Lagavulin (16 year)

Lagavulin produces a classic 16-year Islay single-malt which is well known for its mellow roundness and liberal use of peat. It can be difficult to find a bottle in retail that hasn’t been marked up dramatically. I once saw a bottle in a Lake Tahoe liquor store priced at $115!

The aroma is unmistakably smokey, with none of the molasses notes of some maltier Scotches. I smell a little pine or cedar, and maybe a suggestion of sea air or brine. The aroma is clearer and more concentrated in the glass without water added, so I suggest smelling this whisky before adding a few drops of water, if that’s your thing.

The mouthfeel is smooth and luxurious, with a noticeably low level of fire on the tongue. The early flavors get straight to the oak, and then to the peat, with a hint of fruit or hazelnut. There are medium notes of peat and some smoke on the tongue which are more pronounced in the finish. The finish is long and straightforward, mostly campfire and a suggestion of cherry or cherrywood. The sugar of the barley is not forward in this bottle, but the balance between peat and malt, and the smoothness with which it comes off, make this a very satisfying dram.

I could not identify a difference between the glass with a few drops of water added and the glass without, except that the straight-up flavor was more cohesive and coated my mouth more fully. I personally do not think this Scotch benefits from the addition of water.

This Lagavulin is a prime example of a smokey Islay malt with some years behind it. The peat is aggressive, but the oak balances it nicely. The age of the malt gives it a roundness and mutes the fire.

This Scotch might pair well with a cigar, a small amount of fatty fish (salmon or mackerel), a well-aged steak, or a creamy dessert. It is probably best enjoyed by itself, however.

Lagavulin (16 year)
43.0% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $50-$85
Acquired: (Bottle): K&L Wines in Redwood City, CA. $65. http://www.klwines.com/detail.asp?sku=620021
Posted in Reviews, Top Scotches | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,
37 Comments

37 Responses to Lagavulin (16 year)

  1. cato says:

    I recently took advantage of the Costco deal as well and bought several bottles. Lagavulin 16 YO is still a top five whisky in my book and at $52, it was the best deal of the year for me.

  2. Frank W. says:

    One of my favorite scotches, but getting ungodly expensive. Can’t find for less than $90 here in Illinois now. That still doesn’t stop me from always having a bottle in the cupboard. Smoother than Ardbeg, almost bacon-barbequey on the palate. Nice smokiness but the sweet core balances it perfectly. Once you try, I guarantee you’ll be hooked from the first sip. I was anyways!

  3. Ron says:

    It hurt to see the price differences worldwide. This classic friend should be available everywhere for around $50.

  4. Dan says:

    Its $109 here in Ontario (and with the Canadian dollar at par or above…), which is too bad – although curiously, the Lagavulin 12yr is $115. A friend poured me a dram from the 20cl bottle I gave him for Christmas. After the Ardbeg 10yr at a Scotch tasting party in December, the Lagavuling 16yr is the second Islay that I’ve tried (still haven’t cracked my bottle of Bowmore 12yr yet), and oh, what a difference. I can see how the Lagavulin 16yr can make people fall head-over-heels in love with single malt Scotch.

    • Lawrence says:

      I recently moved to Vancouver from NYC, and was surprised to find how much more expensive Scotch whisky is here, especially since bourbon prices are comparable to those in Manhattan (which is to say that they’re at the high end of the typical US range). Since my wife and I take periodic trips back to New York to visit family, and since she can’t stand whisky of any sort, I tend to do most of my Scotch buying south of the border and take advantage of the 1.14L-per-person duty-free allowance.

  5. Dan,
    Sorry to hear about the price – we have (on most things) very good prices here in California, although the Lagavulin 12 is $99. Speaking of which, I tried Lagavulin 12 last night for the first time, and while I think it’s an excellent whisky, and interesting to see what Lagavulin is like without partial sherry maturation, it’s also a little thin and ‘missing’ a few components available in the 16. Many people do prefer it, however. I’m glad I prefer the cheaper one. :D

  6. brian says:

    i have a 30 yr old bottle of this that was bought over in isla around 1982!i wonder how much its worth though i dont know if id sell it.

