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Malt Maniacs #6

Scotch On The Rock 
E-pistle #06/01 - by
Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada
After last year's African safari Davin travelled to a place much more hospitable for Islay lovers: Newfoundland. Davin paints a pretty picture of the 'couleur locale' while examining the Rutherford's range of bastard malts. A darned good read.

Laphroaig & MaltMadness - An Epiphany
E-pistle #06/02 - by
Mark Adams, USA
A clear recollection of a blurry introduction to single malt.

An Evening with John Hansel
E-pistle #06/03 - by
Louis Perlman, USA
On January 27th 2003 John Hansel hosted a tasting session in New York. American correspondent Louis Perlman reports on a tasting session with many obscure single malts.

Hot & Heavy In The Cold of Winter 
E-pistle #06/04 - by
Serge Valentin, France
Serge Valentin and Olivier Humbrecht decided to explore the topic of 'independent bottlers'. Their investigations started in February with a dozen single malts bottled by Cadenhead, Douglas Laing and James McArthur. 

Sherry Monster Report 
E-pistle #06/05 - by
Michael Wade, USA
Michael reports on a February tasting session with a bunch of sherry monsters - including the infamous 'orange goblin'.

The Signatory Signature 
E-pistle #06/06 - by
Serge Valentin, France
The second part of Serge's research of independent bottlings focussed on 20 single malts bottled by Signatory Vintage.

Three Little Ones from Islay  
E-pistle #06/07 - by
Klaus Everding, Germany
Klaus comments on three Islay samples.

Murray McDavid, My Mission
E-pistle #06/08 - by
Serge Valentin, France
Serge had to fly solo during the third flight of independents. This time the object of his affection was Murray McDavid.

Independents Day  
E-pistle #06/09 - by
Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
Serge inspired me to write a few independent words and drink a few independent drams as well. Just a few, mind you!
Includes an overview of the main independent bottlers.

Rationalising My Mania
E-pistle #06/10 - by
Serge Valentin, France
Every maniac reaches a point where he has to rationalise his drinking collection. Serge shares some thoughts on the problems that a whisky 'collector' has to deal with. 

Independents Day II 
E-pistle #06/11 - by
Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
I needed to get something else off my chest... 

Pandora III Transcript 
E-pistle #06/12 - by
Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland
The 'Pandora Project' is in full swing. Klaus, Michael and Mark all received a package with six 'blind' samples. Their task: spot the Lowlander hidden between five Speysiders.
Let me assure you that's not as easy as it sounds...

Previous Issue of Malt Maniacs

Malt Maniacs #6  -  April 1, 2003

Welcome to Malt Maniacs #6 - with a suitable image of some sexy Scottish sheep to get you into the mood.

It's springtime; the start of a new malt year.
That seems like the perfect time to break with a short-lived tradition: 'opening' every issue of MM with an interview with a 'whisky celebrity'. Don't worry, we'll still include interviews in upcoming issues of MM - but they will be mixed in with the 'regular' E-pistles and published as soon as they're finished.

The last E-pistle of MM#6 is a transcript of our third 'Pandora' JOLT. Klaus Everding, Michael Wade and Mark Adams received a 'Pandora's Box'. The box contained six mystery malts. The maniacs task was a lot harder than it sounds: 'Spot the Lowlander inbetween five sherried Speysiders'. Check out the transcript for details.

That's it for now - enjoy!

Johannes 

E-pistle #06/01 - Scotch On The Rock
by
Davin de Kergommeaux, Canada

It's bitterly cold here on this little island in the North Atlantic, by choice more Scottish than Canadian. 
Celtic bands sing homegrown sea shanties every night, in every bar on George Street and environs, well, the whole damn rock as far as one can tell.  "The Rock"  that's what we Canadians, locals and those from away alike, call Newfoundland.

The drink here is rum.  The liquor store has more sorts of it than I've seen anywhere, and there's a special variety called "Screech."  Newfie Screech is what all the tourists want, and to be screeched in and become an honorary Newfie is de rigeur.   It's a charmingly humiliating ceremony, held always in a bar, where following three shots of screech and many oaths it culminates with the inductee kissing the "arse" of either a puffin or a cod fish.  I must admit, some years back I did let Captain John screech me in and I can still remember the feathers tickling my nose as I did the final deed.

It's whisky though tickles my fancy tonight.  Four little crocks of single malt from Rutherford's.  I haven't really heard of these guys before, so know not what to expect, but the crocks are so pretty.  There are four in a set, an Islay, a Lowland, a Highland and a Campbeltown and each is decorated with a picture of Scottish game birds.  Pottery birds are sort of a theme in our home, so if worse comes to worst, they'll make cute little knicknacks.  And, if the packaging means anything, well, worse just might come to worst, for the Islay label is on the crock with the Campbeltown woodcocks and the Cambeltown is in the crock with the Islay pheasant.  Anyway I'll drink one a night while I'm here on The Rock and give them the benefit of the doubt until tasted.  It's a cold Monday night in January and I'll start tonight with the Lowland.  A 14yo in a beige crock with an emerald green top, and decorated with a lovely full-coloured picture of Hungarian Partridges.

Rutherford's 14yo Lowland single malt (40%, Rutherford's Game Birds - Hungarian Partridge)
Colour:  Rich apple juice.
Nose:  Dusty, like the dustiness I remember from Johnnie Walker Red of the 1960's.  JWR doesn't have that dust any more, but I've found it again here in this whisky.  Apple cider.  Fresh and mildly malty with some really strong pipe tobacco.  A wooly sweater.  Dried fruit.  No sign of a puffin's arse here - there's no nose tickle, not even a tingle.
Palate:  Slightly sweet, then spicy.  Becomes slightly woody.  The spice lasts a bit and is fairly hot, especially in the back of the mouth, but most everything else fades away very quickly.  After a couple of minutes it gives your mouth the same feeling you got as a school kid chewing too long on a plastic ballpoint pen barrel.  In a large mouthful, the spice is hot and dominating and has a black peppery flavour, but it's not as nice as, say, the Talisker pepper as it lacks any offsetting contrasts.  It seems to get hotter with each sip.  After three or four an undeveloped pine pitch hints its way across your tongue, then disappears.  The feel of pine pitch does several reprises though and becomes more and less bitter, in waves.
Finish:  Most of it fades within a minute, but there's a not unpleasant woody, plastic glow that remains for several more.
For long afterwards your teeth feel shiny.
Empty Glass:  Sour mash with some fresh clean barn smell.  Grain or chicken feed and a hint of ash.
Score:  72 points.

Tuesday night and it's still frigid outside.  This should be an Islay evening, but I'm saving that for last, so will crack open the Campbeltown crock tonight.  Newfoundland's climate, thank goodness, is moderated by the sea.  Thank goodness yes, because otherwise it would be uninhabitable.  They're amateurs when it comes to snow removal though.  Driving back to the hotel I pass dozens of driveways with the snow piled so high, I can't imagine how they threw it up there, but the lanes are left so narrow, the door handles must scrape on both sides of the car as people pull up to their houses.  The sidewalks are treacherous and I wonder if they've ever been properly cleared.  Anyway, I'm safe and warm now, and off for a tour of Campbeltown.

Rutherford's 10yo Campbeltown single malt (40%, Rutherford's Game Birds - Woodcock)
Colour:  Again, it looks like rich apple juice.
Nose:  Grassy, malty with a real overtone of pink cotton candy.  Strawberries.  Mild esters.
Palate:  Sweet, kind of watery and a bit bitter.  A bit of spice; warm but not that hot.  There's some wood in there as well.  A real chemical taste and a dry bitterness.  Nice smooth mouth feel despite the dry-like flavour.  An unusual stale grassiness.
Finish:  Medium to short.  Malty.
Empty Glass:  A mild hint of malt and dried spit, but nothing much really.
Score:  74 points.

When in St. John's, I make a point of climbing Signal Hill.  It's the site of the first transatlantic wireless transmission (sorry Massachusetts, you and Marconi came years later), set high above the entrance to St. John's harbour.  The view to sea is spectacular, as is looking back across the city.  Usually I walk it, but in this bitter winter, I won't venture even a drive.  On a summer's day, however, it's good exercise and I remember one splendid Sunday, over the hill and out of sight of the city, eating blueberries right off the bush until I could hold no more, then walking a cliff-side path to view a massive iceberg decaying on a stony beach.  The icebergs here are legendary for their spectacular size and beauty.  One local entrepreneur has even taken to bottling their water, laid down as snow long before the first burning of fossil fuels, and still as pristine as we imagine those long-ago times.  I'd like to try it with whisky, but these 40% abv Rutherford's need no dilution.

Rutherford's 12yo Highland single malt (40%, Rutherford's Game Birds - Blackcock)
Colour:  So far they are all about the same - apple juice.
Nose:  Nice grassy malt with a hint of honey.  Just the mildest nose tickle. 
Breathing deep some spirit and esters.  Fresh cut grass. 
Palate:  Slightly sweet but a bit chemically.  Some spice on the second sip.  From a sherry cask I'd guess. 
Again, the heat and feel of chewed plastic.  A little dried fruit.
Finish:  Spicy and plasticy
Empty Glass:  A really pleasant, strong, musty, Glemorangie 10-ish, buckwheat honey.
Score:  75 points.

I'm still thinking about the icebergs, and the frigid winds outside.  These Newfies are a rugged lot.  More rugged than the first groups of European settlers who landed here over a thousand years ago to establish a settlement.  Yes, more than 500 years before Christopher Columbus was born, Vikings arrived and began to build homes here in Newfoundland.  The bountiful fishery sustained them and they made an honest try of it, but eventually gave up.   They found Iceland more hospitable. It's Thursday and I'm heading home too, but not without a celebratory dram, this time Rutherford's Islay.  I wonder how the Vikings toasted their own departure.

Rutherford's 10yo Islay single malt (40%, Rutherford's Game Birds - Pheasant)
Colour:  Just a hair more amber than the other three.  Apple juice still, but this is Allen's apple juice in the blue can.
Nose:  Strong peat, brine and oily animal smells.  A sweetness accompanied by a small bit of nose tickle. 
There is a sweet, fruity dustiness, rotting fruit really.  Some hint of spirit.
Palate:  Earthy, muddy, spicy, peat.  An odd metallicness develops in the middle. 
Not the best casks me thinks, but this is definitely the best of the four Rutherford's. 
A sherry casked Islay but not as complex as many I've tasted before.
Finish:  Longish, but disappointingly short for an Islay.  Nice and peaty, but it lacks the licorice I was expecting.
Could kiss my wife goodnight tonight and she wouldn't even know I'd been drinking.
Empty Glass: Very, very antiseptic.  Like a freshly cleaned hospital room.  In the background some wet earth.
Score:  77 points.

Davin
 

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E-pistle #06/02 - Laphroaig & MaltMadness - An Epiphany
by
Mark Adams, USA

My Clear Recollection of a Blurry Introduction to Single Malt.

While I was stumbling around some sticky whisky websites late one night, I happened upon something interesting at maltmadness.com. Johannes had dropped the bait (meta tags), and I was lured in. Indeed, I was trapped. I could move a bit this way and that, through his malt mileage, into the black book, even into various reports. But, *leave* ... I could not. Johannes and his truly diabolical diatribe on drinking daily double drams did its duty, dealing me the deuce of death, malt madness. Finally I broke free, but then I made nightly visits. You've probably done the same. You don't even feel it pulling you in, it just happens.

But, Johannes can't be faulted entirely. Single malt whisky sings its own siren song, the song it sang to me one night in the California coastal town of Soquel, in the summer of 2000. A friend I was visiting offered me a drink ... asked me if I like scotch ... I thought I knew what that meant, so I said yes ... he asked if I liked 'eye-luh' ... w-what? ... Never mind, he said, try this ... It was a dark green bottle with a white label, and bore a name that I stumbled over ... it was Laphroaig 10yo. Now it was getting interesting!
A name I hadn't seen before, and ... wow! ... that smell! My friend 'Bill' (he'll get no protection from me -- his real name is Bill) had pulled the cork and was contemplating what must have been the last few drops before pouring us a couple drams. He gave me the entire remains of the bottle, and I began to sense a curtain of guilt closing around me. Bill disappeared into his pantry, and returned with a full bottle of Laphroaig. I had never seen a bottle of single malt in someone's home before, yet alone a replacement bottle! 'Why the surprise?' he asked.  'I buy this stuff by the case.' And, he does. His grin was large, and he knew that I was a goner. I had two long swallows of the 'Phroaig before he returned, and I was about to take the last of it, now that I knew there was more. Bill and I contemplated many things during my introduction to Laphroaig, Islay, peat, and single malts in general, that night. Someday I'll visit Bill and introduce him to some other beauties; but, for now, Bill is a Laphroaig man, and either a good friend, or an absolute maniac for doing this to me!

Aside my love of single malts, I am an operatic tenor, freelance singer and conductor, cantor, and a concerts promoter (classical music). I was always around music while growing up, but it was while living in Alaska (my high school years) that I decided to get serious about singing. I have worked some at logging, during which time I was living on a float-camp anchored to an unnamed island two miles away from the nearest settlement, a Native American Indian village called Hydaburg (pop. 200), which was a 'dry town' -- no alcoholic beverages were to be sold or consumed. I really should be grateful that I experienced my first 'dry town' before I knew anything at all about single malts.

Thankfully, the San Francisco Bay Area has some decent shops which cater to single malt consumption. Mostly I window shop, though, eyeing a bottle for some weeks before deciding to go in for it. Occasionally someone will beat me to the punch, and get the damned thing before I can. Thanks to the folks at PLOWED (http://www.single-malt.com/cgi-bin/guestbook.cgi), I know that action to be called 'FoaFing'. The full, sad FoaF story can be read at Dr. Entropy's whisky website (http://www.smwhisky.com).
So, at least I am finding other maniacs with whom to share this burden that we all bear.
Johannes, and Bill -- gentlemen, you're on my list!

Mark Adams, MaltManiac, barely awake this chilly morning, 07 February 2003
 

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E-Epistle #06/03 - An Evening With John Hansel
by
Louis Perlman, USA 

On January 27th, John Hansel, publisher of The Malt Advocate, hosted a tasting session at d.b.a, located in the East Village in New York City. Since the day before was Super Bowl Sunday as well as my birthday, the timing was excellent, and the price was reasonable at $25. D.b.a. specializes in interesting beers, and also has a extensive single malt list. Whether you're visiting New York City or if you live in the Tri-State area and would like to try a place meant for people like us, look them up at www.drinkgoodstufff.com. Best of all, it's just a block and a half away from a subway station where I can get a train right from my office and my train home as well.

The purpose of the event was to sample 'rare cask malts' from John's 'private collection'. A little bit of clarification, though. As publisher of the Malt Advocate, John Hansel has accumulated over 1000 bottles. He realized that they were going to outlive him no matter how much whisky he could ever drink, so he decided to start bringing some along each time he hosted tasting events such as this one. It was made clear though, that rare meant not easily located, as opposed to very expensive.

The first dram poured was the Murray McDavid Lochside 18yo 1981. While waiting for the stragglers to show up, there was a discussion about casks. The Lochside for example, is from a refill sherry cask. However, the whisky is quite pale, so the cask is really not providing much here. Unless specified as first or second fill, the cask probably isn't going to be a major factor in the whisky's overall profile. While this seems kind of obvious, this kind of information is not always mentioned in the press, perhaps because it is indeed obvious.

Once everybody showed up, we began the tasting itself. It was very interesting go around the table with different people chiming in about various elements that they detected, as well as other bottlings of these distilleries that they had tasted. Bottled water was provided for dilution and palate clearing purposes, and since dram sizes were small, perhaps an ounce, I didn't get drunk like I did at Whiskyfest. So without any further ado, here is the lineup of malts that we sampled, and whatever I was able to make out from my notes:

Lochside 18yo 1981 (46%, Murray McDavid)
Distillery built in 1957, demolished in 1992, and produced mostly grain whisky.
Nice fruity nose, continuing on the palate. Definitely a coastal dram, with a touch of salt.
Also some dried peaches, or maybe apricots. A good daytime dram.

