Laphroaig, as I have noted, is my very favourite distillery and I’d long wanted to be able to try one of their older expressions. As I don’t believe in paying close to $100 in a bar for not very much whisky, and as there is no way that my love of Laphroaig could lead to my shelling out $500 for a bottle (which is what the going rate for Laphroaig 25s is in most parts of the US), I’d resigned myself to not ever tasting, let alone owning a bottle of Laphroaig 25. But then a fellow member of a whisky forum alerted me to a startling low price being asked for it by the state run Pennsylvania Liquor Board. As good friends of mine live within walking distance of one of the state owned stores I was able to purchase it as a splurge to celebrate the birth of our second child, and eventually it made its way to me.
This is the oldest Laphroaig I’ve had and also the most atypical. As to how much of that has to do with the age and how much with the composition of this malt, which is a vatting of oloroso sherry and American oak casks, I don’t know. I am assuming here that the American oak casks must refer to ex-bourbon casks. Serge points out in his review that most sherry casks are also made with American oak, but if all the casks were ex-sherry I don’t know why they wouldn’t just say that. That said, as you will see, I get approximately zero ex-bourbon notes from this. (By the way, if you read Serge’s notes and then read mine you’ll see it’s like we’re describing two entirely different malts. But then what the hell does that guy know about whisky?)
Laphroaig 25, 2009 Release (51%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Quite obviously sherried; not that this is a sherry bomb, but the first notes are of raisins and sweet and savoury gunpowder. Peat too, but it sits below the sherry notes, giving them greater weight. Some concentrated fruit as well: figs, something citrussy and something vaguely tropical as well. With time it gets more coastal: the saltiness now less of the sherry cask variety and more briny. The peat has all but disappeared but from time to time I do get some phenolic whiffs. With more time the fruit is more like fruit leather–some mango mixed with the figs and black salt over it all. Blind, there is no way in hell I would have picked this as a Laphroaig, especially if the glass had been handed to me after some airing. A few drops of water push the fruit back a tad and draw out some leafy smoke, but not a terribly large amount.
Palate: Starts out indistinctly, darkly sweet first, but then there’s the peat: rich and oily. Still not terribly smoky. The sherried notes come to the fore soon after, and the gunpowder is more pronounced on the palate. Smoke develops late. With time, the fruit is much more prominent, and quite clearly tropical in the manner manifested in a number of older whiskies from sherry casks. It’s the smoke that remains mostly an afterthought–showing up somewhat leafy and dry, trailing behind the fruit/gunpowder cocktail. Gets saltier as it sits. Water mutes the gunpowder, leaving the salt, but the fruit is still there. No smoke emerges on the palate with water. The fruit really gets quite concentrated with time–almost in old sherried Longmorn territory, and come to think of it, not a million miles either from the Scott’s Highland Park 1981, I reviewed some weeks ago.
Finish: Smoke, mild gunpowder, and then teasing hints of that concentrated fruit from the nose. Gets quite salty with time. Water doesn’t do much for the finish.
Comments: Well, this is quite pleasant but it’s not very Laphroaig–blind, I would have guessed Springbank from the nose. As noted above, Serge found very different things in it. I can’t quite figure out what the source of the discrepancy might be–my bottle’s been open a while, but the level is pretty good and the bottle gets a little spray of inert gas every time I pour a little from it; and, for what it’s worth, I don’t remember it being very different when first opened either. Ah well (but as it happens I didn’t like mine so very much more than he liked his).
This is the only Laphroaig of this age that I’ve had so I cannot comment on whether the qualities of this malt can be generalized to older (sherried) Laphroaigs more generally–the best things about it seem to be somewhat generic qualities associated with long-term sherry cask aging. Given my love of Laphroaig I’m not disappointed I bought this, but I am very grateful to the state of Pennsylvania for making it available for less than half the going rate in the rest of the US. And I’m very glad that more assertive young and teenaged Laphroaigs cost so much less than I paid even for this.
Rating: 87 points.