Friday, August 03, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #130

Lagavulin 12 yo
Cask Strength
Islay Single Malt Whisky

58.2% abv (4th release)
$105 (CAD)

While Lagavulin does not foster the same cult following as its neighbour Ardbeg, it is still a legend among whisky drinkers new and old. I have met countless folks who came to the world of whisky through a glass of Lagavulin and others who claim they will drink nothing else. So with the help of Andrew Jefford's absolutely brilliant book Peat Smoke and Spirit, we can suck the mythical romance out of a few aspects of the distillery.

I have written about the difficulties some distilleries face in the legal and responsible disposal of waste before in the case of Isle of Jura distillery. For Lagavulin "the pot ale, spent lees and washing waters at Lagavulin have to be taken over to Caol Ila by road. They were formerly piped into the bay and had been for over a century, but because the bay is [...] naturally protected and sheltered, these arrangements could not meet current legislation for dispersal rates. This means three tankers per day have to travel the 70km round trip carrying 21,000 litres each: a heavy cost for the company and environmental cost to the island's roads and those who live alongside them. From Caol Ila, the waste goes into the briskly tidal Sound of Islay."(Jefford, 284) Wasteful, maybe. But don't forget the whisky industry is founded on an ideal of recycling (grist for cattle feed, second hand casks, etc.)

So now a mythbusting reality about maturation. Most of Lagavulin's new make spirit goes into third-fill American ex-bourbon hogsheads. These are ex-bourbon cask that are broken down and rebuilt to hold 250 litres, get used for one fill of grain whisky, then a fill of malt whisky before being filled with Lagavulin. So where does the sherry influence everyone notes come from in Lagavulin? Donald Renwick says "We do fill the odd sherry cask, but the wood is exhausted. And we do it less and less nowadays. So far as I'm concerned, there's more or less no sherry anymore in Lagavulin."

We must remember that Diageo owns Islay distilleries Lagavulin, Port Ellen(closed) and Caol Ila and very little Caol Ila is matured on Islay, most of it is carted off to the mainland to mature. 7000 casks of Lagavulin mature at their 3 warehouses, 7000 down at the dunnage warehouses at Port Ellen, 2000 at Caol Ila(more that Caol Ila itself), but the vast majority of Lagavulin casks have not been aged on Islay. Find this provocative and troubling? Read Jeffords' book for more.

This does not mean Lagavulin isn't delicious, it is! It just throws the ideas of regional style or terroir out the window and makes us question the techniques of wood management and marketing. Lagavulin is in high demand worldwide, is no longer part of White Horse (Malt Mission 16), and is about to start my Friday with a bang. Have a good weekend.

All Lagavulin posts HERE.


Major vanilla ice cream sweetness off the top surrounded by petrol, pungent smoked fish and/or cheese, mascarpone and amaretto. Roadside construction and plain bubblegum.

Pow. Very big peat impact, earthy with old car smells (flavours?), but all kept in a dirty/sweet balance via pumpkin pie and whipped cream type flavours. But peat is what passes the time. Finish is still peaty. And still peaty. And...


Certainly not for everyone. I don't find this as complex as folks I have met or have read do, but it is a quality expression. Not super sexy or subtle, but certain; you know what you are in for when you pour yourself a drop. Missing the sensuality of the 16 (which has been diminishing in recent years, it must be said) and the breadth of the Distillers Edition, but completely distinct in the standard range. But don't take my word for it, go do some whisky 'research' of your own!

Malt Mission #126
Malt Mission #127
Malt Mission #128
Malt Mission #129

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