Friday, August 31, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #150

R.I.P., Michael Jackson, March 27, 1942-August 30, 2007.



Glenlivet 30 yo
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
55.2% abv

£65


Malt Mission 150, yeah. But it is hard to celebrate when just a few hours after yesterday's post, I learned of the death of Michael Jackson, journalist, Beer Hunter, and Whisky Companion to millions. I am sorry Diana, but for me, this is a more significant mourning. Why I have not read the news about the death of Michael Jackson in any mainstream British media yet is shocking. His books were bibles to many, without ever needing to dub them as such himself. This is a man who never stopped working despite being plagued with Parkinsons, on top of diabetes. Honour, humility, and dedication personified. Michael Jackson not only gave the tasting format to the world of whisky(via the world of beer), but he gave a lot of the vocabulary, and most importantly, the confidence to hacks like me to start writing down my own whisky impressions. So, all Malt Missions are indebted to him, but here are the ones that cite Michael Jackson outright.

Apparently, Michael died during his morning routine, so, in his honour, I shall continue with mine.


Under the title, The Glenlivets and Their Like, R.J.S. McDowall writes in his 1967 book "The Whiskies of Scotland", "No excuse is needed for giving these whiskies pride of place amongst the malts, for not only has Smith's Glenlivet been the Queen of whiskies for over a hundred years but it has given its name to a whole family of whiskies." There are, or were, 23 different distilleries that used -Glenlivet as a suffix to their name, (Strathisla-Glenlivet, Glen Grant-Glenlivet, Dufftown-Glenlivet, etc.) creating a mythical glen of enormous proportions, with some distilleries using the suffix that were located over 20 miles from the glen of the river Livet.

The glen's remote location made it ideal for illicit distilling and in 1820 there were said to be 200 illicit stills in operation in and around the river Livet. At great personal risk from getting knived or worse by his illicitly-distilling neighbours, George Smith took a distilling license in 1823... and bought a couple of guns. For real. Objectors to the licensing, a regulation was seen as a violation of their liberty to conduct a traditional way of life, caused the destruction of at least one nearby distillery(in Deeside), and arson is suspected in the destruction of a few others.

More info and other Glenlivets enjoyed on the Malt Mission can be found HERE. I know a lot of you have asked me about the new Glenlivet XXV... it's coming to the mission soon (Malt Mission #199), I promise.

This expression is an independent bottling from a sherry cask, double rarity! It is one of the new releases from the Single Malts of Scotland series from Speciality Drinks/The Whisky Exchange. In fact this is a whole new line within that range... They have been bottling under Single Malts of Scotland for over a year now, and as good as those first releases were, they have somehow managed to avoid disappointment with each subsequent release. This most recent range is by far the largest yet, with crazy breadth (Tobermory, Macduff, Rosebank, 27yo Bunnahabhain, and 40yo Balblair... to name a few). This 30 year old Glenlivet and a 40yo Balblair are part of the Anniversary Selection series, a clever format with nice round numbers clearly stated on simple but stylish black labels. Great gift idea. And the price!?!?! Absolute bOnKeRs bargain... unless it's nasty. Let's find out.

TASTING NOTES:

Complex sherry! Spice, ginger, fresh fruits, dried fruits, and all sorts of wood: wet, varnished, pencil shavings, paper, and more. Peach pastries. Chocolate and red fruit handsoap. The floral, aromatic nature of Glenlivet is bound up in leather and complex oakiness... real S&M Glenlivet.

Great mouthfeel, with immediate flavours of cola or root beer and cocoa. Smoke? or is that just the sherried effect? Upon swallowing, big sherried oak erupts in three (at least!) directions: dry spices, fresh fruit, and, well, more oak! Dried hides, raw ginger,

SUMMARY:

Scrumptious. A true rarity. An insane bargain.

In a different mood or mindset (or for a different person) the oak could be cloying; like Tim himself from Speciality Drinks writes, "like a stick of cinnamon", which can be nice finely grated over creme brullée, but it sure ain't something you wanna chew on.

Malt Mission #146
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Malt Mission #148
Malt Mission #149

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #149


Benriach 12yo 'Heredotus Fumosus'
Pedro Ximenez Finish

Speyside Single Malt Whisky
46%

£28.50


Although the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2007 says that BenRiach is one of the easiest distilleries to find, we drove past it twice when we visited back in 2005. Clever university students...

BenRiach was opened in 1898, the same year as Benromach(tasted Monday), and it proved to be a pretty shitty time to open a distillery. The Pattison crash came just a few months later and a depression in the whisky industry naturally followed. The distillery was built as a sort of sister distillery to Longmorn who used barley malted on BenRiach's maltings floor through the post-Pattison years. It wasn't until 1965, a great era for the whisky industry, that BenRiach was refurbished and re-opened. The maltings continued to operate until 1999, are still in working condition, and will likely be used again by the current owners.

Intra Trading with Burn Stewart's former director, Billy Walker, purchased the distillery from Pernod Ricard (who had mothballed it in 2002) in 2004 and are the current owners. The core range consists of a peated and an unpeated line. The heavily peated expressions are called Curiositas (10yo, and currently on offer from an already great RRP at Royal Mile Whiskies) and Authenticus(21yo). They also have a 12, 16 and 20 year old, the latter of which is somewhat peaty and absolutely excellent(and also currently on offer at RMW!). But beyond that it all gets a bit confusing, especially for the newcomer to the wide world of whisky. BenRiach has released over twenty(!) limited editions since 2006 and rival Bruichladdich for an ever expanding range of whiskies with funky names and colourful labels. With an absolutely stellar core range, I kind of wish they would just pull in the reins a touch and focus on those before we all get scared away.

This is a limited release of 3180 bottles.
All BenRiachs tasted on the mission can be found HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

Old soft peaches, gummy bears, subdued sherry spice and sweet smoke. Lemon zest, fudge and a big cushion of peat.

Oak, old library books, toffeed malt and puffs of peat smoke. Floral among the dense earthiness. Drying sherry with herbs and some spice. Plastic and petrol in the finish, which I really enjoyed, against a oily background of hazelnuts, ginger and smoke.

SUMMARY:

Smoke, sherry, flowers and petrol. Really interetsing stuff, and so drinkable. There has been a similar sweet and sour element to all three of these BenRiach peated wood finishes, with the second maturation adding particular ornamentation, taking the flavour profiles in three distinct directions. But you can sense the consistent distillery character beneath it all, which I found really interesting. I would have to try these as a part of an evening to decide which was my favourite, but I can say it was probably not the port finished one.

Malt Mission #146
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Malt Mission #150

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #148


BenRiach 12yo 'Arumaticus Fumosus'
Dark Rum Finish

Speyside Single Malt Whisky

46% abv
£28.50


Yeah, these are peaty, smoky Speyside whiskies. Sound unusual? Well, it is, but far from unheard of, so don't feel stupid.

