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

Chichibu 3yo 2009/2013 (53.5%, OB, Ichiro’s Malt, Chibidaru, Quarter Cask, 3900 bottles)

Chichibu is the first new Japanese distillery since the seventies, built near the city of the same name by Ichiro Akuto. Akuto started building the distillery in 2005 and in 2008 the first spirit ran off the stills. But 2005 is not the start of this story. No, this story starts in Chichibu in 1626 when the Akuto family started brewing Sake. In 1941 Ichiro’s grandfather, Isouji Akuto, built another distillery near the town of Hanyu, for making Sake and Shochu. Five years later a licence was obtained for distilling Whisky, initially a continuous still essentially making Grain Whisky. This still was eventually replaced by a copper still.

In 1980 Ichiro’s father, Yutaka Akuto, started to make Single Malt Whisky instead of the more common Blended Japanese Whisky (Scottish Malt Whisky blended with Japanese Grain Whisky). In 1983 the first spirit became Whisky but by 2000 Hanyu stopped making Whisky due to the severe lack of profitability. Ichiro, who worked at Suntory at the time, was brought in to save the company. He had to sell Hanyu to do just that. Hanyu was dismantled in 2004, but Ichiro bought the remaining Whisky stock as well as the distilling equipment. The equipment is still stored at Chichibu, but was never used since Ichiro´s new distillery was fitted with new equipment.

Chichibu Chibidaru 2009/2013Color: Full gold.

Nose: Fresh entry, elegant and flowery. Toned down, dried Jasmin leaves (tea and soap). Slight hint of powdery and spicy oak, alcohol and quite fruity. Pear and a hint of menthol and red fruit jello. Old dried ginger and sawdust. It smells pretty mature and complex for a 3yo Single Malt.

Taste: Quite woody, good aroma and even a bit sweet. Vegetal and much less fruity than the nose. It tastes even less complex than the nose, and with this it shows its youth. It’s easy to “see” that this one does needs its higher strength. Creamy vanilla, some candied yellow fruits enter the mix after (a lot of) air. Fabulous creamy custard paper pudding aftertaste with proper length. Lovely stuff especially considering its age.

This is an excellent 3yo Japanese Whisky, but it will only show its full potential if you let it breathe a lot. This is the kind of bottle you open and leave in the closet for a week or two without its cork. In the glass just let it sit around for half an hour before you even nose it. This needs air.

Now all the Karuizawa’s and Yamazakis are gone and Nikka struggles to release even a Whisky with an age statement I give you a glimpse of the future of Japanese Whisky. This is high quality stuff with massive potential, but as long as Ichiro is releasing Malts at barely the minimum age, that taste as well as this, it will tie us over as we wait for the Japanese Whisky to mature. My only fear will be that when a Whisky will reach its adulthood, it will be extremely expensive as the Karuizawa’s and the Yamazaki’s of today.

Points: 87