*Thanks to the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.
Unless you find yourself in a dark, fragrant whisky warehouse fairly often, standing in front of a barrel with a pipette in one hand and a nosing glass in the other, there are just a few bottled opportunities to taste whisky (or whiskey, for that matter) as raw as it comes straight from the cask, un-filtered and, uh, un-watered-down. It’s not uncommon to find a bit of barrel char or sediment of some kind in a bottle of this kind which really just adds to the experience as far as I’m concerned. The sample of this Blackadder Raw Cask 1998 Laphroaig 12 Year Old that my friends at Impex Beverages were kind enough to supply was easily the most “populated” glass I’ve ever poured with large enough pieces of wood and debris floating around that I ended up filtering the dram through cheesecloth. Sure, I had visions of sitting back, enjoying the malt, wistfully picking slivers of European oak from my teeth, but in the end, it was bit more fun to see the flotsam and jetsam left on the cheesecloth.
Independent bottler Blackadder was founded in 1995 and is presumeably not named after the stellar BBC1 series of the same name, though I’m guessing Atkinson, Frye, and Laurie have all been known to enjoy a spot of whisky now and then. Filled in 1998, one hogshead yielded 210 un-filtered, non-colored cask strength bottles in early 2011 for this expression from Blackadder’s Raw Cask series.
The Nose: What I was expecting was a phenolic, ashy fireball, instead this has a gentler, almost fino sherry-tinged nose. Yes, the peat is there but it’s softened with crisp apples and a bit of tinned pineapple. The expected smoke is there, but it, too, is down the beach a ways, very subdued. Did I mention beach? I did, and that’s because there are wonderfully subtle notes of wet sand, dried seaweed and briney breeze. Interestingly, a bit of water brings this closer to the 10yo in that the peat and smoke come forward more. It’s still a bit fruitier still than the 10, with some added cocoa, caramel and licorice notes coming out.
The Palate: Ahhh, there’s a bit more of that attacking style I expected from a young Laphroaig. Slightly creamy with more pale sherry notes to start. There’s a surprising, rich dollop of chocolate brownie that accompanies a big swell of slightly sweetened medicinal peat. The smoke blows in towards the end, a bit ashy, but nicely woody and quite dry. A bit of water makes this just wonderful, that creamy chocolate is still there, the peat and smoke are just tempered a bit by a little anise-tinged sweetness that draws out the whole palate, balancing it even more and making for a much more approachable dram.
The Finish: Surprisingly dry, but expectedly long and wonderfully full of unsweetened cocoa, peat, and woodsmoke with a little renewed ashy-ness at the last.
Thoughts: I loved this. From the beach party of the nose to the rich, satisfying palate and finish, this one was just a pleasure to meet. I love Laphroaig’s brine and peat flavor profile, but I love it even more when there’s a layer of sweet complexity added to it as there was here. It was hard to resist tasting this 12yo alongside the distillery’s 10yo but I’m glad I did. This single cask expression was more complex than the 10, and ultimately, with a bit of water, more satisfying while still being unmistakably Laphroaig. Highly recommended.
Blackadder Raw Cask 1998 Laphroaig 12 Year Old, Islay