Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ardmore, Tomatin and Bunnahabhain distilled in the early 90's

A set of short reviews

1. Ardmore 1992 Archives 20yo 48.6%
Cask 4764. Distilled June 1992, bottled June 2012

Nose: Nutty and peaty
Palate: Typical Ardmore, with a strong earthy peat, dry spicyness and some fruityness
Finish: Medium, with a fruity kick

A nice and wellbalanced whisky. Essential Ardmore and very drinkable. Nuts, fruits and peat

Rating 87/100

2. Tomatin 1992 20yo 53.9% 
Cask 31497, Oloroso sherry hogshead

Nose : Very fruity. Dried fruits. Mixed with a hint of rubber, raisins
Palate: oily, licorice, some rubber, this is a sherry bomb, with a dark expression. It's almost like licking a stick of licorice wood dipped in sherry. The rubber texture soons fades away and an explosion of dark dried fruits appear. And then a hint of vanilla. One for the sherryfans, and beware if you have rubber issues
Finish: Long 

Sherry Bomb. I like the long finish when the rubber has gone away. Melted raisins

Rating 87/100

Bunnahabhain 1990 Archives 21yo 52.3%
Cask 14. Distilled March 1990, bottled December 2012

Pouring this I realise this is hard to drink after the Tomatin which was just so intense. Concentration is needed. Well, I am used to it :-)

Nose: Spiced up laidback sherryness. This is very nice 
Palate: Dry, aged sherry, but still powerful. This cask tastes something mid between a firstfill and a refill.  Refill sherry is more suitable for long time maturations as the wood is a tad more gentle to the whisky and doesn't kill it. This is a perfect virtual hybrid, where you still get the ex-sherry intensity and the well aged whisky that still thrives and is not hidden by the sherry. There is a lot in whisky that reminds me of 30+ refill sherries with some strong elements added from a fresh sherry (it IS a fresh sherry cask). Dried fruits, licorise, spices 
Finish: Medium

Sherryfan: This is a bottle you wished you bought

Rating 89/100

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Glen Calder 1949 40yo

Glen Calder 40yo 1949 40%

Glen Calder is a Gordon & MacPhail Blend

Nose : Bold and warming, sweet, tropical fruit bomb, quite intense

Palate: Very very oily, faint hint of rubber, maybe it's just a rubberesque oily viscosity. Very tropical and fruity, followed by the nice dry woody spicyness only seen in very old whiskies

Finish : long and warming, spicy and dry

Comment: I don't think a lot of water was added to get this down to 40%

Rating 90/100

Bourbon is better than Scotch

When I think of the worst whiskies I have ever tasted, no bourbon is anywhere near hitting the list.

The worst bourbon I have tasted is something like the regular Jack Daniels, and it is not that bad when compared to what is on the shelf out there otherwise. (#JDisabourbon)

There is a reason for this. Both scotch whisky and bourbon are regulated, and both have more heavily regulated subgroups (straight bourbons and single malts).

Most of what is bottled bourbonwise are straight bourbons, so much that the regulations for straight bourbons are often spoken of as the general rules for bourbons. Just take a tour on a bourbon distillery if you don't believe me.  The two main rules for straight bourbons are minimum 2 years in the barrel and  no additives. One of the main and most important rules for bourbons in general is that it must be matured on new virgin oak barrels. Once the barrel has been used, it can not be used for filling new spirit in again, if you want to make bourbon. Not much to play around with here, and it give bourbon a great deal of consistency compared to barrels. The difference in maturation for bourbons comes more from warehouse location and age more than type of barrel.

In Scotland casks are used and reused as many times as the producer wishes. A cheap blend consist of a lot of grain whisky that has been matured on almost dead casks for three years. A cheap bourbon is probably both older and has been on better barrels than a similar priced scotch.

In Scotland virgin oak is used, ex-bourbon barrels, ex-sherry casks, ex-whatever-you-can-think-of really. Then the barrels and casks are reused for refills, and often when the casks are used for the 4th and 5th time it's just containers for grain whisky maturation. And then there is also a lot of finishes going on, where whisky is matured on one kind of casks and then transfered to another type.

This gives scotch a huge varitation in whisky produced and the quality of the whisky. The differences in maturation for scotch comes from cask type and age, not the actual warehouse location.

