Lagavulin 8-Year-Old (Re-Review)

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Revisiting an old favourite…

I remember being quite excited about the launch of the Lagavulin 8-year-old. It first appeared in 2016 as a celebratory release in honour of the distillery’s 200th anniversary. The age statement was apparently chosen because historic distillery chronicler Alfred Barnard made reference to an “exceptionally fine” 8-year-old whisky back in 1886. There was also a nice symmetry with it being half the age of the classic and much-loved 16-year-old.

The 8 was so popular it stuck around beyond the anniversary year (or was that always the plan?). I reviewed it here but a recent purchase made me revisit it for the first time in a while. I haven’t done much in the way of re-reviews but I thought it might be interesting to record my thoughts on it, six years later.

It’s been an interesting time at Lagavulin of late. Owners Diageo have been busy building their Johnnie Walker mecca in Edinburgh as well as reviving the long-dead Port Ellen and Brora distilleries. They’ve also invested heavily in Caol Ila, Glenkinchie, Clynelish and Cardhu in order to give them a Johnnie Walker-themed makeover. It almost feels like poor old Lagavulin has been forgotten about.

Back in 2018, when Diageo announced a massive £150 million investment in Scotch tourism, Lagavulin was mentioned as one of those likely to benefit but no-one could have predicted the Covid-19 shitstorm that was about to touch down. Perhaps it’s no surprise that some sites have had to wait longer than others for their injection of TLC.

Nevertheless, it’s been a time of change at Lagavulin. Georgie Crawford left her role as distillery manager to oversee the Port Ellen project (a role she has since departed to work with Elixir Distillers on their Portintruan Distillery). Georgie was replaced by Colin Gordon, the former manager of the Port Ellen Maltings. Colin, however, later moved next door to Ardbeg, to take over from the retired Mickey Heads. Filling the vacated role at Lagavulin was Pierrick Guillaume who previously served as distillery manager at Caol Ila. Now, in 2022, Guillaume has declared a desire to return to France.

The latest incumbent of the position is Jordan Paisley, who joins having previously worked with Diageo’s Islay distilleries as Performance Lead. Paisley entered the Scotch whisky industry after working in the Merchant Navy. He qualified as an engineer, working primarily in the North Sea before taking on a role in anti-piracy vessels off the Somalian coast.

On his new position, Paisley said: “Coming from Islay, it’s a real source of pride to be given the chance to manage one of Scotland, and the world’s, most iconic distilleries.

“Pierrick has been such a great source of knowledge and support since I joined Diageo. I can’t thank him enough and wish him all the best as he embarks on his next chapter in France.

“I can’t wait to get started and look forward to supporting the team to continue producing such a high-quality and highly revered product.”

All the best to the new distillery manager. It’s to be hoped that he will thrive in the role for many years to come because it feels a little, from the outside at least, that Lagavulin could be doing with a bit of stability. There has been change across the whole industry with many of the old guard retiring, taking a step back or moving onto pastures new but four managers in five years isn’t a great look for a distillery with the proud heritage and spirit quality of Lagavulin. If the distillery was a football club, the tabloids would be screaming CRISIS! on the back pages by now.

To an extent, Diageo has always had a policy of rotating managers so maybe this is nothing new but I have a soft spot for this distillery and I don’t necessarily see people talking about it with the same reverence they used to. In fact, I’ve seen many say it’s not as good as it once was. I tend not to put too much stock in such things but I’m still interested to see how this 8-year-old stacks up against my own memories of the same product.

The Whisky

The Lagavulin 8-year-old is matured in refill American oak barrels and bottled at 48% abv. It retails at anything from £45 to £55. I was fortunate, however, to grab a bottle on discount at Tesco for £37.

Smell: Smoke, of course, but more subtle than I remember. Ashtrays. Sea salt. White pepper. Touch of brine. Some citrus, especially lemon. Subtle honey. Vanilla. Fresh oak. Malt. Hay. Touch of liquorice.

Taste: Big arrival. Salty and coastal. Black pepper. Charred oak. Bonfires and lumps of coal. Citrus oak. Smoke is a little subdued at first but seems to build in intensity over time. Orange. Touch of blackcurrant. Finish seems to drop off a little fast but at the very last minute there’s a resurgent waft of smoke.

Thoughts: I’ve witnessed many commentators talk about a dip in the quality of Lagavulin. The problem with making such statements is there’s so many variables involved. Has the product declined or are we remembering it through rose-tinted taste-buds? Is it not as good as it used to be or have our tastes simply moved on?

For my part, I enjoyed this dram. It perhaps wasn’t quite as smoky as I remembered although I seemed to find more of the Lagavulin DNA the further I got into the bottle. Maybe it doesn’t quite live up to the memory I have of the same whisky from six years ago but that’s not a very scientific analysis. Maybe it’s me that’s changed, rather than the whisky. I can’t say for sure without tasting two batches side by side. In any case I still found it to be a good quality whisky that’s positioned at a decent price.

Value for money: With the dramatic rise in the price of the classic 16-year-old, Lagavulin’s 8-year-old is likely to be the only offering that’s actually still affordable for many whisky drinkers. While that in itself seems a terrible shame, it’s reassuring to know there’s still a decent Lagavulin within reach.

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For more on Lagavulin visit https://www.malts.com/en-row/distilleries/lagavulin

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