Malt Maniacs #18

Malt Maniacs E-zine

Malt Maniacs #018

Hungry Fungi
prE-pistle #2001/25 by Lex Kraaijeveld, England

The angels are taking their fair share of the whisky; the 'angel's share of whisky that evaporates from the casks is said to be more than 100 million litres of whisky each year. But there's another group of parasites that leech off casks of maturing Scotch whisky...

Earls of Zetland May Report Card
prE-pistle #2001/26 by Craig Daniels, Australia

This time the EoZ tasters organised a 'horizontal' tasting; three eighteen years old malt whiskies from three different distilleries.

Winter Peat Monster Bash
prE-pistle #2001/27 by Louis Perlman

According to Louis, there is nothing like a good dose of peat for internal central heating when the cold weather is around.

Millennium Malt Convocation
prE-pistle #2001/28 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Sometimes the tasters from Australia put fairly obscure whiskies on their menu, but this time they tasted mostly whiskies that are fairly widely available; including Aberlour A'bunadh and Lagavulin 16.

Malt Comment & A Suggestion...
prE-pistle #2001/29 by Ken Seton, Canada

Since I closed down the old forum, the number of meaty contributions from 'foreign correspondents' has dwindled. Fortunately, Ken Seton accepted my invitation to share any comments about this website.

A Lengthy Response...
prE-pistle #2001/30 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

Ken Seton's submission deserved a proper response. I was forced to admit that I'm very much against combining food and single malts.

Update from the American Novice
prE-pistle #2001/31 by Patrick Whaley, USA

Patrick is our junior whisky judge (he is still in school). His latest review covers a few 'standards' like Aberlour 10yo and Laphroaig 10yo.

The Dangers of Tea
prE-pistle #2001/32 by Lex Kraaijeveld, England

In the past, various religious and idealistic organisations have fought against liquor and its detrimental effects on society. But did you know that there were also groups that felt tea was just as dangerous?

Dramming - Russian Style
prE-pistle #2001/33 by Pavel Alexandrov, Russia

It's hard to believe that it has been a little over a decade since the Berlin wall fell. One of the advantages of the political changes in the USSR is the fact that single malt whiskies became available behind the iron curtain. A report from a foreign correspondent in Moscow.

Some Words on Inferior Liquids
prE-pistle #2001/34 by Johannes v/d Heuvel, Holland

Pavel's message inspired me to write a few words on 'inferior' alcoholic spirits like bourbon, gin and vodka. Conclusion: they're not inferior.

Next IssuePrevious Issue

Malt Maniacs #018 - July 1, 2001

Summertime - and the living is easy...
Well, actually not THAT easy... As you can read in my Liquid Log I recently went on a shopping spree and spent 1500 Euro's on whisky. Granted, working inside the internet bubble has increased my discretionary income, but perhaps I'm getting carried away. My research so far suggests that you can get just as drunk on cheap whisky, so perhaps I should re-evaluate my shopping habits.

Meanwhile, I've expanded the Beginner's Guide on Malt Madness. The information is now neatly divided into ten chapters that take the unwitting reader through the complex tale of single malt whisky in a (more or less) logical fashion. The ten chapters of the Beginner's Guide are divided into three groups. The first group of three chapters deals with the FUNDAMENTALS of whisky, the VOCABULARY that is used in the whisky world and the role of GEOGRAPHY. The next three chapters focus on the production process of a single malt whisky; the DISTILLATION of the spirit from malted barley, the MATURATION that turns the fresh spirit into whisky and finally the BOTTLING that packages the whisky in a user friendly fashion. The last four chapters deal with the practical implications of dramming; SHOPPING, the ENJOYMENT of malts, the actual PRACTICE of dramming and finally a CONCLUSION that wraps things up...

Meanwhile, I'd like to remind all readers of Malt Maniacs about the advantages of sample swapping. Investing in a few miniature bottles (either from glass or hard plastic like Nalgene) will allow you to swap samples with some of your friends, greatly increasing the number of different whiskies you can try. The maniacs have become quite handy with swapping whisky samples by now; although we don't buy dozens of big bottles each month (well, not ordinarily anyway), we can 'stretch' our investments by sharing the bottles we buy with 3 or 4 maniacs in other parts of the world.

Last but not least: the number of certified malt maniacs and foreign correspondents keeps on growing. Patrick Whaley from the USA is our youngest maniac yet; he's still in school...

Sweet drams,

Johannes van den Heuvel
Editor Malt Madness / Malt Maniacs

E-pistle #2001/25 - Hungry Fungi
Submitted by Lex Kraaijeveld, England

The share of the angels hovering over Scotland is estimated to be more than 100 million litres of whisky every year.
Plenty to go around, you'd say, but the angels have to watch their share, because they have a competitor!

