LAPHROAIG 10 YEAR SHERRY OAK FINISH
2022 release finished in Oloroso casks
MASH BILL – 100% malted barley
PROOF – 96
AGE – 10 years
DISTILLERY – Laphroaig
PRICE – $84 (more commonly ~$100)
KILCHOMAN MADEIRA CASK
Bottled in 2021 but released in 2022
MASH BILL – 100% malted barley
PROOF – 100
AGE – 5 years 3 months
DISTILLERY – Kilchoman
PRICE – $109 (more commonly ~$120)
Any regular reader of this blog knows of my illogical obsession with Laphroaig. I don’t like it. Its particular peat is generally too diesel and band aide for my tastes. Yet I persist in trying it, hoping one day I will come around.
Why? I’m not sure, to be frank. I suspect it’s to do with my being a fan of challenges and contradictions. My favorite theater and films entertain me while also surprising me with the demands they make on my brain, heart, or conscience. I’m thinking of movies like Everything Everywhere All at Once or Mulholland Drive or Get Out, or theater productions like Daniel Fish’s recent Oklahoma revival or Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play Fairview or Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Even if I’m in the mood for “pure” entertainment, it’s going to be the likes of Casablanca or Raiders of the Lost Ark or Strictly Ballroom, movies of no particular sociopolitical consequence that were nevertheless made with thought and care for both showmanship and substance.
But Laphroaig has been like none of these things for me. Not that I believe it isn’t made with thought and care. I do believe it is. But its challenging peat doesn’t draw me in so much as compel me away, like standing in the fume stream of a big rig. Why stand there?
I first tried Laphroaig on a visit to Edinburgh, Scotland, and didn’t take to it. Later I politely swallowed a pour of the standard 10 Year release that a friend brought to a whiskey night at my place. Then I determinedly made my way through a cask strength 12 Year bottle released by Alexander Murray, which I’d purchased hoping cask strength might reveal the magic. It didn’t. My interest was piqued by the annual 16 Year Laphroaig Distillery release, as well as an unnamed Dornach Distillery Co. release aged 29 years, and a sample of the distillery-direct 2016 release of Laphroaig 30 Year. Although these were all more pleasing to me than the Murray 12 Year or standard 10 Year, none of these mellower outings brought me around.
So when I picked up this Sherry Oak Finish release at a good price, it wasn’t with high hopes, just hopes. I uncorked it and to my shock, I thoroughly enjoyed it. That first night I got zero of the diesel or band aide notes, nor any of the ashiness that often comes with them. Zero. The sherry influence was not overwhelming the peat, I didn’t think. The whisky tasted very well balanced, with an earthy peat of the kind I associate more with Kilchoman.
So the next night I uncorked a Kilchoman I happened to have on hand, their 2021 bottling of a Madeira Cask Matured whisky. Though half the age of the Laphroaig, the Kilchoman spent its entire aging life in Madeira casks, as opposed to the Oloroso sherry finishing the Laphroaig received. Madeira and Oloroso casks have their differences, of course. But hopefully their broad impact would be similar enough to allow me to hone in on that earthy Kilchoman peat and compare it to this surprising earthy Laphroaig peat.
Nosing them side by side, the lighter colored Kilchoman showed lighter fruit notes like strawberry and stewed apple. The darker Laphroaig had its plums and prunes. The peat in each was indeed comparably earthy, serving as backdrop to the fruit notes. Tasting them, the Laphroaig was earthy, cakey, and dark-fruity, while the Kilchoman was earthy, a touch ashy, bready rather than cakey, and more brightly fruity, gradually leaning in a tropical direction. Their finishes followed suit.
Interesting. I let them both sit for a while, tasting them separately on one night or another…
And now here we are, a day over three weeks after uncorking the Laphroaig and nearing halfway into the bottle, and one day further after uncorking the Kilchoman and a small handful of pours into the bottle. These notes were taken using traditional Glencairns.
LAPHROAIG – rich russet red-oranges
KILCHOMAN – soft peach tea and apricot colors
LAPHROAIG – dry, smoke from cooking over a campfire, BBQ briquets, uncut oak tree in damp autumn, faint chocolate and a red fruit tea note when I really search, altogether very pleasant
KILCHOMAN – sweet, a mildly tart fruit syrup right up front, fruity barley, wisps of campfire smoke
LAPHROAIG – sweeter than the nose, with a dark raspberry chocolate, the oak bark, and steady smoke wafting from the crackling campfire
KILCHOMAN – mildly edgy red wine tannins, the barley and fruit notes slightly sour and a bit plain here, a gentle flair of prickly heat from the proof
LAPHROAIG – warm, red fruit compote, campfire smoke, dark chocolate, lingers gently but long…
KILCHOMAN – a simmering prickly heat, earthy clay, fruity barley, mildly ashy smoke like from a clay oven with oak logs still smoldering in it
LAPHROAIG – confident, relaxed, dry, smoky, sweet in a subtle and dark way
KILCHOMAN – young and smart yet inexperienced and indecisive, the malted barley notes bright but not deep and the Madeira influence coming across like a passing splash rather than fully integrated
LAPHROAIG – Absolutely.
KILCHOMAN – No.
I bought both of these at a slight discount off the more common pricing. I’m glad. Neither are centered in the peated region of my preferred flavor profile. Nor is either of them bad. By an actual fire, surrounded by snow or fallen leaves, with my tastebuds distracted by freshly grilled seafood or meat, I’d be perfectly happy with either of these. But alone or tasted side by side, for me they don’t fully hold their own. This is a bit odd with the Laphroaig, actually, given how much I do appreciate it. It’s just not a go-to flavor profile for me.
That said, this Laphroaig is easily my favorite of the brand’s releases to date. After three weeks, still no band aides or diesel fuel! Just those nice comforting campfire notes. And the sherry influence is perfectly balanced, adding complexity without taking over.
By contrast, the Kilchoman might be my least favorite from that distillery to date. Next to the Laphroaig, I’m very aware of the Kilchoman’s gangly youth in a way I wasn’t with either the Sanaig or 2019 STR Cask Matured releases. This Madeira Cask Matured whisky is not without its pleasures—namely that signature Kilchoman earthy clay note. It also takes my sense memory back to the Courage & Conviction Sherry Cask release, itself young and fruity in an exuberant way. But here the fruit notes from the barley and Madeira come across a bit like a Tik Tok celebrity rather than a real celebrity—flashy and quick to pass, not intriguing.
All sipped and done, I take two things from this comparison:
One is that if I do continue to sniff about among Laphroaig’s many offerings (and of course from time to time I will) it will be the sherry cask editions I focus on.
The other is that Kilchoman is a relatively new distillery of great integrity, releasing many young whiskies. Going forward I will seek out their older offerings—if I can find them at a good price.
Kilchoman is like the smart kid who lacks experience—not their fault, simply a matter of lifespan on earth. Laphroaig is the old well-worn hat—a bit rough, good at what they do, confident in their experience, as content to offend as to please.