...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, January 17, 2014

'Phroaig Phriday: Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength Batch 005

Okay, maybe one more report this week.  Since there was a Laphroaig last Friday, I'll do another one today.  This time it's even a current bottling.  WOW!

I like Laphroaig's batches of 10 year old CS.  They bottle a new round every year and each tends to be pretty solid.  I reviewed batch 002 way back in the day (almost two whole years ago) and was very taken by the multi-layered finish.

No matter how many bottles Laphroaig churns out of the 10yo CS, it's often very hard to come by via European retailers.  Meanwhile, here in The States it appears to be easier to get, but the price rises $5 to $10 with each new batch.  In California, the price is climbing close to $80.  But last month, while traveling with my in-laws in Upstate New York, I found a bottle for $57.  And promptly grabbed it.  This review is from my bottle.  Not the top of the bottle, rather a few drinks down the shoulder.

I don't have a bottle pic as the bottle currently resides 3000+ miles away, so I'll have to go with an official one.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam, Inc. (who have their own new owners...)
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
Age: minimum 10 years
Batch: 005, Feb 2013
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably not
Alcohol by Volume: 57.2%

The color is apple juice gold.  The first thing about the nose that strikes me is all of the rich American oak, much more than I remember there being in previous batches.  It's not off-kilter or new-ish oak (like in yesterday's report).  Instead it's a series of notes -- vanilla beans, coconut cream, and sawdust -- that are firmly integrated with the matured spirit notes.  There's very fruity honeyed peat that shifts to peat moss after several minutes.  Whole cloves, star anise, and dried cherries bundled in a burlap sack.  An occasional whiff of wood smoke too.  Lots of burnt stuff in the palate, from peat cigarettes to barrel char to wood ashes.  Some baking chocolate bitterness and hot tar.  A very intense herbal blast; not cooking herbs, but rather something more medicinal.  That note carries right into the finish and meets with sea salt and fresh seaweed.  Charred fish.  Something I can only describe as tangy tar.  It's extensive and very drying.

The burnt peat and cigarettes meet with some fresh apples in the nose.  Then grapefruits and cherry lollipops.  The beach, including sand and rotting seaweed.  The peat is more prominent now, the oak lessened.  The palate is lightly bitter, lightly creamy, and lightly floral.  There's the peat cigarette smoke and some orange and lemon rind.  It gets more candied with time.  The finish is also lightly bitter.  Some lingering smoke and a growing sweetness.

I read two reviews online in which the writers said they'd found sherry notes in this whisky.  I think what they'd experienced is the very rich oak imparting bold (not buttery) characteristics, maybe even some dried fruit.  This is indeed the oakiest of the Laphroaig 10yo CSes I've tried, the earlier batches being more nude and raw.

From what I've gathered from reading reviews by anoraks who have been drinking longer than I've been alive, this oak prevalence is becoming the new style almost across the industry.  When the oak is done well, it does add some richness to the whisky.  When it's done poorly, it's pretty awful.  The complaints by the older drinkers somewhat match my own: the added oak notes come at the expense of the actual malt spirit character.

I think ramping up the cask influence (via recharring, switching casks, warehouse climate adjustment, and increased knowledge about the oak itself) is easier and cheaper to do than improving the distillate.  If the company in charge of the distillery wants to make more product for less expense, then barley strains are going to be chosen for the amount of alcohol that can be squeezed out of each grain, yeast will be chosen for its activity, and still heating will be changed to cheaper less labor intensive means.  This will result in less expensive production processes, but it will also have an effect on the nose, palate, and texture of the resulting product.  And that's where the oak comes in to help bring more life into the whisky, or sometimes to artificially speed up the maturation.

All of that being said, I do like this batch of Laphroaig CS.  It's different than earlier versions, noticeably more decorated on the nose, but the oak plays well with the spirit.  If you prefer a brawnier Laphroaig zap, then I recommend going with an earlier batch (if you can find it).  I haven't had batch 004, but I do know that 001-003 are more raw than 005.  I hope that helps and I hope you find it at a good price.

Availability - Specialty retailers, though more available in the US than Europe
Pricing - $60-$85 (US), much higher in Europe
Rating - 87 (score dropped to 85 in a subsequent review)