Thursday 30 January 2014


            The French people were decried as acrophobic because none of their landmarks had any height. Look at what Waterloo did to Napoleon and Notre Dame to poor Quasimodo! Deep down in their hearts, they knew they were being reviled and came up with a monumental suggestion when told that they were to host the 1889 World Fair. “Let’s make the entrance arch so high that visitors with their heads stuck upwards won’t mind the steep entrance fee,” they said. They found an engineer Gustave Eiffel and asked him to do the honours. He agreed, even though he had the devil of a time getting workers.

            Money is a great incentive and Eiffel’s company designed, built the tower and named it after him. Also called the ‘La dame de fer’ or ‘iron lady’ well before Margaret Thatcher was born, it quickly dominated the Parisian skyline. Since millions of bohemian artists and wine drinkers visited Paris every year, it soon became one of the most recognizable and painted structures in the world. When they got round to counting visitors to monuments globally in 1900, they found that the tallest structure in Paris was the most-visited paid monument in the world.

            The canny French authorities had added a clause to Eiffel’s contract. People were to be given access to the top. So they added a staircase, but the average person found he had to stop three times to regain his breath. Voila….the resting places had restaurants built around them in no time. But the topmost spot tended to make people dizzy, so Eiffel built himself an office where nobody could get at him. Alarms were sounded when a large number of people fell over and were killed. The gendarmes shrewdly called them suicides, but safety nets were erected to catch jumpers. Elevators were built to make it easy for the obese and wine-besotted. Strangely, Hitler did not venture up top. Was he acrophobic? Too late to ask him now, pity.

            The approximately 10,000 tonne lattice tower is 320 metres (1,050 ft) tall and holds an interesting record-its miniature replicas are the highest selling Objets d'art globally. About 265 million people have visited it till date. On clear days, the view from the top is truly panoramic. At night, flashlights added to usher the millennium in lit up on New Year's Eve 1999 and, with four high-power searchlights, are a daily quasi-lumiere show. In winter, only about 100 metres of the tower can be seen.  

            The tower was to stand for 20 years only and the authorities wanted it dismantled in 1909. Its commercial viability soon put this contract to bed. It was, is and will remain the most prominent symbol of both Paris and France.


Wednesday 22 January 2014

Excellent Single Malts


I've been lucky to savour almost 150 single malts, including a few single singles. I'll tell you one thing-it keeps a grumpy 62 year old tied down in smoky fumes while waxing eloquent about the positives of barley, water and yeast. See what a good single can do to simple writing? Complicate it and join the 'Haves' of this contra-rotating antithetic malt world!
And the tidbits that follow to tickle you a tad, if you've had a bath.
Scotch drinkers like to keep things simple. Most Scotch drinkers want to enjoy the smoky flavour unadorned except perhaps for water. Scotch drinkers are trying to find the top distilleries in Scottish towns from the Highlands to the Lowlands that produce the best Single Malt Scotch. Rest assured that my list includes whiskies from the Scottish Isles that are hard to pronounce, but these are all names worth knowing. Enjoy my selection of Top 10 Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.

1. Glenmorangie.  A wonderful Highland malt that comes in a variety of excellent finishes - Portwood, Madeira, and Sherry. I'd like to try the Sauternes finish, which sounds wonderful. Somebody help, please. Best of all: the '97 Nectar D'or, which I prefer to the very expensive Signet. Prices were fine before LVMH took it over and jacked up costs threefold. Shaft them!

2. Laphroaig. Islay's best-known malt. The fifteen-
year-old is possibly the optimal value for cost.  Perhaps best of all is the sherry-finished thirty-year-old - an unusual but beautiful balance between sweet sherry and smoky peat.Even the Laphroaig 10 is super. I got one from Cyprus, on sale.

3. Ardbeg. Another excellent Islay malt, especially delicious in its older bottlings. Try the Ardbeg 10, the good old peat example, or Provenance, cut with a little water to bring out the flavour and soften its near 56% ABV or 98 proof. I had my first Ardbeg in Osaka's Bar Satoh way back in '99, in the best whisky bar in the world as my ADC, one Capt. Saito, told me and the taste of Ardbeg always takes me back there. The
Uigeadail and Ardbog are mighty good too.

4. Glenfiddich 18. Luxe and easy-sipping. Look for enticing notes of butterscotch, baked pear, cinnamon and clove on the nose and palate, swathed in just the right amount of smokiness. 

5. The Glenlivet 12. Yes, the 12 YO and not the 15 or 18 YO expressions from The Glenlivet, matured in French Limousin Oak casks notwithstanding. Limousin Oak is a popular choice for maturation of Cognac.

