Whisky Para Torcedores: The Exclusive Malts 2005 Laphroaig 8 Year Old Single Cask, Cask Strength Single Malt Scotch Whisky

EM_Laphroaig_8The best Islay whisky I’ve ever drunk – thanks to Bikram at Norfolk Wine & Spirits – was the 25 year old cask strength Laphroaig distillery bottling released in 2011. Truly magnificent. The Ardbeg Day, a cask strength Caol Ila and a couple of Lagavulins came close, but all fell short of the experience of that stunningly complex, perfectly balanced Laphroaig 25.

While the drink before me doesn’t approach that experience, that doesn’t mean it isn’t excellent. It is, and at less than one-fifth the price of that magnificent 25.

I am reviewing a sample of a Laphroaig from The Creative Whisky Co.’s line of single cask, cask strength bottlings called The Exclusive Malts. I have tried and purchased and enjoyed many of these releases and I have never, not once, been disappointed. Admittedly, I’ve never had their Dailuaine 21 that reviewers exhibit such a lack of enthusiasm for, but everything I have had has been at least very good and typically, like tonight’s sample, excellent. The Creative Whisky Co. is certainly one of the best independents out there.

The Whisky

It’s funny what one can achieve with a phrase. I could say this potion is the color of flat Narragansett beer – or, rather, the color of Listerine Original – and you probably wouldn’t be very impressed. If I changed my perspective, however, and wrote that this whisky is the color of young gold, a poetic but meaningless phrase, you would probably be somewhat more impressed. Be that as it may, all three phrases describe the same color and that is the color of this whisky.

As with all of the single malt Scotch whiskies in The Exclusive Malts’ line, this is non-chill-filtered, untainted by E150, drawn from a single cask and bottled at cask strength – in this case, an ABV of 55.9%. It was distilled in March 2005 and bottled September 2013 at 8 years old from Cask # 484, one of 229 bottles.

At such a high ABV, it is no surprise that this liquor coats the glass like glue, nor that the rivuleting legs, once they begin, descend at a dreamy, languorous pace. Very promising. Let’s see…

Nose

This is young Laphroaig and, to some extent, that is exactly what it smells like. You have that hot macadam peat smokiness and salt, wet clove and seaweed, wood polish and iodine – scents you would very likely pick up if it were the distillery’s own cask strength 10 year old under your nose. At the same time, however, this is quite different. Though of a high ABV, it doesn’t stab the sinus passages. The malt itself is very fresh and forward and there is an allspice sparkle crackling under the clove. As in most Laphroaigs, there is very little sweetness apparent in the aroma, but here there is unripe banana, a restrained but fructose-like borderline sweetness. The oak of the ex-bourbon hogshead makes its olfactory appearance as a pile of oak sawdust. Think campfire on the beach with a woman wearing some kind of exotic musk perfume and rolling her own cigarette from a fresh pack of tobacco. Add a bit of water – not too much – and you get musky apples behind a beachfront tobacconist shop as the proprietor polishes her oak cabinets inside. This whisky’s youth is manifest in a bold, unflinching freshness that is not marred by even a breath of immature spiritiness. Full and exciting, especially undiluted. (22/25)

Palete

Wow! This is like rolling liquefied Cuban cigar smoke around in your mouth – so bold and yet so smoky and round! This is a wholly new expression of peat in my experience. There’s a nice oily body that seduces you to keep at it and, when you do, you get the sense that you might – and I mean this in the most positive sense possible – that you might be chewing salted leather. Tanned with tobacco and tar oil. Still, this is not without a sweeter element; it isn’t banana anymore – mango or some other exotic fruit perhaps. Add a dropper of water and the malt lifts its head above the tobacco and tar oil and offers you a warm, orange-zested cookie. Take it! (23/25)

Finish

All’s well that ends well, as the poet wrote, and to end well here I suggest you add a bit of water to this fearsome elixir. Like nearly all Laphroaigs – even the 40% ABV 10 year old – this can be a bit hot on the throat. Add a dollop of water to this expression, however – just enough to bring it down to, say, an ABV in the high 40s/low 50s – and the heat becomes sufficiently tamed to permit full appreciation of the integration of several elements that have appeared before: Peat, certainly, and malt and salt, but now everything is mellower, warmer, sweeter, even fruitier. The concluding spice mix is warm clove and nutmeg. The burn, with water, is much more subtle, and it’s long and warm and, as a final surprise, it leaves you with something butter-pastry-like on the tongue. I wasn’t expecting that at all. (22/25)