Alt A'Bhaine 18yo 1974/1993 (57.1%, Signatory Vintage)
Formerly owned by Seagrams, now Pernod Ricard. Intended for Chivas blends, currently mothballed.
Floral nose, even more so with water. Suggestions of shortbread on the palate, and very dry.
A middle of the road dram, and probably an aperitif.

Dufftown 11yo 1982 (60%, Glenhaven)
Similar to the Alt A'Bhaine, nothing terribly exciting.

Benriness 18yo (55.3%, Cadenhead, bottled in the late 80's)
Distillery owned by UDV, used in Johnnie Walker blends. One the earliest Cadenheads, with a brown bottle and screw cap. But a much different dram from the previous two. Nice and dark, with an obviously sherried nose. But on the palate, it turned out to be a very dry sherry. Also some Aberlour-like spiciness. A real winner here.

Ardmore 18yo 1979/1995 (60.2%, Glenhaven)
Owned by Allied Distillers, used in the Teachers blend. This distillery is always mentioned by Jim Murray as a great, undiscovered Speyside, We found a perfumy nose, and a wisp of smoke on the finish, With water, there was a dry, creamy maltiness on palate, along with some dry honey. Much lighter than expected, as JM refers to Ardmore as a heavy dram.

Craigellachie 15yo 1982 (62.7%, Scott's Selection)
Talk about luck. Out of the gazillion whiskies ever bottled in Scotland, John has more than 1000, and he brings one that I actually have at home! Need plenty of water with this one. The general profile is fruity, with a good dose of oak. I've never liked it much (and neither does Michael Jackson), but it gets better when watered down to standard strength. At least I got this much out if it, as I had never bothered to go down that low at home.

Balmenach 18yo 1979/1997 (60.2%, Scott's Selection) - Onwed by UDV.
Heather nose. Like a lighter Highland Park on the palate, and some maltiness. Some people thought they detected some sherry, but I doubt it as Scott's Selections are mostly not, and they always mention it when they are. Definitely needed a lot of water.

Conclusion: While these were not of the great drams, the session was very informative for me.
The best by overall consensus were the Benriness and Lochside. The next group consisted of the Ardmore and Balmenach, then the Alt A'Bhaine and Dufftown, with the Craigellachie bringing up the rear. I had previously tried the Lochside, but it was in Las Vegas two years ago, and I had just had a bunch of Ardbeg's and Brora's before the Lochside. This time, it made a much better impression leading off. I also can now cross off Alt A'Bhaine, Dufftown, and Balmenach from my list of distilleries that I haven't sampled yet.

Finally, some other notes on recent samplings;

Talisker 21yo 1979/2001 (48.8%, Caledonian Selection) vs Talisker 20yo 1982/2002 'Tactical' (50%, Old Malt Cask).
My bottle of the standard Talisker 10yo has been languishing in the back up my cabinet for some time now, mostly due lack of independent bottlings to drink along with. In late 2001, I found the Caledonian, and snapped it up, even at a bit over $100. Back in Las Vegas in 1/2001, I sampled an Old Malt Cask Tactical 19yo, which is really a Talisker. The Douglas Laing folks are blenders, which gives them access to a wide variety of casks, but United Distillers doesn't like to see independent bottlings of their distilleries. To stay in UDV's good graces, the Old Malt Cask Taliskers are dubbed Tacticals, even with 'Skye' mentioned on the bottle. Let's see now, which are the other distilleries on Skye? Much to my disappointment, no Tactical was brought over to the US until recently, but a local dealer bought half a cask, so I picked on up. Best of all, the price was only $65, although it was a sherry cask version, rather than the bourbon cask that I had previously tried.

Since Klaus has declared February to be Talisker month, I decided to open the Tactical, and compare it with the previously opened but not reported on Caledonian, and the standard 10. Intense malts like Talisker mellow with age. The previous Tactical wasn't quite Scottish rocket fuel, but it had medium intesnsity peaty explosion of warmth, in a very pleasant way. The Caledonian Selection was close, but my somewhat distant recollection is that it was a bit mellower than the old Tactical. My new Tactical was another story altogether. Quite simply, it was a Talisker sherry monster, with any sort of intensity struggling to get noticed underneath the sherry. My wife, who thinks that peat is a four letter word, liked it very much, and that pretty much tells the story. If things change with break-in, I'll let you know, but beware of sherry cask Tacticals. But now for the best news of all. The 10 year old gives up nothing to the much more expensive older bottlings. At 45.8% ABV, it is minimally filtered, and the intensity is what Talisker is all about. My recomendation is to see if you can get hold of the 12 or 20 year old OB cask strength bottlings sold in Europe, but your money is better spent on something else instead of older Talisker independents. If you've got $200 for the new 25, then go for it, but we're in totally different territory with the 25.

Campbletown Loch 25yo (43%, OB)
Yes, another blend, but this has nothing to do with my previous survey.
You'll understand, because: 'The Blend is composed of roughly 70% malt, and 30% grain whiskies.
The Grain Whiskies include: Invergordon 1977 (the youngest of the group), the legendary Dumbarton 1962, and Lochside 1962. The Malts include: Springbank 1969, Glenfarclas 1970, Balvenie 1968, Tamdhu 1971, Ardbeg 1969, and Glenlivet 1972.'

Not too shabby. And now for the best part. I showed this to my wife, and asked here how much she thought it should cost. $150 was her answer. Drop the '1', was my reply. That's right, a mere $50 for all of these great whiskies. You could pay that much for a miniature of some of them. The color is medium amber, and the nose is perfumy (but not FWP). Body is nice and firm for 40%. The taste is middle of the road, no peat in evidence, but not sherried either. I detect something like glazed citrus fruit. At times, I think I can detect the Springbank, and perhaps Balvenie and Tamdhu contributions.
A great dram, and NOTHING comes close for this kind on money - I bought 3 bottles.

Louis
 

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E-pistle #06/04 - Hot & Heavy In The Cold of Winter ...
by
Serge Valentin, France  

February 6th… It's very cold outside… -10°C or so… the roofs are white…
The storks on the old belfry opposite my house dig their heads deep into their black and white feathers…
It's 7 p.m., and Turckheim's little paved streets are empty. Everybody's snug and warm at home, maybe sipping some traditional Alsacian eau de vie, or perhaps some mulled wine… But friend Olivier and I decided to go for another kind of warming method: tasting a bunch of very special cask strength whiskies. Cask strength? Well, not exactly, as we tasted a few Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask as well. I had composed the menu before, and after careful thinking, here're the malts I decided to line up:

Flight #1: Four 'old young' Cadenhead's bottlings.
Don't rush out to try to put your hands on some of these; they aren't available anymore since… well, quite a lot of time! But this was a great occasion to check whether the good old times were that good… The candidates were:
- Glenglassaugh 13yo 1977/1991 (59.8%, Cad)
- Pittyvaich-Glenlivet 13yo 1977/1991 (58.4%, Cad)
- Bowmore 11yo 1979/1990 (58.4%, Cad)
- Caol Ila 12yo 1978/1990 (65.5%, Cad)

Flight #2: Five brand new OMC malts.
I never, ever had a bad OMC malt, but we'll see if we can put Douglas Laing on the wrong track this time:
- Dallas Dhu 21yo 1981/2002  (50%, OMC)
- Linlithgow 26yo 1975/2001 (50%, OMC)
- Millburn 34yo 1967/2002 (50%, OMC)
- Port Ellen 19yo 1982/2002 Sherry Finish (50%, OMC)
- Caol Ila 26yo 1974/2001 (50%, OMC)

Flight #3: Three new James MacArthur's Old Master's Cask Strength Selection (all from Speyside).
As with the Cadenhead's, all these malts' alcohol levels impressed us. Almost 60% for a malt that's 25 years old (Glenlivet JmcA), or even 65.5% for a 12 years old Caol Ila (Cadenhead's)… These must have been put into the cask at 70% vol. or more! Anyway, the three MacArthur's were:
- Longmorn 25yo 1976/2001(54.7%, JmcA)
- Glenlivet 25 yo 1976/2001 (59.9%, JmcA)
- Glen Grant 31yo 1969/2001 (57.1%, JmcA)

Time to proceed now with the 'old young' Cadenhead's. We decided to go for the Glenglassaugh first, as it was much lighter in colour than the Pittyvaich. The Islayers were to be sipped at the end of each flight, as we always observed that it's impossible to taste seriously any other malt after a peat monster, except. another peat monster, of course. That just makes me think of a Brora that sent an Ardbeg back too 'the school of peat' during one my latest tasting sessions… And oh, just about Brora, I'll tell you later about a very special head to head tasting session of two old Broras I had at Olivier's place a while ago…But let's go back to the…

Glenglassaugh 13yo 1977/1991 (59.8%, Cad). Johannes just sent me a sample of the 1973 'Family Silver' (great, no need to open the bottle that's on my shelves), and I'll compare it with the Cadenhead's in the near future. Anyway, Glenglassaugh has been mothballed in 1986, and it's not easy to get one to make it onto the tasting table. Colour: pale straw.
First nosing: warming, but not overpowering. Elegant aromas, lemon and fresh fruit, but all these vanish after only a minute…
Second nosing: very malty, lots of wood. What we call 'wood plank', very typical in many 'industrial' red wines.
Mouth: wood, wood and wood. Even the alcohol's masked by the wood.
Finish: medium and… wood.
In short, that one is of very limited interest - 70 points. I wouldn't say it's undrinkable, but what was the use of bottling it as a single cask whisky? There's no distillery character here, but did Glenglassaugh show some? Maybe the 1973 Family Silver will tell us later… Oh, by the way, I won't draw a complete 'Chinese portrait' of each malt, but let's say that if that one were to be a song, it would have been Woody Wood Pecker's Theme, of course. Time to go for the other 'old new' Speysider now…

Pittyvaich-Glenlivet 13yo 1977/1991 (58.4%, Cad). Pittyvaich's life has been very short: only twenty years, from 1975 to 1995. It was an annex of the Dufftown distillery, and said to be an 'experimental' distillery. Many said that Pittyvaich's mothballing, and then dismantling weren't a pity. Oh yeah? Not that sure… Colour: amber.
First nosing: powerful, lots of sherry
Second nosing: oh, very nice! Very elegant sherry – no third class winey notes here.
Wood, maple sugar, barley sugar (obviously), coffee.
Mouth: powerful and sweet, with some nice bitterness.
Sherry, typical old nut aromas, wood, black toffee. Very, very good, bold and rich.
Finish: long and developing
One of the best heavily sherried malts I had, a genuine masterpiece. Majestic and powerful, I think this is a great example of an outstanding first-fill cask (no doubt) having been carefully selected among an ocean of average-quality casks. This is exactly what we're expecting from an independent bottler. But what song would it be? Oh yes, 'Golden Years' by David Bowie! 90 points.
Okay, let's shift to the two Islayers, and let's start with the Bowmore…

Bowmore 11yo 1979/1990 (58.4%, Cad). As always when we taste a Bowmore that's not an OB, we don't really know what we should wait for. You could get anything from a peaty puncher to a gentle Speyside-like malt. Let's check that one… Colour: straw.
First nosing: tingling – and yes, there's some peat…
Second nosing: this one shows two dimensions. First, quite a lot of peat but very elegant, not the kind of 'one-dimensional' peat, see what I mean. Camphor, resin, wet natural wool (from Islay sheep, of course). Secondly, quite a wide array of flowery (lilac, geranium) and fruity (white melon, cooked apple) notes. Very nice!
Mouth: Same range of flavours, but the peat is predominant this time. Complex, refined and rich.
Finish: long, showing fruity and peaty notes alternatively.
In short, a very nice, refined and elegant Bowmore, although not an outstanding one.
Its song could be 'My Old Man' by Joni Mitchell. 83 points. Time to check whether the Caol Ila's in the same vein now…

Caol Ila 12yo 1978/1990 (65.5%, Cad). Yep, 65.5% for a 12yo! I couldn't help doing a little maths.
The average angel's share being 2% alcohol a year, that one must have been put into its cask at… 83.4% vol. I know, it's impossible… Anyway, it must have been stored in a very hot or, at least, dry place. Or maybe, just under a central Scotland's warehouse's roof, on the tenth row…Okay, enough second-class physics, let's taste it… Colour: pale straw.
First nosing: ouch, overpowering! There sure is a lot of alcohol in there!
Second nosing: a lot of smoke, iodine, smoked tea, freshly cut hay, fern. Very clean and straightforward.
Mouth: Really powerful. Lots of peat and smoke, and over-ripe apple.
Much in the style of a good Port Ellen, just no burnt tyre flavours.
Finish: long and peaty, as anybody would have expected.
Guess what, we could even taste it straight, although it developed better with a few drops of water. A whisky for peat-heads, no doubt, and if it were a song, well, let's say it would be 'Smoke on the water' by Deep Purple (I hate that song, but I couldn't find a better one to symbolise that high-grade Caol Ila experience). 89 points.

Now, we're finished with this first flight. All I can say is that Cadenhead's did a pretty good job. They were almost the only IBs who did bottle at cask strength at that time (and who did not filter the whiskies), if I remember correctly, and even if the Glenglassaugh was somewhat uninteresting, the three other malts were absolutely great. Now, one of my dreams is to put my hands on some Talisker and Ardbeg they did bottle under the name of 'Duthie's' at that time. Some say they were state of the art… But why didn't I buy a bunch of these when they were still available? Yeah, as we say here: "You always regret what you didn't do, never what you did!" All right, that was the minute of cheap philosophy. Why not have a few OMCs now?

I never happened to taste a really bad Douglas Laing's Old Malt Cask (same with Murray McDavid or Adelphi), and they even bottled a bunch of absolute blue chips like the Rosebank I tasted during my latest Lowland session. Never to sell more than 10 to 20 malts at the same time may prove to be the best strategy for an independent bottler, quality-wise. Anyway, while we all know the very 'hype' Ardbegs OMC, some other more obscure bottlings are said to be quite stellar as well. Time to check whether that's true or not now… And why not start with the…

Dallas Dhu 21yo 1981/2002  (50%, OMC).
I never happened to taste an excellent Dallas Dhu, and while Craig seems to have sipped quite a lot of the old G&M 'official' bottlings, I had only one, and I haven't been thrilled in any way. I've got two or three UDRMs in my reserve stock, but they remain unopened. I don't know why, but every time I choose a new bottle to open, my hands shift towards my Brora, Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Port Ellen shelves. Must be a disease…Okay, I'm digressing now. Let's comment on that Dallas Dhu! By the way, no, it wasn't produced in Dallas, Texas, as one my neighbours' wife asked me once (she's charming, still). Colour: pale straw.
First nosing: powerful, spirity
Second nosing: alcohol, wood and beer (mash), nothing more. No serious flaw, sure, but it's not very interesting, to say the least… A few drops of water just make it even more bland.
Mouth: cereals, wood (relatively fine wood, says winemaker Olivier), spirit, wax-polish, dry and bitter, quite simple. Pale ale.
Finish: medium-long, showing no further development.
Well, I won't tell you it's bad malt, but it's just uninteresting. If Dallas Dhu wasn't a closed distillery, I guess that one would have never been bottled as a single cask malt. A song? Let's say 'Bitter Green', by Gordon Lightfoot. 76 points . Let's have the Linlithgow now…

Linlithgow 26yo 1975/2001 (50%, OMC). Or St. Magdalene, if you prefer. A St. Magdalene that will match Johannes' beloved UDRM 19yo is still to be found. Maybe this one? What's sure is that St. Magdalene did produce the most complex Lowlanders I've ever tasted, and that they seem to age particularly well. Colour: straw.
First nosing: warming, and already very complex.
Second nosing: yes, beautifully complex. Lots of cereals, barley, mashed potatoes and some very fine vegetal notes.
Fresh liquorice, celery, radish, French beans, and fresh coriander. Very interesting.
Mouth: almost the same array of flavours as the ones the UDRM 19yo shows, but the OMC just sings a little smaller.
Burnt cake, orange zest, celery, hints of smoke… Quite sweet and complex.
Finish: rather long.
In short, that's a very good St. Magdalene. It shows some various ranges of aromas and flavours, which makes it difficult to set up a style. Again, it's difficult to admit that Littlemill just continued to produce its bland malt for years after the beautiful St Magdalene got closed down. Oh yes, a song… Let's say '10,000 Angels' by Edie Brickell. Beautiful song.
And 86 points for the malt. Now, before we go for the two OMC Islayers, let's have the evening's senior whisky…

