Drams Deprived!!- Laphroaig Deep Dive

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Drams Deprived!!- Laphroaig Deep Dive

Drams Deprived!!- Laphroaig Deep Dive

Last week a leisure chat with a member of the club made me realise the gravity of a problem faced in India for the whisky fanatic. My rhetoric on the barbaric taxes in India is no secret, but availability is no less a devil. The gent was a true enthusiast with adequate experience and also a staunch loyalist to a specific brand of Single Malt whisky. I was inquisitive about his opinion on some of the recently launched versions from the same distillery and he was pretty much clueless to his disbelief and mine. Yes but of course; he was not someone who follows distillery news or brand launches for Single Malt whiskies but nevertheless my expectation was misplaced. I reasoned that if one does not see or hear about brands/versions in the local retail stores, the TOMA (top of mind awareness) is likely to be poor.

Given the limited number of whisky geeks such as you and me, this quandary becomes acute in India. Like I have stated in some of my previous rambles; the landscape of liquor stores and availability of Scotch has improved multi fold in some states of the subcontinent. But when it comes to range, variety and options we are still very underprivileged. The giants of the industry have managed to gain entry and base versions of Single Malt whiskies have found a toe hold; but for the nerd who picks the reclusive blond which does not walk, the retail stores offer little solace.

‘Drams Deprived’ will be a series of short notes which will highlight some versions of popular brands and distilleries across the globe. A statutory warning is necessary, reading these episodes may invoke curiosity, interest, and thrill but most often for readers in the subcontinent this results in days, months & sometimes years of yearning for the “Usige Beatha”. It also results in scouting for forgotten friends, distant relatives, acquaintances etc. who have one common factor; ‘Returning to India’. I will be only covering the OB versions as including Independent Bottlers will just make the list too long.

Let’s start with a popular yet revered Single Malt brand called “Laphroaig”. Laphroaig’s presence in India has been evident from the last 4-5 years, but it has been imported from the late 90’s. This peat monster is quite popular with the aficionado as well as the occasional indulgent buff. This is a surprise to me considering the spices in Indian food! The ritual of sharing a bottle of coveted whisky in India is never complete without plentiful servings of appetizers laden with all kinds of spices. So my amazement remains that a whisky such as the Laphroaig or for that matter Ardbeg which should leave the palate numb if consumed in the traditional manner being quite popular.
So what are the variants we are deprived from the brand and what are the popular versions available in the market?

The Standard 10 Year Old Edition: This is a run of the mill but yet hugely popular Laphroaig, across the globe and the sentiments are synonyms in India.Availability:Reasonably good, available in any medium to large stockiest for premium liquor
Availability: Yes most often, unless out of stock
ABV: 40%
Price Range: 5500-8000 INR Retail, 55-65 USD in Indian Duty Free Stores
Color: Light gold
Nose: Sweet and peaty (Smoke and charcoal for those who have not experienced peat) and medicinal
Palate: Very much like the nose, this has a burst of peat with sweets, a bit of seawater in the background but quite light.
Finish: Rather short with a bit of sharp burning tail.

The Quarter Cask Laphroaig (NAS): Launched in 2004 this version of the dram is matured in Quarter casks and hence the name. These casks usually hold 50 Liters compared to the usual 200 Liters Ex bourbon American oak casks. This allows greater contact between the wood and the spirit thereby recreating the once traditional process of whisky maturation. One tip that readers must keep in mind is that this version is matured in two barrels. Of which one is the Quarter Cask; actual time the spirit spends in the Quarter Cask in the entire maturation period is pretty much unknown to and undeclared. Since this is a NAS whisky the overall maturation period estimated by experts is 5-7 years
Availability: Relatively rare, available in large stockiest for premium liquor
Duty Free India Availability: Yes
ABV: 48%
Price Range: 70000-8500 INR Retail, 70-80USD in Indian Duty Free Stores
Color: Bright Gold
Nose: A feisty version, this is more pungent, smells like a chemical laboratory which is heated with coal! There is a bit of vanilla but very faint.
Palate: This is smoky and yet very evident malt sweetness with again the typical whiff of seawater. Very balanced and the edgy spirit is a indication of the age.
Finish: Rather short with and prolonged after taste, it’s pretty dry too.

The 10 Year “Old Cask Strength” Edition: This is often referred to as the ‘purists’ version. This spirit is bottled at 57.2% ABV and is a tidal wave of peat, smoke and brine!
Availability: Not Available (This is where the misery starts)
Duty Free India Availability: Not Available
ABV: 57.5%
Price Range: NA
Color: Gold
Nose: More of those medicinal antiseptics, peat. Take a deep whiff it’s almost like the dram is aerated and bubbles of salt water bursting under your nose! Do u like the smell near an Diesel engine locomotive?
Palate: Bold and full of aggression, the increased ABV sure makes it a peat monster on steroids! A drop of water releases more of the sweet coconut expressions
Finish: A long and a detailed finish, very easy to savor this whisky
(Note: please DO NOT try this with Chilly Chicken!)

