Tag Archives: Ardbeg

Liquid Time Travel

Posted on Wednesday 18th of September 2013

That’s an odd title I have chosen, I could change it but I’ve started typing now and there are far more important things afoot on this post. If you are into whisky then I suspect you will, like me, take pleasure in the variety it offers, the peaks and troughs, the oddities, surprises and the occasionally sublime. Every now and then good fortune seems to come around in the form of an incredibly memorable whisky. Whisky can be memorable for all kinds of things, it’s devastating hideousness, it’s palpitation inducing beauty, the moment it captures, the company it is shared with or the memory it evokes. Emotion of some sort is inevitably wedded to these most memorable of drinking occasions. I’ve had technically sublime drams that just can’t quite match the slightly unbalanced yet wildly loveable personalities of other more unusual whiskies. Today we’ll have a few drams that, for me, are the epitome of what whisky is all about and why I love it. They stand for me as monuments to just how great, thrilling, delicious, emotional and truly valuable whisky can be. These whiskies originate with my friend and geek in law Phil, who recently purchased a rather epic stash of old bottles at a country house sale in Cornwall. The sale included the contents of the old cellar, amongst the rather stunning array of old Madeiras and wines from Berry Brothers there was also a stack of old whiskies, not to mention the odd bottle of sherry and rum as well. Phil dutifully sold one of his livers and bought all the spirits. Fast forward about a month and we sit during a quiet night at the bar in Dornoch Castle Hotel, the place is run by Phil and his brother Simon. If you’re a regular on facebook you may know them as the ‘Whisky Collector’, they are notable for their habit of unashamedly, and rather blatantly, flaunting every single old bottle of whisky that passes their way on the Malt Manaics page as well as their own. Not to mention the occasional bit of trolling on the official Macallan page, but the less said about that the better. Not all bottles have been opened so far and no doubt more notes will appear here as time passes and these bottles are opened, for now here are notes for the first bottles. Apologies in advance for any overtly sentimental gushing or excessive maltporn, you wish to have that brigade thing of Serge’s on standby…

Calvados, Rum, Cognac, Whisky...?

Calvados, Rum, Cognac, Whisky…?

Berry Brothers Whisky/Calvados/Armagnac/Rum??? Bottled circa 1920s. Driven cork. No label. Level was in the neck. 

This was the first bottle we opened. At first I felt it was a youngish blend that had benefitted heavily from such a length of time in the bottle. However, when we tasted them with our good friend Emmanuel from the Auld Alliance in Singapore who happened to be visiting Scotland a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned that it may well be an old Calvados or some other similar wood aged spirit. So, the upshot is…we don’t know exactly what this is, not useful but it should make for an interesting tasting, lets see what gives with a fresh palate and open mind….

Colour: Orangey gold

Nose: I just cannot get this idea of Calvados out of my head now, the nose is laced with apples at first, when I had originally tried this we noted that there was a distinct green appley note, however I took this as a sign of a more pronounced grain component which is often typical. Now that the spirit has had time to breathe however this apple note is far more elegant and complex, notes of aged cider, baked apples in brown sugar then touches of nutmeg, demerara (could it be a rum?) a gentle but pronounced medicinal quality, like tiny notes of mercurochrome, germoline and metal polish. Goes on with beautiful notes of figs, raisins, coal fires, very delicate wax, wet leaves, hessian and pine resin with touches of camphor and lamp oil. I think we’ve ruled out rum. What a beautiful nose, so delicate but also balanced and wonderfully complex.

Palate: It’s amazing how much bite there is after almost a century. I think the proof is in the palate with this one, straight away we there are big, really biting notes of russet apples, demerara rum, brown bread, cinnamon, pear cider, touches of animal skins and leather with a very gentle meatiness. Seems to develop a hint of cardboard but then moves away and gets very minty and zingy with notes of blood orange, eucalyptus and citrus peel. Now a little dusty, waxy and metallic, typical OBE notes but all perfectly formed and present in a way that really informs and adds to the overall quality. This would probably have been quite a basic spirit when it was bottled, there is not a huge wood influence. Even though we know glass ageing softens woodiness this really does still bear the hallmarks of its inherent youth. Gets slightly salty and sharp with more apple peelings and touches of cinnamon.

Finish: Excellent length for such an ancient and fragile spirit. Leafy, drying, many apple notes, more stewed raisin notes, moss, wet earth, tcp and touches of mint.

Comments: My vote is with Calvados to be honest. The bite of the spirit on the palate is really reminiscent of a good youngish Calvados and those apple notes that rear their heads all over the place also point towards such a conclusion. Almost certainly no way to know for sure but I also don’t really care, the fragile beauty and elegance of this spirit is what really shines out. It’s amazing how you can sort of tell what parts were really enhanced by bottle ageing. Anyway, heartbreaking old stuff, and that was just the start, it’s about to get even worse…

Score: 91/100

Berry's Old Scotch Whisky circa 1914

Berry’s Old Scotch Whisky circa 1914

Berry Brother’s & Co. Very Old Scotch Whisky. Dumpy bottle. Circa 1914. Driven cork. Label destroyed. Level was in the neck.

This was the second bottle we opened. Berry Brother’s did not add the ‘Rudd’ part of their name until after 1914, prior to that it was Berry Bros & Co, so the label gives a good indication that this is indeed a very old high end whisky bottled around the time of the First World War. That would suggest high malt content blend or straight vatted malt distilled probably around the late 1880s/early 1890s. I know I know…I’m sorry.

