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The whisky world as seen by an eccentric Bavarian exile


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Tuesday July 27th

Those funny little thumb-nails, or "Time to get a little personal this month"

Dram-atics, as you know, is the page where I publish live whisky reviews, offer my opinions on what is happening around the world of whisky and generally just pontificate on the subjects surrounding my passion, which indeed it is. But July has been a little different as I have allowed one single theme to run throughout the month; "Age".


As you see from my post below (from July 21st), I received a press release about the Chivas Brothers "Age Matters" campaign and decided to use July's Dram-atics to focus on this subject by reviewing whiskies of all age ranges. Well most ranges as I can't afford those older beauties to match my own vintage. Speaking of which, this whole topic also fit nicely with the fact that July holds my own birthday and yes, that chocolate cake was truly excellent.

But why these funny little thumb-nail pictures in particular?

Since I started Dram-atics in November last year I have used some kind of thumb-nail picture to introduce each article, often a cartoon, sometimes one of my own photos, but always alluding to the subtitle I give each article, albeit often cryptic with a little added poetic licence.

Back in May I had to return to the UK for the funeral of my Step-Father who had reached the grand age of 93 before passing away peacefully in his sleep. Obviously, this was also an opportunity to visit my Mum whose health is failing as she suffers from Alzheimer's and has now also been diagnosed with a form of blood cancer, although at her age this isn't advancing so rapidly. As you can imagine, it was a sad and emotional visit but one treasure that came out of my trip was to be given some photo albums covering my own childhood and also from Mum and Dad before I was born. I knew of their existence, but feared them long-lost as I hadn't seen them for years and when my Step-Brother helped move Mum into the home, he couldn't find them either, but thanks to a very honest workman who was called in to do some repairs on their little bungalow and found a couple of boxes of items hidden away, I have now been reunited with the early family albums and also a few other sentimental items that have little monetary value, but are extremely precious and invaluable to me.

I could think of no better way to celebrate my Birth-month than by using some of those long-forgotten pictures of my own childhood for a series of articles focused on "Age" and, if you use enough poetic licence you may just see my intentions behind the placing of each one, so I thank all my readers for putting up with me getting a little personal during this last month and I promise it will be back to 'normal' in August when I plan to celebrate a certain momentous milestone!


Chivas Bro's video


Wednesday July 21st

Age matters, or "How old is it really?"

At the end of June, along with selected other whisky commentators and bloggers, I received a press release about Chivas Brothers' newest campaign "The Age Matters" about which they say "The aim of the campaign is to enable consumers to understand fully the age statement and to appreciate the value of the premium product they are purchasing"


Chivas Brothers commissioned a study into what the public perceive about age statements on whisky and the findings are just a little surprising;

"94% of consumers believe the age statement serves as an indicator of quality, 93% believe that older whiskies are better quality and 89% actively look for an age statement when making a decision to purchase." Fair enough so far, but then we find; "only 10% understand that it refers to the youngest whisky in the bottle, nearly half (48%) believe an age statement refers to the average age and 35% believe it signifies the oldest whisky present." So it seems that according to this survey only 10% of consumers actually know what they are buying as an age statement must, by law, define the number of full years the spirit spent maturing in oak casks before being bottled. Speaking of which, if you'd have bought a bottle of 12 year old whisky ten years ago and not opened the bottle, it is still 12y whisky today, not 22 years old. The 'age' as I said refers to the maturation in oak casks as, unlike wine, whisky does not mature further once bottled. In fact, I have already written briefly about this in my "New to Whisky" guide for newbies.

According to the study it does seem that most of us see an age statement on the bottle as an indicator of quality and also that older means better, but is this strictly true? Well, it is true that 100% of the colour of the whisky (so long as the caramel E150 additive isn't used) comes directly from the cask during maturation. The cask is also one of the greatest influences on the flavour of the whisky as the wood itself, along with the previous contents of casks all play a vital role during maturation.

But is older really always better?

This is a difficult question and there is no single answer covering all whisky as many other factors, especially climate, also play a part. Earlier this year I reviewed a series of four samples from Maker's Mark which included their 'white Dog' (less than 1 day old), 1 year old, the standard NAS (about 6y) and what they call 'Overaged' 9y whisky. Even at 1 year of age the spirit was showing elements of maturity. Likewise, last month I reviewed some expressions of South African whisky which were extremely mature at an age of 5 years. But when we talk about South Africa and Kentucky, we are talking of pretty hot climates and whisky maturation is proven to be much more advanced or 'quicker' in those climes.

If we stick with Scotland, then I have to say that in general whisky does improve with age, although different distilleries do tend to have certain profiles of whisky that they bottle at specific ages. What do I mean here? Well look at my review of three Laphroaig expressions further down this page from 6th July. If you like your Laphroaig to be that typical 'in your face' peat, seaweed, iodine and general Atlantic jetty on a stormy day, then the 10-12y age range is ideal for you. From around 15-20 it's getting more rounded and mellow as further maturation smoothes out the peat and lessens those 'Atlantic' elements. Maturing further (20+ years) makes for an even rounder whisky, so at this stage, it's more a matter of personal taste.

