Tobermory 15yo, 46.3%, Limited Edition 2008

Ah, Tobermory. I have a weird relationship with that distillery. When I went to my first whisky tasting ever, in Den Bosch at Barrique, there was one which I thought absolutely sublime.

I only ended up not buying it since there also was a cask strength Bowmore available that just had to come home. Mostly because the 60% abv. That how I rolled back then.

This turned out to be a bad investment. Mostly because Barrique works with single barrels and you can buy per centiliter in the shop. Their corks are shite so within a week my Bowmore tasted like wet wallpaper.

Anyway, Tobermory. After tasting a terrific one there I bought their old 10 year old. I guess that was about a decade ago. That was a terrible dram. Barely any flavour, very watery. I gave the bottle away after a few glasses. Then, some years later, this 15 year old came out, in a kick-ass box, all fancy looking. I wanted it before I even tasted it. That’s how I rolled about 6 years ago. At least, partially.

I hear they are regularly pretty good nowadays, and I read several enthusiastic reports on single casks from indie bottlers. This one is from themselves, and if this is a benchmark, they’ve picked up a notch or two.

Tobermory 15, available from Master of Malt

Tobermory 15, available from Master of Malt

Sniff:
Big and rich sherry, right from the get-go. Heaps of raisins and dried peaches. A hint of black pepper and sweet malt in the background. Also, if you’re familiar with sherry, oloroso to be more specific, you get slight yeasty, sour note too.

Sip:
The palate also has the crushed black pepper, but a little bit more so than the nose. There’s barley here too, and the sweetness of the sherry is incredibly rich. Raisins, with a slight bitterness of the stems added. Some oak. All in all, where the nose leaned very heavily on the sherry this goes more towards whisky.

Swallow:
The finish is largely consistent with the palate. The bitterness is bigger, but never surpasses the sweetness of the dried fruits and sherry. It’s really big on sherry, fruit and quite oaky at this point too.

While this one is huge on the sherry, it’s not overpowering at any point. It’s also not sherry with increased ABV, which does happen sometimes with these big, rich drams. This is just a lovely whisky with great fruity influences.

Highly recommended, although I don’t really get the marketing blurb on maturing on the mainland and then back to Mull and so on. I would have to try a separate one that wasn’t matured on the mainland, and a third one that was matured fully on Mull. (That’s a hint, Tobermory!)

Tobermory 15, 46.3%, Gonzalez Byass Oloroso Casks, Limited Edition from 2008. Still pretty easy to get at some € 85

Samples available

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Altore, 40%

About a year and a half ago I blogged about the Altore Moresca Reserve Finish. One of two of a ‘Corsican’ whisky you can more or less just buy on the island. Corsican is between quotation marks because the whisky is distilled in Scotland, and then matured in Corsica, in a selection of their wine barriques.

The Moresca finish and this one are only eight years old, but eight years on Corsica are different from eight years in Scotland, mostly because of the hot summers in the south of France.

I bought this bottle on Friday the 13th of June, 2008. My wife and I got married on the Tuesday before. It was in a small grocery shop near Ajaccio near the camp ground where we had stayed the first night of our honeymoon. I believe it set me back € 23. I knew there was some Corsican whisky to be had, but that’s about as far as my knowledge went.

I think I popped the cork that same night, but I’m not entirely sure about that. I’m also not sure if I had already bought the second one (The Moresca Reserve finish) that same day, or the next. What I do know is that it’s taking me forever to finish this bottle. Not even because it’s bad, but mostly because there’s a lot of better whisky to be had. Even at the same price.

Altore whisky

Altore whisky

Sniff:
There’s some malt on the nose, with oak and an unexpected richness. Some minor hints of fruit. Stewed apples mostly. The sweetness (of which there is a lot) is reminiscent of Moscatel/Muscat wines.

Sip:
It’s very smooth, velvety almost. Also very, very sweet and oily like simple syrup. Some malty flavours in the background, porridge like, with a hint of white pepper. Rather rich, especially for a 40% ABV one. There’s apples too and I think I’m getting the faintest whiff of smoke.

Swallow:
The finish is rather long with more fruit than on the palate. Sweet malt, sweet oak and heavy fruit. Very syrupy and rich.

If you’re into sweet and smooth without a lot of difficult flavours, this one is for you. The closest Scottish whisky I think I’ve had is Aberfeldy. It does taste a lot older than 8 years, but there’s not much depth to be discovered. Actually, I keep being surprised by how good this actually tastes.

It’s funny, though, that something that you actually like it sitting on a shelf for six years and a bit before getting close to being finished. I think I might just make it a goal to finish this next weekend. There isn’t much left in the bottle, but if you’re game, there are some samples available.

