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Distillery in Focus:          Lagavulin
Region: Islay
Name: Lagavulin ("The mill in the valley")
Status: Active
Website: http://www.discovering-distilleries.com
Telephone: +44 (0)1496 302400
E-Mail: lagavulin.distillery@diageo.com
Address: Port Ellen, Isle of Islay, PA42 7DZ, Lattitude: 55.38'7.908 N, Longitude: 6°7'34.968 W
Visitor centre: Yes
Owner: Diageo
Established in 1816

Technical details:
Water source: Sholum Loch and Lochan
Malted barley: Port Ellen Maltings
Malt bins: 360 tons.
Mill: Porteus (since 1963)
Mash tun: Stainless steel lauter with a domed canopy, 5 m diameter. Capacity: 4.32 tonnes
Washbacks: Ten, New England Larch, 22,000 L
Yeast: Mauri & Quest (1:1)
Fermentation: 55 h
Stills: 2 wash (12,300 L) and 2 spirit stills (12,900 L)
Warehouses: 16,000 casks on Islay (Port Ellen, Lagavulin and Caol Ila), dunnage. Majority of the casks are stored on the mainland.
Production capacity: 2.3 mio LPA
Employees: 12 (full time and part time)
Casks used for maturation: 3rd fill bourbon (99.5%) and sherry casks (0.5%).
Percentage for single malts: 90%
Contribute(d) to the following blends: White Horse, Logan.

The distillery of Lagavulin in 2007

 

and a hundred years ago, shortly Alfred Barnard's visit (circa 1908)

 

And shortly after the construction of the Malt Mill distillery (circa 1912)

 

Regular Bottling:

Lagavulin 16 YO, 43%
Lagavulin Distillers Edition (double matured), 43%

Other bottlings:

Since 2002, a 12 year old version Lagavulin is bottled at cask strength as part of Diageo's Annual (special) Release. As part of the Annual Releases, a 21, 25 and 30 YO have been released, as well as a 1993 Lagavulin Manager's choice. Some single casks have been bottled for the Feis Ile, as well as one bottling for sale exclusively at the distillery.

For the tasted whiskies, click here


Several of the official Lagavulin: The 25 YO, the first (?) 12 YO from the 1970s, the 1993 Manager's choice, the 12 YO bottled 2011 and the Lagavulin 16 YO.

History of the Lagavulin Distillery

At Lagavulin, there was two legal distilleries at the beginning of the 1820s: Lagavulin distillery founded in 1816 by John Johnston and the other (Kildalton or Ardmore?) a year later by Archibald Campbell. When Archibald Campbell withdrew, Johnston occupied both distilleries. Historical archives from the Customs and Excise indicate that operations at Lagavulin were at a very small scale: the wash still had a capacity of 82 gallons, while the spirit still was only 25 gallons. In 1821, a total of 669 gallons of spirit were produced. When Johnston died in 1836, the total value of the distillery, malt mill, farm and dwelling house was calculated to be £1,692 (£492 for the distillery). A year later, there was only one distillery at Lagavulin. The Grahams acquired it about this time and, according to Barnard, eventually "repaired the place and made considerable additions and improvements. There is not a modern building to be seen. Annual output in 1887 was 75,000 gallons (1, 950 hectolitres). The make was "principally sold in Glasgow, England and the Colonies", and used largely for blending purposes, but also sold as  a single Whisky”. Barnard tasted some eight-year old whisky "which was exceptionally fine". James Logan Mackie & Co., the successor of Graham & Co, was then the owner of the distillery. Peter Mackie, a nephew of J. L. Mackie, joined the business in 1878 and paid the first of many visits to Lagavulin in that year. The name of the firm was altered to Mackie & Co. in 1890.
In 1887, Barnard reported the following: “The Maltings, which are arranged on one side of a long open court, are 150 feet long and 36 feet broad. The top floors, used for storing the barley, will hold 3,000 quarters, and underneath are the Malt-floors with stone Steeps. Attached to these buildings there is a Kiln, measuring 36 feet by 28 feet, floored with wire cloth, where only peat is used in drying the malt. A door-war from the Kiln floor leads direct into the Malt-deposit, a well-lighted room capable of holding 1,000 quarters. From this department the malt is gent by elevators to the Mill to be ground, from which place the pulverized malt is raised to the Grist-loft in the adjoining building. In this chamber there is a hopper into which the ground malt is tipped, and from whence it falls through the Mashing Machine direct into the Mash Tun below. We then followed our guide to the Mash and Distilling-house, a sombre building, which brings our memories back to the middle ages. It contains two Brewing tanks heated by steam, a metal Mash Tun, 18 feet in diameter and 5 feet deep, which possesses the usual revolving stirring rakes; a metal Underback, a Morton's Refrigerator, the Pumps, and in the roof a set of old fashioned Coolers. We next proceeded to the Tun- room, which contains seven Washbacks ranged round the wall, each holding 2,000 gallons and at an elevation a Wash Charger. The Still-house contains two old Pot Stills, heated by old-fashioned furnaces; one of them is a Wash Still holding 1,200 gallons, inside of which is the revolving chain arrangement, and the other a Low-wines and Feints Still, holding 650 gallons. Here also are the usual Receivers, Chargers, and Safe. Crossing the roadway we next visited the Spirit Store, which contains a Vat holding 2,000 gallons, and the casking apparatus, where the spirit is weighed, branded, and gent to the Warehouses or under bond direct to the stores in Glasgow. From thence we bent our steps to the four large Warehouses, which contained at the time of our visit 4,000 casks of Whisky of various ages. There is a small cooperage, carpenter's shop, stores, stables, and cart-sheds on the premises.”
The wash still was replaced in 1892 and the old ones became the wash stills at Balvenie.