Millburn 34yo 1967/2002 (50%, OMC). As always, tasting a malt that's more than 30 years old can be a beautiful experience, but a frustrating one as well. Many old whiskies get too much woody notes, the latter overwhelming the malt's characteristics… Let's find out about this one! Colour: dark amber.
First nosing: warming and, guess what… lots of wood!
Second nosing: winey, sherry, neo-oxidisation, wood, wax-polish. "Cold old strong tea", says Olivier. Yes, the wood took more than its share here. Not that bad, but as for the mouth, we fear the worst is to happen…
Mouth: Oh, too bad! Very bitter and drying. Pencil-sharpener juice, as we say sometimes. Mainly wood and cocoa…
Thin and unbalanced… What we feared did happen.
Finish: short, only tannins and bitterness remain after a minute.
All right, that one is very typical of a malt's that's completely dominated by the wood. Alas, it's not even intellectually interesting. We wondered why DL did bottle that cask. "Because it's a 34yo single malt", said Olivier. He must be right… And if that Millburn were a song, I'd say it would be any tune from 'Charlie Parker with strings', where Parker's extraordinary sax playing is overwhelmed by dozens of violins. At least, you can still listen to Charlie, whereas that Millburn… well, you know what I mean… 71 points.
Now, are you ready for something completely different? Okay, let's taste the…

Port Ellen 19yo 1982/2002 Sherry Finish (50%, OMC).
That's the kind of bottling that I always hold in suspicion. Common, what's the use of finishing a Port Ellen in a sherry cask for 6 months? Was the malt that bland? Was it defective? It must have been, as I really can't find any other reason.
Anyway, even if sherry may mask a malt's flaws, I'm sure we'll find out when tasting it. Let's go… Colour: pure gold.
First nosing: powerful and very oily.
Second nosing: oh yeah! That's the Port Ellen we like. Peat, diesel oil, burnt tyre, smoke, smoked trout filet…
But no sherry at all. Just a very good and straightforward Port Ellen.
Mouth: Oily and heavy. Burnt cake, burnt tyre, smoke, salt, and a little chlorine. Very bold, rich and robust.
And, again, no sherry influence whatsoever. Great!
Finish: loooooooooooong!
All right, that 'sherry finished' statement on the label must have been a joke.
Or maybe a misprint, or they switched the labels with another bottling, or it was a 4th refill cask… Anyway, we have been more frightened than hurt. That one is a very good Port Ellen, not that far from the excellent UDRM 22yo 1978, just a little easier to drink. And if it were a song, it would be 'What's the Matter Here" by 10,000 Maniacs, of course! 90 points.
Okay, another OMC Islayer now…

Caol Ila 26yo 1974/2001 (50%, OMC). Again, a Caol Ila!
And again, a distillery that never disappoints us, except, perhaps, the odd 'Private Collection' G&M launched a while ago (again, some rather quick finishings: Cognac, calvados, port etc.) Frankly, we both feel this one's going to be just great… Colour: straw
First nosing: powerful, peaty, very nice
Second nosing: very complex. Peat, iodine, smoked tea (lapsang souchong), fresh mushrooms, vegetal humus, anise, liquorice, wild carrot (yeah), fennel, grass. In short, just great.
Mouth: powerful! Peat of course, burnt tyre, smoke, smoked tea, celery. Refined, rich and balanced, what more can I say?
Caol Ila's perhaps not as typical as Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Port Ellen, and this just prevents it from crossing the 90 pts Rubicon. So, let's rate it 89 points. And as for the song it could be… hey, why not 'Jump Jim Crow!' by Michelle Shocked?

Now, we're finished with the five OMCs. Some very, very good stuff, sure, but one uninteresting malt (the Dallas Dhu) and a 'mistake' (the Millburn), which are quite intriguing. I guess you just can't always bottle some great whiskies! And after all, both are pieces of history. It's already quite late here, and Olivier has to wake up at 5 a.m. tomorrow, to supervise a bottling operation of some of his 2002 wines. So, let's accelerate a little, and taste our three old Speysiders from James MacArthur's…

I don't know this bottler very well, I'm afraid. I bought a bunch of his bottlings on Islay, but they were in my suitcase that has been stolen by some f*****g Heathrow employees last year. Anyway, here we have three new ones, and I know Craig and Johannes tasted quite a few MacArthur's bottlings in the past, showing various results (ranging from 61 pts for a Glen Spey to 91 pts for a Caol Ila – that made it across the 90 pts border that time, apparently). The three JmcAs we've got this evening are Pernod/Chivas' three brothers, Longmorn, Glenlivet and Glen Grant. Could it have been more focused? And what about a little Longmorn to begin with?

Longmorn 25yo 1976/2001 (54.7%, JmcA). We were waiting for a heavily sherried whisky, but as soon as we opened the bottle and poured the first drops into our glasses, we found out that it wasn't! Colour: very pale straw.
First nosing: powerful, flowery
Second nosing: cereals and flowers, and not a single winey/sherried note. Cake and yeast, rose, lavender, violet and lily. Quite refined and elegant, but more surprising than really interesting.
Mouth: It just doesn't match the nose. Extremely powerful, which is astonishing considering its age. Spirity, banana, pear drops and wood. Again, no sherry notes at all. A few drops of water just kill the malt, making it completely bland. Too bad!
A second nosing confirms the very nice flowery notes that will prevent us from rating it too severely. Let's decide on 82 points. Alright, nothing special here, just a lot of power, and a song that could be 'Pain for Pleasure' by Sum 41 (Is that music? My son says so!). Let's not loose too much time, and taste its brother the Glenlivet.

Glenlivet 25 yo 1976/2001 (59.9%, JmcA). Again, an old malt with almost 60% vol. alcohol.
We're expecting a 'grand classique' with, again, lots of sherry… Let's find out: Colour: here it is! Deep amber…
First nosing: warming, dried fruit.
Second nosing: great! Sherry, of course, and a whole bunch of dried fruit: dried banana, dried currant, date, dried fig.
Swiss apricot brandy, quetsche eau de vie, fruit-stone, honey…
Mouth: powerful, the same aromas as the nose's shop up. How nice!
Finish: long and superb.
Yes, that one is really a classic. Glenlivet can be a great malt, and it's just extremely enjoyable. No need to tell you more than a song's name that will match the malt, I think: 'A Taste of Honey' by The Beatles. And a rating: 90 points.
And now, it's time to call it a day with the last MacArthur's malt: the Glen Grant.

Glen Grant 31yo 1969/2001 (57.1%, JmcA). Uh-oh… Another one that's older than 30!
Are we going to close the session with a looser? Maybe not, as Glen Grant's famous for its excellent old malts (and its awful young ones as well, I'm afraid). Anyway, time to find out… Colour: mahogany (yeah!).
First nosing: very warming, sherried.
Second nosing: sultanas, yeast (the sherry's one) and old nut (very typical with sherry).
Slightly sweet-sour but very refined, clove, cinnamon, caramel, white pepper. Just a great typically sherried nose (again, not the distasteful an cheap winey notes to be found in many quickly finished malts).
Mouth: hum, the wood's starting to take a bigger share, but the mouth is still beautiful. "You can almost feel the wood and the spirit fighting together in your mouth", said Olivier. Sure, the wood would have won if the whisky had been left in the cask for one or two more years. The guy who decided to bottle it at that time did just a great job!
Finish: long, but getting dryer and dryer, because of the tannins. Too bad, otherwise, it would have deserved 90 pts or more. Finally, maybe it stayed a little too long in the wood, and here again, "more is less". With a splash of water, we get some very nice honeyed aromas, exactly the same as the ones you smell when you enter an apiary. Okay, time to choose a rating for the Glen Grant, and it'll be 88 points. Oh yes, a song… Wait, Glen Grant is an underestimated and overlooked distillery, isn't it? Then, it'll be 'The More you Ignore me (the Closer I get)' by The Smith. Nice song from the 80's!

Now, I won't write a long and lyrical conclusion that would be boring, to say the least. All I can say is that when dealing with malt there's no dead cert. No bottler will bring out only good malts and no distillery will produce only bad malts (nor good malts, by the way). Hey, would have been too easy!

Oops, I almost forgot to tell you about that little H-t-H Brora tasting session we had earlier at Olivier's place. Well, in fact, we had tasted quite a few red wines just before with our wine club (Le Suf Club), but we couldn't help having two or three wee drams before closing the session, and we chose two Broras. I was very happy, because Olivier proposed to taste the new Brora 30yo (52.4%, OB) that's selling for almost 300 Euros at some places, 'against' the Brora 29yo 1972/2001 (59.5%, Douglas Laing Platinum Series 2nd release) of Maltmaniac fame, that sells for approx. half the price (well, a little more).

I won't describe the DLPS, as Johannes already wrote some nice lines about it in his Log entry # 123. What's more, its official MM rating is 94 pts (see the Matrix)! So, no need to say I was expecting approx. the same rating from the OB, as it's almost twice the price. Plus, I always wondered whether I should buy some, despite the more-than-heavy price.
But enough babble, here're my notes:

Brora 30yo 1972/2002 (52.4%, OB limited, 3,000 bottles)
Nose: it's exactly like if you'd vatted 50% Lagavulin 16yo and 50% Laphroaig 10yo.
Slightly sour, a lot of yeast, and a lot of peat, of course. Wonderful balance.
Mouth: again, very Islayish. Quite close to Laphroaig 30yo, but more pungent.
Burnt cake, pecan pie, candy sugar and pepper. It could as well have been a Port Ellen!
Finish: quite long of course. After a while, it becomes more Laphroaig-like.
It's extremely well crafted, and the balance is perfect. Maybe too perfect, because when we tasted the Platinum, we entered a different world. The latter is much purer, sharper, and more austere, while the OB is more easy, more commercial.
In short, you need no photograph. The OB is kind of a draught-horse, whereas the DLPS is a racehorse.
My rating for the OB: 88 points; for the DLPS: 93 points.

Now, to wrap all this up, I'd emphasize on that equine metaphor.
Vatted single malts are like draught-horses: kind, reliable, enjoyable and seldom to be caught out. Whereas single cask whiskies are like racehorses: often elegant and beautiful, but also unreliable and whimsical. Hum, take that for what it's worth…

Anyway, 14 malts tasted today. Not bad, isn't it?
And guess what: it's getting warmer…

Santé,

Serge
 

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E-pistle #06/05 - Sherry Monster Report
by
Michael Wade, USA  

February 20, 2003

The bitter cold winds lashed down on this frigid New England night. 
As I drove on, down the highway, lashed by winds and sub-zero temperatures; my mind kept dwelling on my destination; the Sherry Monsters Tasting.  Surely I would find solace in the golden nectar; a fine potion to take away my weariness and give me some warmth….  My anticipation was matched only by my sheer dread and abject horror when my mind dwelled on the parcel sitting on the seat next to me.  As I eyed it, a shiver crept up my spine and I turned the heater up.

As I pulled in, I noted the sheen of ice on the driveway; the mist rising as the snow melted and the fog rolled down the hill; it reminded me of the spring; standing above the burn at Lagavulin distillery; watching the cold water meet the steaming rocks, hot from the early season sun; throwing a mist. I managed to safely park my truck; and even more carefully secreted my secret package in my jacket pocket; with all the care of a man handling nitro-glycerin; for the liquid held in this neoprene bottle was equally as foul, and when opened and poured causes far more chaos and destruction.

I was met by a warm house, smiling faces, and a dram.  And what a dram to start.
Glen Grant 36yo 1964/2000 "Millennium Bottling" (52.6%, Cadenheads). Color: Squid ink, soy sauce
Nose: Heavy. Extremely complex; coffee, chocolate, ginger, vanilla, syrup.
Palate: Applewood, full on zest of sherry, burnt dark chocolates, caramel.
A hint of peat in the midpalate ending in a crescendo of candied fruits.
Finish: Slightly astringent, but long lasting
Comments:  What a way to start.  Definitely not for the "Sherry Shy".
One of the most heavily sherried malts I have ever tasted; definitely fits the theme.
Score: 89 points.

Now that I had started, and with such a bang, I could not stop.  Old friends surrounded me, as well as delicious food; but I could focus on nothing but the task at hand.  I knew once the package was unleashed, there would be no turning back.  In my jacket, from the grim parcel I felt a rumbling, a churning, and a primeval longing to escape.  I didn't have long.  I set about my task with a fervor.

Caperdonich 19yo 1977/1996 (57.7%, Cadenhead's). Color: Copper
Nose: Pears, ozone, raisins, dried apricot left in the sun.
Palate: Dark fruits, raisin is confirmed; slightly fiery on the midpalate and the sherry bites in finally in the end.
Finish:  Short but very sweet
Comments:  Not a monster, definitely sherried. 
My first Caperdonich, very fruity and pleasant, but not worth seeking out in this now long gone bottling.
Score: 72 points .

Macallan NAS 'Cask Strength' (58/6%, OB, USA Bottling). Color: Reddish gold
Nose: Cinnamon and nutmeg spices, sugared candies, chocolate pudding, figs and minty essential oils.
Palate:  Slightly smoky, the zest of sherry mingles well with the oak, grape skins and a pleasant mild surge of oak in the end.
Finish: Long and hot
Comments:  Yum Yum Yum.  This is quite excellent, and the price of ~$50 US cannot be beat. 
A suitable replacement for the 15yo.  I'll be sure to stock up on this one.
Score: 88 points.

Time and the haze of alcohol were getting to me.   Although only on my third dram, I was wavering.  Time was running out.  I needed food in my system to soak up some of this glorious amber dew.  I visited the tables; and found hand smoked salmon at the ready; accompanied by an olive medley.  I supplemented this with hearty servings of crackers and 4 types of cheese.  I silently wolfed down the food; looking into each guests eyes with pity as I resolved my fate.  Before the night ended it would all be done, there would be no stopping me.  My plan was nearly complete.

With a full belly, and grim determination, I quickly subdued three more drams.

Macallan Cask Strength 1980/2001 "To Pour Further" "Smoother and Stronger" Cask #4663 (59.3%, OB)
Color: Reddish purple gold
Nose: Date, raisin, orange, bitter cooking cocoa, slightly rubbery.  Aftera few minutes, intensely fruity.
Palate: Almond, spices, slightly smoky and the rubber is confirmed.  Easter basket fruits.
Finish: Long, sweet but with an off note
Comments: I had never heard of this bottling before, but was told it was quite dear in price and availability. 
Still, the rubbery note disagreed with me.  Others were not able to detect it, even relished in it, but ultimately it was the worst dram of the night, no matter how rare and expensive.
Score: 70 points.

Dallas Dhu 19yo 1981/2001 (43.0%, McGibbons Provenance)
Color: Classic, honey gold
Nose: Lemongrass, honeydew, citrus, burnt sugar and chocolate
Palate: Sangria, cloves, nutmeg, the sherry does not dominate here.  Very fruity and wonderful.
Finish:  Lingering, warm
Comments:  A very fine dram.  I have not had a bad Dallas Dhu. The sherry was integrated very well, a good example of a sherried whisky from a sadly closed distillery with a very, very silly museum and visitor shop on the premises.
Score: 83 points.

Macallan 18yo 1979 "Gran Reserva" (40.0%, OB). Color: Amber gold
Nose: Typical Macallan- nuts; mint, a puff of smoke, angel food cake, herbal.
Palate: Sherry.  Sherry.  Sherry. Very herbal and somewhat oaky, but it all blends together in the end.
Finish: Long and tounge-coating.
Comments:  I had previously scored this malt at 90 points.  It's a fair rating.
I think I will let it stand.  It works quite well, but in my taste, this one is a bit over the top. 
The beauty of the malt tries to come through but is stunted by the sherry.
Score: 90 points.

The time was upon me.  Heavy with food, merriment and spirit, I mustered the courage. 
I removed the package, and I had practiced so many times in the mirror.  I held it up to the light, one last time, the rays of the bulb casting ominous shadows in the orange, undulating liquid within. There was no turning back...

The moment I opened the container, a smell wafted into the room. Thoughts of factories, of solvents, of industrial revolution; thoughts of a society where medicine and chemicals have advanced so far that we can keep a human alive far longer than we should…..  I poured several glasses of the vile stuff; and resigned to the same fate I sentenced everyone else to, I went to work.  What night celebrating "Sherry Monsters" would be complete without the king of them all- The Orange Goblin.

