To prepare my nose and palate for some serious nosing and tasting, I poured myself a stiff dram of the Ardbeg 17. After all, the fact that this is almost the last night of the year 2000 qualifies as a special occasion that deserves a special malt.
Nose: Salt & sulphur. Some peat, some brine and some sweetness as well.
Lemon sweets. Wonderful character and complexity. Grows sweeter with time.
Taste: Relatively sweet start, followed by a big pepper & peat explosion.
Great development into a big, multi-layered finish. Rating of 90 points stands.
This is one of those single malts that show new sides every time you try a dram.

I proceeded with the final rating of Royal Lochnagar 12 - a pretty 'standard' malt in a pretty 'standard' bottle with a label that must have been designed before WWII.
Nose: Oily, but not unpleasantly so. Liquorice. Faint sherry and fruit.
Some smoke. Drops off after 15 minutes.
Taste: Dry and smoky start. A very distant echo of fresh fruit.
Long, sweet, malty finish. Not much depth, but quite pleasant.
Final rating: 74 points. Nice, but not complex enough for my sophisticated taste.

Now there's an opening on my middle shelf. The Macallan 10 (40%) from my reserve stock seems to fit that opening perfectly, so I opened the bottle, and compared it to three different Macallans in a 'Triple Head-to-Head' session. The other contestants were the official Macallan 10 yrs. 100 proof C/S and Macallan 12 yrs. from my top shelf and the last drams of the Macallan 'Speymalt' 1990 (by Gordon & MacPhail) I found in a cupboard I hadn't opened in at least six months. Foreign correspondents Craig Daniels and Klaus Everding did something similar a while back with their Macallan 'Horizontal' tastings.

Macallan 10 vs Macallan 10 100 Proof:
Obviously, the cask strength version had a much more concentrated nose. Both have an obvious sherry character, but it's more
apparent in the c/s. The c/s seems sweeter, too. On the other hand, due to its relatively restrained nose, the 'normal' 10 initially shows a lot more more different components over a malty, nutty base. The taste of the normal 10 starts off very sherried, but opens up into a long sweetness. The c/s is sweet from the start, with more obvious wood tones. Both have a very long finish.
After diluting the c/s to around 40%, I compared them once more.
This time, the nose of the ordinary 10 reminded me of fresh baked bread. The c/s still appeared more sherried - more smoke and power too. Both seem sweeter in the nose now. On the other hand, the c/s had lost a lot of sweetness in the taste after dilution, becoming smoky. Next to the c/s, the ordinary 10 almost seems like a subtle malt. Very interesting, both of them. The c/s would rate a few points higher because it represents different malts in one and keeps developing in the glass longer than the ordinary 10 does.

Macallan 10 vs Macallan 12:
Can this be right? At first sight, the 10 seems to have more nose than the 12! After a little while, the 12 grows in 'volume', while the 10 grows in complexity. It isn't long before the 12 has overtaken the 10. After a few minutes, both noses seem to grow towards eachother. The taste profiles are quite similar as well; sherried with a long, sweet finish. At first sight, the difference may be no more than a point's worth.

Macallan 10 vs Speymalt 1990 (Gordon & MacPhail).
Phew! After the previous tastings, the Speymalt is hardly recognizable as a Macallan. What a disaster. The Macallan 10 is sherried, sweet, complex and stylish; the Speymalt is... not. The less said the better. I used the last three or four drams of the bottle of Speymalt for my 'special blend'. The fact that I found this old bottle seems to be kind of a mixed blessing. Why on earth did they decide to release this bottling? As a whisky it's very nice, as a single malt it's acceptable but as a Macallan it's substandard.

Macallan 10 - **** (Mid 80's)  Amazing value at less than 25 Euro's (fl. 56,95)
Macallan 10 100 Proof - 88 points (increased from 87 points)
Macallan 12 - 86 points (rating remains unaltered)
Macallan Speymalt 1990 - 71 points (decreased from 74 points)

The new 'sissy stregth' Macallan 10 moves to my middle shelf, where the Royal Lochnagar used to be. The Lochnagar takes the place of the Glentromie 12 on my bottom shelf, which is nearly empty anyway. Let's finish the job.
Nose: Relatively flat and thin. Citrus. Sweetish. Sparkly.
Taste: Very sweet, like cake. A bit malty. Pretty long finish. Dry.
Over the last few months of breathing in the bottle, it seems to have improved considerably - especially the taste. The final rating is increased to 59 points.

For the 'Grand Finale' of tonight, I pulled out the Glenmorangie 18. The Maltman's Special Reserve, to be precise, with little pieces of cork. I poured a glass of the Glenmorangie Cellar 13 next to it for comparison. Almost 20 tastings after the cork incident I find myself with a bottle that's nearly empty. Because of special procedure next few months - see bottom of this report for more info. See 'Bypass operation' -
Nose: Not as powerful as I've come to expect from 'Morangie.
Sweet tangerines. Honeyish.
Taste: Smooth start. Peppery burn, softened by a big honey sweetness.
Touch of mint? Mocca? Slowly dissolving honeyed finish, livened up by pepper.
Final rating: 82 points. Because this malt has been contaminated with cork, this rating shouldn't be taken too seriously. Besides, it's feasable that the 'ordinary' bottling of Glenmorangie 18 is different from this ceramic curiosity. I may buy another bottle in the future to find out; drinking this stuff is no punishment.

I will use the rest of the bottle on new year's eve for the decadent purpose of warming me on my traditional 'New Year's Eve Midnight Woodwalk'. After last year's disaster, I will make sure to bring a flashlight. My night vision isn't what it used to be and I'm all out of carrots.

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Other events since my previous report:
(In chronological order)

November 1:  Brother's Blind

My brother Franc (who knows how to enjoy the occasional malt) joined me for a session. The fact that I had an awful nose day didn't bother me none. After all, I had my brother to assist me in my explorations. The fact that it's getting pretty cold outside doesn't hurt either.

We had to soak our palates before the real tasting started; I poured myself a dram of the familiar Glen Keith 1983 from my bottom shelf and submitted Franc to a blind tasting of the Arran malt at the same time. He never tasted it before, so this was just my way of getting a completely unbiased second opinion about this malt that has pleasantly surprised me. Franc did his best to determine the region, but failed - not surprisingly. His best guess was 'either Campletown, Midlands or Lowlands'. Considering the location of the island where this malt is produced he wasn't far off. He said it reminded him of a bit of a young Springbank - and I can see his point. Franc gave it 60 points, but I would have rated it higher. Very refined for a malt this young. I'll have myself a proper tasting session soon.

And the Glen Keith 1983? Citrus and chocolate in the nose. Sweet and warm taste. Very nice. Still pretty good, but not quite as good as I remembered. The rating of 76 might have to be decreased in the future - just a notch, mind you. Will have another tasting soon to empty the bottle.

After treating him to such an unfair blind test, I rewarded Franc (and myself) with a dram of the intruiging Murray McDavid Lagavulin 1984. It's bottled in 1999, so only a little younger than the official 16 years distillery bottling. But what a difference! Very light in colour, as a result of the bourbon wood aging. Good bite at 46% with a dry finish.
We sniffed the 16 yrs. from my top shelf next to it, which appeared very sweet in comparison. Franc detected a Laphroaig likeness I didn't and rated it at 80 points; I would have given it a preliminary rating of **** (Lower 80's) right now.

I sent Franc out of the room and poured him another blind; the Laphroaig 15.
Of course, I had a (very fine) dram as well. Again, I detected certain similarities in style with the other Bowmores (17 and 21). Franc was very pleasantly surprised and stated that he wouldn't object to drinking this every evening - or every morning for that matter. I almost agreed with him on that part, but when he said he recognized the Macallan 12 he dropped a few points on my 'People-to-take-serious-in-malt-related-matters' scale. When I informed him he was mistaken, he switched to Highland Park 12. Wrong again, but this proves he has good a nose for quality, because my current ratings are quite similar for these malts; HP12 = 85, Mac12 = 86, Lphg15 = 86.
'Surely, this is no Islay?' he bellowed. Yes, it was! Now he detected a soft hint of the iodine in Laphroaig 10, but he still didn't recognize it. After a few more minutes of guessing I gave him the answer. He then told me he thought of Macallan 12 first because of the strong sweetness of the malt, absent in Laphroaig 10. OK....

