This week of reviews of whiskies from distilleries on Islay’s south shore began on Monday with a young Laphroaig. Let’s go a mile or so down the road for the second, to Lagavulin. This is the 2017 release of the 16 yo. I’ve previously reviewed the 2012, 2013 and 2014 releases. I’ve since lost touch with this classic release, which really seems like a shame. Back in the mid-2010s there was already a bit of a narrative of decline around the Lagavulin 16, but I liked the 2014 release a lot. Will I like the 2017 release as much? Will it make me want to open the bottle of the 2018 release that my spreadsheet tells me is somewhere on my shelves? Let’s see.
Lagavulin 16, 2017 Release (43%; from a bottle split)
Nose: A characteristic mix of phenolic peat and organic notes (rotting leaves, damp wood). On the second sniff there’s salt, some sweet orange peel and a bit of woodsmoke. The woodsmoke expands with each sniff. With time the sweeter notes move in the direction of vanilla and cream, and there’s some milky coffee in the distance too now. A couple of drops of water soften it further, emphasizing the creamy note (smoked cream?).
Palate: Comes in with the woodsmoke leading the way; a big burst of char as I swallow. Good drinking strength and texture. The smoke expands with each sip as well and the salt gets more pronounced too. Sweeter here too with time. Water pulls more phenols out here and pushes the salt back a bit.
Finish: Long. The smoke just coats the tongue and lingers; some tarry bitterness emerges. With time the salt expands into the finish and has the last word. As on the palate with water.
Comments: I don’t know what the current Lagavulin 16 is like but I can tell you that in 2017 it was still very good indeed.
Rating: 87 points