E-pistle 2007/033 – A Dozen Disposable Drams

By Johannes van den Heuvel, Holland

After receiving the ‘glassware’ E-pistles from Lawrence and Craig for this issue, I planned to do my own little glassware test.
I’ve been thinking about it ever since Klaus Everding sent his own E-pistle on the topic many years ago but never found the time.
Unfortunately, I STILL couldn’t find the time, so I decided to try to get some opinions out of the maniacs on the topic in an ‘Ask an Anorak’ discussion and focus on a tasting report instead. During the last few months hundreds of samples have been piling up and it’s high time I worked some of them out of the way.

In fact, I had started enthusiastically with the task in MM#101 – but only got as far as half a dozen.
People are laughing at me more than enough already, so I decided I should try to clear out at least one blemish on my reputation.
Quite a few of the other maniacs have already managed to finish a ‘dozen drams’ E-pistle by now, so it’s high time I matched their pace. And unless another maniac beats me to it I’ll deliver a ‘two dozen drams’ E-pistle next time.

But this is now – or rather last week.
I started early on a Sunday morning to work my way through 12 samples. I kicked off the tasting proceedings with two samples from Richard Furman from the USA and a third (the Caol Ila) from Serge or Thomas, I think.

1) Talisker 1992/2005 Distillers Edition (45,8%, OB, Jerez Amoroso Finish) – from Richard Furman, USA
Only ten minutes after pouring this dram did I realise that I had a 1986 expression to compare it with,
Nose: Smooth, sweet surface. Obvious sherry influence. Then the organics start to emerge. Great development.
Maggi? More and more organics over time, but after ten minutes it drops dead. Let’s put it away for 5 minutes…
When nosed next to the 1986 version it appeared MUCH sweeter and fruitier
Taste: Strong peat for a few seconds, evolving into smoke over time. Feels quite rough at just 45.8%. Raw wood.
It actually starts out quite pleasant but loses steam pretty quickly. Hesitant tannins. Falls apart on the palate.
Score: 84 points – I have to put it in the 80’s because the nose is excellent for five minutes, but it falls apart quickly.
It does make a comeback after ten more minutes but never quite reaches the heights of the 1986 expression again.
If it hadn’t had that strange weak spell after 10 minutes it would still have been in the upper 80’s…

Wait a minute…
I still have a little bit left from my Talisker 1986 Distillers Edition (45.8%, OB) – let’s pour a dram for a H2H session…
Nose: Ooh, more organics from the start… A little rougher with some more diesel oil. Some leather. Hey, antiquity?
That’s odd – in my memory ‘old school’ Taliskers were never exceptionally organic – but this one is… Spicier than the ’92 too.
Taste: Even the ABV is identical this has a slightly ‘smoother’ burn than the 1992. The wood doesn’t sit at the surface.
Score: 88 points – just 1 point down from 89. I know very few maniacs agree, but this has a brilliant touch of ‘antiquity’.
But I agree that’s a very personal score – the difference in profile with the 1992/2005 isn’t massive…
And that touch of noble oxidation could have happened on my shelf, I guess – but I’ve learned to love it…

2) Caol Ila 1993/2006 Distiller’s Edition (43%, OB, Moscatel finish) – from Serge or Thomas?
This would be the first expression of a Caol Ila DE I’ve tried. Smart move from DIAGEO, but will it work?
Nose: Light, sweet and slightly dusty. Much more restrained than the Taliskers. Not a trace of peat at first.
It powers up after a few minutes, but it’s still more ‘veggy’ than ‘peaty’. And then the wine finish overpowers everything else.
No wait – after five more minutes the organics finally join the party, lifting my initial score of 80 by a point to 81.
Taste: Ooops…. Yes, there’s peat here, but it’s so weak I first thought we had yet another oxidised sample here.
It picks up, though. I got a nice touch of salted liquorice on the palate. Yet, it remains strangely smooth on the palate.
In fact, when I compared it with a sip of the Talisker ’86 Doublewood, that one offered a much bigger punch.
Score: 81 points – nothing wrong if you need a clean alternative for a limpy Bowmore, but a ‘classic’ it ain’t.
I prefer the normal 12yo by a few points – which is usually the case with these ‘double matured’ ones.

