Tuesday, 28 April 2015

An ode to Islay 8: Laphroaig

laphroaigA common gateway whisky for many of my friends and colleagues – Laphroaig Quarter Cask was the whisky that flipped the bit for me.  Laphroaig 10 is an absolute classic and something you can reliably buy in a normal bar, in a small tumbler, and have a whisky experience. That TCP, intense malt and sense of rightness is what does it (“The most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies”).  This is why the “dumbing down of Laphroaig” (Laphroaig Select, PX) causes outbursts of weeping and gnashing of teeth.  While I quite like Select, it’s not really in the same class of whiskies as Laphroaig 10.  And nothing says Laphroaig like the Signatory sherry cask for TWE back in 2013.  So – I have a deep love for Laphroaig, but a concern for the future.  And I need to lay down that case of quarter cask before they take it away from me…

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014, 51.4% A+

laphroaig-cairdeas-2014-edition-whiskyNose - At first, harsh cereal, a touch of hashish and pencil shavings.  Some bitter candle wax and a touch of cumin.  Sweet green Turkish chillis and deep fried... something.  Peanuts?  Or battered fish with lemon juice?  Then, acrylic paint and suddenly a load of cigarette tobacco.  A vinegar edge which may be the link with the deep fried feeling.  Deep down there’s the ever present intense Islay sweetness and toffee.  Actually there’s something like engine oil in there or some other lubricant - classic bike stuff.

Body - Sour, toasted peanuts and ash.  Lemon, orange and pear.  Oddly bright but with toffee at the back of the palate.

Finish - Long, sharp coal tar and grapefruit.  Bitter ash riding to the end with the deep sweetness.  

What’s not good about it - At first it’s a little harsh and sour, and so quite challenging.  And yes it’s very yellow.

What’s good about it - Complex, challenging, interesting and unapologetically weird. This is like a bottle of homebrew where the brewer has started with a solid base and added a few crazy things - grapefruit, coffee beans, charred lumps of oak – and by luck has come up with something that hangs together rather well.  Intense peat is weird anyway I guess, but we’re used to it - and needs sweetness to balance it.  Adding extra other weird stuff isn’t that unreasonable, and it balances out, mostly in the sour notes.  

I really like this, and bought a bottle - although I can’t see me opening it in a hurry.

Laphroaig 2001, Old Particular, 14 years old, Feis Ile 2015, 48.4% B+

Refill butt #10694.  A Feis Old Particular!  And very expensive to boot!  It’s Laphroaig though, go on then.  Better be good.

laphroaig-14yo-old-particular-feis-2015Nose - Mucky (good), sour, granite peat.  Quite young, like a young Bunna.  Toast with honey, salt and vinegar crisps.  Competent, interesting, but not really pushing my buttons.  Mind you, my buttons have had a right good pushing recently. With water, sweeter, sourer and muckier.  A touch of privet hedge and some trifle (sponge fingers and cream).

Body - Light, winey, some jelly sweets, a touch of gentle “new style” Laphroaig peat, more gentle, young bunna.  With water, just a bit boring.  

Finish - Long, dirty cereal, then garage, and bran flakes.

What’s not good about it - Quite a boring delivery, barely Laphroaigy and well overpriced.

What’s good about it - There’s some good, dirty musk on the nose, waxy and with a touch of swimming pool.  Promises much.  Interesting with water on the nose.

Laphroaig: Warehouse Cask #127, 2005, 59.2%  A⊕+

25cl bought as part of the water to whisky tour that Johnnie Stumbler was on.  I owe so much to the Stumbler, but this is a big one for me. I called the distillery after tasting this and confirmed I can think again if I think I’m going to sweet talk anyone into giving me more of this remotely.  Thank you JS for sharing a sample of this very special Laphroaig with me!

souvenirNose - Perfumed peat, lemon boiled sweets, patchouli joss sticks, dark toffee, wood, wood, wood and sawdust.  Swimming pools.  Makes me remember rehearsal studios and A-levels.  I think it’s because these basically taste of smoking beedis.  

Body - Eeeesh - dark toffee peat, and intensity.  Perfect balance and integration.  Heated plastic.  Young and insanely confident.  

Finish - Long, numbing, perfect peat and soap.  Tannic, like overbrewed tea. Cracked black pepper and lolly sticks.  Just so addictive.

What’s not good about it - Nothing if you like Laphroaig.  Apart from the fact you can’t buy it, although I suppose you could go on four £80 distillery tours.

What’s good about it - Single cask Laphroaig perfection.  Challenging, elegant, evocative, integrated, individual and totally beautiful. Why do I have a litre of Laphroaig PX and 3cl of this?  Something not right there.

