Laphroaig is perhaps my favourite distillery (Highland Park and Bowmore are currently the other contenders) and it is not a distillery that needs much of an introduction to even the casual whisky drinker. Along with Lagavulin it is perhaps the most well-known of the Islay distilleries to the general drinking public, and, like Lagavulin, its reputation is also uniformly high among whisky geeks (unlike, say, the Macallan, which has high name-recognition among casual drinkers but is not rated as high by most whisky geeks). That reputation is for uncompromising peated whisky, mostly from bourbon casks. Unlike the third iconic south coast Islay purveyor of heavily peated whisky, Ardbeg (or Bruichladdich to the north), Laphroaig and Lagavulin do not engage in much marketing flim-flam or mad-scientist experimentation; and unlike Lagavulin (or the slightly less heavily peated Caol Ila), Laphroaig is not owned by the Evil Empire of Scotch Whisky, Diageo. (Though it must be noted that it is not as though Laphroaig is some quaint family-owned cottage distillery; it is part of the Jim Beam portfolio.) These things certainly help with the reputation; but most importantly, the whisky is usually very good. And there’s a lot of bottlings of the whisky out there–unlike Lagavulin and Ardbeg–which allows those who like it to try many iterations of it.
Most Laphroaigs out there on the market are from bourbon casks. There are excellent sherried Laphroaigs out there too but they are harder to find, and at older ages, often more expensive. To my palate, there are very few pleasures as direct in the world of whisky as those offered by a high quality 8-15 yo Laphroaig from a bourbon cask. Very rarely the most complex whisky, but it tells you it’s coming when you pour it, holds your attention while you’re drinking it, and you know it was there when it’s gone. I’m not sure I’d like it if it were a person, but luckily it’s a whisky. The bottle I am reviewing was bottled by Malts of Scotland, a German independent bottler with a strong reputation, and, alas, prices rising to match.
Laphroaig 13, 1998 (Malts of Scotland, 53.4%, Bourbon Hogshead 5920; from my own bottle)
Nose: First, a big cereally note, followed immediately by sweet, pungent smoke. Kelp, iodine, brine, bandaids: textbook young bourbon cask Laphroaig; indeed comes across much younger than it is. After a little bit of time an acidic note displaces the sweetness; some sort of citrus oil (lemon?). With time the citrus oil and the sweetness figure out a way to co-exist. This doesn’t really need water, but let’s see if further goodness awaits: ah yes, with some water a strong scent of long-preserved lemons; the smoke recedes a little (or has it just beaten my nostrils into submission?). A musky, fruity note develops and then a wave of brine. This is quite the ride.
Palate: Pepper, lemon, a sweet smokiness that turns to ash. Preserved lemons that have been rolled in the embers of a charcoal fire. Why do I love Laphroaig so? This is why. With water more or less the same but it gets more phenolic and a little more minerally.
Finish: Long, lemony, ashy. Same as on the palate. A little bitter at the very end and then the smoke expands. A little sweeter with water.
Comments: A very Laphroaigy Laphroaig indeed. As noted above, tastes younger than 13 years old. It also looks much younger–almost as clear as water in the glass–but if this was an inactive cask the whisky is a tribute to the quality of the Laphroaig distillate. Nothing very unusual happening here, but everything that’s happening is very good. I could drink this every day and be happy. In fact, I have been drinking it at a rapid rate, and soon it will be gone, just a few months after it was opened. And then I will not be happy.
Rating: 88 points