Lagavulin 12 [2021 Special Release] vs Lagavulin 16

I have to admit, this blog indeed provides its purpose in the archive of my tasting notes, and my journey through the flavours, and may, perhaps, even help you out with a thought or two. For example, I can go back and re-read a previous tasting of the very same Scotch when compared to another dram, as is the case with this Lagavulin 12-year-old. Meanwhile, it’s been nearly a month since I have written here. Have I stopped tasting? I have indeed. But it is not a ‘job’ per se, nor a true passion [I think I’d have some difficulty in admitting that], and so I just pick up where I’ve left off. Today I’m trying out two of Lagavulin‘s excellent expressions – the staple 16-year-old which you may find on nearly every menu, and its younger, but more distinctive sibling, the 12-year-old from the 2021 Special releases set by Diageo. So let’s dive in, but first, here’s the music! Now playing: GCOME2-XO.

I actually spent some time debating on which I shall try first. The 12-year-old is much stronger, at 56.5% ABV, and even after I dilute it with some water (two tiny cap-fulls) I think it is still somewhere around 53% or so, while the [standard] 16-year-old is at a [consumer standard of] 43% ABV, so I already know, from the alcohol level alone, that it will feel a little “softer” after the bite of the “strong” one. But let’s give it a go. Also, it’s worth pointing out that the colour is strikingly different between the 12-year-old and the 16-year-old. Whereas the 12-year-old is almost light and sunny, the 16-year-old is amber with a hint of reddish gold. [Note on colour: some sites online showcase an image of the 12-year-old which looks almost golden in colour. That’s not true. It’s straw-yellowish if that matters]. So I go for the 12-year-old first. It’s fragrant and floral, with a beautiful lightness of a very distant candied fruit and a very light peat on the nose. The 16-year-old is fainter in flavour (due to the alcohol content again) but it is just a tad sweeter with a little nod towards a welcome bitterness, of sherry and of smoke. I think it’s the warmth on that sweetness scale that cradles the peatiness all on its own. I go back to the 12-year-old, with a little more water, and now the freshness is gone and the smoke just cuts through. It’s still slightly zesty and herbal at times, so I add even more just to see if I can really get it down to the 43% ABV [for a fair comparison].

I take a small break and pour myself a glass of San Pellegrino, to cleanse my palette with the bubbles and a touch of sodium that comes a little from within. Let’s start with that 12-year-old once again. And once again, I am reminded, that side-by-side is how you truly get to peel apart the scents and flavours hidden in each malt. Yes, even with more water, it is still very fragrant, while the 16-year-old is now slightly mellow and a little dull. I don’t think that’s necessarily a negative statement, as the 16-year-old is without a doubt a well-rounded whisky. However, the 12-year-old reminds me almost of a young Caol Ila with that sharp peatiness cutting right through [and that’s one of my favourite single malts, albeit, mostly from the independent bottlers]. One more drop of water, one more sip, and… there, now… the 12-year-old has finally calmed down in strength and it’s absolutely gorgeous! It’s light, and slightly sweet, with a caramel tone. The 16-year-old is sweeter, tamer, and warmer. It’s simply a wonder to drink on its own. Whereas the 12-year-old is depicted as a fiery lion, the 16-year-old is almost a kitten now, cuddly and purring. I simply can drink this one all through the night.

So this is a tough one, folks. I almost can’t pick a favourite. The 12-year-old is a cask-strength single malt, matured in refill American oak, and sold for a whopping £125. It is uncoloured and direct. While the classic 16-year-old is [almost] half the price, at £75, with colouring and probably with chill filtration, and who knows what other malts are in the vat. For sure it has some sherry. I keep going back to the 16-year-old, and then to the 12-year-old, and then to the 16-year-old again for its familiarity and friendship, but then the 12-year-old seems to be more exciting, like lightning, like lava. I am slightly biased towards the 12-year-old, and it’s not even because of the exclusivity of the bottle, but because I know that it’s a less “curated” Lagavulin, less “timid,” and less “safe”. It’s an integrity bottling. And for that alone, I will proclaim the 12-year-old to be the winner of this round.

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