In my first blog I decided to review a blended Scotch whisky but if I’m really honest, my heart belongs to single malts… Scotch malt whisky is a spirit distilled from malted barley, aged for a minimum of three years in oak casks and then bottled at no lower than 40% ABV. A ‘single’ malt is simply whisky produced entirely at one distillery.
You’ll often hear people talk about whisky ‘regions’ when discussing scotch. There are currently five of these: the Highlands, the Lowlands, Speyside, Islay and Campbeltown. Many also count ‘the Islands’ as a sixth region in its own right, though it is not recognised by the Scotch Whisky Association.
Traditionally, each distinct region was known for a particular style of whisky… The Lowlands light and grassy, Speysides either light and floral like Glenlivet or rich and sherried like Macallan. Then there is Islay… known for the distinctive reek of peat smoke. Amongst the most famous of the islands eight distilleries is Lagavulin.
Lagavulin was founded, at least officially, in 1816, on a site that had previously housed at least 10 illicit stills dating as far back as 1742. Over the years it has built up a reputation and devoted following who come back time and time again. Now, I will try to be fair and balanced on this site but I must admit that I love Lagavulin. My whisky collection may constantly evolve but there will almost always be a bottle of Lagavulin on the go.
So what is so special about this distillery and, in particular, their 16 year old single malt. On the nose there’s a generous hit of Peat Smoke, Spice and Vanilla with Fruit Jam like Blackcurrant and Raspberry. It’s a great nose, so good in fact that hollywood star Johnny Depp, despite being tee-total, occasionally orders one just for the aroma. 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: 19/20. I’m with Depp on this one. I could nose it for hours.
Taste: 18/20. Great dram that changes and evolves over time in the mouth. The smoke lingers long after it’s gone and there’s good weight on the palate.
Value for money: 8/10. Lagavulin 16 year old generally goes for between £45 and £55. For a whisky that’s 16 years in the making that’s a pretty good price. It’s a shame it’s only 43% as it would be sensational at higher strength but overall it’s still a great purchase.