Tom climbs his pen once again to write down his thoughts on the new Lagavulin 12 years old. An annual highlight in the world of special releases.
A highlight in the year is always the Special Releases announcement of Diageo. A trusted name on that list is always the Lagavulin 12 Years Old. Last year, Diageo managed to piss off collectors by changing the packaging for the Special Release series. The Lagavulin for instance sported an elegant White Tailed Eagle. To me, it seemed also the contents of the bottle made a fresh start. Let’s see how Lagavulin followed that up with this years expression. (I will have the 2019 nearby for comparison.)
Lagavulin 12 Years Old, Special Release bottled at 56,4 % ‘from a single vintage’
According to the bottle taken from one vintage, and even though there is no further information, according to Whiskybase it comes solely from 2007 stock. This is seemingly the only difference with last year, where the expression was made up from stocks ‘selected for their high peating level’.
Fresh sea breeze on a sunny Autumn day, where the grass on the hills in front of the Lagavulin Distillery is still green. Somehow these good people managed to catch this in a bottle. Very vibrant! It helps to rinse your glass with ice-cold water and then don’t dry off the inside of the glass. The 2019 in comparison smells more like the barn we have grown to love due to peat influences. The 2020 seems to have a happier, upbeat character. In the distance dry notes from yellow fruit like banana, and sundried leaves on wet earth. This reminds me of some teenage Port Ellen actually.
If the 2019 was composed for it’s peatiness, then what is this supposed to be? Immediately after landing on the tongue the fire and ash cover your palate, with just the lightest hint of lemony sourness. If this whisky had a soundtrack, it would indeed be Sour Times by Portishead. These additional sour influences make for an interesting variation on the 2019, which has more frontal bitter notes.
This is where I cast my vote for the 2020 as the best of the two; given that we are splitting hairs here (this is why I tasted right before lunch, with the cleanest palate of the day). The deciding factor for me is the length of the finish, which is incredibly long and warming, as a good Autumn whisky should be. The bitterness that is lacking on the tongue does pleasantly appear in the finish. The 2019 is smoother on the exit, the 2020 gives you a final gut punch.
91/100 points for a Port Ellen-esque Lagavulin, where 90 points remain for the Brora-esque Lagavulin of last year. Both are incredible. One could only wonder what an additional 4 years can do, if it weren’t for the traditional 16 Years old being proof of that. We would love to see that one at an even higher ABV. Please?
Where older expressions of the 12 year old SR-Lagavulin were sometimes hard to get into, the last two years have brought a turnaround. These Lagas have become more accessible, while retaining complexity and an abundance of distillery character. Refill American oak is THE wood for Lagavulin.
Stock up while you can, these are future classics.
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.