Noted hip-hop legend and Grammy award winning artist, Trinidad James, once said “Fuck love it’s overrated.” It was a bold statement. One he said during the pinnacle of his reign on pop culture. A statement like that should not be taken lightly. It should rock foundations and topple civilizations. And yet, it did not. Why? Well, there are a couple things wrong with this story. Firstly, Trinidad James is neither a hip-hop legend nor has he ever won a Grammy. And his “reign” came and went faster than… well it came and went pretty damn fast.
Secondly, and this time more importantly, love is not “overrated.” However, the use of the word is. Now you may be asking “Peat, why do you say the use of the word is overrated and not the word itself?” and my response to you would be “because how can you love EVERYTHING?” Think about it for a second, the word “love” has become so diluted that we throw it around as casually as we do our dirty underwear.
Let’s really settle into this. What is love? If we’re to go by the Oxford definition, love is “an intense feeling of deep affection”, but that intensity, that deep affection, how do you really know when you’re feeling it and not just a “strong like”? This is my problem with the current state of the English language. We are slowly changing the meaning of words, while decreasing the value of others. Take for instance “hilarious”. As far as this generation (admittedly, my own) is concerned, EVERYTHING is hilarious, when most things aren’t even chuckle worthy. Or how about, the internet’s favourite and simultaneously most despised word, “literally”? We all know how that word has been mistreated. “OMG! I literally died at your text because it was so hilarious!”
Wait… what was I talking about?
Oh, right, love.
How do you know when you love something? Truly love something? How do you know that you have that Romeo and Juliet love? That Bonnie and Clyde love? That Kanye and Kanye love? Not the fleeting emotion of “I sorta like it today but who knows about tomorrow.” I’m talking bout that real love.
I asked myself that question when someone recently asked what’s my favourite whisk(e)y. Almost reflexively, I blurted out “I love Laphroaig.” But do I really? I’m admittedly young in the world of whisky. I haven’t been doing this long. In fact, if you asked me to pronounce “Laphroaig” two years ago I would have probably stumbled over the word. Yet Laphroaig was one of the earliest single malts I tried and I never looked back. However, I needed to make sure that my feelings for the malt are beyond mere infatuation, or an attempt to be in an in-crowd.
And as if the whisky gods heard my plight, an opportunity presented itself.
This past Sunday, October 11th 2015, Magruder’s in DC played host to the Friends of Laphroaig for a special tasting. It was to be presented by none other than Laphroaig’s Master Distiller, John Campbell. I can only assume that the lot of you reading this are familiar with the importance of a master distiller, so it’s easy to imagine my excitement. I figured, learning from the master himself, tasting whatever selection he offered, will either cement my love or bring me to the realisation that what I thought was love, was merely a brief obsession to something “different.”
Before I continue, let me start by saying that this was a free event. As such, anyone who happened to walk in Magruder’s that day was eligible to partake in the tasting. But it was clear to see from the gathering of enthusiasts, that almost everyone present had the sole purpose of sampling the Islay whisky. While I assumed John Campbell was going to be the only presenter, I was pleasantly surprised by the presence of Simon Brooking, Laphroaig’s brand ambassador. He is truly a marvel to watch. Between John and Simon, there was a wealth of history and knowledge imparted to us. The pair make for fantastic presenters, simply because they are great at what they do; the room was filled with humour and they made it a point to make everyone feel involved and a part of the experience.
To start things off, some malted barley was passed around the room for us to nibble on. This act cleanses the palate and allows for the tasting experience to be amplified. What followed was a quick history on the distillery and a short presentation on peat smoke.
We were then introduced to the selection:
- Laphroaig 10
- Laphroaig Quarter Cask
- Laphroaig Triple Wood
- Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength
If you’re following us on Instagram, you’ve probably read my comments on the various flavour profiles for each of the above whiskies. If not, then let me proceed to give some quick (I use that word loosely) notes on each.
Welcome to Islay. Laphroaig’s flagship single malt and, in this one man’s opinion, the definitive expression of Islay peated malts. The 10 year is considered “The Original Laphroaig” and is the foundation of all their other expressions. It is matured in 100% first fill ex-bourbon barrels, sourced exclusively from Makers Mark. Simon gave us a tip on how to appreciate the aroma of this malt. The typical way is to pretty much stick your nose into the glass, lips slightly parted and inhale. But nothing about Laphroaig is typical. We were advised to place our palm over the glass and swirl the drink around with the intent of getting our palms wet. Then we rubbed our palms together till we created enough heat to evaporate the alcohol. Cupping our hands over our nose and mouth, we took deep breaths and entered nirvana. For two seconds, Magruder’s was a crack house and we were all high.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask
Considered the “wild child” by both John and Simon, Quarter Cask is the fastest growing offering from the distillery. Not only is it a mixture between 5 and 11 year old whiskies, but it is also bottled at a higher percentage than the standard 10 year. However, the process for both the 10 and Quarter Cask starts the same. Still-maturing whisky is taken out of the American oak barrels and transferred to a quarter cask (which is quarter the size of a sherry butt, despite still being an American Oak barrel) for about 7 months, thus revamping a somewhat defunct method of aging whisky. You see, sherry was the drink of fashion in the 19th century. Sherry butts that went to Scotland from Spain would be used to store the whisky. To transport the barrels easily, the barrels needed to be smaller (a quarter of the size in fact). American oak barrels, which are less than half the size of a standard Sherry butt, didn’t become the norm until the 20th century. Because of this double maturation, Quarter Cask is a bit sweeter, with more vanilla notes on the palate.
