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Friday, May 3, 2013

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig Triple Wood

I was going to save this report for later this month, but after reading Oliver Klimek's recent excellent post on wood usage, I figured the Laphroaig Triple Wood would (sorry) be one example of the whisky's industry's current mania over oak.

The Triple Wood (which has its own site) is essentially Laphroaig Quarter Cask with additional maturation time in oloroso sherry butts.  In more detail, per the video with John Campbell on the official site, the distillery takes their usual single malt that's been aging in refill bourbon barrels for 5-13 years, then ages it for an additional 9 months in 125-liter quarter casks, then ages it for 9 months in first fill oloroso butts, THEN ages it again for 21-24 months in refill sherry butts.  So, according to that video, it's a quadruple maturation.  Quadruple Wood doesn't have the same ring, does it?

Triple Wood started out as a Duty Free-only release for a year or two, then entered the larger markets around 2009.  It is priced higher than the Quarter Cask, likely due the additional maturation expense.  Or because Laphroaig is trying to market it as a more premium whisky.

My notes below come from two tastings.  The first is from the enormous Laphroaig Vertical I attended in December.  The second tasting was done here at home last month as I lined up my 30mL sample with a dram of the Quarter Cask.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam, Inc.
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Age: 8 to 16 years
Maturation: refill bourbon barrels --> quarter casks --> refill oloroso sherry butts --> first fill sherry butts (see above)
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Possibly
Alcohol by Volume: 48%

Color - Very bright gold
Nose - At first it's Frosted Flakes and overripe stone fruits sitting on a peat pillow.  Then there's a bunch of nondescript dried fruits and mango.  After a while cinnamon, sweet lemons, and rotting apples arrive.  The sherry has shorn off all the spirit's rough edges.
Palate - A much softer entry than the Quarter Cask, sweeter too.  Smoked dried cherries, chocolate, lavender flowers, and creme brulee.  In the far back hides sooty tobacco and a slight bitterness.
Finish - The peat strengthens here as does the bitter note.  Beyond that there's some vanilla, peated molasses, along with some farminess.  It's more tannic than the Quarter Cask, and has a snuffed cigarette note.  The sweetness carries the longest.

Nose - It dries out a bit.  Only a little sherry left, and the American oak takes over.  There's also some grass, hay, and soil, along with lemon rind.
Palate - Goes quiet.  There's still lots of soot & soil, though it is creamy soot & soil.
Finish - Remains lengthy with the peat soot and bitterness hanging on.

As per the notes above, with a quadruple maturation, this is one of the increasing number of modern malts with tons of woodwork.  But it's debatable why Laphroaig needs all this woodwork since its malt is so strong on its own.  Here, the whisky is beginning to stray away from the Laphroaig character.  The oceanside peat, seaweed, iodine, band-aids are gone.  As a result it's probably the most approachable of the Laphroaig line, for those who aren't big Laphroaig fans.  So perhaps that's the reason for the four maturation rounds.

But it still tastes and smells great, and that cannot be completely discounted.  I would be more than happy to drink this again (note the 48% ABV!).  As mentioned above it does carry a premium ($10-$15) above the Quarter Cask, so one is trading cash for the extra fruits and sherry.

For me, a Laphroaig fan, it sits a full step below the Quarter Cask because I love that whisky's bold intensity, its ramping up of the Laphroaig character.  I also would prefer both the regular Laphroaig 10yo and the 10yo cask strength over the Triple Wood.  But again, that's my palate.  Ultimately, the Triple Wood is a decent whisky that delivers the Laphroaig spirit cloaked in a series of barrels.

Availability - most liquor specialists
Pricing - $60-$75
Rating - 86