Lagavulin 1999 (bottled 2015) Pedro Ximénez Cask Finish – Distillers Edition

In the shops, the Christmas decorations and cards have started to appear in the shops. At the risk of sounding like an older gentleman, I will say that it definitely gets earlier every year! After last Christmas Tesco’s in the UK seemed to make a decision to sell off a lot of their stock of malt whisky on the majority of their lines. Since then it seems that they have reduced the number of lines in store and the brands which they stock which is disappointing.

Whatever their reasons it meant that there were good, never to be repeated, deals to be had. This Lagavulin 1999 Distillers Edition is one such deal which was available for £55. I am not sure if all stores stocked the 2015 version like I have or if my little store in Kilmarnock (ex-spiritual home of Johnnie Walker) just had stock sitting going dusty on the shelf.

The Distillery

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Sitting between Ardbeg and Laphroaig on the Kildalton coastline on the Isle of Islay is the Lagavulin distillery. Founded in 1816 by John Johnston and is now part of the Diageo portfolio of distilleries where it operates at full capacity to meet current cult demands from its 4 stills and 10 washbacks.

Sadly, almost all of the spirit produces is matured on the mainland of Scotland such is the constraints on warehousing and efficiencies of scale. There are a small amount of casks at the site which can be seen during a tour however.

Between 1908 and 1962 a second “distillery” operated from the Lagavulin site known as “Malt Mill” this “distillery” was used by the then owner Peter Mackie to provide a peated malt for their blends. Previously, this was done by buying most of the product from Laphroaig but this agreement was torn up when Laproaig felt they could do better without a guaranteed sale contract.

Malt Mill was intended to produce the same flavour profile of malt as Laphroaig but apprently they couldn’t quite reproduce it. The “distillery” used the same mash tun as Lagavulin but had its own washbacks and stills. The fermentation times were different to Lagavulin as were the shape of Malt Mills stills and distillation times differed. Today the buildings have been demolished having never been bottled as a single malt but Malt Mill was where the visitor centre is now and a single sample of new malt does exist and is stored at the distillery.

The Dram

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The “Distillers Edition” bottlings from Diageo are essentially there brand name for double matured single malts. There is, of course, a fabulous marketing story but essentially its a fancy word for “finished in”. Anyway, for Lagavulin the finishing cask is a PX sherry cask. This is a thick sticky sickly sweet sherry which seem to demand a premium and leave a sweet layer in the whisky. The distillation  year was 1999 and it was bottled in 2015 making this a 16 year old whisky. Lagavulin also do an age stated “16 year old” which provides a good comparison of how wood finishing can change whisky.

For Lagavulin the finishing cask is a PX sherry cask. This is a thick sticky sickly sweet sherry which seem to demand a premium and leave a sweet layer in the whisky. The distillation year is 1999 and it was bottled in 2015 making this a 16 year old whisky. Lagavulin also do an age stated “16 year old” which provides a good comparison of how wood finishing can change whisky. Although there is no assurances the cask mix is even close to being the same between the two bottles.

The bottling strength is a slightly low 43% and that bright orange colour in the picture is certainly artificially enhanced. The whisky has also been filtered for “consistancy” as well so the texture will have been affected by that. A bottle of any of the recent Lagavulin Distillers Edition’s is between £70 and £80 in the UK.

As a side discussion, I have a real problem with whisky at this price point which has been adulterated and essentially dumbed down. I understand there is a large segment of the market which will be put off by a natural presentation and who will dislike a higher bottling strength which isn’t “smooth”. I completely understand all of that but I don’t think it is unfair to expect for bottles over £70 that they are at 46% and unfiltered. There has to be enough margin on the bottle to give us the extra alcohol surely. It must be mostly true that anyone spending that kind of money has the domain knowledge or interest to understand the significance of some extra oomph.

Tasting Notes

Colour – See above

Nose – very strong Iodine and TCP. There is a lot of smoke which billows out thick and stiffling rather than strong peat bogs from other Islay peaters. Behind the very obvious smoke is over ripe grapes giving a sharp sweetness.

Palate – medium body in the mouth feel. Dark chocolate and dark roasted coffee beans in the development with the odd spike of a cherry or raspberry.

Finish – The smoke never really leaves you on the finish.

Final Thoughts

Could this Distillers Edition be better? Well yes, it could be more raw and challenging. Is it excellent in its correct form? I think so!

The sharp sweetness from the PX finish balances some of the thick and heavy smoke from the peated malt. I had a bottle of the standard 16 year old a few years back and I eventually lost interest in the perhaps one dimensional aspect of it. I have yet to find the same issue in the Distiller Edition. Definitely recommended to seek out and try.

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