Colour: Gold

Nose: Oh dear, where to begin… I suppose the first impression is a big canvas of wax, hessian, various oils, farmyard notes, camphor, wet earth, coal, clay, dusty phenols, old, metallic peat notes with tiny glimmers of green fruits in the background. These simmering peat qualities are actually reminiscent of a very old Ardbeg in some ways, like a lightly peated 60s Ardbeg perhaps. Goes on with really deft medical touches, linseed oil, tcp, bandages, iodine, old rope, metal polish and minerals. Ancient herbal liqueurs, a really old juane chartreuse, touches of caraway and orange bitters. It’s a heartbreaking nose to be honest with you, I should really stop writing…

Palate: Fat, glycerol peat, hay, straw, dust, metal polish, a ton of wax, coal, peat embers, muesli, wet grains, smoked fish like kippers and then little squeezes of lemon juice and wet pebbles. You can feel it has softened in the bottle but the presence, warmth and weight of this stuff in the mouth is really quite incredible, the closest thing I can compare it to would be the old 1930s White Horse or the 1940s Mackie’s. Other than that there’s not much to compare this stuff to, it’s a style even further removed from what we would ordinarily call ‘old style’. So beautiful. Goes on with touches of mint, jasmine, oriental spices and big orange liqueur notes. Still beautifully biting.

Finish: Long, metallic, minty, waxy, sweetly phenolic and resinous with this beautifully fat but complex peat quality, it’s a style of peat really completely extinct in any modern whisky of the last 50 years I’d say. Dried herbs, cured meat, some gentle spices and waxy old mineral notes in the end.

Comments: What can you really say about such Whisky. This is how they made them in the late 19th century I suppose. I couldn’t tell you if it was a blend or a straight malt, my feeling is that it is probably a high malt content blend but again, who cares, the complexity, elegance and mesmeric flavour profile are in another stratosphere from most of today’s malts. Hard to really find enough ways to describe the beauty and privilege that lies in tasting such ancient whisky. No doubt the +/-100 years in bottle helped it along but it’s remarkable how well intact it is.

Score: 94/100

Berry's Vatted Malt? The fragment of label that remains would suggest so.

Berry’s Vatted Malt? The fragment of label that remains would suggest so.

Berry’s Fine Old Scotch Whisky. Possibly All Malt? Circa 1914. Driven cork. Level top shoulder but had leaked in transit the day before. 

This one was a latecomer thanks to a mistake by the auction house and upon arrival it was apparent that it had leaked slightly so we dutifully shouldered the burden of opening it. (I know, I’m such a git) This is the one that is most likely to be 100% malt, although whether single or vatted? Who knows? The label fragment it still bears is almost identical in style to another Berry Bros & Co bottle we found from another auction so once again it dates this bottle to around 1914.

Colour: Light gold

Nose: The first impression is just a big fat nostril full of peat oil, pine resin and camphor. This fleshes out quite quickly into really fresh mint leaf, wet earth, dunnage, crystallised fruits, marzipan, touches of air freshener but in a really good way. Loads of oils, wax, old polished furniture, old books, leather, caraway liqueur, dried herbs, old chartreuse, coal fires and a little crusty salty note. Absolutely sublime and quite different to the others in many ways, this is much richer, fatter and more luxurious in its resilient, oily peat qualities. This certainly ‘feels’ more like a malt. There are no notes that suggest any grain component. These huge resinous touches are just astounding quite frankly. Also notes of fresh paint, a lovely mineral quality and hessian, butter and flints.

Palate: Huge attack, fat, farmy and full of greasy, oily phenols, camphor, olive oil, caraway, muesli. Touches of wax jackets, motor oil, leather, wood spice, wax, paraffin, tcp, some raisins, more mint, mentholated toothpaste, Madeira cake, liquorice and more ancient herbal liqueur notes. Quite bewilderingly beautiful. Metal polish, old coins, touches of OBE again but in the most beautiful way, a wonderfully complex and subdivided peat flavour. Some resinous citrus fruits, nervous notes of wildflowers, some grass, crushed coriander seeds and a little pancetta. This is huge, bold and completely different whisky, unlike anything I think I’ve ever tasted.

Finish: Herbal, resinous, waxy, long, minty, phenolic, peaty, thick, syrupy and full of honey, yellow flowers, chamomile tea, coal smoke and minerals. Beautiful.

Comments: I think this must be a malt, probably a vatted malt as would have been popular at the time but who knows. It’s not like any whisky I’ve ever tried before, the closest semblance of character lies in these other Berry’s bottlings but they too are of a truly ancient time. The only other thing that springs to mind is the old Lagavulin 12yo Spring Cap 1958 rotation. Not because they taste similar but because they are both so utterly different from any other whisky I could try. What a wonderful whisky and a unique privilege.

Score: 94/100


Who wants to stop after that…? Not me, lets have something else from a looooong time ago. We opened this one very recently as well.

Greer's OVH circa 1930s

Greer’s OVH blended whisky circa 1930. No strength or capacity stated. Stopper cork.

This was part of a parcel of 12 bottles we acquired as part of our wee drinking cabal known as the ‘Glug Glug Club’ (yes we know we’re cool). The company that produced this owned St Magdalene distillery at the time and it is most likely that this was the constituent malt for this blend.

