Lagavulin is a popular distillery to visit on the Scottish island of Islay. The distillery still uses a lot of traditional equipment and has only made a few medications to its methods. If you are a whiskey lover, you need to find out more about the history of this distillery and try its Scotch.
A Whisky Lovers Guide To Lagavulin
Scotland is home to some distilleries that have been making Scotch for centuries. The process hasn’t changed much to preserve the recognizable flavor of this liquor. Lagavulin is one of the distilleries still operating on Islay and is known for its small but reliable selection of Scotch.
The History Of The Distillery
The distillery is located on the South coast of the island of Islay, West of Scotland. It was officially founded in 1816 even though the site had been used to make whiskey since the 18th century.
There were originally two distilleries founded side by side until they merged in 1837. John Logan Mackie purchased the distillery in the 1860s and his nephew, Peter J. Mackie, would later take over and establish the well-known Scotch brand by creating unique liquors and perfecting the techniques used to make Scotch.
A second distillery called the Malt Mill was built next to the original building early in the 20th century. The distillery has had some setbacks. It closed during WWII, a fire destroyed a part of it in 1951, and the Malt Mill closed in the 1960s.
However, the main distillery still operates and makes one of the most well-known Scotches in the world. It is currently owned by Diageo, a group that operates almost 30 distilleries worldwide.
What Sets Lagavulin Apart
Lagavulin has a rich history. Its proximity to other popular distilleries such as Ardbeg and Laphroaig make the area popular among tourists.
You can visit the island of Islay and tour these distilleries in the summer and witness the distillation process besides tasting different liquors.
The quality of the Scotch made on the island has been sustained throughout time. The production process has changed, but the key steps that create the unique flavor of the Scotch are still the same.
The Scotch made at this distillery is known for its strong smoky flavor that is obtained by using peat smoke during the production process. Peat is a soil-like material that contains decaying vegetation. The taste that this smoke creates is unique to the island since the vegetation is unique to the area.
The distillery has created products that have received awards. Its 16-Year Old Scotch won the Best Distiller’s Single Malt award at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2017. This same Scotch won more gold medals at this same event from 2005 to 2008.
The distillery is also well-known thanks to pop culture. The 2012 movie The Angels’ Share used a lost cask of Scotch from this distillery as one of its plot elements.
The Scotch produced on the island is popular due to its consistent quality. People know what to expect from the distillery. The 8-Year Old Scotch is a permanent fixture of the distillery and can be found in most stores that carry a selection of quality Scotch.
Every year, the distillery releases a limited edition Scotch to celebrate the Islay Jazz Festival. The festival is sponsored by the distillery, and some concerts are held where the floor malting room used to be. This is an interesting experience if you happen to be on the island during the festival
How Is Scotch Made At The Lagavulin Distillery
The distillery has a very traditional approach to making Scotch. A few steps have been modernized, but most of the process has been unchanged since the distillery opened in the 19th century.
The production process begins with the selection of quality barley grains. The grains are exposed to water and left to germinate.
The starch of the grains starts turning into sugar while they germinate. This is a process that helps create a sweet flavor in the finished product.
The germination process is stopped by drying the barley. This is where peat smoke is used ,and the grains absorb the distinctive taste of peat. Peat is the result of vegetation decaying in acidic soil. The delicate taste that the grains adopt once they are exposed to the smoke is unique to the region the peat comes from.
Some distilleries have stopped using peat smoke and rely on other methods to dry the barley since smoky notes are not something that everyone enjoys. Lagavulin still makes Scotch with this traditional technique and is appreciated among whiskey lovers who enjoy the traditional peat flavor of the Scotch.
The malt is then milled to obtain a coarse flour called grist. Hot water is progressively added. The temperature of the water is carefully controlled to obtain the desired effect. Historically, distilleries would be built near springs to have access to quality water for this stage of the process.
Adding hot water helps the starch from the grains turn into sugar. Wort forms and what is left from the grains are removed; yeast is then introduced into the wort.
It feeds on the sugar from the wort and produces alcohol. The byproducts of the fermentation process are called congeners. Some of these compounds contribute to the unique flavor of the liquor, which is why each distillery uses specific strains of yeast.
Once the fermentation process is over, the wort has been transformed into the wash. The alcohol content of the wash is typically under eight percent. The distillation process can begin, and this is the part that you can witness if you visit the distillery.
It is believed that the shape and size of the pots used for distillation has an impact on the flavor and alcohol content of the liquor. This is why most Scottish distilleries have been using the same distillation equipment since they were founded. Using the same equipment helps achieve consistent results.
The wash is distilled twice to obtain the desired alcohol concentration. The distilled liquor is then stored in casks for maturation.
Maturation needs to last at least three years for liquor to be considered a Scotch. However, distilleries typically don’t release products with such a short maturation period.
The distillery primarily uses European oak casks for the maturation process. The cask chosen to mature a Scotch is very important since liquor will absorb compounds from the wood during the maturation process.
Casks that were used to mature wines or bourbon are often used during the last years of the maturation process so that the Scotch can absorb fruity notes. Using oak casks typically creates a caramel or nutty aroma.
The Scotch produced at the distillery stands out thanks to this traditional process that has changed very little over the centuries. The distillery still uses a lot of its original equipment and relies on peat smoke and oak casks to create the balance of smoky and caramel notes that are distinctive of Scotch.
The Lagavulin Product Selection
Compared to other brands, the distillery doesn’t have a large product selection. However, the brand focuses on quality, and you can buy one of these bottles and know exactly what to expect.
Any of the bottles produced by the distillery would be a good addition to your whiskey collection. The 8-Year Old, 12-Year Old, and 16-Year Old Scotches are the most well-known products from the distillery, and the 8-Year Old Scotch is a permanent fixture of the product line. You can also find some interesting limited edition liquors from the distillery, such as the limited edition 25-Year Old Scotch.
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Lagavulin 8-Year Old
The 8-Year Old Scotch is easily recognizable thanks to its light color. It has a balanced profile with some sweet and fruity notes.
You will notice some buttery notes, as well as a spicy aroma. You will probably taste ginger, vanilla, and other fruity notes when you taste it. Aging the Scotch in European oak casks helps create the vanilla and sweetness of the flavor profile.
The peat smoke taste is noticeable but doesn’t overpower the Scotch. The 8-Year Old is an excellent introduction to the products of the distillery thanks to the harmonious balance between the smoky notes and sweetness of the vanilla aroma.
Lagavulin 12-Year Old
Compared to the 8-Year Old Scotch, the 12-Year Old liquor has a much stronger body. The smoke aroma becomes a lot more noticeable in these additional four years of maturation.
The 12-Year Old Scotch still has a fairly balanced flavor profile. You will notice a sweetness when you taste it, but the sweet notes are comparable to a citrus aroma.
The smoke is more noticeable with the finish. This Scotch stands out thanks to its simple but effective balance between smoky and citrus notes.
Lagavulin 16-Year Old
The 16-Year Old Scotch made by this distillery has a much more complex flavor profile. It retains some of the qualities of the 12-Year Old liquor, but the smoky notes reach an additional level of complexity.
You will notice some citrus notes intermingled with a tobacco aroma. The cereal aroma of the malt is also noticeable, and the use of peat smoke brings in some aromas of laurel and iodine.
The 16-Year Old Scotch is something that whiskey lovers will appreciate. The flavor profile is a fascinating mixture of peat smoke balanced with citrus and other delicate flavors.
If you enjoy drinking whiskey, you will appreciate the Scotch produced by this distillery. Think about planning a tour of the distillery if you ever visit Islay, or look into adding one of these bottles to your collection.