When William Teacher built Ardmore Distillery in Aberdeenshire in 1891, it was specifically intended to produce a heavily peated malt (and an unpeated one) to fill out the flavour profile of the still delicious Teacher's Highland Cream. Other blending houses made similar investments, and when Canadian company Seagram's bought Chivas Brothers, Longmorn and BenRiach were part of the deal. BenRiach's malting floors were then used to malt barley of varied peat levels for itself and for its neighbour (Longmorn) and they began laying down peated BenRiach for maturation and eventual use in various Seagram-owned blended whiskies.

Since BenRiach became an independently owned distillery in 2004 (more history tomorrow), they have continued to lay down peated whisky and have two standard peated expressions in their range: Curiositas(10yo) and Authenticus(21yo). They are both award-winning, critically acclaimed and enjoyed by yours truly (and his better half).

This particular expression is limited to 1740 bottles, the latin bit means 'smoky rum', and it is part of a 12yo peated wood finished series released June 28, 2007. All BenRiachs tasted on the mission can be found HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

Sweet and sour, savoury smokiness that comes with rum spice. Avocado, grass, smoked fish all wound up in red grapes and raisins and rum. Some oil paints, too.

Good body in the mouth. Wood, paper fire smoke, mackerel. Floral sweetness, coconut or papaya extract or vanilla or some kind of tropical sweetness that doesn't overplay its part. Long finish of apple skins, chevril, oak and peatsmoke.

SUMMARY:

Lightly coloured but heavily flavoured. Wonderfully well-integrated impressions on the nose spanning from phenolic to floral to feinty and ticking all the boxes for complexity. And a tight package on the palate, too. Very drinkable and would please any peat freak. All in all, a very satisfying smoky dram... from Speyside(!)

Malt Mission #146
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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #147


Benriach 12 yo 'Importanticus Fumosus'
Tawny Port Finish

Speyside Single Malt Whisky

46% abv

£28.50


This will be the first BenRiach to be enjoyed as a part of the Malt Mission, and the first of 3 new BenRiach releases we will be tasting over the next few days.

We will always remember our visit to BenRiach back in Spring 2005, as will everyone who was there with us. We were a big group of self-educating whisky nerds (and others along for the malt-infused ride, "cask strength is my favourite region") who spent 3 days visiting different historic and alcoholic locations in Speyside. Alan McConnochie, Master Distiller at BenRiach, welcomed us warmly and began to show us parts of this historic, and only recently resurrected, distillery (more history over the next few days). There were no rules, no roped-off areas, he didn't patronise us with rehearsed tour-talk, and he opened all the doors and effectively let us explore any area that we wanted at will. We all met by the kiln after some time where, surrounded by peat on three sides, he took us through a tasting of four of the distillery's expressions. A wonderful experience. Thanks, Alan!

This expression is limited to 2520 bottles and is part of a trio of heavily peated wood finishes. Yes, they each have the totally unnecessary latinisms that both attract and repel people, as was seen first-hand at the Whisky Fringe. I am not sure how it fares on shop shelves.

But how is the whisky?

TASTING NOTES:

Smoke underneath sour fruits. Coconut suncream. White pepper and lemon.

Not as sweet as expected, granny smith, then oak and (BOOM) smoke. Chewy density with some hospital characteristics: gauze, iodine, hand wash. A little but of chilli, ginger, and vinegar. Meringue sweetness and citrus linger with smoke through the finish.

SUMMARY:

Most port finishes I have tried simply don't work for me; they tend to give off smells of bile or baby sick/vomit. In this case, I found more in common with Bowmore's janitor's closet characteristic (on the nose). Sure, neither read like very positive impressions, but there they are, so take your pick. I would say that the port adds an island characteristic to this whisky, and with the added peat we do get something similar to a Ledaig or Bowmore.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #146


Benromach Peat Smoke
Speyside Single Malt Whisky

46% abv
£26

Another Speyside week on the Malt Mission. Sure, its a Bank Holiday Monday and Notting Hill Carnival, but there ain't no rest for the whik-sy. Well, sort of. Today's malt has been guest-tasted by JM and some of the Benromach info is blatantly lifted from author and historian Gavin D. Smith. View his site HERE.

"Back in 1983 the old Distillers Company Limited closed nine distilleries in an effort to cut over-supply and lower the level of the 'whisky loch.' Two years later, the firm went on to shut a further ten distilleries. Some of those silent distilleries are long gone, buried beneath retail and residential developments, but others have happier tales to tell. Tales of restoration and revival.

One such distillery is Benromach, built in 1898 on the outskirts of Forres, close to Elgin. Benromach closed in 1983, but was saved from oblivion by the internationally renowned Elgin-based independent bottler, wholesaler and retailer Gordon & MacPhail, who purchased the site in 1993 and set about reviving the distillery. It was subsequently reopened by HRH the Prince of Wales in its centenary year."

Benromach Peat Smoke uses the same intensity of peating as Laphroaig, 55 ppm. Gordon & Macphail has been produced a batch of peated malt annually and this one, matured in first-fill bourbon casks, is from 2000. It serves as a peated counterpart to the Benromach Traditional, a great value malt that has not yet appeared on the mission, but that I have used at tastings for years.

I tasted this at the Whisky Fringe, and tasted it with JM and Beth at the OddBins Wine Fair. They liked it and brought a bottle back to Canada with them. Again, these tasting notes are theirs.

TASTING NOTES:

Mineral water with a squeeze of lemon/lime, peat, iodine, wet steel, cantaloupe, damp organic (compost-y)

Nice thick, oily mouth feel. First banana popsicles or sorbet, mellowing into dry toast, salty soda crackers, then big peat. Grainy, dirty fresh spinach flavor. Evaporates and takes all the moisture out of my mouth. Feels like I drank a big bottle of cheap table chardonnay or ate a big bag of salty ballpark peanuts in the shell. Beth says the roof of her mouth feels like she scraped it on dry bread.

SUMMARY:

Mood whisky for sure. Not something I'm going to have more than one or two of at one sitting, but enjoyable and interesting just the same. It seems much simpler and more straight forward than the first time I had it, must have been influenced by something else that I'd been drinking that day... it was a wine and spirits fair, after all. Beth says it's her favorite in my collection right now (weird).

Back to Dr. Whisky typing now, fresh and fruity with great characteristics of bourbon maturation and waterfalls of peat. But I agree with JM, there is something about the dryness that works against the initial sumptuous mouthfeel. Overall, a tasty and well-priced treat from the happy-to-experiment Gordon & Macphail, and worth noting that it was really enjoyed by a woman who "doesn't like smoky whiskies".

Malt Mission #145
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Friday, August 24, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #145


Glenfarclas 30yo
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
43% abv
£105
$399(CAD)

This beauty has been around for a while and remains the oldest standard bottling in the Glenfarclas range. It was the overall trophy winner at the 1996 International Spirits Challenge, won Gold in 2005, and is one of the most respected distilleries in Scotland.

