E-pistle 2007/069 – The Road to Bremerhaven

By Thomas Lipka, Germany and Michel van Meersbergen, Holland

The road to Bremerhaven … and to score # 1000 

Thomas: I don’t know how we came up with the idea at all, but I think it was about a year ago…
It was in Limburg when Michel told me that Christel and he planned to visit Klaus Everding – the now ex-maltmaniac – in Hamburg. I asked Michel to drop by on his way back by all means once they made the trip. After all, you should seize any opportunity to share a few drams with a fellow maniac. These opportunities are way too scarce anyway if you ask me. As far as I know the meeting with Klaus never materialized, but every time Michel and I exchanged mails the topic of ‘dropping by’ came up again and finally we agreed on a meeting in March after an earlier try in January had to be postponed. Christel and Michel planned to arrive in my hometown Bremerhaven on Friday afternoon and to leave again on Sunday morning. That would leave us with two tasting nights and a day of sightseeing. Time enough to do some serious damage to our livers, I assumed… and rightly so. 😉

Michel: Indeed, the visit to Klaus did not materialise to this date, which does not mean it will never happen!
Beware Klaus!! Indeed it took a while before we could nail a date. It came to the point where I thought it was never going to happen at all. No surprise once we did set a date I was very happy. In fact so happy Christel switched to MaltWidow-mode when she saw me and still had no clue about our ‘date’. Luckily she actually liked the idea of getting over to Bremerhaven for good company, drams and… shopping. I left her under the impression Bremerhaven is a metropole, a shopper’s paradise, the Milan of the North – home of the diamond encrusted credit card. Google Earth has Bremerhaven as a former outpost of Bremen where there’s no shop-fun at all… As you said Thomas, time enough to do some serious damage to our livers!

Thomas: As luck would have it, after we agreed on a date for our meeting I learned of a tasting.
I heard that on that Friday night there would be a “Silent Stills” tasting at my local whisky dealer. As usual with Ingo Kirchhoff he would not reveal his line-up in advance but since you regularly get pretty good or at least decent whiskies for your money there I asked Michel what he thought about starting off our weekend dramming at that place. Seemed that he liked the idea somewhat because both Christel agreed and Michel agreed to enjoy a ‘Teutonic Tasting’ as he put it.

Michel: Okay, okay… It’s a matter of saying right?!
I’m always surprised because of the general discipline the German audience at whisky fairs and could only imagine what a German small-scale tasting would look like. Nothing to do with uniforms, spike moustaches, picklehaubes or shouting orders… (although it would have been a very, very funny). Back to the topic. Always interesting to attend Silent Still tastings. Bottles from closed distilleries fetch high prices these day and I find too often the contents are not on par with the money you have to pay for them.

Thomas: But we – or I rather – had one more thing on our agendas for this weekend.
According to my count I had 983 whiskies scored for the Malt Monitor and thus was closing in on # 1000! When Michel learned about that he immediately promised to bring something special for this occasion: a somewhat legendary bottling. He wouldn’t tell me what it was, however. I hardly couldn’t wait… Finally the big day was there. Good thing I left work as early as possible because Christel and Michel were there earlier than expected. And a good thing, too, that I bought some ‘Butterkuchen’ (a German sort of cake) on my way home to go with the coffee because they seemed quite hungry from the trip. Time flew buy as we talked all afternoon. I had made arrangements beforehand with Jeffrey, a friend of mine, to pick us up by car for the tasting so there would still to be time for some pizza later on to chase the coffee and the cake – and to lay some groundwork, of course, before we left.

Michel: Good company is never too early… ahem… Well we left quite early. Terra Incognita has lots of surprises and I rather anticipate on those. It was an enjoyable ride. Due to the ‚shortest way to’ option in stead of the ‚fastest way to’ option on the routefinder we were forced to take B-routes, or Landeswegen, and got a pretty good idea of the surroundings of this part of Northern Germany. I was really surprised to see peat-cutting exists here! Perhaps an indication to the popularity of peated malts in the Bremerhaven area? As said, the surroundings were great. Lots of flat- and moor-land which, I can imagine, you can only truly enjoy when coming from the same surroundings. People from those areas should know what I mean. Thomas and I were at one point exchanging mails about sea-side walks in rain or gale force wind and actually see and fully understand the beauty of it… While we can go into lengthy details about the shades of grey of the sky, the colour of a boiling sea… it remains a mystery to people living more than 10 miles from the sea…  Well, back to whisky! After some hob-nobbing, butterkuchen and quite some large coffees the first dram was poured. It turned out to be the Cragganmore 20yo 1981/2001 (59.3%, The Bottlers, Refill sherry C#1589). A lovely dram with quite some unexpected smoke on the palate. It scored 86 points. It was about time to have a little snack before we were running out of time for the tasting at Ingo’s.

