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The whisky world as seen by an eccentric Bavarian exile


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Thursday March 17th 2011

Coopers Choice

or "choosing some choice choices"


At the recent Munich whisky (& bar) festival I had the pleasure to meet Andy McNeill on his Coopers Choice stand, or rather in the middle of the aisle as he wandered around chatting to as many visitors as he was able. It was still early doors and the queue for the cloakroom was rather long so instead of waiting to lose my duffel coat I chose to keep it on for a while until the queues subsided. Seeing me in my long brown duffel coat, Andy's opening remark was along the lines of "I'm sure I know this man, you're a monk aren't you?"

OK Andy, nice to meet you too and you win my award for most original greeting on the day!

But is your whisky any good?

I have come across the Coopers Choice range before and if my memory serves me correct they are usually decent enough malts at budget prices, but I now see new packaging, or at least new to me and some promising distillery names in the line-up, so I chose to bring away a selection of samples for review in the comfort of my wee whisky den.

In addition, I also recently received three samples from Master of Malt and, believe it or not, one was an Auchentoshan from the Coopers Choice range, so I now present to you five different whiskies from this range; A 1998 Glenlivet (sherry cask!), 1982 Glen Mhor, 1982 18y Longmorn, Auchentoshan 1991 & Bowmore 1990 18y (also sherry cask!).




Glenlivet 1998-2010 11y 46% Now here's a surpirse; A Glenlivet sherry cask with a dark, almost teak colour. The nose shouts sherry too with raisins, currants, leather, aged oak and then even a suggestion of lightly toasted apricot and berries. These fruity notes come right through on the palate too, with the apricot quite prominent alongside peach and berries, but all marinated in an oak bath of sherry, marzipan and nuts.

A very different, but most enjoyable Glenlivet!


Glen Mhor 1982-2009 27y 46% I'm greeted here by a nose of dried wood, hay, straw and grasses, all of which have been left out in the mid-day sunshine. After some minutes some stronger herbal notes develop, expanding further into sweet candy floss. The palate offers a creamy mouth-feel with hay, aromatic and floral grasses and even a little black pepper. The grasses fade and the floral elements grow as it heads into the finish.

A decent and quite drinkable Glen Mhor.




Longmorn 1992-2010 18y 46% Richly armoatic hay with creamy toffee make for a very interesting and pleasing nose. On the palate the hay and grasses lead to red peppercorns, toffee, freshly-cut damp wood and a suggestion of vanilla. The finish is long and slightly dry.

There's quite a lot happening in this Longmorn which deserves a little more of your time. It's a fine dram too.


Auchentoshan 1991 46% The first surprise here was the extremely faint colour, but yet a very powerful nose with perfumed hay and grasses partnering something quite citrus (lemon) and a touch of fresh wood. The palate is also fresh with lemon alongside the hay making it quite sharp and a little bitter.

Sadly I was a little disappointed with this one, but that's more down to my taste preferences than the whisky itself.




Bowmore 1990-2009 19y sherry cask 46% Now here's a rich dram; lots of aged oak and rugged leather (think hiking boots!) on the nose which opens after some minutes to include slightly smoky sweet honey. All of these elements translate perfectly onto the palate which also develops a little black pepper.

What is it about these 19y sherry-cask Bowmores that makes them so good, I really like this whisky!


I'm not really sure what I expected from this selection of Coopers Choice samples, but what I found was a selection of good whiskies interspersed with a couple of magnificent ones. The Glenlivet and the Bowmore are certainly the stars of this line-up for me. Does this mean I have a preference for sherry-cask whiskies? Not usually, although I do like good ones and these two certainly qualify!

The Longmorn too was most enjoyable, but perhaps because I have had the pleasure of some truly magnificent Glen Mhors, maybe I expected too much from this particular one and was just slightly disappointed.

Sadly, the Auchentoshan was not to my personal taste, but it would certainly make an excellent summer dram for those who enjoy slightly grassy, citrus and fresh whiskies.

Overall I have been quite impressed with my exposure to Cooper's Choice and will certainly watch out for them again, especially if I can find bottles of the Bowmore, Glenlivet and Longmorn!

