As 2017 draws to a close it brings to an end, the 175th Anniversary celebrations from Cadenheads. Somehow the finishing line is within touching distance with the collective sigh of relief from bank managers and flexible friends being tangible. There have been many highs, moments of sadness as bottles slipped through fingers only to appear on auction sites and the relentless stream of outturns.
Very few independent bottlers could sustain such an onslaught over the course of a year. Yes, the finish line is just around the corner – only a matter of weeks away – but deep down the final blows are yet to come. My own highlights from the year of Cadenhead’s has been the consistency of the releases, the variety and staying true to their fans by charging reasonable prices. There have been regrets particularly when a laptop issue put paid to any knowledge of the closed distillery outturn for a few hours and by then it was too late. However, I’ve opened and shared, including a sublime 33 year old Caol Ila or how about that 30 year old Mortlach and how can I forget the Caperdonich at 39? This has underlined the importance of actually breaking a seal and experiencing these whiskies. Yes, eventually the moment is gone but the memory endures. Plus I’ve managed to put aside a couple of treats for future tastings or evenings with friends where we can all appreciate what a wonderful anniversary it was.
Looking back, a highlight would be the specific shop bottlings. A simple idea executed rather well. This set of bottles, each adorned by a drawing of a Cadenhead shop, united the stores across Europe. Even in these times when we’re trying to separate ourselves from Europe, it was good to be reminded that whisky offers no barriers. The Cadenhead family as it were each performed the role of selecting their own favourite cask blind. Achieved in secrecy, this could have been a range of releases such as Littlemill, Heaven Hill or Caperdonich. Instead the stores unknowingly selected a varied assortment based purely on nose and taste. Even a Bruichladdich managed to make it through the selection process! Really, of all the casks in Campbeltown.
Laphroaig may be claimed as world class by Jim Murray but no cheques have landed here at Malt Towers and they needn’t bother. A distillery is built upon its whiskies and whenever the topic of Laphroaig comes up amongst friends or during tastings the reactions tend to be along the same lines. The shaking of heads, sighs and the dredging of old memories. Today it is a peat blast and little else officially with some very substandard releases and unrealistic prices. Check out our thoughts on the Laphroaig Lore for the vicious circle that this distillery finds itself trapped within. Thankfully the independents still manage to deliver whiskies that are free from master blender tampering who are burdened by the weight of shareholder expectations; around profit rather than whisky.
This is the third bottle in the series that I’ve managed to experience, albeit the first to warrant a review as I was able to walk away with a sample although it seemed a fair trade for the Glen Scotia I left behind. The standard of these shop selections so far has been impressive with the Springbank (Aberdeen) and Bruichladdich (Edinburgh) both recommended. Yes, another ‘Laddie that breaks the trend. For the next instalment we’re sitting down with the choice of the Salzburg store. Sadly, due to the recent failure to reach agreement over future franchise deals the Salzburg shop along with Berlin, will cease to operate as Cadenhead stores from the 1st January. Their choices for now will be a lasting legacy and our Austrian friends selected an 18 year old Laphroaig, distilled in 1998 and matured in a hogshead until 2017. Bottled at 57.4% strength with an outturn of 246, unsurprisingly this has sold out but you may be able to find one at an inflated cost somewhere else.
Cadenhead’s Laphroaig 1998 Salzburg review
On the nose: a very pungent oily and salty brine arrival. Smashed salted peanuts, candy floss and a glass of cream soda pop. An element of honey and some salted caramel. Just a couple of drops of water revives apples and the freshness of vanilla from the cask. Right at the back there’s a slight Parma violet note as it awakens and the whisky loosens up bring forth some chicken stock and ginger root.
In the mouth: a big spent gunpowder arrival followed by freshly plucked driftwood, vegetative decay and then into the brine again. Some pine nuts arrive but the lasting legacy is the salty finish. Limited yes, but bold and intoxicating. A couple of drops of water brings benefits. Ham hock, smoked haddock and a real savour emphasis is unlocked rounded off by charcoal.
A lovely robust and lively Laphroaig. Whenever I’m faced with such a whisky from this distillery that delivers, 9 times out of 10 its an independent bottling. The odd exception tends to be a more historical official bottling. This whisky has a tenacity that screams Islay and is a real crowd pleaser. It still lacks the depth and subtle aspects of older distillates from Laphroaig, but for a handful of salt and a mouthful of smoke its a crowd pleaser.