11 August 2022

02/07/2022 Highland Park

When planning for the current holiday, I got in touch with Highland Park, in the hope that they would be able and willing to give us the special treatment -- a tour that would not be your generic thirty-minutes-and-a-dram experience. Much to my delight, they went quite a few steps further to build us a tour like no other*. Indeed, a couple of days ago, the distillery sent me the full programme for this three-and-a-half-hour tour, and my jaw dropped.

(*) There is a reason for that that I do not care to reveal -- let us just say they liked my haircut.

So, on this Saturday, the last day of our Orkney stay, and in poor weather conditions, we come-a knocking at the distillery's gate at 14:00 sharp, as per instructions. adc is probably surprised we are even here, after we spent such a good time at Scapa, yesterday, while JS is aware we are touring the distillery, but does not know what is in store. Oh! how I love surprising my friends.

We are let in by Rupert, one of the distillery guides, though he was expecting a different crowd and looks puzzled. I tell him my name, to which he replies he knows exactly who we are, and we are to join his colleague Keith. "In that case," I say, "your group is in a car, across the street, sheltering from the rain."

Keith is all smiles and courtesies, professional and slick. He has clearly studied our dossier, knows our names already and drops them a lot to start with. It certainly makes some people feel special, but to be honest, we do not need to be treated like celebrities to be at ease or feel welcome. He gives us a run-down of the afternoon's activities, perhaps divulging a little too much (I like surprises, remember), but it is all good stakeholder-management practice. He then explains that this is a tour that has never been done before, and that we are Guinea pigs of sorts: if it works, they may add it to their offer.

The first of those activities is the video in the visitor centre that explains how Orkney, the land and its people, made Highland Park, the whisky, and why it tastes like it does. Everything is filmed in slow-motion, and all the clichés are represented, to the point where JS bursts with laughter, and struggles to catch her breath ("Now comes the most difficult part... Waiting.")

We are seasoned distillery visitors, however, and, if this type of videos has now become a staple in so many of them, we appreciate that it is because it works on so many occasional whisky tourists. We try to remain composed. It is made all the easier by the dram we have in front of us to sip alongside.

Annoyingly enough, I am driving, by the way, so this whole experience is (almost) teetotal, as far as I am concerned. The visit includes empty samples for me, so I can take the whiskies home and enjoy them in my own time, which will allow me to make detailed notes (see below). Yay! I nose them all and take a drop of each on the day, though. Quality assurance, you understand.

Keith asks us what we thought of the video. I tell him roughly the above, hoping it does not make for too awkward a rest of afternoon. Instead, he was probably trying to gauge where we are on our whisky journey: although he will remain flawlessly professional throughout, the corporate façade fades out soon enough.

From there, Keith takes us to the malting floor, where we meet the other group. No blending in, mind: they are simply on the same stage of their tour, but in a different area of the malting floor.

Disclaimer first: the distillery is currently in its silent season. It is earlier than usual, due to "a recent incident," as I was told by email, the other day. Before we can ask about said incident, Keith points at the scaffolding that envelops several of the buildings, and tells us a lorry-mounted crane was driving to Kirkwall, and passed by the distillery. A pipe runs over the road, from the spirit receiver to the filling room, in the warehouses. It is high enough that those lorries can comfortably pass underneath it, but the crane on this particular vehicle had not been folded properly. It was therefore too tall and caught the pipe, tore it off the wall of the distillery, causing considerable damage. As we widen our eyes in disbelief, Keith adds that it happened on a Sunday, when no-one was around to stop the lorry. That was fortunate, in a way: it meant the pipe was not full of (highly-flammable) spirit. Parallel to the spirit pipe run another one, carrying fuel, and electric cables. A dangerous mix that could very well have ignited, and have had much more dire consequences.

As it dawns on me that we could have easily been robbed of this very tour by the distillery being made permanently out of commission, I note that the driver is likely to be in all sorts of troubles. Judging by our guide's reaction, it is very much the case.