Slàinte Mhath Andy and thanks for all the choices!



Tuesday March 8th 2011

Going blind with samples

or "The Dave Stirk Five"


David Stirk is a fellow Tyke (read Yorkshireman if you don't understand Tyke) and in his case, the founder and owner of The Creative Whisky Company whose ranges of single malts all include the word "Exclusive" as in Exclusive Malts, Exclusive Casks and Exclusive Range.

His Inchgower 34y 1974 was a delight and one of the best drams I tried in late 2009 - early 2010, then the WWW forum Tamdhu 26y was another fine whisky from his stable, so when he contacted me and asked if I fancied trying a little blind experiment with some of his samples I was "Reelin' and Rockin'" and "Glad all over" whilst waiting for them to "come home" to me!



Arrive they did; five sample bottles with nothing on the labels other than being hand-numbered 1 to 5, no clues as to their identities in a "Catch Guess us if you can" kind of way.

Sample No.1: Glass; Classic Malt, Colour; Pale yellow )9ct) gold, Nose; Sweet, aromatic and quite floral with vanilla (ice cream) and some hints of butterscotch. It's also quite fresh and surprisingly also offers just a dash of slightly smoky oak. Palate: Very smooth and creamy with vanilla alongside some tropical fruits which immediately makes me think of papaya flavoured ice cream! With 4 drops of water; there's more oak on the nose whereas the palate now has more fruit, some more of that oak and a little black pepper to spice it up. Finish; Very long and with a little pepper when the water is added. Overall Impression; "You must have been a beautiful baby"

Sample No.2: Glass; Classic Malt, Colour; Extremely pale straw, Nose; Cherry schnapps, smoke, wood and a goold old dose of Atlantic sea-air. Palate: Lots of fruit alongside that wood and smoke and now also joined by light peat. Finish; Long and sweet with fruity peat. Overall Impression; "I knew it all the time"!

Sample No.3: Glass; Classic Malt, Colour; Treacle toffee, almost teak, Nose; Oak, dark fruits (plums, raisins, currants & figs) and a hint of toasted vanilla. Palate: Very rich and creamy oak, those dark fruits and an element of dark (90% plus) chocolate. With 4 drops of water; More wood on the nose and a slightly sweeter palate with enhanced fruit a now some nuts too. Finish; Very long with nicely aged oak and fruit, even longer with the water. Overall Impression; "You got what it takes"!

Sample No.4: Glass; Classic Malt, Colour; Very pale straw, Nose; Faint green apples with just a hint of iodine. Also something resembling car polish applied in direct sunlight on a hot summer day. Palate: Creamy mouth-feel with green apples and a suggestion of freshly-sawn light wood. It's not exactly bitter, but far from being sweet. With 4 drops of water; A slightly fainter nose, but the palate has more fruit and a hint of pepper. It's also now slightly maritime in character. Finish; Long Overall Impression; "Satisfied with you"

Sample No.5: Glass; Classic Malt, Colour; Light yellow (9ct) gold, Nose; Lots of aromatic and floral fruit (berries) followed by creamy toffee and vanilla. Palate: Oaky vanilla with green peppercorn, slightly herbal and almost leafy. With 4 drops of water; Slightly more toffee, or even butterscotch, on the nose whilst the palate is much drier and more leafy. Finish; Very long with some green apples. Overall Impression; "Here comes summer"



David, firstly many thanks for these samples and this impossible challenge, even though "I like it like that" how can I begin to guess what these are?

I enjoyed all five, but sample No.1 was my favourite and one which I would call 'easy drinking' with delightful light flavours, lots of fruit and just a hint of smoky wood. In some ways it reminds me of a Caperdonich or Coleburn, but not quite. It also has some of the attributes of Imperial or even Linkwood, but to tie it down exactly is not an easy task here. If you are interested in scores, then I would consider a good '86'.