Black moulds and fungi grow on the walls and wooden racks in many distillery warehouses and quite often trees growing close to warehouses are also blackened by it. The moulds seem to thrive on the humid and alcohol-rich atmosphere in and around the warehouses. It isn't just the humidity that makes them grow in these places: they really are competing with the angels as several of them happily grow in the laboratory when they are only given whisky as a source of nutrition. Laboratory work has also shown that it isn't one particular species: Aspergillus niger, Trichoderma lignorum, Mucor racemosus and several species of Penicillium have all been identified. In cognac warehouses in France a Torula species tries to steal a bit of the estimated 15 million litres of cognac that the French angels enjoy yearly. In previous centuries, Schiedam, the distilling capital of the Netherlands, was nicknamed 'Black Nazareth', because of the combined effect of black moulds and smoke from the furnaces (the reason behind 'Nazareth' is another story).

In several distilleries in Scotland, the black mould is called "the angels' breath" and one distillery even claims it plays a role in the distinctive flavour of the final product! If I had a breath that black, I'd be seriously worried. But maybe it's normal for angels (I've never met one, at least not one from heaven) or maybe it simply comes from inhaling all that peat smoke!

Lex Kraaijeveld. England

E-pistle #2001/26 - Earls of Zetland May Report Card
Submitted on 02/05/2001 by Craig Daniels, Australia

Greetings to all fellow whisky enthusiasts,

May Is Still an Awesome Month! May has been absolutely huge and it still has one Wednesday to go.
May is Islay Month and tops off the biggest month in the history of the Club, with the Horizontal 18s on 2 May, the Millennium Malt Convocation on the 9th and the Taste-Off trials on 17 and 23 May 2001. The EOZ teams for the NMTC are Martin Brackman-Shaw and Bob Perry and Craig Daniels and Paul Rasmussen.  We don't want to alert the opposition but on disclosed form, our newbies have a seriously good chance and having an old stager in each team lends balance (and ballast) to the combination. This roundup is going to be (mercifully) brief on post mortems as I have two rather than the usual one Report card to get through.

May 2, 2001 - Report Card
"Super 18s"  (Horizontal from Great Distilleries)

Shame there were only 12 there to share in the bounty. They were all better than good, including the blind and the one which I personally found disappointing in distillery verticals (as the Highland Park 25 makes the 18 seem hollow), really hit its straps and performed much better in the Horizontal. Just goes to show; its important to benchmark material against direct competition in the correct price bracket rather than against malts that cost nearly double.

Glenmorangie 18 - Started very light in the nose.  Took a while to get much of anything other than a light fruitiness that developed into a fruit salad but without the tropical notes, which used to be a classic malt marker.  The palate was very good and more refined than I remembered.  Seemed to struggle to make a statement in the company, but both the palate and finish were classy.  The kind of malt that rewards patience as it definitely improved in the glass.  Score 8.3

Highland Park 18 - Was the pleasant surprise of the night. The nose was bitey and spiritty to start but the nose got a lot better as some of the volatiles dissipated.  There was lots of toffee and hints of butterscotch and the whole package hung around better than I recall.  The palate was rich and slightly unctuous. The finish, (ah the finish) was superb and was always the big selling point on every occasion I have ever tasted this malt.  The finish is truly excellent with a slight smoky reprise.  Tastes more and more like a highland coastal to me every year, but defintely a good 'un. Score 8.6

Macallan 18 1982 - I know I'm not going to win any friends but initially, this 18 doesn't even smell like a Macallan, as there's honey, treacle and toffee but the big oloroso sherry is AWOL early.  Nevertheless, once the sherry puts in an appearance it becomes a true Macallan.  The sherry was more obvious on the palate and in the finish but being so timid in the nose was a surprise.  The finish was true, with the classic honeycomb & floor wax appearing to delight.  Score 8.5

The Blind: Bowmore Darkest - Paul Rasmussen chose the blind and gave everyone at least a sporting chance by putting 2 sherried Islays on his list.  Unfortunately, I chose the wrong sherried Islay and those that found the classic lavender/california poppy sweetness picked it as Bowmore.  My tasting notes say it all;  lots of sweet smoky notes - very smooth with lots of dusty lantana and smoking grape vines. Too smoky to be a Highland or from Campbeltown.  Definitely an Islay, probably Lagavulin 16.  Whoops wrong but it was seriously good. 
Score 8.6

Next Meeting: 2 May 2001
"Super 18s - Horizontal from Great Distilleries"

A little while ago, in late 1999, in response to a ranking published on the site by James Thompson, I was asked by an American malt acquaintance to contribute to an 'enthusiasts' list to be posted alongside the 'expert' list. Both lists can be found on the net at the following addresses;
"Experts" -
"Amateurs" -