    • Hi Brian,
      I don’t know very much about the value of older bottles. Usually the types of bottles that show up at auctions are for whiskies that are no longer available, such as single-cask bottlings, discontinued expressions, defunct distilleries, or vintage-aged bottles (e.g. Glenrothes 1965). Since whisky (like any spirit) does not age in the bottle, your Lagavulin 16 is the same liquid that it was 30 years ago, as long as it was stored well (not in direct sunlight, not exposed to extreme variations in temperature, and with an intact air seal/cork). There may be a secondary market for older bottles that have vintage labels or are otherwise distinguishable from modern bottlings… but I don’t know – I guess hit up Google, or try contacting one of the auction agencies that manage whisky auctions. Cheers!

  7. Justin says:

    Oh Lagavulin how much I wanted to embrace you! I just can’t get over that band-aid note/taste. I have gone thru 2 bottles trying to find the love which fans shower Lagavulin with! I am also surprised that you didn’t mention that distinct bandage adhesive/medicine note in your review. To me it’s that note which either brings in the fans or sends them away (IMHO)

    • Justin, Thanks for the comment! I (for some reason) don’t identify the adhesive note that you mention. Perhaps in the same way that some people can’t distinguish between sugar and sugar-substitutes, I never pick up on that particular note. My love for Lagavulin is derived mostly from the exquisite balance between peat and sweet – not as medicinal and dry as Laphroaig, not as in-your-face as Ardbeg, and yet managing to integrate just the right amount of vanilla from the wood with cereal sugar from the malt. Next time I pop a bottle of Lagavulin 16, I’ll try again to detect the bandaid note.

    • vb says:

      the taste you are talking about it the iodine like flavour one gets. it is basically due to the closeness of sea to these distilleries and i believe its sea weed or something

  8. Chip says:

    This is my absolute favorite scotch of all time. You will pay 123.00 out the door for a bottle up here in Washington though!! So this slows me down a bit, but I will grab a bottle here and there when I am feeling lucky :) It is like drinking a campfire.. but in a good way, if that is possible :)

  9. LZita says:

    This is my boyfriends favorite type of scotch – his birthday is this week and I want to get him a different kind, but similar to the Lagavulin 16. Any suggestions?

    • Hi LZita,
      The closest scotch I can think of to Lagavulin 16 is Ardbeg 10 year. Most people who like Lagavulin 16 also like Talisker 10 (which I prefer over the Ardbeg). On the cheaper end, Laphroaig Quarter-Cask is somewhat similar. Caol Ila 10 is similar as well, but milder. I’ve heard good things about Bowmore, but haven’t tried it myself. Hope that helps!

  10. Michael says:

    I finally found a bottle here in Topeka, Kansas, at $92. I have been a scotch drinker for a few years and my favorite, bar none, is Talisker 10. There are others that come close, but Talisker can settle the decision everytime I pour a dram. Now what did I think of the Lagavulin? Well I haven’t sampled it yet. The store owner informed me that the Chinese have purchased all the US Bottles for the next few years so it will be hard to find in the US. Has anyone else heard this? I bought a bottle of Laphroaig 16 yea at the same time to share with friends..it was very enjoyable as well.

    • Hi Michael,

      I hadn’t heard that specifically, no, but I do know that Asian markets are exploding in the whisky sector (specifically scotch) right now. Usually, product is bottled with a destination in mind – ie, 5000 cases for the US, 3000 for the UK, etc. Part of the reason for this is that US import law requires the bottles to be 750ml whereas everywhere else in the world they are 700ml. I find it unlikely that Chinese importers would be allowed to buy allocation meant for the US. It is, however, possible that Diageo has diverted allocations away from other countries to encourage the larger, newer markets in Asia. That is happening across the board.

  11. Tyler says:

    On sale now at Costco for 55.99 here in California.

  12. Rob says:

    Lagavulin 16 year is my father’s go-to single malt scotch. Personally, I usually go with Talisker instead. This is partially due to the fact that Lagavulin currently sells for $115 in Ontario (compared to $80 for Talisker). But if you are a big fan of peat, both are very good in my books.

