Tag Archives: Laphroaig

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!

A Momentary Lapse Of Islay

Posted on Friday 26th of October 2012

Band name suggestions on a postcard please.

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a fair bit of time on Islay this year, the most since I worked there a disturbing number of years ago in fact. I just returned from a three day stint with my comrades in drams Phil, Simon and Martin. We spent the time talking filthy rubbish, hatching secret plans and going to bed embarrassingly early due to being a quartet of over-geeked weaklings. There is much I could write about but I think the highlight of the trip was a nifty tour round Laphroaig. This was not your normal tour, but neither was it one of these tours that are devised specifically for blogging royalty (which I am blatantly not) in order to butter them up like Maria Schneider in Last Tango In Paris. This was the £70 per head tour that anyone can go on. We showed up, paid for our tickets and took this tour as any civilian might. It was an odd sensation doing this because I rarely ever actually visit distilleries any more, for the simple reason that I have so little time for such things. Time off is often spent avoiding whisky rather than running headlong towards it. So this was an oddly pleasing wee jaunt to be going on, my only reservations were that it cost £70.  Just to put the matter in perspective that’s £70 less to be spent on essential household items like cheese, vinyl and tea lights from IKEA. So, needless to say, I began the tour with more than a smattering of trepidation.

We're all really weird

Thankfully it quickly became a delight from start to finish. Our guide, Bryony, was, how shall I put this, very patient. She graciously tolerated our undulating levels of idiocy and immaturity with the professionalism of a full time mother shepherding a sneeze of sunny delight-fuelled toddlers around a galactic sweet shop. Our other two companions on this tour were a charming American couple from Texas who proceeded to get increasingly inebriated as the day progressed. We established early on that this was their 20th wedding anniversary and they were celebrating it at their favourite distillery. He was in the military and she was a teacher and they had a tendency to address Bryony as ‘Mam’ and discuss firearms, albeit in a ferociously amusing and level-headed fashion.

The tour began with a leisurely stroll to the water source and a packed lunch. At this point I should say it is worth taking this tour for the roast beef and horseradish sandwiches alone, never mind all that whisky stuff. Lunch was very pleasant affair in the bristle of the cool afternoon, all crowned with great food and some healthy measures of the batch 4 cask strength. After this we made our way back to the minibus and on to Laphroaig’s peat beds that lie a short way out of Port Ellen towards the Airport on the Bowmore road. If you’ve ever driven this road you will be aware of just how barren it is. Alfred Barnard had few words of kindness for it in the late 19th century and I’ve heard it regularly described as ‘bleak’. I’ve always rather liked it though, to me the harshness of the land, the almost unrelenting sparseness of the peat beds speaks very clearly of just how tough life was for the indigenous Scots of decades and centuries gone by. This is a landscape that compels you to either survive with it or die. Find a way to work with the land or it will simply consume you, you might as well lie down and just fade into it like the legions of heather and sphagnum moss that have come before and make up those miles of ragged, dark and sodden ground between Port Ellen and Bowmore. I think the more you understand the way the Scots bent their existence to the land the more you can see how it bled through into the character of the whiskies they made, transferred terroir if you like. At least, it was pretty obvious when we were staggering through it, up to our welly boots in cold liquid coal.

Me demonstrating a new, more authentic way to consume Laphroaig.

Bryony walked us to the bank of peat where the professionals cut from, a uniform wall scored with the immaculate articulations of the peat cutters. We were then taken to the tourists ‘have a go’ wall. This one was a hacked up ruin of a peat bed which we proceeded to further destroy with our haphazard bludgeoning and ill-judged attempts at skilled physical labour. It wasn’t long before we gave up and started playing jenga with dried peat bricks, using a peat fork as a trident and partially burying Martin in peat. All in all it was a successful introduction to the ancient skill of peat cutting.

Simon was medium-rare after about 12 minutes. Not to mention spiritually relaxed.

There followed a tour of the distillery, this part was fairly straightforward and not dissimilar to the standard tour which I’ve taken on several occasions before at Laphroaig. At least it would have been were it not for a trip to the kilns where we were afforded the unique opportunity to make malt angels in the drying barley, as well as burying Simon in some kind of bizarre, grain-based spa treatment. We also took advantage of the offer to chuck full shovels of peat into the kiln fire and probably managed to up the phenol content by about 20ppm in the process. Our dalliances with peat were not over yet, upon being shown the peat shed we wasted no time in climbing the peat stacks and clambering about like giggling middle-class monkeys with a predilection for pelting each other with lumps of vegetarian coal.