Thomas: But it wasn’t long after our sparse meal (did I ever mention I’m no cook?) that Michel got kind of antsy.
And it wasn’t because his nicotine patch had went off and he was craving for a cigarette while fighting withdrawal symptoms. Instead he finally went to the cardboard box he had brought and picked up a bottle of Mosstowie 15yo (40%, Sestante Import, Bottled 1980’s). The chase for malt # 1000 was officially on!

Michel: What can I say? You might not be a cook but you capabilities of putting deep-frozen pizzas in the oven and get them out in time are simply great! I guessed the Mosstowie would be the perfect after-pizza dram. Highly drinkable and has enough power despite its low abv. Especially after food that has subtle spices or herbs it stands out..

Thomas: Maybe it was the atmosphere or the anticipation of good things to come but I liked this one pretty much scored it at 86 points, slightly higher then Michel had it rated. Anyway, this was # 984 according my book. We were good to go and do some serious business.

Michel: You see? I’m right about the Mosstowie!
Besides that, I like to go to a tasting with my palate switched on so what better than a good low abv malt? It must have been a strange sight for Jeffrey when he came to pick us up – three people already in semi- to high spirit. 

Thomas: Actually, I think Jeffrey would have been deeply disappointed if the scene he found would have been much different…

Michel: A few minutes drive brought us at the shop, with two small pagoda’s, where we took some time to look around a bit.
Apart from a more than decent collection of malts you’ll find some whisky infused jams made by a privateer. Different kind of fruits enhanced with, let’s say, Talisker, Lagavulin, Caol Ila. Even a orange jelly with Port Charlotte! Rumour has it Diageo found out about this jams and ordered the producer to stop the use of the names Talisker and Lagavulin because they’re protected trade marks… Well, I do understand Diageo has to be very strict on this one but to treat a privateer producing jam… it has an atmosphere of bullying to me.

Thomas: Especially if you consider that this private firm consists of two people: the owner and his wife! I think it is obscene in a way to use all your muscle in a case like this. It is said that the privateer’s lawyer advised them to not sue Diageo about this. Diageo has announced that they will push this case to the very limit, up to the European Court if necessary. Although the small firm in all likelyhood would win in the end it probably would take so much time and money that they’d be bankrupt by the time the final sentence is passed!

Michel: The tasting turned out very well. As expected a very disciplined audience and an interesting line-up.

Thomas: Talk about different expectations or perceptions. 
Anyway, these are our notes (Michel & Thomas):

Inverleven 1990/2005 (40%, G&M Licensed) – 81 points from Michel, 83 points from Thomas
Colour: Golden. Nose: Malts, vanilla, some dry oak, lemon skin, salmiac, hints on butter, some charcoal, apple, apple pie, yeast and some cinnamon. Palate: Slightly neutral. Vanilla, straw, oath meal ccandies, salmiac. Slightly flat and prickly oak. Finish: A bit creamy now. Some eucalyptus, subtle notes on honey, licorice and wheat germ oil. Great springtime dram, solid made and satisfying. What’s more to ask for?
The nose hits you with estery components right away, very fresh and fruity. Green apple (cooked?), pear, cinnamon.
Later it gets a bit buttery in addition to a  light woodiness. Palate: creamy mouthfeel and sweet, which lets me think of cherry ice cream. The finish is very sweet at first, yet very short, again followed by a late transition to a more bitter tail. Maybe these were the licorice notes Michel detected. A nice dram to start with. 

