Ashes to ashes... dust to dust. Fairly early in my Scotch journey, I was strictly a Speyside guy. Glenfiddich and Chivas are where I parked my palate, and I was happy. But, even at that young stage in my wanderings, I was very curious. I had an invitation to go to my first big whiskey event: Whisky Extravaganza down in Miami.
As I started moving from table to table, opening up my eyes to more choices than I could shake a stick at, I got to the Lagavulin table. I asked a lot of questions, I held out my Glencairn glass, they poured Lagavulin 16, I sipped, and my palate was absolutely destroyed. I thought I licked the inside of a 1970's American car ashtray and followed it up with a charcoal briquette lozenge. Oh... it was hideous, and I stayed away from peated Scotches for awhile.
Flash forward a bit and I was brave enough to give it another go. I started off with some Highland options (Talisker was a favorite), and then dipped my toe into Islay, and quickly becoming a fan of Ardbeg. But, whenever Lagavulin was offered, I shied away because, well, that disgusting memory would cause my mouth to go dry and pucker.
And then flash forward several more years until, at a local Scotch tasting, Lagavulin 16 was on the menu. My enemy.
Unfortunately, I had two things against me: I now have a public reputation and I was in a public venue with a lot of people who know me. And, those people expect me to #DrinkCurious and not turn anything down. I very much have a love/hate relationship with that philosophy.
So, there was no getting out of this. I was stuck. A friend was pouring and he dumped that Islay devil in my Glencairn...
Ah, before I let the cat out of the bag, there is some product information that needs to be shared. Lagavulin 16 is a single malt that is bottled at 43% ABV. It retails for about $88.99 and is part of the Diageo portfolio. The distillery itself was founded in 1816 and has a storied history. Before the Lagavulin distillery was built, there were many illegal distilleries built on the grounds.
Appearance: In my glass, Lagavulin 16 presented as a brassy, dusky amber. It generated a thin rim and offered long legs that raced back to the pool of liquid sunshine.
Nose: There was no mistaking the aroma: Peat, peat, and more peat. But, with a much more mature nose, I discovered beneath all that peat was brine and sweet caramel. When I inhaled through my lips, it was all vanilla cream.
Palate: My first sip was oily and coating, but not what I could describe as heavy. The first thing to strike my palate was, not surprisingly, peat and ash. Like my nose, my palate has matured and developed and I've grown to appreciate peat. And, the best description I can use to describe what I tasted was coffee ice cream. The coffee and vanilla were thick. Below those, I found brine and seaweed.
Finish: I found it was very long, smoky and oaky. But, punching through that was a tasty caramel, chocolate, and toffee mixture similar to a Heath bar.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: As I've proven to myself time and time again, always come back to revisit things you don't like. And, don't have it take years for that to happen. I've made this mistake time and time again and I often wind up kicking myself for it. Lagavulin 16 was godawful - years ago on my then very immature palate. That's all changed. I'm in love with this Islay devil and if you have a fondness for peat, I believe you will, too. This gets an easy Bottle rating. Cheers!
My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System:
- Bottle = Buy it
- Bar = Try it first
- Bust = Leave it