Once past that preamble, we are given a plethora of technical detail about the production, as one would expect, and, if some aspects remain woolly (no spontaneous mention of how much of the distillery's needs the malting floor covers, for example), our guide is open and honest when challenged; in that particular case, the malting floor does not provide enough malt for the distillery, of course, who imports the rest from Bairds, in Inverness -- I forget the proportion.

From there, we go to the kiln. We see the oven part, we discover the use for openings above the furnace (to let in more or less air and generate more or less smoke), are told how coke is burnt, as well as peat, and shown that summer in Highland Park starts with the return of the swallows.

"Swallows back 4/5/22 :)"

"The swallows are back," they said...

Peat for the kiln

Palettes to kickstart the fire.
No-one ever takes the initiative to talk about that (neither here nor elsewhere)

Here comes the meaty part: Keith leads us up the steep stairs into the pagoda of the kiln. Here is something I had never seen, in thirty years of touring distilleries!

Malted barley comes through this pipe

The mesh; oft talked about, rarely seen

This device turns the malted barley while it is being dried

Dried malted barley escapes this way

From there, we take a stroll around the roofs. Sadly, the weather is too miserable to spend much time up there.

Next stop: the mash tun, which is made of stainless steel.

"What is your view on stainless-steel washbacks, tOMoH? asks our guide? I explain I believe that, as every other parameter, steel washbacks, as opposed to wooden ones, make a difference to the taste of the final product. Whether that difference is positive, negative, or even perceptible, is a very different question. He tells me Highland Park used to insist on the importance of having wooden washbacks, but is slowly toning down its message on that subject. Stay tuned.

Next are the stills. They each have two colours, and one can easily see that they have all been mended, and the copper has aged differently above and below the waistline.

The current spirit safe

The original spirit safe

Time for the warehouse, where we are given our second dram of the day, valinched from the cask.

Keith points at a cask in a corner, and tell us to make a note about it.

Then, we see various trophy casks, signed by such-and-such. From afar, though: no strolling through the warehouse, unfortunately.

With that done, our final stop is the Magnus Eunson tasting room, where we will finish in style.

I really appreciated the honest tour, here. Sure, there was a share of corporate marketing bull, but when teased or challenged about it, our guide gave us straight answers, without the excessive romanticism dreamt up by experts in the psychology of selling. Now, proprietors Edrington obviously want Highland Park to become the new Macallan, and are all about premiumisation of the brand and status symbol. Of course, that pains me: it means another whisky I enjoy drinking will soon become inaccessible to me. Yet I have to admit that their product is usually excellent. Although the move irritates me, I can understand it.

Anyway, back to the tasting room, then.

Four drams await each of us, in this very-swish room. As said previously, I will only nose and "quality-check" them today, and take samples of each home. The below notes are not from the 2nd July, but from August, and the samples were tasted at tOMoH Central, not at the distillery.

First, the introductory drams we got on the day.

Highland Park 18yo b.2019 (55.8% OB Distillery Exclusive, 1st Fill Bourbon Hogshead, C#4212, 272b): nose: a punchy, boozy pear compote tickles the nostrils from the get-go, with faded leather in its wake. Hot on their heels are dry earth and squashed blackberry, as well as a drop of acetone, faint, but present. Then, it is dark cherries, smashed onto rye crackers. This does not know whether to be dry or juicy, so it presents both -- yay! It has some spices too, namely ground cardamom and powdered ginger, yet they too are faint. Raisin stems, maybe? Oh, yes. Cracked black pepper? Check. The second nose is sweeter and softer, with plasticine showing its head, tame smoke, and a pinch of pepper to complement the alcohol slap (it is not a shy whisky). Water makes the nose leafier, more vegetal; a walk in the Scottish countryside. Mouth: it goes from mellow to fruity (in a juicy way), to bold and acidic in the space of a second and a half. The spices are well pronounced, here (ginger powder, pepper, ground cardamom, still), yet they are balanced by a dry-fruit juiciness; we have raisins, dried dates and figs, sweet prunes and dried apricots... and all of them are mildly smoked! Yes, the distillery's trademark refined smoke is in full display, with honey simmering in a pot on a heather fire. The second sip feels more compact, more concentrated, with the same dried fruits all squashed together, about to burst out of the glass. It is more chewy too, what with its putting on the texture of toothpaste. I add too much water to it, unfortunately, yet it allows honey, hazelnut oil and distant furniture wax to emerge. Finish: perfectly in keeping with the nose and palate, the finish sees the dried fruits, stewed, this time, spices sprinkled onto them (ground cardamom, ground cloves, sumac), and a whisper of smoke that might even be traces of burnt wood. This finish is long, and, after a while, becomes a little bitter -- it is closer to nigella seeds than rubber, but still bitter to a degree. The second sip coats the palate with a fruity toothpaste, just as it did on the mouth. Excellent. Water seems to add honey-glazed apricots on rye crackers. Lovely! 8/10 (I finally try this on 03/08/2022)

