Laphroaig 20, 1996 (TWE “Masterpieces”)

Laphroaig 20, 1996, TWE "Masterpieces"
After a week of bourbon reviews (all Four Roses single barrels: here, here and here) let’s close out the month with single malt whisky. This Laphroaig was bottled by the Whisky Exchange for their annual Whisky Show in October and was apparently a huge hit there. Remaining bottles made it to the website with a single bottle limit per customer. I snagged one before it sold out. Why the fuss? Well, it’s a 20 year old Laphroaig from a sherry cask, and a PX sherry cask at that. (I should say that I have no idea if this was matured full-term in a PX cask or if it finished its life in one—these days in the Scotch industry it’s best not to take anything for granted.) Between the Islay premium, the Laphroaig premium and the sherry bomb premium this was not a bargain bottle—but as a Laphroaig fan it was hard for me to look past it. As I’ve said before, the successful marriage of peat and sherry is one of the greatest things in the whisky universe and Laphroaig in particular stands up to heavy sherry really well. Anyway, let’s get to it. 

Laphroaig 20, 1996 (50.6%; PX cask; The Whisky Exchange, “Masterpieces”; from my own bottle)

Nose: Rich, sticky sherry: marmalade, apricot and fig jam, leather, hoisin sauce, bbq pork. Smoke swirls all around the sweet notes: pipe tobacco and barbecue. Some savoury gunpowder too. Gets smokier as it sits and the smoke gets a bit drier. With a lot of time and air it gets sweeter and also more phenolic (ink). Water pulls the fruit out again and there’s some toffee too now.

Palate: Hits with the gunpowder and the smoke and a fair bit of salt on the backend. Very drinkable at full strength. More citrus on the second sip but more salt too and quite a bit of heavily charred pork. With time and air it gets smokier on the palate and there’s a nice cereal note too now. Fruitier here too with water and a bit sharper as well.

Finish: Long. The smoke is the story here and it gets ashier and then tarrier as it goes. It’s here that the phenols really reveal themselves. As on the palate with water. More salt hanging on into the finish too now and the smoke is sweet rather than ashy with water.

Comments: Probably not one for the sulphur-phobes, I have to say that when I first opened the bottle I thought the sulphur was a bit out of balance. But as the bottle approaches the 2/3 full mark it’s opening up nicely. I love how the fruit on the nose yields to a smokier palate which in turn gets intensely phenolic on the finish. One to drink slowly.

Rating: 90 points.

6 thoughts on “Laphroaig 20, 1996 (TWE “Masterpieces”)

  1. I managed to snag one as well, but was a bit disappointed in my first Laphroaig + Sherry combo. I’ve had Ardbeg that’s fully Sherry matured and absolutely loved it. Wondering if my bottle was simply too sulphuric, or my palette is more suited to the Ardbeg-Sherry combo as opposed to this

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  2. As I said, I thought the sulphur was out of balance when the bottle was first opened but it settled down with air. I don’t know how far down your bottle you’ve gone but these notes can often abate. And I’d give it a lot of time in the glass too. That said, I’m not overly sensitive to sulphur.

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  3. Thanks for a review of this bottling. I was gifted a bottle of this for my birthday/housewarming recently, and without knowing how it taste like, I knew it can’t be all that bad ;).

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  4. Serge reviewed this today and he was really not a fan: 81 points (and he doesn’t mention sulphur). Should be noted that at the recent Malt Maniacs Awards (Serge didn’t participate again this year) it averaged 88 points from the reviewers who were tasting blind and was the top peated whisky. It was not universally loved by them either—one person gave it 79 points.

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