|June 4, 2005 - Back to reality...|
6:30 AM: Serge writes from Port Askaig: We're about to take the ferry to the mainland, and then drive to Glasgow and... back to reality. It's been a great week, indeed - more to come on maltmaniacs and whiskyfun. Roger.
Johannes adds: Now, here`s a picture of the REAL `Lord of the Isles`. Charlie isn`t just a whisky oracle - he`s a fountain of knowledge on the rich history of Islay. I was actually quite appalled when I learned that this historical title for the rulers of Islay now officially belongs to the reknowned philanderer Prince Charles of Wales. `The git of the isles` would be more appropriate, if you ask me...
<<< - Charlie on the beach at Machir Bay.
|June 3, 2005 - Our 10,000th dram!|
|9:30 AM: Serge writes: Well well well... yesterday was a very special day. After having visited Dunlossit Estate's Chloë Randall and seen some beautiful pigs and barley fields, we managed to put the ManiacMobile into a ditch. Thank God Chloë sent us a tractor and we could go on with our trip to the Islay brewery and then to our house (where we tasted the Black Bowmore first edition - by far the best one I think). No less than eight maniacs also had a special dinner at the Croft Kitchen in Port Charlotte (Martine, Charlie, Johannes, Luc, Olivier, Peter, Davin, Serge) and it's at that very moment that Johannes tasted the Malt Maniacs' official 10,000th dram: a very special Islayer made by the Regensburger Whisky-Club (a commemorative bottling to honour the pontificate of Benedict XVI). Detailed tasting notes will follow! Then we met the most welcoming PLOWED folks at their Claggan House for some special dramming. More than 20 hardcore maltheads together make a bit of noise (mostly slurps) but that was a great evening and we only left at 3:00 AM - thanks again guys. Today we're going to Kilchoman again and then to Bunnahabhain, where I hope we'll have some Bunbny-soaked burgers like last year. Yummy!|
|June 2, 2005 - Still drizzly...|
8:00 AM: Johannes writes: The people on Islay seem unusually preoccupied with the weather, but I`m slowly starting to understand why that is. In the short time we`ve been here we`ve seen the weather turn from wintery storm with gale force winds to summery skies with tropical temperatures - and back again. Yesterday was a chilly day with cloudy skies, but that didn`t keep us from having lots of fun.
We had actually planned to have that fun in the form of a bunch of samples from `obscure` distilleries like Glen Spey and Glen Keith, but just after breakfast Charlie dropped by our house to invite us to the Kilchoman distillery for a tasting session. Not a tasting of Kilchoman spirit, mind you - sadly enough Anthony Willis won`t be able to distill his first spirit this week like he originally planned. This session was built around samples from eight privately owned casks of Balvenie from 1973. The owner had asked the maniacs to review the samples and of course we were more than happy to oblige.
Anthony Willis was kind enough to offer us the use of his tasting room and it goes without saying that the maniacs used the opportunity to ask him for a quick tour of the distillery. That was quite an interesting opportunity, because the work on the distillery is far from finished. While Anthony showed us around he told us about his ideas for Kilchoman and the maniacs liked what they heard. Anthony plans to experiment a lot with changing a bunch of variables in the distillation process and - oh joy - put details about these variables on the label of his bottlings. Excellent idea; this is just the sort of information that people eager to learn more about malts are interested in! By the end of the Kilchoman tour we got to talk about yeast strains and we were happy to plant a little seed in Anthony`s mind: instead of using `commercial`yeast for the fermentation, Anthony may opt for natural, local yeast strains instead. More proof that Kilchoman could very well become Scotland`s most innovative distillery.
That`s it for now - we still have more than 100 samples to try this week and time is running out...
|June 1, 2005 - It's raining cats and dogs!|
10:15 PM - Serge writes: We could taste the new Ardbeg bottling for the festival yesterday. Well, there were two, actually. Here are my notes...
