Having recently joined The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, I’ve been on an incredible journey tasting through some of the best whisky I’ve ever had. This may be an obvious statement to many of you but I have come to find there is nothing quite like the raw intensity of single cask whisky. It is whisky in its pure, unadulterated state and for true enthusiasts searching for an intersection between both experience and value, single cask whisky from an independent bottler is undoubtedly the way to go.
My introduction to the Society began with a whisky that to me, embodies everything that a great independent bottler has to offer: a rare, cask strength, un-chillfiltered and naturally colored whisky from a distillery that bottle very little on its own. This whisky in particular was a complex, 26 year old from the Longhorn distillery offered at a price equivalent to many of those limited edition no-age-statement distillery bottlings that have been flooding the market as of late. The whisky was 7.148 “Wicked Viscosity”. How was it? You can check out the full review on my blog (link in bio) but if you’re running short on time I’ll just say this: it was everything I could have hoped for.
For my next bottling, however, I wanted to experience something very different than the first. The experiment of selecting an older Speyside from an unknown-to-me distillery provided successful but with this second bottle, I wanted to venture into something a bit more stylistically familiar. I wanted to try a single cask whisky produced in the region of Scotland that has won my heart 100 times over: the magical island of Islay. Those of you who know me or read my reviews know that I have a personal affinity for Islay distilleries and many of the heavily peated spirits they produce. For this bottling, I have chosen a coastal, heavily peated spirit bottled under Society code 29.201 and cleverly named “Peat smoked candied Angelica”.
For those of you wondering, I’ll just say it here. Distillery number “29” is none other than Laphroaig. Matured for 17 years in re-fill ex-bourbon casks and bottled at its natural cask strength of 58.9%, on paper it seemed to have everything I could want in a whisky. But what I didn’t know at the time was that it would turn out to be one of the best whiskies I’ve ever had in my life.
Pop the cork and entire room is quickly filled with the familiar aroma of dense, medicinal peat smoke. Wow! My nose is literally 3 feet away from the bottle and I feel like the job of discerning each aromatic element has already begun. That’s cask strength whisky for you. In the glass, the whisky is straw gold in color, much lighter in appearance than one of my personal favorite whiskies of a similar age: the Laphroaig 18 Year Old. I have so much respect for the Laphroaig distillery but if I had the power to change one thing it would be their occasional usage of articial colorant. It’s such a pleasure to experience this Laphroaig spirit in its natural, unadulterated state.
On the nose, the initial aroma is very intense; thick, medicinal, dense peat smoke with classic notes of cracked sea salt and brine. But wait, there’s more. If I pull away from the glass, give it a moment, and return a second time, I find that my nose is now acclimated to the spirit and able to detect new aromas of vanilla cake frosting and milk chocolate. The granulated sugar element is unexpected but welcome in this unique marriage of sweet and savory aromas. It’s topped with the beautiful aroma of dampened cedar wood, one that I get when I accidentally oversaturate the humidifier inside my desktop cigar humidor.
On the palate (at full cask strength), oh my. This is going to be more difficult to discern than I realized. Before the taste buds can detect any one flavor, the entire mouth is overtaken by the thick, oily texture of the whisky. Wow! I grin in amazement, which quickly forces me to swallow the liquid before I can actually taste it. Let’s try that again. On second sip, there it is! Rich flavors and toffee and vanilla followed by smoldering ash and tar. The smoke is big and bold but it’s surprisingly seductive. For me, the earthiness of the spirit comes secondary on and it’s much more mellow than your typical Laphroaig. If this were bottled below cask strength, one could argue that it’s “too melow” but the higher ABV allows it to retain just enough youth and vibrancy to keep you on your toes.
Adding a dash of water brings out new flavors of toasted whole wheat bread smothered in butter and topped with cracked sea salt. There’s an unmistakable roasted meat element to it but it’s very different from the smoked ham note you get in say Ardbeg. More of a duck l’Orange when delivered alongside the natural citrus peel flavor that come from the American oak casks.
The finish is long and intense but not intense in the way that say the Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength can be. The intensity of this whisky lies in the sheer explosion of flavor. Everything from the dense, medicinal peat smoke to the creamy vanilla and toffee stays present until the very end. It is, in my opinion, a perfect finish.
In conclusion, quite possibly the best Laphroaig I have ever had. At $210 a bottle, it’s certainly a pricey whiskey but if you’re someone who loves Laphroaig and can swing the price tag, this is the whisky for you. Those of you in America who have been thinking about joining the Society, I have been told they are doing a one-time $50 discount on their membership fee in celebration of World Whisky Day. If you join the Society and pick up this whisky, let me know what you think. The only thing I enjoy more than tasting whisky is sharing the experience with other enthusiasts like you. Slàinte!