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Archive for the ‘Laphroaig’ Category

Introduction

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 QC and 10

Tasting Notes

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

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Introduction

Last year, after following Feis Ile vicariously through other blog posts, I ordered some festival samples, including the Laphroaig Cairdeas [car-chase] 2009 release, which I did a post on here . I went to do the same this year for the 2010 release, and discovered that whiskysamples.eu had a few extra samples of the 2009 Cairdeas in stock as well, so I ordered both. I decided to compare both of the Cairdeas cask strength releases with the standard Laphroaig 10 CS Batch 001 release to see how they stacked up.

The 2009 Cairdeas release was a 12 year, specially selected by John Campbell, distillery manager for Laphroaig. The 2010 release was created by Master Distiller Robert Hicks, and is a vatting of first-fill and refill bourbon casks ranging from 11 to 19 years old. All three of the sampled cask strength Laphroaigs fall between 57% and 58% ABV.

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2009 and 2010

Tasting Notes

10 year CS Batch 001 (57.8%) – A phenol-lover’s delight. Iodine, campfire smoke, tar, and cedar wood stand out on the nose, contrasted against a sweet background with a little bit of fruit (apples?). Plenty of tar on the palate, with a good pepper and alcohol kick. The finish is long and smoky, with the tar and cedar wood coming through loud and clear. 88 Points.

Cairdeas 2009 12 year (57.5%) – Start with the traits of the 10 CS, but add more wood influence, with an especially striking helping of vanilla on the nose. It also seems to have slightly less smoke/tar. The palate and finish are again similar to 10 CS, but with more pepper. Just the right amount of pepper, in fact. My mouth is tingling just thinking about how this one went down, and how alive it made my tongue feel. Great balance! 90 Points.

Cairdeas Master Edition 2010 (57.3%) – Surprisingly close to the 10 CS again, considering this one was made from a vatting of different aged and types of casks. The main difference being that this Feis Ile release is more fruity. Citrus and/or apples are present, taking a bit of the edge off of the phenol attack. Not as much vanilla as the 2009 Feis Ile bottling, and not as much pepper, either. 88 Points.

Bottom Line

The Feis Ile cask strength Lapharoaigs are excellent, and totally worth the festival asking prices of around $60-$70. I especially like the 2009 bottling, and kind of wish I had bought a bottle for $100 when I had the chance last year. The extra vanilla and the brilliant mouth feel, combined with the fact that it’s a limited release, make it worth seeking out. The 2010 version, while a bit more fruity than the standard 10 CS, didn’t strike me as necessarily “better.”

While I think the 2009 Cairdeas is worth a little bit of a premium, I would not consider paying high eBay prices for either of the Feis Ile releases. The standard 10 CS is more than good enough to satisfy my cravings for a cask strength Laphroaig experience. I also find that I can get a little bit of additional complexity (vanilla/fruit) by vatting 2 parts 10 CS and 1 part Laphroaig 18 year. It’s not quite on par with the 2009 Feis Ile experience, but still very good. Not sure if I’m venturing into heretic territory by suggesting such a home vatting, though…

Other Opinions

Check out these great reviews of the same expressions on two of my favorite whisky review sites:

Whisky Fun10 CS Batch 001 (Great point about the medicinal notes being “whiffs” rather than in your face); Cairdeas 12 2009 (and 10 CS Batch 001)

WhiskyNotes.be10 CS Batch 001 (87 pts); Cairdeas 12 2009 (88 pts); Cairdeas master Edition 2010 (86 pts & comparison with ’08/’09)

Cheers,
Jeff

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Introduction

Beam Global is doing a pretty cool marketing campaign, pitting whisk(e)y from three countries against each other in a debate between brand ambassadors as they battle for whisky supremacy. Attendance is free, and along with an entertaining evening put on by the debaters, participants get to try whisk(e)y samples from the three distilleries involved. This stop on the debate tour was in Scottsdale, AZ at the Hotel Valley Ho (yes, they worked a joke about the hotel name into the debate). The three Distilleries were Knob Creek, Canadian Club and Laphroaig, with brand ambasadors Bernie Lubbers (a Beam “whiskey professor”), Dan Tullio, and Simon Brooking respectively. The moderator was Steve Cole (also a Jim Beam whiskey professor?).