The idea behind both lists was for people with extensive knowledge to rank distilleries in terms of the quality of the product and consistency across time as one possible way to decide which was the 'best' distillery.  The most interesting thing about both lists is that the experts rated Highland Park top (equal with Lagavulin) Macallan at number 3 and Glenmorangie at 8.  The non-industry enthusiastic amateurs ranked Macallan at 1, Highland Park at 3 and Glenmorangie at 10.  I guess it doesn't really matter to anyone other than a marketer who sees some slight commercial advantage in being number 1, but the whiskies we have chosen for our Super 18 Night come from distilleries that both ranked in their respective top 10's.

The other really interesting aspect to the whole horizontal aspect of the theme is that they are the same age and roughly the same price, so it gives everyone the perfect opportunity to assess each of them against the others and work out which one they like best.  I'm going to do some analysis on the scores but my suspicion is that the scores will line up pretty much in the same order as the 'amateurs' panel ranked the distilleries, as I still think that most people regard Macallan 18 as a stand-out Speyside whisky.  I'm less convinced by the Highland Park 18, finding something lacking in the overall package, but have never benchmarked it against two other 18s.  I acknowledge the pre-eminence of Macallan 18, but find Glenmorangie 18 much more refined and complex; I love the tropical fruit and grape vines that come out over time.  So my personal rating (before putting the three in a line-up) would be Glenmorangie 18, Macallan 18 and Highland Park 18, but I'll be happy to be proven mistaken and to report on the consensus ranking of the meeting.

Craig Daniels, Australia

E-pistle #2001/27 - Winter Peat Monster Bash
Submitted on 08/05/2001 by Louis Perlman, USA

When the cold weather is around, there is nothing like a good dose of peat for internal central heating.
Now I don't mind cold and snow, just dress properly. But it's those days when it's just above freezing, damp and rainy and throw in some bone chilling wind, that demand an exra blast of warmth. Under those circumstances, the standard Islay's aren't enough.
That's when it's time to break out the Peat Monsters.

As the Battlebot season was up to the championship rounds, I was into weight classes, so the Peat Monster finalists competed in the light heavyweight, heavyweight, and super heavyweight classes (Battlebots are fighting robots, check them out at, Extra Cool).

A couple of disclaimers before going any further.
First, the contestants were selected from my stock on hand, and are not necessarily representative of what is commercially available today, or back in January for that matter. If you've got a worthy entry of your own, please do let me know. Second, although Battlebots does not have a light heavy weight division, I added one here to preserve two degrees of separation below the whiskies discussed here. I would put the likes of the current Ardbeg 10, Laphroaig 15, and Bowmore Mariner in the middle weight class, still leaving room below.
And finally, the purpose of this comparison is to focus on the aggressive character of the malts, with regard to peat, smoke, tar, etc. Something like Lagavulin probably rates higher than any of the contestants and is certainly better balanced, but Malt Madness did ratings already. Now it's time for fun!!

So without any further ado.......

Light Heavyweights: The Port Ellen 13yr/1982 Hart Brothers at 43% ABV vs the Murray McDavid Laphroaig 9yr/1987 at 46% ABV. The Port Ellen does an amazing job at just 43%. As I mentioned in an earlier prE-pistle, it starts out with just a moment of calm, and then explodes on the tongue. This Laphroaig is the last Murray McDavid bottling prior to the Leapfrog designation, but I am not aware of any major change in character across the various bottlings. There is an initial explosion of peat, followed by an even stronger volcanic eruption. However, Murray McDavids are very refined, and this one is no exception. While the pyrotechnics are impressive, they are still sort of like seeing them on a large screen TV set, as opposed to real life. That's why the MMcD can't get beyond the light heavyweight class, IMHO. As for availability, the world supply of Port Ellen is dwindling rapidly, and the HB 13 is probaly sold out by now. But I would definitely advise any Islay lover to keep a Murray McDavid Laphroaig in the cabinet. This match is a draw.

The heavyweight finals reminded me of the Biohazard vs Vlad the Impaler finals, but with the opposite result. Here we have a private bottling of a 9 year old Ardbeg, distilled in 1991 and bottled at 53.8% and the distillery Cask Strength Laphroaig. It's available in the US, but I took home a 50ml souveneir from A2 back in January. The Ardbeg uses its high proof to good advantage, effortlessly propelling home the basic (recent) Ardbeg character. The Laphroaig on the other hand, has a full frontal attack. The body is slightly coarse, which works to its advantage here. I am going to declare the Cask Strength the winner here.
Maybe the CS is nothing more than an undiluted standard 10yr, but so what. More important, the usual price in Europe is about half of what I paid for the Ardbeg, which was just a single cask. Let's hear it for value.