Talisker 18yo 1979/1997 (60.8%, Cadenhead's, distilled July 1979, bottled September 1997)
Color: Orange.  Pumpkin Orange
Nose: Nail polish remover.  Acetone.  Mimeograph fluid.
Palate: Sulphur, chemical cleaner.  Rubbing alcohol.
Finish:  Like licking rotten eggs soaked in alcohol
Comments:  I cannot believe I rated this malt at 55 points.
One of the worst liquids I have ever been forced to consume.
Score: 55 points.

The deed was done.
Faces were turned blue, smiles were turned to frowns, and good will was a thing of the past.
The Orange Goblin had prevailed.  All night, we danced with pixies, dwarves, gnomes and brownies.
They held our hands, warmed our hearts and filled our souls with content.
But at the end of the night, the Orange Goblin Talisker ruled the hearts of men; a true monster in every respect of the word.

Michael Wade
 

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E-pistle #06/06 - The Signatory Signature 
by
Serge Valentin, France 

Hi, malt lovers,

Straight to the facts: after having tasted several cask strength IBs in February with Olivier, I had the opportunity to get a bunch of Signatory Vintage core range samples (43%), and I asked Olivier for help again on this first Wednesday of March. Yes, I wanted to go on with my little (well, not that little) Independent Bottlers survey, and I thought it would be very useful to taste all these bottlings, just because:

- They are quite cheap (from 25 Euros on)
- They are the most widely available IBs
- They include several rare or no longer active distilleries
- You can taste these quite quickly, as you don't need to add any water...

Sure, tasting twenty different malts within one single evening is a little too much, but a contrario, it allows you to get an overview of the whole range. Moreover, several questions arise from time to time among the maniacs, like "Are some IBs bottling just any cask they get?" or "Is it true that they aren't really allowed to select the casks they buy at a distillery (except their own distillery)?" or, more simply, "Is it always useful to bottle a malt that's not so common, just because it isn't, precisely?"

Sure, I won't be able - and I'm not qualified, of course - to answer all these questions.
But still, tasting many malts from one single IB should help us to come up with some ideas about those topics. Anyway, I should get another bunch of samples shortly, from Murray McDavid's this time. So, watch for another overview of one single IB, and then a few conclusions about our thorny questions, with a little help from some of my friends, the Malt Maniacs.

Okay, just two more points before we start our Signatory session:
- All the bottlings were chosen randomly, meaning nobody did choose precisely the best ones, nor the worst ones.
- I'll tell you whether I feel a malt was worth bottling or not. Of course, this is just a personal feeling, and the people at Signatory's know their job one thousand times better than I do. So, again, take that as is: just a personal feeling. Signatory is a respected bottler, and they justly deserve their big reputation.

Okay, now perhaps you already understood that this session won't be just an exquisite catalogue of delicious tasting moments. And you're right... We'll go for the Lowlands first, then the Speysiders, then the 'Coastal' malts. And there will be a little surprise tasting at the very end of the session. And there's no need to comment on each malt's colour. They all showed white wine to pale straw colours, even the sherry-matured ones (refills, obviously).
Are you ready? Let's go...

Littlemill 10yo 1990/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask #1518)
Nose: warming. Smells almost like a genuine pear eau de vie.  Very esthery, pear, citrus, pineapple, passion fruit. All these aromas vanish very quickly, as esthers are very volatile. Then liquorice stick, wood, really in the Bladnoch style. Much, much better than the Littlemill 8yo OB. A very fine nose.
Mouth: light. Almost no fruity elements anymore. Apple, wood, vanilla. Quite simple, and a short finish.
A nice Littlemill, definitely much better than the OB. Was it worth bottling? Yes, just because of that. 76 points.

Bladnoch 11yo 1988/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask #42003)
Nose: Mellow. Nutty, hazel nuts. Then fruity, citrus, zest, sloe, slightly sour.
Then cereals, bread, white beer (Hoogarden or Wieckse Witte). Very quick aromas' evolution.
Mouth: powerful, much oilier than the Littlemill. Apricot, cooked apple, citrus, wood, vanilla, hazel nuts.
Very characteristic, a nice Bladnoch. A typical pre-dinner dram, or one to sip near the swimming pool, in summer. Was it worth bottling? Yes, it's nice malt. But again, I always liked Bladnoch. 78 points.

Rosebank 11yo 1989/2000 (43%, SigV, cask #787)
Nose: much more flowery, and less fruity than the Bladnoch. Perfume, heather, lavender, lilly, rose, honeysuckle. Very nice.
Mouth: Hot brioche, malt, banana, cinnamon apple. Very clean. The finish is medium. Nice stuff, a very good Lowlander. Was it worth bottling? Yes, obviously, but again, I always liked Bladnoch and Rosebank. 81 points.

Alright, we just had three very nice Lowlanders. Signatory did a very good job here, and I can't say anything but "If you like clean, fresh and rather cheap whisky, go for these!"  Time to taste a bunch of obscure Speysiders now. We all know these were made for blending purpose, hence the fact that you almost never see most of these bottled as single malts... Let's check whether Signatory managed to select some outstanding casks.

Glenallachie 9yo 1991/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #1346)
Nose: mellow. At first nosing, seems to be very lowlandish. Pear and citrus, quite sharp. But again, the fruity notes vanish quickly, and the malt becomes more sweet and flowery. Sugar, trefoil flower, alfalfa, the kind of plant the cattle likes, just because it's very sweet. A malt for cows? Hum... A little gingerbread... If that's really a sherry cask, it must be an X-fill one ;-)
Mouth: very sweet. Hints of almond, fresh nut, slightly woody. Simple and indefinite. A little boring. Medium finish.
It's almost like a blend, or like Glenkinchie (my own opinion).
In short: bland. Was it worth bottling? No. 70 points.

Allt-A-Bhainne 19yo 1980/1999 (43%, SigV, cask #19000)
Nose: mellow. A little malty, pear drop, liquorice stick. Boring.
Mouth: indefinite and simple. Not interesting at all. To be honest, we never tasted such an old malt that was that uninteresting. Olivier says no wonder they closed the distillery last year. That makes me just remember the email I sent to Pernod-Ricard's headquarters last year, when they mothballed Allt-A-Bhainne, Benriach, Breaval and another one I can't remember. I asked them why they did close these distilleries, and they answered: "Are you sure these distilleries belong to us?" Yes, true.
Anyway, was that Allt-A-Bhainne worth bottling? No. 65 points.

Strathmill 11yo 1985/1997 (43%, SigV, cask #2342)
Nose: a little malty, slightly more rounded and powerful than the Allt-A-Bhainne.
Mouth: neutral. No pleasure here.
Again, industrial malt, made for blending cheap whisky, obviously. Was it worth bottling? No. 68 points.

Banff 18yo 1978/1997 (43%, SigV, cask #4617)
Nose: grassy. Fern, root, mustard. Quite woody.
Not very seductive, but much more original than the three other Speysiders we just had.
Mouth: smooth and tingling alternatively. Horseradish, liquorice stick. Quite a lot of wood. Clean.
That one isn't a winner, of course, and it's of limited interest. But well, it's not bland, at least, and the mustard notes are quite funny. That's why we feel it deserves some extra-points. Was it worth bottling? Yes. 78 points.

Okay, these Speysiders are boring, still. We feel tired...
Let's go further North, and taste a Highlander:

Scapa 10yo 1989/2000 (43%, SigV, cask #1903)
Nose: very close to Bladnoch. Funny, when considering Bladnoch is the most southern malt, and Scapa the most northern one (together with Highland Park). Fruity, citrus, a little wood, a little grassy as well. Quite austere. French beans' pod, almond.
Mouth: at first, nicely rounded but not sweetish. A lot of honey (Scapa's main marker, I think), sugar. Quite a lot of wood and tannins after a while. Not very rounded, after all, but that's not a problem. It's enjoyable malt, perhaps a little better than the 12yo OB. The finish is quite long. Was it worth bottling? Yes. 82 points.

Okay, after that nice Highlander we feel we've recovered enough energy to go back to Speyside...

Coleburn 14yo 1983/1997 (43%, SigV, cask #796)
Nose: warming, slightly malty, rather vulgar. Dry and bitter wood.
Mouth: again, a lot of dry wood. The malt hasn't got enough character to overcome the wood. Again, boring. In other words, just whisky. Was it worth bottling? No. 69 points.

Alright, we feel going on with some other odd Speysiders would be really painful, and being Malt Maniac doesn't mean being masochistic. So let's go back to the Highlands.

Highland Park 22yo 1977/2000 (43%, SigV, cask #96/7009)
The colour is almost white, which is really astonishing when considering this malt's age.
Nose: fruity, pear drops, a little grassy, celery, liquorice stick, hints of peat. No signs of maturity whatsoever.
The cask must have been worn-out... Or it was a stainless steel one! It's not bad malt, but it's disappointing.
Mouth: smooth. Woody, dry, grassy, a little heather but you can't compare it with the OBs. Nothing thrilling here.
Don't even consider tasting it H-to-H with the 1977 OB (you're right, the latter costs perhaps 5 times more money).
Was it worth bottling? No. 74 points.

Glen Scotia 9yo 1991/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask #211)
Nose: mellow. Broiled cereals, hot milk, a little earthy, like a diluted Japanese sake, says Olivier. Pine seed. Indefinite, few aromas.
Mouth: Just flat and bland. No interest whatsoever. Yes, simple and indefinite. Was it worth bottling? No. 70 points.

Now it's time to compare two Ben Nevis that were distilled on the same day (14.12.1990).
Both were matured in some refill sherry butts, but one was bottled in 2000, the other one in 2001.

Ben Nevis 9yo 1990/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #1383)
Nose: Hot milk, crŠme br–l‚e, brown sugar (not Mick's one). Then Rhubarb pie. Interesting.
Mouth: balanced, sweet and sour. Apple pie, and some peat (smoke). A little woody.
That one isn't bad at all, although it's a little indefinite. Was it worth bottling? Yes. 79 points.

Ben Nevis 10yo 1990/2001 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #1387)
Nose: Complex. Over-ripe apple and pear, cake, broiled cereals, hot milk, toasted bread, muscade.
Some peat (burnt tyre). This nose is better than the 9yo's.
Mouth: balanced, slightly drying. CrŠme br–l‚e, cooked apple, tannins. Then peat, burnt tyre, smoke.
Okay, maybe they kept this butt a little longer because they knew it was better than the first one.
Olivier says that's exactly the kind of whisky he likes to pour into his hipflask when skiing.
A very good, authentic whisky, even if I think the 10yo OB is even better.
Was it worth bottling? Sure. 85 points.

Now, we feel we're ready to go to Speyside again. Yeah, duty, heavy duty...
But this time, no more odd malts, we'll taste two top notch distilleries' outputs.

Linkwood 12yo 1988/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #2790)
Nose: Perfumy. Rose (yes, Linkwood's main marker), a little violet. Lots of wood, drying.
Mouth: rose jam, wood, anise, liquorice. Quite clean.
Not bad at all, but still not very convincing. Lacks power and richness.
I've had many better Linkwoods. Was it worth bottling? Yes and no. 76 points.

Mortlach 11yo 1988/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #2649)
Nose: Mellow. Hot brioche, coffee, cappuccino, torrefaction. Again, not bad, but not very interesting.
Mouth: sweet, slightly woody, not really interesting. Medium finish.
Just another middle-of-the road whisky. Again, I've had some much better Mortlachs.
Was it worth bottling? Yes and no. 76 points.

Oh, I forgot another odd Speysider... Okay, let's taste it, but this one will be the evening's last Speyside.
Enough is enough, and we deserve some greater whisky. I hope the "coastal" malts will do the job later...

Braes of Glenlivet 18yo 1979/1998 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #9292)
Nose: again, almost no sherry whatsoever. They shouldn't be allowed to call a X-fill sherry cask a sherry cask! Makes us think of a young Cognac 'de propri‚taire'. Just a little fresh nut (that may come from the sherry, after all). At this point, we feel all these odd Speysiders really need a heavy fresh sherry treatment to get interesting. But of course, that's quite expensive...
Mouth: sweet, and boring, although not bad.
Again, a whisky that's just uninteresting. Was it worth bottling? Yes and no. 76 points.

Dear reader, I'm afraid my litany is getting boring as well now. What? It was boring since a long time?
Hey, I did the job, and you just had to read my prose. That's much less painful, I can tell you.
Okay, why not try to reward ourselves with a bunch of 'coastal' Signatory Vintage bottlings?
And oh, I'll throw a special guest in at the end, just to make sure we'll have at least a great malt during this evening.
Okay, let's go...

Bunnahabhain 22yo 1978/2000 (43%, SigV, cask #1890)
Nose: much peatier than the 12yo OB. Quite close to the Ben Nevis 10yo SigV, but  less 'toasted'.
Pine smoke. Very nice nose, very elegant.
Mouth: very nice wood, clean and elegant. Peaty, smoky. Very good. Long finish.
Wow, this Bunny is like a Port Ellen, but calmed down and appeased, with a little less tar and burnt tyre notes.
To be honest, I never had a Bunnahabhain that was that peaty. A great surprise, thanks to Signatory.
Was it worth bottling? Sure. 86 points.

Caol Ila 11yo 1989/2000 (43%, SigV, cask #705)
Nose: fresh apple and cooked apple. Peat, bonfire, very fine and elegant smoke.
Frankly, I've never been disappointed by Caol Ila, and it won't happen this time...
Mouth: cooked apple, peat, medicinal, iodine, smoke. Still rounded, bold. Long finish.
Yes, that's just a great classical Caol Ila. Was it worth bottling? Sure. 88 points.

Clynelish 10yo 1990/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask #3219)
You may argue that we shouldn't have tasted the Clynelish after the Caol Ila.
You're right, but we had a Brora to taste at the end, and we felt it was useful to compare it to the Clynelish.
Nose: spirity, pear drops, and lots of wood. No coastal notes that we can smell. A little sour.
Mouth: wood, wood and wood. Extremely drying.
The wood just masks everything else, and we think this is a defective whisky.
Was it worth bottling? No. 65 points.

Brora 18yo 1981/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #1081)
Olivier and I like Brora a lot. We feared that the fact that this one is a sherry-matured one would be a problem, although the recent Chieftains or Silver Seal heavily sherried Broras are great malts. But again, this one's very pale, and we're sure it was an almost worn-out refill sherry cask. Which is great news, after all, when dealing with a great malt like Brora.
Nose: mellow. Peaty, much peatier than what we'd expected from a 1981 Brora. Very clean.
Very interesting, even more elegant than the Caol Ila.
Mouth: medicinal but not overwhelmingly medicinal. Smoke, diesel oil. Old books (nice dust and nice cardboard).
Craig would have liked this one. Just great. Balanced and clean, and a long finish.
Yes, a great Brora, and a great bang-for-your-buck malt. And this proves that although Brora is said to have produced much less peaty spirit from 1978 to 1983 than before, they still made some great peated batches. Was it worth bottling? Sure. 89 points .

Hey, now we're finished with this Signatory Vintage core range tasting! Yes, we made it! But that last Brora was that good, that we need a last malt 'for the road' (as far as you can need some more malt after having tasted almost 20 different ones...). And what could be even better than a 1981 Bora? A 1972 Brora! And a rare one! That's why I decided to wrap all this session up with a...

Brora 21yo 1972/1993 (40%, CCh, old map label) - Colour: pure gold.
Nose: warming. Surprisingly powerful considering it's a 40% malt. Beautiful peat. Fabulous elegance. Perfect balance, nothing to do with the slightly loathsome hard peat that appears to be so fashionable nowadays (sorry, no names). Wow! Hints of peanut butter.
Mouth: extremely harmonious. Again, beautiful peat, and lots of dried fruit (apricot). Perfect balance.
This one is just the best 40% malt we ever had, except some very old cask strength whiskies. Nobody will tell you it's only a 40% malt when tasting it blind. We feel it's a 'racing' whisky. Remembering the stupendous Douglas Laing Platinum 1972s, that are so much better than the 1970, we wonder what happened at the Brora Distillery in 1972. Did they use extremely well selected barley? It can't be just the vintage, as if it were wine... Anyway, we're happy to see the notion of 'mill‚sime' being pregnant at least once. Was it worth bottling? No, they should just have sent the casks to my home. 93 points.

