E-pistle 2007/018 – A Dozen & One Diabolical Drams

By Michel van Meersbergen, Holland

Wouldn’t it be great, only sipping from the best spirit that ever left the stills, matured in freak cask that could have turned any liquid into nectar for the Gods, from the most delicate hand-blown crystal glass whilst your favourite photo model, which incidentally this time has an IQ of over 165, is sitting on your knee whispering sweet words and with semi raw voice making indecent proposals whilst stroking your ear with the most velvety of noses?

Well, keep on dreaming, reality has it different. Completely.
Reality lets you have some dram that suggests perfection, lets you have just a mere glimpse of that Eternal light, lets you think your mind is drifting away and lets the pencil in your hand starting to write down that illusive score that starts with a ‘1’ and contains two more ‘zero’s’ Just  at that point reality has this weird red dressed guy, cattle prod in his hands, silly tailed and laughing like a maniac jumping up and down in front of you…

‘Soo you fool, you think you’ve found perfection no?’
This of course with a thin squeaking voice and poking with his nose in your ear. His nose of course, feels like tennis gravel and turns out to be the only part of his body that is freezing cold. Ha, you think you’re fit to recognize perfection? How’s that? Ever actually experienced perfection have you?’

To this questions I can only answer I have a feeling that suggests perfection, that I have no clue about perfection but have a frantic interest in…

‘Well you little creature… I show you perfection, It’ll be my pleasure to show you. And this time I’ll let you keep your soul’.

With a snap of his finger the glimpse of Eternal light becomes not a glimpse anymore, it becomes a blinding light the brightest white I’d ever seen, the Eskimo’s might have archived 100 different shades of white… no-one will do for this one.

Tears setting in my eyes, sheer beauty.
Just at the moment I want to thank the Devil for showing me this the Hot One asks me to close my eyes, he puts his hand on my shoulder and makes me turn around. ‘Now then, when you open your eyes you will see perfection in all it’s aspects, be prepared it might shock you.. In bewilderment I take a deep breath and prepare for things to come. Now that I have my eyes opened again I see things not unfamiliar to me… it’s like the usual things I see, day in, day out. ‘Hey what the H…’ I try. ‘Yup my little seeker…’. The red guy’s face in the most wonderful grimace because of not trying to laugh too loud in my face. Never realised the Light you’re soo desperately looking for means nothing at all? It just makes things visible! As they are… in state of perfection…’.

Now bursting in laughter he jumps up en down and pops from my view. Leaving me in a state of note being completely satisfied with the whole situation. Is this… It? Is perfection not something of exquisite beauty, something that makes whole mankind forget about all the terrible stuff they do to each other? Is the terrible stuff as much part of perfection as an Bowmore 1964 Samaroli Bouquet or a Springbank 12yo 57% bottled for the same Samaroli guy? Is ‘reality’ the final proof of perfection and mankind too stupid to understand?

Where does this lead to you might think? Well, it’s not that difficult.
The Quest to find that 100 points scoring malt leads us to strange places, have us tasting sometimes great things, sometimes bad things and lets us perform strange things. A near perfect dram leads to confusion: It’s sooooo great! I put it on 93… Funny how the high ranking malts always seem to get struck on critical notes. ‘Perhaps a tad too woody, criticising a roughness that goes down to sub-molecular level.’ Things like that. A near disaster is even more funny: It’s sooooo bad I don’t know if I should give it 40 or 10 points… Now the plot turns around. You just keep on looking for some good things. ‘Okay, plain awful taste, yet the structure is not bad to be honest, and the finish has this charming feel’ Perhaps you recognise this… For me personally things go out of hand in the 60 to 70 points-range. It’s not good, that’s for sure and it’s not bad, that also for sure. Those malts that make you love to hate or hate to love. The kind of malt that leaves you wondering why it has ever materialised, it’s not even bad enough to kick it back in the mud it came from. The kind of malt that creates uneasy silent moments at tastings, people staring at each other looking for the one that’s going to shoot out first. In short: the kind of malt that shows you mediocrity is as much part of your hobby as every thing great or disgusting. We might not like it… they are part of whisky reality.
In all its perfect state of being.

Below are a dozen and one malts that I had the last few months that left me in bewilderment. Trying to find out the meaning of their existence, their purpose. Why I had no trouble loving to hate them and yet at the same time feel guilty I did so.
Here it goes, my personal schizophrenic Top 12 and One for the second half of 2006!

1) Kinclaith 1966 (40%, G&M Connoisseurs Choice, Old brown label, 1980’s)
Colour: Pale amber. Nose: Liquorice, some eucalyptus, almonds, raw peanuts, gets slightly herbal and perfumed. Palate: This is another feinty Kinclaith… soapy, rosemary, cereals, liquorice and an unpleasant aroma of 4711. Finish: Vegetal and bitter. Not my cup of tea. 69 pts.
Well, it’s not truly awful or disgusting, it did carry some balance and had some good things on offer. Yet the foul 4711 aroma put me off. It made this Kinclaith quite harsh at the end. And keep in mind those feinty aroma’s are very tricky to me. Sometimes they can be very interesting, sometimes it destroys everything. Fun part of it is the fact some people do like them.
It always provides for a good discussion!

