Here it is, Whisky & Words #100. I have saved a good one for this, an old whisky, Laphroaig 25. Age does not improve everything (my joints for example) but it sure does magic to whisky. I have not had a lot of experience with really old whiskies: a Talisker 25 I ordered at a nice restaurant in Manhattan and a 34-year old valinched right from the cask at Balvenie are my benchmarks.
Those were very special whiskies and they made a deep impression on my palate. Other than those, I have tried a number of Scotches of moderate age, 15 to 18 years, and while those are quite good and show improvement over the garden variety 12, they did not have the magic of the multi-decade-aged spirits. That Talisker and the Balvenie cask belong in a different class of spirit.
Recently, thanks to a really awesome spouse and a major birthday, I have my own bottle of Laphroaig 25. It’s been a hectic summer and I’m late to this party, so time to open it up and see what it’s got.
As you’ll note from the photos, this is a very lightly colored spirit. That’s typical of Laphroaig. They’re using ex-Bourbon barrels, no sherry butts, and there is no caramel coloring (e150) in this bottle. (As I learned from whiskies such as the Ardbeg standard, a spirit light in color can pack a big punch. So does this dram.) The presentation overall is restrained and classic, just your standard green Laphroaig bottle and a “just the facts, ma’am” label. As seen in the photos, the bottle does come in a very sturdy wooden box with a metal latch, which should impress your friends. Too sturdy that box, it’s quite a struggle to get the bottle out of it. But once the bottle is free, you can store your banknotes in it and latch it securely.
Upon uncorking, the nature of this expression makes itself known immediately. The phenolic aspect of Laphroaig has been tamed and yet there is so much of it, you don’t have to get near the glass to smell it. It’s a gentle smoke, more the aroma of a well-smoked poultry than a harsh beach fire. The laid back phenols (a little bit of old fashioned rubber band-aids) balance with rose and fruit (cherry and strawberry). As I get right into the glass, fragrant oak, cinnamon and a hint of mineral are added.
On the palate, the feel is very smooth and unctuous. The front of the tongue picks up chewy white chocolate sweetness, more vanilla than caramel, followed by cinnamon and nutmeg. Down the sides of the tongue, you have sturdy bitters that balance the dram. Despite the fairly high ABV, there is no harshness to this spirit at all.
Finish is long, smooth, vanilla-heavy white chocolate that dries nicely while the smoke hangs around to remind you this is an Islay whisky.
Note, it is bottled at cask strength. Although Scotch whiskies go into the cask at nearly 70% ABV, over time more alcohol than water evaporates through the cask so ABV drops.
Laphroaig 25 Islay single malt Scotch whisky, 49.8% ABV
Nose: Very aromatic! Gentle but deep smoke and mellow phenols. Some band-aid, rose, cherry and strawberry. Oak, cinnamon and nutmeg on closer inspection.
Palate: Smooth and pleasantly oily. White chocolate, loads of vanilla and a hint of caramel. It leads into a pleasant level of bitter dryness to clean up.
Finish: Long, smoky like a smoked pheasant, not a fire or a cigar; vanilla and white chocolate hang around as well. Very dry.
Bottom Line: No fooling, this is a complete and utter once-in-a-lifetime splurge for us at $750 the bottle here in Oregon. So you have to expect something utterly amazing. It is that, indeed. But clearly, you are paying for the rarity factor. The amount of whisky left in a cask after 25 years is about half the starting amount due to a 2% loss per year to evaporation, the angel’s share. This is a case where the bottom line analysis just doesn’t cut it. Is it a great whisky? Yes. Is it worth the price of airfare roundtrip cross country? To me, yes; flying is a drag. but many would disagree. Is it 10 times better than a lot of good $75 whiskies? Again, there are many who would argue, no way! But let me put it this way: the only way to get the magic of a superbly long-aged whisky is to age it for decades and take that angel’s share loss. That brings the magic, but also forces the rarity and hence the cost. I plan to share the magic with those who truly appreciate a special dram.