Monday, 18 January 2010

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Aberfeldy Distillery Visit and Signature Tour

An induction into the cave of Ali Baba and the Forty Connoisseurs or the insight of six different malts postponed?

The tone of my evaluation of Dewar's World of Whisky at the Aberfeldy distillery is far closer to the former than the latter, but the prospects of my immediate future as far as the water of life is concerned have been altered hugely. Last week, like quivering with fear and cold at the top of Schiehallion, I was shown a more complex and expansive whisky landscape than I could ever have realised had I spent my £30 on miniatures alone; getting me only as far as the first false summit.

"Signature" is the name of the tour, and what I received in exchange for my money was a unique and unprecedented glimpse of a brand's true identity. From the beginning and the Dewar's company film, my time at the distillery which I could view, tantalisingly, from our holiday cottage on the other side of the Tay (right), was concerned wholly in the minutiae of whisky-making, -marketing and -appreciating.

No barley is tricked into germination in the Aberfeldy maltings today (this practice vanished in the sixties) but my own inquisitiveness, a grain of barley if you will, experienced a significant conversion of ignorant starch to receptive sugar in the Dewar's exhibition space.

The Victorian era must - if you were the pioneering figureheads themselves, of course - have been a fascinating and stimulating time to be alive when a business could depart from its tentative conception and arrive at oppulent, swaggering dominance in the time of two enterprising generations. Tommy the salesman sounds quite a character, the kind of man with the talent, charm and entrepreneurialism to pluck the fruit of the global market just as it was ripening. In the World of Whisky displays and installations, with the aid of portable audio guides, I learnt as much about this age of opportunity and endeavour as I did whisky and was completely engaged by my history lesson.

In the bar-cum-cafe I met my guide. Bruce joined me at a table master blenders would be familiar with. My reserved table (right) was covered in Glencairn glasses. Bruce guided me deftly through the first five (he would later pour me out a sixth) glass each of which contained something from the Dewar's stable. The Aberfeldy 12 I was already vaguely acquainted with, but the 21, Dewar's 12, 18 and Signature I was not. With the 12 as our reference point, we toured around the various drams. The 21 offered the reassuring depth and smooth muscularity of excellent ageing with rich, rounded and dark honey and spice. The creamy and full palate was distinctive but it didn't, in the end, and despite being closest in age to the wonderful sample I tried in the warehouse, persuade me to part with £85.

The blends, on the nose, did not resemble blends at all. The 12 was flowery, with lightness and freshness but, after comparisons with its older brothers, somewhat quick and "immature". Bruce was quite right, though: you can detect the Aberfeldy honeyed shortbread personality in each of them. The 18 was perhaps my favourite: again the identity of age seduced and intrigued while the addition of water created a time-machine and I once again contemplated the heathland at the foot of Schiehallion.

The Signature was unlike any blend I have ever had, which at £150 a go I should have hoped it wouldn't be. The artful suave richness on the nose and palate of gleaming fruit were sublime. The contrast between this and Bruce's favourite: the White Label, was not offensive and I have been persuaded that, in future, I should look out for this proud dynasty.

Keen that we should preceed the fifteen or so standard tourists milling around us, and with me admitting to sensory overload, we embarked on the tour of the distillery. At each key point within the clean, handsome buildings, due time was taken. I was able to ask questions and make observations, never feeling rushed. I would like to think this was as much because the people involved wish to savour and appreciate their place of employment as my having shelled out for the "premium" experience.

We spent quite a long time in the stillroom, with the wash stills frothing away and the middle cut from the second spirit still thundering through the spirit safe. To combat the heat radiating off the considerable stills (right), all of the windows were open onto the smart grounds, the Tay and the wooded hills beyond.I should have capitalised on the warmth, for there wasn't much to be found in the warehouse.

Striding to what I was sure would be the promised land, I recounted my religious experience in the warehouses of The Glenlivet and my disappointment at being led away from those at Glenkinchie.

"You may be disappointed again," murmured Bruce as we stepped into darkness.

