Lagavulin 8yo (48%, OB, Refill American Oak, Limited Edition, 20.000 bottles, 2016)

Here at Master Quill, we love Lagavulin. In fact if you like your peated Whiskies, then it is really hard to find a bad Lagavulin. It has always been a Single Malt of very high quality and rather rare to encounter as an independent bottling, although there are quite a few out there. Another amazing fact is that the “regular” 16yo is still very, very good, and very, very, affordable. Well done Diageo. For now, because when they start tinkering with Lagavulin 16yo, or delete the Talisker 10yo, well, that wouldn’t be so good now would it.

We all know, the Whisky marked changed quite a bit the last few years, it the demand! It’s therefore harder to put out well aged Malts for a price, older Whisky drinkers are used to. In come the NAS (No Age Statement) bottlings with funny names. Like for instance Talisker Skye (the island it hails from), Talisker (Dark) Storm (it is windy on the Isle of Skye), Talisker Port Ruighe (Pronounced as Port Ree, as in Portree, the largest town on Skye), Talisker 57 North (the location on the map) and Talisker Neist Point (a local lighthouse).

With Lagavulin, Diageo didn’t really venture into NAS territory, instead they released this 8yo. Sure still young like many other NAS bottlings, but this time we, the consumer, get to know its age. For one we now know there isn’t any three year old Whisky in this expression, because all the others must have it. No, this time we are not being conned and we are now more than happy to pay for a relatively young Whisky and feel quite good with it. Yup, put on an age statement, even if its 5yo (Benromach) or this 8yo, and everybody’s happy. I’m sure this Lagavulin got a break from the drinking public, whereas the Taliskers mentioned above were criticized to the bone. I for one like age statements, but do not necesseraly dislike NAS bottlings. However, not knowing whats in it, makes me more hesitant in buying them without tasting it first. With an 8yo, you somehow know what to expect…

Lagavulin 8yoColor: Pale straw. Very light.

Nose: Sweetish laid-back peat. Nice spicy feel to it, in part made up of burnt wood, or even better, burning wood. Usually young peated Whiskies tend to be quite heavy on the phenols, but this one smells quite nice and almost elegant. Ashes and candy. Slow development. Hints of rubber, crushed apples turning brown and some distant cigarette smoke. It also has a slightly acidic fruity note. Unripe pineapple and green apple skins. Fresh wood and fern, with mocha tones. Milk chocolate and . It wants to be warming but hardly is. It is a Lagavulin alright, in many ways a lighter version of the 12yo cask strength expression. Sure some might say it’s lighter in style, maybe slightly under-developed, or less complex, but when you spend some time with it, smelling it, it actually is wonderful stuff. Well balanced. Love it.

Taste: Sweet and fruity. To sweet and fruity? Bubblegum, well didn’t expect that. I didn’t expect it to taste like this after thát nose. Very nutty. Almonds and hazelnuts ground to a pulp. Where is the peat? Ahh there it is. Well definitely not a heavy hitting high phenol young peated Whisky. Nope. We can call this very fruity by Lagavulin standards. With some air I get hints of new make spirit. Not the spirity part, but the barley part of it. This one really doesn’t improve giving it a lot of time to aireate in the glass. It shows more imperfections that way, showing, it isn’t really finished yet or even some exposing flaws in the “design”. The finish is medium at best, but shorter than it should have been. How did it get so light, friendly and simple? High drinkability, but in this case even at 48% ABV isn’t enough. It is a very nice one to drink, but the weakness lets it down a bit, or is it too simple, and maybe that lets it down a bit. Maybe both, the truth often lies in the middle, or were my expectations a bit to high.

Beforehand I wanted to compare this one with the 1995 European oak version, but I think it’s better compared to the Wilson and Morgan Caol Ila, also a young peated Whisky.  Smelling the Caol Ila right after the Lagavulin, it seems to have some exhaust fume notes and clay. Garage, new car. Notes I didn’t pick up on when reviewing it. An unusual and very interesting note, just like the petrol taste in good Rieslings. I now love this Caol Ila even more. Smelling the Lagavulin after the Caol Ila, the Lagavulin shows more barley, bread and cocoa, and definitely more youth. I guess lots of the casks weren’t very active anymore. The Lagavulin is even lighter in colour than the Caol Ila. Although the Lagavulin is slightly higher in ABV the difference is noticeable. The Caol Ila is slightly nuttier with nice fruity notes. It tastes well matured and a bit beyond the 9yo it has under its belt. In this direct comparison, I like the Caol Ila better.

