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Sunday, 14 January 2018

Laphroaig Brodir Whisky Review!

So you've never heard of this Laphroaig? Well you can be forgiven, because it's not one that is often spotted in the wild in the southern hemisphere. There are actually three different versions of this whisky: Batch 1, which launched in 2012 and was released as an exclusive bottling for a Scandinavian ferry line (aptly named "The Viking Line"), Batch 2, which launched in 2014 and was 'travel exclusive' and was only sold in Europe but managed to show up in a few land-locked specialist stores, and the latest bottling which does not carry a batch number, and is also travel exclusive but has managed to show up in a few land-locked stores. The latter version is the easiest to find since it's available in most duty free stores in seemingly massive numbers, and Batch 1 is all but impossible to source outside of online whisky auctions. But Batch 2 in the middle can still be found at a few specialist stores that have imported a few bottles themselves, and it's a very enjoyable drop, although we obviously pay a premium for the experience compared to those who have easier access to it. Being travel exclusive means that it competes with the brilliant value-for-money Laphroaig PX (old review here), and the very good virgin oak-finished An Cuan Mor. Brodir is actually priced considerably higher than both of those great expressions, so it's already fighting an uphill battle on that front.

What's a "Brodir" then? Well the word is the ancient Norse translation for the word "brother", which is a nod to the ancient connections between Islay and Norway - mostly by way of the Vikings. The whisky itself is a non-age statement bottling that has been matured in ex-bourbon barrels before being finished in ex-ruby port fortified wine casks, before being bottled at 48% ABV. All three are ostensibly exactly the same in that regard, but there are reports of differing levels of port influence between the different batches. There's no mention of colouring or chill filtration on the packaging, but since the 48% ABV Laphroaigs are generally non-chill filtered let's go with that. Port casks are not a common thing for the Islay distilleries, in fact to my knowledge only Laphroaig and Kilchoman have dabbled in that arena in recent years, although I'm sure Bruichladdich and Bunnahabhain also have the odd port cask lying around. Laphroaig first entered the fray in 2013 with that year's Cairdeas release also being finished in port casks, and bottled at 51.3%. That one was very popular, but unfortunately like many of the Cairdeas bottlings it never made it to Australia, at least officially.

What can we expect from a port cask-finished Laphroaig? Generally a port finish will give red fruit and spice notes, and in this case I imagine it will also have toned down Laphroaig's trademark medicinal peaty punch, and vice-versa. We don't know how long this whisky spent in those port casks, or if they were first-fill or refill casks, but we do know that they held ruby port, which is named after its colour, and means the port was young, typically being aged for 3 years or less. Interestingly though ruby port is most commonly aged in stainless steel vats rather than oak casks, so I'm guessing that those casks were 'seasoned' with ruby port specifically for Laphroaig, rather than being used by the vineyard in their normal operations and then sold on to a distillery. Which is the common practice in the whisky industry these days anyway, and in some cases the distillery is involved in every step of the process, selecting their casks and having them shipped to their vineyard of choice, and dictating the type of wine and the length of maturation. The fortified wine is then dumped out of the casks before they're shipped back to the distillery to start the new chapter in their lives. But I'm digressing here, so let's get back to the whisky!
Laphroaig Brodir Batch 002, NAS, 48%. Islay, Scotland.
Finished in ex-ruby port fortified wine casks. Batch 002 bottled in 2014, travel exclusive. Assumed non-chill filtered, unknown colouring but likely natural.

Colour: Copper with pink tinges. 

Nose: Quite fresh, with soft ashy, powdery peat, some wood embers, and sweet berry jam. Strawberry & blackberry jam, slightly creamy, with some glace cherries for good measure. Christmas-y wood spices too, nutmeg and cinnamon. A little gristy malt and salt as well. 

Texture: Light-medium weight, fresh, smoky and spicy. No heat at all. 

Taste: There's much more peat here, but it dissipates quite quickly. Less sweet than the nose suggested, and significantly more spicy. A whack of hot wood ashes, more wood spices and a little aniseed. Some warm oak as well. 

Finish: Short-medium length. Lots of aniseed now, more warm oak, and the sweet berries return but in the form of a weak-ish cordial now. The ashy peat is still there, but it's behind the spices now. Especially that aniseed. 

Score: 3 out of 5. 

Notes: Almost a 3.5 score, but something didn't quite gel with me in this one. It's not your typical Laphroaig, it's quite refined and almost elegant in fact, I don't think it would take added water too well. But it's very enjoyable in it's own right. The extra sweetness on the nose and the spices on the palate are added dimensions, and as predicted they do weaken the typical peat, smoke and citrus fruit found in most Laphroaigs. The nose is lovely with that berry sweetness alongside the soft peat and spice, and then it's much more spicy and considerably drier on the palate, before becoming quite light on the finish. Once that aniseed note drops off, that is. The port finish hasn't overwhelmed anything though and it's only overtly noticeable on the nose, which is not what I expected. Now I really want to try the 2013 Cairdeas, just to see how they compare!

As for how Brodir fares compared to the other 48% ABV travel exclusive Laphroaigs, I don't think it quite gets there. It doesn't have the amazing bang-for-buck and power of the PX, or the complexity of the An Cuan Mor, but it does offer a lighter, sweeter take that some might gravitate towards, even at the higher price point. Almost a summer's day Laphroaig, perhaps?