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Jazz Festival 2021 Brings First-Ever Lagavulin Mezcal Finish

What you need to know:

  • Lagavulin's annual Islay Jazz Festival commemorative bottling for 2021 has landed! This year the Islay giant has something pretty interesting in store - the first ever Mezcal-finished single malt Lagavulin Scotch whisky.
  • It is a 13 Year Old Cask Strength Lagavulin that was matured in refill American Oak and finished in ex-Mezcal American Standard Barrels.
  • This comes after a 2019 change in the Scotch Whisky Association's ruling which expanded the variety of casks that Scotch whiskies are now allowed to be matured or finished in.
  • Mezcal is a type of alcoholic spirit that is made from the agave plants (just like Tequila, which is a type of Mezcal), which is made by oven cooking the agave in earthen pit ovens over hot rocks, giving it a smoky and earthy flavor.
  • The 2021 Jazz Festival Lagavulin is said to have an unusually smoky-meaty aroma on the nose, but really just sounds like an uber-Laga to us!
  • Cop the Drop or Not Verdict: Cop


 (Image Source: Lagavulin)

Every year Scotland’s Islay hosts a very unique festival – the annual Islay Jazz Festival, where musicians are invited to perform concerts for jazz and whisky fans. Lagavulin has regularly participated in this highly popular festival and has even organized concerts set against the atypical backdrop of the distillery’s malt mill. Perhaps jazz music puts the barley in a particularly groovy mood ~

To celebrate this event, it is only befitting that the Islay giant bottles a commemorative whisky for fans who make the annual pilgrimage to enjoy. This year, the distillery has in store a really special one – a 13 Year Old Cask Strength Lagavulin that was matured in refill American Oak and finished in ex-Mezcal American Standard Barrels – the first ever!


“On the nose unusual smoky-meaty aromas of the barbecue lead familiar linseed oil and fragrant smoke. The texture is really smooth and rich, the taste sweet and savoury to start then quickly warming, as waves of smoke sweep over the palate carrying hints of spicy wood and smoke-dried Jalapeno pepper. This new-found heat lingers with the smoke in a pleasing, long finish.”

– Lagavulin Distillery


What is Mezcal?

For those unfamiliar with Mezcal, it is an alcoholic spirit that is a cousin of the more well-known (or infamous) Tequila. Like Tequila, Mezcal is also made from the agave plant, with the key difference being that Tequila has to be specifically crafted using at least 51% Blue Weber Agave, while regulations are much looser with Mezcal. For easy characterisation, consider Tequila a subset of the broader Mezcal category. 


Agave is put into a massive pit to be cooked over hot rocks before fermentation to make Mezcal. (Image Source: Grand Cata)

Mezcal typically tastes somewhat smoky or charred, which is the result of the process of over-cooking the agave in pit ovens, basically earthen mounds over pits of hot rocks. This underground roasting is what gives Mezcal an intense distinctive smoky flavour. Depending on the type of Mezcal, you can also find them to be floral, fruity, and generally earthy, which explains this latest Lagavulin bottling’s key starter note of “unusually smoky-meaty aromas”.


 (Image Source: Lagavulin)


Official Tasting Notes
Pale harvest gold. Very good beading and multiple long skinny legs. Refill AO, Mezcal finish.
Medium to full.
A forward nose, with quite some prickle. A pungent, distinctive and unusual smoky-meaty top note. Pork chops on a hickory-chip barbecue slathered in chipotle sauce. Below this, the familiar Lagavulin linseed oil, and more fragrant smoke. Water brings up much more, increasingly perfumed wood smoke.
At natural strength, really smooth and rich in texture and immediately sweet-savoury in taste, then quickly more and more smoky and warming, as spicy waves of barbecue hickory wood smoke sweep over the palate to reveal a growing smoke-dried Jalapeno pepper heat. Water softens the texture and dulls the heat; still sweet overall, but the fire is subdued now.
Long, smoky and drying, as more than a little of that chilli heat lingers with the smoke in a pleasing and fiercely warming finale. Similar but lighter with water.


“The Lagavulin Jazz 2021 Festival bottling has been much adored since its launch in 2011 and the annual release of the exclusive bottling for the festival has become a key moment in the whisky calendar. This year’s 13-year-old bottle is a fantastic Lagavulin expression, selected to make every whisky aficionado experience the unexpected from Lagavulin. The first Lagavulin to be finished in Mezcal casks with a distinctive and unusual flavour profile is sure to intrigue and excite Lagavulin fans and beyond.”

– Pierrick Guillaume, Lagavulin Distillery Manager


 A total of 2021 bottles will be made available for the 23rd edition of the Islay Jazz Festival, with the whisky bottled at 54.8% ABV. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing pandemic, the event will be held online (on the 19th November), with the bottles going up for sale on the distillery’s website or at the distillery itself. 


(Image Source: Lagavulin)


Our Take

Lagavulin is one of the hottest Scotch whiskies around and fans abound with their thundering #DoTheLaga all over social media, so no doubt this bottling will be a huge hit as it always is annually. It was after all crowned the 3rd Most Admired Whisky Brand and No. 1 Most Admired Scotch Whisky Brand by the recent Drinks International poll.

Aside from the really nice packaging with such nicely drawn graphics, the whisky sounds like some sort of uber-Lagavulin, like smoky-on-smoky, which I imagine would go down well for the distillery’s fans.


Probably terrible advice, but next time don't just limit yourself to Tequila, try a broader range of Mezcals, they'll do the same job just fine. (Image Source: Forbes)

But this one is just a tad more special because it is probably the first time we’re seeing Lagavulin single malt Scotch whisky finished in Mezcal, as far as I’m aware. There was a Dewar’s 8 Year Old that also spotted a Mezcal Finish but that was a blend. This is the result of a change in Scotch regulations (the same ones that require whiskies to be aged for minimally 3 years to qualify as Scotch whisky) in 2019, that now allows for Scotch whiskies to be matured and finished in a wider variety of casks, from “casks previously used to age agave spirits (including Tequila and mezcal), Calvados, barrel-aged cachaça, shochu and baijiu, as well as some other fruit spirits.”

In fact, a well-cited report from the Wall Street Journal named Diageo (owner of Lagavulin) as one of the key proponents of this regulation change, having formed some “secret task force”, having in one instance considered finishing Scotch whisky in Don Julio tequila casks (a fellow Diageo brand).


Irish distiller Midleton's Method and Madness is a whole series basically dedicated to exploring all the different casks that Scotch distilleries can't use. (Image Source: Midleton)

Ultimately, it seemed as though the Scotch Whisky Association was bound to relent as there are only so many ways you can produce different types of ex-Bourbon, ex-Sherry, ex-Rum or ex-Wine cask matured whiskies. In fact, it was handing other countries such as Ireland and Japan a real advantage as whiskies produced there were able to get around these narrow rules (just ask Midleton or Suntory, very opportunistic bunch).

So as amongst (if not) the first of its kind, this bottles a real reason to #DoTheLaga, but really do Lagavulin fans even really need a reason?


Cop the Drop or Not Verdict: Cop


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