LAPHROAIG SELECT: Another NAS whisky from Laphroaig, matured in selection of different barrels. More than 6 versions described on the bottle. Varied periods for maturation of the spirit in these barrels but none of the specifics mentioned again. Orslo Sherry butts, PX seasoned hogsheads, white American Oak etc…That is a lot of selection I must say!
Availability: Not Available (Misery continues)
Duty Free India Availability: Not Available
ABV: 40%
Price Range: NA
Color: Light Gold
Nose: A mild Laphroaig if I may say so! There is peat, there is smoke and seawater but it’s not pronounced like all the other versions so far, this is milder it’s a bit tame. There is a lot of Oak and wood here indeed!
Palate: This is in fact surprising! there is a lot more life in the body than what I would expect from the nose. There is a bit of menthol here, some bit of spices? Very confusing , I would never get this blind. All very flavours of the whisky have been smoothened out, very unlike the Laphroaig; reminds me of an experiment by Ardbeg called Blasda which was a similar experiment to tone down the character.
Finish: Short and no lingering aftertaste that you would usually associate with the Laphroaig

18 Year Laphroaig: I know that is the replacement of the 15 year old Laphroaig which stopped being bottled in 2009. The 15 year old Laph was one of the most popular drams from Islay. This is very elegant looking bottle brimming with green envy, only concern is that this envy lasts only 700ML
Availability: Rare, available in some premium liquor retailers (Surprisingly!)
Duty Free India Availability: Yes
ABV: 48%
Price Range: 10,000-14000 INR Retail, 100-110 USD in Indian Duty Free Stores
Color: Light gold
Nose: A vanilla candy being barbequed on the seaside. Lovely notes these are, it’s got the typical nose of the Laphroaig with iodine and smoke with some sweet fruits. We have some wood here but it’s not overwhelming.
Palate: This is a very good argument to the debate of ‘Age does matter”, very sublime, salty, smoke, big presence, not an edgy dram, the wrinkles have been smoothened by time but still very complex. This is a mouthful!
Finish: Long finish with a flourish of oak and liquorices. Very very satisfying.

25 Year Laphroaig Cask Strength: The top line of the standard releases from Laphroaig, this used to be bottled at a measly 40% ABV till the year 2007 if I remember right, but now is at cask strength. An expensive dram.

Availability: Very Rare
Duty Free India Availability: Rare
ABV: 51%
Price Range:  40,000-55000 INR Retail, 450-500 USD in Indian Duty Free Stores
Color: Pale Gold
Nose: Very plain, restrained again, a dry smoke, some lemon behind the curtain of smoke. You can tell this is a Laphroaig, but not a regular one.
Palate:  Very intriguing, the palate opens up some of those curtains but this is a great dram for a second round, by that I mean you need to spend time with it. Not blatant again very subtle but there a lot of sweets mixed with the smoke and seawater, the brine is just a tinge and somehow it is moist smoke now.
Finish: Medium finish with a feeling of maybe another helping will get the notes right. Save this for an occasion; not many injured soldiers I am guessing after being opened.

Laphroaig PX Cask: PX stands for ‘Pedro Ximenez’ which is a type of grape and made from it is a popular sherry. This bottle is exclusive to travel retail and not to the open market. This is a sequel of the Quarter Cask in terms of the maturation process, after American Oak and Quarter Casks the PX casks are used for maturation.

Availability: Not Available
Duty Free India Availability: Not Available
ABV: 48%
Price Range:  NA
Color: Maroon Gold
Nose: The wine is obvious here there is more than a hint of sweet wine, but it is not a winey whisky for sure the Laphroaig is just around the corner. The antiseptic notes are lost in the bargain.
Palate:  If you like your Laphroaig sweet then this is your brew. It is slightly thicker on the palate and is quite full bodied.
Finish: Good length and a little dry

Laphroaig QA Cask: QA in Latin stands for Quercus Alba which is nothing but American White Oak which should in essence make it a prequel of the “Quarter Cask”! This is getting to sound like the movie series ‘X – Men’. But this is in fact a two cask maturation first being Ex Bourbon fills and later the QA. This is another NAS bottling and is exclusive to travel retail

Availability: Not Available
Duty Free India Availability: Not Available
ABV: 40%
Price Range:  NA
Color:  Yellow Gold
Nose: This is Vanilla, as it says on the bottle but the Laphroaig is missing, there are some faint touches of smoke and peat but I just don’t get the seawater and the damp sea salt
Palate:  Another surprise lot of seawater! Did I get the nose right, salt a bit of smoke and lot of liquorice. This is another attempt at taming the beast wonder if one who drinks a Laphroaig actually wants to tame it.
Finish: Medium and makes you wonder if this was a Lahproaig. But it is one of those few dangerously drinkabable whiskies works well for tropical countries I think; if made available.

Laphroaig CAIRDEAS: This was released in 2008 for friends of Laphroaig across the globe, like most often India seems to have missed the ticket. ‘Cairdes’ in Scottish stands for friendship. NAS version again which is matured in first fill Bourbon casks and then finished in Amontillado casks which is another type of sherry.

Availability: Not Available
Duty Free India Availability: Not Available
ABV: 55%
Price Range:  NA
Color:  Orange gold
Nose: All these versions seem to be intended to tone down the creature what lies beneath. There is plenty of vanilla and butterscotch here. Very very faint touches of the signature Laphroaig.
Palate:  This is very sweet the high ABV is a savior or this would get a little too winey. There is peat, smoke and a touch of seaweed but this is a very sweet Laphroaig. It is full bodied and gets better with a couple of minutes in the glass
Finish: Medium with a hint of spices or bitters? Where did that come from!?

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