I do know I simplified things a bit. Bourbon finishes do exist and a few bottles of single malts also exist where warehouse location is emphasized, but in the big picture these bottlings can be neglected

But the conclusion is that it's actual quite hard to find a really bad bourbon out there. Finding bad scotch is easy

PS When it comes to my top list of whiskies it's heavily dominated by scotch, but I have bourbons and ryes on that list as well. When it comes to high-end bottlings Scotland is much more prolific. As bourbon is getting much more popular these years I expect to see a lot more from US. If they can keep up with stocks needed..

Monday, May 13, 2013

Spirit of Speyside 2013 - part 4

This is a holiday report

Monday morning our group took a detour out of Speyside and visited Tomatin Distillery. We were welcomed by distillery genereral manager Graham Eunson, who took us around the distillery. 

Tomatin might not be the most beautiful distillery in Scotland, but it has one of the most interesting tours. The giant warehouses when you enter the distillery grounds under the too small railway-bridge is almost breathtaking. The distillery has a feature I haven't seen in any other distillery. Back in the 70's, Tomatin had 23 stills and 2 mash-tuns, and were more like a twin distillery, two almost identical distilleries in the same building. After 1980 some of the stills were cut down and one of the mashtuns became redundant. It is now set up for display for people taking tours. There is a big hole in the side so you can actually climb inside to touch and see how a mashtun is laid out and works

Climb inside a mashtun at Tomatin

Tomatin Spirit Still

The stills at Tomatin has a peculiar setup. The wash and the beer stills are identical. The spirit safe is placed beneath the stills and the top of the stills are out of sight. So no windows on the washstills as you can't see them from the spirit safe anyway. From below, the stillman can ring a bell-like string to check the sound of the washstills and the corresponding head of the boiling wash.

Tomatin also features a small cooperage for repairing casks.

Casks ready to be filled

After the tour we had a tasting of the Tomatin core range, one of the strongest core ranges in the industry. Graham told us that it was the 18yo that convinced him to move to Tomatin. I totally agree, the 18yo was the eye openener for me as well. A bottle that draw my attention to this distillery. We had a wee taste of the new Legacy, which is a NAS Tomatin. It is a mix of ex-bourbon and virgin oak matured Tomatin. This is a very good complement to the core range. We also had a cask sample of a 6yo virgin oak matured Tomatin. Give me some of that please! That was delicious. Fresh, crispy, vanilla and minty

Thanks to Jennifer from Tomatin for arranging the tour and to Graham for taking the time to show us around. 

After the tour we drove back to Speyside, having lunch in Muckrach Lodge near Dulnain Bridge on the way, it's a fantastic restaurant and absolutely worth a big detour.


Best lambchops I had in my life

Returning to Dufftown we had a couple of tasting left. The two tastings I had the biggest expectations for on the whole festival. And I wasn't dissapointed. These two tastings are essentials of why it's worth coming to Dufftown and Spirit of Speyside. The first tasting was presented by Donald Colville, Diageo's Global Brand Ambassador who brought some special treats for us. Donald, being a participator himself for many years, new enough about the festival to satisfy his customers for sure.

Mortlach SoS 2013 bottling

Donald served the following for us

Mortlach SoS 2013 festival bottling
Cragganmore 21yo 2010
Inchgower Rare Malt 27yo 1976
Talisker Storm
Talisker Port Ruighe
Caol Ila Feis Ile 2010

Way to go! Donald, 3 very new releases and 3 hard to find limited releases.

The Danish Drinking Team are tough to beat as we allready had a sample of the Inchgower in our cottage :-)

After this we had a wee break, which as usual was spent in the Royal Oak (They ran out of beer!).

The next tasting was a world premier, or something like that, of the new Cadenhead range. Cadenhead are going back to dumpy bottles and everybody knows that dumpy Cadenheads taste really good so I think it's a very clever decisison...

The tasting was presented by Mark Watt, who in an earlier life had hosted tastings for another company that always were among my favourite events. I wasn't dissapointed this year. From what we tasted the excellent Cadenhead range is getting even better

Look out for:

Craigellachie 1994
Camenronbridge 1989
Creations 20yo Blend 
Glenlivet-Minmore 1970 (Why not Glenlivet-glenlivet ?)
Highland Park 1988
Bowmore 1998

After this we went to the dram party at the Whiskyshop Dufftown which is the perfect end to a great festival, it's a mini fair with last chances for some purchases, last chance to taste some whisky and talk to the other festival goers, at lot of usual suspects as always.

