Laphroaig 25 Year Old

A quarter century certainly softens the dram

I’ll state my bias loud and clear: Laphroaig is my favourite distillery. They were my first foray into serious whisky-drinker’s whisky and what piqued my interest in Islay. I’ll admit that when I first started drinking whisky I did get a bit of a self-satisfied pleasure from liking Laphroaig as they consistently produce some of the most challenging drams: typically characterised by full-blown peat smoke, a salty savouriness and strange, medicinal notes. As a lady, the fact that I was ordering a neat whisky has sometimes been enough to raise an eyebrow in a bar, and I have found that the effect has been even more noticeable when it was a supposedly ‘manly’ dram like Laphroaig— something that will certainly put hairs on your chest.

laph
Another sunny Scottish day

Laphroaig plays on this distinctive character with their ‘Opinions Welcome’ project. This project encourages drinkers to let the distiller know exactly what they think about their whiskies and the most creative entries often make Laphroaig sound distinctly unappetizing. Descriptions such as: ‘like being slapped with a mermaid’s tail’, ‘like licking a fireplace’, and ‘like barbeque after a dentist visit’, might not sound appealing to everyone but they certainly are accurate! The old adage ‘love it or hate it’ definitely applies to Laphroaig, and I am firmly in the ‘love it’ camp.

laph opinions

I am certainly not alone in my high estimation of Laphroaig. They are the best-selling Islay whisky, and their three wash stills and four spirit stills produce around 3.3 million litres a year. 70% of this output goes into their single malt and the rest into various blends. They have a big range of core expressions: the 10yo, Select, Quarter Cask, Triple Wood and (as of 2016) Lore are all available, with the Quarter Cask a definite highlight.

This review will be of the Laphroaig 25yo, which is a much older addition to their core range. The version I tried was bottled at 45.1% (there is another version out of there at 40%) and was made up of a mix of whisky matured in Oloroso sherry casks and American ex-bourbon barrels.

laph mane
Thanks to the awesome guys at Mane Liquor for doing bottle splits!

Whilst I may have talked up the challenging nature of Laphroaig whisky above, the effect of the lengthy ageing process has been to temper Laphroaig’s typically strong peat, iodine and seawater notes and to allow the sweeter characteristics of the sherry influence to come through a lot more. This is a very approachable and nuanced dram, and the proof is just about perfect— giving enough body and bite to the whisky without being overpowering.

Nose: Restrained, taking some time to open up with a hint of sherry sweetness.

Palate: A surprisingly strong burst of peat given the age (a quarter of a century!) but which quickly softens nicely into apricot, sultana, followed by spiced apple (nutmeg and anise) drizzled in treacle.

Finish: Light and a little bit oily, with lingering peat smoke and (finally) the signature maritime notes of Laphroaig at the end.

17/20

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Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve

glenlivet

The Glenlivet distillery is situated in the eponymous Glen of Livet, Ballindalloch, Speyside. As you drive through the rolling hills and picturesque valleys of this part of the world it is easy to imagine the frustration experienced by the excise men as, in days gone by, they scoured the hidden pockets of the countryside. They knew that illicit distilleries were operating in the area but in order to tax them they first had to find them, and that was a tricky matter indeed. The Glenlivet, however, has long operated on the right side of the law. George Smith founded the Glenlivet distillery at Upper Drumin in 1824 and was the first licensed distiller in the local area (a fact that made him quite unpopular with his unlicensed neighbours). Later he purchased a farm at nearby Minmore and built a second, grander distillery that opened in 1859. The Glenlivet passed through various generations of family until 1921 and since 2001 it been owned by Chivas Brothers, which is part of Pernot Ricard. The Glenlivet is currently the second bestselling single malt worldwide. The distillery is equipped with seven pairs of stills and produces around 11 million litres annually. Three pairs of stills are located in a huge stillroom, whose floor-to-ceiling windows overlook the beautiful glen.

The whisky I am reviewing today is The Glenlivet’s entry level expression, the Founder’s Reserve. It was released in 2015 and whilst it is not apparently intended as a replacement for the 12 year old— which is being slowly discontinued in the UK market— it seems like this is the new go-to Glenlivet and the expression most commonly available at your local bar and bottle shop. It has no age statement, is bottled at 40% ABV and has been matured in a combination of aged oak casks and American first-fill oak casks.

The Founder’s Reserve is a delicate, light, smooth and creamy dram. It is easy to drink, inoffensive and has an appropriate price point (in Australia I have regularly seen it for just over $50). However, it is quite a simple whisky and I found it difficult to discern much on the palate.

founders

Nose: Floral, delicate fruits like pears and green apples, honey and a little bit of vanilla from the American oak.

