By Michel van Meersbergen, Holland
Never Forget To Get Rid Of Your Receipt – or get your relationship refurbished if you’re lucky…
A short while ago Bert Bruyneel from Lindores Whisky Society and I agreed to go to Limburg, Germany to visit the vaults of Mara. Most of you know that nifty little shop, the cellar where you can spend hours and hours cruising thru shelves pilled with antique bottles, the place where you happily spend a year’s income and not feel sorry about, let alone feel guilty to other members of your household. Now you might understand why I sometimes name this place, this epicentre of all that whisky holiness, ‘The Shrine Of Greed’.
It’s always a good thing to get something in your stomach before entering the Mara cellars, so when Bert, Christel, my beloved girlfriend who points a gun at me now…, and I met at the hotel in Limburg had a little lunch where we were joined by Astrid Ohl, aka The Whisky Witch. After a ‘beefy’ Cordon Blue and 5 Cokes it was time to leave to Mara. Christel stayed in town to do some shopping, Astrid had to hurry because she had to host a BBQ at her place. The ones who’ve actually read some of my e-pistles before know I have this thing of being very excited if a large scale whisky thing is about to happen. Combine this with a unhealthy 32 degrees Celsius and the problems I have with these temperatures, one can only imagine the 15 minute walk to Mara was a challenging experience…
Mara’s Carsten Ehrlich gave us a warm welcome and soon we descended to the cellars where for the first minute one can only stare in bewilderment to the bottles, arranged in the most nonchalant way (which might account for the fact that at the end of the visit you pull your wallet and get your money out in an equally nonchalant way). The second minute you can only wonder why on earth you’d ever let go of that childhood ambition of becoming the richest man on earth because you know your today’s finances are not up to the task of serving your desire to own every single bottle you see in this place. These are the times I get greedy, real greedy…
When we got back to ourselves Bert and I made our first little round to scan the immediate pleasers, a classic Bowmore, a desired Longmorn, an overlooked Glenugie and so on. In the meantime Carsten poured the first dram. ‘Here guys, what do you think of this?’ It was easy to nail it down as a Islay malt, no doubt in my mind at all. Caol Ila, perhaps Ardbeg… to ferny to be a Laphroaig… Carsten showed us a golden decanter… it’s a Caol Ila! and a special one as well.
Caol Ila 15yo (43%, OB – Bulloch Lade, Ceramic 75cl, 1980’s)
Very soft and highly enjoyable dram. All the aspects of good Caol Ila are present and proofs once more Caol Ila can compete with Ardbeg in terms of refinement and complexity. Very soft, fruity and ferny. Underlayment of olives, tobacco and cedar wood. 90pts and could have scored higher if temperatures were a bit lower…
In the meantime I found my first object to ease my buying desire: Bowmore 18yo 1971 (57.3%, Sestante 75cl) I had the 40% version on the Limburg Fair and was very impressed. I had to try one of the cask strength versions from this family… Carsten poured us the second dram.
Rosebank 15yo (50%, OB for Zenith, ceramic 75cl, 1980’s)
Highly enjoyable dram. Lots of waxy fruit, vegetal notes and tropical fruits here. A palate with heaps of Turkish delight, mandarin while the oak gives a solid body. Nice citrussy finish. 90pts again. As with the Caol Ila, perhaps an even higher score was possible if conditions were just a bit better. Even in these conditions it shows the Zenith Rosebanks are in a class of their own.
Bert and I were getting into higher spirits because of this Rosebank.
He was screaming thru his mileage list to come up with other scores for Zenith Rosebanks, I was very happy to find out that memory still serves me well, as I could spit out the scores with any written reference… The third dram was in front of us.
Mortlach 21yo 1970/1991 (56.7%, G&M for Intertrade)
Wonderful nose with garden herbs and subtle yet powerful notes on honey. Lots of pollen, blossoms, wax and polished oak end in a long finish on candied peel. Solid Mortlach. 88pts. Just a tad to simple to get into the 90’s but it has a great mouth feel and the honeyed, waxed malts on the palate really zoomed it into the upper 80’s.
