Among those who have had it, just hearing Laphroaig conjures up thoughts of Earthen wonderfulness. Peat, smoke, with a sweet barley finish characterize the signature notes of the Laphroaig brand. An Islay distillery overlooking the misty sea, the salty ocean breeze surrounding the many barrels all day long; something magical finds its way into each bottle and it is most certainly delicious!
With our admiration of the Laphroaig being said, we at Dram of Scotch have found ourselves debating our favorite expression on several occasions. After much banter on the topic, we decided the time was appropriate for a taste comparison. Most simply put, we wanted to find out where we stood on the Laphroaig expressions. Conduct a blind tasting, provide a r
ating for each, and tally the results. The results would be shared for the world to see on our website.
To keep it manageable, we selected Laphroaig bottles under $100. They are as follows:
- Laphroaig 10 Year (~$45)
- Laphroaig Quarter Cask (~$57)
- Laphroaig 10 Year Cask Strength (~$60)
- Laphroaig Cairdeas (~$60)
- Laphroaig Murray McDavid Chateau Lafitte Cask 11 Year (~$99)
Interesting to note is that none of us had tasted the Murray McDavid 11 year. Price-wise it comes in on the higher end of the bottlings. We felt it would be interesting to challenge our palates with a new entry and it might even help provide insights into the 'Special Edition Dilemma' (SED as the condition is known among the whisky drinkers around the world). SED simply refers to the rare bottle that you did not expect to see next to what you thought you were going to purchase, with an additional cost ranging anywhere from $30 on up. We have all satisfied the urge by purchasing the special edition, and while each situation is unique, does the taste justify the extra cost?
Dram by dram, we meticulously sipped and analyzed each sample
Process: The five Laphroiags were presented in random order to the tasters. As not to give anything away, each was poured into a foil wrapped Glencairn glass to obscure the color. Notes were taken on the official Dram of Scotch scorecard, including characteristics of note, palate, finish, a 1-5 rating system, and spot for denoting the taster's guess.
Below are a summary of our tasting notes followed by guess:
Dram 1: Hello! Thanks for your interest in the Great Chicago Laphroaig Fest. Let me check your tickets. Ooo, good seats. Make sure you belt your palates down. Have fun and thanks for coming. Now Here We Go.
Dean: High alcohol start, quickly tapers off to a vanilla finish. Major floral notes on the palate followed by fruit and some surprising salty seaweed. Long finish with good burn still hinting at lots of floral and vanilla notes. A good scotch to start with, maybe not what I expected from Laphroiag, but still a keeper. Best guess: Cairdeas.
Mike: Nose not all that impressive, alcohol with hints of seaweed. Palate produces more peat than smoke, definite spice and seaweed. Finishes with spice, coating the palate with a thick syrup. Definite Makers Mark twist in the palate and finish, being the first dram probably helps distinction. My guess: Cairdeas.
Royal: This guy came right out of the gate with a pretty crisp nose and palate. Good spice notes, not a lot of sweetness, and some citrus in there too. I notice that the tar flavor melts away fairly quickly as I chew. Overall, seems on the light side, but still packs a big flavor punch (I know, what Laphroaig doesn't??). I guess: Cairdeas.
Dram 2: Here we flipping go, some more
Dean: Lots of smoke, peat, and seaweed, easy burn. This is what I think of when someone mentions Laphroiag. Palate gives lots of the same: smoke, peat, salt, and even a touch of citrus. Dram gets better and better as we go. Finishes up with a good smoke and easy burn, not too much alcohol at the end. Survey says: Laphroiag 10 yr.
Mike: Average nose, sweet floral scents with low alcohol. High peat + smoke, heavy sweet vanilla cereal, some fruit and salt. Finish has a strong, distinctive bite with some spice. My first guess: Cask Strength, crossed out, then replaced with Quarter Cask.
Royal: Well this is moving towards a more subtle dram. I am experiencing vanilla notes on a slight level but probably more than the last contestant. I say "probably" because at this moment, the realization that this whole blind tasting thing is harder than I expected, has hit me. Overall, I like how this dram is slightly calm for a Laphroaig, but still delicious and balanced. I'm thinking it is the Murray McDavid 11 yr.
Dram 3: So, this is a lot harder than we thought it would be
Dean: This smooth pour gives off a fruit and sherry nose. I even get a little of the traditional salt and seaweed as well. Palate gives off lots of floral and citrus, good amount of smoke and vanilla. This tastes like it may be in a sherry cask, reminds me of something McPhail would bottle. It's a sweet and sugary dram, not as smoky as a normal Laphroiag. Finishes with similar notes, definitely a sweeter dram than one expects. Magic 8 ball says: Murray McDavid 11 yr.
