Friday, 21 April 2017

Why so serious? A review of Laphroaig Select

When is a door not a door? When it's ajar. Drum roll. Why the lame dad joke? Identity seems to be a recurring theme in politics, literature....and in scotch whisky. Laphroaig has built its reputation on its incredibly smoky, peated whiskies. In fact, the Islay distillery brands itself as "the most richly flavoured of all scotch whiskies". Their signature 10 year old malt is described by a reviewer on their website as "smokier than Darth Vader's funeral pyre". The description is apt. So perhaps it isn't completely surprising that their "Select" expression is causing a bit of a stir among the brand faithful. Many scotch enthusiasts are angry and suspicious, often with good reason, of NAS (No Age Statement) whiskies. Some Laphroaigophiles' (yeah, I just made up a word, so what?) reaction to this lighter offering from Laphroaig is a bit over the top. Seriously folks, it's not as though the PTA has disbanded. Everyone needs to take a deep breath and calm down. Laphroaig 10 is still available. It is easily distinguished from Laphroaig Select by following these 8 steps:

  1. Go to the LCBO (or your local purveyor of fine alcohols)
  2. Curse the inflated prices*.
  3. Go to the scotch section.
  4. Repeat step 2.
  5. Pick up a bottle of Laphroaig.
  6. Read the bottle.
  7. If it says Laphroaig Select, it is NOT Laphroaig 10.
  8. If it says Laphroaig 10, it is Laphroaig 10.
Ceci n'est pas un Laphroaig 10

The backstory

Let me tell you a little story. My parents spend a good portion of their winter in the United States. As such, they can obtain alcohol at a much lower price than I can (even after fully complying with every international law and tariff). After asking me to name some scotches I like, they chanced upon a bottle of Laphroaig Select on sale for about $39 USD. During one of our weekly FaceTime sessions, my father showed me the bottle and asked "is this a good one?" to which I replied "I've never had it, but it's Laphroaig so it must be good". Then, like any obsessive and impatient man-child, I proceeded to Google the hell out of this dram. I was NOT expecting a scotch to cause more anger, bitterness and resentment than the last American Presidential election. It seems I was mistaken. Actual comments include the following:
  • "This is a betrayal of a once-great distillery" 
  • "Why are you trying to kill your brand with this rubbish?"
  • "This is a rip-off. A pale imitation of the real thing."
  • "This is very sad. The Laphroaig brand has died."
Less controversial than Laphroaig Select
Allow me to retort to those deriding this particular Laphroaig expression. Poppycock. Balderdash. Horsefeathers. Or in the now-famous words of the current POTUS: Wrong. Laphroaig Select is NOT Laphroaig 10. But then, it never claimed to be. Reading the Laphroaig website informs us that Select is matured in six different casks for a lighter, more laid-back offering from the Islay distillery. Make no mistake: the smoke and peat are still present. If you've never had an Islay malt, let alone a Laphroaig, you still might find Select overwhelming. But if you've tried Islay Mist 8 and liked what was on offer, you might start exploring Islay single malts with this Laphroaig (or with a Bowmore 12 if you like a little more sweetness).

My experience with Laphroaig Select

The colour is a bit lighter, as the fine folks at Laphroaig have not added any caramel colouring to this whisky. Some people care about that kind of thing: I do not, so this is a non-issue for me. The nose (smell) is distinctly smoky and peaty with undertones of sherry and green apple. Very pleasing. The palate (taste) is peat, ginger, vanilla, nutmeg at first, then developing dried fruit (sherry? dates?) undertones with some pine  and ash taking over, albeit not overpowering. The finish is peat and smoke with hints of oak, medicinal notes (iodine?), coffee and ash. Furthermore, adding a touch of distilled water "opened" different flavours in this dram, highlighting some different characteristics, especially the subtle fruitiness. Having imbibed enough of this whisky to form an opinion, I don't understand what all the fuss is about. I prefer the Quarter Cask (one of my absolute favourites) and the Ten (my favourite Laphroaig) to the Select, but this is a respectable whisky. It may be fair to say that Select is overpriced compared to Quarter Cask (Select retails at $78.20 and QC goes for $86.20) , but some may prefer this lighter expression to the bold QC. If you blindfolded an Islay malt lover and gave them a dram of Select, I'd bet dollars to donuts they'd speak highly of its lovely balance. But tell them it's from Laphroaig and all of a sudden, it's identity politics, murder and betrayals. It's not life and death, it's scotch. It's supposed to be fun. It would be a boring world indeed if every scotch was the same, or if distilleries only produced ONE expression. Keep an open mind. Relax. Have a drink (if you're of legal drinking age and won't be operating a motor vehicle). Don't act like you're Groundskeeper Willie and you've just found out that there is no such thing as Scotchtoberfest. Laphroaig Select is a fine addition to this iconic brand.

Rating: 3/5 Moustaches 
The reaction of some online reviewers
 *The LCBO claims that prices are kept high enough to "discourage excessive consumption", among other reasons. You know, as a social responsibility. You are too impulsive, too childish, too unreliable to regulate your own alcohol consumption. If a bottle of Lagavulin 16 was $90 instead of $125, pandemonium might ensue in Ontario. Prices have gone up since my last blog entry, rendering my price brackets inaccurate. I apologize for the inconvenience.

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