Nose: Light fruits, of course. I get grape flesh and fresh almond slivers, at first. Accenting this freshness is something plant-like/leafy or even "piney", like dried pineapple. There's also an impression of yellow apple and butter. (Lesser influences of vanilla, butterscotch, toasted coconut, and rose.) Palate: A butter-smooth entrance welcomes... but quickly transforms to sour white peach, rather gingery. Then to tannic, purple grape skins and something menthol-y, like pine. Finish: Butter and yellow apples emerge, rescuing the prickly palate. But the youth can't hide, and the finish closes with pine and powdered ginger. Vanilla/underripe peach lightly occupy the background.
The Glenlivet 12 is light and nondescript. It is not objectionable, and just served a good purpose: improving my flight by giving me something interesting to focus on for a short while. There is quite an atmosphere to overcome, and it does so suitably. I am therefore grateful for its availability. No wonder it is one of the best selling malts in the world, well-worth re-visiting. I would probably add a case to my lower-altitude cabinet. 

6. The Macallan Cask Strength. The Macallan brand is synonymous with top-tier Single Malt Scotch, and the unsung hero of their portfolio is their cask strength. This malt hails from the Easter Elchies House of Macallan overlooking the River Spey. This cask strength has a sherried finish making it bright, rich and accessible; it explodes with caramel, brown sugar, toffee and vanilla so complex and intertwined it drinks like a dessert. It’s well balanced on the palate with a sweet, tawny port and cinnamon bouquet. At this price point, I think it's a steal. Make that "The Steal". 

7. Talisker 18. The wonderful bouquet includes scents of seaweed, smoke, peat, iodine, kippers and pipe tobacco. The palate entry is briny and intense; the midpalate is oily with traces of anise, butterscotch and linseed oil. Finishes vibrantly with tastes of salted butter, oil and brine. Highly idiosyncratic: for lovers of robust, seaside malts. I rate it very highly. Alternate: Talisker 10.

8. Aberlour A'bunadh

Speyside cake. ABV: 59%.Colour: Amontillado Sherry.If you like fruit cake, chocolate pot, creme brulee, marshmallow, banana mousses, pecan pie, apple strudel, Christmas cake, marzipan, toffee fudge sprinkled with icing sugar. YOU WILL like this gem of a scotch.The flavors are so intense and layered, making this whiskey a fun experiment where you can add little bit of water each time to see just how the complexity of its flavors unfold. It also has a lovely rum tone to its noise, amazing

9. Cardhu
Cardhu has a warmth and cleanliness of taste - often described as sleek, a popular taste known and liked globally. Served from its classy decanter, high end Cardhu is the classic Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. The Cardhu 12 year old has the flavor of luscious rich fruit, sweet honey and nut all smoothly balanced by a delicious dry freshness, bottled at 40 per cent ABV. “It is gold and honey to look at, its nose powered by heather and sweet honey and nut. It is enticing yet intriguing, harmonious but softer with water; malt-cereal; spicy wood, moorland and faint traces of wood-smoke. Its body is soft, pleasing, medium while its palate is well balanced, smooth mouth-feel; sweet and fresh, then drying. Moorish. Enjoyable with a little water or ice. The FINISH is quite short. Lingering sweet smoke in the attractive, drying aftertaste (Jim Murray).”    

10. Balblair 1997.
This is one of Scotland's best 'hidden gems' from a distillery up on the North East coast . It is a Starburst fruit bowl with fresh citrus and green fruit notes and just enough earthiness to stop it from being cloying. This full-bodied malt is fused with the citrus aromas of pineapple, apricot and lemon to create a long-lasting sweet finish. On the nose, the American oak barrels, used in the distillate's maturation, produce an inviting, spicy fragrance.

11. Bowmore. Another Islay malt, but different from most. "The whiskies of Bowmore are between the intense malts of the south shore and the gentlest extremes of the north. Their character is not a compromise but an enigma…". Best value: Bowmore Legend. Best taste: any of the twenty-five + bottlings. I managed two from when I was last in der Vaterland in 2011. 

12. The Singleton of Glen Ord 18 YO

13. On the nose, a gentle waft of beeswax opening up to honey, followed by distant yet distinct flavours of cinnamon, basel, Sinhalese pine, lemon peel, quince and vanilla. Chilly powder. Palate: Big. Waxen and chocolate malt-sugar sweet. Clotted cream, Italian lemon, dried fruits - nectarines, apricot, Asian gooseberries and tangerines. Mirabelle jam. Half a teaspoon of water highlights the multi-sherried wood, wax, honey, and vanilla, but depresses the fruit. Traces of armagnac. Finish: Long and luxurious. Doesn''t lose anything. Just glorious. Punchy yet divinely elegant. Rajasthani Asha liquor, Asian kitchen mash. Maybe that’s why it’s sold in Asia only! 
14. Johnnie Walker Island Green NAS Blended Malt

