After a quick browse of what the duty free store in question had available, I settled on a couple of bottles which I had not tasted in a long time, and had never owned myself. Laphroaig 18 year old, and Ardbeg Corryvreckan. But how was I going to choose between them? That's easy, I just went to Cobbler and had them fight each other!
Laphroaig 18 year old VS. Ardbeg Corryvreckan
These are two rather different whiskies, with the Laphroaig being 18 years old, watered down to 48% and a mix of bourbon and sherry casks, and the Ardbeg being Non-Age Statement (NAS), and bourbon cask only. They are both non-chill filtered, but the Laphroaig has a little caramel colouring added, and the Ardbeg does not. But, being from perhaps the two most well-known and well-respected distilleries on Islay, being heavily-peated, and selling at a similar price, I thought they made for a good match-up for this heavy weight bout. ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE!?!
Laphroaig 18yo: 48%, 18 years old, first fill bourbon, non-chill filtered, no colouring. The ageing veteran.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan: 57.1%, NAS, bourbon casks, non-chill filtered, no colouring added. The big, scary-looking 'young up & comer'.
(both tasted neat)
Colour: Laphroaig 18: Medium gold. Corryvreckan: Polished bronze.
Texture: Laphroaig: Thick & creamy, buttery. Corryvreckan: Light & clean, deceptive!
Round 1: Nose:
Laphroaig: Inviting, but surprising heat. Laphroaig medicinal peat and iodine/disinfectant, salty, a little smoky, and some sweetness. Instantly recognisable, but nothing stands apart from the 'house style'.
Ardbeg: Wow! Big and bold, but little heat for high ABV%. Salty maritime aromas, sea spray, tarred rope, supple, worn leather. Some sour fruit, and vanilla-soaked bananas.
Round 2: Taste:
Laphroaig: Signature Laphroaig, sweet medicinal peat, substantial smoke & salt, iodine and disinfectant. A little heat, giving way to buttered peat and some sweet smoke, very light sherry sweetness.
Ardbeg: Big peat and smoke, a little heat and 'prickle' but not much considering the ABV%. Could probably take some water, but still awesome without. Some vanilla sweetness, but fantastic salt and maritime flavours. Keeps with the Ardbeg style but ramps up the intensity and depth. Very, very good.
Round 3: Finish:
Laphroaig: Buttery & oily, a bit of nutty sweetness, smoky. Long and warming.
Ardbeg: Peat, tarred ropes, pepper and leather. Some oak sweetness but mostly dry and mouth-watering. Clean, medium-length finish, very more-ish.
The Judge's Scorecards!
Round 1 (nose): Ardbeg. Round 2 (taste): Ardbeg. Round 3 (finish): Laphroaig. Total Scores:
Laphroaig: 3 out of 5.
Ardbeg: 4 out of 5.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan takes the win by split decision!
Notes: The younger, bolder Corryvreckan simply out-classed the veteran Laphroaig 18 year old early on, but the veteran came back late in the third round, regaining some dignity.
The 18 year old Laphroaig is certainly a good whisky, but I don't feel the value for money, or quality for age, is there. It strikes me as a more mature Quarter Cask, but the maturity does not make it better or worse, but rather more reserved. Perhaps with some sherry cask influence it would have gained more complexity, although the finish is very good, the star of the show in this bottling. As a whole, not very close to my favourite 'phroaig, the PX.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan, meanwhile, is still expensive, and lacking an age statement, but the quality is there in spades! Deep, mysterious aromas & flavours, much like those of the Scottish whirlpool it is named after! Intense and powerful, but manageable and very, very pleasant. As the distillery says, not for the faint hearted! The clear winner in this fight. But is it better than my lovely mistress the Ardbeg Uigedail? Not for me, no. Look for a review of that one in the future, it's worth the wait!
Full disclosure: In the interests of blogger-integrity, I must disclose that neither of these whiskies was chosen as my order for the duty free shopping opportunity. Rather, after much consideration, I went for a second bottle of Laphroaig PX. Why? Because it can only be bought from duty free stores, and is great value for money ($40-60AUD less than the two in this fight), so I could not pass up the chance to grab another bottle. Both the Laphroaig 18 and Corryvreckan are readily available, and are not likely to go away soon, so the sense of urgency was not there for me. But rest assured they are both worthy of your consideration, though the Ardbeg has won itself a decisive victory tonight. Cheers!