Colour: Gold

Nose: Another sublimely antique cocktail of metal polish, old resinous peat, apple peelings, wax, crystalised fruits, smoked tea, minerals and lemon oil. Goes on with al the usual suspects of hessian, dried herbs, wild mushrooms, dunnage, kreel nets, tar and menthol. More compact and focused than the others perhaps hinting at a little more design in its construction maybe. It certainly feels more ‘blended’ although the grain component is incredibly quiet, it must have had a significantly high malt content. Or the 80 or so years in bottle have brought all the malt components to the fore and kind of subdued the harsher angles, who knows… It’s beautiful regardless.

Palate: Once again great weight and attack on the palate, their is a kind of dusty green apple not at the back which suggest the grain component is a little louder on the palate but for the most part its more of these wonderfully nervous notes of metal, wax, peat oils, drying phenols, minerals, pine resin, barley sugar, dried mint leaf, all kinds of other herbs, cereals and butter. Still very fat and weighty if a little lighter than some of the others. Develops notes of tincture and iodine, the peat is very distinct in this one. White fruits and touches of rapeseed oil now as well.

Finish: Not as long as some of these magnificent Berry’s bottlings but still beautifully resinous, gravelly, mineral, peaty, oily and even with touches of green fruits still after all these years. Incredible stuff.

Comments: What’s to say? Another stunning old blend. It’s nice to think that there was a fair old dollop of St Magdalene in this one. It’s amazing how great these old bottles can be if you get one with a decent level.

Score: 91/100

I should point out that all these drams can be tried by the glass at the bar in Dornoch Castle Hotel. Phil and Simon are running a ‘Whisky Deal For Whisky People’ this winter if you fancy snuggling up in a great Scottish whisky bar this winter. Apparently they have a few hundred bottles that need drinking up and they’re flogging them off at knock down prices. I will probably be along to hoover a few up at some point.

That’s probably enough madness for today. But we’ll return to the 19th century very soon…



Oostende And The Holy Grail Sessions

Posted on Tuesday 30th of October 2012

I’ll keep this intro brief due to the sheer number of tasting notes I want to write in this post. These drams were all opened and poured at the Lindores Whiskyfest that takes place at Hotel Bero in Oostede, Belgium once a year, usually during the last weekend of October. As you will see below the quality of the bottles that get opened speaks for itself and is more than enough reason to entice anyone serious about whisky to attend. Although for me the true highlight is the opportunity to see many friends that I spend far too little time with throughout the rest of the year. As we all know, the true quality of a bottle lies as much in the company you keep while drinking it as it does in the contents. So heartfelt thanks to all my friends who came along and were so generous with their  whisky and good company. Anyway, on with the tasting and, for what follows, I can only apoligise unreservedly.

The majority of these drams were poured at the infamous Nocturn with a few other choice highlights from the rest of the festival. Lets start with a Clynelish…

Many thanks to Dominiek for opening this nugget of liquid history.

Clynelish 12yo OB for Chiano. Rotation 1960s. Short screw cap. 43%. 75cl. 

Colour: Pale white wine

Nose: A blizzard of white fruits, wild flowers, all kinds of pebbles, wet rocks, minerals, petrol, aged riesling, farmyards and a wonderfully lean waxiness. Like the cask strength Edward & Edward versions this is just about the purest expression of this unsexy old highlands style distillate. Only the lower strengths lends this one a little more grace and elegance. The coastal characters are more driven by floral qualities than the brutal briny edge of those stronger bottlings. Goes on with touches of wild parsley, butter, chamomile and darjeeling tea. An endlessly entertaining nose.

Palate: Very consistent with the palate, grass, green fruits, more minerals than you can shake a seashore at, lemon oil, touches of hay, olive oil, wax and a little peat. White pepper, coriander, mustard seeds all kinds of gentle coastal and spicy touches with more of these incredibly petroly and rieslingesque notes.

Finish: It hangs around for quite some time leaving a real tingly mineral fizz on the palate with a great spreading warmth down the chest. Linger notes of sunflower seeds, cereals, muesli, bonfire smoke and green tea.

Comments: It’s a rare thing indeed to taste 1950s Clynelish from the original distillery and this doesn’t dissappoint. I think this one isn’t quite the masterpiece of Edward & Edward bottlings but its up there as one of these exemplary old style official bottlings the likes of which are totally extinct these days. An emotionally charged dram if ever there was one.

Score: 92/100

Thanks to Diego for opening this brilliant old Teaninch, distilled back in the days before it just tasted like blending stock.

Teaninich 1959 22yo Samaroli. 300 bottles. 46%. 75cl. 

Colour: Light gold

Nose: An immediate hit of fresh butter with sage, sorrel, wax, metal polish, all kinds of green and garden fruits, muesli, camphor and touches of lemon and orange juice. Very delicate citrus qualities combined with drier qualities like various teas and wood spices. The whole is also quite thick and oily with elements of faint old phenols, coal smoke and tar. Has a very discreet flicker of wood in there but, like with the Clynelish, it’s the distillate that does most of the talking. Goes on with all kinds of dried herbs, cereals and butter notes. Absolutely luscious.

Palate: A massive and flabby green fruit quality with plums, rosy apples, and then some bizarre but excellent touches of soy sauce, truffle oil and greengages. Gets waxier, tarrier, oilier and thicker with time, one of these big, fatty whiskies that engages every part of the palate. Savory notes of toasted seed breads, oatcakes and tarragon. There is also a tinge of sweetness from some vanilla pods and white chocolate. Focused and wonderfully balanced.

