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Front page of MM#17

E-pistle #17/23 - Limburg 2006: Thousand Times Trick or Treatin'
Submitted on 14/04/2006 by
Michel van Meersbergen, Holland

I could have keep things very simple. Just take last year's Limburg report,
change some names, dates and malts. Just like that. I'd be surprised if
anyone noticed. You think I underestimate you, or do I dare to write it
was no different from last year. Just read my report from last year,
imagine different names, dates and malts and you'll have yourself an
excellent concept of what Limburg is all about. I could have ended
this e-pistle right here and now. I feel very much doing so…

… I can't…
As you could have read in
the Groningen report of Martin Diekmann and
the E-pistle by yours truly , Martin and I had spend a few words about our
Nation's cuisine. Martin won that round hands down. I had to have revenge
and dared Martin to a nifty interview about 'Schnitzel'. It should have been
great. Friday night Christel and I sat in a restaurant which boosted no more
than eight different kinds of Schnitzel. You can only imagine the fun I was
having, composing the questions for Martin, mind mapping different scenario's
to keep 'the ball', or in this case: 'The meat hammer'. Only to find out Martin
was suffering from a severe flu. Get well soon, Martin, we'll have our chance
in a hopefully not so far away future! To the festival, let's go!

Different from last year I decided not to make notes. Instead of trying to expand my mileage as far as possible, putting my liver at risk or being unapproachable for anyone I brought some 100 3ml bottles with me. I don't know if it was a great idea. Last year people saw me franticly writing notes, this year the same people saw me franticly preparing and buying samples. So franticly I failed to pay just that little more respect to Stewart Laing, who was clearly enjoying himself seeing me buying samples from 10 different Platinum bottles, very convinced I was a Maniac, tough not so convinced I was a Malt Maniac. Perhaps these lines will do... He was at the festival with his son, clearly showing him around in the end-user spectrum of the business. Is it safe to assume we can expect news from Douglas Laing about that? To bad I didn't took my time and try to get him into a mini-interview.

Trick or treat bastard! No sweets, just samples!

Armed with sample bottles, notebook & funnel I prowled the festival stands.
Sometimes I had to keep myself from cracking up because of the faces the
stand holders gave me. After selecting malts, writing them down, which
takes about three minutes for 5 samples, most were rather disappointed if
they were presented a small bottle with a small funnel instead of a glass.
I'm sorry guys, responsible scoring is as important as… eermm… can't
believe I'm going to write this… responsible drinking. Some stand holders
eventually did persuade me, making it a 'Just Sweets and Also Samples'.
Remember, no notes taken, samples at home.

Feeling Hungry?

The Lindorables decided after a disappointing Bruichladdich dinner last
year to do things their way. That's why they organised the Lindores Dinner
Limburg 2006. 30 people spread around 3 tables. Maniacs Olivier, Serge,
Ho-Cheng and myself, Christophe from France, Ronald Wuijster from the
Netherlands, Dino and two friends from Austria and last but not least Christel
sat at one table. I can't describe what happened that evening. There were times
I had the feeling I got lost in a Fellini scene, all accompanied by a sound system, that was about to blow, squeaking 'music' giving a surreal edge to the whole setting. It's best to take things step by step. You could have seen step one in Johannes' log: A very nice picture of all the attending Maniacs. The bottle in my hands is the 8yo Hazelburn from Cadenhead. It received mixed critics. Let's say it shows a lot of the character coming from Triple Distillation combined with a not too bad sherry cask… To bad Thomas had to run for the train right after the picture was taken. There were a few 'incidents' however...

The second but one hell of a major step for me was something Bert Bruyneel from Lindores brought me. Ardbeg 1974/1983 (59%, Samaroli, 2400bts) to be precise. I took notes, scored it 94 points, had to promise Bert to resample it at home and for now I will only say it carries the number 1.000 in my list. That's just SSMW's, no bastards, vattings or other variants. Enough for the numbers… Dinner is served.

We started with a great 1993 Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Domaine Zind-Humbrecht Olivier Humbrecht brought.
Followed by: Canapés of Scottish smoked salmon and medium roasted beef and goat's cheese with blue grapes
[91] Talisker 8yo (45.8%, OB, green glass, twist cap, 75cl, mid 1970's)
Colour: Light copper. Nose: Peat, cold over-infused tea, hints on buckwheat honey/bush honey, leather, eucalyptus, cress (certain not coming from the plate!!), sweet warm tar. Develops hints on sweat, tobacco, cedar wood, white pepper and fresh fish. Palate: Leather, pollen, marmalade, wax honey, cough bonbons, silver polish cloth, honey comb and oranges. Finish: White pepper, subtle peat smoke and zesty malts.

Foie gras mousse with violet tomato chips
[80] Cardhu 12yo (40%, OB Cream Label, 75cl, mid 1970's)
Colour: Medium golden. Nose: Apple, vanilla, meringues. Develops wet card box, paper, old books. Dried sage, malts , almonds and apple kernels. Palate: Honey, leather, old books. Later more malty, vegetal, yet sweet bitter notes. Finish: Leather, dried apple and slightly peppery. Lacks a bit personality.

The pause between this and the following course was used by Olivier to
sample two rather obscure Japanese malts. As I'm quite a fan of Japanese
malts I was very happy I could try them. No stunners, for sure, but for this
moment they're gleaming happy in my list.

[78] Hanyu 2000/2005 (57%, Gu Bràth/Matthew Forrest, C#9400, 360ml)
Colour: Amber. Nose: Leather, humus, kinine, hazel nut, autumn forest,
licorice, toast, hazel nut cream, marmite, grassy and some late eucalyptus.
Palate: Hints on cork (?), humus, quite weird. Very resinous, pine forest,
wet oak. Finish: Quite short, again those corky influences and resin.

[85] Hanyu 1985/2005 (57%, Gu Bràth/Matthew Forrest, C#379, 360ml)
Colour: Dark corn yellow. Nose: Peach, cherries, smoke, hints on peat (?),
vanilla, almonds, chocolate, Schweppes tonic, cedar wood. Palate: Saltish
malts, quite hot. Peach, fermented prunes, sandal wood, patchouli and
something vomity. Finish: A tad dry and green. Sandal wood. Stays on
the hot side with sappy oak.

Going on with the dinner:
Roasted rack of lamb on a rosemary gravy
Served with a small vegetable boat and cut potatoes
[90] Aberlour 8yo (50%, OB, cube shaped, D 1964, 75cl)
Pale amber. Nose: Coal smoke, old rum, hints on sweet ammonia, espresso, crème brullé, lime marmalade, hints on white pepper and tropical fruits. Palate: Creamy malts, coal smoke, rum raisins, brandy, butterscotch, coffee and hints on leather. Finish: Nice and warming, leather, rum and shifts to vegetal notes. Subtle crushed leaves. You've got to work to get the best out of it...

This was the point the 13 hours air journey took its toll from Ho-Cheng. Although a little alcohol might have helped a bit. He fell asleep at the table. I really had to do with him, especially when he told me next morning he slept for only three hours. Dreaded bio-rhythms take no notice of continents!

Home made chocolate lasagne
[91] Springbank 10yo 1968/1980 (59%, OB, AGE MISPRINT, D 11/'68 - B 11/'80, cask #1786, 75cl)
Colour: Dark golden. Nose: Mango, ammonia, black pepper, green Madame Jeanette, coal smoke, bitter malts, custard, vanilla, hints on roast beef. Gets a bit dusty, green pear. Water brings out tropical fruits with added tobacco. Palate: Coal smoke, bitter malts, mango, pineapple jam, some soapy malts, sourish bitters, Schweppes tonic, white pepper. Back-fires thru nose. Finish: Peppery, green malts, white and rawit peppers.

Serge rounded it off with his home brew Eau de Vie 'Quince'. Readers of will often see quince in Serge's notes, I only have a
vague idea about the taste of it. The Eau de Vie didn't chance that
completely although I have a much better understanding of it now.
At least now I know how they look (according to Serge)

People had enough? Gimme some mo'!

Well, we're reaching the end of this fragmented e-pistle...
On Sunday the remaining Maniacs had a very nice lunch accompanied
by Christophe, Erik Vanfrachem and his lovely wife Regina and Alex Bruce
of Adelphi. Whisky, beer and wine got us in high spirits, when Christophe
showed us his latest acquisition for his Laphroaig, a set containing to
rubber boot shaped ceramic miniatures, one can imagine the laughter
we had about that. The Scotch surpassed the Dutch wooden shoe
ceramic miniatures containing jenever this time!

So there you have it. Another great Limburg Whisky Fair!
Final thoughts? Next year I will bring less sample bottles and concentrate on people, at the time of writing I have 88 filled sample bottles in front of me, giving enough work for a month! I will publish my taste notes, so keep an eye to MaltManiacs in the near future!