In 1912, a rival distiller is said to have written the Grants, "Of all the whiskies, malt is king, and of all the kings, Glenfarclas reigns supreme." Michael Jackson has called the distillery "top flight among Speysiders" and writes, "Experienced tasters usually place them in the top three [...] from this most distinguished district [...] They are excellent company at any time, and especially after dinner." In 2006, Whisky Magazine awarded Glenfarclas "Distiller of the Year".


One of the great assets Glenfarclas has is the fact that it remains family owned and run. "Being private doesn't affect the way we make whisky, but it does affect the way we run the business. We're not at the beck and call of money people in London, which means we can work and plan 24 years ahead, not 24 hours," says John Grant. Their endurance through 150 years of ups and downs is a testament to their ingenuity and long-term vision.

R.J.S. McDowall wrote in 1967, "The whisky is a fine full-flavoured malt, so popular with blenders, indeed, that most of it is sold before it is made." Things are certainly different today as Glenfarclas are VERY careful of where their casks end up and as far as I know, Glenfarclas can only be found in Glen Dowan and Isle of Skye blended whiskies.

It has been a great ride tasting my way through a part of the Glenfarclas range this week. Still haven't had the 21 (probably my favorite in the core range) for the mission but it was a tasty week nonetheless. All Glenfarclas tasted so far can be found HERE. Got a huge litre of the Glenfarclas 105 on my shelf (VERY well priced at duty free in Norway) that will keep me quite happy now that these drops are all gone. Big thanks to George Grant and Robert Ransom for being so friendly and sending me info, emails, and nectar.

TASTING NOTES:

Butterscotch, cherries, rum and raisin. A whisky you can smell from a metre away. Big and dense but completely welcoming. Toasty and slightly smoky with some concentrated orange syrup, too.

Big, wet kiss of sherry, spicy oak and spoonfuls of melted chocolate. It has been called 'christmas cake in a glass' but I hate christmas cake, so I would instead suggest brandy and/or cognac, molasses, chocolate brownies, almond extract, and a whole load of sumptuous oak. After such a big, bold flavour, the finish seems short, but at a piano volume chocolate, red grapes, and oak can be heard singing for minutes.

SUMMARY:

Extremely sexy, indulgent, and well balanced. The sherry is huge, but does not dominate or kill the malt. The sherry is perhaps the key of the piece, but the melody is surely played by other instruments. And for the price (not including that in Totalitario)!? Find me another 30yo proprietary bottling from a prestigious distillery for around £100! Amazing.

It is crazy to think of thanking your Grandfather for a whisky, but in this case, the Grant's have to appreciate the work of their fathers and fathers' fathers. Kind of makes me feel that people shouldn't be allowed to drink whisky older than themselves because they simply won't have the perspective to appreciate it. Does a 21 year old really understand what 30 years feels like? I do still find it such a romantic feature of scotch malt whisky that it can condense time in a glass, bringing decades, and in the Grants' case, generations of family together. Gotta respect that.

Malt Mission #141
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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #144

Glenfarclas 15
Glenfarclas 15 yo
Speyside Single Malt Whisky

46% abv

£33
£80(USD)

Sorry for delay in posting again today. It is pissing rain, my internet has been down, and I have a PhD deadline that makes a dram in the morning make less sense than usual... not that I would miss it for the world. So I took some notes this morning and brought them with me to the British Library where I am writing this post. It is as close as I've come to having a whisky in the the library, something I mentioned back at Malt Mission 55.

Glenfarclas has some notable distillery features that I think I have mentioned before but whatever. All my books are at home... although I am sure they have a few here... NO. No more time-wasting, Simmons!

The mash tun is the largest in the industry and the stills are the biggest in Speyside, direct-fired by gas.
They are proudly independent company and have gone to great lengths in the past to keep their whisky, but mainly their name, off the independent bottling companies' product lists. And if you ever see an independent bottling of this stuff, please do two things:
1) buy one (or two?)
and
2) Don't tell anyone with the surname 'Grant'.

It is worth noting that between the Gelnfarclas 10, the 12, and the 15, we have gone up in abv in 3% increments.

All Glenfarclas enjoyed on the mission can be found HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

Fistfuls of juicy sherry, yeasty malt, and some smoke. Hehe... it's not just the box that looks like it belongs (as wallpaper) in gentleman's club, this stuff SMELLS like a gentleman's club: cologne, tobacco, newpapers, polished wood tables, leather... Hearty and burly.

Lively and assertive in the mouth, wonderfully integrated flavours. Perfumy sherry, gets buttery with spice, oak and malt. A slightly green element (celery? balsam resin? fennel?) in the middle. Some amaretto in the long, oaky finish.

SUMMARY:

Full-on and ballsy. A malt that calls attention to a conundrum of sorts that I have encountered on occasion: is it simple or complex? Now I am not using either term as evaluative or judicial, just as descriptors. The flavours are so primal or primary, painted on in confident brushstrokes, that it could be considered simple. At the same time, to perhaps a more sophisticated nose and palate than mine, the subtlety beneath the applications of these brushstrokes or colours on the canvas of my mouth could reveal great complexity. I dunno. Doesn't really matter much. This is award-winning, critically-acclaimed whisky that, and here is something I do feel qualified to evaluate, is a great bang-for-buck malt.

Malt Mission #141
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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #143


Glenfarclas 12 yo
Speyside Single Malt Whisky

43% abv

$50 (USD)

Gaelic anyone? 'Glen' means valley and 'farclas' means green grassland, according to George Grant. To hear a great interview with him click over to Whisky Cast's July 29th episode (listen HERE).

In the 1890s Glenfarclas was shared half and half between the Grant family and Pattison's of Leith. This proved to be a pretty catastrophic partnership for the Grants as Pattison's had forged a dynasty on credit and some questionable business practices. When the Pattison' crash came they took down nine other businesses with them and were found guilty of fraudulent flotation, fraud and embezzlement. The intelligence and persistence of John and George helped them survive this collapse and they formed J&G Grant in 1898 and a decade later they were one of the highest regarded distilleries in Speyside.

All Glenfarclas tasted on the mission can be read HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

Outdoorsy, earthy, with swamp and moss, clay and hay. Sunflower seeds, peanut oil, with sherried oak and a bit of maple.

Soft and firm and rich with peat smoke, eggwhites, cabbage, and some bready sweetness. Almost sour or sulphury reined in by a fruity sweetness that never goes too far in the other direction. Short finish of caramel, big oak and a touch of plastic. Or maybe not that short. Still lingering oak... still caramel...still...

