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Introduction

Black Bottle 10 Year

Black Bottle 10 Year

Tonight I’m trying Black Bottle 10 year blended scotch whisky, bottled at 43% alc./vol. On the bottle, it says “Finest Scotch Whisky with a Heart of Islay” When they say it has a heart of Islay, they mean it. This blended whisky apparently contains whisky from all 7 Islay distilleries (this is pre-Kilchoman). Black Bottle is owned by Burn Stewart Distillers, who also own Bunnahabhain [boon-a-havn], so you can expect for there to be a fair amount of that particular Islay single malt in this blend. Of course, as a blend it also contains grain whiskies. When I first bought this bottle, I tried it by itself and liked it. However, I immediately ran across postings in the Whisky Magazine forums that recommended mixing in a few drops of your favorite Islay single malt. Black Bottle does a great job of taking on the character of that malt, and I discovered that I really enjoy it with a few drops of Caol Ila or Ardbeg. Tonight, however, I’m focusing on Black Bottle 10 as a stand-alone whisky.

Tasting notes

On the nose, there seems to be a cereal grain scent that gives away the fact that this is a blend, perhaps even a hint of rubber. Leaving the glass sitting for a bit, this seems to go away almost completely. Now, getting down to business…I get fruit over sweet peat that reminds me of a combination of Bunnahabain and Caol Ila. There’s also some smoke there, but not a big camp fire smoke like Ardbeg or Lagavulin. Finally, there seems to be a fresh wood component, and maybe a hint of iodine that reminds me of Laphroaig QC or 10 CS.

The palate is very gentle and fruity. The feel reminds me of Bunnahabhain 12. This is such a warm, friendly spirit. No bite at all from the grain whiskies. It’s not a heavy body, but it’s not watery either. Thankfully, they bottled it at 43% and not 40%.

On the finish, there is a smoke that seems to separate from the spirit and rise up through the nostrils. Once again, I’m reminded of Caol Ila, more than the smoke from any of the other peaty Islays. It’s not as strong or as long lasting as a straight Caol Ila, though. The remaining liquid on the back of the tongue once again reminds me of Bunnahabhain 12. No…it IS Bunna 12. It’s a sweet, malty flavor that’s fairly light, but does stick around for a little while. It’s interesting how these components separate on the finish and co-exist as two completely different entities.

Conclusion:

This really is a wonderful blend, and a fantastic introduction to the world of Islay malts. It tastes great by itself, and it can transform into your favorite Islay single malt (especially Caol Ila) just by adding a few drops. Unfortunately, Black Bottle is no longer producing this 10 year expression. I believe their younger NAS (No Age Statement) bottling is the only one currently in production. Here in AZ, however, I can still find the 10 year in a number of stores for $35-$40, but have yet to see the NAS. I’ve read that the NAS expression is very good as well, but if you have a chance to pick up this 10 year, I strongly recommend doing so while you can.

You’ll see really high scores in the Other Opinions below, but I’m thinking those are relative scores, taking into account that this is a blend. I feel like a score of around 84/100 is appropriate for this very enjoyable whisky, relative to the other whiskies I’ve tried. The price makes it an incredible value. As a blend, this is an amazing whisky, and one you should try to get into your cupboard.

Other Opinions

  • Malt Advocate – 93 points…wow! In their ratings scheme, it does say that this means it’s “one of the best for its style.”
  • whisky-pages – Another postive review, I think they found it to be a bit more peaty and phenolic than I did.
    • Also on the whisky-pages web site, a great overview of Black Bottle, discussing the heritage, character, and the blend itself.
  • Whisky Magazine – Scores and notes from Michael Jackson and Jim Murray, with both giving it a 9/10 score.
  • WHISKYFUN by Serge (Scroll down to “Five Islander Blends”)- A review of BB NAS and 10 year. Note the 10 year is from 2003 and bottled at 40%, so maybe a little weaker than the one I tried.

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Introduction

The Dalmore 12

The Dalmore 12

This post is about The Dalmore 12 (OB), 40% ABV. It’s matured in 50% American white oak ex-bourbon and 50% oloroso sherry wood casks. The Dalmore line has been recently updated, with changes made to the whisky as well as the packaging. The “old” 12 year was matured in 70% bourbon and 30% sherry casks. I’ve had Dalmore on my list of distilleries to try, but hadn’t really sought any of the expressions out. I guess that’s fine, as there was apparently a bit of a delay getting these new releases onto the shelves in the United States. My local specialty shop just got a few of these 12 year bottles in within the last month.

Tasting notes

Here’s what it says about the taste on the box:

Orange marmelade and rich spice, elegant and refined with concentrated citrus and oloroso sherry, an aftertaste of great abundance.

