Lagavulin, a whisky that tastes of smoke and heaven

  • Living
  • Saturday, 07 Jan 2017

The 16YO is Lagavulin’s core flagship bottling, while the 12YO is an annual release by Diageo for its Special Releases range. Photo: Diageo Malaysia

If there was one Scotch whisky I would gladly call my regular go-to, it would be the Lagavulin 16 Year Old.

It’s not just the fact that the smoky, peaty nose and flavour are so distinctive, it’s the way that almost pungent aroma just rises up into your nostrils, permeating your senses, enticing you, no, DARING you to take a sip of that golden amber liquid.

As soon as the liquid passes your lips, the peat hits you – a wave of salty, smoky flavours that give way to wonderfully sweet, cereal-ly notes tempered with hints of tobacco, salt, tea, and vanilla, and highlighted against that ever-present backdrop of iodine-like peat.

The finish is long and lingering, with those sweet notes balancing the peatiness out wonderfully, and staying there long after the dram has been emptied. Yes, the Lagavulin 16YO is arguably THE most iconic of Islay Scotch whiskies, and remains one of my absolute favourite Scotch whiskies ever.

Founded in 1816, Lagavulin was officially established when John Jonston and Archibald Campbell constructed two distilleries on the site, one of which became Lagavulin.

The production nature of the distillery is such that the 16YO is its only regular core product that is easily available all year round, with other official bottlings from the distillery being quite rare (though Diageo does release a Lagavulin 12 Year Old every year as part of its Special Releases range).

The Lagavulin 25YO is a truly magnificent release from the iconic Islay distillery. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong
The Lagavulin 25YO is a truly magnificent release from the iconic Islay distillery. Photo: The Star/Chan Tak Kong

So, imagine my excitement when I was told that the distillery had released not one, but TWO new bottlings, an 8 Year Old and a 25 Year Old, to commemorate its 200th year anniversary, and that Diageo Malaysia would be holding an event where we would get to taste them, along with the 16YO and the 2016 edition of the 12YO.

Lagavulin 8 Year Old

One of the two whiskies released to commemorate Lagavulin’s 200th year, this bottling also pays tribute to one of Britain’s most famous Victorian whisky writers, Alfred Barnard, who sampled a Lagavulin 8YO during a visit to Islay and described it as “exceptionally fine” and “held in high repute”.

Unlike the more full-bodied Lagavulin 16YO, this younger whisky has a very light grassy character, with the signature peat very apparent, but not as full-blown as the 16YO. There is a brilliant vibrancy in the palate, with a mouth-coating creaminess that incorporates a sweet streak that cuts across the tongue with hints of nuts, chocolate, and vanilla, and ends with a long, smooth, smoky finish.

If you love the 16YO, this is a fine example of what a younger Lagavulin would taste like; however, the young-ish character of the spirit gave me the impression that it was not quite at its full potential. Maybe that’s why the distillery’s flagship is a 16 Year Old...

Lagavulin 12 Year Old, 2016 edition

A Lagavulin 12YO is released every year as part of Diageo’s annual Special Releases range, and this is a very unique entry into the series.

The peat comes out in the nose initially, but it really hits you on the palate. There’s peat, peat, peat, peat, and peat, then a straw-like grassy sweetness that finishes sweet... with some slight lingering peat.

Lagavulin 25 Year Old

This is a truly unique Lagavulin whisky. Unlike most of its bottlings, this 25 Year Old was 100% matured in sherry casks, and bottled at cask strength (51.7%ABV). It was released to celebrate the contribution of its past 12 distillery managers, and only 8,000 bottles were produced.

This was just stunning. Unlike the 8YO and 16YO, where the peat just overpowers you the second you put your nose to it, this one has a surprisingly clean, vibrant sherry nose with hints of dark fruits, figs, a faint hint of smoke and dark chocolate.

This carries on to the palate, but it is here that the flavour evolves, the oily, creamy texture enveloping your mouth with an almost honeyed savouriness, with the oh-so-familiar peat slowly creeping up from the back of the throat and then just coating all your senses with a lasting, wonderfully bittersweet finish. Now THIS is one mighty Lagavulin.

Michael Cheang swears he can still taste the Lagavulin 25YO every time he closes his eyes and thinks about it. Drop him a note at the Tipsy-Turvy Facebook page ( or follow him on Instagram (@mytipsyturvy).

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