Balance/Structure

I enjoyed – savored, even – every aspect of this whisky. And if I weren’t paying such close attention I’d say it all hung together quite well. However, I did pay close attention and some structural problems, one in particular, became apparent between the nose, palate and finish. There was no smooth arc from one aspect to the other because – and this was its primary and only significant problem – some parts of the experience were better with water (especially the finish) and others better without it. A gobbet of water diminished the nose but improved the finish. As much as I liked this whisky, that’s an imbalance. Still, my advice to you, if you generally like Laphroaig releases, or like powerful but rich whisky experiences, is that you find this, buy it, share it with friends and savor it. Who knows – one of you may find the magic number of water drops per dram that can snap it all together like Arthur Ganson’s Little Yellow Chair. (21/25)

Total points for this whisky: 88

Check it out: http://www.impexbev.com/exclusive-malts

Little Yellow Chair: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFG-Lk9c2CI

Thanks to ImpEx Beverages and to Katia – and to Bikram at Norfolk Wine & Spirits – for the samples.

Torc

Unwashed Sirens and Poppy Tears: Cadenhead’s Small Batch Ledaig Aged 16 Years

IMG_20140310_123428_528Savoring this whisky is like smoking opium at 3am in a slat hut hidden deep in the humid Cambodian jungle while watching, transfixed, the mythical Sirens’ sultry and alluring dance. There is a warm steam rising through the floorboards, mixing with the protean opium ghosts that waft like smoke to the ceiling, and the pungent, earthy aromas of the perspiring dancers permeate the air. My heart is beating slowly and I feel a deep, penetrating calm, but thrill and excitement are cascading through me like a Beijing fireworks display…

Yes, this malt is that good. Which is, evidently, a singular opinion. The only other reviews I’ve found (two) rate this independently bottled single malt as lacking complexity and interest, scoring it in the mid-80s at best. I could hardly disagree more. I swear, this must be the whisky they serve the highest ranking libertines in the penthouse suites of hell. It is liquid heaven for the epicurean damned, a lost elixir of Sybaris, brimstone for the brimstone connoisseur.

Appearance

In the glass, it isn’t very promising. The color of pale straw or diluted apple juice, it appears to have taken very little from its cask – which I reckon was a refill bourbon hogshead. Swirl it about and you’ll see it coats the glass (not surprising at 56% ABV), leaving a very well-defined “high water” mark. Once the legs form, they are thin but languid and slow to descend. (7/10)

Nose

Rising vapors begin seducing the nostrils as soon as the dram is poured – not quite as explosively as with the Lagavulin 12 CS, but you’ll know there’s an open glass of peated whisky nearby. This is pungent with a hint of decay, as if late autumn’s dying vegetation has been dried over a raging peat fire. The odor is a bit narcotic. The smoke on the nose is Laphroaig-like, but not entirely. A mingling, say, of 65% Laphroaig peat smoke with maybe 35% Longrow peat smoke. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that both Laphroaig and Ledaig purchase their malted barley from the same maltings house (very likely Port Ellen) and have them peated to more or less the same levels. There is none of that Laphroaigy maritime iodine in the nose of this Ledaig, just a similarity in the character of the smoke.

Fortunately, there is a lot more than peaty smoke going on here. Just beneath the smoke and necrotic vegetation, there is the scent of a rubber inner tube. There is tobacco and the aromas of both real lemon and Lemon Pledge – and a hint of wintergreen, as from a pink Necco Wafer. I also pick up burned toast that has been buttered and white fish grilled with a bundle of sage. There is both a mineral flintiness and an autumnal earthiness integrated into the nose here – sort of a full helping of natures flora before anything has bloomed.

You know there was a fire here in the recent past, but this is nature in a state of recovery.