It’s been AGES since I tasted “great abundance”. I can’t wait!

On the nose, I get a Terry’s dark chocolate orange ball with some cinnamon potpourri spices. Also, I’m reminded of a wood-paneled library with leather bound books. I then work through to some fruity sweetness – I want to say peaches in brown sugar syrup. At the end, I get a hint of tea leaves (it comes and goes, though). I felt the overall presentation of the nose was a bit laid back.

On the palate, it’s sweet and somewhat watery. It reminds me a bit of Coca-Cola, which is something I get with bourbons as well. Heading into the finish I get another hint of spice, and some drying on the tongue. Finally, a reminder of the sherry component before it all fades away fairly quickly (maybe a hint of smoke in the nostrils at the end).

Conclusion:

This was my first Dalmore. I’m very satisfied with the flavor profile, and look forward to trying other Dalmore expressions. My only gripe with this one is that you have to really go after the laid back nose, and the palate and finish are too gentle. It goes down extremely easy, but I want more oomph. You’ve got a great profile Dalmore…give me more of it! That being said, I’ll very much enjoy working my way through this bottle. I see no reason to disagree with the 83/84 point scores by Serge Valentin and John Hansell (links below).

The unboxing

This may be a bit over the top, but I took a video of the unboxing of my Dalmore 12, much like you would see somebody do with the release of a new Apple product:

Other opinions

  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – He likes this one, and rates it 3 points higher than the previous version of the 12 year.
  • What does John know? (Malt Advocate) – John mentions pineapple upside down cake on the nose. I can certainly see that in place of my peaches in syrup notes.
  • whisky-pages – Some great notes by Gavin and Tom. I can totally identify with their descriptions. They say the finish is longer than the old Dalmore 12. Wow…that one must have been crazy short!

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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

Lagavulin 21 sample

Lagavulin 21 sample

These tasting notes are based on a sample of Lagavulin 21 1985 vintage, bottled in 2007 at 56.5% ABV. It was matured exclusively in first-fill European oak sherry casks. Supposedly, this is to be the last “fully sherried” release from Lagavulin, and this was a limited bottling with 6600 numbered bottles. I’ve been very curious about this bottling, but it’s not available in Arizona, and costs a fortune these days by mail order or on eBay.

I was lucky enough to have recently traded a sample of my Laphroaig 30 for this Lagavulin 21 sample with a local whisky drinker (Sean), who I met through the Whisky Magazine forum. I got about 75ml of the Laga 21. This was quite generous of him considering there are still a couple of bottles of Laphroaig 30 here in town for $250, but Lagavulin is nowhere to be found (except on eBay for $500). The Laga 21 is also his all time favorite whisky. I had built Lagavulin 21 up as the likely “perfect dram” for me. It should have the great nose of the Laph 30, but provide more power on the palate and finish. The Lagavulin 16 and 1991 DE bottlings rank just below Laphroaig 30 on my list of favorites, so surely this one would rocket to the top. Let’s find out…

Tasting notes

On the nose (take 1): A couple of nights ago, I poured small drams of this Laga 21, Laphroaig 30, and Laga 1991 DE. I started out by nosing all of them, with the Laga 21 coming last. When I got to it, I prepared to be wowed, and took a good whiff. Woa! I was immediately hit with a huge dairy farm smell (It also reminds me of a smell I’ve noticed when shooting off fireworks…which reminded me of driving by a dairy farm 🙂 ). To be honest, I found it a little off-putting. Then I spent more time with it and found that once I started breaking it into smaller components, there was quite a bit there. One of the components was sherry. Usually, I’ll talk about sherry “influence” on a whisky, resulting in red berries, maybe some dried fruits. In this case, it’s literally sherry…not just a sherry influence. Interesting.

On the nose (take 2): Last night I poured a litle more of my Lagavulin 21 sample. This time, I was NOT hit by that big dairy farm smell. It was much more along the lines of what I originally expected. Strong sherry; still a full actual sherry scent. Also peat, but not a tarry peat…more like moss. There’s also something that reminds me of a leather-bound book, and a rich caramel sweetness. Of course there’s a nice smokiness to it. As I spent more time with it, I periodically got reminded of that dairy farm smell. Or is it spent matches?

