The Heart’s Cockles’ Heat: The Exlusive Malts’ 2000 Craigellachie 12 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

IMG_20140427_103934_395~2This distillery (with emphasis on the “ell” syllable) is completely new to me. I have learned that Craigellachie Distillery was built to take advantage of new railroads in 1891 on what is known as The Rock of Craigellachie in the Village of Craigellachie, not far from Thomas Telford’s elegant cast iron Craigellachie Bridge. The village is also home to the imposing Craigellachie Hotel, that itself houses the rather famous Quaich Bar, which stocks more than 700 malt whiskies. (I believe Craigellachie just rose to the top of my list of villages to visit along the River Spey!)

The Whisky

David Wishart writes that Craigellachie’s mash tun “is one of the most technically advanced in the industry, with continuous sparging, by which hot water is added continuously rather than in the traditional three batches. The arms move up and down while rotating and use a combination of rakes and blades to ensure maximum extraction of sugars.” That all makes it sound very modern, so it is good to know that “Craigellachie is one of the few distilleries to have retained traditional copper worm condensers” (see Whisky Classified, 2012 Edition, page 112). Wishart and others say this gives the Craigellachie juice a rich, sulphury character, but in this single cask expression – The Exclusive Malts’ Craigellachie 12 year old, untinted by any coloring, un-chillfiltered and bottled at a cask strength of 111.9 proof – there is richness galore and only the slightest, faintest wisp of sulphur. But I’m getting ahead of myself… The distillery did its own floor maltings until 1994 or 1997 (depends on who you read), so the whisky here at hand, bottled in the year 2000, was distilled after floor maltings had ceased.

Nose

At first, you don’t get a very broad redolence from this copper-amber, oily elixir, but give it time and its layers, slowly, begin to unfold. I get vanilla sugar icing, honeycomb, sweet lemon-orange glaze, new oak, sawn oak and those orange circus peanut confectionary treats that show up in bags around Halloween. There is also something very fresh and green, new moss with a small pinch of clove sprinkled on it, cantaloupe, sugar cookies, spearmint and just the slightest, not-unpleasant-in-the-least hint of sulphur. And, surprisingly, a brief, almost ghostly suggestion of smoke. Malt, the citrus, the sugar cookies and the vanilla icing become more prominent with water. This one is not very easy to disentangle and it’s a bit reticent, but take your time and make the effort and you will be pleasantly rewarded. (21/25)

Palate

Right away, I’m smitten. This has a beautifully full, oily mouthfeel. I taste wildflower honey, spelt, some spent-candle waxiness, a fresh mix of lemon and orange juice, sweet malt and a definite oakiness. There is also warm vanilla cake, Ak-Mak Armenian crackers, warm, pleasant spice, dried cherries and maybe some cherry juice. Adding a few drops of water dials down the sweetness – which wasn’t cloying to begin with – and emphasizes the oak, spelt and malty qualities. Truly a rich, satisfying dram. (24/25)

Finish

In any whisky, the one thing that usually gives me the most pleasure (if it is there), and thus the one thing I most hope to find, is a radiating, rich, soft-searing burn in the finish that goes all the way down to envelop the heart in its profligate, pleasant warmth – and here it is! The finish on this whisky hugs you like a loving, well-padded mama hugs her troubled child. It is long enough and warming with lots of oak and just a touch of peat smoke and some warming clove and a wonderful lack of harsh pepper or stinging cinnamon. Add a bit of water and just a bit of exotic (not black or white) pepper sneaks in. A deeply friendly dram. (24/25)

Balance/Structure

I have seen this whisky referred to as “muddled,” but I strongly disagree. While it may lack the clean, precise structure one often finds in these Exclusive Malts single cask bottlings, it is certainly not muddled. Slightly out of focus, perhaps? Or a bit fuzzy, like a thick cashmere sweater worn against the winds of a cold, cruel world? Yes, the nose is a bit niggardly, at least at first, so I suppose this potion is some distance from perfect, but it’s the kind of imperfection you might savor or smile about in a friend or lover. This whisky builds as you take your time with it, growing in quality from the nose to the richer palate and finish. I’ve already located a couple of bottles online and I’ll be ordering them in the morning. (22/25)

exmalts_craigellachieTotal points for this whisky: 91

This website makes me drool! http://www.impexbev.com/exclusive-malts

A big thanks to ImpEx Beverages and to Katia for the sample.