Dallas Dhu 22yo 1982/2005 (43%, Signatory, C# 705, 407 Bts.) – 82 points from Michel, 83 points from Thomas
Colour: Pale amber. Nose: Great notes on dark malts. Hints on smoke, subtle charcoal, roasted hazelnuts, pear, some beer and ashy oak. Palate: Roasted malts, some smoke, roasted almonds, sahy oak, hints on crème brulée, some liquorice and humus. Finish: Some green malts, walnuts, almond oil and seems to have some feints as well. Another enjoyable dram from a somewhat overlooked distillery. As I write this I can tell you I had a DD 1979 cask sample from Cadenhead which is truly worth looking out for. It will be bottled… somewhere now I guess.
Nose: Quite reluctant, lemon, used dishwater and in a way musty. Weird isn’t it? I couldn’t get it into in any kind of category until Michel mentioned something which I misunderstood. He said “pear” but what I understood was “beer”. And of all a sudden I knew what the nose reminded me of: German Weizenbier (wheat beer) which is often served with a slice of lemon. I don’t like Weizenbier which kind of explains my cluelessness. Funny how the mind works sometimes, though. Palate and finish were much more to my liking, though. Quite peppery, lots of vanilla and a nice touch of wood, before the lemon stages a soft comeback.  

Banff 20yo 1980/2000 (43%, Signatory, Butt #634, 702 Bts.) – 84 points from Michel, 82 points from Thomas
Colour: Golden. Nose: A tad rubbery, some peat, organics, cabbage water, potatoes and some thai basil. Palate: Salmiac, strawberries, hints of peat and some grapefruit. Finish: Very subtle peat, juicy malts, eucalyptus and tarces of garden mint leaves. Too bad of the sulphurous notes in the nose. But that didn’t keep me to come up with a ‘recommendable’ score. It has the right kind of dirtyness for me…
Nose: rubber and sulphur, yet unusual, not unlike some Port Ellens, for example. Somewhat flat on the palate with vanilla being the overriding component. Finish rather short,woody and quite spicy.  Not exactly flawed but hardly exciting. 

Banff 25yo 1980/2006 (43%, Signatory, C#2917, 292 Bts.) – 86 points from Michel, 85 points from Thomas
Colour: Dark golden. Nose: Enjoyable vegetal notes, grapefruits, eucalyptus, fudge and traces of smoke. Develops a hint of peat, bubble gum and some perfume. Palate: Some smoke and peat, butter, oily vanilla, orange candies and faint notes on tropical fruits. Finish: Very faint notes on sulphur, some vanilla, crème brulée and traces of smoke. Enjoyable Banff be it a tad straightforward.
A very good Banff with nice fruity influences.
Aah, this one is better! Smoke and matches, both very lightly and pleasant. Juniper, vanilla and hay.
Palate: Peat, fir, bubblegum, a little bit too artificial, though. The middle long finish shows malty sweetness, interwoven with a hint of pepper and oak. Definitely more interesting than the 20yo.  

There was a small incident with the two Banff’s. As the tasting was quite crowdy two bottles of each malt was needed.
The Banff 25yo failed in the shipment so one part of the audience had the 20yo, the other had the 25yo.
We managed to try both of them anyway. Good old German organizational skills, I’d say!
Famous words of Ingo ‘the tastemaster’: ‘Well, you see, they’re coming from the same year, it’s the same distillery so I can’t see the differences between the two can be that big’. I was not sure if I had to laugh or to get upset with these words…  
He always does that and it beats me why. This is a guy who usually is very knowledgeable in all aspects of whisky, be it about production, history or else. Yet he repeatedly neglects the influence that casks have on the final product. Very weird.

Millburn 26yo 1979/2005 (58.1%, Signatory, Butt #26, 531 Bts.) – 81 points from Michel, 81 points from Thomas
Colour: Amber. Nose: Aspirine, vegetal, roasted almonds, eucalytus, great ‘bitterness’. Develops malts, slightly sulphurous, fudge, lactic acids, pastry, gunpowder while added water brings out some grapefruits. Palate: Starts of with quite strong chemical notes. Nettle juice, pollen, buckwheat honey. Finish: Quite sweet. Sugared whipped cream, green malts, medicinal and fades away with notes on cough bonbons. A good Millburn that could have showed some more ‘green’ notes on the palate but with a rather diffuse finish.
Nose: Peppermint, eucalyptus and a bit musty, but in a pleasent way. Michel also suggested veggies which sounded right. I found it quite flowery as well (roses). Plastic notes accompanied by freshly mown grass, a hint of smoke and finally turning a bit sour (the infamous buttery notes of Millburn?) The palate and finish to me were kind of puzzling. Very malty, bubble gum. Nice burn on the tongue, oak and a surge of a slightly chemical sweetness. A ‘confused’ score of 81 points.

