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Friday, May 6, 2016

Single Malt Report: Lagavulin 12 year old Cask Strength (2014 release)

On Tuesday, I reviewed 2014's Lagavulin 16 year old.  On Thursday, I reviewed 2014's Lagavulin Distillers Edition.  Today I review 2014's Lagavulin 12 year old cask strength release.

Let's take a brief look at the fact that this 12 year old whisky is more expensive than the same distillery's 16 year old whisky.

Here are two reasons why its price is higher than the 16yo:
1.  It has "limited edition" printed on the label.
2.  It is cask strength rather than a reduced 43%abv.

Here are two reasons why I question those reasons:
1.  This edition was limited to a mere 31,428 bottles.  As they say in the bourbon world, it's Orphan Barrel "limited".
2.  Its ABV is all of 11.4 points higher than the 16's, a difference of 26.5 percent.  As you'll see below, the premium is now much greater than 26.5 percent.

Here are two more reasons why I take issue with the pricing:
3.  The 16 year old uses a mix of casks which include American oak and European oak of different fill counts.  The 12 year old uses only refill American oak, the cheapest of all casks.
4.  Math. The 12 year old is four years younger than the 16 year old.  Four fewer years of Angel's Share loss.  Four fewer years of tariffs on the casks.  Four fewer years taking up warehouse real estate.  Four fewer years of investment and risk.

With those factors in mind, let's see how the US prices compare between the 12 year old and the 16 year old as per winesearcher's price history model:

When I began reviewing whisky on this blog (September 2011)
12 year old: $90
16 year old: $78
(a 15.4% premium)

Today (May 2016)
12 year old: $131
16 year old: $87
(a 50.6% premium)

It's a good thing this 12 year old is usually damn good whisky.

Sample from the OCSC March event
Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Maturation: refill American oak casks
Age: minimum 12 years
Release date: 2014
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel coloring? Probably not
Alcohol by Volume: 54.4%
Limited edition: 31,428

For this tasting I did a two glass side-by-side comparison of the whisky at full strength and reduced to 43%abv.

NEAT GLASS (54.4%abv)
The nose begins with peat moss, rock salt, soil, and mezcal.  Underneath those elements lay brighter notes of green apples and anise.  Here and there appear notes of kilned clay, chlorine, peach yogurt, and aged dry cheese.  It seems to get younger and rougher with time, as the sharper notes take control.

Big gorgeous peat that almost feels effervescent, almost glowing in the mouth, dominates the palate.  Keeping it all from just being one-note are fresh cherries, almonds, cocoa powder, crisp seaweed, zesty fresh ginger, minty menthol, and a little bit of sugar.

It finishes with smoldering peat bricks, salted almonds, menthol, and a little bit of sweetness.

More hay than moss in the nose.  Raw and sugary.  Floral hand soap and vanilla extract.  Barbecue sauce, charred meat, and rosemary.  It vanishes entirely after 45 minutes.

The palate gets very sweet.  Lots of white fruits, especially pears.  A soft herbal bitterness meets a mild peating.  Vanilla extract, salt, and Talisker-ish pepper.  The bitterness becomes bracing after 20+ minutes nearly taking over the palate.

The finish is peppery, mossy, sweet, and salty.  A minor note of pear.  Not a bad length to it.

This is the first edition of the 12yo in which I've noticed how very young it reads.  At times it reminds me of the 5 year old Taliskers that Hunter Laing has bottled for K&L Wine Merchants.  I don't mean this as a bad thing.  I love young crazy peat behemoths (see Octomore, Port Charlotte, Kilchoman, Ledaig, and the aforementioned Taliskers).  Reducing this whisky to 43% showed me why they don't release it at a low strength, as its balance gets thrown off, the parts spill out, and it dissolves away.

Though this may be my least favorite of the editions I've tried (2009-2011, 2013-2014), it remains a high quality single malt.  It still stands up to the more expensive young Octomores and betters many of the single cask (and now more expensive) young Kilchomans.  So perhaps there's a third reason for Lagavulin 12's pricing:  The Market.

If 5 year old high strength peated whiskies are selling for $130-$200, who am I to say that a 12 year old high strength peated whisky is overpriced at $120?  Spend as you like, but be aware that your buying choices do not exist in a bubble.  The monster doesn't feed itself.  Personally, I'll pass.  I liked the 16 year old better this time.

Availability - Many specialty liquor retailers (this edition is still very easy to find)
Pricing - $110-$160, though it can be found in Minnesota for $99.99
Rating - 87