Lagavulin is one of a trio of distilleries sat on the south coast of Islay, producing some of the smokiest whisky Scotland has to offer, with the Lagavulin 16 Year Old standing as their most storied expression. Located on the shores of the Lagavulin Bay, the distillery is home to two pairs of stills - Lagavulin has a long distillation time, and many believe this imparts the intense richness of the single malt whisky.
John Johnston founded the Lagavulin distillery in 1816, though there had been as many as ten illicit distilleries in the area since 1742 - naughty! Lagavulin was home to legal distilling under Johnston’s eye, however. Shortly after it opened, a distillery named Ardmore was opened close by, though this became part of Lagavulin a few decades later.
In 1836, John Johnston died and Lagavulin was bought by Alexander Graham, a spirits merchant from Glasgow. 25 years later, the distillery came under the ownership of James Mackie, who brought in his nephew Peter Mackie to work at Lagavulin shortly afterwards. During his time at the distillery, Peter Mackie became well known for working incredibly hard indeed, earning the nickname Restless Peter.
Mackie founded the Malt Mill distillery in disused Lagavulin buildings in 1908, though it closed in 1962. However, it’s legacy lives on throughout Lagavulin - the buildings now house the Lagavulin visitor centre, the stills have been incorporated into Lagavulin’s distilling equipment and a sample of Malt Mill whisky is kept at Lagavulin.
Lagavulin decommissioned their own floor maltings in 1974 and they began to get their malt from Port Ellen. The distillery ran a two day working week until the 1980s, which has resulted in some problems meeting the high demand for their whisky over the years. Lagavulin Scotch was one of the six whiskies marketed as part of the ‘Classic Malts of Scotland’ (along with Cragganmore, Dalwhinne, Glenkinchie, Oban and Talisker) when it was launched in 1988, and that only increased the demand. The distillery’s spirit stills are actually larger than the wash stills, along with a 4.4 ton stainless steel mash tun.
Lagavulin celebrated their 200th anniversary in 2016, producing a number of limited edition bottlings. These included a Lagavulin 8 Year Old (which would eventually become part of the distillery’s core range), a Lagavulin 25 Year Old and the Lagavulin 12 Year Old (a regular feature of Diageo’s Special Releases).
In 2018 it was announced that Georgie Crawford, distillery manager of seven years, would be leaving to revive Port Ellen distillery. Colin Gordon, who was previously site operations manager at Port Ellen Maltings, took over the role, with the changeover taking place just after the Fèis Ìle festival.
Nose: More like Lapsang Souchong tea than Lapsang Souchong! One of the smokiest noses from Islay. It's big, very, very concentrated, and redolent of iodine, sweet spices, good, mature Sherry and creamy vanilla. Stunning.
Palate: Very thick and rich. A massive mouthful of malt and Sherry with good fruity sweetness, but also a wonderful sweetness. Big, powerful peat and oak.
Finish: Long, spicy finish, figs, dates, peat smoke, vanilla.