Lagavulin 12 Year Limited Edition 2015

2015 cask strength release

MASH BILL – 100% malted barley

PROOF – 113.6

AGE – 12 years

DISTILLERY – Lagavulin

PRICE – $122 (discounted from $150)

WORTH BUYING? – oh my yes.

I posted about the 2018 Lagavulin 12 Year release just over a year ago. Having fallen in and then out of love with the standard release Lagavulin 16 over a period of years, it was that 2018 Lagavulin 12 that brought me back around to this classic Islay distillery.

The climbing prices of imported scotch put Lagavulin’s special releases a bit out of reach for me as a regular buy, sadly. So when I came across this 2015 release gathering dust at a discounted price, I snapped it up. I uncorked it on my partner’s recent birthday. Scotland holds a special place in her heart, so it seemed a fitting pour to celebrate her life.

After just one glass, despite my 2021 commitment to cut down on bunkering, I found myself scouring the internet hoping to find another bottle at a “reasonable” (not sure what that word means anymore in relation to whisky) price. It happened a local BevMo had one bottle in stock for about $20 less than average. They did not indicate which annual release it was. I crossed my fingers for a 2020, which I’d read good things about. It turned out to be a 2018. Fine! I loved that 2018 release!

In true San Francisco fashion, the Summer weather has been intermittently grey. I know it’s a cliche, but grey weather by the sea often has me reaching for scotch. And the smoky Islay scotches are particularly suited for such days. Islay scotch tendencies toward bright fruit and cream flavors, paired with a saltiness and lingering smoke, balance sunlight and optimism with the ponderous grey.

So here we are, a grey day with a view of the San Francisco bay, three days after uncorking and four generous pours into this bottle. Here are some brief notes, tasted in a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – a beautifully clear, bright, pale straw yellow with lemony accents

NOSE – peat and smoke right up front, then dry salt, dried lemon peel, wet granite and river sand, faint cream and custard

TASTE – the peat and smoke literally seem to billow upon first sip, then a very nice wave of tangy vanilla custard, the caramel, a bit of lemony zing at the edges, then that saltiness like sea air, a light cream texture overall, a dash of ground black pepper

FINISH – a very nice tingly warmth lingers at length with the peat and smoke, the custard now a bit darker and creamier with more caramel to it, all gently fading like the tide ebbing…

OVERALL – Easily among my very favorite peated scotches for its nice balance of strength in flavor and restraint in delivery

I so appreciate how dependable this annual release is. This 2015 has less fruit flavors than I recall from the 2018. But that lovely sweet peat is there, wafting alongside the nice soft smokiness. The terms “peaty” and “smoky” are sometimes used interchangeably. But really they are two different flavors. They’re closely related, of course, so it’s easy to combine them. But sipping slowly and allowing the whisky’s aromas to slow your mind, the distinction emerges.

This is what I love about any good whisk(e)y, though especially an excellent peated scotch. The way the Lagavulin 12 Year’s complexity slows me down, compelling deeper, longer breathes and a gentler heart rate… I find myself with more brain space to sort through the details. The incongruity of peat—by any standard not an immediately or obviously pleasant flavor—providing such pleasure when blended well with smoke and cream and fruit notes… I believe this oddity is key to the counterintuitive impact of a good peated scotch. And at cask strength, the various flavors are pronounced with assurance and clarity. It’s both interesting and pleasurable, intellectually and sensually stimulating. Teetering between savory and sweet, a sense of thoughtfulness and of hedonism come together in enlivening balance.

Even at the discounted price I paid, it remains a special occasion purchase. This bottle will be thoroughly enjoyed over time. And that second 2018 I picked up will eventually get uncorked to mark another special occasion, likely again with my partner. Given I buy so few scotch whiskies as compared to American bourbons or ryes, I just may always defy my own anti-bunkering commitment when it comes to the annual Lagavulin 12 Year cask strength release. With perseverence, discounts can almost always be found. In that and other respects Lagavulin warrants—yea, compels—patience and its many benefits.


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