And finally, the main event, the Super Heavyweights.
The finalists here are the Port Ellen Scott's Selection 22yr/1976 at 57% ABV, and the Laphroaig Cadenhead 12yr/1984 at 58.9% ABV. The Port Ellen act's like a true heavyweight. It retains all of its aggressiveness, unlike pretty much all of the older Islay's I sampled in Las Vegas. The high proof is put to good use, without being overtly 'spirity'. I would have put my money on this one, except that the Laphroaig went even further. It throws around great swirls of peat and iodine with wild abandon. The overall character is more similar to the 15 than the 10, but that's just an aside. So there you have it, the Ultimate Peat Monster. One small problem though, availability for either contestant is near zero, but if you're a die hard Islay fan, the reward will be well worth the effort if you can get you hands on either or both of them.

One closing thought.
Laphroaig went 2-0-1 in 3 matches. I also acquired a Blackadder 12yr bottling, but too late for the competition, so I'm saving it for the fall. Also worth getting is the Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask Laudable, which Klaus has been lucky enough to sample. Keep in mind that Laphroaig is not a big fan of private bottling, so be prepared to grab them when you get the chance.



E-pistle #2001/28 - Millennium Malt Convocation
Submitted on 09/05/2001 by Craig Daniels, Australia


It's been and gone and I still can't quite believe that it went so well, nor have I got my head around writing the full story.  Suffice to say here, that despite Geoff Holden's kind words, it was very far from a one-man band and a list of sincere acknowledgements will be forthcoming.  The scary thing was that the logistics were way beyond anything we've even dreamt of before, and I still think it's a minor miracle that we came out in front at all.  I was happy with the whiskies and how they complemented each other and the whole event on the night.

Clynelish 1972 24 61.3% UD Rare Malts -  Probably my favourite on the night, certainly the one I went back to for a top up at the end, mainly as it was so easy to drink.  Nice clean bourbon nose with lots of creamy notes in the palate, then developed a distinct flavour/aroma of shelled, unsalted peanuts.  A dash of water liberated the creamy notes and it was remarkably smooth for an OP.  There was a faint hint of hot metal and coal fires in the finish, but none of the Islay peat that you get in some Broras and some others from Clynelish.  If it was made from peated malt the phenol was less than 8ppm.  Reinforced its standing as ranking in the top trio of the Rare Malts.  Score 8.3

Highland Park 12 - Steve Matthews was eloquent in its defence.  Sticking a standard commercial 12 up against the other exotica was bound to appear unfair, so how did the HP12 really fare.  Pairing it with the big bourbon OP reinforced the relative refined gentility of the Highland Park.  Lot of toffee and faint hint of fudge and a distinct sense of fresh stone fruit (peach or apricot) that I've never got before.  I also got butterscotch, which I've found in the 18 but never in the HP12.  I find it hard to find any peat in the latest versions, which is a problem come the Malt Competition.  Score 8.0

Aberlour a'bunadh - I know I wasn't the only one on the committee that thought the a'bunadh worthy of inclusion on the malt agenda for the MMC, but I was a bit worried that it would suffer in comparison to the much more serious and sonorous Macallan 25.  I think by any objective assessment the a'bunadh stood up pretty well.  It has a lifted sweetness that's part floral and part fruity, but ever so clean that possesses a certain constancy as long as it sits in the glass.  Remarkably friendly ( I know that's a dumb term to use but I can't come up with one more apt) and maybe its lack of forest floor depths and deep sherry resonance were exposed, but hey not every sherry malt has to be a Mahler or a Wagner.  The a'bunadh evinced fine coloratura against the booming bass foil of the Macallan.  Score 8.5

Macallan 1975 25 54% Laird's Club Private Bottling Number 2 - Like a lot of other people in the room, I was awaiting the Macallan with heightened anticipation.  This Macallan was singing in a deeper register than any OB, yet it possessed a fruity vitality that belies its age and it doesn't have as much of the forest floor and floor wax that you get in old sherry wood speysides from Glenfarclas and Dailuaine.  If I was to pick a Macallan that it most closely resembles, the 1967 18 is the one and as the 1967 Macallan 18 is the third best Macallan I've ever tasted.  I rank this one in front of everything except the 1874 and the 1972 25 and the equal of the OB 1975, although it shows darker and deeper sherry than the OB.  Serious stuff, with a lot of dark and brooding depths. A malt at the height of its powers, but with lifted fruity grace notes that bespoke a lightness of touch.  David did warn that the sherry s perhaps overly prominent, but for those of us that welcome extreme malts this one was grand. Lovely stuff and well worth the asking.   Score 8.8

