Interview with Lagavulin Distillery Manager Georgie Crawford

Lagavulin Distillery Manager Georgie Crawford (photo credit: Diageo)

The bicentennial celebratory release of Lagavulin 25 year pays homage to the distillery managers that helped shape its history and its whisky.  That being the case, I thought I’d reach out to current Lagavulin Distillery Manager Georgie Crawford via email with a few questions.

Georgie, thanks so much for taking the time to answer a few questions. To start off, tell me a bit about how you got started in the business, and how your journey led to your current job as Distillery Manager of the Lagavulin distillery.

I grew up firmly within the drinks and service industry and that’s really where my journey started. My parents had a pub here on Islay when I was growing up and we used to earn our pocket money by doing the bottling up, working in the kitchen and helping around the place. When I left full time education I ended up in Edinburgh where I started managing bars and restaurants. In 2002 I started a job at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and was bitten by the whisky bug, I went on to manage a whisky shop in Speyside and then joined Diageo at Talisker Distillery on Skye in 2007.

I have now been back at home on Islay and at Lagavulin since 2010. Coming to Lagavulin has been like being reconnected with a big extended family you didn’t realise you had. Everyone looks out for each other and is genuinely interested and passionate about the product we make here, which I love.

The distillery is currently celebrating its 200th anniversary of (legally) distilling whisky. The celebratory bottlings include an 8-year and a 25-year. The former pays homage to the whisky Alfred Barnard drank back in the late 1800s. The 25-yr is a tribute to the Lagavulin distillery managers over the years. Expand on that, and tell me what it means to you.

 This Lagavulin 25 Year Old release is a special recognition of the contribution the Lagavulin distillery managers have made in crafting Lagavulin across the years. Lagavulin is treasured around the world as one of the most special Single Malt Scotch Whiskies and this is the first 25 Year Old release to be matured exclusively in sherry casks.

200 years ago, John Johnston & Archibald Campbell oversaw the first new make spirit distilled. Since that day the distillery managers have carried on the Lagavulin legacy alongside a hard working team of characters. From the peat cutters to operators, engineers and warehousemen and many others involved, this group of passionate people have helped craft Lagavulin into the world class spirit that it is. I am very proud to stand amongst them.

Describe the new 25 year old whisky. Maturation, number of bottles, etc. Was putting together just the right blend of casks and ages difficult?

The 25 Year Old is aged in 100% sherry casks and is Natural Cask Strength. We have produced 8,000 bottles and its amongst the oldest whiskies released by Lagavulin.

We took samples from a large number of casks to ensure that the few selected for marrying for this bottling showed off Lagavulin at its best at this age. It’s a great liquid we are very proud of.

Are there any special events happening at the distillery for the 200th anniversary?

There have been a wide variety of events at the distillery this year as well as further afield. We understood that not everyone was going to be able to join us at the distillery so we created 360 videos which are available to view on that not only show you around our production areas but also the great views from the distillery into the beautiful surrounding landscape.

 For those who have already and might still be able to visit before the end of the bi-centenary year we have created a special sensory tasting which dives deep into the complex nature, flavours and aromas of Lagavulin.

You live and breathe Lagavulin. Which expression is your personal favorite?

If I am out in open spaces I love an invigorating 12 Year Old from a hip flask. If I am at home in front of my peat fire on a wet and windy night, I love nothing more than the warmth of the Distillers Edition, on the other hand if I am looking to introduce people to Lagavulin who have never tried it before then Lagavulin 16 Year Old is the best option.

Can you give us any hints as to what we might expect from Lagavulin in the coming months?

We have the launch of the 25 Year Old happening which is keeping us very busy in the visitor center. There is one more exciting piece of news about a legacy which will have impact well beyond this year, watch this space!  

Thanks so much to Georgie, Lia, and all who helped make  this interview possible.

Lagavulin 25-Year-Old 200th Anniversary Single Malt Whisky Review

On the bicentennial of (legal) distilling at Lagavulin, the Islay distillery has released a sumptuous 25-year-old expression to celebrate.  This one pays homage to its distillery managers, including current Distillery Manager Georgie Crawford.  All who have proudly filled that position have their name and years served printed on the bottle.  As for the whisky itself, it’s matured in sherry casks and bottled at cask strength (50.9% abv).

