Recently I got together with some whisky friends and the guys from Single Cask Nation to drink a bunch of whisky that is often rumored to be independently bottled Lagavulin. At first glance it may seem like no big deal, but think about it… when was the last time you saw an independently bottled Lagavulin? Diageo guards those casks like the insomniac dragon who guarded the golden fleece, but instead of its teeth turning into soldiers they turn into lawyers so should you get your hands on a cask you can’t use the Lagavulin name.
Indie Lag is among the rarest of indie (active distillery) bottlings out there and most of the time it takes some serious digging to find out what it might be. Most of the time when we do “discover it” it’s due to the source being “leaked” and when that happens those bottle disappear in a matter of minutes. Which is exactly what happened here in Los Angeles with the recent Exclusive Casks bottling. I don’t think it ever even touched a shelf here and sold out on pre-order.
The SCN guys were there not just to drink some interesting whisky with us, but to let us taste their latest Undisclosed Islay bottling. It was an awfully kind gesture and we rewarded them by throwing it in with the other mystery Islay whiskies on the table and tasting it blind. We had to remove our bias of liking the guys and what better way to know if you really like something than to not know what it is when you taste it.
To level the playing field we blinded the bottles, decanting theirs and few others to due to their shape, and didn’t do the reveal until every whisky had been tasted and discussed. The look of anticipation on their faces when the reveal process started was priceless and they’re great sports for letting us throw their bottle in the mix.
- Group 1: Cut (sub 50% ABV)
- Group 2: “Cask Strength” (50%+ ABV)
Cut Indie “Lagavulin”
1A: Finlaggan NAS (40%)
- Nose: Caramel, salt, peat, vanilla, citrus, spice and a bit of iodine.
- Palate: Charred cocoa, salt, smoke, overripe citrus, iodine and a hint of chalk.
- Finish: Charred wood, caramel, smoke, iodine and again a touch of chalk.
- Overall: B (83-86) This one wasn’t what I was expecting and honestly made me think more of the Caol Ilas we had done the week before. Which, when the reveal happened, made total sense. Finlaggan was supposedly Lagavulin when it first came out, but the current rumor (which I fully believe now) is that it’s young Caol Ila.
1B: Dun Bheagan 8 years (43%)
- Nose: Salt, peat, iodine, dark fruit, vanilla.
- Palate: Charred wood, sweet, peat, spice, citrus and a touch floral.
- Finish: Salt, peat, iodine and dark fruit.
- Overall: B (83-86) Definitely on the upper end of the B range it was nice. It hit the spot and helped set a nice tone for the evening.
1C: Classic Of Islay 12 years (46%)
- Nose: Butterscotch, peat, smoked meat, complex dark sweets and a touch of seaweed.
- Palate: Orchard fruit, peat, citrus rind, vanilla, salt and a touch earthy.
- Finish: Peat, caramel, earth and brine.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) This one felt rich and round, I loved it and took a second pour. It didn’t fully read as Lagavulin to me though. More like a Laphroaig / Lagavulin hybrid. Still a fantastic dram.
1D: Classic Of Islay NAS (40%)
- Nose: Smoke, salt, caramel syrup and a floral character.
- Palate: Smoke, char, spice, vanilla, soapy and floral.
- Finish: Smoke, spice and soap.
- Overall: C (73-76) That soapy character was a bit too much and brought it down for me. I don’t mind a bit of soap, it can add character, but this was too heavy for me.
Cask Strength Indie “Lagavulin”
2A: Single Cask Nation “Undisclosed Islay” 7 years – NDP (56.7%)
- Nose: Smoke, butterscotch iodine, vanilla, orchard fruit, smoked meat and a wee bit o’ citrus.
- Palate: Peat, orchard fruit, spice, smoked meat, dried fruit and candied citrus rind.
- Finish: Smoky, sweet, charred wood and smoked meat.
- Overall: A- (90-92) Long before the reveal pretty much everyone agreed this was a great whisky. The SCN guys had some satisfied grins on their faces when they saw it was theirs. We tried to get the source out of them, but even after a few drinks they were like rocks. Though I obviously have my theory.
2B: Ileach – Islay Single Malt Whisky (58%)
- Nose: Smoke, hay, butterscotch and burned plastic.
