Last week was Caol Ila week. It attracted so little interest that I am now motivated to do a Lagavulin week. And not just a general Lagavulin week but a Lagavulin 12 week. First up is the 2018 release. This was the first release since 2011 that I did not purchase at least one bottle of. And I did not go on to purchase the 2019 or 2020 releases either. That is because this was the point at which the price for this release went past the $100 threshold in the US. Having paid a fair bit less for every release prior—and quite remarkably less for some of them—I was unable to follow it into its new price band, where it has remained ever since. The odds of it coming down from there seem negligible. Starting in 2019 Diageo gave what used to be a fairly functional though austerely attractive bottle more premium livery and that’s never a good sign for the prospects of a popular whisky’s affordability. With younger official Lagavulins now out there—from the 8 yo to the 10 yo to the Offerman Edition—this is seemingly no longer intended to be a good value for the Lagavulin faithful; instead it’s more fully become a member of Diageo’s annual special release roster: no longer the member of the lineup aimed at the masses but a full-fledged premium release in its own right. That’s too bad. Well, while I’m not likely to buy another bottle of it—or chase this one on the secondary market—I am glad to get the opportunity to at least taste it via a bottle split.
Lagavulin 12 CS, 2018 Release (57.8%; from a bottle split)
Nose: A very Laga 12 nose of lemon, big carbolic notes, salt and some charred leaves running through it all. Slightly muskier notes behind the lemon on subsequent sniffs (pineapple) but it’s otherwise as it was at entry only more so. That is to say, the whole gets more integrated and more intense. As it sits the carbolic note begins to yield to smoked fish (sweeter smoke now) and some cereals begin to poke through now too along with some wet stones. Water pushes the phenols back further and turns the lemon to citronella.
Palate: Sweet entry but then the lemon and the smoke curl up from below and deliver a big punch as I swallow. Quite peppery too now. Lovely texture and very approachable at full strength. More phenolic with each sip. Not a whole lot of change beyond that but I can’t say I’m looking for any. After almost an hour in the glass there’s a faint hint of mezcal. Okay, time to add some water. Sweeter now with olives and kelp joining the lemon and wet stones; that mezcal note is gone.
Finish: Long. Very long. The smoke gets very phenolic here and the pepper recedes in fear. The salt emerges at the end bringing other coastal notes with it (shells, seaweed). Sweeter and less phenolic here too with time and then water. The pepper gains ground.
Comments: Oh, this is great stuff. In the abstract, I wish I had a bottle; not sure though that even if I’d tasted this when it hit the market that I’d have been able to justify the price. Somewhat unusually for me with a higher strength whisky, I liked this better neat.
Rating: 90 points.
(So here I go, wrecking the nothing I wrote during Caol Isla week.)
What role does the cost of a whiskey play in your numerical evaluation? It’s plain here that you like this one very much but not at its current price. Would the 90 have been higher if somehow the whiskey were $45 a bottle? Would another whiskey hold an 85 rating even at half-again the cost of the sample you drank? Or is the numerical rating (yours, not the EW! rating) constant regardless of price?
All rating systems are inconsistent and incoherent whatever the reviewer says about it. That said, my ratings are not connected to price. This is why I sometimes add that something is a very good value (despite, say, giving it 84 points) and sometimes that I would not pay the price for it (despite, say, giving it 90 points). I realize that “value” means different things to different people depending on their discretionary spending or how they allocate it. I very rarely spend more than $100-120 on a whisky anymore. And in a world where Laphroaig 10 CS can still be purchased easily south of $75, paying $120+ plus tax for the Laga 12 CS makes little sense to me even when it’s a 90 pointer.
Yes what a shame this is priced as a luxury bottling nowadays! They seem to be cashing in on the cachet of the special releases, as well as the price bump you can apparently put on anything cask strength these days. We must be gullible fools on the whole, if it continues to be profitable to sell whisky this way…
I did manage to try a release of the Lagavulin 12 a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was already well outside of my price bracket then – hard to justify when the 8 is half the price here in the UK (though bizarrely almost exactly the same price as the 16?!). Incidentally, I liked the 8 a bit more than you did, though I do wonder how much batch variation might be at play in these things – the 8, despite being branded as a “limited release” hit the UK market in several waves, which I can only guess were separate batches of spirit (having not yet sunken to the depraved depths of actually recording the bottling codes on my bottles…) – and now appears to be here to stay, which would be a good thing I suppose.