And I close out what turned out to be a week of sherry cask whiskies with the Feis Ile 2020 release from Lagavulin. (See here for Monday’s Springbank and here for Wednesday’s Kilkerran.) Feis Ile 2021 is currently in progress—it is being held online again this year on account of the pandemic. I can only hope for all our sakes, whether we are whisky drinkers or fans of whisky festivals or not, that it can go back to being in-person next year.
I’ve reviewed a few of Lagavulin’s Feis Ile releases over the last few years. I was a huge fan of the 24 yo released in 2015 and also of the 17 yo released in 2013; the 18 yo released in 2018 I thought was very good but not great. What all of them had in common was sherry involvement, though only the 2013 was straightforwardly from sherry casks. This 2020 release is a vatting of refill hogsheads (ex-bourbon presumably) with hogsheads “seasoned” with PX and oloroso sherry. As to what exactly the “seasoning” involves, I don’t know, and nor do I know how long the spirit that came out of those casks spent in them. Well, that 2015 release was also complicatedly made and I thought it was just excellent; let’s hope this one will prove to be so as well. Continue reading
And here to close out Lagavulin 12 CS week here is the most recent release, from 2020 (see here for the 2019 and here for the 2018 release). I thought the 2018 was excellent and the 2019 just a little behind that. Where will the 2020 fall? Let’s see.
Lagavulin 12 CS, 2020 Release (56.4%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Closer to the 2018 than the 2019: lemon, carbolic peat, salt smouldering leaves; the sweeter notes on the 2019 are not present—at least not at first. The salt expands as it sits—more brine now than salt and some cracked white pepper to go with it. The nose really gets quite lovely with air as some cracked spices (coriander) join the party along with some Springbank’ish burlap and earth and a touch of some muskier fruit (charred pineapple). With more time still there are some meaty notes as well (ham). Okay, time to add water. A few drops brighten it up, pulling out citronella and more of the pineapple—plus is that a bit of peach? Continue reading
Next up in Lagavulin 12 CS week is the 2019 release. As I think I noted in the intro to Monday’s review of the 2018 release, it was in 2019 that Diageo changed the label design for the Lagavulin 12 from the old functional label to something altogether prettier; and I think they raised the price too. Let’s see if they did anything to what’s inside the bottle.
Lagavulin 12 CS, 2019 Release (56.5%; from a bottle split)
Nose: Very close to the 2018 with a big hit of lemon, carbolic peat, salt and a mild farmy note. The smoke gets drier as it sits but then with more time and air there are some sweeter, coastal notes (shells, kelp). Okay, let’s add water. A few drops of water push the lemon back a bit and pull out more mineral notes (wet stones, chalk) along with more salt. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Earlier in the month I had a review of the new(ish) Lagavulin 10, which is supposed to be an exclusive for the travel retail market. (I say “supposed to be” because I purchased it from a regular EU store.) Here now is a Lagavulin from the distillery’s core lineup: the Distillers Edition. In the past I’ve always understood this to be the regular 16 yo with a couple of months of a PX finish applied to it—and I’ve also assumed that the same relationship of age and finish applies to all of Diageo’s malts that have Distillers Editions releases. Certainly, all the other Lagavulin Distillers Editions I’ve seen and reviewed (here, here, and here) seemed to be at least 16 years old. This one, however, as I reported earlier, is not. It’s the 2020 release but is from the 2005 vintage. Is this a one-off due to lack of availability of enough 16 yo stock? Or is this going to be the new normal? I guess we’ll see what happens with the 2021 release later this year. In the meantime I assume this is still spirit that would have gone into the 16 yo, just finished and released a year earlier than usual. If anyone knows different or has confirmation from the distillery on any of these points do write in below. In the meantime let’s see what this is like. Continue reading
I was not aware until a few minutes before I purchased this bottle from a store in the EU that Lagavulin is now putting out a 10 yo whisky. It was apparently first released in 2019 and is a travel retail exclusive. Which does not explain how I purchased it from a regular store but doubtless there’s an explanation: it does seem to be available at a number of stores in the EU. The more surprising thing is that I did not notice it in duty free shops on the way to or back from India in early 2020 but the explanation for that may well be that I did not really look closely, having long before given up on the possibility of finding good value for anything in a duty free shop. If I missed this a year ago then shame on me. Especially since it’s priced quite reasonably for an age-stated whisky from a name distillery. I’m not sure what relationship it bears to the other whiskies in Lagavulin’s core range, especially the only slightly younger 8 yo (which I was not as enamoured of as some). It is made from spirit matured in “rejuvenated and ex-bourbon casks”. Theoretically that should put it closer to the all ex-bourbon limited edition 12 CS as the 16 yo has some sherry cask involvement. But the proof is in the glass. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
Here’s a quick question about a bottle I opened last night: the 2020 release of the Lagavulin Distillers Edition. I didn’t pay close attention at purchase and assumed it was, like all previous releases of the Lagavulin Distillers Edtion, 16 years old. That is to say that it was—as it used to be—the Lagavulin 16 + a few months extra maturation in PX sherry casks. See, for example the three I’ve previously reviewed: the 1991-2007, the 1993-2009 and the 1997-2013; but it’s not just mine: all the listings on Whiskybase for releases prior to 2020 have the same 16 year gap between distillation and release. However, this label lists a 2005 distillation before bottling in 2020. There doesn’t appear to have been a change in the nature of the double maturation—the box still notes that PX sherry casks are used. So why this change? Is this a one-off due to insufficient stocks from 2004? Or is the Lagavulin Distillers Edition going to be younger going forward? For that matter, I suppose, there may have been changes in the ages of Diageo’s other Distillers Editions as well—I confess I haven’t tracked them. If you know more about this please write in to the comments below. Continue reading
On Wednesday we were at Laphroaig, having taken the high road across from Bowmore. Let’s go a mile up the road now to Lagavulin. This is the 8th Lagavulin released by the Whisky Exchange in their Elements of Islay series. Yes, I know this is now released by Elixir Distillers who are supposedly a separate concern but I am a simple man and it’s easier for me to just refer to all the Whisky Exchange whiskies as Whisky Exchange whiskies (please forgive me, Billy). This was apparently distilled in 2006 and vatted from two bourbon barrels. I say “apparently” because neither of these pieces of information is actually on the label. That’s what it says on Whiskybase and in reviews from people who got advance samples from the bottlers. What I don’t understand why if this info isn’t worth putting on the labels it needs to be distributed to those who talk up these whiskies before release. Again, I am a simple man. Anyway, past Elements of Islay Lg experience suggests this will be very good. Let’s see if that’s the case. Continue reading
As I’ve noted before, the Lagavulin entrty is my favourite in Diageo’s Distillers Edition series. The extra few months in PX sherry casks complements the original spirit very well in my view. My ratings of the 1993-2009 and 1997-2013 releases, which are the previous ones I’ve reviewed (here and here), are appropriately high. This one is from a couple of years earlier still: it was distilled in 1991 and released in 2007. I’ll be shocked if I don’t like it a lot as well.