  It is made with whiskies from four different distilleries, each from different regions of Scotland - Caol Ila distillery in Islay, Clynelish distillery in the Highlands, Glenkinchie distillery in the Lowlands, and Cardhu Distillery in Speyside. This whisky is bottled at 43% ABV. 
Color: Amber

Nose: Nice smoky start… Not as strong as an Islay expression but still very definitive… light and fresh aromas, like a morning walk in the park, fruits, flowers and grass… presence of malty wood notes… honey and vanilla with a healthy amount of wood spices… peppery…

Palate: Complex but not so balanced flavors… Heavy on the smoky and spicy side… sweetness from pears… honeyed malt cereals and vanilla with hints of citrus… faint notes of chocolaty bitterness…

Finish: Medium but warm finish… very spicy …  leaving behind some bitter, tar like flavors on the tongue…

Island Green is a great ‘blend’ expression as someone would expect from Johnnie Walker. But if you are a real Islay lover, this bottle will not quench your thirst of smoke and peat. On the other hand, if you like lightly peated whiskies or just starting to explore the wonderful world of smoky whisky, this may be the perfect dram to start things of.

Experts advise you to drink Single Malt whisky neat or with a tiny bit of water. The water supposedly ‘Releases the Serpent’ from the whisky.

If there is a serpent, there is also an Angel. As it ages, 2.0-2.5 % of the whisky maturing in a barrel is lost to evaporation every year. Distillers refer to this as the ‘angel’s share’.

But the Devil has the last word. The larger the barrel used to mature whisky, the more the spirit that is absorbed by the wood and lost, called by distillers the ‘Devil’s Cut’.

The most expensive country in which to buy Scotch is where it’s made, the UK. 
 18,000 liters of Scotch whisky worth over $800,000 (£ 500,000) were accidentally flushed down the drain at Chivas Brothers’ Dumbarton bottling plant of in March 2013. 
Earlier, Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouse in Catrine village had spilled 6,600 liters of whisky on 6 September 2011− mostly into the River Ayr. They were fined £12,000. 

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Taste Notes Scotch Whisky


After slogging away writing about Scotch Whisky for the last six months, I thought I'd pen some thoughts on whisky tasting.

Northern Highlands whiskies are full, cereal sweet and rich. Bouquets are big, sweet and malty; The nose of a 'Northern Highlander will tell you about fragrance with complexity. Perhaps a shade dry, often with a long finish; There's lots of variety among Northern Highlanders. Clynelish 1998/2012 had a nose that was surprisingly sweet, like a commercial dark chocolate. Clynelish 1972/2005 nose is mild and somewhat grainy with a background hint of fruits.   

Southern Highlands whiskies are a mite lighter with dryness and fruit, grows on you with time; a little water releases its sweetness with fruitier notes. It gradually moves in a more flowery & aromatic direction, at times just off the beaten path, enticing you along.

Eastern Highland whiskies are full, dry and very fruity.
They tend to be sharp and sweetish, accompanied by exotic spices.

The Western Highland whiskies are full and pungent and not devoid of peat and smoke.

Let's first look at Ledaig, a peated Scotch from the island of Mull, but grouped with the Highlanders:

Ledaig, 1990 Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice.

Tobermory distillery on the island of Mull, set up in 1823, suffered sporadic closure during its history, its most recent reopening being in 1989. The Ledaig name is used for peated expressions of Tobermory; the peating level has risen progressively, currently standing at around 35ppm. This 1990 independent expression has been matured in refill Sherry casks. Quite floral and fragrant on the nose, especially with the addition of water, with a hint of olive oil and brine. Light-bodied and medium-dry on the palate, with salt, cereal and spices, roasted nuts, a suggestion of liquorice and a delicate tang of peat. The finish is medium in length, dry and peppery, with mild oak. Compared with the current bargain basement house bottling of relatively young Ledaig, this 15 YO has far less overt peatiness in its character, confirming the increased levels of peating in more recent distillations. Proof that if Ledaig is allowed to mature for a reasonable length of time, the result is a very good island whisky. 43.0% ABV, 70cl. 

Ledaig, 10-year-old
Ledaig is peated to between 50 and 55 ppm and now accounts for around half of Tobermory distillery's annual output. The nose is profoundly peaty, sweet and full, with notes of butter and smoked fish. Medicinal enough to suggest an Islay. Bold, yet sweet on the rounded palate, with iodine, soft peat and heather. Developing spices. The finish is medium to long, with pepper, ginger, liquorice and peat. 46.3% ABV, 70cl.