The Pleasures of Promise: Kilchoman’s 2007 Vintage Single Malt Scotch Whisky

14 - 1-1I first tried this at a tasting some time around the beginning of this year and I liked it – along with the Loch Gorm and Machir Bay expressions – enough to add them to my ever-growing “must buy this someday” list. (In truth, I only added two of them to my wish list that day because I took a bottle of the Machir Bay home.) Since then, stronger obsessions – can you say Campbeltown? Springbank? Glen Scotia? – raised their fair heads and interrupted my Kilchoman train of desire. Thus, I never got around to picking up the 2007 Vintage, nor the Loch Gorm. As luck would have it, in the first package of samples sent to me by the good people at ImpEx Beverages, a goodly sample of the 2007 was included. Thank you, Katia!

The Whisky

According to Kilchoman’s own website, the Vintage series of bottlings is “created from specially selected fresh and refill bourbon casks. The bourbon casks selected for the Vintage releases are some of the oldest we have maturing. Being matured exclusively in bourbon barrels gives these releases powerful peat smoked fruit on the nose and mouth-filling butterscotch and clove sweetness on the palette”. Sure enough.

The 2007 Vintage, at 6 years of age, is the oldest Kilchoman juice bottled to date. The ABV is 46 percent. It is natural color (a nice summer hay) and un-chillfiltered. I had the 5 year old 2006 Vintage last year and liked it, but this 2007 represents a leap in quality in my opinion. With this bottling, you get the sense that this distillery, always courageous and far-sighted, has really begun to come into its own. When I sip and savor the 2007 Vintage, as much as I enjoy it, I can’t stop myself from dreaming ahead four to six years to the 10 and 12 year old vintages. Those, I am confident, will be vintages truly worth celebrating.

A New Rating System for Samples

Because I am dealing with a smaller amount of the juice here than I am wont to drink in undertaking one of my more in-depth, fully indulgent and indulging reviews, I have decided to simplify my process, using four categories instead of my usual six.

Nose

Sootiness and a clean, bracing freshness combine as if by alchemy. Sweet peat smoke, sweet soot, sweet tar (or should I say, macadam) and bright, sweet oak rise and comingle with a lemon-minty honeysuckle cloud wafting on the salt sea air. Its youth is so sensual it makes me blush. Like a bag of seashells left in the back seat of a minivan parked beside a bonfire and only discovered the next day, smoky ocean scents float an ambience in which a broad assortment of aromas dwell. Hints of vanilla and butterscotch – not caramel – and an ethereal yet earthy spice I can’t quite place. And a wonderful, rather prominent interweaving of sweet butter and what my aroma kit refers to as balsamic hay – a delightful, provocative medley of nose-pleasuring scents. But that is not all the nose of this potion has to give. There’s a menthol quality that reminds me a bit of Vick’s VapoRub and a slight powdery quality that reminds me of Desonex foot spray. These are admittedly odd, but not detrimental, elements of the nose here. They are very slight, but, in this context, I actually enjoy them. I enjoyed identifying them as well (it’s good exercise, running from the whisky in my dining room upstairs to the medicine cabinet and back downstairs to the whisky again). Finally, there is that spice I can’t define. Yes, it’s a bit clove-like, as the distillery says, and also a bit ether-like, but, still, it is darker than that, earthy and herbal. Altogether a heady mix of treasures from the ocean deep all wrapped in the t-shirt of an arsonist running home on itchy feet past a lemon cart to treat his sinus congestion with vaporous salve from a little blue jar… Mmm-mmm good! (24/25)

Palate

On the tongue, several elements of the nose are referenced, but nearly always in a less pungent way. You get the peat and soot and smoke and salt – even a bit of campfire ash – but that complex amalgam that blossomed in the nose is less giving here, less present. There’s a trickle of buttery sweetness, some nectar, some malt, a good bit of lemon – enough strands to weave a wide wrist band, but it’s not nearly as compelling as the nose, from which you could weave a multi-family house. The mouth feel, too, is a bit thin. After the gloriously Gordian, cornucopia-like aromas rising from the glass, the impression made on the palate, while not quite a disappointment, is something like a disappointment. Still, it has a roundness to it that is surprising for a 6 year old whisky. And I appreciate the practical joke quality of imparting some ash on the palate after all the smoke in the nose… (21/25)

