Monday, January 21, 2013

Fail-safe distilleries

While it is hard to imagine any production process to work flawlessly, it seems I sometimes come acros distilleries of which it seems hard to find bottlings independent or official that are subpar. And of course this perception is entirely personal. It may simply be a draw of luck that what I sampled of a particular distillery just happens to be great, and that their inferior product just manages to evade my palate. Yet, when I convey these findings to fellow enthusiasts, more often than not they find these same distilleries to be of higher average standard than others. So it may simply not be coincidence too.

Interestingly, and in a sense luckily, quite a few of these distilleries are largely ignored by the general audience.
It is interesting, because it seems to indicate that the general audience, even in a market that is so keen on quality, is still swayed by commerce and marketing, rather than by a product that is consistently of high standard. And I can add, before you'd accuse me of elitarian arrogance, that I am myself not immune.
It is lucky, since a heightened attention would obviously raise the prices of the distillates of such a distillery. As a consequence, among my circle of fellow enthusiasts, we often tell each other to shush about certain distilleries, to keep the secret of which distilleries are almost fail-safe.

So since local protocol requires me not to name them, I will only refer to them in less obvious terms. At any rate you should just as well not advise your friends to try anything of the most northerly distillery on the Scottish mainland, nor point any of your fellows to a distillery that has been distilling the finest highland malt whisky since 1898. One should take care not to utter the name of the distillery behind the swirling mists around the isle of mull. Don't tell any one about what can be found at the misty shores of the Dornoch Firth, nor about that speyside gem that was founded in 1897.

Monday, November 19, 2012


I recently had the opportunity to nose a Ladyburn (). A rare opportunity indeed, as in my 10+ years of whisky hunting, it was the first tiume I came across a line up with a Ladyburn.
It's needless to say the whisky could not make good on its price tag. Bottles of Ladyburn start far in the 3 digits. What met my palate was comfortably reminding me of the lowland style I know and love. I'd heard rumors that Ladyburn was actually not very good whisky, but they proved to be incorrect, at least in this case.
I doubt I'll have many opportunities to savour it again, so I'll just cherish the memory of that one dram.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The future of Lowlands

It are dire times for people who enjoy Lowland whiskies, as prices of several staples are quickly going up. It was to be expected anyway, since all of them, but three, are now closed. And if we look at those remaining three, then only Bladnoch is in that true Lowland style. A visit to my local whisky supplier once again confirmed this, it's simply nearly impossible to find Rosebank or St-Magdalene (or Linlithgow for that matter) below 3 digits. I strongly expect Littlemill and Inverleven to follow suit in the next 2 years.
Where will we look for substitutes then? Personally my reflex is to look over the Irish Sea, but will other enthusiasts have that same reflex? At any rate, I see an opportunity for Irish whiskies here. This is something they could make a marketing campaign for, a market which is looking for exactly what they can offer. With most of the attention for Scottish whiskies drawn by the peated and heavy sherry variants, they probably won't be competing with many Scottish brands.
In the mean time, it's not too late to stock up on some Littlemill, before it becomes unaffordable, or if you have the means, one or two Rosebank or St-Magdalene bottles, before they become exclusive to the filthy rich.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rediscovering old favorites

Recently I've had the opportunity to drink a few Irish whiskies. It had been a while since I've tasted the likes of Magilligan, The Tyrconell and Knappogue Castle. I promised myself to restock my bar with some of these old Irish acquaintances.
Often in my choice of whisky I opt for the ones I haven't tasted yet. With good reason, because learning about whisky is always expanding your taste experience. But the drive for the next taste experience may have you forget revisiting the ones that you love, and use for reference.
So, if you, like me, have a limited budget for your bar, don't forget to reserve a place for the whiskies that already have a place in your palate.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Elderly whiskies

I recently attended a whisky tasting that featuered old whiskies only. It is a treat for whisky enthusiasts like myself to be able and nose whiskies that are obviously too expensive to buy a whole bottle of.

This was on the menu :
  • Convalmore 30 y.
  • Lochnagar 32 y.
  • Dailuaine 34 y.
  • Caperdonich 40 y.
  • Banff 32 y.
  • "Probably Speyside's Finest" 43 y.(Glenfarclas)
  • Tamnavulin 30 y.
The foremost problem of older whiskies is obviously their price (which makes tasting events an ideal opportunity to nose them). In the case of independent bottlings, as was the case here, older whiskies have a tendency to have off notes, I suspect because they're matured beyond their peak. Official distillery bottlings seem to suffer less from this problem, likely due to a larger cask selection, but they are invariably more expensive per year of maturation.
All this makes buying old whiskies a risky business if you haven't tasted them before purchase. The conclusion is as simple as it is obvious : don't buy expensive old whiskies without having tried them.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Heaven and hell in the lower price range.

A while ago I commented on the 10 year old Goldlys. Today I've tasted the 3 year old.
Definitely not worth the buy! Nothing in it reminds of whisky, it is too woody, and simply awful. I tried spiking my coffee with it, only to get bad coffee. No use for it, well apart from giving it to visitors you'd rather see leave.
If you really need to buy Goldlys buy the 10 year old.

