Posts Tagged With: malt

Tasting Notes: Lagavulin – 16 Years Old

Lagavulin 16

Lagavulin is widely recognised as one of the leading names in whisky throughout the globe and regularly falls within the same breath as its fellow southern Islay neighbours Laphroaig and Ardbeg. The 16 year old is the core expression of Lagavulin and has (deservedly) garnered cult status amongst whisky fans and peatheads worldwide. Each facet of the dram is distinctive and should be savoured.

ABV: 43%


Nose

M: It’s hard to describe without using its own name – its simply, big Lagavulin smoke.

R: So I get a real outdoorsy smell from this. Like a camp fire.With like a caramel-ishness.

 

Taste

M: Caramel sweetness and big rich, fruity flavours at first that are then instantly battered by full malty smoke and oak.

R: I find it kind of evaporates on the tongue very quickly, then fills your mouth with smoky deliciousness.


Finish

M: Brown sugar sweetness upfront and then the smoke builds and builds as it coats the throat on the way down, leaving a peppery spiciness in the smoky aftermath.

R: It’s like it’s light and delicate but simultaneously potent and powerful.


Verdict

M: Amazing. It’s hard to describe as it’s just distinctly Lagavulin. Regardless of whether or not you like smoky whiskies, one encounter with this dram and you can understand why it has cult status. “Mother’s milk” as Ron Swanson would put it.

R: Final verdict, for me, it’s not an every day kind of whisky. It’s the sort of thing you need to be in the right mood for. It’s an evening in front of the fire, with dressing gowns and cigars and a leather bound book kind of drink. One other point. I had a bit of a sinus headache when I poured the glass. It’s gone now.

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Lagavulin Bay

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Colour By Numbers – A Lagavulin Case Study

You will sometimes hear whisky being referred to as ‘liquid gold’. This is mainly due to the value associated with it, but it also obviously refers to the various shades of golden beauty that the liquid can have. In spite of this however, when whisky is being made, the ‘new spirit’ that is created from the distillation process is actually colourless. In fact, you cannot call it ‘whisky’ unless it has been in a barrel for 3 years, and it is this aging process and the interaction with the wooden barrels that gives whisky its distinctive colour.

Auchentoshan's Spirit

Auchentoshan – 0, 1 & 2 Years Old

Clearly, the longer that the liquid is in the barrel, the more time it has in contact with the wood and the more of the wood’s qualities therefore infuse into the whisky. Put simply, the older the whisky, the darker it gets. WU were lucky enough to go to a warehouse tasting at Lagavulin where local legend and distillery hero Iain Macarthur (a.k.a. “Pinky”) entertained us and took us through a selection of drams taken fresh from the barrel, from which we could really see the effects of aging on their wonderful whisky.

First up was the ‘new make’ spirit that was fresh from the still that day. At a fairly astronomical 68% ABV we expected this to blow our heads off, but surprisingly it didn’t – though it still packed a punch! Perfectly colourless, you could essentially just taste the barley and the distillery’s distinctive peat once you got past the alcoholic burn. Not something that you should have every day at 10.30 am!

WU meet "Pinky"

WU meet “Pinky”

The second dram was a 9 year old from the barrel, and the barley taste was still there but it almost felt like it had more of an alcohol burn, despite ‘only’ being 58% ABV. Not surprisingly, the whisky had taken on the colour and tastes of the barrel, but was still relatively light gold in colour compared to the staple Lagavulin 16.

The third sample was straight from the barrel after 11 years, and the liquid was a touch darker again in colour. This dram had developed quite a sweet taste from the wood and a noticeably smoother finish to its predecessors but still packed quite the punch.

Lagavulin Warehouse Tasting

Lagavulin Warehouse Tasting

Next up was a 15 year old – one year away from the distillery’s core output – and it had really taken on caramel notes from the wood, matching the sweetness with a softer finish, but still delivering lots of smoke and peat. This dram was now at that rich, deep gold colour that Lagavulin is known for.

Last but not least, we skipped a few years and had a dram of a 31 year old Lagavulin. Now this was a real treat for us, and whilst the value of the dram isn’t known as it is fairly unique and only available from the distillery, the estimate was that each dram would be worth £100-£150. Interestingly, the colour of the liquid itself hadn’t actually deepened that much compared to the 15 year old and whilst it still had an obvious woody taste and sweetness, it was mysteriously returning back to that original barley taste that we had first encountered in the new distillate.

Barrel Chair

Barrel Chair

Oddly, the interaction between the spirit and its wooden surroundings can actually vary from barrel to barrel. So much so that two barrels containing the same base liquid, which have been made from the same wood and have been aged over the same period of time, can produce two entirely different coloured end results. To combat this, some distilleries choose to add a caramel to get a uniform colour, so that customers ‘see’ the same product time after time and whilst this may be disappointing for some purists (and is even denied by some distilleries), it is essentially drawn from necessity to keep the buyers happy. What this goes to show is that whilst whisky-making it is not an exact science, there is still some truth behind saying that it is colour by numbers.