This one was followed by the Glencadam15yo (40%, OB, 2007) which Michel already knew, so only my notes here: Nose: Overripe fruits, veggies. The palate shows some fruits preserved in rum and sugar (called Rumtopf in German). The dram finishes off with a solid yet unimpressive interplay of tannins and sweet components. 82 points.

Port Ellen 1982/2006 (40%, G&M CC, D. 09/’82, Btl. 09/’06, refill sherry butts) – 82 points from Michel, 86 points from Thomas
Colour: Pale golden. Nose: Subtle peat, some rubber, dried autumn leaves, moss, some metallic notes. The rubber intensifies after a while, spirity, cereals, vanilla, some tar and tobacco. Goes on with rubber bands and eucalyptus. Palate: In yer face peat, tar, vanilla, crème brulée, tobacco, nutmeg and develops a more simple kind of blunt peat. Finish: Some oak, peat and metallic malts. Well, another proof peat/smoke for peat’s/smoke’s sake doesn’t work for me. And that price… pfff…
I liked this one a little bit better than Michel. Not very surprising since this is Peaty Tom talking… However, for a 24yo Port Ellen you would expect more maturity and complexity. The nose hits you right away with its oily and very peaty character. In the mouth there is added strawberry sweetness and pear but it pretty much ends there again. Except for smoke and barley to the end this one didn’t give me that much. A good malt if you’re into the heavy and peaty stuff but for that price (about 160 EUR) you’ll probably get better bottles (or more cheap ones for the price of one…). 

Thomas’ girlfriend Anke picked us up after the tasting and soon we were back at headquarters for two Clynelish Night Caps.

Clynelish 30yo 1972/2002 (46%, Berry Bros / The Dundeil Selection, C#14307) – 91 points from Michel, 90 points from Thomas
Colour: Amber, grey hues. Nose: Ashy vanilla, candle wax, grapefruits skin, prepared melon, roastbeef, some hums and autumn leaves. Develops more and more parafinne. Palate: Waxy malts, ashes, some silver polish, slightly dusty malts and dusty oak. Dusty is still very enjoyable in this one…  Finish: Some ashy malts, vanilla, hints on cheese and fudge. Great old Clynelish!
Both Clynelishs were samples from bottles shared with some friends and I haven’t tried them before either. So here goes: Nose: Gras, seaspray, classical Clynelish waxiness, but also salt and kippers. Hmm, I’m getting hungry again! Palate: quite strong, pleasently burning on the tongue, malt, hint of pepper, buttered caramel, fudge, Finish: a whiff of smoke, and fudgy again. And the cheese you detected probably was the Cheddar I had put on the table…   ;-). Anyway, a wonderful whisky.

No way Thomas, I had a clean palate when I tried this Clynelish… but seriously, I had more 1970’s Clynelishes which had something cheesy – nothing negative here – on the palate (i.e. the Whsiky Fair bottle) or in the finish.

Clynelish 1972/2002 (56.3%, SSMC, C#14287) – 90 points from Michel, 88 points from Thomas
Colour: Dark golden. Nose: Honey, peach, quite subtle. Slightly metallic, orange cream, waxy malts, hazelnut ice cream, some salmiac, cinnamon, custard and tarragon. Palate: Short, yet bold attack. Damp oak, some feints… Waxy orange skin, caramel, some coffee, hints on ginger, mace and nutmeg. Finish: Wax, roasted malts, slightly drying oak and chemical bananas. Another classic Clynelish!
Nose: much more in your face and sweeter than the Dundeil. The seaweed is moch more underlying. Roasted coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla. Palate: olives, salmiacs, licorice, spicy and woody, hints of rubber. Finish: very creamy and long but just a tad too sweet for me which was kind of overdoing it. Too bad, because I loved the nose. 88 points. But, in case you are still counting: my malt mileage was now at 993. Tomorrow would be the day!!  😉