Highland Park d.2004 (63%, Cask Sample, C#6282): nose: a drop spilled on the hand emits a wonderful toffee, imparted by the Bourbon cask (I am guessing, based on the size of the cask). In the glass, it is a rather different story: stronger, drier, teeming with crusty earth, and hiking-boot sole, after a day of walking through the mud, and an evening spent drying by the fireplace. There is toffee in the background alright, yet it is very much there -- in the background, -- initially, at least. Over time, a sweet tone develops, with dark chocolate and praline overtaking toffee without as much as a look back. Underneath is toasted sourdough rye bread, with a thin lick of dark spreading honey. The second nose has Madeira wine, old oilskins, and juicy roast beef. A strange combination, perhaps. Dried shoe polish and the dirty brushes that go with it. If there is heather in this, it is mashed into a ball of tarry putty. With water, it suddenly turns a little maritime -- oh! it is no Kilkerran or Pulteney, yet it has some sea breeze, iodine, and even distant kippers. Discreet embers appear too. Mouth: big. Bold. Dry. Drying. Here are warm cured meats, warm chestnut-tree wood, crusty earth, beaten by a southern sun. The second sip is oilier, greasier. Black cumin seeds and cubebs in petroleum jelly, shallow-fried nigella seeds and dark-cherry stems. One could maybe identify some kind of cinnamon paste, if looking for it, with a dollop of ginger, squashed into a pulp, added for good measure. Later yet, a white fortified wine shows up, fruity, syrupy and potent, white Port or Fino Sherry. Much more approachable with water, of course, it has honey-glazed pears, barely ripe (or is it quince?), and hazel bark, via retro-nasal olfaction, some of it burnt. Finish: unexpectedly sweet, as if coated in dark honey, it soon radiates and turns warmer and warmer, until it glows with a comforting warmth. There is dry wood in this, and the walls of the mouth are left throbbing and desiccated, as if the finish was a mix of Verdigris and cork. Further sips only retain the sweetness, which is good. That suggests that the high ABV is more of an initial barrier than I first thought. Now, it mimics a minty-gingery paste doing the rounds, even if it ends on that earthy-sweet note, reminiscent of certain fortified wines. It does not benefit from the addition of water, and seemingly loses structure and character. We are left with with a few faded dead leaves and a general autumnal feel, but that is very much diluted. Pity. Neat, it is very good, yet the 18yo is more to my taste. 8/10 (I finally try this on 04/08/2022)

