All of a sudden summer is over (on my side of the planet anyway) and now we are in this, still sunny, yet colder autumn season. After the 13yo Aberlour, I was planning to do another Aberlour review, yet a human can be very predictable. A change of season and the body started to crave some…peat! All of a sudden I found myself reaching for peated Malts. So no Aberlour, let’s do a Lagavulin in stead. Don’t worry, the Aberlour will surface eventually. Back to the Lagavulin at hand. More than ten years ago… wait a minute, I have to let that sink in for a while… ten years. Wow! Well in 2012 I did the last review of a Lagavulin 12yo Special Release, in that case the 2007 edition. These special releases continue to be very good, so I have no reason whatsoever to believe this might be any different. Well, Master Quill is still around and the 12yo Lagavulin is still around as well. So without further ado, let’s dip into this Lagavulin straight away.
Color: Pale White Wine.
Nose: Sweet and soft peat and delicate smoke. This is somewhere between rough and elegant. Fruity with citrus, apple (Calvados), very soft vanilla, some iodine and a somewhat milky acidity I got from the 8yo and the 10yo as well as, to a lesser extent, in the 9yo GoT and the 11yo Offerman editions (all three of them actually). Initially this resembles new make a bit and gives this Malt a youthful edge. However, luckily I might add, in here this milky note is much less pronounced than in the other two/four/six Lagavulin’s I mentioned. Yes this one is again slightly older, but also bottled at cask strength, and this probably makes a difference as well. I don’t like this milky characteristic in Lagavulin. For me Lagavulin is dropping the ball with these newer expressions, and unfortunately this element is now becoming apparent in this 12yo Special Release as well. I hear some rumours of Lagavulin overcooking for a higher yield if that makes any sense? Maybe 2008/2009 is some sort of pivotal point for Lagavulin, trying too hard to meet demand? After some breathing this milky note, dissipates or maybe my nose gets used to it and doesn’t smell it any more. (I tried it again later and the milky bit is gone. Pouring me a new one brings it back, so nothing wrong with my nose after all). A short while later, the nose (of the Whisky, not my nose) becomes more balanced. Still fruity and sweet (and youthful), with added dishwater and warm plastic (both fitting the whole). Quite prickly clean smoke and tarry licorice. A slightly spicy smoke maybe, crushed beetle and the tiniest hint of oak, late saltiness and iodine again. It smells refined and this is definitely not your hard hitting peated Whisky. I will have to compare this one to a Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength in the future, as well as to the previous version of the 12yo Special Release.
Taste: Again sweet and fruity on entry, but also quite creamy and right out of the gate again quite youthful. A very friendly rendition this time. Not a hard in your face Malt, lacking even any bitterness from the wood. Some well integrated smoke, licorice and ashes. Tarry rope, sweet mint (Menthos) and salty. After all that fruit I didn’t expect all these Islay notes any more, but it’s still here. Lacks a bit of development and complexity, although un-complex it is not. The whole is more a banks of the Thames kind of Whisky than shores of Islay, and that probably isn’t a coincidence, but probably by design. Ashes, some iodine and wet marshland wood. Nope, not a lot of wood in this one. Part of these casks must have been at least second refills or otherwise somewhat inactive. The colour seems to suggest that as well, because it is quite pale for a Diageo bottling, a company know for their love for chill filtering and caramel colouring. Still very balanced and equally tasty though. The quality is on a slippery slope, but I still do like it, yet in a different way than I used to with these 12yo’s. It’s tasty and highly drinkable. Every aroma is neatly stacked upon another, like blocks of Lego. And every block is clear of a different colour and easily discernable. This Lagavulin is definitely more minty and modern. Still a nice expression though, just different. No need for water, but feel free to do so. The finish is of medium length and balanced throughout. No bad markers at all, apart from the milky youth bit mentioned above. The finish is sweet and smoky, the aftertaste is medium at best, warming, fruity and ever so slightly smoky. A good way to remember it, because the finish as well as the aftertaste don’t contain the questionable bits.
This is a friendly and tasty Malt, yet not exactly the high quality we are used to for the 12yo Special Release. It doesn’t even feel like a 12yo (it feels younger). Maybe lacks some strength, but in part it makes up for this with its accessibility and likeability throughout. Still good stuff but comparing it, from memory, to the 2007, it definitely is a different puppy altogether, which can be good, since it gives us another choice, and a way to match the Lagavulin 12yo Special Release to your mood. A good reason to have several editions open at the same time, if you needed one. However it unfortunately is also a bad thing, since I feel the quality is also a bit less. I worry about the future (in general as well as for the 12yo Special Release). Nevertheless, this one will split opinions. People who know the Lagavulin 12yo’s from the past will not be impressed by this one whereas others might like the new friendlier direction, and will have no clue why I’m on about sliding quality. For me, even though I do recognize its faults, I also do quite like it (to a certain extent). I’m curious about how the next few editions will be.