Here’s something you don’t see everyday: an independent bottling of Lagavulin. And it’s an older Lagavulin distilled in the 1970s, no less. I didn’t even know it existed until the ever-generous Sku gave me a sample of it when we had dinner together in December. This was bottled by Murray McDavid—the indie bottling concern of Mark Reynier that was most active in the early years of Bruichladdich (though I think it’s still a going concern). This was part of their Mission series, which means they didn’t “ACE” it in a shiraz cask. Unlike some other Mission releases, it was not put out at cask strength. I guess if you get your hands on a cask of 23 yo Lagavulin you try to put out as many bottles of it as you can. Anyway, I’m very excited to taste this. I’ve not had very many Lagavulins past the age of 20; I’ve also liked most of the Mission releases I’ve tried (this Old Rhosdhu is the only one I’ve reviewed). Let’s see what it’s like.
Lagavulin 23, 1979 (46%; Murray McDavid Mission; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Very mild smoke at first with some organic, peaty notes and expanding lemon. The lemon gets sootier and there’s some mineral oil as well. With more time the citrus is zestier. Less smoky still with water and sweeter.
Palate: Smokier to start here and the lemon is less pronounced. Sootier and brinier as I swallow. The texture is neither thin nor fat. On the second sip there’s some wet wool. Carries on in this vein, getting sootier and a little sweeter as it goes. Let’s see what water does. Water pulls out more of the wet wool—almost a bit too much—and tamps down the smoke and lemon.
Finish: Medium-long. The smoke lingers for a bit and it gets saltier and then ashier at the end. Nothing new develops. Water brings out some bitterness.
Comments: Blind, I would have said this was a Caol Ila. The peat/smoke is mild and relatively subtle. And it’s barely phenolic. A very austere Lagavulin, and a very nice one. I enjoyed it a lot more without water.
Rating: 88 points.
Thanks to Sku for the sample!