Here is the last of three simul-reviews this month with Michael K. of Diving for Pearls. We’ve previously reviewed a Caol Ila 20, 1996 and a Glen Ord 18, 1997. Both were bottled by Montgomerie’s for Total Wine. This Laphroaig is also a Total Wine exclusive (I’m pretty sure) but it was bottled by a far more well-known concern, Berry Bros. & Rudd. My interest in this cask arose when I saw that it was cask 56 from 1997. I’ve previously tried and reviewed two other Berry Bros. & Rudd Laphroaig 18, 1997s from proximate cask numbers and liked them a lot. Most recently, cask 54, which was released in the Netherlands; and a year and half ago, cask 46, which was an exclusive for the Whisky Exchange. The TWE cask, in particular, presented a wonderful marriage of fruit and smoke—a very old-school Laphroaig profile. The Dutch cask was not quite as fruity but it was very good indeed too. Where will this one fall? Unlike the other two, it’s not at cask strength but that doesn’t necessarily mean much.
Laphroaig 18, 1997, Cask 56 (46%; Berry Bros. & Rudd; from a bottle split)
Nose: Phenolic aromas as I pour (but not much smoke) and a fair bit of fruit (apple, lime). A bit of vanilla as well and some cererals. The fruit expands as it sits and there’s some ashy smoke mixed in with the bandaids and Dettol. A little more vanilla with water and it also moves in a menthol/citronella direction; after a minute or two there’s some preserved lemon.
Palate: Smokier and more acidic here. What happened to the fruit? The texture is fine. The smoke gets tarrier (but it’s not over-the-top smoky). The vanilla from the nose shows up here as well. With time the texture begins to feel a bit thin. As so often happens, water fixes the texture and it also adds quite a bit of depth of flavour: the smoke merges well with sweet apple and red berries; gets maltier, and if I’m not crazy, there’s some hazelnut-flavoured milk chocolate too.
Finish: Long. Just smoke and ash at first but then the fruit begins to build: apples, berries, lemon, custardy flashes of something tropical. Sweeter here too with water.
Comments: This is very good. Starts out strong on the nose, seems to be heading in an unremarkable direction on the palate but then the finish comes on strong with the fruit. This is a case where I feel confident saying that the cask would have been even better bottled at a higher strength. Though considering the price asked for it at 46%, I hate to think what that would have cost. And as much as I like it, I can’t see myself getting another full bottle at the price ($210, discounted down to $190).
It forms an interesting triptych with the other two sibling casks I’ve reviewed. The TWE cask balanced smoke and fruit and had the most fruit. The Dutch cask was heavier on the smoke and quite a bit lower on the fruit. This one is the inverse of the Dutch cask but not fruity enough to make it up to the level of the TWE cask. But whatever was going on in Laphroaig’s still rooms in 1997, I hope it’s continuing. Speaking of which, if you’ve had other Laphroaig 1997s of similar age, do write in below to report on levels of fruit found therein.
Rating: 89 points.
[And here is Michael’s review.]