Finish: Long, waxy, herbaceous, oily, mineral and full of petrol, smoke and real glycerol fruity quality.

Comments: My favourite Teaninich by far, this would be great to compare with the 1957 Cadenhead dumpy. It’s incredible how much this distillery changed in the following decade and beyond from the time this was distilled. Truly fantastic old style malt, another small masterpiece by Mr Samaroli.

Score: 93/100

Many thanks to Baron De Schulthess for opening this old glory that would have been distilled around 1937!!

Springbank 33yo OB rotation 1970. Pear shaped bottle. No strength or capacity stated. 

Colour: Gold

Nose: A very strange kind of wax polish on top of a mix of metal notes, some thick farmyard qualities and then orangina, fresh orange juice and luxardo bitters. Has some nice biting notes of pepper and mustard seed in the background with a draped over coastal quality that drifts in and out of focus. Toasted brioche, nutmeg, chamomile and some veyr elegant minerals. This is quite an odd aroma that I suspect has undergone an unusual mix of OBE and slight oxidisation during its long stay in bottle. However I wouldn’t say its out of condition at all.

Palate: More of these weird notes of orange juice, chamomile tea, then a big brittle coastal streak with wax, hessian, dunnage, ancient peats, metal polish and iron filings, like sucking steel wool dipped in orange juice and wax polish. Once again this has obviously undergone quite an interesting journey while in bottle. The palate is a little weakish and cardboardy and gives up these odd touches of cider, fermenting hay and sour apples at times.

Finish: Long, miky and elegantly medicinal with these odd touches of salted porridge, muesli, minerals and buttered toast.

Comments: This is a very tricky one to score, the odd profile suggest it has probably been slightly deconstructed during its time in bottle. I would love to open another one to compare it, I imagine they could be very different. However this is still a fascinating and very tasty dram that is obviously the product of a bygone era. A real privilege to taste.

Score: 83/100 (however this could be drastically different from another bottle)

Macallan 1946. Bottled circa 1961. Securo Cap. Campbell, Hope & King. 80 proof. 26 2/3 fluid ounces.

Colour: Amber

Nose: It’s undeniably one of these old style Macallans that reeks of coal fires, touches of orange bitters, rancio, pipe tobacco, wet earth, soft, metallic phenols and an really elegant waxiness. Goes on with a wonderful note of crushed green peppercorns, tcp, old wood resins, dark fruits, hints of menthol, pipe smoke and boiler sheds and touches of stables and farmyards. With time there are more of these notes of old simmering peat and an increasing tropical fruit presence. This one really needs time in the glass to fully open up but its well worth the wait, it turns into a powerhouse of elegance, complexity and beauty.

Palate: Immediately rich, hugely spicy and with incredible bite, even after nearly 50 years in bottle this one still retains a brilliant presence and texture in the mouth. Old phenols, touches of coal, tar, wood fire smoke, hints of herbal toothpaste, old medicine, old coins, more rancio, glazed fruits, dundee cake, camphor and crushed hazelnuts. All kinds of flavours peeking through in the one, wonderful complexity and richness of flavour. Continues with more notes of tea, cocoa, dark fruits, mint creams, eucalyptus, tea tree oil and hints of white balsamico.

Finish: Long, warming, waxy, phenolic, a drying medical quality, dusty peats, all kinds of fruits and a bitter touch of dark chocolate.

Comments: What did you expect? It’s such a rare privilege to try one of these wartime Macallans but bottled at a much younger age. A truly poetic malt.

Score: 94/100

Many thanks to Michael for pouring this, the oldest Glenfarclas ever bottled (till next year anyway)

Glenfarclas 1953-2012 58yo OB for Wealth Solutions Poland. Cask 1674. 400 bottles. 47.2%. 70cl. 

Colour: Amber

Nose: A big whirlpool of honeycomb and all kinds of mint aromas at first nosing with delicate tobacco leaf, snickers bars, mixed nuts, all kinds of chocolate, orange blossom, tangerine liqueur, nougat, cocoanut and touches of rosewater. Gets leafy and spicier with time, revealing layers of dried herbs and more menthol qualities. The wood seems perfectly pitched here, not a whisper of aggression anywhere, it’s just an aromatic powerhouse that just keeps on evolving. With time we get all kinds of candied and glazed fruits, fruit preserves and little flecks of mineral smokiness in the background.

Palate: Beautiful and hauntingly elegant. Glowing embers of mint liqueur, dark dried fruits, ancient cognac, rancio,  hints of long aged demerara rums, sultanas and a streak of silky sea salt in the background. Probably due to the fact that this would have been distilled when Glenfarclas was still using quite a bit of peat. Goes on with white flowers, bittermints, dandelions, herbal teas, wood resin, mead, heather and molasses. Gets eventually savory and nutty again, the freshness is quite astounding in a malt of this age. No overwhelming woodiness or tannins, just layers of wonderful flavour.

Finish: Long, sticky and rich with touches of wood spice, nuts, more menthol qualities, caraway, white pepper and tiny hints of medicine.

Comments: It’s not a cheap bottle this one but it’s undeniably stunning. Well worth trying if you get the opportunity. A myriad of flavour and complexity on display here and not in the slightest bit tired, over wooded or mono-dimensional. In fact it has more vitality and freshness than many malts half its age.

Score: 94/100

Thanks to Luc for opening this rare little monster.

