Lagavulin: King of Islay… and Feis Ile 2020

And for the second day in a row, Tom reviews a Feis Ile 2020 whisky. This time it’s the Lagavulin. A 20 year whisky at a significantly lower price than the 21 year old single casks that were released through private bottlers a few years ago. Still, the £ 190 per bottle is not something to make light of.

There was quite an uproar when the 2019 release of the special editions from Diageo appeared in a whole new package. I actually liked the uniformity with those beautiful bird tubes in which for instance the Lagavulin 12 Years Old was packaged.

I can not remember ever seeing Lagavulin being branded as “the King of Islay”. Seems like nonsense to me anyway, as I consider my whiskies to be female, unless they sport a manly name like Johnnie. But here it was, a fitting surname for a whisky that can make a man sing and write and dance. The most recent release is the Feis Ile bottling of 2020, a whisky that matured in refill and PX/oloroso matured hogshead. A little confusing, as the labels mentions the refill and the sherry as two separate things, as to me it sounds as 1) refill hogsheads, 2) PX treated hogsheads and 3) oloroso treated hogsheads. But okay, let’s have a taste of this new giant. 

Lagavulin Feis Ile 2020, 20 Years Old, Distillery Exclusive Bottling, at 54% abv.

Nice build up since a few years, 18 in 2018, 19 in 2019 and 20 in 2020. Does this mean we get a 21 year old Lagavulin next year? Fingers crossed, last years Jazz Festival Edition was a stunner too. 

Oh, it is grand! A perfect integration of spirit that can withstand heavy sherry influences. Both shine comfortably when you put your nose in the glass. Earth that sighs relieved after it got rain at the end of a three week heatwave. Wooden floor, black pepper and licorice. I am pairing this with a 1998-2014 Distillers Edition which is more influenced by PX-casks and therefor sweeter. If that is too sweet for you, this Feis Ile is a much better balance. The peat is allowed to dominate, standing on the solid sherried shoulders.

Amazingly soft mouthfeel. It does get a little more spicy after keeping it on the tongue for a few seconds. I am delighted that the sherry is very subdued. Knowing the good people at Lagavulin, I also would not be surprised if some older casks went into this vatting. Of course, they never tell such things unless they take you on an Islay road trip and you sign a declaration of secrecy. Other notes are mostly of cooled down Americano coffee, smoked wood and cocoa powder. 

A mouthful of peat and then a long and lingering smoky finish. A little drying and notes of ginger and dark chocolate bitterness. A very mature and extremely balanced send-off. It proves yet again the advantage of batch whisky over single cask whisky. This is extremely well integrated. 

The last few years I was not swept away by the Lagavulin Feis Ile bottlings. They were all excellent but always had the shadow of the irreplaceable 2014 and 2015 editions looming over them. The 2020 is as much a classic as those editions. It reminds me of older standard 16 Years Old expressions and the rather aggressive 25 Years Old from 2002. The key is in the balance between the refill and the sherry treated oak. This is an A+ example of blending.


About Tom van Engelen

I’m a writer in a variety of fields and have a soft spot for whisky, mainly malt, mainly from Scotland. In other times I enjoyed a stint as editor-in-chief of one of the first whisky magazines in the world. When not sipping a good glass I like to write some more, read, watch 007 movies or listen Bowie music. I’m engaged to Dasha, I have a sweet daughter and I live somewhere between the big rivers in the middle of The Netherlands.


About Sjoerd de Haan-Kramer

I'm very interested in booze, with a focus on whisky. I like to listen to loads of music and play lots of Magic: the Gathering, and board games too. I'm married to Anneke, have two daughters Ot and Cato, a son Moos and a cat called Kikker (which means Frog, in Dutch). I live in Krommenie, The Netherlands.
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