Whisky Advocate

Review: Lagavulin 12 year old (2009 release)

January 14th, 2010

Still continuing with these very nice Diageo Special Release whiskies for 2009…

Lagavulin, 12 year old, 57.9%, $75
The aroma is tightly bound, but a little water releases it nicely. A powerful dram, with tarry, leafy, coal ash, caramel apple, driftwood, and even a little soapy (not necessarily a negative). More subtle floral notes (heather, lavender, violet), Earl Grey tea, and smoked fish.  Long, damp peat smoke, charcoal finish.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 90

45 Responses to “Review: Lagavulin 12 year old (2009 release)”

  1. Brian Bradley (brian47126) says:

    I am excited and think the price is reasonable. I like the 12 year CS better than the 16 year bottle.

    I may be alone in that feeling however…

  2. Steffen Bräuner says:

    You are not alone there Brian


  3. WHISKYhost says:

    Morning John,

    I’d be interested in where you think the 2009 release falls in the range of Lagavulin 12 releases. I’ve heard from many people that this is a return to the quality of the 2002 release. Others still think the 2006 is the best.

    Over at my blog we put the 2002, 2004, 2006, and 2009 side by side and I thought the 2009 was almost as good as the 2002:

    Would really appreciate hearing your thoughts.

    Jason @WHISKYhost

  4. John Hansell says:

    I thought the 2009 release was one of the better ones. In fact, I thought the entire 2009 release (what the U.S. got, anyway), was really good. But there were a few we didn’t get.

  5. Sean says:

    Thanks fpor the review John. I already snagged two bottles and will probably get more since it is a very good whisky at a reasonable price.

  6. Luke says:

    ANY Lagavulin release is welcome these days!

    When visiting the distillery in October 2007 I bought ONE bottle of 21 Year-Old Lagavulin, being stuck for luggage space but “confident of obtaining more in subsequent visits”.

    Foolish me… (*sob!*)

  7. Louis says:

    It’s releases such as this one that make it hard to kep New Year’s resolutions about limiting purchases. It’s nice to get a high value bottling occasionally, instead of something aimed at the collectors market.

  8. butephoto says:

    I buy myself this every Christmas now and this one is even better than I remember last year’s to be. I love this bottling a lot. It has everything you want from an Islay whisky at full strength.

  9. butephoto says:

    I might have to buy myself another one quick as there’s not much left of the first one.


  10. chef! says:

    Glad I made the quick pit stop at Binny’s while visiting them in Chicago over the holidays to pick a bottle of this up. I can’t fins this anywhere in the Sacramento area.

  11. bgulien says:

    The 2008 was good, this one, 2009, is even better.
    Forget the 16 yo.
    The 12 yo is the bottle to have.

  12. bgulien says:

    In fact, thanks for reminding me, I have just ordered a new bottle of the 2009 gender and a Caol Ila CS 61.6 % abv

  13. Glad to see this, since I prefer my Islays younger.

  14. I_SPEY says:

    I too have heard the 2009 is top. Better than the 2008.
    I’m so very curious, tomorrow, up to my shoppie!

  15. Robert van Hal says:

    I for one (and I know I’m not alone) hope for a cask strength, un-chill filtered and un-colored Lagavulin 16! It’s a 90+ whisky as it is, just imagine what it would be like untouched!

  16. BigMac says:

    Lagavulin is in top 3 of Islay whiskies – no doubt about that! 🙂

    and I think all of the 12yo Cask stregths I’ve tastes was close to John’s 90p -reeealy good whisky – go for it!

    Now, what you all ALSO need to do, is get your behinds to Islay and join Ian Macarthur’s warehouse tour, on that you’ll get newmake, 8yo bourbon cask cask strength, 12yo cask strength, 16yo cask strength sherry(AS IT SHOULD BE) and finally the olest cask in the distillery – a 1966 43yo! still remarkably peaty after all thos years in the cask, now the 1966 cask was down to 1/3 in August 09′ and Ian being generous with it, it wouldn’t have lastet much longer.
    Ian was so generous with the 1966 that I managed to pursade him to fill half a water bottled with the 1966 – Man, have I made a couple of lagavulin fans in Denmark, happy :-))
    He also to me, that when the 1966 was empty, a 1969 cask was to be opened for the warehouse tour! So go on, Lads – get your behinds to Islay! ASAP!


    • Jean-Marc says:

      How can someone be stupid enough to tell this kind of story on a forum (I just typed Lagavulin 1966 on Google afetr making the same visit.)
      Do not complain if we cannot have access to these wondeful casks anymore, as I guess people in Diageo read the forums.
      I ask the webmaster to censor the phrase “Ian was so generous with the 1966 that I managed to pursade him to fill half a water bottled with the 1966 – Man, have I made a couple of lagavulin fans in Denmark, happy )” .