Probably best not to drink this batch of Laphroaig when it reaches maturity.

The tour was almost over after this but there was still the boozy meridian of the warehouse to contend with. Like most showpiece warehouses at regularly toured distilleries, Laphroaig’s no1 warehouse has a sort of visitor’s lounge located in the porch area of the warehouse but the actual raw innards and soul of the warehouse is fenced off by a large metal portcullis style contraption (whenever Laphroaig have a storm and a high tide I suspect there is often a moat as well). All you can do is press yourself against the bars, reach your fingers through and gaze wistfully at what lies beyond, your nostrils flared to that utterly seductive reek of dunnage that musts up the air.

Included in the price of the tour is the chance to fill a small bottle direct from the cask. We were presented with three casks, a 1998, 1999 and 2003, all first fill bourbon barrels, as far as my palate could make out (we had been drinking steadily since lunch time) they were all pretty tasty, but it was the 1998 that stuck out for me as you will see in the notes below. By this point the tour was understandably winding down, the Texan couple were sozzled to the point that they had started that regular routine of the American abroad of apologising for their country’s history. We assured them that we didn’t blame them personally and that they would be spared when we inevitably assumed power.

Bryony ushered us back to the shop, it was apparent that she was quite happy with her own teenagers and after an afternoon with us had no desire to return to mothering pre-adolescent nerds. She had been a fantastic, witty and informative tour guide. All in all it was one of those somewhat unexpected and great whisky experiences that re-affirms your love for the pure enjoyment of whisky and the places and people that make it. I’ll finish with a tasting note for the cask I took a sample from. An utterly useless tasting note I’m sure you’ll agree, unless you’re planning on taking this same tour sometime in the next couple of weeks. Or you’d like to buy my bottle off me for a very reasonable £700?

Laphroaig 1998-2012. First fill barrel. Cask 637. 52.9%.

Colour: White wine

Nose: There are a lot of great 1998s about and this is clearly one of them. Big, briny, herbaceous, elegantly green and coastal with huge streaks of mineral, ash, antiseptic, coal smoke and beach bonfires. Lots of fresh lime juice, oysters, touches of sandalwood and background notes of seagreens, violets and tiny touches of flowers. Quite a restrained and elegant Laphroaig, not over the top in any part and extremely approachable. It’s how I imagine a cask strength version of the old 15yo might have been. With water we get these more obvious notes of rosemary and salt with big notes of struck flints, wet pebbles, horse hair, dunnage and cow sheds. A wonderful late farmyard quality.

Palate: A milky kind of peat at first with bags of custard and vanilla behind it, then notes of toothpaste, herbal liqueur, caraway and a drying woody smokiness, more of that bonfire quality. Then we get touches of earth, wet leaves, sea salt and lemons in brine. Quite classically Laphroaig on the palate, very much in the style of the recent official bottlings in a good way. With water: some wonderful farminess and minty qualities emerge now, as with the nose they are quite striking in the way they just arrive out of nowhere. Touches of greengage, smoked tea and gooseberries.

Finish: Long, damp, earthy, peaty, sooty and salty with resurgence of vanilla, orange peel, a little woodspice and iodine.

Comments: It’s great. If you’re heading to Islay take the tour and get a bottle. I think all the better qualities of modern Laphroaig shine out here and show that a good 1st fill barrel can make some very elegant whisky. It was interesting trying this one next to the other two casks which had matured in rack warehouses, they definitely lacked the character of this one. Maybe you could put that down to age but I like to think the dunnage warehouse maturation played a role.

Score: 89/100


This weekend I’m off to the shrimp croquette capital of the world, namely Oostende in Belgium. I also hear that they have some sort of whisky festival there so perhaps I’ll write some witterings about the goings on. Or I might not. There’s every chance I may end up unconscious and upside down wrapped in a Tintin poster or something. Stay tuned…

Pre-Sale Tasting 3

Posted on Wednesday 27th of June 2012

Here are my notes for the third pre-sale tasting we held on Monday night. It was, as always, a wonderful evening. Thanks to everyone who came along and helped make it such a fun and successful night.

Cameron Bridge Single Grain. 1954-1989 35yo. Signatory Ink Pot label. Casks 1 & 2. Bottle 226 of 450. 46%. 75cl.

