Lagavulin 200th Anniversary 8 year old & 16 year old Single Malt Review
Islay whisky has had a mixed bag here on CCWR from the peaks of Ardbeg to the middling experience of Laphroaig and the definite troughs provided by Bowmore. Thus having the Islay stamp on your label is no guarantee of quality or enjoyment.
To complete the 'Peat Power' triumvirate of the Kildalton Distilleries I'm looking at a couple from the venerable Lagavulin Distillery.
Founded in 1816 by John Johnston, Lagavulin is now under the stewardship of the world domineering Diageo and is the 2nd best selling whisky in Islay after Laphroaig. In 2017 the distillery sold nearly 2.2 million bottles making it the fourth best selling malt from Diageo's stable.
The 16 year old expression became one sixth of Diageo's 'Classic Malts' range in 1988 and can, in part, take credit for the resurgence of interest in smoky whiskies from Islay in the early 1990's.
Lagavulin is renowned for having a rich, heavy and pungent character created through its distillation process. The spirit stills are larger than the wash stills and are filled close to the brim. This decreases copper contact for the spirit and along with a slow distillation creates that oily pungency.
2016 saw Lagavulin celebrate its Bicentenary and saw two special releases. The 8 year old single malt bottled at 48% and a cask strength 25 year old matured in sherry casks. I could only afford one of these two releases and I think you know which one it was.
I bought the 8 year old in Heathrow Duty Free for £50 and I can't remember where I got the 16 but at the time it was less at around £47.
Lagavulin 8 year old:
Fresh and vibrant. Sea spray, drying fisherman's ropes, coal tar and newsprint. Smoked cheese, bacon lardons and green apples. A hint of anise and lime zest, The smoke is there but not overpowering with a maritime feel.
Creamy and smoky. Sweet on arrival, burnt sugar with grilled pear. Some chowder notes with smoked kippers, sea salt, preserved lemons and iodine. Malt and vanilla too.
Peaty campfire ash and salted lemon rinds.
Lagavulin 16 year old:
An e150 inflected fudge
Much drier, dustier and mature than the 8. Where the 8 is fresh and vibrant this is a little more laid back subdued. Dried sea spray, leather, tar and toasted wood shavings. Lapsang tea and rolled tobacco, smoked kippers and talcum powder.
Creosote and ash. Powerful and rich. Malt, sherry sweetness moving to nuttiness. Fried seaweed, black tea. Slightly medicinal and antiseptic. Salted dark chocolate, tanned leather, diesel, burnt toast and back to ash again.
A long finish of ash mixed with dark dried fruit and brine.
Two very different drams from the same stable. The 8 is very youthful and vibrant, much cleaner and zestier but slightly unremarkable truth be told although a better whisky than Laphroaig 10 or pretty much anything in the Bowmore core range. It would be interesting to pit this against the Talisker 8.
The 16 is just a much more complex and tastier proposition. Well balanced between the nose and palate with a great finish and is still available around the £50 mark which makes it very good value too. As with many whiskies there is batch variation in the 16 but generally you won't find a truly disappointing one, the standard remains high.
Of the two I'd have to recommend the 16 year old especially as they are pretty much the same price on most websites.