      • mongo says:

        i think you’re over-reacting–the positive publicity is worth far more to them.

        • jeanmarcd says:

          I do not think I overreact . A Highland distillery had to stop tastings in warehouses because a very clever fellow sent a post on twitter saying : in *** we can taste straight from the casks.
          Scottish laws are very strict, even if less silly than american laws.

  17. Yossi says:

    Perhaps I didn’t put in enough water or perhaps too much but, once I did, this turned into one of the more undrinkable drops I’ve ever had.

    Without water, it’s quite lovely. Tightly wound, yes but a nice peaty cask strength indeed.

  18. WHISKYhost says:

    Thanks for responding to my question, John. Do you have a personal favorite from the Lagavulin 12 CS range?

    @Luke: That sucks. I LOVE the 21yr old.

    @Claus: When I was leading a whisky tour on Islay in September Ian had already gone home for the day so no warehouse tour. 🙁 I’m looking forward to leading more tours on Islay this year and finally getting a chance to take the warehouse tour. Glad you recommend it so highly.

    Jason @WHISKYhost

  19. Neil Fusillo says:

    I’ll have to keep my eye out for this one. I’d love a good Lagavulin CS and 12 seems to be a pretty good age range for the Islays.

  20. TheMandarin says:

    I got notes of blueberry, grassy-meadow and floral-honey with a light peppery char. Certainly some cinnamon here too. The texture and mouth feel is pleasant and slightly oily and a delicate maltiness shines through courtesy of the straight-bourbon cask. After adding water, you’ll sure as hell feel a fiery, aggressive grip from the oak but it works with the char in an interesting, highly stimulating(!)manner. Obviously you’ll want to hit this baby with alot of water. This was a fun and exciting whisky…at a price you don’t see these days!

  21. John Hansell says:

    WhiskyHost @18, I don’t have a favorite, but I do like this most recent release.

  22. Leorin says:

    Robert@15: Yes a 16 y.o. CS would be stunning but I doubt that Diageo will do such a release in the foreseeable future, as it would be very hard for them to justify the ridiculous price of the upcomming Manager’s Choice Lagavulin Single Cask.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Diageo doesn’t trouble itself to justify it’s prices on the basis of the simple characteristics of whisky– age, strength, cask handling. It relies on image, reputation, and exclusivity.

      Just go ahead and watch them put out a limited premium Lagavulin 16, which is non cask strength, and maybe has a vintage attached to it for 3 times the price of the standard. That’s how they work.

  23. […] Hansell recommends putting a little water in this ‘very nice’ Lagavulin 12 (2009 Special Release), and he’s looking for alternate opinions of the unpeated Caol Ila 10 […]

  24. WolfgangU says:

    I join you guys above who prefer the 12 yo to the 16 yo, for the former’s unadulterated character (cs, no colouring, no chill-filtering). I do not get it why they keep adding caramel, especially in whiskies that have little appeal to novices anyway. Sampe applies to most OB Laphroaigs.

  25. JB says:

    Still the 16 for me…for this taste, I can spend $20-30 and get Finlaggan (albeit watered down).

    • Red_Arremer says:

      You really think the Finlaggan is that good?

      • JB says:

        Not THAT good, but the two really do remind me of each other. The Lagavulin is clearly superior…but it also costs 3-5 times as much.

        Perhaps it is my relatively uneducated palate.

  26. Shawn says:

    I’m new to scotch and recently bought a 2008 lagavulin 12 year old knowing nothing about peat and Islay and expecting a really smooth drink at that price, $109. Canadian. I was so shocked and dissapointed on my first sip. Like some old wizard gave me drink from a thousand year old burnt tree in a bog. Not at all what I was expecting and not at all enjoyable. I thought I had wasted my money and made a huge mistake. I tried it again a couple days later. And then again. And it started to grow on me. And I’m literally stoned on an ounce of this stuff….. the bottle dissapeared a lot quicker than I imagined. I bought a bottle of cask strength Laphroig as it’s a lot less expensive and I’d read it has similar qualities. It’s awful. Smoky fish oil that burns my esophagus. None of the sweetness and complexity of the lagavulin. I tried Mcallan 15 which was boring. Ardbeg 16? did nothing for me. Lagavulin 16 left me wanting the power of the 12. I bought Lagavulin Distillers 16 which is nice but smooth and boring. Tried Johnny Walker Green which is ok and Blue which is pretty nice. Tried a few others that were fine bit nothing special. Today I bought a bottle of 2009 Lagavulin 12 year old. I’m happy again. Awesome. Strength. Smoke. Sweet. Balance. It’s just incredible. I’m returning an unopened bottle of Lagavulin Distillers 16 to trade in for another Lagavulin 12. My search is over. Lagavulin 12 forever for me. The Wizard was right.

