Lagavulin Distillers Edition
Peated Single Malt — Islay, Scotland
Tasted July 29, 2022
ISLAY SHOWDOWN 2: HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION Laphroaig 15 200th Anniversary Edition vs Lagavulin 16 vs Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition In my last note, “NEW AND OLD ISLAY SHOWDOWN,” I envisioned a comparison between two old flames: Laphroaig 10 and Lagavulin 16. Then I thought the comparison wasn’t apples-to-apples due to the age difference, and I subbed the Lag16 with Lagavulin 8. So today, I bring out some big(ger) guns—all very close in age. Laphroaig 15 200th Anniversary Edition was a limited edition bottling (72,000 released) introduced on the 200th anniversary of Laphroaig’s founding in 1815 (Laphroaig previously had a 15-year-old whisky in its lineup which was discontinued). Lagavulin 16 needs no introduction. And the Lagavulin Distiller’s edition is Lag16 “double matured” and finished in PX sherry casks; this particular bottle is batch 4/507, distilled 2002, bottled 2018. Each is 43% ABV. Lagavulin 16 is, of course, an iconic whisky, and there’s nothing new that I’ll provide here. This is true to a lesser extent with the Distiller’s Edition. The Laphroaig 15 200th Anniversary Edition is a very limited bottling, and I hope to offer some vicarious insight. My primary purpose here is to build on my previous “Islay Showdown” note, share a side-by-side comparison, and have some fun in the process. Laphroaig 15 200th Anniversary Edition Color is lightest of the three; clear pale amber. Laphroaig’s tagline is “The most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies”; but this one, despite the increased age, is more subdued than its younger brother was last night. Fruity peach nose and some baking spices coupled with typical Islay notes of seaweed and smoky peat, with just a whiff of iodine. Peaks on the palate, where the mild 43% ABV punches above its weight. Gentle smoky peat with a touch of vanilla on the finish. In terms of intensity: mild nose, peaks midpalate, and mild finish. From a bourbon perspective, this is the Blanton’s or Elmer T. Lee of Islay whisky: seamless, refined, even subtle, but confident in what it is. And what it is it does very well. 4.5 on the Distiller scale. Lagavulin 16 Color is a tawny amber, deeper and somewhat darker than the Laph15. There’s little I can provide that isn’t already known about such an iconic whiskey, and if you’re reading this, you already this. For me, the nose is not particularly effusive, but swirling coaxes a host of aromas: along with Islay typicity, there is a citrus sweetness not unlike Licor 43, and even a tanginess that could pass for Heinz 57 (!). Smoky peat on the long finish. The same 43% ABV is not as noticeable as it was with the Laph15/200; this could be a function of the more mellow (though still very complex) tones of the Laph15/200, or the slightly more pronounced olfactory and flavor attributes of Lag16. 4.5 on the Distiller scale. Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition Darkest of the three due to the sherry cask finishing. On the nose, the sherry casks have a dampening (but not suppressing) effect on the seaweed, iodine, and smokey peat, adding complexity with hazelnut, dates, and some brown sugar. Despite being the same 43% ABV as the others, the heat is slightly more noticeable than its Lag16 sibling. Slightly weightier mouthfeel. Everything in balance, with more components. Just outstanding. For context: in the sherry-meets-Islay world, this is a Porsche 911 Turbo S in GT Silver Metallic, whereas Ardbeg Uigeadail is a Ferrari LaFerrari in Rosso Corsa: both incredible automobiles, but the former is more refined. 4.5 on the Distiller scale. If you’ve read this far, there’s really no winner here. This is not an “everyone gets a trophy” space—except it is, in this case. Each is phenomenal in its own right. These whiskies are not facsimilies of one another; there is diversity even in the confines of Islay whisky. On a value basis, Lag16 is the clear winner. It is widely available in the U.S. and can typically be found for around $90. The Distiller’s Edition has more limited production, and can be found for $110-120 in the U.S. The Laphroaig 15 200th Anniversary Edition was a limited edition, and can be found online for around $300 in the U.S. (I think I paid about a third of that a few years ago). While there are Islay-specific similarities between the three, they exhibit real differences, but no hard edges or deficiencies when tasted side-by-side. Each is deserving of contemplative, unadulterated consumption. Forget water; this is 43% ABV. Drink it neat. Nose it. Swirl it. Savor it. Enjoy it. Share it. And be thankful for it. In a word: Laphroaig 15/200: Peachy. Lagavulin 16: Outdoorsy. Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition: Urbane. N.B. All spirits tasted neat in a Glencairn glass.