current exchange rates) or less. After all, that's the price of some of my top scoring malts; Lagavulin 16, Laphroaig 10, Talisker 10, Bowmore 12, Glenmorangie 10, Macallan 12 and Highland Park 12. These are all exceptionally good whiskies, so there's no obvious reason to spend more money on a bottle.

But then again, before my amazing discovery of single malts, I used to think that 50 guilders was about the maximum I'd be willing to pay for a bottle of whisky. My 'personal price celing' seems to be rising slowly but certainly. The more new malts I discover, the more I'm prepared to pay for even newer discoveries. The 'premium blends' tasting (see log entry #1) created some room on my bookshelf for a few new single malts. And my Christmas bonus created some room in my wallet to go downtown and spend some hard-earned cash on some of the rare malts you just don't find in my neck of the woods.

Except for a few nicely priced Ultimate and Vintage malts, I've never had any 'reputable' independent bottlings in my collection before. I've tasted a few private bottlings in restaurants and bars, but the results hadn't convinced me to look very hard for them. Be that as it may; overwhelming curiosity seems to be one of the symptoms of malt madness. I ignored my misgivings and selected three independent bottlings from single malts I've never tasted before; Allt-A-Bhainne, Glenlochy and Mortlach.
Let's do some serious tasting!

I started the session with the Allt-A-Bhainne 12yo (43%, James McArthur Fine Malt Selection, 75cl). The malt with the strange name has a strange aroma as well. Flowery and a bit chemical. Eucalyptus? Lightly sweet with a memory of peat. The taste starts off very soft. Sweet and malty. It has a short, soft finish - almost watery. Pleasant, but not very interesting. My rating: 70 points.

Hmmm. That wasn't spectacular. Let's go for something older.
Glenlochy 1977/1994 (40%, G&M Connoisseur's Choice, 70cl) was bottled in 1994, which makes it around 17 years old. The nose was very restrained for a malt way in its teens. A hint of smoke and cigar tobacco. Coffee? The taste was very soft as well. Sweetish, with a little smoke. My rating: 67 points - just not enough character. Quite a disappointment considering its age and its price.

OK - this proves that age doesn't improve everything.
But the first whiffs of the Mortlach 1969/1996 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 70cl) showed that older malts can indeed be interesting. I don't recall all the single malts I've tasted in restaurants and bars, but I think this is the oldest whisky I've tasted so far. It had a lot of flowery notes in the nose. Big, sweet and sherried. Wood. Something 'oriental' as well, interspersed with sour whiffs. Not unlike Macallan. The taste was dusty, smooth and sweet. Woody, with pleasant chocolate notes.
My rating: 82 points. Very, very nice.

Conclusion: The Mortlach was very nice, but just too darned expensive. It cost me almost 200 guilders; simply too much for such a rating. Relatively speaking, the other ones did even worse with prices of well over 100 guilders a piece. I don't have cash flying out of my ass, so I'll probably focus my purchases on the mainstream malts for a little while longer. A good deal of the malts I've tasted over the previous weeks scored well over 80 points at prices around 70 guilders.
For now, that's good enough for me.

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Log Entry # 3  -  April 11, 1997
Topic:  Adwy Tasting

Adwy, a colleague of me, organised a major dinner & malt tasting event at his house. Two of the seven malts we tasted this evening were completely new to me, so it should have been an interesting evening. Sadly, I was plagued by a bad nose - again... That's why I didn't rate the malts we tasted tonight.

After a nice Gamba-meal we started the tasting with a Longmorn 15yo (45%, OB, 100cl). Very nice, complex and hard to define. The bottle on my own bookshelf is already half empty, but somehow I still haven't been able to give it a definitive rating yet. I expect it to rate somewhere in the lower 80's. Nobody was particularly impressed with the Tamdhu NAS (40%, OB, 70cl), especially compared to the other malts we tasted that evening. The good old Macallan 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl) was great as always, and after the Tamdhu the heavy and unique sherry sweetness seemed even more pronounced.

