Thursday, 18 March 2010

#373 - Three Old Glens & Icy Balls

From the looks of it, it might seem that not a lot has happened on Malt Madness for the past two weeks - but looks can be deceiving... I've been quietly working on a revisionist version of the Liquid Log. Most sections of the site have now recovered from the major crash of the website in 2006, but the liquid log was still damaged. 

Now I hope to be able to publish a fully revised version of my liquid log in a few weeks. My revised log won't be quite 'as good as new', but most links should work again. Of course, some of the information will be out-dated...

Meanwhile, in this entry I'd like to say something about the PR agency of The Macallan that now apparently suggests that the best way to enjoy the Macallan Fine Oak is in a tumbler with a huge ball of ice. However, I want to start with my notes for three oldies that Craig Daniels sent me from Australia.

Glencraig 16yo 1970 (40%, G&M Connoisseur’s Choice Old brown label, +/- 1986, Australia)  Nose: Surprisingly fresh with a hint of pine. Alcoholic, but in a pleasant way. Not a lot of ‘OBE’ apparently. Sweetens out a little after five minutes, and eventually it grows a little more metallic too. Growing complexity. Taste: A classic, malty profile that powers up in the centre. More substance than many CC’s from the 1990’s. A touch of smoke. Some sapy green wood in the finish. Some pine. I’d say this comes from a bourbon cask. After circa twenty minutes I finally found a touch of ‘old bottle effect’ on the palate. That lifts it into the 80’s. Score: 80 points - appropriately enough, this sample was sent to me by Craig Daniels in Australia. Thanks a lot, ‘Glen’ Craig ;-) 

Glendronach 1959-1960/1986 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Royal Wedding of Andrew & Sarah)  Nose: Ah! Rich and surprisingly 'winey'. Definitely some 'old bottle effect here, lovely, lovely, lovely... Light Spring fruits and a touch of smoke. Brilliant evolution over time. Some subtle spices too. Hint of mint. Taste: Surprisingly smoky. A surprisingly powerful centre - this is just wonderful. Lots of OBE here as well. Cool wood in the finish with some tannins. Dry. Hey, and there’s a touch of liquorice in the finish as well. Score: 90 points - this really is an excellent example of the way single malt whiskies used to be.

Glen Grant 1959-1960/1986 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail, Andrew and Fergie)  Nose: Coffee. Loads of old bottle effect. Settles down after a few minutes but remains very pleasant. Parsley. Sellery. Grows very sweet after half an hour with honey and caramel. Not much fruits. Keeps evolving. Taste: Pleasantly potent; plenty of smoke, but it doesn’t overpower the malty notes and the wood. Toffee and liquorice; an unusual combination. Hints of caramel (Caramac). Quite potent. Score: 91 points - a lovely example of a classic Speyside malt whisky.

Wow, excellent stuff - a wonderful opportunity to take a look into the past... Thanks Craig! 

I'll finish this report with a rant about this press release I received recently from Macallan. Apparently, the people of macallan now have icy balls...


Macallan Press Release - Raising the Bar
The Macallan Introduces the Ice Ball Serve

The ice or water debate has long remained a fiercely contested subject amongst whisky drinkers and The Macallan has thrown its hat into the ring by creating an innovative serving method expressly for those who like their whisky with ice.

Believing the perfect serve to come down to personal preference, The Macallan has pioneered the Ice Ball Serve.  It is the first real move by any whisky brand in the UK to present whisky in an innovative, contemporary fashion and open the doors to a growing adult population that regards ice as an integral part of the spirit-drinking experience.

The Ice Ball Serve is based on the Japanese tradition of serving hand-carved ice with ultra-premium spirits.  The ice ball press instantly creates a flawlessly formed sphere of ice that adds a touch of theatre and sophistication.

The Macallan’s Marketing Assistant, Pat Lee, explains the science part: “The Ice Ball Press was inspired by Japanese cocktail culture where artisans hand-carve ice balls from massive slabs to create an uninterrupted surface that cools spirits quickly and evenly.  The ice ball melts slowly to preserve the integrity of the spirit.  We have updated this process, by developing a copper press that instantly trims a block of ice into a flawless ice ball.  This, combined with our masterful single malt Scotch whisky, is The Macallan Perfect Serve.

