Side by Side Single Malt Tasting – Episode #1: Laphroaig Triple Wood + Scapa 16 + Bowmore 12

scapaSometimes it’s fun to take a wee nip from several bottles of single malt one after the other to accentuate the differences between them. I’ve done it many times and it often reveals something new in a single malt I’ve tasted many times before but on its own. Today I’ve chosen randomly from my cupboard: Bowmore 12, Scapa 16 (both at 40% alcohol) and Laphroaig Triple Wood (at 48%). I thoroughly enjoyed the burt wood peatiness of the Laphroaig. I have it decanted down to a 100ml bottle now and it doesn’t pack the same peaty punch it did earlier in the bottle, but it’s still a respectable dram. The Scapa 16 has been a disappointment. I tried it at a whisky show a few years ago and couldn’t get over its smooth honey and heathery flavour, a highly unusual and delightful dram. Since I got my own bottle, though, it doesn’t seem like anything exceptional, not at all other-worldly like it did at the whisky show. I picked up the Bowmore 12 a while back because I tried it at a friend’s place one night and found it pleasantly sweet and smooth. But it too seems unremarkable now that I have my own bottle of it. I’m not sure what’s happening there, but regardless, that’s a quick summation of my take on these single malts at this moment in time. So here goes. I’ll end with the Laphroaig because I know the peat will overpower everything else.
Continue reading Side by Side Single Malt Tasting – Episode #1: Laphroaig Triple Wood + Scapa 16 + Bowmore 12

Single Malts from the Highlands, Speyside, the Isle of Mull, Islay and a Gaelic Whiskey

Using my webcam, I just recorded a review of the five (mostly) single scotches I have in my house. It was fun. By the time I got to the last scotch, I was in a great mood. However, the sound that went through the webcam, I discovered during the playback, quickly fell out of sync, so I deleted the video. Instead, I present, in good old fashioned words, the results of the side by side comparisons of the five scotches I’m drinking now, in order of preference:

Laphroaig Triple Wood ($78) — Seaweed character like regular Laphroaig but around a camp fire that was started with charcoal brickettes and lighter fluid, burnt wood and smoke, perhaps not as much peat as the Laphroaig 10 but still in the same league as its Islay cousin, Lagavulin 16. The Triple Wood will replace my Laphroaig 10 for now on. Pour a big dram. Drink half of it neat because even at 48% it doesn’t burn and it pleasantly surprises with a cascade of delayed sensations that open up over five or ten minutes. A dash of water doesn’t hurt, but somehow gives it a bit of a burn for me, so I lean more towards having it neat. (UPDATE: Lagavulin 16 used to be great, but it’s not anymore.)

Aberfeldy 21 ($150) — If it wasn’t so expensive, I’d have it in my cabinet all the time because it’s so different from what I’m used to. The more I drink it, the more I like it. It’s a Highland scotch but similar to the Laphroaig in that when I pop it open, it hits my nose and I say, “Oh yeah, this is going to be good,” and it is. Possibly the smoothest scotch I’ve tasted next to the Macallan 30. The aroma and flavour seem identical to me: honey and sherry, distant peat and soft oak, not at all harsh. At 40%, it doesn’t need much water. It’s not overly complex but it’s deep and smooth and satisfying, easy to drink. The Aberfedly 12 at a quarter of the price may be a better bargain.

UPDATE: Anyone who likes Aberfeldy 21 will probably enjoy Aberfeldy 12 (at $44 a bottle) because it has almost exactly the same flavour, just not nearly as deep and lasting. Sometimes the memory of an excellent scotch can enhance the scotch you’re drinking.

Té Bheag ($37) — Pronounced che-veck, it’s a blended Gaelic whisky (bottled at 40%) loaded with heavy malted scotches, minus the harsh grain flavour of most blends. It has a smooth toffee character with a touch of peat, just enough earthiness to put a smile on my face. I’m pretty sure this will become my go-to affordable everyday scotch. It’s as deep, complex and more pleasant than many big name expensive single malts I’ve tasted. I’d recommend the Té Bheag to anyone who appreciates single malt. For what it’s worth, I agree with Ralfy on this one:

Ledaig 10 ($70) — From the Isle of Mull, the Ledaig 10 seems like a grain whisky that’s been soaking in moss for a while. It feels like it could be a high calibre scotch if it was left to mature for another six years or so. At 46%, it’s odd that it doesn’t open up much with water. It needs to age. The bottle describes it as being “wonderfully peated,” and it is. For my peat fix, I’d rather spend another $20 or so and pick up a Lagavulin 16, but the Ledaig is a passable peaty scotch if you’re on a budget. (UPDATE / REMINDER: I no longer recommend Lagavulin 16 due to its significant drop in quality.)

Glenlivet 18 ($90) — This was the first scotch I tasted a few months ago at a Whiskies of the World convention. It was smooth then with a hint oak and smoke, but the bottle I purchased burns a bit when it goes down and that pretty much kills whatever complexity it has, even when I add some water (it’s bottled at 43%). I can tell it’s not a bad single malt, but it may be a regional thing (it’s from Speyside) that just doesn’t agree with my palate. I don’t know. Whenever I drink it, I can’t help but think how I could have picked up a bottle of Lagavulin 16 for pretty much the same price. I’m tempted to open the bottle and let it breathe overnight. I’ve heard that can make a difference with scotches that initially seem harsh. For now, though, it’s the least favourite of all the single malts in my house.