Michel: After a good night’s sleep and a great breakfast, the ‘himbeeren’ with Laphroaig jam was truly great, the four of us headed for a Bremerhaven city tour. It seems Bremerhaven is waking up from a relative long period of sleep – that should be ‘not being an important NATO -harbour anymore – and what beautiful morning Bremerhaven can expect! The old harbour front is completely overhauled. A new hotel with the looks of the Burj Al Arab is being build. The brand new museum ‘Deutsches Auswandererhaus’  looks very nice (although we didn’t enter… ) and the Klimahaus were former, 20th century climatically conditions such as ‘spring’ or ‘winter’ can be experienced, will be finished somewhere next year. But it’s not all ‘just new’ in Bremerhaven. There’s this charming, just a bit cheesy, fish harbor where most of the early 20th century warehouses are converted to shops and restaurants, a real crowd pleaser. In all, Bremerhaven is in the middle of some very positive dynamics. Let’s hope the available 450.000.000 euros for this operation will be spend for the benefit of the entire city and not just on a strip of land 3 kilometers by, let’s say, 400 meters?

Thomas: Well, I hope I do not sound like a local bum, but if you ever happen to visit Bremerhaven in the near future make sure you visit the Klimahaus. You will experience a  discovery trip through the world’s climatic zones, a journey along the 8th degree of longitude that shows the diversity of the world’s climates. This is copied right from their website: “One of the main attractions of the Klimahaus® is a trip around the world from and to Bremerhaven, always along the 8th degree of longitude. Over 5,000 square metres, you will become a world traveller: strolling through a variety of different climes and meeting people whose everyday life is heavily influenced by the prevailing climate. You will experience extreme temperatures and encounter strange animals and plants. Interactive exhibits will help you to literally grasp even complex interrelations of the various factors of the world’s climates.” Check out the website at www.klimahaus-bremerhaven.de/!

Michel: Cruising the harbors in beautiful weather makes a person hungry. At one of the restaurants in the old harbor we had a small dinner – a Fischerfrühstück with loads of north-sea prawns (north-sea prawns are undeniably the best on this planet…) and scrambled eggs – the perfect basis for a night’s dramming! After we picked up some bread and cheese we headed home where Martin Diekmann was expected to join. Martin is a member of the recently established German speaking chapter of the International Maltmaniacs, the MaltGermaniacs by the way. If you speak German you should have a look at their website: http://www.maltgermaniacs.org/.  The Third of ‘Die Drei von Bremerhaven’, Hans-Jürgen was not able to come. Too bad, we still have to settle this thing between our nations’ kitchens. Next time you guys, no more excuses! You WILL prepare me Schnitzel and I WILL have a laugh about it!!

Thomas: To be a bit more precise: Hans-Jürgen isn’t actually from Bremerhaven, but lives about 1 hour and 45 minutes away.
One reason he didn’t just drop by…   😉

Michel: Well Thomas, I sincerely don’t care! 🙂
I stick to ‘Die Drie von Bremerhaven’ for me, as a Dutchie, it has a certain something to it…
Back to Saturday night. It took Martin a bit longer than expected to come so we decided to start with some easy dramming.

Thomas: To be honest with you, at that point I was a little bit tired.
The big Fischerfrühstück and a day of sightseeing combined with the contrastingly warm interior of my house did their part.
But Michel was restless again (the privilege of youth?) and was pushing a nosing glass to-and-fro. Okay, okay, I got it – no mercy!!  😉 
So he “forced” me to try a Milton Duff 26yo 1980/2006 (48%, Dewar Rattray, Cask #12502 , 132 Bts.). Nose: Mint, bonfire sweetness, honey, supported by a backbone of vanilla. Palate: very rich and oily mouth feel, later enormously sweet. Ends on orange juice and very mature fruits. Despite the overly sweetness which I usually don’t like, a very good one! 87 points. Speaking of which: the next one on my crusade was a George T. Stagg (65.45%, OB, c2005) that Michel also had brought along. The problem I have with a lot of American whiskeys is the pronounced sweetness they show and it was the same one with the Stagg.
Very drinkable, but I wouldn’t like a whole bottle of it. 77 points.
Here Michel joins in again with his commentary:

