Laphroaig ‘Quarter Cask’ (48%, OB, Circa 2006)

Well, it has been a while since The 2015 Laphroaig Week here on Master Quill, that a Laphroaig graced our pages. This is one of the earlier and better known examples of a NAS bottling that can still be had today. Laphroaig Quarter cask was introduced in 2004, so it almost celebrates its 15th birthday, how about that. Quarter Casks are casks of approximately 80 litres. The idea behind this bottling is that smaller casks make the Whisky age more quickly, since smaller casks have a higher surface to liquid ratio, than larger casks. And the higher the ratio the quicker the Whisky matures. However, this Laphroaig wasn’t entirely aged in Quarter casks, but is supposed to have a normal maturation in American oak bourbon barrels for 5 years (up to 11 years) and only then receive a 7 month finish in quarter casks, so essentially this Whisky is still only 5 years old, hence the price. It is very friendly priced and since it is almost 15 years available to us, this must be a recipe to success, and another way in showing the critical and discerning public that young whiskies can be very good. As I already showed in several of my previous recent reviews. Remember Bruichladdich, Cotswolds and the Kilkerran Work in Progress #2 and #3 bottlings? But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet, lets first find out if this Laphroaig Quarter Cask is any good. However, this won’t be a review of a more recent Quarter Cask, but an earlier example. As can be seen on the picture below, the design of the label has somewhat changed since the earlier bottlings…

Color: Light gold.

Nose: Nice peat, clean, fruity and fresh, ozonic. Meaty, with hints of sweetness. Rural. Soft and hard at the same time. If you try hard, some spicy oak is detectable. Vanilla and gravy notes emerge at the same time. Ashes, paper and citrus. Wonderful combinations. Amazing how appetizing the peat is (mixed in with Vanilla notes from the American oak). The whole is utterly balanced and every bit of aroma, every note seems to belong to the next one. There is also a very sweet, fresh “other” note present, like a fruity-floral hybrid, an added layer to the darker peaty side. Like light in the darkness. Let it stand in your glass for a while and development starts. Based on the nose alone I definitely understand its broad appeal. Young, inexpensive but with very high quality. A present for Laphroaig aficionado mourning the loss of their beloved 10yo, which simply isn’t what it was. The 10yo suffers from Alzheimer’s, but this Quarter cask, yeah, úp, steps the new generation to take over the reigns. Oh, wait a minute, I have yet to taste it!

Taste: Sweet on entry (tea with lots of sugar), with citrus notes and wonderful peat. Simple and short, very short burst of pepper and quite some ashes. Add to that lemonade-like sweetness and fruitiness, and you have a young but wonderful Whisky on your hands. Add to that some “wrong” notes of (lemon) dishwater and fruity acidity (lemon) and you still have a wonderful Malt with added complexity. Lemon can be a very nice aroma to have. It is so good it can deal with these odd notes very well. Clay and more ashes. Pencil shavings. Paper is here too. Bugger, ’till now, I mentioned peat only once when tasting it. It is simply not upfront here, which is quite odd for a young Malt. (Peat breaks down a bit with age). Anyway, also not the longest of finishes around. Aftertaste, hardly there, tiny hint of peat maybe, and here it shows its youth I guess. Still, nice stuff this is.

Since the old 10yo is no more, I guess this is its true replacement. Its higher ABV. of 48%, its peaty profile and the fact it’s not chillfiltered make this the replacement of the 10yo for Whisky geeks like me (for writing stuff like this, and you (for even bothering reading this). Mind you the old 10yo was even much better than this, but compare this to the new 10yo and you know why this is so good. If you’re not a Whisky geek and are easily scared by the medicinal and peaty notes, and yet still like to start with the big Laphroaig, try the Select or the new 10yo. They are more suited for starters. Sweet, toned down peat etc. etc. This Quarter Cask is a wonderful early bottling. I have to buy me a more recent one, to see if they managed to keep the high standard. If so this is one of the best priced peated Whiskies around.