Bowmore 1955-1974. OB 1/2 size ceramic bottle. No strength or capacity stated.

This incredibly rare beauty was bottled for the opening of the Bowmore visitors center in september 1974 and given to staff at the time, many of whom walked from the gates of the distillery merrily necking them at the end of the day.

Colour: Pale as fuck!

Nose: There’s going to have to be some censorship here at some point I think. This is just bewildering. It’s not even really like whisky. Did they use some sort of maceration process during distillation using a whole Waitrose of tropical fruits? It’s just the most vivd, pin-sharp and explosive combination of grapefruit, passion fruit, guava, pineapple, mango and… well you know what I mean. It’s just a wall of fruit behind which you could say there were minerals, all kinds of smoke and tiny bits of peat but that wouldn’t really be doing this stuff justice. The precision and delicacy of these aromas is just quite baffling really.

Palate: Whether or not this is cask strength I don’t know but it’s perfect whatever it is. Biting, fresh, complex and glorious. Keeping well up to speed with the nose, another barrage of fruit that gives way to the cleanest and purest kind of coastal elegance, a whole poem of fruits and seashore. There’s not much more to say about this. It’s utterly masterly.

Finish: Censored, and about time too.

Comments: There’s no other distillate in the world like old Bowmore as far as I’m concerned, this is utterly sublime. I think the fact that the seal on these bottles is super tight is also a big plus, it really arrests evaporation and keep the spirit in peak condition. I’ve fondled several of these little beauties and they’ve all been full to the hilt. Good news for anyone else that fancies opening one.

Score: 96/100

Many thanks to Geert for opening this, undoubtedly one of the rarest, most desirable Ardbegs out there.

Ardbeg 1959-1985 25yo Cadenhead’s dumpy. Sherry matured. 46%. 75cl. 

Colour: Dark as fuck!

Nose: Oh dear. Censoring will have to be involved here too. It’s one of these rare sherry and peat combinations that seems more akin to a kind of liquified peat, tar, root beer and espresso cocktail. In the same way that the Bowmore seemed to personify everything that was utterly great about that distillery so to does this Ardbeg. It’s almost like the peat and sherry are fused at the waist as one, perfectly integrated, no flaws or chinks or imbalances of any kind. The peat is like some sort of simmering mulch, a quick mass of bubbling phenols, medicine and tar. You could throw a bottle of this into a log burner and be warm for a year. Although there are many who would promptly shoot you if you did.

Palate: There’s really not much point in me writing about this anymore, it would just be arduous for you. This is the kind of dram that makes you realise why you’re into whisky. It’s impossible to describe the coiled potency and fused perfection of these flavours. It’s just breathtaking, like being gently nullified with a wet sledgehammer made of peat turf while someone throws alternating buckets of saltwater and root beer in your face.

Finish: I fee like I’ve just brushed my teeth with a metal toothbrush covered in coffee and soil.

Comments: I’d go so far as to say this is probably the best Ardbeg I’ve ever had.

Score: 97/100

Now, how about a curtain call…

Eternal thanks to Thomas for opening this, probably one of the rarest bottlings out there.

Laphroaig 1970 14yo. Samaroli. 60 bottles. 57.1%. 75cl. 

This was a very limited bottling done by Samaroli for a bar in Milan. Something I never thought I’d taste so thanks from the bottom of my heart to Thomas for this one.

Colour: Gold

Nose: This is much in the style of the ‘other’ 1970 Samaroli Laphroaig as I remember it, a brilliant and pristine coastline in a glass. Myriad aromas of kelp, sandalwood, rock pools, all kinds of seaweed, fresh oysters, crab meat and any other shellfish you care to mention. Like the greatest whiskies this one wears it’s alcohol incredibly deftly with a light prickle of salt and pepper but otherwise it’s all seashore, farmyard and fruit. With time it also starts to merge more farmyard qualities into this growing family of aromas. Graphite, green phenols, the stench of iodine like you spilt it on your hands and then butter, chives and herbal toothpaste. With water: little teases of tropical fruit begin to emerge now with increasingly vivid notes of fresh pineapple, mango and passion fruit. Then we get some big kippery qualities and touches of sea greens and floral soaps.

Palate: A simmering lather of peat embers, coal smoke, beach bonfires, white pepper, green tea, lemon sherbet, wet sand, minerals,  lime juice and olive oil. Superbly glycerol in its texture with all kinds of oils, farmyness and touches of cider apples, roasted malt and gentian spirit. The huge saltiness is relentless but kept in check by these wonderful notes of citrus, greasy peat and all minds of medical complexities. With water: there’s something slightly milkier about the palate now with more herbal notes of bay leaf, sage, tarragon and rosemary. Even more spellbinding with water.

Finish: An all nighter, one of these Laphroaigs that gets into your gums and battens down the hatches. Leaves your mouth strewn with ashes, lemon juice, smoked cereals, tropical fruit juice and simmering, medicinal peat.

Comments: It’s difficult to disengage from such a whisky on an emotional level but this is undeniably a spectacular dram, one that I’ll probably never try again but I’m truly happy that I did.

Score: 95/100.

Now, while we’re at it, here’s a couple of pictures of bits and pieces that were tasted but, for any number of reasons, notes were not recorded, much to your relief I’m sure.

Thanks to Patrick for this masterpiece.


Thanks to Olivier for this beauty.


Ok, I’m sure that’s quite enough. Something a little more ‘down to earth’ next time. Slante!

