May 162018

Lagavulin is one of those distilleries not overly crazy on having their name on independent bottlings. That’s not to say that they don’t sell young spirit, on the contrary, and it’s not even that hard to come by, but it’s still not common to see indies telling you where it’s from. But wait, that’s not Lagavulin, it’s “Like A Villain”, how clever!

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The Spirit Still “Like A Villain” – Lagavulin 9 Côtes du Rhône French Oak Wine Cask Finish (52% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Light Rose wine, necklace with slow droplets.

Nose: Earthy maltiness, canned peaches and fresh apricots with some baked cinnamon. Smoke and brine, in a very fresh, almost “Ardbeggy” minerality.  There is a hint of ginger and a warm floral note.

Palate: Bitter citrus rind, pepper, some rock fruit and a hit of peat. There is a bit of honey on the palate, a little bit of wine tannins and some of the dry Lagavulin peat.

Linger: Peat and a spicy bitterness on the sides of the tongue, and a bit of sweetness on the tongue. Quite a bit of spiciness around the gullet, in a linger that isn’t quite as long as I would expect from such a peated dram.


As a wine matured/finished aficionado, I can’t help but think that this was a bit of a miss as it needed more (a lot more) wine influence. I undersand the thinking behind pulling it out so soon, leaving it more in line for those less enamored with wine finishes, but I would have liked a lot more of the wine in there.


Jul 302017

Independent bottlings of Lagavulin are not overly common (although there’s probably more of it out there in unnamed bottlings than is known), as Diageo is loath to part with casks of Lagavulin for independent bottlings and has been for quite a while. Everything the distillery produces, some 1.4 million liters a year, will go into the distillery bottlings or the increasingly sparsely distributed White Horse blend.

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Nevertheless, indies do pop up here and there, and this Elements of Islay is a classic, if somewhat young, Lagavulin.


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Elements of Islay Lg5  – Lagavulin from Two Undisclosed Vintages, Matured in Refill Hogsheads (54.8% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Light gold, thin slow legs, with a long lasting necklace.

Nose: Young and briny, with fresh green fruit, vanilla and a smoky freshness. It’s farmy, with hard candy and a bit of minerals.

Palate: Big hit of peat, grapefruit rind, and a hint of sweetness on the palate.

Linger: Citrusy and peaty for a long time, with ash and white pepper.


Not a complex dram, it’s very fruity and light, with an underlying hit of the sea. Unmistakably Islay.

Part of the July 2017 tasting flight of our MMI – Malt Mongers Israel Whisky Club.

Apr 232017

As far as blends go, White Horse is of mythological proportions in the minds of whisky anoraks, as old Lagavulin and the legendary Malt Mill make up some of the malts in the older expressions of this blend.

Named for the White Horse Cellar Inn in Edinburgh, which was a point of origin for a coach line to London, this inn belonged to the Mackie family for centuries, and the blend was meant to celebrate that, as can be seen in this later label (Sometime between 1924, when Mackie & Co. (Distillers) became White Horse Distillers and 1952, when the royal warrant would have changed to “The Queen”) :

Photo Credit: Edinburgh City of Print on Flickr

Indeed, the text tells of the 1754 eight day coach trip from Edinburgh to London and reads:

All that are desirous to pass from EDINBURGH to LONDON, or any other place on the road, let them repair to the WHITE HORSE CELLAR in EDINBURGH at which place they may be received in a STAGE COACH every Monday and Friday, which performs the whole journey in eight days (if God permits), and sets forth at five in the morning.
Allowing each passenger 14 pounds of weight, and all above, 6 pence per pound.

Peter Mackie was described by Robert Bruce-Lockhart as “One-third genius, one-third megalomaniac and one-third eccentric” and he likely fully earned all three descriptions.

At the time, the company owned Lagavulin and Craigellachie, which accounts for the “and Glenlivet District” on the label, but that’s not all. Peter Mackie was not only the owner of Lagavulin, he was also the agent for Laphroaig. The two distilleries are very close, and following a water rights dispute, Laphroaig withdrew Mackie’s contract. Well, Peter Mackie, being wholly unpredictable (his favorite saying was “take nothing for granted”), replicated Laphroaig’s stills and even headhunting their brewer. This “new Laphroaig” was called Malt Mill, and it operated within Lagavulin from 1908 to 1962. Not too long ago, the existence of a bottle of the last still run of Malt Mill, from June 1962 was revealed by distillery manager Georgie Crawford.

Georgie Crawford with the Bottle
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There are two known bottlings of Malt Mill and some vattings of malts with Lagavulin (you can see one of them here). There has been a bottling of ‘Mackie’s Ancient Scotch’ which states “Malt Mill Distillery” on the label, but Serge Valentin is sure this is a blend, so we’ll work with that assumption, leaving it as a blend.

In any event, this version of White Horse was bottled in 1922 (as the label actually states), and certainly has whisky from Lagavulin, Malt Mill and Craigellachie in it.

What’s it like? Let’s find out:


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White Horse Blended Whisky, Bottled 1922 (40% ABV)

Appearance: Gold with thin and rather quick legs, leaving some residue behind.

