Lagavulin (Laga-voolin) means ‘the hollow where the mill is.’ Perhaps ‘the hollow where the still is’ would be a better description since it is believed that there were up to ten illicit stills in this area in the mid eighteenth century with Lagavulin itself being established in 1816. It is now one of Diageo’s flagship ‘Classic Malt’ and is certainly one of the most robust, peaty Islay malts around. This is not, perhaps, a malt for beginners. There are four relatively small, fat stills and according to the owners this spirit “receives the slowest distillation of any Islay malt – around five hours for the first distillation and more than nine hours for the second is the norm”. It is this slow distillation that gives the malt its characteristic roundness and soft, mellow edges. Fermentation of the barley is a slow process. Fermentation is also slow – between 55 and 75 hours – which the distillers say allows a fuller, richer peatiness to come through. It is mainly matured in refill European oak casks.
Considered by many to be the benchmark for Islay malts this classic pours a golden amber colour and wafts from your glass with intense smoky peat and iodine. The smoke offers a toasty element as it coyly introduces itself on the bouquet, with hard candy as a partner. The peat comes on with salt spray on the palate, but once again gets quite candy sweet, with a bread dough core. On the finish the smoke fairly disappears for a while as you enjoy the delicate sweetness, masking the next wave of toast at the outer limits. Full of flavour, rich and smooth with peat, figs, dates, and vanilla followed by an enduring smoky and dry finish.