ALL the Scotch in One Bottle: Tasting Laphroaig Select

photo by Amanda Schuster
photo by Amanda Schuster

Ever have one of those days when you crave a bunch of different foods at once? When you can’t decide if you want a burger, fries, barbecue, pizza, sushi, pretzels, popcorn, chocolate or ice cream?

These cravings aren’t just for women in pregnant or PMS hormone overload. It happens to men, too.

It must have been happening when Laphroaig Master Distiller John Campbell decided to create Laphroaig Select, a whisky that is aged in a selection of barrels that once held Oloroso sherry, Pedro Ximinez sherry, Quarter casks and first fill bourbon. Essentially it’s a Scotch that combines all the recent Laphroaig releases in one expression.

The official story behind it is that Campbell wanted to combine new and classic flavors in homage to Ian Hunter, a family distiller who was the first in the company to travel to bourbon county and source new world casks, pioneering the brand’s practice of marrying whiskies matured in American and European oaks. Here, Campbell took it several steps further by using a larger combination of wood finishes and maturation styles.

This Frankenstein Scotch is interesting, but is it alive? There’s a lot going on. Sweet and nutty from the sherry butts, dry and herbal from the Quarter cask, a touch of leather from the ex-bourbon. All these different woods scatter Laphroaig’s typical Islay peat smoke influences in different directions on the palate. To call it "select" is kind of misleading, as it tastes like it can't make up its mind.

I loved the recent “Opinions Welcome” Laphroaig ad campaign. (My favorite comment being “If a Sharknado combined with the Great Chicago Fire, this whiskey [sic] would be the result, only with less death.”) So for those craving the bracing peat flavors of typical Laphroaig releases, it’s not really there, more of a light, smoked fish, barbecuey sweet smoke, and finishes with earthy brown rice flavors. Is it hungry, but trying to be healthy?

Since the brand doesn’t seem to be afraid of opinions, I’m going to go on record as saying it’s a little thin for my taste (like Olive Oyl in a halter top), and finishes slightly hot, like a young whisky. I happen to enjoy the “burning hospital” aspects of Laphroaig 10 Year and even more so of the 18 Year, which helped the brand win Islay Distillery of the Year and take home gold in the 2013 NY International Spirits Competition. I wish those elements were more present here.

I can appreciate its attributes. For those who don’t like those aspects of Laphroaig, this release might be an agreeable compromise. Its light weight also makes it an excellent warm weather whisky, and it would be good in citrusy cocktails calling for a slight touch of smoke.

But for those who would rather drink “the sweat of the sea,” stick to the classic releases.