Looking a little closer to the home of this campaign and The Glenlivet whisky, we see that the range begins with a 12y expression which is a very good, slightly fruity whisky. The 18y is again much smoother with highly pronounced summer fruit flavours like apricot. In between lies the 16y Nadurra which is a truly excellent whisky.

But I guess this campaign isn't really about whether 20y whiskies are better than 12y or 18y ones. It's about letting the public know and also helping them to understand exactly what is in the bottle. It's also true that as distilleries fight to meet the increased demand of todays expanding global market, the temptation is to bottle younger whiskies or at least combine younger ones in their bottlings and, if they choose to state the age, remember it must be the age of the youngest whisky in the bottling, so they often choose to bottle as No Age Statement or under trendy names rather than ages. So a big "thank you" to Chivas Brothers for taking this stance and working to inform the general public!



Sunday July 18th

Some rarer vintages, or "Old-timers can teach the youngsters a thing or two"

I expect today's article to more or less conclude my own series on 'Age' which has run throughout July as in the next couple of days I will look at other peoples' comments on the subject which will include the current marketing campaign from Chivas Brothers. Meanwhile, I end my series with a review of four older expressions, two of which are from a brand I've been hunting for some time now.




Cambus 24y, 1986-2010, 54.7% abv Bladnoch Forum bottling; My first dram of the evening is not a single malt, but a single grain from the now defunct Cambus distillery which was founded in 1806 by John Mowbray when he took over a derelict mill next to the river Devron. He registered his business in 1813 but didn't start distilling whisky until 1823 when he acquired the title to that piece of land. Unfortunately, the distillery was closed down by the last owners (UDV) in 1993. As I like light, smooth and quite floral drams I tend to be partial to a good single grain, especially the older ones which often exhibit these characteristics and this Cambus 24y is no exception. Thanks to the 54% there is a little alcohol tingle on the nose, but this is soon replaced by a wonderful bouquet of light butterscotch, honey and just a suggestion of a lemon grove basking in the midday sun. The palate is deliciously smooth with the aromas from the nose translating nicely onto the tongue which intensify even further with the addition of a few drops of water.

My second dram of the evening is another Bladnoch Forum bottling, this time a Glen Elgin 25y, 42.3% abv; I expected much from this whisky and was quite surprised to find it initially faint and very mellow, but its presence grew on the palate into a pleasant mixture of citrus and toffee apple. The nose offered intense vanilla, light cheese and even a touch of ginger. After a slow start the finish was very long with apple and hints of liquorice. A very good but delicate whisky.

As you can see from my main Tasting Note Page I am trying to review whiskies from all the current Scottish distilleries, plus some extra 'brands' where a distillery offers more than one product label. Before tonight my search or 'project' was missing only 17 of these and now, in one evening I managed to source not only Cambus, but also Glencraig; the whisky produced at Glenburgie distillery for only twenty five years between 1956 and 1981 in Lomond stills. In fact, I have the pleasure of trying two different old Glencraigs, one at 34 years and a second at 35y.

Glencraig SMWS 104.11 34y, 47.8% abv: After an initial burst of aromatic aged wood and treacle toffee, the nose suddenly transported me back in time to just over 40 years ago, to the days when my local sweet shop sold a fizzy drink, or 'pop' with a flavour of "dandelion and burdock". Oh goodness, to find this semi-herbal, semi-floral delight in a whisky after more than 40 years is a rare delight! The palate then offers aromatic liquorice and treacle toffee with an extremely long finish, extended further with a few drops of water.

Glencraig, Duncan Taylor "Rarest of the Rare" 1974-2009, 35y, cask 2922, 42.4% abv: The first nosing of this Glencraig transports me immediately to the Scottish outdoors. Old aromatic wood, perhaps a Crofter's cabin seated amongst the bracken and heather of a nearby hillside. Light toffee, malt and leather caress the palate into a long finish, but adding water shortens the finish, don't be tempted!

All in all an evening of excellent whiskies which happen to be the oldest and also the most enjoyable of the many excellent ones I have tried this month. Does 'Age' matter? You bet it does, but more of that in a day or so!



Saturday July 17th

Dramming with Cioccolato Domori, or "Italian style, par excellence!"

I tend to be outspoken when it comes to chocolate these days, especially when it comes to high quality thanks to Frau Franz, proprietoress of the incredible local chocolateria bearing her name. Today I wanted some small samples to experiment alongside whisky this evening and my wife promised to collect them whilst shopping. It was a rather hot day and Frau Franz insisted on personally delivering them after closing her shop, rather than risk them melting in the midday heat. Now that's what I call service!



