20 September 2016

17/09/2016 Rare Malts Closed Distilleries at The English School, Zürich

After a day in town, during which JS and I stop lengthily in a store and are treated to six very nice drams, we end up where we left off last night.

Tonight is, of course, the reason tOMoH is here, in this neutral country of chocolate imposters. CD and PG are hosting this extravaganza, which JS, EG and I attend, alongside half a dozen locals, whom will henceforth be called the Swissky Mafia (© JS).

In pure RMS style, the Glenlochy's cork had to be replaced.
The other five are intact. We all reckon they are fake...

Now, Rare Malts are frequent guests at many of our tastings, as are closed distilleries. Even closed distilleries from the Rare Malts range are no strangers to this blog. This time, we are talking about six closed distilleries exclusively from the Rare Malts range, mostly off the beaten path. In other words: no Rosebank, Brora or Port Ellen. This should be very interesting.

Banff 21yo 1982/2004 (57.1%, OB Rare Malts Selection): I had this with adc a couple of years ago and remember being very impressed. Nose: it seems very gentle and ethereal, though that is perhaps due to the huge glass. Baked apple, a hint of smoke, strawberry juice, even. The impression is warmer and warmer, eventually delivering a drop of nail polish. Mouth: the fruit is now bold -- mostly baked apple, roasted apple, even. It is now rather hot with a bit of ash and burning straw. Strawberry bubblegum too, now -- phwoar! Finish: warming, waxy and jammy. The apple becomes so sweet it is close to apple chutney. At this point, the smoke has become the delicatest and elegantest. A class act. I like Banff. 9/10

Convalmore 24yo 1978/2003 (59.4%, OB, Rare Malts Selection): this is maybe the one I am most excited about: love Convalmore, never had this particular expression, not on my shelves. Nose: it has the delightful scent of a dunnage warehouse, bitter marmalade on slightly overdone toast. The heat is a little numbing -- it is an RMS after all. Apples in sizzling butter and, much later on (hours), smokey bubblegum. Mouth: this is a massive slap of old-school madness -- coal smoke, dark marmalade and numbing power. The marmalade survives the passing of time, as do the sheer power and a veil of smoke. Oxidation does not change it much, actually. Finish: long, powerful, big, with the smoke of a campfire and candied fruit. This is beautiful. 9/10

A brief interruption to explain this dunnage-warehouse note I use so often. A dunnage warehouse is a low-ceiling, clay-floored warehouse in which casks are laid to rest, stacked no more than three high, separated by wooden blocks. It is the more traditional storage way, as opposed to the more modern racking warehouse and its concrete floor, where casks are held in metallic structures that can reach much higher. The dunnage warehouse has an unmistakable smell that blends damp clay, old wood, moss and a titillating fruitiness attributable to the alcohol evaporating (the angels' share). Many distilleries do not allow visitors into their warehouses, and if they do, pictures are often forbidden (due to the rather obsolete risk of flash photography igniting alcohol vapours). Not to mention all the casks in there are in bond, subject to the taxman, who would not be impressed to see visitors pour themselves a dram. Given the chance, walking into one is an experience not to be missed, perhaps similar to entering a crypt.

Glenury Royal 23yo 1971/1995 (61.3%, OB Rare Malts Selection): another exciting one; I am deeply in love with the 29yo RMS, a big fan of Glenury in general, and I have not yet had this one. With the Convalmore, it is also the only one we are having tonight that is not on my shelves. Nose: another old-school heavy hitter. Musty warehouses, old staves, mushrooms in a pan and cured ham. This feels like a part-Sherry maturation to me. Quick debate on that: PG states all RMS are exclusively Bourbon casked, which I am sure is not the case. Interestingly, everyone has the decency to not check on their smartphones. We simply carry on with the tasting. Mouth: peppery, gingery, laden with green chilli and lots of horsepower. Time makes it slightly more accessible, though it does remain gingery. Finish: mamma mia! This is big! Burning petrol, dark, oily and... on fire. Ginger and wood spices. JS does not care much for it, I love it. At first pass, it is my favourite. It ends up kneeling before the Banff, though, which I prefer in the long run. This Glenury is exhausting. Very challenging. 9/10

This gets tOMoH's
seal of approval
At this stage, TK, of the Swissky Mafia, pulls out some munchies and I am forced to ingest inferior chocolate -- for research purposes, you understand. I admit it goes really well with the Glenury, bitter and pistachio-ed. I concede the Swiss now make relatively decent chocolate... since they bought up all the famous Belgian producers! :-) Good laughs all round. This one must be from a former Belgian factory indeed: honestly speaking, it is brilliant.

This, not so much

The others are yonks ahead of me in the sequence. After mistaking the Hillside for the Banff in a blind tasting, EG claims, 'I like the Hillside. I was surprised by the nose.' to which his neighbour interjects, 'You were surprised it had the nose of the Banff?'

