If you know Islay whisky, Lagavulin 16 is like arena rock. Everyone can sing along to "Livin' on a Prayer" or "More Than a Feeling," and for some people that becomes a problem.
I suppose whether you'll have an enduring love affair with Lag 16 depends on whether you like arena rock or not. Some people simply become annoyed with the literal and figurative crowds and move onto something that will allow them to celebrate their uniqueness as a listener.
Really: everyone likes this stuff. Even the fictional Ron Swanson from the show Parks and Recreation, that woodworking curmudgeon of few-but-oh-so-pointed words, loves Lagavulin. Which additionally makes people already on the tipping point of brand exhaustion roll their eyes even harder.
I should mention that Lagavulin is also Diageo-owned, which to some people is to Scotch whisky what the Galactic Empire is to law and order in the Star Wars movies. At 43% ABV, and after being chill-filtered and artificially colored, a lot of people think Lagavulin's flagship offering is overproduced. And I'd argue that's a fair point.
So, okay: maybe we've made the point that the Lagavulin 16 "scene" is played out for some people. How does it taste?
Actually quite stupendous. The real joy of Lagavulin 16 is the huge degree of complexity that still manages to stay cohesive and refined. On the nose, you may encounter the slightly medicinal smells of iodine (think band aids) and pink pearl erasers common to a lot of Islay scotches, but they're kept in balance by the kind of hickory smoke you'd smell from a distant campground barbecue.
And when you finally sip the stuff, wham, bang, pow: it's big. Lag 16 fills the mouth with warm, gentle smoke on the arrival that segues to molasses and grilled meats with black pepper. Lagavulin's seaside proximity gives the dram some kelp and sea salt as well, so when you mix that in with the meats and sweetness, you basically have a high-end BBQ dinner in a glass.
On the finish, Lag 16 is surprisingly sweet and mellow—it's warming without being harsh, and the brininess mixes really beautifully with the oak, charcoal, and cedar in the back half. It's really a mild finish for the intensity of the flavor, but it lingers quite pleasantly at the back of the throat for some time.
So basically, Lagavulin 16 is tremendous stuff. I'll admit that it's sometimes so ubiquitous that I get tired of it from time to time, but every time I'm ready to come back it's a real treat. I like arena rock when the mood strikes me, and I like this. There's a lot to be said for a good song you can shout along to—even if everyone else knows it.