Laphroaig 14, 2000 (Old Malt Cask)

OMC Laphroaig 14

I purchased this Laphroaig in knee-jerk mode. Laphroaig is my favourite distillery; sherried Laphroaigs are thin on the ground; the marriage of peat and sherry is great when it works out; almost every sherried Laphroaig I’ve had has been very good. So this seemed like as sure a bet as I was ever going to make.

I opened this bottle for one of local group’s tastings earlier in the fall and it did not do so well. One person did like it a lot but almost everyone else had it as their bottom whisky of the night (we drink an ounce each of four whiskies at each tasting and everyone other than me drinks blind). It wasn’t my bottom whisky but I didn’t give it a high score either. The problem? Sulphur. Now, it’s been my experience that sulphur can sometimes dissipate and so I let the bottle sit for a long time before coming back to taste it again. I could tell that there was a very nice whisky under there somewhere and I hoped time and air would pull it out. Did it happen? I’m sorry to kill the suspense, but no, it did not. There was some improvement but it remained a sulphured mess.

Laphroaig 14, 2000 (50%; Old Malt Cask; refill sherry butt 10432; from my own bottle

Nose: Struck matches everywhere, dominating everything else, which includes hints of raisins, plum sauce and something leathery (and smoke and iodine, of course). After letting it sit uncovered for quite some time the sulphur recedes a bit and some cereally notes emerge along with the fruity sherried notes, but there’s some rubber too now. Better with water, with the fruit most expressive now.

Palate: Pretty much as on the nose. All the good stuff is here but all but drowned out by sharp notes of struck matches. Saltier than on the nose. With more time (or as my palate adjusts) the sweeter notes come out a bit more along with the cereal, and there’s as much rubber as struck matches now. With even more time though the sharpness is back. Okay, time to add water. Alas, the palate is not better with water.

Finish: Long. The sulphur is most palatable here as it fades and comes into better balance with the salt and the smoke; gets meatier and inkier as it goes and the smoke expands as well. Water makes the sulphur far sharper on the finish.

Comments: I have a high sulphur tolerance, and sulphur of the struck matches/gunpowder variety is the type that bothers me the least—but while it’s not undrinkable this was still a bit much for me, even though it did improve with time and air (and on the nose with water). A huge pity given the general goodness of sherried Laphroaig and the fact that everything I was hoping for is clearly present under the cloud of sulphur. The finish was, I thought, the best part. Oh well.

I should note that I’d sent Florin, the exiled king of Ruritania, a sample a few months ago and he loved it (the Ruritanian royal palace is located in the crater of an active volcano, I believe). So much so that when he heard that I was planning to consign the rest of my bottle to blending experiments he agreed to purchase most of the rest of it (another sample is on its way to Sku, and I’ll be interested in his take as well).

Rating: 79 points.

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