The Road To Laphroaig: Part 1
Recently, editor Jay, better known as t8ke, traveled to Scotland to select one of Laphroaig’s first single casks for the US market and his single barrel program. This is a multi part series outlining his travels and the images and content he took along the way. If you’re just catching up now, here’s the segments so far:
As many trips start for me, I landed in Kentucky. How Scotland and Kentucky tie together is a bit of a long story, but it’s easy enough to sum up all at once. Early in February, I got the call that we were going to be allocated one of the United States’ only single cask selections of Laphroaig Single Malt Scotch Whiskey.
For reference, this hasn’t ever existed before. Laphroaig has never had a single cask program. Much like the expanse of single barrels of bourbon I select for r/bourbon, their program is set to look the same way, once established. 2022 is the first of a 2 year pilot sanctioned by Beam/Suntory to test the viability of a Scotch selection program.
Much like this program’s start, it is borne out of the fervor of the American desire for single barrel bourbon. As a result, I met up with friend and colleague Nick from Greens Farms in Kentucky, so we could sync up, buy some bourbon barrels, and prep for our embarkment to Scotland.
At this point, it’s more than well known that I pick a lot of single barrels each year. Last year, I selected more than 120 for the program, and this year we’ll eclipse it. As a result, our days ahead of departure were packed. We started at Limestone Branch distillery for a pair of Yellowstone barrels. Lead by Stephen Fante, arguably the most colorful man in bourbon, we toured the facility and settled in for a long selection. What’s long about it? You proof each barrel to your liking – tasting at a variety of proofs to ultimately select which your barrel will rest at. 5 barrels at 4 different proofs equals a lot of tasting, but two stood out to us: a brown sugar bomb at 102pf and a ripe, fruity, tobacco beast at 115pf.
Moving on from Limestone Branch, we headed straight for Lux Row – a sister distillery under the Luxco umbrella and home to two well known brands: Ezra Brooks and Rebel. Ezra Brooks features a high rye bourbon mashbill, and Rebel features the wheated mashbill. We selected two Ezra and two Rebel – both to be bottled at 60% ABV. I’ll deep dive into each of these Kentucky picks, but our 60ish hours in state yielded a touch over 20 barrels, a great windfall for the program. 1792, Knob Creek, Bulleit, and more.
Departure day approached, we had a noon-ish flight from Louisville to Detroit, where we’d head to Amsterdam, then to Glasgow, then to Islay. A long two days or so of travel. The TSA recommends 3 hours of lead time when traveling internationally. It took us about 7 minutes to check in and clear security. That left us with 2 hours and 53 minutes to burn before departure. Perfect time for a barrel pick. I’ve never picked a barrel in an airport before, but it also wouldn’t be the last of the trip. We packed several kits with us each, so we dug into a Rossville Union we had with us. Felt kind of strange to pick Indiana distillate in a Kentucky airport while headed to Amsterdam, but life is full of twists. Rossville has some sleepers in their program, and while it takes some time to find the winners, we had one on our hands. More to come on that selection later. We headed to the airport bar, tracked down a snack and a bloody, and burned some time with paperwork and spreadsheet updates.
The flight to Detroit takes about an hour, we were there before we knew it, and turned around headed for Amsterdam. If you haven’t been to the Detroit airport, the 2 major terminals are connected by an underground tunnel with a simulation of the Aurora Borealis, which is pretty neat. I’m a sucker for dumb stuff like that, but it’s fun. A glass or two of champ (loving abbreviation of champagne, my favorite beverage of all time) later, it was time to board. It was interesting getting on the plane for Amsterdam – if you had a final destination near Ukraine, you got an extra stay in the terminal to chat with folks about your intents. Thankfully, the plan was still Islay, so we breezed right through. Traveling internationally is expensive, especially when planned last minute (we planned the trip in 4 weeks) so we took a look at the folks in first class and headed to the middle of the plane. Seats weren’t bad, dinner was recognizable, and we prepped to burn the 8 hour flight to Amsterdam and hopefully get a nap in. The pilot informed us that barrel picks were not allowed in flight (I was so hoping for a Mile High Club Pick) so we shelved that idea and slept the flight off.
We arrived in Amsterdam with enough time to wake up, freshen up a touch, crush an airport Heineken and wait for our flight to Glasgow. The airport is fairly sprawling, but with our gates next to each others, a brief customs stop and the need for a drink, we didn’t venture about too much. We’d have plenty of time on the return. We hopped on our plane after a trolley out to the tarmac, and boarded, ready to get to Scotland.
Arriving in Glasgow was pretty surreal – it was my first time in Scotland at all, and we had a hell of an itinerary ahead of us. Our market representative, deemed the Protector of the Peat, would meet us in Glasgow at our hotel. This gave us about 6 hours to burn, and we were told our rooms would be ready in an hour or two. We noted the Ferrari 812 out front, and headed inside.
We met a man who would quickly become an important part of our stay: Adam, the bartender. Young, spry, and in love with the nuclear daiquiri. A real scholar and a gentleman, if you ask me. He’d pick a barrel with us before the end of the trip.
We had a couple drinks, knocked out more spreadsheet work (seriously, selling barrels while on the road, and picking 20+ more means lots of paperwork) and were informed our rooms were ready. Nap time.
Evening brought dinner, we headed off to a local restaurant named Ox & Finch for a smattering of local food before a night trying to offest jet lag. Cod cheeks are pretty great, if you ask me, but the lamb mince was the star of the show. Also featured: blood sausage, more fish and my companions first brush with Affogato. We finished up, headed out for a nightcap and then called it a night so we could get ready for the next day. Our taxi to Islay would arrive in the morning, and we’d begin the drive to the Kennecraig Ferry to make our way over to Islay.
Stuart greeted us in the morning. He’d be our ride to Islay. He and his sprinter van were ready to get moving, but we took a moment to admire an atypical sight. The Ferrari 812 Superfast out front of the hotel was to be towed, but nobody had any idea how to tow it, least of all the tow man. We spectated for about 20 minutes, and then took off, wondering if it would be there when we returned a couple days later.
The drive to Kennecraig ferry would take a couple of hours, and the ferry ride would take two hours more. Once outside of Glasgow, we stopped near Loch Lomond for our first wee dram of Laphroaig, our official welcome to Scotland. The peat tastes sweeter near Scottish water, and we were ready for the rest of our drive to Islay.
Half an hour later, we stopped at the pass called ‘Rest And Be Thankful’ – a phrase many of you know if you’re Scotch enthusiasts. We enjoyed our second wee dram, noted the incredible winds, and hopped back in the van to make our way to the ferry and on to our first round of Guiness Golf.
More to come in Part II, March 21st, 2022.