Michel van Meersbergen

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E-pistle #17/24 - An Interview with Martin Green
Submitted on 16/04/2006 by
Ralf Mitchell, Schotland

With the recent general increase in interest towards Whisky across
the world, there is now a greater market for Whisky Auctions than
before with one of the leading international specialist whisky auctions
held at McTears ( in Glasgow. Martin Green,
McTears' whisky consultant, and a recognized authority on collectable
Spirits, was recently available to give an interview to me on behalf of
the "Malt Maniacs" and there follows a transposition of what was said;

RM - I'm with Martin Green who is a whisky consultant, and an adviser
to McTears' Auctions, who have the Premier whisky auction in Glasgow,
running four times a year, and that is continuing to develop. Martin, I
have six questions for you, first question; (at this point we move round
a selection of displayed whiskies at McTears) What are the features of
a collectable Whisky ?

MG - 'Eh! Age, rarity, commemorative bottlings, some of the malts which
are being produced today are the collectables of tomorrow. For example
Bowmore Bi-centenary bottling done to commemorate the anniversary of
the distillery 1779 - 1979 originally only cost in the region of £40 to £50, now
sells for as much as £350 at auction.   Equally you've got things like vintages of Glen Grant 1952, and we have here Gordon & Macphail bottlings which although young spirits like this 15 year old Bladnoch 1967, and 15y.o. Glen Burgie 1968, when these were purchased they wouldn't have been expensive but we are now getting over £100 a bottle at auction, so over that period of time they have become collectable.  Next to them a Kinclaith bottled by Cadenhead's  a 20y.o. distilled in 1965, the distillery's closed and it's now worth £400 to £450, and possibly will sell for even more than that. Also we've got Manager's Drams produced only for people who work for Diageo, and some were bottled under the old United Distillers label, and as these were never on sale to the public it makes them instantly popular with collectors, and hence, that does put the price up.  

What have we got here !  A 1973 Ladyburn  by William Grant & Sons, very collectable !
The distillery has been dismantled, eh! .........  more Connoisseurs Choice selected Vintages, not terribly expensive to buy, but over the years have become more and more collectable. Down at the bottom here, we have a very old bottle of Inchgower from the House Of Bell's, which is obviously no longer bottled under that labeling which although only a 12y.o. bottled in the 1970's - is now worth over £100, as opposed to what you would pay for a Inchgower under the Flora and Fauna Series which is only going to be £25 to £30, and we have various vintages of Macallan 1937, 1938, 1950, they have very much a range of Vintages which we always get very good prices for, and there's a huge demand for Macallan at auctions anyway !  ......... now we've got a very rare blend up here, a 25y.o. Chivas Regal produced for the American market a the turn of the Century, only three of these bottles have ever appeared at auction and the last time we sold this it fetched £3,100, and next to it a very rare Irish one which could be surprising in the sale,  it's Coleraine, which stopped distilling in the the mid 1970's, it's in terrible condition and the label's very bad, I think it's possibly going to see four figures !!! and is the only bottle of Coleraine like that, that I've ever seen.

Some blends, and why they are collectable,  Old Gold label here, eh....... with the old spring loaded cap, and the lead capsule covering it is all embossed with the distillers name, in a dumpy brown bottle,  that's going to make over £100. So what else have we got ?  ............ a very rare Mortlach ! from Gordon and Macphail, it's in a crystal decanter, it's a 60 y.o. 1938, very collectable, but at the top end this time you're looking at around £4,000.'

RM - Next question, how is the Whisky Auction Market developing ?

MG - 'Developing rapidly !!!  Since I came to McTears in the year 2000, we originally intended two sales a year, but it became apparent by the summer time of 2000 that there was going to be room for a third sale  and we changed that last year in 2004 to four sales a year, which average about 600 lots.   The internet is helping things expand rapidly because people from abroad can buy one or two lots quite easily, and were finding each sale that goes by we have new buyers both on paper, and attending in person   ehm......... it's very much on the up !'

RM - Thank you, eh.. third question.
Which is the most unusual/strange whisky you have ever come across ?

MG - 'Eeeehm...... probably......  there was an old bottle of Danish Whisky in a sale,  ...... that was a number of years ago,  which didn't sell for a great deal of money,  but it was very unusual, and I understand that during the war years there was spirit  distilled in Denmark.....'

RM - Can you remember what it was called ?

MG - 'Um,  I would have to research it and I could get that information to you...
But I think it was just labeled Danish Whisky, with a company name associated to it.'

RM - What is your view  on the recent appearance of fake whiskies ?
This is a question of considerable interest to all Malt Maniacs !!!

MG - 'Well basically, to sum it up,  Auction Houses are always on the look-out for any item that appears not to be authentic, whether it be Whisky, or it be anything else !  Ehm.... if I had any doubts whatsoever about stock coming in, by the sheer fact of where it was coming from, or what it appeared to be, ...... and I wasn't sure, ..... I would instantly reject it !  Without any question and doubt, and if there was any further concerns, I would advise the client to go ahead and have the spirit, label and glass analyzed before we would take it, and even then, if there was further doubt, there would have to be a report with it to confirm that it was authentic.''

RM - Have you seen any fake whiskies yet ?

MG - 'Not recently, no, I've not seen anything of a dubious nature in recent years.'

RM - You are aware of the Macallan situation ?

MG - 'Yes, very much so !'

RM - And I believe there is some turn-of-the-century Longrow surfaced as well, and may be fake !!

MG - 'I haven't seen any of that. No one has approached us with that. Certainly, there are possible sources, but they would probably not approach me because they know that within the industry I have taken a very strong stance !'

RM - Right, right, that's grand! Thank you, emn......... fifth question, a little bit of trivia here, .........maybe not !!!
What whisky question would you like to be asked, but from previous interviews, .. never get asked ?

MG - 'Probably more about tasting, and what I think of certain whiskies which were going to go into.'

RM - Thats a good lead into my final question...... What do do personally rate as your 7 best drinking whiskies?
And could you please, for the "malt maniacs" mark them out of 100.

MG - 'O.K. well I'm going to give you them not in any particular order, not in an order of importance, but, an 18y.o. Fettercairn that I tasted at Christie's (Auctioneers) in 1989 which was done by Whyte & Mackay who own both the Fettercairn and Dalmore brand,    ... and that was .. well I have notes of fudge and toffee, and I really like that.... and the 50 y.o. Dalmore 1926 which was very smooth, with a hint of sherry and fruit, very very powerful,   .......a very powerful whisky, and even though theres a huge difference in age, I'd give them both 90 out of 100.  ....... and then,  ... this was a gift from a client,  in the early 1990's , an 25 y.o. Glenlivit bottled for the Queen's Silver Jubilee  so it would have been a 1952 .....  which to me tasted like nectar  ..... although delicately spiced, with a taste of sherry, and I would give probably about 85 out of 100.'

RM - As they say long in oak and smooth as milk ...........

MG - 'Yes it was very nice indeed, very, very nice.........  what else have I got here  (Martin glances at his list)  52 y.o. Macallan which was provided at a tasting we had at McTear's in 2000,  90 out of 100. ........... and also the 50 y.o. Macallan Millennium Decanter we tasted. again 90 out of 100. So I would put these two together because there's not much difference in age, I thought they were wonderful whiskies,  ... like mature wine, .... almost resinous, ........ like Armagnac.  both very good whiskies.   A  21y.o. Springbank which I first tasted in Italy  in a restaurant  which I loved,  ............... sweet, not overly peated, some iodine, very smooth,  I particularly liked that one, and give it 90 out of 100 as well.     A  21 y.o. Talisker, again tasted in Italy, this time with a client, it was powerful, peppery, oily whisky and as I liked it I will give it 90 out of 100 as well.       And lastly,  ehm .............  Bruichladdich,  which I hadn't tasted much of until within the last 5 years, the one I'm naming here is a 35 y.o. bottled by Hart Brothers, the Glasgow Company, which knocked my socks off !!!  it was fantastic,  delicate, slightly oily, limited peat and seaweed and sweet and very complex,  ........ a very nice whisky,  and I give this 90 out of 100 as well.'

RM - Martin, thank you, and good luck with all your forthcoming whisky Auctions, and on behalf of all the "Malt Maniacs" thank you for this interview. (Footnote: The most recent whisky auction at McTears new Auction House in Glasgow was a success with 95% of all the lots selling at encouraging prices,  ..... lot 116, a miniature of Glen Spey 1896 sold for £2,700, quite possibly a new world record for a whisky miniature.)

Ralf Mitchell

Editorial comment: I tend to publish E-pistles from maniacs and foreign correspondents largely undedited and prefer to let the article speak for itself. However, in this case I feel that the article doesn't paint a complete picture of the actual 'situation on the ground'. I have to say that Mr. Green's claim 'I've not seen anything of a dubious nature in recent years' seems a bit odd in the light of some fairly recent scandals and developments. In fact, at least one case listed on the Fake Alert page involved an antique bottle that was passed as genuine by Mr. Green, but later proven to be a fake. A number of other highly suspect bottles were 'certified' by Mr. Green as well. Asked about another controversial bottle Mr. Green replied: 'I haven't seen any of that. ... Certainly, there are possible sources, but they would probably not approach me because they know that within the industry I have taken a very strong stance !'. Hmmmm... I have to admit I've heard mixed reports about the strength of that stance...