Highland Park 30yo (45.2%, OB Spring 2019 Release, 2667b): nose: this is a fruity one, with ripening grapefruit, ripening melon, and nectarines, at once perceptible. The second sniff has a more Highland Parkian allure, with faded leather, a minute smoke, and warm dry earth. Fruits soon come back, however, and it is a joy to follow their evolution. Dark grapes arrive, prune syrup, unripe pineapple, cantaloupe skins, pomegranate. Suddenly, a dollop of shoe-polish-minty-toothpaste mixture appears, out of nowhere. Along with it is a pinch of ground bramble. After that (yes, it goes on), a strong grenadine syrup takes over, complemented by a dash of lime squash. Incredibly, that all fits together elegantly, yet playfully. Smoke comes a little bolder at second nosing, offering dried heather, then a torched honey-glazed doughnut. In the long run, purple plasticine seems to appear in the background too. Then, it all goes back to sweet grapefruit. Mouth: it starts off with the lively and slightly bitter brashness of a young'n, which is remarkable, at this age. In no time at all, fruits appear, citrus peels the most obvious (grapefruit, to be precise), then hardly-ripe melon and watermelon. Here, it has an undeniable touch of smoke, which brings acridity, if not bitterness. It is very tame, but there nonetheless, the product of a bramble fire. The texture is thinnish, yet it lacks nothing. It is a good fruit juice, with no pulp and little sugar. The second sip puts the emphasis on the smoke a little more, and it comes from burning citrus bushes, this time, bergamot orange tree, mandarine tree, and honeysuckle too, even if that is no citrus. A tiny spoonful of manuka honey adds to the glory of this, as does a proportion of squashed purple passion fruit. Finish: the controlled ABV makes this a definite breakfast dram, and with its grapefruit peel, it certainly excels in that role. Add a veil of refined smoke, burnt wood, and cucumber peel for a light bitter touch, and here is a complex dram that shines in all circumstances. Further sips seem more custard-y, akin to a fruit turnover, with a delicious, lush and acidic spoonful of passion-fruit jam. Oh! it is subtle and delicate, like the rest of this whisky, but there it is. The bitter note grows in presence, yet the more it grows, the more it is cloaked in lovely honey, which restores the balance. Fantastic drop, and JS's favourite, on the day. 9/10 (I finally try this on 05/08/2022)

Highland Park 40yo (43.2%, OB, Spring 2019 Release): nose we have toffee and pineapple cubes, liqueur-laced mandarine segments and liqueur pralines. Fruit really does take off, with orange and carambola, ripe apricot and pineapple turning brown, yet that is not all: something creamier also shows its head -- some kind of paste... It comes across as pine-y toothpaste and shoe polish, at first, but swiftly morphs into crushed apples, a bit more coarse in texture than a compote. A faded leather bag rocks up, and there is even something vaguely medicinal floating about, akin to old pills that have long passed their best-by date. Suddenly, it is fruit again; lemon drops, grapefruit drops, citrus-flavoured candy canes, and a growing waxy side that gives propolis, physalis, and engine grease, all at once. Woah! Set honey closes this twister, maybe with soft smoke. The second nose is juicier, and seems more unashamedly fruity. Kumquat, satsuma, mirabelle plum, grapes. It dives deeper and darker with each sniff, turning into a plum tart, after a while, caramelised, with a dusting of confectionary sugar. I swear there is a drop of sweet fortified wine too, somewhere. Mouth: the attack is fleetingly bitter, yet that only signals a similar waxiness to the nose's. Here are propolis, engine grease, unripe-orange peels, and a lick of rubber (in a pleasant way). Interesting. The fruity acidity of it all tingles, though calling it lively may paint an inaccurate picture. It has a pinch of grass, notions of remote smoke, and lots of citrus. Blush orange seems to emerge from the lot. The second sip cranks up the citrus, now showcasing grapefruits, pink and green (that would be pomelo), but also discreet watermelon. Here too, fortified wine may be found, if looking hard enough. It is less sweet, now, closer to Madeira, probably. Finish: well, the balance is nothing short of amazing. This interweaves acidity, bitterness and sweetness masterfully. Blush-orange peels skim peach nectar; soft rubber mingles with physalis; smoky cut grass sweeps petroleum jelly; decaying pineapple cubes buzz past spreading honey. The second sip brings in chewy tree bark, mulch style, which is as welcome as it is unexpected: it gives an additional nuttiness that complements the fruits. This is mighty fine! adc's favourite on the day. 9/10 (I finally try this on 08/08/2022)

