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It is most idyllic at Lagavulin when the weather is kind, and it was very difficult getting myself off the premises.

It is most idyllic at Lagavulin when the weather is kind, and it was very difficult getting myself off the premises.

Port Ellen, Islay, Argyll, PA42 7DZ, 01496 302749. Diageo. http://www.discovering-distilleries.com/lagavulin/

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      *****      All of the south shore Islay distilleries shall receive five stars for this category, and for my reasoning see the Laphroaig post. Lagavulin has a slightly broader bay, with Dunyvaig Castle, one of the earliest headquarters for the Lords of the Isles and simultaneously it is hotly contested to be one of the oldest distillation sites on Islay, and even Scotland, at its head. The art of distillation is often attributed to Irish missionaries, and Islay must have been one of the nearest outposts of heathen Scots in the 13th and 14th centuries. They chose well. The architectural layout of the distillery hints at its past lives as several plants, most recently Malt Mill which was set up in an attempt to replicate the character of Laphroaig and ceased production in the 1960s. Lots of buildings and the little avenues between them are visited over the course of the tour.


‘Standard Tour’: £6 (or free if you toured Caol Ila previously). See ‘My Tour’ below.

‘Premium Tasting Tour’: £15. A tutored tasting of five Lagavulin single malts including the new make. As there are only three ‘regular’ releases of this outstandingly rich whisky (16yo, Distillers’ Edition and 12yo Cask Strength) expect an exciting cask sample for the final dram.

‘Warehouse Demonstration Tour’: £15. These take place at 10.30 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and it is best to book ahead. The price includes entry on the 9.30AM tour and a free Lagavulin tasting glass. You will then be let loose, figuratively speaking, in Lagavulin’s warehouses. Most is matured elsewhere, it must be said - either at Caol Ila or on the mainland – but they hold a couple of casks back for a consistently highly-praised visitor experience.

NB: Again there is the promise of constructing a tour to suit you to be found on the website. Contact 01496 302749.

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLINGS:      Hurry if you want one, a distillery-only bottling was released in tandem with the Feis Ile 2010 edition at the festival this year. ‘Double’ matured in Pedro Ximenez-treated American oak casks, 51.5% abv, £70.

My Tour – 14/05/2010



Notes:      The tour begins with a very good explanation of the malting and peat-cutting traditions, and expands to include the less glamorous modern method of malting. We get a taste of 35ppm barley malt from Port Ellen. The top layer of peat is generally used in the kilning process because it is very fibrous, not yet having been broken down. This produces lots of smoke for flavour, but not much heat. They use a full lauter tun with a rake that can move up, down, left and right, but must never scrape along the bottom, for the husk in the grist acts like an extra filter for the sugary wort. They have 10 larch washbacks and all are about the same age: 65-years-old! They are coming to the end of their lives, though. Into the still room, and this was where I fell in love. It is so neat and self-contained. Every year, coppersmiths come round and perform an ultrasound on the stills to check the levels of copper thickness throughout the vessel. They have the longest distillation run on the island at 10.5 hours. This long and slow approach ensures that as much of the peat smoke character is retained in the final spirit and smooths out the new make. To the filling store, then, and I learnt that casks can be used at Lagavulin five or even six times. All casks come to the distillery as refills, 85% Bourbon, 15% Sherry. As you can tell, Ruth imparted a lot of Lagavulin wisdom, which I lapped up.

GENEROSITY:       (1 dram) (* if you also shelled out for a tour of Caol Ila.)

VALUE FOR MONEY:      * (** if you take advantage of the two-for-one deal on Diageo Islay distilleries.)

SCORE:      5/10 *s (7/10 *s when toured with Caol Ila.)

COMMENT:      I enjoyed this tour immensely. I almost didn’t catch it, although I sense that Ruth kept the tour party out in the glorious sunshine before heading into the cool of the kiln long enough for me to lock the bike up to the fence and hastily join the group. She was magnificent. We received oodles of local history and the whole affair was relaxed, informative and just lovely. She asked, when we were in the tun room, if anyone would like to draw the wash sample. My hand was the first up so I lifted the two-pint tin of steaming wash out of the most mature washback. A very special moment, for me. Unfortunately, I had first sip, which was mostly head! If you want to tour Lagavulin, phone up to find out when they plan to be taking the middle cut. I just slouched by the spirit safe, watching this clear liquid pass through directly into the receiver vat below. I don’t know whether it was the ambient conditions or not, but the smell is in the top 3 most wondrous aromas I had the good fortune to savour over the course of my travels. Lagavulin new make smells HEAVENLY. I was taking tasting notes of the air: fruity, like toast and jam, but rich and smooth. Some dry earth and sweet, moist wood smoke. UNBELIEVABLE. If they had a bottle of the new make in the shop I would have bought it there and then. Several of them, in fact. I had to nip to the facilities (three sips of wash in the morning is not something I would recommend) and then returned to my tour party who were lounging in the lovely dramming room. The whole VC is very open plan, and this space had the feel of a vintage country hotel. We were given a choice of the 16YO, the Distiller’s Edition and “I’m sure we have an open bottle of the 12YO Special Release.” I and a couple of other gents took her up on her offer and was I glad I did. Leave that new make for 12 years and do next to nothing to it and you have one of the best drams I have tasted; period, let alone on my travels. It is a truly aggressive whisky, butting you in the forehead and then kneeing you in the groin. It was spectacular. A faultless tour (I wasn’t even that sore about this continuing trend of no warehouses) and Lagavulin now has a very special place in my heart, even though it may have been the fall on the pier that knackered the bike… That I will never know.

Unfortunately the strong Westerly winds blew the bike to the pier deck! Not Lagavulin's fault, though.

Unfortunately the strong Westerly winds blew the bike to the pier deck! Not Lagavulin's fault, though.


One last whimsical look back at "the mill in the hollow".

One last whimsical look back at "the mill in the hollow".

« Laphroaig – Ardbeg »

May 30, 2010 um 4:29 pm
The Tours
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