Tag Archives: whisky

25 Lagavulin

whisky glass

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.


4 – Whisky Needs Time


I expect whisky to feature frequently on this blog. It is the perfect example of a fleeting pleasure.

First you smell it and notice how difficult it is to pin down what you are smelling. It is complex with all sorts of traces and reminders of other things. Often you can’t  place them at first but as you breath in again some become clearer and a few more  smells appear. You can do this for quite a long time. I don’t know if this is a myth, as I can’t find the original source, but I have read read  that Johnny Depp (who is teetotal) has been known to order a glass of Lagavulin just to smell it. If it is not true it ought to be, because it is a very good thing to do. The next stage is of course the tasting but again this should be done slowly – let it roll around the mouth and think about the flavours you can taste. There will be many that come in and out of focus and many associations you can’t quite place but give it time and they will become clearer. Then you swallow but it is not yet over as the taste lingers and develops. Now it is all gone and  all you have to do is repeat.

However today is not about the whisky itself but another pleasure – browsing through old books, especially those from long ago, with engravings. This is from a facsimile edition of ‘The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom’ by Alfred Barnard. Between 1885 and 1887 he, with friends, visited 162 distilleries and described their processes and buildings (along with details of the journeys). It is an evocative reminder of how things were in the Nineteenth Century before the first economic collapse (for an industry that produces something needs longterm planning, it is nevertheless subject to boom and bust). Many of the distilleries are still in operation though and the picture I have chosen for today is of Pulteney. I have chosen it because it  is what I am drinking at the moment (the 17 year old if you are interested).