Palate: Light and sweet. A little watery at first but it opens up into fresh just ripe pear, vanilla and ginger. Finishes with an increasing dry woodiness.

Finish: Medium length but a rather one-dimensional vanilla note.

The Founder’s Reserve is a pleasant enough dram. It will not blow your socks off but it has a time and place. Perhaps best used for mixing in cocktails, introducing someone to whisky who hasn’t drunk much before or sharing with friends as something easy-to-drink whilst playing board games.

I should note that I am far more excited by other Glenlivet expressions. For example, the Nadurra range is consistently good, the Cipher is both complex  and fun (it was released in an entirely blacked-out bottle with no information but the legally-mandated ABV: a real mystery!), and all of the single-cask expressions that I have tried have been excellent. The conclusion that I draw from the above is that, for me, The Glenlivet shines when it bottles at a slightly higher ABV (say, 46% and above). However, I appreciate the fact that the Founder’s Reserve is approachable and widely obtainable, and if it broadens the appeal of whisky to more drinkers then that can only be a good thing for whisky generally.

12/20

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Bruichladdich Classic Laddie

Terroir matters.

laddie front

Bruichladdich is perched on the north shore of Islay’s Loch Indaal, a place where the waves gently lap at the shore and sheep roam contentedly (and also freely as there are no fences to stop them wandering onto the winding road that passes right by the distillery). In recent years, Bruichladdich has demonstrated their dedication to locality within their innovative approach to whisky-making. ‘Terroir matters’ has become their catch-cry and it is hard not to feel the special nature of location when you stand at the entry to the distillery, the wide-open sky above you, the gentle murmur of Loch Indaal behind you and the damp grass beneath your feet. Bruichladdich use various different kinds of barley in their whiskies– including some barley grown on Islay itself and the rare ‘bere’ barley varietal from Orkney— but it all 100% Scottish and their casks are all matured exclusively on site. Bruichladdich are also striving to achieve the highest level of phenol parts per million and thus the peatiest whisky ever, with the Octomore expressions being the fruits of this particularly daring and delicious experiment. Their ambition, however, belies their size: just two wash stills and 2 spirit stills, which do manage to output some 1.5 million litres a year.

When visiting the distillery in 2015, we were told the origins of the beautiful aquamarine color associated with the Bruichladdich brand and so prominently featured on the packaging of the Classic Laddie bottle. Apparently this color is the exact hue of

the sunlight glinting off the brilliant blue waves of Loch Indaal on a beautiful warm day.

Now I doubt that I’ve ever seen water quite that blue even in sunny Australia, let alone in frequently gloomy-weathered Scotland. But it does make a nice story. Personally, I quite like the aquamarine and the opaque bottling of the Classic Laddie, though I suspect this might be a love it or hate it kind of a deal more generally. A lot of people would probably rather be able to see the whisky within the bottle (to check the color, fill level, etc).

 

 

laddie bottle

In addition to being champions of terroir, Bruichladdich have also recently been at the forefront of transparency. You can find out a lot of information about your Bruichladdich whisky if you know where to look. If you are lucky enough to have a Bruichladdich bottle to hand, go grab it. See the five digit number in tiny print near the barcode on the back? Jump on the Bruichladdich website and plug it in. Voila! You now have the ‘recipe’ for that particular batch- all is revealed! The information that Bruichladdich is legally not allowed to put on the bottle (thanks to the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 and Regulation (EC) No 110/2008), such as the various ages of each the different casks that made up this particular vatting, is all there to see. It is absolutely fascinating.

I followed this process with the particular bottle of Classic Laddie that I am reviewing and here’s what I found. It was made with barley from the Scottish mainland, including some organic barley. It contains a vatting of whiskies aged in six different types of casks – bourbon barrel first fill, French Bandol red hogshead second fill, French Rhone Cote Rotie red hogshead second fill, Rivesaltes sweet red & white hogshead second fill, Bordeaux Pauillac red hogshead first fill  and Burgundy red hogshead first fill. The oldest was distilled in 2005 and the youngest was distilled in 2008, all eventually bottled in 2016. I understand that not every whisky-drinker is going to want to know this much detail about their whisky, but some people (myself included) surely do. The ins and outs of whisky labelling laws and (the lack of) transparency is a post for another day. Let me just note in passing, however, that by making this kind of information available I believe Bruichladdich is demonstrating their respect for the consumer. Every distillery knows exactly what goes into every one of their bottles, but as consumers we only get to know what the distillery chooses to share with us. And Bruichladdich shares a lot.

