Feb 172017
 

Lagavulin 1966 50 y.o. Cask #55207-lag-09-img_3386

?% abv

Score:  91/100

 

I got back from Islay about four and a half months ago now.  Initial plans for the website were to offer up a full travel blog sort of thing like I’d done a couple times before.  After all, things change and every experience is different, especially as traveling companions go (and boy, was it interesting this time!).  Since settling back home, however, I’ve rethought my game plan.

I think I’m just gonna publish a handful (or more) of the more unique experiences, reviews and stories.  Like I said in a previous post, I’m gonna start using this site more as a blog, and not just a review factory.  I think it may be a bit more conducive to chat too.

Anyway, here’s the scoop:  A friend of mine, who I now consider one of my best mates, put everything on hold to fly over from Dubai to join our wee misfit crew of drammers and dreamers.  He moved meetings, dealt with a hell of a travel schedule and came out to become an absolutely integral part of our little collective.  I’m sure you all know the lad I’m talking about.  His name is Tabarak Razvi, the Malt Activist.

But we’ll come back to that in a future post.  Right now I want to share some notes on a whisky and an experience that  was beyond bucket list.  On one of our later days on this trip (after the damaged wrist, the broken phone, the incessant cold, the rain days, and all) we visited Lagavulin for an hour or two in the warehouse with the inimitable Iain MacArthur.  We sipped through 12, 14, 23, and 34 year old cask samples in the dunnage next to the distillery.  We also tried the 2016 Jazz fest release, then snuck out back to navigate the ruins of Dunyvaig castle with a 200 ml of Lag 16 and drams of the 2006 12 y.o.  Sounds rad, yeah?  Wait, it gets better.

After the masses had disappeared, and we had slipped and slid our way down the crumbling battlements of the old castle and returned to the distillery grounds, we bumped into Iain again.  A little gentle persuasion, and he led us back to the warehouse with glasses in hand.  He poured generously (a little too generously) from a tiny quarter cask marked #552 and the year 1966 stamped on the barrel head.  Fifty years.  Let that sink in for a moment.  After the most sincere thanks we could offer to one of the most amazing men on the island, we ran back up the hill, glasses sloshing to hop the bus back to Bowmore.  Five guys…a public bus…the bouncy and bumpy high road to Bowmore…and fifty year old Lagavulin in our glasses.  Yep.

Tab recounted the tale here for your reading pleasure.  He and I both had small samples to bring home with us, so you can compare and contrast tasting notes.  While he chose not to score this esoteric experience, I’m throwing a number at it.  Is it high?  Maybe just a touch.  But it’s my party and I’ll sigh if I want to.

Nose:  Noses soooooo young.  This must have been a fourth fill barrel.  Faint smoke.  Citrus.  Just the weakest hints of honeydew melon and pineapple.  Firm white cheese (cave-aged Gruyere?).  Very minerally…or something like clay.  In ways smells almost like new make.  In other ways…smells very, very old.  Irreconcilable, really.  Notes of dunnage and old books.  Briny and oceanic, to be sure.  Iodine and medicinal notes.  A slight farminess.  Faint tea notes.

Palate:  Much more smoke than expected.  Huge sweetness.  Almost minty.  Green candy notes.  Lime.  Some tangy fruit (maybe pineapple again, though not very ‘tropical’).  Peat (there it is!) and dry old tea.  More oak here than on the nose (though still less oaky than expected).  Faint fennel.  Smoked seafood and shells.  This is an enormously oily dram.  Some licorice at the back end.

Thoughts:  Unmistakably Lagavulin.  So, yeah…it’s overcooked.  So what?  Too oaky and not the best of barrels, but this is still exceptional whisky.  The experience behind it definitely adds to the score for me, but it’s nigh impossible to disassociate the two.  Just the fact that it’s still here?  Yeah…’nough said, I think.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 

 

 Posted by at 9:17 am
Nov 242016
 

Lagavulin 8 y.o. 200th Annniversary Editionimg_4024

48% abv

Score:  87/100

 

So…you may or may not know, but Lagavulin 8 comes with a big fat ‘what the fuck?’ written all over it.  On the one hand, that question is easy to answer.  On the other, well…not so easy.  This limited edition expression from arguably Diageo’s classiest of brands was released as part of the distillery’s bicentennial celebration.  Two hundred years is a doozy of a milestone, and one can only assume the occasion would be met with fanfare equal to the magnitude of the occasion.  Well then…why an eight year old?