Sleepy tuesday morning in Dufftown


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Spirit of Speyside 2013 - part 3

This is a holiday report

Sunday morning the weather was turning from winter into spring and almost summer. We had booked an event with Strathisla Distillery called "straight from the cask", which consisted of an in-depth tour followed by a tasting of 6 different expressions of their Cask Strength Editions.

The event started in Dufftown with a ride with the Dufftown-Keith Railway. It mainly runs in the summer, during weekends and is staffed totally by volunteers. It is like ridding a train 50 years ago I reckon.

In about the first two minutes the train passes 4 distilleries, Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Parkmore and Glendullan, with a chance of a glimpse of both Convalmore and Kininvie as well, if you know where to look. As you enter Keith, the train passes right next to Strathmill and the Keith station is just beside Strathisla and Glen Keith.
The ride is a scenic tour through some of the more soft and farmed, but hilly areas of Speyside


Arriving at the distillery we were greeted by our guide of the day, Tony, who toured us through the distillery with a good knowledge of Strathisla, Chivas Bros and also whisky in general.


Strathisla is amongst the most picturesque distilleries in Scotland, both inside and outside, with everything cramped into small spaces. This results of a very labyrinthic feeling when touring the place, but it is really just an A to B walk through the production area.

Feeling the temperature differences on the condenser

At the end of the tour we had our first dram. In the warehouse and appropiate it was the Strathisla Cask Strength Edition. This is from a series of cask strenth whiskies in 50cl bottles, all from Chivas Bros. distilleries. The price is competitive at around 40£ and the age is typical between 12 and 17 years old. Tastewise you get exactly what you hope for. 

This sight met us when we entered the tasting room

The menu consisted of 

Scapa 12yo batch SC 12006 55.1%
Glenburgie 14yo batch GB 14005 60.5%
Miltonduff 14yo batch MD 14003 48.3%
Glenlivet 17yo batch GL 17011 59.3%
Glenugie 30yo 1980 52.13%

My favourite of these tends to change from season to season. This time it was the Scapa and the Glenburgie. I bought a bottle of the Glenburgie.

I don't understand the lack of attention these bottlings gets in the whiskysphere. It's cask strength, the price is fair, and it's very good. Sometimes I feel whiskyfans are digging their own grave by mainly talking about the whiskies made and designed by marketing departments and prices accordingly. By the whiskysphere I mean blogs, forums, twitter, facebook etc.. Instead of whining over Chivas Bros. latest release from their marketing department (Alpha) why not praise bottlings like these. They were probably made for YOU in mind, while Alpha is not, to put things on an edge.

We had a little food break in front of the just reopened Glen Keith Distillery, before getting on the train back to Dufftown where our next event was taking place. During the whole festival, several times a day, the Whisky Shop Dufftown organised a series of events, concerts, tastings and fairs. We usually sign up for as many as possible of these. They are affordable, they are fun and easy to fit in a busy schedule. Tonight we had a tasting with Adelphi and a concert/whiskytasting with Robin Laing.

At the Adelphi tasting I decided to just put just "1-2 words" on each dram

Clynelish 23yo 52.1% Waxy, vanilla, citrus
Highland Park 26yo 47.0% Archtype HP
Longmorn 27yo 53.2% Creamy
Glenrothes 21yo 55.5% Citrus
Bunnahabhain 25yo 44.0%  Bunnahabhain like in the good old days

I liked them all, and would probably rate them around 86-89 in a more controlled setup.

After a few pints in the pub, I was late for the Robin Laing concert. A few funny stories and some scottish country music if you are into that kind of things. Not sure if I am. But there was also a whisky tasting of 6 whiskies served, all from travel retail. Not my favourite thing either. It's more about marketing than whisky and everything tends to be watered down to 40%

I remember liking a Dalmore and a Dufftown and really disliking a Highland Park Einar, which tasted like sewer to me. It was probably just me, Three stars of the whiskyworld I asked for 2nd opinion didn't agree with me. But still a bit surprising to have the two brands you least expected to be your favourites of the tasting.

The Royal Oak in Dufftown has really evolved the last years. The selection of whisky is big and for this festival they had real ale on the tap. First time I see real ale in Dufftown, and Cairngorms Sheepshagger was a really nice one as well.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Spirit of Speyside 2013 - part 2

This is a holiday report

Saturday morning we were up early for a drive up to the north coast of Speyside. Just outside of Speyside really, as our next destination was the ultimate tour of Glenglassaugh. We were greeted by our host of today, Ronnie Routledge. Ronnie has hosted several of Gordon and MacPhail's tastings I have been participating in, back in the good old days, when whisky was cheaper and also better as we all know :-)


It was a quiet day at Glenglassaugh, and we had an informative and relaxed tour of the place, getting to see wee bit of corners and places you don't normally get around to on standard tours. 

Casks ready to be filled

The tour finished with a few samples of various casks in the warehouse. I usually have a dislike for redwine casked whiskies and finishes, but a californian red wine cask was a joy to taste. It could be because californian red wine is bolder, sweeter and more fullbodied than other red wines, which I find sour and acidic in flavour in comparison, which converts over to the whiskies that has been put in the casks. It's nice to be positively surprised sometimes. Glenglassaugh had a gap in production between 1986 and 2008, so the whisky they have, are either very young or very old. It's almost like a brand new distillery, with the luck of a few rare and very old casks sitting in the warehouse. Just a couple of weeks before our visit, the distillery was bought over by the group also owning Benriach and Glendronich. I doubt they can affect what's currently being bottled as there is not a lot to toy around with, and whatever owner they have, they have to be innovative with the young stuff to grap consumers attention. As I will tell you in a bit, the rare old stuff will sell itself

Here is a short review of what we tasted

1. Glenglassaugh Revival 46%
Revival is a very young Glenglassaugh finished for 6 months in 1st fill ex-oloroso
The nose instantly reveals a very young whisky. The newmake-ish young impression quickly fades away for some sweet woody spices, and the oloroso influence. The finish is a bit rough but still well balanced and ending with a sour touch very common for young spirits. Not bad for a whisky this young. Rating 77/100

2. Glenglassaugh Evolution 57.2%
Another young Glenglassaugh. This time matured in 1st fill ex-tennesee casks (George Dickel). One of things that distuinguishes Tennessee bourbons! is their high corn content (80%). It is very different to the Revival. I am met by an intense vanilla, malt, slight mint. The newmake is more present in this one, but its the nice clean crisp stuff you get straight from the spirit stuff, not the sour thing I associate with whisky that has been matured for a too short time. The finish is newmakey, malty with a hint of caramel and butterscotch and the toasted oak shines through very clearly. Rating 79/100

3. Glenglassaugh 26yo 46%
This is the youngest expression of the old stock. It replaced a 21yo which despite the same age statement had had quite some batch difference. From the few independent bottlings I have tased over the years, this is vefry classic Glenglassaugh. A fantastic nose of candy fruity armagnac apple/pear meets me. This kind of gentle flavour often found in older whiskies, is continued in the palate, where suddenly a punch of woodiness hits me. A very nice dram, maybe slight to woody in the finish. Rating 88/100

4. Glenglassaugh 37yo 58.9%, sample bought in visitor centre, thanks to Michael Bach for the taste!
Quite different from the former dram. More punch and more crisp and clean, with a vanillaed touch. Its actually very vanillaed. Sample is actually too small for a review, but this is not that serious a blog, just a diary :-). Rating 87/100

5. Glenglassaugh 30yo 43%. The label lies. The small sticker around says its actually a 37yo. In style this reminds of the 26yo. Gentle candy, apples and pears, very drinkable. This is like whisky from the old days, when I could actual afford bottles like this. Rating 88/100

6. Glenglassaugh 1967 40.4%. The flavour follows that of no 3 and 5. The age has added a lot of extra depth into this, but it is not woody at all. It bears the mythical flavours of very old well balanced whisky. It's more fullbodied, more spicy, but still similar to the younger versions. Not knowing anything, this could be a cask bought from Gordon and MacPhail, as it bears some similarity to what I have tasted from some of their old sherry casks. One of the best drams of the festival.  Rating 92/100

After this tasting we hurried to the Tamdhu open day. Instead of a set event, Tamdhu had made an open day, with tours starting every 15 minutes or so followed by a tasting. Beside the old station were tents and booth with food, ice, coffee, music, softdrinks and beer from Speyside Craft Brewery. Fantastic beer I think.


The new owners of Tamdhu (Ian McCleod) has decided to bottle Tamdhu exclusively from sherry casks. They have released a new 10yo 40% and for this day they also had a special relaunch bottling, 1000 bottles filled at 46%, also 10yo. Beside these two whiskies, we also had two cask strength samples at the tasting (of which one was nice). I found the regular 10yo sulphured. Being oversensitive to sulphur sometimes I was happy I was not the first to mention this in our group. I liked the relaunch bottling, but didn't purchase it, as it was priced more than double what I would pay, and was clearly aimed for collectors and people with more money than sense, or for some unlucky bastards who just isn't aware of what is available out there. Of all the distilleries and shops we visited, this was probably the only place where my group of 8 didnt make any purchases during our 9 day visit, so I reckon Tamdhu are not doing things right. I often thought on my companions as mindless raiders more than regular shoppers this week. So not being able to sell anything at all was unusual. 

