Category Archives: Lagavulin

Lagavulin 25 y.o. (2016) Review

Dear Lord, I miss the days of distillery visits and scooping up distillery exclusive releases. Lagavulin, in particular, has always had cool bottlings only available to those folks who make the journey to Islay. Or, y’know, those savvy enough to watch the auctions and swallow the inflated prices. That’s not my scene, though; I’d rather just make the jaunt when opportunity affords. Fingers and toes crossed for brighter days ahead and open travel.

This limited edition Lagavulin 25 was bottled for the distillery’s bicentenary celebrations in 2016. Unfortunately, I only had a wee sample to work off here. And it was a one-off taste at that, which means little to no opportunity to revisit. For science, I mean, not gluttony. So…my caveat, for the sake of integrity and keeping things on the up and up: the score could maybe shift a point or so in either direction, but I’m pretty comfortable with how I’ve scored it. Make no mistake, this was a brilliant dram.

I imagine most of you are aware that well-aged Lagavulin doesn’t often hit the market. When it does you better be quick and you better have deep pockets. Sadly, I didn’t manage to nab one of these myself, but if an opportunity arises to trade for one, you can bet I will.

So, needless to say, my jet-setting friends, if anyone is making a wee pilgrimage to the land of peat and smoke – and has an extra slot or two in their luggage – please keep me in mind for Lag ‘distillery only’ bottlings.

200th Anniversary release. Sherry casks. 8,000 bottles. 51.7%

Thanks to Danny Fach for the photo.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Oh, so Lagavulin-esque. Coastal and rocking that band-aid-iness to the nines. Ashy and a little boggy. Quintessential Islay saline sea breeze meets beachside bonfire. Orange, leaning more into mandarins. Lemon seared fish skin. And still on the protein, grilled ham. Antiseptic (again, with those hints of bandaids I always pick up on Lagavulin). Cantaloupe (just past ripe) and grilled pineapple. Citrus flavoured Fisherman’s Friend lozenges. Palate: Ashy…sooooo ashy. Dry cacao, just to accentuate (or exacerbate?) that ashy dryness. The heft of peat is actually surprising given the age. A very mild olive oil. Over-toasted coconut. Lime and orange, tangerine and grapefruit (mid-palate to back end). Finish: Malt steps up a bit. Plum. Maybe some apple skins. 92/100

Lagavulin 9 y.o. Game of Thrones Edition Review

Yep. I hate to say it, but we still have yet to fully emerge from this age of ‘style over substance’. An entire range of (rather boring) entry level malts from the mighty Diageo hyped up by the runaway success of the monolithic Game of Thrones franchise. Marketing BS at its apex. All I can say? Blech. The concept, I mean. Not necessarily the whiskies. Maybe it’s simply wishful thinking on my part, but I do believe we’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Age statements are making a comeback (including from the rather confrontation Macallan family), prices are seeing small true-ups (looking at you, Mortlach) and less goofy-named releases are bogging down headlines on the whisky wire. Fingers crossed that sanity is finally prevailing.

But this GoT Laga? Well…what can I say? It is unquestionably a part of the overarching dough-headedness, but at the same time, it is at least being offered a) at a fair price; b) at a decent abv; and c) with an age statement. I guess we’ll cut a little slack here, aye?

This isn’t bad whisky. In fact, bad whisky is a relative scarcity from Islay’s Rolls Royce of distilleries. And we should all know by now that peated malts are quite tasty when they’re served up this young and hot, right? Yup. But I can’t say I’m in love with the casks chosen for this vatting. I get a bit romantic for Lagavulin. Can’t help it. I love the history behind it and the tales of resilience that backstop some of these archaic and beloved distilleries. But even a profound bias in favor of the producer isn’t enough to make me want to actually buy one of these. It takes a bit more than the crushing weight of the marketing machine’s wheels to make me part with my shekels these days.

But…credit where credit is due: they did at least give it to us at 46%. Well done, Diageo. (But how sweet would it be if they opted to up the bottling strength of the iconic 16 y.o. to 46% as well? Sigh. A dream. A very lovely dream.)

Tasting Notes

Nose: Sweet, malty gristy notes. Damp Band-Aids. Smoke (but not too pungent). Lime. A faint suggestion of pineapple. Honeydew. Green jelly beans. Pepper and powdered ginger. Starfruit. A nice briny-ness. Iodine. Decent spices and some minerality behind what feels like an almost artificial fruit sweetness.

Palate: Surprisingly prickly arrival. Very sweet, right up front, but immediately darkens into shades of black licorice and tar. Some more of those malty notes follow and weave throughout. Dirty, oily smoke. Brioche. Fresh smoked oysters. More citrus and some vanilla. Popsicle sticks. Ultimately, though…it seems kinda flat.

Finish: Slightly tannic, but just slightly. And surprisingly, a bit like heavy cream stirred into lemon curd. Then under ripe pear skins and oak. Reminds me of chewing on peated malt. Slightly ashy at the tail end. Decent mid length linger.

Thoughts: Much more impressive (and expressive!) nose than palate. Drinkable. Hard to love, though.


Lagavulin 12 y.o. (2015) Review

Lagavulin 12 y.o. (2015)

56.8% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Just realized how few of the Lag 12 CS releases we’ve actually looked at here on ATW and kinda feeling a bit of shame right now.  This is definitely a release worth following year upon year.  Buying it, however, has gotten harder and harder.  Not for lack of availability, but because of sky high pricing locally.  Over the past couple of years we’ve gone from about $120 up to nearly $180.  Ouch.

But old man grumblings aside (“back in my day, we could buy Lagavulin 12 for…”) this is a really good malt.  Some of the 12s have seemed a little thin in recent years, almost one-trick-ponies in a sense.  This 2015 limited release, however, has a little more to it than initially meets the eye.  It needs a bit of time to develop in the glass, but allowing the clock to tick away long enough for the fruits and soft vanilla notes to come forth is well worth it.

I know there has been mention for a couple years now of declining quality of Lagavulin (especially as it relates to the 16 year old), but as I’ve said before, I haven’t really bought into that camp.  The 12 year old annual outturn merits a slightly different narrative, however, in that is batch-released and maybe isn’t targeted for the same sort of consistency the 16 is.  Ergo, a bit of a game of chance with each successive release.  So be it.  The quality is fairly consistently high, if not consistent in exact profile.

This is the most recent of the 12s I’ve tried.  Now let’s see if I can’t get my hands on the more recent ones (and maybe a couple older ones too).

Nose:  Warm rubber.  Dry earth.  Wet smoke.  Oily vanilla.  Red, black and green ju-jubes.  Citrus.  Brine.  A whiff of red berries.  A touch of orange zest.  Key lime pie.  An over-torched crème brulee.

Palate:  Over-toasted notes.  Salt licorice.  Oversteeped Lapsang Souchong tea.  Fisherman’s Friend cough drops.  Boiled greens.  Lemon.  Rather herbaceous as it develops.  Granny Smith apple skins.  Cinnamon-flavoured tooth picks.  Earthy peat and waves of smoke go without saying.

Thoughts:  Juicier than expected.  Multi-dimensional.  Nice smashing together of fruit and phenols.


 – Image and words:  Curt

Lagavulin 1966 50 y.o. Cask #552

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



Lagavulin 8 y.o. 200th Annniversary Edition Review

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

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

Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition Review

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

Lagavulin 30 y.o. Review

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

Lagavulin 2010 Distillery Only Bottling Review

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

Lagavulin 21 y.o. Review

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