Laphroaig Cairdeas 2020 Port & Wine Cask review by Malt Activist
My review of the Laphroaig Cairdeas 2020 Port & Wine Cask.
Laphroaig Cairdeas 12
Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 57.5% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 8.4 | Palate: 8.6 | Finish: 8.5 | Overall Score: 8.5
Every couple of weeks I wake up with a hankering for Islay and since I don’t have the luxury of being spontaneous I do the next best thing. I go over the hundreds of pictures and videos I have in my collection and try and re-live those moments.
Among the coveted memorabilia from that tiny island is my little notepad with the word NOTES scrawled across the cover. As you might have guessed it contains tasting notes on pretty much every single whisky I tasted while I was there. Thus, whenever I feel nostalgic I riffle through the ones I haven’t shared with you yet and bring them out.
If you know me you know Laphroaig is in my top two distilleries of all time – no mean feat given my overly critical personality and a penchant for theatrics. But they have more solid whiskies than duds and that’s enough to keep me satisfied.
We were in Islay for the Feis (Festival) and had a number of things planned for this day. Started off with a nice tasting at Bowmore after which we made our way to Islay Breweries to soak in the sun and drink some ales. After a couple of lazy hours at the brewery we headed over to Laphroaig to experience their famed Premium Tasting.
The session was conducted by our good friend James and we had a number of excellent whiskies on the menu. We started off with the 10 which was followed by the new 15 and then the softly understated 21 year old. A stunning 16 year old single cask from Warehouse 1 (not for general release) and finally this Cairdeas in question.
Released back in 2009, signalling the appointment of John Campbell as the new distillery manager, this beauty is 12 years old and harvested from a host of first-fill Makers Mark bourbon barrels. My sample is from an open bottle and served at 57.5%
Nose: Brilliantly Laphroaig. Creamy. Buttery. But with a sharp citric quality typical of the distillery. Like a razor sharp lime. Let it breathe and it becomes a more rounded. Now a touch softer. Some minerals. Limestone. Meanders into a nice fruitiness. Cherry liquorice. Now a touch of rock salt. Soft peat. Wisp of smoke. Some wet wood. If you’re a fan of Laphroaig there’s nothing wrong here.
Palate: Crisp. Sharp. Bold. Quite drying. That mineral quality again. Limestone. Quite nutty now. Almond husks. That sharp lime is the dominant force now. Starts off sweet and then moves to a sea-saltiness. Lovely maritime flavours. Once again, as a fan of the distillery, you’d be hard pressed to find a lot wrong.
Finish: Long. Drying. And that lovely limestone again.
Overall Comments: This is my sweet spot for whiskies (as it is for a couple of other friends of mine); twelve years old, first-fill bourbon and bottled at cask strength. Sometimes I wish all whiskies were made like this.
Overall Score: 8.5
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2016 Feis Ile
Distillery/Brand: | Region: Laphroaig | ABV: 51.6% | Colour: Reddish Bronze
Nose: 7.6 | Palate: 7.8 | Finish: 7.6 | Overall Score: 7.7
I think the picture in this review sums up the perfect whisky drinking experience for me. Sitting outside the visitors centre at Laphroaig, overlooking the cold waters of the North Atlantic as they lazily washed over the grey rocks and, most importantly, two extra glasses for sharing my whisky.
The morning had dawned beautifully and we were all set to experience Laphroaig’s rather popular tour, Water to Whisky. This is where they take you out to the distillery’s water source, visit the peat bogs to cut some peat and then give you the opportunity to hand-fill a bottle down in the legendary Warehouse 1 from a cask of your choosing.
As everyone was prepping and getting their wellies in order I snuck three drams of their latest Cairdeas out for a quiet sip before heading out. (On a side note, let me tell you there is probably no distillery on Islay more generous with their drams than Laphroaig. You can literally drink to your hearts’ content at the bar inside the visitors centre for no charge.)
As my two other friends joined me we toasted to what turned out to be a an absolutely wonderful day of whisky drinking and exploring. But I will talk about that in a later post.
In the mean time we had in front of us a rather unusual Laphroaig. To the best of my knowledge this was the first time Laphroaig had experimented with a Madeira cask so, needless to say, everyone was quite excited.
This particular Cairdeas is a vatting of first-fill bourbons which have then been finished off in a Madeira hogshead. The result is a departure from the traditional Laphroaig flavours. My sample is from an open bottle and served at 51.6%
Nose: The sharp peat jumps out first. Quite spicy. A bit of oak. Becomes sweet and sour after a while. I don’t know if I’m getting influenced by the label but there’s red fruits in here too. Red berries. Raspberries. Liquorice. And finally that familiar Laphroaig iodine and seaweed that I was searching for. Dries with a touch of water. This is a good nose if you ask me. Just short of being fantastic but good in it’s own right. 7.6
Palate: Hmmmmm. This is where the Laphroaig distillate comes through more. Well rounded and crisp. The oak is there and it’s been dry-rubbed by those same red berries. The liquorice is back. And it’s back with some dark chocolate. And, as with the nose, the seaweed and iodine make a last minute appearance. It’s sweet and sour at the same time. Once again, like the nose, it does not blow my mind but I’m happy to drink it. 7.8
Finish: Smoky. Earthy. Hint of those red fruits again. 7.6
Overall Comments: I love Laphroaig. In fact I love pretty much everything about them. Especially the tour & tasting guides who go out of their way to make you feel special. This new Cairdeas is a departure from the typical Laphroaig house style but I think it works even if it doesn’t blow my socks off. I’m more than happy to drink this all evening. Preferably at the distillery’s visitor centre.