Mike: Best nose of the three, strong floral with a thick pungent, woody nose. Palate is light, tasting like a "Laphroaig light" in terms of smoke + peat. This has a fruity, spice not present in the other varieties. Finishes with a medium thick coat, sweet. My guess: I feel like I'm getting to know this for the first time, Murray McDavid 11 yr.
Royal: Allow me a moment to say that Erica went a tad overboard with this pour. This might nudge me into drunk analysis territory. Stay strong. Now this is getting really difficult. This dram reminds me of the last; not as ripe as most Laphroaigs. I notice that it almost has a sherried tone to it. This seems slightly soft, nicely balanced and smooth to me. I'm going to guess: Quarter Cask.
Dram 4: Allo govenor, getting a bit pissed are ye?
Dean: The campfire in my mouth gives me that signature Laphroiag smoke and peat to start off dram four. Alcohol is present but not overpowering, good hits of salt and seaweed top of one of the best noses yet. The palate is works well here, heavy smoke, peat, and sea salt. This runs the marathon through the nose to the finish. After the assault on my mind body and soul: Quarter Cask.
Mike: Above average nose, medium alcohol, seaweed sweetness! The high peat + smoke along with the agreeable vanilla and spice make this a drink enjoyable for the masses. Finish leaves a long burn, spice, peat, with distinct Earthy tones (like taking a bite of the Shire). My guess: Great overall experience, signature dram, I'm going Laphroiag 10 yr.
Royal: Attention. At this point in the tasting my brain is officially dealing with increasing levels of sedation. Meanwhile, what my tongue is finding with pour number four is a singular peat and smoke dram. The succulent vanilla characteristics that have ebbed in previous drams are here, but very slightly. The finish and most everything else about this guy screams, cleaner and lighter. This has to be:Laphroiag 10 yr .
Dram 5: Scotch is delicious, I love you man!
Dean: The lights are dimming on this one, maybe not the best dram to end with. However I am enjoying this one more than the last. Heavy alcohol on the nose, lots of smoke, peat, and seaweed. I can't stress how much flavor this dram packs. Heavy amounts of everything in this beauty. As before lots of the same smoke, peat, and Laphroiag goodness throughout. Probably the most flavor out of any of the five. This finish is gonna burn you, call an ambulance for the faint of heart. Lots of alcohol on the finish, leaves me with only one guess: Cask Strength.
Mike: Good nose, light alcohol with a sweet whiff of butterscotch. Palate very high peat + smoke, good amount of thin cereal with spice and hints of vanilla. Finishes strong, spicey, smokey; this is NOT for the faint of heart. My guess: Cask Stength (no doubt about it, went back and changed Dram 2 knowing how unique CS tastes)
Royal: Is humongoid an adjective John Hansell might use? If not, I'll do the honors and trademark it, because there is no other way of describing this. I have realized that this is definitely the most bold and outside the spectrum expression we have here. I probably don't need to be ingesting what must be the fiercest alcohol content member of the Laphroaig family by this point, but I am telling myself I deserve just that. I know this is the: Cask Strength!
Results, so who's who and how do they stack up? Starting with the answers and the ratings:
Dram 1: Cairdeas
Rating- Dean 3.5, Mike 3.7, Royal 4, Overall 3.73
Dram 2: Quarter Cask
Rating- Dean 4, Mike 3.5, Royal 3.7, Overall 3.73
Dram 3: Murray McDavid 11 year
Rating- Dean 4.25, Mike 3.3,Royal 3.4, Overall 3.65
Dram 4: 10 year
Rating- Dean 4.25, Mike 3.3, Royal 3.5, Overall 3.68
Dram 5: Cask Strength
Rating- Dean 4.5, Mike 3.6, Royal 5 (drunk), Overall 4.37
To sum it all up...
- Scotch with the highest overall rating also has the strongest characteristics of the Laphroaig family (peat, smoke, barley), the Cask Stength (4.367)
- Quarter Cask (3.733) was the least discernible although still managed to tie for second
- Cairdeas (3.733) was right there with CS, in that it was fairly easy to spot - tied for second in overall rating with QC
- Murray McDavid 11 Yr rated the lowest among those tested (3.65), although still receives high marks. Compared to the standard Laphroaig expressions this was the lightest on peat + smoke and highest on floral. While still a Laphroaig offering, this demonstrates how different this limited offering from its relatives via aging in different casks
- 10 yr (3.68) that we all know and love (the "gateway" scotch for many!) rates well and was distinctive among the group
In the end, each expression rated at 3.65 and above which speaks to the quality of each expression. Depending on your palate you may find yourself whole-heartily agreeing or disagreeing. After much trial and tribulation, the results are in, and the top Laphroaig under $100 goes to the,
Laphroaig 10 year Cask Strength!
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