Benjamin Franklin once wrote that in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes. I’d give him a 7/10 for effort as he missed one; life also means wear and tear, regardless if you’re human, a building, or something non-tangible such as a reputation. We should all adopt good housekeeping and maintenance. It’s an unavoidable fact of existence that we should look after ourselves in some shape or form. This safeguards our future and as Adam suggested in his recent article, our wellbeing and mental health. Even at MALT, we do find the time to repair technical things backstage, which ensures a better experience for the visitor.
In comparison, many distilleries seem to think they are oblivious to the ravages of time and have become lazy. In doing so, their reputations that have rested upon past glories have become battered and faded. Every decent visitor attraction, whether it is zoo, theme park or hotel, knows that they have to reinvest on a regular basis to ensure quality continues to be maintained. Going hand in hand with this is your reputation, which is beyond mere physical materials and financial clout.
I’m stating that Lagavulin is looking a bit drab and weary when it comes to its reputation. Yes, I’m opening those gates to hell and unleashing a torrent, but sometimes the stark reality of the truth hurts doesn’t it? And sadly, we don’t have much truth in whisky. Everyone is cosying up and being somewhat fake when it comes the stone-cold hard truths, which is what we specialise in here.
I haven’t had an official whisky from Lagavulin in sometime, that knocked my socks off. Ok, if the Scarabus is Lagavulin, which I suspect, then its solid and raises the question why Diageo aren’t doing better? Many still hold the distillery in high esteem and fanboy-dom. The 16-year-old is an artificially colour saturated bog of previous incarnations. The 10-year-old travel retail exclusive remains out of my reach till I travel to Rotterdam in October. The 8-year-old you say? Don’t believe the hype; overpriced and lacking substance – compare it to the Kilkerran 8. A distillery that only sparked into life at the turn of the millennium and combines value and flavour to devastating effect. All in all, ask yourself can Lagavulin do more?
In my book the answer is clearly yes. Even a wonderful opportunity to try several single casks as part of their warehouse tour left me non-plussed. It’s not because I don’t like peat, or dislike Lagavulin. It has a fascinating history and should be doing better, but as the market is buoyant and anything from Islay sells, there’s no need to actually improve. The current situation promotes laziness by a collective approach from owners, who don’t need to push the boat out, or actually try harder. An Islay oligopoly if you like, where too many are blinkered to see the truth for the bottles; mostly unopened bottles.
As Mark touched upon in his recent article, Islay has become a brand in itself. I hear all the time about tourists rampaging across Edinburgh, venturing in whisky shops with only Islay peat on their shopping list. Cadenhead’s cannot keep up and this has been going on for several years. The Edinburgh shop uses it to their advantage by showcasing peats from other regions that are arguably just as good, if not better. Malts from Campbeltown, Loch Lomond or further afield via Ardmore, or even god forbid England. The trick is to shake the mindset of the Islay hunter and show them that peat from elsewhere warrants attention.
With all this demand the temptation is just to ship out material that ticks the peat box – yep, I’m not even referring to it as whisky anymore. It exists and little else besides. I just wish as consumers we’d step back and voice disappointment, or disapproval more. Our Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2019 review underlined the fact that releases are coming out that are flawed and overpriced. Islay has a wonderful heritage and is an absolute joy to visit (when the taxi drivers aren’t fleecing you), so it has to do more to protect that legacy and that brand. It all starts with the individual distilleries who should be doing their best for their customers and not whatever investment fund is counting on a good return.
All that said and done, we have a Lagavulin to try to today. This is the 2017 distillery exclusive bottled at 54.1% and is obviously only available if you make that iconic trip to the island. Limited to 7500 bottles, it’s a distillery team selection and features a quadruple maturation, which apparently means a vatting of 16-year-old partially matured in Moscatel casks with freshly matured bourbon spirit of a younger age. It’s still available if you make the pilgrimage to peat-Disney.
Lagavulin 2017 Distillery Exclusive – review
On the nose: it’s Lagavulin but with a sweetness. Chalky, seaweed, smoked haddock and brown sugar. There’s wet hemp, chocolate, moss and sea salt. A rusty quality, followed by cranberries, cherry and a pleasant smokiness. Coastal for sure with toffee, driftwood and charcoal.
In the mouth: a bizarre hybrid with traces of Lagavulin but not quite all there. More coastal elements and rubber? Pork scratchings, toffee, redcurrants and dangleberries. Wet cardboard or even a wet forest and driftwood.
An interesting Lagavulin, enjoyable in some parts and a little flawed in other aspects. Fun nevertheless and while I enjoyed it, I wouldn’t be heading over to Islay for a bottle.
A whisky you can enjoy and take out for night but not something to take home to meet the parents.
My thanks to JD for the sample and photo.