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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Lagavulin 21: a wonderful way not to work


Scotch and smoke - Lagavulin 21, a superpremium

"Oh my God, it tastes like a Scotch bonfire," Lynn said on her first sip of this superpremium twenty-one-year-old Scotch from the notoriously smoky distillery, Lagavulin. She was sitting on the Japanese chair and the fireplace hadn't been lit anyway since January so there were no untoward environmental influences.

Now I was curious. I saw in her face the surprise; I saw her chew the Scotch a bit, and raise her eyebrows, and look at me as though to say, "This might be a bit powerful for me, but you're going to be at home with it." She passed the vintage etched stem glass with its equally vintage precious liquid over the coffee table and into my hand.

I was sitting on the sofa, facing the sunset through a window; it was already warm enough.

Lagavulin 21 is indeed a powerful Scotch; as with other single-malts from the Islay (please say "ee-luh"), the taste of smoke is dominant, but here the fullness of the peat gives the nose of smoke a run for the money. (And in this case, money is what we're running for: a bottle of this super-premium, only a 1,000 of which make their way to the States, retails in triple digits, and I mean the crooked triple digits, not the straight up-and-down ones.) Sometimes tasters ascribe the salty taste of seaweed to the scotch, but to me not so much, it seems they are simply describing the nexus of strong smoke and strong peat.

Smoky, and no wonder: "...it has perhaps twenty times as much exposure to peat smoke as a typical Speyside, Cragganmore," says Malts.com. And we can imagine that formidable peat derives from a proximate coast that bears the full assault of Atlantic weather.

I sat with my glass for a long time---a very long time. I had a lot of work to do and this was an inordinately successful way not to do it. As I kept sipping, no more than a tip of the tongue sip at a time, I kept waiting for the taste to fade into something less full of impact than the first sip; it never did, not after an hour.

They watch birds quite a bit in Islay, and so do I, so when the sun went down I looked for Sid and Nancy, our two Jays who hang out in the honeysuckle; didn't find them, but did see the mockingbirds nesting again. This is the time of year when birds are coupling and futzing with nests here, and watching them with a glass of fine scotch in hand made for a perfect late-winter crepuscule.

Later on in the evening, after the sun ducked behind the oak and Lynn tripped off to the westside, I found myself still sipping the same glass.

The finish lasts about...oh, twelve hours; maybe longer if you don't sleep; but why wouldn't you? You've found a wonderful way not to work; you might as well go all the way with it.

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