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Over the last few weeks I’ve been enjoying some great whisky winter warmers and with Christmas almost upon us, I felt the time was finally right to review a dram of quite exceptional quality from the Laphroaig distillery on Islay.
Laphroaig was founded by brothers Donald and Alexander Johnston under the encouraging eye of local laird Walter Frederick Campbell. Under Campbell’s care, Islay was spared much of the devastation of the Highland Clearances. Instead, he chose to focus on the creation of local businesses on the island. Indeed, it was Walter who founded much of the Islay we know today, including the villages of Port Charlotte, Port Ellen and Port Wemyss. Such was the debt he ran up in carrying out his improvements, however, he was forced to sell his estate and eventually left the island in 1847.
Laphroaig remained in the Johnston family until the passing of Ian Hunter, nephew of Sandy Johnston, in 1954. Hunter left the distillery in his will to his faithful secretary Bessie Williams who took great care of the site until it was acquired in the 1960s by Long John International. Long John was then purchased by Allied Domecq, who in turn were swallowed up by Jim Beam in 2005 only for Beam to merge with Japanese giant Suntory in 2014, bringing Laphroaig and neighbouring Bowmore distillery under the same family umbrella for the first time.
In February of 2018, distillery manager John Campbell announced that plans were afoot for significant expansion of the distillery’s production capabilities, with extensive talks ongoing as to how best to proceed. As with any distillery work, it will be seen as imperative that nothing be allowed to impact the character of the spirit.
Laphroaig is produced in its own unique way. Through the retention of the malting floors, up to 20% of the distillery’s malt requirements are provided onsite, creating a distinctive peaty character in the original kiln. In the still-house too, there are 7 pot stills, one of which is of a completely different design to the rest. This taller still produces a different new make spirit which is then blended with the output of its siblings to create the famously powerful Laphroaig character. Any expansion of the distillery’s capacity must take these little details into account and incorporate them into any new design.
Laphroaig is undoubtedly best known for its world famous 10 year old single malt, which has always been a great value dram of quite incredible flavour. Once a year however, they up the stakes a little with a limited batch of cask strength bottlings. The latest, batch 010, is bottled at 58% alcohol by volume and retails for around £65 a bottle.
Smell: Smoke and Tar, Charcoal and Ash, Liquorice, Vanilla Oak, Caramel, Orange, Cinnamon, Pepper… A stony beach on a wet and wild day…
Taste: Medicinal Peat and Acrid Smoke attack the senses, with Liquorice, Vanilla, Fiery Pepper, Dry Oak, Ginger and Sea Salt.
Thoughts: It may be approaching double the price of the original 10 year old, but the cask strength version is one of the most intense and pleasurable experiences you can have with whisky.
The traditional 10 year old Laphroaig is an all-time classic but this 10 year old cask strength is, quite simply, one of the best malts there is, anywhere. It’s not going to convert a Laphroaig hater, instead it takes what the distillery has already perfected in the 10 year old and somehow improves upon it. Still Laphroaig but it’s like this one has been turned up to 11.
I hope you have enjoyed my review of this cask strength Laphroaig and I hope also that you will be enjoying something equally special this holiday season. Feel free to let me know what you will be drinking in the comments below, or indeed on my social media channels.
Allow me to wish a very Merry Christmas to all those who celebrate the occasion and lots of happy dramming regardless, to those who don’t.
Neill @ WhiskyReviews.net