Spirit of the Month January ’18 – Laphroaig Triple Wood Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Among all the regions in Scotland, the Isle of Islay is arguably the most distinct when it comes to single malt whisky, and all it takes is one whiff to know why. Creeping into your nostrils and soon pouring over your palate are copious amounts of delicious, succulent smoke, a bi-product of all the peat burned during production. And while the idea of a campfire swishing around one’s mouth might not be to everyone’s liking, those who relish peaty whiskies do so with tremendous satisfaction and loyalty.

laphroaig triple wood wine

Since around 1815, Laphroaig has represented Islay one stunning expression at a time. Their 10-Year Old Single Malt remains a benchmark statement for peat lovers around the world. Expanding upon those core flavours to brilliant effect is the Laphroaig Triple Wood Single Malt Scotch Whisky. It’s our Spirit of the Month for January, and a perfect way to kick off the new year. Read on for some background and tasting notes.


You’ll also like:
Spirit of the Month November ’17 – Woodford Reserve Cherry Wood Smoked Barley
Spirit of the Month October ’17 – Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon
Spirit of the Month December ’17 – Fortaleza Reposado Tequila


history of laphroaig wine

History

The year was 1815, and two brothers named Donald and Alexander Johnston leased 1000 acres of land on the south coast Isle of Islay. The plan was to to rear cattle, which they did in the early years. But what to do with all the excess barley that they used as feed for their livestock? Given their surroundings, the answer was obvious: make whisky. Not just any whisky, but some of the finest whisky in the area. Soon, the brothers were earning more from the whisky than they were the cattle, and it became obvious that they should focus on distillation full time. They named their distillery after the land itself: Laphroaig.

full view of laphroaig wine company

In 1836, Donald bought out Alexander’s share of the operation, and became the sole owner. Sadly, Donald would pass away just nine years later, reportedly after falling into a vat of whisky (what a way to go!). Donald left behind an 11 year old son, Dugald, who by 1857 was running the distillery with his cousin.

In the early days of Laphroaig, the whisky was primarily used in blends by other labels. One of those other labels was the neighbouring distillery of Lagavulin, owned by Mackie & Co. By 1857, Dugald decided he wanted to produce more single malts, putting a wrench in his agreement with Mackie & Co. That led to a decades-long dispute between the two distilleries, which prompted Mackie & Co. to end their contract and take Laphroaig to court in 1887, accusing them of illegal practices. Laphroaig won the case and was able to continue producing acclaimed single malt whiskies.

side view laphroaig wood wine company

In spite of the court decision, the feud between Laphroaig and Mackie & Co. carried into the early 20th century. Not only that, but the feud turned very ugly, with Peter Mackie (of Mackie & Co.) resorting to some truly duplicitous tactics. One tactic was to block off Laphroaig’s water supply, Killbride Stream, delivering a crucial blow to Laphroaig’s operation. However, the courts quickly intervened and Laphroaig was up and running in no time. The next measure Mackie took was to poach Laphroaig’s head brewer, and have him build an identical still house, all in hopes of replicating their spirit. Fortunately for Laphroaig, Mackie’s resulting product just wasn’t the same. Peter Mackie’s last resort was to try and buy Laphroaig’s land out from under them, however his two attempts were ultimately unsuccessful.

Because of Mackie’s constant meddling, Laphroaig was financially struggling by 1921. That was when Ian Hunter–a descendant of the Johnson family line–took over and revitalised the operation. Laphroaig grew steadily and soon became a player in countries like America.

the first lady of scotch

In the mid 1930s, Hunter passed on all his secrets to Bessie Williamson (aka the “First Lady of Scotch”). She would end up running operations from 1954-1972. During that time, Laphroaig perfected its aging methods and other production techniques among other things. In order to better compete on the world stage, Williamson sold the company while keeping the brand’s most vital secrets intact. Her legacy still looms large over at Laphroaig Distillery.

laphroaig islay single malt scotch whisky

Over the years that followed, Laphroaig only grew in terms of both sales and reputation. In 1994, Prince Charles gave the distillery his Royal Warrant, hence the coat of arms on every bottle. In 2015, Laphroaig celebrated its 200th anniversary with the release of some limited edition bottles, including a Cairdeas release, which celebrates their friendship with other distilleries. To this day they deliver a truly classic, smoky dram enjoyed by millions worldwide.

 

laphroaig islay single malt scotch whisky triple wood

Tasting

The first thing any drinker (experienced or not) will notice when cracking open a bottle of Laphroaig are the heaping waves of smoke curling out from the top. That’s because the peat moss in Islay is unlike anything else in the world. Laphroaig hand-cuts their peat moss, and dries it out for three months before burning it in special peat kilns. It’s over that peat fire that Laphroaig dries its malt for about 17 hours at a time.

laphroaig peat moss

Another crucial ingredient in Laphroaig whisky is the peat-laden water from Killbride Stream. Laphroaig uses the water to soak its barley before the malting process. While still damp, the barley goes over a slow-burning peat fire. After that, it’s off the mash house for fermentation. Next stop is the still house for double-distillation, followed by aging in American White Oak ex-bourbon barrels. The Triple Wood, meanwhile, is further matured in quarter casks and then European oak ex-sherry casks.

laphroaig wine make process

The result of all that tireless technique and aging is a spirit firing on all cylinders. Laphroaig isn’t afraid to use words like “medicinal” or smoky to describe their whiskies, but in this case the iodine and peat are rounded out by robust notes of sweetness and nuttiness. Here’s a breakdown:

Nose: At first whiff comes an expected blast of wonderful, intense smoke. That’s laced with iodine, sherry, vanilla, cherry, bourbon, walnuts, dates and fruit.

Taste: The spirit delivers a full-bodied explosion of flavour, rife with familiar elements like smoke and chocolate, but also fruit, cherry, spice and cereal.

Finish: A dense and smooth finish mixes smoke, chocolate, espresso, spice, black pepper and oak with time-tested precision.

At the core of Laphroaig Triple Wood are the same base notes of peat, iodine and chocolate-covered espresso beans that you might find in the 10 Year. However, that’s joined by a robust and dynamic array of flavours, allowing the expression to not only stand on its own, but arguably transcend a number of its counterparts. Suffice to say, lovers of bold character will find plenty to cherish here. The spirit is full bodied, smoky, a little nutty, a little spicy, a little fruity and a little sweet. Originally, the Triple Wood was offered only in duty-free shops. I, for one, am forever grateful that Laphroaig gave this delicious spirit a broader shelf-life of its own.

Check it out

You’ll also like:
Spirit of the Month November ’17 – Woodford Reserve Cherry Wood Smoked Barley
Spirit of the Month October ’17 – Russell’s Reserve 10 Year Old Bourbon
Spirit of the Month December ’17 – Fortaleza Reposado Tequila


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