Lagavulin is one of the most iconic Islay single malts on store shelves. For many, the peaty whisky is the entry point to the wider world of smoke, Port Ellen, and Islay. And there’s a good reason for that. The smokiness of Lagavulin is subtle, sweet, earthy, and very much tied to the inky black sea around the famed Scottish isle where it’s made. The layers of smoke transport you.
Luckily, it’s not straight into the ashes of a peat-burning stove, like true smoke bombs. Instead, it’s sort of like being transported to a beach campfire under a blanket of stars with piles of spent oyster shells littering the sand around you. The smoke is there but other flavor notes predominate.
Today, we’re ranking the core U.S. bottles of Lagavulin (we’ll cover limited editions another time). The 5 bottles listed here are all on the higher side of the price scale when it comes to whisky (think $60 to $120), but we’d argue that each of these bottles is worth the investment in both time and price.
A quick note before we start. We’re not ranking Lagavulin 25 and Lagavulin 37. While we adore both of those expressions, the prices are in the thousands of dollars. They’re also very rare releases with dwindling stocks (further driving up prices). Still, the 25-year-old is an extremely silky example of the briny and smoky brand, which we do absolutely reccomend. If you have the means, you can buy it here for $1,260. Lagavulin 37 is the true gem of the line. The expression is bottled at cask strength after mellowing in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry for nearly four decades. You can snag a bottle for $3,000, assuming you have that much in change between your couch cushions.
Let’s get to it! If you’re into trying the more subtly peaty side of Islay whisky, click the prices to grab a bottle for your home bar.
5. Lagavulin Game of Thrones House Lannister Aged 9 Years
Average Price: $80
This is an interesting expression. The juice is classic Lagavulin that’s been aged for nine years in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry and built to celebrate the House Of Lannister amongst the wider Diageo Game of Thrones line of whiskies.
The whisky draws you in with a thin line of briny smoke that leads towards a slight honey sweetness and a touch of Band-Aid plastic. The palate sweetens significantly towards salted caramel, more honey, touches of bourbon vanilla, and a hint of over-ripe banana peels. The end isn’t too long and leaves you with a balance of that Band-Aid plastic, banana peel, and vanilla smokiness.
This is fine but doesn’t really wow. And if you’re spending nearly $100 for a single bottle of whisky, it’d better wow. Again, this is an interesting edition of Lagavulin, but it would never be the first expression I’d reach for or start a newbie with.
4. Lagavulin Aged 8 Years
Average Price: $65
This expression was originally released to celebrate the distillery’s 200th anniversary. The whisky was created to mimic the juice that was being bottled back in the 1880s, during a high point in Lagavulin’s history. The whisky became a modern hit and is now part of their core line.
There’s a sense of fried fish wrapped in newspaper that greets you on the nose next to honey-lemon, dry and earthy malts, and a nod to chocolate-covered cherries. The taste brings a solid billow of campfire smoke with traces of dark chocolate, burning cinnamon sticks, dry mint, and burnt potato skins (yes, really). The end is long-ish and marries the tastes together, leaving you with the memory of drinking a dark mint-chocolate spiked espresso next to a smoldering backyard fire on a cold autumn night while somewhere in the distance the sea laps at the shore.
It’s wild how much more complex this is than the GoT expression while being a year younger. This really is a great gateway peated single malt, one that’ll draw you into the style without suffocating you with smoke.
3. Lagavulin Offerman Edition Aged 11 Years
Average Price: $116
Everyone probably knows that Nick Offerman is a huge Lagavulin fan. He’s been appearing in ads for the brand for a while now. He also had the honor of making his own barrel selection for his signature expression. In this case, it’s an eleven-year-old whisky that bears Offerman’s own visage on the bottle.
The nose is subtle in all the ways that make Lagavulin so enticing, with hints of backyard smoked meats, hard cherry wood, and hints of vanilla. The palate layers in honey-mustard sweetness, paprika spice, and a slight fatty-bacon note, underpinning the smoke. The finish isn’t too long but lingers as the spice, sweetness, a touch of new Band-Aid glue, and wisps of fatty backyard BBQ smoke slowly roll through your senses.
This is not a stunt whisky. It’s a well-rounded and delicious addition to the Lagavulin family from a true believer in the brand. It’s also the perfect backyard BBQ pairing whisky for summer.
2. Lagavulin Aged 16 Years
Average Price: $104
This is the most recognizable Lagavulin out there. The malts are smoked just down the road from the distillery at Port Ellen and the juice is crafted expertly by the sea at Lagavulin. Then the whisky spends 16 long years mellowing in old American and Spanish oak.
Imagine a beach fire that’s using dried seaweed as fuel next to mugs of honeyed black tea and a clump of wet moss on the nose. The taste of this dram meanders through dried pipe tobacco smoke laced with hints of vanilla and tart apple while notes of briny caramel lead towards an oyster shell minerality. The finish is pure silk as the seaweed grows wetter and the smoke sweetens towards that caramel, vanilla, and apple.
This might as well be tied for first place. It’s delicious and perfect in a Smoky Cokey. Grab a rocks glass. Fill it with ice. Pour in two ounces of Lagavulin 16 and then top it with Coca-Cola (preferably the good stuff from Mexico or Europe that doesn’t use corn syrup).
It’s one of the best whisky and cola applications there is and will have you hooked for life.
1. Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition
Average Price: $118
Last year’s Distiller’s Edition was another prime example of the heights Lagavulin can reach. The juice was aged for 16 years in the core Lagavulin barrels (ex-bourbon and ex-sherry) and then finished for around six months in Pedro Ximénez sherry casks that were very specifically made and held specific sherry before the whisky was loaded into the barrels. The result is a 16-year-old Lagavulin that’ll help you fall in love with the brand and style.
This feels like all the subtle notes across the Lagavulin range have come together in the best way. You’re drawn in with hints of honeyed smoke, salted caramel apples, mild hints of vanilla, and smoldering coffee grounds. The taste ties the honey to a soft oakiness next to vanilla-chocolate coffee, seaside salted taffy, and a touch of fish oil. The end is very long and pure velvet on the tongue as the sweet oak fades towards a sweet smokiness, with a hint of salty roasted almonds and burnt vanilla husks.
That six months of finishing in a Pedro Ximénez sherry casks really takes the 16-year Lagavulin to a new dimension of almost baffling smoothness.
This is such an incredibly easy dram to sip, you’ll forget about adding water or ice entirely. I’m here to remind you to add at least a few drops. A little water or a single rock will really open this up, creating a truly special tasting experience from beginning to end.
As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.