Finish

Unfortunately, more like the palate than like the nose. You get the peat and soot, some sweet oak spice with a bit of clove and pepper, but it’s wrapped in something rather sour. Though long enough in terms of duration, it’s rather quick to dry, and while the burn holds on, it lacks much discernable character beyond that of a vaporous burning and even that doesn’t reach much past the throat. It’s not a repugnant finish by any means – there’s enough going on to hold your interest for half a minute or so – but, like the palate, it doesn’t nearly quench the anticipations aroused by the splendiferous nose. (19/25)

Balance/Structure

The overall impression this gives is one of immense promise on its way to fulfillment but not quite there yet. Perhaps for the first time with this Vintage series, the core product leaves you with no doubt that truly great things lay ahead. The nose is world class, right up there in terms of pure pleasure and complexity with some major contenders, but the palate and finish grew exhausted too soon to make it to the peak where those aromas live. They haven’t fallen down the cliff, but they’re barely within earshot. Nevertheless, there is great promise and a sure sense of direction running through every aspect of this surprisingly mature youngster. Perch your nose over the glass and you will harbor no doubt that this capable kid, barring unforeseen accidents, has a wonderful future ahead of him. (21/25)

kilchoman-2007-vintageTotal points for this whisky: 85

Kilchoman has a very good website: http://kilchomandistillery.com

Making Solace of Cioran: Longrow 14 Year Old Cask Strength Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch Whisky

IMG_20140409_164405_594~2For some ungodly reason, I will often, after pouring myself a dram of some elixir from the Springbank distillery, take a volume of the writings of that sad, incisive pessimist, E. M. Cioran, down from my bookshelf. I’ll then sit in a comfortable chair to sip, savor and read. Cioran is not for the gloomy. If you’re already glum or predisposed to despair, I suggest you avoid him. Cioran tasted long and deep of a troubled life and he proclaimed it a joke of which the punch line is always and inevitably some mix of mortification and misery. Still, for no good reason that I can discern, the older I get, the more I feel compelled to read him. His writings often force us to admit things our egos toil to keep us from reckoning…

I have all the defects of other people and yet everything they do seems to me inconceivable.

Every friendship is an inconspicuous drama, a series of subtle wounds.

Not one moment when I have not been conscious of being outside Paradise.

And the mood gets even lower, darker than that…

The more you live, the less useful it seems to have lived.

Now, I have long been married to a profoundly sensible, steadfast and caring woman; with her, I have raised two whole and healthy, intriguing children who continue to surprise me and to make me proud. I have had wondrous, inspiring experiences in theater and in writing and performing music. I have a handful – just the right number – of very bright, very captivating, very generous friends. So, why in hell do I so often get stuck on, and find myself nodding in agreement with, Cioran, that brilliantly unhappy man? And why, when I am feeling most compelled to read him, am I nearly always clutching a Springbank dram? Frankly, dear reader, I haven’t the faintest idea. That’s just how it is.

The Whiskey

This Longrow is heavily peated for a Campbeltown malt – don’t expect Ardbog or a Laphroaig or a cask strength Lagavulin – all completely different experiences from this. It was distilled on the Kintyre peninsula at the Springbank Distillery in June of 1998, matured for 14 years in a fresh Madeira cask, and bottled in December of 2012. It has an ABV of exactly 50 percent.

Appearance

This deep copper-gold fluid coats my nosing glass like a fine, crystalline wax. Hold it up to the light and you may glimpse a slight shading of pink – a Madeira sunset? – amidst the liquid copper and limpid gold, but you will have to wait a minute or two for any legs to form. Not that this whisky is thick as tar sands oil or anything of that sort – it’s just the nature of this elixir to hold on firmly with both grace and tenacity. This unusual characteristic is common among the cask strength bottlings of the Springbank distillery. (9/10)

