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Laphroaig 12 yo (ceramic, anni ’70, OB, 43%)

Giorgio D’Ambrosio and Franco DiLillo have always had the most special stand at the Milan Whisky Festival: filled with historical bottles, it gives the chance to try “blasts from the past”, some collectables, old bottles usually impossible to taste for most of us mere mortals. We’re tasting today a Laphroaig 12 years old bottled (well, ‘pottered’ – it’s a ceramic jug) for Italian market thanks to Bonfanti, the importer at the time – one of the many names that return often in whisky history books. Funnily enough, on the label the name Bonfanti is anglicised into “Bonfant”. Distillation must be from the early ‘60s and late ‘50s, so we know we’re facing a piece of history.

N: we’ve never – ever! – nosed a Laphroaig like this. Open and coating, delicate and characterful: there’s something that’s really impressive for folks like us, that in the early ‘70s weren’t even a playful hypotesis from our parents. There’s a balsamic note: eucapyptus, no wait: camphor!, incredibly intertwined with black fruit (blackberries and blueberries, jam and fresh fruit and juice, but there’s also an emerging strawberry…). Because of this magic fusion of worlds apart, it reminds us of some balsamic herbal candies (like, you know, the swiss ones…). And then there’s a strong medicinal note: bandages, mercurochrome, dental paste; there’s a hint of “medications”, in hospitals. Some licorice, but the gummy one – it seems we’re opening an Haribo pack; some carobs. Peat, as we intend it nowadays, is delicate, silky and velied, and you only get an intuition of it. Iodine, there’s a sea breeze that comes through from time to time. Spectacular juice.

P: some notes we found on the nose get back here, but they are not less surprising. Very balsamic again (eucalyptus), we think of those Elah candies made of mint and licorice, but it’s a delicate and intense note at the same time; everything is tied together by red – well, black fruits, very deep and constantly changing (black and blueberries, sometimes acrid, sometimes juicy and sweet). There’s some milk, oh no, wait: it’s creme fraiche. Again a lot of wood and licorice, with boiled chestnuts; it’s a bit less medicinal than the nose, but the peat steps forward with powerful notes of ash, burnt wood and burnt pork fat. What we’d really love to communicate, though, it the extreme and compact silkiness of the whole experience: it’s soft, smooth, but in a good way.

F: looooong and intense, it starts from the Elah candy note with mint and licorice, sweet and sugary, and then it shifts to that clear sense of burnt pork fat and smoke, burning embers.

Ok, so this is how Laphroaig was once? And why did you wait so much to tell us? What horrendous fault did we commit to deserve the regular 10 years old? Once again, we’re almost crushed by the experience: to think that whiskies like this, so different from modern malts, were common stuff – well, it’s mindblowing. We just had in mind these words by the Italian young poet and academic Marco Malvestio: they are about wine, but we’ll exchange it with whisky and they’ll make perfect sense anyway: “Whisky changes through time, in terms of production processes (that often undergo an influence by fashion) and in terms of single bottles. So because of this there aren’t two identical whiskies, and every bottle has its own personal history: every bottle is unrepeatable. Because of this, it seems clear to me that bringing our attention to whisky really means – above everything else – reflecting on the frailty of life itself and of our existence in the world, on the uniqueness and on the preciousness of every moment of our existence, and on the unpredictable and priceless variety of casual combinations that generate our own individual existence”. 94/100

Recommended soundtrack: Tom Waits – Warm beer, cold women.

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