$$$ — ~57% ABV — 10 years
Laphroaig [la-froyg] is the cilantro of whiskies. You either hate it, or love it. As its recent ad campaign clearly states, opinions are welcome and, boy, do they abound. Laphroaig is one of the smokiest spirits around, but it is also quite sweet and very rounded in flavor, almost like salty lox on an onion garlic bagel.
But the most prevalent flavor in Laphroaig is the peat smoke. The distillery sources all of their peat from Islay, just down the road from the distillery. The bog faces the Atlantic, meaning the peat there was almost entirely formed of decomposing seaweed. This provides a distinct maritime flavor — salt and iodine — that isn't found in many Scotches, even other Scotches from Islay. Lagavulin, for instance, which is just a short stroll up the coast, is nowhere near as salty.
There are no bad expression of Laphroaig, but the 10 Year Original Cask Strength is this distiller's obvious bargain. It's a mainstay in the cocktail community as Laphroaig's powerful flavor make it the perfect float for just about any Scotch cocktail: The drink is mixed with a cheap-yet-good blend like Monkey Shoulder or Hogshead; a small amount of Laphroaig is expressed on top like an orange peel, poured over a spoon or even sprayed with an atomizer. This allows an expensive bottle to service hundreds of cocktails.
But Laphroaig needs no accompaniment to be enjoyed. The OCS is not chill filtered and so has a gorgeous creaminess to accompany an intense amount of smoke. And as with all peated Scotches, the older it gets the lesser the smoke. Laphroaig 18 was a round and full whisky, but is very difficult to find now as it has officially been phased out. The 15 Year was reintroduced in 2015 to replace it and celebrate their bicentennial, a very well balanced whisky. The Select is sweeter, and the Quarter Cask carries a more intense oaky flavor. The distillery is so diversified now, they may have something for everyone.