[Seen on the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia]

Seen on the Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia - the Aussies have their priorities right!


Tasting Notes

These are my own idiosyncratic notes, intended to bring back memories of the dram in question; some are from blind tastings, some not. They are not purely analytical / objective tasting notes in the sense of some contributions to the MALTS-L mailing list (MALTS-L@rz.uni-karlsruhe.de) by the many outstanding tasters participating there; similarly, they are not lyrical flights of subjective fancy - which are also occasionally provided via the more creative members of the aforementioned list. Much as I enjoy reading both types of reports - the following are mostly my personal perceptions and discussions, along with occasional input from the group I was tasting with at the time (if any), with no attempt made at either Pacult-esque objectivity and repeatability or McEwan-like over-the-top descriptiveness. Instead, they reflect whatever I was doing / eating / thinking about at the time of taking the dram - with an occasional digression (or rant) regarding related topics close to my heart. The ratings (numerical) are intended to come as close as I can to an objective rating of the overall quality of the malt in question; in some cases, I may actually prefer a lower-rated dram over a higher one. In addition, my recommendations (as distinct from the ratings) are based on my perceived price-value ratio - thereby, a relatively low scoring, but inoffensive - and extremely cheap malt may get a more enthusiastic recommendation than it's score suggests it should receive.


Ardbeg - 17 yr old (Whyte & Whyte, 1974-1991, 43%)
1: Tasted blind (Nov-1998 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995): this bottle was a real peat monster - with lots of seashore and some intermittent burnt rubber character; long, slightly bitter / almondy finish.
Rating: 7.8
2: Tasted open (Fall 1998 personal tasting): after being open and partially drained, the character changed - the peat was still there, but the seashore aspects disappeared - instead it brought to mind a smoky campfire in a balsam and hemlock forest. Almond flavors show up on the palate - but little medicinal character.
Rating: 8.0
Overall Rating: 7.9
Recommendation: Worth a go for a moderate price.

Ardbeg - 28 yr old (Cadenhead)
Tasted blind (2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting): honey - caramel - iodine - extremely vibrant and complex nose - but well integrated - what a contrast to the Whyte & Whyte 17 yr old! - the tar/brine/iodine have mellowed and integrated; the floral nature of Ardbeg clearly comes through with a burst of wildflowers. Very rich on the palate, extremely long warming finish. This is the class of the tasting.
Rating: 9.4
Recommendation: Run and buy this before all of the bottles are gone (as ours sadly is).

Auchentoshan - NAS (OB)
Tasted blind (2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting): sharp/wood alcohol, maybe a slightly grassy phenol or "cheap sake" nose; unbalanced, short, bitter/sour finish. Pretty sad that they would release this one (it is also unfortunately the only version of Auchentoshan readily available locally) - the 10 and 21 yr old versions have been much more enjoyable in the past. And the 21 year old was for years an incredibly good buy - unfortunately, the marketeers have discovered that, and doubled the price.
Rating: 6.0
Recommendation: Avoid. Save your money for for the 21 or 31 year old versions instead.

Bowmore - 23 yrs old (distilled 1969)
Tasted blind: brine - iodine - tar - heather at the start; cinnamon after the brine fades; peppery; light peat smoke, warming, oily, flavorful; long warming finish with slight brine and iodine trailing off. Recommended. (2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting)
Rating: 8.6
Recommendation: Acquire.

Caol Ila - 24 yrs old (Scotch Malt Whisky Society #53.40, May 1974 - 1998, 57.1%)
Tasted blind (6-November-1999 - uisgebeatha.org fall 1999 tasting): the Caol Ila distillery is described by Jim Murray as being illustrative of the worst in current industrial design - and that sacrilege was performed when the old distillery was torn down and replaced in the early 1970s. Even if the new plant is somewhat industrial, I still find the setting of the distillery truly idyllic. There are few - very few - places I'd rather take a dram than while standing on the roof of the admin building. Standing there, sipping a dram of 15 year old, on a rare sunny fall day and looking first across the sound at the Paps of Jura, then back at the burnished copper of the stills through the window wall of the still room - to quote one of our regulars - It just doesn't get any better than this.

Even before visiting the distillery and becoming subjectively enraptured - Caol Ila has been one of my favorite drams - and unfortunately hard to acquire in the states. However, I managed to put vertical of nine bottles ranging from 9 to 24 years of age. I had hoped to acquire a bottle prior to the early-70s reconstruction of the distillery but failed. At any rate, all but one of the bottles (a Signatory 9 year old - which displayed an earthiness far gone into rotting hay and mushrooms) was well worth the cost - and the clear favorite from the blind tasting was the SMWS bottle 53.40. Quite smoky / peaty / medicinal (for a Caol Ila) on the nose, with a hint of new-mown hay and a whiff of earthiness; very sweet (honey) and malty, with more smoke on the palate; long, relatively rich and smoky finish.
Rating: 9.2
Recommendation: Strong buy.

Dallas Dhu - 15 yr old (G&M, 1969-1984, 40%)
1: Tasted open (Clan Drummond Highlands Only Night): None of the apparent "barbershop" nose, which is a good house identifier when present. Instead, somewhat vegetable-like. Continued vegetable tones on the palate, somewhat sour. A whiff of cucmber appears after sitting.
Rating: 7.0
Recommendation: Try other bottlings first.

Dalmore - 23 yrs old (Coopers Choice, single cask)
Tasted blind (2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting): initially off-putting nose until warmed - then incredible vanilla-creme nose, with matching palate - very well-balanced, extremely long, warming, slightly dry finish.
Rating: 8.6
Recommendation: Acquire.

Glendronach "Traditional" 12 yrs old (OB, mix of sherry/bourbon casks)
Tasted blind (2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting): light peat and sherry nose, possible caramel/butterscotch; relatively smooth and well integrated, but medium-short finish. Drinkable - and an improvement over some earlier bottlings.
Rating: 7.6
Recommendation: Tentatively acquire for the right price.

Glen Eden - NAS
Tasted blind (2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting): "burnt" (grain/rubber) nose; somewhat sharp and unbalanced; no real individuality - possibly a vatted?; vaguely reminiscent of tequila. (The worm must have been removed in the pre-bottling filtration process.) Try it if offered; don't take a large sample though. One of the worst malts I've ever actually tasted.
Rating: 5.0
Recommendation: Avoid. I mean RUN.

Glenfarclas - 17 yrs old (OB - US-sourced)
Tasted open (24-Oct-2001 Earls of Zetland "Speyside Debutantes" Tasting): Fruit (possibly cooked pears?) overlaying the sherry on the nose. Less heavily sherried than memory of previous GF 17s. The fruit has a citrus accent, but not a core (pears again?) Smooth and malty on the palate, with a medium-short finish. In truth, this is still a good malt - it just falls short of previous versions, and for that reason, I downgraded it - probably far more than it deserved.
Rating: 7.0
Historical Rating: 8.2
Recommendation: Acquire the old bottlings (tall bottle) if you can - or step up to the 21.

Glenfarclas - 21 yrs old (W&W, distilled 1973, 46%, aged in sherry casks)
1: Tasted open (Clan Drummond Highlands Only Night): Very rich fruit, lots of fruit on the nose. Turns into rich fruit cake on the palate. Extended, rich finish.
Rating: 8.8
Recommendation: Acquire aggressively.

Glenfarclas - 22 yrs old (OB, 43%, Millenium bottling)
1: Tasted open (Clan Drummond Highlands Only Night): Less rich on the nose than the W&W 21 - somewhat harsh on the palate as well. A bit of marzipan appears on the nose after sitting.
Rating: 8.3
Recommendation: Acquire.

Glen Garioch - 15 yr old (OB, 43%)
1: Tasted blind 2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting): aromatic nose - peat smoke - slightly sweet malty palate - warming, well integrated, with a medium long finish. Split opinion - some enjoyed, others not - but generally considered drinkable. Interestingly, not considered as "good" as either the 10 or 21 yr old.
Rating: 7.6
2: Tasted open (Clan Drummond Highlands Only Night): Mint chocolate with a slight sherry note on the nose. Dry and somewhat astringent with very light smoke.
Rating: 7.2
Overall Rating: 7.3
Recommendation: Tentatively acquire for the right price.

Glenmorangie 1972 (OB, 46%, Single Barrel 1797, Bottle 55)
1: Tasted open (Clan Drummond Highlands Only Night): Citrusy-floral nose. Very malty on the palate. Relatively light, oaky finish.
Rating: 7.8
Recommendation: Acquire.

Glen Rothes - 11 yr old (OB, 1989, 43%)
1: Tasted open: Initial nose has a musty-malt character, with some floral hints (orchid?), a bit of wood, and some butterscotch coming through. On the palate, the sherry is evident, with some burnt notes. The finish starts out sharp, slightly burnt, and of medium length; after sitting, the finish smooths out. (4-January-2002 - Shades of Sherry tasting)
Rating: 7.5
Recommendation: Tentatively recommended for the right price.

