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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Laphroaig for my daughter: Laphroaig 30 year old

I doubt that this whisky needs much of an intro.  From what I can piece together, there were a few European releases of Laphroaig's thirty year old around the turn of this century.  Then there was one release in 2002 and one in 2006, during which at least a few bottles officially made it to The States.  In 2008, another 30 year old represented their annual Cairdeas release.  In every instance, it was bottled at 43% ABV.

I obtained my sample of the 2002 release during the expansive Laphroaig vertical I attended a year and a half ago.  Rather than drinking it at the event, I wanted to save it for a special occasion.  And that occasion has arrived.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Release Year: 2002
Distillation Year: 1972 or earlier
Owner: Beam Suntory
Type: Single Malt Report
Region: Islay
Age: minimum 30 years
Maturation: probably American oak
Chill-filtration? No
Caramel colored? Probably not
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

The color is dark gold.  The nose is bereft of peat, at first.  There's very ripe honeydew, creme brûlée, and orange oil.  Then there are spearmint leaves, star anise, jasmine flowers, and eucalyptus.  It eventually gets slightly tarry and the brief peat that does reveal itself seems encased in apricot flesh.  The palate starts with intense butterscotch, then toasted oak, toasted barley, and toasted wheat bread.  Then brown butter(!), salt, sautéed greens, and very subtle vanilla.  There's lots of rich unsmoked tobacco along with hints of mango.  After 45 minutes of air, the palate starts eking out peat-infused pineapple, chili powder, and menthol/eucalyptus.  It's very drying.  The finish is mostly very dry cigar tobacco (a mild one, nothing dark or spicy).  Pink and green peppercorns, salt, honeydew, and an herbal bitterness.

This is by far the gentlest of the Laphroaigs I have tried.  There's lots of character in it, but mostly very subtle and quiet.  The fruit and herbs on the nose are my favorite parts of the package.  And the one HUGE note in the whisky is the almost endless cigar tobacco in the finish.  But other than that, the whisky gives out hints of what it could be......if it hadn't been reduced to 43%.  I'm under no illusion that the 30+ year old casks were at strengths higher than 50%.  But every good note, aside from the butterscotch, honeydew, and tobacco, is cut short as soon as it appears.  This makes me wonder what this would have been like at cask strength, even if just a few points higher.

There seems to be two types of older official Laphroaigs, the soft subtle ones like the 18yo and the bold vibrant ones like 25yo cask strength.  The 30yo will appeal to the lovers of the 18yo; those 12 extra years in the barrel have made it more graceful and (yes) oakier.  But if you're looking for expressiveness and power, the 25 year old is the way to go.

On a final note, the 30 year old used to sell for $240.  The same bottles now retail for $1,000 - $1,600.  Congrats to those who got in on the ground floor with this whisky because I can understand its original price as it's still a good (and relatively difficult to find) whisky.  But at its current price......???  I'm assuming it's now to be bought as an "investment" (though who's going to buy it from you for more than $1600?), not to drink.  If you have that kind of money on hand, get three bottles of the 25yo instead!

Availability - A few retailers, mostly in Europe
Pricing - original US price range $240, currently......whatever people will pay for it
Rating - 89