Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Laphroaig Masterclass - A real winner

The evenings line up in all its grandeur

Recently club members The Converted, The Colonel-in-Chief, and myself partook in the Laphroaig Masterclass at The Oak Barrel. A great night in all with many Laphroaig expressions for tasting.

John Campbell, Distillery Manager of Laphroaig, hosted the evening taking us on a quick verbal trip to Islay and the history of Laphroaig, plus some odd tangents before commencing the tasting. John had only recently arrived from Scotland and was out to host the Laphroaig Live event here in Sydney. John had mentioned this was his first visit to Australia but I am doubting, with his schedule, there would be very little to see or experience before he was off again unfortunately. Hopefully we will see him back soon.

The room was packed and the facilities were excellent leaving us to simply sit back and relax. It was great to see some fine glassware on the table this time appropriate for sniffing and tasting unlike the heavy wine glasses we received at the previous Whisky Fair (also held at The Oak Barrel). Being a controlled environment certainly allows for more respect to be given to the glass so I do appreciate them bringing out the best.

On seating we were graced with 5 Laphroaig expressions as follows:

Laphroaig 10yo
Laphroaig Quater Cask
Laphroaig tripel Wood
Laphroaig 15yo (now longer available and now released as 18yo)
Laphroaig 25yo Cask Strength

It is worth a note that all the glasses were covered by the expression spread sheet when we were seated. Only once we started the tasting did everyone lift off the cover sheet at once and a huge whiff of Laphroaig filled the air. Amazing.

Highlights for the evening was the chance to sample roasted malted barley used to make Laphroaig, and a chance to nose and taste Laphroaig New Make Spirit.

Roasted malted barley straight from Laphroaig - A cigar in every grain.
The roasted barley was very odd indeed to be eating and unexpected to see it on offer. Peat smoke was all over it and an instant dryness sucked the mouth dry much like taking a breath of smoke. In fact it was very much like smoking a cigar without the cancer adding agents. I thought it was great until the morning when I woke up with the same dry throat syndrome after smoking a cigar anyway.

The Colonel-in Chief nosing the New Make Spirit
Whenever possible I will make an attempt to try any new make spirt when it is on offer, so when the glass was passed around I had to pour a quick nip for myself. So this was the first peated New Make Spirit I have had. At 68% alcohol you would never know it making is a very evil dram. The peat was all in the front with a intense bitter note followed then quickly by the barely sweetness (but no where near as sweet as you would find in the unpeated new makes). Very medicinal, seaweeds and spicy tang but obviously no colour nor any heavy salts yet as it had not entered the barrel for maturation. A very interesting experience and I would impress on anyone offered the opportunity to taste a New Make Spirit to jump at the chance.

A masterclass is not complete without learning a few new things about the distillery on show. Some of these more prevalent points of interest for me were:

• A tradition kept is the green bottles used by Laphroaig. It comes from when Laphroaig historically could not maintain colour consistency due to variations in barrels being used so the green bottle was used to hide the colour.

• Laphroaig was able to sell whisky into the US during Prohibition for medicinal purposes.

• Not all Laphroaig barrels are stored on Islay at present and moves are in place to allow for future barrels to be stored at the distillery.

• Due to the angels share the air space in the barrels contributes to the saltiness found in Laphroaig.

• The second stage barreling of the quarter cask is only for 7 months. Experimentation has found that any longer contributes too much wood to the whisky.

• The 15yo does not sport the Prince Of Wales crest as it is Prince Charles favourite and he does not want to be reminded of himself when he is drinking it. Fact or fiction, myth or legend you may ask… well if John Campbell is the Distillery Manager and he said it then he is either creating some great marketing hype or it is probably true. As a reference point in 1994 Prince Charles issued Laphroaig his Royal Warrant. It is only one of 2 whiskies supplied to the Royal household. As a result, they can display the Prince of Wales crest on their bottles and labels. You will note if you go to the Laphroaig site and view the Laphroaig 18yo (which has replaced the 15yo) it now sports the Prince Of Wales crest once more.

• The 15yo has not been available in the UK for at least 4 years. If I recall correctly John has not had a taste either in around that amount of time so he was all over it at the Masterclass. Here in Australia there is still many cases getting around so if your into your whisky collecting then I suggest your buy up a few bottles now. Also from what I could gather is that John had mentioned that the 15yo that we have here does actually contain 18yo Laphroaig but was packaged as the 15yo.

Overall great night and I would certainly do it again. Well done to the Oak Barrel and bravo to Laphroaig yet again for not letting us down.

The Baron