One could argue that anybody that makes his living from the trade in antique whiskies can't be expected to play anything else than the role of the fox preaching to the chickens, but I have to disagree. Although large parts of 'the industry' seem quite content to sweep the problem under the rug and turn a blind eye to the situation some traders do indeed realise the danger of a few 'fakers' destroying the market for decades to come. A few do indeed take a strong stance on the issue - which gave me an idea. Maybe we should add a 'Trusted Traders' section to Malt Maniacs with the stores that get the 'Malt Maniacs Seal of Approval'. This would entail the trader would provide certain guarantees - like a full and immediate refund should a bottle prove to be fake.

And speaking of fakes...
There are some disturbing signs that
the Malt Mafia is active again on eBay.
We don't have definitive proof yet, but it might be very possible that Sergio Borroni
from Italy is at it again. I'm usually a fairly moderate (*) person, but in this case I
find myself torn between two extreme positions. Part of me feels that anybody that
is brave and/or stupid enough to buy bottles like this on eBay deserves any fate that
befalls him, while another part of me feels that Mr. Borroni should be hung, drawn and
quartered for cynically taking advantage of some gullable geeks that dwell in the dark
dungeons of the internet... Ah, well, since some of these pinheads are fellow maniacs
I'll allow my good side to take over this time. So here's an OFFICIAL WARNING...
We have reason to believe that the seller 'japan67189 ' on eBay is another fragment
from Sergio's fragmented personality. Interestingly enough, the fact that he lists an
item's location as 'Italy,  , Sweden' offers us a telling glance into his disturbed and
devious mind... With so many virtual identities he doesn't know where he is anymore.
If you are (or know) 'japan67189' please drop me a note so I can retract the warning.
Until then I'd strongly advise all eBay geeks reading this to stay away from this seller.
(The fact that the seller doesn't accept paypal should be warning enough, though.)


(*) To be more precise: I'm usually considered a fairly moderate person, but that's a misconception.
I'm actually an extreme extremist! It just so happens that my extremisms (as well as my extremities)
point in many opposing directions and 'grosso modo' it all evens out somewhere in the middle.

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E-pistle #17/25 - Ask an Anorak; 'Old Bottle Effect'
Submitted on 15/05/2006 by
Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

Johannes - Remember the 'Barley Strains' discussion we had a while ago?
Well, as a matter of fact part of the discussion veered in a different - but perhaps even more interesting - direction after Craig made some comments about a phenomenon some other maniacs simply call 'Old Bottle Effect' (OBE). This might be particulary interesting in relation to Bert Bruyneel's
Martin Green interview published just above this E-pistle. See my 'editorial note' at the end of the interview for a few comments that shed a slightly different light on the 'fakes' situation that was so conveniently side-stepped. To tell you the truth, I'm now so paranoid about these old bottles that I'm almost inclined to avoid them altogether. One of the main reasons for my uncanny ability to overcome such inclinations is the fact that 'antique' whiskies can have a richness, depth and character simply not found in the modern stuff. And since 'antique' whiskies will only get rarer (and therefor probably more expensive), chances to taste them will get rarer as well. Which brings us to the cause of this 'old bottle effect'...

Craig - I'm in the camp that thinks the barley makes a difference. I don't find any other convincing explanation for why the mouthfeel and richness of malts distilled in the 1970's are different (and superior to) someimes older malts from the same distillery distilled in the late 1980's and 1990's. Probably can't prove it scientifically, but its a strong gut feel based on over 15 years consumption experience.

Charlie - Right, Craig. Macallan always maintained that Golden Promise barley gave an 'oilines' to their make.
More important, I think, for texture is the move from worm tubs to shell-and-tube condensers, which provide more copper contact and therefore produce a lighter spirit. All but a dozen distilleries converted their worms to condensers during the 1960s and '70s.
Here is a list of conversion dates:

Aberfeldy (1972/73)
Aberlour (1973)
Ardmore (1955 and 1976)
Auchentoshan (1970)
Aultmore (1970/71)
Balvenie (1965 and 1971)
Benrinnes (1955/56)
Benromach (1966, 1974)
Bladnoch (1966)
Blair Athol (1959)
Bunnahabhain (1963)
Caol Ila (1972-74)
Caperdonich (1965)
Cardow (1960/61)
Coleburn (1962)
Convalmore (1964)
Craigellachie (1964)
Dailuaine (1959/60)
Dalmore (1966)
Dufftown (1967 and 1979)
Fettercairn (1966)
Glencadam (1959)
Glendronach (1966/67)
Glen Elgin (1964)
Glenfarclas (1960 and 1976)
Glenfiddich (?),
Glengoyne (1966/67)
Glen Grant (1973)
Glenmorangie (1977)
Glen Moray (1958)
Glen Ord (1966)
Glentauchers (1965/66)
Glenury (1965/66)
Imperial (1955 and 1965)
Inchgower (1966)
Knockando (1969)
Laphroaig (1968/69)
Longmorn (1972, 1974)
Macallan (1965)
Miltonduff (1974/75)
Port Ellen (1966/67)
Pulteney (1959)
Royal Brackla (1965/66)
Strathisla (1965)
Tamdhu (1972)

Dalwhinnie was converted in 1965/66, then converted back to worms in 1996, since the make had changed!
New distilleries were all equipped with condensers, e.g.: Clynelish (1967/68), Teaninich (1970), Glenlossie/Mannochmore (1971), Linkwood (1971), Glendullan (1971/72). All were equipped with condensers.

So if you like a rich, oily, 'old fashioned' style of malt, seek out those made before the distilleries were converted!

Ulf - It is my belief that not only the changes on the cooling department and, hence, increased copper contacts, but also the rapidly introducing of indirect heating in parallel are the major reasons for the change in texture, post 1980s, but also the lesser level of presence of organoleptic sensations described as malty. Charles, kudos for a clever and very useful compilation. Why not include the dates when indirect heating was introduced as well?

Johannes - Still haven't read all of Malt Maniacs, have you Ulf? ;-)
Check out
Charlie's excellent E-pistle in MM#13 on the topic of the direct firing of stills...
It also lists the dates of conversion to indirect heating for most distilleries.

Ulf - With blushing cheeks I must admit;  No, I haven't read all of MM yet ;-)

Charlie - Spot on, Ulf. The move to indirect firing was also an important contributor. I think it safe to suppose that the removal of direct firing took place at the same time as the conversion to condensers.

Robert - I think this discussion is really really interesting and I've had many in the past with local whisky-writers and enthusiasts. The topic that I'm talking about is the difference between old and "modern" malts. Most people seem to believe that older malts are superior in quality. When I ask why I seldom get as elaborate an answer as the one from you Charles, however. It's more an undefined "feeling" or similar, most often they have no concrete arguments whatsoever. Except that they believe a 30yo Macallan is better than an 8yo (which I sometimes argue isn't always true, but that's another topic in its self).

So. How can anyone in their right mind argue that a whisky which has been in contact with wood for 30-50 years can be compared with a modern 12yo of the same distillery? Obviously they cant. So, why not pick up a bunch of 12yo's bottled in the sixties and compare them to modern versions of the same malt? Ok, some of us can do that although it's not very common nor friendly to our bank accounts. But these old 12yo's... are they untouched by time? I'd say most likely not! I many cases such bottles have lost a lot of content caused by several reason. This loss of content must within all reason affect the remaining content, aye? And even if they haven't lost content, how have they been stored? Perhaps a widow used them for showing off to her friends so she placed it in a window exposed to the sun for a few years in the seventies, who knows? Noone knows...

Just to be crystal clear, I'm not questioning Craig here! I'm questioning the general argument that older whisky is better without proper testing nor proper reasoning - thereby not saying that anyone of you would do that. I am in total agreement that any other way of comparing whiskies is indeed superflouous, that was the point I was trying to make. And, to be crystal clear again! I don't mistrust whisky enthusiasts, why in the name of the holy hand grenade would I do that? I simply argue that time would have an effect on the 12yo bottled in the fifties and is thus near impossible to compare to a 12yo bottled 56 years later. If I buy a bottle on an auction (as I wasn't around in the 50's I dont have much choice) I have little idea how many widows, enthusiasts etc is has passed by throughout time.

BUT, if you can find a bunch of wax-sealed old 12yo's and can even more or less guarantee they have been stored in a undisturbed and proper manner for all those very long years I presume you could make a somewhat relevant comparions. Although I am not at all certain about that either as time (within reason) should have an affect, perhaps miniscule, perhaps not, on the content no matter how properly it has been stored. That wine changes in a bottle is part of the deal and a natural process, who knows for certain what goes in a whisky bottle over a time period of half a century or so?

