Before this extended session, Lagavulin was a bit of a blind spot to me. Not that I hadn’t tried it, but I hadn’t really got my head round it’s character. I’ve realised that for me, it’s a sum of the other very individual malts of Islay, with lots of the best bits of each, but with this extra, enticing and quite sexy elegance to it too - less of the bluster and gunpowder of PC, Ardbeg and Laphroaig, not quite so overtly dirty as Bunnahabhain, and in some ways more seductive. The FI 2014 attracted lots of attention due to a highly favourable review from Serge and at a mere £99 a bottle, with Chris Miles accounting for 5 bottles by himself. It is, to be fair, very good…
Lagavulin Feis Ile 2014, 54.7% A⊕+
Nose - Sweet pear and orchard fruit - juicy to the point of overripe and slightly souring. But not unbalanced - deep chewy toffee and light, easy peat balances it out. Extraordinarily rich and balanced, with easy complexity, lingering furniture polish, some vanilla ice cream, tropical fruit, and beautiful round toffee peat notes. With water, more wax and overripe fruit, deeper, rich peat. Lovely.
Body - Fizzing, then sharp, then spicy and mouth coatingly oily. Some bitterness. Finally, arresting peat.
Finish - Long, intense, fizzing ashes and bright citrus. Well integrated and a joined up delivery.
What’s not good about it - Bright citrus, lots of toffee and gentle peat might not be a combo you turn to often.
What’s good about it - The whole thing is perfectly joined up, with sweet, bright, gentle peat, balancing wax and toffee. A drop of water brings the whole thing together and evens out the slightly harsh initial impression. A long and even delivery. Absolutely excellent.
Nose - Sweet and gentle sherry peat, a bit dusty, some charcoal, blackjacks and a touch of vulcanised rubber. Very grown up, very serious, and a lovely balance. Water brings the fruit forward and adds a touch of the sea.
Body - Rich, dusty, intense Islay, balanced by great sweetness and candied peel. BBQed pork and crackling. With water, the peat opens out and brightens up a little, and brings a little fisherman’s friends.
Finish - Long, consistent with the nose and initial delivery and balanced between rich BBQ peat and toffee right to the end.
What’s not good about it - A bit dusty BBQ for me to turn to often, and lacks some complexity - it’s mainly those two chords of BBQ and toffee.
What’s good about it - But played beautifully, and consistently right through the very long finish. An elegant and very tasty Laga.
It’s a classic!
Body - Sharply wooded, much more structured than the nose suggested. With a little water, better integrated and more toffee.
Finish - A little abrupt. Some lingering sweet, balanced peat and ripe wood.
What’s not good about it - The delivery and finish is a little ordinary. Thin and watered wood prevails at the end.
What’s good about it – A proper, grown up, elegant and quite filthy nose. Just wonderful- sweet, musky, petrol and balanced wood.
Lagavulin 12 year old, Diageo Special Release 2012, 56.1% A-
Nose - Bright, sour, sweet peat. Flat pack furniture, yoghurt covered raisins, ripe red cherries and sour plums. A little bit farmyardy; shit and straw - unusual for a Laga - and bright deodorant top notes. With water, warmer.
Body - Rich peat, sweet top notes of toffee, oak chest and sudocrem (yes, really, I have tasted it by chance but not off a nappy). A bit metallic. Lots of cereal too.
Finish - Medium. Sharp. Tannic. Orange squash, including that disappointing watery finish that orange squash has.
What’s not good about it - I like the nose, a bit, but the delivery is very ordinary for such an esteemed whisky. Quite bitter really, although the medicinal aspect is quite entertaining. Quite obviously peated. Not very Lagavulin.
What’s good about it - Rich and complex.
Body - Apple, frazzles and toothsome peat. Retronasally quite zesty - lemon pith and vanilla, and a little mandarin and Christmas spice. Some rubber tyre.
Finish - Long, satisfying, quite spicy and fizzing. Lots more zest.
What’s not good about it - Slightly angular and a bit of a bruiser.
What’s good about it - A hugely accomplished, confident teenager. Balanced, spicy, citrusy and fresh, with lots of complexity and interest.
