Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2017), 56.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $130
This is the 15th Special Releases bottling of Lagavulin 12 year old. Matured in refill American oak hogsheads. The nose is smoky, with kippers, charcuterie, and bonfire embers, offset by berry fruits. On the unctuous palate, smoke blends with vanilla, green apples, and licorice, plus pepper and sea salt. Peppery, ashy peat in the lengthy finish. (Individual reviewer rating: 91)
Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Releases 2017), 56.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $130
Conventional wisdom suggests that Lagavulin is at its peak at 16 years of age. However, this superlative 12 year old confirms why many consumers like their Lagavulin younger. This is Lagavulin at its very best: bold, yet complex and satisfying; full of character, with smoky, savory, maritime, sweet vanilla, and fruit notes all merging into a balanced and eminently drinkable whole. It takes a few drops of water well, releasing burnt grass aromas and more palate sweetness. The Diageo Special Releases are not known to be bargains, but this Lagavulin is sensibly priced, and the greatest all-around value from the 2017 lineup. Number 4 in the 2017 Top 20
There’s precious little reticence about this beast, which leaps out of the glass blowing peat smoke everywhere — then comes raffia, Lapsang Souchong tea, seashore, wet rocks, Elastoplast, talcum powder, bog myrtle (laurel), vetiver, and the aromas of a just-expunged peat bonfire with apples baking on it. Huge and complex, in other words. The palate starts with a fug of smoke being belched at you (non-peat freaks look away, now) then distinct saltiness enlivens the tongue before everything plunges down; intense sweetness takes charge for a moment before it shifts into charred creosoted timbers. This begs for some water, and when it’s added, out comes sandalwood and peat smoke and tar and an orris root-like character — it’s not often I get gin-like notes on Lagavulin, but it’s here — which rolls over you as you roll over and succumb to its power. After this year’s sublime distillery-only bottling, it’s clear that Lagavulin is in a real purple patch. Superb.
Lagavulin 1993 Islay Jazz Festival bottling (bottled 2011), 55.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $127
An extremely limited edition issued at last year’s Islay Jazz Fest, this was chosen by warehouseman Iain McArthur as a prime example of a ‘bodega’ sherry butt (see page XX for more on the ‘bodega’ process). It is, simply, massive, with concentrated soy/balsamic notes combining with hot embers, burning rosemary, fig, coffee, and candied peels. The smokiness is unrestrained on the tongue; all soot, earth, and a rolling wave of deep, pimento-accented meatiness leading to a kippery finish. Magnificent. (Distillery only) £80
This cask strength, sherry cask matured expression was released as part of Lagavulin’s bicentennial celebration. The nose offers new leather, tropical fruits, brittle toffee, and brine, backed by spicy peat smoke. Smoky sherry notes open up in time. The rich, well-mannered palate boasts sweet peat, brine, muted sherry, figs, gentle spices, tangerines, and lemons. Becoming more savory in the long, gently smoky, malty finish. Very drinkable at cask strength. A great Lagavulin. (8,000 bottles)
A sherry-cask Lagavulin, this immediately shows a rich, mellow power with a touch of potter’s wheel, but it needs water to bring out sandalwood, beach bonfire, kombu, Lapsang Souchong, and bog myrtle. The palate is where it shows itself fully; resinous and thick, unctuous even, with that scented pine/juniper tea note shifting into paprika-rubbed ham, membrillo, currants, blackberry. I’ve a feeling that this period will be seen as Lagavulin’s golden age. £99
Lagavulin from a first-fill sherry butt? There’s unusual. This is huge, fluxing, and complex, mixing saddles and dark chocolate, pu-erh tea and smothered kiln, geranium and velvet, gamey venison and treacle. The smoke is integrated, the fires ember-like, the oak there but not oppressively so. Massive, dense, layered, and complex, this needs time to open. In short, a distillation of Islay and up alongside last year’s Jazz Festival bottling.
Lagavulin Feis Ile 2013 bottling (distilled 1995), 51%
Single Malt Scotch | $152
Though quiet to start, the impression is of a fog of smoke, balled up within a dunnage
warehouse, ready to erupt to add itself to the cool spearmint and oxidized
nuttiness. The palate is where it shows its class: mature, slowly unfolding and
layered, with Latakia tobacco, menthol, nori, white pepper, pear, and a massive,
tarry Bohea Souchong tea element on the finish. Everything from Lagavulin is
touched with gold at the moment. Try to find a bottle. (distillery only) £99
Lagavulin is a classic example of how smoke isn’t a blunt instrument that covers everything in a fog, but an element that works with all the flavors produced in distillation and maturation. Lagavulin isn’t ‘smoky,’ its peat moves into a weird territory of Lapsang Souchong tea and pipe tobacco, fishboxes and kippers. It smells of laurel and light cereal, but is always sweet. The palate shows more creosote, with hints of kelp and a little touch of iodine. Complex.
