Laphroaig Tasting 2.0

Lahproaig Tasting 01Ahh Laphroaig! Nothing like a kick of iodine to hit you in the face and make your eyes water. Laphroaig is the ultimate love it or hate it dram, so the mere fact I had this tasting will tell you which camp I’m in. While I was previously able to line up a nice selection of Laphroaigs, tonight’s tasting upped the ante with a few more premium bottlings. Over the past years, Laphroaig has released quite a lot of new expressions, all without an age statement. Another noticeable trend has been the use of quarter casks in almost all of their whisky. While this is a testament to the success of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, it’s also an indication that Laphroaig doesn’t shy away from speeding up the maturation process by using casks with a higher surface-to-liquid ratio. Lastly, Laphroaig seems to be marrying more and more different cask types together, culminating in the (rather disappointing) Four Oak. So… what are these recent Laphroaigs like, and how do they stack up against some of the old guns? Let’s find out: below is a short description of each of the whiskies, including a link to the full review.

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Ichiro’s Malt & Grain

Ichiro's Malt and GrainProducer: Ichiro’s Malt (Venture Whisky)
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

The latest bottling from the excellent Ichiro’s Malt stable, Malt & Grain is – as the name would suggest – a blended whisky. But it’s got a few tricks up its sleeve. Because it’s not just any blended whisky. It’s a World Blended Whisky. What this means is that whisky from other origins was shipped to Japan, where it was married with whisky from Ichiro’s Chichibu distillery. And let’s be honest, usually that’s bad news. There are countless examples of Japanese whisky on the market that don’t contain a single drop of spirit distilled in Japan.

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Laphroaig Select

Laphroaig Select 01Distillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

It’s no longer news that distilleries are replacing their aged standard expressions for no age statement bottlings. Talisker Skye and Bowmore Legend are just two examples. Laphroaig Select is another. Sure, the 10 year old is still around, but we should now view Select as the entry-level whisky for Laphroaig’s range. And as an entry-level, Select is meant to typify the distillery character and provide a teaser of what Laphroaig can do – at much cheaper production costs. But here’s the rub, many continue to view the 10 year old as the distillery’s standard bearer and reference point against which other Laphroaigs are judged. And truth is, that’s not a standard we can expect Laphroaig Select to live up to. To keep the price point attractive, Select consists of rather immature spirit, which was put through a wide variety of different casks. The result is a light, toned down version of Laphroaig. Given the love-it-or-hate-it character of Laphroaig, this does perhaps make for a better entry point, but not necessarily a better whisky.

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Glenglassaugh Peated Port Wood Finish

Glenglassaugh Peated Port Wood FinishDistillery: Glenglassaugh
Region: Highland
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

Throughout its turbulent history, Glenglassaugh distillery has closed and re-opened more times than I care to mention here. Since its last reboot in 2008 though, the distillery has gone from strength to strength. Whereas in past decades Glenglassaugh’s whisky featured mostly in blends such as Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark, these days its proudly bottled as single malt. Initially this was done through a small core range, but in recent years the distillery has also experimented with limited expressions through their Wood Finishes Series. This particular bottling was not only finished in port pipes, but also made from the distillery’s peated malt – the very same that’s used for Glenglassaugh Torfa. The result is something quite special, a delicious concoction of Highland peat and sumptuous forest fruits.

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Ichiro’s Malt Wine Wood Reserve

Ichiro's Wine Wood ReserveProducer: Ichiro’s Malt (Venture Whisky)
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 45%

When Akuto Ichiro set up Chichibu distillery in 2008, most people thought he was crazy. Japanese whisky sales were at their lowest level in decades, causing distillers such as Nikka and Suntory to cut production massively. In hindsight though, Ichiro’s timing could not have been better. Although few saw it coming, the popularity of Japanese whisky skyrocketed around half a decade later. While his competitors were struggling to meet demand, Ichiro’s warehouses were full – and he was ready to capitalise on this new whisky boom. What of course helped immensely was the quality of his product.

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Nikka Coffey Malt

Nikka Coffey MaltProducer: Nikka
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 45%

When Aeneas Coffey took his first steps in the distilling world as an exciseman in 1800, he could not have guessed that his name would one day be linked to a range of Japanese spirits. Yet such was the impact of Coffey’s inventions that he is now considered one of the most influential figures in whisky history. Traditionally, distilling took place in pot stills, which have to be cleaned out after each run. To increase efficiency, Coffey designed a column still, which could operate continuously. His patented Coffey still would go on to become the standard for distilling grain whisky, at a time when blending became increasingly popular. Although his patent has since expired, modern column stills are very similar to Coffey’s invention back then, and continue to be named Coffey stills.

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Glenfiddich Fire & Cane

Glenfiddich Fire CaneDistillery: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Fire & Cane is the fourth instalment in Glenfiddich’s Experimental Series. Uncharacteristically for Glenfiddich, this bottling features some peated spirit, married together with unpeated stocks from ex-bourbon barrels. To top it off, this whisky then spent three months in rum casks, sourced from a variety of Latin American countries. So the name is apt, but why is Fire & Cane experimental? After all, there’s plenty of rum finished whiskies, and there are peated whiskies beyond count. That’s true, but the combination of the two is quite unique (only Kura and the upcoming Ardbeg Drum that I can think of).

Glenfiddich does have a rum finished 21 year old, and has in the past dabbled with peat in its Caoran Reserve. But Fire & Cane is a different proposition altogether. For one, the distillery actually uses peated barley to achieve its smoky notes, rather than casks that previously held peated whisky. The result is a much sharper, spicier version of Glenfiddich, which then mingles with the toffee notes offered by the rum casks. I think Fire & Cane is best described as a dessert whisky, sweet and indulgent, perhaps even a bit too much so. It’s nice to pair this dram with dark chocolate, to allow the bitterness of the cocoa to balance out the sweetness of the whisky, but I can imagine other pairings could work equally well.

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Kavalan Distillery 01

Touring Taiwan’s Whisky Titan: A Visit to Kavalan Distillery

I remember my first taste of Kavalan. It was at a master class during a whisky festival, and Taiwanese whisky was very much a novelty at the time. Since then, Kavalan has gone from strength to strength. Its brand has grown massively, in no small part thanks to the multitude of awards snatched up. So when I marked Taiwan as my next holiday destination, I immediately checked Google Maps to see where the famous Kavalan distillery was located. After a not-so-accidental detour, we found ourselves at the King Car Yuan Shan distillery, as the place is more properly called. The home of such products as Mr. Brown coffee, Buckskin beer, YoGo Fresh yoghurt drinks, and more importantly… Kavalan Single Malt!

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Ledaig 18 year old

Ledaig 18 year old reviewDistillery: ­­Tobermory
Region: Islands
Age: 18 years old
abv: 46.3%

Describing a whole range of whiskies as wonderfully peated is sure to raise some expectations. Yet Tobermory distillery from the Isle of Mull told no word of a lie when they slapped this label on their range of Ledaigs. While the lively 10 year old is a great bargain, Ledaig has also released some excellent older bottlings lately. These include the sumptuous 19 year old Oloroso Cask and the alluring Dùsgadh. But today’s headline act is Ledaig 18 year old. Bottled at the customary 46.3% and matured in casks that previously held sherry, this Ledaig is produced in small batches. This particular batch is No. 02, but fortunately a new batch has been released since, pointing at Ledaig 18’s commercial success. This bottling comes in an elegantly designed wooden box, making it a great gift. Trust me though, give Ledaig 18 a taste and you’ll agree you’d rather not part with this whisky…

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