3) Lagavulin 1989/2005 Distillers Edition (43%, OB, PX finish) – from Richard Furman, USA
Well, let’s see how this double matured expression performs these days – I haven’t tried it in a while…
Nose: Aaah… Yeah, the familiar leather and peat that I love. Dirty organics emerge after a minute. Right up my alley.
I’m afraid it falls apart after a few minutes, pulling it down from my initial score of 88 points. Still great whisky, mind you!
Taste: Sweet and peaty. But maybe a little thinner than I remembered at first. But then the peat explodes. Lovely!
After a few minutes the sweetness evaporates, leaving a Laphroaigish ‘diesel’ impression. hey, slightly perfumy finish?
Score: 87 points – but I should add that it’s a VERY personal score. This profile might not suit everybody.

So, that’s three down – just nine more to go.
Let’s take a look at some of the Whiskyfair samples that I’ve received over the past few months…

4) Clynelish 32yo 1974/2006 (58,6%, The Whisky Fair, Bourbon Hogshead, 266 Bts.)
I’ve tried this one before and gave it 87 points at the time. Let’s see what another try with a fresh palate & perspective gives.
Nose: Some salmiak behind the things you’d expect? ‘Zoute Griotten’? Quite bold. Some subtle lemon drops in the background.
Excellent development over time. Some subtle fruits pop up now and then. It doesn’t punch you in the face but keeps tickling.
Taste: Yes, quite LOVELY on the palate at cask strength. Sweet and salty with a lovely smoothness. Grows a tad astringent.
A touch of salmiak here as well – which feels a little bit odd, because I usually find that in the heavily peated Islay malts.
Score: 89 points – two points up from my original score in the Malt Maniacs Awards 2006 – just a smidgen short of the 90’s in my book but I can certainly see how some maniacs would rate this in the 90’s.

5) Glenglassaugh 27yo 1978/2006 (56.8%, The Whisky Fair, Artist Edition, 211 Bts.)
I’ve been struggling to strike Glenglassaugh from my ‘Hamstergeddon’ list and now I seem to find them everywhere…
Nose: Farmy and fruity – and unusual combination. Salmiak or something salty here as well after a few minutes?
Whiffs of paint now and then. Quite fresh for its age and it keeps changing. Sweetness grows more prominent over time.
Taste: Quite sweet, solid mouth feel, not too woody. Well, maybe just a smidgen too much wood in the hot, dry finish. Rubber?
Score: 84 points – but leaning towards 85 or even 86 most of the time. The sharp finish strips it back to 84 points over time.

6) Tomintoul 40yo 1966/2006 (45.2%, The Whisky Fair, 139 Bottles)
What is it with these German bottlers like TWF and Jack Wieber(s)? They seem to have a taste for the really old stuff.
Nose: Aaah! A clear smell from my childhood I can’t identify… Sweet and very fruity. Hubba Bubba chewing gum?
Definitely fruity candy. Raspberries? Here’s a malt that ‘shakes its tailfeather’. A BEAUTIFUL nose that keeps surprising.
Over time it grows more serious with occasional whiffs of something farmy. Hint of mint? The development never ends.
I didn’t dare to add water because it might break up the blossoming of this malt. Amazing vivacity. Definitely 90’s material.
Taste: Hmmmm. Fairly weak in the start after the last two ‘overproofs’. It picks up after a few seconds. Sweet fruits again.
Fairly short finish, but surprisingly fresh for such an old whisky. Not as great as the nose, but very good mouth feel for a 40yo.
Score: 91 points – which is an average of a nasal score in the upper 90’s (!!!) and a palate that scores around 83 points.
In fact, I had it at 89 points until I took my last sniffs from the empty glass. I decided this deserved the highest honours.
A bit like some of Wack Wiebers’ bottlings. Those lucky enough to own a bottle should just sniff it and not drink it…

The second trio down – six more to go. After a quick lunch with some chervil soup and smoked salmon I proceeded.
There were plenty of other TWF samples on my shelves, so I selected three others in the range.