Colour: Rich amber

Nose:  That acetone attack of grain that I usually struggle with in most grain whiskies is relatively absent from this one, it is thin but there is also some beautiful fruit tones from the sherry in the form of damsons, prunes, apricots and then some wonderfully sizzling wood spice.  Quite elegant with some really pitch perfect aromas of wood and fruit, obviously this has been in quite a classy sherry cask. With time it becomes less and less grainy and more of these nervous, resinous fruit notes come through, baked bananas in brown sugar, tea, crystalised fruits, molasses and white chocolate. Quite a delicate and elegant nose.

Palate: The sharpness of the grain is much more apparent on the palate with quite a tart delivery all on under-ripe cider apples and red fruit. Once again the cleanliness and vibrancy of the cask is perfectly absorbed and expressed by the spirit. Thick notes of chocolate, vanilla cream, wood spice, nutmeg, sultanas, XO cognac, rancio, tobacco and hints of tar. This is one of these aged spirits that really starts to converge on old rum and brandy territory, these notes of raisins, brown sugar, demerara and dark fruits is something all three  sprits share at great ages. The palate really settles down with a little time and becomes quite wonderful. Very vibrant and lush.

Finish: Quite long and full of soft notes of dark chocolate, some very soft tannins, game, rancio, aged madeira and some really classy hints of something like great aged pinot noir. Great.

Comments: This is quite a wonderful grain in my opinion. None of the aggression that usually troubles most grain whiskies for me. This is clearly a case of the spirit being a perfect sponge for all the quality of the cask. It was also interesting how it reflected so many excellent qualities of other drinks, not only old rum and brandy but also various wines as well, and not it a vulgar way as is often the case with finishes. A great, flavoursome, drinkable and complex grain.

Score: 89/100

St Magdalene 1975-1999 23yo. Cadenhead. Bourbon Hogshead. 156 bottles. 42.1%. 70cl. 

Colour: Dark straw

Nose: It’s one of these delightfully fresh cocktails of butter, chopped parsley, grass, wax, minerals, honeysuckle, coal dust, wild flowers and hints of tropical fruits coming through at the back. Classic St Magdalene old style, distillate driven whisky. Lots of elegance and balance on display. These mineral notes of pebbles, graphite, linseed oil, toasted sunflower seeds and dandelions are just wonderful. A very savory whisky with only a touch of very natural sweetness keeping that underlying austerity in check. It’s a difficult style of whisky for sure but the elegance and freshness makes it instantly charming and approachable. The naturally low strength works wonders as well. These oxidative touches of tropical fruit and wax polish are just lovely.

Palate: A syrupy attack, all on toasted nuts, cereals, mineral notes, touches of smoke, honey, chamomile, dried herbs, marmite, liquorice and even some subtle hints of medicine. There is fruit as well but its very gentle and controlled, notes of greengages, pomegranate, orange juice and mango syrup all show face. There is also something cooling about it like cucumber and aloe vera, quite a soothing dram. More of these green, grassy and austere mineral qualities towards the end. A nice drying bite of wood, some natural vanilla, spice and well salted butter. Excellent, nervous and lively whisky.

Finish: Long, drying and sharp with notes of lemon juice, minerals, hessian, sea salt, more herbs, all kinds of oils, flowers and white fruits.

Comments: A fantastically drinkable, captivating and delicious old style Lowlander (not that there ever really was such a thing as a Lowlander as this spirit proves). Another top notch St Magdalene.

Score: 90/100

Oban 13yo Manager’s Dram OB. Rotation 1990. Screw Cap. 62%. 75cl. 

Colour: Straw

Nose: Neat this is a big hot pot of porridge, salt and honey, quite a little firecracker. Very glycerol in the nose with hints of farmyard, germoline, hay, cut grass, lime juice and white pepper. Quite closed and focused when neat and not a little tricky to navigate due to the high alcohol. Lets add some water… with water it becomes hyper coastal with some very pleasant cooling notes of eucalyptus and mint. More herbal notes come through like sorrel and parsley with more delicate peppery note in the form of watercress. More oily notes such as camphor and engine oil as well with the tiniest wee flirtation of vanilla in the background. Quite a greasy, salty big beast of an Oban.

