Laphroaig (pronounced la-froyg) is a brand of single malt Scotch whisky produced on the Isle of Islay. It is an excellent example of the heavily peated, smoky, and briny whiskeys that the island off Scotland's west coast is famous for. Each step in the whiskey-making process—from hand-cut peat to the well-seasoned malt floor, and copper pot stills to a combination of oak barrels—contributes to the whiskey's complex flavor. Laphroaig 10 Year Old is a great introduction to the brand's extensive portfolio of well-crafted single malt whiskeys.
- Ingredients: Malted barley, peat
- Proof: 80–120.2
- ABV: 40–60.1%
- Origin: Islay, Scotland
- Taste: Smoky, peaty, salty
- Aged: 10 to 30 years
- Serve: straight-up, on the rocks, select cocktails
What Is Laphroaig Made From?
The Laphroaig distillery lies on the southern coast of Islay. The land that would come to be known as Laphroaig was purchased around 1815 by brothers Donald and Alexander Johnston. While the intention was to raise cattle, they decided to enter the more lucrative industry of distilling whiskey. Its location offered a perfect mix of natural elements that contribute to the signature flavor of Laphroaig.
The process of making this single malt whiskey remains as traditional as a modern industry would allow. The peat is cut by hand from local bogs, each of which has unique characteristics and concentrations of sphagnum, heather, lichen, and moss. Unlike many other distilleries, Laphroaig has its own malting floor that produces a significant amount of the malted barley used in its whiskey. With 200 years of seasoning on the floor, the barley is turned and spread out daily to force the grains to germinate. When the peat and barley are ready, the distillery's cold-smoke kilns slowly burn the peat to infuse the smoky flavor into the barley.
The malted barley is then dried and sent to the mash house where a clear wort is produced that gives the whiskey its fruity tones. Fermentation converts the barley's sugar into alcohol the strength of high-point beer, which is then meticulously distilled twice in copper pot stills.
Laphroaig whisky is aged for a minimum of 10 years, though some barrels rest as long as 30 years. Its seaside location allows salty air to penetrate the wood and add flavor to the whiskey. The distillery uses former bourbon barrels to impart caramel, vanilla, spice flavors into the whiskey. When Ian Hunter introduced this step at the distillery in the 1940s, it was a novel concept for scotch production though it's quite common today. Some whiskey is also aged in ex-sherry casks for a drier, spicier profile. With the exception of single cask whiskey, the whiskeys from various barrels are then blended together. Except for cask-strength expressions, water from the Kilbride Reservoir is used to cut the whiskey to bottling strength.
What Does Laphroaig Taste Like?
Laphroaig produces a number of expressions and they are subtly different. However, each whiskey displays the distillery's signature taste that is marked by peaty smoke and salty notes. Laphroaig is also known for hints of tar and fruit, with an almost medicinal undertone from the local peat moss.
Within Laphroaig's portfolio of single malt whiskeys, you will find bottles designated for particular markets and rare expressions that are out of the average drinker's price range. The core range includes some nice Scotch whiskys that are relatively affordable:
- Laphroaig 10 Year Old: This is the foundation for all of the distillery's single malts. Aged for 10 years, the 80-proof (40 percent ABV) whiskey is bold, smoky, briny, and slightly sweet with a long finish.
- Laphroaig 10 YO Cask Strength: Bottled at 60.1 percent ABV (120.2 proof), this whiskey is full strength. This results in a bigger flavor that accentuates all of the whiskey's signature notes, particularly those of the salty sea.
- Laphroaig Quarter Cask: The whiskey in this bottle is transferred from the larger bourbon barrels to quarter casks which are smaller and allow more contact between the whiskey and wood. The 96-proof (48 percent ABV) whiskey holds sweet toffee, vanilla, and dry oak flavors with a hint of the tannins found in wine.
- Laphroaig Triple Wood: Matured in three barrels and also bottled at 96 proof, this whiskey builds off the Quarter Cask method, finishing up in former Oloroso sherry casks made of European oak.
- Laphroaig Select: This expression is an interesting blend of hand-selected whiskeys intended for the Quarter Cask, Triple Wood, PX (Pedro Ximénez sherry) Cask, and 10 Year Old whiskeys. It's peaty, fruity, and dry with a rich, lingering finish, bottled at 80 proof, and the least expensive.
- Laphroaig Lore: The top of the core range with a richness not found in the other whiskeys, Lore is produced in small batches. It's aged in five types of casks for 7 to 21 years and bottled at 96 proof.
How to Drink Laphroaig
Generally, Laphroaig is sipped straight or on the rocks. It makes an excellent nightcap or after-dinner scotch. Cask-strength whiskeys should be enjoyed with a little water. This will soften the palate and open up the aromas and flavors to create a very pleasant scotch experience.
The bold flavors of Islay scotch mean that it's not going to work in many cocktails. Its saltiness can be the biggest deterrent. If you are going to mix with Laphroaig, the 10 Year Old and Select bottles would be the best bets. Even these should be used judiciously in the simplest of scotch cocktails.