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Sunday, 26 March 2017

Laphroaig + Oysters = Whisky Heaven!

What's better than Laphroaig? Laphroaig with oysters, of course!

I was lucky enough to be invited to the first 'whisky dinner' recently held at Brisbane bar & eatery Seymour's Cocktails & Oysters, which just by chance happened to be a Laphroaig dinner, hosted by the ever-awesome Dan Woolley from The Exchange / Beam Suntory. For those who haven't yet had the pleasure, this is one seriously cool bar! Located on Caxton Street, Petrie Terrace, a short walk west of Brisbane's CBD, and right next to its sister establishment Lefty's Old Time Music Hall, it's a small speak-easy style bar inspired by early 20th century New Orleans. You'll find a lot of exposed brick, polished wood and hanging soft lighting, and a fantastic range of spirits, wines & beers inside these walls, and as you may be able to guess by the name, they do also dabble in cocktails and oysters!

While there's a full kitchen and clearly a very talented chef on board providing a diverse and very delicious food menu, you'll also find some of Brisbane's freshest and highest quality oysters, with the option of adding a dropper of Laphroaig 10-year old to help take that succulent seafood to an even higher level. They also boast a surprisingly large & diverse whisky range, including some rare & unusual independent bottlings that are well worth checking out. Which makes sense when you consider that the expert bar staff have previously worked at West End whisky-haven Cobbler, and all three gents have recently placed in the Top 100 in the Australian leg of Diageo's prestigious World Class Cocktail Competition. So these guys clearly know what they're doing!

For Seymour's' first whisky dinner, we were treated to 6 different expressions from my beloved Laphroaig. Ranging from the always dependable and always divisive 10-year old, to the phenomenal and extra-special 25-year old, paired with extremely fresh oysters sourced from Coffin Bay in South Australia, plus a phenomenal three-course meal, highlighting the magic that the crew at Seymour's are capable of. We're talking Moreton Bay bug & smoked Barramundi gumbo, Wagyu beef brisket with smoked onion cream, and a Roquefort blue cheese soufflé. I can honestly say this was some of the best food I've ever had at a whisky event, and all were perfectly paired with their associated dram. I'm not an accomplished food photographer as you can probably tell, and my photos really haven't done this meal justice, so you'll have to use your imaginations a little here!

Rather than the usual 'master class' educational style of whisky tasting, this dinner was a more personal and more casual experience, with Dan circulating amongst the eager audience, dropping some whisky knowledge while sharing his love of Laphroaig, and regaling some of his own amazing Islay experiences. The bastard!

We started off with Laphroaig 10-year old, which worked its sweet, peaty and medicinal magic, and when paired with one seriously fresh and creamy Coffin Bay oyster, the whole package was turned up to 11. It's easy to gloss over the venerable 10-year old with fancier and more heavily-marketed whiskies frequently coming along, but it's always fun to rekindle this relationship! And when applied directly to said oyster, the 10-year old didn't divide and conquer, it added an extra boost that was just bloody excellent. I must admit I've personally tried matching other Islay whiskies with natural oysters, and none have worked as magnificently as Laphroaig 10 does, it really is a match made in heaven. If you haven't tried this yourself, I definitely recommend giving it a go; or you could just head to Seymour's and let them do it for you! 


Next up we had the 'Select Cask' (known as 'Select' elsewhere in the world), paired with a magnificent Moreton Bay bug (similar to a crayfish) & smoked Barramundi (white fish) gumbo with smoked sausage. I must admit I'm not the biggest fan of Laphroaig Select, to my tastes it needs a bit more punch, but it's not really designed for my tastes, it's meant to be a more approachable, or more of a beginner's Laphroaig, and one that isn't as divisive as the 10-year old, and it certainly does tick those boxes. I'd not previously tried Select after the 10-year old, it usually goes the other way around, and doing so really highlighted the gentler and fruitier 'breakfast whisky' style of the Select Cask. It also worked incredibly well with the mildly-spicy gumbo, and that magnificent tender & juicy smoked fish and sweet bug, with none of the flavours overpowering the other, all the components worked in tandem and really did compliment each other. Personally I don't usually like pairing even mildly-spicy food with whisky, I find that the alcohol and spice often amplify each other a little too much. But that was definitely not the case here, it was perfectly balanced and perfectly paired.

