10 Of My Favorite Smoky Whiskies

I’ve been an absolutely distracted sonofabitch of late. Every time I would sit down with pen and paper in hand something else would grab my attention and off I would go looking into that.

I think I was subconsciously telling my self to take a break from writing and simply enjoy the whiskies instead. So that’s what I did. Drank for the sake of enjoying my self. No notes. No discussions. Just a good dollop of my favourite poison in the midst of good company (dog included).

But I think I’ve had enough of a break. Plus I’m off to my favourite part of the world in less than two weeks time and I need to start getting into the groove of reporting. Which favourite part, you ask? Well, if you don’t know me by now I guess you never will.

And so, with that in mind and, as a tip of my hat to this remote South Western part of Scotland here are 10 of my favourite smoky whiskies. Spoiler alert, there’s a couple plus one more not from there but you know what I mean.

Also, in no particular order.

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01 Ardbeg UigeadailLet’s just start with my once all-time favourite. The disgustingly excellent Oogy. I had heard many a whisky drinker / writer mention their Eureka moment – that moment when a certain special whisky hits your palate and you lean back with your eyes closes and say what the actual fuck is going on here? Like it or not that’s an actual quote. I had it with this whisky one evening many moons ago. It was an earlier bottling (around 2007, I think), hence, not marred by the ugly taint of hurried production to meet demand. Just the right combination of thick and chewy smoky peat countered by the perfectly balanced sherry. Still my go to dram to finish off a long session of whisky drinking. Alas, later batches are losing their edge, I feel. Still a mighty fine whisky if you ask me.

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02 Laphroaig CSThe first distillery I visited. The most generous distillery I’ve visited. Staffed by some of the loveliest people I have ever met (though on Islay that’s not very surprising). One of the best tours on the island (if you haven’t then you must check out Water to Whisky). And, in my opinion, quite possibly the most consistently above average spirit produced at these quantities on the island. And the jewel in their peaty crown is their Cask Strength series. Bottled at 10 years old, matured in first-fill bourbon and served at cask strength this series has captured the imagination of even the most hardened of whisky drinkers. There is not a soul who has told me they don’t love this whisky. How can you? It’s just good old fashioned whisky making. My favourite of the lot (they’re up to Batch 008 by now) is Batch 003. Quite possibly the most balanced of them all. Sweeter than most. Though not as smoky as some of the batches (like the 006) but brilliantly preserves it’s Islay heritage of peat, seaweed, iodine and that lovely charred ashy smoke that wafts in and out of your palate as you indulge. The most affordable, as well as tastiest, of all the whiskies you can lay your hands on.

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03 Lagavulin 16Bruce Lee once famously said “I fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once but the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times.” Bruce Lee could not only punch you from an inch away and hurl you back 10 feet he was also a sage. And if I didn’t know any better I would have thought he was referring to Lagavulin 16. This is the right way of doing things. Perfect a formula. Never let it go. Keep at it till it becomes your second skin. That’s what the Lagavulin 16 is. It has defined the essence of the distillery. Lagavulin, thanks to this 16 year old, can do no wrong. The 16 is the Barack Obama of the distillery. The right balance of fun and seriousness. The swag. Universally loved. Easy to fall in love with. In fact that’s what I have in my glass right now. A buttery sweetness held together by it’s own unique dance of smoke and peat. Flawlessly balanced. Readily available. Relatively well priced. What more could you ask for? Maybe a Warehouse session with Iain Macarthur, perhaps?

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04 Kilchoman MachirBaySeldom does a distillery suddenly spring up out of no where (the first distillery on Islay in over a 100 years) and capture the hearts of so many whisky lovers. Kilchoman did just that. Hardly 10 years old it has brought back the forgotten art of hand-crafted whiskies. This minuscule operation churns out just enough whisky to keep us barely satiated. But what it does produce it produces with the sternest of eyes on quality. Top quality ingredients and a firm grip on the production process have resulted in some of the tastiest liquid to emerge from Scotland in recent memory. Proud to tell people how young yet incredibly tasty it is it has thrown the gauntlet down in front of brands that hide behind non-age statement whiskies scared to divulge any information on age. Yes, the Machir Bay is a non-age statement but all of Kilchoman’s literature will tell you there is four to six year old spirit inside that bottle. They don’t hide anything. Proving once and for all that age is truly a number. Good whisky, if made with care and passion, will yield stunning results in even five years. The Machir Bay is a shining example of that passion. Matured in first-fill bourbons and then finished off in sherry casks it captures the essence of the island with it’s hint of sherry sweetness and a lot of barley grist and lime shrouded in the most delicate of smoke. Later batches have older whiskies and are just as good as their younger cousins. If anyone wishes for a masterclass in whisky making head on down there.

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05 Port CharlotteSurprisingly the only distillery on Islay that doesn’t peat it’s whiskies is Bruichladdich. In fact they claim to be a ‘peat-free zone’ as per their website. However, Jim McEwan has turned producing peated whiskies into an art form. And this art he presents in the form of Port Charlotte whiskies. Born as a special project the PC series uses heavily peated barley (40ppm) and is served at cask strength. Of the lot (PC5 to PC12) my favourite is the PC6. Alas, now discontinued, this six year old whisky is a joy to behold (and imbibe). Served at a blazing 61.6% it promises to take no prisoners. The delivery is surprisingly fruity with citrus and green apple but it’s the strength and the perfectly balanced smoke that takes you places you’ve never been. This one is scarce on the ground and now only available to punters scouring auction sites only to be had at silly prices. Nevertheless, this is history in a bottle.

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06 OctomoreNo list of smoky whiskies is complete without the powerhouse that is the Octomore. Once again Jim McEwan has created a monster that will live long in the hearts of the brave for many many years to come. Peated at unfathomable levels of up to 258ppm the Octomore series is a kick in the teeth for the uninitiated. Served at cask strength it is like making snow angels in the dying embers of a once raging fire all the while being comforted by the perfectly balanced sweetness of vanilla and citrus. This is the by far the smokiest and most powerful whisky on this list. It is a testament to the genius of Sir Jim McEwan (he doesn’t have an MBE but I’ve given him one). It’s OK to be a little scared of this whisky. But once you get over your terror believe me it’s impossible not to fall in love with it. An iron fist in a velvet glove.

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07 Longrow 11Now peat and smoke are not the sole property of Islay. It is known for it, yes. But that doesn’t mean non-Islay whiskies are barred from peating their barley. And that brings us to this Longrow 11 R&K. Two hours from Islay (by ferry, that is) is the town of Campbeltown. Once a prolific whisky producing region it now has just three distilleries to its’ name. One of those distilleries is Springbank and this distillery is genius. It uses the same stills to produce three different types of whisky. The un-peated Hazelburn, the mildly peated Springbank and finally Longrow, the heavily peated nectar of the Gods (and my favourite of the lot). With an earthiness unique to this area Longrow creates some of the most lip-smacking whiskies I have ever come across. This particular spirit is 11 years old and matured in tiny casks known as Runlets & Kilderkins. These casks are barely 75 litres and were previously used to store beer. The small size means massive contact between wood and spirit, thus, imparting some seriously intense flavours. Ground coffee beans, tiramisu and it’s own version of Campbeltown smoky peat make this expression startlingly good. If you’re not afraid to venture out of your comfort zone then get your hands on this bottle.

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08 Balcones BrimstoneThe first time I tasted the Balcones Brimstone I pretty much fell off my chair. I mean there was no way a whisky was supposed to taste like this. Made by, then owner, Chip Tate at the Balcones Distillery in Waco, Texas it broke all conventional rules. First of all it was made by burnt blue corn (yes, you read that right) and once distilled it was subject to some seriously severe smoking using sun baked Texas scrub oak. That’s right. Smoked after being distilled. This was followed by three years in a virgin oak under the blazing Texas sun and you had the makings of a monster. Imagine sitting next to a bonfire. No wait. Imagine sitting inside the bonfire. Actually, no wait. Imagine you are the fucking bonfire. This is what this whisky is. Peppery, hard-hitting and insanely smoky this one should come with a warning. And it’s own fireman. One of the most unique whisky tasting experiences of my life.

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09 Talisker 57NorthClose to Islay is the small island of Skye. And on it is one distillery. Talisker. That’s it. Maybe an inn, a B&B and some deer. But that’s pretty much it. The entire island depends on the distillery for it’s sustenance. Which is fine because it produces spirit like the classic ten year old and the one that stole my heart – the 57 North. Named because the distillery is located at 57 degrees Longitude the spirit is bottled at (and no prizes for guessing) at a lovely 57%. If you haven’t figured it out by now I am a sucker for high strength whiskies. And this one is no exception. Once again, as with all on my list, it’s the balance that reigns supreme. Sweet vanilla and the deftest of smoke. That combination of sweet and smoky is my melting point.

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10 Highland PArk 18Now you might raise an eyebrow or two when reading this but allow me to explain. When I said I was going to do a list of smoky whiskies I didn’t just mean those that force you to put on a gas mask. If you recall I said smoky and not smokiest. Subtle difference in words but a huge gap in styles. The Highland Park 18 is the epitome of that difference. While drinkers imagine massive puffs of peat smoke every time someone uses the word smoky to describe a whisky the HP 18 takes the most delicate of smokes and weaves it intricately in between layers of sherry sweetness. I remember when I first really noticed it. It came a few seconds after I poured the spirit onto my palate. I was enjoying the sweetness of the sherry when suddenly, out of no where, it emerged. Like a genie. It caressed my taste buds and was present long after I had banished the liquid down into the deep chasm that is my gullet. While most whiskies on this list wear the smoky badge with a swagger this 18 year old reserves it for when you least expect it.
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As with all my lists this too is simply a reflection of my personal experiences. You may agree. Or disagree. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

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Lagavulin 50 1966

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Distillery/Brand: Lagavulin | Region: Islay | ABV: UNKNOWN | Colour: Pale Straw

Review
I’ve decided not to score this. Only because I will cheapen the memories by assigning it a score. And since there is no way anyone is ever going to drink this whisky a score is pretty much moot.

And don’t get me wrong. The only reason you’ll never be able to drink this is because it will never go up for sale and we pretty much scraped the bottom of the barrel to bring out a few drams to taste. It’s all gone.

OK let me start from the beginning.

I was in the midst of an extremely impromptu trip to Islay thanks to the persistent arm-twisting of my good friend Curt Robinson of AllThingsWhisky fame. He and three of his buddies had made the trip over from Canada and it just seemed like too good of an opportunity to share drams to pass up.

So there I was.

One of the things we were really looking forward to on the trip was the famed warehouse tasting with Lagavulin legend Iain Macarthur. Let me tell you if there’s one thing you do on Islay is attend one of his tastings. Regardless of the fact that we tasted some ridiculously gorgeous single casks ranging from twelve to 34 years it was his company and delivery that really made the session unforgettable.

Amid all the chatter and pouring of whiskies I happened to notice a lone cask sitting in the corner with 1966 stencilled on the side.

1966? Why, that must mean there’s 50 year old whisky sitting inside that dinosaur. I was completely distracted now, stealing sidelong glances at the cask much like a middle-school nerd would do to his crush in the school cafeteria. I kept wondering how it would taste. What would the color be like. What would it smell like.

As the session ended we tried hanging around for a bit but were politely asked to make space for the next group. My heart sank. There went my opportunity to beg Iain for a sip of that 50 year old. Oh, well. It would have made for a great story.

After the tasting we made our way behind the distillery to the ruins of Dunyvaig Castle to share some pre-packaged drams. The weather was excellent and we even managed to spot a couple of playful seals in the water.

As we headed back to catch the bus we, as luck would have it, ran into Iain as he was making his way back from another warehouse tasting.

What are you boys still hanging around here for? He asked in his strangely endearing high pitched Scottish voice.

We were hoping you’d share some of that 50 year old with us. I said shamelessly.

It took him all of one second to say Well, hurry up then! Your bus will be here any minute!

And with that, glasses in hand, we made a mad dash to the warehouse. Grabbing a valinche he plunged it into the depths of the cask and drew out 50 years of history and generously poured it into our glasses.

Happy now? He asked with a huge grin on his face.

We nodded vigorously with even bigger grins on ours.

Unfortunately we couldn’t drink it at the distillery or I would have missed the last bus back to Bowmore and consequently my flight back home.

As we sat on the bus sharing 50 year old whisky among us I was struck by the absurdity of it all. Here in our hands was almost priceless liquid, a piece of history and it was just casually shared with us by the nicest of chaps. And the fact that we were passing it around whilst using public transport seemed like the most natural thing to do. Such is the DNA of Islay. It’s what makes it what it is.

There is no ABV on this liquid. I suspect the cask was a second or third fill bourbon given it’s rather pale coloring.

Nose: Quite sweet thanks to the 50 years. Creme caramel. Toffee. Condensed milk. Spent sugarcane bark. The tiniest and I mean the tiniest of oak. Vanilla. High pitched aromas of milk chocolate. As it settles it becomes more grassy. More wet. More clay like. Red clay if you ask me. Still has some vibrancy after all these years.

Palate: Sweet. White granulated sugar. Mildest of oaks. The tiniest whisp of smoke. Milk chocolate. Hint of spice. Some fennel. Some cloves. Some aniseed. Dry spices. Changed nicely mid-palate without even us noticing.

Finish: Wonderfully long. Drying with some oak.

Overall Comments: How this spirit managed to retain it’s flavours is beyond me. It should have been tired and spent a long time ago but against all odds it’s not. I believe it might have been an absolute corker had it been discovered a decade or more earlier. But I’m glad it wasn’t or we wouldn’t have been lucky enough to get free pours of it that fateful day on Islay. Here’s to you Curt, Steve, Danny & Tone.

Overall Score: Who cares?

Lagavulin 18 Feis Ile 2016

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Distillery/Brand: Lagavulin | Region: Islay | ABV: 49.5% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 8.6 | Palate: 9.0 | Finish: 8.8 | Overall Score: 8.8

Review
For our trip to Islay for the whisky festival this year I ended up getting t-shirts printed with Malt Activist emblazoned on the front and the words The Perfect Dram / Feis Ile 2016 printed on the back.

Other than shameless self-promotion the idea was for the group to visit the island in search of the perfect dram. While there’s probably no such thing we did come quite close. Some in terms of the emotional draw they had for us and some simply for the quality of spirit.

This 18 year old from Lagavulin was one of the top contenders for The Perfect Dram simply because of how insanely good it was.

Lagavulin18 001

Having reached Islay a day earlier everyone woke up excited to an overcast day to visit their first distillery together. After parking two miles down the road we made our way to the small courtyard in front of the visitors centre where congregated over 300 odd whisky fanatics with half of them in line for the Feis bottle.

With waits of well over two hours to secure a bottle we said no thanks! and wandered around the grounds killing time before our Whisky & Bites tasting with a gentleman by the name of Dennis Mulder.

First we took part in a blind tasting (which I’m pretty sure I won – I’m just waiting for them to contact me) and and then spent twenty minutes watching a cooper put together a barrel. So far this was turning out to be a great day.

Lagavulin18 003

After countless drams of Lagavulin 16 and the Double Matured down at the warehouse it was finally time to meet Dutchman Dennis Mulder who was going to conduct the Whisky & Bites Masterclass. As we trooped into the malt room where the tasting was taking place the clouds burst again and showered us one last time before we went inside.

That would be the last time for four days that it would rain again.

We were ushered inside and were greeted with two extremely long tables where sat around 50 odd people. In front of each one were five drams. From L to R : Lagavulin 8, 16, Double Matured, 12 CS 2015 and this beautiful 18 year old released as this years’ Feis bottle.

In addition to the whiskies the entire table was lined with different types of bites and we were encouraged to pair each one with the different whiskies. There was dark chocolate along with milk and a rather fatty white chocolate. Strong mint drops, pancetta and pecan nuts made up the other edibles on the table.

I only wish that the food pairings were specific rather than a free for all but it was our second day on Islay, the first distillery open day, in fantastic company among friends and so there was little reason to be fussy.

Lagavulin18 004

All of us decided to sample the 18 before any of the others especially before corrupting our palate with all those bites.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 49.5%

Nose: The faintest of smoke. Delicate peat. The 18 years have really mellowed the spirit down. But it’s brought out so many other flavours. Crisp lemon. An even crisper lime. Small nectarines. Milk chocolate – but just a touch. Green apples. Green papaya. Olives. Let it sit and there’s a touch of something floral. Like white wildflowers. This turns to geranium after a bit. Beautiful nose. A very nice layering of aromas. If I didn’t have four other drams and 45 minutes before the session ended I could have sat with this for a while. 8.6

Palate: Bold. Strong. Full bodied. Coats the entire palate with a toasted white pepper oak. Sooty. Strong vanilla. Very creamy. Herbaceous. Those citrus notes are back. The lime. Lemon. And the nectarines. Confident palate. Doesn’t muck about with too many flavours. Everything is concise and in the right proportions. The best part. 9.0

Finish: Medium to long. Touch of oak. Nice and oily. Makes you want to chew it for a while. 8.8

Overall Comments: Lovely dram this. Just wonderfully crafted. Strong flavours all composed quite masterfully. Once again I am guilty of being partial to these set of reviews (the Feis bottlings) only because I have such vivid and fun memories of tasting these whiskies during my time on the island. But I won’t apologise for that.

Overall Score: 8.8

Lagavulin 8

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Distillery/Brand: Lagavulin | Region: Islay | ABV: 48% | Colour: Chardonnay
Nose: 8.2 | Palate: 8.4 | Finish: 8.0 | Score: 8.2

Review
It was raining when we landed in Islay. Cold and persistent. It was a day before the whisky festival was about to start and things were looking damp.