The Tamnavulin 10yo (40%, OB, 70cl) isn't really my type of whisky, but it really has got a character of it's own. Oily and grassy, I have no other way of describing it. Adwy was very enthusiastic about the "greasy" Knockando 1979 (43%, OB, 35cl), but the rest of those present didn't really subscribe to that opinion.
Even the second glass didn't really leave a real impression.

This was also more or less the case with the Dalwhinnie 15yo (40%, OB, 70cl). I tasted this whisky on several occasions but I just don't like it enough to buy a whole bottle of the stuff (much to the chagrin of some friends, who really seem to like it). A fellow-taster described it as a "sissy whisky" and I couldn't agree more.
The highlight of the evening, for me, was the Glenfiddich 15yo Cask Strength (51%, OB, 100cl). The "ordinary" Special Reserve is one of my least favourite single malts with a rating of 60 points. Sadly enough it's the biggest selling single malt. Well, I just don't dig it. The 15 years old version however, seemed perfectly OK in my book. Of course, my tongue was pretty numb at the time, but at 51% it still seemed rather smooth. Great complexity in it's aroma; a wonderful example of the benefits of ageing. I'm going to have to buy myself a bottle to explore this one further in the future.

Because I made the unwise decision to have a few more night-caps when I got home (I really needed that after the subway-trip), I'm not quite sure about the order of consumption of the various malts. I am quite sure about the amount of fun I've had tonight, however - a lot!

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Log Entry # 4  -  June 21, 1997
Topic:  Blind in the Woods

Ah... The humanity of it all...

Every now and then I flee the big and hectic city of Amsterdam to absorb some peace and quiet in the country. My family owns some property in 'De Veluwe', one of the least populated area's of Holland. Once every year, usually at the first full moon of the summer, my brother and I organise a big all-night theme-party in the middle of the woods. The party-place is a clearing, surrounded by old oak trees, the light is provided by a flew globes hanging in the trees and the music is hand-picked by myself. (... and therefor of excellent quality.)
Drinks and overheated guests are cooled in a big old bathtub in the centre of the clearing. A lot of people bring their tents (as well as a wide variety of drinkable and smokable substances) and the partying usually continues until the sun rises again.

In 1995, the theme was 'A Midsummer Night's Dream', everybody danced around aimlessly in toga's and big white sheets to the subtle rhythm of new age music. It was a great succes, so we decided to simply pick the same theme for this year's events. I've been doing a lot of whisky-evangelising among my friends lately, so I decided to add a broad selection of whiskies to the mix.

I started by pouring a Scotch single malt, Benriach 10yo (40%, OB, 70cl). It came alive quite nicely after a disappointing first whiff of "grain". Very soft, but it grows more interesting as you go along. Nutty (?) and flowery sweetness. It just needed some time to breathe, I guess. A rather soft taste with a powerful afterglow. Despite an uninspired start it turned out to be a nice summer-malt. It was quite popular with the guests as well - especially the ones who were used to drinking blends. A well-deserved 71 points.

I have to remind myself to shoot the clerk at my neighbourhood Gall & Gall.
He recommended the BlackBarrel NAS from Grant's - a single grain whisky. I didn't particularly like the Invergordon 10yo, another single grain I tasted a while back, but I decided to give this type of whisky another chance. Big mistake. No aroma's to speak of and an almost sour taste. Hardly detectable whiffs of chloride and grass. Long (but unfortunately rather nasty) aftertaste. 31 points - and that's just because I'm in a good mood.

The Glen Talloch 8yo 'Pure Malt' is a 'vatted malt' - a blend of malt whiskies from different distilleries. A vatted malt doesn't contain any grain whisky - which seemed like good idea after the Blackbarrel. I'm not sure, but I think this stuff is bottled exclusively for the Dutch market. It has a sweetish nose, very malty. A sweet, deep undercurrent. Softer and more balanced than the standard Glen Talloch blend, but similar in character. The taste doesn't live up to the very decent nose; soft, uncharacteristic and gone too soon. 48 points.

Around 23:00 I figured it was time to leave Scotland and cross the sea to visit the Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland. They claim Bushmills is the oldest whisky distillery in the world; founded in 1608. The Bushmills Malt 10yo is one of the few single malts produced in Ireland. The nose is soft and not very expressive. The taste was soft, dry and a little salty. A bit rough on the palate. The taste lacks development and vanishes quite quickly. Rating: 49 points. Most guests seemed to be more enthusiastic about it than I was.