I had tried the next malt before although I couldn’t remember that one. Memory fails sometime… I brought it from the Limburg Fair and tried it in perfect conditions and had given it enough time. I was very happy to find out I gave it exact the same score both times proofing my abilities to score did not suffer from the heat or general excitement…
Balmenach-Glenlivet 14yo 1971 (57.5%, Sestante)
After the Mortlach this shows its dirty side a bit. Rubbery and matchsticks with hazelnut cream behind that. The palate is vegetal and slightly perfumed. Not a bad dram at all, solid performance that could have used some freshness… 84pts. That’s why I could not remember it. It’s a sold malt, but it just fails to impress or make a click.
I felt it was time to make a round thru the cellars again, what to buy, what to buy??
On a bottom shelve I found a Sheriff’s Bowmore 7yo… a very sexy bottle, on the edge of being vulgar, the kind of thing that makes you believe hard materialism is the and only way to go. When asking about the price I was happy to put it back where I found it and was evenly happy to declare that vulgar objects won’t make it in my life… Carsten poured me something to come at easy with myself. While Ronald Puhl, the other half of Mara entered the cellars.
Clynelish 32yo 1974/2006 (58.6%, Whisky Fair, D 02/’74 – B 04/’06, 266bts)
Given enough time this is a great Clynelish. First there’s some wet oak and humus, behind that mango, grapefruit and apricot. All carried by enjoyable wet slightly moulded oak. Nice body and highly drinkable… 91pts. Potentially this could reach to 92 or 93pts. It was still evolving when I emptied my glass when we had to try something Carsten and Ronald were very happy about.
Glen Scotia 30yo 1975/2006 (47.5%, Whisky Fair, rum matured, D 01/’75 – B 06/’06, 96bts)
Special dram. Fruit sugar, dextrose, wine gums and subtle notes on pear juice. Lots of cane and powdered sugar on the palate, slightly spiced notes, to bad the finish is rather short. Lots of personality for the Glen Scotia. 87pts. It’s completely different from any malt I had tried so far, and a whole lot better than a 29yo version I tried from Dun Bheagan last year. Carsten and Roland already were having fun to put this somewhere in a tasting, just to shake people up a bit. I feel this is the best way to use this malt, because of it’s extreme character (not powerful or what so-ever, just its flavours) I won’t be able to empty a bottle of this malt ever!
The next one was also comming from Glen Scotia.
The word ‘Peated’ on the label made me worry a bit… Not another one…
Glen Scotia 1999/2006 (52.7%, OB for Whisky Fair, peated, D 07/’99 – B 06/’06, casks #1999/541 & 542, 464bts)
Young and peaty. The good thing is that behind all the obvious notes you can still find the subtle notes of a regular Glen Scotia like powdered sugar and subtle spices. The finish is quite heavy, bonfire and some charcoal. Very interesting dram. 85pts. I was very surprised by this two-faced Scotia. This will do well at tastings, just like it’s rum matured uncle. One of the better peaty experiments so far!! Kudos to Carsten and Roland for their courage to market this malt!
Time for another Whisky Fair bottle…
Laphroaig 8yo 1998/2006 (48.5%, Whisky Fair Artist Edition, D 04/’98 – B 06/’06, 420bts)
Very straightforward. In yer face peat and smoke, bonfire while some added water brings out subtle rubbery notes and some mint or eucalyptus as well. The finish is very, very smoky. Monolith of a Laphroaig. Well… peat heads will be screaming for this Laphroaig. I find this too one-dimensional and to simple in style. I settle for 81pts. The few things that are present are of a good quality…
In the meantime Bert had selected a few Longmorns, so conversation quickly went to what makes a good Longmorn. Opinions differed big time, some like them sherried, some ultra clean. We tried a clean version first.
Longmorn 1967/2002 (57.1%, James McArthur, cask #579)
Big on peppery ginger, honey, lime peel and coffee. Ashes, beeswax, polished wood, lime peel and mandarin on the palate while Ginger, soft cinnamon, crème brulée, syrupy, passion fruits, pepper and soft oak round the whole off. 90pts. I tried this one before and scored it 91pts. Due to the Laphroaig before I’ll stick with the 91pts in my list.
Now for a more dirty version…
Longmorn 1969/1991 (61%, G&M Cask)
Whaahhh. Great one. First you have to dig thru some sherry to find lovely cherries and goes on and on with a huge choice of tropical fruits and jams towards an big end. 94pts One of those malts… For me and Carsten this is one of the great Longmorns.
