Last Thursday, a contingent from MoM visited the Hyatt Regency Hotel for a Laphroaig tasting, led by distillery manager, John Campbell.
Laphroaig is one of the world’s foremost distilleries, whose ubiquitous whisky’s popularity has not suffered one iota for being intensely peaty and utterly distinctive, and John talked us through just what makes such a powerful, muscular malt so well-loved the world over… He also let us in on a few rare treats (some of which have yet to hit shop shelves!).
The tasting consisted of 6 whiskies, though a few drams really shone out for us, the first of which was Laphroaig’s very exciting Triple Wood.
Now, this is, technically, not a new bottling; it’s been on the Travel Retail market for a short while in 1 litre size, and at a hearty 48% abv. However, as of September of this year, we’ll be seeing it for general sale, and that’s very good news indeed. As far as maturation goes, Triple Wood starts off just the same as Quarter Cask (which we love!). It’s aged for 6 ½ years in first fill bourbon barrels (from Maker’s Mark), before a 6-8 month secondary maturation in quarter-sized casks, made using Maker’s Mark barrel staves. Whereas Quarter Cask is bottled at this point, there’s one final stage for Triple Wood… The whisky is divided in two, with one half being matured in 1st fill Oloroso sherry for one year, and the other half being matured in refill sherry for two years.
By the way, if you were wondering, the sherry casks are sourced from Harvey’s…
Laphroaig Triple Wood
Nose: Molasses and oily toffee. Dates, walnuts, notes from the Maker’s Mark barrels (vanilla, toastiness, sweetness etc). We got oodles of butter, zest, cool wood smoke, almond, and passion fruit.
Palate: Dry and medicinal, with exotic spices, perhaps even some turmeric. The palate is surprisingly savoury at first, with what John described as “dry dampness” (taste and it’ll make sense!) – think musty wood sheds and hints of moist autumnal forest floor. The sherry notes are there too, but rather than being the big Christmas pudding flavour one often expects from Oloroso-aged whisky, we are instead treated to a much more restrained iced fruitcake, graced with hints of Laphroaig’s classic smoke.
Finish: Oaked. The mustiness carries into the finish, which lasts for a good while, with oily spices and dried fruit.
Next up was Laphroaig’s new Cask Strength 10 Year Old…
Relishing the fact we were amongst the first to try this new batch (it was only bottled Friday before last), we couldn’t wait to give it a whirl.
John explained the thinking behind releasing different batches… Basically it’s a way of offering veterans of Laphroaig something new and exciting to taste, without deviating too much from the classic house style. Every year there will be something new to look forward to, and in this case it’s at 55.3% abv (slightly lower than last year’s)…
Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength Batch 3 (bottled Friday before last)
Nose: Big and aromatic, massively creamy and oaky with more than a hint of fudge. It boasts a higher proportion of that woody/mustiness compared with the sweetness of last year’s CS release. Good levels of peatiness and a classic mix, as John Campbell describes, of “sweet, smoky, spicy, salty”.
Palate: Coal-like, or is that wood ash? A big whack of spicy sweetness, huge depth and oiliness. Hold it on the tongue for a while and you’ll start to find hints of fruit and maybe even Star Anise.
Finish: LOOOONNNGGG! Very long in fact, with sweetness, hints of saltiness and something vaguely floral.
Overall: Fantastic stuff!
Our final dram of the day was the very, very special 25 year old Laphroaig. Bottled at 50.9%, it retains effortless complexity, thanks also to its ageing (40% in refill sherry casks… …the other 60% in 1st fill Maker’s Mark bourbon barrels). This is bottled “when it’s ready”, so expect to find whiskies of 26, 27 and 28 years of age in this…
Laphroaig 25 Year Old
Nose: Very apple-y! The fruit led nose offers up hints of sherry, but mostly rich spice with sticking plasters, toffee and a touch of burnt bacon.
Palate: Whilst pertaining to Laphroaig’s house style, the 25 year old is decorated wonderfully with a surprising sweetness, and it ventures into an almost floral territory. We’re reminded of conifer trees, Solero ice lollies and bacon fat.
Finish: More of those Conifer notes, but fruits of the forest too, and liquorice, soft peat, cocoa – this is complex stuff…
Overall: Marvellous! A lot going on here.
We were told that the floral character we enjoyed in several of the drams comes from the combination of differing still sizes (the three smaller spirit stills offer up those wonderful floral/fruity notes, and the big daddy still provides the heavy, cereal notes).