Next up, an Irish blend; Tullamore Dew NAS. 'Smell-wise', it's quite complex for an Irish whisky. Soft taste, but not very characteristic. The quality of the 'Dew' seems to change quite a bit from year to year, but overall it's one of my favourite Irish whiskies. Not as good as the Jameson 12yo, but a lot better than the "standard" Jameson. This year's version gets a cool 50 points.

By now, we had tasted a Scotch single malt whisky, an Irish single malt whiskey, a Scotch single grain whisky, a Scotch vatted malt whisky and an Irish blended whiskey tonight. This should prove to anyone that I'm not prejudiced when it comes to alcohol.

It must have been around midnight when Richard, one of my best friends, came up to me and told me he had an interesting challenge for me. Because I already had a few cocktails, I was feeling pretty daring. (I think you know the feeling...) Recklessly I accepted, without knowing what the challenge was.  Richard smiled viciously and unveiled  a large green chemicals-bottle with a large toxic-sign on it. He told me he put three-quarters of his favourite single malt in it, and I could have it all if I could determine the content of the mysterious green bottle.

So that was a nasty mess I had gotten myself into.
I had never done a real blind test before, so I was likely to make a fool out of myself in front of my friends. After all, I was the one constantly whining about the subtleties and differences of single malts. I was in luck, though; Unwittingly, Richard had made it easy for me by picking an Islay whisky - that peaty and smoky aroma is unmistakable. But my friends didn't know that, so why make them any wiser? I amazed and astonished them by declaring it an Islay whisky after only two sniffs from the bottle.  Richard reluctantly had to admit that I was right so far.

Erik, another friend of mine, declared that the challenge obviously wasn't challenge enough. He double-dared me with a new challenge: If I could determine the distillery as well as the age without a nosing glass, he would get me another bottle of that very same malt. If I failed, he got to drink the rest of the green chemicals bottle. And there I was, faced with a difficult decision.

Well - not difficult at all, really, considering the state I was in. With a benign nod I accepted. After some more serious sniffing and a few guzzles I managed to narrow my options down to a Bowmore (any age, they are so hard to keep apart), a 6 yrs. old Lagavulin or a Bunnahabhain. The amount of sherry in nose and palate finally made me decide on the Bowmore 12 yrs., and guess what: I was right.

So there I was - with half a bottle of Bowmore 12yo and a fresh one in the pipeline. Surrounded by my friends who would think of me as a suave and sophisticated malt-oracle in the future. The full moon was beaming its beams and Puccini's Madame Butterfly was playing in the background.

The leaves of the oak trees gently shivered in the wind and it was a true "Midsummer Night's Dream". It could have been one of the highlights of my life. It was at that moment in time, that fate decided to fart in my face. I don't know if the diet of that evening (a lot of peanuts and a lot of booze) had something to do with it, but I suddenly needed to make an emergency-visit to the toilet.

Needless to say, this proved quite a blemish on my new-found status. When I finally managed to return to the party-place, the bottle was already empty. And I knew I could never again bring up the glorious moment in conversations with my friends, because it would always be linked to my somewhat less glorious finale and exit.

Reality is an illusion that occurs due to lack of alcohol.......

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Log Entry # 5  -  July 15, 1997
Topic:  3 Outdoor Ardbegs

I've recently discovered Ardbeg - one of the few Islay distilleries I haven't tried before. Within a few months it has become one of my favourite Islay malts - after Lagavulin, of course. High time for a head-to-head tasting of a few different versions to find out more. The location: My family's 'estatette' on De Veluwe - one of the last remaining 'wild' area's of Holland. It is surrounded by a few acres of private forest.
A few years ago my brother and I created our own open-air boozing lounge there; a clearing in the woods, surrounded by old oak-trees. I've put up some seats there, and we've even hung a few lights from the trees. The effect on a summer night is pure magic; the lights create an effect of a green, fairy tale cave. Whenever the wind touches the leaves of the oaks, the ceiling and walls of the 'cave' seem to vibrate with the essence of life.

