There are haughty eyed consumers in every sector of the beer, wine, and spirits industry. Really snobs can be found in any industry of higher end consumer goods. Yet within the world of spirits it would be safe to say that Islay whiskies drinkers tend to have the largest majority shareholders of braggadocios. In a way it makes sense.We all know, or knew, how it was when we first found a taste for the peaty liquor. At the beginning there was some sort of barrier between you and that bottle of Ardbeg 10 staring down from the upper shelf of the bar. That huge phenolic blast that hits you when you opened up your first bottle. Those campfire fumes you could smell clear across the bar where the one person has ordered a double of Caol Ila 12. Plain and simple: Islays are intense, unique, and at times illusive with their dark bottles and strange names. So naturally when a certain person at last succeeds at conquering this chimerical style of peat and smoke, a certain air of pomp and circumstance inflates there chest whenever they walk into the bottle shop, so sure of themselves as they walk straight toward the Islay's and past.... well, past everything else. And for this very reason I have been hesitant to review largely peated whiskies until now. I have learned to enjoy peated whiskies immensely, especially over the last two years, but I have always been leery of focusing too much on them, just as I have been mindful of how much focus I give to any style of whiskey or spirit. So at last the time has come – and Laphroaig Quarter Cask, in my mind, seems to be the best tie in for an introduction to Islays in general for the blog. The style is young and vibrant, providing a classic Islay profile, yet the partial use of smaller cask in maturation provide a contemporary, à la an ancient, way of maturation, which relates perfectly to the modern day discussion of small barrel maturation in the micro-distilling industry.
Aged about 8 years, this expression is filled in second fill oak barrels for the majority of maturation, then moved into and matured in smaller quarter cask (40-55 liters), as were used for transport in the “earlier days.” Smaller barrels means more wood/whisky surface area contact and more air interaction as the cask “breaths,” hence “faster” maturation – but only faster in one sense as I have explained in other posts. The difficulty that micro-distillers are finding as they age their whiskey solely in small casks is a lack of balance which larger barrels tend to provide. But with the Quarter Cask expression, the younger age in the larger barrel provides a youthful peatiness, and the quarter cask rounds out the aging process to provide some “wear and tear” of old age.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask Scotch Review:
Price: From $59.99 for a 750ml bottle.
Packaging/Labeling: All the necessary information and more. Everything we like to see on a “craft” expression. Green bottle means there is no need for caramel color (e150e) to be added. Non-chill filtered. Perfect.
Alcoholic Content: 48% abv, 96 proof.
Nose: Fresh peat, briny seaweed, stone and rock on ocean cliffs. Floral milk chocolate, syrupy caramel.
Palate: Incredibly delightful. I think of someone who is, though young, well spoken and confident. The buildup is smooth an gentle, from a sweet pepper introduction developing into a a huge peat monster wallop. Iodine and Smoke. Long lasting peat finish which prickles on the back of your throat.
Conclusion: What you get from this younger whiskey is not something overly complex, but rather a product where its gears are tightened and oiled. The nose, buildup, and arrival, provide ample excitement and enjoyment that will keep you coming back for more. This is what a young single malt should taste like. A successful and well articulated experimentation of differing size casks, and a whiskey that gets one excited all over again!
Rating: Excellent/Highly Recommended