Travel retail has always been the testing frontier for the whisky industry, and Laphroaig, celebrating its 200th anniversary under Beam-Suntory is trying an interesting strategy to deal with the price inflation in the whisky industry – smaller bottles. As recently as March of 2015, when it was announced that Laphroaig will be discontinuing the 18 year old, I was able to stock up on a few bottles of the 18 from an American retailer (so they were 750 ml bottles), for $70 each. At the same time, more or less, the FoL 21 year old Laphroaig was released in a 35 cl bottle for £99, effectively £200 for a 70 cl bottle.
Later last year, the new 16 year old was released to travel retail markets (and took some time until it actually appeared at the shops, first seen, and snapped up, by one of my many traveler friends in Vienna, only two weeks ago) also in a 35 cl bottle, for €47.50, basically €95 for a bottle. It seems like the “half bottle” is Laphroaig’s attempt to keep a piece of the mid range travel retail (that which will be looking for an age statement, and pay €100 for 70 cl, as opposed to €60 for a liter of the Laphroaig QA, for example).
This is the opposite move of what Diageo did with the new Mortlach bottles, using 50 cl as the new standard size, while overall setting a “premium” price for them. Could they have done it because Mortlach had no “collective memory” of a price level? Maybe, but seeing how different corporations deal with the overall higher prices in the industry is fascinating. BenRiach, for example, has raised the BenRiach and GlenDronach single cask releases to “market value” over the last two years, using each batch release to raise prices by about 20%, and they are now almost double what they were just a short time back. It seems Laphroaig’s strategy is to ask the consumer to spend the same amount of money with the company, just get half the product.
We’ve seen quite a bit of the first strategy over the past few years. Is the the path of the future?
Laphroaig 16, Travel Retail 200th Anniversary Edition (43% ABV)
Appearance: Amber, slow legs and a lasting necklace.
Nose: Signature Laphroaig medicinal peat, brine, hint of licorice, faint lemon, quite a bit of vanilla and an underlying honey sweetness to it, together with a drying note.
Palate: Peaty but it has a gentleness to it. Vanilla and some oak, grapefruit skin and something drying, limestone like. Medicinal notes with the signature iodine.
Linger: Smoke and a hint of sourness on the tongue, drying effect all over the mouth, some spice, specifically black pepper, on the back of the throat, but it’s not too harsh.
This is a lovely Laphroaig, rather refined, and one that every Laphroaig fan would enjoy. Given the size, I personally found the fill levels declining alarmingly fast, suggesting that I would probably buy them in pairs….