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Archive for May 11th, 2009

Lagavulin 12 Natural Cask Strength 2007

Lagavulin 12 Natural Cask Strength 2007

Introduction

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!]

Tasting notes

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.

Other opinions

  • 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.

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I love those gift packs where you get a few (usually three) 20 cl bottles of whisky in a nice box.  The cost is usually not much more per cl than you would pay for a full size bottle, but you get to try out multiple expressions.  They’re especially great for a new whisky enthusiast.  I was browsing through The Whisky Exchange (TWE) web site Special Offers a few weeks ago, and a Diageo gift pack stood out at me because it included five 20 cl bottles instead of the usual three.

I noticed that it was an “Islay” gift pack (Islay whiskies being my new obsession), so I clicked on it.  They called it the “Islay Collection 2007”, and I couldn’t believe what I saw:  Caol Ila 12, Caol Ila 18, Lagavulin 16, Lagavulin 12 CS, and…wait for it…Port Ellen 28 year ‘7th Annual Release’!  The price was marked down from 97 GBP ($146) to 70 GBP ($105) [Actually, that’s including VAT.  Outside of the UK it’s 61 GBP ($90)].  They now also have the 2006 version of this same gift pack, which includes, you guessed it, the 6th Port Ellen release.

2006 Classic Islay Collection

2006 Classic Islay Collection

Are you kidding me!?  One of the Port Ellen Annual Release original distillery bottlings that I’ve been reading great things about, but was scared off by the $400+/bottle price?  I had to get my hands on this gift pack.  I couldn’t believe that they would stay in stock very long.  On the contrary, six weeks later they now have both the 2006 and 2007 versions of the gift pack available.  How is this staying on the shelves?  Let’s consider the price and value:

Spending over $100 on a liter of whisky is still a considerable purchase.  However, let’s take a moment to rationalize this for ourselves.  What would 20 cl of these five scotches go for if you calculated it based on the full bottle price?  I’m going to go with current TWE prices for reference:

  • Caol Ila 12: 70cl = 25 GBP, so 20cl = 7 GBP ($10.50)
  • Caol Ila 18: 70cl = 45 GBP, so 20cl = 13 GBP ($19.50)
  • Lagavulin 16: 70cl = 40 GBP, so 20cl = 11.5 GBP ($17.50) [This would be much more in the USA]
  • Lagavulin 12: 70cl = 49 GBP, so 20cl = 14 GBP ($21) [This is the 2008 price; might be more if you can find 2006/2007]
  • Port Ellen 6th: 70cl = 299 GBP, so 20cl = 85 GBP ($128)

“Fair Price” Total:  130 GBP ($205)

Another way to look at it is that you’re getting nearly 30% of a bottle of Port Ellen at a discount price, and they’re throwing in the other 800 ml of Islay goodness for free. Yet another view is that a fair price for the four non-Port Ellen bottles is 45.50 GBP, so this is a chance to get 20cl of the elusive Port Ellen for a mere 24.50 GBP ($36). A final consideration is the flat monetary outlay that we’re talking about here in order to taste an OB (original distillery bottling) Port Ellen:  Approximately $100 to $135 depending on tax/shipping vs. $400+.  This is a significant lowering of the barrier to entry.

So, if you’re in the UK, or someplace that allows mail order of this gift pack from TWE, what are you waiting for?  You might also still be able to find this in some specialty shops in primary whisky market areas in the United States.  This is your chance to be a part of a rapidly disappearing piece of history; a chance for us middle/working-class scotch lovers to exchange tasting notes of a rare, expensive malt with the rich and famous.  You’re also armed with convincing numbers to explain to your significant other why it would be like throwing away money NOT to buy this set.  Isn’t it great to turn the tables around now and then?

Update: I forgot to mention another tip if you’re having this shipped to the United States – They charge 32 GBP shipping for this gift pack, vs 26 GBP for a single bottle. However, you can add up to five 50ml miniatures to your order and the shipping cost will stay the same. So go ahead and try out some new malts while you’re ordering the Islay gift pack, expanding your horizons and defraying the shipping costs.

Cheers,
Jeff
Port Ellen, Lagavulin and Caol Ila from the Classic Islay Collection

Port Ellen and friends

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