I’ve reviewed the Lagavulin 16 before. That was from a bottle released in 2012. As I’m constantly annoying people with my skepticism about narratives of decline, when the opportunity came to review a more recent issue, I couldn’t turn it down. As it happens, this sample is from the legendary merchant of doom, Michael K., and so we can at least argue about the exact same whisky if we happen to disagree. I’m not sure, actually, if he’s already reviewed this one—but I’m going to avoid looking so as to not contaminate my own take. I am also going to avoid looking at my previous set of notes till I’ve finished the review. It may well turn out that I produce a near identical description. If so, I’ll post this anyway. You’re welcome!
(If this sort of thing interests you, you may also want to see my head-to-head notes on two Ardbeg Uigeadails from different years.)
Lagavulin 16 (43%; 2014 release; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: A strong phenolic blast as I pour it, but it’s not as mossy and dense as expected: the smoke is drier. Some lemon, some wet stones, some seashells; disinfectant all over the place (Dettol). Increasingly tarrier smoke begins to emerge and with time the organic notes (sweet rot) begin to show up as well. A couple of minutes in it’s more intense and far more coastal (kelp, brine). With a lot of time there are some softer, sweeter notes as well (a hint of shortbread, a bit of vanilla). Softer still with water but the phenols are still very present. A couple of minutes later there’s some cereal notes and also a nuttiness that speaks to the presence of sherry.
Palate: Ah, that’s the stuff. Leafy smoke, lemon, ham, salt crystals. Tarrier as I swallow. The mouthfeel is a little thin at first. More acidic and more acrid on the second sip. Not much change with time except maybe that there’s now some sweetness to the smoke along with the lemon. Less direct with water but perhaps better integrated. As so often happens with lower strength whiskies, the mouthfeel seems thicker with water.
Finish: Long. Tarry smoke and some bitter oak. Oh, this gives no quarter: every part of my mouth has been taken over. With more time it seems less tarry, or maybe my palate is finally adjusting to the assault; bell peppery notes linger in my mouth long after I’ve swallowed. Less tarry still with water but it’s still plenty smoky, and now more peppery.
Comments: Hey man, the Lagavulin 16 is still setting the standard. I do see that my notes are very similar to those for the 2012 but I’m going to give this one more point.
Rating: 89 points.
Thanks to Michael for the sample!