For me, the (already impressive) rating of 86 is increased to 87 points.
To be honest, I've been leaning towards 87 points for a few drams now. This whisky shows new sides every time you try it. One of the great malts, but just too darned expensive at well over 50 Euro's a bottle. I'll go for the 10 yrs. (only 30 Euro's) instead, the next time I want Laphroaig power.

Time for some music (Al Stewart's 'Year of the Cat') and a blind test for me.
Franc was kind enough to limit his choice to my top shelf, so I only had 16 malts to pick from. The first whiff told me this definitely wasn't an Islay, which excluded almost half of the bottles on my top shelf right away. Then I went by the remaining bottles one by one.

Glen Scotia 14?         No - not salty enough
Highland Park 12?     Erm... No - not sweet enough
Glenfarclas 105?       No - not strong enough
Cragganmore 12?      Erm... Maybe
Macallan 10 C/S?     No - not overwhelming enough
Macallan 12?           No - not enough sherry
Glen Garioch 15?       Well... Might be
Rosebank 1983?         No, not light enough
Balvenie DW 12?         No, not complex enough
Glenturret 1978          No, not spirity enough

This left me with two choices. The round sweetness in the nose suggested Glen Garioch, but the dry twang in the tast could indicate a Cragganmore. I thought it to be just too sweet for the Cragganmore, so I guessed wrong: Glen Garioch 15.
It actually was the Craganmore 12.
Bollocks. There goes my reputation.

OK - Let's forget all these blind shenanigans and do some serious nosing and tasting. The final rating of the Tomintoul 12, for example. The weird 'Jugenstil Thermos' design of the bottle alone makes this a candidate for my Top Shelf. Such a wonderful bottle deserves a wonderful piece of music - Rachmaninoff's 'Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini'.
Nose: Nutty! Versatile and rather interesting. Multi-layered.
Sour one moment, spirity with chloride a moment later. Very sweet after 15 mins.
Taste: Nutty as well; sweet and simple. Gooseberries? Turns malty.
Nice, but no real finish. Very hard to pin down.
Final rating: 76 points. (Franc awarded it 77 points.) Nice!
Despite the great bottle, it moves to my bottom shelf - for now.
It may get promoted when space becomes available on my top shelf.

But right now, I will have to empty a bottle from my bottom shelf to make room. The victim: the Signatory Vintage Ardbeg 1991 - that didn't really belong on my bottom shelf anyway. I just put it there because I won't be buying another bottle soon - even if it were possible. The 'official' 10 and 17 on my top shelf are better and there are a lot of other versions out there that I haven't tried before. But everyone should try this one as well. Matured in oak cask for 8 years, this is a malt that offers great value. 15 Euro's cheaper than the 'official' Ardbeg 10, which only scored a few points more (80 vs 83).
Nose: Great. Relatively soft Islay with a hint of Iodine. Sea salt. Brine.
Taste: Sweet and salty. Not as complex as older versions.
Rather soft start develops into a warm, briny burn. Very dry finish.
Franc pointed out the clear medicinal character. Of course he was right; it's funny how we tend to overlook the obvious in familiar malts. My final rating of 80 points stands; Franc awarded it 75 points because he felt it was a little disappointing for an Islay malt. Nevertheless, we enjoyed a second dram to finish the bottle.

And then we got to open a fresh bottle from my reserve stock. We picked the 'Chieftain's Choice' Convalmore 15 that recently reached my shelves. This malt has a deep red hue, similar to the Glenfarclas 105.
Nose: Nice!!! Very full and complex. Sweets. Coconut liquorice all sorts.
Interesting, but hard to define. Almost looks like top shelf material at first sight.
Taste: Relatively soft start becomes more interesting and develops into a slow, sweet explosion. Ends with a long, dry, woody finish. A lot of development.
At first sight this qualifies as an amazing discovery; better than a lot of the new malts I picked up lately. Preliminary rating: **** (around 80 points); looks like the 40 Euro's are worth it. Franc agreed with me on that point and gave it 78 points.

Time to call it a night.


November 4:  Catching up

Yesterday, I picked up three bottles at 'the other liquorist'. I wasn't bargain hunting this time, so I forgot my usual fl. 100,- limit ( +/- 45 Euro's or 40 U$ dollars right now) for just this once. I got myself:

- Aberlour a'bunadh - fl. 112,50 (because Craig Daniels recommended it)
- Glencadam 1987 - fl. 80,95 (because I haven't tried any Glencadam yet)
- Glenmorangie Madeira (1 litre) - fl. 120,00 (because I just LOVE this stuff)

I'd like to try them, but all three bottles go into my reserve stock for now.

Last week, my new litre bottle of Macallan 12 went straight onto my top shelf without being opened. Let's check if this bottle is as good as the previous ones. Ah! The famous sherried sweetness filled the room after I poured myself a generous dram.
Nose: Very complex. Sherry sweetness; peanuts later on.
Taste: A very dry finish. Maybe slightly less balance on the tongue than previous bottlings - but no more than a point's worth at best. The bottle may have to break in. Will have to see how it develops in the future.

So now I'm thinking: Will the Macallan 12 drop from 86 to 85 points? Let's have a dram of the wonderful Highland Park 12 (85 pts) to compare impressions. This is an old favorite; a steady factor on my top shelf for years. I've sampled at least a dozen bottles over the last 10 years. With all the tasting of new malts lately I tend to forget that there's always plenty of familiar 'liquid friends' around to make me feel comfortable.
Nose: Sherry first, deepening into woodier and smokier notes after a few seconds.
Soft start, growing more complex and powerful over time.
Taste: Smooth and sweet. Toffee / Honey. More smoky after a while.
Deep finish, sweet and dry at the same time.
HP 12's time honoured final rating of 85 points stands; the little bit extra balance and complexity of the Mac 12 keep it at 86 points for now.

My nose, palate and memory are now 'in synch'. I feel ready for a final rating.
The Gordon & Macphail bottling of Scapa 1985 (bottled 1995) seemed like a good candidate. This bottling is a lot better and completely different in character from an 'Ultimate' bottling that was on my shelves a few years ago.
Nose: Salt and a little smoke. Chloride? Rather sharp. Oilier later on.
With water: some improvement. The nose isn't as good as the taste.
Taste: Chocolate! Vanilla. Very, very nice. Some salt. Peppery later on.
Water killed most of the palate, but the finish remained very long.
Final rating: 78 points. Taste is rather impressive for such a young malt.
Would have scored even higher with a 'bigger' nose.

Like with all other final ratings, the newly rated bottle pushes another bottle from either my top or bottom shelf. For those of you not familiar with my shelf policy and situation: Apart from my 'Reserve Stock' of unopened bottles there are three shelves with room for 16 bottles each. New, unrated malts go to my middle shelf as soon as the bottle has been opened. After a while (usually 6 months or so), they receive a final rating and move to either the top shelf (my current favorites) or the bottom shelf (malts I probably won't buy again). The Scapa is a difficult one; I like it a lot, but not quite enough to remove one of my top shelf malts prematurely. For now, it goes on my bottom shelf, replacing the Glen Grant 10. Scapa may move to my top shelf as soon as a spot comes available.

The bottle of Glen Grant 10 can easily be replaced at low cost, so after tasting a last dram I used the remainder of the bottle for one of my 'special blends'. I've found that this is a great value malt that can be used as an affordable base for my 'vatted malts'.
Nose: Nice and sweet; rum and cocos. Malty. More spirit and citrus later on.
Taste: Sweet and malty with a decent burn. Uncomplicated. Very dry finish.
Rating of 70 points stands - very good value at 20 Euro's.