So what's the conclusion of a test such as this? That it was different (not necessarily better, I stand corrected) due to a new method of heating the stills? Or changed barley? Or changed water source? Or simply by the years it has spent on the bottle? Difficult! Perhaps it wasn't different at all when bottled from now? Ofcourse it was different but I think we may have a problem proving that.

Oh well. Now I ramble.. but it's an interesting discussion! Still I have problems identifying a truly proper method of really, once and for all, determining if the malt whisky of the undefined old days were better than those of today. Do you guys have a patented method for this?

Michel - Hi Robbert and all! Me thinks it's wrong to assume that older whisky is better whisky.
However, lots of the antique bottles I tried seem to be of higher standard than most of today's. There could be much reasons for that. Different techniques of distilling. The worm tubs are mentioned before, direct firing, kinds of yeasts, speed of distilling and so on. Another thing, I'm the kind of romantic which follows this path, could be a much more stricter cask selection. Distilleries could (perhaps) keep the better casks to themselves, the indepeandants had a wider choice of casks available. Uniformity of the product perhaps not the neurotic issue like it is today, so less than great casks were more easily dumped towards the blenders...

Let's not forget there must have been plain afwull whiskies on the market those days. We don't see them anymore because they were never collected in the first place and what we sample today might very well have been the 'highly recomendebles' of their days, thus explaining their relative high scoring... I do think whisky changes in the bottle. As far as I know, the first chemical reaction (as distilling is) that can be completely fixed within 'normal live parameters' has yet to be 'invented'. Perhaps Klaus knows a bit more on this subject. All goes without saying I do wonder what that certain bottle would have tasted like 20 or 30 years ago when it was fresh on the shelves. Since I did not master the noble art of time travel I will never know and the only thing left to do is enjoying the moment like hell!!

Klaus - Certainly whisky changes in the bottle. The question is, how large is the effect.
There are still chemical reactions going on, because equilibrium is never reached. When no fresh air comes into the bottle and the available energy is low (no light, low temperture), the reactions are very very slow and happen only very rarely. On the other hand there are 2 cases when time might have an influence. 1) multi step-reactions : from substance A to B to C to D. In such a case it might take a long time until equilibium is almost reached. 2) chemical reactions (affecting compounds with strong influence on the nose/ taste) which are initially rather slow. In this case changes might also appear over a quite long period.

Just from my belly I would say, that differences in the production methods have more influence on the change of taste and nose than aging in the bottle. Since the time machine has not yet been invented the final answer to thequestion will remain a matter of speculations.

Serge - I think the big question is also whether we accept changes or not, in our minds.
I guess some of us think that whisky is made following a long process including maturation, vatting etc. and that it has to get "100% frozen" once bottled (and they get stressed when they hear it's not obligatorily the case).

Others may think whisky can (or has to, like Samaroli who writes on some labels "further matures in its bottle" or something like that) change until it's consumed, like wine. It's a matter of POV's and expectations. For instance, imagine we just open a bottle of Laphroaig 10yo bottled in the 1970's. You'll have two ways of considering the whisky: 1) Some anoraks will say: let's see whether Laphroaig was better 30 years ago (or peatier, for that matter ;-)). And then the fact that the whisky may have evolved in its bottle becomes a huge problem - in their minds. A sort of catastrophe, even if the whisky's absolutely great. 2) Some others will just say: hey, let's see if an old Laphroaig that's been in its bottle for 30 years is any good, basta.

It makes me think of boxed foie gras, or sardines. True aficionados stock up those for years, expecting them to improve (and we all know they are perfectly sealed and not exposed to light). Regular consumers, on the other hand, expect those products to stay just like they are once they are boxed. There are even freaks out there who love old corned beef brought by the GI's during WWII. I've heard it's excellent - provided the box is in good shape, of course. So, time, including the time that flew since the products have been 'supposedly frozen' can be 'part of' the product.

Frankly, I don't know whether some of us MM's stock up whiskies whilst expecting they'll improve (not just because those won't be available anymore in, say 10 years), but I guess some people do, somewhere. Maybe it's going to be the next trend???

Lex - My tuppence ....
I agree with Klaus that it is highly likely that whisky will change after being bottled. There will be chemical reactions as energy goes in and there is no reason to suppose all is in perfect equilibrium at the time of bottling. The big question is of course, as Klaus said, how much and the crunch point is whether it is enough for humans to pick up. Now unless we have a time machine, we will simply never know. Comparing a 12yo from 50 years ago to one of the same age bottled yesterday is invalid, because production methods will have changed. So don't believe those writers who wax lyrically about picking up bottle-ageing in malts bottled long ago, especially not when they claim to do so in a 19th century Macallan which later turned out to be a modern fake ....

Johannes - Whoa!!!! Now I feel I have to chime in. In fact, I've found 'old bottle effect' on many occasions.
Maybe I've labeled the experience wrong and the aroma is indeed the effect of different production methods, but any correlations I've found so far indicate that many bottles that were bottled before 1990 show this trait, regardless of the distillery. I think most of the 'big' changes in production methods happened in the 70's and early 1980's - in which case bottlings from the late 1980's wouldn't be expected to show the effect, no? Interesting topic!

Lex - To bring it right back to where this thread started ....
Johannes, maybe the fact that you pick it up in a range of bottles points to a switch in the barley strain being used??
Too many confounding variables to be able to pin it on one factor ....

Davin - Lex, Barley is important, but yeast is more improtant in flavour profile.  OK, fire away!!

Serge - Well Lex, As for the taste of 'bottle ageing', and after having tasted quite a few really old bottles, I have the impression that it can be of three sorts (when it happens, it's not always the case, far from it): 1) Enhanced notes of tropical fruits on the nose (good) - often with whiskies that lost their supposed peatiness (not unlike the old recent Bowmores but it's still different), 2) Palate getting very tea-ish and lacking roundness and sweetness (bad) and 3 ) Palate getting slightly metallic - not only with twist caps ;-) (not obligatorily bad) ... and of course any combinations of those.

Johannes - Aha....I noticed you mentioned tropical fruits before, Serge.
For me it's clearly 'maggi' and sellery - and other fragrances in the spicy side of the spectrum.

Serge - As for comparing 12yo's; Well Lex, I suppose all that depends on your purposes.
I've done that several times. I agree there's no point in trying to find out about whether the whiskies was 'better' or 'worse' in the old days. And I agree 'differences' don't mean a thing, except if what you're comparing is a 12yo Glenthis bottled in 2005 and a 12yo Glenthis bottled in 1970 and that's been in its bottle for 35 years (and not just a 12yo Glenthis bottled in 1970).

BUT what's thrilling is to discover the similarities, not the differences, and I guess that's much more valid.
Parts of the whiskies can't be similar just by chance, can they? I tried for instance a Talisker 1913 (I think it wasn't a fake but of course I can't be 100% sure, even if 'everything' looked very old, I was there when the bottle has been opened) vs a current 10yo. I've been stunned by the similarities (let's talk about 'profiles') even if, as you rightly pointed out:
- Talisker wasn't at the same place in 1913 (right?)
- Talisker was triple-distilled back then.
And yes, the old really tasted like a very old 'stuff'.

Lex - Serge, don't get me wrong, OF COURSE it's fun to taste an old bottling of whisky from the same distillery head to head with a modern bottling. All I'm saying is that a difference between the two can't be 'blamed' on bottle ageing.

Serge - Absolutely Lex, when that happens once (or twice etc.)
But when you get the same kinds of differences during many 'old' vs 'new' tastings, it must be something that all these old malts have/had in common. We can discard what was obviously different I think (shape of stills, years, regions, barley varieties I guess, water etc.) and focus on what is/was common. What's obviously common is the 'bottle ageing' but I agree there can be other factors...

BUT (erm...) These factors must have postponed effects then. Why?... (obligatory drum roll ;-)...
Because when you taste NEW bottlings of OLD malts (from the same years) you never get these flavours/smells!
So what!? (as miles ones said...)

Davin - Yes Serge, Thanks for this.
The new bottlings of old whiskies lack the bottle effects of old bottlings from same years of distillation?
Most likely yes. You and Oliver probably remember our discussion with Robert Hicks at The Old Kiln where he told us that he can taste 'glass,' i.e. aging, in whisky that has been on the shelf for only a few years and he will withdraw his unsold whisky after a few years and re-blend it into new batches.  Now Charlie told us Robert is a bit of a showman and the story may be apocraphyl, but here is a life-long blender telling us, in the presence of knowledgeable luminaries, his whisky does change noticibly after it has been bottled.