What filled my nostrils was not the honey malt and old wood of the best warehouses, but the pot ale processing. I was a little glum as I contemplated the thousands of casks, in shadow and, crucially, empty. But then I realised that the only ones I needed concern myself with were the trio just on the other side of the steel mesh gating.

Picking up a substantial mallet, Bruce offered me a choice between a 1985 and two 1983s. His recommendation was the 1985 and so I aked him tap that particular barrel (right). He duly did, once on each side of the bung before adopting a Show-of-Strength pose and giving the cask a richochetting crack. The bung "just shot out" and we could draw my sample.

I held my glass under the steel pipette and out dribbled raw whisky. Pure happiness, and cold, overwhelmed me as I smelt, cautiously, the pure glowing gold (right). When I didn't receive a lance of alcohol straight into my hypothalamus, I allowed my nose to quest a little further. I anticipated, and got, Aberfeldy heather honey and apple notes. They were timid, however, the temperature restricting the circulation of aromas, but they had a cleanliness and body I had not hitherto noted, the little flecks of charred wood at the bottom of the glass merely lending an authentic influence instead of an obscuring one. The vanillins of the wood were wondrously original and its affect on the spirit authoritative but not excessive. Bruce kept putting his nose to the hole in the cask and I did the same. I cannot now communicate the perfection of that smell, just that the woody spice and mellow whisky combined instinctively and epically. Bruce suggested I took my sample indoors where it - and I - might warm up.

Back before the array of glasses in the visitors' centre, I sat down with my latest, rarest measure. This is where Bruce relinquished his role as my guide for the day, and I assured him how much I had enjoyed the tour he had given me. I voiced my hope that I would see him again when I pull up and uncleat next year. I won't be taking the Signature tour on that occasion, but memories of this one will abide with me in all of my future first-hand dealings with this magical drink.

Aberfeldy 1985 Bourbon casked. Cask no. 1321.

COLOUR: Gold - soft, bright and smooth. NOSE - WoW - The unfixable big smoothness of age. Gorgeously sweet honey and round, clean vanilla. There is heather there, but also another flower: soft, delicate and pungent. Stewed red apples. The alcohol doesn't obtrude. Despite its 24 years, it is fresh and clean. Soft light gingerbread. Delicious focus and character. Wonderfully firm wood. Single cream. WW - Zesty, woody vanilla. Soft pulpy apple. Richly sweet grainy honey. Faintly herbal, it is a flower meadow in May or June, humming with bees. Light butterscotch. Medium-bodied with all the ripe fragrance of the washback. Lightly charred white oak. Tablet - shortbread and caramel. BODY - Smooth, velvety. Building to clean warmth. PALATE - WoW - Appley, honey, soft biscuits. WW - Unbelieveable smooth with sweetness growing to spicy dark malty richness. FINISH - Honey mist. Vanilla ice cream. Quite nutty. Syrupy wood and fruit. Caramel shortbread. Fades elegantly.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Highland Park 12-year-old 40% Dram #26

Separate, northern-most...
Despite the differences
This is no stranger.

How bizarre that the 25-year-old should have preceded this into my notebook. I first sipped/ was speechless with wonder due to the 12-year-old in a hotel. I had it in a pub next, but I was unable to conduct a proper thorough tasting until I unwrapped a bottle last Christmas.

On the two previous occassions I had nevertheless noticed and liked its semi-rich biscuity maltiness and the peat character which is so entirely different to that found on Islay. From the beginning, I understood that it was no mean dram distilled in this area that stretches the rules governing regional frontiers - and even those of Scotland - to the limits of relevance.

Highland Park is a case study of why I adore the single malt industry. Orkney is a smudge of rock, sand and grass whose northward vista is comprised of a few more similarly improbable scatterings of land and the beginnings of the Arctic Circle, yet it produces a whisky every malt lover spares singular affection for and which is moving in on the most prolific shifters of premium single malt. Logic tumbled out of the St Margaret's Hope ferry and drowned.