- Palate: Hay, peat, earthy / gamy, dark sweets, grassy malt, bitter cocoa.
- Finish: Hay, char and toasted sweets.
- Overall: B- (80-81) Some odd combinations and while it wasn’t bad by any means it wasn’t particularly exciting either.
2C: Classic Islay Pure Malt Scotch Whisky – Cadenhead’s (50%)
- Nose: Sour, funky, tart fruit, smoke, salt and caramel syrup.
- Palate: Chalky, herbal, smoke, char and vegetal.
- Finish: Bitter with notes of smoke, char and chalk.
- Overall: C+ (77-79) Didn’t come together for me and reminded me more of the young Caol Ila with the chalk. Some of the other folks there liked it, but this one rubbed me the wrong way.
2D: An Islay – 7 years Exclusive Malts (54.6%)
- Nose: Honey, complex fruit, buttery malt, piney campfire smoke, dark fruit and oily nuts.
- Palate: Smoke, fruit, honey, what thins, pine, graham cracker and herbs.
- Finish: Char, fruit and buttered wheat toast.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) I wouldn’t have guessed this one to be a Lagavulin at all, but it was good. A lot of interesting aromas and flavors.
2E: Finlaggan 2008 Cask Strength (58%)
- Nose: Vanilla, smoke, butter, fruit, berry syrup, salt and iodine.
- Palate: Smoke, char, fruit, salt, brine and berry syrup.
- Finish: Smoke, fruit, char and salt.
- Overall: B+ (87-89) This was the surprise of the night. First it was surprising that someone had one (I didn’t even know there was a CS Finlaggan) and even more surprised at how good it is.
2F: Smoking Islay – Blackadder (62.4%)
- Nose: Vanilla cupcakes, peat, dark sweets, salt and a cloying sweet undertone.
- Palate: Vanilla, peat, ambiguous sweetness, salt, butterscotch, fruit syrup.
- Finish: Sweet, fruity and peaty.
- Overall: B- (80-82) This one didn’t quite come together for me either. It was a bit weird in fact and bordered on a C+, but something about it kept me from dropping the score.
2G: Classic of Islay Cask Strength (56%)
- Nose: Dark sulfury kick, dark sweets, fruit, smoke, caramel and iodine.
- Palate: Sulfury, herbal, complex dark sweets and dark fruit, minty and lightly smoky.
- Finish: Caramel, smoke, mint and s touch of sulfur.
- Overall: C+ (77-79) This one bordered on a C for me. I like a bit of sulfur in my whisky, I think it adds dimension, but this one went too far for me.
2H: Elements of Islay (58%)
- Nose: Peat, smoked meat, dark fruit, vanilla, malt, brine and iodine.
- Palate: Peat, dried dark fruit, dark sweets, malt and salt.
- Finish: Peat, nectarines, wood and toasted malt.
- Overall: A- (90-92) This one bordered on an A and it’s likely if I had a glass sitting with me right now that bump would happen. It was my favorite of the night with that SCN bottle coming in REALLY close behind.
There you have it. 12 independently bottled “Lagavulins”. Or, more accurately, 1 confirmed Lagavulin, 9 bottles of what are speculated to be Lagavulin, 1 that might have been Lagavulin once upon a time, but doesn’t seem to be anymore and 1 that we couldn’t get the details about no matter how much we tried.
To me the most interesting part of the night was the discussion happening during the tasting. There were several of these that folks, myself included, thought might actually be Laphroaig instead and that to me is part of the fun of undisclosed whiskies like these. They give your imagination room to roam.
When someone sets something down in front of you and says “this IS Lagavulin” you start thinking about the Lagavulins you’ve had in the past and look for that aroma and flavor profile you’ve built in your brain. If it doesn’t match you might think poorly of it – not because it isn’t a good whisky, but because it doesn’t match your expectations – thus giving you a bad impression of a good whisky.
Tasted blind and under the pretense that they could be Lagavulin, but could just as easily not be, it gives you a chance to exercise your senses and your mind. Gives you room to ask yourself one of the important questions of life… is this Lagavulin. Anyways, hope you enjoyed this trip down “Lagavuliln” Lane. Until next time…