Monday, 19 March 2012

Presenting...Lagavulin across the years

As the trains rattled over head, over 60 people were gathered in the tunnel like rooms of Vinopolis to enjoy an evening of the flamboyant Colin Dunn and lovely Julian Lafond of Diageo as well as a tune from whisky fan and blues singer Tim Hain. Excitement was palpable as we took our seats, and at £45 a ticket this was understandable; this crowd (a prosperous looking suited/booted lot) expected big things.

So there was a natural division in the line up, in that the first three were “food matched”.

We started with the classic malt that the distillery is perhaps best known by: Lagavulin 16 Years Old 43% paired with Mrs Bells (thick and creamy!) Blue Cheese.

The nose was instantly recognizable with iodine and bonfire smoke followed by some citrus that comes through later. It is viscous and if you hold it in your mouth eventually the different layers will open up including burnt orange. The cheese softens and rounds the whisky but highlights the iodine notes.

Lagavulin 1995 Distillers Edition 43%

There is more sweetness – think treacle – on this one with a bonfire but sweet wood thrown on it. The dark chocolate truffle it was paired with highlights well the PX finish and warm spice comes through with a bitter chocolate edge. With more time it softens enough for citrus to show and finishes fresh. (We also tried 1927 PX to highlight the flavours that could be picked up in the whisky, it was wonderful!)

Lagavulin 12 Years Old (2011 bottling) 57.5%

An old Victorian fireplace came to mind when I smelt this and the 57.5% is certainly quite raw to start with leaving a fresh clean feel. There is a burn, there is also that iodine note but a distinct sweetness of vanilla comes through and with water this becomes smokier with a cereal/grain edge.  Paired with smoked venison it worked through crunchy texture, iodine notes and onto sweet toned down flavours.

SERVE: The inimitable Julien Lafond stepped up to present Smoke on the Water #2

This smoking (literally) cocktail blends Lagavulin 16 YO with Grand Marnier, Byrrh Gran Quinquina, Dark Chocoalte Bitters and a twist of orange and is finished with a scoop of Lady Grey and Lapsang Souchong Smoke.

Then we had a lovely song from Tim about the power of Lagavulin to bring him and his father together before it was round two with Lagavulin 12 Years Old (1980’s White Horse bottling) 43%. This is such a rare whisky that two different bottles needed to be found to pour for everyone – the horse bottling and the Italian bottling. What a difference! In the days before Lagavulin’s virtues were recognised it was basically given away in Italy with other better selling products like rum. This was seriously substandard whisky and if I had tried it I would never try it again so it did not do the brand any favours.

“Horse” was bustling with mango and passion fruit on the nose, whereas “Italian” was tinny and a little bit “corned beef”. Both started the palate flavours with coffee but Horse moved onto sweet fruits and smoke and Italian, although drinkable, was indistinct. They continued to shift and develop throughout the night and if only for interest I would suggest buying either version if you find it for a bit of tasting fun.

Lagavulin 12 Years Old Friends of Classic Malts 1995 48%

A mere 12,000 bottling with oak sherry casks used for maturation, there were clear sherry notes on the nose. A strange sensation in the month, the mid palate seems to fill with smoke and then disapate out to a soft, honey finish. This is so long and has a hint of sweet vanilla at the very end.

Lagavulin 21 Years Old 56.5%

Lastly this 21 year old was released in 2008 and has a chocolate orange nose. The iodine notes pack a punch at the back of the palate but it remains remarkably smooth and it very very long, maybe even longer than FOCM 12 year old.

Few Facts

Ever thought about the difference in a Highland and an Islay whisky and the fact they both use peat (though at different levels)? Well think about the heather and the bracken based peat in the Highlands vs brine and seaweed based peat on the island. They are cooked for different times, at different temperature and all these factors and more affect the flavour characteristics.

Many many many (!) thanks to Colin Dunn for always perfectly leading a room through Lagavulin, to the Whisky Exchange team for creating this experience and helping throughout and Whisky Exchange owner Sukhinder for the opportunity to attend. Do yourself a favour, get down there and buy get your hands on these whiskies whilst you can.


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