Boutique-y Advent 2021 – Door 3
Posted 04 December 2021 by Matt / In Laphroaig
Bottle Name: Islay No.3 Batch 4
Bottler: That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Glass Weight: 500g
Nature can often surprise with its tendency to diversity as much as its tendency to uniformity. And peat is no different – it is not all the same. Topography and local climate make a marked difference to the aromas and flavours that peat smoke imbues into barley – the easiest comparison to understand being that of the variations between sea and salt-licked Islay peat and the more vegetal, ‘in-land’ notes that tend to be produced from Highland peat. But, far from being merely diverse in its makeup and thus chemical composition, peat behaves differently (and sometimes inconsistently) when it enters the various stages of the whisky making process. And most unpeated distilleries do not tend to simply go at a peated run without making several knowing alterations to the whisky-making process beforehand.
The transformations that barley undergoes in its processing toward new make spirit inherently affect its influence on the end aromas and flavours of the whisky produced. Whilst an inexperienced 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 *will* (and should) have a bearing on the character 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 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 how that peat interacts at all stages of the production process - in the mash, with a particular fermentation regimes and into the stills where the different shapes and sizes and the volumes of copper contact will all be adding their own nuances. Two distilleries using the exact same peat spec for their barley will not produce an identical spirit in terms of its peated profile because of the changes the phenols undergo within the plant. This could be something as fundamental as tubs vs shell and tub condensers – but it will affect the prevalence and the manifestation of the peat influence nonetheless.
And that’s saying nothing about the maturation side, where the individuality of casks 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 asides that 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 permeates into the spirit, but in its ability to be just as divergent and complicated as the water of life itself. It’s all very complicated and my respect for those who have ‘mastered’ the balance from grain to glass grows steadily every day.
Door 3 of the 2021 Boutique-y Advent calendar reveals Islay #3 13 year old Batch 4. This label will be familiar to many of you – drawing its cues from both Back to the Future (the musical is a fabulous feast of for the eyes BTW), 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 becoming far more guarded about the use of their name on independent bottlings – and not just for Boutique-y. 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. But we all know what it is nevertheless.
Sometimes this vague branding can be a good thing – better pricing is often an expectation of a distillery name not being present on the label – both for the bottler and the customer. That’s not really the case here through – the release is £119.95 from Master of Malt. It might not overtly say Laphroaig…but it is….and it’s priced accordingly (though I will note that price has remained the same since 2019). This batch is a release of 1,479 bottles, delivered at 48.6% ABV.
For alternative views on this whisky, once you’re done here, do head over to visit Sorren at OCD Whisky and Brian at Brian's Malt Musings.
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 presents a wide array of coastally-focussed aromas and flavours – some of which feel very in tune with the expectations of the distillate, others which showcase broader cues and notes. That’s no bad thing – if everything headed in an expected direction life would be a dreadfully boring and predictable place. However, I’m not completely sold on the ‘modern’ styling of Laphroaig as much as I am on examples that tend toward sheer purity. This one could divide the crowd a touch and I’m likely down the middle on it – particularly at the RRP.
This piece originally ran on 16th December 2019 - but it has been extensively updated and the sample has been reassessed.
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