Lagavulin 2002/2018 “Distillers Edition” (43%, OB, lgv.4/507)

Lagavulin is a great distillery with great people and has a great output of very high quality, although, my firm Lagavulin-faith was rocked a bit with the more recent releases of the 8yo (@ 48% ABV) and the 10yo (@ 43% ABV). I still have to review the 9yo Game of Thrones Edition (@ 46% ABV) and the 11yo Offerman Edition (@ 46 % ABV). Before we get to those, I have this modern classic on my lectern, yes @ 43% ABV, this is a bit of yesteryear’s ABV, but The Distillers Edition has always been good and and already tried by many. I would be surprised if you were reading this and never had tried a Lagavulin Distillers Edition before.

In 2016, I already had an earlier edition of a Lagavulin Distillers Edition on these pages. The 1996/2002 lgv. 4/490. That is most certainly an oldie compared to the one I’m about to review. In fact, this one was distilled when the earlier one was bottled. Just like all the other Lagavulin Distillers Editions, this was finished in Pedro Ximénez (PX) casks. PX is a sweet fortified Wine, so expect some sweetness, although in general, this isn’t necessarily always the case. Also, this Whisky has been coloured with Caramel, why? The 1996 edition was bottled in clear glass, but this 2002 was bottled in smoke coloured glass, so why still alter the Whisky with E150? This is something that was on my mind reviewing the Lagavulin 12yo for the friends of the Classic Malts as well.

Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Nice warming peat, with quite a lot of iodine. Bonfire in winter. Fire place at Christmas. Smoked vanilla and toffee. Cold outside, quite hot inside the log cabin. PX is recognizable, giving off a sweet raisiny, meaty and fruity aroma. Wood, burnt wood, scorched wood. Tarry. Licorice. More smoky than peaty, but warm peat is certainly here as well. Wonderful balanced nose. After a while breathing in my glass, the rougher notes of smoke and, to a lesser extent, peat, dissipate a bit, leaving more room for a sweeter more syrupy note. Syrupy is not always a good note, mind you, and here it offers a cloak of sweetness masking some of the wonderful notes from the beginning. Apart from the iodine laden smoke a more perfumy note emerges as well. Big and smoky not light and fruity. This is essentially what one might call a winter dram. Wonderful nose. Amazing at this price point.

Taste: Initially lighter and thinner than the nose promised. Lacking a bit in the oomph department and with it killing a bit of the depth this probably had. Here bitter smoke and quite a lot licorice seems to be upfront, something, if present, that seemed masked in the nose. Sweet sugar-coated anise-like licorice. The sweetness kicks in now. It works wonders with the bitter notes of smoke (fire place!) and peat. Crushed beetle and vanilla. Still a very tasty Islay dram different from the rest, a potential masterpiece. Again more smoky than peaty. By now I really wish I could have had the chance to try this before it gets diluted, that version must be surely stellar. Salty lips, very dark chocolate bitterness. Is it me or does this really have notes of red fruit syrup, not much, but detectable. Way to easily drinkable @ this ABV. I’m actually amazed this bottle is already so far gone, when did that happen? Every time I want to take another sip to expand on these notes, the glass is also empty. This is also a Malt the works better with bigger sips. A Malt to be drunk. The sweetness even makes it into the finish, with chocolaty bitterness in the aftertaste. Again, like the nose, well balanced. Good stuff, more please. I have to refill my glass. Nom, nom, nom.

Really dear readers, If you can get a 16yo, which is utterly wonderful, and/or this Distillers Edition, of which I almost forgot how good it really is, there is absolutely no need to buy the 8yo and/or the 10yo, both are so much less of a Whisky than these two and offer nothing more or new, they seem unfinished and come across as an afterthought. It absolutely pains me to say this about these two offerings from one of my most beloved distilleries, but please do yourself a favour and avoid both the 8yo and the 10yo, and if you know them and feel one of both are very good, are you sure you have tried the 12yo Cask Strength, the 16yo or one of these Distillers Editions? Are you sure? Because for me the difference is amazing. Just like Ardbeg with their Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, Lagavulin also has truly great Whiskies in their core line-up with the 16yo and the Distiller Editions. So really good Islay Whiskies can still be had at a very reasonable price point. All four belong on a bang-for-your-buck list.