ORIGINAL TASTING NOTE, TASTED 11/1/09: COLOUR - Pale gold. NOSE - WoW - Pillowy-soft peat. Full and green. An underlying smouldering sharpness. The sea salt of handmade crisps added to the malt. Thick spongecake sweetness. WW - Peat becomes harder and hotter. Fruit does the same: boiling raspberries and blackcurrants. Beautiful spicy malt. BODY - Medium to almost full. PALATE - Charred wood, white grape tang. Chocolate digestives. Creme brulee topping. FINISH - Sea and seaweed. Long and smoky. Excellent, but just the end of the palate.

The revamped packaging shows off the product particularly well. The flat bottle with the ornate calligraphy (that Celtic/ Viking "h") hints at a very authoritative, no-nonsense spirit, an impression not contradicted by pouring a little into the glass and inspecting the hue: a smooth, beaten gold.

Indeed, there are no shrinking violets or superfluous flavours in the nose, either. The malt and the peat mount a combined attack: the former eager, semi-aggressive and fruity; the latter medium-dry, rich and delicious. That biscuity quality that put me in mind of a certain manufacturer's granola bars which I'm rather fond of I modified to ginger biscuits. There is an extremely fresh sea breeze note, together with some delicate honey. There is the sharp pungency of new wood as well as a "quiff" of dark, supercharged Oloroso. It is a complete and complex canvas marvellously presented.

With water it becomes softer, lighter and develops the sweetness of boiling mash. The peat is transformed and has acquired a liqueur chocolate nature. This supports the round zesty malt. Toast and honey in addition to a vague impression of hard rocks concludes the outstanding aroma.

The medium and firm palate presents a unique architecture: the peat acting as the sconce for the powerful sherried malt. It grows beer-y and almost froths with the skins of nectarines.

I recommend all things cosy and warm with the exemplary finish. It is long and dissipates with epic control. Lime and almost chocolatey maltiness are flavours of note.

There is nothing like Highland Park. It just has everything, but in the proportions you would want. I am deeply keen on getting hold of the 18YO and the 30YO courtesy of miniatures which the Edrington Group are jolly good sports for releasing.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Glenkinchie Distillery Visit #3

I suppose I had better develop the knack of distillery-writing as I shall be doing an awful lot of it in less than eight months' time.
The journey to Glenkinchie for my 19th birthday was nowhere near as taxing as the one undertaken for my 18th at Auchentoshan. Just as well, perhaps, as my responsibilities in the world of work have grown slightly more inhibitive in the intervening time.

Glenkinchie was chosen for this very reason: it being the closest of Scotland's malt disitilleries from my home in Northumberland and so not requiring hours in the car. The selection of this distillery was not made, I hasten to add, was not made on the grounds of expediency alone. There has been a nagging gulf in my tasting experience for two long now: I may have tasted four Auchentoshans, but it is the only representative of the Lowland region in my notes. Thirdly, Glenkinchie will be the first stop on my whisky cycling tour, so this was something of a recce, too. So instead of Glengoyne which we passed quite close to last year, my family and I went to sample the "Edinburgh malt".

The drive to Glasgow of last year, whilst long, compensated for this with epically stirring Highland scenery. (On the way back we unwittingly drove passed our turn off and, less than twenty minutes north of Glasgow, it was as if we were driving along the West Coast.) The Lammermuirs did not present quite the same kind of backdrop upon which light could project itself in a visually arresting way (top right). However, this is truly the "garden of Scotland" with rolling fields of cereal crops tumbling all the way to the Firth of Forth. At the end of the day, it was yet another idyllic Scottish landscape.

The distillery is tucked snugly into the cleft between two particularly bumpy fields (top middle right). On stepping out of the car the atmosphere was still with a real warmth issuing from the sun, ripening the last grains still outstanding. It isn't a large site - perhaps on a par with Auchentoshan - but the aesthetics are different for it is done out in functional but attractive Victorian red brick (bottom middle right).