Highland Park 46yo d.1968 (40.1%, Cask Sample): this one is only available to try as part of this particular experience; it cannot be bought. Nose: a deep nose, with clay floors, dusty wood, and a dash of fruity red wine. A fruity red wine that flirts with pickled red onions, at times, yet never goes too far that way. In fact, that turns into wild strawberries, after a short while. And then, the vaguely-smoky-plasticine profile that I remembered from that time in the Magnus Eunson room comes up. It is bouncy and plump, loaded with bright berries (raspberries, lingonberries, gooseberries), and is quite waxy too, in a plum or crayon-shaving way. Myrtle jam, smoked brambles, squashed blueberries, and a drop of thin red ink on a a sheet of glossy paper. Only a remote note of wood could make one acknowledge that this has spent so many years in a cask. The initial red onions have now all but disappeared, replaced by fragrant, silky flower petals (dark-orange-corona narcissus, orange tulip, yellow iris), or velvety fruit skin (peach, plum, yellow apricot). The second nose is sweeter and makes me think of fruit-flavoured squash, for a second. Suddenly, it changes radically, and it is pine trees that take over: cedar needles, redwood bark, thuja resin. What a pleasant turn this is taking! Mouth: mellow, but full, it has the texture of apricot nectar, mixed in with flower sap (dandelion), which is to say there is a minor bitterness amidst the acidic sweetness. On the palate, gentle wood is more present, with desiccated ginger shavings coming to the fore, and brambles -- the bush, more than the fruit. The second sip returns to plasticine, chewy, with a soft rubbery bitterness. Oh! fruit is still present, but it is dried apricot and dried plum slices, rather than juicy and fresh fruit. Further sips crank up that plasticine, and even turn it into modelling clay, incredibly chewy, and related to earth, rather than to rubber -- which is the major difference between clay and plasticine, I guess. Finish: pleasant and mellow here too, it goes down elegantly, blowing dried berries (raspberries, goji berries, dried cranberries, currants), and a trail of fine smoke, which makes for a dry death, Chenin-blanc style. Some of the plasticine makes it this far, but it is less prominent, now. That said, repeated sipping helps that very plasticine grow bolder and propels smoked blueberries into the second role. Nevertheless, dry white wine and the mild acridity of refined smoke are what remain after all. Excellent. It is complex and stands the test of a careful dissection, yet could easily be sipped without a second thought on an evening with friends (assuming one has friends worthy of a forty-six-year-old Highland Park, that is!) 9/10 (I finally try this on 10/08/2022)

