Laphroaig has just released a new whisky, Lore. I’m terribly curious to try it. Perhaps it’s an awesome whisky. Perhaps it’s definitely worth the price tag of around £75. Perhaps not. After all, it’s a hefty price tag for a NAS whisky. I won’t buy it, though. Here’s why.
This is an instance where that transparency that Compass Box recently called for becomes pertinent. Transparency would make or break my willingness to buy a bottle. It’s a NAS, but hey, the Laphroaig Quarter cask is a great NAS whisky, so that in and of itself shouldn’t be a deciding factor. The real problem here is the secrecy combined with the price. How can I tell if £75 is a reasonable price for this whisky or not? The answer is: I can’t. It’s impossible.
Let’s pretend we knew the recipe for Lore. Let’s pretend this is the recipe, version A:
60% 21 YO, second-fill oloroso hogsheads
10% 20 YO, first-fill bourbon barrels
10 % 13 YO, second-fill quarter casks
9% 23 YO, first-fill oloroso butts
11% 4 YO first-fill bourbon barrels
The last bit there being really feisty whisky which gives Lore a really peaty punch. If this is the recipe, of course Laphroaig is right in releasing it as a NAS. They’d be stupid to smack an age statement on the bottle and scream over the rooftops “buy the new Laphroaig Lore, it’s a four-year-old”. With that recipe, the price would absolutely be reasonable; I’d go ahead and order myself a couple of them straight away. But let’s say the recipe is this, version B:
60% 8 YO, second-fill oloroso hogsheads
10% 7 YO, first-fill bourbon barrels
10% 5 YO, quarter casks
9% 11 YO, first-fill oloroso butts
10% 4 YO first-fill bourbon barrels
1% 23 YO, seventh-fill bourbon remade hogsheads.
Hm. Makes you think, doesn’t it? If this is the case, then we’re buying whisky that costs at the very least twice as much as it should, and we’re doing it because it’s a new Laphroaig. We’re buying the brand, lured by a story, and feeding the marketing department. In short, we’re being duped.
What we do know from Laphroaig’s homepage is that some whiskies in the mix are ”as old as vintage 1993”, i.e. 22 or 23 years old. (That’s a breach of regulations right there, by the way, since they are revealing that some of the whisky is from 1993 while other components are younger – quick, somebody call the SWA!) We are also told that ”To create Lore we used both American oak and European oak. The former smaller barrels give the strong rich peaty flavours and a longer maturation for the large European Hogsheads until all the deep complexities are slowly released from the wood. Stored in our old dunnage warehouse beside the Atlantic the briny sea air replaces the ‘Angels share’ in the barrels over the ‘long sleep’.” Or, in plain English, yada yada yada. It really doesn’t say anything.
I have absolutely no clue about the real recipe for Lore, of course; I’m just throwing numbers out there taken from thin air. And it’s not that Laphroaig is being mean in not discosing the recipe of what’s in the bottle – indeed, as the SWA has made abundantly clear, they would most certainly be sued if they did! I am not angry with Laphroaig; I am angry with the whisky business.
Sometimes, outcries for more transparency from whisky enthusiasts like myself are met with a pat on the back and an explanation that people like me constitute about 0.002 percent of whisky consumers. Most consumers simply don’t care about these things. And that is absolutely true. After all, Laphroaig and other distilleries are catering for a mass market. They need to sell bottles, not hand out what their cut points are, detail variations in the gravity or their wort, or explain the exact ppm level specifications for different batches of malt going in to a particular whisky. I do get that. However, I have a hard time seeing why it shouldn’t be possible to cater to both types of customers. You have your main page with the cool story and the yada yada yada, and then you have a link that says ”want to know more?” You click it, and you enter a domain where nerdgasms never end; where each barrel that went into making each batch is precisely catalogued; where you tell your customers absolutely everything. It could look something like this. An absolute majority of people will never be interested in all that information. Indeed, few will even click the link. But some will. Those some people are vociferous, intelligent, knowledgeable people. What they think of certain whiskies does carry some weight, since their voices are heard quite loud and clear. It could be a smart move to cater also to these people’s needs. (OK then, my needs.)
All this being said, I do get the argument that ”it’s all about taste”. So, with Lore, I’ll probably swap or buy a sample. I still think all whiskies – all whiskies, mind you – should be tried with an open mind. Unlike Ralfy, who really crusades against the increasing tide of NAS whiskies, I would never not review a whisky because it’s a NAS. And indeed, there are some great NAS whiskies out there.
Again, the problem here is not Laphroaig, but the regulations and how they are being enforced. There is no way for me to know for sure that the recipe is something like version B above. Tell me what’s in the bottle, and then I’ll decide if it’s worth my money or not.