Hillside 25yo 1971/1997 (62%, OB Rare Malts Selection): ecstatic to try this too; I reckon it is the first Hillside I have, despite having tried multiple expressions of Glenesk/Glen Esk, the other names for the same distillery. Nose: apple liqueur, decaying peach, peach stone in fruit juice, ground fruit stone, zabaglione (EG). After a couple of hours, all scents are completely blended into each other and it becomes impossible to tell them apart. Another elegant dram. Mouth: initially a lot "lighter" than the strength suggests, it quickly grows into a frightening beast of a dram. Spicy broth with infusing prunes, hot marmalade. Amazingly, there is also a note of cold cream. A few hours in, a vague mustiness emerges. Finish: beastly again, with soaking stone fruit and dry cork. Musk too -- it is foxy, all things considered. Water does not change the character much; it merely makes it less strong. Just. 8/10

Millburn 35yo 1969/2005 (51.2%, OB Rare Malts Selection): the last and oldest RMS... until 2016's ridiculously limited batch (Talisker 40, Lagavulin 40, Caol Ila 40) released for a charity sale in China. Nose: it is a little funky at first, though that impression fades away quickly. Waxy red apple, slightly overly-baked tarte tatin. Mouth: a lot mellower than I expected (mind you, it is 11% lower than the previous), it has the elegance of old age, a nice, fruity balance, very gentle smoke and a creamy texture with a pinch of spices. Yum! Finish: this is beautiful and complex. It dances on the tongue in whorls of gentle smoke (a mere ghost, at this point) and yellow fruit (peach, apricot). Phew! 9/10

Glenlochy 26yo 1969/1995 (58.8%, OB Rare Malts Selection, B297): one of the hardest to get and most expensive of the RMS, this Glenlochy was bottled for the South African market. There were five Glenlochy expressions in the RMS, none of which was released on the old continent, it would seem. The few that found their way to Europe keep changing hands on auction sites for a lot of money. Nose: meaty! Is this a Mortlach? Rotting flesh, meat on the bone, left too long in the sun, game, roadkill. It quietens down a notch or two, though it never reaches the "usual" Glenlochy profile, which is more mineral and austere. In fact, it seems to become softer and more mellow. Mouth: the meat does not appear here. Instead, we have peach juice with a peppery kick. The pepper is slightly out of control. Finish: crushed peach stones, ever-so-slightly bitter. Vanilla and pistachio-tainted cream. This is complex and beautiful, though quite polarising -- JS does not like it. 8/10

In typical RMS style, all six were brutal, indomitable drams, difficult, fierce and wild, yet also very rewarding for those who give it the time and attention they deserve. They really put up a fight, those.
I personally thought the tasting was lacking the ceremony and guidance to set the pace and explain some of the history behind those bottlings. When I discuss it with the hosts, they answer that here are seasoned whisky geeks who need no fluff. At the same time, my neighbour had never had a Banff before and one in the audience is attending his first-ever whisky tasting. Without going into a full masterclass for novices, I reckon a little bit of introduction for each dram would have worked a treat.

'Morning piss, or evening piss?'

Bottles then appear out of bags and secret pockets and the whole thing takes another dimension. Most of them, I do not try. Pittyvaich 20yo 1980/2011 OB makes an entrance, much to CD's content. I tell him it is my favourite Pittyvaich. Upon hearing that, TK digs up a sample from his bag and pours it to me.

Pittyvaich 14yo (54.5%, James MacArthur Fine Malt Selection): nose: cracked eggshells, velvety cream, panettone (EG, sniffing out of my glass). Mouth: this is smooth as fook, velvety and pleasant, unlike the bottlings by GMP. Finish: sweet and soft, with rice tart and custard. Lovely, this! 8/10 (thanks TK)

Glen Mhor 15yo b.1997 (40%, GMP, IG/DJE): nose: phwoar, another old-schooler, full of dusty libraries and green tea (JS). Mouth: it suffers from the sequence, of course. This feels awfully watery, at this stage. Finish: marmalade, nigella seeds, black cumin. Watery, though. Hope to try this another time. It was obviously a mistake to taste it now, after the RMS monsters. At the same time, when will I have another chance to try this without forking out for a bottle of my own? 7/10

Distilled Somewhere in Speyside 41yo 1975/2016 (52.8%, Acla Da Fans Acla Selection, Fino Sherry Butt, C#19, 120b): brief notes, here. Nose: apples and lemon custard. Mouth: mellow, pleasant, with custard and coconut cream. Finish: custard, with a lot of pepper. Not bad for an active distillery. ;-) 8/10

TK pours me something else -- blind, once more. Nose: milk, lemon, grape seeds. The Swissky Mafia teases me to know what kind of milk -- it is yak milk. Mouth: again, this is milky and gentle, with a kick of lemon juice. Finish: a bit low on the ABV, yet it is well balanced. I very proudly manage to guess it is a Coleburn. I fear I might turn cocky for a minute. I has got to raprazent, yo. Coleburn 12yo (43%, James MacArthur Fine Malt Selection) 8/10 (thanks TK)

We hop onto the next-to-last tram back into town for a night's sleep.
What a tasting! Great drams with great friends, old and new. Yay to a flourishing network!

Stack to the plahn, Ahndy!


  1. Awesome tasting! The 1971 Glenury Royal RMS is one of my favorite whiskies of all time. Had it at a tasting hosted by Dr NIck Morgan, and according to him it's fully sherry matured.

    1. Thanks for confirming I was not hallucinating.