Only slightly behind and in a close 2nd place is sample No.3; Dark and fruity with aged oak and still a good dose of vanilla alongside some dark chocolate, this is also a very enjoyable whisky. With a whisky like this as an IB, one's mind often turns to Glenfarclas, but I doubt this is one. Nor does it really have enough smoke or peat to be a Bowmore. In some ways I'm reminded of Glen Keith and Glencadam, but again not quite.  Points? 84-85

Sample No.4; Light and fruity with a hint of a Summer Sunday polishing the car. This is light and creamy with plenty of apple and a touch of iodine, making me think of an unpeated Islay whilst retaining some maritime character. But I guess I'm on the wrong island here and more like mainland? Anyway, 83 points from me for a thoroughly enjoyable dram.

Whilst mentioning Islay, let's come to sample No.2 which from the first moment I saw the bottle, something whispered "Islay" in my shell-like. It's light but still rather peaty with oddles of fruit. In fact this really reminds me of Kilchoman but I doubt they are releasing casks to IBs as yet? Another 83 points here from me.

Finally sample No.5; again lots of fruit (berries) and quite floral and aromtaic too, but all slightly faint or subdued as this one is rather shy and perhaps a little reserved. A few drops of water increase the toffee and butterscotch elements and it also suggests Autumn in its leafiness, which I usually associate with a Jura, but this has a little too much flora for Jura. In some ways it almost reminds me of a Glenkinchie with that leafiness, but it doesn't have the citrus of a typical Glenkinchie. Anyway, no matter what it is, it gets a good 80 points from me.

So what were they? (in order of my preference)

A big surprise for me is that No.1 was a Tobermory. Almost no peat and with only a hint of smoky wood but lots of light fruit and floral complexity, this is a truly excellent Tobermory and unlike any others I've tried.

No.3 Is David's "Isle of Islay" and is dark and rich with lots of sherry cask character, but hardly any typically 'Islay' peat or smoke. It's an excellent cask with no hints of sulphur or other impurities. Could this possibly be a Bunnahabhain? Possibly.

So, my fruity summer Sunday is an Ardmore? I don't usually associate Ardmore with 'maritime' but that typical fruitiness and complexity is certainly there.

Sample No.2 couldn't be anything other than Islay, as I mentioned, but such a fruity Laphroaig? Nice!

Finally a 27y Aberfeldy? Well, this is another surprise especially as it's quite subdued for such an age, but still very nice.

Once again David my many thanks for some fine whiskies but also for some true surprises!



Friday March 4th 2011

Sampling again

or "more cute little bottles"


I guess one privilege of running a quite popular whisky website with this Dram-atics blog-esque page is the fact that people do read it and not just consumers, but it seems I have a reasonable 'industry' following too, if some of the mails I receive are anything to judge by.

After my dearth of samples in January and February my desk is now brimming, mostly due to the Munich whisky & bar festival which I recently attended and brought away a plethora of goodies which will be tasted and included in the site over the next weeks. But, in addition I have a fine selection of others, some swapped with fellow whisky enthusiasts and a few which arrived in the post thanks to distilleries, an Independent Bottler and in the case of today's article; an online shop.

I often use Master of Malt to buy samples which I fancy tasting, but this time they sent me a wee parcel of three samples that they "thought I would like to try", namely an Auchentoshan from Cooper's Choice, Ian MacLeod's 8y Highland single malt and finally, their own 8y blended whisky, all in those cute little 3cl bottles.

As I mentioned I attended the recent Munich festival and from that event I brought away a few other Cooper's Choice offerings from their rather well-stocked stand, so this Auchentoshan will be held back to join my Cooper's Choice jamboree planned for Dram-atics later this month.

That leaves two; Ian MacLeod 8y Highland single malt and Master of Malt's own 8y blend for today.

I first came across Ian MacLeod's bottlings many years ago on a visit to the Isle of Skye when I discovered the delights of his "Isle of Skye" bottlings. He has expanded since those days and now offers more choice and ranges, but is this one any good?




Ian MacLeod 8y Highland single malt first strikes me by the nose, it's extremely aromatic and floral with a suggestion of my favourite childhood olde worlde sweet shoppe and oodles of buttersctoch. This continues onto the palate in a very creamy and smooth way whilst offering floral light wood and faint creamy toffee. White peppercorns lead the way into the long finish.

This really is a delightful dram which I hope to revisit with a full bottle soon.