Now, don’t take my calling out of this event as a marketing campaign as a passive-agressive knock on Beam Global or the people involved. I’m just calling it what it is, but I think it’s a great idea, and I love these types of marketing events. Bring ‘em on spirits companies! I’ll go to them, write about them, and buy your whiskey.

How did I find out about this event? I got an email invite because I am a Knob Creek Stillhouse member.

For a good overview of the Chicago version of this event, check out this post over at WhiskyParty.net.

The Debate

Prior to the debate, they sent everybody up to the roof of the hotel where they were serving cocktails made from the three whiskies that we would be tasting. I can’t remember what the make-up of the cocktails was. I just heard “Canadian Club with blah, blah, blah; Knob Creek with Blah, Blah, Blah.” Finally, there was Laphroaig 10 year with water and ice. I ordered that one, but without ice. And I had him skip the water, too. Ahh…now that’s a good cocktail.

The format of the debate involved first having each ambassador introduce the type of whisk(e)y they were representing (bourbon, canadian whiskey, and Islay scotch whisky). Then Steve Cole asked each ambassador a question and had them explain why their whisky was the best. After fielding questions from the audience, the panel made their final arguments and then the attendees voted by raising miniature American, Canadian and Scottish flags that were provided with each place setting.

We had a pretty strong Scottish contingent making a lot of noise at this event, but I think bourbon won out. There were actually a pretty decent number of votes for Canadian whiskey as well. As the event is all in good fun, though, it was declared a draw.

Talking about the "water of life"...on water.

Talking about the "water of life"...on water.

The Whiskies

Wide-mouth plastic cups don’t serve as the best vessels for critical analysis, but here are a few notes on the samples supplied:

Canadian Club Classic 12 Year

Ridiculously sweet, with vanilla, toffee and cinnamon. Weak palate and short finish. No alcohol burn…not even any warmth to speak of. VERY easy to drink…the non-whiskey drinker’s whiskey?

Knob Creek Bourbon (9 year)

Sweet smelling, but not as sweet as the CC. A much stronger nose than the CC, too. Nice spicy notes on the tongue (from the Rye?), and pleasing warmth going down. Maybe slightly rough, but not bad. The finish is longer than the CC for sure, but no lingering smoke like the Laphroaig. Enjoyable and totally worth the $25 it goes for locally.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask (No Age Statement)

Classic Islay with some iodine and lots of smoke on the finish. Sweeter and more oaky than the standard Laphroaig 10. Nice long finish. This is a fantastic whisky, even in a plastic cup. Still, at an event like this, it’s not as “accessible” as the Knob Creek. I think the people that voted for this one were familiar with the Islay profile coming in.

Whisk(e)y Debate place setting

Whisk(e)y Debate place setting

Shout out

Cheers to Sascha and Julie, a couple of SMWS members from Australia who happened to be in town for the SAP conference. Sascha and I were on each other’s Twitter follow list due to a shared interest in whisky, and the three of us ended up attending the whisky debate together and hanging out talking afterwards at the bar. A couple of the nicest people you’d want to meet – how cool is this online social networking thing?

Video from the event

This isn’t very high quality video, but I thought I’d share some clips from the event. I took these with my Point and Shoot, and quickly realized that I wasn’t going to have enough memory to record the whole thing. I decided to focus mainly on the scotch-related  portions of the debate, given the name of my blog. Too bad, though, as I failed to record a really funny bit from Bernie Lubbers.

Here’s Simon Brooking providing an introduction to Islay Scotch Whisky, and an amusing story about kilts:

Next up was Bernie Lubbers introducing American Bourbon:

It was during Dan Tullio’s Canadian Whiskey introduction (note the Canadian Club hockey jersey) that I realized my limited memory situation on the camera, so I cut him off in the middle…seemed like the American thing to do:

Not to fear, though…here’s a link to another Great Whisk(e)y Debate event with more from Dan, as he explains how Canadian Club can help improve the American economy:

Moving along with the debate, Steve Cole asks Simon Brooking – “Is Laphroaig the whisky of change, or the whisky of experience?”

