...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Single Malt Report: Finlaggan Old Reserve

Drinking Finlaggan is like making love to a partner who has no concept of personal hygiene.   One can't scrub out the Finlaggan funk.  It burrows into the flesh, deeper than soap can reach, leaving the recipient smelling like burnt hair and peated urine.  But......you know......it's still lovemaking.

Much of the word on the whisky street says this is young Lagavulin, though some folks think it may be Caol Ila.  Either way, I don't blame Diageo for not allowing the distillery to be listed.

Back in January, Oliver of Dramming.com wrote a piece on peated whiskies getting higher scores than unpeated whiskies.  It's true, I see it in my own personal whisky ratings.  Peat usually brings with it it's own range of flavors and scents.  It can even help cover up lower quality spirit and casks.  In Finlaggan's case, the phenols either fail to mask flaws or highlight them further.

This is the first whisky I'd ever dumped down the sink.  I'd previously had Kristen dump two other hideous whiskies because I found the whole whisky-fail situation much too tragic.  But I had no issue ditching Finlaggan.  (I'm not alone in this sentiment, the fellas of LAWS feel similarly.) So I was filled with giddy excitement when my buddy Whisky Josh OC brought me a sample last week.

I'd always had a feeling this would be Diving With Pearls's first 0-star whisky.  But would it come to pass?

Bottler: The Vintage Malt Whisky Company
Style: Single Malt
Distillery: Lagavulin or Caol Ila
Maturation: probably refill ex-bourbon casks
Country: Islay, Scotland
Alcohol by Volume: 40%
Chillfiltered? Yes
Colored? Yes

SAMPLED NEAT because you don't water down the Finlaggan

Color -- Greenish light gold.

Nose -- Peated urine (pronounced with a hard 'I' so that it rhymes with You're Mine).  Turpentine, aka The Turps.  Anise, rubber bands, moth balls, and milk chocolate.  Young (duh) spirit.  Sneaker rubber after it has trampled rotten seaweed.  Snickerdoodle cookies.  After 30 mins... White vinegar. Ink. Cat piss. Lead.

Palate -- Sour peat, vanilla, and tons of limp caramel.  Cloying sweetness.  Plastic ashes attempting to cover up a bland malt wall underneath.  After 30 mins... Diet Sprite. Lots of Nutrasweet. Cigarette ashes.

Finish -- No, it won't. Burnt toast, plastic ashes, loads of unnatural sourness.  Morning-after cigarette throat.  That Nutrasweet thing.  Bitter corn chips.  Bile.  No, forget bile.  Lagavulin surprise vomit burp.

You'll see a number of potentially interesting characteristics in there.  But every time it starts going down an almost-okay street, something hideous steps in the way and exposes itself.

The thing is, though, Finlaggan is a carnival ride.  It's not a zero-star whisky entirely due to its entertainment value.  I'd much rather drink it than Cutty or Dewars -- maybe even more than Red Label -- because of the intensity of its character.  Though, I can't say it is better than Speyburn 10 or Speyside 12 because those malts don't have the luxury of a peat fire blanket to cover their shortcomings.

I love peated whisky, but this......this is suited for whisky hazing.  I'm not saying it's so bad it's awesome.  More like, it's so bad that I will drink it just for the experience.  And so should you.

Availability - Trader Joe's and a dozen or so liquor retailers
Pricing - $18.99 at TJ's (they raised it a dollar?!), $30 elsewhere
Rating - 64


  1. Lolz for days! So glad I could help spread the love. The dirty, sweaty, smelly love.

    1. Thank you kindly. I couldn't wait more than a few days to drink it! And it brought back some wonderful terrible sense memories.

  2. This was the second single malt I ever tried when I turned the legal drinking age. My first was Glenlivet 12. Sure the bottle was cheap but Finlaggen very quickly went to the top of my list of least favorite whiskies (a McClelland's Lowlands is also on that list though I will admit I like Auchentoshen). Thank goodness I didn't write off peated whisky and I eventually tried and liked Lagavulin 16.

    Even Ralfy was confused about this whisky since he noticed both Lagavulin and Caol Ila characteristics.

    1. One can probably make the argument that there are some Laphroaig characteristics in there too.

      I've heard McClelland's Islay isn't half bad. Recent young Bowmores have been known to be pretty good. I like Auchentoshan too but, as Chemistry of the Cocktail noted last month (http://cocktailchem.blogspot.com/2013/04/whisky-review-auchentoshan-vertical.html), some age really helps it out. That McClelland's version is probably very young.

  3. Finlaggan isn't available up here in the frozen north (although today it is stupidly hot), which may be a good thing. Incidentally, it appears that some people do like it...here is a dissenting opinion from TheScotchNoob: http://scotchnoob.com/2011/09/26/finlaggan-old-reserve/

    1. (edited for spelling errors)

      Yep, here are some more:

      While I see Finlaggan's appeal and regret to pan an actual affordable whisky, I respectfully sit on the other side of the spectrum from these folks on this particular single malt.

      For a mix of opinions on it see:

    2. I love the personal subjectivity that comes with reviewing whiskies. A friend of mine adores Ardbeg, but I can't stand the smoke and ash...Lagavulin 16 and Laphroaig QC, on the other hand, are fantastic...personal experience is everything! Have a good weekend!

    3. Maybe Finlaggan can't ensure a consistently bad supply - that would explain the mixed reviews. I for one had a bottle maybe 3 years ago. I couldn't finish it but it was more like 2.5* in my book. I do remember that the color of the liquid varies tremendously from batch to batch - one day it was greenish gold, the next garish red.

    4. Thanks Dan! Spend the weekend offline, hope yours was great! I'm a big fan of the Laphroaig QC too. To me it has less of Ardbeg 10's cinders and while having tremendous levels of depth for a relatively young whisky.

    5. Florin! They do seem to have a continuous steady supply but maybe that comes from grabbing what they can get. My discarded bottle was from 2009 and the one I sampled for this report was from 2011 (both from TJs). The nose was the same, but either the palate was better with the new one or my tastes have changed. Or both.

  4. Just bought a bottle after sampling. Its excellent. Clearly very young, very very soft and easily drinkable. A bit like Kilchoman Loch Gorm but much much softer. A welcome addition to the 35 other whiskies in my cabinet.

  5. I drink this with a huge ice cube. As the ice cube melts the wiskey takes better and better. Starts out like a bandaid finishes like vanilla butterscotch. Will drink this wiskey over jamison Irish wiskey anyday!