Master of Malt 8y blended whisky Rich and dark in colour this offers a nose of aromatic rich oak, cloves, a hint of lavendar and after some minutes; soft Italian leather. The palate is creamy whilst having a slightly watery mouth-feel but still offers hints of figs and currants with a suggestion of marzipan and dark cherries. However, these flavours are all slightly subdued as none seem to wish to burst to the fore as they remain quite shy. My thought here is that 43% or 46% rather than the actual 40% would greatly conquer this shyness and create a much bolder dram.




Wednesday March 2nd 2011

Memory and the Middle Cut

or "Life through the Worm Tub"


You may recall that back in November last year I took a journey to the end of The Scotverse as I was invited to attend a trip to three of Inver House's distilleries; Old Pulteney, Balblair & Knockdhu. I don't intend to recap that journey again here, but I would like to expand on some discussions I enjoyed during the trip, specifically with a young chap called James who is not only a highly intelligent student, but also seems to posess that typical student trait or desire for self-punishment as he had recently completed a marathon, nay Herculean, bicycle trip across the length and breadth of Scotland. James had decided to use his trusty old steed of a bicycle to visit 42 Scottish distilleries with visitor centres spread across 1,400 miles of Scottish countryside.

As a platform to recount his journey and more recently his thoughts on Scotland and its national drink, James is the owner and author of the very well written Scotch Odyssey blog which, I assure you, is well worth a read!

Anyway, I digress so let's get back on track, not on bicycles this time, but in a crew bus with a host of super-bloggers on a journey from Wick, down through Speyside and ending very late one night in Edinburgh. Of course on such a journey the topics of conversation are many and varied, especially after the Lagavulin 12y begins to flow (thanks again Mark!), but perhaps the conversations I remember most vividly (which is nothing to do with the Lagavulin 12y) are some that James and I held whilst discussing whisky tasting notes and the ability of aromas to provoke long-forgotten memories of times and places. In fact this topic alone reminded me of an article I read some time ago on the connection between our olfactory senses and the part of the brain associated with memory.

If you are a follower of my tasting notes you will know that I often reflect on this phenomenon as whisky aromas often return long-forgotten memories immediately to the fore. My first experience of this was whilst nosing a Jack Wieber Caol Ila and I was summarily returned to a cold and damp day in the Yorkshire Dales some 30 years previously. You will also see from my tasting notes page that I swear there is an Islay jetty inside every bottle of Ardbeg, Caol Ila and Laphroaig. This is thanks to those peaty aromas mingling with ones of wood, sea-air, surf and that je ne sais quoi which is Islay personnified. Likewise, Highland Park takes me away into the wild Scottish countryside with heather, bracken, hints of smoke and the great outdoors, reminding me of many walks across Bens and Glens. Finally, people often talk about 'Christmas drams' and I also have my own definitive one; Glenfarclas Quarter Casks (1987) which was truly surprising as it offered an amazing array of aromas when the bottle was first opened. These included leather, aged oak and musty books, but after the bottle had been opened a couple of days these were replaced by sherry and dark fruits like plums, currants, raisins and figs. This overall experience immediately transported me to an Olde English country house on Christmas day, just after lunch when I might be relaxing in my favourite deep-buttoned leather chair, surrounded by old first editions lining oak shelves and with a glass of sherry or port in my hand. This, for me is the magic of malt whisky!

This topic and approach to writing tasting notes interested James as he recounted similar experiences during his bicycle tour, so much so that we have decided to look at this topic further in the form of a joint article on our blog pages, but let me hand you over to James for now: (Whose own version of this article may be found here)

James: Though hardly essential in all matters, with certain phenomena it is satisfying when science can confirm what you long suspected.‘[O]lfaction,’ Messrs Rubin, Groth and Goldsmith stated in their 1984 study concerned with the relationship between how our separate senses cue contrasting categories of memory, ‘is somehow different from more commonly studied senses of vision and audition.’

This, I feel certain, will hardly astonish my whiskyphile readers. Who among us has not perceived the heightened degree of intimacy tied to an evening of enraptured dram-snuffling? Whiskies impel us, quite irresistibly, to personal meditation and every so often the consequences can be quite revelatory. If this weren’t the case, if whisky in the glass were no more loaded with subtle powers of suggestion than whisky on the page or screen, we would all be content to limit our encounters to reading tasting notes or watching Ralfy bounce enthusiastically around Scotland on YouTube.

