Unfortunately we don't 100% know this whisky is Lagavulin, because Lagavulin (or rather Diageo, I suspect) don't want their whisky to be seen in independent bottlings, so it's officially known only as Dun Bheagan 'Islay Single Malt 8 yo'. Which also means they can change the source distillery between batches, so all bottlings may not be the same. But I have it on good authority that this bottling came from Lagavulin distillery. Interestingly, Ian McLeod's website states that these bottlings are 'matured at the distillery of origin'. Whether this means Diageo's warehouses on Islay, or those on the Scottish mainland, I can't say.
The Dun Bheagan range of independent bottlings are all non-chill filtered and naturally coloured, and are bottled at 43% and above. 46% and above would be nice, though! They're quite obscure and hard-to-find in Australia, I'm yet to see one 'in the wild', so this review comes to you thanks to a sample-swap with a fellow whisky nerd.
Dun Bheagan is the Gaelic name of a small town towards the Northern end of the Isle of Skye, which was the historic seat of the chief of Clan McLeod. Ian McLeod Distillers are actually quite a large company, who own Glengoyne and Tamdhu distilleries, and are also behind the 'mystery' whisky brands 'Smokehead' and 'Isle of Skye', among others.
This is the youngest Lagavulin I've tasted so far, and I've put a little aside to compare with the 8 yo official bottling when it finally arrives. Although that one is bottled at a much-better 48% ABV, so it may not be a fair comparison. I'm a massive fan of Lagavulin's brilliant 12 and 16 yo's, and the distiller's edition is good, although a little expensive, and the 2013 Feis Ile bottling is among the greatest whiskies I've ever tasted. So this younger independent bottling should be an interesting experience!
Dun Bheagan Islay Single Malt 8 yo, 43%. Islay, Scotland.Independent 'mystery' bottling of Lagavulin, from Ian McLeod. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.
Colour: Honey gold.
Nose: Essence of Islay (which should be a unisex aftershave/perfume). Mild sweet peat, a good pinch of salt, some iodine and seaweed. A little wood smoke and some sweet fruit - bananas, stone fruit. Burnt toffee.
Texture: Quite light in weight, but still impressive for just 43% and just 8 years. The beauty of non-chill filtration? I'd like to think so.
Taste: Sweet & ashy peat now, some salt, and more sweet fruit. A little bananas in toffee (banoffee pie?), and a little unexpected bitterness which is a little off-putting.
Finish: Short-medium length, sweet peat and light fruit. A little wooded white wine, some chilli, and a little fruit and sweetness.
Score: 3 out of 5.
Notes: I enjoyed the nose, but the rest, not so much. The bitterness on the palate and the lack of punch and perhaps complexity on the finish. It can't be the strength, because it's the same as the 16yo official bottling, which is excellent. It doubt it'd be the age either, because many Islays are bottled younger without any trouble. It's just missing a few factors for my tastes. The 'wow' factor, perhaps. Maybe if it'd been bottled at 46%, that'd be a different story, but I'm not sure.
Still enjoyable though, and an interesting spin on Lagavulin which is hardly ever seen in independent bottlings these days. From what I can see it's priced around the same as the 16yo (and the entry-level Ardbeg and Laphroaig OBs), and as much as everyone loves an underdog, it's not even a close fight at that level of competition.
Speaking of which, the aforementioned 8 yo official bottling is looking promising, it's getting positive reviews around the traps, and apparently should be keenly priced to boot. Unfortunately we have to wait until August to find out, although some independent shops have imported it themselves, which of course pushes the price up. There's plenty coming, so my personal advice is to be patient. Regardless, I can't wait to try it.