Personally, I like Islays because they’re different.
I have friends who absolutely love Islays and hate other regions (“Speysides are too sweet and floral, it’s like eating a flower”). Other friends hate Islays because of the smoke and iodine (“It’s like chewing on charcoal wrapped in a band-aid”).
Hey, to each their own right? You like what you like, so let’s find more of it.
I think it’s an acquired taste and while Laphroaig isn’t as smoky and peaty as Ardbeg (peatiness is measured in parts per million of phenols and Ardbeg is king), but it has enough punch that you couldn’t mistake it for anything else.
I recently picked up a bottle in order to taste it side by side next to the Laphroaig Cairdeas (2013), which quickly became a favorite of mine. The difference between the two is significant. The Cairdeas, having matured about 14 months in port casks, is much sweeter and masks much of the medicinal flavors of the 10. The smoke is still there along with the seaweed and salt but the medicinal nature is almost completely gone.
As Paul commented, “The only thing I would definitely say is that the port wood edition is not the way to have someone tell if they like Laphroaig because it is so out of step with literally every other scotch they produce.”
Onto my notes:
- Color: Light yellow
- Nose: Smoke, iodine and some more smoke. Some grass and seaweed mixed in. Or it’s just my shirt because I just started a fire in the fireplace, but I’m pretty sure it’s the whisky.
- Palate: Again the smoke and iodine plus the unmistakable “band-aid” from the phenolics, which I like and I’m not entirely sure why. There’s big oak notes, which I love, and ash. There’s some sweetness in there, and a maltiness/cereals, but I can’t pick out anything specific.
- Finish: Long and drawn out, heavily of smoke.
One thing I didn’t do last time was add some water, which is said to open it up immensely and release the sweetness and maltiness. At 40% abv, I didn’t think to do it (not that % of alcohol is any indicator), so next time I’ll give it a try.
Locally, it’s available for $50, which is pricey for a 10 year old scotch but about par for an Islay. Ardbeg 10 goes for ~$56 and Lagavulin’s youngest standard bottling is a 16 YO for $68. (while there are other Islays, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg are the three most widely available in the United States).