The following appeared on Whiskyhost on February 15, 2010:

A small group of us enjoyed the first fireside tasting in December when we tasted Lagavulin six ways.  We vowed then that the future called for more fireside tastings.  Unfortunately, January wasn't kind and we couldn't get together before the middle of February.  However, it was well worth the wait.  Laphroaig four ways reinforced the difference between the carefully manicured official distillery bottlings and the rugged, raw independent bottlings.  We tasted Leapfrog (bottled 1999), the official 15 Year Old, Signatory 16 Year Old (bottled 2007), and the official 18 Year Old.  The following tasting notes reflect the thoughts and comments of the fireside tasters:

Leapfrog, distilled in 1987 and bottled in 1999 by Murray McDavid, 12 Year Old, 46% ABV

C: Pinot grigot

N: Granny Smith apples, warm hot cross buns, clean light smoke, apple wood

P: Oily up front, lapsang souchong tea, white pepper, white grape, drying towards the end

F: Dry, green grape flavors remain

Leapfrog was first released as a 9 Year Old, then 11 Year Old, and finally, as a 12 Year Old.  Tasting the 9 Year Old next to the standard 10 Year Old (at a University of Aberdeen Whisky Society tasting) remains one of my favorite whisky memories.  The 9 Year Old attacked the tongue.  Explosive and feisty, the palate never stood a chance.  This 12 Year Old version is very, very good (even if it's no 9 Year Old) and stood up well to everything that followed -- note that it was oily on the palate but quickly dried out in the finish.  Hard to find but don't hesitate to pick up a bottle if you find it in an auction.

Laphroaig 15 Year Old, Official Bottling, 43% ABV

C: Amber

N: Bananas Foster, apricots, more caramelized sugar, charcoal smoke

P: Beef (rather than the usual pork), a little more apricot, the smoke gently kisses the tongue

F: Short, smooth, subtle smoke

I say it every time I sample this: beautifully put together but lacking most of the characteristics that I look for in a memorable Islay.  The lowest ABV of the bunch, it didn't really stand a chance from this point forward.

Laphroaig, distilled in 1991 and bottled in 2007 by Signatory Vintage, 16 Year Old, 55.1% ABV

C: Green gold

N: Butter brickle ice-cream, sooty, mesquite bar-b-q

P: Creosote, Turkish delight, smoke and coal dust

F: Black pepper, more coal, more soot, cardamon lingers

Exquisite.  Lots of alcohol but not abrasive.  The 'butter brickle ice-cream' comment hit the nail on the head and resonated throughout the rest of the tasting.  This type of bottling demonstrates how great the 15 Year Old could have been.

Laphroaig 18 Year Old, Official Bottling, 48% ABV

Color: Weak tea

Nose: Baked pears with ginger, piney, toffee-custard donuts (from Greggs, if you're in Scotland!)

Palate: Sweet but also smoky rocks around a camp fire

Finish: Short, sweetness remains

Another beautifully constructed official release from Laphroaig.  I much prefer this to the 15 (raising the ABV 5% doesn't hurt).  Overall, the bottling is sweeter than I like from Islay (I prefer salt and spice) but still tasty and a potential change of pace among your Laphroaig options.

Bonus 5th coming up -- sometimes you say enough good things about a particular bottling and your host just has to open up his last bottle of it!   

Laphroaig, distilled in 2000 and bottled in 2007 by Signatory, 7 Year Old, 58% ABV

Color: Reflective gold

Nose: Oddfellows sweets, bandaids, big red chewing gum, dairy cow in the very back

Palate: Incredibly vibrant with coal, soot, and cardamon in spades

Finish: Lasting and unforgettable: "Like licking the inside of a chimney"

Easily the best bottling of the night, and we had some excellent bottlings here.  Say it with me: "Young, smoky and highly alcoholic!"