Ardbeg 1975/2005 (44.7%, OB
for Islay Festival, fino, Cask #4719, 188 bottles) Colour:
gold. Nose: exceptional, a superb mix of peat smoke and tea. Some
meaty notes, oxtail, smoked ham. Develops on herbal notes, hay, with
very little fruitiness. Very maritime at that, and also quite medicinal.
Great, as expected. Mouth: not extremely powerful and rather dry attack.,
like a peppered tea. Then some tropical fruits do appear, but it’s
still dry. Very strong tea, with lots of tannins, cocoa, and quite
some oak. Long but austere finish, always very dry. 92 points.
Now, as for the prices, they sell both for £180 a bottle. Last year it was £150 and in 2002, I remember it was £100. Sure, both are fantastic drams, and nobody's obliged to buy them, but still, now we know how it feels to be a cow – when it’s milked. Not too enjoyable. Sure I bought some, and my tits are still sore...
June 29, 2005 - added comment: I've got a few friendly complains (not from the distillery) about what I had written 'on the spot' and I agree maybe I've been a bit hard. As Ian pointed out, I should have looked at what the other distilleries charge for 30 YO releases:
Aberlour £295, Balvenie £239, Brora £189, Edradour £195, Glenfiddich £279, Glenmorangie £189, Glenturret £145, Highland Park £189, Isle of Jura £220 and so on. I agree, but let's put it this way: maybe they could have made a small effort for all the people who keep flying to the festival each year, and come up with friendly prices for these special releases. Just like Laphroaig did this year. I met some guys there who told me 'I came from Wisconsin (whatever) and I'd have loved to bring back a special bottle from the festival but at that price, I can't afford it anymore'. So, maybe Ardbeg could rather bottle some younger cask and keep the prices 'affordable'. On the 'open market', I wouldn't mind, everybody is free to buy a £180 malt or not, but for all these guys who save money the whole year long to afford the trip and then discover that 'the festival Ardbeg went up again', it's perhaps not very fair, because it's kind of a 'captive market'. So, what happens is that some wealthier people buy bunches of bottles (some will end up on eBay), while the 'poor guys' can buy nothing. This is perhaps not what I'd call a 'festival release', even if I really loved both bottlings. - Serge
|May 31, 2005 - Another Glorious Day on Islay...|
20:00 PM - Johannes writes: We`re now halfway through our Islay trip and it just keeps getting better and better. Well, apart from the `midges`- tiny mosquitos that can make life a living hell during the summer on Islay. When I stepped outside this morning to soak up the sunshine and the view across Lochindaal I was mistaken for a walking buffet by these nasty buggers. It wasn`t long before I was chased back into the house. Fortunately, the midges only come out in the morning and evening, so after half an hour we could safely leave the house to drive to Laphroaig for a tour and a tasting. Laphroaig could possibly be the distillery with the most beautiful ocean view on Islay. The distillery tour was interesting enough, but the real treat was a tasting of an upcoming batch of the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Just like the first batch it`s a very fine dram - and its performance becomes even more impressive when you know that it hasn`t matured as long as the standard Laphroaig 10yo. After having matured for about five years in regular bourbon casks the whisky is `finished` in special smaller casks for an average of 8 months. Another thing that surprised us was the fact that these `quarter casks` (more like `half casks` at +/- 100 litres; half the size of the bourbon barrels that are now used exclusively at Laphroaig) are especially made on the mainland from the staves of regular casks before being shipped to Islay to be used only once for the maturation of the quarter cask bottling.
The tour was followed by a wonderful
uphill hike to the water source of Laphroaig.
Next, we hurried to the Ardbeg for a lunch / blind tasting that was put together by Gordon Homer from `Spirit of Islay`. The PLOWED gang was there as well - in fact, we seemed to run into them several times a day, no matter where we went on the island. Gordon pours a very generous dram, so the maniacs had to leave before the lunch was over and the identities of the six drams that were poured was revealed. We managed to taste two spectacular other samples before we left, though - see Davin`s `daily dram` contribution for more details on those... (More details to follow tomorrow...)