When insisting upon delivering the chocolate, Frau Franz referred to my choice of Domori as the finest chocolate she knows. It costs a bit too as I paid almost €9 for nine bars. "That's pretty cheap and normal" I hear you scream, but alas, 'normal' bars tend to weigh 100g, whereas these nine each weigh just under 5g so I reckon that's about 20x more expensive than a brand like Sarotti or Lindt, but is it any good?


Domori "Il Blend" 70% cacao. Light honey, caramel and a hint of tobacco; My first partner to this chocolate is the Arran Rowan Tree (Icons of Arran No. 2 from 2010) and although the honey of Il Blend does indeed blend well with the creamy elements of the Arran, the whisky tends to neutralise most of the flavours of the chocolate. Secondly, I try Il Blend with my Glen Mhor 1969 and find immediately that the honey combines with the floral characteristics of the Glen Mhor to enhance the palate and take it to another dimension, but then the very slight tobacco flavour in the chocolate combines wonderfully with the aged oak of the whisky to prolong the finish making it even more luxurious. Finally I partner Il Blend with the Dalmore Mackenzie which is the richest in flavour of these three whiskies. The combination of dark fruit in the whisky and honey, tobacco & caramel of the chocolate just synergise on the palate to create an overall entity which is creamy, luxurious and delightful on the palate.

Domori "Teyuna" 70% cacao. Bitter sweet, cashew nuts and a touch of honey; My first thought here is that the Arran Rowan Tree has been given a very slightly nutty bitterness from the chocolate, but this isn't a bad thing, in fact it's a dimension to the palate which I think is an improvement. The finish is then long with elements of both the whisky and the chocolate once again combining. Amazingly, the combination of Teyuna with the Glen Mhor has a quite opposite effect. The slightly bitter flavours from the aged wood are totally lost on the palate which is now dominated by a honey-induced creaminess with a luxurious mouth-feel. The light cashew nuts finally merge with the aged wood to enhance the finish. Finally, the cashew nuts of the Teyuna merge with the dark fruits of the Dalmore Mackenzie to offer even more 'Christmas cake' feeling although the flavours in the Dalmore are significantly stronger and dominate through the finish.

Domori Cru "Sur del Lago" 70% cacao. Dark, rich, bitter sweet, seaside promenade; The sligthly bitter sea-front flavours of the chocolate make a very good partner to the creamy, sherry-influence of the Arran to rough it up a little and actually paint a more complete overall picture, as if a missing jigsaw piece was magically added. Also with the Glen Mhor, it just seems to be a more complete picture. That dark, bitter sea-front combines particularly well with the aged wood to give a very rounded and 'complete' palate, allowing the more aromatic and floral elements of the whisky to dominate the finish. Finally, I am amazed that the slight bitterness of the Sur del Lago actually enhances the dark fruit and sweetness of the Dalmore Mackenzie to create an even more delightfully rounded and fruity palate, although the flavours of the choclate rather than the whisky dominate the finish.


Friday July 16th

Chocolate cake by Franz, or "Happy Birthday to me"

An auspicious day for reasons I won't dwell upon now, but will return to at the end of the month, although one highlight was a surprise delivery which arrived early this morning thanks to my wife and a certain chocolatier called Franz.



Wednesday July 14th

Chapters 2,4 & 9, another trilogy of peat, or "Feeling all grown up"

At the beginning of this month you may remember I tried the three year old "Chapter 9" peated release from St. George's distillery. Following that review, Matthew an online whisky friend in England sent me further samples in the form of Chapter 2 the peated new make and Chapter 4 the 18 month peated spirit release, along with a further sample of Chapter 9 so that I could compare the development of the peated spirit through to its coming of age to whisky.




St. George, Chapter 2, peated new make, 46%: New spirit is often very aromatic, but it can also be quite rough or raw in character. Not this one from St. George's, it has peat and light rubber on the nose and herbs with floral overrtones on the palate which are followed by the peat which leads nicely into the finish. Overall it's a quite light spirit with a very clean and gentle character.

St. George, Chapter 4, 18 month old peated spirit, 40%: the eighteen months have added a little colour to the spirit, but really not very much. Alongside the peat, the nose has acquired an aroma of lemon grove or even that of a lime tree basking in the midday sun. Light citrus flavours also greet the palate before the peat comes to the fore to take charge. The finish is medium to long and again very gentle.

St. George, Chapter 9, three year old peated whisky, 46%: On this occasion the rubber is a little more intense on the nose but it fades after 2-3 minutes to promote a mango and banana skin fruitiness. On the palate this fruitiness is more peach-like but again it soon gives way to the peat.

Conclusions and summary: St. George's whisky has often been likened to a Scottish lowland malt and in some ways I agree as it is light, gentle and quite floral and fruity in character, but upon second thoughts, I would be tempted to say it is forging ahead with its own character and style. The expressions I have now tried are very light, smooth, gentle and caress the palate, so well done to The English Whisky folk, this whisky shows lots of promise and although it is indeed now beginning to feel 'all grown up', I look forward to the future years of maturation when it will hopefully blossom into a true beauty.



Saturday & Sunday July 10th & 11th

A weekend quartet, or "Four!!!"

