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The whisky world as seen by an eccentric Bavarian exile


Jan-Feb 2010

Previous Monthly Dram-atics: Dec. 2009 / Nov. 2009

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Tuesday 23rd Feb; A personal introduction to Maker's Mark  or  "Is 9y really too old?"

Last Saturday at the Munich Whisky & Bar Festival I was chatting to the people on the Laphroaig stand and picking up a couple of samples when a chap on the neighbouring Maker's Mark stand asked if I was also interested in tasting bourbon. Although bourbon isn't the main focus of Whisky Emporium, it is an added feature and I do indeed include them in my notes and Maker's Mark is one that I have been intending to add.

Maker's Mark only bottle one expression for sale which is a 'No Age Statement' (NAS), but for the festival they had brought along four different expressions; New Spirit which was labelled 'less than one day old', Spirit matured for one year, the 'normal' NAS which I was told was about 6 years old and finally a bottle labelled 'over matured' which was about 9 years old.

Also explained to me was the distillery policy on warehousing and barrel rotation which is quite complicated due to the temperature differences from floor to ceiling which becomes quite critical when barrels are stored ten high to utilise the area. Did he really say there can be a 30° difference between floor and celing?

To give you an example, the NAS bottled expression has no exact defined age, but the barrels start their maturation at the top level where they remain for 2-3 years, after which they drop down to the middle level for a further 1-2 years and then down to ground level for about 1 year, making this expression about 6 years old on average.

I was then poured a sample of each as the intended taste profile, or should I say 'tongue-profile' of Maker's Mark was explained in detail. Maker's Mark go to great lengths and trouble to ensure that their whiskey hits the palate at exactly the intended point which is right at the front of the tongue, nothing else will do for them!

As I tried each expression I experienced not only a myraid of flavours, but also an abject lesson in how maturation affects the palate. The New Spirit at less than one day of age immediately hit the centre of the palate with a very floral freshness, reminiscent of some grappas I know and like.  The one year variant which had spent its short maturation life up at the top warehouse level managed to penetrate both sides of the palate making juices flow freely. but almost totally missing the centre of the tongue. The flavours of this young whiskey much belied its young age with a smooth, gentle, warming perfume which was already well on the way to developing a fine bourbon character. As intended, the 'official' NAS went straight for the front of the palate whereas the 'over-matured', which had lived for three years at each of the three levels, hit right at the back of the palate with smooth, rich, well-matured and perfumed wood and leather notes. It then proceeded to alternate between front and back of the palate in a strange, but wonderful palate-tantalising experience.

This was a great education for me in the world of bourbon and palate and I have to say a great big thank you to the staff at Makers Mark for their patience and time afforded to me personally during that hour at the festival, but I stand by my heart-felt plea to bottle that 9y variant - Please. It is not over-matured, nor is it too old, it is an extremely fine bourbon with a depth of character and richness that my palate rejoices in, so kind Sirs, even though I may only be that 1 in 100 of people who request this, please continue maturation and bottle that 9y bourbon, it's extremely good!

My full Maker's Mark tasting notes are available here or by clicking on any of the above MM bottle pictures.




Monday 22nd Feb; Munich Whisky & Bar Festival  or  "Sleeveless in Munich"

After much anticipation and excitement the day finally arrived and as arranged, I met a friend and fellow whisky enthusiast at the local station for the 45 minute train journey into Munich. Whereas in previous years my main objectives for visiting the festival had been to meet specific trade contacts and discuss various aspects of my whisky and pub business, this year I was going armed with a personal 'shopping list' of not only samples, but also photos required for my tasting note project. Although I was still looking forward to meeting my contacts again and also making new friends and contacts.

As we were early we enjoyed a little wander around town and also a bite of lunch before going into the festival which was being held at a totally new location this year; the complex which hosts The Imax cinema, the planeterium and of course,  The Deutches Museum which in itself is a fantastic day out, or even a few days as I defy anyone to actually see everything there in just a single day.

Anyway, welcome to the new venue and what an excellent venue it is! I enjoyed previous events at The Prater Insel, but for some reason I always believed that somewhere within Munich, there was a better location and thankfully, Frank (of Finest Spirits) has managed to find it. Lots of space, chairs to relax and take the stress from one's feet for a while and overall, a very professional and cosy atmosphere.