Points: 86

Laphroaig Week – Day 7: Laphroaig 16yo 1988/2004 (52.5%, Douglas Laing, for The Whisky Shop, 614 bottles)

Laphroaig SignWell, weeks are only seven days so they are bound to be over very quickly over. Today is the seventh day so I hope to finish this Laphroaig Week over with a bang, but you never know. This particular Laphroaig was selected by the Whisky Shop from the stocks of Douglas Laing in the dumpy green bottle, Whisky geeks love so much. In the early days it was a mark of excellent quality, or maybe they just bottled it like this because it was bottled at cask strength. Obviously this Laphroaig is from a cask that once held SHerry, just look at the sheer amount of bottles yielded at cask strength. Great! I love the combination of (extreme) Laphroaig and Sherry…

Laphroaig 16yo 1988/2004 (52.5%, Douglas Laing, for The Whisky Shop, 614 bottles)Color: Copper gold.

Nose: Tar, salty licorice and raisins. Extremely brooding. Thickly clad Sherry, musty and funky. Intertwined some red berries and other aromatic red fruits like ripe little forest strawberries. This kind of Sherry-ness we’ve encountered before in a bottle of Scapa I have. Whiffs of freshly cut oak planks and oriental spices. Cardamom and saffron spring to mind. Nice whiffs of dusty dryness and sawdust from very old dry wood as opposed to fresh sappy oak. White pepper and dried out Marmite with black coal. The tar reminds me of a warm road. It’s not a thick tarry note, but just enough to add to the wonderful complexity of this Malt. The peat shines towards the end. What wonderful stuff this is. One of great complexity and balance.

Taste: Tarry with the typical ashes and licorice I also found in the Laphroaig I reviewed on day 5. Hefty Sherry, big body. Sweet and creamy, but not as fruity as the nose suggested. Noticeable is a slight fruity acidic undercurrent, that is almost hidden away. This is something I usually get from very old bottles, so its more than welcome here. This fruity undercurrent doesn’t show itself after a fresh pour. This needs time to develop, so this Whisky comes with an operating manual. Tar and coal. Steam locomotive. The Sherry plays a big role and gives of some nice subdued fruity notes, but the Laphroaig underneath is doing well too, with some great peat. This comes together nicely!

Laphroaig came through and never disappointed. Some conclusions you might ask? Well all in all Laphroaig is a pretty good Whisky. It is still one of the greats, but not as good as it once was, but which distillery truly is? None of these seven reminded me of the stellar old 10yo’s of yesteryear. Neither the 10yo @ 43% ABV nor the Cask Strength versions, but then again I didn’t review any 10yo in the Laphroaig Week now did I? The 15yo was a great malt from its day, different from the 10yo’s. The 18yo is decent but for me not as good as the 15yo. Simpler I would say. The An Cuan Mòr was is a well crafted surprise, which I can heartily recommend from the modern range of Laphroaigs. The independents did manage to get their hands on some great sherried Laphroaigs, although very good sometimes it is Obvious why some casks did find their way on the open market. Sulphur! Still I liked the Kintra expression. Douglas Laing also were represented here with some nice Sherried versions and an odd one that had all its aces up its sleeve. You had to work for gratification. The Laphroaig Week is over. A sad moment, but I hope to review a lot more Laphroaigs on these pages. Hope you liked it.

Points: 90

Laphroaig Week – Day 4: Laphroaig 13yo 1998/2011 (53.4%, Kintra, Refill Sherry Butt #700047, 96 bottles)

Laphroaig SignDay four, a.k.a. the middle, or the pivotal point in a week. We’re halfway through. We started out with three distillery bottlings of Laphroaig. An older 15yo, it’s replacement the 18yo, although not in its latest guise, and yesterday we had a look at a travel retail only bottling from last year: An Cuan Mòr. Up untill now Laphroaig hasn’t failed me yet. Today we’ll venture into more unknown territory. The territory of the independent bottler. Today we’ll have a look at a Laphroaig, Erik Molenaar got into his hands a while back. The market is rapidly changing. In 2011 Erik could get (part of a Sherry Butt) for a reasonable price. Today he probably would still be able to source such a Whisky, but unfortunately only at an unreasonable price. So even when this is from 2011, it can still be considered…well you catch my drift. So without further ado…

Laphroaig 13yo 1998/2011 (53.4%, Kintra, Refill Sherry Butt #700047, 96 bottles)Color: Gold.

