In my previous post I mentioned how stunning the view from our room was. I want to prove that I wasn’t lying.
The standard Lagavulin single malt is 16 years old (43%), though they regularly release a 12-year-old cask strength variety, a Distiller’s edition finished in Pedro Ximénez casks, and 25- and 30-year-old varieties. The distillery of Lagavulin officially dates from 1816, when John Jonston and Archibald Campbell constructed two distilleries on the site. One of them became Lagavulin, taking over the other—which one is not exactly known. Records show illicit distillation in at least ten illegal distilleries on the site as far back as 1742, however. In the 19th century, several legal battles ensued with their neighbour Laphroaig, brought about after the distiller at Lagavulin, Sir Peter Mackie, leased the Laphroaig distillery. It is said that Mackie attempted to copy Laphroaig’s style. Since the water and peat at Lagavulin’s premises was different from that at Laphroaig’s, the result was different. International Spirit ratings competitions have generally given Lagavulin’s 16-year spirit extremely high scores. The San Francisco World Spirits Competition, for instance, gave the 16-year four consecutive double gold medals between 2005 and 2008 and has awarded it gold medals in the years since. Wine Enthusiast put the 16-year in its 90–95 point interval in 2004. Spirits ratings aggregator proof66.com, which averages scores from the San Francisco Spirits Competition, Wine Enthusiast, and others, classifies the spirit in its highest (“Tier 1”) performance category.
Kildalton Cross is one of the finest early Christian crosses in Scotland, the High Cross of Kildalton, is closely related to three major crosses in Iona, St John’s, St Martin’s and St Oran’s and dates from the second half of the 8th century. On the east face (towards the sea), at the top are two angels with, below them, David fighting a lion. Further down, two birds feed on a bunch of grapes then on the shaft, a carving of Virgin with Child and angels. The right arm panel depicts Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac, while the left shows Cain murdering Abel. The central boss on the west side is surrounded by seven smaller bosses intertwined with serpents. In the construction of the cross arms are four lions (all with damaged heads) intertwined with more serpents, similar to those on the shaft of St Martin’s cross, Iona. Among the early Christian church sites in Islay, and there are quite a few worth a visit, the Old Parish Church of Kildalton is of special interest because of the above mentioned High Cross of Kildalton. However, the Old Church, and many of the carved medieval grave slabs in the graveyard or within the chapel itself, is also very worthy of attention. The rectangular building, now roofless (probably roofed originally with thatch since there is no record of broken slates being found) has internal measurements of 17.3 metres by 5.7 metres – fairly large for an old highland church. The Kildalton parish is medieval in origin – early documentary records suggesting from c 1425, but the church building is older than this, possibly dating from the late 12th or early 13th century. Following the 1560 Reformation, Kildalton Church continued to be used, for a parish which extended from McArthur’s head in the north, to the Oa in the south, until the drift of population towards Ardbeg caused change and regular public worship was discontinued in Kildalton and transferred to the Lagavulin area at the end of the 18th century.
Ardbeg Distillery (Scottish Gaelic: Taigh-stail Àirde Beaga), located on the south coast of Islay, is owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, and the company claims it produces the peatiest Islay whisky (with most expressions using malt with a phenol content of 55ppm). The Ardbeg distillery has been producing whisky since 1798, and began commercial production in 1815. For most of its history, its whisky was produced for use in blended whisky, rather than as a single malt. By 1886 the distillery produced 300,000 gallons of pure alcohol/year, and employed 60 workers. Production was halted in 1981, but resumed on a limited basis in 1989 and continued at a low level through late 1996, during the period when Ardbeg was owned by Hiram Walker. The distillery was bought and reopened by Glenmorangie plc (owned by the French company LVMH) with production resuming on June 25, 1997 and full production resuming in 1998. The distillery was reopened by Ed Dodson in 1997 and handed over to Stuart Thomson, who managed it from 1997 to 2006. Michael “Mickey” Heads, an Islay native and former manager at Jura who had worked at Ardbeg years earlier, took over on March 12, 2007. Ardbeg’s offerings have garnered an array of awards at international spirit ratings competitions.
Laphroaig is named for the area of land at the head of Loch Laphroaig on the south coast of the Isle of Islay. The meaning of the toponym is unknown but a commonly suggested derivation implies the elements “lag” (Gaelic: hollow), “breid” (Norse: broad) and “vik” (Norse: bay), implying an original Gaelic form something like “Lag Bhròdhaig” (the hollow of Broadbay). The name may be related to a placename on the east coast of Islay, “Pròaig”, again suggested as meaning “broad bay”. The distillery and brand are owned and operated by the American spirits company Beam Inc. Laphroaig has been the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales, which was awarded in person during a visit to the distillery in 1994. The 15-year-old is reportedly the prince’s favourite Scotch whisky. Laphroaig is one of the most strongly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies, and is most frequently aged to 10 years, although the 18-year-old variety is common (the 27-, 30- and 40-year-olds are rare and expensive). The company describes their whisky as the most distinctive of Scotch whisky. The Laphroaig Quarter Cask was introduced in 2004. This expression is aged in smaller casks and is not chill filtered. The Quarter Cask Single Malt is inspired by the whiskies that were produced 200 years ago. Due to the smaller barrels used, the oak surface contact is 30% greater than with standard barrels. Quarter casks were preferred in the 18th century, when smuggling was rife, as the smaller barrels were easier for mules—a favoured means of cross-land transportation—to carry. The Quarter Cask is bottled at 48% ABV (96 proof), or 20% stronger than the minimum of 40%. The standard bearer 10-year-old bottling has also been bottled at 43% ABV.