Oops - let's not forget I get to open a bottle from my reserve stock. I decided to pick one of the two Glenfiddichs. Let's go for the Glenfiddich 15 yrs. Solera Reserve. I've had some very pleasurable (but 'unofficial') encounters with the 15 Cask Strength so I decided to keep that one stocked for a rainy day.
The design of the bottle and label is quite beautiful, actually.
Nose: Rather flat start. Smoky. No sherry apparant at first.
Taste: Not as sweet as I expected at first, but after a few seconds it spreads out with a sweet warmth. White chocolate. Sherry. Good texture, but a tad too dry in the finish.
Preliminary rating: *** (Mid 70's); a lot better than the 'Special Reserve' without an age statement. Incidentally, this last bottling seems to be in the process of being replaced by a 'Special Reserve' with a 12 yrs. age statement in the Dutch market. Have to try that one sometime soon. Based on the name (Solera) I had subconsciously expected a very sherried malt, but this isn't the case. The name 'Solera' indicates the particular production system of this malt.


November 11:  Recalibrations

I visited a friend of mine in The Hague who had just bought himself fresh bottles of Macallan 12 and Balvenie 21 Port Wood Finish. Great opportunity for a series of HTH's between the two of them. He also had half a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label left, but we didn't even bother when we could be drinking these two great malts. My suspicions were confirmed: The Balvenie 21 is different from, but every bit as good as Macallan 12.
The rating of Balvenie 21 will be adjusted, from 85 to 86 points.

Meanwhile, me and the members of the Malt Madness Team have been having a long and frantic discussion by e-mail about the subject of our next E-signment: the sense end nonsense of rating single malts. As a result, I've been looking into my own rating system. How fair is my own system and does it adequately reflect the differences between the different single malts - as I see them? I wasn't completely sure, so I organized a few calibration sessions at home and in 'De Still' to compare my ratings to one another and the ratings of the foreign correspondents. I'll spare you the gory details, but my conclusion was that I may have been a little stingy at the top end of my scale. After a lot of soul searching and a series of head-to-head tastings the following changes occurred in the top of my list:

94 pts -> 95 pts - Lagavulin 16
91 pts -> 92 pts - Talisker 10
88 pts -> 89 pts - Macallan 18 (1976; last bottle the bar had on stock)
84 pts -> 85 pts - Glenmorangie Port Wood Finish
83 pts -> 84 pts - Glenmorangie Madeira Wood Finish
83 pts -> 84 pts - Laphroaig 10

I will have a Head-to-Head tasting session with Macallan 10, 10/100 Proof and 12 soon to see if there are any changes there.
End session log.

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November 12:  Middle Shelf Explorations

I started my session with a stiff dram of the Bowmore Darkest. Opened almost three months ago, this bottle keeps puzzling me. After some of the glowing comments I've read on the web, my expectations were pretty high. Sadly, the first few glasses were a major disappointment. Let's see if it has improved after some breathing.
Nose: More Islay than before, with smoke (burnt caramel). Seemed more complex.
A lot of 'volume' after a few minutes of breathing. With water: More chloride.
Taste: Flat & Harsh, with a nasty chemical sweetness.
Ashes and smoke. Palate is pretty much destroyed with water - too dry.
Preliminary rating: ** (Upper 60's). The nose seemed to show some notable improvement, but the taste was just as bad as before. This must have been a bad cask. And to think you can get a bottle of the (very good) Bowmore 15 for the same price...

The Signatory Vintage Ben Nevis 1990 (aged in sherry butt for 8 years; bottled 1999) is the first big bottle of Ben Nevis I've tried. It is an 'unofficial' bottling, so it probably doesn't represent the real distillery 'style'.
Nose: Interesting. Creamy. Slightly oily. Some sherry. Rubber?!? Citrus.
A little more smoke later on, opens up with some water.
Taste: Unbalanced. Not sweet enough at first. Peppermint? Some smoke.
Slightly oily. Strange sensation of salmiak. Dull, dry finish. No soul.
The taste (especially when watered down) is really disappointing after the intruiging nose; the nose would score somewhere in the mid 70's, but the taste drags it down to a final rating of 67 points. It almost seems like they've matured this malt in refill casks where they should've used first fill casks - or just a few more years in this cask.

The Ben Nevis moves to my bottom shelf - but first I've got to make some room. Let's check the last few glasses of the Glen Keith 1983 to see how it has progressed over the last few months, before I empty the bottle to make way for the Ben Nevis.
Nose: Much more spirity than I remembered. Woodier after 10 minutes.
Not an improvement compared to my previous experiences.
Taste: Still very nice. Sweet and toffeeish. Malty. Ginger. Warming.
A bit like cupcakes. The finish is not very long and lacks complexity.
It seems that either: (A) this malt has suffered quite a lot over the last six months or (B) my original rating of 76 points has been a little generous. Very pleasant, but nothing too spectacular. The rating will be adjusted downwards. New rating: 74 points.

Now there's an empty spot on my middle shelf where the Ben Nevis used to be.
I decided to fill it with the fresh Aultmore 1985 from my reserve stock; another Signatory Vintage bottling. It's distilled in 1985 and bottled in 1997.
Decent 'Plop!' when I opened the bottle.
Nose: A bit herbal. A whiff of rotting hay. Spirity at times.
With water: Perfumy. Vanilla? More flowery and fruity. Fresher all around.
Taste: Smooth and a bit peppery at the same time. Sherried; a little oily.
Malty finish, becoming very dry and woody. Big burn in the back of your throat.
This one is hard to pin down. Preliminary rating: *** (Lower to Mid '70's)

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November 14:  Second Delivery

I've just picked up the second batch of 'free' bottles from my malt monger in exchange for my work on his website. I got these 10 bottles:

0.7 l - Auchentoshan Three Wood
1.0 l - Bowmore Cask Strength
0.7 l - Craigellachie 1983 (Vintage Choice)
0.7 l - Glenesk 1984 (Connoisseurs Choice)
1.0 l - Glenmorangie Traditional 100 Proof
0.7 l - Highland Park 18 yrs.
1.0 l - Knockdhu 12 yrs.
0.7 l - Littlemill 8 yrs.
1.0 l - Old Pulteney 12 yrs
0.7 l - Pittyvaich 1976 (Signatory Vintage)

Oh boy - Five of these bottles are from distilleries I have never tried before, and the other ones are unfamiliar versions of familiar malts. A big step forward in my search for the perfect single malt. And let's not forget there are 10 more bottles on their way. I'm already having a problem with storing my reserve stock, and I'm trying to figure out how I could possibly find any room for new bottles. I guess I'll just have to drink a lot over the next few weeks.

I'm having a bad nose day, so I limited myself to the Loch Lomond tonight - one of the bottles on my bottom shelf I'd like to finish as soon as possible to make room for better malts. Five generous drams later only one quarter of the bottle could be considered full.

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November 15:  Yearnings & Cravings

Now I have a yearning.
A yearning to open the bottle of Glencadam from my reserve stock. But I can't do that until I've given a final rating to one of the bottles currently on the middle shelf where I keep my unrated malts. But I can be creative when push comes to shove.

My eye fell on the bottle of Macleod's 8 yrs. This is a generic bottling that is rumoured to be nothing less than... my favorite: Lagavulin. Klaus Everding brought it as a gift from Hamburg when he visited three months ago. Now, I usually wait at least six months before I declare a final rating. But the heavy traffic between my shelves over the last few months has left very few bottles on my middle shelf that have been there long enough. The Macleod's won't go into any of my 'official' lists ( Black Book, Ratings, Best-to-Worst List ) because I'm not completely sure about it's origins. Most likely, it's a Lagavulin, but I still haven't excluded the possibility that it could be a Talisker. The bottle doesn't say, so I can't give it any kind of 'official' status. Let's give it a premature final rating to make room on my middle shelf.
Nose: Light Islay. Slightly peaty. Whiffs of citrus at first.
More sherry and smoke later on, but not nearly as heavy and complex as an older Lagavulin (or Talisker for that matter).
Taste: More obviously Islay than the nose. A little sweet.
Salt, peaty finish. Gritty; a bit of a 'rough' mouth feel.
Final rating 76 points, which means it's just as good as other 'low profile' Islays like the Bowmore Legend or Bruichladdich 10. Nevertheless, it falls a little short of the 80 points benchmark that distinguishes good malts from great malts. Rest assured that I will pick up another bottle some day, provided it becomes available in Holland and doesn't cost me more than 25 Euro's.

