I'm a huge fan of whisky, and particularly single malt scotch whisky. I've tried many, many bottlings from many distilleries. Some were 'ok' (I've yet to have a bad one!!), some good and some sensational.
Lagavulin 16, for me, fits easily into the latter category. It is a constant on my ever changing whisky shelf, which probably says as much as I'll be able to do within the rest of this review.
I should throw in a disclaimer here: this particular dram, despite being considered one of the six 'Classic Malts' (i.e. the best whisky of each whisky-producing area of Scotland), it is not an entry level whisky in my opinion.
The first time I tried this was early in my single malt journey - I'd tried, and enjoyed, a couple of relatively simple Speyside whiskies (Glenfiddich, Glenlivet) and was asked would I like to try something a little more challenging, from the island of Islay (pronounced eye-la). I like a challenge.
My first sniff, and first sip, told me that this was a whisky the likes of which I had never encountered. The floral, grassy notes I'd enjoyed so much from the Speyside whiskies were gone, replaced with something similar to what you'd get if you marinated a rotten fish in TCP, then set it on fire. Not pleasant, and not one I'd return to.
Fast forward 5 years or so, and I'd added many more whiskies to the 'tried that' pile. I'd particularly enjoyed the smokiness of Highland Park (another island whisky, this time from the Orkney Islands), and was discussing this with a barman in an Edinburgh hotel. They had a great selection of whisky, so I asked him to surprise me based on the whiskies I'd told him I'd enjoyed.
He placed a glass in front of me. I immediately whiffed the smokiness I'd experienced with Highland Park, but magnified and combined with something else...sea air, almost. A campfire on a beach. Another smell and, behind the smoke, there was sherry and fruit. Then the smell of new leather, giving way fleetingly to vanilla ice cream, then BOOM! the smoky sea air again!
I was blown away. Each smell brought a new wave of aromas, some boldly announcing their presence and others teasing in and out of the range of my sense of smell, hard to identify.
Taking my first sip, and holding it in my mouth, reinforced my view that I drinking something special. A huge faceslap of peat opened up and made me think I wasn't going to enjoy it but this ebbed away to allow the sherry I'd picked up in the nose to come through onto the tongue. A beautiful contrast. A hint of treacle of toffee eaten by a bonfire also shows itself, before the saltiness of the ocean comes to the fore.
The finish is long, sweet and smoky... exquisit.
An amazing dram, and one which continues to surprise me many years after rediscovering it that evening in Edinburgh.
I began drinking whisky long before I moved to Scotland last year. I would say my whisky-drinking career began about 15 years ago when I was invited to a whisky-tasting event put on my Johnny Walker black label which at the time I thought was the absolute height of luxury. But at the tasting we were also introduced to single malt whiskies which heightened my curiosity, and a few years later I began experimenting with single malts myself. Around this time I discovered Lagavulin.
Lagavulin turned out to be the favourite whisky of both my father and a good friend of mine, so I was very lucky in that it was often around and I got to sip quite a bit of it over a period of years. The variety we had was always the 16 year old which I later found out is the most common variety, although they also make a 12 year old and a 21 year old variety.
Lagavulin is a very strong whisky and is not for the faint-hearted! In fact if I hadn't started off with blended whisky and then moved on to this stuff slowly I'm sure I would have detested it from the start. As it was, I ended up really liking this. Like all whiskies from Islay, Lagavulin is peat-filtered so has a smoky, earthy flavour. But Lagavulin is probably the most peaty-flavoured of all Islay whiskies and the taste of smoke is very strong.
It's funny but having had the opportunity to taste this many times over the years, I have noticed that it tastes very different from one bottle to another. Although it could never be said to be mild, some bottles taste positively medicinal they are so peaty and strong. Other bottles have definite peat overtones but also have more subtle flavours of wood and spice. You never know what you're going to get until you open the bottle - I don't know whether this is just natural differences in the whisky or whether it has to do with the way the bottles are stored, but it's something to be aware of in any case.
Now that I live in Scotland, I would say that Lagavulin is probably more popular in the USA than it is over here. The people I have run into in Scotland who are really into whisky seemed surprised when I told them how much I enjoy Lagavulin. One of them then gave me a taste of some Ardbeg, which is also on Islay. I have to admit that I much preferred the Ardbeg to the Lagavulin, as Ardbeg still tastes of peat but has a much more full, rounded flavour to it as well. I have deducted a star from Lagavulin for this as it's no longer my very favourite whisky.