Two 'NAS' (No Age Statements), a twelve year old and a Thirteen will hopefully provide some valuable data to my examination of age here on Dram-atics this month, especially as they are also four rather different whiskies.




Bruichladdich Links "St. Andrews" from mini pack: I have reviewed a few of Bruichladdich's Links series recently, but they have all been the 70cl versions with stated ages ranging from the earlier 14y to the current 16y bottlings. This one is different, it's a 5cl bottle from one of the two current 'mini packs' which in this case comprised 3D3, Rocks and this Links. As I said this has no stated age and I expected it to be similar to the young Rocks and Waves in having a young, fiery and slightly rough style. How surprised I was to find a quite smooth dram with a nose of Autumnal leaves and malt, followed by that smooth, but faint and gentle palate of fruit, leather, freshly sawn wood and a light leafyness, with a long fruity finish.

Whyte & Mackay "The Thirteen": Here is a 13y blended whisky with a rich floral nose comprising also of freshly polished antique oak and marzipan. The smooth palate is equally rich and even reminds me of a mixture of marzipan and icing on a traditional English Christmas cake, just like my Gran used to make! The finish in this case is long and increasingly floral towards the end.

Springbank 12y Cask Strength: I tend to have my doubts about cask strength Springbanks thanks to the very first "100 Proof" which was a special single cask edition for the Munich whisky fair some years ago. To me that was just pure alcohol and far too spirity. Not so for this 12y CS as the nose offers malt, faint rubber, hay and only the lightest hint of spirity paint stripper, which immediately vanished with just a few drops of water. The palate was delightfully smooth and creamy with faint rubber which quickly turned into a cocktail of coconut and vanilla. A couple of extra drops of water released even more floral elements along with the vanilla, some wood and a slight pepperiness. Thank you Springbank, you have finally laid to rest my previous doubts about your CS offerings!

Aberlour A'Bunadh Batch 22: All A'Bunadhs are NAS but in this case that isn't a bad thing as they are not particularly young whiskies. In creating this series Aberlour are looking at profile more than age, although I am told by a Chivas Brother's employee that these batches are all 'around' the 16y age mark. What we have here is a series, called batches, of cask strength, sherry cask bottlings. I personally hold Batch No. 20 in high regard as one of the three best batches, but this #22 really isn't that far behind. The nose offers old oak, leather, dark cherries and a hint of car polish on a sunny day. The palate is equally rich, in fact very rich, with aromatic wood, sherry and a very floral cheese. Think mountain cheese wrapped in a Springtime Alpine meadow.



Friday July 9th

A sign of getting old; "The police seem to get younger every day!"

This particular Police bike may have been quite static on a Merry-go-Round in Great Yarmouth and a few decades before a certain "CHiPs" TV programme was imported to the UK from across the Pond, but isn't it true that as we all get older, the Policemen and women seem to be getting younger?



Well, today's 'PC' is breaking that trend as it gains another year, but then the 'PC' in this case isn't a Police Constable, but a Port Charlotte from Bruichladdich. I remember with great fondness just what a beast the PC5 was, then after missing PC6 I found PC7 to have matured very nicely into sweet and smooth passion fruit and peat, with a lingering smokiness. So what of the latest recruit onto Bruichladdich's PC 'beat'?


Bruichladdich PC8 Port Charlotte 8y, 60.5%; A nose of sweet peat with gentle hints of rubber dinghy on the open sea is pretty much translated into the palate, although with a little sea and more of that passion fruit. The whisky turns into more conventional peat with the addition of a few drops of water, but at the same time it acquires a more creamy texture, rather like peat-flavoured ice cream. Now there's a business opportunity; Islay Ice! A few more drops of water make it even smoother and again enhance the peat, but further drops just take it too far and although it's mellow, it's just a drop too much.



Wednesday July 7th

A journey into the unknown, or "What are those then?"

Today's feature is something of a journey into the unknown as one of my online whisky friends has decided to send me a quartet of samples but has declined to give me any information about them, other than to say they are all malts and typical of their origins, or their distillery siblings. In fact he has challenged me to give as much information about them as I can and even asked me to try and guess which distilleries they may be from.



Errrrmm thanks Steffen, remind me to return the favour one day!


I have decided to pour these alongside each other rather than singularly so I can take my time and even make a few comparisons. Sample No. 1 has arrived in a Tullibardine bottle so I can assume it is not from there. Likewise sample No. 2 which sits innocently in an Ardbeg bottle and No. 3 in a Grant's bottle, although No.3 is by far the darkest and I can honestly say I never saw so rich a Grant's expression. No. 4 has no markings other than a "No. 4" label.


  Sample No. 1

Glass: Spiegelau

Colour: 18 carat gold



Nose: Initially earthy, but not quite farmyard. Slightly aromatic straw, bordering on aromatically bitter, although the background comprises something almost sweet.

Palate: Smooth and warming, more sweet than the nose with a little hint of coconut.

