Hart Brothers Laphroaig 18 year

One of the reasons I sometimes avoid “tastings” – especially for wine – that I see advertised online or posted in restaurants… is that I don’t know what to expect. Are they going to charge me an arm and a leg? Is there a catch, cutoff, or are they going to try to sell me something? Is some bimbo at the hostess stand going to stare, dumbfounded, at me when I ask where to sit for the tasting? (That’s happened to me before.) For good whisky poured at cost, though, I thought I’d take the risk, and drive up to Redwood City during rush hour on Tuesday.

Here’s how it works. Martin’s West is a ‘gastropub’ (gourmet bar food and upscale beverages) in Redwood City, CA. Tuesday nights at 6 pm, the bartenders or waiters will (when asked) pour a 1 oz dram of the night’s bottle – supplied by David Driscoll from K&L Wines and Spirits, down the street. They use Glencairn glasses. The charge will be the cost of the bottle, divided by the number of pours (around 25). So, for the $130 Hart Bros. Laphroaig 18, pours were $5. You can order as many pours as you like until they run out (but don’t be greedy!) David will hang out near the bar and answer questions, if you have them. While you’re there, Martin’s West has a very respectable whisky selection (pours of Pappy Van Winkle 15 bourbon for $16? Not bad.) and the food looks delectable. I will be going back to try out the food.

I’m told K&L also runs a similar event at 5:30 PM on Thursday nights out of their San Francisco location, at another local bar – Gitane.

To stay up to date on these tastings (and find out in advance what he’ll be pouring), and read David’s very interesting views on the Spirits world, check out his blog.

Here are my notes from the Laphroaig 18, bottled by Hart Brothers, a Scottish independent bottler and blender. It is 46% ABV and not chill-filtered. Distilled 1990.

Nose: Hello! It’s Laphroaig. Iodine, seaspray, and a big wave of smoky peaty goodness. Behind it lurks some light florals – elderflower? and green tea. Maybe a little touch of honey and green bananas. Mostly the salty peat, though.

Palate: A little rough up front, but resolving into trademark Laphroaig flavors of seaweed, campfire, and bright, acidic peat.

Finish: Long and elegant, and not as bitter as some peat monsters. Evolves out of the peat bog and into a little nuttiness -peanut? on the tail end.

Overall: Very similar to the distillery-bottled 18, in my opinion, which is considerably cheaper. I don’t think I’d pay the $139 for this (compared to some other beauties in that price range). That said, for $5 a pour at a walk-in tasting, it was well worth the drive! Interesting that while this is more subtle and elegant than the distillery 10-year, it’s not really much more complex, nor does it show any increased wood influence. It’s just Laphroaig, with some of the sharp edges sanded down.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

The heavily peated Laphroaig, pronouned “La-froyg”, was established on the southern coast of Islay in the mid 1820s. Laphroaig’s medicinal, seaweedy, ‘iodine’ flavors may be derived from its local, hand-cut peat, which is used to dry malt in its own floor maltings. The local peat is more fibrous than peat used by the Port Ellen Maltings on Islay, where other Islay distilleries source their peat. Laphroaig does source 80% or more of its malt from Port Ellen, since the maltings are too small to meet all of the distillery’s demand. Process water flows via a burn from the Sholum Lochs and collects in the Kilbride Dam. The water is highly acidic, but soft. The whisky is matured on-site, mostly in ex-bourbon casks from Maker’s Mark, in both dunnage and rack warehouses.
Hart Brothers Laphroaig 18 year
46.0% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $130-$140
Acquired: (Dram): K&L Whisky Tasting at Martin's West in Redwood City, CA. $5

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  • Tasty, but I share your opinion on the price. I could’ve saved some money by attending one of these tastings–alas it is hard to find events like the one you attended which as you say, don’t cost an arm and a leg.

    • Agreed. It’s a pretty slick business model, though. David at K&L takes one bottle from his inventory, which gets paid for by the pour-cost, and the local high-end bar gets some connoisseur recognition and extra traffic on a slow Tuesday night. As far as I can tell, they’re both pretty happy with the arrangement.

      It would definitely be nice to see other shops following this kind of innovation, to give burgeoning whisky fans a new way to try the good stuff.

  • At twice the cost of the Lagavulin 16 (and most likely not any better), I’d agree that this is an easy pass for anyone, but the most diehard Laphroaig fan.

    Out of curiosity though, which $130 (or so) whiskys do you consider worth the price of admission?

    • @James I would indeed say that Lagavulin 16 is better than the Hart Laphroaig 18. As far as pricey drams go, I like Macallan 18 a lot, despite the current “blah” attitude towards it among aficionados. Highland Park 18 (though about the same price as distillery Laphroaig 18 – just under $100) is also amazing. Ardbeg Corryvreckan, even cheaper, is worlds more interesting than the Hart Bros. I haven’t had enough other expensive whiskies to comment further, since I try very hard to keep my whisky purchasing in check, but it’s safe to say that just about anything reputable above $120 is going to exceed the price-for-quality ratio of this dram. I did have a small glass of Glenmorangie Signet (almost $200 a bottle), which was mouthwateringly good, but so completely out of my price range that I can’t say for sure whether it’s “worth it.” 🙂