In the realm of Scotch whisky, Lagavulin is as iconic as the island it’s distilled on. In fact, it’s one of the oldest distilleries found in the heart of Islay — even predating some of its ultra-famous neighbors. Its complex origins involving illegal production and smuggling make for an interesting story, but what sets this Scotch apart from giants like The Macallan and The Balvenie is its distinct flavor.
With a range that spans golden pours aged in new American oak, amber single malts ideal for those aspirationally wearing Shetland sweaters, and a rich, russet, sherry-aged distiller’s edition, Lagavulin has remained a consistent choice for true Scotch whisky lovers. Not to mention, its celebrity fan base and pop culture allure abet more than 200 years of history and awards.
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
It’s big in San Francisco.
At the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Lagavulin’s 16-year Scotch flourished, winning four consecutive double gold medals between 2005 and 2008. But it was the 2017 competition when the Scotch took home the title of Best Distiller’s Single Malt and won a double gold medal, receiving unanimous gold medal scores from panelists.
Speaking of superlatives…
The Glenesk Hotel in Angus, Scotland broke a world record for the largest whisky collection in December 2017. Its 2,500 bottles comprise 1,031 on the official hotel docket as well the owners’ impressive 1,449-bottle private collection. The most expensive pour on the list is Lagavulin 25, which retails for €299 per dram (approximately $345).
Lagavulin’s origins are a little shady.
According to Lagavulin lore, the brand’s distillery is the oldest on Islay, with whisky production taking place as early as 1742. In 1816, one remarkably named local, John Johnston, launched the first legal distillery where Lagavulin began legally producing its signature whisky. However, many early bottle labels still list the 1742 date as the accounted beginning of the whisky’s distillation.
There are six bottles in the Lagavulin family.
The brand’s most well known offering is Lagavulin 16, a full-bodied single malt that clocks in at 43 percent ABV. It’s aged in oak for a minimum of 16 years (hence the name) and has massively peaty, smoky flavors — plus lingering sweetness, wood notes, and smoke on the finish. There’s also the 2020 and 2021 Lagavulin Distillers Editions, which are double-matured in Pedro Ximinez casks, as well as the eight-year-old Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Lastly, in 2021, the distillery released two special release bottles, Lagavulin 12- and 26-year.
The 8-year-old whisky exceeded expectations.
Launched in 2016 to commemorate Lagavulin’s 200th anniversary, Lagavulin eight-year was intended for limited release — that is, until an overwhelmingly positive consumer response decided otherwise. And so, in 2017 the whisky became a permanent part of the Lagavulin family. It was inspired by renowned British whisky writer Alfred Barnard’s visit to the distillery in the late 1880s, during which he sampled an eight-year-old Lagavulin. Having described the spirit as “exceptionally fine” and “held in high repute” in his book “The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom,” it’s no wonder Lagavulin decided to permanently keep it in the lineup.
Nick Offerman really, really loves Lagavulin.
Nick Offerman, the mustachioed actor who famously played Ron Swanson on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” is an enormous Lagavulin fan. He creates limited-edition Lagavulin tableware in his L.A. wood shop, and called Lagavulin “mother’s milk” in a 2013 interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek. In 2016, he even celebrated New Year’s Eve with a dram of Lagavulin at the Islay distillery. Fictitious character “Parks and Rec” Ron Swanson also loves Lagavulin; in the sixth season, Swanson visits the distillery and in the series finale becomes a Lagavulin shareholder.
In 2014, Lagavulin partnered with actor Nick Offerman to create the “My Tales of Whisky” series for Father’s Day. A true connoisseur, Offerman later teamed up with the distillery to launch an 11-year-old Scotch whisky dubbed the Lagavlin Offerman Edition, and most recently released the Lagavulin Offerman Edition: Guinness Cask Finish. With a partnership described as an “everlasting friendship,” it’s safe to say fans can look forward to more collaborations from the pair.
Lagavulin pairs perfectly with jazz.
Since 2010, Lagavulin has sponsored the Islay Jazz Festival and began hosting the Lagavulin Jazz Festival in 2017. Each year, Lagavulin releases a limited-edition whisky to commemorate the festival. The latest 2021 edition was released in November 2021 with just 3,000 units available for sale. The 13-year old cask strength whisky was finished in mezcal casks and is described as having smoky, meaty aromas and notes of spicy wood and smoke-dried jalapeño peppers.
It strength was critiqued by a literay icon.
In Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest,” literary icon Lisbeth Salander described Lagavulin as something that could “be used to tar a boat.” The heroine sips Lagavulin when she finds herself bellying up to the bar at The Rock Hotel on Gibraltar. After tasting it, she pushes it off, saying it resembles pitch. Hey, everyone’s a critic.
The tour is not to be missed.
Distillery tours might be becoming less popular, but visiting the Lagavulin distillery is an experience unlike any other. Affectionately known as “whisky country,” the island of Islay is home to a plethora of Scotch distilleries, which makes visiting the famous isle a treat for true whisky fans. Perched in the picturesque Port Ellen, the Lagavulin distillery is housed between two other renowned brands, Ardbeg and Laphroaig. Visitors have their choice between tours, tastings, and full warehouse experiences, during which they have the opportunity to enjoy exclusive samples of Lagavulin while learning about the history behind the beloved brand.
Its Barrels Could House Some Of Your Favorite Tequila
In 2019, the popular Diageo-owned tequila brand Don Julio teamed up with Lagavulin distillery manager Colin Gordon to craft a limited edition double cask Reposado tequila. After distillation, the special tequila received a unique finish as it sat for two weeks in casks previously containing Lagavulin Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky.