I’m ashamed to admit that I visited the Laphroaig distillery on Islay last year with a hangover. The previous evening we’d bumped into some folk in the pub who were sailing around the Scottish Isles and one became many.
A whisky tasting was the last thing on my mind then, certainly at 10.30 in the morning. Luckily, perhaps, our guide was in a similar boat and sported a pallid expression befitting a young man who’d been at a party for most of the night (he’d hit the hay for a couple of hours before heading to work).
The tour was a bit of a blur, but it was a pleasure to see the maltings ‘in action’ and watch the barley being turned by hand. The windows of the maltings warehouse were open allowing the spiky sea air interact with the grain. Add that to the smell of the peat fires burning the previous day and all that’s great about Islay malt hung in my nostrils.
It’s always pleasure to uncork a Laphroaig back home as it prompts great memories, but this whisky is not for the faint hearted. Described by some as the liquid embodiment of a campfire, it’s meaty stuff that drinkers should work towards. However, those with more ‘experienced’ palletes will take the hefty smoke and iodine in their stride and dig out the depth and subtlety of this dram.
Yes, there’s plenty of peat smoke, but it’s the unmistakable smell of the sea which really appeals. As befits this mighty mouthful, the whisky is oily but work it around and you get that subtle sweetness. Finish is long and the whisky reveals its depth after those rather potent early exchanges.
Having enjoyed a reasonable amount of this, I find I prefer the 10 year-old with a splash of spring water… just softens it slightly.
That said, my favourite Laphroaig (so far) is the Quarter Cask where the use of smaller casks in the maturation means more wood interaction and even more sweetness.