I got back from Islay about four and a half months ago now. Initial plans for the website were to offer up a full travel blog sort of thing like I’d done a couple times before. After all, things change and every experience is different, especially as traveling companions go (and boy, was it interesting this time!). Since settling back home, however, I’ve rethought my game plan.
I think I’m just gonna publish a handful (or more) of the more unique experiences, reviews and stories. Like I said in a previous post, I’m gonna start using this site more as a blog, and not just a review factory. I think it may be a bit more conducive to chat too.
Anyway, here’s the scoop: A friend of mine, who I now consider one of my best mates, put everything on hold to fly over from Dubai to join our wee misfit crew of drammers and dreamers. He moved meetings, dealt with a hell of a travel schedule and came out to become an absolutely integral part of our little collective. I’m sure you all know the lad I’m talking about. His name is Tabarak Razvi, the Malt Activist.
But we’ll come back to that in a future post. Right now I want to share some notes on a whisky and an experience that was beyond bucket list. On one of our later days on this trip (after the damaged wrist, the broken phone, the incessant cold, the rain days, and all) we visited Lagavulin for an hour or two in the warehouse with the inimitable Iain MacArthur. We sipped through 12, 14, 23, and 34 year old cask samples in the dunnage next to the distillery. We also tried the 2016 Jazz fest release, then snuck out back to navigate the ruins of Dunyvaig castle with a 200 ml of Lag 16 and drams of the 2006 12 y.o. Sounds rad, yeah? Wait, it gets better.
After the masses had disappeared, and we had slipped and slid our way down the crumbling battlements of the old castle and returned to the distillery grounds, we bumped into Iain again. A little gentle persuasion, and he led us back to the warehouse with glasses in hand. He poured generously (a little too generously) from a tiny quarter cask marked #552 and the year 1966 stamped on the barrel head. Fifty years. Let that sink in for a moment. After the most sincere thanks we could offer to one of the most amazing men on the island, we ran back up the hill, glasses sloshing to hop the bus back to Bowmore. Five guys…a public bus…the bouncy and bumpy high road to Bowmore…and fifty year old Lagavulin in our glasses. Yep.
Tab recounted the tale here for your reading pleasure. He and I both had small samples to bring home with us, so you can compare and contrast tasting notes. While he chose not to score this esoteric experience, I’m throwing a number at it. Is it high? Maybe just a touch. But it’s my party and I’ll sigh if I want to.
Nose: Noses soooooo young. This must have been a fourth fill barrel. Faint smoke. Citrus. Just the weakest hints of honeydew melon and pineapple. Firm white cheese (cave-aged Gruyere?). Very minerally…or something like clay. In ways smells almost like new make. In other ways…smells very, very old. Irreconcilable, really. Notes of dunnage and old books. Briny and oceanic, to be sure. Iodine and medicinal notes. A slight farminess. Faint tea notes.
Palate: Much more smoke than expected. Huge sweetness. Almost minty. Green candy notes. Lime. Some tangy fruit (maybe pineapple again, though not very ‘tropical’). Peat (there it is!) and dry old tea. More oak here than on the nose (though still less oaky than expected). Faint fennel. Smoked seafood and shells. This is an enormously oily dram. Some licorice at the back end.
Thoughts: Unmistakably Lagavulin. So, yeah…it’s overcooked. So what? Too oaky and not the best of barrels, but this is still exceptional whisky. The experience behind it definitely adds to the score for me, but it’s nigh impossible to disassociate the two. Just the fact that it’s still here? Yeah…’nough said, I think.
– Images & Words: Curt