Ever since being opened in 1995, Arran Distillery has been a huge success. That probably emboldened their owners to open another distillery on the island. Work on Lagg Distillery, located on the southern coast of the Isle of Arran, completed in early 2019. And now they’ve released the Lagg Distillery Inaugural Release Batch 1.
So, there are several batches of the Lagg Distillery Inaugural Release, which comes across a bit odd. (After all, there can only be one inaugural release, right?) A more appt description might’ve been inaugural outturn, which in Lagg’s case consists of three different whiskies. Or three batches, if you will. One matured in ex-bourbon casks (which I’m reviewing today), and the other two in either ex-red wine charred casks and ex-Oloroso sherry casks.
I’ve been following Lagg Distillery from a distance, but with interest. I interviewed distillery manager Graham Omand for a Dutch magazine in mid-2018. Lagg was still under construction then. At the time he was just appointed distillery manager and had been still man at Arran Distillery for eight years. I think it might’ve been the first official interview he had ever done.
He comes from a whisky family and is industry legend’s James MacTaggart nephew. Growing up on Islay, whisky was part of his DNA from an early age. Graham explained to me, “A lot of my family work in the distilleries. So even before I knew anything about jobs, I knew that my uncle, my cousin and my sister all worked at distilleries. My high school, Islay High School, is only a couple of buildings away from Bowmore distillery, so every Wednesday when the peat kiln was fired up, the village would get a nice blow of smoky flavouring. It was just ingrained from the get-go.
“Even in the 1990s when I was growing up on Islay, whisky tourism wasn’t as big as it is now, but there was still a lot of it. A lot of people would travel from Japan or Germany, just to come to Islay to experience distilleries. My mother ran a bed and breakfast, so I got to experience a culture where all these people were travelling all over the world just to sample Islay whisky. As a wee boy it really stuck with me how important whisky can be for people.
“I’ve always lived on an island so I lived a very sheltered live. When I went to college it was a big culture shock. Everybody was from the mainland, and people kept saying to me: ‘Oh wow, Islay. You’re from the place where they make whisky.’ Everyone asked me what whiskies I could recommend and what distilleries I’ve visited. Suddenly whenever anyone found out I was from Islay, all they ever asked me was about the whisky. That’s when I really realised how important whisky was not just to tourism, but to Scotland in general.
Growing up on Islay instilled a love for peated malt in Graham, who’s particularly fond of Lagavulin and Laphroaig. Lucky for him, Lagg is producing only heavily peated malt. “They’re two of my favourite whisky’s. I have my eye on particularly Lagavulin. I’m very excited to see if I can try and do something that can match up to such a beautiful recipe they produce. I’m sure with James’ expertise, the two of us together will be able to at least get close.”
I love the confidence! Now, Lagavulin is a high ideal to strive for, but I can really appreciate people who aim high. At such a young age, it’s not fair to compare the Lagg Distillery Inaugural Release Batch 1 with Lagavulin yet, but it’s certainly something I’ll keep in mind when tasting it.
Nose: Notes of citrus and elderflower nicely integrate with bonfire smoke. Also touches of forest floor, damp moss and tinned fruits. Whispers of embers, ash and tobacco leaves too. Taste: Oily mouthfeel with vegetal peat, tinned pineapple and ripe bananas, but also whiffs of white pepper. Slightly astringent, hints of plaster and a medicinal touch. Liquorice too. Finish: Lingering spices, sauerkraut and medicinal peat. Long with a tinge of ash.
There's some medicinal influence, but also some warmer, earthier smoke that combines well with the fruit. The Lagg Distillery Inaugural Release Batch 1 really strikes a good balance. Youthful and vibrant, but never immature.