Laphroaig vs Laphroaig

It used to be when you thought ‘peat’ you thought of Islay and likely the mighty Laphroaig…. its thick, tar and rubber quality with seaweed, iodine which stands up to say ‘Hello Islay peat!’ This quality puts it firmly on the favoured ‘hit list’ of true die hard peat lovers.

Whisky lovers will also often share their whisky preference arch… often starting with easy drinkable blends, then graduating to ‘gateway’ commercial single malts and then somewhere along the way while exploring various single malts getting their mind and taste buds absolutely blown away by something completely peaty!

Some remain in their ‘peat phase’ for a long time… others evolve beyond that while still harbouring a special place in their whisky heart for the first peat punch that hit their palate.

After an early flirtation with Laphroaig, I moved on to others quite quickly. However I will never forget the ‘silver seal’ Laphroaig 16 (1987) that I sampled… it was distinctly different than what I’d come to expect with a soft, sweet, almost flowery quality with initially just a curl of smoke before revealing its peatiier nature.

So when I saw several newer Laphroaig’s were playing around with different elements was quite excited! Smartly, took advantage of samples available at the Singapore duty free which were promoting their new PX Cask thinking it may reveal some of that sweeter, lighter and almost teasing quality I found with the 1987. They were also freely offering the An Cuan Mor meaning ‘Big Ocean’ for its proximity to the ocean.

Short answer is I passed on the Laphroaigs and surprisingly (to me!) acquired without a pre-tasting a boxed set exploring the underlying single malt elements in Ballantine’s 17 year. The challenge with those split second airport decisions is you know you are not truly giving the whisky a proper chance so I was delighted the PX made a re-appearance in a recent tasting session.

Our host very kindly pulled out the standard Laphroaig 10 year to compare. In a quick nip had the impression of:

  • Nose – Tar and rubber sweet
  • Palate – Distinctly Laphroaig sweet peat with that edge of seaweed iodine
  • Finish – More sweet peat
  • Water – Are you kidding? Nooooo!

That was when I realized how spoilt we’ve become in recent years with cask strength whiskies… And if not cask strength, then tending towards higher strength rather than the standard entry level whisky at 40%. Far from the ‘in your face’ peat I remembered, the 10 year seemed a tad weak though clearly peated.

When sampled next to the PX, suddenly discovered in the PX that I had earlier missed… by contrast it has a much sweeter quality and could clearly discern the sherry stamp.

 

And what do the folks over at Laphroaig have to say about their PX?

  • COLOUR: Antique Gold
  • NOSE: From the bottle there is a nice sherry aroma of sweet sultanas and raisins with a hint of sweet liquorice and only the slightest tang of peat. Adding a little water brings out the marzipan and almond aroma with a counterpoint of creamy nuts and lots of ripe fruits but again there’s only the slightest tang of peat smoke.
  • BODY: An intense and profound deepness
  • PALATE: Without water a massive explosion of peat fills the mouth with huge amounts of oakiness only just moderated by the sweeter heavy sherry flavour. Adding a touch of water only slightly moderates the massive peat reek which very slowly fades and just allows a little of the sweeter sherried flavours to come through although there is always that burst of peat smoke that dries the mouth.
  • FINISH: Concentrated peat and thick sherried oak with a deep dryness

What did we think in our initial tasting? Read related posts here:

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Unchartered Territory – Inchgower 13 year 46%

Next upon our evening of ‘Unchartered Territory‘, our host further eased up slightly from both peat and strength to introduce a new distillery – Inchgower.

The folks over at Diageo share that Inchgower was:

Moved and renamed, rescued and preserved, Inchgower became more than just a distillery for its founders and his loyal workers. It was an idea – a reaction to increasing land prices, and a commitment to Single Malt Scotch Whisky – and one of the only distilleries to inspire a poem.