Laphroaig, PX Cask, 48% B+

laphroaig_px_cask_triple_matured-pNose – This is the best part of the PX.  I’ve been working my way through this bastard for a long time.  God I hate travel retail litres. Ripe, sweet fruits – cherry sweets, juicy apple – interwoven with mature, musky, laph peat and oak. 

Body – Middle of the road, yet lacks midrange?  A triumph.  It has a winey sweetness that follows on from the nose, but gentle, gentle, gentle. 

Finish – Quite long actually, dry and competent. 

What’s not good about it – The delivery is too gentle.  Basically, I’m having the same reaction as Yoav had to Select.  I’ve only just realised.

What’s good about it – Beautiful, sweet, winey nose, complex and mushroomy.  Competent delivery.

Elements of Islay Lp4, 54.8% A⊕

elem_lp4Nose - Oh yes... bright, oiled, lemon boiled sweets and perfumed peat - juicy tobacco and more sweet joss sticks.  A really juicy blend of Laphroaigs - beautiful balance of peat and sweet, with a backing of burnt oak logs.  With water, separates into charcoal seared chicken marinated in lemon juice.  

Body - Sweet wood, tapers, oily sweets, oily rags and wet tobacco.  With water, more relaxed and starts to take its time - warming and meaty.  Pretty epic.

Finish - Long, spicy, lemon peppery.  Beautiful, even more so with water.  I could drink this forever. 

What’s not good about it - Nothing.

What’s good about it - Fascinating.  Perfumed, elegantly peated, juicy and balanced.   Unputdownable.

Elements of Islay Lp5, 52.4% A⊕

I reviewed this before but it just goes to show the dangers of drinking peated whisky at the end of a big night.  God, maybe I need to start spitting (heaven forbid).

Anyway, this one has Billy Abbot’s name on it - imagine having your name on a bottle of whisky!  When I congratulated him on it, he was all modest.  Maybe he just said “yes” to a great cask of Laphroaig.  Still, it’s like writing a book.  Quite an achievement.

elem_lp5Nose - Big, lemon, peaty wax.  Sweet magazines, sweet cigarettes, a little crayon and nougat in rice paper.  With water, more nougat and warmer wax.  I might just start drinking Elements of Islay whisky the whole time.  

Body - Lemon sherbet, dusty sweets (fizzers), gentle peat.  With water, dustier and juicier. I like it.

Finish - Medium, more fizzers, then long hammy peat at the end. 

What’s not good about it – The finish is a little short for me.  A little more complexity on the delivery would be nice.  Small comments though, I’d happily spend a night with this.

What’s good about it - Beautiful balance throughout and has an almost Ardbeg sweet peat character.  Perfect nose and bags of complexity on the nose.  

Compared to Lp4, the 5 is less challenging and sweeter on the nose, and hence more delicious, where the 4 is more musky and lightly sulphured.  On the delivery, the 4 is spicier and more sherried, more chewy and much more peated.  The 5 is significantly more easy going.  Both are delicious and both epic Laphroaigs.

Laphroaig 10 year old, 40% A⊕

It is a classic.

Laphroaig_10YO_bottle__87918_zoomNose - Sweet, sweet lemon peat, pine wood shavings, Musky, earthy peat, moss and old bark.  Freshly cooked mussels.  A touch of mint, a woodland floor in the rain.  With water, a little more lemon sugar, brighter, more medicinal peat.  

Body - Light, astringent rope and tannins.  Ripe, citrus peat and antiseptic cream.  Waxy, numbing mandarins.  With water, clearer and fresher.

Finish - Long, thin but oily, surprisingly fruity - orange juice and zest.  With water, disappointingly hot doggy.

What’s not good about it - Not much - an older version would have more fruit and complexity but this is delicious and bright at 10.

What’s good about it - A classic for good reason.

Laphroaig An Cuan Mor, 48% A+

Great name.  Thanks Barry for the sample of this.

Laphroaig-An-Cuan-MorNose - Gentle, sweet and competent.  I’m very much reminded of Uigedail.  Lovely ripe peat, cut plum, a circular saw through pine boards, ozone and a just a little nagging note of old cereal and piss (no one's reading this, right?).

Body - Now I’m reminded of young Kilchoman, with hay, barnyard and bright, sour mineral.  

Finish - Intensely tannic.  A bit of dusty parmas.  Quite long and farmy.

What’s not good about it - A little bad sulphur, and lacking some midrange.

What’s good about it - Bright, complex, a bit naughty, and lacking no intensity, this was unexpectedly interesting and balanced.  Not quite sure why my expectations were set so low, I think it was by the (rather boring) PX cask.

Next up, some random Port Ellens I was lucky enough to get a taste of.

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