Palate: Like the nose this is a big bonfire in a farmyard, hot, peppery and earthy with a tang of lemon juice and salt. Quite a difficult beast this one, not entirely pleasant either with a couple of hints of cardboard and plastic flickering in the background. Quite intellectual but not a little stubborn and austere too. Lets not hang around, time to add water. With water it softens out a bit but the core components of farmyard, seashore and oily muscle remain very much intact. It has a distinct dirty edge to it but it is evolving into the good, funky kind of dirtiness, like an old 1960s Jura perhaps. Excellent stuff. Increasingly vegetal, smoky, oily and resinous with some wonderfully delicate waxy and menthol notes beginning to emerge. A late bloomer so it would seem.

Finish: Ashy, acrid and gently smoky with good length, citrus, seaweed, boiler sheds, camphor, brown bread and peanuts.

Comments: An odd and quite extreme whisky with an undeniably masochistic edge. A powerful brute of an Oban that really needs time and water to be teased out of its shell, but the reward is a highly charismatic dram with great oomph and plenty of intricacy. A fascinating window into this often forgotten, overlooked and misunderstood distillate.

Score: 89/100

Oban 19yo Manager’s Dram OB. Rotation 1995. Screw Cap. 59.8%. 70cl. 

Colour: Straw

Nose: A much richer, and more obviously mature profile compared to the 13yo. This one is oilier and fatter with a much more up front and luxurious coastal quality. A wonderfully soft, sweet and oily peat quality with big notes of wax, creosote, sea salt, vinaigrette and dazzling white pepper. It shares a lot of DNA with the 13yo but this has extra dimensions born of age and probably slightly more active wood. The result is pretty excellent. With water: the peat softens and the saltiness blooms even more, the coastal qualities in this one are thick, fat and oily now with a wonderfully nervous, citrus edge running through it. More notes of hay and wildflowers bring yet more complexity.

Palate: It’s one of these big farmyard smoothies. Old sweetie shop cinnamon balls, caraway seed liqueur, seashore, wet pebbles, big mineral notes, hessian, green apples, white flowers, ripe plums, muesli and lemon rind. With water: the oiliness is magnified as are these wonderfully spicy notes of old sweetie shop cinnamon balls, mint, liquorice, cannabis and tar. Again, like the 13yo, this is a pretty uncompromising beast of a whisky. The flavours and full on, concentrated, direct and abundant. Fabulous stuff.

Finish: Long, fat, salty, oily, spicy and lively. Hugely mineral, waxy, floral, coastal and boisterous with curtain calls for all those big farmyard notes of stables and hay. Touches of green pepper and peat in the end as well with more cinnamon and toasted brown bread.

Comments: This baby, along with the official 20 and 32yo expressions shows just how utterly fantastic Oban can be when it is allowed off the leash of low strengths to properly shine. A great and uncompromising distillate is made at this small distillery, what a shame we so rarely get to see its full, blustery glory.

Score: 92/100

Glen Ord 16yo Manager’s Dram OB. Rotation 1991. Screw Cap. 66.2%. 75cl.

Colour: Gold

Nose: A spectacular mix of tinned tropical and green fruits in syrup with a huge, thick waxiness and mineral sheen over the whole thing. A fantastically concentrated nose which is remarkably approachable at such a whopping great strength. Notes of fresh herbs, wild strawberries, hummus, paint, green peppercorns in brine, lemon oil, flints and furniture polish. Wonderfully old style, a classic old highlands style aroma. With water: those syrupy qualities just get better and better now with more rich fruit notes, hints of cereal, a big saltiness, green tea, soft phenols and touches of green peat. Brilliantly old style.

Palate: Neat it is understandably a bit of a bulldozer full of wax, oils, minerals, vanilla, more of these fruit syrups and huge pepperiness.  Needs water quite evidently. With water: like the nose the fruit only becomes more excessive with water, notes of fresh tangerine, apricot, quince, lychee and damson jam all come through. There are some fantastically fresh and mouthwateringly dry coastal qualities as well, balanced by a touch of natural sweetness. The texture becomes even more syrupy and oily with time, like olive oil, mango puree and herb liqueur. Fantastic stuff.

Finish: super long, oily, waxy, drying, herbal, fruity and mineral. A wonderful mix of all of the above with fantastic complexity.

Comments: For me this is one of the real hidden masterpieces of the Manager’s Dram series. Huge, complex, totally old style and unsexy but very drinkable and very Glen Ord. I love it, if you like that old highland’s style you’ll adore this one.

Score: 93/100

Springbank 21yo OB. Tall bottle mid-late 1990s rotation dark vatting. 46%. 70cl.

