In the ever-expanding universe of alcoholic beverage, Ileach single malt is no doubt one of the most peculiar and instantly recognisable, on a par with Tokaji Eszencia, vin jaune du Jura, Madeira and Eiswein. Yet, Ileach single malt is by far the most polarising of all, surpassing even Greek Retsina. Followers swear by it, detractors swear at it.
The southwesternmost island of the Hebrides, an archipelago off the west coast of Scotland, Islay covers just over 600 sqkm, and yet it is a Scotch single malt region unto itself. Famous – or infamous – for its peaty and smoky single malts, Islay is home to eight operating distilleries. A fossil fuel composed of decayed organic matters, peat is a major energy source in northern Europe. Found in abundance in Scotland, peat is widely used in the malting process of whisky production.
Ileach peat has a significantly higher moss and seaweed content than peat from elsewhere, hence the distinctive flavours it imparts to the whisky. Not all Ileach single malts are peated. The so-called “peat monsters” are largely confined to the southern tip of the island, namely – from east to west – Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Port Ellen (closed in 1983). Further north, Bowmore, Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain produce less peaty, fruitier and even unpeated single malts.
Built in ca. 1810, Laphroaig was officially founded in 1815 and licensed in 1826. The name Laphroaig is of Gaelic etymology, literally meaning “the hollow of broadbay”. Laphroaig possesses its own malting floor facilities as well as peat bogs on the Glenmachrie Peat Moss, known for its unusually high moss content. Its water source comes from the Kilbride Dam, known for its soft yet peaty water. Since 1994, Laphroaig is the only whisky in the world to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales, whose favourite whisky is purportedly Laphroaig 15 Years Old.
Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig interpret peatiness in their own idiosyncratic ways, same as Pinot Noir and Riesling express themselves differently, depending on the terroirs. In a broad stroke, Ardbeg’s peat is pristinely crystal-clear, Lagavulin’s as rich and complex as tea, and Laphroaig’s unmistakably herbal and medicinal. Indeed, during the Prohibition era (1920-1933), Laphroaig was imported into the US as “medicinal spirit” – it would appear that the customs officer in charge was not a Scotch connoisseur…
Laphroaig is owned by Beam Suntory, the US subsidiary of Suntory Holdings, which own a total of seven Scotch brands. Merely 10 percent of Laphroaig’s annual output is sold as single malt (majority official bottling, minority independent bottling), the rest sold for blending.
Radiant golden with gleaming jonquil reflex, the inimitable nose offers green pear, hay bale, brine, chloride and bonfire. With a cleansing mouthfeel, the signature palate delivers salted mango, cardamom, sea spray, iodine and dry peat. Medium-full bodied at 40 percent, the medicinal entry continues through an untamed mid-palate, leading to a smoky finish.
Rich golden with bright sunshine reflex, the robust nose furnishes salted plum, galangal, sour cream, wood ash and turpentine. With a muscular mouthfeel, the virile palate provides rowan, allspice, granary toast, sea salt and coal. Full-bodied at 55.7 percent, the full-on palate evolves into a multilayered mid-palate, leading to an indelible finish.
Shimmering amber with saturated golden reflex, the multifarious nose presents blood orange, spearmint, Lapsang Souchong, farmyard and cigar ash. With a supple mouthfeel, the variegated palate supplies salted lemon, peppercorns, seaweed, smoked meat and charcoal. Medium-full bodied at 43 percent, the composed entry persists through a substantial mid-palate, leading to a lingering finish.
The following Laphroaig whiskies were tasted – and are available – at Bar Azul of Four Seasons Hotel Macao, Cotai Strip, in the presence of Principal Sommelier Mr Kaleb Paw. E: email@example.com; T: +853 2881 8888
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages