After a disappointing special release Bunnahabhain on Monday let’s move on to another special release from elsewhere on Islay. The Lagavulin 12 Cask Strength is a fixture on Diageo’s annual special release slate, and it is also always one that is guaranteed to be excellent—unlike, say, Ardbeg’s annual releases (see, for example, this year’s Grooves). I’ve recently reviewed the 2017 release and in the past I’ve reviewed the 2009, the 2010, the 2011, the 2012 and the 2013. Here now is my review of the 2016 release, which was also part of Lagavulin’s commemoration of its 200th anniversary. I opened it a month ago for my local group’s March tasting and it was very popular—though I think it might have been beaten by an Amrut Peated CS for overall honours on the night. I’ve been drinking the bottle down steadily since. These notes were taken at the halfway mark but I can tell you it’s been remarkably consistent as the level goes down.
Lagavulin 12 CS, 2016 Release (57.7%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Sweet (inky), phenolic peat mixed with lemons and coal and soot and oyster liquor. After a few minutes there’s a whiff of burning leaves and some charred mackerel (or more accurately, the char left on a grill after removing the mackerel from it) and green bell pepper. With water it’s a bit softer but there’s also some putty and wax and it’s all wonderfully integrated.
Palate: Pretty much as promised by the nose: a big phenolic, smoky, acidic wallop. Drinkable at full strength but you can feel the heat. Not much change with time—maybe a touch of vanilla. Let’s add some water. Water emphasizes the lemon; the smoke is still flowing freely behind it, but it’s much brighter now. The cracked pepper shows up earlier too.
Finish: Long. The smoke gets tarrier here as it goes and there’s some cracked black pepper as well. As on the palate with water and less tarry.
Comments: Another excellent release of Lagavulin 12 CS. To repeat myself, this series is as close as it gets in the single malt world to an absolutely sure thing. There’s not much complexity here but it’s a paragon of the style. Better with water, I think.
Rating: 90 points.