More polished and sophisticated than the comparably sweet and lush Lagavulin 21 year old also reviewed here. The pedro ximinez cask finish certainly gives as much as it takes away when compared to the benchmark 16 year old. An array of complex ripe fruit, interwoven with notes of pot still rum, toffee, tar, seaweed, and brine on the finish. It seems logical to marry this big, smoky Islay whisky with an equally big, sweet, fruity sherry. In this case, the marriage works wonderfully.
You want and expect rich and peaty malt from Lagavulin and you get it here in droves, though not in the most obvious way. This version is somewhere between the cask strength 12 year old and the Distiller’s Edition, rather than the standard 16 year old, but it’s an absolute peach and a treat for lovers of this distillery. The nose is constrained and shy at first, with lychee and kiwi fruit offering a sweet and gentle carpet to coastal peaty notes. The palate is big, rich, full, and peppered, with sharp apple and citrus fruits. It benefits from water, too, as there’s a delightful swell of fruit, chili, peat, and soft licorice. As with all great Lagavulins, the tarry peatiness lingers longest in the finish.
The aromas are tightly bound, but a little water releases them nicely. A powerful dram, with tarry, leafy, coal ash, caramel apple, and driftwood notes; even a little soapy (not necessarily a negative). More subtle floral notes (heather, violet), Earl Grey tea, and smoked fish. Long, damp peat smoke and charcoal finish.
Lagavulin at an odd age, representing House Lannister and showcasing its lion sigil. The nose is floral, with rose hips, toffee, and fragrant peat notes. Full on the palate, with toffee apples, cinnamon, earthy peat, and smoked haddock in salted butter. The smoked fish combines with fennel in the lengthy finish.
Lagavulin 12 year old is represented in Diageo’s annual Special Releases lineup for the fifteenth consecutive year. This was matured in refill American oak barrels. Earthy, peppery peat are present on the nose, along with hazelnuts, seaweed, and lemon juice. It offers citrus fruit, bonfire smoke, pepper, chili, and antiseptic on the palate. The medium-length finish features smoked chilies.
Lagavulin 18 year old Fèis Ìle 2016 bottling, 49.5%
Single Malt Scotch | $162
It’s been quite a year for Lagavulin; a 25 year old is due (but no sample at the time of writing). This was a 6,000-strong bottling, aged in refill hoggies and ‘bodega’ butts. Initially restrained and mildly oxidized, it shows angelica, a spritz of lemon juice on potted shrimp, then fennel pollen and water mint. The smoke is pulled back. The palate has orchard fruits, creosote, and moss. Lagavulin’s top notes accentuated, but with the depth of age. £125
A thick, sweet, weighty Lagavulin -- the kind you eat with a fork. Interwoven caramel and molasses laced with thumping waxed fruit, dates, burnt walnuts, and peat kiln embers that linger long on the palate. A mouthful!
Light in color it may be, but this is no wimp. The nose goes straight to the shore with mineral and salt, but it’s also sweet, which allows it to be fresh, lively, yet balanced. The palate delivers some menthol, bay laurel, more brininess, a hint of malt, and Parma violet. Everything remains very breezy, with peat smoke being blown from a kiln into salt-laden air. I prefer it to the 12 year old and the price is fantastic.
It’s a brave person who tries to persuade a malt like Lagavulin to go into a different direction. Indeed, even PX casks, from the sweetest fortified wine of all, can’t fully obscure the distillery’s character, just give it a raisined coating. The creosote turns to tar and licorice, while there’s Syrah-like sootiness, and damson. This release is slightly less sweet than in the past and is the better for it, though I still prefer my Lagavulin relatively ‘naked.’
An elder Lagavulin. Thirty years of oak aging has mellowed this whisky. Fragrant and floral, with suggestions of perfumed soap. Spicy too, with cinnamon and anise. Classic leafy, smoky notes, along with some tarry rope, emerge on the palate and maintain a steady keel as they work their way through an ocean of vanilla malt. Lingering finish of burning embers. Certainly an enjoyable Lagavulin, but I still like the standard 16 year old better. It’s hard to improve on a classic.
