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My wife and I recently went gallivanting up and down the east coast of Australia visiting Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne. The main reason for Melbourne was shopping, and the main reason we decided to shop there was because of Nick's Wine Store in Armadale (a fairly wealthy inner city suburb of Melbourne). Whilst there I tasted a few drams (it's the only store I know that allows tasting of single malts, not just upon request, but they will actually offer them to you!), and ordered three bottles. They finally arrived today, and this evening I cracked open the first of them, the Laphroaig 18 year old!
The colour is quite pale for a whisky of its age, so it almost certainly has had no caramel added for colouring, and it states it has not been chill-filtered. Combine that with being bottled at 48%, I think even Ralfy would be relatively happy. The liquid looks very pale but is very viscous with long legs forming whenever you give the whisky a swirl.
The nose is typical Islay strong, but very smooth, and, almost paradoxically, very lively - especially for an Islay. Lot's of dry smoke and peat mix with a briny sea salt to form a lovely platform for gentle toffee, honey, freshly cut hay and a touch of chocolate. This is a complex and mature, but seriously well balanced nose. I sat here taking it in for nearly 16 minutes before doing anything else.
The taste immediately starts with a smoky, fruity tang that quickly expands with oak and nuts, before being swept up in a wave of gentle peat, vanilla, honey and brine. Further sips reveal roasted cereals and a hint of old leather. Every taste is slightly different, with new subtle hints coming throughand fantastic!
The finish is long and smoky. It's powerful enough to leave your tongue feeling numb. It's full of honey and oak underlined by soft, dry smoky peat. Goes on forever - if you take a sip more often than once every 10-15 minutes then you aren't letting this dram show you its full repertoire.
This dram somehow manages to be both genteel and muscular. This is a huge step up from the 10 year old which I personally find a little bland. Even the quarter-cask, which I think is an excellent dram, shows it's youthful simplicity compared to this.
When I bought this, the gentleman behind the counter said that in his opinion this was probably the best single malt to come out in the past 18 months. He's not wrong! And at AU$150 (which means it's probably around £60 or so in the UK), for an upper range malt, this is excellent value. I'm not ready to give it a 10, but it is a high 9.5, up there with the Ardbeg Uigedail for me.