But what of the actual festival? After leaving our coats in the cloakroom we ventured towards the array of stands and one of my 'targets' on the shopping list. In fact the Number 1 target; a ticket for the (Diageo) Managers Choice Masterclass from the festival shop. "Ausverkauft!" Said the shop assistant. "Errrmm pardon, sorry, you can't be sold out?" I questioned, "You've not been open more than about 45 minutes." But alas, the masterclass was indeed sold out. I had a chat with Frank's wife and she confirmed that the 25 places had been all sold. But why only 25 places? It's obvious that Diageo were only supplying one bottle (of each) per masterclass, but the samples are all 2cl, a bottle holds 70cl so that's technically 35 places. OK, so we allow for the odd dribble to escape, but surely 30 places would have been possible?

First stop - total disappointment, so on to the second item on my shopping list; Ardbeg Rollercoaster. As a committee member I had been sent an e-mail inviting me to a sample of the new Rollercoaster Committee release. Imagine my delight to find it being poured from a 4.5 litre giant bottle with pride of place on the stand. So, with the rollercoaster safely in my sample stash I also decided to relieve that stand of some Corryvrecken, the 1990 Beastie and the Ten, all of which will appear in my tasting notes soon.

So, the day moved on, various stands were visited and relieved of samples as my bag of little bottles grew heavier and heavier, but no matter how many times I asked, that masterclass remained 'ausverkauft'. I even had a chat with Frank whilst he was judging some cocktail compettiton and yes, he confirmed there were only 25 places and all 'ausverkauft'.

Speaking of the cocktail competition, this is no longer just a whisky festival. As a whisky & bar festival it now includes all drinks, as I discovered from the stands of rum, gin, vodka, funny Bavarian herbal things and Noilly Prat (who had a very unusual stand which I could only describe as 'twee'). There was the cocktail competition, a stand containing a myraid of different coffees and, for goodness sake, ice all over the place, but thankfully there was none visible on the whisky stands, nor was I ever offered any. It's good to see some principles don't change!

One very noticeable thing during the later afternoon was what I perceived to be the queue of new people arriving and depositing their coats at the cloakroom, in fact this was building into quite a long one and I began to wonder just how much busier it could get as it was already quite full. But never mind, on to more stands as I sought out Jim Murray for a quick chat and exchange of opinions as Jim is always good on the topics surrounding our favourite tipples.

It was about this time when I began to feel that I had probably achieved all I could for the day with a bag full of samples, although disappointment was still very evident as I had not managed to speak to a few of the companies I know and who have previously attended the festival, namely the importer for Bruichladdich, Glenfarclas, An Cnoc, Springbank, G&M and Murray McDavid, amongst others. Neither could I find Pernod Ricard as various items from The Glenlivet were on my wish-list. Also conspicuous by their absence were Whyte & Mackay with Dalmore & Jura,  Balvenie, Benriach and amazingly Glenfiddich too. All brands I had hoped to visit. But never mind, at least we had cocktails, rums, vodkas, gins, funny Bavarian herbal things and lots of ice!

Frank (the organisor) came over to talk to Jim and then proceeded to give an interview to a video camera whilst I waited to ask one last favour; "would it be possible to put my name on a waiting list, just in case someone couldn't get to the Managers Choice tasting".

It was just then when I was tapped on the shoulder and turned to see his wife brandishing a ticket for the said masterclass, saying "someone had too much to drink and has cancelled their ticket, would I like it?" Mrs Frank's wife, you are an angel. Thank you for remembering, for searching the festival and finding me, for offering the ticket just when I was contemplating giving it up for the day and also a big thank you to whoever had overindulged! Thank goodness for lack of self-control.

But how come, at this later hour of 6.30pm, were so many people still queueing to give coats to the cloakroom? Also, how come none of these people were actually wearing coats? Oh dear, it was the queue to get coats back!

At least I now had more time in the festival for the masterclass.

I bumped into John, fellow whisky enthusiast and travelling companion for the day, who exclaimed "have you seen the queue for coats, it's getting longer not shorter!" So we agreed that whilst I was in the masterclass he would get our coats so we could be on the planned train home.

Great plans don't always work out. After my masterclass I found John somewhere in the middle of the queue and saying he had already been there, without really moving, for 45 minutes. I took his place to allow him out for a smoke whilst contemplating the excellent masterclass, a rollercoaster of a day with some highs and many lows, just why weren't those major brands here? And, finally, why do many expats in Germany think Germans can't queue? They were doing an rather excellent job here!