Ledaig 7yo 'Peated' 
(43%, OB, short clear bottle, Bottled +/- 2002, Imported by Auxil, France)
Nose: Soft and a little oily. Not very expressive. Wait - some peat (not much). Herbal. Chloride. Spirity. The peat drifted away to the background and didn't return.
Needs a while. Then things developed into a fruitier direction with tangerines.
Orange skins? Hints of menthol sweets. Something creamy. Intriguing.
Taste: Quite a bite, followed by a salty, peaty burn. Sulphur? Some organics. Very dry, although it grows fruitier and sourish over time. Bitter burn in the finish. An 'Islay Light' and decent value to boot. 


I postponed sampling to the most appropriate location: an Airbus 340 Club Class.

Nose: Light fruits, of course. I get grape flesh and fresh almond slivers, at first. Accenting this freshness is something plant-like/leafy or even "piney", like dried pineapple. There's also an impression of yellow apple and butter. (Lesser influences of vanilla, butterscotch, toasted coconut, and rose.)

Palate: A butter-smooth entrance welcomes... but quickly transforms to sour white peach, rather gingery. Then to tannic, purple grape skins and something menthol-y, like pine.

Finish: Butter and yellow apples emerge, rescuing the prickly palate. But the youth can't hide, and the finish closes with pine and powdered ginger. Vanilla/underripe peach lightly occupy the background.

The Glenlivet 12 is light and nondescript. It is not objectionable, and just served a good purpose: improving my flight by giving me something interesting to focus on for a short while. There is quite an atmosphere to overcome, and it does so suitably. I am therefore grateful for its availability. Nevertheless, I would probably add a case to my lower-altitude cabinet; Yes, the Glenlivet 18yo is a richer and more rewarding version. But the Glenlivet 12yo below duty-free rates in India? A case is the minimum.

The closest similar malt that I could recall is the Auchentoshan Classic, particularly in the palate. The Glenlivet 12 is better, however, with less drying sour white peach. For other similar budget light malts that you might even prefer, look to the Macallan Gold, Auchentoshan Select or Arran Original.

Bowmore 12 YO malt is, for many, the youngest acceptable Bowmore. The younger Bowmores show for many too much roughness in general and a leather note for which many do not care
Nose: medium slightly sweet peat, a hint of rosewater, a little brine, and a hint of smoke, against a background of barley-malt. Pleasant, and more mellow than is the nose of either Bowmore Legend 8 YO or McClelland's Islay 5 YO Bowmore malt
Taste: strong sweet peat flavours in the mouth, stronger than the peat flavours in the nose; otherwise, the nose translates well to the mouth
Finish: the strong sweetness and the malt flavours last a medium length; the ending is on bitter
Balance: Bowmore 12 YO Distillery bottling exemplifies the medium-peat Islay malt style. Personally I prefer whiskies to be more heavily peated and more medicinal/briney than Bowmore 12, but I consider Bowmore 12 to be a drinkable malt whisky. Those who like other Islay medium peated whiskies, such as most of the products from the Caol Ila distillery, should likely also like Bowmore 12 YO.

Cardhu is the luxury single malt whisky from Speyside, presented in an elegant decanter. Nose: Good body, decent sweetness, richness. Streaks of smoke, apple peels, bruised pears. Palate: Smooth, rounded, gentle sweetness, soft peat. A little smoke whispers sweet nothings.         Finish: Long, dry smoke, malty touch of peat.

A great 17 year old blend from Ballantines. This was Jim Murray's Scotch Blend of the Year for 2010! Really biscuity and thick. Nose: Feinty. Smoke and a touch of mochaccino. There are some notes of leather and Madeira with a little chocolate. Palate: Balanced. There are notes of cut herbs and a defined vegetal character. Fresh citrus and fudge. Touch of peat smoke. Finish: Fruit, becomes dry.  

A really great, easy drinking whiskey. Grain heavy blend with corn notes and an oak influence. Soon, floral and fruity notes. Very smooth on the pallet without any heavy/harsh after taste. The apple notes appear after about five  minutes. A teaspoon of water opens it up. Now a great "all night" easy drinker. Speyside malts start to appear and the taste is both pleasantly fruity and well matured. Mild peat probably from Caol Ila. Finish: Oaky. Longish. Overall a good starting whisky and fantastic for both the experienced and non-experienced drinker. An absolute stumper. 

"Gold Label 18". This is a fabulous blended whisky based on malt from the Clynelish distillery. Nose: Rich and honeyed with crème caramel and winter spices. Quite floral too. Palate: Mature honey and malt. Cardhu provides smooth malt and oak flavors. Just a hint of smoke, with fresh flowers and custard. Finish: Long finish with Scotch tablet and spice. Overall: A very good blend with an interesting floral character. 
Don't confuse it with the NAS Gold Label Reserve, shown below. This is a 15-YO at best and vastly different from the Gold Label 18 YO.