Laphroaig has a slightly intimidating reputation to a newbie scotch drinker. It’s almost a kind of ‘rite-of-passage’ to say you’ve tried and enjoyed a dram of this uncompromisingly smoky Islay malt. You certainly wouldn’t offer any of their expressions to a first timer, however there are complexities and flavours to Laphroaig that are far beyond the simple extremes of smoke and peat.
The ten year old is the first age-stated bottle in their lineup, with the “Select” being the budget NAS version which has not been too well received by the majority of folk. There’s a healthy dose of caramel colourant in the ten-year, as well as chill filtering and an ABV of 40% so this is far from a craft presentation. The most direct comparison to another Islay malt would be Ardbeg 10, which weighs in at 46% and boasts natural colour and non-chill filtration and actually in my opinion becomes a better whisky for it. These variables add up to a greater improvement in the final product than the sum of their parts, as we see so often.
The nose of Laphroaig 10 year old is one of immediate salty bonfire smoke with earthy wet leaves in the background. There’s a sweet oakiness and an overall very autumnal note to the whole experience. The nose carries neatly onto the palate with a fairly swift arrival, after which earthy flavours pervade and a bitter, burnt toast note dominates the finish which I find is what lets this dram down. The combination of a thin mouthfeel due to chill-filtration, a low ABV and the caramel colourant nipping the finish short really do this malt a disservice; there is obvious quality hiding in here somewhere, but sadly it’s been manufactured out in the name of marketing appeal. I found the addition of any water only added to the problems.
It’s not a bad dram but it is a disheartening that it could be a lot more, and I hope Laphroaig come around to a modern way of thinking and realise that today’s drinkers value genuine quality and honest presentation over rigid consistency. That said, I would be keen to try an independent bottling of Laphroaig and I find the idea of the Quarter Cask version interesting, with the spirit being matured in casks a quarter the size of a standard Bourbon barrel to increase wood-to-spirit ratio. It is also presented at 48% and without chill-filtration, which should significantly improve things despite the lack of an age statement.
As a side note, this is actually one of my favorite whiskies to use when “blending-up” a dram that I’m finding a tad bland. Add a teaspoon of Laphroaig 10 to a standard blend or blended malt and it tends to dominate a lot more than you would expect from such a small amount, and significantly peps things up.
Not off-putting by any means, but not the flagship bottling that such an iconic brand deserves.