There’s a lot of Laphroaig about in the world and this is a good thing. Generally more forthright and robust than most Caol Ilas, more various than Lagavulin (just the 12 yo cs, the iconic 16 yo and not an indie in sight), and always more not-eye-roll-inducing than Ardbeg, Laphroaig is my pick of the iconic Islay distilleries that are on a similar peaty continuum (Bowmore is a different kind of animal and Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte and Octomore lines are not quite iconic yet–ditto for the very promising Kilchoman).
Of their official bottlings, the 25 yo is priced astronomically (and, from my very limited experience, doesn’t quite live up to the price tag), but everything below it is priced reasonably–though if you live in California you may beg to demur re the 18 yo (let me soothe you by noting that for almost two years it was available for $43 from a notorious store in Minneapolis, and is now up to $80 in the region). And there’s a lot of it available from independents–mostly 21 years and below (I don’t recall seeing any much older indie Laphroaigs in the last couple of years). So, if you like a good thing, and like having a lot of iterations of that good thing available to you, then Laphroaig is the good thing for you. It certainly is for me.
The bottle I am reviewing tonight is from The Whisky Agency, a German bottler who came to prominence a few years ago, like Malts of Scotland, and like Malts of Scotland have a strong reputation and, increasingly, prices to match. I was lucky enough to snag this bottle (and a few more from other independents) right before the price of all Laphroaigs in their mid-high teens or older started to rise sharply. The Whisky Agency isn’t known only for making good cask selections, however; their label designs are consistently striking/beautiful/idiosyncratic, even if they rarely have anything to do with the whisky in the bottle. I don’t know why more independent bottlers don’t make just a little bit more effort with aesthetics.
Laphroaig 20, 1990-2010 (56.1%, Bourbon Hogshead; from my own bottle)
Nose: A little closed at first. Then some sweet peat, and also something meaty; smoke and graphite lurk underneath. With time and air, lemon and salt. With more time and a dribble of water, the lemon takes on a paraffin/diesel edge and the smoke gets more phenolic and more assertive.
Palate: Very salty and briny at first, and then sharp smoke. Quite lemony/vinegary. Direct and assertive. After a while some sweetness develops. With water, the smoke gets rounder and sweeter and as on the nose, it’s more phenolic too now.
Finish: Long, smoky, briny, with the sweet peat emerging towards the end. Not much change with water except maybe the sweet peat emerges earlier.
Comments: Not very complex but very, very nice. I am tempted to say very, very Laphroaig, but I have a feeling, blind, I would have a tough time telling that this is a Laphroaig and not a Caol Ila or even Ardbeg. It’s not quite as brash as younger Laphroaigs can be, and I also don’t get the bacony note from this that I often get from younger Laphroaigs. And again, while I penalize some whiskies for not being very complex, I do not hold that against this one because I love this profile. Yes, I am biased, but at least I am shameless enough to flaunt my biases. The bottle is at the halfway mark now and I know I should finish it soon; but I am reluctant as I don’t know when or if 20 yo (+) Laphroaigs of this quality will be within my reach again.
Rating: 89 points.