Monday, September 28, 2020

Review - Lagavulin Jazz Festival Edition 2020

This whisky is the latest in the annual series from Lagavulin released as part of their sponsorship of the Islay Jazz Festival. This year's limited edition bottling is 22 years old, an age chosen to celebrate the 22 years that the annual festival has been held on the famous whisky island of Islay. The 2020 festival will be the first ever to be broadcast online due to the global Covid-19 pandemic and will be streamed live via the Lagavulin and Friends of the Classic Malts Facebook pages on October 3. The Jazz Festival Edition 2020 has been matured in both re-fill American and European oak casks, before some of the whisky has undergone a further finishing period in ex-red wine casks. 
"The Islay Jazz Festival has become a pilgrimage for many whisky and jazz lovers alike. This is my first festival as Distillery Manager and although we are unable to host the event on Islay, we wanted to honour the occasion by creating a remarkable whisky." 
Pierrick Guillaume.

Lagavulin is located on the south eastern coast of Islay 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 village in which the distillery is located - Lag a'Mhuilin, which translates as 'mill by the bay' from the local Gaelic dialect. 

The distillery was founded in 1816 by John Johnston and is currently owned by Diageo. It has an annual production of approximately three million litres with the whisky produced there split between the Lagavulin single malt portfolio and for use within Diageo's extensive blended range, being one of the prominent malts in White Horse.

The Lagavulin 22 years old Jazz Festival Edition is bottled at the natural cask strength of 52.6% ABV and there are just 2,004 bottles available. These can only be purchased from the distillery shop on Islay. Bottles will cost £405 each.

Our tasting notes

The colour is deep golden yellow with a tint of amber and the nose has a delicious mix of aromas - earthy and mossy peat smoke mingles with caramel, dried fruits (candied orange and raisin in particular) and toffee. Underneath is are further aromas of dried apricot, mown grass, green apple flesh and a hint of acetone along with old spice box (especially clove and white pepper).

On the palate this whisky feels bold and expressive. The peat smoke hits first - it is full on and ashy in nature with a hint of damp earth and moss underneath. It threatens to dry everything out as the ash and charcoal feeling increases, but then sweetness begins to come through to balance. The toffee and caramel from the nose rise early and are joined by a distinct note of apricot jam, plus a hint of bitter orange marmalade. 

Dried fruit notes also develop - think of raisin, sultana, candied orange and some date and fig in the background. A big pinch of baking and oak spices add considerable depth and complexity - imagine clove, cinnamon stick, all-spice and a pinch of white pepper. Everything is wrapped up in that domineering smoke.

The sweetness and dried fruits slowly fade on the finish but it is the peat smoke, plus some of those baking and oak spices, that hang on and grips the taste buds. The earthy and ashy quality lingers and creates a pleasant dryness that is mouth watering and spicier with time. The white pepper and a late hit of clove and fresh green chilli round things off.

What's the verdict?

This new and limited edition Lagavulin is a delicious whisky and one that shows how good older smoky whiskies can be with sympathetic casking. The ex-red wine finish is well integrated, giving no evidence of the heavy tannins that can be present in a whisky from such a cask. The sweet characteristics and drying peat smoke balance each other well, with the warming spices keeping both in check. 

Limited older Lagavulins are generally rare and never cheap but we would recommend this, especially if you are a fan of the distillery. It has so much depth of flavour and character. Just getting one could be a problem, unless you can get to Islay ...

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