And finally, a suggestion of sourdough bread. Sounds like a stretch, I know, but I had a loaf of sourdough bread in the kitchen so I went there and cut myself a slice. Sure thing, that was an element in the nose of this hefty Ledaig.

I found all these aromatic constituents in the nose over two long nights, savoring my drams both neat and with water. How a whisky can integrate all of these aromas and reeks into a coherent, savory redolence without losing its solid sense of care and freshness is beyond me, but the people responsible for this whisky have done it. (19/20)

Palate

The first thing that strikes one is the gorgeous mouth feel, both oily and coating, and that is followed by a wonderfully peaty, mineralesque and malty burn. The palate here is significantly better than that of the distillery bottling at 10 years old, which I find similar but simpler and a little off. Here, a pool of liquefied malt sugar delights the center of the tongue while fiery ginger spice excites along the sides and a saltiness bites softly at the tip – lachrymosa, the gentle saltiness of tears! I also get a suggestion of a dense apple variety – Macoun, perhaps. The oily viscosity brings on an impression of butter. There is also a nutty taste, but I can’t narrow it down – not walnuts, not almonds and certainly not peanuts. Pine nuts, perhaps. And, finally, there it is again – I’m tasting the crust from my slice of sourdough bread buried deep in the heart of this whisky!

So this whisky brings you your malt and peat, your fruit and your ginger, your nuts and salt and sourdough bread, all delivered with a silky, coating mouth feel. This is very, very good whisky, but not quite as complex and compelling on the palate as it is in the nose. (18/20)

Finish

This elixir doesn’t just surround the heart; it embraces it and wraps it in a blanket of soft, warm sensation. A sweet, savory malt is followed by a bit of citrus, a little salt, a zest of ginger and – appearing for the first time – a whisper of prunes. As it goes it dries, exposing soft tannins, and you feel it, delighted, all the way down. (20/20)

Balance

The integration of so many elements in this single malt – from peat smoke and earthy pungency to lemon and a whisper of wintergreen to grilled fish and sage, tobacco and bread, barley malt, ginger, butter, malt sugar, mild salt and nuts – is wondrous to behold. I spent a lot of time with this whisky and it kept me interested and sufficiently curious to stay devoted to my task through it all. It’s only flaw – and I hesitate to use that word – blemish, perhaps? foible, even? – emerges in the slight imbalance between the endless interest of the nose and a palate that was a smidgen less compelling. For that, it loses one point. (19/20)

Quality of the Buzz

In Virgil’s Aeneid, the hero, Aeneas, stands before a mural depicting tragic battles of the Trojan War, and he says: Sunt hic etiam sua praemia laudi;
 sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangent (“Here, too, the praiseworthy has its rewards; 
there are tears of things and mortal things touch the mind”). That came to mind as I sat down to write this final section. It is very late, the wee hours, when “mortal things touch the mind”. And there is that breath-catching, mind-focusing, melancholy phrase: Lacrimae rerum, the tears of things. The most profound, moving experiences in life are often accompanied by that feeling for “the tears of things” – that sense of the melancholy core at the ontological center of all human things, all human history, all family history, of every individual human life.

This whisky, in my opinion, is made for those nights when our perspective on our own lives and on the cosmos broadens and we sense the diminutive part we play, our infinitesimal duration, and how much sweeter and more precious that renders life, time, and all we hold dear.

This whisky – and only one other in my experience, the Longrow 7 Gaja Barolo, which remains the benchmark for this experience – will help you get to that place of honesty, and to a place of acceptance and forgiveness. Is that a ridiculous thing to write about a whisky? Am I claiming this malt has metaphysical qualities? Well, no, not quite, but it may help get you to a place where your thoughts attain such qualities; a place that, ultimately, will render you more deeply human than you might be now. It is – and I am only half joking here – an Elixir of Transcendence. You can’t seriously believe mankind has pursued inebriants such as this for so many centuries just to find a means of letting off steam and of having a laugh with the old gang, can you? No, this is confirmation: Drinking great whisky is an act of alchemy, of turning dross to gold, of daring to go deeper into one’s own mind. Sit alone with this whisky some lonely night and follow where it leads. (10/10).

Total points for this whisky: 93

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