Glen Rothes - 35 yr old (G&M, 1957-1992, 40%)
1: Tasted blind: tobacco, leather, but also flowery nose - very complex and intriguing - initial taste slightly disappointing after wonderful nose - peppery, slightly sour - fades and then builds into long sour finish, with a hint of cherry. (2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting) Rating: 7.9
2: Tasted open: latest tasting nearly 7 years after first reveals substantial changes; in particulary the feinty notes of the nose have changed, revealing a very light hint of fruit, and the previous sourness perhaps resolving to dill. After sitting, some of the original tobacco-like character returns with a touch of menthol (and no - nobody in the room was smoking cigarettes at the time!) On the palate, there is a definite burnt sugar character; in general the flavors are quite disjointed, and not at all well integrated. The finish remained light and short, with the burnt notes becoming more evident after sitting. (4-January-2002 - Shades of Sherry tasting) Rating: 7.6.
Overall Rating: 7.7
Recommendation: Recommended, but only to drink if offered gratis, not to spend your own money on.

Highland Park - 18 yrs old (W&W, distilled 1975, 43%)
Tasted blind (2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting): grassy/heather - very floral nose - strong bourbon cask influence - identifiably Highland Park - smooth, well integrated, long light finish.
Rating: 8.0
Recommendation: Acquire.

Imperial - 20 yrs old (G&M, distilled 1970, 40%)
Tasted blind (2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting): caramel chocolate nose; initial taste of alcohol, becoming peppery/spicy; hard to characterize flavors; followed by a long warming finish.
Rating: 7.8
Recommendation: Acquire.

Laphroaig - 10 yrs old (OB) (Oxidation effects experiment)
Tasted blind (both times) (28-April-2001 - uisgebeatha.org spring 2001 tasting and 17-Nov-2001 uisgebeatha.org Night of Laphroaig tasting): this has been an old standby for years; we just wish that we still had a bottle from 20 years ago to compare, and see whether it is the whisky which has changed, or our palates. Iain Henderson claims that there have been no changes in the peatiness of Laphroaig during his tenure - he instead attributes the perception of change (lessened peatiness) to the increasing age and tolerance of the consumer. Others, such as Jim Murrary and many members of our tasting group disagree. In support of changes, Laphroaig has gone from six malting floors to three over the last 10-20 years, taking more of their malt from Port Ellen Maltings (which is malted using different peat and process). In addition, still size has changed, and there was that brief experiment reported by Jim Murray in The Complete Guide to Whiskey, in which the bottom half of one of the wash stills was replaced with stainless steel.

Since this was a standard, well-known dram - and since there have been various reports that Laphroaig is susceptible to detrimental change due to oxidation in partially consumed bottles, I decided upon an experiment. Two years ago, I acquired two bottles of the standard 10 year old from the same bottling run. I left one sealed, half-emptied one and left it exposed to the air, and put the remaining half into an empty bottle and topped it up with a neutral gas mixture (Private Preserve).

These three bottles, along with several other Laphroaigs (including the distillery 10 year old Cask Strength, the distillery 15 year old, the distillery 1976 vintage, and the Murray McDavid LeapFrog 12 yr old) were compared in a blind tasting. The consensus was that the neutral gas preservative did work, to some extent, and the "preserved" half empty bottle was indeed closer to the unopened bottle than the "oxidized" bottle. The oxidized bottle was less sweet and more bitter on the finish (reminiscent of the '76 vintage). So, I guess I'll continue using the preserver. However, the experiment was repeated in Nov 2001, with a different set of tasters - and with markedly different results. Essentially, the preserved bottle was considered the lesser of the three, with a very weak nose, somewhat kippery, and a very short finish - in general, it was chosen as the oxidized bottle. The oxidized bottle had a somewhat floral but mild nose, pleasantly sweet with a creamy, floral finish. The pleasant but mild nose made me think this was the gas preserved version. The sealed bottle clearly had the fuller nose, and was quite sweet, with a few lingering bitter notes which threw me off, making me change my guestimate at the last instant from sealed to gas; thereby ensuring I mis-identified all three! Some of the crew thought the oxidized version was the best of the lot, in spite of the more open nose of the sealed bottle. General consensus, however, on the value of the preservative was diametrically opposed to the conclusion reached in the earlier comparison.

