Happy Birthday

Lagavulin: 200 years of peated perfection

Posted by: Ted

lagavulin

Here at Whisky Waffle we understand the gravitas of celebrating a bicentennial birthday. When we sprang into existence in 1988, we arrived just in time to witness Australia’s 200th year as a nation (although one of us saw a few months more of it than the other). Now we are all grown up and are excited to be able to witness another bicentennial milestone, the anniversary of a distillery that is rather close to our hearts:

Happy 200th Birthday Lagavulin!

Founded in 1816 by John Jonston and Archibald Campbell, Lagavulin has now entered the prestigious Islay old-boys club, joining the company of fellow veterans Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain and Laphroaig.

lagavulin-ted

Nestled on the shoreline just a couple of miles East of Port Ellen, the Diageo-owned distillery is classic Islay, with whitewashed walls bearing the name of the distillery in giant black letters on the seaward side and elegant pagodas peeking above the roof line. Inside, guests are greeted by age polished timber and leather chairs, painting a romantic view of yesteryear. Not forgetting of course the glossy copper stills and the ever-present scent of peat and spirit rising to meet the angels…

lagavulin-chairs
To celebrate the big milestone Lagavulin has released a special edition 8 year old bottling, which aims to recreate a bottling sampled by historical Waffler Alfred Barnard in 1886. Now, bear in mind an 8 year old whisky was considered nigh-on ancient back in the day and Barnard described that one as as “exceptionally fine”.

With such high praise from the 19th century, Nick immediately decided to add it to his collection. However, seeing that 2016 marked a 200 year celebration he thought ‘why stop there’ and promptly bought the 2014 edition of the Lagavulin 12 Year Old Cask Strength. When Ted added his Whisky Waffle favourite the 16 Year Old into the mix, we had quite the ingredients for a special Lagavulin birthday bash! Or as we didn’t refer to it at the time but should have: a peat party!

lagavulin-all

On the nose the 16yo was straight up coastal, with a salty, iodiny, seaweedy hit. But then we found… bananas? Perhaps banana chips, as well as dry-aged meat, terracotta, copper and crushed grass. The flavour was all about the tangy peat, but there were earthy notes such as mossy paving stones and singed oak branches.

After the subtle, balanced nature of the 16yo, the 8yo stopped us dead in our tracks and then made us jump up and down with excitement. The colour for one thing was crazy, like the palest white wine, certainly no Diageo caramel in sight there. The nose was decidedly new-makey. Raw. Ashy. A good deep breath delivered a big hit of green fruit. The flavour was fresh, crisp and bright, with the fire still burning across the palate. Summer peat. The finish was rather excellent, being sharp like a tailored charcoal suit. Everything about the 8yo served to highlight the smoothness of the 16yo.

Finally it was the turn of the cask strength 12yo, probably the dark horse of the bunch. Phwoar, what a whisky. It was young, exciting and complex, like a teenage poet. It was Bond, Die Hard and Crank… on Speed. The finish provided a peaty punch that really scratched that itch. There’s something about young peated whisky that just works.

lagavulin-nick
We’ve always had a connection with Lagavulin, even before we started the whole Whisky Waffle malarkey. To be fair, the 16yo was the first whisky that ever blew our minds and made us think that whisky was something more than an additive to Coke. Hopefully this gem of Islay continues another 200 years and beyond, but who knows what the future may bring. Maybe one day in the far flung future a descendant of Howard Carter will be leading an expedition to explore the ruins on a lonely island off the old Scottish coast. Perhaps they will discover a door sealed with a dusty cartouche bearing the legend ‘Lagavulin Distillery Est. 1816 Isla’ and upon gaining entry to the chamber within, will stumble across a hoard of barrels containing the fabled peated gold of Islay…
Advertisements

Ardbeg: a journey through time – the beginning

Ardbeg distillery, one of the true greats of Scottish whisky, is turning 200 – and may we add looking mighty good for its age! Whisky Waffle take this moment to celebrate by looking back at the history of this wonderful distillery in a new two-part adventure…

Ardbeg Day 2

Ardbeg: A journey through time – the beginning…

Posted by: Ted

1798
Fàilte traveller. You have been summoned here to witness the birth of a distillery, one that will become powerful and then dwindle to smoking peat embers, only to be stoked once again by the howling Ileach winds and rise even stronger than before. Look ye now to the peat bogs, for cometh the man, but perhaps not yet the moment. Duncan McDougall is his name, and he travels to rent the farmlands on the South East coast of Islay known as Ardbeg, Airigh nam Beist and Ardenistiel. Come; let us step forward in time to see what will be. I am sure one such as you knows the way of it.

1815

Now friend, the true moment. Here is Duncan, and with him his son John, and grandson Alexander. They have fashioned themselves as McDougall & Co. and raised a distillery on the land known as Ardbeg. Watch closely, ye silent observer, as they flicker across the years, crafting a dram with a heart of smoke.

1835

The fire that was Duncan burns no more, and John works the land in his place, while Alexander is tasked with tending the waters of life. Woe to the makers, insolvency falls, and Ardbeg changes hands. Let your gaze pierce across the sea to Glasgow, where the coffers of Thomas Buchanan Jr. now stoke the Ardbeg fires. But the McDougalls work on, leasing their creation from the new masters and tending to their amber child.

1853

Alexander is lost to time and the Ileach wind. Turn your gaze watcher, for new players walk the stage. Here is Flora and Margaret McDougall, sisters to the old wolf and distillers in their own right; Colin Hay, proprietor newly made; his son Collin Elliot Hay, distiller at the helm; and John Ramsay, great owner of not only Ardbeg, but Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardenistiel too. This small god of the Ileach tends his emerging villages and their vaunted distilleries well, ensuring that their leases endure long and the water flows unimpeded.

1887

Can ye feel the power in the air? The reek of the mash and the thrum of the industrious as they transform barley, water and yeast into more than a million litres of smokey whisky. These craftsmen are the kings of the island and their work a champion of the blend, although the true believers know to take strength from the untransmuted Ardbeg spirit. I see you watching me traveller, and seeking the nature of the fall. Step once again and we shall see.

1944

War. The venerable whisky makers of Scotland weep golden tears as their industry bleeds. On Islay, the once mighty Ardbeg is now only a shadow of itself. The distilling bans of this terrible world struggle are just another blow after the horrors of the Great War, and the harsh realities of economic depression. The old guard are no more, and a pall drifts from men who know how to be bankrupt or creative with bookkeeping.

1981
Here is the true nadir my friend. Ardbeg is closed and all but a few chosen gone. The village mournfully quiet and the air wrong, missing the tang of fermenting barley. The future uncertain. After the war life returned, but never recovered. The McDougalls passed their torch to the Ardbeg Distillery Ltd, and the distillery became a bauble for giants, a speck of smoked quartz tumbling in their collections. Your eyes betray you wanderer. What room is there in this bleak world for the distilleries of Islay they ask? Listen to the capricious Ileach wind my friend, for it blows from the east and whispers a name, Glenmorangie. I told you at the start of our journey that Ardbeg would rise once again, and here is its saviour. An amber crusader by the name of Bill Lumdsen will take Ardbeg and reforge it in smoke and fire into a legendary single malt famed across the world and even to the stars themselves.

But the how and why of that great transformation you must discover for yourself. Here our paths split and I must walk another road. I bid you farewell my friend, fellow watcher of the ages.

Sláinte

Click for part two

Ardbeg day 1