A venerable Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965) 47.8%

One of the best things about a good Whisky Festival or very well stocked bar is an opportunity to try something that ordinarily you would never be able to buy on your own… That is exactly why at Berlin’s  Union Jack we shared a very clear brief – we wanted to end our evening with something truly exceptional and rare. Our preference was a discontinued distillery – something that we would otherwise never ever have a chance to experience….

My tasting companion mentioned interest in a Port Ellen however we were open to anything. Our whisky guide for the evening consulted the Union Jack owner and came up with a remarkable short-list: Rosebank 25 year, Glen Ord 1975, Brora 27 year (2015), Macallan-Glenlivet 1968/1983 (Berry Bros)… to which we also added the Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965), which my eye had spotted as soon as we walked in the door… A light sniff of each bottle made the choice very clear…

Obviously you can tell which one we selected!

We had earlier discussed the Glenglassaugh distillery and how challenging it is to have stock of remarkable old vintage whiskies produced before its closure vs a young upstart that was – frankly speaking – initially bottled before it was ready. I shared how malt maniac Krishna Nakula was so enthusiastic about the “old” and had once shared a sample of the “new” make spirit from the re-start.

For those not familiar, Glenglassaugh followed the path of many a Scottish distillery. Founded in 1875 until its closure in 1986. It was re-opened in 2008 and had a wee bit of a rocky re-start however understand it is getting its game together and was joined a few years ago by master blender Rachel Barrie.

However enough pre-amble… what matters most is what we discovered!

Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965) 47.8% (Murray McDavid Mission) Bottle 084/411

  • Nose – Simply superb, berries mashed and fresh, nuanced, like an Eaton mess – full of crunchy mirage, berries and cream, an antique quality opening up further to reveal a hint of coffee richness, a fruity compote, red liquorice, red candies
  • Palate – Exquisite, soft yet big, silky smooth, full flavoured yet elegant, more of that hint of coffee, so balanced with a curl of smoke sneaking up from behind, chocolate coffee cream
  • Finish – Gorgeous – such a long fruity fabulous finish

Having the great fortune of sampling a few venerable, I was poised for something a bit shy… instead this was an absolute delight. Classic and yet still full and flavourful, not a single off note instead it was pure indulgence.

There was such sophistication – from bursting berries to that hint of smoke… it was simply outstanding and well worth choosing as our grand finale.

What more do we know? The label shares it was matured in Sherry and Rivesaltes Casks. I’ll admit I had to look up “Rivesaltes” to find it is a sweet wine made from red or white grapes from the Languedoc region of France. Like sherry, it is a fortified wine of which there are several variations using Grenache, Muscat, Malvoisie with styles ranging from amber, garnet, tuilé or rosé. I will certainly keep my eye out for “Rivesaltes” in future as it clearly did great things for this particular whisky along with the Sherry cask.

The best quote of the evening came from our guide?

“I just cry that they don’t make whisky like this anymore.”

To put into perspective, the average value of this bottle in auctions is approx € 1755 though likely impossible to find now. As for us? It set us back a hefty EUR 80 for a glass however we both felt privileged to have had an opportunity to try.

Before this “penultimate” dram, we had  explored three sets of “pairings” which included:

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Dynamic Duo 3 – SMWS Glenlossie 21 year vs Glenfarclas 21 year

For our last “pairing”, our guide selected two from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society – both 21 year and both cask strength. The idea this time was to play with different finishes – red wine vs PX sherry. Without further adieu – what did we think?

Scotch Malt Whisky Society 46.74 “Orchard perambulations” 21 year (18 September 1997) 54.4%

  • Nose – Mmm…. red currents and strawberries, a nice jammy mash, sour citrus cherries, wood, cinnamon, light liquorice, fresh cut bamboo, coconut and sweet hay
  • Palate – Intense flavours, tart enough to prompt puckering up, spice and berry burst, peat, very dry… as the aromas opened up the palate did too… revealing milky chocolate, creamy caramel… simply beautiful rolling around in your mouth
  • Finish – Long, subtle and really quite fabulous

Quite interesting, particularly as it opened up. One that is well worth trying with none of the tannins one sometimes finds with slightly ‘off notes’ in red wine cask matured whiskies. Instead just sit back, relax and enjoy the rather marvellous malty experience.