In the late 1880s, when historian Alfred Barnard visited the distillery, he was poured a dram of eight year old Lagavulin which he referred to as ‘exceptionally fine’.  This current 200th year commemorative release was crafted as a way to pay homage to Mr. Barnard’s acknowledgement of the historical quality of Lagavulin.  So you see?  The choice of an eight year old is somewhat apropos.  Well…sort of, anyway.  Isn’t this then a commemoration of a milestone decades later than the one you’re actually trying to focus on?  Hmmm.

The flip side too is that an eight year old is hardly an occasion-making knockout of a malt, is it?  Slightly anti-climactic, if you ask me.  If I was the one who had control over teeming warehouses of slumbering Lag I think I would have taken it upon myself to build something a little more…spectacular.  Perhaps an 18 year old.  Or something to rival the Feis Ile or Jazz Fest releases.  But still at a reasonable price point.

To be fair, Lagavulin did release a 25 year old this year as well, also done up in 200 year markings, but it’s price was beyond ridiculous.  Of course it was going to be, though, seeing as the 21 from a couple years back retailed at almost $900 Canadian.  Ouch.  Maybe we’ll just take our affordable eight year old and shut up.

Is it good though?  Yeah.  Quite.  I liked it anyway.  And most others I know that have tasted it found it quite decent too.  We’ll take comfort in the fact that there is finally another option from a distillery that historically has held to a very limited range.

Nose:  I’d guess Caol Ila, if given blind.  Burnt rubber.  Noses very young, but unflawed.  Quite herbal.  And smells fresh off the mill.  Ocean water and fresh mussels or oysters.  Brand new wellies.  Citrus.  Minerally.  Quite sharp.  That very typical Lagavulin Band-aid-iness (can that be an adjective now?).

Palate:  Sharp and immediately on the attack.  Young.  Nutty.  Smoky.  There’s a substantial industrial, dry smokiness here.  Burnt seafood.  Dry and ashy.  Tarry even.  Lots of citrus.  While the nose hints at the delicate nature of underripe Caol Ila, the palate is much more of an uppercut.  Even so…not sure I’d guess this was Lagavulin if I didn’t know better.  Well…maybe.  Granny Smith apple skins on the finish.

Thoughts:  I think this would be great poured over Islay oysters with a squeeze of lemon.  Oh, wait…it is.  Possibly my new favorite meal.  Good malt, not quite great.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:31 am
May 132014
 

Lagavulin 12 y.o. (2011)051

57.5% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Can’t believe we haven’t yet covered one of these beastly young Lags here on ATW.  Lagavulin is so intrinsically identifiable as the refined old gent of Islay-  the more austere and mature dram of the big three (Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig) – that getting to see it in its untamed youth is kinda like seeing old photos of your grandparents and finally realizing that these beautiful old souls you know and love were once young, active and full of verve.

Lagavulin is most often seen in its 16 year old flagship incarnation.  That whisky is a classic.  A touchstone.  A personal favorite.  (And, in my humble opinion, still in great shape, irrespective of what some others say regarding quality slippage).  But once a year we smokeheads and peat-o-philes are blessed with a scrappy and snarling 12 year old annual limited release of Lagavulin.  That four year age variance constitutes a world of difference in terms of what the final product turns out to be.  To be honest though…I’m not sure which I prefer more.  I suppose the truest answer to which Lagavulin is my favorite would have to be ‘the one closest to hand’.

One quick note on appearance now.  Not cause the aesthetics mean anything, but because it may speak a little about the casking for this one.  This malt looks fairly blonde.  Much lighter than the 16, which I believe has some sherry influence.  Does that mean that this is primarily (or entirely) bourbon barrels?  Or that the 16 is heavily coloured?  Dunno.  I do know, however, that the 16 carries more notes I’d associate with some sherry in the mix.  Either way…having a bottle of each on hand ain’t a bad thing.  Just sayin’.

