Laphroaig is not a whisky for beginners. It is a malt to be pondered as much as sipped—a unique spirit that demands one’s attention, which it rewards with intense, quirky, idiomatic flavors. Casual fans of blended Scotch should earn their stripes with Highland or Speyside malts before moving on to this most bracing and pungent of drams.
The Laphroaig distillery is located due west of Glasgow on the raw, windswept island of Islay (pronounced “i-lah”). Founded two centuries ago by the Johnston family, which still runs the company, the distillery inspires avid loyalty among the whisky’s regular imbibers. In fact, the Friends of Laphroaig program, in which participants own one-square-foot plots on the distillery property, boasts more than 150,000 members.
Several factors give Laphroaig whiskies their distinctive iodine-and-wrack character. Islay’s vast peat bogs contain oceanic vegetation and absorb seaweed aromas from the island’s salt-laden breezes. The aromas permeate Islay’s groundwater, which Laphroaig uses in the steeping and mashing process. Sea air also penetrates the casks during maturation, which enhances the characteristic nose and flavor of the whiskies.
There is no mistaking the family genes of this Laphroaig single malt, though 30 years of aging have taken the aggressive edge off of the peat reek and ripened the flavors with toasty sherry tones. The result is a spirit with the assertive Islay palate wrapped in a deep, refined, and elegant envelope. This is the one Scotch whisky that best defines the extraordinary pleasures that make great single malt the most complex and satisfying of spirits.
Allied Domecq, 203.221.5400; $225