    • Gilberto says:

      Shawn you want to try a couple of the Highlands or even a Speyside. I suggest you try a glengoyne 17 years , Dalmore 17 year, any of the Glenfarclas,Glenmorangie nectar to start of with. If you do try any of these let me know how i did.

  27. mongo says:

    this isn’t yet available in the minneapolis area (at least at none of the stores i keep an eye on), but the wife was in los angeles for a week and she brought me back a bottle from wally’s wines in westwood (try saying that three times fast after a dram of this). i’ve only tried it once so far. i thought it was overpowering neat. it began to open up with some water but i don’t think i got the ratio right. i went up to 1:1 water:whisky and at that point it seemed to me to lose character. how much are people adding? so far it doesn’t trump the regular 16 year old for me–i love the mouthfeel of that one.

    the distillery recommends 2:1 water: whisky (and it says the same on the tin of the laphroaig 10 cs). does anyone actually add that much?

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Probably most people who would buy this whisky would not do 2:1 with it. I will say this though– This whisky has an unusually massive oaky sting to it. It’s very good, but I actually found myself adding more water than usual to it, which by the way is not a bad thing at all.

      • mongo says:

        i think i may have hit upon the right ratio for me for this whisky: about 3:1 whisky:water. the nose opens up with nice sweet, mildly citrussy notes and i’m also picking up some rich candied yam/fruit-cakey notes (not unlike the ardbeg uigeadail). surprisingly sweet on the palate but with smoke around the edges and then a nice, increasingly bitter finish that hangs around a really long time, turning smoky at the end. very nice. not sure if i’ll replace the bottle, as it seems to me to tread on ardbeg territory that i can just go to ardbeg for, but definitely a must-try for fans of the 16 year old. i’m not sure if this is the same spirit that sits for another 4 years and then gets chill-filtered, diluted (and coloured) to be bottled as the 16 year old (or if that goes in different casks), but if it is, it’s interesting to track the changes.

  28. cg says:

    could anyone direct me to a website that has comprehensive information on these lagavulins, and other whiskies…i want to know, clearly, whether or not they have colouration and have been submitted to chill filtration.
    thank you.

  29. Todd says:

    I tried the Lagavulin 16 yr old at the liquor store and thought it was great! I asked the clerk at another liquor store and he said the 12 yr old has more of a baked smoked taste to it. I bought the 12 yr old due to the price being the same and I had to make a choice. He mentioned more people gravitate towards the 16 yr old. I think he said that because I did not see the 12 yr old in the other liquor store.

    • Todd says:

      the sixteen year old was by far one of the best whiskies i ever had
      if the twelve year old from the same company is barrel aged which bylaw means it is at least twelve years old, then for this specific region it should nail the greatness of the sixteen year old taste to the wall like a three inch framing nail leaving no subtle nuances to chance, no Lake Erie boat sinking off the shores in the winter storms, not a smidgin of an old oak log, nothing but this, and that. Thats what I am talking about.

  30. Todd says:

    I have read both sides on the sixteen and the twelve variations aparently it is not the same type of whisky to be compared to each other is not kosher. I would put the twelve above the sixteen in my books because it is rarer, simply bottled and from reading the fucking label, (which i disagree with) it is a better all around whisky then the sixteen yr old is, which is clearly a stapled taste.

  31. Thor says:

    Hello all,

    I am very new to Islay malts so forgive me if my question is boring.. I have only tried the distillers edition 16 years old and I really loved it.. but I want to try to 12 year old Lagavulin. It seems to be more expensive than the 16 year old.. I am wondering is there a cheaper ‘ regular version’ 12 year old Lagavulin that can be found anywhere? or is the 12 year old always more expensive than the 16? I guess my only problem with the 16 year old is that it is a little too sweet for my taste.. I d prefer a more smokey and less sweet lagavulin.. is the 12 year old that way?

    • mongo says:

      hi thor,

      there are very few expressions of lagavulin out there. if you’re in the u.s the 16yo, the 12yo cs and the distiller’s edition are pretty much the only ones you are likely to see. depending on where you are the 12yo is likely to be the same price or more expensive than the 16yo.

      differences between the 16yo and the 12yo:

      1) the 12yo is cask strength, whereas the 16yo is 43% (this plus the fact that it is a ltd. edition is why the 12yo is more expensive in most markets).

      2) the 12yo is ex-bourbon cask, whereas the 16yo has some sherry in it.

      3) the 12yo is cleaner, sharper on the palate than the 16yo which has a richer palette of flavours.

      4) both have sweet notes but different kinds of sweetness (bourbon vs. sherry).

  32. Tim Seitz says:

    Back in the early 90’s, Wallace Milroy gave me an incredible bottle of 12 year un-sherried Lagavullin. Not cask strength, I presume an original distillery bottling. One of the best malts I have ever tasted.

    My question is: Is this new offering from a sherry cask ?

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