Laphroaig 16-Year-Old vs Laphroaig 18-Year-Old

I finally took a complete stock of my current whisky collection, and as it stands, I have somewhere 50+ bottles that are _open_. Yes, the total count is somewhere north of 150 [not counting the bottles I am storing at a warehouse, following my auction wins], and on about a third of them, I’ve popped the cork. That’s not good! I better start drinking them before the whisky starts to drift. It’s not that it would necessarily go bad [although I still wonder about the oxidation of my older whiskies aged in wine barrels]. Still, it’s also not necessarily a good thing to have so many open sit on my shelves. So let’s taste two that pair side by side and see if we can spot a difference. But first, we need music! Now playing: Color of Time – Color of Time.

I feel like Laphroaig needs no introduction, yet this distillery off the coast of Islay, which is a walking distance between Lagavulin and Ardbeg [I know this because I’ve walked there], is a bit of a special place. I think I even own a tiny square foot of land there, which comes as a perk with some of their special bottles as part of the Friends of Laphroaig Programme. I have a lot of Laphroaig in my collection, but today I wanted to focus on two bottles, a few years apart. I think I was able to grab the 16-Year-Old as an exclusive bottle from Amazon [although, I’m not exactly sure what “exclusivity” means in that context since you can purchase this bottle from other places]. I’m not exactly sure where I have bought the 18-Year-Old from, but judging by the amount of whisky left inside these bottles, I think I’ve purchased them within the same year [Amazon receipt says September 2020]. Besides both being single malts from the same distillery, they’re also both bottled at 48% ABV, which makes this exercise of side-by-side comparison that much more interesting in its details. I think that both have colour added, but the 18 alone explicitly calls out no chill-filtration. I pour the 16 in the glass first, and here’s what it sings. Crisp vanilla wafers and dried banana peel left to warm a little by the fire. There is a little bit of saltiness on the finish, like a spray of warm seawater on my lips. And all around it is beautiful peat, which is not too overpowering or medicinal. At least not for my taste. In fact, and I’m beginning to worry about the latter a bit since it’s incredibly pleasant and welcoming in every single sip. Am I losing my grip and becoming a peat-head?

Besides the aforementioned “exclusivity” of the 16-year-old, the 18 is actually a little bit more special, as the distillery claims to produce it in limited quantities each year. Or at least that’s what is spelt out on the label. You do your own search, in your own place, but at the time of this writing, the 16-year-old is sold around here for about £90 or so, while the 18-year-old is found anywhere between £150 and £400 – depending on the actual bottling of the year. Both of the whiskies are matured in American ex-bourbon barrels, although the 16 also adds the word “first-fill” to the description, but it’s 100% the same – “first-fill ex-bourbon” barrels are not the same as virgin oak. Unless it states that they used “re-fill barrels”, which means that the barrel has already been used to age scotch _after_ bourbon, at least once. Enough about the semantics, and let us pour a dram! The nose is very similar on the 18 but much subdued. It’s not as pungent as its younger brother [and not that “pungent” is a bad thing]. Overall it’s sweeter, darker, rounder on the palate. More complex with a long and textured finish. There is a nutty flavour, and I almost want to chew on it and smack my lips after each gulp as if a few bits of nutty toffee are stuck in my teeth. It’s just a tad darker than the 16-year-old, but, once again, the label says that “Farven Justeret Med Karamel” – so draw your own conclusions. I get a bit annoyed at this. I understand the reason. I also remind myself to just focus on the whisky. But I still hate being lied to – and this is what it feels like underneath.

OK, so which one wins and is there a real difference? I pour myself another glass of the 18 because I want to drink a bit of it some more, and suddenly the answer here is clear, at least as it’s conveyed in this last gesture. The 18 simply brings more character and makes me want to spend more time. So with that said, the 18 wins the round, and now I want a backup in my stash.

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