Lagavulin seems to be involved in some sort of reverse age-statement arms race (with who?). The classic 16 year Lagavulin was on everyone’s lips in, oh, 2010, and then a cask-strength 12 year-old dropped (for like a Benjamin) in 2017. Now, an 8 year at a somewhat elevated 48% ABV. What’s next? A 3-year?
Something about paying almost as much money for an 8 year-old when something from the distillery is available at TWICE the age and only 5% lower ABV… that chafes me in ways I can’t quite put into words. I know. Me? Stymied over how to complain about prices? To be fair, prices for this bottle appear to be all over the place, with my Total Wine charging $58 (Lagavulin 16 $68), K&L charging $50 (Lagavulin 16 $70) and some random wine shops on the Internet listing it at $34 (Lagavulin 16 $70), I don’t really know what to think.
Anyhoo, we have here an 8 year-old Lagavulin bottled at 48% ABV, and so pale that it’s almost clear. This was originally released as the distillery’s 200th (bicentenary) anniversary limited edition, but has since been added to the core range. With that, the information available online dries up. To my palate, this seems to be missing the sherry portion found in the 16-year. Like the 12-year, I would guess this is entirely from ex-bourbon casks.
Nose: A pungent nose missile straight to the olfactory centers of the brain. BOOM piercing peat with unmistakable Lagavulin character. A blossom of salted caramel, honeysuckle, fresh hay, and refined, clarified, condensed ocean-flecked peat. Be careful with the nose tickle – it is sharp much deeper than the rim of the glass.
Palate: Soft, medium body. Sweet and gentle initially, lulling you, but the lull is suddenly shattered by a wave of tongue burn. This is over mercifully quickly (amazing for a young malt at 48%), scattering wet leaves, mushroomy peat, sea spray, sparkling minerality, and caramel across the tongue in equal proportion.
Finish: Long. Begins with a slight pale oakiness, then adds a layer of sooty (but not very bitter) charcoal. The peat and other notes are distant, now, and the party seems to be over quickly. The finish continues, but with mostly dry wood and dry coal.
With Water: Several drops of water actually amplify the nose tickle. There might be an additional orange-peel note on the nose, but it is fleeting. On the tongue I find a little more vanilla sweetness, although the texture is thinner. The finish does pick up a perfume high-note, jasmine maybe. Try both without and then with water.
Overall: More’s the pity, I don’t have a sample of Lagavulin 16 on hand to compare, so I have to go by memory. I do appreciate the increased ABV, which Lagavulin malt seems to ride to great heights. The youthful peat is bracing and focused (and not nearly as wild as some other examples of young peat). The overall effect is impressive. Still, I find myself missing some of the 16 year’s polish and roundness. I don’t find its perfect caramel-peat balance, here, nor enough wood to fill out the palate. That’s nitpicking, though. This is excellent… and I could see choosing it after getting bored of a bottle or two of the 16-year. The price, at 10-15% lower than the 16, is annoying. Unless, that is, you can find it for $34 a bottle. It’s a steal for that price.
I do applaud Diageo’s choice to retain the age statement here, even if I wish the price reflected the lower production cost of aging something for 8 fewer years. Maybe that’s why it can be found for $34… in some regions. I don’t even know anymore.