As for the folks at SMWS, what do they have to say?

Sweet warm fruits and creamy textures give way to darker fruit compotes, spices, nectars and wood resins. Previously in a bourbon hogshead.

What more do we know? As the label shares, it was matured in a 1st fill barrique / ex red wine with 245 bottles. Unlike some red wine matured whiskies… this one worked!

As for the distillery, it is an open secret that 46 = Glenlossie, in east Speyside. You won’t find official bottlings aside from a Diageo “Flora and Fauna” offering. In truth, it is actually two distilleries – Glenlossie and Mannochmore – a distillery we’ve increasingly started to appreciate more and more.

Scotch Malt Whisky Society 1.208 “Long Conversations by the crackling log fire” 21 year (5 March 1997) 54.3%

  • Nose – Mmmm… a lovely classic dry Sherry, robust, sweet, intense, a dash of spice with a nice nuttiness… fabulous
  • Palate – Just no comparison. Again – quite a marvel, sweet, tart, spice with a full burst of rich Sherry flavours – a proper sherry bomb! Well-rounded, rich, delicious, joined by orange marmalade with sweet spices of cloves, cinnamon
  • Finish – A peppery finish – specifically red cayenne or fresh paprika

The label shares that this whisky was matured in 1st fill hogshead / ex PX with 234 bottles.

What do the SMWS have to say?

Salted plums and cherry chilli liquorice, whilst diluted: tobacco and spiced oven dried orange cloves. previously in an ex-bourbon hogshead.

As for the distillery? Again it is relatively well known that the 1st SMWS distillery offering is none other than the family owned Glenfarclas.

This was the last of our “pairings” from our evening at The Union Jack before a complete indulgence!

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Dynamic Duo 2 – Bunnahabhain 25 year vs Tobermory 20 year

For our next dynamic duo, we went to independent bottlers – both new to me! From what little I could find, both seem to be German based… and were chosen by our whisky guide to contrast and compare drams in their 20s from Islay and Island.

Now I must admit, I’ve had a mixed relationship with Bunnahabhain – particularly their older whiskies which haven’t always lived up to expectations. However I’m always game to be be pleasantly surprised!

Bunnahabhain 25 years Single Cask (2016) 47.7% (Wiebers Brothers)

  • Nose – Citrus, hay, honey and yoghurt, very light toffee, milky and a bit shy, mineral, musty
  • Palate – Surprisingly light and effervescent, then took a slight odd turn – was that sweet pickles?? Followed by some cayenne pepper, tangy, more of that mineral quality, a tough vegetal
  • Finish – Verbena and cayenne

This definitely fit into the category of “ya gotta work it”… what was interesting is how the empty glass held more aromas than when it held liquid.

I still haven’t been able to find any details on Wiebers Brothers with this having a mere 120 bottles. We aren’t sure when the bottle was originally opened however it is possible it was for some time or not… one never knows the impact of oxidation on a whisky’s character.

Tobermory 20 years (1996/2016) 58.8% (The Alambic Classique Collection)

  • Nose – Lemon balm, beeswax, fresh, sweet grass, honey, fresh raw cashew nut… it began evolving becoming fruitier
  • Palate – Quite a contrast to the aromas! Sweet spices, pink and white peppercorns, lots of character without heat, beautiful and well rounded, light cinnamon
  • Finish – Wonderful! The flavours just carry on and on and on….

Once upon a time, we discovered “mouth breathing” whisky – where you take a good waft of aromas then swig and then breath, seeing what the whisky has to say. In this case, it was like having a lovely aromatic hookah.

Some whiskies are all the nose with the palate a pale shadow, others are the reverse. That would be the case here – an absolute stunner on the palate – really outstanding. This is also one of those drams where just a little goes a very long way – particularly with that remarkable finish. A true class act.

Alambic Classique has been an importer and wholesaler of specialty spirits since 1981, and is also an independent bottler for rare and exclusive single malt whiskeys from Scotland. Our bottle was from their Special Vintage Selection – cask strength, uncolored and not chill-filtered.

