An Exclusive Taste of Islay
A Sample of a Special Laphroaig
In previous posts we have hinted at the variety that abounds in the single malt whisky category. With a few simple regulations and an abundance of formerly used wine and spirit casks, scotch distillers have a huge canvas to work with when creating new flavors. Most distilleries will make use of this freedom, trying out new whisky expressions aged in everything from former port wine casks to used rum barrels. Laphroaig is no exception, and in part, that is one of the reasons it is one of our favorite distilleries. Today we’ll be reviewing a bottle of Laphroaig PX in honor of the annual Islay Festival of Music and Malt (Fèis Ìle) which is being held May 25th–June 2nd. Along the way we’ll discuss our recent trip to the distillery, including the claiming of our plot of land as Friends of Laphroaig.
Laphroaig is one of a three distilleries located on the southern coast of Islay, an island on the west coast of Scotland well known for whisky production (read our review of Lagavulin Distillers Edition for more about that nearby distillery). If you’ve ever tasted, or even smelled Laphroaig, chances are you’ll remember the experience. Established in 1815, Laphroaig is quintessential Islay whisky, with a malt that is strongly peated and has a rich maritime influence.
We had a chance to tour Laphroaig in 2016 and it was arguably the most memorable tour from our entire trip. Despite being one of the more recognizable whisky brands (it is part of the Beam Suntory Portfolio), the staff and facilities at the distillery were very hospitable and we felt like we were visiting a small family company. We opted for the factory tour that included a tour of the malting & distilling rooms, Cali throwing a peat brick into one of the kilns, and the tour culminated in the opportunity to each fill a small bottle of Laphroaig whisky strait from one of three casks.
In addition to the tour, we got to take advantage of a unique customer experience that we had been anticipating after opening a bottle of Laphroaig 18 year old the prior year. Since 1994, Laphroaig established the ‘Friends of Laphroaig’ fanclub. Customers who sign up are allotted a ‘permanent lease’ of 1 square foot of land on Islay. Whenever you visit the distillery you are presented with a deed with coordinates to your plot, along with a flag of the country of your choice. You’re then encouraged to go out into the fields and find your plot. (If you find yourself visiting your plot one day, be sure to download a GPS app onto your phone before heading out into the fields to help locate it). The annual ‘rent’ for your land holdings is a small bottle of Laphroaig 10 year old. Visiting our plot was the impetus for our trip that year, and the experience was well worth it.
Needless to say, this was an incredible experience that was the perfect combination of enthusiasm, learning, tasting, and light heartedness. No one at the distillery seemed to take themselves too seriously, yet at the same time they were ready to patiently field any questions we had. Since then, we’ve been to several Friends of Laphroaig events back home and all have the same vibe.
The Laphroaig PX is a ‘travel retail exclusive.’ Many single malt distilleries create varieties that are only available in airports and other duty free locations. We came across this bottle during a recent layover, and we bought it because we can’t resist rare peated single malt aged in ex-sherry casks. Like many travel retail expressions, the PX comes in a 1 liter bottle.
The PX is similar to a fixture in the Laphroaig lineup, the Triple Wood. As the name implies, the whisky in both has been matured in three different types of casks. Both varieties mature the whisky first in ex-bourbon casks and then into quarter casks. The quarter casks effectively expose the whisky to the wood faster, and can play a huge role in the flavor. The main difference between Triple Wood and PX is that while Triple Wood finishes the whisky in former Oloroso sherry casks, PX uses Pedro Ximenez sherry casks. In terms of the wine itself, Pedro Ximenez is usually sweeter than Oloroso, and so you would expect the whisky to absorb some of the same distinctions.
On the Eyes: The bottle is very typical Laphroaig—a classic green bottle with the label indicating that the PX is a Travel Retail Exclusive. Simple, clean, and informative. The whisky is light Amber in color and darker than the flagship Laphroaig 10 year old. Giving the glass a turn shows PX to be medium-bodied, and we suspect that the contents were a bit on the younger side.
On the Nose: The initial aromas are of ocean breeze, peat bog and a light smokiness which is very telltale of Laphroaig. Imagine a barbeque on the coast. However, the nose evolves into a combination of cinnamon and lumber.
To the Taste: At first the taste is sweet & spicy, almost like maple syrup mixed with Big Red gum. The typical peat smoke flavor we would have expected from Laphroaig is present but very subdued. One of us picked up a strong oaky flavor midway through the dram as the peat smoke arrived.
And the Finish: Our tasting notes reunited in the finish. The PX flavor evoked more oak flavor but this was now mixed with the taste of baked cherry desserts. As the flavor faded the PX went full circle with lingering echoes of sea salt.
Overall, the PX is complex dram. The sweetness from the sherry casks is not overpowering. The whisky is also very dry and has a lot of spice and heat midway through. These traits are also a departure from what we know of typical, more maritime and rich Laphroaig whisky. From our experience with other expressions (including cask strength quarter cask Cairdeas), we suspect the cinnamon spiciness comes from the time the whisky spent in the quarter casks. While we enjoyed the PX, our opinions were divided over where it ranked among Laphroaig varieties as well as other peated Islay single malts. If you're interested in a more rich and classic Laphroaig experience, we might suggest going with the cask strength 10 year old, or perhaps the Lore.