Laphroaig 18 year Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky Review
* This review published in the Islay Daily Newspaper on 7/01/13
This is my second Islay Scotch review in as many days. Its an Islay weekend!! I detailed in my Bunnahabhain 12 Year Review much related to the Islay island and the utilization of peat in the whisky making process there. Please reference that review for background education on this legendary island! So on to the specifics of this 18 year old dram from a well known islay distillery. I have been a fan of their 10 year and bought this bottle interested in how the 18 would compare. And so let’s find out about a bit about this brand and this particular bottling…
The below video shows a nice short compilation of life at Laphroaig. Watch for the cutting into the peat bogs about 6 seconds in. Most have never seen a Scottish peat bog and it shows how they cut into it, bring it back to the distillery and throw it on the fire to help dry the barley. An pretty idyllic place as you can see as well
They write of their whisky that it is “The Worlds most richly flavored Scotch Whisky” and it is hard to deny that it is quite a powerfully flavored dram. A very rich drinking experience, but… what are the flavors that are so richly expressed? I will see.
From their website:
“There are 3 main ingredients for making Laphroaig – Barley, Water, and Yeast, but the secret ingredient is the People.” Laphroaig (La-froyg) is the story of a community. An uncompromising, tough and determined group of people who work to ensure that this defining whisky has always remained true to its origins.These origins can be found in Islay itself – its harsh climate and tough landscape have created a hardy people whose single-mindedness and honesty is as distinctive as Laphroaig.
They have some really great videos that detail pretty explicitly what makes Laphroaig what it is and also helps to educate on much of what goes into the Scotch making process (some of it specific to Islay). They are relatively short, well made and I think very much worth watching. I give them a lot of credit for taking the time and effort to produce such worthwhile videos. It also details the association that they have with the Makers Mark distillery in the U.S.. They really give a great introduction into how much work goes into the glass that you carefully enjoy!
The specific bottling in reference for this review:
The 18 Year Old expression of Laphroaig is made in limited quantities each year. It is bottled at 48% ABV and is non-chill filtered for a depth of taste and texture. It retails for between $75 – $85.
And so my review:
It has a pretty forgettable appearance. Relatively light (from a lack of coloring and lack of darker wood) and with not a hint of cloudiness which is nice. Subdued and a bit feminine but doesn’t want to make its appearance particularly stand out. Nothing distracting or unpleasant, just that the appearance doesn’t really make a powerful statement.
Nose: Smoked bandaids! Yes. And it slaps you across the cheek. I have heard it said (and have experienced it myself) that when a bottle of heavily peated Islay Scotch is opened, you can smell it across a large room. Smoke (peat) and bandaids (the iodine in the water). These very powerful aromas do take front and center on the nose, but let it open and let your nostrils relax a bit (from the gentle pummeling that they initially get) and there are also freshly picked apricots, candied sugar, old horse saddle and stable, parsley, mint, day old mown grass, white chocolate and Afgani incense. What at first is an overpowering and singleminded nose, opens up to be quite complex and beguiling… actually inspiring memories you have had or perhaps will have. Oh and very little to indicate the 96 proof. Very little heat. Ultimately a very complex and intriguing nose.
Taste: Relatively creamy mouthfeel. Rather nice, loose and easy flowing yet substantial at the same time. Fruitcake… yes a very rich fruitcake comes through in the middle. A rich deeply sugared nuttiness and well cooked peaches, pears and oranges. Orange peel comes through in the middle and then comes back at the end. Yes orange peel is a defining characteristic. Only for a brief moment (it awakens and then it is gone) does the heat of the 96 porof express itself here at the end. Some dark chocolate almonds as it is leaving and much muskiness and stickiness at the end. Very oily and tongue coating. Will take some doing to get this off of the breath. The finish doesn’t really leave you.. it almost doesn’t “finish”. Very sticky with burnt and spicy sugar at the end.
Balance: I would say it has a unique but definite balance. It announces itself like a Sherman Tank in the beginning, opens up to aromas that tell you there is something really interesting going on that you need to release yourself to, develops a tasty creaminess, relaxes for a bit and then hammers its way home. It starts and finishes BIG and presents a pretty complex story in between.
Overall, this Scotch has serious flavor. It is not timid or subdued, it hits you and says “if you are willing to sit back and go along for the ride.. there will be a lot to experience and you will remember it for some time!” But is it flavor that I would want to continue to go back to on a very regular basis? I don’t think so.. but for me high peat Islay Scotches have always been for unique occassions (when I really want to be pushed into something big), for times when I want to only drink Scotch and not have much with it (I question how many types of food there are that would pair well with this) and for when I want to smoke a cigar. Peat and iodine go great with cigars for some reason. They are all powerful aromas and flavors and they work very well together. A glass of this 18 year and a great Churchill on a sunny Fall afternoon would be a very good way to spend a Fall afternoon! This is a complex, rich Scotch that cannot be contained and has flavors that work very well for me on certain occasions but not so much on others.
Score: 8 Black Cats (out of 10)
We are all warriors and we need to celebrate,
Chris (wearing one of my contests shirts)
Great article. Your writing appeals to all five senses.
Laphroaig is one of my favorite scotches. I still remember the first time I smelled it and I remember the first time I drank it. These were separate occasions because after smelling it initially there was no way I was going to drink it. As my taste for single malts expanded Laphroaig sat upon the shelf, undrunk, challenging me day after day. Since I started with sweeter, easier to drink scotches I had formed in my mind a progression toward peatier, harder to drink scotches – Laphroaig being the ultimate. I could not consider myself a ‘scotch drinker’ until I had made my peace with this daunting elixer.
One late afternoon after having set up the bar and finding myself with an hour to kill before opening time, I sat down with a Romeo y Julieta and decided the time had come. I opened the bottle and my body was permeated with the aroma. I was under its spell. I couldn’t escape. I didn’t want to. I was transported to a place of pure earth and bounty. After a long and slow pour the light reflecting from the wooden bar top was trapped in its amber. I put it to my lips, savored the nose and poured a healthy portion of it over my tongue. A strange and thrilling flavor filled my mouth. It was shocking and exhilarating. I knew at once that my fear of the peat was unwarranted. A new world had opened up to me and i was glad to be there.
Thanks very much for the compliment! I do try my best to not only educate in my reviews, but also transcribe every detail of my experience (always being honest.. detailing the good and the bad) with the dram so as to allow my readers the best chance at my interpretation of what they will be getting when they pour.
You are so right that a heavily peated Scotch is for most the final frontier in drinking. It announces itself across the room and one must be willing to take a real adventure.
A very richly worded comment indeed, and while I might not know you.. I believe we definitely have a similar approach to drinking and appreciating fine spirits!