After the Tamdhu event, 4 of us went to whisky quiz organised by Chivas Bros. The quiz had around 25-30 participating teams. It was won by a tem of 3 dutch guys teamed together with the whiskycyclist. We ended a nice tied 2nd with a team from the Pot Still Glasgow. The end of the whiskyquiz was a tie-breaker followed by a sudden death, it was a little chaotic, where we didn't have a clue what was going on, until the winning team explained it to us in the Royal Oak in Dufftown :-)

The Danish Drinking Team

Spirit of Speyside 2013 - part 1

This is a holiday report!

Together with 7 friends, we had a group of 8 hardcore whiskyfans visiting this years festival - 7 danes and 1 american.

We based ourselves in Dufftown, where we stayed in a couple of farm cottages, Parkmore Cottages a couple of miles out of downtown Dufftown.

As we did in 2011, we started the festival thursday night with a little dram party, where we had invited a few people over. Teun and Dick, the Maltstock representatives and a couple of Canadian guys, Graeme and Dave, who are contributors to the Bladnoch Forum

Dramming at Parkmore

We started out with our first event friday, where I had signed up for a little bit more than I wished. The 6 hour event, which was advertised as two distillery visits, a lunch and a tasting + a smugglers walk, turned out to be 4 hours hill trekking up to the summit to Carn Daimh (570m), which was a little more than I thought. The weather turned out to be not very good, with rain, sleet, snow and wind.

Luckily the organisers decided to give the participants the choice the shorten the walk to "just" a couple of hours, which we gladly accepted.

We started out with a standard tour around Glenlivet distillery where we had a chance to see the new extension of the distillery

Glenlivets new extension

After our group had finished raiding the visitor centre shop, the rest of the hikers were anxious to start the hill trek. It was vet and windy, but after a couple of hours, which did indeed give us a few good views between the clouds, mist and fog we arrived at the top of Carn Daimh. Wet and dirty up to our knees. I was happy to be met by this sight !!

A dram at the summit, 15yo Speyside

After a short walk down, we took a ride with the Glenlivet Estate Rangers to Tomintoul, where a very nice lunch awaited us at the The Clockhouse Restaurant. This is one of the best restaurants in Speyside in my opinion. After the lunch we were directed over to the Whisky Castle, for a few drams and some more shopping, with the always entertaining Mike Drury, before driving over to the final distillery visit of Tomintoul distillery where we were greeted by Robert Fleming  and  then Tom Gerrie who gave us a very good in-depth tour of the distillery, finsihed by a wee tasting of some samples of some of their products.

This is a distillery is not normal open to the public, and a visit like this is exactly one of the reasons it's worth travelling to Scotland for this festival.

Tomintoul Stills


Angus Dundee Distillers plc., which owns Tomintoul and Glencadam distilleries has specialized in customer specified blends. But both distilleries produce a nice porto folio of single malts, Tomintoul even produced a nice peated version named Old Ballantruan, named after the water source of Tomintoul Distillery. Personally I have always considered Glencadam one of the hidden gems of scotch single malts.

After the Tomintoul visit, we were running very late to judge the roving whisky awards at Forsyth's Coppersmiths in Rothes, where we had to blind pick our favourites from three sets of whisky:

12 yo and under
1. Aberlour A'bunadh (#)
2. Strathisla 12yo (*)
13 - 20 yo
1. Glenfiddich Distillery Edition 15yo 51.5%
2. Balvenie Doublewood 17yo (*) (#)
21 and over
1. The Glenlivet XXV (#)
2. The Glenlivet 21 (*)
I marked my favourites with a (*) and the final winners with a (#). My overall favourite was the Balvenie.
Our group of 8 were split even between two of the sets, but in the 13-20yo group, we were 7-1 for the Balvenie.
Apperently the sets were pre-chosen by a panel, but I find it a bit suspicious that it was three sets of intra company competions, with just two companies present. I do think Speyside has more to offer...but then, I probably have tasted more whiskies than most :-)
After this we finished the night with a dinner at the Highlander Inn in Craigellachie, a very nice inn with excellent food, and extensive selection of single malts and real ale on tap. Highly recommended