Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

The Whisky Odyssey Fèis Ìle 2024 Special
Be ready for Laphroaig and Port Ellen Day!

Today we celebrate Laphroaig and Port Ellen Day. To start with the latter, sadly my sample drawer did not provide me with any leftover whisky from that cult distillery. I guess, waiting for new production to hit the market in the next decade will have to suffice. The big news being of course that Diageo reopened the distillery just a short while ago. But then I happened to find an affordable sample via Dutch whisky geek Norbert Tebarts. 

We are going to taste that one first, before we move on to the east along the same south shore of Islay for some Laphroaig expressions!

Port Ellen 1982, 27 years old, bottled at 53 % abv by Daily Dram

Makeup: A vintage 1982 bottled in the Nectar of the Daily Drams series.

General impressions: Oh, this is really a style of Port Ellen that I adore. The smells of autumn, yellow leaves on foggy earthen grounds in the forest. A rather ashy peat smoke rises from the glass, with a hint of sizzling butter and a sweetness that I cannot really place. Maybe a candlelike waxiness. The mouthfeel is surprisingly soft, with a hint of salt, before moving on to a perfectly bitter and heavily peated finish. We are drinking a very modest but versatile Port Ellen here, ticking all the boxes, easily wandering off in many directions, and therefor also a bit unbalanced. It matters not in the enjoyment of this liquid, but it does indeed fit the description that this could be an everyday daily dram PE. 

We added some water in an attempt to lure out some complexity, after all we are drinking an Islay malt of decent age here! And that works wonders too, because the water gives way to a delicious waxy smokiness. Juice from a pineapple tin too. Some vanilla wakes up. Mouthfeel and finish are a delight, with water really gentle and soft, making you really experience the peated brilliance.

Conclusion: So much peat left after 27 years of maturing. It is a delicate, at times fragile and mundane Port Ellen, but it can stand with the best of them.

Score: 90 points

So, that is that. Now we settle for three expressions from Laphroaig then. Laphroaig celebrates Fèis Ìle by releasing a yearly Càirdeas expression. Using the Gaelic word for friendship is indeed a masterstroke to provide interesting bottles for the legendary Friends of Laphroaig. We have seen some hits and misses among these Càirdeas expressions, but one thing is for sure: they are never boring. In my lineup today there is a favourite: the Càirdeas Triple Wood Original Cask Strength. In the sample drawer we found two ‘Laffies’ from years ago, both Old Malt Cask expressions provided by the Laing family.

Laphroaig 2000, 14 years old, bottled as Old Malt Cask at 50 % abv by Hunter Laing

Makeup: Distilled in September 2000 and matured for 14 years in a Refill Hogshead carrying the inhouse HL number 10984. The cask was bottled in October 2014, resulting in 284 bottles.

General impressions: Immediately recognizable with a peaty tang that just breathes Laphroaig. Sweet barley infused with smoke. The smell of fish pierced on a stick and hung above a campfire is unmistakable. It is a very fresh, bright, even light-hearted Laphroaig. Balanced, no off notes, and little cask influence. Refill indeed. Lots of medicinal, iodine notes. The taste is much more fierce than the diluted standard 10 years old that we tasted a few weeks ago.

And even though this is an extremely naked Laphroaig, it has complexity in abundance and not just that sweetness that seems to have become prevalent in standard bottlings. The sweetness that we do get, comes all from natural barley. A 14 year maturation combines a lot of good attractions into this one single cask. It has peat heat still, but also extra edge from maturity.

Conclusion: Perfect, simple, naked Laphroaig. A gem if you like fish and iodine in your glass.

Score: 85 points

Laphroaig 1987, 21 years old, bottled as Old Malt Cask at 50 % abv by Douglas Laing

Makeup: Distilled in November 1987 and matured for 21 years in a Refill Hogshead carrying the inhouse DL number 4855. The cask was bottled in January 2009, resulting in 439 bottles. Could there have been a mistake? The whisky is deep golden brown in colour, and the amount of bottles after 21 years coming from a hogshead seems difficult to me, even if this Laphroaig was diluted to 50 % abv.

General impressions: This is a very different beast, obviously, compared to the previous OMC. And yes, I am certain this is quite heavy on the sherry. Grilled fruit, paprika, all kinds of meat. The only thing missing is a good barbecue sauce. Beautiful subdued, silenced peat after 21 years of quiet maturation. The wood is talkative on the nose.

The mouthfeel is drenched in dark wood spices, and firmly puts us in front of the white-washed buildings of Laphroaig, the sea inlet with breaking waves on the pebbles. Very complex drinking, dark and brooding, but at the same time the liquid comes off oily and supple.

At repeated returns to the glass – because the scents keep developing – we get more maritime and fish-related notes. Smoked fish skin comes to mind. Water releases a weird metallic note that I could have done without, but on the taste it makes for a much sweeter drinking experience. More medicinal.

Conclusion: Impressively complex but totally recognizable Laphroaig. Also, forever linked to my grandmother. I cracked open this bottle to drink a glass celebrating her life, when she passed away at high age in 2009. I don’t know if she liked whisky, but she drank enough sherry for the industry to keep on maturing Scotch in it for a long time. Here is to her, again!

Score: 91 points

Laphroaig Càirdeas, Triple Wood Original Cask Strength, bottled at 59,5 % abv

Makeup: Matured in Ex-Bourbon, Quarter and Oloroso Sherry Casks. No less than 36.000 bottles were released, also to the American market. No age statement but bottling took place on 19 March 2019. Pictures don’t do it justice, the dark brown liquid gives a nice effect on the traditional green glass.

General impressions: Not at all unsimilar to the 21 years old we tasted before, but the adding of bourbon and ex-quarter casks in the vatting has made for more vanilla notes. Not the easiest dram to nose, considering the high abv, but it is indeed mostly on wood spices and smoke. Well integrated. 

The taste is remarkably easy to get into, no bother from the high alcohol actually, and it makes for a perfect warming finish. The taste is extremely deep in the brine spectrum, with cold coffee and very pure chocolate. The balance is incredible.

We throw in a splash of water. After the aroma of wet burned wood, put out by a nightly rain passing over the camp site, has rescinded, we get more vanilla now once again. On the tongue however, a more oily mouthfeel emerges, but in taste nothing much changes. The finish is more on smoked chocolate now, and the wood taste makes me wonder how long these casks matured. It tastes mature, for sure.

Conclusion: I always feel ‘triple wood’ bottlings by any proprietor gives a bit of clumsy vibe. Throwing together a hotchpotch of casks and trusting it will do the trick. Well, you know what? It works wonders for this Laphroaig Càirdeas.

Score: 90 points
Disclaimer: Laphroaig samples taken from self-owned bottles. Port Ellen sample by Norbert Terbarts.

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