Next to the locale of the traditional midsummer forest-party my brother and I throw every year, it has been the site of many a whiskytasting. I concentrated myself on three different versions of Ardbeg this particular evening, and was amazed by the differences. The Ardbeg 1974/1995 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, 70cl) was the only big bottle in the collection. This one needs some warmth to reveal it's complexity. Definitely Islay, but not as overwhelming as Lagavulin. I was amazed once more by the trademark delay in taste-development. Smoky and obviously Islay, with a long and balanced oaky aftertaste. Some "Phroaig" saltiness, but more balanced. Preliminary ratings on previous tastings ranged between 85 and 88 points; tonight I decided on a final rating of 87 points.

It got a bit chilly while I waited for the moon to rise, but a miniature of Ardbeg 19yo 1974/1994 (43%, Ultimate, 70cl) succeeded in warming me just fine. It was nr. 525 of a series of 600 miniatures from cask nr. 4395, distilled at 27/9/74 and bottled in June 1994, according to the label. It seemed to have a slightly more distinct Islay character with some more oak and seaweed. More in balance than the 1974; A provisional score of 88 points. This is one of the rare occasions where I've found an 'Ultimate' bottling worth it. They usually fall a bit short.

When the moon was finally up, I finished the evening with the tiny flask of the Ardbeg 1972 Cask Strength (?%, Cadenhead's, +/- 10 cl) that a friend sent over from Scotland. Definitely the winner of the evening, Despite the more salty character reminding of Laphroaig, it was even more balanced than the others - with an even greater complexity. This one would fit right in my top three list with a preliminary rating of 92 points.

A night well spent...

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Log Entry # 6  -  August 30, 1997
Topic:  Rugby Tasting

I like a good hangover as much as the next guy, but last night (or rather, this morning) I've discovered my limits. I'd invited four rugby-mates over to introduce them to the wonderful world of single malts.
Big mistake....

We started the evening off with a Macallan 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl), a single malt everybody seems to like - and rightly so, in my opinion. Strangely enough, none of them seemed to enjoy it very much. They liked it, but I didn't get the enthusiastic response I usually get when I introduce a novice to the Macallan. When one of my guests described it as "sharp" I started to worry a bit - Macallan is one of the smoothest and most balanced malts I know - perfect for 'beginners'.

The next malt, a Bowmore 6 yrs 1989/1996 (43%, Ultimate, 70cl) went down quite well altogether, but three of them (all "forward" players, incidentally) didn't notice any difference with the previous malt. Hmmmm... The only similarity I could find was a rather pronounced sweetness. The Bowmore 6 is nothing like the Bowmore 12 and "Surf"; it's fresher, it's got a sweeter and oilier bouquet, it's lighter, It's got a drier aftertaste.... It's completely different.

After their display of ignorance I decided the "good stuff" was completely wasted on these philistines and we switched over to the three-quarters of MacAllister 8yo 'Pure Malt' (40%, vatted malt, 70cl) that had been in my cupboard for ages because it's absolute crap. One of my guests actually preferred it over the Macallan. Go figure.

I sort of gave up on them when one of the barbarians spotted a fresh bottle of Southern Comfort in my drinks cabinet and stated that it was the nicest whisky he ever had. We emptied the bottle and the rest of the evening is somewhat hazy. I do remember a vague discussion on how it is that women rarely seem to like whisky, and a new drinking-song we wrote within an hour, titled "Per Ardua Ad Nauseam". Which once again proves that alcohol is the perfect lubricant for creative processes. On the other hand, I completely forgot to give scores tonight. Ah, well - I managed to protect all bottles of single malt from emptiness, so I'll have another chance soon.

To quote Frank Sinatra: 'I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they are going to feel all day.'

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Log Entry # 7  -  October 18, 1997
Topic:  Glenmorangie Miniatures

I bought my brother a set of 5 different Glenmorangie miniatures (10, 18, Madeira, Port, Sherry) for his birthday and he was kind enough to include me in the tasting-ritual. I've heard a lot of people aren't too enthusiastic about the "special wood finish" series of Glenmorangie, but I found most of them quite pleasing and "easy on the tongue".