7) Glen Scotia 30yo 1975/2006 (47.5%, The Whisky Fair, Rum barrel)
Nose: Wow! Something chemical – rubber but not quite. ‘Slime’ playstuff? Evolving molasses sweetness. Hint of rhubarb.
Over time it grows farmier and more complex. A feast for the nose. Drops away after some fifteen minutes though.
Taste: Bugger… This has the same problem as the Tomintoul; the palate doesn’t back up the nose. Hint of peat???
If feels quite hot and feisty – but has little of the complexity that the nose suggests. Still a very good dram, mind you…
Score: 83 points – bonce again the palate doesn’t quite deliver on the nasal promise.

8) Springbank 38yo 1968/2006 (54%, The Whisky Fair, Sherry hogshead, 117 Bottles)
My notes on this one are sketchy because I received a phone call just when it was getting interesting
Nose: Woehaah! Rich and fiery. Lots of complexity in the middle of the spectrum. Nutmeg? Dust? Interesting development.
Taste: Smooth start, quickly opening up. Old fruits. Like many other oldies, it drops off and turns gritty in the finish.
Score: 89 points – I didn’t make many notes (so I can’t say much about WHY I liked it) but used the time to make sure about the 89.
At times it dropped back to 88, but then an unexpected whiff of something… unexpected kept pushing it back up again.

9) Ledaig 33yo 1973/2006 (48%, The Whisky Fair)
Nose: Grainy start, growing maltier while sweetening out. Hint of something metallic. Opening up with fruits and flowers.
At first the peat wasn’t that apparent, but over time it crept to the foreground. Growing lovelier and lovelier when given time.
Hey! Now I get ‘dirtier’ organics – sweaty and a little leathery. Just like the Tomintoul, it really blossoms after fifteen minutes.
Taste: Sweet and warming – feels hotter than 48%. Maybe a tad rough in the finish, clearly the effect of the years in wood.
After the peat showed itself in the nose I found it on the palate as well. Hey, now I understand Pit’s love for the old stuff.
Score: 90 points – none of the oil that sometimes bothers me in younger Ledaigs. Crept up from 87 to 90 in half an hour.

Wow…. Good results…
Let’s take things in a peatier direction now with the last three drams of the afternoon…

10) Glen Scotia 6yo 1999/2006 ‘Peated’ (52.7%, OB for The Whisky Fair, C#541-542, 464 Bts.)
Nose: Fresh with an intriguing ‘dirty’ streak. Touch of cardboard. Turning saltier and ‘nastier’ – which is a good thing.
Taste: Feels quite young and thin at first. Over time a touch of liquorice emerges.
Score: 83 points – which is quite incredible, because when I checked the monitor I found I already tried it and gave it 82 points.
That was also the score where I kept lingering at until it made the hop to 83 points until I found the endearing salt liquorice.

11) Laphroaig 8yo 1988/2006 (48.5%, The Whisky Fair, Artist Edition, 420 Bts.)
Another young peat monster – a lot of them are bottled by proper independent bottlers these days. It’s a nice trend.
Nose: Hey… A surprisingly gentle start. Meaty? A real ‘bloomer’, opening up quickly. Medicinal elements grow stronger.
Something vaguely dusty emerges after a few minutes. More complexity than you usually find in the young peat monsters.
Taste: Dry with a touch of salted liquorice. Very nice and chewable, although it’s not quite as complex as the nose.
Score: 87 points – which is especially impressive considering it’s only eight years old – and not a ‘quarter’ cask…

12) Vanilla Sky 14yo 1992/2006 (53%, The Whisky Fair, 297 Bts.)
This is most likely a Lagavulin (Serge pointed out the anagrammish name), but since it doesn’t say so on the bottle we don’t know.
Nose: Hmmm… Is my nose burning out? Clearly a clean peat monster with loads of depth, but I feel I missed the subtleties.
Taste: Great mouth feel. Peaty, dusty and slightly peaty on my palate. Reminds me of a MurMac bottling I tried years ago.
Score: 88 points – I feel pretty confident about my score on the enjoy-o-meter, but don’t have very detailed notes…

So, those were the malts I’ve got proper notes on. As you can see, the notes were growing shorter with every dram anyway.
That means that this is the perfect moment to wrap up this report…