September 2011
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Quick Tastings – Maltstock 2011

I’m so very tired. It’s over a week since I got back from The Netherlands and still I am a broken wreck who looks on the concept of being a ‘shell of a man’ as being a step up. And what is to blame for this? Maltstock 2011 – the best whisky festival I’ve been to so far. A gathering of whisky fans from mainly across Europe organised by a group of whisky fans and with the intention of being pretty much the least commercial whisky festival in the world.

The weekend took place at an old Cub Scout lodge in Nijmegen, near the German border, and the plan was simple – turn up, bring whisky, put the whisky on one of the tables provided, share, talk toot and maybe sleep. A few companies had organised tastings, including my employers who had commented “do you want to do a tasting?” when I tried to blag some whiskies from our tasting cupboard to take along for the table, and I ended up showcasing some upcoming releases in the Elements of Islay range. There was also the promise of music and a BBQ, but mainly it was focused around sitting down with a bunch of new friends and drinking, talking and generally contemplating whisky.

I didn’t take all that many notes, as I was too busy talking, being tired and generally bewildered by the sheer amount of interesting whisky on offer, but on Saturday afternoon I decided to be ‘professional’ and get something down on paper. Here’s what I tried:

King's Court TamdhuKing’s Court Choice Tamdhu – A bottling done for the Dutch King’s Court Whisky Society at 53.5% and pushed in my general direction by a few of their members. On the nose it was big, with diesel, baked beans, heavy caramel, treacle, lime skins and cheese rind. To taste it was full of spiced orchard fruit, refresher chews and and a rich baked bean savouriness. It lingered long on the finish with a tasty chunk of spicy apple pie. Maybe a bit too much for me, but one that I’d like to try again with a bit of water.

Wasmund's New MakeWasmund’s New Make – A new make spirit also pushed at me by the KCWS folks, along with the following aged version, this is a malted barley American new make rather than the usual unmalted grain based fare. On the nose it was very gluey, with wood polish, cinnamon and heavy varnish. To taste it was simpler, with orchard fruit, a meaty richness and some hammy smoke. The fruity flavour becomes less surprising when you realise that the malt was smoked over apple and cherry wood.

Wasmund's Single MaltWasmund’s Single Malt Whisky – The aged version of the previous whisky, this is only 14 months old so not really whisky yet in the eyes of the SWA. However, it’s from the USA where you can call anything made in the correct manner whisky, with the rule being that it’s not ‘straight’ until 2 years old and you have to list the age if it’s under 4. I think. They have lots of rules. Anyways, on the nose it was a woodier version of the new make – glue, spice, wood polish and a whole heap of freshly cut timber. To taste it was big and spicy, with lots of wood, more varnish and, strangely, no vanilla. Too much wood for me, but very interesting to see the development.

Laphroaig Cairdeas Ileach 2011Laphroaig Cairdeas Ileach 2011 – The one whisky that I tried all weekend that I own, although I haven’t opened it yet. Cairdeas is the name Laphroaig give to their yearly Islay Festival bottlings and while I haven’t yet made it to the island they offer a few bottles of it to the Friends of Laphroaig through their website – I’ve fortunately managed to grab a bottle for the last 4 years. I’ve not opened last year’s yet either, but the other two were rather good and from what I’ve heard this year’s is the best of the lot. A nose of smoked fish, Dr Pepper fruit, dry grass and cracked mud. To taste it had sweet smoke, a hint of empty sardine tins and lime pith leading into a sweet wood and wet smoke finish. It’s got some of the fruit that I’ve found in the older bottlings of younger Laphroaig that I’ve tasted recently through work (the mid-90s 10 year old tasted like lightly smoked passion fruit – a bit of a revelation compared to today’s version) but didn’t have that much of that on the palate, replacing it with metallic smoked fish and citrus, which is fine by me. These bottles do seem to command silly prices so this one will sit in my collection for a bit, at least until I’ve opened and finished the 2010 Cairdeas ‘Master Edition’…

Aberlour 8Aberlour 8 year old, bottled 1970s – One of the things we have at work is a lot of old bottles of whisky. And I mean a lot. One of the first that I noticed while wandering the shelves was the 1970s Aberlour bottlings, packaged in a dumpy square bottle, and having tasted their more recent versions I’ve been wondering what they were like. This one was one of the 50% releases for the Italian market and according to our site they go for a fairly reasonable £175. I was quite lucky to get a taste of this as it was left out by the guys from Full Proof, who had brought along some of their whiskies to buy by the dram. They wandered to the tasting table and quietly put this and the following whisky down and then wandered off. A few of us saw the arrival and descended on the bottle immediately and as quietly as it appeared it was taken back inside and hidden away. On the nose it had honey & lemon, cinnamon & cloves. To taste there was a light caramel, gentle sherry wood, cream, vanilla and cinnamon. The finish was long with sugar, spice, white grapes and perfumed wood. Not a dram to set the world alight but just one that tasted really nice…

Glen Grant 21Glen Grant 21 year old, bottled 1970s (maybe 1980s) – This one was left on the table for longer than the Aberlour and picked up mixed reactions. I’m not sure if it’s a 70s or 80s bottle because by this time the booze was starting to kick in and I didn’t check the back label, which would have told me a bit more (the way that ABV and volume are reported are two of the easiest ways to start dating a bottle, especially between 70s and 80s). While not everyone was keen I rather liked it. The nose had rose Turkish delight, general floral notes, chocolate, cream and star anis. To taste it had butter, more cream, cinnamon, cake batter and a hint of green leaves (drunkenly written down as ‘Greensleeves’…).

