Oddly enough, this particular Scotch whisky happens to be the top choice for my mother. This may have to do with the fact that we drank it in a small B&B on the Isle of Skye in Scotland called the Sconser Lodge. Next time I go back to Skye, I am staying here again. The whole place has something like 8 rooms, but they have a dining room and a full bar. We ate and relaxed in the bar (which was heated by coal). There is just something about a freezing cold Scottish day and the smell of a coal fire that just really makes you appreciate a peaty whisky.
There is no denying, Lagavulin is a peaty Scotch whisky. It hails from Islay, an island off the western coast of southern Scotland. This island happens to be known for producing very peaty Scotch whiskies. Most of their fellow Islay malts are also very good, but for my palate, Lagavulin 16 takes the cake. This very well could be the fact that most of the other Islay malts that I have tried are 10 or 12 year malts. The Lagavulin is just much smoother than the others, giving some salvation from what many people would consider to be an unrelenting assault of smoke on the tastebuds. I happen to like the peat in a whisky, but it is both an acquired taste and something that you should be expecting in order to enjoy it. Maybe you shouldn't start your excursion into peat with one of the big boys. Ease your way in. Scotch whisky has never been about speed. Take your time and enjoy what you can. It is like with beer. Your first beer isn't going to be an Eisbock. It takes time to develop tastes for such overwhelming flavors.
I would say if you are interested in a region by region progression of enjoying Scotch whisky, I would do as follows:
1) Start off with a Lowland malt, like Glenkinche. These whiskies are generally a little bit lighter in flavor, and may help to ease you into a whisky palate.
2) Move yourself north into a Speyside malt. These are generally a bit sweeter, but with a good deal more complexity than a lowland. These are very easy to find, examples being Glenfiddich and Glenlivet.
3) Jump over to a Highland malt. Highland malts also technically include the islands (other than Islay). These will give you a blend of sweetness and smoke, in varying degrees, allowing for a sort of "wading in" to the world of peat. I would suggest a Highland Park or a Talisker.
4) Arrive at your Islay malt when you are comfortable with the amount of peat in Highland. Add a dash of water at first to cut some of the burn. Now you are at a point when you can decide if you like the flavor, or if you don't. If you don't there is no sense drinking something that you don't appreciate/like, so just stick to what you do. Leave the fire water to those of us that enjoy it.
Lagavulin 16 is generally in the range of about $80 a bottle, so it is by no means cheap. There are certainly less expensive Islay malts out there if you are curious, but not sold. I would suggest trying a friend's Islay before you invest. I can all but guarantee you that even if you don't enjoy it, the whisky will not go to waste.
Fun Fact: This is the whisky of choice for Ron Swanson.
If you want me to look at a particular beer, drink, place, or have anything to say to me, email me at email@example.com. Find me on Facebook and Twitter (@ofmonksandmalts). You can also buy my pictures here: http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/robert-rizzolo.html.