The old Laphroaig 15, much beloved of many peat-loving whisky geeks, was discontinued in favour of the 18 yo a few years ago. I’ve marveled before at this circumstance, which seems unimaginable in our current whisky world: a major distillery discontinuing a 15 yo whisky in their core range in favour of one that’s three years older and at a higher strength (without the price moving very much—not in MN anyway). Now, of course, there are rumours that the 18 yo is on the way out too. I don’t know if these are true but I doubt very much that we’d get a regular issue and affordable 21 yo out of it. Anyway, as part of their 200th anniversary celebrations this year, Laphroaig brought back a special release of the 15 yo. Opinions have been mixed but there was little chance, frankly, given my love of Laphroaig that I would pass on a bottle. And this is the bottle I did not pass on. Let’s get to it.
Laphroaig 15, 200th Anniversary Release (43%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Soft peat at first, phenolic but not aggressively smoky. Quite a bit of peppery citrus too (grapefruit, kaffir lime leaf) and then a flash of something more musky or tropical (some melon perhaps or was that guava?). Sweeter with a bit of air: seashells but also some vanilla. With more time the fruity and phenolic notes are in perfect balance. A whiff of paraffin too now and then later a butyric note appears. Water gets rid of the butyric thing but also pushes back the phenols; the vanilla expands a bit but it’s mixed in nicely with the peppery fruit.
Palate: Ashier smoke to start but then there’s all the fruit: the peppery citrus and yes, it’s melon of some kind. Smoke again on the back-end. With more time the vanilla note starts showing up and expanding here too. Water makes it sweeter still but then it gets more tarry. The mouthfeel is a little thinner than I would like.
Finish: Medium-long. The smoke lingers a good while as does the fruit. With time that bit of vanilla that showed up on the nose pops up again here. More fruit with water and it’s a little spicier.
Comments: I was expecting this to be very oak-driven but it’s not. It’s much fruitier than the 15 yo in its incarnation in the few years leading up to its discontinuation (which is when I mostly drank it). Still, the vanilla sweetness that expands late on the palate and finish is reminiscent of some recent missteps (the Select) and holds it back for me. I would recommend it to those who, like me, are big fans of the distillery—its fruity quality is not easily found in the more affordable bottles of Laphroaig out there. But I don’t think I’ll be getting another (and no, I didn’t buy three bottles of this one: the two in the background in the pic above are my last bottles of the previous version). I do wonder how much better still it would have been at the 18 yo’s 48%. I guess they wanted to keep it at the strength of the old 15 yo.
(The notes above were taken when the bottle was first opened. Now it’s closer to the halfway mark and it’s less phenolic and a touch more butyric on the nose; and on the palate there’s more vanilla. If you get a bottle, drink it quick.)
Rating: 86 points. (Blended score: 87 points when first opened, 85 points near the halfway mark.)
[And see here for Michael K.’s review.]