Saturday, April 30, 2011

Alas, The Tale of Two Corks: Why I Love Laphroaig, but Loath its Cork

I had already forgotten my first experience with a disintegrating cork until I looked for its replacement. I just opened a Laphroaig 10 year old. It sat on my counter along with three other Laphroaig bottles waiting to pop. Apparently, I am not the only one to experience this Laphroaig phenomenon. The situation is a persistent annoyance, among others, effecting the cork of at least three Laphroaig expressions. Two are photographed.

Laphroaig ten is truly a water of life that makes me salivate. This Distilleries are liquid gold for me, but blessed with uniformly exceptional slightly oily, yet smooth, peaty Islay expressions. Some with subtle, yet others with blatant distinctions, due to age, conditions, peat, or well executed wood management.

Yes, I carefully removed the foil sheath, then I slowly rocked the cork back and forth. Ah, then that odd sensation with no hesitation halting the Quercas suber breakdown. My eyes witnessed, my hands felt, and my mental mindset was adjusted. The agony of delay; yes, breakage! Crap! My new Laphroaig ten was now a bottle without a functional cork. I resorted to searching for an effective corkscrew to persist in the extraction of my first dram.

Beam is blessed with this top contender for Islay Gold.  Aged in Makers Mark Casks, among other quality refills, some sherry, others port, there is something about the Laphroaig synergy of condition, distillation and bourbon cask aging that pleases nose, tongue and gullet. The smooth licorice twig bonfire that exudes the sea side like syrup are unlike the complexity, spice and pepper that Ardbeg 10 year old's peat brings on. Laphroaig is simple, yet sweet and syrupy for a single malt with oily Islay goodness. It's a distinct peat perfection that is aged well and affordable. 

It lacks the acquired full throttle ppm Islay flavor that Port Charlotte, Caol Isla or arguably Isle of Skye's Talisker bring to the table. One layman commenter, Ralfy, over exaggerates the Laphroaig peat reek for the arguable benefit of the newcomer.  Perhaps, there are a few who may need time to adjust to the more peaty expressions. Laphroaig is a far cry from the other Islays in coal, spice and pepper overdrive that is less favored among some who savor single malt.  I liked Laphoaig the first time that I tried it.

The Froig Ten still makes the Lagavulin 12 look like an overindulgence at its price point, but there is an appreciation. I drink more Laphroaig! Each distillery is distinct, some require more effort to the golden dram; by analogy, most learn to respect both Latour and Margaux for their taste profiles.  For me, its not hard to find a satisfying, yet affordable Laphroaig.

Fortunately, Laphroaig is still run by a potentially dying breed on the verge of a takeover from the Malt Trusts.  I don't consider Beam to be 'quite' one of them. Yes, some distilleries deserve respect and higher sales that ultimately generate more profit, not suck up shelf space. Laphroaig moves, but as more corks break and spirit evaporates, memories endure.

That said, I look forward to the day that Laphroaig Cairceas and Triple Wood grace Our Shores. I remain a Friend of Laphroaig.  Just a slightly perturbed consumer of its corks. What's with those disintegrating corks?

Ah, everything seemed so good. I was ready to experience Islay Greatness. The appreciation that Prince of Wales, among others, have a good palate. I can only wish for an audience with ye royal single malt cache of Laphroaig. 

Well, what does Prince Charles, or his sons, really know?  Perhaps, he is too gracious to mention the unmentionable.  Okay, flash forward, I look at my empty cache of the bottles that I have completed and see a Laphroaig Quarter Cask. The Linked IN favorite of one member, who posts of its accolades.  I cannot call it my favorite among Laphroaig expressions, but it certainly worthy as evidenced by its current expression; empty!

This seemed like an acceptable substitute as witnessed by its emptiness. I believed its cork was an appropriate candidate to replace the Laphroaig 10 cork now lying in pieces on my counter with a few tidbits sprinkled within the green atmosphere, below.  I opened the metal top for my next revelation; another broken cork.

What are the chances of two Laphroaig corks disintegrating?  What about the Whisky Magazine Laphroaig cork breakage section linked above? What does this suggest from committed Friends? Well, we are in need of better cork! If not, a synthetic cork like the one that graces The Glenrothes, perhaps. We need something that will last. If not, then customers and retailers should be graced with a supply of spare corks and an explanation. Perhaps, there is a good explanation why the corks break that justifies keeping the present cork stock.  I hope that Laphroaig can explain and even make fun of that fact for marketing sake.

Is this the first time that I have witnessed the consequences of poor quality corks? No. I have Four Prohibition Era Old Hermitage Bourbon Bottles. I have one Belle of Marion Bourbon Bottle. Three of four Old Hermitages completely evaporated. The third is half full, but went cloudy.  The Belle of Marion has a high quality cork, the bourbon is clear as day, and it as close to the fill line as you can get for an expression bottled in the 1920s.

John and Simon; you are brilliant marketers and producers of a tremendously tasty single malt. It is certainly one that I am willing to store, just like my grandfather did when he thought that he preserved three bottles of Old Hermitage for posterity.  However, we just need those bottles to be around when, we or are adult kids, want to drink them. We need a cork that can not only retain spirit, but prevent it from decay and spillage over time, not until delivery and its first breath of fresh air! We have sacrificed enough to the greedy angels.

I certainly hope that we can find this Kingdom some cork that it will afford. I have been fortunate to avoid such an experience with any other distillery, but perhaps it is in the making. Alas poor Old Hermitage, I knew it well, Laphroaig!

Any thoughts?  BTW, where did all those Scotch Chix go, anyway?