On the cards tonight are the two whiskies of the greatest contrast in my collection…The very sought after Laphroaig Carideas Feis Ile 2013 Port Wood and my run of the mill, daily dram Bourbon – Bulleit Frontier Bourbon. I’ll start with the Laphroaig.
Back in 2013, I remember being in work when I received an email from Laphroaig announcing that this years Feis Ile release was available to purchase; I grabbed my phone and frantically entered my card details, securing a couple of bottles for myself. Literally a few hours later the Laphroaig website was bombarded by furious comments from would be customers, disgruntled that the Islay distillery had sold out of this one-off so quickly.
When my bottles arrived a week later, I couldn’t wait to crack it open. I took one look at the bottle, the liquid was pink, it was fascinating; never had I seen a whisky with such an unusual hue. As far as I’m aware, this is the only Port wood expression Laphroaig has produced until it released the Brodir earlier this year.
In the glass, this is a heavy, viscous, full bodied spirit, the legs take an eternity to descend from the necklace. As previously mentioned, this dram has the most enticing rhubarb pink hue to it.
On the nose, you are greeted with a gargantuan bomb of citrus: aromatic pink grapefruit, sweet mandarin oranges and sharp lemon zest cut straight through the plume of peat smoke – the essence of Laphroaig. The 2013 Cairdeas is bottled at a relatively high 51.3%, add a little water to tone down the alcohol aroma, and subtle notes of summer berries and cloves are slowly released.
On the palate, the signature peat smoke, saltiness and and seaweed notes are definitely present, but more subdued, more of an accompaniment rather than the main course, and so much more complex. As soon as it touches the lips, black pepper and lots of it, and then the bonfire stars; wisps of spicy incense penetrate every microscopic cavity of the mouth, candied peel, citrus oils, summer fruits and rhubarb.
The Laphroaig is decedent, special and just plain fascinating to look at. The downside is that it is no longer readily available, you may be able to pick it up in some specialist shops, but it will possibly cost upwards of £200. Which brings me on to my second dram of the night – Bulleit Bourbon.
Now, unlike the Laphroaig, the Bulleit is an example of a fantastic whiskey that is readily available, and at a good price, somewhere in the region of £25. The reason I consider it a huge contrast from the Laphroaig is that you realise the true sweetness that comes out of this dram, it is like a dessert after the peaty, sharp, savoury, salty Laphroaig.
Now, a little bit about Bulleit…The new spirit that goes into making Bulleit is like most Bourbons, a blend of corn, rye and malted barley, the two former ingredients will never be found in single malt. Now, while single malt whisky/whiskey will always hold its own, when you add corn and rye to a mix, you unleash a most fantastic sweetness and spiciness, and Bulleit is a perfect example of this harmonious marriage of grains.
In the glass, the Bulleit is liquid amber, leaving thick slow legs around the glass that seem to appear from nowhere with every swirl.
On the nose, this whiskey is so spicy, I get a much bigger hit of spice than most descriptions I have seen: cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and black pepper all furiously plough through the nostrils and down through the throat, blanketing every single cell.
On the palate…it’s sweet, luxuriously sweet like melted vanilla fudge, delicately peppered with spices. Finishes dry and lingers with flavours of burnt sugar.
To sum up, the Laphroaig for me takes the edge when it comes to complexity, it is completely different animal, however, if I were to choose one for a daily dram (pricing and availability aside), I would choose the Bulleit. It is such an easy going dram, it doesn’t challenge you, you don’t feel like you need to pay huge amounts of attention to it, it is effortlessly enjoyable and comes with layers of depth of you take some time with it.
The Bulleit is a perfect example of a whiskey that is on most supermarket shelves at a reasonable price that will knock your socks off, if you just give it the chance. Liquid gold from the frontier. It is also a great base to start off at in the world of Bourbon, if you want something spicier, then check out their rye expression, and if you want something sweeter go for a Four Roses or Wild Turkey. In my opinion, the Bulleit takes some beating.