SUMMARY:

A totally different experience to the 10yo, but impressive for exactly that reason. Good balance of flavours between sweet and sour, if a bit heavy on flat oak in the finish.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #142


Glenfarclas 10yo
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
40% abv
£24
$40(USD)

The story of Glenfarclas is the story of a series of Johns and Georges. The distillery is located on Rechlerich farm at Ballindalloch and has been owned by the cattle farming Grant family since 1865. To this day it has remained in private family ownership (one of only a few distilleries) and produces some of the best value malt whisky out there.

Why?

With a few exceptions, all scotch whiskies are matured in casks or barrels that used to hold something else, commonly ex-bourbon or ex-sherry casks. Yeah, if you are reading this than you probably already know this, but bear with me for the benefit of new whisky nerds.

Glenfarclas uses a mix of sherry casks and 'plain casks'. They use no first fill bourbon barrels. Plain casks are bourbon casks that have already been used once for (Scottish) whisky OR sherry casks that have already been used four times to mature whisky. They are 'plain' because they can no longer be said to impart the flavours of their previous occupants and are thus 'plain', yielding just the flavours of oak. Sherry casks are 10 times more expensive than bourbon casks and this is where to good value of 'Farclas comes in.

It is not that sherry casks are 'better' than bourbon ones, it is just a supply and demand issue that dictates the price. There is a shortage of sherry casks available to the Scottish whisky industry and an abundance of bourbon casks as in America oak barrels can be used only once to mature whiskey thanks to the logging lobby in years gone by. They are also bigger and generally do not need to be re-coopered into different sizes.

Glenfarclas has a wide range of standard releases and have recently introduced the Family Cask line which are a series of vintages from 1952 to 1994. In the words of George Grant, "We hopefully have a whisky to suit everybody's palate, and obviously, also a whisky to suit everybody's wallet." Good attitude. This week we are lucky enough to try a few bottlings from their core range. We have already tried Glenfarclas 105 and the Glenfarclas 25yo which I chose as one of the top 3 drams tasted in the first 100 Malt Missions.

TASTING NOTES:

Light but rich and alluring. Red plums, treacle, raw ginger. Sherry, apples, malty sweetness and spices.

Soft and creamy. Wood. Tobacco, malt, and a touch of smoke. Vanilla and other spices taper the short-ish finish.

SUMMARY:

I am certain than some Glenfarclas we will have later in the week will be full-on dessert drams, well this is a real appetiser. Stimulating, light but rich. Great natural colour. In the mouth one could guess this was a much older whisky. Good package of flavour with the dry oakiness verging on flatness but saved by great balance against sherry and barley sweetness. Great budget malt, especially for a sherry fan.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #141


Macleod's Speyside 8yo
Single Malt Whisky

40% abv

£19


Two words: Whisky Fringe. Amazing. The independents absolutely shine at this event (through the stained glass... what a gorgeous venue!!!) Congrats again to the Royal Mile Whiskies team for putting on such a great couple of days.

We were exposed to the new Mackmyra 05, saw the new packaging for Douglas Laing's Old Malt Cask series (looks good; just an update not a complete re-do), and a few of us were lucky enough to try the new Glenmorangie range that has been a topic of hot gossip on several other whisky blogs, WhiskyCast, and whisky news sites. The Gordon & Macphail/Benromach table was stellar, Duncan Taylor/Whisky Galore continued to impress (you must try the 33yo Rarest of the Rare Deluxe Blend if you can), Ian Macleod Distillers had a chance to feature the value and depth of their range, and the fact that you couldn't turn left or right without meeting some very warm friendly folk says a lot not only about the people who make and market whisky, but about the men and women who drink it, too. Cheers to all of you!

This malt from the regional series from Ian Macleod Distillers will be starting off two Speyside weeks here on the Malt Mission. Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd. was founded in 1933 by Leonard Russell and his progeny still manage the independent Scottish company. Their range of brands is really quite impressive. In 2003, they acquired the amazing Glengoyne Distillery as well as Lang's blends. The rest of their range includes Smokehead, The Six Isles, Isle of Skye Blended Whisky, Chieftain's, Dun Bheagan, Hedges and Butler, Magilligan Irish Whisky, Macleod's Single Malt Whiskies, and more...

We will be trying the rest of this range
(highland, island, islay, lowland) as we have other regional themed weeks in the future. I guess we could have tasted them all in a row but I thought this would be more fun. The Macleod' Highland was one of the first full bottles of whisky I ever brought home. And I shared it. And we liked it. Others tasted on the mission will eventually be found HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

Polished oak and quite perfumy. Oak and malt work in parallel here rather than combining. Sherry is present but doesn't diminish the freshness of the barley impressions. Fresh vegetables from a garden. In fact, that brings to mind summer soups which also share the freshness character with this dram. Gazpacho. I used to hate when my dad made that stuff, but I love eating it now.

Oak again. Buttery sherry start that collapses mid palate. Green maltiness, seed oils (and petrol oils?) with herbal flavours and some peppery ones, too. Sherry in the finish with glossy magazine paper and synthetic cinnamon.

SUMMARY:

I wasted the first three minutes with this dram trying to figure out from which distillery it came. NERD! Then I wasted the next two figuring out what that soup was called that my dad used to make. Sorry.

Can't lie to you, I'm not nuts about this, but it is cheap as chips and a great entry point for beginners on their own malt missions. For the time being, anyways, it is on roughly the same price point as a few other bottles that I would recommend first (or soon after), but this makes a fine introduction to what combinations of flavours distinguish one region from another... if we can even continue to generalise about things like that.

Malt Mission #140
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Friday, August 17, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #140


Springbank 1997
Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky

55.2% abv
£36.50


28 weeks of (liver) drammage and the malt mission is still going strong. Thanks for reading, even when things get a bit dry. Tired. Stressed. Busy. Lazy.

So here is Springbank's newest offering, a bottling from 1997 in a slick black box. YES! A black box that will actually record the flight path from bottling plant in Campbeltown to your local whisky shop past your gums and out your wazoo. Back to form, indeed.

Selected by Frank McHardy and Stuart Robertson from re-charred sherry butts, the packaging is not the only thing that makes this stuff stand out in the Springbank family of whiskies. This vintage is a batch release of 11,000 bottles.

I have read/heard "value buy" applied to this malt since its release recently, but many look at this price and scream (or post quietly in civil whisky forums) "cult prices!" Well... yeah. This is Springbank. Not some whisky factory that runs 6 days a week 51 weeks a year. The still operate 4-6 months tops and there IS a cult following despite the grumbling of whisky nerds in recent years. But £37? Worrying for the future of quality budget malts but people will gobble this stuff up. Don't believe me or just cRaZy for Springbank? Have a browse at some of the older releases that have become the stuff of whisky legend/wet dreams of many a whisky nerd HERE and HERE.

Thanks to The Whisky Exchange for the drop. Don't miss Whisky Fringe in Edinburgh this weekend. Eat more vegetables. Tell your sweetheart you love him/her. Stop reading this.