By the way…drinking this stuff while on Islay is the stuff dreams are made of.  This is the distilled essence of the island.

Nose:  Coastal as hell.  Band-aids soaked in brine.  Ocean water.  Cracked white pepper.  Smoldering peat fire and bucketloads of tasty smoke.  Mint leaves candy and green ju-jubes.  A touch of soil.  Oysters on the shell…with a good squeeze of lemon.  Some cocoa behind it all.  A touch of coffee.  Horse blanket.  Something kinda creamy and sugary.  Sweeter and fruitier than I’d imagined it could be.

Palate:  Sweet, smoky delivery.  Very earthy.  Lemon and shellfish.  Intense salt and pepper.  Bittersweet chocolate.  A little anisette.  Grains are crisp and clear.  Sour apple peelings.  The smoke and medicinal notes echo on and on.  Man…I love a whisky that lingers on the tongue like this.

Thoughts:  Lagavulin is just as impressive in youth as it is in maturity.  Here we get to see the power of the peat before time has really knocked the jagged edges off.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:35 am
Feb 122013
 

Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition (2011) 006

43% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

It’s hard not to walk into a Lagavulin tasting without having preconceptions and high expectations.  The spirit itself is just that good and that well-defined.

So, what happens when you take that lovely base spirit and flash-fry finish it in some sort of wine cask?  Well…you end up with a damn good dram that struts and swaggers with a curious sort of crossdresser confidence.  They call this ‘Double Matured’.  A fancy term for ‘finishing’.  Whatever.  Call it what you like, in this case it works just fine.

This Lag is part of Diageo’s Distiller’s Edition range of their Classic Malts.  Having said all that I just said…I admit to still preferring the standard Lagavulin 16 (or older!!) to this charming eccentricity.

Nose:  Rubber.  Barn-ish (iodine-rich urine and cowshit).  Ash and asphalt.  Sea spray and wet rock.  Faint banana.  Quite sweet on the nose.  Peat and smoke?  Yes, of course.

Palate:  Smoke meets peat meets winegums.  A little grape-y.  Bandaid dryness.  Camphor/menthol rub.

Thoughts:  Neat and definitely Lag-ish, but ultimately a little too sweetened by the wine finish for my liking.  Still enjoyable.  (And yes…I realize your first question will be ‘how can it smell like urine and cowshit and be a good dram?’  You’re right to ask, o ye of little faith, but trust in me and I shall lead ye straight.)

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:05 pm
Feb 052013
 

Lagavulin 30 y.o.barry's place pics 060

52.6% abv

Score:  93.5/100

 

From Islay’s most esteemed distillery comes one of the best older whiskies I’ve ever tried from this peat mecca of an island:  Lagvulin 30 year old.

A whisky nearly as old as I, but infinitely more charming and certainly better looking, this is a dram to dream about.

The thing is…there are no real surprises here.  The magic is in the incredible composition of this malt.  Each nuance works to compliment the whole, and the whole is simply unbelievable.  This is no subtle shading of degrees (how can it be, deriving as it does from Islay)…it is more like bold slashings of colour a la Jackson Pollack.  Irrespective…this is art.

Nose:  Creamy.  Peach and fire-toasted marshmallow.  Herbal dried leafy notes.  White chocolate.  Some more borderline-tropical fruit notes.  Hint o’ mint.  Paint.  Distant ebbings of peat and subtle clean smoke.

Palate:  Smoky.  Ashy and kinda drying.  Peach again.  Oak is singing here.  Spiced bread dough-ish.  Beautifully mellowed creamy fruits.

Thoughts:  Truly a stunner of a dram.  Possibly…probably…once in a lifetime.  Still so Lag…but sooooo refined.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:56 pm
Jan 262013
 

Lagavulin 2010 Distillery Only Bottlingbarry's place pics 063

52.5% abv

Score:  92.5/100

 

A couple years back, while vacationing and touring distilleries on Islay, I happened to luck into one of those wee windows where there just happened to be a couple of rare little treats available exclusively through some of the distilleries’ shops.

