Friday, January 8, 2010

Review: Lagavulin 16 Years Old

Starting this site on a high note, I'm reviewing one of my favorite spirits - the excellent 16 year old scotch whisky from Lagavulin. The Lagavulin distillery, for the uninitiated, lies on the island of Islay, known for its strongly peated whiskys. Like its neighbors on the Southern coast of Islay, Laphroig and Ardbeg, Lagavulin makes a particularly peaty whisky, with phenol levels weighing in at a reported 40 parts per million, imparting a richly smoky flavor. The 16 year old is Lagavulin's core expression, and it's widely regarded as one of the premier single-malt whiskys. But does it live up to the hype?

Well, the first sentence was probably a bit of a spoiler, but let's take a closer look. The whisky comes in an attractive bottle, similar to the other members of Diageo's "Classic Malts" line, but tinted an olive green, making the whiskey inside look strikingly dark. This isn't much of a stretch - when poured out into a glass, it's a deep brown, with hints of orange and red, likely indicative of its time in sherry casks (and perhaps a bit of caramel color to help matters along). Legs are thick and slow to develop. But enough about looks - let's get to the more important stuff.

Lagavulin has a rich aroma of smoke and sea salt, with a touch of spice and vanilla sweetness. These components are also present on the palate - the whiskey starts off with a rich, salty smokiness that is powerful without being harshly medicinal. A note on the bottle attributes this to the aging process, which "takes out the fire, but leaves in the warmth." More than just good advertising copy, this is a pretty apt metaphor. The sweetness of sherry remains detectable in the background, but complements the smoky flavor, rather than rising to the forefront. The finish is quite long, with a sweet honey fruitiness coming into play along with the smoke. The blend of flavors is fantastic - each complements the other, making the whisky complex yet exceptionally well-balanced. A rich mouthfeel adds to Lagavulin's charm.

Bottom line - Lagavulin's excellent reputation is well-deserved. If you like strongly peated whiskeys but don't want something one-dimensional, then this whisky is a must have.

Price: ~$70

Value: 19/20
Overall Quality: 20/20

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