Nose

This could not have come from any distillery but Springbank. No other distiller in Scotland employs such a broad, eccentric, unorthodox approach to maturation, which is often a double maturation (never a “finishing” in the conventional sense) in the likes of Australian Shiraz or rum or Gaja Barolo barrels, or single-mindedly single maturations in odd casks, from a dozen years in ex-Burgundy or Calvados wood to the present whisky’s 14 years in a fresh Madeira cask. And yet, hold your nose over a glass of any of these fluid eccentricities – be they unpeated Hazelburns or lightly peated Springbanks or more heavily peated Longrows – and you will know immediately it came from the Springbank distillery. There is a family resemblance to every product of this admirably sui generis manufacturer. If you fall in love with one of this masterful whisky-maker’s daughters, you should be (and will be) happy to marry any one of his daughters – really, they are all wonderful, each in their own idiosyncratic way.

But, moving along…

The first thing one senses, exhaling like breath from the whisky in this glass, is the aroma of intoxication. Earthy, autumnal, vegetal, smoky, mossy, grainy and intoxicating. The smell of moist earth crumbling in your hand, the aroma of a field ripe for harvest, the vegetal freshness and sweetness of sprouted barley, an old forest after a days-long rainstorm – and, coming through it all, the promise of forgetfulness and of the nearly erotic dissipation of the stresses and strains of daily life. If finding a reason to affirm even an unhappy life had a smell, this would be it. (19/20)

Palate

The sweetness here is neither honey nor sugar. There may actually be a gentle wisp of that darker, heavier demerara sugar, maybe even molasses-soaked brown sugar, but it’s all riding on malt, on the inherent sweetness of barley grain. Yet this is not what most of us would call a sweet whisky – far from it. Earthy peat, new leather and tobacco are evident, as are oak and a somewhat winey, murky Madeira. There is a pleasant saltiness here as well. And nocturnal loam, as if you were lying in a garden at 3am and turned your head against the trowelled bed. There may be some dried fruit in there, but it isn’t prominent. Coconut, a common characteristic of the Springbank profile, is quite pronounced in the palate – surprising considering I didn’t pick up even a hint of it on the nose. (19/20)

Finish

You have two choices here. You can accentuate the earthy leatheriness, sweet maltiness and a somewhat biting, white pepper spice by swallowing this undiluted, or you can add water and bring out a more floral earthiness, a lighter, sweeter maltiness, a more complimenting, less dominant spice and, much to my surprise, just a hint of juniper/gin on the finish. Try it both ways – either is good and, whichever way you choose, you’ll get that wondrous slow burn spreading like dazzling contentment through your chest. Good stuff, this is… (18/20)

Structure/Balance

The promise of that glowing, coating, copper-gold potion in my glass was manifest in the nose, palate and finish of this whisky. In fact, once this had oxidized a bit in the bottle (I didn’t care for it for a week after opening), every aspect here became compelling and even seductive. This whisky does not ape the experience of some slinky fling, as many NAS and “reformulated” Scotch whiskies do; this whisky is a good, long marriage to a good, long suffering spouse. This is the kind of drink you learn to respect – and to go back to again and again. It does not exhibit the tight, clear structure that I have tremorously enjoyed in several scintillating drams from, say, The Maltman or The Exclusive Malts; no, this feels a little less clear, but richer all the same – more like life itself. It isn’t perfect – whatever that means – but it knows to counter its malty sweetness with a pinch of salt, its savory leatheriness with coconut and pepper, and its deep, smoky earthiness with a slightly sweet, vegetal breeze. As balanced as it should be. (18/20)

Quality of the Buzz

For some of us (Cioran, me and a million more), there’s a rancor at the core of life that, by the time we’re twenty-five years old or so, we have distracted ourselves from sufficiently to believe, most days, we have found some sort of happiness. Meanwhile, that rancor eats away at our souls, satisfaction is never felt deeply or long, resentments breed like cancer cells and the sordid, ever more palpable unfairness designed into the mechanics of the human world becomes so conspicuous as to be unbearable…

So, how do we endure? How do we reconcile ourselves to such a shabby, short, ignoble life? To an existence that is rendered ever more dreadful and unsatisfying as age breaks us down and the children move away and we have less energy for illusion, less patience for blatant deception, and thus must begin to see our lives, and life itself, for what they really are: Arduous descents into oblivion or abject surrender to doom.

