Laphroaig 12 Year Cask Strength Scotch

bottled by Alexander Murray & Co in 2018

MASH BILL – 100% malted barley

PROOF – 108

AGE – 12 years and ~11 months (according to K&L)

DISTILLERY – Laphroaig Distillery (bottled by Alexander Murray & Co)

PRICE – $108 ($90 to $140 on average)

BUY AGAIN? – No, but…

I’m going to admit up front: the reason I picked up this bottle is actually because I’m not a big Laphroaig fan. After some years away from it, I wanted to try it again, at a fairly standard age but at cask strength, without chill filtering or added color. A pure Laphroaig. So as not to pay all my arms and legs, I went for this Alexander Murray & Co bottling, awarded a gold medal in 2018 by the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Seemed like a good way to dip my toe back into Laphroaig’s peat bog.

Years ago, after having tried—in both Scotland and America—a couple bottlings of Laphroaig bottled by Laphroaig, I nicknamed it “Lickfrog” (a riff on the common “Lafrog”) due to its famously intense peated style. Either no or few other scotches feature Laphroaig’s particularly pungent, iodine-soaked peat flavors. Its medicinal edge really does set Laphroaig apart, making it a divisive dram that folks tend to love or hate. I don’t feel too passionately against it. I like rebels. But I’ve never particularly cared for it either. I’ve remained curious from a distance…

My first peated single malt love was the smoky Lagavulin 16 Year, easily one of the most popular peated scotches in the world. It’s everywhere, despite costing from $70 up to a more common $125 on average. Looking back at some early notes on my first bottle of Lagavulin 16, I wrote simply, “Best peaty ever!” Mind you, I’d not tasted terribly many peated scotches by that point. Two years passed before I bought another bottle of Lagavulin 16, and by then I’d tried a great many more whiskies in general, among them a variety of peated scotches and Japanese whiskies. The nose on that second bottle was smoky, creamy, chocolatey, and comforting. The taste then surprised me with how thin and watery it was. Although the finish lingered nicely, it too was quite light, with the signature soft Lagavulin peat smoke wafting over baked peaches. 

I left that second bottle thinking, well, I’ve outgrown my first love. But I’ll always regard Lagavulin 16 with nostalgia for opening the door to peated whisky for me. Lagavulin 16 does have a lovely, easy, salty sweetness to it. It’s bottled at an easygoing 86 proof, and my palate has become well acclimated to 100+ proof whiskies of all kinds. But this experience planted a seed in my head to revisit other whiskies from early in my journey. The contentious Laphroaig was toward the top of my list.

I took my time. I didn’t want to get just any bottle, or spend too much money either. I waited and researched and asked around. This Alexander Murray bottling kept turning up, and now here we are.

This bottle has been open for a little over a month and I’m nearing halfway through it. I’ve still not taken to it. Yet I remain persistently curious. I’m not sure why. Stubbornness? The love of an unusual challenge?

Here are some notes in brief from this tasting:

COLOR – a nice straw yellow, lightly toasted with hints of burnt orange

NOSE – that signature iodine-peat smoke, toasted malt, a nice sweet earthiness, pleasingly smooth river stone, strong and oh so specific yet oddly lovely in its rustic brininess 

TASTE – (wish me luck!) ashy peat smoke up front, some oaky caramel behind the peat adding sweetness in the middle, and a distinct band aide note on swallowing

FINISH – the band aide steps aside to make room for a light ashy peat smoke to stand next to it on equal footing, and despite the 108 proof the heat is dialed down low and warm

OVERALL – unmistakably, unavoidably Laphroaig: iodine, sweet peat smoke, ash, and band aide

I just can’t like this enough to put myself through it again. I’ve made my own escargot from garden snails. (Don’t try it.) I’ve toasted buttered earth worms in the oven. (Don’t try that either!) I’ve fried up some canned alligator. I’m very open to odd ducks—literally, a dish of odd duck would be right up my alley. I find the nose on this Laphroaig legitimately pleasing. I could sit with its aromas for a long time. But that mix of medicinal iodine, ash, and band aide on the taste and finish I just can’t connect with.

I added a dozen drops of water and let it sit for fifteen minutes:

NOSE – the same notes, but a notch lighter overall and with just a fleeting hint more of the sweet aspects, maybe even some vanilla if I search for it, and now also a faint dried pinesap note

TASTE – creamier, salty, some fruit like nectarines and just-ripe peach amongst the earth and peat, that final band aide still present but notably less overwhelming 

FINISH – soft band aide, ash, peat smoke, residual creaminess

OVERALL – better…?

I’d like to say I’m done with Laphroaig. But I know myself. In a few years I’ll come back, determined to find something more to my liking in it, hoping my tastes will have continued to expand and open up to this aggressively medicinal elixir. But I’m just not there yet. If the band aide aspect weren’t in the mix… But it is.

I respect Laphroaig for daring to be particular and to embrace debate. I’ve read that a recent 16 Year edition—a special release put out by the distillery itself, not a bottler, and that may soon be added to their standard line up—softens the intensity of the medicinal aspects a bit. When I have the courage, or have regained my stubbornness, perhaps that edition will be my next attempt to lick the frog and like it. If you have other suggestions as to which Laphroaig bottlings I might try my luck on next, please let me know in the comments below.

Until next time, cheers!

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