What more do we know about this one? It a bourbon barrel from a single cask with 247 bottles.

If you haven’t already gathered so far  – the Tobermory was for us the clear winner!

What else did we explore that evening at The Union Jack in Berlin?

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Dynamic Duo 1 – Benromach vs Cragganmore

It has been nearly three years since I first traveled to Berlin – one of those “live wire” global cities that has a palpable pulse of its own. A fellow whisky explorer let me know he was coming from London for the weekend so it made a perfect excuse to pop over for the weekend.

We went to the very well stocked Union Jack whisky bar! Turns out we were lucky to go on a Saturday – one of the two days in a week they are now open.

We were very well taken care of with carefully thought through choices. Our mandate was clear… we wanted to explore – two at a time til the grand finale of something utterly indulgent and extremely rare.

We wanted to start with an “appetizer” duolll something to ease into the evening. Our guide recommended

The thinking was to match to interesting yet ‘lighter’ options to whet our appetites. Particularly with the Cragganmore, we were assured this Distillers Edition is like none other and well worth trying. As for Benromach, we’ve enjoyed many a solid dram from this distillery.

So what did we think?

Cragganmore Distillers Edition (2008/2020) D6572 40%

  • Nose – Dried fruit, light spice with a woody musty malty aroma, mixed with the sweetness was a salty sour caramel. As it opened up further, it revealed orange marmalade with a citrus twist… and with even more time honeysuckle and a touch of hay
  • Palate – A nice spice, more whisky marmalade, woodiness…even resin, sweet spices of clove and black pepper, oily
  • Finish – More of that light spice, dry in a way that prompts you to ‘pucker up’ chased by oak and a touch of sweetness

It had a nice understated quality…. as for the marmalade? It was a distinctly “whisky” marmalade… which worked rather well. There was also much more body than the aromas would have suggested.

Overall it was an enjoyable start and much more interesting that we expected – particularly at a mere 40%.

Benromach 15 year 43%

  • Nose – Citrus oranges and calvados then a bit “woodsy” and beeswax polish, a dash of ginger and then…. after the 1st sip – wow peat?! Like having sweet roasted marshmallows crisped on a campfire, then sour cherries and a hint of sherry
  • Palate – Silky smooth with a lovely peat, elegant and balanced with toffee sweetness and fruity, hint of chocolate
  • Finish – A lovely long finish, truly lovely

Carrying on from the Cragganmore to the Benromach was a good choice! It was like shifting into an antique – it was like opening a lovely 1930 Art Deco cupboard to discover a special treat.

What else do we know? It was matured in 1st fill bourbon and sherry casks. An official bottling that is currently still available.

What do the folks at Benromach have to say?

  • Colour – dark amber
  • Aroma – Aromas of sweet toffee leading to notes of cracked black pepper and peat smoke. Rich forest fruits develop with dark chocolate and dried banana.
  • Palate – Creamy and sweet with ripe apples and an undertone of charred oak. Dark chocolate develops and leads to toasted malt and orange peel with a subtle hint of smoke.
  • Finish – Medium creamy finish with soft smoke and dried fruit

No doubt for us – the Benromach was the winner! What a treat!

If you were curious to try, they are both still available with the Cragganmore currently retailing for approx EUR 53 and the Benromach 15 for approx EUR 70.

As for what next? We had a few more to come…

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Chorlton – Croftengea 13 year 53.9%

So there we were, one fine evening in Paris with two beautiful bottles from Chorlton‘s  La Nouvelle Vague series…  We began with the superb Orkney that surprised us with its lush complex character. We then turned to the Croftnegea…

If you aren’t immediately familiar with Croftnegea, perhaps you have heard for Loch Lomond? Just in this case it is the brand for their heavily peated version… much like Glenturret is also known as Ruadh Maor

It was with this heavy peat expectation that I had thought to try this after the Highland Park “Orkney”. However what we discovered was quite the opposite!