As usual, we sampled blind then revealed the whisky…

Inchgower 13 yearInchgower 13 year 46% (Gordon & MacPhail)

  • Nose – Think canvas and paint, smoky perfume, chemistry lab, Parle biscuit, plastic
  • Palate – Soft and smooth, light spice, mellow, very nice, very likable with a good heart, sweet spices, something challenging to define but quite lovely
  • Finish – Short finish but engaging
  • Water – Not needed

What a treat! It was unfamiliar yet friendly. One of those whiskies that has enough going on to be interesting yet still be quite amiable.

And the reveal? A whisky none of us had sampled before and, no surprise, another excellent offering from Gordon & MacPhail. Matured in sherry hogshead, the bottle notes share describe it as:

The whisky has delicate Sherry influence with fresh pineapple and peach aromas. The palate is mouth warming with ripe banana and orange flavours. The finish is creamy with a milk chocolate edge.

For our host, it was unchartered territory to reverse the standard adage of lower strength to higher strength whisky… or begin with a whisky with lower peat levels then build up.

His logic was that he anticipated the Inchgower to be quite unique and wanted to leave the best for last. This was definitely a case of having the showstopper at the end!

So what was our conclusion by the end of the evening?

  • #1 most interesting
  • #3 most drinkable
  • #2 left behind

What were the whiskies we sampled in our ‘Unchartered Territory‘ evening?

  1. Island – Talisker 57′ North NAS 57%
  2. Islay – Laphroaig PX Cask NAS 48%
  3. Speyside – Inchgower 13 year 46% (G&MP)

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Unchartered Territory – Laphroaig PX 48%

Next upon our evening of ‘Unchartered Territory‘, our host eased up slightly from the peat and strength after the Talisker 57’ North 57%.

The Laphroaig PX Cask began its maturation in ex-bourbon barrels, then quarter casks before being finished in European oak Pedro Ximenez (PX) Sherry casks.

As usual, we sampled blind before revealing the whisky…

Laphroaig PX CaskLaphroaig PX Cask 48%

  • Nose – Peat, compost, cheese, very earthy, vegetal, some thought cheese sweet, that distinctive smell that comes from soaking clothes in lye soap, camphor, weeds in the river, black seaweed, fish tank, marshy but not salty, and a reminder that the peat is very much there
  • Palate – Spicy, bitter, quite mellow, subtle dry saunf? Quite musty, bitter with sweet, soft almost chocolatey
  • Finish – There with bitter sweet softness then stops
  • Water – Don’t… do yourself a favour and don’t even try

As we sampled, we found ourselves reaching for cucumbers – finding the whisky went well with the slightly bitter refreshing cucumber slices we keep on hand as a palate cleanser between whiskies.

And the reveal? Had the sense of it being closer to 43% than 48% and once we learned it was Laphroaig, it went ‘click’ as clearly part of the Laphroaig family.

Our host shared that he picked it up at the World of Whisky in London, largely motivated by it being a 200 anniversary…

Overall what did we think? Nothing wrong, yet nothing hugely right. Particularly after the Talisker, this one just did not stand out. It also surprised us as being a PX cask as we found few of the elements normally associated with the softer sweeter PX sherry PX cask matured whiskies.

I remember sampling it at Singapore duty free with the staff quite hopeful it would peak my interest, yet I resisted. Just as we found, my impression was that it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t outstandingly good either and certainly not exceptional enough to make the ‘cut’ for a precious purchase to bring back to Bombay.

What other whiskies did we sample in our ‘Unchartered Territory‘ evening?

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Unchartered Territory – Talisker 57′ North, Laphroaig PX, Inchgower 13 year

As the mercury rises in Mumbai and we impatiently wait for monsoon to make its appearance, our merry malt gang made its way over to a members home for an evening of whisky sampling.

The ‘non-theme’ of the evening proved to be ‘Unchartered Territory’. Each of the whiskies our host had never sampled. He also tried a reverse approach of starting with the strongest in alcohol strength progressing to the least powerful. Furthermore everything we tried for dinner were all new experiments. As usual, all tastings were blind before the dramatic reveal!

May's trio - Talisker, Laphroaig, Inchgower

May’s trio – Talisker, Laphroaig, Inchgower

What whiskies did we sample?

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