While the Lagavulin 16 is as mainstream a single malt as it gets, apart from maybe Glenfiddich 12, it is subject to discussion. Mostly because according to whisky geeks like myself there has been a steady decline in quality over the last two decades or so.
The culmination of this everlasting discussion generally ends up with someone getting all dreamy eyed when he mentions the old White Horse editions. Technically, the White Horse edition is just a regular 16 year old from the 1990s. It’s called White Horse because there are some minor labeling differences. On the old label it said ‘White Horse Distillers, Glasgow’, while the new labels state Port Ellen. There are some other differences but this is the one that named it.
Apart from White Horse, the discussion is a bit more standard. A bit like the Highland Park 18. Everybody agrees that it was better 10 years ago, but compared to the current market, Highland Park (and also Lagavulin) still have a gem in their distillery’s standard output.
I got a sample of the White Horse Lagavulin ages ago at Maltstock (thanks Maarten) and decided to do a head to head. In this review I’ll just review the White Horse, and then do a small comparison to the current release (current being some 3 to 4 years old).
The peat is fairly pungent and sharp with mostly the scent of burning plants. Heather, straw, smoke and hay. There’s also a fairly significant scent of tar and cigarette smoke. A hint of Lapsang Souchong tea with orange liqueur.
The palate is gentle, smooth and rich. Lots of smoke and earthiness. That comes across as hay and heather again, and therefore ever so slightly bitter. The smoke is pretty coarse, with tar, peat and this time cigars. Cigars in the way the smoke slightly sears your cheeks and tongue. Sweet, with Valencia oranges.
The finish is rich and smooth again, slightly more spicy than the palate. The hints of tea are back. Lapsang Souchong but also breakfast tea. Dry, heather and peat mostly.
This is a cracking dram. I think the best way to put it is to compare it to the regular Lagavulin 16. In short: This is Lagavulin 16, with all individual flavors turned up a notch.
The tea, and oranges are stronger but mostly the scent of tar is present here which is subdued in the current editions. It’s slightly more earthy and heathery.
Having said that, when doing this comparison, I did also find out that I had kind of forgotten about Lagavulin 16 and even the current edition is a cracking dram. And yes, the White Horse edition is better, but not that much better. I’m not entirely sure about all different White Horse editions out there, but prices seem to have soared the last couple of years. Online they’re about € 350 to € 400 for a bottle.
So, my suggestion is to get a sample of the White Horse, and two bottles of the regular and then knock yourself out. I love Lagavulin.
Lagavulin 16, White Horse Distillers, 43%. Check prices here