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Vive Laphroaig: Scotland's own bracer hits our shores.

Does Liquor Run In Your Family?

Laphroaig distiller Iain Henderson waits 12 years to souse you

By Edward Crouse

It's a little something called "phenolics." Former marine engineer, and current head of Laphroaig Whisky, Iain Henderson recently came to our offices after hours to chat about drinking and deep-six the editorial department with his bracing brew.

Handing me a slide of the isle of Islay, Henderson said "phenolics is the peaty smokiness you get that's unique to our whisky."

Uh-huh. Peat. Mr. Moss, meet Mr. Peat. Mr. See, Mr. Weed.

This elemental exchange only begins to coalesce when you've got a dram of it in front of you and half of one running down your gullet.

"You should probably get ready for it."

It's the Peat, Man: The current head of Laphroaig Whisky, Iain Henderson.

Laphroaig is brazenly, almost freakishly, different from the other whiskies that lately have filled my nights with wrong. It doesn't just stroll down to your kidneys like our velveteen friend Chivas. It doesn't mellowly dribble down in the style of Glenlivet (which, incidentally, shares Islay land with Laphroaig and six other distilleries). Nor is it anything like heart-bracer and heater Maker's Mark bourbon.

Laphroaig positively nails its flavor--its 12-year age initially tastes like 40,000.

"Wait before you swallow."

It was worth the wait, for in a slug of Laphroaig is a wash of rocks, glass, the sea, salt, moss, a shanty and a song. No joke.

The next half of the dram had my sea legs shaking, but it was enough to take my mind off absent friends. He tossed a second green bottle my way, and I had to ask him something:

"Do you have a favorite drinking song?"

"There're so many."

"How 'bout ... ?" Pause for phenolic infusion.

Two shots later, I remembered and crooned:

"Rye whiskey, rye whiskey, rye whiskey I crave/If I don't have rye whiskey I'll go to my grave ..."

He nodded. "Except what you've got there is a single-malt whisky."

Real whisky. Touché.

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From the April 17, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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