Laphroaig 17, 1997 (SMWS 29.164)

Laphroaig 17, 1997 (SMWS 29.164)
This is the first of three Laphroaig reviews this week. This one was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society of America and in age, strength and cask type is very close to the recently discontinued OB 18 yo. I think I am in a bit of a minority among whisky geeks in liking the OB 18 yo a lot, but if this is close to it then I’ll be happy, Of course, being a SMWS release means it cost almost twice as much as the OB 18 (in Minnesota anyway). I have to also say that my batting average with recent SMWSA releases has not been stellar: 85 points for a 23 yo Clynelish, 87 points for a 22 yo Highland Park, 87 points for a 13 yo Springbank—these are not poor scores by any stretch of the imagination but the mystique of the SMWS promises better, and they’re certainly not shy with the prices. Will this finally be the bottle that convinces me that I should sign up for a membership?

Oh yes, the SMWS called this one “A Ballerina at the Barbecue”.

Laphroaig 17, 1997 (49.2%; refill bourbon hogshead; SMWSA 29.164; from a bottle split with a number of whisky geeks)

Nose: Soft, mild peat with quite a bit of vanilla. Some almond (oil) as well and some shortbread. Quite sweet; not particularly medicinal or coastal. With more time there’s some ashy smoke and a bit of lemon. Mild, on the whole. With a lot of time and air it’s now quite salty/briny. No interesting change with water.

Palate: Smokier here but also thinner and sharper (acidic). Indeed, it’s quite watery and one-note: liquid smoke with not much else going on. On the second and third sip the lemon emerges earlier but it’s all still much too thin. A little bit of improvement with time: there’s a hint of fruit but it dissipates into the thin smoke and acid before it can emerge. There is more depth with time, the peat is more medicinal and the fruit does get stronger (muskier citrus), but the smoke is still of the thin and sharp variety. Okay, let’s see if water fixes it further. No, it was better without: just a washed out ashtray now.

Finish: Medium-long. Some lemon emerges on the finish and some salt. Quite ashy at the end.

Comments: Hmmm I can’t remember the last time I had a Laphroaig from a reputable source that had so little oomph. I guess “A Ballerina at the Barbecue” is meant to indicate subtlety, but subtlety implies complexity and there’s none here. The nose is nice enough, if rather gentle, but it’s a bit of a mess on the palate to start. With a lot of time and air it picks up some intensity and some fruit but it’s still way too thin and simple. I’d have been disappointed if I’d shelled out for a full bottle.

Rating: 82 points.

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