...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Lagavulin 12 year old Cask Strength (2017 edition)

The cask strength 12yo Lagavulin is the only part of the annual Diageo Shitshow Special Releases that ever draws my attention. I've reviewed previous editions from 2011 and 2014. I'm reviewing the 2017 release today. At this rate, the next one I'll try is the 2020.

$125 for a 12 year old cask strength whisky was a crazy price when I reviewed the 2011 edition, four years ago. But since then, everything has gone crazy. Browse European (as well as the occasional US) retailer sites and you'll find almost every indie bottler pricing their 8+ year old cask strength Lags at $100+. So the market has caught up. Which must be why some American retailers are slinging this 2017 edition for $150. Can't blame the Trump tariffs for that.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Owner: Diageo
Region: Islay
Maturation: refill American oak casks
Age: minimum 12 years
Release date: 2017
Outturn: ??,???
Alcohol by Volume: 56.5%
Chill-filtration? Probably not
Caramel coloring? Probably not
(from a purchased sample)

The nose is brighter and fruitier than most other batches. Apples, pears, lilac (one of the official notes!), Ceylon cinnamon and cherry candy. Meanwhile, there are piles of smoked fish, coffee grounds and mocha ice cream. It gets beach-ier with time and also unveils an anise note. The palate is massively medicinal, followed by earth, coffee grounds and hot pepper sauce-topped steak. Just a peep of sweetness mixed with Ceylon cinnamon. The BIG finish is all ocean water, peat embers, lemon and smoked meat.

DILUTED TO 48%abv, or 1tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose leads with coconut cream, sharp citrus, soil, stones and brine. Then some simple syrup. coffee grounds and mild peat. More muscular peat meets flower blossoms in the palate. Then creamy coffee, cayenne pepper, seaweed and charred fish. Smaller notes of Robotussin, spicy mint leaf and roasted nuts follow. It finishes lightly bitter and light sweet. Roasty/Toasty and peppery. Charred peat and tart lemon.

DILUTED TO 43%abv, or <2tsp water per 30mL whisky
The nose has a simple but lovely ocean note throughout. Brown sugar, vanilla bean, lemon and citronella. It gets smokier with time, while also picking up a cocoa powder note. Feels bigger than 43%abv. The palate has mint, black coffee and cayenne pepper. Brown sugar + peat. Lemon and almonds. Mildly salty, mildly bitter. It finishes with sugary peat, almonds, tonic and squirt of lemon juice. Salty/briny. Good length.

You know, every time I want to talk shit about Lagavulin 12yo I drink the whisky and remember why that's futile. It's terrific whisky. And I gotta say, it might be Diageo's best regular (or semi-regular) single malt.

As mentioned in the notes, this a bright, fruity batch on the nose. It's also remarkably flexible when it comes to dilution. The 2014 batch collapsed at 43%abv, while this one transforms into its own very solid drink at that strength.

Ultimately, you're not paying for age or scarcity with this one. You're paying for quality, which is as subjective as a thing can be. What $125 means to you might not mean the same thing to another reader, or me. But if you're in the habit of drinking a bottle of this expression every year, then the 2017 batch won't let you down. (If you don't believe me, then believe MAO.)

Availability - Most specialty spirits retailers worldwide
Pricing - $110-$160 (US) 
Rating - 91