Overall Score: 7.7
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015 Feis Ile
Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 51.5% | Colour: Pale Straw
Nose: 23 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92
Laphroaig will always have a special place in my heart for me. It is constantly fighting for a top spot with Ardbeg for my affections. And I think I’m finally ready to accept that Laphroaig consistently produces better whiskies than Ardbeg.
I am, therefore, officially announcing that Laphroaig is now my No. 1 whisky of choice. Sorry Ardbeg but you’ve let me down far too many times of late.
So it was quite symbolic that the first distillery I ever visited was this one when I traveled to Scotland last week to attend the Islay Festival. We went straight from the tiny airport to the distillery to take part in the festivities.
After standing in line for over an hour we managed to enter the shop and picked up our bottles of the 2015 Cairdeas. With those in the bag we managed to attend a couple of tastings while there.
One of them was called 2015 which included three expressions all released this year. There was the new 10 year old Cask Strength Batch 007, an unreleased 21 year old (delicious!) and of course this years’ Feis Ile release.
This years’ release is different from the others since it uses floor malted barley as opposed to regular malted barley. It’s been distilled using the small stills at the distillery which means it has a lot of fruity characteristics. And matured in first-fill bourbon barrels in the famous Warehouse No1 by the sea.
Distilled in August 2003 my sample is nearly 12 years old and bottled at 51.5% (the last two digits are a nod to the year by the way).
Nose: Typical Laphroaig. TCP. Iodine. Sea weed. There’s a hint of char. Some toasted barley. But then comes the sweetness. So much of it. Lots of fruity citrus. Pineapples. Lemon. Lime. Blood oranges. Tinge of honey. Vanilla. Quite nicely layered.
Palate: Hint of smoke. Touch of peat. Again very sweet. The pineapple is back. So is the vanilla. Warehouse No1 comes into play with all the saltiness. An interesting sweet and salty combination. I really like it.
Finish: Nice and long with a hint of oak.
Overall Comments: This is an interesting Laphroaig which goes back to the old ways of whisky making. The peat is different because of the floor malting. The maturation quite interesting thanks to living in the damp dunnage warehouse by the sea for almost 12 years. Good stuff!
Laphroaig Cairdeas 2014
Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 51.4% | Color: Gold
Nose: 24 | Taste: 23 | Finish: 22 | Balance: 24 | Rating: 93
I have to admit the last year or so hasn’t been very good for my two favorite distilleries, Ardbeg and Laphroaig. Generally an honest, if not a tad overzealous, fan of anything to come out of these two Islay giants I had been having a hard time justifying my obsession.
Ardbeg has decided to continue disappointing us every year on June 2nd, Ardbeg Day. The Auriverdes being a very good, and latest, example of that.
Laphroaig, too, had a less than stellar year, in my opinion. Of the new releases the Cask Strength series are quite noteworthy. However, I wasn’t very taken with last years’ Cairdeas Edition – the 2013 Portwood. Quite weak and listless and representing just a shadow of the great flavors this distillery produces year after year.
This was followed by the QA which, in my opinion, is possibly one of the worst whiskies to be released to an unsuspecting public. This was followed by the Laphroaig Select which has, to put it mildly, been described as ‘tepid bum water’.
So you can imagine my growing sense of dread as I began to fear if I would ever taste anything sublime with the word ‘Laphroaig’ on it. Well, I should not have worried.
2014’s Feis Ile, the Amontillado finish, is quite possibly one of the best whiskies to come out of Laphroaig. Matured in first-fill bourbon casks and then finished for a year in Amontillado wine there is a complex brilliance to this spirit.
Nose: An immediate sprinkle of mild spices. Garam masala and cinnamon. Quite lemony too. The citrus is layered with that familiar iodine but there is a hint of spearmint too. A bit like iodex. A second wave brings strong black licorice and peat with a touch of cardboard. This is a beautifully balanced nose.
Palate: Subtle smoke and curry powder. Freshly baked biscuits with a lemon and butterscotch centre. But what I liked best was that truly unusual under-ripe savory plum. The creamy texture coats your palate beautifully and caresses your taste buds in layers. Scrumptious.
Finish: Clove and that dry licorice again with a touch of bitter oak.
This is an absolute corker of a whisky and has allayed any fears I might have had about the decline in quality of my Laphroaigs.
Laphroaig Cairdeas Masters Edition
Colour: Pale Straw
The first time I had a chance to drink this 2010 Festival release from Laphroaig was with a bunch of friends. Quite fitting since Cairdeas is Gaelic for Friendship.
This is another un-Laphroaig-ian nose that I have encountered of late. Are they toning their spirits down? I hope not. I mean I love how this one smells. I just hope they don’t change their style completely and by that I mean the Quarter Cask, the 10 and the 18.
The nose is an instant drop of lovely cashew nuts and mixed dry fruits. Boiled lemon sweets dipped in malt, drizzled with delicate sugar syrup and sprayed with a lovely peaty mist. The nose is delicate yet assertive. Is it too delicate? Well, yes when compare to standard Laphroaigs. But that’s just me being too picky.
The smooth, oily palate comes tumbling with sugars and crushed lemon rind and melon drops. The late cardamom spices step in to remind you that this is not all child’s play. Not as complex as I would have liked but highly likable nonetheless.
The long finish is a bit chalky and dries towards the end but I quite like the dry spice and mocha coffee beans it brings along with it.
I think this is a wonderfully restrained dram. The only fault I would find is that it did not really let it’s hair out on the palate.
Would I drink this again?
Well, what do you think I’m drinking right now?