The tell-tale distillery fragrance was late to appear - I was almost in the door before I could detect the pungent cearealy sweetness of barley being given what-for.

Three tour tickets purchased, we were sent upstairs to the exhibition space, formerly the floor maltings. There we spent fifteen minutes or so reading hrough the excellent display on distilling and Scotch. I loved the scale model of a distillery that found its way back to Glenkinchie from London in the 1960s to be lovingly restored and rebuilt. I am a huge fan of processes, and to see each part of a self-sufficient distillery plant before me was utterly fascinating. The detail is superb (bottom right).

"Those would look great on either side of the fire," mused Mum, speaking of the replica wash and spirit stills.

We, together with about eight others, congregated at the assembly point where Charlie came to greet us and fulfil the more immediate need of turning off the Diageo Classic Malts video that was stuck on repeat. As Glenkinchie does not correspond exactly to the scale model in all of its processes, Charlie explained in excellent depth the malting stage as we would not see a practical demonstration on our tour. He apologised in advance lest he fell into the "Scottish tendency to speak too fast". He didn't, which was probably just as well as I believe we Saxons were the only Britons!

Charlie led is all outside towards the production buildings - no cameras or mobile phones allowed - while informing us about the distillery's malt needs: 126 tonnes a week for 14 "processes" of 9 tonnes each, all equating to 55,000 litres of Glenkinchie being produced a week. They have malt deliveries almost everyday, something I could attest to for on our journey to the distillery a Simpsons Malt truck passed us going the other way.

We were shown the redundant kiln, then the not redundant at all mill. Next we were taken upstairs to the enormous but presently empty mash tun. Each process of malt will get three charges of water at successively higher temperatures for the reason that (and it was one he would use consistently at every stage that received fastidious recovery) the Scottish are a race that does not hold with waste. There is a bell in the mash room, retained from when the malting still operated. The manager would ring the bell, telling the maltmen that their shift was at an end. They would come into the distillery, receive a jug of the 9%abv wash and then cycle home. "You can't get away with that now," he said, rather whimsically.

Passed the yeast store and up more stairs our little party plodded and into the washback room. Six six metre high washbacks gurgled and frothed at us: five of Oregon pine - a fact that provoked one of our group to raise his eyebrows (he turned out to hail from Oregon) - and a sixth of Canadian larch. Each contained a wash that was slightly more advanced than the last and indeed one of them was not opened for our inspection at the risk of beer boiling out over everything. I scooped a bit of air out of a couple of the washbacks - not sticking my head in and taking a big breath as Charlie had warned against. Nevertheless, the carbon dioxide from one leapt up my nose with a ferocity akin to a head butt.

Reeling, we proceeded to the balmy still room. I find it astonishing how such an odd shape can be so beautiful. The pair of stills are just enormous and filled the room not just with heat (they were distilling at the time) but also with a soft golden glow with the aid of sunlight falling through the translucent roof, the same roof that had to be taken off when the neck of the wash still was replaced last winter.

Short of a wee nip of Glenkinchie in the bar, that was our tour at an end. I was almost hopping mad that we weren't taken to the warehouses because new stock is filled into casks and matured centrally.

Apart from that omission, value was had out of our £5 ticket, especially after my frugal (and Scottish) mother look advantage of its redemption with the purchase of a 70cl bottle. I had phoned the day before to enquire about more in-depth tours and if they were available, as they were at Auchentoshan. I was assured, correctly as it turned out, that the standard tour was very thorough. I was content with a miniature Glenkinchie - the clean floral and amlty dryness with rubbery tropical fruits and creamy, juicey vanilla not quite wonderful enough to justify a full bottle purchase.

