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June 27, 2016


A jazzy Lagavulin trio

I’m sure you’ve heard that Lagavulin Distillery is 200 this year. In my book, Lagavulin is a true grand cru, while many others are trying to act like if they were grands crus, when they are actually just marketers (Diageo, hope the cheque is in the mail!) Anyway, there’s a new 25 years old, which we shall try today, that already made quite some ink flow because of its hefty price. £800 a bottle. That’s a little steep, even if that has become rather less after Little Britain’s Brexit. But we don’t taste price tags, do we, we taste whiskies, and as they say, politics and whisky only go together after a few drams, so… First, the sparring partners!

Lagavulin ‘Jazz Festival 2015’ (55.4%, OB, 2015)

Lagavulin ‘Jazz Festival 2015’ (55.4%, OB, 2015) Five stars No vintage or age that I can spot this time, jazz is timeless. Matured in both American and European ‘bodega’ oak casks. Bodega doesn’t obligatorily mean ‘Spanish’, in case you’re wondering. They have bagpipes in Spain, why couldn’t they have bodegas in Scotland? Colour: white wine, which comes as a surprise. Nose: it is a very bright, clean, punchy young Lagavulin, rather in the style of the popular 12yo CS. Seawater, lime, lemon, hessian, cigar smoke, seaweed, oysters, whelks, razor clams, cockles, mussels, langoustines… I’m joking! With water: damp raw wool and Islay mud. Mouth (neat): exceptionally clean, crisp, lemony and smoky malt, one hundred percent spirit-driven as far as I can tell, pristine, salty, kippery… So, a blade. As often, it’s just a notch sweeter and fatter than its colleagues from the south shore, and we aren’t against that. With water: salt up, tar up, fish down. A little more austere now. Finish: long, with a perfect tarriness, and no sweetness whatsoever this time. Comments: there was more sherry in earlier ‘Jazz’ Lagavulins. Now, I’m a sucker for both styles. SGP:458 - 91 points.

Lagavulin 18 yo (49.5%, OB, Bicentenary Edition, Feis Ile 2016, 6000 bottles)

Lagavulin 18 yo (49.5%, OB, Bicentenary Edition, Feis Ile 2016, 6000 bottles) Five stars Matured in refill hogsheads and European oak bodega sherry butts. Our friend Angus already tried it for WF while on the island, now it is our turn. I shall not re-read Angus’ tasting note, to avoid any form of influence. Colour: gold. Nose: aww… Verbena? Yellow chartreuse? Citron liqueur? It’s very complex, much less ‘in your face’ than other newish bottlings, with a wine quality to it, Montrachet style. Limestone, flints, new fabric, carbon paper (not sure that rings a bell to the younger part of our distinguished audience), barnyard, smoked salmon, homemade custard… Then rather whelks-and-brown-bread-and-butter, this raw wool that I’m often finding in Lagavulin… And some fresh mint! I’m surprised. Positively surprised. Mouth: oh get out of here! Brilliant citrusy, mentholated, smoky, and coastal style, with something that reminds me of a very old Lagavulin NAS spring cap that we opened around ten years ago in Belgium. Gets then more peppery, grassy, gritty, and wild. Finish: extremely long, peppery and smoky, the beauty turned into a beast. A lot of green tea and lime in the aftertaste. And more green pepper in the after-aftertaste! Comments: brilliant. For the new 25, it’s going to be very hard, but as Corneille said, “À vaincre sans péril, on triomphe sans gloire.” Right, “To win without risk is to triumph without glory” … SGP:467 - 92 points.

Lagavulin 25 yo (55%, OB, Bicentenary, 8000 bottles, 2016)Lagavulin 25 yo (55%, OB, Bicentenary, 8000 bottles, 2016)

Lagavulin 25 yo (natural cask strength, OB, Bicentenary, 8000 bottles, 2016) Five stars Strength to be confirmed. Diageo’s motto is ‘Celebrating life, every day, everywhere’ and that comes at a price. But what’s the price of life? (so, Diageo, where’s that cheque?) Colour: deep gold. Nose: bang. In the style of the first 21 yo, just a little brighter, and a little less fat and sherried. First the greatest pu-erh tea (best wild tree on the best mountain, guarded by soldiers and all that) plus cigar ashes and smoke, then all things found in an old abandoned cellar (rusty pieces of iron, plaster, dust, saltpetre, soot…), then ‘a walk on a beach’ (with a wet dog, I’m sorry, dogs), then several smaller aromas, from beef jerky to cured ham, via crystallised oranges and just ‘brand new leather jacket straight from Pakistan’. Right, or Ventimiglia. And a barbecue. With water: goes towards precious woods, humidor, old Jag, fireplace, Barbour grease, porridge-and-mind, bandages… Mouth (neat): I totally hate it that it would be so good. Feels a little younger than 25, though (perhaps 18 or 20?), but the fat brightness, or the zesty richness are impressive. It’s really great that it would walk on this thin line, just when you think it’s fattish it starts to become lemony, and when you think it’s sharp and angular it starts to shoot fat tarry oranges. And tobacco and leather. Bugger! With water: happy memories of the very first 16 yo, the first Classic Malt. A brainwave. Moroccan mint tea, cider vinegar, ashes, peppermint… It’s hard to detect what comes from the wood(s), but I especially love these notes of bitter oranges mixed with coriander and cardamom. Wood or spirit? Both? Finish: long, and unexpectedly grassy. Very grassy, and leathery, and leafy. The signature is pretty ‘austere’, but the lemon in the aftertaste just lifts it again. Comments: the Feis or this? This or the Feis? Shall we start to use half or quarter points? (Note to self, yeah, do that, how smart would that be!) Oh well, it’s going to be a tie. A Connors vs. McEnroe situation, really. SGP:567 - 92 points.

So, next, a very old (like 35) Lagavulin Bicentenary, totally ex-refill wood, no re-racking involved, and no ‘bodega’ stuff either. 95+, guaranteed. Only a dream? But don’t we detect some kind of pattern? 8 yo – 18 yo – 25 yo…

(With big thanks to Pieter)

More tasting notes Check the index of all Lagavulin I've tasted so far



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