Ah, Laphroaig. They advertise themselves as “The most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies” on their website and on their bottle (at right). And when they say ‘flavour’ they mean smoke, peat, seaweed and iodine. Oh, there’s malt in there, too. Quite a bit actually.
I think Laphroaig is great for chasing mothers-in-law from the room. Just crack open a bottle, pour a little, and the more delicate souls will run for the hills. If you’ve never had this whisky, this superlative might get the message across. During the U.S. Prohibition, Laphroaig whisky was (famously) still being imported to the U.S., as “Such was the pungent seaweedy nose of Laphroaig that Ian persuaded the officials that the “Iodine” smell surely meant that Laphroaig had medical properties.”
Medicinal is one of the words used to express what folks taste in this whisky, but despite the billows of smoke, peat, iodine and phenolics, Laphroaig 10 is a quite well-balanced whisky. The malt that hits your palate at first is full, sweet and well-rounded, forming a pleasant base for the tar and iodine to expand into your nasal cavities and sinuses. So, too are the medicinal aspects balanced. Medicinal, yes, but there is much more going on than that — I never would compare this to Caol Ila 12, for example (review coming) which I do think of medicinal.
Another point in Laphroaig 10’s favor is that the smoke component of their peat is tasteful, not harsh or overdone. Again, the excellent malty base tempers the smoke, and it never comes over as unpleasantly ashy.
And finally, you won’t find overwhelming bitterness or harsh flavors in Laphroaig 10. Tons of flavor, some of it medicinal, yes — but it is not harsh. The bitterness from the oak balances well with the sweetness of the malt. (Perhaps this is due to their use of first-fill ex-bourbon barrels.) This is a well-finished whisky, no off notes. Assuming, of course, you like peat!
According to Islay Whisky Society’s website, the distillery (owned by the giant Suntory conglomerate) has its own water source at Kilbride Dam, and their own peat beds. They have a lively history, replete with battles with nearby Lagavulin, it’s worth a read. So is a gent’s visit to the distillery in 2010, where he describes the facilities, including the malting floors where Laphroaig still dry (at that time) 20% of their barley. It sounds like a big place, and with a capacity of 2.6 million liters of spirit per year, it is by any measurement, but they honor their history.
Laphroaig 1o-year old Islay single malt, 43% ABV
Nose: Earthy, foresty peat, seaweed, smoke and iodine.
Palate: Sweet malt followed by a blast of iodine, smoke, good cigar ash, oil, balanced by subtle fruit notes.
Finish: Incredibly long, with sweet malt balanced by oak tannins with ash, burnt driftwood, oil lingering on for hours.
Bottom Line: When you’ve moved up to the peaty whiskies, you cannot miss with Laphroaig 10. It is a work of art. it is not as smooth and silky as Lagavulin 16, but stands alone as a way to make a great peated whisky. Note, it is also much more affordable (about $50 US where I live) than Lagavulin.
That’s a powerful lot of flavor in there.