With 3 drops of water: Slightly more farmyard on both nose and palate

Finish: Medium


  Sample No. 2

Glass: Classic Malt

Colour: Amber



Nose: Richly polished old oak, fruity (raisins & bramble) wood and leather. Is that a hint of toasted lavendar too?

Palate: Smooth and creamy but again over 50% abv.

With 3 drops of water: More aromatic nose, sweeter palate, but it has opened to include treacle toffee and coconut. Perhaps even slight banana skin.

Finish: Very long, sweet and fruity, especially with the water added.


  Sample No. 3

Glass: Classic Malt

Colour: Dark and rich teak.



Nose: Rich, very rich dark fruits, old wood, leather and Pirelli P1.

Palate: Rich toasted wood and dark fruits. This is extremely rich and once again I reckon over 50% abv. Very, very intense.

With 3 drops of water: Extremely aromatic rich wood on the nose, spicier palate with wood, rich marzipan and more dark fruits.

Finish: Very long.


  Sample No. 4

Glass: Spiegelau

Colour: Light gold



Nose: Slightly peaty outdoors with countryside and distant cows grazing near a peat bog, or by a peat fire. Hints of wood.

Palate: Smooth and slightly peaty. It seems like high abv too. Yes, a quick bottle shake tells me over 50% abv.

With 3 drops of water: A fresher slightly more aromatic nose and a little more spicy peat.

Finish: Long, even longer with water.



I now have the impossible task of trying to identify and suggest where these drams may be from. As I deliberate further I have poured the last drops into my glasses in the blind hope that some kind of divine intervention will strike like lightning and burn four distillery names into my desk. Sadly there is no storm in sight and it looks like I will just have to embarrass myself to the world, but hell, who cares? let's get on with it:

Sample #1: I wondered if this could be a Tamnavulin, but as my Tamnavulin 12y was a truly dreadful dram and much worse than this one, I don't really believe that's the answer. I also briefly considered Glendullan but this too was discounted. One other possibility is something from the Loch Lomond stable, perhaps Croftengea. A possibility, but I wouldn't finalise on this decision. I am continually drawn to "The Speyside" distillery with The Speyside label or even one of the other brands like Glentromie, so I am finally undecided between this and my final thought which is Tormore.

Sample #2: One of my first thoughts on this was Mortlach and I haven't really discounted it. My second thought is Aberlour, something like the 16y or 18y, or even Ben Nevis. When it comes to sherry drams Glenfarclas always comes to mind, but somehow I don't believe this is from there, it's just not solid enough. The Floral aromas along with those sherry cask traits make this one quite difficult to ascertain.

Sample #3: This is an unbelievably rich whisky, undoubtedly a sherry cask and probably not only first fill, but also quite old. My first thoughts tend towards Macallan, Glenfarclas and Dalmore. I have tasted a few Macallan 18y expressions and to be honest, this is even richer, so if it's a Macallan I would hazard a guess at possibly older than 18y. It could also be one of the older Dalmores, it certainly has the strength of character. As for Glenfarclas, I believe this has much more strength of character than the ones I have tried so far, but again it could be an older one than those I have as yet tried. My final thought which is something of a wild guess would be one of the heavily sherried Japanese offerings, perhaps a single sherry cask Yamazaki.

Sample #4: Oh dear, you really don't make things easy Steffen. I find plenty of outdoors here, almost farmyard, but with a distinct gentle peat influence. I don't really believe this is an Islay, but I could be mistaken. It does remind me slightly of Longrow and even almost of a Ledaig, although it's not quite insipid enough to be compared to the Ledaigs I have currently tried. Coming back to Islay, it could almost be an Ardbeg, but if so, it's a rather strange one.

Steffen, I thank you immensely for this opportunity to thoroughly embarrass myself and I look forward to seeing just how wrong one (OK, I) can be, but still, I promise not to cheat and change my ideas after seeing what you say. Once you have read my musings and replied in your own knowledgeable way, I will append your answers here for all to see.

My kindest regards, Keith


  Hi Keith
Blind guessing can be hard:

1. Amrut Double Cask. Cask filled : 27/2-2003 and 25/7-2002. Bottled 27/2-2010, cask #2874 and 2273- 46%, oldest expresion of Amrut released so far- Ex-bourbon casks
2. Caperdonich 35y. Whisky Fair Bottling (Limburg), distilled Nov. 1972, bottled August 2008, 48.3%. Refill Sherry Hogshead. A Duncan Taylor Cask!
The last 2 are from the Danish importer (and also indy bottler) Norse Cask that unfortunately went broke last year:
3. Rechlerich 1964 (it's a Glenfarclas), 40yo, 53.5%
4. Port Ellen 1979 28yo 53.6%

Here are my opinions on them:
1- The Amrut. Clearly different than scottish whisky, this is less tropical and more vanilla than other Amruts I tried

2- Caperdonich, quite unusual to have a C'Donich with a sherry cask background, it can't hide its origion though, but still not like the normal C'Donich this age

3- Extreme Sherry monster

4- This isnt that atypical a Port Ellen in my opinion, maybe thats too tricky

Your guesses weren't too bad, you even mentioned Glenfarclas on No. 3 and the tasting notes looked quite sensible to me as well.