Feis Ile 2012 Thoughts, Tastings And Witterings

Posted on Friday 15th of June 2012

Here’s a wee piece about the Feis Ile I started a couple of weeks ago while there but only just got round to publishing now…

It’s been two years since I was at my last Feis Ile and, although my own life has changed somewhat beyond measure, Islay seems, as ever, very much the same. If you’ve never been here I would urge you to pay the place a visit. It is not somewhere easily or swiftly described. When I think of Islay much of my thoughts are shaped by memories of working here during two summers at University in 2005 and 6. So it is somewhat strange for me now to experience it more and more as a visitor or tourist than, as I was always used to, a worker. When you work here you see the best and worst of Islay in a way that is well hidden to the casual or enthusiastic visitor. At its worst the island, like all islands I imagine, can feel like a prison at times, it can be easy to become quite lonely out here if you don’t have a regular social life, something that can be a little difficult to attain if you’re not well located. However, it can also be a place of quite breathtaking beauty, the kind of beauty that reveals itself in inches and pieces over time. The more time you spend here the more you see of these quiet and spellbinding moments. Although the real brilliance of Islay, like any great place, lies in its people, not just the locals but the people it attracts as well, it seems to be a focal point for wilder minded people of resilient and warm character. Spending time here now, although technically I am here on a work trip, is a great pleasure, to be able to see more of the island and spend more time enjoying it is a great privilege.

I have been here since the 22nd of May and won’t be leaving till next monday so I have had the rare fortune to be here for the whole of the festival. It has been quite interesting to see it in its entirety from the perspective of a visitor, the last time I was here for a full festival I spent it working at Ardbeg every day. Much negativity is made of the Feis Ile these days, not without good reason either. As I wrote on these pages two years ago, the queues for over-priced, special bottlings is becoming quite ludicrous. As long as people are willing to pay for these (rarely exceptional) whiskies then this will be exploited by the companies that make them, the problem is it does tend to make the festival feel more like a cattle market for bottle scavengers. Thankfully this aspect is easily avoided. What this festival has proven so resoundingly for me is that on Islay you are the master of your own destiny when it comes to whisky. You can queue and visit each distillery on its open day or you can simply gather the best people and whiskies around you and have a riot of a time (see below).

Jon demonstrates his own particular brand of Port Ellen Semaphore.

The thing about the Feis Ile is that it provides a great opportunity for people who don’t often see each other to meet in Scottish whisky heartland and let their hair down a little (see above). This year has already seen some spectacular occasions in the form of Jon Beech’s  wonderful and rowdy International Port Ellen day on the beach down by the old distillery warehouses (again, see above). Not to mention the Flaming Lobster Night at Lagavulin Hall which was, as ever, a phenomenal occasion steeped in great whisky, food, music and good times. These kinds of opportunities are rare enough at the best of times but Islay is the perfect location and catalyst for them. These wonderful evenings are like whisky oasis’, all sutured together by long days filled with bustle, movement, re-acquainting yourself with old friends (and old drams) and a huge amount of giggling. I have paid the price with a hefty dose of sunburn this year but it’s a small price considering the weather and the free reign its afforded us of the island.

James and Geert give meaning to the term 'Flaming Lobster'.

Good times!

I think we’ll finish up with my notes for the tasting that I hosted at the Gaelic College on Tuesday the 29th. It was a tasting called Islay Masterpieces and was conceived as a promotional exorcise for Mulberry Bank but it turned out to simply be a night of truly exceptional whiskies that will not be forgotten by any that attended for a long long time…

Happy people at the Mulberry Masterpieces Tasting.

 Ardbeg 10yo OB. Black label gold lettering. Black screw cap. Rotation late 1970s. 40%. 75cl.

Colour: White wine

Nose: Immediately a huge hit of iodine, farmyard, hay and sea salt. Lashings of antiseptic, tar, old rope, hessian, oysters, kreel nets, smoked mussels in brine and seawater. This is one of those proper old style Ardbegs that marries huge coastal and farmyard character together perfectly. Goes on with more of these beautiful, pin-sharp medicinal qualities such as tincture, ointment and antiseptic with an almost salivating freshness. Not the most intensely ‘Ardbeg’ of Ardbegs, it has some almost Laphroaigy qualities in these medicinal tones but it reeks of old school Islay personality. After time little hints of wild flowers and fresh herbs begin to appear giving it a more refined edge.

Palate: Wow, there’s the Ardbeg! A big punch of old, oily, simmering peat, typical late 60s/early 70s style. Huge farmyard suggestions again, lots of different oils, camphor, tcp, slight touches of cured meats, salted beef, tobacco smoke, tar, brine and wax. Delicate natural sweetness as well in the form of mead and toffee.  As big as a whisky can be at 40%, very impressive weight on the palate with such heavy peat and medical flavours sloshing about.

Finish: Long but very soft with all the intense peat giving way to loads of medicine, coastal notes and seaweed.

Comments: It’s always a great privilege to taste young old Ardbeg, these kinds of bottlings give you such a wonderful, open perspective on this now historic distillate. Immaculate whisky.

Score: 93/100

Bruichladdich 21yo 1971-1992. Private single cask bottling by Roland Worthington Eyre. Cask 3950. Approx 51%. 75cl.

