Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lagavulin 16 year

I'm writing this as I taste it.  Having been a "friend of Laphroaig" for a few years, I've been eager to try other
Islay malts that can match it pound for pound.  I had Caol Ila in a bar and it was good but I can't remember it all that well.  And I've had Ardbeg, which is regarded as one of the 3 great Islay malts.  Frankly, Ardbeg wasn't quite for me; it has a light sweetness that pairs with the heavy peat content that is somewhat jarring to me.  I think I'm kind of an all or nothing guy, give me the peat, oil, brine, etc.  Or something non-peated but with tons of flavor, like Aberlour A'bundh.  It's not to say Ardbeg is lacking in flavor, but somehow the combination of flavors wasn't my favorite.  I digress, on to Laguvulin.  I'd be lying if I didn't confess that one reason for moving it to the top of my list of whiskies to try was that it's what Ron Swanson drinks on Parks and Recreation.  He generally pairs it with lots of red meat.

Lagavulin 16 is 86 proof and will run you in the $70-80 range.  I won't try to get into the science of peat and the ppm numbers--phenol in parts per million--let's just say it's a lot of peat in this beautiful green box, packaged as part of Diageo's Classic Malts collection.  I guess their concept is you could drink your way through 6 Scotland whisky regions and stay in their brand portfolio.  But the entries are legit, e.g. Glenkinchie, Talisker, Oban.  Laguvulin pours a deep gold color, and leaves legs in the glass (I'm using a Glencarin glass).  On the nose, you get lots of peat, assertive but somehow still soft.  On the second sniff you get the rich barley, like a malty beer.  A third sniff kills my sense of smell but keeps giving off the peat.  First sip...This one is a heavyweight.  It has a lot of bite somehow, though it's only 86 proof.  Not in a bad way.  The soft peat is there through and through.  But behind it are fruit flavors, maybe some melon?  Michael Jackson describes the palate as "oily, grassy" and "salty" and says that Lagavulin has the "driest and most sustained attack of any readily available whisky."  You definitely are transported to the warehouses which are "battered by the sea," and are immersed in a depth and breadth of flavor  In any case, it's pungent.  I don't really get much sherry.  The finish is solid but maybe not as sustained as you might expect from the initial punch in the mouth.  It's quite pleasant, like a campfire. 

Verdict?  It's really good stuff.  I usually like to write my reviews on the 2nd or third go round, so Laguvulin maybe isn't getting it's full fair shake.  If you read Urban Grain you know I'm a big value guy.  So how does this one stack up to my favorite malt of all time, Laphroaig, which is about $25 bucks cheaper?  It certainly holds its own, and some might choose it.  I would still go with Laphroaig, probably even if they were equal in cost.  Something about Laphroaig is so over the top and wonderful.  If Lagavulin is a heavyweight, Laphroaig is a super heavyweight.  That said, Laguvulin has all the things I fell in love with in Islay malts, oil, peat, brine and salt, and a cozy finish.  Great stuff and deserving of the lore and hype.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hancock's President's Reserve Single Barrel

A quick and brief live blog tasting during halftime of game 6 of the Sixers-Celtics.  No format, just a few thoughts.  I bought it for $35 bucks, on sale.  It smells like vanilla.  Tastes like a classic Buffalo Trace.  These distillers all have one or two recipes and trot them out in 80 different formats.  This is 88.9 proof, almost identical to the flagship brand in that regard.  Tastes like it too, albeit slightly smoother.  Sweet and oaky.  A bit of cinnamon on the finish.  A nice solid whisky, with an awesome decanter style bottle, almost like cut glass.  It's in the same vein as Elmer T. Lee, Buffalo Trace, etc.  For me this is probably a one timer, not special in any notable way.  Too low proof and not enough flavor on the whole for the price.  I could name a dozen whiskies cheaper that I'd rather buy.  I won't right now, but I could.  It's decent, but you may want to pass it up in favor of something with more bite or more interest.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Drinking to Average

I've heard alcohol described as "an affordable luxury," and I think that's a great description.  Even a bottle of booze that costs 300 bucks is easier to get your hands on than say, a yacht, or a fancy vacation.  Still, most of us are on a budget, and can't just buy any bottle that grabs our eye.  My solution?  Drinking to average.  The best way I can explain it is simply by telling you about a recent restocking of my liquor cabinet.

I was pouring a taste of bourbon one night and realized that, while my current collection has some stellar entries--Pappy 15, William Larue Weller, Aberlour A'bundh--I was a little light in "everyday" whiskies.  As much as I complain about the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, their Fine Wine and Good Spirits shop is a great place for this type of need.  They have a half decent selection of bourbon, and their sale prices are great.  I scanned the shelves and saw that Booker's, from the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection, was 5 bucks off.  $42 for Booker's is a solid price, but still a bit more than I wanted to spend on everyday stuff.  Another sale item was Benchmark, Buffalo Trace's budget bourbon (comes in a plastic container).  I've had it before and while it's not memorable, it straddles the line of inoffensive/pleasant quite nicely, and will be great for filling my decanter.  It was $18.99 with a $3 mail in rebate, final price $15.99 for 1.75 ml.  That's more than two bottles of bourbon.  I grabbed it, along with the Booker's, and a bottle of my standby house bourbon, Buffalo Trace, at $21.99.  A total of about $80 for more than 4 bottles of bourbon.  That puts the average bottle at sub $20.  Now, on any given Tuesday night, I will have a choice of three bourbons, and won't feel guilty if I do choose the Booker's.  I will also preserve my higher end and harder to find whiskies. 

And that's drinking to average.