Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Laphroaig is the peatist of Islay, now there are other distilleries who can scientifically prove they are peat kings with this or that expression, Bruichladdichs' Octomore and Ardbegs Supernova to name a couple, but across all of the Laphroaig expressions you will always get peat, the peat that Islay is famous for.
American distiller Schenley, owned the Laphroaig Distillery in the 1960s, buying it outright in 1967. Today Diageo owns it. To think far away back in the day on the remote Hibernian Islay was a whisky distillery that was owned by Americans tells you that the spirit industry is always in flux and always has been.
My first introduction to Laphroaig was in a bar at the William Penn hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I met some old friends from out of town and we started to talk Scotch whisky, I hadn't been on whisky that long, enjoying a few peated Irish single malts, some Canadian, and a whole lot of bourbon up till then. Never actually dealing in single malt up till then, well I've never been run over by a truck either, but I think tasting Laphroaig as your first single malt is probably like that.
After the initial shock wore off of what a super peated whisky can taste like, I left thinking about it. I had a few whiskies beforehand and wondered if that was the reason I the Laphoriag tasted so different.
Eventually I got around to getting my own bottle of Laphroaig Quarter Cask, and tasting it on its own. It was delightful, sweet with loads of smoke.
In the world of single malts you're never going to get bored, you'll go for months exploring smoky earthy flavors, then all of a sudden find a sweet light whisky and venture into a trip to find the lightest single malt whisky on earth, that is the deep pleasure of the single malt experience, it changes you, it plays hard to get, it comes at you only if you don't chase it.
Across the world other countries are trying their hand at single malts with amazing results so the beautiful dream world of magical drams with all its corners and catacombs of nuanced flavors to be discovered is ever changing. After 10 years of exploring single malts my head is still getting turned.
Be it the wood, the terra, the grain, the sea, or water, all being timed differently, warehoused with full sun half sun no sun, whiskey from India aged in repurposed barrels with every individual slat in every barrel hand picked from different wine, rum and bourbon barrels.
There are different phenols with all peated whiskies, all different types of smoke flavors. Smoke is a smell, smoke is a palette and peat is a finish. Some peated whiskies finish smokey and dry others more moist and herbal. Laphroaigs' Cairdeas Triple Wood achieves this balance nicely: bitter peat and sweet malt in a happy marriage.
Laphroaig releases a new Càirdeas bottling – meaning friendship in Gaelic – each year.
The 2019 edition, of which 36,000 bottles have been produced, has been matured in ex-Bourbon barrels, before maturation in quarter casks and ex-Oloroso European oak Sherry casks.
Bottled at a cask strength of 51.4% abv without chill filtration, the whisky contains notes of ‘rich toffee, dates, maple syrup, praline and crème caramel.
Nose: Sweet sherry notes along with salt and nuts, cereal and a big carbolic wave. That is to say, very good and very Laphroaig. As it sits, a fair bit of lemon peel comes through as well and the medicinal note goes from carbolic to inky; more oak too now. Water emphasizes the sweeter notes again pushing the medicinal complex and the oak back.
Palate: Pretty much as promised by the nose but more salty than sweet and with the wood more apparent from the get-go. And it’s smokier here. Very drinkable at full strength. The wood becomes more talkative as it sits and there’s a pencil shavings quality to it. Okay, let’s see what water does. Well, it pushes the oak back here as well but it makes the smoke more tarry—I’ll take that exchange.
Finish: Long. The salt and the smoke and the iodine expand together along with some slightly bitter oak. The oak expands with each sip. As it does on the palate by adding water.