Laphroaig Triple Wood
This here whisky is what happens when master distillers like John Campbell want to push the envelope. Triple wood is exactly what it sounds like: 3 different maturations. The first two steps are exactly the same as the Quarter Cask, then Laphroaig says to itself, “self, why stop there?!” They remove the liquid from the Quarter Casks then store it in large, 500 litre, ex-Oloroso Sherry Casks. With less liquid and more surface area, it takes an additional 2 years for the whisky to be influenced by the wood. This results in a very complex whisky, one that pays off with great dividends. Originally a duty-free exclusive, the Triple Wood was so popular in the North American market that Laphroaig decided to make is a proper release available to the continent. And it’s clear why. This thing is utterly delicious.
Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength
Bigger. Bolder. Laphoaig-er. Whereas the standard 10 year old is all about consistency, the Cask Strength is all about fulfilling a fantasy. As John describes, when most people visit Laphroaig’s distillery their dream is to open up a cask and sample the golden elixir in its purest form. The Cask Strength bottling serves to satisfy all those who share that dream. Each year the distillery has a new release, or batch, and each year the strength, or proof, of the whisky is different. At the tasting, we sampled Batch 6 which was bottled in 2014. I tend to favour batches 2 and 4, but that’s only because I haven’t had batch 7 yet, which is currently available. A couple drinks of this and you’re sure to be waking up in a strange place, praying to whatever god you believe in that you didn’t do anything you will regret. This is known, as Simon so eloquently put it, as a “Laphroaigian Slip.” Not sure if the innuendo was intended or not.
With these four expressions, I must say we were all quite satisfied. Yes, I would’ve longed for a QA or perhaps even a PX (and God knows how I would’ve cried tears of joy if they had the recently released 32 year old hiding somewhere), but considering this was a free event for the Friends of Laphroaig, I couldn’t complain. Well, I didn’t need to, Simon did it for me. Reaching under the table, he decided it wasn’t quite time for us to go and unleashed a special surprise on us.
Just as we were all excited about sampling this limited released bottling, we were given the bad news: this expression is going to be discontinued. This isn’t because they want to, they just don’t have enough of the stuff. However, nothing lasts forever. As you may know, the 15 year was discontinued in 2008 only to be re-released this year for the bicentennial. So maybe we may see the 18 again in the future. Fingers crossed. As for the taste, the finish on this thing is long. I mean looooooong. You get wave after wave of flavour and it just doesn’t want to end.
Now I can only assume that, not wanting to be one-upped by Simon, John figured that it was his turn to give us a surprise. And so he did.
The story behind Select goes as far back as 1908, to Ian Hunter, the first, true, global ambassador for Laphroaig Distillery. He travelled the world selecting (seriously, the name is that obvious) the best barrels for usage at the distillery. The other piece of the story is as recent as 2014. When Laphroaig was finalising the bottling for Select, they invited some of the Friends of Laphroaig to try a few recipes and vote for (select) their favourite one. The recipe with the most votes eventually became Select. The recipe is a combination of 5 different styles: Oloroso sherry butts, virgin American white oak, PX seasoned hogsheads, Quarter Casks and first-fill Bourbon Casks. This results in a masking of the smoke and peatiness, despite the Select being just as peaty as the standard 10 year. It is thus incredibly smooth; as John puts it, it’s “breakfast Laphroaig. The one you brush your teeth with.”
At this point, I think we were all expecting them to unleash another bottle on us, but alas, that was the end of the presentation. Yet that end only served as a reestablishment of my relationship with Laphroaig.
You see, while I entered Magruder’s confused as to how I truly felt about this Islay beast, I left comfortable, nay, assured, in the knowledge that I really do love it! Laphroaig is not a whisky for the meek. It doesn’t compromise itself to appease the masses or gain more traction in other markets. It welcomes criticism, be it positive or negative (their #BigOpinions campaign is a true testament of this). The very concept of Friends of Laphroaig shows how much they care about their customers – ratings and whiskey bible be damned! They don’t care about one man’s opinion, they care about the 700,000. That’s a mantra I can get behind!
I love Laphroaig, despite me never stepping foot in Scotland, let alone inside the distillery. But that doesn’t matter, because love doesn’t care.
So I hereby declare this my love letter to Laphroaig and all those who truly love it. Here’s to us. There’s nobody else like us. God damn the rest.