Laphroaig have discontinued several of their mainstay whiskies over the past few years – the 18 year old is probably the saddest removal to my mind. The distillery’s current core range of age-statements bottlings jumps from the 10 year old (and batch produced 10 year old Cask Strength) all the way up to the 25 year old (a £400 whisky). Whilst there are four core NAS expressions (Select, QC, Triple Wood and Lore), all of these are sub-£100, and Laphroaig fans are left with no core age-statement bottlings which bridge the huge financial chasm between the 10 and the 25 year olds.
Whilst the Cairdeas 15 year old (which now seems to be a permanent annual FoL bottling) goes some way to spanning the gap between the 10 and the 25 year old bottlings, the official replacement for the 18 year old is technically the NAS Laphroaig Lore. Lore is a vatting of whiskies between 7 and 21 years of age. It’s a reasonably solid multi-cask, multi-vintage whisky, but few would argue that it’s much more than that. It’s priced at the same point as the 18 year old that it has replaced, but I wonder how many people would really see it as a stepping stone from the 10 year old up to the venerable 25 – very few would be my guess.
Laphroaig 18 year old was introduced in 2009 as a replacement for the 15 year old, but, by the end of 2016, it had also gone the way of the dodo. You will still find it in some outlets – but you’ll be paying well over its original RRP. It is matured in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at a higher strength of 48% ABV.
Nose: Classy sophistication – a merger of well-aged fruity aromas with trademark Laphroaig coastal peat, that’s altogether much more subtle than you’d find in younger bottlings. Under ripe apples, oranges and candied citrus peels are taken on a trip to the bakery – buttery pastries, flans, tarts and toffee sauce. Then, we’re off for a more savoury main-course of smoky BBQ burnt ends and heavily reduced ham stock. Laphroaig-yness is still ever present, coastal, briny, mineral and peaty – but wonderfully restrained and played off against aged fruits and patisserie. A few drops of water brings out further orange and nectarine aromas as well as some ginger spicing.
Taste: Oily, full, rich and sweet. Fruitiness again, this time strongly favouring oranges, nectarines and tangerines. Cask influence is higher with both ginger and pepperiness coming forward and amalgamating with sweet but sharp coastal smoke – TCP, iodine, rock pools (you know the score by now). Heathery honey and fresh tobacco mingle with rich buttery flavours – cakes, dough and malt bread. The addition of water adds some biscuity notes, softens the fruit elements and pronounces ginger even further.
Finish: Long in length and delivering dusty clouds of dry coastal smoke and burnt meats.
Laphroaig 18 year old sits at the graceful end of the distillery’s bottlings – whilst it still manages to evocate both Islay and medicinal peat smoke, it does so with a high degree of refinement. This bottling proves that bold flavour doesn’t always need to come with a sledgehammer attached – robustness and sophistication can share the same bed. Balanced, delicious, charming and sorely missed.