For more info, all Springbank posts can be found HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

Heavy, weighty, meaty. Tapioca pearls, Irn Bru, cream soda. Sheep. Butter.

Heavy, weighty, thick. But lively. Honey and peanut butter. Gauze. Tea. Rye. Healing creams. Late development of spice, smoke, and some green characteristics through the shortish finish. Beansprouts and water spinach.

SUMMARY:

Time in the glass benefits this one as the initially dominant burnt caramel character gives way to a complex array of aromas and flavours. Water exposes quite a bit both on the nose and palate. Still, not very Springbank-y, but wholly enjoyable.

Malt Mission #136
Malt Mission #137
Malt Mission #138
Malt Mission #139

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #139


Springbank 15 yo
Cambeltown Single Malt Whisky
46% abv
£42

It is my birthday. I apologise to some of you keeners for the late posts over the past few days, been busy in the run-up to today's birthday lie-in. Ah. And it gets better: Kristin is making me blueberry pancakes.
Right, down to business...

Some believe that the art and science of whisky making arrived on the shores of Scotland first touching down on the Kintyre peninsula via Antrim in Northern Ireland. The area provided ample amounts of peat, had a coal mine within easy reach, and perfect sea access to the ports of Glasgow and the wide world of whisky.

Located in Campbeltown on the Kintyre peninsula, Springbank is still a 'traditional' distillery, growing and malting a good deal of its own barley, using local peat, maturing every drop of their product on site, and bottling most of it there, too.

Springbank uses one wash still and two spirit stills. The wash still is unique in being direct fired (gas) as well as using steam coils. They are the only distillery producing three different whiskies (Springbank, Longrow, Hazelburn) and have inspired other distilleries to try similar projects (Bruichladdich, Tomintoul/Ballantruan, Edradour, etc.)

This 15yo followed the short and limited release of a 21yo (2005). For more info, all Springbank posts can be found HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

Chordal in the nose. Harmonious. Split impressions between coastal aromas up high, a sweet maltiness in the middle, and warming sherry down low. Orange, salt and sugar. Yeasty, with coconut and strawberry jam.

Creamy with a great bourbon and sherry balance. Spicy, oaky, and the Springbank maritime presence is felt. Long oaky finish.

SUMMARY:

A beautifully struck chord, sustained for minutes. Won't be ideal for everyone's tastes but certainly has a little something for everyone. Hillwalker? Enjoy this at the top of some Ben or deep in some Glen. Fisherman? Have some this perched on a sea struck rock. Smoke? Grab a cigar or pipe and suck it back with a dram of this stuff in your hands. Whatever, just enjoy it. Very nice whisky outdoors, indoors, above or below sea level, or as a cigar malt.

Malt Mission #136
Malt Mission #137
Malt Mission #138
Malt Mission #140

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #138


Longrow 10yo, 100 Proof
Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky
57% abv
£39.50

Spingbank Distillery produces three different styles of malt whisky on the same site, each having different phenolic contents (peat levels) measured in parts per million (ppm) and each using slightly different distillation methods: Springbank is a 12-15ppm expression, distilled two and a half times, Hazelburn is a completely unpeated malt distilled three times, and this style, Longrow, is distilled twice and around 50-55 ppm using malt peat kilned for 36-48 hours. Older expressions are peatier because the kilning used to be 55 hours.

The original Longrow distillery was built in Campbeltown in 1824 and was closed in 1896. The distillery was demolished and the site is now occupied by Springbank's car park and one of the remaining warehouses is still used for storing whisky.

The first distillation of Longrow at Springbank was in 1973. This 100 proof version was released in 2006.

TASTING NOTES:

Lemongrass, salt and prawns; a very Thai impression. Peppery cocktail salts, lime and oat cakes.

Vanilla that gets gobbled up by the salty/peppery character with smoke and a pleasant chewiness. Coal. Lingering oak and smoke. Lip-smacking.

SUMMARY:

Thick, proud, and showing no intentions to behave in public. Really quite exhilarating with that citrus, salt and pepper zing often found in tequila. But don't get me wrong, this is clearly a malt-based spirit. Delicious and refreshing. The margarita of malt whiskies.

Malt Mission #136
Malt Mission #137
Malt Mission #139
Malt Mission #140

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #137


Springbank 10 yo, 100 proof
Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky

57% abv

£35


Springbank is the one of the 'last men standing' from the heyday of Campbeltown distilling. "The Whisky City" was employing 250 people in the whisky industry and pumping out nearly 2million gallons of whisky per year when Alfred Barnard visited in 1887.

Founded in 1828 and taken over by the Mitchell family in 1837, Springbank is still a family-run distillery making it the oldest continuously family-run distillery in Scotland. The region became known for 'stinking fish' whisky and most of the distilleries went out of business by the 1930s. Glen Scotia and Springbank survived... barely. Springbank has the reputation of producing one of the world's best single malts, no matter what grumblings were being passed about over the past 5 years. It isn't a whisky that suits everyone's tastes, but those who like it like it a lot. And when it's 'on', it can be heavenly.


Springbank is still run in a very unique way (more on this later in the week). Michael Jackson writes, "without a hierarchy of marketing policy makers, the three or four people who run the business on a daily basis taste regularly and bottle what they think is good and ready." Sounds like a good system to me.

This Springbank 100 proof(British proof) version was launched in 2004. It won Loch Fyne Whiskies' Bottling of the Year 2004. Good morning, Sunshine!

TASTING NOTES:

Light and fresh. Sweet lemony maltiness, slightly sour. Salt and a sunflower seed sort of nuttiness. Musty oak and rich toffee. Complex.

Gentle impact with a big follow-up of salt and spice, cloves and fresh raw fish. A vanilla and toffee character too that rides into an ever lasting cod liver oil-meets-musty oakiness.

SUMMARY:

Great maturity for the age that hides the potential pain of the abv. Fresh and appetising. Rides a bit close to the sea for my tastes, but I am a wimp. If I take a cod liver oil pill I taste it all day. Satisfying and complex, but a definite mood whisky.

Malt Mission #136
Malt Mission #138
Malt Mission #139
Malt Mission #140

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #136


Campbeltown Loch 15 yo
Blended Scotch Whisky
40%

£25


The story of the disappearance of some 32 distilleries in Campbeltown is both sad and instructive. At the beginning of the last century, Campbeltown was the whisky capital of Scotland. By 1925 only two distilleries remained. Exactly why is complicated and open to debate, but it has much to do changes in methods of transport, the Great war, the depression, prohibition in the U.S., but also with the worsening reputation of Campbeltown malts in the eyes of blenders (poorer distilleries were filling to exhausted casks and speeding up distillations during the boom of the 1890s and the tough economic times during the war and the 1920s). With the opening of Glengyle in 2004, there are currently three working distilleries in Cambeltown. This week we will try a few drops from the distilleries of the Mull of Kintyre. For more Campbeltown info see David Stirk's book The Distilleries of Campbeltown.

