I'm surprised that last year's is rated lower so far on WB. I like last years a touch better. The nose on this one is the usual Lag oceanic fun. It's a beat more "bready" and "doughy" than last year's nose. The wash has fully integrated into the cask wood and peat. In some batches, this is not so. For instance, I have a 9 year old single cask that still is fairly independent from the wood and peat. For me, it takes 12 years for a Lag to become pleasing. Less than that does not gain my affections as easily. Not all distilleries are that way. For some reason, Bruichladdich can go younger and still get away from that "mezcal/banana" not that I don't like. I am allergic to bananas and I've been sick on mezcal, plus younger whisky is often more apt to give me a hangover, and so my tastebuds reject it somewhat and that's what mother nature designed a sense of taste to do, after all: to warn the body of a possible threat to the health. Pregnant women have usually the best sense of smell and taste for obvious reasons (to protect baby). Too bad it's inappropriate for them to taste and spit whisky. After all, they would taste and smell things that most people could not detect. Well, getting back to the nose of this Lag: it's more woody than last year's. Maybe a virgin oak cask mixed in? Oak tannins come right through, and it's nice but I'm not sure I would like the bitterness every time I enjoy this bottle.
I think in time the nose could become less woody. I'm too pressed for time to test with water today and see if the wood note is less. In short I like last year's nose two points higher than 2020's nose.
MOUTH: Well, this is quite nice indeed. The peat seems more complex on the palate, which is often the reverse of many good Islays. There is almost an old Brora waxy note from the coal fire days. And of course there's that "sweet and sour" admixture that is often present these days in a good Lag. Still, it feels more focused than last year's . . . even though last years did have more peat smoke, per se.
What is left here is a bit of Brazil nut, along with a kind of porridge thing, along with dried lemon rind with no juice, per se. Last year's is more oceanic. I have a bottle open right here to compare. The nose and palate are both more oceanic in the 2019 release, at least to my sense of things. And I go to the beach all of the time. In fact, Oregon's beaches are quite a bit like Islay's beaches.
Last year's Lag 12 finish seems more cohesive to me, but then again my bottle has been opened longer, and so it's not a fair comparison.
Both finishes are long for a 12 year old anything, but maybe not overly long for a Lag 12. These Lagavulins tend to have long finishes when compared with other Islays.
The smoke is dialed down this year, yes, it's not as pronounced as in 2019. It's a bit less of a "peater," and so those who enjoy Octomore, for instance, would probably like 2019 more than 2020 of the Diageo Lag. It's odd that last year's is less ashy but more peaty and smoky. Odd. I tend to favor smoke over ash, and so one point less for the finish of this year's than last year's. I did not compare either dram with water, so be warned. This review is at cask strength, but my mouth tends to salivate more than most people's and so my tongue doesn't go numb really as much. In fact, I can feel my mouth salivate just from smelling a whisky, as though to prepare the mouth for what is to come, especially if it is cask strength.
All told, I find the 2020 to be quite smooth and it reminds me a little of the 2017 and even the 2016. It is less of a wild ride and perhaps less complex than last year's Lag 12. But I must say that both the 2017 and the 2016 were far more FRUITY, and we are talking about actual fruits, rather than merely a bit of lemon oil and citrus. This year's Lag is NOT fruity. But it has other similarities to the 2017 and the 2016, such as smoothness.
Update: I tried some water in my dram. Probably diluted down to about 48 percent. It did benefit from the water in that the palate became more expansive, but the nose became less sophisticated, and perhaps less pleasing in terms of what scents came through. I recommend enjoying your dram olfactorily, and then putting a few drops of water: a nice compromise.
This year's seems to need water more than last year's. Ditto with the 2017. It was fine without water and did not attack the tongue meats as this year's does, just a little. Then again, my bottle has not been open long. I do not have an open bottle of the 2017, but I finished one recently. I really liked the 2017 and the 2016 a lot.
Frankly, I liked both of those years more than anything that has come down the pike since. I know that 2016 rated highest, but 2017 is a sleeper hit, if you ask me. It's very complex and lovely with some unique sweet notes that seem to say "age" to me. Yes, I think the 2017 has some older than 12 year old casks in the batch. Just my guess. I might say the same for 2016. In fact, I'm almost sure that 2016 also has older casks than 12 years of age. Not so, with 2020, I'm afraid. If anything, it tastes a hair younger than 12, even though I trust Lagavulin to label what it is. This year's Lag tastes young for its age. That is my final assessment. Call the 2020 Lag "immature" if you wish. It's strange to say that "ashy" is young, however. This seems like an oxymoron.
One last thing: I gave last year's Lag an 89. Also, this Lag is not a "fruity" dram, despite what folks say. It has a hint of citrus. That is all. If that makes a "fruity" dram, then I am Ebeneezer Scrooge. Also, IMHO the lemon note on the palate is more dried skin than the juice or fruit of a lemon. The sort of thing one tastes in some cookies and candies that are home baked and call for this ingredient. I'm sorry to say that I miss it in many recipes these days. People of the early 20th century made more use of their lemons because the fruits were more rare. They saved the dried skins for recipes and that is lovely. Anyway, this Lag captures that bygone hint of a millennium gone by. The skin of a Meyer lemon is not a thing to be trifled with. A little goes a long way in cookies. And the added note is quite rewarding as opposed to less potent and less sharp "lemon juice" which does not have the zesty staying power of the dried skin. I've also heard people mentioned grapefruit juice in their reviews of the 2020. I do not detect that note but peat can mingle with the sharper lemon zest and create such an illusion. In the final analysis, the lemon note comes from oak tannins. As I've said, I detect some virgin oak in this year's release. Call me crazy. It's just a hunch. I have no "flies on the wall" at this distillery, although I do occasionally enjoy a few insider tips from other distilleries.