Sunday, 27 May 2012

Whisky Discovery #118

Lagavulin 12 Year Old (57.5% abv, OB Bottled 2011 70cl)
Islay Single Malt
circa £70.00 70cl

The Lagavulin 12 Year Old
For our final dram of th 'Magnificent Seven' master class at the Whisky Lounge Midlands Fest, Colin Dunn had chosen this Lagavulin 12 year old.

Of the great homes of malt whisky the greatest is surely Islay, home even today to seven active malt distilleries. As early as 1742, there were perhaps ten illicit stills operating at Lagavulin. In 1816 local farmer and distiller John Johnston founded the first legal distillery, within view of Dunyvaig Castle, once the stronghold of the Lords of the Isles.

A year later Archibald Campbell founded a second, which seems later to have traded under the name Ardmore. After Johnston's death the two were united.

Above all, Islay means peat. Miles and miles of peat bog in the west of the island provide the raw material whose influence so characterises the south eastern Islay malts, of which Lagavulin is perhaps best known. The rich peaty water of Lagavulin runs down the brown burn to the distillery from the Solan Lochs in the hills above the distillery. The barley used to distil Lagavulin is malted at nearby Port Ellen and has a strong peat "reek" - it has perhaps twenty times as much exposure to peat smoke as a typical Speyside such as Cragganmore. Fermentation of the barley is a slow process, too. Between 55 and 75 hours are taken for the full peat-rich flavour of the locally-malted barley to come through.

Long fermentation, long distillation and long maturation together ensure that Lagavulin develops all of its long, rich, peaty character. It’s is a spirit that likes to take its time. The definitive Islay malt demands nothing less.

The four stills at Lagavulin, two of them pear-shaped in the style inherited from Malt Mill, take this peaty wort and give it all the time and care it deserves. Following the original practice, Lagavulin receives the slowest distillation of any Islay malt - around five hours for the first distillation and more than nine hours for the second. This long distillation is often said to give Lagavulin the characteristic roundness and soft, mellow edges.

So what did I think?

I have tasted two Lagavulin expressions before, the delicious Lagavulin 16, (I received a bottle of this for my birthday last year) and at the Whisky Live event in March I tasted the rich Distillers Edition, both of these have left lasting impressions on me, both are spectacular drams and seem to suit my palate perfectly. My shelf should always have some Lagavulin on it.

I had heard many good things about the limited edition 12 year old and it did not disappoint. The 12 Year Old is an annual special release from the distillery, and this cask strength expression was bottled last year. I also managed to get some of this 'nectar' to take home with me and enjoy at my leisure before finishing these notes.

This bottle has an awesome nose with sweet scented wood-smoky bonfire, sweet toffee, smoked cheeses, milk chocolate digestive biscuits with wave after wave of the sweet scented wood smoke wafting gently from the glass, just delicious!

It explodes in the mouth with intense smoky peat with spicy black pepper yet with a perfectly balanced sweetness and a sweet chestnut nuttiness that is just as delicious as the nose. There is a long peppery finish with each mouthfull,with a salty edge throughout and the whole sensation gets sweeter as it fades. I really loved it and it was my the highlight dram of the show.

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