Nose: Expecting a hit of Lagavulin, there’s really very little smoke on the nose, though it exists. Waxy with honey, and some furniture polish or wallpaper glue. A hint of fruitiness that increases with time, and some more sweetness.

Palate: Burnt wax, bitter citrus rind and a hard honey candy. There’s somewhat more peat on the palate than the nose suggests, but it’s much less “Lagavulin-y” than I would have expected.

Linger: Not very long, with some bitter spice and the burnt waxiness throughout.


I have no way of knowing if this is what the blend actually tasted like back in 1922 and if it deteriorated in the driven cork bottle, but this is good and fascinating stuff, besides being really a piece of history. I will say that if it deteriorated in the bottle, the original liquid was glorious indeed!

I want to thank the incredible group of people who find the most excellent bottles to share. This one was organized by Chris Miles, and we paid £390 for this bottle at auction. Thanks @chrismiles303

Oct 302016

It’s that time of year again when the nights are getting longer and we drop back into standard time (or ‘winter clock’ as they call it in Israel) and at long last, temperatures begin to enter a comfortable zone. Sadly it’s nowhere near “fireplace range” here, but we can always imagine it. That of course means only one thing, it’s time to taste the new Big Peat Christmas Edition of 2016.

Photo Credit: Douglas Laing

Photo Credit: Douglas Laing

I’ve written quite a few reviews on big peat and the Christmas editions, offered at cask strength. I won’t reiterate the whole story behind big peat and the brand that it’s become, rather only mention that while the normal Big Peat is a vatting of whisky from Ardbeg, Bowmore, Caol Ila and Port Ellen, the 2016 edition includes whisky from all eight active Islay distilleries as well as from Port Ellen, closed since 1983. Thus, in this year’s edition you’ll find whiskies from Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Bruichladdich and Kilchoman, as well as the Port Ellen Distillery. Pulling this off required some corporation from Kilchoman, as this distillery does not sell casks to independent bottlers on any regular basis.

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Can you tell the difference between past Christmas bottlings and this one? The answer is unequivocally yes. This is a gentler Christmas Edition with quite a bit of softness to it and somewhat less brine and a softer peatiness. You won’t mistake it for anything but Big Peat, but it’s different!


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Photo Credit:

Douglas Laing Big Peat Christmas Edition 2016 “All Islay” (54.6% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Pale gold, very thin legs running down the glass.

Nose: Much softer than the editions of Christmas past, somewhat sweeter on the nose with some spice. The very “Big Peaty” brine is there, but it’s a little less pronounced, with a fresh maltiness to it. There’s also some marshmallow and vanilla. With time, you get some floral notes too. A drop of water brings up the brine again, and after that settles, ash, maltiness and a hint of mint surface.

Palate: A lot of hot spice with a big hit of peat, and a tinge of ashiness to it.  Some paint thinner and crushed pepper with a layer of fruity sweetness under the smoke. There’s a very clear layer of vanilla and coconut there (I’d venture to speculate that there are some unpeated fresh bourbon casks in there this time).

Linger: Long and smoky, with a lot of the spice remaining on the tongue. A bitterness, with some wood (perhaps an evergreen, though not pine) and lemon.


You can’t get too attached to these one off special editions, but this is one to stock up on. There are layers to discover as it sits in a glass, and something about it has a pretty soft and endearing aspect. This is one very well made vatted malt. Kudus, Fred!

Official sample provided by Douglas Laing. Slainte!

May 212016

It’s once again the first day of the Fèis Ìle festival, which makes it time to taste a Lagavulin in celebration. Last year, I tasted the 2014 Festival bottling, but have somehow missed the 2015 release. I’m sure a sample will turn up eventually, but this is a good opportunity to reach back to the 2010 edition of the annual festival release and enjoy this single sherry butt to its fullest.

Lagavulin released a great video when Georgie Crawford was appointed distillery manager in 2010. I think it’s very fitting to hear Peter Campbell and Georgie Crawford talk about Lagavulin while tasting Peter’s last Fèis Ìle Lagavulin release:

And now, on to some Lagavulin:

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Photo Credit:

Lagavulin 16 Year Old, Sherry Cask 3210, Fèis Ìle Lagavulin Open day 2010, 528 Bottles (52.7% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Copper, little beads off the necklace slowly form into slow moving droplets and legs down the glass. It seems really viscous and oily.

Nose: Despite being only in the low 50s, the alcoholic burn is the first thing on the nose. Cereal and varnish, over a wood fire smoky sweetness. It seems like the sherry is closed up and I wonder what it will be like with some water. Stone fruit, namely fresh diced peaches, salt and compost. More maritime than most Lagavulins. A few drops of water didn’t open up the sherry on the nose, rather strengthening the varnish. The second time I added a bit of water, the sherry and salt came out very clearly.

Palate: Full bodied with an almost beefy mouth feel. Sweet sherry, cinnamon, white pepper with a bit of black pepper thrown in, a very smoky and sweet peat. Water loosens up the sherry and brings out more and more of the spice.

Linger: Spice and peat, in a long and somewhat drying finish. The linger is not as sweet as one would expect from the sweetness of the palate although you can detect it in the undertones.


The most maritime Lagavulin I tasted to date, this is an example of a pretty extreme Lagavulin. Most enjoyable, and quite different than the standard 16 year old.