Laphroaig is not new to NAS releases, although this is the first addition to the core range of Laphroaig in awhile. The official back story for the Select (why does every new release need a back story these days?) is that the last distillery manager when Laphroaig was family-owned, Ian Hunter, was among the first to utilize ex-bourbon barrels in the maturation of single malt. At the time, Laphroaig would have been primarily aged in used (and reused) European oak wine and fortified wine (sherry, madeira, port, etc.) casks. Somehow that translates to a new Laphroaig release containing a mixture of Laphroaig matured variously in – get this – oloroso sherry, PX-seasoned hogsheads, new American white oak barrels, quarter-casks, and first-fill ex-bourbon barrels. Apparently several recipes were made in different percentages of each wood type and Laphroaig fans voted on their favorites. I missed that part, but the chosen recipe is this one.
Select has no added color but is probably chill-filtered (I say this because they emphasize the no-added-color thing, but don’t mention the filtration), and is bottled at the bare minimum 40% ABV with no age statement. I definitely wish they’d used a little less water, as 43% or 46% would have enabled this to stand up a little taller in comparison to the older and more-robust Laphroaigs in the lineup.
Thanks to Dave E. for kindly sending me a sample from his bottle. Thanks, Dave!
Nose: Definitely Laphroaig – a sweet, spicy balance of ocean brine and beach bonfire smoke. Youthful, with a slight vegetal (grassy) quality verging on mezcal. The malt content seems sparse, without much foundation. Very little fruit, perhaps jarred strawberry jam.
Palate: Medium body. Slight lemon peel, heavy briny peat. Good malt-peat balance, with just enough grain-based sweetness. There is a streak of dried, jammy fruit running through it, but so mild I might have missed it. Indeed, during my first pass I didn’t think it was sherried at all.
Finish: Long. Slightly bitter, and the youth shows through with green grass and that odd tequila-like vegetal note. Lemon again, and mild red fruits. Fades with iodine and Band Aids (cresol).
With Water: Water seems to dull the aroma, muting the peat. It brings out even more lemon on the palate, and some additional sweetness. Skip the water, especially at this proof.
Overall: This runs in the same vein as a lot of recent NAS releases. They are marketed as having something special – partial sherry maturation (in this case), or partial finishing, or some unique barrel treatment, etc. – in order to get you to forget that the NAS label means they’ve dumped some younger barrels into the vatting, and on average is certainly going to be younger than the 10 year-old flagship (I have no information on the age of this, and my raw guess based on indie bottlings of younger-than-10-year peated malt, would be something like 6-7 years on average). Unlike a lot of those NAS releases, however, this one can be found for less money than the 10-year (IN SOME PLACES, see note below). This means it can be thought of as a compromise on the shelf: less money for less aging. It has the correct balance of lightly malty sweetness with briny seaweedy peat, but lacks a little dimension compared to the 10 year-old, and has a few minor youthful vestiges that come across as grass and tequila, but luckily not acetone like some young malts. Eminently drinkable, but the promised sherry is very, very far in the background. If you like Laphroaig or are curious about peated single malt scotch, and are willing to give up the “10” on the bottle in exchange for a refund at the register, you probably won’t be disappointed. Just don’t go here looking for an upgrade, and don’t spend more than $40 on a bottle.
NOTE: In some markets, Laphroaig 10 is still under $40 a bottle. In those markets, Laphroaig Select does not offer much of a discount, and you should go for the 10 instead.