Another brilliant Laphroaig this week, which is very limited and going to be very rare in Australia. And one that I very nearly missed out on!
Laphroaig's Cairdeas range is released annually in June, to coincide with Feis Ile, the Islay festival. All the Islay distilleries do a special release for the festival, but only Ardbeg and Laphroaig's bottlings are generally obtainable for those who can't make it to the festival, and/or don't want to spend double (or more) the original asking price on the secondary / auction market. Laphroaig's Cairdeas releases aren't anywhere near as plentiful or obtainable as Ardbeg's 'day' bottlings, but they can be purchased from the distillery's online store if you're quick (and in some cases, if you win the ballot), and are sometimes imported into a few other countries, the USA in particular.
Over the last couple of years, aside from purchasing from the distillery itself (and then paying shipping and customs charges), a certain large Australian retailer has bought in stock of the Cairdeas, without any fanfare or much effort, at a reasonable price. Unfortunately I have it on good authority that this retailer has passed on the 2016 release, and it has long since sold out from the distillery and from most online stores. I was lucky enough to get a bottle in a swap, but if like me you decided against buying from the distillery in the hope that this retailer would come through for us again, well, happy hunting, and I hope you find a bottle!
The Cairdeas (Gaelic for friendship, referring to the Friends of Laphroaig, and pronounced "car-chiss") bottlings are usually something a little different from the distillery, bottled at higher strength than the standard releases, and bottled in clear glass rather than the usual green. Last year's release was a very special one for Laphroaig's 200th anniversary (reviewed here), while 2014's was double-matured / finished in Amontillado sherry casks (reviewed here), and both were excellent. The 2016 release is different again, although it's back to the double-matured / finished style of the '13 and '14 bottlings, as it has been matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, before being double-matured / finished in Madeira fortified wine casks. Which is a first for Laphroaig, and is still a little unusual for Scotch whisky.
Not familiar with Madeira? It's a fortified wine produced on its namesake island in Portugal, and the wine is heated & cooled repeatedly, and often exposed to air, to alter it's flavour. This method of ageing was apparently discovered by accident after the producers tasted some unsold wine which had been shipped and returned. They found the temperature variation in the ship's hold had altered the wine for the better, and decided to try to emulate the process and make it their standard ageing method. Madeira can be dry or sweet depending on the grape varietal and style, and the unusual maturation method means the wines are much more stable than others, and can be stored (and also matured) for much longer periods without spoiling.
This 2016 Cairdeas was bottled at 51.6%, which like all recent Cairdeas releases, the strength of the bottling reflects the year of release (2015 was 51.5%, 2014 was 51.4% etc.). It's non-chill filtered, and I don't believe artificial colouring has been added (but it would be nice if that was stated on the packaging). As for pricing, it was around the same as previous Cairdeas' at the time of release, but has since almost doubled in value on the secondary market, and will likely continue to rise from there. Sigh.
Matured in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, then finished in Madeira wine casks. Non-chill filtered.
Colour: Polished bright orange copper.
Nose: Rich & slightly creamy, quite spicy as well - aniseed especially. Orange zest, milky salted caramel. A little rubber, soft ashy smoke but quite mild. Toasted dessicated coconut, earthy peat and some dried raspberry with more time.
Texture: Medium-weight, rich & spicy. No heat at all.
Taste: Lovely big punchy, ashy, herbal peat and a big pinch of spice - aniseed again, plus some hot cinnamon, and mild chilli and clove. Milky caramel again, like a jersey caramel, and creamy orange lollies.
Finish: Medium-length, lots of spices again - aniseed & chilli return, plus maybe some juniper? The orange comes back again, but drier now. Then sweet peat and salted nuts 'til the end.
Score: 4 out of 5.
Notes: Very good, and quite different! I'm not usually a big fan of big orange notes in whisky, but it does work in this case, especially with the spice and peat alongside. I must admit I'm yet to try a Madeira wine, I might have to give it a go to add to my arsenal, so to speak, but I would have to say the orange and that rather different spicy-ness would have come from that finishing in the Madeira casks. So they've certainly made a difference!
Another very interesting and very enjoyable Cairdeas from Laphroaig, then. John Campbell has worked his magic once again! It's a big shame that the aforementioned Australian retailer passed on this one, I don't think they should have. But what's done is done, and I'm no businessman. I'd happily pay the standard retail price for this one, but I'd hesitate before spending the sort of dough required on the secondary auction sites. So if you missed out on a bottle and don't want to sacrifice a kidney to the cause, see if you can find it in a whisky bar in your corner of the world, and give it a go. Happy hunting!
A big thanks to my anonymous source for the sample of this amazing malt, highly appreciated good sirs!