Cozy in Copenhagen: Ian Macleod’s `As We Get It’

Music: Genesis, “It”

While on a business trip here in Copenhagen, I figured that three weeks in the same place necessitated a bottle of Scotch to enjoy as the nights grew colder. Completely fitting, too, that the most interesting bottle I came across ended up being a young Islay. Smoke and ash do well to warm a soul when the nights are a tad chilly. I liked the gimmick of this one from the start: a young Islay that could be anything, but at least you know that the seasoned whisky shop owner liked it. Even better that the lads and lasses in the shop were in conflict as to which distillery it was from. A true guessing game where your prior was unbiased by previous distillery experiences—a game I eagerly wanted to play.

Nose: Peat, light BBQ smokiness and citrus. A bit of sweet pickles, and a bit of cinnamon hearts, oddly. Plenty of coal, but the brightness of it, with the medicinal background make me say that this is easily Lagavulin. It could possibly be Caol Ila, but I’d give the edge to Lag. Somewhere in between the Caol Ila NCS, and the Lagavulin 12yo CS. Nose is a bit restrained.

Palate: Quite hot with an acetone background without water. Can handle quite a bit of water, and I recommend adding at least a teaspoon. Sweet sugary citrus, peat, smoke and salt. A real mix between the Caol Ila and unsherried Lag.

Finish: Medium, sooty and slightly sweet. Vanilla, peat and smoke.

Grade: B+

Youngens can be too spirity, and need water sometimes. Doesn’t make them worse in my books, if they do well with it; in fact, the bottle lasts longer that way. In short, a poor man’s Lag 12 or Caol Ila NCS. Nothing particularly remarkable about it to vault it into the A- region, but still a damn good peated whisky. For the price, an absolute steal.

“It is only knock and know-all, but I like it.”

Bold and Beautiful: Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength (2012)

Lagavulin has every right to serve their whisky in a dark green bottle. Why? To save us from ourselves and our ridiculous biases, that’s why. I will admit that, conditional on knowing that a whisky hasn’t been artificially coloured, I’ll look at any darker whisky within its own class (that is, bourbon cask, sherried, etc,)  and say, “well, the darker whisky will be more flavourful!” I know this is wrong, so you don’t have to chastise me for it. But still, it’s something I’m subject to, on occasion, even subconsciously. Lagavulin 12 looks like a chardonnay. 12 years in the wood, cask-strength, and it looks paler than the 6 year Bruichladdich Barley. But it’s so much more. Easily as big as Laphroaig’s QC, and more complex than Caol Ila’s CS (at least to this nose and palate). Book, cover, yada yada yada.

Nose: Coal, tar, salt, brine, caramel, honey. Peat is quite understated. Anise and tangy BBQ sauce (hickory plus worcestershire). Wood fires.

Palate: Super oily. Coal smoke, wood-fired pickles. Peat, lemon, caramel, fudge. Barbeque sauce.

Finish: Medium-long. Peaty, creamy dill pickle chips. Drying.

Grade: A-

Simply great whisky. Perhaps a little pricey, but we need to treat ourselves sometimes.

Lagavulin 16

Lagavulin 16 is another one of those benchmark whiskies that introduces many people to single malt Scotch, as it is available at most bars who stock more than just your usual Johnny Walker Red/Black.  Given its availability, and the fact that it’s bloody delicious, you’ve got yourself a cabinet staple. Well, that’s of course, save for one thing: it’s $100+ a bottle in Canada. Perhaps the cruelest trick someone can play on you is to introduce you to Islay via a glass of Lagavulin 16. To be introduced to Alaskan King before you’ve even had imitation crab is a hell of a summit to come down from, if your budget so forces you.

Nose: Peat, iodine, medicinal notes. Some leather. I always get a big whiff of something that’s a cross between lapsang souchong and hickory wood chips smoking from a BBQ.

Palate: Medium-viscosity. Smoky, peaty, iodine and medicinal. Smooth as all hell, save for that ever-so-slight bar-alcohol tinge. Perhaps this is what is happening to new Lagavulin 16, as it wasn’t like this when I first tried it almost 10 years ago.

Finish: Smoky, delicious, and long.

Grade: B+

This whisky is wonderous, but I fear that world demand has caused some declines in quality at Lagavulin (preventing it from getting the A-). It’s a great whisky, still, and everyone should own a bottle at least once for the experience. In the US, it’s generally cheap enough to be a staple whisky. In Ontario, not so much.