I recently had the opportunity to, ahem, sample a couple of fine Scotch whiskies; The Macallan and Lagavulin. My tastes (and budget) tend toward McClelland’s, a budget priced Highland single malt and, when I’m feeling a little more flush, Johnnie Walker Black, a blended whisky (and a favorite of Sir Winston Churchill, apparently).
Sampling The Macallan was inspired by references to it in Neil Peart‘s book Ghost Rider. Though I know Lagavulin as a classic Scotch whisky I didn’t have much experience with it. Recently viewing an episode of The West Wing (“Dead Irish Writers,” Season 3, Episode 16) and the exchange between Toby Ziegler and Lord John Marbury (actually John, Lord Marbury, but anyway…) prompted me to give it a try.
The Macallan ($16 a shot) was a 12-year old sherry cask aged whisky. It was darker in color than I’ve seen in Highland single malts, which I attributed to its time in sherry oak barrels. In my experience, Highland single malts are more astringent, more front of the mouth, crisp, with light smokiness. To this The Macallan adds (in this iteration, anyway) a darker, richer color and a deeper, almost (almost) sweet flavor. It took three shots to be sure of my impression – but I don’t want to give you the wrong idea…
A few years ago I was given a single malt sampler for Christmas, and I think there was a small bottle of Lagavulin in the set, along with Talisker, Oban, and a few others (I’m feeling too lazy to get up and go look for my tasting notes). The experience left me with a distinct impression; particularly, that Lowland and Islay (“eye-lah”) whiskies were too smoky for me – as someone I work with said, “too much like doing a face plant in a peat bog.” How they know, I’m not sure, but I haven’t tried it, and I’m not going to ask.
I may have to rethink my position.
The one shot of Lagavulin I had (at $23) had a much more pronounced smokiness than the Highland single malts (including The Macallan), but was very pleasant, and exceptionally smooth and well-balanced. Clearly, more research is needed. With or without the Punch Punchito.