Altore 40%, available here for € 31

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Campbeltown Loch 30, 40%

Several years ago I bought this bottle after tasting it and mistaking it for a single malt. I’d like to say I’ve come a long way since then, but I guess that’s just wishful thinking. In this case I feel less like an idiot since this is a rather ‘malty’ blend. By that I mean there’s, I think, quite a lot of malt whisky in this blend, compared to its well known siblings from the blends stable.

Campbeltown Loch is a blended whisky produced by J&A Mitchell so it’s safe to say/guess there’s a lot of the Springbank malts in here. Apart from that, little is known and no information is given. The back label just has a barcode, some mandatory icons and the logo that’s also on the front. No info whatsoever.

Apart from that, when this came out it was a steal. I bought it in The Netherlands at a slightly inflated price of some € 75, while it would have been available from closer to € 60 online, by the looks of it. Even then, a 30 year old blend at any of those prices is a steal.

I just checked Whiskybase for current availability, and you still can get this, but its popularity hasn’t gone unnoticed. Only Whisky-Online.com has it, at £ 175 a pop. What I just realized is that in the current market, 175 quid for a 30 year old blended whisky isn’t even that bad a deal, right?

Campbeltown Loch 30yo

Campbeltown Loch 30yo

Sniff:
Very malty and not too heavy at all. There’s quite a lot of salty scents present, hence my guess for Springbank. There’s sugar and vanilla, and some apple and pear. Not too complex but superb balance and smoothness.

Sip:
Gentle and mature with vanilla, ripe pear and salt. Slightly drying and light, with the tiniest hint of pepper. There’s a tiny layer of smoke behind all this with oak and cinnamon. Quite a lot of oak, but not too heavy.

Swallow:
The finish is very similar to the palate but not overly long. Rich and smooth.

By the tasting notes you can get the idea that this is not an overly complex and layered whisky. That is true. It’s rather straight forward but the three decades in oak worked very well for all parts and make for a great sipping whisky. Highly recommended, but a little expensive at £ 175.

Campbeltown Loch 30, 40%, at Whisky-Online.com £ 175

Samples available

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Blog Birthday Bash #4

Last Saturday was the day of this wee blog’s fourth birthday party. Not the actual 4th birthday but due to pregnancy and the lack of planning thereof we pulled that forward a little bit.

As said in the announcement post I organized a much smaller party this year with only 7 guests. I invited slightly more but since it’s the holiday season not everybody could make it.

That also meant that we didn’t have to go through 30 whiskies. Instead, it was just some 17 bottles or so. At least, I have 17 pictures of bottles but I might have missed some. I started the party with a (mass produced lager) beer because it was about 35 degrees in our back yard. Not really weather for Lagavulin, so to say. After that I made Sazeracs for all, and by doing so, I finished my bottle of Zuidam Dutch Rye. That one goes really well in a Sazerac.

(un)Pulled Pork!

(un)Pulled Pork!

Of course, the inner being has to be taken care of too so there was some barbecue going on. I made pulled pork (it’s an annual staple by now) and between 9 of us (7 guests, me and Anneke) we worked our way through some 7 pounds of pork butt. It was pretty good and I could do a head to head between my two Weber barbecues. So far, the Weber Go Everywhere beats the Weber Compact.

Then the booze:

Bruichladdich. Sweet on the nose, slightly bitter on the palate. Inconsistent but very enjoyable. I loved it.

Bruichladdich. Sweet on the nose, slightly bitter on the palate. Inconsistent but very enjoyable. I loved it.

Old Crow, bottled in 1970. Pretty kick-ass bourbon.

Old Crow, bottled in 1970. Pretty kick-ass bourbon.

A very surprising young Mortlach. Highly enjoyable and a big surprise. Not as meaty as usual

A very surprising young Mortlach. Highly enjoyable and a big surprise. Not as meaty as usual

Bas Armagnac from 1964. Thoroughly great, with nice herbal notes on the sweet wine base. Very, very good.

Bas Armagnac from 1964. Thoroughly great, with nice herbal notes on the sweet wine base. Very, very good.

A new Kilkerran. Much more peaty than expected. We figured it was Longrow or Bunnahabhain. Very good.

A new Kilkerran. Much more peaty than expected. We figured it was Longrow or Bunnahabhain. Very good.

Don't even remember what this actually was. Help me out here, guys!

Don’t even remember what this actually was. Help me out here, guys!

Dalmore Virgin Oak. I had it before and would NOT have recognized it. Lots of oak going on here.