So now I get to open the fresh bottle of the 'Connoisseur's Choice' Glencadam 1987 (bottled by Gordon & MacPhail at 40%) I bought a few weeks back. I've avoided this malt up until now because it scores only 69 points in Michael Jackson's book. The fact that my respect for Michael Jackson's opinion has been diminishing (and I simply have to sample at least one bottle of Glencadam anyway) made me pick up this bottle.
Nose: Aroma flows over the edge of the glass. Sweet. Raisins? A lot of different elements. Disappears after 10 minutes, but comes back with sweet vengeance.
Taste: Sweet. Long and warm, followed by a dry finish.
Preliminary rating: *** (Lower to Mid 70's). Not bad, but it seems to me this malt would have done slightly better at 43 or 46% - or even cask strength for that matter.

And I might as well have a dram from my bottom shelf as well.
I'll have to empty these bottles one day or another anyway...
The Inchmurrin 10 is really something else. The first few whiffs seem interesting, but then it just becomes spirity with a lot of menthol and eucalyptus. A little malty. The taste is not too bad but weird. Fish oil? Something found in Chinese (Shezuan) quisine? Smooth and soft sweetness with eucalyptus and malt. Sweeter after a while. Strange.
As a drink it's quite nice, but as a single malt it's not very impressive. Nevertheless, it has a character of its own and it has grown on me. Originally, it rated at 63 points - but now I feel it is intruiging and distinctive enough to earn some extra points. New final rating: 66 points. Only a little better than Glenfiddich SR or Johnnie Walker Black Label, but still worth a try sometime - especially in the summertime.

My nose and palate were still fresh.
I thought 'What the heck' and used the last remains in the bottle of Inchmurrin 10 in one of my special blends, thus cunningly creating a vacancy on my bottom shelf that enabled me to work out a final rating for the...
Dallas Dhu 10 (Gordon & MacPhail bottling).
Nose: Sweet and (especially) sour apples! Some sherry. Some smoke.
Lovely sweetness. Chocolate? Interesting. Very distinctive.
Taste: Soft & smooth at first, sweeter with more sherry & malt later on.
Toffee and choccolate? Menthol? Long afterburn. Nice development; dry finish.
I have to pass a final verdict about this one, but I'm still not completely sure - even after more than six months. Final (?) rating: 79 points.

And thus I get to open a fresh bottle from my reserve stock.
I was in the mood for something light, so I picked my new bottle of Littlemill 8
from the Lowlands. It comes in a no-nonsense bottle with a no-nonsense plastic screwtop. Maybe this isn't the most easthetically pleasing solution, but it seals the bottle a lot better than the cheap tin screwtops you see a lot these days. From a functional point of view, I actually prefer this over a cork. When I poured myself a dram the color was a lot darker than I would have expected from a Lowlander this young. I suspect heavy caramel coloring has been used here. Rest assured, I'm not prejudiced.
Nose: Very big for a Lowland. Oily. Sweet and slightly smoky. Butterscotch?
Taste: Soft start. Surprisingly sweet. More smoke after a while.
Watery finish picks up after a while, becoming sweet.
A lot stronger than most Lowlanders, quite a surprise.
Preliminary rating: *** (Lower 70's). Very different from any other Lowlander I've tasted; this could be interesting at an higher age. Too bad the distillery has been closed - just like a lot of other Lowlands distilleries.

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November 22:  Mega Session

With all the good stuff coming into my reserve stock these days, I find myself drinking more than usual - just to speed up the traffic between my shelves.
It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it...

First candidate for a final rating: the surprising Arran; a relatively fresh addition to my middle shelf. If I'm not mistaken, the distillery is the youngest one in Scotland, founded in 1995. The distillery itself is only five years old, so that's also the maximum possible age of this malt. They've been smart enough not to put an age statement on 'the jailbait of single malts' (forgetting the Drumguish 3 for a moment).
Nose: Oily and creamy. A little sweet. Quite interesting.
A little smoke and some nuttyness later on.
Taste: Watery start. Smooth with a malty burn, followed by a light sweetness.
Spoilt by a dry and bitter finish. Disappointing after the surprising nose.
Not too bad, but the impression this malt makes varies from time to time.
A bit better than I'd expected, considering its age.
Final rating: 63 points.

I was on a roll, so I proceeded directly with the Strathmill 10, my first bottle in the 'Scottisch Wildlife' series of Signatory Vintage. This bottling has a raggedy red squirrel on the label that doesn't look particulary appetizing. But I'll have a go at it anyway.
Nose: Strange! Some sweetness, some smoke? A lot going on in the background.
Opens up after 15 minutes; sweeter with more citrus tones. Intruiging.
Taste: Dull start, a little sweeter over time. A bit malty.
Orange skin flints. Apples and menthol in the strange, long, dry finish.
Final rating: 67 points. No smoothie, but an interesting nose.

Both bottles are definitely bottom shelf material (meaning I probably won't ever purchase a second bottle), so in addition to opening two new bottles from my reserve stock I will have to finish two of the bottles currently on my bottom shelf to make room for the new ones. I selected the Glenesk and Craigellachie from my reserve stock and the Tullibardine 10 and Glen Elgin from my bottom shelf.

Like many independent bottlings, the Connoisseurs Choice Glenesk 1984 (bottled in 1997) had a cheap tin screwcap that would have caused me to avoid it if it hadn't been produced by one of the distilleries from uncharted territory. Now I simply had to pick up a bottle in order to cross one more distillery from my 'Unknown' list.
Nose: Restrained. Lacks character.
Grainy, more like a blend than a single malt at first sight.
Taste: Sweet burn at first, but the sweetness disappears.
Smokier after a while. Chocolate in the finish?
Quite pleasant bit uninteresting; Preliminary rating = ** (Upper 60's)

Moving swiftly along with the 'Vintage Choice' Craigellachie 1983 (bottled 1994).
Nose: Sweet maltiness. Slightly oily and nutty. A hint of rotting hay.
Taste: Hmmm... Malty. Seemed very sweet in the first glass, but I couldn't detect it as strongly in the 2nd glass. Gritty mouth feel.
Preliminary rating = ** (Upper 60's).
First results aren't promising, but I'll give the bottle a chance to 'break in'.

OK - That's the 'pioneering' part of the session over with.
All that's left to do is finishing off the bottles of Tullibardine and Glen Elgin n.a.s. The (distillery bottling of) Tullibardine 10 comes in a plain, unattractive bottle. A bit like the malt it contains, really.
Nose: Oily. A bit malty. Dull with some grainy characteristics.
Opens up a little after a few minutes.
Taste: Slick and oily; a little sweeter one year after opening the bottle.
Final rating of 61 points stands. Nothing special, but still a lot better than your average blend or vatted malt, which ususally score between 20 and 50 points.

Finally, there's the Glen Elgin (no age statement).
Nose: A pleasant sweetness. Soft honey with a hint of citrus.
Some interesting ingredients, but all in all too subdued for my taste.
More sweetness - Toffee. Smooth burn.
Showed some 'orange' character in the taste and honey in the finish.
Very nice, but nothing more. For me, this is malt offers the minimum amount of enjoyment a 'good' single malt should offer, so the final rating of 70 points stands. Would have scored higher with a bigger nose, but recommendable nonetheless.

Something occurred to me while was finishing the last few glasses from the bottle of Tullibardine 10. Thanks to the mysterious process of oxidation, there is one distinct advantage we malt afficionados have over wine lovers. After a bottle of fine wine is opened, you have to finish it quickly. The wine geek can enjoy a great bottle of wine for just one night, we malt geeks can go back and back to the same great bottle of single malt whisky for month after month; year after year in some cases. Not to mention we can get at least twice as drunk in the process!
Am I making any sense here or is it just the booze talking?

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November 25:  Anti-Social Session

Some whisky loving ex-collegues had planned to join me for tasting session at home yesterday, but this plan fell through due to some last minute crises at work. I had been saving two bottles on my top shelf especially for this occasion; The Laphroaig 15 that Davin got me almost a year ago and what must be my tenth bottle of the Balvenie 12 Doublewood. My ex-collegues could not help me finish those nearly empty bottles to make room for some of my more recent acquisitions, so I had to do it all by my lonesome self. I put a little out of each bottle aside in special miniature bottles to share with my brother and a friend in a few days.

