Now, those southern Islays. Some people can't stand the taste of the three but keep trying
every now and again, wishing that they could appreciate these strange, fierce, acerbic
whiskies the way other people obviously do, others are just perplexed that anybody would
want to drink such bizarre-tasting stuff but leave it at that, while others seem to hate them
the way you'd despise an especially loathsome politician. Their most intense regret, be-
wilderment or venom, respectively, is generally reserved for Laphroaig, as the most in-
tensely different - even wilfully incongruous - example of Extreme Whisky.
The comparison I think is most apt in the wider field of drink is probably Chateau
Musar. This is one of my favourite red wines in the world, but it is profoundly different
from other reds, especially other reds generally considered to be worth a place on a decent
wine list. It is spicy. In fact, it's spicy in a way that is utterly different from what a wine
taster will normally mean when they apply the word 'spicy' to any other fine wine. It's
a bit like the difference between somebody having red hair and somebody wearing a red
wig the colour of a British postbox; the word 'red' is the same, but once you know the
context, once you know what sort of red is being talked about, the image you have of the
person being described alters drastically.
So with Chateau Musar; it's so different from any other fine red wine it practically
needs a separate category of drink to define it (in Michael Broadbent's Vintage Wine ,
an authoritative and astoundingly comprehensive overview of 50 years of wine-tasting, it
merits a categorisation all of its own).
Chateau Musar is made by a man called Serge Hochar - son of Gaston, who started
the enterprise - in circumstances which have, over the years, certainly - and frequently
- merited the description 'difficult'. When other wine makers talk about a difficult year
they mean there was a late frost or a too-damp September; when Mr Hochar says it was
a difficult year you suspect he means that there were landmines to remove from between
the vines or that there was an unexpectedly high number of extremely brief, sudden and
entirely unannounced visits from the Israeli Air Force. Chateau Musar is from Lebanon.
Specifically, it is from the Bekaa valley, notorious over the decades as the location of
training camps for terrorists/freedom fighters (the reader is invited to choose as appro-
priate to their dogma). Wags have been known to shake bottles of the stuff by their ear,
claiming to be listening for the tell-tale chinking sound of shrapnel.
Despite all this, Mr Hochar has succeeded in producing a vintage every year apart
from one, and not just producing any old harshly ropy but high-novelty-value gut-rot,
either; Musar is in every sense a fine wine.
But very different; again, some people, solely through taste rather than prejudice,
can't stand the stuff. Just like Laphroaig it is sometimes referred to as an acquired taste,
though I'm not sure about this. I suspect more people stick with their original reaction to
both drinks rather than start out hating only to end up loving.