All right, hill people!
Come forth and claim your rightful accolades. From the Appalachian moonshiners to the Scottish excise-dodgers, we raise a glass in salutation to the tenacity of those who have fought through the ages, allowing the spirit to flow and soothe the souls of savages.
Through the years countless examples of clever folk (from toothless backwooders to the heads of organized crime) have found ways to duck the heavy hand of the law in a noble crusade to bring alcohol to the working man (and woman). Arguably the worst hit region was America, where prohibition blotted out reason from 1920 through 1933. Al Capone did his piece, smuggling Canadian Club whisky across the line from Ontario into Michigan. Granny Clampett did her bit as well, passing around her jug of “Roomatiz Medicine”. Most importantly though, at least to us scotch whisky snobs, Ian Hunter, owner of Laphroaig in the 1920s, did his part. Legend has it, Mr. Hunter passed US authorities samples of his enormously iodine-laden and peaty Laphroaig, and due to its medicinal qualities, was able to elude the net of prohibition. If rumor speaks any truth, apparently Laphroaig was actually even attainable by prescription.
Hmmmm…<cough cough> Feel a bit of a cold coming on.
One final note: In recent years, Laphroaig has pioneered a move to quarter-cask maturation. These quarter casks, as the name suggests, are smaller than standard whisky barrels. Ideal for…yep, you guessed it…smuggling. Many, many moons ago, a beast of burden would be laden with quarter cask on either haunch and used to move spirit discreetly and easily (well…maybe not so easily if you were the horse or mule). In recent years, this quarter cask idea has proven ridiculously profitable and utterly successful in creating bold and charming malts.
So…glasses high to our friends at Laphroaig, who, since 1815, have worked to keep the chill off my bones…the cough from my throat and sobriety at a respectable distance. Slainte!
Without further ado, a few members of The Collective gathered to pay homage to the might bog beast…
Laphroaig Quarter Cask – 48% abv
Nose: Playfully youthful. Smoky and raw. Briny and citric. Sharp and prickly. Earthy and woody. Anise. Sweet peated barley.
Palate: Dry earthy peat. Baker’s chocolate. Smoke and dirt.
Finish: Drying and earthy with burnt wood. Lingering and large.
Assessment: One of the best young whiskies on the market. Absolutely epitomizes the Laphroaig profile.
Laphroaig 10 y.o. – 43% abv
Nose: Green apple. Smoked peach. Grains. Weed-like pungency. Jolly Ranchers. Fruity soap. Crab apple jelly. Seaside froth. Tarry.
Palate: More Jolly Ranchers candy, but stale and short of the fruit promised on the nose. Thick barley and green grass.
Finish: Mouthcoatingly oily and dense. Surprising for 43%.
Assessment: Much better than the old 40%’er, but still falls just a hair short in a stable full of brilliant expressions.
Laphroaig 10 y.o. Cask Strength – 58.7% abv
Nose: Smoke. Brine. Crème brulee. Cacao. Pink chewing gum. Honey and white chocolate. Mild spice. Cured meat. Charcoal ash. Floral minty tones and a hint of pickle.
Palate: Green grass. Kippers and anise.
Finish: Very drying with tobacco and clean smoke.
Assessment: Yes! Chock full of nifty notes and nuances, surprisingly none of which are buried by peat or alcohol.
Laphroaig 18 y.o. – 48% abv
Nose: Orange and chocolate. Cedar. Fruity. Heavy vanilla and black licorice flavored jujubes. Pear drops. Sambuca and fruit bowl with dominant bananas.
Palate: Poached and caramelized white fruits. Floral smoke. Some dark chocolate and Worther’s Originals.
Finish: Drying with tobacco and clean smoke.
Assessment: Mild and overwhelmed by the others in this range. When not stacked up against scorching young peat, cask strength aggression or the untouchable austere beauty of the 30 year old, this is a phenomenal dram. Sadly…it was nearly lost tonight.
Laphroaig 18 y.o. SMWS 29.72 “Not Pink and Fluffy”– 54.5% abv
Nose: Buttery. Sharp sherry. Nut. Syrupy. Maple smoked bacon. Fishy. Red berry fruits. Dried tobacco. Fruit leather.
Palate: Treacle and bacon. Cigar smoke. Nutty and leathery notes with more fruit leather.
Finish: Bacon. Caramelized brown sugar. Brine and cigar leaf.
Assessment: Just moving towards subtle maturity. A very unique and atypical cask. The dominant ‘breakfast’ notes in this one are almost a caricature. Neat…not bad…not a favorite.
Laphroaig 25 y.o. Cask Strength – 51% abv
Nose: Smoke. Licorice. Pepper. Iodine. Lime. Orange. Chocolate and caramel. Dry hay. Green and weedy. Cream toffee. Soft melon fruits. Fishy. Vanilla cream-filled chocolates. Coconut rum and canned pineapple.
Palate: White chocolate and macadamia nut cookies. Dark chunky peat. Hard dark chocolate. Spotted dick and honey. Fleeting glimpse of red licorice as it first crosses the palate.
Finish: Honeyed and creamy. Lingering melon.
Assessment: Oh my. This is it.
Laphroaig 30 y.o. – 43% abv
Nose: Peach and melon. Tar and rubber. Citrus. Blueberry. Fruit compote. Cask dust and wood influence. Waxy. Cherry. Wisps of smoke…but much mellowed. Cream and maple syrup.
Palate: Creamy and fruity. Burnt fruits. Warm scones and homemade butter. Soft and oily. Dried apricots and other fruits.
Finish: Drying with more fruits and honeyed melon.
Assessment: Swirling depths of flavor. Keeps changing in a myriad of fruits and complexities. One could get lost in this one. Best of the bunch and absolutely exudes sexy maturity.
Tasting notes courtesy of the Collective.