I started with the Balvenie 12 Doublewood.
Nose: Sherry. Big and sweet. Wow! Salt. Some smoke? Musty?
Very complex. A feast for the nose.
This malt has a wonderful development over time in the glass.
Taste: Very sherried burn; the sherry now overpowers all the other wonderful elements. Some menthol? After extensive breathing, it has lost a lot of the sweetness of a fresh bottle and has become much saltier after a lot of breathing in an nearly empty bottle.
A very fine malt, and good value too. Please note that this bottle is well over a year old. It seems that as time goes by, the nose gets better and better but the sherry in the taste becomes to pronounced. Better finish this one within six months or so.
Final rating of 85 points stands, confirmed by the two last, very generous drams.
The bottle is now empty but will soon be replaced with a new one.

I was on a roll, so I finished another one of my 'favorite-but-sadly-almost-empty' top shelf malts; the Laphroaig 15. This is a friggin' good dram. I wonder if 86 points do it justice. Time for a final showdown between myself and the older and wiser brother of 'the ultimate peat monster', Laphroaig 10.
Nose: Oh, the peat! But there's more. Lots more. Smoke and even sulphur.
Marzipan? Complex with all kinds of fragrances and nuances.
A lot softer than the 10.
Taste: Powerful, but tempered by sherry, oak and a deep sweetness.
An almost cognac-like finish; flooding tongue, throat and palate. Complete.
In the light of the recent slight adjustments in the top of my scale I have no problem whatsoever with raising the final rating to 87 points. Not as extreme as the 10, but a better 'all round' malt.

Two empty bottles on my top shelf already, and it's past my bed time.
Tomorrow, I'll try a few suitable replacement malts on my middle and bottom shelf - before I completely exhaust my supply of 'emergency malts' on the top shelf.

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November 28:  Final '2000' Delivery

A few days ago, my liquorist dropped by to drop off the last batch of free bottles he promised me in exchange for building his website. Sadly, some whiskies on my original wishlist (Like Ardbeg 1975, Longrow 1987 and The Macallan 1874) were not available anymore. Meanwhile, some other interesting bottles had come in, so after some creative wheeling and dealing (and the exchange of around 500 Euro's in cash) these eighteen bottles were added to my collection:

- Balvenie 21 yrs. Port Wood Finish
- Benrinnes 15 yrs. (Flora & Fauna)
- Benromach 1978 C/S (UDRM)
- Bruichladdich 15 yrs.
- Caperdonich 1980 (Connoisseur's Choice)
- Dailuaine 16 yrs. (Flora & Fauna)
- Glendronach 15 yrs.
- Glenfarclas 12 yrs.
- Glenfarclas 21 yrs.
- Glenlossie 10 yrs. (McGibbons Provenance Autumn)
- Glenmorangie 18 yrs. 'Maltman's Special Reserve' (Ceramic Decanter)
- Glentauchers 1979 (Gordon & MacPhail)
- Laphroaig 10 yrs. 100 Proof
- Ledaig 20 yrs.
- Macallan 18 yrs. Gran Reserva 1979
- Springbank 30 yrs. (Milroy Golden Strength - 50%)
- Talisker 1986 Double Matured
- Teaninich 1982 (Connoisseur's Choice)

Bugger me with a fishfork!
I just discovered something. If Michael Jackson's books are anything to go by, I'm making very good progress in my search for the perfect single malt. There are only 6 active distilleries left in Scotland that can be considered 'Terra Incognita' - at least to me. They are Aberfeldy, Allt-A-Bhainne, Ben Wyvis, Braeval (Braes of Glenlivet), Glen Spey and Kininvie. Malts from the other 85 active distilleries in Scotland are either tasted & rated, or part of my collection. I already know what my new year's resolution for 2001 will be: Finding bottles from these six remaining distilleries and tasting them, along with the undiscovered malts in my collection. After tasting and rating at least one bottling from each active distillery, I will shift my focus towards 'parallel bottlings' like Longrow and Old Roshdu and closed or mothballed distilleries like Balmenach, Glen Albyn, Glen Flagler, Glenglassaugh, Glenlochy, Kinclaith, Ladyburn and Millburn. And with the way my carreer is going lately, I might also be able to afford a few older and overpriced bottlings from some of my favorite distilleries as well.

Anyway - I didn't open any of these bottles tonight. Instead, I decided to finish the last drams of the Original Mackinlay 21 yrs - a blended whisky. After the Chivas Regal Royal Salute, this is my favorite blend. I doubt if they used any grain whisky when they blended this one. I couldn't detect anything grainy. Added benefit: This whisky has a lot of stamina - after more than two years of breathing it hadn't lost its power and character. There were some trange littles pieces of... of something strange floating in the bottle. Maybe cork.
Nose: Big with lots of character. Sherried. Sweet, but also peat and leather.
Taste: Sweet, round and very woody - but not ubpleasantly so. Great!
This one beats more than half of the single malts I've tasted so far. My prejudice towards blends has caused me to underrate this one. Final rating is increased to 80 points. Amazing value at less than 30 Euro's. I can only hope that future blendings are as good as this one. It's hidden gems like these that put the '200 Euro's a bottle' Johnnie Walker Blue Label (71 points) to shame. One of the very few blends (or vatted malts for that matter) that would be top shelf material if I would allow blends up there.

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November 29:  Second Opinion Session

Oh, boy. Tonight, my brother Franc and 'Alcoholic Par Excellence' Eric came over to assist me in advancing the emptyness of some of the bottles in my collection.
I had the foresight to save small tasting quantities of the Balvenie Doublewood 12 and Laphroaig 15 in a few tiny 'blanco' bottles I keep especially for blind tastings.
Tonight, they were used for the preparation of our palates.

Franc on Balvenie 12: Very salty. One of the great ones. 80 pts.
Eric on Balvenie 12: Promising & complex nose, taste too flat. Like cognac. 76 pts.
Franc on Laphroaig 15: Ammoniak. More balanced than 10 yrs. 82 pts.
Eric on Laphroaig 15: Peat! Bitter aftertaste. Sherry Port-like woodiness. 82 pts.
As far as my own comments are concerned: see my November 25 Report.

If we want to open a bottle from my reserve stock, we will first have to declare a final rating on a bottle from my middle shelf. Let's go for the Bowmore Darkest that has thoroughly disappointed me so far, but seems to be revered by some other malt lovers. I've seen a lot of glowing recommendations on the web, so I was curious about some 'beginners' perspectives on this Bowmore.
Franc: Disappointing nose, especially after the two previous ones. Lacks sweetness.
Someone pissed in it? The worst he tasted in quite a while. 65 points.
Eric: Smooth; caramel candy (Wherter's Echte). Burnt caramel. Too burnt.
Grassy / hay. Matured in charred casks that previously contained fish? 68 points.

As far as my own comments are concerned: The nose has obviously grown in complexity over the last few months. Sadly, most of the interesting nuances (sherry, caramel, sour sweets?) were overpowered by the strong, overly smoky character that again reminded me of 'Buysman'; burnt caramel some people use in their coffee here in Holland. After fifteen minutes, the nose gets sweeter. While the nose had improved, the taste hadn't changed one bit. A lot of heavy smoke and tar, not balanced by any other tastes. Some sweetness or freshness would have really helped here. Now the taste is strictly one dimensional - and not very pleasant at that. The finish sucks ass too.
Final rating: 65 points - and that's just because the nose has become quite interesting over the last few months. Based on just the taste, it would have scored below Glenfiddich Special Reserve. Now it barely matches the score of Glen Grant (no age statement) - a malt that costs about a quarter of this heavily overpriced and overhyped Bowmore Darkest. Eric agreed on my obsevations and suggested this malt would be better suited in some kind of 'potpourri' setting - Good for nosing, bad for drinking. Please note that Bowmore Darkest is a single cask malt, so bottlings from other casks may be better - or even worse for that matter. I'm not planning on finding out anytime soon.