“The Macallan’s liquid excellence is continuously defined by its unprecedented elegance and versatility. The ice ball balances these qualities. As global cocktail culture has evolved, ice has become central to the modern-day spirits experience.  With an eye on this trend, we created The Macallan Perfect Serve, to modernise the way single malt can be enjoyed and appeal to a wider range of consumers.”

In essence; The Macallan ice ball serve takes this traditional practice to the ultimate level, with a single perfect sphere of ice, a unique beautiful serve with the benefits of maximum chill with minimum dilution.


The Macallan remains the single malt against which all others must be judged. It is celebrated far and wide by experts and discerning drinkers as the world’s most precious whisky.

Yeah, well... 
Needless to say, the press release lead to some discussion amongst the maniacs because Macallan's PR agency apparently employs a gifted spin doctor. The 'ice or water debate' really is more of a 'dilution or not debate' among experts and discerning whisky drinkers. And for those of you that prefer NOT to dilute their whisky (or at least not those that were bottled at 40% or 43%), here's a tip from Olivier Humbrecht;

"My technique is still the easiest: take nice little granite stones about half inch size and put them in the freezer. You can use them to cool down whatever drink you don't want to mix with water. Whisky on the rocks..."

To which Dave Broom responded: "My tip : don't slug the drink back! unless you're not that attached to your front teeth."

Well, when handled with some caution, this seems like an excellent way to cool whisky if you prefer your whiskies at a manly strength. According to Mark and Martine these cubes are available from Laphroaig and Kilchoman.

Sweet drams...

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

#372 - The Retard Tax

People sometimes accuse me of having no heart... 
I suppose the mere fact that those accusations don't bother me very much proves that there could be some truth to them, but unless the accuser is a certified cardiologist who has just studied my x-ray photo's, I'm not overly concerned...

Because of my relative heartlessness, I'm not as easily affected 
by advertising as some other people. That makes sense; most advertising is aimed for the heart anyway. After working in publishing and marketing for two decades, a thick layer of callus has formed around my soul. That layer acts like a protective shield against a lot of whisky PR and advertising - like the press release from Evan Williams (Heaven Hill) that I've just received.

The press release proudly announces the fact that Evan Williams will become the official bourbon of the 'sport' bull riding. I find this sponsorship deal oddly appropriate, because I've always considered sports sponsoring to be some form of "retard tax". Brands decide to sponsor sporting events and sports teams in order to boost their image with their target audience. The target audience of many sports (for example bull riding, or American football in the US and proper football in the rest of the world) consists of mainly retards. 

The vast majority of those retards do not seem to realise that THEY are the ones paying the price for the "generosity" of the sponsors. After all, increases in the advertising budget are generally paid for by increases in the prices for the products, not by reducing salaries and bonuses for staff and management. So, in a weird way the consumers of Evan Williams bourbon whiskey who will visit a bull riding event in the future are paying for the Evan Williams advertising and PR they will be submitted to - hence the phrase 'retard tax'
Yeah, the corporate system is a thing of wonder and beauty... ;-) 

On the other hand, I guess the people of Evan Williams could have had the best of intentions. After all, those bulls are not going to ride themselves... Apparently SOMEBODY has to ride them, and in that case it's probably best if it's done by a professional bull rider. Yeah, right... Anyway; here's a snippet of the press release;

World’s Second Leading Selling Bourbon Reaches Partnership Agreement with CBR Nationwide Professional Bull Riding Tour

BARDSTOWN, KY—Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the second best selling Bourbon in the world, has signed a deal with Championship Bull Riding (CBR) to become the “Official Bourbon of the CBR”.  Evan Williams, a product of Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., is already a major sponsor of the BASS Elite Series and BASS Elite pro angler Jason Quinn, but is expanding their sponsorship dollars out into another sport that indexes particularly high against the Bourbon demographic—professional bull riding.

By becoming a major sponsor and the official Bourbon of the CBR, Evan Williams will enjoy exposure to attendees at more than 20 live events nationwide with over 100,000 fans in attendance, plus over 14 million viewers each year through primetime broadcast of CBR events on the Great American Country (GAC) cable network.  Evan Williams, which sold over a million 9-liter cases last year in the United States and internationally, will also enjoy display and sampling opportunities at CBR events.  CBR was founded by bull riding icon Tuff Hedeman in 2004 and bills itself as “The Real Cowboy Sport”, riding a wave of popularity for rodeo events and bull riding in particular.  (...)

