Lagavulin Warehouse Tasting with Iain McArthur

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My first trip to Islay was as great as I had thought an Islay trip could be. Caught in the remnants of Hurricane Katia, churning out some fantastic weather to match the rugged surroundings. Visits to Bowmore, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Kilchoman and a power cut at Bunnahabhain, all part of a glorious trip with some fellow whisky enthusiasts from the SWE.

However, if we were all pushed to make a decision on the best part of the trip, I am fairly certain that most people would choose the warehouse tasting at Lagavulin with warehouseman Iain McArthur.

Not only did we get to try some fantastic whiskies straight from the cask, but we also got the knowledge and insight from a man who has worked at the distillery for 41 years.

For those of you who do not know who this guy is you can check him out in this interview with Dave Broom.

This was made to celebrate Ian’s 40th anniversary with Lagavulin and focuses on his view of the whisky process. Definitely one of the nicest guys you could meet and he even bungled seven of us into the back of his van to stop us getting soaked on our way to Ardbeg.

The Scotch Whisky Experience crowd at Lagavulin

These are my tasting notes from the whiskies that we tried with Iain. Due to my lack of note taking utensils at the time it is an overall view rather than a step by step tasting. A fairly simple tasting, but some truly great whiskies. After all, simple is best according to Iain, with Lagavulin all you need is ‘A wee drop of water and just Slainte Mhath’:

New Make

Not really what you would expect if you are a regular Lagavulindrinker. An over running sweet note carries throughout the whole tasting and the delicate malty notes linger towards the end. As far as smoke is concerned, there is only the odd puff throughout.

Lagavulin 10yo
Refill Bourbon
59% ABV

In Iain’s words ‘a dram for the young ones.’ His theory is that the younger you are the more likely you are to enjoy these high strength drams. Personally I kind of agree, from experience working in the bar I notice that younger folks are usually more keen to attack the cask strength from the start, but I have seen some older folks hitting the stuff hard as well. Thoughts on this anyone? The Whisky was intensely peaty, still with a sweet core to the whisky. A smoky Baked Alaska.

Lagavulin 14yo
4th fill Bourbon
55.4% ABV

You could tell this was a 4th fill cask, very delicately coloured and a lot less of the sweet vanilla notes. The intense, sharp peat from the ten has been replaced by a much more well rounded wood smoke. And plenty of it as well. Very smooth for a 55.4% whisky and delightful as well.

Lagavulin 18yo
Bodega Sherry cask
51.4% ABV

Iain’s favourite of the bunch, and I have to admit it was mine as well. In fact this was excellent whisky. Heavy sherry notes, lots of rich spice mixed with a slight sweet base, if ever their was a fruitcake like whisky it was this. Well, a fruitcake that has been layered in a delicious creamy, smoked sauce. Again very, very smooth and easy drinking. Closest to the classic taste of the 16, I would love to try the two side by side. Think toffee apples, coated in a rich sugared, sherry sauce and cooked over a barbecue to perfection.

Lagavulin 45yo
Refill Bourbon
44% ABV

Aka ‘the ladies dram’. This is what Iain likes to call the whisky from the oldest cask in the distillery. An absolute delight to try and definitely got the room excited. Not surprisingly this is a lot lighter on the peat, in fact it is almost negligible until you add a splash of water. Very fresh, smooth fruits. Plums, pears and slight sweetened peach notes. Holds water really well bringing back a delicate peaty note that compliments the fresh vibe nicely.

Graeme Gardiner

Comments

  1. Hello Iain, I thought you might be interested in this story as you are a Macarthur. One of my Macarthur ancestors, Charles (1762-1837), from Polneach and then innkeeper in Cawdor, had a ceremonial sword that my father’s second cousin gave to Fort William Museum in Ardersier many years ago where it is on display. On the sword was written “Phroiag” and “Polneach”. I take it that these Macarthurs in Cawdor were brought from Islay by Campbell when he owned the island in the 17th century, most likely whiskymakers who could improve his local whisky. Polneach was a distillery at one time, and I have found on the web mention of Polneach whisky belonging to I believe Alexander Macarthur early 19th century. Today, on the same site, or quite close to it, is Brackla (distillers of Royal Brackla), which must have used Phraoig techniques – although Brackla officially opened I believe early 19th century by a Fraser. I have recently taken DNA test with 23andMe and have a distant match with someone of Macarthur descent from Stralachlan…so I think my whisky surmise may be of interest to you! Best wishes, Jane Macgillivray

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