As human beings we are programmed to pay close attention to these most immediate and invasive of sensory cues. Aroma and taste, as though armed with a search warrant, can pluck the deepest and murkiest echoes of our lives from their obscurity for its own arcane ends. Like connecting the blood-stained cleaver under the sink to the grisly murder perpetrated the previous day, our brains forge an indissoluble and significant link between stimulus and past experience. Though no longer of quite the same evolutionary necessity, this ancient mechanism is still most definitely switched on. The study found that an odour cue was more likely to retrieve a unique and well-preserved recollection than other forms of cue: ‘previously inaccessible memories’ were recalled for the test subjects as a result of nosing a selection of aromas, memories that had never been consciously contemplated or discussed prior to their unveiling during the experiment. In addition, though not conclusively proven, these rarer memories were for some rated as more pleasant than those conjured up by images and words.

Allow Keith and I to describe how whiskies have rifled through our personal mental photo albums and why, non-scientifically but all the better for it, we found it to be such a breath-taking ride.

I should say that only rarely – thus far – has a malt recalled its distillery, a function I had hoped my experiences on the Odyssey would enable more consistently. Often my jogs of memory derive from the most innocuous and randomised assortment of landscapes and circumstances, though whisky is never too far away from the original recollection in one of its many forms. One example is a tasting of Ardbeg 10-year-old in late 2008, and the ensuing reawakening of an open-air encounter I had nearly a year previously at the Torranbuie Cottage near Strathdon in wild, wooded Aberdeenshire. In the process a meaningful connection was made between two largely unremarkable moments: one from my innocent life before Whisky and the other what had been twenty minutes spent just analysing another dram. In the former I was walking to the porch, a late October afternoon rapidly freshening, and I became cloaked in the smoke from our neighbour’s log-burner which had pooled in the space between the two houses beneath the pine trees. As the Islay malt slid down my throat and the finish developed, the same quality of wood smoke wafted about my palate. A Northumbrian summer melted from my physical sight as I was transported back to the last days of my single malt Dark Age. Soon afterwards on that holiday, I would stumble across The Glenlivet distillery, my state of sensory obliviousness enlightened irreversibly.

Thanks for that James, I've already mentioned my own first experience of this phenomenon, but let me add another, more recent one which took me totally by surprise; The whisky was an Independent Port Ellen called Old Bothwell which my dear friend and fellow Maniac Oliver Klimek brought to the table in December last year. This had a very maritime character but with only extremely faint peat, more akin to "the great outdoors" with fresh, sea-air in abundance. For some reason I was immediately transported back to some childhood days out at the coastal resort of Scarborough during the school holidays. It was a special treat for me when my Mother would take me to one of the local coastal resorts for the day on the train. Scarborough was special because at that time it was far from being a tourist trap and had a great promenade along the sea front from the new to the older part of town, under the watchful eye of the castle. Anyway, the countryside and maritime character of the Port Ellen immediately evoked those childhood days out from more than 40 years ago.

For me, this is one of the truly unique powers, perhaps what some would call mysteries of Scotch malt whisky and although these are purely personal recollections, I will continue to write about them when they occur in the hope that others will also be encouraged to 'open their minds' and let their imaginations enjoy the mysteries of single malts.

One last word from yourself in conclusion James?

So startling in their clarity and so unexpected in their manifestation, these treasured pieces of footage from the past are, thanks to whisky’s inherent personality, individuality and mysterious profundity, brought to life again on occasion. More than mere echoes, for the duration of one sniff or sip you are possessed by the past. That being said, one cannot omit a reckoning of the intervening time and space, and this renders them subtly different: a new interaction and dialogue begun. Yes, for me there is whimsy and pathos as I come face-to-face with a pulse of my life which I hadn’t appreciated at the time, but there is mostly wonderment at the depths of our own personal histories, and how whisky can navigate them with such inspiring sympathy.