Dalmore Virgin Oak. I had it before and would NOT have recognized it. Lots of oak going on here.

Ben Nevis from an unknown bottler. Very tasty, very surprising too.

Ben Nevis from an unknown bottler. Very tasty, very surprising too.

Michel Couvreur's Candid. Not liked by everyone, but I love the bitter and salted caramel notes.

Michel Couvreur’s Candid. Not liked by everyone, but I love the bitter and salted caramel notes.

Cooley? Utterly delicious. One of my favourites of the evening.

Cooley? Utterly delicious. One of my favourites of the evening.

A surprise Bunnahabhain. Very good, very fruity.

A surprise Bunnahabhain. Very good, very fruity.

BenRiach 1976. Can't go wrong there.

BenRiach 1976. Can’t go wrong there.

Cragganmore. Quite nice too.

Cragganmore. Quite nice too.

Old Longmorn. Oh yes!

Old Longmorn. Oh yes!

Bowmore Feis Ile. This was a rather lovely one. Better than last year's bourbon cask.

Bowmore Feis Ile. This was a rather lovely one. Better than last year’s bourbon cask.

Clynelish Distillery Only. The overall winner of the night?

Clynelish Distillery Only. The overall winner of the night?

Kilchoman Loch Gorm #1. We kept pushing the peat back. It is lovely.

Kilchoman Loch Gorm #1. We kept pushing the peat back. It is lovely.

As you can see, the pictures got blurry-er near the end of the night, which is comparable to my level of thought. After all this H&H pulled out some well aged 2007 vintages of Westvleteren 8 and 12. Those are some awesome beers!

I had a pretty kick-ass evening and I hope everyone else did as well. The next morning was pretty tough with Ot waking up at about 5.45, and preparing a lunch for 12 people. We have to plan better next year…

So again, thanks to Anneke, Henk, Helen, Henk, Tom, Thomas, Jeroen and Teun

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The NAS debate #2

Last Monday I wrote a little bit about the NAS debate that’s been going on for about two years. It turned out to be a rather popular post, one of the more popular ones of the last couple of months.

There was some discussion as a result, mostly on Twitter which turned out to be interesting and even had some industry people involved defending some of the NAS releases.

What this, unfortunately, results in most of the time is people referring to one or two good NAS bottlings to prove a point. A point that is much, much larger than those two bottlings. And yes, I can name a lot more good NAS bottlings than I can name bad ones, but my post was not about the merits of NAS bottlings, or the lack thereof.

My point is that I want more info. I want to know what I’m spending my money on and not just accept some marketing blurb about the terroir of the distillery being in the whisky and some romantic jibberjabber. I don’t mind that there are a lot of NAS bottlings out there even if I find a lot of them lacking in quality compared to the price asked. That is also the case with many ‘age stated’ whiskies. I don’t buy them either.

I even bought a NAS whisky pretty recently, at a whopping (to me at least) € 95 (it’s one of my entries for the blind tasting on Saturday, so no disclosure yet). This I bought because it’s good. Even without info, in the end my palate decides. Still I regret there is not much more info on the label. I’d like to know all about this whisky.

What I find strange is that a lot of producers spend quite a bit of their marketing budget on education (potential) customers. To get them to know the brand and their whiskies. Yet, at the same time they do not want to disclose any info on their NAS whiskies.

I realize that putting the age range of the whisky on the back label would effectively nullify the NAS category, since you do put an age on it, but my preference would be that NAS goes towards something like this:

“This batch of Talisker Storm was made using casks that range from 6 to 17 years old”.

Of course, Talisker Storm is an example and I don’t have a clue what’s actually in there. I for one, wouldn’t mind if batch 2 was made from 4 to 22 years old, and batch 3 was made from 8 to 13 years old. I understand the need for consistency in flavour. I applaud distilleries going for that since, apart from all the gimmicky single casks that geeks like me buy, we all have our staple whiskies that we want to be as consistent as possible. Plus, let’s be honest, we’re not a drop in the ocean compared to the regular releases from distilleries.

To cut it short, and use a quote stolen from Oliver Klimek from Twitter yesterday:

The real issue is not age, but price and its justification

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The upcoming 4th birthday

On Saturday (July 19th) MaltFascination will celebrate it’s fourth birthday.

Technically the anniversary is on August 3rd, but with our second kid being due on August 10th I didn’t want to take the risk of having to cancel the celebrations.

This year it’s happening slightly different to previous years since I downsized it a bit to only some people from the Whisky club I’m part of, the Usquebaugh Society. This means the group is about half as big as last year. This is nice, since last years it got more and more crowded in our little back yard. This wasn’t necessarily bad, but I wanted it to be a bit more ‘intimate’. Plus, nobody can properly assess the 20th whisky in a row.

