Peat With A Side of Whisky
Tasting Notes: Laphroaig Triple Wood
To us, lobbying — when special interest groups hire professionals to advocate for a certain cause or law — seems like a glitch in the democratic system, especially when lobbyists convince congress that pizza should count as a serving of vegetables in schools, or corporate giants like Monsanto try to convince lawmakers to protect companies that sell genetically modified seeds against lawsuits. But what about “good lobbies”? You know, the ones who pay to feed the poor, clothe the naked, or protect the environment? Should they escape the grief we give the lobbies whose causes we hate?
It’s an important discussion, but for another piece. For now, we happily endorse the lobbyists from the Friends of Laphroaig group who convinced the distillery to bring back their limited edition Laphroaig Triple Wood ($60). Originally released for travel retail, the Triple Wood returns this fall as a seasonal release.
In case you didn’t guess from the name, the Triple Wood matures in three different types of cask. The first, American oak, ex-bourbon barrels, have become a popular choice in Scotch whisky maturation. After choosing the best of the bunch, Laphroiag transfers the whisky to small 19th Century style quarter casks. Because of their size—the 50-liter casks are made to be a quarter the size of the 200-liter standard barrels, hence their name—the wood remains in close contact with the spirit, quickly imparting their woodsy, smokey flavor. The final maturation takes place in European oak butts, narrow casks that previously held Oloroso Sherry.
All three casks play different but equally important roles in the whisky’s development. Thanks to the ex-bourbon barrels, the Triple Wood is a “peat-bomb”: especially compared with the subtle Japanese whiskies we tasted last week, it’s dominated by smoky peat, on the nose and in the mouth. The quarter casks add an incredible charred flavor, not the char from Kingsford charcoal but something altogether more nostalgic, like day-old campfire. The butts, which impart the least influence of the three, contribute notes of fruit and honey sweetness. The final impression was of oak, smoke and peat on the nose with a peaty, charred taste and well-known Islay brine after the finish.
With flavors like that, one expects the whisky to be overpowering. While they border on aggressive, the combination of casks somehow yield an incredibly well-balanced product. This is, of course, in spite of the Triple Wood’s high 96 proof. Those who prefer a subtle, dainty whisky should look elsewhere, but for the rugged, this whisky delivers. We’ll drink this one around a campfire, perhaps while debating the lobby issue.