6 April 2020

04/04/2020 404 Error: distillery not found

Today is 4/04. It seems like a good day to have four drams. Why not make them four drams from closed distilleries? The weather is nice again*, so let us make those closed Lowland distilleries, since popular belief is that Lowlands rhyme with gentler profiles and are suitable for more clement weather.

* 19°C, today. It was 1°C three days ago. I was wearing a scarf indoors!

Kinclaith 1968/1995 (40%, Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice, ID/DIB): we have been having this one a lot, lately, or so it seems. Time for proper notes. Nose: a whiff of old wood, with old books, old blotting paper and vaguely-humid bung cloth. Those hardly contain red and yellow fruits, however: dark cherries, soaked plums, prunes in syrup, strawberries. Soon, it takes on a fizzy note that is not unlike that of a sparkling red wine (that would be Fragolino, then). Furniture polish is next in line, rape seed oil, teak oil, and blotting paper, making a come-back. Pâtes de fruits, flat cola and stewed rhubarb complete the wonderful nose. Mouth: the palate continues the story started by the nose, picking up the pâtes de fruits and flat cola, adding a whisper of burnt wood, before fruit sweeps in -- raspberries, strawberries, watermelons, blood oranges, overripe peaches, rum toft, an old oak stave, covered in lichen and soaked in rum. The burnt wood mutates into charred cork, which is interesting and never becomes invading or unpleasant. The palate does, however, see a slightly bitter note of ground peach stone, mixed with ash, peppering the aforementioned fruit, which still dominates. Finish: burnt wood alright, gently ashy and, well, woody. It is softly bitter again, and, as a consequence, a little drying, without that ever becoming a nuisance. In the finish too, what comes out the most are the fruits: strawberries, smashed on toast, raspberry compote, peach, macerating in rum, and a maraschino cherry for good measure. Considering it is a 40% offering, it is also long and bold a dram. I love it. 9/10

Rare Ayrshire 34yo 1975/2009 (45.2%, Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Collection, Bourbon Barrel, C#558, 166b, b#115, 9/124): long time no see... Nose: well, whereas the Kinclaith was all about yellow and red fruit, this one is focused on yellow flowers and pastry. Vanilla custard, butterscotch, shortbread, vanilla sugar, croissant dough at room temperature, but also daffodil, forsythia, jonquil, magnolia and some pine-y/minty freshness, in the far back (Mentos?) Also to be tasted are fudge on the baking tray, gardening trimmings, cut lilac, (not quite in bloom, yet), eggshells, green tomatoes, persimmon foliage, celery leaves and raw peas. All is delicate, subtle and gentle, but, in case it is not clear, it is also amazing. Mouth: mint-flavoured milk, custard and shortbread, after only forty-five seconds in the oven, custard powder, mint sauce. On the palate too, it is an incessant ballet of flowers and pastry, with minty choux dough, cut daffodils, fir trees, ... It would be a stretch to call this woody, though: it is very much green. Mint and some spicy notes: yes; ginger and lemongrass: no. After thirty-four years, this discreet spirit has not at all been taken over by the wood. Finish: the modest ABV delivers enough power to wake one up, if needed. The finish has the acidity of pine needles (Gocce pino), the mouthfeel of almond milk, a few cork crumbs for bitterness and the flowery/bakery accents from the nose and palate, with glycerine, apple mint and laurel leaves meeting vegetable samosas, mint sauce, yellow-tomato pasties (yes, I know!), minty toothpaste, grapefruit turnover and lime juice. Exquisite. It seems much more vibrant than C#3421 which was bottled six years later -- six years too late, perhaps. 9/10

