In my previous post I launched my series of reviews with a look at Chivas Regal 12 year old blended scotch, though if truth be told, 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 magical about that pungent Islay smoke which drives me wild.
Islay is one of five 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 it’s 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 the site had previously housed at least 10 illicit stills dating back to 1742. Over the long years of it’s 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 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.
As good as it smells though, the real fun starts when you taste it! There’s Caramel, Vanilla, that Jam again, then a big wave of Smoke and Brine. Really excellent stuff.
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 that 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 older / 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.
The Scores: About the scoring system
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 has been known to order one just for the aroma, despite swearing off hard liquor.
Taste: Caramel, Vanilla, Jam again… Then a big wave of Smoke and Brine that seems to roll on and on…
Value for money: For a whisky 16 years in the making it’s relatively well priced. 43% is perhaps a little low, though there is enough character and weight in the spirit to make up for it. Bottled a little higher at 46% or so however, this would be magnificent.
Total: 45 / 50.