Lagavulin, Distillery Edition 2010, 52.5% A⊕+
Thanks to Sjoerd for the sample of this. I’ve been hunting for my own bottle ever since!
Nose - Delicate, almost overripe peating, very enticing with a touch of pickled onions and salt and vinegar Chipsticks (maize snacks). Balanced, clear and seriously delicious. Actually it’s making me hungry. Also, a big hit of men’s perfume, or maybe something like CK One. Wonderful. Water brings out more dark fruit on the nose and older wood. This is what I’d expect an SMWS Lagavulin to do to me, should I ever get the chance to smell one!
Body - Sigh... heavenly. Long, fresh, juicy Islay malt. It seems to be part Bowmore, part, Ardbeg, part Lagavulin. Sweet - slightly, masculine wet wood and cardboard, slightly spicy and some black cherry. Epic. With water, a lot weaker but I’m starting to get those fizzers notes from older Bowmores.
Finish - Very, very long, lots of deep, rich cereal peat and more of that maize snack. One of the most compelling whiskies I’ve ever tasted. What’s left, particularly with water, is very tannic and almost coffee-like in it’s bitterness.
What’s not good about it - Nothing
What’s good about it - Complex, elegant, intense and deeply delicious.
Thanks to Sjoerd again for the sample of this. Turns out he used to be quite a buyer of Lagavulin.
Nose - Dusty, waxy, beautiful wood and gentle peat. Such an elegant sherried sweetness, with wood dust, green apple, black cherry, a hint of smoked bacon and BBQed pineapple on vanilla brioche. Perfectly integrated and very compelling. With water, even more of the sherried complexity comes through, it’s practically a Glendronach.
Body - Much more astringent and spicy than I was expecting, with resinous curry spices and a big, toffeed, musky wood hit. Retronasally sharp, with dusty peat and cider ice lollies. A big hitter and extremely moreish.
Finish - Long, very sweet, very intense and quite numbing. Tropical wax burps. Lots of lingering vanilla. This is fabulous stuff.
What’s not good about it - Not much - bit surprising after the Distillery Only 2010 perhaps?
What’s good about it - Delicious. Intense, complex and highly returnable.
Lagavulin Distillers Edition, Batch lgv.4/502, 1997-2013, 43% A-
Body - Sweet cafe latte, burnt toffee. Very easy drinking, overly gentle really but retains some fetid peat.
Finish - Short, tannic, a little sulphured. It should be a bit better from these notes than I’m finding it, it’s just not hanging together for me.
What’s not good about it - A one dimensional delivery with classless peat and tannins. Obviously it’s not actually that bad, but its classmates are putting it to shame and that’s making me a bit cross. I’ve been drinking, though.
What’s good about it - The nose is properly beautiful. Sweet, wooded, leathery and mucky.
Let’s go out on a high.
The Daily Dram, Distilled on Islay, 14 years old, 53.1% A⊕+
1994-2008. Supposed to be Lagavulin. Apologies for the photo stolen from Whiskyfun, it’s the best I could find. I bought the sample from whiskysite.nl.
Nose - Elegant but dirty (like Quaid’s fantasy woman). Sweet bandages and melting ice lollies, honey glazed cereal bar and a really bright, juicy, cut red cherry. Smelling this it’s a really sweet, specific antiseptic cream that I can’t place on the inhale, and burnt, dirty cereal on the exhale. Winey too, with a strange echo of chapulines and orange. Interesting stuff and very obviously special.
Body - Spicy, rich, winey and rich cereal peat. Intensely, sugary sweet, with no problems at all - almost up to dusty parmas. Warm, beautifully balanced with lots of sweet fruit (mostly orange and fruit glaze), and bitter peat.
Finish - Long TCP and wood. Very long, and very balanced, with huge dusty sweetness and wood. Epic and inspiring, like one of those big old Bowmores.
What’s not good about it - Nothing.
What’s good about it - Everything you could ask for from a peated Islay whisky, and unmistakably Islay. Intensely sweet, with that TCP peat that really pulls you in, perfect wood and a backing tang of sulphur. This is a real blockbuster.
Next, and almost finally, everyone’s favourite gateway dram, Laphroaig!