This cask we saw in the warehouse was the cask of that 46yo

Highland Park 50yo b.2018 (42.5%, OB, 2 Spanish Oak Sherry-Seasoned, Hogsheads, 274b): when I took a sniff of this in the Magnus Eunson room, my irrepressible reaction was:  "Oh! my God!" It was that deep and distinguished, almost too good for mere mortals. Let us see if that impression is confirmed today. Nose: yup. Even if I know what to expect, this time, it is still a slap in the face, to some degree. Precious-wood panels in a library, or in the smoking room of a gentlemen's club, dark earthen floors in a damp-ish dunnage warehouse, rancio, dark pipe tobacco (Semois-like, yet fruitier), the darkest cherries, old ploughs, still muddy from a day in the field... That latest one signals a much more farm-y profile than is usually associated with this distillery, even if it is less muck, and more ploughed fields of greasy earth and soil. There are traces of muddy rubber boots too, though they are just that: traces. Perhaps I should say 'prints' (ho! ho! ho!) It does not stop there, however: swirling it in the glass puts the emphasis back on fruits; prunes, elderberries, candied gooseberries... and -- would you know it? -- a whiff of plasticine surfaces too, reminiscent of what happened in the 46yo. A waxy touch that is actually quite persistent too, oscillating between dried apricots, dried mango slices, and metal polish (engine grease or car-body wax, not WD-40). Stupendous. We also have brioche bread (kramiek, to be precise), baked a little longer than I prefer it, which makes for a dark-yet-still-fluffy crust, and caramelised Corinth raisins. Blackcurrant jam is spread on that brioche bread. The second nose is more cake-like, or crustier than the afore-mentioned brioche, at least. It is the crispy bits of cake that have stuck to the tin mould, and caramelised accordingly. Naturally, that cake is served with a glass of sherry -- a sweet one, yet not as in-your-face as PX can be. Perhaps it is a Port, after all. Later yet, it changes again, and Turkish delights come-a knocking, then dead leaves and vase water, or depleted peat bogs. I swear there is a whisper of smoke, very far in the sinuses. Mouth: at 42.5%, the attack achieves an optimal balance between strength and flavour. With little surprise, we see a mix of tastes that revolve around wood; cinnamon-and-ginger paste, wood lacquer, wood polish for antique mahogany furniture, teak oil. There is bitterness, of course, yet it is the intimidating elegance and extreme nobility that are most striking. Mind you, it is also confusingly approachable -- a bit like starting a conversation with someone at the very highest echelon of society, and realising that they are very pleasant to talk to, if you will. The second sip feels drier, earthier. We now have earthen floor and half-baked modelling clay in the oven. This still has a certain sweetness, certainly some kind of (vaguely-smoky) jam or relish, maybe even tutti frutti, but also an almost-minty freshness. Instead, I would say crushed Kaffir lime leaves, menthol paste and crushed pine needles. Oh! all that is very subtle, mind. Tutti frutti becomes clearer and clearer with each sip -- and it is tutti frutti, not (solely) candied angelica. Finish: the earthy notes are back, at this point, as are the dark fruits. Prunes are the most obvious by far, sweet and earthy at the same time, raisins are next, and fig relish is not far behind. Madeira-wine-infused peaches support them. To the finish too, the second sip brings a softly-mentholated touch, or a pine nuance. We are far from Gocce Pino or Suc des Vosges, in terms of intensity, yet it points in that general direction, in terms of taste. Caramelised pine honey, maybe. One would not expect a dram of this calibre and class to have a short finish, and this does not disappoint on that front: it clings to the roof of the mouth for ever and a day, so as to not let the taster forget its remarkable woody freshness. The death even has candied lime or pomelo cubes, which is frankly an incredible touch to this staggeringly complex drop. Let us leave it at that. Blogspot are calling: they are running out of pixels. This whisky is humbling. Today, I tried to make the experience as neutral as possible to avoid dramatisation, but in other circumstances, I can see more than one soul becoming emotional, when confronting such a masterpiece. 11/10 (I finally try this on 11/08/2022)

Well, a grand day it was! Even adc, who was so glad we had gone to Scapa instead of Highland Park, now says it is the best tour/tasting she has ever been to (except for tOMoH's tastings, I am glad to hear). Mind you, she says that often. ;-)

As for our Guinea-pig status, Edrington must have thought it was a successful experience, because three weeks later (late July 2022), the tour is available to book.

29 July 2022

28/07/2022 An evening at Golden Promise

JS and I take advantage out of being in Paris to visit La Maison du Whisky's famous partner bar. We are taken to a gorgeous room in an old vaulted cellar. It is noisy and a half, and pretty dark. So dark, in fact, that my old eyes cannot read the menu. I can see it has several pages of whiskies, and, after a while, I even figure out that none of them is that interesting. The selection is vast, but pedestrian, and what little is appealing is especially expensive.

I ask the waiter if they have another whisky list. No. Ready to walk out and already thinking of the all-out merciless review I will leave on t'Interwebz, I explain I am very disappointed, that the Web site promised hundreds of collector bottles that are apparently not available, even when someone posted a picture on bookface of a Clynelish bottled for Sestante they had yesterday in this very establishment. The bloke asks me what in particular I am after. I tell him they seemed to have, for example, a forty-year-old Lochside bottled by Signatory, but that I cannot make a final choice without seeing a list. He seems as puzzled as if I had asked him to prove to me why Einstein was wrong when he claimed e=mc², and leaves with a few words about talking to his manager.

Over the next fifteen minutes, he will come and go, stopping a couple of times to apologise: his manager is "finishing something else" and will be with us "in a minute."

When the manager finally comes to us, he is just as lost as his colleague, and acts as if I were talking to him in Flemish when I ask for a list of the whiskies on offer. That is all they have, he says, showing the menu that his colleague gave us. "I expected you had a selection of collectors," I tell him, as I stand up to leave, internally cursing him, his colleague, the place, Paris and the French at large for what would seem like false advertisement, or a blatant piss-take.