Though as pale as ever, this Lagavulin is hardly in need of a Charles Atlas course. The nose is ozonic, like rock pools at low tide with kelp splattered around. Sweetness comes in the form of cloudy apple juice and a smokehouse kipperiness. The palate is explosive, with masses of retronasal action showing violet root, thyme, juniper, tarragon/fennel, and a finish akin to smoked cheese. An improvement on the 2012 release.
Brought back as an annual limited edition to satisfy the cravings of those who like their peat full-on and never understood why Lagavulin moved to 16 years of age, this is the Kildalton coast single malt at its most boisterous. Aromatically, it blazes a seaweed-strewn, zigzag pathway between sea, shore, and land: bog myrtle and samphire, beach bonfire, sea spray, and melon before, with much-needed water, there’s slow-burning Latakia pipe tobacco and Lapsang Souchong tea.
This is usually a bracing expression of Lagavulin and this year’s release doesn’t disappoint—smoldering peat, ozone freshness, but with greater sweetness than in 2011, though water shows how it is still just a little gawky. The palate is, yes, smoky, but there’s also light cereal, praline, violets, and seashore aromas aplenty. Fills the mouth with intensity. Okay, it’s edgy, but that’s what you expect.
Lg4 Elements of Islay (distilled at Lagavulin), 55.7%
Single Malt Scotch | $78
Hard not to compare this to the 12 year old, as they are of similar strength and character. This is more about the peat bank rather than the shore, more eucalyptus than kelp. This pungent, earthy note is retained with water, alongside some brine. The palate is like carrageen moss pudding, with a touch of nutmeg at the end. Plenty there, but it all moves very quickly when I want it to linger. That said, a solid performer. £47/500 ml
A very laid-back start with the sweetness of the sherry cask bringing a fat, figgy, dried fruit aroma which initially suppresses the peat, only allowing a little pipe smoke and smoked meat to emerge. With water, there’s balsam, tar, dried seaweed, and fabric Band-Aid. This is repeated on the tongue, with dark fruits suddenly changing to spent kiln and bonfire ashes, but there needs to be more cohesion between the elements. £80
This is the fourteenth 12 year old Lagavulin bottling in the series and was aged in refill American oak hogsheads. Vanilla and wood smoke on the early nose, then black pepper, lemon, marine aromas, and scented notes, with a hint of peaty yeast. Big, sweet, and direct on the smooth palate, with milk chocolate and black pepper, while the smoke keeps building. The finish is long and smoky, with persistent pepper. Diageo Special Releases 2016 bottling.
Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Release 2015), 56.8%
Single Malt Scotch | $135
As pale as you'd expect, this year’s Special Release ‘limited’ bottling has a sweet, bready softness to it making it less angular than previous expressions. The smoke comes across very gently, allowing the sweet grassiness of the spirit the upper hand until water is added. The palate stirs in some emulsion paint, a pleasing lift of sulfur and anise, and gradually deepens. With water there are more smoke and marine notes.
This is a venerable Lagavulin which immediately shows its age with a nose that mixes the savory (hoisin sauce) with the mature notes of dunnage warehouse, sandalwood, and a minty lift. In time, there’s bog myrtle, old attics, rain-moistened wool, and a smokiness akin to a dead briar pipe. Slightly dull to start, it perks up in the mid-palate with lanolin and black olive brine, and a Darjeeling-like grippiness. Interesting for sure, but past its best. (1,868 bottles).
Style: Islay single malt scotch Color: Pale straw Aroma: Peat smoke-lots of it. Damp earth. Hint of olives and seaweed. Palate: Surprisingly gentle in texture and on the light side of medium in body. A malty sweetness balances the dry-ish peat smoke. Again the damp earth mid palate. An appetizing saltiness emerges towards the finish, but is fleeting. Smoky finish.
Lagavulin 12 year old (Diageo Special Release 2014), 54.4%
Single Malt Scotch | $130
Typically pale and slightly broader than in previous years, with a little more fleshiness that rubs alongside squid ink and white pepper. Huge smoke mingles with the sharp tang of brine and a touch of bran. Water brings out lanolin. There’s little oak getting in the way of the distillery character here and while water settles the waves, it just doesn’t have the extra dimension that elevates the decent to the great. It does make a great highball tho’. (31,428 bottles)
Lagavulin Feis Ile 2012 bottling (Cask #1716) 1998 Vintage, 55.1%
Single Malt Scotch | $133
At first I wondered what was going on here. This Lagavulin has more of the austerity typical of Port Ellen. There’s a tense minerality on the nose giving the impression of salty rock-pools and samphire. Water makes it sweeter and oyster-like. There’s big delivery on the tongue, with masses of distillery character, but that tension remains to the saline finish. In a head-to-head with Caol Ila, the former wins hands down. £85