William Cadenheads is the Scotland's oldest independent bottler on the market and started business in 1842 in Aberdeen. Originally famed for their excellent Demerara rums, Cadenheads is legendary for bottling excellent single cask, cask-strength, non-chill-filtered whiskies. Cadenheads was taken under the umbrella of J&A Mitchell and Springbank Dilstillers Ltd. in 1969 and operates out of three very adorable shops in the UK: Campbeltown in Scotland, Covent Garden in London and on the Canongate (the bit of the Royal Mile nearer the palace than the castle) in Edinburgh. They also have shops in Cologne and Amsterdam.

Named after the lake that is dreamed to be full of whisky in the song of the same name, Campbeltown Loch has been a J.A. Mitchell family blend for decades. The critically acclaimed Campbeltown Loch 25yo was replaced in recent years by the 21yo and this 15yo is the new member of the family and was released at the same time as the new 1997 vintage Springbank.

Enjoyed with Colin Harvey whose notes appear in quotes. Rest assured it has been enjoyed a few times since; the lovely guy left the bottle here...but not until after he had made the rounds on our shelf. Cheers, Colin.

TASTING NOTES:

Health club, hazelnuts, chlorine and perfumed shower soap. "Nut oil, lanolin, woolly." Cheroots. "Huh?" Little earthy, bark-y cigars. Shortbread. Spicy and herbal. Prawns. Wisp of smoke, even slightly sulphuric. Time in the glass lets this stuff open up its ever-developing nose.

Outdoors sweetness, earthy, slightly metallic fishing tackle and worms. Toasty bourbon cask rolls around in the mouth. "Toast proper, as in out of the toaster... having scraped off the black bits". "Maritime creaminess... That sounds stragely filthy" Crab meat. Short.

SUMMARY:

The black label is a brilliant choice. Looks very cool.
Largely consistent between nose and palate, but seems to fall just short of impressive. Hey, this is totally tasty, rich whisky, with a great malt character that absolutely schools the grain, but I guess it is the memory of the 21 (or 25... mmm) that haunts every impression. Tough competition. Thoroughly enjoyable and good value.

Malt Mission #135
Malt Mission #137
Malt Mission #138
Malt Mission #139
Malt Mission #140

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Edinburgh and the Whisky Fringe

Whisky Fringe EdinburghWhisky Fringe 2007
August 18 and 19, 2007
Mansfield Traquair
2-6pm
£15

Another opportunity to be back in Edinburgh and I couldn't be more excited for next weekend. I missed Royal Mile Whiskies' amazing Whisky Fringe last year and can't wait to meet great whiskies and great people in a house of God again. Used to live there, too, so it will be great to see old faces and places.

Edinburgh is a town blessed with a stink of history that wafts(sometimes literally) over its streets. From the odours of brewing to the stenches of piss, Edinburgh remains Auld Reekie.

Beer and whisky have always had a home in Edinburgh(and Leith). The hard water produced unique drinks and folks found that beer in Edinburgh took less time to produce. The great mix in Old Edinburgh of richer and poorer made the city very unique (at least until 1767 when James Craig designed a 'New Town' to accommodate the professionals of the capital). As soon as people started brewing their own beer they began to sell it in pubs and Inns up and down the Royal Mile. Adam Smith, David Hume, Robbie Burns, James Boswell and Samuel Johnson (among others) all enjoyed the 'dark and heavy', 'nappy', or 'small ale' in these establishments. Uisgebeatha, too, no doubt.

Edinburgh has an abundance of great pubs and restaurants that can be enjoyed in comfort all year round... well, at least for 10 months of the year. Around the Edinburgh Festival(an array of different festivals that all fall under this title) in August and the delights of a gorgeous city in lights around Christmas and Hogmanay, Edinburgh's population of 500,000ish swells to THREE TIMES that number.

But you can always find a lovely pub, a place of community and relaxation, of laughs and conversation, good ales and great spirits. In choosing your watering hole, always follow the advice beautifully articulated by Ian Rankin, author of the Inspector Rebus Edinburgh-based crime novels: "Never drink in a bar with bouncers on the door. If they're expecting trouble, trouble is probably on its way."

One of my favourites that I am really looking forward to visiting is Bennets Bar which survived the many renovations of the 1970s, "the decade taste forgot," with its long bar complete with dimples from years of resting canes, its Edwardian decor, ornate polished wood fixtures and tiles, and of course, its splendid array of single malt whiskies. Sure, many bars have an extensive whisky list, but Bennets has always made that list intentionally affordable, although that has changed (only slightly) in recent years. The other stellar whisky-related feature is the frosted glass window in the front that reads the name of what was effectively the first blended whisky brand, Andrew Ushers Old Vatted Glenlivet. And there is something about the way they serve or the temperature of their 80/- that makes it go down like no other... well, maybe Port o Leith down on Constitution St.

Gets me drooling right now.

buy tickets for Whisky Fringe

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #135


Bunnahabhain 33 yo, 1971
cask #6248, 204 bottles
Islay Single Malt Whisky
46% abv
£80*

Please insert Duracell, Viagra, and Bruce Willis-as-an-action-hero comparisons here. Yes, I'm still going. Thanks for reading. We've got a bunch of tasty drops in the pipeline. If there is ever anything you think I should try/you want me to try, get in touch. The doctor is always in.

This marks the end of two Islay weeks here on the mission. Sure, it wasn't always a delight to down peated whisky in the AM, but it was certainly memorable. If you need more Islay in your life, go shopping (see links to the left) or read:
- Andrew Jefford's excellent "Peat Smoke and Spirit"
- Islay(and Jura)'s community newspaper The Ileach
- And be sure to check out Armin's informative and fun Islay Blog.

Just to clarify the pronunciation notes I gave for "Bunnahabhain" a few days ago, listen to this.
(Lamb)BHUNA(Yee)HAW(ha)VIN(me some fun tonight).

Although affectionately called 'Bunny' by many, we all know no one would appreciate such a nickname. Even with the best intentions, it would come off sounding a bit condescending, no? Like calling your buddy Constantine 'Tiny', Anthony 'Ant', or Kincaid 'AIDS'. All Bunnahabhains tasted as a part of the Malt Mission can be found HERE.

This is an independent bottling from Royal Mile Whiskies. Thanks for the taster, guys. AND DON'T MISS their amazing WHISKY FRINGE 2007 next weekend (Aug18-19). It is an absolutely incredible event: all the great independent exhibitors and the big boys too, great masterclasses, no patronising drink limits, gorgeous historic Edinburgh venue, fewer know-it-all whisky nerds than WhiskyLIVE, and a great ticket price that includes a discount on Royal Mile Whisky goods. I think there are still some tickets for Sunday(when the stands open all their fancy old stuff).