Lagavulin 1991, The Distillers Edition, 2007 Release (43%; from a sample from a friend)
Nose: Big phenolic notes mixed in coastal notes (seashells, kelp). The sherry comes up from below with notes both sweet (raisins) and salty. The sweeter notes—including pipe tobacco now—come to the fore after a minute or two in the glass and then dominate. With more time there’s some citrus as well (orange peel). A few drops of water emphasize the fruit: apricot and fig now along with the orange peel. Continue reading
The Jazz Festival series is Lagavulin’s second annual series of special releases, bottled to commemorate the Islay Jazz festival every autumn. As I noted in my review of the 2015 Jazz Festival release, this series doesn’t seem to inspire the mania of the summer Feis Ile releases. This is doubtless due to the unpredictable vagaries of the collectors’ market which is anything but rational. Certainly, I liked the 2015 Jazz Festival release a lot. That bodes well for this 2017 release which, like the 2015, is comprised of spirit matured in refill American oak hogsheads and refill European oak butts. This is not the standard regimen for these releases: the intervening 2016 release—which I picked up a bottle of at the distillery in 2017—was matured only in American oak. In practice, however, the 2015 release did not betray much, if any, palpable sherry influence; I’m curious to see if this will be any different in that regard. Let’s see. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Hello, here is a celebrity whisky! As you know, when celebrities are involved in whisky branding the whisky is always good. See Great Odin’s Raven, Haig Club etc. etc. Actually, I’ve not had either of those two blends; for all I know, they are decent. (I’ve not had the Ron Jeremy rum either; I hear that really grows on you.) Other things I have not done include watching any of Parks and Recreation. My Offerman exposure is limited to his excellent, scene-stealing turn in the second season of Fargo. This, of course, does not mean that this whisky that bears his name will be any good. On the other hand, Offerman is apparently a long time, non-stunt Lagavulin aficionado and one would hope that Diageo would not screw with his good name by scraping together warehouse detritus and vatting it together with an eye toward a simple celebrity cash-in. Or did he actually have something to do with its creation? I’ve not read any spirits marketing since 2009 and so I have no idea. If you know more about this, please write in below. Here now are my notes. Continue reading
I’m hoping to get to this year’s Laphroaig Cairdeas release by the end of the month but in the meantime here is another Feis Ile release from Islay’s south shore. This is not this year’s Lagavulin release though; it is the one they put out in 2015. At 24 years old it’s one of the older releases at recent Feis Iles. It’s also somewhat complicatedly made, being triple matured: first in ex-bourbon casks, then in PX sherry casks and then finally in oak puncheons (presumably either not sherry or refilled so many times as to not matter). The PX sherry maturation was apparently the briefest of the three. This was said to have been selected by the excellent Pinkie McArthur but I’m not sure exactly what that means in this case as there were 3500 bottles released—probably 6-8 puncheons worth at 59.9%. Were there in fact far more of these triple-matured puncheons, a few of which Pinkie selected to be vatted for Feis Ile 2015? That would appear to be the explanation. That makes you wonder what is happening/happened with the rest. Well, I cannot answer that question but I can tell you what I think of this bottle which I recently opened several years after acquiring it at auction for a king’s ransom (well, maybe not a very important king). Continue reading
The last time I reviewed one of Lagavulin’s special releases for Feis Ile was in 2014. I have a few of the subsequent releases on my shelves but haven’t opened any of them yet—hmmm I should do something about that. Anyway, that one was a 17 yo from a vatting of European oak sherry butts. This one is a year older and is put together far more complicatedly. It was a release of 6000 bottles from a vatting of refill American hogsheads, rejuvenated (presumably this means re-charred) hogheads and “bodega” sherry butts. Whether “bodega” here means American or European oak is anyone’s guess, as is whether that means these butts were actually used to mature or transport sherry or whether they were sourced from some bodega and filled with disposable sherry for a short period of time. Anyway, that 17 yo, bottled for Feis Ile in 2013 was very sherry forward in all the best ways. Let’s see what this one is like. Continue reading
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