Booze | December 9, 2021 7:11 am

Review: Laphroaig’s Oldest Release Is Also Its Best

At 33 years, Book 3 of the distillery's Ian Hunter Series reinvents the smoky Islay single malt

A bottle of the new Laphroaig Ian Hunter Series Book Three: Source Protector
Ian Hunter Series Book Three: Source Protector is the oldest Laphroaig in the market
Laphroaig

What we’re drinking: Laphroaig Ian Hunter Series Book Three: Source Protector

Where it’s from: The Islay distillery was founded in 1815 and is currently owned by Beam Suntory. A decidedly peaty Scotch no matter the expression, Laphroaig is the only single malt to earn a Royal Warrant from Prince Charles (that’s a royal seal of approval). 

Why we’re drinking this: The Ian Hunter Story consists of five annual releases (in interesting packages set into books) that document Laphroaig’s former owner, who worked at the distillery from 1908-1954. He’s credited, in part, for getting Laphroaig into America for Prohibition — thanks to its “unique character,” it was determined that the smoky single malt could be sold for medicinal purposes. 

Book Three is specifically meant to honor Hunter’s work in buying up land to protect Laphroaig’s water source, the Kilbride Stream. And at 33 years, it’s the oldest Laphroaig currently on the market.

“We don’t have a lot of old Laphroaig,” as Beam Suntory’s Global Scotch Ambassador Simon Brooking admits. “The 10 year release for us is what we need to maintain and preserve, as it’s the number-one selling Islay single malt.” Thankfully, there was enough old stock here to create 4,800 bottles of the latest Ian Hunter release. 

How it tastes: This is a 33-year old non-chill filtered whisky matured in ex-bourbon barrels (no sherry barrels, as is common with Laphroaig). Coming in at 49.9% ABV, this cask strength release is surprisingly gentle, giving off notes of pears, licorice, vanilla and sage. It’s herbal, fruity and sweet all at once. And surprisingly, the smoke is merely a wonderful afterthought; it’s certainly not front and center. (“Take a sip now, and you’ll get that smoke at around 2 p.m. tomorrow,” as Brooking jokes during our tasting. It does arrive gently several seconds after your first sip.)

Overall, Ian Hunter Book 3 showcases Laphroaig’s character but adds a lot of wonderful new elements. It’s certainly no smoke bomb, and the lack of sherry barrels in the maturation process means you’re going to experience some creamier and brighter notes, with the bourbon barrel notes shining through.  

Meanwhile, if you want to transport your Laphroaig experience into different spirits, here’s another new release ….

a bottle of El Tesoro Mundial Collection: The Laphroaig Edition
Not into a $1,200 single malt? Go with this tequila collaboration from El Tesoro and, indirectly, Laphroaig.
El Tesoro

Bonus review: El Tesoro recently released Mundial Collection: The Laphroaig Edition … basically, a single barrel añejo finished in 10-year old Scotch whisky casks (via Laphroaig, naturally).  Thankfully, those barrels don’t overwhelm the agave, much like the smoke doesn’t overwhelm in the Ian Hunter Series. There’s just the right hint of smoke, but one that’s far different than a mezcal. Call it the tequila for Scotch drinkers. 

Where to buy it: You can find the Ian Hunter Book Three at specialty retailers for $1,250.