Next on line was a bottle I bought recently. Glen Elgin 1976/2006 (45.1, JWWW Cross Hill, 224 Bts.) – 82 points.
Colour: Amber, orange hues. Nose: Hints of ginger and peach. Some sharpish oak, apple pie, cinnamon, black pepper, liquorice, vanilla, some fudge and gets a tad sulpury after a while. Palate: Somewhat timid. Cookies, some mace, faint notes on damp card board and slightly medicinal. Finish: Nice and creamy now. Some green oak, some resin and has a metallic feel towards the end. The Glen Elgin was a bit disappointing. It came from a fresh opened bottle and lacked the personality you should expect from a 30yo whisky. Recently I poured some samples from it and the nose was much better already. Expect new a new score in a foreseeable future. For now it’s on 86 pts.
I agree with Michel. This one wasn’t overly impressive – yet. Nose: Sweet honey, spicy oak, hints of rubber, licorice, the slightest sulphur which gets stronger over time. Very balanced but far from excellent. Palate: ‘tastes’ quite strong considering the ABV, leaving a burning sensation on the tongue. Fruity sweetness, but somehow not very expressive besides that. Finish: warm and long, but it doesn’t exactly talk to me. 83 points.

After this somewhat bland malt Michel definitely went after me! Here comes a Springbank 1996 ‘Spiritus Sulphuris Volatilis’ (57.5%, OB, priv, C#118, 306 Bts., ca. 2006). And it was living up to its name!! Nose: Rubber, chocolate, sulphur in a very big way, overpowering, almost numbing and not very pleasant. Adding some water added wet flintstones and minerals. Taste: Sulphur again, but much smoother now, better integrated into some faint peat and some ripe fruits. Finish: the addition of water once again helps. Cremay, marzipan, nuttiness and – of course – sulphur. One of the few malts that I scored by its components: N: 65 p., T: 84 p..
Final verdict: 79 points. I just couldn’t get over the nose. 

Yeah, strange malt this is. It’s soo over-sulphurised (not comming from the cask!) it’s funny! Truly lives up to its name.
While Thomas was trying to tame the Springbank I had a go at at an ‘antique’ Glen Garioch, the Glen Garioch 10yo (40%, OB, btl. 1980’s, 75 cl) which I gave 85 pts. Colour: Amber. Nose: Some balsamico, devlops smoke, black pepper, leather, honey, peppered orange skin, ginger bread and slight signs of OBE. Dried tarragon, licorice, caramel, subtle notes on sulphur and hazelnut cream. Palate: OBE, smoke, spicy oak, some pollen, leather, cinnamon, pepper and caramel. Finish: Cinnamon, OBE, caramel and minerals. Fades away with notes on vanilla and coffee, gets a tad herbal. Soon after the Glen Garioch Martin came in. He brought some very interesting samples we just had to try.

Numero uno was one I barely couldn’t wait to get my hands on once I saw it. Martin actually poured us a Highland Park 30yo 1955/1985 (53.2%, G&M for Intertrade, 216 Bts.) that he had received from fellow maltmaniac Luc. But Martin warned us right away that something might not be right (anymore?) with this one since he found it to be extremly soapy! Considering the fact that Luc and other maniacs had rated this one very highly not that long ago this announcement was quite puzzling. But I had to agree with Martin. This one WAS disappointing. So far I had tried some outstanding Intertrade bottlings and old Highland Parks can be a revelation. But this one? Nose: very subtle sulphur, the malty sweetness covers light licorice notes. Palate: still unimpressive, nothing that really stands out, some malts, hint of sherr, but no honey for example, no special qualities. Finish: lightly floral go with the reappearence of sulphur.
I’m afraid this HP simply has suffered from oxidation. 83 points only.
Colour: Amber with brown hues. Nose: Hazelnut cream, rosted almonds, licorice, liquorice later on, hints on peach, subtle notes on resin, pistachio’s and gets subtle perfumed. Palate: A tad flora. Hints on rosewater, subtle sherried and delicate notes on almonds. Finish: Juicy oak, beer, almonds and fades away with notes on crème brulée. I had it at 86 pts.
The sherry and the subtle rosewater had a very nice interplay…

