Right now you’re standing in the airport departures holding this bottle of Laphroaig Four Oak and debating whether this is worth purchasing?

Congratulations. You’ve come to the right place where we don’t mess around, label our reviews with meaningless scores or tepid text. If the whisky is good it’ll be judged as such. If it is another disappointing mess from Laphroaig then we won’t hold back. Are you ready? Then let us begin.

Recently I was travelling back from the Whiskybase Gathering event in Rotterdam slightly disappointed by my bottle purchases. Only a single item had been acquired and checked into the hold. The delicious Archives Glen Moray had evaded my capture and I was rather unexcited by the 28 year old Burnside. Something else was required and a browse through travel retail seemed like the most efficient option.

What a terrible disappointment. Whiskies with meaningless names and stories. The lack of age statements fought off by high prices. Look around right now. The influx of fake Japanese whiskies packaged up as something else that sit alongside the inoffensive ranks of Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Macallan. Travel retail isn’t a joy nowadays and is more like a boot up the backside to get you onto the plane quickly.

A quick scour of the latest special offers highlighted the Laphroaig Four Oak. Checking Malt for our review I was slightly surprised that a standalone piece wasn’t available. Personally, I believe Mark threw a strop after reviewing the Laphroaig Lore and the Laphroaig Select and couldn’t take anymore. I’ve reviewed the Laphroaig PX and was left dumbfounded. This great Islay distillery really isn’t producing the goods on a consistent basis and it needs to be called out more.

Downloading the Schiphol voucher, my special offer resulted in a bottle of the Laphroaig Four Oak for a fist-pumping £36. That’s quite a saving on the £60 or so, you see quoted online. It still doesn’t make it a winner from outset as we always score the whisky, but we do keep the asking price in mind.

There’s an unwritten rule in whisky that basically the more casks you use, the more messed up your whisky will become. A deviant not representative of the distillery. A cluster of woody notes and flavours. A whisky in search of flavour. These all came true in the Jura Seven Wood that is as misguided as any Donald Trump speech.

Needless to say, the expectations here are fairly low. When surprises do take place it’s a fun development. Enjoying the Laphroaig 10 year old, cask strength editions or various independent bottlings including the Signatory 1998, shows Laphroaig can still do something satisfying. It just isn’t normally found on an airport shelf.

On paper this Laphroaig already has its work cut out for it. Diluted to a legal minimum 40% strength, artificially enhanced with colouring, no age statement and filtered to within a millimetre of its life. It’s the perfect summary of 95% of the bottles right in front of you now. This doesn’t necessarily make it an evil or terrible whisky; just flawed from outset. And we have a litre of the stuff to explore so let’s kick on before boarding is called.

This Laphroaig unsurprisingly is a concoction of 4 cask types (ex-bourbon barrels, small quarter casks, virgin American oak barrels, European oak hogsheads), before being bottled at a disappointing 40% strength. This will set you back around £64 from the Whisky Exchange or if you prefer £63.90 from Amazon if you’re not travelling through an airport in the near future.

Laphroaig Four Oak – review

Colour: Gold leaf.

On the nose: Memories of gardening and spreading mulch. A brief touch of the coastal, Laphroaig-lite and ground almonds. There is a touch of smoke, but fleeting and a chemical washing powder aspect. Syrup, salted caramel and honey. Oddly calamine lotion and rich tea biscuits. Water reveals apples, fruit sugar and a touch of mint.

In the mouth: This is where the cracks and limitations come home to roost. Not so much Laphroaig-lite as Laphroaig-shite. That damp cardboard flavour that dominates most modern Laphroaigs. Very timid, flaccid and a brewers droop of an Islay whisky. This lacks gusto, baws, conviction and drive. A very gentle peat. Also, this whisky doesn’t respond well to time in the glass. It’s as if it crumbles with oxygen due to its fragile nature.

Ever had tinned soup from Baxters? Whatever flavour you purchase, they all manage to possess that same boggy, murky manufactured flavour that unites the range in a devilish twist. This characteristic is deeply rooted in the Laphroaig Four Oak and is revealed with water. Don’t do it.

