Notes from a Master Class: Laphroaig Bursts Forth

The rugged lineup of Laphroaig. Bring it on!

The night was not for the timid palates nor the empty wallets. The night was prime time for those of us who seek out peat and ash and the rare and exquisite in an intimate setting will fellow enthusiasts. The night was buzzing with excitement.

Nate Shumway. And is that a halo from heaven shining on Joe Howell?

Joe Howell of Federal Wine & Spirits and Nate Shumway of The Olde Mouldy led this private event with humor and historical factoids.  Opening toasts acknowledged Laphroaig’s celebration of 200 years of Islay whisky and for keeping America flush with whisky for “medicinal” purposes during the Great Prohibition.  Hundreds of projected photos of all that is Islay rotated in the background throughout the tasting, causing sighs of longing, memories, and shared plans for upcoming visits. I miss Islay – the blustery wind, the surf on the rugged shores, the fields with cows and sheep, and the distilleries all within easy reach no matter where one sits on the island.

The ubiquitous Laphroaig 10 YO kicked off the tasting as folks settled in and the presenters set the tone for the night. The 10 YO is not the whisky to offer anyone who generally drinks fruity white wine (ouch but true), with its big peat nose, and rough and rumble over the tongue. Put a robust cigar in hand, and there, you have a match. I offer a 2+ out of a possible score of 4.

Some of us have a few bottles of the Laphroaig 15 YO from the early 2000s and were curious as to what the 15 YO expression created for the 200th anniversary would offer.  The color is deeper than the 10 YO and the nose offers more ash and toffee. The taste brings forth a briny, ashy, iodine rush that is smoother and lingers longer with a smoky finish. A 3- score for this release.

Taking pics, texting notes, tasting awesome whisky, grinning all the way.

After a short break to rest the palate, the much anticipated 30 YO with its Olorosso Sherry, took the tasting to a higher level.  This gem holds a fruity nose compliments of the sherry. The mouth feel is thick and syrupy with a hint of cinnamon; the peaty iodine takes a back seat. The finish brings back the sweet sherry.  When I went back to the dram the nose reminded me of wooden match sticks. Hidden Sulphur peeking? The gem is a 3+.

Spelling errors don’t count after three whiskies!

The 40 YO, which is lovingly described as a “beautiful juice” by Joe, and is no longer available anywhere, made its grand entrance. Its red carpet reputation did not disappoint.  There is a whiff of springtime and hints of Laphroaig. If the 30 is syrupy then the 40 is lightly spicy. The natural cask strength adds an earthiness at the finish. I saved some of the 30 to compare with the 40 and, for me, the 30 edges out the 40 ever so slightly.  The 40 is beautiful with a score of 3.

And we weren’t done yet! Much has been already written about the 2015 Cairdeas. Word is that this expression was modelled on the 1960s 10 YO. I have and enjoy the 2013 bottling and wasn’t sure what to expect with the 2015. The nose is deceptively mild, the dram is bursting with peat and smoke. Love it and the long lingering finish.  A solid 3 for this baby.

Look at that deep, rich color of the 1969 10 YO. Significant!

To test the similarities, the 1969 Laphroaig 10 YO was up next. This last dram of the master class, totally puzzled me. I didn’t get the Cairdeas at all.  The color is deep and rich. The nose brings me back to Glasgow and the malting aroma that is often in the air. Boiling potatoes pop into mind. The thick fruit and overripe raisins on the palate are too much for me. I wrote two scores in my notes a 3- and a 2+.  Still can’t decide.

Ames St. Deli Charcuterie to round out the night.

The master class met all my expectations and then some.  Unexpectedly, Joe announced to the group that my book, Whisky Tales: Tastings and Temptations, has been published. He then asked me to say a few words of self-promotion, which naturally I jumped at the chance.  A few books were sold and deeper discussions with other participants ensued at the end of the tasting. Pleasures that are total surprises are the best!


I raise a glass to Joe and Nate and the distinct whiskies of Laphroaig.

I wrote the book as a promise to myself to put pen to paper about my whisky journey and “barrels” of fun! Gotta have some flagrant self-promotion once in a while.