Up to this point, the closest I’ve come to reviewing a peated whisky was my last review for a Game of Thrones brand Diageo single malt. It’s easy to think of Talisker Select Reserve as definitively peaty when compared to the slow-growing list of scotches I’ve reviewed. Yet if we throw in the likes of Ardbeg and Laphroaig, Talisker’s peat and smoke qualities suddenly become a bit less defining. And let’s not forget Lagavulin, arguably the biggest household name when it comes to oft-generalized Islay single malts.
Lagavulin was technically founded in 1816 by John Johnston, but has potential roots dating back to 1742 as one of 10 “small illicit distilleries” at the time. Its history also involves butting of heads with the aforementioned Laphroaig distillery, but that’s a tangent best tackled down the line.
I mentioned in my Talisker Select Reserve review that when blind tasting Diageo’s Game of Thrones single malts, the Lagavulin 9-Year was my favorite. The choice of aligning Lagavulin with House Lannister from the book and show remains somewhat contentious; even the wording on the cannister seems desperate to let market-speak justify the association. Regardless, this expression consistently drew acclaim from scotch enthusiasts, which is nice, since it and other bottlings from the collection can still be found, sometimes at a discount. Case in point: I picked up my bottle for $40 at a local store, whereas Total Wine sells it for over $70. This review has been a long time coming, so let’s get into it.
Nose: Earthy. Semi-sweet cocoa and traces of light, golden fruit—pear and lightly dried red or honeycrisp apple. Moderate peat, but the smoke quality becomes less apparent over time. Cocoa eventually develops into a creamy chocolate note.
Palate: Green apple, smoke, and moss. A little vinegar-y. Further sipping brings the semi-sweet chocolate, then dark roast black coffee before a strangely complementary burnt meat note kicks in. Surprisingly bitter on the mid-back palate.
Finish: Dry lemon citrus gives way to cooked and burnt meat (burnt ends). Rubber and tar essence soon enter the picture. Quite lengthy with cooked meats settling in, as well as an air of coffee roast.
Every time I revisit this whisky, I re-enter my happy place. It’s easy to see why Nick Offerman and a host of others are so fond of Lagavulin, especially if this version is anything to go off of. A great balance is struck between the sweet earth, peat, fruit, roast, and even dessert-like notes. It’s the kind of whisky where it’ll satisfy me regardless of my momentary craving. Having tried the likes of Laphroaig 10-Year and the Ardbeg Monsters of Smoke set since buying the Lagavulin and coming back to it, I’d say the Lagavulin definitely leans on the sweeter and more rounded side. I’d also say that Ardbeg An Oa is a more proper comparison to this and Laphroaig 10-Year than the Ardbeg 10-Year is, but we’ll get to that in a future post.
Lagavulin 9-Year feels about as approachable as a peaty Islay single malt can be, considering how its profile fits into picture. At the same time, there’s enough depth and richness to make it satisfying for folks who want a solid and, in my opinion, above-average peaty dram. I think it’s a no-brainer to keep on-hand at all times when found for a discount. At $70 (or more), it definitely becomes less attractive, but not to the point that I’d rule out purchasing it with any consistency.