Friends of Laphroaig
The venerable Rooftop Lounge perched on the top floor of Toronto’s luxurious Park Hyatt hotel was the venue for a special whisky tasting for the Friends of Laphroaig hosted by Master Distiller John Campbell. Friends of Laphroaig (pronounced La-froyg) is a club of sorts – and a rather large one at that with close to 480,000 members – united by common enthusiasm for Laphroaig, the top-selling single malt from Scotland’s isle of Islay.
“There are about 3,200 people on Islay and eight distilleries,” Campbell kicked off, “so we’re the happy island.’” Campbell went on to explain that the Laphroaig distillery “legally” opened in 1815 (most of the country’s stills began as illegal operations until the early 1800s when the government relaxed the rules on operating legally and also took measures to make illegal distilling more difficult). He then took us on a “guided tour” (via presentation) of the distillery and all aspects of distilling Laphroaig single malt. The distillery website (www.laphroaig.com) contains much of what was presented as well as other interesting tidbits, so we’ll skip rehashing things and get right to the tasting notes.
For those unfamiliar with the Islay style, they are not for those with timid palates. Aggressive, smoky, medicinal and reminiscent of sea spray describes most of them. However, they typically have underlying fruit, spice and floral notes.
Laphroaig 10 Year Old:
The most popular expression accounting for 70 per cent of the distillery’s sales. Assertive peat smoke on the nose with hints of iodine, vanilla, spice and a hint of barley. Slightly oily in the mouth with sweet/spicy flavours and a long smoky finish fading out with some anise notes.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask:
Finished in smaller barrels (originally to accommodate the pack horses used to transport the whisky in the early 19th century), the ratio of wood to whisky in this version is increased and this is evident in the aroma which offers up hints of caramel, toasted barley and, of course, a noticeable does of peat smoke. Warm and intense, the flavour profile centres around fruitcake, toffee and smoky/fruity ending notes.
Laphroaig 18 Year Old:
Produced in limited quantities. Brine, peat smoke, mild almond and some sweet fruity notes define the aroma of this complex and well-rounded dram. The complexity continues in the mouth with salty/sea spray intermingling with some nutty/cocoa nuances that fade into a long, slightly honeyed, smoke-tinged finnish. Our favourite.
Laphroaig 25 Year Old:
Blended from whiskies aged in both American Bourbon casks and those that once contained Oloroso Sherry. The influence of the Sherry casks comes through with hints of Sultana raisin, chocolate and baked apple all wrapped around a core of the ever-present peak smoke. Lots of dried fruit, treacle and lingering smokiness on the palate with characteristic iodine wrapping up the whole package and sending it on its long, memorable way.