But Martin wasn’t going to be discouraged by his disappointment and poured us another heavyweight…
An Bruichladdich 33yo “Legacy V” (40.9%, OB, 1,690 Bts.) which had been bottled in 2006. While the first three ‘Legacys’ had been classics, the fourth in this series had been not up to that elusive standard in my opinion. Let’s see if this one fairs better. Nose: overripe fruits, cinnamon, paint stripper, wet paper, hint of grass. Palate: tropical fruits, raspberry, nice sweetness overall. Finish: a little bit too short and weakish on some oaky notes to propel it in exclusive 90 point company, but nonetheless an improvement over its predecessor. 87 points.
Colour: Amber with grey hues. Nose: Aplple compote, hints on cinnamon, honey, dried apricot, hints on fresh oak and develops notes on pine resin. Palate: Honey, pollen, apple compote, beer, subtle sherry, cannabis, hints on tropical fruits and cherries skins. Finish: A tad too short. Slighlty mineraly, some oak and rather diffuse. 85 pts. Nice but it’s rather ‘correct’. Nothing exciting here…

That was my #999 malt by the way, so stop the presses and drum rolls please as I approach the magic barrier!!.

[Editor’s remark – and from here on it just wasn’t clear anymore who was writing what – sorry about that…]
[Please look at this at a little ‘puzzle’ to help your brain cool down if you will…]

And Michel kept good on his promise. He really presented a legend, the Lagavulin 16yo (43%, OB, 75cl), but not your garden variety edition you get today, but the very first ‘White Horse’ bottling of the 16yo standard from about 1988. In case you didn’t know, the standard Lagavulin until then had been the 12yo. Good luck if you are chasing one of those bottles.. Now let’s see if the old Laga is really so much different from nowadays bottlings as a lot of people claim. Nose: Definitely different! Not as punchy, way more subtle, even some fruitiness that reminds me of Ardbeg, especially the 75s, that had some winey and grappa notes to boot. Obviously there is a lot of peat and smoke as well, but wonderfully balanced with the other components. The taste offers you the same wonderful sweetness and peat notes. Just yummy! The finish is middle long and smooth and shows some tender strawberry notes to go with the peat. There is none of the bitterness of the spirit caramel influenced Lagavulins you find nowadays. Michel was right. This was a worthy anniversary malt for Peaty Tom! 91 points (Just to think that that was the standard back then…).

So what’s best to follow up the Lagavulin?
How about a Lagavulin 21yo 1984/2005 (42%, Murray McDavid, Mission, bourbon, 132 Bts.)?   😉
Nose: Vanilla! Very youthful. If this were a lady she’d be lying about her age, showing only the traits of a young Islay whisky: barley, malt peat, seaspray. Palate: stays young, no added dimensions, despite 21 years in the cask you still get associations of new make. Finishes on smoked tea, oak and tannins. This hasn’t been a very active cask, obviously, but it’s still a solid whisky. 84 points.
Colour: Dark golden. Nose: Tobacco, smoke, some cooked apple, grain barn, slightly metallic. Develops smoked trout and mashy malts. Palate: Faded peat, some smoke, malts, drying mouth feel. Lapsang Souchong, tannic feel. Must be comming from a tired cask. Finish: The oak continues, some ‘dry’ malts, smoke gets thru and fades away with notes on charcoal. Can’t say I’m overly impressed… 83 pts.

But we weren’t far from done. Martin just kept on firing with interesting stuff. The Bushmills 1984/1996 (57%, OB for Celtic Whisk(e)y, cask #11758) had recently been reviewed very positively by Serge, so let’s see if we can join the parade. Nose: Very expressive. Furniture polish, tobacco, dark chocolate, polished leather, plums and Rumtopf (fruits in rum and sugar). Palate: Tia Maria, creamy, a bit sticky and a tad to sweet. Finish: very warming, long and powerful. Water brings out more chocolate notes and that creaminess again. In a way very clean, whatever that means. 84 points in my book, but I am not a lover of overly sherried whisky. If that’s more along your alley you might very well love it. Colour: Dark amber. Nose: Loads of sherry, some tropical fruits, diesel, bearing grease, some exhaust fumes, butter scotch, coffee, chocolade, Madeira wine and licorice. Palate: Diesel oil at first. Bearing grease, some tropical fruits, caramel, humus and over-ripe banana. Finish: Licorice, chocolate, black pepper, walnuts with hints on tropical fruits. 88 pts. Interesting tough over-sherried, lovely over-sherried that is. After that, it went strictly downwards for a while. Martin used to own (almost?) all Bruichladdich valinches but decided to sell a lot of them because he was disappointed about the quality of  the majority of them. Two that he hadn’t tried before had to stand our judgement tonight.

