On December 2nd, 2012 the LA Scotch Club gathered in Pasadena to share in a solemn ritual: the complete and utter annihilation of Laphroaig 40, bottle 1929. May it rest in peace (in my belly.)
Alas, one more prized bottle has been robbed of the opportunity to rot on the top shelf of a collector’s hutch, a prize to be smugly exhibited toward intimidated or salivating guests, but never, never, never, NEVER opened and tasted.
Some of us take a different approach to rare whisky: find friends, drink the shit out of it, and savor the memories. And we did. Now bottle 1929 is just a handsome carcass whose juice was divvied into thirty 25 oz. portions a consumed in orgy of peat that was the LASC Laphroaig Vertical.
Generally put, it means to try every level of a company’s products in one sitting. In this case it meant trying all OB (official bottlings) of Laphroaig from the 10yr to the 40yr. Trying Johnnie Red up through Johnnie Blue could be considered a vertical. For the maltly challenged, imagine a going to McDonald’s and trying everything with a bun from the lowly hamburger to an Angus Deluxe. Because you’re comparing apples to apples, this is the finest opportunity there is to find out what expressions you prefer and what the profile of the line is while taking notes and ratings, either on paper or in your head.
By profile, I mean that certain flavor or smell that is omnipresent throughout the company’s whisky range. In this case, what makes Laphroaig Laphroaigy. Yes, I said ‘Laphroaigy’. I’ve had Ardbeg that tasted Laphroaigy and I’ve had Laphroaig that tasted Ardbeggy, but that’s rare. Master Distiller John Campbell wouldn’t be worth his weight in gold if he didn’t know what ‘Laphroaigy’ meant, and you can bet he spends a lot of time keeping the profile consistent… because it’s a damned good one.
How to Do a Vertical
Wanna do one? The biggest decision is whether the vertical should be ‘blind’, meaning that you don’t know what you are drinking. This is easy if you have a non-participating buddy (like Mrs. Smith) who can pour secretly in another room. Otherwise it gets tricky. I’ve done a few different verticals. Here’s how two Laphroaig events went down:
Laphroaig Vertical #1
17 bottles, IB (independent bottling) and OB: this was a ‘blind’ tasting, although technically semi-blind because we all knew which bottle were participating, but didn’t know what we were drinking at any given time. This is daunting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s natural to want to match your ratings with the better bottles. It’s mighty embarrassing to give a D rating to a $300 bottle that you claimed was your favorite the night before. You just have to let yourself go jedi ; trust and accept your senses. This is a chance for an unbiased review. Perhaps you’ve been wrong about what you liked. Perhaps you’ll save some money!
Equally daunting was to try 17 whiskies in one sitting. I believe that my own palate starts to wane after 6 whiskies, but what fun is a dinky little 6 bottle vertical. Keep the pours small and don’t try for perfect notes. Perhaps you want to skip straight to ratings based on one sip. Who wants to burn out before the last lap? I know my notes didn’t when the Pulitzer. Perhaps next time.
|Laphroaig:||Andy||Fuji||Dirty Uncle Michael||Average|
|Cadenheads 1984 12yr||B+/A-||B+/A-||A-||B+/A-|
|AD Rattray 1990 18yr for Alberta||B+||C-/C||C||C+|
|Dram Collection cask 184||C+/B-||B-||B-||B-|
|Signatory 2001 15yr Cask Strength #6984||B||B-||A-||B/B+|
|Signatory 2000 – Unchillfiltered||B-||B-||B-||B-|
|Cask Strength Batch 3||C||B-||A-||B-/B+|
|Murray McDavid 1998||C||B||C-||C-/C|
|Murray McDavid 1987||C||B-||B||C+/B-|
|Duncan Taylor 1997 12yr cask 56441||B||B||B+||B/B+|
The winner: a 12 year old Cadenhead’s Laphroaig from a sherry cask. It beat the Laphroaig 30 hands down with a solid A-.
Laphroaig Vertical #2
Ooh-la-la. Twelve bottles, all OB, from the 10yr to the 40yr. This was a formal event with 25 people and blinding was just too difficult handle, so we divided the tasting into 4 groups of 3, trying to keep bottles of a similar quality grouped together (ex. 10, 15, Quarter Cask.) When given the chance to taste the whole series most people preferred… the 21 yr. For the curious, I’ll some review at the end of the article.
Iheartscotch.com also posted a nice article about the event.
Note: The first 36 seconds is silent so don’t crank up your volume .
December 2nd, 2012 worked out for everyone. Collectors are happy because their prized Laphroaig 40 just got a wee bit rarer. The rest of us have tasting notes for the 40 on the top shelf of our hutch. Look on our notes, ye Mighty, and despair!
Laphroaig 40 – Semi-blind/known
Price: $3000 US at auction
• Nose: Antique furniture with leather and a cracked open chocolate covered cherry inside the drawers.
• Palate: Citrus on leather or cedar. The Laphroaig and even Islay profile have been stripped out or covered up the wood flavors. The mouthfeel is good but not quite velvety. The finish is a winner as the citrus fades and the cedar lingers forever. B for its solid palate. A- for a finish that makes this malt incredibly drinkable.
Laphroaig 30 – Semi-blind/known
Price: $600 US at auction
I have a long history with this one and my opinion is constantly evolving. Guess that makes this a complex whisky.
• Nose: Fantastic. Pine wood soaked in Christmas spices and simple syrup.
• Palate: Rubber and motor oil. More bitter at first than the nose suggests. The finish gets a bit firewoody. Not a knockout but highly drinkable. Over 10 different attempts, it’s a safe
Laphroaig 25 2011 – Known
Price: $450 US
• Nose: Iodine and metal
• Palate: Perhaps the most medicinal scotch I’ve had. This is the doctor’s doctor. There is a hint of smoke, but of all the “peaty” descriptors, the iodine overshadows them all. There is a playful bite to it though.
Laphroaig 21 (US) – Known
Price: $500 US
• Nose: Rubber bands and recently laid asphalt
• Palate: Monstrously rich, with white pepper and new plastic. The finish is incredibly sticky and a little bit tarry. This is a powerful dram.
Laphroaig 18 – Semi-Blind
Price: $120 US
• Nose: maple, raisin, brine
• Palate: spicy and salty. Old shoes and vanilla. A bit dull for a Laphroaig.
Laphroaig 15 – Semi-Blind/Known
Price: $100 US – at auction
• Nose: Dank and earthy peat. If I had a peat house my son would get timeout in the corner that smelled like this.
• Palate: Lemon, mold, and a gob of soil. Not nearly as smoky as the 10 might seem. The finish stays a while but is a little bit soil-ly.
Laphroaig Triple Wood – – Semi-Blind/Known
Price: $70 US
• Nose: Classic Laphroaig tar and iodine with a bit of steroids. Fireplace ash.
• Palate: Much more charcoal than a standard Laphroaig. More woody too. A nice malt that’s a step up from the 10.
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2012 – Known
Price: $90 US
• Nose: Hint of lemon and cinnamon.
• Palate: Lively. Grapefruit and earth. Actually a lot of earth. Dagobah in a glass. Drink it, I must.