I have bought a few of these Lagavulin 8yo’s on good faith and even though I’m a bit surprised how it turned out, I’m not altogether unhappy with it. It still is pretty decent, but it’s not what I expected it to be, and it may still have to find its place in the bigger scheme of things, but let me say this, the 1995 I mentioned above is way better!

Points: 84

Heartfelt thanks go out to Nico for letting me have a sample.

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Lagavulin 12yo 1995/2008 (48%, OB, European Oak, for the Friend of the Classic Malts)

So with the longest day of the year at hand, some would say that this isn’t the time for Peat. Peat needs rugged shores, strong gale force winds and driving rain to be thoroughly enjoyed, doesn’t it? Why not take a light, grassy and lemony Lowlander instead, or even some tropical stuff? Well what can I say, I just felt like it, that’s all.

A week ago I hosted a Whisky-tasting centered around the indie bottler, Signatory Vintage. I opened some bottlings of them, which will feature on these pages soon. Of course a good tasting needs an even better after-tasting, like a good party needs an even better after-party. The after-tasting, yes you’ve guessed it: Lagavulin. The distillery that’s celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, with the release of a 8yo, which will also feature on these pages shortly.

But first this oldie (but goldie). Relatively speaking of course. This Lagavulin was released in 2008 and it took well into 2015 to sell out. It was available in shops for a whopping 7 years! Now that its gone, prices are soaring. It was available for such a long time, because there may have been a lot of bottlings around, but it also gained a bit of a reputation. A lot of people, including fans of Lagavulin weren’t very fond of this particular bottling. I consider myself a fan of Lagavulin, so I just has to open it, and try for myself! But first a thought…

Bottlings like this, baffle me to the max. All this time we hear the industry explaining to us, that colouring is done to ensure consistency in colour from batch to batch. Also, the public, when buying Whisky, or any other brown spirit, may be put off when the aforementioned spirit is too light in colour. So why then is this one-off Lagavulin, bottled in a brown glass bottle, coloured with E150, when we, the public can’t even see the colour of the spirit untill after the purchase? Boggles the mind, and mind you, don’t go around thinking that caramel colouring doesn’t affect the taste, because it does, just read Michel’s article back from the day I used to be in the “Coloured Gang”. Sure, it may be a bit lengthy, but it definitely worth it.

Lagavulin 12yo 1995/2008 FFOTCMColour: Orange brown, just like a Bourbon.

Nose: Excellent smoky nose. It starts with more smoke than peat. Sure peat is next. Earthy, sweet and fatty clay. Ashes. Nice wood, accompanied by red fruity notes and some Italian laurel licorice as well. The fruity bit smells more yellow than red. Funky chewy sweetness. Cream Sherry. Mocha cream, cookie dough and light chocolate powder. Leather. Milk chocolate shavings on vanilla ice-cream held up by the wood. Again a lovely smelling Lagavulin, which always works well when it’s matured in Sherry casks. Hints of tar and also some spices. The creamy Sherry notes overpower the spices a bit, so its hard to tell them apart. If you have read the article I mentioned above, you might remember my comments about mellowing out the aroma’s by E150. I feel that is the case here also. This Lagavulin has a nice, very nice actually, but rounded out smell.

Taste: Quite sweet and creamy on entry, quickly followed by peat and toasted cask. Small vegetal bitter note. Very nice. Lots of sweet licorice, almonds and black and white powder. Pepper & salt and definitely some smoke and nuts. Smoked nuts? Smoked sweet almonds (not the salty ones). Red cocktail cherry and a whiff of artificiality in the fruit department. The sweetness is of the typical sugar-water kind. Its fantastic on entry, but the body is losing it at bit already. Falling apart and being quite simple. In no way, has the finish the length of other Lagavulins, but the one big taste lingers on for a while in the aftertaste. However, it’s more the sweet and fruity bit, with only a hint of smoke, than the peat.

