Do you drink Scotch? Religiously? Then you probably know Laphroaig, which produces the most “challenging” product of all widely-distributed distilleries.
Weirdly, I was just thinking about Laphroaig this morning, when I hit Facebook and it is the first thing that I see in my Facebook feed after being away from FB for days. That’s because Night Shade Books editor Ross E. Lockhart, who performed the development edit on my 2011 novel The Panama Laugh (and did a hell of a job) digs Laphroaig, apparently, and marked it as a “LIKE.”
And that was the very first thing I saw on FB after thinking of Laphroaig while I was walking the dog. I mean, like, did anyone else just get chills or something? I mean, like, I think a butterfly just flapped its wings over Jung’s grave, right? I think Sting just had a Tantric smugness attack, right? Am I right?
It’s pretty unusual for me to think about Laphroaig, especially before breakfast. I don’t think about Laphroaig more than once every couple of years, or whenever I pass a burned-down seaweed processing plant.
Laphroaig drinkers may not want to continue, as it may inhibit the apparently religious experience they have not so much when they drink Laphroaig, but when they talk about it. They can go off and, I don’t know, drink Laphroaig or something.
But for those of you who don’t know, Laphroaig is a Scottish distillery that produces some exceedingly distinctive single-malt Scotches. Laphroaig tates like no other whisky in the world. Most dedicated Scotch drinkers speak of it as if it were Communion wine. I can’t stand the stuff.
Y’see, while I love many things about the sea, for the most part I am not a fan of the edibles that come from it. Though I’m fond of blowing the top off my head with the occasional meal of wasabi-drenched sushi, I’ve never liked the salty taste that permeates seaweed.
Seaweed in Scotch, you say? Why, yes, yes. Seaweed. A significant number of Islay malts have the taste of of seaweed to them that those who love it simply swear by.
Y’see, Scotches have a smoky flavor. It’s more pronounced in Scotch than in whiskey from other regions, though in my experience all good whiskey has some smoke to it, whether subtle or otherwise. That’s (mostly) because the process of making Scotch involves a lot of burning peat, which is essentially decomposed vegetable matter. It gives Scotch whiskys many of their distinctive characteristics.
I would argue (as would others) that the burning of peat makes Scotch more connected to the land where it’s made than any other distilled liquor. (Hey, maybe it makes getting hammered kind of like some earth-based ritual, right? At least, if you can afford it…) The importance of peat (along with the large number of distilleries and the hundreds of years of tradition preserved in making Scotch) is one of the things that make Scotch whisky so different than other whiskies.
Owing to different processes, some Scotch whiskys are much smokier than others. Some of this comes from the aging process, where whiskies take on characteristics of the wood in their aging barrels. (Some whiskies are aged in charred oak barrels, for instance — this gives them a much smokier flavor.) But for very smoky Scotch whiskys, the peat used is paramount.
Scotch is thought of by region, with distinctive characteristics peculiar to each region (along with an enormous amount of variation). The Islay region of Scotland is where Laphroaig is made (as are many other Scotches). I haven’t really kept up with my Scotch drinking in recent years, and I was never a seriously dedicated Scotch drinker. But as I recall, to my palate the Islay region may actually have the greatest variation among distilleries.
Islays tend to be very idiosyncratic whiskeys. I find that Scotch drinkers with a taste of adventure — and a real appreciation for evocatively unusual flavors — often turn out to be huge fans of the Islay region.
The Islay region gets its name from the fact that it’s a maritime area — Islay = Islands. That’s why Islay malts have a lot of sea-borne vegetable matter in the peat. That’s right, seaweed.
As Scotch whiskys go, Laphroaig falls on the “very smoky” end of the spectrum.
I do tend to like somewhat smoky Scotches, in general.
But to me, drinking Laphroaig is like smoking a dirt cigar laced with shredded cod.
I think it’s safe to say that if you are a casual cocktail-drinker — that is, if you like some drinks because “you can’t even taste the alcohol!” then you probably do NOT want to try Laphroaig.
Scotch fiends will tell you that you do want to try Laphroaig.
They’ll get this far-away look on their face, like they’re talking about their first love, or the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan, or reciting the Declaration of Independence.
“You should try Laphroaig,” they’ll say rapturously, breathlessly. They may even have tears in their eyes. “It’s wonderful. It’s like…tasting the soul of the universe. It’s like reading the mind of God. You know, one time I went to this Scotch bar downtown and I drank Laphroaig, for 12 hours. That taste, that smoky whisky taste. I love the taste of Laphroaig. Tastes like…
When a Scotch drinker tries to get you to try Laphroaig, don’t listen to them. Just throw your appletini in their face.
Unless they’re buying, of course.
Then, go ahead and guzzle as much as you can. Good whisky is EXPENSIVE.
NOTE: In the question of whether to use “whiskey/whiskies” or “whisky/whiskys,” I have gone back and forth. According to the Associated Press Style Manual, “whisky” is usually correct only when talking about Scotch whisky, in which case the plural is “whiskys.”
Some sources now say that “Scotch inspired beverages” can be referred to as whisky.
As a whisky/whiskey drinker, I think that’s psycho. What the hell is a “Scotch-inspired beverage?” It’s either Scotch or it’s whiskey, and if it’s Scotch it’s also whiskey, but Scotch is Scotch. All whiskies are “inspired” by Scotch to some degree. Bourbon is inspired by Scotch, for fuck’s sake — a few hundred years on, but that’s not the point.
I’ve probably mixed it up above, because that’s the way it goes. I’m not a copyeditor anymore, so I play it fast and loose with the foodie terms, homie. That’s how I role.