Well, this is awkward. Kinda feels like having to fire your wife. Being hard on something you love is never fun. Unfortunately there is a bit of an axe to grind here, so let’s do it and do it quick. Like ripping off a Band-aid. Maybe it will hurt less.
I’ve always held Port Ellen on a pedestal. Right beneath my beloved PE is the stylized ‘A’ in the Celtic ring (yes, Ardbeg, of course). Ardbeg likely ties with Bruichladdich, though not necessarily because their whiskies are on par. I love both for different reasons. So, let’s call the number two position a tie. And number three with a bullet…Laphroaig. This one has been creeping on Ardbeg lately. It’s arguable Ardbeg produces great malts more consistently, but it’s also arguable that Laphroaig produced greater malts from time to time. I’m sure mature stock and expressions with some older constituent casks contributes to that.
I tell you this so you understand how biased I am toward Laphroaig of late. Imagine, then, my bewilderment at a malt like this: Laphroaig Select. At its essence it really boils down to ‘why?’. The brand has a flagship 10 year old (one of the best out there, I might add, in spite of its low abv) and a young fiery NAS expression that is beloved by most and, aside from the lack of age statement, ticks most other boxes for whisky lovers (non-chill-filtered, natural colored – I think?, and high strength). So why…why then would they release a watered down, inferior, just-clearing-the-hurdles 40% NAS monstrosity like this? It’s incomprehensible to me and most I’ve spoken to).
Over the last couple of months we’ve witnessed Quarter Cask jump from about $50 (as low as $40 in some places) up to $85. The 10 y.o. is still creeping, but is still lower than the new QC pricing. The ‘high end’ Laphroaig Lore crashed our shores at an even $200. And now there are a handful of new Laphroaig NAS releases hitting the market (Four Oak, 1815 and I think there may be one or two more, though I could be mistaken). At this point I’m left head-scratching. Maybe I’m falling out of love here.
I’d love to see others weigh in on this one, though I’m pretty certain I have an idea what the comments section below will look like.
Nose: Peat, of course. Faint smoke (but everything is faint at this anemic abv). Leather. Wet dog. Brown paper bags or slightly damp cardboard. Vaguely farmy. A touch of salt or brine. Lime. A little bit of dill. Earthy notes, as we’d expect. Everything muted.
Palate: Thin and watery. Dry smoke. Lacking a lot of flavour. Slightly weedy. Earthy. Olive brine. Not a lot more. Hello…finish…are you there?
Thoughts: This…this is not the Laphroaig I love.
– Images & Words: Curt
While I haven’t tried this one yet, please note there are rumours this thing will be replacing quarter cask in some markets…if true it’s puzzling as in description it’s already nothing like the beloved QC…anemic abv…blurry cask provenance and none of that medicinal uppercut we all love??
Despite its NAS drawback, I have to say I like the taste of the quarter cask. Jeff, I think I would like the QC to tell me how long it has been in those quarter casks but that isn’t the main point of my post.
I don’t get the impression that I would like this one at all.
Even if it were. 20 year old…and $25, sounds like it isn’t even useful as hand sanitizer.
My argument against the QC, or any NAS-labelled product, isn’t based on quality; it’s based on the fact that one of the main reasons ANY whisky is what it is, good or bad and no matter how defined, IS its age – and that NAS denies that, point blank, for the industry’s sales purposes. If the age of QC were cut in half or doubled, you may or may not like it more or less, but it WOULD be a different whisky – and Laphroaig already INTENTIONALLY VARIES the age of its products WHILE knowing that that variation creates different results. I’d buy the QC again too – if Laph would just be honest about what it is on the label.
As to the larger question of how/why do these things/products happen, well… when you tell the people making something that you don’t care what goes into it, they sometimes come to the conclusion that what goes into it really doesn’t matter so much – so you get less time in weaker casks and lower presentation ABV. After all, making a “premium” product these days isn’t so much a matter of what goes into it as much as it is high pricing and convincing people that its “premium”. In the end, product information protects the company BY protecting the consumer.