First up was the Bruichladdich 1989/2005 Tonga Valinch (57%, OB, bourbon C#1880, Caroni Trinidad rum enhanced, 348 Bts.). At that point this one was like “Knüppel auf’n Kopf” as we say in Germany (like you got hit with a stick over your head). I couldn’t believe Bruichladdich actually bottled this one. The only thing I wrote down was: totally unimpressive, 70 points. It was so bland I was  shaking my head in disbelief. Colour: Pale golden. Nose: Cane sugar, lots of alcohol, subtle notes on malts, some brad, tea leaves and gets a tad peppery . Palate: Quite hot, overwhelming alcohol. Hints on soap, some cane sugar, make-up powder and has a rancid sweetness. The rum ‘enhancement’ make for an even more shallow feel. Finish: Vanilla and eventually knocks out the tastebuds. 71 pts.

The next one didn’t fare much better.
The Bruichladdich 1986/2001 ‘Launch ot the First Edition Bottlings’ Valinch (53.5%, OB, C#700, 1200 Bts.) was just as boring. It hasd some fudgy, buttery notes, some sweetness but nothing to write home about. At this point I didn’t even bother to take notes anymore. Not a very maniacal behaviour, Michel chided me. But I didn’t care anymore. This was the Launch of the first bottlings valinch? Barely 72 points. Colour: Amber. Nose:  Buttery malts, fudge, oily sherry oak. Some cinnamon. Turns mouldy after a while and develops notes on burnt oak and malts. Palate: A tad shallow and bleached out. Mushrooms and burnt caramel. I can’t say I liked it. Finish: Caramel, rotten walnuts and fades away with beer. Thomas decided not to try the third valinch of that night…

Bruichladdich 1990/2005 ‘The Purest Malt’ Valinch (55.5%, OB, C#710, 350 Bts.)
Colour: Golden, grey hues. Nose: Clay, Malts, gun powder, bruin bread, jumoy oak, sluphurous oak. later on some pineapple jam and apple kernels. Palate: Quite harsh. Sahrp malts and oak, a tad sopay as well. Faint notes on apple skin and kernels. Quite hot mouth feel as well… Finish: Quite some oak, pepper and nutmeg. Very jumpy from a somewhat uninsprired/tired cask. 77 pts. Very pure indeed… above average for that matter but I can’t say it has an enjoyment factor.

A dissapointing row of Valinches….
It looked like we were all getting tired finally, but we couldn’t go to sleep on such a sour note. What we needed was a strong finish in a literary sense. How about a  Port Ellen 23yo 1978/2002 (60.9%, Signatory, Dumpy, C#5265, 464 Bts.), Michel asked? Yeah, how about it!?   J Nose: Wow, heavy! One of the sulphury kind, but pleasant. There was something else which I couldn’t come up with that late at night. Soy sauce, maybe? Overall very attacking and sharp. Palate: Mostly sherry, but with water you get something extra, something fresh like citrus. Finish: Long and quite spicy. This one can stand some water which lifts  it into the realms of the very good drams. 88 points for an excellent nightcap. While Thomas was enjoying the Signatory Port Ellen he poured me another Port Ellen:  Port Ellen 19yo 1981/2000 (59.4%, The Bottlers, D. 05/’81, Btl. 07/’00, Refill sherry C#1550) Colour: Dark amber. Nose: Nice maritime feel. Some smoke, hazelnuts, subtle notes on rubber, herbal broth, black pepper and notes on wild thyme. Palate: Chocolate, coffee, subtle notes on peat and generates more smoke. Slight hints on soap, roasted malts and some hints on caramel. Finish: Mocca, hazelnuts, chocolate, juicy oak and fades away with notes on chicorice. 89 pts.

Although the Port Ellens were like a power jolt we decided to call it a day after that and we all went to bed. And after an extensive breakfast the next morning it was time to say goodbye already to my friends. What’s left to say is a big THANKS for all the great stuff they brought and for the good time we were able to share. And isn’t that what drinking whisky is all about?

Yes indeed!
After a drive that took us a bit longer than expected – the weather was quite stormy that day – we made it safely home.
A great whisky-weekend!