Editor’s Note: “The Bottle” is a series on buying and tasting spirits that can stand on their own, not just in cocktails. As is the case with clothing/shoes/watches/etc., the brands reviewed did not provide the author or editors with product to keep (in this case, not even the smallest amount to sample). More on our policy of refusing free samples for ourselves can be found here.
To celebrate its 200th anniversary this year Lagavulin has released a special 8 year old bottling of their famous whiskey. It may seem odd to release a bottling half the age of their beloved 16 year expression, but this is meant as a tribute to whiskey writer Alfred Barnard. Barnard visited the distillery in the 1880s and deemed Lagavulin “exceptionally fine.” This special release is meant to evoke the type of whiskey that would have been produced back when Barnard was sampling his way through Scotland.
Lagavulin is also releasing a 25 year old expression to celebrate the anniversary, but with a limited production of 8000 bottles and price tag of $1200 the 8 year will be the bottle most fans get to enjoy.
Here’s how the 8 and 16 year compare:
16 – Much darker than the 8, with a rich golden, brassy hue. Apple, citrus, wood ash, smoked tea, cinnamon, and brine. In the mouth it has a pleasant oily, even viscous texture, and flavors of sweet grain, red apples, smoky peat, brine, leather, and vanilla. Sweet tobacco, rich dark chocolate and espresso finish. Overall, a big but mellow – even elegant – taste.
8 – Very light in color, pale straw with a silver sheen. Much fresher on the nose, floral notes with fresh apple, pear, citrus, honey, and warm wood smoke. Sharper and more lively on the palate than the 16, showing sweet malt and ripe fruit, vanilla, ginger, pepper, with ocean air and peaty smoke throughout. Hotter than the 16, but not at all unpleasant, with the higher proof supporting the robust flavor.
As would be expected, the 16 is the smoother, mellower of the two, with the 8 being spicier and fresher tasting. They work almost too neat as a metaphor: the 8 is practically bursting with youthful energy, while the 16 shows a considerable richness and depth. Spring versus Autumn.
I tried both with water, but found that even with the higher proof for the 8 (96, compared to 86 for the 16) I preferred both neat.
About the Author: Ben Madeska is a Chicago based writer and artist who has received the Level 2 Award in Wines and Spirits with Distinction from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. For a real perspective on art, wine, spirits, literature, and the news these things make, you can follow Ben on Twitter, Instagram, and see his art at his website.