Thursday 22 September 2016

Lagavulin 200th Anniversary Celebration in Sydney (Tasted #314 - 315)

The "Islay Times" were plastered across the walls of The Wild Rover recently, with the main headline being 'Lagavulin 200th Anniversary' - marking the fact that two centuries have passed since a local farmer by the name of John Johnston first founded the first legal distillery back in 1816.

Celebrating the bicentenary anniversary of Diageo's Islay icon, Sydney's The Wild Rover was chosen as a place where guests came together to be transported to the shores of Lagavulin Bay in South of Islay (more of this in a bit).

It wasn't that long ago when Laphroaig too celebrated its 200th anniversary last year. Laphroaig did its fans some justice by re-releasing its historically beloved 15 Year Old for a limited time to help commemorate the special anniversary. In a similar fashion, Lagavulin has also released a special 8 Year Old bottling as a tribute to the success of the past two centuries. 

The 8yo was inspired by a visit to the distillery by Alfred Barnard in the 1880s. Alfred, a British brewing and distilling historian is said to have sampled an 8 Year Old malt during his visit and lauded the young malt as exceptional; a malt equally as impressive as some of the older Lagavulin expressions (which Alfred may not have sampled during his visit). Nowadays, those older expressions include the 12 Year Old (Cask Strength), the 16 Year Old (which was presented on the night) and the oldest Lagavulin ever released (excluding the recent run of 5 bottles of 40yo for the China market); a 37 Year Old.

The 200th anniversary celebration took place at the The Wild Rover's upstairs. Walking into the room, there were Virtual Reality (VR) headsets and headphones placed on all tables, a different sight to the more commonly sighted whisky glasses. Sean Baxter; Diageo Australia's National Ambassador for Johnnie Walker and The Classic Malts was the host for the night and being the passionate figure that he is, enthusiastically introduced guests into the room and explained the VR headsets.

The VR headsets, loaded with 360 degree videos showcasing aspects of the Lagavulin distillery transported all of us from our seat straight to to Lagavulin Bay where we were standing on the Distillery Pier. With the VR headset, the 360 degree video really allows you to look around by tilting your head in any directions where you can appreciate all the remarkable details of the surrounding bay.

The VR presentation transported guests from the idyllic pier straight into the inside of the defunct kiln before taking guests through the barley field, warehouse, stillhouse and to the final virtual tour site; the neat and elegant Dramming Room.

For those of you curious as to what these 360 degree videos are like, Diageo has published them on YouTube - see the first video below.

...and the others:

As Sean walked guests through the different scenes, scents taken from around the Distillery were sprayed around the room and evoked a sense that guests were actually present at the Lagavulin Distillery. The most interesting scents for me were the scent from the kiln and the musky scent of the warehouse. The combination of the sight, smell and sound of the VR presentation was astounding and really enabled guests to truly appreciate the Lagavulin Distillery.

Following the VR presentation, the Lagavulin 16 Year Old and the special anniversary Lagavulin 8 Year Old were presented for tasting.

Lagavulin 8 Year Old (48% ABV, 8yo, Islay, Scotland, $99AUD / HK official release TBC / £44.13)

Colour: Light orange copper (tinge of amber)

Nose: The nose is young and filled with iodine, smoked cured meat with a touch of lemon butter and hints of vanilla, pear and pineapple

Palate: The palate is fresh, creamy and the signature Lagavulin profile is there with the peat.  an Sipping more of it, I get sea salt, vanilla, peanut brittles with longing spices. 

Finish: Peaty and lingers for quite some time

Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 90/100


Martin's "Lagavulin 8" Notes - originally posted in August

Colour: Light straw. Very pale.

Nose: Bacon, chorizo, and a hint of asparagus. Definitely youthful (even "young"), but not "too young" and not harsh in any way. An enjoyable nose that makes you want to dive in...

Palate: Instantly, it's a Laga. There's plenty of fresh peat, a little iodine, but overall it's smooth, and creamy.! There's a little in the way of sweet tropical notes (a little mango), but mostly for me it was about the meaty peat. Sweet glazed BBQ ribs. So far so good!

Finish: Long and peaty (a much sweeter, fresher peat smoke than the 16yo).

Rating (on Martin's very non-scientific scale): 91/100. At half the age of the ubiquitous 16yo, there was a chance that the casks Lagavulin chose for this would be too young, or too harsh (it's happened with more than one other Islay producers' new releases in recent years). Thankfully, that's not the case at all. It may be half the age, but it's full of flavour, character, and whilst it's not overly complex, it is smooth, refined and delicious. A definite winner, and one worth seeking out for any fan of Islay  (and a must for any fans of Lagavulin!

Lagavulin 16 Year Old (48% ABV, 16yo, Islay, Scotland, $102.90AUD / $860HKD / £41.48)
Colour: Light orange copper (tinge of amber)

Nose: The nose is intense and you can smell the rich peat smoke. Following, there are hints of seaweed, tropical fruits and vanilla

Palate: The palate screams Lagavulin with its rich and dense sweet peat, tropical sorbet, peat ash, pineapple and lemon. The spices appear last, just to keep the adventure going.

Finish: Long and lingering finish riddled with spices that are pleasantly warming 

Rating (on Hendy's very non-scientific scale): 91/100 (I actually like the Lagavulin 16 more than Lagavulin 8 as I believe the 16 is quite a robust and rich dram.)

It was definitely wonderful to have been part of the special bicentenary celebrations for Lagavulin and to be part of such a momentous milestone for the iconic Islay distillery. Here's to the next century Lagavulin!

Hendy would like to thank Diageo and Lee Hall of Leo Burnett for the invite to this fantastic event.

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