When you live in a place like Dubai where they actually have to fire water pellets into clouds to get some rain, believe me, weather like this is like dying and going to heaven. Only problem was we had a number of outdoor activities planned for the week and rain was going to be a problem if it persisted.

But as luck would have it the rain stopped the next morning, the clouds opened up and the sun shone like it had never before for the rest of the week. But that’s a story for another day.

Lagavulin 002

After checking into the Port Askaig Hotel (our first stop) we freshened up in our rooms (Mull & Rum – don’t ask me why) and headed down to the Old Port Bar for a bit of food and, of course, some whisky.

After being greeted warmly by the bar staff we settled in our seats and chose, instead, to start the evening with an Islay Ale. I quite like Saligo which is a sweet and rather mild beer. Much more to my liking compared to the darker ones. Besides I didn’t want to ruin my palate too much. I had the Lagavulin 8 looking back at me from across the bar.

I’m a huge fan of Lagavulin and I’m pretty sure I have yet to taste something from them that I don’t like. I may like some less than others but if there’s a distillery that’s got it’s craft down to the proverbial T it’s this one.

And what’s more they are unafraid. It’s 8 years old, the label screams. And there’s a reason for that you snobby bastard.

Alfred Barnard, the famous brewing and distilling historian from Britain, undertook an epic journey across Ireland, England & Scotland researching for his famous book ‘The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom’.

It was at Lagavulin or Lagganmhouillin, as I like to call it, that he tried an ‘exceptionally fine’ eight-year-old from the distillery. And it is to commemorate this event that the spirit inside this bottle is of this particular age.

My sample is from an open bottle and served at 48%

Nose: Soft. Smokey peat. Quite a bit of salt. Fishnets. Kelp. White pepper. Lemon rind. Lime. Cardamom seeds. Brine. Hint of aniseed. Touch of green herbs. Sugarcane juice. That lovely Islay grist. This is quite a wonderfully sooty nose. Lots of spent ash. Quite typically Lagavulin with a feistiness that I love. 8.2

Palate: White pepper pin pricks. Then the sugars crumble beautifully. Toasted barley. Not very very sweet. Lots of soot and ash. Limoncello. Dry ginger. This is so nice and complex. 8.4

Finish: Nice and satisfying. Drying. Touch of spice. 8.0

Overall Comments: This is such a solid whisky, I tell you. Really liked everything about it. The fact that it’s young and sprightly and carries this much flavour really works for me. It’s very reasonably priced on top of that. So all in all a great start to the trip. Despite the rain.

Score: 8.2

Lagavulin 003

Lagavulin 12 – 2014

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Distillery/Brand: Lagavulin | Region: Islay | ABV: 54.4% | Colour: Young Sauternes
Nose: 23 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 90

Review
I remember my first Lagavulin and, yes, it was the 16; just like everyone else. Unlike most first-timers who can get dissuaded by the ashy peat and smoke my palate actually cut through that and went to the delicate sweetness that nestled underneath.

It was one of the first whiskies that I had reviewed (quite a cringe-worthy review if you ask me) but at least I knew a good whisky when I saw one. Even back then.

Since then, I am quite happy to report, that I have yet to be disappointed by a Lagavulin. They don’t release a million expressions a year, instead, choosing to focus on what they do best.

One of the standard expressions they churn out now is the 12 year old cask strength which they’ve been releasing every year for the last 13 years. Each edition is a different strength and with minor variances in taste.

What I’ve done for this particular tasting is, for the very first time, pair a dark chocolate with the whisky and report on the how the palate is influenced.

The 2014 bottling has been vatted from re-fill American Oak from spirit distilled in 2001 and 2002. My sample is from a previously opened bottle (almost full) and served at a cask strength of 54.4%

Nose: Oysters. Sharp lime. Understated ash. Apples. Apricot. Jute bag. Melon rind. White pepper. Gets sootier as you let it breathe. Touch of water will open it up a bit. Becomes slightly sweeter, though, not by much. Becomes drier. Almost cardboard dry. Good nose. And I didn’t expect anything less. 23/25

Palate: Chocolate. Lime. Lemon. Pineapple. Salt. White pepper. Very intense. Ash. Smoked barbeque. Quite savory. Touch bitter. With water it’s a gentler dram. Less spice. Quite chewy. 22/25

Finish: Long. Oily. Touch of oak. Grass. Almost mentholated. Leaves the mouth numb, though. With water is much nicer with more accentuated flavors. 23/25

For my chocolate pairing experiment I decided to go with 70% Lindt. A small piece to coat my mouth before tasting the spirit.