* - I think this was the price. Doesn't really matter; it was a brilliant price and they're all gone now anyways, so who cares?

TASTING NOTES:

Baked goods, apple pie, incredible oaky vanilla, butter tarts, honey, and a tingly ocean presence of salt and sand. Very appetising, mellow, malty, and seductively sweet.

Great impact, very Bunnahabhain. Ocean wave delivers honey and vanilla, oak and malt, then the wave breaks with salt, thyme, some saffron, and chicken broth. Wide spectrum of rolling flavours, if you know what I mean, and I am convinced I am getting earth, peat, but not smoke, in the finish with a mouthwatering oakiness that stimulates all corners of my mouth.

SUMMARY:

Love it. Great bourbon cask characteristics shine through the Bunnahabhain salty tang and honeyed malt, never losing its distillery character despite 33 years in oak. Could drink this all day, I mean, night (TGIF)
A most charming thirty-something... know anyone who fits that description?


Malt Mission #131
Malt Mission #132
Malt Mission #133
Malt Mission #134

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #134

Bunnahabhain XXV Whisky Tasting Notes
Bunnahabhain 25 yo
Islay Single Malt Whisky
43% abv

£155

$275(USD)


Charmless prisoner of war camp or delightfully derelict distillery? Some people love the look of Bunnahabhain while others hate it. I personally love the isloation of these grey pebble-dashed buildings on the "north pole" of Islay with their fantastic views across the sound to Jura and the apocalyptic silence that befalls them on a Sunday.

Owned by Burn Stewart Distillers since 2003, Bunnahabhain joins Tobermory and Deanston in CL World Brands' portfolio. Okay, nothing to get all dreamy about, but amazing to learn that Bunnahabhain fetched more than Bruichladdich or Ardbeg when each were purchased in 2000 and 1997 respectively. The company owns the brilliant Black Bottle (Malt Mission #2 and winner of best budget blend in the first 100 posts), as well as Hine Cognac, Belvedere Vodka, and Angostura Bitters.

Since the 1960s, Bunnahabhain has been (with a few experimental exceptions under Edrington in 1991 and 1997, one called Moine released at Feis Isle 2004) been producing unpeated malt whisky. Supply shortages from a decade of neglect meant that the 12yo actually contained older whiskies and, if true, this will likely remain the case for about 7 more years... by my math anyways. This 25 year old bottling, Bunnahabhain XXV, came into the world in 2005 in a limited release of 400 bottles.

All Bunnahabhain tasted in the Malt Mission can be found HERE.

"And it's goodbye to care..."

TASTING NOTES:

Sweet corn, and full of sea characteristics with sumptuous malty honey notes beneath. Cornbread, horse feed, Rolos, Raisin Bran.

Slightly oily impact really fills the mouth, succession of flavours from toffee, chamomile, sherry, and general spice to chocolate-y oak, parsley and mint.

SUMMARY:

Very good, reasonably rare, and quite pricey. Not a very different impact that the 18yo in Malt Mission 132, honey, sherry, and a gripping astringency that tickles the palate. The common criticism has been that this malt is a bit flat. While this might be true for many drinkers, I find the excitement just happens earlier than with most malts and I find this characteristic in all Bunnahabhains; could be the casks, could be the water source, could be the onion shaped stills... The point is all the action is up front in a nearly undissectable nucleus of flavours that erupts on impact, easily overlooked, easily missed for those of us in the habit of waiting to see what happens. This whisky gives an early explosion of flavour that the soft "flat" oakiness of the finish can not possibly compete with. As a result, this stuff has you reaching for more with anticipation. Or trepidation as you watch your bank balance disappear in £155 increments...

Malt Mission #131
Malt Mission #132
Malt Mission #133
Malt Mission #135

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #133


Bowmore 25yo
Islay Single Malt Whisky

43% abv

£170

$199(CAD)

$200(USD)*


Replacing the old 25yo in 2003, this Bowmore 25 year old has charmed the pants off critics the world over, including the ever-quotable F. Paul Pacult. Bowmore always manages to get a buzz going.

Their heat-exchange system mentioned in Malt Mission 131 was awarded the Green Apple Award for its environmental commitment in 2004. In 1993 the legendary Black Bowmore (1964) was launched. This is an extremely rare expression that originally went for £100 and now fetches up to £500 per dram at posh hotel bars. The 2nd and 3rd editions followed in 1994 and 1995 and today, when found, go for well over £2000. Bowmore always seems to fare quite well at the World Spirits Competition in San Francisco where
the new 18yo (tasted Monday) won Best in Show 2007, the same accolade that this 25yo won back in 2004. This year it won double gold in its category.

Bowmore created a series of videos for their website and for the YouTube (etc.) world that can be viewed HERE. Not all that boring either.

* - I have seen this listed for as high as $300(USD). Ah, freedom. Folks in Ontario (with cash to spare), note the great price at the LCBO. The packaging has officially been changed, so get this while you can... if you can... pretty box and all.

All Bowmores tasted on the mission can be read HERE

TASTING NOTES:

Very concentrated package. Generally sweet with sherry and tropical fruits. Shellfish. Rancio (in all senses of the word; mature, oxidized and almost rancid). Caribbean stew. Peat? None that I can detect.

Simultaneously (dry) sherry sweet and mango-skin bitter. Lavender. Some smoke appears now, along with some tobacco and spice. Wild mushrooms. Satisfying wave of flavours that tapers quite quickly into a oak dryness with gently lingering impressions of sea air, sherry and ink.

SUMMARY:

This is all cask and oxidation. Sweet creamy peated malt is lost and is much needed to balance the flavours. A very Bowmore nose, but at this age really walks a fine line between pleasant and nauseating. Time in oak has reduced some of the aromas to butyric smells. And while the taste is pleasant and complex, catching a whiff as you bring the glass near you face does not encourage another sip... at least not for me. Serge Valentin seemed to like it. As have others (Michael Jackson, P. Paul Pacult, friends).

Malt Mission #131
Malt Mission #132
Malt Mission #134
Malt Mission #135

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #132


Bunnahabhain 18 yo
Islay Single Malt Whisky
43%
£50
$95(USD)

Bunnahabhain (boo-na-havin') means 'mouth of the river' and has been dubbed "the gentle taste of Islay" due to the comparative 'lightness' among Islay malts. The river is its water source, River Margadale, that runs with hard, slightly peaty water. And the gentle taste does not mean Bunnahabhain lacks character or complexity.

Like many Scottish malt distilleries, Bunnahabhain has had a patchy production history. The distillery was founded in 1881 (same year as fellow Islay malt, Bruichladdich) and began production in 1883. The distillery operated for just two years between 1930 and 1947, only to close again in 1982. Production began again in 1984 and in 1999 Edrington became Bunnahabain's new owner and celebrated by mothballing the distillery, allowing a few weeks of production per year. In 2003 Bunnahabhain was sold (along with Black Bottle) to Burn Stewart Distillers for no small fee.

