I visited Scotland for the first time in 2017. And on that trip I visited Islay and I visited Lagavulin (here is my account of the excellent Warehouse Experience with the even more excellent Pinkie McArthur). That was in June right after Feis Ile. I picked up a bottle of the Feis Ile release but I don’t believe this distillery exclusive was on the shelves then. It was apparently made in a fairly complicated manner that involved 16 yo spirit finished in moscatel casks and vatted with younger bourbon cask spirit. I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered moscatel-finished Lagavulin before—Diageo must have had some casks surplus to requirements from the Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition (is that even made anymore? I don’t see anything but the Lagavulin and Talisker Distiller’s Editions in Minnesota, not that I’m looking so very hard). Of course, I have no idea what the proportions of the vatting may have been: the moscatel influence may well be minimal. Let’s find out.
Lagavulin Distillery Exclusive, 2017 (54.1%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Bright phenolic peat—the usual medicinal complex plus lemon and brine. On the second sniff the lemon is charred and ashy. Not much sign of the wine at first but after a bit the sweeter notes begin to come through. Saltier as it sits and there’s some freshly cracked pepper as well. With time preserved lemon comes to the fore here too. Softer with a few drops of water with some wet linen covering the jar of preserved lemon.
Palate: Not as peaty as the nose promised; instead charred meat and mild ashy smoke. Lovely viscous texture. On the second sip the acid and the salt begin to emerge as I swallow. The smoke gets tarrier and more peppery as it goes. With time the lemon (preserved now) emerges and melds with the smoke. Sweeter too—but it’s wet stones rather than wine sweetness. Okay, let’s see what water does. Well, a few drops don’t bring out anything new but they bind everything together really well.
Finish: Long. Smoke, salt, pepper. More tar here too with time and more salt. The smoke gets brighter and ashier with water here.
Comments: This is a big Lagavulin, not too wine-bothered and the oak very reserved. Very good indeed and I really hope I didn’t manage to overlook it when I was at the distillery in June 2017. On the whole, though, I slightly prefer the brighter ex-bourbon profile of the 2017 Lagavulin 12, not that it’s a competition. Or if it is, there are no losers. And, yes, I liked it better neat on the nose but thought the palate and finish improved with 2-3 drops of water.
Rating: 89 points.