This is the final installment in a series of six reviews. The previous in the series can be found here.
The distilleries involved are what Diageo refers to as The Six Classic Malts and are comprised of Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Oban, and Talisker. Each takes part in the DE program. Today, we’ll explore the 2023 Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition.
“Miles and miles of peat bog in the west of the island provide the raw material which imbues the barley with that distinct smoky flavour. Not to mention the rich peaty water that runs down the brown burn from the Solan Lochs and into the distillery. In case you haven’t figured it out, the smoky, peated Lagavulin is seen as the ultimate expression of this region.” - Diageo
In 1816, John Johnstone founded the first legal distillery at Lagavulin. There were many illicit ones prior, dating to at least 1742. Then, in 1817, a second distillery called Ardmore (no relation to the distillery that exists today) was built by Archibald Campbell. Ardmore went silent in 1821, and Johnstone purchased it in 1825. He ran them both, but in 1835, Ardmore was shuttered. A year later, Johnstone passed away, and Alexander Graham, a spirits merchant, purchased Lagavulin. Ardmore and Lagavulin merged operations under the name Lagavulin.
Graham’s son, Walter, was in charge until he left in 1848 to head up the Laphroaig Distillery. In 1852, Walter’s brother John Crawford Graham assumed control. Then, in 1862, it changed hands again, this time to James Logan Mackie.
In 1878, James hired his nephew Peter. James passed away in 1889, and Peter took the helm, forming Mackie & Co.
Here’s where things get interesting. In 1908, Peter got his panties in a bunch and built another distillery called Malt Mill. Malt Mill was constructed as a replica of Laphroaig’s distillery. His goal was to duplicate Laphroaig’s whisky. He failed, but Laphroaig sued anyway. The court dismissed Laphroaig’s allegations since Lagavulin utilized a different water source and peat than what Laphroaig used.
Peter died in 1924, and Mackie & Co changed its name to White Horse Distillers. Buchanan Dewar Ltd then acquired it, and in 1927, Buchanan Dewar Ltd merged with Distillers Company Limited, which eventually became Diageo.
I saved the Lagavulin for last for a few reasons. The main is that it is an Islay Scotch and should be very peaty. The second is anticipation. I love Lagavulin 16, the distillery’s core expression and the base of the DE.
Lagavulin 16 is packaged at 43% ABV (86°). The Distiller’s Edition adds a second maturation in Pedro Ximenez (PX)-seasoned American oak casks. This was the third reason; PX is my favorite type of sherry oak in whisky making.
PX sherry is made from Spanish white grapes grown around various regions, but primarily from the Denominación de Origen (DO) of Montilla-Moriles, creating a crazily sweet, dark dessert sherry.
Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition has a suggested price of $125.00.
While I’m about to #DrinkCurious, I realize that I’m potentially setting myself up for disappointment because of the three reasons that I kept this whisky for the last in the series.
Before I get there, I must thank Diageo for providing me with a sample in exchange for my no-strings-attached, honest review.
Appearance: I served this Scotch neat in a Glencairn glass. The liquid looked like dark bronze and created a microthin rim. Fast, thick tears fell, yet sticky droplets remained.
Nose: Peat and seaweed were the first smells I encountered. Aromas of raisins, apricots, caramel, and toffee followed. Salted caramel rolled across my tongue when I breathed through my mouth.
Palate: The silky texture introduced the front of my palate to what I could swear was a caramel-rich, smoky barbeque sauce. Grilled pineapple, raisins, and apricots formed the middle. The back featured brine, tobacco leaf, and dark chocolate.
Finish: The finish was unusual, to say the least. It was like an ocean tide. It started with a peaty wave, then faded, and when I thought it would be short, another wave of peat rolled through. Overall, it was long, including flavors of tobacco leaf, dark chocolate, oak, and a distinct saltiness.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Thankfully, I was not disappointed. The PX influence was obvious. Lagavulin took an already fabulous whisky and added panache. Is this something that a peat newbie can handle? Not likely. But an Islay fan is going to go absolutely bonkers. This 16+-year-old single malt Scotch is worth the price of admission, and I’m sitting here wishing I had another Bottle.
As an added bonus, I’ll include notes from my review of Lagavulin 16 since I happen to have a bottle on hand. The tasting notes from my 2020 review of the core whisky are still dead-on:
Nose: There was no mistaking the aroma: Peat, peat, and more peat. But, with a much more mature nose, I discovered brine and sweet caramel beneath all that peat. When I inhaled through my lips, it was all vanilla cream.
Palate: My first sip was oily and coated but not what I could describe as heavy. The first thing to strike my palate was, not surprisingly, peat and ash. The best description I can use to tell what I tasted was coffee ice cream. The coffee and vanilla were thick. Below those, I found brine and seaweed.
Finish: I found it was very long, smoky, and oaky. But, punching through that was a tasty caramel, chocolate, and toffee mixture similar to a Heath bar.
Well, there you have it. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my reviews of the 2023 Distiller’s Edition whiskies. I know that I relished drinking them. Cheers!
My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System
- Bottle = Buy It
- Bar = Try It
- Bust = Leave It
Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.