2) Glenisla 28yo 1977/2006 (48.6%, Signatory, C#19598, 274 Bts.)
Colour: Straw. Nose: Not very clear. Old paper, some peat. Appears to be stale and bleached out. Some stale apple pie, pastry. The old paper really dominates. Develops some raspberry icing, Apfelkorn and gooseberry jam. Palate: A tad perfumed. Apfelkorn, weird notes on chemical vanilla and marshmallows. On the whole the lot has a very chemical feel. Some oak joins in. Finish: Flimsy, custard and flowery/blossoms. Interesting yet not to be done again… 68 pts. Ahh, the thin line between old books and old paper. The first is of charming quality while the latter is of decomposing quality. The sour/sweet notes of the cellar at primary school where we collected old newspapers and sell them to the rag man for the support of charity funds.

3) Port Ellen 1983/2006 (53%, The Golden Cask, C#3120, 301 Bts.)
Colour: Dark straw. Nose: Some rubber, green oak. Very closed. Added water brings out lots of organics and quite some off-notes as well. Sulphur, rancid vanilla, walnut skins and card board. Palate: Like the nose… to many off-notes. Wet cardboard, walnut skins, some vanilla and the worrying kind of organics. Finish: Again, organics and a flat mouth feel. 68 pts. What can I say… It’s perfect proof of decent spirit matured in a not-so-good cask. Happens all the time. What stands out for me is the ongoing rumour no more PE is left in the warehouses. I’m not too sure about that one, but good casks are getting scarce, no doubts! This was my first PE scoring into the 60’s, there has to be a first time for everything. I’m afraid they’re many more to come…

4) Fettercairn 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2006)
Colour: Dark golden. Nose: Apples, rubber, rancid sherry and notes on card board. Palate: The cardboard continues, brown bread, some caramel. Not my cup of tea. Finish: Malty, dusty, out of focus. 68 pts. This one completely failed to press any buttons at all. It left me completely indifferent, had troubles to make notes, I really tried but could not make many out of it. I’m not sure they’re doing themselves a favour at Fettercairn. It surely can use some more personality!

5) Coleburn 14yo 1983/1997 (43%, Signatory, D. 04/’89, Btl. 07/’97, C#796, 3650 5cl Bts.)
Colour: Straw. Nose: Fairly sweet. Vanilla, oak, hints on rose water and heather, bubble gum, raspberries, some black pepper around the edges, melted anchor butter, Palate: Weird fainty palate. Raspberry cream, soap, heather, hints on smoke. Then vanilla and sappy leaves, dried garden herbs, dried chives. Finish: Licorice, salmiac, subtle heather. Not my cup of tea… 67 pts. Another highlight of indifference. It has a certain complexity but it all turns bad. For me personally that is… Mixed together, the ingredients fail to combine into something good…

6) Speyside 12yo (40%, OB, Bottled2006)
Colour: Amber. Nose: Malty, brown bread, dried apricots, wax and a mellow feel. Develops caramel and some late notes on that suggests some sherry. Palate: Flat mouth feel, caramel, malts, some pineapple, dates and develops lots and lots of notes on bread, dough and yeast. Finish: Humus, fudge, mandarin skin. 67 pts. Another of those ‘Why-oh-Why’ malts. It’s really has nothing on offer, just this timid style, non -offensive cereal-style. Speyside should reconsider its cask-management if they want to go ‘Single’ so badly. But first they have to skip the nonsense line ‘The Best Whisky In The World’ line from their labels! Judging from the excessive malts and yeast notes the line ‘The Best Breadsky In The World’ might be more appropriate.

7) Edradour 10yo (58.8%, OB SFtC, Cotes de Provence finish)
Colour: Dark corn yellow, salmon hues. Nose: Rubbery kind of wine. Licorice, wet liquorice, some Thai basil, chervil and lovage. Cheap pastry, grapefruit cream. After a while notes on tea leaves emerge, while the rubberness continues. Palate: AS the nose suggested… rubbery wine, licorice, quite some pepper and sharp oak. Goes on with strawberry infused licorice, some chervil. Not my cup of tea. Added water takes out the burn, making way for some spices. Finish: A tad to sharp and burning for my taste. Water cools it down a bit, some soft spicy oak. 67 pts. Edradour on a wine finish… all ingredients for disaster! To be honest, initially had this much lower, but in a certain way it showed some charm which I could not resist. Like a hunter at night that has a rabbit in his spotlight and suddenly realises what funny little and fuzzy creatures they are, quite humorous too!

