REDACTED BROS SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Distilled on the Isle Islay in 1991, bottled in 2021
MASH BILL – 100% malted barley
PROOF – 101.6
AGE – 29+ years
DISTILLERY – Bottled by Dornach Distillery Co. (sourcing from “a famous, undisclosed distillery on the southern coast of Islay,” according to K&L.)
PRICE – $325
WORTH BUYING? – Ultimately no. But kinda yes.
This one is very much a story about the whisk(e)y journey, so I’ll relay this leg of it step by step. Pour yourself a glass of something from Islay. It will pair well. 😉🥃
After my recent interview with Greg Miller about his Capital Rye, during which he shared with me his love of Laphroaig, my curiosity for the famously in-yer-face Islay peated scotch was rekindled. I told Miller, as I’ve written here, that I struggle with Laphroaig. Of the mighty peated scotches, it’s one I’ve yet to be able to love, or even like! Its particular mix of band aide, iodine and ash just doesn’t do it for me.
Miller and others have said, however, that something happens to the ultra-intense Laphroaig peat once it’s been aged into its twenties or thirties. It softens and allows for other flavors to step forward a bit more. But Laphroaig that old can go for many hundreds, even thousands of dollars, so, no chance I’d risk it.
Then came along a trio of bottlings under Dornach’s Redacted Bros label, one aged 29, one 30, and one 31, all said by K&L to hail from “a famous, undisclosed distillery on the southern coast of Islay.” This narrows it down to the big three: Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig.
But in some tasting notes about the 31 Year bottling, the K&L rep makes the interesting remark that this bottle “reminds me more of Ardbeg than Laphroaig.” Might this be a clue? Did the rep know these bottles to all have come from Laphroaig, and to his surprise that 31-year bottle was more reminiscent of Ardbeg?
Impossible to know. Especially when you’re desperate to know and will read meaning into anything! The K&L tasting notes for all three bottles certainly seemed to me to lean overall more toward Laphroaig than the other two distilleries. But was that also me hoping they’d lean in that direction?
I rolled the dice and went for it. A very expensive gamble—evidence of my determination to understand why Laphroaig has such magical appeal to so many. Part of me naturally hopes to love this bottle. But part of me, perversely, also hopes to find it too difficult like all other Laphroaig editions I’ve attempted. Because if it turns out I do love it, and only well-aged Laphroaig will do it for me… well… that’s a costly discovery…
I uncorked the bottle the day I brought it home. Anticipation was high—not always a good thing! I went in for the nose…
Very reserved. With time and gentle pulling: light caramel, angel food cake, soft pineapple and mango in cream, old fashioned water mellon candy, soft peat, lemon zest, smoke… Very Lagavulin-like! Not one whiff of that iodine-drenched, band-aide-wrapped Laphroaig peat.
Then the taste…
Oh my goodness… Is it Lagavulin? I was so primed for Laphroaig! But this took me straight to Lagavulin 12 Year Cask Strength. There was a thin, soft edge of oak tannin outlining the same fruit notes as the nose, now more tart. The peat was light and ephemeral in its smokiness, elegant like classy mid-1960s haute couture. The finish left smoke, peat, light caramel on fine dried tropical fruit, and a lingering oak tannin edge.
If this wasn’t Lagavulin I’d be very surprised.
Up front, I had to admit to myself three things:
One was that the Lagavulin 12 Year Cask Strength is better. At least according to my sense memory. This 29-year was good. Very easy to drink. But it’s twice the price and not as rich overall.
Second, I was disappointed, given I’d thought (hoped!) I was shelling out for Laphroaig. Ironically, I greatly prefer Lagavulin, so you’d think I’d be ecstatic. But the 12 Year Cask Strength is already such perfection that I’ve never felt a need to invest in older Lagavulin. And if this is that, then given the cost my disappointment is affirmed. But for Laphroaig, the brand I don’t like, I was willing to plunk down such cash? 🤔
Third, having zero experience with either Laphroaig or Lagavulin aged ~30 years, my senses have no practical reference and my guesses are uninformed, rendering them curious but ultimately meaningless in terms of identifying this bottling’s source.
These are the exceedingly privileged conundrums of obsessed whisky aficionados.
