Amazingly balanced. The sweet sherry and oily smoke meld together very well, with neither overpowering the other.
One must wonder if this fantastic whisky could be even further elevated if it were not chill filtered.
The great fictional “Parks and Rec” character Ron Swanson once mused, “all of my life I’ve avoided Europe, and its multitude of terribleness, but it turns out, much to my surprise, there is actually one place in Europe that is worth seeing. These tiny islands off of the coast of Scotland, where God’s chosen elixirs are distilled, barreled, and prepared for consumption. This is worth the trip”.
Fans of the sitcom will know all too well that Mr. Swanson is referencing the island of Islay, while caught up in his particular fascination with Lagavulin. Throughout the series, Ron is never without a bottle of Lagavulin nearby. Its legendary oily, smoky character complements his freedom-loving, uber-manly, bear-wrestling, canoe-handcrafting persona. Let’s dig a bit further into this legendary distillery and the whisky that it makes.
Lagavulin was technically founded in 1816, but illegal distilling likely took place at its location on the south shore of Islay many years before this – perhaps as far back as the 1740’s. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century, Lagavulin was the primary ingredient for White Horse blended scotch. Outside of a short shutdown during World War II, the distillery has remained operational since its inception. Today, it finds itself under the ownership of Diageo, along with dozens of other single malt distilleries and spirits brands thoughout the world. Currently, almost 100% of Lagavulin is distilled exclusively for bottling as a single malt rather than a blend.
Lagavulin is situated in between Ardbeg and Laphroaig near Port Ellen on Islay’s south shore. While all three distilleries are in close proximity to each other, and all source some or all of their malt from Port Ellen (Lagavulin’s malting floor was decommissioned in 1974) they each make a distinct style of whisky. Lagavulin’s peculiarities are largely due to its water source and its distillation method. Lagavulin draws its water from Lochan Sholumn, which sits above the distillery and runs downhill through peat bogs before reaching its destination. Lagavulin also uses 4 pear-shaped copper pot stills that are relatively squat and filled to maximum capacity in order to minimize the contact between spirit and still, which can neutralize some of the heavier compounds. Lagavulin also takes a larger cut of spirit off of its stills in order to capture more phenolic compounds. Lastly, Lagavulin undergoes the slowest rate of distillation of any Islay distillery. Lagavulin’s warehouses also sit next to the distillery on the shore of the island.
The “Distiller’s Edition” is a yearly release put out by several of Diageo’s single malt distilleries including Oban, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Caol Ila, Cragganmore, and Talisker. For each distillery, the concept behind the “Distiller’s Edition” releases is the same: take the standard release single malt and finish it for a short period of time in a sherry cask. In Lagavulin’s case, their 16 year old whisky (which has aged almost entirely in refill bourbon casks) is given a very short secondary maturation in Pedro Ximenez sherry butts. Rather than carry a traditional age statement, Distiller’s Edition releases carry a vintage (year of distillation) and a bottling year.
- Distilled in 1999, bottled in 2015 (16 years old)
- Malt sourced from Port Ellen and heavily peated to Lagavulin’s specifications (40-50 PPM)
- Bottled at 43% ABV
- Chill Filtered
Nose: Immediate notes of hay, dark fruit (plums), and chocolate greet the olfactory system. A bit deeper in are the more expected peaty notes of smoke and brine.
Palate: Upon entry, the first sensation I notice is how rich and chewy this whisky is. The development is full of smoke, peat, chocolate, and dark fruit all in excellent harmony with one another.
Finish: Long. Smoky and chocolaty. Hints of smoked meats and peat dance around the edges. The finish is absolutely wonderful and leaves my mouth watering for more.
Buying Recommendation: Buy it now!! As you can see from my score, I am in love with this whisky. The PX sherry balances the oily smokiness nicely with an extra dimension of fruity sweetness. The smoke and brine in turn balance out the sweet sherry. Neither part overpowers the other. Everything about the nose, palate, and finish just seem to make perfect sense.
Even if this whisky is out of your typical price range, there are few truly exceptional whiskies that the average whisky enthusiast can fairly easily find. If you like peated whisky, this is worth paying the premium for. If you don’t like peated whisky, Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition may change your mind!