The following originally appeared on Whiskyhost on December 21, 2009:

A month or so ago I mentioned that here in the inland Northwest we're responsible for creating our own whisky related fun.  Well, this was one of those tastings that could not have been more fun if John Hansell, Richard Paterson, Charlie McLean, and Dave Broom had walked in the door and joined us around the fire.  You see, on a cold and snowy Saturday in December, five whisky loving friends gathered around a roaring wood fireplace in order to taste and discuss six different expressions of Lagavulin.  We had the standard 16 Year Old, the 12 Year Old cask strength from 2002 (1st release), 2004 (2nd), 2006 (4th), & 2009 (7th), and the 21 Year Old (also cask strength, released in 2007).  This was the first fireside tasting we've organized but we've already got plans to taste six expressions of Laphroaig next month.  The following tasting notes reflect the thoughts and comments of the fireside tasters:

Lagavulin 16 Year Old, 2008 bottling, 43% ABV

C: Bronze

N: Cold nose features pear perfumed soap, warms to toffee, medicinal notes, seaside, smoky

P: Sweet nuts, hints of warm barn (sunlight warming straw)

F: Menthol cough drop, pine tar, leather, and the strangest thing... vanilla ice-cream!

Such a tremendously sophisticated, consistent single malt.  If there was one standard release I had to drink for the rest of my life this might just be it (Laphroaig 10 Year Old would be a very close second).

Lagavulin 12 Year Old, 2002 release, 57.8% ABV

C: Reflective gold

N: White chocolate coated maraschino cherries, almonds, warms to peat smoke and boat tar

P: Sweet sea salt, olive oil, some oak, leather, chocolate on the end

F: Smooth, oily, and peppery, other elements remind me of a forest after a downpour

I've always thought of this as the very best of the Lagavulin 12 Year Old releases and I've been disappointed as each subsequent year has wandered away from the qualities that made this so exquisite.  Indeed, the impetus for putting together this meeting was that I heard rumor that the 2009 was a return to 2002 form.

Lagavulin 12 Year Old, 2004 release, 58.2% ABV

C: Greeny gold

N: Cherry Coke on the cold nose, muted sweetness compared to the '02

P: Woodier than the '02, drier, the citrus at the end transitions in to the finish

F: Woody, dry, short, remaining citrus, slightest alcohol burn

Very different from the 2002.  Where's the sweet?  The smoke?  And why all the wood?

Lagavulin 12 Year Old, 2006 release, 57.5% ABV

C: Greeny gold

N: Very light on the cold nose (straw?), warming to wet barley, sweet peat reek, antiseptic, and creosote (later, there are unexpected creamy, buttery textures in the empty glass)

P: Salty, little front prickle, very smooth after that

F: Little burn, band-aids, pepper, long and lasting

This is a nice release that, while clearly different from the 2002, stands on its own merits.

Lagavulin 12 Year Old, 2009 release, 57.9% ABV

C: Gold

N: Shares a lot of features with the '02, but has additional floral components (rose room deodorizer), sawdust

P: Muscular with fennel and chili pepper

F: Medium/sweet chili pepper, bitterness of dark chocolate, disappears relatively quickly

The 2009 release is very similar to the 2002.  The '02 remains a hair smoother while the '09 remains a hair sweeter.  I paid $100 for the 2002 release in 2005 but you can find the 2009 release for between $65 and $75 at Beltramo's, Binny's and Shoppers Vineyard.  If you must have the 2002 release, The Whisky Exchange has a bottle for £110.

Lagavulin 21 Year Old, 2007 release, 56.5% ABV

Matured exclusively in first-fill sherry casks, only 6642 bottles were released.  Rarer than hen's teeth, this is a transcendent whisky tasting experience...

C: New motor oil

N: Hot butter rum, sea salt, old leather, eraser rubber, tackle box, Branston's ploughman's pickle, old tobacco barn, brimstone, molasses

P: Treacle, honey, sorghum

F: Antiseptic and medicinal, leather, pipe tobacco, with the freshness and sweetness of a Cox's Orange Pippin (apple)

Let's be honest with each other, you can maybe pick up a bottle of the 21 Year Old in auction for $350 (before shipping), or you can purchase it straight from The Whisky Exchange for £450/$675 (only one per customer!) so this isn't likely to appear in your Xmas stocking.  However, if you ever get the chance to sample it I recommend you grab it quick before it eludes you one more time.

You know how every person who likes whisky gets asked the same age-old question, "what's your favorite whisky?"   And we all give the same age-old answer, "well, it depends on my mood, and the season, and many other factors to boot."  Well, I'm done with all that.  If someone asks me for my favorite whisky I'm going to say "Lagavulin 21 Year Old."  Every single time.  Without fail.

Be sure to check out Jeff's review at the Scotch Hobbyist's blog. He presents a bunch of great insights, includes links to others sets of tasting notes and has wonderful comments from Tim F (The Whisky Exchange) and Ruben (WhiskyNotes) in the comment section.

Until next month's fireside tasting...  Slainte!