ABV: 48.6% Distillery: Laphroaig Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company Region: IslayAge: 13
Peat is far from a monolithic substance. Whenever you’re dealing with something created by nature there’s always variances. In terms of peat, many of you will be aware of how topographical differences make a difference to the aromas and flavours that peat smoke can imbue into barley – the easiest to understand being that of the variances between the sea and salt-licked Isle of Islay peat and the gentler heather inflected soils of the highlands. But, far from being simply different in its chemical composition, peat behaves differently (and sometimes inconsistently) when it enters the various stages of the whisky making process.
The processes which the barley undergoes in its transformation to new make spirit inherently affect its eventual influence on the end aromas and flavours of the whisky. Whilst in simplistic terms, many a tour guide will simply state that the barley is there for sugar extraction (and of course, they’re not wrong), the type and condition of that barley has a significant influence on the profile of the new make spirit. Something as simple as cracking the grains, as opposed to milling them creates an entirely different cereal base flavour which transfers throughout mashing, into fermentation and onto distillation. The end result nosing and tasting different.
The same is true of peat smoke – not only the type of peat, the method of application and the total number of hours of kilning, but then into the mashing and fermentation regimes (all of which vary) and into the stills where different shape and sizes and volumes of copper contact all add their own variances. Two distilleries using the exact same peat spec for their barley will not produce and identical spirit in terms of its peated profile because of the changes the phenols undergo during the production process where equipment specs and usage all vary. And that’s not saying anything about maturation where the individuality of casks can play just as significant a role in terms of aroma and flavour transformation – usually lessening the smoke influence over time, but sometimes adding in unexpected nuances which occasionally belie the raw profile of the new make spirit in highly idiosyncratic ways.
The appeal of peat likely lies not just in terms of the smoky flavours which it imbues into the spirit, but in its ability to be just as divergent a substance as the water of life itself.
Door 15 of the Boutique-y 2019 Advent calendar reveals the bottlers fourth batch of Islay #3 13 year old. This label will be familiar to many of you – drawing its cues from both Back to the Future, and likewise one of the world’s most well-known peated whiskies. Even Bessie Williamson – the first woman to manage a Scottish distillery in the 20th Century gets a look-in. Laphroaig are seemingly being much more anal about the use of their name on independent bottlings – and not just for Boutique-y. But, this label started life with the distillery name front and centre – then moved over to Laphroaig’s occasionally used indy pseudonym ‘Williamson’, and now is simply branded as Islay.
Sometimes this vague branding can be a good thing – you can get some very fine liquid at better prices than normal simply through merit of the distillery name not being present on the label. I’m not sure that’s quite the case here – the bottling is £119.95 from Master of Malt. Which would be about par (for the expensive) course, were it delivered in a 70cl bottle. Nevertheless, Batch #4 is a release of 1,479 bottles, delivered at 48.6% ABV.
Nose: Somewhat alluvial with chalky cliffs and gravel paths sitting with the usual Laphroaig cues – brine, smoked fish, iodine and medicinal wipes. Running throughout, smoked pineapple and salted limes alongside a fabric note – initially canvas bags and sack cloth, gradually opening up to wet dog fur. The addition of water expresses Swarfega, ointment and calamine lotion together with damp plaster of Paris and wallpaper.
Taste: The arrival is quite mineral – limestone, chalk and rock pools. Then we’re into boot leather rubber bands, yellow ocean jackets, clay and putty. The mid-palate offers smoked fruitiness – under ripe pineapple, lime and lemon peels alongside antiseptic cream, hospital floors and burnt logs. The back palate feels moist with mossiness, felt roofing and damp cardboard. Water doesn’t really sit well here – it’s less expressive and less defined – offering a vague sense of fruit and smoke rather than the more precise and honed delivery of 48.6%.
Finish: Long with lime zest and vaporous industrial/medicinal smoke.
Boutique-y Islay #3 13 Year Old Batch 4 offers a wide array of coastally-focussed aromas and flavours – some of which feel very in tune with the expectations of the distillate, others which seem a little left-field. That’s no bad thing – if everything headed in the expected direction life would be a pretty boring place. However, it is likely that this whisky is going to divide the crowd somewhat.
There’s a vein of ‘modern’ Laphroaig running right through the heart of this distillate – and by that I mean the damp paper effect. It seems (when I last wrote about this aroma/flavour) that some of you rather like this cardboard-esque mustiness – and who am I to tell folks what they should and shouldn’t like. But, in my opinion, this effect is a result of shorter, rushed fermentations (nowadays little over 48 hours) and it has become something of a new house style for the spirit over recent years. That might be for you, but it's not really for me.
But don't take our word for it..
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