...where distraction is the main attraction.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Single Malt Report: Lagavulin 1991 Distillers Edition

Onto the whisky in the middle, Lagavulin 1991 Distillers Edition, a sample purchased from Master of Malt two years ago to the week!

There's no secret about the sherry presence in this whisky.  With its annual Classic Malts Distillers Editions, Diageo throws a whisky bone to its customers by releasing wine cask finished versions of its most popular single malts.  As they're somewhat limited, they carry a higher price tag, meanwhile their actual quality (when compared to the regular releases) is debatable.  But again, these releases do expand the somewhat narrow ranges of the Big D's "Classic Malts".

[On a grammatical note, where the hell are the apostrophes on the "Distillers Edition" appellations? Is it Distiller's or Distillers'?  I mean, it's a possessive.  The editions are for, to, of, or by the distillers.  Right?  Diageo?  Words?]

As you may have read in previous posts, I'm not the biggest fan of wine cask finishes, especially the sort of brief sherry work done on the DEs.  But since I've been tinkering around with my own finished whiskies at home, I've been trying to keep an open mind and maybe learn a thing or two.  I've tried two more recent Lagavulin DEs and found them......okay.  Absent was the Lagavulin thunder, present was a lot of PX (Pedro Ximenez sherry) sweetness that elbowed out everything else.  But those tries were in social settings.  This one was in my usual hermetic setup.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: THEM!  :)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Maturation & Age: approximately 16 years in ex-bourbon casks, then less than a year in former Pedro Ximenez sherry casks
Chill-filtration? Yep
Caramel coloring? Probably
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

To make things a little confusing, there were two releases of Lag 1991 DE: one in 2007 (4/495) and one in 2008 (4/496).  Because this sample was still available to buy in 2012, I'm leaning towards it being from the 2008 bottles.  But at the same time, I doubt that it sat in the casks for an entire additional year, as it seems like a little bit of an odd unplanned risk by the normally profit-hungry ownership.  Instead, my thought is that it was done in a second batch of bottling shortly after the first.  I could be wrong about all of this, but Serge has reviewed both bottlings and given them the same score and SGP number.  If anyone has any further information, please let me know and I'll update this paragraph.  Cheers!  Now onto the tasting.

The color is maroon mahogany.  Lots of fruity sherry on the nose, showing up as both fresh and dried fruits.  Fresh and dried cherries, plums and prunes, black grapes and raisins.  There are also some Heath Bar, corn chip, and rum-filled milk chocolate notes.  Lagavulin's spirit takes a seat waaaaaaaay in the back.  Often the peat doesn't even peek out from under the PX blanket.  But it does appear in the palate.  More moss than smoke.  The smoke that does show is a polite wood smoke.  After some air, the whisky releases a big floral burst.  And then maybe some orange zest.  It's a bit tart and very drying.  More action seems to happen in the finish as chocolate, flower blossoms, prunes, caramel sauce, and another whisper of wood smoke arrive.

The nose gets much quieter even with just a couple drops of water.  Fewer fresh fruits, more dried ones (especially prunes).  Some malt finally shows up, which is nice, but so does a garbage pail full of rotting fruit, which is not as nice.  The palate is similar to the neat one, maybe a little hotter along with some young-seeming wood pulp notes.  Otherwise, raisins and prunes register the loudest.  The finish is brief, but still aromatic with more sweet sherry.

Unlike the regular 16 year old, this one doesn't swim well.  So I recommend leaving water out of it.

I didn't mind this finished whisky that much, but I also found it sort of uneventful.  Dark chocolate was brought out as an accompaniment -- as per many online recommendations -- but the two flavors didn't dance well.  (Glenfarclas remains my favorite sherried-whisky partner for chocolate.)  Even though the whisky was from five years ago, sample oxidation did not appear to be a factor since the sealed bottle was fuller than many of my more recent MoM samples.

There are a lot of sweet sherried whiskies on the market, many of which are considerably cheaper than this one, so sherry fans have a lot of other options.  Some peat-heads may be a little bored with it, so I can't recommend it to all of them, either.  I think the sherry is much better integrated than Glenmorangie's Lasanta and more brings with it more character than Bowmore 15.  But at the same time, I prefer Laphroaig's Triple Wood because, even though its cask work is very aggressive, I can still get a reasonable hit of the distillery's character.  Of course, much of these comparisons aren't entirely fair because Lagavulin is using a completely different sherry.

I don't want to make it look like I dislike this whisky.  It's good.  The nose and finish are very good, when neat.  You're going to have to like some sweet sherry in your whisky and not expect a ton of Lagavulin phenolics.  Anticipate subtlety, not fireworks.

For more positive opinions see Serge's reviews or John Hansell's; for a moderate opinion see Jim Murray's in his Whisky Biblio; for a mix of takes see the LAWS reviews.

Availability - Specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - (for Lagavulin DEs in general) $90-$130, another wide range
Rating - 83