Lagavulin 16 - Placing the Lagavulin in the last Act of the MMC was probably a big ask, given the other exotica on offer, but it was a salutary reminder of just how good the Lagavulin 16 truly is. Smooth with lots of dusty lantana and smoking grape vines and the sweet and sour notes of good sherry wood.  Along with the Aberlour a'bunadh it ranks amongst the best value for money malts going around and never fails to impress.  Some of the people who came along were relative malt neophytes and didn't understand the fascination that many of us have with the Peat Monsters.  Lagavulin garnered some more converts on the night. A must for any serious malt drinker's top shelf.  Score 8.6

Craig Daniels, Australia

E-pistle #2001/29 - Malt Comment & A Suggestion...
Submitted on 21/05/2001 by Ken Seton, USA

Hello, Johannes. I've been following your site for, well, over a year now and wanted to say how much I thoroughly enjoy it! 
Much like a Laphroaig on a cold winters night after a filling of steak and potatoes!  I hope you keep it going, you're doing an excellent job and I truly appreciate and applaude your efforts.

That being said, as per your offering, I'd like to make a suggestion...
For serious Malt ratings, to give adequate perspective and a real opinion, you can't just "taste it" and then give offer-up advice... your palette will trick you everytime and you've no "experience" or history with it.  Overall bad is just plain bad mind you, and you'll know it the second it hits those taste buds, however, that being said, it should be noted that if one is having an Italian, or Chinese supper, your taste buds WILL (it's a biological thing that we humans cannot avoid... much like computer programming for your body) trick you, in contrast with say, a steak or fish supper.

What you have programmed into your taste buds prior to "sampling" that Single Malt will influence the outcome...
And that said, it should then be emphasized that you have to "drink the bottle" to fully appreciate and be prepared to rate one. It may take a week or two to consume it, but only then, and by contrasting it against another Malt or two during that time, can you be certain that a correct rating be obtained.  Also with time, you must continue to re-sample the host Malt that is being rated.  Of course, a small sample, of say a mouthfull or quarter of a dram, just does'nt cut it either... a full dram or more will allow you to fully experience the host Malt and be better able to then give comment. However, it has to be drunk... consumed... over time, to be rated effectively.

Then, a note to the wise, if your trying to get a feel for a Malt, perhaps (and hopefully) the next on which to purchase, tread carefully on the ratings which are being offered as they can be extremely misleading for the above mentioned reasons.

I myself have been drinking Single Malts (no water PLEASE) for almost twenty years, since I was a teen.  I have personally consumed (and been dully preserved well enough, I'm sure, for my embalmer) to the tune of 300 bottles or so, I stopped counting about a year ago.  I can honestly say, then, that I'll not rate a Malt unless I've drank, contrasted and compared it, over time.

In that light I would like to offer my two cents worth regarding a particular Single Malt: In looking around at my local Scotch suppliers inventory, (we here in Montreal have an exclusive outlet which has a large section dedicated only to Single Malts, including a $10,000.00 CDN, 40 year old, crystal decantered Bowmore), I decided to try out a 25 year old Glenfarclas based on a written recommendation, and a few from people who had only briefly "sampled" it.

In my first outing with the "GlenF", it was all too strong-in-the-bottle.
Heavy alcohol over-taste, very light on both the flowers and the honey. The smell left you with the impression that a slight smoky-butterscotch was in store with some flowers to experience (and after all, at $125.00 CDN, you'd think it would deliver)... however, what hit me was this crude-alcohol taste that was difficult to pass-by.  So I tried it with various supper varieties, including a fish supper (which can REALLY help you enjoy a Malt) and no change... It was totally disgusting!  No refinement, a definite complexity, that I'll give it, but brash and generally only worth comparing against, say, Jack Daniels or Mr. Walker.  If your a fan of Mr. Walker, or the Famous Grouse, then I'm sure you'll enjoy this... otherwise, for the serious Single Malt drinker, buyer-beware, you can get three bottles of Laphroaig and be the better for it for the price!

As for myself, I'm an Islay man.
The peat simply does it for me. Couple that with some after-complexities which arise after consumption... and that's what impresses me. Glen Garioch 27, Bowmore Dusk and Darkest and Laphroaig 10 rate as very steadfast favourites. Always on hand, they are what I regularly consume and use to compare others against.

I hope you'll post my comments for others to read, and again, thank-you for creating this fantastic forum for all Malt Madness fanatics like myself.