And now Simon Brooking walks the audience through a tasting of Laphroaig QC, and shares a funny “toast” story:

Fielding questions from the audience, Bernie Lubbers discusses the impact of oak and charring on bourbon maturation:

Simon Brooking follows up on the use of bourbon barrels for maturing scotch whisky:

Finally, here’s the closing toast, after the three debate participants ganged up on moderator Steve Cole and threw him in the pool:

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Following on the previous Friends of Laphroaig email, John Campbell has sent out another letter with official details of the Distillery Live event on September 25, 2009 at Maker’s Mark Distillery. News since the last letter includes the creation of a web site dedicated to the event at http://www.distillerylive.us.com.

Update 9/26/09: For those who missed it, here is a link to a video of the event: Laphroaig Distillery Live

Here’s the official letter:

Dear Friend of Laphroaig,

I promised in my last e-mail that I would write to you again with all the final details for the live Webcast we will be doing at Maker’s Mark Distillery in Kentucky, so here they are.

The online event will be happening on Friday, September 25 at 8 p.m. Kentucky time, which I’m told is Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). I believe that works out to 1 a.m. on Saturday the 26th for the UK. I know this isn’t an ideal time for our FOLs in Europe, but the video will be available a week or so later on the Laphroaig Web site for you to watch at your leisure if you can’t tune in live.

I hope as many of you as possible tune in live to submit questions to the panel (Kevin Smith from Maker’s Mark, John Hansell who is the Editor of Malt Advocate and, of course, myself) during the show. Anyone whose question is read out during the live broadcast will be sent a special prize as well, so remember to include your e-mail address when you submit the question.

We also have a special Web page set up which has a countdown on it, as well as some further information on the event. Go to http://www.distillerylive.us.com and make sure you bookmark the page so that you don’t forget the address on the 25th.

As I mentioned in my last e-mail, we will be tasting a range of Laphroaig expressions, including the 10 Year Old, the new 18 Year Old and the 25 Year Old. There are also some special items I am really excited about. The guys over at Maker’s Mark have found a famous chef who is going to cook some lovely food for us – designed to complement Laphroaig and Maker’s Mark whiskies. Hopefully I can get hold of the recipes in advance so all you culinary experts can try out the recipes, too.

As I mentioned in the last e-mail, we will also have a cocktail section. Thanks go to everyone who has already e-mailed me their suggestions for cocktails. We’ve had a lot of fun trying out your recipes. Remember, anyone whose cocktail is made during the show will win a special prize. If you haven’t e-mailed your suggestion, you still can. Just drop me a line at info@laphroaig.com with the subject line: Distillery Live recipes.

In other news, I have created a Twitter account – I am still a bit of a novice but am really enjoying connecting with some more FOLs from around the world in real-time. If you would like to follow my “tweets” (as I have been told they are called) then go to http://www.twitter.com/laphroaigwhisky. I will be updating with news in the build-up to Distillery Live, and I will, of course, also be updating the FOL homepage.

Slàinte,
John Campbell
Distillery Manager

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John Campbell, Laphroaig distillery manager, has sent out the following email to Friends of Laphroaig. They’ll be broadcasting live from the Maker’s Mark distillery in Kentucky on September 25, 2009. You can check out previous Laphroaig Live broadcasts here.

Dear Friend of Laphroaig®:

I have been talking to you for some time about our plans for the next live broadcast. Well I am extremely excited to announce that we have finally confirmed everything and this year’s broadcast will be live from the Maker’s Mark distillery in Kentucky.

For those of you who know a lot about Laphroaig you will know that we mature our whisky in Maker’s Mark barrels so it is a fitting collaboration I think – plus it’s a bit sunnier there than here on Islay so it should be a lovely setting!

We will be holding the event on Friday, September 25, 2009 at 8:00 p.m EST.  It promises to be an enlightening and entertaining good time for you and all your whisky-loving friends.

The broadcast will last around 40 minutes and will include a live question and answer session where you will be invited to put your questions to the panel. This will include Kevin Smith- master blender for Maker’s Mark, John Hansell – author of the famous Malt Advocate and of course myself. We will also have Simon Brooking, our US Ambassador on hand to answer any questions.