"Oh, but the collectors are in another room," he says at last. "Follow me."

He takes us to a quieter, better-lit room in another vaulted cellar. No other customer, soft jazz, desirable bottles everywhere. Jackpot. Not sure if that was a test or a genuine misunderstanding, but it no longer matters. We have reached our happy place.

Here, we are welcomed by S, soft-mannered, soft-spoken, yet passionate and knowledgeable. In between interacting with customers, he spends his time flipping records (yup, he is playing vinyl) and reading whisky books. What an improvement from the first room!

S [with a decidedly worried look at my glass]: "You may not come here with a cocktail."
tOMoH: "It is water."
S: "Water is OK, but no cocktail. They have to be drunk in the other room."
tOMoH: "I see. Well, it is just water."

He apologises profusely for having a list on stapled paper sheets only: the latest bound book is out of date, and the new one has not yet been bound. Full of disbelief regarding who would give a toss*, we get to work.

(*) Sadly, Paris is full of tossers who value presentation over content, and will only want to spend large sums of money on legendary whiskies, if said large sums are written in golden ink on unicorn-leather parchment, apparently.

I stupidly left my notebook at home, but manage to borrow pages from the bar's. In fact, S gives me a whole plush notebook; I politely decline, though: more weight, and more notebooks I do not need. Hopefully, it will help someone else.

Glen Keith 38yo 1967/2006 (53%, Gordon & MacPhail Reserve exclusively for La Maison du Whisky, Refill Sherry Butt, C#3876, 215b, JF/CFI): nose: a sucker punch of sweet wood spices and pastry goodness. Here are cinnamon buns, gingerbread, just a whiff of fusty bung cloth, encaustic, pine resin, and shoe glue. Later on, we have oily rags and leather shoes -- yes: it smells of feet, a little. Old tennis shoes and sweaty socks. Propolis too, thankfully, and I am sure there is a smidge of marzipan, in there, somewhere. Mouth: oh! my, so spicy on the tongue, with tons of resin, crushed pine cones, a pinch of soot and suet. It is pine-y, cedar-y, even, elegant, and not over the top, in terms of spiciness, though it is clearly not shy either. Finish: more noble resin, perhaps augmented with raisins. Pastry comes out of the haze: cinnamon-bun rolls, pain aux raisins. It is ginger-y, not splinter-y, lemongrass-y, not bitter. Lovely. 8/10

Glen Grant 59yo 1952/2011 (49.2%, Gordon & MacPhail The Dram Taker's exclusively bottled for La Maison du Whisky, Refill American Hogshead, C#1134, 48b, AA/AJIB): the back label ridiculously states 49.200000000000003%. Wonder if they forgot a '0'. Nose: initially, it has a deep exotic-wood fragrance. Just the time for one joke, and it switches to muddy earth and tropical fruits. Grapefruit rinds, juicy blush-orange peels, then those take off and become the segments of the same fruits -- pink and white grapefruits, blush orange... then Chinese gooseberry! Incredibly, it still will not shake off the mud entirely. Amazing. It dries up a little over time, with pinches of dusty earth coming through, in the shadow of the fruits. Encaustic makes a late appearance -- and how could it not, in a whisky of this age? Mouth: juicy and boldly bitter, as if the peel of a cucumber had been dropped into an acidic fruit juice. The second sip brings tawed leather, faded moccasins and grated nutmeg. Finish: big, assertive and acidic. It has a perfect balance of fruit, wood and voltage; and it lasts forever too! Fresh as mint, but with the acidity of grapefruit and the texture of grapefruit skins. Simply a masterclass in elegance. 9/10

A group of noisy nouveaux riches enter, complete with a dog. They order large doses of bold whiskies (Amrut, Kavalan, Octomore). It is, of course, their prerogative, yet I would have preferred not to be privy to all their conversations. Even though they are in a separate room, they are that loud.

