The Vaults. That mythical place in the north of Edinburgh, where 35 years ago the world’s most illustrious whisky club – the Scotch Malt Whisky Society – was founded. Today, the former wine warehouse still serves as a high-class bar and meeting room for the Society’s members. And as name giver for a new range of uber-premium single cask bottlings called The Vaults Collection, which the SMWS launched in 2017. Said to contain the “finest and rarest single cask whiskies from the treasure trove of casks we’ve accumulated over the years”, these special releases are deemed the non-plus-ultra of what the Society has to offer. A statement that gains all the more weight if you consider the fact that even their entry-level bottles are usually of mind-blowing quality! Through a series of very fortunate events (i.e. me winning a photo contest hosted by The SMWS Germany), this 27-year-old Laphroaig with the cask number 29.234 and the moniker “Smoked and salted toffee apples” ended up in my trembling hands; my first and for a long time probably also my last bottling from The Vaults Collection. When I received it, I did what every drammer in their right mind would do with such a precious gem. I opened it straight away, filled up more than half a dozen samples to share with fellow Society members and, once the work was done and the packages were sent out, poured myself a glass. Awestruck and utterly amazed, I spent almost a full evening with the 3cl in front of me. And when my glass was empty, there was only one conclusion I could draw: Yes, this whisky is located in a vertigo-inducing price range that I usually have very little contact points with. But it is also insanely good and worth every penny. If you have the necessary wherewithal, go for it. And if you don’t, it is not a big deal either as I am sure you will find many nice substitutes among the SMWS’s more affordable bottles. Cause as I said before, these are also helluva good!
Eye: Light, shimmering bronze with slim, oily legs crawling down the glass’s curved walls – they are not in a hurry, but also not dragging their feet.
Nose: Early on, there are meaty fruits like mango and papaya on a sooty grillage. Then fresh eucalyptus leaves enshrouded in thin bellows of cigarette smoke. After a while, the aroma gets sweeter. Now, a glass of freshly squeezed apple juice gets poured onto dark-brown cookie crumbs. Some birch wood shines through as well, but instead of resin there is gooey caramel sauce running down the tree’s lean stem.
Palate: This very first sip of this whisky seemed surprisingly light to me. Apparently, it needs a little time to fill the mouth and build itself up. Once this has happened, we get to taste salted caramel and mushy apples – who would have guessed? A bit uncommon for a Laphroaig, the smoke is more ashy than medical at this point. Other flavors I made out include grilled prawns, aged oak, burnt rosemary and fresh-picked nettles (with the latter clearly being the most unique sensation this 27-year-old premium Scotch evoked in me).
Finish: A savory and fulfilling finale during which the whisky proudly displays its Islay heritage. The 29.234 becomes more oily, salty and phenolic now, with the smoke finally shifting towards the distillery’s signature iodine and band-aid character. And quite frankly, I cannot think of a better note for such a special sip to end on!
Type: Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Region: Scotland (Islay)
Age: 27 Years
Alc. volume: 54.9%
Cask type: Re-fill ex-Oloroso sherry butt
Bottle size: 0.7 litres
Price range: ~539.00 Euro
More info: https://www.smws.com/ (Bottler) ; https://www.laphroaig.com/ (Distillery)