Those of you who have watched our last two broadcasts will know that we very much concentrated on tasting our range. This year as we are the guests of Maker’s Mark we wanted to do something a little different. We will of course be discussing what makes the Maker’s barrels so special for us at Laphroaig (and of course tasting some of the fine spirit) but we will also be trying a few food dishes that go well with Laphroaig and Maker’s Mark and also trying our hand at some cocktails! If any of you have any suggestions on dishes or cocktails please email them into me at info@laphroaig.com with the subject line: Distillery Live Recipes and any that we decide to make will win a special prize.

Pass this email onto your friends
As you know we always ask our ‘friends’ to help us spread the word about Laphroaig. This live tasting would be the perfect way to introduce all your friends to our unique single malt so please pass it on – unlike normal whisky tastings the web can accommodate everyone!

I’ll be writing to you again in the next couple of weeks with all the confirmed details including the website address but I just wanted to get the date and time firmly in your diaries.

I look forward to ‘seeing’ you on 25th!

Slàinte,

John Campbell
Distillery Manager

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Introduction

Following on the heels of my Laphroaig 10 CS Batch 001 post, I’m trying another 30 ml Laphroaig sample from whiskysamples.eu. This one was specially bottled for Feis Ile 2009 (5000 bottles total), with post-festival sales only through the Friends of Laphroaig online store for £40. I’m talking about the Laphroaig Cairdeas [car-chase] 12 year, bottled at 57.5% ABV. This “Cairdeas” bottling is not to be confused with the 2008 Cairdeas, also bottled specially for the Feis Ile festival, which was an 8 year expression.

John Campbell, distillery manager at Laphroaig, chose the bottling this year for the first time (last year, Robert Hicks, the master distiller, chose the Cairdeas casks). John chose a single vintage 12 year that has been matured in Maker’s Mark bourbon casks, bottled straight from the cask with simple barrier filtering. He states on the Laphroaig web site that to his tastes, this is “nearly a perfect expression of Laphroaig of this maturity.

Tasting

On the nose, this Laphroaig is kind of fruity, like the 15 year. However, the fruit is toned down a bit compared to the 15, and there seems to be citrus on this one, on top of apples and pears. There is a very noticeable fresh wood smell similar to what I noted on the  Laphroaig 10 CS. There’s also some peat smoke, but I’m not really getting the tar that comes with the 10 year Laphroaigs.

On the palate, it’s still got some fruit going, as well as more noticeable peat. There’s also a stronger pepper here than I noticed with even the 10 CS. At full strength, it’s prickly on the tongue, but it doesn’t hit you right away with “heat” like the 10 CS. Wow…this is a very enjoyable sensation. Adding a little water, it’s not quite as prickly, but the pepper remains, thankfully.

On the finish, it’s drying on the tongue, and then a nice strong peat smoke comes up through the nostrils. Here’s where it got really interesting. I could swear this is kind of a coal smoke similar to what I get with Caol Ila. Wow! I didn’t see that one coming. It lasts for quite some time. Quite nice.

Conclusion:

I’ve only had this one 30 ml sample, but I’m going to go ahead and rank this as my second favorite Laphroaig after the 30 year. I think it takes the best elements of the 10 CS and 15 year, and adds a new twist at the end. It’s great at full strength or watered down. Based on my Caol Ila comparison, where I did some theoretical ratings (Laph 15 = 90; Laph 30 = 93), I’d put this one at 91 points. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am that this isn’t available in the United States. If you have a chance to purchase a bottle of Cairdeas 12, and you like Islay malts, I would highly recommend going for it.

Other opinions

It appears that I like this one a bit more than others who have reviewed it so far. Everybody below agrees that it’s good, but they seem to pull up short of calling it great.

  • WhiskyNotes – Ruben tastes the 2009 Cairdeas 12 and proclaims it to be a major improvement over last year’s 8 year festival bottling. He gives this one 88 points, vs 82 for last year’s Cairdeas. He still rates the 10 CS Batch 001 just ahead of this one, though.
  • WhiskyFun – Another by proxy report via the Lindores boys. They like the Cairdeas 12 slightly more than the 10 CS Batch 001, giving it an 89/100 rating, versus 88 for the 10 CS.
  • Caskstrength.net/TWE Blog – Co-report from the Feis Ile festival with notes on the Cairdeas 12. No rating, but more agreement that this is a big improvement from last year.
  • KingFisher Blog – 88 points for Cairdeas 12 vs. 92 points for 10 CS Batch 001. I wonder if, in these head-to-head comparisons, the Cairdeas 12 ends up feeling a little light at the end compared to the 10 CS, thus losing out. I tried them on consecutive nights, but not head-to-head in the same night.

