Lagavulin 16, a Significant Drop in Quality

lagavulinAt first I thought my taste buds were changing, that for whatever reason my palate was no longer sensitive to the aromas and flavours of smoke and peat. I’ve recently acquired an unexpected and entirely pleasant appreciation for non-peaty, sherry influenced Highland and Speyside single malts, so temporarily losing a preference for peat in my scotches seemed reasonable. The earthy Islay scotches were my first love and have been my preferred scotches for years, especially Lagavulin 16 which I recently referred to as the king of kings and the holiest of holies, the earthiest, peatiest, smokiest of scotches, smooth and warm. But not anymore. I’m not sure what’s happened to Lagavulin 16 in recent years, but it’s not good.

I picked up a bottle of Lagavulin 16 a couple months ago that I would not have recognized as Lagavulin if it was given to me blind. It tasted like the bottle had been left open for a month and the scotch slightly diluted. It didn’t have the big blast of smoke and peat that I’ve come to expect from Lagavulin 16. The finish seemed weak, not at all complex, none of the delayed warmth and peatiness rising up that I’ve experienced every time from Lagavulin 16 in the past. For the first time since I discovered single malt scotch, I’m disappointed with Lagavulin 16.

A nice dram of it will open up after a while with a small splash of water, but even then it’s nowhere near as smooth and warm as it used to be. It even burns a bit and Lagavulin 16 never used to burn. I’m not sure if I got a bad batch, but from what I can gather from other comments on whiskey forums, Lagavulin 16 has dropped significantly in quality in recent years. If the bottle I have is any indication, current bottlings of Lagavulin 16 should be avoided. It’s not what used to be and it’s certainly not worth the price they’re asking ($101 at my local store).

I’ll have to get my peat fix from Laphroaig and Ardbeg for now on.

About Phillip

Phillip Cairns is a beekeeper in St. John’s, Newfoundland, who writes about beekeeping at mudsongs.org.

14 Replies to “Lagavulin 16, a Significant Drop in Quality”

  1. I have an unopened bottle of 1980 double matured Lagavulin that I’ve had for 10+ years now. I don’t know why I haven’t opened it except that it probably cost me a lot (around $100) when I bought it. It goes for over $300 now I think:
    .

  2. As painful as it is to admit it, I have to agree wholeheartedly with the aforementioned bashing of recent Lagavullin 16 batches, specifically those being sold since the start of 2013. I have in the past few months purchased two bottles of my beloved 16 year –2 months apart, from different stores in St. Louis, MO– and was appalled to find they both shared the same bizarrely unpleasant feeble qualities; so flat, watery, lifeless, with a filthy burnt bitter finish that feels like an accident. For the record, the 2012 bottling of the Lagavulin 12 year cask strength is probably my favorite whiskey ever tasted, just to underline the gravity of whole mess and how much I admire Lagavulin and value their product. Every earlier batch of the 16 year I’ve tasted (before 2013) has been very clearly better, still with the essence of everything we love in Lagavulin. What happened? I intend to find out when I visit the distillery in an upcoming (as well as first) visit to Scotland. There must be some explanation!

    Though I must admit I’m also somewhat relieved to find others have had a similar experience. After the first Bad Batch, I thought perhaps I was having brief psychotic episode (I seriously questioned my own judgment when sipping this abomination). Upon trying the second Bad Batch, I began to awkwardly suspect that I may be involved in some kind of weird Single Malt conspiracy.

    Unfortunately these harsh words are inevitable, as this is not unquestionably not a mere change in style or flavor profile, so much as it is a blatant degradation of quality. I, too, will revert to my other beloved Kildaton Islays, Ardebeg and Laphroaig…two distilleries whose brilliant consistency in recent years remains unrivaled, in my humble opinion.

    Cheers to always seeking the Finest of the Fine, and nothing less.

    Van, A Single Malt Enthusiast

  3. I was wondering if you folks could be victims of a bad cork. I’m right now nosing an L16 that’s got a bottling code indicating a late 2012 bottling and it doesn’t seem at all unlagavulinish or crap to me. However, I have had experiences with other big batch whiskys where the taste has been sort-of-there but in a muffled, bland or downright damp way, and the cork has usually been the issue. Of course I may be completely biased but I finished a bottle of the 1995 distillers edition before turning to this one and although I love the DE I can’t fault this 16yo at all. If only I had an older 16yo bottle to compare to.

    • It’s possible my recent experience with Lagavulin 16 is due to a bad cork, but I still have the bottle and the cork itself doesn’t seem different than other corks. Judging from many recent reviews, though, I’m inclined to think the quality of the scotch has diminished, a victim of its own success.

      • Certainly it’s possible that the batch in question is bad. However do note that cork defects don’t appear in whisky like they do in wine. I’ve yet to see a fragile or visibly rotted cork on a whisky bottle and the bad ones I’ve had looked perfectly fine in every way until nosing/tasting. If you’ve still got the empty bottle can you look up the bottling code (starts with L) on the label so we know what to watch out for?

