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The whisky world as seen by an eccentric Bavarian exile


March 2010

Previous Monthly Dram-atics: Jan-Feb 2010 / Dec. 2009 / Nov. 2009

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Sunday 14th March; The choice of Managers or "Can a committee really get it right?"

At any one time Diageo have between 7.25 and 7.5 million casks of whisky spread across their distilleries and bonded warehouses so just imagine being given the task of selecting just one cask from each of their 27 distilleries. A labour of love? A necessary evil? Oh well, I suppose someone has to do the job!

Whatever your viewpoint, how does one go about this forbidding task?

In the case of Diageo and their latest single cask series called "Managers Choice" they selected a group, or committee of distillery managers and experts who were tasked with exactly this problem. I am told that not every manager, or committee member travelled to every distillery, but sub-sets of them did and tested various casks until the final selection was made and the "Managers Choice" range was decided.

The range is being released piecemeal, that is to say six of the 27 single cask bottlings (Cardhu, Glen Elgin, Linkwood, Mortlach, Teaninich & Oban) were released during September 2009 and to be honest they were greeted with some scepticism, mainly due to the prices being asked which were typically in the €200 to €340 range.

Not least of which, in the scepticism stakes, was the Oban; A 9y bottling and the most expensive of that release at over €300. Compare this to typical IB bottlings of similarly aged whiskies, or even older, which are very often single cask releases and hit the marketplace at under €100 and you'll begin to see why all the fuss was made by some.

Early this year, in January,  the second release of 7 bottlings was issued, so imagine my curiosity when this issue was offered in a Diageo Masterclass at the recent Munich Whisky (& Bar) Festival!

After eventually securing my ticket I was further surprised to hear that we wouldn't be tasting all 7 issues as time wouldn't permit this, but four of the seven were given to us in sample bottles to take away and try at our leisure.

Before we go any further let's assess the bottlings on merit and forget the price(s):

The three offered within the tasting were Dalwhinnie, Balir Athol & Talisker and were all very good drams, the Talisker especially so and was the star of that event.


Today I have finally got a 'round tuit' as we say in Yorkshire and have tried the remaining four from this release; Glen Spey, Strathmill, Dufftown & Cragganmore.


Firstly the Glen Spey; A really quite pleasant dram which is very warming and smooth with some wood and citrus. It improves more with a few drops of water.

Secondly the Strathmill; Lots of spiciness which grows even more on the palate with the addition of water, which this whisky really needs. It's a good solied fruit cocktail with vanilla sauce, but not a favourite from my recently tasted samples.

The Dufftown has a floral, aromatic leafiness which is much more pleasant than it sounds. Probably the bets of these three so far for me.

Finally, the Cragganmore has the richest flavours of these four, with a rich spiciness offering countryside fresh air, through toffee, butterscotch and nuts. For me this is the best of these four whiskies.

My overall impressions of this release of 7 bottlings is that the quality is pretty good, much more superior to the reports I heard from the first release, but as I didn't try those, maybe it's unfair to compare too much.

The Talisker is far and away the star of this release, reminding me exactly how a Talisker should taste! But, after ignoring the prices for this long, I now have to say that I don't believe any of these bottlings actually offer value for money. Yes, they are limited editions, single casks and good whiskies, but good enough to be pitched at €220 to €350? Sorry, not really when compared with other offerings on the market, which means we have to ask the question "just why are these pitched at this price" and obviously wonder if Diageo are really just trying to cash in from collectors?



Sunday 14th March; A return to sanity

Never before has my life been irrevocably affected by a whisky. I have tasted many great ones and a few bad ones but I have always been able to 'get over them' one way or another. But that Loch Dh-Ugly was something else and I still stare with horror at the sample bottle on my desk, but life must go on and in an attempt to erase the horrors of it from my memory I have tried various 'sane' drams this last week.

First came a little Island hopping as I enjoyed a trio of Bowmores and a brace of Jura


The Enigma and Mariner were really quite enjoyable with rich and distinctive flavours, but the Surf was a quite unusual Bowmore with lots of herbal and fruity flavours which, for some reason, just didn't quite work for me.


A quick hop across The Sound took me to neighbouring Jura and the 10y & 16y expressions. I often liken Jura whiskies to Autumnal country lanes in rural England, but this 10y was just a little too leafy and had some extra farmyard notes which were not my cup of tea. The 16y was a totally different proposition with tremendous floral notes providing a cross between an English rose garden and an Alpine Meadow. Much better!

A trio from The Glenlivet were next across my desk of samples


I have long enjoyed offerings from The Glenlivet and always found them to be full-flavoured with Summer fruits, berries, a little light wood and even the odd hint of toffee. These three didn't disappoint; from the creamy, malty fruit cocktail of the 12y, the rich mixture of Summer fruits and lightly toasted oak of the 18y to the flavour explosion of the Nadurra which turned almost atomic with a few drops of water. Most enjoyable!

Finally, whilst on the subject of sanity watch out for a new blog entry in the coming days which will discuss and further pontificate the news that Mortlach have now released the world's oldest whisky at 70 years.

How would you fancy being born a pensioner? (Coming soon!)



Sunday 7th March; The good, the bad and the Dhu-gly

I think I have finally succeeded in my quest for something a little different, namely an unadulterated assault on my palate. So far I have enjoyed the new makes that I've tried, but this latest batch really challenged that concept to the limit. If that wasn't enough, included in this sampling was quite simply, the worst whisky I have ever had the displeasure to try. But more of that soon.