The most base and opportunistic among us turn to politics, a perfect escape from reality for soulless, thieving cowards, while others turn to gardening or drugs, art, bingo, pumping iron or porn; some embrace fear and join cults, others make cults of family, some fixate on sports or start whisky blogs, and the most tedious among us turn to the vulgar satisfactions of amassing filthy lucre. Albert Ayler found his way out with a saxophone; Van Gogh, more or less, with brushes and paint. Vaslav Nijinsky distracted himself with dance and, ultimately, insanity.

I’m 59 years old. I’ve been disillusioned since the age of 12 and a cynic since I met my first landlord. I have chosen many effective paths to escape the abyss – a good wife, raising fascinating children, art, theatre, music. But, now, getting older, hoping to expand and unbutton the end of each day, the means I choose to escape the whorish, tawdry chasm of daily life is single malt Scotch whisky. This 14 year old cask strength Longrow is intoxicating in every way – in all the deeper, more embracing, more permeating meanings of that term. It provides the prefect companion to Cioran and his ilk, and the perfect solace if we are compelled to drive blindfolded into the beckoning void, or to waltz with abandon across a lake of thin ice. That, in fact, is what all of us are doing, and as soon as we admit that fact to ourselves, the gladder we’ll be to have a bottle or two of this potent elixir of Lethe close to hand. (10/10)

Total points for this whisky: 93

The Distillery
http://www.springbankwhisky.com

Emil Cioran, The Philosopher of Despair
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emil_Cioran

Good whisky taking the form of dark but enriching song…

The Texture of Evening: McGibbons Provenance 1991 Bladnoch 13 Year Old

IMG_20140408_144458_050~2~2Is there any point in reviewing a whisky bottled and shipped in 2004 and only recently found all dusty and alone in a liquor store 10 years later? I often wonder about this kind of thing when I see reviews of a whisky of which only 30 bottles were ever released (Wow! Murray gave it 96 points!), or reviews of some $16,000 50 year old Glenfiddich. Really? Are you gloating? Boasting? I suppose not all reviews are buying guides, but, still…

On the other hand, when I opened this dusty bottle of Bladnoch and realized how good it is, I found another bottle within days. And a quick look online has uncovered other bottles of this dazzling juice in other states that are still available for sale.

And there’s something else… Since early on in life, starting when I was maybe 13 years old, I’ve been fond of books (my Mom was a librarian), and I always loved the search, the quest. I would read one book and find, in the notes or the bibliography, another book, or several books, on the same or a related subject that I would then set out to find. Once I had my driver’s license, crawling along the shelves of old used bookstores quickly became my calling, and, though I seldom found the books on my list, I would find other books and read those books and those books would send me off searching for yet more books. It was a satisfying, purposeful cycle to lose oneself in. A smiling Ouroboros. I’ve crossed many a state line in search of some obscure monograph (and, later, for old vinyl jazz LPs, but that’s another story altogether), and this whisky quest is similar.

The internet has robbed us of a mode of thinking that justified devoting days and weeks and endless miles in search of an old commentary on the Song of Songs or a few original Saturn pressings of the one and only Sun Ra.

And yet, though used record stores and books shops are now few and far between, there are many old liquor stores just waiting out there, some in plain sight, some off the beaten path, and the dust on the shoulders of the bottles one will sometimes find in such places is the same compelling, provocative dust that once settled on those books and long playing records so many years and decades ago. And with good whisky, as with good music and good books, it’s not just the quest, the love of the hunt, that keeps us going – it’s the potential rewards and wonders inhering in those things we find…

The Whisky

One rarely sees independent bottlings from McGibbons Provenance in my neck of the woods. I was happy to find this one and even happier when I saw it contained a thirteen year old Bladnoch, a Lowland distillery I knew of but had never seen nor tasted before. This particular juice was distilled in 1991, just two years before United Distillers closed and decommissioned the distillery, which did not go back into production (under the management of Irishmen Raymond and Colin Armstrong) until the year 2000. Alas, just a few weeks ago, the distillery was closed and liquidators called in. If you’re looking to buy a Scotch distillery, you could do far worse than Bladnoch, the southernmost whisky maker in Scotland with beautiful buildings, dunnage warehouses, well-kept grounds and a visitors’ center, all about a mile outside the village of Wigtown, which, incidentally, has 30 active bookstores (with more than 250,000 books altogether, or about 250 books per Wigtown resident) and is known as ‘Scotland’s Book Town’. I’m not sure if there are any used record stores there…