As for the whisky…. read on…

Croftengea 13 years 53.9% 231 bottles

  • Colour – Bright gold
  • Nose – Pear, ripe bananas, caramel, a bit of spice, cough syrup, malty, after the 1st sip, the aromas shifted to a delightful lemon meringue pie, strawberries, subtle spice and honey
  • Palate – Buttery sweet brioche, then citrusy with light peat at the end
  • Finish – Lingers, wonderful
  • Water – Made it even more accessible and very yummy, more fresh sweet bread, lemon curd

There was such a contrast between the aromas and palate, quite dynamic on the nose and subtle yet lovely on the palate.

We set it aside and revisited comparing the glass without water which had become perfumed and sweet, citrus and sugar. The one with the water was fruitier with the peat a bit more pronounced, cinnamon mini donut, Christmas market!

What did David have to say?

Peated single malt from Captain Haddock’s favourite distillery! This one starts on a sweet note, with banana milkshake, Milky Bars and a funky sort of fruitiness on the nose. The palate starts with fudgy chocolate, soft ginger and mango, before the peat makes itself felt with light smoke and a hit of black olive saltiness. This is a hugely fun whisky, and enjoyably weird around the edges.

I purchased this in December 2020 for £62.50 plus tax and courier charges. And I am sooooooo glad I managed to grab this while it was still available!

Here is are two more from La Nouvelle Vague series:

Here is the full set of Chorlton‘s sampled til date from the L’Ancien Régime series:

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Chorlton – Orkney 15 year 57.1%

This is my 2nd Chorlton from the La Nouvelle Vague series… I’ll admit that I had high expectations however this one blew us away!

While the distillery is not explicitly named, considering there are only two distilleries on Orkney Island with quite different characters, and David mentions it is the more famous of the two, it will clearly be Highland Park rather than Scapa.

As for the whisky…. read on…

Orkney 15 years 57.1% 121 bottles

  • Colour – Deep copper
  • Nose – Smoked pork? Wow! What an active aroma – jumping all over the place in an amazingly powerful way the sweet smoke was initially predominant but not alone. From strawberries to cherries, hibiscus with a bouquet of flowers, citrus then shifted to red berries or French sweet red currents, a gorgeous dessert, underlaid with old wood, dark bitter chocolate, nutty, treacle and ham
  • Palate – Fabulous! Sweet, peat, generous berries, bitter coffee, absolutely flavour packed with so many layers, complex… all on the 1st sip. As we went in for our second sip, it was meaty, spicy, some french toast drowning in maple syrup, buttered brioche, caramelized banana, honeyed ham
  • Finish – Long and strong, phenomenal, with a rich mocha coffee initially which then also morphed from coffee and chocolate to cherry
  • Water – Needed? No. However is it also brilliant with water too? Yes. We found it was even more chocolatey

Even before opening, we started speculating about the cask given its incredibly dark hue and a mere 121 bottles from a hogshead barrel which typically would produce more than double!  And then we cracked it open and were amazed at the promise shown just from the cork alone – strawberries and bubblegum!

Then to have the kaleidoscope of aromas then richly complex palate and stellar finish? We were floored. Our experience went well beyond any expectation and was decidedly different than recent brushes with Highand Park.

When we set it aside and revisited it was equally enjoyable. This time with a new briney seaside quality we missed in our earlier exploration. It is clearly a whisky to savour and enjoy – over and over!What did David have to say?

This whisky (from the more famous of the two Orkney distilleries) has been matured in a very active cask, giving it the sort of hue you might expect from first-fill bourbon. The nose has waxy citrus, sea water and sticky cherry-flavour cough syrup alongside a lightly fragrant peat smoke. The palate is oily and chewy, with stewed red berries, smouldering wood, rose petals, herbal pastilles and a long coastal finish.

I purchased this in December 2020 for £75 plus tax and courier charges, back when it was still possible to get whiskies directly from the UK.

Here are two more from the La Nouvelle Vague series:

Plus the Chorlton‘s sampled til date from the L’Ancien Régime series:

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Arran Quarter Cask The Bothy Cask Strength 56.2%

Nearly a year ago I was in Scotland and one of the few distilleries I had the pleasure of visiting was Lochranza on Isle of Arran. It was a fabulous day trip with friends and well worth doing.

One whisky I tried there was their no age statement Quarter Cask – and absolutely loved it! However as I could only walk away with one bottle for Mumbai, chose one that was only available at the distillery – the gorgeous rich and intense 23 year old cask strength.

