Since 1816, Lagavulin single malt Scotch whisky has been made in a picturesque huddle of buildings on Lagavulin Bay. Perhaps the most beautifully situated of distilleries, Lagavulin makes arguably the most intense, smoky and rich whisky of all. For many, this is the definitive Islay malt.
Above all, Islay means peat. Miles and miles of peat bog in the west of the island provide the raw material whose influence so characterises the south eastern Islay malts, of which Lagavulin is perhaps best known. Lagavulin’s rich peaty water runs down the brown burn to the distillery from the Solan Lochs in the hills above the distillery.
There's nothing rushed about Islay, nor is there about Lagavulin; before being bottled, the malt spends sixteen unhurried years maturing in oak casks, the longest maturation period for any of the Classic Malts offerings.
Long fermentation, long distillation and long maturation together ensure that Lagavulin develops all of its long, rich, peaty character. It’s is a spirit that likes to take its time. The definitive Islay malt demands nothing less.
Of the great homes of malt whisky the greatest is surely Islay, home even today to seven active malt distilleries. And first among the Islay malts is Lagavulin - the definitive Islay malt.
As early as 1742, there were perhaps ten illicit stills operating at Lagavulin. In 1816 local farmer and distiller John Johnston founded the first legal distillery, within view of Dunyvaig Castle, once the stronghold of the Lords of the Isles.
A year later Archibald Campbell founded a second, which seems later to have traded under the name Ardmore. After Johnston's death the two were united, when Glasgow-based Islay malt merchant Alexander Graham, to whom Johnston had been in debt, acquired Lagavulin for the princely sum of £1,103 9s 8d.
Graham improved the buildings and his successors, James Logan Mackie & Co., carried on the business successfully. As a result, Lagavulin went from strength to strength.
Owner Peter Mackie became famous throughout the whisky world as the creator of the famous blend, White Horse. A man driven by the Victorian work ethic and so nicknamed by his staff "Restless Peter", he was continually planning fresh ventures, one of which the famous "traditional" Malt Mill distillery opened alongside Lagavulin in 1908 and closed in 1960.
Mackie was also committed to ensuring Lagavulin continued to be produced with meticulous attention to detail. The barley used to distil Lagavulin is malted at nearby Port Ellen and has a strong peat "reek" - it has perhaps twenty times as much exposure to peat smoke as a typical Speyside, Cragganmore. Fermentation of the barley is a slow process, too, between 55 and 75 hours are taken for the full peat-rich flavour of the locally-malted barley to come through.
The four stills at Lagavulin, two of them pear-shaped in the style inherited from Malt Mill, take this peaty wort and give it all the time and care it deserves. Following the original practice, Lagavulin receives the slowest distillation of any Islay malt - around five hours for the first distillation and more than nine hours for the second. This long distillation is often said to give Lagavulin the characteristic roundness and soft, mellow edges that devotees rightly prize.
Lagavulin is a powerful yet wonderfully rounded pleasure. Its recently described "awesome power and marvellous complexity of flavours" are enjoyed by a significant number of malt lovers, for whom this big, dark, intense character just is malt.
Perhaps "Restless Peter" can rest easy at last....
LAGAVULIN 16 YEAR OLD
A much sought-after single malt with the massive peat-smoke that's typical of southern Islay - but also offering a dryness that turns it into a truly interesting dram.
Lagavulin is an intense, smoky-sweet single malt with seaweed flavours and a huge finish, aged in oak casks for at least sixteen years.
Deep amber gold.
Intense peat smoke with iodine and seaweed and a rich, deep sweetness.
A rich, dried fruit sweetness with clouds of smoke and strong, barley-malt flavours, warming and intense. At the back of the mouth is an explosion of peppery smoke.
Huge, long, warming and peppery with a distinch appetising sweetness.