Okay, let's sum up the Signatory's results now:

A-List - Good or interesting malts, that really deserved to be bottled as single casks:

89   Brora 18yo 1981/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #1081)
88   Caol Ila 11yo 1989/2000 (43%, SigV, cask #705)
86   Bunnahabhain 22yo 1978/2000 (43%, SigV, cask #1890)
85   Ben Nevis 10yo 1990/2001 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #1387)
82   Scapa 10yo 1989/2000 (43%, SigV, cask #1903)
81   Rosebank 11yo 1989/2000 (43%, SigV, cask #787)
79   Ben Nevis 9yo 1990/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #1383)
78   Bladnoch 11yo 1988/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask #42003)
78   Banff 18yo 1978/1997 (43%, SigV, cask #4617)
76   Littlemill 10yo 1990/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask #1518)

B-List - Mixed feelings:

76   Linkwood 12yo 1988/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #2790)
76   Mortlach 11yo 1988/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #2649)
76   Braes 18yo 1979/1998 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #9292)

C-List - Not so good or uninteresting malts, that didn't deserve to be bottled as single casks:
(Again, only a personal opinion, related to my personal tastes only)

74   Highland Park 22yo 1977/2000 (43%, SigV, cask #96/7009)
70   Glen Scotia 9yo 1991/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask #211)
70   Glenallachie 9yo 1991/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask #1346)
69   Coleburn 14yo 1983/1997 (43%, SigV, cask #796)
68   Strathmill 11yo 1985/1997 (43%, SigV, cask #2342)
65   Allt-A-Bhainne 19yo 1980/1999 (43%, SigV, cask #19000)
65   Clynelish 10yo 1990/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask #3219)

Good. Signatory obviously did a great job with some of the malts, but did also bottle some malts that just didn't deserve to be bottled as single malts. Again and again, that's the opinion of a single individual... Before we open the discussion on the different topics I mentioned before, we'll have a third - and last - tasting session of a bunch of IBs (Murray McDavid).

That's it for now,

A votre santé‚

Serge
 

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E-pistle #06/07 - Three Little Ones from Islay
by
Klaus Everding, Germany

Two or three weeks ago I received a parcel from Johannes. It contained three 125 ml samples with malts from Islay and six samples for the next Pandora-JOLT. While the Pandora-malts still wait for the event the Islays were finished.

Sample 1: Ardbeg 8yo 1992/2000 (43%, Signatory Vintage, distilled 19/3/92, bottled 28/3/00, oak casks #414/415)

Aah, - very interesting. This seems to be the sucessor of the 8yo Signatory Ardbeg distilled in 1991. The '91 Signatory Ardbeg was one of my first amazing discoveries when I started drinking single malts. Fool that I was in these days, - I didn't stock up with at least 12 bottles. I think the chance to get such a good malt for less than 25 Euros the bottle will be gone forever.
Gluck, gluck, gluck - I pour in the first dram. The colour: Pipi after the sixth beer. I really like those pale and uncoloured coastal malts because they promise a mean peat punch. Let's take a sniff. Yes, it is there. Peat, smoke, tar, driftwood, medicine, iodine. This is the impression which is ruling, but there is also something sweet. Strange it is not the fresh and grassy sweetness which is sometimes found in Caol Ilas nor is it a molasse sweetness. Chewing gum comes to my mind, the cheap bubble gum balls drawn from automats which were popular some twenty or thirty years ago.
When I have the malt in my mouth I notice that it is very smooth - no burn at all. Very pleasant and round sweetness. Then Islay takes over the command with all the attributes mentioned before. In the finish maybe a hint of wood, but that could also be imaginative. Conclusion: This is young Islay which I like (btw. I love most of them). Compared to its predecessor, '91 Ardbeg SigVin, it seems to be tamer. I often compare the young Islays with rude boys gangs. Well, in this case some of the guys wear roses on their leather jackets and I can even spot one with a "mummy" tattoo on his arm. 88 points the score.

Sample 2: Lagavulin 12yo Special Release (58%, OB)
The bottle and the package look almost like the well known classic malt Lagavulin 16yo 43%.
But there is one big exception: The price tag is twice as high.
Short excursion: It was predictable but now it has really happened. The 16yo Lagavulin is no longer available at my preferred malt shop. They have delivery problems and they say the situation will not get better in the next months. Damned! How could the guys at Lagavulin let such a thing happen? A shortage of one of the most favoured single malts.
Back to the c/s Lagavulin. The liquid has the colour of pale gold. Putting the nose over the glass. Be careful that your sensors are not numbed by the alcohol. But anyway peat and smoke will always be present. Not so much medicine, it is smoked salmon or ham instead. With a splash of water sweet tones come to life: Lavender? Apricots? Tasting the malt: The feeling in the mouth is rather dry,- sawdust. Peat and medicine dominate. With some water added a herbal sweetness rises out of the stormy Islay sea.
Conclusion: Compared with the 16yo OB at 43% it seems that the Lagavulin guys have changed the instrumentation: No longer the complex and dark web cello figures, violas play now instead. The whole piece is biased to lighter and sharper tones.
A really nice malt with a rating of 88 points but the price tag excludes it from my first choice malts.

Sample 3: Lochindaal 10yo (43%, OB, Bruichladdich)
The whole whisky world is buzzing about Bruichladdich. They are full of praise. I never liked this distillery very much. But I must admit that I only sampled very few Laddies. Let's see if this one marketed under the Label "Lochindaal" finds grace in my eyes.
The nose is very strange and difficult to describe. Woody and earthy, musty with chemical reminscences, itchy. After some time minty notes appear. This is not the aroma I like to smell in single malts. The taste is a little bit better. Sweetness, ginger, really bitter in the finish. Memories of citrus refeshment sticks in bitter chocolate appear. Conclusion: I don't need this malt. The nose doesn't please me and the bitter taste which remains after drinking it is disgusting. Maybe I am too generous with 70 points awarded to it.

Klaus
 

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E-pistle #06/08 - Murray McDavid, My Mission
by
Serge Valentin, France 

Okay, after having tasted some Douglas Laing, James McArthur, Old Cadenhead's C/S and Signatory Vintage's core range, it's time to end this little trip around IB-land with a Murray McDavid session. I always liked Murmac's bottlings a lot. Some Ardbeg, Springbank and Lochside were absolutely great, and only one bottling didn't really convince me (a Rosebank). Mark Reynier just told me they're going to launch a brand new series, even more prestigious than the Mission. I can't wait! As usually, I tried to call Olivier for some help. He had the only acceptable excuse for not coming by: he's in Scotland right now. So, while he's plundering Robertson's of Pitlochry, I'll taste these seven youngsters all by myself, just before we open a little debate on a few existential questions about IBs.

I just got seven Murmac samples, all from the core range (no Mission), and all very young.
I'll have a Lowlander first, then three classical Speysiders, then three famous Islayers.
So, let's start with an Auchentoshan.

Auchentoshan 1992/2003 (46%, MMcD, bourbon)
Last time we had an Auchentoshan 10yo OB, its rating was 77 points, and we said it was a little too 'technical', meaning a little too 'commercial'. Let's see whether Murray McDavid managed to propose us something a little more 'authentic' with this brand new bottling of one of the very few remaining Lowland distilleries. Colour: pale straw.
Nose: mellow, very clean, very fresh. Very fruity, pineapple, pink grapefruit, bubble-gum. Nice woody notes.
Mouth: Cake, cooked apple, pear, exotic fruit. Not much citrus. A little woody, and some surprisingly sharp peppery notes. Bold and robust, which is quite astonishing. Its mouth is less clean than its nose. The finish is rather long.
Okay, that one is better than the 10yo OB, no question about that. Not very far from the greatest Rosebank or Bladnoch, although the main aromas are rather in the pineapple direction than in the citrus one. It's really a malt for Lowland freaks, which I am.
Was it worth bottling? Yep. (82 points)

Okay, what about a few mainstream young Speysiders now?

Linkwood 1989/2001 (46%, MMcD, fresh sherry)
Like Mortlach, Linkwood seems to be one of the independent bottlers' favorites. Signatory didn't such a good job with the 12yo 1988/2000 I tasted last time (76 points), but one of their heavily sherried 13yo 1988/2001 I tasted previously was much better (82 points). Anyway, I'm looking for some rose notes now… Colour: straw.
Nose: mellow and clean. Very fine wood, dry sherry, butter, mushrooms and humus. Then some heavy lilly notes, but no rose. Just a little sour, in a good way. Very interesting, although not 'mainstream-Speysidish' at all.
Mouth: powerful. Nice wood, nice dry sherry, quite a lot of tannins.
Hints of old cardboard, slightly sweet. Bold and clean, a little austere. Medium finish.
I like it. There're lots of fine wood and dry sherry notes, but these don't overwhelm the malt.
Maybe just a little too young. Was it worth bottling? Yes. (84 points)

Mortlach 1989/2001 (46%, MMcD, fresh sherry)
Did you ever have a really bad Mortlach? I didn't. So, I'm expecting something quite good here.
Why wait any longer?… Colour: gold
Nose: mellow. Very woody, but again, some very fine wood. Dry sherry, burnt cake, coffee, black toffee.
More toasted than the Linkwood, and a little less clean.
Mouth: Lots of fine wood. A little drying (due to the wood's tannins). Dry sherry.
Hot brioche, orange zest, cocoa. Bold and rich, but still quite clean. Medium finish.
A great malt, very enjoyable. A little 'male', whereas the Linkwood was a little feminine.
And just because I'm a boy, I'll give it two more points. Was it worth bottling? Of course. (86 points)

Time to taste THE Speysider now. I've had quite a bunch of IB's Macallans, and to be honest, I never happened to
taste a young one that was really great. So, I'm a little cautious now… Does the Macallan distillery let some great
casks being bottled by another bottler from time to time? Let's find out…

Macallan 1990/1999 (46%, MMcD, fresh sherry)
Colour: dark amber – quite dark for such a young malt
Nose: very sherried, and this is great sherry. Raisins, dried fruit, beeswax, tan oil, a little eucalyptus.
What a beautiful nose, quite similar to a great 18yo OB's, but more powerful.
Mouth: powerful. Great sherry above everything. Coffee, burnt cake, toasted bread, quince jelly, crystallized orange.
Great mouth, even if the nose is more spectacular, I think. Again, maybe a little young.
It's magnificent malt, considering its age (9yo). The best young Macallan IB I ever had.
Was it worth bottling? What a stupid question (89 points)

Okay, no need to say I'm rather impressed. Murray McDavid did a very good job with the three Speysiders, no doubt, while we all know there are many so-so IB Speysiders that gather dust on our favorite liquorist's shelves. Now, selecting some young Islayers might be another story. I mean, there are many good heavily peated bottlings everywhere… Peat + alcohol is a winning formula, obviously, but it's always a thrill to sip a peated malt that offers a little complexity and a little finesse as well. In other words, a malt that has something more to tell you. So, let's let three Murray McDavid Islayers talk now…

Bowmore 1989/2000 (46%, MMcD, bourbon)
Bowmore is the best example of a malt that's not consensual at all. Some love it, whatever the bottling, some don't. I must admit that I really don't like some of Bowmore's OBs (Cask Strength, Darkest), but I've had many great Bowmores as well (17yo, 21yo…). In fact, I think Bowmore's really a malt that allows the IBs to show their skills at selecting great casks, just because Bowmore's so multi-faceted. Okay, let's see how Murray McDavid performed now… Colour: straw.
Nose: mellow. Wow, it smells like a genuine gentian eau-de-vie. That's something I always cherished.
Then iodine, sea spray, fresh mushrooms, then cider, then some fine woody notes. A great, great nose, extremely clean.
Mouth: balanced, slightly bitter. Very nice wood, liquorice stick, rubber, gentian root, slightly dusty. Rich and very clean.
This mouth just fits the nose. Long and beautiful finish.
What can I say, I sort of love this malt. I really wonder what Johannes will say – just sent him a sample.
Was it worth bottling? Absolutely (88 points)

Time to taste an Ardbeg now. We know Mark and his gang had their eyes on Ardbeg before Glenmorangie bought the distillery, so their expression can't be anything but a very special one…

Ardbeg 1991/2000 (46%, MMcD, bourbon)
Colour: white wine.
Nose: rather light at first nosing, but then it grows warming.
Fine balance of peaty notes (iodine) and mash, broiled cereals, hot milk and bread crumb. The genuine smell of heavily peated malted barley. Closer to what you can smell while touring the distillery than the 10yo OB. And, again, extremely clean.
Mouth: medicinal, iodine, lots of smoke, then broiled cereals and cooked apple. Quite sour (in a good way).
Again, a hyper-clean Ardbeg.
Okay, I really like it a lot. That sample was just opened, and I think the only problem with this malt, is that it looses its beautiful characteristics quite quickly, as soon as the bottle is opened. I've got an opened bottle on my shelves since six months or so, and the whisky has lost its sharpness and cleanliness. The same happened at a friend's place. Anyway, it's great malt, but one should empty his bottle within 3 months max, or pour the malt into smaller bottles as soon as it's opened.
Was it worth bottling? Of course (89 points)

Okay, one to go. The last Murray McDavid will be a Laphroaig (not Leapfrog), so I'm expecting a lot now, as Laphroaig's one of my favorite malts (I know, not very original…)

Laphroaig 1988/2001 (46%, MMcD, bourbon)
Colour: pale straw
Nose: rather light at first, then it gets warmer.  Peat and rubber, beer, yeasty, bread crumb.
Sourer than the Ardbeg, and much less smoky. But again, a very clean whisky.
Mouth: powerful, and a little drying. Peat, medicinal, rubber, camphor. Then liquorice stick, liquorice, hay.
Somewhat austere, and, again, very clean. Medium to long finish.
This Laphroaig isn't very, very complex, but it's less sweet than the 10yo OB, and sharper.
A very good Laphroaig altogether. Was it worth bottling? Yeah (88 points)

Now we're finished! These Murmacs were all very good, and seeing such young malts flirt with the 90 points border is absolutely great. My overall impression is that they're all very clean, which makes me think there's really a Murray McDavid style. Perhaps is that due to the fact that their range is very narrow. They only sell approx 8 different malts at the same time, much less than Signatory, or even Douglas Laing, not to mention Gordon & MacPhail. Anyway, it seems obvious that they do select the casks they bottle, which is what we're all expecting from an IB's. Oh, Mark and gang, if you read this, thank you for not trying to sell us some wine-finished malt. I know I may be a little excessive on that very matter, but… Hey, wait, I've just got a little idea now. Olivier presented me with two samples that are really interesting three weeks ago…

Yes, both malts were distilled in 1990, on the very same day, at Laphroaig distillery.
But while the first one has been bottled just plain and pure, the second one has been finished in a Portwood cask for three more months. Why not compare these two youngsters right now, and see exactly what such a treatment's influence is?

Laphroaig 1990/2002 'Regular' (46%, SigV, unchillfiltered collection)
Laphroaig 1990/2003 'Portwood Finish' (46%, SigV, unchillfiltered collection)

Colour:

Regular: almost white
Portwood : pink (blush wine) – somewhat ridiculous

Nose:

Regular: quite mellow, very clean and sharp.
Fresh fruity notes, granny smith apple, pear, tangerine.
Then diesel oil and smoke, quite peppery. Again, a clean Laphroaig,
showing some unusual fruity notes, but not very deep.
Portwood: mellow, very winey at first (Beaujolais).
Then the same notes as the untreated Laph's. More unbalanced, less clean.
You have to wait quite a long time to get Laphroaig's markers.

Mouth:

Regular : smooth and balanced at first, but it becomes more and more pungent.
Sweet-sour, then very bitter. Medicinal, burnt tyre, smoke, and extremely peppery and unbalanced. Not very enjoyable.
Portwood : sweet wine at first, then medicinal, burnt tyre and smoke.
Again, extremely peppery. The winey notes play their part upfront, but they can't resist the huge pepper load. Really odd.