At 50.9% abv, Lagavulin 25 comes in surprisingly mellower than expected in the nose in that there is no alcohol vapor getting in the way of lucious aromas.  Smoked pineapple & mango, slightly burnt toffee, some sherried fruit and a touch of Caribbean rum funk make up the majority of the nose.  Those lovely peaty notes are also present, albeit in a more integrated manner and not as heavy as say the 8- or 12-year-old expressions.  A little airtime also reveals Danish pastry, or some sort of sweet bread and spice.  On the palate, Lagavulin 25 features sweet ripe mango, sherried malt, spice, freshly squeezed mandarin orange and a nice herbalness over a soft bed of wood smoke and cured meat.  With a peated whisky of this age, the smoky characteristic has had time to mellow out.  There’s a richness here not normally found in the standard 16-year-old expression.  We can thank those sherry casks for that.  The finish is long and a tad spicy, leaving behind a pleasant sweet & smoked malt note alongside a sprinkling of orange zest.

We have upon us what I describe as one of the greatest whiskies I’ve had the pleasure of tasting.  Yes, it’s rare (8,000 bottles worldwide) and expensive ($1,200 a bottle) and most of us will never have the chance to try it.  Nonetheless, Lagavulin 25 is a magnificently rich and well-aged expression of the Islay distillery that earns my highest mark to date on this blog.  9.75/10

Thanks to Diageo for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

A Chat with Dr. Nick Morgan and a Lagavulin 8yr Review

This year mark’s Lagavulin’s 200th anniversary.  Recently at Tales of the Cocktail, I had a chance to chat with Dr. Nick Morgan, Diageo’s Head of Whisky Outreach, about the three special anniversary bottlings expected this year.

Ewan Morgan and Dr. Nick Morgan at Tales of the Cocktail

Ewan Morgan and Dr. Nick Morgan at Tales of the Cocktail

“Our intent was to have a special bottling.  Special in terms of the liquid, special in terms of the pack, and special in terms of the story we can relate somehow to the anniversary,” Morgan said.  “We wanted to make this accessible to as many people as possible.”

The first of the three bottlings is an 8-year-old whisky matured exclusively in ex-bourbon American hogsheads.  “When we started looking at it, the obvious way to go would be to do a non-age bottling because that gives you lots of flexibility to produce something affordable and really nice using young casks and old casks.  That’s what Diageo does.  We know how to blend stuff.  But then we felt that if did a non-age Lagavulin, we would upset the really vocal people in the internet whisky world.  That means instead of them saying ‘this is great,’ they would complain,” Morgan explained.

So they started looking at an age-stated whisky.  “One of our archivists said Alfred Barnard tasted an 8-year-old when he visited Lagavulin distillery.  I said ‘great thinking.  That’s the story.  That’s the liquid.”

Though famed whisky writer Alfred Barnard sampled an 8-year-old whisky when he visited the Lagavulin distillery in the late 1800s, don’t expect the anniversary bottling to be the same.  Morgan explained, “we are very clear this is not the whisky Sir Alfred Barnard would have tasted because he would have got it straight from the cask.  It would probably be far more phenolic, and so on.  So it’s not a recreation, but for the anniversary I suppose it’s an homage.”

Tasting the 8-, 12-, and 16-year expressions was a treat.

Tasting the 8-, 12-, and 16-year expressions was a treat.

So how is the new 8-year old?  Watch my video below where I compare the 8-, 12-, and 16-year expressions, or read on for my full tasting notes.

The nose comes across as bright, with sweet malt, peat and orange.  There is a light touch of salted caramel.  On entry, a blast of wood smoke hits the palate, followed by a pineapple, orange, tweeted malt and a tinge of vanilla.  The finish is long, sweet and smoky.  This whisky, though smokier than the 16-year, comes across as more vibrant, giving us more of the distillery character.  It is very well made, extremely tasty, and should appeal to fans of Lagavulin.  Pick up a bottle before it disappears from shelves for good.  Once it’s gone, it’s gone.  8.5/10

Also expected this year is an already announced 25-year-old bottling, and an even rarer single cask bottling.  Dr. Morgan said the latter release will most likely be sold by one retailer with “global reach.” The single cask is drawn from a sherry butt, and all proceeds will go to Islay-based charities.  “Hopefully it’ll make a difference and leave something behind from the anniversary,” said Morgan.  This bottling is expected to cost £1816.

Thanks to Dr. Morgan for sitting down to talk Lagavulin with me.  Also thanks to Diageo for the samples of the 8- and 16-year old Lagavulin.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.