Ken Seton
Montreal, Canada

E-pistle #2001/30 - A Lengthy Response...
Submitted on 21/05/2001  Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

Ah - You raise a couple of very interesting issues, Ken. Allow me to respond in lengthy detail ;-)

First there's the question of 'meals & malts'.
Some may call me a raving radical, but as far as serious sampling is concerned, I'm very much against combining food and single malts.
A good single malt whisky deserves my full and undivided attention. It's hard enough capturing the soul of a single malt without confusing my tongue and palate with other tastes and temperatures. That's why I usually never have dinner whenever I have a serious tasting session planned. A few slices of white bread will do in case of sudden hunger. That way, I can concentrate on the malt(s) at hand. Drinking a few single malts with a meal is fine by me, as long as it's for 'recreational' purposes only - although I personally prefer a nice port. Strong liquors of 40% and more tend to numb my senses after a while.

And then there's the topic of rating 'by the bottle'.
This is an issue I've been wrestling with for some time now. As you've pointed out, there are a lot of external factors that influence a tasting experience. Food, the weather and glassware are just a few of those factors. As a result, a dram tasted today may appear very different from a dram poured from the same bottle yesterday. When I started my mission around 5 years ago, I was aware of this phenomenon. That's why I decided to rate only the malts I've tasted 'by the bottle' - meaning that I've sampled at least 1 700 cl bottle of that malt.
So, for the last five years I have only 'seriously' rated whole bottles.

But lately, I have been having some doubts. Following much of the same reasoning you have, I became aware of an alternative approach. At the moment, each 'bottle' rating on my list represents the average of a number of 'dram' ratings. Because I do my serious sampling under controlled conditions, the deviation is usually no more than one or two points between drams. Some malts, however, are harder to pin down. The UDRM Saint Magdalene 1979, for example, scored anything between 88 and 98 points before I arrived at a 'final' rating of 95 points.
(This rating could change further by the way - I have a few spare bottles in my 'reserve stock'...)

Considering my 'bottle' ratings are in fact nothing more than an average of 'dram' ratings, something could be said for sampling malts by the dram - and rating them accordingly. All the more so because some malts change considerably after the bottle has been opened. To complicate things even more, the malts that do change do so within different timeframes. And let's not forget different people have different consumption patterns. You mentioned a period of two weeks to empty a bottle, but some bottles stay on my shelves for more than two YEARS before they are empty.

Ah - all this thinking makes my head hurt.
I'll pour myself a Glenfarclas 105 for now and do some more thinking on this topic in the future.

Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

E-pistle #2001/31 - Update from the American Novice
Submitted on 24/05/2001 by Patrick Whaley, USA

I'm finally back writing another piece.  The last half of the school year was rather intense, but now it is over.  I can relax a bit. 
I have two requirements left for my degree and then it is time to move on.  And now for the tasting notes and some other ramblings.

Aberlour 10
Nose: soft, floral, sweet, bourbon tones? licorice
Palate: sherry
Finish: sherry, sharp, somewhat long, oak, hot
The soft and floral notes seem to disappear after 20 minutes or so, the nose becomes more hot and aggressive like the finish. 
Over time, the bourbon tones develop in the nose.  I give this malt a 72.  After sharing my thoughts of Aberlour 10 with Richard Block, he offered his opinion that perhaps I am not fond of Highland sherried malts.  Richard may be right.  I thought about it and came to the conclusion that I really don't prefer young sherry finished malts.  The Macallan 18 is great, I really didn't care for the 12, and the 15 was better than the 12.  The young sherried malts are too sharp and hot for me.  I will have to have one last serious tasting session with the Aberlour 10 considering that the bottle is almost empty.

A few weeks ago I was out to dinner and ordered Laphroaig 10.  I haven't had any Laphroaig in quite some time. 
Oh the memories came back in a hurry when it was brought to the table as the smell of it hit me instantaneously. 
It was as great as I remembered.  I miss that stuff, truly wonderful.

Since I am on the subject of Islay's, I want to talk about another one, Bowmore Cask Strength.
I have been enjoying it very much, it keeps getting better and better.  I think it is a superb malt.  It is definitely a peat reeker, nose, palate, and finish.  I remember it being so peaty, which is why I really like it.  I will have another serious tasting session with it as this bottle is also almost empty.  Don't be surprised if I readjust the score on this one.  I have found that a malt is very good or exceptional if I think to myself, "I wish the bottle wasn't almost gone."  And that is the case with the Bowmore Cask Strength.

This update is rather short, as I have had my hands full and things on the whisky front have been rather slow. 
I have a few bottles that are ready to be opened and rated but I am going to have to hold off on that.  I may be going to college out of state in a couple of months and it I would feel better opening them later.  I wouldn't want to risk leakage or any other problems (the whole opening container thing).  In the waning moments of my pursuit of my degree, I had a change of heart, I didn't want to spend the rest of my life doing something with the degree I am about to earn.  So, I plan on going back, to do something that I really want to do.