Nose: Funky Sherry. Has someone just farted over here? My word, lots of the S-element is filling the room. Sulphur that is, and it comes from my glass into which I have not farted, nor has anyone else. Fruity and half sweet underneath “the fart”. Enough with the fart already, will ya? Ok, lets move the Sulphur into the realm of fireworks then. Toasted wood, but also toasted bread. Meaty big aroma.

Taste: Sweet and Sherried. Fruity with loads of ashes. Short shock of fruity acidity. Creamy but with a wave of a bitter sulphury edge. The bitterness also could come from the oak. Nevertheless, the bitterness is also kept in check, so it doesn’t hurt the overall taste. The ashes transform into a sweeter form with and acidic edge, and both do not overpower the palate. The sweetness and acidity show themselves and go under again, like the Loch Ness monster. Warming and full body. Cozy. Nice mix of peat and funky Sherry. Sure, it may be flawed but the whole still (fire)works for me. Hints of black fruits and some smoke late in the finish.

Lots of my Whisky-loving friends don’t like sulphury notes too much. Some seem to be even overly sensitive to the stuff, if not allergic. They can go on and on about it and I sure do understand why. We know from the olden days how Sherried malts should taste like. Some of you know the golden days of The Macallan, old heavily Sherried Longmorns from the sixties and seventies, Glen Grants and Strathisla from the sixties. Fruity, full of aroma’s, with steam and coal, the lot! Today that quality can’t be reached anymore, and I don’t have the room here to discuss why. More modern Sherried malts are prone to have sulphury notes, and it’s up to you, if you can stand that or not. If you can (like I do), this is a big and nice, yet sulphury, Laphroaig.


Laphroaig Week – Day 3: Laphroaig ‘An Cuan Mòr’ (48%, OB)

Laphroaig SignDay three of Master Quill’s Laphroaig Week and we are still in the territory of Official Bottlings (OB). Probably one of the nicest NAS (No Age Statement) Whiskies around is the Laphroaig Quarter Cask, but just like other distilleries, Laphroaig seem to have gone berzerk, issuing lots and lots of NAS Whiskies lately: Brodir (Port), PX Cask (self-explanatory), QA Cask (partly uncharred oak), Select (I hate that name) and the Triple Wood (Bourbon, Quarter Casks and Oloroso Sherry). Like so many other (NAS) Whiskies, the Laphroaig at hand: An Cuan Mòr (Big Ocean), was released to travel retail but it seems somehow pretty available everywhere else too.

From the Laphroaig website: “All have been matured in first-fill-only ex-American white oak bourbon barrels in our warehouse right next to the Atlantic. This whisky is then carefully re-casked and left to sleep in the finest European oak.” Alas no word about age or how long both particular types of casks were used. Oh well, we’ll have to do with the end result, and not care about age then.

Laphroaig An Cuan MorColor: Orange brown gold.

Nose: Hefty and rubbery. New bicycle tires. I like this. Not your ordinary Laphroaig. Dry red-fruity peat (dare I say medicinal?), and lots of (dry) Sherry influence. (I mean dry as a result, not that the Sherry is dry). It’s hard to get past the rubbery elements in this. The red fruits come across as the cherries in modern and new world Pinot Noir Wines with forest strawberries and raspberries. Probably the new favorite malt of Christian Grey (or Dorian Gray for that matter). Hints of Vanilla, but the rubbery Sherry is so hefty it’s hard to pick up lots of the masked notes.

Taste: Ashes, sweet and fruity. Laphroaig themselves mention burnt apricot and that fits the bill. Let’s not forget the peat. Well balanced, and a great development throughout the body. Halfway through: paint, licorice. Good ABV. Candy sweetness and fruitiness. Winegums and vanilla. Nice warming body, and all the strange aroma’s are working extremely well together. Long lingering finish, and never a bitter wood note.

Yes, They’ve done it again! Another Laphroaig love it or hate it Malt. I’m loving it. What a great WONKY NAS this is. For some, completely over the top, but isn’t that what Laphroaig is all about. Isn’t that what Lamborghini is all about. They should make crazy stuff, that’s what they are here for. Both make love it or hate it products, and in my opinion both are trying to be too nice with their latest offerings. Concerning Laphroaig, just look at the toning down and  over-sweetification of my beloved 10yo (they have ruined it!) and the Select. (I hate that name). Many of you won’t understand why I love this An Cuan Mòr so much, and that’s OK. Laphroaig are releasing quite a few other Whiskies too, and they all are pretty different and decent, so pick out another one, you’ll be all right. Leave this one for me (and Franc W).

