Whisk(e)y musings read by tens of people worldwide.

Monday, June 26, 2023

Never Get Between a Man and His Meal

Here Liberty her throne maintains:

O'er thy delightful hills and plains

No domineering tyrant reigns

-  A heaven on earth is Islay!

-  Alexander M'Gilvray, “Islay” (1850)

Songs, for the most part, are written to inspire and uplift.  Take the 1991 hit “Walking in Memphis” for example.  You won’t find a single verse about Memphis’ high crime and poverty rates.  The lyrics read like a love letter to the city and its people.  Catfish on the table.  Gospel in the air.  The same could be said about the song above.  Delightful hills and plains.  A heaven on earth.  When Alexander M'Gilvray wrote “Islay” in 1850, the island, for most of its inhabitants, was anything but a heaven on earth.

In 1644, Scotland taxed whisky for the first time.  Before 1644, the people of Islay would distill out in the open.  After 1644, everything went underground, and stayed that way for 170 years.

“You’re wrong Ryan!  Bowmore was founded in 1779, it even says so on all of their labels.”

Bowmore may have started making whisky in 1779, but they didn’t obtain a license until 1816.  Putting 1779 on the label is just their way of projecting longevity.  Glenturret does the same thing.  On their bottles, you’ll find “Since 1763.”  Their first license was issued in 1818.

Positives were hard to come by on Islay during the 18th and early 19th centuries.  People mainly subsisted on a diet of potatoes, and only potatoes.  Disease was rampant.  Distilling was the one (and only) thing that could potentially make your life (marginally) better.  As Alfred Barnard points out in his book, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, smugglers could, “Clear at least ten shillings a day, and keep a horse and cow.”

For 153 years, not one excise officer was stationed on the island.  When the first wave of officers finally did arrive in the late 1700s, they weren’t exactly greeted with open arms.  Gallows were erected in Bridgend, a village north of Bowmore.  One excise officer, upon seeing this “welcome mat of terror,” quickly made his way to the nearest port, and booked passage home.

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a piece called “Blurred Lines.”  I talked about how my neighbour once baked me a batch of “less than delicious” cookies.  I told her they were great.  Being honest wasn’t an option.  There’s a good chance I’ll be living next to her for decades.  Fines for illegal distilling on Islay tended to be on the lenient side.  The magistrates who oversaw these cases knew the perpetrators, and the perpetrators knew where the magistrates lived.  As for the excise officers who had the audacity to do their jobs, threats and assaults were commonplace.  The smart ones took bribes or looked the other way.

In 1816, the Small Stills Act changed everything.  Small farm distillers (maximum 40 gallons) could now legally make whisky (the minimum before that was 500 gallons).  Slowly but surely, moonlight distillers left the darkness for the light.  Lagavulin and (as we now know) Bowmore went legit in 1816.  Laphroaig started up a few months earlier.

In my opinion, Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength is the best (reasonably priced) product made by Laphroaig at the moment.  It’s barrier, and not chill, filtered.  Barrier filtering gets rid of cask sediment (wood chunks).  The absence of chill filtration means better mouthfeel, and better mouthfeel = better experience.  For the first 14 batches, Laphroaig suggested you enjoy it thusly:

“We recommend you add twice as much water as whisky to fully appreciate the taste characteristics of Original Cask Strength Laphroaig.”

That’s insane.  If I wanted to drink a whisky that tastes like water, I’ll just buy something from Canada.

“That’s crossing the line Ryan!  Not all whisky from Canada tastes like water!”

“You’re right.  How about this?”

If I wanted to drink a whisky that tastes like water, I’ll just buy something, but not everything, from Canada.



On the Batch 15 tin, you’ll find:

“We recommend you add a small amount of water to your whisky to fully appreciate the taste characteristics of Original Cask Strength Laphroaig.”

That’s more like it Laphroaig!

The standard Laphroaig 10 is that person in your office who, although pleasant, is a little on the dull side.  Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength is that same person after a few margaritas at the office Christmas party.  It’s fun, edgy, and uninhibited.  Buy with confidence (if you like peated whiskies).

Happy dramming,


Instead of dying she shall merely fall into a profound slumber that will last a hundred years. -  Charles Perrault,  The Sleeping Beauty in ...