Age: 8 years old
Released to celebrate the distillery’s 200th anniversary, Lagavulin 8 year old is a nod to the great whisky writer Alfred Barnard, who visited the distillery in 1886. While doing so, he made mention of an 8 year old Lagavulin he tasted, which he described as “exceptionally fine”. Reflecting on their proud heritage, Lagavulin has decided to recreate this 8 year old malt to mark their bicentenary. Lagavulin has a very limited range and does not usually release limited editions, so this one really is something special. It is available for one year only, and although more expensive than its older brother, the 8 year old is still quite affordable. In this sense, Lagavulin has certainly one-upped Ardbeg and Laphroaig, which chose to release exclusive, expensive bottlings to mark their respective 200th birthdays in 2015. Even the packaging is a clear departure from Lagavulin’s usual darker shades, hinting that this whisky really is something quite different from the core range. With a maturation of just 8 years, this bottling is an exuberant, smoky and utterly breathtaking celebration of one of my favourite distilleries. Many happy returns, Lagavulin!
Colour: Pale straw
Nose: As expected, the nose is unmistakably smoky. Yet there is quite a medicinal aspect to it, which is leaning towards less pleasant notes of diesel oil or glue. Despite this, the nose is very crisp, with zesty aromas of orange peel and apricot combining with freshly toasted barley, for what promises to be a lively dram. Scents of fresh seaweed and smoked mackerel give way to walnut and cigar smoke. Not quite sure what to make of this one yet, so let’s move on.
Palate: Pungent and alcoholic, with a few traces of raw spirit still there. The medicinal character of the nose is completely gone, making way for pure, clean, beautiful wood smoke. Notes of toffee and milk chocolate also leave their mark, before being replaced by peaty cereal and spicy black peppercorn. For such a young dram, there’s an astonishing wealth of flavours and complexity. This Lagavulin is both stunningly savage and sensationally smooth: a delicious 8 year old paradox of a whisky.
Finish: Colossal. The smokiness increases to gale force, while wave after wave of peated barley comes crashing in. The smoky inferno seems to last almost endlessly, what a fantastic dram!
Verdict: There is a reason why Lagavulin ages its core expression no less than 16 years (a long time by Islay standards). The low, pear-shaped stills at Lagavulin allow many of the rougher, impure alcohols to make the cut. Therefore a long maturation is needed to smooth the whisky out a bit, and the 16 year old is a wonderfully distinguished dram as a result. This 8 year old Lagavulin lacks that slow passage of time, resulting in a powerfully smoky whisky that packs a mighty punch. The Lagavulin 8 year old has received some bad reviews from people who are used to the 16 year old and expect the same sophistication. Truth is that the 8 year old is a different beast entirely, a much bolder, crisper version, making the 16 year old seem mellow in comparison. I’m sure Alfred Barnard would not have been surprised by such ferocity, so it’s all a matter of expectations. The price tag of this whisky has raised some eyebrows too, for it is more expensive than its 16 year old brother, at only half its age. Then again, what else do you expect from a limited edition? There are many younger NAS bottlings out there that sell at much higher prices. I am a huge fan of this Lagavulin, and will definitely buy another bottle before it’s too late.