Today I'm taking a look at two expressions from the latest group of Diageo Special Releases, one is something of a perennial distillery for this range and the other is altogether rarer.
The 36 year old Convalmore was one of the most interesting of this year’s Special Releases. Convalmore distillery was closed in the 1985 and during its lifetime almost the entirety of its stock was reserved for blending – at one time it was a key malt in the make-up of the Black & White blend. Remarkably, this is only the third official bottling of Convalmore in the modern era, following a Rare Malts bottling in 2004 and a previous Special Release edition (also from the 1977 vintage) which appeared in 2005 and was referred to recently by Dave Broom as “One of my favourite whiskies ever”. High praise indeed, giving this follow-up from the same vintage a lot to live up to.
In the main this blog has so far focussed on recent, if not always widely available bottlings from both the distilleries themselves and Independent bottlers alike. Those that are generally only seen within the walls of an auction house or, if you are lucky, poured at the hands of a dear and probably quite affluent friend have so far been neglected. Not so today though, as it feels like as good a time as any for something very special indeed. Bottlings like this 12 year old White Horse Lagavulin offer a rare, often deeply delicious chance to build some sense of the way in which whisky has changed over the years.
Lagavulin whiskies certainly enjoy one of the most consistently fine reputations of any single malt, the now classic Lagavulin 16 year old is a staple tipple for a great many whisky lovers and every bit deserving of such a position. The distillery must surely be one of the most beautiful and evocative in Scotland but, in a production sense, it was a very different place when the spirit that found a home in these White Horse bottlings was distilled. Flowing from the stills in the mid-late 1960s, this Lagavulin pertains from a time of on-site floor maltings and a much more hands on approach to production, something the whisky itself lays bare with stark clarity.
For many malt fans (myself firmly included) Lagavulin is both a special and deeply significant distillery. By virtue of this 16 year old expression’s position in Diageo’s Classic Malts series, the whisky is many people’s first experience of the Islay heavyweights, and you could hardly wish for a better or more engaging introduction. Lagavulin distillery sits on the drier side of the proverbial “smokey spectrum”, less medicinal than Laphroaig whisky and more rounded and approachable than many Ardbegs.
If you are lucky enough to visit Islay and find yourself at the doors of this historic distillery, the importance of the place and its spirit only intensifies further. From the old larch washbacks and distinctly squat, short-necked stills to their long still runs of over 10 hours and lovely old-school warehouses, there’s much to love. It’s true that all of this is lent a bittersweet edge by the lack of staff per shift and the inescapable presence of computer-led automation, however when you’re stood on Lagavulin Bay, gazing across to Dunyvaig Castle with a dram straight from the cask in hand, it’s hard to avoid falling more deeply in love with this classic distillery.