Hi Steffen, oh dear how did I miss that Port Ellen? I have sampled quite a few Port Ellens and always liked them, especially that gentle mixture of hay, straw, outdoors and light peat. You are correct, this was quite typical of the normal character, I just missed it. The lightness of the peat made me think of Longrow, but again it would have been far from a typical one at that.  The third was indeed an obvious sherry monster and to be honest, after the tasting I thought more about this one and discarded Dalmore, the profile wasn't quite right. It also had to be quite old and at 40y it equals the Dalmore as the oldest whisky I have yet tried. The first two were difficult, everything about that Amrut was just so similar to the character of "The Speyside" distillery brands. I have tried just one Amrut and to be fair, it was an early one and nothing like this, so please forgive me. Finally, the Caperdonich was onbviously sherry cask, without being a sherry monster and obviously quite different from my previous Caperdonich experience so I never even considered it.

Once again many thanks for the opportunity to not only sample these four, but to do it in such a fun way.



Tuesday July 6th

A trilogy in three peats, or "The hallowed torf"

For many of us, when we think of peat, only one place immediately comes to mind; Islay, the home of some of the most peated malt whiskies available thanks to Islay's most famous resource; peat. Tonight I'm concentrating on just one of the island's distilleries; Laphroaig whose 10y mainstay product is synonymous with not only the island, but also the Atlantic Ocean surrounding it. The character of the 10y is not only one of peat, but also iodine, seaweed and the sea-air itself. In fact I often liken Laphroaig to being on an Islay jetty, breathing the sea-air whilst standing alongside a traditional peat fire.


I once attended a masterclass by a previous distillery manager from Laphroaig who explained their research into the effects of maturation on the character of the whisky. Basically, that unique style comprising the sublime combination of peat, iodine, seaweed and sea-air peaks around ten years. Any younger and the rounded balance is just not there, but as the spirit matures longer than ten years, it becomes more mellow with age, losing the iodine and 'Atlantic' characteristics in favour of a more mature peaty smoothness.

I hope to test this theory (or actual distillery research) tonight with three Laphroaigs of different ages, the first two of which are Feis Ile special releases; The Cairdeas 12y from 2009 and the Cairdeas 2010 which doesn't state an actual age, but does say "a range of spirit from 11 to 19 years old". OK, so this is really an 11y, but it will be interesting to look at whether the older components have any discernible effect. Finally, to complete the trilogy I have a special edition 20 year old from La Maison Du Whisky which is a Douglas Laing "Old Malt Cask" bottling.


Laphroaig Cairdeas 12y, Feis Ile 2009 edition; The first delight here is the wonderful nose which begins with a light rubberiness but soon expands into gently smoked peat sitting out on that Atlantic jetty as though being left out there to dry. The palate also includes these lovely peat and Atlantic elements but offers a surprise in the form of fruity berries too. The addition of a few drops of water remove the fruit and return the whisky to full-power peat, wood smoke and pure Atlantic air all encased in a lovely smooth body.

Laphroaig Cairdeas, Feis Ile 2010 edition; The nose here is gentle smoke, light peat, salt and a hint of new leather. The palate is subtle with smoke, peat and even a hint of fruit, but it comes to life with the addition of a few drops of water as hints of treacle toffee and popcorn join the peat and then with further drops of water, the pepper, peat, toffee and popcorn all grow in stature. This is a quite different Laphroaig from the standard profile as it has more complexity which grows further upon the addition of water.

Laphroaig 20y, Old Malt Cask, La MdW edition; Toasted malt, faint rubber, peat and an Atlantic fishing village greet the nose in unison. The palate is rich and smooth with fruity reminders of summer berries but also lightly enhanced with mature peat. The addition of a few drops of water seem to enhance the lightness of the fruit on the nose, but reduce it on the palate as the stature of the peat grows.

The 12y Cairdeas had everything I love about Laphroaig, from the peat and smoke right through to the Atlantic jetty and sea-air, but it also had a little extra surprise with the slight fruitiness. The 2010 edition Cairdeas was definitely more complex with peat, salt, leather, toffee and popcorn, but gone were those pure Atlantic traits. Surprisingly, some of the Atlantic traits returned in the 20y bottling, but only on the nose as the palate was rich and smooth with delightfully mature peat joining light fruit. I guess the Cairdeas 12y would be the dram of choice for the traditionalist, but in reality, although very different, all three drams were very good and my personal choice would lie somewhere between the 2010 Cairdeas and the 20y bottling.