The difference between nose and taste in this malt started a discussion about the very nature of my ratings. For malts like the Bowmore Darkest it could be useful to keep seperate ratings for nose and taste. In this case, 65 points is the result of something like a 77 points nose and a 53 points taste.

Anyway - the Bomore Darkest moves to the back of my bottom shelf, making room for a fresh bottle from my reserve stock. Franc and Eric chose the Glenmorangie Cellar 13. Both are fans of the movie 'Highlander' and remembered that Glenmorangie is the main character's preferred malt. While Franc and Eric engaged in a vague discussion about when Connor McLeod drunk his very first whisky I poured them and myself a stiff dram from the litre bottle and did some checking on its background. This particular malt has matured for 10 years in first fill, American mountain oak in one of Glenmorangie's 14 cellars - cellar 13 to be precise... This is the one closest to the coast.

Our findings:
Franc: Fresh nose. Taste: citrus, peppery, longer and sweeter than the 10. 81 pts.
Eric: Very sweet. Mint. Metallic. Taste peaty and salty - not very special. 78 pts.
Me: A very peculiar sweetness in the nose. Vanilla and Marzipan, with some citrus and mint. Some pepper as well - a trademark of the younger Glenmorangies. After a while the sweetness dies out, leaving more greasy / fatty impressions. Taste: Sweet. Avocado? Long finish with a strange mix of salt and nutrasweetness.
At first sight, it's different from the 10 (sweeter) but not significantly better. Maybe just one point's worth, which puts it in the **** (lower 80's) range.

Let's not forget we have to empty a bottle from my bottom shelf as well.
The Loch Lomond (no age statement) was the perfect candidate - almost empty and a bottle I wanted to get rid of as soon as possible anyway.
Franc: It stinks. 58 points.
Eric: Cod-oil and hay in the nose; marzipan and salt in the taste. 65 points.
Me: Very oily. Cod oil. Schnapps & salt. Nothing much, rating of 55 points stands.
Franc & Eric understood why I used the last few glasses for my 'special blend'.

I felt creative and went for a diversified approach. For Franc (who likes the strong, peaty malts) I poured a dram of the Caol Ila 1981 (Connoisseur's Choice). Eric (who is blessed with sissier sensibilities) received the Littlemill 8 - and I decided to join him.
Franc on Caol Ila 1981: Real heavy shit. 'The Gimp' of whiskies. 85 pts.
Eric on Littlemill: Fishy nose; fruit cocktail. Citrus and honey in the taste. 73 pts.
Me on Littlemill: Peaches, melons and smoke in the nose. Taste sweet. ***

For our final dram of the evening, we picked my new bottle of Glenmorangie 18, which wasn't actually a bottle at all. The Glenmorangie Maltman's Special Reserve 18 yrs. old (to give it it's full name) comes in a beautiful ceramic decanter. The decanters are even individually numbered - I got number 4465 - and come with a seperate cork with a ceramic top. Sadly, all this pump and circumstance backfired when I tried to remove the (temporary) cork from the bottle. The corkscrew tore the cork to shreds and the only way to reach the liquor was to push the broken cork into the bottle and to pour the contents through a filter a few times to seperate the whisky from the little pieces of cork. I can't believe this treatmant is good for the whisky - it comes into contact with air much more than it ordinarily would, so I suspect oxidation will take a bigger toll than usual. I guess I will have to finish this bottle a lot quicker than I had planned.

Nose: Some sherry, some mint. More creamy and nutty after a while.
Taste: Minty start, then sweeter. After a few minutes the famous pepper emerges.
Preliminary conclusion: We all felt it wasn't all that different from the Glenmorangie 10 and Cellar 13. In fact, if I had to choose right now I'd probably go for the Cellar 13. Certainly not worth the higher price. I will have myself a proper tasting session soon.

And this is where I stopped making notes. The rest of the evening is pretty vague, but I remained sober enough to limit the rest of our drinking to Connemara, Johnnie Walker Green and Chivas Century of Malts.

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December 2:  Balancing Session

A few nights ago, I emptied the bottles of Laphroaig 15 and Balvenie 12 on my top shelf. Ah... Sweet memories. Time to replace them with the best bottles from my bottom shelf. That would be the Tomintoul 12 and the Scapa 1985, I guess. With the introduction of my new stock system, every bottle of single malt that is rated, emptied, promoted or demoted causes traffic between my shelves. If you don't understand the logic behind my system you'll just have to take my word for it: I will have to fill the empty spots on my bottom shelf by declaring a final rating on two malts from my middle shelf. And they can't be top shelf candidates either. Furthermore, I get to open two bottles from my reserve stock that will consequently be moved to my middle shelf with unrated malts. Geddit?

The first candidate for a final rating is the Oban 14. I usually wait at least six months before giving a final rating, but given the fact that this is my third bottle (I tasted the other bottles before I started taking serious notes) I think I can safely pass judgement on this one after three months and around a dozen drams.
Nose: Shellfish? Salty, but restrained. A pinch of peat and some short sweet bursts. The aroma reminded me of someting on a farm - couldn't remember what it was.
Taste: Smooth, soft start develops into a smoky burn. Good mouth feel.
Well balanced with sweet and salty episodes. Sweeter with time. Dry finish.
Final rating: 77 points. A very decent dram, but no top shelf material.

And then there's the Lochside 10; on my shelves for about 6 months now.
The bottle and label look alarmingly cheap, but I'll give it a fair chance.
Nose: A little sweet. Raisins. Slightly grassy and oily. Hmmmm.
A hint of smoked nuts after a while.
Tongue: Very warm, but not sweet at first. Very malty start.
Sweeter after a while. Bitter; dry finish with a rough mouth feel.
Final rating: 68 points.  No reason to buy another bottle in the future.

Two vacancies on my middle shelf. The first bottle to move from my reserve stock was the Signatory Vintage Pittyvaich 18 yrs. 1976; distilled 22/6/1976, bottled 2/95, cask no. 8633/34, bottle 222 of 630, matured in oak casks.
Nose: Fresh, sparkly. Spirity. Whiffs of smoke. Interesting.
Light citrus/fruity character. Sweeter with time.
Taste: Surprisingly sweet and long. Very nice. Seems stronger than the actual 43%.
Preliminary rating: *** (Mid 70's) The first tasting reminded me of the more potent Lowlanders, but it is in fact a Speyside malt.

The other bottle that gets 'promoted' to my middle shelf is the Old Pulteney 12. This standard distillery bottling is quite widely available, but it still has managed to elude my greedy little hands - up until now, that is.
Nose: Not much at first. Dry, with a little peat after a while.
Taste: Oily at first, becoming honey sweet after a few seconds.
The strong sweetness turns into a long, salty finish. Cold burn.
Preliminary rating: *** (Mid 70's). The taste seems better than the nose.

The content of my shelves is balanced once more; I can go to sleep now.

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December 8:  Just Another Session

Last week's session offered only slight relief for my current stocking problem.
Ah - the troubles I have... Let's have a glass of the wonderful Ardbeg 10 from my top shelf while I think about a possible solution and prepare my nose and palate for some serious nosing and tasting.
Nose: Smoke and brine, balanced by a nice sweetness.
Peat and iodine later on. Deceptively complex.
Taste: Light start followed by a long, sweet burn. Melons? Then a miniature version of the Ardbeg explosion that turns into a long, smoky finish.
The rating of 83 is increased to 84 points . A rugged malt with a sweet heart.

I feel ready for a final rating. The Ardmore 1981 (bottled in 1995 by Gordon & MacPhail) comes in a classic bottle with a very nice label. Shame about the tin screwcap.
Nose: Nice! Deep sherry with something I can't put my finger on.
A hint of oranges and soap perfume. Something 'sparkly' as well.
Taste: Very nice. Smooth and sweet like whipped cream.
A decent malty burn, followed by a relatively short, dry finish.
Final rating 78 points; not at all bad but still 'bottom shelf' material for now. Just barely, so it might very well get promoted to the top shelf in the future.