If you're buying a bottle of Lagavulin for a Christmas gift for someone, I would offer two words of advice: buy early and shop around. This whisky does tend to sell out before Christmas as it is so popular in the states (and in Japan too, I've been told). Also, I have seen it sold for vastly different prices - for example in my town it sells for £40 a bottle in the fancy whisky shop but only £26 in Co-op, so don't pay too much - save the rest of your money for a bottle of Ardbeg.
Lagavulin is produced by the Lagavulin distillery, one of eight on the island of Islay. It's one of the most beautiful on the island, situated on the south coast between two other famous distilleries: Laphroaig and Ardbeg. Around the back of the white nineteenth century building, you can see the picturesque ruins of Dunyvaig castle.
Islay whiskies are distinguished from those from other parts of Scotland by their strength and their phenolic character: the grain with which they are made is smoked with local peat at the Port Ellen maltings before the distillation process begins. The amount of peat used varies from distillery to distillery, and from malt to malt: Lagavulin 16 contains 40ppm, fairly high, though less than Ardbeg's standard whisky at 54ppm.
In the glass, Lagavulin 16 is darker than some of the other Islay malts - a lovely, rich spirit caramel golden brown. Taste-wise it is distinctive, even amongst the Islay malts and for me, it gives the standard bottles from bigger distilleries like Ardbeg a run for their money. It's massive yet subtle, hitting you with huge flavour, while also maintaining an impressive depth of flavour. The malt is drier than most, but also smokier, darker and richer; with briney notes and vanilla coming through to give it a long, long finish.
At 43% abv this is not one of the cask strength whiskies that requires water to open it up, and though some people like the milder taste that it produces when slightly diluted I definitely prefer it neat. Whatever you do, though, do NOT add ice to it - the cold will inhibit the aromatic characteristics of the whisky and dull the taste.
The packaging is minimal and elegant, paying homage to Lagavulin's early nineteenth century roots. This makes it an ideal gift. However, like most Islay malts, Lagavulin does not come cheap, usually retailing at around £35-£40 for a 70cl bottle. However, since it benefits from the global marketing provided by distillery owners, Diageo, it can be found widely in many pubs and bars across the country should you want to try it before you splash out on a bottle. Shop around, and you can often find it for sale at a discount of more than £10 in supermarkets or wholesale retailers like Costco.
For those wishing to splash out, there is a sherry-finished Lagavulin, which is sweeter and more rounded, though also more expensive at around £40-50 a bottle. I hope to review this separately at a later date.
A much sought-after single malt with the massive peat-smoke that's typical of southern Islay - but also offering a dryness that turns it into a truly interesting whisky!
Colour: Medium Dark Honey, with hints of orange.
Taste: Balanced fruit and floral spray, ocean mist, a milder vanilla, a slightly burnt cinammon bagel in the toaster kind of smell. String peat smoke, peppery warm kick, buttery toffee later in the dram. Hints of ginger and mandarin. Plenty to go at, you taste something different everytime!
Think this has to be one of my favorite whisky's again. Am a huge fan of the Islay whisky's and this would always be in my top 3. Really strong peatiness and smoky flavor, basically everything you wold expect from a classic Islay malt.
As you finish the drink you get a hot, dry finish. What tiny little maltiness there is quickly fades, leaving a dry smoky burn, which is very pleasing!
As with most whisky's and would say especailly the Islay malts this one does benefit from a tiny splash of water, just enough to turn the whisky cloudy. Make sure you dont put to much in! Would recomment putting water in first and then adding the whisky! Clever ay!
Price, well its not cheap. Your usually looking at around £30. You might find it a little cheaper, but this does tend to be at the higher end of more regular malts. This is another one that I have never seen on special offer, and if it were I imagine it would be snapped up very quickly!! As for value its not to bad, you should not mind paying a little more for something as good as this.
If you want something a bit special Lagavulin also do 12 year old Cask strenth. 15 year old destillers edition and 1990 destillers edition. All worth a try and am sure you will not be disapointed by these whiskys!
Again if your into Islay whisky this is one you cannot afford to pass by. A real classic whisky that everyone should splash out on at least once!
