Advertisement
Old & Rare

Rare Batch 70

by
Lagavulin 16 Years Old, White Horse, Bottled c.1990s; Laphroaig 9 Years Old, Bottled 2000, 29.16 (SMWS); Port Ellen 35 Years Old, Bottled 2018 (Signatory 30th Anniversary)

Islay is the focus for this week’s rare whisky tasting, as Angus MacRaild selects two older bottlings of Lagavulin and Laphroaig, and one recently-bottled example of closed distillery Port Ellen. According to MacRaild, not a single dud is found in the bunch.

For starters is a litre bottling of Lagavulin 16-year-old from the late 1990s. MacRaild finds it a classic example of this mainstay whisky at its best, with an oily, peaty profile that dominated the 16-year-old’s earlier batches during the White Horse era pre-2000.

From the restraint of the Lagavulin MacRaild comes to the all-out boisterousness of a 1990 nine-year-old Laphroaig bottled at 62.1% abv by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS). A ruthless dram that takes no prisoners, it remains thoroughly in charge throughout proceedings. As MacRaild notes, it’s a hard whisky to score, but those who love it will really love it.

From brute power of youth to the mouth-watering complexity of age and elegance is a 35-year-old Port Ellen distilled in 1982 and bottled by Signatory in 2018 to mark its 30th anniversary. MacRaild finds it a masterful example of how great distillate, refill wood and time can combine to create a ‘stunning’ dram.

Scoring Explained

Overview

  • Lagavulin 16 Years Old, Bottled c.1990s

    Score

    91

    Lagavulin 16 Years Old, Bottled c.1990s
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    43%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Soft, fragrant peat smoke, drying seaweed, olive oil, herbal extracts and light briny notes. Classic Laga’ 16 in other words. This see-saw between oily, peaty sweetness and drier, coastal, smoky tones. The kind of profile it managed to sustain until circa 2012, in my wee book. A small earthy quality creeps in after a while.

    Palate

    Deep, rooty, oily, earthy peat. Resinous, peppery, coastal, leathery and rather fat and meaty. Lots of hessian, camphor, smoked mussels, soot and herbal resins. A big tarry and smoky blast on the swallow.

    Finish

    Long, heathery, sooty, herbal, medicinal and still with this signature oily peat.

    Conclusion

    Every time you try these older batches of the 16 it’s an indefatigable reminder of why this is now such an iconic bottling. I don’t think today’s batches are up to the same kind of scratch, but it still remains an essential bottling.

    Right place, right time

    Do you ever really need an excuse for this whisky?

    Advertisement

    Laphroaig 9 Years Old, 29.16, Bottled 2000 (SMWS)

    Score

    88

    Laphroaig 9 Years Old, 29.16, Bottled 2000 (SMWS)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    62.1%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Rather singular and precise at first; just a big clean blade of medicine and salt. You get the sense that the high alcohol is obscuring certain aspects. You really could be nosing a glass of pure seawater with a side shot of lemon juice. There’s a few fragrant mineral salts in the background, and the suggestion of bath bombs. Water is probably essential here... With water there’s caustic soda, bundles of burning heather, vapour rubs, olives in brine, squid ink and hospital corridors freshly scooshed with industrial floor cleaners. The kind of whisky that will cure you forever or kill you stone dead. 

    Palate

    Big, raw, briny and laced with pure iodine, antiseptic, oily sheep wool and hints of medicinal toothpastes, herbal teas and smoked white fish. Lemon cough drops, sods of dark burning peat, heather ales and something like rubber fishing wellies are in the background. A potent young Laphroaig that means business and doesn’t mince its flavours. Gets increasingly ashy, lemony and rather extreme. Water unleashes a more fragrant coastal side, with lots of dried kelp, medicinal embrocations, seawater, gauze, more iodine, pure kiln smoke and some rather grubby mezcal notes. The whisky is definitely the one in charge here. 

    Finish

    Extremely long and getting slightly rustic and grubby with notes of boiler smoke, mechanical oils, farmyard funk, silage and smoked meats.

    Conclusion

    Hard to score; on one hand it’s a total beast, on the other the distillate is pure, undeniable Laphroaig. But then again, you almost don’t dare criticise it either. A boisterous young Laphroaig that offers a very special kind of love. Agree a safe word before cracking open a bottle of this one...

    Right place, right time

    You’ve been a very naughty boy!

    (Image courtesy just-whisky.co.uk)

    Port Ellen 35 Years Old, Signatory 30th Anniversary (Signatory)

    Score

    92

    Port Ellen 35 Years Old, Signatory 30th Anniversary (Signatory)
    Price band
    £ £ £ £ £
    ABV
    55.1%
    Production type
    Single malt whisky
    Region
    Islay
    Flavour camp
    Smoky & Peaty
    Nose

    Superbly smoky. This kind of complex smokiness that takes in struck flints, smouldering bonfire embers, burning seaweed and boiler smoke – not to mention peat smoke itself. A brittle, taut, mineral-like element. Lots of pebbles, mineral salts, brine, antiseptic and all manner of wee medicinal complexities. Bandages, ointments, embrocations, gauze, antiseptic etc... There’s a layer of oily hessian draped over everything as well. Just superb! Water chisels things into a sharper, more purely saline profile. Fresh oysters, other assorted fresh shellfish, seawater and lime juice.

    Palate

    If you took smoked petrol, mixed it with pure brine and added a slug of the very best olive oil, you’d be in shouting distance of this terrific Port Ellen. There’s other stuff too: warming mustard powder, liquid seasoning, black olives, tar extract, pure lemon juice. The complexity is just wonderful. With water, as on the nose, things become extremely salty, coastal, citric and pure. There’s still this very petrolic edge to proceedings, and lots of smouldering dried herbs and hints of smoked white fish.

    Finish

    Long. Umami, wonderfully coastal and getting more nuanced and subtle with these wee notes of sandalwood, camphor and mineral oils.

    Conclusion

    I know I often sound like a broken record, but... terrific distillate + refill wood + time = the kind of magnificent complexity you just cannot replicate otherwise. Another great selection by Signatory for its 30th anniversary series. Port Ellen seems to really hit its stride at these grander ages; it’s just a shame they’re so pricy nowadays.

    Right place, right time

    After doing wheelies in Edradour car park with fork lift trucks after public hours, you pause for some much-needed refreshment and a few fireworks.

Advertisement
Scroll To Top