Laphroaig – 18
Ah, Laphroaig. The only thing Prince Charles and I have in common. It’s also “the most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies” don’t you know, which – for a whisky newcomer trying the famously feisty 10-year-old – translates to “why do I feel like I’ve just been shot in the face with a brine, TCP and liquid smoke super-soaker?” It’s character-building, no doubt, but I’d probably suggest easing into the world of Laphroaig with the rather more sweet and mellow Quarter Cask. It’s lovely once you’re in. Time does also tend to tame Islay peat, so let’s try something that’s had 18 years to reconsider its behaviour.
Nose: On pouring there’s an immediate combination of sea air and vanilla rising from the glass. There’s only a hint of smoke and iodine – it’s hugely more restrained than the 10-year-old, and a bit more subtle than the Quarter Cask. The buttery quality of the QC is very much in evidence though, and – after a little while – a really lovely lemony note appears: lemon verbena, sorrel, maybe even limoncello. In the background there are all sorts of subtle and interesting variations on the floral and herbal (violets, elderflower), and some fruity and liquorice notes too. Grand.
Taste: Salt and smoke at first, then it goes buttery. There’s dried pear with coriander seed and liquorice. Something a bit sweet and nutty: halva? Lemons and faint kippers, just to remind you you’re by the sea on Islay. I’m hugely reminded of the Army & Navy sweets that my gran used to give me as a child – not a bad thing.
Finish: A great long development. The lemons turn much more sweet and orangey (does suggesting kumquats make me sound like a total prat?), which is one of those fun and nifty things that whisky does sometimes. The liquorice is still there, and some tinned pears. Just a bit of distant peat smoke.
So, yeah, love this. It’s actually not a million miles away from the Quarter Cask in profile – just with less obvious bourbon vanilla sweetness and a good deal more quiet complexity. It’s also enormously easy and fun to drink. If I’m going to grouse it would only be that while this is bottled at 48% (perfect!) and non-chill-filtered (yay!) it does still have caramel colouring added, which seems particularly pointless when it’s sold in dark green bottles. But, nitpicking. Stellar stuff from good ol’ Islay.