On the nose (take 3): Ok, one more time with a comparison (Laga 21 and Laga DE). First a quick whiff right out of the sample bottle, and I was met with sweet (and smoky) berry pie. No cows. Then onto the comparison in nosing glasses. Again, nosing the DE first, then moving over to the 21, I get hit by that big farm/cow smell. Weird. Something about nosing one of the other whiskies first causes this reaction with the Laga 21. I can move back over to the DE and it smells “normal”. What’s going on here? [Update: Answer further down]

On the palate, I’m getting the full Lagavulin experience, but more intense than with the 16 or DE. Nice full body, with an amazingly thick coat on the tongue. Strong peat with some noticeable pepper. There is a little bit of alcohol hotness at first due to the ABV. A little water tones that down without really harming the rest of the expreience. Then onto that amazing smoky, medicinal, peaty finish that I love so much with the other Lagavulin expressions. It lasts and lasts…excellent.

Conclusion

In theory, this is the best scotch I’ve had. The palate and finish are everything you would want from a Lagavulin, and the nose adds significant complexity to the more standard bottlings. Perfect, right? In reality, I had to work too hard with the nose for my tastes. If I swirl it around and get the evaporation going, or if I nose it after another dram, I get hit by that dairy farm [sulphur?] smell and it throws me off. If I approach it gently, there is all kinds of great stuff going on there. At times, it was truly great, but the greatness came and went. I couldn’t keep it in focus.

When I’m in the mood to concentrate and work on appreciating my dram, this could be right up at the top of my list. The bottom line, though, is that I’m ALWAYS in the mood for Lagavulin 16, Lagavulin DE or Laphroaig 30. With those whiskies, the nose comes to me and pulls me in, and the rest of the experience is pure enjoyment. For me, that puts them a notch above this expression.

Update: Definitely some indicators in the comments below that I might just be sensitive to sulphur, as both TIm F (The Whisky Exchange) and Ruben (WhiskyNotes) comment on sulphur notes, and Ruben points out that one of the Malt Maniacs even gave a warning about the level of sulphur in this expression. Maybe I need to search out another known sulphuric whisky and see how I react.

[Update 2] I’ve tried a couple of other whiskies that are known to have a sulphur component, and I had the same “dairy farm”/fireworks reaction that I had with this Laga 21. I’m pretty sure now that this is just the way I interpret a sulphur influence. I’ve also read enough in forums and blog posts now to realize that some people are much more sensitive to sulphur than others, so your mileage will likely vary on this.

Other opinions

It would appear that I’m not giving this whisky its full due. Everybody seems to rave about it. Reading the Whisky Magazine forum, there are a number of people declaring Lagavulin 21 as their favorite whisky of all time. The Malt Maniacs gave it the “top single malt” award for 2008. Here are some reviews:

  • WHISKYFUN.COM by Serge – 95 points from Serge. Obviously, he loves it. Lots of good info and interesting notes in this review.
  • Malt Maniacs #111 – In E-pistle 2009/06, Luca provides his notes on Lagavulin 21. He even warns that if you’re sensitive to sulphur, you might consider this one “over the top”. [Updated 6/24 per Ruben’s comment below (WhiskyNotes)] BTW – Follow the WhiskyNotes link on one of his comments. He has a great whisky blog.
  • The Whisky Exchange – Check out Tim Forbes’ notes. He doesn’t say so explicitly, but I think he might like this whisky more than sex!
  • Malt Advocate – Search the review archives by brand name (Lagavulin). Ah…finally, somebody else (John Hansell) who likes Laga 21 but doesn’t think it’s the second coming. Maybe I’m not completely crazy!

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Introduction

Port Askaig Samples

Port Askaig Samples

I think my wife was worried about me last night as I sat surrounded by four whisky nosing glasses (Port Askaig Cask Strength (57.1%), 17 year (45.8%), and 25 year (45.8%) expressions, as well as Signatory Caol Ila 14 year). I wanted to do a head-to-head and really get a feel for how these different Caol Ila expressions stack up based on my own preferences.  If you’re unfamiliar with Port Askaig (and why I’m referring to them as Caol Ilas), check out my full PA 17 review and/or this introductory post on The Whisky Exchange Blog.  In order to do the comparison, I ordered 30 ml samples of the whole Port Askaig range from whiskysamples.eu (my review of their service here). The Signatory was part of the mix just to provide a Caol Ila baseline for comparison. You can read my post on that one here.

Tasting Notes

I’ll start with a recap of the tasting notes from my full Port Askaig 17 post, using that as a baseline for the two other Port Askaig expressions. I did a full comparison on one night, then tried the CS and 25 by themselves the next two nights.  The first night, I nosed the full 30 ml samples, but then set 15 ml aside for the second tastings. I’ll describe the tastes, then editorialize more in the conclusion.

Port Askaig 17

On the nose, I get a strong citrus scent up front (lemon zest), followed by sweet peat and some smoke. Digging deeper, honey sweetness starts to turn a little richer, and there are possibly some apple notes in there.

