Tonight [well, last night by the time I post this] I’m drinking from a 20 cl bottle of Lagavulin 12 ‘Special Release’, another sample from my 2007 Classic Islay Collection gift pack. I posted yesterday about the value of these gift packs because of the inclusion of the Port Ellen Annual Release. However, this Lagavulin makes for another very compelling case, as it appears to be hard to find in full size bottle form. At this time, both Royal Mile Whiskies and The Whisky Exchange are sold out of the 2006 and 2007 releases of Lagavulin 12. This particular expression is bottled at a natural cask strength of 57.1%. Like the Port Ellen, this 20 cl bottling is at a different strength than the full size Lagavulin 12, which is bottled at 56.4%. I’d still like to hear from somebody who might know the reason for this difference in bottling strength. [Update - Tim F from The Whisky Exchange kindly shared a response directly from Diageo in the comments. Thanks Tim!]
On the nose, neat, the Laga 12 is all Islay, with peat, coal smoke, something medicinal in nature, and just a hint of the fruity sweetness found in the 16 year old. On the palate, there’s an in-your-face brashness (not to be confused with harshness). This is an energetic drink, exploding in the mouth with that 57.1% ABV heat and tons of peat, along with some pepper spiciness and then drying on the tongue. Heading into the finish, it’s very drying on the tongue. There’s more of that peaty coal smoke, and it lasts for quite a while. Adding a little water, the nose now hints at more of the sweetness you expect from the Lagavulin 16 year, but it is still much more muted. The alcohol heat is gone, the pepper is subdued, but the peat remains. A little of the sweetness now makes its way into the palate in the form of light citrus. The finish remains very similar to the way it was neat.
Conclusion - Tomorrow I might pull out the Laga 16, put on Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, and contemplate life. Tonight, I’m just going to crank up some Metallica Master of Puppets and enjoy the rest of this Lagavulin 12 ‘Special Release’. It’s what I have imagined a Caol Ila cask strength would taste like. The first time I tried the Lagavulin 12, I drank it along with the 16 year and found myself comparing them. I think the additional richness of the 16 masked the strengths of the 12. That’s not really a fair thing for me to do, as I’m prone to perhaps an unjustified glorification of Lagavulin 16 and Talisker 18 single malts. I consider them nectars of the gods, categorized separately from beverages intended for mere mortals. Of the earth-bound whiskies, I put this cask strength 12 year right up there at the top. It’s a take no prisoners peat train crossing the island of Islay, with smoke from the coal-stoked engine hitting you in the face. It’s not hugely complex, but it’s not one-dimensional either, and what it has to offer is all good. There’s nothing offensive going on here at all. I highly recommend trying Lagavulin 12 if you like Islay scotch, even if you find Lagavulin 16 slightly overbearing.
- WhiskyFun.com – Tasting 5 young Lagavulins. Here’s a comparison of 4 Lagavulin 12 special releases, along with an independent bottling. They felt the 2007 bottling was a big improvement over the 2005 and earlier bottlings.
- Whisky Magazine – The tasting notes and scoring are for an earlier release, but you will also find links to a number of forum threads about Lagavulin 12, and discussions comparing the 12 and 16 profiles.