Two of the older buildings at Lagavulin, believed to have been formerly a still house and maltings, were returned to their previous use under the name of Malt Mill Distillery. This happened in 1908, a year after Mackie lost the sales agency for Laphroaig. The aim was to reproduce the Laphroaig whisky. Mackie copied the stills of Laphroaig and recruited the Laphroaig brewer. It appears that the whisky was not comparable. A visitor reported "so thoroughly has Malt Mill been modelled on the ancient lines that there is almost a genuine air of antiquity about the matting floor, the dark haircloth-surfaced kiln and the quaint open fireplace with its brazier of burning peat". Only peat was used for firing the kiln. The two stills and two (three ?) independent washbacks were much smaller than Lagavulin's and the final product was quite different. It had its own maltings but used the Lagavulin mash tun. With a capacity of production of only 114,000 litres in the 1920s, Malt Mill was the smallest distillery of Scotland.

After Sir Peter's death in 1924, Mackie & Co. changed its name to White Horse Distillers Ltd. Three years later, it joined The Distillers Company Limited; and in 1930, when the malt whisky distilling activities of the DCL Group were reorganised, Lagavulin was transferred to Scottish Malt Distillers. Women were employed to work the distillery between 1939 and 1941, when it closed for the remaining duration of the Second World War.

Malt Mill Distillery was closed down in 1960 and disaffected in 1962 when it became necessary to build a new and larger still house for Lagavulin. Its two pear-shaped stills were added to the two Lagavulin stills (capacity: sprit still: 1450 gallons, wash still, circa 2300 gallons), all four coal-fired by a mechanical stoker system. Two stills of the traditional Lagavulin type, and the complete unit of four stills heated by steam from an oil-fired boiler in 1969 replaced the former Malt Mill stills. Malt Mill's buildings were converted into a reception centre for visitors in 1980 (where tasting are organized). The floor maltings operations were stopped at Lagavulin in 1974, with malt provided by the new Port Ellen Maltings.
In the 1980s, the production at Lagavulin went down to about 20% of its capacity and in the 1990s, experiments were done with malted barley peated to 45-50 ppm. The experiment stopped at the 1990s, and the resulting whisky was mixed with standard whisky (35 ppm).

In 2002, the first 12 YO Cask Strength Lagavulin has been released.

Source: Distillery visit, The Scotch whisky industry record by H. Charles Craig,s, The Scotch Whisky Distilleries by Misako Udo, The Making of Scotch whisky by John R. Hume & Michael S. Moss, Customs and Excise records (archives), The DCL Distillery Histories Series by Brian Spiller, The Whisky distilleries of Scotland and Ireland by P. Morrice, The Complete Book of Whisky, Jim Murray, and Peat, Smoke and Spirit, Andrew Jefford
www.whisky-news.com/Patrick Brossard © 15 Apr 2012.

The warehouses at Lagavulin with the old Malt Mill distillery on the left.

 

Inside one of the warehouses
And the still house

Tasted whiskies:

Official/original bottlings (OB)  
Age  
Lagavulin 8 YO, OB, 48%, B:2016 Rating: 13/20
Lagavulin 12 YO Guaranteed Pure Pot Still, OB, 75 proof, B: 1960s. Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 12 YO (white label, clear bottle), OB, 43%, B:1970s Rating: 18/20
Lagavulin 12 YO (white label, green bottle), OB, 43%, B: c.1980s. Rating: 16/20
Lagavulin 12 YO, OB, 56.4%, B: 2007 Rating: 16/20
Lagavulin 12 YO, OB, 56.4%, B: 2008 Rating: 16/20
Lagavulin 12 YO, OB, 57.4%. B: 2009 Rating: 16/20
Lagavulin 12 YO, OB, 56.5%, B: 2010 Rating: 16/20
Lagavulin 12 YO, OB, 57.5%, B: 2011 Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 12 YO, OB, 56.1%, B: 2012 Rating: 15/20
Lagavulin 12 YO Special Release 2013, OB, 55.1%, B: 2013 Rating: 15/20
Lagavulin 12 YO Special Release 2015,OB, 56.8%, B:2015. Rating: 16/20
Lagavulin 12 YO (Friends of Classic Malts), OB, 48%, B: 2008 Rating: 14/20
Lagavulin 15 YO, OB, 45%, B:1980s. Rating: 19/20
Lagavulin 16 YO, OB, 43% B:2005 Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 18 YO Feis Ile 2016, OB, 49.5%, B:2016, 6000 b. Rating: 15/20
Lagavulin 21 YO, OB, 56.5%, B: 2007, Rating: 19/20
Lagavulin 21 YO, OB, 52.0%, B: 2012, 2772 bottles Rating: 18/20
Lagavulin 25 YO, OB, 57.2%, D: 1977, B: 2003, 9000 b. Rating: 14/20
Lagavulin 25 YO Bicentenary, OB, 51.7%, B:2016 Rating: 18/20
Lagavulin 30 YO, OB, 55.3%, B:2006 Rating: 18/20
   
Vintages  
Lagavulin 1976 Special Release 2013, 37 YO, OB, 51.0%, B: 2013, 1868 b. Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 1991 Distiller’s Edition, OB, 43%, B: 2008, edition 4/496 Rating: 16/20
Lagavulin 1991 Feis Ile 2015, 24 YO, OB, 59.9%, B:2015 Rating: 15/20
Lagavulin 1991 200th Anniversary, OB, 52.7%, B:2017, 522 b. Rating: 18/20
Lagavulin Cask of Distinction 1992 for Boyao Zhao, 23 YO, OB, 55.7%, B:2016, c. 5745, 420 b. Rating: 19/20
Lagavulin 1993 Feis Ile 2007, 14 YO, OB, B: 2007, C.4893 Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 1993 Feis Ile 2008, 15 YO, OB, B: 2008 Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 1993 Islay Jazz Festival 2011, 18 YO, OB, 55.4%, B: 2011, c. 355. Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 1994 Feis Ile 2010, OB, 52.7%, B: 2010, 528 b. Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 1995 Feis Ile 2009, 13 YO, OB, 54.4%, c. 4556 Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 1995 Feis Ile 2013, OB, 51.0%, B: 2013, 3000 b. Rating: 16/20
Lagavulin 1995 Jazz Festival 2013, OB, 51.9%, B: 2013. Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 1995 Feis Ile 2014, 19 YO, OB, 54.7%, B:2014, 3500 b. Rating: 15/20
Lagavulin 1997 Islay Jazz Festival 2012, OB, 54.5%. B: 2012 Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 1998 Feis Ile 2011, 13 YO, OB, 51%, c.1715, 588 b. Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin 1998 Feis Ile 2012, OB, 55.1%. B: 2012, c. 1716 Rating: 15/20
   
   
No Age Specified (NAS)  
Lagavulin At the Distillery only, OB, 52.5%, B: 2010 Rating: 17/20
Lagavulin Jazz Festival 2015, OB, 55.4%, B:2015 Rating: 15/20

 

Independent bottlings (IB) and anonymous Lagavulin  
   
Adelphi  
Breath of Islay (Lagavulin), 13 YO, Adelphi, 56.3%, B: 2006 Rating: 14/20
   
Cooper's Choice  
Lagan Mill (Lagavulin) Sherry, Cooper’s choice, 56.5%, B: 2011, c. 9143 Rating: 14/20
Lagan Mill Sherry, Cooper’s Choice, 56.1%, B: 2012, c. 9142. Rating: 13/20
   
Daily Dram  
Undercover N°1 (Lagavulin) 1994  for Bresser and Timmer, 14 YO, Daily Dram, 53.1%, B: 2008, 196 b. Rating: 16/20
   
Jack Wiebers  
Lagavulin "Pirates", 10 YO, Jack Wiebers, 57.8%, B: 2009. Rating: 15/20
   
Moon  
Lagavulin Horae Solaris 1988, Moon, 50%, B: 1998, 1300 b. Rating: 16/20
   
Regensburger Whisky Club  
Lagavulin  "Whisky is people" 14 YO, Regensburger Whisky Club, circa 51%, B: 2008 Rating: 15/20
   
Vintage Malt Whisky & Co  
Lagavulin 1979, Vintage Malt Whisky Co, 43%, B:1992 Rating: 17/20