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Single Malt Scotch Whisky: Your Starter For 10

It’s probably fair to say that one of the most intimidating aspects about drinking single malt whisky is the price associated with it. It’s one of the things that can make it elitist and can put a lot of people off. To play devil’s advocate though, if you were paying rent on a place for at least 10 years, you’d probably want a decent return on selling part of it, and that’s what distilleries need to do to earn their way. It therefore follows that the older the whisky, the more investment the distillery has put into their liquid and the higher the income required. There’s also a certain prestige that comes with age and, at a nice round number, that’s why the 10 year old of any distillery is usually their opening staple.

What does a 10 year old whisky represent? Well, for those who enjoy the odd wee dram, it’s the first step to discovering the distillery’s main product. With a 10 year old, you’re going to find out the whisky’s key characteristics: is it heavy or light; is it smoky or not; does it actually taste nice? This is true of any ‘core range’ whisky that a distillery has to offer but, as a rough rule, the 10 seems to be the magic number that shows off their potential or even their best offering.

Starter(s) For 10

Starter(s) For 10

Putting these points together, a 10 year old is most likely to be the cheapest single malt that a distillery has to offer. To us, this means that the 10 is often the one that is most readily available in the shops or in the pub, and as such is your gateway to discovering single malts.

One of the best places to start is with one of the most recognisable names in single malt: Glenmorangie. Powered by successful advertising and sponsorship deals, Glenmorangie is found in pretty much every supermarket and pub and, to be fair, for good reason. The Glenmorangie 10 is an example of a decent, creamy all rounder. It has a nice, satisfying body whilst still having that distinctive whisky burn/rasp. It is certainly a simpler tasting whisky than most with predominantly caramel-like flavour and texture, but, on some days, that can be exactly what you’re looking for and so it’s a good one to have in the arsenal and certainly one to start exploring whether or not whisky is for you.

Glenmorangie 10 Year Old - The Original

Glenmorangie 10 Year Old – The Original

Personally, the Aberlour 10 was the first single malt that I’d ever bought, and that’s largely because it was £20 for a bottle in the supermarket. Of the more readily available whiskies it is certainly a great starter for 10 as a lighter all rounder. It’s a slightly flowery and nutty dram that has a pretty smooth finish. It may just be down to personal experience and fond memories but it is a good place to start and appreciate the difference between a clean single malt and the cheap, rough stuff.

Aberlour 10 Year Old

Aberlour 10 Year Old

On the other side of the spectrum is the Laphroaig 10. Anyone who is starting to discover single malt whisky will quickly come across this bad boy. The first thing that is striking, before you even get to the liquid itself, is the rather alien looking word and it’s distinctive black and white label on a green bottle. Pronounced La-froyg, it instantly displays elegance and class and has a mysterious, cult like feel. And why is that? Because when you open it: BOOM!!! The stuff is liquid dynamite. Amongst the peatiest/smokiest drams out there, it packs a unique punch that will stay with you forever. (I could go on and on about Laphroaig and the other Islay peat monsters – see also Ardbeg 10 – but I’ll save that for another time). Out of their entire range, the Laphroaig 10 is the distillery’s key player and will probably become your regular tipple if peat becomes your passion.

Laphroaig 10 Year Old

Laphroaig 10 Year Old

Similarly Talisker 10 is also a great opening gambit. As with Laphroaig, the Talisker 10 is a regularly available malt and, being from the western islands off Scotland, also packs a smoky punch, but with a totally different character to Laphroaig 10. It is widely recognised that your palate becomes more attuned to tasting whisky when you have 3 different whiskies next to one another and it is certainly worth having a nip of Laphroaig and Talisker back to back to get your taste buds in tune to what lies beneath the smoke. Talisker has a smoother edge whilst still delivering smoke and has a distinctive coastline saltiness, which is the brand’s key feature and makes it surprisingly more-ish.

Talisker 10 Year Old

Talisker 10 Year Old

What can be daunting about getting into single malts is that there is a lot to choose from. The big money backing of Diageo behind their ‘Classic Malts’ range is certainly populating the local pubs with more variety, and the Cragganmore 12 and Glenkinchie 12 that sit within that range are also a good base for getting to discover what you like. Also, for the smaller, independent distilleries, the 10 year old is the landmark expression that represents a decade of effort and anticipation that gets their name on the shelves (the Benromach 10 and the new Bruichladdich Laddie 10 being fine examples of that).

Whether or not you agree with the large commercial businesses getting involved (which is another article for another time) you cannot deny that the increasing range of choice can only be a good thing to the enthusiasts and beginners alike and it certainly seems that a distillery’s first double digit dram is the best place to start and maybe even dwell on your whisky voyage.

M

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