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Ben Nevis, 10yo


The Ben Nevis distillery, now overtaken by the Japanese Nikka distillers, is named after & located at the foot of the highest mountain in Scotland (1334m). For one or other strange reason, Ben Nevis is called the Banana Whisky. My interest in Ben Nevis was sparked by my colluegue Peter B., who refers it as one of the best whiskies ever made, and very difficult to find. However, I had no problem locating it in my favorite dram shop.

The color : dark amber
The nose : orange with chocolate flavors. Some maltiness, then spices are flowing in.
The taste : *Very* malty, quite spiced, bit of pepper. Lots of dark chocolate, the very bitter taste of orange zest. Bit of spice & smoke. Smooth but very firm. Not complex at all, warm.

Where are the bananas ? Probably a referral to the littering of banana peels on the peak of Ben Nevis ?
This whisky has a very strong taste, especially empowered by the malty taste in combination with the bitterness of chocolate and orange. I'm sorry, Peter, too bitter for my cup of tea.

Springbank CV


Temperatures are soaring outside, not really the time for a dram. Or is it ? Some people drink whisky at any season, others prefer a warm fireplace while the rain is pouring outside. Count me in the last group. However, duty calls, so here's a new tasting note. Springbank is the oldest independent distillery in Scotland, and created in Campbeltown. From a traveller's perspective, visiting the Campbeltown area is a small nightmare. One has to make a long trek to the Southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula on the Western coast of Scotland to reach Springbank - or the nearby Glen Scotia distillery. Except for the distilleries, there's not much happening in Campbeltown. And even for the people that want to 'get away from it all' for a few days, Springbank is a fairly poor destination. It's one of the few distilleries that isn't surrounded by the lush Scottish countryside - located in the middle of a busy town.

Springbank CV is an unusual whisky, for several reasons : first, it’s not quite clear what ‘C.V.’ used to mean. Some say ‘Chairman’s Vat – or Vatting’, others ‘Curriculum Vitae’... It contains a blend of different single malts between the age of 8 and 30, therefore presenting a 'taste visiting card' of Springbank. Then, there’s been several versions, notably an earlier ‘white cap’ version that’s the one we’ll have right now, and then a more recent ‘gold cap’ version. Second, it has a quite complex tasting :

Color : *very* pale gold, almost white wine.
Smell: complex. Spirits and grain. Spicy. Adding drops of water emerges a burst of pepper. Is that fruit there hiding in the back ?
Taste : oily, malt and more spices. So much pepper, it makes my mouth tingle ! Tears in me eyes. Again some fruit (lemon ? Pear ?) hiding in the pepper cloud. Lots of other stuff too, like liquorice, peat and some bitterness but almost killed immediately by spice and pepper.

Aaa-choum ! Did I mention the pepper ? This could have been a balanced complex whisky, but unfortunately too spicy for me.

Bowmore, 15yo


In his book, Raw Spirit, Ian Banks writes , "If you can't find a Bowmore to fall in love with, you may have to consider very seriously the possibility that you're wasting your money drinking whisky at all." True words that any whisky apprentice should remember.

I've tasted the Bowmore 12 yo, and I immediately fell in love with it. It was my first Islay whisky I tasted, and it opened the wonderfull world of peat for me. So it has earned a firm place in my favorite top 3 of all whiskies. Time to find out more about Bowmore, so I took the 15yo with me.

Color : deep amber brown.
Smell : like a strong caramel desert with hints of raisins and dark chocolate. Smell indicates an oily taste.
Taste : quite different from the smell, I must say. No oily but quite watery texture. Lovely taste of peat, not too brute but quite gentle. Black berries and after that, the caramel toffee taste pops up again.

Verdict : impressive as usual with Bowmore. However, quite a strong caramel taste - a bit too much for me.

About whisky and ice


One of the fun things about the rising popularity of whisky, is that there are lots of people discovering brands, so you can discuss the whisky tastes with many. The gain in popularity unfortunately also gives rise to many so-called experts. I hate it when someone acts like I just killed a puppy when I add an ice cube to my whisky.

First of all, drinking whisky on-the-rocks is indeed not done : filling your glass with ice cubes to the top, and then adding whisky only leaves you halfway with a dram of cold water tasting like cheap whisky.
However, adding a touch of water to a shot of pure whisky, especially cold still spring water will enhance the aroma and flavour and bring out the whiskies hidden characteristics. It is worth noting that tap water can contain high levels chlorine and would spoil rather than complement your whisky, if this is the case with your tap water it is best avoided.

Adding one ice cube cools down the whisky, so the alcohol doesn't evaporate so quickly and doesn't leave you gasping for air when you take a large sip. Don't add more than one or two cubes (depending on the size of your dram) : adding too much ice will freeze the taste, and your tongue will be numbed too much by the coldness of the ice.

There is no art of drinking whisky. There is no heresy in adding stuff to a dram. There's only your favorite taste, and some evident facts on how whisky reacts to additives. Just try to experiment on your favorite way of having a drink. But do try once to have a shot of pure whisky. You will be amazed how different the taste will be.

Glenmorangie, Madeira wood finish


When a whisky gets 'finished', it means that it gets transferred from its first cask to wooden barrels, mostly ex-bourbon barrels to mature during a large amount of time. Traditionally, the type of barrel is always the same, but during the last decade, some distilleries have experimented with other wood finishes in order to get new taste into their whiskies. While I applaud this creativity, I sometimes get the impression that many non-conventional wood finishes are just marketing tricks in order to boost the price up and create a false sense of whisky collector items.

The folks at Glenmorangie are seen as pioneers of the 'wood finish' trend that has come to the world of whisky over the past decade. This is part of the old wood finishes range (burgundy, madeira, port, sherry) that has been replaced in recent months by a new trio of finishes. Port is now called "Quinta Ruban", sherry finish is "Lasanta", and a Sauternes finish called "Nectar d'Or". I got my hands on an older Madeira wood finish; I like Glemorangie, and the Madeira sweet taste blended into the light Glenmorangie seemed an interesting combination. The price was awesomely high, but probably because spanish oak casks that once held madeira are about 10 times more expensive that bourbon casks and still significantly more expensive than wine or wine spirit casks.

Smell : starts interesting with an explosion of caramel, chocolate, apricot and raisins.
Taste : what a disappointment. All the subtleties of Glenmorangie are blown away by the crude taste of Madeira wine. It just tastes like someone mixed a gallon of port wine with some whisky blend, and nothing more. Alcohol exploding in the mouth and leaving you gasping for air. Awefull lot of pepper in the aftertaste.

Sadly, this combination doesn't work (for me). The Madeira finish takes away the mild whisky taste, and is so unexpected, as if you suddenly get smacked in the face by a 10 year old schoolgirl.


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