Review: Lagavulin 16 Year Old

Lagavulin 16 Year Old

In recent years, Lagavulin’s flagship product has seen a rise in popularity thanks in part to being featured on Parks and Recreation, an American sitcom in which Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman, regularly refers to Lagavulin by name, even going so far as to have his character visit the Lagavulin distillery on Islay in the season six premiere. As it happens to turn out, Nick Offerman is a whisky enthusiast and fan of Lagavulin in real life, and has gone on to partner with owners Diageo to promote the brand outside the show.

Long before it was featured on Parks and Recreation, Lagavulin 16 Year Old was considered a staple among Islay single malts and a favorite among peat heads around the world. This sweet, smoky single malt was many enthusiasts’ introduction to peated Scotch, so it only felt natural to revisit this in our first peated whisky review. Is the fanfare justified?

Lagavulin 16 Year Old Specifications:

  • Spirit: Scotch.
  • Type: Single Malt.
  • Region: Islay.
  • Age: 16 Years Old.
  • ABV: 43% (86 Proof).
  • Cask: Matured in ex-bourbon and sherry casks.
  • NCF (Non-Chill Filtered)? No.
  • Natural Color? No.
  • Price: $64.79 for 750 ml.

Elias’ Notes:

  • Color: Burnished.
  • Nose: Sweet, smoky, raspberries and other red fruits, smoked meats, leather, faint iodine.
  • Palate: Thin, watery mouthfeel. Sweet, campfire smoke, raspberries, black cherry jam, iodine, oak, vanilla, citrus (lime).
  • Finish: Medium-long. More smoke, iodine, vanilla, citrus (lime). Stone fruit (black cherries, nectarines, peaches).

Long-time whisky enthusiasts claim the quality of Lagavulin 16 has been declining, pointing to decreased Sherry influence in recent bottlings compared to past releases. I didn’t get into Islay whiskies until 2014, so I don’t have experience with older bottles of Lagavulin to use as a frame of reference. What I can do is compare this bottle from 2014 to various bar pours I’ve had over the last three years, all of which have varied wildly. Some bar pours have exhibited next to no sherry character, while others have been closer in profile to my bottle, showcasing a pleasant balance between sherry and peat. It’s difficult to pinpoint the reasons for these variances – it could be due to oxidation, batch variance, changes to the quality of the whisky itself, or a combination of all factors.

With that being said, my tasting notes above are based solely on pours from my bottle, as are my final thoughts. I’d recommend Lagavulin 16 to those just testing the waters with peated whiskies. It’s offers a moderate amount of smoke and serves as a great bridge between the light and mild peat of whiskies such as Highland Park 12, Caol Ila 12, and Talisker 10 and the heavy, intense peat of Ardbeg and Laphroaig, among others. My only complaint is with the thin, watery mouthfeel, which can be attributed to the low ABV, as it prevents what is a great whisky from being truly excellent.

Elias’ Rating: 88/100

Jayson’s Notes:

  • Color: Amber/burnished.
  • Nose: Sweet, smoke, earthy, ripe plums, leather.
  • Palate: Peat, s’mores made with dark chocolate, very faint wood. Less oak than I had hoped for. Somewhat complex, but easy to drink.
  • Finish: Long. Spices, sweet caramel. Some salt and slight tobacco.

Lagavulin 16 is a polarizing dram. I must admit that the first time I had it, I really enjoyed it. I bought a couple of bottles that I drank rather quickly, sharing a lot with friends I was trying to introduce to peat. Over the years, I’ve noticed the quality going down. Specifically, the sherry notes slowly fading away. And with 16 years in the barrel, if the quality of the wood isn’t great, all that does is mute the peat/smoke without adding interesting wine notes.

This batch of Lagavulin 16 is good, but not great compared to other sherried, smoky whiskies such as Ardbeg Uigeadail and Talisker Distillers Edition, both of which I love. I remember why this helped me get into Islays whiskies, and I can see why some new whisky drinkers fawn over it. In my opinion, this is a light, easy sipping, solid entry into Islay peat. I personally prefer the 8 year old (great value for the money) and the 12 year old cask strength (which I wish was a bit cheaper) to the 16 year old. Since I’ve been expanding my horizons and exploring more peated and complex drams in its price range, I never find myself thinking of restocking it, but I still order Lagavulin 16 with dinner when the selection at restaurants is slim.

Jayson’s Rating: 83/100

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