LAPHROAIG 16 YEAR
2022 Limited Release
MASH BILL – 100% malted barley
PROOF – 96
AGE – 16 years
DISTILLERY – Laphroaig
PRICE – $153
WORTH BUYING? – yes and no
During my interview with Greg Miller about his Capital Rye, posted on this blog in May 2022, he told me about his love of Laphroaig. I shared with Miller, as I’ve written here, that I struggle with Laphroaig. Of the famous peated scotches, it’s one I’ve yet to come around to. Its particular mix of band aide, iodine and ash just doesn’t do it for me.
But my conversation with Miller rekindled my curiosity. By coincidence, around that time a shop I frequent released a 29-year Islay scotch bottled by Dornach Distillery Company under its Redacted Bros label. Being an independent bottling, the price was far less than what a release from the original distillery would go for. Contractual obligations meant the source could not be named. But the shop selling the bottle hinted heavily at Laphroaig. I picked up a bottle, and long story short, ended up comparing it alongside the 2018 Lagavulin 12 Year, this current post’s bottle of the 2022 Laphroaig 16 Year, and a sample of the 2016 Laphroaig 30 Year generously shared with me by a reader of this blog.
I was keen to determine whether the Dornach bottling was indeed Laphroaig, given at first-taste my senses went straight to Lagavulin. But my lack of experience with either Laphroaig or Lagavulin aged three decades precluded certainty. By the end of my protracted comparisons, I concluded it very likely was Laphroaig, though if it were ever revealed to be Lagavulin that wouldn’t surprise me either.
So, now I had this Laphroaig 16 Year on hand. As I wrote in that comparison post, though it lacked the band aide and iodine notes I so strongly associated with younger Laphroaig variations, it did have a prominent enough diesel note that I felt certain Laphroaig was still just not my cup of tea—or, peat.
Then I remembered an experiment Greg Miller had shared with me. Here’s what he’d said:
“A year or so ago, when we had the tariffs on whiskey, I ran over to Costco and bought a case of Laphroaig, because I love it and didn’t want to find myself shorted. And so I had an opportunity to discover what happens when you drink a lot of Laphroaig. If you drink it just once, out of the blue, having been drinking other things, it’s a pretty peaty, medicinal spirit. But if you drink it every day—in moderation—it tastes unbelievably sweet, like apples. And drinking it every day, I don’t get any medicine or brine. All I get is apples, so much so that I don’t like it. I have to stop for the peat to then come back. And I don’t know if it’s in the head or in the tongue, if maybe you numb your tastebuds with repetition. And again, I’m not talking about alcoholic amounts. Just a normal pour. But you drink it every day and it becomes sweet.”
It occurred to me this might be a fun experiment to try. Miller had used the standard Laphroaig 10 Year for his experiment—the brand’s classic and most famously medicinal bottling—and went for two weeks. I’m using the more mellow 16 Year and going for only one week. Fingers crossed something happens. Miller also told me on a given night he might additionally have a glass of wine, a mojito or margarita, but never another whisky. As I generally only drink whisky, occasionally an agave spirit, the Laphroaig will always be my first (sometimes only) pour, with nothing to influence it but the given day.
Day one came a week and a half after uncorking and four pours into the bottle. Each set of brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn. Here we go…!
COLOR – Depends on what’s nearby! The whisky’s pale yellow reflects the surroundings like a tinted mirror. But the base color is shiny lemon and straw yellow
NOSE – peat, diesel, clay, cement, faint cream and caramel, a hard mineral water
TASTE – peat, diesel smoke, a light caramel custard, room temperature yogurt, soft milk chocolate, a creamy texture, warm and almost sparkly
FINISH – peat, milk chocolate, the diesel smoke, the prickly warmth lingering but also a cooling heat at the back of the throat like a mint, and after some time the faintest melon note
OVERALL – It’s Laphroaig, no doubt about it. The diesel is a through-line today, and once the milk chocolate slips in on the taste it sticks around as well; on the finish the heat evolves to create an almost caky feeling in the mouth that pairs well with the lingering chocolate note
NOSE – peat, the diesel less prominent today and drier, clay and cement, softly sweet lemon custard, cream, something faint like lightly baked apricot skins, vanilla cream
TASTE – peat, light lemon zest, caramel custard, a soft creamy texture, milk chocolate sauce, faint vanilla sauce
FINISH – a nice glowing warmth, peat, very faint diesel, faint milk chocolate, faint vanilla cream
OVERALL – Though they were present yesterday as well, today I’m struck most by the creamy aspects, both in terms of flavors and sensations; the diesel has backed off a bit, making room for other things to land in my attention more
NOSE – soft peat and clay/cement, salty sea air, faint tangerine zest and caramel custard, a hint of iodine
TASTE – soft ash and peat, that lovely creamy texture, subtle caramel custard, a touch of sweetness from the pulpy tangerine zest, the clay
FINISH – a gentle bloom of prickly heat, lingering with the soft peat, clay, some ash
OVERALL – I’m struck today by the softness of everything, the gentleness of the flavors and sensations; even that new iodine note—a Laphroaig trademark that’s been thankfully absent until now—is so subtle as to not intrude; altogether like a pleasant beach campfire on a sunny, uncommonly not windy afternoon
NOSE – peat, clay, a subtle bundle of dried savory herbs, faint mountain spring water
TASTE – the clay, herbs, and a warm caramel note blended right up front, some cream behind that, then comes the peat to join the clay and jointly take over… after some time the faintest of mango notes wafts by like a momentary flutter in the breeze
FINISH – peat and clay, a touch of cream, that caky quality faintly conjuring chocolate by association
OVERALL – my attention is on the dry aspects today, with that herb bundle and the persistence of the peat/clay combo, overall a touch more granular in feel than yesterday’s softness
NOSE – peat, clay, ethanol, faint fresh sliced green apple, faint melon, bits of fried bacon fat, chocolate cake batter
TASTE – campfire ash, that wonderful creamy texture, cream, milk chocolate, sea salt, the faintest caramel that could simply be the chocolate note evolving with time in the glass
FINISH – cream, good day-old chocolate cake, a nice and gentle prickly warmth, sea salt, the bacon fat minus the bits of meat, gentle lingering peat
OVERALL – Well I did get a whiff of apple on the nose (Greg Miller’s key flavor note!), and this new bacon fat note; otherwise it’s ol’ dependable returning now to more of the chocolate from earlier in the week; altogether a very pleasant experience
NOSE – the peat sweeter today, the clay less forward, also caramel custard, fresh raw bread or butter biscuit dough, lemon zest in fresh water
TASTE – peat, campfire ash, a savory-herbed caramel, mildly bitter oak tannins and lemon peel pith, the creamy texture a bit more granular again today
FINISH – a dark and metallic quality predominates over the typical peat, clay, ash or other notes
OVERALL – uneventful today, and, with the bitter and metallic aspects, unpleasant without yet crossing over into off-putting
NOSE – peat, clay, subtle just-ripe apple, fresh seaside air, campfire smoke, bacon on an iron skillet
TASTE – campfire smoke and ash, fresh mountain water, subtle chunky baked apple sauce, peat
FINISH – peat, campfire, clay, a fine prickly heat with a mint’s coolness, very subtle cream and caramel custard, very faint melon
OVERALL – nonchalant Laphroaig, neither effortful nor lazy
Well, by day seven those apple notes were still just starting to bud. But I think it worth noting that even that faint whiff might have been me willing the apples into being. I did put my nose in some actual apples—a mix of decaying, ripe, and unripe—just to make certain I had the true apple scent fresh in mind.
But despite my half-hearted attempt to influence the outcome with actual apples, after seven days I will say that this Laphroaig 16 Year has been remarkably consistent. I’ve picked up on this or that note, more so or less from day to day. And my overall enjoyment has likewise varied subtly but notably. But I did not have the experience of transformation that Greg Miller relayed.
Again, I was using a different edition of Laphroaig—the 16 Year not the 10—and for a different length of time—one week not two. My riff on Miller’s experiment revealed relative consistency. The diesel smoke that marked previous tastings did abate. But the peat and clay were mainstays, and the fruit—whether apple, mango, melon or lemon—always hovered in the background if it was discernible at all.
All said and done, I remain as ambivalent about the brand as before. Of the Laphroaig outings I’ve had to date, this 16 Year is the most pleasing by comparison, even more so than the older Redacted Bros and official Laphroaig 30 Year. Yet it remains a flavor profile I just don’t enjoy enough to continue reaching for, or investing in further.
Of course, I’ve said that before, so…
At least I can say I tried. Another adventure on the journey.