Points: 88

Talisker 1989/2002 “Distillers Edition” (45.8%, OB, TD-S: 5DP)

Since the 2002 Distillers Edition of Lagavulin was such a success, I managed to unearth the 2002 Distillers Edition of Talisker as well. This 2002 version is the direct successor of the 2001 I reviewed a few years ago. This is only the fourth Distillers Edition since with there wasn’t a Talisker DE released in 1999. Both the Talisker and the Lagavulin DE’s were first released in 1997. In 1999 the Second Lagavulin was released and since 2000 both were released annually.

Talisker DE 2002Color: Light copper orange.

Nose: Compared to the Lagavulin this can be called elegant, which is obvious, since Talisker is peated to a lower level and the Whisky itself is much younger. Lightly peated, more fruity and fresh. Fresher, younger and livelier. Slightly grassy. Creamy overall feel. Hints of pudding and vanilla. Nice soft wood. Although this has been finished in a Sherry cask, the finish is quite sparse. It’s typical peatiness is recognizable as a Talisker. Slightly oily and waxy, like an elegant distant relative of Springbank. Hints of old herbs from an old wooden grocery shop. Tiny hint of Islay-esk tarry rope. Hints of yellow fruits even. Sometimes this reminds me of white peach in sweet yoghurt, with some soft, slightly burnt wood added to it. Where the Lagavulin was very in-your-face, this Talisker is not. It’s even less so than the 10yo (from 2002).

Taste: Here the wood comes first after which a toned down little peppery attack announces it’s a Talisker all right. Fatty soft peat. Lovely. Cute almost. With some air, quite nutty. Again a slightly burnt note, which must be from the inside of the Sherry casks. Towards the finish a more smooth and sweet note appears, which I feel is not completely right for Talisker. Creamy towards the finish. Sure the peat is here, but most if it seems hidden by the unexpected sweetness. Medium finish with indeed a fishy part, and alas not much going on in the aftertaste…

Where Whisky buffs will almost always prefer Oloroso Sherry casks over PX Sherry casks. Just look how quickly the Oloroso versions of the vintage Glendronach’s sell out before the PX-versions. In the wine world, Oloroso is not considered the best of Sherries. The PX finish for Lagavulin seems to be a perfect match and nobody would even wonder, at least I didn’t, how a Oloroso finished Lagavulin would be. (Alright, plenty of them around), but for the DE-version at least, I didn’t wonder. For this Talisker however, I’m less happy about the choice of Sherry cask. For me it’s slightly off, so I’m wondering now how other finishes would have worked for Talisker in the DE-series.

Points: 85

Same score as “Neist Point” and a quick comparison between the two warrants the score of both. If offered at the same price, I would go for the Distillers Edition.

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

Aberlour 16yo (43%, OB, Double Cask Matured, Circa 2003)

Here is another oldie from the archives. This time another big well-known brand with one of their succesful numbers. This bottling still exists, although it went through a few newly designed labels. As far as I know this was the first edition of this particular bottling. Double cask matured. Slap Double Wood on the label and you have a law-suit on your hands, but essentially it’s the same thing. Bourbon cask matured Single Malt Whisky with a finish in Sherry casks. Aberlour are well-known for heavy usage of Oloroso Sherry casks, but we already know from the 1988 bottling, that other Sherry casks are also used, and since this isn’t a highly priced expression I do suspect other than Oloroso casks may have been used with this one too. And why not?