For reference-purposes we started off with the Glenmorangie 10yo (43%, OB, 5cl) - the most widely available variety. Very subtle and complex, but not quite easy on the tongue. An old favourite of mine, It's the only one of the five versions I'd tasted before. My score of 82 points stands, but my brother begged to differ - He thought is was worth only 81 points. It took him several slaps around the head to realise I was right after all.

The first thing that came to mind when sampling the Glenmorangie 18yo (43%, OB, 5cl) was oranges. Pepper again clearly distinguishable. The taste is overwhelming and much more "woody" than the 10yo Very nice indeed. Still, at first sight we couldn't find a justification for the huge price-difference. Although miles apart in character, 18yo got a temporary score of 84; which isn't too much considering the long wait of the 8 extra years. My brother sensibly agreed with my conclusions.

We continued with the Glenmorangie Madeira Wood Finish (43%, OB, 5cl). Very special and characteristic. I haven't tasted any malt that even comes near this one, character wise. A faint oiliness in it's aroma, along with a slight whiff of citrus and some smokiness. Nuts? The taste starts off on a fruity note, develops in a "summer fruit" sweetness and ends in a pleasant bitterness, along with the pepper-character of the 10yo This one might end up even higher on my hitlist than the 10yo Temporary score 83 points, definitely worth investigating.

Then we went for the Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish (43%, OB, 5cl). Remarkable sweetness, as unique as the Madeira. The aroma reminds of that of a fine Tawny Port. A very supple taste with a definite woody port-character. This whisky has an almost Cognac-like quality; one can almost taste the grapes! After adding water the familiar "spicy" character of the other versions becomes more pronounced. It also revealed something toffeeish ...or was it?
I couldn't quite lay my finger on what my nostrils picked up, let alone try to translate the experience into words. Nevertheless a temporary score of 85, definitely a winner.

The Glenmorangie Sherry Wood Finish (43%, OB, 5cl) makes painfully obvious why Glenmorangie ages it's whiskies in Bourbon casks. This one was a disappointment after the previous experiences. The sherry overwhelms the trademark 'Morangie complexity, and adding water doesn't help a bit. Unbalanced. My brother described it well when he said the different aroma- and taste-components seemed antagonistic. We agreed on a temporary 75 points - and that was just because we were feeling generous.

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Log Entry # 8  -  November 7, 1997
Topic:  Reinier Tasting

Major tasting at the beautiful home of Reinier Schaper, a colleague. As the result of a slight case of sinusitis I was temporarily 'nasally challenged', which broke my heart when I saw the wonderful collection of malts over the host's fireplace.

We started off with a Mortlach 16yo (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, 70cl) which had a truly wonderful aroma that reminded of rum. Perhaps a little too much sherry for my taste, definitely too dry. Adding water is a mistake. The wonderful complexity deserved a preliminary score of 81 points - almost as good as the Gordon & MacPhail 1969 bottling I tasted for my birthday this year (see log entry #2).

In my weakened condition I wasn't fully able to enjoy the subtleties of the Macallan 18yo (43%, OB, 70cl).  The overwhelming sweetness was unmistakable though. A very long aftertaste that keeps fooling around with your tongue. Oaky with hints of currants? Very "round" and a fine structure; perfect balance. Very different in character from the 10 and 12 year old versions I've tasted before. Sadly, I forgot to check the vintage. I'll give it 89 or 90 provisional points, which would put it at nr. 3 or 4 in my personal hitlist. Of course, such matters can't be decided in a whim, so I suppose I'll have to sell a kidney or something so buy myself a big bottle.

After a Chinese meal we continued with a large helping of the Bowmore 12yo (43%, OB, 70cl) I brought. Although it recently dropped off my Top 10, I still like it a lot and consider it an old friend. The Bowmore 12 is very distinctive; it's the most sherried Islay I know. The fine balance between Islay roughness and sherry sweetness (just a little) make this one of the most accessible Islays. The Frank Zappa album the host was playing at that point of the evening didn't really enhance the tasting-experience.

Next on our list was the Chivas "100" Century of Malts. Absolutely the best vatted malt I ever tasted, containing 100 different single malts (according to the label, that is...). Very nice and a provisional score of 72. The bottle comes with a little booklet detailing the 100 malts. I tasted only about a quarter of them, and to be honest I didn't recognise any of them in the blend.

After a glass of my other contribution, Bunnahabhain 12yo (40%, OB, 70cl) we finished with the Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish (43%, OB, 70cl), which lost a point and deserved a definite rating of 84 points. It was a shame we didn't get to the Glengoyne 12yo straight from the distillery that Adwy, the host of the April '97 session had brought with him from Scotland. He later said he considered the Mortlach 16 to be the best malt of the evening. The guy may have gotten over his inexplicable fondness of Dalwhinnie, but I still have some doubts regarding the clearness of his judgement... 
Nevertheless, I think this has been one of the best tastings of my life, pointwise.

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Log Entry # 9  -  December 15, 1997
Topic:  World-wide Tasting

Nice and quiet tasting at home with just me, myself and I (and Steely Dan's 'Aja' in the background). Because of my expected Christmas bonus I needed some shelf-space, so I decided to finish some nearly empty bottles.

I started with the last glass from a bottle of Jameson 12yo (40%, Irish blend, 70cl) I received over a year ago as a gift. I like most Irish whiskies, but I feel they can't possibly be compared to the less compromising and more complex single malt scotch whiskies. I tried very hard to capture the fainter accents, but failed. This one is certainly rather complex for an Irish blend. Much more subtle than the "ordinary" Jameson blend, almost reminded me of bourbon at one point or another. A very pleasant and soft taste. Characteristically Irish, very nice but only 56 points due to lack of character.

Next up was a Suntory Kakubin NAS (40%, Japanese blend, 70cl). Japanese whisky - the concept keeps amazing me. I'm sorry the bottle's empty because it had a nice curiosity-value in my collection. The age-statement was in Japanese, so I didn't know the age. It cost me about U$ 25.- so it can't have been very old. I actually like this one quite a lot, although it's completely different from Scotch of Irish blends. Very subtle, flowery with some hints of grain and honey. A very soft taste with some apple-like accents that reminded me of a young calvados. The tasted seemed to "cling" a bit in my mouth; 65 points.

I decided to turn my attention to Scotland for the rest of the evening. My next choice was the Blairmhor 8yo (40%, vatted malt, 70cl). A vatted malt is a "blend" of only malt whiskies - and therefor contains NO grain whiskies at all. It isn't very big on aroma. Maybe some chloride and chocolate? The taste, on the other hand, is very nice. Not complex, but pleasant, sweet and warm. The aftertaste is very long for a vatted malt.
Score = 43 points, which means this is one of the few vatted malts that actually score more points than the worst single malt on my list; Drumguish 3yo.

Three bottles empty, two more to go. (And the soft notes of Donald Fagen's 'The Nightfly' help in the digestive process.) The Strathglen 12yo, (40%, vatted malt, 70cl) only carries some complexity in its nose when you add a big gulp of water. The taste isn't very interesting; rather bland actually. Sharp, short aftertaste.
39 points; a real disappointment when you consider the age. The lesser said the better.

The last glass from the last bottle was the absolute winner of the evening; Laphroaig 10yo (43%, OB, 70cl) This was my third bottle and I'm quite sure before long there will be a fourth one to fill it's place in my 'steady stock'. The overpowering aroma of iodine gives this malt an unique quality. A 'medicinal' smell mixed with just a hint of sourness. It's also remarkable because of it's fondness of water - every drop changes the aroma, very subtle when you go beyond the initial blast in your face. The taste is very dry and salty; more "Islay" than Islay itself. I'm usually pretty sure about my scores after I drank a bottle of a certain single malt (Never an entire bottle in one single tasting, mind you!), but this one keeps me in constant doubt. One day I think the score on my hitlist ( 84 points) was too gracious, the next I think it should be in my top five. Everybody should try this one at least once in their lives; it's one of the most extreme malts I know.

O.K. - it's now almost one year after I started my mission.
Tonight's tasting has cleared some much needed shelf space for a couple of new aquisitions.
Needless to say, they will all be single malts.

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