First off, if this kind of thing puts you to sleep, I apologize. You can skip ahead if you want. If you’re like me and find toponymical bric-a-brac more exciting than you might care to admit in public, then, well, you’re in for a treat! Some Scottish distillery names are straightforward, easily translatable, and fairly obvious when it comes right down to it. Laphroaig’s origin, on the other hand, is apparently not much more than a linguistic best guess with a dash of supposition. The actual name of Laphroaig does not seem to have to shown up on maps or in records until the early 1800’s, which, not coincidently, is when the distillery was founded by the brothers Johnston, Donald and Alexander. That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s not some roots there, though. The most widely accepted explanation is that the name was derived from mix of Norse, breid-vik, meaning “broad bay”, and Gaelic, lag, meaning hollow, eventually forming the Gaelic Lag Bhròdhaig or “hollow by the broad bay”, which then finally morphed into Laphroaig. There’s also some thought that there’s some correlation to the stream on the East coast named Abhainn Phroaig which flows down to an area called Pròaig, which according to a map, could conceivably be called a broad bay.
Like I said, this one’s not so cut and dry. In any case, the name Laphroaig is here to stay and the distillery is kind of tucked in to a hollow on a somewhat broad-ish bay, so if it’s ok with you, we might as well stick with the whole Norse-Gaelic origins thing. Certainly, given its relative popularity (and somewhat obvious phonetic hints), Laphroaig is one of the few tricky-looking Scotch whisky names that most non-Scottish people actually have a chance at pronouncing correctly. Older Laphroaigs tend to set whisky lovers’ hearts a flutter, and this 22 year old stunner from the Creative Whisky Company’s Exclusive Malts range is no exception.
The Nose: Oh baby, certainly Laphroaig, but the nose is mellow, sweet, and relatively light feeling. The peat is there, oily and medicinal, but it’s more languid than pungent, robed in lingonberry sauce and caramel. Nice notes of juicy tangerine and warm chocolate sauce over vanilla bean ice cream are there as well. Wafting greenish wood smoke carries subtler hints of briney wet wood and browned meat. Well-integrated spice notes of soft clove, white pepper, allspice and dried star anise round out and balance this wonderful nose.
The Palate: An initially quite sweet entry with more citrus and fruit syrup is soon washed over as waves of peat, smoke and spice roll in. The smoke is drier now, ever so slightly ashy, and the peat bolder yet still a bit restrained and caramelized compared to younger Laphroaigs. The peat and wood spice work quite well in tandem together until larger wood spice notes of tannic clove, black pepper, ginger, sawn wood rise up and lead, mouth-wateringly, into the finish
The Finish: A bit of sea-spray, more drying clove, candied ginger, worn oak, and a bit of licorice eventually give way as that honeyed, medicinal, slightly tarry peat lingers on and on.
Thoughts: Tremendous stuff. Effortless is not a word I’d usually associate with Laphroaig, but this one does have that feeling. The re-fill bourbon cask used here has added just the right amount of sweetness, toned down that characteristic Laphroaig peat just enough while still keeping its distinct quality, and balanced it all with terrific wood spice. The end result is a wonderfully balanced, surprisingly nuanced whisky that progresses so, so nicely from start to finish. As much as this one is ripe for thoughtful, patient contemplation, it’s actually quite easy drinking as well – a dangerous combination. This one might not be easy to find at this point, but if you do, it’s well worth it. Highly, highly Recommended.
The Exclusive Malts 1990 Laphroaig 22 Year Old, Islay, IB +/-2012