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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Single Malt Report: Laphroaig 15 year old 200th Anniversary

200K views for me, 200 years for Laphroaig...

Many long time whisky fans reminisce fondly about the old Laphroaig 15.  I am not amongst their number.  The 15 was fine but I always preferred the rawer 10yo and Cask Strength.  In 2009, the 15 was replaced by an 18 year old.  Imagine that, an official bottling replaced by an older whisky.  Again, I found the 18 to be decent though unremarkable, brighter than the 15, though quieter.  But in 2013, Laphroaig changed the design of all of their labels, and I was told by friends with reliable palates that the 18 had changed and improved.  I tried it and I agreed.  But now, in 2015, there's an undying rumor that the 18 year old is on its way out, to be replaced by a 15 year old.  IF, if, if that is true then that is some very quick turnaround/turnover.

Meanwhile, Laphroaig celebrated its 200th anniversary (1815-2015) earlier this year by releasing......you guessed it, a limited edition of a 15 year old.  Perhaps, I should put the limited in quotes.  It's a 72,000 bottle "limited" release.  (If someone mocks Diageo for their 50000+ bottle limited bourbons, then it would be hypocritical of him not to mock Beam Suntory for their 72000 bottle limited scotches.)  As of the day I am writing this post, neither this release nor the 2015 Cairdeas has made it to the West Coast, though they are both for sale in much of the rest of the country.

The reviews of this new 15yo have been very positive, so I purchased a pair of samples of it from the Whiskybase Shop to see if the whisky is worth the hubbub.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt
Region: Islay
Age: minimum 15 years
Release Year: 2015
Maturation: ex-bourbon barrels
"Limited" Release: 72,000 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 43%
Chill-filtration? Possibly
Caramel colored? Possibly

Drinking Laphroaig on a 95ºF summer's day was a little unusual for me, so I switched on The Flaming Lips' Christmas on Mars soundtrack for this tasting because it made sense.

The color is light gold with an orange hue.  The nose's first notes are mango, vanilla, shortbread, and a very soft peating.  Then comes grapefruit, Campari, dried grass clippings, and orange gummi bears.  But after a good 20+ minutes in the glass, the whisky emits some good Laphroaig stink and a whole pile of citrus peels.  The peat moss is much bigger on the palate.  A nice bitter edge to the smoke.  There's the grapefruit and Campari from the nose.  Then some smaller notes of lime, caramel, and peppercorns.  The finish has quite a bite for a 43%abv whisky.  Tart citrus, an herbal bitterness, and lots of pepper.  A moment of tropical fruit punch.  Smoke and sweetness lingers longest.

Since Laphroaig 10yo is often bottled at 40%abv overseas, I thought I'd check out what this 15yo would be like at that level.

WITH WATER (~40%abv)
The nose is full of orange peel and peated orange marmalade.  Vanilla and the seaside.  The palate is still pretty bold.  Wet wool left by the fireplace.  Very green peat.  Sharp peppery spearmint leaves.  A good bitter nip in the finish, along with some dirty peat and soft sweetness.

I'm uh...um...impressed.  All of Laphroaig's recent tootling around with oak in their NAS and AS stuff had resulted in my low expectations.  But this is good whisky.  While the oak is present, it never intrudes.  It's a mellower version of the 10, but still loaded with character.  Plus the whisky thrives with a few drops of added water.

If this is the stuff that would allegedly replace the new 18, then that wouldn't be a total tragedy.  Just a small bummer perhaps.  Pricing for this whisky starts at $80 in the US.  Personally, I won't pay that price for a 43%abv 15yo from a conglomerate.  You may feel differently.  Perhaps 72,000 bottles is super limited in your opinion, and thus the pricing is reasonable.  I would feel differently.  But as for the liquid itself, the quality is there.  If only we could have a world where the 10, 10CS, 15, and 18 would live together in harmony.  Maybe next decade?

Availability - apparently all over the US, except for the Best Coast
Pricing - $80-$100
Rating - 88