This Lagavulin has matured in first fill Sherry casks, not made with American oak. There was a time when (probably) all Sherry matured in European oak butts and puncheons, which are quite large casks. Today a lot of Sherry casks are made from American oak, impairing vanilla and giving off a more creamy feel. Also the casks made today (hogsheads) are smaller than the butts and puncheons, thus allowing for some quicker maturation.

Let me start by saying this is a good Lagavulin. It drinks easily and there is more than enough happening. I like it a lot. However, if I compare this to other Lagavulins, it isn’t the best one out there. I believe the colouring did its part in mellowing out the aroma’s and blending them together into one big (nice) taste. Nothing sticks out really. Apart from the E150, the casks themselves probably weren’t the best money could buy as well, as well as its previous contents. So for a Lagavulin its good, but nothing more than that, but it’s also a Whisky most others can only dream of producing. Lagavulin has stiff competition from… itself.

Points: 88

 

Lagavulin 1986/2002 “Distillers Edition” (43%, OB, lgv. 4/490)

Lagavulin is one of my all time favorite distilleries. It’s almost impossible to encounter a bad Lagavulin. I can’t believe this is just the third review of Lagavulin on these pages the other two being the other two from the current standard range. The 16yo and the 12yo. The 16yo is the modern classic (It used to be the 12yo with the cream label) and right at the time there was a rumour the 16yo would be quite scarce, the new cask strength 12yo was released. As I said, the current standard range is the 16yo, this distillers edition I’m about to review, and the 12yo cask strength version. The latter two come to us as “annual releases”. Just like Springbank, this means that there is some batch variation. A wanted batch variation, to buy more of the same and compare them to other releases, identified by  bottling year.

Just like NAS today, batch variation was always a dirty phrase, it’s not a word isn’t it. But marketing turned that around, just as they are trying with NAS. For me NAS means younger, less matured Whisky, so less contact with wood and as Gordon & MacPhail so aptly put it: “The wood makes the Whisky”. I’m not really happy about NAS, but I never disliked batch variations (again, look at Springbank), unless if the only way seemed to be down. There always has been a lot of discussion about our very Lagavulin 16yo, losing power, balance and character, but I hear the latest batches are becoming better and better again. Today Laphroaig seems to suffer from that…

This is the fifth Lagavulin Distillers Edition (DE). The first was distilled in 1979, the second in 1980, the third in 1981, and the fourth in 1984. Just like all the other distillers Editions, this Lagavulin has undergone a second maturation (a finish) in Pedro Ximénez (PX) casks.

Lagavulin DE 2002Color: Copper orange.

Nose: Fantastic peat. Lagavulins from the eighties can have this excellent peat, I never get tired of. Peat, tar, seashore, you name anything maritime and its in here. Sure the more recent DE’s are still pretty good, but they don’t smell like this. That’s why Whisky lovers still pay a great deal of money for these older bottlings. Smoke comes next and it smells a bit electrical. It has vanilla and a slight fruity nose. You know it’s there, but so hard to distinguish what it is. Ahhh lots of smoked (dry) sausage and slightly dried out onions and pear. Excellent, what a combination. Where have you smelled that last in a Whisky? This Lagavulin is all about balance (again some kind of dirty word for some). The whole is so fantastic, and goes on and on. Wonderful. Hard to put down. With time the fruit, still distant, finds it’s place in the whole and adds a more fresh and fruity part to the whole. Just smelling it is quite the experience, and still getting better. Lagavulin is such a big aroma, that even the thick and sweet PX can’t overpower it, just add a little something. I guess the finish was done intelligently. I’m putting off tasting it for just a while longer to put on my fisherman’s sweater…

Taste: …in the end it would be a shame not to taste this, so here goes. Well somewhat less special than the nose is the first thing that comes to mind. The PX is more upfront as well. It starts out chewy. Nice licorice, black and white powder and a thick sweet Sherry without most of its sweetness. Does that even make sense? Waxy and again very coastal and raw. Masculine. Puffer’s smoke. Burning hay. Fishy, as it should be. Smoked fish of course. Smearing tar on the hull of a boat. Get yourself something like this, because modern peated Whiskies are nowhere near this profile. I wouldn’t add water to it, because reducing it to 43% shortened the finish already. Big body, with only a medium finish. In the aftertaste the balance is slightly gone. It could have been even better than it already is! Wow.

