Laphroaig 10 year old

Laphroaig 10 year oldDistillery: Laphroaig
Region: Islay
Age: 10 year old
abv: 40%

As Laphroaig’s core expression, the 10 year old embodies the distillery character in its purest form, unburdened by the process of extensive maturation or additional finishes. While many whisky makers boast of their maritime influences, no other whisky reflects this in the final product more than Laphroaig. Pungent, peaty and powerful, in many ways it is the quintessential Islay malt. As such Laphroaig is the ultimate ‘love it or hate it’ dram, a term the distillery itself once used as an advertising slogan. In fact, Laphroaig is so medicinal in flavour and aroma that it could legally be sold as a medical spirit during Prohibition in the Unites States.

I distinctly remember disliking that big rush of iodine the first time I tried Laphroaig 10 year old. Like olives, beer, or indeed whisky itself, Laphroaig is an acquired taste that I’ve come to love over the years. To quote another bit of Laphroaig marketing: “Laphroaig may seem a little aloof at first, but make the effort, broach acquaintance and we can guarantee you’ll have a warm and genuine friend for life.” If whisky bottles can indeed be counted as friends, you could certainly do worse than having Laphroaig 10 year old for a companion.

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Lagavulin 16 year old

Lagavulin 16 year old reviewDistillery: Lagavulin
Region: Islay
Age: 16 years old
abv: 43%

Although founded legally in 1816, Lagavulin traces its roots back to a group of illicit distillers on Islay’s southern shores, far away from the grasp of nosy excisemen. After several decades of moonshining, these smugglers ultimately merged into what would become the licensed Lagavulin distillery. Lagavulin is distinctive for its low, pear-shaped stills and slow distillation process. This allows many of the rougher, more flavourful vapours to make the cut. Paired with the high levels of peat in its malt, this makes Lagavulin’s raw spirit one of the roughest, wildest liquids you can find. It should come as no surprise then that its core expression is aged for no less than 16 years. While this maturation takes some of the sharper edges off the spirit, Lagavulin remains a wonderfully characterful whisky, full of punch but with a dignified sophistication to match its ferocity. The result is an absolute masterpiece: my favourite Classic Malt and one of the jewels in Diageo’s whisky crown.

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Springbank 10 year old

Springbank 10Distillery: Springbank
Region: Campbeltown
Age: 10 years old
abv: 46%

The lone survivor of what was once termed the ‘Whisky Capital of the World’, Springbank is the quintessential Campbeltown malt. While in its heyday Campbeltown was a mighty force in whisky making, boasting no less than 28 distilleries, its fall was equally dramatic. Springbank was the only distillery to survive the onslaught and is the only Campbeltown whisky to remain in constant production since the 1820s. This was not entirely down to luck. Where Campbeltown’s commercial success led some distilleries to become complacent and produce inferior spirit  (there are even rumours of whisky being aged in herring barrels, although whether these are based on truth no one can say), Springbank never compromised on quality. As such it managed to stay popular with Glasgow’s blending houses, at a time when Speyside malts were much more in vogue.

Springbank distillery is still family-owned; something quite special in today’s corporate setting. In addition to Springbank, it also produces Hazelburn and Longrow. The distillery is the only in Scotland to malt all of its own barley, allowing it to carefully control the peat levels in the malt. While Hazelburn is unpeated and triple distilled, Longrow is heavily peated and double distilled. Springbank falls somewhere in between: lightly peated and distilled two and a half times.

With Glen Scotia and Glengyle distillery also back in production, Campbeltown is seeing a slow resurgence in popularity. Although the golden days may never quite return, thankfully Springbank is here to stay.

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Ardbeg 10 year old

Ardbeg 10 year old reviewDistillery: Ardbeg
Region: Islay
Age: 10 years old
abv: 46%

Ardbeg celebrated its 200th birthday in 2015, but it hasn’t always looked like the distillery would make it that far. Although Ardbeg produced 1 million litres of spirit as early as the 1880s, output dwindled to next to nothing a century later. A change in ownership was meant to turn Ardbeg’s fortunes around, but the distillery ended up closing its doors for a second time in 1991. It remained mothballed until as recently as 1997, when it was acquired by The Glenmorangie Company. Since then, Ardbeg has seen a true revival that has propelled it into its current standing as one of Islay’s favourite malts. Ardbeg enjoys a loyal fan base (not least through the Ardbeg Committee members), allowing it to experiment with limited editions, some of which have been excellent. Nevertheless, as one distillery employee told me: “Ardbeg 10 year old is so good that we will always struggle to make a better whisky than our standard expression”.

Peated to 54 ppm, Ardbeg offers the smokiest spirit on Islay (not taking into account exceptions such as Octomore). Despite this, its whisky is deliciously smooth. This is largely due to a copper purifier attached to the still, a rarity in whisky making. Without it, Ardbeg is said to be undrinkable; this is certainly not the case today. Enjoy this peatiest of Islay malts!

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Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak

Macallan Sherry Oak ReviewDistillery: Macallan
Region: Speyside/Highland
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

Obtaining a license to distil legally in 1824, the Macallan distillery is located in a beautiful manor house right on the banks of the river Spey. However, due to a set of regulatory changes in 2009, the Macallan is officially no longer a Speyside distillery and its bottles are now labelled as a Highland malt. Unburdened by legal wrangling, whisky experts nonetheless continue to consider Macallan as a Speyside malt. Being located only a mile away from Aberlour distillery, which is a Speyside whisky, this seems to make sense to me.

Either way, the Speyside/Highland debate is somewhat irrelevant, as Macallan stands out in whichever category you place it. It is praised by experts as one of the finest malts in production, and often sells for record prices at auctions. Macallan can even boast the likes of James Bond and Harvey Specter among its fans. Such marketing has paid off: Macallan is now the third best selling single malt in the world by volume. While I never ranked Macallan as one of my favourite whiskies, I recently tried the Macallan 12 years old Sherry Oak in a blind tasting and placed it head and shoulders above the other drams on offer that night.  Where other whiskies might receive an additional few months in sherry casks, Macallan 12 years old was matured exclusively in sherry casks, and it shows. This is an exquisitely smooth and luxurious dram, to be savoured in front of a hearth fire on a cold winter’s day.

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Talisker 10 year old

Talisker 10 year old reviewDistillery: Talisker
Region: Islands
Age: 10 years old
abv: 45.8%

Talisker may have been “made by the sea”, but there is nothing fishy about their whiskies. Being the only distillery on the Isle of Skye, Talisker is a perfect reflection of the island on which it was produced. Rugged, windswept and utterly breathtaking, Skye’s favourite drink has weathered the storms since 1830.

Despite a flurry of No Age Statement releases in recent years, Talisker 10 year old continues to hold its own as one of the distillery’s finest expressions (the same coincidentally can be said for the 18 year old). Bottled at the distillery’s customary 45.8%, Talisker 10 has taken on many of Skye’s coastal influences during the maturation process. The result is a bold whisky that packs quite a punch, despite being only mildly peated.

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