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Introduction

Laphroaig 10 CS Batch 001 in a nosing glass

Laphroaig 10 CS Batch 001 in a nosing glass

In his Christmas 2008 video blog [available on the Laphroaig web site], John Campbell (Laphroaig distillery manager) talked about a change in the Laphroaig 10 years Cask Strength offering, starting in 2009. Apparently, it’s been standard practice for Laphroaig to produce the 10 CS in two batches each year, but it’s been difficult to have each batch produced at the same strength. Starting with their first 2009 batch in February, they’ve decided to start distributing each batch as its own unique release, with the batch number on the label, and the strength varying per batch (between around 54% and 58%). The Feb ’09 release (# 001) is at 57.8%.

This batch approach seems to be gaining in popularity, as it entices whisky connoisseurs into buying multiple batches to compare (you can see this with Aberlour a’bunadh). Apparently, Laphroaig was showing off batch 001 at Feis Ile 2009, and Luc Timmermans was able to secure a bottle and make 30 ml samples available through whiskysamples.eu. This is how I got the sample I’m writing about now.

Tasting notes

On the nose, I’m immediately hit with a medicinal scent that quickly turns to a woodiness and smoke. The wood smell is quite strong, which i also noticed with the Quarter Cask expression. I may be simplifying a combination of other smells, but it smells like cedar wood. There’s peat, but it’s coming out mainly in the form of iodine and some tar. It’s not an earthy peat like with Talisker. I get just a hint of sweetness, and maybe a little apple. It’s very muted compared to the Laphroaig 15 year, buried under the stronger scents. I do get an increasingly strong vanilla scent as I spend more time with it. I added a little water and the vanilla and honey sweetness became much more noticeable right up front.

On the palate, I can now tell that this is a cask strength bottling. Definitely some high ABV heat, but also continued strong wood and peat, with some sweetness. I suppose there’s some pepper there, but it’s not that strong. The finish lasts a while, and it’s a great combination of most of the flavors from the nose, but with a much more noticeable tar component, and a lot more smoke. With water, the alcohol heat goes away on the palate, and the pepper seems to come out more. This is a much more complex, satisfying palate and finish than on the standard 10 year bottling.

Conclusion:

Wow, this one caught me by surprise! I mean, I’ve read that this is different from the standard 10, but I didn’t expect it to be this much of an improvement. I wish I had a bottle of Quarter Cask on hand, as this reminds me quite a bit of that one based on memory…especially the enhanced woodiness. If I were rating these, and the Laphroaig 15 was a 90, with the standard 10 being an 83/84, I think I’d have to put this one right up around 89/90. I’d want to drink a little more than the 30 ml sample that I had to be more confident about it. One thing I can say with certainty…I’d like to have a bottle of Laphroaig 10 CS as a standard option in my whisky cupboard. Highly recommended if you like the Islay malts.

Other opinions

  • Batch 001
    • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – The Lindores guys report on the 10 CS Batch 001 from Feis Ile and recommend adding water. They give it an average rating of 88/100.
    • The Whisky Exchange Blog (co-written with caskstrength.net) – In their Day 7 Feis Ile festival report, the TWE/Caskstrength team reports on Batch 001 and says it’s sweeter on the nose and sootier on the palate than the original CS.
    • KingFisher Blog – A bunch of Laphroaigs tasted and rated, including 10 CS Batch 001.
  • Original CS
    • Malt Advocate - Use “Search by Brand Name” to bring up an archive of Laphroaig reviews. There’s an “Original Cask” bottling at the top of the list from 2002. Look further down to find the 2004 “Original Cask Strength” bottling, with a rating of 88 points.
    • WHISKYFUN.COM - A review of the Original Cask Strength, bottled in 2007, with a huge 92 rating…reminds him of the older “green stripe” version if you’re familiar with that.
    • WhiskyNotes – Ruben calls this a “must have for every Islay enthusiast. He has a sample of Batch 001…hopefully he’ll provide some comparison notes soon.
    • Whisky For Everyone – Discusses both the standard 10 year and the 10 CS.
    • Wine Library TV Ep. #509 (The Single Malt Scotch Episode) – Matt Mullenweg joins Gary Vaynerchuk, and they drink the 10 CS, along with Talisker 175th and The Balvenie 17.