Who has to move from my bottle shelf?
How about the Signatory Vintage bottling of Glendronach 9 yrs. 1987
, matured in sherry butt? And how about opening the 'official' bottle of Glendronach 15 (matured in sherry casks) from my reserve stock to take the place of the Ardmore on my middle shelf? That way, I will have a chance to taste them against each other in a proper HTH-session. The color of the distillery 15 is much darker than the SigVint and has a distinctive deep reddish hue. Probably caramel.
Dist. 15 nose: Great! Big & fruity. Sherried and sweet, with hints of smoke and peat.
SigV 87 nose: Quite flat. Sherry. Oilier than the 15. 'Grainier' in character.
Dist. 15 taste: Very sherried and too woody at the start. Oak. Long sweet finish.
SigV 87 taste: Nice sweetness. Sherry burn. Liquorice in the taste. Oak. Long.

The official 15 beats the nose of the SigVint 9 decisively, but on the taste front the difference in quality isn't as obvious - although the 15 is slightly better. Both palates are just too darned sherried and woody for my personal taste. The nose of the official 15 is great, though. Lot's of interesting development. And when you give it time, the taste shows some interesting sides as well. Based on this first dram, the preliminary rating of the 15 is *** (Upper 70's). If the taste improves over the next few months it might even reach the lower 80's. The final rating of 71 points for the SigVint 1987 stands.

I finished the evening with the last drams from the Signatory Vintage bottle of Glendronach 1987 - one more casualty in my quest for the prefect single malt.

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December 9:  Midnight Mayhem

It's 23:55 and I've just finished work on the Malt Madness Matrix. I decided I deserved a few honest drams after an honest day's work. To prepare my nose and palate I started with the Old Fettercairn 10 from my middle shelf.
Too early to give a final rating yet, but good for the pre-rating phase.
Nose: A bit restrained. Oily start; sweeter over time.
Slightly nutty. Just a hint of peat and smoke.
Taste: Soft and smooth, with a gentle sweetness.
Sticky in the mouth. Dry & sweet finish.
Preliminary rating: *** (Lower 70's). Nice, but not spectacular.

To determine the final rating of the Connoisseur's Choice Caol Ila 1981 (on my shelves for half a year now), I tasted it in a head-to-head session against the fabulous UD Rare Malts Caol Ila 1975 (cask strength) from my top shelf. I've been leaning towards increasing the current rating of 86 points for a while now; this is as good a time as any to verify my sentiments and suspicions.

CC81 Nose: Peaty with a hint of sherry. Relatively restrained, but interesting.
RM75 Nose: Much stronger than the CC. Salty with amazing development.
CC81 Taste: Surprisingly smooth and sweet over a peaty base.
RM75 Taste: Fresh and salty; a long sweet finish with lots of development. Aniseed!
Then I diluted the RM to around 40% and compared them once more.
CC81 Nose: Seemed oilier now. Raw beans? Sweeter after a while.
RM75 Nose: Very salty, with some peat as well. A lot going on beneath the surface.
CC81 Taste: Sweet. Still very nice, but less development than the RM.
RM75 Taste: Complex. Finish remains very long. Great stuff!

No contest, really. Both are very good malts, but the 'Rare Malts' 1975 just has more personality and 'ooomph'. And it's a cask strength to boot, something which increases my enjoyment of a single malt considerably. The final rating of the Connoisseur's Choice 1981 is 82 points, while the UD Rare Malts Caol Ila 1975 jumps to a whopping 88 points. It may not respond to water as well as the Macallan 10 100 Proof, but it tastes surprisingly good at cask strength. A terrific single malt that shows new facets every time.

Let's face it, the 'Ultimate' Glenturret 19 yrs. 1978 doesn't really deserve a place on my top shelf, even though it was a Christmas 1999 present from my former employer.
Nose: Lemon. Grape juice. Soft sweetness, becoming stronger with time.
Taste: Nice. Sweet lemons. Juniper in the very dry finish.
The rating of 75 points stands. A nice summer malt; considerably better than the distillery 12 yrs., especially in the nose. The Caol Ila 1981 moves to my top shelf and replaces the Glenturret, which I will try to finish completely later tonight.

Now I get to open a bottle from my reserve stock. The Bowmore Cask Strength is the lucky one; bottled at 56% - with no age statement. Let's find out how it compares to the other bottlings in the wide Bowmore range.
Nose: Seems like the 'Islayest' Bowmore at first. A lot of peat, smoke and salt.
Taste: A big, dry burn with sweet episodes. Nutty. Drinkable at C/S.
Then I diluted the Bowmore to around 40% and examined it once more.
Nose: Decreased intensity, with more sherry and sweetness.
Taste: Smoky and peaty. Some sherry. Lacks balance.
Preliminary rating: *** or **** (Around 80 points).
Oke, that wasn't at all bad. After the Bowmore Darkest disaster I feared the worst, but this is actually a pretty decent dram. It isn't very refined, but it packs enough Islay heat for these cold winter nights. The character seems like a magnified version of the 'Legend' and 'Surf' bottlings, so I suspect this malt to be around the same age - around 8 years.

I finished the evening with the last drams from the bottle of Glenturret 1978 that got pushed off my top shelf. No punishment drinking a little too much of this...

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December 12 - Private Investigations

This is not an actual tasting report, but you may find this information useful.
Holland's largest chain of liquor stores, Gall & Gall, has recently introduced the 'Malts of Distinction'. It's a series of four whiskies - single malts according to the label - from the four most important whisky regions; Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands and Islay. All are bottled at 10 years, priced a little over 20 Euro's and produced by Invergordon Distillers. The series:

Ardnave 10 yrs. ('Malts of Distinction' Series - Islay)
Ben Wyvis 10 yrs. ('Malts of Distinction' Series - Highlands)
Cairnluish 10 yrs. ('Malts of Distinction' Series - Speyside)
Glen Foyle 10 yrs. ('Malts of Distinction' Series - Lowlands)

Now I just recently heard about the Ben Wyvis distillery (as far as I know one of the few active single malt distilleries in Scotland that isn't mentioned by Michael Jackson), but the other three names are not familiar. An extensive search on the web didn't produce any useful results either. Gall & Gall has a reputation for releasing crappy private bottlings from dubious origins (usually overpriced and with fancyful names like Glen Stuart), so I had my doubts whether these were actually single malt whiskies or not. Nevertheless, I was willing to take a chance on the Ben Wyvis and Ardnave - on the off chance that the latter would turn out to be a relabeled Ardbeg 10.

Sadly, when I visited the nearest Gall & Gall store, they were all out of Ardnave. I did find one bottle of the Ben Wyvis 10, though, hidden away behind dozens of bottles of Cairnluish and Glen Foyle. Seems like some bottlings in this series are more popular than others. I purchased the Ben Wyvis, together with a bottle of the new 'Special Reserve' from Glenfiddich, labeled as a 12 years old single malt. It is rumoured to be significantly better than the old 'Special Reserve' without an age statement. I managed to restrain myself and didn't pick up the new official bottling of Glenfarclas 8, although it was on sale. I already have three versions of Glenfarclas on my shelves (105, 12 and 21), so I could do without a fourth bottle taking up precious shelf space.

The Ben Wyvis 10 and Glenfiddich 12 move to my reserve stock for now.

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December 13 - Private Investigations II

Did I say I managed to contstrain myself at Gall & Gall yesterday?
Well - not for long. Images of the Ardnave 10 and Glenfarclas 8 kept popping up in my mind, so I visited another branch of Gall & Gall today to pick up these bottles.
At fl. 49,95 (less than 25 Euro's) a bottle I couldn't go far wrong.

