Review: Lagavulin 16

Photo via thirdbasemarketsandspirits.com

“Prepare to experience true freedom and bliss.” says Ron as he pulls a bottle of Lagavulin 16 from his office drawer along with two glasses.  Anytime I see that episode I wish the second glass was for me.  While Lagavulin 16 has been around much, much, MUCH longer than the 2009 sitcom Parks and Recreation, the Nick Offerman played character Ron Swanson introduced the brand of Scotch Whisky to a lot of American viewers.  The Lagavulin distillery was founded in 1816 and the 16 year malt has been it’s best seller, and is often noted as being the “King of Islay” as it’s heavily peated and smoky flavored whisky is a common note among Islay distilleries.  Lagavulin 16 can be considered an “acquired taste”, as it’s intimidating aroma and taste can be difficult for newer whisky drinkers to get used to, but for those that enjoy the flavor, it usually becomes a staple in their liquor cabinets.  As an interesting side note, Nick Offerman is actually a real life fan of the whisky as well and has his own 11 year malt with his name and face on the label, which will definitely be part of a future review.  The actor has also frequently visited the distillery and has been part of multiple advertisements including an epic 45 minute holiday video that simply features him sitting by a roaring fire and sipping the whisky.  Needless to say if you are a Nick Offerman fan or just a Parks and Rec fan, you have to give this whisky a try, if only to connect with the character of Ron Swanson better (or perhaps you’ll connect with one of the other characters who have tried and not liked the whisky on the show).

Try to imagine what an early 1900’s CEO’s office, full of rich mahogany furniture and previously smoked cigars smells like, now you’re close to what this whisky smells like. 

Preparation: As with all scotches, the smell and first sip are “neat”; meaning no ice, water or any other mixer, just the whisky on its own. After that I added a little bit of water for subsequent sips, and finally to get the entire range of flavors, I added ice in the last few sips.

Smell: Try to imagine what an early 1900’s CEO’s office, full of rich mahogany furniture and previously smoked cigars smells like, now you’re close to what this whisky smells like.  Peat and smoke are very strong and very concentrated to go along with some minor notes of sherry and even a little hint of vanilla. Many have pointed out that it smells very much like lapsang souchong tea, which is an especially smoky tea.  But since I’ve never tried the tea, I couldn’t tell you one way or the other.

Palate: Very thick and very rich.  It feels like this whisky coats the inside of your mouth and tongue.  Smoke and peat is of course the main note and to me it feels like “drinking a good cigar”.  There is some subtle sweetness as well that comes from some sherry, vanilla and fruit undertones as well. 

Finish: If you like this whisky, then you’ll really enjoy the finish as it is long and strong.  The flavors stay around for quite a while and really gives you a chance to appreciate all the different secondary and minor notes.  Along with everything I noticed on the palate, the finish also brings some minor notes of deep oak as well as hints of spices and black pepper.

With Ice: I’m not gonna lie, it hurt to put an ice cube in the glass.  This isn’t really a whisky you want to water down too much as the secondary and minor notes are what really make it an enjoyable experience and keeps the smokiness from being completely overpowering.  The ice will take away any bitterness or spice that may feel like a slight burn on the tongue, but it’s really not worth it to miss out on all the other flavors.

Overall: Have I made it obvious that this is one of my favorite scotch whiskies? I always have a bottle in the house and it is my absolute ‘go-to’ when I’m looking for a nice glass of scotch to end the day.  Considering I’m also a big fan of cigars, this is the perfect scotch for me as many of the notes (smoky, spice, pepper, oak) are also similar notes you’ll find in a lot of cigars.  I thoroughly enjoy the long finish as it really does let you focus and appreciate all the different flavors this whisky has to offer.  If you have ever had any interest in scotch or cigars, this whisky is a ‘must-try’, even if only once because if you do like it, it will open up a lot of new options to try in the future.  Finally, just as I started this article, I will also leave you with the fine words of Ron Swanson: ““All my life I’ve avoided Europe, and it’s multitudes of terribleness, but it turns out, much to my surprise, there is actually one place in Europe that is worth seeing. These tiny islands off the coast of Scotland, where God’s chosen elixirs are distilled, barreled, and prepared for consumption. This is worth the trip.”

Distiller: Lagavulin

Cask: Oak

Price: $80-90

ABV: 43%

Color: Deep Gold

Region: Islay

Age: 16 years

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