In “Whisky Stories”, I share some personal thoughts about my ‘whisky journey’ (sheesh, that sounds corny). For my first post in this category, I was thinking of taking things to the very beginning: my first brush with Lagavulin 16y…
Nick Offerman, Spirit Animal
It must have been at least four years ago, back in 2015, when I bonded with a friend of mine over our mutual love for ‘cinemah’ (insert British pronunciation) and TV. One of the TV series we both liked was called “Parks & Recreation“, that series that introduced everyone to Nick Offerman, my spirit animal.
Anyways, as we started talking about Nick Offerman’s character, Ron Swanson, we got talking about the character’s adoration for this particular whisky bottle: Lagavulin 16y. Now, I had tried a couple of whiskies before, and at that point in my life, they were basically alcoholic beverages that I would consume in order to drink something else than beer all the time. I had dabbled in whisky tasting, but I had not really found my ‘to go to’ whisky yet.
Lagavulin was my first love, but will it be my last?
Up to that point, I had never tried that particular whisky, but I was quite interested in sampling it. I wanted to understand why that character in the series was so obsessed with that bottle. Luckily for me, my friend Alexander had a bottle at his apartment, as he had been a whisky-lover for a while. He knew a thing or two about whisky because of his father, who also enjoys a dram once in a while.
We got together one evening to taste Lagavulin, and in my head the build-up must have been insane. For some reason, I really wanted to like that particular whisky, and until today I really can’t say why. Was it because we were becoming good friends, and we started to spend more time together, watching classics such as Cape Fear and Sunset Boulevard? Or was it because I wanted to be like Ron Swanson, quintessential no-nonsense manly man? Perhaps it was a bit of both.
That night, I tasted my first glass of Lagavulin, and I was blown away by the richness and complexity of that delicious liquid. Peat, Lapsang Souchong (great to pair it with), hints of wood-smoke. Like many avid whisky drinkers, this was the bottle that got me hooked. I figured that if this whisky could be so rewarding to taste and smell, there would be many others that could have the same effect on my palate – not necessarily the same tasting notes, but the sense of amazement at how full–bodied and layered a whisky can be, and the subsequent realization that you might have discovered something that other people might not be aware of.
That’s when the real interest kicked in: I wanted to sip and share as many whiskies as I could. I wanted to see the same reaction in other people’s eyes. Drinking that whisky had really opened up my palate, and for a while, like many of you, probably, I only wanted to have smoky / peaty whiskies. The stronger the better! I remember going to a local wine and spirits shop and buying sample bottles, because at that point whiskies were very expensive to me.
Packing for Graz
It still took me a couple of months, though, until I finally bought a full bottle of Lagavulin. To be exact, it coincided with my first international wedding I attended. I had been invited to the wedding of Chris and Sophie, two good friends who had been living in Finland, then had emigrated to Australia, and had decided to fly back to the city where they had met to have their wedding: Graz, Austria. I know, sounds unbelievable, but the best true stories are often those that sound made-up.
So, I was travelling to Graz with a friend of mine, and when we got through airport security at Brussels airport, I was in a bit of a celebratory mood. Three days in Graz, three days of hanging out with friends, drinking Austrian beer, having delicious food. And then my trip got even better. I was browsing the tax-free selection, and suddenly noticed that bottles of Lagavulin were around 55 euros at the airport. This, obviously, was a bargain, as they were around 65 euros in Belgian liquor stores at that point (and I did not have a credit card to buy one online).
I did what any excited young Lagavulin-lover would do if he were in my position: I bought a bottle, got it secured in one of those special bags, and took it with me to Graz, where it spent 3 days in a hotel room, unopened. Opening it would have been out of the question, as the bride and groom had arranged 2 kegs of beer for their wedding party, which was held first in a lovely restaurant called Schlossberg (Castle Hill), where we were able to enjoy a beautiful panorama of the city. Later, we moved to a cocktail bar, and finally ended up at a biergarten, and that’s when it all got a bit fuzzy.
Anyhow, the bottle miraculously stayed corked, and when I got home after a beautiful long weekend, it was an absolute pleasure to open my very own Lagavulin 16 bottle, and toast to the happiness and good health of the newly-weds!
And that’s my story about how Lagavulin became the first proper whisky I had the pleasure of enjoying to the fullest. Now I just need to make it to the distillery some day…
What about you? Do you have a special whisky story? Which whisky was the first to blow your palate wide open?
Photographs are © Lagavulin.