After a couple of years trying various bottlings, I really feel I’m beginning to understand Lagavulin.
Ardbeg and Laphroaig are big, shouty, extroverted whiskies. The former is full of proud, earthy peat flavour; the latter has that distinctly medicinal, iodine quality. Of the three Islay distilleries in Kildalton, Laga is the quiet and unassuming one in the middle – soft, subtle, and elegantly understated.
As tends to be the way, it’s the quiet ones you should watch out for.
Let’s (figuratively) dive in:
Nose: There’s rich, full, rounded fruit aromas wrapped in the savoury, dry, smoky notes of Lagavulin peat. Plum jam, blackberries, sultanas, pine resin, fresh rolling tobacco, sea salt, and a very definite smell of tea leaves. Thick legs on it, and a dark sherried colour. I’m expecting a lot of sherry influence on the tongue.
Palate: Would never guess this is a first-fill sherry if I hadn’t read it beforehand. Sweet wood smoke leads the way, developing into savoury cereal and wood notes. The sweetness seems to come from the barley, rather than the grape, and so it’s not over-powering at all, revealing more of those savoury notes: liquorice, toasted-oak (with only a tiny hint of vanilla) and some maritime mineral flavours.
Finish: The gentle peat smoke and liquorice notes linger, with a mouth-drying texture akin to black tea.
I could happily just nose this whisky all night – the balance between sweet fruit and savoury peat is spot-on and the subtle notes just keep on evolving in the glass. I’d love to know what kind of sherry was in the barrel beforehand.
The way they’ve got the sherry notes on the nose, but have reserved the palate for those malty, oaky, peaty flavours is a stroke of genius, since it gives you the opportunity to appreciate each set of flavours distinctly.
After the fruity nose, and knowing it was matured in a first-fill barrel, I was expecting a sherry monster… but there’s no monsters here.
Thanks very much to the Blankenstijn family at WhiskySample.nl for the taster.