Finally, after a total queueing time of just over an hour we neared the front of the queue to find staff running around everywhere, total chaos behind the desk, staff asking "Is this one yours?" then bottles of sekt being opened and offered to the waiting masses as an apology. A few people did seem to get irate with the staff, but amidst the chaos they were trying their best as one explained "someone knocked a coat rack and they all just fell like dominoes!" The poor staff were now having to check every single coat against each ticket as nothing was in order any longer. They even asked a few people to go look themselves to save time.

Welcome to sleeveless in Munich, that was the day that was!



Wednesday 17th Feb; A day in the big city or  "It's Festival time"

Watch this space as this coming weekend sees the annual jamboree that is the Munich whisky festival, known locally as Finest Spirits 2010. If any of you are visiting the event on Saturday 20th look out for me and say 'Hi'.


Wednesday 17th Feb; Hoarding samples or  "Playing catch-up"

Since my January visit to the Doc's and his prescription for more rotten tomatoes I have let my sampling duties slip somewhat as I guess I have taken a break since the Christmas rush. Anyway, that's not to say I haven't been busy sourcing some more excellent material for the tasting notes which I expect will occupy both ends of the scale with some superstars and probably a couple of those aforementioned rotten tomatoes too!

Of course, once sampled the individual whiskies will be added to the picture list over on the right hand side, but just to whet your appetites here's a list of what's coming along soon; Bruichladdich 3D3, Laphroaig Quarter Cask, a previous release of Jura Superstition, Whyte & Mackay 19y 'Old Luxury', Highland Park Hjarta, Glentromie 12y, Glenlivet 18y, Glenlivet Nadurra CS, Knockdhu 12y, 1996 Longrow 10y, the original Spice Tree, Mosstowie 1979-2001, Glenlossie 10y, Convalmore 21y, Ladyburn 34y, plus a pair of new spirits in the guise of Daftmill & Loch Ewe. Then last and possibly least is the infamous Loch Dhu.

Slàinte, let's get busy and play some catch-up!


Friday 15th Jan; A visit to The Doctor or  "Keep taking the medicine"

I guess the start of a new year is as good a time as any for an annual check-up, maybe especially so after the excesses of Christmas and New Year. The Doctor in question appears to be highly regarded and comes well recommended after his current practice has been open for a good three years, but just what did The Doctor say?

The prognosis is that we seem to be in better shape than ever before, if a little saturated and at times unco-ordinated, but does this signal the onset of some nasty and destructive disease? Hardly. One slight problem, or what I would personally term a 'niggle' is that we do seem to be losing the ability to spell as we decimate the English language with terms like 'chix' and even 'connosr', why is that nobody seems able to spell connoisseur?

Of course, at the top of our agenda we have fun and this should remain so, as it's a necessary part of our lives and a smile or two never hurt anyone. Now just who was the first to point out the fine line between genius and insanity? Does anybody really care that we are also heavily guided by a bunch of maniacs, albeit very knowledgeable ones? Of course not, it's all part of the fun, so to speak.

Perhaps another sign of the times is that nobody wishes to sit on the sidelines and we all want to join in, whether qualified or not we have opinions and want them to be heard. Maybe this is where our disjointedness lies, but does it matter that we are many, often individual, voices and not a single choreographed choir?

Many people are not happy with a visit to the Doctor unless they come away with some form of medication, so what exactly did this Doctor prescribe? Well, he has suggested a good dose of rotten tomatoes for 2010 which may seem strange to some, but again we are currently suffering from a proliferation of perfection where many are even viewed as being out of touch due to their pedestal positioning, so yes indeed, why not come right back down to earth with some good old rotten tomatoes.

Finally, this reminds me, have you tried the original presentation of Bruichladdich Waves? A decent enough 8y 'laddie for the first few days after opening, but thereafter often transmoglifying into what can only be described as a rancid and very rotten tomato. Then, even though a tomato is actually classified as a fruit and not a vegetable, I am also reminded of the most vegetal drink after a carrot cocktail; Tamnavulin 12y. More like a potato cocktail with cabbage, broccoli and sprouts as a side order!

Please remember; whatever your viewpoint or level of expertise, keep taking the medicine!











Previous major features

Dec. 2009

All power to the bean-counters, protecting Scotch, seasonal drams, Definitive Xmas Drams, 2009 Whisky Awards

Nov. 2009

How it all started, Bonfire night, Autumnal musings, EU Tax & Duty, What's in a (whisky) name?




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