Well, I am anxiously awaiting Lawrence doing that Ardbeg HTH. With that in mind I decided to have a fun of my own and have the 4 Islays I have on hand go at it. Just so you know this is my first time to try and communicate my tasting in print on this forum so please be gentle
(but also feel free to correct me if I say something wrong)
The four are Ardbeg 10yo, Lagavulin 16yo, Laphroaig 10yo, and Finlaggan Old Reserve. I decided that while I was at it I would see if I could pick up on any similarities between the Finlaggan and any of the other three. Just a little “guess which one it could be from.”
First the color:
In my opinion the Finlaggan Old Reserve very closely resembled the color of the Lagavulin. The Laphroaig was much lighter then either and Ardbeg was lighter then that. But, then again it could all be dyes.
Now here was the most telling factor for me. I described the Lagavulin as “a full rounded attack of smoke and peat.” (do you ever feel silly after you write this stuff down, and then have someone else read it?
) The Ardbeg in comparison while having plenty of peat smoke was also very oily and sweet. The Laphroaig as you all know is powerful peat. However, when compared to these other malts there is also something sweet that I found a bit off. Maybe this is what “medicinal” is referring to? Or maybe it was nutty?
Mr. Jackson says “gooseberry sweetness”??) The Finlaggan I described as “heavy smoke and sweet seaweed.”
I was really surprised how this came out. I found the Lagavulin to have the fullest body of the four. The next closest was the Finlaggan. I expected the Laphroaig to be right there as well, but was surprised to find it more in the medium to full range. The Ardbeg was my biggest surprise being the weakest of the four – straight on medium.
The taste and finish:
(I have a hard time distinguishing between these two so I just lump them together)
The Lagavulin was very smoky with plenty of spicy peat, but in a rounded way with a long finish. However, there was also a bitterness to it that wasn’t so pleasant. The Laphroaig while also having plenty of smoke and peat was also very salty with that odd taste from the nose (maybe medicinal or nutty?) The Ardbeg was incredibly complex, it started off salty and sweet, but then it hits with a wave of smoke, peat and iodine, and it ends with a spicy finish. My only complaint was that the finish didn’t last longer (compared to Lavagulin and Laphroaig). I have to agree with Mr. Jackson description of Ardbeg, “Skips sweetly along at first, then becomes mean and moody.” Just wonderful. Last up comes the Finlaggan. It was very smoky and peaty, and ended with a very spicy but short finish.
My impression was that all around the Finlaggan most closely resembled the Lagavulin. I found Lagavulin to have a much more complex nose, but Finlaggan had a much more spicy and peaty finish (while shorter). The Lagavulin just shows all the signs of being a more mature and rounded whisky. The really leads me to the conclusion that my cousin’s information was hitting close to home calling Finlaggan a young (6yo?) Lagavulin. But really who knows? The guys and Finlaggan, but certainly not me.
In the end, I have a hard time giving a numerical value to these very fine malts. I love them all. But if you pressed me I would say I enjoyed the Ardbeg the most and the Laphroaig the least (only because of that unrecognized smell). I probably would say that I like the Finlaggan slightly more then the Lagavulin because the Lagavulin had some bitterness to it. But at the same time I could easily see why someone else could prefer one over another
The biggest disappointment was that when I added water to Finlaggan it went flat.
The other three all held water just fine (it seemed to even help the Ardbeg a bit) But for $17 vs. the $60 I paid for the Lagavulin I would take the Finlaggan any day.