That’s some title, isn’t it? Hate is quite overstated, but I have to lure unsuspecting readers in some way, don’t I?
Anyway, the third and last distillery we toured while on Islay a few weeks ago was Lagavulin. I did the tour back in 2010 as well, on my first trip to Islay and Scotland. The tour was followed by the Warehouse Demonstration. Back then they only did this on Thursdays, while it’s been amped up to every weekday now.
My love for Lagavulin started really early in my whisky drinking days when my father-in-law bought the regular 16 year old, based on Jim Murray’s 92 points for it. Ever since I have absolutely loved every expression I tasted, with an exception for the eight year old that’s been on the market for the last two years. Compared to their other expressions, that stuff is peated water to me. It lacks the depth and complexity that makes the whisky so great in other expressions.
However, that’s not what the charged title of this post gets it’s ‘hate’ from.
Back in 2010 I found the distillery tour at Lagavulin only so-so. I had done some tours by then (Glengoyne, Arran, Springbank, Bowmore, Ardbeg and, I think, Laphroaig). Then the distillery that has a huge name to live up to does such a pedestrian tour, it’s a disappointment. I remember it more as a ‘quick look’ tour in which things were tuned to explain whisky making to the absolute novice instead of going a little bit more in depth and getting to know the distillery better.
When we visited this year, I warned my friends for this. We really wanted to do the warehouse demonstration, though, so we booked the tour anyway. We shouldn’t have. Unless you’re very keen on ‘still spotting’, Lagavulin is not a distillery for a tour.
Back then, we could walk around the premises a little bit for a picture and a ‘feel’ for the distillery. Even that has been taken down to ‘we’re walking to the warehouse wall with the letters on it and will be going back to the visitor center in five minutes’. A lot of numbers are thrown around in regard to washback sizes, mashtuns and their waters, still sizes, but I find myself very short on fucks to give about these exact numbers. I want stories, history, tales about quirks that make Lagavulin stand out from everything else.
There’s none of that to be found.
Then, after the tour, if you booked it right, you get to do the Warehouse Demonstration. Not sure why it’s not called a Warehouse Tasting, but that’s what it is. A tasting more often than not done my Iain McArthur. That wee man is an absolute legend!
After a couple of minutes with him in the warehouse, the whiskies don’t really matter anymore. He’s hugely entertaining and picks up the slack from the tour. There’s history about him, the island, Lagavulin and everything. He jokes around, makes fun of the participants and himself. And he also happens to pour some of the most amazing drams.
As with everything on our trip, I didn’t take notes, but I remember the 20 and 25 year old whiskies, both from sherry casks. The 20 was a bit more vibrant and upbeat where the 25 was already becoming an older gentleman. Timid, even. Then there was a cask sample from a 1982 cask. Back in the slender years when distilleries only operated a few days per week and lots of them were on the verge of closing. Now THAT is a whisky. The peat is toned down and the wood is turned up, but the complexity is vast and the ‘ancientness’ of it was more akin to whiskies from the sixties and seventies. Damn…
As you might expect, everything is forgiven after a tasting like that.
Just keep in mind that when touring Lagavulin, you’ll be getting the tourist tour. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a waste of time, but there’s other things to do on the island, like walking up to and climbing the remains of Dunyvaig Castle.
Now, where’s that bottle of amazing Distillery Only they had?