Peaty and Proud of it

Tasting Notes: Laphroaig 18

Culture By Photo by Henry Phillips

Laphroaig has always made a divisive dram. The most famous distillery from Scotland’s Islay region makes no apologies for its heavily peated and pungent smoke flavors, along with other notes extracted from its proximity to the sea such as salt, seaweed and iodine. Brash claims of being “the most richly flavored of all Scotch Whiskies” are printed right on the damn label. Many agree, cherishing its unique taste signature, often described as “medicinal”, above all other whiskies. Prince Charles apparently loves the stuff, making it the only whisky to carry his Royal Warrant. Others are repulsed by it.

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The 18 year old version carries its own set of baggage among Laphroaig diehards, largely because it replaced the much-loved 15 year expression (and Charles’ favorite) when it was introduced in 2009. But like a bastard child born into a conservative family, its problems are a consequence of its existence, not its character.

Unsurprisingly, the peat from this expression can still be whiffed off a glencairn from across an open room, but three extra years in wood has mellowed the pure gold whisky somewhat in relation to other expressions, particularly when it’s left for a bit to air out. Subtleties arise after the initial onslaught of smoke. It’s creamy and coats the mouth; some sugary sweetness creeps in as well as some citrus. An ABV of 48 percent and the absence of non-chill filtering make their presence known in small amounts, through peppery bursts and a long, low smoky burn at the end.

For those well accustomed to the wiles of peated monsters, Laphroaig 18 will remind of good times spent around camp fires or triumphs honored with a fine cigar. But if Islays aren’t really your thing, this 18 year old expression won’t change your mind.