Next up was the limited edition 'new' 15-year old, which was resuscitated in 2015 after a long hiatus to help celebrate Laphroaig's 200th anniversary, and another incredibly fresh & creamy natural oyster. The 15 is still a lighter and gentler style of Laphroaig, but it's really growing on me, in fact it reminds me of the lovely Highgrove bottling I was lucky enough to try last year, or perhaps it's the other way around. The dried grapefruit and floral sweetness in the 15-year old, with the Laphroaig peat and ash of course, brought out a nice meaty-ness in the oyster, while the oyster amplified those grapefruit notes in the whisky, and they both added up to one amazing taste experience! I should probably grab a bottle of the 15 before it's all gone, although I'm probably too late already...

Next up was a dram of my beloved Laphroaig Quarter Cask, with its higher bottling strength of 48% and smaller cask finishing for extra intensity, paired with a delicious wagyu beef brisket cooked for 12 hours, with an amazing smoked onion cream (that I could easily have devoured an entire plate of) and bitter greens. I've always loved the Quarter Cask, and that hasn't changed at all. So sweet and peaty, and with plenty of sweet vanilla and fresh oak, plus the extra flavour and punch from that higher strength and non-chill filtration, it all makes for a glorious whisky which is still one of the best value peated drams out there, if you ask me. That wagyu brisket was just amazing as well, very tender and full of proper beefy flavour, and I've actually written "must learn how to make smoked onion cream" in my notes, so I think you can guess just how good that stuff was! 

Next up we were treated to a dram of one very special whisky, Laphroaig 25-year old, paired with our final natural oyster. This was the 45.1% cask strength bottling released in 2013, and it's still one of the best older whiskies I've ever tasted, and almost the best older Islay whisky I've tasted, only beaten by the incredible Laphroaig 32. The 25-year old spent 18 years in ex-bourbon casks, before being finished for the remaining 7 years (that's a long finishing!) in European oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks, which makes for one amazing whisky. Totally different to any other Laphroaig though, this one is so soft and gentle, with a floral sweetness, light fruit and gentle oak coming to the fore, it's a mature and refined expression that is in my opinion well worth the (admittedly quite high) asking price. I've been lucky enough to try this one a few times now, and if you're in the market for an older whisky I really don't think you could go wrong with the Laphroaig. So how does a 25-year old Laphroaig pair with an oyster? Very, very well! Like you'd expect, it was a totally different experience to the previous pairings, one might have expected the oyster to dominate the older, gentler whisky, but again nothing was overpowered or lost in the background, it was just a delicious flavour experience!

And on to dessert! This course was Laphroaig Triple Wood, paired with a Roquefort blue cheese soufflé, with spiced pear and Lavosh bark (crispy flat-bread). It had been quite a while since I had tasted the Triple Wood bottling, for a time it was actually my least favourite Laphroaig. I'm not sure if my tastes have changed since, or if the whisky has, but it was absolutely delicious. There was much more sherry influence from the ex-Oloroso cask finishing than I remember finding last time, and also more peat influence, and the result of all that was wonderful; richly flavoured, with plenty of red fruits and light spice. I do remember that last time I tried the Triple Wood it was facing off against Lagavulin 16 year old, and as much as the Lagavulin will always be the 'gateway dram' that got me into peated whisky, the Laphroaig absolutely decimated it. The higher bottling strength of 48%, presumably younger age and non-chill filtration certainly helps of course, and it also helped the 'phroaig to pair absolutely perfectly with our dessert, that Roquefort soufflé that filled the room with the delicious aroma of high quality blue cheese. Sherry+peat+blue cheese has always equalled awesome in my book, and that was definitely still the case here. The perfect end to the evening's festivities!

So this was one amazing night of really exceptional food, and really fantastic whisky. This also shows the versatility and adaptability of my beloved Laphroaig, which many presume to be all about the peat, and which many wouldn't dream of pairing with high quality food. And they'd be missing out! What a great way to spend a Tuesday night. I cannot get over the excellent quality of the food that the guys at Seymour's brought to the table, so to speak, and while I'm sure the whisky helped (plus the fact that it was Laphroaig, of course!), the overall package that this relative newcomer presents makes for one hell of a place to spend a night out. I hadn't actually been to that part of town for quite some time, but Seymour's, along with its neighbour Lefty's (which also has an impressive range of whisky, plus regular live music), have changed my perception of the area completely, and I hope to be a more frequent visitor in future!  

A big thanks to Dan Woolley, The Exchange, Laphroaig, and of course the team at Seymour's for having me along, and I hope to see you at the next one!