Bruichladdich 15yo 1965/1980 (43%, OB imported by Samaroli Import Samaroli's Collection Mayflower '80  for the 360th Anniversary of the Sailing of the Mayflower distributed by Moonimport, 1000b, ceramic decanter): nose: exuberantly wine-y, with pressed grapes ahoy, which makes me think of Pedro Ximénez immediately, and musky hairballs (yes!) Further nosing reveals a dusty, salty profile that one might expect from a ceramic decanter of that era. It is perhaps a little generic, but hey! Prunes, raisins, dried dates... Nice! A couple of hours in, it has turned much more animal, with marinated meat, grilled ribs on a pine-wood fire. Mouth: surprisingly big and punchy, it has an earthier aspect, even though it retains the dried fruits' sweetness and their lush character. Hours in, we have a more rubbery profile, coated in syrupy raisin juice that suggests an Oloroso maturation. Meow. Finish: another surprise, here: it punches like a champ, with quite some salt, earth again, very bold dried fruits, and horsepower aplenty. It does not feel particularly complex, but it is good, and stunningly powerful, for 43% ABV! 8/10

Glenlivet 41yo 1949/1990 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail The Dram Taker's imported by S. Fassbind, crystal decanter): nose: ever-changing, this goes from furniture polish to wax, to forest-fruit jam and back. We have lots of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, perhaps a small quantity of elderberry too. What a head spin! This may even have dark cherries too, black as night. Later on, pouring honey appears. Mouth: juicy and fruity, it quickly develops a softly-rubbery note, perhaps liquorice bootlaces. That hints at more blackberries than on the nose, probably. Indeed, the fruit seems darker now, not as red as the bouquet promised. But then, there is a stubborn hue of smashed raspberry, in the back of the palate, too. Beautiful. Finish: splendid. Just splendid. Juicy cherries, raspberries, and cut flowers, such as jasmine and Japanese honeysuckle. We also have fior di latte. Masterpiece. 10/10

Glencadam d.1975 (43%, La Maison du Whisky Sélection imported and distributed by SNPA): the first-ever LMdW bottling. Judging by the volume (75cl), it was bottled in 1991 at the very latest. Nose: pebbles and damp rocks, bone-dry white wine, maybe a whiff of old plastic, washed ashore. After a bit, violet boiled sweets emerge, as do other types of sweets (Twin Cherries come to mind). The second nose turns sugary, adding edible wafer paper to the mix. Coming back to it after the next dram, it has fluffy white petals and Indian-restaurant smells, unidentifiable with certainty. Finally, burning smoked wood takes over, unless it is church incense. Mouth: well, it is very close to a dry white wine; fruity, elegant, borderline refreshing. It soon comes back toward violet boiled sweets, then crystallised lavender and stale chewy cola sweets. Finish: assertive, not bold, it has the frank fruitiness of white wine again (I want to say a Chenin blanc from the Loire valley, but that is merely suggestion), and the faintly-chemical sweetness of Twin Cherries. It dances on the palate for a bit, and fades out with distinction. What a delicious surprise! 9/10

Clynelish 37yo 1972/2010 (58.9%, Gordon & MacPhail The Dram Taker's exclusively bottled for La Maison du Whisky, Refill Sherry Hogshead, C#14300,  AJ/AABB): another one with a label that laughably reads 58.899999999999999%. We tried the 36yo C#14301 a couple of years ago. Nose: without surprise, it exhibits death by wax. It is furniture wax to start with, then car polish, to finish with propolis and physalis, with a glass of beeswax, augmented with wax-stained rags. Candle wax is missing, but the candle on the table is a decent subterfuge. Mouth: pretty peppery, and we can really feel the steep climb in alcohol, compared to the previous drams. It will not burn, though -- just warm one up. The various waxes resurface, topped with a delicious rubber bitterness, minimal, yet noticeable. Finish: wide, generous, waxy and warming, ripe with baked apricot and physalis, maybe mirabelle plum too. There is a drop of engine oil and a lick of tyre. The second sip has burnt apricot, harmoniously balanced with the juicy fruit's flesh. Magnificent. 9/10

Well, once we reached the right place, it became a great little evening.

Good to meet Wallace, too!