I'll finish on the missing element of the warehouse, and some more Diageo-bashing on my part. Ever since the Glenlivet, the warehouse has been the stage of the process that has enchanted me the most and made me feel the most privileged to have overseen. Here, after all, is where spirit becomes Scotch, and each distillery's micro climate and its potential effect over years on maturing stocks can be felt. Their size, construction and function produce the most awesome peacefulness and together with the heavenly aroma (here is where the angels preside, after all) they border on cathedrals for malt with that kind of devout significance. I know my darling Caol Ilas are not matured on site, either, but I think that as one of the six Classic Malts, Glenkinchie should be allowed to speak entirely of the region it represents in the Diageo portfolio, and being as it is one of only five in the whole of the Lowlands. Come on, guys: you place so much emphasis on Scotland and its quirky geography in your promotional and informational medias (I should know, I saw the video four times) so put economy aside, please, and tap into the real essence of regional variety, character, and authenticity.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Glenmorangie Lasanta 46% Dram #23

Quote: "warmth and passion";
A tasting note in itself.
I can't disagree.

Would you believe it, but until the Lasanta late last year I had not nosed, beyond a measure in a pub, a Glenmorangie! With Glenfiddich I was even worse, it must be said, waiting until February of this year, 16 months into my whisky journey, to bother tasting the most iconic Scotch whisky brand! It was nothing personal, I might add: other drams kept coming into my life and stealing focus.

ORIGINAL TASTING NOTE, TASTED DECEMBER 2008: COLOUR - Light caramel with gold highlights. NOSE - WoW - Intense. Sherry on oozing over layer. Waxy fruit. A gentle heathery sweetness. WW - Sweeter still. Fine grains of sugary aroma. Hard, metallic malt. Dusty, crumbly peat. Pastries and cakes. BODY - Smooth. Complicated choreography of mouth feel. PALATE - Rich and fruity sweet. A scrumptious malty sponge cake. FINISH - Vanilla, raspberries. Quite long. Quite tart, too. Apricot jam-like.

As the Auchentoshan of my last post underlines, by this time I was beginiing to get my eye in with this tasting business and during the autumn and winter I enjoyed a higher frequency of tastings. Recently, I have marked off at a particular tasting note in my notebook where I felt a transition of my skills and or knowledge occured, and the period of September to March undoubtedly witnessed rapid development and the acquisition of a skill level I found it easy to return to after the exam sabbatical. This Glenmorangie was a component of that period, although only now has it been evaluated by the senses it helped to hone in such a significant way.

Still unsure as to whether I had treated The Original Glenmorangie extremely unfairly, I sat down to revise the Sherry-matured 10-year-old which had received a decent but unexceptional "66" previously. So, how now brown cow?

I am a big fan of the latest packaging range. I believe it contributes to the impression that what you are drinking is more unusual, exclusive and expensive than the actual price point would suggest. Of course, the whisky itself hits above its weight, too, as I discovered.

It looks very attractive in the bottle and equally so in the glass: a pale, softly-textured amber.

On the nose I enjoyed a much more assertive initial introduction than The Original was prepared to give me: sharply and thickly floral and fruity. The distillery is on the Dornoch Firth, but this was the first time I was able to detect any geographical influence in the whisky. There is a light line of quite salty peat that rises from the lowest notes to the highest. There is also a sweet, soft and gentle bonfire smokiness that I seriously liked. The malt is perfumy, but also puts me in mind of a plain sponge that has been kept in the cupboard, in a Tupperware box, for a few days. The Sherry lends walnuts and almonds as well as fruitiness to the aroma, and this in turn provides heat. It is very, very good.

That "warmth and passion" is preserved with a drop of water, while the rest of the nose becomes softer and much sweeter. The salty peat smoke has remained, too. At the very centre is a soft, squishy "ball" of Sherry currants. Pecans replace the almonds and the shells of the walnuts emerge. The malt is quite a separate flavour and caramel-like. There is still an intense floral presence. The whole arrangement is medium to heavy with iced carrot cake and a lovely heathery accent. A quick swirl evokes more of the sweet, light and zesty Sherry.

The body is soft, round, clean and smooth.

