photo by Amanda Schuster

photo by Amanda Schuster

Forget aging gracefully, there’s more to be said for aging with panache. Laphroaig, the Islay Scotch distillery known for its heavily peated, pungent style, is celebrating 200 years of making whisky on Islay this year! To mark the occasion, they have released 2015 anniversary editions of their 15 Year Old, Cairdeas and a rare 32 Year Old.

The name Laphroaig (“la-froyg”) translates to “the beautiful hollow by the broad bay” in Gaelic. The surrounding marine influences profoundly shape the flavor of the resulting whisky, from the spring water used in it to the squally weather patterns that breeze into the warehouse while the distillate matures. It’s one of the few distilleries left to malt its own barley old school, drying it with local peat that is famous for emanating blue smoke as it does its job in the kiln.  

Each 200th anniversary expression is made from casks of single malt selected from Laphroaig’s warehouses by Distillery Manager John Campbell. Their divisive style has inspired many remarks in the entertaining #OpinionsWelcome campaign, which is recommended reading. Here are my own thoughts on the 2015 offerings:

Laphroaig_Cairdeas_October 201515 Year Old (2015): Like some teenagers I’ve met it gets off to a brash, fiery start, but reveals more disciplined traits as it finds a way to settle down. Grapefruit rind and mixed berries are enveloped in seaside bonfire smoke with a rubbery, briny undertaste. Salty dark chocolate plays into the finish as the sweet smoke continues to smolder. 43% ABV at $80 a bottle.

Cairdeas 200th Anniversary: This annual release is created as a gesture of friendship to its friends and family (“cairdeas” translates to “friendship” in Gaelic). The 2015 expression was selected from whiskies produced exclusively using make that comes from the smaller of the company’s stills, then matured in the No. 1 warehouse, which lies closest to the sea. It’s Campbell’s interpretation of what the character of this style of whisky would have resembled 200 years ago. Concentrated flavors of spiced candy apple, toffee and caramel cling to the rafters as strong gusts of oily smoke rush in. This one definitely benefits from a drop of water to calm the storm, and that effort is rewarded as its many layers unfold. 51.5% ABV at $75.00 a bottle.

Laph 32Y bottle shot32 Year Old: When I told a friend I was tasting this whisky, he said, “That’s like the surliest fisherman inside a chain-smoking night court attorney inside a bacon wrapped prizefighter longshoreman. Whiskey-human-turducken FTW!” He’s not far off. Selected entirely from ex-Oloroso sherry casks, the iodine-rich smoke is more barbecue-like, sweet and meaty mixed with some pipe tobacco. Given its age, surprisingly fresh flavors of ripe, red apples, grapefruit zest and salted caramel chocolates rises to the surface. A tinge of musty wet wool wafts out of the glass, especially with water added. For a sherried whisky that’s had so much time in contact with the barrels, it remains understated yet sprightly, letting its inner plucky character shine through. 46.7% ABV at $1200.00 a bottle, this naughty little dram would be the ultimate gift for that nice character in your life come the holidays! 

Happy anniversary, Laphroaig! Slàinte mhor!

For a review of the 2014 release of Cairdeas, please read here.