So, I’ve never been one to get all excited just because a whisky is peated. What’s there to like about a whisky that’s really all just about peat, smoke, charcoal, hell, brimfire? That’s not what makes single malt whisky such an attractive drink. I know not all of you might feel the same. Admittedly, even I make exceptions and can sometimes appreciate a young-ish Islay malt that has big flavour but not much in the way of complexity. Generally speaking though, I will avoid heavily peated whiskies when I’m looking for something for my own, personal enjoyment.
However, peat smoke is also one of my favourite aromas and flavours. It lifts a good whisky up to the upper echelons, as long as the peat plays a supporting role. Or it can even be the headliner, if the supporting acts are of top notch quality. That’s why I love medium peated whiskies like Bowmore, Benromach, Springbank and even Ardmore. There’s just so much more going on.
After all that, I’m sure you can appreciate Laphroaig is not my favourite distillery. Sure, they’ve made whiskies that I enjoy, but only every once in a while. It took me years to empty my bottle of Laphroaig 10 Years Cask Strength, and when I finally did, it wasn’t a sad moment. But even a heavily peated whisky that at first seems to be about kicking you in the balls and not much else, can reach great heights after lengthy maturation.
From experience, the turning point seems to come at around 15 years of age. That’s when the phenol levels have diminished a lot, while ester formation has generally increased. The whole becomes more subtle, poised and altogether friendlier. For instance, the official Laphroaig 18 Years is a personal favourite, while today I have another 18-year-old Laphroaig on the tasting table, but it instead is a single cask bottled by Douglas Laing.
Laphroaig 2000 18 Years XOP (52.9%, Douglas Laing, C#12780)
Nose: Hints of dried seaweed, just a whiff of iodine and plenty of embers and smouldering bonfire notes. Whispers of rubber boots and a touch of rock pools, and now finally bright lemon zest and pineapple, not unlike early 2000s Bowmore. Ending on cereal notes. Taste: Coastal and peaty with wonderful fruity notes like mango and peach, now accompanied by sweet notes of rock candy. Soft notes of white pepper too. Finish: Subtle spices, sweetness and fruitiness. Long.
Absolutely spot on. It becomes more rare these days to find heavily peated whiskies that offer more than just the coastal/smoky experience. As recommended by Fred Laing, dare to try it with an espresso. For me it brought out fantastic ashy and chocolate notes.