In closing, is Johannes crazy or what?  That guy has been going nuts lately with all of his new acquisitions. 
He has given new meaning to malt madness.  One day Johannes may need a support group for his Maltoholism, lol.  I would be more than willing to help, and to help drink some of those bottles.
Sounds like a good time to me!

Patrick Whaley, USA

E-pistle #2001/32 - The Dangers of Tea
Submitted by Lex Kraaijeveld, England

The Church in late 18th century Scotland did not have a very high opinion of distilling and drinking of whisky.
The parish reports for the Statistical Account of Scotland are literally teeming with remarks that whisky is a pernicious liquor which is bad for the health and morals of the people. Besides whisky there was another beverage which was considered to be just as bad by many ministers. It is hard to imagine nowadays, but this beverage was ..... tea!

In the mid 16th century, tea was brought to Europe by the Dutch from China, where it was considered one of the Elixirs of Life.
From Holland, its use slowly spread over the British Isles and it appears to have reached rural Scotland in the mid 18th century. Several parish reports specifically mention the number of tea pots in the town or village and remark on their increase compared to a few decades or so ago. The newly introduced beverage was treated with suspicion by many; it was thought that strong tea was destructive to the nervous system:

Bewitched by the mollifying influence of an enfeebling potion, the very poorest classes begin to regard it as one of the necessities of life ....

So, under influence from two equally pernicious beverages, the people of Scotland and their health and morals appeared to be doomed.
Of course, they would have been, had it not been for one fortunate twist of fate: whisky and tea were both bad for people, sure, but their bad effects could cancel each other out! The injurious effect of tea could be corrected by the addition of a little whisky, it was thought, and it became custom to add a gill of whisky to the last cup from the pot to correct all the bad effects of the tea.

Water of Life meets Elixir of Life and all's well again!

Lex Kraaijeveld, England

E-pistle #2001/33 - Dramming - Russian Style
Submitted on 07/06/2001 by Pavel Alexandrov, Russia

Hi Johannes,

Truly great site you got there!
Just a couple of words about myself (not that I think anyone would bother to read it, but hey! who knows?) First of all, I'm a Russian living presently in Moscow. And that's sad because 1) Russian drink of choice as everybody knows is vodka, and many people here, would you believe it, consider whisky to be an inferior beverage similar to the local thing called samogon - poorly refined home-made alcoholic drink produced from anything from potatoes to horseshit, 2) The average price of a single malt in Russia is 1.5-2 times higher than in rest of the world.

And here's my story of coming to appreciate malt whisky. As a student in 1990 I was studying in Japan near Tokyo and living in a dorm with 9 fellow Russian classmates (there were also Germans, Japanese, Koreans and Danes there, but when it comes to consuming vast amounts of alcohol they're just not in the same category as Russians, as one would guess). Obviously, at some point we were faced with a difficult task of finding a drink that would meet a number of requirements;

a) be available in a store within a walking distance,
b) allow us to get drunk quickly,
c) would not have unreasonable side-effects, such as I-wanna-be-dead hangover or I-can't-be-in-this-room-any-longer smell, and,
d) be affordable even for poor Russian students.

After some thorough research and extensive tasting with varied consequences we realized that whatever was sold in our area under the name of vodka doesn't suit the purpose of being consumed by an average Russian drinker and basically our options are either gin or whisky. After several of our gin-drinking sessions I knew that I would never willingly drink it again as it's something totally opposite to my personal ideas of a drinkable beverage, and concentrated solely on whisky. At that time for me any whisky was just whisky, and I probably wouldn't tell a difference between Four Roses and Talisker 10, but who's without weaknesses, especially if you're young and in Japan? Anyway, as time went by I got acquainted with some Americans and Canadians (one of them later even became my wife - a girl from Toronto, who's presently sharing with me the hardships of life in post-communist Russia), got a part-time job in a gambling parlor and found out that there's actually a difference between Scotch and Bourbon, adding the latter to the same black list that included gin and the drink that goes under pseudonym of vodka in Hiratsuka city.

So the first step was taken, and within a year I came to a conclusion that Scotch whisky has become by far my favorite drink.
However, I still was under the impression that those blends I liked so much - Teacher's, Ballantine's, Famous Grouse (for some reason I never liked Johnny Walker - and, bummer!, this is the only whisky you can find on every corner in Moscow) - were the only real stuff. Which, I still think, they are, as compared to the rest of 40+% beverages, with the exemption of Cognac, and maybe some rums. And it was not until 1994, when I first went to Canada to meet my future parents-in-law, that I was introduced to the greatness of a single malt whisky by the husband of my wife's cousin, a big man called Joe. Joe, however, was no expert himself - even though he had enough sense to get a bottle of Glen Garioch 15 for his new Russian relative, he fell short of not loading our glasses with tons of ice. But even in this situation my discovery was finally made - there was a world beyond blended scotch whiskies.

