The industry would like us to believe age doesn’t matter but after decades of being told otherwise, it’s a useful barometer of what may await once the seal is broken. After all, would you fork out over £100 for a No Age Statement release? I know I wouldn’t, regardless of the paraphernalia, Viking motifs or a jewel encrusted bottle stopper. Even the promise that the distillery manager has been involved – have you tried some of the Manager’s Dram range? I mean, who would pick some of those casks in their right mind?
Laphroaig nowadays represents one of the worst culprits of the No Age ethic with prices spiralling and consumer feedback varying greatly. Sadly and I mean this honestly, its not a distillery I follow or engage with greatly. Its glory days are long gone and unlike Bowmore there doesn’t seem to be the seeds of any revitalisation-taking root. Instead it seems content to up the peat content, whilst sacrificing any subtle and pleasurable characteristics for rudimentary and one-dimensional whiskies.
Have you had the dubious pleasure of the Laphroaig Lore? Within touching distance of £80, it’s technically a 7-year-old whisky at its heart. The recipe touched up with stock up to 21 years old, arguably deemed not good enough to some onlookers to warrant a standalone release. Those savvy marketing types put such facts through the Technicolor dream machine and it generates comments such as most precious stock whilst trying to escalate the potential profit per bottle. Then there’s the Brodir, Triple Wood, PX Cask Triple Matured, The 1815 Legacy Edition, An Cuan Mor and Four Oak – have I missed anyone? Oh yes, the Select, how could you forget that bottle?
The point here is we have a scattergun approach of whiskies. Some intended for travel retail, others for lower shelf retailers and all trading on the Laphroaig heritage. The results are a mixed bag to put it politely, with the trend for more releases and rising prices. What was an iconic brand has become devalued to the point where in supermarket terms it’s the corner shop with the emphasis on shifting quantity rather than quality. Laphroaig has become a whisky that offers the required blast of peat but nothing else. Harsh words indeed, but as outlined in my recent thoughts when sitting down with a 1970’s Laphroaig bottled by Bonfanti, change isn’t necessarily for the better and plenty of enthusiasts have disembarked from the distillery.
Laphroaig isn’t alone in this respect, especially whilst the market is buoyant and there’s money to be made. Ardbeg does support a series of annual No Age Statement releases and a handful of core editions. Generally, it does a better job of maximising what limited stock it has and treating its customers with a bit more respect. Still, it is verging on too much now, as the annual bog or swamp monster chase is becoming ludicrous. All we’re asking for is a decent whisky for a fair price – surely that’s not rocket science?
Needless to say the sighting of a Laphroaig in my whisky den is a rare sight indeed. It’s been a couple of years since I actually purchased a bottle myself. Yet here we have 2 examples for an interesting comparison thanks to a bottle share and also friends who passed on the remnants of the recent official cask strength release. This incumbent is 10-years-old whilst the independent bottling is from Exclusive Malts and is a youthful 5-years-old, but isn’t afraid to state the fact rather than hiding behind a meaningless name. Being a single cask bottling this will provide a snapshot in time whereas the official brethren is Batch 009, so it’ll be a vatting of several casks and is only available at the distillery for travellers who make the voyage to Islay.
Currently with all things peat selling for a premium and being favoured by the masses, Laphroaig could bottle at 3-years-old, add plenty of caramel and ask for a profitable retail price. Arguably some may suggest this has already happened to an extent. There are corporate owners and shareholders to satisfy, who in reality care very little for the quality that’s on the shelf. It’s a very narrow minded and shallow approach, as once the damage is done, consumers will look elsewhere. After all, it’s a very competitive realm with plenty of choice on the market.
Still, there is something about the history of Laphroaig and the great whiskies it’s produced in the past that keeps many enthusiasts clinging to the threadbare trails of hope. Whilst we’re a thickle lot, it must be said there’s a great deal of whisky romance about what once was and the ending of the current boom and the return to normality.
This 5-year-old Laphroaig comes from a sherry hogshead via the Creative Whisky Company as part of their Exclusive Malts range. Distilled in 2011, before being bottled from cask #4008 at a reasonable 56.6% strength and has proven popular at retail with a price around £50.
It’s an interesting overlooked fact that for many years we were denied the opportunity to try youthful, independent releases from certain distilleries. The major owners kept these out of reach of the independent market for a variety of reasons, or adopted the teaspooning approach to protect their brand. Now we’re seeing bottlings via the independents for distilleries such as Lagavulin, Talisker etc. You also hear tales of distilleries offering vast quantities of spirit, such as Highland Park, to the independent market, whereas previously all their stock was firmly controlled. Could we be verging on overproduction? Not triggered by a fall in demand, but over ambitious predictions and sheer greed that has created a new loch of whisky? Only time will tell and for now we have these 2 whiskies from Laphroaig.
Laphroaig 2011 Exclusive Malts 5 year old – review
Colour: golden bamboo
On the nose: it’s lighter than the 10, less peat roar and more of the cask sweetness. A rich spicy caramel, apples, rolled tobacco that becomes a spent cigarette butt, sawdust with hazelnuts and all-spice. With water a varnish quality that brings out more of the wood, resin and in the background aniseed.
In the mouth: a more fluid and approachable whisky, timid at first then noticeable qualities with firewood, tobacco, a salty brine with brown sugar and chilli comes forth. The addition of water delivers a chalky flint finish with dried fruits.
Given the sherry cask here, you’d be forgiven for expecting a firm hold even at 5 years however its more of a subtle handshake. The sweetness is already evident and the touch of complexity with a very pleasing finish. Given its youthfulness, this is surprisingly passable.
Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength Batch 009
On the nose: its as if someone lit a Molotov cocktail and handed it to you as this is a smouldering flammable hard-hitting peat blast. Honey, smoked ginger and caramel with hickory chippings, drenched in a dirty vanilla. Salt, mixed with driftwood and roasted coffee beans. With water more of the embers come through with a touch of cream and a fleeting orange aroma.
In the mouth: more smouldering qualities with a rich salty and sweetly ferocious peat followed by a dark chilli chocolate. Traces of charcoal, honey, liquorice, burnt brown toast and caramelised brown sugar. With water more brown bread qualities, assorted bar nuts and more strong dark chocolate.
I actually preferred this one without water. For an official Laphroaig its not bad, not bad at all. More character and oomph then the standard 10-year-old, its a rewarding whisky for those that make the trip to Islay.
In the end a worthwhile comparison. Both whiskies have distinctive and viable qualities, which begs the question why there are so many lacklustre Laphroaig’s on the market? The style of new make may have changed forever, but its still capable of delivering a satisfying experience when priced accordingly and treated with respect.