Lagavulin™ is my favorite single malt scotch!!! I came to this much sought-after single malt through many years of drinking blended scotch whiskeys like Johnnie Walker Black. However, I warn you, one has to work their way up to this very bold smoky taste. Among single malt scotch aficionados, Lagavulin™ is the “gold standard” of single malts with its massive peat-smoke flavor that's typical of southern Islay - but also offering a dryness that turns it into a truly interesting drink. It became my favorite because I usually smoke cigars when I am drinking scotch. I have found that very few single malts can be tasted through cigar smoke on the palate; certainly none of the “Highland” scotches can stand up to a cigar! Lagavulin™ is most often described as “a dry peat smoke that fills the palate with a gentle but strong sweetness, followed by sea and salt with touches of wood.” Most important, a single malt aficionado drinks single malt scotch whiskey with only 3 to 4 drops of water per shot. No ice or mixers!
How does Lagavulin™ come by its unique flavor? According to their web site: “Miles and miles of peat bog in the west of the island provide the raw material whose influence so characterises the south eastern Islay malts, of which Lagavulin™ is perhaps best known. Lagavulin’s™ richly peaty process water runs down the brown burn to the distillery from the Solan Lochs in the hills above the distillery. Though it shares a coastline with two neighbouring distilleries, former owner Peter Mackie took pains to ensure that Lagavulin shares its water with no-one. Rights over the water course and the surrounding land were hotly contested in his day; his persistence secured Lagavulin's legacy.”
“The barley used to distil Lagavulin™ is malted at nearby Port Ellen and has a strong peat aroma - it has perhaps twenty times as much exposure to peat smoke as a typical Speyside, Cragganmore. Fermentation of the barley is a slow process, too. Between 55 and 75 hours are taken for the full peat-rich flavour of the locally-malted barley to come through. The four stills at Lagavulin, two of them pear-shaped in the style inherited from Malt Mill, take this peaty wort and give it all the time and care it deserves. Following the original practice, Lagavulin™ receives the slowest distillation of any Islay malt - around five hours for the first distillation and more than nine hours for the second is the norm. This long distillation is often said to give Lagavulin™ the characteristic roundness and soft, mellow edges that devotees rightly prize.”
“There's nothing rushed about Islay, nor is there about Lagavulin™; before being bottled, the malt spends sixteen unhurried years breathing the sea-salt air of Islay, mainly in refill European oak casks kept in traditional white-painted warehouses by the sea shore. Long fermentation, long distillation and long maturation together ensure that Lagavulin develops all of its long, rich, peaty character. It’s is a spirit that likes to take its time. The definitive Islay malt demands nothing less.”
I suggest that if you are serious about trying single malt scotches, you do it by tasting “THE SIX CLASSIC MALTS OF SCOTLAND” of United Distillers. They are particularly selected to best represent each of the malt whiskey producing regions of Scotland. They embrace the full diversity of regional tastes and styles.
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The whiskies of the distilleries along the southeastern coast of the island, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg, have the strong peaty character which is considered to be characteristic of the Islay malts, and is ascribed both to the water from which the whisky is made and to the peating levels of the barley. Many describe this as a “medicinal” flavour. They also possess notes of iodine, seaweed and salt. Caol Ila, on the northern side of the island, across from Jura, produces a strongly peated whisky as well.
The other distilleries on the island make whisky in a variety of styles. Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich make much lighter whiskies which are generally lightly peated, though Bruichladdich also produces several heavily peated products. Bowmore produces a whisky which is well balanced, using a medium-strong peating level (25ppm) but also using sherry-cask maturation. The newest distillery, Kilchoman, started ...