Islay 2014: Lagavulin | Mashtun and Meow: Sheffield Beer Blog

Sunday 7 September 2014

Islay 2014: Lagavulin

A very un-Scottish, gloriously sunny summer's day on Islay enticed us down to the south shore, out past Port Ellen, where the peatiest of the island's whiskies are brought into being.
Our first tour of the day was Lagavulin. We've never owned a bottle of Lagavulin before, but hugely enjoyed their 16 year on the ferry on the way across - a bargain of a dram at under a fiver for a 70ml measure. The flavour of the whisky itself is everything reminiscent of Islay - intense, seaweedy peat smoke, with a backbone of barley sweetness.

The tour, led by Rachael, began in the old kiln room of the distillery, which is now only used by nesting swallows. Owned by Diageo, Lagavulin is more corporate than some of the other distilleries on the island, but this doesn't affect the passion that goes into all they do. They're also not afraid to share their experiences of working with such a huge company (whereas others seem to try to brush over this aspect a little), which meant that the tour provided some additional very interesting insights into the industry on the island as a whole, including their involvement with the maltings at Port Ellen, which they have worked with since the early 1980s.

We were interested to discover that the mashing process at Lagavulin takes just under 6 hours, and is carried out twenty-eight times per week - effectively meaning that production is continual. It's clear that Lagavulin do their utmost to ensure that they make as much whisky as is humanly possible under the current set up - something I am sure many whisky connoisseurs are grateful for.

Swallows featured again in the tun room, where a large plastic owl has done a semi-effective job of keeping the nesting birds away (unfortunately no photos are allowed in the working parts of the distillery, so we can't show you this little guy). We sampled the woody, smoky wash using my favourite distillery instrument - a jug on a rope (it must have a proper name). The fermentation process takes 55 hours, before being piped through to be distilled.

On to the still house, where we were let into a number of distillery "secrets". Lagavulin peats its whisky to 36ppm, which doesn't quite tally up with the massive peaty character that the final product has. This is due at least in part to an unusually steep line pipe angle to the stills, meaning there is less spirit reflux (where the spirit falls back into the still), resulting in less copper contact and a lower amount of phenol vapour wearing away. The longest second distillation of all the whisky producers on Islay - 12 hours - at a lower temperature, also helps to provide a more robust flavour. The still house has to be my favourite part of a distillery - you can always tell that it is a magical place!
The tour ended with a sampling of the Lagavulin range in the lounge - the distillery as a whole has a great country hunting lodge feel about it, and the sophisticated smokiness of the whisky fits in so well with this. We just needed a pipe! After tasting the fiery 12 year and the robustly sweet 16 year Distiller's Edition, the Distiller's Edition immediately became our favourite whisky of the trip so far and so we decided to invest in a bottle. Tasting notes to follow once we've drank it all!


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