Lagavulin 16-Year-Old Whisky And Why Ron Swanson Was Right On The Money
by Ken Gargett
One of my all-time favorite fictional characters is Ron Swanson from “Parks and Recreation,” the American sitcom running from 2009 through 2015, and I know I am not alone in that.
For those who have not had the pleasure, Ron was rather set in his ways: utterly antigovernment, despite working for one, his three passions were eating meat, woodworking, and drinking whisky. On one occasion, when presented with a salad, he remarked in horror, “But this is the food my food eats.”
He was firm on his views. “Any dog under 50 pounds is a cat, and cats are useless.”
“Clear alcohols are for rich women on diets.”
“Dear frozen yogurt, you are the celery of desserts. Be ice cream or be nothing.”
Skim milk was described as water that was lying about being milk.
When it came to whisky, there was one and one only: Lagavulin 16 Year Old. “Nectar of the gods,” he called it.
In a later episode, Ron was mortified to learn that his friends had bought him a ticket to Europe, though it was to visit the distillery. His thoughts were, “All my life I’ve avoided Europe and its multitudes of terribleness, but it turns out, much to my surprise, there is actually one place in Europe that is worth seeing. These tiny islands off the coast of Scotland, where God’s chosen elixirs are distilled, barreled, and prepared for consumption. This is worth the trip.”
And he, fictionally, ended up owning 51 percent of the distillery in the show’s finale.
Lagavulin was delighted by the attention and the joke, as the distillery released a YouTube ad featuring Ron.
Nick Offerman, the actor who plays Ron, is apparently a huge fan in real life.
Ron is far from Lagavulin’s only devoted fan. A friend of mine was recently asked by a grateful client to name his bonus for a job. Whatever he wanted. He chose a case of Lagavulin 16 Year Old.
The Lagavulin 16 Year Old is fabulous!
Lagavulin is from the island of Islay. Malt lovers immediately fall into one of two camps: one group does not enjoy the peaty, smoky, seaweed notes that whisky from this island usually offers. The second group loves those characteristics. Can’t get enough.
No prize for guessing where I fall.
Lagavulin kicked off way back in 1742, but it was not “legal” until 1816 when it became the first recognized distillery on the island. There were around ten distilleries on the island at the time that were, if we may put it as mildly as we can, operating in a regime that was perhaps marginally outside the law.
The flavor of Lagavulin is said to come from the barley, which is malted at Port Ellen very slowly, allowing around 20 times the exposure to peat smoke than, say, a Speyside whisky. The water comes from the Solum lochs, and barrels are both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon. The distillers use pear-shaped pot stills, of which they have four.
The 16 Year Old is undoubtedly Lagavulin’s most famous and most adored whisky, but there are others, also delicious (unless you are one of those strange beings not addicted to that glorious peaty character).
They start with the Limited Edition 8 Year Old, then 12, 16, 21, 25, 30, 37, and a distiller’s edition. The 16 Year Old is bottled at 43 percent ABV, while the 12 is at cask strength. It may seem odd but the 12 is often more expensive than the 16.
The Limited Edition 8 Year Old was released as a one-off to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the distillery (or to celebrate becoming legal) in 2016.
Back in 1886, when this was a staple of production, the distillery was visited by one of the whisky experts of the day, Alfred Barnard, who described it as “exceptionally fine.” For this Limited Edition, Lagavulin has attempted to recreate that.
It is very pale in color and there are the peat, oysters, and sea breeze notes one expects. Powerful, nicely balanced and with real length, it does not exhibit the refinement of some, but this ruralness and fiery character will appeal to many. It is a bracing 48 percent.
The 12 Year Old is a special release that comes out most years. The latest was released in 2018; mine dates back to 2014. And what a whisky it is. Bottled at cask strength, 54.4 percent, it walks an amazing tightrope between the spirit and fire one expects at that level and the finesse, refinement, and elegance that it offers.
I would never have picked the alcohol level to be anywhere near that if I hadn’t known. This is a sensational whisky, still a pale color, with the smoky characteristics we love, plus fruit cake, spices, and cinnamon. Brilliantly balanced and very complex. Stunning stuff.
My pick of the range, though, of course: the 16 is a perennial favorite.
The 16 Year Old is a superb malt. Much deeper in color, more of the bronzed orange. Smoke, peat, honey, and seaweed are all here. Delicious. Balanced, complex, and very long.
Ron Swanson, you were right on the money!
For more information, please visit www.islaywhiskysociety.com/lagavulin.
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In some early episodes you can clearly see him drinking a bottle of North Port. I always wondered if it was real since they’ve been out of business for so long. Maybe it was an empty bottle filled with apple juice!
Thanks Brian. i must say I had not noticed that. The bloke is obviously a big fan of good malts so I wonder if that came from him (and yes, presumably they don’t use the real stuff).
There is another film, and i can’t remember the name of it or the actress (probably says something), but it might have been in the Dragon Tattoo series where the heroine orders a Lagavulin 16. and then promptly asks for something else, ‘that doesn’t taste like tarmac’ or something like that. I guess, each to their own.
I loved the article Ken. The 16 is my absolute favorite, though I am curious to try the 12. Wish I could keep a bottle in my desk drawer like Ron, but I always have one at hand!
thanks Derek. the 12 is definitely worth a look.
Ron Swanson was correct
about everything but Cats.
They are discerning about
the humans they hang out
with and many of our species
do not seem worthy of the function of bipedalism.
As for Lagavulin 16, everyone
makes their associations, I
suppose. In me it evokes a
sense of old libraries and
leather bound books. If I
wanted a chocolate sundae
or a fruit salad, I’d order one.
It’s a wonderful Scotch.
Hold the fruity notes.
Thanks John. Appreciate the thoughts. Agree about the whisky, though I’m with Ron on cats (though I do agree with you about humans).
Just saw a “travel exclusive” Lagavulin 10 at the Madrid Duty Free.
Hoped you grabbed a bottle. Sadly, who knows when most of us will get to visit such places again.
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First, my apologies – i missed your post at the time. Not sure how that happened. Thanks for your kind words. hope you are still reading. Have checked out the site – my South African friends locally do keep me up to date with biltong etc. I used to get across to NZ regularly but not for a while but hopefully next time i will get a chance to drop by.
Unfortunately Lagavulin is a shadow of its former self, having been toned down considerably since The Nineties.
The number of people who can afford single malt has probably tripled or more in the last thirty years and the strain this has placed on distilleries is great. Some have resorted to selling more “market-friendly” drams or re-using casks well beyond their usefulness, others have gone down the NAS/High ABV route.
There is still a lot of good whisky available. But the days of The True MacAllan et al are gone.
Hi Tam, as usual, many thanks for your comments. Sadly my experience does not go back to that era (was stunned to read recently that there was even a period where the Ardbeg distillery shut down around then for a few years).
Things certainly changed. Still some very good whiskies for me.
But i completely agree in respect of the move to NAS – there just is not enough great aged whisky to continue down the road where everyone was headed. Hard to be too critical as the popularity back in those days nothing like what we have seen in recent times and so it would have looked like commercial suicide to be putting away too many barrels then – mind you, they’d look like geniuses now.