Laphroaig (pronounced la-froyg) is one of the most famous whisky distilleries in the world. It is located on the island of Islay, which lies off the west coast of Scotland. Laphroaig is renowned for producing very smoky, peaty flavoured whisky and the 10 years old in their range is the best selling smoky whisky in the world. The distillery was founded in 1810 by two brothers, Aleaxander and Donald Johnson, and is currently owned by drinks corporation Beam Global. It has an annual production capacity of 2.9 million litres and they produce some of the smokiest whiskies in the world there.
The Quarter Cask is of a younger age to the best selling 10 years old expression (rumours are that it is 5-7 years old). The main difference is that Laphroaig partly mature the spirit in smaller casks that are a quarter of the size of a regular cask (these quarter casks hold approximately 50 litres each). This recreates the traditional practice when all whisky casks were roughly that size - a practice which has now largely died out. This means that the whisky has up to 60% greater contact with the oak than in a regular modern day whisky cask and therefore, the oak has a greater influence than normal on the final flavour.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask is bottled at the slightly higher 48% ABV. The colour is golden with a touch of amber and the nose is pungent, aromatic and very promising. It is a feisty mixture of the powerful smoke (imagine sticking your head in a bonfire) and earthy notes (think of wet moss), coupled with an underlying sweetness of malted barley, caramel and tropical fruit (this sounds strange but think of tinned fruit cocktail). There is also a distinct salty, briny note present that is reminiscent of seaweed or sea spray. On the palate, the sweet peaty smokiness leads the way but it feels more like burning ash or the embers of a bonfire now and this gives a gripping, bitter edge to the whisky. It feels thick and slightly oily in the mouth and the peat is complimented by some caramel and toffee, plenty of vanilla, sweet malty cereals and that distinct briny saltiness. Despite its robust nature, the saltiness refreshes the palate and leaves you wanting more (or maybe that's just us!). The finish is long, with the ashy smoke lingering before slowly fading away. The sweet caramel, vanilla and malt elements are counteracted by the saltiness, something bitter (imagine iodine and burning bonfire embers) and some peppery spice. The result is that it ends up being pretty dry. It is easy to see why many describe the feeling of Laphroaig as having an antiseptic or 'medicinal' quality.
What a cracking whisky this is! It is certainly not going to be to everyone's taste but if you like your heavily smoky whiskies, then you simply have to try this. The complex combinations of sweet, smoky and salty elements work very well and offers excellent value for money. Laphroaig Quarter Cask is readily available from specialist whisky stores, larger supermarkets and travel retail/Duty Free. A 70cl bottle should cost £25-30.