January 25th is Burns Night, which is excuse enough for a moment of whisky appreciation. Today it’s: Lagavulin 16 year old. Perfectly splendid and one of my favourites but what do other people say? There is a whole sub culture of people who write notes, trying to describe the smell, taste, and feel of whiskies. A few are professionals, who have the reputation and ability to make a living from it, most are amateurs, with a blog, pursuing a hobby. So what can they tell us about this whisky?
Reproducing full reviews would be a bit lengthy so I am just going to concentrate on the nose and see what some professionals have said about smelling a glass.
Dave Broom, ‘The World Atlas of Whisky’ is one of my favourite whisky books, which combines lovely, evocative photos and knowledge:
Big, robust and complex. Seriously smoky, pipe tobacco, kiln, beach bonfire, smokehouse all allied to ripe fruitiness. Touch of creosote and lapsang souchong.
Ian Buxton, ‘101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die’ (although I hate the whole ‘before you die’ thing this is a very good guide and well worth looking out):
Intense peat rush, followed by sweet oranges and toffee.
Gavin Smith, from ‘The malt Whisky Yearbook 2014’, a book I like because it concentrates more on the industry than subjective opinions:
Soft and buttery on the nose, with dominant, fruity, peat smoke, grilled fish and a hint of vanilla sweetness. More fresh fruit notes develop with the addition of water.
Dominic Roskrow, also in ‘The Malt Whisky Yearbook:
A monster truck nose with rich smoke.
Apart from smoke, which is a common theme ( and that is fair enough as it could not be avoided) if you didn’t know I don’t think you would be able to tell they were talking about the same thing. That’s the problem with subjective opinions. It like the great quote, which I once thought came from Frank Zappa but now know was from someone I had never heard of called Martin Mull, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
if a lot of whisky writing might be in the form of representational dance I might as well join in and say when I smell Lagavulin I sense an underlying sweetness, sometimes a bit like custard, sometimes fruit beneath the smokey top. I actually get the lapsang souchong more in the finish than on the nose.
From that and the other opinions you get the sense of why whisky is a perfect subject for fleeting pleasures. You get hints of other flavours and smells. They come and go and you are scrambling after, trying to make sense of them.