During the tasting we also enjoyed a few other delicious whiskies, and we’ve updated our product pages with full tasting notes from the event, so check out: Laphroaig 10 Year Old, Laphroaig Quarter Cask and Laphroaig 18 Year Old.
After the tasting we hastily grabbed John Campbell for a quick interview…
MoM: Laphroaig uses a unique still setup incorporating 3 small and 1 large spirit still. Can you tell us a bit about the history and effect of this on the finished spirit?
JC: The history of this was it originally started off as two stills… In 1924, it went on to 4 stills, all similar to the same size they are now, then up to 6 in the 1940s/1950s. Then, in 1967, they changed it to 7 and this was when the real change to the way we distil took place. They moved from coal fired to steam heating in the stills and then they also put in this big, double-size and three small stills in the second distillation as well. The difference in flavour: more cereally/heavier, deeper flavours, whereas the small stills are really quite fruity.
MoM: Laphroaig sources 99% of its casks from Maker’s Mark (also in the Beam Global Group), aside from the commercial reality/necessity of this relationship, what do the Maker’s casks add to the whisky?
JC: They’re just better quality casks. The commercial reason is you get lower losses with Maker’s Mark casks because they’re better built and they’re air dried more, which means they take out more of the heavier, oakier flavours that we don’t necessarily want. [Maker’s Mark] will air dry them for 9 months, whereas normally it’s 6 or 7 months, so it opens the wood up a bit more. They’re the main two differences.
MoM: The success of Triple Wood at travel retail has eclipsed all expectation. Has this tempted you further down the “Peat + Sherry = Success” route?
JC: No, there’s other distilleries that do that quite well.
MoM: Ok, so no aspirations to?
JC: Not really no… …no I think that’s just, no, no… …no is the answer!
MoM: Any plans for a Blasda-esque low-peat whisky at any point in the future…?
JC: No, never. No chance of confusing the consumers.
JC: No, we are who we are.
MoM: You go to great pains to identify the batch numbers of your cask strength bottlings, how do you rate the relative importance of identifying differing batches when viewed against the cost of doing so?
JC: Well it hasn’t really changed our price structure. Laphroaig is not known for hiking prices up and taking advantage of the consumers. Laphroaig offers good value, good value and a consistent product basically. It’s the same with our festival bottlings – we don’t need to charge 200 quid a bottling. You don’t take the piss out of your consumers.
MoM: Laphroaig has a long-standing association with the Price of Wales and has a Royal Warrant (the only single-malt to have this)! Can you tell us anything about the Prince’s tastes when it comes to whisky?
JC: I’ve met him a couple times but I haven’t really got into detail about what he really likes about Laphroaig single malt. Everyone likes different things about Laphroaig. He just likes strong flavour, a nice strong palate!
MoM: Laphroaig’s peating process in its floor-maltings operation is somewhat unique isn’t it?
JC: It’s how we peat it. We peat and then we dry at a different temperature profile to most distilleries. So that gives us five or six smoke flavours that make up a phenol flavour, if you like.
MoM: So that’s the break down, the sub phenols, and which parts are they?
JC: Creosols and glycols are the two that we produce slightly different. They give us the tarry, iodine flavours.
MoM: Master of Malt are coming to this year’s Feis Ile. With the exception of Laphroaig’s distillery day, what do we need to see and do?
JC: I’m sure they’ll all be good; there’s a lot of good whiskies to be fair.
MoM: A lot of our people haven’t been to Islay before. Take the distilleries out of the equation – what pubs, what restaurants etc?
JC: Port Charlotte hotel is probably the best hotel on the island. Great restaurant there, good whisky bar… …Duffies- good selection of whisky, good host, live music at weekends… 7 miles of beach they call “the strand” – fantastic walks. It’s more for outdoor-y people, definitely in the summer; there’s events on all summer. There’s usually a beach rugby tournament .We’re very outdoor-y people, boats are something that people just have on Islay. It’s just because you’re beside the sea – everyone’s out in the sea.
MoM: Swimsuit model oiler, rollercoaster tester… These are the only jobs MoM can think of that they would happily change to. Is there anything that could tempt you away?
JC: Stupid answers coming into my head! Maybe photographer for Wonderbra? Something stupid like that, because there’s not many things considering. I don’t think there is really, even if you decided to do your own distillery, it would never be the same as Laphroaig. I’m dipped in Laphroaig!
MoM: John, thank you so much for your time!
– The Chaps at Master of Malt –