We're not alone though, and seeking out hard-to-find Lagavulin is not an easy task. We did get to taste the Lagavulin 21-Year, which was phenomenal. Lag 25 and 30 Year have so far escaped our grasp, and the astronomical price of last year's 37 year only made us cry ourselves to sleep. There have been some great Lagavulin Distiller's Editions as well, which are a little more attainable if not quite as special.
Even more difficult to come by are the distillery only releases, which come out once or twice a year to celebrate special occasions. In our book, this is the stuff of dreams: hand-picked casks (usually chosen by Ian McArthur himself), served up at cask strength, uncolored. Basically these are pure and uncut unicorn barrels that have waited their entire whisky lives to be bottled at their prime and only available to the locals. You have to be on Islay, at the distillery, on one given day, and they usually sell out in a matter of hours. The beauty we're cracking today was released in honor of the 2013 Islay Jazz Fest.
"Bottled Especially to Celebrate Islay Jazz Fest 2013"
This is the third Lagavulin Jazz Fest release, coming in at cask strength 51.9%, 103.8 proof. It's from Sherry Butts. It was distilled on the 19th of January, 1995, bottled in 2013, and released in September on Friday the 13th. 1,500 total bottles were available. It's even dressed up with a special piano-roll tax strip outfit for the occasion. And here we go (cue cork popping sound effect)...
Nose: Really huge peat balanced with healthy dollop of sherry. Not quite the sherry bomb that is the 21-year, a little more on the peaty side. Man does this smell amazing! "Bread pudding!" shouts Mrs. Beast. It's there in spades. Big fruity, spicy, citrus, candied lemons, little hints of raisins, cinnamon, key lime pie, all wrapped in smoke. Layers upon layers of smoke, both peat smoke and maybe hints of pipe tobacco.
Palate: Oh damn, it's a winner! Lovely oak, white chocolate, peat for miles. Extremely balanced with the smoke completely eating up the alcohol burn (which is 1,000% perfect right here at 103+ proof!). You almost forget about the smoke with all these wonderful mid-palate fruits, candies, and spice coming at you, but then it keeps coming back across the back of the mouth to round out the taste. Can we drink this every day? Pretty please?
Finish: It's peaty in a way that's different from other Lagavulins, the peat is very present on the nose but then the palate is so smooth that it hits you almost as an afterthought in the finish, but man does it come back and hit you! There's a ton of sweet here, chocolate and citrus and ripe cantaloupe, some beautiful saddle leather & tobacco, big red grapes, and then miles more peat. What an amazing dram.
Since we had both sitting around, we poured this next to one of absolute all time favorites, the 1980/2005 Talisker 25-Year. They're both absolutely magical bottles, but we have to say that the Lagavulin is in another world. The Talisker is lovely, overflowing with salty sea air, certainly more refined and arguably more balanced. But as smoke lovers, the Lag has a taste that's in a completely different league. We almost hate to compare the two since they're apples and oranges for sure, but since we love both so much, we couldn't resist. They're both "A" whiskies, but the Lag is an "A+". If you're lucky enough to sample this mighty dram, take it slow and enjoy the ride.