Tasting notes with chocolate:

Palate: Very interesting. Creatives a protective coating and cuts the spice. Brings out more fruit. Makes it seem full-bodied. I definitely prefer it after a small piece of dark chocolate.

Finish: The finish sees the most dramatic difference after the introduction of chocolate. Lots of mocha. Java. Espresso. Cocoa beans. Cinnamon. Lovely.

Overall Comments: True to it’s range it is a big and bold whisky. It doesn’t promise layer upon layer of complex flavors but what it has are on point. Very tasty dram. Made even more tasty with a bit of bitter dark chocolate.

Rating: 90

Lagavulin Feis Ile 2015

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Distillery/Brand: Lagavulin | Region: Islay | ABV: 59.9% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 22 | Taste: 22 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 88

Review
I missed the Lagavulin open day during the Islay Festival. Which is a shame because I am genuinely a fan of this distillery. We did swing by on one of the off days and managed a distillery tour.

Though the first thing that greeted us as we made our way to the visitor centre was a large printed sign informing us that the Feis Ile bottling was all SOLD OUT!

Fine, we get it!

It was raining on and off with the wind threatening to push us off the pier as we stood staring at the LAGAVULIN written on the distillery wall. I managed to get some nice panoramic pictures before we decided to head on to see the Kildalton Cross. But that’s another story.

Since we couldn’t taste the Feis Ile bottling at the distillery we had to find one some where. This we managed to locate at a place called the Ballygrant Inn. Manned by an extremely anti-social bar tender it did have quite a wonderful whisky collection including the entire Feis Ile releases for this year.

And sitting among the lot was the Lagavulin. Triple maturation this expression. First in bourbon, then PX and finally a slow finish in old oak puncheons.

Distilled in 1991 my sample is from an open bottle and served at a stinging 59.9%

Nose: Burnt toast. Char. Smoke. Vanilla. Custard. Citrus. Green lime. Oysters. Gets fruitier over time as the nose adjusts. Pears. Lemon sorbet. Opens up a touch with water.

Palate: Intense. Maybe too intense. Spicy. Burnt toast. Char. Have to coax the sweetness. But it comes. Vanilla. Custard. Lemon tart. Hint of fruits. Gets fruitier and more lemony with a few drops of water. Certainly more palatable.

Finish: Long. Very long. Spicy. Lime.

Overall Comments: This is a solid dram. Not for the faint hearted. Reminds me a lot of the 12 Cask Strength even though it’s twice the age. I’m a sucker for high strength whiskies but even I feel that this needs to be mellowed out a touch. May have been perfect at around 55% but that’s just me.

Rating: 88

Lagavulin 12 (2012) vs Laphroaig CS 005

Laphroaig 10 Lagavulin 12

Review
I had been meaning to put two hard hitters against each other for a while now but never got around to doing it. But tonight I had the house all to my self and figured I had no excuses.

For this epic heads up battle I chose two of my favorite cask strength whiskies from Islay: The Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 005 and the Lagavulin 12 – 2012.

Individually they both score very high on my scale but I had never had them side to side so I never really knew which one I liked better.

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Lagavulin 12 . 2012 / 56.1%

Nose: Peat butter. Smoke. Red apples. Sour (like tamarind). Lots of greens. Sharp acid like lemon citrus. Ash
Palate: Fiery peppers. Apricot. Pineapple sponge cake. Peat. Smoke. Fresh greens. Cucumber.
Finish: Long. Mint. Spice.

Nose: 22 | Palate: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 90

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Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 005 / 57.2%

Nose: Sweet. Honey. Jam. Maple. Cardboard. Red sweets. Coca Cola. Cherry licorice. Caramel. Hint of peat. Iodine.
Palate: Cherries. Black pepper. Bitter chocolate. Peat. All spice. Burnt jam. Oak.
Finish: Long. Spicy. Dark chocolate. Iodine.

Nose: 23 | Palate: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92

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So here’s the verdict.

While the Lagavulin 12 is a quality dram the Laphroaig just manages to edge past in the nose and the overall balance of the dram. It is just that much more flavorful with hints of exotic.

The Lagavulin is raw power while the Laphroaig much easier to drink even though it’s at a higher ABV. And for me that tips the scales in it’s balance.

Definitely a very enjoyable match up!