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Introduction

A pour of Laphroaig 30

A pour of Laphroaig 30

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.

Tasting

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.

Conclusion

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.]

Compared to…Lagavulin?

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.

Other opinions…

  • 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.

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Introduction

Margy McCoy (@MargyMcCoy), a Friends of Laphroaig employee, sent out a request on Twitter earlier today asking others to tweet about their first experience with Laphroaig.  She’s offering up a bottle of Feis Ile Cardais scotch to the best tweet.  I was immediately taken back to my first sip of Laphroaig 10 and responded with this tweet:  “My first @LaphroaigWhisky (10) shocked my system. Is that tar?! smoke? Palate intrigued, left brain wary. My palate won out.

Obviously, I’m not going to win that little contest.  However, that’s honestly how I felt.  I was totally confused by what I was experiencing on the palate, and my brain was telling me that I shouldn’t be liking what I was tasting.  Margy’s tweet made me want to look up my original notes, and I decided to go ahead and post them here for laughs.  I need to try Laphroaig 10 again, now that I’ve had quite a bit more experience with Islay malts (including Laph. 15 and QC, which I love).  I’m sure my notes will differ quite a bit.

How about you?  If you like drinking Islay single malts, was it love at first taste?  Did you “get it” the first time, or was it something you had to work your way into?

Original Tasting Notes

Here are the notes I jotted down after drinking Laphroaig 10 (my first Islay malt) for the first time.  This was on January 9th, 2009, and I had only tried a few whiskies prior to this.  I was familiar with light, earthy peat from Talisker, but this was a whole new ball game:

NOSE

  • Smell of some smoke, but not overwhelming
  • Sweet peat smell
  • A little bit of “tar”

TASTE

  • Holy crap!  This completely shocked my system.  If I were to imagine what it would taste like to run out and lick the street right after it’s been paved, this is it.
  • I taste nothing but tar.  My mouth is overwhelmed.
  • Not bitter, though.  I have no problem swishing it around in my mouth, and it goes down easily enough.
  • There’s a bit of a viscous, oily quality not present in the other scotches I’ve had.

AFTERTASTE

  • Still tar, tar, tar
  • Wait…finally something else.  Oily exhaust fumes, like sitting on a bumper boat, surrounded by other bumper boats in an enclosed area, with some oil burning off and dripping into the water.  Or maybe that’s just more tar.

CONCLUSION

Ok, so I wasn’t ready for this.  I don’t think I made any “bitter beer” faces, though, and I kept drinking it.  If there’s more to the taste, I never recovered from my first impressions of “I can’t believe I’m drinking tar” to discover it.  I enjoyed the nose, actually.  I still can’t believe how different the taste was from the nose.  My mind is saying that I shouldn’t enjoy this, and that it belongs in a blended or vatted scotch.  However, I remain curious about what I’m tasting.  I think i’ll try again sometime, being more prepared going in. Maybe I’ll have a different experience and pick out more flavors.

Flash Forward

Four and a half months later (5/29/09), I just had Laphroaig 10 again, at the same bar as the first time.  Since that first taste, I’ve had many other Islay expressions, including Laphroaig QC and 15, and Islay malts have become my whisky of choice (Lagavulin and Caol Ila at the top).  I went to the bar tonight with some friends from work, assuming that I would have a significantly different take on this scotch.  I was surprised to discover that my reaction hasn’t changed all that much.  It’s still an extremely tarry, medicinal dram, and not all that complex.  I can’t believe how different the 10 year is from the 15 year, or even the Quarter Cask.  The biggest differences this time around were that 1) it didn’t shock my system, and 2) I was comfortable with the fact that I like it.

