...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Life of a Whisky Bottle: Lagavulin 16 year old (2014)

Yes, I've reviewed Lagavulin 16 before, but I'm doing this again for two reasons.  Firstly, this is from my own bottle.  Secondly, and thematically, this I'm reviewing all three regular range Lagavulins from 2014 this week.

This was a strange bottle.  It was opened in October 2014 and.......I didn't like it very much.  It was oddly bland, bleh, and watery.  So that December, I put the bottle away half full.  I brought it back out five months later, planning to do some blending with it, but when I poured a glass the whisky had improved significantly.  I immediately set aside a sample of this good part of the bottle.  That little bottle joined another little bottle of the sample I'd taken from the unimpressive top half.  I tasted the samples side-by-side this past Sunday night!

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Maturation: probably a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks
Age: minimum 16 years
Chill-filtration? Yes
Caramel coloring? Yes
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Bottle code: L4219CM000
(Bottle was gifted to me after I led a private group tasting event)

This bottle's usage:
25% - Swaps and shares
15% - Whisky experiments
15% - Graded tastings
45% - Casual drinking


Its color is, of course, DiageoGold™.

The nose begins with ocean-soaked peat that feels more toasted than smoked.  At first.  Then comes the next-day cigar butt note, which is soon met by anise and peach skin.  Wasabi (which, admittedly, I had the night I did the tasting) and hot oregano notes float throughout.  Brief notes of manure and dried cherries arrive later.

A nice even bitterness runs throughout the palate, joined by rolling smoke clouds, a vanilla cookie sweetness underneath.  After 10-15 minutes a big green mossy note rises up.  Then there's a little bit of ash, salt, and sand.  A note I used to think was fish, is actually seaweed.  After 25 minutes a buttery caramel notes starts to take over.  Despite all these notes, the mouthfeel is quite thin.

There's a good length to the finish considering the thinness of the mouthfeel and abv.  Tart citrus, moss, sand, seaweed, and nice bitter smoke.  A happy lack of sweetness.

WITH WATER (~30%abv)
The nose becomes more floral and less smoky.  There's some confectioner's sugar, orange candy, and a hint of band-aids.

The palate is earthy and rooty, mixed with a slight sweetness.  Sort of like burnt sugar cookies.  Hint of herbal bitterness.

The finish is now more sweet than bitter.  Vanilla and dried seaweed.

There is something very comforting about Lagavulin 16's nose.  The ocean and peat and subtle fruitiness are an easy combo to ease into.  The ocean note is particularly fascinating since most of the current production is shipped to the mainland and not aged in seaside warehouses.  Unfortunately the palate feels quite thin and watery.  It's missing body and oompf.  Also it's almost totally bereft of sherry cask character.  Perhaps this is due to the wood reconditioning referenced in this David OG post about Lagavulin.  I'd take Caol Ila 12yo over this.


The nose is huge, rich with dried fruits (like cherries, cranberries, and apricots) and a cinnamon syrup.  The peat has gone floral, like some teenage Longrows.  Roses and more roses.  Very pretty.  There's also barbecue pork, raw cocoa, and spicy honey.  There's hint of raspberry jam hiding behind a short mossy wall.

The palate is much denser and dirtier now.  Big char and ash (reminiscent of recent Ardbeg Ten), dark chocolate, chili oil, and charred limes.  This balanced out by an orangey sweetness, black grapes, and a hint of that cinnamon syrup.

The sweets vanish from the palate leaving an orange peel essence.  Very dark chocolate, salt, ash, softer peat, and more of that chili oil note follow.

WITH WATER (~30%abv)
More citrus in the nose now.  The floral note backs into the midground.  Horse stable, beach sand, and a hint of peaches.

The palate is more candied, tangy.  The ash has washed away.  More peppercorns than chili oil.  A squirt of clover honey.

The finish is peppery and lightly sweet, with moderate smoke and pencil shavings.

Damn.  This is fab.  It might be the best Lagavulin 16yo I've had.  (And, no, I've never had any of the White Horse bottlings.)  The nose and palate are immense and full considering the low ABV.  Some good age shows in the nose, with the lovely peat and dense rich fruit, but there's still plenty of crisp youth existing alongside, especially in the palate.

This bottle went from the weakest Lag 16 to the strongest Lag 16 I've ever had.  The thinness became fatness, if you will.  Something excellent happened as oxygen commingled with the whisky in the dark for five months in a half full bottle.  And it taught me not to give up on a bottle.  Of course, not all bottles recover like this, in fact I can't think of too many more that have transformed as such, but I may just experiment with oxidation more often in the future.

Availability - Almost all specialty liquor stores
Pricing - $65 to $115(!), also California Costcos often sell it for $56.99
Rating - 89 (bottom half only, the top half was 10+ points lower)