Ah, Laphroaig. The name is probably up there in the top-10 most talked about distilleries, probably. Mostly it seems from folks lamenting its downfall over the last couple of decades (why don’t we like change?) or those people who yap on about how good it is – the ones who put a borrowed Rolex on the neck of an unopened bottle in a wood somewhere in autumn, for a few dozen likes in the world of social media. You know the ones. Fair play to them. It’s more fun than doing laundry or topping up the oil in the car.
I’m going to state here and now that if I could only pick three bottles to have for the rest of my days, a Laphroaig wouldn’t be one of them. But then who the hell could pick just three bottles in the first place? That’s a discussion for the pub, not here. I do like their unique, easily recognisable peaty smokiness though, and find their TCP/medicinal element intriguing, but I couldn’t drink it every day. It’s a bit too characterful, which is an interesting counterpoint to my general feeling that a lot of whiskies these days lack a bit of character, but that’s a discussion for another day too.
I’m not going repeat ad nauseum the history of Laphroaig and bore you do death with it. That’s been covered plenty of times by others more knowledgeable than I. I’m not going to be able to add anything interesting or unknown to you in a few hundred words, and it would be embarrassing for me when I get schooled on the Islay icon anyway. And in terms of its history, and what something was like in years gone by, frankly I couldn’t give two hoots – I’m bothered about the “now”. I can’t go back in time and don’t have enough money to try older drams on a regular basis. I want to focus on the moment and not worry about history.
Except for the problem with that is the USP of this bottle is precisely “the history” – it’s a celebration of the distillery’s establishment in 1815 and bi-centenary of its existence. 1815 was a long time ago – Laphroaig had already been around 41 years when the Crimean War ended. I wonder if Laphroaig did a 1915 centenary release? Or perhaps a 1918 WWI celebration cask release? I doubt it. They were probably trying to produce whisky as fast as possible for the troops in Europe, who really needed a drink, to worry about marketing pap like that. As always, if you know, please do comment.
Instead, I will regale you with my own history of Laphroaig to help provide a yardstick for Laphroaig’s quality and style to compare with today’s offering. To date, this includes the 10-year-old (quite a few moons ago) and more recently the Four Oak, PX Cask and a dram of the Lore. The Ten is a distant memory, but a good one. The PX Cask is ok – inoffensive and quaffable but lacking a certain “je ne sais quoi” – I agree with Jason’s score of 4/10 for the PX. The Lore didn’t really do much for me at all – it was decidedly average and not well balanced. And the Four Oak is to whisky what a fart is to a 3-course dinner – a poor reminder of what has gone before. Again, I agree with Jason’s score of 2/10 for this. As I said, Laphroaig ain’t one of my faves.
Before I move onto the 1815, I must say a few words on the topic of “travel retail exclusive”. There aren’t many other phrases that raise the bile like it on Planet Whisky, except perhaps “flippers” I reckon. The phrase is met, usually, with derision and sneers. Travel retail exclusive bottlings are the place where (potentially good) whisky goes to die, on a shelf in an airport where the customer can’t really shop around (unless they wanted litres of Red Label or Bells). And yet we still buy these “limited” drams. And drink it. We must do, otherwise, it would cease to exist, right? I’m sure people do like them (each to their own and all that). That’s my observation of its current status.
Anyway, to the 1815. The 1815 is yet another no-age statement travel retail expression, released in 2017 with a pretty hefty price tag (which is becoming more the norm these days for this kind of thing) of £84.95 from the Whisky Exchange, or £90 via Amazon. That’s for a 70cl bottle, but it is bottled at 48% which isn’t too shabby – in comparison the Four Oak is bottled at 40% ABV. It has been aged in first-fill bourbon barrels and new European oak hogsheads. Otherwise, there’s very little else in factual terms mentioned about this release – I don’t understand why some distilleries don’t put details of their travel releases on their websites – are they trying to hide something? Yes is probably the answer to that question.
I must state that this bottle has come into my possession through my lovely and generous wife, but I will consider price in my review for parity.
So, taste time.
Laphroaig The 1815 Legacy Edition – review
Colour: Burnished amber illuminated by a red setting sun.
On the nose: Toasty walnuts, TCP, slight tar, oily rags, iodine and some tart lemon boiled sweets. A salty caramel pervades throughout. Juicy raisins join in. It’s intriguing, there are a few layers here. It has a heavy manner sitting on the tongue. The smoke comes through but it’s not a big a hit as I was expecting, it’s just a decent whiff in there, bringing it all together, but present enough so that you need to really find what’s hiding. Quite frankly, it’s very well balanced overall.
In the mouth: There’s some nice body to this. It’s thick and chewy with a lovely mouthfeel – there’s some heat there but it isn’t harsh. It’s really quite refined. The smoke and peat punch big and bold at first and lasts for quite a long time, overriding everything initially whilst partnering a medicine cabinet aroma. So long does it last that it makes you wonder what else is to come, but come it does. As it fades it reveals toffee, dried fig and a hint of ash. A dash of salt and iodine too with lingering tar carried by some woody notes, some spice and burnt almond to finish. Again, this is really well-balanced delicious dram. The sweetness from the toffee notes balance the heady smoky notes really well. Really good stuff.
I tried a sample of this straight after a sample of the PX Cask on a separate evening, and that body and richness the PX is missing, is present so much more in this 1815. It’s nice to see that not all travel retail exclusive releases contain naff whisky.
The 1815 is very well balanced and keeps that medicinal/smokey fingerprint of Laphroaig all the way through without overdoing it. For those who might mention the “no-age-statement” argument relative to the price – well this shows that it doesn’t need to have a “10”, “12” or “15” on the bottle for it to be any good. If you want to put what you think is an acceptable price based on an age, you’re doing yourself out of lovely experiences like this one.
So, what about the future of Laphroaig? Well, by the powers of probability, they must be putting some of their juice in good casks. So maybe there’s some good stuff that might just come our way in the future. Here’s hoping. And if not, many folks can wax lyrical about it. All whilst balancing a bottle of it on a rock in the ocean for that insta-pic.
A note of caution. I’m not sure about others out there, but I find my taste preferences vary significantly with mood, time of year, what I’ve had for dinner etc. but I’ve tried this across several weeks and find my notes and opinions towards this pretty consistent. This is damn fine and a whisky that I’m pleased to have in my collection, thanks to my incredibly generous wife.
There are commission links within this article but as you can see, they don’t affect our judgement. Our thanks to the Whisky Exchange for the lead image.