By Richard Thomas
Once upon a time the flagship expression of vaunted Islay distillery Laphroaig was its 15 Year Old. The 10 Year Old was and is the entry-level run for Laphroaig, but it was the 15 Year Old that Scotch drinkers wanted, including Prince Charles. The heir to the British throne named the 15 Year Old as his favorite, leading to Laphroaig getting a coveted royal warrant.
This classic was discontinued in 2009 and replaced with the current 18 Year Old single malt. The original Laphroaig 15 Year Old is now a middling collector’s item, with bottles going for £200.
As part of Laphroaig’s recent celebration of their 200th birthday, they chose to re-release the 15 Year Old as an anniversary limited edition. As the anniversary 15 Year Old is faithful to the original, one might think it was an opportunity to grab hold of that classic at a more reasonable price. For once that is actually the case, but for how much longer is open to question. Retailers in Scotland are already billing it as one of the most sought-after bottles of the year.
The thing about Laphroaig in general is their choice of green glass bottles keeps you from getting a look at the whisky until it’s in the glass, and in this case the liquid has that standard Scotch pale gold coloring.
One of the things that drinkers liked about the 15 versus the 10 was that the older whisky was not so big of a smoker, and enjoyed better balance and complexity. That comes across right from the start, with the nose presenting a sweet concoction of honey and citrus seasoned with vanilla and ginger spice, with only a trace of peat running through it. It’s a sticky, oily scent, but not a heavy one.
On the palate, the liquid manages to present a full-bodied profile while retaining a velvety texture. As with the nose, it has heft without actually packing on weight. The citrus sweetness is there again, as is the trace of peat smoke, but the spices go from ginger to peppery. At the back a little bit of a tobacco leaf note comes up, rounding things out very nicely. The finish rolls off that tobacco leaf, leaving a light, but spicy afterglow.
Subtle, a little complex and lovely in its balance, it’s easy to see why Laphroaig 15 Year Old continues to have so many fans. This is already a must-buy for fans of Laphroaig, but for those who like lightly peated whiskies in general… well, with Christmas around the corner I recommend considering this as your present to yourself.
Laphroaig 15 Year Old 200th Anniversary is currently listed at £70 through British retailers. Compared to the £200 asked for bottles of the original (discontinued only six years ago!), that is more than fair. Act soon, because either this baby is going to run out or those prices are going to go up.