Whisky Advocate

Review: Lagavulin, 16 year old

July 19th, 2011

Continuing with the Islay-themed reviews…

Lagavulin, 16 year old, 43%, $75

An old classic, but how do the newest bottlings fare? Rich, chewy, slightly oily texture. Deep peat, thick smoke, iodine, brine, charcoal, seaweed, Earl Grey tea, and the aromas of a summer barbeque. Vanilla and light caramel soften the intensity, while subtle citrus fruit teases. Powerful, yet polished and seamless. After all these years, this whisky is still one of the finest standard issue peaty, smoky whiskies! — John Hansell

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 94

53 Responses to “Review: Lagavulin, 16 year old”

  1. John,
    I too love Lagavulin 16 – one of my first drams! – and your mention of “newest bottlings” brought up a question for me – How does the average consumer tell one ‘batch’ of bottlings apart from another, if there are no bottling dates or batch numbers on the bottle?

  2. mongo says:

    there are bottling codes etched on the bottle. you’ll see something that begins with an L and has a string of numbers after that. the number right after the L tells you the bottling year. so, my current bottle has this code etched over the small label in rear: L9008CM000. this means mine was bottled in 2009.

    • Josh West says:

      Hmm… A bottle I just recently bought, from a store that frequently sells out of Lagavulin 16, has a code of L0328CM000. Are you sure the second character denotes the year it was bottled? Meaning this one was from 2000?

      • kallaskander says:

        Hi there,

        these bottling codes usually run from 0 to 9.

        That means your bottle could be from the year 2000 but it stands to reason that 2010 would be the more probably bottling year.

        If it were from 2000 there is a great chance that on the small oval label it says something about White Horse Distillers wheras the newer ones tell of Lagavulin Distillery Port Ellen, Islay.
        In the first case you could keep an unopened bottle for a day on which you want to compare it with a Port Ellen Islay labeled one.
        You will find difference to the days of yore.


      • Jerome says:

        No, it means it is from the 328th day of 2010. I’m not sure when Diageo started putting clearer bottling dates on their bottles (it may have always had some sort of bottling code), but it was probably after 2005. I have some Laga 12’s from 2002-2004 that are not coded L2, L3, or L4 xxx.
        ….oops, kallaskander just beat me to it.

  3. Mark Davis says:

    lagavulin 16 is probably my favorite. I wish everything could smell like it, except then it woudl be hard to appreciate lagavulin 16.

  4. mongo says:

    (also, nice to see john swimming against the tide here, even if i think he’s being a little too generous with the score. a lot of people insist the laga 16 is not what it used to be even a few years ago–something that, i suspect, comes from a “no one drinks that anymore; it’s too popular” kind of position.)

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Laga’s definitely not “cool” anymore mongo. But these days a lot of folks consider it cool to be uncool…

    • Tadas says:

      I tried a Lagavulin 16 yo couple months ago and was not impressed at all. It has that mettalic taste. I noticed very little smoke. And I wouldn’t never guessed that it is 16 yo – tasted more like 12 yo.

  5. Gllaguno says:

    I always have two bottles of this on my “Whisky Cellar”, for me it’s a must have.

  6. lawschooldrunk says:

    John, earl grey tea? Where did the lapsang souchong tea go?

    • John Hansell says:

      That’s in there too.

      • A. Marina Fournier says:

        Your note says “Earl Grey tea”. Was there really a bergamot note in it, and not the usual Lapsang Souchong smokiness?

        I would not normally recommend singlemalt whisky, much less an Islay one, to an Earl Grey drinker who’d never get near a Lapsang Souchong. However, if the LS fan will drink whisky, that fan will love Islay malts; and if the Islay/Laphroaig drinker will drink tea, that fan will love LS.
        I see that Lawschooldrunk also had this reaction. Both teas, eh? I shall have to go to my tea cupboard and grab a sniff of the two together.

        • Red_Arremer says:

          What gets me about an Earl Grey note is that it seems to be a nice way of saying that there’s something metallic tasting.

    • John Hansell says:

      I have actually tweaked the final version of this review to include both teas that I noticed. (Not that it is really that critical.)

  7. Ron McGregor says:

    Generally agree with you John but you have overated this one. It is a bit unrefined compared to the Ardbeg Corryvreckan or the now practically unobtainable 17 y/o Ardbeg,truly elegant Islay whiskies.

