LAGAVULIN LIMITED RELEASE
MASH BILL – 100% malted barley
PROOF – 115.6
AGE – 12 years
DISTILLERY – Lagavulin Distillery
PRICE – $168
BUY AGAIN? – Yes!
I was introduced to the standard Lagavulin 16 Year by an older gentleman named Hugh, whom my partner and I met at Sandy Bell’s in Edinburgh, Scotland. We were there in August 2016 for the annual theater festivals that take over that city. Sandy Bell’s is situated on Forest Street in the thick of things, yet still seems to attract a local crowd. Hugh was seated toward the back where the musicians play—a pianist and fiddler that day. We handed him our whiskey menu and asked him what he liked. The Lagavulin 16 was his first suggestion.
So I loved Lagavulin 16. I was fairly new to scotch then, and it was a wonderfully unusual experience for me—the peated smoke and the maritime saltiness, conjuring the sea crashing against a craggy Scottish shoreline. And I was introduced to it by the kindest old Scottish fellow imaginable, a music lover who spent every Saturday and Monday at Sandy Bell’s, he said, sitting close to the music. Ella Fitzgerald had come by and spontaneously played once, he told us.
Hugh’s recommendations included other scotches as well. I jotted them down (with a few inaccuracies) and carried that list back to the States with me. I soon realized that although scotch flows like water in Scotland, it comes at quite a price when imported to the U.S. So after my first bottle of stateside Lagavulin 16 I didn’t pick up another for over three years…
By the time I cracked my second bottle I’d explored scotch, bourbon, rye, and other world whiskeys much more thoroughly. My palate had evolved and changed. High proof pours that once made me gasp now filled me with their warmth and entertained me with the variances different amounts of water might pull out of them. In a moment of nostalgia for our 2016 Scotland trip, I cracked the bottle and poured a nice full glass. To my surprise, I now found it thin, watery, and quite plain.
Sadness. Figuring my taste for intensity had simply grown, I headed for a bottle of Laphroaig. That bottle’s particularly pungent peat didn’t appeal to me at all. I tried and tried, but simply couldn’t come around to its medicinal, band-aide flavors. Then I heard good things from some fellow whisky fans about the annual Lagavulin Limited Release, always 12 years old and released at its natural cask strength. It ain’t cheap. But I went for it.
Wow! For my current palate, this was the magic I’d remembered from 2016. Tasted in a traditional Glencairn about two months after uncorking and two-thirds into the bottle, here first are some notes in brief:
COLOR – an exceptionally pale and clear straw yellow
NOSE – sweet peat smoke, lemon, honey, vanilla custard, salty air, faint fresh peaches
TASTE – salty, sweet, soft peat smoke, honey custard, a nice burst of tanginess on swallowing followed by a plume of peppery tingle
FINISH – warm, tangy, the soft peat and sweetness from the lemon and honey custard
OVERALL – an absolutely lovely peated scotch
From the very first pour at uncorking, and consistently since then, immediately upon nosing this whisky—before even pouring it in the glass but from the moment the cork is pulled out—I am compelled to take in a deep full breath of satisfaction. It’s that feeling of leaning back in a comfortable chair and relaxing. The sweetness of the peat smoke surprises me every time. I nose and nose and nose it in the glass before taking that first sip.
And the sip then always follows through on the nose’s promise, amping up the sea salt air. The proof is perfect, strong enough to push the flavors forward yet still easy enough not to dominate or dilute.
Likewise, the finish is all seaside air and crackling fires in the hearth or on the beach, with the sweet aspects lingering in the balance.
Balance is the best word for this bottle. The sweet and savory aspects move on equal footing from the nose through the taste and on into the finish.
Now who knows. Maybe in another few years this too will taste plain to me. Something journeying with whisky has underscored for me is how we are never the same persons we once were. With time we evolve. It was a very interesting, unintentional experiment to have abstained from Lagavulin 16 for some years and then return to it. No doubt the folks at Lagavulin were putting out the same consistent product they always have done. But in those few years I myself had changed. And so the chemistry between me and that whisky was new. I was disappointed. The scotch that made me love scotch had lost its magic for me.
And so what a joy to find another bottling in the Lagavulin line that captured that same magic in its own different and unique way. The price makes it a special occasion purchase. And so I will sip at it slowly. But that 2016 trip was very special. And Scotland holds a very special place in my partner’s heart in particular, going back long before our trip. So I think it will always be worth having a bottle of the annual Lagavulin 12 Year Limited Release on hand for those moments when we want to connect to those memories.
Another example of good whisky doing what whisky does best.
Bonus Track – Four Friends
a whisky song by Dave Malloy
(with a special appearance by Lagavulin)