Saturday July 3rd

Sophisticated teenagers? or "Three 'laddies and an Earl"

In the UK we can apply for a provisional driving license, which we need in order to begin the process of learning to drive, at the age of 17. I was a little luckier in that quite nearby there was a disused airfield which my Father drove me to shortly after my 16th Birthday. Being private land this was used by many on a Sunday afternoon for learning car control before venturing out onto open roads. I thoroughly enjoyed this Sunday afternoon ritual which went a long way to making me feel much more 'grown up' in my mid teens.


Today's drams are of similar ages; Bruichladdich "First Growth", bottle "E - Chateau Y'Quem Sauternes" at 16y, then the two 17y sherry editions from 1992 "Fino" & "Pedro Ximenex" followed by the 15y Earl Magnus of Orkney, or should I say Highland Park.

Their roots, breeding and pedigrees suggest a certain sophistication, but are they really noble whiskies or just yet more pretentious teenagers? Let's take a look .....


Bruichladdich 16y "First Growth, E, Chateau Y'Quem Sauternes"; The first hint of sophistication here is the wonderful nose with wood, redcurrant, wine and just the faintest hint of rubber which soon expands to a sprinkling of aniseed. The palate is very smooth but with also a slight peppery tingle whilst offering redcurrant, blackberry and creamy toffee which all extend into a long finish.

Bruichladdich 1992, 17y Sherry Edition "Fino"; This one is much lighter in colour but the nose has one great surprise; strawberries, my favourite summer fruit. It begins with wood, new leather and spirit, but suddenly and very faintly comes the slight aroma of freshly-picked strawberries. Then it disappears for a few seconds, only to return equally faintly once again. The palate is warming with butterscotch and creamy toffee and the finish is once again long and smooth with almost a slight hint of fruit.

Bruichladdich 1992, 17y Sherry Edition "Pedro Ximenex"; Dark and rich in colour and with a nose of freshly polished aged oak and raisins marinated in sherry and cognac this is no shy teenager. The palate is again smooth and warming with marzipan, walnut, sherry, oak and a hint of fruit. A medium to long finish exhibits almond, walnut, red wine and cognac.

Highland Park, Earl Magnus 15y; This is the youngest of my teenage quartet and also by far the strongest at 52.6% abv. It's also somewhat of a renegade as it shuns the typical Highland Park characteristics of the open Scottish countryside with heather, bracken and light smoke in favour of a walk along high Scottish cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. There are also traces of ginger, honey, faint lemon and a touch of earthiness. This also needs water and plenty of it as it opens into a fresher, more complex dram and even offers a hint of fruity dry white wine right at the end of the finish.

So, can teenagers claim an element of sophistication or do they just drive me mad? On the evidence of this quartet I have to say that they certainly make an excellent case for themselves. The 15y Earl may be something of an upstart in rejecting his family traits, but to the point where this is an excellent whisky bringing more depth and variety to the family portfolio.

I make no apology when I say that I am a fan of good sherry cask whiskies and these two 17y Bruichladdich Siblings are indeed good examples, especially with that little strawberry surprise from Brother Fino, but for me the star of the evening was the 16y sextuplet known as "E" who attended the renowned finishing school of Chateau Y'Quem where he was infused with a sophistication, pedigree and character of a true Nobleman.



Friday July 2nd

The influence of wood, or "The finished article?"

As I explore three more drams today I'm looking at what a few more years in the cask can offer to this selection of whisky which inlcudes The Glenlivet 15y French Oak Reserve, Edradour 11y 'Straight From The Cask' Bordeaux finish and an SMWS 11y bottling of Glencadam.



The Glenlivet 15y French Oak Reserve; My experiences of The Glenlivet so far have always been positive with smooth, fruity and very pleasant whiskies. With this 15y "French Oak" The Glenlivet want to stress that the maturation was in Limousin oak casks and in that respect, the whisky is a little different from the rest of the range. It's a little sweeter, slightly richer in colour and although the summer fruits and berries are still there, they are pushed a little further into the background as the sweet wood, nuts & marzipan come to the foreground and then allow a hint of red wine to dominate the finish. I do tend to like The Glenlivet whiskies and although this isn't a 'great', it is a fine example which I can imagine being enjoyed on summer evenings or perhaps after a BBQ in the garden.

Edradour SFTC 11y Bordeaux finish; Some years ago Edradour released, or began, a series of cask strength whiskies in half litre (50cl) bottles and encased in wee crates as packaging. The labels and crates are colour coded for each different 'finish' and the one I have here today is the Bordeaux finish and 11 years in age. Like my previous Edradour (10y) this offers some hints of leafiness and rubber, but at a cask strength of 57.5% abv it's also pretty powerful and needs water. In fact it really benefits from plenty of water as it gradually opens to exhibit those Bordeaux characteristics.

Glencadam SMWS 82.18; Another 11y whisky but this time in the form of a Glencadam bottled by the SMWS at 58.5% and one which really evokes its sherry cask maturation with rich, sweet dark fruits, aged oak, leather and spicy rubber. This also benefits from the addition of water. The whisky is indeed a fine one and probably the best of the evening ahead of The Glenlivet French Oak and then the Edradour, but for me it is also, unfortunately, the most negative of the evening when it comes to packaging.

