Here is a Lagavulin bottled for the Islay Jazz Festival in 2015. This is a completely separate event from the recently concluded Feis Ile, taking place in the autumn rather than the summer. This year’s festival is from September 15-17 (and here is last year’s program). I’m not sure if Lagavulin is the only distillery that does an annual release to mark the festival (in addition to their Feis Ile release), but I can’t off the top of my head recall Jazz Festival releases from any other distilleries. It is sponsored by Lagavulin but events happen at other distilleries too. Anyway, there also does not seem to be as much mania around these Jazz Festival releases as there is around Lagavulin’s Feis Ile releases. Indeed, plenty of bottles of the 2016 Jazz Festival release were available at the distillery when I visited earlier this month—I’m not sure how they survived the onslaught of Feis Ile auction flippers.
It’s certainly not the case that this is a second-tier release—they all get reviewed very well. In fact, I opened this bottle last December for a celebration of peated whiskies in the Twin Cities and even though that event featured some very heavy hitters, a number of people had this one near the top of their lists. I’m not sure how old it is, or how old it is claimed to be (there being no age on the bottle—which doesn’t really bother me for these kinds of releases).
Lagavulin “Jazz Festival 2015” (55.4%; matured in refill American and European oak casks; from my own bottle)
Nose: Sweet, earthy peat; damp sackcloth. Salt crystals and citrus below that with vanilla cream coming up as well. Gets more coastal as it goes with brine and kelp. After a while gets mildly phenolic (bandaids). Sweeter with time but not particularly sweet (and not at all cloying). Earthier with water and the sweet notes are now mixed with olive brine.
Palate: Bright citrus first and then a big burst of smoke, dry at first and then sweeter as I swallow. Salt and pepper in there too. On the second sip that damp sackcloth is here too but someone’s tried to set it on fire and failed. Lovely mouthfeel. More and more smoked/charred fish as it goes. With water it’s saltier and the citrus is sharper (peated, preserved lemons).
Finish: Long. The smoke builds and keeps going. Smokiest here on the finish: coal smoke and ash that just takes over my mouth. Saltier with time. Lemony here too with water and the smoke is sweeter rather than dry/ashy.
Comments: This is just excellent. No obvious sherry influence but who cares? I love the transition from the sweet, mildly smoky nose to the steadily building smoke from the palate through the finish. For what is presumably not a particularly old whisky (I’d guess early-mid teens) this is quite comparable to some much older malts from earlier eras that have great reputations.
Rating: 90 points.