Laphroaig 10 vs Cask Strength

When I first started getting into whisky, I absolutely fell in love with Talisker for its peaty character. So, naturally, I started exploring more peated drams. When I arrived at the Laphroaig 10, I found myself utterly disgusted. I could not get over the smell. As a child I used to have severe eczema, and the doctor would describe me an ointment with actual tar in it. It was a pungent smelling concoction, and those exact same odours are what I found in my glass of Laphroaig. Despite my initial appalment though, I was utterly intrigued by the dram. I kept exploring it time and time again, and if I were to point out a dram that sparked the joy of taking tasting notes in me, it had to have been this one.

Getting more and more into whisky though, I found myself slightly disappointed with what the regular 10 has to offer. Even though I was so taken aback by the burst of peaty flavours the first time I sipped it, I started finding it too diluted as my palate evolved. At 40% I even dare say it started to become a bit watery and I felt a longing to go back to the times where a Laphroaig blew me off my socks. And thus, it was high time to purchase myself a bottle of the Cask Strength version and put them side by side in a little comparison.

Tasting Notes: Laphroaig 10
Stats:

ABV: 40% (80 proof)

Age: 10 years old

Distillery: Laphroaig

Owned by: Beam Suntory

Category: Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Chill-Filtered: Yes

Natural Colour: No

Nose:

The dram still has the same effect on me as it did the first time I tried it. It’s the tar ointment all over again, but by now I’ve come to love it. Beside the tar there’s more medicinal influences as well, with iodine and band-aids both appearing centre stage. Behind that initial sense of stepping into an apothecary’s shop, I’m finding hints of vanilla and liquorice. Giving off some sweetness to balance out all that peat. Adding some water adds some tobacco notes to the nose of this dram, but it mutes that tarry note I’ve come to love somewhat.

Palate:

Where the relatively low ABV didn’t spell trouble on the nose yet, it really starts showing up on the palate though. It tastes diluted, as if I added too much water myself. There’s still plenty of pleasant notes available though, as I’m finding wood smoke, liquorice, vanilla ice cream, and a big amount of seaweed. There’s some slight grassy and citrus note in this dram as well, vaguely reminiscent of lemongrass. Adding water oddly enough makes this dram seem a bit more coherent, with the watered-down layer turning into a soft honey. A bit too pleasant for a Laphroaig if you ask me though.

Finish:

Despite the low ABV the finish is quite long, with those tarry notes from the nose appearing once more. I’m also finding some yellow grapes, which almost gives me a white wine kind of note. The liquorice lingers nicely as well, making it an overall very pleasant experience. But here, as well, the flavours do feel a bit overdiluted at times. Water has a profound effect on the finish of this dram, making the liquorice notes stand out much more clearly and the sense of dilution seems to fade from the finish by quite a margin.

Verdict:

This has become such a conflicting dram for me, as on the one hand I still greatly appreciate the flavours it brings. And the price simply can’t be beat, the 35 euro it goes for around here is just stellar value. At the same time though, I always end up slightly disappointed. As there’s always a sense of how good it could have been with just a bit more ABV. In the States they get this dram at 43% and I do wonder how big of a difference that three percent makes. I guess in the end I must admit that I still very much like this dram, but that a higher ABV version is probably better suited for me. This original Laphroaig 10 makes for a stellar highball though!

Rating:

82/100

Value:

B

Tasting Notes: Laphroaig 10 Original Cask Strength batch 14
Stats:

ABV: 58,6% (117,2 proof)

Age: 10 years old

Distillery: Laphroaig

Owned by: Beam Suntory

Category: Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Chill-Filtered: No

Natural Colour: No

Nose:

Approach the glass with caution, as the ethanol will singe your nostrils otherwise. The high ABV is immediately noticeable as you approach the glass, and wonderful heavy flavours approach your nose as you dive in. I immediately start looking for that tar note from the standard 10, and I’m only barely finding it here. There’s just so much going on with the nose of this dram, that it fades into the background a bit. More than that tar I’m picking up on coffee, toffee, and empty cigar boxes. There’s some mocha in there as well and vanilla and grass round it off nicely. I barely pick up on the classic notes of iodine and band aids at all. On the nose a few drops of water seems to propel the honey influences forward, with the drams sweeter elements becoming much more pronounced.

Palate:

On the palate that tarry note is much more pronounced though, but here as well it finds itself in a turmoil of other flavours. Honey loops, cinnamon, nutmeg, and beef jerky all pass the revue. But the flavour I’m loving most of all is that of bacon pancakes topped with thick molasses (Spekpannenkoeken met stroop for the Dutchies amongst us). One of my favourite comfort food dishes and I love how well it balances out the peat in this dram. It’s a rugged and bold whisky. Adding some water initially brings forth some caramel, but after that it just lights a fire underneath that peat and it allows it to shine in all its glory.

Finish:

The finish is long and sweet, with luscious notes of liquorice appearing on the tongue. With the standard 10 it was hard to point out where the finish went wrong (so to say), as all the flavours were there. And they did not differ from this finish all that much, neither flavour wise nor lengthwise. But here they are just so much more pronounced, bold, and well rounded. That it’s just an absolute joy to sit back and spend some time with. Water lengthens the finish a bit further and makes the liquorice even more pronounced and slightly more bitter. The one thing that comes to mind is a “wybertje”, a small diamond shaped liquorice from the Netherlands.

Verdict:

This is a stellar dram, but just like the standard 10 it’s become quite a conflicting one for me. On the one hand I’ve lost some of the notes that I loved so much on the standard offering (the tar and medicinal notes are less pronounced in this cask strength offering), and on the other hand it has become extravagantly priced over here. This bottle goes for about a 110 euro, and when you compare that to the standard 10’s 35… I just don’t understand why it costs so much. I can buy three of the standard bottles and have some money to spare, for just one bottle of this original cask strength. So, for a roughly 50% increase in ABV, you’re paying triple. That just seems off to me, and I know this is a batch product. But believe me, those batches aren’t all that tiny. Like I said, it leaves me conflicted.

Rating:

90/100

Value:

D

My conclusion:

In the end I appreciate both drams for what they are. But sadly, I appreciate the original 10 as a mixer (highballs) and the Original Cask Strength as a luxury product for very special occasions. Both are highly enjoyable, but both could have been so much better at the same time. Thankfully there’s other amazing bottlings from Laphroaig available as well and nowadays instead of the 10 I’ll just pick up the Quarter Cask. The Original Cask Strenght is not something I can replace that easily though; even the Lore is more accesible at 70 euro; I guess I’ll just have to savour it more than I used to in the past. Because I simply can’t afford to buy a bottle of this every year or so.

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