Conclusions

When I pick up a Laphroaig, I’m wanting a worthwhile experience. I want to be transported to the overrated shores of Islay. The glory days of pre-war and pre 1980’s Laphroaig are gone and I accept this bitter fact. But the distillery can still produce a rugged whisky. Independent bottlings confirm this status, as does the distillery batch release. However, this is a misstep, a meh and confused whisky. Laphroaig offers medicinal coastal power. Elements that are sadly missing from this expression.

Despite picking this up for a reduced price on a par with the classic 10 year old, I feel somewhat cheated. Another to put amongst the disappointments file with the Laphroaig Lore, the shy Laphroaig Select and the below average Laphroaig PX Cask.

Next time I’m at Laphroaig I fully intend to grab an employee and ask what’s going wrong here?

Score: 2/10

CategoriesSingle Malt
  1. Richard says:

    Yeh, could you saved you the bother on this one, though I really liked the bottle of Lore I bought. Which Signatory bottling are you referring to? I just picked up a 1998 one from a refill sherry butt.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Richard, we have to cover these things so it was a necessary evil. Um, the Laphroaig Signatory is in the queue to go online but it is: distilled on 22nd September 1998 before being bottled on 14th October 2014 at 16 years of age. From a refill sherry butt (#700388), this resulted in an outturn of 739 bottles.

  2. Travis says:

    Great write up Jason. While shaking a distillery employee might be useful, I do really wonder if they have much impact on these types of releases. While distillery employees might cop the blame, me thinks it’s not their fault. Marketing and corporate pushing the ‘illusion of choice’ (i.e. multi options, but mostly poor) are the main drivers. If they only sold the 10, 10CS, 15, 18, 25 they’re wouldn’t be nearly as many bottles to flood the market with.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Travis, true and the sense of frustration. There’s a Laphroaig review tomorrow that demonstrates the distillery can still produce a worthwhile whisky. Just in-between the warehouse and the shop shelf, quality is sacrificed. Such a shame. Cheers, Jason.

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Michael, such a shame thankfully the staple 10yo is still around and whilst not the formidable proposition it once was, it represents better value all round. Thanks, Jason.

  3. WelshToro says:

    Bravo, Jason, for calling Laphroaig out. I’ve been doing just that for several years. I have problems with a number of the regular distillery releases but the travel retail stuff is beyond the pale. It’s sub-standard stuff dumped into travel retail in order to shift it and bring in some easy cash.

    As a Brit I find it offensive that the 10 year is a higher strength in most of the world. The Quarter Cask lacks something for me. The peat, rapid ageing and 48% can’t hide the fact that “something’s missing in the middle”, to quote XTC. It lacks complexity and I had the same criticism of the Lore. I enjoy the 15 year but it’s far too expensive for what it is. I recently opened a bottle of the 25yr (2014) which is decent but, again, way too expensive for what it delivers. (I picked it up in Spain a few years back for a very good price.) If Laphroaig bottled the 10 at 46% and sold it for the same price as Springbank 10 they would restore some of their diminishing reputation.

    In the mean time the independent bottlers have been releasing excellent Laphroaig the way it should be. I have had a number of Hunter Laing OMC bottlings that have been superb. North Star did a stunning 6yr recently. I’ve currently got a fine A.D Rattrey 6yr Williamson (teaspooned Laphroaig). Laphraoig produce great spirit and they screw it up with idiotic experiments and junk abv. Jesus, just sick it in some good casks and leave it the f… alone for a few years. Huff…..rant over. Glad we’re on the same wavelength. WT

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Thanks, WelshToro, sometimes you feel out of synch for stating these things especially on such a platform as we’re building here. But always go with your gut instincts, it has always served me well and means I can sleep at night and look in the mirror the next day.

      I share your frustration. There’s something fundamentally flawed with Laphroaig as we know it. You can apply to the same logic to a certain extent to Auchentoshan and Bowmore. On the whisky report card, it’d be a D minus and must do better.

      Hopefully the parents are listening?

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