So, it’s come to this. Yes, it has. Starting today, I will be reviewing one of Diageo’s Game of Thrones single malt releases every Monday after a new episode of the final season of the show. As there are only six episodes but eight of these whiskies, I will end with an all-Game of Thrones week after the finale. No, this is not being sponsored by Diageo or Game of Thrones. I scoffed at this marketing nonsense when it was first released (and available) but later when I had the opportunity to get 50 ml of each bottle from a split, I could not resist. So, here is my first review after a middling first episode.
What becomes obvious immediately is that nobody at Diageo’s marketing actually watches Game of Thrones or reads the books and/or that nobody at Game of Thrones marketing knows anything about whisky. Why? Well, because there is only one heavily-peated, smoky whisky in the lineup and they’ve not given it to House Targaryen, who you may remember have dragons and the habit of setting people and things on fire. Instead, the brain trust has seen fit to make the Lagavulin the Lannister whisky. This despite the fact that the Lannisters are associated with gold and one of the other whiskies in the lineup is the Cardhu Gold Reserve…which, of course, they’ve given to House Targaryen. Clerical error? Well, I guess we should just be happy they didn’t add a House Bolton release to the list as that might have meant having to drink a NAS Glenkinchie (“it’ll feel like you’re being flayed alive!”). I’m not very convinced by most of the other whisky/house pairings either—more on those later. Continue reading
The last time I reviewed the Lagavulin 16 was in 2015 and that was a relatively timely review, being of a bottle from the 2014 release. And the previous year I’d reviewed another Lagavulin 16 from the 2012 release. Well, I’m sorry to say that my review in 2019 is not quite so timely, being of a bottle released between the other two. But any idiot can be useful; it takes a special kind of idiot to care whether a bottle from a massive release from one year is very much like the two in the adjacent years. Let’s see if it is.
Lagavulin 16, 2013 Release (43%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Big mossy, organic peat and quite a bit of lemon too; the whole medicinal/disinfectant complex is right there too. As it sits the big phenolic notes come to the front, picking up sweet inky notes along the way, and it gets quite briny as well. With more time there’s pencil lead, a touch of ham and also a sweeter note of vanilla-cream. Water blunts it a little bit and pushes back the smoke. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
At the risk of becoming a relevant reviewer, here is another whisky released this autumn and reasonably widely available across the US: the 2017 edition of the Lagavulin 12 CS. The Lagavulin 12 CS is a fixture on Diageo’s annual special releases roster and is, along with the Caol Ila Unpeated, the most affordable of those whiskies and, by itself, the most dependable of them. I’ve previously reviewed the 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 editions and liked them all very much. The Lagavulin 16 is always excellent and so is the Lagavulin 12 CS. Sadly, it’s not easy to find in the $80-85 range any more and so when I saw a bottle as I was picking up the Highland Park “Full Volume”, I couldn’t resist buying it as well. I am not sure why I ended up opening it right away, well before the bottles of the 2014, 2015 and 2016 releases that are also languishing on the shelf; but maybe the people who give me grief for not being a relevant reviewer will get off my back now. Continue reading
The first three miles east from Port Ellen on the A846 are as close as it comes to pilgrimage for lovers of smoky whisky. One mile out sits Laphroaig. You go another mile and arrive at Lagavulin. One more mile and you are at Ardbeg. Whitewashed buildings, pagoda roofs, the ocean just beyond—if you’re lucky, the smell of peat smoke will be in the air. Even if you haven’t halted along the way you may well be feeling exalted by the time you arrive, a few more miles up the road, at the ruined church in whose cemetery stands the Kildalton cross. (If you go the other direction out of town you’ll come across another ruined church, the old Port Ellen distillery). But if you have stopped to spend some time at Lagavulin with Iain “Pinkie” McArthur, you will certainly be feeling the spirit quite strongly by the time you get there.
So it was for me on my first full day on Islay. Continue reading
Here is a Lagavulin bottled for the Islay Jazz Festival in 2015. This is a completely separate event from the recently concluded Feis Ile, taking place in the autumn rather than the summer. This year’s festival is from September 15-17 (and here is last year’s program). I’m not sure if Lagavulin is the only distillery that does an annual release to mark the festival (in addition to their Feis Ile release), but I can’t off the top of my head recall Jazz Festival releases from any other distilleries. It is sponsored by Lagavulin but events happen at other distilleries too. Anyway, there also does not seem to be as much mania around these Jazz Festival releases as there is around Lagavulin’s Feis Ile releases. Indeed, plenty of bottles of the 2016 Jazz Festival release were available at the distillery when I visited earlier this month—I’m not sure how they survived the onslaught of Feis Ile auction flippers. Continue reading
Here is a review of the sixth release of Lagavulin in the Whisky Exchange’s Elements of Islay series. I’ve previously reviewed the Lg1, Lg2 and Lg5, all of which I liked very much (Lg3 and Lg4 somehow escaped my notice). As with all Elements of Islay releases, this has no age statement—and like all recent Elements of Islay releases, this was far more expensive than the early releases in the series were, just a few years ago.