Quickly discussion went on with the topic of sherry casks. Bert and I have a slight preference towards bourbon wood, stating that sherry maturing often goes over the top and destroys the distillery character to much. Of course there are many god-like malts that were sherry matured, but I can’t help feeling that the cask could have contained any spirit from any distillery to come to this result. As an example of heavy sherry maturation while some distillery character remains Carsten poured us the next dram.
Glen Mhor 34yo 1966/2000 (50%, DL OMC, D 02/’66 – B 07/’00, 396bts)
Clean sherry, crème brulée, caramel and cherries. Has some lovely hazelnut chocolate, pralines and although there’s a lot of sherry here some vegetal influences from Glen Mhor are still present. Excellent balance. 90pts . Sweet irony, a Glen Mhor with it’s delicate character to show off after 34 years in a sherry cask…
To give my palate a little time to relax I made my second round thru the cellars… The Whisky Fair Clynelish left its mark in my mind so when I saw a Clynelish 24yo 1965-1989 (46%, Cadenhead Brick Label, sherry wood) one can imagine this was going to be my next choice. As destiny would have it I spotted a Caol Ila 16yo 1969 (40%, G&M CC old brown label) as well. It would be the third bottle. Next dram was something coming from the islands. A distillery you don’t see to often as an indy-bottled malt and even then fantasy names are used, like Tactical from the Laing Brothers. Carsten and Roland use the name Talimburg.
Talisker 20yo 1986/2006 Talimburg (43,8%, Whisky Fair Artist Edition, D 05/’86 – B 06/’06, 240bts)
Somewhat simple Talisker. Leather, rubber and garden herbs. Develops some ferns and subtle white pepper but fails to impress. Extra point for drink ability. 85pts. Well, not very much happened during those 20 years of maturation. Decent dram, on the light side lacks a bit of Tali-power or complexity.
As it turned out the Talisker was the beginning of a fantastic crescendo and inspiration to make another round. In a dream I grabbed an old Talisker. It carried the label I saw quite often as a kid. My grandmother had her sherry from this bottler so understand sentiment was floating around when I thought Talisker 1953/1975 (43%, Berry Bro’s & Rudd Old Bond Street label) would be very nice to have in my collection…
Ben Nevis 34yo 1966/2001 (53.7%, OB for Alambic Classique, cask #4276)
For me personally this has all the classic Ben Nevis notes. Wet carton, wax and pepper. Also on the palate you’ll find these with added notes on leather. It’s not bad, no way, the carton puts me off a bit… 83pts. It has personality, it’s just not my personality…
Still it was a very good follow-up for the Talisker and a great choice for preparation on the next dram.
Ardbeg 27yo 1973/2000 (47.4%, Kingsbury ‘Celtic Label’, D 09/09/’73 – B ’00, 228bts)
Hefty charcoal, butter with a solid smoky fundament, tar, subtle bay leaves, evolves to sharper smoke, rubber and smoked ham. Italian licorice, pine resin, pecan pie and some ammonia. Again hefty charcoal, bay leaves, sea and tar turning into car tires. 93pts. I had this great Ardbeg during last years Limburg Fair and was evenly impressed, gave it 94pts that time tough…
Carsten now pulled the trick of pouring a weaker but much fruitier malt.
It happened quite some times before that after a heavy peated malt a good quality Lowland can really out-shine itself. A H2H between a Laphroaig 30yo OB and a Laphroaig 30yo 1966/1996 SigV followed by a Rosebank 8yo 43% from the Bristol Company was an eye-opener. Not too long ago a St. Magdalene 23yo Rare Malts and a St. Magdalene 19yo Rare Malt was followed by a St. Magdalene 1965/1990 40%!!! G&M CC that blew my mind away. It takes some courage to experiment on this one, but results can be ultra-rewarding! Carsten’s choice to let the Ardbeg follow by a 1960’s Bowmore was a very good one!
