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Forced to choose a preference among the Big Three Peat Monsters of Islay, those whose cupolas serve sentry duty on the southern shores, I would have to admit to being a proud passenger on the Ardbeg bandwagon. Lagavulin is a very close second; closer than the objects appear in your rear-view mirror, in fact. If I rank Laphroaig third, I still bestow upon it superstar status. These three are the Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron of whisky. (For you non-Yanks out there, those guys were baseball players. Very good ones, so I hear.)
I’m no Serge Valentin when it comes to my whisky cabinet. He’s tasted about 700 expressions from each of the aforementioned; I’ve had a combined total of 11 from all three. But if the core-range OBs are good indications of a distillery’s profile, then I know what I like. And I do indeed like Laphroaig 10 yo Cask Strength. This stuff has bigger cajones than Teddy Roosevelt fighting a grizzly bear.
Tasting notes based on my fifth dram from a Batch #003 bottle, opened about four months ago. As warm-ups, I began this evening with a dram each of the standard 10 yo and the Quarter Cask. (I also own the Triple Wood and the 18 yo, but I wouldn’t be able to write the review if I sampled all five.)
Nose: Well, peat. Make that a gale force of peat. Peat as subtle as a stick of dynamite in a keg of nails. The peat remains the elephant in the room, although it evolves quickly as the nose turns surprisingly delicate overall. After a couple of minutes, I get salty sea air, pepper, and Chap Stick. If I angle my nose just right, I can really smell the oak wood as well. After braving a wee sip neat, I added a teaspoon of water, and then returned to the nose. There’s more sweetness fighting its way to the surface now—citrus rinds and bananas in particular—but the peat smoke, wood, and seashores retain their dominance.
Palate: There are a few strong whiskies I can handle neat, but this is nothing but pure flaming pepper in its raw form. With a bit of water, there’s still plenty of zing, especially in the arrival, with peat and pepper again to the fore. What an amazing development: warm, chewy, mouth-coating, incredibly dense, and a well-balanced juxtaposition of sweet (toffee, chocolate, and sno-cone syrup), spicy (salt, pepper, cloves), bitter (wood and wood smoke), and sour (vinegar, brine, and day-old fish that’s been left on the counter but hasn’t gone bad yet).
The finish is characteristically Laphroaig-ish, and this is the component that influences my ranking Laphroaigs a few points lower than other peat classics. On the upside, it’s fairly long and warm, with more of the good spices and seashores. Then comes the typical Laphroaig coda: Wood. Thud. I like a woody taste in many whiskies, but this is bitter, acrid, neutralizing wood that just doesn’t compliment anything that came before. A few hearty, whooshy open-mouthed exhales help recall the good things in the finish, but the wood always returns in the end for one last “Nyah-nyah!”
Others rave about the finish to this ’phoaig, so maybe I’m a lone voice midst the peat bogs. That I still score it in the low 90s indicates the high esteem I have for this whisky. A few moments of “Bleagh!” in the epilogue aren’t enough to undermine the brilliance of the main storyline.