For part 2 of my comparison of 18 year-old whiskies, I am reviewing an 18 year-old Islay and an 18 year-old Speyside. In my opinion, Islay whisky is bottled best at younger ages because the peat smoke stays lively and fresh. On the contrary, Speyside whisky is bottled best at older ages because the light, floral, fruity new make benefits from the extra years in the oak to bring the complexity out in the whisky. Of course, like my first comparison review, whenever you are buying an old and rare Scotch, do your research. Not all whiskies are created the same, and not all whiskies age well.
Before getting to the reviews, I have to set forth a disclaimer. I have not bought a bottle of either of these Scotches. I have drank the Laphroaig 18 yr. on several occasions, but I have only tried The Glenlivet 18 yr. on one occasion. Therefore, take my tasting notes with a bit more salt than usual.
Laphroaig 18 yr. is bottled at 96 proof, giving it a little more body. On the nose, Laphroaig 18 yr. is classic Laphroaig. There are notes of salted pork, peat, smoke, fresh barley, seaweed, and soft honey. The palate has a solid backbone of toasted nuts, but the salt and peat of Laphroaig never leaves. There are also notes of dark vanilla, honey, salted caramel, and some oak. The palate lacks structure, but it is still big, full, and complex. The finish is a wonderful, long Laphroaig finish, with some lingering sweet oak surrounded by the peat and smoke of a Laphroaig whisky.
Overall, this is fantastic whisky that intensifies a lot of the subtle flavors in other Laphroaig expressions. However, it lacks structure, and it seems to wander as a whisky. That is not a bad thing; it is just a difference between the 18 year and other expressions of Laphroaig. My grade: B+/A-. Price: $90-100/750ml. This is a very good whisky, but there are better expressions from Laphroaig that are available at better prices.
The Glenlivet 18 year-old is a much different whisky. It is bottled at 86 proof, slightly higher than the 12 and the 15 year-old expressions. On the nose, there is some oloroso sherry, but is not overpowering. There are notes of hazelnuts, walnuts, cereal grains, and agave nectar. The palate is sheer brilliance. It opens with sherried nuts, but it moves to a complex sweetness of cinnamon apples and spiced dark honey. The finish is long, with a lot of oloroso sherry. It is warming, with some drying oak and sweet vanilla.
Overall, this is an awesome whisky. The palate is one of the best I have tried. It takes the fruitiness of The Glenlivet spirit, and transforms it into a complex, warming dram perfect for all seasons. My grade: A. Price: $80-90/750ml. This is an incredible dram, worth the money for the most special of occasions.
Between the two whiskies, I clearly prefer The Glenlivet 18. However, they are both whiskies to be savored, and they should both be on your holiday gift list if such things are your flavor. I believe The Glenlivet 18 is the best of the range, whereas I believe there are at least two Laphroaig whiskies (Quarter Cask and 10 year-old Cask Strength) that are much better value than the 18. Of course, what you like is all up to you. Happy Thanksgiving everybody, and let it ride!