<<< Serge, Olivier, Johannes, Luc and Davin at Laphroaig's water source (we forgot its name - too much whisky.)
|May 30, 2005 - A Glorious Sun Shines Over Islay...|
Davin's Daily Drams - 11:00 AM - Davin writes: A sunny day began with skalks, a half a dozen of them, the best of which was a stunning Kinclaith whose nose was ripe with honey accented with wax, hints of pine, flour paste and wax. A constant undercurrent to the nose was orange water which translated into Gran Marnier on the palate. It was a rich, viscous palate with an absolutely marvelous passion fruit riding high on the bitter marmalade licorice and celery. Olivier called it "old Bowmore" on the finish. Kinclaith 26yo 1975 (52.3%, JMcA) 90 points.
Bruichladdich Day at Feis Ile was typically festive. An absolutely amazing array of old Laddies (all new releases) provided the theme for another Jim McEwan SRO performance at the Masterclass. Don't ever miss a chance to see Jim in action. The daily dram emerging from this session was a new Bruichladdich 1968 Legacy 35yo (40.7%, OB) 92 points. But all six, and a whole slew of Murray MacDavids on offer by the reasonably-priced dram in the sunny courtyard. When I travelled a lot for businesss, my past-time was looking up relatives on both the de Kergommeaux side ane on my mother's side: the Wisharts. Serious Wishart family history buffs have wishart.org to get in contact, but my Scottish family presented itself to me in the courtyard of Bruichladdich in the form of distant cousin and whisky author David Wishart (Whisky Classified) along with his simply charming wife Doreen.
Dinner at Martin's house brought a Nikka surprise (that antipodan tropical fruit note was ever-present). As was Dramming at Claggan with PLOWED where the Plowed Society Port Ellen blew us away achieving a well-earned 95 points.
<<< In the news this morning. We can asssure you he wasn't a malt maniac (the whole truth and nothing but the truth)
2:00 AM - Johannes writes: Oh boy...
Chef Martine and Sous-Chef Peter preparing some wonderful lobster and scallops for us. Yummy! >>>
|May 29, 2005 - Bruichladdich open day...|
18:00 PM - Johannes writes: The guys (Serge, Olivier & Davin) are still at the Bruichladdich distillery where I had the pleasure of meeting Martine and Thomas for the very first time. Several hundreds of people (both local `Ileachs and visitors of the festival) that had gathered at the distillery were a testament to the good work that Mark Reynier and his team have been doing at Bruichladdich in the last few years; they have turned the distillery from `the gimp of Islay`to the hottest ticket in town. To my amazement, the predictions of several maniacs came through - after three days of wintery wind and rain the weather had turned and we had lots of sunshine and (relatively) mild winds.
As you may have learned from earlier
entries in mi `Liquid Log, I`m not a big fan of crowds and bagpipes,
so by the time the masterclass started I had more than my fill and
decided to take advantage of the glorious weather and take a long
walk along the shore instead. This gave me the chance to soak up the
landscape and the lovely peat reek that can be enjoyed throughout
the entire island. What a lovely experience!
Peter filling a valinch out of an MMcD Laphroaig bloodtub at Bruichladdich this afternoon.
10:15 AM - Serge writes:
Lagavulin 12yo (43%, OB, 80’s)
Colour: dark straw. Nose: stupendous balance. Lots of fudge,
peat smoke and tropical fruits. Lots of sour fruits too (cider apples,
white peaches, kiwi). Getting rather rubbery, with some silver polish.
A bit of liquorice, and then the peat arrives. Really beautiful. Apple
juice with pepper. Mouth: much punchier than the 43% would suggest.
Sharper than the 16yo, much more a straight shooter. Rooty, peaty,
with some lapsang soochong tea, celery. Quite some oak and tannins…
Rather long finish, perhaps just a bit bitter like some infused tealeaves.
