Wednesday, April 14, 2010

We Didn't Start the Fire: Lagavulin 16yo

The Lagavulin 16yo Single Islay Malt Whisky is the cornerstone expression of this distillery, a distinguished member of Diageo's Classic Malts Selection. For our Australian audience, it is the only Lagavulin release which is widely available here. Sadly, our access to the Distillers Edition* is left to trips to the U.K.

As is the case with my previous reviews, I believe the best indication of a whisky's pedigree is the answer to a simple question: Would I buy it again? Yes. Indeed at this stage of my whisky tasting career it would feature permanently in my collection.

So let's go about explaining why...

Firstly, I love the packaging of this whisky. It is probably my favourite bottle both in terms of colour and contour. The olive green glass compliments the smokey innards tremendously, providing some context for what you are about to consume. The simple bottle design features over-vertical sides and a medium-length bulging neck. It is the same bottle used for the Talisker and Craggamore single malt expressions (also part of Diageo's Classic Malts Selection). The sturdy yet simple dark green box adds an element of mystery and strength, ensuring the whisky's appeal. A wooden-topped cork keeps the contents safely sealed.

On the nose I find a medicinal aroma of alcohol, iodine and sweet tabacco. You can already begin to sense the dryness of whisky.

Try the dram, and after an initial alocholic dry burn retreats you are met with strong smoky cereal notes, which fade to the smokey-tabacco sweetness. The cereal notes remind me of a tasting I once attended, where we chewed some peated-malt barley. I also see similarities between the Lagavulin's smokiness and tennans to a cup of strong Russian Caravan tea (no sugar please).

The finish is very long and you can still taste this whisky hours after drinking.

I wouldn't say it was as complex as some other Islay malts, but therein lies its beauty. I love the strong barley taste, coupled with its smoky dryness. It makes this whisky an excellent summer dram, despite its heavy peatyness. As mentioned in the Baron's review, its the 'bushfire-in-your-belly' effect, it just seems to work for me at anytime of year. The absense of a strong vanilla finish could also assist here, quite refreshing.

Indeed the scary part about this whisky is its addictiveness. I can't explain it, but on my first taste I sensed I would keep returning to this whisky, a daily ritual, akin to a cigarette. She's a dangerous yet tantalising woman, perhaps a post-war glamour akin to Lauren Bacall. A sophisticated, mysterious and curious lady who makes a cigarette look good.

The dram-ometer says 6.25 (from 7).

* Diageo releases a 'Distillers Edition' expression for most of its malts in its Classic Malts Selection.