Lagavulin 12 y.o. (2011) Review

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

21 thoughts on “Lagavulin 12 y.o. (2011) Review

  1. Jeff

    You’re fairly cagey in your defense of the 16 against charges of it slipping; you don’t actually say it hasn’t slipped, only that it’s still in great shape. Personally, I don’t find those two ideas to be contradictory; it can have, in fact, slipped and still be better than the majority of what’s currently available or being launched – and I believe both to be the case. Diageo, however, does seem to have a mission to exploit former reputations of quality for all they’re worth, while doing nothing to enhance those reputations through actual product improvement and arguably limited product maintenance.

    The 16 might well have been sherried at one time (certainly I find the same kind of “notes”, even now), but I can’t find any confirmation of current sherry casking in the “post Distiller’s Edition” era, although German sites, with different food and drug laws than our own, WILL confirm that the 16 IS hit with E150. But the biggest difference between the 12 and the 16 isn’t the finish or the nuances of age – it’s the ABV. The jagged edges don’t get knocked off here simply because they’re too big and were intentionally left that way at bottling. The 16’s peat, in comparison, isn’t curbed so much by four years as by a lot of dilution.

    1. ATW Post author

      All good points.

      But I’ll go on record here, as I have on Twitter, and say I don’t believe there is quality slippage in Lagavulin 16 over the past couple of years. From a decade or three back? Hmmm…probably. That would most likely be due to the pre-bubble availability of mature barrels in the warehouses though. Now I don’t believe there is much beyond the youngest age-stated barrel being vatted into ANY given whisky, not just Lag.

      I recall Serge saying something similar not long back (that he didn’t buy the argument that this was going downhill, that is). Not that I need someone else’s vindication of my opinions. Just think there’s worse company to keep than our Alsatian whisky mate. 🙂

      Ardbeg Ten…same thing. I think the quality is stil high, we’re just not seeing older barrels propping up the younger ones any longer.

      1. Jeff

        I certainly give you credit for clearing up your position, and the point about casks is well made (as any “bonus” years beyond those guaranteed by age statement ARE probably LONG gone). Given the size of Diageo’s operation and the volume it is handling, plus trying to enhance that volume through new launches, however, I don’t find it a stretch to think or say that Lag 16 is in current decline rather than now just on a lower plateau of quality, as I’m not sure we’ve “bottomed out” on cask quality yet.

        The issue of cask quality itself is an interesting one, however, as the industry’s put itself between a rock and hard place: almost everything it currently does is attributed to being a response to higher demand and its “unavoidable” results – including higher pricing as distilleries “can’t just suddenly make more whisky out of nowhere” – yet this is also true of quality casks, but there’s no real acknowledgment of higher competition for them or the reduction in quality which SHOULD be expected from that competition, particularly in high volumes. Somehow the whisky will just remain “at the same high level of quality” despite sliding casking. In real terms, wood joins age in a growing list of “irrelevant” factors – I’m waiting for the day that all will be revealed and it’ll turn out that quality was really all about the grade of cork that you use.

    2. Robert

      The 2011 bottles I had were excellent (92), 2012 mediocre (86) and 2013 very good (90). Unfortunately I only got one bottle, the last on the shelf, as they sold out their one shipment fast. I’ve been only having half drams once a week to make it last. As to the 16, the 2012’s I had were very good to great (89-92), but the 2013 I have is not good at all (75, bad bottle?). Has anyone had a 2013 that has been good? I’ve held off buying another bottle due to this one bottle.

      1. Collegiate

        I have only had the 2012 of the 12 year and didn’t think it came anywhere close to my 2012 16 year. Frankly I was wondering what all the fuss was about it, but will maybe give the ’13 12 year a shot when it comes to Ontario in about two more years.

        1. Jeff

          It is a very different whisky from the 16, so much so that it really doesn’t show that much continuity from it and has to be liked for different reasons.

  2. Robert

    I was in a store and ran into a guy who was confused as to why the 12 cost a few $’s more than the 16. I tried to explain it was a more limited edition (~ 30,000 bottles?) and cask strength, and had a different cask protocol with no sherry casks involved. However, later I started wondering about the actual situation for casks for the 12. I assume refill American oak for both with the 16 having some sherry casks involved and none for the 12. Anyone seen any more detail? Love them both, though, and would be hard pressed to chose one over the other.

