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In my previous post, I launched my series of reviews with a look at the Chivas Regal 12-year-old blended Scotch. If truth be told, however, my heart rather belongs to single malt and in particular, the spirit of Islay. I can find something to love in just about any whisky it has to be said, but there is something especially magical about that pungent Islay smoke that just drives me wild.
Islay is one of five Scotch whisky ‘regions’ as officially recognised by the Scotch Whisky Association, the other four being Speyside, Campbeltown, Highlands and Lowlands. In recent years there has been a growing feeling that island malts such as Talisker, Jura and Highland Park should be considered a separate region (something I happen to agree with) but at present, they are officially considered Highland malts.
In the past, whisky produced in these regions would have shared certain characteristics, with the whisky of Islay known for its distinctive peat reek. While this shared style is perhaps less pronounced today, it remains without a doubt, a common thread running through the eight distilleries of this tiny island. Perhaps one of the most famous producers of this unique ‘peated’ spirit is Lagavulin.
Lagavulin distillery was founded in 1816, though its location was home to at least 10 illicit stills dating back to 1742. Over the long years of its existence, the Lagavulin malt has developed a reputation for quality and has earned a devoted fanbase which stretches around the world. I must admit to being something of a fan myself and although my collection and tastes permanently evolve, there will almost always be a bottle of Lagavulin ready to pour in my home.
One cannot discuss Lagavulin without mentioning their classic 16 year old malt, bottled at 43% alcohol by volume, it retails for around £45 in the UK.
Lagavulin is bottled at 43% ABV and is probably chill-filtered. This is a manufacturing process where the temperature of the liquid is lowered until some of the oils and fatty acids congeal, allowing them to be sieved out when passed through a filter. I’ve never quite understood this, as these elements contribute toward the flavour and mouthfeel of a dram, although it has to be said, Lagavulin doesn’t struggle in either department. The process is done for mostly cosmetic reasons – non filtered whisky can turn cloudy in low temperatures leading some consumers to think there’s something wrong with their purchase.
There’s possibly also been a touch of caramel colouring added. Again, this is done for cosmetic reasons and to achieve consistency of appearance from batch to batch. It also plays into the widely held but incorrect view that darker whisky is better whisky.
I like to see whisky bottled as naturally as possible and would love to see an end to these practices but I can’t see it happening anytime soon and fortunately, Lagavulin remains a fine dram regardless.
Smell: On the nose, there’s a generous hit of Peat Smoke, Spice and Vanilla with Fruit Jam. It’s a wonderful nose, so good in fact that Hollywood legend Johnny Depp is said to order one just for the aroma, despite having sworn off hard liquor.
Taste: Caramel, Vanilla, Jam again… Then a big wave of Smoke and Brine that seems to roll on and on…
Thoughts: Lagavulin is certainly more expensive than the average entry-level single malt but at 16 years old, it’s also a good bit older. The distillery produces such an oily spirit that even at 43% and, presumably, chill-filtered, it delivers a robust, weighty mouthful of flavour every time. I’ve heard some say the quality has fallen over the years but I must admit, that doesn’t really match with my own experiences. I don’t drink Lagavulin 16 as much as I used to, but whenever it crosses my path I find it to be of a quality that’s above many of its competitors.
If the whisky featured in this review has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission should you make a purchase after following a link from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.
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