2005 saw the expansion of the range, albeit a limited one (1500 bottles) when the standard 12 year old was joined by an 18 year old and 25 year old. We'll be introduced to both of those this week. Thanks to The Whisky Exchange for the samples.

Last Bunnahabhain I had as a part of the mission was back at Malt Mission #17


TASTING NOTES:

Honey, toasty malt at the heart of this. Salty and oily. Aloe. Sour apples and a slight chemical smell. I have heard it described as spray paint and would go along with that.

Nice sherry impact with honey malt throughout. Not soft or gentle, but rugged like the road between the distillery and the ferry at Port Askaig (which actually isnt that rugged, so maybe a bad comparison...) But a slightly astringent, aggressive impact. Suprising at this strength, but so be it. Yields a lot of rich flavours (honey, sherry, oak, baked apples, fresh bread, toasted pine nuts) but it all vanishes quickly in a hot dry puff of sherry and raw pork.

SUMMARY:

Bunnahabhain is a drinking whisky. When I lived in Scotland the 12yo was found on optic in many pubs and I assure you no one was nosing it when they ordered a dram. This whisky is big and rich, a touch feisty, without hanging around too long, encouraging another sip, and subsequently another serving. Fine. But bloody expensive.

Malt Mission #131
Malt Mission #133
Malt Mission #134
Malt Mission #135

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Monday, August 06, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #131


Bowmore 18yo
Islay Single Malt Whisky
43% abv
£50
$85(USD)

Another week of Islay malts on the Malt Mission. Every whisky we'll be having will be old enough to vote in most countries and old enough to drink (itself) in others. And they'll all start with the letter 'B'.

Bowmore is the most visited distillery on Islay and has just relaunched(January 2007) their core range with minimal fanfare but much critical acclaim. The new 18yo won Double Gold and Best In Show at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2007. The new packaging is carefully designed to make the name "BOWMORE" more visible on shop or bar shelves and uses a colour scheme to identify each whisky: Legend(Grey), 12(Black), 15/Darkest(Maroon), 18(purple), and the sleek-looking 25yo (double black).

Former distillery engineer
Harry Cockburn put in place a groundbreaking and often-copied heat exchange system in 1982 that provides hot air for part of the malting, heating the mashing water, the wash and the low wines, the reception area, and, famously, the Bowmore swimming pool next door.

All Bowmores tasted on the mission can be read HERE

TASTING NOTES:

Faint woodsmoke weaving through tropical fruit sweetness, nutty oiliness, and some earthy, decomposing aromas. Compost compote. Damp and October/November-ish.

Big, horizontally expansive in the mouth with dry sherry and oak with some very sweet wine-type flavours, scenting cleaning agents, peat and pastries. Balanced finish, but of an odd combination of flavours: A funky peat, Harrod's perfume rooms, charity shop/second hand bookstores, stinky feet and bitter tea.

SUMMARY:

Odd, but intriguing. While this isn't exactly my thing, I know other folks who would just love it. Stands as a unique expression among the range, and reminds me somewhat of the profile of the old 15 year old.

Malt Mission #130
Malt Mission #132
Malt Mission #133
Malt Mission #134
Malt Mission #135

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Friday, August 03, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #130


Lagavulin 12 yo
Cask Strength
Islay Single Malt Whisky

58.2% abv (4th release)
£51.89
$105 (CAD)
$120(USD)

While Lagavulin does not foster the same cult following as its neighbour Ardbeg, it is still a legend among whisky drinkers new and old. I have met countless folks who came to the world of whisky through a glass of Lagavulin and others who claim they will drink nothing else. So with the help of Andrew Jefford's absolutely brilliant book Peat Smoke and Spirit, we can suck the mythical romance out of a few aspects of the distillery.

I have written about the difficulties some distilleries face in the legal and responsible disposal of waste before in the case of Isle of Jura distillery. For Lagavulin "the pot ale, spent lees and washing waters at Lagavulin have to be taken over to Caol Ila by road. They were formerly piped into the bay and had been for over a century, but because the bay is [...] naturally protected and sheltered, these arrangements could not meet current legislation for dispersal rates. This means three tankers per day have to travel the 70km round trip carrying 21,000 litres each: a heavy cost for the company and environmental cost to the island's roads and those who live alongside them. From Caol Ila, the waste goes into the briskly tidal Sound of Islay."(Jefford, 284) Wasteful, maybe. But don't forget the whisky industry is founded on an ideal of recycling (grist for cattle feed, second hand casks, etc.)

So now a mythbusting reality about maturation. Most of Lagavulin's new make spirit goes into third-fill American ex-bourbon hogsheads. These are ex-bourbon cask that are broken down and rebuilt to hold 250 litres, get used for one fill of grain whisky, then a fill of malt whisky before being filled with Lagavulin. So where does the sherry influence everyone notes come from in Lagavulin? Donald Renwick says "We do fill the odd sherry cask, but the wood is exhausted. And we do it less and less nowadays. So far as I'm concerned, there's more or less no sherry anymore in Lagavulin."

We must remember that Diageo owns Islay distilleries Lagavulin, Port Ellen(closed) and Caol Ila and very little Caol Ila is matured on Islay, most of it is carted off to the mainland to mature. 7000 casks of Lagavulin mature at their 3 warehouses, 7000 down at the dunnage warehouses at Port Ellen, 2000 at Caol Ila(more that Caol Ila itself), but the vast majority of Lagavulin casks have not been aged on Islay. Find this provocative and troubling? Read Jeffords' book for more.

This does not mean Lagavulin isn't delicious, it is! It just throws the ideas of regional style or terroir out the window and makes us question the techniques of wood management and marketing. Lagavulin is in high demand worldwide, is no longer part of White Horse (Malt Mission 16), and is about to start my Friday with a bang. Have a good weekend.


All Lagavulin posts HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

Major vanilla ice cream sweetness off the top surrounded by petrol, pungent smoked fish and/or cheese, mascarpone and amaretto. Roadside construction and plain bubblegum.

Pow. Very big peat impact, earthy with old car smells (flavours?), but all kept in a dirty/sweet balance via pumpkin pie and whipped cream type flavours. But peat is what passes the time. Finish is still peaty. And still peaty. And...

SUMMARY:

Certainly not for everyone. I don't find this as complex as folks I have met or have read do, but it is a quality expression. Not super sexy or subtle, but certain; you know what you are in for when you pour yourself a drop. Missing the sensuality of the 16 (which has been diminishing in recent years, it must be said) and the breadth of the Distillers Edition, but completely distinct in the standard range. But don't take my word for it, go do some whisky 'research' of your own!

Malt Mission #126
Malt Mission #127
Malt Mission #128
Malt Mission #129

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