    1. Jeff

      I don’t think there is any sherry involved in the 16 anymore, at least that’s what I’m told by folks over at the L.A. Whisk(e)y Society who claim to have contacts in the distillery, but I’d like to know if others have heard differently. There’s no mention of sherry on the Lag website with regard to the 16, and you think they’d be trumping that up if there was sherry to talk about.

    2. Ol' Jas

      Robert, the 12 costs more because people are willing to pay more.

      Now, people might indeed be willing to pay more because of the things you mentioned (especially the ABV), but those things are not directly responsible for the price.

      1. Robert

        Interesting you make that comment just now. I was in the only store in town that carries the 12 yesterday, and guess what! They have jumped the price up $20 more! On some bottles of the 2014! So I had paid about $65 over two years ago for the 2014, then it went to $93 exactly two years ago for both the 2014 and 2015, and now it is $113. WTF! For the exact same 2014 vintage! The 16 is still $66 and the 8 has dropped to $53. Even though I truly love the 2014 12YO, I guess I know what Laga I’ll buy next. Serge was right! Shoulda stocked that one up for the future. Sad thing is, if I could afford to do so, I’d go buy all their bottles of it. It’s that good (to me, at least).

  3. Robert

    There is definitely a subtle “sherried” note, but whether provided by a second (or third?) refill sherry cask or other means, it’s hard to say. Lagavulin apparently puts their casks through a filling and refilling procedure with other spirits before using for the 16 (& 12?). It has subtle peat, sherry and wood influences, which one would think would come with casks that have been refilled several times. Whatever they do seems to work.

  4. Peter Benkoczki

    I may be one of the few, who do noot really like sherry flavour is Lagavulin. The 16 is just not a big thing for me, and i found the DE just not fitting for my taste. Let me say, that is rarely like sherried Islay malts – older Uigeadails are certanly excellent.

    But these 12 yo Lagavulins are just adorable. So far, i have tried the 2008 and the 2010, both were, as you said, pure Islay.

    Has anyone found a not so fine Lagavulin 12? Or all are great? Looking for the 2014 now, hopefully i will get one.

    1. ATW Post author

      I have a couple other editions put aside, but have yet to open. I’ve tasted a bunch, but don’t have notes. Sorry.

  5. Robert

    I loved the 2010 and 2011. The 2012 was good, but less in flavor to me. The 2013 bottles I’ve had have all been very good, and the reviews for the 2014 have been glowing. I also prefer this to the 16, but I’ve had some 16’s that have been great. There seems to be more bottle variation with the 16. Don’t really care for the DE (but really like the Talisker DE), so I’m kinda with you on the Lagavulin lineup.

  6. Robert

    Over halfway through a bottle of the 2014, and I must say it is excellent. Serge is right that this is one to stash for future generations. I want Diogeo to explain exactly what their cask policy is that makes the Lagavulin 12 and 16 so good! Only downer is the new much higher price for the 12.

  7. Robert

    Bought a bottle (only one left in the store) of the new Lagavulin 8 special release. Couldn’t wait to open and try it, so I did. Whoa! Definitely Lagavulin nose, very much like the 12. Tastes a lot like a slightly rougher version of the 12. I need to let it sit for a bit to air out as it seems a bit tight. I’ll check back after a week or so. BTW, cost $55 and is already worth it (12 is $94).

  8. David

    I tasted this in April 2015 at a friend’s tasting and really enjoyed it head to head with (what I thought was a much weaker) 2014. Tonight I opened a sample I came away with (still have another 30 cc left). This is a powerful dram. I reviewed it on Connosr here (we gave it similar scores):

    I have a sealed bottle of the 2010. I hear it’s good but will wait to see.

    I have to say as delicious as it was, I like the Amrut peated CS a little better. It also provides a peat blast, especially when gently hand-warmed, but the underlying spirit seems to carry a little more complexity.

  9. Robert

    Although I think the 2014 is excellent whisky, I don’t think it is as good as the 2011, which was superb. However, this is based on recollection, as my 2011 was long gone. It’s good to know that’s what you noted as well. Like Serge, I really love this whisky, even its “off” years.

  10. David

    I can say the 2015 may be even better than the 2011. Especially with a few drops of water and a little hand warmth…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s