In addition to the non-conclusive results, one of the long term uisgebeatha.org members called into question my experimental methodology, stating that I clearly missed the most important factor in the deterioration of whisky - dry / loose corks. So, I am forced to redo the experiment, taking that into account as well as the degree of fill of the bottle. Maybe I'll try Highland Park for that little adventure, since an HP vertical seems to be building in my unopened bottle cabinet already - and I know from experience that partially consumed bottles of HP 12 deteriorate fairly rapidly and unmistakeably.

Note also my continuing bias against malts that, while still good - have, in my opinion, changed for the worse relative to previous bottlings. This malt is probably worthy of a higher rating than I gave it...
Rating: Sealed: 7.5; Gas-Preserved 7.0; Oxidized: 7.3
Historical Rating: 8.0
Recommendation: Acquire - a good everyday dram.

Longmorn-Glenlivet - 12 yrs old (G&M, 40%)
Tasted open (26-Sept-2001 Earls of Zetland "Tag-team wrestling" Tasting): green apples coming through moderate sherry; slightly smoky/leathery character (a bit feinty). Strong impact of sherry on the palate, with a medium short finish.
Rating: 7.5
Recommendation: Acquire - a good everyday dram.

Longmorn - 15 yr old (OB)
Tasted open (26-Sept-2001 Earls of Zetland "Tag-team wrestling" Tasting): dried cherries, licorice and vanilla, but little apparent sherry on the nose. Sherry becomes more apparent on the palate, leading into a rich, creamy, medium-long finish. Becomes a bit sharp, especially on finish, after sitting.
Rating: 7.3
Recommendation: Acquire - a good everyday dram.

Macallan - 12 yr old (OB, 40%)
Tasted open (26-Sept-2001 Earls of Zetland "Tag-team wrestling" Tasting): Unexpectedly light sherry; wouldn't pick out as Macallan. Very creamy malt character on palate, with a smooth, medium length finish and some astringency. This is the new, slightly lower proof bottling (40% vs. old 43%). Still an acceptable malt, but marked down because of negative changes relative to what it used to be.
Rating: 6.5
Historical Rating: 7.8
Recommendation: Try and find the older bottlings instead.

Macallan - 15 yr old (OB)
Tasted open (26-Sept-2001 Earls of Zetland "Tag-team wrestling" Tasting): very strong sherry (especially in comparison to 12) with pears coming through on the nose. Rich and smooth on the palate with a medium long finish.
Rating: 7.7
Recommendation: Acquire.

Macallan - 1975 (Laird's Club bottling, 54%)
1: Tasted open (Clan Drummond Highlands Only Night): Strong sherry and wood character on nose, continuing onto palate. Medium-long, very fruity finish.
Rating: 8.5
Recommendation: Acquire.

Oban 1980 - Montillo Fino Finish (OB, 43%)
1: Tasted open (Clan Drummond Highlands Only Night): Very forward sherry nose, lots of dried fruit. Raisins quite evident on palate. Medium length, very smooth finish.
Rating: 7.6
Recommendation: Acquire.

Royal Lochnagar - 12 yrs old (OB, 40%)
1: Tasted open (Clan Drummond Highlands Only Night): Strong impression of malt and vanilla on the nose, followed by faint nut and dried fruit character. Somewhat sweet (malty) on palate, slightly "cheesy", with an extended finish.
Rating: 7.3
Recommendation: Tentatively acquire for the right price.

Speyburn - 10 yrs old (OB, 43%)
Tasted blind (2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting): an enjoyable surprise, given the very low price - fruity/sweet nose, green apples; balanced, medium body, slightly oily; butter, vanilla and dried cherries; smooth, reasonably long finish.
Rating: 7.0
Recommendation: Acquire - as an inexpensive everyday dram - especially for bourbon lovers.

Speymalt 1990 Macallan (G&M)
Tasted open (1-October-1998 - G&M shop in Elgin): 2nd fill sherry casks. Fairly strong sherry and fruit on the nose, some smoke, slight burnt flavor on the palate. Water brings out apples on the nose, and more malty richness on the palate, which lasts a long time. More water, and the apples disappear.
Rating: 7.5
Recommendation: Acquire for a sufficiently low price.

Talisker - 15 yrs old (Cadenhead, 2/78-6/93, 56.4%)
Tasted blind (2-April-1995 - uisgebeatha.org spring 1995 tasting): brine & tar on the nose; "aspirin astringency" on the palate - somewhat bitter, medium long finish - with, however, an extremely lingering aftertaste. Save for use in experiments in vatting your own malts - a little will go a long way.
Rating: 7.0
Recommendation: As with the Glen Rothes - try if offered, but don't buy it.


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