Earlier this week we asked for your feedback regarding the content of our posts. Many of you asked for more in-depth whisky reviews. Well my fellow whisky lovers, ask and you shall receive. Here is a full review of what has become a limited annual release from one of the all-time greats that happens to be celebrating its 200th birthday this year: Lagavulin.
For those of you who don’t know, Lagavulin is a distillery located on the island of Islay (repeat after me: EYE-LUH), UK. Islay is known for producing intense, smoky whisky and Lagavulin is no exception. In comparison to its neighbors Ardbeg and Laphroaig, Lagavulin has taken on the role of the “grown up” Islay distillery. It’s most popular expression is significantly older (16 years vs 10) and its general character is not as vibrant and brash as some of the whisky produced by its neighbors (Quiet Uigeadail fanatics, this is just a broad generalization). The chaos is dialed but a bit without sacrificing overall intensity.
The Lagavulin 16 is rightfully priced above the Ardbeg 10 and Laphroaig 10, which makes it a special occasion whisky for most people. And yeah, the bottle design looks like something my late grandfather would appreciate and the distillery gives off this completely vintage vibe. All things considered, Lagavulin is a “mature” version of what is an intense whisky style evoking a maelstrom of crashing ocean waves and thick bonfire smoke. But while this whisky may be old, it is very much alive. Let’s get into it.
We introduced the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition a few months back and even featured it along with the 16 Year Old in an early episode of WHISKY WARS, asking you to comment on which you preferred. The results were split, meaning that you loved both of them for different reasons.
The Distiller’s Edition is a limited annual release that is “double matured”, which simply means that the liquid has spent some time in two different cask types. In the case of Lagavulin, the distillery takes their classic 16-year-old spirit matured in American oak casks and finishes it for a few months in European oak casks that previously held Pedro Ximenez sherry. This marriage of Scottish peat and Spanish sherry makes for one of the most unique flavor profiles available in any spirit. The deep, earthy notes of the thick, medicinal peat smoke wage war against the lush, vibrant sweetness of the sherry, each flavor profile fighting for your attention as you sit back and marvel at the sheer complexity of the battle before you. /react-text
The Distiller’s Edition we are reviewing today was distilled in 1999 and bottled in 2015. There are subtle differences between each annual release so do keep this in mind if you decide to go out and purchase a bottle. Like the 16 Year Old, it is bottled at 43% ABV and I am afraid it is chill-filtered and includes but a dash of E150a caramel coloring. But let’s put aside the travesty of chill filtration and artificial coloring aside because if you can look past that, what we have is a truly remarkable whisky.
On the nose we are greeted with an explosive impact of thick peat smoke, burnt charcoal, iodine, brine and seaweed. But wait for it….yes! There it is, an unmistakable sweetness bursting from the dark fruits of Sherry. Take a step back for a moment and revisit to find toasted caramel, vanilla and citrus hiding beneath what is a very complex aroma. The nose is the strongest sensory organ in the human body and the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition has invigorated every possible nerve ending. I could nose this one for hours. On to the palate, ok here we go. While they were secondary on the nose, the Sherry flavors have come forward immediately. The order of delivery has reversed as the iodine and salty breeze now follows the sweetness. And the smoke! Yes Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition, you must not forget the maritime ash from which you were born. For a moment I was starting to think this was a Speyside single malt. Smacks palm to face. How dare I question the almighty Lagavulin. Wow, this is pretty good at 43% neat. A simple pour, drink, marvel type of dram. If you couldn’t already tell, I am absolutely beaming over here! This review has officially been taken over by a random stream of consciousness ignited by the flame of this heavenly spirit! But it’s so sweet in a dried tobacco sort of way. Does that make sense? No of course it does not make sense! Unless you are drinking this whisky in this moment then it makes perfect sense.
Ok now, gather your senses. The finish? Why there is no finish! My glass has been refilled 10 seconds into it! But if you must pry this precious whisky from my hands, the finish is long and lingering as the duel between peat and Sherry wages until the end. Oh what a dream this is! Yes, this is a whisky I can get behind. If only the ABV were bumped a bit and Lagavulin could do away with the chill filtration. I could only imagine what a smooth, oily texture would do so this wonderful dram. But let’s not hypothesize. It’s a spectacular whisky made by a spectacular distiller. I wish Lagavulin were paying me to say that because if that were so, I would have the easiest, most honest job in the world.
Final thoughts? Yeah, it’s good. It’s really good. But is it better than the 16 Year Old? I will say this: if you have yet to own a bottle of Lagavulin 16, buy that first. Get to know it, spend a few months finding beauty in what is one of the very best on the market. Only once you have successfully tamed the beast should you move on to the Distiller’s Edition. It’s not going anywhere and it’s priced roughly 50% above the original. Just do yourself the favor and practice a bit of patience. I know, it’s hard to do in a world filled with so many beautiful whiskies. When you do get there, you may find the Distiller’s Edition to be “better” or you may find the original hold a place in your heart to great to be reckoned with. I happen to think the Lagavulin 16 is near perfect. But I have to say, this Distiller’s Edition reminds me exactly why I am here writing this review to begin with. And that my friends, is true happiness.