Lagavulin Whisky is truly one of the treasures produced in Islay that every Scotch whisky aficionado should taste at least once in their lifetime. And that is why we included it in the tasting boxes sent to our customers in the past.
With a heavy and bold character, Lagavulin is a peated Scotch whisky produced in one of the oldest distilleries in Islay – one of the high points of whisky production in Scotland. If you tasted Islay’s whisky before (or at least read or heard about it), you know the whisky produced here has a strongly peated character with, most probably, sea salt flavour wandering in the spirit.
But, although the character may be similar, not all whisky produced here tastes the same and Lagavulin is the liquid proof of that.
In this article, we’ll go through Lagavulin history, what makes this brand’s scotch whisky so special and the whisky expressions that better represent this brand.
Table of Contents – Sip this article
- Lagavulin Whisky – The History Behind the Spirit
- The Lagavulin Distillery and How to Produce Bold, Peated Scotch Whisky
- Lagavulin Single Malt Scotch Whisky – The Character and the Whisky Range
Lagavulin’s history may not be the prettiest fairy-tale of all, but the fact is that it worked out fine. In the end, a great whisky was produced and bottled for the world to enjoy – for us, that is what matters the most. We are sure that most people who enjoy tasting great whisky will enjoy this scotch whisky despite history.
History begins with the foundation of Malt Mill distillery in 1816 by John Johnston and Archibald Campbell Brooks in Lagavulin bay. This distillery produced heavily peated whisky for blends like White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky, since that was the type of whisky people enjoyed the most in those days.
In 1878, Peter Mackie entered in Lagavulin’s business. He came from Laphroaig’s sales department and joined forces with his uncle, that was in charge of the distillery at that time. Together, they wanted to sell their whisky further abroad, but to do that, they needed to upgrade the whisky they were already selling.
So, they began producing whisky after a new recipe. However, that recipe was quite similar to the one used by Laphroaig Whisky distillery. And that lead to a series of disagreements and lawsuits that ended with Malt Mill losing the rights to produce that spirit with that recipe.
If you know the standard production process of Scotch whisky, you know the devil is in details. Although the recipe was similar to the Laphroaig’s one, the result was a whisky that had little in common with that brand’s spirit. Given that the water and peat Malt Mill used to produce whisky was different from Laphroaig’s sources, the final product did not had the same flavours or overall character.
It was only after 1962 that Lagavulin was started its production legally, with the name we know today. It was only in 1997 that Diageo became the owner of Lagavulin Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
Lagavulin is probably one of the easiest Scotch Whisky’s names to pronounce. The only syllable that may be tricky is the ‘vu’, that is pronounced ‘voo’. So, it is pronounced laga-voo-lan. Phonetically, it is written la·guh·voo·luhn.
The brand’s name comes from the bay its distillery is located and it means Hollow of the Mill (in Gaelic: Lag a’ Mhuilinn).
With more than 200 years, the Lagavulin Whisky distillery continues to create one of the wonders of the whisky world.
This distillery is situated in Lagavulin bay, on the south of Islay, Scotland, where it has access to several precious resources to produce one of the most highlighted peated scotch whisky in the market.
Islay, on its turn, is a Scottish island located on the west coast of the country, a site known for its wildlife and sharp sea shore. This proximity with the ocean is part of what gives Lagavulin its bold character. That and, of course, the use of peat to malt the barley and add smoky flavours to this whisky.
At least two other distilleries are located nearby: the Ardbeg and the Laphroaig. Between them, runs the production of an award-winning whisky (in its many expressions), of the dram that made it the TV series “Parks and Recreation” and the brand that partnered up with the TV
Show “Game of Thrones” to release Limited Editions bottlings. If you haven’t guessed by the title of this article, we are talking, obviously, about Lagavulin Whisky.
Lagavulin production process runs accordingly to the norms for Scotch whisky. However, it takes a little more to produce this spirit. One of them is the water source. If this whisky was made with any other kind of water, it would taste nothing like Lagavulin.