Both of the active Diageo distilleries on the island, Caol Ila and Lagavulin, happened to have nifty limited run treats for those who ventured to these beautiful Hebridean shores.

As you can imagine, in this day and age where there seems to be a premium levied on all things Islay, these extremely limited releases never last long on the shelves.  I instantly fell in love with the Lagavulin release, but was slightly underwhelmed by the Caol Ila.  Needless to say, my suitcase was one bottle of Lag heavier when I came back to Canada.  In retrospect I wish I had nabbed two or three.

I haven’t met a soul who has tried this one that hasn’t adored it.  This is Lagavulin with both class and ooomph.  Awesome stuff.

Nose:  Damn, is this assertive.  Vinegar and iodine.  Farmy with a gorgeous peat reek.  Sherry notes.  BBQish.  Spicy tobacco…a la strong cigar.  Cherry.

Palate:  Smoke.  Strongly peaty and medicinal.  Fruit notes wafting through the curtain of smoke.  Little hint of mint over lamb.  Sharp wet tarry notes meet a thick syrupy sherry sweetness.

There’s some age here.  How old?  Who knows.  I’m thinking though, that has might be a couple years on from the standard 16 year old flagship.  There is a beautiful harmony and complexity in the meld of peat and sweet (apparently PX).

Still haven’t cracked this bottle yet.  One day the right occasion will call.  Those fortunate enough to be around at that point will be tasked with helping me lay this Lagavulin to rest.  And it will be a good day.

 

-Reviewed by:  Curt

-Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:06 pm
Jan 192013
 

Lagavulin 21 y.o. (2012)017

52% abv

Score:  93/100

 

Following on the heels of the near-unanimously praised Lagavulin 21 from 2007, Diageo has rolled out a new edition of this milestone malt.  While the earlier edition swept up accolades faster than the street cleaners in Vegas do the Copperfield act with those little clicking porn cards, there seems to be a slightly slower stampede to embrace this one.  In fact, one very trusted palate I know swears the old 21 was a sulphured mess.  I’ve yet to try, but after sampling this version…I desperately want a chance at it to compare, if nothing else.

Let’s discuss the elephant in the room.  $Price$.  I hate to jump aboard the Diageo-bashing wagon, but…seems this ride is going my way.  Perhaps the fact that the production run of this Lag 21 was less than half of that of the 2007 release is a driver for the absolutely fucking ridiculous Diageo pricing scheme here.  (Take note, folks in the high offices at Diageo…you should be ashamed of yourselves).  This is the most atrocious gouging I have seen (excepting perhaps the Dalmore tomfoolery of late…and perhaps the Glenmorangie Pride), so let’s give a healthy ‘thank gawd’ that at least the malt in the bottle is damn good.

How good?  Well…really, really good, to be honest.

Nose:  Prunes and eucalyptus.  Iodine.  Briny notes.  Capers and lemon and oysters.  Some sort of cleaning product.  Some jammy fruit and ju-jube.  Tobacco and dry smoke.   Damp earth.

Palate:  Juicy…smoky…fruity and thick.  Pepper.  Sweet, but meaty.  Again…the chewy, Ju-jube like candy.  Peach skin.

To be totally clear…this is a bloody good whisky, but at $850 a bottle for a 21 year old it damn well better be.  Even more impressive on a second visit.  Lovely, sweet and rewarding.

(Note: Score is reflective of the quality in the bottle, irrespective of investment concerns)

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:33 pm
Mar 112012
 

Lagavulin 16 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  92/100

 

Lagavulin 16 year old is one of Islay’s greatest gifts to the rest of the world.

What an elegant, austere and classy looking bottle.    What a beautiful rich orange amber liquid.  What a gorgeous smoky rapture.  And also…

…what a wet band-aid slap in the face of a bottle.  Yep…you read that right.  Hang tight…we’re coming back to this.

