Recap – Laphroaig Tasting with Simon Brooking

The second tasting of last weekend’s trio was proof that sometimes joining internet mailing lists really pays off. When I signed up for the “Friends of Laphroaig mailing list, I figured I might get a standard marketing email or two every now and again, so I was pleasantly suprised to receive their invite to a San Francisco tasting with their Master Ambassador Simon Brooking.

Held upstairs in a large private room at The Waterfront restaurant, Laphroiag picked a pretty great locale for this event. The setting sun streamed in one side of the room, lighting up the Bay Bridge and the East Bay visible from the other side.  Upon arrival, we had our choice of three Laphroaig cocktails to sip and passed hors d’oeuvres and cheese & fruit plates to nibble from. Admittedly, I’m kind of against putting Laphroaig in a cocktail, it seems a bit like driving a Ferrari 10 blocks to the corner store.  That said, I’ve had several great cocktails made with the stuff, and “the Packhorse” made with Quarter Cask was no exception.  Still…it seems wrong somehow…tho’, clearly my loose morals are not getting in the way of enjoying such things.

Mr. Brooking started the event off properly by singing a great traditional toast, a little Laphroaig 10 Year Old and a description of the Distillery, it’s processes and it’s whiskies. There were also a few Ardmores on hand as well, and while he didn’t talk about that distillery as much, he did make the interesting distinction between Islay peat and Highland peat witch comes mainly from decomposed pine rather than seaweed and moss, giving the smoke a much different hue in the Ardmore expressions.  Mr. Brooking also assuaged any fears by telling us that Islay had enough peat to last 500 years, which comes as a great relief to me, but I weep for my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandchildren.

Along with the malts, there were examples of the Islay and Highland peat, which he charred a bit for us to demonstrate the different qualities of each.  He also had a bit of barley to taste, really stressing the importance of the ingredients and terroir in these malts.  We tasted 5 Laphroaig expressions and 1 Ardmore, each proceeded by a toast and followed by a quick discussion of its characteristics:

Laphroaig 10 Year Old doesn’t really need any more written about it.  It is a true classic, phenolic, medicinal, briney and aggressive.  An interesting note, the 10 Year will be the only Laphroaig bottled at 40%ABV next year, with the trend towards higher strength bottlings, the other expressions will change accordingly.

Laphroaig Cask Strength.  This was a new Cask Strength, not yet on the market. Labeled as #1, it was casked in 1999 and aged for 10 years.  Like the Cask Strengths before it, this is a big, huge, eyewatering dram, the peat-smoke is, of course, right there, as is the brine, but there are some sweet notes as well, a bit of sherry, citrus and spice.

Laphroiag Quarter Cask remains one of my favorite malts.  Aged between 5 and 11 years in 200 liter bourbon casks, it spends the last 8 months or so in 100 liter quarter casks, which are made from larger, cut-down bourbon casks (Laphroiag uses almost all Maker’s Mark casks).  Bottled non-chill-filtered at 48%, this stuff is the perfect marriage of smoke, spice, wood and just the right amount of sweet vanilla/sherry tones .

Laphroaig 18 Year Old.  The 18 is replacing the 15 Year Old in the line.  I was surprised at how much mellowing influence the maturation had on this.  There’s still a lot of…Laphroaig-ness, peat, brine, etc., but as one might expect with 18 years, there’s  a lot of wood, of oak here, too. Things have mellowed considerably, and while still big and bold, this one’s wiser than its younger brothers.

Laphroaig 25 Year Old.  Wow.  I was very excited when I saw that we were tasting the 25 and I have to say it lived up to all my expectations.  Like the 18, the wood has mellowed things quite a bit, but since they’re using a combination of 40% sherry casks and 60% bourbon, there’s an added layer of complexity.  The sherry influence adds a creaminess and a vin santo/raisin-y quality to the Islay peat and spice that is just fantastic.  A remarkable dram, this one.

Ardmore 30 year Old.  Another unexpected treat, bottled at 53.7% and non-chill-filtered, this Highland malt only appeared on US shores last spring.  Ardmore is strongly peated for a Highland, but I have to admit, tasting this on the heels of 5 Laphroaigs, I might have been a little peated out.  Still, there was a great balance here between the wood and the smoke.  A lot of nice floral notes, anise and apple.

This was a great event.  Mr. Brooking was a fun, generous, sincere host.  He answered all questions with not just patience and expertise but with true enthusiasm as well.   Laphroaig really went the extra mile to show it’s appreciation for its “friends”…glad I signed on to that list!

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