On the palate, some citrus remains with the sweet peat, and then a bit of a pepper kick comes in and then dies off.

On the finish, as the pepper dies down, nice coal smoke builds up and joins the peat, coming up through the back of the nostrils.

Port Askaig CS

On the nose, you can tell this is a higher strength, with the alcohol hitting first. Then you get sweet peat and smoke. There’s something else there as well, which I interpreted as dry dog food (Nutro). Sorry, I don’t have a good human food equivalent to translate to at the moment. I felt it detracted slightly from the overall experience. The Caol Ila citrus is almost non-existent, but does come on a little with a couple of drops of water. Overall, this nose says “hello, I’m a peaty single malt, with more peat coming your way on the palate.”

On the palate, it’s not really that hot considering the alcohol volume. It seems a bit one-dimensional, with sweet peat being the primary taste. No surprises here.

On the finish, I’m getting that strong peat and coal smoke that I like with Caol Ila. Then it seems like a little of that dog food (or is it hay now?) comes back towards the end.

Port Askaig 25

On the nose, the citrus is toned way down from the 17, and what’s there is more of a candied orange than a zesty lemon. There’s a pretty strong caramelized sugar sweetness on this one, and the peat really takes a back seat to the other aromas. Overall, it’s quite mellow.

On the palate, the sweet, mild peat is there, and a light pepper comes on. It remains pretty mellow, though.

The finish is where I was most disappointed in this expression. The coal smoke that I like so much in Caol Ilas is all but gone. There’s an earthy peat and regular camp fire smoke that’s nice, but it’s not strong. Finally, I’m getting a tea flavor that reminds me of Bowmore 12. I don’t want tea on the finish. I want a solid peat/smoke combination.

Conclusion

I’m really glad I purchased the Port Askaig 17 full size bottle over the other two expressions. It’s definitely my favorite. I wanted to be wowed by the 25 year. It did have an enjoyable nose, but it was also quite tame. If it had come on strong on the finish with coal smoke, strong peat, and maybe a pepper kick, I probably would have been more than happy with it. However, with it staying mellow throughout, and adding that tea flavor on the finish, the 25 just didn’t quite do it for me. It’s nice, but not £75 nice. Finally, the CS was more of a pure peat play. I could drink this on a fairly regular basis when I need a peat fix, but it didn’t offer me much more than that.

The 17 year takes me back to the first time I tried Caol Ila 12 year. I took in that strong citrus scent that mixed in with the peat and sweetness, and proceeded to expect a relatively calm finish with muted peat and smoke.  Then bang! That build up of peat and coal smoke came on, along with some pepper, and it made for a great experience from start to finish. The PA 17 gives me that experience, but with a little more class.

Attempting to rate them

Ok…I’ve been avoiding providing ratings, as I’m still working my way through a lot of distilleries for the first time, and continuing to discover my own preferences. I’m also only picking up a few scents and flavors, where more experienced whisky aficionados can coax out much more. However, I’ll try to convey my feeling on these Port Askaigs by assigning ratings to a couple of other scotches that I’ve written about and feel comfortable with, and then providing relative scores for these three expressions.

Let’s say, just to provide context, that I were to assign the following ratings to other expressions: Laphroaig 30 (93 pts), Lagavulin 16 (91 pts), Laphroaig 15 (90 pts), and Caol Ila 12 (87 pts). Based on this, I would slot the PA 17 in at 89 pts, right up with my favorites. The PA CS and PA 25 would drop down to around 81/83 respectively; still very enjoyable drinks depending on my mood, but neither offering anything outstanding, and both having one thing that detracts from the experience (for my tastes).

Other Opinions

  • The Whisky Exchange Blog – Tim F provides his notes on the 17, and also states that this is his favorite of the three.
  • WhiskyNotes.be – Ruben provides great notes on the PA CS and the PA 25. He definitely likes the 25 more than I do, rating it at 88 pts vs. 82 for the CS. I’m looking forward to seeing what he thinks of the 17 year.
  • Malt Advocate Blog – John Hansell also prefers the 17 year (91 pts) to the 25 (85 pts). His review is the one that compelled me to purchase my bottle of the 17 year.
  • Edinburgh Whisky Blog – 17 and 25 year notes from Lucas.
  • Caskstrength.net – Another comparison of the 17 and 25 year expressions, with both rated very close together.
  • Spirit of Islay – Scroll down a bit for the 17/25 notes. He seems to really enjoy the 25 year.
  • Dr. Whisky – [Aug 12, ’09 Update] The good doctor just did his own comparison of the 17 and 25 year. It doesn’t sound like he’s quite as crazy about the PA 17 as I am, but he does like both, and seems to also prefer the 17 to the 25.

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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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