When I last saw Simon Brooking, Brand Ambassador for Laphroaig whiskey, he was lighting a block of peat on fire at the Great Whiskey Debate. On a recent outing to Spec's Downtown to do some Scotch browsing, Brooking happened to be there again hosting a tasting of several Laphroaig expressions.
The bottles on hand included one I'd never seen before, the Laphroaig Select. The description on the bottle explains that the Scotch is a marriage of selected barrels from the Quarter Cask, PX Cask (the PX stands for Pedro Ximenez sherry casks), and Triple Wood, finished off by maturing in new American oak barrels (i.e. the same ones legally required to make bourbon).
Upon sampling the Select, I was so impressed I ended up taking a bottle home with me. Let me tell you why.
The Laphroaig brand is primarily known for its extreme peatiness. The 10-year expression is very strong on peat with not much else rounding off the flavor; one friend described it as "like licking a campfire," and I personally find it too harsh on my stomach to drink. Other expressions of Laphroaig mellow this tendency, and the Select in particular may have done the best job of balancing the peat with other flavors.
The nose has a bit of honeyed-and-vanilla sweetness that balances well with the flavors to come. By adding the partial finish in European sherry casks, the Scotch has more sweet, soft notes at the front of the first sip-- not quite the butteriness of something like Macallan, but just enough softness and berry hints to make for a more welcoming nose and easier transition into the peaty body and mouthfeel. The combination of casks softens off the rough parts of the main body as well: the sherry combines with the peat for a body that is more savory than smoky, and the mouthfeel is all in all more well-rounded than the ten-year expression.
I mentioned on a previous occasion that the Quarter Cask offered a softer finish than the 10-year, and you can taste that effect in the Select as well. The oaky flavors of the standard Laphroaig finish are mellowed with the softer mouthfeel that suggests the other casks.
All in all, the Select is a good balance of flavors considering it still comes in at under $50. The spirit offers enough sweetness to engage a sherry-aged fan like myself, without losing the distinctly Laphroaig peatiness, and while finishing easier than their standard ten-year expression.