have seemed as outrageous to the crofters as if they were to be taxed for heating a kettle
of water, or making soup. Little wonder the excise men, charged with policing these new
and generally hated laws and bringing in the loot they would produce, were so despised,
obstructed and vilified.
Lagavulin - made in pear-shaped stills which are so pear-shaped they look like they were
deliberately modelled on pears - has a dry, salty taste, and is usually more sherry-influ-
enced than a similarly aged Laphroaig, though still reeking of smoke and peat. For a long
time this was my second favourite Islay, a short nose ahead of the wonderful Ardbeg.
My tastes do seem to have changed over the years, and these days I'd put Bowmore
near the top of the list just under Laphroaig. Bowmore is north and west of the south
coast's Big Three, on the - relatively - balmy coast of Loch Indaal. As a producer, Bow-
more has a richness throughout its range of whiskies that makes it one of the handful of
very best distilleries in Scotland; as well as the 12, 17 and 21-year-olds they have others
with names like Legend (eight to ten years old), Mariner (fifteen) and Darkest (probably
about the same age as Mariner, though there's no age stated). There are lots of other ex-
pressions available given sufficient time and money, but that's enough to be going on with
Put it this way; those mentioned above range from merely very good indeed to utterly
stunning, with a power and opulence of taste bursting through the older whiskies that beg-
gars belief. There's intense smoke - though like summer bonfires, not just peat fires -
whin scent on a sea breeze, plus the entire contents of a well-stocked florist. Just the most
glorious, life-affirming stuff. I can accept that people might not like Laphroaig and maybe
the other south coasters, but if you can't find a Bowmore to fall in love with, you may
have to consider very seriously the possibility that you're wasting your money drinking
whisky at all.
Distillery aesthetics: a highly partial overview .
Many distilleries are quite beautiful. A lot, probably the majority, are set in scenery which
is somewhere between rather lovely and utterly magnificent. There is, obviously, no real
link between the nobility of the distillery's environs or its architectural attractiveness and
the worth of the whisky made there. There are a few quite gorgeous distilleries, jewels in
fabulous settings or just extremely interesting architecturally, which produce whisky of
no great singular merit (though they often contribute significantly to fine blends). On the
other hand there is, for example, Glenlivet, which - while it rests within some perfectly
pretty Speyside hill-and-glen scenery - from any direction I've ever come at it from,
looks like a bit of a mess, sprawling across its hillside in a bedraggled mixture of building
styles, proportions and textures which end up being anything but easy on the eye.