25.66 23yo d.1990 Bette Davis doing DIY (57.8%, SMWS Society Single Cask, Refill Ex-Bourbon Hogshead, 157b): nose: strangely quiet at first nosing, it seems to only give away jellied cucumber. Soon, a huge, grassy note appears; cut grass, cooking broccoli, laurel leaves. The nose turns strangely quiet again, though. Orange drops, perhaps? Tomato chutney? Tomato stems? Let us give it a bit of time... After a few minutes, it opens up to deliver pink pepper and daisies, quince and fig relish. The shift in ABV is very noticeable, with this one tickling the nostrils much more than the previous two drams. Water makes it more fragrant and grassier, with tomato stems, sherbet, courgettes, rhubarb leaves, dried parsley, bulrush in bloom, gorse bushes, saxifrage. A beautiful nose that requires attention. Mouth: a bit more talkative here, showcasing what most people associate with the Lowland character: honey, meadow flowers (dandelions, daisies, buttercups) and orchard fruits (a combination of ripe apples and peaches). It is also rather powerful, with a generous sprinkle of ground black pepper, a minute pinch of nigella seeds and sandalwood, seasoned with orange liqueur. It has a soft acidity that is subtle, but present. The texture is that of orange juice, with some pulp, but not much. With water, the palate is more bitter. It feels as though all the flowers have released their sap, and that makes for a slightly less convincing palate altogether. The pink peppercorns are louder, adding to the perceived lack of balance. Water not recommended. Finish: ooft! It is in the finish that this one really shines. Here are nigella seeds in honey, caraway seeds, peach slices on toasted bread and sprinkled with black pepper, celery sticks, goat's cheese, pink peppercorns, all together in a meadow full of flowers (daisies, dandelions, poppies). A basket of orchard fruits was brought to the picnic: apples, quinces, peaches. With water, the finish is a lot more expressive, welcoming a jammy take on the above, but adding the same sappy bitterness that almost ruined the palate. I like it, but I find it borderline too bitter. Careful with water! 9/10

Linlithgow 25yo 1982/2008 (59.2%, Signatory Vintage Cask Strength Collection for La Maison du Whisky Collectors' Edition, Wine-treated Butt, C#2201, 388b, b#313, 8/513): nose: this one has a depth that the previous three did not have, with lichens, musty warehouses and dusty clay floors. It becomes more mineral pretty quickly, with flint, granite and the berry bushes that would grow in the cracks of a granite cliff. The limestone layer of a deep canyon, sprayed with squashed blueberries, blackcurrant jam, spread onto rock-hard bread -- by the way: mould is starting to form on that bread. There is a fleeting sulphury note in the corner of the nostril, before smoke appears, reminiscent of the period when man discovered fire (I was still a young boy, then). Myrtles, brambles, plaster band and gauze timidly pop in as well. Not an easy or obvious nose, this, but it rewards the patient noser. Mouth: berries here too, with myrtles and blackcurrant smothering the blueberries, fresh figs, blackberries, preserved strawberries, all on a bed of stone -- limestone, this time. The depth of the fruitiness is no less than staggering, and it is supported by lichen on rum-soaked stave, Patras wine, made from sun-drenched grapes. This is warming, to say the least. A bush fire, lit bracken, cherry tree, burning in the fireplace. Finish: long and assertive, the finish welcomes back the berries and the mineral side, the strong Greek wine, and grassier tones too, at this point. Myrtles, blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants, slate, limestone, flint, dusty clay, yet also black-tulip leaves and petals, violets, viola, purple primrose. Of the medicinal notes, none noticeably subsists, and there is no smoke to speak of. On the other hand, the considerably-higher ABV is integrated to perfection, yet after a few sips, one realises how strong it is: it leaves the taste buds very numb, as if one had chewed on chalk. Not as grassy as other St Magdalenes, but beautiful. I was not a fan, in the beginning, however. I must rejoice that ten years in an open bottle did such wonders. 8/10

2 April 2020

01/04/2020 1st April

What else than Clynelfish would be adequate, on this prankful day?

Sirius 31yo 1988/2019 (43.1%, North Star Spirits, First Fill Bourbon Barrels, B#1, 3582b): rumour has it that this is a tea-spooned Clynelfish in disguise. Let us have it. Nose: quince jelly, prickle-pear jelly, manuka honey, furniture wax, sappy trees in bloom, honeysuckle, lots and lots of honeysuckle, plump apricot all flirt with the most beautiful mint sauce from a top Indian restaurant. Breathing allows a leafier side to emerge -- apple mint, flowering bushes, green-tomato chutney. Cellophane shows up too, alongside pine sap and fresh acrylic paint. This nose is deep and complex for sure! Later, it unveils caramel and custard... No! wait: caramel poured onto flan. Mouth: a little soft, perhaps, it shoots notes of pine sap, mint sauce, with gorse bushes, violet and lavender foliage -- in fact, it seems to take on a very leafy and floral, green character, now. The second sip is more in line with the nose, with honey and beeswax. Let us make it mountain honey, made from flowering pine trees. Finish: the yellow is back, with beeswax, pouring honey, quince jelly, honeysuckle sap, flowering currants, apricot jelly, vanilla rice pudding, fruity custard and a spoonful of caramel. It is quite short and a bit simple in the finish, perhaps. For immediate pleasure, though, it is an ace. 8/10 (Thanks for the sample, TLWC)

Now, a proper Clynelfish.