Maltiness is very prevalent on the palate and it exhibits a quality noticed last year - that of the malt and Sherry intermingling like the stripes on a barber's pole - never quite meshed together but tied to each other. The Sherry oozes on top while the malt shimmies below. There is also a fantastic smoke note and the whole taste is very cake-like with a gentle richness and perfect (note that) sweetness.

The ethos behind the amlt is maintained right to the finish which is long and warm. Pecan pie is a gorgeous addition as is the vanilla note. Peat and salt book-end it all and a lush grassiness ushers the flavours out.

Having got to the "next phase" I was better able to appreciate this malt and the supreme quality behind it. I also gave it a new score of "67" which makes quite a difference in my eyes. It would now be the final act of cruelty not to look again at The Original.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Auchentoshan Three Wood 43% Dram #22

Stood in the warehouse,
The air was awash with wood.
This informed the dram.

My second distillery visit could not have been more different to my first, at least from the point of view of attitude. Almost a year had passed since The Glenlivet when my family and I pulled into the gorgeous premises of Auchentoshan and if all you had to go on was how excited I was, you would not have supposed a person legally old enough to be there. In the previous year, I had immersed myself in as much whisky theory as I could find (or order from the WH Smiths' book department) for the purposes of filling in the crevasse of ignorance opened up after The Glenlivet had hard-wired this passion. At last I had the chance to combine that theoretical knowledge with a practical demonstration of whisky production, every facet of which I had grown keenly enchanted by.

We had booked a more in-depth tour of a greater duration, with added detail and drams. From leaving the car to re-entering it a couple of hours later, my sense of smell was stimulated almost beyond endurance, as the aroma of manipulated barley (as opposed to descriptors of it) comprised a heavenly percentage of the air I breathed. Jenny, our guide, led us from the mash tun, to the washbacks, to the stills, and finally to the warehouse, the prevailing nasal orgy altering in character at each stage.

One thing that has abided with me since my single malt induction in an autumnal Glenlivet was the smell of the dunnage warehouse as oak and malt went about gaining an understanding of one another. At Auchentoshan, the atmospheric ambrosia was not quite as awesome for the door remained open to the fresh air throughout the day, but even so I was not disappointed by the sensuous, calming and significant fragrance. Appropriately for a whisky matured in, yep, three woods, it was here that we were given a sample of today's post. It was my favourite out of the three we had hitherto been plied with on our tour, following on from the Classic in the mash tun room and the 18-year-old in the washback room. I was getting a good idea of distillery character as once again I was enveloped by toffee maltiness and a light, rich sweetness like fresh chocolate brownies. This became my anniversary bottle - what I purchased to mark my first full year of malt infatuation.

ORIGINAL TASTING NOTE, TASTED 23/11/08: COLOUR - Deep, syrupy bronze. A gloopy-sweet fire. NOSE - WoW - Very light. Lemony and fresh. The rich Sherry wades in. Is it the Pedro Ximenez all dark and thick in the background? Raisins full of booze. WW - Fills it out. Better. More of the cake and the fruit. Richly layered but light. BODY - Very smooth. Slippery yet somehow the richness is matte. PALATE - Warm and sweet malt. Delicate. Moist. Very complex. Fruit cake. Cherries. Ginger and cinnamon. Gorgeous. FINISH - Long, fruity. Sweet Sherry nuttiness. Glycerine icing sugar sweetness all around. Chocolate box.

It's a stunning hue, isn't it? This deep autumnal orange was only the second to be awarded full marks in the days when I still scored whiskies on an aggregate basis for Colour, Nose, Body, Palate and Finish.

The nose is completely delightful with a light smooth maltiness closely underpinned by the Sherry. Auchentoshan air-dries their malt but in this dram's richness there is almost a smokiness - at the very least genuine warmth. The Sherry itself is thick and rich with the mightily dark and flavoursome Pedro Ximenez squatting in the background. There is a brittle, shattering vegetal note that attacks the nose in a simialr way to one of the elements in the 18-year-old. Perhaps it is just all that wood. It is also fudgy with jelly sweets.

