|Iain in front of the casks ready for tasting
While the portions were extremely generous 40-50 mL pours (I actually had to dump a decent number out instead of finishing them), notes are somewhat abbreviated as I was trying to keep up with the progress of the demonstration.
Lagavulin New Make
Nose: very clean smoke, lightly malty, a little medicinal, a little plastic
Taste: extremely sweet, fruity, rose, slightly astringent peat, vegetal, strong apple notes in the middle
I was, to put it mildly, surprised by how good the new make tasted. Given the setup of Lagavulin's stills, I expected something of a hot mess, with off notes from the heads and tails clashing with the malt core. Instead, it was almost refined and actually quite drinkable. The apple notes were my favorite part, as they were a nice counterpoint to the fresh peat. I genuinely wish Lagavulin would bottle and sell this stuff - I would buy it in a heartbeat.
9 Year Old First Fill Sherry Cask - 58%
Nose: dry, peaty, medicinal, a little malt, a little bacon, with water more new make notes come out
Taste: thick sherry up front, mildly peaty with apples at the back, a little oak, bittersweet overall, cacao and more oak come out with water
This was, as Iain put it, 'baby Lagavulin'. The sherry casks had added their traditional layer to the spirit, but it lacked the refinement and nuance of older whisky.
11 Year Old Refill Bourbon Cask - 56%
Nose: malty, salty bacon, bourbon barrel (caramel, oak, vanilla), just a hint of new make, not a lot of peat, light apples, more new make notes after adding water
Taste: very sweet, bourbon barrel influence is clear, more integrated peat, apple. After adding water, it was less sweet with more oak, chocolate in the middle, more fruity and stronger barrel influence.
This was the essence of a good bourbon barrel peated whisky. The sweet caramel and vanilla were a perfect balance to the rashers of salty bacon and peat. It wasn't subtle, but it was incredibly tasty. I would love to be able to buy a bottle of this.
14 Year Old Sherry Cask - 56.47%
Nose: more noticeable sherry, ethereal, apples/new make, malty, rose. After adding water, it was more vegetal with stronger new make notes, but salty bacon popped out.
Taste: light but present sherry, lots of apples, light integrated peat, cacao, malty. After adding water, it was more malty, with stronger chocolate and green notes.
This was Lagavulin starting to hit its stride. The sherry was much more integrated than in the 9 year old, with some more nuanced flavors starting to come out. The rose notes in the nose were particularly fun and the taste was becoming decadent with the sherry turning into chocolate.
Feis Ila 2013 Festival Bottling
Nose: closer to the OB 16 - fruity, peat, plastic?, apple blossom, salty bacon, floral
Taste: sherry, oak, pepper, apples, peat, malt, new make, apple blossom
This was a nice, but after the rest of the line-up, less exciting dram. If you like the standard Lagavulin releases, you're almost guaranteed to like this one. So while I enjoyed it, I didn't feel sufficiently attached to it to buy a bottle from the visitor center, both because of the price and (more importantly) because I didn't want to carry around a whole bottle for the rest of my trip. I do wish they had sold a few cask samples as well - I would have snapped up a 200 or 375 mL bottle of any one of the casks I sampled that day. And given the across-the-board quality, I probably would have bought a sample from a cask that hand't been in the line-up.
|Getting to valinch out 31 year old Lagavulin from the cask - now that's a birthday present
Nose: floral/herbal, vanilla, light oak, light peat, bacon/salt - more malty with water
Taste: very sweet, tons of vanilla at the back, vegetal, apples, pepper - with water more barrel character, greener, more peat, pepper, and oak
It's difficult to put into words just how good this whisky was. While it didn't have the traditional Lagavulin sherry, everything else about it perfectly encapsulated the distillery. The cask and spirit were in exquisite balance and most shockingly of all, the huge apple notes from the new make spirit were back, providing a burst of freshness in a rather old whisky. This was easily the whisky highlight of my trip. It blows my mind that the distillery is willing to serve us this alongside all of the other casks for a pretty minimal outlay considering the prices of older Lagavulin releases these days. I consider myself very fortunate to have sampled it, even if it will be nothing more than a memory.
|Casks resting in the warehouse, waiting to see the light of day sometime in the future
For another perspective on this tasting only a few days apart from mine, check out the The Pyromaniacs.