Laphroaig is a hard whiskey to love. They’ve campaigned on their uniquely acquired taste for years, and it’s more or less a pride point that the intensely smoky whisky is not for everyone. With 27, they’ve failed in their branding: this is a near perfect whisky, and the best peated release we’ve tasted so far.
Part of the perfection: gone is that nose-crinkling, saliva-burning, cough-inducing firebrand peaty character that you must learn to appreciate. Age has mellowed it to something easy to learn and yet-more rewarding to study further.
How age changed this single malt is a textbook lesson in barrel aging, so grab a chair.
With whisky in general, flavors are stronger or weaker at different points in the aging process based on what causes them. So oak-related flavors (caramel, vanilla, tobacco) get stronger as the whisky ages. Grainy flavors and citrus notes, which come largely from the grain and the fermentation process, dissipate over time.
Peat is, in a way, the first flavor introduced into the whiskey. It’s the result of drying the malted barley used to make the whiskey over smoky peat fires before it’s even fermented. Because peat smoke is introduced so early, whisky on average gets less peaty as it ages.
If the characteristic roiling, seaside bonfire character of Laphroaig still exists in this whisky, it’s a faint murmur at this point. Smoke still lingers, but that unique fiery personality has died down to reveal other flavor dynamics at play. We taste lime, tangerine and a hint of pear, where Laphroaig is rarely describable as fruity (not by us, anyway).
The whisky is quite simply at its peak, completely accessible to the peat-adverse drinkers. Though tiny hints of smoke are still present, they’re very much in the background. The finish is leathery with just a bit of tobacco spice, but it goes on and on, laying on your tongue with this delicious smoked vanilla note.
There’s very little room for water with this one: it’s proofed to a mere 41.7 percent ABV or 83.4 proof. But you won’t need it anyway.
What you will need is a substantial investment to enjoy it. The price tag is unfortunately steep: at 27 years they’ve priced the limited supply at $750 a bottle. Maybe treat yourself closer to the holidays, when the year-end smoke clears.