Lagavulin 16 y.o. Review

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:


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

20 thoughts on “Lagavulin 16 y.o. Review

  1. David

    Have you found the 12 YO cask strength yet? It’s available in limited quantities in Ontario so I would imagine it would be available and cheaper in Calgary. I know someone going there in December, perhaps I could send a sample bottle.

  2. Joe

    What is also so interesting to me is how many folks I have turned on to single malt whisky by introducing them to Lagavulin 16. Something so unique that could be instantly appreciated by folks who don’t know anything outside JD. I know at least two of these folks never went on to anything else – bottles of Lag 16 are always on their shelf. Who can blame them – maybe it is the one that is impossible to live without. I myself go thru few bottles of whisky in years time but in the last 20 I have never been without a bottle of Lag 16. Cannot say that about any other single malt but I confess when this bottle goes, it will be replaced with the 2012 Distiller’s Edition – cannot wait.

    1. Robert

      I have open bottles of the 16, 12 and DE in my cabinet, but also two unopened 16’s. The only other “spares” I have stashed away are Ardbeg 10, of which I have three. The Laga 16 is not only a “must have”, but a “must have lots”. I actually like the 12 better, but not every day. The 16 is a more “every day” great dram.

        1. ATW Post author

          No. The DE is not a must have. Decent dram, and has the skeleton og Lag, but quite atypical.

          Have tracked down 2005, 2009 and 2011 releases of Lag 12. Got some holes to fill.

        2. Robert

          Not a “must have”, but quite good. I rate the 12 as a 92, 16 a 90 and DE an 88. I apparently like it more than Ralfy and less than Serge (who apparently adores Lagavulin). It’s more sherried (darker fruits particularly) than the 16, so is not as balanced as the 16, but still quite enjoyable. I get hints of the DE profile in the JW Double Black, which I also like, but less than the DE, as it seems thinner and has a very short finish.

          1. Jeff

            This is a great whisky but, coincidentally, I have recently found out it’s one that probably has undergone some changes, though not perhaps in very recent years. Looking into whether sherry casks were used in production of the 16, I came across the fact that Michael Jackson claimed in 1987 about 30% of Lagavulin stock was sherried, but that, today, a source says no sherry casks are used in the 16 (maybe a result of the drain on these casks presented by the introduction of the DE and colour maintained through E150?)

  3. Robert

    My is a recently opened 2012, which replaced a 2011 thar I liked slightly better. I find the DE improves with air, so this 2012 might end up like the 2011.

    I find it hard to believe there is no sherry influence in the 16. It’s not strong, but I find it in the palate.

    1. Jeff

      I agree, Robert, but a source (second hand, but one I trust completely) says no sherry in the 16. In other news, John Hansell has just come out for Age Statements vs. NAS in his blog. The times they are a changin’! Sláinte!

      1. Ol' Jas

        I’ve heard this kind of “information” about the Lag 16 cask makeup a few times, and the sourcing is always hazy. To me, it tastes like there’s some sherry casking in the mix. But I’ve also heard (again, hazy sourcing) that they follow some unusual process to condition regular bourbon casks to give the Lag 16 that sweet & round side.

        Anyone got definitive info on this?

        Jeff, what’s the story on your secondhand source?

  4. Robert

    I’ve waited before commenting, but I recently got a 2013 Laga 16 that is not at all good. It follows a 2012 bottle that was especially wonderful from uncorking to last dram. In fact, I only poured half drams so I could enjoy it longer. I’m doing the same with the 2013, but only to see if it will ever improve with air. Upon first opening I was hit by the strong aroma of leather. Unfortunately, when tasted, it turned out to be cheap shoe leather (pleather?). VERY unappetizing! Whereas the 2012 was a 93 to me, the 2013 is maybe 75. Maybe.

    Good news is that the 2013 Laga 12 is a definite improvement over the 2012, and almost as good as the older bottlings. Bad news is it is said to have already sold out. I apparently got the last bottle in our area. So, overall bad news on the Laga front.

  5. Robert

    Look on the back of the bottle under the backside label. You should see a code starting with say L3223. That label would indicate it was bottled in 2013 on the 223rd day

    1. Collegiate

      Ah ha… Finally spotted it. Thanks. I have read lots about this code but never noticed it until I read your description. Sounds like I can be thankful that my stashed bottle is a 2012.

      1. Robert

        I have since found a bottle with a different 2013 bottling date, which is back to the normal quality. Apparently all those crap bottlings came to this area, as it took me months to find a different date. About an 89 for the new one.

        1. Collegiate

          I can confirm that I also just had a dud 2013 bottling too. This one was shockingly bad. The nose barely had any peat/smoke and was almost lemony. The taste was flat and dull. Usually with the Laga16 I expect a long finish. This one dropped off quickly. Your score of 75 is one I could easily give to my 2013 (if not lower). I would take a Bowmore 12 over this one.
          Hopefully the newer 2014-15s are back up to snuff.

          1. ATW Post author

            That sucks. I’ve yet to find a bum bottling. Would really like to, actually, just as a point of reference.

            Having said that, I do have two or three bottles that have been put aside over the past couple years. Perhaps one of them will please me by being a dud. Hahaha.

  6. Robert

    If I had known you wanted to taste bad Lagavulin, I would have sent you a sample. To know what is like, just go to Walmart or any other discount store, find the cheapest pleather shoe that they have and spent an hour sniffing and licking it. It was that bad! I should have returned it, but I kept thinking it would improve. I should mention the bottle of 16 I have open now is just okay. So my last 4 bottles of the 16 have been great (93), bad (75), good (89) and okay (85). And the 2014 Laga 12 just showed up in stores with a 33% price hike!

    1. Collegiate

      I returned the dud with no problems and picked up a late 2014 bottling. Again I find the nose on this has really slipped. Not as aggressive and smokey as I found it in the past. The taste and finish on this one are a little more like it, with that kind of long finish I would expect from a Laga16. But this is not quite up to the standard I would have expect in the past. Certainly much better tasting then the 2013 bottling, which I may even put in the same category as a McCllelands Islay. ATW – are you sure you are up to tainting your view of the Laga16 that badly?!

  7. Robert

    I bought the 2014 Laga 12, along with the CB Lost Blend and Corryvrecken (sorry, you anti-NASers). Hope it is as good as Serge says, as the 16 has been way too variable lately. I’m about ready to add the 16 to my “no buy” list if the next one is not up to snuff. And the 33% price hike in the 12 means it better be really good as well. I opened the CB, but can’t tell you about it as I don’t want to offend anyone. I’ll open the 12 this week and give you an early impression.


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