Bowmore 35yo 1968/2004 (40.5%, Whisky Fair, D 10/’68 – B 02/’04, cask 3818, 150bts)
Lots of berries to be found here. Very nice briny background and a little vanilla as well. Perfectly balanced palate, also with lots of berries and briny malts. The finish has some purslane. Lacks a bit in power but still very good stuff. 90pts. A while ago I decided to try smoking a little less. It paid off for being able to taste the subtle side of fruits just that little bit more. What wonderful new dimension in tasting whisky that is!! After the subtle bourbon matured Bowmore it was time to bring in some old skool sherry! One of the highlights of the day (not by points, just for the pleasure and surprise while drinking it)
Bunnahabhain 12yo (43%, OB, 1970’s)
Very high standards for Bunna those days. As Carsten rightly said, this is the stuff that lead to the Auld Acquaintance. Great integrated sherry oak (the kind only Bunna seems to have and most of the independents lack), fresh, slightly vegetal on wonderful subtle spices malts combined with all kinds of citrus skins and peel. Has a rubbery edge in the finish. 90pts. I mean… Bunnahabhain 12yo STANDARD bottle… I wouldn’t be surprised if some very old casks (perhaps even ones fallen below 40%) were used. What incredible quality! They might want to think again about the current quality, ‘tough I think the newest batches are getting better…
Bert and I made the last round now. I decided a Longmorn 10yo (43%, OB Hill-Thompson, late 1960’s) would be the perfect way to end my buying streak. I was desperate, for obvious reasons, well, obvious to some of you, to have paid for these bottles before Christel came to get us into Limburg center for a dinner. Carsten and Roland had to laugh saying it’s always the same with these guys… Roland did some calculations on a Post-It sheet and showed me a nice rounded figure. I gave him the money and put the sheet in the breast pocket of my shirt. This was about the most stupid thing I’ve ever done in my life. Fire-engine red lipstick (the colour Christel refuses to use) on my collar would have been better, even comming home with a striptease’s bra around my head would have done… this small yellow piece of paper was the biscuit…
Before the nastiness is unleashed upon you I should mention the farewell dram Carsten poured.
Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength (57.3%, OB, First Edition 100cl, ca. 1994)
This edition is very different from the other Green Stripe editions. It carries much more fruits, Turkish delight and oily leather, some dried garden herbs as well. I really like this as the smoke seems much more a ingredient instead as the carrier it is for most of the recent Laphroaigs. 94pts. According to Carsten it’s impossible to have such fruity Laphroaig from the 1980’s. He suspects 1970’s casks were used in this near perfect 1st batch of cask strength version of the malt we love to love or love to hate. For me? I simply feel in love with it…
Christel came up and we went for a small diner. It was so small we even followed the match between Portugal and England during dinner. Starring football while sitting in a restaurant, man, I really went low that time… To bad a certain person from Germany going by the name of Martin Dieckmann was not there, it would have give me the opportunity to get even on the Groningen debacle and make him shut his mouth about Dutch cuisine for once and for all! For now… I bide my time Martin, just waiting for another chance… One finished we decided it was time to go to the hotel for a small after tasting.
And small it was, temperatures were so high the whisky was luke warm, the room like a sauna the three of us wrecked because of the high humidity… I scored one dram.
Glenfarclas 21yo (51.5%, OB for Edward Giaccone, btld 1980)
Great stuff. Lots of hazelnut cream, cherries, black pepper and subtle mocca. The palate is as nice as the nose. Some furniture polish, subtle and refined sherry, cherries and chocolate. Great Glenfarclas. 93pts. To bad the bottle is near empty now, as I would have loved to try this again at saner temperatures…
We called it a day. Bert got to his room and whilst undressing that yellow note fell from my shirt, Christel picked it up and well, you’ve got to have been there to see what happened. It was very scary. No shouting, no beating up, no crying, just a look in her eyes that could wipe out whole mankind and her mouth was more like a small pencil stripe on her face. There was no way escaping this… With a calm tone of voice Christel explained what bothered her, what the hell I was thinking and what my plans were. She also added she was not waiting for sweet words because she wouldn’t relax until she had a clear understanding I was telling the truth. I spare you the details, but I’m happy to inform you everything is AOK, just spend big bucks on new pillows, mattresses and blankets, lots of other stuff for the house and working my ass off to finish the refurbishment of our house by the end of this year. Hurray!
Before I end this report on my emotional rollercoaster weekend I will you give some advice. Or be totally honest, or buy the book “How To Become A Supreme Bastard In 10 Easy Steps”, for those of you still thinking what to do… make sure you throw away your whisky receipts!!