Hello all. This is Kevin is filling in for Michelle who is in Las Vegas this week for CES.
Back in September, Michelle and I were invited (as a member of the Friends of Laphroaig) to a preview of the distillery live tasting that happened down in Loretto, KY at the Beautiful Maker’s Mark distillery. John Campbell (Distillery Manager from Laphroaig), Kevin Smith (Master Distiller of Maker’s Mark), and Simon Brooking (Master Ambassador for Laphroaig) were all there to help answer questions. Laphroaig is located on the isle of Islay (pronounced eye-luh) and is part of the Beam Global family. John also taught everyone a trick to remember the spelling by using Laphr-o-aig, with the last part standing for Oh Ain’t It Great.
The reason for the visit to Loretto is Laphroaig uses old Maker’s barrels for aging their scotches. Since, by rule, bourbon must be aged in a new charred oak barrel, bourbon distillers look for places to send the used barrels. As John mentioned, the Scotch have no problems putting those barrels to use for a few more decades. Maker’s also uses char level 3 (on a scale of 1-4) and air dried to remove the tannins that make red wines great, but cause difficulty in the creation of Maker’s Mark.
I’ve made no secret that my two favorite online programs are Marker’s Mark Ambassadors and the Friends of Laphroaig. Both offer great opportunities for their members and this was a great example of that. The Friends sent out an email inviting anyone close to the Louisville area out for a night with the Scots the day before the Distillery Live presentation was to be recorded.
We were met by John and Simon in Louisville at The Pub for appetizers and unsurprisingly a bottle of Laphroaig 10 and Laphroaig 18 year old scotches. Michelle, who is not a Scotch drinker, chose a bourbon selection from the bar instead. After a drink, we were off on a chartered bus (somehow a bottle of Makers and a bottle or 10 year Laphroaig ended up joining us as well) down to the distillery for dinner bites (fantastic bourbon BBQ meatballs, finger sandwiches and chocolate) and a few more drinks.
Then, after a quick tour of Maker’s Mark and a group signing of a barrel headed to Scotland, the main event started. John walked us through a very similar tasting to what can be seem on the final video as they adjusted for time and ran through the presentation with all the equipment to make it smooth the next day.
We were able to taste:
Laphroaig White Dog (63.6% Alcohol by volume (AbV) – This was a treat for me as trying an unaged Scotch from Islay as the sweetness from the barrel is absent and the flavor of the peat smoke and iodine of the water come through. Michelle was not a fan, but I was impressed as an excercise and I’m not sure if I could finish a full pour.
Laphroaig 10 year old (63.5% AbV) – This is the #1 selling Islay single malt and was what I have tried in the past. The time in the barrel gives this a sweeter flavor, but there still is a large amount of iodine, band-aid-ish, medicinal aromas from the moss that is part of the bog. Plenty of smoke on the finish to help cut through the early bitterness and you have a very well made item.
Laphroaig 18 year old (38% AbV) – Time has started to help add a sweetness that Michelle started to enjoy. There is still a hasrh burn on the finish, but the wood has added a lot of citrus notes as water is added. An interesting point, for anyone who has read this far, is that distillers will add almost 50% water into the scotch or bourbon before tasting in order to lower the alcohol and detect any flaws that exist. Overall this is an non-chill filtered whiskey with a great nose and balanced taste.
Laphroaig 25 year old (50.9% AbV) – This bottle runs about $275 to $300 and is bottled at cask strength. This one is an absolute beauty. It is made up of a mix of Laphroaig aged in the Maker’s barrels (about 60%) and Laphroaig aged in Oloroso sherry casks. The color ends up about as bright as Maker’s Mark and the long finish switches to a sweet fruit character from the influence of the Sherry. This one impressed both Michelle and myself.
We also got to taste some Maker’s Mark. We often drink Maker’s at home, but the context of seeing what the barrels did before the Scotch was introduced provided a nice component that was too sweet for the pure Scotch drinkers in the crowd, but I thought it was a very nice choice to have on the table. Aside from the Laphroaig 25-year old, this was Michelle’s favorite.
After we finished the tasting, it was back on the bus for the ride back to Louisville and our car, but somehow another bottle of 25 year old joined us back on the bus. A very enjoyable drive back to our cars ended up a little later than planned, but well worth the lack of sleep that evening.
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