Serge - Yes, Davin, I remember...
I must say the way the big companies manage their products' 'shelf life' is often tainted with a bit of marketing (especially with yoghurts but not only with yoghurts ;-))  Let me go straighter to my point: If it's something else than the 'old bottle effect', it must be found in newly bottled malts from the same vintages, except if the 'old cask effect' wipes it out. Err...

Ulf - Lex wrote; 'Comparing a 12yo from 50 years ago to one of the same age bottled yesterday is invalid, because production methods will have changed.' But this was the kernel of the poodle, the possibility of studying the influence of the different production methods now, and in the past. Is this possible or not, I believe it is. Put forward to debate in this context was also the question; Is the change of production methods and construction of apparatus recognizable or does the fluid in the bottle change in such a way that time will mask its heritage and making such comparisons to be nonsense? To note, no one claimed that the content in a bottle was pure static over time. Further, the question was initially raised by the hypothesis that the flavour profile from different barley strains was identifiable in the end product. Which I doubt. Someone included bere which Dave pointed out is an oddity similar to make whisky from, as an example, oat (and hence recognizable, my comment).

To recapitulate:
Are there any recognizable differences in older, bottled, whiskies related to shift in production methods or introduction of new barley strains, or both? Difference is in this case is not understood as subjective 'better'. Is it meaningless to perform such exercises, comparing modern bottled versions with older bottled versions of the same age, as heritage is lost, changed or masked by the time factor which some believes?

Robert - As long as it's fun it's hardly meaningless :). But as long as we're out of time machines we have no original original to compare it to until I'm proven otherwise (I look forward to a bunch of samples in my mail in the near future)! Hehe, no seriously. I'm sure tests like these can be conducted with various likelyhood of success and once again, for the record, I'm not implying that a majority of whisky enthusiasts are widows. I'm just saying to some may be or have been or may become widows. Back on-topic. One test that has a likelier probability to hold up in court is comparing bottlings that has occured recently from the month/year before and after a change in production. It doesn't take a very skilled whisky taster to realize that something happened at Ardbeg in 1978 for instance.

Serge - Ulf, this is really fascinating, thanks.
I guess we should forget about a '100% scientific' method – Lex and other scientists would not agree and I guess they would be right. On the other hand, marketing people tend to think it's better to be more or less right than exactly wrong (I'm a sucker for blurry reasoning – do you say that in English?) and maybe it would be interesting to work on this (I guess for instance Diageo could help): Trying to sort all different aromas and flavours and try to come up with categories
   1) Aromas and flavours that come only from the maturation. Useless here.
   2) Aromas and flavours that were already there right after the distillation.
   a) that do change with time – whichever the 'container' (relatively useless again)
   b) that don't change – or not much - with time (yes!)
I guess if we train to recognize all 2.b) aromas and flavours in a malt, we could well 'try' to find out whether a malt was any different – and to which extend – 30 or 40 years ago. This is not perfect at all and addresses only part of a whisky's profile, but maybe that would be interesting – just for the sake of the experiment... Or is it really far-fetched or too blurrily logical?
Who can be against a little empiricism? ;-)

Charlie - Interested to hear about the 'tropical fruits', 'maggi' (is this the food flavouring, Johannes?) and 'celery'...
My trigger-descriptor for an old whisky, nosed blind, is 'rancio'. But I am not sure exactly what rancio is or smells like! I know the term is used by brandy makers, and the aroma esteemed, but I am probably using the wrong word. Can anyone advise - Olivier, Serge?

Johannes - Yes, Charlie - Maggi is the liquid food flavouring I mentioned last year on Islay.
I've seen it in Holland, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. It's mostly used in soups I think, quite salty and not unlike soy sauce. Sometimes a bit meaty - and like celery as well.  The next time you're in Campbeltown and they take you to that tasting room behind the Cadenhead's / Springbank corner store, pull a leaf from the celery plant next to the door to the patio and rub it between your fingers - you'll get a slightly 'fresher' version of the aroma I now associate with 'antiquity'. Is that 'Rancio'?

Serge - Oh my God,
We could go on just on Maggi! Johannes, are you suggesting there's this kind of celery in Maggi? In fact, I always thought Maggi did contain lots of lovage (it's that plant, right?) because it just smells the same. But there's none! Actually, I think Maggi is primarily made out of soy sauce. Now, if you go towards 'antiquity', you'll also find 'old books' (I know Craig loves that), antiques shop, furniture polish, old clothes (wardrobe), maybe beehive in a certain way...

Charlie - In old bottles - whiskies made pre WWII, and bottled then, or in the 1950s - I have often detected 'sandalwood'. Of course, I don't know whether the mature make had this aroma, or whether it developed in the bottle, but I suspect the former. Wherever it came from, it is delicious, and only occasionally found today - and that in very old whiskies.

Serge - Rancio is perfect as a descriptor and spot-on.
The word itself comes from 'rancid' as you guessed it, although it's not negative. Rancios are red wines that are (well, were because it's really out of fashion - a shame if you ask me) matured in contact with oxygen, which gave them these smells and tastes of 'oldness', sometimes close to Madeira. They don't, I believe, count on a 'yeast veil' like with some white wines (dry sherry, vins jaunes etc.) Rancios are/were made in Spain and South of France, and buggers would say they can last for very long, as they are already oxidised. Winemakers often leave the casks under the sun to provoke the 'maderization' (oxidising). If I had to add descriptors that would describe 'rancio', I'd say soy sauce, meat sauce, Chinese plum sauce (they serve it with Peking ducks), balsamic vinegar, 'genuine' cocoa and yes, Johannes' Maggi. You could add for instance old walnuts but that's more characteristic of dry sherries etc.

Johannes - YES, Serge!!!
I should have mentioned soy sauce / oyster sauce as well. In fact, it's near to the 'oriental spices' group in my mind as well. So, I'd say we're definitely talking about the same thing then. Very nice - I've found a 'click' with some other people's tasting notes. Meanwhile, this is turning into a very interesting discussion - and I actually wrote a column about this very same topic for 'Whisky Etc.' The conclusion of that piece: 'The jury is still out on whether the fact that old bottles are often 'different' lies in 'bottle aging' or different ingredients and / or production methods in the past'. Maybe this discussion will deliver some answers... Maybe we could even try to reach some sort of consensus (if at all possible) about the importance of each of the ingredients / steps in the production process for the end result. I know that will be tough - and possibly a fool's errand - but the discussion alone would be intriguing I think. But let's not get ahead of ourselves... back on topic: with the range of aroma's Serge described in relation to 'ranchio' - are there others who link this to possible 'bottle aging'?

Klaus - Maniacs, I think it would be a good idea to research, which chemicals give the typical bottle aging flavour (tropical fruits (Serge), Maggi and celery (Johannes). Then we can try to find out if these chemicals are end-products of very slow reactions which occur in whisky.

Charlie - Serge et al, This is comforting for me as well as very useful.
I was tasting a flight of 15 whiskies today, blind, for a competition (Scottish Field 'Merchants Challenge').
They were all pretty decent, but one had that characteristic  that I immediately call 'rancio' (I would bet my bottom dollar that it's a very old whisky, and if it ain't I'll buy up the stock!) - and although I wouldn't use the term in a tasting note (unless I wanted to be obscure and tantalising!), I will now go back and try to deconstruct it, using your other descriptors as a guide.

Oxidation is interesting. Clearly this takes place in the cask, with whisky - and maybe the solution to the current MM thread is simply whether it takes place in the (sealed) bottle (of whisky). I suspect it may do (although unproveable). I met a German chemist once who lectured me for an hour on the development of acetals in cask and bottle. Klaus, Lex, Ho-cheng, Olivier - do acetals lend rancio characteristics? What flavours (in whisky) are developed by oxidation? Can they develop in the bottle? What do the wine/cognac makers say? Keep it going!

Serge - Well Charlie, I guess 'rancio' can also come from the cask itself, especially when the latter did contain some 'rancioed' (ouch) wine. Madeira and some kinds of port spring to mind, as well as probably solera casks (but are there any used in whisky maturing?) And maybe Marsala? Several of these wines aren't really 'rancios' but can certainly get a 'rancio' profile. I've even heard 'ce vin ranciote' (this wine is rancioing) meaning, just like Ulf said, that a red wine is getting an unwanted rancio character. The precursor, I believe, is cooked strawberries (or jam). Variant for the whites: madeirization.

Your remark about obscure and tantalising tasting notes is very interesting as well. We all have various experiences with food and nature and I guess what's common for you can be unknown to me - and maybe reversely just a few times (remember the argan oil?) But you're very right, the aim is to communicate about impressions, not to display a vain array of food knowledge. In short, I think we should publish our own, common MM catalogue of descriptors one day!

