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Sunday, 10 April 2016

Laphroaig An Cuan Mor Whisky Review!

Another travel-exclusive Laphroaig! I love the PX expression, which offers brilliant value for money. So how does An Cuan Mor compare?

Well on face value, it can't compete, at least as far as value goes. It's a duty free-only 700ml bottle, selling for $115 AUD, while the PX is a 1L bottle, selling for around $100 AUD. Both are bottled at 48% and are non-chill filtered, and neither carries an age statement. But all is not as it seems, and there's a reason for that higher cost...

There were a few rumours on the interweb that the mysterious An Cuan Mor is actually 18 year old Laphroaig, finished in European Oak casks, with no mention of the previous contents of said casks. But I wasn't so sure. So I asked the venerable and ever-helpful Dan Woolley, Beam Suntory's national brand ambassador for Australia, who checked with the venerable and ever-helpful John Campbell (yes, the John Campbell), who shared a little golden nugget of information:

Laphroaig An Cuan Mor has been matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks (from Maker's Mark) for around eight years, followed by a second maturation of a further two years in... wait for it... virgin European oak casks! So there's no mention of the previous contents on the label, because there were no previous contents! I wasn't actually planning on reviewing this one for a couple of weeks yet, but after learning this, I couldn't resist bringing it forward in the line-up.

The use of virgin (a.k.a new / fresh) casks of any sort is still rather unusual in the Scotch world, especially for such a relatively long length of time, as the new oak can overpower many spirits if it's given the chance, giving too much wood influence (known as being over-oaked). The use of virgin European oak casks is even more unusual, largely because of the expense involved, with no previous owners helping to offset some of the cost. But Laphroaig is not just any spirit, and these guys definitely know what they're doing. Getting thirsty now...

Laphroaig Select also contains some virgin oak-matured whisky, and the travel-exclusive QA is finished in virgin oak casks, but both use the American Oak variety (hence the name, Quercus Alba), and both of those are down in strength to 40%. An Cuan Mor (Gaelic for 'Big Ocean', as a tribute to the distillery's proximity to the Atlantic) is up in strength to a much-better 48%, and is non-chill filtered. One could interpret the name to suggest more of a coastal influence in this expression than others, but that may not be the case here. So let's find out...
Laphroaig An Cuan Mor, NAS, 48%. Islay, Scotland.
Matured for around 8 years in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, then around 2 years in virgin European oak casks. Non-chill filtered.

Colour: Copper.

Nose: Just gorgeous. Peaty, salty & sweet. Quite mineral-y and a little flinty as well. Sweet, fresh cigar boxes. Burnt sweet apricot jam. Furniture polish, and toasted oak. Becomes more fruity with more time, hint of strawberry lip balm?

Texture: Medium-weight, no heat at all, juicy. Smashing!

Taste: Dry, mineral-y peat, some trademark Laphroaig ash & salt as well. Candied fruits and warm, sweet & spicy oak behind.

Finish: Long, but becoming quite soft. More damp, earthy peat now, and more coastal. Sea salt flakes and seaweed, and more of that warm, buttery oak. Mouth-watering.

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Delicious, and very drinkable. It could certainly pass for an older whisky than it actually is, as the extra oak has tamed it a little, as you would expect. I can see why they went the NAS route with this one, and it's a shame that that may turn some people away. It shouldn't, because An Cuan Mor is well worth giving a go, if you ask me. A very interesting and quite unique expression of my beloved Laphroaig.

But the obvious question is: how does it compare to the PX expression? It's not that easy though, they're basically totally different and thus difficult to compare. It's hard to overlook the excellent value of the PX of course, plus I'd say it's more 'Laphroaig-y', but I'd also say An Cuan Mor is worth the extra because it is a little different to what you'd expect, without straying too far. These guys can do no wrong, in my book!

Speaking of which, there's a new Laphroaig coming! Named 'Lore', it's another NAS expression, but it's bottled at 48% and is non-chill filtered. Supposedly the 'richest of the rich' and 'the richest ever' (big claims there!), it's made up of whisky matured in both European and American oak, including smaller quarter casks, ex-sherry casks and ex-bourbon barrels, of a variety of ages. It won't be cheap though, it's going for 75 GBP from the distillery, so we'll have to wait & see what it sells for in Australia. As usual, I can't wait to try it!