A legend , for sure, very different from the current 16yo,(much rougher
and less sweet). 91 points.
|Lagavulin 1987 (46%, Samaroli, 324 bottles) Colour: white wine. Nose: quite grassy and peaty, herbal, on wild carrot leaves, roots and vegetables. Sweet like all young Lagavulins but otherwise quite rough. Too young? Mouth: big, bold, ultra-honeyed attack, which is strange with Lagavulin. Interesting! Otherwise it develops on the usual herbal, smoky notes… Sugared camomile tea, butter caramel, salted liquorice, white pepper… And excellent indie Lagavulin, no doubt, even if the officials still keep the upper hand. 88 points.|
The shore of the Lochindaal this morning, just in front of our house. It always rains on Islay, yeah, yeah...
Davin's Daily Drams - 8:15 AM - Davin writes: Day Four arrives and the dram data is mounting steadily in our (re)search for the perfect dram. Fifty-nine and counting so far. Thursday, while waiting for Serge & Olivier, Johannes, Peter and I toured Glengoyne and tasted some simply fabulous drams. Glengoyne is definitely making a big move towards the connoisseur's market and we tasted several cask samples including a marvelous 7yo sherry cask Glengoyne and a superb 10 yo. The winning malt of the day was the Glengoyne 31yo Vintage 1972 (57.9%, OB), cask 2968 at 92 points. We tasted this last year on the pirate ship Taora as a cask sample and it has translated well into the bottle.
Friday's Daily Dram winner has to be the the Oban 32yo we tried at the distillery, a fabulous vatting of five casks. I rated it Oban 32yo (55.1%, OB) 93 points. Dramming later at the Ardsheil Hotel in Campbeltown with The PLOWED Society a Dailuaine 1966 27yo (45.7%, Cadenhead) came a close second at 92 points.
Some fabulous drams were tasted Saturday including an old Lagavulin 12yo (43%, OB) from the early '80s; a wonderful dram that must have been the inspiration for the current 12yo cask strength. Fabulous at 92 points, but not as fabulous as a 1973 Longrow consumed on the (very) high seas on the ferry across to Islay. Longrow 1973 (46%, OB) 93 points.
Serge has described our time at Lagavulin but forgot to mention the days-end feasting on Islay seafood at the Port Charlotte Hotel with the folks from Bruichladdich. Duncan remembered Ho-Cheng from his time at the Academy last year. Jim McEwan was the star of course, with his stories. At one point he had about 3 people holding his various glasses while he used his hands to illustrate a point. It's easy to see why he is such an icon at the whisky festivals. Ho-Cheng: - a big hello from Duncan, and from the Maniacs, a big thank you for some spectacular tasting sample; it's gonna be tough to taste all the whisky we've got with us - probably close to 200 samples; Ahh - - check the Matrix in a few weeks if you really want to see some progress!
Reports in from Klaus and Mark this morning support my runaway facial hair. Klaus says it reminds him of a Canadian trapper. It's getting close to 9:00 this sunny, sunny, sunny Islay morning and the drams are calling. Bruichladdich open day awaits this afternoon, but first - on to the samples. More of Davin's Daily Drams in my next update.
