Laphroaig 10 year old is one of the most well-known whiskies in the world – it’s also the best-selling single malt from Islay. Often described as the most flavourful of Scotch whiskies, it’s the entry-point to the Laphroaig range, but in my view, far from an entry-level whisky. It’s provenance and relative youth lead to a robust and bold character that is both highly recognisable, but also sometimes too intense for those not already enamoured by big full-bodied peaty flavours. Its character is unapologetically medicinal and inherently coastal - the distillery itself recognises that their whisky ‘..is a complex beast’, that engenders feelings of both love and sometimes loathing. They’ve produced a variety of campaigns that capture the wide array of strong opinions about this idiosyncratic whisky.
The 10 year old release is aged for a decade in American ex-bourbon barrels. These barrels became the norm for Laphroaig soon after the ending of Prohibition, when the then Distillery Manager Ian Hunter travelled extensively to the United States. Hunter discovered that the sweeter notes the resulted from ex-bourbon maturation effortlessly married to the low ester, higher phenolic levels of the distillery’s new make spirit. Over the last Century, this conjugation has become synonymous as Laphroaig’s primary house style.
Nose: Instantly recognisable – Immediate medicinal smoke, iodine and tar. More than a hint of antiseptic, TCP and Dettol. It’s not a campfire/woody smoke – it’s of more chemical plant fire (think the slightly maligned Superman 3). Underneath this nasal assault are subtleties though – under ripe apples, slightly tropical fruits, creamy vanilla, honey and citrus. The coastalness of this whisky is exceeding high – saline, rock pools and granite.
Taste: Rich, oily and proof that sometimes 40% ABV can do the business - a tsunami wave of smoke to begin - still quite chemical (iodine and surface cleaner), but now with a touch of fireplace smoke (ashes and sooty chimneys). Meatiness – BBQ – along with seaweed, rubber, barley water and a good squeeze of lemon juicy – tart, acidic, but still in step with the medicinal/woody peat. Sweetness develops in the mid-palate with honey and gentle golden-syrup – this plays nicely against both the peat and citrus. Minerality and coastalness extends into the back palate – wet stones, quartz, sea shells and brine.
Finish: Pronounced minerality along with candied fruits and acidic lemons resulting in a medium to long finish.
Laphroaig 10 year old is both a classic, but also an extremely divisive whisky, It’s packed full of huge phenolic coastal flavours that are totally evocative of both its home distillery as well as its heritage. But, pronounced medicinal flavour is simply not going to be for everyone, and many will struggle with a palate that seems to belong more in a burning hospital than it does in a bottle of Scotland’s finest. Nevertheless, if you do enjoy this full-on flavour profile then Laphroaig 10 is still one of the very finest ten year olds out there.