The sunset burns the sky. Such mysteries occur all the time. I might think the world’s on fire, a revealing and ending through flames silhouetting branches, trunks and needles; but no, sadly apocalypse will have to wait for another year. Still, world-altering changes have taken place, at least for the family. I moved with Gabriela and Demian from a bend on the Gulf Coast to an island in the Stockholm Archipelago. A changing from the 30th parallel to the 60th parallel, exchanging rain for snow, pouring ozone for long pours of darkness. Time to celebrate. Time to reflect with my favorite pours over years of drinking barley and peat descending from the island of Islay. Three distilleries snuggled next to each other between peat, fresh-water streams and the Atlantic Ocean.
First bottle on the sideboard, none other than Ardbeg 10, with yours truly reflected in the glass. A walk east from the Kildalton Cross to Pier Road and a heavily-brined edge of land. Open the bottle for a pale, pale straw color and clear breath of peat, pine resin, sea-salt and white pepper wrapping my head and stinging my eyes. So much to take stock on the nose–hint of oak, stewed tea, lemon rinds, a decay and cure ringed by I swear a holiday ham served with blanched green cabbage, and further in the back after dinner, a whiff of white chocolate served with an espresso. Or, I might say a handful of smoky leaves and dirt in my face. A healthy taste reveals suggestions of dark chocolate, more salt, simple syrup, white pepper and cayenne. Figs I say, maybe. I don’t know. Tasting is a mystery. A sweet and sour mix rolling back and forth over my tongue, and then a decidedly peppermint finish. A puckering of the mouth results. And yes, it burns, it burns . . . the ring of fire, the ring of fire. Excellent. With a small spoonful of Swedish snow, the chocolate and mint notes become more pronounced, with an evening out of all the tastes–a savory sweetness, if you will. From the Port Ellen War Memorial you may walk along the A846 to the Laphroaig Distillery, truth to tell my first single malt scotch love.
If you haven’t partaken of Laphroaig, then certain truths of slowly rotting animals and vegetables will remain a mystery to you; though, even after a swishing of Laphroaig 10 will still sit you right down in the middle of a mystery as to what’s exactly peat and what’s exactly brine and what in the world happens to you mouth and nose when you drink such an elixir of the earth. Now, take that distilled and casked syrup and give it another go in smaller casks so the potent liquid has plenty of contact with American Oak charred once upon a time for bourbon, and you have the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Which means moving from Ardbeg 10 to this here elixir necessitates a plunge into serrated leaves, oak nuts, and tannic acid. Immediately after removing the cork, my mind swirls with forests and dank earth with streams cutting peat bogs and Atlantic storms lashing all in their iced-fury. And then, further in the back of the back honey swirls candy my thoughts. A wonderful marriage of deciduous trees and black loam. And yes, yes, there’s bacon frying in the cast-iron pan in the bottle. Look what happens in the glass. Long, slow legs on the Laphroaig Quarter Cask idling down the glass and into a thick, complex honeyed with a drizzle of molasses on the tongue as peppermint and spearmint wrestle and a deep, deep satisfied smile stretches across my face. After a few openings and pours, air helps dark chocolate notes reveal themselves in the first nosing along with custard, vanilla accompanying as always the oak, and as always, the stewed tea of peat saturated by charred barrels suggesting a hot sauce lurking ever near. I almost want to chew this drink, and in fact, I start my teeth moving up and down as if working on a forest toffee. Such a minty finish. Add a wee bit of snow, and butter appears on the nose along with orange marmalade, and the mouth revels in orange and honeydew melons. Now, and I am feeling a warmth in head and belly, I stroll further west across the Surnaig River and along Lagavulin Bay and then to the famous Lagavulin Distillery.
Oh this Lagavulin 16 defines maturity, time well-spent in wash-bank and still, cask and warehouse by the sea. Such depth, such stories. Wet leaves, still green grass, overcast sky, chill in the trees, deer nearby and the nose of a dark roux in the branches as furniture polish wafts out the open front door. A gift of Lapsang Soushong tea. Legs that stop midway down the glass. A smell of dirt and moss, cinnamon and peppermint and cabbage and smoked salmon notes in the peat, roots of root vegetables, slap of sea salt. Salty, caramel syrup with toffee bark on the tongue, cabbage water and chocolate as my saliva worries peppermint back around to a burst of cayenne and nutmeg, then a slow dissolve into ginger. Smoked orange rind. Maraschino cherries lurking in the background. Smoke from a burning pile of leaves which I’ve breathed walking around Nacka. A bit of absinthe heading toward the finish. Last swallows of black tea. Brown sugar in the roux develops with time in the open air. Stewed tomatoes. And then the mystery of snow.
Ginger and chipotle peppers on the nose. An orange syrup with umami and a tossing of pine needles. Peppermint aftertaste. Such are the mysteries of drinking single malt scotch. Such are the mysteries of nose and mouth. Don’t get my started on the mysteries of the Word. So to end this year and tilt a glass to the new year, Vic Chesnutt and Elf Power. Mystery. Listen to the entire Dark Developments. Gott nytt år!!!