Appearance

In color, this dram falls somewhere between sunlight in a wheat field and petroleum jelly. Pleasant enough, but it doesn’t exactly glow like some Nectar of Apollo. It doesn’t have to, of course. Untinted by the evil E150 and un-chillfiltered, it looks just a bit hazy after adding a few drops of spring water. A very good sign. And though it is not bottled at cask strength but rather at 46%, rolling it in the glass leads to an even coating that soon dissolves into dozens of thin but alluring legs. (8/10)

Nose

The nose on this is glorious! Sweet, fresh malt, a pure nectar-like sugariness that carries all kinds of floral scents with it. Imagine a gourmet pear jellybean – that’s in there. And fresh blueberries? Fresh blackberries? Celery, crushed celery seed, on a fresh, buttery pastry. Surprisingly, I’m also getting dried basil and caraway (really, I went to my spice rack to be sure). Also some nougat and something lightly chocolaty, like a sweetened chocolate powder. First I thought lemon, then I thought meringue, then I remembered the pastry and thought lemon meringue pie! There’s also a hint of oak spice and a whisper of cereal – Rice Krispies, in fact. Finally, though it is among the first things I smelled, there is something my dear whisky friend Marco didn’t get at all when he and I shared a dram of this soon after I found it: Grain whisky. Just a wisp, but, more specifically, something vaguely reminiscent of the wonderful Nikka Coffey Grain whisky. This is not a detriment whatsoever. Not at all. There is a nearly perfect nose on this elixir of light. (19/20)

Palate

Malty sugars cascade over the tongue, making for a wonderful entry. There are not-quite-ripe pears and apples but, even more, a suggestion of black currant juice. The dark berries are gone, but there’s another fruit in there, a melon of some sort, almost cantaloupe but something slightly more tart. The spice arrives as ginger with a bit of oaky astringency. And the sweet barley is everywhere, undergirding everything. Though just slightly less complex than the nose, every whisky enthusiast I know would take his or her time savoring a dram of this one, wishing it might never end… (19/20)

Finish

Sweet, rounded malt drying fairly quickly to a light lemon-pepper, velvety broth, with ginger and some oaky tannins extending the finish to great lengths – and depths, right down to the chest. And there is still a presence of fruit, unripe apples and that tart melon again. While not this whisky’s strongest feature, the finish does not disappoint. (17/20)

Balance/Structure

While some aspects of this delectable libation might be more impressive than others (the nose is near perfect, and yet the contrasts to other aspects are slight), the balance in the nose, palate and finish is superb, with every note of sharp spice or astringency matched by a sweet counterpoint of malt sugars and fruit, Lowland floral characteristics balanced by an almost Speyside fruitiness, all carried on a breeze of ginger and oak. Unquestionably, this whisky was tended by a master and matured in a superlative, giving cask. (19/20)

Quality of the Buzz

A delicate, sweet Lowland copita of light would hardly be the conspicuous choice of the brooding philosopher drinking to prune the sharper confrontations from yet another dark night of the soul. Still, the quality of the inebriation here is not all sparkle and sunshine. Yes, there is some energy and easy intelligence in this buzz, but it is also relaxing, calming – pleasurable and even sensual. This doesn’t add a dark, sweltering humidity to one’s thoughts, nor does it incline one to ponderous melancholy nor to improvising half-assed bivouacs in the abyss. I’m not sad, not particularly happy, but I’m at peace, enjoying the texture of the evening as it passes by my consciousness, in a mood to surrender to whatever thoughts and impulses arise as the rain that falls outside my windows gently washes the hours away. (9/10)

Total points for this whisky: 91

http://www.bladnoch.co.uk

Peace with substance…

Achieving the Possible: The Maltman’s Tobermory Aged 18 Years

IMG_20140404_113917_413~2I have been sick. Very sick. So sick that I went nearly two weeks without a single dram of single malt Scotch whisky! My work is all about due dates and deadlines, but last week, for the first time in the twelve years I’ve worked at my current job, I broke down and asked for help. Before I did so, I felt like I was trying to meet a deadline while being waterboarded! And yet, all the while, I was reading about whisky, moaning in bed, shivering under blankets in my reading chair, but surfing, as best I could, along the highways and byways of the World of Whisky. And then, two nights ago, when I felt I had regained sufficient health to brave a couple of drams, I poured myself a finger of Highland Park 18; and then, turning to my Longrow 14 year old cask strength, I had another finger, and another. It was like starting to breathe again after holding one’s breath for a dozen days! Oh, yes, Goddam! I was back in the world of great whisky!