Points: 89

This one is for Billy “Wonky”Abbott and Franc “The Mayor” W.

Laphroaig Week – Day 2: Laphroaig 18yo (48%, OB, Circa 2012)

Laphroaig SignAll good things come to an end, and after that they come back again. It happened to Lagavulin 12yo, and it is said to happen shortly to Laphroaig 15yo. Not yet, but soon very soon though, with a special 15yo commemorating Laphroaigs 200th anniversary. Yesterdays 15yo was eventually replaced by an 18yo and by some curious coincidence we’ll be having a look at that very replacement right now. Is it a step up from the 15yo, or maybe a step down? One thing is certain, the ABV went up a few notches from 43% to 48% and the box didn’t come back. The bottle I’ll be reviewing now, is still an 18yo which looks like the release that replaced the 15yo. In 2013 the look for the 18yo was slightly revamped.

Laphroaig 18yoColor: Light gold.

Nose: Peaty, salty and pretty smoky. Kippers with seaside saltness. A promise of salt and smoke. Warming and vegetal. Garden bonfire, and wet freshly cut peat. Mocha. Lit fireplace in an old farmhouse. Good nose but very straightforward. You more or less get what you’ve come to expect from a modern Islay Whisky. Islay Whisky, not especially Laphroaig even. When smelled longer I also get some deeper, more meaty notes. Dried meat again, warming and salty.

Taste: Definitely more points in the ABV department (when compared to the 15yo). Again, also in taste more straightforward. Burning wood and quite sweet actually. Lots of ashes and licorice powder. Ferrero Rocher cherry bon-bon fruitiness, combined with licorice root, fatty peat and smoke. Again it is what you might expect.

This 18yo lacks the awesome specialness of the 15yo. They are both Islay and both Laphroaig, whereas the 18yo is straightforward and obvious in what you are getting but the old 15yo is much more than that. It delivers more aroma’s than the 15yo, and the delivered aroma’s are more special. The 15yo is very fruity ánd Islay, The 18yo is ónly Islay. Yesterday’s 15yo to me is a special Laphroaig, this 18yo is indeed a modern Laphroaig which doesn’t surprise, it’s decent, it’s good, but it doesn’t bring anything extra to the table anymore. Dare I say that it’s good but a bit anonymous? Is the 15yo a Whisky they can’t make anymore? I don’t mean that particular age statement…

Points: 85

Laphroaig Week – Day 1: Laphroaig 15yo (43%, OB, Box, Circa 2005)

Laphroaig SignSecond of March and it’s still winter over here. Days starting with scraping ice from car windows and the occasional slippery road. Now and then a faint, watery sunshine and even a snowflake was spotted this year (luckily). Since this is primarily a blog about Whisky, why not try seven Islay Whiskies for conditions like this? Seven I hear you say? Yes you understood correctly. You know what that means, another Master Quill Week! I already mentioned Islay, but what are we going to do with Islay? Not too long ago we already shared a Bowmore Week, and yes, now it’s time for another week about a single distillery (from Islay). This time we’ll be focussing on Laphroaig, as you already might have guessed considering the sign above. Why another Islay Distillery? Simple, because I felt like it! But it’s not ony that. 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of Laphroaig! Up untill now three Laphroaigs graced these pages with their presence. At first an independent bottling by The Ultimate, next up was the official 30yo and last, but alas also least, the new Laphroaig NAS named ‘Select’. These three are a selection of official and independent Laphroaigs, a selection of Bourbon and Sherry casks. This week will be no different. Today we’ll have a look at the boxed version of the 15yo. In 2006 Laphroaig replaced the box for a tube, and I’m guessing this example is probably from just before that time. Laphroaig 15 BoxColor: Ocher gold. Nose: Ahhh great fruity peat. Yellow and red fruits. Black coal. Coal dust and ever so slightly tarry. Small hints of vanilla ice-cream. A truly fantastic nose. Just the nose alone shows you that Whiskies like this can’t be made anymore. Maybe this is an older expression of the 15yo (bottled before 2005)? Slightly burnt wire and steam. Hints of cooked vegetables emerge over time. Taste: Sweet, clay and fruity again. Not very peaty and the taste is much simpler than the nose was. Hints of almond shavings and a kind of delayed warming sensation. Elegant and pretty old tasting peat. Part of this Whisky must come from older casks. Crushed beetle, and cask toast in the finish. Burnt wood. Almonds ánd Amaretto combined with some sugared yellow fruits. Cancel my remark about (the lack of) complexity. Not true. It needed some time to develop. Given even some more time the fruitiness develops more and more into Amaretto and the peat develops into a wonderful kind of peat, ashes and a little bit of smoke. Top notch! Extremely different from my first love from around that time, the 10yo at export strength (43% ABV). Remember the 20cl hip-flask bottle? This 15yo is a lot more elegant and nicely crafted. Utterly complex and a wonderful companion to that 10yo. I haven’t even mentioned the cask strength version of the 10yo from that time. What a trio that was. Life was good back then! By the way, Laphroaig will be releasing several one-off special  bottling commemorating their 200th anniversary and supposedly one of them will be a 15yo. Hope it is anything like this boxed 15yo.