This thing showed up at my whisky club about a year ago and it was pretty pathetic.
You should have told it to go elsewhere…
These things happen because producing the same (great) expressions year-in, year-out don’t get much play on social media.
Many nerdy malt drinkers are essentially “tickers” – they go out of their way to try as many “different” bottles as possible. If all Laphroaig bottled was the QC/10/15/18/25/30, once you “ticked” those six, what then?
Writers, reviewers, blogs like to talk about new stuff – even if its just “new” Tide (same old stuff in a different bottle). Seeing all the attention/success the likes of Ardbeg get EVERY YEAR when they release the same old whisky with a different label …. owners of stalwarts like Laphroaig feel the need to copy that strategy to keep the brand “relevant”.
AND here we are talking about Laphroaig … which we probably wouldn’t be doing were it not for this forgettable “Select”! Marketing Mission accomplished!!!
To just “change things up” IS the reason a lot of new products happen (there’s usually very little real improvement involved); the reason crap new products happen is because someone somewhere believes something can be hyped into a success regardless of what goes into it (the LAST people in the world who really “don’t know” how good this stuff is are the people at Laphroaig who made it; there are no mysteries). Unfortunately, in the current era of whisky thinking/commentary, they’re often right. It’s an interesting idea, however, that “Select” might be a dud JUST so everyone gets to call the next, somewhat better, release a “triumph”, a “masterpiece” and “the return of Laphroaig to its classic roots”. There’s nothing really new under the sun, least of all that whisky is full of bullshit artists.
It’s true, though, there are people who have to try/buy just everything to be able to talk about it; some people see everything that comes to the movie theater for the same reason. Many writers, bloggers, reviewers – really already knowing that they’re not on the side of consumers anyway, and having no interest IN being on their side – enthusiastically join distillery promotion teams on an amateur basis, hoping to someday qualify for free samples. If they’re already getting free samples, it’s already often a case of quid pro quo.
I liked my second bottle of select much less than my first. I liked that it was different. It had an oaky sweetness and soft nature that was very easy to sip on. In the same way that perpetuum was so far from your typical Ardbeg, I enjoyed it for exactly those reasons.
I remember asking myself what I thought was so special about it after cracking my second bottle. at 45 dollars this would likely be best in class, but not at 80.
I just bought this, and I have to say I don’t mind this at all. I will have to try the Quarter Cask and few others to compare it.
I’m a little late, having just come across this website. I like peated scotch and Laphroaig is one of my favourite on extreme side of things. I would never introduce anyone to scotch with a Laphroaig 10 and so, a very long time ago, when friends at the Edmonton Folk Festival heard that I had some scotch for the evening I heard the word “Scotch?” reverberate around me. Knowing that my Laphroaig would be wasted among them I took the opportunity of the afternoon break to buy another bottle of scotch, the sherry cask Glendronach which I knew everyone would like. When the Quarter Cask arrived on the scene I took to that like a duck to water.
So here we are, talking about the Laphroaig Select. You may think that I wouldn’t like it but having come to it without knowing anything about it, nor having read any reviews, I thought it was a pretty good scotch. Certainly not Laphroaig-like but elegant, refined, and delicate, a finely honed balance between, peat, malt and wood, a lightly peated whisky for the non-peat market. An introductory Laphroaig if you will (there are non-peat distillers who also release peated editions). According to Laphroaig they made six different blends for the Select bottling and asked the friends of Laphroaig to choose the blend they preferred (they also chose the name). The Select is a blend of six different wood treatment: 10 year-old’s bourbon cask, Quarter Cask, PX (a travel retail special), virgin American oak, and a couple of others that I cannot recall off the top of my head. I think this is a very nice scotch, definitely not for peat-heads and those who want a Laphroaig experience. But it is a nice scotch, though over-priced in my estimation.