|May 28, 2005 - After Oban and Sprinbank, it's Islay (and Lagavulin) time...|
|6:00 PM - Serge writes: Good, we finally made it to Port Ellen without puking the excellent old Longrows we had on the ferry. My God, the sea wasn't too friendly, to say the least! So, we decided to proceed immediately to Lagavulin, where we met our PLOWED friends again, including Malt Maniac Peter Silver, from NYC. The nosing session, led by the incredible duo Donald Rennwick-Iain MacArthur aka Pinkie was really excellent. We followed Lagavulin's maturating process through six different bourbon casks, from 4yo to 15yo. The problem was to choose which was the best, as even the very young 4yo had been highly enjoyable. The tour that followed was absolutely excellent too - quite a contrast with Springbank yesterday. It was Port Ellen's production manager who led the tour (great, great guy, thanks again!) And no need to say that the ManiacMobile already drew quite some attention in Kildalton...|
|Btw, here a just a few tasting notes I took on the ferry, before the sea went crazy: Longrow 7yo 1987/1995 (43%, Signatory, cask #136-138) There’s a charming old Scottish lady sitting just next to me while I’m having this Longrow on the ferry to Islay. She’s looking at me as if I were a Martian. It’s true that it’s 10:12 am… ;-). But when will the Scots support their products? Anyway, let’s taste it now now… Colour: white wine. Nose: peaty of course, but also quite grassy with lots of cooked butter. A bit of fresh radish, wet stone, perhaps some flour. Cold ashes too. Lots of vegetables… The peat is well here but it isn’t too bold. Mouth: sweet and peppery attack, not too far from a new make in fact. Quite grassy, cactus juice, grass juice… Some sweet pepper, French beans… Medium long finish, quite herbal, with some notes of gentian. I like it! 81 points.|
|Longrow 16yo 1974 (46%, OB)
Colour: light amber. Nose: starts with quite some camphor, menthol,
camomile tea, straw. Develops on guava, mango, fir tree, honey. Beautifully
complex, with the peat smoke underlining the whole. Whiffs of white
pepper. A great one, no doubt. Mouth: beautiful attack on all sorts
of dried herbal teas, crystallised tropical fruits (pineapple, mango).
Great peat, dried angelica, cold tea… Gets very spicy, with some
clove, cinnamon and lots of crystallised ginger and liquorice. Very
long finish, on tea. Just superb! 93 points.
Longrow 1973 (46%, OB) Colour: full amber. Nose: starts on a great mixture of sherry and peat. Then come the camphor and eucalyptus again, together with some notes of old books. A bit of cooked vegetables and soy sauce, smoked ham, bacon… It then gets very toffeeish and herbal, with some cooked red cabbage and chestnuts. Extremely complex again, even if it’s very different from the 1974 – the sherry I guess. Mouth: beautiful attack again, closer to the 1974 this time. Lots of crystallised tropical fruits, caramel, Chinese honey sauce, plum sauce. A magnificent whisky again. Lots of smoke and white pepper, celery, cooked wine sauce. Some chestnut honey. The finish is beautiful, on salted caramel and even balsamic vinegar. An even greater one! 94 points.
|11:00 AM - Johannes writes: The rough ride on the ferry to Islay gave us a whole new appreciation for the tiny ships that had to brave the waves and wind in the early days. The sea was quite spooky and walking on deck was a challenge in itself. Serge and Davin (or at least their stomachs) didn`t seem to enjoy the naval adventure quite as much as Olivier and myself, though ;-)|
9:20 AM - Johannes writes: The ManiacMobile
and four of the maniacs, waiting for the ferry at Kennacraig and more
than ready to proceed with some serious dramming on Islay... As you
can see, we plan to leave a lasting impression on the island - and
if we get in the mood to invite some sheep over for a few drams we
won't have any problems `giving them a ride`, so to speak. The ManiacMobile
will be officially christened on the ferry: the only problem will
be finding a bottle that;
I voted for the (less than impressive)
miniature `for visitors`that we received at the Springbank distillery
- but you`ll have to wait a while for my heartfelt rantings about
Springbank until I`ve settled down a bit...
Serge speaking – The day started perfectly as we drove from Inveraray to Oban under the sun. Err, I mean, it wasn’t raining yet. Willie MacDougall showed us around Oban - a very nice in-town distillery (much more to follow on maltmaniacs). He brought out bottles of the excellent 20 and 32 years old for us to taste and when he told us he had tasted the old 12yo only once, Olivier couldn’t resist and pulled two minis from his pocket. Willie was very pleased and did a H2H with the 12yo and the current 14yo. He liked both, it appears! Anyway, all that was great and it was already lunchtime when we headed towards Campbeltown.
