I have a sample of this Lagavulin coming in too, but Tom wanted to write his findings as well. Who am I to deny him his podium!
Pierrick Guillaume is the current Distillery Manager of Lagavulin, after doing some years of wonder at Caol Ila Distillery. Following in the footsteps of Georgie Crawford it must have been an intimidating task to steer Lagavulin into new waters. After all, the core range is at its peak, and the specials are not too shabby either. Georgie’s finest hour must have been the bicentennial celebration of Lagavulin back in 2016. Where do we go from there? Into the direction of exotic experimentation, it seems. The year 2021 brought us two 13 Years Old matured Lagavulin in relatively small batches. Feis Ile, not celebrated since Covid-2019 made that impossible, brought forth a Lagavulin finished in Port-seasoned American oak casks. Even more surprising was the Jazz Festival celebratory bottle with a finish in ex-Mezcal casks. The use of Mezcal casks is only allowed since a short time in the Scotch whisky industry. Today we taste the both of them!
Lagavulin 13, Mezcal cask finish, 54,8% – OB for the Islay Jazz Festival 2021
Starting with the Jazz Festival 2021 bottle, because of a slightly lower ABV. Now, I do not know how long the whisky was finished for. Could have been a day, could have been since mid-2019 when the new rules came into effect, which made maturing in casks that previously held Mezcal or Tequila possible for producers. Exciting new times!
An unexpectedly recognizable Lagavulin, I must say. A delicious smokiness rises from the glass after letting it breathe for an hour. Woodsmoke, damp forest, charcoal on a steak that was prepared to perfection on the barbecue. Mighty impressive and most of all: extremely balanced. In the background a little exotic note, that I link to the Mezcal. It is subtle but it is there and adds depth.
A sour foil envelops the heart of a more traditional Lagavulin style. The distillate speaks volumes while there is indoubtably an extra layer. The integration is marvelous, I have to say. The taste has all the raw power of a single cask, but is balanced by the batch creation of just 3000 bottles. On a few more sips the integration seems to have progressed into a very meaty character. The Mortlach of Islay? The Beast of Port Ellen? It truly is.
A continuation of the taste, a sour note always present without being a bother. A nice warm smoke lingers for ages. The finish is clean as a whistle, the Mezcal influence lifting the clean, peaty character of Lagavulin that we know and love (from the yearly Special Release 12 yo) to new heights.
Conclusion: I went in with an open mind and it got blown. A truly magnificent creation and a delight to see the Mezcal casks getting along so well with this powerhouse peat legend of a distillate. I added a drop of water so you don’t have to, it really doesn’t need it. For people who like their Lagavulin clean, this time with an extra layer.
Lagavulin 13, High Char Port Cask finish, 56,1% – OB for Feis Ile 2021
A bigger batch of 6000 bottles for Feis Ile 2021. Upon arrival I was surprised the color in the glass did not come close to being pink, so the Port-seasoning must have been quick, and the finish itself perhaps also. I secretly hoped for a more all-out Port influence. After all, if you go Port, why not?
Now finally I pick up the influence of the Port, after experiencing the very clean Mezcal Laga. There is a outspoken dirty character that reminds me faintly of candy at the carnival but also the smell of berry genever mixed with 7Up barf after a long night at the pub. Thrown up in the stables I suppose. Excuse my explicit description. Never switch to mixed drinks after a load of beer. Ah, to be young again. Back to the Lagavulin, I notice the characteristic peat is hidden away under the sweet layer.
The sweetness comes out but does not manage to take away the sharpness and rough edges of the peat. I have been sipping this Lagavulin since the Summer and I can’t say anything else than that we are unable to become friendly with each other. It feels raw, like razors on the tongue, unpolished, and it made me very skeptical of the Mezcal variation initially.
Not nice. With water more smooth but it looses its punch. More miss than hit with this one.
Conclusion: This might be one of the least favorite Lagavulin expressions I ever encountered. The idea of it does not make a lot of sense, and the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The distillate itself has enough backbone to withstand it going lower, but this felt unnecessary. The Mezcal has resurrected the experimentation. Next year Tequila and Calvados finishes?
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.