Anyway - I didn't really need an extra reason NOT to drink bourbon (the vast majority of the ones I've tried tasted foul), but I'll happily use this as a spare one. Professional bull riding isn't quite as bad as the professional bull killing that goes on in Spain, but I'm thinking that the many gates and fences in those arena's indicate that the bulls would prefer NOT to participate in these "sports" if they were given a choice. So, I wouldn't want to run the risk of inadvertently financing cruelty to animals...

Phew.... My spleen feels properly vented for now ;-)

Sweet drams...

Monday, 1 March 2010

#371 - Connemara Drammavaganza

Over the past week I've managed to make some decent progress with the old Liquid Log; I hope to be able to publish a fully revised version in a week or two. It should provide a much smoother surfing experience - for one thing because I've repaired many broken links. 
Of course, many of the bottlings I tried a decade or more ago just
don't exist anymore - or the profile has changed over the years.

I've also made some revisions to the mAlmanac and a few other 
pages. Last but certainly not least: you'll now be able to track 
my progress with the revision of the distillery profiles. Every 
time I'm finished with reviewing a distillery profile I'll add a 
direct link to the distillery map on the overview page
I expect to be finished somewhere around July 1. 

Meanwhile, it looks like winter may be coming to an end. I'd better take advantage from the cold while it lasts - let's try a few peaty drams that were also part of the Malt Maniacs Awards 2009
I started with the Connemara NAS (40%, OB, Peated, Bottled +/- 2009). Nose: Light fruits. Then more rubbery notes emerge. Perhaps some very faint spices in the background. Hey, wait - after ten seconds I got some meaty and 'sweaty' notes that earned it an extra point. Some sparkly veggy notes too after a few months of breathing. Taste: Peaty and fruity; light but nicely balanced in the beginning. The balance disappears in the centre and finish, though. Hint of salt liquorice? The finish is almost watery, but it remains recommendable. 
Score: 81 points - a reliable and affordable 'daily dram' for peat lovers. It feels just a little 'greener' and younger than previous batches though. Nice evolving complexity over time...

Connemara NAS 'Cask Strength'
(57.9%, OB, Peated, +/- 2009)

Nose: Clay over a phenolic base. Peculiar. Rubber? Something salty too. The nose starts more phenolic than that of the 40% version. Lighter fruits (water melon) emerge after five minutes. It gradlually climbs into the lower 80's. Taste: Rubbery start with a hint of sweetness. Lots of smoke and peat. Industrial oil. Garage smells. Quite some tannins in the dry finish. 
Score: 82 points. Definitely a more potent malt than the version at 40%, but it's not as complex and balanced as earlier batches. A great alternative to many Islay malts.

Connemara 2001/2009 (59.2%, OB for Limburg, Peated, cask#K01/10 1196). Nose: Grainy and a little sharp. Beer. Sourish notes (rhubarb?) and a hint of dust. More phenolic elements after a minute, followed by more sweetness. Growing complexity over time, during which it climbs from barely 80 points to the mid-80's. This one desperately NEEDS time. Taste: Very peaty start with leather and organics. Not a lot of staying power though - and a fairly dry and weak finish. Just like the nose it improves over time. However, the palate doesn't quite warrant a score in the upper 80's. Score: 83 points.
Yeah, I guess it's a little more complex than the OB...

Last but not least, the Connemara NAS 'Sherry Finish' (46%, OB Small Batch Collection, Peated, Lot L9088, +/- 2009). Nose: Big, fruity and woody. Organics. Sweet and leathery. Cake? Cough syrup? Sweet desert wine? Industrial oil with the lightest hints of unripe apples in the background. Taste: The most phenolic of all expressions I've tried tonight. Solid, fruity and peaty. Smooth. A great mouth feel, but it makes it to the upper 80's mostly based on the nose. Score: 85 points. This beats the Ardbeg Blasda with a stick!
Well, these results are further proof that Cooley is still the only Irish distillery that can go head-to-head with the Scottish competition on a malt whisky level; only exceptional casks of Bushmills are able to reach this level and Jameson's seems to compete mostly on the level of blended whisky. It seems that Cooley is picking much more medals than the others and I tend to agree for a change...

Sweet drams...