The Importance of Authenticity

I read with interest some rather serious allegations that Lagavulin doesn’t actually age all of its whisky on Islay. In fact, they don’t even put it into casks on Islay. They put it in a ship and take it to the mainland (well, as close as you get to “mainland” in Scotland…it’s just a bigger island, after all!), then they put it into casks and age it there.

As far as I am concerned, that’s not Islay scotch. Anyone in Scotland could make a peated whisky and age it in warehouses near those that Lagavulin is using. Why couldn’t they claim to also be an Islay product? Is the location of the still really all that matters?

My opinion (which really only matters to me!) is that in order to be labeled as an Islay product, the producer should use local peat, local water, locally malted barley from locally grown barley, local talent, local warehouses, and a local bottling line. Which of these is most important? I can’t say. What I *can* say is that a product that markets itself as having been aged on the shores of the Atlantic, to pick up the sea influences, should be looked upon skeptically if that claim is not true.

I am not saying that Lagavulin has a bad product. I am saying that I value honesty. I wish they wouldn’t try to make it seem like an Islay product. It undermines their credibility. Once you lose your reputation it’s very hard to regain it.

I look forward to seeing how this story plays out. As a whisky fan, one of the things I value about whisky is how it concentrates a sense of place into the bottle, and the personality of the makers. I certainly understand the profit motive, but at the end of the day, I am probably not going to want to pay as much for “Islay-style” whisky as I would for real Islay whisky (all else being equal). With that said, if Lagavulin didn’t make a big deal about their Islay heritage, and just sold the whisky, all that would matter would be whether or not I liked it. When I find out that a product isn’t what I thought it was, I can’t help but feel cheated. Again, I hope this isn’t true.

Whether or not you like products from Bruichladdich, it’s clear that they are very much about locally sourced (and increasingly organic) ingredients combined by local skilled crafstmen into a product that has Islay DNA through and through. Yes, they make a lot of expressions. You aren’t expected to buy them all, or to like them all. What ties them all together is their Islay heritage and the creative process that results in the many expressions that are offered for sale. When they say it’s an Islay product, they are serious.

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2 Comments»

  tmaufer wrote @

Upon reflection, I can think of a variety of reasons that Lagavulin might appear to be doing this. First of all, they might be selling new make spirit to be aged elsewhere as part of a new product range. Or as part of a blend. They could have had excess product and sold it to someone else. They might have run out of warehouse space. And we really don’t know what their intentions are with regard to this spirit. They may have absolutely no intention to sell this as Lagavulin in the future. Or maybe it will be aged off-site for a bit until it can be brought back. If it was just made, it will be at least 3 years before it can be sold as whisky. I’ll report more on this story as I find out. For now it would be imprudent to jump to conclusions.

  tmaufer wrote @

This discussion is ongoing at the Islay Blog. Mark Reynier, one of the principals at Bruichladdich, has weighed in on the state of Islay Single Malt Scotch and what it means to be called such. I added a comment to that thread over there. Here’s the link to the blog posting, and you can click through to my comment: http://www.islayblog.com/2008entries/20080917-rant.shtml


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