Age: 16 years old
Although founded legally in 1816, Lagavulin traces its roots back to a group of illicit distillers on Islay’s southern shores, far away from the grasp of nosy excisemen. After several decades of moonshining, these smugglers ultimately merged into what would become the licensed Lagavulin distillery. Lagavulin is distinctive for its low, pear-shaped stills and slow distillation process. This allows many of the rougher, more flavourful vapours to make the cut. Paired with the high levels of peat in its malt, this makes Lagavulin’s raw spirit one of the roughest, wildest liquids you can find. It should come as no surprise then that its core expression is aged for no less than 16 years. While this maturation takes some of the sharper edges off the spirit, Lagavulin remains a wonderfully characterful whisky, full of punch but with a dignified sophistication to match its ferocity. The result is an absolute masterpiece: my favourite Classic Malt and one of the jewels in Diageo’s whisky crown.
Nose: Bristling with promise, the nose offers scents of grilled seafood and smoked ham. Briny notes develop into a strange but oh-so pleasant combination of Lapsang Souchong and seaweed. Yet there are extra layers of depth to be explored, with the aromas of vanilla, aniseed and armagnac lurking underneath.
Palate: The body is rich and creamy, and opens with earthy flavours of peat bogs inundated by a sprinkle of sherry. More complex and profound than some of its younger Islay counterparts, this Lagavulin provides a lush bouquet of oaky, winey influences. Nutmeg, cinnamon and sandalwood give way to notes of slow-grilled lamb sausages. Yet through it all roars a tempest of smoke and cinders. If a bonfire could be bottled, this would be it.
Finish: A huge explosion of peat and spices. Dry, sweet and salty, the aftertaste lingers long, like the embers of a slowly fading peat fire.
Verdict: In many ways this is the granddaddy of Islay’s core expressions, offering a complexity and maturity not always found in the island’s more youthful whiskies. Instead, Lagavulin displays a more restrained version of Islay’s ruggedness, a wild exuberance mellowed only by the slow passage of time. It is unsurprising that Lagavulin’s range is rather limited, as their core expression is simply so good. I for one absolutely love this dram, and it is a whisky I will gladly keep coming back to.