Bowmore and Lahproaig represent the best that 1960s Islay whiskies have to offer. Ardbeg is probably what you want when looking for a 1970s Islay dram. But when we get to the more modern age, those distilleries are probably surpassed by Lagavulin.
Lagavulin has an impeccable reputation, built by the continued excellency of the Lagavulin 16yo, and further solidified by limited editions, like the Feis Ile releases, or the incredible 25-year-old from a few years back. Single casks are few and far between. You might find an undisclosed one every now and again, and there have been a few for the local Islay festivals, but that’s it.
In recent years, this has changed slightly. Really, calling it a change is probably already an overstatement. What I mean is—Diageo now every so often allows private parties to bottle a cask. There have been a few Lagavulin so far, all of them for the Far East. As far as I can tell, the Lagavulin I’m reviewing today is the first such bottling for Europe.
The European Lagavulin Fans is a collective of six individuals, who reached out to Diageo in hope of getting permission to bottle a cask. That I’m now writing about it, should tell you they succeeded. They picked a 21-year-old Lagavulin from a European oak cask. Only 158 bottles are available. But before you reach for your wallet: this’ll set you back north of a 1,000 euro. Easily.
Lagavulin 1997 21 Years Old (56.6%, OB for ‘European Lagavulin Fans’, C#0001)
Nose: Somewhat vegetal, but also hints of licorice, smoked sausage and fried bacon, followed by damp old wood and subtle wood smoke. The soft citrus notes are wonderful, with zesty orange taking the crown. It even has a light floral touch. Finally, there’s also a slight farminess. Lovely well-integrated and complex. Stunning! Taste: A salty en pepper-y arrival, with subtle notes of charcoal and vegetal peat, as well as burlap. There’s definitely smoked paprika powder in here, as well as some beef jerky and charred meat. Finish: Lingering bonfire smoke with a nice salinity.