<- Willie MacDougall (Oban) doing a H2H with our old 12yo and the current 14yo.
|The weather got worse and worse (worse than winter anywhere else) and when we reached Springbank, it was almost hell. We did the ‘commercial’ tour – nothing really special, some of us actually disliked the tour and I guess Johannes, for instance, will have two or three words to tell you about that soon (picture at the right: Springbank's courtyard). Anyway, the good news is that we met the PLOWED guys and that we had many drams together. Altogether, we had something like thirty different malts today. The best ones were the Obans, a Dailuaine 1966 by Cadenhead's, a Springbank 35yo 1969 by Adelphi, the Springbank 25yo 1975 ‘Frank McHardy’ and an old Highland Park 25yo OB. On the other hand, we had a Glen Scotia 1992 G&M C/S that smelled like gym socks. Terrible! Of course, detailed tasting notes of all malts we had will be published later on. Okay, today we’re heading towards Islay… Stay tuned!|
|May 27, 2005 - Invereray reached!|
|Serge speaking - Let's make this short and sweet: Davin, Johannes and Peter visited Glengoyne yesterday, together with some PLOWED fellows. Davin says that the new 'Scottsih oak' is even better than the first one but the star of the day was a 31yo 1972. They were the first to take a dram at Glengoyne's brand new outdoor bar. "Beautiful!" they said. They all say a big thanks to Stuart and Robbie. Other than that, Olivier and yours truly met with the guys at Glagow Airport and we got a Malt Maniacs Mobile at Arnold Clarke's Rental. Great, we'll be able to drive the Maniacs around on Islay! We're now heading towards Oban...|
Just a few tasting notes now - part of the drams we had at the George in Inveraray (but we brought the samples):
Brora 29yo 1971/2001 (50%,
DL Old Malt Cask, bottled April, 258 bottles) Colour: straw.
Nose: extremely Ardbeggish at first nosing, but with some added complexity,
it appears. Big, bold peat smoke together with some pink grapefruit
and lots of coastal notes such as fresh oysters and seaweed…
Extremely clean for such an old malt. Hints -just hints – of
perfumy notes à la Bowmore. Hints of cold ashes and wet stone
too, caramel crème. Really beautiful, even if a little austere
(which I like). Mouth: wow, very punchy and starting on some big,
bold notes of liquorice drops. It’s then very peaty, but in
the Talisker vein rather than like an Islayer (although it’s
much peatier than Talisker).. Huge smoke and lots of pepper and smoked
tea, thyme, dried parsley. Hints of bitter orange, crystallized kumquats,
mastic candies. Beautifully complex and superbly balanced. Finish:
very long and dry but not overpowering, on lapsang souchong tea and
green pepper. In, short, a classy Brora, even if it’s very dry
and less directly enjoyable than the totally stunning 30yo OB bottled
in 2004. 93 points (and thanks Bert).
|May 24, 2005 - better news|
|Some Ileachs just confirmed what I should have known before: the long term weather forecasts are useless for Islay. The week should be sunnier than expected - there's even a drought on the island these days. Serge.|
|May 24, 2005 - packing|
|Some Maniacs come up with strange ideas, sometimes. Davin just suggested we should bring some Hawaian shirts to Islay and Jura. Good idea, said Johannes, Hawaian shirts are for 'suave and sophisticated' people. Not too sure, especially when considering the weather forecast... Now, the lucky bastards at Bruichladdich have their open day on Sunday 29th... So, maybe we'll wear these shirts. Mark, Jim, please cancel the bagpipes, hire some steel drummers and prepare the cocktails! - Serge|
|May 17, 2005 - announcing our schedule (well, part of it)|
|May, Friday 27 - morning ->||Oban||June, Thursday 1 - 13:30 ->||Isle of Jura|
|May, Friday 27 - afternoon ->||Springbank||June, Friday 2 - 11:00 ->||Kilchoman|
|May, Saturday 28 - 13:00 ->||Lagavulin||June, Friday 2 - 13:30 ->||Bunnahabhain|
|May, Sunday 29 - afternoon ->||Bruichladdich|
|May, Monday 30 - 10:45 ->||Caol Ila|
|May, Monday 30 - 14:30 ->||Port Ellen Maltings|
|May, Tuesday 31 - 9:15 ->||Laphroaig|