Founded in 1816 on the site of an old illegal distillery, Lagavulin was the first on the Isle of Islay to create whiskies legally. Over the years, it has brought together whisky lovers from all backgrounds thanks to its open peatiness and rounded texture.
The origins of Lagavulin
The Lagavulin distillery with its white walls proudly stands on the southern edge of the Isle of Islay which itself is located off the west coast of Scotland. Facing the Atlantic Ocean, it is watched over by the age-old ruins of Dunyvaig Castle. Along with its neighbouring distilleries Ardbeg and Laphroaig, which were created near-enough at the same time, it forms a golden triangle for peaty whiskies.
Lagavulin came to be in 1816 under the guiding light of John Johnston, who also founded the Speyside distillery Ardmore and merged them about 15 years later. Lagavulin changed hands several times. Sold to John Crawford Graham in 1852, it was then taken on by John Logan Mackie in 1867 before he handed it to his nephew Peter Mackie in 1889. A year later, success was knocking on the distillery’s door with the launch of its famous White Horse blend. Ambitious, Peter Mackie also founded Malt Mill in 1908, which is less well-known. It distilled whiskies under its own name until 1960 and was absorbed by Lagavulin in 1962, This is why Malt Mill bottlings are hunted down by enthusiasts.
During the 1970s, Lagavulin changed tracks and decided to buy its malt from Port Ellen, a neighbouring distillery that supplied others too.
Today, Lagavulin is run by the Diageo group who also owns Caol Ila and Port Ellen.
The whiskies that made Lagavulin an icon
The distillery confirmed its position as an icon of the island with the release of its 16-Year-Old Lagavulin in the 1980s. A 12-Year-Old version of it had been released in the 1970s and had found fame. Initially released in a clear glass bottle with a white label, the 1980s called for a change when it was sold in a green glass bottle adorned with a cream label. It has to be said that its strong peat profile confused many at a time when the trend was for light, floral whiskies. The balance created by its roundness led to its success with all who tried it.
Lagavulin 1979, which had been aged in former Pedro Ximenez barrels and released in 1997, saw huge success. A new addition of the 12-Year-Old was also launched, this time having matured in former Bourbon barrels and bottled at cask strength. Several vintage versions have been added to the range and a 40-Year-Old christened The Rare Malts Selection shook the spirit world when 5 versions of it were released in 2016.
Knowledge going back centuries
The distillery draws water from the hills and lochs (including Loch Solum) to create what is considered to be one of the most peaty and intense whiskies in Scotland, with sea-like characteristics and an oily texture. Fermentation lasts a long time and distillation is slow and precise, taking place in pear-shaped stills. The whiskies are then fined on former sherry barrels whose wood contributes to the concentration of its round, warm character and softens its edges.
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