Lagavulin 16

Maker: Lagavulin, Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, Argyll, Scotland (Diageo)

Age: 16 y/o

Region: Islay (“eye-luh” or something like that)

ABV: 43%

Appearance: Old gold with an oddly pinkish hue from some angles. Pearl necklace with itsy-bitsy pearls.

Nose: Alcohol, peat, cigarette smoke, citron, almond extract.

On the palate: Good, fairly heavy body. Complex, but not busy. Sweet and citrusy (lemon and orange) at first, then an intense, smoky burn. Like eating a slice of lemon meringue pie at the counter of a diner next to someone smoking top shelf, unfiltered cigarettes. And maybe a guy who had just finished smoking pot is on the other side.

Finish: big and smoky. Burn with lots of smoke. Still some tobacco notes, but mostly like a campfire an hour or less away from burning out.

Parting Words: When I first opened this bottle, I was taken aback. On first sniff, I thought the was the best single malt Scotch I had ever encountered, at least the best Islay malt. That opinion hasn’t changed, but I’ve been able to overcome my awe and focus on what’s actually going on. Compared to Laphroaig and Ardbeg, Lagavulin is more balanced. Its balance should not be mistaken for mildness, however. Lagavulin will never be mistaken for a Speyside malt.

Review: Ardbeg 10

Maker: Ardbeg, Isle of Islay, Scotland (LVMH)

Region: Islay

Age: 10 y/o

ABV: 46%

Appearance: Light gold. On the glass it is clingy and insistent like an insecure lover.

Nose: Brown butter, peat (but no smoke), weak black tea

On the Palate: Full-bodied, more butter, big peat, white chocolate, but lots of sweet malt too.

Finish: The finish is a monster. Big, hot and aggressive, with the long hidden smoke making its appearance.  As the sweetness fade from the palate the smoke and peat and alcohol erupt from the back of the mouth, swirl around the mouth and engulf the tongue, cheeks and lips in a symphony of fire.

Parting words: This was my first bottle of Ardbeg and I have enjoyed it quite a bit. I remain a Scotch novice, but compared to the other Islay malts I’ve tasted so far, I think I would rank this whiskey in the middle of the pack. Not to say this is a mediocre whisky by any stretch, it’s excellent. But at the same price I think I would prefer something from Laphroaig if I had to choose. Luckily, I don’t have to. The buttery peat of Ardbeg is a nice change of pace from the smoldering hearth of Laphroaig.

I am eager to try some of Ardbeg’s NAS offerings. Any recommendations?

Head to Head : The Last Laph, Laphroaigs 15 & 18

1)   15

2) 18

Color

1) Golden yellow

2) Seems slightly darker, but it could be my imagination.

Nose

1) Mildly peaty, a bit of dry smoke, like smoldering embers.

2) Sweetness, spice, peaty freshness

On the palate

1) Full bodied, a little sweetness, peat, smoke, ash

2) Equally full-bodied, luscious sweetness balanced with a tang of peat and a whiff of smoke

Finish

1) Lingering smoke and peat tempered by a delicate sweetness.  Like smoky Mexican hot chocolate.

2) Sweet caramel chocolate toffee, lingering burn, with a touch of smoke that goes right down my throat and then back up and out of my nose.

Parting Words

Both of these malts are really wonderful. The conventional wisdom in the Scotch world, as in the bourbon world, is that old, discontinued expressions (Laphroaig 15 in this case) are superior to the current offerings. But I liked the 18 better. The shocking thing about it is that, here anyway, the 18 y/o is under $80, something that is unheard of for a single malt of this age and quality. So if you see Laphroaig 15, by all means buy it.  Then buy the 18, and by all means drink it!

Review: Laphroaig Quarter Cask

Maker: Laphroaig, Port Ellen, Scotland (Beam Global, Deerfield, Illinois)

Age: NAS (partially aged in a smaller “quarter cask” rather than the standard 53 gallon model in supposed imitation of 19th century whisky)

ABV: 48%

Color: Light amber, dark straw, like a slightly over-the-hill chardonnay

Nose: alcohol, fall bonfires, peat, smoke, saltwater, wildflower honey

On the Palate: With a little bit of water, this really opens up.  The big smoke is still there, but there is a floral, honeyed sweetness lurking beneath.  There is a bit of a beauty and the beast thing going on here.

Finish: Pure Islay delight.  Long, tingly, smokey, peaty bliss.  This is a Scotch that knows what it wants to be and makes no apologies.  Burn, followed by smoke, followed by peat, followed by tobacco.

Parting Words: When I wrote these notes a few months ago, this was the first Islay Scotch I had ever purchased.  I’ve had several others since then, but Quarter Cask holds its own with all of them.  For some reason, there’s always something special about your first love.  Especially a smoky beauty like this one.

Head to Head: Vats Amore!

At my last trip to Binny’s Beverage depot, I picked up my first Blended Malt Scotch from Compass Box.  I had heard and read great things about CB and their products and one of the best reviewed was The Peat Monster.  It’s really great.  It’s a vatted malt whisky, or to use the new term, a blended malt whisky.  Blended malts, like vatted malts before them, are a blend of single malt whiskies.  In the cast of The Peat Monster, very little digging reveals that it’s a blend of single malts from the Caol Ila (cool eye-luh) and Ardmore distilleries.  The Caol Ila (from the island of Islay) brings a lot of smoke and peat to the party, while the Ardmore (from the Scottish Highlands) brings a creamy, elegant sweetness on the back end.

The blend is so well done that I decided to try and make my own peat monster using a peaty whiskey and a softer sweeter whisky.  I blended Laphroaig Quarter Cask (from Islay) and The Macallan 12 y/o (from the Speyside area of the Highlands) at a 1:1 ratio, and then did a head to head with The Peat Monster.  Here are the results!

1)      The Peat Monster

2)      50/50 Laphroaig Quarter Cask/Macallan 12

Color

1)      Pale Straw

2)      Medium Copper

Nose

1)      Peat, hint of smoke, alcohol, butter

2)      Alcohol, caramel, butterscotch, peat, smoke

Palate

1)      Silky, toffee, cinnamon, peat

2)      Creamy, some caramel and malt with a hit of peat and smoke at the end

Finish

1)      Big peaty finish, then burn, and a long one at that

2)      A long burn with lingering smoke and chocolate-covered toffee

Parting Words: I think my vatting held up well!  The Macallan is a single malt that uses sherry butts (barrels) in the aging process so I’m sure that accounted for all the candy notes in my blend.  But overall, The Peat Monster had a balance and sophistication that my own blend lacked.  That’s the hand of a master blender at work.  But it’s still fun to play at home sometimes.