It’s been a while, but I do understand why Whisky lovers in general pay lots of money for Whiskies like this. This is great and they sure can’t make them like this anymore. Drinking this put you in a different place and time altogether. It changes you as a person (for a while). Sure it puts you back a few hundred euro’s pounds or dollars, but try to imagine what a trip to Islay in 1986 would cost you now. It’s a time-machine and time-bomb in one. A must have.

Points: 91

Lagavulin 16yo ‘Port Ellen’ (43%, OB, Circa 2006)

Well, after all those old, sometimes priceless, but always hard to get, independent bottles I reviewed recently, it’s now time for something more easy to get. A standard bottle, even sold, in some countries, in your local supermarket, at reasonable prices to boot. Add to that, it’s usually decent quality, so this is a bang-for-your-buck type of malt.

We’re talking this time about the Lagavulin 16yo. The bottle I’m reviewing is from 2006, and I guess because of the high turnover, it is probably bottled in 2006 as well. I don’t know exactly when the bottles with the royal warrant were succeeded by the “Port Ellen” ones, but this could be one of the first.

Many stories surround these Lagavulins. First of all that, when the royal warrant disappeared from the label, the quality went down. In fact the quality was dwindling even before that. Last year or maybe in 2010 I heard that the quality level is picking up again. This year I  hear again that the recent bottlings are not as good as they were once before. So lot of debate about this one, and considering the interest, we know this is a popular one.

I tasted once a bottle from 1992, and scored that 92 points, so lets see how this one from 2006 will compare to that.

Color: Full Orange Gold.

Nose: Smoke and burnt wood (the next day). Black and white powder. It’s less peaty than I remembered, creamy peat. Animalesk and spicy, which makes it a bit ‘dirty’. Salty, sea and seaweed. After a while only smoke and bonfire remains.

Taste: Sweet, licorice with some peat and a slight hint of milk chocolate, almonds and wood. Sugar water. Black and white powder again. Not as rounded as earlier expressions. Smoke towards the slightly spicy and sweet finish that isn’t heavy at all. Salty sensation on the lips. In comparison, this is less complex.

I love Lagavulin, and I understand the producers statements that it isn’t true that Lagavulin 16 got worse. That memory doesn’t serve us well. Well that’s not the case. Earlier bottles are still around in big numbers so it’s not hard to do a head to head between older and more recent expressions. All I can say is they don’t make Lagavulin 16 anymore as they used to, but with all those efficiency regimes and when only the amount of alcohol yielded per tonne of barley counts, you can hardly be surprised.

So Lagavulin 16yo isn’t what it used to be, but how does it do on its own, not compared to the older ones? Well that’s another story, even today it’s a pretty special dram, that still scores pretty high, but I like the new 12yo better, although a completely different dram.

Points: 87

Lagavulin 12yo ‘Special Release’ (56.4%, OB, 2007)

And now for something completely different: Lagavulin. Well, we all know Lagavulin is pretty great. It’s virtually impossible to find a bad expression. So big thumbs up to the people at Lagavulin! A long time ago there was a 12yo already. Cream label, pretty good. After that they made a pretty fantastic 16yo, which was great, had a little lapse some years ago (but still good). Luckily, more recent bottlings are doing well again. Still, in 2002 the people at Diageo thought is was time to revive the 12yo as a ‘Special Release’ at cask strength this time. A release that is up ’till now, annual. Let’s try one, shall we.

Color: White Wine

Nose: At first, peat obviously, then a bit sour. Kippers, diesel and salty like the Pibroch at sea. Gravy combined with tar (from the ship’s hull), smoked fish (from the galley). This needs some air, and we’re not in a hurry. It’s rough but not unrefined, and doesn’t taste young. It smells like a whisky for an upper class fisherman.

Taste: It’s sweet, and has the obvious peat, but warm peat this time. It has a dirty edge to it, animalesque is the word that comes to mind, but does this word exist, or is it already the whisky talking? Now some ash and sweat, well it’s hard work on a boat like this. After some time it’s still sweet and some ‘black & white powder’. This is a taste that resembles liquorice (if you’re not from Holland or Finland)

Well isn’t this great stuff again! If you look at prices asked for this kind of whisky, well you’ll have trouble finding something better for your money. This should be a standard on your whisky lectern. Assuming you like whiskies from Islay that is.

Sells for 65 Euro’s

Points: 90