Now, before I start, I'd like all those under the age of 18 to leave this op now-go on-off you go-what? You can pass for 18 if you wear what? OK you can stay. But if anyone asks, you're over the age of consent, OK? Now, get comfortable, because today, we are talking about Malt Whisky, and such an important topic deserves that you be sitting down, relaxed and in a good frame of mind. Given how small a country Scotland is, and how many of it's sons and daughters live elsewhere, you could be forgiven for thinking that the best the country could do in the way of life's little luxuries such as a good malt would be the production of a few dozen bottles of something for Harrods to sell under it's own label to discerning tourists. (Ben Fayed? Glen Knightsbridge? The thoughts roll around my head and fall out of my ears to the carpet below-THUNK) Of course, as we are all adults, or can pass for one on a dark night, we know that this is patently not the case. There are many, many distilleries dotted around Scotland producing a dazzling array of fine unblended whiskies. Some of these are owned by big business, who generally know not to mess with a good thing, so leave the distilleries to themselves, while many others are still independent, often family owned and operated for generations. As well as these, there is an unfortunate but unsurprising number of distilleries which have gone out of business, many during the 1960's, but - malt being of an enduring nature - their whiskies live on, and are traded and drunk today, as they doubtless will be well into the future, though as they are irreplaceable, we can expect their prices to rise year on year until the sad day the reserves are finally exhausted. I would like to introduce you, though, to one specific malt whisky. One which is still being produced in much the same way today as it has been for decades, if not centuries One which will not be to everyone
39;s tastes...so all the more for ME! Lagavulin, with the the 'g' pronounced softly, in the back of your throat, as seemingly only Scots and the Dutch can manage while feeling well (The English can do it with their heads halfway down the loo...but let's not go there) has been in continuous production at the same site in Port Ellen, Islay since 1837. However, there have been stills on this site since at least 1742. Water drawn from Solum Lochs has been combined with malted barley and distilled, the result being aged in oak casks stacked in wooden aging sheds set on the wild west coast of the island, facing the full force of the Atlantic, there to be lashed by sea gales, and salt spray for the full duration of the aging process. The result is a whisky carrying the flavours of the peat with which the waters on Islay are well-laced, along with a tang of the sea in the form of a slight suggestion of salt and iodine. If this sounds too medicinal for you to even give it go, then you can leave now - join the youngsters out in the corridor and close the door gently as you go. Those of you who are sticking with me here can take a quick break to rush down to your nearest high-class vendor of fine spirits and purchase a bottle. Ah good...you're all back. Now, take a glass, preferably a heavy glass of good quality (it seems to make the experience even more pleasant) and pour yourselves a wee dram. The terms 'wee' & 'dram' here are highly subjective, in the same way that an American will talk of a 'finger'. Everyone with fat fingers stand up now and take a bow. Anyway, you have your dram. It might help you here to have a small quantity of Scottish spring water on hand. NOT tap water, especially if you live in London or anywhere with hard water, no matter what your local water board says. Now, take a sniff of the glass. Now a small taste...just enough to roll over your palate. At this point, I'm going to say
something which will have some people who THINK they are purists reach for the shotguns...put an amount of the spring water equal to about a quarter of the dram you poured yourself into the whisky, and take another sniff, and another taste. At this point, I have to explain about the water. Whisky shouldn't be diluted, but a dash of good water on a fine malt acts like a brief shower on a summer garden. Releasing the scent, and softening the alcohol. This is especially true of phenolic whiskies like Lagavulin and the other south Islay malts. I'm sure there will be those who disagree, but each to their own. After all, a fine malt is something which can give as much pleasure while on your own as it can when you are in company. Can't say that about sex, can you? You CAN? Are you thinking of writing an op on it? Let me know, OK? Lagavulin is available from most GOOD wine merchants, and even Threshers may have it, or at least will be able to get it for you. It'll cost around £25 - £30. It's also available in many good bars, where it'll cost you around £2 - £3 a shot depending on the bar of course. A last point: Lagavulin is now owned by White Horse Distillers of Glasgow, who have wisely left things to run as they have always done (In 1875, the distillery produced 75,000 gallons of malt!) and more recently Lagavulin was chosen by United Distillers as one of their range of Classic Malts, which is the reason it's now so widely available in bars and hotels. Now...class dismissed, time for a wee dram.
