National Tartan Day, April 6th, is an annual holiday that celebrates Scotland’s contributions in America. Celebrations take place across the country that include parades, bagpipe playing and of course Scotch whisky tastings. I’m celebrating Tartan Day with some classic Islay whisky from Laphroaig. The infamous Laphroaig distillery was recently named the Whisky Visitor Attraction of the Year in Whisky Magazine’s Global Icons of Whisky 2014 competition. This award goes out to the best distillery visitor center of the year. The Whisky Magazine editorial panel noted that the Laphroaig Distillery “offers a warm welcome to visitors from across the world. From a walk through tour to owning your piece of Islay, Laphroaig has stamped its mark on the visitor [center] experience.” So if you find yourself in Islay, definitely make sure you stop by Laphroaig distillery. Below are my thoughts on Laphroaig’s age statement bottlings, the 10 year and 18 year. These days Laphroaig range consists of a bunch of no-age statement (NAS) bottles like the Quarter Cask and Triple Wood. While the NAS expressions are not bad, sometimes it’s best to return to the classic age statement bottlings and explore Laphroaig’s roots. The 10 and 18 are the two most easily found age statement bottlings from Laphroaig in the States. The 25 year is also on the market but it’s very rare and quite expensive.
For more history about Laphroaig see this post.
Laphroaig 10, 43% ABV
Nose: seaweed, brine, antiseptic, smoky, hay
Mouth: peat smoke, salty, hint of honeyed sweetness, lemons
Finish: more smoke, salt, white pepper, warming
Verdict: If this is your first introduction to Laphroaig then you’ll surely never forget it. The 10 year old is brash and will assault your senses with smoke and salt. The nose is classic Laphroaig: seaweed, brine and smoky. There’s also an antiseptic quality which smells like alcohol pads that you use to clean wounds. The palate can be shocking for those who aren’t accustomed to Islays – there’s heavy peat smoke, loads of salt and a hint of honeyed sweetness at the end. On the finish there is more smoke, salt and white pepper. It’s definitely memorable – for better or worse. This dram can come across as rough and unrefined, but I choose to use the word ‘blunt’ to describe this whisky. Many say that you either love Laphroaig or you hate it. The ten year old has a take-it-or-leave-it approach and displays it’s full character without putting up a front. As a New Yorker I definitely appreciate that.
Laphroaig 18, 48% ABV
Nose: vanilla, sweet toffee, hay, cereal, salted butter, applewood smoke
Mouth: full bodied, honeyed sweetness, fruity, nutty, peat smoke, oak spices, star anise, ginger
Finish: smoke, lingering sweetness, oranges
Verdict: The nose is sweet with hints of vanilla and sweet toffee shining through. Given more time there’s cereal, hay, applewood smoke and salted butter. This whisky is enticing from the first scent and boy does it deliver on the palate. There’s immediate oak spices (ginger) followed by honeyed sweetness and almonds. It’s rounded out by star anise and peat smoke. The finish has some oranges, smoke and lingering sweetness. The extra eight years spent maturing sure did this whisky some good. The unrefined smokiness has been smoothed out and turned into a complex malt that is actually quite sweet and fruity. Tasting the 10 and 18 side-by-side is like night and day. The 10 year old is loud and bold while the 18 year old is refined, mysterious and luxurious. This tasting experiment has shown that Laphroaig’s spirit definitely gets better with maturation. Even if you’re not a fan of the 10 year old, I’d highly recommend trying the 18 year old.