 

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The Classic Laddie is what you would call the signature Bruichladdich: the entry-level, core whisky in their range. It has no age statement and effectively replaced the Laddie Ten when it was introduced (now no longer available except at the distillery). Somewhat confusingly the Bruichladdich distillery produces three distinct lines of whisky: the Bruichladdich (unpeated) line, Port Charlotte (peated) line and Octomore (heavily peated) line. As a whisky from Bruichladdich line, the Classic Laddie is unpeated. It is also bottled at 50%. I really appreciate this little jump up in ABV from the more typical 40%, 43% or 46% from other distilleries’ core whiskies, as I find it makes a positive difference to the intensity of flavor and length of finish.

Nose: A delicate honey note opening up into stonefruit (stewed ripe peaches) and spring pears. These initial aromas are followed by citrus (mandarin) and floral notes (apple blossom). Finally, on revisiting it a second time, a buttery aroma bursts through which complements the honey and peach nicely.

Palate: The first thing to come through baked green apples, followed by bold and assertive citrus notes. A little bit of spice heat like a fresh ginger biscuit. Finally a sea saltiness washes through, a nod to the island terroir.

Finish: A long lingering finish. A citric tartness at first then a little maritime astringency at the sides of the tongue.

Overall, this is a good introduction to the Bruichladdich range. It is flavor-packed and more complex than you might originally expect. As it is unpeated it is a bit different from other Islay whiskies, it also doesn’t have the same ‘smack you in the face with a tarred fish’ quality of Laphroaig (I say that from a place of love) nor the resinous pine of Ardbeg. But it is still bold and interesting in its own way. Revisit it or visit it anew.

14.5/20

laddie truck

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Glenmorangie Astar

Glenmorangie’s Astar is a sweet, creamy dram perfect for a cold evening

glenmorangie

Glenmorangie has been owned by Moet-Hennessy since 2004 and is the fourth-most sold single malt in the world. The distillery is located in the northern Highlands and it never occurred to me that it was a coastal distillery. Unlike many other coastal distilleries, Glenmorangie never plays on the idea of it being a coastal whisky. The marketing doesn’t focus on seafarers tall-tales nor do the tasting notes say anything about casks in a warehouse being battered by the waves and imparting that maritime influence. However, it is very much a coastal- as evidenced from the fact you can almost feel the sea spray as you visit the distillery and when we were there we saw a seal cavorting just off-shore (for real!). The distillery is a beautiful place with narrow lanes, grey brick buildings and cherry-red painted doors. It has twelve stainless steel washbacks and six pairs of stills which they claim to be the tallest stills in Scotland. Apparently they are the height of a giraffe! Animal comparisons aside, the stillroom is truly an awe-inspiring sight and it also produces an awe-inspiring 6 million litres a year.

glenmo stills
The whopping Glenmorangie 8 metre stills with a 5.14 metre neck

There are a lot of different expressions in the Glenmorangie. The core range has consisted of the Original (10 year old), 18 year old and 25 year old, but the 25 year old has now been discontinued (although the tour guide hinted that it might comeback when the older stocks replenish in a few years). There are three different 12 year old expressions that begin maturation in bourbon barrels but are finished in different casks; the Quinta Ruban (port), Nectar D’Or (sauternes) and the Lasanta (sherry). These three are all crowd-pleasers. At my birthday party last year my supposedly ‘non-whisky-drinking’ friends drank the bar dry of the Quinta Ruban. I admit that it does go down quite easily! There is also the high-end core expression Signet (bottled with a satisfyingly weighty stopper) which is made using 20% chocolate malt. Finally, there is a myriad of travel-retail and annual Private Edition expressions, all with beautiful Gaelic names such as Sonnalta, Finealta, Artein, Ealanta, Companta, Tusail, Tayne, Duthac and my favourite Milsean. Phew that’s a lot! The dram that I am reviewing today is a slightly older Limited Edition release from 2008 called Astar.

astar

Astar means ‘journey’ in Gaelic. This dram certainly is a journey and the destination is delicious. It is bottled at 57.1% but is deceptively light considering the high ABV. I do not find it rough around the edges like some bottled at this strength. Matured in bourbon barrels made from slow-growing Missouri oak, it has all the rich and spicy bourbon characteristics that you would typically expect. The colour is a glowing golden hue.

Nose: Sweet over-ripe apricots and orange segments. Honeysuckle on a spring day. French caramels with sea salt flakes. Cinnamon warmth.

Palate: Orange sherbet from my childhood, moving into vanilla custard and crème brulee. Some pineapple, a little hint of mint freshness cutting through the sweet notes at the end.

Finish: A lovely lingering ginger warmth, and honey. Perfect for a cold evening.

I really enjoyed this dram, it is sweet and creamy. If you can still find a bottle somewhere then Astar is certainly one to get your hands on. But think twice about letting your ‘non-whisky-drinking’ friends join you for a dram though, they might drink you dry of it. 😉

16.5/20

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glenmo car
Wouldn’t it be nice to drive off into the sunset with a bottle of Astar and this honey!