Douglas Laing’s XOP Laphroaig 18 Year (Scottish Islay Single Malt Single Cask Whisky: 18 year: 56.8% ABV)

Visual: Bronzed with slow thick streaks from the spirit.

Nose: Peat. Charcoal. Strong alcohol. Salt. Sultanas. Moss and seaweed. Medicinal. Dry cake sponge. Kippers. Brown sugar. Water adds smoke and oily notes.

Body: Sherry. Strong alcohol. Charring and soot. Medicinal. Salt. Charred nougat. Salt. Water adds cherries. Dry red wine. Huge peat. Tannins. Raisins. Slight peach. Grapes. Plums.

Finish: Soot. Dried beef. Numbing alcohol. Malt chocolate. Iodine. Water adds tannins. More malt chocolate. Nut oils. Tofu. Vanilla toffee and chocolate toffee.

Conclusion: Usually Laphroaig loses some of the peat and medicinal intensity as it ages, losing some of those elements that make the younger spirit so very identifiable. For what it loses there it however gains greater subtlety, smoothness and complexity.

This does not lose the intensity in any way, shape or form. It is sooty, peaty, dried beef, salt, seaweed and medicinal all in one, all punching out at the brutal cask strength. The sherry ageing, usually so dominant in whisky, tries to push to the fore. It brings, oddly enough, dry sherry notes as well as the more expected red wine notes, but they are backing the intense Laphroaig character, not leading it or controlling it.

Neat it is a brutally intense experience – there is sweetness coming like nougat that has been quickly charred somehow – harsh, with oiliness coming in from kippers to nut oils seeping under that. It feels as much as it tastes, with hard to place savoury notes weighing in heavily to ground it.

Now, if that kick is too much there is always water to play with, and the high abv gives a lot of room to do so. It still keeps the medicinal and sooty character, but brings out layers of dry red wine, sultanas, cherries and even odd fruit notes, before heading back into a dry and medicinal finish.

Now, I tend to wait a week or so after opening a bottle to do notes these days, seems to clear out some rough notes, so I’ve had this a few times now. Caught at the wrong moment this can be quite closed as a whisky. The intense alcohol, charring and smoke can close off access to everything else, and sometimes is seems even water play can’t open it up. Other times, caught at the right moment it has all the goodness of a young Laphroaig, some quarter cask notes, matched with rich red fruit and a mix of red wine notes that makes it utterly exceptional.

I love it – it is a super intense ride of Laphroaig and more. However, even loving it, it is a ride of high points and low points depending on how it is reacting today. For the high points I am happy with it, as when it is on it us bloody amazing and I have not seen such a mix of intensity, Laphroaig character and wood character work so well before. However at the cost, something that may be not super reliable on the high may not be worth it for you.

So, look at the cost, look at the info here, make up your mind. You call.

Background: Ok, this is very expensive even for an 18 year old Laphroaig, and those are not exactly common. I was allowed to try the tiniest of sips of a sample at Independent Spirit and it blew me away, but there was no way I could get it at the time. Then I received a cheque saying an audit had revealed I was owed money and well, so now I own a bottle. I don’t believe in fate, but if I did then it definitely wanted me to have this whisky. Anyway, cask strength, in a stupidly over the top box which is so wasteful, but I would be lying if I said I did not find cool. I am a hypocrite, grr, down with wasteful packaging! Anyway, I was nervous breaking this open, hoping it would hold up to my memory – especially after buying the darn thing! Anyway put on some old, more goth era Lacuna Coil while drinking. Still like their more metal newer stuff, but it seems to waste the vocal range that the singers have – old school is where it is at.

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