I got an invitation from Beam Suntory for Friday the 15th of April to attend the Laphroaig Lore presentation at the Albertina Passage in Vienna. John Campbell, Distillery Manager of Laphroaig, should be the speaker and we will taste the new Laphroaig Lore. At least that’s what the invitation said. But I saw in the dimly lit “Private Lounge” of the establishment not only some bottles of the Lore but also some Laphroaig 10yo, Quartercask and Triple Wood. Seems we get to taste more than only the Lore, I guess. But right before I could make up my mind, John started his presentation with “I hope everybody can understand me. But after three or four Whiskys we will speak all the same language” in a very typical Scottish slang. Guess I was right about the other three Whiskys. Right after that, he introduced himself as a employee of Laphroaig for over 21 years, more than the last ten as the Distillery Manager. Back then he started at the bottom and worked his way up to where he is now.
My gut feeling was right, there was the first Whisky, the Laphroaig 10yo, “the Whisky” from Laphroaig. While nosing this Whisky, John explains that one of the reasons for the taste of Laphroaig lies in the cold peating of the malted barley. Typically malted barley is peated and dried at the same time. Not at Laphroaig. They (cold) peat first and dry afterwards. And of course they use the “Islay Peat” which is different from the “Mainland Peat”. John uses the analogy of a fire at the beach vs. a fire in the woods or, “peaty & earthy” vs. “smokey & sweet” to show the difference between these two peats. Another reason for the distinctive taste of Laphroaig are the casks used. They are (around 99%) 1st fill ex-Bourbon barrels from Makers Mark. They are shipped as whole casks, not disassembled as usually. Having only one kind of New Make (well, it’s a little bit more floral in winter and a little bit more fruity in summer) it is quite impressive how Laphroaig accomplishes the different flavours in their line-up. Of course you have peat in every Laphroaig – that’s the reason John merely speaks about it. Because peat belongs to Laphroaig as it belongs to Islay. This particular Whisky is quite fruity and round, but also peaty. It is made by the old recipe handed down generation after generation. This Whisky will probably never change, as “this is Laphroaig”.
Next stop, Laphroaig Quartercask (48%; n.c.f.; n.c.a.!). The casks used for this Whisky are just a quarter (that’s why they are called that way) of a barrel, around 50 litres. Typically Barrels (~200 L), Hogsheads (~250 L) or Butts (~500L) are used. There aren’t lots of Whiskys around which can be matured in these special casks. Their surface is, compared to the volume, very large at this cask typ. Laphroaig started around 1999 with some experiments and discovered that their peaty Whisky is suitable to be aged in this cask typ. Well, they just “finish” it for seven months after aging it in the 1st ex-Bourbon barrels. John – and Laphroaig – don’t see this procedure as finishing as they link this word to “complementing the Whisky with an additional flavour” like “80% original flavour, 20% new flavour”. But in their case, the flavour of the Whisky changes fundamentally, making this a double maturation. But as there is no rulebook on “What is finishing and what is double maturation” we can start arguing about it, but I stand here on the side of Laphroaig, as it makes perfectly sense.
The last Whisky before the guest of honour, what a surprise, was the Laphroaig Triple Wood (48%; n.c.f., n.c.a.!), matured in ex-Bourbon barrels and Quartercasks just as the Whisky before. But in the end, the Whisky is matured for about two years in Sherry Oloroso Hogsheads (not as usually Butts). Laphroaig likes to go its own way it seems. These three Whiskys are their core range and they will be probably around even when we’re gone. Just as the Quartercask, the Triple Wood is a n.a.s. Whisky. John loves n.a.s. Whiskys because “You [as a Master Distiller] start thinking how to incorporate Laphroaig into this Whisky”, you can be much more creative, as John elaborates. Till the 1970 there were nearly all Whiskys n.a.s.! The industry back then started to require the age as a proof of quality. And that’s what lots of people still think today. The older the better the quality. That wasn’t the case back than nor is it today. There are good but young Whiskys around as there are old ones. But there are not so good Whiskys around and they can be quite old too. This Whisky at hand is defiantly thus possibly not that old, quite good! There is just a hint of peat, you need water to get a peat bomb going off on your palate, but lots of sweetness from malted barley, apples and – in the end – chocolate and coffee as well as some dryness.
And now Ladies and Gentleman, last but not least, the reason we were all here, the Laphroaig Lore (48%; n.c.f; n.c.a.!), just composed for the 200 year anniversary of Laphroaig. They started producing alcohol in 1815. Well at least legally, there was some distilling going on before but without a license. This Whisky will be around for some time, no hurry to buy one now, but I recommend doing so. Well, this wee dram can’t disguise its heritage. John tried to “not change it [Laphroaig], but to improve it”. There is lots of sweet at the nose, as well as some iodine. And peat, not much but still. At the palate there is salt and pepper, but also lots of toffee and, there it is, quite some peat. Its body is intense, oily and spicy. But you will encounter a little dryness, according to John who doesn’t like dryness very much, something people like and enjoy. Well, I do. Most of the time. The finish in long, dry but sweet.
My resume: It was the proper way to present and introduce the Laphroaig Lore. The location was perfect, the tasting line good and John Campbell just doesn’t speak about Whisky, he lives it. It was a pleasure to listen to him for nearly two hours. And a big “”Thank you” to the whole team from Beam Suntory Austria for bringing John to Vienna. It was great!