I did come across something far better though. Glen Martin is a pure malt which sells at very acceptable prices (about half the price of a standard single malt) and it is a very enjoyable drinking whisky. It is a mix of highland malts (no citation which ones) that are all at least 12 years of age. Fruity, sweet and a real crowd pleaser. Now, this is what you pour for visitors you want to stick around a bit longer.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fancy titles and limited editions

The commercial guys of the big whisky industry are constantly pushing new fancy titled whiskies and limited edition bottles on the market. Are these worth the effort of trying or buying?
One thing I had to realize very quickly after becoming totally enthralled by malts, was the fact that, no matter what, I was never going to be able to taste all of them.
Simply look at someone like Jim Murray, who's tasted thousands of whiskies, and yet he's not tasted all of them.
Now, fancy titled whiskies and limited editions just move the already unreachable target just a little bit further out of reach, so I don't mind very much.
I have a few friends who are also into whisky and we share tips and pointers to what's new and good, and what's new and not so good. This is also great about whisky blogs and forums. The big guys may be able to fool the average consumer, but the connoisseur will unveil the charade fairly quickly.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Simply peaty

Oh, my! How I've been ignoring my blog in past months. Well, becoming a father may have been interfering with my time. No matter. I'm back!
Lately I've been enjoying a simple 10 year old Laphroaig. No cask strength, or finish stuff. Just clean simple peated Islay goodness. In these times when all kinds of players are jumping on the bandwagon of peat, the Laphroaig 10 remains a testimony of what makes these whiskies so special.
So do yourself a favour, and buy yourself a nice simple Islay and enjoy it for what it is.

I would recommend Laphroaig 10, Lagavulin 16, or an Ardbeg 10. Also very very worth the purchase is a Ledaig 10. Not an Islay, but something that will please any peat enthusiast.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Very recently I became the proud owner of 1/10 of a cask of new make spirit distilled at Bladnoch distillery. A new venture for me, actually owning maturing spirit. Ok, a tenth of a cask sounds a bit lame, but actually this is a very nice deal, since you only have a tenth of the risk involved as well.
You could split the risk by pooling your money with 9 friends, and then buying a cask, but the nice people at Bladnoch will find 9 friends for you.
Now all I have to do is wait for the spirit to mature. People seem to think that this is a bad thing, having to wait all this time. I think it's great, because all the time the spirit is maturing into a hopefully nice whisky, I can boast owning a cask maturing in Scotland. (a tenth, yes just a tenth, but it's so easy to leave it off isn't it)
I've been promised a picture of the cask (no the entire cask, not just a tenth) so as soon as I get it I'll be sure to post it here.
Obviously I'll report on the progress of the maturation in the coming years...

Sweet drams,


Sunday, March 23, 2008


Years back, pretty much the only whiskies I knew were some of the blends that were popular in my parent's house, J&B, William Lawsons and Old Smuggler. I also knew Glenfiddich, but it was not often that my parents got a bottle. Whisky was really of no interest to me. But something about that Glenfiddich being of higher quality for some reason had stuck in my mind, although I didn't really realize or care why.
Much later around my 18th year in life I and some friends pooled some money together to buy and enjoy a bottle of Glenfiddich. A night to remember. Although it was more the company than the whisky. A few years later still I had purchased a bottle of my own. I wasn't into whisky still, it was just something I liked drinking on occasion.
Fast forward again a few years, my girlfriend and me went to Ireland on a holiday, in the good company of a friend. We'd been visiting Irish pubs in Belgium and had discovered that those Irish made some good whiskey too. Our special attention went to Midleton Very Rare, it was really expensive in the pubs, my friend and I had both set our minds to buying a bottle in Ireland so we could enjoy it back home at a relatively cheaper price.
Ireland was a hit, and next year we went back. We carefully planned our route to pass Midleton distillery, which we intended to visit. I must admit that I went a little crazy in the distillery shop and bought no less than three bottles. A Jameson 15 year old, a Jameson 12 year old of the distillery reserve, and a Midleton Very Rare. Truly the whisky virus must have gotten me there and then, because I had just bought what would become the start of my collection. Back home I started to look out for whisky tastings. That was quite difficult back then, as there weren't that many as nowadays. But I managed to score one or two anyway. I had caught on to the blend/malt difference, and regularly bought malts in the supermarket.
In the mean time whisky popularity was rising and tastings became easier to find. My collection had already considerably grown, and I was now buying from specialized stores. I had already developed a fairly good idea of the taste range of whiskies in general. I loved them all. In the last few years a nearby drinks store has started organizing regular whisky tastings, and I try to attend all of them. As a result I have now tasted literally hundreds of different whiskies and own about a hundred myself.
I have now come to the point where I think of myself as a whisky connoisseur, one step beyond whisky enthusiast, but not a true whisky buff either.
Irish whisky will always have a place in my bar, and it pains me to see many people dismiss them so easily. I really love the true Lowland style whiskies, in fact one of the most amazing whiskies I've ever drunk was a 1981 St.Magdalene bottling by Gordon & MacPhail's. Islay also has a few of my favourites, but for me, nominating a favourite whisky is sheer impossible, because any choice I make, would only do injustice to all the others I really like.

So that's more or less how I became a whisky aficionado, what's your excuse ;)