James Saxon

If tied to one word only to describe his career into whisky so far, 'precocious' might get the nod. A mere thirty months following his first fully-conscious sip of Scotch malt whisky at The Glenlivet Distillery, Speyside, James Saxon embarked on a very nearly complete tour of Scotland's distillery visitor centres and the whisky-making paraphernalia attached to them. 

Enthralled by every aspect of malt whisky's creation, location, history and unique personality, it was the only logical course. 1,400 miles and forty-two distilleries later, James's fanaticism has not wavered and he can be found irritating his fellow members at the St Andrews University Quaich Society at their twice-monthly tastings which, together with as much whisky tourism-related information as he can get his hands on, is recorded on the Scotch Odyssey Blog.




Wednesday March 2nd 2011

Macallan, Masters of Photography & cocktails

or "Win some Nikon equipment too"


I recently received a mail from Macallan asking if I would be willing to be one of the 10 bloggers world-wide who are being invited to partake in this wee feature.

Well, I am rather a purist at heart and prefer my whisky to taste like whisky and not be some integral part in a cocktail, in fact I was never really a big cocktail drinker even in my wilder halcyon days, although I do admit to enjoying an odd Long Island Iced Tea on my rare visits to the great Metropolis some years ago.

Conversely, I am a big fan of photographic art and that certainly helped sway my decision, plus the fact that the cocktail I have been assigned was designed by a twitter 'friend' called "The Intoxicologist".

What the hell am I talking about? Well, these bloggers have each been assigned a picture from Albert Watson's collection depicting the journey of Macallan casks from Spain to their distillery in Speyside. In addition, The Intoxicologist has created two cocktails alongside the competition which people should make themselves and try before voting for their preferred one. Thirdly, you can enter your own photo depicting a great journey and if you're lucky, win a trip to Scotland or some Nikon photographic equipment, which can't be at all bad!

I'll now hand over to the Macallan press release for details of the competition and how you can win:

Masters of Photography
The Macallan Negroni

Cheri Loughlin, aka the Intoxicologist has created this special cocktail to celebrate The Macallan’s Masters of Photography competition.  This is a modern twist on the classic Negroni proving that this cocktail, just like this precious whisky, can stand the test of time.

The Macallan’s Masters of Photography is now in its second year. The exciting new addition this year is, that you can now take part! Albert Watson portrays the journey of the exceptional wood from Spain to the distillery in Speyside. You too can share your portrait of a great journey here to be in with a chance of winning the ultimate trip to Scotland or Nikon camera equipment and to be judged by the master himself.

The Macallan Negroni:

1 ounce The Macallan 12

1 ounce Port

1/2 ounce Artichoke Liqueur

3 Dashes Peach Bitters

Orange Zest Twist

Combine liquids in a mixing glass with ice. Stir or shake to chill according to preference. Strain into rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with fresh orange zest twist.




Tuesday March 1st 2011

The Whisky Knights adjourn to Castle Lukasz & Chris this month as we visit Edinburgh whisky blog to discuss marketing and packaging.




Previous major features
Feb. 2011 Festival time again, Spam Galore!, Drams & Trams

Jan. 2011

Lookback at 2010, New Job? Three Thirties, ToC, Overdosing on sherry casks

Dec. 2010

December's Advent-urous drams, Nant Distillery, The road to Certification

Nov. 2010

Journey to end of Scotverse, Wick, Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu, Homecoming, Tweetup, Chilling with Cooley

October 2010

The John Walker, Sampling with Master of Malts, Changing jobs, Whisky Round Table

Sept. 2010

Playing Chinese whispers, Oktoberfest, SMWS Spirit Cellar, 500,000

August 2010

Elementary my dear Islay, Handbags at dawn, Dram-arkable 500, Cheapo Challenge, Ah Dooagh, 1 from 3 left

July 2010

Age matters. A series of whisky reviews concentrating upon 'Age'

June 2010

Jules Rimet, pickles & crisps. Mon coeur, mon amour oh mon sherry. A taste of the great outdoors.

May 2010

The highly-acclaimed and record-breaking "Desert Island Drams"

April 2010

My peat's bigger than your peat, A foursome with a famous Scottish bird

March 2010

Sample Mania tasting notes, The Good, the Bad & The Loch Dh-Ugly, A return to sanity, The Choice of Managers

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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