One of the big three from Islay, and named as one of the Classic Malts, Lagavulin enjoys a fairly stellar reputation.  Deservedly, I’d say.  What a monster.  Absolutely typical of an Islay bruiser, this is a peat and smoke bomb.  The nose is huge.  Lush with earth, fire, salt and iodine.  Smoke blankets it all nicely, and peat shines through everywhere.  Aside from all of these base components of Islay, you’ll also find a bit of orange, spice and oak.

When adding water I would suggest mere drops.  A shame this whisky is bottled at only 43%.  As such, too much water will surely drown this.  (I am itching to get my hands on the 12 year old cask strength, to see what this is like without the additional 4 years of mellowing, and at proper strength.  When I do, rest assured notes will follow).

On the palate this is mellow and smooth.  A bit of sherry on top of everything mentioned earlier.  It is quite oily and mouth-coating.  A little bit sweet…a little bit bitter…without being bittersweet.  (???)

Now…what was that about wet band-aids?  These whiskies tend to have what many refer to as a medicinal smell.  Lagavulin has this in spades of course, but it is more defined.  It truly is a band-aid-like scent.  Odd, but tangible.

The finish is beautiful and long.  So long, in fact, that I went to bed after a couple of drams last weekend, and woke up still tasting smoke.

A friend of mine, David, offers the sagely advice that one should drink for the season.  If this is your philosophical approach to whisky, then you’ll be certain to think of this as a winter dram (or maybe a damp, windy, late fall evening dram).  Though I follow this logic for the most part, I just want to add…follow your taste buds and cravings.  I’ve sipped the peat monsters on late summer night outdoors and enjoyed them immensely.

Whisky should be personal.

One last thing…you must read this beautiful little review for a more…esoteric approach to this wonderful whisky:

http://www.connosr.com/reviews/lagavulin/lagavulin-16-year-old/bliss/

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:43 pm
Dec 072011
 

You can slag the world economy, you can slag the Irish for being such great lovers, hell…you can even slag Edmontonians just for being Edmontonians but what you can’t do, if you’re a serious malt fan, is slag the Lag!

For the benefit of the great unwashed, Lagavulin is pronounced “Lagga-no-foolin” and means “hollow by the mill” in Gaelic.  The legal Lagavulin distillery was born in 1816 on the rugged sea sprayed Scottish Island of Islay, which is famous for its peated whiskies and local drivers who wave at anything that moves on or near the road.  Oh yeah, the distillery is owned by Diageo, you may remember them as the corporation that killed the Port Ellen distillery.

A secret, which is not well known, is that Lagavulin lies on what is called ‘the Peatline’, along with its neighbors of Laphroaig and Ardbeg.  This Peatline is a naturally occurring powerful source of phenol denature protein similar to the Rosa line (or Ley line) under the Rosslyn Chapel with its pulsating telluric energy.  It is said that standing on top of the Peatline and tasting whisky can put most people into a state of enlightenment.  I myself have trembled under this phenolic power while tasting whiskies at all these distilleries.  I have also wept and trembled while visiting a whisky shop called Loch Fyne Whiskies in Inverary, which happens to lie on a direct line starting in Laphroaig through Lagavulin, Ardbeg and then ending up under the whisky store of Loch Fyne.

You can laugh at the theory of a flat earth, you can scoff at the existence of the Loch Ness monster and you can jeer at Jim Murray for his outlandish picks for Whisky of the Year, but………………you can’t deny the Power of the Peat.  It’s real, it dominates and once consumed, you fall under its sway like a fanatical irrational teen at Justin Bieber concert.  Phenolic levels may be measured in PPM parts per millions, but when it comes to Lagavulin, PPM really stands for Peat Power Magnified!

 

Once again the gang of four sat down on a mild winter’s night, consumed and fell under the influence of the Lagavulin PPM, cheerfully giving up some tasting notes.

 

 

16 YEAR OLD STANDARD RELEASE 43 % ABV

NOSE:  Light peat on the nose.  Oranges and eucalyptus.

TASTE:  This is where the rubber hits the road.  The peat shows up in all its glory.  Black liquorice and dark chocolate.  Iodine.