A few months later, I bought the Quarter Cask online in Germany with plans to bring it to India during my summer trip as a way to ’round out’ a no-age-statement trio – joining bottles of the Lochranza Estate and Port Finish already patiently waiting for a tasting session in my Mumbai whisky cabinet.

And then summer came with no chance of a trip home in sight, I decided to open this bottle and simply enjoy! Naturally sharing samples with my Whisky Ladies in Paris.

Whilst we had minis of the Arran vertical 14, 18, and 23-year-olds plus the Port finish, I chose to dive into this one as an appetizer before the mighty Chorlton cask strength Orkney and Loch Lomond.

So what did we think?

Arran Quarter Cask The Bothy Cask Strength 56.2%

  • Nose – Mmmm….. vanilla, sweet sponge cake, Barbados rum, fruity, honey caramelized nuts which then flipped through a combination of blanched white almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, coconut, back to honey, vanilla, pineapple upside-down cake, milk chocolate
  • Palate – A wonderful warming spice, nicely well-rounded, a much more “solid” character than anticipated from the dessert-like aromas, approachable yet with substance, oily, a touch of dark bitter chocolate, nutmeg – rich without being heavy, lightly fruity
  • Finish – Lingers with pineapple and honey, lovely and long
  • Water – While we didn’t think it needed, decided to try – and you should! It brought out buttery sweet brioche on the nose, reduced the nuttiness, amping up the fruitness, bringing out on the palate a citrus twist and orange marmalade without compromising the delicious finish

We loved it! The nose was so inviting and delicious, the palate is marvellously well balanced and the finish long and rewarding. What isn’t there to enjoy?

We set it aside for a revisit and was greeted by a delightful perfume on the nose, fabulous flavours on the palate – which much more citrus than we initially found. Loved it!

What do the folks at Arran have to say?

Our Quarter Cask expression is a complex, rich and intensely fruity Single Malt, a cask strength delight and the perfect partner to our Sherry Cask Single Malt!

The Arran Single Malt selected for this cask strength expression was initially matured in first-fill ex-Bourbon barrels for 7 years before being transferred for secondary maturation into smaller Quarter casks also made of the finest American oak for a further 2 years. The process of transferring our whisky into the smaller 125 litre sized casks for their final 2 years of maturation produces far greater contact between the whisky & oak and a faster, more intense maturation.

The end result is a full-bodied expression of Arran Single Malt combining power and finesse full of rich vanilla sweetness and bold peppery spice. Bottling at natural Cask Strength without chill-filtration or artificial colouring of any sort presents this whisky in its purest form. Small casks would have been a common feature of the Arran whisky trade in the eighteenth & nineteenth centuries as they were easier to handle and transport around the island. With our much-loved Quarter Cask expression we proudly bring this tradition back to life.

Official distillery tasting notes:

  • Nose – Apple tart, pineapple brioche
  • Palate – The citrus hallmarks of Arran welcome you, and the sweet spice of cinnamon and vanilla promises a memorable dram.
  • Finish – Sweetness, Honey, Pineapple, Vanilla, Coconut.

To be honest, we didn’t read the official tasting notes however clearly we would completely agree!

This expression is available from the distillery for GBP 50 and I bought it in Germany for EUR 53.56.

Ad arran quarter cask bottle box product detail rebrand

What else have we recently tried from Arran?

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Chorlton’s La Nouvelle Vague picking up from L’Ancien Régime

Ah… Chorlton… it has fast become a favourite independent bottler with their beautiful whiskies with even more beautiful labels.

In 2020, David came out with a new series – La Nouvelle Vague – and I simply could not resist! While I haven’t acquired all, I am a proud owner of this trio! So far we’ve only sampled the first… and I couldn’t wait to crack open the next two… bringing the full bottles with me on a trip to Paris to share!

Alas since I got my hands on the Croftnegea and Orkney, Brexit has complicated things considerably and I suspect future Chorlton acquisitions may be quite challenging.

Here are all the Chorlton‘s sampled till date from the L’Ancien Régime series… both with the Whisky Ladies European chapter and earlier in Mumbai with our original tasting group…

  • Miltonduff 9 year 58.3% – Creamy dessert with fruits, breakfast cereals… in short delicious!
  • Orkney 9 year 63.1% – Copper, minerals, salted caramel, and smoke, all beautifully balanced
  • Ruadh Maor 8 year 62.5% (aka Glenturret) – Seasoned meats and fried snacks…. a chameleon quality that evolved differently in each glass

Each one has been unique and interesting in its own way… Slainte!

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Arran Duo – Quarter Cask and Port Finish

Back at the start of 2021 I was in Mumbai, rebottling whiskies into miniatures for tasting in India and to bring some back to Europe. The Campbeltown and Arran sets were dutifully dispatched early February to Paris and we dove into the Campbeltown ones almost right away!

As for the Arran trio? Let’s just say we got distracted with all the other whiskies we had accumulated or had wandered their way to us!

So when I decided to “pop” over to Paris, I decided to augment the trio already with my fellow “Euro Whisky Ladies” with another duo…. this time bringing the additional drams by hand.

So what was in the original Lochranza vertical?

And what did I add to augment it?

Tasting notes for The Bothy are from this summer however the Port is from a few years ago. We haven’t yet revisited it, though no doubt will soon enough. It may be some time before we slowly but surely work our way through a few sets before the Arran drams. Ahh… a problem of plenty is not really a problem at all!

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The Belgian Owl – Intense 72.7%

I am pretty sure that The Belgian Owl Intense has to be the strongest whisky I’ve ever had – by alcohol strength that is! Most distilleries will reduce the new make spirit by adding water before maturing in barrels – hence even in younger cask strength whiskies we see ABV hovering around the 60%s or less. Not so with Belgium Owl who have bottled at a whopping 72.7%! What did we think of the whisky?

The Belgian Owl Intense 40 months, first fill bourbon, single cask 1538452 72.7% Bottle 177

  • Colour – Bright gold
  • Aroma – We initially thought of a dusty attic, very different. Nutty, resins, as it opened up, becoming increasingly pleasant, sweetly vanilla, a floral perfume, toffee, strawberries, Victoria sponge cake, cream, pure desert, really interesting and inviting. It kept shifting – from desert to sweet grass and honey, back to cinnamon, then caramelized bananas
  • Palate – Salty buttery caramel, cinnamon, chocolate milk, toffee, vanilla, bananas
  • Finish – Initial burn, then very sweet soft caramels
  • Water – While surprisingly smooth without water, it is even better with – bringing out a buttery cinnamon roll… over time there was almost a “perfume” on the palate

Had we sampled this “blind”, I highly doubt anyone would have guessed the ABV. It was way too delicious with different dimensions and not at all harsh. In many ways this was the most interesting of the quintet – bursting with character yet surprisingly not overwhelming.

What do the folks at The Belgian Owl have to say?

The Belgian Owl Intense is a single cask whisky stored at its degree of ageing, specifically selected by Etienne Bouillon. Each cask is unique and unveils its own character. We would like to promote some of these casks, we are sure you will be delighted.

The choice of bottling at cask strength is a completely natural choice for us. We can offer you a tasting as if you were here with us, in our whisky storehouse, undiluted, straight from the cask. This sensation is intense and unforgettable. We hope that these emotions will accompany you wherever you are.

Overall when we considered the five different whiskies in our The Belgian Owl quintet, we thought:

  • Trying the spirit with Origine provided interesting insights into the underlying qualities
  • Their flagship Identité at only 3 years is friendly with delicious aromas
  • For us, the 3-year single cask Passion was the only disappointment, coming across as a bit unbalanced and ‘not quite there’ the way Identite nailed it… and curiously lacking “passion”
  • When we first tried the 4-year Evolution, we loved how it was a clear step forward from Identite, building on what we appreciated with the added maturity really augmenting the experience on the palate in particular
  • And with Intense? Remarkable! At 72.7% we thought it would be too intense – not at all!

This set was kindly provided by The Belgian Owl – to me in Germany, my tasting companions in Paris and hopefully soon by folks in India too. However, the views here are our own.

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Additionally, there are the two ‘off-shoots’ with: