Pros: Excellent smoke and peat interplay for a fabulous flavor.
If you have read some of my other whisky reviews, you may be thinking, "hey, didn't he declare Highland Park 18 yo was the best single malt whisky?" Well, yes I did and there is no contradiction in relation to the title of this review because that Highland Park review concerns 18 year old single malts and the title of this review concerns "Islay" single malt scotch. Highland Park is not an Islay whisky.
Islay whisky is made only on the island of Islay, Scotland. It is characterized by a strong or dominant peat flavor profile. Lagavulin, Ardbeg and Laphroaig are the three most famous single malts distilleries from this Island. There are a few others, but in any event, I am of the opinion that Lagavulin is the finest of them all.
When I first started drinking scotch I did not like anything peaty. I prefered sugary sweet or honeyed scotches like Famous Grouse. However, over time my tastes have matured and now I have grown to appreciate the peat component of scotch whisky to the point that I actually am a fan of an Islay single malt scotch, namely Lagavulin.This love affair with Lagavulin started this evening. While I had started to enjoy more peat flavors in my blended scotch, I had not found a single malt that I could say I enjoyed. Well, all that changed this evening. I am currently in Prince Edward Island for some meetings. So, I drove four hours, had a little dinner and went to a very lame social mixer. Left that promptly with a couple of friends in tow and headed to the club house bar (the resort has three golf courses!). So, we are sitting at the bar and I am surveying the collection of liquor bottles in pyramid formation against a mirrored wall, and not seeing much in the way of scotch except for three bottles, Glenfiddich 12 year old, a bottle of Cragganmore and Lagavulin. Well, I had the Glenfiddich a million times in the past, and as for the Cragganmore, I was seriously considering it when I started thinking about the Lagavulin.
Lagavulin is one of those single malt scotches that I read about on whisky blogs that scotch aficionados go on about. Basically people who know their scotch, really praise this one. So, having that brain wave wash over my strong body, but weak in spirit, I pointed to the Lagavulin and told the bartender to pour me a double. (A single is simply not enough needed in order to formulate a tasting note, which by the way, I feverishly scratched out between snorts of this heavenly stuff).
I nosed it at first and was surprised at how sophisticated and refined the smoke, peat and spice (I'm thinking nutmeg). Nosing this, I knew immediately that I was in for a treat. Nothing on the nose threw off a scent of cheap alcohol. Lots of smoke even while I sat. If you walked into the room, you would be searching for the roaring fire of tree branches and peat ("an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter" - according to Wikipedia) producing billowing smoke. Well, there is no fire, just my glass, so why don't you sit down at the bar next to me and my friends and let us go on a wonderful journey.
With some trepidation I take a sip, expecting to be disappointed, as I have been with another famous Islay scotch, Laphroaig. However, there is no disappointment. I take my sip, hold it, rolling it around, the bartender stares at me pensively (probably think how much i will tip him) and contemplate a most wondrous scotch tasting experience. On the palate, a silken liquid of considerable viscosity bathes my palate in a gently sweet wood smoke, moving to mint, peppermint and cool menthol. The liquid is warming. There is no heat, burn or roughness of any kind. Have no fear, you can drink this "neat" (no water or ice need apply to this job!). I also detect some green olive with the red pimento in the centre coming through. Oh, this is glorious stuff. The stuff that dreams are made of. I ask the bartender, tarbender for a napkin and a pen. I have to capture this moment without delay. My friends shake their head. The bartender looks on fearing maybe I am writing a note of complaint to his manager, but oh no, I am writing this very tasting note, documenting what I am picking up on the nose, the palate and of course, the finish!
More smoke baby! This palate of mine is smoking like a Motley Crue stage or Studio 59 at midnight with all the dry ice. Yeah, I am tasting wood smoke, peat, like a nice menthol cigarette, and that sweetness like that first kiss! oh yeah! Follow that with brine and sea salt and I know I have just downed the best damn scotch I have had in a very long time. It lingers too. The finish lingers for quite a while after I down it. This is no cheap two buck chuck finish.
I did not like peated scotch very much prior to tasting this. I associated Islay with heavy peat married with rubbing alcohol. I now stand corrected. Islay scotch can be very enjoyable. I am shocked and in a state of wonderment as to how good this scotch is.There are so many web reviews of this scotch and I do not think any are negative. So much praise comes for good reason. It is expensive but an incredible treat well worth it. My double Lagavulin cost me $17! Well that was the first one. As for the tip, the barman was relieved when he found out I was writing notes for this review on a napkin he supplied.
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© Jason Debly, 2009. All rights reserved.