It wasn’t until friends introduced me to the standard, flagship 10 year Laphroaig (43% ABV) that I began to really appreciate Single Malt Scotch Whisky. It was strong and polarizing. Nevertheless, I welcomed the smoky aftertaste that drink offered. Sipping it encouraged introspection and focus on the moment….not unlike listening to Morrissey or Radiohead.
Through education (books and tastings), I found that smoky characteristic to be ever present in the spirits distilled on the Scottish Island of Islay; it has much to do with the way their unique peat interacts with the geography, and how they prepare their barley (Laphroaig employs barley floor malting). For more information, I’ve embedded a fascinating YouTube clip of the TV show, Modern Marvels – Distilleries that describes the process.
Now, as great as the flagship Laphroaig 10 year is, I am much more enamored by the Cask Strength variety. The color is a deep gold from being aged in American oak barrels. The nose is predictably more pungent. It has a lot of the same tasting notes (peat/smoke, seaweed, medicinal/iodine, vanilla sweet) as the standard expression.
What I think sets the Cask Strength apart, then, is the finish. It is much longer. The higher alcohol content allows it to linger and linger in the mouth, enhancing the spicy and medicinal characteristics. The heat refuses to be contained in the caverns of the mouth and does escape out the nose. I particularly like that chewing (yes, chewing) the whisky brings out the sweetness. Sipping it, I know I’m consuming something woodsy and potent. Exhaling, I feel like I’m blowing fire. I really like this stuff. It’s a bottle that will be mainstay in my bar.
It should be noted that the earlier January/February 2010 bottlings of “Batch 002″ registered a higher 58.3% ABV. I doubt that I’m missing much from drinking the December batch. But if I could get my mitts on one of the early 2010’s, it would be nice to do a taste comparison.
Random Fact: Laphroaig received a Royal Warrant from the Prince of Wales in 1994.
For those wishing to imbibe, I found that Astor Wines (in New York), where I procured a couple of bottles of this, had the best deal.
How Laphroaig Scotch is made: