Lagavulin

Lagavulin is a single malt distillery on the famous whisky island of Islay, Scotland. The island sits at the bottom of the Hebridean chain and is known as 'The Queen of the Hebrides'. Lagavulin is one of 'The Kildalton Three' distilleries, along with Ardbeg and Laphroaig. These are located on the southern coast of the island and are so named as they are close to the ancient Kildalton Cross monument. Lagavulin's name is taken from the anglicised name of Lag a'Mhuilin. This is the village where the distillery is situated and translates as 'the mill by the bay' from Gaelic. 

Lagavulin distillery's white buildings with its name painted on a side wall viewed from the river Abhainn nam Beitheachan during a low tide
Lagavulin distillery, Scotland

style

Lagavulin produces a robust, smoky and peaty style of single malt whisky. This is the style that the island of Islay is particularly known for. Lagavulin sits in the mid-range in terms of the peat level for an Islay whisky. The malt is peated to 35ppm. The PPM scale is Phenol Parts per Million. Phenol is the compound in peat smoke that gets locked into the barley and gives the whisky its smoky aroma and flavour. This level puts it below its Islay counterparts of Ardbeg and Laphroaig (both peated to around 50-55ppm), but just above Bowmore and Caol Ila (both around the 30ppm mark).

Grey smoke in front of a white background
Bottle of medicine and cotton swabs
Small bowl of olive oil surrounded by olive
Glass of sherry

production

All of the malted barley for production at Lagavulin is produced on Islay at the Port Ellen Maltings. This is located just a few miles from the distillery. This is then milled through the Porteus Mill that has been at the distillery since 1963. Then, 4.4 tonnes of milled grist is added to the stainless steel mash tun and 21,000 litres of warm water is added. They currently run 29 mashes per week. Each batch is transferred to one of 10 wooden washbacks, which are made of larch. This then undergoes a 55-hour fermentation.

There are two pairs of enormous pear-shaped stills, where the distillation takes place. These are unusual in that the spirits stills are larger than the wash stills. It is the alternate way around in most places. The annual production capacity is approximately three million litres.

The new make spirit is almost always filled to ex-bourbon barrels. The maturing whisky is then transferred to ex-sherry casks if needed for bottlings.


history

Lagavulin was founded in 1816 by John Johnston. It sits on the small coastal inlet of Lagavulin Bay. This is dominated by the ruins of the 13th century Dunyvaig Castle on the opposite headland. The pivotal moment for Lagavulin came in 1861 when James Logan Mackie became a partner. He later purchased the distillery outright in 1867. His company (Mackie & Co) was the owner and blender of the White Horse brand, and they put Lagavulin single malt at the centre of the blend.

Casks stacked in rows on top of each other in Lagavulin's warehouse
Lagavulin's warehouse

White Horse sales rocketed in the 1890s once the Scotch brand started to be exported around the British Empire. It became so popular that the name was changed to White Horse Distillers in 1924. White Horse Distillers become part of Distillers Company Limited in the late 1920s, then Scottish Malt Distillers in the early 1930s). Both are forerunners to the modern day Diageo, who are the current owners.

In the late 1980s Lagavulin 16 years old became one of the six founding whiskies in the Classic Malts collection. This remains the most well-known and available expression of Lagavulin. It has won multiple awards globally since its launch in 1988. The Lagavulin Distillers Edition was also one of the founding malts in the Distillers Edition series a decade later in 1998. Lagavulin also regularly features in the Diageo Special Release programme. Each year, a 12 years old cask strength expression is bottled for the Special Releases.