When reviewing whiskies I try, as much as is feasibly possible, to ensure a consistency of both routine and environment. The same time of day, the same glass, even the same seat. Whilst this might seem particularly anal, it’s well documented that our olfactory systems are not consistent things – they ebb and flow throughout the day. Through a set repetition, it’s my belief that the most accurate results can be both observed and recorded. At yet, at the same time, despite being very style/flavour agnostic, it’s hard to overlook that sometimes whisky can feel particular seasonal.
Perhaps there’s something in the cold winter air? But over the last few weeks, I’ve felt especially drawn to both review, and drink peated expressions (The Dramble will be presenting some of the results of my peaty preoccupation next week). To many of you this might seem like a no-brainer – strong, smoky whisky warms the soul during the colder months. But, for my palate, this is actually a surprisingly new development – I’ve never felt a strong urge to align my drinking with the prevailing weather conditions. I suspect, similarly to the highs and lows of the olfactory system throughout a single day, I’m simply going through a cyclical partiality that just happens to align with a cold snap here in the UK. But, nevertheless, I’m aware of it – and in the case of writing about whisky, this awareness is key to not letting our inner passions, or indeed fatigues guide our eventual assessments.
Followers of Laphroaig might remember 2016’s annual Cairdeas bottling which utilised madeira hogsheads for a finishing period. The expression proved popular, but rather divisive – some loved the marriage of orange fruitiness with robust Laphroaig spirit – others found the combination unbalanced and ‘toned down’ from the distillery’s naturally heavy-hitting TCP-led style. Nevertheless, it seems that Distillery Manager John Campbell’s foray into madeira maturation was not a flash in a pan, and that there’s an array of madeira cask matured Laphroaig slumbering in warehouses across Scotland – some of it undoubtedly older than the 2016 Cairdeas bottling – and in today’s example, a full-term maturation rather than just a finish.
Elixir Distillers Elements of Islay Lp8 comes from three ex-madeira casks that were filled in 1998. Bottled in 2017 (without an age statement – but given the dates, we’ll go with 19 years of age) at 53.5% ABV, the number of bottles released was not specified, but with just three casks in play, you can bet it was not a particularly large number. The expression is still available if you hunt around – though it’s far from cheap, at around £150 for a 50cl – you might secure a better deal lurking on the monthly auction sites.
Nose: Raspberry cordial and stewed plums are joined by light but certainly perceptible peat – smoked meats, iodine, tar and salty water. The madeira casks provide a noticeable lift to the proceedings with mandarin orange, clementines and a scattering of rum-soaked raisins. The addition of water brings both some pineapple tropicals, as well as plenty of underlying mustiness – damp floors and wet walls – after a while, these integrate and present in a more vaporous fashion as exhaust fumes.
Taste: A bold arrival with a treacly oiliness providing plenty of texture and mouthfeel. Raspberry and plum jams, meet orange syrupy and sweet grape jelly. Smoke is much more prevalent with elements of ashiness and elements of medicinalness – hearth embers and soot alongside iodine and antiseptic wipes. The mid-palate delivers leather – freshly tanned – alongside building pepperiness and grapefruit tartness. Reduction brings back the meatiness detected on the nose – roasted ham joints, as well as emphasising bright and juicy orange flavours.
Finish: Quite long, smoke and orange with some palpable, but integrated oak
Elements Lp8 offers a rather fun combination of orange with iodine. Whilst the madeira influence has undeniably tempered the overall smoky strength of the underlying distillate, the marriage feels both balanced and enjoyable. The coastal Laphroaig character is reduced but still intact to a level that it dances along with the brighter, fruiter aromas and flavours delivered from the choice of cask. A very enjoyable combination of sweet and peat.
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