The big winner is the Té Bheag. It may be the smoothest blended scotch I’ve ever taste. It’s a one-note wonder (okay, two notes: other worldly toffee and a mosaic of peat), but it’s easily in the same class as certain single malts that cost twice or three times as much.

Tasting Notes for Laphroaig “Triple Wood” Single Malt Islay Scotch

Today I got to sample some Laphroaig Triple Wood single malt scotch. I bought a bottle of it at a whisky show a couple months back. I should have picked up two bottles. The peat-based Islay scotches have always been my favourites and except for the Quarter Cask edition, I’ve never tasted a Laphroaig that did not leave me wanting more. So I’ll just cut the chase:

Nose (neat): Burt wood, seaweed, peat, oak.
Mouth (neat): Granite then moss, coffee with cream, hint of mango.
Finish (neat): Warm, smoke, earthy, smooth.

After just a touch of water:

Nose: Explodes like cherry flavoured pipe tobacco and milk chocolate.
Mouth: Mowed grass, green apples, camomile.
Finish: Smoke, cocoa and light peat.

The regular Laphroaig 10 is a young but richly-flavoured peaty scotch and fine company for something like Lagavulin 16, which is the king of Islay scotches in my book. I like the Triple Wood more than the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. I can tell more work went into making the Triple Wood. It’s more complex and mature. But it’s not better (or worse) than the regular Laphroaig. It’s unmistakeably Laphroaig, but it adds some burnt wood, smooth pipe smoke, earthy cocoa and a touch of sweetness to the mix. It opens up well with a dash of water and goes down with a hint of heat but smooth and smoky and satisfying.

If I could only pick two bottles from Islay to always have in my house for under $100 each, I’d want a bottle of Laphroaig Triple Wood and Lagavulin 16.

Here’s Ralfy’s review. For him, the Quarter Cask is better. For me, it’s the Triple Wood.

The 18 and older Laphroaigs are probably even better, but for under $100, and because it seems more complex and smoother than regular Laphroaig — so it’s like regular Laphroaig with a little extra something — the Triple Wood is the Laphroaig for me. At least for now.

ADDENDUM: What I said about Lagavulin 16 no longer applies.

Who Doesn’t Drink Scotch?

Laphraoig 17Phillip here. My thoughts on single-malt scotch, which I don’t really drink anymore

J&B is to scotch what a Big Mac is to fine dining. I suspect most people who drink J&B do it to get drunk, and quickly so as to put themselves out of their misery from drinking the stuff in the first place. But if that’s what tastes good to you, and you enjoy it, then fill your boots. It all comes down to what you like, and what tastes good to you might go down like Buckley’s Mixture to someone else. The easiest thing to do is try a bit of everything, scotches from all the regions, and then focus in more of whichever region has the most interesting flavour or sensation. Explore.

Like most people who know nothing about single-malt scotch, I tried Glenlivet. I didn’t know how to drink it, so I drank it as a quick shot, straight down, which was warm but never burned. Later on I tried the next most-available (i.e., cheap) single-malt, Glenfiddich, which, although not awful, isn’t as good as Glenlivet, and is the last single-malt I would choose to drink.

Lagavulin was the first real single-malt I had, and as soon as I opened the bottle, and the aroma of peat filled the room, I knew I was dealing with something completely different. I’ve never gotten over that experience. I instantly fell in love with the smoky, earthy sensation and flavour of the Islay scotches (which are strong with peat), and they’ve been my favorites ever since.

One of the cheapest Islay scotches, and actually one of the best, is Laphroaig. Some people describe its flavour as medicinal, but that’s an adjective that can apply to all single-malts. No doubt about it: single-malts are an acquired taste. But once you’ve acquired it, it can be a hell of an experience.

The best single-malt I’ve had (excluding that time with Lagavulin) was a 15-year-old cask-strength Laphroaig which smelled like rubbing alcohol when I opened it, and then exploded with a peaty aroma and flavour as soon as I added some water. Unbelievable.

If had the money for it, I’d have a bottle of that cask-strength Laphroaig in the house, a regular bottle of Lagavulin, an 18-year-old Macallan, and some scotch from the Lowlands. That’d do me for a long time.

Who Drinks Scotch?

Beginner’s single malt Scotch is a post at MetaFilter where someone asked:

What’s a decent, inexpensive and readily available single malt or good blend for a brand-new scotch drinker whose current dram of choice is a good dark sipping rum?

The first response recommends J&B, a common, inexpensive blend that I’d never recommend, although I do drink Teachers, a cheap blend that doesn’t taste cheap.

There’s no right answer; everyone’s tastes are different. There are a lot of excellent suggestions posted, although someone wrote:

Stay clear of the Islay malts like Lagavulin or Laphroaig until you’ve cut your teeth on the easier stuff.

Bullshit. The first time you open a bottle of Lagavulin and let the aroma of peaty air permeate the room, you’ll fall in love.