And then a delightful surprise occurred. A reader of this blog noticed my June 1st Instagram post on the bottle, in which I indirectly noted my Laphroaig / Lagavulin quandary. He very kindly volunteered a sample of an open bottle of 30-year Laphroaig he had on hand, so I could do a side-by-side.
And that reminded me I had a bottle of the 2018 Lagavulin 12 Year bunkered. I could side-by-side all three. Given my lack of experience with Laphroaig or Lagavulin aged three decades, and considering the prevailing comments of those who are familiar with that age range, what might these comparisons reveal?
I wanted to first give the Redacted Bros bottling its due, and taste it on its own terms. A few days later I followed up comparing it with the Lagavulin 12, and some time after that with the Laphroaig 30 sample.
So, first to the Redacted Bros bottling. Here we are, about three weeks after uncorking and a good handful of pours into it. Whether Lagavulin or Laphroaig, how has it evolved? These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn. Notes on the comparisons will follow.
COLOR – a nice pale buttery yellow, reflecting the world around it with glints of bright lemon and brass
NOSE – wonderful smoke off a crackling campfire, gentle peat, salty sea breeze, lemon peels, both dry and damp sand, fresh spring water
TASTE – mouthwateringly tangy and salty, the campfire smoke and peat nicely balanced, some edge from the sand and salt notes, air-dried lemon peel, light but syrupy caramel, shortbread biscuit, everything gently rough like a handmade wool blanket
FINISH – warm, a light prickle from the heat along the sides of the tongue, smoke from a fire that’s down to the embers, soft peat, faint whiffs of the lemon peel and caramel notes, lingering subtly but long
OVERALL – altogether, it’s okay
All the aromas and flavors considered, that I find it ultimately “okay” as a tasting experience doesn’t justify $$$. That I find it just okay is also a reflection of $$$. At $$ I would likely find it much more than okay. But more on the question of dollar-to-enjoyment ratios later.
I do enjoy all the flavors here. But there is an overall thinness to it, or a flatness, like a matte photograph versus glossy. That can be pleasing, and this whisky is. I want it to step up just a bit more, however.
I added seven drops of water and let it sit for five minutes. The nose seems unaffected, perhaps yielding a notch more caramel. With more time, when I really search, I got a dollop of cream, some bacon and faint milk chocolate.
On the taste, however, it is now instantly a notch or two richer. The mouthfeel seems to have thickened, despite the water having literally thinned the whisky a bit. The caramel notes come across as more viscous and sweet. There’s now also a honey note, adding a nice dimension next to the drier smoke, sand, and salt notes. Still the rough feeling to it overall, and still lacking the rich complexity I’d prefer. But those seven wee drops of water made an evident difference.
The finish is likewise a touch sweeter now than without the added water. So I’d say going forward, I’ll be having this on a big ice cube or with added water every time. It’s still not a $$$ experience, more of a $$ experience. But it’s certainly not a bad experience.
I opened my bunkered bottle of the 2018 Lagavulin 12 Year and have been sipping on it independently of this Redacted Bros whisky over the past week and a half. This 2018 release is really good. The 2015 was exquisite. And though I’d love to have another 2015 bunkered, in regards to quality of experience the 2018 strikes me immediately as closer to the Redacted 29 Year than my memory of the 2015. That 2015 was so refined and lovely, I think there may have been no contest.
Of course, this isn’t a contest. It’s a comparison aimed at determining the source of this Redacted Bros bottling. And so now here we are, a week and a half after uncorking the Lagavulin 12 and nearing five weeks since uncorking the Redacted Bros. I poured a full shot of each into traditional Glencairns and tasted them side by side.
Looking at them, the colors follow very similar schemes—pale yellows refracting blue skies into soft greens, with glints of lemony-brass highlights. The Redacted Bros offers a notch darker tint to everything. The younger, hotter Lagavulin is much clearer by comparison. Perhaps this difference is due to age, then, and not proof. Neither bottle confirms no coloring has been added, though one can guess the sourced Redacted Bros likely has none while the from-the-source Lagavulin likely would. And yet the Lagavulin is exceptionally pale, like a small and shallow alpine lake.
