...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Laphroaig for my daughter: Laphroaig 40 year old

Writing this post is very surreal to me, but then again I'm so exhausted that the word "of" doesn't ring right in my ears when I say it out loud.  Uhv.  It sounds like a belch.

Reviewing Laphroaig 40 year old is strange for my brain because Laphroaig 40 is now a $5000 whisky (or $5300 with today's exchange rate).  And I don't understand how or why anyone would value a bottle of brown tempered poison at $5000.  As I hope this blog has demonstrated, I love whisky more than most man-made things.  And I have had the luck to have used luxury products at times during this life.  But at some point some whiskies get so expensive that I have difficulty reconciling them with logic and morals.

A whisky at this price point also exposes the vast financial strata of we whisky anoraks.  We see whisky pricing from different prospectives, often influenced by our income.  Some of us can spend $5000 on a bottle of whisky, some of us have a collection that is valued at $5000 in its entirety, and for some of us a $50 bottle is beyond our budget.  Just to be clear, I purchased this whisky sample as well as yesterday's sample of the 30 year old as part of a 20+ person bottle split a year and a half ago, when these bottles were 1/3 or 1/2 of their current prices.

And that sudden value rise brings up another set of realities, many of which would be better covered in its own separate post.  But Laphroaig 30 year old was originally priced at $240 in 2002, now it is selling for $1,600.  This 40 year old was once priced at $500, now it's $5000+.  So, unlike many current ultra-super-uber-premium releases, it did not start at four figures.  The market theoretically boosted it to its current price.  Also, it isn't Dalmore and it isn't Diageo.  At least it's old Laphroaig.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Release Year: 2001
Distillation Year: 1961 or earlier
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt Report
Region: Islay
Age: minimum 40 years
Maturation: likely ex-bourbon oak
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? No
Alcohol by Volume: 42.4%
Limited Release: 3300

The color is clover honey, noticeably lighter than the 30 year old.  The nose starts out with an intense maltiness, which is then countered by big rye-like spices (possibly from the oak?).  There's a little bit of a old bourbon character to it, lots of thick caramel and maple syrup.  There are moments of earthy molasses and flower blossoms.  Gradually, with air, an old dank musty smell emerges that reminds me of old sherry casks, but minus the sherry.  Then old sweaty leather notes and hints of lemons and peaches.  The palate dishes out big swoops of cream + vanilla + brown sugar + peat, at first.  Then the vanilla gets a little more floral, almost like jasmine.  Then big menthol and eucalyptus notes fire up, followed by some citrus around the edges.  That citrus changes a little in the finish, becoming bitter orange rind and bitter lemon soda.  Maybe some Juicy Fruit gum.  The cigar tobacco note that was so big in the 30 is quieter here and it gradually gets smokier in the mouth.  But the finish, like the palate, is never drying.

This was a surprise on many levels.  I had expected to like the 30 year old more than the 40 because I thought that the older one would have too much astringent oak.  But the flavors on the 40 are much more lively, and while the 30 dried my mouth out on contact, the 40 never did.  The peat is actually bigger on the 40's palate as well.  Also, as it's lighter in color than the 30, I wouldn't be surprised if more refill casks were in the mix.  It still has a old dusty bourbon quality to the nose, but that is only one segment of the whole.

If you're looking for an oldie with the biggest Laphroaig character, I'd still say you're better off with the 25 year old cask strength releases.  But this 40 year old is graceful without losing all of its power.  It keeps the subtleties of the 30, swaps out the drying tannic oak notes for more vivid tones, picks up some extra smoke, and gets darker and funkier in the nose.  I like it.  Is it worth $5000 to me?  No.  I've never had a whisky I'd pay $500 for, and only a handful I'd personally value over $250.  But add this one to that handful.  It was a unique pleasure.

Availability - A few retailers, mostly in Europe, probably some auctions too
Pricing - original US price range $500, currently......$5000 or more
Rating - 93


  1. Replies
    1. It is. I told Kristen, "This isn't bad." But my irritation about the big price$ then gave way to the fact that this was very vivid whisky, full of vitality even after 40 years.