I have Laphroaig 10 cs Batch 1 (Feb 2009) and  Laphroaig 12 Cardais samples on the way.  Maybe I’ll get a 50ml of Laphroaig 10 as well, so that I can compare the range in a controlled environment and take better notes on the 10.  In the mean time, I’ll sum up my feelings on the 10 year by saying that I could drink Laphroaig 15 or QC every day, while the 10 year would be an every now and then change-up.  Relative to other core Islay expressions, I find both the Ardbeg 10 and the Caol Ila 12 more interesting and pleasing to my palate.

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Introduction

A pour of Laphroaig 15

A pour of Laphroaig 15

43% ABV?  Bzzzt…wrong answer!  Non-chill filtering? Bzzzt…not here. This Laphroaig 15 year is obviously not with it, as all of the cool kids these days are bottled at 46% abv or higher, and non-chill filtering is all the rage.  It’s only fitting that the Laphroaig [la-froyg] 15 is being replaced by a non-chill filtered 18 year old at 48% abv.  Good riddance, right?  Not so fast…this expression still has a few tricks up its sleeve.  Last night I spent considerable time with a large dram of the Laphroaig 15, and will share my experience here, as well as link to some other resources on the internet.

A note on price: Laphroaig 15 is very reasonably priced here in Arizona. The two main big box liquor stores here are charging $55 and $64 for a 750ml bottle. I understand that the 18 is going to be priced somewhere closer to $100. Certainly something to consider if you run into a bottle of the 15 and are debating whether to pick one up.

Tasting

On the nose, the first impression is tarry peat smoke sweet fruit (cinammon apples [and pears]).  A little longer on the nose and I’m getting vanilla. The peat is there, but it’s not a strong tar and phenol experience like I got when I tried the 10 year (which I need to revisit now that I have more Islay experience). The peat is also very integrated with the other scents. [Update] Bananas! I hadn’t noticed it before, but having just done comparisons between Laph 15 and the 10 CS and 2009 Cairdeas, I’m definitely getting bananas on the 15 year.

On the palate, the sweetness fades quickly, replaced by spices and peat. It’s fairly oily and full bodied as well. I don’t think the 43% abv is a problem here. It’s not until the finish that the tar smoke comes through, rising up through the nostrils with some oak. There is also a drying sensation on the tongue. There is lots of stuff going on here, providing a rich sensory experience.

Conclusion: I mentioned in the Whisky Mag. forums that I like this scotch better each time I try it. This continues to be true, and I now rank it right up there close to Lagavulin 16 (I said “close”, not equal) in terms of the full cycle of nose to palate to finish. I can nose it all night long and it doesn’t get old. There’s also no alcohol roughness getting in the way at any stage of the experience. To maximize your enjoyment of this particular expression, I recommend leaving your preconceptions of a “proper Laphroaig” at the door, and considering the 15 on its own merits. Don’t compare it to the Laph. 10 CS on the same evening (well, not every time, anyway), as I’m sure this one will suddenly seem too light-bodied, or lacking in phenols.

If you like Islay malts, and you haven’t tried this yet, I’m begging you to grab a bottle if you can find one. Even if it turns out to be your least favorite Laphroaig, I can’t imagine that you’ll actually dislike it, and you might love it. Get it while you still can…

Other opinions

Here are some links to other reviews and notes on Laphroaig 15:

  • Whisky Magazine:  Tasting notes and ratings from none other than Michael Jackson and Jim Murray.  MJ rated it very highly, while JM found some faults.  Scroll down for links to a number of discussions on Laphroaig 15, including comparisons to other Laphroaig expressions.
  • WhiskyFun.com:  Notes and ratings on a number of Laphroaigs circa 2006.  The 15 did very well here as well, scoring 90 along with the 30 year expression.
  • Whisky For Everyone:  Another whisky blog that I enjoy reading…some good information about Laphroaig in general, plus notes on the 15 year.
  • Whisky Party:  A comparison of the 15 year to Quarter Cask.  They also recommend grabbing some 15 year while you can, finding it a bit more complex than the QC. [Update 6/5/09]
  • Laphroaig 15 on YouTube:  Check out the PeatLuvr and IslayScotchWhisky reviews, then watch Ralphy partake of some Laph. 15 from the top of Merrick Summit in Scotland.

Distillery location:

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