In the 1980s, the whisky industry was on life support. Over 20 distilleries in Scotland closed their doors, some of them for good. The 1988 Tom Cruise film Cocktail didn’t help matters much. Bottles twirled, bodies gyrated, and whisky was nowhere to be seen. The film did great at the box office, and helped further advance the cocktail craze worldwide. What if they made it about scotch whisky? Would that have taken the industry out of the darkness and into the light?
Our film opens with Cruise showing up late to his bartending gig at an upscale downtown establishment. He’s a brash hotshot who’s only interested in wowing female patrons with his fancy bottle work and umbrella-clad cocktails. One night, after the last of the lonelies stumble home, Cruise sees an elderly fellow sitting at the end of the bar. He curiously approaches. The man asks Cruise to sit. “Good evening son. The name’s Angus. Tonight you’re gonna learn about the greatest spirit the world has ever known.” His voice oozed with poise and maturity.
Angus takes out a bottle of Lagavulin 16 from his coat pocket. Cruise gives it a quick inspection and instinctively flips it. He pours a few ounces into a martini glass and garnishes it with a lemon. Just as he’s about to knock it back, Angus grabs him arm, looks deep into his eyes, and says, “Don’t shoot son, sip.” Once the sweet, smoky nectar hits his lips, he’s forever transformed. He leaps onto the bar and screams, “As God is my witness, I’ll never drink another Pina Colada again!”
Cruise starts obsessing over still shapes, washback types, and barley yields. He attends tastings on his days off. Just like the training sequences in the Rocky movies, everything is shown in montage-form. His passion for scotch eventually starts to become a problem at work. Customers tip him to not talk about whisky. The movie ends with Cruise, now an old man, teaching a young cocktail slinger about single malts, just as Angus taught him.
Lagavulin 16, the whisky responsible for the arc in Cruise’s character, is an iconic peated expression from Islay that can be enjoyed by drinkers of all experience levels. It’s sweet, fruity, and coastal (think kippers), with a respectable mouthfeel despite being chill filtered and presented at 43%. This may be due to how it’s made. Lagavulin’s stills are filled almost to capacity, giving the vapours little time to interact with the copper. Less copper contact usually produces a meatier spirit. Lagavulin 16 is a quality product deserving of your now inflation-impaired dollar.