My wife was kind enough to let me buy my own main present for my 40th birthday a couple of weeks ahead of time; A Laphroaig 30 year, bottled in 2007 at 43% abv. I was at a Glenmorangie/Ardbeg scotch tasting, and one of the attendees pointed out that the store had a bottle of Laphroaig 30 in stock for retail price ($250). I knew it had pretty much disappeared from European stores after being discontinued [replaced by a 25 year Cask Strength at $500], and was going for quite a bit more money there. If you can find it in the U.S., you might be able to get it at original retail price like I did, but I’ve read that the price should be going up, and may have already done so in other states. I wanted to buy it right on the spot, but $250 for a bottle of scotch isn’t in my budget, and I resisted temptation.
By the time I got home, it hit me that I could use my birthday (and something of a “milestone” birthday at that) as an excuse to get my hands on this rare and highly regarded scotch. Brilliant! I still can’t afford it, but somehow, it’s okay now. I called the store, had them hold it for me, and picked it up the next day. I then put it out of site until I could arrange a scotch party with some friends, with this bottle being the finale of a multi-region scotch tasting. I was planning to be blown away by this whisky, and somehow, opening it up at home on my own just didn’t seem fitting. I know…I’m really setting myself up for a letdown by building it up so much…or am I? It’s now the night after the party, and I’m revisiting the Laphroaig 30, giving it the dedicated attention it deserves.
On the nose…oh, that nose! All of those years in sherry casks results in a huge, rich aroma of mixed fruits. Lots of red berries, maybe some apple, and is that pineapple? It seems like it (just a little bit), although admittedly, I have already read others talk of “tropical” fruits in this expression. Maybe it’s the power of suggestion. Regardless, this amazing fruity bouquet is served up on an oak platter coated with peat, resting atop a gently smoking fire. Just the right amount of smoky, earthy peat (and some sweet caramel/vanilla from the oak) rises up and mixes with the fruit. This is one heavenly aroma that I could take in forever.
On the palate, I deliberately coated my entire tongue, and chewed on the scotch for a bit before swallowing it. The previous night, when drinking it at my scotch party, I let my first sip go right down, not stopping to really enjoy it. This extremely smooth scotch can also seem a little light on the palate if you’re not careful. Tonight, taking my time with it, there is definitely a well rounded, reasonably full body available to be discovered. You just have to work at it a little bit. With a full coat on all parts of the tongue, I get some spices joining the fruit and peat, but nothing like the pepper kick that comes on with something like Talisker.
Moving to the finish, it’s a bit drying on the tongue. I like it, but I know preferences vary quite a bit on this. I get a very pleasant, but mild peat smoke coming up through the back of the nostrils at the end. It’s medium to long, but remains somewhat mild compared to other Islay malts I’ve had.
I find the nose on this scotch to be out-of-this-world, mind-blowingly satisfying. It’s in a new category from anything I’ve previously tried. The palate and finish are flawless, with a nice feel when coating the tongue, and hitting all of the right taste buds. Actually, it goes down more easily than I want for such an expensive drink. I want the whisky itself to give me pause, forcing me to reflect, before pursuing another drink. Fortunately, I’m once again given pause by that nose.
I can understand why this is knocked for a couple of points (still retaining a 90+ rating, though) on WhiskyFun for lacking power on the palate. This certainly is an “aristocratic” drink, and lacks the pepper kick that you get from something like a Talisker 18. That being said, I would still rate this one at the top of the list of scotches I’ve tasted. I don’t feel like I have enough experience to offer a meaningful numeric score yet, but if I did, I think this would be a couple of points above Talisker 18 and Lagavulin 16/DE, my previously reigning favorites. I would give the nose a little more weight in the scoring, and because the rest of the experience is flawless in profile, if perhaps a little polite, I wouldn’t deduct much there.
Laphroaig 30 is totally worth the cost of admission. If you can find it at list price or below and can afford it, get it. Even if you can’t quite afford it, but you’re close, I’d seriously consider using a little credit. Don’t tell your wife (or mine) I said that, though. [Strike that, however, if you're not a big fan of sherry-influenced whiskies.]
I can’t compare Laphroaig 30 to any other Laphroaig I’ve had before. They’re completely different animals. However, as I was drinking this, I kept thinking of the Lagavulin 1991/2007 DE. That one is finished in PX sherry casks, and strikes some of the same notes. I was wondering how similar they might actually be side-by-side. Is the Laga DE nearly as good or better for 1/3 the price? Was I just building up the nose of the Laphroaig 30 in my mind? I pulled out my bottle of Lagavulin to find out.
Ok…I was NOT exaggerating about the Laphroaig 30 nose. Taking in the Lagavulin DE now, I get a different presentation than the Laphroaig. I talked about the fruits in the Laph. 30 being served up on a platter with the peat and smoke rising up from underneath. In the case of the Lagavulin, the smoke is above the berries, creating a bit of a veil that I have to work through, and toning down the richness of the fruit. Before trying the Laphroaig 30, I wouldn’t have thought of it as veiled. It’s still all very enjoyable, but I’m standing by my high praise for the Laphroaig 30 nose. The Lagavulin is a bit stronger on the finish, but it doesn’t make up the difference.
I’ve kindly been offered a sample of Lagavulin 21 in return for a sample of my Laphroaig 30. Is the Laga. 21 going to be the Holy Grail? The heavenly nose of the Laphroaig 30, an equally satisfying palate profile, but with more oomph on the palate and finish? I can’t wait to find out, and will report my experience.
- Whiskyfun.com by Serge – Here’s a review of the 2006 Laphroaig 30, as well as the 15 year. They rated the two of them the same (90 points), and it sounds like it comes back to the boldness (or lack thereof) of the palate. They don’t appear to give the same extra weighting to the nose that I am. I love the 15, but take price out of the equation and I take the 30 in a heartbeat.
- The Whisky Exchange Blog (co-authored with the caskstrength.net crew) – Reporting from the Feis Ile Festival, we get notes on a number of Laphroaigs, including the 30 year. No ratings, but they really seem to have enjoyed it (I’d hope so).
- Edinburgh Whisky Blog – Guest blogger Paula Arthur, also reporting from Feis Ile, shares her notes on the same set of Laphroaigs. She’s equally impressed by this expression.
- Malt Advocate – An archive of Laphroaig reviews. The 30 year scores 91 points. Tied with the Quarter Cask, and a point below the 10 CS. I love the QC, but hmm…I wonder if he takes price into account as part of the score.
- Whisky Magazine – Notes from Dave Broom and Martine Nouet from a 2005 or earlier bottling. The numbers listed on the web page are their “peat level” ratings on a 1-5 scale, not the actual whisky rating.