Laphroaig 18, 1997 (Berry Bros. & Rudd)

Laphroaig 18, 1997, Berry Bros. & Rudd for The Whisky Exchange
This Laphroaig was bottled for the 2015 edition of the Whisky Exchange’s annual Whisky Show in London. I’ve tasted and purchased a number of these special bottlings over the years and they’ve always been very solid. So when the opportunity arose to get a large sample of this bottle in a split I jumped on it. As you will see below, I was not disappointed (this “introduction” is being written well after the notes were taken). Whisky geeks who are older and/or have more money rave about the tropical fruit notes in Laphroaig from the 1970s and earlier—notes that are not really present in latter day Laphroaig, which has tended to be all about the heavy peat and smoke. This one, from a cask filled in 1997, has a big whack of fruit; last year’s 200th anniversary release of the Laphroaig 15 had some fruit as well. Is this a note that’s re-emerging in middle-aged Laphroaig distilled around that time or is it just a case of unexpected things happening in certain casks? More data needed but it’s a welcome development if true.  

Laphroaig 18, 1997 (53.8%; Berry Bros. & Rudd for TWE; bourbon cask #46; from a bottle split)

Nose: Quite a lot of the usual medicinal peat but also quite a lot of sweetness: apple and, unusually for Laphroaig, berries; some lime below that. The lime turns to kaffir lime peel as it sits and picks up some prickly white pepper. There’s a bit of vanilla as well but the fruit is the story—hints of charred pineapple too now. Water emphasizes the fruit even more and brings out a creaminess.

Palate: Pretty much as promised by the nose but whoa, there’s a big hit of tropical fruit as I swallow: papaya, unripe mango, kiwi. Nice, oily texture as well. A lot more char on the second sip but this is about the unexpected fruit. And that fruit just keeps expanding as it sits: a lot more kaffir lime now and some melon. I don’t mean to suggest there’s no smoke—it’s wafting around and over the fruit. The same with water but a bit more intense.

Finish: Medium. The tropical fruit eases into the finish and then the smoke and pepper pick up again. The finish gets longer as it sits and then gets very long with water.

Comments: This was an excellent, fruity surprise! The 200th anniversary 15 yo had fruit too but not to this extent—and this has none of the shortcomings of that official release. I wish I’d bought a bottle at the original price, which I’m told was quite a bit lower than TWE are asking for it now. I have to admit the current price doesn’t look too bad for what this is either. Hmmmm.

Rating: 90 points.

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