  13. Tanja says:

    I’m new to to whisky and at my local high-end liquor store I found a set that contained smaller bottles of this, Talisker 10 and Cragganmore 12.

    I *wanted* to like Lagavulin, I really did. After reading many reviews I was excited to try it but it’s just too much smoke for me, I think. I didn’t get the medicinal quality that some people complain of, but it was the smoke and the fact that it lingered for 30+ minutes. I will try again a few more times before putting away the bottle, but I’m not sure this is a flavour I will grow to like.

    However, I loved the Talisker 10 and will be buying a normal bottle of that. The Cragganmore 12 was ok, nothing objectionable in it, but I found it rather bland and unremarkable.

    • Tanja,
      Thanks for the comment! Glad you liked Talisker 10 – that’s a great whisky. If Lagavulin is too smoky for you, you might want to also avoid Laphroaig, and Ardbeg. If you want to go for medium peat (like Talisker), Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Highland Park might be worth a shot. If Cragganmore was bland, you may want to try some heavily sherried malts, like GlenDronach, Macallan, Aberlour, etc. Cheers!

    • ScotchTip says:

      Tanja,
      sounds like you’ve learned the first and biggest lesson in scotch drinking -> You can’t trust anything anyone says about what a scotch tastes like <-
      And your first tip should be when they ascribe a dozen different flavors and smells, most if not all of which it usually doesn't have.
      You really can't determine anything by reading reviews, they're just trying to fill up space to sound important, afterall who would need them if all they wrote was one or two breif to the point sentenace, which by the way is all that is needed.
      There are only about a half dozen basic tasting scotchs, and if the reviews would just tell you which one they most resemble, why you as a read would be way ahead of the game.
      My suggestion to you, rather than taking a shot in the dark and drop 80 bucks based on some silly meaningless review, find yourself a bar that has a good scotch selection, and for starters try (not all in one night) each of the classic scotchs from each region. That will help give you a reference point, after that when looking a new scotch decern which region it belongs to and you'll be way ahead of the game.
      I completely ignore what other people write about scotch, if anything if a lot of people trash it, I'm inclined to try it, because the masses tend to like what the masses like, which is usually the girl with all the cheap makeup, if you get my point.
      happy hunting

  14. Nick says:

    Finally got my hands on this winner for $49.99 thanks to the sale going on at Costco from now until July 7(at least in the So Cal area). I had always wanted to try it but couldn’t pull the trigger at its regular price of $62.99 and up. Glad this sale hit because I may have found my new go to Islay and possibly my new favorite scotch. The Laphroaig brand, most notably the Quarter Cask, has always been my favorite but I feel like the Lagavulin 16 will be taking over that top spot. I see the Lagavulin 16 as a smoother version of the QC, which really makes it the perfect single malt for my particular taste. I will definitely be stocking up on a couple more bottles before the sale ends!

    P.S. Really enjoy the blog!

  15. Jason says:

    I was recently given a bottle of Lagavulin 16 as a gift, and I am hooked. I am new to single-malt scotch, and used to just keep a bottle of Bulleit bourbon on hand for the occasional drink. I don’t think I can go back. Luckily, my local liquor store carries Lagavulin 16 for $60, and after reading some of the comments above, that seems like a good deal. I will also keep an eye out for it next time I make a Costco run.

    Thanks for this great website! It’s great to have a new hobby that my wife can partake in.

    • PiggDogg says:

      Jason, Laga 16 at $60. It’s a steal. Two days ago, I ordered Laga 16 from Astor Wines on big promotion for $57.80 delivered to New Orleans. That promo ended yesterday. At $60, go out right now & get it. In the present day all over the internet vendors, Laga 16 goes for between $68 & $90. Don’t tarry. Cheers.

  16. Garret says:

    69ish bucks at my costco, sounds worth it instead i got a phased out bottle of 18 year johnnie walker gold label next time costco you can take all of my money.

  17. BK says:

    Just picked up my first bottle of this. ~$90 at a local shop. A bit steep but worth it. Absolutely lovely. My only other experience with Islay is Ardbeg 10, which I find has a bit of a bite to it, not so with Laga 16. Smooth as silk. Peaty delicious silk.