Johannes - Yes, this is an EXCELLENT discussion, maniacs.
And this might foreshadow a future discussion on yet another 'pipe dream' of mine - the Maly Maniacs aroma wheel - or maybe a collection of 'rainbows'. I feel that you often find certain aroma's grouped together but in different constellations. For example, if we take the 'rancio' character as a main trait, some malts lean in one direction towards 'herbal' (further in that 'direction' you could find menthol, camphor, eucalyptus - maybe followed by oily notes) while the malt could lean to the 'spicy' side as well; oriental spices, nutmeg and maybe a little further in that 'direction' cinnamon and nutty notes, back to oily again. I know this is a bad example and the 'circle isn't complete (for instance, there's a group that usually includes peat, smoke, liquorice, salmiak, chloride and salt as well - maybe wet dog) but you get the general idea.

Anyway, that's me getting ahead of myself again.
I like Klaus' idea of a 'scientific' approach as well - but I fear that way madness lies...
The question at hand: What is the cause of the difference between 'old' and 'new' bottles?
And could it be that you can find it so some extent in bottles that have been on the cask for a LONG time sometimes show this trait as well?  In fact, I think I found traces of 'rancio' in 'The Whisky That Cannot Be Named' that Charlie and I shared on Texel in February - but that's not the best example. I've used the nifty 'find' function on the MM main page to see which whiskies had the 'antiquity' trait. Here's a selection - some whiskies were tasted blind, some not;

Ambassador 25yo (43%, Pedro Domecq, Taylor & Fergusson, blend, Bottled 1970's)
Balblair NAS (70 Proof, Gordon & MacPhail, Bottled 1970's)
Bowmore 16yo 1972 (43%, The Prestonfield, Sherry casks #1036-1039)
Clynelish 12yo (43%, OB, Di Chiano Import, Small cap, Regular neck, Bottled +/- 1970).
Glenfarclas 5yo (40%, OB, Frattina Import, Bottled +/- 1975)
Glenfarclas 25yo (43%, OB, Frattina Import, Bottled +/- 1979)
Glen Gordon 15yo (40%, G&M, 75cl, 'Bastard Malt', Bottled Mid 1980's)
Glenlivet 19yo (80 Proof, Cadenhead's Black Label, 26 2/3 Flozs, Bottled 1970's)
Highland Park 17yo 'No Vintage' (43%, OB, James Grant, Green dumpy bottle, Bottled 1970's)
Old Mull NAS (40%, John Hopkins & Co, Essivi Import, Bottled 1960's, 75cl)
Etc., Etc.

See a pattern here? My notes on two of the finest examples;

Highland Park 1957/1977 (70 Proof, Berry Brothers, 26 Floz.)
Nose: Lovely fruit. Balsamico vinegar. Spices. Very complex. Maggi. Sellery. Excellent!!!
Taste: Antiquity. Smoke. Dry. Not terribly complex, but very enjoyable indeed.

Glen Brora NAS (40%, Carradale Company, 75cl, Bottled early 70's)
Nose: Faint antiquity. Sellery. Organics. Mushrooms. Vegetable stock. 'Foody'. Brilliant & unique.
Taste: Fruity start, slightly watery centre, dry finish. Very enjoyable, but it pulls it from the 90's.
Score: 88 points - but I was initially inclined to go for 90 points based on the unique nose.

However, I also found some of these 'rancio' notes (but much more subtle) in more recent bottlings, including a few of the awards malts; For example;

Strathmill 11yo 1992/2004 (59.7%, Cadenhead's, Bourbon Barrel, January 2004, 84 Bottles)
Nose: Old coffee and dust followed by weird organics. Smells a bit like 'antiquity'.
Taste: Mocca. Feels a bit like a rhum - a gritty smoothness, if than makes any sense.
Score: 84 points - Strange, but I like that. Well, not always...

Highland Park 36yo 1967/200X (49.7%, OB for The Whisky Exchange, Cask #10252, 138 bottles)
Nose: Light and sweet. Bakery aroma's. It quickly grows bigger and more complex. Organics. Odd peaty notes.
Oooh, this is quite lovely! Hint of antiquity. Quite a spectacular nose. Ladies & gentemen, we have a winner!
Oh yes, this is a beauty! Peat and fruits. All the good stuff is still there after some time - and more, it seems.
Taste: Lovely mouth feel. Old peat, a bit like the OMC Ardbegs from the early 1970's. Smoky drought. Lovely!
Maybe just a tad thin in the centre. Brillaint tannins in the peaty finish - this is extremely chewable. Excellent!
Score: 94 points - but it needs some time to get there. Seems like a sure-fire candidate for a gold medal.

So, I'd say it may not be EXCLUSIVE to antique bottlings, although I've never found it as obvious as in these antique bottlings.

Michel - Celery and Lovage are quite close connected...
Cellery deals with vegetal sweets (with a pinch of anis).
Lovage deals with vegetal salts (with a pinch of licorice) and indeed is sometimes called 'maggi-plant'.
Cellery leaves (oh yes, another one...) are the way to go if you don't want the licorice 'aura'. Use them in herbal broth :-))
I totally agree on old books (being musty woody card board) Antiques shop (sweet, dusty aroma, resin and linseed based cellulose varnish), beehive (sweet waxyness). Some times I find silver polish as well..

Lex - Going off at a tangent a bit now (and relying on poor Johannes to keep all the discussion neatly organised)...
Mentioning soy sauce, Maggi, 'meaty' flavours reminds me of the 5th principal taste that humans can detect (after salt, sweet, bitter and sour): umami. Can rancio actually be linked to umami somehow? If so, that's intriguing, because umami detection is thought to have evolved in humans in response to presence of essential amino acids (the other 4 tastes also have clear survival value: salt and sweet to detect essential nutrients, bitter and sour to warn for poisons and 'things which have gone bad').
I'm probably rambling way off topic now ....

P.S. Be careful to keep 'taste' and 'flavour' separate. They are very different things. Tastes are detected by receptors on the tongue, flavours by receptors in the nose.

Davin - Hi Lex, I think umami is most easily detected in pollack that has been processed to taste like crab.

Mark - Malts are bottled at a specific strength, and labelled with that specific a.b.v. Over time, some malts may mellow somewhat in the bottle, or in some way change. Alcohol evaporates to some degree when oxidation occurs. One scientific test which *could* be easily performed would be the testing of various bottles for their a.b.v. I have thought of this in regard to letting malts rest in the glass before nosing, too. But, as relating to these rancio notes, maggi, celery or celeriac, and Charlie's sandalwood, I wonder if these elements of aroma may have been in the bottle all the while, and really become noticable when the alcohol has mellowed a bit over time in the bottle due to whatever amount of oxidation. Am I right to think that an a.b.v. test of freshly opened whiskies would be fairly easy to do?

Davin - Serge, I had always thought rancio was mushroom-like.
I don't remember mushrooms in Madeira, but we only get young ones here.
I have tasted mushroom in old whiskies though.

Serge - You mean, magic mushrooms? ;-)
For me 'mushrooms' is much fresher, vegetal, like a walk in the forest, close to moss, fern, humus... Or do you mean mustiness? That's more to be found in old red Bourgognes for instance - pinot noir - I believe than in rancios, but again, I know 'rancio' is sometimes used as a common, yet improper I'd say, descriptor for all timeworn red wines.
Or cooked mushrooms - could that be sort of 'meaty'?

Davin - Serge, Hey man!   ;-)
I was thinking of raw mushrooms, musty yes, but meaty as well....

Craig - Hi Johannes et al.  First of all - I was comparing apples with apples earlier.
I do have whiskies bottled in the 1970's and 1980's that we have put up (masked) against whiskies bottled at the same or similar age (Glengoyne 12, Glen Elgin 12, Glendullan 12), more than a decade later. Also the Adelaide malt club to which I belong (the Earls of Zetland Malt Tasting Club) habitually programmed "old versus New" nights and put whiskies like the Balvenie 10, Longmorn 15 and  Aberlour 10. There are distinct differences. Interesting when nosed and tasted masked only the modern Aberlour 10 scored higher than the older version. The difference between the Longmorns was profound and the older Balvenie 10 has a richness that the newer version lacks.

What I wasn't claiming was that barley was the only reason for change, because this would be as logically absurd as stating with complete authority that barley couldn't make a difference.   One would be guilty of the same logical fallacy as David Cox was in defending the antique Macallan's against the arguments of the sceptics like our own Lex. There are a stack of variables that could contribute to any difference between batches from a distillery, as anyone who tasted Bowmore Legend from 1996 and from 2000 would confirm.  Different beast altogether. My point was only that I believe the changes to the barley could make a difference. I guess that was why I wrote believe (article of faith) rather than know (scientifically proven). I don't claim to know that barley makes a difference, just that I think it could be a contributing factor.

