Laphroaig 10-year-old Sherry Oak Finish

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All change at Laphroaig

2021 will go down as a year of change at Laphroaig after distillery manager John Campbell bid farewell to the island after 27 years at the helm.

Campbell joined Laphroaig at the age of 24. He began his career in the warehouse but went on to gain experience of all aspects of the business, both at Laphroaig and during spells at Tormore, Miltonduff and Ardmore.

In 2001, Campbell became brewer at Laphroaig before being named distillery manager in 2006. Since then, he has become the longest serving manager in the distillery’s history, successfully guiding Laphroaig through the single malt boom and the explosion in whisky tourism as well as keeping the plant running during the Brexit fiasco, the trade wars and the small matter of a global pandemic.

As a matter of fact, the pandemic played a role in John deciding to move on. Whilst small rural communities escaped some of the restrictions felt by us city folk over the last two years they have still felt the full force of isolation in a heightened way. Many were completely cut off from family on the mainland and with ferries and planes only to be booked in emergency situations, there was no way to visit loved ones. It must have been especially strange on an island like Islay, where the community is so used to welcoming people from all over the world.

It’s understandable then, that some may begin to see their life going in a different direction. By taking a job as production director at Lochlea Distillery, Campbell will work with a fascinating new distillery on the western coast of the mainland and can base himself in Glasgow, with all the connectivity bonuses that brings.

On a professional level, John is just the latest in a line of industry veterans who have thrown in with new distilleries. There seems to be great appeal in being there at the start of things. Helping to create a new single malt from scratch must be a great contrast to being the custodian of a brand with two centuries worth of history.

For Laphroaig, of course, life goes on. The distillery was producing its heavily peated malt long before John Campbell was around and it will do so long after he’s gone but that doesn’t mean we can’t raise a glass to the end of an era.

The Whisky

The Laphroaig 10-year-old sherry oak launched in 2020. It’s made in a very similar way to the standard 10-year-old except it’s finished in European oak oloroso sherry casks and bottled at the higher strength of 48%.

Smell: Lots of pungent, sooty smoke swirling out the glass. Charcoal. Then dried fruits like raisins, sultanas and currants. Prunes. Wee bit of cherry. Leather. Cinnamon and ginger. Seashells and brine.

Taste: This time it’s the sherry that comes first. Right at the tip of the tongue there’s juicy raisins. That’s followed by smoke and ash and there’s plenty of it. There’s a touch of cinnamon and lots of black pepper, too. Touch of brine just before the smoke takes over again at the finish.

Thoughts: This is about as boldly flavoured as Scotch whisky gets. Some people will hate it but those who know Laphroaig will no doubt thoroughly enjoy it. It certainly ticked all the boxes for me.

The sherry is big but the the smoke is bigger and the two plat exceptionally well together. It’s not as medicinal as the regular 10-year-old, perhaps the sherry covers up some of the iodine, TCP notes but the fire and brimstone you’d expect from Islay’s most distinctive malt still comes through beautifully. Excellent stuff.

Value for money: For £60 you get a new take on one of the most famous single malts ever to have come from Islay. I doubt it would convince the non-believer but those of the Islay faith will love it.


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