Congratulations, whisky lovers: Suddenly available is a very limited but amazingly affordable Lagavulin Twelve Year Old cask-strength, single-malt whisky ($150), and it's a thing of beauty.
That it exists at all is the result of a happy accident.
Lagavulin is one of six distilleries that participate in Diageo's Classic Malts series, a collection of single-malt whiskies from different manufacturers. But when the time came to produce a line of sixteen-year-old malts for the 2003 release, Lagavulin came up short. An embarrassing miscalculation of the amount of Sixteen available at the distillery left the company stock at drastically lower levels than that of the other five. Diageo did circulate what was available, but it wasn't enough to cover a substantial area. (Have a look next time you're in a bar, and if there's any Lagavulin Sixteen, ask for a dram quick.)
To make amends, and to appease its loyal customers, Lagavulin has done a special limited bottling of a twelve-year-old—diverting part of the supply previously destined to debut as a sixteen-year-old in 2008.
Amazingly for a Lagavulin, there's hardly any smoke on the nose of the Twelve. (Lagavulin is located on the Scottish island of Islay, a setting that usually adds plenty of smoke.) When the smoke does appear on the palate, it's sweet with a touch of fruit. Eventually a briny edge appears before a long, satisfying finish.
This is a powerful malt (57.8 percent proof), so cut it with water. It's not as subtle as the sixteen-year-old, but if you like the vivacity of live music over the studio-recorded version, then this is your spirit. And be thankful that whisky making is such an imprecise science. Lagavulin Twelve Year Old can be found at specialized spirit shops.