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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015 Whisky Review!

This is one very special Laphroaig. All the Cairdeas bottlings are special of course, but this one is about as Laphroaig as it gets.

2015 was quite a year for Laphroaig. They celebrated their 200th anniversary, and released a number of special whiskies to commemorate the occasion. They also sent John Campbell, their distillery manager, to Australia for a quick tour, and I was lucky enough to interview the legend himself, which you can read about here. As for the whiskies, there was the revival of the 15 yo, the 16 yo travel-exclusive, the 21 yo Friends of Laphroaig bottling, the incredible sherry-matured 32 yo, and this little baby, the 2015 Cairdeas.

This 2015 release is a very unique bottling, which is highly unlikely to ever be repeated. But to explain why it's unique, we need to go over a few points about the distillery. Laphroaig floor-malts it's own barley, which is cold-smoked using their own local peat, then dried in a separate step. Which results in around 60 ppm of phenols on the malt. But because the floor-maltings can't keep up with the quantities required, they source the majority of their barley from Port Ellen maltings (as do most Islay distilleries). Well, this 2015 Cairdeas has been made using only the floor-malted barley, malted at the distillery!

The next point is that the distillery has a total of seven stills, comprised of three wash stills, and four spirit stills, one of which is around double the size of the other three. In this case, the smaller spirit stills produce a sweeter, fruitier spirit, while the larger still produces a heavier, more oily spirit. The results are then combined to achieve the desired new make spirit. Well, this 2015 Cairdeas has been made using only the smaller spirit stills!

The third point is that the distillery has a number of warehouses on site, some of which are traditional dunnage warehouses (dirt floors, casks stacked 2-3 high, stone walls, largely open to the elements), and some of which are modern racked warehouses (modern materials, casks stacked up to the ceiling), along with some off-site warehouses on the Scottish mainland. Well, this 2015 Cairdeas has been wholly matured in one of the traditional dunnage warehouses, and in particular, the dunnage warehouse no. 1, which sits right on the edge of the Atlantic ocean!

So essentially what we have here is an older-style Laphroaig, produced in the most traditional way possible, to commemorate the distillery's 200th anniversary. And on that note, unlike the last two releases, there's been no cask-finishing here (2013 was finished in port casks, and 2014 was finished in amontillado sherry casks-reviewed here), this Cairdeas has been wholly-matured in first-fill ex-Maker's Mark bourbon casks. And while there's no official age statement, it's spent roughly 11-12 years in those casks, after being distilled in mid-2003. It was then bottled at 51.5%, without chill filtration. Something tells me I'm in for something good... and that song is now stuck in your head. You're welcome!
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015, 51.5%. Islay, Scotland.
Matured for 11-12 years in first-fill ex-bourbon casks. Produced using only the floor-malted barley from the distillery, using only the smaller spirit stills, and matured in 'no.1' dunnage warehouse. Non-chill filtered, unknown colouring (likely natural).

Colour: Light-ish gold.

Nose: Fresh, light and very coastal. More medicinal and coastal than usual, and there's no smoke at all here. Fresh, sweet peat, becoming more vegetal with time. Citrus as well - fizzy lemonade, a little lime. Marker / nikko pen, some cologne, wet earth (almost a sweet mud - but in a good way!) and salt. Smashing.

Texture: Gorgeous. Medium weight. No heat, well balanced but nice & peaty. 

Taste: Ooooh. Very peaty & ashy, and that's a hot ash. A drier and considerably spicier peat now, and pretty different to the normal peat influence I'd expect from Laphroaig. There's a little subtle smoke in there, mixed with the ash. Plus more magic marker and earth. A salty, lemon-y sweetness behind, and a little cola.

Finish: Long. peaty & ashy, still that hot ash and dry & spicy peat, but with the salt, citrus and also surprising sweetness behind. Becomes sweeter and quite malty as the peat starts to subside. Lovely stuff.

Score: 4.5 out of 5. 

Notes: I nearly gave this one a 4 out of 5, but I've since fallen even deeper in love with it while typing out my notes. So I've amended the score at the last minute. A truly brilliant whisky, without any unnecessary frills or fanciness, just pure, honest, authentic Laphroaig. Certainly a must-have for fans of the distillery, although it is markedly different to what you may expect. More medicinal (but not overwhelmingly so) and peaty, and less smoky than what I would expect from your typical Laphroaig. But it's every bit as beautiful. 

This just goes to show the massive difference Laphroaig's floor-malting and cold-smoking processes have on the finished whiskies, even if it's 'blended in' for the other expressions. What a fitting way to celebrate their 200th birthday. Bravo Mr. Campbell! 

The history and heritage in this one speak volumes, after all this is probably as close as we can get to tasting Laphroaig from a century ago. And boy does it work. Unfortunately it seems to be completely sold out, at least in Australia, and as far as I'm aware only one retailer ever secured stock of it (and thank christ for that). I'm certainly glad I managed to get my hands on it before it was too late.  

Since we're on the subject of Cairdeas, Laphroaig will be releasing their 2016 bottling at Feis Ile shortly, which is back to the previous year's style. This one is finished in Madeira casks, which is a first for Laphroaig as far as I'm aware, and is still uncommon in Scotch in general. That one should be very, very interesting, and no doubt it'll be delicious. Fingers crossed that it shows up in Australia ASAP. 

Cheers!