The sampling began in a quite normal and pleasant way with the original Compass Box Spice Tree and yes, it does exactly what it says on the label; Spicy with some hints of wood. This was a thoroughly enjoyable dram but little did I realise what would soon follow. If only I had stopped right there.

Next along were two new makes from two of Scotland's most esoteric distilleries; Daftmill and Loch Ewe. The Daftmill sample was from 2005 and at 73.2% ABV. Yes, it was spirity, almost exclusive so and this didn't change much with the addition of water, it just turned into weaker spirit. Compared to some excellent new makes I have tried which have superb floral bouquets this was a little one-dimensional in the spirity department. In fact, at the 73.2% it was akin to my idea of rocket fuel and I'm sure could be used as such, so fly me to the Moon!

The second of the new makes was Loch Ewe which had a little more character, but in the wrong direction. The nose was again spirit, but slightly rancid and overlaid with hints of raspberry. In fact this was pretty much like a very bad German Himbeer (Raspberry) schnapps which, when water was added grew some rather mouldy, leafy notes just to add to the depth of unpleasantness, reminiscent of my compost tip in Autumn after a long, hot Summer.

Finally, to complete the experience I sampled the now infamous Loch Dhu. I must admit that its reputation had preceded it, so I was torn between a friend who claims he 'really likes it' and the rest of the world who tend towards the other end of the scale.

What a nose; treacle toffee and tarmac, soon joined by slightly sweet ashtray. Oh how I long to taste this one now, (not!) so let's get on with it; the palate took me by surprise as it was quite watery and for the first second and a half almost tasteless. How I wish it would have stayed that way, but alas it was not to be. My palate was then treated to an explosion of burnt coffee beans wrapped in (already smoked) tobacco leaves whilst trying very hard to taste like mocca with a side order of sour molasses. After the slow start the finish was annoyingly long.

Welcome to the Good, the Bad and the very (Loch) Dhu-gly!


Saturday 6th March; So what's in the pipeline for this month?  "Sample mania part 2"

To give you an idea of what's currently sitting on my desk to be sampled this month and added to my notes; Bowmore 12y, Surf & Mariner. Glenlivet 12y, 18y & Nadurra CS. Glengoyne 14y. Auchentoshan 10y & 12y.  Balvenie 12y Double Wood. Glenfiddich Special Reserve. Lagavulin 1993 DE. Macallan Estate Oak. Tormore 12y. Strathisla 12y. Isle of Jura 10y & 16y and then it'll be the spoil of the hunt as Famous, Black and Snow Grouse are currently awaiting a H2H2H. Not forgetting the last four drams in the second Managers Choice release!

Happy dramming!


Saturday 6th March; Some recent Head-2-Heads  "Comparitively speaking"

The New Year started a little slowly for me, but once into late January and February I had amassed a reasonable number of new (to me) samples and began to catch up on my tasting notes., especially following my annual pilgrimmage to the Munich Whisky Fair, also known as Finest Spirits 2010. Many of the drams tested are featured in my 'Recent Reviews' on the January-February Dram-atics page, but I would like to start March by bringing together a few of those head-2-heads. The full tasting notes can be found on my tasting notes pages under the relevant distilleries, but as it's quite rare for me to run these head-2-head tastings, I thought it worth mentioning the recent ones again.

Maker's Mark - A Masterclass on the palate:

As I reported in the last Dram-atics Maker's Mark only bottle one expression and lay great store in its effect on the palate, but this H2H featured an amazing four different expressions from white dog to an 'overaged' 9y.

If only they would bottle that 9y!


Ardbeg - A Ten, A Corryvreckan, A Rollercoaster and a Beastie:


Ardbeg have been right at the forefront of whisky news already this year with the ten-year Anniversary of their committee and the 'Rollercoaster' anniversary bottling. Along with these other notable Ardbegs I managed to grab a sample for testing.

What did I think? That Corry is marvellous!


Talisker - An older Ten, A 'friendly' twelve, A fully-grown Eighteen and 57°N:


The festival also gave me the possibility to revisit one of my favourite distilleries; Talisker. They have bottled some jolly good drams here, but that Western-Isles Map old Ten?

Talisker as it used to be and should always be!


Clynelish - The Fourteen, An Oloroso Seco Distiller's Edition and a 'friendly' 2009:


This trio of Clynelish just renewed my love of this distillery.

Some very good drams!


Laphroaig - The Eighteen and a full strength Ten from Batch 001, Feb. 2009:


What can I say other than pure, unadulterated, full-flavoured Laphroaig?

I want more!


Finally for now: A Brace of Brora!:


This brace of Brora was a rare treat for me, but they needed time, lots of it. I had been warned that certainly the 25y required a lot of breathing time in the glass, so I obliged with a tasting report over a good hour. Did the whisky oblige too?

You bet it did!



















Previous major features

Jan-Feb 2010

Keep taking the medicine, It's Festival time, Maker's Mark, Sleeveless in Munich

Dec. 2009

All power to the bean-counters, protecting Scotch, seasonal drams, Definitive Xmas Drams, 2009 Whisky Awards

Nov. 2009

How it all started, Bonfire night, Autumnal musings, EU Tax & Duty, What's in a (whisky) name?




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