So, what’s happening on Saturday?

Apart from the weather forecasts being good, maybe even too good (31 degrees is HOT), there’s going to be a massive amount of pulled pork and some side dishes for food. During the night there will be other snacks. And chocolate of course, since that goes well with whisky.

Then there’s booze. It always has been a blind tasting event and that will not change anytime soon. Everyone brings a bottle (or two, if history is any indicator) and we’ll sit around yapping about it and everything else that comes up. Then, all of a sudden someone screams his guess about the contents of the bottle, and everyone else adds their two cents.

Of course, we’ll also have a beer with the meat. There’s a cocktail to start the afternoon Sazeracs this time. Last year was Whiskey Sour.

I’m very much looking forward to it, even though I have not yet decided what my contribution to the line-up is going to be. In the back of my head I’ve been planning next year’s 5th anniversary, which should be a lot bigger again. Maybe even a  hog roast.

Apparently I didn’t do a write-up of the 1st, but I did so for the second and third birthdays.

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The NAS debate

I don’t think I’ve ever written a post on the NAS debate that’s keeping the whisky industry and aficionados in its grips ever, except the April Fools post a couple of months ago, but I have mingled in the discussions on Twitter and Facebook every now and then.

What it boils down to is this (and this is a generalization, at best):

On one end of the spectrum there’s ‘the industry’ who see their stocks rapidly dwindling because of huge demand. They, being a business, capitalize on that by selling for increased prices and bottling younger stock to cope with demand. A lot of this younger stock is bottled under the NAS label. This means there’s no age stated on the label.

On the other end of the spectrum are ‘we’, the whisky geeks. People who want to know all ins and outs of the industry and preferably each dram we drink. The whisky geeks feel ripped off by all these NAS labels, since they feel they’re being sold younger (and often worse) whisky at higher prices. If the quality of a decade ago is what you’re after, you have to shell out big.

Of course, there’s a lot more to this debate, but above standpoints are more or less what it boils down to. Other arguments are that NAS is flavour driven instead of age driven. Also that the quality and consistency has increased by not limiting oneself to a certain age bracket. Counter arguments are (and there are some examples that stave this argument) that the quality generally is lower than what it used to be, you’re being sold crappy whisky at premium prices, and the industry is trying to hide itself behind all kinds of excuses.

Anyway, I’ve tried to go against my usual demeanor by not being overly cynical about people who try to sell me stuff. I try to evaluate a whisky based on its merits, and not on what the label or PR company tries to tell me. I do have to admit, however, that I have barely ever bought a NAS whisky of over € 50. I just can’t bring myself to spend € 140 on Glenmorangie Signet, although it’s good.

Yesterday, in a post written by Gert Claus, of the Belgian ‘Tasty Dram‘ blog I found a statement that rang very true to me:

Once a certain price ceiling is reached, I do think an educated customer is entitled to more then the basic marketing lingo.

I think this hits the nail on its head. Not because it flames NAS whisky for what it is, but more what we whisky geeks want. We want info. We want to be in the know (Yes, like Redbreast).

This is what bothers me about most of the NAS bottlings. I don’t care that some whisky is technically only 6 years old, but expensive. As long as it’s good. And the producer/bottler has the guts to tell me what I’m drinking. Like Gert said, the colour doesn’t tell you anything. Colour like the Macallan Ruby can be achieved in half a year.

I spent quite a lot of hours reading about whisky. About the chemical processes creating flavours. About how maturation affects flavour. About barley strains used. About ‘terroir’ in distillery’s products. About marketing, production, history and future. Many geeks do this too. We want to know.

There are some notable exceptions, and I hope people will do this more and more often. Ardbeg Rollercoaster had on the label how old each cask was that went into it, and how big the overal percentage in that age bracket was. Balvenie’s Tun 1401 bottlings have a list of used casks on the label. Batch contained a cask from 1991 and older ones. There’s only cask numbers but with some effort you can figure out what’s what. I hope this will become a trend. We whisky geeks don’t mind flavour driven whisky. We don’t mind young whisky. We don’t (generally) even mind paying good money for a decent dram. But we want to know what we’re drinking.

Even this whisky industry used to want us to know what we were drinking. When, in the 80s, Single Malt started to take flight age statements were rapidly added along with more and more info on labels to make ‘us’ (between quotes, since in the 80s I was mostly drinking milk) more discerning drinkers. It was used by ‘the industry’ to stand out from the crowd. “Look at us giving you a 14 year old whisky!”

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