Protecting the brand is nothing new in whisky. Step out of line with Glenfarclas and you’ve likely to be chased off with a shotgun. Glenlivet has also protected its legacy famously with pistols and more recently with suffix debate by way of the court. These skirmishes were to protect the status and quality of the brand, however, now things are becoming ridiculous.
Highland bloody Park is the latest to aggressively protect its blend. Albeit they’ve yet to take up arms in the form of a historical Viking heritage or more modern weaponry. Their black bottles are proving popular at retail with very few details around the contents or their age. This has allowed the distillery – or Edrington more precisely – to sell off maturing stock to the independent sector. A nameless independent told Malt of a massive quantity of liquid being offered for sale. Needless to say, this has given rise to an avalanche of single cask releases heralding under an Orkney or regional landmark name. And they’re not alone with other producers such as Glenmorangie, Balvenie and Glenfiddich resorting to teaspooning a cask to protect their name.
Malt’s beef with this protectionism is that its become twisted. It’s purpose originally was to keep the quality and status of whisky from distillery X intact from unscrupulous blenders or bottlers who would tarnish the name by bottling a composite or a totally different whisky. Today that protective wall is being utilised to mislead the public and protect official releases from the independent sector who are releasing whiskies of a similar quality or better than. Highland Park has chosen volume over quality with production being upped at the distillery in 2019. This shield of camouflage is being implemented to avoid comparisons between the overpriced core range and superior single cask bottlings. In a side-by-side blind tasting, I’d wager the independent releases would quash the official range in a bloodbath. Actually, that’s an interesting vertical tasting to consider later on Malt.
We’re not Highland Park bashing as other distilleries have engaged in similar stunts although not yet to the same degree – no doubt this change of tact is being observed by quarters within the industry. Highland Park has been deemed a successful revamp despite the quality of its whisky dropping off the edge of the world. During 2018 there was a reasonable procession of Orkney named independent whiskies reaching the market and although they couldn’t announce their Highland Park heritage, we and more importantly you dear readers knew the truth. Who is next to protect the distillery name – Caol Ila?
All of this brings us onto Lagavulin. Another brand admirably protected by Diageo. Independent releases from this distillery are appearing on the market once again, but with cryptic names such as Avian Gull or such as we have here with the Isle of Islay. Bottled by the generally impressive Creative Whisky Company for The Whisky Barrel online retailer as an exclusive. This arrangement has produced some excellent whiskies throughout 2017 such as the 6 year old Laphroaig and the 13 year old Cooley that sadly is no more.
What’s the point of refusing the name of the distillery on the label when the blurb beneath gives an exact or the promotional photograph below has a strategically placed – albeit blurred – image of the distillery itself. It’s a mockery and distilleries should be treating consumers with more respect.
Distilled on 17th October 2007 before being bottled in February 2018. This refill hogshead (#200703) resulted in an outturn of 285 bottles at 57.1% strength with an asking price of £99.95 exclusively from the Whisky Barrel.
Isle of Islay 2007 Exclusive Malts
Colour: spun sugar.
On the nose: pungent sweet peat with salted crisps, lemon peel and honeycomb. A real dirty vanilla quality and – this will go down as weird – when you buy a roll of those large black plastic refuse sacks and open one for the first time? In a nice way though, nothing industrial here.
In the mouth: dangerously drinkable at cask strength there’s a lovely interplay between the wood of the cask and coastal flavours of the peat. There’s a little development with soot, coarse vanilla, ground almonds and salted peanuts but it’s not massive given its youthful nature. A long if somewhat simple finish of black pepper and pear drops proves to be an enduring memory.
Colour: pale straw to white wine, a very inactive cask.
On the nose: simple stuff, but charming: sweet peat, brine, lemon juice – lemon sponge cake perhaps. Golden syrup, vanilla custard. And yes, I’d agree with Jason in that unusual plastic, feint-y note; the peat isn’t that aggressive, and there are some nice perfumed notes that shine through under that. Green apples, mango.
In the mouth: prickly stuff, which I tend to find with wood that’s been knocking about a bit. Briney notes come to the fore, mingled with peat, citrus notes, burnt bacon (just a touch). A nice, thick creamy texture – lovely and oily throughout. The peat softens slightly, but it’s slightly too woody as well, with acidic grapefruit notes, which just knocks it off balance. Soured sweets. Ginger. Endless warmth.
As much as I enjoyed this, for me, it comes down to the price. A single cask of Lagavulin is a rare thing indeed but retailing for just under £100 my mind drifts towards what’s available currently within the official range. The scarcity of casks from this distillery means they will come with a premium attached. Ultimately it depends on just how much you love this distillery. If this was priced around £60, I’d probably be firing off an order for 2 bottles. At £99.95 I’m left somewhat perplexed and torn.
Jason’s Score: 6/10
If you were going by taste alone, I’d say there were dozens of similar Islay peated whiskies from the likes of Caol Ila on the indie market, which come at half the price. If it’s a Lagavulin, then sure – that’s going to cost a premium, and I get that. But it doesn’t feel like a premium whisky. It feels exactly like an old-school peated dram that’s lived in inactive wood. The spirit was pretty decent, but it’s that £99.95 price tag that makes me think this isn’t value for money – which is a rare misstep for the Creative Whisky Co, which has otherwise been one of the best value indies you’ll find these days.
Mark’s Score: 6/10
Image kindly provided by the Whisky Barrel as was the free sample for this review – this doesn’t necessarily mean a favourable review is guaranteed from Malt