If a body could just find oot the exac’ proper proportion and quantity that ought to be drunk every day, and keep to that, I verily trow that he might leev for ever, without dying at a’, and that doctors and kirkyairds would go oot o’ fashion.

– The Ettrick Shepherd, as quoted by Christopher North (1826) and later by Charles MacLean (2008)

When I started thinking about what the Maltfreak should next turn his palate and pen to, this Tobermory from The Maltman came immediately to mind. While I do enjoy an occasional dram of the Tobermory distillery’s own 15 year old, that is an expression it is possible to improve upon. Donald and Andrew Hart, the father and son team behind The Maltman series, are more than capable of achieving that.

Appearance

This is, however, an odd one. After 18 years in a sherry butt, one would expect a bit of color, some blush, but this is diluted honey at best without a hint of any winey hue. I suspect the sherry butt this came from (#5011) had already been used not once, not twice, but several times before. On the more positive side, the clarity of the liquid is hazy – something I love to see. One can read that a whisky is un-chill-filtered, but it’s always better when that fact is obvious to the naked eye. The distillery’s 15 year old Tobermory has a nice golden hue, but it’s limpid as glass by comparison with this. Bottled at 46% ABV, the apparent consistency here is that of skim milk or lemonade; it has thin, moderately quick legs – nothing that’s going to keep you preoccupied for very long. (7/10)

Nose

The nose isn’t pungent – aromas don’t rise from the glass like smoke from a chimney – but it has many elements: cookie dough, wildflower honey, something green and vegetal, some kind of cooking oil – flax seed oil, maybe, and linseed oil, too – with some grass, some hay and something citrusy-lemony. There’s a bit of sulphur – not enough to be a negative quality and not nearly as much as one gets off the nose of the distillery’s current 15 year old. There’s a chalky or flinty aroma in there, too. And the slightest half-wisp of peat smoke. Very good and interesting – certainly enough elements conjoining here for this nose to be called complex, but not so rich that it distracts me from wanting to move on and take a sip. Maybe I’m getting spoiled? (17/20)

Palate

On the palate you get a satisfying malty, flaxy, diluted honey swirled with the linseed oil and with the lemony citrus taste intact. There is a hint of cinnamon. What was green and vegetal on the nose now reveals itself as fresh asparagus and baby spinach leaves. Like the nose, this isn’t ‘pungent’ on the tongue and the mouth feel has the consistency of heavily diluted, thin oil. The 15 year old distillery bottling is a bit more oily with a taste that is slightly richer, leading to a more luxurious overall impression on the palate. This is the one place where the distillery bottling is, to me, slightly, just slightly, preferable to this single cask. 17/20

Finish

The finish adds barley malt sugars, honey and spice – the cinnamon again but also white pepper. Though it is drying, it lasts long enough, with a sweet burn that continues through the throat and into the upper chest. The finish on the distillery’s 15 year old is more pungent and warm, but hotter and less complex; I prefer this Maltman 18 year old here. 17/20

Balance/Structure

The balance of elements in the palate and finish, from malt to honey to citrus, linseed oil and asparagus to drying spice, is excellent; and, though the nose takes awhile to decipher, it offers plenty of interest. One can quibble with one or more elements in the nose, palate and finish – but the fact is, as a whole, as a whisky, this works. 18/20

Quality of the Buzz

Finally, the quality of the buzz: This one adds a rather ponderous, low frequency element to something brighter and more sugary. As an intoxicant, this juice could offer more guidance. It doesn’t pull one toward dreamy introspective abandon, lost in the umbra of mythic forests, nor does it get one dancing out there in the moonlight of a simple summer’s eve. As it is, it’s interesting, but a bit undecided on direction; it keeps one hovering in mid-frequencies. 7/10.

Total points for this whisky: 83

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