Those were the only reasonably priced malts Gall & Gall had on offer, so I visited one of my other liquorists (Menno Boorsma) to pick up another six bottles:
- Allt A' Bhainne 1989 50% John Milroy Millennium Selection (fl. 90,00)
- Dalmore 12 yrs. (1 litre - fl. 65,95)
- Glen Albyn 1977 Signatory Vintage (fl. 107,50)
- Glenrothes 1987 (fl. 76,95)
- Scapa 12 yrs (1 litre - fl. 79,95)
- Tomintoul 10 yrs. (fl. 49,95)

The Allt A' Bhainne and Glen Albyn were obtained compulsively; I haven't tasted anything from these distilleries yet so I just HAD to buy these bottles. With the Aberfeldy and Breas of Glenlivet on order from Klaus, I'm on the verge of completing phase 1 of my search for the perfect single malt. After I have located bottles of Glen Spey and Kininvie, I will be able to add them to my collection and taste them over the next year. If all goes according to plan, I will have tasted the product of every active distillery in Scotland by the end of 2001. After the 'scouting' phase 1 is complete, I can focus my search on the regions and distilleries that have the greatest 'potential' (of producing the best single malt in the world) during phase 2 of my voyage of discovery.

But then again, it may very well be that I've already stumbled upon the greatest whisky in the world in the form of Lagavulin 16. If that would be the case, there's absolutely no point in spending more than 80 guilders (a little over 35 Euro's / 30 U$ Dollars) for a bottle of single malt whisky. With that in mind, I selected the rest of my purchase based on my 'bang-for-my-buck' expectations. If this bottling of Dalmore 12 is as good as the previous ones, it'll move to my top shelf as soon as a spot becomes available. Based on Louis's reports and my experiences with the 1985, I expect the Glenrothes 1987 to do well also. And the Tomintoul 10 doesn't have to be nearly as good as the 12 (76 points) to achieve a reasonable position on my 'bang-for-your-buck' list. I bought the Scapa 12 in order to add my own rating to the Malt Madness Matrix soon.
All bottles go straight into my reserve stock.
No tasting tonight.

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December 26 - Christmas tasting

Yesterday, I prepared my traditional Christmas feast for my family, back in the woods. My brother had bought a bottle of Lagavulin 16 for the occasion. We we're quite alarmed when we discovered that the nose of this particular bottle was much more reserved than we had grown to expect. Less complexity in nose and taste as well. Still a nice whisky, but it wouldn't have scored over 85 points. I hope that this isn't a trend! Could there be some truth to the rumours that the quality of the Lagavulin 16 is dropping?

Well, I'll have to investigate this later.
Today, I'm enjoying some peace and quiet in the comfort of my own home. After a relatively dry period of a week or two, I felt my liver needed some practice.

I started with the Glenmorangie 18; a bottle I have been tasting intensively over the last month. I found that I quite like it, but I wonder if I would have liked it quite so much if this hadn't been a free bottle. The price is quite steep while it doesn't seem to perform significantly better than the ordinary 10 yrs. old version.
Nose: Sherried and nutty. A soft layer around the different fragrances.
Taste: A bit malty. Weak start quickly turns into a long sweetness. Sherry dry finish.
Preliminary rating: **** (Lower 80's). I will try to give a final rating within a few days, perhaps after a HtH with the Glenmorangie Cellar 13.

I proceeded with a close examination of the Tobermory (no age statement). The first thing that meets the eye is the bulky, green bottle. It's a thin line between distinctive and ugly. Seems good for whacking people over the head with, though...
Nose: Very restrained. Flat. A bit oily with a very faint hint of peat.
Cod oil. Notably sweeter with time, with impressions of mint and candy.
Taste: A bit sweet and malty, with some distant peat. Milk powder?
Lacks balance and complexity. Sweet, salt and bitter take turns in the finish.
Final rating: 55 points. This is really nothing spectacular. There are a lot of better malts (and even blends!) available in this price segment.

But now I have to finish a bottle from my bottom shelf to make room for the Tobermory. I chose the Glen Grant (no age statement). Not a lot better than the Tobermory (it scores 65 points), but at a price of something like 15 Euro's I don't have a problem with that. I'll spare you the details of the tasting; nothing much had changed since my previous reports.

I'm feeling great! Great enough to open the Glenfarclas 12 from my reserve stock. This particular bottle seems to come from Germany, given the text 'mit farbstoff - zuckerkulor' on the label. Well, this was pretty obvious from the deep, almost reddish color.
Nose: A lot of it. Sweet and sherried. A little smoke. Like fruit cake.
Fruitier tones emerge after fifteen minutes.
Taste: Not nearly as sweet as I expected from the nose - at first.
Very smoky. Oaky. Liquorice / Aniseed? Long, sweet finish with a lot of wood.
Preliminary rating: *** (Upper 70's). At first sight it isn't very different from the 10 yrs. old version - perhaps a bit drier and woodier. I'm not sure if it's an improvement. Well, I'll have plenty of time to find out later.

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Closing Note:  Bypass Operation

That's it for now, folks.
But as a closing note, I'd like to inform you that the coming months will be particulary interesting. You may know that at any given time there are 48 open bottles in
my collection - distributed over three different shelves. With the enormous number of new bottles that have been coming in lately, my middle shelf (freshly opened, unrated malts) is filled with 16 relatively fresh bottles, the most of which are at least 3/4 full. I usually wait for a minimum of six months before I decide on a final rating, because (contrary to popular belief) some single malts do change after the bottle has been opened. Some need a few weeks to 'break in', while others lose or gain some specific characteristics after a longer period of time. For the most part, these changes are minor, but I still like to wait a while to determine if a particular malt can stand the test of time.

At the same time, there are now almost 50 unopened bottles in my 'Reserve Stock'.
But not all of them are genuine 'Reserve' bottles like Macallan 10 100 Proof, Glenmorangie Madeira or Singleton of Auchroisk 1981; my cherished 'old favorites' that I want to keep for opening on a special occasion - maybe years into the future.

Apart from those genuine 'Reserve' bottles I have a lot of rare or rather expensive bottles I haven't tried before - like Talisker 1986 Double Matured, Macallan 18 Gran Reserva and Springbank 30 yrs. Those bottles will probably be opened some time next year, when the mood strikes me and the occasion and/or company seems special enough.

And then there's a number of more 'mundane' malts I'm especially curious about. In most cases, this curiosity stems from the fact that I've never tasted any product from that particular distillery yet. Over the next three to four months, I plan to do intensive and extensive research on the following single malts currently in my reserve stock:

Allt A' Bhainne 1989 (John Milroy's Millennium Selection - 50%)
Ardnave 10 ('Malts of Distinction')
Benrinnes 15 (Flora & Fauna)
Ben Wyvis 10 ('Malts of Distinction')
Bruichladdich 15
Caperdonich 1980 (Connoisseur's Choice)
Dailuaine 16 (Flora & Fauna)
Glen Albyn 1977 (Signatory Vintage)
Glenfiddich Special Reserve 12 (new bottling, with age statement)
Glenlossie 10 (McGibbons Provenance)
Glen Moray (old bottling without wine maturation)
Glen Moray 12 (new, chenin blanc bottling)
Glentauchers 1979 (Gordon & MacPhail)
Knockdhu 12
Ledaig 20
Teaninich 1982 (Connoisseur's Choice)

Of course, I will still be sampling the occasional malt from my top, middle or bottom shelf (especially when I'm entertaining visitors), but right now I plan on concentrating my  research on these, soon to be opened bottles. The rest of the bottles in my 'Reserve Stock' will remain unopened for at least a few months.

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Over the last year, I've been documenting more and more of my tasting experiences. As a result, this 'Hot Report' page has grown into a huge list, combining notes on a large number of tasting sessions. That's why I decided to transform this page into a 'Liquid Log', chronologically documenting my tasting experiences. This will enable me to publish more frequent reports on Malt Madness without having to move pages with reports of single sessions around the site. I hope I will be able to update Malt Madness at least once a month after I've made some technical changes.

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Finally, here's a piece of good news: The members of the malt madness team and me have been thinking about setting up our own monthly E-zine: 'Malt Maniacs'.
Click here for more info.

Watch this site for tasting reports on my new acquisitions.
Check out the
E-Reports or Old Session Reports section for more tasting notes.

December 29, 2000

After a few busy weeks and a few more busy weeks to come, I feel like I'm in 'the eye of the storm' - so to speak. A great opportunity to dip into my collection for some yuletide tasting experiences.

Ardmore 1981, Dallas Dhu 10,
Scapa 1985, Caol Ila 1981,
Arran, Bowmore Darkest,
Tomintoul 12, Glenmorangie 18.

 Last 2000 Session

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