December 10, 2013

Review: Lagavulin Distiller's Edition 2013 - The Minty Green Beast

Etiology of Swill

Before we dive into this year's wintry treat from Islay, we thought we'd spend few moments stewing on one of the more noxious trends in the booze industry: flavored whiskey.  From what pit of despair emerged abominations like Jim Beam's Red Stag, Sazerac's Fireball, and Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey?

Things to avoid in life:  Red Stag, Fireball, & Tennessee Honey

Noble Origins

The swill that we currently know as flavored whiskey is the inevitable conclusion of a downward spiral of alcohol consumerism.  However, like the ruin of so many empires, it did have noble origins.  In Russia, flavored vodka is not the drink of sissies and Bethany Frankel enthusiasts.  It's not the sugary sweet disgusting concoction we get here in the US at all.  It's actually a totally kick-ass, delicious, high proof staple of life in one of the most hard-drinking cultures in the world.  (Picture the shot-drinking contest that Marion wins in Raiders of the Lost Ark, they were probably drinking this stuff.)

Перцовка (in English "perzovka") is Russian hot-pepper vodka.  Like all Russian vodka, it's never mixed.  You chill the bottle (preferably by sticking it outside in a pile of snow) and drink it in shots.  Three shots is considered one serving.  No sipping is allowed. можжевеловка ("mozhevelovka") is vodka infused with juniper berries, the same ingredient used in gin.  If you can get your hands on the real stuff, flavored Russian vodka is a life-changing experience.  It's wickedly smooth, delicious, and you can drink massive amounts of it, get wildly drunk, and not be hung over.  Seriously.  (As long as you have another serving with breakfast.)

Перцовка and можжевеловка (hardcore chili & juniper-flavored Russian vodka)


So what happens when some bright-eyed marketing executive takes a sip of perzovka on a field trip to Moscow?  Well brands like Absolut, Stolichnaya, and Grey Goose start to produce the American (i.e. shitty) version - watered down, artificially flavored trash that is typically ordered in a Sprite with a cocktail cherry in it.

Absolut Swill
 It was only a matter of time before whiskey followed suit.  We're hoping that honey and cinnamon are as far as it goes, but we're ever wary and vigilant against further flavor innovations.

Why We Love Scotch (particularly Lagavulin)

There are so many reasons we love scotch.  There's the flavor, the history, the getting drunk...  But the same could be said about other liquors as well.  One thing that's fairly unique about scotch is that it's treated with respect.  They don't turn scotch into "Appletinis" or shoot it in a glass of Red Bull.  You don't order a "scotch & Coke".  When we interviewed James Wills of Kilchoman for last week's review, he put it well: "the good thing about scotch whisky is that it’s a global brand.  No matter where you are in the world, if you’re drinking whisky, the gold standard is scotch whisky."

And it is.  And the wonderful thing about this is that you will NEVER see a flavored single malt scotch.  Despite the new minty-green colored label of this year's Lagavulin Distiller's Edition, there will never be a mint flavored Lagavulin!

(Ok, yes, Dewar's has a "Highland Honey" nastiness-infused scotch, but a) it can't legally be called scotch, and b) we don't want to talk about it!)

2013 Lagavulin Distiller's Edition

2013 Lagavulin Distiller's Edition

We covered most of the details behind Lagavulin Distiller's Edition in last year's review, so rather than rehash the aging & barreling process, we'll cut right to the tasting!

Tasting Notes

Nose:  The best description is "rotten sweet peat."  Very strong peat smoke, sea brine, ocean breeze, with a hefty dose of overripe peaches and melons.  Closes out with some wet oak / decaying wood and leather polish.  (all these things are good, despite the references to rot / decay!!!)

Palate:  It's even sweeter than last year's with a big dose of banana and pineapple.  The smoke is omnipresent.  It's medium bodied on the tongue with some nice thick oiliness.

Finish:  All the intense outliers in the nose and palate come together beautifully in the finish.  The smoke cancels out all the alcohol burn while the sweet fruits rise up off the tongue for a smooth and extremely well balanced finish.  Classic Lagavulin!

Quick Head-to-Head with Lagavulin 16-Year

Nose-to-nose:  Very similar.  Both have the smoking ocean stones, the wood and the mature leather polish.  The Distiller's Edition is much sweeter on top of the smoke.

Palate:  Again two peas in a pod.  Great balance of smoke, heat, and sweet.  More grapes on the DE and some of those stone fruits come to the front.

Finish:  The two diverge the most in the finish with the most noticeable difference.  The standard 16-Year finished pure smoke and spice with little red pepper flakes roasting in peat fire.  The Distiller's Edition ends with a distinct sweetness.  Sort of like a drop of simple syrup on the tip of the tongue right at the end.


It's hard to find any fault with this year's Lagavulin DE.  It's a little more sugary than last year's, with brighter citrus fruits rather than the deep plums and red grapes from last year.  But it's still Lagavulin and so, true to character, it still slaughters 90% of bottles that cost double its price.  And best of all: NO MINT FLAVOR :).

Cheers, this is a great way to start December!  /SB


  1. Ugh; I wouldn't scrub my tub with that flavored crap.

  2. Flavored 'liquor' is for college kids, adults drink their hooch 'neat' or maybe a single cube - you don't want to 'bruise the booze'...