  8. JWC says:

    i wish i could purchase it for $75. certain scotches, for reasons i am unaware, are more expensive here in houston than other parts of the country.

    • Rodion says:

      If I were you, I’d consider ordering online if they can ship to where you’re at. Seems like the best liquor store for scotch in San Diego is BevMo, which doesn’t always have the best prices. Astor Wines is where I bought the Lagavulin 16 last.

  9. Ron McGregor says:

    JWC, your area does not have a monopoly on single malt price gouging, Illinois prices are insane particulary downstate but some are worth whatever it takes to get them!

  10. Louis says:

    Uh-huh. Lagavulin 16 was one of my amazing discoveries back in 1997, and is still part my permanent open stock. I easily go thru a bottle during the cooler/colder months each year. But I agree witht those above who would rate it a bit lower, as the Ardbeg Uigeadail and Corryvreckan get a few more points, IMHO.



  11. Gal says:

    Right on the money.

    after having tasted 100’s of whiskies, this is the one i ALWAYS come back to. Excellent in every way, affordable, and delicious.
    It’s hard to meet a person who likes smoke in their whiskies which is not in love with the Laga 16.

    Perfection. Period.

  12. Jerome says:

    Agreed, John. I’ve had quite a few batches over the past eight years and the latest bottles have been noticeably better. They have always been good, but the “deep peat” taste in the last batch I had from 2010 was just amazing. I enjoyed this last 16yo (L0 333) more than I did the Corry I recently had (L10 168).

  13. David OG says:

    Hmm… I wonder if some here haven’t read the last post or the actual criteria for Mr. Hansell’s scoring system. I’m actually surprised that the 16 year didn’t score at least a 95 deeming it a ‘classic’. The standard Lagavulin is the consummate classic and has consistently been one of the best choices available for many decades. It’s easy to write it off because it’s not cask strength or very available (I suspect some just look down upon it cause EVERYONE loves it), but bloviating about how much better the “such and such” is seems as though many have trouble experiencing this whisky objectively. However, I will say that it tastes a whole lot better for $65 rather than $99…

    • John Hansell says:

      Actually if you read what I said, I referred to it as an OLD classic. In this most recent review, I didn’t call it a classic, but rather: “one of the finest standard issue peaty, smoky whiskies!” I was very careful in my wording. I think this newest release falls just short of “classic” status.

      • David OG says:

        I see. I appreciate the intricacy of your scoring system and your attention to detail. Having not had the opportunity to taste various bottlings of 16 year side by side, getting some context as to how the current expression stacks up is very satisfying. It would be really interesting to see your take on some of the very old bottles of Lagavulin 16 YO that the Serge loves, of course since they basically don’t exist I suspect we won’t be seeing that anytime soon…

  14. Brian B. (brian47126) says:

    Are you going to score any other old standbys John? It would be really great to see your scoring of the new Ardbeg 10 release. I thought the difference between older Ardbeg 10’s (L1 to L7) are quite different to the newer releases.

    • Scott says:

      I agree with Brian in hoping for more re-rating of “old standbys.” I wish this were more common across the board, really. Sort of like how I wish every music album included at least one cover song, just to get a sense of how an artist deals with interpreting others’ work, I kind of wish that for every five new whiskies reviewed, one older review would be revisited from current stock.

    • John Hansell says:

      We do plan on reviewing more established brands, in addition to new releases.

      • Every standard bottling should be reviewed now and again as they tend to change, some more or some less, bottle code or not

        Personally I would like to get all the batches for an Amrut Fusion Vertical


    • Red_Arremer says:

      I also agree on this one– Especially considering the way that the buyer’s guide is set up as an encyclopedia of bottlings and ratings.

  15. bgulien says:

    Love the 16 yo, but I adore the 12 yo cask strength.
    Hope you can obtain this in the US, because that 12 yo is truly beautiful.

  16. Murrell Kinkade says:

    I guess everyone has his go to drink. With bourbon it is Elijah Craig 18 yo. With Islay scotch, it is Lagavulin 16 yo. No hesitatiion, no qualms. To me it is the best. They are two whiskies that can hold their own anywhere, anytime in my view.

  17. John Parker says:

    I will have to go out and buy a bottle of this tonight, not a big scotch drinker, prefer great bourbon, but this sounds like a good start for Scotch.

  18. Keith Sexton says:

    I work in a store where a fellow employee dropped a Lagavulin and the bottle shattered. The entire store smelled like Lagavulin. Talk about mixed emotions! It was heartbreaking, yet somehow beautiful. Much like the Talisker 10, Lagavulin 16 is a whisky that’s universally recognized as a superstar by mostly everybody.

