I think I had my first pour of Laphroaig 10 in 2005. Until now I’ve not had any iterations of this classic malt distilled/bottled in earlier eras. The whisky in this sample, which I received in trade from Sku, was bottled in 2000, so it’s not so very much older than the earliest I’ve had but it will still be interesting to compare it with very recently bottled Laphroaig 10. Everyone says Laphroaig’s character has changed in just the last 10 years or so (and for most people this is a narrative of decline)—it’ll be interesting to see if I find it to be very different, and if so, in what ways. Accordingly, I am nosing and tasting it alongside an equivalent pour from my previously reviewed bottle of Laphroaig 10, which was probably bottled in the last couple of years (I’ve still not found time to hunt for and squint at its bottling code).
To make things easier I’ve pasted in the notes from the previous review in brackets above each section of this one (I didn’t bother taking fresh notes on the other bottle this time as it doesn’t seem appreciably altered since my review).
Laphroaig 10 (43%; bottled in 2000; from a sample received in a swap)
[Recent Laph 10 Nose: A big wave of smoke, phenolic and ashy and cereally all at the same time. Peated lemons below the smoke and then muskier fruit and a touch of ham. Gets sweeter as it sits, with apple joining the cereals while the smoke wafts all around. With even more time the acid returns and some notes of vanilla-cream emerge. A couple of drops of water pull out more of the fruit.]
Older Laph 10 Nose: A bit hit of peat and smoke: more phenolic than the newer version (which is ashier). Less cereally and lemony, but there’s also far less vanilla. It’s not that there’s no sweetness here, it’s that the sweetness is much more coastal (sea urchin, shells, kelp). The phenols are even more intense with water which also makes the smoke tarrier. After a minute it gets creamier.
[Recent Laph 10 Palate: As on the nose the smoke and cereals make the first impression with the fruit arriving as I swallow (again, citrus first and then sweeter notes heading towards the finish). The mouthfeel is just a tiny bit too thin but it’s very far from watery. The phenolic notes intensify with time. With water the smoke gets a little sharper and there’s some menthol coolness.]
Older Laph 10 Palate: Much closer on the palate with ashy smoke arriving first with sweeter notes arising below. Again, far less fruit than in the newer version. On the second sip the smoke is tarrier and inkier and the sweetness, as on the nose, is reminiscent of shells etc.. Gets sweeter as it goes but also gets even more phenolic and tarry; and salt starts showing up as well. Thicker mouthfeel. With water there’s some lemon and, as on the nose, some cream (stopping short of vanilla); but it’s no less phenolic.
[Recent Laph 10 Finish: Medium-long. The late arriving fruit expands with the lemon edging into muskier, almost tropical notes before collapsing into the underlying ash. At the very end the smoke gets more tarry. As on the palate with water.]
Older Laph 10 Finish: Long. Much longer than the newer version and it’s here that the greater depth of phenolic smoke in the older one is most obvious: it just takes over my mouth. No burst of fruit here either. As on the palate it gets saltier with time. Water mutes the phenols on the finish and shortens it.
Comments: Well, I can tell you one thing that hasn’t changed at all: the colour! It’s the exact same hue as the current/recent Laph 10. All hail the wonders of caramel colouring! As for the rest, as you can see, I found a clear difference between the old(er) and the new(er) versions. This older Laph 10 is much more phenolic and much more coastal in character. In fact, there’s not a whole lot more going on past those notes. I much prefer this aspect of the older one, and I can see how people who were used to this style of Laphroaig 10 might bemoan its transition to the current style (though they’re closer with water added). However, as someone who cut his teeth, so to speak, on the new(er) style I have to say that I did miss here the cereals and lemon and ashier smoke of the current version (though the citrus did also taste sharper when tasted head-to-head). I do not, however, miss the stronger vanilla on the nose. So to some extent while there’s something clearly lost in the transition, there’s also something gained. That said, I prefer this older one and its more robust charms. But I certainly don’t feel like comparison renders the newer version disappointing per se—I’m happy to keep drinking it.
Rating: 89 points.
Thanks to Sku for the sample!