Laphroaig 20, 1990 (SMWS 29.97)

Laphroaig 20, 1990, SMWS
After last Tuesday’s Port Ellen here is another sherried and peated Islay malt: a Laphroaig that is just two years older (though distilled a decade later). This is from the Single Malt Whisky Society and, like all their releases, bears a very silly name: “Below Decks on HMS Victory”. I assume they have a random phrase generator that they use to come up with these things and then run the results through a filter that makes them 85% sillier. Anyway, whatever the name, it will have to be good to live up to the last Laphroaig 20, 1990 I reviewed: that was this one from the Whisky Agency, albeit from a bourbon hogshead. Last week’s Port Ellen was not particularly sherried, but this one, as you can tell from the picture, promises to be quite intensely so, despite being from a refill butt. The marriage of peat and sherry is one of life’s great pleasures when it clicks, and here’s hoping it did here.

Laphroaig 20, 1990 (59.1%; SMWS 29.97, “Below Decks on HMS Victory”; refill sherry butt; from a sample received in a swap)

(The sample label seems to indicate this was bottled in 2012 but as per Whiskybase it was actually bottled in 2011.)

Nose: Oh yes, that was a loud click I just heard: a bit of gunpowder, yes, but then rich raisin and orange peel with earthier notes of mushroom and leather; some dark soy sauce too and some pencil lead/graphite. Mild phenolic smoke beneath it all but it doesn’t make much of an impression early. With more time it gets quite meaty: cured pork, charred and served with barbecue sauce. With even more time the sweeter notes expand with a bit of a caramel edge to the raisins. Mellower with a few drops of water, with the caramel turning into toffee.

Palate: Starts out sweet and then comes all the stuff from the nose; gunpowder here too but it’s in the middle of all the other stuff. The smoke is drier here and expands towards the finish. A lot more salt too. The gunpowder moves to the top after a bit and gets a bit too loud. With more time the citrus gets brighter—somewhere between orange and lemon. Water makes it sharper but at least half of that is from more lemony acid. With a LOT of water added at the very end (about 5 ml to 5 ml of whisky) the sulphur finally gets knocked out but so does most everything else.

Finish: Long. The smoke is most prominent here, and more tarry, but the orange peel also perks up again. Lots of salt at the end. Alas, with time the gunpowder is more assertive here too. Water knocks the gunpowder back a bit and brings out more of the mushroomy/earthy quality. Still, my mouth’s quite furry by the time the glass is empty.

Comments: This started out beautifully and seemed like it was headed for a 90 point score. But then the gunpowder in the palate got a bit unbalanced and “dirty” and not enough other compensations showed up (the nose was lovely throughout). Still, it’s very good stuff and I’d be very happy if I had a bottle (especially at the original price).

Rating: 87 points.

Thanks to Teemu S. for the sample!

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