8) Tullibardine 15yo 1989/2004 (49.8%, Hart Bro’s, D. 04/’89, Btl. 07/’04)
Colour: Pale golden. Nose: Quite musty vanilla, some dry, old wood, damp cotton, card board, butter candies, oath meal candies, Stale pollen. Water brings out some leaves, boiled beef (the fat). It’s note very pleasant. Palate: A tad feinty, some soapy malts to begin with, then some vanilla followed by butter candies. All appears to be musty.  As the nose the same notes on boiled beef, this time not so present… Finish: Faint hints on leather, more a dark mouth feel. Some green malts and green oak. 66 pts. Actually, the first time I had notes on boiled beef in a whisky. I didn’t like it very much but it brought some personality to an otherwise mouldy Tullibardine. Once again: an off-note can do very good things to a whisky. In this case: off-notes to the rescue!

9) Old Ballantruan NAS (50%, OB, ca. 2006)
Colour: Dark golden. Nose: Sour peat, caramel, fudge, Wherter’s Echte. Very spirity, malts, wet cotton, cooked vegetables.
This in really not my cup of tea. Water brings out notes on lovage and liquorice. Palate: As the nose suggested. Sourish peat, vanilla, spirity, malts, old wood, wet paper and cotton. Some gun powder, potato juice… Finish: Sour peat… grapefruit, pepper, vanilla. Why should I drink this for pleasure. 65 pts. Peat for peat’s sake from the highlands. I just cannot believe why they should leave the path of subtlety and come up with this freaks. I’d rather see Tomintoul doing a malting with coal IF they’re after ashes and subtle smoke. Having said that, for its young age it comes quite a long way and one have to wait for another few years to taste what this experiment has lead to.
For now I remain very sceptic.

10) Glenturret 12yo (43%, OB, mid 1980’s)
Colour: Amber Nose: Malty, buttery vanilla, some faint notes on sherry in the background.
Some slight OBE effects, subtle notes on chervil and tarragon. The malts shift to a more nutty aroma, Palate: Quite some feints in this one. Soapy attack, notes on 4711, lavender, linen cup board, damp cotton when ironed. Then some malts and sharp oak. Finish: Peppery malts, slightly flimsy mouth feel. Quite sharp considering its ABV. 65 pts. Well, the nose was quite all right but the palate… it reminded me of the ultra cheesy laundrette we had over here. You know… TL lighting, everything covered in a grey sadness, machines from the early 1970’s. Especially at rainy evenings it provided all the reasons to get back to study so at least one would have the money to buy a washing machine for themselves… After a glimpse at our very own Miele washing machine, which is considered the Rolls Royce in Laundry-Land, one or two emo-points might have flown in… What really stood out was the mouth feel at 43% ABV. It was more like an ultra thin bodied 50%.

11) Kinclaith 20yo (46%, Cadenhead’s black label, late 1980’s)
Colour: Medium golden. Nose: Paraffin, leather and waxy malts. Very simple nose… Palate: Malty at first followed by a wave of Old Spice. Then some Schezuan pepper and wine gums. A disappointment to say the least. Finish: Woody, malty and drying oak. 62 pts. For about 22 years my grandfather presents me a bottle of Old Spice for my birthday. For about 10 years I throw it unopened in the waste bin under the scrutinising eyes of gramps. Relations between grandparents and grandchildren can be very difficult to understand. Let me assure you the old man has the time of life when I do this!  He still knows how to annoy the people that surrounds him. Back to the malt. Well… the note says it all, a disappointment to say the least. I tend to believe this distillery has become very much over-rated…

12) Bruichladdich 1989/2002 (44%, Moray, D. 15/06/’89, Btl. 02/’02, C#1668, 378 Bts.)
Colour: Medium straw. Nose: Fresh malts, salmiac, sulphur and black powder, all shallow. Later some icing sugar, raspberries, rubber, coconut and cocoa-butter. Palate: Fainty, salty malts and a bit spicy. Finish: Somewhat sweet, sulphuric, malty and some liquorice. 61 pts. This is an ever lesser version of the Coleburn mentioned before. This time it has less on offer and the palate is very difficult to understand…
If there was a proper palate that is…

Which brings us to the ‘dozen and oneth’ malt.
It’s the kind of malt which have you die the second death.
Plain horrible and even the ‘Hot One’ might get the shivers of this one…

13) Edradour NAS Batch #1 (52.6%, Signatory, Tokaj Matured, B 08/’06)
Colour: Amber. Nose: Weird nose on rotten potatoes, malts, wash, new make, rotten milk. Lots and lots of distillery aroma’s.
Can’t say I like it… Very strong vegetal notes, household spirit. Added water brings out some mashed potatoes, ‘raw’ malts, green banana. Palate: It’s disgusting! Starts of with terrible sour notes, rotten lemon juice. A sharper kind of potato juice, some honey-like sweetness around it. Finish: Some oaky influences and a tannic feel. Horrible dram. 30 pts. Actually, words fail for this nightmare… I have some malts scoring lower because they lack every aspect of being a malt. That was the truly nasty part of this one, it was soo much a malt… with everything going wrong. Let’s forget about this one a soon as possible!

I hope my personal insights in the 60 to 70 points region was of interest to you.
Perhaps you want to find out yourself, as the Romans said: Dulcia non meruit qui non gustavit amara.
One cannot enjoy the taste of sweet without knowing the taste of bitter.