Over the years since then I tried to get my hands on a bottle of a single malt every time I had such a chance. I even tried a couple of times to maintain a collection, but that failed for the reason of uncontrollable desire to actually taste the malts every once in a while. My wild guess would be I tasted about 30 single malts in total. Some of them, I'm proud to say, I didn't find on any of your rated lists - The Glen Peel 12, for instance.

Unfortunately, even though I had several weak attempts to somehow put my experiences with malts into some sort of a system and even bought an issue of "Whisky. Collins pocket reference", I never really recorded any impressions or even the names of malts I had a chance to taste. But that is - until now: gave me a whole new perspective and inspiration to start taking this whole thing more seriously. Another push in that direction I got this winter, when in Italy I for the first time started appreciating good wines - maybe one wouldn't find a close connection here, but the process of nosing and tasting of wine and single malts seems somewhat similar to me, and sometimes one's mind works in strange ways, but the result remains - I decided to work towards the goal of one day having a collection of single malts and a collection of Italian wines (even got one bottle already - a present kept since 1992). The only problem now comes to outrageous prices for these fine beverages in Moscow, as mentioned above. But there's no problem without a solution - my friends are already on a mission to find first 2 bottles of single malts for me in Hong Kong next week.

Well, thanks again for the site, and sorry for probably boring you into emptying your Malt Cabinet's whole top shelf at once with my draggin' - just had to share it with someone who would know what the heck I'm talking about. By the way, according to my taste some of the Japanese malts are quite enjoyable - the whiskies from Japan could be a new field of research for you.

Best regards,

Pavel Alexandrov

E-pistle #2001/34 - Some Words on "Inferior Liquids"
Submitted on 27/06/2001 by Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

A lot of worthwhile comments there, Pavel - thanks!

Rest assured that I wasn't bored by your story. What's more, I completely agree with your observations about 'inferior' liquids like bourbon and gin. The ones I've sampled can't be compared to noble drinks like single malt whisky, cognac or armagnac. Well - of course they CAN be compared, but if you ask me, the comparison isn't favourable for the bourbons and gins of this world ;-)

That being said, it seems like the quality of cognac and armagnac has slipped considerably since the 1980's.
I still like the sweet, woody profile of cognacs and armagnacs, but these days they seem increasingly simple and one-dimensional compared to single malts. If the French don't manage to change that trend, I wouldn't be surprised if the Americans or Irishmen would recognise this 'hole in the market' and jump on it by increasing the quality of some of their bourbons or (rye) whiskeys.

Furthermore, you mentioned Glen Peel. To the best of my knowledge, there is no 'Glen Peel' distillery in Scotland - at least I haven't included it in my overview of all malt whisky distilleries in Scotland. The labels on the bottles suggest that it was the distillery where this whisky was born though. I know I have a tendency towards paranoia, but when the bottlers have no troubles lying about something so crucial, I tend to lose faith in the trustworthiness of the other information that is provided as well.

You also mentioned wine tastings. I have to admit that I always looked at the way some people talked about wine with some disdain - until I became crazy about malt whisky that is. Nowadays I certainly understand their enthusiasm - even if I still don't enjoy wine myself. I found that the more you learn about whisky, the more interesting it becomes - and I suppose the same is true for wine. There are parallels between wine and whisky tasting as well; you need to unlock your unconsciousness and embark on a quest to find the true character of the liquid in your glass. Debates with fellow connoisseurs may appear unintelligible to the casual bystander.

If your focus is on collecting whisky you'll have to wait until more single malts become more widely available in Russia (which I'm sure they will, looking at the positive economic developments in Russia), but if you're interested in the tasting experience I have a tip for you. We have a small group of whisky loving friends here in Holland but we don't always have the time to organise physical gatherings to enjoy and discuss our mutual passion. However, thanks to sample swapping we have the chance to share our collections with others - and enjoy their collections as well. This way, we get to try dozens of different single malts in a month while we only have to invest in a few bottles each.

Last but not least: thanks for your tip about Japanese whisky - I've tried a few so far, despite the fact that they can be quite pricey.
I like the Suntory Kakubin blend (better than most Scotch blends if you ask me) and their older single malts can be spectacular. The only thing that I miss on the shelves here in Holland are single cask bottlings and independent bottlings. I'm not sure if this has to do with the fact that there simply are less of them (the practice of cask swapping is less common in Japan) or if they just don't reach Europe.

Sweet drams,

Johannes, Holland

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Malt Maniacs Issue 018 - Malt whisky writings for 2001

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