Okay, they may have tried to mask, or to sweeten the malt, but it just didn't work. An UFO-malt.
Oh yes, ratings… Regular: 75 points, Portwood: 69 points.

I think I made my point, didn't I?
Okay now, just before we open our little debate, perhaps it's time to sum up all the ratings we've accumulated so far.

90   Glenlivet 25 yo 1976/2001 (59.9%, JmcA).
90   Pittyvaich-Glenlivet 13yo 1977/1991 (58.4%, Cad)
90   Port Ellen 19yo 1982/2002 Sherry Finish (50%, OMC)
89   Ardbeg 1991/2000 (46%, MMcD, bourbon)
89   Brora 18yo 1981/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask#1081)
89   Caol Ila 12yo 1978/1990 (65.5%, Cad)
89   Caol Ila 26yo 1974/2001 (50%, OMC).
89   Macallan 1990/1999 (46%, MMcD, fresh sherry)
88   Bowmore 1989/2000 (46%, MMcD, bourbon)
88   Caol Ila 11yo 1989/2000 (43%, SigV, cask#705)
88   Glen Grant 31yo 1969/2001 (57.1%, JmcA). 
88   Laphroaig 1988/2001 (46%, MMcD, bourbon)
86   Bunnahabhain 22yo 1978/2000 (43%, SigV, cask#1890)
86   Linlithgow 26yo 1975/2001 (50%, OMC).
86   Mortlach 1989/2001 (46%, MMcD, fresh sherry)
85   Ben Nevis 10yo 1990/2001 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask#1387)
84   Linkwood 1989/2001 (46%, MMcD, fresh sherry)
83   Bowmore 11yo 1979/1990 (58.4%, Cad).
82   Auchentoshan 1992/2003 (46%, MMcD, bourbon)
82   Longmorn 25yo 1976/2001(54.7%, JmcA).
82   Scapa 10yo 1989/2000 (43%, SigV, cask#1903)
81   Rosebank 11yo 1989/2000 (43%, SigV, cask#787)
79   Ben Nevis 9yo 1990/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask#1383)
78   Bladnoch 11yo 1988/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask#42003)
78   Banff 18yo 1978/1997 (43%, SigV, cask#4617)
76   Dallas Dhu 21yo 1981/2002  (50%, OMC).
76   Littlemill 10yo 1990/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask#1518)
76   Linkwood 12yo 1988/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask#2790)
76   Mortlach 11yo 1988/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask#2649)
76   Braes 18yo 1979/1998 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask#9292)
75   Laphroaig 1990/2002 (46%, SigV, unchillfiltered coll)
74   Highland Park 22yo 1977/2000 (43%, SigV, cask#96/7009)
71   Millburn 34yo 1967/2002 (50%, OMC).
70   Glenglassaugh 13yo 1977/1991 (59.8%, Cad).
70   Glen Scotia 9yo 1991/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask#211)
70   Glenallachie 9yo 1991/2000 (43%, SigV, full sherry, cask#1346)
69   Coleburn 14yo 1983/1997 (43%, SigV, cask#796)
69   Laphroaig 1990/2003 (46%, SigV, unchillfiltered coll. Portwood finish)
68   Strathmill 11yo 1985/1997 (43%, SigV, cask#2342)
65   Allt-A-Bhainne 19yo 1980/1999 (43%, SigV, cask#19000)
65   Clynelish 10yo 1990/2000 (43%, SigV, full bourbon, cask#3219)

41 malts, not bad, uh? Now, you may ask for some conclusions.
What can I say? Some IBs seem to bottle anything, some don't, obviously.
But maybe I'm not too wrong when telling you this:

- Beware the obscure distilleries bottlings, most may have been bottled because they are obscure, precisely.
- Beware the very old malts, especially when cheap, some are overwhelmed by wood.
- Beware the wine-finished malts, they may be just a way of masking a so-so malt.
- Don't hesitate to put 10 or 20 more euros or dollars on the table, they'll make the difference.

Okay, fellow maniacs, what are your thoughts? Do you agree with me?

Serge
 

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E-pistle #06/09 - Independents Day I
by
Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland 

Interesting observations, Serge...
I'm still busy with my 'Big Crunch' at this end of the line - see
log entry #130 for details.
Most of the tasting sessions I write about in my
Liquid Log focus on whiskies from a particular region or distillery, but for tonight I will try to mix 'business' with pleasure and polish off some 'independent' bottles and samples. While doing so, I'll try to formulate some thoughts on the topic and work them into this tasting report.

Although Serge was the first to do such a thorough study of IB's, Louis Perlman and Craig Daniels have already dedicated a few words to this topic in MM#3. In E-pistle #3/06 Louis points out one of the main reasons for the growing success of independent bottlers: many distilleries simply don't offer an 'official' bottling of their product. I'm not the only maniac who feels compelled to track down obscure bottlings from even more obscure distilleries just to find out what they are up to at Craigellachie or Glenglassaugh. Often you find out there's a good reason most of those single malts are used almost exclusively for blending, but that's not always the case. In fact, the product of fine distilleries like Ardmore, Linkwood and Mortlach wouldn't be available as a single malt if it wasn't for independent bottlers. (And I think we would have never seen OB's of Caol Ila if the IB's hadn't been so popular.)

Speaking of Mortlach: I decided to finish my bottle of Mortlach 1989/2002 (43%, Coopers Choice) for the occasion. Coopers Choice is the main 'Vintage' brand. According to the label, this whisky has been matured in sherry casks.
Nose: Nice! Polished. Fruits. Pipe tobacco? Some smoke. Sherry. Wood. All kinds of spices.
Something organic lurking beneath the surface. Cake? Toffee. Soft sweet liquorice? Ale?
Cinnamon. A typical Speyside malt. Pleasant and complex. It really blossoms after ten minutes..
Taste: Very nice! Smooth and sweet; becoming smoky towards the finish. Compact.
Woody and fruity - fruit cake? Toffee. Maybe a tad too sherried in the finish.
Score: 84 points . Nothing wrong here; An excellent nose matched with a decent palate.
This bottling scores very well for its age and price - it needs a minute, though.

For reference purposes, I proceeded with the Mortlach 21yo (40%, Sestante Import).
During an earlier encounter (see
log entry #127 for details) it scored 82 points.
Nose: Oilier than the Coopers Choice. Malty and fruity. Dried apples. A little sherried.
Toffee and spices. Hint of smoke?  The fruity component grows stronger with time.
Fresher, spicier and more herbal after a minute. pinch of peat? Luxurious but superficial.
Taste: Weak start, more powerful after a few seconds. Malty, turning bitter quickly.
Sweet center. The toffee is even stronger than in the CC. Fruity. Chocolate & orange?
Smoke, sherry and a faint hint of liquorice in the finish. Long and dry. A tad too bitter.
Score: 82 points . A fine 'middle of the road' malt, but given its age it should have done better.
Please keep in mind that I prefer 'extremities' in a malt; those of you with a more moderate taste may love it.

So, that's quite interesting - even though the 'Sestante' is almost twice as old (and more than twice as expensive) as the relatively 'mundane' Coopers Choice bottling, I prefer the CC. A possible conclusion could be that Mortlachs don't improve significantly after +/- twelve years. Well, that's nonsense. A more plausible explanation would be that my personal preference for characteristic and outspoken whiskies prevent me from rating these slightly 'middle-of-the road' Speysiders any higher than 82/83 points. Serge told me these Italian 'Sestante' bottlings have quite a reputation, but this one didn't really tickle my fancy.
Maybe the cheap screwcap screwed up my judgement?

In E-pistle #3/07 Craig came up with another advantage brought to us by independent bottlers: the range of product available. Quite right. While most official bottlings are vattings of several different casks (sometimes over a hundred) to make sure the end result matches a certain profile, many independent bottlings are 'single cask' bottlings. They offer a malt maniac an intriguing glimpse of the life of an average (or, in some cases not-so-average) cask of Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Macallan. Even though we've seen an increase in the number of available 'official' expressions during the last couple of years the average distillery offers just three or four choices.
It's nice to be able to sample a 14yo Lagavulin or a 5yo Springbank or a every once in a while.

Speaking of which: the Springbank 1997/2002 (45%, Signatory Vintage 'Stills of Scotland', cask #171, bottled 11/02) found its way to Holland via Maison du Whisky in Paris. I haven't seen this particular series in Holland before. I opened the bottle a few months ago and the liquid level has been dropping like the stock market. Let's fill a sample and finish the bottle.
This series isn't chillfiltered. The colour is extremely light with a faint hint of green.
Nose: Very fresh and fruity. Prickly? Alcoholic and oily. Sour apples. Beer? Cider?
Vegetables? Rather odd, but I imagine this will go down especially well in the summertime.
Taste: Sour, fruity start. Dry burn in the center. Hint of smoke. Pleasant and unassuming.
Sweeter and more powerful with time, honey-coating your mouth. Not a lot of depth.
Score: 74 points - Very impressive for a 5yo malt. A very good deal at 28 Euro's.

See what I mean?
At the moment the youngest 'official' Springbank expression is a 10yo. With a price of almost 50 Euro's and a rating in the upper seventies you won't see me spending any more money on that one. But here we have a Signatory Vintage bottling that offers almost as much fun at a considerably friendlier price. Not a hard choice for a Dutchman. In the
previous E-pistle Serge argued that it's a good idea to spend 10 or 20 Euro's extra for a bottle. If you're looking for the very best single malts, that's probably true. Looking at my Hit List , the vast majority of the entries in the 'close to perfection' segment are OB's. (For the sake of this argument, UD's 'Rare Malts' and 'Flore & Fauna' series are considered OB's.) The only private bottler that managed to work its way to the top of my list is Douglas Laing. Scrolling down to the 'highly reccommendable' section of my Hit List the situation suddenly changes.
But wait; once again I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll have to get into my personal favorites later.
I was explaining my preference for IB's from a 'Bang-For-Your-Buck' perspective...

Take Highland Park, for example. The official range includes a 12yo, an 18yo and a 25yo.
Both the 18yo and the 25yo are a bit rich for my blood, which leaves just the 12yo. That's no punishment, because this friendly priced Orkney malt has stayed true to form over the last decade. The various batches I've tried all scored 85/86 points, making the Highland Park 12yo one of the regulars on my top shelf. I would be quite content to pick the HP 12yo as my 'standard' Orkney malt if I had to, but fortunately I can expand my horizons with an IB every now and then.
Like the two Highland Parks that are about to fall victim to 'The Big Crunch'...

The Highland Park 12yo 1988/2001 (43%, Ultimate, Sherry butt #10452, distilled 19/05/1988, bottled 29/01/2001, bottle #492) scored 81 points when I opened the bottle in October 2001. (See log entry #91 for details.) Time to finish the bottle.
Nose: Fruity. A little oily. Quite soft; growing stronger while remaining a tad shallow.
Dusty. Less sherried than the 12yo OB. Hint of salt and smoked sausage. A little spicy.
Taste: Sweet start. Smooth and a little smoky. Smoked eel? Then the sherry appears.
A dry burn that grows stronger and stronger. Slightly sour finish. Woody with lots of tannin.
Score: I'll stick with the original score of 81 points, although time hadn't been kind to it. I wouldn't have given it more than 78 or 79 points this time, but I have a rule that any detoriation that occurs more than a year after opening the bottle doesn't count.

Klaus Everding sent me the sample of Highland Park 11yo 1988/1999 (61.5%, MacKillop's Choice, sherry cask, bottle #325) from Germany a few months ago. A few quick sniffs last week suggested it was indeed more heavily sherried than the 12yo OB.
Nose: Wow! Smoke, sherry and fruit. It seems very similar to the Bowmore profile at first. Organics.
Some peat! Needs a minute. Then it sweetens up, becoming more like Macallan. Toffee. Oriental spices.
Raisins. Mint? A-typical but mighty entertaining. A worthwile alternative to the official range. Ammoniac?
With a splash of water at became more 'coastal'. Brine, smoke and more peat. Amazing - almost an Islay.
Taste: Undiluted, it starts out very fruity. Sherried, becoming drier and woodier. Sour. Big Burn.
After dilution to +/- 50% it became easier to swallow. Some toffee notes emerged. Smoke?
The more water you add, the sweeter it becomes. Pleasant but unremarkable. Dry finish.
Score: 85 points. The nose is extremely attractive but the taste drags the score down a bit.
Still, it's a very interesting whisky with a strange combination of characteristics.

In this case, none of the IB's manage to surpass the 12yo OB. But let's face it, the Highland Park 12yo is a hard malt to beat. With a price of less than 40 Euro's for a litre bottle, it's one of the best 'Bang-For-Your-Buck' malts I know. Other wallet-friendly favorite OB's are Ardbeg 10yo, Lagavulin 16yo, Laphroaig 10yo and Talisker 10yo. When you have no more than 40 Euro's (or dollars) in your wallet it's hard to find a better deal among the current IB's - with the notable exception of some young Ardbegs by Signatory and some 'bastard malts'. You can find some very nice IB's for less than 40 Euro's but you'll have to pay a little more for the good stuff.

With a slightly larger budget (let's say up to 75 Euro's) a whole range of interesting IB's becomes available - Cadenhead, Douglas Laing and Murray McDavid, to name just a few. The older OB's in this price bracket have a harder time competing with available IB's. To me personally, the difference between the Highland Park 12yo and 18yo OB's isn't really worth the extra cash; the same with Glenfarclas 12yo and 21yo. If I'm going to spend this kind of money, I might as well spend it on something different and exciting...

Fortunately, there are many independent bottlers willing to satisfy that very need.
In
E-pistle #3/06 Louis already offered a brief overview of the main independent bottlers. I figured an alphabetical overview of IB's might come in handy as well, so I composed a short list with some basic data on the major independent bottlers. A more comprehensive overview with more independent bottlers will be published in chapter 6 of the mAlmanac shortly.
(I've only included bottlers that have their own website in this selection.)

- - -  OVERVIEW  - - -

Adelphi - A well respected independent bottler today, this used to be a distillery until 1960. Like so many other Lowland distilleries (Inverleven and Kinclaith spring to mind) it was closed down in the 20th century after more than a century of faithful service.
(More information on
www.adelphidistillery.com.)

Blackadder - Another one of the big names. All Blackadder bottlings are single cask bottlings; not coloured or chill-filtrated. What's more, the label contains lots and lots of details. Once again, this is a range that's not widely available in Holland.
(More information on
www.blackadder.com.)

Cadenhead - Established in Victorian times, Cadenhead claims to be Scotland's oldest independent bottler. I can't verify that claim, but this is another one of the big names, that's for sure. Due to a business conflict between cadenhead and the former Dutch importer their bottlings have been unavailable in Holland for a while but rumour has it things are about to change.
(More information on
www.coventgardenwhiskyshop.co.uk.)

Douglas Laing - Founded in 1950, Douglas Laing & Co Limited is now run by the two sons of the founder, Fred and Stewart Laing. Based on my experiences so far, I'd have to say they're doing some very fine work over there in Glasgow. A few of their 'Old Malt Cask' Ardbegs and Brora's have earned themselves a place high on my Hit List and the 'Mc Gibbon's Provenance' series offers some interesting choices as well. Add their relatively friendly prices and you'll understand why this is one of my personal favorite independent bottlers. If only they started packing their bottles in proper tubes...
(More information on
www.douglaslaing.com.)

Gordon & MacPhail - This private bottler started out as a shop in 1895. Since then they have grown quite a bit and they now own a distillery (Benromach) and a warehouse. G&M are well-known for their 'Connoisseurs Choice' series but they're responsible for a range of semi-official bottlings of Glenlivet, Linkwood and Longmorn as well. G&M also markets the 'Macphail's (Collection) series and the 'Speymalt' Macallan range. Another famous G&M range is the 'Scottish Wildlife' series. I don't have the numbers but I'm quite sure they are in the top three by volume. Until a few years ago they were pretty much the only IB that bottled obscure malts like Glenlochy, Millburn or Teaninich. Of course, every genuine malt maniac is curious about the kind of whisky they make (or made) at these 'obscure' distilleries. I spent a lot of my money on G&M's 'Connoisseur's Choice' bottlings before I discovered that instead of revealing a specific distillery character most of them conformed to a certain 'uniform' G&M style. Well, that defies the whole purpose of seeking out these malts, doesn't it? Anyway, Serge made a similar point in his conclusion - there's often a good reason a distillery is 'obscure'...
(More information on
www.gordonandmacphail.com.)

