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Macallan vs Lagavulin Scotch Whiskies Compared (2023)

Last Updated on December 28, 2022 by Lydia Martin

Macallan and Lagavulin are two of the whisky favorites by many Scotch lovers. 

Though there are similarities between these two spirit brands, what do you think will make one stand out from the other?

Before you choose between these two Scotches, let’s compare Macallan vs Lagavulin to find out which has the edge. Let’s start.

What’s the Difference Between Lagavulin 16 & Macallan 12? 

Lagavulin 16 Scotch Whisky Bottle and a Glass

Macallan 12 is a type of Speyside whisky that undergoes distillation at the Strathspey — situated around the River Spey in northeastern Scotland.

This single malt whisky from the Speyside region is known for its incredibly smooth and easy-to-drink character and low smoke level. 

On the other hand, Lagavulin 16 is a type of Islay whisky that is also produced in Scotland.

But this Scotch is known for its rich smoky notes due to the peat used to dry its malted barley. 

Both are aged using American oak barrels. However, Lagavulin is aged for 16 years using Kentucky ex-bourbon barrels, which impart strong and tasty notes. 

In comparison, Macallan 12 is aged for 12 years using a combo of American and European ex-sherry casks, creating a sweeter spirit.  

Overall, Lagavulin 16 requires some expertise to enjoy, unlike the Macallan 12, which is already drinkable and smooth. 

Let’s Take A Closer Look 

MACALLAN 12 DOUBLE OAK BOTTLE

Palate, Nose & Finish

The Macallan 12 features a rich and flavorful profile with a faint chocolate note, hints of spice, and a bit of warmth at the finish. 

It’s a good blend of sweet and savory flavors that will keep you satisfied as it goes down.

The Lagavulin 12 features a strong aroma of sea salt and smoke. Its flavor is rich with a burst of smoke, sweet caramel, and fruity and vanilla notes. 

But it has a very good balance of flavors. 

ABV

Lagavulin 16 is high proof with an alcohol content of 43% ABV (bottled at 86 proof), while the Macallan 12 contains the standard alcohol content — of 40% ABV (bottled at 80 proof). 

However, Macallan 12 is also bottled at 43% ABV for the American market.  

History

Lagavulin distillery

Although both distilleries originated in Scotland, the Lagavulin Distillery was the first to be established in 1816 by Archibald Campbell and John Johnston. 

The facility was located within the Lagavulin village on the South Coast of Islay Island in Scotland.

After several years of transferring ownership, Lagavulin is now under Diageo, a multinational spirit company.  

8 years later (1824), the Macallan Estate was established by Alexander Reid in Craigellachie, Moray, a northeastern region in Scotland. 

The brand’s name is derived from the word “Magh,” which means fertile ground, and “Ellan,” the monk who used to work in a church that used to be in the place of the Macallan Estate now. 

Awards

Macallan earned the Double Gold Medal at the 2017’s San Francisco World Spirit Competition. 

At the same time, Macallan has received 95 points rating and a gold medal from the 2017’s International Review of Spirits Tasting. 

Conversely, Lagavulin earned six Double Gold Medals at the World Spirit Competition (San Francisco). 

Besides, it was named the “Best Single Malt Whisky” by the same award-giving body in 2013. 

Production Process

Macallan Distillery Copper Stills

Since Macallan and Lagavulin are both single-malt whiskies [1], they share the same production process. 

After collecting the barley, exclusively grown in Scotland, it will be malted and fermented to turn the sugar into alcohol. 

Next, the spirits will undergo distillation – mixing and heating the water and mash, which produces the alcoholic vapor.

Then, it will be cooled to be ready for the aging process.

“There’s no shortcut in whisky to make good product.”

— Sean McGlone, Managing Director at Whisky Auctioneer 

The only difference here is the method of their aging process. 

Lagavulin uses former bourbon barrels, while the Macallan uses American oak and Sherry wine casks, creating distinct whisky flavors. 

Price Comparison

Lagavulin 16 is priced higher than Macallan 12. 

The Macallan 12 costs only around $50 per 750ml (MSRP), while the Lagavulin 16 costs around $99 /750ml (MSRP) or higher, depending on the liquor store. 

Are There Similarities Between Macallan 12 & Lagavulin 16?

Macallan 12 Double Cask Bottle with box and glass

One of the most striking similarities between the two is that they’re both single-malt whisky expressions. 

Besides, they’re produced from malted barley from a single distillery within Scotland. 

Additionally, both the Macallan 12 and Lagavulin 16 used American oak barrels for aging. 

FAQs 

Which is a better sipping whisky, Macallan or Lagavulin?

Macallan is a better sipping whisky. Its flavor profile is approachable, which beginners and experts will truly appreciate. 

Besides, it delivers pleasant warmth and light smoke with a smoother finish – making it best for sipping neat. 

Which is stronger, Lagavulin or Macallan?

Lagavulin is stronger due to its high alcohol proof and smoke level.

It’s more complex and contains powerful peat notes, giving the kick to this whisky. 

Beginners to whisky may find Lagavulin a little harsh.  

Key Takeaways 

Macallan and Lagavulin differ in tasting notes, alcohol content, price, and the aging process. 

If you want your whisky high-proof with powerful smoke notes and more mature, opt for the Lagavulin 16. However, it’s quite pricey. 

But if you’re a beginner and want some affordable, light, and drinkable whisky, opt for the Macallan 12 [2].  

References:

  1. https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/scots-single-malt-whiskies-triple-25619257 
  2. https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-macallan-unveils-double-cask-12-years-old-300340464.html 

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