Davin - There are so many variables here that we are comparing, not apples and pears, but apples and tuna.
I am certain each family of tuna has it's own subtle flavours, just like barley does, but when it is bulk processed and all mashed together in a sandwich who can tell? Same with barley. If Bruichladdich wants to do a small batch of whisky made from organic barley they can, because their business model allows them to make money from 200 or 300 bottles. But the average bottle of whisky comes from many batches of barley, origins unknown, which are distilled into many batches of whisky which are matured in many different casks which are aged for different time periods, which are then vatted to get a certain pre-determined flavour profile. Yes, barley contributes to the flavour and can be the major variable, but on average it is just too expensive and complicated to try to control it. Remember our best Lowland whisky this year was a GRAIN whisky so at least part of the mash bill was made up of something other than barley altogether, and no one suspected it.

As for comparing whiskies of different ages, if your thesis is that mouthfeel comes from the barley used, then age is secondary. If you say aging is the major contributor, then you must use bottles the same age, but then we get into the 'did this change in the bottle' argument so that's not going to work either. Probably best to try many approaches and comparisons before inferring any correlations.

As for collectors maintaining their bottles, we must remember that they were not the only custodians. If the retail stores the bottles lying down, as other report and as I have seen, there is the possibility of dissolving cork flavours (yes Ulf I have tasted a cork - it's not inert). Also, I remember seeing bottles stored in the bright window of a liquor store in Cape Cod and the contents were decidedly lighter in colour than similar bottles on the shelves, but eventually some one will buy them. The truth is you don't know where a bottle has been before you get it and it may not have been in ideal conditions.  Alcohol is a very good solvent - perhaps good enough to dissolve flavours out of the wax sealing the collector's bottles. Yes parafilm is super, but so is clingy, self sealing food wrap, and I do use that on some of my bottles that I am saving for retirement.

Mark - As for alcohol's solvent properties, I would agree with Davin's guess that a whisky's alcohol could possibly pull in other flavors, either from the cork, or parafilm, gasses, or whatever other sealing medium employed. There is a certain high-end cheese shop here from whom I will never again buy cheese because the film they use to wrap the cheese reaks to high heaven, leaving the cheddars, brie, and camembert, or cheve whatever, all laced with this heavy chemical odor. The show workers claim to not smell it. Must be my nose, they said. Anyway, yes, parafilms can be pungent.

Davin - Mark, What you are describing is called nasal fatigue. Did I say nasal fatigue?? OLFACTORY FATIGUE, please!!
Our noses have evolved to become unable to smell odours which we live with so they probably really can't smell it.  Makes you wonder about the professional noses and what they drink when no one is looking!

Klaus - Acetals, - the first step in the oxidation of alcohols. An interesting topic. According to normal university level chemistry it is impossible for ethanol to oxidize to acetaldehyd. The energy to activate that reaction is simply too high. It can only happen with tricks like the help of bacteria (wine) or via catalaysis with copper (whisky, info of Dr. Swan). The reaction might be easier when heavier alcohols are affected. I do not know how acetaldehyd smells ( I am physicist not chemicist), but Michael, a whisky buddy and chemist, says that it is very characterestic and unique. Maybe the maniacs with experience of how bottle aged malts smell and taste, should try to get get a sampleof acetaldehyde  (with a little luck available at a pharmacy).
Don't drink the stuff, - I have heard that it is responsible for a hangover.

For long term storage of bottles I would prefer parafilm, a polyimid by Du Pont also known as Kapton. This polymer is very inert  and does not react with ethanol. It is perfect when you use teflon tapeto fix the foil over the neck of the bottle. Other foils like  PP, PE, PS or PET are not that stable and can react with the things which want to come out of the whisky bottle.

Davin - I am surprised no one has mentioned bottle aging of eau de vie and other distilled fruit spirits.  It seems to me that if eau de vie is deliberately placed in glass bottles to age (albeit with much more porous stoppers) and it is observed to change in the bottle, and these change are perceived to be a good thing, then we should not expect whisky to remain unchanged over time when stored in glass.  We could also not be surprised if these changes are also a good thing in whisky,  We know that whisky bottles breathe and there have been numerous discussions on numerous whisky boards about how to stop ullage in sealed bottles and how to prevent ullage in bottles that are being stored for 'drink or collect' etc.  It seems to be every newbie's first worry - that their bottles will evaporate or change before they can drink them.  The difference between whisky and eau de vie are likely fairly small chemically and the observed behavior of one must be at least somewhat predictive of the other.

Charlie - Johannes, Developing our own (international) vocabulary and linking it to colour bands is a BRILLIANT idea!
Fun, but also very useful. I can't yet see it graphically - maybe this is Serge's department - can we break with the wheel?
You will be aware I'm sure that the current 'cardinal aromatic groups', as agreed by the SWRI - 'The Revised Scotch Whisky Flavour Wheel for Industrial Purposes' [see Whisky: Technology, Production and Marketing', p.295] - and note the 'industrial purposes', not 'for consumers' - are: Peaty, Grainy, Grassy, Fruity, Floral, Feints, Woody, Sweet, Stale, Sulphury, Cheesy, Oily.
Maybe this gives us a starting point?

Johannes - Hiya, Charlie & al,
I was indeed aware that something like an 'official' aroma wheel existed but I've never seen it so far. From what I've heard the division of traits didn't match my own experience, though. For example, I've often found oily and nutty to be close together. And indeed, I wasn't sure we would be able to find a complete 'wheel' or 'circle' - so maybe we'll have to split it up into several 'rainbows'? I know this discussion seems to meander aimlessly, but this could be a great project...

Luc - Here is the wheel... I always had trouble with the "Sulphury" part
of this Whisky Flavour Sulphury even supposed to be there
in the first place....isn't sulphury an off-note... Just MHO......

Johannes - Aha!!!! Well, that wheel is a bit bogus, isn't it?
It seems to me that the top two descriptors (intensity and complexity) don't
really fit 'logically' with the other items which describe actual scent groups.
An example of trying too hard to stuff reality into a convenient simple model?

Serge - Cool Luc, but that's the basic wheel, exactly.
What would be even cooler would be to come up with the ultimate Malt
maniacs tool, that would address all nuances and that would not only allow
to describe a malt, but also to learn to 'catch' many flavours and aromas.
That will probably lead us to a bit of maltoporn but hey, it should be fun!

Luc - Johannes, another aroma wheel discerns between these twelve scent groups:
Peaty, Grainy, Grassy, Fruity, Floral, Feints, Woody, Sweet, Stale, Sulphury, Cheesy and Oily..

Serge - Charlie, all, I share your enthusiasm about this 'rainbows' project.
I'll try to help on the graphic side if needed (as long as it's not too urgent). The first main issues, I believe, are:

1 - Should we stick with a circular tool, and wouldn't that be too close to Diageo's popular wheel? Could we go 3D-ish?
2 - Should we divide the tool into two (or more) sub-tools, at least nose and palate, maybe also other aspects such as finish and general feeling?
3 - Should we indeed start from scratch or elaborate on the main 'clusters' you mentioned? (SWRI).
4 - Could that be translated into an online tool that would allow either us or the general public to come up with tasting notes (you know, just a few clicks and presto!)

Johannes - Oh YES!
I think this could be an extremely useful enterprise, maybe linked to coming up with a new 'classification' for styles of whisky. And I'd prefer to start from scratch - like I said in an earlier message they tried to stuff reality in too small a box with the current 'wheel'. 3D is a splendid idea, but I guess 2D would be easier...

Serge - Well, for instance, we could try to analyze all tasting notes we have on our website and collect all descriptors we have. It would be cool to keep track of all whiskies each descriptor was related to but that might be too much work. I guess there's some text software somewhere, that would allow us to do this:

- We'd copy and paste all our texts in one (or more) text files.
- The software would list all words and occurrences (so that we get what's common and what's rarer).
- We'd delete anything that's not a descriptor (like 'holly cow!' etc.)
- We'd then have a list of all descriptors we have and an indication of their 'importance'.
- The 10 (or 15, or 20...) most common terms will probably constitute our main 'clusters'.
- We could then decide on what's 'typically nose', 'typically palate' and 'both'. I mean that some aromas can be found on the nose but not on the palate (for instance because we never eat it). Like, say kerosene or incense. Same the other way round: for instance sugar, which is almost odourless I think. That's 'typically palate'. And finally you have 'mixed' aromas and flavours, that you can get both on the nose and the palate, like, say lemon.
- I believe it's going to be rather easy to rank all other descriptors by 'weight'.
Maybe we can have 3 levels (like 1. flowery - 2. flowers from the fields - 3. buttercup)
- Then we'd sort everything so that we can have the closest aromas next to each other (like maybe sulphur, burnt sulphur, sulphured rubber, rubber band, tyre inner tube, new tyre, burnt tyre, hot tarmac, tar... Just an example, we'd have to discuss all that. A long work but an interesting one).

We'd then have all the 'content' we need and we can focus on the tool itself, graphics etc.
So, the first question would be: who's got such a text-analysis software?

Klaus - I always found the aroma wheel in Charlie's book "malt whisky" excellent. There is a copy of it in my little black book for tasting notes in it help a lot when I want to identify a bouquet of different aromas.