Clynelish 22yo 1972/1995 (58.95%, OB Rare Malts Selection): nose: this is another kettle of Clynelfish, unsurprisingly. Pollen, blooming lilac, a mix of old wood dust (not sawdust) and beeswax, a pinch of ashes and that is all before the fruit takes over; plum, apricot, peach, drying grapefruit segments, flowering bushes, gorse, bulrush in the spring. Maybe there is an ounce of old wood in there too, somewhere. Later, wild strawberries join the dance, as does hazel tree. Mouth: perfect balance at almost 60%, with a pinch of spices (lemongrass yoghurt, ginger shavings) and lots of apiculture products (honey, beeswax, royal jelly). Prickly-pear jelly is present too, some pollen, in the back of the throat, and the gentle bitterness of hazelnut skins. Hazelnut paste, actually, to accompany yellow fruit in a polished wooden bowl. The mouth has a little pepper and green cardamom, as well as a sprinkle of ginger powder, very much kept in check. Finish: this is stunning, with honeys and tonic mead (whatever that means; probably mead, mixed with tonic). Beeswax, furniture wax, cut, juicy quince, apricot, with the stone and all, a whiff of wood dust, cigar boxes, Virginia tobacco and still those juicy, juicy fruits. They are bordering on citric, now, with grapefruit, pomelo, a couple of drops of lime juice, pineapple, Chinese gooseberry... The death becomes a little drying, with galangal shavings, ginger peels and hazelnut shells. It is more than tolerable, but that wood spiciness will prevent top score, tonight. Regardless, this is amazing. I find it a little less impressive than the first time and am paranoid that it has deteriorated in the open bottle. I will transfer it into a smaller container to be sure to be sure. 9/10

1 April 2020

31/03/2020 Two unrelated samples

Tobermory 21yo 1995/2017 (49%, Acorn Japanese Mountains Great & Small, Hogshead, C#594): nose: ooft! It is an austere one, bone-dry to the point it is almost ashy. It even has medicinal notes: gauze, tincture of iodine, hospital corridors and neoprene. A minute of breathing gives it an almost peaty profile, with dark pipe tobacco, gunpowder and spent fireworks. There is a thin, nearly transparent veneer of apple peels, but make no mistake: this is not an orchard-y Tob' at all. It is closer to brandy, kept in a bucket previously used for soot. I even wonder if it has a leathery side to it -- in which case, it is freshly-marked cattle. Green grapes, unripe hazelnut and cabbage water round off the nose. Mouth: a pinch of caster sugar over what seems to amount to a field of ash (no, not talking about Kate). It strikes a perilous-if-successful balance between the undeniable austerity and more welcoming, sweeter tones. Golden apples, cut quince, chalky pear and Lyle's Golden Syrup, green grapes and hazelnut, both unripe, battle with surgical spirits, incense ash, germolene and carbolic. Finish: thin ans warming, very warming. It picks up where the palate stopped, with orchard fruit and a pinch of ash, accompanied by a glass of dry white wine. The more I drink it, the sweeter it becomes, but it remains sharp and not exactly easily accessible. I am not usually a big fan of this sort of naked spirits, but it does work, here. 7/10 (Thanks for the sample, MN)

Kornog Sant Erwan b.2016 (50%, OB, 1st Fill Bourbon Barrel, 275b): nose: holy smoke! I can smell peat, yet it is transfigured, metamorphosed into berry jam. Smoked strawberry jam, raspberry compote, lingonberry compote, cut peaches in sangria, all the while presenting a farm-y aspect as well: farmland paths, farmyards and ploughed fields in the summer sun flirt with pineapple chunks, Haribo sweets and Gummibärchen. The fruit is almost chemical, now, but that causes no concern whatsoever. Mouth: more of those chewy, fruity sweets, with some subtle smoke in the background barely stating its presence. It is mostly strawberry and raspberry compotes, chewy sweets with the same, that one would eat around a camp fire (haaaaaay!) Lashes of pineapple (drops, this time) appear on the side of the mouth, which is as welcome as it is surprising. The smoke is very much in the back seat, though well present. Finish: the great gig continues, an infernal ballet of refined smoke and candied fruit in a chewy-sweet fashion, Gummibärchen-style. Strawberry, raspberry, pineapple, Kola Kubes, burnt fruit-tree wood, cauldrons of jams on an old-school wood fire and... peanut shells, almond skins, meaning a soft bitterness. In fact, I would go further and call it Amaretto, with its bitterness and its sweetness. Is this good, or what! 9/10 (Thanks for the sample, Steph2A)