  18. ohboy says:

    Lag’ 16 does a bang up job of seducing the amateur scotch drinker.
    Personally it takes a lot more than fake boobs and bleached hair to get my attention. But – hey if it gets you off – go for it.

  19. Joel says:

    ohboy – if you are going to slag off on Lag 16, I think it is fair to ask you what you recommend instead.

    Anyhow, I’m wondering how this compares to two scotches I currently enjoy, Laphroaig 10 and Macallan 12. The Lagavulin sounds like it has the smoke/peat of an Islay, but perhaps a notch below that of the Laphroaig. I’ve also seen tasting notes referring to sherry, but I don’t know if the Lagavulin is actually ages in sherry casks, or if it resembles the Macallan 12 in any way.

    Thanks for the info.

    • Hi Joel,
      Comparing Laphroaig 10 and Lagavulin 16, I would say the Lagavulin is a little more “refined” – some might call it smoother (in both texture and in the force of the peat character). It has more fruit-centric flavors, owing to partial aging in sherry casks (some unknown percentage (50? 100?) is aged in refill sherry casks. I’ve never found a reputable source for this, but the flavor is clearly influenced by sherry. The peat is more subtle, likely because the sherry influence muffles it. I would say that Lagavulin 16 has more “quality” than Laphroaig, but less of that powerful peat flavor that draws so much attention to Islay. They’re different enough for the peat-lover to keep a bottle of each on hand. By the way, the Laphroaig Quarter-Cask is even better than the 10, in my opinion, it has more oak and doesn’t lose any of the power of the 10 year.

      • Joel says:

        Having now tried a few more Islays, including Lagavulin 16, I agree with your findings. The Lag could be called “more refined” or “muffled” compared to Laphroaig 10, depending on my tastes that day. At this time I slightly prefer the Ardbeg Uigeadail if I want some sherry mixed with my peat, but would never turn down a pour of either one.

        (I also concur with your recommendation of Laphroiag Quarter Cask – great finish on that one.)

  20. Chad says:

    So I just tried Lagavulin 16. It was my first Islay and my second Scotch (I had a Glenlivit 12 yesterday) I must say I really enjoyed it. I loved the smoke and I felt like I was camping. One thing though, what in the world does peat taste like? I’m guessing it was in there, but I have no idea what it tastes like so I couldn’t tease it out.

    • Hi Chad,
      When we refer to “peat” in a whisky, we’re usually talking about the smoky character. Peat (which is decomposed bog plants) gets into whisky in two ways: One is through spring water that runs through peat bogs on its way to the distillery – that water is then used to bring the whisky down from barrel proof (60% ABV or so) down to bottling proof (40% to 46% usually). This type of peat tends to be mild and comes across as tasting like moss or soil or various kinds of plants (like heather). The other way is for peat to be burned to produce smoke – the heat from the burning peat dries (kilns) the malting barley, and the smoke suffuses it with a smoky flavor. That’s the strong peat/smoke flavor that you generally taste (and smell) in peated whisky. Cheers!

      • Chad says:

        Thanks. So I guess I was tasting the peat. Although this creates another question: if peat is smokey, what is “smokey?”

        • Chad,
          I think of it this way: Most peat tastes and smells like wood smoke and charcoal or, as some reviewers put it, “campfire”. This makes sense, since the peat is actually burned in order to “smoke” the malted barley. In addition, peat carries extra flavors and aromas depending on the type of peat (how deeply it was dug), where it came from (inland or seaside, for example), and what it’s composed of (heather and grasses or seaweed). In my experience, the stronger the peat flavor (the higher the ‘ppm’ phenol count), the more the smoke overwhelms those other flavors. Some tasters are much better at picking out individual components in peat than I am.

  21. Paul says:

    This is without doubt a top three dram. Simply amazing. Beautiful smoke, sweet, complex, no burn, very very smooth. Great mouthfeel. The positive reviews you encounter for Lagavulin 16 are all an understatement. Other islay malts pale by comparison. Laphroaig 10 is simply not in the same league – nothing against those who are fond of Laphroaig 10

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