Okay, let’s move down south and a bit west from the northern highlands, all the way to Islay for a week of peated whiskies. First up, the 2020 release of the Laphroaig Cask Strength: Batch 012. Considering this was bottled in February, 2020—ah the pre-pandemic times!—I suppose it is possible that Batch 013 has already been released this year. If so, I did not see it when I purchased this bottle locally in April. If you’ve seen it in Minnesota, or when you see it, please let me know. (Also let me know if you see/have seen the new sherry-finished 10 yo.)
There’s been a lot of nonsense going on at Laphroaig in recent years. The number of releases from the distillery has proliferated, with a lot happening both at the relatively affordable and the definitely not affordable ends of the roster. This has not been accompanied, however, by widespread acclaim from reviewers for all these whiskies. Indeed, some have come in for a fair bit of stick. Nor have the recent annual Cairdeas releases all been getting everyone excited. Even I—an avowed fan of the distillery—found little to like in last year’s Port & Wine release. Through all of this hubbub, however, the quality of the Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength has stayed on course. (The regular 10 yo I can speak less confidently of, not having tried recent releases.) Let’s see if Batch 012 keeps that streak going.
Laphroaig 10 CS, Batch 012 (60.1%; from my own bottle)
Nose: Oh yes, big alcohol burn still coming off the top of this. Big phenols too and quite a bit of sweetness—a mix of seashells and vanilla-cream. More brine on the second sniff and the phenols expand further. Not much change as it sits. A big squirt of water and not it begins to get interesting: there’s some kelp to go with the seashells; the sweet notes get bigger and more complex as well with sweet ham brine, uni and ink emerging. Another drop or two of water and now it’s really singing with a lovely blend of meaty smoke, cream and lemon with the phenols hovering in the background.
Palate: A big bite here too unsurprisingly and generally closed. The only thing that really registers is phenolic smoke—almost rubbery—and then a ton of salt as I swallow. Okay, let’s add water. Ah yes, much better here too with water. Much more approachable for one thing. And both the phenols and the salt back off; the lemon pops out earlier bringing some of the ham brine from the nose with it. Don’t get me wrong it’s still a phenolic powerhouse. More water is good for the palate too as now the lemon—shot through with smoke—comes out to the top and the salt becomes more of an accent.
Finish: Long. The salt continues for a good while and then phenolic smoke emerges, turning ashier as it goes—with some wet coals thrown in. With a bit of time some lemon emerges to join the phenolic smoke and salt but soon gets overpowered by them. With water the lemon gets a bigger say here too and the meaty notes from the nose emerge as well.
Comments: Even close to the halfway mark of the bottle this comes across way too hot—and quite without nuance—without water. With water the nose becomes really quite wonderful—I’d guess that with the second addition I took it down close to 50%. The palate is still more of a blunt instrument but there’s more going on there and on the finish too with water. If you have a bottle I’d recommend not wasting too much time on trying to enjoy this neat. You might well enjoy it that way but I can all but guarantee you you’ll like it far more with water.
Rating: 87 points. (Pulled up dramatically by water.)