Hart Brothers - Another famous bottler that's hardly represented on the Dutch shelves.
Based in Glasgow, they offer single malts from more than thirty different distilleries. No further comments at this time.
(
More information on www.hartbrothers.co.uk.)

Mackillop & Co - The 'Mackillop's Choice' series is bottled by Iain Mackillop & Co Ltd in Glasgow. According to the label, the casks are selected by Lorne Mackillop. Oddly enough, I bought a bottle of 'Mac Kullick's Choice' Benrinnes in France with a nearly identical label design. The bottler? Mackillop & Co Ltd. That sounds like the same company, but this time the casks are 'specially-selected' by Ian Mac Kullick, Malt Master to the William Peel family. I wonder what's the deal here...
(More information on
www.mackillopschoice.com.) 

Macleod's - Apart from being the UK distributor for Glenfarclas, Macleod's markets a wide variety of brands. Chieftain's (Choice) seems to be the main brand but they are also the people behind Shieldaig, Hedges & Butler, Isle of Skye and the Macleod's bastard malts. One range of bastard malts is called Dun Bheagan, a name used by other bottles as well.
(More information on
www.ianmacleod.com.)

Murray McDavid - This company (originally named 'Murray, McDavid') was founded in 1995 by Mark Reynier, Simon Coughlin and Gordon Wright. They quickly earned themselves a solid reputation for bottling some excellent single malt whiskies. Mark Reynier had already bottled some whisky before, under his 'La Réserve' label. 'MurMac' recently acquired the Bruichladdich distillery and their first bottlings have certainly improved my personal opinion about the distillery. One of the subsidiaries of MurMac is 'Milroys of Soho'. Another brand of (mostly cask strength) single malts, aimed at Japan, is McIntyre's. Watch the 'Mission' range and a new high-end series to come later in 2003.
(More information on
www.murray-mcdavid.com.)

Samaroli - According to their website, this Italian bottler has been active since 1968. Serge told me that some of their bottlings are legendary but I haven't sampled any bottlings myself - partly because their prices are legendary as well.
(More information on www.samaroli.it.)

Scotch Whisky Society - Unlike the other names on this list, this is a society with members rather than owners.
The SMWS bottlings have quite a reputation and are bottled under a number instead of the name of the distillery.
(More information on
www.smws.com.)

Scott's Selection - This 'independent' range is bottled by the Speyside Distillery Company, who also market the 'Speyside' single malt. Could they have picked a more generic name? Hardly... I'm not a fan of their underwhelming 'Glentromie' and 'Drumguish' single malts but it seems the people at the Speyside Distillery Company are better at selecting casks than at distilling whisky themselves.
(More information on
www.speysidedistillery.co.uk.)

Signatory Vintage - My 'research' for this E-pistle proved that I have been spreading false information in the past. I've always confused the Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co. Ltd. with the Vintage Malt Whisky Company (see next entry). As it turns out, Signatory Vintage (located in Edinburgh) was founded in 1988 by Andrew W. Symington and his brother. They offer a vast number of single malt whiskies, mostly single cask bottlings and often at very neighborly prices. Apart from the 'regular' Signatory Vintage range (43%, cardboard or tin cans) they also market the 'Unchillfiltered Collection' (46%, tin tubes), the 'Cask Strength' series (bulky bottles, velvet presentation boxes) and the 'Silent Stills' series, packed with a spare miniature and a piece of the cask. Other series include the 'Stills of Scotland' and 'Sailing Ships' series, as well as the 'Prestonfield' range, named after the hotel where Andrew Symyngton used to work as a Maître d'Hôtel. According to Serge it's famous for some stupendous Brora and Springbank bottlings. Andrew Symington acquired the Edradour distillery recently, so together with Murray McDavid and Gordon & MacPhail they now have their own distillery.
Dun Eideann is another one of Signatory's sub-brands, aimed mainly at the French (colourful label, gold lettering) and Italian (castle drawing, grey on yellow paper) markets. Check out the English version of their website (on www.duneideannsinglemalt.com) if you're a native speaker. I know my English isn't flawless either, but the language on this website is good for at least a chuckle or two.
(More information on
www.thewhiskyhouse.com/english/signatory_a.htm.)

Vintage Malt Whisky Company - VMW was founded in 1992 by Brian Cook. Its flagship brand is the 'Coopers Choice' range of single malts, as well as the Glenalmond, Finlaggan and Tantallan bastard malts. According to their website VMW also bottles whiskies under the 'Highlands & Islands' label; Black Cullin, The Ileach, The Pibroch and the 'Scottish Castles' series.
(More information on
www.vintage-malt-whisky.co.uk.)

And that concludes this quick & dirty overview of the main independent bottlers.

- - -

OK - Enough typing for now; I'm in the mood for another independent dram.
I decided to go for the sample of Longmorn 32yo 1968/2000 (62.3%, MacKillop's Choice, Cask #5266, bottle #26) Craig sent me a while ago. Given the ripe old age of the cask the alcohol percentage is astonishing. They must have casked the spirit at 99% or something to be left with a 62% whisky after 32 years. Well - maybe not. I've heard that the average annual 'angel's share' of 1.5% is just an average. Depending on factors like the type of wood, the skill of the cooper, the location of the warehouse and the location of the barrel in the warehouse casks lose more or less of their 'spirit'. What's more, in the old days the freshly distilled spirit was casked directly at astronomical percentages. Nowadays the spirit is usually reduced to +/- 70%, but if this were the case with this cask the angel's share would have been just 0.25% a year. Maybe they had some tee-total angels flying about the place?
Nose: Complex. Sweetish. Furniture polish and smoke, becoming fruitier. Very soft for a C/S malt.
Grainier after a while. Whiff of menthol? Mint? Pine? Overwhelming after a few minutes. Cattle feed?
With some water it opened up further - the fruitier elements seemed to grow stronger.
Now it's sweeter. Dusty with a pinch of salt. Hard to classify, but extremely entertaining.
Taste: Dry and fruity at C/S. Sweet. Slightly dusty. A really wonderful development on the tongue.
With a few drops of water it became sweeter. Menthol freshness in the finish. Resin? Sour and woody.
Score: 87 points. A malt to get lost in. Very entertaining, even though it's not really my 'style'.

Phew, it's 03:15 AM - time to wrap things up.
I finished the evening on a Lowland note with
the Bladnoch 1992/2002 (58.5%, James MacArthur).
Nose: Fresh and flowery. Sweet & sour - Foe Yong Hai? Spicy. Prickly. Hint of smoke. A little oily.
Fruity - the Lowland lemon marker. Lemon sweets? Tangerines? Vanilla icecream? Plywood.
It becomes heavier and spicier with time. Faint oriental spices. Oilier with water. Pinch of salt?
Taste: Smooth and sweet and cask strength, evolving into a dry burn. Very accessible.
Diluted to around 50% it seemed creamier and fruitier. Very nice burn, numbing your tongue.
At +/- 40% it started out smooth, evolving into a big, hot center. Salt? Vegetables?
Score: 84 points . During earlier encounters I've scored it quite conservatively at 82 points.
A rating of 84 is nothing to be ashamed about, but why this won a silver medal beats me.

And that concludes my notes on independent bottlers for now.
I know I haven't covered all of them; I'll try to compose a more comprehensive list for chapter 6 of the mAlmanac.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

PS: After I've published this E-pistle I discovered that it didn't really cover everything I wanted to present on this topic. And as it turned out, some maniacs and visitors felt that a number of other bottlers deserved some attention as well. That's why i've written a second E-pistle on the subject; Independents Day II. Click for a much wider selection of independent bottlers...
 

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E-pistle #06/10 - Rationalising My Mania
by
Serge Valentin, France  

Whisky collecting can be a stressful mania. Some collect to accumulate, and/or to sell some of their treasures one day or another (to be able to afford some more valuable bottles). Some don't even drink whisky! Some other maniacs do collect whisky in order to taste and drink their malts whenever they're in the mood for a specific expression. That doesn't mean buying fewer bottles, though. Like some other Maniacs, I've got hundreds of bottles on my shelves, and after a compulsive period (I just bought and opened anything, anytime), I had to dig deep into a concept that was new to me, malt-wise: organisation.

What for, you may ask?
Well, let me draw you a complete picture.
Here are a few examples of the consequences of me being un-organised (again, malt-wise);

- I bought three times the same malt, without even noticing it...
(a Port Ellen McGibbons that is quite good, sure, but not stellar)
- I had at least forty old bottles that were less than 1/3 full, some being heavily oxidised...
(including a Springbank 12yo dark vatting that happened to be so good!)
- I had approx thirty other bottles that were going the same way...
- I had two opened bottles of the same malt, at the same time (a Rosebank G&M)...
- I had (and I still have) many malts that are just uninteresting. Most may never get opened...
- I had some very good opened bottles, but never poured myself another dram of these...
(just because they were hidden behind some other bottles, on my shelves)
- And finally, I had some other bottles that were as good as these, but which have been downed at the speed of light, just because they were within hand-reach. I emptied the new Caol Ila C/S OB within two weeks, while still having an excellent Signatory C/S that had been opened since more than one year!

Yeah, you're right, it was time to do something about that.
Johannes' Big Crunch effort inspired me a lot, and I came up with a new organisation.
A radical organisation. So here's what I did, and what I'm going to do in the future (I swear!)

- First, I poured all the bottles that were less than 1/3 full into some 125ml mini-bottles. These should stop to oxidise now. Moreover, it'll be excellent for future thematic tasting sessions, or H-to-Hs, or to keep track of a malt's style and qualitative evolution.
- Then, I poured the remaining whiskies into five different big bottles, thus making five different vatted malts (Speyside, Islay, Highland, Lowland, others). These bottles will evolve constantly, as I'll go on with the system, like if it were a little solera. The result is really great, because it expresses each region's actual style. Ideal for letting a friend find out about the differences between a Speysider and an Islayer, I can tell you.
Just for the fun, I stuck a big label on each bottle, on which I wrote the list of all the malts included in the vatting. My Speyside vatting contains 21 malts right now, ranging from a Glenallachie 9yo to a Millburn 34yo. Very impressive!
- Of course, to reward myself, I opened two new bottles: a lively and youthful Talisker 8yo 1988/1996 (45%, Milroys) and a Brora 18yo 1983/2001 (53.4%, Signatory for La Maison du Whisky). Due tasting notes will be published later. By the way, I plan to organise a mega-big Brora session, gathering more than 30 different expressions later this year: 3 DL Platinum, 4 DL Old Malt cask, 1 McGibbons Provenance, 5 Signatory Vintage, 2 Cadenheads, 1 Prestonfield, 4 G&M, 1 Lombards, 1 Siver Seal, 4 UDRM, 2 Chieftains,1 OB etc.

If you're a Brora-freak like me, watch Maltmaniacs for the big E-pistle to come.
Anyway, let's go back to my new organisation…

- Just now, I've got only twenty open bottles left, and I think that's just fine.
- I've got approx 200 samples as well, some from my ex-big bottles, some from my friends.
So, whenever I desperately want to sip an Allt-a-Bhainne, I can have one!
But you're right, that doesn't happen every day.
- All my open bottles are gathered on one single shelf, so that I know where they are, whenever I need a dram!
Seems odd, but it wasn't the case before.
- But everything isn't perfect yet. I know I've got some other opened bottles.
I put them back into their cases after the first dram, and I'll need a little more time to put my hands on these.
That's why I'll throw each newly opened bottle's case away from now on.

Now, you may wonder whether this new organisation will alter the way I buy my malts, and the answer is yes. I've seen lots of so-so malts on my shelves. For instance, I did buy an old Knockdhu 12yo OB, just to check whether it was any different from the current An Cnoc 12yo OB. That's something I'll never do again, just because now I know I may never open that Knockdhu! What's more, I'll never buy any obscure malt again, unless I had the opportunity to taste it at a friend's before, or to get a sample of it from a fellow Maniac, or to read a raving report about it from Johannes, Louis, Craig, Davin, Mike, Klaus etc. Otherwise, I'll stick to my favourite distilleries: Ardbeg, Brora, Port Ellen, Caol Ila, Laphroaig, Ben Nevis, Springbank, Highland Park, Mortlach and a bunch of other ones… Hey being a Maniac doesn't necessarily mean being obliged to buy any oddity, does it?

So, just for good record, here's my shortlist of resolutions:
1 - Buying only malts I like.
2 - Never having more than, say 25 opened bottles at the same time.
3 - Pouring any bottle that's less than 1/3 full into some smaller bottles, to keep or to swap
4 - Pouring what's left into my vatting bottles.
5 - Never putting an opened bottle back into its presentation case.

That's all! Easy, right?

Okay, perhaps you're wondering whether this short E-pistle will end without even a single tasting note. Of course not!
Yesterday, I was in Switzerland, and I took that opportunity to visit Paul Ullrich, a famous wine and spirit merchant in Basle (on Schneiderstrasse).  My first task was to get a bottle of Swissky, a weird Swiss single malt, for our friend Lex who happens to collect odd whiskies from all over the world. But while I was there, I spotted a few bottles of one of my favourite whiskies, the Port Ellen 22yo Rare Malts, and of course I plundered the shelf. The keeper of the place was quite friendly, and he offered me a dram… To be honest, free drams in shops are often ordinary ones… But this time, it was something different. Was it because I helped the guy get rid of a bottle of Swissky? Was it because I spent quite a few Swiss Francs on the Port-Ellens? Anyway, he offered me a dram of Glengoyne 28yo. This malt comes in kind of a brass spirit safe (kitsch at its best), and its price tag shows… 250 Euros. Wow! Was the malt worth that huge amount of money? Let's find out…

Glengoyne 28yo 'Spirit Safe' Single Cask (50.4%, OB)
Colour: golden-bronze
Nose: quite mellow. Nice wood and tannins at first, then fruity and perfumy notes: apricot brandy, Danish pipe tobacco, melon, peach, lilac, rose. Freshness and wood.
Mouthfeel: smooth, light and fresh.
Palate: a little 'grainy', like a very good Lowlander. Makes me think of John Glaser's Hedonism.
Wood of course – nice and elegant wood. Very fruity (peach and freshly cut apple).
Finish: medium
A very good whisky, maybe the Rolls Royce of the Lowlands (although classified as an Highlander). Too expensive, though. Maybe they should sell it without the ugly spirit safe – but please no grand-father clock instead! The way Glengoyne presents its greatest malts always astonished me, having seen its advertising campaigns, which are Scotland's most innovative ones. Remember? A Glengoyne plus an old Porsche 911 convertible and this headline: "Air: cooled". Or a Glengoyne plus a Cohiba cigar and this headline: "Air: dried". But don't worry, I'll not start an advertising lesson right now… I just hope Ian McLeod, the new owners, will make the whole Glengoyne concept a little more coherent! (85 points)

Santé

Serge
 

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E-pistle #06/11 - Independents Day II
by
Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland 

Hi, it's me again...

After re-reading my first 'Independents Day' E-pistle , I felt I hadn't really covered the topic.
First of all, I've only included companies I've succesfully googled - i.e. that have their own website.
When I sent my first list to Serge, he pointed out that my selection criteria were a bit whimsical. I have to admit he's got a point there. Fortunately, he also provided me with a huge list of independent bottlers I 'missed' before. Some of the names on Serge's list were rather obscure, but others are reputable companies that didn't make it to my first list only because they don't have their own website (or if they did, I simply couldn't find it). Serge wasn't the only one who felt I hadn't been thorough, since I published the E-pistle many people have commented on the E-pistle and pointed out ommissions.

So, without further ado, I'll give you an updated selection of independent bottlers.
I've used Serge's huge list as a basis; feel free to
let me know if there are any other significant independent bottlers we've missed. Please note that I'm talking about bottlers of SCOTCH single malt whisky here - listing bottlers and producers of grain whisky, blends or other related products would be taking things too far, I think. In the new list I've also included the names of the bottlers I've already covered in E-pistle 06/09 - they are printed in italics. Many thanks to Serge for collecting most of the data.
 