FINISH:  Long.  Lots of rich tannins at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  This is a classy drink.  A standard in the world of single malt.

 

12 YEAR OLD 2006 SPECIAL RELEASE 57.5 ABV%

NOSE:  Farmy.  Coal-tar.  Vanilla and lemon-pepper.

TASTE:  Very balanced peat.  Apples.  Briny.

FINISH:  Long and warm, very warm.  Somewhat drying.

ASSESSMENT:  Good morning sunshine, this is your wakeup call!

 

2010 DISTILLERY ONLY LIMITED EDITION 52.5% ABV

NOSE:  Wow, did not expect this.  Oranges & cherries.  Honey.  Minty.  Green apples.

TASTE:  Complex fruits.  Gentle smoke.  Vanilla.

FINISH:  Medium to long.  Fades ever so gracefully.

ASSESSMENT:  Given the ABV % this delicious drink must be 20-25 years plus.  This is a must get for a FLF.

 

25 YEAR OLD BOTTLED 2002 57.2 % ABV BOTTLE # 7387 OF 9,000 BOTTLES

NOSE:  Sweet fruits really jumps at you.  Vanilla.  Leather and lite smoke.

TASTE:  Very thick mouth feel, coats your tongue with cherry syrup sweetness.  Jammy.  Marshmallows and cooked ham.

FINISH:  Very, very long.

ASSESSMENT:  Not sure what to make of this dram, I don’t love it or hate it, maybe I will go with clearly ambiguous and vaguely indeterminate.

 

30 YEAR OLD 1976 BOTTLED 2006 52.6 % ABV BOTTLE # 586 OF 2,340 BOTTLES

NOSE:  Bam, sensational.  Sweet candy.  Peaches.  Tropical fruit and aged smoke.

TASTE:  Great mouth feel.  Lemons, grapefruit and lite spices.  Creamy caramel.

FINISH:  Lovely.  Lingering.

ASSESSMENT:  Tastes like more, in fact, after the tasting I had more, much more!

 

RATING OF THE FIRST FIVE :

 

# 1 – 30 Year Old

# 2 – 2010 Distillery Bottling, surprise of the night, in the good way

# 3 & # 4 tied 16 Year Old & 25 Year Old, although the Maltmonster found the 16 Year Old better

# 5 – 12 Year Old, last but still loved

 

 

ENTER THE SHERRY ZONE

 

1986 DISTILLERS EDITION 43 % ABV BOTTLED 2002

NOSE:  Sweet cherries.  Wet charcoal and malty.

TASTE:  Bottled smoke.   Creamy vanilla.  Odd sweetness.

FINISH:  Medium to long.  Bit briny at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Bordering on some sulphur notes.

 

1980 DISTILLERS EDITION 43 % ABV BOTTLED 2000

NOSE:  Oranges and cherries.  Almonds and caramel.

TASTE:  Big sherry tannins.  Light peat.  Dark chocolate and coffee.  Bourbon sweetness.

FINISH:  Long with tannins and drying towards the end.

ASSESSMENT:  This is a 20 year old DE, and I think it may have received some additional love in the sherry cask, as most of the other DE are only 16 year old versions.

 

21 YEAR OLD 1985 BOTTLED 2007 56.5 % ABV BOTTLE # 6012 OF 6,642 BOTTLES

NOSE:  Peat smoke.  Sulphur…….YES SULPHUR!  All of us got it!  Melons and light fruit.

TASTE:  Creamy.  Black liquorice. Ccoffee and some lemon.

FINISH:  Long, smooth and complex.

ASSESSMENT:  You know what burns me?  Matches.  The sulphur is not ruinous, but come on, some of the extremely high ratings by others on this malt may be unwarranted.

 

RATING OF THE LAST THREE —- SCARY SHERRY :

 

# 1 – 1980 Distillers Edition

# 2 – 21 Year Old, surprise of the night, but in the bad way

# 3 – 1986 Distillers Edition

 

 

– I’m Maltmonster, and I approved the drinking of these great whiskies.

 Posted by at 8:42 pm