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Hi, this is one of our (almost) daily tastings. Santé!

May 20, 2014


Laphroaig, from one extreme to the other

Always a favourite, but recent NAS bottlings at 40% vol. have not impressed me too much. On the other hand, some indies keep issuing clean versions at cask strength that are often very… impressive.

Laphroaig 'Select' (40%, OB, 2014)

Laphroaig 'Select' (40%, OB, 2014) Two stars No age statement, 40% vol… everything’s a bit scary here. What’s more, the story is totally driven by wood types, as the recipe, according to the distillery’s website, seems to involve at time of writing ‘Olorosso (SIC) sherry butts, straight American white oak (non-filled with bourbon), PX seasoned hogs heads, Quarter Casks and finally of course First Filled Bourbon Casks.’ Who wrote that? Colour: pale gold. Nose: tea, oak and spearmint. Sawdust. This is totally un-Laphroaig I’m afraid, the coastal/medicinal/smoky side is there but it’s just whispering. Mouth: a little more to my liking but the global feeling is the same. Teas, mint, oak, nutmeg, cardamom… Having said that, the body’s rather bigger than expected, but the whole remains sweet and way too civilised for Laphroaig. In fact, it's flat. Finish: short (for Laphroaig), herbal. Spearmint tea, oak, coconut, vanilla. Comments: not an ugly juice but the sweet oak really feels, while the distillery’s character is, well, submerged. How coastal is that? I’m very disappointed, because I love Laphroaig, otherwise I wouldn’t care. A poor little thing, the kind that could make me want to quit whisky. Even the name ‘Select’ hints at East Berlin, circa 1970. SGP:535 - 70 points.

Laphroaig 15 yo 1998/2014 (46%, Signatory Vintage, Un-chilfiltered Collection, refill sherry butt, cask #700384, 797 bottles)

Laphroaig 15 yo 1998/2014 (46%, Signatory Vintage, Un-chilfiltered Collection, refill sherry butt, cask #700384, 797 bottles) Four stars Colour: gold. Nose: starts with a little gunpowder and used matches, goes on with a perfect sooty style. Old stove, coal, burnt fruits, then tar and diesel oil, Chinese sundried fish (no, really), old wine cellar, dried kelp, touches of mercaptan that smell ‘nice’ in this context, new leatherette… So it’s all very imperfect, and yet so much nicer than the official ‘Select’ – partly because it’s got stories to tell us. Mouth: same feeling. Totally imperfect, totally engaging. There are these sulphury notes again, some liquorice that’s ‘too much’, some burnt raisins that are ‘too much’, some dried fish that are ‘too much’, a leathery side that’s really ‘too much’… And yet the whole is almost perfect. Finish: many smoked and salted almonds are coming out. Comments: pernicious and perverse. Maybe that’s why I find it so… ah, erm, sexy? (please do not get me wrong!) Now, I guess the owners of the distillery could not bottle this kind. Actually, it’s probably flawed – technically speaking. SGP:357 - 87 points.

Let’s try an official again…

Laphroaig 10 yo 'Original Cask Strength' (57.2%, OB,batch 005, Feb. 2013)

Laphroaig 10 yo 'Original Cask Strength' (57.2%, OB,batch 005, Feb. 2013) Four starsAll whisky lovers love the 10 CS since the stunning first batches in their 1l bottles. You know, the ‘green stripe’ from the mid 1990s. Colour: gold. Nose: sure it’s got a modern Laphroaig style, with more US oak and less straight Laphroaigness, but one can still find good doses of antiseptic, kippers, seaweed, apple skins, fresh walnuts, coal smoke, iron and seawater. All is not lost! With water: a bit of sweet oak, but also smoked salmon, marzipan, peated barley, mercurochrome, a little tar, hessian, old fisherman’s boat and all that… In short, Laphroaig. Mouth (neat): a tidal wave of peat, myrtle and pepper, coated with honey, vanilla and brine. Works! With water: probably sweeter than earlier batches, and without the impressive tropical fruits that used to haunt them – but balance is kept. It gets also brinier. Finish: good length. Sweet peat, as they say, brine, kippers. Comments: the 10 CS is probably not the heavy hitter it used to be anymore, and it sure got sweeter and easier, but it’s still a lovely dram. Erm, not too sure loveliness is what we’re expecting from dear old Laphroaig. Anyway, time to look for pre-2010, if not pre-2000 batches, methinks. SGP:546 - 85 points.

Back to Signatory…

Laphroaig 16 yo 1997/2013 (55.4%, Signatory Vintage for Vinothek Massen, Luxemburg, refill sherry hogshead, cask #3369, 292 bottles)

Laphroaig 16 yo 1997/2013 (55.4%, Signatory Vintage for for Vinothek Massen & De Tongerse Whiskyvrienden, Luxemburg, refill sherry hogshead, cask #3369, 292 bottles) Five stars Luxemburg, tiny country, big connoisseurs! Colour: pale gold. Nose: there is just a discreet touch of gunpowder at very first sniffing, but much, much less than in the very rock and roll 1998 UCF. Also broken branches, menthol, bandages, sea air, oysters, camphor, even touches of passion fruits. Home! With water: oh! A walk on the beach, not obligatorily on Islay. Mouth (neat): immediate, obvious, definitive Laphroaigness, without the slightest notes of junk oak. Lemons, brine, seawater, seashells, eucalyptus syrup, smoke, liquorice, tinned sardines… So yeah, what we all like. With water: Luxemburg, go to hell! Finish: perfect, clean, salty, lemony, seashore-y, mildly medicinal. Comments: aaah. Just noticed that I hadn’t tried many 1997s so far. What seems to be dead sure is that the indies, especially Signatory, are having the upper hand these days, as far as Laphroaig’s concerned. SGP:357 - 91 points.

Laphroaig 22 yo 1991/2014 (49.8, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 168 bottles)

Laphroaig 22 yo 1991/2014 (49.8, Cadenhead, Authentic Collection, bourbon hogshead, 168 bottles) Five stars The 1990 and 1991 vintages have been excellent in my experience, but maybe they’ve lost their edge with age (well done, S.) Colour: white wine. Nose: similar, but seemingly softer, sweeter and rounder. Fruitier as well, I even find tinned pineapples. Having said that, the briny side starts to roar after a few seconds, and comes with notes of fresh almonds, branches, seashells (that’s right, whelks) and just whiffs of carbon paper. Remember carbon paper? Also whiffs of menthol cigarettes. Kools! Mouth: perfect. A blade. Peat smoke, anchovies, lemons, almonds, cough syrup and more lemon. I had thought this would be rounder and softer at 22. Finish: very long, with some pepper entering the dance. Also notes of vin jaune, which is even more perfect. Comments: it’s absolutely impossible to tell whether this one’s better than the 1998, or conversely. Another Senna-Prost situation. SGP:457 - 91 points.

All right, we might need some kind of conclusion, and we could stay at Cadenhead’s. How about this?...

Laphroaig 16 yo 1967/1983 (46%, Cadenhead, black dumpy)

Laphroaig 16 yo 1967/1983 (46%, Cadenhead, black dumpy) Four stars and a half We just cannot not think of the stunning 15 yo 1967 ‘sherrywood’ by the very same bottlers (WF 95), especially since this 1967 is quite dark as well, although it does not say ‘sherry’. Colour: amber. Nose: it’s one of these ‘wine-whiskies’. I’m not suggesting there’s wine inside, not at all, but it’s one of these whiskies that are as complex as an old Grand Cru from a great vintage. Sure I could try to build a list, but that would be pointless. There’s also the kind of old rancio that’s to be found in great old cognacs, there’s some olive oil, there’s some old balsamic vinegar, there are cigars, old Pu-erh tea, ‘opening an old wardrobe in grandma’s attic after fifty years’, old books, Al Capone’s pistol (c’mon!)… Maybe even drops of Worcester sauce. The only little downside is that it’s a little shy or fragile. Right, shy-ish. The palate will tell… Mouth: okay, it’s very good, but maybe not totally excellent. The peat is almost gone, and it’s unexpectedly round and jammy. I even find strawberry and raspberry jams, and yet it’s no Beaujolais Nouveau, is it? Having said that, the peat manages to come through after a few seconds, but the jammy side remains there. A little too sweet, I’d say. There’s also a cardboardy side. Finish: pretty long, but there’s always this jam. Strawberry jam with black pepper and a little dark honey. Comments: an utterly stunning nose and a palate that’s a little less convincing, because of the sweetness. Sweetness was already the enemy back in the roaring sixties! SGP:555 - 88 points.

(with hugs and thanks to Marcel)







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