A little water lightens the aroma still further, presenting a more rounded lemoniness. Then there is the signature sweet demerara sugar malt. The Sherry is more restrained but thickened. Custard creams are suggested as well as hot buttered toast.

The body of the whisky is also smooth and light, qualities that extend to the palate. The mouthfeel of the satiny malt is superb, bedded on Sherry blankets. Almonds and orange zest appear.

I would describe the finish as convivial with a greater Sherry emphasis. It is very long and fruity with citrus notes reminding me of when I tasted the undistilled wash. There is a touch of fine chocolate and sticky, moist fruit cake. Smelling the empty glass provides still more pleasure.

It has never, nor can it ever, taste as it did in that warehouse. The inspiration of these places gives rise to a mood that cannot be recreated which is why I have such high hopes for the Gap Year and all of those singular single malts that will each occupy and make theirs a particular time and place.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Glenfarclas 15-year-old 46% Dram #9

Luxurious, eccentric:
Quite a character.

It wasn't exactly love at first sight, but I worked at the relationship.

I had been desperate to try the offerings from this distillery which had always put me in mind of a secret glen: proud and aloof; quietly creating a dram of the first order. Eventually, with the squat, avuncular bottle open in my hand, I was better positioned to pass judgement, not just on the malt, but on my imagination, too. This was a period on my whisky journey where i had to rely heavily on seldon-challenged assumptions.

The original tasting note, tasted 5/7/08: COLOUR - Deep, old gold. Bronzy, peaty water. NOSE - WoW - Huge. Very floral with vanilla, honey and tannins. WW - Changes nature: harsher, fuller and more steely. Treated wood - sharp. More malty as you go down the glass. BODY - Robust, chewy. A heavy-weaight. A hammer's head. PALATE - Big Sherr hit to begin with. A gentle decay into liqueuer chocolates. Chocolate mousse, too. Mandarins, apples and skinned grapes. FINISH - Grape skins appear here, tannins, majorly oaky and lingering.

Taking my chance to propery re-evaluate the Glenfarclas, I was struck (most likely not for the first time) by its beauty. This time around i described the appearance as a strong terracotta orange with gold highlights.

Perhaps so long with so much air to contend with inside the bottle altered the make-up of the whisky slightly, for I wasn't bowled over as I was last year by the full, sweet Sherry woodiness. Then again, perhaps I have tasted other malts that take the Glenfarclas' crown for most extreme Sherry aroma, or I have simply developed the ability to compartmentalise it. Whatever, the first flavour to spring from the glass was that of cleanly assertive cereals under a warm mist of smooth Sherry. I also smelt the richest honey/ beeswax, perhaps worked into the sturdy polished oak note. Higher up in the aroma were ticklish citrus juices. A lovely, delicate sweetness drew me in somewhere between the malt and the fruit. It was a nice place to be. The finest gingerbread men were hinted at, as were semi-wild flowers. The balance and depth of character was extraordinary.

The personality shift that I had come to marvel at in the past when water was introduced did not occur to the same degree. Instead of noting the sharpness of treated wood, I felt the malt became sweeter and breezier with a firm ooze of caramel. Given time, the nose I was accustomed to emerged with hot honey and woody tannins. It grew in strength and Sherry was glugged liberally over a foundation of flowers and peat. Toffee maltiness and burnt vanilla lent their sweetness to a stunning and complex nose.

To drink it is to be charmed again by the forceful but agreeable distillery character. The body was full, round and dryish.

Flavour-wise, big and rich maltiness slid about on the syrupy Sherry, orange peel appeared as well as dark bitter chocolate and caramel maltiness. It had a plumy quality, too.

The finish is almost outrageously long with tangerine oakiness. There is a clean breathless tang like cough syrup - the work of the oak that even the 10-year-old exhibits. The younger sibling also has the same tasty leafy character.

And now it's gone! I don't think I shall see its kind for a wee while, at least until I get hold of the 105. I feel I gave it an appropriate send-off, however, re-marking it up to where it ought to perch: proudly in the "70s".