This was a cask of whisky that Roland owned and kept in his living room on Islay in 1992. It was bottled by hand over a period of two weeks into a (reputedly vast) variety of various bottles and containers. Some were given a label and kept but most were merrily consumed. So if you ever find another bottle it will probably look quite different from this one and taste maybe slightly different as well. So these notes are effectively pointless. Oh well, I’m still going to write them anyway, just for a larf.

Colour: Light gold

Nose: A beehive in a tropical fruit garden. It’s one of these wonderful 1970s Bruichladdich that just explodes with ripe fruits, melons, mangos, guava, papaya, passion fruit, banana, pineapple, if it’s exotic it’s here. Lots of natural honey, touches of vanilla cream, a perfect line of oak that never intrudes but rather supports the spirit beautifully with big notes of warm spice and cedar. Cloves, nutmeg, digestive biscuit, coal dust and pine sap. With more time that classic Bruichladdich freshness gets bigger and bigger with that huge fruitiness showing no signs of waning. That wonderful salty, resinous edge keeps on going as new aromas of wild strawberries and eucalyptus begin to emerge. What a stunning nose, brilliantly complex but perfectly controlled and focused as well. With water: it becomes farmier now as well, lots of earth, hay, cow shed aromas and cut grass on top of all that sea air and fruit.

Palate: On the palate it’s the same story, lots of nectarines, orange juice, Grand Marnier Liqueur, fresh herbs, sea salt, touches of oak, natural vanilla, more honey, it seems to be perfectly aligned with the nose and just as expressive. Wonderful stuff. With water: It softens and becomes wider, lots of stone fruits and herbs with more drying saltiness. Majestic whisky.

Finish: Long and very dry, full of salt, eau du vie, pineapple, apple peelings, oak and fading hints of honey.

Comments: It’s a perfect Bruichladdich if you ask me. Completely exemplary of this great era of production and a wonderfully composed dram, far too drinkable though. Probably why there’s none left. Lucky Roland.

Score: 95/100

Bruichladdich 21yo OB mid 1990s. Bottle number 90 of 389. 53.4%. 70cl.

This is a rare, sherry matured official Bruichladdich bottled sometime in the mid-1990s. You don’t see this one very often, I’m intrigued.

Colour: Bronze

Nose: A perfect sweet, sticky and salty sherry at first. Very rich and dense notes of glazed dark fruits, aged madeira, Guinness cake, wet leaves, cigar boxes and cured meats. A rich vein of salt runs through the whole thing which, coupled with these fresh fruit aspects that begin to emerge, makes it reek of classic Bruichladdich. This is almost like a sherried version of the 1972 above. With a little time it becomes super fruity, lots of greengages, green apples, ripe melon and all kinds of other garden fruits. A slight tang of crushed black pepper as well which gives it a wonderful bite. With water the sherry calms down quite a bit and the saltiness really takes off, it becomes quite briny, lemony and develops an almost greasy coastal quality. With more time it becomes very liqueurish and syrupy with more notes of citrus fruit and chocolate.

Palate: Once again this one is very much in synch with the palate, maybe not quite as dynamic as the nose but the flavours are still big, rich and direct with great composure. Lots of dates, Christmas cake, crystallised fruits, dark chocolate, fruit compote, walnuts, chocolate oranges, tangerines and salted meats. With water: again the coastal notes dominate, although the dark fruits and chocolate become fatter and more extravagant with notes of cocoa, roast coffee, prune juice and black tea. The wood is once again perfectly balanced with no overtly tannic edges or chalkiness at all, instead it seems to keep everything in check.

Finish: Long and heavy with simmering coffee, bitter chocolate, smoky bacon, salted cashew nuts, orange bitters and dried mixed herbs. Potent stuff.

Comments: Another brilliant Bruichladdich that shows just how great this distillery can be in sherry. Great cask selection and a great bottling, further unnecessary proof that they really were doing something special on the Rhinns back in the 1970s.

Score: 93/100

Bruichladdich 1960-1973 OB. Single cask 1043. 100 proof. 26 2/3 fluid ounces.

This is one of those bottlings I’ve been dreaming of opening for a looooong time. Distilled in march 1960 it is entirely possible that the distillery was still using peated malt at the time.  Needless to say I am pretty excited about this one. No more blether, time to try it…

Colour: Dark copper

Nose: Fucking hell. There is definitely a lot of peat in there but what strikes more is the sheer intensity of the fruit, it is actually like sniffing the freshest damson and plum jams imaginable, like there are pots of the things being opened and stuffed up your nostrils. I don’t think I’ve ever smelt a whisky quite like this before, I don’t know where to begin. In no particular order there is tobacco, ancient style peat, maraschino, mint, eucalyptus, tar, coal, the densest barrage of fruit imaginable, this is nothing short of mind blowing, I don’t think it is entirely legal to continue. With water: censored!

Palate: A sherry bomb, is this only 100 proof, it’s like dynamite. It’s hard to tell where the sherry ends and peat begins. I’m not even sure I want to try and describe this. I should probably try it with water, just to try and retain some semblance of professionalism. With water: I’m sorry but I really shouldn’t write about this. I’ll get killed. This is the reason I’m into whisky. Nuff said.

Finish: What do you think?

Comments: The phrase once in a lifetime is tossed about a bit too much these days regarding whisky. Needless to say it is perfectly appropriate here.

Score: 97/100

Lagavulin 30yo 1979-2009. The Syndicate bottling. Cask 113. 51.2%. 70cl.