My Lagavulin Experience Two years ago, on a very, very cold New Year's Eve in Toronto my friend and I found a large club that didn't charge 100 dollars for entrance. It was getting late, so after a shot of SoCo and ten minutes wandering in the crowd, we approached one of the bars that had a full complement of Scotches stashed on the top shelf. I remembered the name Lagavulin from a conversation with an expert friend of mine, and decided to give it shot. When we downed our glasses, my friend and I looked at each other for about 30 seconds and laughed out loud. This was the best scotch we had ever had. Significantly later in the night, and significantly drunker, 3 of us went down to the hotel bar for a night cap. I looked around at the selection and didn't see what I wanted, so I asked the bartender whether he had Lagavulin. The man took a long look at me, and said "I.D., boys!" The bottle came from under the bar. He asked us whether we wanted them iced or as shooters, and I chose the latter. The generous portions of scotch cost us 10 dollars a piece, the most I have ever paid for a shot, but that night it was all worth it. My friends and I toasted and drank our liquid gold, freezing for a few seconds as our breath was taken away and slowly returned. As we were leaving, the bartender motioned us over. "You did shooters of Lagavulin?" he asked. "Yeah". He paused for a while and said, nodding, "that's cool." What It Is There are several part of Scotland that produce the finest spirits in the world. Lagavulin comes from one of them, the island of Islay, home of equally reputable scotch Laphroaig. Lagavulin is distilled with the water of the Solan Lochs, whereas many of the other scotches use river water. It was first introduced as an official brand in 1816, though as I understand it there were some "unofficial" distilleries producing Lagavulin back
in the 1700's. Lagavulin is one of the 6 classic malts of Scotland, officially recognized as one of the best scotches in the world. And believe me, you can taste the difference. How It Tastes This malt has a very long finish, it allows you to preserve the complex taste on your palette and prolong the enjoyment. Lagavulin is strong (43%) but very smooth due to its 16 year aging. The first thing you will notice is a distinct smoky aroma, permeated with peat and dry wood. It is full bodied and complex, challenging your taste and smell to pick out the various components of what makes Lagavulin a great scotch. It is an amazing feeling as this wonderful malt coats your throat and warms you gradually from mouth to stomach, leaving a lingering taste of Scotland behind. Cheers.
I've been a member of the Scotch malt Whisky Society for a few years now,and while I could never call myself an expert,I'd like to think I know a bit about the stuff!! Lagavulin is certainly my favourite malt for a number of reasons,the first being it is an amazing malt to 'nose'. Lamond and Tucek in 'The Malt Whisky File' describe it as...'distinctive,pungent,burnt heather,very peaty and full-bodied'. I love it for its seaweedy nose and its unique oiliness. It tastes wonderful and goes down well with vegetarian sushi!!
I am totally rewriting this opinion as I was fortunate enough to receive a bottle from my girlfriend yesterday (birthday boy) and I feel that the previous opinion was not good enough (hence only a useful rating). I must say, I really hoped I’d get a bottle of this and eagerly awaited the opportunity to reacquaint myself. Enough blethering, onto the descriptions Background: The Lagavulin distillery is situated within a small bay on the southern coast of Islay, near the ruins of the Dunyveg castle. The distillery is one of the oldest in Scotland and may have been functional as early as 1742. By the end of the 18th century, there were at least 7 illicit stills operating in this area and in 1837, the remaining distilleries amalgamated to form Lagavulin. Reports suggest that by 1875, the Lagavulin distillery was producing 75,000 gallons of whisky. The Malt: The Lagavulin 16y old (an unusual age for a malt) is generally considered to be the finest of the Islay malts and has been described as the ‘Aristocrat of Islays’. The bottle is one of the more characteristic – a brown/green glass with a distinctive label which gives the impression of being ‘old’. It is one of the more expensive Islays, but as I am to describe, well worth it. Aroma: The whisky is a rich amber colour and as you raise the glass, the aroma suggests a hint of pear drops, with a sweet, medicinal nose. This leads to an almost floral, chocolaty smoke, which immediately tempts one to take a sip. Flavour: The first flavour is a sweet malt, immediately followed by a powerful smokey peat. This aspect of the whisky is similar to the powerful Laphroaig, but is much smoother (not that I’m in any way critical of my number 2 malt!). Although there is no overt reference to sherry casking, a hint of sherry is present in the flavour and there is also a type of slightly medicinal sort of ‘Lapsang Suchong’ tea flavou
r at the end. The predominance is the mixture of sweetness with the smokey peat, although there is no unpleasant aftertaste. In fact, the only after effect is the characteristic whisky glow common to all Islay malts. This is truly a whisky to have before bed, or to perk you up on a cold / wet day – one cannot help but imagine idyllic scenes of Islay but I shan’t continue with any ‘romanticisms’. This whisky is my favourite, as I’m sure you’ve gathered. I don’t claim to be an expert but I do appreciate the finer aspects of whisky. A few years ago whilst we were ‘writing up’ our theses, a mate and I used to go and get a bottle of whisky and test it. Our first Islay tasting will never be forgotten. We didn’t like it. I used to just go for Speysides until I went to Scotland with my girlfriend a while ago. She introduced me to Lagavulin and I was hooked –I think it was the combination of ambience and everything. I am still to taste a finer malt and would recommend this for any discerning whisky fan. I would not, however, recommend this for those starting out on their whisky career – it would be a waste of this fine malt.
43% volume single malt Scotch from the Islay region. Lagavulins aroma has often been compared to that of Lapsang Souchong, with hints of sherry and vanilla. Sip it and youll recognise the familiar taste of the peat and iodine, offset with more sherry characteristics. It has a powerful peaty finish.