Diageo Special Releases 2021: Lagavulin 12 vs Oban 12

In this roundup, I explore two of Diageo‘s 2021 Special Releases, titled Legends Untold. This is their 20th annual instalment (the series began in 2001), highlighting the diversity of their owned distilleries while offering some hidden gems and never before released bottlings. This time, they also unified the series with label illustrations from Ken Taylor, creating a very collectable set of eight bottles portraying “the otherworldly beings which have fiercely protected the heartlands of remote Scottish distilleries for an eternity.” Yes, this is probably one of those collections worth setting aside for later, and so, I bought them all [including the Lagavulin 26-year-old, which I don’t think will uncork for a while]. So today, we’ll look at two 12-year-olds in the series. But first, music! Now playing: SanctuaryIn Absolute.

I have compared this 2021 release of Lagavulin 12-year-old to the 2020 release, side by side for many a sip, and I’m not exactly sure which one I like better, but I am beginning to lean a little towards this bottling. It’s slightly floral, and there is definitely a hint of lemon mixed with a little more peat at the very edge of the cliff before you suddenly drop off. The 2020 is a bit more straight to the point, while the 2021 is dressed up, just a little, with some flair and style, before the big night out on the town. The 2020 is very direct, with a bit of bristle on the edges, while the 2021 is a tad smoother, like a powdered baby’s cheek, and you’re feeling slightly on edge, like in the presence of Lord Varys. Should you trust it? Yes, you should! It’s still more of the Lagavulin that I would expect, but the earlier release is just, well, different, and frankly, I think that I like both. Because sometimes you want a gentle caress, and sometimes a slap on that self-absorbed grimace. The bottle offers “The King of Islay”, portraying The Lion’s Fire as the fable’s protagonist. Bottled at a punchy 56.5% [don’t forget some water!] this single malt was matured only in refill American oak casks [so it’s just barely picking up that bourbon vanilla], primarily offering that direct and uninhibited peat. An incredible bottle [which is why I have two] that you should grab for £130 before the following year’s special release.

Next up is the 12-year-old Oban, portraying a fable of Twin Foxes, matured in ex-bourbon and refill casks. This is a naked Oban, stripped away of its costume put on for the populous crowd. As is the case with all cask-strength whiskies, every new drop of water peels away a layer of clothing, opening slowly, revealing the innocence, leaving it fragile yet forward and proud. Unlike its Diageo cousin from Islay, the Oban is sweeter and gentler on the nose [there are more bourbon notes and pretty much zero peat], but just like its siblings from the Highlands and Isles, it still packs a punch (at 56.2%) if you let it in too quick. So please take your time, allow all the fire to warm up the room, allow the light to fade, then lead this naked Oban to sit by your bedside, and hear its tale as you drift away. You’ll dream of twin foxes, one red and one brown, as fire and earth mix with water and air, and bring on the spirit distilled in this bottle, from sweetness to sea salt, from orange to smoke. A fantastic dram, and well worth the £105 price tag [another one I doubled up on]. It’s not really competing here with its very own 14-year-old from the core range because it’s cask strength, and is an entirely different whisky, but I may spend some time to compare these later.

Meanwhile, it is tough to decide between the two. I should have perhaps put them in contrast not with each other but with the similar offerings from the same distilleries. But, I am having a wonderful time with this series, so I am sure I will highlight some more in the near future. Given, again, that I am partial to the smoke, I’ll have to make a callous choice and say that the Lagavulin 12-year-old wins this round.


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