I'm struggling to express just how much anticipation I'm feeling today (yes, all day). This whisky is something I've always wanted to try, and I never expected to be tasting and reviewing it just a couple of weeks after it was actually released on Islay! It helps to have good friends in high places, and I really can't thank them enough!
At the time of writing, this year's version of the annual Cairdeas bottling hadn't even been released on Laphroaig's own website, due to some major technical issues. Both it and batch 009 of the cask strength 10 year old will be available soon though, and then they'll probably be unavailable again soon after! We may end up getting stock of the Cairdeas in Australia though, usually 3-6 months after release, as long as a certain large retailer makes the right decision and brings it to the waiting hordes of Aussie Laphroaig lovers! This year's bottling is considerably bigger than previous Cairdeas' were in terms of volume, with around 32,000 bottles released, so keep your fingers crossed folks!
OK I've strung you along enough, what is this whisky I'm getting overexcited about? It's the 2017 Laphroaig Cairdeas, and you'll find four little words on the label: Cask Strength Quarter Cask. Yes, it's a cask strength version of the excellent Quarter Cask bottling from Laphroaig's regular 'core' range. Normally reduced to a still-respectable 48% ABV before bottling, this very special version weighs in at a pretty substantial 57.2%! It still follows the proven maturation method of the regular Quarter Cask bottling, which is a mix of 5-11 year old Laphroaig taken from ex-Maker's Mark bourbon casks, mostly first-fill, that are married together and finished for around 7 months in smaller 'quarter' casks. Those are also first-fill ex-bourbon casks, but they're re-coopered and re-sized to a capacity of 125-litres, a quarter of the size of a sherry butt. These smaller casks provide the maturing spirit with more wood contact due to the smaller surface area, which in the case of the regular version of Quarter Cask results in a deliciously sweet, rich and creamy whisky, without losing that beloved peat and smoke that Laphroaig is renowned for.
The regular version of Quarter Cask is already extremely popular, and was my favourite Laphroaig expression for quite some time. In fact it's still my favourite 'core range' Laphroaig bottling, so the anticipation for this cask strength version is pretty damn high! This Cairdeas limited release promises to be similar to the regular version, but with the volume turned up, and was actually decided on after the distillery received masses of requests for a cask strength version of 'QC'. Like the regular version it's non-chill filtered and naturally coloured, and I just can't wait any longer!
Mix of 5-11 year old ex-bourbon cask Laphroaig, married and finished in 125-litre quarter casks for around 7 months. 32,000 bottles. Non-chill filtered and naturally coloured.
Colour: Pale yellow gold. Nothing like the above photo. Definitely natural.
Nose: Super soft, quite subtle for a Laphroaig. Damp, vegetal peat, menthol cigarettes, charred oak. A creamy vanilla fudge, a little salt and fresh kelp. Pencil shavings, and demerara sugar crystals (aka coffee crystals).
Texture: Oh yeah! Light-medium weight, soft and velvety, no heat at all despite the strength.
Taste: Yummy! Incredibly easy to drink. Vanilla toffee sweetness, then a wave of creamy, earthy peat and a little pepper. Some spearmint lollies and a little salted caramel dessert sauce.
Finish: Medium length. Drying slightly, a building ashy smoke and driftwood embers. Then the menthol returns, with some very soft earthy peat underneath. Creamy vanilla fudge again, slightly bitter oak, another touch of white pepper, and some salted caramel again.
Score: 4 out of 5.
Notes: So, so good! So soft, so warm & welcoming, I just wish I had some more! I'd heard a bit of negative feedback on the interweb, but I think those people might be missing the point here. Sure it doesn't have the punchy intensity of the cask strength 10 year old, or the medicinal notes of the standard 10, but it's beautiful in its own right. What we have here is an extremely drinkable cask strength Laphroaig. Yes it's a slightly tamer version than you might presume, which is exactly what those quarter casks are meant to do after all, but that doesn't mean it's not as good, it's just a different take. And it's one that you could easily drink all night long. It has plenty of the sweet creamy notes that us QC lovers crave, with a lovely intact peat influence, and some balancing pepper and mint notes to add some more depth. And I love it! Very nearly a 4.5 score in fact.
If you're a fan of the standard Quarter Cask (and who isn't), be well warned: you're going to want more than one bottle of this! I already do! Dear aforementioned large Australian liquor retailer, if you're reading, do not miss out on this one please. I reckon you're going to need a lot of it.
A massive thanks to Dan Woolley, Australia's national brand ambassador for Beam Suntory, for the chance to try this beautiful whisky so soon after it was released, along with the other incredible samples he generously gave up (watch this space!) less than a day after he got off the plane from Scotland. You're a gentleman mate!