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

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Cadenhead Demerara Rum 12yo (46%, Green Label, Laphroaig Cask Finish, Guyana)

First of all I’d like to start telling you that this review won’t be about the Cadenhead 15yo Demerara Rum that’s in the picture. It’s actually about the Cadenhead 12yo Demerara Rum, and not just any 12yo, but one that was finished in an ex-Laphroaig cask. Laphroaig being one of the most famous of peated Islay Whiskies. Of course Ardbeg and Lagavulin are equally as famous, but that’s beside the point. I couldn’t find a suitable picture of the bottle (I don’t have it here), so I put in this one, since it looks pretty similar. The 12yo has an additional sticker over the neck and cork, starting this is from an ex-Laphroaig cask. The 12yo Rum is even lighter in color, than that of the 15yo in the picture. Cadenhead of course, is an Scottish independent bottler whose main business is bottling Single Malt Whiskies, who also bottle some pretty good Rums as well. I’m sure, more of those will feature on these pages in the future, especially the cask strength ones.

Cadenhead Green Label 15yo DemeraraColor: White wine. Very pale gold.

Nose: Sweet and funky. Thick and unmistakable Demerara. I know peated Whiskies very well, but I can’t detect any peat in this yet. Distant hint of yellow fruits, white peach. The fruit interacts very well with a mystical hot dry wind note. Sweet peach yoghurt (not the acidity, there is no acidity in the nose whatsoever) and sweet black tea. Creamy. Small hint of nice smelling paper, which adds to the wonderful balance this Rum emits from my glass. All aroma’s go together very well. At this point I have to stress that this Rum has had plenty of time to “settle” with air. Maybe one to decant as well. (I’ve written about the benefits of decanting Whiskies earlier). Still no peat, nor smoke, but I do get some toasted wood. A more than wonderful nose that seems to go on and on. Exceptional. Just give it time to breathe!

Taste: I get the tea note first. Starts sweet, but the sweetness is quickly gone, to be replaced by a prickly woody note, which strips most of the sweetness out of my mouth like it’s been done with sandpaper. This makes room for the strange combination of acidity from unripe berries, milk chocolate and earwax. Wow, this is getting strange fast. Is this the effect of the peat? It still doesn’t remind me of peat though. Lets take another sip. When the dryness takes over, the balance deteriorates a bit. Not everything seems to be in check, and the aroma’s feel a bit uncomfortable. Something new moved into the building and the older residents don’t know yet what to make of it. More toasted cask now, with even some bitterness from one, or both casks. The finish seems short at first but when it turn into the aftertaste a smoky prickly sensation starts to happen mixed with mustard and the typical aroma’s of Demerara that were pushed out of the body and finish of the Rum. The Laphroaig cask did have an effect on this Rum, just not as I expected.

Maybe you Rum buffs don’t know this, but Laphroaig is actually a very sweet Whisky underneath. It’s sweetness is just well hidden underneath heaps of peat and iodine. Well, Laphroaig used to taste like that. More modern Laphroaigs are more obviously sweet, and the peat became more accessible, and the iodine, well, you can get that at your local pharmacy. How strange it is then, that a sweet Whisky with a sweet and heavy Demerara Rum make for such a dry Rum?

I always passed on the Green Labels when buying Rum from Cadenhead in favour of the dumpy bottles with Cask Strength Rum’s in them. Somehow a dumpy bottle with 36yo Uitvlugt (PM Mark!) Demerara Rum from 1966 bottled at 69.3% ABV, had more appeal to me than a 12yo Laphroaig finished Demerara. It still does, but this Green Label is no punishment to drink either. Maybe a bit unusual but also a very interesting experiment. I like it, and its even better than I thought it would be. Beyond the obvious, I’m not sure what the Laphroaig cask did for this Rum, but I do feel that the Demerara Rum, before it was finished, was already good to start with. I’m pretty sure it is Enmore (VSG Mark).

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 6: Laphroaig 21yo 1987/2009 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, Refill Hogshead, DL REF 4855, 439 bottles)

Laphroaig SignPenultimate day of Master Quill’s Laphroaig week and just as yesterday, another Douglas Laing Laphroaig. Seeing a pattern here? So which one will finish this series off tomorrow?

As luck would have it, we have another 1987 Douglas Laing today. Judging by the looks of it, probably a very different one. Yesterday’s Laphroaig was pretty pale at best, but this one boasts a nice and healthy colour. It’s like summer and winter, Jekyll and Hyde, night and day, Sherry and Bourbon. Still something strikes me as odd here. The label states this is from a Hogshead, but even with the slightest of reductions to 50%, this still yielded 439 bottles. Surely this was a Butt or a Puncheon, or was is a big hoggie?

Laphroaig 21yo 1987/2009 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, Refill Hogshead, DL REF 4855, 439 bottles)Color: Copper brown

Nose: Nice chocolaty Sherry. Sea wind at night, but in summer, so a chilly night after a warm Sunny day. Clay and very toned down peat. Sugared onion. Not very expressive. This one is a bit shy, even considering it’s heritage. It doesn’t leap out of the glass at you. Sherry influence is quite obvious, but it’s not very peaty just like yesterdays 1987. Smoke? Hardly. Cold black tea and some meaty notes, dried meat and almost cold gravy. Nice and restrained. All the aroma’s do fit well together. Not fruity.

Taste: Sweet with burnt sugar. Definitely a more bonfire aroma. Powdered sugar and some wood. Late licorice, just as yesterdays 1987 Laphroaig. Wood stripped of old paint, of which the dust is still flying in the air. The slightly burned note stays on throughout and makes it into the finish. When working on it, it does show some fruit, but not much. No fresh fruits, but something dried like dates and raisins. PX-Sherry? All in all elegant stuff, but with dirt under its fingernails. Not without flaws in its character too.

This is the second 1987 Douglas Laing Laphroaig and there are similarities and there are differences. Both expressions aren’t very expressive and are toned down. No heavy hitting peat and not much smoke (if any) a Laphroaig light so to speak. This 2009 bottling has the added Sherry, and by the taste of it, this wasn’t a top (PX) Sherry cask or it may have been a treated cask. I somehow can’t imagine this to have aged its whole life in the same cask. Having said that the combination of the two does work somehow.

Points: 87

Laphroaig Week – Day 5: Laphroaig 16yo 1987/2003 (50%, Douglas Laing, Old Malt Cask, DL REF 814, 276 bottles)

Laphroaig SignThe dark side of the moon. We are now most definitely on the other side of our Laphroaig Week. It started with the highly visible and upfront official bottlings, pivoted around yesterday’s Kintra Laphroaig (sunset Sherry) and now the final stretch home. This final trio starts with this more obscure Whisky, hiding in green glass aswell, but not released by its maker, but sold of for blending purposes, I guess, but rescued from mediocrity by focussing on its single cask traits. Today we’ll be looking at a Laphroaig bottled by Independent bottler Douglas Laing. Douglas Laing started bottling two Laphroaigs under the alias ‘Laudable’ in 2000. Both were 15yo and 1985 distillates. Using the Laphroaig name three further 1985 distillates saw the light of day as 17 year olds. Next up were a large amount of bottles distilled in 1987 and our DL REF 814 is one of them.

By the way, the picture here depicts sister bottling DL REF 745, bottled 4 months later. The reviewed bottle should look similar.

Laphroaig 1987 Douglas LaingColor: Light gold, almost white wine.

Nose: Extremely closed. Quite light and friendly in the nose. Citrus fruits and smoked cold citrus flavored tea, yes Lapsang Souchong comes to mind. Also a promise of sweetness. Not your heavy hitting peat and smoke emitting monster. Nope, nothing like that at all! Very light end vegetal. Pot plants and warm dried out flowerpot dirt. Slightly meaty and quite a buttery smell which occasionally emits a fruity acidic smell. Pear is added to the citrus. Vanilla with a tiny hint of cigarette smoke. Sweaty and even some tropical fruits like pineapple. Didn’t see this coming! Given some air, a slight dab of smoke emerges as well as some peat. It’s almost like the liquid is holding back the aroma’s from emanating. Nice to see how well all these aroma’s fit together.

Taste: Half sweet and slightly buttery again. Lightly smoked almonds. Fruit syrup. Lots and lots of licorice, ashes and a bitterness that seems to come from smoke. Lightly toasted almonds now with hints of lemon. The acidic citrus note is a great counterpart to the smoke, butter and vanilla. The almond taste stays on for a long time. Altogether half-sweet with toffee throughout. Little hint of mocha-coffee and milk chocolate and even some whipped cream enters the fold occasionally. How is that for complexity? No heavy peat nor a nice garden bonfire so get that out of your system before tasting. Warming.

Quite a strange Laphroaig this is. At first hand it’s not very open and invites you to work it out of the glass. In the end it ís willing to show itself and slowly it emerges out of the glass. Forget for a while this is a Laphroaig, just imagine an old Islay Whisky. The beauty here lies in the details, in the frail and brittle aroma’s, in the great balance and nice complexity. Granted not an easy malt, but if you have the right mind-set it will reward you big-time. So very, very different from regular releases and the profile Laphroaig normally is known for.

Points: 88

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.

Points:87

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.