Aberlour 16yo (43%, OB, Double Cask Matured, Circa 2003)Color: Copper gold

Nose: Sweet Sherry, and vanilla, which would already suggest maturation in Sherry and American oak casks. Sweet and slightly winey. Some hints of powder and dust and hardly any (tannic) wood, so definitely longer maturation in American oak than European oak. Just smell those vanilla and pudding notes. After a while more floral notes emerge. I’m not very good with flowers so I can’t tell you which flowers yet, but believe me it is floral right now. Together with the floral bit, elegant polished wood comes to the fore with some bad breath too. The Sherry part is getting less and less pronounced, so most definitely a finished Whisky all right.

Taste:  Sweet and again a combination of vanilla, pudding and a more winey note than a typical Oloroso Sherry note. Sweet and simple would sum this up just nicely. Creamy with a hint of bitter plain white oak, so at least the sweet vanilla body is given some backbone with wood. Slightly cardboardy finish as well as waxed milk chocolate. You know the shiny stuff. Leaving this in the glass even longer, a more candied fruit note emerges. Dried apricots and some honeyed almonds. It picks up more of a bite too. Not a very complex malt yet very likeable. Highly drinkable, but it wouldn’t be my first pick for a daily drinker, since it lacks some complexity and the finish seems to be not as well-integrated as should. Having said that, giving this some air to let it settle some more, does do wonders for this Malt and adds some nutty bitterness too.

In effect this does remind me of Bourbon matured Aberlours I’ve tasted in the past, but also the 1988 I reviewed earlier. When I come to think of it, it does also remind me a bit of Highland Park 12yo. Quite good, but also quite simple with a less than perfect finish. I haven’t tried them yet, but I expect later batches of this Whisky to be better in this respect, with hopefully more Oloroso casks used for finishing, but also a slightly longer finish in those casks will help it along as well.

Points: 85

Talisker Distillers Edition 1988/2001 (45.8%, OB, TD-S: 5CO)

We’re on a roll with those Taliskers, so why not continue the saga with another one. Maybe this less recent Distillers Edition? The Distillers Editions are finished expressions of the ‘normal’ Classic Malt line and was introduced in 1997. Then Cragganmore (Ruby Port), Dalwhinnie (Oloroso Sherry), Glenkinchie (Amontillado Sherry), Lagavulin (Pedro Ximinez Sherry), Oban (Montilla Fino Sherry) and Talisker (Amoroso Sherry) got treated to a happy marriage with a Sherry or Port. All said to be complements to the original style of the distillery, not overpowering it. Due to the success of the new range, expansion was to be expected. In 2006 a Distillers Edition of Caol Ila (already in european oak!) finished in Moscatel and Clynelish finished in Oloroso Sherry was issued. And last but not least in 2008 Royal Lochnagar finished in Muscat was issued. We’ll probably see more expressions released in the near future.

Color: Dark gold almost copper, a bit darker than the 10yo reviewed yesterday.

Nose: Fresh, sea spray, a bit musty and woody. Easily recognizable as a Talisker with added sweetness, toffee and some meat (often with Sherry).

Taste: it’s a Talisker all right. It seems to be less peaty, added licorice and more woody. The Amoroso casks do give off some extra wood. If you chew this whisky, you can easily detect the sourness that oak can give off. It’s not mere months the whisky was finished, but probably longer if not a few years. The oak is in the same spot where normally the pepper attack would be. I for one can’t detect the pepper anymore in this, and that’s a bit of a shame. Thick round body with a floral touch, violets maybe. I know that added caramel rounds out a body, but it seems to me the Amoroso does that trick here. Compared to the 10yo, this is more…ehhh round. All the extremes are toned down. Chewy and sweeter than the usual 10yo. Just a tad less balance in the finish.

I’m not convinced this is better or if this type of sherry is the best for Talisker. It’s good, but I prefer the 10yo. Funny how this resembles the 10yo more and more, when you let this breathe for a prolonged time in your glass. Interesting take on Talisker.

Points: 86