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WhiskyFun Legends: Lagavulin 1985 21 Year Old

Welcome back to another installment of WhiskyFun Legends. This week, we take a look at the Lagavulin 1985 21 Year Old. Can it compete with the younger, and extremely popular 16 year old expression? 

Make sure to catch up on the previous installments of WhiskyFun Legends here and here

Lagavulin 1985 21 Year Old b.2007 

Lagavulin Distillery has long been famed for its 16 year old expression, which is a must-have for any Islay whisky lover. The scotch also has some celebrity fans, such as Nick Offerman, who has collaborated with the brand on multiple occasions. Most recently, Lagavulin created an 11 Year Old expression with the help of Offerman. 

However, the Islay distillery is able to showcase an impressive range of age statements, as is shown by the Lagavulin 1985 21 Year Old. 

This Lagavulin was distilled three years prior to the distillery’s selection for Diageo’s Classic Malts range which, arguably, thrust Lagavulin into the limelight. The 16 year old expression was introduced in the 1980s and has since won numerous awards including Gold at the World Whiskies Awards in the category of Islay Single Malt 13 to 20 Years in 2016.

Whilst the 16 year old was making waves, this 21 year old expression was quietly maturing. It was bottled at cask strength in 2007 and released as part of Diageo’s Special Releases in that same year. Only 6,642 bottles were produced. The scotch garnered huge acclaim and notably impressed Serge Valentin at WhiskyFun. 

Serge Valentin’s Tasting Notes on the Lagavulin 1985 21 Year Old 

Serge Valentin sampled the Lagavulin 1985 21 Year Old just after its release in September 2007. He, too, noted the fame of Lagavulin’s 16 Year Old and was eager to try an older expression: 

“The 16yo has long been to Lagavulin what the 911 was to Porsche but we’re more than happy to see more variants coming out, especially since those are more Turbos than Boxters in our opinion… 

Okay, enough crappy analogies, let’s try this brand new 21yo, due for later this autumn (we already had a taste of a pre-vatting at the Islay Festival). It’s an important bottling, as it comes from Spanish sherry European oak casks only – not American oak like often with sherry. Besides, we’ve been told that there won’t be any other ‘full sherry’ versions in the future. 

Colour: full amber. 

Nose: what is striking are the obvious common roots between the old 12yo and this new 21yo. This one is more ‘direct’ at first nosing, though. Sweeter, creamier, immediately on peat plus sherry plus the assembling of both (if you see what I mean)… Simple? Indeed, but just for a few seconds, as it then starts to shoot aromatic arrows one after the other. Menthol, hazelnut oil, oxtail, prunes, orange marmalade, smoked ham, curry, mustard (hints), walnut liqueur. Slight hints of phosphorus (although not like a ‘simple’ bunch of matchsticks). 

And it goes on, getting wilder now… Game (just like in the old 12yo), eucalyptus (I know brands are not cool but I’d dare to say ‘Vicks’)… And then strawberry jam, sea water… Please take your time when you’ll try this one, the development is ‘very gradual’ but it’s really worth it. A fireworks show. 

Mouth: here’s the punch that the 12yo was lacking, but also a slight ‘brutality’ at the attack. A true peaty grip in fact and an extreme ‘ampleur’. Quite some pepper, walnuts, crystallised ginger, strong liquorice, tar, mint and eucalyptus sweets again (very bold!), bitter oranges… And a powerful smokiness. The saltiness grows bolder as well… No sulphur that I can get… Wood ashes, herb liqueurs (green Chartreuse – are you listening, O.?), Havana tobacco (like when you chew your cigar). Also hints of ripe gooseberries and dried longans. And sticky toffee pudding, of course. 

Finish: very long, concentrated, ample, salty and liquoricy – amusing how this one makes you thirsty. We also tried it with water, it got more on mint and eucalyptus (and oranges) but other than that the general profile stayed the same. Who said this was an important bottling? 95 points.” 

The Price of the Lagavulin 1985 21 Year Old At Auction 

The demand for this rare and delicious Lagavulin expression is obvious at auction, as you will need between £1,800-£2,500 for a bottle on average. 

In addition to the price, the bottle does not appear at auction very often, with only three results in 2024 so far. 

Shop Lagavulin 

If you are looking to buy Lagavulin scotch whisky then take a look at the Mark Littler Shop. We have a fantastic selection including the famed Lagavulin 16 Year Old and a rare 15 year old ceramic decanter

Browse the full collection here.

Beth Squires

Beth joined Mark Littler Ltd full-time in October 2020 following the completion of her university degree. Since then she has gained wide-ranging knowledge of all things whisk(e)y, and has written extensively for both company and external publications. Beth is passionate about industry innovation, marketing, and sustainability. With a particular affinity for independently bottled rare scotch, Beth is also a whisky bottle investment specialist.

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