Points: 89

Laphroaig ‘Select’ (40%, OB)

Here it is, that last month of the year, again! Unbelievable how quickly time flies when one ages. Not too long untill the next Christmas and soon another new year. Luckily every season has its benefits. Winter is a season that makes peated Whiskies even tastier than they already are. A long time ago, I was introduced to Laphroaig 10yo (export strength, 43%). People were raving about it so I went out to buy myself a bottle. Being used to Bourbons and Scottish Blends, I was quite shocked what a Single Malt Whisky cost. I turned around ran out of the store…

Laphroaig SelectWalking around for a bit (no way I was going to pay that!) However, it was cold and I really wanted that simple green glass bottle with that simple but classy white label. I couldn’t resist and went back in. Then it hit me, the vision of that handy flat 20 cl bottle. Great! That offered me a taste of Laphroaig without losing a lot of hard-earned cash, so I got me a Laphroaig 10yo. Great! The rest, as they say, is history. I liked it so much I was hooked for life.

Much later, in 2014 to be exact, Laphroaig released yet another new bottling and called it ‘Select’ since the Whisky is from “hand selected oak casks for perfect balance and flavour” Well I didn’t know that up untill now Laphroaig picked their casks at random, or let a computer decide. Strange…

Color: Light gold

Nose: Fresh and heavy peat, like from the old days. It does bring back memories. Lots of iodine, and therefore medicinal. Salt, tar and sea spray mixed with some ashes. Distant smoke. Salty and smoked dry kippers. This is how a Laphroaig should smell. Nice!

Taste: What! Sugar water, some more sugar-water. Where is the rest. It takes a while but finally some ashes arrive with some heat. In that heat the peat emerges. Nice peat, but very childish peat, no stout bearded peat, but nice candied peat. Likeable. Where is my love it or hate it Laphroaig, this is a entry-level Laphroaig. Try to gain some new souls Laphroaig. Cold sweet tea with more ashes and a sugary sweet finish to match. Finish is not short. The ashes and peat stay on, but have to fight the sweetness off.

What a Whisky. They made me think with the stunning nose Laphroaig has returned to something that made me love Laphroaig in the first place, but when trying it, it turns out to be Laphroaig candy! Don’t try this after another Laphroaig, because almost any other Laphroaig will blow it out of the water. Try it after a Lowlander and it will be a lot better.

Having said all this, I don’t hate it. It has a stunning nose, and it does have a purpose letting newbies be scared by the nose, but liking the taste. There is something of the old Laphroaig in the taste department too, but it is hidden behind a lot of sweetness, and it does have a decent finish. The label states that this expression had a final maturation in new American oak casks, but I didn’t get the new wood not the vanilla it usually brings. By the way, it tastes a little bit watery. 40% fits the purpose, I mentioned above, but for me it could have been (a lot) higher in ABV, but there are probably other Laphroaigs for that…

Points: 83