Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In the whisky cupboard ... Laphroaig Quarter Cask

laphroaig quarter caskLaphroaig (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.


Gal granov said...

Indeed a must have on any whisky bar of Islayphiles :)
this is one of my favorite younger Laphs...
a real treat, and at a good price.

great post as usual.

aw said...

The QC is so good (and at such a great price) that I just can't get past it to try other expressions! This really is a world-class dram.

Actually I did try the 18yo at the distillery last October... nice, but I preferred the QC!

Regarding age, we were told by the tour guide at the distillery that QC is approx. 5 years old.

Antti said...

The only quibble I have with the QC (quite minor, really) is that it didn't stand up very well to oxidation when left opened for a bit longer. The last third or so of the bottle turned very quickly very thin and sharply alcoholic. The delicious sweet tarry notes were lost some time before reaching the half gone mark. The last 20 cl or so were a bit of a chore to polish off, even.

Mind you, I know some of you will be wondering how on earth does a bottle of QC stay un-finished for long enough to oxidise to death, and I do accept part of the blame. ;)

Jason's Scotch Whisky Reviews said...

QC is a priced reasonably and while there is no age statement, I find it more refined than the Laphroaig 10 yr old.