Nosing them one and then the other, the Redacted Bros leads with smoke and peat, followed closely by apricot and tangerine peel, with strong underlying strata of dry salt, cement, and stone. The Lagavulin 12 hits right out of the gate with a wave of rich creamy custard. After that comes the smoke alongside a less overt peat, then salt, apricot like from apricot flavored yogurt—altogether a sweeter, wetter cluster of aromas as compared to the Redacted Bros’ drier nose. But then going back and forth, side by side, though the dry/sweet differences remain, the similarities also become apparent, in particular the quartet of smoke, peat, salt and stone.
Given the proof difference, I tasted the Redacted Bros first, then the Lagavulin, then a bit of back and forth. Sweeter and more syrupy than the nose suggested today, the Redacted Bros now comes across like an exceedingly refined Kilchoman. It’s those earthy clay notes I associate with the latter brand. The smoke, peat, salt and stone are now met with more notable splashes of caramel and cream in both flavor and texture, and a fleeting wave of melon and mango on swallowing. The Lagavulin then leads with a surprising cloud of ashy campfire smoke, now backed up by those rich creamy notes rather than led by them. And the proof prickles along the sides of the tongue like smoldering embers.
I made note of the finishes during my first sips, before my tasting back and forth could mingle them. The Redacted Bros lingers with clay, salt, peat, a dry smoke, and ash from spent campfire oak. The Lagavulin 12 leaves ashy smoke, prickly heat, and dark cream to very gradually fade…
My initial suspicion stands: If these aren’t family I would be very surprised. They share so many similarities. If I could combine what I find most pleasing about each today into one dram, I’d take the Lagavulin’s creamier nose, a balanced blend of their tastes, and the finishes of both leaning a bit into the Lagavulin’s lingering dark cream notes.
And then, heresy! Seeing I had similar amounts of each left in my glass, I poured the Lagavulin into the Redacted Bros and swirled the glass for about five minutes to marry them.
The color remained pale, and now a touch murky. The nose showed a lovely balance of caramel, cream, salt and stone, with the smoke and peat floating lightly around them like a mist. The taste seemed to shimmer, like sunset light on a still meadow lake. Tannic oak tickled the edges of my palate alongside a gentle prickle from the now 108.6-ish proof. The smoke, salt, and earthy stone notes were now washed with the cream and fruit notes. And the finish offered a nice drying effect that got my mouth watering. I think I may have stumbled upon a winning blend…!
Next was to be the side-by-side between the Redacted Bros 29 and Laphroaig 30 sample. But ☞ what popped up locally? The 2022 Laphroaig 16 Year Limited Release. I grabbed a bottle and brought it home.
I’ve not had the Laphroaig 16 before, so this will itself be a discovery moment for me. It’s half the age of the Redacted, but closer in age to the 10 and 12 Year Laphroaigs I’ve experienced. Perhaps it will make a good reference for that familiar flavor profile. I uncorked the bottle, poured a glass and let it sit for thirty minutes. Before putting it alongside the Redacted Bros 29, I tried it on its own:
The color is a beautiful pale straw and lemon yellow. On the nose I’m greeted by peat and clay, which dominate—albeit with a gentle touch. With some time and searching I get unpeeled lemons, freshly dried plaster, salt, and a faint dollop of creamy custard. On the taste comes peat, plaster and clay, followed by gently bitter oak tannin, bruised apricot, and peaty ash. The finish lingers with ground black pepper, peat, ash, and a dark but acrid smoke close to diesel.
This is more like the Laphroaig I remember. It lacks the medicinal band aide and intense iodine notes I associate with the younger releases. But that diesel note harkens to them. Not bad. But not my favorite.
Next to the Redacted Bros, the colors are almost an exact match, with the Redacted tinting just slightly lighter and brighter.
On the nose, the Laphroaig is the more forceful of the two, with the Redacted needing more coaxing to come forward. Very similar clay notes show in each, with more peat evident in the Laphroaig and a stronger citric note in the Redacted. With even more coaxing I get a thick cream note from the Redacted, emerging shyly from amidst the clay, which isn’t showing in the Laphroaig. But in the Laphroaig a very faint nectarine note begins to appear.
On the taste, the Laphroaig is as described above, only a bit creamier and with more fruit—nectarine, apricot, mango—now that it’s been in the glass nearly an hour. These notes also linger in the finish, which emphasizes peat, clay, and diesel smoke. Given the stronger peat and diesel in the Laphroaig, I waited a moment and swished with some water before trying the Redacted. Then on sipping it, I get ash, peat, bitter tannic oak, dried lemon peel, salt, a creamy texture, and no fruit. The finish then reveals a whiff of mango.
Based on this comparison, I can believe this Redacted 29 Year is Laphroaig. Neither pour excites me. Nor do they actively push me away like their younger Laphroaig counterparts have done. Between the two, the Laphroaig 16 offers more complexity. With another 13 years in oak, the Redacted is drier, having lost the sweeter fruit notes I can imagine it once may have offered.
And now the final test.
The Redacted Bros bottle has by now been open between six and seven weeks. My generous blog reader tells me this sample of his 2016 bottle of Laphroaig 30 Year, bottled at 107 proof, has been uncorked for something between a year and a year and a half. Let’s get right to it.
The Laphroaig 30 is notably darker—a toasted honey orange—than either the Redacted 29 or Laphroaig 16, suggesting coloring was most certainly added. (Such a backwards Twentieth Century practice!)
On the nose, from the Laphroaig 30 I get light notes of salty sea breeze, lemon peel, peat, clay, a whiff of iodine in fresh air, and eventually some cream. Next to it, the Redacted is immediately creamier, with a similar fresh sea breeze quality and otherwise many of the same notes as the Laphroaig. Going back and forth between them, I get more sweet notes off the Laphroaig 30—cooled stewed peach and nectarine, some honey.
On the taste, the Redacted is much as I’ve already described it, now with some lightly baked mango and a bit of warmed pineapple also grabbing my attention. These tropical fruit notes fade on the finish, though, which favors the drier clay, oak and salt notes. The Laphroaig 30 lands with a melánge of mango, melon, salt, gritty tannic oak, plastic, and cream, leaving the oak tannins, mango and salt to linger most on the finish.
Another sip from the Laphroaig 16 is immediately heavy on the diesel smoke and peat compared with either the Laphroaig 30 or Redacted 29. The latter two are more immediately relatable to one another, with the Laphroaig 16 striking out with a more brash approach.
These words—”heavy” and “brash”—are relative. None of these whiskies are terribly forceful. They have an easygoing quality to them, a confidence and a certainty. A “firm” touch, might be an apt word and phrase.
Well. There it is. I haven’t proven anything. But I fully accept that this Redacted 29 Year from Dornoch Distillery Company may indeed hail from Laphroaig. If I ever found out it came from Lagavulin, I’d of course not be surprised. But given the hints K&L sprinkled, it likely is Laphroaig.
In any case, it’s useful to know that these older Laphrovulins aren’t so pleasing to my personal tastes that I need to fret over pursuing them. And the Laphroaig 16—which at $150 costs roughly half the Redacted 29—is close enough in taste to its younger cousins that I won’t need another bottle of that either.
That knowledge will save me a lot of money!
I’m not among those who separate cost from the tasting experience of a whisky. I don’t see the point of it. We do pay for these things. They’re a material object we hold in our hands, not a notion we ponder free of charge. On my freelance artist/teacher salary, money is an object. Separating cost from experience is not an ideal I can generally entertain.
So for me, $325 is at once an investment, an extravagance, and a gamble. I’m indeed quite privileged to be able to make, indulge, and throw the dice on it. But since I can’t do that often, when I do I want it to go exceptionally well.
Without the distillery named, I’m literally paying for age—which guarantees nothing—and a mere possible source. The whisky itself comes across pleasantly enough, if uneventfully. I’m paying for that, too. I certainly have enjoyed this protracted experiment, tasting this whisky against three others in pursuit of my understanding it. So I’m paying for that enjoyment, pursuit, and understanding as well.
But no, it wasn’t worth it. Not with Lagavulin 12 Year still out there every year—at half the price of this Redacted outing, and a fraction of the Laphroaig 30 Year’s average cost.
I’m going to savor every… single… drop… of this bottle. Why not? The money is spent and gone. But the whisky is here and now.