With Ardbeg 10 (86 points) serving as a benchmark whisky for my Islay scotch reviews, I decided I needed another benchmark that I would rate closer to 80 points. The Islay equivalent of a Glenfiddich 12, if you will. Laphroaig 10 seemed like it would fit the bill. While I’m a HUGE Laphroaig fan, and their 30 year is my favorite whisky to date, my experience with the 10 year old (until recently), had been limited to a few drams in bars, where it was nice, but seemed pretty one-dimensional.
Once I tried the Laphroaig Quarter Cask expression, I quickly made the decision that it was enough better than the 10 year old to warrant a few extra bucks and a place in my cupboard. With the QC on hand, why would I reach for the 10 year? So, the 10 year expression has remained an after-thought for me over the past couple of years. However, with new ideas of journalistic integrity in mind, I finally caved and bought a 2010 bottling of Laphroaig 10 for $37. Let’s see if my opinion of this one changes when consumed in the comfort of my own home (and Glencairn glass), and how it compares to the excellent Quarter Cask expression.
Laphroaig 10 year [2010; 43%; $37]Nose: Certainly not one-dimensional here. Fruity (apples/pears) and sweet, with vanilla and, surprisingly, a pretty gentle but ashy smoke. On first nosing, there’s an iodine presence, but I quickly acclimate and stop noticing it. So far, a pretty well balanced dram.
Palate: Peaty, but juicy barley on the mouth, with a little bit of pepper. Not as big and oily as Ardbeg 10, but not weak either.
Finish: Ok, there’s the big smoke I was looking for. Where the Ardbeg smoke is like a camp fire, Laphroaig 10 is decidedly more industrial. A strong tar smoke shoots up the nostrils and coats the tongue from top to bottom, nearly drowning out all of the other flavors. I can see why this seemed like a one trick pony when I had this at the bar. The finish is long, with the tar slowly turning to ash on the tongue.
Comments: One-dimensional? Certainly not on the nose, but very close to it on the finish. Overall, the Laphroaig 10 was better than I remembered. I definitely consider this a worthwhile purchase at under $40. It’s not as big or complex as Ardbeg 10, but what’s there is still good, and that tar on the finish is very unique. If you’re like me, you’ll wonder on first tasting whether you really should be enjoying such a flavor. Don’t be surprised if it grows on you over time, though. Just into the full “B” range for me. 83 points.
Note: I also went through a 50ml sample of Laphroaig 10 bottled at 40% for the UK. It had basically the same profile, but was quite weak on the palate. That one I would probably rate at 81 points. I’m glad we get the 43% bottling in the US!
Laphroaig Quarter Cask (NAS) [2007?; 48%; $50]Nose: Similar sweet fruit, ashy smoke, hint of iodine and vanilla as the 10 year, but with a stronger fresh-cut oak component. If you like oaky scotches and bourbons, this should appeal. Palate: Oh, I really like this 48% ABV. Very close to my theoretically ideal bottling strength of 50%. It’s bigger and thicker than the 10 year…closer in thickness to Ardbeg 10, but with even more zing. Finish: Here’s where the QC really separates itself from the 10 year. Yes, there is a tarry peat smoke that blasts right up the nostrils, but the fruit and barley are still there. And hello there, vanilla…thanks for sticking around. That big oak presence stays very much in the picture through the long finish.
Comments: The Quarter Cask expression brings everything to the table that the 10 year does, and then some. It improves the balance in the process. Now, if you’re not a fan of super oaky whiskies, and you like the 10 year, I’d recommend you try before you buy. For me, this is right up there in enjoyment level with the Ardbeg 10 year. Two different takes on peat, both worth checking out. 86 points.
Final comparison thoughts
Sure, I like the Laphroaig Quarter Cask more than the 10 year. However, the 10 put up much more of a fight than I expected. If you buy Laphroaig almost solely for that tarry peat finish, then by all means, save a few bucks and enjoy the 10. It’s a great dram. I guess my search continues for an Islay equivalent to Glenfiddich 12 (assuming they keep sending us the 43% version of Laphroaig 10 in the US).
As for Laphroaig vs Ardbeg, I think the QC gives up a touch of complexity and balance to the Ardbeg, but that extra 2% ABV is nice. It’s really more of a mood thing for me, depending on the type of peat smoke I’m looking for. The enjoyment I get from drinking either is pretty much the same. Forced to pick one, I’d go with the Ardbeg.Cheers, Jeff