Colour: Mahogany

Nose: Initially a perfect melee of dark fruits, sultanas, mulling spices, cloves, dark chocolate, salty bacon, mint creams, chocolate limes and black pepper. With time the fruit dominates more and the whole thing becomes more luscious and old-style Springbanky. Gets earthier and mulchier with notes of truffle, soy sauce, balsamico and leather, there is a distinct note of peat arising after a while also. Beautifully fresh, clean and rich. Those notes of meat, salt, aged wines and fruits are brilliantly combined and poised.

Palate: Big for 46%. Lots of aged madeira, dundee cake, stewed fruits, wood resin, coal, earth, hessian, strawberry liqueur, cassis, tar and creosote. A perfect streak of salt at the back with more meaty notes like game and salt cured beef. A big, old style Springbank that harks back to some of these brilliant 1960s sherry casks in style. Gun metal, motor oil, tcp, wet pebbles, seashore notes, sandalwood and some syrupy notes of flat coca cola and root beer. Final touches of medicine and peat flicker in the background.

Finish: Long, meaty, salty and rich. Packed with dense, dark fruits, compotes, tar, balsamico, liqueur notes and wax.

Comments: Remember how they always used talk about the 21yo getting topped up with whatever old casks they had lying around? Well I think this batch more than proves it. Spectacular old style Sprinbank with lashings of flavour and character.

Score: 91/100

Springabank 1965-1999 Murray McDavid. Cask 580. 46%. 70cl. 

Colour: Rosewood

Nose: Sweet strawberry liqueur, gummy bears, candifloss and fig paste on top of a blitz of tropical and green fruits. That sweet start gets more luscious and fresh with time eventually revealing more classical notes of lemon rind, sea shore, crystalised fruits and coal fires. A wonderful mix of dunnage, farmyard notes and seashore qualities with a wedge of marzipan and salted almonds driving through the middle. Grows a little teaish and herbal with time.

Palate: Once again a particularly sweet start up front with a sackful of hot spices, paprika, cloves, black tea, stewed fruits, mulled wine, honeycomb and some gentle medical notes as well. The sweetness fades to dry quite quickly as some very well balances tanning just start to nibble around the edges of the gums. Lovely notes of rosewater, turkish delight and dark chocolate begin to emerge with more of these dark, thick fruit qualities. There is a fantastically fizzy mix of spice and salt going on now, you could almost use this as a rub for a joint of lamb (although I’m not sure I’d go that far with 1965 Springbank). Goes on with hints of green pepper, caraway and demerara with increasing notes of menthol, mint tea and soft brown sugar. For once I think this is one oldie that is better on the palate than the nose.

Finish: Long and very warming, loads of mulling spices, tar, touches of medicine, sea salt, lemons, wax, a little chili pepper and a fade thats all on brown bread and toasted cereals.

Comments: I wasn’t that impressed by the nose, in fact globally it’s perhaps a little disappointing for a 1965 Springbank. That said, it’s a fantastic whisky in its own right, wonderfully spicy and warming and the odd twist with the palate trumping the nose is very unusual at this kind of age. A great and unusual old Springbank.

Score: 91/100

Laphroaig 1968 26yo Hart Brothers. 43%. 70cl. 

Colour: White wine

Nose: A wonderfully soft fresco of tropical fruits, metallic notes, minerals, iodine, aged phenols, all kinds of medicine and sea air. Just fantastic, utterly unmistakeable, old style Laphroaig, big as only Laphroaig can be as only 43%. Luscious, elegant and soft but powerful and balanced with it. Goes on with notes of white pepper, sea water, passion fruit juice, motor oil, hessian and all kinds of smaller tropical notes. Just brilliant.

Palate: Up front its the clearest, driest, most wonderful old style peat with all kinds of notes like metal filings, iron, wet pebbles, mercurochrome, tcp, euthymol toothpaste and herb liqueur. The tropical fruit is a little quieter on the palate but it’s still wonderfully bassy in the background, booming quietly away. Hugely coastal and farmy with a perfect mix between the two. SO much to say, so little point in saying it, great, extinct style Laphroaig.

Finish: Long and ridden with peat, antiseptic, dried tropical fruits, greengages, boiler smoke and a whole seashore of freshness.

Comments: A brilliant old Laphroaig, a style of whisky that everyone should try before it becomes totally impossible. This is by no means the best old Laphroaig, but in comparison to modern whiskies, it leaves them all spitting dust in the far distance.

Score: 94/100

Roll on september…




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