Another factor that contributes for the distinguished flavour of this dram is the fact that, like many other Islay whiskies, the distillery uses peat smoke to dry and malt their barley. This adds the smoky flavours, earthy and iodine-like flavours in the background.
The distillation of Lagavulin whisky happens when the copper stills are full, slowing down the process. And this is probably one of the main differences regarding other peated scotch whiskies. Given the fact that the stills are full, the whisky doesn’t have that much direct contact with copper, adding some heaviness to the whisky’s character.
As for the maturation, the majority of Lagavulin whisky expressions age in ex-bourbon casks and some in ex-sherry casks, being the 8-Year-Old the younger expression of them all. The most searched for whisky is the 16-Year-Old, a heavily peated and complex dram.
During all steps of the production process, there is a real concern about sustainability and the distillery have been making changes to become more eco-friendly over time. It has a zero-waste policy, from the landfill to the water resources. Besides, the distillery protects the wildlife around the production site with the installation of beehives and boxes for bugs, hedgehogs and birds. These practices have been so successful, the Green Tourism has given Lagavulin a Gold Certification.
Lagavulin Whisky is not just another Islay’s Single Malt Scotch. It has a truly unique style among its island peers, especially the 16-Year-Old expression – which is the one the people want to taste the most.
With intense flavours of peat smoke and a heavy character, this whisky is often characterized as “meaty”. However, it is impossible to describe all the expressions on this whisky range in just one sentence.
Created to celebrate the Lagavulin Whisky 200th anniversary, this 8-Year-Old expression was supposed to be a limited edition. Until it wasn’t. The reviews were so good, this dram became part of Lagavulin’s range in 2017. Only one year later, the Lagavulin 8-Year-Old received Double Gold in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the Chairman’s Trophy in the Ultimate Spirits Challenge.
Aged in refill ex-bourbon casks, this Lagavulin expression is the youngest of the group. Nevertheless, it is a great option to go when in search for a peated whisky with a twist.
On the nose, it resembles fresh wood with an ocean-like smell. It is possible to feel roasted nuts, smoke, pepper and lightly sweet aromas.
On the mouth, this whisky is highly peated, with earthy and sea salt notes. Some spices appear with notes of coriander, black pepper, cumin. It also has citrus flavours, such as orange.
The finish is quite balanced between heavy peat smoke, spiciness and light sweet notes.
When Diageo and HBO joined forces to release limited editions of whisky with “Game of Thrones” themed bottlings, Lagavulin was chosen to represent the House Lannister (given heaviness of the whisky’s character).
This 9-Year-Old expression is aged in first fill ex-bourbon casks and you can expect the whisky to be smoky with sea salt notes, while having sweet and fruity flavours.
On the nose, it has sweet smoke aromas, with sea air and light toffee. Regarding the flavours, the peat flavours are heavy, but balanced with sweet flavours such as banana, vanilla and marshmallows. The finish is long, with smoke and salted caramel flavour notes.
The 16-Year-Old Peated Single Malt Scotch Whisky expression is the quintessential whisky from Lagavulin. With several awards in its pocket, this expression is known as the “King of Islay” – and for a good reason.
It was released for the first time in the beginning of the 1990’s, and it was supposed to be a limited edition. However, the expression was so well received by the public and critics, it stayed in Lagavulin whisky’s signature range.
This whisky has a rich peat smoke, dryness and some saltiness as part of its overall character. Besides, because it is aged in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, there is some sweetness in the background that makes it even more interesting. Its complex character was worth the several awards it won, such Double Gold in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2005 and 2008,
On the nose, there’s a lot of peat smoke with ocean-like aromas, such as seaweed and iodine, but also sweeter notes of spices and vanilla in the background.
Regarding the flavours, it is a strong and rich spirit. Peat smoke is heavy, as well as the sea salt notes. Both of these are balanced by fruity flavours and vanilla sweetness.
The finish is long and complex, filled with spices, seaweed and peat smoke.