This is one of several bottlings done under John MacTaggart’s ‘Syndicate’ label and sold originally through Bruichladdich distillery.

Colour: Straw

Nose: A wonderful mix of green and tropical fruits, smoked tea, seashore aromas and fresh shellfish. It is one of these classic aged peaty whisky aromas but much lighter than you would expect for a Lagavulin. In fact to me it is very reminiscent of several of these great Caol Ilas of similar age and vintage from the likes of Berry Bros in recent years, that green tea/fruit/citrus/seashore profile is really prevalent here, maybe that is a hallmark of SMD production practices at the time? With time it develops more of these wonderfully delicate notes of wild flowers, sea air, pollen and chocolate limes. Fragile but very evocative and beautiful. With water: the saltiness bites a bit more aggressively now but it is still very light and flowery with notes of dandelion and chamomile.

Palate: A little more punchy at first but then gives way to a swathe of green tea, smoked meats, delicate medicinal notes and beeswax. Quite gentle but very mouthfilling and engaging. Like the old official Lagavulin 30yo this one needs time and concentration but is proving very rewarding. With water: remains relatively unchanged with water but it is still effortlessly drinkable and surprisingly light and delicate for a Lagavulin. Lots of drying seaweed that betrays a little more classic distillery character and plenty of citrus rind and seashore quality, very lovely old Lagavulin.

Finish: Medium length and very soft but also quite lively and aromatic, it dances very deftly between more of these blossom, wild flower, pollen and honey notes with all these various tea and coastal notes making their curtain call as well.

Comments: I’m tempted to say this is a little disappointing considering the distillery and the age but then it is worth reminding ourselves that Lagavulin struggles to age past 25 very well at all. This one seems to be clinging on in a very beautiful and fragile way. I really like it and it make a great example of how peat evolves with age.

Score: 90/100

Port Ellen 1974-2005 30yo. Signatory. Cask 6756. Bottle 193 of 266. 58.5%. 70cl.

There were two casks of this bottled around the same time by Signatory. I bought one at the time, promptly opened it and was knocked out, I can’t remember for the life of me if this is the same one I had or not. It’s all a bit academic as you can’t find these bottlings for love nor money these days.

Colour: White wine

Nose: This is interesting, it’s a huge and potent nose at first but what strikes is just how similar it is to some of these old super high strength teenage bottlings of Port Ellen from the 80s by the likes of G&M. That enormous, bruising coastal quality that bubbles up like surf out of your glass is really present here. Add to that buckets of fresh lime juice, fresh oysters, seaweed, brine, burning peat, a tiny smear of vanilla and some white pepper and you have a pretty good idea of what’s going on here. With water: some floral notes, more saline qualities, preserved lemons, lime zest, big mineral notes of flints and pebbles and sandalwood.

Palate: Wow, this is a hot one. There really isn’t much difference from some of the old super-strength teenagers from the 80s. It’s exactly the same distillate and the extra age hasn’t diminished or tamed it at all. With time some wonderful notes of pine resin, sea salt, mustard seed and tar come through but the alcohol is still pretty big, lets add water… more of these pristine coastal and mineral notes, the dryness is really beautiful in contrast to the overall power of this whisky. A real beast.

Finish: Long with a kind of leathery peat and salt quality with hints of pollen, tea and eucalyptus.

Comments: This is a proper old school Port Ellen, from that era of truly pristine, hyper-coastal distillate before it developed that later slightly earthier, dirty edge in the late 70s. It’s also incredible how it really doesn’t taste 30 years old. Quite a wonderful monster.

Score: 94/100

Ardbeg 1967-1995 28yo. Signatory. Pale oloroso cask number 575. Bottle 409 of 548. 53.7% 70cl.

Thanks to Geert for helping me get this legendary bottle into the tasting.

Colour: Light gold

Nose: It starts delicately on drying, ancient, metallic peat, aged antiseptics, coal tar soap, sea salt and hessian then just builds and builds on this utterly classic profile. Gentle notes of Euthymol toothpaste, mint, caraway seed liqueur, manure (in a good farmy kind of way), juniper, eucalyptus, dried herbs and motor oil. One of these perfect old Ardbegs that balances coastal, farmyard and peat characteristics with spectacular complexity to boot. With water the peat becomes rootier and oilier, there are notes of sarsaparilla, camphor, tcp, iodine, brine, lemon rind, you name it. Fantastic.

Palate: It’s like someone just drove a golf ball of concentrated Ardbeg into my mouth from 400 yards. Astonishing concentration and development, all those classic old Ardbeg characters unfold beautifully and continually. Brilliant stuff. With water: some sort of peat syrup cut with seawater, again quite incredible. Notes of oysters, lemon juice, something a touch carbolic and hints of olive oil and old spices.

Finish: Long dry, salty and spectacular.

Comments: I should just have a cut and paste comment for these old Ardbegs. Something along the lines of: ‘Yet another incredible old Ardbeg.’

Score: 95/100

We also drank this at the tasting…

Bunnahabhain 1947-1975. 75 proof. 26 2/3 fluid ounces. Matthew Gloag. Once in a lifetime!

John MacLellan from Kilchoman very generously brought this bottle along to be opened for charity. We raised over £1000 for the Islay Sick Children’s fund and tasted one of the rarest and most historically fascinating whiskies it’s ever been my privilege to try. I’d have loved to save a sample to write some notes with but, perhaps needless to say, it got scoffed. Oh well, that’s Islay I suppose.

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