Moss Island Drams: Laphroaig 15

A few months ago, a friend told me about an excursion to a whiskey bar with three friends. She was horrified when they ordered $50 top-shelf flights (including Yamazaki 18 and Lagavulin 16), then proceeded to dump everything into their Cokes and complain about how overrated good Scotch is. The bartender wasn’t surprised. True story.

I became aware of Laphroaig several years ago, when I accompanied a colleague to a murky beer bar. He spied a dusty green bottle on a high shelf, remembered liking it, and asked the bartender for a shot. She had to stand on a chair to retrieve the bottle. The intense odor that wafted from his glass scared and intrigued me. It was another year before I tried Laphroaig 10 year-old on my own.

Laphroaig is a strongly peated Islay malt, and it shares a distinct briny seaweed reek with its island distillery neighbors – Lagavulin, Ardbeg, and Bunnahabhain are among my favorites. Laphroaig 10 might be the edgiest of the bunch, razor sharp and pungent; many describe its almost overwhelming pungency as medicinal. (Laphroaig is running a social media campaign, asking people to record their first impressions – the more outlandish, the happier the marketers seem to be.)

Moss Island DramI recently came off a stressful few weeks at work. A major project had wrapped successfully, and I wanted to sit in my comfortable chair next to the fireplace with something special. I picked up Laphroaig 15, which I’d never tried. (My favorite Laphroaig expression is the 18 year-old, which is mellower than the 10, round with woody notes.)

Laphroaig 15 doesn’t disappoint. Medium gold in the glass, the nose is amazing, intensely satisfying on its own. (One of many reasons good Scotch should never be mixed with soda, or even ice.) Seaweed and ocean air predominate, with a gentle sweetness underneath. Not too heavy on the palate, it slides down and around the tongue, expanding with a quick burst of heat. The sweetness is chased with an immediate woody aftertaste, like puffs of smoke. The taste lingers, finishing very long.

Laphroaig 15 is a single malt to savor, particularly in the early spring, when sunny afternoons are followed by brisk overnights. Its intense, multifaceted sensory experience reminds me of why I love Scotch.