I remember those 'good old days' when I was still in the UK and a member of the SMWS. One really felt like a member of a society or club, distilleries each had their number and labels gave useful information like cask number, distillation and bottling dates. There was an air of quality about the whole membership and package. Alas no more. The quaint numbering system is still evident, but the label is now filled with gobbledy-gook about rubber truncheons, bargepoles, liquorice allsorts, cherry flapjacks and even includes a highly (un)sophisticated "phwwooahh!", whatever that is supposed to mean?

As I reflect upon age and maturity this month, perhaps I should try and forgive what I view as adolescent immaturity, but then as I have said before; I am something of an old Luddite when it comes to whisky!



Thursday July 1st

We're featuring 'age' this month, or "Happy Birthday to me!"

As the month of July holds my Birthday I have decided to feature 'age' as an ongoing theme throughout this month and, it seems, I'm not the only one doing so as a few days ago I received a press release from Chivas Brothers about their 'age statement' campaign, but more of that in a day or two.

  What better way to start my own age discussion than with some 'young pretenders' as I begin the month with four rather young expressions; The English Whisky Company's Chapter 9, Abhainn Dearg's Spirit of Lewis and then two Bruichladdichs in the form of their 2003 Organic (5y) and X4+3.


As I mentioned these are all pretty young, from the Spirit of Lewis which is just 40 days old to the Bruichladdich 2003 Organic which is 5 years of age, but are they any good? Let's see .....

English Whisky Company (St. George's distillery) Chapter 9; This is introduced as a 3y peated whisky, in fact England's first ever peated whisky and upon pouring I see an extremely pale colour, with a rather fresh nose of peat, light rubber and fruit. This is not peat like many of the young peat monsters I have previously tried, it is much lighter and fresher and also has a strong element of fruit which I identify as banana skin and mango. On the palate this translates to an initial burst of peach followed by warming and gentle peat. All in all I was very pleasantly surprised with this as it belies its 3y age. It is gentle, smooth and most certainly offers much promise for the delights to come with further maturation.

Abhainn Dearg Spirit of Lewis; This is the 40% abv limited release of 1000 bottles, distilled on 10th February 2010 and bottled on 22nd March 2010. My first surprise was the extremely rich colour, but then came the nose and, oh boy, what a nose it was. Anyone who has experienced long evenings of drinking in a German beer keller or bar will almost certainly have come across a wee devil called Obstler which is a German schnapps made from fruit, primarily pear and apple. This Spirit of Lewis took me right back there, full in your face, or should I say in your nose? Obstler. But then behind this came something else, could it be smoky, fishy .....? When it comes to the palate, all is revealed as another memory is awoken; that of an evening in Lisbon whilst staying with a family I know there. Some years ago when I visited them we spent an evening in an area with lots of open-air restaurants, many of which were cooking by BBQ and the fayre of the day seemed to be chicken or smoked fish. That's it, I'm walking through an air permeated with BBQ and smoked fish, if only someone else hadn't already coined the term fishky!

Bruichladdich 2003 Organic; This is Islay's first 'Organic' whisky and at 5y the oldest of my drams here. Again it is extremely pale in colour and has a nose which initially offers malt and oat biscuits. After some seconds this expands to include lightly floral notes and even a hint of what I can only describe as crispy bacon (slightly smoky, cooked ham). The palate is again slightly floral, just a little spirity and leaning towards what I call 'maritime' in character. With a long finish I was quite impressed with this whisky and certainly hope that there's more maturing for the years to come.

Bruichladdich X4+3;  Did someone say rocket fuel? Unfortunately I didn't write my tasting notes at the time, but I remember trying the (Valinch) X4+1 variant of this and "rocket fuel" was exactly what came to mind. Now, two years down line, has anything changed?  It is 63.5% so the nose obviously has lots of spirit burn and there's even something in there which I can only describe as smouldering electric cable. The palate is surprisingly smooth but still has too much spirit, it needs water and plenty of it! Eventually, with the addition of water this exhibits more fruit in the form of peach, apple and pear.

So, are they any good? Quite clearly the two stars of this tasting are the Chapter 9 and the Bruichladdich Organic. They both exhibit good characteristics which are enjoyable now as well as offering lots of promise for the future, should stocks allow them both to be matured further. Well done to St. George and the 'laddie!

Slàinte Mhath




Previous major features

June 2010

Jules Rimet, pickles & crisps. Mon coeur, mon amour oh mon sherry. A taste of the great outdoors.

May 2010

The highly-acclaimed and record-breaking "Desert Island Drams"

April 2010

My peat's bigger than your peat, A foursome with a famous Scottish bird

March 2010

Sample Mania tasting notes, The Good, the Bad & The Loch Dh-Ugly, A return to sanity, The Choice of Managers

Jan-Feb 2010

Keep taking the medicine, It's Festival time, Maker's Mark, Sleeveless in Munich

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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