Laphroaig Tasting Event at Binny’s Beverage Depot with Simon Brooking

Simon Brooking, North America Brand Ambassador for Laphroaig, with Gary & friends

Simon Brooking, North America Brand Ambassador for Laphroaig, with Gary & friends

Reader Gary recently went to a Laphroaig tasting being held at Binny’s Beverage Depot, a chain of liquor stores in Illinois. The event cost a mere $10 and was hosted by Simon Brooking, Laphroaig’s North American Whisky Ambassador.

It sounded like a fantastic event and they even had a chance to check out the 2014 Cairdeas – I absolutely fell in love with the 2013 Cairdeas and polished off several bottles (Triple Wood is delicious too!). I think they were made a little smaller because they disappeared fast. 🙂

Here’s more about the event from Gary himself:

We walked into the tasting room and the first thing that hits you is smoke. A lot of smoke. All the tasting were already poured, 6 per person.

This night we got to taste the Select, 10yo, Quarter cask, Triple wood, 18yo and finished with the Cairdeas from 2014.

Simon greeted us all and then started out with a song. Then he started in with the history of Laphroiag, and how they became a legal distillery in 1815, but they had been distilling illegally for a while. Simon did not say exactly how long the illegal part was going on, but it was for “some time”. Simon then went on to explain how to nose the whisky and how having your mouth open is important, as it allows you to get more aromas and not just the alcohol coming out of the glass.

We started with the Select, which I liked very much. The select is a blend of the 10yo, the Quarter cask,Triple wood, and PX. A good place to start since the select does not have the typical heavy smoke nose or antiseptic tastes that the 10yo has. Still some smoke on the nose, some fruit, smooth, not too much peat at the end. And Simon does a toast with every dram. Some toasts are in Gaelic, some in English and one in Spanish.

Simon then produced a piece of peat, nice big chunk. He explained how the peat was used to dry the barley, and how the peat smoke added that unique flavor to the barley. Simon also explained how they farmed the peat.

They go down 9 inches, put that to the side, then go 18 inches put that to the side, and then use the next 18 inches. Put the first two pieces back, which makes the whole process more sustainable, and you get a more consistant flavor of peat digging so deep.

Simon then proceed to start the peat to smoking and let us all get a good whiff of the smoke. It was also discussed that some people use the peat to smoke fish or meats, and that if you get some of the barley that has been dried it makes an excellent batter for food, get some nice smokey flavor.

We then went to the 10yo which I liked very much. Smoke just pouring out of the glass, taste of a camp fire in the mouth, then floral, antiseptic, then more smoke. Long finish but very enjoyable. With a bit of water the floral, fruity notes really pop out.
After the 10yo we tried the Quarter Cask.Not nearly as smokey as the 10yo. Still nice but the oak really comes into play. Many of the others liked this quite a bit, but not my favorite.

Then more information. Such as it can get very dry during the summer and the water supply for Laphroaig can dry up. So if you are planning a summer trip to see the distillery and see them actually making alcohol you probably should call first. They may be waiting for rain to fill up the lake.

Also the 18yo will not be offered next year. It seems that is already happening since many of the local stores here have no 18. Other than Costco. Laphroaig will be offering a 15yo in 2015. They just don’t have the stocks which makes sense due to the demand for single malts.

Okay so scotch, Triple wood was next on the tasting. Less smoke, alot more mouth feel, oak of course, and nice finish.

Then the 18yo. Where did all the smoke go? Not nearly as much peat in the nose or the palate. Much more of the floral fruity notes, easy to drink, medium finish. My sons like this one quite a bit.

Finished up with the Cairdeas. Wow nice scotch. Aged in oak and then finished for a year in Amontillado hoghead sherry cask. Not your typical Laphroaig. Smoke, sherry, complex for sure, very pleasant, smooth. Great way to finish the evening. A little tip from Simon, if you aren’t sure what year Cairdeas you have look at the ABV. Last year it was 51.3%, this year is 51.4% so next year should be 51.5%.

Laphroaig is 200 next year, (legally) and they plan on having a big celebration during Feis Ila, but are planning on a second celebration since they feel so many people are wanting to come to the distillery and take part in the anniversary.

Other note Laphroaig uses only Makers Mark barrels to age their alcohol. They feel Maker Mark fits the best with their alcohol.
we scored some nice swag from Laphroaig, and heavy duty pen, a stainless steel flask, plus a wonderful spread of bread, meats and cheeses during the tasting. Even have a photo with Simon and a few bottles he signed for us.

Laphroiag really does it up right. If there is a tasting in your area it really is worth checking out!

Sounds like a fun event worth way more than $10!

Laphroaig 10 Tasting Notes

Laphroaig 10 is one of the cornerstones of any Scotch whisky library and a name that most aficionados are familiar with. Hailing from Islay, it has all the characteristics you expect – peat, smoke, even medicinal (smells like band-aids though not as iodine-y as Lagavulin) to go along with the spice. It smells like a campfire, there’s no mistaking it, and I love enjoying it besides one or sidled up to the fireplace.

Personally, I like Islays because they’re different.

They’re distinctive.

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).

Islay vs. Speyside Scotch

It’s very difficult to mass categorize the wonderful spirits of Scotland’s myriad collection of distilleries but if one were forced two, the easiest buckets to put them in are based on smokiness. On one side, we have the heavily “peated,” smokey stylings of Scotch produced on the island of Islay. On the other, we have absolutely no smoke and no peat and the most popular area for that is a toss up between the Highland region and Speyside.
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Cask Strength Bottles to Display Bottling Date & Batch

I received an email from Laphroaig about two weeks explaining a new Scotch Whisky Association rule that requires all cask strength single malt Scotch whiskies to display a bottling date and batch number on each bottle. Laphroaig used to bottle all their cask strengths at 55.5% ABV but with the new rules, they’ll be bottling each batch individually with varying strengths and expressions. Since the cask strengths will no longer be blends of several casks, each will have slightly more distinction from bottling to bottling.

I’m not entirely sure why the rules were changed but it’ll certainly add a small little twist to each, here are the stats of Batch #1 of Laphroaig’s Cask Strength:
Batch 1 Facts
ABV: 57.8%/115.6 proof
Batch Date: February 2007
Tasting Notes: A full blast of massive peat smoke and seashore salt leads to a fading sweetness at the finish.
Batch Quantity: 5,100 bottles

Whisky Tasting Wheel

Whisky Wheel

The above is a Whisky Tasting Wheel taken from Whisky Magazine, via Scotch Blog, and I posted it here because it’s one of several “whisky wheels” out there. Whisky wheels are great because the fun in sampling different whiskies is in finding the subtle aromas and flavors. It’s hard to know what to look for if you don’t have a map, especially when you’re a novice like me, so having a wheel available can help. I wouldn’t get too carried away though, as trying to smell fresh laundry or hot sand (both are in the Sandy part in the Sulphury wedge) might leave you more confused than anything else.

When I enjoyed the Laphroaig last week, I could distinctly smell the medicinal aroma, which makes sense in such a peaty scotch. But looking back, I didn’t get any tar, diesel oil, or seaweed (not that I was supposed to).

In the end, the whole experience of enjoying whisky is very personal and everyone’s palate is different, so while this should give you diesel, don’t sweat it if you can’t get the flavors you read in some tasting notes.