Middle aged single malts hold a special place in both my heart and my wallet, since those rungs of the ladder are where Scotch Whiskies start to really show some personality while retaining a relatively reasonable price tag.
Laphroaig is one of the best known distilleries of Islay, an island famed for its smoky, saline style of malt whisky, but they walked away from the middle aged stuff in 2009. Now they are back, and they have come back in style.
The original Laphroaig 15 Year Old was one of the classic single malts, so much so that Prince Charles named it his favorite whisky and it earned the distillery a royal warrant in 1994, essentially making it an official whisky brand of the royal family. The distillery replaced it with an 18 Year Old version a decade ago, and while a fabulous whisky, the older malt didn’t occupy the middle aged sweet spot in the same way the 15 year old did.
Now Laphroaig has closed that gap in its regular line-up with a new 16 Year Old expression, which will replace the 18 Year Old expression. This was first released over in the UK as an Amazon-exclusive in September, but now it is available on a regular basis in the United States. Bottled at 48% ABV (a bit more potent than your typical single malt), it is priced at $90 per 750ml bottle.
When Laphroaig re-released the 15 Year Old on a limited basis in 2015 for their 200th Anniversary, I snagged a bottle, so I compared it to the new 16 Year Old version. Both share the same advantage over the younger Laphroaigs, in that the peaty, smoky aspect of the whisky is moderated and in better balance with the honeyed, spiced sweetness of the malt. That is what makes these whiskies so much more approachable to drinkers in general, some of whom are turned off by a potent current of smokiness. Yet the extra year gave the 16 year old something of a wet, earthy note, adding to its already rich body, so the slightly extended aging definitely made a difference, and an improvement.