An A-Z selection of independent bottlers:

Acorn (a Japanese bottler - good but expensive bottlings according to Serge)
Adelphi (used to be a distillery, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Bar Metro (see
liquid log entry #123 for a report on our visit in September 2002)
Blackadder (all single cask bottlings, not coloured or chill-filtrated, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Bloomsbury (a London bottler in Bloomsbury, not to be confused with the new Royal Mile Whiskies store)
The Bottlers (bottles only single casks, beautiful labels according to Serge)
Cadenhead (claims to be Scotland's oldest independent bottler, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Caledonian Selection (specialises in decanter bottlings, very old Macallans for one thing)
Celtic Whisky Compagnie (a French bottler in Brittany that bottles some Sauternes-finished single malts)
Clan des Grands Malts (a French club that occasionally bottles some single cask malts)
Dormant Distillery Company (an oddly generic name, hardly information on the web)
Douglas Laing (responsible for some high-end Ardbegs and Brora's, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Duncan Tailor & Company (founded by American Abe Rosenberg, introduced the 'Peerless Collection')
Glenhaven (an American bottler, activity seems to have slowed down after its manager Bill Thompson died)
Glenscoma (a German bottler, famous for bottling some 'bastard' Kininvie - and for being sued by Grants for that)
Gordon & MacPhail (one of the biggest names, active since 1895, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Hart Brothers (based in Glasgow, solid reputation, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Hunter Hamilton (another Scottish bottler from Glasgow, also bottles 'Glen Denny')
Intertrade (an Italian bottler, I've seen a 40yo Glanfarclas for more than 1200 pounds)
James McAllister (a Scottish company that bottles mostly Glen Scotia for supermarkets)
James Mac Arthur (based north of London, one of the first bottlers to bottle at cask strength)
Kick Bar (based in Bologna, Italy, specialises in Islay malts like Bowmore and Port Ellen)
Kingsbury (a subsidiary of Eaglesome's Ltd / Springbank, just like Cadenhead's, Serge's raving about them)
Kirsch Import (a German bottler, based in Syke, famous for their 'As We Get It' Macallan series)
Loch Fyne Whiskies (located in Inveraray, Argyll, bottle their own 'Inverarity' range of bastard malts)
Lombard's (bottles the 'Jewels' series, Jewel of Islay, Jewel of the Highlands, etc) 
Mackillop & Co (a Glaswegian company, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Macleod's (bottles many brands, including Chieftain's and Hedges & Butler, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Master of Malt (just like Loch Fyne and Royal Mile Whiskies, this is a shop and bottler at the same time)
Maxwell (a.k.a. William Maxwell & Sons, known best for their Dun Bheagan malts in French and German markets)
Merchant's Collection (an Italian bottler, little information available, Macallan and Springbank)
Michel Couvreur (from Belgium, exclusively bottles luxury 'bastard' whiskies)
Milroy's of Soho / John Milroy (in London, shop established in 1964, subsidiary of Murray MacDavid)
Montgomerie (a fairly new independent bottler, no further info at this point)
Moon Import (an Italian bottler, very expensive, Serge reccommends the 'Horae Solaris' or 'In The Pink' series)
Murray McDavid (formerly also Mark Reynier's 'La Reserve', see
E-pistle 06/09 or the MR interview for details)
Oddbins (a famous off-license company, bottles the Springbank 'Against The Grain' among other things)
Rossi & Rossi (Italian, bottlings include Wilson & Morgan range, Serge reccommends the 'Barrell Selection' series)
Royal Mile Whiskies (started as a shop in Edinburg, now a second store has oppened in London)
Ryst-Dupeyron (French, from Condom in the Armagnac region, owners of 'Captain Burn's')
Saint Andrews Beverages (located in Fife, Scotland, bottle their own 'Benivor Elite Selection')
Samaroli Import (a big name from Italy, active since 1968, expensive, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Scotch Connection (German, products include the Piper's Preferred range, company out of business?)
Scotch Malt Sales (from Tokyo, Japan, bottlers as well as distributors, including Vintage Malt Whisky Company)
Scotch Single Malt Circle (a club that operates very much like the Scotch Whisky Society)
Scotch Whisky Society (a 'commercial' society that issues its own bottlings, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Scotmalt (a Morrison Fairlie brand, based in Stirling, bottles many cask strength Macallans)
Scott's Selection (an excellent range by the Speyside Distillery Company, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Sestante Import (Italian bottler, seems to have quite a reputation but very little info on the web)
Signatory Vintage (one of my personal favourits, enormous range, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Silver Seal (a small Italian bottler with head offices in Glasgow, bottlings are rare and expensive)
Ultimate (the range bottled by Dutch importers Van Wees, very affordable but all too often forgettable)
Vintage Malt Whisky Company (a young but very active bottler, see
E-pistle 06/09 for details)
Whisky Galore (a bottler from Aberdeenshire, whose actual name is Brands Development Worldwide)
 

Please note that this list is by no means complete - and it isn't meant to be either.
In fact, I've purposely deleted about half the names Serge supplied because I could find little or no substantial information about these companies and their status when I searched the web. And these were just the 'active' bottlers; I could add many 'silent' bottles to the list as well; Corsini, Douglas Murdoch, Duthie's and Whyte and Whyte, to name just a few. I could - but I won't...
I will add some more info on these active bottlers to the overview in
chapter 6 of the mAlmanac .

And now for something completely different...
When
Davin de Kergommeaux and Mark Adams visited the San Fransisco WOW Expo 2003 in April they spotted a Malt Maniacs quote at the Murray McDavid stand. Recognitian at last! Hurray ;-)  But after I heard what the quote was my pleasure quickly turned into wonder. Granted, MurMac is one of my personal favourite bottlers and most other maniacs hold them in high regard as well, but a.f.a.i.k. we never had an official 'popularity contest'. So what was going on?
As it turned out, the quote was based in this score-card:
 
86,80    Murray McDavid
86,24    Douglas Laing
86,20    Adelphi
84,86    United Distillers Rare Malts *
84,75    Mackillop's Choice
83,33    Milroys
81,79    Coopers Choice
81,04    Cadenhead
80,67    James McArthur
80,50    Official Bottling *
80,15    Flora & Fauna *
80,09    Signatory Vintage
79,24    Gordon & Macphail
78,75    Kirsch Import
77,53    Chieftain's Choice
76,80    Hart Brothers
76,39    The Ultimate

OK, that explains things...
This score-card was part of an 'internal memo'.
A while ago Serge
did some doodling on his computer, playing with his 'Malt Mileage Master Manifesto' - a big list with ratings for all single malts the malt maniacs have tried so far. The number of whiskies in the manifesto passed the 1000 mark recently, providing us with an extensive database with scores to study. One of the things he calculated were the average 'bottler' scores, based on our individual ratings. The result was this score-card, ranking the main independent bottlers from 'high' to 'low'.
Serge also sent a copy of his findings to Mark Reynier (of MurMac) when he informed the other maniacs.
Understandably, Mark interpreted this list as our 'official' results - hence the quote at the WOW...

So, did Mark jump the gun on this? Well, that depends...
If you include all 1000 single malts on the manifesto into the equation, Mark's right and Murray McDavid is #1.
The 'Malt Maniacs Manifesto Independent Bottler Top 10' looks like this;

1 - Murray McDavid
2 - Douglas Laing
3 - Adelphi
4 - Mackillop's Choice
5 - Milroys (owned by Murray Mc David as well)
6 - Coopers Choice
7 - Cadenhead
8 - James McArthur
9 - Signatory Vintage
10 - Gordon & Macphail

That means there's a solid foundation to MurMac's claim at the WOW.
But there's another way of looking at the numbers as well...

We never really discussed this topic amongst the maniacs, but I think the fact that many malts on the manifesto have been sampled by just one maniac is a problem. Especially independent bottlings are released in limited numbers, so the odds that your average IB is sampled by several maniacs are rather slim. But we decided long ago that a whisky should be sampled and rated by at least three different malt maniacs to receive an 'official' MM score. Even though we've started adding single malts with just two ratings to the matrix a while ago, I think those average scores shouldn't be taken too seriously. The whole purpose of publishing our 'collective' ratings is to offer the malt loving community something more that just one person's opinion.

So, an argument could be made for including only malts that have been sampled and scored by at least two or three maniacs. That means we'll be looking at the matrix instead of the manifesto. If we do that, we find just five Murray McDavid / Milroy bottlings - and only one of them has a 'solid' average score. So, this policy puts independent bottlers like Cadenhead's, Douglas Laing and Murray McDavid in an awkward position. No matter how good the IB's may be, compared to the OB's they have just a slim chance of ending up on the matrix. That gives the official bottlings an unfair advantage, because most IB's never get a chance to compete.
Well, let me tell you that this injustice will not stand! I think I can say (with all due modesty) that the malt maniacs have already earned themselves a reputation on the www. That means we have an obligation to 'the public' and to ourselves to try and cover as many releases as possible. Since we started our sample swaps last year the number of IB's in the matrix has already grown significantly and that's just the beginning...

Behind the scenes we're busy setting up a 'Malt Maniacs Awards' infrastructure. That's just a working title right now, but I think you get the idea. After setting up a number of guidelines and categories we will start a big survey of the official and independent bottlings that have been released recently to determine which distilleries and bottlings are the team favourites. To make sure all maniacs on the testing team are on the same page we're reviewing our rating policy right now. I don't want to spill the beans on the details just yet, but if you have subscribed to the mailinglist you will receive more information about this project in the forseeable future.

But all these big plans don't help us out right now.
Until our new 'system' is operational we'll have to rely on the cold hard numbers in the current matrix.
Is Murray McDavid also the 'best independent bottler' if we only take the matrix malts into consideration?
To find out I asked Serge to extract a list of top scoring bottlings from our manifesto. To make sure the list would contain only malts that had received the official 'Malt Maniacs Seal of Approval' I specifically asked for the malts that had been sampled by at least three different malt maniacs. I realise this puts independent bottlers at a disadvantage compared to the distilleries and their owners, but I guess we'll just have to live with that for now.

Here's the Matrix Independent Bottlings Top 20 Serge came up with (including average scores):

93,86   Brora 29yo 1972/2001 (59.5%, Douglas Laing Platinum Selection 2nd Release)
91,38   Ardbeg 27yo 1973/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
91,25   Ardbeg 29yo 1972/2001 'Ardbeggedon' (48.4%, Douglas Laing / PLOWED)
90,30   Laphroaig 15yo 1985/2000 'Laudable' (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
89,90   Ardbeg 24yo 1975/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
87,00   Caol Ila 12yo 1989/2001 (46%, Signatory Vintage, Bourbon casks)
86,43   Ardbeg 8yo 1992/2000 (43%, Signatory Vintage Millennium Edition)
86,38   Braes of Glenlivet 17yo 1979/1997 (58.1%, Signatory Vintage)
86,00   Talisker 19yo 1980/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
85,71   Ardbeg 9yo 1990/2000 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask)
84,71   Caol Ila 1989/1999 (43%, Mackillops Choice)
84,43   Ardbeg 9yo 1991/2000 (46%, Murray McDavid)
83,40   Ardbeg 8yo 1991/1999 (43%, Signatory Vintage)
83,14   Brora 19yo 1982/2001 (46%, Chieftain's Choice, Sherry casks)
82,88   Bladnoch 1992/2002 (58.8%, James McArthur)
82,88   Mortlach 21yo (40%, Sestante Import)
81,71   Highland Park 11yo 1988/1999 (61.5%, Mackillops Choice)
81,50   Glenrothes 8yo (40%, Gordon & Macphail)
80,86   Linkwood 12yo 1989/2002 (43%, Coopers Choice)
80,57   Brora 20yo 1981/2001 (43%, Signatory Vintage)

OK, that looks quite different, doesn't it?
When we use this policy Murray McDavid really suffers from the fact that it's hard to
obtain for some maniacs. Based on just the malts on the matrix I'd have to say Douglas Laing has just as much right to the title 'Best Independent Bottler' as MurMac. Just bear in mind that the 'handicap' that makes it difficult for IB's to enter the matrix provides an even bigger obstacle for independent bottlers that bottle small batches. Availability and affordability have made Signatory Vintage one of the few independent bottlers that's well represented in the matrix. Ahat's the story as far as the matrix is concerned...

When it comes to my own personal preferences I can sing a happier tune for MurMac.
Granted, Douglas Laing reigns supreme on my
Hit List as well, but with fabulous bottlings like the Ardbeg 9yo 1991/2000 and Lagavulin 14yo 1984/1999 Murray McDavid could very well be my second-favourite independent bottler. Signatory Vintage remains a strong contender as well with a wide range of affordable bottlings from many different distilleries.

And that pretty much concludes my thoughts on independent bottlings in general.
I'd like to finish this E-pistle with some more information about Murray McDavid. A while ago Serge and I had a discussion about whether or not the MurMac bottlings were single cask bottlings. Each bottling has a unique 'cask ref' number (like MM 2356) on the label, which Serge interpretred as a single cask number. But he also found most labels showed the text 'Aged in X casks for X years'. Furthermore, when I visited
the Murray McDavid website I noticed they have a clear philosophy on the topic, favouring vattings of specific casks over single cask bottlings.

We were not quite sure what to make of it, so Serge decided to drop Mark Reynier a note.
He got back to us quickly with the following response;

"MMCD are NOT single casks - necessarily - for the reasons I have explained to you and which are outlined on our website under the "Sum of the Parts" philosophy.  There is cask reference number: MM (Murray McDavid) followed by four digits that are our reference numbers - not a Customs  allocated cask number.  There are usually between one and five casks selected from a parcel after tasting for their qualities, the remainder being sold on, or retained for aging.  It is very rare that we come across a single cask that truly merits being bottled on it's own, being harmoniously balanced.  By marrying two or three very good casks together, we obtain two things: an even better bottling - and more depth of stock;  The former is obviously desirable,while the latter allows the consumer to repurchase a preferred bottling. Remember - MMCD bottles for drinking, not collecting."

Well put, Mark. And you made a very good point with your 'repurchase' remark - I could kick myself for not buying some more of that stupendous MurMac Lagavulin 14yo 1983. Like I said at the beginning of this E-pistle, (international) availability is a key issue when it comes to the success of IB's on the matrix. As the number of malts in Serge's manifesto grows, so will the number of IB's on the matrix. We've already sampled close to 1000 different single malts and I feel it's only a matter of time before the IB's will be able to compete seriously with the OB's.

One final remark.
All these independent shenanigans have given me a different perspective on my own quest.
I'm currently trying to sample at least 3 different bottlings from each distillery, but what if the companies that select and bottle these malts are an even more important factor when it comes to product 'quality'? It's too early to tell, but I wouldn't be surprised if this turns out to be the case. Until then, I'll follow the chosen path of 'distillery research'.

And that's it from me on this topic - at least for now.

Sweet drams,

Johannes
 

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E-pistle #06/12 - JOLT Transcript - Pandora III
by
Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

After successfully exchanging samples with Craig and Serge for the Pandora II Double Blind we decided to go for a Triple Blind JOLT. Klaus Everding, Mark Adams and Michael Wade all received a package with six identical 125ml samples of unknown origin.
Click
HERE to read the transcript of the proceedings.

 

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Surf to Scotchwhisky.comDrop me a note... 

My own 'Independents Day' E-pistle seems like a haphazard collection of inchoherent ramblings in comparision - my only excuse is that I had to write it while adding a vast number of fresh entries to the matrix.
I've tied up some loose ends in a 2nd E-pistle:
Independents Day II.

Let's see - what else?
Mark wrote a short piece about his
'Laphroaig Epiphany',
Louis reports on
an evening with John Hansel, Michael wrote a very entertaining Sherry Monster Report, Klaus sampled 3 Islay Samples and Davin visited The Rock to find some new malts.
To top it all off, Serge has written some words about the problems that come with a large drinking collection. If you have more than two dozen opened bottles on your shelves (and you're not an alcoholic) it may be difficult to keep them in good shape.
Read these pointers.

The theme for this issue is 'independent bottlers'. After Craig and Louis wrote some words on this topic in MM#3 Serge became inspired. Assisted by Olivier Humbrecht he started his own investigation .  They sampled 41 different independent bottlings, produced by Cadenhead, Douglas Laing, James McArthur, Signatory Vintage and Murray McDavid.

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