Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Review - Lagavulin 8 years old 200th Anniversary Edition

This new whisky is the first part in a year of significant celebration for Lagavulin.  2016 marks the 200th anniversary for the iconic Islay distillery and there are a series of special plans scheduled throughout the year.  We were delighted to be invited to a dinner in London that launched the celebrations and revealed this new limited edition single malt - the Lagavulin 8 years old 200th Anniversary Edition.  The release pays direct homage to Victorian journalist Alfred Barnard who wrote about Lagavulin in his seminal two year work, The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom, and became an instant fan of the peaty Islay malt.

Lagavulin (pronounced lagga-voo-lin) is located on the famous Scottish whisky island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides.  The distillery is located on the south eastern coast of the island and sits on Lagavulin Bay, a small bay dominated by the ruins of the 13th century Dunyvaig Castle.  The name is taken from the anglicised name of the Gaelic village in which the distillery is located - this was formerly called Lag a'Mhuilin, which translates as 'mill by the bay' from the local Gaelic dialect.

Lagavulin was founded in 1816 by John Johnston, although local records show illegal distilling was taking place in Lagavulin Bay as far back as the early 18th century. The distillery is currently owned by Diageo and has an annual production of approximately three million litres. The whisky produced there is split between the Lagavulin single malt portfolio, including the Classic Malts 16 years old expression, and for use within Diageo's extensive blended range.  It is most well known for being one of the prominent malts in White Horse.

"The make is pure Islay Malt, and is principally sold in Glasgow, England and the Colonies.  The make is held in high repute ; we tasted some eight years old before starting, which was exceptionally fine."
Extract from 'No. 36 Lagavulin Distillery' in The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom by Alfred Barnard, 1887.

The Lagavulin 8 years old 200th Anniversary Edition has been matured exclusively in re-fill American oak casks and is bottled at 48% ABV.  It will be available through specialist whisky retailers from early April in the UK, and then from mid-late April in Europe and other world markets. The recommended retail price is £50.95.

Our tasting notes
The colour is golden yellow and the nose has an immediate sweetness and smokiness - this is a mix of toffee, caramel, vanilla and malted cereal aromas plus earthy and mossy notes that have a hit of red chilli pepper that catches the nostrils.  There are also some lovely fruity aromas - think of fresh green apples, ripe pears and a hint of tropicals (this is most reminiscent of pineapple).

On the palate is fresh and vibrant with the smoky elements seem softer than on the nose.  The peppery chilli-like feel is still there, but is much reduced and become more combined with the sweeter notes.  The smoke is reminiscent of damp peat and moss, plus soft bonfire smoke, and is complimented by some delicious sweet and malty cereals, which are reminiscent of freshly baked cookies.  Further sweetness is added by notes of icing sugar, vanilla fudge, honey and milk chocolate.  Fruity elements add extra complexity and these include pear and apples, lemon zest and green bell peppers.  Hints of tropical fruits, menthol, cocoa and a suggestion of brine round things off.

The finish is long and smoky with plenty of warming spices (think of ginger and cinnamon) coming through to join the peat.  This is especially true once the sweetness (the cereals, honey and caramel/fudge-like notes in particular) fades and the result is a slightly ash-like dryness. A late note of sweet cherry is a pleasant surprise.

What's the verdict?
This Lagavulin 8 years old is a lovely whisky and one that shows the quality that young whisky can attain with sympathetic casking and expert blending.  Eight years of age would have been old for a single malt in Barnard's day, whereas these days it is considered too young by some.  This whisky is fresh, clean and vibrant with plenty of punchy smoke.  This is balanced superbly by delicious sweet and fruity elements and the overall combination is very good.

This is great way to begin the distillery's 200th anniversary celebrations and we cannot wait to find out what else is planned for the year.  We will certainly be grabbing a bottle (or two) once it is officially out on the market.  We strongly advise that you do too - it's an early contender for our Top 10 list of 2016 ....

For further information about Lagavulin - click here to read about our visit to the distillery in 2013.



Anonymous said...

your verdict reads like a Diageo add. I strongly advise you to reconsider.

David Westhead said...

The whisky feels a little too young to get such praise, however the 16 YO is a winner in my view.

Mahmoud said...

Well, from what I've read across many websites, there is a general concensus about the Lagavulin 8 being a very good scotch. In fact some reviewers think this is better than the Lagavulin 16 which they think has slipped a little in recent years. Peated whiskies are reputed to come into their own and be expressive at a younger age than other whiskies. Note that Talisker, Laphroaig, and Ardbeg's classic expressions are 10 year-olds. I for one prefer the Bowmore Small.Batch, clearly a younger NAS blend, to be superior to the Bowmore 12. Each to their own I guess.


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