The Lagavulin 8, which has only just begun to arrive in the US, was released this year as part of the commemoration of the distillery’s 200th anniversary. It’s not the only bottle they released (there was another, much older and much more expensive) but these days you do have to appreciate a reasonably priced 8 yo, especially from Diageo. It’s an 8 yo because it commemorates Alfred Barnard’s visit to the distillery in the late 19th century—he apparently sampled an 8 yo when there. It is said to be a limited edition, by which Diageo means that they released only 20-30,000 bottles or so of it. The label and box say nothing about the casks used to mature the whisky this was made from; for what it’s worth, while many marketing images make it look bright orange, the colour of this whisky is in light white wine territory—whoever adds the caramel colouring to the Lagavulin 16 might have got a day off when they made this one.
But I don’t mean to give Lagavulin/Diageo too much shit about this: as a number of people have noted, it’s quite remarkable to see a major distillery put out any kind of whisky with a single digit number on the label, especially considering they have an actual story to go with it. This could very easily have been Barnard’s Reserve at 43%, with lots of nods and winks toward the possible existence of much older Lagavulin in the mix and claims of an uncanny replication of the late 19th century style. Anyway, I hope it won’t ruin my streak of never having had anything from Lagavulin that was not at least very good. (For what it’s worth Serge V. gave it 90 points and Michael K. gave it
88 87 points.)
Lagavulin 8 (48%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Sweet, slightly rubbery, slightly minerally peat off the top; a bit of vanilla too. Not terribly promising at first but as it sits it begins to open up nicely: paraffin, wet sackcloth and lemon turning to citronella; vanilla-cream in the background. With more time and air that rubbery note gets stronger and there’s a bit of a butyric note too now. A couple of drops of water add a leafy quality to the smoke and emphasizes the creamy sweetness too—a bit too cloying now for me.
Palate: Ashy, sooty, phenolic smoke at first and also at second and third. Much smokier than the nose led me to expect! The sweet and acidic notes from the nose are here too but well behind the smoke. More salt after a few sips. While it’s punchy and full-flavoured the texture is a little bit thin. With a little bit of time that initial rubbery thing from the nose shows up here too (just a touch)—seems a function of the youth (there’s a very slight mezcal’ish thing going on here). Gets more acidic as it sits (lemon). Let’s see what water does. Well, it makes the smoke more acrid.
Finish: Long. Smoke, smoke, smoke. And then ash, ash, ash. And a bit of salt. As on the palate with water.
Comments: This is basically the Lagavulin 12 CS but younger. That is to say, it’s uncompromisingly peaty and smoky but also a bit raw and simple. You might like that quality a lot but, frankly, this is not as good as the 12 yo’s or the regular 16 yo—it is, of course, cheaper than both. It’s also not in the class of the better Laphroaig 10 CS releases (though it has to be said that recent batches of that have not been up to the the standard of the better releases either). Enjoyable enough but I won’t be replacing the bottle (unless it gets a lot better as it sits with air). By the way, a number of other reviewers and some stores say this was matured in a mix of American and European oak—not sure what the story is but I got no hint of any European oak/sherry in this.
Rating: 84 points.