Burn of SpeysideBurn of Speyside – An interesting dram with an interesting story. Wm Grant’s don’t like selling their casks in such a way that people can independently bottle it and as such they ‘spoon’ their whisky – pouring a teaspoon of one of their other malts into each cask that they sell on for blending so that they can’t be bottled as single malt, legally having become a blended malt. Each of the combinations from their various distilleries has a different internal name, of which Burnside describes Balvenie spooned with Glenfiddich. So, back in the early 2000s a shipment of casks of Balvenie sunk in the New Waterway and then sat underwater for a bit, with the insurance company writing them off and noone really wanting the expense of getting them back. A Dutch company eventually stepped up to the plate and retrieved them, bottling them and then releasing at a ridiculously low price (~€15). However they made one mistake – they labelled it as being Balvenie with a spoon of Glenfiddich in. Grant’s fiercely protect their brands and demanded that the company change their labels immediately. As you can see from the picture (click it to embiggen), they did. With a biro…

On the nose this one was quite fiery, with lots of malt and spice and not a lot of complexity. To taste it was sweet with butter, fruit shortcake and a touch of wax. The finish was spicy with cinnamon, drying woodiness, cream and vanilla. A rather nice little dram going to show that young Balvenie can be nice, although the chance of seeing any appearing from the distillery is probably far fetched.

Gold Cock 12Gold Cock 12 year old – I rather liked the Hammer Head from the Czech Republic so when I saw that there was another brand from the country I jumped at the chance to try some. The fact that we got about 30 minutes of ‘Grab the cock’, ‘How does the cock taste’, ‘Have you seen the cock?’ and other such ‘jokes’ out of the name was a drunken bonus. I first picked up their 3 year old blend and was surprised to find it entirely full but with the seal broken. One quick sniff showed me why it hadn’t been touched – really not good. This wasn’t an auspicious start to my Gold Cock experience but I soldiered on to the 12 year old. On the nose there was oak leaf, caramel, butter and honey. To taste there was cream, syrup, minty menthol, corn flakes, fake butter and sour wood. My overall assessment was ‘not quite as bad as you might have initially through, but still pretty awful’. I’ll stick with the Hammer Head for now.

Schwarzer PiratSchwarzer Pirat – One distillery I’ve been trying to find something from for a while is Germany’s Blaue Maus. You don’t see (m)any of their bottlings in the UK and I’ve not been so interested as to try importing one, so it was good to be able to try this one from their stable. On the nose there was hot melting plastic, fake butter and sickly caramel. To taste there was plastic, bitter burning plastic fumes, more nasty fake butter and just generally nothing of merit – actively vile. I won’t be importing any of Blaue Maus’s stuff for now, but I might give another one of their expressions a chance. If someone else tries it first…

Glen Scotia 12Glen Scotia 12 year old, 1980s – Another older bottling that I’ve been eyeing up at work. Glen Scotia is a distillery that I’m never entirely sure about – I like Springbank’s fare in general but Glen Scotia’s similar but different style is one that I’m up and down about. On the nose this one had a hint of the farmyard with mulchy grain and smoke, as well as a touch of wax. To taste it had minty menthol, sweet grain, ground granite, sweet apples and custard. The finish was bitter wood overlayed with a bit of cakey pastry. Not bad at all.

Bruichladdich 15Bruichladdich 15 year old, 1970s – Another one from the Full Proof chaps and one that seemed to be left on the table with little notice. I’ve not tried any older Bruichladdich’s and with the imminent (now just passed) 10th anniversary of their reopening of the distillery and release of the Laddie 10 (and hopefully the simplification of their range to manageable levels – it’s hard work stocktaking the Bruichladdich shelf at work…so many almost identical bottlings in identical tins) this was a perfect one to end my notetaking on. On the nose it had a weird but winning combination of ham and Turkish delight. To taste it had sweet & sour fruit, coal dust and stone, with a finish of ham and bitter berries. My notes were getting shorter, but this was a rather nice dram to end my conscious whisky appreciation on.

Tickets for next year’s Maltstock are already available and I’ll certainly be going if I can. I’ll just make sure to sleep before I go…

Many thanks to the organisers for an excellent weekend – I’ve got at least two more posts to write about the weekend when I get some time to sit down and pick over my notebook, and those will barely scratch the surface. Thanks to the lovely people who came to my tasting and didn’t point and laugh too much, and to my excellent quiz team, who somehow managed to come second in the uber-geeky quiz: Jason B Standing, Neil Ridley, Ben Ellefson (who works for some random web development company and makes up stuff about traffic cone thieves…) and Menno and Ras (I think – I am rubbish with names) from WhiskyBase – We Heart Master of Speciality WhiskyBase Squad will return… Ben and Neil have got posts up about the weekend and even Ben’s is worth reading…

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