  19. Toby Belch says:

    To each his (or her) own, of course. But when I read that a whiskey smells of iodine and charcoal, I’m glad I drink bourbon. Or, for that matter, unpeated speyside malts (three cheers for Glenfarclas). I hope the charcoal scent in Lagavulin does not include hints of lighter fluid. That said, I’d gladly down a shot of Lagavulin if offered it for free. I’m cheap. My favorite brand is OP (other peoples’).

    • Red_Arremer says:

      Toby– give it a shot. If you can handle the corn syrup and sap on bourbon, then you can handle the charcoal and iodine on Laga 16.

      • Toby Belch says:

        Red – Actually, I have had Lagavulin 16. Although not really to my taste, it is not as bad as I implied in my message. As much as anything, I am amused that terms like “iodine” and “charcoal” would be used to describe the virtues rather than the faults of a whiskey. But you are right. Bourbon, too, has a very assertive taste. It is, however, a taste I really like. So there is only one important rule about whiskey. Drink what you like! Don’t let a whiskey snob tell you what to do. A year or so ago, I attended a function at Buffalo Trace Distillery. Elmer T. Lee was there drinking his bourbon with Sprite. If he can do so, then any of us can chose whatever whiskey we like and drink it anyway we like!

  20. Danny Maguire says:

    Lagavulin 16 is probably the best distillery bottled smokey whisky out there. I’d happily drink it all night. At the time of Cardugate Diageo took their eye of the ball with EVERYTHING but the seem to have realised that their consumers are not mugs and are still looking for quality and value for money and things are improving with all their brands. I just wish they’d bottle EVERYTHING at at least 43 and preferably 46% A.B.V.

  21. Bob Siddoway says:

    John, do the newer bottlings of Lag 16 seem any different from the past ones from what you can remember? I haven’t had any in several years, but it used to be one in my standard go-to spirits. Perhaps when I’ve drank through my stash of Ardbeg, I will pick one up and see if my tastes have changed…

  22. Pat says:

    16 is a sublime dram but 5 extra years in the cask creates something extraordinary…

    • Joshua says:

      Pat, you said a mouthful!!! I love the 16yo (it was my gateway whisky) but the 21yo is a dream come true!

    • Red_Arremer says:

      I like the 21, but feel like the sherry on them can be up and down– Sometimes, there’s a hint of sulfur.

    • doc911 says:

      I agree with how great the 21 is, but to me its not a matter of one being better than the other. They are all absolutely fantastic. I think too many people get caught up in the number of years a dram is aged. Lagavulin is fully mature and ready at 16. I have even heard some say the older expressions lose something. Having been fortunate to experience almost all of them, I can tell you that they are all superstars in their own and distinctive way.

  23. mongo says:

    the 1995 12yo friends of the classic malts is also pretty damned good. a full 12 years in sherry and bottled at 48%.

  24. doc911 says:

    One of my absolute favorites.

    To give you some perspective of the weight this opinion has, I also have several bottles of talisker 25, Caol Isla 29, 30 (indes), Ardbeg Beist, Roller coaster, supernova, Kilchomann winter and summer release, Several old indes of Laphroiag in various casks aged 20+ years, as well as a variety of old Caperdonnich and many others.

    I have also had virtually every bottle Lagavulin has put out including several different examples of the 21, and the hard to find and coveted 25 (recently drank half the bottle).

    All outstanding, but I always go back to my 16 year old dear friend. Should I feel guilty?

    Btw, I’m not sure where everyone is from, but 90 dollars for this bottle is too damn expensive. I regularly find it for low 60s.

  25. Bryan R says:

    My good friend described a tasting note in Lagavulin as “smoked roses”, and I must admit that now I notice that too every time I try it. Still one of the best

  26. lawschooldrunk says:

    I fondly call laga 16 what I called it the first time I ever had it (and before I was a hardcore whisky enthusiast): Liquid campfire.

  27. Guy says:

    The value of going to Whiskey Fest becomes clear with things like this. The bottle of Lagavulin is more than half the price of admission. There are certain whiskeys I never would have purchased, had I tasted them first at Whiskey Fest. Ardbeg is another that just is not to my taste. I’ll stick to my floral Cragganmore. I prefer the flavor of the creamy caramel malt to the smoke.

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