If I ever have grandchildren the day will come when I will dandle them on my knee and tell them of a time when Astor Wines in NYC was selling this whisky for $49.99. Grandpa’s senile, they’ll say, and then run away shrieking as I try to bayonet them with Bessie, my trusted Civil War musket. I’m sorry, where was I? Right, the Lagavulin 12. This is the 2009 edition of the annual release of 12 yo cask strength Lagavulin (the first release was in 2002 as per Malt Madness). Unlike the more easily found 16 yo the 12 yo, I believe, is from all ex-American oak casks—then again, I don’t know why I believe this as I suddenly cannot find any definitive reference to this online. Less controversial, of course, is that it is always at a much higher strength than the regular 16 yo and the double matured Distiller’s Edition, which are both at 43%.
Some weeks ago a few friends and I sat down and did a side-by-side-by-side-by-side tasting of the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 releases (we drank them not in chronological order but in order of increasing strength). Going into that evening I’d thought that I’d follow it up with another solo tasting in the same format and then publish a Serge-style vertical distinguishing various nuances between them. However, the thought of setting it up and having it eat up another entire evening was all too much and I’ve decided to just do four separate reviews at different times. Maybe once I’ve got them all in I’ll do a word cloud or something and see how much overlap there is. My memory from the night is that the 2009, 2010 and 2011 were very close and that it was the 2012 that was the slight outlier. Let’s see if that holds up as I taste them apart from each other.
Lagavulin 12 CS, 2009 Release (57.9%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Coal, a “green” peatiness that brings olives and olive brine to mind, and also some creamy vanilla. With a little air picks up some acidic intensity and lemon peel comes out to join the olives. Quite coastal and quite reminiscent of higher-octane Caol Ilas. Gets a little more leafy/humusy with time and the lemon peel turns to citronella. Water emphasizes the citronella (the leafy and smoky notes recede) and there’s something almondy about it too now.
Palate: Very sweet on the entry before the acidic smoke strikes, bringing a truckload of salt with it. Eminently drinkable despite the strength—it’s somehow assertive and soft at the same time. On the second sip the lemon (zest, oil) is the main story and the green olives are here as well; there’s also a little chilli-pepper/Tabasco like bite now. Water brings that initial sweetness back but also brings out a more medicinal smoke. In general, it’s much richer on the palate with water and everything seems tied together better.
Finish: Long. The same story: lemons, olives, acidic smoke (a little more bitter on the finish). Even though it’s not particularly hot on the palate I can feel it heating up my insides for a good while after the swallow. And well after I swallow and everything else has gone there’s suddenly a strong ashiness on the sides of my tongue. More sweetness on the finish with water too but also more bite from the get-go.
Comments: This doesn’t need water to be drinkable and enjoyable but I would recommend it. Not much complexity, and not a particularly broad band of aromas and flavours, but if you like this kind of profile, as I do, you will love this. Oh, Lagavulin 12, 2009 release, I could survive winter in Minnesota without central heating if I only had enough of you.
Rating: 88 points.