Thomas - I used Charlie's tasting wheel as a starting point a few months ago as well as Serge's and other's tasting sheets to create my own colour coded excel-based tasting template. Too bad it ended up in a mess. It's way from finished, it's mostly in German and partly in English and looks like crap. Oh, well.. So the idea to create a new tasting tool sounds absolutely fantastic to me.
Whatever I can do to help let me know. BTW, IMO a wheel won't be big (and practical) enough to absorb all the aromas we will probably come up with...

Serge - I'd say the next step would be to find a maniac who's got a text-analysis software that can list all words contained in a huge text plus their occurrences. Like: Peat 389, Sherry 287, Smoke 185, Etc. It's only when we'll have a good idea of the amount of data that we can start to discuss the 'physical' aspect of the tool. (my take). From wheel to forms, squares or mappings, colours, matrices, satellite flow charts... We have many options. I guess we have enough Web wizards to come up with the best solution then. I tried to build a Filemaker 'thing' once, that did write some automated tasting notes. You just had to check boxes and the 'thing' did add random connexion sentences. It did work! (but the results were very basic because I didn't take the time to develop it any further and then I dropped it because it was a 'Mac-only' thing - too bad.)

Johannes - I don't know about specific software, but I found a site that might be useful for text analysis.
The on-line checker at seems to check only one page, so I had it check my
Little Black Book with notes on +/- 500 malts. Interesting results! Of course, the black book only contains notes until the end of 2003 - my vocabulary will probably have expanded quite a bit since then. However, we can use these 500 malts as a 'test batch' to see how it works.

The most common descriptors on that page were sweet (310), dry (235), sherry (225 - but note that also indications like 'sherry cask' in the description of a bottling are counted here), smoke (188), fruity (183), malty (166), peat (165), sweetness (136), oily (133), bitter (117), woody (109), sherried (97), organics (97), salt (95), fruits (82), wood (80), liquorice (73), spicy (67), sour (64), nutty (63), sweetish (58), toffee (58), fruit (58), smoky (56), peaty (48), spices (47), citrus (47), grainy (47), salty (46), gritty (43), hot (41), dusty (39), pepper (38), oak (37), fresh (35), coffee (34), oil (34), chloride (34), honey (33), menthol (32), creamy (31), flowery (30), winey (29), peppery (28), lemon (28), apples (26), iodine (26), port (25), soap (24), eucalyptus (22), pine (22), sweets (22), chocolate (20), grassy (19), apple (18), watery (18), mint (18), rum (17), beer (17), medicinal (17), marzipan (16), veggy (16), tobacco (16), leather (16), dust (15), melon (14), bitterness (14), orange (13), etc., etc...

So, the first few issues we'd need to tackle are obvious.
A) First of all, there are many 'synonyms' in the list. For example, I think we can add up peat and peaty. The same goes for smoke and smoky; spices and spicy, etc. If we want to develop a 'system', we may have to develop a vocabulary with a number of 'standard' options. For example, always use 'peaty' instead of 'peat'. B) Secondly, I guess that some descriptors could be used twice or more in the notes for a certain malt; for example, we could find smoke both in the nose and the taste. How do we deal with that? C) Also, there could be 'negatives' in the description. When I would write something like 'not smoky like the younger expressions' the malt would get a hit for the word 'smoky'. D) Another practical problem could be descriptors that use two or more words, like 'string beans' or 'pipe tobacco'. We would get hits for the seperate words, but not the combination. E) Last but not least: I think Serge made an excellent point when he suggested 'levels' like: fruity - apple - granny smith. However, I imagine this would also mean we would have to invent a range of 'standard' descriptors - at least at the higher level(s)...

Davin - Has anyone seen the book Macallan published with each of their whiskies flavour wheel?
Very interesting and very easy to compare whiskies.

Johannes - Oh yes! I don't know if it's the same book, but I got a 'guide to collecting vintage Macallans' from Krishna but they also have the 'spider diagrams'. Unfortunately, they just don't work for me because the arrangement of aroma's doesn't fit my own experience with 'related' aroma's. Maybe I'm alone in this, but it could also be time for an entirely new approach - and maybe an alternative 'wheel' or 'rainbow' for those who feel the same as I do.

Klaus - I think a 3-D solution is to complicated to operate.
And besides I see no reason why 3 dimensions is to be preferred over 2,4,5, etc. The circular tool is well know. If we insert our own vocabulay  this might be the best solution. If we want to create something new, I suggest we draw a malt-aroma-continent. The different  aromas can be visualized: a farm, the coast, fishing boots, sulfur mines, fruit plantations etc.  And you can use a small car to drive to  the places which characterize the aromas. It will be more or less a gimmick  and will consume a lot of work. But such a solution is certainly unique. An online tool solution is certainly not so difficult. But I fear we have no maniac among us with the necessary php/javascript-skills.

Johannes - A malt arome continent! What a brilliant idea, Klaus! I'd personally prefer to make it a country (maltland, perhaps?) but other than that this idea is just perfect; highly original!!!

Ulf - David Wishart came up an interesting
classification, see:
Enclosed is the complete and official Scotch
Whisky Research Institute's 'Pentland Wheel'.
Sorry for the bad resolution...

Charlie - Yes, but this Pentland Wheel has now
been super-ceded by the SWRI Wheel I mentioned
earlier. Also, I would remind you that the Pentland
Wheel was designed for both new make as well as
mature whisky. It caused some embarrassment
when consumers took it up and started looking
for off-notes (feinty, sulphury - oh no! - etc).

Lex - And if you compare the two, you'll see that
they give very different results, despite both being
based on tasting notes and using cluster analysis.

Serge - Thanks Ulf, Wishart's is interesting but
with all the 'deviant' single casks popping around,
it's hard to use it. I think it's fine as long as large
batch OB's are considered, but otherwise I think
it's simplifying things too much. In fact our aim is
more to come up with a very rich, complete and
nicely organized catalogue of aromas and flavours,
that would also get translated into some sort of
tasting tool. With all 24 malt maniacs (with various
backgrounds) having written about whisky on our
site, we should be able to produce something very
accurate and complete – should I say 'ultimate'?

The third step, why not, could be to add explanations
and experiences next to each descriptor. We could do that in 2015 ;-)
But the aim isn't, like Wishart's, to build kind of an iterative buying guide and to 'classify' whiskies – rather the flavours!

Charlie - Love it, Serge!
When David Wishart was putting together his 'Classification' he gathered tasting descriptors from a number of books - including two of my own (published 1992 and 1997). I told him that while his statistical methodology was no doubt sound, the raw material (descriptors) was deeply flawed. I look back at some of my own tasting notes from 10 years ago with embarrassment, as I've no doubt Dave and Martine and Michael Jackson do - not to mention Mr. Murray (actually, he is un-embarrassable!). He got further tasting notes from the producers and in the end produced a better 'clustering' - still not entirely reliable, but a nice idea.

The maniacs come at this with long experience and an international spectrum of words. Our descriptors will be wide and varied, and I love the idea of the nuances of related odours. (Here's another: gorse bushes - dessicated coconut - coconut milk - coconut flesh - macaroon biscuits - Bounty Bars - coconut tanning oil). Fun and useful, as I said at the start of this long correspondence! I am sure we can find a book publisher for it, if you want. On-line, we could invite consumers to add their own descriptors. If someone can come up with software that can weed out descriptors, I would love to dump all my tasting notes from the last 20-odd years into the system! (except that I lost about 10 years worth!)

Once we have assimilated them, we can, as you say, decide on the 'cardinal/primary' aromatic groups; the 'secondary', 'tertiary' and even whakky fourth tier terms. All being 'artistic', rather than 'scientific' - 'hedonic' rather than 'analytical', 'subjective' rather than strictly 'objective' (although I am sure that the chemists among us will be able to explain which chemical groups - phenols, esters, aldehydes, etc - each band of aromas derives from. Weighting is what is used in the spider diagrams (intelligently promoted  by David Robertson for Macallan, although a standard tool, I think): on a score of five (or ten, etc) how smoky, how fruity, how floral, etc.

Johannes - Phew!!! Thanks a lot, maniacs...
We may have drifted off topic a bit, but this has been one of our 'meatiest' E-pistles so far.
And it seems we have our work cut out for us.... In fact, this could very well become one of our 'main' projects like the matrix and the monitor... However, given the major overhaul of MM I have planned for this year it might take some time before you'll see the first practical application of our ideas on these pages...

And that's (probably) it for this issue of Malt Maniacs...
Stay tuned for
Malt Maniacs #18 - scheduled for publication on June 1, 2006.

Sweet drams,




Just three E-pistles on this page, not
counting the
editorial comment I felt
I had to add to Ralf Mitchells interview
with Martin Green. The Ask an Anorak
discussion about
'Old Bottle Effect' is
one of our 'meatiest' E-pistles so far.
Just like real drunken banter, our discussion drifted far off topic...

... of MM Issue #17

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