        • I have identified multiple (at least 5) bottles of ‘Bad Batch’ Lagavulin 16 at different bars and liquor stores throughout St. Louis, MO. The concept of a bad cork doesn’t seem to explain anything here, as I have observed that each ‘Bad Batch’ was bottled in 2012. Most of them have been from late 2012 but I have identified several from early 2012 as well. Unfortunately there still does not seem to be any kind of explanation about this unfortunate abomination. Any insights are welcome. For those disillusioned by this recent debacle, might I recommend the mighty Springbank (especially the standard 10 year and 12 year cask strength, available at most well-stocked liquor stores), a distillery which has yet to disappoint. Cheers.

          • Here are three photos I took from the box of the bad Lagavulin:

            And by bad, I don’t mean it’s a horrible bottle of scotch, but it’s just ordinary, not extraordinary.

          • Can you check the bottling code on the bottle? It’s not on the labels but printed directly on the side of the bottle near the bottom below the back label. Mine is L2327 which I understand translates to it having been bottled on the 327th day of 2012.

      • This change has been happening over the past few years. Lagavulin has been terribly inconsistent. Every now and again I would get a bottle that harked back to the glory days (it used to be my all time #1) but I stopped buying it a couple of years ago as it was almost undrinkable. I fear over production and lack of quality oversight have doomed this former water of life. The same is also true of Talisker- in this case on a recent distillery tour I found the role of “taster” (previously the best job in the world) has been delighted to automatic monitoring of alcohol content. They may also have dropped to two distillation cycles instead of 3. These changes happened after the multinational Diageo company bought out several classic malts and turned them into cash cows. I now drink Ardberd Uigeadail- different but has a long powerful peaty finish.

  4. As disappointing as I am with my current bottling of Lagavulin 16, I should reiterate that it’s still not a bad peaty single malt. It’s not in the realm of great like Lagavulin 16 used to be, but if I paid only 50 or $60 for it instead of over $100, I wouldn’t feel like I got ripped off. I’m also about half way through the bottle now and it does seem to have opened up a bit. it’s still not great, but it’s better.

  5. I just bought a bottle with an L2268CM000 05309475 code on it, and I’ve got to say it is unimpressive. I recently had some Lagavulin 16 at a bar, and it was a world of difference. The nose was much more complex, with more oak and sherry, and not so much as a hint of alcohol. It was a little sweeter on the palette, with more oaky vanilla and dried fruits. The nose of this bottle is mostly just smoke, with hints of acetone, and some alcohol. On the palette it is smoke, with some vegetal peat, and faint hints of oak. The body and finish are where I really notice the difference. The dram I had at the bar had a rich oily texture that coated my mouth, and a long, smooth finish that I could even taste hints of after a dram of another whisky. This bottle has a watery consistency, and the finish seems cut short, with the smoke and peat quickly and anticlimactically fading to watery alcohol. It reminds quite a lot of Talisker 10 with a bit more smoke. At $35 cheaper I’d go for the Talisker any day. I do kind of feel like I’ve been had.

  6. I just found this article as I was wondering if something changed with my recent bottle. This is only my 2nd, but the first was purchased this summer and had clearly been sitting in the back of a liquor store for some time, 1-2 years would be my guess. My new bottle, brand new stock, seems weak. It has lost it smoke. I am a newbie, but it is obviously different.

  7. I googled for “lagavulin 16 not as peaty anymore” and came across this entry – kinda glad and kinda sad that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Recent bottles have just felt watered down to me. I’m a longtime Lagavulin 16 fan, I’ve declared it as “my favority whiskey of all time” and described it in bombastic terms, but lately the bottles I’ve been getting have just not felt the same to me anymore. “Watered down” is the best description I can come up with. I agree with previous posters that it’s still not a bad whiskey, but it’s nothing like its former glory. The peatyness used to hit you in the face. I think I described it once to my friends as a single malt that would grab you by the throat and shake you as it goes down. Now it’s merely a sad trickle.

    I have been very disappointed by Lagavulin 16 for about a year now. I still buy it in the hope that it’s just been a bad run, but I fear I may be contributing to its decline in quality. For I suspect that it may be due to its rise in popularity that has caused this.

    I can clearly remember buying bottle of L16 for $60 – now you can’t touch it for under $120 in some places! I rejoice when I see it for $90! Obviously it’s been popular – and good for them – but I fear that their popularity may have gone to their heads and they’ve taken some “shortcuts”. I haven’t tested the bottles, but I’ll wager that either the alcohol content has gone down, or there’s something else messing with the aromatics and composition of what’s in there. I know, strong words to throw around, but I’ll come right out and say it: my tastebuds tell me that there’s cheating going on in that bottle!

    Prove me wrong! (No, please, really, prove me wrong – I want to believe in my favorite dram!)

    PS: I HATED the Lagavulin 12yo! It was rough and unfinished, just unpleasant all the way! I was SO disappointed, was hoping it would be a good earlier bottling (I’ve had a 6yo Bunnahabhain that was just an absolute delight!), but those hopes were dashed on the first taste. I actually poured the bottle down the sink after a few glasses, just couldn’t take it anymore – and if you knew me, you’d know what that would take for me to do to ANY liqueur!

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