It’s tough in the whisky market to do something different, to bring out a product which deliniates from the mainstream flavour profile of your brand. There will always be critics, and why not? Those people that are loyal to brands are loyal because they are happy with what is being produced.
But, equally, it can be good to experiment, to try to open up one’s brand to new markets.
For Laphroaig, this has recently come in the form of Laphroaig Select, a new release which ramps up the influence of sweeter American and European oak notes and brings down some of those more medicinal heavy, peaty notes. It’s made from a combination of American oak first-fill ex-bourbon casks, Oloroso sherry butts, PX (sherry) seasoned hogsheads, Quarter Casks and refill American oak casks. It’s the first new launch for the brand in 10 years, the last being the Quarter Cask. Distillery manager John Campbell speaks more about the release in this video.
For me, this is not bad thing. When I first ‘got into’ peaty whiskies, it was through both Bowmore (which I’ve mentioned on here before) and also through Laphroaig Quarter Cask, which is a less intensely peaty version for the company because of a seven month finishing time in smaller, more active casks. It isn’t one for every Laphroaig lover, but I do believe that from a brand extension point of view, whiskies like that can help encourage new customers into the category. It wasn’t lacking in complexity, it still had a punchy strength of 48% but just didn’t have as much of that hit-you-in-the-face-with-peat characteristic that in general Laphroaig tends to be laden with. I wrote about it in this post back in 2011, and my main point was that I didn’t hate it, which was a big step for a non-peat-loving person like myself.
Laphroaig – with its new Select Cask release – is, I believe, showing you can have quality and differentiation in your line-up using a wide variety of cask styles to create the product with. It’s exploring other realms without dumbing down, and that is key for companies who are keen to extend product offerings. The brand is also having a lot of fun with its Laphroaig Opinions Welcome campaign, which I think is brilliant and shows the various reactions consumers have to this tried and tested brand. I like to think that Bessie Williamson – the extraordinary woman who led Laphroaig from the 1940s to 1970s – would have been pleased to see the brand having a bit of fun and trying things out.
But that’s just my opinion. As always, I encourage you to try it yourself, to figure out if it’s one for you. It may not be, but as always, I recommend you to keep an open mind. Here are my notes from a sample I recently received.
Laphroaig Select: 40%: £35:
(n): Peach Freezee pops (a Canadian summertime tradition), dried grass, honeysuckle, gentle salty smoke, marzipan and grapefruit peel.
(p): Big and thick syrupy mouth texture – a bit light on flavour at first but gentle enough to hold on palate for long enough to discover maple syrup, vanilla, buttered popcorn, lemongrass, BBQ smoke and something akin to wasabi peas (salty and spicy).
(f): Toffee creams
In conclusion: A lovely nose on this and very drinkable. Quite different from other Laphroaigs and the smoke definitely dissipates a bit. I think I personally prefer Quarter Cask because of the higher strength, but can see this being a solid success for the brand. A good summer whisky.