My review of the Laphroaig Cairdeas 2020 Port & Wine Cask.
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
Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 48% | Colour: Bronze
Nose: 20 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 83
Those who know me know that I have the softest spot in the world for Laphroaig. It was the first distillery that I had ever visited. I have had some of my best drinking experiences with whiskies from this iconic giant. Sure, like any other love affair, there have been low points in our relationship but those have largely been off set by some stunning spirits.
And since there’s very few recent Laphroaigs that I’ve not tasted I’m always jumping at the opportunity to sink my teeth into any latest offering from them and offer my unsolicited two cents. As was the case with this eleven year old travel retail launched exclusively for Amsterdam Airport.
I was at my friends’ house just ploughing through one independent after another when he put this on the table much to my glee. I had been meaning to get my hands on this but trips to Amsterdam are very few and extremely far between so it turned out to be a rather pleasant surprise.
Now I didn’t know much about this particular offering other than it was exclusive to Amsterdam but I swear as soon as I nosed it I blurted out the words ‘Triple Wood’ ! Upon further examination it was revealed that the maturation process of this and the Triple Wood is exactly the same. First-fill bourbon, followed by Quarter Casks and finally in European Oloroso Sherry, thereby, rendering both spirits almost identical.
This forces me to speculate that maybe my favourite distillery is simply coming up with creative ways of flogging the same spirit to different markets simply by using different labels. I can’t say I’ve not heard that before and, to be honest, it’s being done so much nowadays that it’s almost the norm. But it’s a little frustrating when you pay 150 Euros for an eleven year old whisky who’s taste profile is exactly the same as another NAS from the same portfolio and available at less than 40% of the retail price.
I expect something more and something unique if you’re going to name it and package it differently. Bit of a rip off if you ask me.
My sample is from a brand new bottle and served at 48%
Nose: That extremely typical Laphroaig peat. Iodine. Liquorice. Red fruits. Pomegranate. There’s a certain thick sherry sweetness to it as well -like molasses. Nuts. Almonds, actually. Touch of milk chocolate. Malted milk (that’s the Oloroso sherry before it settles down) – like Horlicks. Oaky. Red berries. Black rock salt. Something mineral about it too. Sea washed pebbles. Kelp. And a coastal saltiness. Do I like it? Not really. It’s just so mainstream. 20/25
Palate: The same. Exactly as I imagined it would be. Red fruits. Berries. Tobacco leaf. Quite spicy. Very spicy infact. A red chilie spice – quite sharp. But mixed with milk chocolate. Touch of mint. And a really sharp betel leaf quality to it as well. Again, so expected. 21/25
Finish: Strange finish. Can’t quite put my finger on it. A bit out of balance. Oak. Quite oily. Cinnamon. And that sharp red chilie again. 21/15
Overall Comments: What am I supposed to say? It’s the Three Wood disguised as an eleven year old and sold at more than twice the price. Is that fair? Nope.
Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 45.1% | Colour: Pale Gold
Nose: 23 | Taste: 24 | Finish: 24 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 94
I think I will always remember this day. It was my last day on Islay, having gone there for the Islay Festival, and I was just headed back after a fair amount of festivities at the Ardbeg open day.
As me and my friend headed back around 3PM we figured we’d stop by at Laphroaig for a quick tour or a tasting they might have on. In the car park we saw that there was a Premium Tasting scheduled in half an hour.
Quite excited at the prospect we walked into the visitors’ shop only to be told that the tasting was full and there were no more seats available. I almost pleaded and made the saddest face I possibly could. The gentleman behind the counter couldn’t do anything but maybe if we spoke to David, the Tasting Manager, he might be able to do something.
David, while apologetic, said there wasn’t much he could do since the tasting was limited to 11 people and it was all pre-paid and sold out. Once again I made the most pitiful face that I could.
Now let me tell you something about David. He has a heart of gold. It took me about four seconds of pulling that sad face to break him and so he said ‘Fine! I’ll let you two lads in on the tasting.’
And what a tasting it turned out to be! There were a couple of Cairdeas’, the new 15, a single cask from Warehouse No1 and a couple that David let us taste from behind a locked cupboard (though he made us promise not to tell anyone!). But I was extremely happy to see that this 25 year old, bottled in 2014, was also part of the lineup.
I’ve had the previous 2011 bottling which is quite beautiful so I was anxiously waiting to see how this one would taste.
My sample is from an open bottle and bottled at cask strength of 45.1% – it is a mix of Oloroso and ex-Bourbon casks.
Nose: TCP. Iodine. Seaweed. Hint of peat. Soft. Perfectly balanced. Soft lemon citrus. Lychees. Hint of cherries. Quite fruity. Quite dry. This is such a beautifully restrained nose. Has all the glory of Islay and the finesse of perfect ageing. 23/25
Palate: Hint of char. Sweet. Again beautifully balanced. Soft fruits. Lemon citrus. That oak is just perfect. Cinnamon. Touch of dark chocolate. The perfectly layered flavors work seamlessly and the extra years add to the complexity. Love it. 24/25
Finish: Nice and long. Quite drying. Ashy. Cinnamon rub. Could be a touch of something bitter but a pleasant bitter at that. 24/25
Overall Comments: This particular age statement from Laphroaig will always be a favorite of mine. I think the oak and the spirit really come together beautifully here. Of course near flawless cask selection is key. But more importantly I will remember this whisky for the unexpectedly brilliant tasting we had thanks to kindly David.
