For our main course this evening, we have the 2016 official bottling of Laphroaig 25-year old. This one has been matured in a combination of American oak ex-bourbon casks and second-fill European oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks, and bottled at a cask strength of 48.6% without chill filtration. This will be my first time trying the 2016 bottling of the 25-year old, I don't believe it's even arrived in Australia yet, but I've had the privilege of tasting the 2013 bottling of the 25-year old a few times now, and it was exceptional. Very soft and fruity, with a floral sweetness and a little spice as well. I still believe that if you have the coin and you're after an old whisky, a 25-year old cask strength Laphroaig is the one to go for. It's expensive of course, the 2013 bottling retails for around $600 AUD, and while this may sound like a bit of an oxymoron, I do think that actually gives you pretty good value for your money. That's just the level of enjoyment we're talking about with a 2.5-decade old Laphroaig!
For the 2016 bottling, the distillery has ditched the beautiful black labelling and black leather-wrapped outer box, and has gone with a more typical white label and white wooden box. It's still pretty of course, but the former black packaging was really something special! It'll probably be more expensive than the older bottling if / when it does arrive here, but crucially it's also increased in strength. Although both bottlings are at their natural cask strength, this one is up from 45.1% in the 2013 to 48.6%. So I'd wager we can expect a bit more punch and possibly a bit more peat in this version, and it may be a little closer to the typical Laphroaig profile. Let's just hurry up & find out, shall we?
Laphroaig 25-year old, 2016 bottling, 48.6%. Islay, Scotland.
Matured in both second-fill European oak ex-Oloroso sherry casks and American oak ex-bourbon casks. Non-chill filtered, bottled at cask strength, suspected natural colour.
Colour: Medium gold.
Nose: Soft & sweet. Dried fruit and a dried floral sweetness, with a nice layer of sea salt underneath. Some dried red apples, and a light wet rock-like minerality. Tiny wisp of sweet wood smoke with more time in the glass.
Texture: Light-medium weight, very, very soft, fruity & sweet. No heat at all, in fact no sign of any alcohol whatsoever. Extremely easy to drink, soft and inviting.
Taste: Lovely and soft, almost like a fruit juice on first contact. Fantastic wisps of smoke and earthy peat, and that wet stone-like minerality along with the dried fruit and floral sweetness. There's also some lovely dried & sweetened grapefruit, and a little vanilla bean.
Finish: Medium length, warming and gentle. More soft earthy peat, and that mineral note again, with more of the dried sweet grapefruit. Then the peat becomes the main plater, but it's still very soft and gentle. It's drier now too.
Score: 4 out of 5.
Notes: What a drop! Almost a complete reversal of what most people would think of when they hear the word "Laphroaig". So soft & gentle, but still nicely complex with plenty going on. You'd never guess it was alcoholic, let alone that it was over 48%! It still has that lovely floral sweetness that I remember from the 2013 release, but this one has the volume turned up a little, with a little more "Laphroaig-ness" to it. Very, very nice. I still think that if you're looking for an old peated whisky, and have the necessary financial capacity, then this is the one to go for. Excellent stuff.
And for our dessert this evening, we have something very special and very rare. A single cask Laphroaig, hand-bottled at the distillery and offered as part of the 'Distiller's Wares' and 'Water to Whisky' distillery tours, where the lucky punters get to taste 3 different whiskies straight from the cask in one of the warehouses, and get to choose one to take home with them in a 250ml hand-filled bottle. And as luck would have it, I'll be doing this very thing myself on Islay in a couple of week's time! Fingers crossed for a sherry cask...
This sample is from cask number 3799, a 14-15 year old Maker's Mark ex-bourbon cask, distilled in 2002 and fully-matured in Laphroaig's no. 7 dunnage warehouse. It was then bottled at 56.9%, and is of course non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. Obviously these are very special whiskies that you essentially won't find for sale anywhere. How the hell did I get a hold of it, you ask? Well I didn't, but I was lucky enough to be given a sample by a certain Australian national brand ambassador for Beam Suntory. Once again, another whisky I'd never have tasted without Mr. Woolley's generosity. I had expected a higher-strength version of the standard 15-year old here, which is soft, sweet and lightly peaty, but after sneaking in a quick sniff prior to this review, that's not the case with this dram. Not at all. I don't have a photo to use for this one unfortunately, so here's a photo of one of Laphroaig's dunnage warehouses to set the mood!
Laphroaig hand-filled single cask, no. 3799. 56.9%, 14-15 years old. Islay, Scotland.
Matured in no. 7 dunnage warehouse in a single Maker's Mark ex-bourbon cask. Distillery tour exclusive bottling. Non-chill filtered, natural colour.
Colour: Yellow gold, with a tiny little piece of charred barrel sinking to the bottom. How awesome is that!
Nose: Much thicker, richer, sweeter and more overt, but still very soft for the strength. Lovely herbal honey and creamy vanilla, a nice damp, earthy, musty peat, and some salty brine. Sweeter citrus here, like a lemon icing, and slightly meaty and sweet tropical fruit.
Texture: Medium weight again, warming and juicy. And again, no heat at all.
Taste: Lovely. Sweet, soft earthy peat, creamy vanilla, candied citrus zest, a little black pepper, and a big pinch of sea salt. Slightly musty and juicy honeyed fruit. Gets more briny and fruity with more time & warmth. Lovely.
Finish: Long. Lovely and briny, some sweet stewed tropical fruits, almost like a breakfast juice! More black pepper and creamed honey, then very fruity, with more tropical fruit and a little citrus, and a little dry, ashy smoke behind.
Score: 4 out of 5.
Notes: Wow. So different, so fruity and briny, and just gorgeous. Very nearly a 4.5 score in fact. Again, not your typical Laphroaig, and very, very different to the official bottlings that I've tasted. And so it should be, that's exactly what you want when you visit the distillery on Islay and bottle your own Laphroaig! That concentrated and amplified fruit, the citrus notes and of course that lovely peat, although it's quite subdued in this bottling, are just lovely. This one just goes to show that no two casks are exactly alike, there are so many factors at play that have a marked effect on the liquid itself, and that any consistency in whisky mainly comes from the master blenders doing their thing. I can't wait to get over there and bottle one of these beauties myself!
And on that high note, I'll be taking a hiatus from the reviews for a few weeks, while I'm touring Scotland on holiday! This has been a dream of mine for years, it's finally here and I cannot bloody wait. I'm starting in London, then up to Islay via Glasgow, then across to Edinburgh, then up to Inverness with a few day trips to Speyside and the Highlands. Rest assured there'll be plenty of new posts coming when I return, and feel free to follow me on twitter @TimJG84 (Peated Perfection) for updates in the mean time!