This has been sold out on the Whisky Exchange’s website for a while but as of a month and change ago there were still a number available in their Covent Garden store. I purchased it there for everyday drinking while in London and have in fact already disposed of the bottle (these notes were written up last week). Which means I need to get another heavily peated whisky for the next five weeks. Continue reading
I ended 2016 with a review of a Laphroaig; let’s start 2017 with a review of a Lagavulin. This is the 2013 release of their annual Distiller’s Edition. It comprises malt distilled in 1997, matured for 16 years and then finished for an unspecified period of time in Pedro Ximinez sherry casks. Until the release of the Lagavulin 8 I would have said that officially released Lagavulins were as close to a guarantee of excellence in the Scotch whisky world as you can hope to find; and the Distiller’s Edition has always helped keep that average up. It basically drinks like a more heavily sherried version of the regular 16 yo (dependably excellent in its own right) and is one of the best examples of the marriage of heavy peat and sherry that is widely available—perhaps even the best. I reviewed the 2009 edition three years ago and rather liked it. It’s taken as many years for me to get around to opening this bottle and I can tell you right away that I liked it just as much. It is a liter bottle, purchased in Duty Free (back when good deals on very good whisky were actually available in Duty Free), and I’ve much enjoyed the time it’s taken me to drink it down. And despite being bottled at 43% it has stayed remarkably consistent over the life of the bottle—this review is taken from the bottom quarter. Continue reading
This is the fifth release of Lagavulin from The Whisky Exchange’s Elements of Islay series. These are 500 ml bottles with periodic table of element style names that refer to the distilleries (though you’re supposed to be coy and not take the identities for granted). The early entries in the line came out together at a steady clip some years ago (and I purchased most of them) but I lost sight of them in there somewhere. I reviewed the Lg1 and the Lg2 relatively early in the life of the blog but I never saw any sign of the Lg3 or the Lg4. Given how much I liked those early entries in the series when I had a chance to grab a 2 oz sample from a bottle split I went for it. This has received a heady score from Serge Valentin on Whiskyfun and so I’ve particularly been looking forward to it. Having started the week with an outstanding peated malt from Islay it’ll be nice to end it with another one as well. Then again Serge liked the recent official 8 yo quite a lot more than I did... Continue reading
The Lagavulin 8, which has only just begun to arrive in the US, was released this year as part of the commemoration of the distillery’s 200th anniversary. It’s not the only bottle they released (there was another, much older and much more expensive) but these days you do have to appreciate a reasonably priced 8 yo, especially from Diageo. It’s an 8 yo because it commemorates Alfred Barnard’s visit to the distillery in the late 19th century—he apparently sampled an 8 yo when there. It is said to be a limited edition, by which Diageo means that they released only 20-30,000 bottles or so of it. The label and box say nothing about the casks used to mature the whisky this was made from; for what it’s worth, while many marketing images make it look bright orange, the colour of this whisky is in light white wine territory—whoever adds the caramel colouring to the Lagavulin 16 might have got a day off when they made this one. Continue reading
As a fan of the Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition—the regular Lagavulin 16, “finished” for a few more months in PX sherry casks—I’d often wondered what it would be like at cask strength. Thanks to this release, which was available at the distillery only, I am able to find out. Sort of. It’s not the same age as the regular Distiller’s Edition (which, as noted, is 16 years and a few months, usually): this was spirit left over from the 1991-2007 Distiller’s Edition that was left to mature for a few more years in refill casks. Or so I’ve gathered from this account from someone who tasted it at the distillery in 2011—other sources are either vaguer or present different accounts (see WhiskyNotes, for example). I’m inclined to believe the person who got the story directly from the distillery manager though. And, no, I didn’t get the bottle at the distillery; a friend who procured a bottle was kind enough to share. Continue reading
I’ve reviewed the Lagavulin 16 before. That was from a bottle released in 2012. As I’m constantly annoying people with my skepticism about narratives of decline, when the opportunity came to review a more recent issue, I couldn’t turn it down. As it happens, this sample is from the legendary merchant of doom, Michael K., and so we can at least argue about the exact same whisky if we happen to disagree. I’m not sure, actually, if he’s already reviewed this one—but I’m going to avoid looking so as to not contaminate my own take. I am also going to avoid looking at my previous set of notes till I’ve finished the review. It may well turn out that I produce a near identical description. If so, I’ll post this anyway. You’re welcome!
(If this sort of thing interests you, you may also want to see my head-to-head notes on two Ardbeg Uigeadails from different years.) Continue reading
Let’s stick with Lagavulin but let’s take the exclusivity factor down a notch or two. Unlike the Feis Ile bottles, the Lagavulin 12 CS is not exactly hard to find—there are more than 31,000 bottles of the 2014 release.
I’ve previously reviewed the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 editions of the Lagavulin 12. As I’ve noted before, along with the Caol Ila Unpeated, the Lagavulin 12 is one of the few value propositions in Diageo’s annual slate of special releases. For some reason it’s not an universally loved expression but I’m yet to taste one that I did not like a lot. I’ve managed to get a bottle every year since I came to know of it (2009) and hope to get my hands on the 2014 release as well (I’m not sure if it’s in the US yet). I do have a bottle of this one too but as I’m trying to keep my number of open bottles under control I asked my friend Patrick for some from his recently opened bottle when we last exchanged samples. Continue reading