I owe you one.
Distillery/Brand: Laphroaig | Region: Islay | ABV: 43% | Colour: Muddy Gold
Nose: 22 | Taste: 21 | Finish: 21 | Balance: 21 | Rating: 85
Laphroaig is my forever fighting with Ardbeg for a top spot in my heart. But Ardbeg has taken upon itself to disappoint me more often than not which means I instinctively take refuge in the arms of the other Islay giant.
After having checked my records I realized that Laphroaig is by far my highest reviewed distillery and I also own the most number of it’s bottles too. A little more than Ardbeg. Just goes to show how much I enjoy this ‘most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies’.
The 15 has had a bit of a bad rep. Before I tasted one (a few years ago) there were some who hated it, some who loved and some who were totally indifferent. I ended up being in the latter group. It didn’t exactly set my world on fire and I was happy to let it sit on my shelf for eternity.
Someone then gifted me a more recent bottling (2013) and I just had to see whether they’d made any inroads into improving it. This is after the whole hue and cry of it being discontinued and people throwing themselves off cliffs in grief.
Well, let me tell you something. I think something might have happened here. Five years after being discontinued in 2008 a fresh new spirit was introduced, complete with new label, which I suspect has some much older vintages in it than Laphroaig is letting on.
The result is a restrained sort of Laphroaig without the usual characteristics but which is certainly a step up from it’s older defunct sibling. My sample is from an almost new bottle and served at a weak-ish 43%
Nose: Quite fruity. Some apples. Some pears. All shrouded in delicate smoke. Quite green. Coriander. Some herbs. Garam masala. Mild lemon. Lime. Citrus. Hint of iodine. Coastal sea salt. Fishnets. Brine. I like the nose.
Palate: Hint of sweetness. Mild smoke. Nutmeg. Some citrus. More pineapple than lemon. A touch of char. Dry leaves. The nose does better.
Finish: Took a while to stick. Some smoke. Hint of spice.
Overall I think this is a decent whisky. I am not crazy about it but maybe because I expect huge flavors from Islay whiskies especially this distillery and this one decides it’s a good idea to hold back a touch.
I’m sure this decision garners it more fans. Good on them!
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.
I had been meaning to put two hard hitters against each other for a while now but never got around to doing it. But tonight I had the house all to my self and figured I had no excuses.
For this epic heads up battle I chose two of my favorite cask strength whiskies from Islay: The Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 005 and the Lagavulin 12 – 2012.
Individually they both score very high on my scale but I had never had them side to side so I never really knew which one I liked better.
Lagavulin 12 . 2012 / 56.1%
Nose: Peat butter. Smoke. Red apples. Sour (like tamarind). Lots of greens. Sharp acid like lemon citrus. Ash
Palate: Fiery peppers. Apricot. Pineapple sponge cake. Peat. Smoke. Fresh greens. Cucumber.
Finish: Long. Mint. Spice.
Nose: 22 | Palate: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 22 | Rating: 90
Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 005 / 57.2%
Nose: Sweet. Honey. Jam. Maple. Cardboard. Red sweets. Coca Cola. Cherry licorice. Caramel. Hint of peat. Iodine.
Palate: Cherries. Black pepper. Bitter chocolate. Peat. All spice. Burnt jam. Oak.
Finish: Long. Spicy. Dark chocolate. Iodine.
Nose: 23 | Palate: 23 | Finish: 23 | Balance: 23 | Rating: 92
So here’s the verdict.
While the Lagavulin 12 is a quality dram the Laphroaig just manages to edge past in the nose and the overall balance of the dram. It is just that much more flavorful with hints of exotic.
The Lagavulin is raw power while the Laphroaig much easier to drink even though it’s at a higher ABV. And for me that tips the scales in it’s balance.
Definitely a very enjoyable match up!
Colour: Young Sauternes
This one is awesome!
No preamble, no build up. Straight up this Batch 3 of the Laphroaig Cask Strength series is a gem!
For those who know me know that I’m a little OCD so when I first bought the Batch 004 I instantly knew I had to collect the entire series. Good thing we were only up to Batch 005 up until that point. Of the lot the one I’m most glad to have acquired is this one.
Nose: That same elegant and poised peat that I’ve come to love from this series. But this time with a nutty almond surprise that blends in beautifully with a drop of cherries and red apple licorice. Give it time and it turns beautifully green. First some olives in brine, then green peas and edemame all against the backdrop of fresh oaky grass. Brilliant.
Palate: What a robust and creamy delivery! A lovely discourse of minty maple syrup and chocolate sprinkled artfully with black peppers and a touch of dusty red berries. I almost feel there is a cheeky sherry cask in here some where. I could be wrong but I would love to be right!
Finish: Lingers long and true with just the right amount of oak.
This is truly a masterclass in balance and elegance.