What Scotch has a long, campfire-like finish?
September 26, 2009 3:40 PM   Subscribe

ScotchFilter: please ID this half-remembered single-malt whisky! What Scotch would have been available in metro Detroit around 2001 with an amazingly smooth palate and a long, campfire-like finish?

I’ve started learning more about Scotch lately. I tend to prefer the peaty, smoky Islays like Laphroaig. I’ve discovered some great whiskies, but haven’t been able to identify one I drank long before I had the good sense to keep notes about such things.

Sometime between 1999 and 2003 one of my friends acquired a sampler of Scotches. It might have been a retail display rack with 6-12 different whiskies which he got from someone who owned a liquor store. I think there were a variety of brands, a couple full 750ml bottles and some smaller sample sizes. Some of them were pretty expensive-looking--12, 15, 18, and 25 years old.

One of those scotches left a lasting impression on me, but (or course!) I don’t remember the name. I don’t remember anything about the nose, but it was very, very smooth on the palate. I remember the finish best: a pleasant and dramatic warmth radiating through my body, and a long, overwhelmingly woody (oak, cedar?), smoky flavor. I said at the time that it was like swallowing a camp fire.

posted by paulg to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I got no idea about metro Detroit but I had a batch of Caol Ila about that time that could be what you describe.

If not, you'll probably enjoy trying it anyway :)
posted by Not Supplied at 3:48 PM on September 26, 2009

posted by cbrody at 4:15 PM on September 26, 2009

Loch Du?
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:16 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Lagavulin is a good guess. I also think of Balvenie when I think of long woody finishes. It seems like you would have mentioned the color if it was Lock Dhu.
posted by Lame_username at 4:29 PM on September 26, 2009

I've got a Bowmore 17 that's smooth and smoky. And delicious. It's a little too early for me to have some, unfortunately, but soon....
posted by rtha at 4:35 PM on September 26, 2009

I would also guess Lagavulin. But I'll be checking back to see what other scotches I might need to try.
posted by Killick at 4:36 PM on September 26, 2009

Response by poster: I have tried the Lagavulin 16yo, and that wasn't it. That's on the right track, though, so it could well be some other variety of Lagavulin.

@Lame_username: I don't remember the color of the Scotch or the color of the label, unfortunately.
posted by paulg at 4:37 PM on September 26, 2009

I'm guessing Balvenie. I'm surprised at all the votes for Lag; it's my favorite scotch in the world, but "very, very smooth on the palate" doesn't describe it. Another possibility is Cragganmore, my favorite of the non-Islay malts.
posted by languagehat at 4:42 PM on September 26, 2009

Best answer: Campfire smoke in single malts hints strongly at an Islay malt.

Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Bowmore are the smokiest of the Islay malts, and in my opinion, roughly in that order. The further north you go in the island, the less peaty and smoky the malts become. Taste some Laphroaig. If that tastes like you're drinking toxic waste*, then I'd be guessing that the malt you had in 01 would be more likely to be something like Bowmore.

* personally, I think it's delicious!
posted by tim_in_oz at 4:42 PM on September 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

My friend and I both said that Loch Dhu was like drinking a camp fire, so if you're after that experience you might want to give it a try. I think you'd remember the color, though (it's black, not amber like most Scotches).
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:43 PM on September 26, 2009

Response by poster: @languagehat: it wasn't anything like Cragganmore 12yo (which I do enjoy as an occasional change of pace from Islay malts).
posted by paulg at 4:46 PM on September 26, 2009

Have you tried Bruichladdich peat? most of thier malts are not heavily peated but they do boast that their "peat" malt is the peatiest. I have not tried it, but it has not been mentioned yet so, just throwing it out there
posted by sundri at 5:49 PM on September 26, 2009

Laphroaig and Bowmore tend to be the most common smoky Scotchs, I think. Bowmore comes in multiple vintages, and the cheap ones aren't great, but good, and cheap. Try some of those.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:21 PM on September 26, 2009

I may have misread the description, but the interesting thing to me is that you emphasized woody over smoky. If it was more smoky than woody, I'd have very different guesses, more like tim_in_oz's list.
posted by Lame_username at 8:39 PM on September 26, 2009

My "tasting notes" for Ardbeg were "It tastes like bacon and bonfire!" This was the fourth Scotch I ever tried (thirty minutes after the first), so perhaps my palate was not yet well developed. Sadly, I no longer taste the bacon.
posted by whatnotever at 10:00 PM on September 26, 2009

Best answer: I have a bottle of Caol Ila 12yr here and the taste is very much what you described. It first widely available in 2002 so that might be it.

I'd describe some of the milder smoky malts the same way - have you tried Talisker or Oban? Bunnahabhain? All of these are smoother than anything traditionally Islay but they do have a smoky finish. Considering your "very, very smooth" description I'd rule out Laphroag / Lagavulin / Bowmore.

Really considering individual tastes and batch variation you'll just have to try a bunch yourself until you find it...

Not very smoky, but maybe Balvenie Doublewood?
posted by mmoncur at 11:23 PM on September 26, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks the suggestions, everyone. It sounds like I'll have a lot of fun in my search for the mystery Scotch. The top of my to-taste list now reads: Caol Ila, Balvenie, Ardbeg, and Bowmore. I'll post again in the event of a positive ID.
posted by paulg at 7:04 AM on September 27, 2009

Another very strong, smoky Islay is Bunnahabhain.
posted by jimfl at 9:48 AM on September 27, 2009

I'll second the oban and talisker suggestions (which are both delicious). Highland park is also very smooth and a bit smoky.
posted by Large Marge at 2:41 PM on September 27, 2009

I'll bet Talisker. I recall buying a gift set of small bottles of scotch, with Talisker representing the Islay region, around that time. Talisker's great, my favorite single malt -- tastes like smoked seaweed (in a good way).
posted by Bron at 6:42 PM on September 27, 2009

Response by poster: A tasting tour around the entire island seems to be in order. To that I'll add Talisker and Oban (although I'm fairly sure I've had Talisker on more than one occaission). Thanks, all.
posted by paulg at 9:57 AM on September 28, 2009

Malt whisky drinking Scotsman here. There are two stand out malts that tend to leave a distinct impression on their drinkers. These are Laphroig and Talisker, just think of them as the heavyweights of the industry. The former tastes very medicinal, the latter like the smoke from a peat fire. I'd suggest you drank a Talisker.
posted by theCroft at 5:43 AM on October 3, 2009

Man, people sure have a different understanding of the word "smooth" than I do.
posted by languagehat at 7:01 AM on October 3, 2009

posted by spaltavian at 10:03 AM on December 16, 2009

Response by poster: Though I'd post an update....

Since posting this question, I've tried a number of Scotches. My mystery Scotch was definitely not Bowmore, Oban, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, or The Macallan. Caol Ila and Talisker are still on my to-taste list.

The nearest I've tasted is Ardbeg 10 year old, which is promising enough to make me really curious about the pricier Ardbegs.
posted by paulg at 4:02 PM on February 18, 2010

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