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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Bruichladdich Classic Laddie

Terroir matters.

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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).

 

 

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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

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Ardbeg Kelpie (Committee)

Ardbeg Kelpie will wrap its seaweedy tendrils around you

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The beautiful Kildalton coast on the tiny island of Islay is home to Ardbeg, a distillery that celebrated its 200th birthday in 2016. With experienced master blender Bill Lumsden at the helm and under the ownership of Moet Hennessy, Ardbeg has gone from strength to strength since it was rescued from its mothballed state in 1997. I find it interesting that whilst you see Ardbeg on the shelves of every Dan Murphy’s and almost every local liquor store, the bottles are shmickly packaging and their marketing campaigns are clever, underneath all of this the production at Ardbeg is actually quite small. Just Six Oregon pine washbacks and one pair of stills – that’s right, one pair! Despite this limitation the distillery produces 1.3 million litres a year, which all goes into an impressive number of expressions.

Ardbeg is a distillery that has a fascinating history intrinsically intertwined with its remote location on the craggy coast so they play on this mythos and lore to draw one in. Yet combined with this history is a sense of innovation, experimentation and vision for the future. The Ardbeg core range are like a group of friends that you have known forever and that you know you can count on anytime. However, the Ardbeg annual releases are like the cool new kids who capture your attention and impress you with their moxie. Ardbeg’s annual releases over the last few years have been nothing if not interesting. Some have been received more favourably than others. For example, Perpetuum in 2015 was a little underwhelming but the committee edition shone. Dark Cove in 2016 was good, but again, the committee edition was richer and lingered longer.

For those that may not be familiar with Ardbeg, let me explain the concept of the committee edition. Being part of the Ardbeg Committee is basically being part of their fan club or on their mailing list. The best part of this is the chance to purchase special bottlings reserved exclusively for members of the Committee. Each year a new expression is released for Ardbeg Day, 3 June. There is always a general release of the expression that is pretty easily available. However, before the general release is on the shelves, committee members have a chance to purchase the committee edition. On the release date you need to get up at the crack of dawn to click around on a website in a nervous but sleep-addled state, all with the hope of quickly securing a bottle for yourself within the short window before the entire lot is sold. If you’re lucky, your prize will be getting to try the Ardbeg annual release at cask strength instead of 46%. And it’s fun to have the more exclusive version 😛

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This year, the annual release is the Kelpie. What exactly is a “kelpie” you may ask? Being an Aussie, I certainly wondered! As I said, the mythos and lore of Ardbeg is strong, because of their connection to the sea, which has always been associated with adventures, tall tales and mystery. This release plays on all of that. Apparently, a kelpie is a Scottish version of a shape-shifting water spirit. They are said take the form of a horse but to be able to change into human form, and they lure sailors and those close to the shoreline to their doom. Lurking in the Gulf of Corryvreckan (just off the coast of Islay) and various lochs and seas around Scotland, they try to fool humans into following them into the murky depths. If they can throw in a cheeky dram of Ardbeg as well then I might just follow! To me, the idea of kelpie celebrates the seashore upon which the distillery stands and the folklore that surrounds it.

ardbeg kelpie

Without further ado, however, my review of the committee edition…

This year, the committee edition of the Kelpie is bottled at 51.7%. It has no age statement and has been matured in a combination of bourbon barrels and virgin casks made from Russian oak grown in an area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

I tasted this without water. You may want to add a drop to open it up or if you don’t usually drink cask strength whisky.

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Nose: A seaweedy, salty hit like a wave breaking. The distinctive iodine, medicinal note. Smoked fish – I thought smoked salmon, my husband thought something oily like mackerel. Invigorating pine characteristic of Ardbeg. Black pepper finishes it off.

Palate: Really peat forward and more of the smoked fish flavours that you get on the nose. Black olives, very bitter dark cocoa and pepper follow. A charry taste of bacon grease.

Finish: I tasted this last weekend… I’m almost still tasting it 😉 petroleum, smoke, toffee that’s been on the stove a moment too long because you were distracted.

I absolutely loved this. My favourite Ardbeg annual release to date. Fingers crossed that the general release is just as good and keep your eyes peeled for a comparative review when I get a chance to taste it too.

17/20

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