Monday, February 17, 2014

Whisky Review: Laphroaig 18 Year

The 18 Year is currently the oldest standard expression in the Laphroaig stable (older expressions are released more haphazardly - if you'd like to read about them, I'll point you towards Michael Kravitz's blog). It was brought in a few years ago to replace the previous 15 Year expression, both moving up the value chain a bit and bringing something more approachable to a rather aggressive set of whiskies.

Unlike the 10 Year, this older whisky is bottled at a very respectable 48% without chill filtration.

Thanks to Florin for the sample.

© Laphroaig
Laphroaig 18 Year

Nose: gentle savory Laphroaig peat (a bit more vegetal than smoky) over warm caramel and malt, floral, hints of green fruit, vanilla (growing with time), salty/maritime, threads of charred/smoky oak, roasted veggies, sweet bubblegum. After adding a few drops of water, the malt becomes dominant with floral notes tucked inside, abundant vanilla, less peat and oak, sweet salted caramels, wood smoke, and the bubblegum becomes fruitier.

Taste: fairly classic Laphroaig profile but softer, alcohol is noticeable with sweet vanilla and caramel throughout, a bit vegetal with green apple sourness near the front, some peppery bitter oak and a touch of salty/dirty peat near the back. After dilution, peat, pepper, and oak become much stronger from the mid-palate to the back, the sourness is accentuated and integrates with the peat, there's more bourbon barrel fruit, malt, and wood, plus some cigarette ash at the back, the vanilla isn't as strong but feels more out of place, and it is more savory overall.

Finish: dirty peat and oak, sour floral notes, malty vanilla

I had high hopes for this before opening the sample. While I generally like Laphroaig's profile, it helps to have a higher bottling proof (the Cask Strength has been my favorite so far) and the age should have mellowed it a bit.

However, I felt like the spirit had given up a bit too much to the barrel. The peat has receded to almost a whisper and on my first tasting the vanilla was nearly overwhelming. It felt out of kilter, rather than being a pleasant, integrated experience. This is a shame as the 18 Year is actually pretty reasonably priced in Oregon compared to other states, so I was hoping to have found a great deal.

This makes me rather sad that I missed out on the 15 Year. Having tried a few of Laphroaig's whiskies, it seems like that would be a sweet spot - not too old, but not too young. However, I suspect that the 18 Year's weaknesses are largely by design - Laphroaig wanted to produce an expression that would cater to people who wanted a sweeter, less aggressive whisky. Sweet and smoky sells these days.

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