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Monday, March 28, 2022

Three different batches of Lagavulin 16 year old

As much as major producers, like The Edrington Group, Pernod Ricard and Diageo, strive to keep batch variation to a minimum for their most popular whiskies, fluctuation is inevitable. Casks and demands vary, resulting in changes, sometimes subtle, occasionally sizable. Springbank prizes these shifts, Macallan probably doesn't.

Lagavulin 16 year old's production process has remained reliable through the years, but it too varies. And I'm not just talking about the White Horse Distillers era compared to 21st century bottlings. Differences can be spotted from batch to batch across the past decade.

Though my original intent was to compare a 1991 batch with a 2021 batch, owners of the earlier bottles have become unwilling to part with their whisky for anything less than a mint, so this tasting became more micro.

I will be comparing samples from a 2014 750mL bottling (my bottle), 2017 750mL bottling (sourced sample), and a 200mL bottling from 2018 that I just opened.

Lagavulins Sixteen:

bottled 2014 - 43%abv
bottled 2017 - 43%abv
bottled 2018 - 43%abv
The nose starts off mossy, metallic and tangy with touches of balsamic vinegar and molasses in the background. With time, it picks up notes of cannabis ash, honey and mango.It noses of peated dark chocolate, mud, rotting fish, iron and burnt newspaper. The whisky gains more classic smoky notes with time without losing its Croftengea-esque style.Toasty peat, lemons, oats and molasses make up most of the nose. Ocean and seaweed arrive next, with a subtle manure note appearing at the 60-minute mark.
A good mix of sweet, salt and kiln in the early palate. Some tart oranges and limes in the background. Later sips gain herbal bitterness, menthol and ginger beer. The kiln note never subsides.Almonds, good bitterness and heavy smoke start off the palate, followed by fig, cannabis and extra tart grapefruit. Slightly tarry in the background.The sweetest of the three, and the least smoky. The palate has the herbal bitterness, some lemons, and a hint of cannabis. The peat reads like cold kiln.
The citrus strengthens in the finish, meeting well with sturdy leafy smoke, and hints of charred beef in the far back.It finishes sweeter than the palate, while keeping the big dark smoke. Tiny bits of bitter citrus peel linger in the background.It finishes leafy and tangy, with a mix of secondary lime, moss and dried sage notes.


These were three different whiskies. The 2014 had the most complex nose and finish, as well as the most balanced palate, proving to be the most (positively) stereotypical Lagavulin 16. I would not have guessed the 2017 was Lagavulin had I tried it blindly. Its quirky nose could startle some Lagavulin purists, though the palate falls more in line. The finish was shorter than the 2014's and quite sugary. Gripes about the 2018 are probably minor, it's the simplest of the trio but right on-target throughout.

The 2014 possesses more heft and charm than than the other two. Some weird casks slipped into the 2017, which could have made it the best of the three at a higher ABV. Meanwhile, a narrowness has crept into the 2018 preventing it from truly soaring. It's a lighter whisky than the other two, almost like a 40%abv bottling.

Despite these differences, not one of these three Lagavulins was bad. Each was a coastal heavily peated malt, each would warm a winter belly well. But they're not the same, nor similar, really. Their few common notes could be found in other heavily peated malts. It's just something to keep in mind. But I do hope the 2018's limitations aren't the start of a trend. I'll keep a sample so I can compare it with a later bottling some years down the line.

L4219CM000, bottled 2014 -- 89
L7060OM000, bottled 2017 -- 85
L8213IU002, bottled 2018 -- 87