A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a Laphroaig tasting held at Albannach (a posh whisky bar in Trafalgar Square in London). I’m not often invited to this sort of event as I’m not very important in the grand scheme of things and very few people know who I am - the majority of the tastings I go to are our own events organised by TWE Vinopolis – so this was a real treat.
The tasting was hosted by the Laphroaig distillery manager, John Campbell, who was candid in response to requests for technical information, modest and self-effacing with regards to his own achievements and clearly fiercely proud of both Islay and the Laphroaig distillery and its products – and rightly so, as the new releases are superb. In an age of PR bull and marketing waffle, it was refreshing to be told about a product by someone who actually knew what they were talking about, and was able to communicate in a sincere manner without ever slipping into hype.
The Laphroaig 18 (which is replacing the much-loved 15yo) was being bottled that day, so we tasted a pre-production sample. Laphroaig 18 has been bottled at 48% (the same strength as the Quarter Cask) and is due to arrive imminently, with a pricetag of around £50.
Here’s the official tasting notes:
Colour: Bright gold.
Nose: At bottling strength, a soft toffee sweet, faintly spicy flavour counterbalances the trace of delicate phenols and fruit. There is an all encompassing smoothness when these are all brought together. Adding a touch of water allows the seaweed and salt to come through but not enough to overpower the vanilla and honey sweetness with just a trace of new mown hay and peat at the finish.
Body: An intense depth that is exceptionally balanced and warming.
Taste: An instant warming tang of smoke that fades into smooth floral scents and blends seamlessly into an oaky nuttiness and leaves a lasting sweetness on the taste. With a touch of water the peaty warmth fills the mouth but does not overshadow the sweet chocolate smoothness. This is balanced by the rich toffee taste and slowly fades into a delicate hint of heather and peat smoke.
Finish: Full bodied, long with a luxurious oily smoothness.
Nose: Lively and sweet, with woodsmoke, soot, wet stones, hay, honey and maritime notes of tar and brine. Very appetising mix of soot and syrup.
Palate: Big and powerful, but with a soft sweetness and generous texture. As well as the textbook Laphroaig coal, I found burnt wood, black pepper, barley sugar and roasted cereals, with an underlying honey/syrup note threaded through the whole. In a word: delicious.
Finish: Good length and surprisingly smooth (I hate using that word in tasting notes, but it was) and restrained – though still assertive and characterful. Great balance.
Comment: Very good indeed. A fitting replacement for the 15 year-old, if rather more muscular and full-bodied in style.
Today’s Laphroaigs seem to have rounded out some of the rougher edges of previous releases – a trend that seemed to start with the 15 year-old that this replaces. Even the 10 year-old is more approachable nowadays than when I first tasted it in the late 1990s. Some folk might lament this trend towards a taming of the beast, but personally I’m all for it as long as the results are as good as this. I was also really impressed with the 25 year-old, and will post my notes on that in the next few days.
Thanks to John Campbell for coming down for the event and for bringing some fantastic whisky with him. Special thanks also to Albannach for serving up some delicious Laphroaig-themed food after the tasting.